Thursday, June 19, 2008

Simple Fare After My O'Hare Scare

One of my dearest friends got married last weekend in Chicago, and it was such a joy to be there, to celebrate the happy couple and to see many old and much-missed friends. And there were good eats to be had in the Windy City, too! I don't have many pictures to show because my ridiculous friend Kurt has yet to send them to me (I borrowed his small camera to be less ostentatious in restaurants). But I can highly recommend Hema's Kitchen, a terrific, authentic, and inexpensive Indian restaurant. Kurt and I had an enormous feast (we took the "one of everything on the menu to sample" approach in our ordering), and it all came to about forty bucks. Everything was delicious, but I particularly enjoyed Hema's raita. It was unusual in that, not only did it have yogurt and cucumbers, but also chopped tomatoes, whole chickpeas, and cilantro, I believe. Wonderful stuff on those spicy curries!

Then the next day for brunch, we went to Toast, which was conveniently located just a couple of blocks from the church in Lincoln Park. We had planned on sampling some of their signature dishes, like stuffed French toast or a spicy breakfast burrito. But our server described one of the specials that we couldn't resist trying. They do a mean Croque Monsieur there (grilled honey ham, gruyere cheese, and Dijon on lovely, soft, thick bread), but one of the other staff members likes it with a fried egg (which actually makes it a Croque Madame), avocado (a California Croque Madame, perhaps?), and a side of truffle hollandaise (a California Cardiologist's Croque Madame!). Good heavens, it was SCRUMPTIOUS! It was served with chunky, flavorful home fries, and Kurt washed his down with a gorgeous Bloody Mary that was super-spicy and topped with every veggie in the kitchen--broccoli, onions, peppers, celery, etc. (This is where I wish I could show you the picture...Kurt, are you reading this? Ahem!)

After the wedding, there was a champagne reception, and the cake was delicious. (In my experience, wedding cakes are often admired more for their looks than their taste!) My friends live near the Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago, and there is a wonderful Swedish bakery there. They often order a princess torte from them that they love, so they had a larger one fashioned into their wedding cake. It was a traditional sponge, but between the bottom layers, there was a very light raspberry mousse filling, and between the top layers, there was a lemon mousse filling. And then the whole thing was covered in marzipan. Raspberries, lemon, and almonds make for a delicious, summery combination, and I really liked that it wasn't too sweet. Also in Andersonville on Sunday, we poked around a street fair called Sommarfest, and there was lots of great food to be had at all of the little stalls. Before we had a proper lunch at a nice Italian restaurant called Calo, known for their excellent pizza and, oddly, their BBQ ribs, we pre-functioned outside Ole Ole on some terrific empanadas served with this incredible salsa verde, and also some lovely, fresh-tasting ceviche (pictured here, as I used MY camera! HMPH!)

Sadly, I had to leave Sommarfest and my friends prematurely because I had to get to O'Hare to catch my flight home...or so I thought! It was bad enough that we had to sit for FOUR HOURS on the tarmac in Philadelphia on the way to Chicago (gone are the days where they keep you circling above before landing at a busy airport), but my trip back to Burlington, VT introduced me to an unprecedented level of air travel horror. My friend got me there in what should have been plenty of time to make the flight, but with all the crazy storms in the midwest that we've been hearing about in the news, there were lots of cancelled flights, so it was chaos there. My flight was split between US Air and United, and I started at the US Air counter in Terminal 2, but they said I had to check in with United in Terminal 2. So I hauled myself and my big suitcase (and my blistered heels from my wedding shoes!) all the way down to Terminal 2, only to encounter this writhing sea of humanity in several indistinct, unidentifiable lines, waiting for God knows what. I confirmed with folks in the back of one line that it was the right one for check-ins, but after waiting there for a little while, a grumpy United representative came along and told us if we had only an hour to catch our flight, to go outside and get in the skycap line or we wouldn't have time to check our bags. So I did as I was told, but the wait in that line was a half hour, and by the time it was my turn, they said it was too late, that I would miss my flight, despite the fact that I still had a half hour!

So with tears welling, I now assumed the dreaded position in the "missed and cancelled flights" line. But before I waited an hour a half only to find out that I was in the wrong line, I called US Air. They told me to get out of that line and go back to US Air in Terminal 2. So I did, and of course, US Air told me that they had no more flights left that evening, so I was better off going back to United to see if I could get on the last flight to Burlington at 9pm. After another grueling trek back to Terminal 1, I stood in line for an hour and a half, and despite giving me attitude about being "late" to the airport (um, I was an hour and fifteen minutes early--more than they say you need for domestic flights!), she put me on stand-by for the 9pm flight, and assured me that I would get on, as I was #1 on the list. As a bonus, because they just switched my ticket at the last minute, I had to have the extra-special treatment by security (getting felt up without even being asked to dinner first!). Then I hauled myself down to the farthest gate in the airport and waited and prayed to be assigned a seat. No such luck. Despite the counter agent's reassurance, I somehow fell from #1 to #11 in priority, and there were only three open seats. Now my bag was on the way to Vermont, and I was stuck in Chicago. I didn't have the heart to call my friends and make them do another round trip to O'Hare, so I found a cheap, crappy hotel room about 20 minutes from the airport, got some tideover toiletries from the front desk, washed my underwear in the sink and dried them with a hair dryer, then slept in my clothes for about fifteen minutes before I had to be back to the airport to start the madness all over again the next morning! Friends, with the economy the way it is and gas inching toward $5/gallon, air travel as we used to know and experience it is no more. In fact, forget about travelling on the weekend, unless you know that you won't get fired for missing work Monday morning, which is all but inevitable. You know, I don't expect hot towels for my face or even a meal, and I will soon come to accept having to pay to check my bag and for a measly can of soda during the flight, but can someone PLEASE treat me with some compassion as a fellow human being? I guess that costs extra, too. (Sigh.)

By the time I finally got home on Monday afternoon, after waiting 20 minutes in line in Burlington to retrieve my bag, then making the hour-and-a-half drive home, I was demoralized and EXHAUSTED. But Cyd took care of all the pets and watered my garden for me while I was away, so I owed her a pumpkin pie (her weird summertime request). Plus, she had some extensive dental work done the week before and still couldn't chew much without pain, so I tried to devise a meal that was quick, easy, and not too crunchy. I made one stop on the way back from Vermont at a certified organic farm for the first breathtaking, super-sweet, red-all-the-way-through strawberries of the season. And of course, the one thing we have plenty of right now is lettuce. So I made a salad with fresh greens, sliced strawberries, crumbled bleu cheese, slivered Vidalia onion (red would be good, too), sliced almonds and raspberry vinaigrette. It was SO yummy, although at some point in the very near future, I am eager to try a version with pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette, too. Delish! The entree was a super-simple pasta dish with tuna and capers that I read about on Alexis Stewart's blog. It's supposed to have raisins also, but as I hate them, I substituted some sun-dried tomatoes. It's a tasty dish, and you can have the "sauce" ready by the time the pasta is done. It's perfect for those days when you can't face too much kitchen duty. Finally, for dessert, I honored my pumpkin promise, but instead of pie (far too autumnal!), I made lighter, cooler, prettier little pumpkin parfaits that hit the spot and didn't take long to make. That was good, because after my O'Hare ordeal, I headed to bed early that night before dragging myself back to work on Tuesday. I had so much fun in the Windy City as I always do, but I'm glad to be home!

Linguine with Tuna, Capers and Raisins
(Source: Gourmet, Dec. 2005, via

1 lb dried linguine (I used mini-penne)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (you could get by with as little as half of this, IMHO)
1 cup frozen chopped onions (from a 12-oz bag) such as Ore Ida brand (um, WHY?? chop some onions your own damn self!)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
*I added a good pinch of red pepper flakes
2 (6-oz) cans tuna in olive oil, drained
1/3 cup drained bottled capers (packed in brine; from a 3-oz jar)
3/4 cup golden raisins (I swapped out slivered sun-dried tomatoes)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I drizzled mine with leftover
chimichurri instead)

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and return to pot.

While pasta cooks, heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking and cook onions and garlic with salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in tuna, capers, raisins, parsley, and reserved cooking water. Add tuna mixture to pasta, tossing to combine, and serve immediately.

Pumpkin Parfaits
(Source: Adapted from someone with the moniker,
"Papa Mike")

4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
pinch of salt

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup + 1 tablespoon cold milk or half and half, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups whipped topping, thawed

2 pkgs. (4-serving size) vanilla instant pudding
15 oz. pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine the melted butter, chopped pecans and salt. Sprinkle a little of the nut mixture into the bottoms of eight parfait glasses. Set aside.

Mix cream cheese, one tablespoon of milk, and sugar with wire whisk until smooth. Gently fold in whipped topping. Divide evenly into parfait glasses and top with another layer of the chopped nuts.

Pour one cup milk into mixing bowl. Add pudding mixes. Beat with wire whisk until well blended, one to two minutes. Let stand three minutes. Stir in pumpkin and spices; mix well. Divide evenly into parfait glasses and once more, top with nuts. Cover parfaits with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours. Garnish with an additional dollop of whipped topping.

1 comment:

Randi said...

Oh you poor thing. Someone should be cooking for you after your ordeal. Btw, why didnt they put you up in a room?