Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year in Review

On the eve of a new year, what better way to reflect, than to look through my hundreds of pictures and remember all that I've experienced and accomplished. 2010 was a crazy fun year and if I had to think of one word that best describes it, it would be CHANGE.

Here are my favourite pics, one from each month, except February and April, because apparently I didn't take pictures those months.

In January, I tackled one of my lifelong fears! Skating. I can't believe that as a Canadian, I didn't learn how to skate until I was 28 years old. M taught me on the outdoor rink at Millenium Park and now I love it! Can't wait to get back out there!

The picture I chose from March is taken at one of my favourite Chicago cafes, Argo Tea, when I was visiting M one weekend. To me, it symbolizes all of the traveling I did from Toronto to Chicago in those six months I was living as a single lady. It seems so long ago that M and I were living in different cities, but we survived, and I definitely gained back my independence, which I think is a really good thing.

In May all of my family members got together *I think* to celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day. It's a rare occurrence when every single one of us is present. I like my family a lot.

June was a pretty stressful month. Packing up our condo and wrapping up the school year all in one week was a crazy. Here's the last picture I took of our first owned home, just as we walked out of the door. Sad.

But onto bigger and better things, right? I moved to Chicago on July 1st and spent the summer exploring. One of the best touristy things I've done so far is the architectural boat tour. Love love love Chicago in the summer. It comes alive.

August was all about Africa and climbing Kilimanjaro wasn't just the highlight of this year, it's the most challenging thing I've done in all my life, thus far, anyway :)

September's picture is from Philly, the city of Brotherly Love. This one reminds me of how much I travelled this year, the most I've ever done in one year before... Chicago so many times, Tanzania, New Orleans, Philly, and Nashville. I'm one lucky girl.

Fall was spectacular here. I can't remember experiencing a true season of fall in so long. This picture was taken mid October on the patio at our local watering hole.. $3 Margaritas. Need I say more.

We've also been really lucky this year was a ton of friends and family visiting us in Chicago. In November we had a lot of visitors, including my BFF. Fun, fun.

And now, December. Experiencing the first year's snowfall with my doggie boy was lovely. At first I thought his favourite thing was eating tree branches in the fall, but oh no, eating snowballs in winter is ten times better. I love this picture because he looks ridiculously scary.
I'd say this year was one of the best but I've got some travel plans in the works to make 2011 good competition.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Music City! Yeehaw!

M and I spent last weekend in Music City - Nashville! Neither of us are country music fans, but I think a (short) trip is worthwhile for anyone, Garth Brooks lover or not.

Nashville, I learned, is quite spread out. I'd recommend renting a car while you're there, which we did not, but probably should have. Luckily, our hotel offered a shuttle to anywhere within a 5 mile radius and I'm pretty sure we were their best customers. We got to know the drivers quite well!

We arrived in Nashville on Friday night around 9pm. After checking into our hotel, we asked the shuttle driver where we should go - Nashvegas of course!
Nashvegas is the downtown strip where all of the honky tonk bars are, tons of restaurants, and a plethora of cowboy boot shops! It definitely reminded me of Bourbon St., minus the nekkid ladies.

Here's the famous Wildhorse Saloon where tons of country stars hang out. This is your go to place for line dancing lessons, so I've been told :)
I love me some Elvis!
Jack's Bar-B-Que is a highly recommended restaurant (the downtown location possibly being a tourist trip) and in my experience, a great place to eat meat! The smells coming from this place are just ridiculous.
Mmm, as soon as you open the door your nose is filled with the intoxicating scent of smoky BBQ. It's a beautiful thing.
The first time we ate here I was too busy enjoying the food, so here's what it looked like after we were done. M and I shared the combo platter which comes with 3 meats and 2 side dishes.
The next day we went again (once obviously wasn't enough), and this time on really empty stomachs. My plate is in the bottom of the picture and I ordered pork roast with mac and cheese and cinnamon apples. The best part about Jack's is they have six different sauces to dip your meat into. Holy heavens, this is my type of place!

I liked the sweet and smokey Kansas style sauce the best and promptly bought a bottle to take home. Then, sadly I realized I would now have to check my luggage on the way home because BBQ sauce is a liquid. Darn you, terrorists.
I luuuurved the genuine Southern hospitality in Nashville. I'll be back later with more Nashville goods, including our experience at the Grand Ole Opry!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Birthday Dinner #2

For birthday dinner #2 the husband and I went to Girl and the Goat. This is one of Chicago's hot new restaurants that was opened this summer by Top Chef winner, Stephanie Izard. The restaurant is loud and crowded, but has a very cool feel to it.

Our server was extremely friendly and was genuinely excited about the food. He advised us to order four dishes to share, which is exactly what we did. The menu is very interesting with lots of surprising dishes and combinations you wouldn't expect. The food selection changes often, depending on what's in season, as most of the food is bought from local farmers.

We chose to start our meal with beet bread, which as you can see below. It came with whipped goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette.
The first dish brought out was hamachi with pork belly. Lovely.
Before visiting a restaurant I like to read yelp reviews to help me decide what to order. Loads of people were raving about the sauteed green beans in a fish sauce vinaigrette, so of course I had to try them. Wow, yum.
We also tried the lamb sausage stuffed calamari. Yes, so good.
Next up was wood oven roasted pig face. You read that correctly. The meat was very soft and really quite delicious.
And for dessert we shared date cake with marshmallow,
and apple pie in a jar- complete with a birthday candle on top!
I really enjoyed my dining experience at Girl and the Goat. I can't wait to go back and try more menu items! If only it wasn't so hard to get a reservation...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Boka Birthday Dinner #1

I like to celebrate my birthday by eating great food! Every year, that is all I want - a nice dinner with my husband. This year, M and I went to Boka for birthday dinner #1 (I was extra good and got two dinners this year) and it was super fantastic.

To start, I ordered a "Dealer's Choice" cocktail, which is when the bartender tailors a drink especially for you. I requested something fruity and ended up with a raspberry mint concoction that was unlike anything I'd ever tried before. It was really nice, almost thirst quenching!
M ordered the wine pairings to go with our six course dinner menu. Excellent choice. All of the wines were lovely (of course I stole sips of each).
While waiting for our first course, the server brought over the most delicious bread that had a crunchy-ish crust and was to die for. When they asked if we wanted more, I had to say no to save room in my belly, even though I wanted to say yes, yes, yes!

The first course was a tasting of their raw menu - oyster, hamachi, and something and something else. The hamachi was my favourite part - rich, smooth, and buttery.
Second course was amazing. It consisted of the hugest scallop I've ever eaten, which was mild, almost sweet, and so tender you could cut it with a spoon. Absolutely divine. It took me 20 minutes to eat just one scallop because I never wanted it to end :)
Course three was *I think* short rib ravioli, but I'll have to confirm that with M later. He has a better memory than me! This was still great tasting, but my least favourite of all the courses. It was lacking a little, je ne sais quoi...
The next course consisted of duck breast with lentils. Really good.
And the fifth course, ahhh, the fifth course. Soooo so good. I really wish they had given us a menu, so I could remember every detail of it. This was some rare cut of ham that is supposed to taste nutty because the pigs are fed acorns.
And last, dessert. Hmm, I think the top is some sort of spice cake and the bottom was a peanut butter chocolate thingamabob. Yummo.
All in all, a really fantastic meal. A great choice, if I do say so myself. The service was very good, the food outstanding, but the atmosphere a tiny bit crowded. They have some sort of hanging overhead drapes that our server kept hitting her head on and kinda made me feel like I was at the circus. Other than that, I really enjoyed my Boka dining experience and would highly recommend it!

**In truth, Boka doesn't quite compare to my go-to Toronto birthday restaurant, Auberge du Pommier, which is the best restaurant I've ever had the pleasure of eating at. Oh please, please, please try Auberge if you want a fancy (re: very expensive) meal in Toronto. Really top notch atmosphere, food, and service.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Long Weekend Fun

I love visitors!
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend we had four of our Canadian friends come visit us in Chicago. So much fun!
They bought a CityPass so they could visit the main tourist attractions and we joined them for a couple. Neither M or I had been to the Field Museum, so we finally got our chance. It's pretty amazing and I'd definitely recommend a half day there.
Plus, the view of downtown from outside the museum is quite nice!
On Black Friday our guests ventured out to State Street and we met them on the Magnificent Mile later in the afternoon. Never again. I hate people. I hate shopping. There were definitely no great deals to be found, unless you wanted to buy watches and only watches.
We also checked out the Lincoln Park Zoo, which I was quite impressed with, being free and all. I'll definitely have to go back and check out the zoo lights when it's dark out.
At some point over the weekend we made it to Al's Beef. What took us so long to try this magnificent place?? After seeing it featured on an episode of Man Vs. Food, we knew we had to try it, but needed the right group of people to go with. Hard core meat eaters.
If you like a french dip roast beef sandwich, I'm pretty sure you'd love Al's Beef. Get it extra dipped though! So soggy and delicious. I know it looks disgusting here, but you've gotta try it to believe it :)
Then of course we had to experience the deep dish pizza at Giordano's. Happy bellies all around.
All that eating was okay because we walked A LOT over the five days they were visiting. If you come to Chicago, bring your runners. It's an extremely walkable city and you'll have to burn off the food somehow!

We are expecting more guests this coming weekend and are also taking reservations for the 2011 season. Any takers?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hot Chocolate 5K

A few weekends ago M and I ran Chicago's Hot Chocolate 5k. The course took us through Grant Park, along Lake Michigan, behind the Shedd Aquarium - a really stunning, scenic route, especially on a crisp fall morning. And crisp it was! Bloody freezing is more like it :)

I misunderstood the race times so we ending up getting there at 6:45 am and had to wait an hour for the real start time. There were 30 thousand people running this race, so a bit of body heat helped keep us warm.
While we were waiting around, guess who sauntered by? Dr. Oz! Hahahaha, you better believe that I shook his hand. His make-up was loaded on to the point of looking scary.

Before the race M and I decided to stick together and run just for fun. I surprised myself and ran the entire thing. It's so funny. When I try to run outside by myself I have to take a break after 5 minutes it seems. Here, I was going strong the whole time, hardly feeling out of breath. Endorphins must have been working overtime. We ended up having an 11:37 minute mile but I'm convinced we could have gone faster if it weren't for the huge hoards of people and a terribly small route. How you can expect 30,000 people to run down a sidewalk, I will never know...

After the race we quickly got our chocolate fondue treat and chowed down while walking back to the train. Home by 9:30am. Not bad!
I love chocolate.
I was waiting to write a blog post about the race till the official race day photos came in. They are in but I can't find any of me! I'M PISSED AT YOU, MARATHONFOTO. I sorted through 5000 pictures and only found pictures of M. We even held hands while crossing the finish line, but of course I am cut out of them.
Ohhhh well. I am so happy to cross this one off my 36 in 365 list!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christmas Card Countdown

Every year I say I'm going to send out Christmas cards. Every year I don't. This year is going to be different, mostly because sending cards is one of my 36 in 365 goals and crossing things off that list feels so good!

This year, Shutterfly has a promo (go here where bloggers can get 50 free holiday cards. Sign me up! Hence, why I'm writing this post :)

Last year I noticed a growing trend of people sending photo cards, which I think is a really cute idea when you have kids. But is it a little pretentious to send photo cards if you don't have kids? Really, who is going to want a picture of just me and the hubs? Oh well. I'm jumping on the bandwagon because Shutterfly has a ton of nice templates to choose from. Here are some of my faves:
Go here for folded greeting cards.

Go here for flat stationary cards.

Go here for flat photo cards.

Now, to choose a picture! Most of the pics M and I have are self-portraits and I definitely don't think people want to see us up that close!

Do you send out cards every year? Or just think about it, until it's too late?!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Penny For Your Thoughts?

Have you heard of BzzAgent? It's a marketing company that sends you free stuff to try and in return you're expected to spread the word - positive or negative.

The latest BzzCampaign I've been invited to join is for a website called Otrib. Take a look at the picture below.

Otrib created a free facebook application where you can name an heir for your facebook account so that, after you die, someone can manage your profile, send out a death notification to all your friends, and create a tribute page or obituary.

Wow! What are your thoughts?