MY SECRET LIFE AS A FOOD CRITIC

I’ve been listening to a lot of books on CDs lately on my ever-so-exciting commute.

One of the books I recently heard was by a food critic for a well-known newspaper. I would have recommended the book to you, but in looking at her other books, discovered reviews that weren’t that great (and weren’t about food), so passed on a recommendation.

I did enjoy this book.

I got into my car on those cold, dark, first-week-of January mornings and instantly I heard a description of “spice and sweetness that went somersaulting through my mouth” or “shrimp so succulent, you can taste the ocean.”

Next to me was my brown lunch bag filled with a collage of foods quickly thrown in on the way out the door.  Healthy, but disconnected.

Oh, to have a meal artfully plated (or even to have somersaulting tastes)!

So when my friend and I decided to meet for dinner, I went hunting for a restaurant I hadn’t been to before in the area where we wanted to meet. I found one, so asked a friend at work (or lived in the area of the restaurant) if he had been there.

“I haven’t heard of that one, but I know exactly where you should go,” he told me.

He directed me to Regina’s.

The restaurant got off to a good start because just THINKING about a good Italian meal on zero-degree day is satisfying.

However, when I arrived at the restaurant in my rather high-heeled boots, navigating the parking lot was a little treacherous. I mean, they could hold the US Skating Championships on that parking lot. I know it’s been a difficult week to keep the ice off the sidewalk and driveways – but still when you’re a business, I would think you would do SOMETHING.  As I waited for my friend, I watched other people gingerly make their way from car to door.

Inside – the restaurant was warm and inviting with a mural painted along one wall which reminded both of us of Culross. Some of the tables were sectioned off by curtains. (I noticed that the people they had chosen to put behind the curtains that night – was not a couple on a date, but rather a family with kids.)

The server was friendly. I decided on hot tea and she brought us a large box of TAZO tea from which to choose. We both choose wild orange. I am a big TAZO tea fan – at least their iced tea. However, we didn’t like the orange hot tea. Kind of weirdly spicy or something – certainly didn’t somersault down my mouth or anywhere else. But then, that was the tea, not the restaurant.

My friend ordered chicken marsala and I ordered the chicken tetrazzini. My friend said hers was good – she had a couple rather large pieces of chicken on top of the pasta.  My serving was also very large. I honestly don’t think I could’ve eaten it all even if I wanted to. The pasta had large chunks of chicken (sometimes in this type of dish, the chicken is hidden) and was covered with a creamy alfredo sauce that had great taste.

Even after eating for quite awhile, I had hardly made a dent in my dish. I had enough for both lunch and dinner the next day and still didn’t finish it. (Do not even want to THINK about the total number of calories on THAT plate.)

I will give this restaurant a 3. Lots I liked about it. But neither of us liked the tea and that parking lot was crazy. I guess the other negative is they sat everyone fairly close together (except for the family with the kids behind the curtain) even though there were lots of empty tables. We had a fairly loud table right behind us and at times couldn’t even hear each other talk. I understand restaurants have no say on who is loud and who isn’t – but you can spread your customers out a little when you’re not overly busy.

So, even though I gave it a three – I would recommend it.

OK, my stint as food critic is now done.

I have to go cook supper.

SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS WITH A TWIST

Here’s a dessert idea that is fun for the whole family.

1. Prepare a dozen plain, white cupcakes. (Plain white seems to work best so the taste doesn’t overpower the flavors in the frosting.)

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2. Mix white frosting with cocoa and yellow coloring until you create a spaghetti-colored tint.DSC_0341

3. Put frosting in a sandwich bag and cut a small hole in the corner of the bag. (I could’ve made the hole smaller than what I did.) Squeeze spaghetti onto the cupcakes.

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4. Top with a piece of round, chocolate candy. Some people use malted-milk balls. We used Ferrero Rondnoir.

Dip the balls in a small amount of strawberry or cherry jam. (Strawberry looks a little saucier because of the consistency, but cherry and chocolate is a popular flavor combination.)

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5. Top with grated white chocolate and enjoy.

A MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN

For some reason the outfit I wore today reminded me of an almost-embarrassing moment I had several years ago.

The Bradley Center had just opened in Milwaukee and Ken and I were there for some special event – I can’t remember what. But, I do remember I had heels on and my winter coat.

As is typical of large stadiums, the upper tiers are steep and you need to carefully walk down the steps because a fall could be quite treacherous.

So, we had just come out of our row and had about six steps to get down out of the seats to level ground. I went to take a step and my heel caught in the hem of my coat – and STUCK.  Ken was a little behind me and unable to grab me as he saw me teeter on one heel and fall forward.

I tumbled through the air – helpless to get my heel out of my coat hem and get my footing.

But there at the bottom of the steps, some gentleman saw my cordless bungee jumping and reached out and caught me – saving me a ton of embarrassment and probably, a trip to the ER.

Every time I wear my heeled boots and good coat, I think of that night and the quick-thinking, kind man whoever he was.

SNOW DAY

Remember how exciting Snow Days were when you were a kid?

That doesn’t work when you’re an adult. Snow Days don’t equal a day of play.

But, if  you’re fortunate and your schedule for the day was to work at home anyhow, then a snow day is still fun.

You can make yourself a big mug of hot chocolate and watch the falling flakes as you write.

A snow day also means that my daily exercise is shoveling. Which I don’t mind because at least I’m accomplishing something – unlike riding my inside stationary bike which takes me no where. I love the outdoors. I love the fresh air.

Ahhh … snow days.

Hmmm … I think I’ll go do some editing in front of the fire.

THE CHICAGO FIRE

Ok, finished a couple more books.

#7 – Two Wars by Nate Self. This is the autobiography of an officer who was an Army Ranger Captain and involved in extremely dangerous missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. He talks about the war he fought on the battlefield and the war he fought coming home to real life. Lots of realistic description of the war which was interesting, but war description is not my favorite reading material. Yet this is a worthwhile book, especially as you read how he came to terms with what he experienced – through the power of Christ.  He now counsels returning soldiers.

#8 – The Great Fire by Jim Murphy. This is the story of the Chicago Fire, of course – a short two CD book. This is a 1996 Newbery award winner, which means it was written for kids. However, it kept me occupied through a couple days of commuting and I found it interesting.

Books like this always make me look up more information, so of course, I did. (And it would be fun to read a David McCullough-type book on the subject.)

Here are some Chicago Fire Facts

1. Mrs. O’Leary was not old, living alone, and penniless. She and her her husband and her children lived in a small home on DeKoven Street. Her husband didn’t make a lot of money, but enough to comfortably support his family.

2. They did have a barn and they did have cows, but they were already sleeping the night the fire started and the newspaper man who said it started when their cow kicked over a lantern admitted he made up the story.

3. The fire did start in their barn or at least near their barn – maybe by a neighbor who kept his cow at the O’Learys and might have been milking her that late. He was one of those reporting the fire and might’ve been covering up his own carelessness. Or, maybe the fire was caused by still smoldering ashes from a fire that raged the night before just a couple blocks away.

4. The fire itself could’ve been contained if it had not been for a series of mistakes – the alarm was delayed and when it was sounded, the firemen were sent to the wrong part of the city. Also, the wealthy of the city felt the fire was something that happened only in the poor area and didn’t pay much attention – until the fire jumped the river and began burning through wealthier homes.

5. The fire destroyed an area four miles long and about 3/4 miles wide. Only a few buildings were spared – the Water Tower and Pumping Station on Chicago/Michigan Avenue, Holy Family Church (actually the O’Leary’s church) and the O’Leary house itself. Old St. Patrick’s Church and St. Michael’s of Old Town also survived.

6. The O’Leary house stood until 1956 when it was torn down to make way for the Chicago Fire Academy where firefighters still train.

7. Although a third of the city was homeless after the fire, only a few hundred people lost their lives. On the very same day, fire broke out in Peshtigo, Wisconsin killing 1,200.

8. D.L. Moody lost most of what he had in the fire – including his church.

9. The story of Horatio Spafford writing the lyrics to “It Is Well with My Soul” has been told over and over. He planned to take his family to Europe, but couldn’t get away so sent his wife and four daughters on ahead. The boat was shipwrecked and all four children lost their lives. Later, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to join his wife, he wrote the song.

But something I wasn’t aware of – Mr. Spafford had been a successful Chicago lawyer and lost everything in the fire (just a short time before the fateful trip). The reason he was delayed is because he was helping the city deal with zoning issues that had arisen because so much of the city was destroyed. So, not only did he lose his daughters, but everything he owned within a few weeks.

10. The University of Chicago teams are called the Flames. The campus is close to the O’Learys.

1000 CHAPTERS

 

At the beginning of 2010, Larry Fowler (a member of our Executive Leadership Team) challenged us to:

Memorize 1000 verses.

Read 1000 chapters of the Bible.

Run 1000 miles.

Ok, right off  I knew I wouldn’t be running any 1,000 miles. (Riding my bike 1,000 miles would’ve been a lot more doable for me, but I decided to be reasonable and not even think about that challenge – though I do regularly exercise.)

Memorizing 1000 verses would be challenging, but not something that I particularly wanted to agree to back last January.

But the reading 1,000 chapters fascinated me. I’m someone who works well with lists and goals and that seemed like a good one. I especially liked that I could make up my own rules – which I did.

My #1 rule was this. I could read the same chapter over and over and over again until I felt as if I understood the message that the author (by the inspiration of God) wanted to get across to us, the reader. And each time I read the chapter, I could put a check mark toward my 1,000 chapters. I didn’t have to get through the Bible or the Old Testament or the New Testament or stay on someone else’s preset schedule, I just had to read. I had no agenda – just 1,000 chapters.

I enjoyed this process. I liked reading the same chapter over and over before moving on to the next one and didn’t feel the pressure I’ve felt in other Bible reading schedule.

And yes, I ended up reading 40 chapters the last week, but I did make my 1,000-chapter goal.

Just a suggestion – we’re still at the beginning of the year – you can do it!