The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Culinary Tour July 11, 2013

One of the main objectives of our trip to Chicago was to taste all that food that both of us miss so. When Elihu stays with his dad they’re based out of DeKalb, which is a good hour west of the city. So when Elihu visits the Midwest, he doesn’t get to eat in the city much. This time, we had a local favorite every day of our trip. I was in heaven. Saratoga Springs may have some fancy shmancy restaurants – but there aint nothing like the places ‘back home’. Indulge me, if you will, as I share the highlights…

July 2013 trip B 027I’d prefer it from a small neighborhood joint, but Al’s Italian Beef was the first place we saw when we got off the train…

July 2013 trip B 022This was lil man’s first Italian beef sandwich. He dug it. Me too. (My first real carbs in months!)

July 2013 trip B 469Our first dinner was at the iconic Heartland Café in Rogers Park.

July 2013 trip B 456I had what I’ve been ordering for over a quarter of a century: the Dukes Tostada.

July 2013 trip B 457It always ends just like this.

July 2013 trip B 569Aha! Finally, after two long years, we’re at Dave’s Italian Kitchen in Evanston!!

July 2013 trip B 751Such a great, warm vibe in this place.

July 2013 trip B 727Dave’s wife Ellen (at left) is such a magical and loving hostess. Always has little surprises for the kids. Never ceases to impress.

July 2013 trip B 697The ubiquitous signed wine bottles and cozy booth.

July 2013 trip B 621Elihu pays a visit to Dave himself in the kitchen. Ellen first carried Eli through this kitchen when he was not quite a week old.

July 2013 trip B 732Elihu visits Tuan, who’s worked there for decades now. He’s from Vietnam, and Elihu has wanted to learn Vietnamese for several years now (have no idea why or where that came from). Tuan’s telling him to learn Mandarin instead as it’s more useful.

July 2013 trip B 741There’s Paul (and Jimmy’s backside). Bye guys! Love ya!

July 2013 trip B 858Ok, time for some REAL Mexican food.

July 2013 trip B 847I woulda had the goat if I’d seen it first. Phooey.

July 2013 trip B 845Ah, Jarritos de tamarindo in a bottle. Yes.

July 2013 trip B 559The next day, a little something sweet from Belgian Chocolatier Piron on Main Street in Evanston.

July 2013 trip B 561And away he goes with a cool $10 bag of treats. !

July 2013 trip B 919Our friends Chloe and Brad took us out for sushi at Hot Woks, Cool Sushi in Chicago! So nice of you guys! (Tastiest, most delicate spring rolls I’ve had in years.)

summer trip 2013 A 038Next stop, Ethiopian Diamond in Rogers Park. Man, have I missed injera. This was SO good. Even better leftovers, too.

summer trip 2013 A 042You just use your hands to eat by picking up the food with the flat, spongy injera bread (which has a lemony sort of flavor).

summer trip 2013 A 057You know this place is the real deal cuz all the Ethiopian taxi drivers eat here. They were so kind and shared some of their fish with us. It was off-the-hook good.

summer trip 2013 A 031And with a cold Ethiopian beer – heaven.

July 2013 trip B 937Being in the business ourselves, we just had to stop in and see what this was all about.

July 2013 trip B 942These poor creatures are caged in the same room in which they are dispatched. Ich. But they had room to move and were fed and watered generously. I forgot to ask the guy if he said prayers before butchering or if he used any different techniques. Not convinced there was necessarily a more humane element to the preparation of halal meat.

July 2013 trip B 943He can’t resist.

July 2013 trip B 949These are the cones. The birds go in upside down, the necks are slit and they bleed out. Doesn’t sound like it, but it’s actually a rapid and fairly humane way in which to do it. No matter what you think, it’s way, way less stressful on the bird than the whole factory experience.

July 2013 trip B 500On to my MOST important culinary destination of this whole trip. Can Evanstonians guess where this might be??

July 2013 trip B 489You’re right! The Evanston Grill! Bless this place, unchanged in thirty-some years.

July 2013 trip B 513And this is what we’re here for. Mr. Lee’s Bi Bim Bop. Like none other in the world.

July 2013 trip B 522I just love the Lees. They are the hardest working people I know. No time off ever, except Sundays. And they go to church on that day, so I sure don’t know when they rest. !

July 2013 trip B 495How touching – Elihu’s drawing and our photo, sent at Christmastime, have been put up on the wall. (Those are the Lees’ son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren to the right of our pics.)

July 2013 trip B 1015This might be a new item on the menu. But then again, maybe I just never noticed it before as I was so focused on Bi Bim Bop. !

July 2013 trip B 1027The Lees have known Elihu since before he was born. I fueled up here often during my pregnancy with him. Later, as a mere baby, Elihu himself ate – and very much enjoyed – the Bi Bim Bop too. (That’s Oscar in the back, a tall Mexican fellow who has been the only cook at the Grill – besides Mr. Lee – for a decade. He DJs on the weekends.)

July 2013 trip B 1036One of my favorite views. Mr. Lee always has WFMT playing (the local classical station) and a stack of newspapers by the door. Never a more soothing and peaceful feeling was there in a diner.

July 2013 trip B 686And speaking of diners, this join hasn’t changed in forever either. Yay!

July 2013 trip B 685Love the homey, unpretentious feel. Such a wonderful neighborhood hang. Sometimes there’s hardly anyone there…

July 2013 trip B 664But on weekend mornings the place is packed.

July 2013 trip B 666I just LOVE that you get your cream in a pitcher. No fumbling about with those crazy-wasteful tiny half and half containers. !

July 2013 trip B 681One of the major reasons I come here (aside from the turquoise vinyl booths): their home made hot sauce. You can even buy a bottle. For $2.50. Why, oh why did I buy only one? I shoulda left with a case! My tiny bottle’s almost empty now!

July 2013 trip B 682

I cannot explain how exquisite this sauce is, and how it simply transforms an ordinary breakfast.

summer trip 2013 A 251

Well, diners may be just fine for the commoners, I guess, but the fancy folk go downtown. We’re finally at Reza’s for Middle Eastern food – and of course for Elihu’s number one favorite dish of ALL TIME: roasted quail.

summer trip 2013 A 253This place has high ceilings, a courteous waitstaff and doors that open to the street outside. It might be a classy place, but there really is no classy way in which to eat a quail. It really is a hands-on sort of thing.

summer trip 2013 A 258The enthusiasm just can’t be contained.

summer trip 2013 A 260It’s all over in short order.

And so ends our culinary tour of Chicago. Undid a bit of my previous weight loss success, but there is no question but that it was entirely worth it. I have no regrets, because nothing beats really good food.

A Post Script: Can’t find my pics of Cross Rhodes in Evanston. That was another important stopping point on our tour. I’m still trying to re-create their vinegar-y, oregano-y sauce on my own here. I’ve come close… but no cigar!

Two more post-post items, called to my attention by Facebook friends: first, Cross Rhodes owner and familiar face to all who ever entered the place, Jeffrey Russell, died last September. Thankfully, I knew way ahead of time so my heart wasn’t broken all throughout my meal. Second, there are two Ethiopian Diamond locations, each run by the same family – one’s on N. Broadway, one on N. Clark, both in Chicago, both fantastic.

If you haven’t tried any one of the places mentioned in this post, then DO. Each one has something extraordinary and unique to surprise and impress you.

 

Atkins, Six Weeks In March 4, 2013

Could it be only six weeks? My immediate impressions are thus: I feel like I’ve been on this ridiculous, low carb diet for years (yes, it gets very boring), and secondly? I am pretty happy with my success. So onward I go…

I have lost ten – maybe even eleven – pounds so far. My scale’s not terribly accurate, nor can I quite see the needle from five feet above. Several people have told me this week that they can see a difference in my face. These unsolicited remarks have given me just the bit of evidence and morale-boosting I needed. That, plus the ability to finally get into, zip up and actually wear a pair of my ‘in between jeans’ (from my collection of not quite fat, yet not quite skinny clothes). I’m wearin’ em now, in fact. And I’m sitting in them too – that, for me, is the true test of whether I’m truly in the next size down or not. Yup, last night I was finally able to zip up three new pairs of pants that I haven’t been able to even consider wearing since shortly after I moved here, four and a half years ago. One might then go on to question the fashionable relevance of these garments in 2013, but not to worry. It’s all kind of era-neutral stuff that will work just fine. I think.

What might not work fine a month down the road are my bras. Whoda thunk? I guess I never really and truly believed that I’d get smaller again – I’ve just been doing the old ‘fake it til you make it’ thing these past few weeks. Now that there’s proof that I just might get into the old ‘skinny’ clothes after all – I’ve got a few things to address. I don’t need to run out and spend money I don’t have just yet – I’m still doing fine in my old undertogs. But they are a decade or more old (buying things for me virtually came to a stop when Elihu was born). Regardless of weight, my spirit seems to crave a few nice, new underthings. All part of this chrysalis thing. Slow and steady…

Although I really miss crunchy, salty snacks and some good, hard-core sweet stuff now and again, I’ve learned something pretty amazing for me: a very tiny amount of the craved foot can really hit the spot. ! Just two potato chips, for example. I know, I know! You don’t believe me! Hell, I wouldn’t believe me! But just a bite or two sates me, calms me. It reminds me of the flavor and crunch. And just two dark chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds can take the edge off a sweet craving. In eating less of these foods, when I do have them, they’re much ‘punchier’; saltier, sweeter somehow… Plus now that my goal seems closer, it’s easier still to keep it to just a quick taste. Course I can then enjoy a burger pattie for supper, so that takes the sting off. Yeah, for as boring as this Atkins thing is, it does make dieting so so much easier. And in the future, when I disembark from this carb-less routine, I will be so much more aware of what I eat. Much more aware of gratuitous eating and empty calories.

All of those carbs are going to taste so much better ten more pounds from now, I just know it. And hopefully, I’ll be able to enjoy my life just fine with fewer of em.

 

Prep Work February 18, 2013

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Here it is. I’m about to experience a right of passage, a coming of age. My mortality seems even more real now, my increasing age can’t be denied. The young clerk at the convenient store has been calling me ‘Ma’am’ for years now – but even that hasn’t really phased me, as I’ve managed to ignore his unintentional slights. But the white hairs on my head have moved in permanently and remind me daily – as does the arthritis in my hands, the wrinkles on my face – and now this. My first colonoscopy is tomorrow morning. And in a few minutes, I will begin the dreaded “prep” procedure. My maternal grandmother died of colon cancer, and my cousin, at 46, is a survivor of the disease. It runs in my family, so I have to take it seriously. I need the screening, for sure. But I can still find humor in this, can’t I? I mean really. I’m about to ingest several quarts of a high-octane laxative called “Movi-Prep”. And I’ll be moving to the bathroom pretty frequently for the next six hours from what I hear. I’ve hardly had more than a scoop of egg salad over the past 24 hours, so really there aint much to get rid of. But I expect it will be dramatic. At least that’s what all the hype tells me. I’ve been hearing about people’s colonoscopies, or at least the famous “prep” that accompanies them, for years. Always kinda thought of it as something my older friends had to deal with. And even with my family history, I still kinda blew it off as something other people had done. But this year I face fifty. Time to prep for the future…

That’s kinda what my whole late winter/early spring has been about; assessing where I am now at this point in my life. How healthy am I? How unhealthy am I? Just what might I be able to actually do to ensure that I stay flexible and relatively vigorous as long as possible? I admit, I’ve put far less into action than I’ve intended, but I am making improvements. This is my fifth week of the Atkins diet, and I’m down eight pounds. Not crazy amazing, but it’s definitely something – and my intake of food is certainly no longer thoughtless, in of itself an accomplishment. And I don’t smoke. Or drink. All that is pretty major, considering the sad place I was one year ago. Behind my life was a continuing, low-grade depression which I self-medicated as best I could. I still self-medicate in a matter of speaking by procrastinating, allowing myself to follow distractions – all the usual human stuff. And I feel far more easily discouraged than I’d like to admit, but in the final summation, for the most part I think I’m taking care of my shit. As it were. ! Yes, pun intended. Couldn’t resist.

Seriously, I gotta drink all of this?? See you on the other side….

 

Atkins Two Weeks In January 28, 2013

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 9:47 am
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Well, it’s working. If by no other reason I can tell by the funky taste in my mouth. The score? Lost two pounds this week. Not exactly what I’d expected. “Don’t lose hope” Elihu tells me, “you’ve lost one guinea fowl!”. Dear boy. There are so many stories of people losing gobs of weight during the ‘induction phase’, which are the first two weeks of the diet (during which you eat no more than 20 grams of carbs in a day). I experienced some pretty dramatic weight loss myself during induction, some eleven years ago. Although I’d hoped for similar results, I have a couple of ideas as to why things didn’t turn out the same this time…

First is portion size. I remember all this chatter about how ‘you can eat as much meat and cheese as you want on Atkins!’ – so I’ve pretty much done that. But hey, this is a diet, and the idea is still to use more fuel than you take in – so why push it? But I know I did – having three eggs when the diet recommends two, upping the steak size just a skich… Maybe that’s why I was never hungry! So this next week I’ll be a bit better regarding portions. Then there’s the bourbon chicken from the mall’s Famous Cajun joint. One bite in and I knew it was not what I should be ingesting. Both the chicken and the green beans were kinda sweet and glazed. I had a feeling they’d be out, but in that it was my big meal for the day and we weren’t due to be home for hours, I ate it. So that mighta stopped or slowed my induction process. Atkins folks say that just one bite of a sugary food – even a taste – can switch your body back into a carb-burning machine just like that. Sounds a bit much, but I can’t know for sure. Then there’s exercise. The folks at Atkins also say that exercise is a non-negotiable. Yeeps. 

Not that it’s had anything to do with my diet, but I’ve been sick for the past few days too. Fever and the usual suspects made sleeping difficult. Usually I’d have taken some Nyquil, but this time it was out, too much sugar and alcohol. Last night was long, but thankfully it’s over. Elihu and I are both taking a day off from school today. I just wish I could make myself some tea and toast. Man, who knew cutting out carbs would be such a bummer? Ah, but instead of thinking about what I don’t have, I need to concentrate instead on what I do have: heavy cream in my tea… This is one of the handful of tiny incentives that keep me going. That, and the idea of losing twenty pounds – or four guinea fowl, whichever. !

 

Atkins One Week In January 21, 2013

While modesty prevents me from disclosing how much I weighed when I started my new diet campaign one week ago, I can happily report that I have lost three pounds since then. I do realize that when a woman appears to lose weight, she may in reality have lost nothing at all. We women retain a lot of water, and with our cycles our weight can easily vary by three pounds from one day to the next. Having said that, I’ll add to the mix that I no longer have a period, that my weight no longer does that ‘younger woman’ flux, and that I weighed myself at exactly the same time in my schedule one week later as a means to reflect the change in my weight as accurately as possible. So, in fewer words, the gist is this: Atkins works.

There are two things I want to report about my first week’s experience with this seemingly crazy, unnatural diet. First, is that I am very seldom hungry. Honestly. Even during the course of a regular, non-dieting day I am often uncomfortably so – and during a good old-fashioned low calorie, low fat diet I become absolutely ravenous. The only thing that would keep me going during a Weight Watchers diet was the reward of my weekly visit to Mr. Lee’s Evanston Grill for his locally famous and much beloved Bi Bim Bop. (That, plus the burning image in my mind of zipping up my beloved size 8 vintage cocktail dresses once again.) I had my oasis in each week – that glorious relief, that reward, those beloved flavors, that sexy, fatty, perfectly marinated beef. It kept me going. Then after my respite, it was back to a long week of hungry hours, of my being constantly preoccupied with my next bite, of watching my daily ration of points disappear quicker than I’d expected.

The second thing to report is not as encouraging as the first. It is this: salt and fat become tedious, and sweet snacks are virtually nonexistent on the diet. For me that’s generally ok – cuz I don’t really find sweet foods all that compelling. Sure, I love a great dessert, but I’m happy 90% of the time if my meal doesn’t end that way. And if given the choice between chocolate and salami, well… nuff said. But when you’re eating meat, eggs, fat and cheese – and the salty flavors that go with that territory – you find yourself really wanting the contrast. Plus on Atkins you can get a funky taste in your mouth in the beginning – as well as headaches (things I’d forgotten about) and you really want some relief. Even sugar free gum has carbohydrates, so the options that you might have thought were abundant are really not so. The solution? Ah, the Atkins staple; sugar free jello and artificially sweetened whipped cream. Now I really dislike artificial sweeteners. So much so that I cannot stand more than one sip of diet Coke – no exaggeration. However, in the context of some over-the-top, full-on fatty, heavy cream, a pinch of sweetener (gotta watch out there too – not all artificial sweeteners are low-carb!) can do the trick. So my relief comes in the form of jello – and changing up the flavors helps to reduce the monotony just a bit. (A very tiny bit, but a bit nonetheless.) Another tip: a shot of breath spray gives a little temporary relief too.

The fact that I awake each morning knowing that I won’t have to be distracted by hunger throughout my day is such a plus – I’d even go so far as to say that I see it as a kind of upgrade in my overall quality of life. I certainly can’t imagine living so strictly low-carb all of my life, but I can see the obvious advantage of exercising a little self-control and avoiding the gratuitous starchy foods that are all too easy to eat in large quantities. I don’t need heaping platefuls of rice or endless pieces of fresh-baked italian bread. If I set out to have a taste of rice, pasta or bread and am not starving at the outset of my meal, I think I’d be apt to eat less. Frankly, I piled on the mindless carbs mostly cuz I was hungry. (This does however require some planning; protein needs to be on board and in your system before you’re faced with some tempting carbs.) Not feeling such a terrible gnawing in my gut gives me much more power to say no. I’m not saying binges are off the map – I believe every experience has its time and place. But in abstaining totally, it’s given me a bit more perspective on how many carbs I used to eat, and how thoughtlessly I did so.

Sure hope I don’t appear to be standing on a soap box here, just want to pass on some of my observations from this first week of re-acquainting myself with the Atkins diet. Not sure if I’ll be as chipper and upbeat about it in the future as I am today. I’ll check in each week to report on the process – I myself am curious about how my feelings will change, and if my progress will be steady or stall out after just a few more pounds. I think I can increase the likelihood of my success if I step it up a bit too; if I add routine workouts and watch my carbs a bit more diligently I think it’ll help. Many was the time I ate more than I’d thought by making an assumption about something before checking first. (Pickled okra are not carb-free, who knew?) 

Although three pounds isn’t going to register on my frame, and my pants likely won’t begin to fit differently until I’ve lost a good ten pounds, I absolutely know that something in my body has changed. Also, I’m thinking it’s a good time of year to try out a new diet – no parties on the horizon, no food-related holidays to pose undue challenges and stress… and a still a couple months yet til my half century birthday. So I’m feeling ok, hopeful. A subtle feeling of dread is lightening as I assert a bit more control over my life. I do realize that total control over our lives is never fully within our power – but with that in mind, I am enjoying the result of my current, tiny success.

What I really miss most is a glass of wine. When I’ve seen ten pounds gone, I’ll treat myself to a glass. That first sip will no doubt be more enjoyable than so many that have come before… Til then, however, it’s one week at a time….