Category Archives: Food

Tea at the Drake, Take 2

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After tea–Danny, Lori, Cookie, Cookie Jr., and Sis
I’m the one in the white box

We had tea at the Drake again this year.

Last year, photographers wandered through the Palm Court, taking pictures if people wanted them, but they weren’t there this year. Resourcefully, we took our own pictures with our handy smart phones. I took the one above, and Sis took the rest.

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Cookie and Cookie Jr., looking lovely as always
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Danny, perusing the tea caddy

I didn’t understand why they gave us only five of each item on the tea caddy when there were six of us. For some things, this didn’t matter; not everyone wanted a cucumber sandwich, for example. However, everyone wanted a scone and a swan-shaped cream puff.

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Fabulous puff, right?

So, while we may try a different tea venue next year, it looks like holiday tea is becoming a tradition. Lori and Danny both like it and we like to make them happy.

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Pure Michigan—Post Two of Three: Food

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Sis and Cookie at The Green Well Gastropub

While in Michigan, we ate. A lot. None of it was bad, as I recall, though a bit of it was what my dad used to call Howard Johnson’s food. You won’t get food poisoning, but you won’t get fat either. If we got fat, it was on the fabulous food. That is my story and I’m sticking to it.

The just okay food (for me) included lunch at Village Cheese Shanty in Leland. They were out of their famous pretzel bread, which is supposedly the main reason anyone goes there. And everyone goes there. The line was out the door (there was no place to sit inside anyway; you snagged a picnic table in the historic Fishtown section of Leland if you wanted to eat nearby. We got bag lunches, but I doubt I’d do that again. The sandwiches were huge (yes, we were warned, but none of us wanted the same kind of sandwich as anyone else). If I were to go back, I might have a sandwich (half a sandwich, if possible) and a local brew. Bellaire Brown, if I could get it. The cookies were okay, but I’d save my calories for beer, or for one of several other desserts we had on the trip.

Highlights

Green Well Gastropub in Grand Rapids—Loved the cheese tasting, which included artisanal cheeses, interesting spreads with fresh bread and other baked items to put underneath them; also nuts and fresh and dried fruit. The sweet corn spaetzle was also notable, but as their menu changes depending on what’s available, it might not be there if/when we go back.

The Bluebird Restaurant in Leland—the bread pudding was fantastic.

Short’s Bellaire Brown at Scovie’s Gourmet in Charlevoix. Though I understand you can get this ale at a lot of places in Michigan. I just can’t find it since returning to the Chicago suburbs. We also had a nice berry crumb bar and some cherry pie, but the brown ale was the most wonderful, you ask me.

North Peak Brewing Company  in Traverse City. The standouts were the specially designed ice cream flavors (vanilla malt and chocolate stout). The ice cream was made for them by Moomer’s—another Traverse City institution. Sis liked their Oktoberfest beer. I liked the Portobello black bean burger.

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Chateau Chantal Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City. Best parts? Our tasting server who was personable and polite (some of the other servers appeared grumpy) and the view.

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Old Mission Peninsula View

I bought several things to serve at Christmas: Celebrate, a semi-dry sparkling wine, the Late Harvest Riesling for dessert and Twilight for Cookie’s Mom, who will only drink rosé. And I picked up the Naughty Red just to drink sometime. I also really enjoyed the Gewurtztraminer (it’s the wine of some of my people, who hailed, back in the day, from Alsace-Lorraine) and the Cerise Noir, which is rather like a port, only it contains cherries. Sis and Cookie loved the Cabernet Franc, which I thought was just okay.

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Cookie, Sis and me at Trattoria Stella

Trattoria Stella in Traverse City. The service and the tortelli (Bartlett pear & ricotta filling, Gingergold apples, lemon, toasted walnuts and sage) were—you should pardon the expression—stellar. This was our splurge meal, meaning it was not cheap. We made a reservation and everything. Was the tortelli vegetarian? Yes. However, I believe my entrée was voted the best of all the ones we ordered. We all enjoyed a pre-dinner appetizer of Bruschetta (house stracchino cheese, roasted black mission figs, vanilla, cracked black pepper—they left the pancetta off as a favor to me). Sis and Cookie shared a duck liver paté ( with parmesan frico, sundried pear and apricot mostarda, date and onion puree, crostini).

The other entrées were Sis’s lamb stir fry and Cookie’s was a spicy tagliolini, and they each enjoyed them, but again: mine was the best. We drank a Malvira Nebbiolo which in my opinion was just okay, though it may have worked better with Sis’s and Cookie’s entrees. Desserts (a chocolate walnut crostata with cherry sauce & sea salt gelato; and an apple cake) were fine, but what made us happiest was the reappearance of vanilla malt ice cream with the apple cake. Sadly we couldn’t finish dessert, but we lapped up every last spoonful of the vanilla malt ice cream.

Pie!

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Lakeshore Berry Crumb pie ala mode

This particular food highlight deserves its own heading. The Grand Traverse Pie Company is the purveyor of, as Sis said, “the best store-bought pie” she has ever had—meaning not homemade—I think she includes restaurant pies in that description. She is in good company with that assessment. She ordered the Grand Traverse Cherry Crumb, about which Mario Batali of The Food Network says: “ I don’t think I’ve ever had as good a pie as Grand Traverse Pie Company’s Cherry Crumb Pie…It’s a religious experience.”

Cookie had the Cherry Peach Crumb, which we all proclaimed delicious. We are food sharers, if that wasn’t already obvious. My Lakeshore Berry Crumb (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and Michigan apples) was so yummy that I was moved to tweet about it. We stopped back at Grand Traverse Pie Company on the way home to bring home mini-pies, which are half sized but wholly delicious. BK enjoyed my choice (the Lakeshore Berry Crumb, naturally!) and he can be a picky eater, so I was vindicated.

So, in conclusion: Michigan food is often quite good (notice the assonance there?) but budget your calories wisely. I’m still working off the excess poundage.

Next (and last) on the topic of Pure Michigan: Fun—aka what we did besides eat and drink.

Pizza – a War for Hearts and Minds

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When Bro and Bride came to town, we had to get pizza. In fact, Bro had a strong opinion about where to go for it.

There are at least as many different opinions about pizza as there are pizza purveyors. There’s the pizza rivalry between Chicago and New York, recently highlighted by Jon Stewart.

The easy thing to say is that New York pizza is thin and floppy—something you can fold up like a crepe and eat while you’re walking down the street, while Chicago pizza is thick and gloppy, and you have to eat it with a knife and fork, like—as Jon Stewart would say—a casserole.

I don’t know from New York pizza. I only ever had it—or something that was called “New York pizza”—when I went to Wash U in St. Louis. On Sunday nights, when the food service was closed, we often frequented Talayna’s, which I recently discovered is Yiddish for Italian. Talayna’s served what they called New York pizza and Chicago pizza. Since their Chicago pizza wasn’t what I remembered from home, I wasn’t willing to accept that their version of New York pizza was especially authentic either. For Talayna’s purposes, New York and Chicago were code for thin or thick crust, which is how many people think.

The reality is more complicated. There are varying thicknesses of pizza in Chicago, and I’ve been known to indulge in, um, all of the above. Usually I save deep dish (or stuffed, and there is a difference) pizza for special occasions, because it’s very rich. For thin crust, I  like Rosati’s if we bring it home and Home Run Inn if we eat it there.

But, ah—deep dish pizza. At the right place it’s great, at the wrong place it’s either inconsistent or just plain gloppy. The epic tale of Chicago thick crust pizza moguls  is almost the stuff of Greek theatre. Though with the Italian influence, we probably ought to go with opera instead. Somebody write the Chicago Pizza Opera, please! Stolen secret recipes! Betrayal! Revenge! I’d go to the Lyric opening night to hear that one.

An interesting article from the BBC travel site explores the story in some depth, and also divulges their favorite.

As for me, I’ve had Uno’s/Due’s, Gino’s East, My Pie (or My π, if you prefer) and Giordanos. Lately? I have to agree with BK, Bro and the BBC reviewer. Pizano’s.

But if you want to judge for yourself, maybe you should book a Chicago pizza tour

The next time Bro comes to town, we may do that. Purely in the name of research, you understand.

Holiday Entertaining – Tea at the Drake

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The Drake Hotel in warmer weather

There was much Chicago over the weekend for this humble suburbanite. I wish I were better about experiencing all the wonder of living near a good-sized city. I got a ten-ride pass on Metra over a month ago so that I’d get downtown more often. I have yet to use it. Maybe that’s one of my New Year’s resolutions, or would be if I made them: use the Metra pass.

However, when you have out-of-town guests, you need to entertain them. One way we entertained ours was by taking them to tea at the Palm Court of the Drake Hotel. It was quite a crush, *she said, fanning herself.*

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The Palm Court – decidedly civilized

Well, of course it wasn’t a crush. You can’t have tea, and have a crush at the same time, it just wouldn’t be civilized. There were more people there than I’d seen before, but I understand that’s usual during the holidays. It was lovely. There was a harpist. There were probably over twenty different choices of tea, although I didn’t count them; you could also get hot cocoa, which may come in handy if you’re bringing any young princesses or princes with you. For the reprobate in the family, mimosas, bellinis, and tea cocktails were on offer, though we didn’t try those. There were finger sandwiches and cranberry orange scones with Devonshire cream, strawberry jam, and lemon curd. There were ginger madeleines, pumpkin cream puffs baked in the shapes of swans, assorted macarons, and opera cake. In all, there was a grand excess.

A charming young woman with an enormous camera went around to all the tables to take the patrons’ pictures. I don’t usually buy that sort of picture afterwards. Someone is usually blinking or slouching or otherwise embarrassed by their appearance. However, no one in our party had any objections, so I went ahead and bought our picture. Here it is:

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Standing, L to R: Kat, Liz & Lori. Seated: me, Danny

Don’t we clean up nicely? The whole experience was surprisingly low-stress. Here’s a tip from me to you: if you drive, go ahead and opt for valet parking. With validation, three hours (or less) was only fourteen dollars (not including tip), which seemed good for Chicago parking. The nicest part was not worrying about finding a nearby space on a cold day.

Actually, no. The nicest part was being together for a lovely tea.

Holiday Feast

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Borrowing a page from Mary Robinette Kowal’s book – I mean, blog. She posted an absolutely gorgeous holiday menu a couple of weeks ago. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I’m posting our Christmas dinner menu. These are  mostly dishes we’ve enjoyed for many years. This has been a busy few months, so I’m sticking with the tried-and-true.

This menu might seem unusual. See if you can spot what I mean.

Appetizers
Vegetable Birds Nests with Dipping Sauce
Assorted Cheeses and Crackers
Veggies and Dip

Dinner
Spinach Soufflé Crepes
Orange Scented Beets
Mashed Golden Potatoes
Green Beans
Applesauce
Olives
Croissants

Dessert
Christmas Cookies
Peppermint or Vanilla Ice Cream

Did you figure out how this menu differs from much traditional Christmas fare? Leave your answers in the comments section below. Christmas cookies will be awarded to the first five who answer, if you’re willing to provide an address.