When I started this blog, I was kind of a baby. I wasn't a mom, except for to my cats. I was still in my pigtail-festooned 30s. I wrote about climate change, but in a fun way and only because I was ahead of the game, not because it was full-on scary yet. And I lived in Chicago, where we could always take for granted things like rain and humidity.
Now I'm a parent in Northern California, and it's hot and dry and smoky and we have to take what my mom used to call California showers. Climate change has become a climate crisis, and I have become a dog person.
So what brings me back after a decade plus? It seems like I've been sitting on too much for too long. I'm not even sure what that means, but I have a feeling that maybe, just maybe, by opening up and making random declarations of love, grief, joy, hilarity, wonder etc, the other dreamer-worriers out there and I will feel a little extra solidarity, and maybe even partake in a little of what we could all use more of: hope.
PS I did actually wear pigtails today, for the record.
Back to the Beach
As the thermometer edges closer to 100 degrees every day, it’s looking like my winter-time prayers for a hot summer are finally coming true. And after months of shivering on the El platform, frozen eyelashes stuck together and unable to speak because of frozen mouth muscles, you’d think I’d be all for this extreme heat wave. But when everyone around is dripping with sweat and too hot to function, it can be hard to remember why I longed for this season in the first place.
That’s when I know it’s time to drop everything and jump in the lake. The mercifully cool waters of Lake Michigan are a fitting reminder of just how fantastic these summer months are in Chicago. Here are a few good clean spots to take a dip:
Foster Beach - this driver-friendly spot attracts families from the West side because of its huge free parking lots and large restrooms. Ice cream carts patrol frequently.
Hollywood Beach- arguably Chicago's most gay-friendly beach is just a short walk from the Bryn Mawr stop on the CTA's Red Line.
North Avenue Beach - young, hip tanners, volleyball players and other athlete-types command the scene at this popular beach. Plus you can grab a drink at beachside bar Castaways.
Ohio Street Beach - small beach close to Navy Pier with chill vibe and rental wetsuits for our sometimes chilly waters. Bonus: great views both of the city and the triathletes-in-training stroking through the swim lanes.
Beaches outside the city:
Illinois Beach State Park, Zion, IL- forest-lined, family beach with parking, showers, plus a large park for hikers, bikers, and campers, 45 miles from Chicago.
North Beach, Racine, WI- huge outdoor playground for kids, and nine sand v-ball courts (plus beer from the North Beach Oasis) for adults, 75 miles from Chicago.
Old Town's Big News
Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood is about to get even cooler. The much-loved Old Town School of Folk Music is opening its new two-story, 27-000-square-foot building in just a few months. The additional space will include more all-purpose classrooms, dance studios as well as soundproof rooms for electric instrument classes.
Beyond the sheer increase in class offerings, there are other reasons to welcome the expansion. Old Town will hire about 250 more employees and increase business traffic throughout the neighborhood with an additional 230,000 visits annually. Also, builders are working with locally sourced, recycled construction material and installing energy-efficient heating and cooling systems in an effort to gain LEED-certification and conserve resources.
So if you’ve been hankering to try your hand at a new instrument but just keep putting it off, there’s never been a better time to check out Old Town. Sign up for classes and learn more about the expansion project at www.oldtownschool.org.
The Best Month Ever!
Since last year’s not-so-hot temps shortchanged our summer season, we’ve got to make sure this one’s better than ever. Luckily, Chicago always rolls out the red carpet for warm weather, so we’ve lined up the city’s best outdoor festivals, art walks, comedy nights and more to show June just how happy we are to welcome it back to town.
MayFest, June 3-6, Lincoln Square, b/t Lincoln and Leland Thu 5-9:30pm, Fri 5-11pm, Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-10pm, free. Who says you can’t celebrate May even after it’s over? Join the party at the 11th annual German festival, where you can fill up on hot pretzels and cold beer while enjoying performances like traditional Maipole dancing and the crowd-pleasing gymnastics of the Jesse White Tumblers. There’s also live music from acts including Old Town School of Folk performers and the rock-meets-polka band Polkaholics.
Beer Hoptacular, June 4-5, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W Lawrence, Fri 6:30-10:30pm, Sat 1-10:30pm, $45–$55. The beer geek’s dream come true, this sample-fest lets you refill your own glass as many times as you want from any of 200 small-batch beers. In between swigs, talk shop with pros from breweries around the world.
Do-Division Street Fest and Sidewalk Sale, June 5–6, Division b/t Ashland and Leavitt, noon-10pm, $5 donation. Ten Wicker Park-area blocks close to traffic to make room for a weekend’s worth of sidewalk shopping, live music, DJs and food and drink from local restaurants - like Crust’s organic, wood-fired pizza, hipster-rific PBR and fruity sangria. The little ones in your crew will love the bounce house and mad science demos on Hoyne Avenue.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the Park, June 6, Jefferson Thomas Memorial Park, 4822 N Long, 3-5pm, free. Make your picnic in the park a little classier by timing it with the orchestra’s outdoor performance. Bonus: they’ll play the same tunes as they do in the fancy symphony hall, but you’ll get a lot more legroom.
She & Him, June 7, Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E Randolph, 6:30-9pm, free. Part of Millennium Park’s free Monday series, this show features Zooey Deschanel (of 500 Days of Summer fame) and singer M. Ward crooning along across genres with their pitch-perfect harmonies and soft but edgy sound.
Chicago Blues Festival, June 11-13, Grant Park, 300 S Columbus, 11am-9:30pm, free. Grab your blanket and lawn chair for the largest free outdoor blues show there is. Each year, more than 640,000 blues fans gather for three days and six stages of music, with past performers ranging from Keb Mo to BB King. When you need a break from listening, get hands-on with a Delta Blues harmonica lesson at the Roadhouse Stage.
Ribfest Chicago, June 11-13, 4000 Lincoln, Fri 5pm-10pm, Sat-Sun noon-10pm, $5 donation. The name really says it all - it’s a meat-mania, with about 65,000 pounds of BBQ on hand. Grill-masters from around the city’ll ply you with samples, then you can vote for your fave while bopping along to tunes from bands like indie-folksy Califone. Extreme meat-lovers can prove their mettle by participating in Rib Mania, a serious eating contest for serious eaters. Moist towelettes included.
Old Town Art Fair, June 12-13, 1763 North Park, 10am-6pm, $7 donation. Wander tree-lined streets bursting with art from 260 artists, whose paintings, sculptures, photos, ceramics and jewelry are available for both casual browsers and veteran collectors. There’s also a Gallery of Gardens - a walk through 30 urban home gardens - plus locally made foods and drinks. Kids can enjoy face painting and hands-on crafts.
Andersonville’s Midsommarfest, June 12-13, Clark b/t Foster and Bryn Mawr, 11am-10pm, $5 donation. Though the inspiration for the street fair is the Swedish midsummer festival, you won’t want to miss the many non-Swedish treats here, from Olé Olé’s homemade sangria to the Chicago Diner’s veggie dogs smothered in BBQ sauce and fried onions. The well-rounded fest mixes in everything from nonprofit booths and jewelry and clothes shops, to stages featuring tunes like upbeat Afro-Indian beats from Funkadesi and the comical but energizing Too White Crew.
The Printers Row Lit Fest, June 12-13, Dearborn b/t Harrison and Polk, 10am-6pm, free. Get your bookworm fix at the largest free literary event in the Midwest, where you can leaf through new, used and antique tomes by the thousands. There’s also a chance that your favorite living author will be on hand for a reading. Writers on the lineup include: Oprah book-club fave Elizabeth Berg, local star Audrey Niffenegger, comic artist Daniel Clowes and Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich.
Just for Laughs, June 15-19, citywide, showtimes and ticket prices vary. Comedy trumps all for a week, as 100 comedians from around the country descend on the city, performing at 12 venues around the city. Get tickets early for big names like Ellen DeGeneres (June 16), Cedric the Entertainer (June 18) and Aziz Ansari (June 16, 17).
Theater on the Lake: Second City’s 50th Anniversary Revue, June 16-20, Fullerton at Cannon, Wed-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6:30pm, $17.50. The Chicago Park District’s outdoor theater season kicks off with a celebration of Second City - guaranteed to keep your sides aching for days with sketches written by Bill Murray, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.
Chicago Summer Dance, June 17-August 29, Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park, 601 S Michigan, Thu-Sat 6-9:30pm, Sun 4-7pm, free. Learn everything from salsa to swing during this 11-week series of group classes and dance. A pro in the featured genre will guide you through the moves in the first hour of each session, then it’s up to your newly found skills, your newly found pals and the band to keep things lively for the rest of the evening.
Chicago Arabesque, June 24-26, Daley Plaza, 50 W Washington, Thu-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat. 11am-7pm, free. There’s plenty of tasty food and drink packed in to Daley Plaza this weekend, whether you’re looking for handmade ice cream, savory spinach pies, or super-strong coffee. In between munching and drinking, check out music and dance, like the traditional dance debkeh-off and browse booths with evil eye jewelry, Dead Sea skin products and artisan handcrafts.
Taste of Chicago, June 25-July 4, Grant Park, 100 E Congress, 11am-9pm, free admission, $8 per strip of food/drink tickets. Fifty restaurants around the city set up shop, whipping up samples of their signature dishes for this popular foodie fest. Stop by the Dominick’s Cooking Corner for demos by chefs around town and TV personalities like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen winners. Bonus? The big-name music lineup includes Salt ‘n’ Pepa, the Steve Miller Band and Los Lobos.
Chicago Pride Parade, June 27, kicks off at 3190 N Halsted, noon-3pm, free. Colorful floats and wild costumes, marching bands and cheering crowds - just a few of the givens you can expect at the 41st annual LGBTQ Pride parade. Be prepared for extreme crowds - with 450,000 people flooding the streets, it’s going to be quite a party.
How can you go wrong with cheese and pasta? Well, you basically can’t. There are endless ways to turn a little macaroni and a lotta cheese into the perfect comfort food.
As a Chicagoan who loves her locally made cheese, I decided to come up with a creative use of my favorite melty French/Swiss cheese, Raclette, which is available from the lovely cheesemakers up in Wisconsin. Why Raclette? Well, my stepmom, Sabine, is French, which makes me a foodie by association. It packs a major nutty flavor, so even though it can be a bit pricey, you don’t need a lot. Plus, it’s super-melty, helping make the whole thing silky smooth.
Though this recipe is packed with cheese, cream, and butter, I’ve balanced it out with veggies—you know, to start the New Year off right. I pureed some roasted butternut squash for extra creaminess but half the fat, plus good ol’ beta-carotene and dietary fiber. And while I was at it, threw some mushrooms in to vary up the texture a bit.
The result: We served it up at a recent family gathering and it was quite a hit. Everyone in the group—from the teenager (also the talented photographer; see above) to the grandpa proclaimed it a delight. And they’re family, so if anyone can be honest about not liking it, it’s them. At least I think so. . . Anyway, enjoy!
Macaroni & Cheese with Wisconsin Raclette
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 medium butternut squash, halved and seeded
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 pound elbow macaroni noodles
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup (4 ounces) Wisconsin Raclette, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place onion, garlic and squash (open-side down) in a baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast about 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove peel from squash and puree with roasted onion and garlic and broth until smooth. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
In a large pot of boiling water, add the macaroni noodles and prepare according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Add heavy whipping cream and Raclette; stir until melted together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add minced garlic and mushrooms, sauté until cooked, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the squash puree; stir to combine.
Grease a 9x12-inch baking dish with butter. Place half of the cooked macaroni noodles in the bottom. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar and season with salt and pepper. Pour the squash/mushroom mixture over the Cheddar. Add a layer of remaining pasta. Pour Raclette cheese sauce over the top. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake 45 minutes or until golden brown.
Ode to Lavender
Lavender, I love you. Ideally, I'd be rolling around in fields of you right now, preferably somewhere in the Chateau region of France. Perhaps with a hot air balloon waiting nearby with lavender biscuits and champagne...
But, being that it's January and I'm in Chicago, the closest I can get to this bliss is in my bathtub, filled with my fave lavender-honey almond milk bath recipe. Other than the fact that it obviously smells like a dream come true, it's a winning combo all around - lavender is one of nature's best tension tamers, honey not only softens your skin but also absorbs its impurities, and you can always drink it if you change your mind about the whole bath thing.
Anyway, once you have the ingredients, it's super easy. Fancier groceries tend to carry the lavender, but smaller co-op style spots do too - I scored mine at True Nature Foods (a great Edgewater shop with organic, locally sourced goodies) and I already had some locally made honey thanks to Beeline. Just mix with creamy almond milk, pour in the bath, and voila, a heavenly, toxin-free bath. Enjoy.
Lavender-Honey Almond Milk Bath
1 1/2 Tb dried lavender
3/4 cup almond milk
3 Tb honey
Process lavender flowers in a blender until they become a powder, turning off the blender and scraping down the sides as necessary. Whisk together lavender powder, milk and honey in a glass bowl, then pour into a jar. Before each use, shake the jar and pour half of the mixture into the bath. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes enough for 2 baths.