Friday, September 21, 2012

Swimming When You're Not Young and Skinny

I went to the gym for the first time last night.  I don't have my goggles or my cap yet but I did get my swimsuit and I gotta say, I love this swimsuit.  It was only $30!  With free shipping!  I can't remember the last time I had a swimsuit that didn't have an underwire so that was weird but I never had clevage issues because the neck comes up pretty high, so that's good.  They have different colors so I think I'm going to get at least one more swimsuit.

The last time I remember swimming laps I was in college and I was thin.  I can't remember how old I was or what weight exactly but if I had to guess I'd say I was about 24 years old and 150 pounds.  And I could swim laps, like real laps, freestyle and everything, for as long as my little heart desired.  I guess I thought you never lose that.  I was wrong.

I'm not even halfway down the pool and I'm thinking to myself, holy cow, I can't get enough oxygen when I go to take a breath to last to the next breath.  What's the deal with this?  The second thing I think is OH MY GOD THE LIFEGUARD IS GOING TO THINK I'M DROWNING!  And the very very last thing I want is the lifeguard to look at me, I just want to be invisible in the pool.  It's the only thing that someone watches you.  No one watches the treadmill walkers or the basketball players.  I hate this about swimming at the gym.  There were no lifeguards I can remember in college.  I almost didn't want to join because of it. 

I switched to breast stroke.  And I felt like a failure.  But I breast stroked in that pool for 45 minutes and I wanted to give up after 10.  I kept trying to swim freestyle but I could only go a couple of times, not even half a lane.  I'm going to keep working on this and working on not freaking out just because there's a lifeguard.

In hindsight however, I'm kind of glad I had trouble with freestyle because my eyes are burning today from the small bits that I did try to do.  Googles are a must in the pool.

Other musts:
I need a freaking coverup.  The towels are very small and I don't like walking from the locker room around the first pool to the big pool trying to hid my waist with a tiny hand towel.

I need shower shoes.  I don't think I have to go into details but the showers stay wet all the time and it doesn't feel right to just stand in that stuff.

I need a change of clothes that aren't yoga pants. It's very hard to put on clothes when you are slightly wet and standing on a wet floor especially when you are dealing with 8% spandex..

I need a better gym bag than one those fold up totes you use for shopping.  And I need a lock so I can put my stuff in a locker.

I need shampoo and A COMB.  Duh.

I think once I get past my insecurities I'll like swimming more.  It was my first time and I was already nervous and then I felt really let down by my body.  I felt very strong after swimming, I feel like I hold in my stomach when I swim naturally so my stomach felt stronger.  I also realized they have floaty things so you can use them to practice kicking or leg things to practice arm strokes.  I frog kick when I breast stroke and I got very sore, it would have been great to use the floaty thing to do regular kicks across the pool to change it up.  I also think I'll really like water aerobics.  When we get back from vacation I'm going to figure out the schedule so I can try that out. 

Also when you are swimming you are really alone with your thoughts.  When I work out I always have music or television, sometimes both, I used to read sometimes too, and when you swim you don't get any of that.  If I'd stop counting my strokes I could really use that time to think about things, besides, you know, not looking like I'm drowning.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Local Root in Streeterville

Doubt  and cynicism stemming from the Streeterville location and hyperbolic locavore marketing were shattered by two lunches this week at Local Root, a new casual, quick service place in a culinary wasteland. 

The locavore clich├ęs hit me immediately.  Posted on the window outside is a manifesto about how industrial food is killing everybody and how sustainable restaurants like this are going to save the world.  There’s talk about carbon footprints and the owners’ passion for sourcing local ingredients.  There’s a massive sign claiming that Local Root will be a zero-waste restaurant, with every byproduct, presumably from a melon’s seeds to a customer’s feces, contributing back to the earth in one way or another.  And, of course, there’s a chalkboard.  It lists places like La Quercia and Traderspont Creamery and others with resonance among slow foodies and their ilk.  There’s also a promise that deliciousness will be enhanced, not compromised, by the restaurant’s sustainability vision.

I love La Quercia and Traderspoint, and the values above are values I share; it’s just that I’ve heard them so many times from counterfeits that my instinct these days is to discount the claims as marketing gimmick.  The thing is, Local Root really seems to be living the principles, especially the one about deliciousness being paramount.   This was apparent when I walked in and saw that upwards of half the space in the build-out was devoted to kitchen and prep areas, all of which are open for customers to see.  In a part of town like this where lunch volumes are high, there’s a temptation to maximize seating and waiting areas at the expense of cooking space.  This works fine when a good percentage of your product is based on crappy, processed stuff that comes off of a Sysco truck, as is the case at most places in the area.  It doesn’t work when you’re making food from scratch.

At Local Root, even the bread is made from scratch.  I couldn’t believe this, but at a prime lunch hour two staff members were working full time rolling out dough for baguettes that were about to hit the oven.  To accomplish this, they were using a massive prep table and a workspace as big as my living room.  Impressive devotion.

Everything I ate fell somewhere on the continuum from great to good.  Sweet and tangy gazpacho that tasted of wonderful in-season tomatoes with a little spicy kick was probably my favorite item.  At Local Root, bread thickens the gazpacho more than in most versions, and the soup is served with chopped egg.  These are both characterstics of salmorejo, a Spanish gazpacho cousin upon which I suspect this terrific soup is based.  Sweet and tangy are themes here, and characterized the beet salad that was my second favorite items, with a thick, maple-balsamic dressing, a mix of earthy and spicy greens, and crumbles of outstanding blue cheese from Traderspoint Creamery.  A ham sandwich with meat from an Iowa company called Beeler’s was tasty if not particularly special, served on one of those impressively house-made baguette’s which could have been a bit lighter-textured and crisper for my taste.  The fries served with it, however, were exceptional.

I love what the Local Root is doing and will be a frequent customer.  I must admit that I did have to get over some sticker shock first though.  That ham sandwich with fries was $11.49.  The beet salad was a whopping $9.49.  There’s a La Quercia prosciutto baguette on the menu for $12.49 and duck confit on brioche for 15 bucks.  These prices might be more expected at trendy sit-down restaurants with similar culinary mindset, but they’re tough to swallow at a place where the cashier takes your order and hands you a numbered placard to place on your table until a runner brings the food.  That said, there’s a cost to doing a restaurant build-out in the way I described above, and this place is employing a large number of skilled culinary folks, not high school students cooking from a corporate instruction manual as at so many other places in the area.  I want to support that and, more importantly, I think the quality of the food here is worth the prices.

Local Root
(312) 643-1145
601 N. McClurg

Monday, September 17, 2012

Khao Soi Battle - TAC Quick vs ATK

Some fans I know of Northern Thai food consider Khao Soi the quintessential dish of the region, and have a near-obsession with their quest to find “authentic” versions.   With a unique flavor that includes a mix of spices such as cinnamon and clove with coconut and more common curry spices, Khao Soi is indeed something special.  In Chicago we’re lucky enough to have a number of restaurants that serve the dish, with Sticky Rice’s version by far the most complex and delicious, in my book.

TAC Quick has always had a number of excellent Northern Thai dishes, and though I hadn’t tried their Khao Soi in a few years I remembered it fondly, if not with the same gusto as the one from Sticky Rice.  With the recent chef shakeup at TAC,  I decided to see how the place was doing without its well-regarded chef and use Khao Soi as a benchmark to compare the Andy-less TAC with Andy’s new place, ATK.

The Khao Soi curry flavors at TAC were as good as I remembered, with subtle heat balancing sweet spice and creamy coconut.  The delicious accoutrements were as I remembered too: sour fermented greens, raw red onions, crunchy ground peanuts and crispy fried noodles that sat atop the boiled noodles within the sauce.  Delicious as it is, TAC’s version is more subtle than the one at Sticky Rice, where there is a pronounced sourness in the sauce and more robust spicing.  Sticky Rice also uses wide noodles instead of the thin ones at TAC, and the heartiness of wide noodles seems to stand up better in a dish like this.  Still, by any account TAC’s Khao Soi was and still is a tasty bowl of food.

From the identical square white bowl to the placement of a big green lettuce leaf, visually the ATK Khao Soi is identical to the TAC version.  Clearly this is either Andy’s construction that the people at TAC have maintained, or it’s one that he learned at TAC and has taken with him to ATK.  The identical type of noodles and list of accoutrements were here too.  Where the ATK version departed in a bad way was in execution.  The boiled noodles arrived in one big, inseparable clump which made them darn near impossible to eat.  The peanuts were ground too finely, rendering them pasty instead of crunchy.  The curry flavors were there and by avoiding the other stuff I was still able to enjoy this Khao Soi, but the execution errors took it several notches below TAC’s version and if this remains how ATK serves its Khao Soi, I’d say it’s the worst version available in Chicago.  Of course ATK is in it’s very early days and it’s certainly possible that the kitchen will find its footing.
I'm not sure what if anything all this says about ATK, and I certainly hope it is or turns into another place for excellent Thai food in Chicago.  Perhaps the two most important things that came from the TAC vs. ATK battle were (1) encouragement that TAC may continue to thrive even after the loss of its chef; and (2) a reminder to get to Sticky Rice soon for Chicago's best Khao Soi.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Plus Size Swimmer

We joined the Y today. I mentioned to Brian a while back that I've been trying to think of some sort of sport that I like to do and I kept coming back to swimming. So today we went and had a tour and signed up. I realized when we were touring the pool that all the ladies had caps and googles and suits that don't weigh 20 pounds (thanks for that Lands End). So I spent the afternoon trying to find the items that I think will work best for me. I have a giant head so it took some searching to find a cap for a big headed person like myself, I actually bought 2 so if the other one works better I'll let you know. I also have color treated hair so I knew I needed something to help with multiple swims a week. Everyone seems really into this kid's shampoo for that purpose. We'll see how it goes.
Plus Size Swimmer

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Laudry Room Mockup

Laudry Room Mockup

I really want to add pantry cabinets to the laundry area side of the kitchen. I've been playing around on polyvore to see the mockup. I have my Samsung stackable and a pretty close representation of my kitchen paint color and the best I could do to represent my zigzag curtains. Looks pretty good. I would have to move the washer/dryer about 3 inches more closer to the wall and that would be a tight fit especially having to manage the curtains in the same area. I'm going to go with one cabinet now and maybe add another later. It's pretty pricey anyway and we really need to do the front porch flooring. The best part of this change is the pantry cabinet is 24 inches deep. I'm going to fit a litter box in the bottom and cut a hole. No more litter box right out in the floor. This is the main reason I'm doing this. Maybe I should have cut a cat hole in one of the cabinet doors. ;-)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pasta in the Parks (Highland and Wicker)

John des Rosiers talks a big game, and at times I've indeed wondered if talk was all he had going.  So it was with tempered expectations that I entered Moderno and ordered pretty much the simplest pasta imaginable - the classic cacio e pepe, or cheese and black pepper.  It flat out rocked.  Moderno uses house made stangozzi which are wonderfully chewy - perfect to me.  In a dish this simple where all the punch comes from black pepper, it darn well better be good pepper.  It was.  This had the aroma and taste of very fresh stuff that had been ground by hand with a mortar and pestle.  The cheese was salty and good, with a slight departure from tradition in the form of melting it atop the pasta.  It worked.

I liked Moderno so much that I'm disappointed that des Rosiers had thin enough skin to block me on Twitter when I joked about some typically delusional tweet of his that I can't even remember now.  Oh well, I guess I can hope that no one has shared my picture with his staff and that I might be able to sneak into his restaurant again someday.

Highland Park pasta was fantastic, but pasta in Wicker Parkdidn't work out well for me.  At Nando Milano Tratorria I ordered tagliatelle all'amatriciana, and it was a disaster.  The sauce featured some kind of housemade bacon that tasted like it had been soaking for a year in maple syrup.  The dish was sweet to the point of inedibility.  All wrong.

1850 2nd Street, Highland Park

Nando Milano
2113 W. Division

Saturday, September 8, 2012

New Island

I really want to replace the kitchen cart we have.  I bought it in a hurry at Ikea and it was never meant to be permanent.  The one I've wanted all along was from Crate & Barrel and it's around $1000.  But now that I've had my cart for almost 12 months now, I'm realizing that I have enough open storage in the kitchen and open storage on the cart itself is a dust collector, cat hair collector, and all around mess.  I was checking out my pinterest (have I mentioned how much I love pinterest?) and someone was pinning a few kitchen islands and I clicked over and began looking around myself.  It was here that I saw a kitchen island from for $408.  I've also been coveting these barstools from Home Decorators.  The $25 shipping really hurts along with sales tax, boo.  But this island, this island I really want...

New Kitchen Island

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Indian Summer

It's that weird ready for summer to be over time when summer is just not ready.  Spiders are plentiful and I'm just not happy about that.  If two cats are focused on anything it's a bug or spider so I pretty much panic when I see two cats looking at anything.  Most people get their taxes done in April but we do the extension thing so this is basically tax season for me and it sucks every year.  Every year I claim next year I'll be more organized.  Tomorrow will be another day pouring over the same spreadsheet multiple times wanting to kill myself.  But next year, next year I'll be ready.  I'm going to be so organized!

I'm also already sick of dealing with this B&E thing.  He had first appearance but his bond is unsecured.  This made me mad and is just the first thing in a long series of things that is just going to make me mad.  And I don't want to be mad.  This guy does something to me and now I have to waste my time being mad at him?  I found his twitter account and have been hooked, reading it everyday.  This guy is all for show, it's such a joke.  He talks about all this money he has all the time and yet he has a court appointed attorney and lives in the projects.  Dude, you do not have any money.  You don't even steal the remotes when you take televisions, what kind of a jack ass does that?  How do you get any money for televisions this way?  Why aren't you wearing gloves, this is Break-In 101.  And he's going to get away with it.  He will not have active time, I already know this and I can't let it go.