What We Can Pack into (and Eat in) A Summer Week in Our Town
There is a strong possibility that we might be moving sometime this summer. We might not be going away permanently, and we would most likely operate out of two households for the foreseeable future, but we might no longer be living full time in our little suburb bordering Chicago. That's both very exciting and a little sad.
Will and I have lived over twenty years in the Chicago area, so a change of scenery is long overdue. After all, there is a LOT more world out there to be lived in! We are curious to see if we would like living in a place like New York City, or San Francisco, or Paris, etc. Or a smaller town or a more rural setting with a mountain or beach-y feel--like Park City, Utah; Algarve, Portugal; Dordogne, France; or Abruzzo, Italy.
Now we are in the process of documenting some of the aspects of Chicago we have taken for granted but which we'll miss. (In fact, I've already mentioned how odd it might be that we would probably miss French Toast if we were to move to France!)
Take our last week, for instance. Even after we came back from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, we ended up packing quite a bit into ONE summer week in the Chicago area.
We went to dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. It's nowhere near one of the more expensive Chicago restaurants, and it's not "famous" or on most lists of must-visit places written up in tour guides. Yet its kitchen simply turns out some of the most heavenly dishes possible at very reasonable prices.
We like their Sunday-Thursday prix-fixe specials. For $32, you can order a starter, main course, and dessert; or, starter, half order of pasta, and main course. Will and I make-shift create 4 courses by having a starter each, then sharing a half pasta order, then a main course each, and then sharing a dessert.
Will ordered the grilled octopus for his starter (one of our standbys), and I ordered the asparagus-cheese sformato (like a souffle) from their specials menu. For the half-order of pasta, I ordered the most heavenly squid-ink linguine with shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce with buttered breadcrumbs.
Then, for the main courses, I had seared ahi tuna over a ratatouille-like vegetable concoction;
and Will had braised porkbelly over sauteed baby spinach and wild strawberry-rhubarb contorni. That porkbelly just melted in your mouth!
Then we had a strawberry-rhubarb crisp with vanilla bean whipped cream for our shared dessert.
After dinner, we stepped outside to take in the street festival happening in this very hip neighborhood of Chicago. Every day of the summer, there seems to be some festival or other taking place in Chicago neighborhoods!
After dinner at home, we walked the two blocks to our little village square in front of one of the best local public libraries you're likely to find. Our library is so famous that the staff at my university library speak of this suburban local library with reverence. Not just their collection of material (which is amazing!), but their programs and events are truly special.
For instance, we sometimes walk over to the library to attend a Sunday afternoon piano recital; or catch a recently-released movie; or hear a lecture. (Donna Leon, one of our favorite detective writers spoke here recently!)
During Wednesday evenings during summer months, our village puts on one great show after another. People bring their folding chairs and picnic blankets, gather around, and enjoy live bands while those young-at-heart (of all ages) dance around (picture at the top of post). Katie likes to keep her distance from the running kids, but it's a great time for all!
One of the things we love most about the restaurant scene in the Chicago-area is the abundance of BYO restaurants. Perhaps alcohol licenses are notoriously difficult to get? Maybe these restaurateurs want to offer their patrons a bargain experience? Whatever the reason, Will and I have dozens of favorite BYO restaurants that we can choose from.
Will felt like Tex-Mex that day, so we went to one nearby. We did have to get in the car, but for only a couple of miles.
We shared a salad and a chilled squash soup with Mexican crema; then Will had chargrilled skirt steak while I had this amazing-looking Camarones Caribe (Caribbean Shrimp); and then we had mango cheesecake for dessert.
All while we enjoyed a chilled bottle of Provencal rose we brought from home. The bill came, and it was only $45.
We are incredibly lucky to be within walking distance of some diverse cuisine: American (of course), Mexican, New Latin, Thai, Portuguese, Italian, Middle Eastern, Pizza, Japanese, etc. All within 2-3 blocks of us in any direction.
So, when a very hot and humid Saturday came along and we didn't want to wander far, we shared a "small party tray" at our local sushi restaurant with a couple of friends (along with some fried stuffed jalapenos and a sashimi carpaccio).
We KNOW we're going to miss this variety and these prices if and when we move elsewhere!
Between early June and early November, we get to roll out of bed on a Sunday and walk over to our library parking lot again, not for a band concert this time, but for our weekly Farmer's Market.
Because we live so close by, we can usually get there before the crowds arrive, and Will can order tamales or crepes without having to stand in a long line.
Yesterday we also picked up some farm fresh strawberries, a $4 small bouquet of flowers (with mint, just in case we need some for eating!), two muffins and a cinnamon roll, and we were all set for a romantic Sunday brunch. Fresh asparagus and snap peas--for later!--rounded out our market purchases.