travel

A Weekend in Chicago

Last weekend, I went to Chicago to visit my good friend Lindsay, who moved there a few years ago. Even though I got in late Friday night and left Sunday afternoon, I still managed to see/do/eat a ton. Lindsay was a fabulous host and planned a great weekend–we really packed in as much as we could for my very first trip to the Windy City!

Lindsay lives at the intersection of two great neighborhoods–Old Town and Gold Coast–and is just a few minutes from the lake. So on Saturday morning, I woke up early and went for a run along the Lake Trail. It was chilly but sunny and I was excited to see so many other runners out. I thought Boston was a big running city, but it’s got nothing on Chicago–I’ve never seen so many runners out at once.

I planned to go for a short jog, but ended up running about 5 miles from North Avenue to a little past Belmont Harbor. The scenery was so pretty that I didn’t want to stop, not even to take pictures. I did manage to snap these few, though:

Afterwards, Lindsay and I walked south through the Gold Coast. Her neighborhood is so pretty–lots of stately old houses, leafy green trees and tulips blooming along the sidewalk.

We made our way to North Michigan Avenue, which is basically Chicago’s Fifth Avenue. Once we reached the downtown area, Lindsay headed back and I continued on.

Before going to Millennium Park, I inhaled a few tacos at Frontera Fresco (I figured I might as well try Rick Bayless’ Macy’s outpost since I didn’t have a res at the actualВ Frontera!) and made a cupcake pitstop at the super-cute Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique for a red velvet fix. (Yum!)В 

Millennium Park is just as cool as it looks in photos. Thanks to the nice weather, lots of other people were out photographing themselves at Cloud Gate

…and scoping out the animated Crowd Fountain faces.

I spent some time admiring the tulips (they were blooming all over the city!)…

…and chillaxin’ in the Lurie Garden.

Then I headed into the Art Institute to explore the gorgeous modern wing and some special exhibits.

I met Lindsay in the West Loop for dinner. The industrial area has a hip, up-and-coming vibe that kind of reminds me of Williamsburg–except without swarms of hipsters. We had dinner at The Publican, a fairly new restaurant that focuses on beer, pork and seafood. (Um, how can you go wrong with that?) The space was designed with a beer hall in mind, so there’s lots of natural wood and large, communal tables.

We ordered a few small plates. My favorite was squid with farro, oranges, cheese and chorizo vinaigrette.

We topped off the evening with drinks at Maude’s, a cocktail bar with a retro vibe. (Slightly blurry photo–I’m still getting used to using my new camera in low light!)

Next morning, we walked through Lincoln Park to Floriole Bakery and Cafe, one of Lindsay’s favorire daytime spots. I can certainly see why she frequents it–I’m already planning to try to replicate the bacon and arugula sandwich I had there.

On the way back to the Gold Coast, we stopped at the Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk. Check out the amazing view of the skyline!В 

Of course I couldn’t leave Chicago without having deep dish. So before I boarded the bus for the airport, Lindsay and I had an early dinner at Lou Malnati’s. The local chain’s Gold Coast location has a nice seating area with comfy chairs looking out onto the street and we were lucky to snag window seats. (Especially since all the pies are made to order and take at least a half hour.)

The pizza was exactly how I’d hoped it would be–thick and bready with a crispy crust and a fresh tomato sauce. I inhaled two slices. (And now that I’m writing this, I wish there was a good deep dish place in NYC!)

It’s a good thing I had that pizza, because my flight home was a bit of a disaster. It was delayed, due to bad weather in NYC. And when the pilot attempted to land at LGA, the wind made him overshoot the runway–which we skimmed before taking off again so we “didn’t end up in the water.” We ended up flying to Philly, refueling there, then turning around and flying back to LGA. I got home at 3 a.m.

But that was the only dark spot on the weekend. Thanks again, Linds, for being such an awesome host–can’t wait for my next trip out there or your next jaunt out east!

River Tubing Ridiculousness

Last week, when it actually felt like summer, Karen and I were chatting about river tubing. Each year, we round up about a dozen of our friends (and about 8 times that amount of beer), drive to where Jersey meets Pennsylvania and spend a hot summer day floating down the Delaware River.

Somehow, during our conversation, she stumbled across these amazing images of a newlywed couple tubing in their wedding attire. Apparently, they met while tubing and wanted to “trash the dress” while floating down the Guadalupe River.

I actually think that’s a pretty cute–and hilarious–idea. All that’s missing are a few champagne glasses!

Would you do something like this on your wedding day?

And one more crazy tubing pic (which is NOT how it looks where we go!):

(Tubing wedding photos via Austin Americana Studio, tubing crowd photo via KGNB. Thanks to Karen for the links!)

Off to Chicago!

Tonight, I’m headed to Chicago for the first time ever! (I know–it amazes me, too, to think that I’ve been to places like Bolivia and China but not Chicago, Los Angeles or a slew of other U.S. cities. Or Canada for that matter.)

I’m looking forward to stuffing myself on deep dish pizza, checking out Millennium Park and the Art Institute, having dinner here and wandering around different neighborhoods. (Andersonville sounds particularly cool!)

But I’m even more excited to see my good friend, Lindsay, who moved there years ago and whom I haven’t seen in ages.

Got any recommendations about what I should see and do? Let me know!

(And maybe I’ll finally get this song out of my head–it tends to play on a continuous loop every time I think about Chicago.)

(Image via Ork Posters)

Ragnar Relay: Let’s Do This!

Anyone who has had the pleasure (misfortunte?) of spending time with me, Mal or Peter over the past few weeks can attest to one thing: We’re fixated on putting together a Ragnar Relay team.

Ragnar has been around for a few years and all their races follow this format: Teams of 12 people run 200 miles–in some of the country’s most scenic areas–over 36 hours, including overnight. Each person runs three legs that range in distance from about 2 to 12 miles. (So someone might run 3.8 miles, then 7 miles, then 3 miles.) And since the race is designed for people of all skill levels, your group can include both beginners, who just run a few miles each leg, and seasoned runners, who can take on 10 or so miles in a leg.

We looked through almost all the courses and decided that the Miami to Florida Keys relay seems the most appealing. The route is flat, gorgeous (right along the water and over several bridges!) and it’s next January, which leaves plenty of time to train. Plus, it’d be a perfect excuse to escape to someplace warm and sunny in the middle of winter with all our friends, accomplish something huge (200-miles between 12 people!) and rent a sweet vacation homeВ to celebrate in for a day or two after the race. Oh, and get some good exercise in, too.

Seven Mile Bridge

Seven Mile Bridge--who wouldn't want to run over this?

I’m not an avid runner. I actually stopped running regularly a few years ago when I decided I’d rather spend four days a week doing ballet instead of logging miles on a treadmill. But I still enjoy a good run, especially outdoors and when there’s a goal to work toward. And we’re all convinced this would be an amazing, challenging experience of a lifetime.

This video, showcasing this year’s Florida Keys run, sells it pretty well (though I’m admittedly a sucker for triumphant sporty videos set to inspirational music):

At this point, a few otherВ crazy peopleВ awesome friends have decided they’re up for joining us. If you’re up for it, too, let me know!

(Top photo via Ragnar’s Facebook page, bottom photo via flickr.com/toastforbrekkie)

A Pre-Season Saturday on the Shore

Ocean City Boardwalk

More beach pics! Several weeks ago, before it suddenly became summer, I felt like I needed a change of scenery, no matter how brief. So I decided it was time for another quick trip to my summer share in Maryland. My goal for the weekend (besides, of course, savoring the time with Mal and Peter) was to spend time on the beach and dip my feet in the ocean–no matter what the weather was like.

I didn’t get the warm, sunny weekend I was hoping for; the sky was grey and overcast. Still, Ocean City was well on its way out of hibernation. Restaurants and bike rental stands were open for business and groups of people ambled down the boardwalk.

Ocean City beachWe headed straight for the beach.

Ocean City beach

I accomplished my mission…

Toms

…and, in the process, dropped one shoe into the frigid ocean and frantically chased it down before a wave swept it out to sea. (So much for not getting my jeans wet!)

M&P, Ocean CityI would have stayed on the beach forever if it weren’t so cold. After about an hour, we brushed the sand off our feet and departed for warmer activities–namely, eating and outlet shoppingВ one state over in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The Blue Crab

On the drive up, we stopped for lunch at the Blue Crab in Bethany Beach. The restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside or inside–just wooden booths, checkeredВ linoleum floors and a few framed photos on blue walls. But our meal was fantastic.

Hush puppies

The hush puppies were В amazing–light and crispy on the outside and the ideal balance of sweet and savory. (1,000 times better than the ones we had at Hooper’s!)

Crabcake

I was tempted to get the all-you-can-eat crab feast that most of the patrons were indulging in, but decided against it since it was only lunch. Luckily, the crabcake I ordered was the best I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t heavy, greasy or bready; it was just fresh jumbo crab, perfectly broiled and seasoned.

But next trip: definitely going for the big feast!

Weekend Cooking: Jordan Pond Popovers

Acadia National Park

Last summer, I spent a long weekend at Acadia National ParkВ with my then-boyfriend.

Acadia National Park

We hiked to the top of five mountains (which sounds more impressive than it is–the tallest one, Cadillac, is onlyВ 1,530 feet)…

Cadillac Mountain Sunrise

…saw the sun rise from the top of Cadillac, which is the first point in North America that daylight hits between October 7 and March 6…

Acadia National Park

…and took a bunch of ridiculous pictures.

Popovers at Jordan Pond House

On our last day, we ate at Jordan Pond House, a restaurant in the park known for tea and popovers. I hadn’t had a popover before, but was pretty enamored at first bite. The warm pastries were chewy on the outside and light and airy in the center–almost like a less flaky, less buttery croissant that had been puffed up. We ended up bringing home the restaurant’s official popover pan and recipe.

I don’t know what triggered it, but a popover craving hit me last week. So on Saturday morning, despite having a full eating agenda on my weekend calendar (Indian buffet Saturday night at Chand Palace and Sunday brunch at Fred’s), I decided to whip up a batch.

There are three things I like about the Jordan Pond popover recipe: 1) It’s drop-dead simple. 2) It only requires a few ingredients that are, for baked goods, relatively healthy (no heavy cream or butter). 3) It makes six pastries–so you don’t end up struggling to eat/give away a dozen for days afterward.

Flour, Eggs, Milk

You mix two eggs, 1 cup milk (I use skim), 1 cup sifted flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a speck of baking soda…

Popover Batter

…fill each popover holder halfway and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then at 350 degrees for another 15-20 minutes. (Don’t open the oven door when changing temperature.)

Popovers

And voila! No trip to Maine required. (Though the view from the Jordan Pond House lawn is a little more tranquil and scenic than that of my Washington Heights apartment.)

The Bubbles

Birthday Vacation 2011: Negril, Jamaica

My birthday is in January, so (almost) every year I use it as an excuse to escape freezing cold NYC and head somewhere warm and sunny. I celebrated my quarter century in Costa Rica with my sister, my 26th in Cartagena with my then-boyfriend/now-good friend, Ryan. I had just started a new job and couldn’t get away for 27–which means I was overdue for a trip this year. I rang in 28 in Negril, Jamaica with my parents and sister.

Rockhouse Hotel, Negril, Jamaica

We spent two nights at Rockhouse Hotel, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever stayed. The sprawling resort consists of 38 villas and rooms perched on Negril’s rocky cliffs. My sister and I shared a sweet waterfront villa.

Rockhouse Hotel

It was big, airy and, best of all, had two patios and a private staircase that led down to Pristine Cove, whose caves were featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Rockhouse Patio

Rockhouse - Pristine Cove

When I booked the trip, I was afraid I would be bored after a day or two of lounging around. (My vacations are usually pretty active with hiking, mountain climbing, snorkeling and the like.) But within a few hours of being in Negril, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem.

“I think I’d be okay if I didn’t see the beach,” I told my sister. (It was about 20 minutes away, by car.)

“I think I’d be okay if we don’t leave Rockhouse,” she replied.

And we didn’t.

Rockhouse Pool

We vegged by the pool…

Sunbathing at Rockhouse

…sunbathed and enjoyed the view…

Spa Zone

…my mom and I got deep-tissue massages. (Aahhh…)

Pushcart Stews

Rockhouse also has three fantastic outdoor, waterfront restaurants. Rockhouse Restaurant serves “New Jamaican” cuisine, which basically means local flavors–like curry and jerk–with a global twist (dishes might include roti or chutneys, for example). We had my birthday dinner there, and the menu was quite seafood-centric, to my delight. I devoured a grilled two-pound lobster accompanied by rice and beans and fresh veggies. At the laid-backВ Pool Grill, the following day, we chowed down on delicious jerk chicken. On our last evening at Rockhouse, we had another wonderful dinner at the Pushcart Restaurant. Their menu is inspired by Jamaican street food and features lots of traditional stews (that’s oxtail, goat, chicken and lentil stewsВ in the picture above).

We were unable to book rooms at Rockhouse for our whole trip (despite making reservations four weeks in advance!), so we spent two nights at Tensing Pen, another cliffside Negril resort just five minutes down the road.

Tensing Pen

It was also gorgeous property, though the crowd was mostly older return visitors and not as young and hip as the Rockhousers.

Tensing Pen

Tensing Pen Pool

Not surprisingly, we spent most of our time by the pool, but we left the resort a few times to go to…

Rick’s Cafe, a (very) touristy institution known for its cliff divers and boozy sunset parties…

…the Hungry Lion, a chill, romantic restaurant specializing in Jamaican vegetarian and seafood cuisine…

…and for our last dinner, Ciao Jamaica, which serves local and Italian food. (I commemorated our final meal with another grilled lobster. Mmm…)

Mallory with a Jamaican Patty

On our way to the airport, we asked our driver to stop at Juicy Beef, a patty place that two travelers at Tensing Pen recommended. He refused and took us to Tastee, instead, “the only place I buy my patties,” he said. We were skeptical because the place looked like a barebones fast food restaurant, but our beed and veggie patties were amazing, just as he promised. I would go back to Jamaica for those, alone–or to do the whole trip again. (I never repeat vacations either, but this one is making me reconsider my policy!)