Headin’ Up To San Francisco

In less than 48 hours, I will be in beautiful San Francisco. As you may recall, I was in San Fran briefly last week, as a stopover on my way to Sacramento. I was there so briefly that the only place I actually set foot in was the airport, otherwise I was in a car.

But on this trip, I will be spending four lovely days in San Francisco. Although I will be quite busy with writing assignments, I am hoping that I actually see some of the sites around the city, as well as the trendy restaurants. Maybe I’ll even meet up with a few blogger friends!!

Aside from work and site-seeing, I am also hoping to go for a few runs – naturally. It is true that before I head out on a trip I research my destination like CRAZY – just ask my husband. I almost become obsessed with finding the coolest restaurants, shopping, sites, etc. But I also love to plan out my runs! I go to great lengths to map out routes, plan scheduled runs for my light work days, etc. Knowing that I am keeping to my scheduled runs gives me a sense of familiarity in a new place and helps to keep some kind of calm in my, otherwise, crazy schedule.

And I do mean crazy schedule! San Francisco is just the first leg of my trip. From there, I will head to Napa for a few days, then onto Vancouver until November 3. So, when everything is over, I will have been away from home for 12 days. My stomach hurts just thinking about being gone for that long – especially since Scott and the kids will NOT be coming with me. Oh the things we do for work!

Thank goodness for iPhone Facetime!

Chicago Gourmet: Wine, Dine, and Lines

For the third consecutive year, the Illinois Restaurant Association hosted the highly anticipated Chicago Gourmet. And for the third year, the attendees, including yours truly, seemed to leave with mixed emotions about the event.

On Saturday, I received my first taste of the event in the form of an hour-long check-in line. Unfortunately, this was not the only line I would encounter throughout the weekend. Luckily, as a corresponding writer for Foodbuzz, I was able to bypass the first queue and get right down to business – drinking wine and eating fancy food. However, within no time at all, I realized that I would be doing quite a bit more drinking than eating. Of the more than 150 food and wine vendors present, wine, beer, and liquor tents easily out-numbered food tents 2 to 1, or at least that is what it seemed like.

Due to this imbalance in food v. alcohol, most of the food tents had lines, albeit many were fast-moving. Reminiscent of the first two years, the lines for the more popular restaurants, ie. Frontera and Gibson’s, snaked around so far that it was hard to tell where they ended. When I did finally work my way up to the front of the line (and I did wait – no line jumping for me!), I was a little surprised at how heavily focused the dishes were on meat and seafood. This, of course, is a man’s dream, but for someone who does not eat meat or who is a vegan, finding food beyond dessert was challenging at best.

Sunday proved an even greater challenge when those lucky enough to score a Groupon discount arrived for their fair share. I am sorry to report that their fair share included even longer lines and even less food, with some vendors even running out of food.

In spite of the lines and limited vegetarian options, there were a number of highlights that deserve a mention. The plentiful seating included a mix of tables with umbrellas and plush chairs and lounge stools – very relaxing and trés chic. The seating combined with the sporadic live jazz interspersed with piped-in music from all decades created an ambience of an upscale outdoor wedding, perfect for a crisp fall day. Furthermore, the long lines for popular restaurants often left much shorter lines at others, especially in the dessert tents.  These were definitely the hidden gems of the event and where I was able to try some fantastic treats, including pumpkin bread pudding, tiramisu, pumpkin and sugar cookie gelato, and sticky toffee pudding.

For wine and alcohol enthusiasts, Chicago Gourmet was a virtual dream come true. The wine and other spirits flowed freely and merchants weren’t hesitant about filling and refilling glasses. And, just like the chefs who were present, the wine merchants were passionate about their wineries and their products which made for enjoyable conversation.

The wine tastings and cooking demonstrations, often led by Chicago’s top chefs, were more than informative and enjoyable. The demonstrations held on the main Bon Appetit stage made you feel as if you were actually watching a professional cooking show, while the smaller stages made for more intimate demos. No matter what demonstration you witnessed, the chefs and other presenters, including such top names at Iron Chef Cat Cora and Chicago’s own Rick Bayless, were more than willing to interact with the audience, take questions, and allow for photos.

Even with two years under its proverbial belt – not to mention Bon Appetit magazine as the title sponsor, Chicago Gourmet still had a few sticky spots – even beyond the decadently sticky toffee pudding I tried. That’s not to say it was all for naught. Most of the people I encountered seemed to be in good spirits – although maybe due to the alcohol – even those who had traveled quite a distance to get there.

Overall, Chicago Gourmet may not have lived up to its expectation, especially for foodie purists, but it still has great potential. Let’s hope that fourth time’s a charm.

Top Foodie Towns in the US

Bon Appétit magazine has just named our nation’s top “Foodiest Towns” of 2010. To even be considered for this prestigious list, towns had to fit certain criteria including:

  • Small, fewer than 250,000 residents or a small town feel
  • Quality farmers’ markets
  • Concerned farmers
  • Dedicated food media
  • First-rate restaurants
  • Talented food artisans
  • Community of food lovers

With this strict criteria, standard top foodie cities, like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, didn’t make the cut. However, by keeping this criteria to smaller towns, you’ll see that some true gems were able to shine. So who made the cut?


Boulder, CO – Hands down, Boulder topped this list for many reasons. It is the home of innovative food companies, top-tier restaurants, and one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. Other runner-up cities included:


  1. McMinnville, OR
  2. Big Sur, CA
  3. Traverse City, MI
  4. Louisville, KY
  5. Ithaca, NY

Surprisingly, I have actually been to one of these small town foodie destinations – Traverse City. However, the last time I was there, at least 10 years ago, it was really just coming into its own as a foodie town.

What top foodie towns have you been to? What’s your favorite?

A Swim, Bike, Run Weekend

My husband Scott did the Olympic distance Chicago Triathlon this morning. But before I get to that, let me rewind a bit. We headed downtown early yesterday to check into the hotel and check out the Tri-expo. I headed straight to the Larabar booth to pick up a bunch of swag…

I love these bars and they came in so handy today while waiting for Scott to finish. The kids and I didn’t get to eat lunch so it was Larabar to the rescue! After the expo we walked around for a bit in downtown Chicago. I had heard the Eiffel Tower was making an appearance at Macy’s on State so I just had to stop in to see it for myself…

The girls at the Lancome counter probably thought I was crazy – or at least a tourist. I am neither, thank you.

After dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy, we attempted to go to bed at a reasonable hour, considering Scott needed to be up at 3:45 AM in order to get his bike to the transition area. But on our way back to the hotel, we heard the familiar sounds of Chicago’s Summer Dance Festival – Puerto Rican salsa music, definitely one of our favorites. Since the festival was literally right across the street from our hotel, we decided to stop for a few minutes – it was a beautiful night to listen and dance to music under the stars!! On nights like those, I really miss living in the city.

We ended up not falling asleep until after midnight, then both woke up at 3 AM and couldn’t go back to sleep. Ugh!!!. Not fun for either of us.

In spite of our unintended lack of sleep, Scott was out the door on time. I even managed to get the kids up, ready, and out the door in time to see Scott shove off for the swimming portion which started promptly at 7:52 AM. The rest of the morning was spent walking around the race area and tracking Scott on his bike and run portions. Runkeeper is very cool in the iPhone – when it works – and really helped me pinpoint Scott in the last 20-30 minutes of the race. Toward the last stretch, I was able to see exactly where he was on the course. So, when he came into view, Mr. C and I ran out to jog with him for a minute – Mr. C was so excited to run with his Dad! I was so happy and proud of Scott that I almost cried!

It really amazes me that Scott trained for the last 6-7 months and accomplished a full swim, bike, and run – something I have no interest in doing at this point in my life. He and the other triathletes are truly inspirational. They trained so hard and you could see the deep emotion in their faces as they ran along the last stretch of the race – excitement, exhaustion, determination, pride – you name it, every emotion was there. Scott ended up finishing in about 3.5 hours – that is amazing to me, especially considering it’s his first race AND he was racing in 90+ temperatures! I’m actually surprised we didn’t see more runners pass out from the heat, but I’ll consider that a blessing. By the way, if you want to know how many calories he burned for his 3.5 hour workout – that magic number would be 3,500 calories! Yes, he definitely deserved that huge piece of chocolate cake tonight.

Congratulations to Scott and Ryan (Scott’s brother who also raced) for a fantastic triathlon today! Just let me know when we’re headed to St. Croix for the next one! 🙂

A Visit From The UPS Man…

Only one more day of work until the Healthy Living Summit! Yeah! I took the afternoon off from work to run some errands and to get some last minute sun by the pool – he he! It was so relaxing laying by the pool and following everyone’s HLS comments on Twitter – HLS bloggers are awesome!

While laying by the pool, I heard a familiar noise at the front of the house – the screeching/halting of large tires and the grrrr of a large engine. Who could it be but the UPS man! I’ve never been so happy to see Brown! And what did my Santa in brown shorts bring me? My Anthropologie top for Saturday’s dinner at Mercadito (can’t wait to meet Rhodeygirltests and Fervent Foodie!) and my RWC t-shirt.

I was so excited to receive the packages that I ripped them open like a child on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, my RWC tee did not turn out exactly how I had ordered. Thankfully, Cafe Press addressed the issue and is sending me another one – directly to my hotel on Friday – free of charge! Now that’s service! As of now, this (or a similar one) is the shirt I will be wearing to the sessions on Saturday – hopefully, you can pick me out from the crowd!

And on the subject of clothes, here’s what I will be wearing…

  • Friday Frito Lay Tour – yoga pants and t-shirt
  • Friday night OpenSky reception – cocktail dress
  • Saturday sessions – capri yoga pants and RWC t-shirt
  • Saturday Arnold Tour, Mercadito Dinner, Drinks/Dancing – Capris and a fun Anthropologie top
  • Sunday run and breakfast – Lucy running skirt and fitted running shirt

All outfits are subject to change based on weather, mood, and if I spill the odd drink on myself! Ok ladies, must get packing, then it’s off to bed to rest up for my 6-mile run in the AM. Safe travels DawnPickley Pear and everyone else attending HLS!

Night all 🙂

Closing Down the Bar with Banoffee Pie

Bonjour everyone and Happy Bastille Day! If you’re not sure what Bastille Day is, it’s the French Independence Day. Celebrating Bastille Day in the US is easy – just do something French! At the very least, you could order a French café and listen to French music on Pandora 🙂

Last night after work, I met my sister-in-law and mother-in-law for dinner at a fabulous local winery – Cooper’s Hawk. Although located in the Midwest Cooper’s Hawk makes all of their wines and has designed their restaurant and tasting room to have the same look and feel of a traditional winery – dark colors, wood floors, and walls of wine…

They have sooo many wines to choose from but I went with my standard – a fruity chardonnay which was just lovely – very cool and crisp, which was perfect because I was sitting directly in the sun! For dinner, I had the penne in a lemon cream sauce with asparagus and chicken – plus I added a little spinach for more veggies…

‘Twas delicious! But with such a huge portion, there was no way I could finish it all! When dessert came around, I contemplated skipping it because I was fairly full. But I had checked out the menu ahead of time and noticed they had Banoffee pie on the menu – I’ve never had it and it sounded SO good! It is seriously the first time I have EVER seen it on a menu – anywhere! We decided on the pie and a peanut butter ice cream cookie. The pie, which is a mix of toffee and banana, was amazing! It really gives my current favorite pie – banana cream – a run for it’s money.

Overall, we spent 3 1/2 hours eating and chatting. Some would even say we closed down the restaurant, which is probably easier to do on a Tuesday night. What a perfect way to spend a summer evening. Can’t wait for the next girls night out!

A French Sangria Night

Last night, Scott and I had the “night off” from parenting. We took advantage of our time alone and headed to a local French bistro. Although I love going out for French food, I don’t usually stray too much from what I normally eat – salad, chicken, fruit, etc. Of course, we started with drinks – mine being an awesome French sangria made with a splash of Grand Marnier – that’s what makes it French. The GM made all the difference in the world with this drink – fabulous! Who knew French restaurants offered Sangria? Notice the plate that Scott strategically placed behind my glass.

When you’re drinking, it’s good to soak up some of the alcohol with food – I think that’s what French bread was made for and this was some of the best I’ve had! I am sooo glad that they did not put a big basket of this bread on the table – it was delivered in individual pieces by a “bread server” – I seriously would have eaten the whole basket, complete with the olive and red pepper tapenade that it came with.

I was going to pass on the appetizer but then I saw this cute little cone-shaped holder on someone’s table – ahh French Fries! Yes, I did get them, but only because they were served in the traditional French metal holder with a piece of “newsprint” to soak up the oil.

I was not in the adventurous mood (no cow tongue or snails for me!) so I opted for an eggplant and goat cheese crepe. Not gonna lie to you, it was just ok – rather uninteresting and blah by crepe standards. I decided not to waste the calories and only ate about 1/2 of it. Last but not least, Scott and I shared his dessert fave, chocolate mousse. The mousse was divine and I kept my tastes to just two bites – that’s really all you need with super rich mousse.

The best thing about this dinner was that I did not have to eat it with a 2-year old sitting on my lap. I’m all about sharing the love but not when I’m eating!

Michigan Road Trip – What No Peanut Butter?

As you may have guessed, I’ve been away the whole weekend. This time I was on a road trip – to Michigan. I will be the first one to admit that 6-7 hours in a car with a 5 year old a toddler can get a little dicey. But what’s even more challenging is finding healthy things to eat when I’m on the road.

Because we left so early on Friday morning, Scott wanted to stop for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I am not against CB, but I’ve been there so many times that I’m barreled out.  Nonetheless, he was the driver so he got to choose.

In my college days and even pre-kid days, I would love to stop at CB for their cheesey potatoes and their biscuits. But now, I have absolutely no desire to eat those things, especially for breakfast.  As you know, I normally eat yogurt, oatmeal, or Kashi cereal for breakfast. I also like to incorporate some type of fresh fruit and/or peanut butter. As I casually looked at the menu, I saw “fresh fruit” and oatmeal on the menu, and thought, this couldn’t be that bad. But then I noticed that the “fresh fruit” included sliced bananas and fried apples – ugh! When did we start labeling fried apples as “fresh fruit”? This is a total Jamie Oliver nightmare.

The server came to our table and the conversation went a little something like this…

  • Me – Do you have any fresh fruit other than bananas and fried apples?
  • Server – No, that’s it
  • Me – so no fresh berries or melon?
  • Server – no that’s it
  • Me – Ok, then I’ll take the oatmeal
  • Server – we stopped serving oatmeal at 10 AM
  • Me – But it’s only 10:10 AM, you don’t have any left?
  • Server – no, it’s all gone.
  • Me – Do you have yogurt?
  • Server – No, we don’t serve yogurt. We tried serving it years ago but it didn’t go over well.
  • Me – OMG!!! Well then I’d like an English muffin with peanut butter
  • Server – We don’t have peanut butter.
  • Me – What is with Cracker Barrel? You guys need to get with the times!

As this point, I was so frustruated, I forgot to ask what cereal they served. I would bet money that they didn’t have Kashi. My server then explained that, like me, she was surprised that CB didn’t have these items. But she said that the restaurants were trying to keep with the authentic country or “down home” type of food. I could see that she wanted to help me, but it was beyond her control. My husband said, “there’s plenty of things to eat on the menu” to which I replied, “yeah, if all I want to eat is CARBS!” Ugh, I was not happy. I settled for one poached egg an English muffin with jam. I wonder if they considered the prepackaged jam a fruit as well?

Cracker Barrel, if you weren’t so convenient on road trips, I would avoid you like the carb-laden plague.

Dinner at Circa in Washington DC

Hey all! Hope you had a great weekend. I was up and at ’em around 7 AM today. I went for a 6-mile run, then came home to finish packing for my trip to DC. I boarded a plane around 1 PM and touched down in DC about 3:30 PM. Whew – all that in just a matter of a few hours! Since my conference doesn’t start until tomorrow, I quickly unpacked at the hotel then headed out to take in the sites. I walked all over Penn Quarter, sampling froyo, viewing the goods at Teasim, and then finally stopping off at the American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery.

Later on, I met Prachi – a DC friend of mine – for dinner at Circa on Du Pont Circle. Circa Cafe is a mix of trendy and charming, and with the weather at 70 degrees, you just can’t beat sitting outside! To start, we split a bottle of Chardonnay and some super yummy risotto croquettes…

These croquettes were awesome! Cheers to the chef who thought up the idea to bread risotto balls and deep fry them! Note to self – must try these at home. Next up, I enjoyed the Rocket salad with cherry tomatoes, arugula, sliced chicken, and more…

As you can tell, I was more than happy with my entree choice, the wine, and the company. Since I don’t see Prachi very often – a couple times  a year – we try to catch up on everything when we do see each other. Sadly, I learned that she is moving to Phoenix for a year with her boyfriend, Jigar. I only say “sadly” because I don’t travel to Phoenix very often so will likely not see her for quite some time. Ironically, Phoenix is where Prachi and I met for the first time about 5 years ago. I have never met Jigar but I’m sure he must be a great catch – after all, he likes Pazo restaurant in Baltimore!

For dessert – Prachi and I shared a wonderful orange almond crescent bread pudding with pistachio gelato. OK, we really didn’t “share”. She ordered a decaf coffee and I ate most of the dessert, but can you blame me…

Who can pass up bread pudding sans raisins with creme anglaise? The only thing that would have made this better is chocolate – hmm, something to think about for next time.

OK ladies, it’s off to bed for me. Planning a early AM run tomorrow!

Gettin' Tarty in Austin

Hey Y’all – I’m blogging live from Austin, TX! Hence, the Y’all. One thing I will say about Texas is that it’s HOT! It was 86 degrees today, which is so hot for me coming from 55 degrees in Chicago.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

The warm weather made me temporarily lose my head and walk right into a Tart frozen yogurt cafe. Why do we not have one of these cafes in Chicago! This is a made-to-order “yogurt bar” where you can portion out as much yogurt as you like and top it with whatever you fancy. Then, you take your creation up to be weighed and voila! $5.00 later, you are enjoying your very own frozen yogurt creation!

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera on me at the time of the yogurt purchase, but I had a mixture of the following:

  • Tart yogurt
  • Blueberry yogurt
  • Strawberry banana yogurt
  • Chocolate yogurt
  • Mini M&M’s
  • Walnuts
  • Butterfinger crumbs

Now before you jump to conclusions, I took very small portions of each yogurt and less than a teaspoon of each of the toppings. It ended up being a small-medium size yogurt – and I enjoyed every bite! I am so glad that frozen yogurt is low in calories (please tell me it is!!!)

Gotta run, my meetings start very early tomorrow! Have a great night – y’all 🙂