Friday, May 27, 2011

Finding Spring in Chicago

"Bet your bottom dollar that you'll lose the blues in Chicago...."

And so I did. All winter blues ceased. I found spring. And when I left, Michigan Avenue was still awash in gaggles of tulips that would make Holland smile... the temps were in the 70's and 80's...I wore short sleeves... capris...sandals...

And I came home to lilac week.

And phlox and tulips.
And 50 degrees.
Matthew decked out the home with vases filled with lilacs as a welcome home.

Our first day was warm and gray.

Until we found Team Lizard down at the Navy Pier. If there is no sun, create your own!

Millenium Park was all angles and spirals and silver. We walked 12 miles the first day.

I love the green spaces in urban areas. The NYC child in me will always be a city girl - with a longing for green.

And the skies cleared and the next day we walked another 6-8 miles. The juxtaposition of the parks and the skyscrapers heartened. Chicago celebrates the accomplishments of mankind with its bustling downtown loop but gives way to the spirit and the beauty of the earth by melding green space and cityscapes. Lake and river. Scope and height. And when the sun warmed us, Paul and I decided to not go inside a building unless it rained.

It didn't. And so we gleefully played outside just as we did 25 years ago as newlyweds on Maui. And walked. And walked. (Until I discovered 8 blisters on my toes. Not to be dissuaded, we found band aids and walked some more.)

And when I came home to chill and clouds, I "cooked" spring. After reading Bon Appetit on the plane, I craved color. And so it came to pass that I made something similar to the recipe I had read - Halibut with mango salsa. Red, green, white and orange sitting on a plate as prettily as my phlox and lilacs. As beguiling as the tulips I left behind.

Halibut with Mango Salsa - serves 4
(Use any whitefish that strikes your fancy)
1-1/2 - 2 pounds halibut
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil - divided
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 mango peeled and seeded
1 avocado, diced into small chunks
1 pint cherry tomatoes - halved or quartered
a handful of slivered basil
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Brush liberally on the halibut and salt and pepper it to taste. Let sit ten minutes. Grill or bake halibut until desired doneness. I hesitate to give times - my halibut was thick requiring 12 minutes on one side and 12 minutes on the other - and yes, it rained so it was baked in a 350 degree F oven.

In a medium bowl, combine diced avocado*, diced mango**, cherry tomatoes, basil, the rest of the olive oil and lime juice and zest. Salt and pepper to taste. Let sit at room temperature or cover and chill for the day.

When halibut is done, spoon over the fish and serve. Find spring during the dinner hour!

*I tried Bon Appetit's suggestion of immersing the cut avocado in ice cold water to prevent browning. Lo and behold! It worked!
**I chased the slippery sucker of a mango all around the kitchen as it tried to escape after being peeled. I have since learned to cut the cheeks of the mango. Dice without cutting into the skin and then cut the peel off.

We did go inside for meals and yes, of course I ate my way through Chicago. There was no way I was going to tell Chicago, "Oh! I'm "mindfully eating" - can I have a wedge of iceberg lettuce?" Part of the wonder of enjoying the city was because of the advice from fellow bloggers. I'm grateful for the advice of Marie from Proud Italian Cook and Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti who steered me in the right eating direction. The blogging community truly opens up new avenues of discovery. As I try to recreate some of the Chicago meals at Quartino, Floriole and Gioco's in the coming weeks I shall give you a sampling and a few recipes of the wonder that is dining "Chicago style." (And sorry, it doesn't include hot dogs and pizza - although they were pretty tasty!). Chicago is a buffet. And we gleefully stepped up to the plate.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two Weeks of Toast

It was a simple weekend morning that belied the busyness of the weekdays. Husband-person is settled in an armchair with paper. I'm wrapped in a cozy, with coffee on the left, purring cat in lap and balancing May's Bon Appetit (devoted to Italy). And then it happened. I was hypnotized.

Eggs on toast. How basic is that? True it has smoked salmon, mashed avocado with lime, fresh chives and did I mention that you stir in a dollop of creme fraiche? In a trance, I picked up my car keys and left telling husband-person, "Don't eat anything. I will return."

And I did. With sourdough bread and an avocado to finish the ingredient list. Is it a recipe? Not really - it's just what the Italians savor - fresh ingredients. Separately they delight. Together they bewitch.

Ingredients - for 2
sourdough bread, sliced, toasted in the oven
4 eggs (or 2 eggs and 6 egg whites) whisked with a healthy dollop of creme fraiche (or butter or sour cream)
1/2 avocado - mashed with lime juice - to taste
2 slices of smoked salmon (or lox)
fresh chives - about 6

Snip your chives, toast your bread, soft-scramble your eggs - add in 1/2 your chives towards the end of the scrambling process and scatter the rest on the dish when done. Smear mashed avocado on toast. Top with scrambled eggs, put a slice of smoked salmon on top, scatter remaining chives and find bliss.

Janet McCracken, Deputy Food Editor of Bon Appetit also suggests roasted red peppers with goat cheese or Prosciutto with caramelized onions. With eggs on toast. I second the suggestions.

During the last two weeks, I found myself directing a touring production of two casts of Hansel and Gretel as well as a lovely food-centric play Food For Thought, editing Under a Midsummer Moon (the play I deleted is a phoenix) and researching my new play Searching for Uncle Otto. It's tricky - moving from the Gingerbread House to July 1969's Central Park in New York City with side trips to 1930's Russia. It is no wonder I turn to toast for sustenance. I am toast. Sometimes sweetly-spiced, often nutty, alternately brittle and pliable.

As I walked through life as a piece of toast, I felt myself smitten by Smitten Kitchen's Leek toasts with blue cheese. Who tweaked it from Molly Wizenberg's leek confit. It must be Murphy's Law that when you are "toast," you are attracted to toast.

My version uses goat cheese. And it's simply your favorite bread - lightly toasted. Smeared with goat cheese and topped with caramelized or sauteed leeks. Find the recipe here. Toast can be mesmerizing.

The first performance of Hansel and Gretel was at a center for families with challenges. The play's interactive and the audience (whew) laughed where we hoped they would and participated with respect and gusto. When the father in the play announced, "We will never be hungry again!" they clapped. A poignant moment for the cast and crew.

I may be toast. But I have the means to eat. I watch the tulips close at dusk.

And the ducks sleep in our grasses.

And give gratitude for my two weeks of toast. I am off to Chicago for some R&R - which may be an anomaly or just what the doctor ordered. The computer remains at home. Have a grand week. As I toast my 25th anniversary, you can toast some bread.