Thursday, December 18, 2008

Style: Learning to Cut Loose

When I first moved away from Chicago, I was terribly homesick. I missed the over-abundance of unique shopping opportunities, the boutique on every corner, and the independent clothiers, all within walking distance from my home and from each other. After countless hours of researching neighborhoods and local shopping on the web, I would grudgingly get in my car and drive and drive (and drive some more) until I found a place here or there, tucked away in some remote corner of some distant neighborhood.

Now that I'm settled, I realize my initial response was, perhaps, a tad on the dramatic side. Sure, I still need to drive everywhere, but San Diego offers quite a few independently spirited store options. And, once you find one that you like, another isn't far behind.

During one of my little adventures, I discovered the perfect shopping stretch in Solana Beach, located in the heart of North San Diego County. Not only did this quarter of a mile stretch offer store after store of one-of-a-kind shopping opportunities, for the first time in a long time, I was more relaxed and a bit more myself. Here, I found stores where I could buy unique clothes, housewares, and gifts that wouldn't break the bank and I could meander and browse in a way that I hadn't experienced in a long time. Nowhere did I frequent more often than in a little, comfortable find, Cut Loose.

Cut Loose, founded in San Francisco, offers clothes made of natural and garment dyed fibers. As their motto states, clothing for the real world—they're comfortable pieces for real women. It's the type of store that your mom, your daughter, and you could all, collectively, enjoy. Each of you may be drawn to different items, but all would leave with a purchase in hand. Their colors and collections change with each season, but their quality and comfort never alter. And, most importantly, you don't have to live in San Diego or San Francisco to buy a Cut Loose design—their line is sold in boutiques across the country.

It may seem shallow, but, for me to feel at home in California, I needed to discover good neighborhoods, exceptional shopping, and beautifully made clothes. Stumbling on Solana Beach provided me with the first opportunity to unwind, enjoy, and truly cut loose. Details:

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Obsession: Cheap Wine Recommendations Easy to Swallow

Fighting my way through the holiday shopping crowds last week, I caught the tail-end of NPR's Fresh Air in between stops. Wall Street Journal's famed wine columnists and most-charming married duo, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, offered wine recommendations for gifts (and for supping) that are under $10. It was just the counsel I needed to leave the rabble and tension behind.

Favorites include Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from Chili, Torrontés and Malbec from Argentina, or the bubbly Cava from Spain. Details: or stream their delightful conversation at

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Adventure Las Vegas: Bouchon, A Food Lover's Home Amid the Neon Lights

I love to explore and travel—it is one of the reasons my sister and I embarked on this website journey in the first place. There are many places that I want to see before I die and Las Vegas is not one of them. For starters, I hate crowds—the idea of hoards of people crammed into a small space does not appeal to me. I am also not a fan of tourist traps or any travel option that bills itself as a Disneyland-esque experience. That being said, you may find it odd that several weeks ago, I decided to venture to Vegas with my husband for the weekend. He has been there on several occasions and has tried to convince me that I would be amazed at the Vegas food scene. Being a skeptic and a foodie, I usually raise my eyebrows when the subject comes up. However, over the past several years, I have read many-an-article on the evolving food scene in Las Vegas. You can barely pick up a magazine or newspaper without reading about the famed chefs who have invaded the desert—turning a once over-the-top cheesy, buffetland into a foodie’s paradise. So we went for the weekend to relax, drink lots of wine, and eat our way through sin city.

There are hundreds of restaurants to go to in Las Vegas, but this article is about one—one that ranks supreme on food quality, atmosphere, and service—Bouchon. Dining at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon will make you forget that the congested streets, neon lights, and ringing slot machines lurk beyond its doors. From the moment you step into the restaurant, you feel like you are in an authentic Parisian bistro—leather booth-lined walls, warm lighting, and a bustling atmosphere that would make any Francophile proud. Since we had not made our way out of Chicago (alone) since our son was born, we wanted to share a really great bottle of red wine to compliment our dinner. The house sommelier, Paul Peterson, offered many different options and varieties. He also recommended his favorite entrées to pair with the wine we chose. I have worked in many restaurants and have dined out enough to be able to say that this sommelier really knew his stuff. Everything he suggested was perfect—he even brought a glass of white wine to go with our oysters while our bottle decanted.

The meal that followed went like this: Delectable beet salad with horseradish vinaigrette, classic frisee with lardons and a perfectly poached egg, flawlessly executed juicy roast chicken with a beautifully crispy skin, and mind-blowing braised pork shoulder with root vegetables that left me wanting to lick the plate. Every morsel of our dinner was tastier and more mouth-watering than the bite before. We finished our meal with a crème brulee that was the best I have ever had in my life—creamy on the inside with a perfectly hard, caramelized shell on top.

As we sat at our table savoring our last drops of Chateauneuf du Pape, obsessing about our amazing meal, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I would return to Vegas every year just to immerse myself in the delectable food world of Thomas Keller. Through Bouchon, I now have a new affection for Las Vegas. As Keller’s website describes, Bouchon is “a casual place, a social place, a place where people come to relax and eat. A kind of home.”

Obsession: Websites We Love for Awesome Gifts

If you are like us, the holidays seem to sneak up faster and faster each year. We thought we would share some of our favorite websites for gifts that are easy, fun, and interesting. Happy Holidays!

Zingerman's: Buy a cheese club, yummy baked goods, or house-made bread. Now you can even overnight Reubens for four. Now who wouldn't want that? Details:

Boccalone: Purchase homemade salami, pancetta, mustards, and peppers. It's all about the pig, baby. Details:

Robert Sinskey: Buy a bottle, a wine club, or a cookbook from part-owner and cook, Maria Helm Sinskey. Details:

1730 Outlet Company:
Find great candles, housewares, and kitchen gifts at bargain basement prices. Details:

Pewabic Pottery: From this Detroit institution, purchase a great tile, vessel, or a one-of-a-kind holiday ornament. Details:

T-Shirt Deli: Looking for the perfect tee for your mom, husband, or new babe? Make it yourself at the T-Shirt Deli. Details:

jl925: Jessica Lee, jewelery designer, uses recyclable items to create unique bracelets, necklaces, and, our personal favorite (hint, hint), rings. Details:

Yard Dog: Specializing in folk and outsider-art, Yard Dog provides a variety of pieces for any size budget! Details:

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Adventure LA: The Oinkster Makes Piggies of Us All

Originally, the purpose of our Adventure food reviews was to showcase restaurants that satisfied the adult palate, but didn’t reject the company of our children. However, being a self-confessed junk food junkie of the regional-sort, I’m always on the lookout for a city’s local culinary speciality. Although not our original intent, cheap, regional cuisine often reigns supreme when trying to please the whole family.

This being said, Los Angeles offers the first entry of this sort—the hometown pastrami sandwich. And, quite frankly, it’s not just any pastrami sandwich—it’s a fantasy-feast. It’s the type of meal that you dream about for weeks after you leave and it actually makes you wonder if you should, in fact, buy real estate in the area.

As chef André Guerrero’s motto promises, The Oinkster offers “slow fast food.” This is a sandwich that comes out almost as quickly as you order it, but is made with oh-so-much love. The Oinkster pastrami delivers two-week cured meat, Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, and red cabbage slaw on a succulently butter-laden roll. Accompany that bad boy with crispy Belgian fries and one of the many homemade sauces, including chipotle ketchup, roasted garlic aioli, and ancho-lime mayo! The slow roasted and smoked BBQ Pulled Pork slathered in North Carolina BBQ sauce isn’t a bad bet either.

Located in LA’s Eagle Rock neighborhood, The Oinkster is housed in a wonderfully kitschy 50s A-frame. Inside, the diner offers comfy red naugahyde booths and, outside, sit amongst the hipsters in their horsetail-adorned patio. While your kids suck down their Oinksterade, a house-concocted orange lemonade, you can sip on a pitcher of cold, draught beer. And, if you want to soak up the atmosphere a little longer, top your meal off with a slice of homemade banana cream pie or a PB&J cupcake for dessert. Details: 2005 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angles, CA, 323.255.oink,

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Obsession: Stocking Stuffer Bliss

When I moved from Chicago, the holidays were drawing near. Since everything was new to me, I didn't yet have the luxury of buying interesting and affordable gifts from my local retailers. Well, thank goodness for online shopping—it not only rescued my loved ones from a very boring holiday season, it opened my world to accessible, independent, DIY entrepreneurs.

The greatest cyber-place to play is ETSY. Almost everything ETSY offers is affordable because you work directly with the artisan. You can buy fun jewelry (, "ties that don't suck" (, or the dictators of the world moustache collection ( No matter your recipient's taste or the size of your wallet, at ETSY, it's easy to find a fun and fabulous gift! Details:

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Gastronomy: Beef Short Rib

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that autumn is my favorite season—the crisp smell that lingers in the air, leaves crunching beneath your feet, pumpkins, heavy ales, cozy sweaters and one-pot-meals. Today was the first day that the air changed, indicating that fall has finally arrived. It is the kind of day when the rain lingers, the air is visibly colder, and for the first time in months, you need a sweater. I thought it would be the perfect night to make my family one of my favorite one-pot-meals, beef short rib.

Growing up, I always thought marbleized fat in meat was horrible. It turns out, when you are making a slow cooked, one-pot-meal, “fatty” cuts of meat like a pork shoulder or beef short rib actually make incredibly savory, tender dishes. It’s the kind of food that is perfect for a fall day, incredibly easy, and truly has the ability to warm the soul. Cheers to autumn!

Slow Cooked Beef Short Rib Recipe

4 lbs beef short rib
2 c red wine
2 c beef stock
2 c sliced, button mushrooms
4 T flat leaf parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Season short rib with salt and pepper. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over low heat. Add shallots and sauté for 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook 2 more minutes. Add short rib, 2 T parsley, mushrooms, wine, and stock. Bring to simmer on stove top. Cover and move to oven. Cook for about 6 hours or until tender. Remove from oven and skim fat. Plate and ladle sauce and remaining 2 T parsley over the top.

Serve with warm, crusty bread and a terrific ale. I recommend a domestic Blue Moon Harvest or a mouth-watering Belgian brew for fall.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obsession: Belgian Beer

The Belgian brewmasters have a rich tradition of producing some of the most acclaimed and diverse collections of beers on the planet. No beer compliments the crispness of autumn better than a Belgian brew. Some of our favorites include Delirium Tremens, Leffe Blonde, and Duchesse de Bourgeogne. Alongside your favorite comfort food, pour one of these beauties into a glass and savor an obsession that has been handed down since the Middle Ages.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Style: Right at Home

Upon moving to our new home in a strange and foreign place, we received a lovely housewarming gift from our familiar and very comfortable friends. The package contained a linen pillow with a single bent tulip insignia. The simplicity of the design was perfectly representative of our relationship with the benefactors—down-to-earth and oh-so-natural.

Three Sheets 2 the Wind has created a line that celebrates restrained organic beauty at its best. A design and manufacturing studio, Three Sheets produces handmade accessories that not only include pillows, but bedding and textile wall prints, as well. Patterns are screen printed using hand-dyed colors on rich linens and cottons. Both fabric and pattern dyes are offered in a variety of lush and nature-inspired colors, using names like squash, moss, twig, and robins egg. Even the pattern name offerings are minimally poetic—choose from single bud, vessel, and blossom tree. With over a dozen designs and colors to choose from, the possibilities for unique and motivating ideas are limitless. Or, if you’re in need of customizing a gift for that-special-someone, a Three Sheets’ design is guaranteed to delight, inspire, and make the recipient feel very much at home. Details:

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Obsession: Design For Obama

Longing to offer creative give-aways for my Obama-celebratory party, I stumbled upon A group of graphic artists, spear-headed by Rhode Island School of Design students Aaron Perry-Zucker and Adam Meyer, came together to support Barack Obama in a creative way. The result includes page after page of poster art available for download. Some are funny, others thoughtful, but all incredibly inspirational.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Adventure Napa: Don’t Balk—Take Your Kids to Napa

Many of us have visited Napa for a romantic get-away, or, at least, have short-listed it as an enviable retreat. After dreaming about vacationing in the northern California countryside for, oh, about 20 years or so, my husband and I were lucky enough to finally visit. For our 18th anniversary, my in-laws volunteered to stay with our sons for a gloriously long weekend.

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our time away. Napa, after all, is an adult’s playground—the best restaurants run by some of the world’s top chefs, rich wines and cheeses at every stop, and quaint and charming bed and breakfasts on each corner. For an entire weekend we were not limited to bedtimes, child-friendly fare, or frequent visits to the bathroom—an enormous gift for any weary-eyed parent. It was during this trip, however, that Napa not only exceeded our romantic expectations, but opened our eyes to just how much our sons would enjoy a trip to Napa, too.

Round Pond: Round Pond not only makes wine, but also grows olives. Lucky for us, the proprietors of Round Pond have built their very own olive oil stone and hammer mills. If you are premeditated in your planning, you can actually experience the harvesting and pressing of the olives that occurs some time in the fall. But, during any season, visitors can call ahead to tour the mill and taste Round Pond’s bounty.

Learn to recognize the difference between Italian, Spanish, Meyer Lemon, and Blood Orange olive oils. Some are smooth and buttery, others are hearty and full-bodied, but all are delicious when served with crusty breads, grassy or earthy cheeses, and fresh, organic produce—some directly picked from their very own vineyards. Details: 886 Rutherford Rd., Rutherford, California,

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park: This Napa State Park offers ten miles of hiking trails and is home to coyotes, bobcats, fox, deer, and over 100 types of birds. Grab a snack or lunch from Dean & Deluca or the Oakville Grocery, and spend the afternoon meandering the picturesque countryside. Details: 3801 St. Helena Highway, North Calistoga, California,; Dean & Deluca, 607 S. Highway 29, St. Helena, California,; Oakville Grocery, 7856 Highway 29, Oakville, California,

Quixote Winery: This winery organically farms from a small, family vineyard and, as a result, produces a limited quantity of red wine (really yummy Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon). But, what this winery does on a large-scale, is the design of their home-base. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, artist, philosopher, architect, and all-around eccentric, designed Quioxte Winery as his last project. If you’ve never been fortunate enough to tour a Hundertwasser wonder, stop by the Quioxte Winery or call ahead for a tour.

In Hundertwasser designs, there are no straight lines—even the floors are often sloped. Roofs are adorned with trees and grass, structures are supported with rich, multi-colored tiles, and winding pathways lead to colorful onion domes around every corner. Spending time in a Hundertwasser is like spending time in Oz. Details: 6126 Silverado Trail, Napa, California,

Taylor’s Automatic: For lunch, you can almost get away with eating at any great Napa restaurant with kids. If you’re spending a couple of days in Napa, take advantage of these great culinary giants. However, if you’re only spending a day and need a good and relaxed place for dinner, stop by Taylor’s Automatic. With a reputation far and wide for some of the best all-natural California beef burgers topped with mouth-watering cheeses and fresh veggie accents, Taylor’s delivers. Grab some burgers, garlic fries, beers, and malts and belly-up to one of the picnic tables that sit in the shadow of this timeless drive-in-style beauty. Details: 933 Main St., St. Helena, California,

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Obsession: Cameron Hughes--'Lots' of Good Wine

Cameron Hughes Wine Company rescues super premium wines that are not going to be bottled—sometimes, they creatively blend wines and others are a single variety. Each wine is given a “lot” number and sold to consumers at a terrific price—almost all are under 20 dollars. The wines come from many regions of the world including Australia, Spain, and Napa. We have tried a Malbec, a couple Cabs, and a Merlot—all of which were superlicious!

They also offer wine clubs where you can get the latest lot delivered and receive additional discounts on your purchases. Check out Cameron Hughes wine online at

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Gastronomy: Pot Roast En Vogue?

There are a countless number of famous chefs with blogs that offer great information and advice for the home cook. No, most of them are not from the Food Network (thank, God). Because these chefs are not considered “celebrity,” you may have never heard of them before, but I have a feeling that this trend is about to change. I have seen an increase of Internet writing from local chefs with Midwest roots. One of my favorite sites is by food writer, father, and chef, Michael Ruhlman.

If you are not familiar with Michael Ruhlman, you need to be—his books are a worthwhile read for any foodie and an essential addition to any cook’s library. Some of his more noteworthy contributions include, The Reach of a Chef: Professional Cooking in the Age of Celebrity, The Elements of Cooking, and a terrific blog with topics that range from brining at home to how to approach the subject of wine drinking with your kids. A couple of months ago, Ruhlman asked his readers what their thoughts were on the hot, new food trends.

Once again, he made me contemplate food in today's culture. There is always something that is the newfangled trend in the food community. In the last 15 years, I have experienced the Spanish tapas explosion, the Japanese sushi boom, and Ethiopian food as haute cuisine—all of which I love. Nevertheless, I have seen something completely different from my friends who like to entertain and cook—a return to the simple, not the bland or boring, but the fresh and easy.

For years, we were a world of plastic, processed foods, replaced by complex Asian meets Mediterranean meets Latin fusion. Lately, the restaurants I have visited in Chicago, seem to steer away from the amplified food experience and are showcasing simple foods—pot roast, lamb shoulder, organic veggies, roast chicken, and homemade mac and cheese. Why? Because when these dishes are done right, they are straightforward, uncomplicated, and incredibly satisfying.

I truly think the direction of the modern family kitchen is also moving towards (or returning to) local, seasonal, and uncomplicated cooking. My mother cooks wonderful meals and is the most hospitable person you could ever meet. She learned to cook from my grandmother who was also a really good cook, albeit a simple one. My grandmother walked to the produce market and the butcher almost every day—she bought what was fresh and reasonably priced to feed her family of six. It seems that my friends, who like to cook, are following in her footsteps. They have fresh milk delivered, boxes of local organic vegetables (when in season) dropped at their doorstep, and are making more braised meats with fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market. When you braise a pork shoulder or roast a whole chicken, throw in some fresh herbs and a side of buttered, fresh veggies—there truly is nothing better. The new trend may simply be to step away from over-processed foods and complicated dishes and return to the good, natural, home-cooked meal. Maybe, like Ruhlman reiterates on his blog, fresh and honest cooking should have never gone out of style in the first place. Details:

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Obsession: Bon Iver (For Emma, Forever Ago)

After a significant loss or breakup, I usually spend my evenings drinking too much wine, binge eating greasy Chinese food, and feeling sorry for myself. Not Bon Iver. Following the breakups of his longtime band and girlfriend, this incredibly talented musician went into seclusion in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and created an extraordinary album. Bon Iver’s eerie, yet strangely sexy, falsetto voice and hauntingly beautiful lyrics are a rare find in the music biz today. I have been infatuated with this album since I first heard it and you will be, too. Details:

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Style: Seeing is Believing

I have been wearing glasses since the age of 14. I had no idea that my eyes were even bad, until I was pulled out of class after a routine eye-exam. I already was sporting a mouth-full of braces, so, what the heck—why not draw a little more attention to my already fragile and self-conscious persona? What a blow! When I returned to the class the boys whooped and hooted while the girls all circled around me like I just received the news that my parents had died. Sigh.

My mother, as always, offered a compassionate ear, no doubt followed by some solid advice. But, most importantly, she took action immediately and provided some well-deserved shopping-therapy.

My first pair of glasses were clear pink—big, with arms that dropped a bit. I looked like I just walked off of the set of Golden Girls, but, to me, those frames were hot! Not only could I see the board, I was experiencing a new-found self-esteem. Hiding behind a pair of glasses made me confident bordering on audacious. From the moment I started modeling those Sophia Petrillo’s, the geek sheik from within came out loud and clear and never went away.

I have since tracked down and sported the David Mamet’s, the John Lennon’s, and the Sigmund Freud’s (yes, apparently I have a “thing” for men’s glasses). But nowhere is hunting for the next-great pair of frames more fun than at Fabulous Fanny’s, located in New York, New York.

Fanny’s offers vintage eyeglasses from the 1800s through the 1990s. Visiting the store is like visiting a mini-museum. Alongside racks of vintage clothing and accessories, are drawer after drawer of antique specs. The first time I found Fanny’s, I whittled away an entire afternoon followed by a trip to Chinatown to purchase a cheap pair of lenses for my already-reasonably-priced Woody Allen’s.

Even if you don’t wear glasses (or like wearing glasses, like me), Fabulous Fanny’s offers a wide-variety of sunglasses, too. And, although browsing at Fanny’s is an irreplaceable experience, you don’t have to travel to New York to have fun—you can now buy them all online. So, if you’re interested in bringing out the Elton John, the Buddy Holly, or the Tina Fey in you, go to Fabulous Fanny’s stat. As their motto states, “if you have to wear them, make it fun!” Details: 335 E 9th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, New York,

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obsession: Au Gratin Potatoes

After reading last week's Poivre article, one of our subscribers requested this recipe. Bon Appétit!

Au Gratin Potatoes

4 large potatoes, sliced thinly, skins on
2 14 oz cans chicken stock
½ stick unsalted butter
1/3 c white wine
¼ c flour
1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ c heavy cream
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
1 c Gruyere cheese, grated
1/3 c Parmigianino Reggiano, grated
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
3 T fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice potatoes and par boil in salted water, approximately 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large sauté pan; add shallot and cook until soft and translucent. Add flour to create roux; mix in thyme and wine. Add chicken stock and heavy cream; bring to a heavy simmer to thicken. Add potatoes and cook another five minutes; add salt and pepper to taste. Pour mixture into 9 x 9 ungreased casserole dish; cool. Mix cheeses and bread crumbs in a bowl and sprinkle on top of potatoes.

Bake for 45 minutes or until mixture is bubbly and cheese is golden brown on top. Serves 8.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Adventure Detroit: Food Nostalgia and the Motor City

Nostalgia is described as a longing for the past—often in an idealized or unrealistic form. Time and time again our memory recreates past events in an idyllic way. We tell stories from our childhood as we choose to remember them—sublime, beautiful, and good humored.

My sister and I grew up in Detroit—meaning we grew up in the suburbs. Most of the people you meet under 50 who hail from the Motor City are suburban Detroiters—whereas, the Detroiters from my parents' generation, actually grew-up in the city proper.

On a recent visit, I couldn’t contain my nostalgic feelings toward Detroit and my childhood. Sure, Detroit has seen better days; it was once a bustling city with a bright future. Today, the city reminds me of Batman’s Gotham—a once hopeful metropolis that has become a bed of corruption and deep-routed urban decay. Although, if you take the time to look closely at Detroit, past the wreckage, it boasts some of the greatest food finds on earth. These Detroit gems and institutions have almost become obsessions for my sister and me.

Lafayette: In my mind, Detroit houses the pinnacle of junk food—the Coney Dog. If you have never sunk your teeth into a “Detroit Coney” you have absolutely no idea what you are missing. A classic Detroit Coney is a steamed hot dog and bun covered in chili, chopped raw onion, and mustard. Sounds like a regular chili dog, you say? Not exactly. The chili has no beans and the way it absorbs into the white, warm bun is something words can’t really do justice. Coney Dog spots are everywhere in Detroit, but the place not to miss is Lafayette. Lafayette seems unchanged since it opened in the early 1920s and has achieved legendary status for Detroit locals. It’s incredibly dingy and cramped, the Formica tables are out of a time warp, and the fryer grease pours into the dining area—but this is all part of the beauty. The food is simple—dogs, bowls of chili, loose meat burgers smothered in chili and cheese fries. For the food junkie, Lafayette is the most magical place on earth. Details: 121 W. Layfayette at Michigan Ave., Detroit.

Carl’s Chop House: Where to go next? How about a steakhouse that has not updated its décor since it opened and the only place I know where each patron receives a free plate of pickled herring. This winning combination is Carl’s Chop House—nicotine-infused red carpeting, dark wood paneled walls, and steaks accompanied by their house-made cheese potatoes. With its red velvet curtains, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and smoke-filled dining room, this place is reminiscent of a 60s Las Vegas . Nevertheless, it is the oldest steak house in Detroit and it is an institution—almost other worldly. Details: Sadly, the beloved Carl's Chophouse has closed its doors since this article was first published.

Roma Café: The historic Roma Café is an old Italian restaurant—dusty waiters, dingy carpet, and “American Italian” food. Nothing about the menu offerings are unusual and the chef will not be receiving the James Beard Award anytime soon, but Roma embodies a characteristic that does not exist today—the spirit of tradition. It has been around since the late 1800s and has remained in the original structure since its humble, boarding house beginnings. The food, staff, and atmosphere haven’t changed since the first time I visited, nearly 30 years ago. Oven-baked cannelloni and red wine are served by a mustache-clad waiter who looks like he stepped out of the “Godfather.” Every entree comes with minestrone soup or a house salad. Finish off your meal with a coffee and a classic spumoni and you would swear that you were back in 1945. Details: 3401 Via Roma (Riopelle), Detroit,

Mario’s: Another Detroit institution that has to be mentioned is Mario’s. Mario’s has been around since 1948 and everything about it screams “old school.” Not many supper clubs from the 50s can boast that they have withstood the test of time and continue to turn out satisfying dishes. Mario’s seems virtually untouched by the modern world—from the stainless steel relish tray you receive the moment you sit down to the menu that still offers several “meals for two,” including Chateaubriand and Roast Tenderloin Beef “Flambeau.” Plus, don’t forget the house specialties, Torenados Royal, Veal Olympic, and Steak Diane or the traditional and comforting classics, manicotti, lasagna, and linguine with clam sauce. As Mario’s website states “this isn’t retro, this is real.” Details: 4222 Second Ave., Detroit,

The Bronx Bar: If you have time for a pre- or post-dinner drink, be sure to check out the dim-lit Bronx Bar just a block away from Mario’s. The Bronx Bar’s regular, local clientele and eclectic jukebox make this one of the best dive bars in town. Drinks here are classic and strong—just like Detroit. Details: 4476 Second Ave., Detroit.

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Obsession: Sarah's Tomato Basil Cream Soup

2 28 oz cans whole, peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 c chicken stock
4 t unsalted butter
½ c fresh basil leaves, chopped
¾ c heavy cream
¼ c Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

Add butter and olive oil to a warm, large stock pot. Over medium heat, add shallots and simmer 5 minutes; add garlic and simmer another 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, basil, and parmesan cheese; bring to heavy simmer. Reduce heat and cook 45 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with a hand blender until smooth. Return to low heat and add heavy cream. Simmer for 25 minutes; add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm bread or grilled cheese sandwiches!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obsession: Slow-Cooked Beef Stew and Pumpkin Seeds

On Halloween evening, before the trick-or-treating and the candy-gorging begin, I like to serve a healthy, hearty, and easy meal. Based on our readers’ questions, we’ve drummed up the perfect solution: Slow-Cooked Beef Stew and Pumpkin Seeds.

Beef Stew

2 lbs boneless stewing beef, 1-inch cubes, trimmed
1/3 c flour
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
3 T olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 c baby carrots, peeled, whole
4 baking potatoes, peeled, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 14 oz can beef broth
1 ½ c red wine

In a mixing bowl, toss beef with flour, salt, and pepper; coat evenly. Transfer beef to slow cooker; add all remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cook on high for 6 hours. Serve with salad and fresh-made pumpkin seeds. Serves 4-5.

Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Using a colander, rinse seeds thoroughly with cold water to remove pulp. When seeds are clean, lightly pat dry with paper towel. To mixing bowl, add seeds, approximately 1 T olive oil (or just enough to lightly coat seeds), and kosher salt* to taste. Layer seeds evenly on baking sheet and cook for 60 minutes or until golden brown; stirring occasionally. Serve with stew or cool and store in airtight container.

*For spicy seeds, use a dash of cayenne pepper in addition to your salt.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Style: Mid-Century Pottery that Pleases 21st Century Sensibilities

I’ll be the first to recognize that my sister and I are serious pottery junkies, a direct inheritance from our mother. We'll stop at nothing to find a new ETSY artisan or search out a piece from one of the great mission masters like Pewabic, Roseville, and Van Briggle. However, in a world where you can buy throw-away serving pieces that fly off an Ikea assembly line for next-to-nothing prices, it’s sometimes hard to discover the modern-day ceramists who still take pride in their work and wares.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, we took advantage of a variety of dining experiences; however, each of these diverse restaurants had something in common—their table tops were adorned with Heath Ceramics’ dinnerware (.Fish, Hog Island Oyster Co., Greens). This was the same pottery that I had deeply fallen in love with when my dear friend gave me a couple of pieces as a housewarming gift and that I now happily showcase in my ever-growing pottery collection. When I found out that Heath’s home and Factory Store was right across the Golden Gate Bridge in minutes-away Sausalito, I had to carve out some time for a visit.

Founded by Edith Heath in 1948, Heath Ceramics is one of the last mid-century pottery-houses still in existence. They continue to offer strong looking pieces, often laced with rich colors like onyx, sage, and French gray. Heath ceramists' design the kind of wares that are pragmatically long-lasting and timeless in design. You can dress it up or dress it down—it can contribute to a sleek modern table or play against a traditionalist setting. In addition, their dishware is oven-proof, dishwasher and microwave safe, and oh-so-kid-friendly. No wonder all the local restaurateurs are in love with Heath—it’s hard to keep your eyes and forks off of these resilient beauties! Details:, 400 Gate Five Rd., Sausalito, 415.332.3732.

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Gastronomy: Poivre

Last night I found myself covered in a stench that I have not smelled in a very long time—a rather unsavory combination of cooked oil and pan smoke. I was making Steak au Poivre. If you have ever worked in a restaurant, than you know what I am talking about. That aroma of oil and food that lingers with you hours after you have completed your shift and left the restaurant.

The man who told us all the “nasty bits” about the restaurant biz, Anthony Bourdain, actually talks about the “stink” of Poivre in his Les Halles Cookbook. He describes how Poivre used to be cooked at many restaurants, tableside, as standard fair. Apparently, one of his friends would order the dish just so that everyone in the dining room would go home smelling like his dinner.

The recipe I used for my Poivre was from Bourdain’s cookbook with a few parts of Julia Childs’ thrown in there, as well. If you would believe it, “the bad boy of culinary” and Julia have a lot in common—they both have similar takes on French cooking, they are passionate about food, and are very opinionated about how cooking needs to be done. I had made up my mind—I would spend my evening with Bourdain, Julia, a bottle of wine, and my Poivre.

Traditional Steak au Poivre is usually made with sirloin or something comparable. I opted for a filet—I figured if the sauce didn't turn out, I would be left with a peppercorn encrusted filet, which is never a bad idea. And, thank God I did, because my sauce turned out pretty awful. The dish requires you to pepper and sear the meat on all sides and then transfer it from stove top to oven, cook the meat until your desired temperature, remove the meat, and, finally, use the pan oil and juices to finish up the sauce. Sounds easy, right? Not so much.

I added the cognac just as Bourdain suggested—carefully. I added the butter just as Julia suggested—slowly. Needless to say, I was surprised when the butter and pan juices kept separating even though I reduced the cognac and whisked the butter the way I was supposed to. And then I saw Bourdain’s note at the bottom of his recipe in bold, black print—“NOTE ON SEARING: With any recipe that calls for searing meat and then using the pan to make sauce, be careful to avoid blackening the pan; your sauce will taste burnt…” It basically goes on to say, be careful or you will ruin your sauce. And that is exactly what I did. The separation was the burned bits coming away from the browned butter. So, my “Poivre” was just a peppercorn filet and it was very delicious—it just wasn’t Poivre. I served it with my homemade au gratin potatoes, that are pretty much full-proof since I have made them so many times. Consequently, my meal was not a complete flop.

Although, I am not a trained chef, I do think of myself as a good cook—one who is able to make a recipe easily, improvise if I need to, and create new dishes on my own. Yet, in something as simple as making a sauce, I somehow managed to completely screw-up. What I did learn through my Poivre failure is that the foundation of cooking is truly rooted in experimentation. The formula is pretty simple—good cooking is based on trial and error—success and failure. It is very much like most things in life. And, more than likely, I will try the Poivre again—maybe several times more—and, eventually, I will get it right. Details: for Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook and Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

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Adventure San Francisco: Blue Ribbon Clam Chowder

While eating at Hog Island Oyster Co., my husband proclaimed that the clam chowder was the best he has ever had—and, growing up on the east coast, he definitely has consumed his fair share of chowder. So, naturally, our table had to order another round of this blue ribbon-style delicacy prior to settling the bill.

Hog Island Oyster Co. is located in the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco. Squeezed amongst some of our country’s most talented culinary artisans (and only a few steps away from the Alcatraz boat dock), Hog Island manages to hold its own. The menu only offers a handful of items—clams, fresh greens, cheese, a few daily specials, and oysters, where they farm these succulent lovelies at their Hog Island Oyster Farm in Tomales Bay (which, by the way, can be visited for educational tours and picnics).

While my youngest son happily absorbed a melt-in-your-mouth Cow Girl Creamery grilled cheese sandwich, my oldest son, my husband, and I inhaled a plate of raw oysters and feasted on the chowder fused with root vegetables, bacon, and a heaping pile of Manila clams still in their shells. Like most San Francisco restaurants, Hog Island offers a varied wine list but, more importantly, beers on tap to accompany those rustic and glorious gifts from the sea.

To echo my husband’s bold declaration of chowder-love, my oldest son thoughtfully added after his meal, “We should definitely think about moving to San Francisco.” Details:, One Ferry Building 11A, San Francisco, CA, 415.391.7117,

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Style: Rock on, Lamar Sorrento—Purchasable Paintings with an Attitude

Affordable art + rock ‘n’ roll = Lamar Sorrento. A self-proclaimed “world famous artist and musician,” Lamar Sorrento is pure rock ‘n’ roll. In his hometown of Memphis, Sorrento is playing music, performing music, or painting a likeness of any musician who has inspired him. Although Sorrento has gained some celebrity, his art prices have remained—for lack of a better word—cheap. For as low as $75, you can be the proud owner of a Sorrento-original, encased in one of his “incredibly unprofessional self-made frames.” (I should note here, that the homemade frames are almost as cool as Sorrento’s artwork.)

At Sorrento’s DIY-feeling website, become an arm-chair voyeur by catching a glimpse of his 2006 Christmas card photo; a tribute to his deceased cat, Marvin; a list of celebrity clients; and, more importantly, his studio and paintings. If you don’t see anything you like, e-mail the very-responsive Sorrento to directly commission a piece of your own. For a marginal mark-up, you can also purchase a Sorrento at Yard Dog, gallery home of the prolific artists and musicians, Jon Langford and Daniel Johnston. In a time when most music-inspired artists are wooed by the almighty dollar, Sorrento manages to produce paintings that are backed by a genuinely rock ‘n’ roll spirit—gritty and at bargain-basement prices. Details: and

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Adventure Chicago: Roscoe Village

I am really lucky to live in Chicago and have, on any given day, hundreds of boutiques in arm's reach. With this being said, one of my favorite neighborhoods to frequent is Roscoe Village. The main drag lies between Damen and Western Avenues on the once sleepy Roscoe Street (a mere ten years ago, there wasn't much there). Today, Roscoe Village is home to many boutiques, restaurants, bars, and a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare. I thought I would pay homage to several of my favorites that should be added to any shopper's travel list.

Glam to Go: Owner, Jenny Flynn, is what makes this place more than just another woman’s boutique—her sublime attitude and eclectic sense entice patrons to stop in over and over again. Her store carries Weston Wear, Topin, 525 America, Rebecca Beeson, and Tano. But, what makes this store really unique, are all the cool accessories she carries—one-of-a-kind necklaces, hand-blown glass rings, silky headbands, and patent clutch bags. The best part is that most of her accessories are priced under $50. This low-key, funky boutique is a destination not to miss. Details:

Sacred Art: Sarah Chazin quit the restaurant biz to open this affordable, neighborhood art store. The place is intimate and chock-full of hundreds of original pieces, most by local Chicago artists and priced at $150 or less. She carries photography, assorted paintings, glass wall hangings, pottery, jewelry, and many other interesting finds. Recently, she has started offering custom framing and tries to give the best price in town. Her tag line is “art is not a luxury”—at these prices, it really isn’t. Details:

Roscoe Blooms: This small flower shop is so serene, you may want to grab a coffee and spend the afternoon here. Step inside this cozy storefront and feel as if you have left the bustling city. Beautiful Jade, Orchids, and Asian Lanterns adorn this stop. There are small plants of all varieties, unique cards, and beautiful fresh cut flowers. Bouquets are wrapped in chocolate brown paper with lavender tissue. Rumor has it that Leslie, the owner, may be opening a home store. If it is anything like Roscoe Blooms, I will be banging the door down when it opens. Details:

Hard Boiled: This seemingly conventional record shop is anything but. The store carries an abundance of Indy rock and vinyl. If you are a music lover, adventurer, or just in need of some nostalgia, stop by this gem. You could spend hours flipping though the vinyl collection or ask the owner, Mark, for a recommendation and he will play you a CD or two. I have never left the store disappointed. Guaranteed you will leave with a smile and some great new music for your collection. Details:

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gastronomy: French 95

The French 75 is a champagne cocktail that dates back to the Franco-American War. Traditionally, it is made with gin, sugar, lemon juice, and topped with champagne, although, hardcore “mixologists” argue whether cognac was used in the original concoction. I had my first French 75 at a terrific Chicago restaurant called Sepia. The Sepia version includes the additional ingredient of orange bitters. The drink is citrusy, strong, and delicious.

Last weekend, while enjoying one of the last summer evenings outside, we decided to make some fun cocktails—of course, the French 75 came to mind. I ended up using a version from the man who is coined the “king of the cocktail," Dale Degroff. His creation, the French 95, is made with bourbon, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, orange juice, and champagne. This was truly one of the best drinks I have ever had—smooth, sweet, tangy, and, well, just perfect. It might just replace the margarita as the quintessential summer drink. Cheers!

Recipe for the French 95, from Dale Degroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail. (Incidentally, if you don’t own this book, it is a must for any “foodie” library. It is the ultimate cocktail encyclopedia, filled with historical facts, definitions, and recipes for just about every libation on the planet!)

¾ oz bourbon
¾ oz simple syrup* (see below)
½ oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 oz fresh orange juice

Shake first four ingredients in an iced cocktail shaker; strain into goblet and top with champagne.

*Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is one of those amazing “condiments” that adds the perfect sweetness to martinis, mixed drinks, iced tea, and iced coffees. Basically, any cold drink you would add sugar to, you could use simple syrup instead. It is made with only sugar and water and adds sweetness without having gritty sugar settle on the bottom of the drink.

Traditionally, simple syrup is made on the stove with equal parts water and sugar—bringing water and sugar to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Dale Degroff recommends filling a cork bottle with equal parts sugar and water—I have found warm water works best. You then shake it vigorously until sugar dissolves. The syrup may be stored in the fridge for several weeks. This process eliminates using the stovetop and is made quickly without the extra mess—who wouldn’t want that? Details: for Dale Degroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail.

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About Mod City Mom

After becoming mothers, sisters Sarah Romine and Leah Weyandt wanted to marry the activities and interests that they experienced before motherhood with their new found lives with children. This was not always an easy task—traveling to obscure places, shopping at off-beat boutiques, and sipping lazy-afternoon cocktails doesn't always fit neatly with parenthood. Stemming from their frustration, they meticulously searched, and continue to search, for activities, establishments, and entertainment that they take pleasure in and their families benefit from. The result? Mod City Mom.

About Sarah

Sarah is a passionate cook, fashionista, writer, actor, and mother. Like all actors, she ended up working at many-a-restaurant to make ends meet and shopping at countless bargain boutiques to maintain her sense of personal style. Her culinary journey, love affair with fashion, and desire to remain true to herself after becoming a mother are the inspirations for this site. Sarah lives with her husband and two sons in Chicago.

About Leah

A polymath wannabe, Leah loves books, films, music, cooking, and travel. After co-starting a writing and editing shop in 2002, Leah has spent her spare time frequenting her favorite cities, hangouts, and haunts. Her obsession with finding the new, innovative, and quirky is the impetus behind this site. Leah lives with her two sons and husband in North San Diego County.
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