Thursday Thoughts: Wednesday Edition

Travelers is Not Just an Insurance Company
This week is sort of Upside Down Week because we are, for all intents and purposes, still traveling. We got home Sunday afternoon from Arizona, took Monday to say hello to our Denver grandkids, and left bright and early Tuesday morning for the airport to fly to Chicago. Bill’s mom will turn 99 this July, and so we take opportunities to spend time with her when our schedules allow. So you have my weekly THURSDAY THOUGHTS post on Wednesday so that I could do a throw-back on Thursday. You know – TBT. At any rate, we return to Denver on Saturday and get a few weeks here until we return for one more week to the desert so that Bill can finish his dental work. Phew.

Which Way to the Bathroom?
I have mentioned before that no matter which direction we’re going, it takes us a bit to remember where everything is at this particular house. I think that phenomenon is worse in Denver because the house is bigger. Even the toilet paper is on the other side in our toilet, so in the middle of the night, I tiredly fumble for the toilet tissue on one side when it is actually on the other. As for food and other kitchen items, it’s nearly a lost cause. I’ll be fine in a week or so.

Grandkidpalooza, Part 2
We had to fit a lot of grandkid-time into a day-and-a-half before we left again for Chicago. Dave and Jll and the kids, along with Allen, stopped by Sunday night for hugs and catch-up time. Monday I picked up Mylee from school. Kaiya had stayed home because of a cold. I took Mylee home and gave Cole – who will turns 2 today – his present. I bought him some swimming paraphernalia, some bathtub toys, and some age-appropriate Legos. Mylee was very happy that Cole was willing to share the Legos as Legos are about her favorite thing after Play Doh. Cole cried when I left, which makes me happy and sad all at the same time.

cole birthday 2

Creepy Facebook
When Bill and I go to Chicago, one of our MUST-DOES is a trip (or two) to Bill’s favorite pizza place – Fox’s Pizza. There are three or four of them around the south side of Chicago and its suburbs, but the one we go to since his mother moved to Orland Park is called Fox’s Pizza on Wolf Road. The other day, I opened up Facebook, began scrolling down, and came across an ad for Fox’s Pizza on Wolf Road. So, not only do “they” know that we are going to Chicago, “they” also know where we plan on eating. I try not to think about it too much. Apple (bless its heart) worked so hard to avoid having to allow the government access to telephones, when the fact of the matter is they all know where we are at all times anyway.


Hee Haw

When I wrote this post, I was 30-some thousand feet in the air, flying from Chicago to Denver. There are only so many blog posts one can write about the horrors of airline travel and one’s personal fear of flying. The fact of the matter is that no matter how terrible this flight was for me, it didn’t even come close to how awful it was for the woman three rows back flying solo with her two kids. One was a little boy of about 3 and the other was an infant girl in the neighborhood of 11 months to a year. The little girl cried ceaselessly for the entire flight. Meanwhile, the mother started out trying to deal patiently with the little boy, who apparently doesn’t know Santa Claus is coming to town. But about halfway through she lost her patience. She transitioned from saying things like, “Jack, I know you love your sister, but you have to give her some personal space,” to saying through clenched teeth, “Jack, stop touching your sister right now or I will take away your hand-held computer and throw it out the window.” Jack, of course, knew no one would be taking away his computer any time soon because it was Mom’s only hope and the windows didn’t open. So he continued to agitate his sister. Poor Mom.

It brought to mind my first plane ride with Court when he was 11 months old. We visited my sister Bec in Alabama. He was very good flying to Birmingham. However, he was simply awful on the way back. He cried nearly the entire way, except for a brief time while dinner was served (this being back in the days of airline food). It was during this brief interlude when he reached down and picked up a fistful of mashed potatoes and threw it at the businessman sitting next to me. Despite his now potato-stained suit jacket, the man rather took it in stride and was surprisingly nice about the mishap. He must have had a number of kids at home.

cm1520dOn our way to Chicago a few days ago, we had a pleasant, uneventful trip. The skies were smooth and we left and arrived on time. The only oddity happened as we waited for the announcement that we could begin boarding.  A young man sat down across from us in the waiting area. He nodded nervously to us, and I attributed his discomfort to the fact that his carry-on was an enormous donkey head. Not a real donkey head, ala The Godfather. Instead, it was the kind of donkey head you would put on if you were the mascot for, say, the Joliet Jackasses. I heard him tell the fellow sitting next to him that he was quite nervous it wasn’t going to meet the carry-on restrictions. I must admit, it would be disconcerting to be sitting next to a passenger with a donkey peeking out between his feet.

It must have passed muster, however, because I saw him next in baggage claim in Chicago awaiting his luggage with the donkey head jauntily sitting by his side. Seeing as I had spent the entire flight trying to think of a college whose mascot was a donkey (Boston College Burros? Duke Donkeys? MIT Mules?), I couldn’t resist asking him why he was carrying a donkey head ( and no, I didn’t say “why the long face?”). Turns out he wasn’t a mascot for a school. He was going to work at some convention being held in Chicago. A convention featuring a giant donkey. A Democrat gathering maybe?

Perhaps a fitting conclusion to this blog post is to tell you something I overheard as we were standing in line to board. One woman struck up a conversation with another — an apparent stranger. Pointing out the the early hour (we were boarding at 6 a.m.!), she apologized for her unkempt appearance. The other woman dismissed her concerns, saying, “Oh, I don’t think there’s any point in dressing up any more unless you’re looking for a husband or a job.”

I can think of other reasons, but I wasn’t going to argue at the crack of dawn and with a donkey head staring back at me.

O Sole Mio

While I am away in Chicago visiting Bill’s mother for a couple of days, here is a previously-written blog post about an earlier trip to Chicago. This post was first published in September 2014.

Eatily tomatoesEveryone has heard some version of the song referred to in the title of this blog post. Literally translated, it means “my sunshine.”I wanted to sing this song at the top of my lungs the other day as Bill and I wandered through one of the most amazing and fabulous places I have ever visited – Eataly. It felt like my sunshine.

Before I tell you about my amazing day in a place as close to Italy as possible without getting on an airplane and flying for seven or eight hours in a seat that only reclines a tenth of an inch, I have to tell you a bit about my love affair with Lidia Bastianich.

She is known in our family simply as Lidia, similar to Madonna or Cher or Bono. If I mention Lidia, I don’t have to explain who I mean. She has had a variety of cooking shows on PBS for many years, and has about a million cookbooks, all of which I own. I like her obvious love of food and simple cooking and preparing a meal for your family. My ideals about cooking imitate hers.

While she has restaurants around the United States, she lives in New York City and her first restaurants were there. And a couple of years ago, along with another famous chef – Mario Batali – and her son Joe Bastianich, she founded a food market – and I use that term loosely in this case – called Eataly.

Jen and Bec visited New York City’s Eataly recently during their trip, and I was very envious. I looked on line to get a little more information, and was delighted – simply thrilled in fact – to learn that there is an Eataly in downtown Chicago with an even bigger footprint than the one in NYC.

“Please please please?” I begged Bill. “Can we take one day out of our visit to your mom’s to go to Eataly?”

He agreed without a second thought.

I told you yesterday about our fun day in general terms. But we literally spent the entire afternoon in this amazing, well, I don’t even know quite what to call it. It is an Italian food  market, but there are places to eat and an amazing wine store featuring wines from all the regions of Italy.

In fact, one of the most amazing things about this market is that it featured foodstuffs from all over Italy. For example, the olive oils were divided into all of the various Italian regions – Umbia, Tuscany, Sicily, and so forth. There were literally shelves of olive oils…..

olive oils eatily


The cheese selection nearly took my breath away…

cheese and hameataly cheese selection








Here is Eataly’s selection of JUST BLEU CHEESES….

eataly bleu cheese

Bill and I have been lucky enough in our lives to spend considerable amount of time in Italy, and while I love all things American, I miss a few things that I think are difficult to find in the United States. Or at least in Denver. One of these is a really true espresso macchiato. Most coffee places offer a macchiato that really is nothing more than a latte. An Italian macchiato is simple and divine. Guess what? They offered it at Eataly….

macciato Eatily

All of the breads are baked in a wood-burning oven….

eataly bakery

We wandered around and looked at the selections of produce and cheeses and meats and seafood and canned goods and were swept back to our days in Italy. With such a selection of foods, it took us considerable time to decide what to eat. We elected instead of going to the sit-down café where they bring food to you, we would go to one of the various stations where you could buy meat or cheese or pizza and make your own lunch. So we ordered a selection of salumi e formaggi, which they served on a wooden peel with bread and olive oil. Ah YUM!

eataly lunchboard

eatily lunch


Hey Vinnie, Where’s the Beef?

When I actually worked for a living, I had the opportunity to eat at a lot of really nice restaurants all around the United States. You know, the restaurants where you are served a tiny piece of Mozambique tilapia with stewed raspberries and capers drizzled with Sicilian olive oil on an oversized, square white plate, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $50, salad not included. For the most part, those meals were delicious and I was able to try a lot of foods I wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise. I am grateful to have had that opportunity.

But for the most part, I am a simple eater. And thankfully, so is my husband. When I told Bill I would take him anywhere he would like for his birthday dinner, he chose a place famous for its fried chicken. And as I go through my recipe files – those on Pinterest and those in my recipe box – the fanciest recipe I have is Coq au Vin. And I haven’t made that for years.

Bill grew up in Chicago – the food capital of the United States in my opinion. If you go downtown, there are innumerable fancy restaurants, similar to those I enjoyed earlier in my life. But the restaurants that Bill enjoyed were not really restaurants at all. They were food joints on the South Side of Chicago. Hot dog stands. Gyros places. Pizza parlours. If he was feeling really fancy, he might go to a locally-owned steak house where they still have red leather booths and serve a relish tray before bringing your salad made out of crisp iceberg lettuce and carrots.

And when we go to Chicago to visit his mother, those are the places we dine. I have mentioned before that Bill’s favorite food is pizza, and his favorite pizza joint is Fox’s, a chain of four or five restaurants on the south side of Chicago. The pizza is thin crust, and he always orders pizza with sausage. Yum…..

Bill Fox pizza

We were thrilled a couple of years ago when one of Bill’s favorite Chicago joints opened up a restaurant in Mesa, right down the street from where the Chicago Cubs play spring baseball. Why not? The place is always busy when we are there, and we go quite often.

Portillo's MesaPortillo’s has all of your Chicago favorites – hot dogs, gyros, tamales, hamburgers. But his (and increasingly my) favorite is their Italian Beef sandwich. Italian beef is slow cooked roast beef sliced very thin, served on a roll that is drenched in the “gravy.” It is served with either sweet or hot peppers. Sweet peppers are simply roasted green peppers and hot peppers are similar to giardiniera – a mixture of spicy pickled vegetables. Again, yum.

Recently he was hankering for an Italian beef sandwich, and it wasn’t handy to make a quick trip to either Chicago or Arizona. So I tried my hand at it, and found a Portillo’s copycat recipe for Italian beef. I’m no expert on whether or not it rivaled Portillo’s but I will tell you it was good, and satisfied my sandwich loving husband. And best yet, it cooked in a crock pot!

Soon we will be eating the genuine article in Mesa. But here’s something to enjoy in the meantime….

Italian Beef

Portillo’s Italian Beef Sandwich, adapted from

1 t. salt
1 t. ground black pepper
a t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
1 t. onion salt
3 c. water
1 t. dried parsley
1 t. garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 (2/3 OZ) package Italian salad dressing mix
5 lb. rump roast

In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine the water, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, onion salt, parsley, garlic powder, bay leaf and salad dressing mix. Stir well and bring just to a boil.

Place roast in a slow cooker and pour mixture over the roast. Cover and cook on low setting for 10 to 12 hours OR high setting for 4 to 5 hours. Remove bay leaf and shred meat with a fork. Serve on hard rolls.

Nana’s Notes: Genuine Chicago Italian beef sandwiches are made on a certain kind of bread that’s not available here. I used French hard rolls and it was delicious. Also, the genuine article uses roast beef that is sliced VERY THIN. Since I don’t have a meat slicer, I shredded the meat and it worked great. Chicago, don’t hate me. Finally, the test of a true Italian beef sandwich is that it is so sloppy that you have to lean over your plate to eat it. It might be hard to tell from the photo, but this one definitely was.