Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Day I Was Swedish

When I was little, I wanted to be ethnic.

I wanted a strong, proud, national heritage, something other than the United States of America. My own family was a mix of European descent. My dad’s side, Storms, was predominantly German. On my mom’s side, we were a mixture of English, Irish, and a smattering of other things thrown in. My mom and uncle always claimed we are a little bit Native American – but I had my doubts.

Even though I later learned of the dominant German genetic, I did not realize that in first grade. We were all-American in every sense of the word. I grew up in a 1960s suburban ranch home. We ate jello salads with our dinner and cheeseburger upside down pie made with Bisquick. My dad drove a station wagon with wooden sides, and we had a swing set in the back yard.

The problem came when my first grade teacher asked each of us to prepare and bring in one of our family’s traditional ethnic dishes. Confused, I looked to see what my other friends would do. Jill Smith and her twin brother Jack were Czechoslovakian. While we could barely spell their country’s name, they did have a pretty flag.

Everybody seemed to know their country of origin. The Italian students were bringing spaghetti and pizza. One Irish student was bringing soda bread. I was stumped. What country made Bisquick? Our job was to write a report on the country, make a crayon-colored replica of the flag, and then bring in a traditional dish to share for the school open house.

I sat at my little desk deliberating a bit.
Then, I chose Sweden.

I’m not sure why I chose that country. I did like the flag. It was nice and clean, blue with a yellow cross, and easy to color. I also knew for certain that one time my mom had made Swedish meatballs with a recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook.

The night of the open house, I was ready. The blue and yellow paper flag swung proudly over my formica-wooden covered school desk. “Swedish” it proudly proclaimed. That was me!

My mom brought in her pyrex bowl of Swedish meatballs and set it on my desk along with my report on my country. “What is this?” she asked.

I showed off my handiwork to my surprised parents. Slowly they read the report and looked again at the flag.

“You do know that we’re not Swedish,” said my mom, “right?” But for the rest of the night, I felt a little bit Swedish. I could almost imagine my dark brown hair becoming blonder, neatly plaited into braids. Maybe I could even wear clogs.

Many years later, I married a man who is 100 percent Polish. His mom makes us “golumpki” (cabbage rolls), and I even tried my hand at homemade pierogi. For Christmas one year, I celebrated in the Polish tradition with a baby Jesus in the center of the table and a wafer cookie, “oplatek”, that you use to break and say “I love you” to those near and dear.

But, I still made my family a jello salad.

Because, after all, I guess I’m just plain-old American. That’s my ethnicity.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vintage Chicago Dining

Step inside the doorways of these charming Chicago restaurants, and you will be transported back in time. This was Chicago before north Michigan Avenue was magnificent and the John Hancock was dwarfed by other skyscrapers.

Many of Chicago’s original restaurants have disappeared, but a few remain operational. Walk by those chain venues that you can find in any city and visit one of our original Chicago icons.

The Italian Village has been in Chicago since 1927, and their website claims they are the oldest continual operating restaurant in the city. This place is pure charm – I have loved it since I was a little girl. When you enter, walk up the narrow steep staircase to the Village (one of the the buildings three restaurants). The Village – perched at the very top – is decorated to resemble a little outdoor Italian city with the fake facades of buildings and twinkling lights that are strung crisscrossed around the room. Old school male waiters might scold you if you don’t finish your enormous plate of pasta.

You don’t really go to the Italian Village for the food – yes, the pasta is good and pizza is not bad – but the atmosphere will delight you. My parents would go here to celebrate their anniversary after their marriage in 1962. It is a place where time has almost stood still. Romantic, cozy, and full of vintage charm.

Italian Village – 71 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL

La Creperie on north Clark Street is a Parisian style crepe restaurant. The restaurant, which has been in its same location since 1972, has a dark-wooded interior with uneven floors, wooden furniture and travel posters. In the far back, there is a tiny patio with vine-covered walls and a burbling fountain.

This place, in the words of one reviewer, makes you think you are in a 1960s French film. Quaint and simple. No avant-garde French fusion here. Order the chicken and mushroom crepe with a house salad. Save room for a chocolate and banana crepe for dessert and a coffee.

When a family member died, La Creperie shuttered its doors. But, the recent word in Chicago is that the place has been bought and will reopen in its original location and with nothing substantial changed. C'est magnifique!!!

La Creperie - 2845 N. Clark, Chicago, IL

Billy Goat Tavern is a Chicago journalism icon. Newspaper writers and editors from the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times would gather in the back room to argue, eat greasy hamburgers, and have a beer. To find Billy Goat, you have to climb the stairs below Michigan Ave. (just north of the river). In the dark underbelly of lower Michigan, the neon glow of the Billy Goat sign will greet you.

The hamburger joint was immortalized by John Belushi and Dan Akroyd on Saturday Night Live. You order at the counter, and the only real choice is a double cheeseburger and a coke. “No fries, chips.” The burgers are excellent with home-baked buns and thick-cut pickles, but it is the lingering scent of grease and the smoke-stained walls that make this a Chicago icon.

Recent news has suggested that the location is threatened to close due to renovation on Michigan Ave. I, for one, will be sad if this place ever shutters its doors. Chicago will not be the same!

Billy Goat Tavern, 430 N. Michigan Ave. (lower level), Chicago, IL

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On the Eve of my 48th Birthday: 48 Things I Know

1. Buying a new mattress can change your world.

2. Taking a long walk is a sure cure for a foul mood.

3. Never send an angry email without waiting one day.

4. Guys say a lot of things they don’t mean when they are trying to meet women.

5. I should drink more water, but I don’t like it.

6. You really shouldn’t keep every childhood memento.

7. Memorizing the Bible works better when you are young.

8. Sweet potatoes are horrible.

9. Getting a dog is a major responsibility.

10. It is fine to go to bed angry when you need time to think and calm down.

11. Most situations look better in the morning.

12. Handwritten birthday cards should never go out of style.

13. Hugs are the best medicine.

14. Prayer changes us.

15. Raising a child is both exhausting and rewarding.

16. Raising a teenager has moments of sheer joy and unexpected friendship.

17. It is better if you wash dishes the same day you use them.

18. Not all stains come out.

19. Don’t buy dry clean only clothing.

20. Only one-third of your dinner plate should contain meat.

21. Try a little bit of everything before you say you don’t like it.

22. Friends are worth keeping.

23. Not everything can be easily forgiven.

24. Disappointments can lead to unexpected opportunities.

25. God is good. All the time.

26. People won’t stay with us forever.

27. Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it is better.

28. Don’t tell a salesman how much you want your car payments to be.

29. Shop resale.

30. If shoes are uncomfortable when you buy them, they probably won’t get better.

31. Get rid of those pants that almost fit.

32. Cut down a Christmas tree if you live near a tree farm.

33. Pick daffodils and put them on your spring time table.

34. Cookies from scratch are worth the effort.

35. Nutella is the perfect condiment.

36. Starbucks is on every corner for a reason.

37. Travel to as many places as you can.

38. When you’re on vacation, stop and take a mental picture. Stop. Breathe. Remember.

39. Give generously.

40. Laugh with your whole heart.

41. The Bible is completely applicable to modern day life.

42. All of Taco Bells menu items are basically the same thing in different shapes.

43. Toe socks are unnecessary and annoying.

44. Holding hands with your husband keeps romance alive.

45. Family matters.

46. Don’t burn bridges – disembark gracefully.

47. When you argue, and you will, always fight fair.

48. Love one another.