Monday, August 29, 2011

Chicago Food Planet Bucktown/Wicker Park Food Tour

Remember that awesome food tour I went on last month?  Well another food tour company in Chicago saw my post and asked me to come check out one of their great food tours.  Um...heck yes!  
My schedule has been full the past few weeks, but I finally had a free day this Saturday to check out one, of their three, offered tours.  
Chicago Food Planet Food Tours offered me one free ticket, but the opinions are all my own.

I decided to check out the Bucktown/Wicker Park food tour because it was different area of town I hadn't really explored and all of the food tastings sounded delicious.  

It was a beautiful day for a walking food tour with sunny skies and comfortable temperatures.  I was by myself during the tour and wished I had someone I knew with me, but we had a full tour of 16 people from all over the country and met midday at our first location.  Our tour guide was Gina and she was full of energy and information throughout the tour.  She encouraged us to at least try a bit of everything, because you never know if you will like it until you taste it.  We were each given a handy pamphlet with all the places we were going to visit, a map, other good restaurants in the area, and coupons.  
After some quick introductions we headed inside George's Hot Dogs.  George and his wife Mary have been running this stand since 1948 and still work in the back chopping ingredients and serving guests.  Everything is made to order so it is nice and fresh.  The Chicago style hot dog was no exception!  There is a lot on this hot dog but it all goes so well together.  In case you are unfamiliar a Chicago style hot dog includes an all beef hot dog with fresh onions, green relish, yellow mustard, sport peppers (although I ate mine sans peppers), sliced tomatoes, a big dill pickle, and celery salt on top.  Oh and no ketchup allowed - that's a BIG faux pas, plus I don't think it needs it.  There are over 2000 independent hot dog stands in the city and I haven't tried them all but this is one of the best I have had so far! 

We then walked to a small park where Gina told us some of the history of Bucktown and how it came to be.  
I love history facts so I found all the information pretty interesting.  

After our history lesson it was time for a sweet treat at the famous Hot Chocolate.  This restaurant has been around since 2004 and has won numerous awards.  The owner and head chef, Mindy Segal, has been nominated four years in row for the James Beard Award for best pastry chef.  They don't just serve desserts and hot chocolate here though, there is a full bar and menu to enjoy as well.  Chef Segal is also a big proponent of the locavore movement (i.e. using food that is grown or produced locally) which is wonderful.   The place was a bit busy when we walked in but we had some benches reserved.  I was really excited to try the hot chocolate and it did not disappoint.  We each got a nice cup full of iced hot chocolate with a homemade marshmallow on top.  
It was everything you want hot chocolate to taste like and homemade marshmallows are WAY better than store bought.  It had a super rich chocolate flavor that was creamy and delicious.  Just thinking about how good it was right now is making me want another glass.  MMMM!   
Next we walked to The Goddess and Grocer which is also a supporter of the locavore movement.  It is a gourmet, mostly organic, deli and grocery store that sells local foods, cakes, pastries, salads, and sandwiches.  We tried the roasted vegetable salad that was chock-full of veggies which was good. Everything in the shop looked great.  There is one right by work, so I will definitely be stopping by again!   

We then crossed into Wicker Park.  The line between the two neighborhoods is a bit blurry hence the sidewalk design. 

The next food stop was Piece which is a pizzeria and brewery.  The restaurant was a big open area full of high tops and tables.  The place also had a big bar and great big sun roof.  The pizza came out on a huge baking sheet and looked delicious.
We each got a taste of one of their beers and a slice of the white pizza which was topped with tomatoes and basil.  They make New Haven style pizza which is perfectly crispy and chewy.  It was oh so good!  I am coming back here for sure.  I am not a big fan of beer so I just had a sip.   It tasted like all other beer to me, but they make tons of beers themselves and have won lots of awards for them. 

Afterwards we headed back out to explore some of the quieter neighborhood streets of Wicker Park.  We walked through some pretty neighborhoods and learned some more history about the area and the houses.  There was a good mixture of older homes right next to more modern ones throughout.
House built around 1870
Wicker Park Castle built in 1893
Home from 1877.  Cannon left in front yard from American Legion.

We couldn't visit Wicker Park, without actually seeing the park itself!  It is a lovely green park with a fountain, flowers, and plenty of benches.  It was donated to the neighborhood by Charles Wicker who has a statue in the park as well.  

Charles Wicker: "If something needs to be done - do it!" (hence the broom in hand)
Gina shared some great historical stories about the houses which was really interesting.  After 45 minutes of exploring we went to the next restaurant Sultan's Market.  It is another family run business with tons of vegetarian and vegan options.  We got to try the award winning falafel sandwich.  I am not sure I had ever tried falafel before but this stuff was good!  It came in a homemade pita with house made hummus, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  I don't really care for cucumbers but everything else was really tasty.   

Our final stop for the day was the wonderful iCream Cafe.  I have been to this place twice before and was happy to go back again.  (I blogged about my first visit here.)  This time I learned some more about how the place started.  It was an idea that two students at the University of Chicago came up with as some kind of final project and it has become a hugely successful business.  They have been featured on the Food Network several times.  The cool thing about this place is that you get to make a completely unique ice cream flavor and it is frozen right on the spot with liquid nitrogen.   We tried the flavor "that guy from Florida" which is white chocolate and cream soda flavoring with nutella mixed in.  The flavor got it's name because a guy from Florida would always order that mixture when he visited.  It was delicious! 
Mixture is poured in and frozen with liquid nitrogen!

At the end Gina asked everyone to say what their favorite thing from the day was.  I liked everything, but decided on Hot Chocolate.  Piece, iCream, and Sultan's were close behind though.  
I really had a good time on Chicago Food Planet's Food Tour in Bucktown/Wicker Park.  I was pretty full at the end of the tour so you get your money and belly's worth of food.  
I love trying local restaurants and food tours are a great way to do just that.  This tour did not disappoint on the food front and I loved learning little history facts about the area and restaurants.  Plus as we walked by other places Gina let us know about other restaurants to check out too.  I plan on heading back to Bucktown/Wicker Park to visit those places soon!  So if you want to explore a different and interesting area of Chicago I would definitely consider this tour.

Of the food I tried what would you be interested in tasting? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

100 Pounds Gone!

Weight loss charms to mark my progress.
I have lost 100 pounds since beginning my weight loss/healthy living journey over two and half years ago!  I am still a bit in awe and don't think I have fully comprehended it.  Obviously it has been a long journey and it is not over yet (I still have more to lose) but being rid of 100 extra pounds is literally and figuratively a weight off my back.
November 2008 and August 2011
I decided to make a change in how I was living my life in December 2008.  In January 2009 I joined Weight Watchers to help me on my journey.  The tools and support they provided was just what I needed along with the support from my mom and my own determination to change my life.
I was tired of feeling tired, unhealthy, sore, and uncomfortable in my own skin.  I have been overweight, actually obese, most of my life and have tried several times over the years to lose weight.  After my latest attempt in high school, I kind of gave up.  
When I went off to college I slowly began to put on more weight.  I noticed it, but didn't want to acknowledge the fact of how unhealthy I was so I ignored it and pushed it to the back of my mind.  Of course, this can work for a little while, but it had a way of creeping back up every now and again.  I was uncomfortable - getting dressed, going shopping, sitting in class, going out.  I was just going through the motions of life and if I sat and thought about it, I wasn't happy.  

I wanted to do something to change this, but felt like I had tried so many things and didn't know what to do next.  After watching and listening to an Oprah show and supplementary podcast with Dr. Oz and Bob Greene, I had my own "Aha! moment."  I deserved to be happy and healthy and the best me I could be; I was worth it.  Perhaps it seems simple, but I had never really though about that before.  
The original notes I posted in my room.  They are still hanging up!
It took me a year to lose the first 50 pounds.  The next 50, about a year and half.
I posted positive messages around my room.
I began focusing on eating less and tracking my food.  
I later added exercise- walking and some at home DVDs.  
I stopped drinking diet coke. 
I began to eat more real foods and took the time to read food labels.  
I attended a group fitness class at the university gym with a friend.  
I discovered the healthy living blog community.  
I tried new foods and loved them.
I started running and strength training.  
I completed races and eventually two half marathons.  

It took time and effort to lose those 100 pounds.  It wasn't as easy as that list makes it seem.  There were plenty of set backs, moments of doubt, and discouragement.   It is difficult to reshape how you live your life. Those are all the small steps I had to take to get where I am today.  I am OK with how long it took.  I wouldn't have learned all that I have it had been faster.  

Seeing pictures of my old self is difficult, because I know how unhappy I was and they remind me of all of the time I wasted being like that.  However, I try not to dwell on that because although that me was unhappy, I ultimately made the choice to change how I was living my life and become healthier.  I am happy and proud of that. 
I am a different person than I was two years ago.  I was much quieter then, not wanting to draw attention to myself.  I always felt like I could be myself around my family and close friends, but with other people it was different.  It's like I was locked up and didn't know where the key was so I could be me.  Some of these feelings disappeared as I grew up, but not until the past two years have I felt like the real me.  I think some of it is just growing up, but I know that it also has to do with losing weight, getting healthier, and trying new things.  Today I am a happier version of me.  I have discovered tons of new things about myself through this journey.  In my wildest dreams I thought about losing 100 pounds and I cannot believe it has become a reality!

A positive attitude, determination, and hope are the three things that have helped me in my journey.  I feel like this is who I am supposed to be.  This is how I want to live my life and that is a huge motivation to keep going!  Yes, there are still moments of doubt and negativity, but they are far less frequent.  I have changed for the better and don't plan on ever going back.

My journey is not over, but this is a huge accomplishment for me and I just wanted to share.   A big thanks to my family and the blogging community for the motivation and support; it really means a lot!  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Eat, Workout, Work, Blog - WIAW

I haven't participated in What I Ate Wednesday in a while, so I felt it was time to jump back in.  I have been busy, busy with full work weeks, but I had some time yesterday to snap some pictures of my food.

I worked the closing shift at the cafe last night so I got to sleep in which was lovely.  I ate a bowl, or in this case, mug of cereal.  Kashi was on sale a few weeks ago and I had some great coupons so I couldn't resist buying some of my favorite cereal.  I spotted this one, Berry Blossoms, and it sounded good, so I grabbed it too.  It was my pre workout fuel.  

I did a quick 35 minute strength workout, while watching an episode of Ally McBeal on Netflix.  (I started watching it about a month ago and absolutely love this show!)  I made up my own circuit workout in which I rotated leg, arm, ab, and cardio moves throughout.  
I chugged some water post workout and grabbed a piece of wheat sourdough I bought at the market Saturday.  Plus I enjoyed a tasty kiwi.  

Before heading to work I made an easy toasted English muffin with peanut butter and jelly.  I think almost all of my WIAW posts have included pb&j.  But what else can I say except that I love it!
It doesn't photograph that well, but it tastes great!
During my 20 minute break at work I grabbed a small chicken caesar salad and half a chicken pesto sandwich.  I work in Water Tower Place, which is essentially a big mall, and they happen to have a great food court.  It is not filled with traditional food court fare though.  I usually get something from the Fresh Market area where they have sandwiches, fruit, salads, etc.  Everything I have gotten there has been good.  I have only just discovered the deliciousness of the caesar salad a few nights ago.  The sandwich was equally good with a pesto mayonnaise, Boar's Head chicken, lettuce, tomato, and provolone cheese.

I got home around 8:45pm and was still hungry, so I heated up the leftover corn off the cob I made the night before.  I bought the fresh corn from the market after overhearing someone say how tasty it was.  They weren't wrong, plus it was from a local farm.  I need to get some more next time I go!

I ended the night with a small snack of dark chocolate covered pretzel slims from Trader Joe's with a little peanut butter and raspberry jelly.  MMMMM!  Clearly I am on major pb&j kick!

What are food or meal are you currently eating a lot of?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Vegan Meal and Kayaking the Chicago River

A few weeks ago I told you my younger sister, Caroline, came to visit me in Chicago, we did that awesome food tour, but had some other adventures I wanted to share as well.  

Caroline wanted to check out Buckingham Fountain, and I had only ever seen it in passing so we stopped by one day.  Thankfully it was a gorgeous day and the fountain was just as beautiful. 

We ate a late lunch that day at The Chicago Diner.  It is a completely vegetarian and mostly vegan restaurant.  I have read some good things about the place in the newspaper and online and thought it would be cool to check out.  Plus Caroline is a vegetarian, considering going vegan, and I am up for trying new things, so it sounded just right for us.  The Chicago Diner has been around for over 20 years and their motto is "Meat Free Since '83!"  

The place is a true diner with little booths and a friendly staff.  We scooched into a booth and perused the menu.  The nachos jumped out at us first and started with those as an appetizer.  

They were completely vegan and quite tasty.  For the main meal I went with a green salad with vegan ranch and Caroline got a falafel burger with mac cheeze.  

We saw a kid chowing down on the the mac cheeze when we walked in and knew we wanted to taste it.  It was just alright though.  The whole not real cheese thing was noticeable and it had an odd taste to it.  My salad was fresh and delicious.  The burger was also good, although a little spicy for Caroline's supertaster taste buds.  They had a tempting dessert menu, but we were pretty full and ended out meal there.  There were lots of options on the menu and many sounded good.  I would certainly go back again if I am on that side of town.  

Later in the afternoon we had a scheduled kayak trip with Chicago River, Canoe, and Kayak.  We headed to a dock in Chinatown to meet the group.  We purchased a tandem kayak tour through Groupon about a month ago and got a great deal.  We got suited up in life vests and were given our paddles.  
I took the back seat to do the steering and Caroline got in front.  There was a large group of us and we took up a long stretch of the river, although we did have to stick to the right because of all the tour boats that use the river as well.    
It was really neat to kayak into the city.  We got a great view of the Chicago skyline (I'm not sure why I didn't get any good pictures of it though?) and went right through the heart of downtown!  We paddled about six miles all together, three there and three back.  Caroline and I had fun chatting and singing down the river.  "Just Around the Riverbend" from Pocahontas was and obvious song choice for both of us along with a few others.  I really enjoy kayaking, I wish I could do it more often.  It is definitely a good workout for both your arms and core!  

It was so nice to have Caroline visit me in my new city.  We got to spend some quality sister time together.  Plus I got to explore a little more of Chicago.

Have you ever been to an all vegan or vegetarian restaurant?  What's a song you would sing while kayaking?  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Race Recap: The Champion's Run 5K

I finished another race yesterday and although rainy it was a good one!  
About five months ago there was a Groupon for half off race registration for a 5K or 10K race in Chicago.  You can't beat a half price race fee!  I wanted to register for the 10K, but they were sold out so I decided to go for the 5K.  The Champion's Run took place down by the lakeshore in a similar location as the Women's 10K I did three weeks ago

I picked up my race packet Friday afternoon and found some nice goodies in the bag: two mini Clif bars, two mini Lara bars, a coupon for Universal Sole running store, lots of upcoming race information, and a women's fit tech t-shirt.  
Pre-race fuel
I checked the weather the night before to see that there was a slight chance for rain, but no major storms.  When I woke up Saturday morning it was cloudy and drizzling outside.  I got all my gear ready and headed out.  Luckily it wasn't raining too hard, but by the time I walked to the bus stop I was pretty much covered in rain and cold.  I don't really have any problems running in the rain.  I actually think it is kind of fun.  I ran my first 10 mile run in the pouring rain and have found that I actually run a bit faster when it is overcast and rainy.  I think it has something to do with the temperature and excitement of running in the rain.  After getting off the bus I walk the half mile to the start.  I snacked on the mini Mint Chocolate Clif bar I got from the goodie bag and drank some water.  
Already covered in rain at the start
I arrived at the starting area to find everyone huddled under the sponsor tents or trees.  I was pretty much soaking wet from head to toe by the time I go there, but I found a tree to stand under anyways and ate a fruit strip and finished my water while the 10K race began.  There were not a ton of people racing, maybe 1,000.  I think it was a relatively small race to begin with, but perhaps the weather scared some people away.  As the 5K start grew closer I headed over to the corrals.  The rain had begun to let up and now the sky was just cloudy.  The race had a great DJ that was playing some awesome, upbeat tunes to help pass the wait time.   The start of most races are a little jumbled and crowded, but since it had rained earlier there were some big puddles on the race path.  This led to lots of jumping and dashing through the grass to avoid them.  

My plan for this race was to achieve a new personal record.  I have been working on my speed over the past few months and knew that to beat my best time I would have to run at least a 12:20/mile pace.  With the addition of a new job into my schedule, this week has been crazy busy and was not sure how well I would do at the race.  I only got one run in Thursday and have been really sore and tired from standing on my feet for so many hours, but I decided to focus the energy I had left and try the best I could to get that PR.  
I only ended up walking through the two water stops for maybe 15 seconds each.  That is a major accomplishment for me!  I learned to run by using the run/walk method, which I love and still use, but being able to pretty much run the entire race felt great!  I ended up keeping a pace of 11:20 for the first mile and worried that I might be going a little to fast; I didn't want to burn myself out too soon.  I slowed down just a bit but kept going.  At mile two I noticed my pace was still going strong and decided to just try and keep it in the mid 11 min range.  If I did happen to burn out a bit I still had the time to get a PR.  However, I didn't feel much fatigue or pain keeping that pace and stayed with it until the very end!  As soon as the finish line was in sight I kicked it up a notch and sprinted through to achieve a new 5K PR that I am really proud of - 35:21 minutes!  That beat my old one by almost three minutes!  When I looked down to check my Garmin I was ecstatic!

I grabbed a water and strawberry bagel after finishing.  This race had some great sponsors including Corner Bakery, Trader Joes, Skinny Water, Universal Sole, Clif Bar, Lara Bar, a local radio station, and more.  I picked up a chocolate chip cookie and blueberry muffin from Corner Bakery, but saved them for later.  Every finisher got a "Champions Breakfast" after finishing as well.  I stood in line for a small cheese omelet and sausage patty.  The eggs were too buttery for me and the sausage was just OK, so I only ate about a third of each.  I just enjoyed my bagel instead.  Good bagels are awesome after a race, just saying.  
All racers also got a finisher's pint glass to take home.  
They were offering free beer as well, but I am not really a beer drinker, so I passed and walked around to check out the tents instead.  

After confirming my finish time on the posted board I walked back to the bus.  On the way I noticed that the back of my legs were splashed with mud.  I guess that's what you get for running in the rain.  It was worth it though, because I achieved a new personal best and was leaving with a smile on my face!  

Do you mind running in the rain?  Have you ever completed a race in the rain?