Tomorrow I turn 27…
As another birthday passes, I can’t help but reflect on the last year and all my favorite moments 26 has granted me. We all know how much I love birthdays (not just my own!), so I figured if there’s any day to get all mushy and nostalgic…today is the day.
Celebrate with me, won’t you? Grab a glass of bubbly, a slice of cake and enjoy what I’m sure will be a list full of pasta, smiling faces, wine, things with chocolate and probably “like the best burger I’ve ever had.”
1. 26th Birthday dinner at Gemini Bistro: When I recommend restaurants to friends, I always include Gemini Bistro. A gem in Lincoln Park, I swear by their short rib ravioli and any of the desserts. When my boyfriend (affectionately referred to as G throughout this list moving forward) asked where I wanted to go last year for my birthday diner, I barely hesitated. Kicking off 26 with a dirty gin martini with plenty of blue cheese olives was the best decision I’ve made all year.
2. The infamous sprinkle cake: My mom made me this cake for my 26th birthday. It’s beautiful, right? I will never forget sitting in her kitchen with 6 friends, about to blow out the candles. As I took my deep breath in and began to blow (no going back now), I saw the look of horror on my mom’s face. Turns out…when you blow on sprinkles, they whoosh off the cake and into every crevice imaginable on your kitchen floor. Never did I ever think I’d be eating my cake and then cleaning up the mess seconds after.
3. Homemade bloody mary’s on Christmas morning: I’ve always enjoyed spending my Christmas morning doing nothing but opening presents in my plush purple footie pajamas, eating warm chocolate croissants, drinking coffee and spending time with my family. This year, we added another tradition of making homemade bloody’s with all the fixins. Let’s just say, December 25th can’t come soon enough.
4. Christmas tree: This was the first year I got to experience what a real Christmas tree is like. When you live on the 23rd floor of an apartment complex, it’s difficult to not only lug a tree up there, but keep it healthy. Suffice to say, when tree shopping for G this year, I felt overwhelmed and overjoyed upon seeing real live, pine and all, Christmas trees.
5. NYE Dinner at Bite Cafe: I have my old roommate Alicia to thank for this one. She introduced me to Wicker Park brunch BYOB hot spot, Bite Cafe early last fall. What I didn’t know was how fantastic their dinner service was, so when it came time to planning a NYE dinner, I looked no further than Bite (for Bytes!) The fact that I had a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne leftover as a belated birthday present made the night extra special. Sidenote: if the steak frites is on the menu when you are at Bite, order it. No questions asked.
6. The day I discovered J.P. Graziano’s Subs: When I was working in the West Loop, there were a bunch of male co-workers that come 12 noon every day, would gather in the office and ask if today is a “JP” kind of day. I never knew what they were talking about until my boss asked if I wanted to go get a sub with him. Turns out, that *sub* was the greatest sub I’ve ever had in my entire life. So much so, I asked J.P. Graziano on Instagram for the recipe of the truffle balsamic mustard they slather on the sandwich. Lucky for you all, I got it. I’ll be sure to share that soon. And if and when you go to J.P.’s, order nothing but the Mr. G sandwich. It’s the most expensive on the menu compared to other subs, but I can attest it’s worth every penny.
7. Northdown Burger: Do I really need to tell you the story behind this? OK, here’s the short version: I eat too many burgers. I love them. They are my favorite food group. Especially when they’re smothered in caramelized onions and steak sauce like this one from Northdown Cafe. Le sigh. Just thinking about this burger makes me smile.
8. Sweet Pea Hummus & Homemade Pita Chips: For my birthday last year, G’s gift came in the form of a cooking class at The Chopping Block. We redeemed it a few months later and had way, way, way too much fun. The best part was cooking such fun recipes we never would have tried before. Like…sweet pea hummus with homemade pita chips. I’m not a big hummus fan, but I kid you not, I was taking spoonfuls of this and jamming them ferociously into my mouth as the instructor was trying to explain how to make the second course. A few months ago, we recreated this recipe at home and downed it in minutes. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try and I highly suggest you do!
9. Finally experiencing Margie’s Candies: I rarely dislike a meal, but one winter day last December, G and I had the worst dining experience in the world. Horrible service, teeny tiny portions for $$$ and just a bad, boring, horrible vibe. Ugh, I have the willies just thinking about it. So, we left obviously still famished and had dessert on the brain. We walked to Margie’s in Logan Square and polished off (together) a terrific ice cream sundae. I feel honored to now live in the same neighborhood as Margie’s…I can’t wait to go back for another sweet treat.
10. Kilwin’s Ice Cream in Delray, Florida: Speaking of ice cream, this year also brought our first family vacation in Delray Beach, Florida. My parents and friend Jane were down in Delray a week before I arrived and that entire week I got text messages praising the ice cream gods for inventing Kilwin’s. I kid you not, I would get texts at 2 p.m. saying, “Got salted caramel from Kilwin’s. Going back after dinner. It’s so good.” So, when I arrived in Delray, I couldn’t get to Kilwin’s fast enough. Let’s just say, there are lines out the door for a reason.
11. Dad on the beach: Our trip to Delray also signified a big moment for our family, considering a month prior my Dad had double bypass and valve replacement heart surgery. We wanted our time in Delray to help him relax, whether it be by the pool reading or on the beach with the waves. Seeing him on the beach this particular day was one of the major highlights of vacation.
12. Seeing myself on TV: It was a random Friday night and G and I were about to go for pizza when I got a text from a friend saying, “Your episode of Check, Please! is on T.V.!” Thank god for reruns, right? We dashed to the television and I caught a glimpse of myself on the big screen. It was weird and wonderful all at the same time.
13. My first lobster roll at Neptune Oyster in Boston: I was headed to Martha’s Vineyard as a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding earlier in June and I got to spend some time in Boston beforehand. Since I’ve never had the real deal lobster roll before, I waited 1hr+ outside of Neptune waiting for the holy grail. After an ungodly amount of time, the host finally called my name and I snagged the last seat at the end of the bar. I barely skimmed the menu, ordered the lobster roll hot with butter and fries and then later, had to be physically rolled out the restaurant because I was too full to move. Worth every stinkin’, stupid calorie.
14. Marriage advice in Nashville: Last March, I found myself in Nashville for a bachelorette party. We were out to dinner one night and asked our adorable 20-something waiter for marriage advice for Missie, the bride-to-be. He wrote his answer on the napkin and girls everywhere just about died. Thanks, Tim!
15. Grilling with family in Ohio: I find myself #blessed that my uncle is a chef because that means, when he cooks, there’s not a doubt in your mind that you will be eating well. This particular evening found us grilling out in Ohio for the perfect summer meal. Grilled peppers, prosciutto wrapped melon, lemons, tuna steaks and swordfish. It was truly the epitome of a summer grill fest and I can still taste the char from the peppers. Well done, Chef Bobby, well done.
16. Homemade drumstick from Kustard Korner in Ohio: Apparently, I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t know about Kustard Korner in Canton, Ohio. Blame it on my ADD, but I suppose I never paid attention during our drives to Ohio when my Mom would blab on and on about how great their ice cream is. This past trip, I’m sure glad I listened because their homemade drumsticks are something magical. Pretty much a meal in itself, but hey, I had it for dessert. Because when something is that beautiful, you eat it with pride and don’t look back.
17. One year anniversary dinner at Nico Osteria: Nico Osteria is paradise for anyone who loves Italian food as much as I do. G and I had our one year anniversary dinner there and it couldn’t have been more perfect. I’d read great things about the restaurant, but obviously wanted to try it for myself. We got dressed up, heels and all, and strolled down to the Gold Coast for one heck of a dinner. So, what do you order? The prosciutto appetizer and the stuffed pappardelle with milk-braised (oh my god, I know) pork, carrot and black truffle. I can’t even EXPLAIN to you how fantastic that pasta dish was. The image doesn’t even do it justice. Just go – -please, just go and get it for yourself. Please. It’s so fantastic.
18. Discovering Scofflaw during our Logan Square Cocktail Crawl: This past February when it was below freezing, G organized the first-ever, Logan Square Cocktail Crawl. A bunch of us got all fancy and hit the best cocktail bars in the neighborhood. I’d never been to Scofflaw, a gin-based cocktail bar that everyone’s obsessed with (for good reason), but I’m so glad I finally made it there. It was the number two spot on our crawl, so we were happy, not too drunk (yet) and overjoyed to be sipping on such delicious drinks. I’ve heard the fries are fantastic, so I’m looking forward to another trip there soon.
19. Burrata and heirloom tomatoes from Whole Foods: One random weekday this summer when heirloom tomatoes were at their peak and everyone and their mother was cooking with burrata, my roommate J and I took a trip to Whole Foods with the intention of making burrata with heirloom tomatoes. Simple, delicious and what summer cooking is all about. We served it with a crunchy Italian baguette and also made BLT’s…because we like to eat. A lot.
20. Making homemade pasta: This was such a fantastic experience. We were having some friends over for dinner, so my mom suggested homemade noodles because she’s cool like that. G and I got to try our hand at rolling handmade dough and forming it into spaghetti and holy cannoli, it was awesome. We served it with a lobster diavolo sauce and swore over and over how much better homemade noodles taste than boxed. Take the time to try this one day, because you can and WILL taste the difference.
21. Saying goodbye to a friend: About a month ago, one of my best friends Katie took the plunge of a new and exciting job and moved to the East Coast with her boyfriend. I can’t tell you how fantastic my group of girlfriends are that I met in high school. It’s been ten years and every time I see them, absolutely nothing has changed. They’re some of the most special people in the world and saying goodbye to one was truly difficult. I can’t get enough of this candid photo (despite a few girls not even being in the photo), which just makes me smile. All the time. We miss you, Katie. Can’t wait to visit!
22. Seeing old friends: When a friend visits you from out of town, it’s kind of the best thing ever. Especially when it’s your old roommate from New York, Liz, who comes to Chicago bearing her cheery self and champagne. I’m pretty proud of myself for snapping this adorable gem, as it only shows you a snippet of how smiley and wonderful and gorgeous this gal is. We lived together for one year, she saw me through my tough time(s) in NYC and I couldn’t be more thankful. Come visit again soon, Liz!
23. Summer with G: Speaking of people who mean a lot to me…this past year would be very different without this guy G. We had a lot of fantastic experiences, as you can tell, many of which involve food and fun. I love this photo of him on my parent’s patio, just chillin’, basically what we did all summer (and it was awesome.) He just turned 31 (yay for birthdays!!!!) and I’m so excited for what the next year olds. See you soon, G!
24. Radler brussels sprouts: The Radler is a restaurant that’s owned by a dear friend of mine, Adam Hebert. Along with Chef Nate, the boys at Radler are putting out some FANTASTIC food and the minute I tried these brussels sprouts last fall with apple cider vinegar, gingerbread and crispy goodness, I couldn’t get enough. Thankfully, they’re back on the menu NOW, so go right now and get them. Hurry, because they will be gone when they’re out of season and then you will cry like I did because waiting another year for brussels sprouts just isn’t fair.
25. Waffles from Janik’s Cafe: I love brunch and that’s a very clear and simple fact. I love trying new brunch restaurants. I love brunch food. I LOVE BLOODY MARYS (so much so, I’m planning a bloody mary bar crawl with a girlfriend in Chicago on 12/13, so anyone who’s interested in attending, let me know.) Janik’s Cafe is in Wicker Park right around the corner from where I used to live. It’s always packed and while it’s nothing fancy, their waffle is amazing. It was highlight of my 26 year old brunching for sure.
26. Bread pudding from Publican: Ah, of course I’d finish this list with something chocolate. But not just something chocolate, something extraordinary and amazing and life changing and something I’d eat every day kind of chocolate. I’m pretty sure this dessert from Publican has changed from when I ordered it earlier this summer, probably because they’re trying to be awesome and serve food in season, but hey, Publican, if you guys ever serve this bread pudding again with chocolate, please…call me. So I can come back and order it again and again and again.
So. That was 26. While there were plenty, plenty more food photos I could’ve chosen from (believe me, compiling this list took a lot longer than I thought), these were definitely some standouts.
Here’s hoping 27 is just as delicious!