Chicago - 07.12.18/07.16.18

It's hard to believe that I lived in Chicago TEN YEARS ago!? I'm not that old, right? So, what better time of the year for me to go back than for the Taste of Chicago and to see some musicals (food & theatre = basically my brand). 

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

Sometimes you just need a break from NYC, well what better way to escape than to head to another city? Yes, I planned this trip around going to the Taste of Chicago (a food festival in Grant Park featuring all sorts of foods and native Chicago treats) and seeing some Broadway in Chicago shows.

I found a hotel near Millennium Park, so I could easily commute around the city via the El (elevated train) in Chicago. I started to make my way uptown, when I saw that a college friend of mine was in town for a conference. We met up for tacos at Velvet Tacos and to catch up on the last 10+ years of our lives.

When she headed back to her conference, I had to make a trek uptown to Strange Cargo. (Years ago, I found that they had a vintage New Kids on the Block screen print and customized a t-shirt with “CHEN” printed on the back in velvet letters and have been getting compliments on it ever since.) The store recently moved locations, but even the longer commute didn’t deter me from the pop culture t-shirt hunt! While I didn’t find any boy band themed screen prints this time around, I did find a great SPICE GIRLS one and a block lettered logo of NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK. While I grabbed a few decks of *NSYNC & Backstreet Boys photo packs and collectors cards, I spied a” Miss Vanjie” print that I missed the first time around. Just as I was thinking that I didn’t have time to wait for another t-shirt to be made, I turned around and found a whole rack of “Miss Vanjie” printed on t-shirts and tank tops! Jackpot! Boy bands, girl power and drag queens all in one spot!

Then it was back downtown to my hotel to get ready for dinner and a show! Once I had decided that a trip to Chicago was in order, I immediately went to see what Broadway shows were playing during my trip and wouldn’t you know, The Cher Show, was having their out of town tryout and I found a ticket to HAMILTON for under $100!? Done and done. I was especially excited, since JIn Ha (M. Butterfly) was wrapping up his run as Aaron Burr and it was a major first for an Asian-American actor. The CIBC Theatre where HAMILTON was playing was much larger than the Richard Rodgers in NYC, but I didn’t factor in the Dress Circle overhang, so I was only able to see the actors from the waist-down, when they were on the upper deck of the stage!

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Day two in Chicago and I was faced with the dilemma of where to eat for brunch! There were so many places that I loved when I lived in Chi-Town, but many of them had relocated or closed. Luckily, The Bongo Room had opened a new location within 2 blocks from my hotel! Now the major challenge starts; sweet or savory for breakfast? I ended up choosing both; sweet with cornmeal blueberry pancakes & maple syrup and a side of home fries with melted American cheese.

Fully stuffed, it was time to walk around the city a bit. I wandered through Grant Park on my way to the Art Institute. I could have easily spent more than 1-2 hours in the museum, as I wandered through the contemporary galleries. Inspired by all the sculptures and paintings, I knew I had one more stop before I left the museum; to find the Seurat that Sunday in the Park with George was written about. Yes, I finished the hat after a few false starts and headed back to my hotel for a quick refresh.

Then I was off to meet my friend, Jason & his boyfriend, Riley, for dinner. We caught up on life and talked theatre, since Riley knew quite a bit about Broadway, too; then it was off to see The Cher Show at the Oriental Theatre! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love Stephanie J. Block, so I knew she’d be fabulous! By intermission, we all determined that the story was a little all over the place, but you can’t beat Cher’s songbook and the costumes, oh the costumes! Bob Mackie really outdid himself re-creating some of Cher’s iconic looks and adding costumes for all of the ensemble members. I’ll be interested to see what changes from this run of the show when it comes to Broadway this winter…

Originally, when I was planning my trip, I thought about taking the weekend to head to Madison, Wisconsin to visit my brother, Philip and sister-in-law, Melanie…however, they were going to be in Chicago that weekend! They're avid ultimate frisbee players, so they were in town for a tournament all day Saturday and Sunday, before driving back home. After The Cher Show, we were able to meet up for some drinks & a snack near their hotel in Lakeview, before they went to rest and I went back to my hotel.

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

The day of eating had finally arrived! I woke up early to meet Jason in Grant Park, so we could feast at the Taste of Chicago before it got too crowded and the predicted rain was supposed to start. We both purchased two strips of tickets, which we thought would allow us to sample quite a few things and still have some leftover.

Our first stop, the pop-up section for the chicken & waffle balls. They were like little breaded chicken meatballs with maple syrup, sitting on top of waffle bits. Disappointingly, the “taste” size was only 2 meatballs…but we figured our stomachs would need room to eat more things. While Jason went on to try some alligator, I opted for some tortilla-crusted tilapia tacos and some bulgogi chicken on wonton chips; basically Korean nachos and truffle fries. When we’d had our fill of savory treats, I had to find the infamous Chicago “Rainbow Ice Cream Cone!” We finally found the stand, but quickly realized we’d need to load up on more tickets to make this treat happen. It was SO worth it: chocolate ice cream topped with strawberry ice cream topped with Parker House (New York vanilla with cherry & walnuts) ice cream topped with pistachio ice cream topped with orange sherbert! Phew. I got full just typing all of that out!

Once we couldn’t eat any more, we went our separate ways; full disclosure, I went back to my hotel to take a nap! When I woke up, I found out that TodayTix in Chicago had rush tickets for The View Upstairs, so I purchased a ticket and made my way farther South to Chicago’s Chinatown for some more eating before the show. I was craving some dumplings and found a great spot with delicious pan-fried ones. Then it was back to Joy Yee with their hundreds of different kinds of bubble tea! I opted for a coconut slush with rainbow jelly to help me cool off in the Chicago summer heat. I browsed through a few shops before heading back uptown to Lakeview for the show.

I was lucky enough to see Max Vernon’s show, The View Upstairs, about a gay bar in New Orleans that burned down in NYC and I was interested to see how the show would play at a smaller venue in Chicago. An intriguing work of historical fiction, the musical centers around a young gay man, who’s purchased the space where the bar, The UpStairs Lounge, once was. Through a strange turn of events, he goes back in time to the 1970’s when the bar was alive and thriving; one of the only safe spaces for the gay community to be welcomed during that time frame. Since I had seen the show before, I knew that the audience plays a role in the show, as observers and for the main character to speak to; so I chose my seat wisely. While I enjoyed the NYC production more, I was glad I got to experience this piece with a Midwestern audience and that they were being exposed to this story.

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Ann Sather, Millenial Park, Sarah & kids, Navy Pier

On Sunday, my cousin, Sarah and her husband, Scott drove up to Chicago from Springfield, Illinois with their kids, Owen & Reese. They had visited me in NYC earlier in the summer, so it was great to reunite with them in a place a little closer to their home. Since they had a few hours to drive up, I knew where my breakfast stop was going to be: Ann Sather in Lakeview. If you’re looking for a great breakfast spot to get some of the best biscuits & cinnamon rolls that you’ve ever had, then Ann Sather’s is the place! (Plus, they give you SO many options for a great price!) I usually go with some sort of benedict or biscuits & gravy, but opted for “The Swedish Sampler” this time - 1 Swedish sausage link, 1 Swedish pancake, 1 Swedish meatball, poached eggs, 1 cinnamon roll, 1 biscuit and hashbrowns with American cheese. While I wasn’t a fan of the Swedish sausage, the Swedish pancake was almost like a crepe, but sweeter and the meatball was tasty; Ikea’s got nothing on them!

After stuffing myself full of carbs, I made my way downtown to meet up with my cousins. I was waiting for them in the shade of the Chicago Theatre, when Reese spotted me & I saw her come running down the block! After the necessary hello’s, we headed towards Navy Pier to explore and ride their new ferris wheel. The view from the little gondola carts was amazing and you could see the whole Chicago skyline! After the kids ran around the Navy Pier and we did a little shopping (a stop at Dylan’s Candy Bar was a must -- where I realized that I don’t feel so bad about my Care Bear collection compared to Dylan Lauren’s bunny collection), we headed to Michigan Avenue for food. After eating at the Grand Lux Cafe, we went our separate ways and promised to meet up again soon.

Monday, July 16th, 2018

For the last part of my Chicago trip, I took a moment to walk around before flying back to NYC later that morning. I must have forgotten that I was flying back Monday morning, since I had purchased tickets to Jeremy Jordan & Ashley Spencer’s show at Sony Hall. I almost decided to sell my ticket and not go, I really wanted to rest before going back to work, but went anyways.

I was glad that I did! When I walked in, I almost ran into Melissa Benoist (Supergirl) and shortly thereafter, she was joined at her table with a bunch of other Broadway celebs!

Calgary - 04.20.17/04.23.17

Last Fall, my brother,Philip, graduated from the University of Minnesota with his Doctorate in Political Science, which took him & my sister-in-law, Melanie, to the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. So, before he moves back to the States this year, I figured I should go and visit him in our neighboring Country up North.

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

I arrived in Calgary around 9pm Mountain Standard Time and was pretty hungry. Passing through Customs was easy and I arrive before Philip was at the airport. He drove me through a little bit of downtown Calgary, before we settled on going to Peter's Drive-In for a burger and poutine. We took our food back to the house and indulged in some cheesy, gravy covered french fried goodness before getting settled and going to sleep.

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Mel had to work, so Philip & I went downtown to get brunch at OEB (Over Easy Breakfast), one of Calgary's must-eats for breakfast & brunch. There were SO many good things to choose from, but in my over-eating nature, I had to get something savory & something sweet, so I opted for a meal that gave me eggs, ham, a slice of French Toast and a side of their fried potatoes. Philip opted for one of the "Box'd" dishes, which arrived in a Chinese takeout container. I also appreciated the architecture and design of the restaurant as there were two gazebos inside: one shaped like an egg and one shaped like a waffle.

After brunch, we went to the neighborhood of Kensington. I was on the hunt for used CD stores, ones that might have Broadway Cast albums that I don't already own, but at the same time we wandered through some other shops, browsing through clothes and books. I found a few Haruki Murakami books for $6 US, but was torn on buying some clothes at a local shop; since I hate trying things on.

After killing time around Kensington, we opted to go to Cross Iron Mills, a sort of outlet shopping center with a giant Bass Pro Shops store attached to it. Browsing through all the fishing gear with my brother really reminded me of our childhood; as he used to make his own fishing flies (and still does), participated in casting competitions and shopped through the local tackle & bait shop. Having never been in a Bass Pro Shops before, I was amused at the signage stating to "check all firearms & bows at customer service" before entering the store. The rest of the mall had some great shops and I picked up a few treats, including some maple flavored cookies and chocolates to bring back to work with me. 

After our shopping excursion, we went back home to rest and so Philip could take their dog, Hazel, out on a walk. Once Mel was off work, we decided to try our luck at Hayden Block for some delicious BBQ. The wait was just under an hour, so we walked around Kensington again and got a pre-dinner, dessert. By the time we finally got our table we were pretty hangry and might have ordered a bit too much food, but it was all delicious. The highlight for me was the hush puppies with peppers inside and the creamy side of corn. Post-dinner, it was definitely time for a food-nap/bed.

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Saturday morning, Mel had tryouts for the local women's frisbee team, so Philip & I went to the Calgary Farmer's Market and the Glenbow Art Museum. The farmer's market was impressive and housed year-round in a large warehouse-like building. There were lots of local merchants, but I was mostly interested in the food, per usual. While my brother browsed for produce for their next week's meals, I wandered through the food stalls. Eventually, I landed on some potato & cheddar pierogis with potato latkes and a small chicken pot pie. 

We then ventured down to the Glenbow Art Museum. There was a very large exhibit featuring the "Mavericks" of Calgary and Alberta, which was pretty fascinating. However, my favorite part of any museum is the Contemporary and Modern Art exhibits. A definite highlight was the Wayne Gretzky piece by Andy Warhol and a giant acrylic installation, which Philip thought was really weird.

After Mel's frisbee tryout, we all went back downtown to get xiao long bao (soup dumplings) at one of their favorite spots in Chinatown, Great Taste. Post-dinner, Mel helped me on my quest to find some great bubble tea and we walked down the street to a little spot that had TONS of bubble tea options. I opted for a Jasmine tea with soy milk and boba, which made up for the disappointing bubble tea I had at the mall earlier.

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

For my last day in Calgary, we drove just over an hour outside of Calgary to walk around Banff National Park. But like any good Canadian, we stopped at Tim Horton's on the way out for breakfast. Admittedly, I haven't been to many Tim Horton's in NYC, so it felt right to go in Calgary. I had to try their pretzel bagel with sausage & egg; which was chewy and savory. I tried to read a bit in the car on the way up, but was unsuccessful; so I spent a lot of the time looking at the scenery, wildlife and taking a brief nap.

We arrived in Banff, which was a very beautiful resort town and walked around the restaurants and shops until it was time to drive up to the Banff Gondola, so we could ascend to the top of one of the mountains for great views. The weather was beautiful, in the lower 40's, so it was chilly, but not freezing - even with all the snow around us. The ride in the gondola took just under 10 minutes and took us almost 8,000 feet up into the Rockies. We then climbed up more to visit the Cosmic Ray Station on Sulfur Mountain and to see where the satellite that once captured cosmic rays was stationed.

After our gondola ride and hike, we'd worked up an appetite and went back into town to find lunch. Philip chose something that was basically another name for a Philly cheese steak and I got a burger, to satisfy a long-lasting craving. Mel & I topped off the meal with a "Beavertail" - fried whole wheat dough topped with a variety of items. As you can see, we chose the Nutella and banana one.

Before heading back home, we drove to Johnston Canyon to walk along some cliffs (not the easiest in Converse high tops) and view a spectacular, albeit kinda frozen waterfall. The detour was worth it, since the slippery conditions made the trails a bit less crowded and we were actually able to get a clear view of the waterfall.

Then came the ride back, where Mel & I couldn't resist taking a nap. Once home, I started to gather all my things for my super late flight back home and Philip made us all dinner. Overall, it was a wonderful way to get out of the city and another excuse to travel somewhere "International" and to use my passport. Perhaps my next adventure with my brother will be in Wisconsin, since he'll be teaching there in the Fall. 

Kansas City - 04.02.16/04.07.16

It's hard to think that I haven't had a real vacation from work since last September, when I went to Southern California. Yes, I could choose to go to a tropical island or somewhere more typically "vacation-y," but it's nice to return to my roots and take a little break in the Midwest.

So, I flew to Kansas City for a few days of relaxation & catching up with old friends and their assorted ages of children. (Yup, it's that time when all my friends are married and/or having kids.) I spent some time trying out some new places to eat in KC, but had to grab some KC BBQ (Oklahoma Joe's), a Runza and a few of my old favorites from over a decade ago, when I lived here.

While I was in town, I stayed with my friend, Charity & her husband, Grant in Overland Park, made an excursion to Target, enjoyed the time driving around in my little red rental car and met up with many friends. My friend, Christian, drove into KC from St. Louis with his husband, Aidan, and their son, Alexander; so, naturally we had to get brunch at Big Biscuit and indulge in all our old eating habits.

I finally got the chance to see The Martian, after reading the book and caught up with one of my closest college friends, Brad; had lunch with an old co-worker, Kristen, met up with my cousin, Katie & her 3 month old son, River and wrapped up the trip with high school friends, Katie & Nate at a new restaurant.

In between, I managed to get to the Kemper Contemporary Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum (I never can resist those Oldenburg shuttlecock sculptures). I also swung by the new Madewell on the Country Club Plaza and walked through the Urban Outfitters where I spent the majority of my time working in 2005-2007.