A Year of Adventures and Doing Stuff

Rodin on traveling abroad.

December 31, and the week leading up to it, has always been of interest to me. The culmination of a calendar year causes me, and seemingly every other blogger, to reflect on the past year’s events, what happened, what didn’t, where’d they go, what did they cook/eat, who did they date. The arbitrary nature of time demarcators has led me to question the significance of today versus yesterday or any other day. As a society (and world) we mark today as the end of the year and tomorrow the day to join a gym, just as soon as the room stops spinning and we find our pants.

In stark opposition to the mindfulness movement, I have largely been focused on the parts bookending “now.” Where am I today versus a year ago? Where will I be a year from now? In my 29 years I can safely assert that I am not clairvoyant, nor a historian. I often struggle with remembering where I parked my car or what I just ate. I have a vague notion of where I will be tomorrow and maybe a week from now, but beyond that…

The basis for mindfulness is that you can’t change the past, nor predict the future, so why worry about either? If you have any friends who post those inspirational quotes or read any profiles on a dating site this year, I’m sure you’ve read some variation on that axiom, likely attributed to Buddha.

While I try to become more “now,” I did want to enumerate what happened in 2014, mostly so I have some reference point when I fry my brain from rapidly vacillating between gadgets and apps.

Travel

Oh, the places you’ll go…

Where didn’t I go this year? I have dreamed about going to Europe for many a New Year’s reflection day. This year finally was the year. After dating Leann for about two months, I shared that I wanted to spend my birthday somewhere other than Chicago. She asked where and I said Italy and Paris. She followed up with inquiring if I was going solo or with friends. Leann shared that if no one else would go, she would be interested.

“How committed are you? If you had to give a percentage…”

“75-80,” Leann answered.

A few weeks later I asked “Are you sure?” no less than five times. And after that our first trip was booked. My quest for a passport stamp would be realized. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve looked at those stamps since the adventure. Even more peculiar was that someone was willing to go overseas with me for a prolonged period of time.

Stops along the way: Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Fajardo, Old San Juan.

Each inspiring and beautiful in their own way. Florence was one of the most breathtaking places I have been, possibly due to the steeply sloped hills. Traveling was one of the main themes for my writing this year. While it certainly can be expensive, seeing other cities and cultures opens the mind. Plus, I don’t think many people want to read about my daily commute. Traveling is my escape to newness. Experiencing a city for the first time is magical. There is no feeling like my first time in Paris. Walking around Paris that premiere nuit. Wandering in the damp and chilly early evening. Emerging from the Metro and seeing I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid. Turning to Leann with mouth agape. Then walking some more. Wandering. Then, our feet hit the damp pavement a little faster. There it was. Illuminated in all its glory.

Le Tour Eiffel.

Le Tour

I have never experienced anything like that day. That’s the magic of travel.

I hope to return to some of these places in the future, but I’m not focusing on the future. MINDFULNESS!

Dating

More than traveling this year, there was a larger theme. Adventures with Leann. By some luck I happened to find someone who is eager to try new things, a patient listener (we all know my stories are seldom succinct) and someone who says yes. She gives unconditionally. She has unknowingly reminded me of the innocence of young love. Those times before becoming jaded or disenchanted with the dating “process.” There is little doubt that I am crazy. Somehow that doesn’t bother her. What started as a conversation about ice cream while sipping margaritas has developed into a year full of happy times getting to know her, her family and her friends. What adventures will we get into in 2015? Follow #lookatusdoingstuff to find out.

Foodstuffs

This was the year I became a professional chef. Thanks to Chicago Food Bloggers and Mealsharing.com, I hosted my first dinner party at a swanky rooftop in Chicago’s South Loop. This was also the year of bacon. Leann and I entered a cooking competition through The Takedowns. To supply us for the showdown, they gave us with bacon. Lots of it. Enough to clog all your arteries. And those of your friends.

Also thanks to Yelp and Chicago Food Bloggers, I got to eat some delectable dishes that inspired my cooking. I had the chance to meet restaurant owners and some other bloggers in the process.

Dancing

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2014 was also the year I became a professional dancer. No, not that kind. Thanks to Nicolle Wood, I got a bit closer to learning that devil dance known as balboa. The first few weeks were rough because I had basic knowledge of the basic step. Through her patience and generosity with her time, I was able to learn hangman, crabs, scoots and the routine in time for our performance outside Harold Washington Library. Hoping to take on lindyhop in 2015.

Working

Another year at the same place, but there were lots of shuffles. The company was acquired by another company and the office moved from the ‘burbs to downtown. That has necessitated several shifts in commuting and lifestyle. The company continues to grow and my team is growing exponentially. I have had the opportunity to recruit and hire some very talented people.

So now, it’s off to another party. Some close friends are gathering for homemade pizza and reflecting on the year that has been full of -ING verbs. Thanks for following this year and I hope to share more great adventures from around the world in 2015!

Rigatoni con Gamberetti e Funghi

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In anticipation of Chicago Food Bloggers event tomorrow night, I took my shot at rigatoni and shrimp with a vodka-tinged sauce.

I’ll work on getting some tips from Chef Fantoni on how to wow your friends and dates with stellar Italian cuisine at home. Check back later this week for the full review and follow me on twitter for bite-by-bite updates.

Plus this should prove a good primer for my trip to the motherland in three weeks.

Mangiare!

West Loop’s New Sausage Fest: TÊTE Charcuterie

VEGETARIANS BEWARE!

Chicago’s West Loop is overrun with meat. It is a sausage fest. They have meats you’ve never heard of like pig cheek and chicken hearts.

My experience with the French technique was limited to a reference by Schmidt in New Girl and sampling sliced offerings at my company’s holiday party. I got an invitation from Chicago Food Bloggers to check out TÊTE Charcuterie (1114 W Randolph St.) before they opened to the public on 7 April (as the French would write it). There are few things I love more than free food. My previous perception of charcuterie was that it is glorified lunch meat. Further research showed that the technique was originally a utilitarian method to preserving meats prior to refrigeration. It focuses on prepared meat products, like bacon, ham, sausage, terrinesgalantinespâtés, and confit. Plus mots que je ne connais pas.

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Charcuterie reminds me that I’m at the top of the food chain.

We were greeted and invited to head to the bar. The welcome/tasting would begin shortly. Looking around the warm digs, I spotted the wooden beams that seem to be a focal point of every new bar/restaurant and the old-school light bulbs with the visible filament. Seated at the bar, the bartender offered a drink menu. You can always pick out the fellow food bloggers because they have their phone or camera glued to one of their hands. I always find it comforting seeing that I’m not the only one who photographs my food.
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The chefs prepared a few dishes and let us shoot gratuitous close-ups before the dish went to its buyer.
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About 30 minutes after arriving the managing partner got up to welcome everyone and give a brief overview of the three-year journey to make this restaurant a reality. The idea was born out of travels in France for two of the chefs. He thanked everyone for their support and announced that some food would be coming out shortly and the bar was open. Those three words are arguably some of the best in any language. Thankfully, we were standing to the side and avoided the stampede to the bar manned by two bartenders. Their drink list had six custom cocktails.
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I started with the Two-Tree Days and my date opted for Baden-Baden. The bartenders were swamped with a deluge of drink orders. Once I got mine, I sipped the bourbon-based libation and nodded in approval. I sipped the Baden-Baden and puckered at its tartness. Watching the bartenders try to churn out the drink orders in the foreground was a contrasting juxtaposition of the chef in the background intensely focused on slicing a terrine.
1114 W Randolph St, tete charcuterie, west loop, chicago, chicago food bloggers, food, food bloggers, drinks, alcohol, bar, cocktails
After the drinks were flowing, waiters came out with some samples of the meats. It was too loud to hear what each offering was. All of them were tasty; many being new combinations of meats and nuts. With each visit from our waiter, we tried placing his accent. He sound like he was from Europe, but which country? After the second visit, we asked for hints after he declined being from Russia or any of the Baltic countries. Turns out Carlos was from Mexico.
Toward the end of the night we made some new friends and shared dating stories. The highlight being one of the girls meeting a man at Benchmark in Old Town for a second date only to discover him fondling another woman. At 8PM. There was no mention of a third date.

We closed the night out by sobering up at City Winery after the festivities died down at Tete.