Weekend Gourmet: Chicago Pizza Tour

Posted 23 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Chicago Pizza Tour: Chicago, IL
Experience Date: Monday, 18 November 2013, 11:00 AM

Price: $60/per person, includes all food and water, plus a seat on a bus, and of course the tour guide. You’re on your own if you want wine, beer, or soft-drinks. 

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth at Beth Fish Reads, again! I guess more accurately I’m weekend eating, but let’s not split hairs, shall we? 

We took the Original Pizza Tour which is billed on the website as follows: 

Original Chicago Pizza Tour – Our daytime foodie adventure

Bus guided tour covering 4 pizzerias over the course of 3 – 3.5 hours. You will visit the inside of kitchens; we’ll serve as your backstage pass at several of the restaurants. Our guides will help educate you on ingredients, ovens, and the physics of what makes the pizzas you sample so special. Whether a visitor or local, get on Dough Force One and explore pizza in the neighborhoods, because Magnificent Pizza spans more than a mile!
I wouldn’t necessarily describe that as completely accurate. While our guide was definitely knowledgable enough about the pizzas, there were no physics mentioned. Also, we only saw actual pizza preparation in one restaurant, the rest of the time the guide ordered ahead so everything would be ready. As I had decided to go on this tour at the recommendation of a friend rather than the website, none of this disappointed me because I didn’t know to expect it. I think that the restaurants were expertly picked and we did learn a lot about the city and the different styles of pizza that have grown up here. 
I skipped breakfast and now it’s 8:30 pm and I’m still not at all hungry. Be sure to wear your buffet eatin’ pants. 
So! The food! We started at Pizano’s Pizza in the Loop.
We started with a slice of deep dish, billed ‘Mark’s Special’ on the menu. It had fresh sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh garlic in it. The recipe for the crust is (allegedly) only known by three people in the world and three times a week the owner’s eighty-five year old mother comes in to cook it. Another distinction we learned about was that the pans used to prepare the deep dish pizza at Pizano’s aren’t washed, they’re cleaned out (of course) but much like a cast-iron skillet it is allowed to season itself over time. 
I love crust with my pizza and therefore I love deep dish pizza. The sauce had no added salt or sugar, I expected this to make it bland, but it didn’t. The basil and garlic were perfect seasoning and the tomatoes (which are selected by the chef from a local farmer’s market at the beginning of each week) were sliced thick enough that I didn’t miss the meat at all. 
The second slice that we had at Pizano’s was a piece of Chicago tavern-style thin crust. It was just a simple sausage pizza. I’m not a big fan of sausage, but the piece was thoroughly enjoyable, there were leftovers so I even had another! I liked the thin crust because it was crunchy and not at all soggy the way that many thin crust pizzas (I might be looking at you, New York) often are. 
We learned from the guide that Chicago tavern-style pizza developed just as pizza was becoming a ‘thing’ in America, I want to say the 1850’s or so, but honestly the date escapes me. Anyway, bars in Chicago were looking for a way to keep people in there drinking longer, so a thin crispy crust pizza was developed, instead of being cut into traditional wedge slices, it’s cut into small squares, this was to allow the pizza to last longer inside of the taverns since they were giving it away, it was treated like a little appetizer in those days. 
Flo and Santo’s in the South Loop was next. I had been here previously with the same friend that recommended the pizza tour and had the tavern-style thin crust with Polish sausage and sauerkraut (I love sauerkraut). During the visit on the tour we had two more tavern-style pizzas, one was the Polish sausage pizza I had already had and the second was an Italian Beef with a fiery pepper on it. 
Now I had never had Italian beef and honestly I didn’t know what it was, I expected ground beef. But no, it’s a shaved roast beef that’s seasoned with italian spices. It was amazing, I like a little kick on my pizzas so the peppers really worked for me. I was told by other people on the tour that an Italian beef sandwich was a completely different experience than the pizza, so I’ll have to keep that in mind and try one soon.
The crust at Flo and Santo’s wasn’t as crispy which left me a little disappointed until…
THEY BROUGHT OUT THE S’MORES PIZZA. Oh yes. This might have been my favorite part of the tour. They used the same thin pizza crust that they had used for the two ‘regular’ pizzas put a ton of chocolate on it and then topped it with marshmallows. It had obviously spent some time in the oven because everything was melty and toasty and amazing. I probably had too many pieces of this as the rest of the group wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was and there were lots of leftovers. They ripped me away from the table, back on the bus, and we were whisked away to our next destination. 
Pizzeria da Nella, while I didn’t think that this was a traditional Chicago pizzeria, this might have been my favorite place. The chef, Nella Grassano, imported herself and her 14,000 pound wood fire pizza oven from Naples. Boy, has Chicago reaped the benefits from this one. 
Here we had a traditional Neapolitan pizza. From start to finish the prep and cooking of the pizza takes about 90 seconds. The fact that the oven can exceed temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit probably explains how the pizza can cook so quickly.
We watched Nella expertly roll and toss the crust, spread a delectable tomato sauce on it, add fresh basil, a touch of mozzarella cheese, and top with a high quality olive oil. Here she is: 
 
The pizza is then popped in the oven for under a minute and then out comes the delicious, magical final product. 
 
 
I am far from a food photographer, don’t hold it against the pizza. 
 
Like I said earlier, this pizza was a nice change of pace, it was substantially lighter than any of the other pizzas we had sampled thus far. The cheese was excellent but not overpowering and the smokiness of the wood oven and the slight singe-ing (is that a word?) of the crust really put it over the top. The manager told me that there was also a pizza like this that added truffles… I desperately need to try that one. 
 
Pequod’s Pizza was our final stop of the day. I immediately loved it for the Moby Dick reference. It’s also an ‘official Blackhawks bar’… so it very much had the feel of a sports bar, as it was about 1:30 in the afternoon, that was okay with me. 
 
Here we had two more slices of Chicago-style deep dish. One was classic pepperoni and the other was spinach. This deep-dish was different from the pizza that we had at Pizanos, they put sugar in their tomato sauce and the crust is brushed with… I want to say butter? and then caramelized. I vastly preferred the crust at Pequod’s over Pizano’s. It looked slightly burnt but the flavor was extraordinary. I think that the ‘burn’ also kept it crisper than the crust at Pizano’s and I’ve already talked about how I hate a soggy crust. 
 
I was getting super full by this point but I definitely enjoyed the spinach pizza more, perhaps there was less grease and I was becoming overloaded with meats at that point. Of the places that we experienced I would definitely recommend Pequod’s for your Chicago-style deep dish over Pizano’s. Plus, the name, it’s a book blog, right? 🙂 
 
Final Thoughts
 
This was an enjoyable afternoon outing. It feels a bit steep at $60/per person when you’re making your reservations but the amount and quality of the food that you get is definitely worth it. The guide was knowledgable and approachable. We learned some about the city as well as about pizza and he gave us a lot of highlights of the different neighborhoods as we drove past them. He also recommended other must-try Chicago foods. (Apparently these people don’t put ketchup on their hotdogs ever.) 
 
Definitely would be a great family activity and it will take up most of your day. This company also has a Pizza and Cocktails tour which sounded fun, but didn’t start until 7:30 pm and they have a Deep Dish Walking tour (walking tour, in Chicago, in the winter? I don’t think so.). We didn’t get back to the train until about 3 pm. It should be noted that when discussing my experience with my friend who recommend it, she told me that at least one of the restaurants was different, but I trust it was just as good. 
 
Do it. Bring the family.
 
Note: This post was written on Mon, 18 Nov 2013 @ 9:35 PM. It was scheduled to be published later to coincide with Weekend Cooking. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Frightful Friday: Ectopia

Posted 22 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Frightful Friday: EctopiaEctopia by Martin Goodman
Published by Barbican Press on 2013-06
Pages: 272
Goodreads
three-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A modern teenage dystopia. The world has seen no girls born for sixteen years. Karen was the last girl and Steven her twin. Their Dad's of the old school. He turns their garden into a fortress. His children may yet be the future of the world, if they can escape in time. Think HUNGER GAMES or a CATCHER IN THE RYE for the Doom Generation. Of Martin Goodman's earlier work: 'Heralds a new dawn for British writing' - Liverpool Daily Post 'Goodman's novel soars' - The Times

Wow. This book was hard. Really hard.


Think: A Clockwork OrangeThe Handmaid’s Tale, and 1984 all squashed together. I think that I really liked it. I’m still reeling a bit. I kept thinking of the old adage, ‘If men could get pregnant, then abortion would be a sacrament.’

This is a dark near-future dystopia. I dislike the term ‘gritty’ but I can’t think of a better adjective for this novel. It’s told primarily from the point of view of Stephen-turned-Bender who is an incredibly unreliable narrator. 

Gender issues and identity are expertly explored. Karen and Stephen as twins and Karen is the last girl to be born. I agree with a previous reviewer that it would have been nice to have a better fleshed out worldview in this dystopia. Why are there no more girls being born? What exactly is Cromozone? I don’t mind being left with questions but the ‘world building’ constructed in this novel left me a little empty. 

There seemed to be an overemphasis on Stephen’s teensquad and I think that cutting down large portions of those sections might have made the novel more accessible. 

It requires a careful reading and does lend to questioning what reality really is and how we define it. If you love dystopias and speculative fiction – then this one might be for you – but it is incredibly heavy and although it’s not that long, it takes time wade through the narrative. 

Also. I hate the cover art. You can decide on that for yourself. 

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wonderful Wednesday: 11/22/63

Posted 20 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wonderful Wednesday: 11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 24th 2012
Genres: Alternative History, Fiction, General, Historical, Horror, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thrillers, Time Travel
Pages: 849
Goodreads
five-stars

Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out.President John F. Kennedy is dead.Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

Looking at Stephen King’s body of work, this is his best novel after he finished his epic Dark Tower series.

It tells the story of a middle-aged English teacher in Maine (of course) that discovers a portal back to 1958 located in the back room of his favorite diner. He becomes obsessed with preventing the assassination of JFK, convinced that it will stop many other ills that happened afterwards (MLK assassination, for one).

This book is part time travel, part historical fiction, part speculative fiction, and a love story. The best part is that other than a few clunky ‘sex scenes’ (and I use that description in the loosest possible term) this book is masterfully crafted and a compelling read.

The history of JFK has never held much allure for me. The great defining event for my generation was of course, 9/11. So, I was taken by surprise when I enjoyed this book so much. It’s long, but it’s a breezy read, for me the pages just flew by. I didn’t think that a book like this could hold so many surprises.

This is also a good starter book for people who don’t know what a fantastic story-teller that King is. I wouldn’t even put this in the horror genre so it’s a great book for people who don’t necessarily enjoy horror novels. Fabulous. Absolutely put this on your to-be-read list.

I decided to write this review as a part of Nonfiction November Book Pairing week to see if anyone had any fantastic JFK non-fiction they might recommend! Do you?

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

Posted 18 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

What’s a fine dining experience without the wine pairing? I’ll tell you, not as amazing as it could have been. So of course I love the idea of book pairing. I’m tickled that Leslie at Regular Rumination and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness came up with this concept.
I’m going to color outside the lines just a teeny bit and give you one giant non-fiction recommendation and two fictional recommendations. You’ll see why in a minute.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by: William L. Shirer

This is unquestionably the end all non-fiction resource on the history of Nazi Germany. I already wrote a review on it here. But let me tout it’s importance again. It clocks in at nearly 1,300 pages. The breadth and depth that The Rise and Fall covers cannot be overstated. It hits on everything that went on culturally in Germany that allowed for Hitler’s rise to power. There is discussion on what quirks of personal fate in his own life made Hitler’s rise possible. There are discussions of what went on inside of the bunker before his death, the relationships that Hitler had with his top lieutenants and the relationship that he had with the German people. The structure and actions that happened inside the concentration camps are also covered, along with the Allied liberation of the camps.

Book burnings, propaganda, compulsory membership in the Nazi party, it’s all in there.

Naturally there is a discussion on the international politics of WWII, the alliances that were struck and broken between Germany and Russia, how completely inept Neville Chamberlain was. Then there are lots of pages dedicated to the actual war part of WWII, maneuvers, the invasion of Poland, Rommell’s debacle in North Africa.

A full bodied book with a dark ruby red color, the nose of The Rise and Fall is a redolent profusion of death and decay but careful readers will also notice notes of public apathy and mass propaganda used to control the masses. It may overwhelm the palate with intense feelings that only history told without a lens is capable of. 

Now, my pretties, for the pairing. I’m going to recommend that you pick up the fiction part of the pairing first, one or both, they are both substantially shorter and easier to read than The Rise and Fall. After you finish The Rise and Fall, dare I say, you’re going to need a break.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by: Tadeusz Borowski

I’ve also already covered this in the blog: here. But again, allow me to sing some praises.

This is a totally different holocaust story than what I’m generally used to. It is based on the author’s own experiences at Auschwitz and Dachau but it is fictional. The author is not a Jew, instead he is a Polish prisoner of war. This makes for a completely different perspective.

Don’t get me wrong, this book is not sunshine and lollipops. But instead of the physical pain and suffering that is often spoken about in Jewish accounts of holocaust literature, what is accounted here is a psychic bankruptcy — necessary for survival, but horrible in the telling. What’s so terribly dreadful about this account is the ordinariness that day to day life inside of the concentration camp may have been like for the ‘Aryans’ imprisoned there.

They are granted more ‘rights’ than the Jewish prisoners, but there is still nothing they can do to help their fellow inmates. So, in the tradition of other accounts of survival in concentration camps it is about just that. Survival.

A medium-bodied book with a medium color. The book takes it’s color from blood but is mellowed by occasional compassion and heart. A smoky and peppery bouquet, there are also notes of despair, helplessness, and terror. Goes well with onions.

Finally, I bring you:

The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

The reason I included This Way for the Gas is because The Book Thief is being widely read right now. So I wanted to have something for those that had already enjoyed The Book Thief.

The Book Thief is a great match for The Rise and Fall because it tells the story of living in Nazi Germany from the perspective of an ordinary German. An ordinary German girl. She is not complicit in the crimes the Nazi’s are perpetrating, in fact there is a Jewish man hidden in her basement.

The Rise and Fall tells this story as well. As I said before, it talks of all the cultural things that happened that allowed Hitler to rise to power, not all Germans were Nazis (as we all know). The Book Thief takes things from The Rise and Fall and gives the facts a narrative voice. There is sympathy and a caring that is elicited for Liesel by Zusak.

I found The Book Thief to be a truly beautiful novel and I didn’t realize it was a YA title until after I read it. The use of colors and the device of using Death as a narrator pulls you in at the beginning, but ultimately it is Liesel’s story that keeps you engaged.

A smooth and round book that is velvety with subtle notes of compassion. Generous and crisp it can be enjoyed by the aged or the young. The finish is bitter and hints of horror are present.

What are your favorite/must read WWII non-fiction or fictional accounts?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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The Weekend Gourmet: Restaurant Review

Posted 16 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Tru: Chicago, Illinois
Experience Date: Friday, 15 November 2013, 8:00 PM

Tru has been ranked as a one (out of three) Michelin star restaurant for at least the past several years. When looking for decent gourmet eats, trying to find out where your Michelin star restaurants are is always an excellent place to start. Here’s the 2014 Michelin list for Chicago.

I’m joining in on Beth’s Weekend Cooking fun with this post!

Last night my husband and I decided to check out Tru. We were not disappointed. Maybe it’s been too long since we’ve taken the time to seek out a truly exceptional restaurant, our previous adopted city, St. Louis, didn’t offer much in the way of amazing restaurant experiences.

Anyway. The service was impeccable. Sometimes a little coordinated serving and pouring can go a long way to make the evening memorable, after all part of what you’re paying for at a restaurant like Tru is not just the food but the overall experience. The head waiter was knowledgable and friendly, we even discussed the past foie gras ban in Chicago and experiences he had with other restaurants and patrons. He was even friendly enough that after all the wine pairings were poured I had the nerve to ask him what the career path was to become a head waiter at an exceptional restaurant. (It turns out for him, it was networking.)

The atmosphere was elegant and even on a Friday night there were enough empty tables, or the tables were spread out strategically enough, to make the experience intimate. When we walked in through the front doors that are shrouded by heavy black curtains the carpet absorbed so much sound from the dining room it was almost a shock to come in off the road. This was a good thing. When I speak with people about some of my most memorable gourmet stories the tale of The French Room in Dallas usually comes up with the wonderful food but the terrible atmosphere because the whole place is marble, so it sounds like you’re in a high school cafeteria. I digress, the point is that the muted atmosphere inside of Tru was divine.

The dining room itself is tastefully decorated and fairly minimalist. The two(?) story windows are covered by sheer white curtains with the corners covered by black curtains. The table setting was a simple glass plate with the Tru emblem etched on the underside. I was particularly tickled with the waiter that brought by four napkins, two black and two white allowing me to select my color. It sounds silly, but I’d never experienced that before.

My husband and I decided on the abbreviated ‘Tru – experience’ which is seven courses instead of 11. I’m sure that they had an impressive wine list, but I usually prefer to get the wine pairings, which is what we did. Along with the seven courses we added a selection of 5 cheeses before the dessert course, but I’ll get to the cheese tray.

So the amuse-bouche was a tiny pastry with a touch of cheese on the inside, it was bland but perhaps this was intentional to clear the way for an amazing beginning.

#1: Pear + Fennel | Sorrel + Buttermilk | Foie Gras + Honeycrisp Apple
Wine Pairing: margin demi-sec champagne 1st cru nv

The first course consisted of three little bites. There was the pear and fennel ‘soup to sip’, sorrel ‘snow’ with a buttermilk gellee underneath it, and foie gras that was covered with a sweet apple froth.

I want to start with the sorrel snow. Even though it was described as snow I was surprised when it was cold because the sorrel looked like a lovely green moss, it was even garnished with tiny flowers. The taste reminded me of my terrible excursion into the green smoothie fad — if I had known what I was doing with the green smoothies. I found the floral tones to be a little overpowering for my taste, but overall enjoyed it.

The cold pear and fennel soup was a little bland as well, but still enjoyable. The little sesame stick garnish that was served with it added the texture and flavor needed to make it complete in addition to being a beautiful garnish.

The star of this course was the foie gras. Full disclosure: I love foie gras. But the apple froth on top with the sweetness of the honey made the pate underneath it taste more savory.

I found the demi-sec champagne to be a nice contrast because it was a little sweeter than the traditional brut-style champagne. This sweetness also highlighted the savory of the foie gras quite nicely.

#2: Light Sunchoke, Trout Roe, Chive
Wine Paring: Arietta on the White Keys, California 2011

This wins the prettiest dish of the night. The pureed sunchoke was served in a small bowl with a large rim, the chive was liquified and formed the outermost ring of the bowl the sunchoke puree was the color of a light cream, in the center was the trout roe, beautiful salmon pink bubbles.

Served alongside was tall silver vase filled with black and white sesame seeds with roasted artichoke ‘chips’ standing up out of the vase like flames. These chips added an additional layer of texture on top of the delightful bubble bursting of the roe on my tongue. I should have taken a picture of this one, but I really hate being ‘that guy’ in a nice place.

The wine was the disappointment here. I found the Arietta to be too acidic in general, I often drink wines that I normally wouldn’t and when paired with the food they’re fine, this one wasn’t redeemed by the food.

#3: Matsutake Mushroom Two Ways, Rosemary Roasted Veal Sweetbread, Ponzu
Wine Pairing: Sicily Etna i Custodi Rosso 2007

I think I always willfully forget what sweetbreads are. The matsutake mushroom grilled on top of the sweetbreads made for a great contrast of flavor and texture. There was something smoky that I tasted in this dish, and I liked it.

The wine came from the side of a volcano in Sicily, this type of soil made the wine different than a lot of the reds that I usually drink. It was bold without being overpowering the subtlety of the sweetbreads and mushrooms were brought out.

#4: Eastern Skate Wing, Apple + Celery, Black Truffle
Wine Pairing: Vouvray le Haut-Lieu Huet 2011

Fish course! The skate was prepared perfectly and the black truffle shavings on top added just enough flavor to make the whole dish pop. It fell apart on my fork and then melted in my mouth. The apple and celery added just enough sweetness to be offset by the dryness of the wine.

#5: Lamb Loin draped in Black Trumpet, Young Beets
Wine Pairing: Lalande-de-Pomerol Chateau Belles-Graves 2009

This was another course that was beautiful to look at. The lamb was done at a perfect rare-medium-rare it was topped with the black trumpet mushrooms and garnished with what looked like a nice little peppermint candy, it looked more like a radish than a beet but didn’t taste like much of anything so I can’t be sure. Also, this was served on a log, there was glass over the top of the wood, but there was bark and everything. Great presentation.

About beets. I don’t like them but I am always amazed at what can be done with them in the hands of a master chef. The sweetness of the beets offset the earthiness of the mushrooms and the lamb.

Artisanal Cheese Selection
Wine Pairing: J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider

I love when gourmet places sometimes replace a wine pairing with a beer or cider, it’s often refreshing. This was the case with our cheese plate.

The selection of cheese was pretty wide, I’m going to estimate that they had about 15 – 18 cheeses to select from. The majority of the cheeses were cows-milk, but there were maybe 5 goat milk cheeses and one sheep’s milk cheese.

I tend to prefer stinkier, softer, cheeses with a lot of strong flavor. There were no shortages of that! It didn’t bother me, but there did seem to be no harder cheeses, also notably absent was any gouda.

#6: Passionate Marshmallow

The pre-dessert plate. This was also served on a log, with a stick. The intention was obviously to bring out a feeing of fall weather and camping, the marshmallow was lightly toasted on the outside and inside was the magic, it was a passion-fruit sorbet. Delectable. I wish I could have had ten more of these.

#7: Parsnip + Honey, Fig, Port Wine
Wine Pairing: Tenuta Capofaro Malvasia Salina 2010

Well… I liked the port that was served. This was another dish that had lovely presentation. The parsnip and honey ice-cream was drizzled over with a lovely red port sauce garnished with pretty purple figs on the side.

That being said, I did not like the ice-cream. Not here not there not anywhere. I think again it was too much floral and a ‘green’ taste. The parsnip far overpowered the honey. It was a sad ending to an otherwise nearly flawless meal.

Final Thoughts
Tru was a fantastic dining experience. I liked the fact that there was an option for an abbreviated seven course meal, or more accurately my husband and credit card were happy there was the option for the abbreviated meal. The cost was $115 for the meal, plus $85 for the wine pairing, the artisanal cheese were an additional $30. I would highly recommend this abbreviated option for those who don’t want to fork over the $158 for the entire Tru Experience (plus $125 for the wine pairing). Depending on your proclivity for cheeses you may want to skip the cheese plate, or there was also an option just to get three cheeses.

Definitely pencil this restaurant into your visit to Chicago. It should go without saying, but this is not a kid friendly restaurant, that is unless you’re Michael Jordan. 🙂

I have reservations for my sister and I at Alinea next Sunday, so keep an eye out for that review.

Cheers and Happy Eating!

Have you had an exceptional meal somewhere lately? Tell me about it!

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Feminist Friday: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Posted 15 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist Friday: Cinderella Ate My DaughterCinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
Published by Harper Collins on January 25th 2011
Genres: Family & Relationships, General, Parenting
Pages: 272
Goodreads
three-stars

The acclaimed author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls reveals the dark side of pink and pretty: the rise of the girlie-girl, she warns, is not that innocent.Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters' lives.


This is an important book. It makes feminism (a term which the author, cleverly, uses as little as possible) accessible to mainstream moms and attempts to instill the importance that feminism still has, even to our children today. 

I didn’t agree with  all of her assertions, at time she gets pretty preachy. 

But I think that regardless, this is a good read for parents, especially those with female children. Ultimately the moral of the story is the great evil is not pink, princesses, or high-heel shoes; the underlying evil is rampant, voracious mainstream consumerism turning our daughter’s innocence and sexuality into a commodity. 

Worth the read. 

Note: Last 30% of the book is bibliography, so it’s an even quicker read than it looks.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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National Novel Writing Month: Week Two

Posted 14 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in musings

Week Two:

 
So last week I talked about  how the pain of writing fiction had taken me by surprise. This week I want to talk about how correct the conventional wisdom that comes from NaNoWriMo is. The conventional wisdom is to keep on writing as much as you can the first week. Just write write write. So that’s what I did and I’m sitting way ahead of par. I have a little more than 34,000 words at the writing of this blog post, par today is 23,333. But there has been an unfortunate turn of events.
Writer’s block! The first week, my story seemed to tell itself, the characters had their agendas and I listened to them. This week it’s been like pulling teeth to find what the next action of the characters are going to be. I (think) I know what the main character’s ultimate fate is and I’m a little afraid that the climax is going to come too soon. [Insert giggles of  sixth grade boy here] There are other characters that may need to be better developed before the story can be finished, but I don’t know. I’m starting to feel anxiety and doubt that I can finish this venture, something that the NaNo pep talks tell you to expect.
So, that’s my update… now I shall try to forge on.
Happy writing!

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Super Tuesday: John Adams

Posted 12 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Super Tuesday: John AdamsJohn Adams by David McCullough
Published by Simon and Schuster on December 11th 2012
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General
Pages: 752
Goodreads
four-stars

A huge bestseller in America, David McCullough's JOHN ADAMS tells the extraordinary story of the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot -- 'the colossus of independence', as Thomas Jefferson called him -- who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution and who rose to become the second President of the United States.Both a riveting portrait of an abundantly human man and a vivid evocation of his time, JOHN ADAMS has the sweep and vitality of a great novel, taking us from the Boston Massacre to Philadelphia in 1776 to the Versailles of Louis XVI, from Spain to Amsterdam to London, where Adams was the first American to stand before King George III as a representative of the new nation.This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war, but also about human nature, love, faith, virtue, ambition, friendship and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, it is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

This fits in nicely with Non-fiction November being hosted by Sophisticated Dorkiness and Regular Rumination. This week it’s Be/Ask/Become the expert. I’ve read widely on George Washington (personal hero) but I’m working on expanding that body of knowledge to other U.S. Presidents and Revolutionary War heroes. So, I bring you John Adams!

I hate that it’s an abridged edition – alas it was all the library had. I found the contrast between Washington (who will always be my hero) and Adams very interesting. The fact that Adams seems to have expressed many of the basic rights that were put into the Constitution long before the Constitution was ever written is amazing.

Also interesting is the contrast between Washington’s youthful desire (and many attempts) to be commissioned fully by the British Army (instead of just a colonial commission). Adams on the other hand turned down a lucrative royal appointment because he disagreed so vehemently with the British on taxation without representation.

This book was fantastic. I feel like Adams’ life and presidency are overshadowed with the likes of men like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson (ironically, all from Virginia). But Adams is truly one of the unsung heroes of the revolution. If Jefferson was the pen behind the ‘Declaration of Independence’ then Adams was the voice.

Narration was good. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Surreal Sunday: Going Bovine

Posted 10 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Surreal Sunday: Going BovineGoing Bovine by Libba Bray
Published by Delacorte Press on 2010
Genres: Action & Adventure, Adolescence, Boys & Men, Diseases, Illnesses & Injuries, General, Health & Daily Living, Humorous Stories, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 480
Goodreads
four-stars

Can Cameron find what he’s looking for? All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.


I don’t know if this is the worst young adult novel of a generation or the best.

First, I think this would be a fabulous book to use in high school English classes to teach literary devices such as symbolism, foreshadowing, etc. especially symbolism. 

That being said, it’ll never see the light of day in public schools because of the sex, drugs, and language. 

My parents never censored my reading as a kid, I think it was a good thing. But I am uneasy with the main character. I don’t like him. He’s, well, a teenager, I guess. Perhaps if I wasn’t 30, his attitude wouldn’t have bothered me as much.

Definitely worth a go. I promise it’ll be different than anything else you’ve read this year. 

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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National Novel Writing Month: Early Surprises

Posted 9 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in musings

Most of us are aware that every November for the past 14 years has been not about college football or turkey, but about writing. I probably have been wanting to do NaNoWriMo for the past ten or so, but I’ve always had a reason not to. Most recently it’s been law school, before that it was enjoying the last few months I was going to have with my husband before basic training, then it was being a new airman stationed overseas… I always had a reason. That was until this year. I’m unemployed, my husband and I are transitioning from active duty military back to civilian life, I can’t even start to look for work until December so this year, I decided to write.

I realize the month isn’t over and these words are not being added to my word count, but I feel compelled to write this. I’m a ridiculous reader. Reading for me is akin to breathing. I’m talking about reading for pleasure. I had friends in law school or in grad school that didn’t read a book for pleasure for three years or more. The idea of doing that is insanity to me, don’t get me wrong, I love those guys and most of them did better than me academically, but I need that escape.

So, I’ve read a lot of books and articles about writing books too and one of the seemingly universal things that fiction authors seem to say is that they have no control over their characters or their stories, that they’re along for the ride. I want to make a confession, I’ve always thought that was bullshit. Then I started down this NaNoWriMo path…

I’m currently about 22,000 words in to the 50,000 needed to ‘win’. This is about 45 single spaced typed pages. I started November with a silly concept of a YA novel with a spunky girl and a mysterious manicurist who speaks very little but gives flashes of psychic power to our heroine to help her ultimately solve crimes. It was going to be light, fun, and ultimately turn into a multi-million dollar franchise with movie options. But seriously, I was just writing to write. It didn’t matter if it sucked but I was going to have fun with it.

Well less than 10,000 words in somehow that whole plan evaporated. My main character, instead is dealing with mental illness, awful parents, and a little brother who is growing up aimless. The manicurist is nowhere to be found anymore.

This story isn’t autobiographical, though I have experience with some of those things, but regardless the writing has been painful, putting down some of the things that my main character is experiencing is one of the most uncomfortable things that I’ve ever done. While I still feel compelled to tell my main character’s story, part of me dreads it. I’ve been averaging about 3,000 words a day, I have no problem with the words coming but telling this story (though completely fictional) makes my heart ache.

I always expected that writing a novel would be hard, but the pain has been something completely unexpected for me. I expected to not be sure about plot points or to struggle with not knowing the intricacies of nail salons. I guess I expected my struggle to be more technical and less personal. I don’t know if that says something about me, my novel, or both.

How has NaNoWriMo surprised you?

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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