Monday, December 30, 2013

Nibbles

I've been to a few "new to me" places recently that I thought I'd share about.

1.) Iron Horse Grill. No, you read that right. Back in the late 90s, I used to eat at Iron Horse Grill quite a bit. But then it burned down. Twice. Recently, it's been completely renovated and reopened. The renovation is AWESOME. The inside space is gorgeous and funky and full of character. They host lots of live music, and it's very atmospheric. I recommend it for drinks (Margaritas are fantastic.), appetizers and entertainment. (I ordered the pork chop, medium rare, for dinner. It came very decidedly well done. FYI.)

2.) Fondren Public. I actually first went here a good while back, but I'm only now getting around to posting about it. Located next to the Fondren Cups and the Rainbow Co-op, you could almost miss this place if you didn't know it was there. The storefront is tiny, but the pub is in the corner of the development and opens up to a huge corner lot out back. The beer list is impressive (I recommend the Mississippi Mule, a beer cocktail.), and I've tried nearly everything on the pub grub menu. (Seriously yum. And affordable.) Plus, in the back, they have a covered porch with TVs and games. Not only THAT, but a cute group of Southern boys cards nearly everyone walking in. (I think they should have a "card cam" so we can all see the droves of women so flattered and delighted to be asked for their ID!) So fun!

3.) The Manship. A new upscale dining spot in the recently constructed Belhaven Building. This is directly across the street from Baptist Hospital on State Street, on the ground floor. Free parking (for now, at least) is available in the parking garage directly behind the building. I've had two lunches and one party here so far, and everything I've eaten has been fantastic. The redfish burger - divine. The mac and cheese with pancetta? Indulgent. Say, "Yes, please," to the fire-roasted broccolini, as well.

4.) Miso. This is Grant Nooe's new restaurant in Fondren, now that Pan Asia (in Ridgeland) is closed. (Boo hoo!) I went to a dinner they catered, and the food was soooo good! I NEED to go back there for lunch soon. It's a need. I've heard their $8 lunches are delish, and they've recently introduced a citrusy salad for those who are watching their calories.

5.) Ely's. This place has been open in Ridgeland forever, but I'd never been there until over the Christmas holidays. Yum! I found out it's owned/managed by Richard Shapley, who went to Clinton High School with me *coughcough* years ago. I had a gorgeous plate of Redfish Blanc, and hubs had a steak. Both were absolutely delicious and filling, and I washed mine down with a nice glass of red. Now, normally, I wouldn't bring little man to eat dinner at a restaurant at this price point. (I would hate for him to act out and ruin a beautiful evening for other diners.) BUT it was early, so we chanced it. Get this - they actually have a kid's menu! Woo-hoo! Clay had some pretty upscale chicken tenders and a pile of fries. (It made me think of that time we all ate in the Palace Cafe in New Orleans.) Our server was absolutely charming with him, and we all enjoyed our evening immensely.

6.) Le Bakery. Ok, this place isn't in Jackson. Or even in central Mississippi. It's on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in Biloxi. So, why am I telling you about it? Because it's just that awesome. After our weekend on the coast a while back, I stayed on for a conference. On the way out of town, I stopped by this bakery to get a few treats to take back home. I got a whole box of gorgeous pastries - turnovers, danishes, croissants, etc., and I literally had to FIGHT MY OWN FAMILY to get to eat any of them once I brought them home. It was like Lord of the Flies up in here. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, visit Biloxi without looking this place up.

Catching up

Evil minions . . . 

A quick catch-up post. Yikes! So much has been going on!

October was a busy, busy month! After returning from NYC and enjoying some down time in Pelahatchie, Halloween was practically upon us! Every year, the whole Bradshaw clan dresses up for trick or treating. Clay usually picks what he wants to be first, then hubs and I coordinate around him.

After a few years as superheroes, he was a policeman last year. This year, though, he went old school. He wanted to be a vampire. That left lots of options for us! I chose to be a witch. (Not much of a stretch, eh? I wore my green-striped tights to work on Halloween, and no one batted an eye. Should I be worried?) Hubs picked out an awesome werewolf costume!

Yikes! Scary!
We had bad weather Halloween week, but luckily, our neighborhood is pretty organized. We shifted our trick or treat night, and it worked out beautifully! The neighborhood was out in full force! I'm thinking of perhaps using our neighborhood message board to do something even BIGGER for next year's Halloween. Maybe coordinate somehow? Have some houses open for games, warming up, bobbing for apples, cider, etc? Any ideas, guys?

Near the end of October, Clay was student of the week! We had tons of fun making up stories that incorporated his favorite things, sending letters and family photo albums to class, and popping in to lunch with he and his friends. (Wow, school lunch has come a ways since I was in grade school. This stuff was actually good!) When you're student of the week, you get to choose a few friends to have lunch with outside, at a picnic table. This is apparently a big deal. Clay picked four little dudes, and off we went. I had THE BEST time eating with them. I got to see Clay in his little social environment, hear what they talk about, learn about the things they think are funny. It was just completely refreshing, and I'm going to make time to do it again in the future. It made my whole day!

PRAM Fall Social at Hal and Mal's
That, and a very positive parent-teacher conference (The word "genius" was used, folks, and not by me.) made October GREAT!!

During November, I pitched in with a lot of events. We had our PRAM Central Fall Social at Hal and Mal's (Fun!), and I chaired the hospitality committee for one of Millsaps' Arts and Lecture events, a fascinating discussion about Jackson's past and future with Malcolm White, Leland Speed and Charles Evers. I also had the opportunity to enjoy a trolley tour of downtown development with Ben Allen of Downtown Jackson Partners. Lots to see!

Before I knew it, it was Thanksgiving! We all gathered and mom and dad's house for our annual feast. I made my traditional turkey with white wine shallot gravy and toted along the customary homemade cranberry sauce. We ate, we laughed, we ate some more! (I don't know why we still make dessert. We never get to it anymore!)

More to come . . .

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Unplugging

Our sweet little cabin!
 After one takes a trip to New York City, one can use some down time. Luckily, I'd booked us for a family weekend at Jellystone Park in Pelahatchie months before. I'd been wanting to take little man over there to check it out for a few years, and fall is a great time to be outdoors in Mississippi.
If you've never been to a Jellystone Park camping ground, you're in for a treat! It's a nice family camp, with cabins, RV hookups, and places where you can pitch your own tent! Because my crew isn't much for roughing it, we booked a fully-stocked cabin on the lake. Since we had extra beds, we invited my sister and her two sweet boys to join us. 

View from the back deck
We loved our little cabin! It was small but snug, with a full kitchen and a wonderful little back deck on the water. We checked in on Friday night, enjoyed the lake view, and pored over Saturday's activities sheet. Because it was mid-October, the camp was in full Halloween mode, with tons of themed events. 

On Saturday morning, we made a big breakfast and headed out for some fun. We started at the playground next to the Ranger Station, where the boys climbed and slid and had a grand time before deciding to try out the (free) putt putt golf course. After whacking the ball a bit, it was Pledge with a Bear at the flagpole, where we met Boo-Boo the Bear. 
Hey, Boo-Boo!

Then, we headed to the Activities Center to board the Hey-Hey Ride. A tractor pulls the trailer all around the park, and you sing songs and wave (Hey-hey. Get it?) to all of the other campers.

Our stomachs growling for lunch, we headed back to the cabin and cooked up baked chicken, macaroni and cheese and green beans. Fortified, it was back to the Activities Center, where we decorated (and ate) cookies, painted ceramics, tie-dyed our own T-shirt and watched The Great Pumpkin on the big TV!

We went back to the cabin to get a fire started. While hubs tended it and prepped for an outdoor supper, we scooted back out to the kids' version of the Trail of Terror, a small indoor blacklight trail with candy at the end. (There is a much scarier walking version of this activity for the older kids. You walk through the pitch-black woods, and costumed monsters jump out at you. I opted for the "no nightmares" offering.) Then, it was off to roast hot dogs and make S'mores under the stars. We'd brought some bags of candy with us, so we also welcomed other campers who came trick or treating. So fun!

Professional tie-dyer
Brian and I spent most of the evening, though, with our feet propped up in front of the fire. We put Clay to bed, I poured myself a glass of wine, and we stayed out there, talking and laughing, until the fire burned out. As it got colder, and I wrapped a fleece blanket around my shoulders, I thought to myself that I don't sit in front of a wood fire enough. There's something relaxing and mesmerizing about watching the flames lick the wood away. (When I got home, I dragged our fire pit out of storage. I've already built a fire or two in it since, and I hope to build more.)

The next morning, after a quick stop at the Rangers' Station so Clay could get a souvenir, we packed up and headed home, other adventures in our future. We so enjoyed our trip to Jellystone. I can't wait to return in the summer, when we can hit the splash pad and rent a boat for fishing! 



Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.


My kind of town, cont.

The 9/11 Memorial
The next morning, we were up and at 'em. We had timed tickets for entrance into the 9/11 Memorial, and we were going to sample breakfast at Kitchenette first. We hopped the subway to the financial district and made our way to the restaurant.

Kitchenette is the cutest little place! The cafe is decorated in pastel, weathered tones, with old doors and polka dots galore. We were immediately seated, and I ordered a hot cup of tea to start. Before long, we were tucking into big plates piled high with breakfast deliciousness - eggs, french toast, sausage, biscuits and more. The meal was incredibly filling, and service was fast and friendly. We were in and out of there in plenty of time to make our timed entry into the 9/11 Memorial, which was only a few blocks away.

If you choose to visit the 9/11 Memorial while you're in New York City, keep a couple of things in mind to optimize your experience. First of all, realize that the memorial is still very much a work in progress. We reserved timed (free) tickets online, stood in several lines, and went through security to visit what will some day be an open-air plaza. The accompanying museum is still being constructed, and the completed Visitors Center is really just a small shop selling books, films and other related merchandise. Secondly, arrive slightly before your ticketed time. There are a few lines you'll have to get through before you can access the plaza, and that will take some time.

St. Paul's Chapel
That said, it was powerful to observe the tower stretching heavenward and touch the engraved names surrounding the two great fountains of absence in the plaza. It's a beautiful, solemn place, and there's something wonderful about going there to remember.

To further enhance your visit, I also recommend stopping by some of the other nearby landmarks that have 9/11 significance. We spent nearly an hour at St. Paul's Chapel, which is directly across the street from the memorial site. The church survived the 9/11 blasts and quickly became a relief center for emergency responders. The structure itself is historic (It was built in 1776.), but the exhibits inside about how the church served the recovery effort will make you weep. Photos, quotes, uniforms from the first responders, it's an amazing display of the humanity evoked by the 9/11 tragedy. Not to be missed. I loved this place. It gave so much meaning to my visit.

Grand Central Station
We stopped for a quick lunch in the dining concourse of Grand Central Station. (Tri Tip Grill. Yummmm!!) Then, we decided to do some shopping! It was off to the original Macy's in Herald Square. What fun! We rode up and down the old wooden escalators and shopped for shoes and bags. The place was packed, but we found a few treasures to take home! Beat, we walked back to our hotel slowly, taking time to relax in Bryant Park for a while. I loved the fountain and the old carousel there! So charming! (And the bathroom is seriously one of the nicest public bathrooms you will ever see. Ever. There are fresh flowers in there. No lie.)

Macy's!
After a break at the hotel, we began nosing around for dinner. We opted for a quick meal of convenience at The Perfect Pint, a nearby Irish bar. Forgettable, but serviceable.

We spent the next morning and the early afternoon at a conference (with a working lunch a Pershing Square - mussels in a flavorful broth - mmmmmm). After lunch, though, I'd booked us a 2:30 p.m. tour of Radio City Music Hall. On my previous trip, I'd only admired the famous theatre from the outside. On this visit, I was determined to get an insider's look at the historic performance space.

This was a really fun tour, and because we visited in October, we got to see the crews preparing the theatre for Radio City's annual Christmas Spectacular! Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and I loved the art deco details and behind-the-scenes secrets he shared with us. We got to peek into all of the nooks and crannies (including Roxy's private apartment and the Rockettes' costume shop!), and we finished up by visiting with a costumed Rockette. Such fun!

After our tour, we headed for Uncle Nick's on 9th Avenue. What can I say? I loved this place last time, and I loved it again this time. Affordable, with great food, and friendly, speedy service, it's a great option for
The gorgeous, gorgeous stage at Radio City Music Hall
pre-theatre dining. I didn't have anything fancy, just a big Greek salad with hummus and pita, washed down with a nice Greek red wine. It completely hit the spot, though, and I had a curtain time to make.

I had paid full-price in advance to go see Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. What a show! I'd seen the film years before and loved it. And then, after it danced off with a boatload of Tonys, it rose to the top of my must list.

No wonder everyone loves it. It's funny, it's got heart, and the cast is amazing. Plus, who can match the visual spectacle of 8 be-ribboned, be-sequined, 6-foot-tall drag queens, singing and dancing and playing their roles for all they are worth?! I decided as I watched that a Broadway stage truly is the natural habitat of a drag queen. Just magnificent. Performances were unbelievable.

The Rockettes' costume shop! What fun!
Feeling a bit parched after the show, we headed for the Campbell Apartment. (I'm linking to another blog post, not the official site for the Campbell Apartment, because the official site isn't very good. And this blog post is soooo much better and gives you an idea of the history of the space.) Aside from being incredibly convenient for us (as it's located right next to the Grand Hyatt, where we were staying), it was such an atmospheric spot. It was packed and felt like the center of New York City that night. We ordered two gorgeous (and expensive) cocktails, sipped, and reveled in the evening. Highly recommended.

We spent all of the next day in conference and working. By the time we took a break, it was past dinner, but nearing curtain time. What to do? We decided to ignore our hunger and see what we could find on Broadway. We lucked out with two mezzanine tickets for Pippin at the Music Box Theatre. I was so glad the theatre gods had smiled on us! First of all, Patina Miller deserved her Tony. Not only was she a brilliant singer and actress as the Lead Player, every move she made during the dance numbers was so controlled, so precise. Not a movement was wasted. Inspiring to watch.

Beautiful cocktails at the Campbell Apartment
Matthew James Thomas was excellent as Pippin, and Rachel Bay Jones broke hearts in the role of Catherine. Terrence Mann as Charles delivered plenty of laughs, and Tovah Feldshuh as Berthe had the whole audience in her palm during "No Time at All."

Well-pleased with the evening's entertainments, we decided to hunt up a late dinner. An ad in the Playbill pointed our feet towards Pigalle, a nearby brasserie. I had the grilled lamb with mashed potatoes and wilted spinach with a nice glass of red. At that hour, the restaurant wasn't crowded, so we took our time and lingered, opting for the profiteroles for dessert. What a golden, delicious evening.

It was our last night in New York City, so we ambled slowly back to the hotel, walking through the theatre district and Times Square one last time, enjoying the lights and the bustle of people and the whole human parade of the place.

The next morning, it was pack-breakfast-taxi-airport-home. Can't wait for my next trip to New York!




Thursday, November 28, 2013

My kind of town

Our room at the Grand Hyatt

In mid-October, I got the chance to visit New York City. I hadn't been since hubs and I traveled there back in 2009, so I was excited to see more of the city and catch a few things I missed the first time around.

My flight arrived in the early afternoon, so I caught a quick cab to our hotel - the Grand Hyatt New York City. The hotel couldn't be more conveniently located. It's directly next door to Grand Central Station, in the middle of everything. The lobby is very modern (with some eerie white statues of giant heads), and the rooms are quiet and comfortable. We had a double room, and I was relieved that there was plenty of space for all of our luggage and toiletries.

After settling in a bit, I was off to Rockefeller Center. When I'd come before, the ice skating rink hadn't been opened for the season yet, but this time, skaters were twirling all over the ice. I enjoyed the ambiance for a bit and also ducked into the Lego store to get little man a souvenir.

Rockefeller Center
I poked my head into St. Patrick's Cathedral, but, sadly, a massive restoration effort moves this attraction off my must list for now. Scaffolding is everywhere, both inside and out, making it difficult to appreciate the structure or its history. I was glad I'd been able to enjoy it on my previous visit.

I couldn't linger for too long, anyway, because I had reservations for Top of the Rock at 5 p.m. I'd pre-purchased my ticket online, so I was able to get right in line for the elevator. Along the way, you stop for some educational information (including a fun little film) about Rockefeller Center and its impact on New York City. (I was really surprised to see most visitors barreling past this type of information to get to the top of the building. I thought knowing more about Rockefeller Center and its construction added much to my visit.)

Amazing views from Top of the Rock
When you do get on the elevator that takes you to the 69th/70th floors (where the observation decks are), you can look up to see a lights show whizzing past during your ascent. At the top, views are simply amazing. There are both indoor and outdoor observation decks. and you get wonderful views of Central Park and the Empire State Building (which isn't in any of our observation shots from the last trip, of course, because we were standing atop it at the time).

I so loved this attraction, especially the very top, open-air deck. I watched the sun slip below the skyline and breathed in. Once you're at the top, you can stay as long as you like, so savor it.

After my trip to the top of the world, I stopped by Del Frisco's Grille in Rockefeller Center for dinner. At my waitress' suggestion, I had the chicken schnitzel - a chicken breast pounded thin, breaded, and sauteed, served over a heaping pile of of noodles drenched in a lemon butter sauce. Washed down with a glass of red, it made for an excellent end to my first night in the city.

Beat from traveling and my wanderings, I headed back to the hotel to turn in.

Lemon ricotta pancakes at Sarabeth's!
I rose early the next morning with big breakfast plans. I'd heard wonderful things about Sarabeth's, so I scurried over to their Central Park South location to check it out. Delicious! I chose the lemon and ricotta pancakes with berries. With a big coffee, they made for a perfect breakfast al fresco - fluffy, filling and sweet. I lingered there, sipping from my warmed cup, watching the passersby and the horse-drawn carriages.

After breakfast, I decided to explore Central Park a bit. In my previous trip, I'd strolled through the middle part of the park, but not the south end. I surveyed Grand Army Plaza before walking around the pond, stopping to admire the bust of Thomas More. I photographed the statues of Martin and Marti at the Avenue of the Americas. I sat on the Gapstow Bridge for a bit, enjoying the sunshine on the water. There was a tai chi class on top of Umpire Rock that morning, and games were being played on the ball fields. I couldn't resist taking a few pics of the historic carousel, and I also stuck my head into the Chess and Checkers House. After a quick visit with Balto, I met up with a friend for my next adventure.

The pond at Central Park!
Having skipped breakfast, she was hungry. A quick search on Urbanspoon revealed that the Atlantic Grill was a mere hop and a skip, so off we went. We were in luck! For Sunday brunch, the restaurant offers one free bellini for diners! For my entree, I chose the scrambled eggs popover, a rich, creamy concoction of smoked salmon, boursin cheese and chives. Paired with a free drink and a big glass of water, it made for a wonderful meal.

I loved the historic carousel in Central Park. 
On my previous trip to NYC, I'd missed visiting the Frick Collection, an oversight I intended to rectify on this trip. If you've ever wondered what it might have been like to be a titan of industry at the end of the 1800s, this is the place to find out. Henry Clay Frick was a giant in the coke and steel industries. The Frick Collection is housed in his former home, with all of his gorgeous furniture and personal art on display. You can walk airily through the rooms (which, incidentally, border on Central Park), pretending that you own all you survey, to get an idea of how good life really was for this ruthless businessman.

What I loved about the Frick Collection was that it was completely do-able in an afternoon. The home is large and the collection extensive, but it's nothing like visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and feeling as though you'd need to spend a week there to even scratch the surface. After walking through all of the gorgeous rooms (except for the Oval Room, which was closed in anticipation of an installation of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring - we just missed it!!), we sat daintily on a bench in the garden court, the fountains playing and the light filtering in from above.

What a great show!
Afterwards, we walked down towards the TKTS booth in Times Square. It was Columbus Day, and we caught a parade as we went, marching along and enjoying the color and music. When we got to the booth, the line was crazy! We decided to try dinner first, so off to Nizza we went. I'd dined here during my previous trip, and I enjoyed returning to an old favorite. We bellied up to the bar. I had a heaping bowl of linguine with clams, washed down with a glass of wine. Heaven.

After dinner, we tried the TKTS booth again. So close to curtain, there was absolutely no line. We grabbed two cut-rate tickets to Chicago and made it to the theatre just in time! What a fun show! I'd seen Chicago live before, but not on Broadway. Amra-Faye Wright was wonderful as Velma (and I recognized her from her appearance on the Tonys), and Dylis Croman did a fabulous job as Roxie Hart. I thought Jason Patrick Sands had absolutely THE perfect voice to play Billy Flynn, and Mary Sunshine's reveal was hilarious! Roz Ryan played Mama Morton, and her rendition of "Class" with Velma (one of my fave songs in the whole show) was understated but so, so solid. A great production, all around. (Even Ryan Worsing as the jury was a hoot!)
Ah, Junior's. How I love thee . . . 

After the show, we still had a little life left in us. Off we went to Junior's for the customary post-theatre slice of cheesecake. The waiter thought our thick Southern accents were charming, and we thought the cheesecake was revolutionary. We both tried the strawberry cheesecake. I had a big cup of decaf with mine, but I honestly couldn't finish either the cheesecake or the coffee! I did enjoy giving it my best effort, though.

By this time, we were beat. We tumbled into bed, with another big day ahead of us.

More to come . . .

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sea and sun

Delicious, delicious!
At the end of September, hubs and I decided to take little man down to the Mississippi coast for a fun weekend. Hubs' sister lives down there with her sweet family, and we thought it would give us an opportunity to visit with them and see some of the sights!

We did a good job beating traffic out of town after work on Friday, but then we got HUNGRY. I was despairing a bit, because that far between Mississippi towns, we were in a wasteland of barbecue, fried-something-or-other, bad Mexican, and fast food. We were blessed to find 49 Bistro in Magee, Miss. What a gem! We just saw it from the road, checked it out on urbanspoon, and decided to give it a go.

I'm sooooo glad we did. This is a locally owned spot. It used to be a Cups,
This was my Mediterranean flatbread. YUM.
but the owners wanted to serve more and different food than the franchise was comfortable with, so they struck out on their own. You can walk in the door expecting delicious, fresh paninis, pizzas (more like flatbreads and YUM), salads, and wraps. I had a gorgeous Mediterranean pizza, hubs got a tasty panini, and little man had an artisan PB&J. This place makes its own bread and creates its salad dressings on site. Amazing, amazing. Service was personal, and prices were CHEAP. This is THE place to stop on your way to the Gulf coast.

Afterwards, the owner asked us if we'd like a bit of ice cream. Clay danced off with a cup of strawberry with sprinkles on top. I chose caramel. Then the owner asked, "Would you like a shot of espresso over that caramel?" Um, YES. "How about some whipped cream and a little chocolate drizzle?" Are you married, dude?

Just stop at 49 Bistro. Just. Stop. Trust me.

Biloxi Lighthouse
We arrived in Gulfport on Friday night and checked into the Residence Inn and Suites. (It's a Marriott property right near the little Gulfport airport. Don't worry, it's not noisy at all. Hubs and I stay at this property on the coast when we travel there with little man. We like it because it's affordable, well-located, and very roomy. We've booked both 1 and 2 bedroom units in the past. You'll get a nice kitchen and a sitting room, too!)

After a good night's sleep, we had a filling (free!) breakfast at the hotel. Then, it was off to walk the beach and take a tour of the historic Biloxi Lighthouse. First of all, if you haven't been to the beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a while, I invite you to check them out. I've posted a few pics on this post to give you an idea of what to expect. Beautiful.

You can get tickets to tour the lighthouse in the building right across the street. It's a lovely, expansive visitors center. We paid $5 for adults and $2 for kids, then headed back to the beach. We walked along the shoreline and out onto one of the many piers while we waited for the next tour. Clay chased seagulls and observed their tracks in the sand.

Then, it was time to go up! We climbed the spiral iron staircase up to the tippy top of the lighthouse (NOT for those with trouble getting around), where a guide told us all about the structure's history, resilience and capabilities. He also showed off the light itself, and we got great views.

Crazy boys at Lyn Meadows
After our tour, we headed for the Lyn Meadows Discovery Center. I hadn't been there in years, and we'd never taken little man out there. So fun!! Clay and his cousin, Tanner, had great fun pretending to be pilots, explorers, hoteliers, supermarket workers, weathermen, and more. We made music on found objects, climbed in and on a large central indoor gym/art piece, and just had an all-around awesome time. We finished up with running through KidTown, where the buildings are all kid-sized, and poking our heads into all the cool tree houses out back.

If you have kids, I really, REALLY recommend a visit to the Lyn Meadows Discovery Center. You can easily spend the better part of a day here. Mon.-Sat., admission is $8 per person. If that's too rich for your blood, visit on Sunday (noon-5 p.m.), when admission is a mere $5.

Beaches at sunset. Gorgeous.
By this time, our tummies were rumbling! We decamped to Back Bay Seafood for lunch. I had a yummy
grilled fish sandwich, hubs ate a GIANT po'boy, and Clay had popcorn shrimp. This place serves tasty food at reasonable prices. Service is quick and friendly, to boot. Recommended.

We needed a rest, so we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. We awoke refreshed. Clay and I decided to head down to the beach for the sunset while hubs relaxed at the hotel. It was so, so pretty. Clay played in the sand, dipped his toes in the water, and chased seagulls as the sun slipped slowly below the horizon. Just magical.

WE met up for dinner with hubs at the Shrimp Basket in Gulfport. You'll see these little restaurants dotted all along the Gulf Coast. They serve local seafood at an attractive price point. Atmosphere is nothing fancy, but these little places are great for families and casual dining. I hit the spot with a dee-licious steamed shrimp platter with corn, potatoes and piles of beautiful steamed shrimp. (I subbed out the coleslaw with fresh steamed veggies. Coleslaw is not my friend.) Afterwards, we turned in.

View from the shrimp boat
Sunday morning found us up and at 'em for more fun. After another breakfast in the hotel, we headed for the small craft harbor in Biloxi. From there, we took the 1-hour Biloxi Shrimping Trip. Now, this trip can be hit-or-miss. They don't do advance bookings, and they don't take anything but cash. We'd showed up on time the day before, only to see a full boat pulling away from the dock without us. But on Sunday, we arrived a little early to make sure we got on the boat.

We paid our $15 per adult and $10 per child, and at 10:30 a.m., we set sail. You can sit on an upper, outdoor deck or in the interior, shaded space below. We started out on the upper deck to enjoy the gorgeous day and watch the Mississippi Sound gliding by. On the tour, they tell you about the history of shrimping in the Gulf, and they throw out a little trawling net so you can see a few of the critters that live on the bottom of the sound. Every seagull in the immediate area knows that there's going to be some bycatch, so they flock around the boat and wait for their opportunity. We had the best time learning and enjoying the water! The guys running the tour are a hoot and have a great time with the audience on the boat. Recommended.

Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs is fun and FREE!
After our tour, we had a little time to kill before lunch. We headed over to Fort Maurepas Park in Ocean Springs, where you can enjoy a water view, play on a great playground and get wet in a free splash pad. There are plenty of benches available, in addition to clean restrooms. Clay was already having a great time, and then, as if by magic, an ICE CREAM TRUCK showed up. Even though we hadn't had lunch, we let him have a small treat. In his opinion, this weekend was just getting better and better.
Mikey's serves delicious seafood at reasonable prices.

After playing for a while, we decided to grab some lunch before bringing our weekend to a close. We drove the short distance to Mikey's on the Bayou in Ocean Springs, where we sampled broiled oysters, fried seafood and more. This is another one of those local places with reasonable prices and
great seafood. Plus, it's on the water, so you can sit on the back deck and enjoy nice views.

We had an amazing time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and we can't wait to go back! There are so many things we didn't even get the chance to see or do!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Media

I've been catching up on some television watching and reading lately. There's so much good stuff out there!

First of all, I finally got into watching Downtown Abbey. And I totally see what all the fuss is about. (Although the development at the end of last season did leave me a bit miffed at Julian Fellowes. I get it - contract. But I was still pissed.)

Aside from their great cast (and Maggie Smith's amazing one-liners), I love the dedication to the period. The costumes, the location, the social situations. It's just fascinating and really, really well done. I'm all caught up and cannot WAIT to see what happens next.

I've also finally settled into watching all the back seasons of Mad Men on Netflix. O.M.G. First of all, I think I love this show because it's about the sales and marketing industry. This is very close to the work that I do, and I love seeing what campaigns Sterling Cooper's going to come up with next.

Secondly, much like Downtown Abbey, I love how this is a period piece that reflects the clothing, furniture, behavior, and social attitudes of a very specific time. I also love Don Draper as our antihero. He's interesting precisely because he has so many flaws. And from time to time, he'll do something so decent that the writers of this show convince you to keep giving him another chance. The tension there is fantastic.

I also recently finished reading This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz. This book is a series of essays about young men and their experiences with love and loss. Some of the characters only appear in one essay, and we visit some of them several times, during different points in their lives. This construct allows us to see how previous experiences (including often turbulent family lives) have shaped their romantic interactions. (AKA "Everyone has baggage.") Diaz also explores traditional masculine and feminine roles, with one of the key through-lines being that we all want to be loved, no matter our past or our posturing. Though there are definitely some raunchy parts in this book (because, well, young men can be pretty raunchy), I really enjoyed it.

I also just finished Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. Wow. Ok, this one is going to take a second to unpack. I would call is a dystopian futuristic novel, but we're not talking about Hunger Games here. It's more like Shteyngart has taken everything he sees in American society today, sharpened it, and moved it along a few decades.

In Shteyngart's New York of the future, everyone walks around with the apparati (the new smartphone) around their neck. Technological advances have made it almost the size of a pendant. The culture is even more obsessed with sex, youth and money, with data crawlers and algorithms constantly allowing users to compile information on those around them and rate them in real time. (ie. How hot is the girl who just walked into the bar? Not just based on how she looks, but based on everything she's shard about herself online and how the rest of the Internet has ranked her? Horrifying.) Credit poles spaced strategically around town show the world the credit ratings of passersby. Girls parade around in see-through jeans, and companies promise consumers dechronification treatments that can literally offer eternal life and eternal youth. The problem is, the American economy is crumbling. The nation is in hock to the Chinese, and the leaders of other big economic players are decoupling their economies from the United States'. (Not so far-fetched, is it?)

Against this dismal backdrop, our protagonist, Lenny Abramhov, meets Eunice Park. A May-December romance, their relationship gives both characters a chance to reexamine their lives and values. Ultimately, it makes them reevaluate themselves.

The modern day equivalent of an epistolary novel, the story is told completely through direct online messages and journal entries.

What stays with me about this book isn't the characters. (I didn't really like them, and it was hard for me to root for the relationship. It's obviously doomed from the start.) What I walked away with was Shteyngart's vision of America's future. It's completely chilling, and, sadly, it looks as though this is where we could be headed. Yikes. Worth a read.

Catching up with Clay!

Our little booger has been busy lately! Over the summer, he turned six! He asked for a party with kings and queens and knights. We decided to fun it up with paper crowns for all the guests, a bouncy house shaped like a castle, cool invitations made out of parchment paper (We designed them ourselves with free illuminated letters we found online, then had it printed out at Sir Speedy. We even burned the edges, which Clay thought was fantastic. Little pyro.), and a two-tiered castle cake (with a Kit Kat door! How fun!). I think everyone had a great time! 

And this year, we started first grade!! Mama was a little verkelmpt as he walked off wearing his new Darth Vader backpack. So far, first grade has been really fun! He's reading like a top and making lots of new friends. 

He's also been progressing along with tae kwon do, and he has a high green belt exam tonight. Now that he's a bit more advanced, they are doing sparring, which is where they suit up in protective gear and try to land some kicks and hits on one another. The protective gear is VERY extensive, and it's hilarious to watch him maneuver around in it like some sort of tiny Stay Puff marshmallow man! At first, they matched him up with kids his own size, and he completely bullied them. He backed one poor girl into a corner and just landed hits all over until we stepped in. Then, they paired him with a much bigger boy. At first, his strategy seemed to be running away. (Smart kid.) But then, he decided to stand his ground. He did pretty well after that!

He's decided to be a vampire for Halloween, so we're getting ready for that. I've got all kinds of face paint and even two little attachable fangs! I can't wait to see how he looks!

He comes up with all kinds of quirky little comments that keep hubs and I laughing, and we try to keep him occupied: splash pads, parks, the planetarium, museums. He stays busy! We've been reading lots of non-fiction about animals lately - frogs, turtles, sharks, dolphins, etc. He also still loves watching shows about superheroes (plus Wild Kratts).

Anyway, I just want to keep trying to document how he's doing and what he loves every once in a while. I can already tell these years are going by so quickly. I don't want to forget what a hoot he was at this age!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chi-town, continued

Sue, at the Field Museum
Day 7
We woke up on day 7 not hungry for breakfast. Still full from the night before,  decided to skip it and have an early lunch. We rolled out of bed and hopped in  a cab for the Field Museum. Wow. I was sooooo impressed with this place. We started in the lobby with Sue, the biggest, most complete T-rex skeleton ever discovered. Then, we moved on to the Evolution of Earth exhibit. We traced the rise of life on Earth, through continental shifts and mass extinctions. This is the exhibit where you'll find the museum's dinosaur collection, which is one of the most extensive I've ever seen. It's also strikingly presented, alongside beautiful paintings of the creatures as they might have appeared when they lived.

By this time, it was nearly 11 a.m., and we were getting hungry. We stopped for a quick lunch in the museum cafe, which is a Corner Bakery (not ideal, but serviceable). Then, we headed to the Grainger Hall of Gems. O. Em. Geeeee!!! Stunning jewelry and stones. So many glittery little darlings! I wanted to take them all home! We took in the Jade Room, as well, before backtracking to the main level for the Egyptian collection.
Pacific Islanders exhibit, Field Museum

Now, the Egyptian collection is impressive, but its narrow passageways and tight spaces make it unsuited for really large crowds. A series of summer camp groups had chosen this particular day to visit the Field Museum, and it was quite a challenge to make one's way through this portion of the museum with any sort of time or focus to truly grasp what you were looking at. We escaped to the Africa exhibits, which were blissfully deserted. We strolled back to the Tsavo lions (of Ghost in the Darkness fame), which killed 140 men before being dispatched themselves. Yikes! After that, we exited via the Pacific Islander exhibits (again, almost deserted) and headed for the hotel.

After a nap and a shower, we were up and at 'em once again. We had dinner reservations at Coco Pazzo Cafe, which was a wonderful little place not far from the hotel. Hubs got the veal ravioli, and I had the duck pappardelle.  I washed my pasta down with a glass of red wine, and they gave us a pistachio semifreddo dessert on the house! (Service had been a tad slow when we first arrived.)

Lots of yuks!
Then, we hopped a cab to go see The Second City! I'd gotten tickets for hubs in honor of his birthday. He loves comedy, but there aren't tons of opportunities to watch is close by. What FUN! The cast led us through an uproarious two hours of scripted and improv mash ups. I particularly loved Katie Rich and Holly Laurent. If you book reserved preferred seats, you sit a lot closer to the action. Thus, you have a greater chance of becoming part of the show. (We didn't do this, but FYI.) We had an amazing time, stopping at the Capital Grille before bed for tea and a mile-high slice of coconut cream pie. What a night!

Day 8
Our last half-day! We didn't go see any attractions, but I did walk down to Pierrot Gourmet in the Peninsula Hotel for breakfast before I left. What a homey little spot! I had a GIANT breakfast flatbread and a big cup of strong coffee. Delicious, if pricey! Stray newspapers abounded, so I settled in with one of them, ate, stretched my legs, and hugged my coffee cup close.
Pierrot Gourmet knows breakfast.

Then, it was off to pack, check out, and make my way to the airport!

We adored Chicago and can't wait to go back. What an amazing city! It's a direct flight from the Jackson area on Southwest. You have NO EXCUSE not to go. Just go. Go! You'll have a fabulous time!

Chi-Town, continued

The Purple Pig
Day 5
Early morning found me back at the Gleacher Center for another half day of sessions. We broke for a pretty late lunch. I had been trying to get a meal at The Purple Pig all week, but it was always too much of a wait. (And they don't take reservations. Sigh.) Because I was stopping by at an off-time, I was able to walk right in and get a seat at the bar!

I had the pork shoulder, served on a small bed of mashed potatoes, and then I also got a bowl of peas with bacon and croutons. YUM. The peas were bright and lemony, and the pork shoulder was meltingly tender. (I would've liked a bit more mashed potatoes, but I suppose a girl can't have everything.)

Navy Pier
After eating, I decided to walk out to Navy Pier. It was a bright, clear day. The carnival barkers were out, children played in the fountains, and the ferris wheel spun against a blue, blue sky. I enjoyed the views and popped into the free Stained Glass Museum. It offers a dazzling collection of stained glass doors, windows, and other decorative panels.

On the afternoon of day 5, hubs flew up to the city to join me for a few days. After a quick rest, we headed to Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill for supper. We'd made reservations for an early dinner. (And I was glad we had, because by the time we left, the line stretched around the street corner!) We had an AWESOME waiter (full of great personality, with a remarkable handlebar mustache) who gave us excellent recommendations. As we sipped our mojitos, we sampled lots of goodies: the street food trio, the ceviche, a bowl of deliciously flavored green beans, and an amazing creamy squash dish. We finished off with a seasonal berry shortcake for dessert. It was a marvelous meal, and service was prompt, knowledgeable, and FUN!

After that, it was back to the hotel. Hubs was beat from a day of traveling, so we turned in early.

Sky Deck!
Day 6
We started with a quick breakfast at Starbucks so we could arrive at Willis Tower EARLY. We were there about 20 minutes before it opened, and we watched the line get longer and longer the closer it got to opening time. We bought tickets for the Sky Deck, then zoomed up to the 107th floor for some of the best views of Chicago. You can see 4 states from up there! It was a clear, sunny day, and my legs trembled a bit as I stepped onto the Sky Deck. (You're kinda fighting centuries of biological instinct to do it! Hubs kept saying, "Do I see some cracking in the plexiglass?" as I stood on the clear surface. A comedian, that one!) It was wild! We took lots of photos and oohed and aahed and picked out landmarks below.

Chagall's America Windows
Then, it was off to the Chicago Art Institute. We got there shortly before it opened and lined up. (You will adore the homeless man who comes out to sell copies of Streetwise Magazine shortly before the museum opens. He sells the publication for $2 each to help support himself and tells tons of schlocky jokes!) After a quick stop to purchase our tickets, it was off to American Gothic. (I found it very dour. The subjects looked Puritanical and unhappy.) We also spent some time in the Indian, Asian, and Himalayan art collections. We sat for a while in front of Chagall's America Windows, which are a nice echo of his Four Seasons installation in front of Chase Tower. In the Greek/Roman/Byzantine statuary collection, I found faces I recognized from our trip to Italy last year. (My old friend Hadrian!) I'm also positive that the gorgeous gold body chain I photographed in the British Treasures exhibit would have looked GREAT on me.

Armor at the Art Institute
Tummies rumbling, we went in search of food. A museum employee (from Clarksdale, Miss., no less!) directed us to a beautiful open-air courtyard on the museum campus, where we lunched next to a bubbling fountain and fed our extra bread to sweet little ducks. Brian ordered chicken, and I had a delightful eggplant sandwich.

Refreshed, it was off to the modern wing. Up on the third floor, we explored an extensive Picasso collection, as well as work by Kandinsky, Dali, and Miro. Then, it was off to the Impressionists. Monet's Water Lilies and Stacks of Wheat series, Van Gogh's Bedroom and Self Portrait, and the vibrant, saturated work of Renoir. Eager for a change of pace, we decided to check out the historic armor. We finished up on the lower level with the Thorne Miniature Rooms. What fun! So precise, so perfect, appointed beautifully with a slavish devotion to detail.

After all that, we were POOPED! (And honestly, there's so much we didn't even cover. You could spend days in the Art Institute and still not see everything.) It was back to the hotel for a rest before we ventured out again.

It starts HERE! Who'd a thunk?
That evening, I'd booked us a reservation at Russian Tea Time (right across the street from the Art Institute, and, incidentally, right where Route 66 starts) for dinner in honor of hubs' 39th birthday. What a great find! We decided to get the sample platter for 2 and a couple of glasses of wine. We got to try so many different treats! On the appetizer platter, we had steamed dumplings (mmmmmmm), stuffed mushroom caps, carrot salad, tabbouleh (with no tomatoes or onions, and some different spices than what we use to make it at home), hummus, shredded beets, and all kinds of yumminess. My favorites were the dumplings with garlic yogurt and the hummus. I also loved the beets on a slice of dark rye bread with a dollop of sour cream on top. (I decided it would make a fantastic appetizer for a party.)

Then, we had a big main course platter. The stroganoff and the big chicken meatball were both amazing. The stuffed cabbage reminded me of my mom's stuffed squash. We waved off dessert, but the waiter knew it was hubs' birthday, so he brought us a free piece of chocolate strudel with a candle in it. Needless to say, we walked very S-L-O-W-L-Y back to the hotel!

Final installment to come . . .

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chi-Town, continued

Beautiful skyline as seen from the boat tour
Day 3
On day 3, I stopped at Starbucks for a quick breakfast, then headed to the river for an architectural boat tour. I booked one of the early morning tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. You board the vessel at the Michigan Avenue bridge, which was only a block or two from my hotel.

I really loved this tour. A docent from the foundation points out major landmarks along the river, informing you about style, who designed each building, and more. I had never thought much about how buildings are designed to speak to their surroundings, to the other buildings in the area, to the history of the city they are in, or in honor of other great architects. We learned about the Chicago Tribune building (chunks from other famous structures around the world are embedded in its base), the Wrigley Building, Marina City (Locals call it the corn cobs, but I thought it looked more like two flowers with ruffled petals.), and more. She also pointed out where the Great Fire started. The weather was gorgeous, and I got a nice, shady seat on the forward deck.

Marshall Field's!
After the tour, it was lunch time. I headed back to the old Marshall Field's building for a ladylike lunch in The Walnut Room! The story goes that, back when Field still walked the halls of his store, he caught a milliner serving her customers chicken pot pies in her shop. Livid, he confronted the hatmaker. She explained that the ladies got hungry while shopping, and rather than having them leave the store entirely (perhaps not to return), she opted to feed them in the store so they could go on buying items. Needless to say, Field knew wisdom when he heard it. Shortly thereafter, he had this very refined watering hole installed on the premises.

The dining room is gorgeous. I had a window seat (and a waiter from Pocahontas, Miss.!). I almost got the trademark chicken pot pie, but due to the heat of the day, I chose instead a corn soup garnished with pepitas and a lovely shrimp salad sandwich. What a treat! It was light, summery, and delicious!

Chicago History Museum
After resting a moment back at the hotel, I was off again. I decided to make the 2-3 mile walk to the Chicago History Museum, up near Lincoln Park, via the lakefront. It was a beautiful day, and I saw so many people out swimming, jogging, riding their bikes, and enjoying the sunshine! (Incidentally, Chicago has a bike rental program. You'll see kiosks of the blue bikes throughout the city. You rent one, hop on, ride it around, and return it at any other kiosk. My only advice? Print out the locations of all the kiosks before you hit the ground. That way, you'll know where you can pick up bikes and drop them off. The maps at the kiosks are only for the immediate area, and so aren't as helpful as they could be.)

I made it to the museum, which is set at one end of a beautiful park full of trees, riotous perennial beds, and public art. I loved this museum. First, I headed upstairs for the big exhibits on Chicago history. I learned about the early settlement of the area, Fort Dearborn, and the rise of the city as a center for meat, steel, and furniture. Other exhibits explored the expansion of the railroad system, the Great Fire, sports and entertainment, and the Chicago Jewish experience. I particularly enjoyed the hall of dioramas on the first floor. Such detail!

Chicago Theatre
With tired feet, I headed back to the Magnificent Mile for food and a rest. Bar Toma it was, for the second time. Unable to resist the pizza, I chose one loaded with spinach and cheese. Yum! After a quick stop for some Garrett Popcorn (caramel cashew . . . mmmmmmmmm), I went to my hotel room, laid down on the bed, and doubted if I'd ever move again!

Day 4
Day 4 was the first day of the business conference I was in Chicago to attend. I went around the corner to the Gleacher Center and spent the morning learning, networking, and hearing from experts. Our group did break for a working lunch, which we had at Heaven on Seven, a New Orleans-style restaurant. (The irony is not lost on me.) I had a cup of delicious gumbo, a big ol' chicken enchilada (Hey, it was on special!), and a sinful chicory creme brulee.

Once our afternoon sessions ended, I high-tailed it to the Chicago Theatre for their behind-the-scenes tour. (Because it was a dark night at the theatre, we got to see nearly everything - back stage, the green room, dressing rooms, the works.) I am so glad I took this tour! It's a gorgeous historic building. We even got to go on stage! (They asked if anyone had a song. I couldn't resist belting the last few lines of All That Jazz! Very appropriate, no? Acoustics were amazing, with the sound traveling right back to you.)

Upper interior of the lobby, Chicago Theatre
Backstage, there are all these signatures of people who have played at the theatre: Frank Sinatra, Kathy Griffin, David Copperfield, all kinds of folks. And the building itself is a marvel of French Baroque and marble and chandeliers and decorative plaster work. Highly, highly recommended.

After the tour, it was back to bed for me, as I had another early morning for the conference the next day.

More to come . . .

Chi-town!

Up until recently, I'd never been to Chicago, though I'd heard people rave about it for years. Well, in late July, I finally go the opportunity to GO for a whole week! And it is just as awesome as you've heard. Here's my trip report:
Chicago Water Tower

Day 1
I caught a cab in from Midway, and, because I'm chatty, I discussed all kinds of things with my cabbie on the way in. As we zipped towards the Magnificent Mile, he said, "It's so hot here right now," in an apologetic tone. I almost laughed out loud. "I'm from the Deep South, sugar," I said. "This feels like spring!"

About a half hour (and $40 or so) later, he pulled up at the entrance to my hotel - the Hotel Intercontinental Magnificent Mile. What a place! Originally built in 1929 as a men's athletic club, the hotel is ideally located - to the north is Lincoln Park, the Willis Tower, and the Chicago History Museum, and to the south is Millennium Park, the Chicago Art Institute, and the Field Museum. Plus, you're situated in the midst of Chicago's main shopping corridor, convenient to the river. Check in was swift, and though my room on the 8th floor had no view to speak of, it was clean and comfortable. (And $200 per night. FYI.)

After freshening up a bit, I did some exploring in my immediate surroundings, buying a few souvenirs (There's an Accent Chicago store, which sells all types of mementos, in the Water Tower Place shopping complex, along with a Macy's and tons of other stores.) and a cute pair of sandals.

Wildberry Cafe crepes
Then, I explored the Water Tower itself. The stone structure was built in 1869, and it's famous today for being one of the only structures to survive the Great Fire of 1871. Legend has it that families used it as an orienting landmark to help them find the ruins of their homes in the aftermath of the fire. Today, the structure (and part of the pumping station across the street) serves as a visitor's center, with free literature available about local tourist attractions. The Water Tower also offers small, local exhibits from area artists. (The week I was there, it was a series of closeup photographs of some truly WILD manicures.)

By this  time, I was getting hungry. I stepped into Bar Toma, right near the Water Tower, for a bite. The restaurant is lauded for its pizza, but not being quite hungry enough to polish one off by myself, I chose two small plates: the fried calamari and the treviso and goat cheese crostini. (Treviso is some kind of cooked cabbage. In Bar Toma's preparation, this really reminded me of balsamic roasted onions. It had a sweet, caramelized flavor to it.) Both appetizers were really delicious, and I didn't come close to finishing the crostini. I washed everything down with a glass of pinot noir for good measure, shopped a bit more, and turned in for the evening.

Day 2
I had set up a free Chicago Greeter tour for 10 a.m. on day 2, but I awoke early with a rumbling stomach. I headed for Wildberry Cafe, tucked into the first floor of what appears to be an office building
Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean)
bordering Millennium Park. Word had it on the intranets that it was a great place for a filling meal to start the day. The waitress recommended the fresh berry crepes or pancakes, and I was happy to oblige. The crepes were delicious - creamy, beautiful to look at, studded with fresh berries and a bright coulis. I wolfed them down with a frothy latte, and I was on my way.

Still early for my tour, I decided to explore Millennium Park a bit. Wow. I LOVED it. The music pavilion, designed by Gehry, is a wonder and one of the most amazing permanent public performance spaces I've ever seen. It's a marvel of ribboned steel, and the capacity is impressive. Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean) was interactive and so fun! I loved walking underneath it and seeing it reflect the city skyline on its curved surface. I also enjoyed some great people watching at the Crown Fountain, where faces of real Chicagoans spout water while the young (and the young at heart) play in the water. Kids and marathoners joined together to cool their heels. (I may have slipped off my shoes for a little bit. Maybe.)

Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center
By this time, my tour guide was waiting. I met up with Kara at the Chicago Cultural Center, itself an architectural and historical wonder. After discussing my interests a bit, we toured the building. The center was originally built as Chicago's first public library and features intricate craftsmanship. There's a large dome of Tiffany glass, marble walls, and painstaking mosaic tile work throughout. Afterwards, we legged it through the theatre district for a bit (I wanted to find out where the Chicago Theatre was, for a tour I'd scheduled later in the week.), and then we headed to Marshall Field's (now a Macy's). We admired Field's business know-how (He's famous for declaring, "Give the lady what she wants!") and poked our noses into The Walnut Room before heading next door to The Palmer House Hotel. The famous Peacock Doors here were designed by Tiffany himself, weigh more than a half ton, and are worth a million dollars. Wow. We finished up by making our way to some of Chicago's most notable public art installations: the Picasso, Chagall's Four Seasons, and Calder's Flamingo.

By this time, I needed to cool off. I decided to take a dip in my hotel's retro pool. The pool is original to the building, and I totally felt like Esther Williams swimming in it. After lots of laps, I ran through the shower and got a quick snack, then took a well-deserved nap.

Calder's Flamingo
I woke ready for more fun. I had tickets to an early showing of Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo Theatre, and I was anxious to get there. I took a cab (because the Apollo is a loooong way from the Intercontinental), and readied myself for an evening of music.

The Apollo is a small thrust theatre, and I daresay there isn't a bad seat in the house. I happened to be on the very first row, and I could've reached out and touched the performers many times throughout the production.  The show is about the afternoon that four music greats - Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis - spent an afternoon making music together at Sun Studios. (If you've ever toured Sun Studios, in Memphis, you'll learn more about it. The reality is that it was largely a publicity stunt, and that once the still photo was snapped, the men most likely went on their way. But the show is a hugely entertaining idea of what might have happened.)

The cast was energetic and extremely talented. All the performers played instruments (guitar, piano, etc.), sang, and acted. (I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to cast this show.) The end vignettes (especially one where Shaun Whitley, the actor playing Carl Perkins, literally jumped, with his guitar, and STOOD in the curve of the upright bass, playing and singing his heart out) were AMAZING. Jerry Lee Lewis, played by Lance Lipinsky, was astonishing. The whole thing was just wonderful. (And, near the end, Elvis - played by Robby M. Kipferl - shimmied my way and draped his scarf around my neck! What an absolute HOOT!) I had a magical time. Honestly, if your toes don't tap during this show, I can only assume you have no feet.
Crispy braised goat at Perennial Virant

After the show, it was a quick, breezy walk to Perennial Virant, a locavore restaurant about a mile from the theatre. I chose the crispy braised goat, washed down with some rose. It was smoky and delicious, served on a bed of creamy grits. Service was lightning-fast and incredibly cheerful. A cab back to the hotel, and to bed!

More to come . . .