To Market with Mo: "Please sir, may I have some more?"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January has the honor of being the national month of Eye Health Care, Bath Safety, Skating, Shape up US, Hot Tea, Soup (which I want to switch to February, but hey, that's my issue), Fiber Focus, Prune Breakfast (see previous entry), and Oatmeal (again, see Fiber). I could go on, believe it or not, as there are a lot more of these honors, for the month of January. But it is the oatmeal that I want to talk about. Sexy, right? I don't know, I think I can make a case for putting sexy into oatmeal. Or, would it be oatmeal putting the sexy into us? Afterall, oatmeal is so, so good for you. Loaded with complex carbs, fiber, vitamins like B & E, zinc (hello cold fighter, nothing sexy about a runny nose), not to mention a whole lot of other minerals, and last but not least, protein. Consume oatmeal on a regular basis, and you can't help but be healthy, and quite frankly, healthy is pretty sexy. I'm just saying....

Now, your commercial varieties of steel cut, rolled, or dare I say instant, are pretty darn good for you: they can all claim to help aid digestion, stabilize blood glucose levels, lower cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Now, do you want to up the healthy factor and the tasty factor (yeah, a lot of oatmeal needs a bit of help in the tasty arena. Hey, I am a huge fan, but we all know it needs to be flavor enhanced a bit) then may I suggest a visit to Green City Market this winter (pssst, the next market day for Green City is February 13th) and a stop at the Three Sisters Garden booth. This is the source for a sweet, nutty, wonderful cross between steel cut and rolled oatmeal, that frankly, is the best I have ever tried. And trust me, I have tried a lot of oatmeal in my day.

Three Sisters Garden is actually run by two, not three, women who decided to hang up their chefs toques, to produce food. So, how cool is it to know that the oatmeal that you eat, will have only been touched by four hands: from sowing, to harvesting, to cutting, to rolling, to packaging. And unlike most oatmeal, which by the time it gets to us has not been in it's natural state for months, if not well, much longer, Three Sisters Garden oatmeal will get to you between 24-48 hours after it has been gently hand 'rolled'. Now that is fresh.

Once you get your Three Sisters Garden oats home, it is best to store in them in the fridge, and use within a couple of weeks. If you can't use them that fast go ahead and store them in the freezer. Now, don't automatically lean toward 'putting them away in the freezer' cause you just don't have time to make 'real' oatmeal in the morning. Do like the Scots and Irish: soak your oats in water overnite, with a wee bit of salt. The next morning heat it up for a few minutes on the stove and voila, hot cereal to start your day. Now if you do have the time to make your oatmeal in the morning, then I would suggest treating it like risotto and stir, stir, stir for a creamy bowl of oats. Not to worry, Three Sisters Garden oatmeal will not turn into a globby, gluey mess, but will still maintain a wonderful 'risotto-like' bite.

To keep my standard winter breakfast (yeah, you guessed it, oatmeal) interesting, I change it up daily. Mix-ins vary from milk or yoghurt, raisins, dates, and other dried fruits, to pumpkin (don't knock it, seriously good, and takes care of your beta carotene consumption for the day), protein powder, honey or maple syrup, and granola (which these oats are a great base for a homemade version). And sometimes, like this morning, I don't even cook the oats, but go the Swiss museli route, and just let the oats soak in some yoghurt, or milk overnite, add some honey and berries in the morning, and breakfast perfection. But after chatting with Tracey from Three Sisters Garden, I am totally inspired to take oatmeal to the savory side...can you say oatmeal with mushrooms, a crumbly dry goat cheese, and tasso ham. Oh my heck, who needs the risotto?!?

See you at the market,

p.s. have a fav recipe you use your steel-cut or rolled oats in? send my way to

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"About Last Night..." Gia Goes Tijuana - Chic

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Casual. Yes, it was casual. I wasn't in the mood for anything too crazy. Mexican is always good for a night like this. Nestled in my lime green Lululemon Athletica hoody I was ready to grab a cozy spot in a nice booth, snuggle with my date and down some yummy Margaritas. That's what I had in my head - that was my plan. Maybe it was the wrong night. Maybe my headband was pinching and affected my thinking. Maybe my expectations were just too high. It was ok. The entire night, up to the kiss goodbye was just OK. Rewind one hour. From the street, Angels & Mariachis has Rock Star curb appeal. It's a place that invites you in out of curiosity. This Rock Cantina has soul, but I just wasn't feeling it. The lights are funky. The skulls, the urban art adorning the walls, and the vintage photos left me with very, very high expectations of the food.
There I was, propped up on a booth with my date across from me, smiling and laughing. I was ready to start the alcohol. The Swirl Margarita was calling me. Half strawberry and half lime - it was like a ginormous goblet of yum. Two drinks later, it was all good. No, not really, I can't lie. I was hankering for a fish taco; something I think always let's you know how good a Mexican place is. Well, our server kept saying they were "delicious", but that they were very "fishy"
"Ummm...are you kidding me?". But, she was so excited about the fishy fish tacos I had to try them. They were good, but not great, and they weren't "fishy" at all. What was she thinking? The Tortilla soup was luke warm, and the beans and rice had no distinct flavor, it was like it all tasted the same.
So it's my understanding that there has been a recent change of ownership and that it may have lost some of its authenticity - a MUST in the world of Mexican cuisine. Our server raved about the drink specials and all the various venues during the week. This was all pretty good and well, but I probably won't be heading back any time soon. The date didn't go very well either so it was kinda like the Last Supper all the way around.

In these photos: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess

Angels & Mariachis is located at: 1721 W. Division 773-227-7772

Oh WAIT - they have a very cool website - check it out:


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All things Fashion and the not so Kristen Frederick

There…I said it. It’s true. I’m not a culinary sophisticate! Don’t get me wrong…I love to eat…I’m just not as adventurous as one would think given the position I’ve gotten myself into!
Food…hmmmm…I would say I’m a Comfort Food Darling. So my New Years resolution is to get more nervy, more brave, and try, try, try new things! I just hope I don’t look like a tight lipped toddler doing it, being force fed what , to me, might be seen on Bizarre Foods …… all the while trying to look sophisticated wearing something like my Horacio Nieto original little Red Dress (a spring 2010 must have return, just add some fun Turquoise accessories!) and my Gucci Shoes.

If a chef or cook can make something way off my comfort food scale of Mac and Cheese and Burgers without me knowing the onions are in there, well, you have my attention!
Just as Coco Chanel says, “remove one accessory before walking out the door…” I guess that’s what you could say I feel about the Onions! C’mon, there has to be SOMEONE else out there that’s a freak like me when it comes to those things!? Yuk!

As for my background in Fashion and Beauty…well, that I can attest too. Former runway model, stylist and current Fashion Show Producer, as well as all around girl who simply loves clothes, shoes and make up…I’ve spent the better part of my life wearing one hat or another in the Fashion Industry!

Lucky for me I’ll have some help along this journey from some fabulous Chicago Fashion Designers, the famed D.C. Crenshaw (for without which we wouldn’t have the legendary E ) and some other foodie friends and loved ones, including my husband, Greg Frederick, owner of That Pickle Guy Products, as I dive into new Haute Dishes! Quite the line up if I don’t say so my new foodie self! Self appointed of course!

As I made my Maiden Voyage with my husband Greg…(I figured I’d start where someone knows me well enough to not be grossed out if I have to, ummmm…ya know…politely expel food to my napkin…) we headed to City Gate Grille, an American Mediterranean Restaurant in Naperville this past weekend, located at City Gate Centre, 2020 Calamos Court, Naperville, Ill.

Speaking of Maiden Voyages, my just out of the box Kelsi Dagger Over the Knee boots accompanied us as well…and as suspected…splashed the scene with edgy style, paired with skinny jeans and a jeweled Eastern Tunic . Even our conservative Naperville ladies were swooning and complimenting! Ahhhh, but back to the food….

In a nutshell….I don’t like fish but I want to like fish for all of those fabulous health benefits. Every time I go to try…something about the texture, the image of the actual fish itself, God forbid should it have any kind of smell to it…even what most would describe as ‘fresh’ freaks me out a little. So, given I rarely try it…I left it up to Chef Dave (that’s Executive Chef David Sapp actually!) to see if he could change my mind.

My husband suggested the Grape Leaf Wrapped Sole in Lemon Sauce because it’s “ super mild” he promised…okay, “but it’s wrapped in Grape Leaves,” I said, “I like my grapes in my glass personally and the leaves, well, I really don’t know if people should eat those…” In reminding me of my promise to try new things…I sighed and told the waiter to bring me the Sole. It was so good, I nearly leapt out of my OTK boots…which, believe me would’ve been quite a long jump, as much of a long jump that I would’ve liked the Sole! It was light and flakey, took on the flavor of the lemon sauce and grape leaves it was wrapped in, a cool combination AND I really liked the grape leaves…lemony and a lightly salty in their own right. My husband, Greg, had the Sea Bass…I actually liked it! It ,too, was light, flakey, and not too strong! The side dishes for both of our meals was spinach and a cole slaw with too much onion (NO, I did NOT try that!) (I’m not there yet guys!) and we both agreed they were a little overpowering and kind of confusing with the flavors of the delicate fish.

A minor setback would be that the bathrooms are out of the restaurant and down the stairs, which is inconvenient. The décor is really modern and stylish, warm and elegant all at the same time. All in all, we’d go back and since I didn’t die or anything from trying something new, next time I may even try the Sea Bass all for myself! Now…to schedule that lunch with one of my favorite Chicago Fashion Designers, Horacio Nieto!

Anonymous Michelle Herkenham said...
You could always branch out in the drinks department and order a martini you've never tried in case you don't care for the food! Can't wait to read future entries!
January 26, 2010 6:32 PM  

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Battle the Winter Blues..."DietBytes by Sandy"

The holidays are over, spring is nowhere in sight...and you're in a winter
slump. January may seem to drag on forever, and hopes of firming up and losing the last of the wintry pounds are looking dismal. What to do?

Don't surrender to the cold-weather blues. Learn how to perk up just by eating the right stuff! Food impacts neurotransmitters in the brain that affect our mood. In other words, certain nutrients can help to combat depression, ease tension, and improve our overall disposition. Here's how:

Fight the funk with fish: Fish with omega 3-fatty acids are called "brain food," because of their reported ability to ease depression.  In fact, populations that eat an abundance of fish like Japan and Iceland, actually have low rates of seasonal affect disorder (SAD). Research has shown that people with depression have low levels of EPA, which is a precursor to omega-3. Get more of the good-mood nutrient by eating salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds. 

Seeking selenium? Selenium is a trace mineral that acts as an antioxidant in the body. Most people get enough selenium from the foods they eat. Howeverstudies have found a link between low levels and increased anxiety and irritability. Foods high in selenium are crimini mushrooms, shrimp, halibut, and eggs.

Magnesium may help: This mineral helps to relax the mind and soothe the muscles in the body. In order to fill up on magnesium, stay away from processed foods. Instead, look to spinach, broccoli, mustard greens, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and summer squash. 

Try some tryptophan: We've all been told that turkey puts us in a trance because of tryptophan. But, what is it? It's actually one of ten essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Once tryptophan is in the brain, it's converted to serotonin, the "feel good hormone" that helps to reduce pain, promote calmness, and help put us to sleep. However, what you may not have known is that tryptophan is better transported to the brain when eaten along with carbohydrates.  So, in order to really reap the benefits, pair some protein-filled fare with healthy high-fiber carbs. Some suggestions are: turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, a bowl of whole grain cereal and milk, or low-fat cheese and crackers.

Be proactive with protein: Speaking of protein foods, be sure to include some at every meal. Protein helps to keep us alert throughout the day. Don't just focus on meat--you can get plenty of protein from beans, lentils, nuts, and fish. 

Find the folate: Folic acid, also called folate, is a vitamin found distinctly in healthy foods like romaine lettuce, spinach, and asparagus. Although low levels don't cause depression, research shows that there is a link. Plus, eating more of this super-nutrient will only boost your overall health and support healthy serotonin levels. 

It should be clear that eating a well-rounded healthy diet with limited processed foods will help to improve your mood. Also, exercise has been proven to fight depression and increase levels of serotonin. In addition, getting adequate sleep keeps serotonin levels normal. If you treat yourself to a nutritious diet and an active lifestyle, you'll beat the winter doldrums, and before you know it...spring will be here!

Healthy eating,
Sandy N. Sfikas, RD, LDN


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Introducing Our "Tru" Ratings

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What is a Tru Rating?

Our rating system is named after my son Tru. Tru means “loyal” and “honest” and I our ratings reflect that. I hope that our “Tru” ratings connect with foodies by being clear, unique and different. The six “Tru” rating categories are denoted by a full upper case “T ”. They are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 “T’s” with 1 being the lowest and 4 being the highest.

1.) Palate Cuisine quality.

2.) Assist Me Refers to the level of service at the restaurant.

3.) Buzz FactorRelates to drinks and the cocktail menu.

4.) Pretty PeopleDetermines the ambiance and vibe of the restaurant.

5.) Pocket Change, Checking or Savings Indicates the cost of an average dinner. Pocket Change ($10 - $15 per entrée) Checking ($15 - $25 per entrée) Savings ($25 - $35 per entrée)

6.) I’ll Be Back Our overall dining experience at the restaurant.

Example Restaurant Ratings:


Assist Me Tt

Buzz FactorTTT

Pretty People Alert TTT

Pocket Change, Checking or Savings Checking

I’ll Be Back TT

(**note: a lower case “t” denotes a half rating.)

We will be implementing the "Tru" rating system for our reviews this week.


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An "Epic" Review - By D.C. Crenshaw

After a disappointing experience at the grand opening of the new restaurant Epic, in the downtown River North area of Chicago, I was a little hesitant to return for dinner. The event that evening was far too crowded and a little unorganized that left me pondering the concept of the new hot spot. I didn’t know whether they it was a club or a restaurant, so I decided to go back and check it out, after receiving a sincere message from their Maitre D'.

Upon arrival, I again had the same thoughts. Is Epic a club or a restaurant? But as soon as we were seated in the main dining area, the concept became very clear. The downstairs bar area provides more of a lounge atmosphere with hip music, couches and hi top bar seating. The upstairs space is where the feasting takes place. The entire place is massive complete with two levels, and a rooftop terrace. Epic’s design is simple and straightforward. The architecture has a loft like appearance with elements of exposed brick, steel and concrete. It didn’t wow me, but it got my attention.

Epic’s dinner menu is filled with beef, chicken, pork and fish entrées. Seafood items plaster most of the appetizer section and they have a nice selection of salads and side dishes to choose from. Since I’m a connoisseur of lamb shanks, I opted for the “Spiced Lamb Shank” entrée. Our waiter assured me that their lamb shank would be right up there with the best that I’ve had. Well, I wouldn’t necessarily give it those props, but it was definitely tender and succulent. The combination of spices complemented the shank and the lamb jus was pungently flavorful without sweetness. My dinner guests enjoyed the “Chilean Sea Bass” and “Salt Crusted Market Fish For Two” entrées. The presentations for both dishes were done well. The “Brussels Sprouts” side dish prepared with bacon, honey and chestnuts tempted my taste buds. The sweet and savory combination helped me forget that I was eating brussels sprouts for a moment, but sprouts are sprouts.

Dinner was capped with dessert. The “Chocolate” and “Pumpkin & White Chocolate” desserts were sampled. The former consisted of flourless cake, mousse and hot fudge, and the latter was made with toasted white chocolate cake, roasted pumpkin ice cream and chestnut caramel. Both desserts were solid, but didn’t have me licking the plate. The service started off a little slow, but picked up as the dinner progressed. The atmosphere was festive, which helped the cocktails to flow more readily, although, I wouldn’t recommend Epic for a quiet evening at dinner. Expect to drop $50 per person on dinner before getting your keys back from the valet and be prepared to hang out for after dinner cocktails in the downstairs bar area. Overall Epic’s cuisine was solid with a good atmosphere and decent service. Below are my Tru ratings.

My rating system is named after my son Tru. Tru means “loyal” and “honest” which my ratings reflect. The six “Tru” rating categories are denoted by a full upper case “T”. They are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 “T’s” with 1 being the lowest and 4 being the highest.

1.) Palate – Cuisine quality.

2.) Assist Me – Refers to the level of service at the restaurant.

3.) Buzz Factor – Relates to drinks and the cocktail menu.

4.) Pretty People – Determines the ambiance and vibe of the restaurant.

5.) Pocket Change, Checking or Savings – Indicates the cost of an average dinner. Pocket Change ($10 - $15 per entrée) Checking ($15 - $25 per entrée) Savings ($25 - $35 per entrée)

6.) I’ll Be Back – Our overall dining experience at the restaurant

Epic Restaurant
Palate – TT
Assist Me – TT
Buzz Factor – TTt
Pretty People – TTT
Pocket Change, Checking or Savings - SAVINGS
I’ll Be Back – TTt

Epic Restaurant is located at 112 W. Hubbard St. downtown Chicago.

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Delicious Duchamp - By Mike Shriner the Burger Fiend

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everyone gets to experience a little luck from time to time. And right now the Burger Fiend is on one hell of a streak. Happy New Year to me, that's for sure!

Coming off the heels of two excellent recent excursions, last week – after nearly a year of anticipation – the fiend finally got a chance to check out the burger he’s heard so much about from various people both inside and outside the culinary world.

And it has been determined that the extremely knowledgeable and affable Chef Michael Taus – proprietor of both Duchamp and the River North establishment Zealous – can make one doozey of a burger.

In an odd move for the Fiend (only child syndrome), it was previously decided that on this evening all dishes would be shared to taste the full spectrum of the menu. Therefore I had to compromise my typical “rare” order and up the doneness a little to “medium rare” to appease the masses (huge table: three people, including yours truly).

While all the food was very good indeed, especially the skirt steak, much to my delight it was unanimous amongst the group that the Havarti cheeseburger was the clear du-champion of the night.

Like any wonderful sandwich ever consumed in history, the toppings, meat and bread need to be in complete concert with each other without one single ingredient overpowering the other. When achieved, the symphony of taste and flavor that follows easily brings with it a chorus of mmmm’s, ooooh’s and ahhhh’s.

Regarding the burger of my desire this evening, most intriguing to me is the choice of Havarti cheese, which is a very atypical selection for a burger, the likes reserved mostly for the standard American, cheddar, Swiss or provolone offerings. However the aged qualities of Havarti helps not only amplify the umami of the meat, but it’s soft and buttery profile produces a rich and flavorful adventure that churns away from the aforementioned Big Four.

The fiend foresees more and more of these alternative cheese choices as a 2010 burger trend, a subtle yet effective way for a restaurant to take its rote blandness to the next level.

As for the meat itself, Chef Taus uses a proprietary blend of beef, which was absolutely evident in the quality and taste. Perfectly pink throughout at its medium-rare doneness, nutty, smooth and velvety were the effects on the palate, with a hint of smokiness being detected on the finely charred exterior.

Combined with the house-made tomato remoulade, and a touch of mayonnaise and ketchup on a toasted potato bun, it was the culinary equivalent of the finest John Williams score and Metallica’s S&M roar merging at once – both beautiful and strong to the senses.

Likewise, the freshly cut pomme frites (nearly pont neuf) rounded out the dish in a wonderfully starchy and gourmet fashion. After all, no amazing burger meal would be complete without its equally great potato sidekicks.

So if you’re not a gambling man and are looking for an insider tip…this Duchamp is a pretty easy bet. This ain’t no lady luck, mis amigos.

2118 North Damen Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 235-6434

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Is it really that simple?..."Dietbytes by Sandy"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When it comes to the message of good nutrition, do we just need to go back to basics?

Michael Pollan, an award willing food and nutrition author, professor, and activist promotes the idea of: "eat less and move more." While this is a profound mantra for most people to follow, I feel it's just a bit too basic for some people. 

Pollan further simplifies his message with: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Not a fan of processed or fast food, he advocates eating things that his grandmother's generation would have eaten or recognized as real food. 

Furthermore, he challenges the idea that we need to eat to promote health. In fact, he points out that this attitude is not culturally universal and some countries focus more on food providing pleasure and uniting families. Societies that live under these guidelines tend to be healthier than ours. 
His other food rules are:
  1. Don't eat anything with more than 5 ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
  2. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter. 
  3. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot.
  4. Always leave the table a little hungry.
  5. Enjoy meals with the people you love.
  6. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. 

Is he oversimplifying? Dietitians and nutritionists (mostly) agree that the general public does not want to know about the science behind  nutrition. People just want to know what to eat, not why they need it. But, on the other hand, RDs avoid the "one size fits all" approach to nutrition counseling. We've been trained to provide thorough assessments of our clients to clearly understand their nutrition needs. There's often more to the story than "eat less and move more." 
It's clear that there are barriers in our culture to being thin. Some call it an "obesogenic environment." Not everyone has access to a gym or a farmer's market. Some folks were raised only eating meatloaf and pizza, and a vegetable is a foreign thing to them. Telling them to "eat mostly plants" just isn't going to cut it. So, it's our job to take the time to get to know our clients and help to resolve their nutrition issues.

Pollan's message is paramount. We all need to follow his "rules." However, it may be more critical that we write our own rules and goals. Listen to your body and feed it well. We have to eat every day; try to make it enjoyable! Be mindful, and don't punish yourself for making unhealthy decisions. And when you're stuck, ask for help!

Healthy eating,
Sandy N. Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: Cheese Glorious Cheese

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Europeans have quite a handle on cheesemaking (well they have been at it for awhile), can you say Spanish Manchego, Italian Parmesan Reggiano, Dutch Gouda, French Camembert, and let's not forget the Brits and their Stilton.

But, you old world cheese snobs, let me enlighten you to the world class artisanal cheesemakers we have right here in the good old US of A. And lucky for those of us who reside in the Chicago area to have easy access to said US cheese makers, via the Great American Cheese Collection.

I was introduced to the Great American Cheese Collection, a number of years ago, at my 'homebase' farmers market (the Evanston Farmers Market). To my dismay (and I am sure the dismay or fellow market-goers), the Great American Cheese Collection left the market a few years ago. Dang, with my cheese hook-up gone, I now had to go back to grocery stores and gourmet shops, in the hopes of finding the lovely cheeses I had been exposed to, thanks to the Great American Cheese Collection. Tease me like that.

Fast forward to this past year and voila, Great American Cheese Collection, who represents sixty-seven cheese producers (that currently equates to about 300 cheeses represented), is once again accessible to us mere mortals, and not just our favorite restaurants. This is glorious indeed.

Giles Schnierle, the cheese expert aficionado behind Great American Cheese Collection, has been passionate about cheese for quite awhile. One visit down to his warehouse (at 4727 S. Talman), a few tastes of cheese, and a few cheese stories later (get Giles going, he is a master story teller) and you will soon get Gile's passion for the oldest made food in the world (oh, in the running with mead, but since that is a beverage...).

Great American Cheese Collection is the single largest source for American speciality cheeses. Representing cheesemakers, from as near as Wisconsin and as far as Washington, Vermont and Louisiana. Not just any old cheese, but award winners that are rated some of the finest in the world.

So now that a trip down to "the Back of the Yards" 'hood is in my Saturday morning routine, why don't you come along? Giles is open to the public every Saturday from 10am - 1pm. You can just forget about that new year's detox diet you were planning, and indulge in some fine, fine cheese. Wait, not just cheese: ribs, pulled pork and tamales can be had as well. And, any given Saturday a favorite chef of yours (yep, Giles cheeses are to be found at a number of your favorite drinking and dining destinations: Province, Cibbo Mato, Bristol, In Fine Spirits, DMK and The Gage just to name a few) could be firing up the grill, and who knows what BBQ delectable you could be in store for.

If you need to hit a produce market for your non-cheese products you are in tons of luck. A mere few blocks west of Great American Cheese Collection, you will stumble into ethnic produce market heaven: Pete's Produce. Now, if that doesn't make the trip to this neck of the city worth it...


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"About Last Night..." If Izzy Can Gia Can

Captivated by the Game Time Dine show with DC and Izzy at La Scarola and Chef Armando, I absolutely couldn't wait to summon a date, if not for the chance of true love, but the chance to try the Pasta & Fagiole soup that was all the rave during the GTD episode. I dreamt of it...I thought about it at the shower. I had to have it. Just so we're clear...I'm talking about the soup.
Without haste I pulled out my little black book (otherwise known as my iPhone), and found the perfect opportunity to have a stimulating conversation, enjoyable evening, perhaps a shot at love, but most importantly, the soup!
Greeted at the door by Chef Armando himself, and of course I am a shameless name dropper so I touted the DC and
Izzy show done just week's before at this high energy, near famous establishment. Hugs, hugs and more hugs. I felt like I was with family instantly. The walls are covered with pictures of celebrities who have joined Chef Armando for his creations. La Scarole, meaning "greens" was designed as a place of simple elegance, delicious fresh flavors, and a family-like feel. Done, done and done! For a Sunday night, this place was buzzing with energy. I did a quick scan to see if Johnny Depp had been tucked in a celebrity corner (and perhaps on a hiatus with his wife). No luck.
My date and I had a cozy corner right by the window which made it feel like the whole place was all ours, plus or minus several hundred celebrities that adorned the walls.

A delicious Dirty Martini kicked off the night but was quickly followed by Pasta & Fagiole soup, and Clams Mondelli (stuffed with breadstuffing and served with brown mondelli sauce). I am only slightly embarrassed to say that I almost licked the bowl like a two year old. It was as good as I had dreamt. Creamy, and bursting with flavor. My date was in mid-sentence and as I scoured the sides of the bowl with my spoon it was like all I could see were his lips moving...blah, blah, blah, interrupted by "Gia...GIA!". I snapped out of my trance when the Entrees arrived. I opted for the special Chilean Sea Bass with spinach and sun dried tomatoes. My date ordered the Bistecca all Zorich, the fillet pan seared with herbs and garlic over potatoes, shallots, arugula, and topped with sauteed mushrooms. Thankfully, he was a super guy and didn't mind my fork wandering over to taste at least 4 oz of his 8 oz fillet. Gotta love a guy like that!
Maybe next time I'll go with Izzy. At least that's one guy who undoubtedly can eat more than me...I hope.

La Scarola is located at 721 West Grand 312.243.1740

I'm going back. Look for my picture on the wall! Where's Gia?????

For more adventures of Gia, check me out on Facebook, search "Gia Claire"

In photo: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess, and Chef Armando Vasquez


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Chicago Living ... New Year. New Game Plan.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Most Expensive Homes in Chicagoland !

The 27,000 square foot mansion known as Le Grand Reve was officially listed on the market Tuesday for $ 28M. The 6-bedroom chateau-style Winnetka home designed by LA architect Richard Landry is currently the most expensive on the market. It was originally marketed privately for $ 35M last year.

Villa Taj, originally listed for $25M, comes in second. It was publicly offered for purchase last year and is currently being offered privately. This home boasts over 30,000 square feet, 8 bedrooms, 9 fireplaces, grand ballroom with 38ft ceiling heights, 20-car garage and a Euro-Eastern influence with antiques built into the home.

The next in line, with no fancy name, but overlooking Goose Lake is 344 Old Sutton Rd, Barrington Hills at $ 17M, with 7 bedrooms, 8 full baths, media ...

Exterior Photos Courtesy of Huffington Post - Interior Photos Courtesy



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To Market with Mo: a little bit of India...

It's been said, if you want great Indian food (let me preface, outside of India) then go to London. I have always heard this, and have had the good fortune to experience....well, that is until a certain 'pants bomber' interrupted my last opportunity to savor a fantastic Indian meal in London. Pout, pout.

Hold on a minute missy, and put that bottom lip away. Why travel halfway across of the globe for a bit of curry on the tongue, when right here in Chicago we are blessed to have a little bit (okay, a lot a bit) of India concentrated on the northside of the city, on west Devon Avenue. Take a wander west of Western Avenue, down Devon Avenue, and you will feel as if you were transported to a Mumbai shopping district: restaurants representing all regions of India, snack & sweets shops (can you say Annapurna? yum), sari shops, Bollywood rental shops, eyebrow threading shops, but I digress. I am supposed to focus on markets dedicated to food. right? Well, no need to succumb to the big box, spendy supermarket, right in the middle of this strip of Devon Avenue are two of my favorite markets, and only a few doors from each other: Fresh Farms and Patel Brothers.

Start at Patel Brothers and wow, one foot in the door and your nostrils are greeted by the heady scent of spices. Corriander, tumeric, cumin, fennel, cardamom, ginger...I could go on but trust me, everything you will need to create your own masala or curry. And cheap, cheap, cheap. That is the wonderful thing about both Patel Brothers and Fresh Farms, your dollar goes oh so much further than it does at Whole Foods, Dominicks, or Jewel.

And since an Indian meal is not complete without rice (in southern India), or breads (in northern regions of India), you will be able to find not only rice, but a huge assortment of lentils (who knew there where so many varieties), grains, and flours to try your hand at homemade naan, puris and chapattis. Not that ambitious? Fresh and frozen breads can be had at Patel Brothers. One could get lost for awhile here, perusing the barrels of snack mixes, the pickle station, the ready-made food stuffs, and I am not even going to mention the rosewater ice cream, h-e-a-v-e-n.

Now, Patel Brothers does have a produce section, but may I suggest, once you are done stocking up on dry goods, and spices for the Indian feast you are going to make (I have inspired you right?), head a few yards west to Fresh Farms for super fresh and delicious, and super inexpensive produce. Your standard fruits and veg, and then things you are so not going to find at your local chain grocery store, bitter melon for instance. Fresh Farms definitely caters to the Indian community, but they don't stop there. Food products from South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East are to be had. Hard to drag myself from the olive and feta bar. Oh, then there is the assortment of Greek sweets...getting even harder to be virtuous, and stick to resolutions here. But wait, just when I am about to cave, right in the front of the store is a fresh juice bar. Phew, just in time to get me back on a healthy track.

The vibe in this neck of the city is energizing, and never more so than on the weekends. Remember, patience is a virtue when looking/waiting for parking. May I suggest, if you have the opportunity to get up to Devon Avenue during the week do so, and you will find the parking situation much less stressful. No matter what, once you get all your goods for Indian cooking home, all the stress of the hunt will waft away in simmering spices.

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Blogger Cheryl said...
Go early on a Sunday morning -- easy to snag a parking spot!
January 14, 2010 9:17 AM  

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Detox or Don't-tox?..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Every time I log onto Facebook, someone new is sharing their "detox diet" or "cleansing" experience. I want to thank all of them for giving me something to blog about this week!

Like I mentioned last week, I completely understand all of those vowing to get healthy after the holiday gluttony. But what confuses me is the intense urgency of it all. Does anyone believe in moderation whether it be with exercise or diet? We've been trained to have an "all or nothing" attitude when it comes to weight loss. It goes something like this: overindulge, deprive, binge, deprive...and so on. And instead of just promising to eat a healthy diet, we insist on starving ourselves and then call it a "cleanse." 

Most cleanses or detox diets promise to eliminate "toxins" in the body by restricting calories and drinking potions of lemonade, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. Some are accompanied with enemas and/or laxatives to help with the process. What is a toxin? Can we see them in the body? Can a blood test measure the levels? If not, then how do we know if a detox diet even works?

The Master Cleanse has been around for 50 years and a few years ago Beyoncé Knowles lost 20 pounds on the program... It must be legitimate! However, there isn't one scientific study proving its effectiveness. Actually, the creator of the Master Cleanse is a layman who simply believes that "lemonade works in the liver to clean out toxins." While there is no documented proof that lemonade has such powers, there is scientific evidence that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains promotes wellness and longevity. What's more, is that the fiber in fruits and veggies promotes intestinal health and can "clear out our systems" in a natural way. Plus, our organs are designed to regulate and eliminate "toxins" on their own.

So, there's no real proof that detox diets or cleanses work, and there's no valid information about the safety of such programs. But, what we do know is that during a cleanse, people feel tired and irritable. This is due to low blood sugar levels, possible dehydration, and a lack of calories. You don't need a nutrition degree to understand that little food=little energy.

But, you may need some education to understand that in order to lose weight safely and effectively, the body needs sufficient protein. Protein helps to maintain muscle during weight loss. Insufficient amounts leads to muscle loss instead of fat loss. Most cleanses offer very little protein, if any at all.

In spite of my cynicism, people will continue to embark on detox diets hoping to feel lighter, healthier, and proud to have completed such a grueling experience. What happens next? Even Beyoncé admitted to eating a dozen crispy cremes once the diet ended! Not everyone will feel the need to binge post detox, but it's a natural response to days or weeks of deprivation. Instead of such an extreme program, a healthier approach would be to cut out caffeine, salt, and processed foods. And eat as much fresh produce, whole grains, beans, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and water as you can. This way, you can keep your energy levels high enough to have productive workouts and restful nights.

Healthy eating,
Sandy N. Sfikas, RD, LDN


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To Market with Mo: the original nectar of the gods...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

...or should I say goddesses? Oh, but back to that in a moment.
Let me tell you, after a week in Prague, I now know how, and why, Central Europeans embrace winter: hot cocktails. Hot mulled wine, hot glog, hot grog, hot punch, and my personal favorite, hot mead. "Huh what", you say. Mead. Still getting a blank, glazed look from you. Mead. Well, if it weren't for someone, or someones, discovering, and popularizing, the fermentation of grapes and grains, my guess is that mead, being the first known fermented beverage, would still be the world's most popular fermented beverage.

Knowing no borders, mead has been popular not only for thousands of years, but pretty much across all cultures. Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Assyrians, Scandinavians, Aztecs, Incas were all imbibing for celebratory and religious purposes, hey all in the name of God, right? And rumor has it, that this golden nectar is quite the aphrodisiac. Mead played a huge part in what we now know as the 'honeymoon'. It is said that for the post wedding 'month of seclusion (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) the father of the bride would provide his son-in-law, and daughter, with a month's supply of mead. There you go, from honey wine, a honeymoon.

So, now that I have your taste buds peaked, I will not let you down by telling you mead is the stuff of legend past, or only to be had in other parts of the world. No, no, no, gratefully of the 100 or so commercial meaderies in the world, we are fortunate enough to have one right here in Chicago, Beverly to be exact. The Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery. Who knew right? Chicago's first and only meadery and winery is owned and operated by Greg Fischer, who has been making his award winning meads commercially for ten years now, and from his own honey. Okay, his bee's honey. Now I'll finally get back to the goddess reference. As far as I am concerned, since it is the female honey bees that do all the work, aka, fly around pollinating the flowers, and making the honey, I think that mead should be referred to as 'nectar of the goddesses' not gods, heck all those male bees are doing is sleeping, eating and ahem, making the queen bee happy. And talk about your locavores dream, Greg's bees are making the meadery's honey right here in Chicago, and of the 80 hives, a handful sit right a top a Mag Mile rooftop, sweet.

Once the honey is harvested, a basic mead is begun, ready to take notes? Honey, water and yeast. That's it. And that alone transforms into a beautiful ambrosia, but Wild Blossom Meadery whets our appetite further by creating, not one, but 13 varieties of mead, infused with fruits like green apples, raspberries, peaches and blueberries, chocolate, hibiscus, cinnamon and other spices.

"Where can I get this delectable liquid gold," you ask. Online, directly from Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery or at Binny's Beverage Depot. Not ready to indulge in a whole bottle? There are a number of bars and restaurants, including Hopleaf and The Funky Budda Lounge, here in Chicago, that feature Wild Blossom Meads. Still not swayed? It is said that the drinker of mead is imbibed with the following: more life, wisdom, courage, strength, and well, going back to those aphrodisiacal properties....


p.s. a huge thank you to The Local Beet for compiling the most complete list of area winter markets, Winter Markets Ahead. See you at the markets!

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"About Last Night..." Tripe? Really?

Nestled into 1500 square feet next to the Blackbird on West Randolph is Avec. Nestled in a brand new rabbit hoody/scarf on a bitter cold Chicago night, was me, yours truly. First and foremost Avec is a wine bar focusing on hearty peasant wines from small producers in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, but it is also a festival of Mediterranean taste delights. I don't really know what a "peasant" wine is (cause really, I just write about the whole experience), so I couldn't help but picture old women in scraggly clothing and those half finger gloves tromping on a bunch of grapes (much like in I Love Lucy). But I always....
1500 square feet will afford you cozy as soon as you walk in this James Beard award winning design of a place. The wood tables are set for communal style dining which can be nice if you enjoy throwing yourself into other people's conversations by default. Not a hater, I'm just sayin.
That said, a nice bottle of Pinot Noir was the perfect way to start. I couldn't help but notice (given the proximity of our seating) the nice family next to us profusely enjoying their meal which was deliciously fresh looking so I leaned over (all of two inches) and asked what they were eating. This of course was also what was recommended by our server as they were the "house specials". Our server was hip. I like a lady who wears a business suit and perfectly coiffed hair but then reveals her full sleeve tattoo when she reaches across to grab your menus. I love the mystery. Again, more digresssion...what's with me today?
Here is what you need to try when you go. Start with the Small Plates (all food in Small or Large plates, and meant for sharing). Chorizo stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon.
chorizo really balances the sweet flavor of the dates and they were spicy and delicious with great texture. The wood-fired flat bread is a must with pheasant sausage and pumpkin seed salad. This flew off the wood plate (mostly because it had YUM all over it). Save room for the Large Plates, the Braised pork shoulder with mussels, and tripe. One quick second on tripe. See, usually I don't even look at the menu, I just ask the server to give us the "best", but here is where I learned I should probably check things out. I was slurping up the pork, which was tender and juicy with cilantro and lime, when I noticed some pieces were a bit, chewy, like you could chew forever and it's still in one piece. It was HERE that I realized, this was tripe, which apparently the rest of the world knows is intestine, but me. So now, I will read first, then order.
One last dish to consider is the steak which was the special (not on menu), with the most ginormous Lima beans I have ever seen! Amazing flavor, no surprises in the dish (for those who don't read the menu).
Whew...and I'm spent.
An ok date place for chatting up about your day and what not, but not really for lovers who just want to nestle in and get cozy. But the wine menu is outstanding with great prices and selections by the glass so it's definitely worth the trip.

Avec is located at 615 West Randolph Chicago, IL 312.377.2002

In these photos: Gia Claire, Professional Bloggess (in new Rabbit Hoody - and later slurping tripe)

Until next week - MUAH!


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Resolution Solutions..."DietBytes by Sandy"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Monday January 4th was the busiest day at gyms around the country. As I stood in line for  a treadmill, instead of being irritated at the newbies crowding my space and cramping my style, I felt proud of them for resolving to live healthier. In their eyes I could see the optimism and hopefulness that they'll stay committed to their New Year's resolutions. 

Whether it's to lose weight, tone up, or just eat healthier -- we all have goals to be better. However, by January 20th, the gyms will be less crowded and the hopefulness will fade. Here are some suggestions to keep the motivation going throughout the year. 

1.) Be specific about your goals and put them on paper! If your goals are floating around in your head, they're only ideas. Writing down your goals turns them into a reality and making them specific helps you to monitor progress. Also, choose your language wisely. If you promise to "try to lose 10 pounds," you may be setting yourself up for failure. You should "try new foods" or "try on clothes," - but in terms of resolutions, write: "I will go to the gym 4 times a week," and "I will eat fruit with breakfast and lunch." There is a difference between trying to do something and actually doing it.   

2.) Replace, replace, replace: When we remove things from our diet, we feel deprived. "I won't eat anything with sugar in it!" Instead of eliminating "bad" foods, focus on replacing with healthier foods. "As an alternative to regular pasta, I will choose whole wheat pasta." Think of it as enhancing your diet as opposed to punishing yourself with deprivation.

3.) Don't be perfect: Along with deprivation comes overindulgence. If you aim for perfection in your diet or workout routine, you'll quickly burn out and give up. Listen to your body--if you need a day off from the gym, relax. The same goes for your diet. One mistake or slip-up is not a catastrophe. It means you're human -- and it might help you to adhere better to your plan. If you give in to your cravings once in a while, you'll stop having them.

4.) Get support: The research on weight loss proves that accountability and ongoing support dramatically improve success. Your 2 best supporters are personal trainers and registered dietitians. Both pros are trained specifically to educate and motivate you to improve your health. If you're unable to hire the help, rely on your family, friends, or coworkers to encourage your objectives.

5.) Focus on feeling better: Sure, we're all inspired by looking great. However, this type of motivation doesn't always last. Think about how living healthier can improve your every day life. Not only does eating well and exercising help to shed the pounds, but it gives us more energy, improves our mood, and extends our lives. Besides, you aren't starring at yourself all day long (I hope) -- but you are stuck with your feelings. 

Don't know how to get started on your nutritious eating plan? Head over to Protein Bar at 235 South Franklin St, Chicago 60606 (312) 346-7300. If you have 10 of their tasty, protein-packed meals over 20 days, you'll be entered for a chance to win resolution-friendly prizes like personal training sessions, massages, or a grand prize of a happy hour at Protein Bar! Check out

Healthy Eating,
Sandy N. Sfikas, RD, LDN


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Chicago Living ... 1st Look ...

Monday, January 4, 2010

World's Tallest Skyscraper Opens
With a Twist and a Chicago Connection !

It Turns out Chicago is not the only town with name changes. The highly anticipated Burj Dubai made its debut today complete with fireworks and a name change. Per Chicago-based Skidmore Owings and Merrill, the tallest building in the world, the highest inhabitable floor and highest observation deck, the Burj Khalifa stands at 2717 feet ( 828m ) tall ! The impressive skyscraper will accommodate the first Giorgio Armani Hotel, scheduled to open on March 18, 2010. The 6 ( yes six ) Star hotel will feature guest rooms on floors 5-8, a spa, pool, 30,000sqft of conference and banquet space, outdoor area for 350 guests. Levels 9-16 feature the 144 Armani Residences, luxury apartments ( aka condos ) designed by Armani. They will range in size from 1,068 sqft to 2237sqft and furnishings include stone, zebrawood, Venetian plaster, fabric and leather wall coverings as well as fully automated state-of-the-art home technology for security, temperature, drapery, and lighting systems. The second Armani Hotel will open in Via Manzoni, 31, Milan, and will be followed by the Armani Residences in Marassi, Egypt, and luxury hotels in locations including Marrakesh, New York and Shanghai.

Photos Courtesy of



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