Tag Archives: city life

Notes on another city: Amsterdam

Oh, hi. I’m back from writing hiatus. At least I hope. I’ve been jetsetting across multiple destinations—first, Amsterdam and then back to my semi-normal reality. And what a whirlwind it has been.

So, yes, baby went to Amsterdam, with the husband and two amazing pals, Ryan and Sarah. Along the way, we met up with a swell bloke, Marcus, a friend of Ryan and Sarah’s across the pond. It’s safe to say that a grand time was had by all.

I mean, how could you not have an amazing time here?

Amsterdam’s beautiful old buildings, cobblestone streets and prolific canals were bewitching. And combined with the culture, food and lifestyle? They made Amsterdam the first place I’ve visited recently in which I could actually envision myself living.

Notes on lifestyle

Beyond the beauty of the city, what impressed me most about Amsterdam (which is also true of the few European cities I’ve visited) is its slower pace. People just seem to savor life a little more. Afternoons are spent at cafes lingering over coffee or a beer with friends. Dinners are events that last hours. It’s refreshing. In fact, finding fast food restaurants or carry-out coffee shops in Amsterdam is rather difficult. And if you do, they’re likely American chains in tourist areas. It’s a good reminder that we Americans shouldn’t rush through life so quickly.

I was surprised that the cafes were so packed outdoors. While we love patio dining in Chicago, we’d scoff at the notion of sitting outside in 45–50 degree weather. Talk to us in May when the weather is in the 60s.

Oh and the bikes! Dear lord, the bikes. Adults on bikes. Children on bikes. Adults with children on bikes. Everyone rides bikes. Drivers seemed to be more respectful of bikers, which is perhaps while you never saw anyone wearing a helmet. It was kind of unnerving (especially having seen countless bike accidents stateside), but I was told it was because of the slower pace of street traffic. Related: I never saw one overweight person in Amsterdam, most likely due to the lack of fast food and everyone being so active.

I imagined my dear pal Megan whizzing by with baby B on one of these. Perhaps they’re just coming back from Noordermarket with some fresh produce and cheese. I would want them to be wearing helmets though.

Also, the locals were extremely friendly and accommodating. I never got a sense of disapproval of our Americanism. Aside from a few Aussie dudes we met. That doesn’t count.

Notes on food

I’m guessing people don’t visit The Netherlands for its food like they might visit Spain or Italy. From what I’ve read, traditional Dutch cuisine consists of a lot of sausage, potatoes and greens. While we didn’t end up dining at a traditional Dutch restaurant during our trip, we did sample quite a bit of delicious local fare. Some of the highlights include:

Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken)

Sweet Dutch pancakes are famed, however, I prefer mine savory. Spinach, tomatoes, onions, pine nuts…incredible.

Apple pie

You know that phrase, “As American as apple pie?” I’m not sure how we got that national accolade. Dutch apple pie is incredible.


Dear god, we ate so much cheese on this trip. I am saying this like it’s a good thing. I felt like we ate approximately this amount.

Of course, many beers and cones of chips were consumed as well. Being an international city, Amsterdam offers practically every type of cuisine. There were notable amounts of Argentinian and Indonesian restaurants in particular.

Notes on being a tourist

Part of what makes Amsterdam accessible is the fact that almost everyone speaks English fluently. Which is good because I found Dutch to be impenetrable for the short time I was there. (Give me more time and some formal training though, and I would give it my best shot.)

Like lots of people, I like to do as the locals do when I travel. Given that we stayed in an apartment in Jordaan area, which is a lovely neighborhood a little ways off the tourist strip, it was pretty easy. We hit up corner pubs and cafes, perused the local markets and dined in nearby restaurants. We wandered, window shopped and languished in the Dutch way of life.

We could totally be locals. I stole this photo taken by Sarah Ruark cause I love it.


But of course, we did the touristy things as well. My favorite was the countryside bike tour during which we saw a windmill and visited a farm that produces cheese and clogs. My other favorite was the Anne Frank House, which was powerful, moving and every bit like the house I had imagined from reading her diary. We also went to the Heineken Experience, which is very touristy but mandatory, as well as the Van Gogh museum. Next time I make it back, I’d love to see the Rijksmuseum and Rembrandt’s house.

And of course, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention Amsterdam’s notorious vices. Everyone knows that prostitution is legal and marijuana is decriminalized in Amsterdam. It was interesting to experience a place with such relaxed attitudes about typically taboo practices and learn how their legalization or decriminalization has contributed to less crime overall, and in some cases, a healthier economy. I digress.

Anyway, we had gaggles of fun in Amsterdam. If you’re going soon, can you take me with you?



Filed under city life, culture, travel

To be Flat Stanley for a day

I never thought my love affair with Chicago might wane. But it has. The dirty snow, gray skies, CTA service cuts…they’re  getting to me. Even though it’s been warmer and sunnier than usual, I want to stuff myself in an envelope and be mailed to a new city.

Perhaps I’m not annoyed with Chicago. I’d like to think I’m inspired by two recent visitors—Ms. Flat Stanley and Mr. Flat Stanley.

I had never heard of the Flat Stanley project until she arrived at our door all the way from Lanesville, Indiana. I say she because Flat Stanley arrived sporting a stylish bob and pink tank top. As part of my littlest sister Alexa’s second-grade class project, Ms. Flat Stanley was mailed to me and several other family members to explore the places in which we live. We were asked to take photographs, send postcards and write about our city and the things we did together. Not into the touristy sites, Ms. Flat Stanley was privy to a day in the life.

We played in the snow.

We rode the bus downtown.

We saw the John Hancock building hiding in the snow.

We ate Thai food.

We sought fashion advice from Nia on Ms. Flat Stanley's new warm weather gear. Approved.

Ms. Flat Stanley and I had a great time during her visit, but like all good things, her visit had to come to an end.

A few weeks later, I received a call from my childhood babysitter Tracy, asking me if I’d help her daughter Ally with her Flat Stanley project. Tracy was in high school when I was in elementary school, and of course, I thought she was the coolest. She listened to Guns ‘N Roses and Mr. Big, took me to the mall and let me tag along with her high school friends. I said yes to my childhood mentor, and Mr. Flat Stanley arrived soon thereafter.

Mr. Flat Stanley wanted to see the sights. So we did.

He's totally into art, so we went to the Modern Wing at Art Institute.

We toured Millennium Park

We waved at ourselves at The Bean.

He challenged Cash to a wrestling match. Cash won.

Hosting both Flat Stanleys encouraged me to be a tourist in my own city for a few days. And the part of me that loved being a pen pal as a kid was giddy.

However, I still want to crawl in an envelope and be shipped somewhere else until summer. Luckily, Barcelona is around the corner.


Filed under Chicago, frustrations, travel, weather

Reason we live in Chicago #5: Ridiculously good food

Whenever the possibility of leaving Chicago flashes through my mind, the thought that comes in my head first (right after the one about leaving my Chicago friends behind) is:

There would be a hole in my heart and stomach where food used to be.

I am spoiled. There is almost every culinary delight imaginable within a five-block radius. For instance:

Cuisines: Greek, Italian, Thai, Japanese, fancy Japanese, Mexican, fancy Mexican, Middle Eastern.

Foods: Greek fries, pizza, pasta, sushi, veggie tacos, freshly made guacamole, veggie sandwiches, chilaquiles, spicy hummus, falafel, greasy diner food, bar food, bakeries, frozen kefir, gelato, brunchity brunch, McDonald’s, hot dogs.

You may recall that I took a solemn vow against dining out in an effort to save money in 2010. ‘Tis true. But I figured since the anniversary of my birth was this past weekend, it may be cause for exception and celebration. After all, what better way to celebrate getting a little older than by getting a little fatter?

Keep your Tums handy.

Here’s a look at all the food I’ve eaten the past few days:

Tac Quick

Friday: Dinner.

Liz, Sunya, Russ, Joe and I headed to one of the old Lakeview haunts before the benefit for Haiti at The Spot. I don’t miss the neighborhood per se, but I dream about the foods I used to eat. Like this. Joe’s Pad Thai is playing proxy to my entree. I actually ate Pad Khee Mao. I forgot my camera, and the lighting was too low for the iPhone to capture its deliciousness.


Saturday morning: Brunch.

I have a crush on Jam. I hadn’t been there in a while, so when my pal Sarah suggested brunch, this was the first destination proposed. They always serve a little treat before the meal…this time it was a tiny, chocolate-coated, banana-creme pastry that melted in the mouth. Tres yum.

When choosing meals from the menu, Sarah and I were overstimulated by the amount of tastiness, so we decided to order two different entrees and split them. I chose the Spanish Omelet (middle) with chorizo, roasted peppers, melted onions and garrotxa cheese. Sarah order the Egg Sandwich (bottom) with pork cheek, ricotta and pickled plums on French bollo. Both came with fingerling potatoes, and neither dish disappointed.


Saturday night: Dinner

I hadn’t heard much about Spring before Joe suggested this restaurant as the site for ringing in my 28th year. My belly is still thanking him for the abundance of flavors that slow danced together that night.

We started the meal with the Creamy-Spicy Yellowtail Roll that was served with a tasty wasabi-creme fraiche dipping sauce. Since I’m only eating meat a few times a week these days, I ordered the well-balanced Roasted Sweet Potato Potstickers with bok choy, carrots and light broth. Amazing. For dessert, we ordered the chocolate dome cake, filled with pumpkin cake and chocolate mousse. Ridiculous.

Also ridiculous is the use of flash…one of the seven deadly sins of food photography. It was really dark in there, though.

Andrea’s dining room

Sunday: All day

My friends threw me a sleepless sleepover for my birthday. It was a yoga pants-filled, adult version of a slumber party. Much cake eating, nail painting and trashy TV watching occurred. And, man did we eat. Dre baked homemade chocolate cupcakes with butterscotch and peanut butter chip filling. Megan brought the Jeanine cake (sp?) from A Taste of Heaven in Andersonville. Cake is not even my favorite dessert, but the layers of white cake, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries mingling with the perfectly sweetened icing kill me. Casey and Sarah brought an assortment of treats from Fritz Bakery…macaroons, bread pudding, chocolate chip pastries—you name, we ate it. And for dessert we had cocktails and yummy, greasy, New York-style Santullo’s pizza while watching Mystic Pizza. A day of birthday perfection.

Hop Haus

Monday: Lunch

As if I hadn’t eaten enough already, my lovely co-workers took me to lunch at Hop Haus. They have every burger imaginable, plus exotic burgers with kangaroo, ostrich and boar. I always order the Vegan Burger and make a mockery of it by adding cheese. So good! But apparently, I was too exhausted from eating to think about photographing the not-so-Vegan Burger.

Great birthday! If you need me, I’ll be at the gym.

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Filed under Chicago, city life, food

Reason We Live in Chicago #4: Cold weather = Saving money

You’ve probably made a New Year’s resolution.

“Excuse me, New Year’s reso-whaaa?…” you may ask.

Ok, maybe you’ve already broken yours. Don’t feel bad about it. Many people already have or soon will. Just check your gym a month from now. I never keep New Year’s resolutions. This year, however, I vow to keep mine. In a bank account.

Yep, I’m resolving to save more money.

It’s much easier to save money this time of year. Let’s face it, there’s less motivation to leave the apartment with the snow blowing and wind blistering. I plan on doing the following to save cash:

  • Put a dent in the Netflix queue: We’re already paying $15 a month, so we might as well stay in more often and catch up on the films and TV series dancing in our heads, no? Maybe I can finally watch the movies that have been in my Netflix queue for years, like Coffee and Cigarettes and Hotel Rwanda. And take in the movies I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never seen, such as Annie Hall and A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • Cook more often: You’ve heard it here…Dining out is limited to twice a week—once for lunch, once for dinner. I finally have a properly stocked kitchen with real knives, food processor and a Kitchenaid mixer, so there is no excuse not to use them.
  • BYOB-it: One of the best things about Chicago is delicious dining on the cheap. Even better, there are so many places that allow you to bring your own booze. In our early days in the city, Joe and I could eat dinner for $10-$15 at a tasty Thai or pizza place, plus the price of a cheap bottle of wine. Perfection.
  • Scour Time Out and the Reader for free/cheap entertainment: I’ve adopted my friend Ryan’s philosophy about seeing live music—don’t go unless it’s under $20. I’m actually adopting the same philosophy about any event right now. Certain exclusions may apply.

To make saving money possible, please intervene when I talk about purchasing:

None of these. Tell me to “just say no.” Except for the wine. Remind me that we’re saving to go to:

How do you save money in the winter? Share ideas. Please.


Filed under Chicago, city life, winter in chicago

So, three nuns walk into a bar…

Or down the street….stop me if you’ve heard this one. 

Just three nuns strolling the streets of Ukrainian Village.

This greeting card-esque image stopped me dead in my tracks for some reason. Probably because I typically assume I’m surrounded by more sinners than saints.

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Filed under Chicago, city life, neighborhoods, Ukrainian Village

Don’t stop ’til you get enough

While the spectacle of Michael Jackson’s funeral unfolds in L.A., people in Chicago are paying homage to the King of Pop in subtler, more understated ways. At least from what I’ve experienced. I’ve noticed two types of MJ memorials so far:

Musical tributes

You can’t walk down the street without hearing Billy Jean or Bad blaring from a car stereo. I’ve also heard Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Human Nature and Wanna Be Startin Something countless times. Usually, the musical tribute comes with an accompaniment of twentysomething girls singing off key at the top of their lungs.

Window displays

I’m unsure about whether this common or not due to the fact that I live in a Bermuda Triangle of Bizareness, but there are three windows displaying MJ memorials within two blocks on my street. What I find interesting is that, just like the media, my block is immortalizing the Thriller-era MJ, circumventing his 9,999 plastic surgeries and legal accusations. See for yourself.

Thriller album just chilling on top of an AC window unit

Thriller album just chilling on top of an AC window unit

Another Thriller album just hanging out, a few doors down from its friend

Another Thriller album just hanging out, a few doors down from its friend. It apologizes for the sunny day glare.

My street is not stopping until it gets enough of MJ. Neither is the cat that's cuddling up with the Off the Wall album

My street is not stopping until it gets enough of MJ. Neither is the cat that's cuddling up with the Off the Wall album. I heard a musical tribute while I was taking this photo. Double memorial points.

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Filed under Chicago, city life, culture, neighborhoods, Ukrainian Village, Weird

Passive agressive sign

As a copywriter, I personally enjoy the sarcasm of this sign. But, in the interest of effectiveness, I would recommend a more direct approach. Maybe we should take this to focus-group testing.

Apologies for the blurriness and crappy iPhone quality image. I was afraid of being attacked by sprinklers.

Apologies for the blurriness and crappy iPhone quality image. I was afraid of being attacked by sprinklers.

If for some crazy reason you can’t make out what this sign says, it reads:

Now appearing

“Patches of Brown”

Brought to you by the generous donation of

Dog Urine

PLEASE Walk your dog elsewhere. Thank you.

Taken at the corner of Chicago Ave. and Larabee

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Filed under city life, etiquette, Uncategorized, Weird