Windy City Rundown

If home is where the heart is then I’ve got homes scattered across the country.

One of those homes is Chicago. Now that I’ve moved back to the Midwest I’m taking full advantage of being within driving distance of the city, friends, and food that are so near and dear to me.

I’ve been home for a little over two months and have made two pilgrimages back to Chicago, once for a concert (more about that on Friday) and again this past weekend to celebrate both Elise’s birthday and NU’s homecoming.

There are places and people I’ve always made time for when I’d been in town over the last three years – must sees and must eats. Now, there are people and places that are more accessible to me, ones I haven’t seen in years or have never been to at all. I’m getting to delve deeper into this city – which at once feels familiar and foreign and reconnect with friends that bolster and buoy me.

I’m so thankful for that. Thankful for solo rides on the El. For running through the rain after a football game. For parking spots right around the corner from apartments. For cups of coffee direct from Colombia. For breakfasts that turn into walks that turn into long car rides together. For being able to come back home after all this time.

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Caramel Apple Cake (& emotions)

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” I shifted in my kitchen clogs, staring at the mixer and not my boss, unable to meet the gaze of his blue eyes.

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

“Sure,” he said. I left the contents of the mixer and followed him out into the dining room, the lunch rush nearly done. We sat at the community table, his son at the head of if playing a game on his phone, a bowl of half-eaten mac and cheese beside him. I tried to look anywhere but at him, not wanting to say what I was about to.

Taking a deep breath, I stared at my hands, “I’m m—“

“Moving back to Wisconsin,” he finished.

I whipped my head up, tears already springing to my eyes. “…yeah.” I stammered, struggled to understand. ”How did you know?”

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

“I figured it was about to happen,” he smiled, broad, genuine, his head tilting in the way that was completely unique to him, to Alex. “That, and I saw your house listing. I wasn’t sure at first, I thought I recognized it, and when I got to the picture of the garage and saw my weight bench, I knew.”

Of course, the weight bench. The weight bench he’d given me a few months ago, when I decided to turn my garage into a home gym. When I was still hell bent on remaining where I was, who I was.

“I wasn’t going to tell you until I had accepted an offer on the house. I didn’t know how long it would take. I certainly didn’t think it would happen in a day. I thought it would take a few weeks. Or maybe a few months.” I rambled on. I thought I had more time with him, with this place.

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

We talked some more. He asked about my plans moving forward, how close I’d be to my new twin nieces, if there was anything he could do. We decided on an end date, when my last shift would be. I fiddled with the corner of my apron. Neither one of us ready to move from that table, that moment. His son’s game continued to whir and whistle. I continued trying to hold back tears. I continued to fail.

“You have a gift, Amanda,” he told me. “You should keep doing this. I know you say you don’t want to own your own business, but you are the kind of person who should. You don’t just make food that tastes good. You make food for people to feel something, to move them. You put emotions into everything you make,” he paused. “I feel like somewhere along the way, I lost that thread.”

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

The tears were free flowing now. My chin quivered. I tried to wipe away the water. We shared a small smile. Eventually, I returned to my corner of the kitchen, to the contents of that mixer. He returned to his son, to the business he was running. Both of us finishing the day, both of us moving forward, the only way we knew how.

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The Lillet Rosé Martini (& a birthday)

Today is a very special day.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

Today is my dear, sweet friend Elise’s birthday.

This woman came into my life five years ago and has done nothing but brighten it and believe in me.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

She is smart, hard working, gentle, and honest. She is strong and sure of herself in a way most people in their 20s are not (hey, yeah, that includes me).

Elise is also generous beyond measure. Last month, I had tickets to a show in Chicago over Labor Day weekend. Elise was headed back East to spend the holiday with her family. She made time to have dinner with me and leave her house key for the weekend so I had somewhere warm (and free) to stay before catching her flight, lugging her suitcase downtown all the way.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

A few more things about Elise: she loves to knit, the show NCIS, the color pink, and delicious food. Her sense of style is impeccable and her family ties are strong. She is a skilled baker in her own right and loves soft pretzels and her dog with equal measure.

She is an original.

As is this drink.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

Or, at least, it’s original to the steakhouse where I plied the bartender for the recipe. I’ll be taking her there tonight to celebrate this auspicious day. The day when the world was given the gift of Elise.

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Thursday Things

  1. It happened. Finally. After years of wanting and wishing to – I went to a pumpkin patch! And an apple orchard! Last Sunday my basic-ness knew no bounds. Pumpkins were picked, corn mazes were walked, cider was bought. It was a magical day! I insta-ed all about it!
  2. We also had breakfast at The Nucleus. It was phenom! I got the Omega Scrambler – basically a deconstructed omelet with salmon, cream cheese, scallions, and avocado (told you my basic-ness was in full swing). I hadn’t had salmon in ages and I forgot how much I liked it!
  3. To cap off the best first day of October that I think I’ve ever had, there was an evening viewing of Hocus Pocus. To this day, that movie remains entertaining and heart-warming. (Granted the warming effect could have also come from the warm whiskey cider.) I will never not sing along to “I Put A Spell On You.”
  4. Last weekend I went back to my high school’s homecoming football game for the first time since I was actually in high school. Let me tell ya…it was surreal and slightly painful and a little embarrassing. I went to support my little sister who is now the head coach of the cheerleading team (Go, Squirt! Go!) and promptly left after her halftime performance. They ended up winning the game, major blowout, which is a nice change of pace from when I was a student.
  5. In keeping with the theme, I’ll also be attending NU’s homecoming game this weekend! I’m actually quite excited about it! I’m also going to celebrate my dear friend Elise’s birthday. I’m even more excited about that! Win or lose, spending the weekend with her in Chicago will be glorious. (Just another bonus of moving back home – Chicago is within driving distance now.)
  6. Edgar is going to have to start adjusting to cooler Wisconsin weather and the poor boy has no idea what he is in for. To soften the blow I got him a jacket. It’s reversible. And adorable. My aunt, who is a more dedicated dog mom than I will ever be, gave me a lead on some puppy pajamas and you better bet that my son is going to be styling come wintertime!

Berries & Cream Cake (& a homecoming)

Looking at these pictures is a very bittersweet experience for me.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

These are the last food photos I took in my house before I moved.

Back home.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

Back to my family. Back to my roots. Back to Wisconsin.

But to tell you about where I am now, you have to know about where I was then. And where I was was a grocery store parking lot. On a Sunday morning in May I was sent to the store to restock on yet another item we had run out of during a particularly brutal brunch service.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

I couldn’t get out of the car. It was too hot. There were too many people. My heart hurt too much. I didn’t want to be there anymore. Not in that parking lot, not in that city, not in that state.

Chest heaving, eyes blurred by tears, I frantically texted my sister-in-law.

“I think I need to move home.”

I ignored the niggling feeling that I was stranding my coworkers, leaving them waiting and wanting. I waited, I wanted. She responded.

“What does your gut tell you?”

My gut was telling me to go home. I had left leeway in the text; wiggle room if she thought I was being dramatic or that I just needed to stick it out. But I knew. Deep down. My gut, my head, my heart were all saying the same thing. In unison. My everything had been trying to tell me for weeks, months. It was time to go home.

And that was it. I finally verbalized what I had been feeling for so long. It was liberating and lightening. All this time I had thought my broken heart had been the result of romance gone wrong, that all I needed was a little more time to adjust, to heal. Truly though, I don’t think my heart was ever going to heal so far from home. There was a brokenness there that wasn’t the result of love lost, but of a loss of self.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

I tried. I really did. I tried for over three years in South Carolina. I got a job (an amazing one, actually, best I may ever have). I made friends (close friends, actually, some of the best I may ever have). I fell in love (God willing, not the best I will ever have).

But see, here’s the thing – if it had been right for me, if Greenville had been my place, my home, I don’t think I would have had to try quite so hard. It wouldn’t have been such a task to see the beauty around me, to feel at peace in my heart. Hell, to even function. But I couldn’t. I didn’t. I wasn’t. It was such a task to try and be myself, to find myself. Honestly, the decision to move home was one of the most “Amanda” choices I had made in years. It was right. I knew it, deep down in my bones.

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