I don’t hate vegetables.
Maybe I’m supposed to?
But, to my knowledge, I’ve always loved veggies.
Some, more than others, to be sure.
Carrots. Especially in a cake.
Brussels sprouts. Especially with bacon.
Broccoli. Especially with lemon.
My memory is better than most. I have regulars’ orders remembered from four years ago. The amount of brain space used to store old cheerleading routines is astonishing (and a complete waste of real estate considering my lack of rhythm). My childhood phone number, which has been disconnected for the better part of a decade, is still one of the first my thumbs dial of their own accord when I hold a phone.
So, it was nothing short of a miracle when I bought tickets to see Jason Isbell in Chicago last month and the date didn’t register. At least, not right away. There were no bells, no whistles, nothing to indicate what the day was…what the day had been.
It was my ex’s birthday. For the last two years that day had been reserved for celebrating him – exclusively. Emphatically. One way I did that was baking an apple pie – his favorite – with the numbers of his age emblazoned on the top.
This year, that wouldn’t be happening. Obviously.
This year, instead, I would be reclaiming one of my favorite singers in one of my favorite cities. It was actually kind of perfect, really. For so long Isbell’s songs were tied to someone else, a different time, a different place. Blaring “Codeine” throughout the house while cleaning on a rare day off together. Learning the words to “Alabama Pines” as we wound along mountain roads coming back from a day in Asheville. Swaying to the rhythm of “Cover Me Up” at a sold out show the same day I closed on my house.
Those memories are all that filled my mind whenever I heard his slow, southern lilt flow through my speakers. Painful, unavoidable.
But not anymore.
If home is where the heart is then I’ve got homes scattered across the country.
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.
Today is a very special day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I just spent the last 10 minutes watching a video on YouTube about makeup dupes. Which seems fitting since today I have another “dupe” of my own! Much like the scones from yesterday, this is a recreation of one of my favorite dishes in Chicago.
There’s a place called Glenn’s Diner just off the Montrose stop on the Brown line that I frequented during my studies. The first time I went was with my family on one of their visits. Glenn’s had been featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and piqued our interest. (This is all too familiar to me.)
With its wall full of cereal and daily fresh fish offerings written on the chalkboards, Glenn’s quickly became a staple in my rotation of restaurants. When I was assigned to cover the Ravenswood neighborhood for an entire quarter, I began going even more, regularly taking friends and family when they visited, getting heaping bowls of lobster fettuccini or chicken and waffles.
No matter what entrée I decided to get, or who I was with, the meal always began with an order of gorgonzola garlic bread. Because OHMYGOSH! Buttery, crusty bread doused with creamy, tangy gorgonzola cream…it was, in a word, divine. So much so, that I routinely began asking my servers for the recipe. And was turned down. And again. And then again (I bet they really liked me there). Eventually, the chef begrudgingly told me what was in the sauce but neither the quantities nor the method.
My baby seester and I will be getting in the car soon to go to Chicago.
I know, I know, after the ordeal I went through to get to Wisconsin, why on Earth would I be going back to Chicago?
Well, for one, it’s one of the greatest cities ever. Of all time. So there’s that.
For two, it’s Squirt’s (little seester’s) birthday week so she gets to pick activities.
For three, a day in Chicago means dinner at Hot Chocolate. As requested by the birthday girl and as provided by me. Trust me, I am more than happy to oblige.
No, not the hot chocolate pictured here, we’ll get to that in a moment.