Ravinia, Highland Park, Il Aug. 14, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Ravinia Festival is located in Highland Park, Illinois, just north of Oak Park where Jackie and I were staying with Wendy, my best friend from 4th grade. Every year the CSO, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has a summer concert series in this beautiful park. Jackie and I had been there a few years ago and loved Ravinia. We always ride the Metra Train from Oak Park, which is a fun tradition. My brother and sister-in-law, Martin and Kara, came with us on our trip to Chicago, and it was fun to show them one of my favorite cities Oak Park style. Riding public transportation is a refreshing thing, the trains are always packed and easy to get around on. And it's good for the environment and a reminder to me to carpool and conserve energy.

The train dropped us a couple blocks from the park and we walked with a good 100 people to the park. We had two bags full of our provisions for the concert. Wendy laid out a blanket earlier after rehearsal so we knew we'd get a good spot among the crowd. It was the biggest turn out we'd ever seen but the CSO had a special guest drawing the music fans, Yo-Yo Ma. Ma has performed at the Ravinia Festival for 14 years. At intermission, Wendy invited Kara and I backstage with the orchestra and conductor for champagne and snacks. It was really nice to be with the musicians sipping champagne and nibbling on the goat cheese and fruit. When the announcement was made that the show was gong to start up again, Kara and I headed out while Wendy grabbed her violin. She caught up with us and said, "Come here," and she followed Yo-Yo Ma in the door to the stage and said, "I want you to meet someone," and we turned and looked at the Grammy-winning Ma dressed in a beautiful Armani (it had to be) yellow suit with his bright red Cello. "This is Keeli, my best friend since 4th grade", and Ma hugged me even with his $50K bow in his hand and said, "Aw, it's nice to meet you, those friends are the best", and smiled. It was like butter. I said, "and this is my sister-in-law Kara," and he hugged her. We couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it...

Back to our dinner, under Wendy's advice, we took our backpacks over to the Whole Foods in Oak Park before we caught the Metra Train and purchased our picnic. Kara and I are big time patrons of specialty olives, goat cheese as well as cherries, strawberries and pineapple. Of course the boys wanted sandwiches, so we got them rye bread, organic spicy mustard and corned beef. I added some shaved turkey, of course. Two bottles of red wine and two pints of some kind of organic California beer finished off our purchase and we were out the door and walked the two short blocks to the train station. It took about an hour to get to Ravinia on the Metra Train but we didn't care, we opened up the wine and beer and sipped it along the way.

Wendy found the perfect place for our picnic, near the stage and the crowd was huge. The park was filled with about 1,000 people I'd say, lots of people with lawn chairs, tables, candles, yes, some patrons dined by candlelight, and there was quite an Asian crowd in attendance, too. In fact a young Asian mother scooted in behind us with her young old son, spread her blanket out and played chess. He was four, Martin asked his age. We were amazed. They also drank gingerale out of champagne glasses while listening to the concert.

It was fun making our sandwiches on our picnic blankets and watching the people. The concert started at 8 pm at sundown and was over at 9:30 pm. For you music fans, the CSO performed Mendelssohn No. 3 in A minor performed with out breaks between movements, Ma performed after intermission, DVORK Cello Concert in B Minor. It was great to be among a crowd that was literally quiet and really appreciating the music. I've been to many of Wendy's concerts over the years starting in 6th grade at Oklahoma City University when I saw her first performance. Wendy studied with the Suzuki method since she was 5, graduated from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, and received a master's from Rice University in Houston.

Ravinia is a must for any music lover, other musicians like Sheryl Crow have performed there. You can get food, wine and rent lawn chairs and children are welcome, they were everywhere. We loved Ravinia, Yo-Yo Ma and Whole Foods. Check out the fabulous website www.ravinia.org.

Ravinia Festival, 200 Ravinia, Highland Park, IL, 847-266-5100 ravinia.org

New Robozo, Oak Park

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday, Aug. 17, 2009

New Robozo was a fabulous find in Oak Park the last day of our Chicago weekend. Wendy highly recommended it and it was located only few short blocks from the Frank Lloyd Wright museum where we had taken the guided tour. We were seated in a booth table and were quickly given water by our sweet waitress and homemade chips and salsa. I loved the salsa, it was one of the best ones I had ever had, it was fresh and had a kick in the background. The chips were homemade and a nice touch. The restaurant was not crowded and it was bright and clean. We loved the ecclectic decorations with pictures of Robozo, Mexico.

Emilia was back and spoke Spanish and English while taking our order. Because her English was not as great as ours, she showed us the special brought out on a plate and described it in both languages. Kara ordered fajita's (see second picture) and she said they were so good. I can speak for the Tamales, they were divine and very fresh. I did order it with a choice of green or red sauce, I got the green thinking jalopeno "hot", boy was I wrong. It was a flavorful tomatillo sauce but the red sauce Martin ordered on his packed a serano punch that lingered. I loved his sauce. The Tamales were served with black beans and long grain white rice and it was refreshing than the ususal refried beans and spanish rice you get in our hometown. Jackie had chicken enchiladas with pancho villa hot sauce, he loved it too, it wasn't quite as hot as Martin's sauce. But it was fresh and really great. Martin and Jackie both partook in Margaritas on the rocks and they loved them, Jose Quervo Gold we'd say. The beauty of New Robozo is the portions aren't going to make you hit the Lazy-Boy when you're done. The portions were perfect. I almost licked the plate clean but I refrained knowing I was headed to Midway for delays in security and lack of a ladies room.

Dessert, dessert. One of the things I avoid at all costs but dang it, the thought of the long stinking day in security I ordered up my favorite from Oklahoma City mexican restaurants, the sopapia (see first photo). Now this little fella was thin, served with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream, honey and cinnamon on top. Oklahoma sopapia's are a huge empty pocket you tear a hole in and pour it full of honey. This one we all four partook of and totally loved because it wasn't over sweet with the ice cream and honey and it was thin.

Did I mention the fact that I loved the ladies room? I haven't said a thing about ladies' rooms so far, but this one was small, clean and pefect with personal hand towels and plenty of soap. And the waste basket was by the door, which I love. A very nice touch.

We thought New Robozo was the find on this trip. We loved the small, refreshing portions here and will be back. Thanks Wendy for such a great recommendation.

New Robozo, 1115 Madison, Oak Park, Il 708-445-0370 www.newrebozo.com

Girodano's Pizza, Chicago

Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009

After a rained out Sunday game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, we found out the closest Girodano's Pizza location to Wrigley field was on Belmont, about 8 blocks away. The game was to have started at 1:15 pm but after hours of waiting at Casey Moran's Bar across the street from the field, the game was called at about 5 pm and we were all ready to hit the road. Jackie and Martin enjoyed sipping Ultra's all afternoon while watching the locals and the PGA tournament. Kara and I arrived about 3 pm after a day of outlet shopping in Aurura, Illinois. I was actually looking forward to my second game of the weekend, Kara had her second book to read since she read the first one during the game the day before. Yes, she did read a book at Wrigley Field during a game. She did.

The walk was a lot of fun on the damp streets of Chicago. We passed by many bars that were packed with patrons enjoying hours of drinking. There was one bar that Jackie just loved and wanted to stop in but Kara and I kept on moving this crew down the road. When we got to the restaurant, we were seated immediately. Our waitress quickly came over and got our drink orders. The menu at Girodano's is quite lengthy but I cannot veer off course at a Chicago style pizza restaurant. And I did direct our crew away from Gino's East which I had visited on my birthday weekend. Another good friend recommended this pizza place so I couldn't do a repeat visit. Kara and I ordered a small deep dish pizza stuffed with mushrooms and green olives, yes, green olives. We also split a salad with balsamic vinaigrette and it was darn good and big enough for two thankfully. Martin can't stand Chicago-style pizza (I'm surprised I took him with us on this trip) and ordered a regular Canadian bacon and pineapple. It looked and probably tasted nasty. Kara and I loved our pie, it was divine, full of cheese and that sauce on top. The crust is so unique, flaky, thick and delicious. I loved taking a picture of it. Usually the deep dish pizza takes about 45 minutes but ours took an hour and a half. Kara was tempted to get that book out again but she refrained. We did order a delightful Chianti, see the picture. I made a huge mistake and thought the Chianti wasn't deep enough for me and on our second bottle we got a Cabernet. The Chianti was much better and should really be the only choice at an Italian restaurant in an Italian city, Martin lectured me. My bad, definitely.

Kara had one giant gripe at Girodano's and that was her water. Dang it, if you travel with her you better refill that glass every 10 minutes or leave a pitcher on the table. It almost put her over the edge. Martin did also have to get silverware and that water pitcher, but I liked him working on our needs since he ordered such a wimpy pizza.

Girodano's is a classic stop in Chicagoland and has many locations across the city. We loved it and enjoyed leaving the leftovers for Wendy and Eran the next day on our way to the airport. I am still dreaming of that pie!

Girodano's Pizza, 1040 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL 773-327-1200

Johnnie's Charcoal Broiler, Oklahoma City, Aug. 7, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Johnnie's has been a tradition of mine since I was around six in Oklahoma City. It is a burger restaurant that started in the 1950's by Johnnie Haynes. My first visit to this burger culinary diamond was in 1977, when I was six, at its original location at Britton Road and Military. Military is a few blocks away from my alma mater John Marshall High School. The location burned in the early 80's and moved down Britton to its current location. This picture was taken that night after having lunch with my family. Lori Leiser Manning, Leslie Johnson Williams, me and Angelia Pope Johnston all were close high school friends and were cheerleaders since junior high. We were frequent patrons of Johnnie's during high school.

I met my sister-in-law Kathy and my three precious nieces for lunch. The weekend was packed with events for the reunion weekend and I knew I wouldn't see the girls much past lunch. The menu, the menu. It's large and can be overwhelming. When you arrive at Johnnie's you order first and are served your drinks then you pick your table. At this location we always get a booth and with my nieces we chose the extra long booth in the front of the restaurant. I actually have eaten in those booths since I was at Eisenhower Junior High School. So it's always fun to go down memory lane in that same booth since the mid-eighties. Fun times.

When your order is ready, they call your name and you go to the pick up counter, pay and get your tray of fabulous, tall, fresh burgers. It's hard not to try something new here but I always get the #9, called a Theta, which is mayo, cheese and Johnnie's sauce and pickles. Since I've become more fat conscience, I order the #9 kids size or on a veggie burger without mayo. This sandwich is so good, I always, always finish it. The bun is huge and always has sesame seeds on it and the cheese is not sliced, it's thick, shredded, cheddar. Mmmmm. Jackie always gets the #1 plus pickle which is a burger, mayo and Johnnie's sauce. The Johnnie's sauce is not barbecue but it's some sort of red, delicious, ketchup style and it's not sweet either. Let's just say it's darn good. Jackie loves the onion rings which are hand cut everyday and battered in a flaky-type style. They are thick cut vidalia onions and are crunchy and Jackie said this visit, were a little greasy, but not me. I love the onion rings with lots of ketchup.

My niece Corie ordered an Italian Flatbread Sandwich which was a pleasant surprise when she shared it with me. It's ham, salami, mozzarella, olive relish, lettuce, tomato, balsamic basil vinaigrette on Herbed Flat Bread and served with homemade potato chips. Wow, talk about a good sandwich, it was delicious. That vinaigrette and olive relish really made that sandwich tasty and unique in my traditional burger restaurant. The homemade chips are really something too. Chloe and Audrey always order the grilled cheese with fries and the kids meal always comes with a package of Teddy Grahams which is a nice touch. The fries here are thick and fresh. There's always lots of ketchup around for Chloe and I. Erin, the eldest neice, ordered the tradition of her father, the #13, a frankfurter with chili and cheese. Man, talk about a sandwich. That joker was big, juicy and smelled really nice. I've had one of those before but it's been over 20 years. I loved it though and it's Craig's favorite too.

I could eat at Johnnie's every day in Oklahoma City and try to hit it every time I visit mom in the city. We visit the Edmond location just about every Thanksgiving week. Johnnie's is a must at any of their locations in my hometown. Be sure to arrive hungry, you might be ready for a nap when you leave.

Johnnie's Charcoal Broiler, 2652 W. Britton Rd., Oklahoma City, 405-751-2565

Penne Positano, Birdeye

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Aug. 2, 2009

The morning after Jackie's 20 year high school reunion, I found myself watching my favorite Sunday show, the CBS Morning Show and then over to the Food Network before church. I've been wanting to use another recipe from Fresh, the cookbook from the Lake Austin Spa, called Penne Positano. When I have a portabella left over from that veggie sandwich, I've gotta use it before it starts growing mold, so today I did. I was thrilled to use my own Roma tomatoes, oregano, and onion and actually had on hand the rest of the items which is a rare thing out here in rural, eastern Arkansas. You will love this recipe and always substitute or do without on some of the items, I always do.

Penne Positano

Positano is a small village along Italy's Amalfi's coast.

8 Roma tomatoes, quartered, I used 6 romas and 2 beefmasters
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper and sugar to taste (recipe says 1/8 t. each)
1 large onion, sliced, not diced, used two small and 1 medium
3 medium portabella mushrooms, sliced in 1 inch pieces, I used one large
12 garlic cloves, minced, I used about 9-10
2 T. white wine
2 T. capers, rinsed, I forgot to
12 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in half
12 pitted small green olives, sliced in half, Jackie said to use less when he ate it, I used 6 queens and threw away the pimento
1 t. chopped fresh oregano, without stems, or 1/2 t. dried, I used fresh
1/2 t. chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/4 t. dried, I used dried, I did mash it up in my palm to release it's flavor
1. t. fresh parsley, I had none and skipped it
1/8 t. red pepper flakes, I used 1 t., yes I like it kicked up a notch
salt and pepper to taste, I didn't
8 C. cooked penne, I thought it was too much, so I put about 2 C. in the refrig, but it needed all 8 cups
1/2 C. Parmeasan cheese, always grate yourself, and by all means, use the canned if you've got it

Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet, drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar. Slow roast tomatoes at 200 degrees for 4 hours, I only had time for an hour and it was delicious. Heat the remaining olive oil over med-LOW heat, which is about 1 T. in a heavy skillet (with sides). Add the onion, cooking slowly, stirring, until it browns and caramelizes. It took mine at least 45 minutes while the tomatoes cooked in the oven. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is fairly dry. It took me a good 15 minutes. By the way, I was totally sorting recycling and unloading the dishwasher, getting things done. Then add the roasted tomatoes right out of the oven, wine, capers, olives, seasonings, and penne. Mix well and cook over low heat until heated through. Serve in bowls topped with Parmesan.

We loved this meal, that it was pasta and we weren't down for a nap afterwards with high fat and over sauced. I do think since I reduced the roasting time down, you can too. I love this recipe and will pull it back out if my garden and pantry allow.

The picture is of BlackJack, the rooster. Chloe has a yard full of Olde English Bantam's, Cochin's and Windot's. We hope this spring to have our own eggs if I can keep the three obnoxious roosters out of the way, those jokers are very cocky, pecky and just plain rude.