Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Twelve Dates of Christmas: The End

Our holiday season ended on a bit of a crazy note. I had big plans for another couple dates of Christmas, at least, but sometimes real life gets in the way. My mom had been out in Los Angeles a couple weeks before Christmas, visiting my sick grandmother. She had been diagnosed with ALS, and quickly took a turn for the worse. After a draining last couple weeks, my grandmother passed away the Tuesday before Christmas. We ended up buying last minute tickets to fly out on December 19, to attend the funeral and say goodbye. It was wonderful to be with family during this emotional time, and to spend some quality time with my sister and my mom. 

As soon as we made our travel plans, I threw the "Dates of Christmas" plans out the window. But we'd managed two dates before we left, so I figured I'd throw them into one last post. The two dates were polar opposites-- one a cozy domestic date at home, and the other a date involving almost naked ladies dancing around! Are you intrigued?

First, we met up with a group of friends for a Christmas burlesque show. It was such a fun, and unconventional, holiday themed date! The host for the show was a goofy magician who grew on us as the show went on, and he did a great job getting the crowd into the show. This was my first burlesque show, and while it can be quite a sexy show, it's much more classy and refined than a raunchy strip club type of show. A great way to add variation to our holiday dates!

The other date we managed before jetting off was our traditional cookie making date. This involves Christmas music, some nog or cocoa, and LOTS OF SUGAR AND BUTTER. Basically, Christmas perfection. We ate about as many cookies as we decorated, and ended the night rubbing our bellies on the couch. Not a bad night in, if you ask me. 

So it only ended up as six dates, but in the midst of this crazier than usual holiday season, I'd call that a success. We'll see how we do next year...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twelve Dates of Christmas: Date 4 {Christmas Carol}

After Thanksgiving, Joe and I were talking about fun dates to do for our Twelve Dates this year. We loved seeing a random play last year, and decided to continue that tradition this year. We got a little fancy, though, and decided to go for the real deal: Tickets to see A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre.

You can see the Goodman from the train, so every time I go down to the loop I'm reminded that I need to go to this theatre. They also had tons of advertisements around the city for A Christmas Carol, so it ended up being too much to resist! We scooped up some weeknight tickets, and went for the "limited view" box seats since we were feeling a little too spendy. The tickets were not bad at all-- we could still see probably 85% of the stage, and it was fun to be in one of the little boxes on the side of the theatre.

Before the show we cashed in a gift certificate to Avec. The food was amazing, and the setting is so understated and stylish. We also discovered if you go on a weeknight around 5:30, there's no wait for a table! This is a dorky early time to eat dinner, but since Avec doesn't take reservations, we might take advantage of this in the future. I was still thinking about the pork shoulder a few days later!

It was a fun and delicious Wednesday night! Very different from our usual sitting on the couch routine. The Goodman theatre was beautiful, and helped keep our Christmas spirit going full force!

Not sure we'll make it to 12 dates, but we're going to keep trying! We've still got at least 3 or 4 things planned. Plus, the Christmas season goes through New Years, at least. Wish us luck! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Changing up my workouts

(Hey, look, she can talk about something other than Christmas!)

I've always enjoyed working out, but find that I occasionally get into ruts where things feel boring. This makes me much less motivated to be active, so I try to find a way to shake things up when I find myself losing interest. Over the summer (thanks to watching too many nights of Olympics races) I decided to start swimming laps occasionally. I was never a competitive swimmer as a kid, but I worked as a lifeguard for 4 summers, and taught swim lessons, so I had a decent grasp on how to do the basic strokes.

I hadn't swam laps in probably about 10 years, but thankfully it turned out to be like riding a bike. I was comfortable in the water right away, and found myself really enjoying this change of pace. Within a month or two I was able to swim a mile during my workout, and I started to teach myself flip turns to be more efficient. Turns out there are lots of internet videos to help with this challenging part of swimming. I got new goggles and a swim cap after my first couple workouts, and ended up investing in a new swimsuit when I decided my ancient one was getting a little too see through!

And speaking of riding a bike, I did that more this summer, too. Joe and I enjoyed biking around the city as a means to get places, but we also went out to a couple different trails in the area. Biking doesn't bother his busted knee, so it's a good sport for us to do together.

And you all know I love running. So it's only obvious what my goal for the future is... I've got to try to do a triathlon! Seeing I live in a cold northern city, this type of thing doesn't happen until late summer, but I've already got it on my radar. I hope I have a good reason not to do one this summer, so I have my eye on 2014. I'm already comfortable in all three sports, so it would just be a matter of building up my endurance to do all three at once. And what an accomplishment it would be! And no matter what, adding these workouts into my routine is keeping things fresh. Though my bike is packed away during these cold months, I'm trying to run at least 3 miles once per week, swim once a week, and do one cardio/weights workout on gym equipment. That should help me stay approximately the same size during Christmas eating season, right?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Recipe ~ Chile Verde with Pork

I claim in the description of this blog that I cook, but I haven't been showing that much lately. I have been kind of slacking in the kitchen, for one thing. Work is challenging these days, and I'm having a harder time finding the energy and creativity to cook interesting food when I get home. Plus, I think my years of having a food blog kind of burned me out on documenting my cooking. But I pushed myself to share this recipe with the blogosphere, because it is one of my favorites, and just needs to be shared.  

This Chile Verde recipe came from a Cooking Light Magazine years ago, and I wrote about it on my old blog. The reason I haven't deleted the old blog is because I still go back and refer to some of my favorite recipes on there, and this is one such recipe. This simple combination of tomatillos, poblano peppers, and pork doesn't take much work-- just a little time on the stovetop.

After taking the simple ingredients picture above, I had to laugh at the state of the kitchen. Because while I was getting dinner in order, Joe was preparing to bottle TWO batches of beer. This picture does not capture the chaos that was going on in our cute little city kitchen, but I swear it was comical watching the two of us utilize every inch of the counter space.

It's amazing how these plain ingredients can melt together into such a flavorful dish. And everything is supposed to start out chunky, too, so you don't even have to take the time to properly dice things. Win-win!

The ingredients melt down into this lovely stew, perfect for a cold winter night. With just the right amount of heat, and incredibly tender chunks of pork, I could eat this at least once a week. And now, by blogging about it, I will hopefully be reminding myself to make it again soon!

Chile Verde
from Cooking Light (2005ish?)

1 Tbsp canola oil
2 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup all purpose flour
4 cups chopped onion
2 lbs small tomatillos, husks and stems removed and quartered
1 lb Anaheim or poblano chiles, cut into 1 inch pieces (I charred and peeled the skin, too)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups water
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano

Heat canola oil in a stockpot over medium high heat. Sprinkle pork evenly with salt and pepper. Place flour in a large zip top plastic bag, add pork to bag, seal, and shake to coat. Add pork to pan and saute for 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove pork from the pan.

Add onion, tomatillos, chiles, and garlic to the pan. Saute about 8 minutes, or until tender. Add pork, water, and remaining ingredients to pan. (It will seem very chunky, but that's ok) Bring to a simmer, cook for 2 hours until pork is tender, stirring occasionally. If saving for the next day, allow the chile to cool to room temperature and then put in the fridge overnight.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Twelve Dates of Christmas: Date 3 {Renegade Holiday Fair}

This is a repeat date from last year, but we loved it too much to skip it. I think this might be a new holiday tradition, as well. The quirky, crafty, indie craft show known as Renegade Art Fair, which comes back to town each December as a charming holiday fair. It's a fantastic place to buy unique gifts, which is exactly what we did. This year we even resisted buying stuff for ourselves! I love this chance to get so many artists together to sell their wares-- it's like bringing etsy all into one crowded gymnasium. Quality time with my husband PLUS productive Christmas gift shopping? Pretty much a perfect date!

A hallway of faux jellyfish. Charming!

It was a *little* bit crowded!

Awesome Chicago themed playing cards.
I was tempted to take more pictures of the booths of stuff for sale,
but didn't want to give away any hints about the gifts I bought!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Twelve Dates of Christmas: Date 2 {Holiday Train!}

Our second date was one I've been planning for years. Every December, the CTA has a crazy festive holiday train that goes all over Chicago, bring major amounts of Christmas cheer. I've seen it from a distance, but have never had the chance to actually take a ride. This year I decided not to leave it up to chance, and to coordinate our travel times so we just HAD to jump on board!

Really, our date plan was to go see a movie. But the 20 or so minutes on the train was enough excitement to keep me going for at least the night, if not the whole weekend! There were lots of families crammed on to the train, plus enough adults who were equally caught up in the experience.

Everything on the train is Christmas themed. The seats are Christmas print, the rails are like candy canes, and there is tinsel everywhere. There are CTA employees dressed as elves at each door, greeting everyone and handing out candy canes. The whole thing is just too cute.

It's not just festive inside the train, either. Santa actually rides outside, on his own car. Lucky for him, the weekend was really mild. I bet it gets crazy cold riding up there on a regular December night! It was so fun to catch a ride on this once a year train, and it was also great to see everyone's excitement whenever the train rolled up to a station.

When we got downtown, we found out the movie was sold out. So I convinced Joe to do what I wanted to do all along... Christkindle Market! It's an annual German style Christmas market in Daley Plaza, and it was the perfect complement to our festive ride on the Brown line.

We went ornament shopping and drank some Gluvine (hot mulled wine, German style. SO GOOD!). Since we're finally not broke this year, we bought a couple little ornaments to add to our tree. Then we wandered over to Millennium Park, to watch ice skaters and enjoy more of the mild weather. Overall, it was about as much holiday spirit as one night could handle!  Oh, then we went to Kerryman, which turns out to be a really terrible bar, where at about 10 pm it switches from Irish pub to thumpin club party spot. It was weird. There was even a line to get in as we were leaving, waiting behind a velvet rope. This is why we don't hang out in River North.

A Chicago flag for our tree

And a little love for the Germans, as well.
Or at least the Bavarians!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Twelve Dates of Christmas: Date 1 {Decorating & Elf}

Joe and I decided we'd attempt to do the Twelve Dates of Christmas again this year, to focus on something fun and festive for the month of December. We had fun last year thinking of creative ways to celebrate the Christmas season, and we really enjoyed the excuse for lots of extra "dates".

We started this year off with a nice simple date of decorating the tree. There was hot cocoa and plenty of Christmas music, and we spread our Christmas cheer all over the house. The stockings are hung (on the china cabinet) and there are scented candles and festive knickknacks decorating every available surface in our condo. AND I LOVE IT!

I've switched to using my DSLR on manual mode,
which is exciting! But it turns out it's tricky taking a
picture of a lit tree in a dark room. So here's a crappy
blurry picture for you to enjoy. I'll learn one day!

And since we got done with the decorating before it was too late, we switched over to watching a Christmas movie. A few cookies and some couch snuggling counts as a date, right?

Any chance we'll actually squeeze 12 dates into this month? Wish us luck!