When In

Another fantastic weekend to grace Chicago and I had nothing really spectacular on my schedule, except to enjoy food. I began Friday night meeting with a friend who is about to leave the country on personal holiday. By the time he returns, I will be gone to Qatar and Riyadh on personal holiday — with hopes that the political unrest abroad with the Arab community does not interfere. But while my friend and I had decided to meet up at a small Korean cafe in Chicago’s Hyde Park, it had dawned on me that I had walked out of my condo and left my camera. There are at least five common expletives in the English language and I discovered at least 157 more, plus the ones I know in the other nine languages I speak. To leave home with plans to go to a restaurant and forget the camera — I have four, by the way — is just wrong. What kind of foodie am I? But I was quite okay after stuffing my jaws with bulgolgi, kimchee, chop chae, and jang jugae. I will simply have to return at a later date so that I can blog the Korean restaurant.

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies

Later on Friday night, I returned home to work some magic of my own. I am a secret chef and baker, if I may be so bold as to say so. With the weather being aggressively bitter, I have found that a great source of heating my kitchen and my great room is by use of the oven. Who would have thought? I have been baking every weekend for the past month and have been very happy with the results. Even my ego will cosign on that assessment. I baked several batches of cookies, some traditional, some experimentally exotic. For the traditional, I baked several batches of butter cookies and several batches of chocolate chip cookies — using bittersweet chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips. Satisfaction! For the exotic, I had gone by Vosges Haut-Chocolate shop and bought a few bars of sweet coconut curry chocolate and chocolate with ancho and chipotle chillies. I must admit that the mention of coconut and curry in chocolate may cause some people to race for the hills and chillies in chocolate may result in some high-end snooty baker bang his or her on the edge of the kitchen counter for not coming up with that idea. I had a chat with my ego and we agreed that it is rather okay to be selfish and keep the exotic chocolate chunk cookies for ourselves. I shall not blow my own horn, although I can play the trumpet, but those exotic cookies could make me millions. Hmm.

Lentil Soup

For Saturday, I had waken early enough to finish baking the remaining batches of cookies and packing several dozen to send to friends and to my brother. After mailing the treats, I had a taste for something to put me in a frame of mind where I am somewhere warmer than Chicago.  Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo. Fortaleza. Salvador Bahia. And what should come to mind but Taste of Brasil in Oak Park. So it was off the subway to board the Blue Line to Oak Park for something with a tropical taste. Complementary lentil soup. So good, so very good. And bobó de camarão. I always say that if I cannot go back to Brazil, then I shall go where I can escape mentally to that land of beauty. The bobó de camarão — shrimp in yuca cream — was just as I remembered from São Paulo. Coconut milk thickened with mashed cassava and loaded with shrimp and boiled cassava, served up with rice, and tastier than ever, I swear I was daydreaming about doing the samba on the beach. Or rather relaxing on the beach after having eaten such a plate of edible bliss.

Bobó de Camarão

Sunday greeted me with rain. Usually I would grumble and growl about rain, but with the recent blizzard leaving the ground covered with snow, slush, and trash, having rain wash it all away so the streets do not look like eyesores was a welcoming weather treat. And what should be on my mind to do after church? Eat. Then again, you already knew that. I went back to Oak Park for some more tropical eats to please the palate. Having gone to Aripo’s Arepa House for comida de Venezuelan during the summer, that was my destination. And I had decided that with this being my third trip to Aripo’s, I was going to try a third dish representative of Venezuela that I have not had before. Cachapas. Venezuelan corn cakes with De Mano cheese between them, primarily found at street vendors in Venezuela, and served up with well-seasoned shredded chicken and sliced red bell peppers, I was in heaven. Where do I begin to describe how satisfying that dish was? Where do I find it in the frozen section of the local market? Where is the off switch on my food alarm so that I can shut it off? Why am I bothering with taking a personal holiday in the Middle East with turmoil bubbling over when I could go to Venezuela instead? You know it is bad when food is so good that you do not want the eating experience to end. Then again, that could be attributed to my food addiction. Thank you, Aripo’s, for a smile-inducing Sunday afternoon lunch.

Cachapas

This was a weekend spent well doing something that I like — baking and eating. I really should be bursting the seams in my pants and popping the buttons on my shirts from all the eating that I do. Thanks again to Ma and Pop Williams for blessing me with a high metabolism, thanks to Nike for thermal gear, and thanks to Adidas for selling tennis with cleats on the bottoms so that I have traction on the ice while running my two to three miles every morning. I cannot — and will not — sacrifice my love of good food which means I shall have to remain active to retain my fashion model physique. Yes, it is incredibly vain of me to want to look like I am still in my twenties when I am old enough to have a child in his or her twenties. So what shall I do for next weekend? When in Chicago, there is an answer to that question. But the short answer is: I shall eat.

Going Green Zebra

Green Zebra

Chicago. Sunday. It is late morning. My stomach is talking to me — lucky for me no one else can hear the voice. I am thinking of something contemporary. I am experiencing a want for something with kick, which goes without saying. And then a flash comes to mind. I will satisfy my craving with some vegetarian food. There is a saying, “It is never as good as the first time.” I remember a certain restaurant and how my mouth burst with flavour when I went the first time. Well, let me be the first to say that during this second trip to this particular eatery, the old saying no longer applies when it comes to Green Zebra. It is so much better — better by leaps and bounds — the second time. Located at 1460 W. Chicago Avenue on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Greenview Avenue is perhaps one of Chicago’s top vegetarian restaurants. I must admit that with this being my second visit and being thoroughly satisfied with my dining experience, Green Zebra ranks as one of my top restaurants in the city. Now, New York City may be known for bringing the concept of brunches to mainstream midday fellowship. Green Zebra is the first to take it up a notch.

Madelienes with Honey Butter and Raspberry Jam

Madelienes with Honey Butter and Raspberry Jam

Upon entering what looks very art-deco and stylish, a hostess greeted me with a genuine welcome and showed me to a window seat. She must have been reading my mind because I wanted a seat where I could have enough light for photographing the dishes I had planned to order. I was now ready for action. I placed my order and while I waited for the goodness of the kitchen to be delivered to my table, I had complimentary madeleines with honey butter and raspberry jam. Usually you find the French biscuits baked using flour. These were baked with corn meal. I had to be decent because two were simply not enough. I was well aware that they were complementary, but after spreading the honey butter and raspberry jam on the two heavenly treats, my mind was rambling as to why they were not main items on the menu. If you want to diffuse a confrontation, I recommend madeleines with the spreads from Green Zebra.

Flatbread, Brunch Style

Flatbread, Brunch Style

The first time I had gone to Green Zebra I had ordered a German pancake and I had enjoyed it so much that I wanted it again. On my initial visit the pancake was prepared with caramelized squash. Yes, surprise, surprise! This time the pancake was prepared with pears. Who moved my cheese? Whose idea was it to sample with the German pancake by adding pears and make it even more tasty than it was the first time I went? Whose idea was it to change their menu to indulge seasonal culinary wonder, definitely making me want to see what will be on their winter menu since I was pleased with their spring menu and found that the autumn menu today was top? Oh the delight. Oh the rapture. Oh the happiness from it all. Chicago is also becoming home of flatbread dishes. Instead of ordering just one dish to journal, I wanted one more to describe as well. While ordering my brunch meal I asked the waiter for recommendation of another dish that would complement the German pancake without being too overwhelming. Granted I have an incredible appetite, walking bent over like an upside down letter L is not cute. So he offered the breakfast flatbread. The crispy flatbread was served under sautéed onions and mushrooms with shreds of Romaine lettuce, all cooked in a bourbon sauce, and served with an egg sunny side up. I have never been a fan of my eggs being done any way other than scrambled — maybe with cheddar cheese or cream cheese. It takes having your eggs sunny side up done correctly for you to appreciate just how fantastic they are that way. The only regret I have for having eaten this dish is that I enjoyed it so much that I may burn in hell from finding excessive pleasure in each bite.

German Pancake

German Pancake

The cranberry juice that I had with the brunch was not from a can, carton, or bottle. I would debate that notion even if they were to pull the carton from the icebox and show it to me. Well, it may have been, but I have not had cranberry juice as fresh as what I had at Green Zebra. Whatever they did to it or wherever they got it from, I hope that they have it again when I go back. For an after-brunch drink, I settled for green tea with no sugar. One of the things I grew to appreciate as a wrap-up to my meals when I was in Australia was a cup of green tea, which helps digestion. Even better is that the green tea was loose leaf, which panders well to my British sensibilities.  And while sipping my tea and reading Chicago Tribune on my Kindle about the political landscape with the Chicago mayoral race the waiter offered some suggestions as to other vegetarian restaurants and other eateries in the neighbourhood where I live in Chicago proper. I shall visit them, but I shall return to Green Zebra and quite possibly for dinner since I know they have fantastic brunches.

Green Tea

Green Tea

Having a disposable income is an outstanding thing and when you go to awesome restaurants like Green Zebra and get the tab, you automatically flag such restaurants as regular stops for your culinary adventures. Not only is the price one that will keep you returning but the ambience, community, and top service will have you running back without hesitation. Oh, and let me not forget about the food. The first time was a charm for me. This second time was a slice of heaven. It was heaven. It was heaven on earth. Did I say that it was heaven? Yes, then let me burn in hell. And I am confident that the third, forth, fifth, and nth times will get progressively better.

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