I had yet another wonderful experience being not only a judge for the high school culinary state championships at Kendall College on Monday, I was also lucky enough to be a taste judge too!

PicMonkey Collage - kendall

Last time I was a “production” judge, which meant I went around the room looking to see how the teams worked together, if they had their timeline posted, recipes posted, knife skills, etc.  Just like last time, it was clear that there were leaders in the group almost right off the bat, you could tell the ones who had no confidence by asking SO many questions of their teammates, and some groups that never spoke to each other almost the whole time they cooked.  I did notice that a couple of the “leaders” of the group repeatedly would ask “how are you guys doing?”  “does anyone need help?” “I am so proud of you!”  Loved that.

Um, you will note on the lower right hand picture above, that ONIONS were a main component of the dish.  It is interesting to me because while everyone is working on the same exact recipes, each and every plate looked completely different.   The menu?  Fennel and pear salad with a citrus glaze and pecans, butternut squash and potato mash with browned butter, Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions, and pan seared chicken breasts with an apple juice sauce, then tiramisu with lady fingers for dessert.

Sadly, of all the chicken we tasted, only two were not overcooked.  The teams had 30 minutes to mis en place, but no cooking was allowed.  We had to dock two cooks who started cooking a bit early.  Then they had 60 minutes to prepare the three dishes.  Happily, everyone finished, which was good.  But there was one dish that all you could taste was salt.  I imagined their team thinking “season every layer of the dish!” to the point that was all we tasted.   I didn’t stay until the end, because it was going to be another hour or more before all the votes were tallied to declare the winner.  The top 6 cooks make it to Nationals which is in San Diego this year!

It was terrific, Theresa who has invited me to both of these events let me keep my chefs jacket, because she said it won’t be the last event I judge at.  Love.  It was just cool to walk around the room in the chef’s jacket and kids asking “excuse me, chef?  Can I  . . . .”   Fake it til you make it, right?!


So not knowing how long my day was going to be, I never told my twin sister that I was going to stop by.  She’s back to blogging again – this time posting all her WW meals – she’s down 16.5 pounds for the year so far!   So I walked the three miles from Kendall College all the way to her office at State and Madison.  On my walk there, I saw a McDonald’s food truck!  They were giving away fresh French fries and Sprite!   I never thought of a fast food restaurant having a food truck!

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I only spent about 15 minutes there because she was busy, but it’s always nice to see her.  And she just got her hair cut and got bangs for the first time in as long as I can remember.  She was worried about how they would look, and I was like “um, all you have to do is look at me and know you’ll look fabulous!”  Ha!  Great seeing you Jenn!


Last week I posted the burger I had with my Mom at The Little Gem Café in Oak Park on Instagram:

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Not only did I get 387 likes because, duh – it looks amazing, but I also got several comments from people telling me where they thought the best burger was in Chicago.  My Instagram friend Cindy suggested Au Cheval, and since it’s literally a 10 minute (if that) walk from the train station, after I said goodbye to my sister, I headed in that direction.  I got nearly 20k steps in on Monday with all the walking!

It turned out to be the perfect time to go.  I had only had a Kind bar for breakfast, and little tastes of chicken, mash, etc. for the taste judging, so I hadn’t had a real meal all day and I was pretty hungry.  I got there at 4:30 in the afternoon, and there was one lone seat at the bar – perfect!

PicMonkey Collage - cheval

Thanks to their photo on their website, you can see where I was sitting to get that first shot above:

au cheval

Here is one thing that was weird to me – sitting at the bar, I had a server.  Huh.  Not sure if it was just because of where I was sitting in front of the beer taps?  But it was actually quite nice!  And if anyone is wondering, I did have a beer.  I couldn’t pass it up being at a place that had so many beers on tap!  And while I went from January 1 until my trip to Austin without alcohol, I did have about 7 drinks total in the 11 days I was in Austin.  I had two glasses of wine when we went out to Ruth’s Chris for Jacob’s birthday, and then that beer.  Compared to what I used to drink, this is a vast improvement!

Anywho, online it said that the wait could be upwards of 90 minutes, which I would have been totally fine with, because they take your cell number and text you when your table is ready, so you could check out any of their neighboring bars.  I asked for the single burger, and declined on the egg, because I am not a runny egg kind of person, but said absolutely yes please on the candied bacon.

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I as also fascinated that the burgers were served right behind the bar.  That guy there was sweating his balls off and I imagine he perpetually smells of burgers and fries, which should actually be a men’s cologne if you ask me Open-mouthed smile

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Lordy.  My mouth is just watering again looking at that picture.  Perfect soft bun, and turns out a single is actually a double!  The patties are thin, so there is no asking for temp other than if you want it really well done.  The candied bacon was thick, slightly sweet, and that hint of saltiness with the buttery burger was too much, in the best way possible of course!  Um, you will note that there are tiny chopped minced onions, and I only scraped off a few.  The burger was juicy and flavorful, and I will declare this my favorite thin patty burger I’ve ever had.  I think the Little Gem wins it for me with texture, medium rare and flavor though.  But the fact that had two of the best burgers of my life within days of each other?  Priceless.  I am really going to miss this semi-retirement I have going on whenever it ends!


Another thing I love about not having a job right now?  Hanging with Hannah!  Yesterday was her only day off of school AND work, and Jacob worked and had school yesterday, so after she homework in the morning, and I did more behind the scenes computer stuff for the blog, we took the dogs on a long walk.  It was near 60 degrees yesterday, not a cloud in the sky.  I loved just being able to spend time with her and not feel like we are rushing trying to cram it in when we can.  I promise I am not choking Rummy, the harnesses and longer leashes were in Jacob’s car, so we had to improvise.  Rummy didn’t want anything to do with the river, and both dogs were worn out by the time we got home.

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Are you sick of my snapchat pics yet?!  OMG, it gets me laughing so hard.  I’ll give you these below so hopefully you’ll laugh today too.  Laughter is the best medicine, right?!

PicMonkey Collage - snapchat

I am sure if Tony were still alive he’d say “why do you keep putting those pics up?!”  And if he were still alive, I’d tell him “because it’s my blog, and I can if I want to!”  Sorry Shelley!  (these kind of freak her out!)


And last, but not least, I was thrilled to pick up my friend Andie’s new cookbook!   She and I have been blog friends since 2010 when I started following her blog, and vice versa.   She’s not only written a New York Times best seller “It Was Me All Along” but her book was the first book I had read in 10 years (um, turns out I love reading blogs!) and I’ve probably read it at least 9 times since then.  So many passages I’ve underlined and go back and reread to help me stay on track.  “Another plate wouldn’t have brought me any greater satisfaction, because contentment doesn’t double by the serving.”  “That girl version of me learned that I shouldn’t experience discomfort.  That whenever I start to feel even one inkling of boredom, doubt, anxiety, or anger, food would soothe me.”

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I had Hannah take this picture and I put it on Instagram and tagged her on the photo, probably like thousands of other fans did too on the day her cookbook came out.  So I was a bit shocked when she responded not too long afterward!

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Can’t wait to check it out – Hannah already flagged her overnight oats with a blood orange mint topping.  You can check out a few of the recipes she had other bloggers make prior to the cookbook being officially published yesterday here.


So I think I am doing pretty well with living my life now.  It’s made me painfully aware how much of a home body I had become, not only when Tony was ill, which couldn’t be helped.  But I also realized it’s because Tony was a home body.  He liked going to one thing, then coming right back home.  And going to Chicago?  That was like pulling teeth – and I think the last trip we took to Chicago was back in 2009?   I miss that face! Sad smile

tony and biz

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