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Purple Pig too busy chewing the fat to serve food

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After going to a networking event in Chicago, I had a craving for a quick snack that didn’t require me sitting in a crowded douchey sports bar paying for overpriced food. So after some walking around, I realized that there was a place nearby that I had been meaning to try that just might fit the bill. So I went to the Purple Pig.

I have a bit of mixed feelings about this place. On the one hand, the food was pretty good, although I think I ordered the wrong entree.The decor was pretty nice inside and it fit the theme of what they were going for, sort of a wine tasting with pork and cheese involved. So barrels everywhere, warm colors, lots of wood. And sitting at the bar let me see the detailed work of the chefs, which impressed me.

On the other hand, service was absolutely terrible.I sat there for a good 10 minutes trying to flag someone down to get water and a menu. Then I was basically ignored since I wasn’t drinking alcohol or ordering tapas on a consistent basis. And while it’s kind of standard to complain about overpriced food in Chicago, I have to do it anyway, particularly on my entree.

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The JLT. The J stands for Jowl, as in pork jowl.

So here’s the JLT: pork jowl, tomato, frisee, and a fried egg on top. Basically it was an open-faced BLT on brioche bread. It was very tasty, but not very big for $13. And truthfully, the egg was pretty unnecessary. I was enjoying the tomato and frisee combo with the jowl much more than anything the egg was adding to the dish. The frisee was dressed in some sort of vinaigrette that brought a lot of flavor with the tomato’s acidity. And the pork was pretty damn delicious, for the few strips that were on it.

I looked around at a few other people’s entrees, and what the chefs were cooking, and i definitely ordered the wrong food portion-wise. There were definitely better options out there that I didn’t know about. But fortunately, the JLT wasn’t the reason I came here. I came for the sicilian iris.

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Your filling cannot be contained in a simple brioche dough ball.

The sicilian iris is a brioche beignet-type dessert filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. This dessert was featured on Chicago’s Best too. It was the perfect blend of sweet and filling, and god was it rich. Warm, tasty and sweet, it was almost worth the $7. Decent size as well. Course it was sent to the people next to me instead of me, which is part of the crap service complaint I had.

While I might like to try some of the other dishes, I don’t think this place is for me and I probably won’t go again of my own suggestion. But that sicilian iris is definitely worth the try. Maybe if the service was a bit better I would be interested in giving it another go.

Written by mlogli

May 23, 2014 at 3:59 am

Curious about those chemicals in your cupcakes?

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This past week, I was at a food conference. It was tasty and delicious, but it was much more than that. It was about food science, a very controversial topic around the world. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you encounter some product of food science every day. The obvious examples: potato chips, processed foods, cake mixes, the list goes on. The less obvious examples: farmed foods such as fruits and veggies are “processed” in the sense that they can sometimes be sprayed with pesticides, colored, or packaged in such a way to preserve shelf life.

A professor at a short course I took for the conference told me that, unless you pick the fruit/veggie from your own backyard, unless you hunt and skin the meat you desire, all of your food is processed.

Is that sad/horrifying? That depends. This conference was very educational on many fronts. While I now understand the challenges food scientists face, I still feel they can have a bit of a “mad scientist” quality to them. Food science (in America at least) barely crosses over the line of too much meddling.

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Typical food scientist, right?

Food scientists are people that can mix alcohols and sugars to create flavors that don’t exist in nature (blue raspberry anyone?). They can genetically engineer a wheat crop to be resistant to pesticides that, when crushed, produces oil that is low in saturated fats with minimal trans fats. They can combine whey protein and finely-milled flax seed into an egg substitute (this product was in fact an innovation award winner). They can ferment algae in growing tanks, grind it into finely-milled powder, combine it with proteins and fibers, and use it to partially or fully replace eggs and butter in baking and cooking applications, significantly reducing fat, cholesterol, and calorie levels. I believe this kind of processing, using organic chemistry, is beneficial and can even boost the positive qualities of foods, if not remove other qualities completely. These things are chemicals insomuch as blood is a chemical. Adding sugars and salts, though terrible for your health, are not “chemically processed” for the most part.

(For this record, since some of this does involve genetically modified foods, I feel I would tentatively support GMO. Targeting a single gene to make a crop pesticide resistant wouldn’t have an effect on the human body when consumed. On the ecosystem? That’s another issue, hence my apprehension…)

But there are other types of processing as well. The kind that turns metals,  non-table salts, and sulfites into food. I learned how Burger King makes their onion rings during my trip. To summarize the process, BK onion rings are big collections of tiny bits of onion smushed together with starches and sugars.  Then an alginate salt (sodium alginate in this case) is added to turn this into a goopy gel. The gel is thrown into calcium chloride to make it a ring shape paste thing. Then they batter and deep fry that ring.

Why go through this lengthy process where each additional chemical, including the calcium chloride at the end, would add calories, fat, salt, and other bad things? Why do that for any product? The reason: us, the consumers.

According to their polls and focus groups (which we participate in) consumers want consistency, flavor, texture, all the things that tend to immediately deteriorate shortly after processing. Hence preservatives (the non-natural ones) and packaging and food science. Real onion rings fall apart, and can be hard to eat while driving. Solution: algae chloride rings. If an orange has a bruise in the supermarket, or if an onion has a brown spot, it is probably still safe to eat. But would you? Would you use that in a recipe to give to other people? Would the thought of that scare you? It scares most people, especially in America, and food scientists know this. Hence the effort spent making sure every banana, every cracker, and every chocolate tastes and looks and feels exactly the same.

In Europe that’s not the case (so I’m told by those who live there). Trips to stores have to happen several times a week, since food goes bad so quickly over there, even if refrigerated. That kind of lifestyle is more active and supported than the current American lifestyle. I know I only go to the grocery store for major restock of the fridge once a month, with supplementary trips in between for bread or milk.

So this is as much our fault as it is theirs. We got exactly what we wanted: TV dinners and little-effort frozen foods and snacks so we can keep working and keep making money. But I don’t believe that is a route to stay on. Even as we (the consumers) ask for more healthy and “natural foods” (For the record, there is no official government definition for what is considered “Natural” in foods. If you see it on a label, it means whatever the company wants you to think it means), our foods remain high in calories and our lifestyles remain inert. The production of these better foods also increases the energy and water we must use to attain them. In the long run, lack of water may be the bigger issue here, and water conservation should be looked at too.

A food scientist may claim that processed foods are safer to eat. Examples of cross-contamination in foods (e.coli in spinach and salmonella in peanut butter anyone?) and the amount of bad stuff in foods prove otherwise. They sure do last longer than non-processed foods though. Ever keep a loaf of Wonder bread in the fridge for two months? Nothing  happens to it. That’s all the sugar put into the bread to preserve it. That fruit that looks perfect after two weeks? Possibly irradiated, possibly sprayed with a coating (petroleum-based or oil-based) that prevents oxidation.

There are many problems, many flavors, many healthy foods that food scientists can create. But they cannot make us grab that box of Chips Ahoy off the shelf. They are, like many companies, victims to the will of the populous. This is becoming more apparent lately, with the backlash against GMO (which, by the way, is in pretty much everything we eat as of 20+ years ago) and the desire for more organic foods. But then again, until somewhat recently, the (American) public didn’t know that, because it didn’t need or care to know that.

There’s a place for food science, as there is room on the shelf for both homemade bakery crackers and Wheat Thins. The issue becomes the belief that food science will help feed everyone in the world and solve every possible issue. But when a bakery has leftover food from the night’s work, they have to throw it away instead of use it to “feed the world” or even the bum on the street corner. There’s plenty of food in the world to feed everyone. The problem is economics, not supply. The problem is lack of information, or conflicting information, about what is in a food, how much food there is, what the label really means. The problem is the lifestyle of the consumer. The problem is human overconfidence and hubris. The problem, believe it or not, isn’t necessarily food science. The problem is how far we go with it.

Written by mlogli

July 18, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Montreal cuisine: FREAKING AWESOME

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Montreal has been called a foodie town. God is it ever. Fresh seafood as far as the eye can see, particularly the delicious lobster. And of course there’s the Canadian classic: poutine. Known for French cuisine and fine dining, it truly is a gastro-foodie paradise.

This comes with one disclaimer: never order beef in any form. From burgers to beef stroganoff, any form of ground beef was cooked to black and deprived of any flavor whatsoever. I haven’t had cheeseburgers this bad since I was living at the college dorms.

I will try to go day by day as to what I had. Some entries will likely be longer than others. So, without further ado:

Friday, April 26:
We started out at the Gazette, named after the Montreal Gazette newspaper and attached to the Westin hotel directly across from the Palais de Congres. Aside from the tasty beer (an Unibroue Maudite, one of my favorites) the table shared buffalo wings and calamari tapas style. All of them were delicious. The wings were crispy and juicy, though the size was pretty pathetic and there were only six wings on the plate. As a result, I enjoyed the calamari better. It was well seasoned and crispy, and the sauce was delicious. It wasn’t quite marinara or anything, but it was pretty tasty.

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Ignore what the glass says; it’s a Maudite, I promise.

After the snacks we walked to a Mexican restaurant called Casa de Mateo.

I know what you’re thinking: why the heck would you go to a Mexican restaurant in Montreal, home of French cuisine? It wasn’t my choice. Doesn’t mean it was terrible though. It was a very good place though. I had two chicken tamales in salsa verde, which had the right amount of heat. The meat was well cooked and it was pretty tasty overall. Nothing too special, especially considering the chips weren’t the best. Sangria was excellent, and featured a lot of fresh fruit, but the margarita was lacking.

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Also not a fan of the salad over the refried beans. Silly French people.

Saturday, April 27:
This is when things started to get delicious. Lunch was provided by the conference center, so I won’t get too far into that. Dinner however was at the Jardin Nelson, and it was amazing. Again continuing the trend of 3-hour dinners, this French restaurant was not just about the food. The outdoor patio was beautiful and featured interesting designs. The umbrellas were inverted and would collect the water to filter down (probably for some other use). There was space for a jazz band too, and they played all the classics from Frank Sinatra to Benny Goodman.

I started the meal with a French onion soup that blew my mind. So much cheese, and a delicious broth that had a great coloring so it didn’t look like some sort of wastewater like how some French onions look. There is little I would do to change this, and the crock was huge. Then I followed things up with a seafood crepe, featuring scallops, scallions, scampies, Newburg sauce (egg and lobster sauce), mozzarella and cheddar cheese and delicious savory lobster. There was a jicama salad next to it, but screw that. This crepe was fantastic. It was perfectly balanced and the seafood inside was perfectly cooked. Nothing was rubbery, everything was fresh, and it was a perfect cap to the night.

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Yeahhh you know you want to put a spoon in that.

Sunday, April 28:
After a lengthy walk through town, I started the day off at Schwartz’s Deli, which is a famous Montreal eatery. It was featured on Anthony Bourdain and sells another Montreal delicacy: smoked meat. The meat at this restaurant is so popular, that if you use Wikipedia to look up smoked meat, you see the Schwartz’s Deli sandwich.

And man was it good. They pile the sandwich high with meat, spread a little mustard on the rye bread, and that’s it. So simple but so delicious. I can’t say I’ve ever had smoked meat that was still so wet. They have a “lean” version as well, but who goes to a deli to eat lean meat? This isn’t Subway.

I also added a giant pickle to the mix, cutting it up and interspersing it between bites. It was a nice added flavor and crunch to the sandwich. And since eat sandwich has 1/3 lb of meat on it, and I was still hungry from my exercise, I got one more. Like a good Lou Malnati’s pizza, I never got sick of this sandwich. My only criticism is that the rye bread wasn’t quite big enough for the meat, but after eating a few pieces of meat off it handled just fine.

The decor was really nice too, and kind of reminded me of the eclectic charm of Hot Doug’s, featuring news articles and photographs over every square inch of the wall.

And like Hot Doug's, Schwartz's is cash-only.

And like Hot Doug’s, Schwartz’s is cash-only.

I wish I could have taken pictures of this next meal because of how fancy it was, but it was a business meeting and that would have looked a tad unprofessional. We went to Bonaparte, which as one might expect specializes in more French cuisine and long-ass wait times to get to the main course. The difference though is this time we had a 5-course meal to get through, with several choices for each.

I started with the lobster bisque, keeping with the seafood trend, and since I had never had it before I figure this would be the best place to try it. It was a touch watery, but the lobster flavor was strong and balanced. Pretty sure some lobster shell pieces were somehow blended in there though, since I got some crunchiness, unless it was something else that was in there that I can’t recognize. Next up was a rabbit confit served in a tortilla shell with a salad. Man this was good. I likely made a mess of mixing all the parts together, but it was worth it to get a bite of all of the pieces in one. It was very rich, and also very salty (what with the tortilla and the duck fat) and in a more American portion it would definitely not be a healthy salad. Next up we had a palate cleanser: a lemon sorbet scoop in a champagne glass half-filled with what I’m assuming was champagne. It definitely had alcohol, whatever it is. It was bubbly and carbonated, and a drastic contrast from the rest of the meal, which I appreciated.

Next up was the main course: roasted duck breast (cooked medium) with maple berry syrup, potatoes, and veggies. It was very tasty, and I really enjoyed the sauce mixed with the potatoes and whatever those other veggies were. The duck was cooked to medium too, and it had just enough of that duck gameiness that I enjoy to an extent. Though after seeing someone order the lobster-stuffed chicken breast, I somewhat doubted my choice, but was still happy. Dessert came to end the meal and it had the best creme brulee I’ve ever had by a mile. It was so creamy and the flavor was pretty deep and intense. The crust on top was perfect too, and made it enjoyable to crack through with the spoon. It also came with three small cakes: a maple cheesecake, a chocolate layer cake with a wafer for bottom crust, and a white strawberry cake. All of them were excellent as well, but I particularly enjoyed that chocolate cake since that wafer bottom was unique and unexpected.

Monday, April 29:
Nothing too special until dinner, which wasn’t very special at all and was my least favorite meal of the trip. I had later learned from a Montreal local that La Cage aux Sports is so bad that even locals do not eat there (unless there’s a hockey game on). We found out why when we got our food. We basically had all the appetizers there, which come in “pick twos or fours” or separate. I’ll make a quick list.

  • Mozzarella sticks: I have no idea what kind of breading this was. It was awful and weird and sent me to a bad place
  • Onion rings: Passable
  • Jack Daniels BBQ Nachos: Nachos were okay, but not enough toppings.
  • Wonton tacos: A tasty, crispy shell wasted from lack of toppings, though what was there wasn’t that good.
  • Hot dogs in a blanket: Yep, keepin it classy. I can make better ones at home, and I have done so.
  • Bruschetta: Want to know how to make bruschetta suck? Instead of putting it on some small piece of bread, put it on pizza bread and then cover everything in cheese and NOTHING ELSE.
  • Taquitos: Passable, but so are the frozen taquitos. These tasted exactly the same.
  • Chicken quesadilla: This was my actual meal. I liked the spicy sour creme that came with it, but other than that it was just okay. Once again, no better than anything in the states, and it’s cheaper here.

I also want to take a minute to single out the decor of this establishment. This place has a mural of famous sports figures on it from Canada. Obviously there are players from the Canadiens, and a few Olympians. But I cannot for the life of me explain why in God’s name they put TOM BRADY on this mural? He’s from California, went to school at Michigan, and is probably too rich to step foot across the border.

Tuesday, April 30:
This was the best day of food that one could possibly ask for.

I was tired of eating late at this point, so I ventured out on my own before going to a birthday celebration at a bar called Nyk’s (which from what everyone else told me, had pretty good fish and chips). I didn’t eat any of it because I spent my time at Garde-Manger instead. Owned by famous Montreal chef Chuck Hughes, the place is famous for its constantly changing menu and for having an owner that beat Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America. One of the dishes from that competition, the lobster poutine, is a regular menu staple, and I had to try it for my first poutine experience.

It was kind of hard to find the place though. Even though it was located near Bonaparte and Casa de Mateo, because there’s no sign in front, I still managed to walk by a few times.

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How am I supposed to find this place? Seriously now.

This place was as delicious as advertised, if not moreso. I started with their special apertif fizz drink. It featured vermouth, orange liquor, bitters and sours, and Montreal maple syrup. Not a sweet drink, but fizzy and refreshing all the same. It acted as a good palate cleanser actually. I couldn’t wait for the lobster poutine and ordered it immediately. It was absolutely amazing, and I wish my pictures had come out better so you can really see how good it was. The gravy was creamy and smooth, and it somehow went perfect with the lobster and cheese. I believe it is a lobster stock sauce, so it is somewhat lobster bisque-y, only brown. The fries were perfectly cooked and remained crispy the entire time. Usually you see thicker fries with poutine, but these were thin and crispy. The lobster was incredibly rich and dense and had great mouthfeel. But I wasn’t done there. Lobster poutine is (for some reason) an appetizer, so I had a second one to round things out: pierogis with fried pork belly.

I'm very sorry these pictures aren't in better quality.

I’m very sorry these pictures aren’t in better quality.

As you may or may not be able to see, these pierogis were well done on each side, and covered in a white cream sauce. And the pierogis were filled with meat and ricotta cheese, and between the pierogis and fried pork belly was some sort of onion jam. I really enjoyed the texture here. The pierogis were crunchy because of the hard fry, and it combined well with the creaminess of the sauce and richness of all the ingredients. Now, I’ve been to Pierogi Fest, and in terms of just the pierogis, I still like the ones I find there better. But overall, this dish was bold and completely unexpected.

At this point I should have been done, but I wasn’t. I got roped into dessert. So of my available choices, I got the Rocky Road Brownie.

I am glad I caved into peer pressure.

I am glad I caved into peer pressure.

Why call it a Rocky Road brownie? The brownie itself was a homemade chocolate fudge circle, with chocolate fudge spread on top of it. That white stuff is actually a marshmellow disk about a quarter inch thick on top of said circle. There was some caramel and crunchy pieces on top of that (and I’m pretty sure they used a blowtorch on it) topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And it was as good as it sounded.

Everything was the perfect proportion to everything else. Just enough marshmellow for the brownie, just enough ice cream (though barely) to get in every bite. They might have scrimped on the crunchy bits, but it was so fudgy and satisfying I didn’t really care. I’m a sucker for marshmellow anything, and this really whet my appetite. I could have left Montreal that night perfectly satisfied having not gone anywhere else. It was the perfect finish to the meal. If I ever come back and it is on the menu, I would pick the braised short rib though, as it was a huge piece of meat on the bone (my neighbors at the bar ordered it instead) and it looked delicious.

Wednesday, May 2:
I promise I’m almost done.

Last meal worth talking about on the trip. For our final dinner together (and a celebration of birthdays and final meetings for some) we went to the Three Brewers bar (Les Troix Brasseurs). In comparison, the place would be similar to a Ram or Rock Bottom. It’s a chain brewery: they brew their own beer and make their own food, and there are several of them in Canada. They had a very good red and white beer, and they also serve blonde, brown and a special beer or two of the month.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist my inner American here. I hadn’t had a burger in over a week and I was kind of craving one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good, for reasons I mentioned earlier. Even though it was a double cheeseburger, even though it had bacon, it still tasted like a burger that came from Late Night at the Illinois dorms. The fries were good at least, and I got to share from a few other plates at the table. They also had a solid poutine (though mine was a lot better) and the pizza was hit or miss, depending on the toppings.

So that’s everything! I won’t go over the beers, mostly since most of them can’t be bought in the states. That being said, I’m giving special shout out to Rickard’s Shandy, which may be the one shandy that I can compare to Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy and wish I could have had more of. I also have to mention that I had a buckwheat-based beer, called Coup de Grisou from the RJ Brewery. It was very unique, and I hope they continue to make this, since it sounded like a relatively new brewery.

For those that made it to the bottom of this, here’s a bonus picture. Thanks for reading!

It’s a hot dog, dressed as a hot dog, eating a hot dog! Mind…blown…

Written by mlogli

May 8, 2013 at 2:34 am

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Montreal: Beautiful city, European style

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Last Thursday, I came back from the beautiful city of Montreal after staying there for six days. I went for a work conference, and as such, I was there for work. That didn’t prevent me from getting to look around a bit though.

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Even my conference building was beautiful.

There’s a lot I can say about this city. I was incredibly excited, especially since this was my second trip outside the states and the first time I’ve been on a plane since high school. This blog won’t be about the work (since how many people want to read about my thoughts on SCIENCE like oxidation and such?) but about the city, which I will, unfairly or not, compare to Toronto.

So, long story short: I like Toronto better than Montreal. Montreal isn’t a bad town by any means, but for various reasons, I had more fun in Toronto, and would have had more fun whether I had work or not. So, here is what I found to be the good and bad of Montreal.

Good:

  • I can write an entire blog post about what I ate in Montreal. In fact, I later will and will link it to this post here. The food here was absolutely amazing, and I’ll save other comments for the next blog.
  • If you love art and architecture, you will love Montreal. I stayed primarily in the Old Town/Chinatown area, but between the Underground City, the churches, and the sculptures everywhere, the town was able to combine an old world European style with modern art and sensibilities. The majority of my pictures feature art for a reason.
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    Notre Dame Basilica, location of the best picture ever taken on a cell phone.

The churches, but particularly the Notre Dame Basilica. This was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, and is definitely the most beautiful church. It’s absolutely breathtaking, from the blue lights that highlight the building inside and out to the natural lighting that highlights the inside. There’s even a small town square outside with a few things to see. If you go to Montreal and miss this church, you’ve wasted your money.

  • This is (what I assume to be anyway) a very European town. It has adopted many of the sensibilities both good and bad. Some complained about the lack of ice in water glasses at restaurants, others noticed the lack of paper towel dispensers in bathrooms and hated that the air dryers had weak air flow. But overall, these things didn’t bother me, and I appreciated the overall commitment. After all, bike rentals and reduced paper towel waste are better for the environment anyway, and I’m always a sucker for sustainability.
  • I’ve heard that some Montreal locals hate Americans. I didn’t find that to be the case, as everyone was incredibly friendly to us and more than willing to talk about the town and other random topics.
  • Finally, a bit of a subset from the art. The graffiti in town, whether intentional or not, was absolutely gorgeous. It’s everywhere, and a majority of it looks professionally done by some famous mural spraypainter guy.
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If only real raccoons were this cute. The ?!? is a nice touch too.

Cons:

  • HOLY CRAP THIS PLACE IS EXPENSIVE
    It’s a good thing a lot of meals were covered by the company, since they were for business purposes and all. But whether you went out or stayed in, everything cost more. The exchange rate was about 1-1 at the time, so it wasn’t even about inflation either. Even at the cheap sports bars, food was more money. Even if I wasn’t paying for most of it, I still felt uneasy using money that wasn’t mine.
  • Though I liked most of the European sensibilities, one I quickly got tired of was the dining schedule. Unless you got fast food, dinner was going to take you at least 2 hours, but usually more like 3 hours, no matter where you went. Plus, things didn’t open til at least 6 anyway. Many nights, I ended up eating at 8 p.m. and finishing at 10-11. At first this was unique and different, and I appreciated it, but after a while my body disagreed with me and I felt terrible every night after.
  • Maybe this was just because of the area I was in, but Montreal was overall pretty boring. Granted I was working, and it’s not like I could party in dance clubs til 3 a.m. as a result. But things close early most days, or they just refuse to serve you if they don’t feel like it after 9 p.m., and then there’s really not much to do after that that I saw. It’s great to walk around and look at the pretty pictures, but I didn’t see any basketball courts, any soccer fields (not counting the stuff at McGill University, but that’s a school anyway), any sort of activities like Chicago has (like say Whirlyball or something). I might have needed an inside track for this kind of fun or something, but I just didn’t find it anywhere.
  • Finally, I get that everything is in French and that’s the language there. But English translations were inconsistent. I wanted to learn more about the sculptures in the Basilica, but everything was in French. Meanwhile, stuff outside has an English translation. Minor inconvenience really, but it would have been appreciated.

I don’t know if I would ever go back, and if I did I think I would rather see what life was like on the other side of the Mont Royal hill (btw, climbing a giant hill should not be a tourist destination. It’s a big freaking hill) and maybe things would be different over there. But overall, I prefer the more metro, blue-collar fun in Toronto. Montreal has a river, but it doesn’t have the Toronto Islands that I still love so much.

Written by mlogli

May 5, 2013 at 4:08 pm

First beer of the day on St. Patrick’s Day

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St. Patrick’s Day weekend was my first actually in the Chicago Loop to witness the river dyeing. I question the effect on the environment, but man does it look pretty.

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Plus this guy.

As fun as watching the river dyeing was, and as fun as it later was to watch drunk people and visit Pete Wentz’s bar (which made me feel like a tool), something else extraordinary happened as well.

I got the first beer off the tap at the new bar, Howells and Hood (that day; it opened this week though). Based on the architecture of famous architects John Howells and Ray Hood, who constructed the Tribune Tower, this place is famous for having 114 beers on tap. That is not a misprint.

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This is what 114 beers on tap looks like. I wish I could say I took this photo, but I did not.

And even though it was St. Patrick’s Day (weekend) and even though it was 9 a.m. or so, no one was in this place yet. So my friends and I strolled on in and sat at the bar. We were handed leather-bound menus with all the beer possibilities inside and we marveled at the selection. Since I chose first, I got the first beer. And it was a great beer: Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout from New Holland Brewing Company.

I’ve wanted to try it for a while but never got around to it because of its price. But if you’re going to overpay for a beer, you might as well do it on St. Patrick’s Day (weekend) and do it in a fancy new place. $9 was about average for a beer there anyway, sadly, but since Blue Moon and Guinness was $7, I think I got a good deal.

And it was delicious. I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted a beer quite like it. I don’t even think I can truly describe the flavors, aside from the extremely smooth malty flavor and what I can only assume was the flavor of the bourbon barrel. I feel like I need to have it again to truly appreciate it.

And when I save up enough money to try to eat the food (french onion soup is apparently $10. Use that as a placemarker) I will definitely come back to try that too.

I WANT to be organic but I can’t afford it.

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When I first lived in Champaign-Urbana, I had a much different viewpoint and set of priorities. In college, I didn’t really care what I ate as long as it filled my belly and tasted good. I didn’t worry about cost or freshness or anything like that, and I certainly didn’t care very much about cooking healthy meals for myself. I wasn’t as interested in the towns of Champaign and Urbana as much as I was hanging out with friends and staying on campus. So while I explored a little, I know I left many stones unturned.

Now that I’m older though, I don’t quite have the same interest in eating terrible food like I used to. It’s pretty much why I haven’t been to Hardee’s since I got here.

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I still have that weakness for White Castle though.

So since moving back into U of I, I’ve taken the opportunity to try and eat better, explore the area a bit more and try to get more involved in things. To start things off, I checked out the Common Ground co-op.

When I was down here for school, it was located in Champaign. But it has since moved to the Lincoln Square Mall (as of this week really). This is good not only for the city of Urbana, but also for Lincoln Square Mall, which is just as empty and desolate as it was when I went to school there. Also, still creepy. They really need something there.

Anyway, I knew the place existed but was never really interested in it for the reasons mentioned above. I decided to give it a shot, because why not, who doesn’t want to eat organic?

It’s pretty clean in there, and everyone was very nice and helpful. Plus they had a lot of interesting foods/produce/items that I haven’t seen and most other stores. I swear they had about 20 different kinds of granola, and fresh herbs and spices. You pack them in a container, weigh it and off you go. They also had five different kinds of mushrooms, steaks, juices, and I kid you not, four-pound blocks of tofu.

Other people were walking around being all like “Damn that’s a big block of tofu.” I was inclined to agree.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut

I must not really get this whole organic movement. Take Common Ground. They flaunt the fact that several of their products are from farms and producers less than an hour away. One woman was inside the building selling cheese. Her farm was literally four miles away.

Why in god’s name was her “organic” cheese $20 for eight ounces?

Sure production methods may be more expensive, but the cheap mass processed stuff made in a factory for 1,000 miles away is $5 for a bunch of processed slices. There are virtually no transportation costs at four miles away, at least not at the rate that other companies would have. Plus, if it’s organic, there’s no processed parts or bad preservatives, so there should be less ingredients. It shouldn’t be that much money. It also shouldn’t be $10 for a half pound of shiitake mushrooms either, or $7 for a pound of carrots, or even $6 for a half gallon of organic milk.

I feel organic foods have gotten to be more of a fake status symbol than any attempt to truly be healthy. People who buy this kind of ridiculous organic food just buy it to say they can some times. I don’t care how good it is for you, I will never spend $20 bucks on cheese when I can spend less than half of that for five times the product. Now I’m not buying the cheapest possible stuff just for the cheapness; after all, I do care about my health now and I know that the cheaper stuff tends to have terrible things in it. But I’m not going to be scared into spending that much money on carrots and lettuce.

For a few items, things were pretty affordable and comparable, but for others it wasn’t even close. I would go back, but I would keep my eye on the price tags.

Written by mlogli

February 14, 2013 at 2:09 am

The Case of the Unfriendly Flounder

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My dad was sleeping on the recliner while my sister and I were making dinner. He ended up waking up, and his first words, spoken groggily and grumpily, were

“Why does it smell like fish?”

While I can lay claim to getting my mom to enjoy hummus and pita chips, getting my parents to eat healthy has not been an easy road. This is especially true for fish, which my parents tend to dislike because…well…it tastes and smells like fish. Fish sticks, obviously, don’t count.

So when we were at Sam’s a few days ago, my sister found a frozen bag of flounder in the aisle and said she knew a good recipe. Grudgingly, my mom agreed to get it and have my sister make it. So after a little bit of defrosting, we got some breadcrumbs and melted butter on there with some salt, pepper and a bit of garlic powder, made some homemade tartar sauce, got some veggies ready and ate some flounder.

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Unfortunately, this was not the finished product.

When my father is eating something he doesn’t like, he doesn’t say a word. He just silently chews and stares at a TV/the table and says nothing until the meal is over. Or, he will make his pile of side dishes bigger. My dad ate a lot of rice today.

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Yeah that’s about right.

Sadly we haven’t found an affordable fish that doesn’t reek of said smell. And yes we’ve tried tilapia. And yes, we all hate it (perhaps me most of all). So the search for good fish continues, and perhaps will never end unless salmon or swordfish ends up getting really really ridiculously cheap. But at least we have hummus, and really, that’s not so bad.

Written by mlogli

January 5, 2013 at 1:39 am

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