This winter’s cold has been unrelenting. But I still want to go out, even if it means wearing three layers underneath my heavy-duty winter jacket. Same? These three activities offer a cozy and cavernous getaway while we count down the days to spring.
Go deep inside: The Palmer House
The OG brownie is at The Palmer House, a historic Chicago hotel that Rudyard Kipling long ago described as “a gilded mirror rabbit warren crammed with barbarians.”
Today, I recommend going barbaric on the hotel’s OG brownie. It’s as decadent and rich as the golden drapery and as opulent as the soaring ceilings. The confection was concocted in the late 19th century under the direction of Bertha Palmer (watch the video below for more) for the Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in 1893. Pro tip: Get dinner at the burritos and bowls quick-service spot right outside the hotel so you don’t feel totally gluttonous after downing the whole dessert by yourself. Because you will.
Go behind walls: Dorian’s
On a recent round of The 10 to 10, we rolled into Bucktown and ended up walking to Wicker Park. We passed a boutique record shop that seemed worthy of a step inside.
It was more than a record shop, though. Hidden behind an unsuspecting “secret” doorway was Dorian’s, a midcentury mod-style restaurant, tucked away with tiki-themed drinks (and a mocktails option!), jazz spinning on the sound system, and a charcuterie board complete with pickled grapes.
Go underground: Three Dots and A Dash
At Three Dots and a Dash, go on a warm adventure beneath the city. Located in the River North neighborhood, no treasure map is required to find it: Just look for the sign in the alleyway off Hubbard and head down the dramatically lit stairwell to a dreamy tiki hideaway. At the grass-skirted bar or a cozy booth, surrounded by chic wooden fixtures and sunset lighting, order up some small bites, a cold pressed juice or handcrafted cock(or mock)tail. The team of mixologists makes its own syrups, such as falernum and allspice, to keep things fresh. The exotic combinations are designed to give even the most well-traveled tongue an exciting new taste.
Yes, kettles, as in tea kettles.
Whaaaat, you ask? Who am I, you ask?
As a longstanding diehard coffee consumer, I’ve been asking myself the same questions.
A few weeks ago—three tomorrow, to be exact—I wasn’t feeling very well. I had a coffee on my nightstand as I laid in bed, trying to nap off whatever bug was bringing me down. The smell of the coffee, though, kept waking me up and making me feel queasy.
I haven’t had a lick of it since.
Considering I quit drinking alcohol almost three years ago, I am still surprised at my ability to be surprised when I fully quit something that has been part of my everyday life for over a decade. But I was drinking five to six cups of the strongest coffee I could find a day, and now I’m… a tea drinker? It’s weird. Surprising. And weird.
There are several upsides, obviously, to cutting the extreme caffeine. I’m saving money not purchasing $4-a-pop pick-me-ups. My energy is way better, ironically enough. More consistent. Fewer crashes. Less dramatic energy surges and lethargic dips. I l-o-v-e that I don’t feel restless/ manic if I haven’t had my morning coffee. AND, best of all, the ritual of making tea is way more fun.
I’m not fancy. By ritual, I mean literally just boiling water. But it’s like when you’re 16 and learn to drive and get a $300 janky, old, dump-destined beater that is a straight-up diamond in your eyes because it represents freedom, delicious freedom.
That beater = boiled water for me right now. <insert heart eyes, hashtag EZ2PLZ>
Once I passed the two-week coffee-free threshold, Justin and I decided to get a new kettle for the house so I could boil water like a lady. (Technically we had one already but it was, well, a dump-destined beater that was ~16 years old itself.)
Here are some places I found awesome options, including a few unexpected locales. So many tea pots, so little time (and also counter space).
Travel the world from the comfort of your own stovetop. World Market’s options range from beautiful embossed cast iron kettles to marbled enamel numbers that would play perfectly in a white-cabinet kitchen.
The Etsy marketplace is often a go-to when I’m shopping for jewelry or décor, but I didn’t think of it right away for tea kettle shopping. Don’t make the same mistake. There are some really lovely options available, including punny pots like Mr. Tea, who pity the caffeine-fiending fool, and many vintage goodies, like this amazing Corningware cooker.
Yet another destination you might not consider right away, art museum shops often have a curated section of hip home goods. For example, The Art Institute of Chicago’s Museum Shop has a sparse but mighty selection, and MoMA has some seriously great stuff that will ensure your tea routine is a work of art. (PS. I bet your local bookstore also carries some tea related must-haves.)
Ah, good old Amazon. Fun options abound, though we ended up getting none of the above and, instead, going for function over style, purchasing an energy efficient electric kettle that can boil water in mere seconds.
Le sigh. It’s cool in a practical way, but I’ll be in the market for adorable mugs soon. This, friends, is what kitchen-based compromise and communication looks like.
It’s 4 p.m. on New Year’s Day. We’ve done nothing but watch TV in bed, eat in bed, read in bed, play video games in bed, anything that didn’t require us to leave the bed. Really, it’s the perfect start to a year in which I hope to slow down and allow myself a little more time doing exactly this kind of nothing.
This lounging has an unintended consequence, however.
We’re watching something forgettable on TV as Justin rubs my back. Both of our eyes are glazing over as his hand grazes a spot on my lower left side. This sloping hill is home to one lone hair that sprouts like a bamboo stalk in a pool of milk. It’s one of those hairs that seems to grow to its full size overnight.
“Did you know you have a back hair? Like… one back hair?” Justin asks, laughing and using his fingers to seek out the thick strand’s exact location.
Oh boy, we’re both awake now. My cheeks start to flush. Then I remember it’s just Justin. (And then, later of course, it’s just a body. Just a back, a hair, an aging exterior, healthy.)
“Haven’t I told you about that before?” I say. As my instinctual insecurity unhitches, I giggle at the thought of it chilling all by itself back there. “It started growing about a year ago. I shave it.”
This sends him rolling off the bed in laughter. Literally, he falls off. Amused, I try to reach back and find the hair. It’s obviously been a while since I shaved it—I could weave a poncho with this thing.
Justin goes to the bathroom and comes back with tweezers. I lay on my belly as he plucks the lonely thing right off my back.
We inspect it together, like one does a popped zit or a tissue your nose (or whatever) just desecrated. We both determine it is thinner than it felt root-deep in the dermis, but where it lacks in girth it makes up for in length. Overall, a very impressive performance by one hair gone wild!
Next, I roll over on my back and ask Justin to do the same for the lone hair that similarly sprouts out of my chin. I’m better at shaving this one more regularly.
We giggle at each other as he lets it rip.
OK, but so these dumplings.
Intimate back and chin two-hair plucking comprised New Year’s. Chinatown dumplings *made* our Christmas Day.
This was the first year Justin and I stayed in Chicago for the winter holidays. Partly because we were so over traveling by that point in the year and didn’t want to spend 12 hours in the car again. And partly because we were hoping to purchase a condo over the holidays and wanted to be around to vulture something up if it came on the market.
We didn’t. Purchase a condo. But what we did establish a new Chicago Christmas tradition: Dumplings for dinner at Qing Xiang Yuan.
Best. Dumplings. Ever.
Take it from me. Or “Check Please!” if ya nasty.
I had recently eaten at QXY with a dear friend. She ordered for our whole party. Don’t you love when that happens? I do. Going to a restaurant with someone who knows where all the hidden menu gems (and, in this case, wood ear mushrooms) are buried is the BEST.
Her recommendations are now mine: Try the spicy shredded seaweed salad with chili pepper, flavorful wood ear mushroom salad (don’t look at the pictures, just do it), and grilled lamb kebab for starters. Then go straight to the dumplings. Your server can tell you which style (steamed, boiled, or fried) would be the most tasty for your combination. Order a bunch. They go fast.
On Christmas Day, we tried the pork and cabbage boiled and the beef and coriander steamed (yessss! definitely thisssss!). So delicious. So fun to eat. I love plucking them out of their little baskets, where they’re presented and unveiled together.
Like little stockings stuffed with care.
This is the only photo I took on Christmas:
I think one pic is review enough: I was too busy stuffing my face to take any more. But, Chinatown is really cool and I’d be remiss not to give you pictures from other visits we’ve taken there. Chinatown is a visual feast as much as it is a culinary one. Enjoy.
A friend was picking my brain this summer for places that I go to write. Now that I’m living that good good #giglife, I can pretty much work from anywhere, so she assumed I had a hundred and one places squirreled away in my work-from-all-over office catalog.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have many exciting spots to offer up. In fact, she ended up giving me the secret gem, dream writing location: The Drawing Room at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.
Rumor had it, she said, that this space was open to the public, and it was beautiful, and you could just go sit in there and read and write! And no one asked any questions about your right to be in the club! Or your preference of golf swing! Or if your Izod shirt was in the wash! Sorry, my club stereotypes are very late-’90s.
Nevertheless, there it sat gathering dust on my radar all fall. Like treasure I knew the route to but didn’t feel worthy enough to hunt down. I was intimidated by the bougey rep of an “athletic club” and “chic hotel” and, just, you know, the whole notion that this was a private place for fancy folks, with a shrimp cocktail concierge and warm towelette dispenser on each elevator.
Per usual, I was wrong. And I took the stairs, so I don’t know about the elevator.
My friend was right: This second floor space inside the CAA is open to the public, and reading and writing in it kinda feels like reading and writing inside a castle!
There are dark, intricately carved wooden beams, ornate leather chairs, a crackling fireplace, and snow globe-style views of Michigan Ave and Millennium Park. There’s no shrimp cocktail concierge, but there was a very friendly waiter who brought me water and coffee and snacks whenever I need it. I mean, you do have to pay for that stuff, but it’s basically a BYOB(ook) library with food and drink service.
While you’re down in that neck-warmer of the woods, be sure to stop across the street to see the Art Institute of Chicago’s Thorne Miniature Rooms.
These are 68 itty-bitty rooms built on a scale of one inch to one foot, and they’re decorated to look like European and American interiors from the late 13th century all the way to the 1930s. AND, right now some are decorated for the holidays. Eeeeeee!
I recently went to look at the Thorne Rooms on my lunch break (giggity #giglife… I was posted up in the Starbucks across the street). While there, I broke a record for “Longest Time Spent Squeal-Clapping and Saying Oh This Is Just Delightful Over and Over Again.”
1851 W. Irving Park Rd.
Chicago, IL 60613
There are several things about Timber Lanes in North Center that you can’t beat. They include:
- The price: $2.50 per game. Bring cash for games, shoes, and/or drinks/snacks at the bar.
- The digital jukebox, where frequently played favorites include 38 Special and Ah-Ha.
- The vibe. The ghost of The Dude is near.
- Me on Game 2. Bowled a 127, baybay! Must’ve been Steely Dan on the juke.