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There’s this new falafel place in my neighborhood, housed in a store front that was formerly home to a greasy, fluorescent lit hotdog joint called CJ’s Diner.  When CJ’s Diner was shut down by the health department for rat-related reasons, they closed for about a month and emerged, triumphant, like the mythical phoenix from the ashes, as AJ’s Diner.  Alas, the resurrection was short lived, and the restaurant formerly known as CJ’s closed.

I ventured out into the frigid weather yesterday because I was in desperate need of some plexiglass and a new toothbrush.  After completing my errands, I felt that I might have had a touch of frostbite, and so I ducked into the newly opened falafel restaurant to warm up.  The place was still ill-lit and run-down, but seemingly free of rodents.  I decided it would be rude to not order food, so in the interest of politeness (and laziness.  Also self-servingness. Romeo looked at me as if I was his sun and stars when I came home bearing Mediterranean food.) I decided to order something. While perusing the takeout menu, which was full of the standard fare one would expect in such an establishment, I came across a sentence that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Come into one of our locations and try one of our dishes made by our world famous 5 star chef…”

Wow! Like seriously, WOW! When I think “world famous” and “five star” in Chicago, the first name that comes to mind is, yes, Grant Achatz of the Michelin-starred Alinea.  People are wait-listed for months and months and do embarrassing things like beg for tickets on twitter to get into his restaurants.  I cannot confirm or deny anything, but let me tell you, the beef shawarma was spectacular.  As the menu promised, it was indeed “grilled to perfection”.  I don’t care what anyone says about Achatz, the man knows his way around the stove.

And that is why, when he is on the Huffington Post giving some real talk about grilling steak at home, on a regular gas stove for mere mortals, I drop that plexiglass I am holding in my hands and force my vegetarian boyfriend to drive me across town to pick up steak.  I tried his technique tonight, and Grant was right, as usual.  The only drawback is the tremendous amount of smoke that is produced during the cooking process, which is a fine thing in baba ghanoush, but not so much lingering in your apartment for hours afterwards.  But if a culinary superstar chef can find time in his busy schedule to moonlight in a fast food place, I can deal with opening a few windows.


Boozy Mexican Hot Chocolate

Spicy Spiked Hot Chocolate Pen and Palate

illustration: tram nguyen


I spent New Year’s Day curled up on the couch cultivating a nice hangover and enjoying my favorite winter pastime, which is binge-watching television, specifically IFC’s new French zombie series Les Revenants (which is better than it sounds). Every 55 minutes or so, however, I was forced to emerge from my couch cocoon to find the next episode on a shady illegal streaming site with a humanoid pot leaf as its corporate logo. To pass the time while waiting for each episode to load, I could not help but mentally replay the events of the previous night at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party.  I’m generally a pretty happy drunk and I had a great evening, but at some point over the course of the night my true (jerk) colors came out.  Did I really accuse that lovely woman, a friendly acquaintance that I’ve had maybe half a dozen conversations with, of having white privilege simply because she had the audacity to enjoy Lost in Translation? My closer friends didn’t get off easily either. I also recall accusing one buddy of being “the biggest misogynist I know” and “racist”, both of which are patently untrue.

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Hibernation Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder Pen and Palate

illustration: tram nguyen


A few weeks ago, while divvying up the grocery shopping, Rob and I accidentally doubled up on the bacon. I noticed this at the end of our excursion and tried to amend the mistake, but Rob balked, insisting that we were past the point in our shopping trip of putting things back (!!) and that we would merely have to live with our mistakes. To be fair, once I start second-guessing my grocery choices I am unstoppable in the “hold on let me just swap these six things super-quickly” department. In an effort to keep the peace, I snuck only one package back onto the shelves. So we ended up with four pounds of bacon.

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