Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Last weekend, Adam and I were in Madison for a wedding and went in a day early to do some kayaking on Lake Wingra and to check out the restaurant Harvest. Harvest is thought by many to be the best restaurant in Madison. It has won many awards, including Top 20 Chefs in the Midwest 2008 and One of America's Top Farm-To-Table Restaurants by Organic Magazine. ("Farm-to-table" for you non-foodies means all local, usually organic, ingredients, meaning the food comes right from the local farms to your restaurant table). It has been around for a few years but was still on the Best of Madison 2010 list in Madison Magazine this month.

Harvest is located right on the capital square in downtown Madison. If you sit outside, you are staring straight at the capital building. As many of you know, Adam and I are geriatric in spirit so had no trouble getting a table when we showed up at the early-bird-special hour of 6:00pm.

The ambiance was very nice. Great windows, interesting light fixtures, white tableclothes and elegant glasses and plates. I started (and finished) with a 1/2 bottle of the Sinskey Pinot Blanc from Napa (2006) that was wonderfully fruit forward- pears, grapefruit, peaches- yet still semi-dry, which I always prefer. Adam had a bourbon based cocktail. Bourbon is his new thing- he attributes this to a few years appreciating Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout.

For an appetizer we split a lovely, fresh tasting asparagus soup. Delicious. Next, I had a roasted breast of local organic chicken which was very good, but not nearly as good as Adam's Lange family farm pork loin. That pork was definitely one of the top 3 pork dishes I've ever had. We had seasonal mushrooms as a side and they were wonderfully earthy, very well seasoned, an excellent choice by Adam.

Adam ordered us both desserts- panna cotta w/ fresh rhubarb on the side for me (I am always a sucker for rhubarb) and Adam had some yummy chocolate thing that I don't remember very well because I was knee deep in my first ever panna cotta. I'm not sure how I got through 32 years without panna cotta because it is GREAT!. (For those who are as ignorant as I was before this tasty evening, panna cotta means "cooked cream" in Italian and is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk, and sugar, that is then mixed with gelatin and cooked until it is set. It's generally served with fruit, or chocolate/caramel/fruit sauce. (Side note: I had my second ever panna cotta at a Chicago restaurant tonight that I will review later and it was also good- actually tasted like a softer version of creme brulee.)

The service was friendly, but hands off, which is generally my preference. The meal was nice and leisurely, definitely worth arriving in Madison a day early.

If you find yourself in Madison, hungry, and ready for an upscale yet not pretentious dining experience, please do check out Harvest.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wedding...with no pics or identifying info, I promise!!

My dear Aunt ****** got married in Madison this
weekend. We were given strict instructions to not post any pictures of the bride and groom on Facebook, Blogs, or the web at large, which I of course will comply with, however, there were many great family pics that I can post.

The wedding was just perfect. They got married in the Madison capital building. It was short and sweet with a nice reception at a local Irish pub afterward. I really enjoy weddings of all types. From the 500 attendee 3 day wedding extravaganza of my dear friends Deepa and Rob (see pic below), to the quick, beautiful, but wind-blown ceremony of my brother, Garrett, and my sister-in-law Jill (also pic below), they are all wonderful in their own ways. I've heard that a sign of a good marriage is that the two parties enjoy attending the weddings of others, as it reminds them of their wedding and all the great things about their marriage, and they are still full of optimism for the future. I think this is certainly true for Adam and I.

On to the pictures. The first pic above was supposed to be a re-creation of a photo from 10 years ago. My cousin, Karin, is on the left and my cousin, Anna-Lisa, on the right. In the original photo, Karin had her head on my shoulder and A-L was snuggled in close but either they don't like me as much anymore or we are creeped out by re-creating a photo from over a decade ago thus we went for a more traditional pose;)
Adam and I.

My parents and I. Besides my ridiculous tan lines, this is a really great photo. Always good to get good photos with the fam.

Me with my Grandma and Grandpa Monson. Both of my grandparents are rock stars. My Grandma is always so knowledgable about Chicago current events and my Grandpa, who is well past 90 years old, is so active- he went on a 2 mile hike with my cousin Karin over the weekend!

Just for fun, here are some random pics from weddings past:

From left to right: Garrett and Jill, Deepa and Rob, Val and Adam

Monday, June 28, 2010

North Manitou Island, Lake Michigan

Years ago, well before humans were anywhere near Lake Michigan's western coast, a mother bear and her two cubs tried to cross Lake Michigan from the Wisconsin shore to escape a great forest fire. It was a long, difficult journey and only the mother bear made it across. The two cubs got close, just about 6 miles from the Michigan shore, but sadly they drowned. As legend has it, the remains of the two cubs formed North and South Manitou islands, 2 of the larger islands in Lake Michigan. The mother bear still lies waiting for her cubs to reach the shore in the form of the Sleeping Bear Dunes on Michigan's western coast.

The Native American legend above is how the Park and the Islands got their names. In present day, South Manitou Island is a tourist destination. However, North Manitou Island is not much different than it was when the bears tried to swim across the lake. There was briefly a very small population on North Manitou in the 1840s. Initially there were some woodcutters, then some apple growers, and then some wealthy Chicago folks who wanted a secluded place to summer. The lake surrounding the island is very treacherous (there are over 50 shipwrecks surrounding the island!), so some North Manitou citizens got into the business of "saving" wayward sailors.

However, none of these pursuits lasted long on this 8 mile by 4 mile desolate island so now in 2010 Wikipedia states the island "has no population". Which isn't exactly true because there is 1 ranger who lives there. So, population of 1. There are no roads, no electricity, no houses except for the ranger's humble abode. Thus it was a perfect place for Adam and I to do some wilderness camping.

There is a ferry from the mainland to North Manitou once every other day or so during the summer. Adam and I really had no idea what to expect of the island. We knew we could camp essentially anywhere we wanted on the island and we brought plenty of supplies. Immediately upon arriving on the island, the lone ranger gave us and the 15 or so other folks on the ferry with us a quick orientation telling us that we needed to camp "300 feet from any lake shore, creek, or foot path" and that if we had an emergency "get to a high point and try to call 911 on your cell". He helpfully added that we should "turn off your cells when you are not using them or the battery will get drained trying to find a signal- cell service is not so good on the island".

Then, he let us loose! We arrived on the Eastern side of the island and Adam and I decided the best bet would be to head South. We hiked in about 5 miles, dodging some garter snakes on the way, and found the beautiful look-out point you see to the right. Since it was such a great view, we decided to camp there for the night.

Here's another view from near our chosen campsite.

Adam took great joy in the selection of the ideal campsite, and I'll admit, it was kind of fun. We explored various nooks and crannies looking for a nice, flat area in the shade but yet still close to the lake (say about 301 feet away from the shore, if possible). We found a very good spot in the trees, just steps away from a pristine Lake Michigan beach.

Here's our tent, all set up with the rain flap on. Definitely didn't need the rain flap this night- the sun stayed up until about 10:30!

I'm pointing out our tent site. It was literally right behind those trees, but perfectly hidden! No one to bother us except the chipmunks and the garter snakes, and they pretty much left us alone;)

We enjoyed yet another delicious dinner of ramen, tuna, wine and chocolate looking out onto Lake Michigan. (Reading that back to myself, that menu sounds kind of gross, but when eaten in courses, I promise, it's good!)

I would highly recommend North Manitou island for anyone looking for a good, easy, but short wilderness camping experience in the Midwest. And I think Adam and I now feel ready for any camping adventures in the future- maybe a quick trip to Yellowstone before our Alaska adventure? I haven't seen bison in a couple years......

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Adam and I just got back from our first ever camping trip together. Adam had never been camping at all, and I had never been camping as an adult. Why would 2 yuppie adults like ourselves who are admitted foodies with increasingly high standards in travel accommodations decide to rough it in a tent with Ramen noodle dinners for 4 nights? Well in addition to good food and nice hotels, Adam and I are both huge fans of nature and wildlife. I would go so far as to say that my very favorite thing to do in the world is to look for, find, and watch wildlife (especially bison). So I view camping as a means to an end. Adam and I are both really excited about a big Alaskan adventure we're planning for Summer 2012. I think the only way to truly experience Alaska is to spend time in the wilderness. For example, Denali National Park has only 1 road in a 6 million acre park so the only way to truly get a feel for the place is to do some backcountry camping. The same is true for Glacier National Park and many others.

Therefore, we decided to use our short June vacation this year to "practice" backcountry camping in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the Michigan coast of Lake Michigan. We stayed at 3 different campsites: 2 in the park on the mainland and one on North Manitou island. All 3 were backcountry sites, meaning we had to hike a certain distance (in this case it varied from 1-5 miles) to get to our camp sites. Obviously we had to provide our own water, fuel, shelter- anything we needed we had to carry on our backs. The "everything I need I must carry on my back" concept is not new to me as I've backpacked in Europe, Africa, S America and New Zealand but I've always stayed at hotels, hostels or huts that at least provided a mattress (usually) and a roof over my head. I love the simplicity backpacking (both camping and non-camping) provides- knowing that all you need you can carry with you (plus an American Express card for anything you may have lost or forgotten ;) ).

Here are the 10 things I enjoyed the most about our little camping adventure:

1. Our REI shopping spree. We just walked into REI one evening and bought everything we'd need from tent to sleeping pad to cooking device to cookware. Who doesn't love a good shopping spree?

2. Our tent. Our tent is way cool. Adam read a lot of reviews to pick the perfect tent and he did a great job. It's a all season tent, very light, made for 3 people so roomy for 2. Super easy to put up and take down. Below is a picture I took from inside the tent.

3. Sleeping in the tent in a thunderstorm/downpour. At home I have a noise-maker that plays crickets, ocean sounds, rain, etc to help me sleep. Sure didn't need that on the trip! The thunderstorm was so fun to listen to from the perfectly dry confines of our awesome tent!

4. Implementing bear precautions. I was excited to hear there were a few black bears in the area (who knew Michigan has bears??!!) so we implemented about 75% of our bear precautions. Adam had a good time devising ways to keep our food and toiletries suspended between trees out of reach of any bears (if you look close on the very top picture you can see a blue bag in the background hanging from a tree-that's our food). I think this was actually Adam's very favorite part of the trip. When we are really in bear country, we will also have a separate cooking site away from our sleeping camp and keep the clothes we cooked in out of the tent.

Adam using our water filter to purify the Lake Michigan water for drinking.

5. Dinners. Adam found this amazing little device called a Jet Boil, that boils water in about 3 minutes. The whole device is the size of a nalgene bottle (including fuel). Really cool. I really enjoyed our dinners of Ramen noodles with various proteins (tuna, chicken, and jerky). Fun to make and fun to eat.

6. Scenery at dinners: The camp site we spend 2 nights at was a 5 minute walk from a pristine Lake Michigan beach. Below is me surrounded by all our cooking gear after dinner on the beach.

7. Wine and chocolate after dinner. Adam found plastic wine bottles, so we got to enjoy some cheap and good Cab Sauv each night after dinner.

8. The Lake. Though we see Lake Michigan every day from our apartment, it was great to see it in its more natural state. We spent most of our days on trails right next to the lake so were rewarded with many beautiful lake views.

9. Spending quality time with Adam. I'm so glad to be married to such a great traveling companion!

Adam showing that we saw the exact view advertised on the Sleeping Bear Dunes brochure;)

10. The first shower and meal once we returned to civilization. Nothing like a few days in the wilderness to make one appreciate hot running water with soap!

Stay tuned for 1 more post about our night on Manitou Island....

Friday, June 25, 2010

Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

(For complicated reasons I can't explain, these trip blogs will be in reverse order.)

The last day and night of our trip were spent getting properly cleaned up with showers, refueling on the Northern Michigan wine trail with wine tastings and then a scrumptious feast of Little Ceasars pizza (fast and ready for $5.55- can't beat it!), wine, and other local snacks, enjoyed on the balcony of our hotel room.

We tasted at 6 wineries all on the Old Mission Peninsula just north of Traverse City, Michigan. The peninsula itself was absolutely beautiful with lush greenery and views of Lake Michigan on both sides of the peninsula. The houses were absolutely gorgeous and so were the wineries. 2Lades winery is pictured above. Very modern architecturally. Wines were good and we bought a 2009 Pinot Grigio. We were pretty impressed with all the wineries we visited. We have traveled the Southern Michigan wine trail many times and enjoy many of their whites (esp the Chardonnay from Tabor Hill) but had always found the reds a bit lacking. Up on the Mission Peninsula, however, they have great whites (esp Rieslings both sweet and dry, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc) and also a few reds that could compete with their California cousins (particularly Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot). Very impressive. The wineries we visited were: 2Lads, Chateau Chantal, Brys Estate, Bowers Harbor Vineyard, Black Star Farms and Chateau Grand Traverse.

We stayed at the Inn at Chateau Grand Traverse and it was a great find! The Inn has only 6 rooms and is located in a beautifully decorated home that has been renovated to be a playground for the Inn guests. There are 4 separate sitting rooms with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the vineyard, plus foosball, board games, books, a gym, a sauna, plenty to keep guests entertained (though there is so much to do in the area, I can't imagine needing to stay in!). The rooms were very cute (ours is above). My favorite parts were the complimentary bottle of Chateau Grand Traverse wine, any varietal of our choosing, and the wonderful balcony overlooking the lawn, vineyard and Lake Michigan.

Because of this beautiful view, Adam and I opted to have a low-budget feast on the balcony rather than eat out. (Besides, we are so spoiled by Chicago food that most rural restaurants simply can't compete. However, anyone traveling to the area should try "The Boathouse", the menu and ambiance looked great!). We spotted a Little Ceasar's in Traverse City earlier in the day so that made choosing dinner a no-brainer (for those who don't know, pizza is my favorite food in the world and Little Ceasar's is my favorite "fast food" pizza in the world). We also had fresh sweet cherries from a farmer's market we stumbled upon earlier in the day and 3 varieties of Kilwin's (a long-standing fudge maker in the area) fudge- peanut butter and chocolate, cookies and cream and German chocolate.
While, our food may have been low budget, our wine was certainly not. Our spread is shown on the ledge of our balcony below. A grand total of 8 bottles of wine- some sparkling, some white, some red- plus a bottle of port, plus some delicious cherry jalapano salsa, and cherry bbq sauce. I think we need to have a Michigan themed dinner to showcase all these great finds! Any takers?

The night was really beautiful and we ate, drank, chatted, played Hangman (after some wine, it can be fun, I swear!) and watched the sun go down. A great end to a wonderful trip! Adam did the bulk of the planning on this one (a first) and he really did a great job so way to go Adam!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rockford Half Marathon- A PR!

I am very late on this race report (the race was May 16th!) but better late than never, right? Adam and I decided to run the Rockford Half Marathon as a way to stay motivated to keep running during the winter. Also, we figured it would be an easy race for our most supportive spectators (my parents) to cheer for us.

It turned out to be near perfect race weather. It was in the upper 40s and cloudy at the start and reached a max temp in the 60s. The sun came out for the last few miles.

We started downtown. The first 2 miles we were going at a nice clip (for us, anyway) doing 8:30 min/miles. The race went right down N Main street past the neighborhood where I grew up, so that was entertaining and fun. Around mile 3 or so we saw my parents who were at North Towne. As always, it was so great to have spectators to look forward to. My parents have been great supporters of my (and now also Adam's) running. They've been to 3 marathons, some in quite inclement weather (the "cold" year for the Chicago marathon). My Grandma Nelson has been a great supporter too, making it out for 2 of those races. I still have this picture of her running down Chicago streets ringing her cowbell. I hear she was moving more quickly than some of the runners- my parents almost lost sight of her during my first Chicago marathon!

Back to Rockford. After we saw my parents, I was feeling pretty ambitious so I decided to push the pace a bit. At this point, I broke away from Adam. I should note that he had a terrible cold and felt just awful. I'm so appreciative that he even did the race at all, because it would have been really easy for me to back out if he bailed!

Miles 3-7 were great. The course went downhill for 1/2 mile which I tried to fly down, then 1/2 mile uphill that was not quite as fun. But I was pretty much passing people this whole time, hoping that my fast pace wasn't going to come back to haunt me.

By mile 7, I was starting to feel tired, but I didn't want all my hard effort during the first 7 miles to be wasted so I pressed on, looking forward to the next point where my parents would be waiting. I kept thinking they'd be around the next corner. I kept thinking that for about 3 miles, which was painful, but at the same time good, because I had decided to not allow myself to take it easy until after I saw them.

After I saw my parents again, I was really, really tired. But at that point I knew I was roughly 45 sec-1 min faster per mile than my previous 1/2 marathon PR of 2:07:48 (Tyranena Half in 2007) and I really didn't want to blow it in the last 3 miles. I had a few fleeting thoughts of trying to break 2 hours but the idea stressed me out so much (I was so TIRED and couldn't IMAGINE keeping up the same pace for another 1/2 hour!) that I downgraded my goal to just not stopping running, i.e. not walking. I just had to be confident that my "taking it easy" pace for the last 3 miles wouldn't be too slow. I think I did mostly 9:40s for the last few miles, which is still good for me.

I saw my folks one last time close to mile 12 which was a nice surprise because I didn't know they'd be there. And then one last uphill to the finish line. Ke$ha's "Tic Tok" pulled me through the last mile-it's a great song for running- very upbeat and the goofy lyrics are entertaining.

I didn't quite make sub-2:00, but I was close! My final time was 2:00:19 (9:12 min/miles). So I was 26 sec/mile faster than before, cutting 7 minutes off my time. And I have a great shot of making sub-2:00 at my next half w/ only 19 s to cut off!

Adam and I after the race. Thanks for running Adam! Couldn't have PR'd without you!

That afternoon we went to the Rathskeller, a traditional German restaurant in downtown Rockford. Adam had learned about the infamous "beer-in-a-boot" so wanted to see it for himself.

Here's my dad at the Rathskeller's outdoor patio with "The Boot". When the waitress brought it out, the other restaurant patrons (mostly other runners) started cheering like crazy!

Adam very proud of his boot!

All in all, it was a great race and a great day. This day and this race finally made me consider myself a runner. Not just someone who slogs through marathons at a gruelingly slow pace but an actual runner. Admittedly 9:12 min/mile is not that fast. But I think 13.1 9:12 min/miles in a row is something I can be proud of. And I'm improving. Hopefully, I can keep improving to the point that one day I can qualify for Boston.

Based on this race, I've stepped up my goal for the 10/10/10 Chicago Marathon. I'm going to try for sub-4:00. Maybe a bit too ambitious, but I might as well try. Gosh, wouldn't it be nice to not have to run for over 4 and a half hours like I usually do? The best thing about getting faster is you don't have to run for as long!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Grant Park Music Festival

Last Monday, New Music Mondays at Pritzker Pavilion was a great band called She & Him. The lead singer is Zooey Deschanel. She's also an actress who's been in many movies, most recently (500) Days of Summer. I think because of her fame and the fact that She & Him is a great band, the place was packed! We met some friends including Jay, the Czaszwicz's (Chris, Meghan, Mae and Dominic), CeCe and her boyfriend. Adam has known Jay since they were toddlers and went to high school with the rest of the gang. Here are some pics from that night:

I got there super early, 1.5 hours before the show, to reserve us some lawn space. The orange chairs are ours. They have footrests, which is awesome!

The place was unbelievably packed. The lawn actually filled completely, which I think is a first for the concert series.

Skyline view.

Chris and Meghan's super cute daughter, Mae.

And her adorable younger brother, Dominic.

Jay, looking relaxed.

Adam having a good time.

It was a beautiful 80 degree day but got a bit chilly once the sun set below the buildings.

The whole gang- Jay, Meghan, Chris, CeCe, Mae and Dom.

The new Goose Island tent right next to the lawn.

And for the wine lovers, an array of Cooper Hawk wines (actually from the previous week).

A good time was had by all!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge

Last night, Adam and I went to Niu for dinner. I had been there once before with my friend Sara and it was pretty good- I can't remember what she and I had but I think it involved splitting a bottle of wine, which is always a good thing!

Adam and I split 2 rolls- one was an Alaskan crab special and the other was the Aloha roll which was crab and albacore tuna. You can view the menu here.

My general impression:

Ambiance: B+, good lighting, cute fixtures, cute bathroom (to the right)

Food: B, good for a quick, convenient (next to the movie theater!) sushi meal, but not the best sushi in town

Drinks: A-, they had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Infamous Goose) which was great. If you have New Zealand wine, you get at least an 'A'!

Overall: B, go if it is convenient, but don't go out of your way

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hawks Win!!

Was about to go to sleep when the city all of a sudden got really loud with screaming and airhorns and honking and fireworks. Knew it could only be one thing--> Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup!! First time in 49 years. I love Chicago sports! Though I haven't seen a single Hawks game this season I still was well aware of the highlights of every game and heard airhorns for every Hawks point scored in the past 6 games, just because I live downtown. Which is awesome. Truly, no city has better sports fans than good ol' Chicago!

(Gotta say though, and this will make my brother groan, that I wish they would get rid of the caricature of the Native American on their uniforms, logos, etc. Racial stereotypes should have no place on the jersey of any sports team. Keep the name Blackhawks but lose the racist logo. Please!)

Rockford's Shortest Running Race

A while back, my mom sent me an article clipping titled "Endurance not needed for Parkinsons' benefit" from the May 30, 2009 Rockford Register Star. The article reads:

Can't do a marathon? Consider the city's shortest charity run.

Gordon Ferguson Yackle's second annual 0.10K Run Against Parkinson's starts at 10:30 am June 5 at Capri restaurant, 313 E State St.

The run -it works out to 328.1 feet- benefits the Rockford Area Onset Parkinson's Group, Rockford Parkinson's Group, and the Wisconsin Parkinson's Assocation. The inaugural run raised about $5,100.

My mom endearingly attached a post-it to the clipping that said "Hey! Here is a race I could run!". I found that particularly funny because my mom undoubtedly is more active than I am, and I consider myself a pretty active person. Between playing tennis, golfing, and her newest active pursuit of running I don't think I could keep up with her if I tried! I'm particularly impressed that my mom has started running- I don't know many women over 50 who just decide one day to be runners, but she's done just that and I am very excited to run her first 5K (sorry, not a 0.10K!) with her and my Aunt Kelly later this summer!

Ah, writing this makes me want to get out there and run!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Cup Runneth Over

This has been an extraordinary weekend. Yesterday, I attended a baby shower for my good friend, Sandra, whom I met in medical school at U of C. Her and Loren (her husband, also a U of C med school grad) are some of the kindest people I know. Adam and I attended their wedding a couple years ago, which was beautiful, fun, and full of love. They are expecting their first child, a baby girl, this Fall.

The shower was wonderful. Sandra has some really fun aunties and her mother and mother-in-law are both wonderful ladies. And it was good to meet some of her other friends from childhood up to her current Loyola colleagues. As an extra wonderful bonus, our dear friend Deepa was able to make it to the shower from Baltimore. It's very rare that we get to all see each other these days so it was very special for us to hang out one last time before Sandra and Loren move to Pittsburgh.

Then, on the drive home from the baby shower, I got some super exciting news. One of my very closest friends (also from med school) got engaged! And I LOVE her fiance! We are all pictured to the right on a visit Adam and I took to see them in Denver (their current home) last summer. I can't even express how important Bonnie's friendship has been to me over the past few years and I've been so happy to share in her excitement as she met, dated, moved in with and now got engaged to David. I'm just thrilled that she's so happy and as a bonus, Adam and I both think that David is the bee's knees (when's the last time you heard that phrase? Like it!). It's so important to really get along with your close friends' significant others. I think that is one of the most important factors in keeping friendships strong over the years.

Bonnie and I

And lastly, today I got to have brunch with Deepa (saw her twice in one weekend, yea!) and Trang (a fourth med school friend) at Gemini Bistro in Lincoln Park. We sat outside, sipping bellinis, and enjoying the beautiful 73 degree sunshine. It started pouring just as we took our last bites (and, now 30 minutes later, it's perfectly sunny again!) so I don't have any pictures of us- we were too rushed to get inside, but it was a wonderful to see them and chat and plan future group vacations because we really don't see each other enough anymore;(

And lastly, a quick shout-out to Mara, a 5th med school buddy, who's birthday is today. You were with us in spirit all weekend!

How I miss and love my med school girls!