Friday, July 27, 2012

Iron Horse Hotel, Milwaukee, WI

Over Memorial Day, Adam and I had a rare 3 day weekend. It's the first 3 day weekend I can remember in recent history, maybe even in a few years! Day 1 was spent driving with the top down in Elly to Rochester, MN. Glorious. Sunday was spent running the Med City Marathon (half for Adam), then driving to Milwaukee where we had dinner with my parents and Grandma Nelson. We wandered around the Third Ward which is so cute and the Riverwalk which is so pretty. Then Adam and I spent the night at the Iron Horse.

I found this hotel while searching on-line for a cute place near the Third Ward. It was on Conde Nast Traveler's Top 100 Gold List for 2011 and named 2011 Boutique Hotel of the Year by the Boutique and Lifestyle Lodging Association. It has won numerous accolades from many reputable magazines and editorialists, clearly touted as the best hotel in Milwaukee. Sounded like a winner!

Photo courtesy of the Iron Horse
The space is an 100 year old warehouse remodeled in a style that I would call "biker chic". The concept of the hotel is biker meets upscale traveller which surprisingly really works. The combination of open brick, wood, and dark leather with modern light fixtures and art. One reviewer noted it is a place where a woman would feel equally comfortable in biker boots or stiletto heels, which sounds impossible, but is actually the truth about this eclectic, down-to-earth yet sophisticated corner of Milwaukee.

Photo courtesy of the Iron Horse

Photo courtesy of the Iron Horse
Our arrival experience was great- the front desk attendant asked about our plans for the evening and made some helpful dinner suggestions. Much like my opinion on restaurants, oftentimes the difference between expected high quality and outstanding high quality is in the customer service. The lovely woman at the front desk offering suggestions rather than waiting to be asked about recommendations is one example of the latter. Well done.

The room was beautifully appointed with interesting art covering one wall and classic brick, an homage to the building's original use, on the other walls. The bathroom was very pretty with Kohler fixtures and H20 bathroom products. And I have to admit I'm a sucker for the little extra touches like the toilet paper roll covered in animal prints:)

The mini-bar selection was great as well and had we planned to stay longer I'm sure we would have dug in to the great beer and wine selection.

Photo courtesy of the Iron Horse

We had breakfast in the morning in the Library and I was quite happy with the selection. While I am no vegetarian, I felt like having a lighter breakfast so ordered the Tofu Scramble, which turned out to be an absolutely delicious blend of sautéed tofu, asparagus, red onion, cherry tomatoes, wild mushrooms, zucchini, fresh herbs and truffle oil. It was tasty and filling, without relying on heavy creams or cheeses like lesser breakfast places tend to do. But don't worry, if you are up for a traditional Wisconsin breakfast there was plenty of meat and cheese on the menu as well:)

Photo courtesy of the Iron Horse

In addition to the Library there is the Smyth for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the Yard, a beautiful indoor/outdoor bar. We will be back to try those on for size:)

I highly recommend the Iron Horse as a great stay for a Milwaukee weekend getaway especially for Chicagoans looking for a place that meets the high standards of an urban upscale hotel. This place was right in line with what I would expect, but at 2/3'rds of the usual cost! A well kept secret that I am very pleased to have discovered! ;)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Open Water Swim... a disaster. Like many people who consider or attempt a triathlon, the swim is my main source of fear and pessimism about the whole endeavor. Sure I can ride a bike. I don't love it, but I can do it. I definitely can run. But swim? The last time I took a swimming test (I think I was in 5th grade at Lake Loiuse for those interested), I failed and was not allowed to go beyond the "shallow" part of the lake. I knew how to doggie paddle but I never learned the whole bilateral breathing thing (i.e. putting your head under water and breathing on one side and then the other) until Adam taught me last year. I maybe swam 3 times in 2011. Then in the past 3 months I've started to take it more seriously, swimming twice a week or so. I've been quite happy with my (slow) progress. When I started I couldn't swim across one length (20 yards) without stopping in the middle either to breathe or to deal with the water in my mouth or nose or to correct my stroke, and last week I swam three times, the longest being 0.75 miles, which is longer than I need to do in the Chicago Sprint Triathlon in August. But this was all in the pool.

Last weekend I rented a wetsuit and made my way down to Ohio Street Beach for my first open water swim with my supportive husband at my side. It wasn't a disaster. But it wasn't good. I had low expectations for my first time, to prevent feeling devastated if things went poorly. I am somewhat afraid of the water. I'm not worried about drowning, I can swim well enough, there are plenty of other people and lifeguards- but water that is not in the controlled setting of a chlorinated pool has always freaked me out a bit. Ever since coming out of the water with 8 leeches on my leg in St Germain as a kid, and the time my family went on an ocean cruise where they warned us "don't touch the bright red corral- it could kill you" which caused me to abstain from snorkeling for years, oh- and the time I decided to overcome my fear of snorkeling and snorkeled on a beach in Egypt and literally got my foot caught in corral and couldn't get it out- well now even I sorta see why I have the heebie jeebies about open water.

But the "scared factor" wasn't a huge problem. Admittedly, I have now been swimming in the lake 3 times and I do spend a few minutes standing in the water up to my waist freaked out, tachycardic thinking about what's in the water (who needs a warm up to get the heart pumping when you have fear?), but I sternly tell myself it's just like swimming in the pool and once I put my face in once all is well. Last night, there were some pretty serious waves, which meant pieces of seaweed and garbage (yeah, it's urban swimming) kept hitting me but I was able to keep my cool through that.

Speaking of waves....people told me another hard part of the open swim is the waves both in terms of difficulty swimming and getting the chance to breathe. I suppose both of these things could be problems if I swam for longer than 15 breaths at a time (45 strokes). But I CAN'T. And I don't know why. And it's so frustrating!!

So what exactly is my problem? I've spent a lot of time thinking about it this week and honestly have been really bummed that I have been out 3 times and can't get this going. I've narrowed it down to two things, neither of which I know how to fix which is bumming me out further.

#1 The goggles. After a few strokes, I inevitably get water in my left goggle. I guess I could "tough it out" and just keep my left eye closed but I have enough to think about as a beginning swimmer in Lake Michigan and I just can't do it. So I stop swimming, re-adjust, but no matter how tight I make my goggles, it doesn't seem to help:(

#2 Laxity in training leads to problems in the real deal. When swimming in a pool, there are natural break points when you reach the pool edge at the end of a lap. Even though I've minimized my loitering times b/t laps and often don't loiter at all, that couple second break where I hang on to the wall to turn myself around was more of a break than I realized. I think this is why the few times when my goggles aren't a problem, I don't swim much more than 2-3 "pool lengths" before I feel like my breathing is off, I'm disoriented and it's time to stop.

So what am I going to do? I honestly don't know. Tomorrow is my last day with the wet suit and I'm going to march down there full of purpose, spend a few minutes terrified in the water, then COMMAND myself to swim 30 breaths (90 strokes) at a time until I get to the 1/4 mile marker. I'll allow myself to take breaks tomorrow because it's completely unrealistic to think that I can do this without them at this point. But I need a way to take "breaks" that don't involve hanging on the edge of the pool or standing up in the water. Adam says a few strokes of butterfly can serve as a break but I'm not so sure that swimming can be a break from swimming. But I'm willing to try. I'm willing to try anything. Race day is in 5 weeks and I will be there. I'd much prefer to finish the race rather than DNF my first ever triathlon.

And don't even get me talking about putting on and taking off the wetsuit. Might be harder than actually swimming......

Tips and advice are welcome. I'm way out of my league.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Val Around Town

This weekend is my second weekend off IN A ROW and my first weekend off spent at home since fellowship ended. I haven't had two consecutive weekends off (not including one two-week formal vacation) in over a year. I'm not sure that regular M-F office workers have a full appreciation of how luxurious it is to have two days off a week. I feel like a real person again. I think of things I'd like to do and then I DO them or at least make PLANS to do them rather than thinking, "one day maybe I'll do that". So great. I don't get panicky when it's 9 pm and I'm not asleep yet because I can sleep in next weekend!

So how did I spend my first weekend day of freedom? Here's the play-by-play.
Not my teeth

7 am: Getting up at 7 am is sleeping in, I'll take it!

8:40 am: Nice convertible ride down to the dentist. My hygienist is so gentle, I almost fell asleep in the chair. Very relaxing.

9-10:30 am: Got caught up some work. Working at home on the weekend for a few hours at a time is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than having to go in to work at a certain time and not being able to leave until everything is dealt with.

10:30-12: Researched and booked a hotel for the Big Sur International Marathon in April which I will register for in 23 minutes (registration opens at 7 am pacific time this AM).

My new shoe!
12-1 pm: Worked on blog posts. There's such a huge back log of posts I want to write!

1-2 pm: Ran w/ Adam, Lunch, Shower

2-3:30 pm: Tried on and rented a wet suit at Fleet Feet. While there, I bought new running shoes as well! I've been running with Brooks Ravennas for a while and I like to try new things so this time I got the Mizuno Wave Inspires. Turquoise seems to be the shoe color of the season (the new Ravennas were turquoise as well). Adam says my shoes look like the color of the Italian flag and that I shouldn't be surprised if people offer me pizza while I'm running to which I said "Fabulous! Where have these shoes been all my life?" :)

3-4 pm: Grocery shopping at Mariano's

Our VIP passes
I look so lopsided!
5-8 pm: Used our VIP access passes to attend the Pitchfork Music Festival over in the West Loop. We listened to the Chromatics who I liked a lot. For those who know M83, the Chromatics are kind of a lighter, less intense, slightly more 80s version of M83. People watching was highly entertaining as usual- there were some prime weirdos out in full force. Prize for most strange attire of the day was a chubby man wearing a woman's traditional West African dress with tights, galoshes and a flower in his hair. Hmm. Much to my surprise we were far from the oldest people there. The older I get the less I find standing outside in the heat with a bunch of people with questionable hygiene to be tolerable, but last night the weather was nice and I didn't even get stepped on (a first at an outdoor music fest!) so I have no complaints.

That's a little more normal.

8-9 pm: Consumed tasty gelato at Black Dog Gelato in Ukranian Village. I had Salted Peanut and Chai Spice and Adam had Salted Peanut, Mexican Hot Chocolate and Goat Cheese, Carmel and Cashew. It was a beautiful night, a perfect night for music, gelato and a nice ride in Elly:)

On tap today: Swimming with my wetsuit at Oak Street Beach and registering for the Big Sur International Marathon. I could get used to this two-day weekend business:)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Green City Market Chef's BBQ

My very first blog post back in 2010 was about the Green City Market so I thought it fitting to mark my return to blogging (read: I finally have some free time!!!) with a post about the Green City Market Chef's BBQ benefit event that Adam and I attended last Thursday. As all good Chicagoans know, the Green City Market occurs twice a week in the Summer in the South end of Lincoln Park. It's a great source of fresh, local produce as well as delicious treats such as Sunday Dinner burgers and other tasty morsels.

Photos courtesy of Goose Island Beer Company superstar, Ken.
The BBQ benefit is an annual collaboration event between local chefs, local food growers, and local beer, wine and spirits organizations. This year there were over 100 restaurants represented with big name chefs present in full force: Rick Bayless of Frontera/Topolobampo, Paul Kahn of Publican/Blackbird/avec/Big Star, and Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat just to name a few. My favorite feature of the benefit (and NOT because I'm biased!) was the chef collaboration beers created by the Goose Island brewers. There were 5 or 6 of these beers, specially designed just for this day to go with specific food pairings. For example, the food portion of my favorite pairing of the day is pictured here- Cheeseburger with Pickled Tropea Onions on Potato Bun from Balena paired with Amaro Amo "Bitter Love" beer. The cheeseburger had that wonderful fresh-off-the-grill flavor with an incredible sweetness. The beer was dark and intense but with a tinge of sweetness rather than the more bitter flavors I often expects from this style of beer. So good! Another tasty morsel we enjoyed was the Grilled Hopleaf Wrapped Tilapia w/ Chermoula Sauce from Goose Island Brewpub paired with Summer Crush, a delightfully light beer for a warm summer day.

Belana's Incredible Burger

Another Chef's Beer Collaboration

Never too many hotdogs for this Chicagoan.

For the more adventurous palate, there were Grilled Chicken Hearts from Gunthorp Farms and Slagel Family Farms. I, of course, could not pass this up- I never turn down the chance to try something new! There was also lamb, duck, rabbit, goat, elk to name a few other less traditional tasty treats! Lamb hot dogs were a recurring theme at a few places- really, can one ever eat too many hot dogs? I think not.

Dessert and Marisol w/ Rick Bayless.
My favorite dessert item was a tie b/t the Grilled White Corn Cake with Honey Poached Peaches and Nectarines from Frontera Grill paired with Goose Island's Marisol (one of my favorite Goose beers in general) and the Spiced Bourbon Lemonade "Liquorsicle" from David Burke's Primehouse. Let me tell you, the bourbon was not subtle! But it was delicious:). Adam also had the Lavender Soda w/ Cherry Ice Cream from Sprout- it looked good but by that point I was all out of stomach room!

I highly recommend attending this great charity event. There's simply no way to sample everything but a good start might be a three-day fast before hand. Or maybe a marathon the week there's a thought:)