Juicy Olive

The quest for “the good life” should never be complete but it should definitely begin now.

33 and Grateful (and full!) September 2, 2009

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Birthdays have never really been my thing. I mean, sure, I think, much like many women my age, I held on to the “Sixteen Candles” fantasy of finding my own Jake Ryan to sweep me into my next year…well into my 20s. But for the most part, my birthday has always been a private event. I’m not a huge attention hound. I’ve never needed a big shindig to make me feel important. In fact, the thought of a bunch of people singing in my honor sort of makes me sweat.

The birthday of my dreams as a young woman

The birthday of my dreams as a young woman

Monday was my birthday. I honestly cannot believe I’m officially in my mid-30s. This isn’t a statement about feeling old. Rather, it’s just that I’m shocked that time has passed so quickly. I know I sound like my Great Aunt Merle when I say that it feels like only yesterday that I was 15.

This year I celebrated with some of my favorite people:

On Friday, I went out with my friend and neighbor Tommy, his girlfriend Tracey and his sister (and a close friend) Annie. My new squeeze Alex joined us too. It was a fun night. We had a yummy dinner at a local pub, then raced to Urban Outfitters to buy long-sleeved shirts because it’s apparently already autumn in Chicago. Properly bundled, we walked to the Lincoln Park Zoo to catch Five for Fighting at an outdoor concert. It was such a pleasant evening. We plopped down on blankets, gerbiled up to stay warm and sipped a refreshing beer while listening to live tunes.

Saturday morning I arose early for a long run. Throughout the 9 miles, my thoughts were on one person: my dear friend Amy. The week before she had given birth to a beautiful, healthy boy. The day before she had endured an 8-hour surgery and double mastectomy to remove cancer from her breast and lymph nodes. Just as I was lacing my sneakers for the exhausting run, I got word from her husband that the surgery went well. Each time my feet pounded the pavement, I thought of Amy. If she could endure childbirth, the heartwrenching decision to have a double-mastectomy, the surgery itself and the anxiety of upcoming chemotherapy, then I could endure yet another mile.

My gal Amy - dressing the part to kick some Big C butt!

My gal Amy - dressing the part to kick some Big C butt!

Clean and rested from my exercise, I zipped down to Crust to meet Courtney. We are kindred spirits who met at a dinner party where everyone was required to bring someone who didn’t know everyone else. The person we knew in common has long since disolved in our social circle, but the bond between Courtney and I keeps getting stronger. Over an incredible salad, two pizzas and some wine, we caught up, laughed, gave advice and figured out the time when we’d meet next. I couldn’t have felt more lucky to have spent quality time with her – whenever we are together, I leave the encounter feeling stronger and more fulfilled!

peas and carrots - circa 2007

peas and carrots - circa 2007

With moments to spare, I raced back to my house, as my parents were about to arrive. They walked in the door, arms full of presents. We played with the dog and I opened the gifts — favorites include a new Boo’s Chopping Block and the add-on to your iPod so you can track your running and your music! I took Mom and Dad to The Violet Hour — at first I think my dad thought it was too “floofy” for his taste. But sitting at the bar, he developed a near-instant man-crush on the mixologist. Before you know it, we were all warm and fuzzy from concoctions like the Juliet & Romeo, a Tequila Old Fashioned and a Dark & Stormy. Following cocktail hour, we put our names on the long list at Avec. My brother joined us, and we shared a bottle of Bordeaux while we awaited our table. Two hours later, we were seated at last. The wait was worth it. Our palates were teased with dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon and topped with pequillo pepper sauce; chicken thighs roasted with fennel and favas; a whole roasted dorade; house-made pappardelle with blood sausage ragu – the list goes on, and so we kept eating. Full and happy, we all retired that evening confident that the foodie thread running through the family DNA had been amply satisfied.

Look no further for incredible cocktails - The Violet Hour

Look no further for incredible cocktails - The Violet Hour

Sunday morning, I revived myself with a cup of coffee from Intelligentsia. Quickly thereafter, Carrie and I met and shimmied down to to the Gold Coast, where our other girlfriends had congregated. We were lucky enough to snag a table that day at Fred’s – the ultra chic 7th floor restaurant at Barney’s. I felt so privileged sitting at that table. There I was with five beautiful, talented, intelligent women – it’s staggering to know that in my life I have the pleasure of naming these ladies as my friends. Over eggs and strong coffee, I opened up to them about my new romance with Alex and felt so empowered by the enthusiasm they shared with me and for me. I talked with Robin about the upcoming birth of her second daughter and we all got to giggle as we rubbed her growing belly. We talked about work, travel, finances, family — much like the moment when you’re on a perfect date and you feel that the rest of the universe has grown quiet, it seemed that we were the axis around which our very happy worlds were spinning. How fortunate I am – how fortunate we all are – to have each other for celebrating life’s excitement.

I spent that afternoon with Alex and a couple of his friends at the Slow Food Chicago event at the Goose Island Brewery. Featuring several “green” chefs, the party was a pig roast with scrumptious takes on swine. We sipped delicious beer and noshed heartily. Afterward, Mark and Sandra invited us back to their loft. Very graciously, they opened their wine cellar to us, and we finished the night sipping gorgeous reds and an exquisite dessert wine.

I couldn’t believe it when the alarm rang on Monday morning. This was my big 33, and yet I had already been celebrating for 72 hours! That day at the office my colleagues wished me a happy birthday and friends from near and far called, sent emails and texted me with good tidings. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Alex that he had been able to sneak out of work early so he could pick me up at the office. He greeted me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a CD compilation of love songs with a rock’n’roll twist (sigh). After taking Stella the Wonder Dog for a long walk, we changed into our fancies and hopped in a cab down to River North. At the restaurant Graham Elliott, we enjoyed the 10-course chef’s tasting menu, complete with unique wine, beer and spirit pairings. The two gluttons that we are, Alex and I couldn’t have been happier. We enjoyed escolar, halibut, scallops, corn bisque, duck, bison, fruit, chocolate…it was a lovely evening. Stuffed and buzzed, we headed home.

As the week has progressed, I’ve had further opportunity to celebrate. Last night my brother and I went to a Cubs game with some fellow Vanderbilt alumni. Tonight I’m meeting Allison and some other friends for a special Wandering Goat dinner from famous chef Stephanie Izard.

Eventually the volume on “Happy Birthday, dear Charlotte!”  will fade to mute. I’ll probably have a few extra pounds to work off from this week of indulgence. I certainly have some lovely gifts from loved ones. But the thing I find to be the most rewarding part of ringing in my 33rd year is the people whom I celebrated with. I am immensely grateful to have built a world for myself that features such remarkable, sharp, funny, talented people who sincerely care about me as much as I care about them. When I blew out the candles on my cake this year, I wished for my life to continue to be enriched with wonderful people and experiences. But, fortunately for me, much as Sam told Jake, there is really no need to make a wish – it already came true.

Thank you

Thank you

 

Goodbye Laurel July 4, 2009

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Laurel Miller (1976 - 2009)

Laurel Miller (1976 - 2009)

Laurel Miller died yesterday. She was my friend. My cohort. My Colorado roommate. A partner in crime. A sports fan. A smiler. A lover. A laugher.

Laurel lived well. She loved much. She was silly. And sensitive. And real.

Laurel was a sincere and honest and true woman. She lived out loud.

When I think about The Juicy Olive, it’s about being true to yourself. It’s about knowing who you are. It’s about not taking shit from anyone. It’s about how to be a lady (or gentleman) without sacrificing your inner punk-rocker. It’s about never letting the quest for the good life be intercepted by lame-o-same-o. A Juicy Olive knows how to kick haters in the tail. A Juicy Olive knows to tell mean girls where to cram it. A Juicy Olive knows how to make the opposite sex croon. A Juicy Olive knows how to make your friends KNOW friendship.

Laurel Miller was a Juicy Olive.

When Laurel died, her organs were donated to others who were able to thrive from her loss. PLEASE – if you are open to organ donation, PLEASE let everyone know you are in favor of organ harvesting. In the past 24 hours, Laurel Miller saved lives. That is an incredible way to leave a legacy.

 

Brunchola, Bruncharoo, Le Brunch, Brunchito June 10, 2009

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Seriously, what other way would you want to start your day on a weekend?

Seriously, what other way would you want to start your day on a weekend?

I’ve been living in Chicago for more than five years. I can’t believe how much time has passed and how quickly it has flown. There is much that I miss about my old stomping grounds. In Colorado, I skied like a maniac, had a killer vegetable garden and played golf whenever I pleased. Before that, in Nashville, I listened to live music, walked “the loop” around Vanderbilt’s campus and mastered the art of margarita consumption. But here in Chicago, we’ve got the Cubs, the lake and – of course – the food. Ask someone what their favorite restaurant is, and you may never get the same answer twice. That’s because this city is a breeding ground for creative, innovative chefs to practice and perfect their arts. Whether it’s taking a simple hot dog to new heights at Hot Doug’s, making a mockery of all the other sushi in the world at Kaze or surprising us with the simplicity of fresh, local ingredients at Uncommon Ground, Chicago’s dining scene has something for everyone.

 Without fail, I get to tempt my tastebuds every week at brunch – the official weekend meal of true Chicagoans. By mid-week, my friends and I are already discussing weekend plans, who’s free for brunch and, of course, where we’ll go. There truly seems to be a brunch spot for every situation. Consider the following:

  •  Ladies Who Brunch – for my birthday last year I eschewed the idea of a meet-up at a bar in favor of a fun girly brunch with my gals. A perfect setting for this gathering was Jane’s. It’s a convenient location and has wonderful food.
  • Big Spenders (aka “Mom and Dad are in town…let’s go to brunch!”) – there’s something quintessentially Chicago about the Ralph Lauren restaurant on Michigan Avenue. With the high-backed leather chairs and beautiful service, you can’t help but feel like fashionable, urban royalty while eating their steak tartare followed by crab cake benedict.
  • Hangovers – this is an obvious one. You go out on a Saturday night and tie one on. The only thing that can cure what ails you on Sunday morning is a stiff breakfast cocktail and grease. Definitely go to Stanley’s. This place has a serious buffet that includes macaroni and cheese, an omelet station, lox with bagels and – my favorite treat – the waffle boats with fruit and whipped cream. The bloody mary bar is also a winner.
  • Kid AND Adult-Friendly – Recently, my friends and I have been hitting Wilde when their kiddos are in tow. It’s big and noisy (thanks to the crowds and the excellent tunes the DJ spins) but features very good pub fare. I’m a major fan of the fried egg sandwich with grilled tomatoes, caramelized onions, thick-cut bacon and sharp white cheddar.
  • Sports Watching – Any other day of the year, you wouldn’t catch me at Duffy’s in Lincoln Park. But when a non-stop set of football games are on, this place is excellent. The brunch buffet has a little something for everyone, and the umpteen flavors of mimosas keep me entertained almost as much as the games.
  • Cuddly Morning with your Sweetie – When l’amour is in the air, the surroundings should simply nurture your inner love-bug. Think about hitting Big Jones in Andersonville or Hot Chocolate in Bucktown. Someplace where you won’t have to wait, and you’ll be encouraged to linger at your table long after the French press coffee is finished.
  • Healthy Habits – It sounds abhorrent to go for the low-cal, no-fat, all-healthy approach on a weekend morning, but on the off chance I’m seeking a dose of goodness, I head to the Chicago Diner in Boystown or Lola in West Town.

 Of course, one of the best ways to spend time with friends over our favorite combo meal is to host your own. That’s exactly what Tiz and Mike did for Tiz’s recent birthday celebration. Everyone brought a dish (still dreaming about Lindsay’s breakfast casserole!) and we all plopped down for food, drinks and relaxing conversation in the comforts of a friend’s home. When in doubt about where to break your fast, open your pantry doors, bust out the speed-dial invite list, tune up some good music and prepare for a great time!

Breakfast of Champions - brunch with friends to celebrate Tiz!

Breakfast of Champions - brunch with friends to celebrate Tiz!

A special BrunchCake to fete Tiz on her birthday!

A special BrunchCake to fete Tiz on her birthday!

 

Wreckathalon review June 2, 2009

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Just a normal saturday for Charlotte and Tommy

Just a normal saturday for Charlotte and Tommy

As many of you know, I participated in a bar crawl this weekend. While it was actually to raise money for charity, I’d say that the primary benefit for me is it was a hell of a lot of fun. What a kick in the pants. If y’all haven’t done so recently, might I suggest the following:

  • Gather a group of people – many of whom know each other and the rest who are loosely connected to the group
  • Invite them to spend the afternoon with you
  • Insist they wear “comfortable, creative costumes”
  • Hype it up for weeks in advance so even the most uninformed attendees get very excited
  • Heckle people about what costume they’ll wear so they feel pressured to come up with a good one
  • Suggest everyone hydrate that morning – lots
  • Begin the festivities mid-afternoon with a mandatory beer chugging contest (this is especially classy for the ladylike teammembers.)
  • Have everyone draw straws for team assignments – the goal is everyone knows a couple of people on each team – but not everyone
  • Set a four-hour time limit for each team to hit as many bars as possible.
  • At each bar, to get a point the team must complete a dare (i.e. create a human sculpture of mrs. o’leary, her cow and the chicago fire) AND consume a drink order (i.e. a fishbowl of “beach juice”)
  • Require everyone to eat something somewhere
  • Act like a total idiot throughout the day
  • Extra points given for kicklines, impromptu serenades to a bar, doing the Truffle Shuffle and having your picture taken with any mustachioed gent (or lass?) you see walking down the street
  • take lots of pictures – especially if a certain team member begins doing the tongue tango with a disturbed beggar-girl at a dive bar (anonymity is essential in this case)
My Wreckathalon Team - a great group of winners.

My Wreckathalon Team - a great group of winners.

So, you get the idea. Create an opportunity for you and your friends to get together, make new friends, act silly, have fun and enjoy the spring sunshine.

More photos of the Wreckathalon are forthcoming. Admit it – you can’t wait to see additional damage of the day!

 

Don’t Call Me Taj May 12, 2009

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The other night, we were at a friend’s house for a wine-tasting. The cast of characters featured a world of know-it-alls…a little…actually, we don’t know that much…at all.

For example, did you know that Meritage doesn’t rhyme with “fusilage?” We learned that tonight. It rhymes with “heritage” – who knew!?

This got me thinking: how important is it to know much at all? I’m increasingly less interested in being right. But when I was in college, I tried my hardest to be the smartest commenter in the lecture. I raised my hand first. I furiously scanned my notes for the most obscure element of the text that would make me brilliant to my peers. And tonight, some of that came out around the table – when presented with the opportunity to win prizes for our wine knowledge, our hands shot up in the air and our teacher’s pets personas came to life!

For the most part, though, we were surpisingly restrained. Here are a bunch of Type-A personalities who want to be in charge of the discussion and we actually listened.

The know-it-alls learned a little something about wine

The know-it-alls learned a little something about wine

And here’s what we learned:

  • House Wine – don’t judge a book by its cover. This wine looks generic by label, but started the night off pleasantly and made us feel relaxed. Read this: relaxed, pleasant, yummy, clean, tasty. BUY ME!
  • A. Genoux – this is a classic Rhone blend – with a heck of a lot of syrah and grenache in it. Fruity with a dry finish, we all agreed that this improves as it breathes and would pair very well with food.
  • The Prisoner – this gorgeous bottle by Orin Swift Cellars surprised us all. The base of 50% zinfandel gave it strength, but the additional grapes (cab, syrah, petit syrah, charbono and grenache) provided incredible balance and flavor.
  • One Twenty Over Eighty – if there is ever a reason to join a wine club, Ehlers Estate has given it to us with this bottle. Only available to its club members, this incredible red blend knocks your socks off. A traditional Bordeaux-style red, this wine begs to be consumed with dinner – and a little leftover to complement a bite of dark chocolate at dessert!
  • C.M.S. – Featuring a blend of “Cabernet,” “Merlot” and “Syrah”, this wine by Hedges provided a memorable conclusion to the tasting. It was very balanced and reminded me of the kind of wine you’d like to sip to finish your night. Go change into your jammies, curl up on the couch with a blanket and have one last glass of CMS while squeezing in the last dose of gossip with your friends.

That night’s focus – if you haven’t already figured it out – was blends: merlot, cab, petit verdot, etc.. On their own they can be remarkable, but together they’re like magic. It’s not to say that an independent varietal isn’t a worthy bottle of wine. Please, we had heart palpitations recently when trying the 100% petit verdot from Reverie. But the group consensus was that blends don’t get enough credit and that everyone should treat a simple “vin de table” with a little more reverence next time they’re at a local wine store.

On my way home, I was reflecting on our fun and realized that much like the unassuming blended wine, a group of friends like ours is surprising, exciting, fun and rewarding. Individually, we’re rock stars. But when blended together, we’re the penultimate meritage: fruity, funky, refined and gorgeous.  

That night, our group of smart and informed wine tasters learned a lot and laughed even more. And while we may nver shed our smarty-pants demeanors, nights like those taught us to always keep learning. Around every corner is a new drop of detail that adds to the encycolpedias in our minds. 

And, hell, if nothing else, we’ll never again forget how to pronounce “meritage” – just remember “don’t call me taj…” (get it? GET IT!?)

 

Thank you, my friends, for my health! April 23, 2009

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Ringing in 2009 with the Chicago girls

Ringing in 2009 with the Chicago girls

This morning’s New York Times had an article that caught my eye: What are Friends For: A Longer Life. The journalist reported the results of a number of studies that found an increase in overall health for people who have an established and substantial circle of friends. Moreover, those with deep social networks had fewer incidents of obesity, longer-lasting brain health and a lower likelihood of unexplained death.

WHOA! So, what Tara Parker-Pope is telling me is that in addition to the silly vacations, champagne-filled afternoons, marathon phone calls and near-obsessive instant messaging, my interaction with all of you will keep me around longer? Hot damn!

My dear friends from college - Amy, Gina, Ashley and Becca

My dear friends from college - Amy, Gina, Ashley and Becca

I’m sure it seems a little sappy to the casual reader that I’m always gushing about my friends and how important they are to me. But this article backs me up! You all ARE important to me! And, as Lindsay always says, if you’re a true Juicy Olive, you pick your friends for the wonderful qualities they exude, the values we share and the promise of goodness to come. For my friends and I, that means independence, humor, honesty, integrity, intelligence and sophistication. What does it mean to you?

Amy and Charlotte - out way too late

Amy and Charlotte - out way too late

On this gorgeous spring day, say a little prayer, raise your glass, give a hug…take sincere action to thank the universe for the friendships you have and the health they bring to your world.

 

Striking a pretty pose with Stephanie

Striking a pretty pose with Stephanie

Good friends are good for your health.
~ Irwin Sarason

Colorado ladies livin' it up in Vegas

Colorado ladies livin' it up in Vegas

 

Heart is happy April 7, 2009

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During my weekend getaway to California recently, my friends and I spent several days capturing that raw and gorgeous feeling only available in wine country. I awoke every morning watching the sun rise over a glorious vineyard landscape and shortly thereafter would lace up my sneakers, tune up the iPod and head out to pound the pavement in the small trails between fields of pinot grigio, cabernet franc and chardonnay.

This scenery makes running 3 miles far more enjoyable!

This scenery makes running 3 miles far more enjoyable!

Jonathan (aka – Wine Hawk, aka – Bridget’s incredible husband, aka – my pretend husband) had scheduled an incredible lineup of tastings for us: Kuleto, Mill Creek, Dry Creek, Woodenhead…the list goes on. Sitting in a sun-drenched field each afternoon, we’d picnic and plan for more great wine discussions with such talented farmers. Our evenings opened up to excellent food, delicious conversation and the sharing of a bottle or two of the day’s purchases.

The happy couple - Bridget and Jonathan's 2nd anniversary!

I, Wine Hawk, take you, Bridget...

The trip had a specific purpose – to celebrate Bridget and Jonathan’s second wedding anniversary. In addition to our gorgeous surroundings, succulent wines and incredible food, we were commemorating two fun-filled years that they’ve had as a happy couple. We even revisited the site of their nuptials and had a fake (and silly!) ceremony to send them into similar fortune in the years to come!

I barely knew Bridget and Jonathan when they wed back in 2007 and, as such, didn’t attend their wedding. Over a drink at the Harvest Inn (the site of their reception), we reminisced about the past couple of years and agreed that it feels like we’ve all known each other for ages. It was a lovely oportunity to give thanks for their strong marriage and our evergrowing friendship.  

It was a fun and special trip. They’ve even decided to make it an annual event, and we hope that more of our friends can make it next year to celebrate and take part in all of the beautiful fun. If they know what’s wise, they’ll be  counting down the days until the Napa Valley sun hits their faces and the Sonoma wines tickle their tastebuds.

Since returning, I have thought a lot about my California weekend. During such stressful times with the economy, jobs and houses taking up valuable real estate in our thoughts, it’s important to remind ourselves of the simple things – family, friends and good old-fashioned romance – that make it all worthwhile.

Heart is Happy - enough said.

Heart is Happy - enough said.