Archive | November, 2011

In Town Tourist: Living Social Adventure – Dinner + Drinks Around The World

10 Nov

Welcome to the In Town Tourist – this is a new category of my Stew’s Brew blog that will cover fun you can have in the Chicagoland area – being a tourist in our town.   Our family, and especially my wife, Robin, loves to seek out and do fun things in the Chicago area – and not everything needs to be a big costly activity. With the advent of Groupon, Living Social, Daily Steals, Daily Swoop – the deal of the day sites, Robin has become a rabid consumer of fun to be had in our fair city. Just this summer we have kayaked on the Chicago River, taken a Segway tour, taken a movie tour and more.

Additionally, we always enjoy just “going and doing” in the area – finding street and community fairs, taking the bikes downtown, going and walking or hiking, touring neighborhoods and more.  After so many of our friends have said to us “Oh man, that sounds fun!” after talking about one of our adventures, I’ve decided to blog about them in this section, In Town Tourist.  Now, that all said, this is not meant to be a review of these events – just a way for folks to learn about fun to be had in the Chicagoland area.

Tuesday evening of this week, we – Robin and I along with my in-laws Merle and Julie – went on a Living Social Adventure – Dinner + Drinks Around The World.  Living Social Adventures is a new “product” of the Living Social company – which, like Groupon, offers “deals of the day” on their website and via email.  In a different twist, Living Social puts on these adventures themselves – they have staff that joins you, take care of the transport, and well, make the whole thing a very fun and seamless adventure!

The Dinner + Drinks Around The World was a trolley tour (OK, a bus in Trolley Clothing) that took you to three great Chicago landmark neighborhoods – Greektown, Chinatown and Pilsen, aka “little Mexico”.  In each location, we went to a landmark restaurant  – appetizers in Greektown, dinner in Chinatown and dessert in Pilsen.

We took the 5:30 PM tour – they also had 6:30 and 7:30 tours, and were picked up at 646 North Franklin St. in the River North area – a great beer bar, Hop Haus, is at that location.  The trolley arrived about 5:15 and we were greeted by Brian and Nikki – two very energetic Living Social staffers who were our hosts on the trolley for the evening.

From there, the trolley made its way to The Parthenon restaurant in Greektown (314 South Halstead Street – just west of the Kennedy Expy.)  for appetizers of  hummus with Pita, saganaki, the traditional flaming cheese appetizer, and of course – shots of Ouzo.  The hummus was wonderful – not a traditional all-chickpea hummus – tasted like it had eggplant in it like babaganoush.  And of course the Parthenon waiters did their usual showy presentation of the saganaki by dousing sizzling platters of sauteed greek Kasseri cheese with brandy and igniting it – a burst of flame and a shout of Opaa!  – then they extinguish the flame with fresh lemon juice and it is bon appetit time.  Ouzo, if you’ve never had it, tastes like “Good n Plenty” candy – a black licorice/anise flavor, and while sweet, is not syrupy.  It is classified as a liquor not a “liqueur” as it is usually 60 proof/30 percent alcohol.  Good stuff.  This is the first time I’ve had it with food and it really went well with the saganaki.  We usually drink it as an after-dinner drink.

From there, it was back onto the trolley for a 15 minute ride down to Chinatown.  Chinatown is located just north of the Stevenson expressway and just east of the Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago – the “centerpoint” of the Chinatown district is the corner of Wentworth Ave. and Cermak Rd.  There is so much to do in Chinatown, that I’ll be posting another blog post just about Chinatown in the In Town Tourist theme.  We went to the Triple Crown restaurant – it is a Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant right in the centerpoint of Chinatown by the  “gate” and the Chinese cultural center.  At the Triple Crown we were served Tsingtao beer (which tastes all the world like Budweiser – both are made with rice adjuncts), plus a HUGE plate of food that included an egg roll, black bean chicken, spicy green beans and a mountain of fried rice.  My father-in-law can’t drink beer, so they were very accommodating and brought him a plum wine instead – which the Living Social host, Kate, said tasted “like Manischewitz”.   One funny feature at Triple Crown was an extra-large plasma TV in the dining room tuned to an odd Chinese program, which seemed to be promoting some sort of health-care regimen.

After that, it was a short drive  in the trolley over to Pilsen.  This was my first foray into Pilsen, and I have to admit, I always thought it to be a dangerous neighborhood – but the area we were in was full of gentrified new/rehabbed housing, art galleries and such, plus the traditional Mexican businesses, and didn’t have that “dangerous” feeling at all.   Pilsen is on the near southwest side and is basically across the Dan Ryan expressway from Chinatown – west of the Ryan, north of the Stevenson. The trolley brought us to Cuernavaca, a large Mexican restaurant that is just east of the intersections of West 18th Street and Racine Ave.  At Cuernavaca, we were served Mexican pastries – which was basically fried tortilla with cinnamon sugar – delicious!, a rice pudding and then your choice of Kahlua with coffee (or plain Kahlua in my case) or Horchata cocktails which was a Mexican rice milk mixed with vodka.  We loved the pastries, were “so-so” on the rice pudding, and of course, enjoyed the Kahlua.  Cuernavaca is also known for their immense margaritas – these things were as big as your head, and while we didn’t have one, we were told they were delicious!

After that, the trolley motored us back to River North and the Hop Haus to wrap the evening.   All in all, a great night – very reasonably priced and tons of fun.

I would strongly recommend going on the Living Social site and checking out their Adventures – they seem to be very organized and have a number for sale – they are all for a limited time and they introduce new adventures frequently.  For those outside of Chicago, Living Social Adventures is in 30 cities across the USA so far.

Happy touring!

Stew

More photos from our night:

One of the energetic Living Social staffers at The Parthenon

Hummus and pita at The Parthenon

Opaa!  Flaming cheese – saganaki –  at The Parthenon

The funky green light wall at Triple Crown

Mmm … beer.

Confucius say, “don’t put tiny street sign so high you can’t see it.”

Three of our Living Social guides – Nikki and Brian (center and right) were our bus guides.

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Stew Campbell, cub reporter!

7 Nov

Ah, a moment of journalistic glory today for me, harkening back to days of my youth when worked for KCOB radio in Newton, IA and when I was a Journalism major at Iowa and working as a stringer for the Daily Iowan (a “stringer” is someone who files stories but is not actually on staff for a media channel like a newspaper or radio station).

Today as I arrived at the train station to take my normal 7:18 train into Buffalo Grove, there was a huge plume of black smoke rising from the general vicinity of the station.  As I got closer, I could see fire trucks in the parking lot – a car must be on fire.  Getting closer still and parking my car, you could see flame rising above the car that was on fire as the firefighters prepared to put it out.  Fortunately, the firefighters got it out, no one was hurt, and the only damage was to cars.

Being the journalist at heart that I am, I had the presence of mind to snap a picture with my iPhone, and when I got to the office today, I sent it along to Cristel Mohrman, the editor of the Buffalo Grove edition of Patch.com – a local online “newspaper” site.  She then “interviewed” me by mail and had me write an account of the situation as I saw it.  The magic of the internet being instantaneous, it was  published a few minutes later on BG Patch.

You can read the story at the link below – and while being an eyewitness to some “news” wasn’t a big deal, it was fun to feed my journalistic fires for a few moments as I witness a real fire. Be sure to click the photo – they even gave me a photo credit!  Now back to life as an ad man … or Mad Man.  Take your pick.

Five cars damaged in parking lot fire at Buffalo Grove Metra Station

As you were,

Stew

Bible study in Technicolor: If G-d called you, what would you do?

6 Nov

A religious thought to share. In Judaism, we read the Torah (the first five books of the bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuterotomy), in a series of weekly portions called the “parshah” over the year. As the new year just started, we are working from the beginning again – right now in the early parts of Genesis. This week’s portion, which we studied in B’Chavanah services (our upstart little Jewish thing led by my pal and Rabbi, Marc Belgrad), we were at Genesis 12:1 – the start of the story of Abraham.

A little biblical back story. I find is simply fascinating to study the Torah and the Bible (well, at least the Old Testament) from a Jewish perspective, as the viewpoint is NOT one of “this is the word of God and this is the way it is” – in other words a black and white viewpoint, 1 dimensional, but is instead full of color and dimension. Technicolor. My upbringing in a Presbyterian church, thankfully, wasn’t expressly literal interpretation of the bible, but instead did have some color to it, and I”m sure with adult bible study, there was much more to it, but my adult religious study has been as a Jew, and I have really appreciated it. Read on:

Jews study the Torah by REALLY STUDYING it – the book we use, called a Tanach, has the page divided in thirds vertically, with the words of the original text at the top, definitions and expansions in the middle (typically through annotations), and then opinion, called midrash or simply “drash” in the bottom third. The midrash is where things get really interesting, and where study of the bible from a Jewish perspective gets a lot of its color. There are also then additional layers and colors revealed by studying both the structure of the stories, and in even the words, as they are written in Hebrew. Words in Hebrew can have multiple meanings and there are whole midrash sections written entirely just on “why was this partcular Hebrew word chosen here?” My Rabbi, Marc, really is into the structual study of it and the embedded numerology, symbolism, etc. etc. in it and I find it simply fascinating. In the midrash, there are usually interpretations that were written through the ages, and they can be quite contradicting – Maimonides said this, Hillel said that, the ancient sages said another thing, etc. What I love about Torah study in a Tanach is the fact that it is all reported – without opinion. It is almost like reading a newspaper – this happened, and this person said this about it, this person said that about it, etc. but without choosing sides and without opinion given as to what YOU should think. Again, simply fascinating. I could write an entire blog post on this.

Anyway, in this Shabbat’s parshah, we learn of Abraham. And the story starts with an interesting structural note. In the bible, Adam was of course the first man. G-d put him on Earth to populate the world. After 10 generations, G-d realized the wheels were off the apple cart, and called upon Noah, whom he chose because he was basically the least corrupt guy on the planet – which is to say, he may not have been any choir boy, but was the best guy compared to all the rest of the idiots, apparently. And he gave Noah a task – build an ark, save two of every critter that walked the earth, male and female, plus yourself and your family, because, well, it’s gonna rain. And when it’s done raining, open the ark up and go out and repopulate the world. At the end of another 10 generations, comes the story of Abraham. In the Torah, repeating patterns like this are used as a literary trick to say “Yo, wake up – something important is happening.” With Avram/Abraham, again, G-d realizes that things aren’t all milk and cookies down here on the blue planet, and instead of grabbing what appears to be the best guy and giving him a task, he finds 75-year-old Avram (not yet known as Abraham), and tells him “dude, we got plans together.” WHY Avram was chosen for this is subject of much debate – some say it is because he demonstrated monotheism by destroying his father’s idols – a made up story by the ancient sages, I understand – and some say it was just out of the blue. The bible is unclear. But, he was chosen and was G-d had plans and he needed to hop to it. And he did.

Which, of course brings me to my point in the story and what REALLY resonated with me this week, given all the hubbub about the Occupy movement, about the need to take care of our poor, about how it appears one party is very focused on only the needs of the wealthy, etc. etc. No politics in my religion here today, but it has me thinking about this. Abraham was simply told by G-d – “go forth, bring your family and go to a new land where I will lead you, and set about creating a new people” – sort of a “go forth and multiply” message – and if Abraham would simply do this, G-d will become his promoter and defender, and the new people that he will be the founder of, will be known as Israel, the Jews, the chosen people. But, being chosen, as Abraham and the rest of us would learn later, with G-d promoting and defending you, came with another side of the deal – the Covenant – that the people Israel would be G-d’s agents on Earth, chosen to heal the sick, feed the needy, defend the defenseless, clothe the naked, educate the illiterate, etc. “Make the world a better place”, G-d said. “That’s your side of the deal. Good? Let’s roll.”

A pal from college, Kevin S, shared this image this morning on his Facebook wall:

I find this message interesting, but then I also challenge it with what occurred to me when I read it (and what I posted as a response to his picture) – it’s a bit Kennedy-esque: Instead of asking “what can G-d do for me”, ask: “What can I do for G-d?”. It is a classic Jewish interpretation of G-d. We are not put here to use G-d as a candy machine – and ask for favors whenever we need help. (That leads me to a funny story that perhaps I’ll do a different post on). We instead are here, per G-d’s challenge to Abraham and per the G-d’s Covenant with the Jewish people, to do G-d’s work of making this a better place for us all. To help the sick, feed the hungry, house the homeless, give charity to the needy, clothe the naked, and more. And to take care of this place. What can I do for G-d? is the foundation of the entire covenant with us.

That said, I do like this image here – and Kevin, thank you for sharing it today. It does answer my question, honestly. I hear all the time, “we are screwed”, when it comes to thinking about our economy, and our world and planet. Global warming, 7 billion people, pollution, disease, unrest, financial meltdown, etc., but if we stop thinking of ourselves, and ditch this greedy, “I got mine, better not take it away” mentality, and instead focus on the Covenant – of “how can I do G-d’s work of making our world a better place”, we CAN surmount these problems.

So, a challenge dear friends and readers:

If G-d called you, what would you do? And even if you’re not hearing voices over the radio, seeing George Burns in the canned goods aisle, or even a burning bush (how trite, been done before) … What can you do for G-d?

Happy thinking!

As you were,

Stew

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