4.30.2012

Monday Foodie Porn

Mario & I at a fancy gala
fundraiser last Friday ♥
Happy (almost) May! I know I say it just about every month, but wow, April really flew by... it feels like just last week that I was gearing up for a month filled with birthday celebrations, Baconfest, and Mario's guitar class recital. Whew. It was one crazy/fun month!

May is already shaping up to be just as fun with a few more birthday celebrations, a trip to Starved Rock for a weekend of hiking, and visits to a couple of my favorite restaurants. I also have a few exciting changes/additions planned for this space, which I hope to roll out soon (well, as soon as I finish grading the giant stack of freshman comp papers that are currently staring me down). :-)

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4.24.2012

Tuesday LTP: Skittle sorting


Okay, so it seems a bit anal... but I'm not the only one who does this, right?

I consider my Skittle sorting to be one of my many lovable quirks. I dump them out of the bag (unless I'm in a public place/on the go with nowhere to set my Skittles - I have a special bag shake sorting method for those situations) and sort them every time, without fail, for three very important reasons:

1) so that I can ration out the yellow (my favorite)
2) so that I can decide which other flavor(s) to pair with the purple (my least favorite)
3) so that I can end with a yellow.

Once I have them sorted by color, I also count the red, green, and orange piles in order to determine #2. The yellows always get eaten on their own, unless I decide to make a special yellow/purple combination; of course, that would only happen if I get an usually large amount of yellows in a bag (which is rare).

My coworkers think my Skittle sorting is hilarious, especially since I'm not as anal about other candies (I will occasionally sort M&M's, but Skittles & Starburst are really the only ones that I am a control freak about), but I think my reasoning makes perfect sense. :-)

Today's LTP: Are you a Skittle sorter? If so, what's your method? Do you sort any other candies?

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4.23.2012

Meatless Monday: Tomato, Asparagus & Mushroom Frittata

I breakfast foods. Seriously, I am all about breakfast - I can have it at any time of the day (and frequently do!). In the land of Starr, breakfast is not just breakfast; it's also the new lunch and the new dinner.

My breakfast love runs the gamut from sweet (bring on the maple!) to savory. I'm a huge fan of eggs and will eat them just about any way you can make them (except pickled - I really don't care for pickled anything). The only problem is that my stomach doesn't like them back. Let's just say that what was once a small thunderstorm in my tummy post-egg consumption has now morphed into full-blown hurricane territory. I'm sure I have some sort of egg allergy, but I refuse to acknowledge it because... well, I love eggs! :-)  However, for the sake of my stomach (and anyone around me), I do try to substitute Egg Beaters or egg whites as much as possible, like with my favorite frittata recipe.

I spent years trying various frittata recipes, but was never completely satisfied with the results. Eventually, I decided to take my favorite elements from the various attempts and add in a few of my own personal twists. This tomato, asparagus, and mushroom frittata recipe is my perfect version of the dish.

Tomato, Asparagus & Mushroom Frittata
makes 4 servings (1 wedge each)
INGREDIENTS  
1 & 1/2 cups Egg Beaters (Original or Southwestern Style)
1/4 cup fat free milk
10 asparagus spears, trimmed & cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I'm partial to morel or porcini)
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese & 1/2 cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/4 tsp seat salt OR truffle salt (I use this)
1/4 tsp black pepper
Pinch of Herbs de Provence
Fat-free cooking spray

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat broiler.

2. In a medium bowl, mix Egg Beaters, milk, 1/2 of cheese mixture, salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence.

3. Coat an ovenproof skillet with cooking spray & set over medium heat. Add asparagus and mushrooms - cook and stir for approximately 3 minutes (until the asparagus is tender).

4. Add the tomato - cook and stir for approximately 1 minute.

5. Pour egg mixture into skillet and reduce heat to low. Cook for 8-12 minutes, loosening edges of frittata occasionally so that the egg mixture can redistribute. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese mixture over the top (before the frittata sets).

6. Once the bottom of the frittata is set (the top will be slightly moist), remove from heat & place skillet under the broiler.

7. Broil for 1-2 minutes (until the top is set). Remove from broiler immediately and let sit for 2 minutes.

8. Cut into 4 wedges and serve immediately.

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4.19.2012

Versatile Blogger Award


A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive The Versatile Blogger award from not just one, but two bloggers.  I guess that means I'm just double the awesome, right?! :-)

Seriously, I really appreciate the recognition. Although I've been blogging for the last seven years, this is my first non-pseudonymous blog and my first food focused blog. My audience over here is not only substantially larger than in the past, but it's also much more diverse, thanks to a combination of my readers from my academic blogging days, facebook followers, and all of my new foodbuzz readers. While I'm still working on striking a balance between writing about food and my personal life (and deciding how much I want floating around about my life on the internet *waves to my students who found me yesterday*), I love this little space and all of the awesome readers/commenters who hang out over here.

What is the Versatile Blogger Award? It is an opportunity for bloggers to publicly recognize other quality blogs. It's also a great way for recipients to promote some of their own favorite blogs that their readers might not have discovered otherwise. There are just a few rules: thank your nominator, share seven facts about yourself, and nominate fifteen other bloggers whom you think are deserving of the same accolade.

So first of all, let me thank both Peter (Feed Your Soul) and Connie (Smitten Foodie) for the nominations. I found both of their blogs a few months ago through foodbuzz and have been a loyal reader ever since. Obviously, if you don't already read them, you should head over there and check them out right now - so many great recipes & reviews!

Seven facts about me (x2):
1. I can name all fifty states in alphabetical order.
2. I hated my name when I was younger because I stood out (there wasn't much variety in Bay City back in the 80s), but now I love that it's different.
3. I have very fair skin that sunburns horribly (even when I'm slathered in sunscreen).
4. My favorite poets are Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton, Marge Piercy, and Adrienne Rich.
5. I love, love, love sushi, but went through a two year period in which I couldn't eat it after a bad case of sushi food poisoning.
6. I am mildly climacophobic (thanks to multiple instances involving some nasty injuries after wiping out on stairs).
7. I once had a job delivering singing telegrams.
8. The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark.
9. Because of my father's positive influence, I have very high expectations of men.
10. My middle name is Ann. Many of my older relatives refer to me by my first and middle names, which I hate (they run my names together & turn it into Starrann).
11. I once caught a guitar pic at a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert with my cleavage.
12. I am very good at remembering the smallest of details, which is both a blessing and a curse.
13. As much as I complain about it, I'm totally addicted to Turbo Kick (with the best teacher ever!).
14. I love calamari, but I will not eat the tentacles (they creep me out!).

Finally, 15 awesome bloggers:
These blogs are all filled with great recipes, interesting reviews, and an abundance of foodie porn...
Annie Oakley's Kitchen
Hungry Couple
Fragrant Vanilla Cake
Cravings of a Lunatic
Eat Your Heart Out
Sweet and Salty San Francisco
Sarcastic Cooking
Tastefully Julie
Amuse Your Bouche
Home Skillet
Tortillas and Honey
Equal Opportunity Kitchen (another former academic blogger turned food blogger!) 

Three of my new favorite Chicago food bloggers:
Jax House
No Shame 
a girl and her food

Bonus!:
Neither are food bloggers, but they are both fantastic ladies whose blogs fully reflect their fun personalities. I can personally attest to their awesomeness, as I've know them both since I was a name-hating theatre nerd back in Michigan!: Momma Needs a Beer & Clever Compass

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4.17.2012

Tuesday LTP: Bacon Love

via Science, Love and LSD
When it comes to the candy of the meat world, there's a continuum that ranges from "Sure, I like bacon" to "I want to dive into a vat of sizzling swine and flop around in its salty goodness" (see Jim Gaffagin, The Oatmeal, and Canada). I fall somewhere in the middle of that range - I obviously like bacon enough to attend an event such as Baconfest, but really, I can go months without it (honestly, I'm a bit bacon-ed out at the moment... well, unless you have some of those awesome bacon pancake pops you want to pass along to me). While I'm not someone who would use bacon toothpaste or who would be buried in a bacon coffin, I am someone who finds the idea of bacon chocolate Peeps to be quite intriguing (oooh, and look at these maple bacon cupcakes!).

Today's Lunchtime Poll*:
Where do you fall on the bacon continuum?



  
pollcode.com free polls 
*Obviously, this poll is not meant for those who don't eat pork for religious reasons, hate pork, or who are vegetarian, vegan, etc. (although I've had conversations with many vegetarians & vegans who said that bacon was the hardest thing to stop eating and/or the one meat that tempts them) 

Bonus question: how do you like your bacon? Crispy? Chewy? Incinerated? Chopped up into bits, smothered in maple syrup, and stuffed into a cupcake?

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4.16.2012

Monday Foodie Porn: Baconfest 2012!


Baconfest: a celebration of all things bacon. There's bacon, bacon, and more bacon... and let's not forget the bacon cocktails to wash it all down. The fourth annual Chicago Baconfest took place this past Saturday and Diana and I were lucky enough to score tickets to the coveted event (seriously, it sold out in five minutes!). It was the first time at the festival for both of us... and it was quite a crazy, awesome, salty, and magical day. :-)

In our two hours of extreme bacon consumption, we encountered everything from bacon-wrapped sausages deep-fried in croissant dough with horseradish mustard (Bleeding Heart Bakery) to double-chocolate flan with cherry-smoked bacon (May Street Café). We gobbled up bacon-inspired creations from some of our favorites restaurants and discovered wonderful new places; my personal favorite, bacon pancake pops in a bourbon glaze, came from a restaurant I've never been to before (Zed451) and definitely want to visit now that I've sampled their amazingness.

Let me just say that while I had a fantastic time, I'm glad Baconfest only happens once a year. I swear I was sweating bacon grease out of every pore by the end of it! I think I definitely made up for the ten years of my life I went without bacon (5 years as a vegetarian/5 years as a pescetarian). In fact, seeing as I don't cook pork at home (I usually only have it when I'm at events or cooking classes), I would venture to say that I consumed more bacon in one day than I have during most of my adult life. Oy.

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4.13.2012

Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula Hotel

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana.


At least once a year, I indulge my mother's dream of having "proper ladies" as daughters, so my sister and I take her out for afternoon tea, usually for her birthday. Mind you, my mother's idea of a proper lady is one who wears pillbox hat, white gloves and crosses her legs at the ankle, tucked away under the chair and away from the table. That same proper lady does not swear, speaks when spoken to, and wears a fancy dress when preparing her husband's meals.

Oh, mom. :) I'm not saying that I'm NOT a proper lady, but I definitely do not fit that profile. I have tattoos and curse like a sailor, but on days like this, I wear my fancy pants clothes and put the brain to mouth filter on 15, so I don't get "the look" from my mom. The next thing you know I'm being lectured and I'm back to my grade school days. Yikes.

Our favorite place to go is The Lobby at The Peninsula Hotel, located just off of The Magnificient Mile in downtown Chicago. It's classy, elegant and my mother is floating a few inches off of the floor the entire time we are there.

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4.12.2012

Thirsty Thursday: The Perfect Bloody Mary

While I've been an enthusiastic supporter of vodka for years, it's only within the last six months that I've become a true fan of the Bloody Mary.

We all know how I feel about celery (aka the devil's vegetable), and tomato juice is one of those weird things I don't fully understand (it falls somewhere into the same perplexing category as drinkable yogurt). Nevertheless, I'd actually tried my fair share of Bloody Marys over the years, as they're one of those brunch menu staples (brunch = the best/my favorite meal of the day). Unfortunately, my experiences with brunch Bloody Marys were definitely less than stellar. They were all either too chunky/soupy (um, please pass me a grilled cheese to sop up my drink), too watery/warm (warm runny tomato guts = grossness), far too spicy (nooo, it's not a problem to have my taste buds rendered useless for the next week all thanks to the bucket of Worcestershire sauce you dumped in my glass), or they were served with a giant clump of floating hair (okay, that only happened once, but it was really, really gross!).

I'm sure there are tons of restaurants out there that serve fabulous Bloody Marys. I've just never had the good fortune to be at one when I've had the urge to give the drink another try. Luckily, I did have the good fortune last summer to attend a cocktails & appetizers class at The Chopping Block, where we learned how to make our own perfect Bloody Marys. That class changed my life. Yes, that sounds a bit dramatic, but the class opened me up to a whole new way of viewing a previously disliked drink/food (technically, it's a drink, but there's chewing involved, so is it also a food? A meal? Sigh.).

There really is an art to the Bloody Mary - an excellent version contains the perfect blend of zesty spices, the right amount of heat, premium tomato juice, and complementary garnishes. The tangy, salty, and sweet flavors combine and lead to a full-on assault on to the senses. The recipe I picked up from that class produces the most amazingly spicy, strong, and super addictive drink ever. I would gladly serve or drink these at any brunch - just make mine sans celery, thanks.

Bloody Marys
Yield: 4 small drinks



INGREDIENTS
3 ounces pepper flavored vodka (plain vodka can also be used)
1 cup tomato juice or vegetable juice (such as V8)
4 to 5 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco or hot sauce to taste
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Celery salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Lemon or lime wedge
Your favorite spice blend (this is my favorite)

Garnish suggestions:
Celery stalk
Stuffed green olives (my favorite garnish!)
Skewers of cherry tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella cheese (my second favorite!)
Pickle spears
Peppadew peppers or pepperoncini
Lemon or lime wedge

DIRECTIONS
1. Moisten the rims of four glasses by running the lemon or lime wedge around them. Lightly dip the rims into the spice blend.

2. Mix together the vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, celery salt, and pepper in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for several seconds to chill the drink. Pour into prepared glasses.

3. Serve with the garnishes of your choice.

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4.10.2012

Tuesday LTP: Overrated Foods

I've lived in Chicago for almost thirteen years and while I'm enamored with the idea of moving to San Francisco, I have to say that I do love Chicago to bits. It really is a fantastic city - it offers a nice balance of city life and Midwestern charm (two four seasons & polite, down-to-earth people). I am a Michigan transport, but I do consider Chicago to be my true home.


While Chicago is a great place to live, it's certainly not without its flaws. Excluding things like the messy politics, economic & racial stratification issues, and ridiculous parking meter situation, the biggest offense this city has to offer is its deep dish pizza. I have a confession to make: I am one of those Chicago people who doesn't care for Chicago-style pizza. Yes, I said it. I think Chicago stuffed pizza is completely overrated.

The majority of Chicagoans have an abiding love of this damn pizza that I just don't understand. I can't tell you how many times I've been on the receiving end of the crazy-crooked-eye-confused face when I've mentioned that I don't really care for it - it's like I've said that I eat puppies for dessert or something. Now, I'm not saying that I hate Chicago-style pizza; I just don't see what all the rage is about. It's essentially a giant cheese casserole in a buttery bowl smothered in grease and a tub of tomato sauce. Sure, it smells lovely and the first few bites are always delicious, but less than halfway into a piece, you're stuffed and bloated. Oh, and let's not forget the subsequent food coma and ugly GI issues. Ugh. That is not my idea of a happy pizza experience.

After a few years of not eating it, I broke down had a piece last October... I'm not entirely sure I'm finished digesting it. :-P

Today's LTP: Are there any foods that you think are completely overrated?  Also, who's with me on the Chicago-style pizza? I know I'm not the only one out there with good taste in pizza! :-)

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4.09.2012

Meatless Monday: Baked Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

I was somewhere in my mid-twenties the first time I had sweet potato fries. While I was well acquainted with the deliciousness of the mashed sweet potato, the baked sweet potato, candied sweet potatoes, and sweet potato pie, for some weird reason, I had never encountered the sweet potato in French fry form until then. I was instantly hooked.*

French fries are definitely one of my favorite comfort foods (there's nothing like a nice batch of fried salty carbs!); however, I really try not to order them much when eating out because not only are they super addictive, the portions sizes are also usually insane and I will eat them all. I try to only make exceptions if I'm somewhere that serves specialty fries (like here, here, or here) or if the word "truffle" is involved in the description.

Fortunately, I'm able to easily satisfy my fry love at home without spiraling into a serious caloric nightmare. When I'm short on time or just feeling lazy, I throw in a bag of Alexia Spicy Julienne Sweet Potato Fries - I've found them to be the best of all of the frozen fry brands I've tried. However, as good as they are, they just do not compare to the homemade version. I've tried various recipes over the years and have finally settled on what I think is the perfect version of the sweet potato fry (seen here). They're spicy & crispy, and have the perfect balance of salty and sweet. As a bonus, they're super easy to make!
-------------

*Unlike the far inferior white potato (see my Yuck List), I love my sweet potatoes prepared just about any which way.

Baked Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

INGREDIENTS
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into fry shape (1/4 inch is usually a good cut)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (I use this)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt (I usually use Maldon)
1/4 teaspoon paprika (you can omit this if you don't want the smokiness)

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 425°

2. In a resealable container or bag (you'll need a little extra room), combine the olive oil, chipotle pepper, garlic powder, sea salt, and paprika. Add in the sweet potato fries, seal the container, and shake until well coated.

3. Cover a baking sheet with nonstick aluminum foil. Spread the fries on the sheet - avoid crowding the fries, or else they will not get crisp. Bake for 35-40 minutes, flipping the fries every 10-15 minutes, until cooked through and browned. Watch them closely during the last 10 minutes because they will quickly go from lightly browned to burnt (trust me on this one).
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4.08.2012

So you’re going to be in…. Rhinebeck

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Sarah W


Located about 2 hours north of NYC, Rhinebeck is a cute, but expensive small town just past Hyde Park where all the FDR stuff is hosted. There are a number of restaurants in Rhinebeck, many of which are rumored to be over priced for the quality of food. But given that there's so little else to do in the general area, they are often pretty busy. 

If you were visiting me, I'd take you to what I consider to be the best restaurant we've ate at since we moved here. (I live about 25 minutes from Rhinebeck.)
Aroi Thai offers great Thai food at a reasonable price when you consider the meal, the atmosphere and their awareness to working within what's local and in season when they can. Service is also very fast, which I like. Most importantly, we've ate there several times and have always had yummy, satisfying meal. 

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4.05.2012

Mexican Eats: Huachinango

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

Huachi-what? As Grandpa Fred in Sixteen Candles says, "You don't say it, you EAT it!"

First things first. Look at this picture. Take it all in. And don't get all grossed out over the fish head. Seriously. You can see teeth, but I promise it won't bite. :)



My birthday was two weeks ago, and I spent the weekend doing some fabulous dining, forgetting to take pictures of course, but I managed to snap the one above, which was taken at El Barco, which is a Mexican restaurant with a coastal focus (lots of seafood) that's located in the Ukranian Village neighborhood in Chicago. I had lunch there with my father and sister, and what you see above is what my father ordered. My father is from the northern part of Mexico (but he loves coastal cuisine), and if he can find some authentic huachinango in the Chicagoland area, he will always order it.

So what is huachinango? Simply, it's red snapper that's lightly breaded and fried. Yeah, yeah, fried food, I know, but if my dad is going to splurge on something fried, it's not going to be mozzarella sticks or jalapeno poppers. As he would say, "No way, Jose".

There are a couple of different preparations that I tried in the past, there's mojo de ajo (a delicious garlic sauce) and Veracruzana (spicy tomato sauce). Dad ordered it my favorite way, mojo de ajo.

On a side note, my mother makes a killer mojo de ajo sauce (Puerto Rican style, sans the chili peppers and she uses both raw and roasted garlic) that I would sip through a straw, but if I did that I'd never leave the house. I'm seriously considering it. :)

Dad's lunch came with a giant helping of roasted and steamed vegetables and a pile of spanish rice. I swear that plate could feed a family. I think he ended up making three meals of that! We are a family that shares our meals, so I was able to try it, and it was absolutely delicious. Crisp on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. We all agreed it was delicious, and my father couldn't stop raving, so I know it's a keeper.

Another side note, my mother is currently visiting relatives in Puerto Rico so she couldn't join us, so it was sweet to hear him say over and over, "I need to bring your mother here" and "I wish your mom was here". They're a wacky couple, but after 45 years, the love is completely obvious.

Smile. Sigh. Swoon. :)

As for myself, I ordered Arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood, aka Paella), and it was great. I was a little suprised that the shrimp in the dish were "peel and eat" style, which wasn't a big deal because having to work for your food can be a lot of fun sometimes. Plus, I swear they gave me about 2lbs of shrimp in addition to calamari, octopus (just a leg that was completely delicious) and a bit of white fish.

I do have to say that I found the rice a teeny (really teeny) bit bland, but a dose of salt, pepper and a squirt of lime fixed that situation.

Viva Mexico!

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4.03.2012

Tuesday LTP: Hated Foods

When I was a wee non-foodie girl, there was an extensive list of foods I refused to eat. Some of those foods now have a permanent spot on my yuck list (mashed potatoes have the honor of being the first to join my list of evil foods), but there are many others I remember actively hating, but really have no idea why I hated them. Not only do I not hate these foods today, I actually count them amongst my favorites.

For years I had an extreme hatred of both cheese and mustard. I don't know why I disliked them; I just know that the presence of either could send me spiraling into a total meltdown. I remember one particularly ugly scene that involved a trip to Burger King with my grandparents and a mistake with our order that ended with me receiving a cheeseburger with mustard (the horror!), rather than a plain hamburger. After scraping off the cheese and mustard, my grandmother tried to convince me that the burger was exactly the same as what I had ordered. Um, no. I was not having it (there may have been some subsequent crying and whining involved). Oddly enough, although I thought I hated cheese, I loved macaroni & cheese (because that delicious gooey orange stuff obviously was not the same as those offensive slices).

Tables & tables of glorious cheese at the Great American Cheese Collection warehouse tasting

Today, I am a lover of all things cheese. I'm the one who seeks out cheese festivals, brings home some of the stinkiest cheeses (on purpose!), and actively records my cheese tastings & opinions (FYI this is awesome). Although I don't exhibit quite the same level of enthusiasm for mustard, I would wager that I probably have a bit more mustard love that the average American - I usually have anywhere between 5-10 different types on hand, including the classic yellow, various jars filled with grainy brown versions from Maille, and several specialty versions (Wisconsin Wilderness Cranberry Mustard & Fox Mustard are both amaaazing!)


Today's Lunchtime Poll: Are there any foods that you hated when you were younger that you love (or at least tolerate) now? Was there a reason for your hatred or was it just one of those random childhood quirks?

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4.02.2012

Monday Foodie Porn

I love how pretty everything is
during this time of the year!
Well, hello there, April... um, March, where did you go?! Between the two weeks of early summer weather, a packed social schedule, a new gym schedule, and the special kind of craziness that starting a new term at school can bring, the entire month just flew by (which in a way is good because March is usually pretty sucky for me).

April is already shaping up to be just as busy as March with multiple friends' birthdays each week (and Mario's!) and Baconfest (!!!). Yes, my friends, it's an entire festival devoted to all things bacon - complete with bacon demonstrations & samples, bacon crafts, and bacon inspired cocktails, all prepared by some of the most amazing chefs in the Midwest. Woo-hoo!

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