March 2012 Archives

Weekend in Chicago: Whisky Fest

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My boss (and friend), Steve, is an aficionado of whisky, including scotch, Irish, and bourbons - he's got an outstanding collection at his house, and I've had the privilege of trying a select few. He has previously invited a bunch of my coworkers over to sample some of his stocks, and when I had my house-warming party a few months ago, he was kind enough to gift me an extremely nice bottle of bourbon.

Sometime around October of last year, we discovered an event known as Whisky Fest - it's hosted by three cities in the United States: New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Without much hesitation, we decided to purchase VIP tickets and attend. We bought our tickets as soon as they went on sale, and it's a good thing we did - the entire event sold out within a few days, VIP and all.

Whisky Fest is a whisky-lovers dream. It attracts more than 100 distilleries from around the world, offers more than a dozen educational classes, serves-up delicious food, and provides a chance for people to rub elbows with some of the world's finest whisky makers and master distillers.

The actual Whisky Fest event was held this past weekend, so we loaded up our cars and drove to the outskirts of Chicago, where we parked and boarded "the El" (Chicago's train system). I insisted that we stop for some lunch along the way, and what better place than Big Star tacos in Wicker Park?

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That's a view of the Wicker Park neighborhood as seen from our train. Wicker Park is one of my favorite areas in Chicago - it has a lot of cool houses, quaint neighborhoods, and awesome shops. It also has one of the best taco joints I've ever been to... so, we met-up with my friend Steve W and we gorged ourselves on tacos. Here's one of the plates we enjoyed:

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Clockwise, from lower left, we have: pork belly taco, pork shoulder taco (with pineapple), another pork belly taco, and a fish taco. They're all so simple, so clean, and so tasty. It was great to see Steve again, and we were lucky to have Sandra (his wife) join us as well! I hadn't seen Sandra in almost 10-years, so it was great to catch up with her and Steve together.

After chatting and eating at Big Star, we boarded the El again and made our way into the downtown loop, which is where the event was hosted. We made a quick stop at our hotel and then walked the mile-or-so to the Hyatt Grand Regency.

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Once inside, we were directed to the lower ballroom; two escalator flights later, and we arrived to discover a significant waiting line:

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That was the "pre-entry" line for the VIP folks. We arrived a full 45-minutes early and were shocked by the number of people that had accumulated out-front. After about 30-minutes of waiting, we were allowed to enter into the registration area.

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The registration area is where you exchange your ticket for your gift bag and sampling glass. While standing in line for our turn at the window, we observed some really nice appetizer tables - there were incredible cheeses, gourmet crackers, ice sculptures, and more. This was going to be a solid event - definitely more fancy than the local beer tasting festivals...

We made our way to the registration window and within minutes, I had my gift bag and sampling glass.

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With glass in hand, we made our way to yet another waiting area, located just outside of the grand ballroom. The time was nearly 5:20, so we had to kill 10-minutes or so. We reviewed our plans - the VIP ticket allowed us to enter the event one hour prior to the general admission ticket holders, and also allowed us to sample some really exotic (and expensive) beverages.

Before we knew it, the doors opened, and the race was on - literally. Our plans went completely out the window as hordes or people rushed past us and literally mobbed the various distillery booths.

Who knew that so many middle-aged, overweight, business types (complete with $2500 suits) could move so quickly? I guess when there's a $1700 bottle of whisky to be sampled, they don't hesitate.

Our first stop was to the Classic Malts booth. Classic distributes many different scotches, whiskeys, and borubons, so we figured it would be a good first stop. Here we are at their booth:

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I'm not even sure what I sampled at this booth; I asked for their VIP-only offering, and was poured a 0.25-ounce sample of it. WOWZER - it was smoky! I forgot that I normally "enjoy" (that's a generous word) my scotch/whisky/bourbon with a touch of ice to help dilute it a bit. Tasting it "fully leaded" reminded me of just how potent that stuff can be, even the good stuff. :-)

From the Classic Malts table we made our way to the Glenmorangie table, where we sampled two truly outstanding beverages - the Signet and the Quarter Century.

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The Signet sells for around $200/bottle; the Quarter Century around $600. Both were excellent - very smooth, very drinkable, and not at all like the first one I had sampled. I actually appreciated both of these.

We chatted with the folks from Glenmorangie for a bit, thanked them for the samples, and wandered over to Dalmore.

Dalmore had one of their finest available for sampling, the "King Alexander." The bottle was quite cool, as was the presentation box. This photo is a bit blurry, because this booth was extremely popular; I was getting jostled about while trying to photograph and sample the single malt scotch.

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With four quarter-ounce samples under my belt, I decided to take a little break. True, the VIP event was only an hour, but I'm definitely not a seasoned imbiber of whisky, so I needed a breather. I grabbed a table near one of the food tables and then took a browse of the food offerings. This was one of the tables near me:

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It featured prime rib (done to a PERFECT medium rare), sushi rolls, potsickers, chicken wings, General Tso's chicken, succotash, grits, pulled pork, and a number of other goodies. I made myself a little plate, as shown here:

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The plate featured (clockwise, from left): shrimp potsticker, poached salmon, tuna sushi rolls, a Peking duck pancake, and prime rib (center). Yum. It hit the spot - everything was of super high quality, and was hot and fresh.

Here's what the VIP event looked like, in terms of people in the grand hall (remember this for later in the entry):

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After sitting for a bit, I made my way back to another booth or two. I liked how all of the distillers wore traditional Scottish apparel - kilts and all. Here's one of the distillers pouring a sample for someone:

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I also loved all of the accents - there's something awesome about a thick Scottish accent - although anything beats my nasaly midwestern accent, I suppose.

By the time 6:30pm rolled around, I had sampled my fair share of expensive scotch and whisky, and I knew one thing was for certain - I'm not a connoisseur of single malted beverages. While the Glenmorangie and Dalmore offerings were truly delicious, the others tasted simply "good" or "bad." It wasn't like a wine or a beer, where I can pick-out distinct flavors.

When the bell struck 6:30, the really good stuff was put away, and the masses moved in. Here I am at the same location as before, but with the general admission folks in view:

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One of the booths that we just had to visit was the Rip Van Winkle booth. The Van Winkles operate a very small, family owned-and-run distillery in Kentucky, and they produce some superb bourbons. Their flagship offering is the 23-year old Grand Pappy Van Winkle, at $220 - $240/bottle. If you have an opportunity to try it, do it. Here's the father and son, pouring samples and chatting with people:

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By 7:30pm the event was so full that it was difficult to navigate around. There were so many people in the ballroom, and the booths were so close together that it made for tricky maneuvering. Thankfully, the last item on our agenda was to attend one of the educational classes.

We decided to sit in on the 8:30pm session hosted by two master distillers from the Classic Malts group. The class would teach you how to pick-out and identify unique scents and flavors in various common scotch and whisky offerings.

We grabbed a front-row seat and settled-in for the class. Here are the distillers, in their kilts, with our sampling glasses lined-up in front of us:

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The glasses were filled with five different beverages: pure grain alcohol (the base for all spirits), a 10-year old scotch, a 12-year old scotch, a 14-year old scotch, a sherry cask-aged scotch, and a peat-aged scotch. There was also a bottle of water and a spittoon.

The distillers were great guys - very funny and informative. They made the hour-long class fly by, and I learned a lot in the process. One of the funnier moments was when they were demonstrating what "not to do" when tasting a new beverage:

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They said that while it's important to look at the color of your beverage and to take a strong smell of it, it's does no good to hold it up to the light, swirl it in a clockwise motion for minutes on end, and then comment that you detect "notes of citrus, grass, and flower" - doing that is guaranteed to make you look incredibly obnoxious:

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...as shown above (they made us all imitate them before telling us it was all fake/wrong).

With the class complete, we made one last quick pass through the hall, where we snagged a few dessert offerings - this table was the "chocolate decadence" table, and featured brownies, flourless cake, opera cakes, truffles, and a slew of other goodies.

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After the Fest was over, we walked over to a restaurant for a proper dinner, and then back to the hotel for some well-deserved rest. Here's the Chicago Tribune building at night. I wish the streetlight hadn't been dead-center in my picture... oh well.

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The next morning arrived and I felt great, thanks to my very light imbibing and the buckets of water I drank throughout the event. We got ready and then boarded the El for our return trip to where the cars were parked. After picking-up the cars, we stopped for a bit of breakfast - the kitchen goofed-up my order, and I wound-up with a Belgian waffle (not my favorite item)... :-(

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Oh well - it was the only downside to the entire event, so I can't complain too much. I did get a kick out of this video store, which was located near the breakfast place. I wonder if the owners felt that adding the word "cobra" to something would make it more edgy and/or cool? In most cases, it probably does - like the Ford Mustang Cobra - that sounds really cool. For this venue, however; I don't think the effect is as solid.

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--- unrelated ---

I made some stellar meals this weekend, including some french toast, steak, and dessert. Here are a few photos:

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That's cinnamon french toast on challah bread with roasted Neuske's applewood bacon.


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Hickory-smoked and grilled fillet, with oven-roasted purple fingerling potatoes (dressed in shallots and black pepper), rosemary-roasted portobella mushrooms, and nutmeg-dusted roasted parsnips and zucchini.


And lastly:

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Grilled pineapple slice with Sassy Cow ice cream and maple syrup and rum caramel.


...and yes, I made all of the stuff from scratch.

A tail of two dog coats

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...I know that I misspelled "tail" in the title - it was purposeful...

Fifi isn't a fan of the cold weather - that's no surprise, given she's all of five pounds, hails from a tropical climate, and spent all of her adult life living in Southern California.

Thankfully, this year's winter was quite mild; however, I did try to find a suitable sweater and jacket to help her cope with the cold. Unfortunately, she's such an alien that I wasn't able to find anything "off-the-rack" to fit her.

Fifi has a large head, skinny neck, large chest/rib cage, and a tiny waist. She reminds me of a bobble-head doll... So, every sweater or jacket that I tried was either too tight, too loose, or too short for her to benefit from.

So, I set about searching for custom-made dog apparel. After doing some serious digging, I stumbled across two vendors: Blue Willow Dog Coats and De-Re Dogs.

Despite ordering two very similar pieces of apparel from two custom-made clothing service providers, the two experiences could not have been more different. Let's start with Blue Willow...

Blue Willow Dog Coats makes dog coats intended primarily for greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, and whippets. They're located near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the jackets are all custom-made, hand-fabricated using extremely high quality materials, like GoreTex equivalent shells and Primaloft insulation. If The North Face or Arc'Teryx made dog jackets, these would be them.

The ordering process begins with a very thorough measuring of your dog. I took eleven measurements of Fifi, triple-verified them, and input them into BWDC's website. Because I wanted to make certain the folks at BWDC understood exactly how oddly-shaped Fifi is, I followed-up the order with an e-mail, photos, and additional information.

I didn't receive a reply.

I waited two weeks and followed-up again. After several days, I received a short message stating they had my information and that everything would be fine.

I waited another four weeks - I heard nothing the entire time. To say it's a bit unnerving or stressful to know that you just spent nearly $300 on a dog coat and haven't heard a peep is an understatement. It may also say that I'm insane, but that's another story.

After nearly seven wintery weeks of waiting, I sent an e-mail inquiring about the status of my jacket. I received a reply stating the jacket had shipped and that it would arrive soon.

Communication isn't their strong point... I did some checking, and their facebook page has more than a few complaints and questions from customers inquiring about the lack of communication.

The jacket arrived and I could immediately tell it was too big. I took it home, put it on the Fleef, and yep - it extended beyond her backside by a solid 5-inches, and hung down too low on her by about 2-inches. UGH.

Before contacting BWDCs, I went back and re-checked the numbers that I submitted - they were spot on. So, I took more pictures, and sent another e-mail to BWDC. A few days went by and I didn't hear anything (detecting a theme?). So, I followed-up again.

An e-mail arrived, and I was told to return the jacket, and they would resize it. I returned the jacket and waited. I checked-in after two more weeks and was told the jacket was almost done, and that it would ship soon. Oh, and that I owed another $25 for alterations... Wow.

The jacket arrived and after the second try, it was spot-on. Here's the Fleef, modeling the jacket (under protest, as it was 80F when I took the picture):

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The jacket really is quite nice. I can tell that it's going to be absurdly warm and protective, and after the resizing, it fits literally like a glove. It was insanely expensive, and I think it's worth the money... but the communications process was absolutely terrible, and charging to correct something that they misbuilt is really troubling. I'd be hard-pressed to use them in the future.

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And now for the good...

De-Re Dogs gives "unwanted sweaters a second chance at life" - the proprietor, Dawna, takes people's sweaters and converts them into dog sweaters. It's a neat concept because it recycles quality sweaters into quality dog apparel.

I browsed De-Re's selection of sweaters, and found one that I thought would work really well for Fifi. I contacted Dawna to inquire, and she immediately responded with some ideas and suggestions. She stated that she was working on finalizing a merino wool sweater that might fit Fifi. She also offered to custom make a sweater for her from one of my existing sweaters.

I took her up on both offers; I asked her to send the red merino wool sweater to try, and in turn, I sent her one of my beloved Icebreaker tops to cannibalize and convert.

Within a few days, the red merino sweater arrived, and it looked awesome, but it was too small (as we suspected it would be). I sent her the measurements that I took for the BWDC coat, and Dawna said she would make two sample shirts to try.

After a few days, she e-mailed to inform the shirts were ready and that she would send them that day. The shirts arrived, and one of them was a perfect fit:

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I replied to share the good news with Dawna, and to offer to return the sample shirts. To my shock, she asked me to keep them or to recycle them. I felt guilty keeping them, but honored her request.

With confirmation that the test shirt fit, Dawna set to work on the custom Icebreaker sweater. A week went by, and I received another message from Dawna - the sweater was done, and it would be sent that day.

The sweater arrived within two days and it fit like a glove. It's absolutely perfect.

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Merino wool is such an awesome material - it's not itchy, it doesn't hold odor, it breathes well, and if it gets wet, it won't sap your body heat. The Feefer really seems to like the sweater, even if it has been 75-80F outside lately.

Dawna's communications were prompt, professional, and helpful. I was never left for wondering, nor did I ever feel "lost" during the process. And the bonus? This custom-made sweater cost about 1/10th to make and deliver from what the BWDC coat did.

I'll definitely order more sweaters from De-Re - I'll just wait until we get closer to the fall/winter season. De-Re is definitely top-notch!!!


So there you have it - a tail (or tale) of two dog "coats" - one very expensive, frustrating, and time consuming; the other enjoyable and delightful and very inexpensive.

I was on a terror last week - I ate bad nearly every day, and I barely did any running or riding... so, when Friday rolled around, the only thing on my mind was fish. My friend Chris (from work) suggested we hit RP Adler's for their fish fry, and truth be told, I was a bit apprehensive... my last visit to RP's wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. Little did I know that RP's fish has really come a long way since the last visit some two years ago.

We arrived to Adler's at around 5:00pm on a Friday night and quickly scored a table in the bar area. A very friendly waitress stopped by to take our drink orders - a New Glarus Cabin Fever for me, and a Spotted Cow for Chris. She also dropped a pair of menus and informed us that the happy hour would end in a few minutes.

We browsed the menu, but not for entree options - Chris was in the mood for an appetizer, and who was I to resist? He went with the bruschetta; I opted for nothing.

Within a few minutes the bruschetta arrived, and I must say that upon first glance it didn't inspire confidence... the bread was bleach-white, barely toasted, and uninspiring. I had envisioned a golden brown, nicely toasted, cut-on-the-bias loaf of french bread, rubbed with garlic.

The accompanying tomato/basil/mozzarella mix looked pale and drab as well. But despite the appearance, the bruschetta was tasty - I sampled a piece and was surprised by how flavorful the dish was.

We nibbled on the Italian appetizer while enjoying our microbrews, and before I knew it, an hour-and-a-half had gone by. The place had filled-up; it was literally standing room only. At the next opportunity, we placed our dinner orders - I opted for the bluegill, Chris the lake perch. Our waitress hit the kitchen, order in hand.

When the fish arrived, I was thrilled with what I saw. The bluegill plate featured several pieces of the petite, freshwater fish. The lake perch plate boasted thick, meaty cuts of fish, covered in a delicious looking batter. My salivary glands went immediately into code red status - man the battle stations!

Here's what the bluegill plate looked like:

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Friends, that is a heaping helping of bluegill! And I'm happy to report the quality surpassed the quantity - the bluegill had an incredibly delicate flavor that received a slight boost from the breading. The breading appeared to be made from a cornmeal base, and featured a salty and slightly peppery accent. The fish was firm, perfectly chewy, and simply delectable.

The boiled baby reds were a nice option, and were served in a perfect quantity. Preceding the fish was RP's customary pretzel roll, which really hit the spot as we waited for the fish to arrive.

I cannot recommend the RP Adler's bluegill enough - it was superb.

Here's what the lake perch looked like:

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Just like the bluegill plate, the perch plate was packed with fish. The batter was obviously beer-based and it clung to the perch with a pit bull-like tenacity. The batter was crispy, delicious, and perfectly proportioned. The perch was absolutely top-notch - perfectly chewy and just enough fish flavor to remind you that you were enjoying a quality plate of fish.

Chris reported the slaw had an unusual flavor; I'm not so certain he enjoyed it.

By 7:00, our meals were complete, and we asked for the check. The price was more than reasonable; the monster plate of bluegill rang-in at $16.95; the perch $15.95. Quite fair, given the huge portions and the complete quality.

RP Adler's = WIN

Food = 4.25 stars
Value = 4 stars
Service = 4 stars
MISC = 3 stars (I like the bar area, but the dining room leaves much to be desired)

Summary:
I really need to get out and revisit some of the original top-10 places on our list... I believe RP just stole the #10 slot from the Draft House...

A little extra motivation

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Posting this for myself as well as others who may be interested. This isn't anything terribly new, but it has some good references and reminders...

What Really Causes Heart Disease.


...this post will seem especially ironic in a day or so, as I have another fish fry review pending...

Settle in for another one of my "Oh, crud - there are 379 photos in my phone and it's been several days since I've created a blog entry so here goes nothing" posts.... :-)

When you live in Madison, you're surrounded by a seemingly endless number of microbreweries. From the top of my head, and limiting the radius to a distance of around 30 miles, one could visit the following breweries: Ale Asylum, Capital, Essers, Furthermore, Grays, Great Dane, Grumpy Troll, Hydro Street, New Glarus, and Tyranena. I'm sure there are more - but these are the better-known breweries... For those not keeping tabs, that was 10 breweries within 30 miles of Madison. Yikes.

Most of the breweries deliver some excellent brews, and nearly all of them do something to support their communities, either by way of "giving back" or hosting special events with proceeds going to a charity or organization.

One such event has become quite popular over the years, and it's known as "Bockfest." For the past fifteen years, this annual event has been organized and hosted by Capital Brewery, and has built-up a cult-like following while attracting a ton of people from all over the state. The event is so popular, in fact, that the brewery must literally ration ticket sales; the tickets are offered for sale on a certain date at select locations, and they sellout immediately.

I was lucky enough to score two tickets to the 2012 Bockfest event, so I grabbed my friend Chris (from work), and on Saturday, February 25, we attended our first-ever Bockfest event.

We began our day with an early morning breakfast at the Prairie Cafe & Bakery. Chris went with a big omelette, some hash browns, toast, and an orange juice. I went with a blueberry pancake and a scrambled egg with coffee:

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That may have been one of the best pancakes I've ever had in my life. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and loaded with fresh blueberries - I barely added any syrup, it was that good. The only bad thing about the Prairie Cafe? It's cash only. Oh well.

With our bellies stuffed, we drove over to the Capital Brewery and tried to find a place to park. Despite arriving a full hour early, parking was nearly impossible to find. We parked close to our office and used the walk to help settle our over-filled guts. Once to the brewery, we hopped into line and began the wait. This picture was taken at around 10:00am - the entrance to the brewery was about 1/4-mile away...

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While it was a sunny day, it wasn't particularly warm... I'd say the temperature was around 25F with a strong and persistent wind. I wore my Sporthill 3SP pants under a pair of blue jeans, along with Icebreaker wool socks and Salomon prima-loft boots. On top, I wore a wool t-shirt, a 320-weight wool long sleeve, my Sporthill 3SP jacket, and my Columbia Omnitech jacket. The system worked - I was plenty warm all day.

Within an hour-and-a-half, we were finally able to enter the brewery grounds. Here I am, standing in-line for my sample of Capital's Blonde Dopplebock - you can see how many people were at the garden:

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Bockfest celebrates the beginning of spring with the release of Capital's infamous Blonde Dopplebock. It's a super-smooth beverage that's only available for a limited time; it also packs quite a punch - so much so, that the brewery limits the sale to one per person. You're given a wristband with a tag; the tag is used to redeem/buy a Dopplebock. Once the tag is gone, you're not allowed to buy any more Dopplebock.

The event was fun and surprising. Fun, because there were a ton of people, all socializing and enjoying a live band (which was quite good).

Surprising? Yep. While making my way into the brewery to use the restroom, I was nearly run-over by a group of cross-dressing men, complete with huge blonde wigs. Apparently, part of the event includes a 1K "race" that they call "The Running of the Blondes."

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The other "fun" part of the event involves trying to catch fish being thrown from the roof of the brewery by Capital's brewmaster, Kirby. I don't have any idea where this tradition started, or what relevance it has to the event, but everyone seemed to know what to do...

At around 2:00pm, Kirby rode a large dinosaur to the edge of the brewery roof and began tossing smoked smelt into the crowd. People were literally diving for the fish... I managed to catch a part of a fish... Not sure what to do with it, I tossed it into the garbage.

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We also ran into several other friends while at the event - I had a chance to see my pals from the Capital Brewery Cycling Club - we had a great time catching-up and chatting. It was good to see you guys (Mike, Ginger, Paul, Sally, and Helene)!!!!

The event was scheduled to end at 5:00pm, but by 2:30pm, we were tired and ready to head for home. We went back to the house and watched Tower Heist... I wasn't really a fan of the film - it seemed rather lame - so if you haven't yet seen it, save your money.

I was happy to have gone to Bockfest, but am not sure if I'd need to go again... it was an experience, but it was also sort of cold, very crowded, a little chaotic, and a little long. If I do go again, I'm bringing a camping chair and a cooler with party favors and snacks.

== Next Story ==

I've been spending a lot of time in Chicago, thanks to my latest work project. I typically drive down to the office on Sunday night and stay through Friday morning... our office is located near O'Hare airport, so I've grown used to seeing low-flying aircraft at all hours of the day. This photo doesn't do the proximity any justice, but the building to the right is a 15-story building...

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With the weekly travel, I've managed to accumulate a lot of points with the local hotels... I've also reacquainted myself with tricks for traveling - I take a full case of water with me for each trip, I've purchased suction-cup-activated clotheslines to line-dry my running gear, and I bought a small humidifier for the hotel bedroom (I stay in a 3-room suite). This little thing has made a huge difference in how I feel in the morning:

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While the humidifier was my secret weapon, on the last visit, this electronic door lock served as my arch nemesis. This thing was the bane of my existence:

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No matter what I did, the key never seemed to work in this particular room... The hotel sent maintenance at least five times - they replaced the lock's batteries, they cleaned the assembly, they re-coded it, and did a bunch of other things with it. I would've taken them up on their offer for a different room, but I had unpacked and cleaned the room with Lysol wipes, and I liked the location... so I suffered through it. :-)

My hotel and office are not only located near O'Hare, they're also located right "on" the Blue Line for the Chicago El (train) system. With each trip, I've been venturing out on the El and checking out various downtown neighborhoods. Thanks to the suggestions from friends and co-workers, I've fallen in love with the Wicker Park area. It's got a great selection of restaurants, bars, and shops - it's a really cool area.

One of the best places I've been to in Wicker Park is a taco place called "Big Star." Their menu is small - there are four or five tacos to choose from, along with guacamole. But the place doesn't need a huge menu because those few items are absolutely fantastic.

I met a few coworkers at Big Star last week - here's one of the plates of tacos:

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I believe that plate has a fish taco, two pork belly tacos, and a pulled pork taco... all were unmistakably delicious. They're simple, fresh, and tasty. They're also reasonably sized and priced. Double-win.

After enjoying some tacos, we headed over to a little bar called The Blue Line Lounge and Grill. The place reminds me of something from the Rat Pack era; it could easily stand-in for the set of Swingers or Goodfellas. It's located directly under the El's Blue Line track, so the name is appropriate. Here's a shot of it from the outside:

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I was incredibly lucky to catch-up with one of my old friends from my home town - Steve W. I had an absolute blast chatting with him while at the Blue Line; it's like we never missed a beat, despite not having seen each other for at least 6-7 years. Steve W is a super interesting and cool guy - Steve, if you're reading this, let's get together the next time I'm in Chicago!

On another night, I ventured back down to the Wicker Park area to sample some of the pizza from the infamous "Piece Pizza & Brewery." The venue was small and completely packed; when I stepped foot into the establishment, I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with nearly 200 people. Yikes!

After a fairly substantial wait, I was able to score a small table and promptly ordered some pizza and one of their brews. While I wasn't a fan of the brew, I did enjoy the pizza. It was a New York style pizza - the crust was chewy but nicely charred, and the toppings were very high quality. I opted for jalapeno, sausage and onion. A spicy combo, but it was delish:

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And finally, while visiting Wicker Park on yet another evening, I encountered this wonderful little guy.

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His name is Louie, and he's a handsome 2-year old American Staffordshire (aka "Pit Bull"). He was being walked to his socialization and training classes by a nice lady who stopped to chat with me about him. He's available for adoption and currently lives with a Chihuahua and a few cats (sounds familiar, eh?!). He was so sweet - I wish I could've taken him home with me, but I think I've got my hands full with Feef.

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As if I wasn't tempted enough by the fine dining and wonderful bars down in the Wicker Park area, one of my project team members brought these in for the last day of our last working session...

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Those devils!! I resisted, but it wasn't easy... they looked and smelled as if they could've given the Greenbush Bakery (in Madison) a serious run for its money. ARGH.

I returned to Wisconsin on Thursday night and was greeted by an awesome surprise snow storm on Friday... there wasn't any mention of snow while I was in Chicago - I guess they may have been spared. We, however, took the brunt of the storm - 5-6 inches of heavy, wet snow landed by 5:00pm on Friday. Here's the view from my car as I left work on Friday:

misc_snowday.jpg

Nice.


== FINAL STORY ==

With the fresh snowfall, I was able to get out and snowshoe for a bit. It was the first time I had been able to go this year; we've had a very mild winter, so I was actually happy for Friday's heaping helping of crystalized water...

I did a nice 3-mile hike in the snowshoes today - the weather was perfect, and the wet snow made for easy hiking:

misc_snowshoe.jpg

After finishing the snowshoeing, I grabbed Feef, and we took a trip into town for some cat and dog food. Here she is, riding in the car - she rides like a champ and can never wait to hop-in the car with me:

c_fifi.jpg

...and finally... holy cats, I'm exhausted after writing this entry...

I've given-up diet soda. I quit it cold-turkey in mid-February, and haven't missed it since. I figured it would be much more difficult to quit drinking it, but I find that I really enjoy a glass of water or a glass of unsweet tea as much as, if not more than, a diet Mountain Dew or a Diet Coke.

The nice thing about quitting soda is the amount of room it clears in the refrigerator. Here's what my fridge looks like after dropping the soda.

misc_fridge.jpg

No Chicago trips this week; it'll be nice to stay home for a bit and enjoy the home turf. Especially this little thing:

misc_fifihand.jpg

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