Whisky Wind-down, 8: Happy Place

A glass of Crown Royal rye whisky stands next to an empty mini-bottle on a yellow KitchenAid stand mixer.

Today’s dram: Crown Royal, rye

Today’s tasting notes: How do you make traditionally easy-going Canadian whisky bite back? Mix in rye.

This one is 90% rye, though, so maybe it’s actually the Canadian bit that’s smoothing an otherwise harsh rye?

At any rate, it’s a pseudo-sweet, biting-but-smooth dram, just right for a nightcap at the end of a long day.

Today’s thoughts: The long day was mostly in the kitchen, which is one of my favorite places, with two of my favorite people, Mom and The Empress of Whisky.

Between us, we produced two varieties of cupcakes, lemon chiffon pie, lemon syrup, a chicken and pasta dinner, and pizza dough for the traditional lunch tomorrow.

We also played games, told stories, went shopping, and assembled furniture.

All in all, great day.

Today’s toast: To the holiday hustle; it’s the good kind of tiring.

Travel Log: Chicago

I’m recently returned from a four-day excursion to the “Windy City.”

That is not a cute nickname, by the way; it’s a warning. Hold on to your hat. Also, your body warmth, because Chicago is out to blow both right off you.

Having said that, I loved it. But I am admittedly non-typical in my attitude towards cold and snow and such.

Still, that wind. Wow.

One of my prized possessions is a Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) scarf, knitted for me by my mother-in-law. Unfortunately, I don’t often get to wear it around Atlanta, as a 12-foot wool scarf is a bit more than required for our mild winters.

Oh, was I glad I packed it for Chicago. How bad is 20-degree wind chill? Even with that scarf wound a few times around my face, I could feel my nose and cheeks burning with cold after just a few minutes outside.

Serious. Wind.

Despite that, my wife and I did get out to explore the area of Chicago known as “the Loop,” which is where we spent our first couple of days.

Things We Did

Howell & Hood: This fantastic eating establishment is located in the historic Tribune building. The menu is fancy American pub food, which is good, but the highlight is the beer list, which includes 115 offerings on draught. These are all lovingly described in the menu, and the serving staff is the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic I’ve ever encountered in a beer bar, rivaling what you expect to find in a brewery tour. We enjoyed a few heavy winter beers while watching snow fall outside. Lovely.

The Chicago River: It’s beautiful in February, with large ice chunks bobbing along as it makes its way through the city. I’d advise taking it in from a hotel room window or other enclosed, warm space, though.

The Art Institute of Chicago: Wow. Just wow. We only had about three hours to spend here, which was barely enough time to hit the highlights. This is a museum that begs to be taken in slowly, over two or three days. If I lived in Chicago, or reasonably close to it, I’d buy a membership straight away. Among my favorite bits: the Impressionists collection, the Modern collection, and the huge collection of Japanese woodcut prints. We didn’t even get to most of the ancient, Europeon, or African collections, nor the weaponry. We also missed “Nighthawks,” as it was out for restoration. Bummer. That’s a personal favorite. We did get to see most of the other celebrated holdings, though, including “A Sunday on La Grand Jatte,” “American Gothic,” and several entries in Monet’s Haystacks series. There were also some van Gogh paintings, which, to tell you a bit about how impressive this museum’s holdings are, were not even mentioned in the “quick tour” highlights. 

Cloud Gate: It’s a giant silver bean. Uh, okay. Shiny.

Pizza: Deep-dish, Chicago style. I had to have this at least once, in Chicago, and we managed to squeeze it in. Unfortunatley, I didn’t get a crack at stuffed pizzed. I had also wanted to take a pizza tour, but, even if time allowed, those apparently aren’t offered in winter.

Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!: If you’ re a fan of this NPR news quiz, and you’re planning to visit Chicago, make sure to look up show times well in advance, as tickets go on sale (and promptly sell out) six weeks before each taping. In short, it was awesome. The cast was great, and it was delightful to watch them perform and then answer questions and mingle after the show. Wonderful people, all.

I’d like to point out that everything in that list is something my wife and I looked into shortly before going to Chicago. We were in town for a wedding, not because we had Chicago on our list of vacation spots. However, once we knew we were headed there, we sought to find the sort of things we would enjoy.

That’s sort of our general philosophy with travel. Find the fun. Every place has something to offer. Take a minute, find what interests you, and enjoy.