End of Summer Adventures

Vacation is over. (Boo. Hiss.)
Our trip to Shelburne, VT was terrific. We enjoyed long walks on sunny, winding farm trails; dozy naps in the hammock; quiet picnics by the lake; tasty cocktails on the porch looking out at the lake and beautiful flower gardens, and scrumptious dinners in a grand dining room. 
It's hard to choose my favorite meal, because every meal we ate was filled with local, farm-fresh ingredients: homemade sandwiches from the farm stand, a "Feast of the Fields" appetizer that showcases what's growing in the garden that day, cocktails made with just-picked rhubarb, etc. But, the best meal was our last night -- steak from the farm's own cows, topped with chicken of the woods and shitake mushrooms and a bleu cheese butter...spectacular!  The meat was perfectly cooked, the mushrooms were like sponges -- soaking up the butter and steak juices. It was so rich and flavorful, I couldn't stop eating it...yum.

Back in New Jersey to a neighborhood spot for my birthday. We tackled a seafood tower filled with oysters, half a lobster, clams, jumbo shrimp, and salmon and tuna tartare, and washed it all down with flutes of champagne (of course!).  Next came a veal meatball fondue with mushrooms and a beefy fontina cheese sauce. It was glorious and Chris and I can't wait to eat it again when it gets chilly outside. Mmmm.

Then, we headed off to Chicago, IL for a few days to meet up with some friends from our college days.  Chris and I arrived early on Friday and walked through Millennium Park before stopping in at Terzo Piano, on the top floor of the Art Institute of Chicago for a beautiful lunch, just the two of us. We started with fun cocktails and appetizers like a smoked trout dip and rice balls filled with crab. For our mains, Chris had an earthy and yummy lamb burger stuffed with goat cheese and topped with an olive tapenade, while I had eggplant fries and the chickpea veggie burger which was topped with greens and a romesco sauce.  So tasty! We finished with the restaurant's homemade sodas -- mine was blueberry and Chris ordered one infused with bay leaf and lemon.  Such a delicious way to while away a muggy afternoon!

That evening, we met up with our friends for deep-dish Chicago pizza. Definitely good, but I could only eat one piece because it was so filling!  The next day, we headed back over to the Millennium Park area for some shopping (I bought this really cute wallet/clutch for myself...a late birthday gift) and the Art Institute to see the "Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective" exhibit.

We headed back to the hotel mid-afternoon to freshen up before dinner so Chris and I, and our friend S decided to stop at our hotel's bar for a cocktail (it was really hot and muggy outside so a refreshing drink sounded great).  I was sitting on the end corner of the bar, and had my cute bright blue handbag hanging on the back of the bar chair. About 20 minutes into our drinks, a woman came up to the bar and politely asked for a glass of water. She stood very close to me and I moved over a bit slightly, but didn't really think anything of it (I could still see my purse). Her husband was standing behind her, waiting for her -- they were dressed up -- he had a coat over his shoulder and she was wearing a hat, and I assumed they were at the hotel for a wedding (there were several at the hotel that weekend). I remember thinking it was weird that she ordered water, but I thought perhaps they'd been outside and were just taking a break from the heat and humidity.  

At least, that's what I thought, until I got back to our hotel room about 30 minutes later and received a call from my bank asking about unauthorized charges. I went to grab my new, cute wallet out of my bag (I had transferred my stuff over to the new wallet earlier in the day) to see if I had perhaps left my credit card somewhere, but the wallet wasn't there! Instantly, I realized it was the couple from the bar.  We talked to the hotel security team who were able to see the whole incident on video -- the woman distracted me while the man reached into my bag and took my wallet. All in a matter of seconds, while all three of us are sitting there. And in the next 30 minutes they racked up over $2500 worth of charges!

Chris and I remained calm. I had to file a police report with the Chicago Police Department so I could fly back home to New Jersey without an ID (luckily I also had a business card and a PDF of my passport to help get me through the TSA's requirements), I canceled my credit cards and I got a replacement driver's license yesterday. All the charges have been reversed, and I'm really just out the cost of the cute wallet, some coupons and store rewards cards, $4 in cash and my medical insurance cards, but I feel violated and furious. Very furious, actually. With the thieves and with myself.  I was an Imbécile Grande that day.  

How many times has Chris told me not to put my bag on the back of my chair? What if I hadn't changed my wallet over at the museum? (Would they have nabbed the new, empty wallet instead?) What if I had gone up to the hotel room first and left my bag in the room? What if I had said, "Excuse me, please," and moved my bag to the other side of my chair instead of letting her be so close? What if S or Chris had noticed what was going on? What if I hadn't been so relaxed and at ease, sitting there? I didn't have a care in the world, and I was giving that woman the benefit of a doubt that she just wanted a glass of water. I've lived in the NYC area for 15 years now, without incident. And, less than 24 hours in another city and I get robbed? There are a lot of what-ifs and I know it's my fault that my wallet was taken. It just makes me sad that people will steal from each other without a second thought.  Let it be a lesson to all of us, ladies. Please keep an eye on your stuff, always!

But, let's not let this overshadow what was a truly wonderful farewell summer tour. That night, after recovering from the shock, we headed to dinner at Carnivale where we enjoyed flavorful Latin fare and ended our meal with an enormous cone of cotton candy and pictures in a photo booth. So fun!

For our last day in Chicago, we went to Al's #1 Beef for an authentic Chicago Italian Beef sandwich -- sliced, roast beef dipped in its juices and topped with hot and sweet peppers. Yum!  The afternoon was spent on a river/lake boat tour, and for dinner we met a a cute spot called Fork, where we had hot pretzels with chocolate sauce, duck liver mousse, and a few bottles of champagne.  Chris had the spot's famous Poutine which was a bed of fries topped with shredded duck, a cheese sauce and then gravy. Yup -- it was as good as it sounds.  I was very jealous of his order, but the gazpacho and the squash flatbread I ordered were light enough that I could have several bites of it, too.

I really had such a great time with Chris (as usual) these past 10 days, and he was so amazing during the whole pick-pocket incident.  I'm so lucky...at least no one can steal him

I hope you enjoyed your end of summer/Labor Day festivities, and that you and your families lived, loved--and ate--well this summer, too!

Gourmess will be back in the kitchen soon. 
Until then, be safe and be smart.