Book review – Feed your heart AND stomach with “My Fat Dad”

Lerman's book feeds the heart and the stomach
Lerman’s book feeds the heart and the stomach

Recounting her struggles around food growing up, Dawn Lerman, author of the New York Times Well Blog series, tells it like it was in her family. Pathos. Humor. Fear. She takes them all on in her new book, My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes. The introduction, titled “Always Hungry,” opens this way:

“As far back as I can remember, there was an invisible wall that separated me from my dad, a distance that I could never completely penetrate. His closest relationship was with the bathroom scale–his first stop every morning and his last stop every evening. It controlled his moods, our days, what we were going to eat, and basically ruled our family life.”
And when you learn that her give-or-take-350-pound dad was a brilliant copywriter from the “Mad Men” era of advertising at giant agencies, first in Chicago and then in New York—and both her parents traveled a lot—the scene is set.  Her stories of loneliness and hunger for love intermingle with those of good friendships and lots of opportunities to feel successful. Though both her mother and father are absent for much of her life, she finds reasons for loving them anyway. And that’s the key to a good memoir—distance from the suffering and a new perspective on the painful truths in one’s life.
The writing is clear and conversational. And when you get to the recipes, many from her Jewish grandmas, you might find yourself, as I did,  turning down a lot of those page corners and hear yourself thinking, “Oh, that sounds good!” or “I need to make this right now for breakfast/lunch/dinner/dessert/snack.”
If you love cooking good food, if you had a rough childhood, if you like good writing and dramatic stories, these are all good reasons to read My Fat Dad (on Amazon in paperback or ebook).

100 years of Juan Gil Family wines

Juan Gil wine in candlelight at Maple and Ash
Juan Gil wine in candlelight at Maple and Ash

Spanish wines had been heading to the top of our list of favorites anyway, and they recently got another big push in that direction when the Juan Gil Family Wines debuted their collection in Chicago. This delightful winemaker’s portfolio tasting was put together by the importers and distributors at Heritage Wine Cellars and held in the sleek and modern yet warm and sexy environs of Maple & Ash, 8 W. Maple St.

In 1916 Juan Gil Jiménez established Gil Family Estates in the Jumilla appellation of Spain. The operation has been passed down for four generations and now, after 100 years, is one of Spain’s foremost wine producers, with nine bodegas located across eight appellations.
Juan Gil executives in Chicago
Juan Gil executives in Chicago

Members of the Juan Gil family and winemaking teams brought their wines to Chicago where they told their stories to guests who enjoyed samples of dozens of delicious wines, including the limited release of Juan Gil 100 Anniversario. Maple and Ash provided delicious appetizers to complement the wines, and the hundredth anniversary chocolate-and-whipped-cream cake was to die for.

Starting with the white wines of a beautiful and expressive winemaker named Belinda Thomson, we were hooked. The whites include many made with Albarino grapes and come in a range from crisp yet fruity to perfectly rounded and rich. And the reds only got better and better – elegant and refined, complex and satisfying. Some of the reds are deep inky purply red color, others ranging from rose red to berry, and from garnet to mahogany. Intense, with great mouth-feel and long finishes.  Representative wines included those from:

The Gil Family combines the art of old vine indigenous grape-growing with modern winemaking to produce terroir-driven wines that are internationally respected for their originality, consistency and value. Their wines are elegant. Their websites are beautiful and easy to read and navigate. Their labels are gracefully modern. And their prices range from popular premium (Bodegas Ateca Honoro Vera Garnacha 2014 ~$9) to luxury (El Nido 2013 ~$100).
100 years of delicious Juan Gil Family Estates wines. We highly recommend going forth to your favorite wine dealer to get yourself some.

Father`s Day 2016 fun and good news about alcohol and diabetes

English: Chicken wings being cooked slowly ove...
English: Chicken wings being cooked slowly over charcoal ashes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barbecue is always popular for summer celebrations, and many dads especially love going out for it – so they don’t have to prep, cook and clean up on the home grill. Here are two options for Chicago dads this Sunday:

Pinstripes, 435 E. Illinois, the indoor entertainment center, celebratesFather’s Day with a backyard BBQ Brunch. Give dad a break and come help him appreciate the carving station, fresh seafood, waffle bar, made-to-order omelets, dessert station with a chocolate fountain, and endless mimosas plus BBQ ribs, Italian sausage, pesto chicken, corn on the cob, and more. 9:30 to 3 pm. Adults $34, kids 6-12 $15, kids 5 & under eat free.

And then there’s Lone Star BBQ, 3350 N. Harlem, where the family can treat dad to a delicious lunch or dinner this Father’s Day all weekend. Lone Star BBQ Bar is Chicago’s newest full-service BBQ restaurant that smokes its meats over post oak wood, imported from Texas, without the use of gas or electricity. Choose from pulled pork, ribs, brisket and more smoked and sauced meats, plus crispy salads and cool desserts. Pretzel cake, anyone?

And how about a different kind of gift for dad this year? Check these out.

Can you believe it? A window-washing robot. Ecovacs Robotics makes the WINBOT W830 and says it cleans even nearly impossible-to-clean windows. All you do is place the microfiber cleaning pad on the machine, spritz the pad, switch it to “ON,” place it on the window and press start. Use it on vertical glass, framed or frame-less glass, frosted, filmed or colored glass, horizontal surfaces, and much more. Automatically avoids frames and other obstacles. $399.99 is a stiff price tag, but maybe if you have a lot of windows…

If  the dad on your gift list enjoys champagne, try surprising him with a pewter-embellished bottle of Spanish sparkling wine (cava). Heredad Reserva from Segura Viudas will make him feel special. And if he decides to share it with you or his pals on the golf course, race track, or by a campfire, he’s sure to enjoy the opening aromas that are lightly smoky with touches of biscuit, followed by hints of honey, fruit and flower petals. And to make him feel even more special, show him how the word “Heredad” translates into “Here, Dad!”

Coffee and tequila by Maestro Dobel
Coffee and tequila by Maestro Dobel

Do the dads in your life like tequila? Try making them a sumptuous cocktail (or two) using that favored spirit. Here’s a buzz-friendly recipe that sounds almost like dessert-and-coffee, compliments of Maestro Dobel Tequila:

Power Ballad
2 oz Maestro Dobel® Reposado Tequila
1 oz cold brew coffee
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch of cocoa powder
3 dashes of fig bitters
Egg white

Method: Build all ingredients in tin, shake without ice, add ice, shake with ice, add 1 oz soda
water to glass, strain contents into tall collins glass without ice. Sprinkle cocoa powder, serve with salted macadamia nuts.

And while you’re buying him wines and spirits, you might want to give him the good news about alcohol and Type 2 diabetes risk. According to an article in Wine Spectator, moderate consumption of beer lowers your risk by 5%, the same of spirits lowers it by 9% and the same of wine lowers it by 20%. “According to U.S. health agencies, a “standard” drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to a 12-ounce Budweiser, a 5-ounce glass of cool-climate Pinot Noir or a 2-ounce shot of whiskey. The scientists defined moderate consumption as 20 to 30 grams per day for beer and wine and 7 to 15 grams per day for spirits.”

So go enjoy a little, ‘cuz drinking more than moderate levels actually increases the diabetes peril.

5 splurge wines to consider for Father’s Day

The Father’s Day holiday is a great excuse to spend way more than you normally might on a bottle of wine. Perfect time to cook something special and blow him away with a truly unusual wine.

Comparing the effect on colour of oak aging wi...
Comparing the effect on colour of oak aging wine. Both are Penedès region Cabernet Sauvingnon 100% varietals; on the left, a two-year-old cosecha; on the right a six-year-old crianza. As the wine matures, its colour shifts from deep purple or crimson to a lighter brick red, taking on a more graduated appearance in the glass as it ages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it’s not easy to pick from among the thousands of choices. Recently our tasters—some more experienced and some less—tested five unusual wines with widely varying reactions to the color, aroma, body, taste and finish of each. These splurge wines are listed below in roughly the order of our collective favorites, along with a little story about each and the winemakers’ notes. Remember, lots of factors affect how a wine turns out. Barrels for aging are one of the many. Read more about barrels here.

  1. Le Dix de Los Vascos ~$65 – Le Dix, meaning ten in French, was introduced in 1996 to celebrate Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite)’s first ten years in Chile. Grapes for this wine are grown in the oldest vineyard at Los Vascos, 200 acres of up to 80-year-old vines planted in 100% planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The vision of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) to expand their estate took them to South America in 1988, where they made the first French viticultural investment in modern Chile.
              Winemaker’s notes: Deep ruby red color. Expressive nose with fruity aromas of prunes, cherries and ripe raspberries followed by notes of tobacco, leather, and graphite. Ageing in French oak barrels gives the wine nice toasty notes that blend to perfection with rose and gooseberry notes and hints of hazelnuts and cinnamon. The broad range of plump tannins from the different varieties in this blend help to create a unique mouthfeel of outstanding complexity. Grape Varieties: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Carmenère, 5% Syrah Acidity: 3.4 g/L – pH: 3.62 Alcohol: 14.5%

2. Marchese Fumanelli Amarone della Valpolicella 2009 ~$80 – The classic Valpolicella is young and fresh with high acidity. Amarone is the venerable edition from this area, and the price reflects the long nurturing process required to make this wine. After the late harvest, the grapes are left to rest on wooden racks for 120 days to dry and concentrate flavors. The wine is then made with a combination of traditional and innovative techniques. The grapes are de-stemmed and soft pressed in January and macerated for 25 days. First fermented in stainless steel, the wine is then aged for 30 months in French oak barrels and a further 8 months in the bottle. Read more about Amarone here.


          Winemaker’s notes: An intense garnet red color. The wine displays typical fruity fragrances of mature cherries and wild berry with elegant hints of sweet spices, cinnamon, tobacco and chocolate. A wine of great structure that is rich, rounded, soft and velvety. A richer, more powerful yet elegant style showing lots of ripe baked red fruits. Full-bodied with firm, structured tannins. Warm on the palate, with very long finish. Grape Varieties: 40% Corvina, 40% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella Alcohol: 15.5%


3. Bodegas Caro 2013 Cab-Malbec ~$63 – CARO was born of the alliance between two wine cultures— French and Argentine, two noble grape varieties—Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec; and two renowned wine families—Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and Nicolas Catena, both families vignerons since the 19th century. They applied their deep knowledge of the art of winemaking to the specific characteristics of Mendoza’s high altitude terroir to create a unique wine: CARO.


          Winemaker’s notes: Intense ruby color. On the nose, aromas of red and black fruit aromas, mingled with hints of mocha and spices. Evolves slowly, revealing layer after layer of elegant fragrances. On the palate, the acidity is refreshing and persistent. Well-balanced tannins contribute to the harmony and smoothness of the palate. Grape Varieties: 50% Malbec, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon Acidity: 5.18 g/L – pH: 3.7 Alcohol: 14.5%

4. Barons de Rothschild Champagne Brut Multi-vintage ~$100 – This cuvée combines 60% Chardonnay, primarily grands crus, and 40% Pinot Noir, mainly from three small villages in the champagne region of France. The Chardonnay of this champagne takes the wine into the unforgettable style of Barons de Rothschild champagnes.


          Winemaker’s notes: Strong, assertive opening that leads into a well-rounded wine—powerful yet restrained; the sign of long aging in traditional cellars. Exudes aromas of pear and nuts (almonds, fresh hazelnuts) marrying with hints of white flowers and faint toasty notes. Brilliant and clear with pale golden highlights, the very fine bubbles carry an abundant, persistent *perlage. Grape Varieties: 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir Alcohol: 12% Acidity: 7.3 g/L – pH: 3.21


*Perlage: In a glass of sparkling wine, it indicates the chains of bubbles that ascend from the bottom of the glass to the surface of the wine. Perlage is an important quality indicator for a sparkling wine: the more numerous, the finer and the longer lasting the bubbles, the better and the more refined the wine. From the wine glossary at


5. Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 ~$63 – The winter of 2011-2012 was cold and dry—including two weeks in February of freezing temperatures and a strong Mistral wind gusting up to 62mph that killed many buds and froze numerous old vine stocks. A cool and humid, rainy spring restored groundwater, but that summer was very dry in this region, unlike the rest of France. Two very hot weeks in August ripened the grapes so harvest of the small yield began early. Winemakers were able to bring out high concentrations of delicate tannins. Then they aged the wine 2/3 of the time in oak barrels and 1/3 in casks and wooden vats, and blended it just before bottling.


Winemaker’s notes: Dark red, with a purple border. The nose is rich, pure and complex, with black fruits and sweet spices. On the palate, lots of roundness, with nice refined tannins. Finish is very long, with notes of black cherry and black berry, with a silky touch on the tongue. A feeling of youth and freshness emerges. The aromas given by the ageing in oak are still visible, with hints of spices and roasting, but they will be soon integrated into the wine and will make it really complex. A wine with a great cellaring potential and with an impressing aromatic expression. Grape Varieties: 44% Grenache Noir, 37% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault Alcohol: 14.5%

All about rum – ron – rhum

No matter what you call it – rum, ron or rhum – it’s a drink that, done right, can have multiple subtle layers. If you’re thinking about the cloying old standby, rum ‘n’ cola, you’re in for a delightful surprise at how complex and intriguing a good rum can taste. First, a bit of background. At the broadest level, according to the South Florida Distillers’ website, there are two distinct categories into which all rums fall: Rhum Agricole and Industrial (Tradtiional) Rum.
Rhum Agricole
Rhum Agricole is rum produced with freshly squeezed cane juice that is typically fermented without adding any water. The fermentation process must begin within 24 hours of pressing the cane to avoid natural fermentation by wild yeasts. Rhum Agricole comes mainly from the Caribbean Islands.
Rum Industrial
Sounds unromantic, but don’t be put off. This is the most familiar type of rum, fermented with the by-products of converting sugarcane into sugar. In the past this type was primarily made using molasses, but today it may be made with brown sugar, raw cane sugar (turbinado), panella (solid whole cane sugar), or even white table sugar. Craft distillers tend to use easily obtainable and transportable granulated sugars that are far easier to process into rum. Traditional rum makers, though, still prefer molasses.
And these days, foodies are joining tipplers to create pairing flights-and-bites menus all over the country. In his new book, The Tippling Bros. a Lime and a Shaker: Discovering Mexican-Inspired Cocktails, mixologist Tad Carducci contends that alcohol itself is a flavor booster. Though many winemakers would vehemently disagree, Carducci writes that “since spirits have more alcohol than beer and wine, they have more of an ability to enhance the inherent flavors of the food with which they are being consumed.”
Lovely before or after dinner Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva
Lovely before or after dinner Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva

We’re not here to argue, and even less so since we like that his favorite spirit to pair with food is rum. Diplomático, which makes rums of many types, including its Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (read this post from 2010 about how to do a rum tasting plus top 7 rums – notice Diplomático is the top favorite!), agrees when Carducci suggests traditional Venezuelan cuisine to marry with the various expressions: blanco, blended, mid-age and very aged. Like wine, there’s a lot to learn about rum, and the ideas below are definitely worth trying.

  • Blanco. “Lighter, younger rums tend to go very well with fish and shellfish. Their salty profiles match well against the less sweet expressions. Blanco rums also pair well with leafy greens and mild fruit and vegetables. Pair with paella.
  • Blended. “Marry cooked fruit flavors from orange to cherries and grilled pineapple to complement the spice of coffee, cardamom, anise and all kinds of smoked meats. With a variety of beautiful tones from wood barrels and a blend will pack flavor.” Pair with coffee rubbed pork loin.
  • Mid-age. “More mature rums have amazing depth and layers of flavor. Those flavors can enhance everything from creamy to hard cheeses, roasted, stewed and grilled meats, nuts of all sorts, cooked fruit and, of course, chocolate.” Pair with a taqueno, a Venezuelan classic of fried cheese.
  • Very Aged. “Aged whiskies, brandies and rums draw beautiful tones from wood barrels that pack more flavor onto the base spirits; adding vanilla, baking spice, earthy notes, fruit character and other flavor components.” Pair by rubbing the rim of your glass with cacao powder.
Oh, how we love the orange and brown sugar notes in Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, drunk neat before or after dinner!
And hmm, a bottle of ancho chili coffee rub is calling from somewhere deep in a corner of the spice cabinet…

Barcelona is home to Jamón ibérico and Freixenet wines

Barcelona is a warm and friendly place where many, many people speak English. So if you’re a Chicagoan on vacation here, you’re almost  bound to feel comfortable right from the start of your visit. In this part of Spain, called Catalonia, besides English many Spaniards speak Catalan Spanish, a take on the language that includes influences from the language of nearby France. You’ll see the signs in the airport when you land—the top line in Catalan Spanish and the other in regular Spanish.
Catalonia is known for many things including the lively beach resorts of Costa Brava, the Pyrenees mountains and the birthplace of  surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. Barcelona, the regional capital, has an ancient Gothic Quarter, La Rambla pedestrian mall, and several beaches. Check out the distinctive architecture of Antoni Gaudí in the Sagrada Família basilica, in the colorful mosaics of Park Güell, and in dozens of private and public structures around the city.
English: Houses in Park Güell designed by Anto...
English: Houses in Park Güell designed by Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain Français : Maisons à l’entrée du Parc Güell, réalisées par Antoni Gaudi, Barcelone, Espagne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But two of the biggest reasons to love Barcelona are the food and drink. Particularly notable are the many wines made by several nearby wineries operated by worldwide brand Freixenet, and also the many guises of Spanish jamón (ham) to pair with your wine. Visit the huge outdoor marketplace La Boqueria and marvel at the dozens of varieties of ham on display—from huge joints on hooks to small vacuum-sealed packages of thick or thin slices. They love their jamon so extravagantly that they eat it at breakfast, lunch and dinner and have even created a tribute in the form of a tourist attraction, Jamon Experience, where you can watch videos, taste and pair 6 different types of ham.

Your experience of Barcelona would be seriously lacking without a visit to one or more of the Freixenet wineries situated in the rolling hills surrounding Barcelona. They include Segura Viudas, Viticultors del Priorat—where dynamic winemaker Judit Llop makes Morlanda wines, Casa Sala and nearby La Freixeneda, and Freixenet—home of the world’s most well-known cava. Nearly any of these wines would make a perfect complement to a heaping plate of Jamón ibérico.

Interestingly, some citizens of Catalonia are strongly in favor of and are working towards splitting from the rest of Spain and becoming an independent country. Let’s hope, if that happens, we’ll be able to continue enjoying all of Freixenet’s wines with our Catalonian jamón.

Osteria La Madia vegetarian wine dinner features Green City produce

Have experienced happy hour at La Madia and been impressed with both food and service – and attitude. If you arrive a little before they open, and you’re standing in the street like a lost puppy, they actually open the door and let you sit down! That is the sign of a place with serious customer service goals.

Tomate durch Hitze mit Grünkragen
Not tomato season yet, BUT… (Tomate durch Hitze mit Grünkragen. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now Chef/Owner Jonathan Fox and Sous Chefs Matt Reidy and Trevin VanDyke are hosting a 5-course vegetarian dinner with wine pairings to showcase the best produce of summer at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 15. The dinner will have a special focus on produce from the Green City Farmer’s Market and explore the best offerings from local and regional farms.

The Chef’s Table is limited to only 16 guests. The 5-course prix-fixe dinner with wine pairings is $65 plus tax and gratuity. Osteria La Madia is located at 59 W. Grand Ave., Chicago. Tickets may be purchased at Eventbrite or by calling 312-329-0400.

Osteria La Madia, like most places you’ll eat in Italy, focuses on great food and distinctive, delicious wines. Their Italian cuisine features house made pastas, anti pasti, salumi and prosciutto, formaggio, salads, and a full entrée selection. Pick from a generous wine list or order something cool off the cocktail menu from one of their friendly bartenders.


You won’t feel rushed. You’ll love the food. It’s a great location – open to the street in the beautiful weather we’ve been having. Just go.

P.S. Menu items include unique fire-roasted approach to pizza (chef-developed after he tasted many types in the U.S. and Italy). Carnaroli Risotto with Black Alba Truffles and Pecorino; Wood Roasted Whole Branzino with Fennel, Grapefruit and Pine Nuts; Pan Roasted Chicken with Braised Winter Vegetables, Capolini Onions, Apple, Jus; Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Acorn Squash and Fingerling Potatoes, and Chianti Braised Short Ribs with Roasted Baby Carrots, Carnaroli Risotto, and Grana Padana Parmigiano. Desserts are all made on premises, in keeping with what is seasonally available.

Nando’s new menu items – scrumptious!

Nando’s PERi-PERi opened its first U.S. location in 2008, and it’s been taking Chicago by storm in the last couple of years where we now have 6 (4 in the city) of their 31 nationwide locations. It’s partly self-serve in that you go up to order your food, but then you relax at your table and they bring your orders to you. And this is good food.
Nicola is a chef who’s part of the Chicago team – she came here from the original Nando’s in South Africa – that’s kicking things up a notch in the menu department. She recently introduced us to samples of several new Nando’s menu items at the 953 W. Randolph Nando’s. This location, a beautiful combination of indoor and outdoor seating, is like all their locations in that it delights all the senses with not only very enjoyable food but also surroundings graced by  unique and colorful artwork and decorations. And on a perfect-weather day in such a setting, these dishes all but sang they were so good, especially enjoyed with a glass of the light red wine recommended by the server.
Mainly featuring chicken thighs – the juiciest part of the bird – along with unique sauces and flavors, each dish was absolutely delicious.  The chicken thigh sandwich is chunks of grilled chicken on a simply scrumptious Portuguese roll and topped with their aptly named Peri-naise. Even for non-fans of mayonnaise, that creamy sauce makes this sandwich special. In addition to the poulry, though, there’s also a tangy new quinoa salad that not only perks up your taste buds but makes you feel virtuous for its healthy composition – greens with goat cheese, black quinoa, avocado, roasted squash and roasted seeds with a light, tangy dressing.
When you order the grilled chicken thigh skewers – chicken layered with onion and pepper – you are asked to specify your desired level of spice for the Nando’s basting sauce, from mild to fiery hot. Medium is perfect if you like sriracha. The skewers are nicely grilled, marked with little flags as to spice level, and served with vegetables grilled to crisp-tender and served in a super tasty, light tomato broth/sauce alongside a helping of brightly colored, mildly seasoned rice.
The two new lemonade drinks are totally worth trying out – pineapple and blood-orange/mango. The sweetness (pineapple is sweeter) in each makes a comfortably cooling complement to the spice in the sauces. And they’re just plain tasty, too.
We were already fans of Nando’s; these new items have put us over the top. Extremely good food at reasonable prices in comfortable surroundings – also with good music going on at just the right decibel level to feel like a party but not intrude!