Marcel’s Adventures in Chicago-Land

 

Team VVC recently took to Chicago for a research trip.

 

I decide to bring along my new friend, Marcel.

 

Marcel in Chicago

He came into life last month, when a date and I won him at Wunderland Arcade on Belmont. He’s little, and purple, and I think a frog. Or an alien.

 

Here’s the story of Marcel’s adventures in Chicagoland.

 

The Friday morning we’re set to leave, he wakes up early. He’s never flown before (what, he’s only 4 weeks old) but he’s excited.

 

View from airplane

 

He sleeps while I read a gorgeous Spanish novel on my Kindle and indulge in a little rum and OJ.

kindle on planekindle rum

(My knee is way banged up from a bike accident, hence the bandages and cane I used all weekend.)

The book is called The Shadow of the Wind, by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It’s this beautiful haunting story set in post-war Spain and involves a cemetery of lost books and a boy who tries to solve an old mystery which brings him up to present day. There’s love and intrigue and murder and ghostly characters and beautiful girls and it’s the best book I’ve read this year.

 

He likes to cuddle while he sleeps. This is his favorite spot:

Marcel sleeping

He sleeps with his eyes open, which is weird, but I let him do his own thang.

 

Marcel VeganMania

On Saturday, he can hardly wait to get into VeganMania.

He loves big crowds, and Chicago VeganMania does not disappoint.

 

VeganMania Crowd

 

He was really looking forward to seeing the Vegan Black Metal Chef (have you seen his videos?)

Vegan Black Metal Chef

The Vegan Black Metal Chef is a nice dude from Florida with a crazy amount of You Tube hits for his black metal vegan cooking. He writes his own music and makes his own videos. This is his first live cooking demo, and Marcel and I both enjoy it.

fanboy marcel

fanboy

 

Marcel and his Coconut Water

Marcel sticks close to me while we watch the demos. We share a coconut water.

 

He really geeks out over Miyoko Schinner. She recently released an artisan vegan cheese cookbook and was the lady cheese expert in the September-October edition of Veg News.

Miyoko

Miyoko’s cooking demo includes almond ricotta (SO EASY—I come home to make 2 batches in my kitchen), nacho cheese sauce, and meltable Muenster

Marcel falls a little in love. I don’t have the heart to tell him she’s married, plus she lives in San Francisco. Long distance relationships rarely work.

 

The volunteers pass around pasta shells made with the ricotta and the Muenster.

ricotta manicotti shells

Yurm. I want to eat this forever.

Team VVC, Marcel and I spend the next few hours checking out the rest of VeganMania.

I <3 Vegan Girls

vegan chalkboard

Choose Vegan

 

 

After VeganMania Day, while Jess, Michele and I spend the majority of our remaining trip researching, checking out venues for Vida Vegan’s 2014 conference and gala, and sampling the fine vegan cuisine of Chicago, Marcel gets a kick out of riding the CTA with us and becoming a vegan epicurious alien-frog.

 

Marcel on the CTA

Riding the CTA like a boss.

 

Marcel in Creamer

Marcel in Mimosa

 

Helllllloooooo, Chicago!!

Big City, Little Frog

Chicago

 

Seeing the sights and swimming in vegan mimosas can really wear a little frog alien out.

 

COFFEE BREAK!

Marcel at Intelligentsia

Marcel likes to stay well-caffeinated

Marcel drinks a soy latte.

 

Marcel gets excited when he sees the local flavors of Chicago. Ho’peps*!

Marcel and Ho'pepps

*Slang for Hot Peppers. All the cool kids are saying it. Try it, you’ll like it.

 

little boy marcel looking out the window

Riding the train at sunset, Marcel asks for a window seat so he can see the sights. I happily oblige.

 

After a long day of riding the train all around Chicago, Marcel is ready for a shot.

Marcel gets drunk

It’s weak, but he’s a little guy and it goes straight to his head.

 

I’ve taught him well; he knows he needs to stay hydrated after a night of drinking.

Responsible Marcel drinking water

 

On Monday, Marcel is craving coffee. Hooked on Intelligentsia, he is disappointed but settles for a Starbucks for his morning caffeine kick.

2nd best

I can hardly bear the disappointment in his eyes.

 

Marcel, Michele, Tom and I walk trough the park. I hear Chicago has fall for like a week, and feel lucky that we get to experience it. It’s beautiful.

Chicago in the Fall

Autumn Chicago

(Though I have to admit, I rather liked the ridiculous snow and cold and wet feet of Chicago when we were there in January.)

 

View of Chicago

We arrive at the Field Museum for the day’s first appointment.

 

Marcel is such a tourist. He really wants his picture taken with me on the steps.

 

Me and Marcel at the Field Museum

 

 

Once inside, while Team VVC is getting a tour of the event space, Marcel makes some new friends.

 

Hello, Sue.

Marcel and Sue

(Sue is the world’s most extensive and well-preserved T-Rex in existence.)

 

Feeling confident with the glass case between him and this new friend, Marcel agrees to get his picture taken.

Marcel's scary new friend

 

Marcel and I are introduced to the marvels of MOLD-A-RAMA.

Mold-A-Rama

According to my native Chicago friends, I guess MOLD-A-RAMA is totally a thing. Michele and her husband Tom get giddy when they smell the hot plastic molding a fantastic new shape into creation. It takes them back to grade school.

I have to try it out. Two dollars is an insignificant amount for such a quality experience.

There are several different varieties of dinosaurs I can choose from, but naturally I’m drawn to the Brontosaurus (also unfortunately but accurately known as the Apatosaurus).

Marcel and Charlotte?

BAM!

Within seconds, Marcel has a new friend. I already have a dinosaur named Emily Bronte-saurus; what should I name this one?

Charlotte?

We also find a photobooth. I jump up and down with glee. Jess and I talk Michele into cramming into it with us.

Field Museum Photobooth

 

After the Field Museum, we hop on the CTA out to Logan Square to look at a space for the 2014 Gala.

We’re 30 minutes early, so duck into a café for quick Wi-Fi usage.

Marcel takes after me and has quickly cultivated a fine taste for anything bubbles. We share a champagne cocktail with Campari and a gorgeous orange twist. The others drink coffee.

Marcel and bubbles

 

The event space is beautiful, though on the second story of a building and unfortunately lacking handicap access.

Logan Square Gala Space

 

What’s the best way to end a day of venue viewing and appointments?

 

Ice cream.

Duh.

 

Vegan Ice Cream

Vegan chocolate ice cream in a vegan cone.

Marcel like chocolate ice cream

We’re stoked.

 

Last day in Chicago. Marcel has fallen in love with the city and doesn’t want to leave.

 

I can see why.

 

It’s a beautiful city.

 

Chicago

We view two event spaces, which are our favorite yet (stay tuned to Vida Vegan HQ for info as things slowly get finalized).

And then. And then. Whoo boy. We find a taco shop that offers vegan options in Logan Square, right off the Blue Line on our way to the airport.

La Cocina

 

Tacos, people.

 

TACOS.

 

My lifeblood

These are the best tacos ever. Upton’s chicken, refried beans, avo, lots of lettuce, cilantro, onions, and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast (yeast was my own; I always have a little shaker in my purse. What, don’t you?).

Marcel enjoys the hot sauces and the weird grapefruit-ish beer-ish we try.

Marcel and Hot Sauce

Marcel and Stiegl

Marcel and Grapefruit Beer

The beer thingy is weird, but we all enjoy the heck out of our tacos.

Then, a remarkably easy path through security, a quick glass of champagne before boarding, and we’re back home in Portland.

view from plane

Marcel is exhausted, but had an action-packed trip full of good food and good company.

I have a feeling he’s officially been bitten by the travel bug.

 

Chicago VVC Research Trip

 

Last week, Jess, Michele and I woke up bright and early and headed to the PDX Airport.

Destination: Chicago!

 

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In January!

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Our four goals were simple:

 

1. Eat Chicago Pizza and Chicago-style Hot Dogs.

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Chicago unfortunately has a severe shortage of deep dish vegan pizza (Really, Chicago? Not one place?) but luckily for us, our friend The Snarky Vegan put out a call for best vegan pizza place and we all decided on The Boiler Room. Ian’s, the other options that came up, didn’t carry Daiya, and that’s what we were jonesing for.

The Boiler Room has the coolest bathrooms on the planet (see Get Sconed’s Facebook page for a little video tour), a rad cocktail list and Upton Natural’s bacon. None of us had tried bacon on pizza before, so we had to check it out. This pizza is basic—red sauce with mozzarella Daiya, Upton’s bacon and basil. Yurm.

Could have used more basil, but I’m a basil fiend and could always eat more basil.

 

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The Whole Foods in Lincoln Park has two unique distinctions:

1. It is the best place in the world and one can drink bubbles while grocery shopping and I want to live in the aisles forever.

2. There’s a little diner called River View that offers vegan Chicago-style hot dogs for $3.50.

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Michele stuck with the classic hot dog. I opted for one with sauerkraut and mozzarella Daiya.

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It looks gross, I know. When I saw the picture, I seriously questioned myself as to why I would eat that. But guys, it was really good. I ate about half the kraut/cheese topping, and a few of the fries. YURM!

 

Oh, and we had milkshakes in Chicago, too!

 

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Milkshake at The Chicago Diner.

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Jess and I split the small one, and between the two of us, we almost finished it.

 

Jess ordered a cookies and cream milkshake at the fine River View café in Whole Foods.

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This is Michele, with her glass of bubbly and Jess’ milkshake in the background.

We came, we ate, we conquered.

 

 

2. Meet up with awesome Chicago vegan peeps.

 

Dan and Nicole from Upton’s spent a few hours with us on Saturday. They’re the nicest people. They picked us up at our Travelodge and drove us through Boystown to The Chicago Diner. We had a fun chat over lunch.

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Nicole, me and Jess outside the Chicago Diner

After lunch, we checked out a few other places on the (un)official Upton’s Driving Tour. Dan and Nicole were the perfect welcoming wagon to us VVC ladies in Chicago. Thanks, guys!

 

The magnificent Kelly Peloza (who is my younger doppelganger.) came up for dinner and shenanigans with us on Saturday night. She’s so talented and peaceful and fun. I love her.

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Kelly and Jess at Native Foods.

 

On Sunday, we had a small meet up at the Boiler Room. Marla from Chicago Vegan Mania, Julia from The Snarky Vegan and Michelle (Jess’ friend—not sure if she has a blog?) got together for pizza and talks about Chicago locations and probability of a future event here.

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This is what we did all weekend. Bloggers gotta blog.

 

 

3. Research potential venues for 

Vida Vegan Con 2013.

 

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We saw several spots—ranging from UIC which would be big enough to host everything except the Galarama, to Loft on Lake (perfect for Galarama??) to Pulaski Park to Roosevelt University. We loved all we saw. While some locations had drawbacks, they each had a lot of singular benefits. We will be weighing out the pros and cons this weekend.

Decisions, decisions!

 

4. Get familiar with the feel of Chicago, the public

transportation, and the vegan food options.

 

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This is the view from our hotel room. Chicago is a pretty city.

 

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The public transportation was ridiculously easy to understand, navigate and afford.

 

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Jess and Michele will probably kill me for posting this blue-light bus picture. But I love it.

 

I’m not sure why, but I really like this picture.

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We had coffee at Intelligentsia, Chicago’s famous coffee shop.

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My soy cappuccino was alright. It looked beautiful, but (*puts on coffee snob hipster glasses*) notes of banana overwhelmed the flavor of the cup for me.

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I call this “The Jess Collection”.

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<3 <3 <3

 

We ate lunch at Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur, an all-vegan soy-saturated taco place.

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I loved it. I tried three different tacos and a bite of Jess’ Cuban Torta. I wish there was a Quesadilla location in Portland, but failing that, I am just getting more and more excited for El Nutri to open its Brick and Mortar location (Anyone know when that will be?)

 

Walking around in the cold. Brrrrrrr. I loved the weather. I don’t know how I’d feel after five solid months of bone-seeping cold, but four days wasn’t so bad. Plus, it was snowy. <3

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Fresh warm bread. Never say no to fresh warm bread.

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I enjoyed this Ebel’s Weiss. It tasted like a floral Hefeweizen.

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The Handlebar, a crowded vegetarian restaurant, offered an  excellent beer: Blueberry Stout. My new favorite. Wow. This was so good. I had two. I don’t think I could do more than two—it’s so rich—but two was the perfect amount.

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And, just look: rosehip liqueur? Want.

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Further down on the cocktail menu was a beermosa with White ale and orange juice. Super intriguing, but stuck to my baby, the Blueberry Stout.

 

We visited the top of the John Hancock building.

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96 stories up, our ears popped and our whistles wetted, we would have had a stunning view of Chicago, I’m sure, but all we saw out of the windows was fog and shadows of falling ice. It was so cool.

Downtown Chicago at dusk.

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Whole Foods bubbles for shopping. Two of my favorite things: grocery shopping and sparkling wine. I am going to move in to this Whole Foods.

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I brought all this back on the plane with me.  Soul Vegan Mac and Cheese, Ste Marteen pepperjack cheese, cucumber dill hummus, and a vegan gyro wrap from Upton’s. Not pictured: cookies from the Chicago Diner purchased as gifts for a few of the vegan staff at my day job.

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The mac and cheese was decent, the hummus is nice, I’m really enjoying the cheese so far and I want those gyros wraps available in Portland.

 

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Overall, it was a fun, busy and successful trip. We haven’t made our final decision yet, but this trip definitely answered a few questions for us.

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I love Chicago.

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