EL Ideas

I’m not going to kid myself; this will never be a three Michelin-star restaurant, ever. We’re so far outside the box. We play loud hip-hop. We do not give a fuck.

-Chef Phillip Foss

Fluke with sorrel, gooseberries, and pistachio oil

Fluke with sorrel, gooseberries, and pistachio oil

It had been almost a decade since I was last in Chicago and I was anxious to get back; my primary intent to eat my way through the city. From all reports, Chicago is bursting at the seams these days with highly lauded, inventive, boundary-pushing chefs, and I had a long list of restaurants on my must-try list. When I found out I’d be heading to Chicago for a business trip, I knew there would be some great meals in store for me and my colleagues, even if I wouldn’t be leading the reservations effort.

Coincidentally, the same week I’d be in Chicago would mark my wedding anniversary with Craig, so we decided to extend and morph the trip into a mini-vacation; because life is short and a few extra days would mean a few more opportunities to eat. I extended my stay through the weekend and Craig booked a flight to join me mid-week when the business part of my trip was complete. My primary task: find a special place to eat for our anniversary with only a few weeks’ notice.

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The Aviary + Next Restaurant

mejillones enlatados, pulpo y berenjena

mejillones enlatados, pulpo y berenjena

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to write about music, and one of the reasons so many years back I started writing less about songs and more about the people crafting them, is that it’s ridiculously subjective (insert the well-worn “dancing about architecture” analogy). I’m not even referring to the differences that exist between what one person finds inviting and another off-putting, but the differences within what I like or do not at a given moment. Music that I might have dismissed for one reason or another can suddenly open up under the right circumstances. Songs or albums that were staples in my listening diet randomly, confusingly, wear out their welcome for reasons I don’t understand and get left behind to collect dust.

These frustrating idiosyncrasies can make the task of pinning them down with words a hopeless task. The same goes for critiquing food, which is why I’ve also avoided writing about culinary experiences where possible. Perfect example: Next Restaurant and its sister cocktail lounge, The Aviary. I’m staring at the photos I took of our drinks and dinner there and everything looks delicious and inviting. Why then did I leave the table feeling underwhelmed and dissatisfied with that night?

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Chicago Architecture

Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space.

–Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

300 S Wacker (1971) - A. Epstein & Sons. Updated in 2014 to include giant mural of Chicago River.

300 S Wacker (1971) – A. Epstein & Sons. Updated in 2014 to include giant mural of Chicago River.

Chicago is a mecca for anyone even slightly interested in American architecture. From innovative, turn of the twentieth century brick warehouses, to iconic art deco towers, to sleek international style skyscrapers, to the post-modern response, and finally to contemporary, cutting-edge building design, the entire history of modern American architecture unfolds before your eyes. With so many important and lesser-known but still fine examples of buildings on every block, there’s nothing like just letting yourself wander the streets on foot and making your own discoveries. But one of the best ways to take it all in, and get a great overview while learning a little bit of the history of Chicago architecture, is by taking an architectural boat tour.

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Vancouver

Roasted beet salad with Okanagan goat cheese and burnt apple vinaigrette at Forage

Roasted beet salad with Okanagan goat cheese and burnt apple vinaigrette at Forage

It’s always great to get away on a long holiday weekend and, in our minds, it’s a bonus when the place you go to doesn’t celebrate said holiday so you don’t have to deal with the usual masses of people using the it as an excuse to get drunk and light fireworks. Since Memorial Day weekend coincides with Craig’s birthday, we used it as an excuse to make the quick trek up to one of our favorite weekend get-away locations: Vancouver, British Columbia. Other than some dinner reservations, we didn’t have much planned for the weekend, which allowed our mood and the weather to dictate the rest; and what we ended up with was reasonable weather that didn’t force us inside, along with some outstanding and memorable meals.

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Willows Inn – Part Deux

Crispy kale with truffle and toasted rye

Crispy kale with truffle and toasted rye

Craig was encouraging me to think about what I wanted to do to celebrate my birthday, even though it was months away. I always use it as an excuse to eat some great food, but this year was a milestone I wasn’t quite ready to admit to. So it required something extra special – preferably involving getting out of town – and Willows Inn seemed like the perfect choice to satisfy my criteria. It had been two years since we last dined there, and during that time Chef Blaine Wetzel picked up additional acclaim by winning the 2014 James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award. Chef Wetzel was also a current nominee for Best Chef: Northwest, which he would win just days before our visit.

It felt like it was time to go back.

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Nisqually Wildlife Refuge – Seasons

Bald eagle in flight

Bald eagle in flight over Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

For some time now we’ve been making regular pilgrimages to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, just north of Olympia, Washington. A part of our focus has been to try to capture the abundance of wildlife that inhabits the refuge across all four seasons: ducklings swimming alongside their mothers in spring; a black-tailed deer caught in the fading light of the summer solstice; sea lions and seals in autumn; a peregrine falcon in winter trying to unnerve a great horned owl and its owlet. From bald eagles and red-tailed hawks, to tiny wrens and warblers, to even tinier woolly bear caterpillars, Nisqually is an exceptional snapshot of how wonderful and wonderfully diverse life is, and it seemed time again to post some photos, both new and old, highlighting our recurring trips there.

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Woodland Park Zoo to Elephants: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

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From a governance standpoint this was a methodical process. It was a lengthy process. We are so excited about the fact that we can achieve what the public and our professionals told us needed to happen.

-Laurie Stewart, Woodland Park Zoo Board Chair

Welcome to your new home, ladies

Welcome to your new home, ladies. (Photo Oklahoma City Zoo.)

On the afternoon of Friday, February 27th, Woodland Park Zoo CEO Deborah Jensen stepped up to the podium at an assembled press conference to announce that the zoo’s remaining two elephants, Bamboo (48) and Chai (36), both female Asian elephants, had finally been found a new “home.” At the same time, 2,000 miles away at the Oklahoma City Zoo, where Bamboo and Chai will be headed in a month’s time, it was 18 degrees Fahrenheit with snow falling, and the zoo was announcing it would be closing early on account of the frigid weather. (OCZ would remain closed for the weekend because of cold and snow).

Thus ended a frantic six-month period since the death of the Woodland Park Zoo’s lone African elephant, Watoto (45), and a complete reversal from the zoo’s ambitious-if-not-arrogant intention to expand their elephant herd, to their decision to shutter the exhibit entirely and send Bamboo and Chai packing to what undoubtedly is an even worse environment.

Welcome to your new home, ladies.

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Profiles – Chester Hastings

Before I could even peel an onion he put me in the basement offices and made me read Italo Calvino, study the art of Caravaggio, and architecture of Borromini and Bernini. He took me to the opera, convinced that before I could learn how to cook the traditional foods of Italy I had to understand the culture from whence they came. We weren’t artists creating something new, we were anthropologists, keeping the ancient traditions alive!

-Chester Hastings

Chester Hastings

Chester Hastings

Anyone who knows me even the slightest bit is likely aware that I am a huge fan of food, Nick Cave, and the written word. So when I was recently reacquainted with Chester Hastings after a brief meeting a decade earlier, and remembered he not only has the same interests but has had involvement with all of them professionally, I knew I had to delve in deeper and put the pieces of the puzzle together.

I first met Chester through our mutual friend, Todd, at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert in 2003. The band was doing a limited five-city US tour, and I flew down to Los Angeles for the show and to catch up with Todd. Through the years, I would continue to hear little snippets about Chester whenever I spoke with Todd, but it wasn’t until last year at another Nick Cave concert in San Francisco that I would meet Chester again.

Chester has been in the food industry for all of his adult life, starting in San Francisco before doing a stint in Italy, and later spending time in London because of a chance meeting at a Nick Cave concert. Do you see the pattern here? Chester then moved back to the States, landing in Los Angeles, where he met Joan McNamara (and our mutual friend Todd) both of whom he worked with up until very recently when he decided to dedicate himself full-time to his other passion: screenwriting.

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Open Letter to King County Councilmember Larry Phillips

No More Dead Elephants - Sanctuary Now

No More Dead Elephants – Sanctuary Now

Dear Councilmember Phillips,

Thank you for your reply to my correspondence urging City and County officials to use their political and financial influence to ensure that Bamboo and Chai are sent to a sanctuary where they can roam and be free after a lifetime of physical and mental abuse, and not sent to another zoo where they will continue to suffer for public amusement and private profit.

While I realize that being a member of both the King County Council and Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors puts you in a position that some might consider to be a conflict of interest when it comes to determining the financial backing and other resources the Council affords the Zoo on taxpayers’ behalf, I am surprised and somewhat taken aback that your response to the community’s concern about Bamboo and Chai would seem to be taken almost verbatim from the Zoo’s press releases; statements which dismiss those who advocate for sending Bamboo and Chai to sanctuary, and the content of which is simply untrue when looked at with a critical eye and a minimal amount of research.

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Angels Rest – Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.

-John Welwood

Entrace to Angels Rest

Entrace to Angels Rest

No matter what I write about Angels Rest, it will sound clichéd. Everything I do write about it, however, is true. On the morning we departed the desert to return home we decided to make one last drive through Angels Canyon and Best Friends, stopping at Angels Rest for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

As dawn broke sideways across the cemetery’s ornately carved main gate, we silently entered and slowly, reverently walked our way along paths where hundreds of memorials mark the final resting places of dearly departed pets. Simple markers, carved plaques, personalized urns, wind chime trees bearing names and messages of a favorite cat or beloved dog. Many were surrounded by mementos: dog tags, pictures, pebbles, messages of love and remembrance. Remi “Our Baby,” Mr. White Kitty, Flopster and Mopster, the Reno Rabbits.

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