My Kinda Town

by Gena on April 19, 2010

Hellooo, bloggies!

I’m writing from the Sheraton in downtown Chicago, where I’ve been enjoying an exceedingly lovely day and a half so far! I’ve always been a big Chi-Town fan, and this trip is a reminder of why: great people, great dining, great shopping, and the same sort of hustle and bustle and energy that makes me adore NYC so much. I’m only sorry I won’t be here a little longer.

Countless readers have writtent to me for travel tips. It’s a request I rarely oblige, mostly because I rarely travel. As I often tell new friends, I am a person who has little or no wanderlust: I’m generally my happiest at home, immersed in the day to day. This doesn’t mean I don’t like travel; it just means that I don’t usually seek it out. (And let’s face it, I also can’t usually afford it.) When I can travel, however, I’m always glad to, and this week of mini-vacay gives me a chance to show you all how I handle being on the road whilst maintaining eating habits that make me feel my best.

My trip began yesterday morning, bright and early. Before leaving my apartment, I threw together some packed snacks. They included three bags of homemade trail mix: a walnut+golden mulberry combo; raisins, pecans, and coconut; and my personal fave, raw cashews, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and raisins. I try never to purchase expensive trail mixes, raw or otherwise: instead, I use the bulk bins at my local health food store to get dried nuts and fruit en masse, and mix them up at home. Sometimes, I’ll shock myself with organization skills and put 1/3-1/2 cup servings in little baggies, too.

I also packed some of my favorite Lydia’s raw crackers:

And there was some bar action in the form of two Prana bars (thank you, Rosie, for your giveaway!), a Bumble Bar, and a Sun bar. The latter two were gifts from a client and fellow Upper West Sider. The ingredients are pretty clean, if a little miscombined, and I was excited to try them:

Typically, I don’t eat much before I fly: digesting in the air tends to disagree with my system in a big way. In spite of the early hour, however, I was pretty hungry yesterday morning, and knew it would be quite a few hours till lunch, so I whipped up one of my chocolate almond smoothies soon after rising. In the cab on the way to the airport, I sipped on this:

Flying, as we all know, is majorly dehydrating, so it’s important to load up on either juice or coconut water (or both) before you hit the plane. It’ll help prevent dry skin, constipation, and low immunity, folks, so do your best–even if it means getting an aisle seat for consistent bathroom breaks! I wasn’t checking my bags on this trip, but if I had been, you’d have also found some frozen Liquiteria juices; I’ve never had a problem putting these in checked bags, and they’re usually just defrosted and perfect for rehydrating when you land. This time, I just vowed to find a juice bar upon arrival! In my carry on bag, I also carried the obvious: carrots and avocado for a snack upon landing, if I wished.

On the plane ride over, I read this fantastic article by my dear friend Nat. If any of you are interested in EMFs (electro-magnetic fields) and their possible impact on health, I encourage you to pick this article up right away.

EMFs have been linked to health conditions from “benign” brain tumors to migraines to various cancers. I’ve recently spoken with many holistic health practitioners who believe that EMFs are a part of the risign epidemic of fertility problems, including PCOS and anovulatory cycles. As Nat makes clear, the evidence on hand is very contradictory and complex, and as of yet we have no real answers about how EMFs are affecting our health. All the more reason why we should be devoting time and effort to studying them more conclusively.

I arrived to find a lovely day here in Chicago: sunny, 50 degrees, and a little blustery, but not too bad. I also found my hotel accomodations to be super comfy and welcoming:

And was pleased to discover a fridge. Score! Hotel fridges mean the chance to purchase veggies and coconut water for snacks. Make my day, Sheraton, make my day:

I set out to do a bit of sightseeing along Michigan Ave, stopping periodically to gawk at designer apparel, Crate and Barrel dishes, and such intermittent architectural gems as these:

Before I left, I also took care to google juice bars within my zipcode, and found a few hits. When I travel to a major city, I like to identify healthy grocery stores, juice bars, and lunch spots nearby. That’s the joy of traveling to bigger cities: options abound! I found a place inside a mall nearby called Foodlife, which advertised a full service juice bar. ‘Twas a sight for sore eyes! This little place had a terrific salad bar and pre-packed salads:

It also had some healthy snacks, including a little hummus plate I decided to pick up and store in the room. One never knows when healthy snacks will be wanted, and it’s nice to have options that aren’t bars:

Next, I picked up a juice–carrot, celery, ginger, and a touch of green apple:

…which was a breath of fresh air for an ever-so-slightly-sleepy traveler. Yum!

After some more wandering, a mini-nap, some carrot+avo snacking, and some emails at the hotel, I left in a haze of excitement for my special blogger lunch! The destination?

That’s right–one of Chicago’s oldest and most famous vegan eateries, The Chicago Diner. This landmark restaurant is known for making vegan “comfort food” — which is to say that the menu is definitely a little heavier on the faux-meats than I typically go for:

That said, it’s also packed with tremendously tasty salads, vegan and gluten-free sides, raw-friendly guacamole, and baked goods from on the premises. Thumbs up. I already knew I had a hankering–as I usually do after a plane ride–for lots of green stuff, and guacamole. After all, salad and guac is my version of comfort food! 

Before we get to the chow, though, let me introduce my incredible dining companions. They were:

Mara (pronounced, I learned, “Mah-ra”), and Jenn! I have corresponded with and adored these two women for a long, long time now, and I was over the moon happy to meet them! Along with Robyn, whose blog I’ve been reading forever, and her friend Hoda:

I also got to meet my other Chicago blog crush, Ms. Val:

Who’s snuggled up there with Lin. I got to meet long time reader, former client, and friend Elese:

And the lovely Maya:

It was SO fun and exciting to catch up with these women, who I’ve written back and forth with and enjoyed so many conversations with, in person. What a dynamic, sweet, and welcoming group!! During lunch, I gawked at Jenn’s new cards for her company, Pop! media:

And then ordered exactly what I was craving: green stuff! I got the garden salad:

A double side ‘o guac:

And some steamed veg + marinara, which I didn’t end up finishing but was happy to mix into my salad:

It was all totally delicious and hit the spot. Tip to those of you who are eating veggie-heavy lunches: always pay a little extra for the steamed veggie (or roast veggie) side. I find that salads are sometimes as large as I want them to be, sometimes not; having the extra veggies on hand means you can add volume to your salad easily.

My only complaint? Onion-y guac. Which I tasted for several hours hence. :-(

After lunch, Ms. Val presented us all with a wonderful gift! In an absolutely sweethearted gesture, Val made me a raw version of a traditional Greek dessert (melamacarona, which I actually wasn’t familiar with–thanks, Val, for teaching me!). Made with oat groats, agave, and a nutty topping, this stuff was pure heaven!

We all proceeded to “oooh” and “aaaah.” Between the professional looking cupcakes that Mara showed me (pictured on her blog today), and Val’s raw Greek pastries, it was a good day for dessert. Ladies, you both have bakeries to open. Get on it.

After the lunch (and a fairly baroque, overly complex bill-paying ordeal — harumph) we gathered outside for a group photo. My face is all scrunched up because of the sun. Way to bring shades, Mara:

Thanks, ladies, for such a lovely gathering. I’m so lucky to know you all!

After Mara graciously dropped me off back at my hotel, I rested and read for a while before getting ready for the reason for my visit: a book party to celebrate my wonderful author, Katie, and the publication of her novel, Happy Now? I rarely talk about my editorial work on this blog, and I’m not going to make a habit of it now, since my life in books and life in nutrition and blogging are worlds away. But it would be remiss of me not to tell you that Happy Now? is one of the most funny, moving and beautifully written novels I ever have or ever will be lucky enough to work on, and that you should all check it out on Amazon. I promise you that it’s a read you won’t soon forget.

The party was hosted at the sleek and sophisticated Evanston eatery, The Stained Glass, where Katie’s husband happens to be the executive chef. Loved this place! It’s both homey and grown-up feeling, and features a wonderful menu of wine and tapas. Mara mentioned to me that it was a favorite of hers when she lived closer! Lucky Katie, to be married to a man who can cook.

Before the party, Katie had graciously tweeted me to say that there would be salad and a few vegan appetizers, but that I might want to bring a Larabar (how adorable is that?). I came armed with my Lydia’s crackers and some hummus, most of which I’d polished off as an afternoon snack, but there was no need for me to. As soon as I arrived, I was touched and delighted to find that Victor, Katie’s husband, had prepared vegan-friendly appetizer options. They included an apple, raisin, and grape salad served in endive leaves, jicama rounds with spicey guacamole, and fabulous summer rolls with avocado, pickled vegetables, and spices. I was obsessed with the latter, and hope to make them for myself soon at home!

I gobbled down my plate, as well as some salad and whole grain bread that was served a little later in the evening. It was so wonderful to spend time with Katie, whom I never get to see as often as I like:

After a festive and celebratory evening, I cabbed it back to the hotel for some work, some blog prep, and some reading. A few of Val’s melamacarona may have been involved, too ;-)

So that, my friends, was my first day in Chi-Town. Today will involve a blogger lunch and dinner at a restuarant I’ve been dying to try! Please stay tuned for more recapping. I hope you’ve all been enjoying a good start to your weeks! And before I go, please head over to new father Matt’s blog for my guest post on my food philosophy.


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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

ashley (sweet & natural) April 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm

I remember Stained Glass from my NU days! Not exactly a college budget eatery, but I was lucky to dine there on a couple occasions. :-)


Evan Thomas April 19, 2010 at 1:32 pm

I love that you keep an avocado for a snack. I always want to do the same, but people seem to think it’s weird to snack on an avocado. It is, afterall, a fruit! If you can snack on apples, you can snack on avocadoes


Mara @ What's For Dinner? April 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I had SO MUCH fun meeting you! You were right about the faux-meat-heavy menu, but you know? It was still delish :) I’m going to do my darndest to make it to NYC ASAP! Love you!


Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg April 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm

What an amazing trip!!! I went to grad school a few hours away from Chicago, and love, love, loved it. I miss that city!


Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg April 19, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Gena, right after I left this comment, we got our Harper’s in the mail with your friend’s article! Going to read it right now!


Christine (The Raw Project) April 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Sounds like a great trip, fun pics and amazing food. Great seeing what you pack for road foods. Agreed on plane flights, I usually pack an empty water bottle and fill up before boarding before long flights and bring fresh veggie sticks and fruit for in-flight snacks.


elise April 19, 2010 at 2:01 pm

awwwwwww. what fun!!! ive never been to chi-town, but it’s definitely one of the places id love to travel…especially if it means vegan dining with such fun company :)


Antony April 19, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Great tips for travelling. Thanks Gena :-)


Vegyogini April 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm

What an awesome meet-up!

Thanks for your travel tips, which are 100% in line with mine. I’m about to fly to Jamaica and have similarly set aside foods that will keep me healthfully full while fitting in with the TSA’s requirements.

Happy Now looks so good! I’ll definitely be checking it out when it’s available at the library. I’m such a voracious reader (I’m trying to narrow it down to 3 books to take with me on this trip) and am always seeking out new books to read. Wishing Katie a lot of luck with it!


Jordan @ Salt Sweat Sugar April 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm

UMMM, oh my gawdddd, could you BE any more adorable?! =]

I loooove Chicago. You should try the breakfast place called Orange, too! It’s a long wait to get in, but ohhhhhh dearrr, it’s amazing. Especially the frushi! [FRUIT SUSHI!!!]


The Ordinary Vegetarian April 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Oh, how funny! I ate at The Chicago Diner yesterday as well, and based on your photos we didn’t miss each other by too terribly long. That very recognizable bike was chained to the sign outside when I got there, but I know it wasn’t the same exact time because based on your pics it looks like we actually sat at the same table. I’m glad you got to enjoy this famous spot, and also that you are enjoying Chicago!


Veronica (LifeWithNature) April 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm

It’s good that you mention a great article on EMF. I also have one on my blog: electrosmog: are you in danger?. It’s very important that people understand the effects of electromagnetic fields on health, and how to protect us from them.


Maria (Tough Cookie) April 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Mmmm! Looks divine! Glad you are enjoying yourself. You look great!


Therese April 19, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I love spring rolls! I can’t wait to see what recipe you come up with. I’ve never been able to replicate them at home… probably because I’m afraid of pickling things.

Speaking of which, I’ve only been following your blog for a month so maybe I’m missing something, but have you done a series on food preservation? I’m in a CSA this summer and I’d love to preserve some of the food to eat next winter!


Kendel April 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I’m from the Chicago area and am just learning of these great restaurants now! Thanks for sharing! The next time I’m back in the country, I’ll be sure to check back to this post! Enjoy the windy city!


Katie April 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Loved seeing you yesterday, darlin’! Victor and I both appreciate the shout-outs–thanks! xo


Diana (Soap & Chocolate) April 19, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I have to chime in here and thank Gena for sharing Happy Now? with me. It was the best book I’ve read this year and has haunted me ever since (in a good way!). I can’t stop recommending it, so here’s to its success!


Keri - IEatTrees April 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I’m with you on the lack of wanderlust. It’s not that I hate travel, I just love home (wherever that may be at the time). We actually have a planned family trip to Chicago in June, so your posts will really help me find places we want to eat. Thanks so much, Gena!
BTW, I LOVE the shirt you’re wearing in the Chicago Diner pics. So cute. :)


Ameena April 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm

What a great blogger meet up…all of your girls are so gorgeous and accomplished. So happy for all of you and for your author! I can’t wait to check this book out. As an avid reader I am always on the lookout for new books so thank you for the recommendation.


Michal April 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm

What a wonderful get together! I heave heard some amazing things about the Chicago Diner and I cannot wait until I can go there someday. :) And congratulations too to Katie on getting her book published, I will look it up for sure.


BroccoliHut April 19, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Wow, I am totally impressed with you expert snack-packing abilities. Everything looks delish.
Chicago Diner is a fun place to visit–I think I ordered the tofu crab cakes when I was there. Bummer about the onion-y guac.


jenny (green food diaries) April 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm

those summer rolls and the endive creation look pretty much divine. thanks for this post, it makes me less afraid to travel and still eat high-raw.


lola April 19, 2010 at 6:46 pm

I’ve always wanted to go to Chicago. My grandmother lives there, so maybe some day!!! The Diner looks good, and the food at the party looks awesome too!


Heather @ Get Healthy With Heather April 19, 2010 at 7:24 pm

wow sounds like a super fun and busy first day! How sweet of her hubby to prepare so many yummy sounding eats for you, especially that salad. Sounds amazing.


ruby red April 19, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Hey there Gena! I’m so glad we had the meet-up – you are just as awesome and entertaining in person as you are in your writing!! And wow, Val’s raw melamacaronas were incredible, weren’t they? Mine may or may not be gone already… I am super impressed with those appetizers Victor made you, how nice of him! Hope that you enjoy the rest of your Chi-town stay and that it gets a little warmer there!


Pure2raw twins April 19, 2010 at 9:45 pm

What an awesome group of ladies!!! Glad you had a great time in Chicago, I love that city too!


Mimi (Damn the Freshman 15) April 19, 2010 at 10:07 pm

So glad to see you’re having fun! It’s amazing how blogs bring people together.


Jenn (eating bender) April 19, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Love this post :) Glad you have been enjoying your Chicago trip to the fullest. It was such a pleasure to see you two days in a row. Unfortunately, now I’m going to crave Whole Foods salad bar every day. I don’t think my wallet is going to like me very much!

All kidding aside, I can’t wait until next time!


Kenzie (Healthy Purpose) April 19, 2010 at 11:16 pm

what a great trip! thanks for sharing all of your fun pictures. loved looking at your healthy travel eats too.


Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) April 20, 2010 at 2:52 am

Wow…this post just goes on and on with amazing trip, food, and people pics! Love the massive blogger meetup that you lovely ladies all had planned!

I used to live downtown Chicago and that’s where Scott and I met. And even though MN is where I grew up, Chicago is where I became an adult and downtown Chicago pics always make me smile :) Not in the winter though!

Enjoy the rest of your trip, Gena!!!!


Julie April 20, 2010 at 6:28 am

Now I have. to. have. guacamole! Luckily there are avos in my kitchen :-) Thank you for being so inspiring!


Lauren Slayton April 20, 2010 at 6:39 am

Really great travel-eating tips (especially for someone who doesn’t travel). Loved the idea of the frozen juices. I also loved reading about someone else googling juice bars. Sounds like a great trip…how about that summer roll with pickled veggies recipe?


melissa April 20, 2010 at 9:47 am

Thanks for spending so much time on this beautiful, beautiful post! What a lovely time and such gorgeous photos. I am glad you are surviving life in another city–wink wink. Congrats on the book! kisses, meliss


Kristin (Cook, Bake and Nibble) April 20, 2010 at 3:11 pm

What a fun time! Chicago looks awesome, I’ve always wanted to visit! :)



Kimber April 20, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Hi Gena,

Today was my first time reading your blog, so welcome to Chicago. I read your guest post on NoMeatAthlete today and really liked it. I’m not vegan, but I do like trying out raw food and I’m pretty curious about veganism and I love vegetarian cooking. I look forward to reading more of your blog. Thanks!


Lin April 21, 2010 at 2:46 am

yay i’m so glad that i met a blogcelebrity (totally coined that word just now)! i’m so glad you had fun in chicago!


Aletheia April 22, 2010 at 12:51 am

I’m thinking that if we were to meet in person, I would hug you to pieces. You are adorable.

ALSO – the other Chi-town bloggers look so hip. Love it!

:-) aletheia


Lauren April 22, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Great post! You know your body so well (not eating before flying). I need to be more in tune with that!


Brittany April 24, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Wow Gena, what a fun trip to Chi-town! You were able to meet up with so many inspiring ladies, and the book party looked like a blast as well. How sweet of Katie and her husband to think about your nutritional preferences.

I’m going to make note of Happy Now – perhaps I can recommend it to my book club.

PS – I too have a serious digestion issues when flying. I get bloated, gasey, and down right uncomfortable. It’s awful! How long do you stop eating before a flight to ensure this doesn’t happen?


waterproof mp3 February 10, 2011 at 2:41 am

Eating fresh and unaltered food is the best way to get the most nutrient out of food. But the drawback is finding the store and restaurants that sells them. In addition, raw and fresh food are a little more expensive than food with preservatives because they don’t last as long.


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