Destination: Illinois

The Thrill of Gel and Other Disappearing Edible Delights!

Photo of food at Alinea by xmatt, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Grant Achatz, the avant-garde Chicago chef, went to Madrid to attend Madrid Fusion, a congress of 50 of the world’s best chef, and all he got was a crappy food-stained T-shirt. Moreover, in this article he penned for the Atlantic, Achatz bemoans on a grander scale by wondering if molecular gastronomy is dead. Most of the world’s population didn’t even know that it had been born. But Achatz sat there during the meeting as chef after chef took the mic and felt pangs of emptiness:

“Where were the culinary fireworks? The introduction to the next ingredient that was going to enable us to turn oil into powder, serve a gelled liquid hot, or thicken an infusion by simply blending in a magical white substance? Where were the explanations of new techniques? Like the ones used to create raviolis with skins made from themselves, making pasta from stock, and aerating food to produce sponge-like textures?”

Raviolis with skins made from themselves? Aerating food to produce sponge-like textures? Sheesh. And he wonders why people may be losing interest in it.


Rajaa Alsanea Talks Dentistry, ‘Girls of Riyadh’ and Life in Chicago

Remember Rajaa Alsanea? Her debut novel stirred up acclaim and controversy, and opened a window into the romantic lives of Saudi Arabia’s young women (being dubbed “Sex and the City, Saudi-style” as a result) a couple years back. The National caught up with the author to see what she’s been up to since, and it turns out Alsanea is studying endodontics, a dentistry specialty, in Chicago—and working on a second novel in her spare time.

She says of that project: “People will definitely have the feeling that I have grown up and matured. I have lived outside my country and experienced a different culture and all of this reflects on the person that I am today.” The thoughtful interview is worth a read in full. (Via The Book Bench)

Morning Links: Japan’s ‘Ambassadors of Cute,’ Obama’s Position on Travel and More

Got a suggestion? .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) your link.

Shanghai Barbie: Tourist Magnet?

Shanghai Barbie: Tourist Magnet? Photo by Gary Soup via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by Gary Soup via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Every time I visit Chicago, I’m amazed at how the city’s American Girl flagship store continues to draw moms and daughters from across the Midwest; I never fail to see them marching up Michigan Avenue, giant American Girl shopping bags in hand. Hotels in the area have lapped up the phenomenon, offering packages with kitschy extras like “one exclusive American Girl bed for your little doll to keep for future slumber parties” and a “free in-room movie showing of Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front.” Apart from the boost to tourism, the trend is a masterful case study in 360-degree branding.

Now I’m wondering if Shanghai is courting a similar fate with last Saturday’s opening of China’s first Barbie flagship store. The store, which includes 900 different kinds of Barbie dolls, a spa, a bar and a line of Barbie-themed clothing for adults, could well become a tourist mecca for Chinese girls and their mothers, who weren’t able to get their hands on the doll in their (pre-economic boom) childhood years.  If the store is a success—and I have a sneaking feeling it will be—we’ll see how long it takes nearby hotels, vendors and restaurants to co-opt a little Barbie magic. The gravity-defying doll hasn’t survived 50 years for nothing, after all.

For full Shanghai Barbie immersion, check out this Yahoo slideshow of the mega-store. It’s certainly in keeping with the brand’s image: six storeys, all glowing pink.

Travel Nostalgia: The World in Vintage Posters

I’ve confessed to my abiding love of postcards before, and now I have another confession: I am a total sucker for the vintage travel poster and all its varied (fridge magnet, notebook, calendar, tote bag) incarnations. There’s something so refreshing about those old Cunard posters, or the early advertisements for transcontinental passenger rail. They have a guileless wonder to them, and a total lack of cynicism or irony—because they come from an era when nobody thought they had already seen it all. So I was thrilled to read on the Shoretrips blog about a major vintage poster auction being held in New York.

The auction’s already come and gone, but the entire collection is still viewable online. There are more than 400 posters in the sale, though, and only some of them are travel-related—so for all my fellow vintage-travel-poster-lovers (and I know you’re out there) I’ve put together a list of my favorites, and a cheat sheet for the rest.

Read More »

Leave Home Without It

Contemplating and celebrating the world of travel

Read More »

Italian vs. I-talian vs. New Yorkese

Missy Robbins, the new chef at the posh New York City eatery A Voce, was relatively unknown to the New York City fooderati. That is, until Barack Obama came along. Robbins was the chef at Chicago’s Spiaggia restaurant. Like A Voce, Spiaggia serves up lauded Italian cuisine in a chic setting. And Obama was a regular, thanks, apparently, to Chef Robbins’ wood-fired scallops, among other menu items. With the circus surrounding the Inauguration, I decided to dine at A Voce a few days ago, hoping I’d get a chance to taste what kept Obama coming back to Spiaggia again and again (he was just there last month, in fact).

Read More »

State-by-State Home Improvement

bottles Photo by Jenna Schnuer.
At the Treasures & Trash Barn, Searsport, Maine. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

Yeah, there are a few things here and there from places far, far away but, looking around my apartment, I realized that most of my art/knickknacks/stuff was hauled home in my carry-on, checked baggage or the trunk of a rental car from a trip to one of the 50. OK, I shipped the bear lamp home. This is some of it ...

Read More »

The Year in Eating

food at alinea, chicago Photo by xmatt, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo of food at Alinea by xmatt, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Food experts are rolling out their predictions for 2009 and they’re really going out on a limb forecasting, for example, that recession specials are going to be huge. Here’s what we think about eating in 2009: there will be no food because there will be no restaurants because no one will have much money to eat anything. Which will then make things that were previously unappetizing, very edible. (Yes, we’re looking at you dog!) Really, though, rather than look forward—after all, the future of eating doesn’t look so pink in the middle right now—let’s take a breather from all this fortunetelling and glance backwards to better times. This was the year of both Greek yogurt and mixologists. It was the year that Korean cuisine pissed all over Chinese food (Chinese will make a huge comeback in 2010, we think). And it was another great year for David Chang. But here are a few things we’d like to dwell on:

Read More »