Now that you've properly been introduced to our dog, it is time to tell a little story about her personality/smarts.

Last week, we came home to find our air conditioner had stopped working.  ( wasn't the storm that flooded the Palmer Underpass, it was a different one.)  Well....actually, it was the furnace fan that failed (again) that caused the problem.  We were getting cold, conditioned air, but it wasn't going anywhere because the fan couldn't push it anywhere.

Our house is set up like a traditional bungalow - 2 bedrooms upstairs and 2 bedrooms downstairs.  Normally, we sleep upstairs along with the Babe and Maisy sleeps in her bed in my office (one of the bedrooms downstairs).  The A/C had failed earlier in the summer, so we had borrowed a window unit from my folks.  Fortunately, that happened to still be in our basement.  After a bit of consultation with my dad, we settled on putting the window unit in our dining room - which would (hopefully) cool the whole first floor over time.  It was centrally located, but it could reach our family room and kitchen as well as the two bedrooms downstairs.
All of this set up is to tell you guys that dogs know how to send a message.  Especially this smart girl sleeping on our couch.

Because of the heat upstairs, we knew we were sleeping downstairs, but so too was the Babe.  I set up her pack-and-play in my office (where Maisy normally sleeps) and we set up in the other bedroom across the hall.  We figured Maisy would sleep in her bed and all would be normal.

Soon after we settled into bed, both Nat and I heard Maisy stirring around.  We told her to go back into her bed and she quickly disappeared.  No big deal we thought.

You need to know that up until now, Maisy and the Babe had very little of a relationship.  When she's crawling around on the floor and the dog passes by, the Babe reaches out to grab her and Maisy scurries away.  It would appear to most observers that Maisy has little interest in the Babe.  When I sit on the floor to play with the Babe, Maisy's jealousness shines through and she physically injects herself in between the Babe and myself.  She's clearly trying to make sure I don't forget about her.

Back to the story....

I woke up early the next morning and went to work before anyone else awoke.  Nat and the Babe woke up and went about their morning routine.  Nat went looking for Maisy and couldn't find her.  She finally found her sleeping on a pile of clothes in my office closet (that isn't all that strange -she does that all the time).  Nat let her out the backdoor and went on with the caring/feeding of the Babe.

Needing a change of clothes for the Babe, Nat went upstairs to the nursery to discover a terrible odor.  The heat of the house up there made it even worse.

In the middle of the night, Maisy had sauntered upstairs (mind you...since the Babe was born, Maisy has been banished from upstairs and hasn't been up there in 6+ months), took a dump (she hasn't pooped in the house in 4 years), and left it there for all to see.

"You sleep in my room....I'll take a steaming dump in yours."

That, folks is how you send a message.
With no classes at Kellogg to keep me busy, I began to look around at some craft projects that I'd wanted to give a try and began to organize my thoughts around them.  Some of them are pretty seasonal - gardening, jamming, pickling, but I also wanted to try to take on some non-seasonal projects like cheese making and woodworking.  With a fiesta planned, cheesemaking came first.  

It started - like a lot of my hobbies do - with a trip to the Elmhurst Public Library where I checked out a few cheesemaking books.  After a few thumb-throughs, I settled on making Queso Blanco.  This appeared to be the easiest cheese to make (maybe Ricotta is up there, too) and one that I could cut my cheesemaking teeth on.  

We choose to go organic this time with both organic whole milk and organic apple cider vinegar.  Add salt and you have the three ingredients needed to make Queso Blanco.  

I started by heating the milk to 185 degrees.  (Pardon the electric stove, we were in Michigan at the lake when I made this!)
Once the four cups of whole milk reach temperature, you slowly stir in 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and watch as the curds begin to separate.

Once they do, you carefully spoon them out with a slotted spoon to a piece of cheese cloth that is awaiting over a colander.  You gather the ends and wring the moisture out of the curds.
After letting it hang on a wooden spoon for 30 minutes, I peeled back the cheesecloth to find this wonderful ball of dry cheese.
After salting it heavily, it was time to press the cheese in the cheese press.  The only problem was that I don't own a cheese press.  They're pretty expensive.  And...I didn't want to spend a lot of money on the hobby until I know if I'm going to follow-up.  (Which...if you know me well, you know is a known issue.)  

Without a cheese press, I was left to improvise.  I settled on dumping a HUGE can of baked beans and cutting the top/bottom off to rig my own press.  I threw the cheese ball in the home-made press. 

I threw the lid back on top of the cheese ball and weighed it down with a pitcher full of water.  It did the job - by pressing all the last remnants of liquid out of the cheese and made a cute disc.  

It could almost pass for store-bought Queso Blanco.  And....because I salted it myself, it was delicious (and salty!)
I'm ruling this cheesemaking adventure a success and will serve as a gateway for other cheeses.  I got interested in the process so we can make our own (I can make my own!) ricotta and mozzarella for the pizza oven I have in my head.  I have all fall to master those!
DiMaggio's Pizza (site)
6410 Michigan 63, Coloma, MI 49038-9319, (269) 849-1521
Pizza Snob Says: DiMaggio's imports a twist on Chicago-style tavern pizza to Southwest Michigan.  With the new non-smoking law enacted, this family-run bar is all the more desirable.  Order extra, because the pies are just as good the next day.  If it makes it that long.  If you're a little uneasy about hunting, sit in the dining room, not the bar. 
Rating:  Five "Ats-a-Nice"

DiMaggio's of Coloma has been making pizzas since 1957 when Tony & Madeline DiMaggio purchased Serpe’s Inn from Mayme Serpe (Madeline’s sister). From their years of experience in owning a bar and restaurant at Belmont and Western in Chicago, they brought with them Tony’s family’s original Italian recipes and a love of cooking and bringing happiness to the table.

From their site they say:  "Tony and Madeline continued to bake delicious Chicago style pizzas, homemade lasagna, meatballs, spaghetti, Italian sandwiches, grill tasty burgers and serve many happy customers in the Lake Michigan Beach area. Tony and Madeline retired in 1972 and their son Vince took over the business, eventually expanding the menu as well as expanding DiMaggio’s itself. Vince managed the business for 33 years and now oversees the operation."

They bill themselves as having the best/most original pizza for "miles around".  Since, according to Google Maps, they're 10 miles from Silver Beach Pizza, we'll say that's an accurate description.  
DiMaggio's is situated about halfway between Paw Paw Lake and St. Joe's.  For us, it is about a ten minute drive.  I've been coming to Paw Paw Lake for over 20 years and the first time I went to DiMaggio's must have been four years ago.  Since I was coming up with my folks all these years, we didn't dine out all that often - preferring to grill hot dogs or burgers back at home. 

The menu features things like sandwiches and pasta, but the main attraction here is the pizza. 
They serve two sizes - 12" and 14", but we've only ever bought the 14"-er.  Nat doesn't eat sausage, so when went last, I convinced her that pepperoni wasn't so bad.  (although....I usually only will eat a pepperoni pizza if it is covered in sausage, too!)

They cut the pies in a modified tavern cut.  Instead of having any middle squares, they just put one cut down the middle, so each piece has a little bit of crust.  Having grown up on tavern cut pies, I miss the middle pieces.
If you get disturbed by hunting photos, stay away from the bar.  Turns out someone involved (the owners, I suppose?) is into big game hunting.  This asshole has taken down a zebra and other big animals - and has the photos to prove it.  It is a bit unnerving to see all the photos above the bar.

But...that doesn't take away from the pizza.  If you're in southwest Michigan and not interested in the wait at Silver Beach Pizza, head to DiMaggio's in Coloma and you won't be disappointed.
(Note:  As an homage to Dennis Rodkin's "What does $1M buy you" series, I'm going to occasionally check in with what $750K buys you in Elmhurst.  At $1,000,000 you get a bit more house, but they're all new construction and a lot less interesting than around $500K-$800K in Elmhurst. )

119 S. Arlington Avenue, Elmhurst, IL  60126
Asking Price:  $729,900
Purchase Details:  Bought in March, 2007 for $772,500
Details:  4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths built in 2000

This house is on our walk route - we pass it by early every Wednesday morning as we're out getting a bit of exercise.   It sits just across the tracks (Center of Town side) directly south of an apartment complex.  The listing says that it was built 10 years ago, but it looks like it could have been here for 100 years.  Kudos to the builder and the architect.

Some of the advantages of living here are that you are in the highly desirable Center of Town neighborhood, you're still very close to the Jewel, the train station and downtown.  You do, however, have multi-family units all around with both the apartment building just north and townhouses right across the street.    No Alley access, but this house does, however have a really deep lot.  The location and school district combination might make it worth the price to some families.

The owner is taking a bit of a haircut as they bought in March 2007 for $772,500 - $40K more than the current list price.

From the listing:

New in 2000 this classic American 4-square is just steps to train and town! A terrific home offering an impressive 3,577sf of living space with a flexible, open floorplan designed to fit the varying needs of today’s lifestyles. As you enter the home, the 2-story foyer offers a glimpse of the home beyond. The gracious dining room is sized to fit the whole family with great table space and an adjacent butlers pantry. The large kitchen offers loads of cabinet space and boasts a center island and walk-in pantry...while a huge eating area opens to a light-filled family room. Also found just off the kitchen is the very convenient laundry/mud room with direct access to the attached 3-car garage. A formal living room and office complete with custom built-ins complete the 1st floor. The 2nd floor offers 4 spacious bedrooms and 2 full baths. The generous master suite has 2 walk-in closets and a private master bath. The basement can easily become the extra space you want! It is a deep pour basement and is ready for your finishing ideas! Located in the highly desirable Hawthorne Grade School district this home sits on an enviable 50x190 lot...worth the time to come and look!
Those of you who knew us B.E. (Before the Babe), you need no introduction to this lovely lady.
For those of you who don't, Ms. Margaret Thatcher Moran Parrillo.  We call her Maisy.  She's not getting near as much attention as she used to, but (as we call her) the Original Girlfriend has managed to make it through the first six months of the Babe's life.  Now that she's starting crawl, Maisy is in play and close to eye level.   Even though she's now second banana, she still was first and that matters for something!  She just turned five a few weeks ago and still has her puppy moments - even with all the sleep she does everyday.

The Rooster, as we call her, is such a good girl (even she's awfully needy) and as I keep telling her, she'll be besties with the Babe as soon as we introduce Cheerios on the high chair.
Guess that serves me right for shooting my mouth off about our impending pear harvest.  The same storm that flooded the Palmer Underpass over the weekend, also took out our fledgling pear tree.  It snapped right in half.  Unbelievably.  I had it staked with a heavy-duty stake and some zip ties loosely around the trunk.  Looks like the wind didn't think much of my stake job. 
There are 2 branches (which carried most of the fruit) on the main trunk below the break, so the tree will (hopefully) survive, but it won't be a high-flyer for a bit now.  The top that snapped off had some largish pears, so I grabbed those.  They aren't ripe, but maybe they'll ripen up off the branch.  Here they are relative to a quarter. 
Have my fingers crossed that we'll get a couple dozen normal-sized pears off the lower branches come mid-August.
The storm last night was a big one in Elmhurst.  We didn't loose power (thank you!), but we took on a lot of rain the backyard.  We weren't the only ones, as Palmer Underpass - the main route around Downtown Elmhurst - was closed all day.  This photo was from Saturday at 3:30 PM and the water was still almost 10 feet deep.
Traffic is snarled all over because of this blockage.  To compound matters, the ramp to the Eisenhower off of North Avenue was closed for hours this morning.
Today is YouTube's Life in a Day.  TODAY!

For those of you who don't initially know what that means, you can see more details on their YouTube Channel or the Official YouTube Blog post or on Facebook.  Alternatively, you can read my description below.

It really is a pretty cool concept (you guys do know that I work for Google, right?  They're paying me, but not paying me to promote this!) where ordinary people from around the world should whip out their Flip Cameras or mobile phone cameras and contribute a short bit of footage from their lives today.  In the end, Life in a Day will be turned into a feature-length documentary film that is set to be premiered at Sundance 2011.  And...if that's not cool enough, if your footage makes it into the final cut, you’ll be credited as a co-director and may be one of 20 contributors selected to attend the premiere.

There are some heavy hitters involved (Ridley Scott, Kevin McDonald) pulling the whole thing together.   They've asked for participants to focus on three things: 

I’d also like contributors to think about three questions, and try and answer those questions. What makes you frightened? What do you love? And the last thing I want to do is have people reach into their pockets and record whatever it is they have in them and why.

So go get out there and film yourself or your wife.   You can submit the footage on the Life in a Day YouTube Channel.   If you do, and you know me, drop me a line. 
People are finding our little skunk site.  And...reporting their skunk sightings across Elmhurst!  I've updated the map over at ElmhurstStinks.

View in a larger map

As a reminder, I wrote this post about the genesis of the site back in March as a way to utilize a series of free Google tools to build a site.  Either July is skunk season or my "dollar-a-day" AdWords campaign is bringing the folks in as 4 people have submitted sightings in the past 3 days.

Since we've put up the fence, I haven't had a single skunk encounter, but the summer isn't over yet!
San Marzanos, according to Wikipedia are the most desirable sauce tomatoes in the world.  At the retail level, they typically run upwards of $5.00 per 28 ounce can.  They have a few varieties at Angelo Caputo's, but the Jewel doesn't carry them.  You can buy cases here - and those run $4-5 per can, too.  I have to think that a case of these babies would weigh a ton, making shipping a bit pricey.  With our home pizza-making adventures taking on new, interesting ingredients, I've now tried to add these to our regular rotation.

The history of these tomatoes is rich in history:
The story goes that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near NaplesItaly, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Compared to the Roma Tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet and less acidic. Many people describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate. Because of their high quality and origins near Naples, San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the only tomatoes that can be used for Vera Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza).

At the Oak Brook Costco, we ran into this HUGE can of NINA San Marzanos (That's them in the photo above).  $2.89 for the really big can.  And....the "pros" say that they are legit, according to this post on  The one complaint they have is the water-content; which doesn't bother me.  I recently made pizza on our grill and hand-drained the tomatoes from the can - squishing them to remove some seeds/moisture.  The real revelation for me came from the infrared burner on the back of the grill.  Up to this point, it was useless - in fact I've never turned it on.  But...with pizza on the grill, the burner creates a lot of top-heat, browning up the cheese/toppings.

The Nina tomatoes were a great compliment to our home-grown basil for our margharita pies.
Earlier in the year, Nat and I spent time at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis near Wash U (Nat's alma mater).  In each of the booths (on the bar side, by the dart room), hung one of these beauties.
There must be 10 of them on one wall - all with glass shades.  They're certainly not reproductions, but it is a wonder how they could have kept these in such pristine condition throughout the years.  Nat tells me that "Blue Hill" was a Wash U hangout, so they must not have been as rowdy a crowd as the one I spent many a night with at Kam's.  Guess that's what happens when you're school is ranked 12th in the nation.
Back in May, I showed what our little pear tree looked like early in Spring.  The little limbs are now jammed with small fruit.  So much, in fact, that they're weighing them down big-time.
This post says that pears should NEVER be allowed to ripen on the tree and that we're within a month or so of harvesting.  It doesn't look like we have all that many pears - maybe 25 - so we should be able to scarf them down before they go bad.
York Tavern
3702 York Road, Oak Brook, IL  60523, (630)323-5090
Pizza Snob Says: The York Tavern puts out (as one would expect with such a name) tavern-cut crackery pies that come out a bit cold, under-cooked, under-seasoned and served on styrofoam plates.  Come for the beer and the Hinsdale "slumming-it" crowd.
Rating:  Two "Ats-a-Nice"

They list five Speciality pizzas on their menu including "The York's Special" - which is a SMOP (sausage, mushroom, onion and green peppers), "The Hawaiian" - with pineapple, bbq sauce and bacon, a Vegetarian, classic Margherita, and the pie we ordered: The Pizza Bianca: a olive oil-based artichoke/garlic/parmesan combo.  The place is owned by the same folks who own Roberto's in Elmhurst and the pizza menu looks surprisingly similar.  (compare the link to the image below)
Unfortunately, I didn't grab a photo of the pie we ordered, but I can tell you that it looked nothing like the one on the menu.  Granted, we did have the Bianca, but the photo on the menu shows a full, rich pie with toppings from one end to the other.  What we got was a stale-tasting, cold, unseasoned pie that was completely unmemorable.  

Nat remarked that we were looked at sideways when we walked in and from the sounds of it on Yelp, we're not alone.
When we walked in to the tiny dive everyone looked at us like we were outa towners or really ugly monsters, including the hostess/waitress. Eventually some lady came and sat us.
We had a pretty similar experience.  A fairly inattentive waitress who didn't care much for us.

After a little discussion of the food, I was left with the ordering duties.  They feature three kinds of crust: thin, pan and stuffed, but each of the speciality pies only come in thin.  I briefly considered my standard go-to of Sausage and Pepperoni combo, but with Nat eating, I went with the Pizza Bianca.

The wait wasn't long, but when the pie arrived, so to did the styrofoam plates.  Although I am the Chicago Pizza Snob, I'm not a snob about plates.  I didn't mind them.  But, I did mind the pizza.  It was cold and lackluster.  Nat said immediately, "something's off with the crust".  She has a theory that they might par-bake the crusts and/or whole speciality pies at Roberto's in Elmhurst and bring them down to the York Tavern to finish off.  We didn't get into the kitchen and we failed to ask the waitress what the oven set-up was (she wouldn't have told us anyway), so we're left guessing why the Pizza Bianca failed so terribly.  Could it have been left to get cold by the waitress?  Maybe.  Could it have been an off day with the crust?  Perhaps.  With another visit, we'll know for sure.

I didn't give this place just one Ats-a because I didn't get a red sauce-based pie and the place is a worth-while stop if you are in Hinsdale.  The address is Oak Brook, but don't get confused.  This is Hinsdale.  Just check out the parking lot for confirmation.
Last summer, I kept seeing cucumber pickles at our Farmer's Market week after week.  They weren't too terribly expensive, but I had never pickled, so I was hesitant to buy them.  After a few searches, I settled on an easy recipe for refrigerator pickles.  I made them spicy and gave away a few jars.  They were good, but they weren't really pickled using traditional methods.  The refrigerator method takes away a lot of the brining, processing, and storage time, so it was a good introduction to pickling.

This year, after finding a book at the library entitled "The Joy of Pickling", I decided to give the longer-version a try with all the boiling/processing/waiting that traditional pickling calls for.

At two markets, we purchased the pickles, garlic, and dill.  I threw in black peppercorns and red pepper flakes.  The slices were packed in pints and the spears were packed in wide-mouth quarts.
Both recipes call for a one-month storage in the root cellar (our basement!) where we can keep them cool and out of light.  We have 7 pints of slices, so if they turn out, we'll have some hostess gifts for the end of summer bbq parties we get invited to.
The new Transformers movie is shooting in Chicago this weekend and it is making big news - as evidenced by this pretty cool photo on the homepage of the Chicago Tribune and the updates streaming in via Twitter.
On Thursday, I was walking back from lunch with Matt at Venice Cafe (my favorite place to lunch in the City!), I spotted a bunch of rubble in a vacant lot across from the Billy Goat in the 300 block of West Washington (lot below from Streetview).

View Larger Map

Back a few years, they used this same lot to stage lots of Batman equipment - including a bunch of trailers.  I was either working at FeedBurner and walking from LaSalle Street Station or at Google and walking from Union Station (when we lived in Naperville) and was always excited to the new items and movement in the lot.  This is what it looks like today:  full of faux rubble.
You can see the Ford Explorer crushed under what appears to be concrete.  Maybe the Illinois Film Council is helping secure this lot for the movie productions?  There aren't a lot of empty lots in the central loop area, so if this site gets built upon, will Chicago loose an important advantage in luring these films to town in having an area to stage their supplies/props/trailers/etc?
Last Saturday, Nat, the Babe and I, went up to Park Ridge to hit their Farmer's Market.  We were in Michigan and missed the Elmhurst Market earlier in the week.  Both Nat and I were after some produce; her for baby food, me for pickling and such.

The Market, itself, is pretty nice.  Small and compact, it gets hot because it is, like many, in a parking lot that reflects the days heat.  Saturday was also the same day as the Taste of Park Ridge, so I can't tell if the crowds were heavy/light compared to other weeks.  Some of the vendors were vast, some were pretty sparse when it came to produce.  They do have a really neat knife sharpener with a HUGE old-fashioned wheel that uses to sharpen knives on site.

All that was great, but the one vendor that stuck out for me was the Park Ridge City Council.  They have a Listening Post set up each Saturday morning and it was filled with elected officials and residents.
Not sure when this started, but this is a pretty smart move.  Talk about open or transparency.  Come down on a Saturday morning, buy a little sweet corn and bend the ear of your Mayor or Alderman.  I have a few friends who are on city councils/county boards.  Guys....if you are listening, propose this NOW.  Kudos to Park Ridge for having this set up for their constituents.
Just two little Napa Grape tomatoes, but still a harvest in my opinion.
The rest of the tomato plants are bit further behind, but soon they'll overwhelm us.  But, this year, we have a plan:  canning sauce and whole peeled.  Depending how well we do, perhaps we'll have enough sauce to last the year.  We don't eat all that much pasta, but I do plan on making A LOT of pizza pies next spring.
We really are in the summer slump.  It appears that just about NOBODY is paying attention to the Illinois governor's race with both Pat Quinn and Bill Brady barely registering any query volume on from Illinois searchers.  One thing is certain, Brady has closed the gap with Quinn that existed over the pat year.  As a challenger facing a sitting governor, I'd give him a slight edge based on that fact alone.  Quinn took a hard nosedive over the past two weeks, so he may be able to rebound.  Past month's results are linked below.  I'll keep tracking the race up until November.

I resumed this blog on January 1, 2010 and I subsequently turned on a new set of analytics tools.  I just went and peeked at them and was surprised that South Dakota was the lone holdout.
What does a guy have to do?  Maybe a post about Dinosaur Park?
Happy Birthday to my lovely bride, today!  Here's to MANY more happy years.   Hope today is a great day.

Love....Teej and the Wheeze

And...strangely enough, Happy Birthday to my Mother.  Born on the same day, some years apart.   The photo above is from this weekend's festivities at Ravinia.  Cheap Trick/Squeeze were a lot of fun as we toasted the two birthday ladies.
Friday morning, I was out running errands - returning pavers to Menards, getting gas, and getting Nat's car washed.  On the way home from Menards, I spotted this DIY wash place right on North Avenue.

View Larger Map

Normally, we go to the Delta Sonic a bit closer to home, but I was feeling cute and decided to check this place out.  Turns out, for $5.00, you get a 5 minute vacuum and a 10 minute wash including wax and special wheel cleaner.  Pretty good.  The Delta Sonic mid-grade wash is $10 and it doesn't include wax nor anything inside, so I figured I was ahead of the game.  The only issue is that this place doesn't have blowers to dry.  You have to bring your own towels.  Now I know.  Next time, I'll bring all my supplies (Armor-All, TireShine, etc) as well as towels to get a good spot-free finish.

I left the wash and hit North Avenue heading home feeling awfully prideful of the clean job I did, but also the deal I discovered.

Then...out of nowhere, this happened:
Seriously?!?  It couldn't have been 30 seconds after I left the wash parking lot (if you look at the photo, you can still see the water beading on the hood of the car!). wasn't an ordinary bird dropping.  It was a HUGE dump.  Like the size of a catcher's mitt.

Label me officially humbled.  And....bummed to have to break out the windex when I arrived home.
Here's a shot of one of the rows of tomato plants I planted in the past few weeks.  I got a really late start on the garden (due to construction) this year, so I'm doing a lot of experimentation.
We have some fruit growing on one of the varieties of tomato plants.  These are "Napa Grape".
And...we have bell peppers growing, too!
Now that we're back from vacation, I can focus a bit on watering/weeding the garden and getting everything going again.  Thanks to my sister, Vic, these babies survived the drought.
Yes...those are Mermen Christmas ornaments of various occupations.  Sailors, surfers, football players, female impersonators and it appears wrasslers (or someone else who wears a unitard).

These are apparently the calling card of the shop they're in:  Tuck's Christmas Shop.
Recently, Chicago Magazine came out with their list of the "25 Best Pizzas in Chicago" which included a few places I had never heard of - and I eat a lot of pizzas.  Both Nat and I went through the list and thought it might be fun to try to get to each of these places and give them a try.  Maybe NOT eat the pizzas specified, but check out the pizza (of some sort) none the less.  We've given ourselves 18 months to hit 23 places.  23?  Yeah....I'm scrubbing Lou's  and Gino's off the list - just because we have them so often.  (I probably should do the same with Aurelio's - the pizza I grew up on - but I won't because I haven't had it for months...and it is delicious!)

Here's the list (cribbed directly from Grub Street's post on the topic).  Most of these will give us a good reason to secure a baby sitter and make our way into the city.   By next summer, I'll (hopefully) have my oven done (on the right) and be making world-class pies that make a future list.

1. Great Lake - Cremini Mushrooms, Dante Cheese
2. Piece - Plain with Artichoke Hearts
3. Castel Gandolfo - Margherita CLOSED!

4. Crust - Flammkuchen
5. Coalfire - Margherita
6. Lou Malnati's - Deep-Dish with Sausage
7. Santullo's Eatery - Pepperoni
8. Burt's Place - Pan with Sausage
9. Art of Pizza - Stuffed with Sausage
10. Pequod's - Pan with Sausage
11. Union Pizzeria - Lam Sausage, Eggplant, Kalamata Olives
12. Macello - Bianca
13. Pizano's - Thin with Sausage
14. Coco Pazzo - Coppa
15. Spacca Napoli - Margherita
16. Apart Pizza Company - Apart Signature pie
17. Nella Pizzeria Napoletana - Margherita
18. Gino's East - Deep-Dish with Sausage Patty
19. Gruppo Di Amici - Funghi e Formaggi
20. Louisa's - Cheese
21. Frasca - Margherita
22. Gigio's - Thin with Sausage
23. Paula and Monica's - Thin with Sausage
24. Parkers' Restaurant and Bar - Margherita
25. Aurelio's - Thin with Black Olives
My candy of choice is usually Mike and Ikes.  For gifts, my Mom seems to give them to me all the time.  Nat fills my stocking each Christmas with them, too.  This weekend, on our way to the Drive-in, we picked up some candy and came across these Mike and Ikes:  Italian Ice Flavor.
They were pretty good.  The ice part comes in with the after-taste.  It kind of has a tingling sensation as they go down.  I don't think I'll get them again (mostly because they come in a little plastic pouch inside the typical Mike and Ike box), but I'm glad we tried them once.
Thanks to my sister Vic, this is what I'll be up to today.  And...fireworks, of course.
Take a look see at who's in a high chair?  (a borrowed, plastic one that straps to a regular chair at that!)
While she certainly looks thrilled to be ready to hoss down bananas and what not, I appear a tad concerned at what this means for the diaper changing situation.  (Nat wrote a bit more over on the babe's progress on her very own blog, so if you know where that is, go check out the photos and videos!)
We bought all the necessary tools and ingredients.  Candy thermometer, cheese cloths, etc.  We're ready to make cheese!  In honor of our nation's independence, we're going to cook up a specatuclar Mexican feast featuring carne asada and housemade queso blanco.
If I move quickly enough, I'll be able to take photos.  I still have to make a home-brewed cheese press, but that won't stop me from starting the process!
Earlier this week, Nat and I spent some time at the Elmhurst Public Library where we were trying to pick up some books for our vacation.  With school over, my backyard projects winding down, and plenty of free time on my hands, I went looking for a project book.  And...did I ever find it.  I haven't put down jam it, pickle it, cure it since we brought it home.
The book includes instructions on curing one's own bacon, making one's own jams/jellies, and plenty of other goodies.  I have a list of projects that I want to dig in on, and I've begun to shop for ingredients!  Stay tuned for the results....