On a foggy October morning two weeks ago, Nick and I left Chicago's Union Station aboard the Amtrak Wolverine line. The route is a beautiful one, beginning in industrial Indiana towns that give way to sand dunes and Michigan vacation spots. The train passes through Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor - arriving in Detroit by mid-afternoon.

Neither of us had visited Detroit before, though it had been on my list for years. For my birthday, Nick decided to plan a trip around the Smashing Pumpkins concert. It was a wonderful surprise and a very thoughtful gift.


After checking in at our hotel, we walked the two miles from downtown to our dinner destination in Midtown. On the way, we found Motor City Brewing Works which turned out to be far more exciting than our original destination. The place was full of friendly people, served good beer, and had fantastic pizza options (like roasted pear & fig). I would definitely be a regular if I lived in the area.


The first real concert I ever attended was the Smashing Pumpkins on their Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness tour. The Smashing Pumpkins were my favorite band and I was thrilled when my best friend Eileen invited me to attend. The show was at a huge arena near Chicago and it was a truly epic experience for a 13 year-old.


This concert took place at the Fillmore Detroit, a beautifully converted 1925 movie theater. The crowd was great and the show was appropriately epic for the moderately sized venue. Nick and I mused about the absence of solid mainstream rock and roll these days - and then felt kind of old.

Downtown Detroit

I know my Detroit history fairly well and I have a number of acquaintances who have beautifully documented parts of it in pictures, but I wasn't really prepared for the incredible emptiness of the city. I had expected to find a small district of fully occupied downtown businesses surrounded by vacant properties, but activity was much more spread out and the vast majority of the buildings we passed were vacant - even in the more populated areas.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and the city was virtually empty until the evening when suburban residents drove downtown to parking garages to attend various cultural events. Only a handful of people patronized the few local businesses before or after the performances. Our visit was short and certainly not representative of the city at large, but the impressions were powerful.


The next morning we woke up early to watch part of the Detroit Free Press Marathon. It was a dreary day that looked perfect for a race. We made our way along the race route to Corktown to visit Astro Coffee (pictured above). This beautifully designed coffee shop just opened over the summer and already appears to have a strong following. We enjoyed coffee and excellent breakfast sandwiches on housemade bread. Another highly recommended spot.


It was a wonderful, yet brief trip. Detroit is a beautiful city and I think everyone should visit and support the amazing small businesses that are breathing new life into the area. I'm already looking forward to returning. There are a number of places that were recommended to us that we didn't have time to visit, including Belle Isle, Slows Bar BQ, the Motown Museum, Avalon Bakery, Woodbridge Pub, Cadieux Cafe, and Nancy Whiskey. (Thanks to Elizabeth and Will for all the excellent suggestions!)  Anything else we should add to the list? Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments. You can find more photos from the trip here. I'll be back soon with a new recipe for you.

New Orleans

The American Library Association annual conference took place in New Orleans this year. I waited until the last minute to decide to attend, but in late June I joined thousands of other librarians and archivists for a week in a truly lovely city.

It's no secret that I have a special place in my heart for long-distance train travel. I take the City of New Orleans route between Chicago and Champaign several times a month, but this was my first ride heading all the way south on this line. Most of the daylight hours on the 17 hour trip are spent traveling through the beautiful state of Mississippi and the end of the route skirts Lake Pontchartrain before arriving in New Orleans.


I'd visited New Orleans before, but several years ago when I was still a teenager. I remember the trips fondly, but they were fairly limited in location and activity.

New Orleans

I am lucky to have two warm and generous friends, Will and Jeanne, living in New Orleans who hosted me in the Bywater neighborhood. On my frist night, we went out for fried shrimp po'boys from Parkway and saw the Stooges Brass Band play at the Hi-Ho. The musicians were stacked three deep on the small stage and kept us out late. It was the perfect introduction to the city and away from the typical tourist path.

We were fortunate to enjoy wonderful weather. The week of rain that had been predicted held off for the most part. It was hot, for sure, but it was pleasant enough for walking, biking, and plenty of patio dining.

New Orleans

The population of New Orleans is just shy of 350,000 people (nearly 30% less than a decade ago), and 20,000 librarians flooding the convention and French Quarter districts made quite an impact. Nearly every place I went, I spotted hip glasses, vacation smiles, and sensible shoes.

I love to eat and drink, though I tend to keep a fairly vegetarian diet, making exceptions for local fare and well-raised meats. New Orleans cast a spell on me and I wound up eating more meat in five days than I have eaten in the last ten years combined (no joke). This is a city that has immense pride in their culinary traditions and it was a joy to take part. At Coop's, I went so far as to order the Taste Plate and did my best to wade through Seafood Gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Cajun Fried Chicken, Red Beans & Rice with Sausage, and Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya.


The best meal of my trip was at Boucherie where we ate mussels, hamachi, smoked scallops, ribs, and crispy duck confit with cucumber dill salad and sauce gribiche (pictured above). Every dish was beautifuly presented, fresh, and complex. The meal was reasonably priced and the service was wonderful. Chef Nathanial Zimet was recently shot in front of his home. He survived, thankfully, but is facing daunting medical bills. If you are planning a trip to New Orleans soon, don't miss the chance to enjoy a superb meal and support this business.

After dinner, we enjoyed blueberry mojitos at St. Joe's Bar on their dreamy patio. The midwest could certainly learn a thing or two about outdoor hospitality from our southern friends. The outdoor bar, breezy fans, and gently rocking lanterns made for a serene evening.

I enjoyed several excellent breakfasts in New Orleans. One morning, I skipped an early conference session and met Julia - my friend, fellow student, and daily companion for the week - for our obligatory visit to Café du Monde.

Cafe Du Monde

The beignets were just as flaky and sugary as I remembered, and the to-go line made for a quick wait followed by a leisurely rest in Jackson Square Park.

A few miles away in the Bywater neighborhood is Satsuma, a bustling coffee shop with a fairly extensive menu and delicious food. The beet lemonade and bacon, egg, and cheese on a cheddar biscuit were simple, but extremely satisfying.

Elizabeth's, just a few blocks away in Bywater, served the last great breakfast of the trip. It is a fairly plain looking restaurant. However, their eggs, cheddar grits, biscuit, and praline bacon are anything but.

Pimm's Cup

After our last full day at the conference, I realized I had yet to have a Pimm's Cup, Sazerac, or Muffuletta - three items with a strong attachment to the city.

I made my way over to Napoleon House with a few friends and set out to correct that. It had just rained, and the gorgeous patio was nearly empty.

Napoleon House has been around since 1797. While nothing we ordered was amazing (lime and no cucumber in the Pimm's Cup...), the venue was truly impressive. It was full of old wood, ferns, and natural light.

New Orleans

New Orleans is a welcoming, bike-friendly, laid-back city. It's full of amazing food, vibrant colors, and great music. I'd like to see more of the south. I tend to stay above the 37th parallel, but I think I've been missing out.

I'm incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to become reacquainted with New Orleans, reconnect with Will and Jeanne, and become more engaged in my professional community. It was a fun and invigorating trip.

Aboard the City of New Orleans

You can find more pictures here.

New York City

Just after the new year, Nick and I traveled to New York to visit with my cousin Matt and his lovely wife Ana. The trip was a very generous birthday gift from Nick. We both love long-distance train travel and he booked us a sleeper car on the Lake Shore Limited for the journey from Chicago.

Amtrak Lakeshore Limited Amtrak Lakeshore Limited
Amtrak Lakeshore Limited Amtrak Lakeshore Limited

Nick and I took the train to Portland, Oregon a few years ago (for Matt and Ana's wedding no less!) and have now traveled the apporoximate width of the United States by rail. There is something very serene and romantic about watching town after town and state after state pass by from a train car. We always meet fascinating fellow travelers and I love to imagine the fine-dining of days-gone-by as we enjoy meals in the dining car.

We arrived at Penn Station in the evening and met Matt and Ana, along with my Uncle Brad, Aunt Gayle, and cousin Lian, for dinner at a nice little French bistro named Bar Breton.

New York New York
New York New York

The next day we stopped for a bagel at Bagel Berry (a hold-in-the-wall place that had way better bagels than anywhere in Chicago) and enjoyed a windy winter afternoon at Coney Island. Nick and I have both been to New York City a number of times, but had never made the trip. We enjoyed some very mediocre food at Nathan's and then headed to Bierkraft in Brooklyn for some drinks and to get growler for dinner. That evening, Matt and Ana took us to Ali's, an Egyptian restaurant near their apartment. The food was wonderful and Ali was a warm and joyful man who made the dinner a highlight of our trip. We finished the night with a beer at Sweet Afton where I ordered my second beer of the day from the excellent (new-to-me) Captain Lawrence Brewing Company.

New York New York 1
New York New York

The next moring, we met my old friend Jason and his charming son Amory at Blue Bottle for fancy coffee. Nick ordered a cold brew that really was worth the hype, though my americano was a bit disappointing. We then made a quick stop at the Bagel Store before a fun tour of the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory. We wandered around Brooklyn and stopped at Mugs Alehouse and the Manhattan Inn for drinks before meeting Nick's friend Nathaniel for dinner at Roberta's where we enjoyed delicious pizza.

On our last day, we took the train into Manhattan to visit Murray's Bagels, to take the 6 train through the out-of-service City Hall stop, and to share a warm winter lunch at Menkui Tei noodle shop.

While we weren't able to spend time with all of the people we had hoped, and we certainly weren't able to visit all of the places on our list, we packed a lot in for a three day trip. Thank you to Nick, Matt and Ana!