Afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago

Road trip! Kitchener to Chicago

A couple weeks ago, we traveled from Kitchener, Ontario to Chicago, Illinois to attend the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Convention. “We” included me, my husband Murray, and our friend Maddy, a devoted Blackhawks fan from New Brunswick who we dubbed our adopted-for-the-weekend ‘daughter’.

Spending a couple of tranquil hours having afternoon tea wasn’t on the agenda for our hockey-themed weekend, but just before pulling out of the driveway to begin the nine-hour trek to Chi-Town, I dashed back into the house to make a quick search through my collection of Tea Time magazines; I was almost positive a recent issue had featured Chicago tea rooms.

Not that we’d have time to stop for bite-sized crustless tea sandwiches, scones smothered in clotted cream and preserves, and a pot of Assam or Darjeeling, and probably not likely that my Blackhawks-loving travel companions would even be keen to fit such a civilized pit stop into the trip, but on the off chance it might happen (or the very good chance I’d have my fill of hockey talk after one day of convention-ing and be looking for something else to do!), it seemed smart to be prepared with a few possible tea places to visit.

After a quick search, I found the magazine (March/April 2012, Volume 9 – Issue 2, for any inquiring minds that want to know!), and we were soon en route to the Windy City!

Tea Time magazine with article about tea rooms in Chicago

Tea Time magazine with article about tea rooms in Chicago

Article in Tea Time magazine highlighting tea rooms and cafes in Chicago

Bruce Richardson’s article in Tea Time magazine featured places to find a good cup of tea in Chicago.

The article in Tea Time was written by Bruce Richardson, tea guru and author. He’d highlighted several places for afternoon tea that piqued my interest, including the Palm Court in The Drake Hotel (140 E. Walton Place). Tea is served there daily from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

I tucked the notion of a visit to The Drake in the back of my mind. Well, maybe closer, say somewhere middle to front!

About 700 km and a day later, we were in Chicago with a few hours to fill before heading to the Convention. And we needed to find a place to eat lunch! And I had a restaurant suggestion! The perfect storm for this tea lover!

“How about afternoon tea?” I suggested innocently. “Maybe The Drake? I’ve read it’s a nice place.”

Glory be! My travel mates were game!

Murray is a tea drinker, and he loves to eat! Afternoon tea usually provides more than enough food. Maddy had never experienced afternoon tea, but she was intrigued enough to give it a try.

Within a few minutes, we’d made a reservation for 1 p.m., which gave us some time to explore the Navy Pier.

The plan was that following tea, we’d head straight to the Blackhawks Convention. To say we were appropriately dressed for tea would have be a stretch. (As it turned out, two of us weren’t even appropriately dressed for the Convention, given that 99.99% of that crowd was wearing some form of Blackhawks logo-ed attire! As I owned nothing of the sort, at least I tried to fit in by wearing red!).

Having been for afternoon tea many many times, I know it’s an occasion to wear something nicer than what we’d all donned that day. After arriving at The Drake, ascending the short staircase off the main lobby to the Palm Court where afternoon tea is served, being pleasantly greeted and shown to our table by the host, then opening our menus and seeing the Dress Code staring us in the face, I was grateful the host made no mention of our shorts, sportswear and beach sandals!

The Dress Code for afternoon tea is printed in The Drake’s menu.

Afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago

A little underdressed for afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

Had we been chastised or turned away for our attire, plan B was to go in search of a Chicago hot dog vendor! (Deep-dish pizza was on the menu for supper!). Since we were ushered to our table with not even a hint of disapproval by the Palm Court’s host, the three of us had a sheepish chuckle over our fashion faux pas, covered our shorts with our cloth napkins, tucked our sandaled feet under the table, and turned our attention to the tea menu!

After choosing our teas, our server asked if everyone was okay with the sandwiches listed in the menu: egg salad, smoked salmon, roast beef, and tomato and cucumber. The typical format at a tea is a set menu, so everybody gets the same sandwiches, scones and sweets. At past teas I’ve attended, either when making the reservation, or just before the food is served, the question has sometimes been asked if there are any allergies to be aware of, but this was more than that, the server explained. This was also an opportunity to request more of one type of sandwich if we weren’t partial to something that was being offered. Nice touch, I thought!

Not a big fish/seafood lover, Maddy asked to substitute another roast beef sandwich for the smoked salmon. When the three-tiered tray arrived, not only was there still the full complement of original sandwiches – but another plate with three additional roast beef sandwiches for Maddy was placed on the table! (Murray helped her polish them off!)

The sandwich plate served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago featured four types of sandwiches.

Scones and banana bread were served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

An assortment of sweets was served at afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

We split some of the desserts so we could all have a taste. As you can see in the photo, there were a couple of two of them, and one of two different desserts.

The tea and food were delicious! My pictures don’t do everything justice. Sometimes at a tea, when the food is initially set on the table, it doesn’t seem as though there will be enough, but in my experience, looks are often deceiving and it is usually more than enough. That was certainly the case this time, and on top of that, we were asked if we wanted more of anything. Again, not something typically offered.

Any leftovers can usually be boxed to take home, but we’d managed to polish off everything but one lone sandwich. Had one of us had an ounce of room, it would have disappeared too!

The remnants of afternoon tea!

The service was attentive, efficient and friendly. It was nice to have our tea pots refilled quickly with hot water soon after we poured our first cups, without having to ask to have this done.

The ambiance in the Palm Court was lovely. The room was beautiful; a massive floral arrangement in the middle commanded attention. There were a variety of seating arrangements. Small to large groups of people including women, men and children sat relaxed, chatting, and leisurely sipping tea and enjoying the finger food on their three-tiered trays. About an hour after we arrived, a harpist began playing, adding to the elegant atmosphere.

A harpist plays during afternoon tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago.

A trip to the ladies’ washroom before leaving was well worth the visit – and merited a few pictures! Each private cubicle housed not only a toilet, but a vanity, stool and sink.

The private cubicles in the ladies’ washroom at The Drake Hotel are worth checking out!

Inside one of the cubicles in the ladies’ washroom at the The Drake Hotel

Our admiration of the washroom was echoed by a few other women who came in while we snapping pictures.

I’d definitely recommend afternoon tea at The Drake. Dress up a little to fully enjoy and honor the experience! The venture will cost $38 a person ($20 for junior guests from 4 to 12 years old). This is on par with or slightly less than teas I’ve had at other hotels in large cities.

In his article about tea in Chicago, Bruce writes that Chicagoans often choose The Drake as a place to mark celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries. He writes, “This is a place where memories are made.” I’d heartily agree, and add, for out-of-town folks too!

What to do with leftover egg yolks

Broken eggSo you’ve made a recipe that called for egg whites and now you’ve got leftover egg yolks?

Whatever you do, don’t throw them out. You’ve got options!

Here’s what I mean…..

Did you know you can freeze egg yolks?

To prevent the texture of the yolks from getting gummy, you’ll need to first whisk them and add either salt or sugar (depending whether you’ll use them later in something savoury or sweet). Add 1/8 teaspoon salt or 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar per 1/4 cup of egg yolks (that’s about 4 yolks). Pour them in a container, cover and label it (so you know later if you’ve added salt or sugar and how many yolks you’ve got). Freeze for up to 4 months. One tablespoon of thawed yolk can be substituted for one fresh yolk.

If you’ve got an ice cube tray that will hold about 1 tablespoon of liquid in each section, you can pour the whisked eggs into the sections in the tray. Once the yolks are frozen, pop them out of the tray into a freezer bag. Label the bag (date and contents) and thaw just the quantity of yolks you need at a time.

You can also…..
– Put the yolks in a small container, cover them with a little water so the yolks don’t dry out, then cover the container and refrigerate it for two to three days until you have a use for the yolks. When you know what you want to do with the yolks, carefully drain off the water before using them.

– Whisk a yolk with a little milk to thin it slightly and brush the mixture over an unbaked pie crust or bread or bun dough before popping it into the oven. This wash will give your baking a lovely sheen.

– Add a couple yolks to your omelette or scrambled eggs mixture, or to fried rice or Pasta Carbonara.

– Make crème brulee, hollandaise sauce, pasta, ice cream, zabaglione, mayonnaise, egg drop soup, chocolate mousse, lemon curd or an assortment of other recipes that call for yolks. Jen at Food & Family blog has a great list of links to recipes that use from 1 to 12 egg yolks. Thank you, Jen!

– Add yolks to your beauty regime. Check out these facial treatments that include egg yolks courtesy of Alberta Egg Farmers.

What other ideas can you add?

Talking about eggs: Join the online chat!

bigstock - cracked egg_12878183I’ll be talking about eggs this afternoon – favourite recipes, what to do with leftover hard-cooked (hard-boiled) eggs from Easter, etc. – with food writers from across Canada. It’s happening online at 1 p.m. EST.

You’re invited to join the chat, contribute to the discussion and get your egg questions answered.

Here’s more information.

Talking eggs with Leanne Cusack of CTV Ottawa

I was pleased to be invited to Ottawa yesterday to talk about eggs and Easter with CTV News at Noon host Leanne Cusack, St-Isidore egg farmer Marcel Laviolette and chef Jason Laurin of Essence Catering. (Video links below!)

Having worked for many years as the Food and Nutrition Specialist for Egg Farmers of Ontario, I’m always happy to talk ‘eggs’ with anyone who will listen!

Eggs with Leanne Cusack at CTV OttawaMe with egg farmer Marcel, host Leanne and chef Jason

Here in Canada, we are fortunate to have a system of supply management in place that ensures our eggs are fresh, local and readily available. Within this system, there are over 1,000 Canadian egg farmers caring for the hens that lay the eggs we enjoy year round, and revere especially at this time of year when eggs are not only eaten, but decorated and celebrated.

Eggs have long been considered a symbol of life, birth and renewal, concepts celebrated especially during spring and Easter (although bunnies and chocolate do their utmost to vie for attention at this time!). People in ancient civilizations used to give gifts of eggs to one another at spring festivals. And according to mythology, it was believed two halves of an egg formed heaven and earth.

Prized for their nutritional quality, culinary versatility and delicious flavour, not to mention all the craft and decorating possibilities they possess, it’s fitting to showcase eggs anytime of the year, and really appropriate to do so this week as Easter approaches!

Here are links to the video segments with Leanne – part 1 and part 2, and to Easter recipe suggestions and egg decorating techniques from Egg Farmers of Canada.

Oh, and a list of the nutritional attributes of eggs, in case after watching part 1, you’re wondering exactly how eggs help our eyes do what they’re supposed to do!!

Brownie Bites from The Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook

Here’s the recipe for Brownie Bites which CTV co-anchor Nancy Richards and I prepared during the noon news show on CTV Kitchener today.

This recipe is one of my contributions to the brand spanking new cookbook, The Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook, which was edited by the incomparable Mairlyn Smith. This just-released book (which is already into its second printing!) is from the Ontario Home Economics Assocation. All the recipes come from Ontario professional home economists and students.

You’ll find recipes for two other dishes I had on display (Autumn Apple Crepes from Deb Campbell and Mexi Meatless Shepherd’s Pie from Amy Snider Whitson) here.

Brownie Bites
Make 24 mini muffin-size brownies

½ cup (125 mL) quinoa flour
1/3 cup (75 mL) natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder
2 omega-3 eggs
2/3 cup (150 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) canola oil
1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Lightly spray 24 mini muffin cups well with canola oil spray.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together quinoa flour, cocoa powder and baking powder until well mixed.
  3. In a large bowl whisk eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until blended.
  4. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, whisking until blended.
  5. Divide batter between muffin cups, filling each with about 1 tbsp (15 mL) batter. Cups should be about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted into a brownie comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it, 13 to 15 minutes. Don’t overbake.
  7. Remove from oven; let cool in pan on a wire rack for 2 minutes, then turn muffin pan over. After a minute or two, lift up pan. Brownie Bites should have released from pan onto wire rack. Carefully turn each brownie over to finish cooling on rack.

* To serve, plate brownies and sprinkle with icing sugar and cocoa powder or serve on a puddle of raspberry coulee.
* For an extra special treat, press a chocolate macaroon or mini Rolo into the centre of each Brownie Bite before baking.
* If you are gluten-free use gluten-free baking powder.

Per serving: 3 brownies (without chocolate macaroons or mini Rolos!): 202 calories, 12 g fat, 0 g sat. fat, 48 mg cholesterol, 17 mg sodium,  24 g carbohydrates, 2 g fibre, 17 g sugars, 3 g protein.

Food at the Fair likely not fair to your waist line!

Are there any foods that can’t be fried – or eaten on a stick – or combined in wild and whacky ways?

Visitors to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), currently on in Toronto until Monday, Sept. 5, will find the answer is no, no and no.

This year the buzz in the Food Building at the CNE is over the latest culinary creation, or what some might dub ‘culinary catastrophe’: Epic Burgers and Waffles Doughnut Cheeseburger.

This entree/dessert combo consists of a hamburger patty topped with cheese, lettuce and tomato, and sandwiched between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Adding a fried egg and bacon is optional.

Tipping the scales at 1,500 calories (minus the egg and bacon), it isn’t for the faint of heart. And probably not a wise choice for the strong of heart either!

Also making their appearance at the fair are deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and deep-fried butter balls (introduced in 2010), as well as an assortment of other foods dipped in batter and fried in oil. Apparently deep-frying just about anything makes it taste good? Just not so great for one’s waist line and arteries.

Give these treats a try if you must. It is the Ex after all and nutritious eating does tend to be the furthest virtue from peoples’ minds while there and confronted with options like deep-fried cola and deep-fried slushies. Yum. Once you’ve indulged, please wipe this fair fare out of your mind as future dining options!

In addition to fried foods, decidedly popular is anything edible served on a stick. This video by Jennifer Bain, the Toronto Star’s food editor, documents 30 foods served skewered at the CNE!

If you’re heading to the Ex this year, seems there’s a good chance you’ll be downing something bathed in oil or pierced. Bon appetit!

How I spent the summer of 2010

A picture tour of some of the highlights and favourite memories of the summer of 2010:

A favourite way to spend a summer night in our newly landscaped backyard! We just didn't do this often enough!

* Wright Landscaping

Hot dogs taste best cooked over an open fire and eaten outdoors - slathered in condiments!

Continue reading

Sleep issues: Are you getting enough? Should you eat before going to going to sleep?

The latest issue of Roomplanners e-zine is all about sleep. It’s got tips on how to fall asleep faster, create a comfortable bedroom, fight bed bugs, and much more!

This free online magazine also includes an article I wrote on when and what you should eat before sleeping. And there’s a recipe for the Nutri Cookies pictured here.

Nutri Cookies

Check out this issue and subscribe (it’s FREE!) to receive future issues of this fabulous design magazine by visiting Sure, I’m a little biased because Roomplanners is written by my sister, but check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!