April 30, 2017

Harissa, a Tunisian condiment for the adventuresome palate


If you want to add an exotic taste to your poultry or fish, vegetables or sandwiches, check out harissa, a sauce or paste containing roasted red peppers, hot chili peppers, and spices that may include garlic, coriander seed or caraway mixed into an olive oil base. Other versions may contain lemon juice or cumin.  In Tunisia, harissa is used as a flavoring for couscous or in a chickpea soup served for breakfast.

When I want a variation on huevos rancheros, I use harissa instead of salsa to flavor my eggs. Harissa can also save chicken from being bland. Another recipe suggested mixing a dollop of harissa into butter before you mix it into steamed veggies and couscous.

Mina is the brand that I can recommend, labeled Moroccan Red Pepper Sauce Mild, produced by Casablanca Foods. Mina makes green pepper and spicy versions as well. I found my jar at Whole Foods.


These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Kayaks on the Chicago Riverwalk

Some of you have been reading my Culture Beat blurbs since my tenure at the Fairmont Hotel and Convito Italiano many moons ago.

Here are some recent Culture Beat blog posts and their links:

The cell phone headset that has improved my connectivity:

LG Tone Pro Wireless Stereo Headset


The little speaker that makes my phone or iPad a portable stereo:

Jambox speaker by Jawbone


My favorite site for foreign tv streaming:

MHZ Choice launches on Oct. 20 (updated blog post forthcoming)


The show you may want to watch to see women in political power (in Sweden):

Those In Power: a Swedish political tv drama on MHZ


If you want to delve into charming French literature, check out:

The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (in English)


A book I’m recommending if you like science and business:

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance


Need some food items to add a little zing to your healthy diet?

My current favorite taste sensations (triple cherry blend, rice tortillas, dill relish, sauerkraut)


If you are trying to cut down coffee jitters and acidity, try this ayurvedic tea:

Raja’s Cup: the anti-oxidant coffee substitute


When your sweet tooth hits, candy from a home-grown company:

Terry’s Toffee and Wackerpop


Stores that both amateur and professional chefs adore:

The Spice House: Seasoning the World


Balsa Mela and Italian Herbed Salt at The City Olive


My favorite chain restaurant:

Lyfe Kitchen


The delightful Chicago attraction that not everyone has visited:

Chicago Riverwalk from LaSalle to Lake Michigan (updated photos soon as construction continues further west)


Chicago’s classy classical record label:

Cedille Records Celebrates 25 Years as Chicago’s classical record company


One of the best apps for listening to customized radio:

AccuRadio: Hand-crafted by music lovers-not by a computer


My favorite app for news on your iPad or tablet:

Flipboard, a new way to get your news fix


The best app for checking out other opinions on movies and tv:

Metacritic, when you want to know what the critics think


Some of my favorite apps for finding sheet music, paid or free:

Printed Music in the Digital Age


Best app for electronic music storage:

Sheet Music at Your Fingertips: ForScore


The best fake book for song standards on your tablet or desktop:

iRealPro app for your portable device or desktop


More apps for the musically inclined:

Music App Happy


LG Tone Pro Wireless Stereo Headset

My cousin surprised me with a very early birthday present, the LG Electronics Tone Pro HBS-750 Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headset that you wear around your neck. This has been a godsend on dog walks when I need the use of my hands.

The device easily pairs with your smart phone allowing you to roam several feet away from your phone. When I’m not talking to someone, the earbuds tuck neatly into the ends of the Tone Pro “collar.” When I receive a phone call, the device vibrates, I touch a button on the side and the call is activated. I touch that same button to end a call. When I want to place a call, I tell Siri who I want to reach and she connects me using the LG Headset.

The LG Tone Pro can also be used to listen to music or other recorded material from your phone. Today I listened to Italian lessons on youtube via my phone and headset. The device easily recharges using a USB cable and has lit colors indicating low battery, full charge and currently charging.

I must admit I’m a sucker for gadgets, but this is one little gizmo that has improved my life. My large dog has ruined three sets of wired earbuds stretched from my phone to my ears. Now, unless he aims for my throat, my headset is out of his reach. Thanks, cuz.

Here is the headset on Amazon for $42.49.

Raja’s Cup: the anti-oxidant coffee substitute

The jittery feeling I get from real coffee necessitated finding some beverage substitutes. Decaf and herbal teas are acceptable, but I still craved that bitter coffee taste.

I discovered Raja’s Cup, a coffee substitute that can be brewed like coffee grounds or with individual tea bags. The resulting beverage can be served plain or with milk and sweetener. I love it “black,” but for a richer, creamier hot drink, I add unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Not only does the beverage taste good, but it contains anti-oxidant ayurvedic herbs and is absolutely caffeine-free. The box states that the ingredients are all natural and non-irradiated, contain no artificial coloring or additives and the company uses non-chlorinated paper. Manufactured by the Maharishi Ayurvedic company, the box has the letters VPK in the logo, standing for the ayurvedic terms vata, pitta and kapha.

I have not found a store that carries the products, so ordering it on-line or by telephone are the only options I can suggest. Check out the Maharishi Ayurvedic web site for other supplements, foods and products. My tea kettle is whistling so excuse me while I make some Raja’s Cup.

The Maharishi Ayurvedic site:           


The page for Raja’s Cup:


Girlie World: Bras Galore

This post is decidedly not aimed at the male readership unless they want to buy their significant females a really thoughtful gift certificate.

I’d rather walk on glass than go bra-shopping, but a new dress necessitated finding an undergarment that didn’t show in the shoulder area.  I had driven by a new storefront on Lincoln Avenue that proclaimed Bras Galore. I tittered at the title, pun intended.  With high hopes for a positive experience, I entered the door and was met with hundreds of bras on racks. Where would I possibly start?

Not to worry, the clerks have you fill out a questionnaire so they can better suit your needs in terms of style, price, color and size. There are bras with or without underwires; bras with foam cups or lacy fabrics; strapless bras or ones that accommodate a low-backed dress, black, white or flesh colored bras and ones that have other colors or patterns. Unless, you know exactly what brand you wear, you really do need the services of a store employee because the selection can be overwhelming. The clerks also check for fit while respecting the customers modesty in the dressing rooms.

The prices at Bras Galore, although not cheap, are on par with department store lingerie, but the selection is wider and the clerks more helpful and knowledgeable. They also carry other intimate apparel such as panties, swim suits, night wear and exercise clothing.

If you want to feel “uplifted” in your next bra shopping experience, I recommend Bras Galore, although the name of the store still makes me giggle, just a bit.


My current favorite taste sensations

I have been cutting out sugar, dairy and wheat as of late, so I share with you some of the little treats that have kept me from raiding the cookie jar, polishing off that pint of ice cream in the freezer or ordering carry-out deep dish pizza.

If you need a chocolate fix but don’t want the added sugar, thaw out and heat a cup of frozen cherries (Costco has a large bag containing three kinds of frozen cherries), add a teaspoon or two of really good plain cocoa powder, stir and enjoy a chocolate sauce that has no added sugar but derives its sweetness from the juice of the melted cherries. Frozen mangos or raspberries can work also but they don’t have as much juice when thawed.

Need something crunchy but don’t want to do chips? Buy Food For Life rice tortillas, toast them lightly in a toaster oven, sprinkle with cinnamon, enjoy.

For both a sweet and tart flavor, broil a grapefruit half and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Dying for something resembling custard or ice cream without dairy or added sugar? Try Trader Joe’s coconut cream, add chia seeds and fresh fruit. One hour in the fridge will turn the ingredients into a dairy-free pudding. If you want a sweeter taste, add stevia, or if you must, real maple syrup.

And on the savory side:

Instead of butter, squeeze fresh lime juice on your freshly cooked ear of corn.

Trader Joe’s has a nitrite-free peppered turkey bacon that pairs well with raw red pepper strips for that crunchy and salty craving.

Go ahead and have that ground sirloin you may crave, but instead of cheese, have it with Whole Foods Dill Relish, Paul Newman’s Salsa or Kuhne’s German Barrel Sauerkraut. No, really!

Trader Joe’s has several condiments, pickles, olives and relishes that add interest to any meal and my two favorites are the jars of cornichons (miniature pickles) or the hearts of palm. One or two little additions to your lunch or dinner can take the boredom factor away.

If you want to have a healthy brunch at home, try One Degree Veganic Flax and Spelt bread with a thin layer of ripe avocado, topped with a fried egg and salsa. It’s a cross between huevos rancheros and eggs Benedict but without the sauce or cheese.


Jambox speaker by Jawbone

If you just read my article on iRealPro, you may want to consider Jambox by Jawbone, a reliable, portable speaker that will allow you to feel like the drums and bass are in the room with you as you sing or play.

Jawbone makes portable fitness trackers and headphones, but I recommend them for this dandy speaker that someone gave us as a gift. It’s the perfect little addition to your bag when you want to hook up your iphone, iPad or other device and get impressive sound on the fly. When not in my travel bag, I keep the speaker in my kitchen so I can listen to NPR or musical selections from itunes or the web.

The speaker can be wireless using Bluetooth or wired using the included cable. If you keep the device charged, you do not need access to power. The speaker has a hard rubber-like construction so it can take some knocks. There are two sizes available for $149.99 and $299.99. Jambox is my travel buddy!


Midsommarfest – 50th Anniversary in Andersonville

Every June, 50,000 people descend upon Andersonville for a weekend celebration of Midsommarfest featuring food, music, crafts and alcohol. This year, June 12, 13 and 14, the party will be even bigger since the festival is marking its 50th anniversary.

You will want to do some Clark Street window-shopping so you can see the vintage photos from the 1965 Midsommar Fest.  The retro car styles, hairdos and clothing will certainly give you a chuckle.

You don’t have to be resident to enjoy the festivities. Admittance is only $10 with kids under 12 and seniors being free. As added incentive, if you spend $30 at an Andersonville retail establishment or service provider and get a receipt, you are entitled to a free beer at the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce booth. (Restaurants and bars are excluded.)

There will be five stages featuring live events and entertainment including a Chicago Hula Hoop Festival, the Bow Wow Lounge Pet Parade and yoga classes provided by Smarty Pants Yoga and Bikram Yoga Andersonville.   Some of the performing groups include Joel Hall and Gus Giordano Dance companies, the Windy City Cowboys, the Jazz Institute’s Jazz Links Youth Ensemble and dozens of  live music groups of the “party hearty” variety. There is even a Miss Andersonville pageant!

Kids can enjoy a climbing wall, a giant inflatable slide, face painting, theatre games and many other family activities.

If you feel like being an honorary Scandinavian, you can catch a traditional Maypole dance, a Swedish-American Children’s Choir, Nordic Folk Dancers, the Merula Choir or the Nordland Band. Skol!

Parking during this weekend can be a challenge. Buses that will get you to the vicinity include the 22 Clark, the 36 Broadway, and the 146 and 147 Express buses;  the red line elevated train with a stop at Berwyn is also a convenient choice. May the Norse gods bring good weather.


Balsa Mela and Italian Herbed Salt

I’m always looking for small food items that make big flavor improvements, basics like vinegar and salt. Balsa Mela, a Balsamic Apple Vinegar is my current passion for salads and vegetables.

Andrea Bezzecchi of Acetaia San Giacomo cooks apple juice and apple vinegar and ages the naturally sweet liquid for up to three years in oak, cherry and juniper barrels.
You can drizzle it on ice cream or fruit, add it to cocktails or make your own savory vinaigrette.  A few drops on steamed fresh asparagus is the perfect spring dish.
And just like wines and champagnes, it isn’t officially Balsamic vinegar unless it comes from the Italian regions of Modena and Emilia-Romagna.

If you can’t jet off to Italy, where can you find this ambrosial product?  I have written about The City Olive before, but it remains the shop to visit when you need a unique party gift or ideas on how to put more zing into your own cooking.

Another taste sensation is the Vignalta Sale Alle Erbe delle Marlunghe, or herbed sea salt from Italy. I don’t generally over-salt my food, but this product is so aromatic that just a pinch improves the flavor of eggs, vegetables, fish, poultry or meat. The concoction contains fresh herbs typical of Veneto regional cuisine like rosemary, garlic, sage and black pepper. Bring the taste of Italy to your kitchen. The City Olive will also ship purchases.

The City Olive
5644 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60660


Pinterest, yet another social media/image-oriented site

My new web addiction is Pinterest, a photo web-sharing site that lets you browse for recipes, fashion, travel, quotes, tattoos, or basically anything that can be shown as a list through photos and brief descriptions. Each little “pin” can be linked to a site with more information. If you get ambitious, you can start your own topic board and add other people’s pins to your lists.

As an example, I have been looking for vegan recipes and have compiled a series of recipes I want to try after browsing other Pinterest “pins.” I searched the site using the words “coconut,” “pudding” and “vegan” and was shown a variety of delicious sounding recipes.  I likewise typed in “foreign crime drama” and was rewarded with several suggestions. Some of my favorite shows were absent, so I may get ambitious and create my own “pins” but I’m not quite ready for that level of involvement….yet.

You can have great fun just typing in topics like “Sherlock Holmes quotes” and come up with pins that say “I need to go to my mind palace” or “There are always some lunatics about.”  If you are a fan of the “Outlander” TV series or books, type in “Scottish Highlands” and you will be rewarded with stunning photos and travel ideas for your trip to dear auld Scotland.

The founders of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann, Paul Sciarra  and Evan Sharp are all men, but the majority of users (70%) are women. In the 2012 presidential election, Ann Romney and Michelle Obama both had Pinterest accounts to court the female vote.

Upon typing “2015 NFL Draft Picks,” a dizzying array of pins appeared so I know some men are also using this popular electronic scrapbook.

When I started typing “Great Pyrenees dogs,”  “collapsible bicycles” and “Teddy Roosevelt,” I realized that this pin-searching was getting out of hand. After all, I have to get cracking on that Vegan Basil Cucumber Gazpacho recipe I just found on Pinterest.