Schwa vs. TRU

Thursday, March 19, 2015 | | 1 comments

Last weekend I went to Chicago for the Design Principles and Practices Conference with two of my colleagues - I'm so lucky to have colleagues who enjoy good food as much as I do - they made reservations for dinner at Schwa. A couple of days later, my husband Eric joined me and we made reservations at TRU. Both restaurants have one Michelin star (read more about this rating here: http://foodtravel.about.com/od/Restaurant-Reviews/fl/What-Are-the-Michelin-Stars.htm) both restaurants couldn't be more different from one another.

I'll start by describing Schwa, since it was the first restaurant I visited. It is located in Wicker Park in a nondescript location identified only by a black awning with its name printed in simple white lettering. There are cages over the windows and no lights on the exterior leaving one to wonder if the restaurant is even open. In addition, my colleague claimed to have trouble getting a hold of the restaurant to make reservations (I would have moved on to another restaurant as soon as I realized there were no online reservation options) so I was skeptical from the start. The restaurant is BYOB and the person taking the reservations suggested "at least one bottle of wine per person" (?!). Despite the dubious beginnings, we were excited for the experience. Although, in hindsight, I wish I had read a little about the restaurant before dining here so that I was prepared for the kind of experience I was about to have.

The restaurant has quite a reputation - and for good reason. A review states that "they play rap music in the kitchen" which is quite the understatement. They play full-volume rap music through a single speaker located in the dining area loud enough to hear in the kitchen. This is the first thing I noticed as I walked in - it was hard to miss. It appears the chef and owner put little to no money into the decor of the restaurant with spray-painted walls, aluminum foil-wrapped dropped ceiling, and hand-made chandeliers (according to the waiter.) The bulk of the expense appears to be spent on place settings for the food, with each dish having its own unique dish on which it is served. Speaking of the food, it started off strong. The first few courses were AMAZING and we were having a great time bantering with the wait staff (which I believe is also the cooking staff, if this article is correct: http://www.gq.com/food-travel/alan-richman/200901/chicago-michael-carlson-schwa-charlie-trotter) The food was often fun and playful. For example, the first course was a prosciutto "bomb" that burst in your mouth accompanied with celery soda. Another dish was an oyster surrounded in something similar to a jello texture that was followed with a pepper/cinnamon like powder that caused an effervescent reaction in your mouth similar to pop rocks.

By course 5 or 6 we were getting full as each dish seemed to be equally heavy if not heavier than the dish that proceeded it. Sometimes the banter with the staff bordered on uncomfortable (which was perhaps part of the experience?) Our waiter asked us several times which dish was our least favorite before we were through half of the courses. When we eventually relented and chose a dish, he seemed unhappy with our answer and stopped asking. Of course, our least favorite dishes came later but he stopped asking our opinion and we weren't about to call him over to change our answer. At first we liked that the restaurant was BYOB (this is actually quite common in Chicago, if you didn't know.) But they kept our bottles of wine in the kitchen and we were often sitting on empty wine glasses waiting for refills. As a result, we didn't finish our bottles and they didn't offer to cork them and send them home with us. Before we had paid and left, our waiter informed us that he was going on break and left the check with us. As we left the restaurant we saw him drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk outside. Overall, not how I would have expected a Michelin star restaurant, but a fun experience all the same.

Of course, my opinion of and reflections on Schwa are heavily influenced by my experience at TRU just two nights later. I'm actually quite entertained by how vastly different the two experiences were. TRU is as refined as Schwa is uncouth. In fact, there were times I felt a bit uncomfortable for reasons opposite of why I felt uncomfortable at Schwa. When Eric and I first arrived, we were about 20 minutes early so we took a few pictures outside. The outside of TRU is equally as nondescript as Schwa, with a very simple, easily overlooked sign. Afterwards, a man opened the door for us but since we were early we thought we'd kill some time by walking around the block. About 10 minutes later we came back and the same man joked with us about welcoming us back. The two men who welcomed us were very friendly and made us feel right at home. As soon as we entered the dining room, I realized my experience would be nothing like it had been at Schwa. Two waiters pulled the table away from the booth to let me take a seat. In a synchronized motion they filled our water glasses and handed us menus. We were given a choice of a napkin, white or black. A more cultured person would have known the rules - I made a quick guess and decided a dark napkin to match my dark pants was the way to go. (Does anyone know the rule?!) Eric and I decided this was their test to see how much we knew about fine dining. I'm not sure if we passed or failed.

At first I was afraid to take photos of the courses for fear of looking silly - a decision I wholeheartedly regret as those first few courses were absolutely BEAUTIFUL. And several tables who sat after us immediately took out their photos and diligently documented each course. Plus, later in the meal the waiter brought out a whole duck and asked if we wanted to take a photo before he took it back to be carved and plated. Note to self: never make decisions based on how you think others will view you. A lesson I'll probably never learn.

The wine list was impeccable, as you can imagine, and as I would expect from a place like this. But there were several items on the wine list that I didn't recognize and I was too afraid to ask. Eric did ask about the reds but the waiter spoke too softly and too quickly for me to understand so, naturally, I panicked and just chose my tried and true Chardonnay. I figured a Chardonnay at a place like that was likely to be really good and I was right. It was by far the best Chardonnay I've ever had - and each glass cost more than most bottles I would normally purchase. Wink wink.

The food. THE FOOD. OMG. The food. Words escape me. My favorite dish was an encapsulated foie gras with Sicilian pistachio, blood orange and rosemary...or maybe the pearl pasta with aged parmesan, black truffle, and black forest ham...or....or....forget it. Who can choose a favorite?

In terms of creativity in plating - Schwa and TRU were on par. I couldn't choose one over the other. Schwa wins for playfulness; TRU wins for elegance. I think TRU did a better job of balancing flavors. If I'm paying that much for a meal, I want to feel like I'm not only getting my money's worth in delicious and creative cuisine but also in the overall experience. Although I liked the relaxed environment at Schwa, I didn't leave feeling like I had a Michelin-star experience. I liked the pomp and circumstance at TRU, even if it left me feeling uncomfortable at times. I was only uncomfortable at TRU because I didn't know the rules - rules that a more confident person would have just asked about - but rules I would/could easily learn the more I dined at places like TRU. Schwa left me uncomfortable because I wasn't sure if the waiter was being rude or if it was part of the "shtick" which is a little more difficult to identify. (Asking about which napkin I should choose is easier than asking if the waiter was meaning to be rude.)

Bottom line - I'm eager to return to both. The food was amazing at both places and I left happy and satisfied. I am a bit more likely to return to TRU before Schwa. I like being wined and dined and getting dressed up for a good meal. It felt more special to be at TRU. (Plus - the chef tweeted me after the meal which is a HUGE bonus in my book - I love that he took the time to respond to me on social media. It's the details that count!)
 

Paris Reflections: My Griffe

Monday, March 16, 2015 | | 1 comments
Note: I started this post over a year ago as I was reading about Paris and preparing to take students there for a two-week study abroad. I finally got around to finishing the post, although it ended up taking a different direction than I had expected. The idea of a griffe is really appealing and I have thought about it often after reading about it in The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter. I hope you enjoy.

Griffe: literally "a claw" but more precisely a signature; a choice of favorite cafes, shops, parks, and the routes that link them.

In my first blog post, before I left for Paris, the one that described my expectations, I wrote: I am most looking forward to designing my own griffe. Perhaps two weeks isn't long enough to draft a well-curated griffe, but I certainly look forward to establishing a bit of a routine with a favorite place to get a croissant, a relaxing park to take photos or sketch, or simple routes that become familiar.

Alas, two weeks definitely wasn't long enough to draft a well-curated griffe. So instead, I brought this Parisian idea back home and curated my favorite places and routes that link them in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.

Cafes 



A. Crumble - this location couldn't be more convenient for me since it is a 1 minute walk from my apartment. My favorite things to get are their signature dish, the Crumble, in any flavor...apple and pear are the best.
B. Feast - still within walking distance, but a bit of a hike. Feast has the best flavored coffee drinks in town, my favorite being the Bananas Foster Latte.
C. Soma - my favorite place to go when at work, it is just a couple blocks from my office. They have great cappuccinos and lattes.
D. Third Place Coffee Bar - I meet my student reading group here every two weeks. I like their Cremosas, especially the raspberry flavor.

One of my favorite things to do is read a book at a cafe or cofee shop. These are some of my favorite places to sit and relax for awhile, whether reading a book or editing a conference presentation proposal.


Shops


A. Argentum - I recently discovered Argentum when I received a couple of heirloom rings from my Grandma Steffes. They did a beautiful job cleaning, repairing, and finding a stone for a ring dating back to the 1920s. They also have a nice selection of jewelry for special occasion gifts.
B. Global Gifts - My friend and colleague, Mary, first introduced me to Global Gifts. They only carry fair trade items and it is a great place to go to get an inexpensive and unique gift. I go here to find gifts for students, colleagues, and friends.
C. A Fair of the Arts - I'm a big advocate for supporting local artists. I never have a hard time finding pieces I love at the Bloomington Farmer's Market A Fair of the Arts. Every so often a group of artists will gather near the Farmer's Market and sell their work. I always peruse just in case I see something I can't live without.

The shopping in Bloomington isn't much to speak of, but I have found a few go-to places for a last-minute gift.

Parks


A. Indiana University Campus - when Eric and I first moved to Bloomington we would spend our Saturdays walking around the IUB campus to become familiar with where our classrooms were located. The IU Bloomington campus is often cited as one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States.
B. B-Line Trail - the B-Line Trail is the best place to ride a bike. It is a former rail corridor and extends just over 3 miles from Adams St. to the north side of Country Club Drive and runs right through downtown Bloomington.
C. Renwick - Eric and I prefer to run outdoors over on the treadmill. When the weather is nice, we run a couple miles around the Renwick neighborhood.

As a result of purchasing a Fitbit, I have a daily goal of reaching 10,000 steps each day (I average about 5,000 a day...unless I walk to work.) There are some beautiful places in Bloomington to take a stroll or run a mile.

Bars/Restaurants


A. Cardinal Spirits - Cardinal Spirits is owned by a few friends of mine and is currently Bloomington's only distillery. They just recently opened but I'm quite excited about the Tiki Tuesday events coming up soon.
B. C3 - Everyone should have a good bar within walking distance of their home. When C3 opened, Eric and I couldn't have been more excited. My favorite cocktails are the Aviation and the Basil Gimlet.
C. Finch's - Finch's is the go-to place for TGIF with my colleagues. It is close to campus, offers the best wine list in town, and the pizzas are amazing. I always order the Dordogne Pizza with a carafe of the Macon Villages wine.
D. Farm - My friend and I have a favorite bartender and he works at Farm - ask for Ryan.
E. Uptown - I love the atmosphere at Uptown and the food is fantastic. The cocktails aren't as unique and interesting, but they make the classics really well.

What's more Parisian than sitting outside with a glass of wine? C3 and Finch's have the best outdoor seating - Finch's wins for best place to people watch. I have wonderful memories sitting outside on the patio with friends and saying 'hi' to students and friends as they walk down Kirkwood. I can't wait for the weather to warm up so we can enjoy this activity again!

#ReadingIsCOOL: An Ignite Presentation

Monday, March 9, 2015 | | 1 comments
I recently presented at FACET's Ignite! Inquiry and Reflections about Teaching Learning event at Indiana Univeristy. An Ignite presentation consists of 20 slides. No more, no less. 5 minutes. Each slide displays for 15 seconds (15 sec. x 20 slides equals a 5 minute presentation.) No animation.

My presentation is about a student reading group I started in the fall semester of 2014 and co-advise with my friend and colleague Mary. Enjoy. For questions about starting your own student reading group, feel free to email me at hastya@indiana.edu.

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Bloomington Body Bar: Member of the Year

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 | | 3 comments
Over the 2013 Thanksgiving Break, my grandma said these words to me, "You aren't fat!" Which, of course, means that someone said I was fat. (Grandma, if you're reading this, it is important to me that you know those words didn't hurt my feelings, they opened my eyes.) Fat is a relative term - so of course many of you who know me and are my friends probably wouldn't have described me with that term. Those of you who knew me in high school or college probably noticed and maybe even commented on the fact that I had gained weight. You may or may not have used the term 'fat.' Regardless, my eyes were opened. I made a decision. I would make a lifestyle change.

If I'm really being honest, my complicated relationship with food and fitness began when I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. Off and on for six months I was on a doctor-prescribed all-liquid diet. If you haven't been on an all-liquid diet, you can't possibly begin to imagine the impact that has psychologically. My family will remember my all-out break-down at a fair when I began crying at the smell of a hotdog. Things were bad both physically and mentally. When I was able to eat real food I would "treat" myself to all of my favorite foods - everyday. Despite daily trips to Starbucks for a grande salted caramel mocha, at 5'4" my weight dipped below 100 pounds.

Fast forward to December 2013 - my Crohn's Disease is under control and my food habits are out of control. I had gained 60 pounds - some of that on purpose, most of it not. So after Grandma's comment I joined Bloomington Body Bar. December 1st was my first day - I spent hours the week before reading about the classes that were offered and scheduling all of my classes a month in advance. My first class was Indo-Row with Mindy. Those of you familiar with BBB and Mindy, you know I couldn't have chosen a better instructor for my first class. She welcomed me with enthusiasm and announced to the class that it was my first day. My favorite part about that class was the race when everyone cheered for me! (I realize this is surprising to those of you who know I used to hate rowing - those strong feelings came later.) I left feeling really proud of myself.

I didn't realize, at the time, that new members got a free week. After my first class I got a phone call (I think it was from Emily, if I remember correctly) offering to switch me over to the free week but my month of classes that I had already booked would be cancelled. I passed. I didn't want any excuse to stop attending classes.

I made health and fitness my New Year's Resolution for 2014. During this year, I attended 251 classes including willPower and Grace, Balance and Strength, Indo-Row, Full Body Fusion, Cardio Core, Barre, Ebs and Flows Yoga, Power Flow, Mind...Body...Core...Restore, TRX Suspension Training, Sunrise Sculpt, Sacred Body Yoga, Upper Deck Arms and Abs, Fit Flow, Flow 45, Pilates, and TRX Body Blast. I've gone to classes taught by 20 different instructors - many of whom are now good friends of mine.

On Friday, February 27th - Bloomington Body Bar held a Winter Mixer party to celebrate the completion of the Winter Mixer Challenge where clients were challenged to fill a "bingo" card by attending 20 different classes in 30 days. The goal was to get people to attend new classes and try new instructors. I couldn't stop at 20 - I filled all of the spaces. Little did I know, we weren't just celebrating everyone who filled their cards - the Body Bar instructors had nominated me as Bloomington Body Bar Member of the Year. Suzy, the owner, gave a beautiful speech about why I received the award - most of which I can't remember. She was a good ways into the speech before I even realized she was talking about me. And then the tears came. I remember someone behind me telling me she was talking about me - I needed the reassurance because I just couldn't believe it. I remember Diania giving me a big hug and looking at me with such pride. I remember Nicole not wanting to look at me at all - I later realized she was also crying. I received a lot of hugs, a lot of congratulations. The whole evening was a blur. I didn't see it coming - I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around the whole thing. To top things off, I received gifts far beyond what I deserved.

But, what the Bloomington Body Bar community should know is that the best gift they gave me was confidence, friendship, and a supportive community who never said I needed to lose weight but congratulated me when I did. Before writing this public blog post, I wrote each instructor and staff member at Body Bar an individual thank-you for all they contribute to the Body Bar community. I spent time looking back at my first class with each instructor, the first time I remember meeting each person, and my favorite classes or memories with each person. Those thank-you notes and my entire experience with Bloomington Body Bar inspired me to write my first blog post in over a year.

I can't thank you enough. I still can't believe it.

Your Right to a Wedding:

Monday, October 7, 2013 | | 1 comments

Social Considerations Influencing World War II Bridal Attire


I had the honor of presenting a piece of my dissertation research on World War II Warbrides at the LIM College Fashion Now and Then: Meaning, Media, and Mode Conference last weekend. The presentation was titled, “Your Right to a Wedding: Social Considerations Influencing World War II Bridal Attire.” About once a year I get the opportunity to revisit my dissertation research and I’m always amazed that I still really enjoy reading my dissertation, looking at the data and images I collected, and thinking about an era so incredibly different from the one in which I live.

Below is a recording of the presentation I gave. I hope you enjoy! Check out my bio for the conference, here.

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