Anyone who has met Steve in real life will not have a hard time guessing the first thing we did upon arriving to Chicago for Thanksgiving.


Very excited to’ve diversified my deep dish experience- Steve tends to stick to Geno’s East, and on this trip (on the same day, actually) I’ve tried Lou Malnatti’s and Giordanos. Geno’s is still my favorite, as it is Steve’s.

We were plenty tuckered since we drove (!) and though we stopped partway there to sleep at a hotel, Steve, for reasons best understood by him, decided to drive 12 hours on the first day and 2 on the second. Sure.

I was just really excited to not eat gross road food anymore, and thoroughly enjoyed this salad. Bless you, midwestern portions. This was our “individual” salad, after both Steve and I had each already served ourselves a portion.


We met our buddy Kyle from our Americorps days! He spent the past two years in Indonesia, and is now living in New Haven where his girlfriend is going to school for public health (holla!) but his family, like Steve’s, is in the Chicago ‘burbs, so it was easy peasy for us to meet up over Thanksgiving. So nice!

We got a half sausage and half mushroom pie. It was tasty, but the crust was a tad too crispy for me.


We knew Erin, our aggressively friendly Americorps peer, would want us to document this reunion, so we did. Me and the boys 🙂


So that was Wednesday. That night was deep dish round two and a fun evening relaxing at Steve’s aunt house. Feel very lucky to be so welcomed into Steve’s sweet and funny family.

The next day, Thursday, was of course Thanksgiving! It’s always a little odd spending Thanksgiving with a family that is not your own, particularly since Steve’s mom was hosting 40 guests (!) and working her tail off to get everything ready. It’s a fine balance between being helpful and getting in the way. Anyway, I stuffed some shells (loved all the Italian touches at this Thanksgiving!) and did a few other tasks, but once it got down to the wire I decided freeing up an Ileana-sized space in the kitchen was the kindest thing to do.

Once it was time for the main meal, we began with a super classy appetizer course. That salad in the foreground was AMAZING- arugula, lots of fennel (which I lovvvvve)- and from the restaurant where Steve’s cousin works. There were also pickled vegetables made by Steve’s aunt who with her husband is vegan for health reasons (these were unbelievably delicious and I went back for lots more- the amazing garlicky tomatoes in particular), a jalapeño corn muffin made by Steve’s mom, and a few olives and cheeses and things.


The day after Thanksgiving was Steve’s dad’s 60th birthday (he and my dad were born four days apart!) and everyone decided to honor the occasion by instead of just going around the room saying what they were thankful for, going around saying what they were thankful for about Steve’s dad!

His dad’s little sister, the only girl with three brothers, had some very amusing ones (“I’m thankful he taught me to swim by holding my head underwater”, etc.)


I got a fun melange for the main meal… from the green blob, that’s green jello (it involves canned pears, lime jello, and cool whip and is so good), stuffing, a pickled mushroom, mashed potatoes, more delicious pickled vegetables, cranberry sauce, broccoli, roasted squash with hot red pepper flakes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and a stuffed shell.


I gave Steve’s family some flack for not having an enormous dessert table at the previous Thanksgiving I attended (of course I say this as a sugar addict) but man they more than came through this time!


Special highlights, at left, a giant pan of tiramisu and at right an old family recipe called “chopped suey cake” made by his middle school aged cousin. It involved walnuts and cream cheese frosting and was of course amazing.


But wait, the birthday boy needed celebrating too! Along with this ice cream cake with the big 60 on top…


… there was another cake that came along with a formidable mission, one that became a family affair…


… Steve’s mom insisted on lighting 60 candles! It took FOREVER and was a hilarious process to observe.IMG_1339

These pictures of Steve and his mom make my heart soft.


The pictures of the birthday boy beholding his finally completed cake just look as though there’s a fireball in the dining room! Too funny.


Then, because Steve’s mom is insanely good at planning parties, there was a special edition of Family Feud featuring trivia about the birthday boy! Steve and I made these.


Steve’s mom’s and dad’s sides of the family squared off to see who knew Steve’s dad the best. My favorite category was “Things that annoy Denny about the Chicago Bears”, hahahaha.


The night also included a vigorous round of Apples to Apples with Steve’s cousins, many of whom blatantly cheated and got rid of cards they didn’t want 🙂

The next day we went bowling (as I have discussed in the past, Steve’s family is weirdly good at bowling- they have their own balls. They are in leagues. They regularly approach scores of 200. Bizarre.) Naturally, we had to embarrass Steve’s dad by putting “Birthday Boy” up on the TV. I astonished myself by getting a strike first thing and then, in the second game, bowling 110, which is three to four times my previous high score (I, like most people in my family and in general most East Coasters I know, am terrible at bowling).


That night we headed into Chicago proper, where my bestest pal and her boyfriend now live (her boyfriend Brian, like Steve, is a Chicagoland native).

We went to their favorite places in their (ultra cool) Logan Square neighborhood, including this great pizza place, Reno.


Virtuously getting our vegetables, we started with a yummy sautĂ©ed cauliflower appetizer that involved capers and dill. It also involved bacon, and I, the non vegetarian, was the one to remember to ask for it to be omitted- Lydia and Brian, the vegetarians, totally forgot. Ha! And then Steve was like, “Well, you could just do the bacon on the side…” and he ate a plate of bacon and was pleased.


Everyone else got a beer, but since I was (and still am) ailing from a cold (no doubt worsened by the windy city’s charming weather) I got a yummy Jo Snow Italian soda- tangerine lavender honey. So fun! I almost never do the mocktail thing (why spend the money when water is free?) but this was nice to my immune system and still felt festive.


We split two RAD pizzas.

On the bottom:

BUTTERNUT: Butternut squash / gouda / sage brown butter / walnuts


And on top:

FANCY NANCY- Mozzarella / basil / red sauce / burrata


Mmm that big fat pile of burrata sure was tasty. I think my favorite was the butternut, though- lovvved that sage in there!

We also went to Small Bar, a great neighborhood bar, and gosh it is just so great to hang out with your best friend (we’ve been best friends since we were 14) and just laugh and laugh and laugh. Such silliness.

So you say to yourself, “Wow, Ileana and Steve have already done so much on this trip! Americorps reunion, family night, Thanksgiving, parent’s 60th birthday, night in the city with friends! I can’t imagine what else they could-”

and then I would interrupt you and say AND THEN THERE WAS THE WEDDING.

Yes, that’s right, Ben, Steve’s childhood babysitter, got married the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the festivities just continued!


It was a lovely wedding with an adorable pastor. The couple both do improv, and the pastor quoted Steven Colbert in the sermon. It was amazing.


And then it was party time!


As seems to be the norm, now, the tables were named after significant places to the couple. We were at Nashville. Loved the floating candle centerpieces.


What, do you think, did this favor contain?


Lotto tickets! I tragically won nothing.


The improvisers brought a dramatic touch to their first dance (this, after they made their entrance to the song “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie, so cute!)


The food was really good! This corn soup was super rich, so I gave a lot of mine to Steve, but I loved the cute little sweet potato crisps on top!


And the salad was served in a giant parmesan bowl, mm.


This pomegranate sorbet, as an elegant palate cleanser, was also delicious, and so pretty!


Unpictured remainder of the evening, but imagine:

– Pistachio-crusted sea bass
– Steve getting the chicken and then having his mom bring over half her uneaten steak to him. At weddings, everyone just knows about Steve and eating and he always gets multiple entrees
– LEMON POPPY SEED WEDDING CAKE! So good and different!
– Lots of exuberant dancing. Particularly fun when they played ‘Shake it Off’
– I randomly ran into Steve’s mom’s college friend on my way back from the bathroom and we ended up talking for like twenty solid minutes about relationships and commitment and human nature. Deep stuff.
– More exuberant dancing, and shoes that I am unaccustomed to wearing that tore open a blister on my toe
– Going to the front desk for a bandaid
– Having the bandaid immediately come off. Returning to the front desk for masking tape to wrap around my foot to secure the bandaid
– More exuberant dancing
– The reception concluding and me, the sedate one being ready to fall asleep in the lobby, and Steve and his clan, the partiers, bounding to the bar downstairs. I rallied.
– Steve’s sister buying all of us shots of Patron at the bar after (whoo!)
– Uber taking us home 🙂


The last day was quite restful. But since our dinner was at the cutest Italian restaurant ever, straight out of Lady and the Tramp, I had to take a picture.


A simple twelve and a half hour car ride later, and we were back to North Carolina, and it was finals mode for me!


2 thoughts on “Chicagooooo

  1. Ileana, this was so lovely to read through to remember Thanksgiving, my Dad’s birthday and the wedding. You were such a tremendous help over Thanksgiving! Thank you for making my Dad’s birthday so memorable. Also, you are amazing at action shots, I can’t believe what great timing you had for Molly and Ben during their first dance. Really good post!

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