Project: VISION

Chicago, Thoughts

Last week, I went to an open house hosted by Project: VISION, a local Chicago nonprofit that I began supporting this fall. PV provides after school programming to youth aged 12-18 in the Chinatown and Bridgeport neighborhoods; most of the students attend Chicago Public Schools and many are from first-generation immigrant families.

At the open house, I got to ask some of the students what they’d been up to over at the center. Some were receiving mentoring from Chicago professionals; others were being helped through college applications and FAFSA. A group of students told me about a recent exercise they’d completed that pushed them to think about their 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans.

“So what did you say was your 10-year plan?” I asked, curious to understand the mind of today’s 17-year-old.

“A stable job,” said one. “A doctor, lawyer, or a teacher,” replied another. “I want to be a father,” answered a third, as his friends laughed and elbowed him in the ribs. I noticed an easy camaraderie among them, three seniors in high school who were semi-anxiously awaiting the start of college admissions decisions. These didn’t seem like kids who just came to a center once a week to receive homework help; they seemed like friends, true friends.

“You guys said you go to different high schools, right? Would you say you’re better friends with your school friends or each other?” I wondered.

They smiled – somewhat bashfully – and all pointed at each other.

In that moment, I understood the power of a place like Project: VISION. It is a place full of resources to help middle and high school students navigate the next stage of life; it provides opportunities to learn, lead and serve – and yet it is so much more. Between the logistics of life that have to be completed, there is a space at PV – literally, and figuratively – that allows for relationships, for community, for belonging.

Some teenagers are able to find these friendships at school; others at places like Project: VISION. And still others are unable to find it at all. It could be due to a shyness that creates anxiety in social settings. It could be due to the lack of alternative opportunities like PV. It could be due to priorities like babysitting the family, priorities that take precedence because of the necessity to survive. It could be due to any number of different factors – but every young adult who wants the safety of community, who needs the comfort of belonging – they deserve a chance to have it.

I’m incredibly proud to support Project: VISION and all the work its staff does to provide students with the help and the skills they need to succeed. That the students I met at open house could point to each other as close friends is a beautiful testament to PV’s power in creating an alternative space for community. As these students begin their journeys to a stable job, a doctor / lawyer / teacher, and to becoming a father, I can’t help but smile knowing that they’ll have each other’s friendship through it all.

If you’d like to support the work at Project: VISION, click here to donate or message me to learn more! 

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Uber Driver

Chicago

We rushed along Michigan Avenue, dodging the tourists that milled about leisurely. I looked down at my phone, checking the license plate number of our Uber. “She said she’s in a silver car,” I told my boyfriend, scanning the road for our ride. We were cutting it close for getting to Ogilvie to catch the train that would take us to the suburbs. Finally, we found the Uber, slamming the door behind us as we breathlessly greeted our driver.

“How are y’all doing today?” she asked cheerfully. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how, but the conversation veered away from generic niceties about the weather to specifics about her Englewood neighborhood. “I like Uber because it gets me out of there,” our driver commented, her tone matter-of-fact. “You could be sitting outside on your porch for 2-3 minutes and you’ll hear gunshots.”

My jaw dropped, unsure whether this was an exaggeration. I had heard that Englewood could get ‘bad’ – but I didn’t really know what ‘bad’ meant. “Are you serious?” I asked, and our driver continued talking. “Yeah, I’m serious. They rob people, too, but I would be pissed if they robbed me because I ain’t got no money. If they want the lint from my pockets, I’d tell ’em, ‘You can have the lint.'” We laughed with her when she said that, and the mood lightened.

She continued. “You know, I love driving Uber. I get to meet all kinds of people when I drive, from all over the world, and learn stuff. It gets me out of Englewood and I get to see parts of Chicago I never even knew about, which is crazy ’cause I’ve lived here my entire life.” I nodded, appreciating that sentiment – one which I’d heard from other Uber drivers as well.

“I never even knew we had two airports in Chicago before I started driving Uber,” she declared as she turned a corner.

“WHAT?” I reacted, failing to hide my shock. As an immigrant, I’d come by way of O’Hare; the airport was literally where I’d taken my first few steps in the Chicagoland area.

“Yep,” she nodded, her face breaking out into a grin. “Like I said, I love Uber. If I ever meet the guy who started Uber, I’d just go up to him and squeeze his little nubbins.” My boyfriend chortled next to me at the mental image of Travis Kalanick having his cheeks pinched.

I mulled over that conversation for days afterwards, unable to fully digest just how different my life was from that of our Uber driver. It was more than the differences found in our skin colors, in our jobs, in our current life stages (she was a mother, she told us; “I tell all my kids they gotta be good people”). These were obvious; loud, external contrasts that already carried whole hosts of implications – right or wrong – about our lives.

It was her statement about the airports that struck me: the tiny, specific fact that so clearly delineated the vast disparity in the ways we’d both experienced this journey called life. Chicago has two airports: a fact I didn’t realize I’d learned; just one that I’d “known” for as long as I’d been here. And yet here I was, talking to someone who had been in Chicago her entire life – much longer than me – who was, until the last year, unaware of this detail that I’d never given a second thought to.

The disparity makes me feel uncomfortable; I feel guilty that I fly for leisure multiple times a year while she’s just grateful to get out of Englewood driving Uber. It makes me feel spoiled and so out-of-touch with what “reality” might mean for another human being; it makes me feel like a hypocrite about the bubble I live in while I work for an organization that serves neighborhoods like Englewood. I should be more thankful for all that I have, that I’ve experienced – but the inequality makes me judge the parts of me that has taken everything in my life for granted.

But conversations like this are the ones that push us to grow: in understanding the most nuanced details that make us so different, we forge empathy. It’s only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s the tip of an iceberg that we must face head-on. Despite not quite grasping how that conversation impacted me, I know that it has at least forced me to pause and reflect; and for that, I owe that Uber driver from Englewood.

Eat This in Philadelphia

Eat This, Philadelphia

If you’re a first time visitor, make sure to check out Eat This: An Introduction.

I spent my college years in Philadelphia, and while I didn’t get out of my college bubble as often as I should have, I do have my favorite food spots in the city. In fact, Philly is one of my favorite food cities in America: it boasts awesome flavors for reasonable prices, unlike some of its other neighbors on the East Coast. I miss Philly and its food dearly. As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions!

1. Primo Hoagies (Hoagies aka Sandwiches; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Primo Hoagies Menu
  • Reservations: No – and some locations don’t even have seating, so you might need to plan for takeout.
  • Try: Any of The Diablos, especially the AuDiablo.
  • Tips: Sandwiches are a pretty hefty portion, so consider getting the smaller size if you’re not a huge eater! Napkins come in handy, since taking those big bites can get messy.

2.  Noord (Northern European; Brunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Noord Menu
  • Reservations: Yes.
  • Try: The mustard soup for an appetizer, and the rabbit confit for an entree. Also, if they have it, the incredible chocolate bread pudding for dessert.
  • Tips: The bread with warm butter and roasted garlic is so delicious. Try not to fill up on that alone, though, because the rest of the food here is great. Fun spot for a date night!
  • Read my Yelp review here.
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Chocolate Bread Pudding | Noord | Philadelphia, PA

3. Philly Flavors (Ice Cream/Italian Ice; Snacks/Dessert)

  • Menu: Philly Flavors Menu
  • Reservations: Nope, grab and go!
  • Try: The Slammers, which is a blend of ice cream AND Italian ice (my personal favorite is the honeydew).
  • Tips: Philly Flavors is a must during the summer. They have so many different flavors of ice cream and Italian ice – don’t be afraid to ask for a sample!

4. Pietro’s (Italian; Brunch/Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Pietro’s Dinner Menu (For other menus, click here).
  • Reservations: Yes – although I’d say you only need them during super busy times like weekend dinners. Otherwise, the space is pretty big!
  • Try: Rigatoni alla Vodka (lunch/dinner); either of the brunch pizzas.
  • Tips: Pietro’s allows for you to order pasta in individual and family sizes, so this is a fun place to come with a big group for birthdays or special occasions!
  • Read my Yelp review here.

5. Reading Terminal Market (Market; Lunch/Dinner/Dessert)

  • Menu: List of Merchants (There are so many places in the market to choose from…)
  • Reservations: No – walk around and follow the smells while keeping an eye out for any seats that open up.
  • Try: The incredibly fluffy pancakes at the Dutch Eating Place (their apple dumpling is also to die for). I’ve tasted a fraction of what the entire market has to offer, though, so really…just follow your nose.
  • Tips: As you can probably tell, this is a huge market with tons of food options inside (sorry it’s kind of cheating to list this as a “restaurant). Reading Terminal is almost always crowded, but especially so on the weekends, so be ready to stand in long lines and to fight for your seats!

Eat This in New York City (Manhattan)

Eat This, New York

If you’re a first time visitor, make sure to check out Eat This: An Introduction.

I spent my first two years of post-college life in the Big Apple, and recently went back for a quick visit. Aside from wandering my lovely old neighborhood of Long Island City and enjoying the Cats on Broadway, we wanted to make sure to eat some of the great food Manhattan has to offer – but it was so hard to choose. There’s pretty much no way to keep the list to five here, but I have to. As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions!

1. The Halal Guys (Food Truck/Mediterranean; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: The Halal Guys Menu
  • Reservations: Nah – this place started out as a food truck!
  • Try: The Chicken and Gyro combo platter.
  • Tips: That red hot sauce is seriously no joke. I say this as someone who freaking loves spicy food – go easy on it, because it could easily ruin the rest of your meal if you go overboard.

2. The Meatball Shop (Meatballs/Italian/American; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: The Meatball Shop Menu
  • Reservations: Nope – be prepared to wait at prime times!
  • Try: The Kitchen Sink. And make sure to leave room for a giant ice cream sandwich at the end!
  • Tips: See above re: amazing ice cream sandwiches. There are so many different ways you can have your meatballs – just mark what you want on the dry-erase laminated menus on the table.
  • Read my Yelp review here.

3. Artichoke Pizza (Pizza; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Artichoke Pizza Menu
  • Reservations: Nah. Grab your slice, eat and go!
  • Try: The Artichoke Pizza, obviously.
  • Tips: Slices are huge, so if you’re not a big eater you may be better off sharing!
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Artichoke Pizza | Artichoke Pizza | New York, NY

4. BCD Tofu House (Korean; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: BCD Tofu House Menu
  • Reservations: No. Oh New York. Yes, there are lines.
  • Try: Soon Tofu, Pajeon, any of the meats
  • Tips: The banchan (side dishes) are free refill aside from the fried fish, so eat away! Be sure to crack in the raw egg while the soup is still bubbling hot.

5. Two Little Red Hens (Bakery; Breakfast/Coffee/Dessert)

  • Menu: Two Little Red Hens Menu
  • Reservations: Nah – just a cute little bakery, with a couple tables for coffee-goers.
  • Try: Coffee Cake, Key Lime Pie Cupcake, Cheesecake.
  • Tips: Lines form here at all times of day and the best bakery items can run out, so try to go on the earlier side if you can!

Eat This in Boulder

Boulder, Eat This

If you’re a first time visitor, make sure to check out Eat This: An Introduction.

My mom and I visited Boulder on a four-day trip, so my experience in the city is really limited. That being said, we loved all that Boulder had to offer – from the gorgeous scenery to the kind residents, the city gave us such a positive vibe with awesome food to boot. As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions!

1. The Mediterranean Restaurant (Tapas, Mediterranean; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: The Med Menu (This is the tapas menu – click around for lunch/dinner!)
  • Reservations: Yes.
  • Try: The tapas, especially the tuna tartare, smoked trout, and bacon-wrapped dates.
  • Tips: This restaurant is affectionately called The Med. Tapas are only available during happy hour from 3-6:30PM, so try and visit in that time frame!
  • Read my Yelp review here.

2.  Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery (American; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Mountain Sun Pub Menu
  • Reservations: No.
  • Try: The Date Night Burger. Fries. Also, nachos – toppings in between every layer, unlike some places where only the top chips get the love.
  • Tips: The servers are awesome and great about giving you beers to sample if you’re not sure which one to order! It does get a bit crowded, so try to avoid peak hours.
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The Date Night Burger | Mountain Sun Pub | Boulder, CO

3. The Buff (New American; Breakfast/Brunch/Lunch)

  • Menu: The Buff Menu
  • Reservations: No. Let’s be real, brunch places never take reservations.
  • Try: The Olé Skillet.
  • Tips: A lot of their menu items come with either queso or pork green chili. No need to choose – just get both! Portions are pretty big here.

4. Snooze (New American; Breakfast/Brunch/Lunch)

  • Menu: Snooze (Colorado) Menu
  • Reservations: No. Ditto The Buff above this.
  • Try: Chili Verde Benny, Benny Duo
  • Tips: Snooze has great options for people who just want to try everything: the Benny Duo lets you pick two different types of eggs benedict from their menu, while the Pancake Flight allows you to choose any three pancakes! Be warned that the Pancake Flight is on the sweeter side and isn’t huge – for a big, savory eater like me, it wasn’t enough by itself!

5. Boulder Baked (Sweets/Bakeries; Lunch/Dinner/Dessert)

  • Menu: Boulder Baked Menu (This is the partial dessert menu – click around for others!)
  • Reservations: No.
  • Try: The wonderfully warm cookies – there are so many to choose from. Also loved the lemon cupcake and the strawberry shortcake cupcake.
  • Tips: The cookies are baked on the spot, so be prepared to wait 10-15 minutes!

 

Eat This in Tampa

Eat This, Tampa

If you’re a first time visitor, make sure to check out Eat This: An Introduction.

My boyfriend hails from Tampa, so we’re often back in his hometown to visit family and to enjoy the warm weather. While Tampa is known for beaches, strip clubs, and cigars, it also has a ton of great food to offer. As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions!

1. Bern’s Steakhouse (Steakhouses; Dinner)

  • Menu: Bern’s Menu
  • Reservations: Yes, this is a must for Bern’s.
  • Try: The steak, of course, but the Red Snapper a la Plancha is also excellent. For sides, don’t skip the Okinawa sweet potato.
  • Tips: Don’t skip the dessert room!
  • Read my Yelp review here.

2. Wright’s Gourmet (Sandwiches; Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Wright’s Menu
  • Reservations: Nah, this place is casual!
  • Try: The Monte Cristo sandwich, Turkey & Pecan Salad Plate, Alpine Cake
  • Tips: The sandwiches are amazing, but so are the salads and the cakes. Order take-out. Avoid lunch hour at all costs.

3. Datz  (New American; Brunch/Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Datz Menu
  • Reservations: No can do – prepare to wait in line during busy times like lunch and brunch.
  • Try: Barry C’s Stuffed Meatloaf, Sriracha Patty Melt
  • Tips: Parking’s kind of a pain, but you can find some more if you go down the street right next to Datz.
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Jalapeno Mac ‘N’ Cheese | Datz | Tampa, FL

4. Oystercatchers  (American/Seafood; Brunch/Lunch/Dinner)

  • Menu: Oystercatchers Menu
  • Reservations: Yes.
  • Try: Oyster (obviously!), Ale Battered Fish & Chips
  • Tips: Great view of the bay, so ask to be seated by the windows. The smoky seasoning they provide with the butter and bread is awesome.

5. Rooster and the Till (New American; Dinner)

  • Menu: Rooster and the Till Menu
  • Reservations: Yes.
  • Try: Cheese and Charcuterie; BBQ Pork Neck with Scallops; Gnocchi with Short Ribs and Smoke Ricotta
  • Tips: Ambiance is on the darker side and great for dates.
  • Read my Yelp review here.