Visitors: Mom & Dad in Oak Park

In April, my parents flew in from Florida for their annual visit.  Since we moved to Oak Park  at the end of last summer, this was their first time visiting us in our new town.  We had a nice relaxing visit exploring Oak Park and the surrounding areas, and funnily enough never even made it to Downtown Chicago on this visit, though we did make it to the far Western and Northern corners of the city.

Naturally, we had to start with a walk around the neighborhood through Downtown Oak Park and past several Frank Lloyd Wright Houses.  They even got to pose for a picture with Frank himself!

Their first night, I also took them to eat at one of my favorite places in Oak Park – Falafill!  It’s a fast-casual restaurant (I figured they wouldn’t want to sit long after travelling all day) with food that is as good as gourmet!  Not only do they offer creative flavors (my favorite is the Curry Falafel and they also offer Seasonal flavors like White Bean & Chard Falafel), for me, their “Mezze Bar” is what sets them apart.  

The Mezze Bar is a fairly lengthy (and almost entirely vegan) buffet of traditional and gourmet Mediterranean food, including standards like Tabbouleh, Hummus, and Baba Ghanoush alongside of more unusual fare like minted cabbage, Muhamarra (red pepper & walnut dip), and roasted beets. My favorite thing to order is the Falafel Bowl (pictured bottom, right) since it includes a trip to the Mezze Bar.  Mom and I both got bowls and Dad ordered their Curry Falafel Sandwich and got a side-container for the Mezze bar.  Not only did my parents love the food, both of their meals were an “accidentally vegan” success!

Another day, Mike and I took my parents to check out the Garfield Park Conservatory, an absolutely stunning 2-acre indoor display of nature (plus 9-acres of outdoor public gardens) located on Chicago’s west side.  Not only are the flora and fauna beautiful, the building itself has a very cool history – it opened in the year 1908! Another great thing about the Conservatory is that it’s super easy to get to – it has it’s own stop on the Green Line, which it’s so close to that you can see the Conservatory from the tracks. 

We spent a couple hours wandering through the various rooms at the Conservatory, breathing in all the Oxygen, and discovering plenty of new-to-us plant species like “The Octopus of the Dessert”, “Elephant’s Foot”, the “Crocodile Fern” and the “Popcorn Orchid”.

I was sad to leave, but lunch-time (or should I say, brunch-time) was calling!

We walked just 1 block East over to “Inspiration Kitchens“, a non-profit restaurant which also serves as a food-service career training program to those in need.  We all walked out of there quite impressed!  I went there simply because I loved the idea of a restaurant that does good, and it turns out they crank out some pretty amazing food too!

The menu is Seasonal with a Southern Flair (think Po Boys, Biscuits, Gumbo) and had something for everyone in our group.   They had plenty of Vegetarian options for me and I was torn between their Quinoa Burger and their Pulled Squash Sandwich.  I simply had to go for the latter since I’d never seen anything like it before.  I loved the tangy squash topped with a bright carrot slaw on a perfectly toasted bun (though I forgot to ask if it would be vegan and I’m pretty sure it was buttered).  I also ordered a glass of their seasonal drink – a Watermelon and Mint concoction that was absolutely delicious.  Both my drink and my sandwich were so good that I had to pass both around the table for everyone to try.  We also all shared a Cardamom-Orange Cinnamon Roll which we all liked, though it didn’t blow us away.

I highly recommend pairing both Inspiration Kitchens and Garfield Park Conservatory for an absolutely lovely afternoon.   And for those of you on the North Side of the city, Inspiration Kitchens also has a location in Uptown!

 The next day, our adventures took us up to Devon Ave for an Indian Buffet!  I took my parents to Arya Bhavan, an almost entirely Vegan restaurant, for their weekend buffet which had to have been at least 20 feet long. I loved how all the buffet items had clear labels identifying ingredients and gluten-free options and if I recall correctly, every single item on the buffet was vegan.

Neither of my parents could remember the last time they had Indian Food (they said it was likely back in the 1970′s!) but they both said they enjoyed the food and experience.  The all-around favorite dish was the “Uppma” (Savory Cream of Wheat) dish, my Dad especially enjoyed a sauteed Cabbage dish (that almost tasted Polish – it’s interesting how foods from different cultures overlap), and my favorites were the Carrot Halwa (of course!)  and the Make-Your-Own Bhel Puri station which was not only absolutely delicious, but really fun too.

One of my favorite things about Arya Bhavan is how friendly the staff is.  Our waitress helped us out by showing us how to assemble the very best Bhel Puri (a “party-mix” like blend of cereal, chutneys, veggies & onions) and even showed us how to make the new-to-me Pani Puri (little puffy crackers that you poke a hole into and fill with a chickpea and some chutneys, then pop into your mouth).

I hope to make it back to Arya Bhavan again sometime soon – maybe even to check out their Monday night Raw buffet – something I’ve never seen at any other Indian restaurant!

While we had some great times out & about, some of our best moments were much quainter.  We took several walks around the neighborhood, had family game night, cooked a lot (Dad even made me a huge batch of oatmeal for my breakfasts for the week ahead!), and Mom and I took a yoga class together.

Mike and I cooked some of our favorite meals for them to try, including Mike’s Chipotle Black-Bean Tacos (Dad called these The Best Tacos He’s Ever Had!), Muffaletta Pizza from Quick Fix Vegan (pictured above) and a pot of the Borscht from Vegan Eats World using Vegetables from my Spring CSA.  I’m hoping to write more about my CSA later (I’m loving it!) but I have to just say how perfect it was that I had Beets, Turnips, and Celery Root all in my first box – all of which the recipe called for.  

We had some extra Celery Root leftover so I cubed it, placed it in a bowl with about an inch of water, and then microwaved it till tender.  I mashed it up with some Earth Balance, Salt, and Pepper and had my parents sample it.  They’d never had Celery Root before but they loved the light yet comforting flavor (similar to cauli-pots) and now they make it at home too!

Though the entire weekend was wonderful, I saved the best for last.  On our way to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for some of our recipes, we decided to pop into Petco simply to take a peek at the cute kitties up for adoption from various local shelters.  Mike and I had been thinking of getting a cat at some point this summer, but hadn’t really started looking yet.

When we saw this beautiful Maine Coon cat, we were smitten.  Despite all the hustle and bustle in the store, she sat contentedly in Mike’s lap and we knew we simply had to take this wide-eyed sweetheart home.  Mom shed a tear of excitement over her first Grand-Kitty and then, as a cat caretaker herself, she helped us gather all the right supplies for her homecoming.

We named her Maple (a nod to the name of her breed (Maine) and the name the shelter had given her (Sugar)) and are so happy to have her as part of our family.

 I’d love to hear from you!

What recipes would you make for company?

How did you decide on a name for your pets?