Visitors: Fun & Food with my Niece!

Okay, so I’m going to take a brief pause from my recaps of our recent Colorado trip (even though I also still haven’t finished my recaps from my Portland trip 3 months ago and my Asia trip 18 months ago…), because something happened last weekend that was simply too cute not to share as soon as possible:

My niece Charlotte came to visit!!!  

She’s 3.5 years old now and is simply TONS of fun.  She’s visited me in Chicago before, but this was her first time visiting us in Oak Park, and most importantly, her first time meeting Maple, which she was incredibly excited about.

Charlotte wanted to spend every waking moment with our kitty cat.  Maple, for the most part, decided she’d much rather have alone time, though they did have several special moments together:

This year, not only did my Sister come with Charlotte, my Mom also came along to visit me for her second time this year, which was a special treat.  And not just because she brought these home-grown mini pineapples with her as a surprise.  She’s truly an amazing house guest – in addition to bringing presents, she also loads & unloads the dishwasher, makes breakfasts, and helps out in any way she can.

I don’t get to see them often, so I tried to spoil them in my own healthy way with treats including homemade Personalized Smoothies (Charlotte wanted peaches & extra watermelon in hers), fresh Raspberries (my favorite grocery splurge), and Oh She Glows’ Creamy Avocado Pasta.

Overall, it was about as low-key of a weekend as any time with a 3.5 year old can be (we didn’t do too much, but it was still exhausting!). We checked out Oak Park’s incredibly kid-friendly Thursday Night Out events, picked up 7 great books at the Oak Park Public library (which I enjoyed as much as she did, especially I Dream of an Elephant and Princess Super Kitty), and visited a local favorite of mine – the Garfield Park Conservatory, where we played a game of Backyard Bingo by searching for several of the garden’s highlights including a garden maze, worm composting bins, and honey bees!

For me, one of the highlights of their visit was doing Yoga with Charlotte.  In the past, we’ve occasionally done Yoga together over Skype since she loves doing any pose with an animal name.  Since we were finally together in person, on separate days, we tried out 3 of Gaiam’s Yoga videos for kids on Hulu Plus.  They were just excerpts of full-length videos, but the 10-15 min length was perfect for Charlotte.  She surprised me with several nearly perfect Sun Salutations on Rodney Yee’s Family Yoga DVD, but her favorite video was the much sillier Yoga Kids ABCs which had us both chomping like alligators, fluttering like butterflies, and crawling around the floor like caterpillars (which was actually quite difficult!).

Charlotte’s Sun Salutation with Leg Extension

Another highlight was taking Charlotte to the Oak Park Farmers Market on Saturday.  While we did buy organic Asparagus & Strawberries, our visit to the market wound up being less focused on healthy fruits & veggies and more focused on sweet treats.  When we saw the line for donuts wrapping around the lot, we knew we had to try them.  These Cinnamon-Sugar and Powdered Sugar donuts were some of the freshest, fluffiest donuts I’ve ever had.  It’s going to take some real discipline to not buy these every time I go to pick up some produce!  Mom also got some Poppy-Seed Pastry (her favorite) and I got Charlotte a single SunFlower for $1. 

We also had a few memorable meals out including another lunch at Inspiration Kitchen where we enjoyed some Southern cooking including Pickled-Fried Okra, a spicy Heart-of-Palm Patty, plus Watermelon and Cucumber-Lime Agua Frescas and (our favorite) their Basil Lemonade.

Another night, we dined with Mike’s Parents at Maya Del Sol, a neighborhood favorite of mine which has a beautiful patio and several vegetarian & vegan options.  This time I tried their Verduras Asadas which was a generous platter of grilled veggies with quinoa, avocado, and balsamic.

Last but not least, I was super excited that the whole group agreed to go with me to Munch, a 100% vegetarian restaurant in downtown Oak Park.  Nearly everything on the menu is vegan (except for their Meatless-Balls), though they carry both Vegan and Dairy cheeses. 

I’ve been here countless times since I moved to Oak Park last summer and while I still haven’t tried their famous brunch or their vegan milkshakes, I’ve sampled nearly everything else on the menu.   I’ve been meaning to post a review of Munch for a long time, so here it is!

On this particular visit, I tried the new-to-me Carribean-Jerk-Tofu Salad which was absolutely fantastic.  The tofu was SO SPICY!!! so it paired perfectly with the cooling tomato & apple slices and mellow walnuts.  My mom had their Vegan Lasagna (though she added dairy cheese) and she could not stop gushing about how delicious it was.  We also raved about their side of Sauteed Greens which was a garlicky mix of Kale, Chard, Mustard Greens & Cabbage.  My sister ordered a side of their Mashed Sweet Potatoes which are one of my favorite dishes there.  The secret ingredient? Mashed Bananas! 

In addition to sampling some of the other eats at our table, Charlotte got a Veggie Plate off the kids menu with Vegan Ranch dressing.  She cracked me up by doing an unprompted impression of Bugs Bunny: “Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Ehh… What’s Up Doc?“, which I suspect my Dad taught her.

We also had a lot of fun coloring together on the Paper Hat they gave her while we waited for her food.

Last but not least, we all shared a super thick vegan Peanut-Butter Chocolate Chip cookie for dessert, though Charlotte got the lion’s share.  Their cookies are top notch and also come in Gluten-Free and No-Sugar-Added varieties.

Other favorites of mine at Munch (from prior visits) include their Hibiscus Iced Tea and their always changing Daily Special entrees. I’ve never seen the same one twice and the cover a wide range from Jackfruit Stir-Fry to Spinach-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.  

Their “chorizo” Stuffed Peppers are as amazing as their lasagna, and I love that they have Kale Salad as one of the available side-dishes.

I also love finding out what the Soup of the Day is.  Like the entree specials, I’ve never seen the same soup twice.  Their French Onion is my all-time favorite and Mike recently ordered a Vegan Cream of Mushroom soup that was even creamier and more delicious than any dairy-based version would be.

But most of all, I love Munch’s salads.  As a vegetarian, entree salads at most restaurants simply aren’t filling enough.  At Munch, that’s absolutely not the case.  Their entree salads typically include protein & healthy fats along with loads of veggies.  The Munch a Bunch of Protein Salad above is topped with lentils, almonds, and marinated tofu.  And the Hippie Hemp Arugula Salad, which has avocado, cannellini beans, sunflower seeds & hemp seeds, is a favorite of mine.

You can even browse back-issues of Vegetarian Times while waiting for your food, which I often do when dining alone.  And on more than one occasion, I’ve seen a smiling cow on my way out the door.

Two things to remember though when dining at Munch: 1.) It’s BYOB (which I always forget) and 2.) It’s newly Cash Only.

I’d love to hear from you!

What kid-friendly places & activities are in your area?

What are some of your favorite summer eats & treats?