A Matter of Taste...

Two years ago, as a part of the fiscal restructuring at work, our vacation time went from a roll-over plan in which you accrued days over time and were able to save them indefinitely, to a "use it or lose it" plan in which we're given all our days at the start of the fiscal year and we have one year to use them or they disappear. I've always been kind of ambivalent about this plan -- on the one hand, it's nice to be able to take a vacation whenever you want in the year, but on the other hand, I've found myself hoarding time because I'm concerned something will come up at the end of the year for which I'll need to use vacation time. As a result, the past two years I've hit the end of the fiscal year with a bank of unused time. I used most of mine for Katherine's visit and my trip with Justin to White Hall, but I still had two days left to use this month.

Without the funds to travel anywhere, I opted to give myself two three-day weekends, starting last week. Originally, Justin and I had hoped to take our much-rescheduled day trip to Starved Rock State Park, but again, the forecast was against us. We ended up experiencing rock formations in a different way, by seeing The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a 3-D documentary about French Neolithic cave paintings, but I discovered that day that I'm not a big fan of Werner Herzog's work, slept through much of the movie, and therefore didn't blog about it.

Today, I opted to make slightly better use of my day off by checking out the Taste of Chicago, which opened today and runs through July 3rd. I invited Mom along for the experience, since we haven't gone to the Taste together since 2008, and as always, we adhered to my annual Tate of Chicago game plan:
  • Pre-purchase tickets at Dominick's the week before the Taste begins, when they cost $6 a strip, 25% cheaper than buying them at the actual event the day of.
  • Pre-game with Pepto-Bismol before leaving the house to avoid any possible retribution from your gastrointestinal tract for being subjected to so many greasy, marginally quality food products.
  • Pack appropriately: take plastic utensils, especially a plastic knife for cutting up any food you intend to share, bottled water, hand sanitizer, extra paper towels, and a Tide pen for spills.
  • Go early, preferably during the day on a week day, to avoid the crowds.
  • Stretch your tickets as far as possible by sticking mainly to 4-ticket "Taste portions," and save full-price items for the things that are really special.
We lucked out with perfect weather for the day as well; I find a slightly cool, overcast day is actually better for festival-going than a sunny day in the mid-90s. No worrying about getting sunburned or dehydrated, and the "bad" weather helps keep the crowds at bay.

Am I the only person who thinks photo-bombing is a seriously annoying trend?

In keeping with tradition, I made sure to get my annual pickle on a stick from the Vienna Beef tent. I swear that they're smaller than they used to be when I was a kid, but the taste still takes me right back to my childhood. Unfortunately, drippy pickles are meant for summer days, and aren't really compatible with long-sleeved apparel -- I had to be careful not to make a huge pickle-scented mess of myself.

Since people seemed to enjoy the photo collage from my birthday dim-sum, I thought I'd make another from my Taste photos. From the upper right hand corner: pulled chicken sandwich from Smoke Daddy, doubtlessly one of the most popular stands at the Taste; fried green beans from Harold's Chicken Shack -- these had my vote for second-best thing I ate today, the batter was mildly spicy and really flavorful, and fried green beans are a burgeoning obsession of mine in general; Brazilian sausage from Texas de Brazil, which was tasty, but small and the bun was actually cold from being in the refrigerator; mini-Maxwell Street Polish from Bobak Sausage and Bakery, a Chicago classic; Loukaneko, or Greek sausage, from Pegasus, which was kind of forgettable, but easily the best value in terms of size out of all the Taste Portions we sampled; the obligatory pierogis from Kasia's Deli, one of my perennial faves at the Taste; and apple dumplings from O'Briens that were kind of a throwaway item, and tasted like the apple pies from McDonald's.

In the center is my favorite item of the entire day, which, embarrassingly, came from Garrett's Popcorn, but at least it was a new product that they were debuting for the first time at the Taste, and not something I'd eaten before: caramel vanilla swirl ice cream with caramel corn topping. I had to shell out a full eight tickets for it, but it was worth it. Garrett's is amazing all on its own, and it makes a surprisingly delicious ice cream topping. I wouldn't have thought it, but I'm totally going to recreate this at home with some vanilla ice cream the next time I bring home a bag of Garrett's.

I don't think Mom was very happy about my self-portrait request...

Like any year, there were hits (the ice cream from Garrett's) and misses (a Taste portion of fudge from The Fudge Pot that was overly sweet and barely tasted of chocolate at all), but it was still a fun way to pass an afternoon. It was nice to see a lot of new establishments there this year, in addition to the places I look forward to eating from every year. I'm also particularly proud that I purchased exactly the right number of tickets; we used every single one and for the first time in several years, there were no leftovers. Perfect budgeting + perfect weather + good food = perfect summer afternoon in Chicago.

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