They called us "summer girls" -- me and all of the other college-age women from small Midwestern schools who came to the North Shore suburbs for the summer to care for the children of wealthy families, even though the mothers of the families did not work outside the home. A group of women from my school -- always a different mix of people -- went out every summer to nanny for the same group of families. The North Shore folks liked girls from small-town colleges. We were good girls, trustworthy, well-adjusted and safe.
My friend and I did the North Shore tour of duty together, trading stories about the way one of our kids had lost a Gameboy in the ball pit at McDonalds or had thrown a screaming fit on the beach because her inflatable ball had floated away and to shut her up the intrepid lifeguard took a deep breath and waded into the sub-zero waters of Lake Michigan to retrieve it for her. We ate lunches of chicken strips or burgers at the country club (our families belonged to the same one), and took the kids swimming in the afternoons, after baseball camp and tennis lessons.
In the evenings we would unwind at a chain restaurant; that was all we could afford on our meager stipends -- and we didn't drink at the time. At the time, I was obsessed with club sandwiches and ordered one everywhere we went, with a side of fries. On our days off, which if we were lucky happened to be the same day of the week, we did all the touristy things: Sears Tower, Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, the museums. And we did the touristy restaurants -- like the various deep-dish pizza joints.
My palate has expanded beyond club sandwiches and chicken strips. When I go to Chicago now, we have our favorite places, like La Madia, but we also like to try new restaurants, like ones that are featured in Food and Wine magazine. Now, that I make more than $200 a week, we can afford to have a glass of wine with dinner, too.
The Purple Pig is one such new place -- and it's right on Michigan Avenue. Plus, it has a recipe featured in the November 2011 edition that I plan to make and share with you in the very near future. It’s called Whipped Feta with Cucumbers, but it might as well be called Heaven .... and Some Cukes.
The Purple Pig which features cheese, swine and wine in a community dining sort of experience. Long, heavy wooden tables line the smallish interior, so you may wind up dining with a new friend next to you. We sat at the bar because the place was bustling with people dining on various small plates. In fact, we had stopped by for an afternoon snack the day before and the place was so packed we didn't even have room to stand and read a menu. The place reminded me of a modern, cozy kitchen -- with the family-style tables and tiled walls.
Aside from the creamy Whipped Feta, we sampled three kinds of cheeses -- a goat cheese (of course), a gouda and a truffle-infused one, smearing each on a toasted piece of baguette.
We also shared a small bowl of the Braised Baby Artichokes, Fingerling Potatoes, Asiago and Salami Toscana, which was an unexpected but very flavorful combination.
At the suggestion of a new friend beside us at the bar, we also tried the Pork Neck Gravy with Ricotta. I was slightly leary of this one, but it was a surprisingly tasty dish, like a thick marinara-type spread.
We picked a Portuguese wine, based on a suggestion from the bartender for a good red. It was a Douro called Veedha. I don't know much about Portuguese wines, except this one was over-the-top good, dry and jammy and the perfect compliment for cheese, swine and sweets!
Then there were the desserts: The Sicilian Iris, which was a ball of fried brioche filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips -- light and sweet bread with a rich, creamy filling.
And then the Panino con Nutella, a kind of nutella fluffernutter sandwich. No joke. Chocolate hazelnut spread, marshmallow cream and bananas oozes out of two slices of bread dusted with powdered sugar. A nice twist on a surprisingly simple concept.
Stay tuned for my take on the Whipped Feta with Cucumbers!