As I’m buying my plane tickets to go visit my grandma, in Miami, I am brought back to my trip last October. I went to the windy city, Chicago, to take a cooking class. Kind of crazy, I know, but it was totally worth the crossed-eyed looks I kept getting from people who asked me why I was going to Chicago, alone.
After years of exploring what my next career move will be, it crossed my mind one day to create a culinary bookstore. I had never seen one or heard of any nearby. Especially, one that held cooking classes. Since I love books and cooking I thought this would be an ideal fit for me. It would be a great way to bring attention to books in a unique way. My mind just raced with ideas about cooking events and book clubs. With this idea in mind, I used Google and searched, “culinary bookstores,” and my jaw dropped to see that one was in existence in Chicago! Oh, my stomach tingled at the thought of going there and seeing what it was like.
With my close friend encouraging me to go, I booked my flight and hotel. I was kind of unsure of traveling on my own, but I pushed those thoughts aside and smiled with joy.
Upon arriving, I managed to get an Uber to take me straight to the Book Store, Read It & Eat. A lovely Polish driver told me her story of salsa dancing and Peruvian men, after learning that my family is Peruvian. I made it on time to my intro class with author, Robyn Eckhardt, where she demoed some recipes from her book, Istanbul & Beyond. It was wonderful meeting her and her husband, David Hagerman, who was the photographer for her book. Such a great partnership capturing the art of food and culture together. Truly amazing to hear the stories of their travels and how traditional foods are still being made. We learned about the foods in different regions and Providences of Turkey and why certain foods are found in one part of the country and not so much in others.
I was glad to meet the owner of Read It & Eat, Ester Dairam, although we didn’t get to chat much. She mentioned Celia Sack, owner of Omnivore Books in San Francisco and Lara Hamilton, owner of Book Larder in Seattle. Being that San Francisco is nearby, I will need to make my way over to introduce myself and hopefully get some support and guidance for my own store someday! Ester mentioned how Celia really helped her and that she would be a great resource!
Finishing class, it was still light out and so I decided I could walk the few miles to my hotel using my maps app on my phone. Sometimes I don’t think everything through and I just have faith that all will turn out okay. As I began walking towards my hotel I tried to keep a good pace going and not appear as an out of town-er. Suddenly, it crosses my mind that I do not have the details of my hotel on paper and that I should write it down in case my phone dies. As I pull out my phone, it dies and I have no idea where to go I keep walking and begin to feel like I’m in some sort of dream. Being that its Halloween weekend didn’t make it any better as people were already out in costumes. I just told myself, “Emely, don’t panic.” I just need to get to a phone or a place to charge my phone. Its getting dark and I see light coming from the entrance to some apartments and a bellman standing behind a desk.
I push through the revolving doors and approach the older gentleman explaining my situation. He tries to help, but was not too tech savvy with his phone. After some 10 minutes of trying to figure out his phone, I spotted an outlet. With a sigh of relief, I relaxed my shoulders and thanked the man for allowing me to charge up enough to get my second Uber. In our conversation, the question came up; what was I in town for all by myself. I shared with him my story and he smiled. He told me as we said goodbye, “I’ll be seeing you on T.V. on one of those cooking shows.” I smiled and waved goodbye. I will not forget his skinny form, shaky hands and the way he shuffled across the room to open the door for the incoming tenants, sweetness oozing from his heart.
I felt so much better once my Uber driver picked me up. He was a local and knew the city. He told me about some touristy things and places to check out. His small talk was comforting.
Day two, I chose to walk back to the bookstore. I suggest if anyone is traveling to a new place try walking to your destinations. You really get to experience all of the sights, smells, and sounds that make that destination unique. It was amazing! Still being that I was alone, I tried not to look like a tourist. As much as I wanted to take picture after picture, I thought it was best to just breath it into my memory banks.
My morning started started with breakfast at Yolk a family friendly restaurant. My experience walking out was one to remember. As I began my trek, a homeless man greeted me with “Do you have any change?” As he went on to tell me about how he had 5 kids under the bridge, pointing across the park, I handed him a $5 bill. He thanked me with arms wide open, and smiled with his missing teeth. Without any thought, I gave him a hug and said have a nice day. He was stunned. With joyous lament he said, “Oh my, its been so long since a woman has touched me. Bless you.” I smiled and went on my way feeling surprised myself for in that moment of our embrace I did not see him as an elderly, dirty homeless man, lying to me to get a buck, I seemingly saw his pure soul. To be honest, to this day I don’t know why I was drawn to hug this stranger, but I felt filled in making his day special.
Making it just on time for my class, I was nervous about how to approach Ester and what to ask her. It turned out she wasn’t going to be around that day. So I let go and just enjoyed cooking with a room of strangers. We ended our day with a meal all together. It was wonderful! Everyone had stories of how food webbed their memories of friends, loved ones, travels and celebrations. This is what I loved, cooking and sharing moments in time with people.
Before heading back home, I had dinner at Nuib a sushi place near my hotel. It was one of the best sushi restaurants I have experienced. It was my first time selecting a maki roll with mango, the Mellow Yellow, and it’s sweetness married with the fish beautifully. I devoured their whole roll plus my miso, edamame and of course dessert.
The sweetness of my adventurous trip to Chicago lingers still, edging me closer everyday to my dreams. Interesting how things work out. A month later, Robyn Echart was at the San Francisco Cooking School doing a class! The same school I selected to guide me towards my goals! I just have faith that all will turn out GREAT!