Nobody loves a city like the people who live in it. I haven’t yet fallen in love with College Station, but my affection for my former city runs deep. I try not to think about Evanston too much these days because it makes me too sad, and it distracts me from the task of settling into my new place. It’s not that different from starting a new romantic relationship after ending another: if you spend too much time thinking about your ex, you’ll never give a new person the chance to love you. And I say this as someone who takes a long, long time to get over a break-up.
Luckily, Evanston and I didn’t break up, so I’m welcome to visit any time I want. I was rather charmed by a city-themed meme that I first saw on Monna McD, Twelve Hours in Dot Dot Dot, in which the blogger’s task is to fantasize about the most perfect way to spend a final twelve hours in their beloved city. For me, it’s like writing a to-do list for the trip to Evanston that I’ll be taking in the spring of 2010 to visit Daphna and Ian (and their two little bundles of joy!), Ammie, Daine, and anyone else I can sweet-talk into spending time with me. It’s going to be a busy trip.
But until then, this is how I would spend my twelve hours in Evanston. Because this is a fantasy, I’m going to take the liberty of assuming that I can add people to these adventures as I see fit.
My perfect Evanston day would take place in October. It would be a sunny day with the crispness of fall and the smell of leaf tannins permeating the air. I would wear my favorite pink turtleneck sweater, and my hair would look fabulous. The day would start at the Evanston farmers’ market, where the tables would be loaded with freshly picked apples and pumpkins. Daphna would meet me at the market at 11 AM, like we did so many times before, and we would cruise around in circles, tasting this slice of pear and that paper cup of cider. We would stuff our bags full of the harvest’s best offerings and then head to lunch at Dixie Kitchen, a wonderful Cajun restaurant on Church Street.
At Dixie Kitchen, I would order the green goddess salad and a cup of the jambalaya. The salad comes with cornbread croutons and fried green tomatoes—those two items alone are reason enough to try the salad. The jambalaya is thick and spicy and so good that I make an exception for it in my otherwise vegetarian diet. To me, this is a perfect restaurant lunch—full of flavor, a reasonable amount of food, and it even includes a salad!
By this time, I’m ready for a walk, so I miraculously stash all my farmers’ market goodies somewhere, say good-bye to Daphna, and then meet up with Ammie at one of the train stations. From there, we walk down to the parks that line the edge of Lake Michigan and we stroll north to Northwestern University’s campus. We talk the whole time, except for those comfortable silences that are the signature of two people who know each other well. When we reach campus, we pause to admire the view of Chicago, which looks like this, only it’s even prettier in person. We turn around and head back south to downtown Evanston. After a visit to Argo Tea for some hot tea, we stroll down to the fountain and stop to rest. From her bag, Ammie pulls out a little container of her famous Orange Shortbread Chocolate Chip Cookies. We drink our tea, munch on her cookies, and tell each other how glad we have found our platonic cooking soulmate in the other. Then we both giggle and gag over the word “soulmate” and reminisce about our past and present lovers.
By this point we’ve finished our tea and we’re brushing cookie crumbs off our sweaters. We have a bit of time before dinner, so we walk over to Whole Foods to fondle the produce and discuss baking supplies. We find ourselves practically parked in front of the bulk spice section, discussing the relative merits of marjoram and tarragon. We fill a few baggies with spices because it would be a waste to not buy a few new spices while we are here. I drag Ammie with me to buy my favorite Whole Foods items—their organic peanut butter and tiny oatmeal cookies and a few bars of Chocolove chocolate. I sigh wistfully as we leave the store because I miss Whole Foods very much. We head across the street to Dave’s Italian Kitchen, where Matt, Daine and his wife, and Daphna and Ian join us. The seven of us head downstairs into the cheerful buzz of Dave’s.
We’re seated immediately and Matt shows off his palate by ordering a bottle of red wine that tastes like driving up the California coast in a convertible. Ian orders garlic bread for the table, and I urge everyone to order a calzone because Dave’s makes the best calzones I’ve ever eaten. We feast on bread and salad, calzones and pasta, and we sip red wine until it’s time to order another bottle. After the dinner dishes are cleared away, Daphna, who always gets her way, persuades us that we still have room in our bellies for chocolate mousse, so we order one for the table and take turns spooning up the rich, silky chocolate confection.
And because one can never have enough chocolate or laughter in this life, we head over to Kaffein for a little sweet something. As always, I’m torn about ordering a full-on dessert or the Mexican hot chocolate, the latter being my favorite item on the whole menu. A friendly compromise is struck: a few people order ice cream and a few of us order drinks. We pass spoons and glasses so that everyone can taste everything, and somehow, despite the chocolate mousse at Dave’s, we eat everything. I’m practically beaming with pride at our vigorous appetites. It must be all that autumn air and the smiling and laughing that made us so hungry.
Night has fallen by now. We stagger out of Kaffein and look at the stars, twinkling above us in the clear dark sky. It’s peaceful outside, despite the cars zipping past us on Chicago Avenue. My magical day in Evanston is almost over. As we all head our separate ways, I look up just in time to see a shooting star, and I wish for one more perfect day with all my favorite people. My vision is getting blurry with sleep, but I could almost swear that the night sky winks at me and I know that everything is going to be all right.