Some Shameless Self-Promotion...

Hello Readers!

I recently entered a contest over our local CBS affiliate, where they are creating a coffee table book of Chicago images captured by local photographers. It would really mean a lot to me if you would take the time to register and vote in support of some of my work.

To vote:
  1. Click where it says "hmlicata" at the top of the box below.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where my pictures are displayed, and click on one.
  3. If you like the photo, choose the "Yes! I dig it." option. If you don't, choose the "No. Nix it." option.
  4. For your votes to count, you must register for the website, which it will let you know. The site will direct you to the registration page. 

Thanks Everyone!



A Taste of Home...

Generally speaking, I am not the biggest fan of the suburbs. As Americans, we have fetishized the bucolic serenity of suburban life, turning the ideal of a single family dwelling with a yard and the proverbial "white picket fence" into our collective American Dream. It is not a dream that I share. I have no desire to manicure a lawn, spend hours commuting every day, or maintain a home.

I concede that I had a very privileged childhood in the suburbs, and I was very fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood that was safe, with excellent schools where I could receive a top-notch education. However, there were many areas in which my education was incomplete. My high school, for instance, often boasted that it was only 85% Caucasian, and thereby 15% diverse. My years in school there prepared me for college, but they did not prepare me for life in the real world.

Now that I am establishing a life for myself in the big city, I have trouble envisioning myself living in the suburbs again. Maybe someday, when I have children, I will understand the appeal. For the time being, Highland Park is just a place to go to visit my parents and my friends who are still living there, which is precisely what I did this weekend.

Primarily, I made the journey this particular weekend because Caitlin had suggested that we check out the relatively new "Taste of Highland Park," which has become an increasing focus of the annual Port Clinton Art Festival. I was fully prepared to hate the entire experience -- after all, the Port Clinton Art Festival used to be one of the highlights of my summer until Amy Amdur took it over several years ago. For the past couple years, there has been nothing there to tempt me at all, and I had no intention of going this time around. However, since I get so few opportunities to hang out with Caitlin, I thought I'd give the Taste of Highland Park a try. After all, as long as I could spend time with an old friend, it couldn't really turn out that badly.

I figured that such an event would likely be a pale imitation of the downtown original, but I tried to approach it with as much of an open mind as I could muster. Certainly, a city of Highland Park's size does not boast as many restaurants to draw from for such an event, but overall, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a decent variety of food options, although I think that the food was more expensive than that at the Taste of Chicago, and that's saying something. I made a point of trying dishes from restaurants that I had never previously patronized, and Caitlin and I were even able to find seats at which to consume our culinary bounty, which was also no small feat, considering how crowded it was.

The evening was made even more pleasant by unseasonably cool weather and the presence of live entertainment. Chicago's own 1960s powerhouse band, The Buckinghams, were there to perform all of their hits and a few covers of other bands' hits. We got to hear "Kind of a Drag," "Don't You Care," and "Hey Baby, They're Playing Our Song." Of the covers that they played, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and "Smoke on the Water" were the most ridiculous, whereas Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" had the crowd on their feet. It was a perfect suburban night -- not too rowdy, a little bit nostalgic, and most importantly, a little bit unexpected.


When I Grow Up - Part Two

I saw this today on xkcd, a webcomic that I like to read from time to time. I thought it tied in nicely with my post from last week, so I thought I'd share it with all of you.


A Serendipitous Sighting...

Tonight was a beautiful, temperate evening in the city of Chicago. Dad decided to seize the moment to meet his friend, Mr. Horan, for a drink after work at the Park Grill, and he invited me along to meet them for dinner. It was an average meal at our regular haunt, although we broke with tradition by taking a seat on the crowded outdoor patio to soak up one of the waning days of summer. We were engaged in a bit of inattentive people-watching, when a commotion caught the crowd's attention. I glanced over, and grabbed Dad's arm. "Look, that's him!"

Once again, I found myself in the presence of the famous Vincent Falk.

That morning, I had glanced at my camera as it sat on the desk, fresh from yesterday's upload of Macy's photos. "Meh, maybe I'll just leave it here today," I thought, "I'm not doing anything today, and I really ought to charge the battery." But I dutifully packed it anyway, thinking, "If I don't bring it, I'll regret it." I never expected to be right, but indeed I was. 

Mr. Falk came dancing and spinning down the walkway in front of the restaurant, sporting a powder blue suit, hot pink shirt and matching pocket square. I fumbled for my camera, and Dad, ever the risk-taker, asked Mr. Falk if I could take a picture before he danced away. I was half-mortified, and forgot to turn on the flash, resulting in a grainy photo, but I got my proof that I had seen him with my own eyes. I can't believe my good fortune:  I've spotted him twice in one month, after going years without seeing him at all! 

It must have been fate. I very nearly missed Dad's call with the invitation to come out; I could have decided to stay home and eat chicken salad, as planned; we could have sat inside, as we almost always do. A thousand things could have transpired to cause me to miss seeing Mr. Falk again. You never know what life has in store for you. In the immortal words of one of my favorite movies, Risky Business, "Sometimes, you gotta say, 'What the fuck?'" If you are open to the opportunities life presents, occasionally, the rewards can be truly surprising.


Fields Forever...

The Beatles may have written about "Strawberry Fields," but I speak of the eternal greatest of a Fields of a different origin: Marshall Field's. The local retail giant may have gone defunct in 2005, after selling out to Macy's, but true Chicagoans will always hold Marshall Field's close to their hearts. The former flagship location on State Street is a poignant reminder of the glory days of the past, when Frango Mints were a Chicago-only treat that made a great gift for out-of-town friends and relatives, an afternoon luncheon at the Walnut Room was the height of sophistication, and the customer was always right. Now, particularly in this economic slump, one can scarcely find a salesperson on duty at Macy's, and they are chronically short on shopping bags at the State Street store. Nevertheless, Mom and I made a bargain-hunting pilgrimage this afternoon.

I do feel some slight pangs of guilt at patronizing the corporation that killed the illustrious Marshall Field's, but there is one thing in particular that keeps drawing me to the State Street store, besides the constant onslaught of coupons Macy's sends to my apartment: the building itself. Opened in 1907, the second incarnation of Field's (the first was destroyed in the Chicago Fire) featured a glorious mosaic ceiling designed by none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany himself. There are no architectural features that I love more than mosaics and stained-glass windows, so what could possibly be better than a mosaic ceiling designed by the 20th century's foremost artisan of glass? Nothing.

This ceiling covered the central atrium of the original department store, and was Tiffany's first, and largest ceiling project utilizing the irridescent favrile glass for which he would later become famous. The ceiling was relegated to a corner of the store when the building was expanded to the size of a full city block in 1914, but I tend to think that the move increases its magical qualities. The store is intentionally difficult to navigate -- in your effort to find what you are looking for, you will pass the maximum amount of other merchandise. Therefore, I often come upon the Tiffany atrium on accident, continuously being reminded of its presence. It always takes my breath away.

It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite places in the city. If I weren't so terrified of standing next to the railings in large atria (seriously, the scene where Tai gets dangled over the ledge at the mall in Clueless scarred me for life), I could spend hours looking at it.

While we were at Macy's, we also hunted down an exhibit of costumes worn by Miss Piggy. Mom, as many of you are aware, is a bit of a Muppet aficionado, so the installation was a bit of a must-see, since we were at the store anyhow. It turned out to be smaller than we had expected, consisting of only five costumes, but the workmanship was impressive for such tiny garments.

Each outfit was created by such real-life designers as Jason Wu and Burberry. My favorite ensemble was the Sex and the City-inspired look with the printed trench coat (center, in the above photo), while Mom preferred the sequined gown paired with the hot-pink feather boa. I will say, there was a certain je ne sais quois about that ensemble which really captured the essence of Miss Piggy. I will also say that the pig really knows her jewelry! She had some very enviable baubles to complement her porcine couture.

Even if the Macy's experience lacks some of the polish and the panache of the Marshall Field era, the State Street store does offer up a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It may be a little bittersweet to be reminded of what the city has lost in the absence of Marshall Field's, but life must go on. If it can go on in the very cute art nouveau-inspired dress that I picked up today, all the better.


When I Grow Up...

As a child, you dream about all the things in store for you as a grownup. You'll be able to drive and go wherever you want, when you want. You'll have your own money to spend on whatever you can afford. No one will be able to tell you what to do. You'll have total freedom, and total control.

Then, when you actually grow up, you realize that the rosy future you imagined isn't all it was cracked up to be. There are budgets, responsibilities, limitations, and disappointments that you never would have dreamt of as a starry-eyed child. Suddenly, the life with the perfect job, perfect mate, cozy little house, and two children and a dog seems further away than ever. Instead, today's job market provides newly-minted adults with a new reality of lingering dependency. The jobs one can obtain often don't pay sufficiently to provide a life of security. Only now, two years after graduating college, do the majority of people I knew in high school live someplace other than with their parents, although a sizable portion of them have still not been able to "leave the nest," myself included. Instead of independent adulthood, it seems like many people I know are caught in a sort of prolonged adolescence.

By all measures that we've been taught our whole lives to measure success, it is hard to shake a creeping sense of failure. For those of you who couldn't understand what I meant by experiencing a "quarter-life" crisis, these are its fundamental underpinnings. Just as with a mid-life crisis, the dilemma stems from the clash in how you perceive your accomplishments, relative to where you imagined you would be at a certain point in your life.

That is not to say that there are no bright spots in life. To the contrary, there is still plenty to be happy about -- friends, the excitements of life in a bustling city, family, and good food. To that end, tonight I experienced one of those little victories that let me know that being a grownup does have certain advantages.

Last week, as my Mom took me grocery shopping, I decided to indulge a festering craving, and indulge in a culinary vice that I haven't partaken of in years: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. As a child, Mom would only ever buy the plain, elbow macaroni variety. I would beg and beg for the fun-shaped pasta, made more expensive by the licensed characters who formed the noodles and graced the cans, but Mom, ever-savvy, very seldom relented. With the exception of some Where's Waldo? mac and cheese that I can recall to this day, I had to satisfy my craving for the illicit food product at my friend Audrey's house. Her mom always bought the good stuff. It may have something to do with all the nooks and crannies created by the unusual shapes holding on to the sauce more efficiently, or just the aspect of being forbidden fruit, but the character-based mac and cheese always tasted a thousand times better.

So, as we stood in the aisle at Jewel, I studied the shelf judiciously, and ultimately reached for the Spongebob Squarepants box. "You know that's like 50 cents more than the normal Kraft," Mom said, "Almost twice as expensive." I clutched the blue cardboard box and looked defiantly at her. "If I'm paying for it, I'm buying Spongebob; I don't care!" It was truly a ridiculous thing to feel victorious about; as an adult, with my own money to spend, I could finally buy cartoon character-themed macaroni and cheese. It felt really good nonetheless...

... and it tasted even better.


Time Keeps on Slippin' Into The Future...

Where does the time go? It seems as if time is, as W. Somerset Maugham proclaimed it, an "everlasting present," but simultaneously, time seems to fly by at a truly alarming rate. At the farmers' market this week, bins of apples were already making their appearance. It's only a matter of time before apples are the only thing left in season besides hard squash. 

Later, in an internet search for fall activities, I discovered that this season's corn mazes are already open for business. Where did the summer go? Not that I'm going to miss the humidity and the heat, but I am nevertheless concerned about the fleeting presence of three months of my life. I've been plenty busy, as my previous posts will attest, but it feels like the time has evaporated before my eyes.

In less than a week I'm going to have my one year anniversary at my job. In many ways, it feels like I just started; for instance, many of my coworkers still have no clue what my name is, or what I do. Nevertheless, much has happened in the past twelve months at the office: I moved offices, I recruited an intern who has since come and gone, and I had my first performance evaluation. Despite everything I've accomplished, I still can't shake that feeling of newness.

Then tonight, I finally met up with my friend Caitlin for dinner. In the course of conversation, we discovered that we had not seen each other since mid-May. We had both been busy, and somehow, three months went by unnoticed. It just goes to show how easy it is to lose touch with your friends, even with the best of intentions. If you value your friendships, you must make their maintenance a major priority. Otherwise, time will pass, and major life events will unfold before you even know what has happened.  It is most certainly trite to say, but that's how life is -- blink and you'll miss it. So what are you waiting for? Go call that friend you haven't talked to in ages; you'll both be glad you did!


Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life...

Life, it would seem, is an endless cycle of routines. I get up every day at the same time, leave for work at the same time, engage in a similar set of work-related tasks for eight hours, and then, on the majority of days, I return home to a solitary evening of television and surfing the web. I have been keeping myself a bit busier of late; as it turns out, starting this blog has been a tremendous source of motivation to get out and do interesting things, so that I'll have something to write about. Generally speaking, however, my life is subject to the normal ebb and flow of daily life, and it is comfortable, if somewhat tedious.

That is why it is so important to look for joy in the small things, the innocuous events that provide a little relief from the typical routine. Last week, for instance, I was sitting on the bus, vacantly staring out the window, when a commotion caught my eye. A man was standing in the middle of the State Street Bridge in a bright yellow suit and turquoise shirt, waving his jacket in the air and twirling around. At first, I was dismissive. I thought, "Meh, just another crazy," but then, like a flash, I realized that I was in the presence of Suit Man, aka Riverace, aka Vincent Falk. If I had been wearing more comfortable shoes, I would have jumped off the bus at that very stop, backtracked, and taken a picture. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't do it anyway.

You see, Mr. Falk is a Chicago legend. There is even a documentary about him.

Okay, so I stole this one from Flickr. He's at least wearing the same outfit.

Blind from birth in one eye, and legally blind in the other, Mr. Falk has had a hard life. He was abandoned by his mother, raised in orphanages and foster homes, until he finally found a good foster family who adopted him. He was often picked on as a child for his disability, and pursued a line of work where he could spend a great deal of time alone: computer sciences. Despite his tragic origins, he chooses to spread joy to others. He has adopted a technicolor wardrobe of ostentatious suits, selected because the bright colors are easiest for him to see. He spends his free time, in the warmer months, as a one-man welcome wagon for the city of Chicago. Mr. Falk stands on the State Street and Michigan Avenue bridges in his flamboyant ensembles, using a monocle to scout out approaching cruise ships. As they near, Mr. Falk performs a whirling dance routine for the tourists.

Some speculate that he does his little dance to break down barriers. I like to think that he is claiming ownership of people's stares. If people are going to gawk at him, at least it's because he is performing for them, not because they are poking fun at his disability. It's on his own terms. Mr. Falk, however, claims that he just likes to cheer people up, and that he certainly does.

In all my years of life in the city, I had never seen him before. Ever since I first read about him in the
Chicago Tribune a couple years ago, I had been on the lookout. I was starting to wonder if he was real, or just another urban legend. Now I have seen him with my own eyes, albeit just a glimpse, but the experience made my entire day. His wacky ebullience is infectious. Not only is he a one man attraction for tourists, he also provides a moment of escape for the jaded locals who go about their days on autopilot, screening out the life of the city all around them. Seeing him, in his kaleidoscopic swirl, I was jarred into paying attention to my surroundings. For an instant, I was living in the moment, and outside of my routine. I think that would brighten anyone's day.


'Cause It's Root, Root, Root For the Cubbies...

It seems like my life has been unfolding in unpredictable ways this week. First there was my last minute remix of my plans for Spring Awakening. Then, yesterday, Dad let me know that we had Cubs tickets for today that were not yet spoken for. I had asked him about the remaining tickets in our season package, as Lauren had previously mentioned to me that she and Clarence had never been to a baseball game since they moved to Chicago last year, and I thought it would be nice to invite them. Apparently I was not persistent enough in my queries, because he didn't get back to me until the last minute, but thankfully I was able to get a hold of Lauren and they were both free to come to the game. Compared to yesterday, it was relatively drama-free.

Our tickets come with a parking pass, but with no cars, we were relegated to the monstrously packed Red Line to trek north to Wrigley Field. Today's game coincided with the annual Chicago Air and Water Show, which only added to the hordes of people, but if we had to be stuck in a crowded train, it was at least before the game, so the passengers were not yet drunken and rowdy. We timed it perfectly, and arrived at the ballpark just in time for the game to start.

Wrigley Field, and my quasi-successful first attempt at taking a panoramic photo.

The Cubs faced the Pittsburgh Pirates today, after slaughtering them yesterday, 17-2. Personally, I think some of the Cubs' good fortune can be attributed to the distraction provided by the planes soaring overhead. At several points throughout the game it was easy to tell that the crowd was paying more attention to the flips and spirals of the planes than the game, as their cheers were unrelated to the action on the field. I even caught some of the outfielders craning their necks to check out the action to the east, instead of keeping their eyes on the ball. After the slump the Cubs have been in lately, anything that will turn the tide is welcome.

Check out that neon-green relish! Now those are some proper Chicago-style hot dogs!

Since I'm not much of a baseball fan, the unique Chicagocana of the Wrigley Field experience is the highlight of any afternoon spent at the "friendly confines" for me. There's the rooftop seats on the neighboring buildings, the Chicago-style hot dogs with the neon-green relish (although, I confess, in this regard I'm not a real Chicagoan -- I much prefer some sauteed onions and ketchup, sacrilegious, I know), the ridiculous animated squeegee race on the Jumbotron below the scoreboard, the fact that there's still a manual scoreboard at all, and 41,000 fans standing up to sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" led by a local celebrity during the seventh inning stretch. We lucked out today by having John Cusack in town to perform the honor.

Alfonso Soriano, my favorite Cubs player, at bat.

Just to show how little I know about baseball, there are only three Cubs players whose names I can recite from memory -- Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano, and Milton Bradley, whose name I can only recall because it is the same as the board game company. Of these players, I know very little. I don't know what positions they play, or whether they're even any good, but I know that Soriano is my favorite. Why, you ask? The answer is simple -- his knee socks. While all the other Cubs players opt for the contemporary full-length pant uniforms, Soriano keeps it old school with breaches and knee socks. I might not know anything else about him, but I certainly appreciate his retro style.

Lauren and I on our way out of the "friendly confines."

Despite the 90 degree temperatures, there was a pleasant breeze blowing, and the overhang provided some shade to keep us out of the direct sunlight after about the second inning. The convivially drunken fans behind us provided some comic relief as they ruminated endlessly on ballpark bathroom survival strategies. All in all, it was a rather pleasant way to spend the afternoon, and I'm glad I was able to invite Lauren and Clarence along for the experience.

Oh, and as for the game, the Cubs won, but we were already long gone. We successfully evaded the crowds on the post-game public transit, and most importantly, I didn't have to listen to the "Go, Cubs, Go" song that is played at the end of every home victory. That song is an earworm of epic proportions. But that's a story for another day...


The Bitch of Living...

Just when it seems that you've passed into adulthood, and left all the angst of adolescence blissfully in the past, drama inevitably seems to re-enter the scene. Such was the case in the wee hours of the morning today, when my friend Caitlin caught me just before I was going to go to bed, with a message that she was going to have to cancel on me for tonight's plans. We had long since scheduled a dinner into our busy calendars, and when we discovered that Spring Awakening, the 2007 Tony winner for Best Musical, was going to be in town, we added that to the agenda as well. We were both excited to see the show, but she was unexpectedly called out of town for a job interview. It was good news for her, but bad news for me.

Once again, I found myself in the stressful position of scrambling much of the day to find someone to use the extra ticket. It seemed like no one was answering their phones, or that everyone I could get a hold of was already busy. I was finally able to persuade Natasha, my friend from work, to tweak her schedule and come along. I found myself in a similar situation back in April, when I had an extra ticket to go see Andrew Bird perform at the Civic Opera House, and it ended up going to waste. It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to get people to do something spontaneously, even if you offer them free entertainment. I suppose that binding obligations are one of the unfortunate consequences of adulthood.

Natasha and I in front of the Oriental Theater.

So, in a sense, it was oddly appropriate that I cap off a day filled with so much hand-wringing with a musical that explores the deepest depths of teen angst. Spring Awakening tells the story of a group of German teens at the end of the 19th century. The oppressive religious and intellectual climate of that era has left the youths with few tools to understand the changes occurring in both their bodies and their minds.

Moritz is a young man who is tormented by his nascent sexual urges, and is driven to such distraction that he is failing in school. His friend Melchoir is world-wise, but his knowledge of sex and contemporary philosophy isolates him from the traditionally-minded townspeople. Wendla, the principle female character, yearns to understand the adult world, yet clings to the simplicity of childhood innocence. The cast is rounded out with such conflicted characters as Martha, a girl who is the victim of incest, Hanschen and Ernst, two homosexual teens coming to terms with their feelings for one another, and Ilse, a girl who was turned out of her parents home and must resort to a life of vagrancy. By the end of the production, most of the main characters have met a terrible and tragic end.

Somehow, despite the characters' collective misery, the story manages to end on a hopeful note. I think this is largely accomplished through the upbeat energy of the score, composed by 90's one-hit wonder, Duncan Sheik (whose song, "Barely Breathing" was one of the anthems of my own adolescent angst). Spring Awakening is often lauded as having single-handedly reinvented the musical theater genre, and while I feel that it owes a great deal of debt to other contemporary pop/rock musicals like Rent, it does what it does very well. I came home after the show and downloaded the soundtrack right away. The songs were disarmingly catchy, and very effective.

What didn't exactly work about this particular production were the vocals of the two principles, Jake Epstein (Melchoir) and Christy Altomare (Wendla). Altomare's voice was a bit thin for the role, as was that of Epstein, who is a D-list celebrity of Disney Channel extraction, clearly out trying to dispel the wholesome image of his years on Degrassi: The Next Generation by baring his (admittedly very nice) bare-bottom in a simulated sex act every night, nationwide. That being said, I should not have so lightly dismissed the parental warning from the theater's website; despite the teenage subject matter, Spring Awakening is most decidedly not appropriate for kids under at least fifteen or so. Still, seeing as how I don't think there is anyone among my readership who falls into that demographic, I highly recommend Spring Awakening if you have a chance to see it. Just make sure you go into the theater with an open mind.


Bon Apétit...

I have a confession to make: I do not own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. To the best of my knowledge, I have never prepared one of Julia Child's recipes. I only have very vague memories of watching reruns of The French Chef at some point in my childhood. All of these facts are further proof that I am still somewhat of a poseur when it comes to the world of food enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the concepts that Julia re-introduced to American cooking -- the satisfaction that can be found in cooking from scratch, an eschewing of convenience food products, and an adventurous culinary spirit -- have definitely informed my kitchen sensibilities.

Therefore, the new film Julie and Julia was an absolute must-see for me, and I virtually rushed to the theater to see it on Sunday. I can unequivocally say that I really enjoyed it. Of course, there was the obligatory food porn (never have I left a movie feeling quite so hungry), but the movie transcended the arena of culinary appreciation, and captured my imagination on several fronts.

First, being deep in a quarter-life crisis of my own, I could easily relate to the dilemma of the main characters. When life doesn't live up to your expectations, how do you figure out what to do with yourself? How do you build a life based on your passions? Those are questions that I struggle with every day, and it was very inspiring to experience the stories of two women who not only figured it out, but were incredibly successful in doing so. That their passion was food was merely icing on the cake.

Second, I could empathize with Julie's struggles in launching her blog. There is definitely a certain neurosis that comes with putting your thoughts and feelings out into the ether for the consumption of others. I too have felt Julie's pain of wondering if she had any readers, or if her efforts were for naught. Particularly poignant for me was the moment when she finally received her first comment, only to find that it was her mother, asking if she was the only person reading the blog, and why she was wasting her time on it. I've certainly been there myself.

Finally, the nature of Julie's project was inherently inspiring. Julie set out to make all 524 recipes contained in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days. She didn't discriminate based on her existing food prejudices (of which she had many; indeed, prior to starting, she had never consumed an egg that wasn't baked into something). Instead, she made everything, including the meat-flavored jellos known as aspics, and completed kitchen tasks that had previously intimidated her, such as cooking live lobsters or butchering whole birds.

As for me, I decided to head home that very night, and adopt Julie's new "no fear" mantra in my own kitchen, and prepare a dish that I had been eying for some time: scallion pancakes. I had a package of green onions languishing in the fridge, but for some reason, the complicated process of making and rolling out the dough, coupled with my general failure to master the art of griddled food, had deterred me from attempting the Chinese restaurant classic in my own kitchen. But, full of inspiration, I was determined to overcome my trepidations.
In the process of rolling out pancakes.
As with most of the things I angst about, it turned out that I need not have worried. The process of adding the boiling water to the flour to create the dough was not nearly as scary or dangerous as I had anticipated. There was actually something therapeutic about sprinkling the scallions onto the thinly rolled dough, rolling them up into a snake, turning the snake into a coil, and then re-flattening the coil into a pancake to create dozens of flaky layers. Julia Child would have been proud -- I found joy in what others would see as a tedious task, I created something delicious, and I got my kitchen mojo back after several weeks of feeling little motivation to cook. All in all, definitely money well spent at the movie theater!

I even managed to successfully griddle the pancakes to a state of golden-brown deliciousness!


And The Results Are In...

Thanks to all of you who voted in my vacation poll, both of you. I think this is a ominous sign that online voting wouldn't necessarily improve voter turnout if it were implemented in political elections. That, or it's an ominous sign that there are only two people out there reading my blog. I prefer to think the former...

Of the options I presented, the trip to Austria and Hungary was the winner, with a whopping two votes. And, as luck would have it, that is roughly where we decided to go earlier this week, before voting was over. On October 1st, we are going to fly to Munich and on to Budapest, where we will spend a few days before training back to Munich, by way of Vienna. This plan has several advantages:
  • I've never been to Hungary, therefore I can scratch another country off my list in my life goal of seeing all the countries of Europe. 
  • Hungary was once behind the Iron Curtain, and has several Communist-era sights to visit.
  • It's been about eleven or twelve years since I last went to Vienna, and I can't remember a thing about it, other than eating lots of wienerschnitzel.
  • We'll be in two German-speaking cities, so I can get some practice in, even if the dialects are slightly different from what I'm used to.
  • All three cities are bastions of Baroque architecture, one of Dad's favorite styles (and have splendid, but less prevalent, examples of Secessionist architecture, the Austro-Hungarian form of Art Nouveau, which is one of my favorite styles.)
But, then again, I think it would be fairly difficult to go wrong with a European vacation, regardless of where you go. I beyond ready for a vacation, and I'm certainly excited about all the possibilities of our journey to come!


Maybe It's Just a Phase...

It is one of the maxims of the food world that thou shall eat seasonably. One should enjoy the bountiful fruits and vegetables of summer in light, low-maintenance meals like salads. In winter, it is time for hearty stews of meats and root vegetables, and creamy or cheesy comfort foods. In the summer, we are told by food magazines that it is time to cook outside on the grill, and avoid heating up our homes by running the stove or the oven. Normally, I say bollox to conventional wisdom, and cook whatever I want, when I want. My dishes may have a huge carbon footprint, but they either satisfy a craving for a specific flavor, or a yearning to perform a specific kitchen task. In the past, this has meant chicken in mustard cream sauce in July, or raspberry sorbet in January.

Recently, however, I came to a startling realization: I was preparing a cup of tea at work when one of my colleagues inquired as to whether I had baked the cake that was gracing the break room counter. "No," I replied, "I think it was the summer legal associate." As I walked away, it hit me: I couldn't remember the last time I had baked something!

Shocking, I know. Upon further reflection, I realized that I had not baked any dessert for over a month, when I took cookies to Abel and Katie when I visited D.C. in June. Furthermore, I had not brought any goodies in to work since my birthday, when I prepared cupcakes to use up extra frosting from my birthday cake. Back when I first started at the museum, I had embarked on a program of baking cookies for my coworkers every other week in an effort to bring myself to their attention. Initially, I provided the cookies anonymously, which created an irresistible mystery. Everyone wanted to know who the "cookie fairy" was, and it helped to break the ice with my peers.

Last weekend I decided to end the dry spell, and offered to bake up a batch of peanut butter cookies (a legend over at the office), to bring to my picnic with Lauren. Much to my horror, when I went to put the cookies away, I discovered a layer of dust on my cookie jar. It really had been a long time!

Peanut Butter Cookies, are you jealous?
As it turns out, I have been focusing my kitchen efforts on treats of the frozen variety. Ever since my Fourth of July party it has been an endless procession of popsicles and homemade frozen yogurt. There was even sorbet on the agenda for this week, before my injured neck put me out of commission. If I can hardly comb my own hair, I think churning sorbet in my manual ice cream machine is definitely out of the question. Hopefully I'll be feeling better soon; it would be nice to capitalize on this unintentional inclination towards seasonally appropriate food production while the impulse still grabs me, because goodness knows, it doesn't happen very often.



Note the poll to your right. As it turns out, there seems to be no consensus on where we should go on our annual father-daughter vacation. Since we can't agree, and we need to make a decision soon, I thought I would reach out for other opinions. Don't forget to perform your civic duty!



Good things have not been happening in my corner of the world recently. In July alone, Lisa lost her job, I found out that Darrell's father had passed away, my cousin Danielle has been suffering from terrible gall bladder attacks, Irene's husband was rushed to the hospital for an emergency MRI due to debilitating headaches, Katherine faced a major immigration crisis concerning her beloved housepets, and my mom and I spent time on Sunday taking clothes and furnishings over to my friend Natasha, who lost a large chunk of her possessions in a devastating apartment fire last week. I was starting to wonder, is it me? Am I some sort of Typhoid Mary of bad luck? How could bad things be happening to so many of the people in my life?

Then, yesterday, when I was working on a post, I happened to glance over at the list of tags I have employed in my blog, noting with relief that the only tag I had used just once was that for "health." I congratulated myself on my good fortune for the past few months. Aside from my mono scare, I had been relatively healthy. I shouldn't have tempted fate.

This morning, when I went to turn off my alarm, I felt a horrible pain in my shoulder and neck. I stopped short, unable to reach the alarm and silence the horrific buzzing. I finally did it, but I could barely get out of bed, and every attempt I made to move anything above my elbows resulted in excruciating pain. I managed to take some Motrin and slink back to bed. I called in sick.

Clearly, I jinxed myself with my premature self-congratulation on my health. It's taken all day to be able to sit upright, and even now, I have about a two-inch range of motion in my neck. It would appear that I am not immune to the bad luck that's been going around lately. Still, in the interest of full-disclosure, if you are reading this, and everything seems to be going fine in your life, you'd better watch your back...


500 Days of Summer...

Ugh, banish the thought. I have already documented my disdain for the long, hot days of my most dreaded season. This year, I have completely lucked out: Chicago has just finished its coolest July in the history of city record-keeping. No days above 90 degrees, less than 30 days above 80 for the entire summer so far. To Mother Nature I say, "Keep 'em coming!"

Today was the first day of the last month of summer. To celebrate, I headed out to see the appropriately titled 500 Days of Summer. I had high hopes, and had not been put off by the mostly mixed reviews I had read all over the internet in advance of my outing. Most people seemed to struggle with whether they enjoyed the film or not, deciding instead, to praise it for being clever, and for its departures from the typical Hollywood rom-com formula. Here, boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy misreads signals put out by girl, they break up miserably, and they live happily ever after, but not with one another. All of which you learn in the opening moments of the film, where you are instructed, "This is not a love story. It is a story about love," so I'm not really spoiling anything for you.

I have a soft spot for quirky love stories set to soundtracks that could have been pulled from one of my own playlists. I was first sucked into the genre by Garden State, whose soundtrack quickly became the soundtrack to my sophomore year of college. Its songs were all in the "Top 25 Most Played" list on my iPod, and when I listen to it now, I am instantly transported back to my favorite armchair at the Olin Library. Ever since, I have been susceptible to the charms of a well-curated soundtrack. When I heard the distinctive notes of Sufjan Stevens' "Chicago" in the trailer for Little Miss Sunshine, I put the film on my "must see" list. It may have been the most I've ever laughed out loud during a movie. When I found out that Juno featured music from Belle and Sebastian (my favorite band, and the source of my blog's moniker), my mind was made up that I had to see it. And I loved it.

Therefore, it was pretty much a given that I was going to enjoy 500 Days of Summer. Musically, there may not have been any Belle and Sebastian, but they received a prominent shout-out in the script; Patrick Swayze's "She's Like the Wind" was used to excellent comedic effect (and truly, how can anyone take that song seriously to begin with?). Critics of the film maligned the lack of character development, opining that the film failed to delve into the depth of Summer's motivations in particular. I, for one, did not mind. For me, the movie was very much about the unintended ramifications of our actions, and that in a relationship, one can never be sure of what their partner is thinking. If we were privy to Summer's thought processes in ways that Tom was not, it would have been a totally different film. I thought it was better to leave an aura of mystique around her.

It is, after all, summertime. I may not be the type for summer blockbusters full of CGI explosions, but that doesn't mean I'm in the mood to think very hard. Hollywood can save its sophisticated fare for the fall, a time that invites introspection and pensiveness. By then, I'll be ready to digest the studio's drives for Oscar glory. For now, I'm happy to take in some good tunes, and a little post-modern romance -- even if it is, by nature, full of angst. Just because it is summer doesn't mean I have to be happy about it.