An Apple A Day...

In addition to Mom's health crisis and subsequent surgery, a tragedy of a different sort has also befallen me this month -- my friend Lauren, my one local pal who I could turn to for last minute plans, moved to the suburbs. Sure, it's closer to her and her husband's work, and they can get more bang for their buck in terms of housing. I'm happy for them, really, but I've also been sad to see her go. Since I was in the suburbs this weekend for Mom and the dog, I opted to meet Lauren and her husband on their new turf, for breakfast.

In the northern suburbs, there's really only one choice for breakfast in my humble opinion: Walker Bros. Original Pancake House. I'm not really sure why it's the "original" pancake house, considering they have locations all over the northern burbs, but I do know that it got a cinematic shout-out in the iconic North Shore movie, Mean Girls, and they have an item on their menu so delicious, and so decadent, that you're practically eating dessert for breakfast -- the apple pancake.

Truly, the term "apple pancake" is inadequate to describe a confection that likely hails from the gods themselves. It's more of an eggy souffle, topped with a liberal helping of perfectly spiced cinnamon apples. It's also enormous. Splitting one with another person is almost mandatory, and even then, it tests the stretching capabilities of the human stomach. It is so, so worth the uncomfortably full feeling you get afterwards, however. The apple pancake at Walker Bros. is one of the few things in life for which I will voluntarily get out of bed early on a weekend. It's that tasty...


Sibling Rivalry...

During Mom's surgery and early convalescence, I find myself here in Highland Park, not so much to care for her as to care for Caesar, so she won't have to worry about his care. Whatever the patient wants, the patient gets, and if walking and feeding the dog will give her peace of mind, I'm happy to oblige. I'm not sure, however, that Caesar is happy to be in my care. As I've previously documented, he doesn't much care for me. Sure, he tolerates my offerings of food and treats, but we both know he'd rather have his mama home to tend to his every canine need.

One of my most difficult duties vis-a-vis the dog has been sleeping with him at night. For a creature of less than 15 pounds, he somehow manages to hog most of the bed. He starts out the evening by staking a claim to my pillow, from which he refuses to budge. He snarls and snaps at me if I try to dislodge him. Then, during the night, one of two things will happen. He will either crawl between my legs when I'm sleeping on my back and refuse to let me move for the rest of the evening, or he siddles up against me and into every iota of space that I vacate, slowing forcing me across the bed in search of new space, until eventually, I have to get up and start over from the other side. It doesn't exactly make for a restful evening.

Caesar looks all cute and innocent sitting by that pillow, but make no mistake, he's ready to defend "his" territory.

But, frustrating as he can be, he's a part of our family. Even if he doesn't give me much affection in return, it's hard to deny that precious little face. I love him anyway, even if he'd rather bite me than snuggle in my lap. And for Mom's sake, I'll risk life and limb to take care of him until she's back on her feet.


Put 'Em Back The Way They Was...

For those of you not in the know, my mom has been suffering a pelvic organ prolapse for nearly two months now, meaning her bladder and rectum were literally falling out of her body. The entire situation has been rather uncomfortable for her, and after a shockingly long series of tests and surgical consultations, she finally went in for her surgery today to have everything put back in its rightful place. The surgery went well, although it was delayed by nearly four hours by an emergency case that the surgeon needed to attend to first. It was all over by approximately 7:30pm, and she was awake by 9:30. I invite you to join me in wishing her a swift and uncomplicated recovery in the comments.


Enter Sandman...

I go through my life tired. I'm tired from the moment I wake up until about 8 or 9 o'clock at night, just in time to be alert and active at a reasonable bedtime. I often have a hard time staying awake during the day, no matter how much caffeine I consume, and every work day culminates in a "power nap" as soon as I get home. It doesn't seem to matter how much sleep I get; whether it's a meager 5-6 hours or 8-9 hours or more on a weekend, exhaustion is my constant companion. When I used to live with my parents, my chipper father would start every day with an inquiry about whether I was starting my day, "refreshed, invigorated, and ready to face the world," to which my response was always an emphatic "no."

For years, I've been mentioning this to my doctors, only to have my concerns minimalized. In high school, my pediatrician would tell me that I was a teenager, and it was natural to be tired. In college, doctors blamed late night studying and an unpredictable sleep schedule. But now that I'm an adult, working regular hours and going to bed at a relatively consistent time, there were no more easy excuses. When I mentioned my constant tiredness to the new doctor I've been seeing, she ordered a sleep study to get to the bottom of things.

In advance of my appointment with the sleep specialist, I had to answer several pages worth of questions about my sleep habits, and the anomalies in my sleeping behavior. Ultimately, the doctor would prove to be most concerned about the fact that I sometimes dream when I briefly drift off during the day, the fact that I experience hypnogogic hallucinations (I see things that aren't really there when falling asleep or waking up), and that I have sleep paralysis when I take a nap without an alarm to startle me awake. (Sleep paralysis,is an inability to move when you are falling asleep or waking up. Your mind is awake and aware, but your body is paralyzed. It's approximately as scary as it sounds.) These symptoms, combined with the constant daytime sleepiness, are signs of both sleep deprivation, possibly caused by sleep apnea, but also narcolepsy. (Contrary to the way it is portrayed in Hollywood, not all narcoleptics experience cataplexy, the random and sudden loss of consciousness at inappropriate times.) Hence, the doctor wanted me to come in right away for a sleep study, in which I would spend the night at the office and they would monitor my brainwaves, heart rate, breathing, and movement during sleep.

I showed up at the sleep center at 8:30, and was ushered to a room not unlike a cheap hotel room. I would get a queen size bed, a desk, and a small television that only appeared to receive ABC for the evening, and a private bathroom with a lidless toilet and a sink that might have been a spit basin at a dentist's office in a previous life. However, the lack of amenities was the least of my troubles in procuring a decent night's sleep. There were electrodes glued all over my scalp and face to measure brain activity, my eye movement, and whether I grind my teeth in my sleep. There was a tube up my nose to measure my breathing, which was perhaps the most uncomfortable of all the apparatuses I had to wear, as it made me feel like sneezing every time I moved. There were EKG pads glued to my chest, electrodes on my legs to monitor their nocturnal movements, and a sensor near my mouth to measure when and if I breathed through it during the night. I defy anyone to be comfortable in that situation.

This is going to be the most unflattering photo of myself that I'm ever going to put in the public domain.

The technician put me to bed around 9:30, a full two hours earlier than I'm accustomed to going to bed, and woke me at five in the morning -- so early that I had to take a cab home because the bus doesn't even run at that hour on a Sunday. I use the term "woke" loosely, as I'm not sure that I slept much at all during the night. I won't get my results for another two weeks, but for now my greatest concern is that I'll have to go back for another sleepless night due to insufficient data from my first test. This could be one instance in which the cure is worse than the disease...


You Can't Always Get What You Want...

For the entire month of July, there was only one item on my special to-do list -- attending the annual Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Indiana. For me, there might be no more perfect food than the humble pierogi. They combine so many things that I love: dumplings, pasta, and mashed potatoes. What is there not to love about them? A whole festival dedicated to them, including a mascot clad in a pierogi suit? Count me in! I've been aware of the Pierogi Festival for a few years now, having it seen it on the Food Network somewhere along the line, but had never managed to make it there. This year, I vowed, would be different. I wrote it in my day-planner months ago. Only one thing stood in my way -- the only way to Whiting is by car.

I figured the solution would be simple; I'd go up to Highland Park, pick up my car and some friends, and head southeast. However, as the date approached, Mom became deeply uncomfortable with me driving there, given my lack of driving experience in recent years. She put her foot down, and there was going to be no convincing her. So I took the issue to my limited handful of friends with cars who I thought might be interested in a day dedicated to pierogis. No luck there either.

Dejected, I found myself discussing my disappointment with my friend Darrell, who suggested that I make the best of a bad situation by making my own pierogis. Ever the chef, he meant making them from scratch, which did hold a certain appeal. I'd certainly never attempted them before, and I do love an adventure in the kitchen. However, cookie-baking aside, I've been struggling with a serious lack of cooking motivation lately, and I just couldn't muster the energy. I decided instead to pick up a package of pierogis at the grocery store instead.

However, the universe had other plans there as well. I initially stopped at Trader Joe's in search of frozen pierogis, but was unable to locate any in the seemingly nonsensically organized frozen section. They weren't near the appetizers, the pasta, or the ethnic food. Determined to have some sort of dumpling product at that point, I grabbed a package of pork gyoza instead, and headed home in a funk. On the bus, I ruminated over my frustration, and decided that I would stop at one more store in a last-ditch effort to satisfy my pierogi craving. Jewel at least had some pierogis, but they were on sale, and at such a well-trafficked store as the one near my apartment, sales move merchandise quickly. All they had left were chicken and sweet cheese pierogis, and I was interested in neither. Then, to top off the entire disheartening pierogi saga, as I left the grocery store, the previously blue sky had turned ominously grey, and the skies opened up upon me. With all the wind and horizontal rain, my umbrella was completely useless and I arrived home with my package of consolation gyoza, completely soaked to the bone.

Ultimately, the gyoza were tasty (almost shockingly so for frozen food), but they weren't pierogis. Potato-y goodness just wasn't in the cards for me this weekend. For now, I'll just drown my sorrows in my Japanese dumplings and cry into my soy sauce. I guess there's always next year...


The Milkman Cometh...

Today I came home after a long, hot commute, swung open the refrigerator door to grab a beverage, and was greeted by a beautiful sight:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today I received my first Oberweis delivery. For me, the absolute worst part of buying groceries is buying milk. Since I don't have a car in the city, I usually carry my groceries home from the store, because it's only two blocks from my apartment. I have a little old lady cart, but most of my shopping occurs on the way home from work, and if I have to go home to retrieve the cart, I lose the motivation to go back out to the store. This system is fine, as long as I don't have to pick up milk. Even though I'm single and living alone, I still go through a gallon of milk a week for cereal and late-night chocolate milk cravings. Having to carry it home from the store means I can only buy half as many other groceries, because the milk will be the only thing I can carry in that hand. Plus, it's cold, wet, heavy, and slippery -- not exactly a joy to schlepp even a mere two blocks.

So when a group of Oberweis representatives came to our building last week with free samples and information about delivery to our building, I decided to go listen to their sales pitch. I've always been fond of Oberweis's products (especially their ice cream), but couldn't ever justify the extra expense of purchasing them over cheaper store brand milk and whatever premium ice cream was on sale for the week. But the prospect of having milk delivered directly to my apartment, coupled with six months of free delivery as a sign up bonus, swayed my opinion. I'm not sure if I'll stick with the Oberweis delivery after the six months has elapsed (a gallon of Oberweis milk is already twice as expensive as it is at the store; add the delivery charge and it's up to nearly $9 a week for milk), but for now, I'm savoring the luxury having my dairy products come to me. Plus, I'm totally digging the retro-vibe (and to a lesser extent, the eco-friendliness) of the glass bottles. They take me back to my childhood, when I used to visit my grandparents and they still (somehow) purchased their milk in glass bottles and it was the only place I ever saw them. Nothing like a little dose of nostalgia with your Crispix in the morning...


The Way To A Man's Heart...

I've always been an ardent believer in the old adage that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I've been plying the men in my life with baked goods for years now, and this weekend was no different. After Zac commented that I hadn't baked anything for him in a while, I made him a batch of his favorite cookies -- M&M chocolate chip. Figuring they would appeal to my young houseguests, I also shared them with my family, who were big fans. In fact, I had to cut them off so I'd have some left for Zac. As for me, I wasn't particularly fond of the extra crunch lent by the candy coating; I would have preferred straight up chocolate chips, but sometimes you have to give the people what they want.

I am totally in love with my Wilton icing colors. I've never been able to produce such vibrant "S" cookies before!

Not unlike the other cookies I baked this weekend. With Dad's birthday on Monday, it was time to prepare another batch of "S" cookies. They might be a family tradition, and Dad's favorite pastry, but having both them and the M&M cookies in the house at the same time really threw the flavor disparity into stark contrast. "S" cookies are very much an acquired taste, but they made Dad happy, so it was worth the time and effort. He even went so far as to proclaim them just as good as my Nana used to make, elaborating that my practice over the years has indeed, made perfect. He quickly added, however, that if I wanted to keep practicing, that would be okay by him...


Girl Power...

This weekend, I was graced with a visit from my mom's sisters, Brenda and Lisa, who were in town with their grand-daughters Avery and Abbie, and Abbie's mom, my cousin Trista, for a girls' weekend and a trip to the American Girl store. They arrived late Thursday evening, and hit the town on Friday with Mom, although sadly, I couldn't take the day off to join them. Instead, I sent my camera with Mom to capture some images from the day.
I asked Mom to get a photo of Avery and Abbie together in their matching dresses, but Caesar kept photobombing them. She did eventually get a picture of just the girls, but I thought this one was much funnier.

Aunt Lisa with Abbie at the American Girl store.

Mom said that the girls and their dolls looked down the atrium at Water Tower Place for ages while their grandmas did their shopping. They are far, far braver than me -- I can't even walk near the railing.

Mom with her sisters Brenda and Lisa at Millennium Park after dinner at the Park Grill. I don't really see the family resemblance. I think Lisa and Brenda look more like each other than Mom. I think Mom looks more like her late brother, Doug.

After dinner we tried to get the girls to play in the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, but they were highly skeptical. I had to doff my sandals and show them how it was done to get them interested, but eventually they got the idea and splashed around.

Even though they were only here for a short while, it was nice to see my family. Avery and Abbie were completely adorable playing together; they reminded me of myself and my cousin Aimee at that age. Our toys of choice were Barbies, not American Girl dolls, but I can still remember the sleepovers we had together growing up, and how special it was to have a such a close relationship with one of my cousins. They are lucky to have each other, and I sincerely hope their friendship will stay with them as they grow up.


I've Got My Eye On You...

One day in the not too distant past, I was slogging through my evening commute on the bus, when a very large object outside the window caught my attention. As we rumbled past, I caught a glimpse of a crew of artisans painting what appeared to be an enormous eyeball at the corner of State and Van Buren. I almost thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, so I whipped out my iPhone and some quick Googling gave me an explanation: the 30 foot tall eye was a temporary art installation by local artist Tony Tassert, fittingly entitled, "Eye."

So today, with no after work plans and decent weather (oppressively hot and humid, but at least not actively raining), I decided to step off the bus for a moment to capture "Eye" on film. Not surprisingly, the park was swarming with tickled tourists in search of their own photo opportunities, along with a few locals taking refuge from the sun in the shadow of the gargantuan optic organ.

I was trying to get a picture of my eye looking at the giant eye, but this was the best I could do.

Contemporary art has never really been my cup of tea, and the towering eyeball was no exception. I just couldn't get over the fact that it wasn't painted very realistically. I think if you're going to erect a giant eye in the middle of downtown, you ought to at least apply some Chuck Close-like standards of photo-realism. Mostly, the thing that bothered me was the border of the pupil. Pupils have crisp edges; they don't blend into the surrounding iris. If you're going to portray organs on such a monumental scale, I think you should stick to proper anatomy and limit the artistic liberties. Perhaps I'm just thinking too hard. It is a fun, quirky addition to the cityscape, even if it's just here until the end of October. And it certainly brings new meaning to the term "Op Art..."


The Hottest Spot North Of Havana...

It occurred to me tonight as I was sitting down to my supper that I've never blogged about what is perhaps the most common meal that I make -- panini. Studies have revealed that the most common dinner item in the United States is the sandwich, but I try to make the staple into something a little more special. I'm not sure how I got into making panini; some time ago I came into the possession of a panini pan consisting of a small non-stick grill pan and a heavy, metal weight for pressing the sandwiches. I had the pan a long time before I actually used it, largely because I am somewhat of a failure when it comes to the art of griddled food. To this day, I can't master grilled cheese (of the garden variety white bread-American cheese extraction). I end up with something that's either burnt on the outside and cold in the middle, or soggy on the outside with overly melted cheese. I also can't make pancakes to save my life. As a result, the panini pan was a little intimidating for me.

To the best of my recollection, the first panini I ever made was an ad hoc meal designed to use up some pesto I had made from some garlic scapes I bought at the farmers' market. Scapes (the shoots and blossoms of the garlic plant) had been the "it" food among foodies that summer, so I bought them and made a basic pesto from them, as many publications suggested. It was... not tasty. Garlic scapes were not for me. Eating it straight up on pasta was like eating pure, raw garlic. So to use it up, I decided to marinate some chicken breasts in the puree, accurately predicting that cooking would help considerably in removing some of its bite. I then had leftover chicken breasts, so I decided to pair them with some mozarella cheese and make hot sandwiches using my panini pan. The resulting panini was so crispy, full of delicious melted cheese, and quick that they soon went into my regular dinner rotation. Around Thanksgiving I came up with another variation that consisted of leftover turkey, thinly sliced apple, cranberry mustard, and munster cheese. It too was a success. On a more regular basis, I settle for deli turkey and munster cheese, toasted to a golden perfection. Then came the Cuban sandwich.

Maybe not the most attractive Cuban sandwich I've ever made, but it tasted mighty fine.

I've long been enamored of the Cuban sandwiches at Cafecito, a small sandwich shop near my apartment, and yet, even with a cheap, plentiful source nearby, I was still driven to try to recreate the sandwiches at home. The ingredient list is relatively simple: yellow mustard, pickles, ham, swiss cheese, and pork roast. The last of these was the problem for me -- I seldom cook meat, much less a large cut such as a pork roast. As a result, I only make Cubans when I can steal leftovers from Mom, who prepares pork roasts with far greater frequency than me. In exchange, she gets a perfectly crisp, well-balanced sandwich. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I think it's a pretty good deal for her. If you play your cards right, I might consider making a panini for you too some day...


High Society...

With so much to do in the city, it can get a little embarrassing to admit how many things there are that I haven't experienced. For instance, when I was making plans to meet up with my college friend, Derek, one last time before he moves away, he suggested that we visit the Glessner and Clarke Houses, a duo of historic homes a veritable stone's throw away from my apartment. Despite living at my current address for nearly three years now, I had never been to see them, or the historic neighborhood in which they are located, so I readily agreed. The houses are located in the Prairie Avenue District, which was the most elite, fashionable address in the city during the Gilded Age. At the time, it was far enough from downtown that its wealthy inhabitants could be spared from the hustle and bustle while still being convenient. Millionaires such as George Pullman, Philip Armour, and Marshall Field all constructed elaborate, European-style mansions within the span of a few blocks.

The area reigned at the pinnacle of Chicago society until the turn of the 20th century, when industry and pollution began to encroach on the area. Residents moved to the new fashionable neighborhood of the Gold Coast, or to the North Shore. The homes that were not demolished in favor of commercial construction became too expensive and impractical to own during the Great Depression, and the neighborhood declined further. Today, only a handful of the original homes remain, although the neighborhood has once again turned residential, sporting a healthy regrowth of townhouses.

The Kimball House, built in 1890 for the owner of a piano manufacturing company.

The Keith House, built in 1870, now a private residence and art museum.

The Glessner family came to Prairie Avenue in 1886, having obtained their fortune through Mr. Glessner's work for International Harvester. They commissioned the design from noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who was inspired by a print of a medieval castle in the Glessner's dining room. The building he created has a decidedly fortress-like exterior, complete with thick, stone walls, narrow windows echoing the arrow slits in medieval castles, and a series of mock porticullises. The unconventional look stood in stark contrast to the French chateau and Italian villa style homes on the rest of the block, and the Glessner's neighbor, George Pullman, was said to have wondered what he did in life to deserve being subjected to their home's appearance on a daily basis.

The Glessner House, built in 1886.

The only way to see the interior of the home is to take a guided tour, of which Derek and I availed ourselves. Compared to the forboding exterior, the inside of the home came as somewhat of a shock. The Glessners were apparently devotees of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and furnished their home extensively with the work of such artisans as William Morris. Dark wood tones and eclectic floral and geometric motifs are repeated throughout the home, creating a cozy, inviting atmosphere. Furthermore, most of the Glessner's original furniture and bric-a-brac is still present in the house. It was willed to their family members, most of whom returned the items back to the museum over the years. In fact, the Glessners were one of the last families remaining in their Prairie Avenue home, as they stayed there until the death of the family patriarch in 1936. The home went through a number of unsual incarnations afterwards, serving briefly as classroom space for the Illinois Institute of Technology, and later housing a printing company before being designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and undergoing an extensive renovation to be run as a museum.

Also located in the neighborhood is the Clarke House, the oldest house in the city of Chicago. As a wood-frame building, the fact that it survived the Chicago Fire of 1871 is a minor miracle. It was originally constructed near what is now 16th Street and Michigan Avenue, but has subsequently been moved twice during its lifespan. (It is much easier to pick up and move a house that has no electricity, plumbing, or gas than a modern home). It arrived at its current location, in a park adjacent to the Glessner House, in the 1970s, and is operated as a historic home today.

The Clarke House, built in the Greek Revival style in 1836.

As with the Glessner House, we took the mandatory guided tour, which was really somewhat of a waste in this case. None of the interior furnishings are original to the home, so one merely gets a general idea of what a home from that time period would have looked like. It lacked the lived-in charm (and the opulence) of the Glessner House. Indeed, the highlight of its furnishings was a convertible chair, which transformed from a rocking chair to a crib to conserve space. Those were definitely less-litigious times -- clever as the piece of furniture was, it could never survive today's rigorous standards for child safety. Our guide was a little overly loquacious, and could have stood to condense his remarks considerably, given the relatively uninteresting nature of the dwelling.

Overall, it was an enlightening afternoon, and I was glad to expand my knowledge of my neighborhood. My feet might have been killing me after standing around for nearly three hours of house touring, but the charm of the properties was worth the exertion. I'm not sure I'd recommend the Glessner and Clarke homes to tourists looking for a quick taste of the city, but I'd definitely suggest them to established city dwellers, looking for further insight on Chicago's history.


Empty Chairs And Empty Tables...

Work has had me in a funk lately. Of course, I'm happy to have six more months of employment in my future, but things just haven't been the same around here. The changes that occurred with our most recent round of layoffs led to the management of the museum gift shop being outsourced, and as a result, my friend Natasha lost her job. Furthermore, my friend Mireya landed a full-time position at the Field Museum, and while I'm ecstatic for her, these two developments mean that I am down to one friendly colleague at work, Irene. Irene, however, only works part time coordinating school-group visits, so she isn't here much in the summer. As a result, I have nobody left to eat lunch with, nobody to visit for a quick chat when I need a break from my desk, and nobody to feed me gossip from other departments. My work days have become immeasurably long and tedious. I miss my friends...


Happy 234th Birthday America...

This year was a very topsy-turvy 4th of July holiday for me. As I've previously discussed, the city divided its fireworks display into three neighborhood shows to be staged on the actual fourth, as opposed to the traditional third of July. Furthermore, I had to work on the 4th, to film the opening of the History Museum's new Pritzker Wing of American History. I was not amused, but there wasn't much I could do about it. As a result, however, I couldn't host a holiday get together as I have in years past. In fact, I found myself with surprisingly little to do over the weekend in general, besides working. So I fell back upon my favorite form of self-entertainment -- baking.

Last year, I had spotted a special patriotic cake in my customary perusal of the food blogosphere. Most 4th of July cakes consist of a rectangular sheet cake, decorated in blueberries and strawberries to resemble the American flag. This alternative version provides more of a challenge in terms of construction, which appealed to me, and avoids the presence of berries, which I don't eat. It also has the advantage of being a "surprise" cake, in the vein of last year's rainbow cake -- from the outside it appears to be a ordinary layer cake, but when you cut a slice, a festive surprise can be found within. For all these reasons, I decided to try my hand at this cake for the 4th of July holiday.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I used all box mixes and canned icing to produce this cake. For the white and blue layers, I used a white cake mix and food coloring for the blue section. The red came from a red-velvet cake mix, because I knew there was no amount of food coloring that I could use on my own to get my cake to the desired shade. Only industrial grade food coloring would be able to accomplish that.

It's difficult to describe the construction of the cake without a diagram, but it involved cutting a small circle of blue cake and fitting it with concentric rings of red and white cake to mimic the design of the flag when a slice is cut. If I had it to do over again, I would either use a miniature cake pan to make the blue cake, and save the rest of the undyed batter to make extra white layers, resulting in a taller cake. Or, I would put the blue ring around the outside and smaller circles of red and white on the inside. As it was, with cakes as tender and moist as those from a box mix, it was difficult to stack the circles without breaking them. Still, I was beyond thrilled when I cut into the cake and the flag pattern emerged just as I had planned.

Of course, I couldn't eat an entire five layer cake on my own (especially given my dislike of frosting), so I invited Natasha and her boyfriend, Travis, over to partake and watch the 4th of July fireworks. The best part of serving a surprise cake is the reaction of your guests, and mine were duly impressed with the unexpected interior. Even though I would do things differently if I made this cake again, I'm still going to consider it a complete success. It was well-worth the effort in making it.

As for the fireworks, they were definitely scaled down compared to years past. The city launched them from a point further north than in years past, so they appeared smaller and less impressive from my traditional vantage point in Grant Park. As intended, the crowds were much thinner, which I had mixed feelings about. In the past, I've always enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that comes from sharing an experience with so many of my fellow Chicagoans, but there was also something nice about the feeling of enjoying an almost private showing. And even if the display itself wasn't as long or intense as usual, it was still entertaining.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the impromtu sing-along that I held with Natasha. Since we didn't have a radio to listen to the musical accompaniment to the fireworks, we decided to provide our own songs from the School House Rock oeuvre. It turns out she's quite a fan as well, so we sang "The Preamble" song and "Fireworks" to go along with the show. I think Travis thought we were crazy, but the homespun entertainment was a perfect ending for a low-key 4th of July celebration.