Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011 annual odes to autumn

Sunday

In the throes of a sinus infection and cough, so we've decided to breathe our germs all over Starbucks in Clarendon Hills today. The Husband finished off his Z-Pack this morning. I'm hoping to call the MD and get drugs for myself in the morning. Not that he's much better.

We like this store -- older staff on Sundays with a mellow music selection. Although we did hear a vaguely disturbing cover of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

Started the morning with brunch with my folks, who were heathens today and didn't go to church. We were a hot aural mess, with Mom and the two of us suffering ear-stuffing cold stuff, and Dad with his standard can't-hear-despite-the-hearing-aids condition. Lots of shouting over restaurant noise followed by hacking.

Favorite moment at the restaurant: The high-maintenance customer at the next table encouraging us to ask for a bowl of mixed berries too, then complaining about the lack of service. 

And question of the day: Why is someone else's cold "just a cold," but your own is the end of life on this planet?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Kitchen

I used to cook a lot, had friends over and fed them, took dishes to their houses, baked a stewing hen to feast my family and honored guests. Then I moved into an apartment and The Husband arrived on the scene.

He is a better cook than I. He is creative and cares about the science and thinks through the process. He has a sophisticated palate, is a self-described gourmand and has had more time in the past few years.

He is also an unbelievably messy cook and of the school of thought that if one person cooks, the other should clean up. So we eat out. A lot. WAY too much.

Then our family Father's Day lunch found me in the kitchen, opening cans and bottles and throwing their contents together. I remembered how relaxing kitchen work can be.

I had high hopes for the baked beans. I started with this recipe from Bush's site and quadrupled it. Even thought I left the sugar the same as the original, adding a can of Trader Joe's chunk pineapple made it super sweet. (I also used TJ's BBQ sauce and organic ketchup.) My folks loved them, and my dad doesn't often enjoy family meals. Since it was Father's Day, score!

Caprese salad: tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil,
salt and pepper,
olive oil and balsamic vinegar
The caprese salad was a little bland because I under-dressed it. I really liked TJ's mixed cherry tomatoes and heritage cherry tomatoes, and the 2:1 tomatoes-to-mozzarella ratio.The tomatoes tasted amazing, like garden-grown.

So many memories in the kitchen. My friend Jerry and I used to play a "what's it need?" game with our cooking. His comments brought a rain of protests one night from other dinner guests who didn't know about our ongoing conversation. 

I remember his kitchen lessons and our food adventures. The quest into the mountains for rhubarb pie. Sneaking baggies into the all-you-can-eat buffet. One time, he made griddled corn cakes and, as a pinch-of-this cook, spent an afternoon measuring pinches for me. Another friend reminded me of the fun day we spent together when he made green chile for my party that evening. It was a long, wonderful, memorable, delicious night.

As I dashed around another time at a BBQ, he taught me a valuable lesson. He made me sit by him on the couch and he promised someone else would do all the last-minute things I was going crazy over. "Just watch." And he was right. People pitched in and no one minded.

The lesson in the kitchen -- and in life -- was not to rush around trying to do it all. Sit, savor the view and a visit with a friend.

And his gravy-making advice has a good life application too: Don't fuck with it.

So, this is me, cooking with cans and TJ's supplies and waxing nostalgic about food and friends.

Each meal a new story, each friend a new adventure. Each memory as sweet...as Father's Day beans.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pet Parade!

The day dawns bright and clear on the 65th Annual La Grange Pet Parade. Celebrity Grand Marshall is Johnny Knoxville! I WISH! Bears player Johnny Knox, really.

But seriously, Parade organizers, you couldn't think BIGGER? Ted McGinley, KITT from Knight Rider, the beloved Frasier Thomas. You've set a high standard in the past.

Or is my sports ignorance showing? Is this like scoring Elway as Grand Marshall in Denver? Talk to me in terms I know, Chicago, because as a sports town, you ain't much.

Oh, yes, I genuflect with the rest and best of 'em when I hear the Hallowed Names -- Ditka, Perry, Sweetness, even McMahon (who's no Elway). But, come on, Chicago, I can go to the grocery store during a regular season game and YOU'RE there. In Denver, I knew when the quarter ended because of the sudden mad rush to buy 3.2 beer at King Sooper's. I could PLAN my shopping unmolested Sundays in Denver.

But it's summer and we're talking Parades not recliners. And I'm sure Johnny Knox is a lovely man.

Oh, dear, now I feel bad -- I want Mr. Knox to feel welcome at Our Little Parade. Let me try again.

65th Annual La Grange Pet Parade -- and Chicago Bear Johnny Knox is the Grand Marshall. (Along with the Boy Scouts of America.)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

1 a.m. and The Husband is de-spine-ing collard greens for one of the holiday meals tomorrow. Smoked turkey legs are cooking in a chicken/veggie broth.

Already, we've blanched pounds and pounds and pounds of asparagus to serve chilled with a sun-dried tomato basil butter or sun-dried tomato basil yogurt. That's for the afternoon meal with friends.

In the morning, he'll make sausage gravy while I expertly craft biscuits from a tube and slice kielbasa. That's for brunch with my family.

It promises to be a weekend narrated through food. Buffets for supper and breakfast in Amish Country, exotic local sandwich meat (trail bologna) and cheese (butter cheese) for sandwiches, then chicken from the parking lot BBQ for supper.

Back home this evening, The Husband and I have had our requisite Bickering in the Kitchen, complete with me doggedly refusing to understand why an 8:1 ratio of ½ oz. sun-dried tomato mix to 2 oz. of mayo did NOT translate to an 8:1 ratio of 1 tablespoon of powder to 1 stick of butter. Midnight, and he tried so hard to explain to my sleepy peabrain the difference between volume and weight in measurements.

Not helped, of course, by my refusal to ever cook with the lead in his lead-flour example. No, I am NOT going to put in a tablespoon of lead when it calls for 1 ounce – I will make a different recipe!

We laughed at ourselves. Then I played with the powder to taste (3x my calculations, 1.5x his) and we decided to revisit the flavor in the morning.

I like our bickering. I wonder if it's disconcerting to others. For us, it's a healthy exchange, an exercise in debate. Good for both of us.

This bold return to our under-used kitchen followed a spell of dinner prep at my auntie's last night. Ben and I wanted to round out the parking lot chicken. Along with chop, chop, chopping for coleslaw, I made simple roasted potatoes and onions and my aunt steamed asparagus.

For dessert, she served vanilla ice cream with strawberries, which had been cooked down and frozen last summer. So good. So perfect and simple.

My dear auntie is such a loving, generous soul.

One time, during a visit when The Husband was The Boyfriend, she told me that in a relationship, you make the decision to love again and again. It's not just a gushy feeling, but a commitment. She was eloquent. I am not.

Our visit came to an end, only to have another good one today. When we made it home, wonderful friends had us over and cooked us amazing burgers. How are we so fortunate to have such kind and generous people in our lives?

And how am I so fortunate to have a story around each meal this weekend? That is the joy of meals and cooking, of long weekends and gathering with family and friends – groceries gathered, meals prepared, stories told, our lives shared.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Was (Not Was)

(and not Was Not Was)

A correction. 'Twas bugging me after I realized the mistake in an earlier post.

Workin' for the weekend

Looking forward to a long weekend -- and it started this evening. What a nice way to kick it off with kind friends, good food and my sister's company to boot.

It's been a very social week, with dinner at friends' parents' house last night and dinner with other friends tonight. 

Looking forward to seeing my aunt and uncle this weekend and visiting with my folks too. And all that before Sunday!

And, I get to start my weekend right getting a tooth blinged out tomorrow morning. Yeay, dentistry. I won't be gold like the farthest back one, but it WILL be shiny and new! Yeay, chewing!

Better toddle off to bed. The dental visit is as 6 a.m. Yikes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Here Comes the Rain Again

The air held tangible signs of rain this morning. There was an urgency in squirrels and tentativeness in people. It would be a good day, the sky said, to crawl back in bed – or to stay there and oversleep.

This day held many things. At the end of it, we raised a glass to a fallen comrade. He's not dead, just departing. He'd laugh at the bad real-world analogy applied to business. We've laughed together a lot at the absurdity of the language of business. Well, maybe rolled our eyes more than laughed. He's been forever at the company and fare-thee-well.

Ahhh, but the other side of the coin is this isn't his “bliss” any more than it's mine or others'. Some people around me seem to find true satisfaction in the job. There are many things about it that satisfy me as well. Not my bliss, to be sure, but occasional contentment.

That's a rare and glorious thing – a moment of pure contentment.

I last found it sitting in the dentist's chair, waiting for goo to harden in my mouth, watching the sky lighten, looking across the grassy lawns, wiping away droool.

What the hell?

Talked to my boss (one of those folks who seems to live his work) about the absurdity of the existence of a completely contented, peaceful moment in that setting. He said, “You take them when you get them.” We agreed they don't come often enough.

More and more these days, they find me though. Maybe it's feeling centered in my marriage. Maybe it's becoming a older fart. Middle-aged fart. I worry it's giving up the dreams and aspirations of my youth.

But I think it's finding those dreams fulfilled in small, personal and undramatic ways. Able to sit quietly and watch the morning begin, able to pay for the dentist, able to make small talk, able to find affection for the people and place I've come to know well, able to survive weekly visits for most of the winter, able to deal with the disappointment I'm not a special patient but one of many, able to be entertained by the weirdness of my own body – slow breathing, twitching feet, crusty lips.

I spun until dizzy in the chair at work yesterday while waiting for a reboot. It was silly and it made me happy like a little kid. Maybe that's where contentment is found – in the simple joys and a child-like approach to the daily adventure.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Game Not Game

The biggest problem with writing on the train is the burning desire to visit Purble Place. What a wonderfully hideous game. I can make cakes slowly or quickly and there's no punishment for mistakes except the delight of seeing them swept into the cyber-trash. Have even managed to rid myself of the baker who chastens and scorns. 

Then there's matching eyes-nose-mouth on the shapeless blobs. I am NOT the demographic. 

My favorite, though, is the version of concentration that lets me match such things as “blue acorn guy,” “other blue guy,” “brownie cake,” “cake abomination” and “green guy”s hat.” I wonder if other people name things to remember them. 

Like the guy on the train platform who walks a boxer in the neighborhood. At first sight, I named the guy “Chuck.” Once upon a time, someone addressed him by his actual name, “Hello, Not Chuck.” Yeahhhh, I can't remember, so in a nod to the '80s band Was Not Was, he is Chuck Not Chuck. 

And on my walk through the city, there's Troll Guy, who passes me with surprising regularity on our mutual commute. And I don't mean it meanly. There's nothing cruel in naming him Troll Guy. He has this beautiful face central casting would kill to see. I truly name him with affection. 

I don't have names for the people I interact with at the office building, so it must be a Familiar Not Familiar experience thing, an attempt to make the unknown known. Known Not Unknown.

On the train, I look to see if anyone's doing laundry at The Projects. In truth it's a lone apartment building with occasional graffiti on the back. Score! This morning there's steam coming out the vent. 

Next up, The Condo With The Tree On The Roof.

Do other people do this? While I'm curious, the answer won't change my weirdness.

Oops – about the hit That Place Where the Tracks Bend. Better pack up.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring quotes

The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's kiss glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze.
~Julian Grenfell

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.  ~Hal Borland

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!
~Mark Twain

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.
~W. Earl Hall

Thank you, quotegarden.com!


Pilgrims!

You remember the kid joke -- April showers, May flowers...

Another beautiful morning. Hard to believe spring is finally here. Oh, it always arrives in the same untimely fashion. Something in the wiring of the human brain that allows us to forget each year how bad the winter can be makes the spring brand new again each April.

I keep thinking each spring is the first spring – a nod to Cat Stevens and his breaking morning, in some fashion.

This year, the pear trees amaze me most. Decorative, not fruit-bearing pears, it would seem, suddenly awaken every side street, yard after yard. Surely there was a transition between barrenness and full and glorious white blossoms. But I didn't see it.

The last couple weeks have been hard for me – got over a lingering cold-slash-sinus infection-slash-hacking asthmatic's cough in the midst of cold rainy weather. It sent me into a depression spiral for a couple weeks. This too has past, as they always do – due this time in no small part to the cacophony of blooms flourishing thanks to the dark weeks of rain.

There are blossoms on bushes that never blossomed before. Maybe they weren't mature enough in the past, several of us have commented. I keep coming back to the damp and the rain. Without the rain, would those rare blooms exist?

I'd rather not have those down, damp rainy times in my emotional life either. I'd much prefer 65 and sunny with a gentle breeze year-round. I'd like to claim to emerge fresh, green and renewed like the spring earth.

What it gives me, though the mental grey sky, is an appreciation for the small blossoms – mundane, the small victories of every day: getting out for a cup of coffee, freshly folded laundry, chopped vegetables and baked chicken, a dandy-lion bouquet in a plastic glass.

That's not profound. And in the amazing outburst of life and spring, a few blossoms on an otherwise ordinary bush are hardly notable. But I'll enjoy them more for the rain.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lazy blog

Eager to get outside into the sunlight and to supper, so I'll post a quote. My friend Em shared this.

“There's a dark side to each and every human soul. We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there's a little Darth Vader in all of us. Thing is, this ain't no either/or proposition. We're talking about dialectics, the good and the bad merging into us. You can run but you can't hide. My experience? Face the darkness, stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. Give that old dark night of the soul a hug!”   -- Chris in the Morning, "Northern Exposure"

Monday, April 11, 2011

Um, yeah, so...

Weird to have "started a blog" only to discover I've nothing to say. Huh.

But then I've always had a weird relationship with journals. Who's my audience? Future me and...posterity?

Really loved writing for my sophomore HS English teacher, Mrs. Gowlett. She genuinely seemed to love reading what we wrote.

Years ago, digging through journals and high school keepsakes, I was mortified to read my scandalized journal review of the HS production of "Grease," which -- the review opens by disclosing -- I didn't see. "Tickets were sold out. But I know the story. It's about a girl who TURNS HERSELF INTO A FLOOZY!" Gads.

Here's hoping that upright, uptight twit has flown -- for good. There are times I wonder.

Some nights it's good to go back -- not quite so far in time -- to pick at the scars and look at the trail of breadcrumbs. For every tune-June-moon in a poem or laughably anguished journal entry, there's a moment of pluck, a turn of phrase, something to like about that person who was me before me.

It's like finding a penciled note in a library book. What was she thinking? Why did she write that? Do I agree with that? Johnny. Well, like, who's Johnny? There was one guy named Johnny, but he was...

Time machine. A journal's like a time machine. Except a time machine that takes you back to July 23, 1779. Just an ordinary summer day, nothing to see here, move along. I like the internet for that quality too. An ordinary-day time machine. It marks the snapshot moment in time, speaks a truth, shoves in a bookmark and moves on.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wild nights, wild nights were I with thee...

Enjoying the comfortable companionship of my husband at The 'Bou tonight. That's Caribou Coffee. I am expressly forbidden from calling it this. Ditto, "The Old Double C." So, in the vernacular of our life, it is "the coffee shop." 

We meet here once or twice or more a week. I get off the train here and he drives over and our evening's adventure begins. 

An action-packed Friday tonight, each of us with a computer and a hot drink. I alternate between cursing Blogger and cheering to figure something out. He's studying a new survey for work. ("Have you paid for any catering services in the last month? Party supplies? Funeral arrangements?")

I love my life.

Thursday, April 7, 2011