Saturday, September 30, 2006

Now I Know Why Rick Bayless Acts So Blissed Out All the Time

The shot was taken in April, the first time I made Chilaquiles al Guajillo as per Rick Bayless' recipe. I made them again this morning, and spent the hour after I finished breakfast blissed out, watching the rain come down.

I'm addicted to public television cooking shows. I could sit for hours, jotting down websites and wrestling over whether or not to hit record on the VCR. My least favorite is Christina Cooks, and it isn't because it's a vegan show (although that is a contributing factor), but because she treats food as both a cure for all ails AND some fable for eternal youth straight out of the days of Ponce de Leon. I don't dispute the benfits of a healthy diet, but we're gonna age, regardless.

I've put some vile shit down my gullet over the years, so I can speak from experience when I say that you age the same regardless of what you eat. One episode of Chirstina Cooks had Dirk Benedict of The A-Team (yes, "Face") on to help Christina prepare a meal. She was going on about how cutting meat out of your diet would make body hair stop growing in unwanted places. I didn't start having unwanted body hair until the first time I suffered a serious sunburn, and it grew then as a scarring measure and as a protective coat against UV rays.

Aging is primarily good genetics. My mother is the youngest looking sixty-three-year-old I know, and she's had five bouts of cardiac arrest, suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, and has a bad hip. She's alive today because of changes in her diet, but she still likes a good cut of meat now and then.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

I Hanker for a Hunk of Cheese!!

I've got a congested head that's makes me feel like I've slept in a pressurized room for eight hours, it's overcast outside, I'm having second thoughts about this gag gift I bought for a friend's fortieth birthday party this evening, and I'm cranky because of this diet I'm on. I guess I could say that the Nashville hot chicken expedition was the tipping point. The following morning I went with Harry and Monika to the Loveless Cafe in Nashville for an old-style country breakfast. I could smell the spices and grease leeching out of my and Harry's skin and thought, "I could have a coronary on the flight back."

So, after reading an article in Bicycling magazine about seven foods that guarantee energy and help one lose weight, I decided to start eating more sensibly. In addition to the seven foods (eggs, lean protein, fish, oj, water, milk, and almonds) I've thrown some fresh fruits and vegetables into the mix, and reduced my portions in an effort to actually eat three meals a day, instead of my customary two "on the run". Most importantly, I've cut out all fried/fast foods and stopped drinking all beverages containing high fructose corn syrpup. It's been three weeks and I've only had one soda, pizza once, and a chicken parmesan sandwich once. While I don't know if I'm losing weight yet, I do know that I'm not as lethargic as before. And that's a start.

The word itself - "diet" - is a word that I find to be an anathema. I think back to my childhood and the revolving door of diets that our family doctor would place on my mother. These diets all include the dreaded staples of cottage cheese and lowfat milk. Might be the reason why I don't eat cottage cheese to this day; watching Mom eat it like it was a chore certainly didn't leave a positive impression on me. It wasn't until her third or fourth heart attack that Mom finally wisened up and started eating better. She'll never have an ideal weight for her frame, but she isn't morbidly obese these days, either.

Dieting in the family wasn't restricted to just my mother. When I lived with my Uncle Stu and Auntie Ann, Stu would wear out diets like underwear. He was an Atkins devotee, back when Atkins was a cult crakpot diet, not the popular crackpot diet it is today. Then one day, while scraping paint off the house, he had a vertigo attack and almost fell off the ladder. We love to eat on our mother's side of the family, and I believe I would be considered of "average" weight in our family.

I have a musical recommendation for readers: Madeleine Peyroux's "Half the Perfect World" just came out two weeks ago, and it is a joy to listen to her voice. The highlight of the album is this duet with kd lang of Joni Mitchell's "River"; lang, in particular, owns the song. What is it about Joni Mitchell songs that make them so accessible to jazz singers? Karrin Allyson, Jane Monheit, and Cassandra Wilson have all covered her songs, to varying degrees of success (I'd like to hear Monheit takcle "A Case of You" now that she has some years of life experience under her. When she recorded the song, she was 22, and it came across as a college student singing it for her final grade). I'm waiting for Allyson to just break down and record an album of Mitchell covers. Maybe it's the smart lyrics that attract these singers. The songs show vulnerability without being completely full of remorse.

I've come around to the opinion that Joni Mitchell is one of this country's greatest popular songwriters, alongside Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, and Steve Earle. I expressed this opinion to someone the other day, who responded that he thought Mitchell was in the same category as Dylan as a songwriter who he'd rather listen to others cover their songs. I'm not so sure about that. Mitchell never had a voice that was an acquired taste, like Dylan. Second, Dylan can sing with articulation, when he wants. Witness his early recordings pre-1964, and Nashville Skyline, for proof. Largely, the "hee-well-heau-hee" that we asociate with Dylan is largely an affectation. But I digress.

Here are the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "River". And go buy or download this Madeleine Peyroux record. It's amazing.

It's coming on christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
But it dont snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease
And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I made my baby say goodbye

It's coming on christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lucha Libre!!

Check out my new web protection. Thanks to Gabe for getting me both La Parka and Santo when he was in Mexico City.

I love World Music Festival, but I'm so glad it's over. I don't want to hear another samba, rumba, klezmer, or gypsy rhythm for at least a week, which is also when I'm due back to work.

Now I'm off to buy gag gifts.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Beverly by Bike

Usually, i'm not used to having a day off during the World Music Festival, so I took advantage of it and led some friends on a bike ride fro Bridgeport to Beverly. Considering that I hadn't done a test run of the route prior to yesterday, the ride itself went smoothly. Heading down to Beverly, we took Loomis and cut through the heart of Englewood. Somewhere around 74th and Loomis we were treated to the spectacle of slack-jawed black kids yelling from their front porch, "Look! White people!" So we were probably as much of a novelty to them as, all the boarded up bungalows and two flats we encountered were to us.

We headed west along 83rd to Damen (one of the best streets for bnikes in the city) and got on the Major Taylor Trail at Dan Ryan Woods, which we nicknamed the "Major Dead end Trail" on the way back, as it seems to lead to nowhere at it's northern edge.. From there it was a straight drop south on Longwood Drive to Beverly. Riding past all the colonial style homes and mansions, we mentioned that Beverly could be the bizarro-world Sauganash. Or vice versa.. Brunch was at the Original Pancake House on Western, and we lifted a pint at Cork and Kerry. Then we headed back, making great time, since we were sticking north on Damen. It must have been a better time than that, as one fo the riders said that she was straining to keep up with the pace I was setting.

We stopped for ice cream at Scoops on 31st, once we made it back to Bridgeport. The total mileage for the round-trip? 26.2 miles. I'll be recommending it as the new route for the Chicago Marathon any day.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Goodbye "Uncle Pete"

John Watson, the trombonist for Yoko Noge's Jazz Me Blues, passed away last Thursday. Those who knew him weren't really surprised to hear the news. Rather, what I personally found surprising was that he never quit living. For at least two years, John was caught in this loop of hospital stays for cancer treatment, then coming back to gig with Yoko as soon as his strength returned. When the turnaround times became less frequent - the hospital stays became longer, the gigs shorter - I just steeled myself and waited for the word to come.

I'm convinced that John made it through the past two years solely on his will to fight and the power of positive thinking. He never had a cross word for anyone, and people gravitated to him like a moth to a flame. Then they found out that the guy who was making them laugh played Uncle Pete in "Soul Food", and they laughed a little harder. No surprise there; John was a charismatic fellow, even when his strength was waning.

Back when I was new to HotHouse and the South Side, John clued me into this soul food restaurant on South South Chicago Avenue called Ms. Biscuit, but I won't tell that story in full yet. I'm saving it for the memorial service being arranged for him on the 25th, at HotHouse.

I was going to add an audio post to this, but I'll end with some words of wisdom from the man himself. It was about music, but it could just as easily be about life.

"I have a good time, and I'm always listening. I found out that if you let the music dictate, you can't lose. Just your heart and your ears. You can't lose!"

God Bless, my friend.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It Rocks Your Game

When we were kids, Mego made both some of the coolest, and lamest, action figures around. Their "Planet of the Apes" figures were awesome. Mego didn't release KISS action figures. These were KISS DOLLS. Barbie dolls were more masculine

Being nine when these dolls came out, I didn't think so. I was a proud member of the KISS army. Ace Frehley space patrol, specifically. Ace was just the coolest, for me, and if you don't believe it, check out his KISS solo record. Some of the songs still stand up thirty years later. That was followed by Peter Criss, then Paul and Gene. Usually, that's bass ackwards. The same holds true with the Beatles; my favorite Beatle was George Harrison, with Paul McCartney being my least favorite. But, even at nine, I had a well-developed sense of gaydar, and Paul Stanley was fucking gay. As for Simmons, he just scared me. I legitimately believed he worshipped the devil. Then I got older and realized he worshipped capitalism, which was worse.

Anyway, I begged my mother for these dolls for Christmas. I would have been happy if I just got Ace Frehley. So imagine my surprise on Christmas Day, when I ripped the wrappnig paper off all four dolls. To put it in perspective, it was like getting a new video iPod, a Playstation PSP, and a crackberry. The knowing smile on my mother's face made me realize that she listened to my incessant begging, my return grin let her know the gesture was appreciated.

Then imagine the look of horror on my mother's face, when she walked into my bedroom, not even forty-five minutes later, to see that I had painted over the dolls faces with a jar of flesh-colored model paint, to see what KISS looked like "unmasked."

Yeah, that was a beating I deserved.

Thanks to Mario for the heads-up on this.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Last night I attended the Windy City Wine Festival at "that pissant park (Mayor Daley's) dad built." With my finding of my old Writer's Guide fresh in my mind, I found a tent staffed by an startup magazine that plans on publishing its first issue early next year. I allowed that I was interested in freelance inquiries, and exchanged information with the publisher. Now it's up to m to follow through on this.

As some of you might know, I've been readying myself to take the introductory sommelier exam, with an ultimate goal to become a master sommelier. I think I'm ready to take it, and one of the reasons I headed downtown last night to the festival was to keep my palate up to speed, as well as to discover some new varietals. Sometimes I wonder why I decided to do this, and then I come across people who are so... well, snotty, about their oenophilia, that I'm reminded.

I stopped at the display tent for a Missouri vineyard and was sampling some of their selections, when this woman comes by and asks to sample one of this vineyard's reds. It just so happened that we were sampling the same wine. After picking up some flavor notes I was unfamiliar with, I asked about the cellaring process for the wine. The vineyard employee explained that this particular wine was aged for eighteen months in a combination of Pennsylvania, Appalachian, and French oaks, then blended together before bottling. The woman, however, felt like she knew better.

"You've let some of this wine age in California oak", she said. The vineyard rep again explained that there was no oak from California involved in the cellaring process. But this woman would not drop the issue. "Oh, no. I distinctly pick up California oak. How long have you been working at your wineyard?" I looked at the vineyard rep, who I later found out was the owner's son, and he simply kept his composure and explained that maybe she had a slightly fatigued palate, or tasting crossover from another booth's samplings. I'm just looking at her thinking, "He works at the vineyard, bitch. He should know about the winemaking process." Her eyes lowered to slits, but before she walked away, she offered another inane suggestion.

The whole exchange got me to thinking - again - if I should really be studying this. I sample new offerings every week at work, attend my fair share of tastings, and write about wine, beer and spirits. One constant in all of this is that I find myself in the company of pretentious idiots like this cunt, all the time. If I had a dollar for every time someone didn't order a wine when I'm behind the bar because they didn't like the label, I'd be a literal millionaire. It happens every time I clock in.

eg. Someone wants a white zinfandel. I offer that the rosé I stock might be a nice alternative for them. Then they ask, "May I see the label?" I pull out the bottle and offer them a sample. They ignore me, study the label, and determine that they don't want it, usually because they never heard of the vineyard, or don't like the label artwork. If I'm feeling feisty that evening and don't want to lost the sale, I'll lightly suggest that the quality of a wine normally is found inside the bottle. Then the person will look at me and snort, "I'll just have a white wine." Thirty minutes later, that person will be back at the bar, saying how they didn't like the wine I poured them. Again, if I'm feeling like I'm down for a fight, I'll remind them that they refused to sample the wine I suggested to them. And it goes downhill form there.

My favorite is the customer who makes me don the Sherlock Holmes hat, and sleuth around trying to figure out what kind of wine they drink. Last week, someone came up to the bar and asked for a glass of wine. I asked, "Do you want red wine? Or white?" The customer asked back, "Why? Is that all you have?" I shot back, "Well, you're the one not being specific, here. That's why I'm forced to play twenty questions with you." Thankfully, it wasn't completely slathered in sarcasm, and I managed to clue her in to our fine rioja selection.

Then there are the buzz wods associated with a wine's character. For an alcoholic beverage made from grapes, the word "grape" is almost never mentioned in a wine's makeup. Vineyards and experts always talk about a wine's legs; the balance between tannins and acidity; esthers; the scents one picks up on the nose; the flavors on the palate and finish; the color; and so on. I can't remember the last time I heard - or said - this wine tastes like a grape.

The point is, they all come across as though they know their wines, if not everything about wine. It's a risible proposition. I think that I've developed a good palate over the years, but I have a long way to go. It's one of the things that I find exciting about studying wine and spirits. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I'm not certain if I'll ever have an encyclopediac knowledge of the subject. I do know that I'd like to write about it in a more layman-like way, because it can be so obsequious, at times. I even find myself guilty of it when I write my wine primers and "beer of the week" posts on Chicagoist. But that's what keeps me coming back, with a notepad and paper. I can't afford a good aroma kit, so the notes help me remember certain scents and flavors.

I do promise, as I move forward, that I'll make my writing on the subject more accessible to casual readers and drinkers. And today is as good as any to start, as the wrinkles from my fingers (from riding 62 miles in the rain) start to fade, I could use some wine to knock the chill from my bones.

As I write this, Karrin Allyson's tribute to John Cotrane's "Ballads" album is playing on the stereo. It's good rainy day music, and she imbues the songs with an infectious personality. She's one of my favorite contemporary jazz singers, along with Cassandra Wilson. I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Allyson a few years back, when her collection of blues songs, "In Blue" was released. I really like that album, as it includes covers of two amazing Oscar Brown, Jr. songs ("Long as You're Living" and "Hum Drum Blues"), but the centerpiece of the record is a smoldering interpretation of Joni Mitchell's "Blue Motel Room."

eMusic has all of Ms. Allyson's. I would recommend both "Ballads" and "In Blue" as an introduction to body of work.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Working on the Weekend

Well, it was either make this in-wall cabinet a bar or use it to store the china for which it was originally designed (another reason to drop things and run to the south side when I invite you to parties here). Anyone who knows me understands that I made the only decision I could. Now I just need some vodka, an armangac, and an aromatic bitter, and I could possibly work from home. With the weather being "baby bear" perfect, I was finally able to adjust the shelves to accommodate the tall bottles of liquor I had in the pantry, then moved my wine/spirits guides and recipe books to the top shelf, with the humidor. I need to find a dozen martini glases for the bottom shelf, some snifters, an ice bin, and a new smoking jacket, then I'll be living in Bachelor Pad Royale

This morning was spent running around, doing errands, and tidying up the place a bit. The police department installed one of those beautiful cameras at 31st and Lituanica, to monitor the gang activity in the Bridgeport Gardens. The folks at Bridgeport Coffee House said that another one's going up at 32nd Place and Morgan. Where I'd really like to see one go up is at the southwest corner of McGuane Park, along 30th and Poplar. That might require the Park Disctrict or Streets and Sanitation actually fixing the street light the gangs keep breaking, so they can whistle to each other in the dark. My fear is that they do that, the camera goes up, then I'm cited for walking around with an unleashed dog. Poetic irony, thy name is Sudo.

Thanks to Ace Hardware, my office now looks like I'm actually doing something important in there. I've got the liquor catalogs on one shelf, financial forms on another, posted bicycle maps for both Chicago and New York City on the wall, and finally threw away the cardboard boxes that stored everything for two years. I even found my Writer's Guide while digging shit out. So I'll be sending out some query letters in the upcoming weeks.

I'm also working on a new code word for Emmy when we go out for our walks. It gets a little frustrating when she doesn't poop, and she looks at me like she did something wrong. I understand that sometimes a dog just can't go, but Emmy doesn't bark unless the mail carrier comes around (she's a sucker for a woman in uniform), so I have no idea what she wants. I've resorted to Pavlovian technique, which I think is cool, bcause she's the smartest mammal in my apartment. I don't know who's training whom during this.

When Emmy comes up to me and nuzzles me with her snout, I'll ask, "What do you want?" Then she'll go into a begging position, and shake my hand. I'll crouch down and ask again, "What do you want?" Emmy starts to pat her feet, so I'll say, "Okay. Show me!"

With that, she'll either run to the kitchen, to let me know she wants food or a treat, or she'll fetch her leash, which states the obvious. If she's fetching the leash, I know she has to go pretty serious. When we get to the park and she starts to hunch in a pooping position, I'll get right up to her and say, "Drop the deuce! Good girl!!" It's my hope that when I say that, Emmy becomes conditioned to actually poop. This should make for some quizzical stares from the neighbors, the morning tai chi groups, and passers by. I'm looking forward to it.

Well, off to the Windy City Wine Festival.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Y'all Hungry?

Next to visiting my friends last weekend, this was the best thing about my weekend in Nashville. That is a breast from the legendary Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. Actually, the meal itself was excellent. Harry, on the other hand, sweated through his shirt eating it, and turned grayer as he ate. He legitimately looked like he was in pain.

Hot chicken is worshipped almost with as much reverence as Jeebus in Nashville. The legend of hot chicken claims that the man who popularized it was a bit of a womanizer, and his girlfriend at the time found out about his tomcatting ways. So, in an effort to extract some revenge on him, doused his fried chicken with enough pepper and spices to fell an elephant. The man liked the chicken so much he asked for seconds, then the recipe, then opened up his own hot chicken shack, and probably kept on slipping around. When we went to Prince's, we got there about an hour before they were open, so we drove aroud a bit. When we returned, there was a line forming outside the door, at least fifteen people. An hour later we had our chicken. Other customers were strolling in and out of the place, cradling their chicken like some illicit drug

If you have on eating at Mirai Sushi, Japonais, Sushi Wabi, Ra Sushi, Japonais, or Heat or a Benihana this weekend, please read this report from Environment Illinois and Got Mercury regarding the mercury levels of tuna served in those restaurants. I'll take the salmon.