Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lemon Mousse

Yesterday I made a lemon mousse from my Bill's book. He's the Aussie gourmet who's actually not hard to follow. Even so, there was one surprise that didn't jump out at me until halfway through the recipe - while the egg yolk mixture gets cooked in a double boiler, the egg white mixture doesn't get cooked at all.

Hmm, raw eggs, what to do? When I check out the internet, though, it turns out raw eggs are really par for the course when it comes to mousse. The question is how to deal with them.

Do you avoid them at all costs? Do you offer a disclaimer? Do you heed warnings? Buy pasteurized egg whites? Cook them yourself until they reach 160 degrees? Surprisingly, few cooking sites fully endorsed the strict FDA line, which is to avoid raw or undercooked eggs at all costs. Many noted the number of recipes that would be lost forever (Chocolate mousse! Baked Alaska!), stressed the relatively rare occurrence of salmonella, and suggested just risking it.

So what did we do? We risked it. And it tasted great!

Monday, March 27, 2006


As Alma has reminded me to relate, I should let all ten readers know that we ultimately picked Canmore, Alberta, Canada for our big family vacation. Well, technically, Eleanor picked it, but we're all cool with the choice. Cool, because Canada is cold! Get it!?

Actually, should be nice by early June, when even Chicago has barely entered the "spring" stage. Now, what to do up there is another matter, but I don't think it matters much. It's a vacation, after all, so doing nothing is the name of the game, especially when said "nothing" affords you views like these. Please note the cowboys posing by Rainbow Lake. Insert "Brokeback Mountain" joke "_____here_____."

Pico Rico

Last week, after an online tip-off, Alma, Baby Z. and I ventured to a place called Pico Rico in Humboldt Park for some of their special chicken. And indeed, it was special! Perfectly cooked and seasoned, a whole bird for $15, with two sides (we got beans and sweet plantains) and a 2-liter of Pepsi (of which we maybe drank two glasses). Not a bad deal, and Z. had a blast.

The meal was an anomaly of sorts, since I’ve been doing a lot of cooking lately. Like what, you ask? Let’s try to remember:

Thai peanut shrimp
Paella (easy version)
Chicken and leeks
Self-saucing chocolate pudding
Chocolate-chip angel food cake
Roast chicken
Shrimp in garlic/lemon butter
Orange shrimp (lots of shrimp dishes lately)
Chicken in bacon/shallot vinaigarette, over spinach

Um, there must be more, too. Alma? How’s your memory?

For recipes, as much as I hate her personality, I've been going with Rachael Ray, plus various Cooks Illustrated books and sometimes this Aussie chef, Bill Granger, who makes some awesome stuff. The self-saucing pudding is his, as was this amazing honey/soy glazed chicken with sweet chili sauce and his glazed salmon.

Oh, and one word of advice for all those attempting an egg-white intensive dessert, like angel food cake or whipped frosting. When the recipe says to use a mixer or whisk by hand, use the mixer. I got a blister trying to do it manually, which also took forever! Also, perhaps have a plan for what to do with the 15 (!) egg yolks you have leftover.

I recommend freezing them in an ice tray, like cubes, and then transferring them to a freezer bag. We got stuck with this big jug of yolks that was so imposing I didn’t have the heart or stomach to attempt a custard, flan or crème brulle. That’s a lot of yolks!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I Understand

Has anyone else noticed that President Job's rhetorical strategy has remained consistent for the past several months? Someone asks a question or expresses concern, and he responds by saying something along the lines of: "I understand how some people may disagree, but ..." or "I know we've made some misjudgments, but ..." or "I realize some people are concerned, and I understand their concern, but ..." It's a sneaky way of pretending he's paying attention, and pretending he cares, whiles simply going ahead with what he's been doing or wanted to do all along. It's all getting kind of annoying. And of course, no one is calling him on it.

Now, I understand why some people may not be calling him on it. But he's a sneaky moron who continues to get a free ride from a press that thinks repeating questions is enough and following up somehow unnecessary.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Open Call for Vacations

OK, this is for the three of you reading. Alma, Baby Z. and me are planning a trip for sometime in June. We'll be meeting up with Eleanor and Simon (in from Sydney) and Alma's mom (in from Virginia). Yet we're stuck: where to go? The single biggest factor from our vantage is a destination not too far, that doesn't require long stints in the car and with something for three generations to enjoy. Or four, if you count Eleanor's and Simon's youthful desire to climb mountains and bungee jump. I thought of Montreal or thereabouts. Eleanor suggested some place 2 hours outside of Calgary. Alma's mom suggested Alaska (nice and I'd love to go, but it may be implausible), while Alma seems interested in sticking closer to home, perhaps Michigan.

So, the open call: where should we go on a summer vacation with a 20-month old in tow?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Concerts, Concerts

So many concerts. Well, not so many. I just got back from Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, who were great. Friday was Belle and Sebastian, who were better than great (my sister's right that their most recent album is a winner, though I still think it ends weak). Saturday was Stereolab, who were fine. Last night I skipped the Books and Death Vessel because a) I was tired and b) I'm going to SXSW Thursday and want to save my energy and enthusiasm for staying on my feel 'til the wee hours.

CTA Anagrams

Alma suggested (for some reason) that I post this map of Chicago's public transit system, where all the names and stops have been scrambled into anagrams. Enjoy!

Sopranos Again

See, what did I say? The season premiere of TV's most pointlessly talked about series "The Sopranos" was something of a modest bust. It measured only around 9 million viewers, compared to the 22 million of "Desperate Housewives." No one cares. Those numbers are even lower than past "Sopranos" season premieres, which goes to show that if you wait two years between seasons of a show that should have ended two or three seasons ago, the law of diminishing returns takes its toll.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

4 out of 5 Dentists

President Job's approval ratings continue to sink deeper down the shitter (as they say in Texas). But I have to ask - who are these people who still approve of the job he's doing, and why? On what basis? They must be like the 1 out of 5 dentists who *don't* appprove brushing with toothpaste.

In other words: nuts.

What a Great Day

What a great day, so great it technically started yesterday. Let’s recount!

Last night I was in bed reading the new issue of Mojo, back to front, as is my wont, from reviews to the letters page. When I got to the letters page, I saw that many were about a mysterious Kinks cover. Ever more intriguing, others were about a Talk Talk feature! I figured I missed an issue, so planned to get it at Borders the next day (today). I picked Borders because I bought the new issue (another Pink Floyd cover story) at an on the ball indie. I had a hunch Borders would not be on the ball, and would perhaps still have the old issue on the shelves.

This morning, after Alma went to work, Baby Z. and I played a little and then went to Borders. It was already in the upper 40s, which is a good sign after a Chicago winter. You take what you can get when it comes to the first glimmers of spring. Anyway, we get to Borders and … no issues of Mojo at all. That means one of two likely things: that the old issue had sold out, or more likely that the old issue was taken off the shelves and the new issue not yet placed on the shelves. Ah, slow Borders!

Only momentarily thwarted, I then figured some other Borders may be even slower, and lo – there’s a Borders next to Trader Joe’s in LaGrange! So after a fun Temple Tots playgroup with Baby Z., when packed back in the car and headed west to go grocery shopping, and to pick up the old issue of Mojo. Success! And at Trader Joe’s, Baby Z. got a pink balloon!

It being pseudo-spring outside, we spent the rest of the afternoon going for walks, playing in the park, and riding the neighbor’s skateboard.

When Alma got home, I handed off the baby and rushed to see Belle & Sebastian, for whom I had managed to finagle a sole ticket (not bad for a sold out show I wasn’t reviewing). But beforehand I met a friend and two of his friends from NPR. We had Mexican for dinner, and then my friend helped me get into the VIP area of the show. There’s free, and then there’s VIP, which is, of course, even better.

The show was the best I’d seen them, a blast. And they hinted they’d be back this summer, which makes me suspect they’ll be added to the Pitchfork Fest, which is a bargain at $30 for two days. And then I find out from my friend that not only is Bruce Springsteen planning to release a 1978 concert DVD, but AC/DC may play Soldier’s Field this summer. How awesome would that be?

The icing on the cake coming home:

-seeing a cop taking a leak in Lower Wacker, with his idling car’s lights flashing
-seeing the 290 travel time to Harlem listed as 10 minutes, not the usual 11, under the old Post Office
-seeing a man walking alone down the side of the highway, talking on a cell phone
-seeing a group of teens down the street from home playing Frisbee at 11:30.

Ah, spring is here!

P.S. Of course, had all three of us spent the whole day together, that would have been even better. But that's what the weekends are for!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Food Blogs

Food blogs are becoming some of my first-thing-in-the-morning go-to sites, since they're often so colorful, creative, funny and frankly yummy. They offer a lot of ideas in terms of restaurants, cooking and stores. To that end, I've added (to the right) links to a good Candy Blog as well as Hungry Magazine, the latter of which features a nice bit about marshmallow Easter candies headed (of course) "It's Hard Out Here for a Peep."

Three 6 Mafia jokes are the new "Brokeback Mountain" jokes.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Our House is Divided!

Forget "red state vs. blue state." Try "warm yard vs. cold yard!" How's this for a symbol of spring's steady approach?


I have't seen "The Sopranos" since its third or fourth season. I don't remember which, since each season is more or less the same - keep the major players alive, and pick off the supporting cast one at a time. Or even better, just kill off the special guest star (Joe Pantoliano, Steve Buscemi) who didn't appear to be there for any other purpose. The show's been such a cash cow (or whatever it is that HBO wants from it) that David Chase has been unwilling to pull the plug, keeping its increasingly cartoonish cast of characters on life support at the expense of its once taut and compelling storyline. "Ok, just two more seasons. Alright, five. No, six!"

Maybe I'm wrong, and the last few seasons have been great. All I know is that the show hasn't been on the air for something like 2 years, and the new season hasn't started yet, but I'm already sick and tired of the same old boring names and faces cropping up in fawning, breathless preview pieces and ads.

I know, I know - "But how will it all end?" ask the fans. Simple. Some people will die, others will go to jail, others will get away. Could it go any other direction? And could anyone really care at this point, long after the once emotionally and psychologically complicated series has burned through or worn down every last unique tick or trick?

Besides, nothing this show has done has come close to the brilliance of the first two "Godfather" films, or the entertainment value of "GoodFellas." It's become self-consciously iconic, both on its own terms and culturally, which leaves it little more than a middlebrow pretender. Unlike, say, "Deadwood," which my sister turned me on to and which has found a completely cliche-free way to deconstruct another American icon, the Western. And as everyone knows, great westerns beat gangster tales any day.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Baby Z. update/Oscars

Alma has informed me that it's been too long since I gave any sort of update on Baby Z., who turned 16 months this week. So what's new? Lots, of course, but here's what comes to mind:

-A healthy obsession with Play-Doh
-An almost unhealthy obsession with keys and locks
-More and more words.
-More and more names, like her friends, whom she asks for.
-She can go up and down stairs (on her stomach)
-At the zoo today, she pointed to the leopard and said "meow."
-She's getting better feeding herself with utensils
-And best of all, to my mind, is the fact that she now says "yep" instead of "yeah." And sometimes "nope" instead of "no."

So, how 'bout those Oscars? Lowest rated broadcast ever, I heard. Nothing really memorable except for George Clooney's great early speech, and maybe Three 6 Mafia. If you look through Oscar's past, almost every Best Song win sucks, with few exceptions. "Shaft?" "Lose Yourself?" Prince's honorary "Purple Rain" Oscar?

Honestly, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" isn't very good, by any standard. Nor was "Hustle & Flow," for that matter. But both show more verve and spark than the enervated backslap "Crash," which ham-fistedly reminds you that, like, we're all the same on the inside, and that racism is still bad.

Bleh. It's ironic that "Crash" won the same year Robert Altman was honored, since he's the king of making intersecting storyline ensemble movies that don't hit you over the head didactically (usually). For that matter, at its best "Crash" is just a pale reminder of "Magnolia," which covered the same thematic ground without picking such a sanctimonious subject as race relations.

Anyway, in a year people will forget that “Crash” even won, just like they forget “Chicago” won. And “Brokeback Mountain” will forever be remembered as the one that got away.

[This just in: last night's Oscars were the *second* lowest ever, after the year "Chicago" won.]

Saturday, March 04, 2006


"Capote" holds up even better on second viewing. In fact, I may even be giving it more credit than it deserves (and it deserves a lot), since it's been so long between seeing movies that actually preferred showing to telling. So much information is conveyed so seamlessly, almost invisibly in every shot of "Capote," with very little made overt or explicit. In this regard it reminds me a little bit of, I dunno, "The Insider," another movie that relies on the subtle nuance, expressions and emotions of its stars in conjunction with the brilliant direction and editing. I think it's called "acting," but I can't be too sure about that. Whatever it is, it's so nice to see a movie about people thinking that doesn't hit you over the head with what they're thinking about.

"Good Night, and Good Luck," which I just finally saw, is like the opposite of "Capote," in that it spells things out very clearly and specifically. But the strength of that film is that it does very little more than that. It allows newsreel footage - real, indisputable, part of the historical record - to do the preaching for it, a savvy way to link its themes to current events without drawing the ire of those willing to rewrite, forget or ignore history to serve their own purposes (or to serve their nefarious masters).

How anyone can see either of these two movies along with something far more traditional, hoary and definitely dull as, say, "Walk the Line," and consider all three on the same par, is beyond me.

Grow Globally, Buy Locally

Once a month, Intelligentsia opens up its roasting plant for public tours. For those who don’t know, Intelligentsia is one of the country’s better known and respected independent coffee roasters, specializing in fair trade and organic beans (though as we learned on the tour, many of not most small coffee farms are organic by default, since they’re unable to afford the certification).

The tour was fun and informative, and best of all came with a souvenir you could drink: 7 pounds of freshly roasted coffee. How fresh? We actually got to see it put into the roaster green, toasted to a nice, light brown and then packaged before our eyes. Can’t beat that, or the all you can drink coffee policy while on premises. Needless to say, Baby Z. could barely hold still for the 2 1/2 hour tour, not because of the coffee, but because there was so much to see and do. We took turns entertaining her and keeping her out of trouble while the other listened and asked questions.

We followed it up by heading up Western to Honey 1’s, one of the city’s newer and better barbecue places, recently relocated to Bucktown. It was that or Irazu. Chicago’s only Costa Rican restaurant and, I imagine, one of only a handful in the country, but since Baby Z. and I had eaten there last weekend with Grandma Nancy, BBQ it was. And it was very, very good!

We topped off the day, after Baby Z.’s epic nap, with a trip to Caputo’s, the longstanding family-run Italian grocer in Elmwood Park that also specializes in Mexican and Polish stuff. The cheese alone is something to behold, as is the butcher counter. We got tons of good quality fruit and produce for a pittance, and I picked up some cannoli and kolacky as well.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Blue Max

I'm a sucker for coffee shop/bakery/cafe combos, and think they brighten up every neighborhood. They're like Bed and Breakfasts without the beds. So what a pleasant surprise that since we moved here a couple of years ago, not one, not two, but three excellent new coffee shop/bakery/cafe combos have opened. And that's not including the one that was here earlier. How great is that?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Do You Drink Coffee?

""Do you drink coffee?"

That's the question the dental hygienist asked me shortly into my routine exam a couple of days ago.

"Yersh," I muttered as she probed at my teeth. It was a somewhat rhetorical query, since she wouldn't have asked if she didn't see some staining. Well, OK, you got me. Of course I drink coffee. Every adult not asleep between the hours of 7am and 7pm drinks coffee. Everyone with kids drinks coffee. Everyone that hopes to get anything done beside reading a page of a book five times without absorbing anything drinks coffee. I drink coffee, I like coffee, and it’s not bad for you. It's not like cigarettes, which stain your teeth and also kill you. So there.

Then the dentist comes over and starts poking around. "Looks good," she says, sticking that metal hook into a molar.

The hygienist leans in. "He drinks coffee," she whispers, half-conspiratorially, relating what I guess was my limited case history. "Healthy teeth. Drinks coffee."

The dentist prodded some more, told me my teeth looked good, and suggested I maybe swish with some water after drinking coffee.

Has it really come to this? Has it come to the point where, when they can't find any real problems, the dentist actually treats minor coffee stains like they're something that need to be monitored and taken care of? I mean, come on! Most of the cleaning was on the *inside* of my teeth, anyway, so the stains weren't even visible!

This creative dental vigilance is ridiculous. I need to be reminded to brush and floss, not that wearing a retainer (at age 31!) might stop some of the crowding on my bottom teeth, which by the way have looked like this for most of the 20 or so years since I got my braces taken off and they started to revert, just as they do with every living human being. Leave the cosmetic stuff to the specialists and just affirm that I'm doing a good job, thanks.

Now listening to: The Stills, "Logic Will Break Your Heart." This disc was a slept on Next Big Thing contender. Worth a listen for anyone that thinks other young guns like the Strokes are largely worthless, and that Interpol could really try a little harder. Speaking of which, did anyone else see that Spin sold for a pittance, less than $5 million? That's because the magazine sucks, and the Strokes, Interpol and My Chemical Romance can't carry magazines. The magazines been taken over by the same guy, Andy Pemberton, that every other music magazine has turned to in desperation. Which means when the "new" Spin is unveiled it will no doubt be even dumber and feature a 87% increase in boobs. In every sense.


I hadn’t seen a show since the Rolling Stones, they with the high ticket prices and faux enthusiasm, so I decided to end the drought by catching Tributosaurus, Chicago’s finest tribute band. Well, technically at least. Tributosaurus chooses a different band each month, and on the first Wednesday plays a set that perfectly replicates some of the chosen act’s oeuvre. They’ve been everyone from the Smiths to the Who, Peter Gabriel to Stevie Wonder, expanding to as many or shrinking to as few musicians as needed to get the songs right.

Last night was the second installment of Steely Dan, which has become a late winter tradition for Tributosaurus, since there’s not much else going on and because becoming Steely Dan takes a heck of a lot of work. Steely Dan, fans may recall, were studio rats. From around 1974 to 1994 or so they refused to tour, sticking inside to perfect their twisted jazz-pop confections.

Maybe “confection” is too light a word. Steely Dan’s songs are some of the most imposing ever written, especially for drummers and guitarists. At the show Tributosaurus had expanded to include several back-up singers, a horn section and a few guests. Heck, on “Peg” there were four singers replicating Michael McDonald’s background vocals. But the drums and guitars – wow.

So my friend and I found a place at the front of the packed club (early show) with a good view of the star players. We weren’t disappointed, and the highlights were many. My faves were “The Fez” (the Dan’s oddball stab at disco), “Night by Night” (from “Pretzel Logic,” but played with a massive, epic double guitar solo were the studio version fades out), “Deacon Blues” (where the band actually incorporated an FM fade), “Charlie Freak” (such a strange song) and “My Old School” (the perfect closer that found the band perfectly in sync). In all, a blast. And for just $15.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


President Job and his cohorts long ago lost any credibility they once claimed. New polls show that the vast majority of the American people agree, given that Job is hovering somewhere around 34%, which is a pretty ugly approval rating. So why does the press insist on playing objective and treating this admin like it actually has something to say, something to offer, or as anything other than a dead in the water disaster? Like, why even report that Job is "confident" they'll catch Bin Laden? Clearly confidence isn't doing the dude very much good. Job, that is.

Unrelated: how come in old cartoons, comics and movies, military punishment was always potato peeling duty? What were they peeling all the potatoes for? Stew? French fries? Just wondering.