Thursday, July 31, 2008

One of my favorite things about Chicago - Navy Pier fireworks

Chicago is a great city. A beautiful city. But you already know I feel that way. As much as I brag about it, though, I really only see a small subset of the city on a daily basis: my house, my office, my gym, the track on Chicago Avenue (still surviving!), Costco, a couple restaurants we frequent and the farmers market.

Every year about 30 million people visit Chicago. I'm pretty certain none of them (or at least very few) come to Chicago to see my house, my office, my gym, the track on Chicago Avenue, or Costco. Some might find their way to the restaurants I like or the farmers market (either this or this) because I talk them up so much.


Chicago, circa last night

I always wish we could spend more time enjoying some of the things that bring so many people to Chicago every year. Each summer, I vow that this will be the year I take a day off to be a tourist in Chicago. I never do. But last night, a work event forced me to spend a little bit of time being a tourist in my own city.


One of the banks I work with hosted Alex and I for a cruise on Lake Michigan last night. We had a terrific time and stayed after the cruise to watch the fireworks off Navy Pier. Every Wednesday and Saturday during the summer, there's a fireworks show at Navy Pier. All summer. So cool. When Alex and I were dating, we could watch the show from his apartment, so seeing it again was a fun way to reminisce.


And it was pretty.


And pretty things are fun to watch.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Brother Neil's Traveling Old People Show


I just typed that title with Chris looking over my shoulder. As I giggled, I said to him, no one is going to understand that title but me. Certainly no one will find it as funny as I do. But he shrugged his shoulders, which I took to be the international sign for who cares if the world doesn't get you, be yourself! And where else can I be myself than here in my little corner of cyberspace, you know, the interweb. ;)

So on Saturday I took my mom to the United Center to see Neil Diamond. (You may have read here about my thoughts on Neil Diamond. I had conquered my fear and was ready to go.)


It was a pretty good show. Not as hokey as I thought it might be, but still hokey enough to make me feel a little out of place. (I like to think I'm not that hokey. You, the reader, are free to draw your own conclusions.) He did all the classics - I smuggled a little glimpse for you:

video

A few things did strike me:
  • First, when we walked into the arena, we were (or at least I was) overwhelmed by the smell of bad perfume and cologne, applied way too heavily. A friend of mine described it as the smell of mothballs. Pretty accurate. Were people trying too hard to impress Neil?
  • Second, Neil's backup band seemed (to the individual) to be chosen to make him (at 67) look as young as possible.
  • Third, after 40+ years on the road, it's difficult to look like you genuinely appreciate the applause you receive. Especially when it's the 50 millionth time you've sung these songs*.
  • Finally, can you really trust a man who wears a sparkly suit? I mean, where does he get his wardrobe?


All in all, my mom and I had a great time. I don't know
all of his music, but after being subjected to most of it for much of my childhood, I knew enough to be dangerous. There were certainly times during the show when I turned to my mom to ask - is this one of his new songs? only to have her say no. I guess she just subjected us to his greatest hits.


And the best part? Neil Diamond treated us with a rousing rendition of Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show for his final encore. And yes, it is still stuck in my head.

* Perhaps my views were tainted by
this article in the World's Greatest Newspaper?
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Weddings and concerts and sick days, oh my!

I knew it. I knew as soon as she said it. "Kathleen, I really love your blog. You're so reliable. I know I can count on a post from you at least every other day." Or something like that. I don't have a phonographic memory. Anyway, I knew as soon as Tracy said those words to me that I would fail you, my loyal blog readers.

It's been a crazy week. It started out this past weekend when I was out of town. Guess where I was:



Alex and I had a lovely weekend in Seattle, catching up with friends and seeing my beautiful wondertwin Becky get hitched.


Lovely and happy. Exactly how you should look on your wedding day.

Then things at work got crazy.

Then I had to go to a concert on Tuesday.
(can you tell who it is?)



They even came up into the stands and did a few songs. What a band of the people!


So after all that fun, the dinner I had on Tuesday rendered me unable to get out of bed on Wednesday.

Then today came around and here we are. I'll try not to stay away so long next time.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Cautionary tale

Kids can be mean. They believe different is weird. Different is stupid. Different is something to be laughed it. While I don't have kids of my own to rely on for empirical evidence, when my brothers were little, I was pretty close to being an adult. Close enough to know that when they or their friends made fun of people sometimes it was mean.

My brother Chris had a friend (had is an important word in that statement) who was chatty and loved to flatter adults or really anyone with a car who could drive him around. He was a real Eddie Haskell.



I have no idea what he said about me behind my back, but I'm certain, at times, it wasn't awesome. Chris's friend could be especially cruel with his humor. Show him someone bald, vertically challenged, unathletic or chubby and he would have a field day.

Chris's friend wanted to be an NFL athlete, and he was pretty certain he had the mad skillz to make it happen. When injuries or general lack of talent sidelined him, he decided he would be a nutritionist. When he decided he didn't care about food, he set his sights on becoming a gym teacher. So I was pretty surprised when Chris sent me a picture of this kid the other day.



To protect the innocent and satisfy the request of some of my loyal readers for more draw-rings,
I've created my own rendering of the picture Chris sent.


Notice how the girl next to him is trying to make it as clear as possible that she is not with him? She might as well hop into the lap of the skinny guy sitting next to her. As my brother noted, his 16-year-old self would have pointed and laughed at his current self.

What is that saying? That which we dislike most in others is what we dislike most about ourselves? Be careful of making fun of overweight people because you might become one some day?
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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wish you were here...

Finally! Captured on film (well on my digital point and shoot on the way to my track workout), the elusive (to me at least) Chicago lakefront sunrise. Can you believe that is Chicago? I truly love this city. I mean, look, it's a beach (!), in the midwest (!), and I am confident that the only nearby jellyfish are in the aquarium (!!!). Jellyfish-free beaches make me happy. :)

And how cool is the sky in this picture! It was mid-day blue in between the clouds above my head and pure sunrise as you looked east over the lake. I'm smitten with Chicago. I'm in deep smit. (Can anyone name that movie?)

I know I won't convince you that palm trees are native to Illinois or that this is the way Chicago always looks, but this is how it rewards me for waking up early and biking to my morning track workouts this summer. What a treat!
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Craft overboard

Where was I all weekend? I was even in town and still was terribly neglectful! I'm sorry. I have no excuse other than an overwhelming urge to make something.

It started out quite simply and rationally:
I was going to a baby shower on Sunday. (ok)
I purchased a few outfits for the little one. (makes sense)
I wanted to put them all in the same box, but I had purchased the items from a few different sources. (understood)
I couldn't find an appropriately sized box. (bummer)
Saturday afternoon was a little gray and I had already made the decision to stay in. (why not?)
So I decided to make a box for my present. (wha??)

Yeah, that's the point at which I start to get a little irrational, but look, it was cute!



So I purchased box board and little-boy-appropriate paper from Paper Source and did all kids of math to figure out how big each board should be. I cut boards. I glued them together.


I made a bookcloth hinge. I did a bunch more math to figure out the size of all of the pieces of paper. I covered the box in paper.


I put each outfit inside and went off to the shower.

I think the end product was very cute, and I hope it might find a way to be useful for storing bibs or burp cloths or other appropriately sized items that fit into a 19"x13"x3" box. I'm not sure. Is a 19"x13"x3" box useful? Karen, if you find a use for it, let me know. Otherwise, I may have to ditch this ridiculous offshoot of my bookbinding hobby. :)


So what about the rest of the weekend? Saturday morning, I had a lovely breakfast with my mother. Sunday morning, I had a wonderful recreational jogging experience. Sunday afternoon, I was at the baby shower. And Sunday night? Um, on Sunday night, I was busy nursing a mean Irishman's tan that I acquired while sitting outside at the shower.

Normal color of my back: Current color of my back:
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

One of my favorite things about Chicago - Ravinia

Last night, Alex and I went to our first Ravinia concert of the season.

Proof of our attendance

We saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Joshua Bell on the violin and Leonard Slatkin conducting. It was culture-rific! Every now and then we like to class things up a bit and get our symphony, art or opera on. And in addition to listening to the symphony we were able to enjoy a wonderful night outdoors.


For those who have never been, Ravinia is an outdoor music festival that runs May-September in the North Shore Suburbs of Chicago. It hosts mellow concerts (like Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett and the BoDeans) and the Chicago Symphony all summer long. Like many outdoor music venues, it has a covered pavilion with just over 3000 seats. What makes it a little different from the others is Ravinia has a HUGE lawn.

A very small portion of the HUGE lawn at Ravinia

People come to Ravinia with chairs and tables and tablecloths and candelabras (!). Most of the lawn area doesn't have a view of the performers, but there are speakers throughout the park so everyone can hear. Of course you are free to walk around and get up close to the pavilion to get a better view, but laying under the stars, listening to lovely music is pretty wonderful in and of itself.

Alex and I were being treated by one of my company's law firms, so we classed it up to the extreme and ate a catered meal before the concert and watched the performance from seats in the pavilion. We'll try to go back again and enjoy the lawn before the season is over.
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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Long weekend

We enjoyed a lovely long weekend here in Chicago. What a treat!

Most of our friends were at weddings, cabins in Michigan or Indiana or places further afield, but we enjoyed being in Chicago this weekend. First, we were able to accomplish much on the home maintenance front (we weeded, we mowed, we watered, we pruned and we scrubbed the deck). Second, since everyone was out of town, the farmers' markets were particularly unscathed when we made our way to them. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the weather was ideal for outdoor dining. And that is how we rewarded ourselves for our hard work:



We pulled out all the stops for our barbecue chicken feast. We enjoyed fresh shelling peas from the farmers market that were incomparably sweet and nothing like the peas I used to refuse to eat as a child. And to top off the feast, we had Dorie Greenspan's flavor-filled, sweet and delightful corny corn muffins (the corniest, I hear). While we have her terrific book, entitled Baking, and while that is where I got the recipe, Deb at Smitten Kitchen has already posted the recipe, so I refer you to her. (I agree with her suggestion of using 4 tablespoons of sugar instead of 6, but I make up for it by sprinkling a little sugar on the top of each muffin before baking.)


For dessert, we tried Cook's Illustrated's latest contribution to blueberry pie making.


While I've read a lot of warnings about their new pie crust recipe (with vodka! which keeps the dough moist, but evaporates out during the cooking process so the crust isn't soggy), I found it really easy to work with and very tasty. The pie was good, but not my favorite. Alex, however, really enjoyed it. It holds its shape and is much less sloppy than normal blueberry pie, but I found it a little gelatinous for my liking.


For those of you that like firm pie fillings or are seeking an excellent pie crust instructions, I post the recipe.


FOOLPROOF PIE DOUGH
From the July and August 2008 issue of COOK'S ILLUSTRATED

INGREDIENTS

2.5 c unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 tsp table salt
2 tbsp sugar
12 tbsp cold unsalted butter
0.5 c cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
0.25 c cold vodka
0.25 c cold water

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Process 1.5 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into 2 even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Use how you want, but if you're making the blueberry pie...

3. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

BLUEBERRY FILLING
INGREDIENTS

6 c fresh blueberries
1 granny smith apple
2 tsp grated zest and 2 tsp juice from 1 lemon
0.75 c sugar
2 tbsp instant tapioca, ground (in a spice grinder or mini food processor, if using pearl tapioca, reduce to 5 tsp)
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 0.25 inch pieces

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Adjust oven rach to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher (Kathleen note: I used a glass), mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have been broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1.5 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.
2. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.
3. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured work surface to 11-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Using 1.25 inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 round from dough, 1.5 inches from edge of center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1/2 inch overhang on each side.
4. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving 1/2 inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.
5. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Technical difficulties

So I've missed out a couple photo opportunities so far this weekend, but that's no reason for me not to write. I’ve done my best to show you what mine eyes did see anyway.

First, I wanted to report that it's been five weeks, and I have thus far stuck with my morning workouts. It's mildly impressive, because I'm so not a morning person. I qualify my accomplishment as only mildly impressive, though, because I haven't changed much about the days I don't wake up early to work out. I'm still not a morning person.


All the same, on Tuesday, I wake up at 5am, get dressed, run 3.5 miles to my trainer's studio, work out for an hour and then jog or take the bus to work (1.5 miles). On Thursday, I also wake up at 5am, get dressed, bike 4 miles to the track, do an hour-long track workout, regain my breath and ride my bike 2 more miles to work.

On Thursday mornings, my bike ride takes me to the lakefront path and sometimes the sunrise is so stunning, I have to stop and marvel at its beauty. This Thursday, I decided to bring my camera on my bike ride so I could share the beauty with you. As I had hoped, the sunrise was beautiful, colorful, brilliant, so I stopped my bike, opened up my camera and… it immediately closed. Foiled by a dead camera battery! So I’ve done my best to recreate the lovely scene:



Pretty, eh?

Second, last night, given the high winds, cool temperatures and the fact that well over a million people were expected to congregate on Chicago’s lakefront for the fireworks show, Alex and I hoped we could take in the Independence Day celebrations from our roof. Turns out our view isn’t that good, so we watched the fireworks on TV. We’re awesome.

Had we been there to take a picture, though, it would have looked lovely, like this, sort of:



Only less tacky.

Happy 4th!
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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Musings on ridiculous spending and self-promotion

I find self-promotion hilarious, usually. When Barney Stinson says, in reference to himself, "I've heard that guy's awesome," I giggle.



When Steven Colbert promoted his own portrait, pushing to have it hung in the National Portrait Gallery and ultimately in the Smithsonian's National Treasure exhibit, I laughed.



Maybe it's because I know they're kidding. And maybe it is because I know Hamdan Khouri is not kidding that I find the story (found here and here) on Abu Dhabi license plate auctions and his family's role in them a little less funny. After his 25 year old brother Saeed won the auction for license plate number 1 (with a $14 million bid), the 21 year old Hamdan says "We are lucky. We have the money to get what we want. We want to be the best."

First, um, the best what?

Second, I'm not seeing the value here. If I was playing Let's Make a Deal, and I had the number 1 license plate in hand, I would definitely see what was behind Door #1. I would be thrilled with any of the following outcomes: (1) a big, nice, beautifully appointed, totally furnished house in Chicago (let's go crazy and say value = $5 million), (2) a totally tricked out BMW X5 with free gas for the next 5 years (value = $90,000 at the rate Alex and I drive), (3) Gucci bag (value = $3,000 for something nice), or even (4) 4 tubes of Fresh Sugar Lip Balm (value = $100). That is until you told me I could sell it to the Khouri family for $14 million.

Finally, I'm not so much bothered by their ridiculous wealth (all kinds of people have ridiculous wealth for no real reason other than good fortune, being at the right place at the right time, winning the lottery or the publisher's clearing house sweepstakes or whatever - I don't have the time or the inclination to begrudge them all), I'm more bothered by their lack of creativity. I mean, if I was going to spend $14 million on a license plate, it better be a diamond encrusted, commissioned piece by Damien Hirst or something!

And if there are any wealthy oil barons reading my blog, I would be happy to put you in touch with my most excellent brother-in-law who would be happy to arrange for such a commission. Right Graham?

And so I tie together the two things I wanted to talk about today: the episode of HIMYM I watched last night (one of my favorites) and $14 million license plates.
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