muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Today felt like the right balance between responsibilities (laundry, home maintenance, making dinner) and diversions (hanging with friends). I set myself up for success by making plans with Miss Betty. We batted around ideas and settled on The Gundis for brunch. I'd already been there once for dinner, but the portrait of their Kurdish breakfast hat me salivating to try it.

Good god was it a terrific choice. I love their bread--a house-baked wholegrain pita with a slightly crunchy crust--and all I really wanted was to spread things on it. But it comes with eggs, which I decided to get out of the way while they were hot and eat first. They sent me rhapsodising about the glories of simple food prepared just right. I don't understand how anyone can make something as basic as unadorned scrambled eggs taste an order of magnitude better than I've had them almost anywhere else.

The only thing I missed was spreadable cheese. I was hoping for something like labne, but instead it was a trio of feta (fresh, not too salty--my weird Balkan friends would approve), kashar, and mozzarella. (Guess which of those three got the least love.) The second of these paired particularly well with the fig jam. I wasn't wild about the sesame butter at first, but drizzling just a bit of honey over it made all the difference. The tea was surprisingly bitter, but the "Kurdish coffee" (a hot drink made of roasted ground terebinth seeds steeped in milk) more than made up for it.

"You can take your time," Miss Betty enthused. "Everything is served together so you don't have to rush to be ready for the next course." We spent a leisurely couple of hours catching up and gradually stuffing ourselves. It wasn't as busy as I'd feared, which meant we didn't feel at all bad about taking up the time of our server (one of the two Mehmets who started the place) with all manner of questions. I showed him my copy of I stared at the night of the city and he took a picture of it in order to look it up later. And he taught me "Oẍir be!" as we were leaving, but not "Xatira te", which according to my dictionary is what I should've been saying.

It was a pleasant day--partly sunny with occasionally chilly gusts--so we decided to stroll up Broadway for a while. For me, it was an opportunity to see how much it's changed since the days when I used to visit there regularly. It was already plenty gentrified back then, but now even more classic storefronts have ceded to mixed use mid-rises. Still, Reckless is still there, as is Treasure Island, Bookleggers, and other unlikely survivors. (Finally have a copy of Rayuela to not read.)

I got back home only shortly before my next scheduled rendezvous, with my trick from Bear Night a month ago. Call him "Miss Pretty", since he'd like that. He came back last night and we fooled around a while before he headed back to the burbs, but he managed to leave a med alert bracelet on the bookcase and had to return for it. I knew he didn't really have time to come in so I entertained him in the entryway for about half an hour, which was a bantering act between seduction and discretion that had me feeling young again.

The sex isn't great, but it's fun, and we haven't exhausted all the possibilities yet, so I suspect more visits are in the future. I'm already getting a feel for the parts of his personality that could annoy me senseless if I'm not careful, but they're balanced by his ability to make me helpless with laughter. He's got some depth, so I ain't bored yet.
Nov. 22nd, 2016 12:44 pm

Tapacity

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Have I finally built up enough allopurinol in my system to get the proper benefit from it or did I simply dodge a bullet this weekend? It'd be nice to know which going forward. Alas, I've never been that good about reading signals from my body and they're anything but clear in this case.

For obvious reasons, I suggested tapas before the opera Saturday. A Googling for something convenient to the opera house led me to Pata Negra inside Block 37. The reviews were mixed but generally positive and I was curious to try something equally new to both of us. Nuphy was game, and happily made reservations.

We didn't need them. Despite some winter lights celebration on Boul Mich in its second or third year that I'd never heard of before the bus driver warned me of reroutes, next to nobody was detouring to the heart of a mall in downtown Chicago's most ill-fated block for a bite. It could hardly have been any more convenient: I took the el to avoid traffic snarls, forgetting that the station connects directly to the basement of the shopping centre.

Getting from there to the restaurant, however, proved at least as daunting as the rest of the trip. There were signs but they weren't very clear, often making it seem like you needed to exit the building rather than go up a floor. But I found it, and Nuphs already on his first margarita of the evening. I eventually ordered a glass of cava to keep him company. There were only two other occupied tables in the joint when we arrived, but I think our corner spot would have been quiet anyway. (The relatively tranquility of the place had been mentioned by at least two of the reviewers.)

The menu was, as you might expect, pretty meat-heavy. I was prepared to let the Funny Little Man get all the flesh he wanted and just nibble bits. But the servings were considerably bigger than we'd expected and, as a result, we'd overordered. The "butifarrita", for instance, was nine thick slices of grilled sausage and when I thought we were ordering two chicken croquettes, it was actually two chicken brochettes, each consisting of three fat pieces.

I ended up offering one whole skewer of botifarra to the neighbouring table. (One of the diners heard me describing calçots to Nuphy and cheerfully added his two cents, so I figured they'd be amenable.) They wouldn't take any jamón serrano, though. "Oh, that's too good to share!" they told us. It was the one thing we could take away, so I got the server to stow it in a plastic-wrapped box that I crushed and concealed in my car coat for the duration of the performance.

Even the non-meat dishes we got weren't terrific for my gout. Luckily crab is far from the worst seafood, since the avocado crab toast was piled high with it. The chef's special was a trio of grilled mushrooms which alone was enough for an entree. Oddly, we had to order bread. (I don't know if we were charged, but I suspect so because it came with a little dish of olive oil, mustard, and peperoncini slices.) The only other purely vegetarian dish on the table was--again, oddly--the habas a la catalana[*], which contained no sausage but paper-thin slices of red onion and asparagus tips, among other things.

Nuphy insisted on trying the Wagyu, which was as weak as the reviewers warned us. He thought the bacon-wrapped dates with cabrales and marcona almonds were a revelation, but I've made exactly that for an appetiser before so I wasn't impressed. They were sweet enough to save for dessert, since we definitely didn't have room for anything else. A shame since I'd vetoed the Christkindlmarket to come here and I nurtured hopes of stopping by afterwards for fried dough in some form or other. (Nuphy did stop by and waved a bar of nougat in my face, which I stole a piece of later while checking his coat.)

I did take a moment to survey the other stations--apparently the policy is that you can bring in food from them when sitting in Pata Negra provided you order some dishes there as well--but I didn't find the bacalao fritters I'd had my heart set on. Some of the other offerings--like the cocas and grilled seafood--looked pretty nice though, so I may try to stop in for a small bite whenever I happen to be there again (which, under current circumstances, could be another year from now).

Naturally, after having eaten several times my ordinary daily allowance of high-purine foods, I braced myself for a night of agony which failed to arrive. Usually the reaction is pretty immediately, but it was another 48 hours before I was convinced I was out of the woods. So maybe I can afford the occasional splurge after all? In that case, this could be a marginally better Thanksgiving than expected. Or was it due to contributing factors which aren't necessarily reproducible? I think it'll take me some suffering to find out one way or the other.

[*] Definitely not faves a la catalana, as the waiter corrected me when I said this.
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Oct. 4th, 2016 03:14 pm

Darkest

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
They're readmitting [livejournal.com profile] monshu and it's for the best. It's been a rough week or so--basically, what I'd expected it to be like when we first took him home and was pleasantly surprised. We thought his weakness and loss of appetite might be a symptom of dehydration, but after having several litres of fluid dripped into him, he hasn't improved at all, so maybe there's something else going on. I just hope we don't find out that his kidney function has gotten worse; one malfunctioning organ at a time is plenty, thanks.

Sunday I just hit the floor. I got out of bed, helped him bathe in bed, then made banana bread. (Or did I make the bread first? I don't remember now.) I got in a brief nap and then I just couldn't motivate myself to do anything. Blondie--who was also in bed--texted me and asked if I wanted to get food. I told him I was going to fix something at home, then get cleaned up to meet with him, but I didn't. I just sat there in the chair. Mom basically had to push me out of the house. "You need a break," she said. And I knew it was true but I just didn't want to leave.

I'm enough of an extrovert that when I do overcome a funk to drag myself out of the house, an hour or so in good company is all it takes to snap me out of it. But that wasn't happening this time. I was sitting in Blondie's room at the Swissôtel enjoying his fantastic view of Lakeshore East (a neighbourhood so new I wasn't even aware it existed) while he sat in his robe, chattering away, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball. He had a work mixer to go to and I thought I'd just hide out in the room until he got back, but he talked me into coming along by giving me a key and promising me I could flee whenever I needed to.

I didn't. It took a bit, but the people he introduced me to were so warm and friendly that I stayed. I was so out of my normal routine that all the strain and suffering back home seemed in another world. I finally told him that I needed some dinner and we discovered that Chinatown favourite Ming Hin has an outpost up here. At first we couldn't find it. The map told us it was just on the other side of the park but there was nothing there apart from a Subway and a closed diner. "Maybe it's on the other side," I suggested and we decided to cut through the Mariano's--only to discover it was the anchor tenant of a mini mall with Ming Hin at the top.

If I hadn't seen a steamer being delivered to a table when we entred, I would've thought it an oversight that dim sum menus were being distributed with the regular ones. We ordered one dish from the regular menu (dry-cooked green beans, which I forgot was a Sichuan-style dish; we left most of it uneaten) and filled up on dumplings. Avoiding pork was easier than you might think, but I ended up eating more shrimp than was really wise (which my toe made me aware of yesterday). Blondie and I were chatting away now as if nothing were wrong in the world and he walked me to the el stop afterwards like a gentleman.

But I had to come home again. At least I was happy to have some fun stories of the outside world to tell the Old Man, but he soon shut his eyes and I slipped away so he could sleep. And so I could discuss the state of things with Mom. She's set a "hard deadline" of being back to St Louis by the 15th for her BIL's second wedding. I may just have to take some time off work to allow her to do that.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
In possibly the least auspicious beginning to one of my birthdays ever, my first phone call wasn't from the pharmacy robot (as I first suspected) or a well-wisher (my second guess), but a collection agency. Seems my doctor's office hasn't the patience to wait for my insurer to reprocess all our bills for the year until they get it right and I'm not sure I blame them. (Naw, I kinda do.) On the other hand it featured this exchange:
"Can you verify your zipcode and date of birth."
"My zipcode is XXXXX, my date of birth is X/XX/XX."
"So today must be your birthday."
"That's correct."
"Happy birthday."
"Thank you!"
If I'd gotten out of the house when I'd planned, I would have missed the call entirely, but I hadn't slept well and (relatedly?) I'm still dealing with some GI issues from last week. Getting down to the facility to see [livejournal.com profile] monshu took a whole hour: half-an-hour to wait for the bus and then another half-an-hour for it to make its way down to Lawrence with all the old and infirm getting on and off at every stop. When I got there, I found him waiting to be cleaned up by the CNA--who, it turns out, hadn't been told he needed assistance. Neither had his nurse. He had no idea who he'd told, in fact, so there was no way of knowing who'd dropped the ball. I left frustrated with both the staff's sloppiness and with him for tolerating it.

My first stop was Cafe Meinl on Southport, which managed to disappoint me in a myriad of small ways. My coffee was badly mixed. (All the syrup was on the bottom.) My eggs were overdone. My waitron was training someone and couldn't be bothered to give me the check or run my card. My guts were still acting up. And Southport itself has changed so much from the street I first fell in love with twenty-two years ago. When I told my father, he asked, "Changes for the better" and I said, "It's not for me to judge, really. I don't live in Lakeview. Maybe they're very happy to have a Gap there."

Stage two was Bookworks on Clark Street. The moment I learned that they were closing and today would be their first 50% off day, I knew where I wanted to spend my birthday. But I was fighting a sense of melancholy the whole time I was scanning the shelves. And even having told myself I was going to be as generous as I could when it came to my choices, I still found it hard to find things to buy. My customary limit of $100 was in place, but in the end I barely spent a quarter of that.

Meanwhile, the sky continued to threaten rain and I'd left my umbrella at home, lulled by radar projections which showed the bulk of the storm remaining comfortably south of us. At least I finally had quick connexions taking the bus back to share my birthday torte with the Old Man (who this time was just after getting cleaned up) and the droplets held off until I was back at home. On the way, I'd cobbled together a dinner at Revival on Granville with the couple across the street and their straight nephew, plus JB (coming straight from work and looking the worse for it) and Diego.

There were a few missteps in this meal, too, bu they're much easier to take when you're distracted by good company and pleasantly lit on a fancy g&t. The server's easy charm only fed our spirits and I had the rare pleasure of seeing one of my friends explain slashfic to a whole table of people unfamiliar with the concept. We left in high spirits and I arrived at home just in time for a comedy of errors with my phone: First Dad called me while I was going through messages and I missed it. Then he called my sister by mistake, who informed me of this via text. Then he called back again while I was replying to her and sent his call to voicemail by mistake. He finally switched phones and called from the landline.

So now the frustrations and discomfort of earlier in the day are all but forgotten and I'm left with the pleasant afterglow of a good meal with friends and well wishes from a host of people. That's all it really takes to make me happy any more. The single best thing about getting older is finally getting your expectations calibrated.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
[livejournal.com profile] zompist and his lovely wife came up to the care facility yesterday and though the amount of phone tag necessary to confirm the visit was kind of ridiculous, the payoff was worth it. I arrived late enough that [livejournal.com profile] monshu had a chance to chat without my sucking up all the air in the conversation and Mom woke up in time to join us for dinner.

I let her choose the venue, which is how we ended up at Lady Gregory's instead of someplace actually good. My salmon was basically flavourless, making the brussel sprouts the standout element of the meal by default, but at least I got my cold fries replaced without any fuss. We mulled dessert there, but then I sold everyone on George's, a choice our server wholeheartedly endorsed. When she admitted she'd rather be going there herself, I asked what she wanted and then overwhelmed her by returning with a scoop of blueberry cheesecake ice cream.

It all made for another late night, however, and I'll most likely be nodding off during my afternoon meeting again today. Will I be able to get to sleep before midnight tonight? Probably not with Mom still in the house.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Our Easter dinner was a very modest affair. I didn't even get around to decorating the eggs (unless you count scribbling faces on them in felt-tip pen so they wouldn't get confused with the raw eggs in the same carton). [livejournal.com profile] monshu had a gratin all ready to go until he decided at the last minute it smelled a bit off and pitched it, so the brussel sprouts we had were simply steamed instead. In a nod to the nominal reason for the season, there was Jerusalem artichoke in the mash, but the centerpiece was obviously the perfectly cooked rack of lamb. It was such a treat I had TWO WHOLE CHOPS and damned the consequences.

We were both somewhat worn out by the good weather, which coaxed us outside to do a little yardwork. The Old Man attacked the porch, whipping it into fit shape for me to eat my egg salad sandwich on before the afternoon showers began. At that point, I'd been hacking out in the hellstrip for a couple hours, digging another hole large enough to bury a body in so that I could fill it with fallen branches and dead leaves. Probably one more of these and I'm done for the season. Then it's time to start thinking about what to do with the shambolic retaining wall Scooter left behind.

I was unsuccessful getting ahold of anyone later in the day, so I spent most of my time reading. Roddy Doyle's A star called Henry isn't great, but it reads quickly and seems a decent introduction to the major episodes in the fight for Irish independence. It does feel a little overly determined at times and I'm not sure what's with all the gratuitous fucking except for some middle-aged wish fulfilment, but I'm already two-thirds of the way through it and thinking about what my next novel should be.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Another rough morning on the heels of another rough night. I consulted my calendar, saw I had nothing on it, and called in. I know I can't keep doing this, so first thing I did once I was up and had had some lunch was see about making an appointment with a gastroenterologist. I ran through the referrals from my primary, eliminated those choices with terrible online reviews, and quickly found someone who was taking new patients and can see me...in two months time. So, yeah, if you're living in Chicago and you have a GI doc you like, I'm all ears.

It took me hours to finally get back to sleep, which played hell with the Old Man's schedule for cleaning up the place. But he eventually got done and by then I was feeling well enough to attend the gallery opening for one of our favourite contemporary artists. I'm really glad we were able to go. We both loved her new work and it's good to see her reputation growing, even if it does mean we probably won't be able to acquire any more of her pieces.

[livejournal.com profile] monshu even felt good enough afterwards to suggest dinner out. Well, I guess I did technically. I asked if there was anything at all he felt like eating and he lamented the lack of good sushi restaurants near us. I pointed out that we were travelling north on the Red Line past scores of good sushi restaurants. He wanted noodles, too, so we ended up at Indie Café on Broadway. We would've have gotten plain yakisoba if I hadn't spied mock duck as a meat option. Not the best I've had, but good. That, spring rolls, and two fusion rolls (pretty similar, actually, except for the presence of mango in one and blue crab in the other) rounded out our meal.

All in all, the day ended on a much better note than it began--not least of all because I also learned that my mother is home from the hospital where she was admitted for observation late Thursday night with kidney stones. Let's hope we don't have to weather the same progression tomorrow.
Feb. 23rd, 2016 10:12 am

元宵

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I didn't expect [livejournal.com profile] monshu to remember that yesterday was the Lantern Festival and I certainly didn't expect him to put together a festive meal given that he's been feeling poorly the last several days. But I know he tracks full moon days for fasting purposes, so I should've reckoned with the possibility. He nixed the pomelo salad (which comes as a relief to my esophagus) and served up two kinds of dumplings plus inarizushi. So a very simple meal, really, but very satisfying.

I wish I knew what to blame for the problems I've having. The "sweet-and-sour fish" I ate before the opera turned out to have chilis in it, so I resigned myself to a possible bad night. Instead I've had three in a row, all involving propping myself up to keep the reflux at bay. Lately my suspicion has begun to fall on the banana bread I made as a treat for the Old Man on Sunday that he turned out not being able to eat, since it's the only common element in my diet recently and everything else has been so bland.

At least the loss of sleep isn't keeping me from reading, as it sometimes does. I'm officially at the halfway point in Life and death are wearing me out, which I still expect to finish even if the whole time I'm reading it I'm nagged by the suspicion that there is a much better book out there I could be reading instead. And I've decided to put off Er ist wieder da until the Führer's birthday month so in the meantime I've returned to Der Nachsommer. Still as boring as ever, but that's not a bad thing when you're trying to fall asleep at night.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Wednesday I had a terrific lunch with my newest colleague where I learned both that we have closely shared tastes in fiction and that the new Chinese place downtown is good. However, I managed to forget the risks of having several cups of oolong with lunch and, as a result, slept pretty fitfully. Then I had to get up early for a start-of-the-day meeting followed directly by an all-staff in a chilly former chapel across the street. But after that I broke free.

It was [livejournal.com profile] itchwoot's last full day in Chicago and I was flattered that he wanted me to be a part of it. Since it was his clean-up day, I left the itinerary up to him and he announced an interest in the vintage store on Belmont between Clark and Halsted. Remembering his interest in music and a conversation we had about grits, I suggested combining this with a meal at Wishbone and a trip to Reckless. It was like a trip back to my misspent youth.

As always, though, I misjudged the distance from the Belmont station to Lincoln and the interest value of that stretch. I was completely surprised by the huge construction pit on the northeast corner; whatever complex they're building there, I'm sure it's going to be just awful. Lunch at Wishbone, though, was anything but. They do their seafood chowder the wrong way (i.e. with tomato sauce), but their fried green tomatoes are almost as good as Dixie Kitchen's and their crabcakes are better.

Even though I promised we'd take the bus back, I needed a little time before I was ready to rise. Reckless had moved, but only down the block and across the street. We spent over an hour there pawing through shelves of CD inserts in small mylar sleeves, so I would call that a success. We spent at least as much time at Hollywood Mirror, which wore on me as we inched toward 4 p.m. and my damn backpack kept getting heavier. Still, I offered up the comics store up the corner, but his response was "Lassn uns mal in ein Café".

I couldn't think of a good spot nearby and, since his next stop was Loyola anyway, I decided we'd get a jump on rush hour and head directly up to Granville so we could visit Metropolis. At this point, his tiredness was finally beginning to show a bit as well and the conversation drooped at times, but we managed not to push things past the point of diminishing returns before the time came to walk him up to [livejournal.com profile] dedos' and say our farewells.
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Feb. 14th, 2016 11:03 pm

Efectivo

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Trying to cheer up a single friend on Facebook, I told him, "My best Valentine's Days have been just okay while my worst were bloody awful." That's a bit unfair. All it really means is that [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I aren't the sort to go in for grand gestures (well, unless they're absolutely necessary), so "Valentine's Day" for us means "a nice meal somewhere". Which is something you can have any day.

I never asked for confirmation that the date on the calendar was the reason why he oh-so-casually proposed taking me out for a meal this weekend, but I don't think I need to. I didn't want to choose any place that would be crazy busy, which was a bit of a challenge because I also wanted to pick someplace new. Eventually I settled on Quesadilla La Reina Del Sur, which is just barely in the same neighbourhood as us, which means it took fifteen minutes on the bus and another ten or fifteen on foot. Very few people were out on account of our second snowstorm of the season (delivering a whopping six centimetres or so).

The restaurant itself was all but deserted when we arrived, but it was nearly 2 p.m. Eventually we were joined by two more couples, one of which we got into a nice chat with (he's a db manager; she's retired). They ordered burritos and they were enormous; I was relieved that our portions (a huarache and chiles rellenos) were merely generous. The soy "carnitas" tasted nothing at all like actual carnitas, but as long as you forgot the name they were perfectly pleasing. The soy chicken on the huarache was more successful; I tried to explain to the server that I thought it would make a great milanesa but I'm not sure she understood me. It was all tasty without being incendiary, which is key for me. We were really too full for dessert, but we managed to talk each other into sharing the tres leches. Again, this wasn't much like its namesake, but was interesting all the same--more of a spice cake than the typical vanilla version which only has notes of cinnamon. I was blown away to discover it was vegan, I'm just so used to vegan cake being gummy and dense.

The Old Man needed to hurry home, but I decided I needed a walk. Away from the Lake, the wind wasn't so bitter, but I still found myself with alarmingly stiff fingers. So I mashed out a text to [livejournal.com profile] itchwoot, who was staying nearby at [livejournal.com profile] clintswan's old place, and invited myself over. The gang was playing Rock Band and largely ignored me, though I did manage to make myself useful as a microphone stand. Then they broke up so the German could finally experience mac 'n' cheese and I was out on the street again.

[livejournal.com profile] monshu had shoveled once, but there was enough accumulation to justify me pulling out the broom and giving everything a good sweep. We barely felt like eating. He made some peanut noodles and I had peanut butter and apples on toast. Then I sat down to watch Cowards Bend the Knee while doing laundry and got such a sense of déjà-vu that I suspect I already watched it at some point with [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo and forgot about that completely.

So, yeah, you could look at this day and characterise it as "just okay". But then I recall Valentine's Day last year--which could not be more firmly in the "bloody awful" category--and it seems nothing short of miraculous.
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Feb. 9th, 2016 08:28 pm

Paunchy Day

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Today's excursion with [livejournal.com profile] itchwoot moves one more person from the column of "LJ Friends I've Never Met" to "LJ Friends Known IRL". At this rate it will take only, what, 600 more years to meet you all?

He got in town last Saturday, but I was tied up with opera and gaming and such so it was Sunday evening before I was able to touch base with him. Fortunately I'd already asked for Fat Tuesday off since I'd been invited to a New Year's banquet the evening before and didn't know how late that would go. (Until near 11 p.m., as it turns out, so that was a good call.) He's got over a dozen people to see on his visit to Chicago and it seems almost none of them are free on weekdays before dinnertime.

Which is how I got him all to myself after I sleepily texted him around midmorning and invited him over for pancakes. Pączki were all over our flist, however, and he asked if we could score some of those instead. I was primed for that suggestion by the sad realisation I was missing Pączki Day at work, so I gave him directions to Swedish Bakery and told him I'd meet up with him on the bus. But he'd only ridden the El before, so I killed time chatting with my neighbours while waiting for him to hike the kilometre from the Berwyn station. (One even offered me an earlier number gifted her by one of the several people who lost hope at the size of the line, but I turned it down lest I get called before he arrived.)

The whole concept of taking a number at a bakery turned out to be novel to him, and he was amused at the prospect of buying Polish treats at a Swedish bakery without even realising that the staff serving us were Mexican. He bought three and I got two, thinking I'd give two to [livejournal.com profile] monshu. Then it occurred to me he might find even the fruit ones too sugary so I bought two hot cross buns as well. There's no place to nosh at Swedish Bakery (there's barely room to stand most days) and he needed coffee, so we hiked down to La Colombe and hid in the corner so we could secretly pig out. He observed that his pączek had a lot more filling than Berliner Pfannkuchen and it was true that I felt so full from my "cherry cheese fudge" selection that I didn't feel I needed anything else for a while.

He'd bought a book of coupons for Chicago attractions, but a couple were redeemable for only one of two alternatives, so he'd burned his Art Institute ticket on the Planetarium. "I'm a member," I said, "I can get you in for free." So that became the plan. I insisted we check out the Stieglitz exhibit in the basement, but after that we spent the rest of our time in the modern wing. They'd gotten a sizable gift since my previous visit, so there was plenty of new stuff to see alongside my old faves.

(As an aside, it was interesting to realise how little my taste has changed over the course of my life. When I toured Europe at age 20, I was drawn to the Dadaïsts, Surrealists, and Expressionists. Not only do I get as much pleasure out of them as I ever have, but my roster of favourite artists still hasn't changed much--though I did come out this time with somewhat more regard for Max Ernst than I'd had previously.)

I learned about this from an Englishwoman (who only referred to herself as "British" despite being originally from Chesire) we met in the café when we broke for tea. (Well, parsnip soup for him and smoked whitefish spread for me.) She sat down a few seats away and warmly struck up a conversation. Her husband splits his time between here and Ottawa, so sometimes she accompanies him to Chicago and consumes culture while he's tied up with work. I recommended Hinterland to her when I learned her mother lived in Cardiganshire (she's seen it) and she suggested River, a BBC crime series.

Afterwards, [livejournal.com profile] itchwoot had plans to meet another LJ friend for dinner, so we rode together as far as Loyola and I went home to [livejournal.com profile] monshu, who'd put together a second vegetarian New Year's dinner, this one featuring sesame noodles and headless lion's head soup because Mariano's was out of the crumbles he was going to use to make no-meatballs. Ah well! One more pączek and I sure the hell ain't going to bed hungry.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Leaving the Container Store today, I remarked to the Old Man that we'd ended up observing MLK Day by going someplace with the fewest Black people we could find. I was painfully aware of the irony when we planned the trip, only I didn't see an alternative. If he'd been feeling better then, we could've completed it last weekend and I was too sick of all the Christmas shit littering the den to put off buying sturdy plastic boxes for it yet another week. It doesn't all fit in the ones we've acquired, but most of it does and we can manage with the odds and ends.

The lunch place, Kingsbury Street Café, felt like Trixie ground zero. (My long hair is trendy again, but I'd have to wear it down and artfully radiating even at the cost of rendering a fur-lined hood purely decorative in -27°C windchill.) I was genuinely shocked when [livejournal.com profile] monshu made the decision to eat there even after being told of a twenty-minute wait. My "salmon hash" was flavourful and generous with the salmon, even if I didn't care for the trendy substitution of tater tots for actually potatoes, but he's being super cautious and only had plain pancakes. We hardly need to come to North & Clybourn for that.

Sunday was a day of pure hibernation. We'd spent Saturday running around so we had plenty of heat-and-eat treats from Middle Eastern (the chive-feta spread is a keeper). I ended up having to hike all the way to Whole-mart for the "vegetable crumbles" for the meatless shepherd's pie, only to find that pea protein is a key ingredient, so they might not actually be lower in purine than real meat after all. Same for the fake chicken strips I transformed into a kind of gyro with the help of fresh tzatziki and a little romaine.

But I had to do something to make up for my splurge on speck at Spacca Napoli on Saturday with [livejournal.com profile] tyrannio and [livejournal.com profile] innerdoggie. To be honest, it felt distinctly odd eating at a straight-up Italian place with them, but they vetoed the Mexican place I wanted and I nixed the inconveniently-located Turkish café with its paradoxically meat-heavy menu. Hours later, as I was coming back home on the Broadway bus, I learned that someone had been shot dead at a McDonald's only a mile due east right about the time our pies arrived. But that's the privilege that comes with living on the "right" side of a divided city.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
My cold really blossomed yesterday so I didn't expect I'd be able to keep my promise to accompany the GWO and Turtle to Eataly today. But after taking tea, my throat stopped hurting quite so much. She also drove us there and back, which made me far more amenable than I would otherwise have been. The zinc I've been taking gave a strange tang to the vegetable soup, but the skate wing sandwich was tasty enough, as was the chocolate-strewn focaccia I had afterwards. Turtle hadn't been there before, so we had the joy of showing her around.

Still, it wore me out enough that I slept away most of the afternoon. For dinner, we had some mushroom and black truffle ravioli del plin. Tomorrow it's my job to cook, and I dipped into my cookbooks trying to find something a bit different than the usual coques. To my surprise, we also got Tokyo Godfathers in the mail, which the Old Man watched with me. It was thoroughly enjoyable--sentimental at times, stuffed with unlikely coincidences, but with beautiful mise en scène, some genuinely surprising twists, and a Japanese reggae cover of "Ode to Joy" just to wrap things up.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Turtle shared with us her New Year's resolution to do supper club at least ten times in the coming year. So I'm going to make it my resolution to blog all ten meals out, if only briefly. But since this resolution was made over the table at Cantina 1910, why wait?

There's been more than the usual amount of food press drama about this place. It was an ambitious and anticipated endeavour with a somewhat rocky launch that hasn't been made easier by the collision with locals' expectations. We saw this with Premise, another attempt to create a destination restaurant in Andersonville. I honestly don't understand why this is so difficult. As I ranted in the car tonight, "If Logan Square can become a destination for fine eating, why can't Andersonville?" [livejournal.com profile] monshu is adamant that you can't survive there without the support of people in the neighbourhood, so you have to make some kinds of concessions for them.

Judging by how empty the place was on a Sunday night, Cantina 1910 might need to start doing that. It's hard to say where it will be going since the chef departed with her sous-chef only three days ago, citing differences with the ownership. Meanwhile the staff are still executing the established menu, though whether or not to the same standard is an open question.

We had one serious clunker in our meal, dropped right into [livejournal.com profile] monshu's tasty dish of stewed pork, pork belly, and beans: a half-dozen slices of tough near-flavourless pork loin. It was treated with so much less care than any other ingredient in any of the dishes we had (not rubbed, not brined, not sauced) that I wonder what it was even doing there.

On the other side of things was the arroz negro con huitlacoche. I couldn't even tell what all was in it, only that it was a beautiful mix of flavours and textures in every bite. Actually, from the moment the guacamole arrived, I knew were in good hands. Even the chips were outstanding. (One of the more common whines from unhappy Yelpers is apparently that they charge for chips and salsa.)

I was very happy we had a group and could share. I was deeply intrigued by the oxtail on a bone marrow tortilla, but that's too rich a dish for me to even think about ordering for myself. Instead I got a couple of tasty bites while depending on the squash tacos to do the heavy lifting of nourishing me. Nothing we had could really be called "spicy", but there was plenty of warmth from the use of chipotle, smoked paprika, and the like.

And since none of us our heavy eaters, it was all pretty reasonable: about $30 a head including tax and tip but not alcohol. (The Old Man had two glasses of whine, Turtle had a row of cocktails, Turtle Wife teetotaled, and I contented myself with a glass of soda mixed with the bartender's self-concocted hops-grapefruit bitters that seemed to be just the tonic for my upset stomach.) We shared the dessert, for instance, which was a few crunchy chunks of carrot cake and cubes of flan on a bed of rich rice pudding.

Will we make it back? At the rate we're going, it'd have to hang around another year before we'd return. (I only just made a return visit to Hopleaf this year thanks to Blondie coming to town.) I hope it does, but that's not looking like the way to bet.
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Nov. 28th, 2015 10:51 pm

Erschöpft

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I had mooted the idea of going out to the bar tonight, but Second Thanksgiving has wiped me out. Fig and Nuphy got along exactly as well as [livejournal.com profile] monshu hoped they would, and Fig repaid handsomely the confidence we put in him by entrusting him with the dessert in the form of a "Holiday spice cake" from Southern Living magazine that was a work of art. (We were all full of praise for his "vertical nuts".)

We also finally got to meet the mystery man in Nuphy's life. Unfortunately, he had to be somewhere half an hour before our proposed start time so the Old Man woke from his nap to find a text saying, "We'll be there about [twenty minutes from now]". He's a Donauschwabe with such classic Aryan looks that it was all I could do to refrain from bursting into a chorus of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me!" at the sight of him. He had the oddest way of speaking, to the degree that he sounded more like an L2 speaker of English, albeit a particularly accomplished one.

He's also a cop for a Lake County suburb, which led to some interesting discussions on the way over and--briefly--in our living room. Even he thinks Chicago cops are assholes. The town where he's working is unusually racially-diverse for the area, so it will be interesting to hear more about his experiences there.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The only real failure of this year's Pilsen trip was tamales. Specifically that we didn't come back with any. I'd mooted the idea of stopping in at Día de los Tamales on 18th, but that was more of a hike than the Old Man was up to. We thought we might find a good postprandial pick-me-up at Café Monsiváis, but it was all savouries so we abandoned it for Panaderia Nuevo León across the street.

It was worth it for the experience alone. The woman behind the counter was a stitch. As we waited in line, she said something in Spanish about how much she loved Sundays because "everyone comes to visit me". We were behind an adolescent with a huge tray of assorted pastries. After he'd paid up, he had his head turned talking to a girl and your woman had to say, "Baby you chane!" three times to get his attention again.

I was worried about having no pan de muertos, so we made a run to Bombón first thing. It was a one-man show and the poor guy seemed flustered to have anyone else in the bakery with him. Eventually he brought out two medium panes and we bought them both. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] monshu's terrible influence, this also probably marks the first time I've left Bombón without a pastel tres leches.

Going to and from the store brought us past Bistro 18, in the old Mundial space. Here was where we'd planned to eat lunch and I was more worried about a crowd there than at the museum, so even though it wasn't yet noon we grabbed a table at the window. Sunlight was streaming in and I was almost steaming before even ordering a cafe con leché. Since it was still early, I decided to go for coconut french toast even though the grilled fish was what really appealed, but [livejournal.com profile] monshu got the combo. It took only a couple of bites of this to convince me I needed to order a fish taco of my own, which was generous enough to constitute two at basically anywhere else I've eaten.

Service was slow for no apparent reason, however, so it was almost one by the time we made it to the museum. Still not as crowded as I feared. As usual, there was quite a range of ofrendas, starting with a three-tiered construction from Huaquechula in Puebla which is easily the most elabourate I've ever seen. Only a short wall separated it from a nearly postmodern altar to masked wrestler El Santo, who died in 1984. For some reason, there was a plethora of throwbacks this year, including Selena and Anthony Quinn. For the student-teachers slain in the massacre at Iguala, the excuse can be made that at this time last year, there was still hope of finding them alive. The memorial to them was so powerful it had me choking back tears.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Tomorrow is the Moon Festival so today we made the trip down to South Chinatown for mooncakes. I knew we were cutting it close and I wouldn't've been surprised to find that they were out of their proprietary mixed nut mooncakes. I didn't expect that they'd be out of mooncakes altogether. We ended up buying a couple from Chiu Quon instead (lotus paste and winter melon, so the Old Man will end up having a bite or two at most). We also got a few other sweets to tide us over, since Nuphy wasn't due to meet up with us for another half hour.

We all vaguely remembered having spotted on our last visit a place we'd like to try in future, but as none of us could recall the name or any details, I simply Googled "best dumplings Chinatown", since [livejournal.com profile] monshu said he wanted jiǎozi. Among the chaff we found Mike Sula's write-up from last February of a place in the Richland Food Court called Qing Xiang Yuan (青香苑) which specialised in a kind of soup dumpling called guàntángjiǎozi (灌湯餃子). That didn't catch my attention as much as the fact that they were hand-filled to order, so we made a beeline for the place and texted Nuphy the location.

Sula had lamented that the food court was "almost always nearly empty", but that wasn't the case today, which meant that there was a 20-minute wait for food. But that and the fact that the locale was almost too authentic (the bunker-like lack of ambience and general grottiness bringing back culture shock from our trip to Beijing) were the only drawbacks. If anything, the dumplings exceeded my expectations, being every bit as tender and fresh as the ones we got in China but more juicy and perhaps even more delicate as well. We kept going back until we'd had three orders: lamb and coriander, pork and leek, and zucchini and mushroom (alas, the least interesting of the three).

Both the old farts had brought their appetites, though, so the GWO ended up ordering a big plate of yakisoba from the Taiwanese/Japanese noodly place in the corner while Nuphy plumped for the "spicy lamb chops" from 紅辣椒 (the English name might be "Snack Planet" unless that's where he got his mango smoothie). Fortunately for me, the chiles and chili flakes were sprinkled on after the fact, so I could shake them off to sample the meat, which was curiously fluffy in texture. Oddly, none of the places served hot tea (I joked with the Old Man about asking for some dumpling water, like we had to drink in Chongqing)--not even the sushi place in the corner.

We decided to walk off lunch with a circuit through the mall, which was packed with attendees for the Moon Festival, and then back to Feida, since Nuphy wanted jindeui. Amazingly, they were out of those, too, so we looped back to the Saint Anna Bakery, stopping on the way to check out the new Chinatown Branch of CPL. We were impressed by the exterior on our last trip, but lots of beautiful buildings are badly non-functional inside. Not this one. It's a great space, with enclosed community rooms on the main floor for activities (including what looked like it could've been a funeral) and study rooms upstairs. The noisier areas are concentrated on the north side, and it gets quieter going south towards the study room as the stacks switch from English to Chinese. (There seemed a roughly equal number of both and plenty of new acquisitions.) I had a great chat with one of the staff, who turned out to be a graduate of UofC's library school back when there still was such a thing.

Saint Anna was a blast from the past as well. I don't think it's changed since that mall was built over two decades ago. Unfortunately, this meant the sweets were less than satisfactory (not to speak of the bag tea), but the experience was something else. A smiling 91 year-old came up to compliment me on my beard and chat briefly about his trajectory, which had him landing here in '62 and eventually starting a business hauling computer waste back to Hong Kong for recycling. Nuphy asked me about the specials pasted on the wall, and I attracted the attention of the waitress trying to explain the difference between the flesh and moon radicals. (Sadly, I managed to misread 酸 "sour" as 脆 "crispy", only discovering my mistake as a thumbed through McCawley on the trip back.)
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Anyone remember when cubanos became the new food asshole thing? I recall Dale complaining some years ago now about trendy redesigns which change the original formula (ham, roast pork, pickle, mustard, soft white roll) in ways that really demand renaming. For the longest time, I only remember seeing them in ethnic eateries like La Única or Cafecito but I was in two upscale cafes on Sunday and each had its own version.

By an odd coincidence, I'd just watched Favreau's Chef the night before to unwind from a hard day's shopping. If you haven't seen it, he plays a bigtime chef who loses his job and decides to open a food truck which sells cuban sandwiches. To explain the choice, he's given a Cuban wife (played by Colombian-born Sofía Vergara, whose costeño accent is fortuitously close to Cuban) and roots in Miami.

ObLing: Can I just take a moment to register the total implausibility of someone who got his start in the restaurant trade in Miami of all places not knowing a word of Spanish? Honestly, this is like being a computer programmer in Germany who doesn't speak any English. Giving him a Spanish-speaking wife is just insulting, and actively decreases my sympathy for the character. (What kind of asshole doesn't learn the language of 90+% of his workforce, two-thirds of the population of his hometown, and his own wife?)

It's a sweet film and easily one of the most food-porny I've ever seen. The father-son scenes are truly affecting; by the end of the second act, I was tearing up and pledging to call my father to suggest we take a trip together. I was also wondering what kind of resolution the director was going for. The answer, unfortunately, is an egregiously implausible feelgood one. Which is both too bad and--in hindsight--something I should've seen coming.

It starts with the soundtrack, which is stuffed with the most obvious choices imaginable. We want a Latin vibe? Let's open with "I Like It Like That" and close with "Oye Como Va". We have Perico Hernández playing Favreau's father-in-law? Let's have him do "La Quimbumba". We're coming up on LA? "West Coast Poplock". Same with the food and locales. We're in New Orleans? Well, then, let's park on Bourbon Street, have beignets at Café du Monde, and naturally a jazz funeral will come marching through on cue.

What saves the film for me are the scenes between Favreau and Emjay Anthony (a ten year-old playing ten for a change) which are well-scripted, touchingly acted, and devoid of cloyingness. I feel like they soft-pedaled the rigours of kitchen work on a child (although thankfully they didn't ignore them completely). It's the absurd final reel which gives the whole thing the taste of a middle-aged man's fantasy (Spoiler alert! He ends up with the woman of his dreams doing what he's always dreamt of doing) as it spreads a thick layer of irony all over the hero's outspoken dedication to offering challenging cuisine rather than smothering comfort.

The food scenes are incredible, though. I would watch it again just for those. Favreau does his own cooking in his scenes, which is pretty impressive, given that I naturally assumed he had stunt hands for his knifework. Celebrity chefs (such as Roy Choi, who was co-producer and oversaw all the cooking, and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin) guest star but take second-billing to their products. (Honestly, I was expecting the brisket and the lechón to appear in the cast credits.)

Needless to say, it all left me hungry for some good food. My Sunday game session was around the corner from Growling Rabbit on Sheridan and I was naturally tempted by the cubano on their menu. But I wanted to save up my binge credits for dinner that night with an old friend of [livejournal.com profile] monshu's so I went for the "sorta vegan" skillet instead. The vegetables were cooked well enough, but the eggs were badly overdone and the seasoning was terrible--lots of black pepper and tasteless herb confetti.

When I saw the Cuban again on the menu for Uncommon Ground, I declared it fate. The GWO's friend also gallantly offered to split it with me in return for half his fried green tomatoes to lessen the impact of all those injurious purines. I'll say this: unlike some of the meals I've had there, this one was perfectly fine. But the sandwich wasn't pressed and the pork was surprisingly dry, making for a less-than-satisfying experience for this food asshole.
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Jul. 20th, 2015 10:09 pm

Fested

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Actual summer weather has arrived and with it such a flurry of street festivals that I can't keep track. Yesterday, Nuphy met us in Chinatown for our first trip to Xi'an Cuisine and we found ourselves smack in the centre of the Chinatown Summer Fair. This may not be the most useless Chicago festival, but it holds the distinction of being the most useless one I've ever attended more than once. It's the weekend of the year when all the souvenir shops dump their tacky junk on folding tables in the street so that instead of sifting through it in air-conditioned comfort you get to do it in full sun and suffocating humidity along with a thousand other clueless merrymakers. Hold me back.

The weather was perfect for a beach day, and when I posted this, a friend said he was tied down working the "Celebrate Clark Street World Music Festival". This said nothing to me, and I assumed it was in Lincoln Park. No, it's just the same old local street fair rebranded to highlight its musical acts. Personally, I think of it as "DILFest". I don't go for the music or the food but for the "stroller meat". My friend owns a pet accessory store (what else do you call this proliferation of little shops full of treats and chew toys but no actual pets?) and hanging out with him and his cronies was way fun. One thing about the homo world which will never cease to amuse me is how often I learn more about a man's sexual tastes than I could tell you about those of people I've known since highschool even before I learn his name. There's more of a range there than merits the alternative nickname "Papifest", but for those of us who love Latino daddies, it is sort of one-stop shopping.

Meanwhile, there were at least two other fests the same day, plus a White Sox game. I'm glad to have dodged all of these coming back up from Nuphy's place by bus and bus even if it did take a real bite out of the afternoon. The Old Man and I were still too full from lunch to fix a real dinner, so we nibbled on cheese and fruit and then I had a bite of a squash blossom quesadilla and two filled churros. (Not my wisest choice ever.) Between the meat-heavy lunch and the meat-and-salmon-heavy appetiser dinner of the night before, I expected a gout attack and was pleased to experience none.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The liturgical and meteorological calendars were in synch this weekend. Sometime between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the last of the snow abortions vanished from our street and the first daffodils appeared. Elsewhere I saw a forsythia in bloom, but otherwise the trees and shrubs have been holding back. Sunday was a glorious day to be out, which is fortunate because I ended up walking all the way to Andersonville and halfway back.

[livejournal.com profile] monshu felt up to the challenge of catering his first dinner of the year, so we asked Nuphy and Diego to share our largesse. Sadly, Diego and Uncle Betty have split, so he brought along a mutual friend for murky reasons of "concern". The latter said little, but he was in a room of big talkers, most of which weren't particularly sober, so that was no surprise.

We had lamb, of course, and lots of it since the Old Man prepared two racks of chops just in case. Also cheesy polenta and some homebaked bread which came from the widower of [livejournal.com profile] monshu's former neighbour across the hall. Scooter had suggested we pull out the ice cream from his freezer for dessert, but the GWO had already prepared panna cotta and asked Diego to bring fruit to top it with.

After two late nights, I was dreadfully tired but fought it all the way. Nuphy wanted to hit the road early in any case, since it was the season opener for the Cubs and he wanted to be safely out of the North Side before the game ended. By happy coincidence, they were playing the Cardinals, so once everyone had gone, I slipped downstairs and caught the last seven innings. For a good 15 hours, my hometown heroes had more wins than all other teams combined. Now they simply share the top spot with two other teams.

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