Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Things Comin'

It is chile time. Our big box of spicy love shipped from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico to us just last week. The timing was not fortuitous, as it was also one of the busiest times of the year for me with Chicagoist, but we rolled with it, and soon there will be plenty of delicious payoff.

I didn't grow up in New Mexico, but it did catch my soul pretty quickly, as I'm sure anyone who knows me knows. The smell of chiles blistering over an open flame instantly takes me to fall in New Mexico, which, though not as varied in color, is one of my favorite things ever.  It's time for burning Zozobra and your worries from the past year, time for stocking up on the good stuff to feed you through the winter, and a fantastic time to get out and hike the beautiful canyons, mesas and mountains.

For me, chiles are the first sign of fall, and I adore fall, even if it is sneaking up on me way more rapidly than I'd supposed it would.

Still, the last two weeks  have been full ones.  Two weekends ago, I got the chance to go to Great America with my friend Erika and her daughter, who had never been before. It was a pretty excellent day, weather-wise, for the trip, and her daughter turns out to be all for the splash down, so we went on every water ride we could and some of the smaller rides in between. It's amazing how little has changed at the park, and how many memories it brought back being there. It's also really, really fun to see the park through a child's eyes.

I may even have gotten some cool-friend-of-mom's points when I decided to follow her into the splash area here.

This past weekend, it was all pop culture, all the time. I took on my annual coverage of Wizard World Chicago for Chicagoist as both writer and photographer. In fact, if you haven't seen it yet, please check out my coverage here, including the amazing cosplay shots from all four days of the show! 

Basically,  I lived in Rosemont for four days and subsisted solely on trail mix and Red Bull while taking in panel after panel of behind-the-scenes fun and stories from the likes of the X Files cast, Bruce Campbell, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox. 

STILL ALIVE! See, eyeliner tricks people into thinking you're bright eyed and bushy tailed. Nailed it!

And sugary, bad for you energy drinks trick your body into thinking you have energy. Thank you, science!

This is not an official pic of Barrowman, it's a "omg he's running around too much this is so blurry" pic of the whole ensemble. See the article for a more, um, stable view?

John Barrowman wove hilarious tales and wore interesting things, and Carrie Fisher made me remember how much I adored Star Wars in high school and how much of Leia just exists in her, with her fierceness, kindness and humor.  If I hadn't wanted to be Princess Leia before, I'd certainly like to be like Carrie Fisher. 

She manages a self-deprecating, humorous, kind voice of an advocate, and puts action behind her words. She can admit to her own struggle with her appearance and how she chased after looking great at the same time she admonishes us and herself that beauty isn't an accomplishment and being vain is a waste of time. She can also make even those who have the hardest time speaking up gather courage and strength to do it, connecting through mutual interests and a little bit of encouragement, and she did when she invited a girl and her helper dog to meet Gary Fisher.  It wasn't just a photo op, either. It was a real meeting, and she really cared. That  much was entirely evident. 

At the end of all the panels, malnourishment, cosplay and purchase avoidance, I was left a lot exhausted and a little disheveled, but it was all worth it. 

This cat is tired and has no idea what's happening. She also wants to go back to sleep now, dammit. This cat was me every night when I got home from Rosemont.

It's been a slice, August, and I can't believe you're almost over. New things are just around the corner and I'm excited about them. 

One other thing that happened while I was Wizard Worlding this past weekend?
I officially became the editor of the Beyond page for Third Coast.
It's an exciting addition to my resume, an awesome opportunity and a little bit frightening all at once, but I'm hoping to do Nancy and her team proud and bring great stories to Third Coast. 
While remaining, as ever I have, a Chicagoista.

Let's see what happens next.

Friday, August 12, 2016

52 Weeks of Relationship- Performed for Kill Your Darlings Live Lit Event 8/10. Chicago

Maybe an early sign that he was right for me was back in our high school days. I was staring out the band room window at the blanket of gray clouds pouring rain on broken pavement, and decided I'd like to walk home in the rain with somebody.  He obliged, and walked a mile in the opposite direction of his own house, in the rain with me. And though even then, I was enamored with his sparkly brown eyes, silky dark hair and  thick pensive eyebrows, I remember it as a gesture of true friendship, and that friendship was one we kept up, even after leaving school and going separate directions for a while.

Our story is one of shared nerdery. Many years later, on an early date, we intentionally mispronounced words together and laughed about extinct units of measure. I brought him The IT Crowd and he brought me an entire universe of Star Trek.  But this is about food.

I entered the world of home cooking much the way a cartoon rat did.  Rachael Ray, she of the high-beam smile and cutesy words for ingredients, declared that anyone can cook. So I did. I made pastas and pizzas and whatever the hell a "stoup" is, and realized it was fun. I started making sauces from scratch and found it relaxing and engaging all at once. I cooked for him, hoping to impress.
I didn't know where cooking would take us. I didn't know how to long-term relationship. In the early months of our relationship, he intimidated me. He was definitely the smartest man I'd been with, the most open. He has a certain air of "cool" around him that an awkward turtle like myself only aspires to.

Our first Valentine's Day together was at his parents' house. He was and is their full time caretaker, and I wanted to help. So to fight the bitter cold, we made pot roast. With fresh herbs (I insisted) and mashed potatoes spiked with cream cheese on the side. Comfort food, perhaps the only place comfort could be found then.

He began to be interested in food, too. In a short period of absence from each other he studied fiercely, smoking meats, making candy and learning all manner of dishes. We started cooking together.  And maybe it doesn't seem surprising now, but I was taken aback when he mentioned a "52 Weeks of Cooking" challenge he'd seen on Reddit and asked me if we could do it together. Spend a lifetime trying to get boys not to ignore you and have one suggest a 52 week long activity, and your jaw, too, would be on the floor. The challenge itself was simple. Each week, the moderators of this online community would present a theme. We would cook according to whatever technique, cuisine or ingredient was presented, and post pictures of our results.  Armed with the new DSLR he'd gotten me for Christmas, we plunged forward.

Diet Food, Ice Cream, Alcohol- we made bananas foster for that one, and not only did we NOT burn down the house, we got amazing pictures of the flames leaping forth from our saute pan. We also got lots and lots of upvotes. (explain here?) We started photographing each dish from start to finish, and so began our obsession with making things as "from scratch" as possible. (went so far as making butter)

One of our earliest successes was French Silk Pie. After a little research, we hit upon a beautiful, flaky butter based crust recipe, and he turns out to be an incredibly good pie maker.  I double boiled and folded and the combination was heaven. I learned his kitchen, how he learned, how he worked. We learned together, watching Good Eats as a primer to everything kitchen-related.
But it's not all fun and games, not 52 weeks. We once waited 12 days to receive Australian wattleseeds for a self-saucing pudding that....self sauced itself into a microwave flash flood. There were camera fails, oven fails, and visits to 5 grocery stores without being able to find a damn blade of lemongrass. Even though we had 3 weeks to post from when each theme was announced, with work, caretaking and life, it could get down to the wire.

Sometimes, one of us was sick, and the other was left to stir and photograph alone. Sometimes, we were in an argument, but we still had to make a bunch of egg salad for the Easter theme, and it wasn't getting any earlier. Once, the theme was colors, and we decided to go against the grain and choose Purple. I cannot tell you how long it took us to come up with something, but Martha Stewart to the rescue, we had a radicchio and eggplant pasta that was pretty purple. No thanks to Martha, it was pretty but also quite bitter, and the dinner crowd at our house was not amused.

We even travelled with the challenge. We were fortunate that our trip up north to Door County had us staying in a suite with a little attached kitchen and our hotel was right in front of an amazing bodega, and even more fortunate when the theme for that week was "Hangover Cures" and we made some killer late night breakfast sandwiches. I learned to make his dad's recipe for Hungarian goulash with him. He learned how to roll the golabki my grandmother and I made together, and did it better than I did. We later presented my 90 year old grandmother with that dish and won her full approval. We went whole hog during Concession Foods week and made handmade corndogs, funnel cakes, and big, shiny soft pretzels.  A little trivia for you: getting that mahogany brown right requires food grade lye. You know, the kind that can dissolve your entire arm? Gear was acquired and worn, and a mad scientist was born.

We tackled making bacon, smoking salmon, and handling a PSMO tenderloin (that's 'peeled, silver skin, side muscle on, which I didn't know). Sometimes, our exploits kept us up well after sane people had turned in. On one such occasion, I attempted to make tiny little apple rose tarts with the sunrise as a backdrop. During surf and turf week, when beef tenderloin and snow crab were on the menu, we were in a real groove. Potatoes were baked, beef was being sous vided, and crab was steaming. Unfortunately, the sky was turning a sickly green, and while some of us were still enjoying the fruits of our labor, the tornado sirens sounded and we had to ferry five cats and a few people to the basement and leave it all behind.  Week 52, I'd picked out snickerdoodles for our cookie theme, thinking the comforting pillowy cinnamon cookies would delight my sweetie and we'd finish in a beautiful sugar coma. What instead came out of our oven, I dubbed Snickerdon'tles.  Flat as pancakes and entirely too salty, I sadly snapped shots of my most personal fail. Up it went. But as I went to throw them away, there he was, popping a few in his mouth while reaching towards me for a hug.  "I think they're pretty good, anyway" he said.

It wasn't perfect. We didn't gold star that finish. Some weeks we hated the challenge. Some weeks, pans and doors were slammed.  Sometimes we had no idea what we were doing. But we kept going. We kept learning, we kept creating together, and when I think of all that time spent chasing internet points, trying to figure out what a good video-game inspired dish might be, and taking 100 shots of one freaking lemon, I can't help but see how much I learned about this whole damn long-term relationship thing. It's a marathon, but one you get to run with your best friend. Over and over again. On this week's menu? Video game inspired burritos, and a whole lot of love.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How I Win

I'm going to tell you a story.
It's going to be true.
It's gonna suck you guys, because it's a true story about the suck that this week has been.

Have you ever felt like life/the universe/everything is just conspiring to kick you, grind your face into the sand, pour tar over you, feather you, stand you up and send you into the expressway at 5:30?
Cuz yeah.

But this story, though it is seeming to END with me under the blankets eating Milanos and crying, isn't just suck and give up and curl up and die.

Because in the midst of this crappy, crappy, soulcrushing week, I did something to make myself better. I did something brave, and for myself, and to combat my own complacency.

Tonight, at 7 pm, I read at a live lit event for Third Coast, at ComedySportz Theater. Read. Out loud. All me and no instrument. With my words in front of me.

See, I've always written. Back to 5th grade, I've had journals. I filled an entire book full of poetry in high school, some of which I actually don't cringe to read nowadays. But it was always under wraps, or lock and key, in the case of some Lisa Frank diaries past...

It took a long time and a weird path to get me to show those words to anyone. Even weirder paths to get me to Chicagoist, and more recently, Third Coast. Even still, my most frequent quote about speaking is that "I don't word good out loud. That's why I write."

Speaking makes me nervous. Speaking makes me unclear and uncovered. Speaking makes me the only one speaking, in this case, and my words are supposed to ...mean something? Make someone laugh?

But there I was. Late, flustered, sad to see no familiar faces in the crowd, though it is a weeknight and most people left in the area had kids or work to tend to tomorrow...but there I was.

One hand gripping the bottom of the music stand (perhaps something of a safety blanket since music stands and I go way, way back, performance wise)....another trying to make decent eye contact while I told a story. A love story. A story about how love (and food, since it was the night's theme) are messy and sometimes suck and it's arduous and long, but hopefully, you can make things, grow, and learn.

And then I got in my car, tried to back out of my space, and smacked my passenger's side mirror on the cement wall of the garage. And then I tried to make a quick stop on the way home and ended up at Addison and Clark just as the Cubs game ended. And then I was home in 2 hours, not one.

And then, at home, I thought I'd be able to relax and unwind and tell stories and maybe put some happiness out there. And that solidly didn't happen. So I thought I'd go to bed. Well, it's 3:14 so you can see how well that's gone.

So yeah. Yeah life, you screwed me up this week. Yeah, I didn't help myself.
But at least I read.