Thursday, May 31, 2012

File Under: Enough With the Stealing!

I do not know what to make of the fact that our porch swing cushion was stolen yesterday.  I know I sat on it Monday and then Tuesday was raining when we left for breakfast so I don't know if it was still there.  I do know when I was dropped off after breakfast it was gone.  Pouring tropical storm rains and it was gone.  Someone walked right past the ADT security sign in the yard to grab it.

And it wasn't even that nice!

The cushion itself is probably 20 years old, a hand me down from my mom that already had a slipcover.   I made another very handmade looking slipcover for it last year.  The swing is really falling apart.  The god awful plywood porch is repulsive.  Who looked at the disaster that is our front porch and said, "you know what, I want that ugly cushion and I'm getting it during this here tropical storm."

So now I have to replace the damn thing and I don't know exactly what to do.  I want to somehow lock it to the swing, which seems highly impractical.  Would a new one even get stolen?  Was it an isolated incident?  Is there money in used swing cushions that I don't know about?  I even thought about implanting a gps signal in a new cushion (all spy-like) so when someone takes it I can just go knock on their door to get it back.  And be rest assured, if I knew where my 20 year old swing cushion was I'd be knocking on their door getting that my cushion back.

I don't know if you've ever had anything stolen but it's such a weird feeling.  I keep thinking somehow I misplaced it, certainly I did.  I sat on the porch, well, I didn't sit because my cushion was gone and tried to imagine all the stuff out there to see if something else was gone.  It's so disconcerting.

The Field

We've had 3 "opportunities" for adoption since we started renovating the blue house in September.  I say "opportunities" because I don't know how considerable they are, just like I don't know if you can really consider my 2 miscarriages, real miscarriages.  One was 2 weeks of knowing I was pregnant and not even making it to the first ultrasound and the second was having a bad first beta and knowing it didn't look good, the second beta 2 days later confirmed the numbers dropping and then I miscarried a couple days after that, I pretty much knew right off.

When I was recaulking the tub over here, see how I remember what I was doing, my mom called and said her neighbor's granddaughter was pregnant and very poor and couldn't afford the baby and was looking for a home.  I pretty much let my mom take the lead on that.  I was actually angry at the time because my big thing was moving here was going to help me move past being a mom and I wasn't even in the house yet and fate was trying to drop a baby in my lap.  I adjusted pretty quickly (obviously) and we got to the point where it was time to meet the mom and she backed out and decided to keep the baby.  I think because I was so swamped with renovations it didn't get to me too much though I remember Brian and I laying in bed talking about having a baby for Christmastime.  You do things like that.

The second time was through a colleague of Brian's.  Her daughter's friend was pregnant and was looking for adoptive parents for her baby.  I don't know how far this one got either.  We found out she had a miscarriage which then felt like we were closer than we probably were and then I got mad at God again for literally taking the baby away.  Oh, me and god. 

This time was last Wednesday and it was through the same colleague.  This time felt a little different.  This was was a client of the colleague.  First thing that was different was the baby was already born and the mom had lost custody of 2 previous children.  The baby was born with cocaine in its system so it would go straight to foster care, or adoption if she chose.  I think it was a situation where the idea would be presented that she could allow the baby to be adopted by us and be able to skip dss court appointments and fighting with dss for years to regain custody of the baby.   The baby stays out of the system and the mom can go on with her life.    And it broke down somewhat like this.  The mom was missing from the halfway house over the weekend.  The mom was found.  The mom missed her appointment with her attorney on Tuesday.  Then, and we knew it was coming by then, the mom skipped court on Wednesday.

The moment the mom went missing, I knew it was over, and when she missed court on Wednesday, it's pretty much over.  Sure maybe they can track her down quickly, immediately and hold her down long enough to explain the situation and what could be the best for the baby but the baby is going in the system.  Today, tomorrow, I don't know but soon, and once that happens it's over for us.  Scrambling, seems an impossibility.   All this happened over the course of a week.  We found out last Wednesday that we had a good chance and this Wednesday we found out we have very little chance.

Speaking of last Wednesday, I really loved the Modern Family finale.  I loved when Cam and Mitchen fell into the field exhausted and frustrated with another failed adoption.  I wanted everyone to see it and know this is what it's like, you don't just clap your hands and adopt a baby.  It's difficult and draining and hard and sad and frustrating.  Your chances seem slimmer than it did when you tried on your own.  It's a freaking miracle if it happens, a downright miracle and should seem anything less.  This time I thought it would really work out, this felt like my baby, starting with knowing it was born already, that it was a girl and I just bought this wack-a-doo turquoise rug for the front bedroom.  That our baby would be in the middle of my brother's two children in age, how great is that?  Having a whole week where my cloud lifted and I felt normal.  I could read baby blogs and think about decorating a nursery.  We walked through the baby section of Target and I didn't get sad or get hives.  Brian pointed out a Hispanic baby in the baby section and said she would look like that baby.  The first time I've been in Target baby section and there's a Hispanic baby there?  That's serendipity.  It's a sign!

I felt normal for a whole week.  So I'm trying to hold onto that.  That and knowing we had 3 chances since September and that's huge.  Something could be just around the corner and maybe, just maybe, that one might work.

Friday, May 25, 2012

French Fry Roundup (burgers and French food too). And A Couple of Diners

The proliferation of places that serve hand-cut fries made from real potatoes is, for the most part, a good thing. Not everyplace does them well, but 3 recent versions were enjoyable.

The Bad Apple
I've had these a few times, and though they've caused some divisiveness on LTHForum, I have found the Bad Apple's fries to be consistently good. They have a dark color that translates into toasty taste, and althought they're not particularly crisp, there is pleasant texture contrast between the exterior and the fluffy inside. As for the rest of The Bad Apple's food, including the much-praised burgers, I'm not a big fan. They're OK, but the meat seems way too lean for my liking. I do like the refreshing, healthy, herb-laced quinoa salad on offer.

These fries are crisper than the Bad Apple's, and just as tasty. Served with pungent horseradish aioli (available for the asking), these are a nice snack with Troquet's well-curated beer list. What I really love about Troquet though, is that 12 bucks buys you what is essentially a chef-prepared, French version of a "Meat n 3" (actually a Meat n 2 at Troquet). On one occasion, I chose a crisp-skinned, moist piece of trout. On another, it was a generous helping of delicious German sausage. Each $12 entree comes with a side of those fries and an excellent, subtely-dressed mixed green salad.

Burger Joint
This place's biggest claim to fame seems to be that it's open late enough for the area's drunken club-goers to get a greasy, late-night bite on weekends. It just so happens that they also serve what were the best darn fries of this whole recent lot. Very crisp on the outside, very potatoey and soft inside, and generously seasoned with salt. The Heinz ketchup on the side is a significant improvement over Bad Apple's housemade ketchup, too. I liked Burger Joint's juicy, meaty burger a lot too, though like many places, they are too afraid of the salt shaker.

A quick word about two recently opened "modern" diners. I stopped in at Au Cheval for a drink on my way to dinner elsewhere, and was surprised by how cozy the place felt, and how unfussy and untrendy the staff were. They poured a fine gin rickey, and I enjoyed my brief visit enough to plan a return for a meal. At Eggy's Diner I was pretty sure I'd be let down, as that's almost always what happens when The Hungry Hound tweets high praise for some new place and I follow in his footsteps. A glutton for punishment, I ordered some pastrami hash and it basically met my expectations. The darkness of the potatoes and onions added nice flavor, but the pastrami itself tasted cheap and bad. Worse, it was cut into little squares that were chewy and squeaked like fresh cheese curds. Even for diner hash, you need to slice pastrami against the grain before cutting it into smaller pieces. The haphazard knife work ruined the dish.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Vanilla + Passionfruit Mousse

Bona Food Magazine - to hard copy!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Fox came from a litter of 5 cats.  They were remarkably similar brown tabbies.  One had some white so you could tell him apart and one was more of a yellowy-brown so you could tell her apart.  Sugar, Fox's mom, left one kitten behind when she moved the kittens from the blue house to the yellow house to be closer to the food, that kitten was a five week old Fox.  Fox screamed his little kitten head off until out tenants went out to look for the source of the wail.  Brian saw a flashlight between the houses and rushed out in his boxers and baseball bat.  Fox was still under the blue house by a grate in the concrete foundation.  It was difficult to get the grate off, it couldn't be pulled, I came out with pliers and even then it was difficult, the grate was covered with stucco and it was just not easy to get off.  When enough of it was bent back the tenant reached her hand into the crawlspace (crazy!) and voila, pulled out Fox by some miracle.  At first she wanted to keep him but upon seeing how little he was, too small to feed himself, and the fact that he NEVER STOPPED CRYING, LIKE EVER, she pawned him off on me.  I spent the next month or so wiping that kitten's butt and giving him a bottle of formula every two hours (tiny kittens can't poop on their own).  Who says I'm not a mom.

I'm telling you this because I always felt out of the five it was a mistake to leave Fox behind.  One of the three triplets (no white, all the same shade of brown) was always smaller, always sickly.  We named him Huck and named the other brown tabby Tom.  Huck and Tom still to this day hang out at our house for food.  But we can't pet them.

The summer I had this notion to have a square food garden on the sunny side of the yellow house Huck used to watch me water every day.  One day I reached up to him and he let me touch him and pet him.  It was the day I took this photo of him with my iphone.

From that day forth, Huck became kind of our outdoor cat.  He wanted affection constantly and would sneak on the screened porch and get under our feet while we did yard work.  He was very much the world's sweetest feral cat.  I was able to give him flea medication and if he had gunk on his eyes, and he did often, he was quite sickly, he would let us wipe it off with a warm, wet papertowel.  He was more patient than our own cats.  If you approach them with a paper towel all of our cats go running.

Since moving into the blue house, Huck's health has deteriorated.  One day Brian found him in the backyard with a small potato chip bag stuck on his head like a kitty terrorist.  Brian had to use force to remove the bag.  We were certain his oxygen was affected and he had a terrible cold and gunk everywhere afterwards.  We think this was really a downturn moment for Huck, he never fully recovered from that.  We bought him canned cat food and that seemed to work.  But in hindsight I don't know if he ever really ate the food or pushed it around.  Hucky was really sick last week and we were trying to decide to take him to the vet, a very scary place for a stray cat.  We gave him another can of food and he looked like he was eating it.  He lay under the chair on the deck and then decided to get up.  It sounded like he fell down the stairs.  We went looking for him and I saw his tail sticking out under the house.  Brian had to go under the deck to get him and we put him in a crate and took him to the emergency hospital.  There wasn't much they could do, Huck was in bad, bad shape so we had him put to sleep.

And although it was sad, it really really was, I was having a terrible time getting past it, I was crying on the spot for like 3 days, tears in my eyes all the time.  I don't think I cried that much about Ally or Bella.  Why was Huck making me feel so sad?  I didn't take Ally or Bella to the vet their last days (my mom took Ally and Brian took Bella) and when Brian was on the phone with our vet to figure out what to do I was sitting on the porch with Huck in the bottom half of the crate not moving an inch, just his tummy moving up and down from breath.  I cried and cried and told him I was sorry over and over.  I felt so bad for the little guy.

I don't know, maybe it was misplace Mother's day anxiety.  Maybe it was the stress of all life's will.  My heart just broke that day.  I think I also used to find some comfort in knowing Ally and then Bella were up in heaven running around on a flowered field with other kitties.  With all my infertility stuff, I think God has really taken the brunt of my pain and loneliness and offered me nothing in return.  No comfort, no solace, no baby and therefore I really doubt Huck has gone anywhere else after here.  I can only hope letting Brian and me into his little kitty life has given him enough joy to make it all the pain and fear at the end worth it.


My inclinations point me toward places with straight-up, not-necessarily-creative but well-executed food, where cooks respect delicious ingredients and treat them with care.  After a fantastic recent meal, Leopold took a spot on the short list of Chicago restaurants that meet these criteria.

I was struck the kitchen’s ability to magnify the flavor of already delicious produce.  This was especially evident with the treatment of mushrooms in two dishes: the seafood risotto and the pierogi.  The description of a seafood risotto with tomatoes and morels worried me, as I typically find that those two ingredients clash.  Here, however, the morel flavor dominated with intense earthiness, and the tomatoes played a very subtle background role, adding just a hint of acid and a good dose of natural sweetness.  The menu advertises that  the pierogi come with “woodland mushrooms”.  I am no expert on mushroom varieties, but these thin, delicate white mushrooms with tiny caps looked more like what I’ve seen called “beach mushrooms," and that was a pretty cool thing because beach mushrooms are tough to grow and not often found on local restaurant menus.  The last place I had them was at L20 under Laurent Gras, where they were rubbery and bland.  The mushrooms topping Leopold’s pierogi were spectacular.  They were buttery and tender with just a bit of snap to them, and had an incredible, unique and robust flavor.

A lot of care at Leopold goes into prepping ingredients and combining them in ways that make sense.  A big bowl of steamed mussels was completely devoid the grit and broken shells so often found in lesser versions, allowing the plump, tender meat and aromatic broth to shine without distraction.  In the above-mentioned seafood risotto, not only was the mushroom flavor intense and the rice cooked just right, but each of the several varieties of moist, fresh-tasting fish was timed well so that it cooked through without disintegrating or drying out.  Even a boring-sounding endive-apple salad starred on account of superb flavor and texture balancing, with pungent buttermilk-tarragon dressing and hazelnuts chopped finely enough to be incorporated into every bite, but not so finely that you forget that they’re actually hazelnuts.

To me waffles are a meal, not a dessert.  Normally I couldn’t imagine ordering a big waffle with ice cream to end a multi-course dinner, but I’m very glad we were hungry enough to make an exception at Leopold.  On my first visit to Leopold a couple of years ago, one of my companions was a friend of the house and the staff really wanted us to try the waffle.  We did, and I frankly thought it was badly burnt, dry and not worth eating.  Gladly I remembered that only after my wife and I received our waffle last week, because much has changed.  Never have I tasted a better waffle, with an incredibly crisp exterior that gave way to a tender, luscious interior.  With the fantastic bourbon-brown butter sauce, this was a dessert worth violating whatever one’s dessert-eating principles might be.

While much of Leopold’s menu has stalwarts that appear unchanged from my first visit, there were also a lot of seasonal things that must change frequently.  I look forward to multiple repeat visits.

1450 West Chicago Avenue

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Baked Apple Breakfast - Happy Mum Day!

Happy day to all you mothers out there
And to ours personally - we hope you’re fed well today. 

Guys, a little plea to jump on our campaign page and pledge towards our making the first print issue of Bona Food Magazine!
 We've got a bunch of rewards for those who pledge including the very first issue sent straight to your mailbox! Real mail - with a stamp and everything!

We're putting the final touches on layout (see a preview here) and it's looking awesome so get on board and help us make it happen!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Home Stretch - Bona Food Magazine

There’s less than a week to go on our crowd-funding campaign to raise the mula to print our first issue. We’re just over half way funded, but we're confident we can push it to the end and reach our goal! We’ve heard so many lovely things from people about what we are trying to do with Bona Food Magazine and we'd really, really love to make it happen! 

We're putting the final touches on the June issue and it's looking flippin' awesome - but it'd look OH SO much better on paper! 

Don't forget - there's a stack of rewards for every pledge over $5 and Pozible is totally secure! It's a good thing - be part of it!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Notes from NY

Despite what has surely been oodles of publicity about Eataly, I actually knew very little about itt.  Batali and Bastianich have certainly taken other projects seriously, but for whatever reason I half-expected this to be a mail-it-in, hype-over-substance capitalization of celebrity at the expense of the tourist wallet.  I was wrong, and blown away by the volume and quality of goods – everything from the raw fish and meat counters and charcuterie case to the pizza, pasta and wine restaurants looked fantastic.  I tasted only two things: an espresso, and some made-before-my-eyes fresh mozzarella.  Both were wonderful.  Here’s hoping that Chicago's soon-to-come version is something close to this.  It would have been nice if one of our own, like a Tony Mantuano, could have put together something serious like this, but we’ll take what we can get.

Moshe’s Falafel
Forget food lists, this cart on 46th and 6thshould be on NYC’s  Top 10 Sites to Visit list.  Where else can you get falafel that are ultra-crunchy on the outside, airy and well-seasoned inside, and served on the street by long-white-bearded, yarmulke-wearing guy who looks about 110 years old?  The $2.50 admission price includes 4 big, delicious balls and some excellent tahini.  If your midtown hotel concierge doesn’t tell you about this place, he sucks.

I’m not sure where people go for bagels in NY these days.  I tried a couple of random places on the upper west side, near Amsterdam and 79th where my hotel was.  They were no better than the NY Bagel and Bialy stuff we get in Chicago.  One thing that NY bagel places definitely have over ours though is that they all know how to hand-slice nova to order.  That’s a pretty big deal.

Danny Meyer and Bill Clinton are in the same category of people I liked before they decided to write a book.  Both wrote self-important, long-winded drivel that seriously dampened my opinion of them.  I was so annoyed by Meyer’s book that I almost decided to boycott his restaurants.  That, of course, would have been silly.  Add Maialino to a list of NY favorites run by Meyer.  Pastas were particularly wonderful, with a black-pepper-heavy, very rich spaghetti carbonara being my favorite.  A whole rabbit dish where the kidneys and everything else were included prominently on the plate was also delicious.

Yakitori Totto
I liked the simple, grilled skewers of meat here, but I liked the setting even more.  It’s a bustling, crowded place, but once you settle in the staff treats you well, pours some beer, and there’s instant camaraderie with the people sitting around you.  Everyone at Totto – from families with kids to young people on first dates was having a great time, and the place emanated warmth that’s a refreshing retreat from the cold, pressure-filled intensity of NYC. 

Bar Boulud
This was easily the best food I had on my NYC trip.  Onion soup was dark, sweet and super-oniony, with a rich, gelatinous broth that I could not get enough of.  Lyonnaise salad included the crispest, freshest frisee with thick, pleasantly chewy lardoons and slices of chicken liver cooked just-right.  I’ve never had a better version.