Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chicago '09

We took our 5th Chicago trip last weekend, this time with our friends Rose & Tom. Unlike our other trips which usually had an agenda involving seeing a play, this was a more free-form vacation; the only planned excursion was attending a taping of the public radio show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, a news/current affairs quiz show hosted by Peter Sagal. Otherwise, it was a mellow time with each day full of lots of walking around, a little bit of hotel resting-up, and lots of eating (and at least one horse-and-buggy sighting, at right).

Thursday afternoon (3/19): We dropped our stuff at the Holiday Inn Express on the Magnificent Mile and had a late lunch at Portillo's Hot Dogs: nice atmosphere; I had the Maxwell Street Polish sausage with grilled onions. After Wait Wait, which was great fun as always, we had a late dinner at The Gage, an upscale tavern diner. I just had a burger, but it had "onion marmalade" and Camembert which was perhaps not the best combo; however, the drunken waiter made the experience interesting.

On Friday, sunny but chilly, we went on a wild goose chase hoping to have brunch at Orange, a place that a colleague at the library recommended highly, but soon discovered it was closed and empty, so we ate at the Corner Bakery. We spent the afternoon at the Art Institute (wonderful place with lots of Van Gogh, Hopper, and Frank Lloyd Wright--we didn't even get around to much before the 18th century). Pictured below is me in a Carlo Bugatti mirror at the Institute. Dinner was at Topolobampo, Rick Bayless's fancy Mexican restaurant (right next to the more hoi-polloish Frontera Grill). Honestly, it was one of those menus on which I could find very little I thought I'd like (I'm not a very adventurous eater), but I did have a nice taco-like dish with beef and onion straws, and, though I'm not a seafood eater, I enjoyed an appetizer of ceviche (sunfish marinated in citrus juice). A post-dinner walk to the nearest Borders store capped the evening.

Saturday morning (lovely sunshine and mild breezes in the 50's) was spent strolling up the shopping mile, though I didn't actually do much acquiring of possessions. The Crate and Barrel store was quite cool, and I was tempted to buy a couple of cutting boards, but they seemed too heavy to take back on the plane. I had a pre-lunch sundae at Ghirardelli's Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop: espresso chip ice cream w/hot fudge. I would have gone into a pleasure coma except I had to walk back to the hotel. Lunch was at Wow Bao at Water Tower Place (very doughy steamed potsticker-like buns filled with meat--not so much). Afterward, we headed a little south of the Loop and walked down Printer's Row, stopping at Sandmeyer's Bookstore and a Dunkin' Donuts, and sunned ourselves in Grant Park. Dinner was at Gino's East on Wells St. (pictured below). I'm not a big fan of deep dish pizza, and there was a 45-minute wait to even get into the building, but the place was wonderful inside: large and dark, with white Christmas lights strewn about and graffiti on every available wall space. Tried some Fat Tire beer, brewed in Colorado, on the recommendation of our friend Tom who lived there for a while, and enjoyed it.

Overall, a nice relatively impromptu trip--as impromptu as a predictable, in-the-rutter like me is likely to have. There was a Trader Joe's right across from the hotel, so wine and crackers were just moments away at any given time (same with Starbucks). All I could have asked for were slightly warmer temperatures.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gettin' ready for Chicago

For one reason or another, I haven't taken a "leave-the-city-limits" vacation since November of 2006. That will change on Thursday when Don & I join our friends Rose & Tom on a three-night trip to Chicago. It's an Expedia-deal kind of trip; we're staying at a Holiday Inn Express on the "Magnificent Mile" and have no concrete plans except to attend a taping of the NPR show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, something we did last time we were in Chicago (yes, Nov. 2006) and at which we had great fun (that sentence sound a tad tortured, but I guess it's correct).

We've always had a good time in Chicago (that's me pictured in the Giant Reflecting Egg in Millennium Park a few years ago), usually staying near the theater district and seeing plays: the most fun were the pre-Broadway tryouts of The Producers and Monty Python's Spamalot (with the original casts, he boasted pretentiously), but we also enjoyed seeing Wicked and Putnam County Spelling Bee. This time, nothing theaterical sounds particularly compelling: there's Xanadu which could be campy fun, and there's a "drawing-room" comedy called something like Don't Dress for Dinner which features Jeffrey Donovan, the sexy star of Burn Notice. We'll hit the Art Institute, and other musuems are a possiblity, though I don't think I need to go to the Field Museum again, with its slighly seedy and creepy taxidermied tableaux. Of course, being so close to the Mile, shopping will certainly be on the agenda, though I wonder if some of the Magnificence of the Mile will be tarnished with the economy the way it is.

We've never really left the "comfort zone" of the Mile/Loop area, and I don't know if I'm up for that this time either, but I am doing some restaurant research, hoping to have a grand eating experience or two. My favorite Chicago dinner so far was at Berghoff's, before it closed and re-opened as something that is not quite Berghoff's anymore. I imagine my better half will want some genuine Chicago pizza, and I bet Tom will want something trailblazingly exotic (yes, I jest). A trip to the library will most likely be on the agenda, and of course no trip to any city in the country would be complete without some bookstore visits, and some toruisty trinket to bring home and put on the fridge. I'll try to take some pics.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chicken paprikash pot pie

I like to cook, but I'm not a gourmet cook, nor am I an adventurous cook. I mostly stick with one-dish skillet meals, and one of the best is this recipe from the Pillsbury One-Dish Meals Cookbook, which is full of great-tasting and easy recipes. This is the recipe I've given out most often. It is easy and yummy.

2 refrigerated pie crusts
4 slices of bacon, crumbled
3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
cut up in 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup frozen sweet peas
1/2 cup sour cream
12 oz jar chicken gravy
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons paprika

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare pie crust as directed on package for two-crust pie using 9-inch pie pan.

2. In large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Reserve 1 tablespoon drippings with bacon on skillet. [I cook the bacon whole, drain it, then crumble it back into the skillet]

3. Add chicken to skillet; cook and stir until no longer pink. Add onions, bell pepper and carrots; cook and stir until vegetables are tender. Stir in peas. [I don't usually use peppers, but I do sprinkle in a little crushed pepper mix]

4. In small bowl, combine all remaining ingredients; mix well. Stir into chicken mixture in skillet. Spoon into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust and flute edges; cut slits or small designs in several places on top of crust.

5. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cover edge of crust with strips of foil after 10 to 15 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning. [I have an aluminum ring I use for this] Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Commies! Fires! Librarian in trouble!!

Not me, as I'm just a faux-librarian (I'm like Anias Nin's Spy in the house of love, which makes things sound way sexier than they are), but Bette Davis! A few weeks ago, I saw a movie I'd wanted to see for some time, Storm Center (1956), one of the few Hollywood movies with a librarian at the center of the plot. I've posted a full summary and review here, but thought I'd post a briefer version below:

Maiden lady librarian Bette Davis (not nearly as kicky as Marion in The Music Man) is attacked by her small town's city council for not removing a book on communism from the shelves. She sticks to her guns, loses the friendship of the town children she loves so much, and is eventually forcibly removed as head librarian. One of the disillusioned kids starts a fire in the library, bringing things to a head. The idea of a movie about libraries and the First Amendment is an interesting one, but it's not really an inherently exciting topic, and this movie's script is muddled, the performances are all over the map (Davis underacts, the firebug kid is good, and his father overacts like he's practicing to play Stanley in a community theater production of Streetcar Named Desire), and the film looks like a TV-movie. Maybe I'll work on a screenplay that will tear off the lid on today's seething libraries: patrons who urinate where they please, naked pictures of Zac Efron or Lindsay Lohan that pop up uncalled-for on computer screens, dejected job seekers who want us to make their resume "pretty." Can we handle the truth?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Being a hero is so complicated

At Hero Factory, you can make your own superhero by choosing a variety of faces, bodies, costume parts, etc., and you get a finished comic book cover with your hero in full heroic stance. I was a huge comic book fan in my youth, but fell away from the fold in late high school. I am most emphatically not a fan of the recent rash of superhero movies (though I don't the mind the X-Men films, and I'm a fan of the Fantastic Four films thanks mostly to the yummy Chris Evans playing the Human Torch). Still, I have fond memories of my Silver-Age superhero fandom, so when a friend pointed out this site, I went there to become my own Silver Surfer or Aquaman or Dr. Strange.

The site is fun, though sadly there are some things you can't control. When you go to choose your power, you can only pick from physical manifestations, like weapons or animal sidekicks, you can't actually pick a power. You can control the color for some things but not others. Worst of all, you can't pick your own name. I generally like my hero, and love the wings but not the green color of the wings. I also hate my name, the Fancy Fluttering Butterfly. My first choice had a lightsaber, but it called me a "Jedi," and I didn't really want to be that. So I'm a freakin' butterfly. Hey, The Freakin' Butterfly would be better than the Fancy Fluttering one.