Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I feel like I've run out of interesting

Or even mildly droll. Because I obviously haven’t blogged much in the last month … and when I have it’s just been lame-o lists and pictures and recipes and other manifestations of phoning it in. But the last few months—holiday adventures aside—have the ironic distinction of being filled with a lot of nothing with no time to write about it. Ask me how far along I am with my epic holiday letter. Go on. Ask. But I doubt I’ll have the time or energy to tell you I’ve written exactly four paragraphs of what usually tops out at 30 or 40 paragraphs of all-about-Jake holiday cheer.

But! Something exciting finally happened last night: I had the spiciest chicken tom yum soup in recorded thermonuclear history. Seriously. It was mega-hella-smackya-mama spicy. So spicy that after one sip my nose started running and I broke a sweat. So spicy that by the time I was halfway done with it (which ended up also qualifying as being fully done with it), the spicy tuna roll I was also eating tasted like vanilla pudding. So spicy that an hour later—about the time we realized Nine was not panning out to be the cinematic masterpiece we’d hoped it would be—my churning innards were gathering more media attention than that little seismic anomaly currently sputtering adorably over in Indonesia. So spicy that I pretty much shit fire this morning at the gym. (How sexy do you find me right now? I mean really.)

Speaking of the gym, Equinox has finally replaced the generic eau-de-suburban-teenage-lothario brand of soap and shampoo and body lotion in its locker rooms with some foo-foo high-end brand-name stuff. All to much emails-and-posters-in-the-lobbies fanfare. Starting this week, after every workout I now wash my hair with a tropical-smelling Kiehl’s shampoo and scrub my body in a grapefruit-scented effluvium of Kiehl’s suds and smooth away the dry discomfort of my overly scrubbed skin with a creamy layer of Kiehl’s body lotion. Unfortunately, the lotion isn’t the fast-absorbing kind. Because I rub the stuff all over my dry areas about 8:00 am and by noon—which usually takes four pees and four vigorous hand-washings to get to—my fingers are still sliding waxily down my mechanical pencil whenever I try to write. And that’s not a metaphor for anything.

Speaking of writing, you may have noticed while you were patiently waiting for me to finally get off my ass, do something interesting and then blog about it that there’s a new email address at the end of my little bio under my little picture over to your right. You may now email me personal notes if you want. And I may email back. But be warned: Three of you have already noticed the new email address and dropped me a little hello and I’ve found time in my busy, busy schedule of not doing anything particularly interesting to respond to exactly one of you. Also! Haloscan, the free commenting software I’ve been using since I started this blog, is now called Echo. And it’s no longer free. So for the first time in recorded thermonuclear history, I’m paying money for this blog. Well, technically, I’m still blogging free, but I’m paying money to give you a way to tell me how much you love the way I blog. The Echo moderator settings are anything but understandable, though, so bear with me as I tinker with requirements for registering and API keys and OpenID and everything else Echo assumes I understand.

Speaking of technology, I made a list of everything I want to buy in the next few months. Topping off the list: a new 13" MacBook Pro! But I need to 1) save up for it and 2) make sure there’s no fabulous new generation of computing technology being released two days after I buy it, like what happened when I bought my slow, clunky, instantly obsolete, so-embarrassing-that-geeks-beat-me-up iBook five years ago. Also on the list: an iPhone! Unless I decide to stay with Verizon and get a Droid. But I really want an iPhone. I just don’t want to deal with all the AT&T horror stories I hear about from all my cool iPhone-wielding friends. My cool iPhone-wielding friends who often have to stand by a window to make a phone call. But they have iPhones! And I don’t! Yet! Unless I get a Droid! Someone please tell me what to do! In a comment! Or an email! Or a comment and an email!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ChicagoRound: Tree Lights

Chicago is not shy about dolling up our downtown trees with little white lights in the winter. And this line of trees on Monroe Street looked especially striking in the snowy rain the other night:

It’s especially fabulous in person. If you’re in the Loop this winter, come to Monroe between Dearborn and Clark and check it out. And while you’re there, I thoroughly recommend eating at Italian Village, which you can see peeking through the trees right in the center of the picture. It’s a collection of three restaurants with decent food and over-the-top ambience.

Monday, December 21, 2009

21 years ago today

My friend Miriam Wolfe was murdered by the terrorist bomb that blew Pan Am flight 103 out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland.

I feel like I’ve told her—and our—story so often that I don’t know what more I can add to it. I had only a brief time to get to know her, but the person she was—and the way she died—still changed the paths my life followed.

I remind my friends about her at the end of my holiday letter every year. And in her memory I implore them to look around, take stock of the people who are important to them … and tell them. They may not have the chance tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In which you may call me Scrooge

Holiday traditions I really, really, really don’t like:

Gift exchanges
The domestic partner and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts. Or birthday gifts. There, I said it. We’re both men of a certain age who merged our completely furnished households three years ago and we’re STILL getting rid of stuff. So we don’t need any more. We buy what we need for ourselves when we need it and we spend the holidays just loving and respecting each other, and we’re both perfectly happy with this arrangement. Besides, wrapping paper is wasteful and expensive. And bows take up valuable storage space. And you probably think I’m some sort of misanthropic, Tiny-Tim-kicking alien right now. It gets worse. Read on:

Candy canes
Sticky, slimy, sugary, gross in your mouth, gross on your tongue, gross on your lips … plus they probably have negative nutritional value. They’re the most repulsive candy this side of Sno Balls. Their only redeeming quality: They can function as an emergency breath freshener. Which is exactly the benefit I look for most when I indulge in a holiday treat.

Mall Santas
Is there anything more disturbing than plopping your kids on the lap of a creepy out-of-work actor in a crowded shopping center in the interest of begging for free toys and perpetuating a ridiculous cultural lie? No, there is not.

Live Christmas trees

Oh, whom am I kidding? I freaking love eggnog!

The war on Christmas
I know it’s extremely trendy for Christians to feel persecuted when Home Depot employees tell them to have happy holidays. There’s even a retarded web site where Christian consumers can rate their Jesus-worshipping experiences at major retailers as “friendly,” “negligent” or “offensive.” And even though I find the vast majority of religious expression itself to be offensive, I am profoundly appalled that people who call themselves Christians actually trot out this intellectually and spiritually repugnant abortion of logic and importance year after year after year.

Secular Christmas carols
File this under gray areas, but I’m the least religious person you know who loves sacred Christmas music. And I loathe most of the secular crap that pollutes every store and radio station from Halloween through Epiphany. I’ll happily enjoy “And the Glory of the Lord” or “O Holy Night” or even “The Little Drummer Boy”—and I’ll joyously sing along with every Messiah chorus at the top of my lungs—but I fight the urge to strangle children every time I hear “Holly Jolly Christmas” … and I’d rather join a convent than listen to “Here Comes Santa Claus” ever again. There is one secular song I actually love, though: “Carol of the Bells.” But probably because it's all dramatic and dour and it never once mentions Santa Claus. Merry merry merry MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jake’s Mom’s Awesome Pie Crust

scant 2 cups Gold Medal flour
scant 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening (Mom prefers the Aldi or Walmart store brand since Crisco changed its formula)
5 tablespoons COLD water

Mix flour, shortening, and salt with pastry blender until like corn meal. Add cold water. Mix with fork and then with hands.

Roll into two crusts, adding a little flour as needed. Flip each crust once as you roll it.

Form one crust into a pie plate, rolling any extra dough under itself at the edge to create a thick lip. Pinch the edge at regular intervals or make indentations with a knife or spoon to create a pretty pattern.

To bake an empty shell, prick the bottom and sides with a fork, add pie weights and bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning.

Eggnog Custard Pie

1 9-inch UNBAKED pie crust

2 cups eggnog
3 eggs
2 tablespoons brandy or rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon brandy or rum

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prick holes in the bottom of pie crust. Bake 15 minutes to partially cook.

Beat eggnog, eggs, brandy (or rum) and vanilla in large bowl. Add sugar, salt and nutmeg. Mix well. Pour into pie crust.

Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil and bake 30 to 40 minutes longer or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

To make the topping, beat whipping cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and brandy or rum. Beat until stiff peaks form. Garnish pie with whipped cream and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What recession?

Remember me? I used to write a blog here. But then the economy apparently got extra-awesome because my company got bombarded with new projects and for the last week and a half I've done little more than work, sleep and work out. And pee, because my protein shakes seem to go right through me.

But! Last weekend my folks came to Chicago for a fabulous Pie and Chanticleer Fest. We spent almost the entire weekend measuring, rolling and baking, and we whipped up 17 from-scratch pies (including a new favorite: eggnog custard!) and invited a bunch of family and friends over to enjoy them Sunday night. As usual, I took tons of pictures of the pies and only a handful of blurry pictures of our guests. But here's what our dining room pie station looked like all tricked out in Christmas crap and caloried crusts:

And here's my newest invention: the living-room pie station, which spread the pies to both ends of the house and forced people to spread out and socialize in rooms with nice comfy furniture instead of clotting around the dining room table where nobody can move. I must be some kind of civic-engineering genius ... not to mention a top-notch holiday decorator:

To cap off our weekend of holiday awesomeness, on Monday night the folks, the domestic partner and I (and an intrepid blog reader who recognized me and ran up to say hello but it all happened so fast I'm afraid I don't remember your name) piled into Chicago's soaring Fourth Presbyterian Church (third row center!) for what was probably my 20th concert by Chanticleer, a 12-voice a cappella men's choir that sings everything from early music to small-c classical to modern jazz and quite frankly would provide me with the ideal lifetime career as a singer if only it had the occasional kickline. And I had the occasional high F. Or at least a stronger passaggio. Anyway! Chicago's annual Chanticleer holiday concert has become a required first step for putting me in the holiday spirit, and this year all but pushed me over the edge of noëlic delirium with a concert that took us from a rollicking "Esta noche nace un Niño" to Franz Biebel's transcendent two-choir "Ave Maria" to a shimmering new (to me) work by Arvo Pärt that left me breathless and light-headed.

And I have a new wish: I want to sing with Chanticleer. As in sit in a room for two or three or four hours with these men and sing through their repertoire as though I were one of them. I don't want to solo. I don't (OK, actually I do) want to perform. I don't even want to make a fuss. I just want to sit in the middle of their shimmery majesty and actually (attempt to) contribute to it for a glorious few moments of my life. I honestly think the happiness of it all would kill me, but I can't think of a better way to go than by climbing the Biebel amens to whatever afterlife I imagine could barely hold a candle to the 12 heavenly voices leading me there.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I think something peed on my shoes

Seriously. Ever since I got home from Thanksgiving in Iowa with my family, I’ve noticed a vague catbox-like effluvium wafting around my person. Except for yesterday, when I didn’t wear the shoes I wore all during Thanksgiving. Clue!

It’s especially noticeable when I take my shoes off before climbing into bed. And when I open my gym locker after my shoes and gym bag and coat (and lunch, the implications of which I don’t even want to contemplate) have been cooped up there together for over an hour.

My folks and my sister’s family both have cats. Non-Jake-liking cats. (Non-most-everyone-liking cats, for the record.) I always make gestures of friendship and love when I see them because who doesn’t want the affection and good graces of a cat? And their cats always rebuke me with all the fire and brimstone their malevolent little feline selves can muster. So this trip, figuring I had nothing to lose, I got kind of hostile with my folks’ cat … the cat that had the most unsupervised retaliatory access to my shoes during my trip. Clue!

I emailed the basic facts of this case to my mom and sister this morning, and they both responded in indignant defense of their adorable little non-shoe-peeing-on kitties. But I still have my suspicions. And my clues. And my personal cloud of shoebox-whiff.

I just moments ago stitched these clues together, and since I’m a little averse to bending down and smelling my own shoes—especially at work—I’m going to wait to do the sniff test when I’m in the privacy of my own bathroom tonight. In the mean time, I’ll walk around terrified that other cats—especially office cats—will walk up to me and feel compelled to mark me as their own once they smell the (alleged) malevolent Iowa cat pee all over me.

But to show I’m not bitter—at least as bitter as I probably smell—I’m ending this post with a cat-positive YouTube clip featuring people who sing way better than an alleged shoe-peeing cat I won’t name here: