“Family” Dinners

So a couple of friends and I have recently started a little tradition to do “family dinners”. Which is really just three of us that live a couple blocks apart making an effort to get together every Sunday for dinner and some bad TV (or movies) and just hang out for a little bit on a Sunday night.

This Sunday I was particularly excited because my friend, Case, decided to make Corn and Sausage Chowder, which might sound a little odd but is actually quite delicious. Now, Case calls himself a Kansas cooker and I love it cause he just throws all sorts of random stuff in the pot and it just works. He claims he got this from his mother who would make them help her out as kids by finding stuff in the kitchen that they thought would be good in a soup. I adore Corn Chowder but I have never ever made it nor did I have any clue how until last night, which makes no sense because it falls into that Southern Comfort food category which I just adore. Though for some reason I’m more of a French cooker… like my bible is the Larousse Gastronomique, has been since I ever set foot in a kitchen. I do things like souffle and mousse and braised short ribs (which is on the menu for next weekend). It makes no sense coming from an Indian girl born and raised in Texas. You’d think I’d know how to do good Southern Comfort food or at least Indian food. But no, I’ve got nothin’ on either of those. However, you want me to make you souffle or risotto or anything that involves heavy cream, I’m your girl. Example, next week is my turn for dinner and I’m doing braised short ribs in a sauerkraut sauce over swiss chard, crunchy green beans with almonds & garlic and either pureed potatoes or polenta with mushrooms. Oh and lemon souffle with fresh raspberries to finish. (Well ok the raspberries might not be in season, I forget I am not in Texas and can’t get whatever I want whenever I want pretty much all year round but definitely the souffle).

That being said, I was just stunned at how simple, easy and delicious corn chowder is! Now we made enough soup for a small army (note there are only 3 of us eating this soup, we had enough leftovers for the rest of the week for all of us) but here is the recipe as follows:

Corn & Sausage Chowder
1 qt half/half
2 large-ish russet potatoes
3 bell peppers (in any colors you’d like, we had red & green)
1 large onion
1 can creamed sweet corn
2 cans sweet whole kernel corn
2 large sausages
1 bag flour
and any other seasonings you’d like
(feel free to leave out the sausages and add other miscellaneous veggies as you’d like)

Slice one potato into very thin slices and then dice the other one into 1/4″ cubes. Throw the sliced potato into a very very large pot half filled with water and turn on to boil.

Dice all other vegetables and sausage. Put sausage into a large saucepan and brown. Let cook for about 2-5mins. After that add in the onions. Let those cook until they look somewhat clear. Then add in all the other veggies and saute for another 10-15mins. Once the veggies look just tender.

Pour all the ingredients from the saucepan into the pot of boiling water. Add in about 3/4-1qt heavy cream. Add in all the cans of corn.

In a separate bowl mix together water and flour until smooth. As the soup cooks and you want it to thicken add in the flour-water mixture. Repeat this step as many times as necessary to get the soup to the consistency that you’d like – the thicker you want it the more flour-water mix you should add.

Add in salt & pepper generously to taste. We put in cayenne pepper, garlic salt, all spice and something else. But the spices can be just about anything based on what you like and what you want in it. Also I like to think a little splash of beer gives it some good character. Keep on relatively high heat and check on it every few minutes, stir as necessary.

The whole process takes about an hour to make. It’s really not bad and it’s an excellent meal. Especially in the winter when it’s super cold outside. It was pretty perfect for yesterday.

Finding The Silver Lining

Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to find the silver lining in life. I’ve been waffling between being unable to have the energy to look for the silver lining and trying so hard to find it that I just go out and do crazy things. While the crazy stuff is fun, I forget that I’m not 16 anymore, I can’t go out for 6 days in a row with no sleep and still be able to do the work I need to do for grad school and hold down a grown up job. Thankfully I have yet to do anything so idiotic that I get fired from said grown up job but that doesn’t really make me feel any better because I know I’m smarter than this. Anyway the point of this is not to crib about all of that but to point out that sometimes even when life is hard there really is a silver lining in there somewhere.
I mention this because I have a lot of friends who are struggling with the job search right now and um, I understand just how much it sucks. I remember when I got out of college and I didn’t have a place to live or enough money to do anything. I lived mostly out of my car for nearly 2 months but thank god for D who let me crash with her during that time before I had enough money to even be able to afford an apartment. It sucks. But remember it’s not permanent and it’s not forever. I even ended up taking a couple of AWFUL jobs in that time. I was a glorified secretary that they called an office manager except I did all sorts of crap stuff, like replace soda in the refrigerators and make lunch on Fridays. I swear it was the most frustrating thing ever because I thought to myself, “I went to college. I have a double major in Physics & Philosophy. And honestly, I’m smarter than most of you people that work here, I can’t believe I have to do this. This is so demeaning.” And at the time it really was.
Oh and there was this OCD woman that I worked for. You would think that someone with OCD is really clean, that’s just the general stereotype. Wrong. She had stacks of paper piled so high that there was just a narrow little pathway from the entrance to the staircase which I would have to go up to go to her “computer room”. And everything was covered in plastic because she had “cleanliness issues”. She also ran a “clutter workshop” to help others declutter their lives and for the life of me I do not understand because I really didn’t think she was the picture of learning how to clean up your clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make fun of her, I’m glad she was trying to organize her life. It just didn’t really seem like it to me. Not to mention it was terrifying to walk through that house once a week, it was just… I don’t even know how to describe it but it is certainly etched in my memory.
And this is all just stuff I *had* to do to get by at the time. So ok, my life is not perfect right now. I will give myself enough legitimacy that I’m allowed to be sad and to look forward to 2010 being a better year but seriously, my life is not that bad. I have a place to live with a roommate that I really like. (Actually, I think Adam is just a gem. I have a friend who is having the most awful time – lost his job and got kicked out of his apartment. *WALKED* from Lakeview to Downtown Chicago [that’s like 10miles] in the winter in freezing weather to a job interview because that’s how desperately he wants to be employed and not be in the place he’s in right now. – so I told Adam I’d like to offer this guy a place to stay and, seriously I love this boy, Adam’s response was “Of course he can stay with us. If it becomes an issue we’ll think of something when we get there, we can’t let him be homeless. We’ll figure something out. Tell him to come over whenever he wants.” Seriously, Adam is *such* a gem.) I have a job that I actually really like. And I’m in school for something that I’m actually really interested in. And I’ve got incredible friends, even if some of them are thousands of miles away they’re still there. So really there is some silver lining out there. Sometimes it’s just about perspective and being able to see it. And for everyone who is looking for a job, I know the economy blows. I know it’s really hard. But I promise you it will not be like this forever. You will find something. Cut yourself a break. Even if it’s just for an hour. Also I know it seems like the most overwhelming thing in the world right now but it will get better and there are good things out there outside of needing to find employment. You’ll get there, just have a little faith even if that sounds impossible right now.

New Beginnings

Happy 2010! I’ve been contemplating a New Year’s post for a little while but I was struggling to figure out what to write about. This past year was… well eventful. In some really fantastic ways and in some really horrible ways. I’ve actually taken a little time to reflect on all of it and to be honest, I would do it all again given the chance. The good, the bad and the ugly, it’s all a part of what shapes the person I am today and I think I’m better for having had those experiences. It would be great to always have things be happy and everything work out for the best but how would you know just how much to cherish the good times if you never had the bad? And how would you know how precious all those moments are? Besides, if nothing bad ever happened you would never learn from your mistakes. I think it’s true that having truly failed, having tried your hardest and still failed builds so much character because it is learning to pick yourself back up and try again anyway knowing that you might fail again but to succeed would be a true accomplishment. So in 2010, I’m going to try harder. I’m going to try to be stronger, smarter and to be as open as I can. I’m going to make an effort to do those things that are scary and see what happens. Because I’d rather try and risk failure than simply accept mediocre.

I rarely make New Year’s Resolutions because I think most people have a tendency not to follow through and quite often I’m particularly bad about it. But this year I’ve made a few that I’m really trying to stick to:

  • So for one, my friends started this fitness challenge and being the silly optimist that I am, I figured why not give it a shot? Who cares if I can only do like 2 push ups at a time. It’ll be fine… Haha I’m on day 2 and let me tell you I’m a little concerned. Though I will give it my all and really really try to get through it.
  • I’m going to try to be a grown up and actually start cooking for myself again. (Thankfully one of my friends is moving into the neighborhood and he likes to cook too so we’re going to attempt to do this together).
  • To start running every day before work and hopefully a little on the weekends too – doesn’t matter how much, I just have to do it (again, I was good half way through last year and then life got a little messy and I stopped so I’m going to try to go back to it).
  • To be assertive about my needs and wants and to make sure that I’m taking care of myself. But to still remember to be kind to the rest of the world even though I am trying to be good to me.
  • To start volunteering again.
  • To get out there and start rediscovering Chicago and all of the things that I love about this city.
  • To try and reconnect with friends that I’ve made here who I’ve been really bad about keeping in touch with. And to make new friends whenever I get the chance. (It’s great to meet new people and do new things!)

I think it’s a good list. And it’s not an unreasonable number of things to try and do. Obviously we’ll see how it goes but I think it’s a positive way to look out for the new year. I have faith that the future will be bright.

Fabulous Not-So-Obvious Find

So perhaps I am extremely vain but I go for a full body wax once a month and have been doing so for some time now (a bit over two years). And just recently my old waxer, Jane, decided to go back to school and so I had to find myself another salon. Now thankfully, Jane knows Chicago extremely well and since she wasn’t planning on continuing any of her services at all, not even by getting space at another salon she gave me a couple of recommendations. So I just chose one at random, it seemed like the one that was closest to me that she had mentioned by name. When I walked in to Deeba’s Salon (2752 Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659, 773-465-9685) it seemed like any other salon in the Little India section of Chicago. It was clean but nothing terribly fancy and lots of women busy with their threading, which is probably the most popular service they offer.

Now I can’t say that I have ever had such a great experience in my life. My waxer, Saleha, was very young and still in high school but she was quite friendly and helpful. She was extremely professional and I would recommend her to anyone who would choose to walk in. I cannot explain just how thrilled I am with the level of service. I have never had such a painless and comfortable wax ever. And the threading services they offer are simply superb. I certainly think it’s worth the trek out to Little India just to go here.

“Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”

Oh but what about when they can. I have recently been doing a lot of volunteering at the Lakeview Pantry which is my local anti-hunger pantry that serves the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. All they ask their clients to bring is some form of ID and some proof of residence within their borders because Chicago is huge and they can’t serve the entire city’s population. But I think they do a great job in the neighborhood. So enough of my little shameless plug about how great the pantry is. The reason I started this post initially is that while I’ve been working there, I have simply been amazed at what some people will be choosy and difficult about. It’s so interesting to see people complain about what can be given to them when almost everything there including the people serving them is free and being given by the good will of others.

It’s also quite amazing to see the difference in reaction of the people that come through there. There are some folks who come through and only take what they can use and will tell you that, which is great because then nothing is being wasted even if they don’t take the full amount of what you are offering. And there are those who are so very grateful that we are there and will thank us profusely because this economy has simply made food unaffordable. I find that I have a much stronger appreciation for exactly how lucky I am just by spending some time there.

The Spring Program at The Joffrey

This past weekend I saw the Spring Program at the Joffrey Ballet and I think what I was most surprised about was that the theater was half empty. I mean it was just unreal. It’s amazing to see how significantly the recession is effecting everything. The part I found most amazing was that the least expensive seats in the house were completely empty. It’s fascinating that everyone has cut back so much. Even with the bailouts, there is such an impact to the arts. I find it quite tragic because I thought the performance was quite stunning.

I have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of the first piece which was Les Noces – choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, music by Igor Stravinsky. The music was stunning but I wasn’t really into the way Nijinska choreographed the piece. I think I tend to like dances that flow a bit more. To be sure the dancing was beautiful and the choreography was certainly dramatic, just not my style.

Now the second piece, Valses Poeticos – choreography by Helgi Tomasson, music by Enrique Granados, was absolutely stunning. I loved it. It was a piece between two dancers with the pianist on stage with them. It was so simple and delicately done. It was literally like watching a love story played out in front of your eyes by these artists with no words needing to be said.

I also loved the third piece, Round of Angels – choreography by Gerald Arpino, music by Gustav Mahler. I wasn’t really expecting to love this piece at all because I thought it was just some art-house thing about angels. But I believe this is what they call poetry in motion. Literally. It was so visually stunning. It was a piece all about lines and how bodies in motion can look so artful together. I think this was possibly the most visually appealing piece I have ever seen.

The last piece, Carousel (A Dance) – choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music by Richard Rodgers, was quite good but nothing in comparison to the two in the middle. It was certainly interesting and beautifully danced, just not quite the same dramatic effect of Round of Angels or the incredible simplicity of Valses Poeticos.

I would recommend that if you have the time and the finances and if these pieces are performed anywhere you can find them. I would recommend going to see them. I know that the economy makes things difficult right now but I have always believed in supporting the arts. And I get calls from the opera, symphony and ballet in Chicago, so I know they must be having a difficult time. While I can’t commit to being a subscriber, I certainly do try to make the performances I can budget in.

Honest World

I remember the first time I heard Catie Curtis sing Honest World, I thought it was a great song but it didn’t really hit home for me. I mean it was great for my older wiser gay friends who had partners and were serious about life but I was 19 and not quite there yet (to put it mildly). As I’ve grown up (and I’ll put a disclaimer here: I’m not that grown up – I’m barely 26 and certainly not ready to discuss marriage) I’ve found that the song rings more and more truly with me. Perhaps it’s just because I live in the real world now and not the cocoon of a wonderful liberal arts women’s college set in the valley of progressive Western Massachusetts.

I have been meaning to write something like this since I heard about Iowa’s Supreme Court decision to allow same sex marriages. I think it is truly significant because it finally means that accepting gay marriage is not just something that those trendy liberal east/west coast progressives do. Surely Iowa is different and has been for quite some time. In fact I was reading this fab editorial in the Times about how they had some landmark cases about slavery and segregation as well. But it really makes me proud that somewhere in the mid-west where it’s not “cool” to be progressive, it’s not “cool” to have gay friends, it’s not “cool” to be a hippie but apparently it is “cool” to believe in equality. So thank you Iowa for that.

Also I couldn’t be more pleased about Vermont actually voting in legislation to allow gay marriages. Sometimes, I do miss the progressiveness of the New England countryside, even if it does mean that I’d have to give up living in a real city. Alas, I can only hope that Illinois and Chicago won’t be too far behind all these people.

Also I’d like to know what’s up with California and New York? I mean really aren’t they supposed to be our beacons of liberalism? Why are they so behind the 8 ball, I mean MA, CT, IA and VT are already light years ahead of them. Shame on you California, you call yourself the bastion of liberals and yet you actually managed to pass Prop 8. And New York hasn’t even tried, that’s almost equally if not more upsetting. Ok I’ll stop giving those two a hard time now. It’s a tough battle anywhere, I do realize that. But it would be nice if two of the largest democratic states could jump on the bandwagon. It’s a good one to be on in my opinion.

Now, I’d be even happier if one of the southern states *cough*Texas*cough* would jump on the bandwagon because I think that would really be putting equality for all to the test. (Yes, I am still holding out for Texas to surprise us all and support gay marriage or at least do something similar to what Iowa has, I still have faith that my home state can be and is progressive). I have hope and faith that it will happen eventually all over the US. But I believe that will take some more time. And one of my friends actually found this cool little blog that maps out the time-line for knocking down bans on same sex marriages. Welcome to progress my friends.

In the immortal words of Catie Curtis:
Some day, I trust
Love will make an honest world for us

Sometimes You Just Need To Ask For Help

So I recently moved apartments, I didn’t go terribly far or at least I wouldn’t call a block and a half away terribly far. During this whole process I learned that sometimes you just need to ask for help. Now I’ve been pretty bad at asking for help my entire life. This was really bad in college when your classes get more difficult and professors expect you to be smart enough to ask for help when you need it. Well, some of us take longer than others to learn that it is better to ask for help than to flounder in “I can do this on my own” land.

Back to moving, for the main part of the move I did ask a couple of friends to help me out, which was super helpful. But I really think it would have been wiser if I had asked, oh everyone I know in Chicago to help me because in reality having just 3 people (where two of us were pretty small girls) moving is not fun. Not fun at all, in fact.

You would think I had learned from that experience right? Since I’ve finally gotten mostly unpacked but I do still need a few things here and there to be put away etc, I decided to get this beautiful dresser from Crate & Barrel yesterday evening. I can’t tell you how much I thank my lucky stars that the stupid thing has to be assembled because man, is it heavy. And I swear if it had been one piece going up 3 flights of stairs with that sucker may not have been possible, at least not all by myself. Taking up the pieces that make it up on the other hand wasn’t so bad. But um, it only has 4 pieces so the big one is still a fairly large sucker for a small person such as myself to be hauling upstairs. Thankfully, I made it up there still in one piece, although I might’ve thrown my shoulder out and gotten a few choice bruises in the process.

Sometimes You Just Have To Laugh

Because otherwise you might want to cry. Especially with the way the economy is these days.

This morning I logged in to the New York Times website, which is a typical first glance before I start my work day routine for me. And I almost started laughing because I saw as one of the pictures in their “Picturing the Recession” segment was a photo of a store that I have passed by on my way to work quite often. In fact I found the sign in that photograph that says “RECESSION FLOWER PRICES $1.00/stem” so amusing that just a week ago I had taken a photo of it on my phone and sent it to a friend of mine because we were just talking about buying flowers for a birthday party. And what girl doesn’t love to get flowers? They’re just so beautiful. At any rate, I know many of the recession photos are quite sad but personally I like things like these because they make me chuckle.

Here’s the photo I sent my friend:

recession flowers
recession flowers

Real Steel-cut Oatmeal

Can actually be found at Jamba Juice, who knew? Certainly not me. At least not until I walked in to my local store this morning (and I love these women, they are just so fabulous – if you are in Chicago you should check out the store at Wells & Madison, they are super friendly and sweet). So my favourite Jamba staff member greeted me with her usual warm smile and today she had something new for me to try. (She is one of the best saleswomen I have ever met). She charmingly asked if I’d like to try out the steel-cut oatmeal topped with bluberries, blackberries and brown sugar. Normally, I don’t try out all the new stuff they promote because I already have enough stuff on their menu that I like.  But today I just couldn’t resist her big smile and tray of new stuff that actually looked really tasty.

Now I tend to be a firm believer that not all things that look good taste good but this time I was pleasantly surprised that not only does this look delicious but the taste matches. Now my favourite staff member did recommend the apple-cinnamon but I’m a bigger fan of blueberries and blackberries, which is what they were handing out anyway so that’s what I ended up getting. But I am super excited to report that I have found *real* steel-cut oatmeal that you don’t have to make at home by yourself! (I don’t wake up early enough to make myself breakfast. More power to ya if you do.)