Skip to content

lightning behind a white house, wicker park chicago

April 7, 2010

The New York Times has published two really great pieces on amateur photography lately:

1) How to Take Photos of Food

2) For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path

The first article discusses some of the better types of light and ideal situations for good food photos.  The second talks about the rise of sites like Flickr, which has allowed stock photography companies the option of browsing through millions of images by amateur photographers for their archives, making it much more difficult to earn a living as a professional photographer.

Hope your week is going well.

Nos. 272: 4/6/2010

No. 273: 4/5/2010

It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side
I’m right from mine
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind

– Bob Dylan, One Too Many Mornings

opening day

April 4, 2010

Nothing marks the beginning of spring like the start of the baseball season.  The Yankees and Red Sox have just kicked off the 2010 season, and the Cubs will open up in Atlanta tomorrow.  Baseball as a game is slow and smart; it starts slow and teams move carefully and methodically through the innings.  The season itself is long, a grand dance from the first crisp, warm nights of spring through to the final crisp, cool nights before winter sets in.  Opening Day is like passing GO in Monopoly – you start fresh this time around and hope the pieces fall into place moving forward.

On another note, The Publican is the best restaurant in Chicago.  I’ve now been twice in the last week.  The first treat was last Saturday night for a 3-story shellfish tower ordered days in advance of the meal and which served to turn all heads in the restaurant towards our table.  I went again this afternoon for brunch outdoors on the patio, dazzled again by the finest bloody Mary I’ve ever had as well as a scrapple made with the leftover pork goodness from last night (I’ve noticed that the ratio of pork to cornmeal and flour in the scrapple depends on how busy they were the night before it’s served; this scrapple had a lot more pork than the last one – perhaps a slow Easter Eve?).  The restaurant group headed by chef Paul Kahan owns 4 of the best restaurants in the city (Blackbird, avec, Publican, and Big Star) and is unsurpassed by any other restaurant group in the country.  There may be a few others who do things just as mesmerizing and creative, but no one does it better.

Nos. 274: 4/4/2010

la vie quotidienne

April 3, 2010

This week provided the first real days that it was comfortable to sit outside and have a beer or glass of wine and eat some food with friends leisurely; when you have all of these things you really aren’t lacking anything at all.  A few weeks back I picked up a copy of a book called The True Gen, a recount of Ernest Hemingway’s character by people who knew him.  If you don’t know much about the man’s biography then it probably won’t interest you much, but I happen to have read far too much about Hemingway during college, including a 5 volume monster that hardly left out a day of his life.  The True Gen is interesting (though nothing too spectacular) but it’s gotten me thinking about Hemingway again, something I used to do often.  Before I ever lived in Europe, it was Hemingway’s words that burned images in my mind of all the things I hoped to one day see there, and I think when I first arrived on the continent I was trying to chase down whatever it was that Hemingway had captured in his books and, more importantly, in the great myth that became his real life.  He was a notorious fabricator who spun a story to suit his audience, all in an effort to build his reputation as the man who knew how to hunt big game and to fish marlin in the Caribbean, seduce women, and order the right food and the right wine to go with it.

What Hemingway got right, more than anything else, were the details.  He described the quotidian charms of daily life in a manner that excited you to go to the market, order a drink at a cafe, or lay in bed with the person you love.  The daily details – they’re definitely what is worth focusing on.

No. 275: 4/3/2010

But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing
was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor
the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of
someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.

– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

No. 276: 4/2/2010

Nos. 277: 4/1/2010

Street tar in summer will do a job on your soul.

– Spoon, Black Like Me

mediterranean light

March 31, 2010

This is what I remember: the blinding yellow light, everywhere.  Everything ablaze with the light of the sun; ten degrees cooler in the shade, the awning overhead at every outdoor cafe, old men sitting on a park bench under a tree, their brown leathery skin that never really got away from the hot heat covered from it for the moment.  The light along the Mediterranean is an illusion, and we don’t see anything like it here in Chicago or anywhere so far north of the equator.  But there’s a few minutes on a bright morning when the sun shines straight ahead as it rises, a direct line at you, intrusive enough for those few minutes to get a feeling for what the sun is like all day along the sea.

No. 278: 3/31/2010

Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment. To such
an extent indeed that one day, finding myself at the deathbed
of a woman who had been and still was very dear to me, I
caught myself in the act of focusing on her temples and
automatically analyzing the succession of appropriately graded
colors which death was imposing on her motionless face.

– Claude Monet

No. 279: 3/30/2010

The Mediterranean has the color of mackerel, changeable
I mean. You don’t always know if it is green or violet, you
can’t even say it’s blue, because the next moment the changing
reflection has taken on a tint of rose or gray.

– Vincent Van Gogh

No. 280: 3/29/2010

Shut your eyes, wait, think of nothing. Now, open them … one sees
nothing but a great coloured undulation. What then? An irradiation
and glory of colour. This is what a picture should give us … an abyss
in which the eye is lost, a secret germination, a coloured state of grace
… loose conciousness. Descend with the painter into the dim tangled
roots of things, and rise again from them in colours, be steeped in the
light of them.

– Paul Cezanne

unexpected encounter with live chicken

March 29, 2010

Several times since the weather has gotten warmer, I’ve walked past a small shop on Chicago Avenue advertising “Organic Amish Chickens.”  The storefront is modest, a little worn down and fairly plain-looking, with only a small sign advertising its goods.  I hadn’t had a chance to stop in until yesterday afternoon, when plans for a Sunday night dinner of a whole roasted chicken began to form.  Upon entering, I was rather disappointed to see nothing up front except a few dozen chicken legs and thighs in a refrigerated case, boxes of eggs, and a selection of canned beans on a shelf to the side.  There were two or three gentleman behind the counter and a couple more waiting in line, and an Arabic television station softly spreading the news.  Glancing at the parts in the cold case, and noticing a strong, unpleasant odor not unlike the barn of a friend’s farm just after feeding the donkys, I was curious: “Do you have any whole chickens?”

“Of course we do,” responded a mustachioed man standing tall in a white apron.  He pointed behind his shoulder, where I saw through a door into the back room several scores of whole chickens.  Whole, and entirely alive, in a coop, clucking away.

When I had seen the sign advertising organic chickens – chickens raised by iPod and iMac-free Amish families, at that – in the weeks prior, it never occurred to me that this storefront would sell anything but chickens slaughtered where they were raised.  But such is not the case at Alliance Poultry Farms and to my great surprise, right here in the city of Chicago, former home of the historically unsanitary union stockyards that provided Upton Sinclair the setting for his novel The Jungle (which incited President Teddy Roosevelt to form the FDA), you can purchase a live chicken and have it slaughtered, de-feathered, and cleaned, ready to cook for dinner.

“What size do you want?” the shopkeeper asked, to which I suggested a chicken of 4 pounds.  He walked into the backroom, opened the coop, grabbed a chicken by the feathers and place it into a small bucket on top of a digital scale.

“It will be $8.50,” he explained, and then took his right index finger and sliced it across his neck, asking via sign language if I wanted the bird to be slaughtered.  I nodded – I’ve got nowhere in my apartment to keep a live chicken.

“Do you want the head and the feet?”

“Uh, I don’t think so.”

He took the chicken and passed it through a small window to the butcher in back.  I stood and waited, noticing again the putrid smell and the sawdust that covered the ground; several people came and went.  At one point, a man ordered two chickens (alive, carry-out), and when the shopkeeper placed them in the bucket to weigh, one of the chickens jumped out, trying to fly but to little avail – its wings were clipped.  I was entirely unsure what would be handed to me when the butcher came out front again, and was prepared to pay for (and immediately dispose of) a dead chicken, headless, feet-less but with feathers still attached.

Alas, the bird arrived – featherless, clean, and chopped into breasts and legs instead of whole.  I paid and grabbed the sack containing the chicken off the counter.  I noticed right away its weight; I’ve held a whole chicken countless times, but never one that I had seen alive just moments before.  It didn’t feel like I was holding a package of chicken – the weight felt dead, like the carcass that it was.

I brought the chicken home and cleaned it further, dressed it in salt, pepper, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil, and baked it for an hour over a bed of rice.  As you can imagine (if you’re not yet turned off by the manner in which this particular dinner was sourced), it was delicious.

No. 281: 3/28/2010

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

– T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Nos. 282: 3/27/2010

Opportunities may come along for you to convert something –
something that exists into something that didn’t yet.  That might
be the beginning of it.  Sometimes you just want to do things
your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty

– Bob Dylan, Chronicles

No. 283: 3/26/2010

No. 284: 3/25/2010

funny how.

March 25, 2010

My good friends Dana and Brian publish an excellent quarterly journal called Juncture: A Writerly Newspaper, to which I have contributed twice now.  Each issue has a theme (the last was “On Taste & Reason”) which the contributors can use as a starting prompt or feel free to ignore altogether.  It’s really a special publication and impressively put together by hand in Brooklyn, NY.  While I was able to make the release and reading party in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn last fall, I was unable to do so this time around – I’m sure it was a grand ol’ time.  Take a look at the JAWN website and purchase a copy.

No. 285: 3/24/2010

Funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way.
Eat a peach,

– Neil Young, in a telegram to Stephen Stills in 1976, following
his disappearance from their joint tour with half the dates left
to go

No. 286: 3/23/2010

in defense of food

March 23, 2010

After a trip to San Francisco that was inspired by all the food reading I’ve done the last 6 months, I thought I’d have wanted to take a break from continuing to read about the subject.  But, alas, I am back in it already with another book by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food. This one focuses on how the dining experience in America has become less about enjoying quality, slow food with people you know and love, and more about consuming nutrients to give your body the perfect mix that modern science says we all need.  Over the last 40 years, products in the supermarket have moved away from packaging that boasts the farm a particular food came from in favor of proclaiming health benefits: Lower your cholesterol!; Free of Trans-Fat; Rich in Vitamin C!  As a general rule, it’s a good idea to avoid any food making health claims, for the “real” foods that have been around forever – fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, meat, fish – need not proclaim such things.  And perhaps he has a point; after all, in the 40 years since the American food system has become increasingly monolithic, less diverse, and has replaced real foods with edible food-like products, rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke have all increased significantly.  “Most of the nutritional advice we’ve received over the last half century (and in particular the advice to replace the fats in our diet with carbohydrates) has actually made us less healthy and considerably fatter,” Pollan writes.

We often hear nutritionists talk about the French paradox – the unexplainable way that the French enjoy food as much as they do, and eat so many fats, cheeses, creams and meats deemed toxic by nutritionists, and yet retain lower rates of the chronic diseases mentioned above, as well as strikingly smaller waistlines.  “Maybe it’s time we confronted the American paradox: a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of being healthy.”

In this vein, I came across an inspiring article in the Chicago Tribune this morning.  A group of 20 Chicago high school students plan to speak out at the Chicago Board of Education meeting at the end of March, in order to voice their preference for healthy, quality food in school cafeterias as opposed to the mess of nachos, pizza and other processed foods they have to choose from today.  The contract for food service to the district is up at the end of this year, and these students are hoping to push the $58 million a year deal to a more healthful provider.

No. 287: 3/22/2010

No. 288: 3/21/2010

All cities are mad:  but the madness is gallant.  All cities are
beautiful:  but the beauty is grim.

– Christopher Morley, Where the Blue Begins

No. 289: 3/20/2010

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and
the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter
in the shade.

– Charles Dickens

No. 290: 3/19/2010

Many nights he lay there, dreaming awake secret cafes in Montmartre
where ivory women delved in romantic mysteries with diplomats and
soldiers of fortune, while orchestras played Hungarian waltzes and the
air was thick and exotic with intrigue and moonlight and adventure.

– F Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

freddie freeloader

March 18, 2010

It’s warm here, a little windy, light out later than it’s been in over half a year.  Sitting next to the wide open back door; the sounds of the L train, the neighbor’s kids laughing, and the jazz saxophonist who lives across the alley.  I listen to him for awhile and then put on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, the scratchy crackle of the LP the 8th instrument to join the sextet in “Freddie Freeloader.”  And inspired by Brian to have a bourbon over ice.

No. 291: 3/18/2010

No. 292: 3/17/2010

I added some other kind of sound I remembered from being back
in Arkansas, when we were walking home from church and they
were playing these bad gospels.  That feeling is what I was trying
to get close to – six years old, walking with my cousin along that
Arkansas road.

– Miles Davis, on the sound he tried to capture in “So What”

country music.

March 17, 2010

I like country music.  Not many people I know would admit that.  I’m not so crazy for modern Walmart country music as I am about the country & western, country blues, and country rock of the last 60 years.  It’s soulful and honest, and there’s something about country music that turns you inward.  It exploits your loneliness, amplifies your happiness and buries you in your own blues in a few quick chords like few other genres can.  It’s a fairly common response to the question, “What kind of music do you like?” to hear someone quip back: “I like everything, except country.”  My more judgmental self would believe this person doesn’t actually like music much at all, but I’d prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt; in this case, they haven’t been exposed to the right kind of country.

Over the weekend I saw the film Crazy Heart, about a beat-up former country star playing bowling alleys and lounges throughout the Southwest.  Jeff Bridges just won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Bad Blake, which was wholly deserved.  And the music – ah, the music!  The original songs that were written for the film exemplify everything I love about country: bluesy, honest music to ride along to.

Take a listen.

No. 293: 3/16/2010

It’s funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while

– Jeff Bridges’ character Bad Blake, from the
song Fallin’ & Flyin’ in the film Crazy Heart

No. 294: 3/15/2010

A heart like mine, which never got any kind of affection growing
up, is terrible above all things.  Was then, is now.

– Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

No. 295: 3/14/2010

Country music is three chords and the truth.

– Harlan Howard

Hi Brad –

Thanks for signing up for an Ifbyphone account!  The 10 (303) numbers you have ordered are now in your account, ready for your use.  Should you have any questions regarding setup or configuration, feel free to contact our Customer Success Team at 877 295 5100.

Additionally, as I mentioned, we will be assigning an account manager who specializes in the advertising and marketing industry to work with you and make sure you achieve the results you’re looking for.  That person will be in contact shortly.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me or anyone here for anything you need.  We look forward to working with you!

some photos of the night, by way of the past

March 14, 2010

In my final months of college, I remember asking myself some questions that sounded easy to answer: Do I want to go into business or a more creative pursuit? Do I want live in the city where family and friends are, or a place with less attachments?  If you choose a job that pays well, are you sacrificing more imaginative work?  They were questions that asked me to decide if I could continue moving forward while surrounded by the past.  I thought that it was one or the other  – the new or the old; the creative or the mundane – and that at a certain point life demanded that you make a choice.

Though they sounded like fairly straightforward questions, they were not, and I couldn’t answer them.  I spent those final months of college and a year in Europe trying to decide which it was going to be, and I was so confused about which way to go that every time I spoke to friends back home I reported that I was moving to a different city upon my return.  New York, San Francisco, Miami, Boston.  I had claimed them all as my future residence.  One close friend thought I had finally gone mad when I proclaimed that I was moving to Portland, for no real reason other than that “it seemed to be the right place.”  I was searching everywhere for something – for what, exactly, I did not know.  And I still don’t, because I’ve never found it.

It was after my arrival back in the US, after I’d taken a job for a technology company working in the “business world,” had moved into an apartment in Chicago and found myself more pleased at the end of each day than I’d ever been before, that I came up with what I’ve come to call The Rule of Both.  The ultimatums I’d been giving myself for years turned out to be insignificant.  I learned quickly how you could have both: old friends and new; a job in a more traditional field that was creatively fulfilling; you could look towards the future at the same time that you were bound by the past; you could continue to travel the world even as you worked a full-time job.  It sounds like a simple discovery now, but the path to it was a grueling one.

I started thinking again about The Rule of Both earlier today while flipping through John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley In Search of America, a book I read during a week in Guatemala a couple years back as I was coming to understand how to embrace the old and the new.  In the book, Steinbeck arrives in central California at the town of his birth, and finds that once you leave home you can never go back.  Returning home, he believes, only confuses your memories and those of your friends at home who fix an image of you in their memory the day you leave.  I think he’s right, to a point, but fails to mention how you often fix an image on a person or place you’ve known a long time and continue to see regularly.  In the end, that image is often as disappointing as if the person had left forever, or if you’d never returned to the place.   You can’t go home again, but even if you never quite leave you’re bound to wake up one day and realize that that image of home, of friends and family, is no more real than the memories of those who left forever.  As Steinbeck writes: “Home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.”

No. 296: 3/13/2010

No. 297: 3/12/2010

Here on these high rocks my memory myth repaired itself.  Charley, having explored the area, sat at my feet, his fringed ears blowing like laundry on a line.  His nose, moist with curiosity, sniffed the wind-borne pattern of a hundred miles.

“You wouldn’t know, my Charley, that right down there, in that little valley, I fished for trout with your namesake, my Uncle Charley.  And over there – see where I’m pointing – my mother shot a wildcat.  Straight down there, forty miles away, our family ranch was – old starvation ranch.  Can you see that darker place there?  Well, that’s a tiny canyon with a clear and lovely stream bordered with wild azaleas and fringed with big oaks.  And on one of those oaks my father burned his name with a hot iron together with the name of the girl he loved.  In the long years the bark grew over the burn and covered it.  And just a little while ago, a man cut that oak for firewood and his splitting wedge uncovered my father’s name and the man sent it to me.  In the spring, Charley, when the valley is carpeted with blue lupines like a flowery sea, there’s the smell of heaven up here, the smell of heaven.”

I printed it once more on my eyes, south, west, and north, and then we hurried away from the permanent and changeless past where my mother is always shooting a wildcat and my father is always burning his name with his love.

– John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley In Search of America