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i can’t sit still

April 20, 2010

I can’t sit still.  I’m all for relaxation and taking things slow, that’s for sure, but I’m terrible at forced relaxation.  This makes getting sick an issue.  For example, let’s look at last night, an evening when I arrived home early from work due to a pestering head cold and sat down for a night of recuperation.  It was great, for about 25 minutes.  And then I stood up and walked into the kitchen and made tacos.

I love Mexican food, and I’m apt here to say that I love most traditional cuisines of the world but I’ve noticed a different pattern as of late.  Rather than pronounce a mere affection for Italian food, or Mexican, Indian and Thai food, I’ve finally refined my own taste memories and feel comfortable saying that there’s nothing I like more to cook than a simple dish of fresh ingredients, seasoned lightly, with few steps involved beyond chopping, mixing and cooking over fire or over the stove.  My breakfast of choice says it best: a slice of country wheat, toasted, with a small chopped tomato and a slim pool of olive oil, pepper and grated parmegiano-reggiano to dip into.  Some of this may be a lack of extravagant culinary skills, but I prefer to think that with all the fresh produce, meat, fish, bread and poultry out there, there’s little need to spend your whole night prepping when you’ve only got so much time.  On the weekends, I’m thrilled to spend a day planning that night’s meal, but during the week I’ll take seasonal vegetables, a bit of fresh fish or meat, and some rice or potatoes nearly anytime.

Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.

– Johnny Cash

No. 259: 4/19/2010

No. 260: 4/18/2010

No. 261: 4/17/2010

No. 262: 4/16/2010

No. 263: 4/15/2010


what is and what should never be

April 14, 2010

This past weekend I went to Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, where I went to college.  I hadn’t been back in nearly 3 years, this being the first time I’d ever been in Iowa City when I didn’t have friends who lived in town.  I know you’re thinking – it’s what everyone thinks when I mention Iowa City – how boring that town must be.  But it’s not, and it’s that overlooked status that gives part of Iowa City its charm.  Iowa City actually has the most cultural events per capita of any city in the country, and is home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the most prestigious graduate writing program in the country.  I happened to be in town for a conference; as a senior I completed a year-long thesis on EL Doctorow’s Ragtime, and the professor I worked with is retiring.

This was the first time I’d ever returned to a place I had lived a long time and left.  It wasn’t like returning to my parents’ house after college, to which I had returned every break and summer and which therefore changed as a place in front of my eyes.  Returning to Iowa City felt like skipping through time, and I myself felt like my father when he drives through the streets of Chicago that he used to live in – I was constantly pointing out what had changed and what used to be.  There’s a real melancholy to returning to a place you used to know, a stark realization that the past has escaped you and that you’ll never again be in that place, with those people, dreaming about what’s to come.  It’s even more wistful to see the new students that have come through, taking your place in your apartment, your classrooms, your favorite bars and cafes.  Enough sappiness, though, as returning back to a place can remind you of all that you hoped to accomplish when you were leaving; reflecting on what you’ve done since then can bring a satisfaction as promising as the memories of what once was.

No. 264: 4/14/2010

Don’t go back to the old front.

– Ernest Hemingway, in coversation

No. 265: 4/13/2010

No. 266: 4/12/2010

The writer isn’t made in a vacuum. Writers are witnesses. The reason
we need writers is because we need witnesses to this terrifying century.

– E.L. Doctorow


April 13, 2010

I’ve been out of town and busy at work the last week, and my posts have been lacking.  However, over the weekend I got back to Iowa City, my former college town, which was filled with all the bittersweet, nostalgic glory one could hope for.  More on that later.  In the meantime, take a listen to Delta Spirit, they’re great.

More to come later.

I imagine that yes is the only living thing.

– ee cummings

No. 267: 4/11/2010

No. 268: 4/10/2010

No. 269: 4/9/2010

No. 270: 4/8/2010

No. 271: 4/7/2010

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