Wednesday, December 31, 2008

you'll find better things

This is one of my favorite parts of the new year. Is that sad?

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?: Hmm. Earned the majority of my income from a non-music job, hiked in the Grand Canyon, lived by myself. I feel like that's enough.

2. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

A clearer direction in life, a bigger oven, and a better grasp of ethical slutdom.

3. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Just general finding-myself stuff, I think. It's been an unbelievable year for that.

4. What was your biggest failure?

Hmm... Having a panic attack at work maybe.

5. Whose behavior merited celebration?

fantastic friends, notably Erica, Anna S, Rose-Anne, Shawn, Anna P, Aaron, Madeleine, everybody at work and dal niente. New people, old people. Most people in my life.

6. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Sarah Palin, Blagojevitch, etc. Myself sometimes.

7. Where did most of your money go?

Food, alcohol, plane tickets, rent. Spices.

8. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

It was kind of an embarrassingly overenthusiastic year for me. Food, cooking, books, Amanda Palmer, Alaska, Denver, hiking, friendship.

9. What song will always remind you of 2008?

Amanda Palmer's Ampersand, Jeff Buckley's Lover, you should have come over (because I can't believe that i listened to such a cheesy song so many times), Fiona Apple's Parting Gift

10. Compared to this time last year, are you

i. happier or sadder? happier :)

ii. thinner or fatter? thinner, goddammit. What does a girl have to eat to gain a few pounds around this place?

iii. richer or poorer? maybe about the same.

11. What do you wish you'd done more of? hoo boy. Cleaning my stove? Reading, hiking (although for a city girl I did decently this year), sitting by the lake. But really, I'm pretty happy with at least the last half of 2008.

12. What do you wish you'd done less of? Getting angsty about unimportant things, overindulging in certain things. But nothing terrible, really.

13. What was your favourite TV program? Hmm. Did I watch anything? I'm liking Firefly :)

14. What was the best book you read? The Practice of the Wild (so much more life-changing the second time around!), dear god Lolita. A lot.

15. What was your greatest musical discovery? Jeff Buckley (for when you need an angsty girly man), Amanda Palmer, PJ Harvey in a much more real sense than before. Rid of Me is one of the best albums ever.

16. What did you want and get? An apartment to myself, a wicked sense of self confidence.

17. What did you want and not get? The Colorado Symphony job

18. What was your favourite film of this year? Twilight. Definitely.

19. What did you do on your birthday? had dinner with many amazing and varied friends, and then had drinks and bitched about conductors.

20. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

You know what? I'm good.

21. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008? thrift store chic. what a nice girl! Semi-boring, perhaps.

22. What kept you sane? cats, Erica, the internet, coworker gossip.

23. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Amanda Palmer. Yikes.

24. What political issue stirred you the most? Prop 8, the election.

25. Who did you miss? Erica, Tabitha

26. Who was the best new person you met? so many! Madeleine, Rose-Anne (not new, but new as a personal close friend). Hopefully many more to come.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008. Paying attention to myself makes me a vastly happier person, and being happy makes good things happen. It also makes me sound cheesy much of the time. Living alone is awesome, but convincing myself to clean is harder. I need mountains in my life.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. "And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in/And I say well I'm lucky, cause I am like East Berlin/I had this wall and what I knew of the free world/Was that I could see their fireworks/And I could hear their radio" Dar Williams What do you hear in these sounds. "I'll idealize, then realize that it's no/Sacrifice, because the price is paid, and/There's nothing left to grieve" Fiona Apple, Get Gone

41. Where did you ring in 2009? At Austin's house! We dropped a grapefruit at midnight. Then I made out with a random stranger. Good times :)

42. What was your status by Valentine’s Day? Not good, I can tell you that. Prepping 300 roses and then doing dishes in the bathtub? No thanks.

43. Where did you go on vacation? Alaska!!! Flagstaff, Denver (that wasn't much of a vacation, though).

44. What did you purchase that was over $500? A ticket to Alaska. My security deposit on my apartment.

45. Did you know anybody who got married? probably. Nobody super close, though.

46. Did you move anywhere? into my own place

47. What’s the one thing you thought you would never do but did in 2008? Hmm. I can't think of anything I'm willing to make public. Ooh wait, posted a craigslist ad!

49. What’s something you learned about yourself? I have a lot of potential.

50. What was your best month? Any of the last six, I think. Oh, except for late August/ early September, that kind of blew.

51. What pop culture event will you remember 2008 by? I agree with Lauren, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.

I think I've blocked out the bad parts of 2008, but they've been so overshadowed by the good that I'm okay with that. I don't really do resolutions, but I have high hopes for 2009; change is coming, but I think it will be the good kind of change. Thank you to everybody in my life, I love you all.

See? Cheesy. That's what being happy does to me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

day job

Wedding flower pictures! I made three of the white cubes on the bottom, the one taller arrangement (which used garden roses, which smell absolutely heavenly), and the boutonniere. That was fun :)
Also, does anybody else think it's funny--considering I'm not the hugest proponent of marriage--that both of my "careers" involve spending a lot of time dealing with weddings?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Yesterday, I had an excellent day at work. I made a bunch of arrangements for a wedding that I didn't even know I was going to be working on and they all turned out really well. (Photos tonight, perhaps?) I sold a ton of Christmas ornaments. My boss told me that she "trusted me completely." (In a certain context, perhaps, but still it was nice to hear.) I went home feeling inflated and happy and confident, like I was a real florist who knew what the hell I was doing.
And then realized that I'd left the coffeemaker on (and empty) all day. It's a miracle that I haven't burned my building down yet, what with this and also the asparagus I almost flambeed a few weeks ago. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the kitchen is kevin bacon

Happy solstice! Our first day of winter, as I noted earlier, was just hellaciously cold. And windy. And just all-around bitter. I cried nearly every time I left the comfort of the indoors that day. But there was a fair amount of comfort to be had, so that may have had something to do with it.
I haven't talked too much about our Candida dinners, but they've continued on since our first effort in October. We had our third dinner on Sunday, celebrating the new season and the fact that we all were brave enough to venture out in the "feels like -30" weather for soup.
There were six of us this time, which seems to be the number that we gravitate towards; no matter how many people are invited, we often seem to end up with six at the end. My old friend Miriam, on vacation from grad school in England, made an appearance, and a violist from Civic that I didn't know named Ben was our other guest. Most of the way through the cooking process, it became clear that all of us (including Ben, by pure chance) knew my good friend Shawn Marie, prompting a discussion of SM's Kevin Bacon-ness for our group. She was the only person we all knew and had introduced many of us, and she wasn't even present.
But truly, I do think the kitchen is also Kevin Bacon in this scenario. It's what brought this little group together, and indeed my first personal experiences with many of the people there had involved food. Four years ago, Miriam and I cooked a curry that, while delicious, made her aware of a nasty allergy to cilantro. Rose-Anne came to Thanksgiving at my house two years ago, the first time we'd hung out sans Shawn Marie, and brought some delicious garlic butter for our feast. And I vividly remember making my first-ever batch of homemade seitan with Shawn Marie, using it as a pizza topping during our first one-on-one meeting. Food has risen to a much more prominent position in my life lately, but I realized on Sunday that it's been a running theme for years. There's just something about food and kitchens, the warmth and creation and comfort that a group of people can experience there. That's exactly why I could never, ever be a professional cook: in the rush to prepare food for strangers, I'd be afraid that I'd lose the joy I find in preparing food with or for people I know and care about. (That and I'm really slow and can't deal with stress, but that's another story.)
Anyway, dinner (or lunch?) turned out splendidly. Candida dinners generally do. There have been blips--a too-lime-oriented jicama salad, some dessert issues--but nearly everything we've made has turned out quite well, particularly since most of our recipes are having their first outings at the event. There have been sweet potato-cilantro-ginger patties, spaghetti squash, miracle brownies... We're thinking we'll make a collaborative cookbook. The menu this time around involved some fantastic chickpea-flour savory crepes (with two filling options!), an amazing kale-and-bean stew that convinced nearly everyone present that they needed to invest in some smoked paprika, salad, and the aforementioned brownies. Afterwards, full and happy, we sat around the table and basked in the camaraderie of food before we all headed back out into the cold.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

winter with a vengeance

It's negative five degrees outside right now, but windy so it feels like negative thirty. Yikes. Wish me luck. My windows are covered in ice. At least I'm going to go eat soup soon.
Happy solstice!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

keep passing the open windows

When you live in a big city like Chicago, you have to take your connections to the world outside (outside of people and pavement, that is) as you can get them. There's a reason that people almost obsessively hang out by the lake in the summer; where else can you get a nearly-unobstructed view of anything here? Sometimes, after I've been somewhere with a lot less people and a lot more mountains, I wonder how I can live here. And then I remember: it's in the details.
The lake is good, and when I was at Northwestern (where the music building sits feet away from the water), the ability to watch the seasons reflected in the lake was one of the things that truly helped me through my day. But there are many other, less obvious things that I think get overlooked. Personally, I pay close attention to any "wild"life I can see (even pigeons are interesting to watch interact with each other) and I try to pay attention to plants and the weather. This is how I try to stay connected to the idea that, even though I live in a giant city, there are still things outside of that concept that exist beyond it. We might have impacted them dramatically (pigeons are a product of civilization, I imagine, and god knows what we may have already done to the weather), but they are ways for me to remember that there is still nature here, in some form or another.
The point of this all comes down to one wall of my tiny little studio apartment. There are many things wrong with my apartment: repeated plumbing issues, the inevitable stuffiness (and, grossly, smelliness) that comes from a person and two cats living in such a small space with no open windows, the overactive radiator. But this wall is my absolute favorite part of living here. My west-facing wall is almost entirely made up of windows. I can see the sky, and part of the building next to me, but there are no windows facing towards me that are close enough to bother with. I feel free to wander around in my underwear with the blinds up without worrying overly that anybody can see me. I'm also on the fifth floor, which cuts out any real noise connection to outside (especially in the winter when the windows are generally closed, but even in the summer I can't tell if its raining from up here).
The upshot of all of this is that I can see the sky at basically all times. I wake up early because that's when the sun rises and the sky begins to lighten up. I can tell from bed what the cloud cover is like, whether it's sunny, whether it might be snowing. At night, the sky can be pink, yellow, orange, dark. During the day it can be light grey, dark grey, deep blue, light blue. I can see snowflakes drifting by. I have times of day that I like because of the quality of light. I've never had this kind of friendly connection to the sky before, and I love it. I wouldn't shut my blinds for anything.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

dating bi-as

So an interesting thing happened lately: I went on a date. With a boy. What? That information elicited a lot of different reactions, everything from laughter to puzzlement. "So you're dating boys now?" "How does that work?" And so on. Blah blah blah. But the truth of things is a lot harder to explain than I've been able to put into words, at least verbally and under immediate pressure. The lines are getting a little blurry.

The boy was somebody I met at Anna's girlfriend's nonprofit's fundraiser a few weeks ago, back when it was still warm enough that I was willing to put on a dress in return for access to an open bar and cheesecake on a stick. We talked (briefly, from what I can recall) and, along with another boy I didn't know, split a cab ride home. About a week later, I got a facebook message.

Being single has a number of interesting side effects that contributed to my actually following through on that message. For one thing, it's infinitely easier for me to define my sexuality (for better or for worse) when I can just say, oh, that's my girlfriend over there, have a cheesecake! The lack of a significant other opens me up to scrutiny, and to assumptions, such as that I'm straight or bi. Which is okay (and in the case of bi, not entirely untrue), but sometimes it's a little awkward. I don't know how to deal with boys, for one thing; it's like I've lost the tools, the skill sets, that seem to be taken for granted by hetero society. Boys approach me differently than girls do. (Well, so far women don't approach me much at all, which is a whole other problem.) And I can't tell when they're flirting, even more than I can't tell when girls are flirting. So I end up (apparently) flirting back, and then things seem to get beyond my control. It's confusing.

All of this would be far less of an issue if I didn't, ahem, feel a little more bi (although I prefer "homoflexible") lately, at least theoretically. I will not deny that I've had makeout dreams about boys, some of them involving victorian dress. And really, with my credo of tolerance, I've been considering giving boys another chance. Should it actually make that much of a difference? I'm not ruling it out as a possibility, although I'm pretty skeptical in light of all the evidence that that train of thought is ever going to get much past the theoretical stage.

But anyway, I basically said, what the hell, let's give this "date with a boy" thing a shot. Here's one thing about being on a man-date: I felt like I had this very, very media-based idea of what what that experience should entail and how I should act. Rules, if you will. I just couldn't seem to shut down this part of my brain that kept whispering "Are you doing this right? Think hard about romantic comedies!" With girls, I've never felt that kind of rule pressure before, and it added a whole new level of nerves to my experience. For instance, I ordered a salad (endive with roasted baby golden beets and whitefish in a creme fraiche, yum), which was actually what I wanted, but I felt like such a girl when I did it. I literally flashbacked about a million bad movies as I said "I'll just have a salad." And he paid for dinner, which for me felt terrible. I mean, here I was feeling like a fraud anyway, and then I didn't even pay for my food! It was the most uncomfortable part of the date for me. (And when I told straight female friends of mine that, they invariably said, "Well, at least you got a free meal!" Which is so not the point, and actually made me feel more gross, like my company was something to be bartered for. "I'll pay for dinner, and you look cute and eat a salad." This was not his fault, but the fault of gross tradition. Ick.)

But really, it was fine. A little awkward (ex-girlfriends kept coming up, perhaps in a very passive attempt to bring the conversation around to the topic that I haven't dated a boy in, oh, five years), but good conversation and good food and good beer. I actually had a lot of fun, except for the fact that I felt like I was sitting around the table with a boy, the personal, and the political. That made me a little antsy, truth be told. With girls, at least the personal and the political tend to be right out there on the table, and they're easier to talk about. If two girls are on a date, there is this whole world of overlap that they can access and assume that the other person will be able to reference. On a straight date, I felt like I was navigating without coordinates, and it was much harder.

I just hope I wasn't a total letdown as a date. "Dude, I went on a date with this girl the other night and she was totally a dyke! WTF!" is what I imagine him telling friends, although in truth I think he's a bit too nice to be so mean about it. But still, I think that through my lack of ability to just say "Hey, so I date mostly girls, but you seem nice," I've become a funny story he'll tell people during conversations about weird dates. Ah well, live and learn.

(Thanks to Anna for the title.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

i think i'll wait another year

Because I sometimes do dumb things I decided to bake not one, not two, but three different types of christmas cookies tonight. What was I thinking? Actually, I've bounced back a little bit from where I was about half an hour ago, but I'm currently sitting in my furnace-like apartment contemplating that I haven't even finished the third batch yet. There are windows open. It's snowing outside. There would be more windows open if some of them weren't iced shut.

The first batch was a breeze. Orange Shortbread Cookies with Chocolate Chips? Count me in! A piece of, ahem, cake, except for creaming the butter and sugar together by hand. I wish I'd asked for a mixer for Christmas.

The second batch, Rose-Anne's Thumbprint Cookies, is actually still resting in my fridge. I started them before I realized the dough had to rest; when I came to that line in the recipe, I put my dough in a tupperware in the fridge and started on batch number three.

Which is Spice Cake with Prunes and Pecans (or walnuts if, like me, you forgot to buy pecans), from Moosewood. Prunes, you say? Yes, prune puree, to be precise. Kind of like gingerbread in the spicing, but without the molasses. Here's something about Moosewood that I sometimes forget: Sometimes there are significant differences between what i expect and what happens. I'll end up with an enormous amount of something (say, stuffing for squash), at least twice as much as I could ever possibly need for whatever purpose it's supposed to fulfill. Or the texture will be vastly different than I expect. Or, as with this recipe, it will take about twice as long to bake as the recipe indicates. I guess I'm at fifty minutes (the recipe says 30-45), and things are finally starting to firm up. It smells good, and if it tastes good when it finally finishes cooking I'll put the recipe in at the end of this post.

I'm looking forward to this being over. But the fun part is this: I'm planning on perhaps mailing most of this batch out to people in different cities. If I do that, and I want to give cookies to my friends here, I'll have to do this all over again in about a week. I think I'll spread it out more next time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

and then

Ummm, I read this. I actually cried a little bit. Don't turn the sound off, the reading is definitely the best part. Especially when he almost laughs. Repeatedly.


I feel irritable, restless, and generally discontent. It's way too cold outside to want to leave my cozy apartment, but part of me apparently wants to be running through the streets tonight. This kind of undirected energy is always tiring but hard to shut down, and so I usually just try to sit it out. I don't have much of a choice, because when I feel like this I generally can't sit through a movie or even focus for long enough to read a book, and that is a death sentence for a night at home alone.
I wish I knew what caused this, because I'd like it to stop and it's been happening all too frequently. On nights like this, even though my life is going increasingly well and I'm generally happy and surrounded by people whose company I enjoy, I feel the opposite of positive. I feel grouchy and lonely and bitter. Bah humbug, I say! I didn't feel like this anywhere near as often before I lived by myself, and that's particularly frustrating: now that I have all the time in the world for doing exactly what I want to do, I can't seem to utilize it.
I'll post something more interesting and less me-oriented soon, I swear.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

all these years

So today is my five-year anniversary; I started this blog on Dec. 13th, 2003. Which is crazy. I never would have predicted most of the events of the last five years, nor that I would still be writing about them for friends and a few complete strangers to read on the internet. Sometimes I'm a little embarrassed by how happy this blog makes me, partially because this is essentially the most narcissistic thing I do: in the "real" world I don't talk about myself anywhere near this much. But I love the outlet, the clarification that comes through writing and particularly writing for other people. I work through big stuff in my journal, but here I have a forum for recipes, books, vampires,and the small joys and terrors of everyday life. Thanks for reading :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

life on mars

Last night I dreamt the following: Erica, my good friend from Arizona, worked in the flower shop with me. And for some reason, we were screening Return of the Jedi (?) but we didn't have a copy, so we left a bunch of people alone in the store while we went to find one. As we ran around, we kept holding hands like little girls and giggling. We were stalled by various adventures, as happens in dreams; among other things, we voted in an election and went to a strange yoga class specifically for stringed instrumentalists. (All I remember was that people were smacking little fake bows on the floor and there was popcorn everywhere.) During the yoga class, I finally started freaking out that people were stealing everything in the store and we were going to get fired. And then, thank god, I woke up. WTF, brain?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

jesus h

So yeah, Chicago politics... We have a massively corrupt governor, an honest-to-god factory sit-in, and a president-elect. Crazy.
Personally, it's been a weird day. I got up at about six to have some coffee before heading to a college downtown to play student compositions for about three hours. (Note: guaranteed to make your brain melt into mush.) En route, I had a major, major epiphinic moment on a crowded train (prompted by a Thoreau quote in my Gary Snyder book) that left me with my mouth hanging open and adrenaline rushing through me. It wasn't so much a new idea as a set of connections I'd never made before, and I can't quite articulate it, but I sure took me some notes. It was an amazing feeling. Maybe I should experience sleep deprivation and then read theory more often.
A lot of things in general seem to be in a state of flow lately; everything seems very dramatic and intense and important, but it's all so internal that I can't quite talk about that either. But here's something very stable: beans. Another of my favorite simple foods, I love the texture: creamy but with a hint of graininess, filling and satisfying. Beans and rice has absolutely been one of my favorite foods since I went veggie in 2002. One of the (many) questions Anna asked me when we first met was what food I would eat if I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, and that was my answer. (That was greeted with amusement, for some reason.)
So here is a delicious and somewhat unusual bean recipe. The beauty of this particular dish lies not only in the creamy delicious baked beans, but in the spicing; you can feel it trace a path down the back of your throat and into your chest, but as long as you don't overdo the chili powder it's not too spicy for the wimpy.

Habas Verdes con Queso
(Lima Beans with Cheese)

6 cups cooked lima beans (or, as I did the other night, one large can of butter beans and one small can of kidney beans. yum!)
8 oz cream cheese
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3 green and/or red peppers, chopped (unless you hate them)
2 medium carrots, diced
2 cups chopped fresh or canned drained tomatoes
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Either cook the beans yourself or heat up canned beans. When hot, drain and, in a large bowl, stir in the cream cheese, mixing well so the cheese melts. Cover and set aside.
Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add the peppers and carrots and saute for five more minutes. Add the tomatoes and spices, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 more minutes until the carrots are tender.
Stir the sauteed veggies into the bean mixture. Pour into an oiled casserole dish and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.
Can be eaten alone or as a dip with tortilla chips.

Monday, December 08, 2008

so we beat on

Last night I went to another Civic concert, this time with Bernard Haitink conducting Schubert's Unfinished and David Afkham, this really young guy who I believe studies under Haitink, conducting Strauss' Death and Transfiguration. It was wonderful to see Haitink conduct, because he's amazingly wonderful and energetic, but it also made me a little sad. Just last year I played Shostakovitch 10 with him, and it was one of the best musical experiences I've ever had; it's hard to explain, but sometimes a really good conductor can win your heart and soul with the first downbeat. So it was hard to take my place as an observer rather than I performer, and I was jealous of the energy and joy that I assumed the musicians on stage were feeling.
As I sat in the audience, enjoying the music, I was increasingly distracted by the larger implications of this feeling. I think it was maybe the first time I truly realized what I may be giving up. Even though I plan to continue playing, it's highly unlikely that I will play with Haitink, and perhaps anyone of his caliber, in an orchestral situation again. In fact, once I move to Denver, what orchestral playing am I really going to be able to drum up for myself? I don't know the situation, but playing in community orchestras or paying-but-terrible gigs just isn't the same. (Music for money does not equal music for pleasure in most situations.) By moving, I'm really effectively cutting many of my remaining musical ties. From here on, it's likely that I'll spend most of my time as an observer rather than as a performer.
I know that it doesn't have to be this way, but in some ways it also kind of does. If I try to continue playing in any sort of serious way, it might actually hamper my ability to move on and figure something else out. I can't be a part-time musician for the rest of my life, because I don't think I can personally balance that with being a full-time anything else. If I want to move forward, I'm probably going to have to give most of this up. And even though I hope to replace it with something good, that's still a bitter thought.

Friday, December 05, 2008

the optimist's view of winter

Today is off to a good start: I slept well, stayed in bed to snooze (one of my absolute favorite activities, truth be told) for an extra hour, and now I'm enjoying a cup of coffee. There are cats sitting by me, and sunlight outside of my window. Of course, it feels like -1 out there, but in my little studio things are relatively cozy.

For me, that is one of winter's redeeming factors: coziness. It's a different type of coziness from the coziness of fall, which is more of an all-around feeling (I'm-outside-and it's-mildly-chilly-and-I'm-wearing-a-cute-jacket coziness). I feel like winter coziness is in direct proportion to how awful the weather is outside; as the conditions outside become increasingly harsh and wearing, the conditions inside become more welcoming. It's the coziness of curling up on the couch with a blanket and sipping something hot. It's having a comforter on your bed that you can burrow down into, squealing until your body heat warms the flannel sheets. It's soup.

Indeed, winter food is some of my favorite food. It doesn't have the vegetable rush of spring or summer, but many of my absolute favorite dishes just don't fly as well during any other time of year. (Fall is a cusp season, of course, given the fact that it still is fall, but once it gets cold enough it's hard to keep that in mind.) Could I enjoy a bowl of potato-leek soup anywhere near as much in June? I think not. Isn't chili better when it is, in fact, chilly? While I admittedly need to improve my warm-weather cooking (I had a hard time this summer when it was too hot to turn the oven on), I think my heart will always belong to a season that allows me to make so much soup. (I think Rose-Anne knows what I mean; the last time I visited her apartment to cook, there was a word cloud derived from her blog printed out and taped above her desk, and the big central word was "soup.")

This winter, my big goal is to become a better baker and hopefully make my own bread. I need to learn to deal with yeast, and plus there is nothing better than fresh bread. But I'm also excited to try out a number of new soup recipes, particularly from my Moosewood. I have a burning desire to learn to make barsczcz, the Polish version of borscht; I generally don't like beets because they upset my stomach, but I ate a fair amount of barszcz when I was there last and it was delicious (and happily didn't make me feel sick). But tonight, I'll be making my first home-made squash soup from scratch. Is it dorky that I feel excited about this? After my less-than-excellent Thanksgiving contribution (despite what Anna says), I'm ready to redeem my squash skills with my leftover butternut. Here's the recipe, from my 1987 Moosewood:

Creamy Squash Soup

1 acorn, small buttercup or acorn squash (about 2 cups, cooked)
3 tbs butter or vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 small carrot, diced
1 medium potato, diced
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk or apple juice or 1 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Halve the squash and scoop the seeds out. Place it cut-side-down on a lightly oiled baking pan, cover, and bake at 350 for one hour until soft. You can also peel, cube, and boil, but according to MW this is easier and better for flavor.
Saute the onions in butter or oil until translucent. Add carrots, potatoes, apples, and water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
After the squash cools, scoop the insides out and combine with the veggies and milk/cream/juice. Puree in a food processor or blender in small batches until smooth and creamy.
Heat the soup on low heat until hot but not boiling. Add the cinnamon, season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

we haven't slept in years

I've always been prone to voice crushes. In high school, it was a local late night dj that led me stay up all night with my ear pressed to an extremely quiet clock radio. (Apparently, I was immune to the charms of earphones.) In Arizona, there was a rather embarrassing Dave Matthews period, and then Ani and Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker and on and on. Sometimes it's lyrics that sway me and I develop an obsession that leads me to like a voice that is initially unappealing (Corin Tucker), and sometimes it's just the voice itself (Dave Matthews, who I find fairly unappealing physically but who's voice pretty much took over my hormonal responses for a while), and sometimes it's an extremely appealing combination.
My current voice crush is Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. She recently released a solo album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer) that has been on nearly constant playback on my computer for probably the last few weeks. She's one of the most compelling combinations for me: overall smart, funny, moving lyrics, a voice that sucks me in with it's alternating hoarse frenzy and quiet anguish, and on top of that she's an incredibly sexy person. And she plays the piano. And has a penchant for corsets. Dear god.
It's rare but fortuitous when somebody actually comes through town at the height of my obsession. As a slightly late birthday present to myself last night, I went and saw her solo show at the Metro with Tabitha (the one who really got me into the Dolls) in tow. Not only was I incredibly enthused to see her play, but the show ended up being one of the most enjoyable I've ever seen. We missed the opening band but the follow-up was Zoe Keating, the former second cellist from Rasputina. She had a lot of technology hooked up that allowed her to lay down a ground and then layer herself over it, seemingly infinitely. As the layers built up, the music becoming more and more intricate, it also became more beautiful and entrancing. I was so inside of what she was doing, which (ironically) as a musician is something that's become increasingly difficult for me over the years. It has to be pretty damn amazing for my mind not to be wandering off in the direction of the technical aspects.
So that was awesome, and the dj kept coming out to tell us that, sadly, Amanda Palmer (actually, he said Amanda fucking Palmer) was dead and wouldn't be playing. Every time he said that she was dead the audience would cheer and he would chastise us. After a few go-rounds, he announced that some of Amanda's friends had shown up to show their sorrow, and then he introduced: Neil Gaiman. You could see the audience just freak out, like nobody had been anticipating that name to be one announced. Neil Gaiman popped out from backstage and started reading an appropriately strange eulogy of sorts. And then, Amanda Palmer walked right in front of me, wearing a veil and this great corset/skirt outfit. Just to recap: Neil Gaiman is reading, my voice crush is standing right in front of me, and holy shit. Good times. (Re: Neil Gaiman: they're making a book together of photos of Amanda Palmer being dead, so there was some actually reason for him to be there. He also wrote the lyrics to a song that she sang later about googling obsessive crushes on the internet late at night. Sample paraphrased lyrics: "I'm glad your name is so unique/it's just you and a wanna-be PhD from Chesapeake/who writes articles about the makeup of the sun/I must admit I've read every one.")
The concert was off to a good start, obviously, and the music that followed was no letdown. As probably happens a lot when you've spent waaaaaay too much time with an album, many the songs I like most (Ampersand, Blake Says) were not as compelling live, and the songs I've spent less time with (Guitar Hero, Astronaut) rocked my world. As a performer, Palmer is one of the most charismatic and energetic stage presences I've ever seen. She was rocking out on her piano, obviously singing her heart out and having a fantastic time, and I could feel that energy passing into the audience and turning the whole space into the kind of frenetic ecstatic whirlpool. It felt amazing. When she got up for Guitar Hero and brandished a red Fender like the world's best cock-rocker, when she explained the meaning behind Strength Through Music (hint: school shootings), when the entire ensemble (did I mention she had four theatrical backup dancers?) lip-synched to Rhianna's Umbrella and actually did the whole song instead of segueing into something else: these were notable moments in a very impressive show.
The show ended with a cover of Living on a Prayer while the dancers wandered through the audience collecting donations in their own shoes, and then a wild performance of Leeds United complete with fake marching band brass. I went home feeling high from all the energy and even more fully enamored with Amanda Palmer. I wish I could have (or inspire) that kind of emotional response to music more often. TimeOut Chicago's pre-review of the concert was less than amazingly complementary: "She’s a gifted, heart-on-sleeve performer who’s clearly dedicated to her craft—then again, so are the most committed players in a high-school theater troupe." And I say, so what? Maybe we need to have more of that insane desire and love in our art. Long live the high-school theater troupe.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

my friends turn beautiful before my eyes

The birthday last night was, for me, one of those almost perfectly circular life moments that I have occasionally, although not usually on this sort of scale. A total of thirteen people (myself included) came to dinner; when a fourteenth showed up just before we left to head out for drinks, I gave him the full table tour. It took a while. There were people I'd known for years and people I met only a few months ago, people I work with, play music with, cook with, chatting amiably about wedding flower disasters and ok cupid dating personas. (The conductor of my new music group said to me "This is awesome! You have non-musician friends!") My ex-girlfriend, her friend who I only met a few weeks ago, and my cooking friend headed up a discussion about polyamory that fascinated my musician friends and was much referenced at the bar after dinner. The first person I met at Northwestern when I moved here sat across from a violist that I met a few months ago online.
Of course, any mixed gathering contains these kind of details, but for me it was like a summation of my time here in Chicago in dinner party form. Nearly all the aspects of my life, past and present, were scattered around the table and they were all getting along. That was the key point, and it tasted so unexpectedly sweet to me; that my life can integrate its varied parts so smoothly is not something I had anticipated. It felt very whole, and yes, kind of mature. So maybe that's part of what maturity is, really: realizing that your life really is a whole entity, that all of the things that you are don't have to be separated or compartmentalized but instead can come together and pass the wasabi.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

a slightly scattered post about birthdays and bobcats

Today is my birthday. I'm twenty-seven years old, which is amazing and slightly alarming but not too bad. Last night, as a goodbye to my mid-twenties, I stayed home and read some Gary Snyder (which is so much better than I even remembered and also makes me feel vindicated in my love of walking) and made some surprisingly satisfying and delicious tomato soup. It was a lovely evening.
I don't have anything profound to say about getting older, although I think I have some thoughts hovering just below the surface of words. Mostly this birthday is just making me realize even more fully that I've finally found a niche here in Chicago, ironic in light of the fact that I am already looking ahead to Denver. But I'm having a birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant tonight and at least thirteen people are coming, which is shocking. A year ago, that would never, ever have happened. There are old friends, new friends, people I met on the internet, exes, cooking buddies, music friends, and co-workers, all coming together in the same place because I exist. And for the first time in a few years, I have actual plans for the future, and I think that at least some of them might actually come to fruition. I've been stuck for all this time, and now there is just so much flow. I feel like I'm finally headed towards myself, towards the way I'd like to be actually living my life. Fulfillment, if that's not too cheesy.
But lest I forget my place in the scheme of things or my animal-ness (and frankly, because I just really liked this quote), here's some more Gary Snyder to welcome me to my next year:
"The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. Sensation and perception do not exactly come from outside, and the unremitting thought and image-flow are not exactly inside. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in mind, in the imagination, than "you" can keep track of--thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream.The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionistic plots), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild."
Gary Snyder, The Etiquette of Freedom from The Practice of the Wild
This is what I want: to have a full human life and to never forget that bobcat. In the same essay, Snyder writes "[Mountaineering] take[s] practice, which calls for a certain amount of self-abnegation, and intuition, which takes emptying of yourself." By walking, by giving ourselves up to what we are doing and how we are moving through the world, we come closer to everything outside of ourselves and perhaps allow the line between mind and body to blur. That is why I'm moving away from a place which suddenly has become home. I want to be both full and empty.