Life. 365-Style (7/30-9/17).

Hi friends. Thanks for all the kind words through your comments, calls, and all sorts of other ways. It means a whole heck of a lot. Things are slowly becoming normal again, a new normal, but still – it’s progress.

Meanwhile, I’m in North Carolina for this week and next – mom got herself a new right hip last week and I flew in to help out. She’s keeping me busy and her recovery is going really well, but on occasion there’s a little downtime. When I’m not eating BBQ in said downtime, I’ve tried to get these pics organized so we could get up to date for a change. So here goes:

211 – Tange had no idea what was in store the next day, and neither did I. This is her all nice and happy, the day before we found the tumor.

212 – Maverick has fried chicken night on Monday and Wednesday, so we finally decided it was time to give it a try. We’re hooked!

213 – Chris says Sasha isn’t chubby, but this picture says otherwise. She’s still a cutie though.

214 – Words to think about….

215 – Craftsman & Wolves has one of my favorite treats – toasted chocolate bread with ricotta cheese, vanilla, honey, and Marcona almonds. This is a version I made at home which is mighty tasty. Holy moly.

216 – Judy’s new doggy, Orson T Cumberbatch III, came to “Off the Grid” to celebrate Jared’s birthday, and he dressed up!

217 – Dinner for three: Tange loved her bacon!

218 – A coworker gave me some green beans, so they got tossed onto a mushroom-gruyere tart. Not bad for no real recipe!

219 – finally got to Kronnerburger. Sorta pricey for a burger and fries, but still good in my book.

220 – I follow the rules.

221 – STAY. As seen from the Tenderloin. No thanks, Tenderloin.

222 – Fiats in the water! This was an ad campaign over in Sausalito. Chris and I did a big bike ride from home to Sausalito (his first time biking over the Golden Gate Bridge!) and we took the ferry back. Way fun.

223 – Mission neighborhood mural art.

224 – We’ve had a gift certificate to Chez Panisse for a while now, so we finally went for their Monday night dinner, which is a little less expensive than other nights. My opinion this time around? Still overpriced and just blah. The coolest part of the day was going to Berkeley Bowl for groceries.

225 – we decided to watch Breaking Bad since we have HBO for a bit. This is going to be a problem. So good!

226 – Pi Bar is a spot near our house that opens at 3:14 each day and has specials until 6:28 each day. Genius! They have a great beer selection.

227 – the day before Tange’s surgery, she got plenty of love.

228 – ironically, Chris took a picture of Tange prior to going to the vet. We had no clue this would be her last photo-op.

229 – big tangerine flowers for Tangerine

230 – a stairway walk to get us out of the house. This was at Lands End.

231 – a cleansing salad, of sorts. Lots of cabbage and chicken. Good stuff.

232 – a good campus run

233 – card from the vet

234 – shadows!

235 – BART is always interesting. And, we’re headed to Chicago!

236 – it isn’t a visit to Chicago without a trip to Handlebar. This Bloody Mary was excellent!

237 – I miss the CTA.

238 – Chicago Millenium Park view

239 – hopping on the train to head back to SF. At the California stop – crazy!

241 (yes, there’s not a 240 – whoopsie!) – ready to bake some pumpkin rolls!

242 – kale and cabbage salad

243 – writing notes to the coworkers

244 – I fried a rabbit.

245 – Chris was really feelin’ The Beatles

246 – time for alfajores again!

247 – Happy Hour with my buddy, Sunny!

248 – look what Joanne made for me – a board of cupcakes in an “H”. We had a great farewell day with treats at work and a nice dinner. I’ll miss these guys a ton.

249 – last ride on Caltrain after a lovely happy hour with my Gwennie.

250 – my coworker Cynthia always called me feathers, so this seemed appropriate to send to her.

251 – as you know, I made maple bacon donuts the other day, so this weekend I did the same, but with pancakes.

252 – I’m now jobless for three weeks, and my flight to NC isn’t until Wednesday night. So for dinner, I finally got around to making a salmon dish I’d had in queue for quite some and it was worth the wait!

253 – a mid- afternoon beverage at Coqueta following a really really hard bike ride up through the Marin Headlands. It was well-deserved!

254 – our friend, Brad, was in town for the day and he and I tested our US map knowledge. We did just ok… (Note – we stopped when we got east because we have the east on lockdown. Duh.)

255 – flying the friendly skies. Waking up to a turbulent red eye flight into DC and then RDU.

256 – sunset at the hospital. Mom’s getting ready for rehab!

257 – a nice day for a run around the high school track near mom’s house

258 – rando Instagram shot of some good lookin grilling

259 – cheapo gas

260 – BBQ time! Charlie’s was pretty legit, even though their sauce isn’t as vinegary as I like. I let that slide every now and then!

Twisted Sister

When you grow up in the South, you get accustomed to hot weather. Extreme humidity, clothes sticking to you from the moment you wake up until the sun sinks underneath the horizon, you look forward to October. Heck, you look forward to January, which is probably hard for those of you from the Midwest or the New England area to imagine.

Prior to moving here, I thought the Midwest was the land of moderate summers. Aside from one or two lackluster ones, I was sorely mistaken. You see, while the humidity may not be anywhere near the stifling heat of the South, it is still nice and toasty here in the Windy City. The difference, is that here in the Midwest, we have Fall.

And whoa Nelly, I do love me some Fall, but I’m not quite ready for it. I’m not ready to wear a jacket, to put away my sandals, and to stop enjoying the city I’ve lived in for 6 years. And after that, I most certainly am not ready to wear snow boots and curse the city for operating ‘normally’ in feet of snow, and I am not in any way, shape, or form looking forward to windburn from the lake on my way to work. If you can’t tell, I am milking Summer for all it’s worth. Sadly, that poor cow is dry as a bone…

It was different a couple of weeks ago, when my sista and niece came to visit (my niece’s first flight!). Fearing a swift end to the blue skies and jacketless walks, we took full advantage of the 70-80 degree weather and trampled through the city with the rest of the tourists. And even though I live here in this wonderful place, I know many of you do not, so I thought I’d post some pics of our wanderings. Who knows, you may find yourself visiting these parts one day, and we’d be happy to have ya. Here goes.

While most tourists walk through the city, or ride those unsightly Double Decker buses, I prefer to view the city by river. Above is a view from a Chicago ‘water taxi’, which costs a whopping $2 for a one-way trip. Pay a little more and you circle all the way around through Chinatown. Any Wilco fans among you? Notice the ‘corncob’ building on the left side, seen on the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They are from here, you know…. and if you don’t, now you do ;).

Yes, friends, this is a life-sized ginormous bean. It’s the centerpiece of one of Chicago’s newest sights, Millenium Park, which opened the year we moved here (2004). Designed by artist Anish Kapoor, the real name of this monstrosity is ‘Cloud Gate’, and it’s made entirely of stainless steel that’s polished so well you see not a seam, but lots of wicked reflections. It is gorgeous at night.

I think this might have been my sista’s favorite: the library. And no, it’s not because she’s a bookworm. Truth be told, she’s more of a movie buff, anyway. This is the main library in Chicago, the Harold Washington, and it is 10 stories large. The outside’s primarily red brick and early in the 90’s they put those green sculptures on top. I refer to them as gargoyles, but apparently they are call ‘acroteria’. Details, details.

Another new addition, the Eye sculpture, made of fiberglass and housed in the Loop (near the library). This one’s outta here later this year, though. If you look closely, you can see that the homeless folk like it here, as do the pigeons.

Please tell me you remember the show, ‘Married, with Children’?! My sista didn’t, and that made me a little sad. She made up for it by making zillions of movie quotes though, which is something I’ve never been good at, but that might be because I’m sleeping halfway through most movies… Anywho, the fountain at left is Buckingham Fountain, which is housed in Grant Park. Not only was it filmed in the opening of MwC, but it is also the hub of Lollapalooza, the weekend concert festival that’s here every summer. The right is an area of painted tree trunks, which is pretty genius if you ask me. Genius and pretty.

Just like any city worth visiting, Chicago has a shit-ton of museums that’ll each cost around 20 buckaroos to get into. Some boast free admission on certain weekdays, and some claim to be free but suggest donations. Anyways, while we didn’t venture into any of them during this touring venture, this is one of the gardens outside of the Art Institute. If art is your thing though, definitely check this place out on the inside. There other ‘main’ museums are the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum (all downtown; I still haven’t been to the Planetarium or Field Museum) as well as the Museum of Science and Industry, which is further south.

Outdoor sculptures, anyone? I much prefer this sorta art to the indoor paintings and displays. These are both in Grant Park and are a couple of my faves. I also like the cast iron legs, but we didn’t get to those this time around.

Another view from the water, but this time it’s Lake Michigan. The following day was a bit cloudy (that’s obvious, right?!), but this is the day we wandered over to Navy Pier. Aside from tons of tourist traps including a ferris wheel and Bubba Gump, the views are pretty great, and the boat tours are again, some of the greatest ways to see the city.

If you don’t go anywhere else, go to the Hancock Tower. It’s not as tall as the Sears (now supposedly call the Willis) Tower, but get this: there’s a “free” observatory on the 96th floor with 360-degree views. All ya have to buy is a drink, which while steep, is far less than the price at the actual observatory. Sears Tower has a new observatory with a glass bottom, which isn’t half bad though, if you’re into that sorta thing. This view is from the Hancock looking south, with the Trump tower, the newest skyline addition, over to the right.

And with that, the tour’s over! This is certainly only a snippit of Chicago; the best part of being here is seeing all of the neighborhoods and cultures, and there’s tours for that too, if you want. Even in 6 years of living here, there are still plenty of things we’ve yet to do; living here gives one the illusion that you can put touristy stuff off, but some of it really is fun, even to the residents. Either way, I hope you enjoyed the tour, and if you didn’t, no worries – there’s a reward at the end for all of your hard work.

A reward meaning, pretzels, which I hinted at up top. I made these prior to my sis and niece getting here in case we ever found ourselves in need of a snack while lounging around the house. I don’t think we were ever really hungry enough to snack on them, what with the deep dish pizza, sushi, and ice cream, but that’s generally not a problem with Hubs around, because they certainly got eaten eventually (most of them, at least). These are the result of another recipe from Kim Boyce’s book featuring rye flour, which adds a nutty character, and a little sour note as well. Perfect in pretzel form, I promise.

Oh, and were you wondering about the food in Chicago? Yeah, I’ve got that covered too. Click here for a Chicago Food page; I try my best to update it with the places we’ve been to and recommend, starting with 2010.

Soft Rye Pretzels
Adapted from Good to the Grain, makes 12

i tend to agree with Kim Boyce on this one – these twists are best right outta the oven. though I didn’t try it, I’d be willing to bet that you could probably freeze them right after the poaching part (before butter and salt), and then bake them straight from the freezer (after buttering and salting). if you try it, let us know how it works! In our house, one Wetzel had his pretzel with grainy mustard, while the other had hers just plain.

printable version

cooking spray
1 package active dry yeast
1 T honey
1 c rye flour
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T kosher salt
1/2 c baking soda
2 T butter, melted
coarse sea salt, preferably Maldon

measure yeast into large bowl. heat 1.5 c water (warm, not hot) and pour over the yeast. add honey and stir, add flours and salt and stir again.

pour dough over floured surface and knead. add up to 1/2 c flour if needed, until dough is “tacky” but not “sticky” (it won’t be smooth, but won’t stick to your hands constantly). knead for about 12 minutes, or until dough is smooth and soft. spray bowl and put dough into bowl. cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1.5 hours, until doubled in size.

once the dough has doubled, pour it onto floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. take each piece and roll out into a snake, about 17 inches long with thinly tapered ends. try to keep minimal flour down as your roll so the dough will roll out easier. form each snake into a pretzel shape by folding one third of the left side over the center and then one third of the right side over the left. place onto sprayed baking sheets and let pretzels rise for 15-20 minutes.

while pretzels are rising, place two racks at top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 F. fill a large pot with 10 cups of water and bring to boil. once pretzels have risen and the water is boiling, add the baking soda to the water. to poach pretzels, lift pretzel and place in hot bath; let each side boil for 30 seconds, removing from water bath with a strainer. pat excess water with a towel and transfer back to baking sheet. finish boiling pretzels, brush with butter, and sprinkle liberally with salt.

bake for 15-18 minutes rotating sheets halfway through. pretzels will be dark in color. transfer to rack to cool.