Friday, November 30, 2007

A literal taste of home

Hamburger with the lot from Metzis
Originally uploaded by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

Food-wise, there are lots of things I miss about Australia. With a bit of searching, I've managed to satisfy a lot of my from-home culinary desires but granted this does often involve a trip to a specialty supermarket or issuing a special order from within the US or overseas.

[Let me just add here that the Tim Tams released here under the Arnotts brand are a pretty darn good substitute - oh and another thing, I tried to lobby Haighs to export their chocolate here but they told me to bugger off. Actually, they asked me to tell the US Food & Drug Administration's stringent rules on importing of chocolate to bugger off, but I love my life too much to do that just yet.]

So imagine my joy & rapture last night when I found a fabulous inner-city pub that serves a near-perfect knockoff of the great Aussie "burger with the lot". It was like the Holy Grail, and I'm not exaggerating.

My Aussie readers will know what I'm talking about. The traditional Aussie "burger with the lot" is best provided by a good ole neighbourhood fish & chip shop, served as greasy as possible, complete with the usual burger ingredients plus a fried egg, beetroot, and a pineapple round. I am drooling just looking at this picture of course.

And it's funny because back home, the closer that the fish & chip shops are to the beach, the better the quality merchandise - at least that's what I think. There is something fundamentally Australian about picking up a burger with the lot, minimum chips, and then devouring all of it while sitting barefoot on the sand. If you can time this with a lovely sunset and a couple of cans of cold beer, then you have my ultimate dream date right there.

But enough of this Aussie wishful thinking. I have to face facts that I am living in sub-zero Chicago right now and the Bondi Burger at BB's (22 E Hubbard) really did hit the spot last night. Actually to be completely upfront about it, I didn't eat the burger myself; I just had a bite of it. What I enjoyed was the traditional Aussie chicken parmi. Oh man, that was soooooo good and there goes the drool again.

How is it possible that this pub has existed for this long, serving this sort of food, PLUS Coopers beer, and I hadn't visited it until last night? Shocking.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I vote for a holiday

I got paid today and took a look at my vacation entitlement for the rest of 2007. It is not a healthy picture. The disappointing lack of hours left owing to me suggest that the rest of my calendar year is going to be busy.

It suggests no last-minute flights to sunny destinations, or even early minutes to sashay down Michigan Avenue, in the manner in which I would surely become accustomed.

But no matter what my pay slip says, I'm still going to make time to visit the German markets in Daley Plaza because I need to buy some Christmas decorations. Actually, I need to buy a tree first. Or at least do a Clark Griswold and yank one out of the ground by its roots. Whatever.

And I gotta get me some of those cinnamon sugar almond thingies that I like so much. And a glass of warm gluwhein. In all my excitement I didn't even spell that right. And I don't even care. Just the thought of it warms me to my toes.

I do love my job, so I only complain about it because it keeps me from a Chicago christmas. I just have to hope that nobody is having any fun out there while I'm at my desk. They're not having any fun, right?!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hello, is anybody there?

Twisselman Road, Lost Hills, California
Originally uploaded by rantfoil.

The funny thing about being an orphan over here is that on major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, a big city like Chicago is able to transform itself into a landscape resembling post-nuclear war earth.

The streets are pretty much deserted, you don't need to wait for a washing machine in the laundry room, and the elevator in my building runs express all the way to my floor. It's seriously like no one is around.

You know it's coming because on the workday before the major holiday, the buses are full of people in jeans straddling their stuffed suitcases as they all get the hell outta Dodge for the big event.

And when they finally make it to O'Hare or Midway, the city is left empty, wondering what it did wrong to clear out so quickly.

But I don't mind it at all. It's nice not to have to wait too long for a cab, or a great seat in a restaurant. The only people I seem to be waiting behind are tourists, and they don't really know what they're doing anyway so I can get around them fairly quickly too.

The thing about this apocalypse though, is that life will return to normal on Monday morning. I will have to stand on the bus ride to (and possibly from) work, wait about 3 minutes for my coffee (shock, horror!) and be more strategic when it comes time to do my laundry. Ahh the rat race, how I have missed you.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Silence is golden, or so they say

I know it's been a bit quiet from this side of the world for a little while, but by way of meagre excuse, I'm going to place the blame squarely on the Prime Minister of Australia. And for once, I am entirely justified in doing so.

My office has been handling the postal and pre-poll voting for the Australian federal election and even though I had never done it before, I found the project to be really interesting. It was an exhausting time, with long days, late nights, and a lot of concentration required to check and double-check the numbers of votes cast. Now I know how Santa feels, when he makes his list and checks it twice. It's a big job.

So on Monday we need to send the last of the votes back to Australia and then the project is over for another three years. And we all play the waiting game to see what happens at home. Maybe the fate of the nation really does rest in the hands of an Aussie voter from the US Midwest. Time will tell.

It was probably timely that the election project finished this week, because the hard work culminated in a day of decadence yesterday for Thanksgiving. It's the quintissential American holiday, and I was really pleased to be invited to Bork's house for the complete traditional experience.

Bork confessed to me that she's not much of a cook, but she was going to really try to get the meal just right. I believed her when she said this of course, so I went along without any expectations that the food would be delicious. Now I realise that she was just being modest (or outright lying) because the meal was TO DIE FOR. The turkey was tender and juicy, and the side dishes were amazing. For the first time, I tried all the authentic American Thanksgiving dishes: green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with cinnamon and marshmallows, creamy buttery mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce with citrus, stuffing with raisins and apples - ooh I am almost drooling at the memory of it all.

So while Bork held up her end of the bargain, I feel like I may have let the side down a little. I was supposed to bring dessert and I'd talked up the idea of the great Aussie pavlova. I mean, why not inject a bit of my own culture into the US event (plus I really don't like pumpkin pie, and I have to draw the line somewhere). But when it came down to it, I realised that I should have taken more time out of my week to rehearse the recipe. I got myself into quite a flap at the idea of whipping so many egg whites and then sculpting them into the cake shape ready for baking. It all just seemed a bit too much like a delicate science. So I chickened out and instead, I bought a ready-made chocolate bunt cake from the bakery, whipped my own heavy cream (and did not make butter out of it), and topped it all with sliced strawberries that I mascerated with balsamic vinegar & sugar. So you see, I did actually have to prepare some of the dish myself. And the gang at dinner DID appreciate that.

And now it's the day after Turkey Day, and everyone is still sleeping off the overindulgence. I am up early because the neighbours are going at it like the screaming nymphomaniacs they are. And in the spirit of the holiday, it appears my neighbour's girlfriend is very VERY thankful....

Saturday, November 10, 2007

La vie boheme....or not

Beauty Overhead
Originally uploaded by Genevieve Elise.

Last night Courts took me to the opera and it was not only the first time I'd been to the Lyric Opera House here in Chicago, but the first time I had ever seen an opera, anywhere.

We went to see "La Boheme" and it was absolutely beautiful. The Lyric Opera House is a superb example of Chicago's art deco architecture and though we were right up in the 'nose bleed' section, I actually preferred it because I got to fully appreciate the grandeur of the place. Plus, I had a birds-eye view of the whole stage and could appreciate the complete majesty of the sets and the costumes. Sometimes I don't think you get to appreciate those sorts of things from up close.

But it was a Friday night, and after a delicious raspberry cosmo, I was admittedly a bit concerned that I'd struggle through the 3-hour performance (that Courts warned me was actually short, by opera standards). But the lights dimmed and the stage came to life, and the effect was mesmerising.

The opera was set in Paris, but sung in Italian (the composer Puccini's native language of course) and yet I followed along with the sopratitles, and loved every minute. And there were more young people in the audience than I think I expected. But unlike musical theatre or the cinema, the audience was completely respectful. There was no shuffling, no audible whispering, no crunching of candy wrappers, or anything like that. It was such a different world and I really enjoyed it.

But I did say to Courts that next time, perhaps we could see something a little more happy? La Boheme is a beautiful story but it is wrist-slashing material towards the end!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

And you thought it was just a drink!

Originally uploaded by coda.

Tonight I went along to the opening of a brand new exhibition for Chicago called, "Red Bull Art of Can". The competition is in its second year, and it asks people to design their own piece of art using cans of Red Bull.

The exhibition is open to the public in Chicago at the River East Art Center from 9 to 18 November 2007 and it is definitely worth a look.

The waiters served (what else?) vodka/Red Bull to the guests but I must admit, seeing all the Red Bull sculptures around me did make me wonder what was happening to our empty cans.

I didn't stay long enough tonight to find out who won the competition (first prize is a trip to Basel, Switzerland where Red Bull is manufactured), but if I had my guess, I would say "Vitalized Dragon" by local Illinois artist Tsuyoshi James "TJ" Ishikawa, or else (my favourite for the Peoples Choice Award), "Jump Start" by yet another Illinois artist Lisa Lofton.

I don't know why I picked the Illinois artists as my favourite - it wasn't even on purpose!

Winners are grinners. Whatever.

So yesterday was Chicago's turn to celebrate the Melbourne Cup 2007 and from what I can gather, it's the first time that the Aussie expat community here has gathered to celebrate The Race That Stops The Nation.

Whether owing to lack of interest, or a desire to maintain some degree of excitement about the occasion, I resisted temptation to peek at the Aussie media and see which horse triumphed. The Victorian State Government co-hosted the event with Advance at Just Grapes, "my" gorgeous little wine store in The Loop. The event was a sell-out in about 10 minutes, which far exceeded even our expectations!

I didn't get in the full spirit of the event by wearing a fancy hat, but it didn't really matter because we had plenty of other guests who made up for it.

To make sure all our guests got into the sweep, I missed out on picking a horse and truth be told, even though we broadcast the race, I still missed out on it and so I still have no idea who won! Oh well, everyone knows that I was in it for the booze and the mingling; it's all good.

The night wasn't a late one by any means, and I was back at home before 9.30pm so I was pretty pleased about that. The weather is starting to get chilly and while Chicago socially looks after its own even in winter, being out and about in the cold wind isn't really my cup of tea. And so I found the sweet spot on the sofa late last night and chilled out with a glass of red wine before bed. Blissful, no?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The carpenter and the chiropractor

Waking up this morning to a new daylight-savings time zone, I'm sore all over. Stupid furniture assembly and the lugging of my groceries has contributed to multiple muscle spasms and general misalignment of all of my essentials.

Dare I suggest that Target's furniture is much easier to assemble than that Swedish stuff, and now that I've assembled not one, but two console tables, you just come and find ME if ever you need to pop one together, m'kay?

And so I present to you the fruits of my carpentry labours (and though I didn't construct them per se, you are also welcome to marvel at my new dining chairs & chic black tablecloth).

Okay, I'm off to have my spine re-adjusted and my muscles gently manipulated by a health care professional (code for: multiple Bloody Mary's over brunch)!

Computer Table Dining Table TV Unit Console Table

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Blogging, Betty Ford-style

I actually logged on to my own blog site the other day and realised just how long it has been since I wrote here. The last time I blogged, Mum & Jems were still here, and we had spent a great day at The Shedd.

Fast forward a couple of days, and I have finally come out from underneath a mound of laundry, Halloween costumes, and furniture assembly, and emerged looking rather bedraggled.

I am sitting here at my computer, atop the console table that I built all by myself, feeling very Carrie Bradshaw, gazing periodically over the top of my laptop, out the window of my dining room that faces north and looks out over Wrigley Field. It truly is a wonderful view. Wonderful in that it is relaxing, but also because it has given me pause to reflect on the last couple of weeks, and prepare the following short list of goings-on just to bring you up to speed:

  • Target delivered me two console tables and one corner TV unit, in flat packs of course, that required some combination of acrobatics and particle physics just to assemble. Needless to say I put up one console table, chucked an almighty hissy fit at the inadequate size of the Allen Key, and flatly refused to put up the other console table until I was in a more fit mental state to do so (aka today).
  • I returned to work after 2 weeks off, to face a bunch of ancient secretarial-pool dictaphone tapes that I have still not completed, even after staying at work late every night this week. You know those comic strips where the hard worker has piles of papers on her desk and you can only just see the top of her head on the other side? That has been me all week. I just can't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. But I said 'yet'. Ever the optimist, me.
  • Lex hosted a kickass Halloween party and I went as the Good Witch Of Boystown, resplendent in $2 kids witch hat from the nearby pharmacy, a designer black dress from my own closet, and a pair of fantastic woollen rainbow-striped thigh-high socks poking out from underneath it. I was appropriately dressed and delightfully warm, the later being of vital importance as it turned out to rain persistently all Halloween night.
  • Was hung over like a demon the day after the Halloween party and spent most of it in the reclining position on my fabulous sofa. Awesome.
  • Actually took a photograph that I liked so much, I had it framed.

So that's basically been my life since I last posted. Not that exciting, eh? Hmm I didn't think so either! But hey, at least I have emerged successfully from the Betty Ford Clinic of Blogging, and am a little more visible now. Let's see whether I can get back into the rhythm of more regular writing. Now that I have a computer set-up like Carrie Bradshaw, I'm sure I will make a little more effort in future.