Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Yesterday I got a belated birthday present from some friends of mine, and as part of the gift, I got some cool British chocolate bars. A lot of British chocolate bars are just American chocolate bars with different names and different wrappers. Somehow, this makes them cooler to me. In this assortment of candy, I got a Cadbury Flake bar, which I love; it's just regular Cadbury milk chocolate (which is better chocolate than Hershey's any day), but it has this cool flaky texture. I also got an Aero bar, which is also just regular chocolate (made by Nestle, so not as good as Cadbury, but still better than Hershey's) but with tiny air bubbles evenly distributed throughout. While I don't like it as much as Flake, it's really good, and it makes me think that when it comes to candy bars, the British are either:
  1. More adventurous with the texture of their chocolate and less concerned with what they might be able to coat with chocolate.
  2. Cheap, since all this texturizing of chocolate basically mixes air in with it, thus allowing the manufacturer to use less chocolate in their product but still sell it at a competitive candy bar price.
Either way, I still think it's cool to eat candy that's non-American. And in a small way, given the little that I know about British cuisine, I'm just glad there's no organ meat in my candy bar.

(P.S. As long as there's no chocolate involved, I'm actually okay with organ meat.)

Buy British candy and other English Isle fare at Life's Little Luxuries. They have Spotted Dick!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Last night, before all of the bat nonsense, I saw The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and while it wasn't great, I thought it was very good. The story line was clever enough: a washed up ocean explorer/documentary film maker goes on a mission to avenge his friend's death, it gets botched horribly, and hilarity, as is so often the case in movies these days, ensues. I liked it mostly because it was subtle. While I didn't think Bill Murray was as good here as he was in Lost in Translation, it was definitely a good performance, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, and Angelica Huston were also quite good. (Side bar: where was Luke Wilson? He is my favorite Wilson.) Surprisingly, Willem Defoe was excellent, and he usually gives me the creeps (because he is so creepy). And I really liked how Wes Anderson used Zissou's ship "The Bellafonte" to show the physical proximity of the characters and maze-like nature of what was going on. It wasn't as good as The Royal Tenenbaums, but I think it's definitely worth seeing.

Perhaps my favorite part of the movie was the soundtrack: most of it consisted of one of the characters singing acoustic versions of David Bowie songs in Portuguese! Maybe it's because I have a thing for American pop songs sung in different languages (World Market frequently has CD compilations of such works, and yes, there might be one or two in my CD collection), but it was just so great. And the soundtrack also featured "Staralfur" by the oddly brilliant and charmingly Icelandic Sigur Ros in one of the more poignant scenes; it's not on the movie soundtrack CD, but Agaetis Bryjun is worth getting anyway. I should go find that CD and listen to it right now.

Oh, and the bat? Never caught it. Yeah, I didn't sleep so good last night. Fucker.

Monday, December 27, 2004
Dammit! I swear, it's like I have the fucking scent on me. There's a bat in my basement! My neighbor is coming over to kill it, and tomorrow I am going shopping for a cape.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Last year, around holiday time, I tried to make Ina Garten's coconut and jam shortbread cookies (recipe here), and it just didn't work. I'm not sure if my butter was too cold, or if I didn't cream the butter and sugar long enough, or if I tried to add too much flour at once, or what, but whatever the reason, I ended up with a crumbly mass of butter pebbles that wouldn't form into a dough. I gave up and threw it away. No cookie is worth that much aggravation, and at that point, I had already whipped up three semi-involved appetizers, a batch of homemade caramel sauce (which took me three tries), and a tray of brownies with cinnamon ganache. Not having shortbreads wasn't going to bother me.

But still, I wanted to try the recipe, because the cookies looked so good when she made them on tv, so this morning I made sure my butter was at room temperature, and I made sure that I creamed the butter and sugar until the mixture was light and fluffy, and I added the flour a little at a time so I could stop when the dough came together. But as soon as I started adding the flour, my little hand mixer made a weird noise, seemed to glow from the inside, and then died altogether. The recipe killed my mixer!

Determined to make these stupid cookies no matter what, I reached for a wooden spoon to start adding in the flour, and then finally resorted to my built-in mixing tools (those would be my hands) to finish the job. Let me tell you something, those pre-electricity British people must have really loved their shortbread, because combining all of this stuff by hand is a royal pain in the ass. But, I got it done, chilled my dough, formed it into little balls, egg-washed them, rolled them in coconut, put some jam on them, and baked them. And after all that trouble? They rock. It was totally worth it, and I'd do it again, and I'd do it by hand. I would wholeheartedly recommend making these, especially if you have a mighty Kitchen Aid stand mixer to do the labor for you. I used store-brand red raspberry preserves, but now I want to try them with everything: blueberry, apricot, lemon curd, apple butter -- everything. Screw sugar cookies that don't taste good. (Why do most Christmas cookies taste like cardboard?) These are way better. Good luck.

Monday, December 20, 2004
Random things:

  • Since winter break started at the end of the school day on Friday, I have probably slept at least 50 hours. No I am not kidding.
  • I finished my holiday shopping today. Did you know that most retailers open at eight in the morning this week? And that at eight in the morning, there's no one in the store except the employees? If you still have shopping to do, allow me to recommend the eight o'clock hour. It's a pleasure.
  • This year I actually have something to do on Christmas that doesn't include Chinese food, movies, or cooking for my Christian friends because they're too busy or can't cook so well.
  • Said Christmas activity will involve ham. I like ham. Jews who don't keep kosher like ham. They like ham, but they love bacon. Said Christmas activity, I am told, will also involve bacon. I am very happy.
  • World Market sells Spotted Dick in a can.
  • Crikey, it's cold out.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
I just got back from a theatre rehearsal of sorts, and it was one of the most annoying things I've ever sat through. The woman who asked me to attend is nice enough, but the guy running the session was kind of full of himself, and my eyes hurt from rolling so much. Yeah, he probably saw me, but I'm not concerned. And he looked like the screenwriting workshop guy in Adaptation. You know -- the one who's kind of full of himself and says things like, "And God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you." My rehearsal was a sound-related one, so I kept waiting for him to say something like, "God help you if you use pre-recorded effects in the play." And, there was one guy there who kept asking questions, and they were all bad questions. Yeah, I know there's no such thing as a bad question, but these were about as close as you can get. Everyone there was rolling their eyes at him, which is why the god-help-you guy probably wasn't suspicious of me rolling my eyes at him. Overall, a bad night for eye-rolling.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Bring back the Tip Top Tap. This is one of my favorite signs in Chicago, and I finally got a shot of it this past weekend. It's the Allerton Hotel on Michigan Avenue, and the Tip Top Tap was the bar on the uppermost floor. According to a friend of mine, the bar has been shut down for quite some time, but the sign on the building is too historic to take down, so it's there even though the bar isn't. I think it's a cool name, so it's kind of too bad. Someone should open it back up. Wouldn't you go to a bar called the Tip Top Tap? I know I would.

On an unrelated topic, after Friday, I have two whole weeks off! Unlike last year at this time, when I was editing two substantial documentaries, this year's winter break is all about relaxing and just doing stuff around the house. Yeah, I have a video project I want to get done, but there are books to read and rugs to vacuum and clothes to sort through and donate to Goodwill.

Sunday, December 12, 2004
Chicago from the 95th. I am back from my fun albeit thoroughly exhausting trip to Chicago. I saw my family, which is always good, and I went to my little brother's graduation, which was kind of boring, but the best part of the weekend was definitely dinner last night. Happy that his oldest child made it to 30 without doing too much damage, and elated that he can now begin conversations with the powerful phrase "My son the doctor," my dad took all of us and our very significant others to the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock building. Not only were the views of the city amazing, but the food was some of the best I've ever tasted. Seriously -- the salmon I had was so good, I thought my tongue was going to melt. The quality of the food served at the Signature Room is really remarkable, and when you consider how many tables the restaurant has (quite a few), it's even more impressive. Everything we tasted - the crunchy wheat bread, the salads with candied nuts and exotic cheeses, the duck spring rolls with carmelized onions, the merlot butter sauce pooled under my entree, the vanilla gelato on top of the pear cobbler, even the mashed potatoes -- everything tasted intense and ultra-real; the chicken, for example, tasted more like chicken than any chicken I've ever tasted. How do you do that? I have no idea.

Since I've turned this entry into a restaurant review, I'll continue by saying that the drinks are good too. When I order booze in a regular restaurant, I'm usually careful to specify what brand of vodka or gin (or whatever) I want, just to avoid having the bartender pour turpentine from a plastic jug into the shaker holding my drink. Last night, I ordered a Cosmopolitan without being specific, and whatever they gave me was great, and there was lots of it. So, between drinking my superstrong drink and half of my mom's superstrong drink, eating lots of food made with lots of butter (possibly too much butter, but my god, butter tastes good), and doing all of this 95 floors above civilization, I got really lightheaded, but was still able to blow out the birthday candle in the gelato on our dessert.

And of course, the views are spectacular. It's not an observation deck, per se -- that's a few flights up -- so you can't get right up to the windows to watch the world below, but the whole dining room is glassed in, so you can pretty much see whatever you want from your table. And, oddly enough, the best view is out the windows in the ladies' bathroom upstairs on the 96th floor; you can see Navy Pier and the lake perfectly (sorry gents).

If you go to the Signature Room, have a reservation, especially if it's on a weekend or during busy tourist season. Bring lots of cash or make sure you've paid all your credit card bills. Show up hungry. My dad's son the doctor recommends the filet. ("It's so good, it doesn't even taste like meat!") Expect maybe a little lightheadedness, but the good kind of lightheadedness. The I-drank-some-good-alcohol-and-ingested-lots-of-butter kind of lightheadedness. You should go. You'll like it.

Friday, December 10, 2004
Ted update: I don't think he's doing so well. He doesn't eat at all. I think maybe he doesn't like his food, and I'm wondering if he's anorexic or something. What could it be? It's a fish. How much could there possibly be going on inside his tiny fish brain? I think I need to get him a plant, and maybe some food that isn't in flake form.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Chicago for the night to see my little brother officially graduate from chiropractic school. This means he gets to be called "doctor." He's leaving his apartment and moving back to New York. Unfortunately for my parents, he's moving back home for a little while. It's not so cool to be a doctor and live with your mom and dad. See, I'm making fun of him now, but at this point next year, his annual income will be ten times what mine is, and he'll get to make fun of me. Anyway, back in a few days.

Wednesday, December 8, 2004
So 30 has come and gone, and I promise, after today, there will be no mention of it in this space. All in all, it was a very good day. My coworkers took me out for lunch, and my boyfriend took me out for dinner (birthdays seem to be all about people buying you good food, which is totally okay with me), and then there was a little surprise party, which completely caught me off guard, but was fun nonetheless. And I did get some nice presents, most of which are houseware-type things (cool cookie cutters, cool glasses, cool little dishes to put soy sauce in when you're eating sushi). And ultimately, I don't feel all that different, though it was weird at the gym today, when I was punching my stats into the treadmill so it can properly calculate how many calories I'm burning, and I had to type 30 for the first time. Other than that, not much has changed. Which is probably best.

Monday, December 6, 2004
So. Yeah. I turn 30 tomorrow, and while I was all freaked out about it a month ago, I feel more or less okay now. I think it's like airplane trips, visits to the dentist, and first dates: the anticipation is the worst part. And, honestly, there's not much I can do to stop it. So, bring it on. I'll get carded tomorrow night when I order a drink anyway.

Thursday, December 2, 2004
Jesusmaryandjoseph, how did it get to be December already? It was just July a few weeks ago.

Amid some good news and annoying news this week, those being a snow day yesterday (I know! I know!) and drama surrounding the repair of my G5, I went out and got myself a pet. No, it's not anything exotic or cool or even really dependent. I got a little red Betta. Going on a suggestion that I give him a regular human name, I have named him Ted. Other names I considered:

  • Luca (for Luca Brasi, because he sleeps know)
  • Zeta (rhymes with Betta)
  • Delta (because it's another Greek letter, but then I decided that I didn't want a pet named after an airline, although yeah, I am aware that there's an airline named Ted)
  • Little Jerry Seinfeld
  • Bizzle
  • Hal
I thought about his name for a little while, and then realized that it's only a fish. So I got him home and put him in his bowl with some rocks I bought in the pet aisle of the store, and up until now, he's really boring. Sure, he swims around a little, but he mostly just hovers in one section of the bowl. I've fed him, but he doesn't seem to want to eat. I'm wondering if my fish is depressed or maybe has an eating disorder and needs fish Prozac. Maybe I should have gotten a hamster instead.

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