High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fierce Invalids from Really Freaking Cold Climates

I could begin this entry by saying that we just dropped off L and N at the airport. However, that would be a lie, because we did that approximately 5 hours ago. The intervening time has been spent soaking my aching body in a bath tub and then sleeping. I seem to have developed at least two separate kinds of crud in the last day, which did not substantially prevent me from enjoying the weekend.

So the first thing I did after the Bears beat the Saints was to call L and let him know that he and N had first dibs on our guest room, should they want to be in Chicago for Da Bears in Da Bowl. Happily, N grabbed the bull by the horns and made plane reservations and only then asked herself and L if I had been serious. (I most definitely had.)

I soon entered a phase of Intensive Acres Cleaning, which the homestead has needed for some time. Because I got obsessed with thoroughness along the way, this did not really end until about 15 minutes before we needed to leave to pick them up. Both were kind enough not to comment on my stinkyness.

Given that both had worked a full day before getting on a plane and spreading their beads to their fellow passengers, we'd figured on ordering pizza in from Angies on the strength of the better booze selection Chez the Acres. Although both M and N were very much into playing the "here are the ingredients I don't like" game, we'd pretty quickly decided on two pizzas satisfying to all concerned. Pizza and wine duly consumed, we all called it a night pretty early.

On Saturday morning, we decided to brave downtown for the purposes of hitting the store at the Chicago Architecture Foundation and to get some photos in front of the lions. (As an aside, the craniometric difficulties surrounding this endeavor amuse me more than anyone else in the world. Pikers! If only you'd called in an expert!)

While we were having coffee, I checked the weather and informed N that it was "this many" degrees. When her face fell, I told her to cheer up, because I at least had to use two hands. Barely. We got ourselves parked and made a first attempt at pictures, but the camera was too cold to work. After some quality time warming up in the store and soaking up L's body heat, the camera decided to play nice. We got several shots and then got pressed into service taking shots of others before successfully fleeing to the Atwood Cafe.

Here, there was a brief wait for a table, which we spent warming up in a lovely room with excellent hot toddies. Our table was ready before too long, and we stuffed ourselves on great food. M and split the duck/manchego quesadillas, which were fabulous with the somewhat odd-sounding combination of fig jam and spicy crema. L and N got the gnocchi, which was good enough that N forgave it for the grievous sin of having fungus in it. For the main course, both the boys were whores for sweet potato fries and got the black-bean burgers that came with them. It was feeling like pot pie weather to me, and N got some kind of Asian salad that she claimed had peanut-flavored crack in it. The service was a little inattentive, but it was a pretty busy lunch hour, so I'll give them all a pass.

We scurried back to the car only to find that M had lost the parking ticket in the final stage of the walk. Being gouged for the 2-day price would have been irritating enough, but it also took FOR FUCKING EVER to get an attendant out to rob us.

Our next stop was Whole Foods to obtain sustenance for the main event. I hadn't really decided what to make, other than calas, but N informed me that L had not stopped talking about the gumbo, which I'd made for him and his parents last year, since they'd booked the tickets. So gumbo it was. I also imposed about L to make Plaid Tuba Bread. Ultimately, dessert was left up to M. We made it out of the maze of crabby, crunchy people in record time and pointed ourselves homeward for more hot toddies.

Saturday was the first day of the Iditarod and by extension of the Iditawalk. The Hound, L, N, and I are all registered, and we foolishly figured that it wouldn't do to fall behind on the very first day. By my pedometer's reckoning, we'd already clocked 20 minutes of aerobic time, and I figured I'd take the hound for a shortened walk just to the park and back without doing a loop of the park itself.

About a block from the house, El Hound started doing his jumpy "MY PAWS ARE FROZEN!" dance, which is usually cured by my rubbing the foot in question to free up any impacted snow, and then he's good to go. This usually happens maybe twice in the course of a walk. Saturday, it happened about 10 times, leading me to feel like the worst dog parent ever. Of course, I had to sandwich my feelings of inadequacy in between concerns that my thighs were frozen enough to shatter.

Back at home again, I tried to warm up by doing some prep work on the cooking front. I assembled the bacon dip with considerable assistance on the frying and crumbling fronts. I then made some rice (both Brigtsen's perfect version for savory calas and plain rice because M had expressed some interest in making the sweet calas). With that done, we changed for dinner at Koda.

M and I had been there shortly after the restaurant opened, and this was our first trip back. We deliberately showed up a bit early to have a drink at the bar, which seemed to confuse the hostess, thus suggesting that the staffing issues are still not completely solved. However, our waitress was generally much more on the ball and the other servers as well, although we did have to make more of an effort than usual to get a second glass of wine for N and later for me.

Foodwise, it continues to satisfy. I had escargot for my appetizer, N concurred with my diagnosis of them as delicious. She and L shared the bacon flatbread that M and I had enjoyed on our previous visit. M got a breaded rabbit loin that was new to the menu and quite yummy. For the main dishes, N was unable to resist a second round of gnocchi and L proved himself to be Of the People by getting the steak frites. M could not resist the same short ribs he'd had before, and I had salmon en croute with a scallop mousse and a cream sauce to die for. For dessert, I went the molten chocolate cake route, M went for the cranberry kumquat sticky pudding (despite his scorn for stickyness), and L was instructed to choose wisely. He did and shared a caramel-creme thingy with N.

Back at the Acres, L fell asleep almost immediately. (Well, it wasn't so immediately that it didn't offer him the opportunity to insist that he was only mostly asleep and an opportunity for some cat-sleeping person comedy.) I stayed up long enough to make some remoulade and to break the grippy part (fortunately not vital) of the pitcher for our hand blender.

In the morning, M and I had classes at OTSFM, and we thought it would be big fun to, once again, drag our house guests out in the cold. (Sunday's weather report went like this:
Me: Let's see how many fingers we need today.
V: Oh, please, let her need toes!
Me: Not only do I not need toes, I need to cut off all the fingers on one hand. )
We headed up in gender-segregated cars to grab some brunch at Cafe Selmarie, which is right on Lincoln Square. As N and I sped from the car to the cover of the restaurant, we had to navigate around a single speaker and pile of clothing sitting in the sidewalk. It seemed pretty clear that these had been thrown out the window of the apartment directly above. I'm sure there's a good story there.

Despite the fact that Cafe Selmarie is a relatively well-known, well-reviewed place, we'd never been there. Not only had we never been there, but M had no idea where it actually was, which validated our gender segregation as L led the way. Although the place was doing brisk business, we got a table right away and N and I were soon sipping coffee as we waited for our men folk.

As M contemplated the menu, he hemmed and hawed over the various choices, finally declaring that we'd have to come back so he could try other things. In the mean time, he opted for the chilaquiles casserole in the hopes that the spicyness would help with his cold. I also went with a relatively tried and true choice of the spinach/goat cheese omelet. L opted for brioche french toast, and N shamed us all with a bowl of fruit and toast. (I must give a shout out to the bowl of fruit, which was a number of different berries and bananas, rather than usual heap of nasty honeydew and cantaloupe.) By the time we left, there was a quite a line for tables, so hitting the brunch earlier rather than later is probably a good idea.

After brunch, L and N set out to explore the 'hood (I quote N: "Nothing can keep me from shopping"), and M and I headed to our classes. After Badtz and I rocked the house in bass class, we met up with L and N and headed back to the Acres to address the serious business of gumbo and bread. I put L on the latter and enslaved N on the former.

We'd gotten all the vegetables chopped and the spice kit put together for the gumbo as well as having set the bread to rising when I started to feel not so great. All morning I'd been a little queasy, which I'd attributed to overcaffeination and some related dehydration. But I'd been pounding water for a while and the situation was getting worse, rather than better. I even tried chewing some ginger antinausea gum, but to no avail. Soon I was sweating and shivering by turns and feeling closer to passing out than I can remember. Shortly thereafter, the nausea resolved itself in its favorite way, which led to some improvement in the "about to pass out" feeling, but not much help on the poor internal temperature control front. This made frying chicken even more exciting than usual! Also, I am sure that I was a joy for L and N to be around.

M arrive home shortly thereafter bearing much-needed ginger ale (yes, I realize that the medicinal properties of ginger ale bought at a 7-11 are 9 parts placebo and 1 part homeopathy, but gimme that old time snake oil!). I once again enslaved our guests in the making of calas while I whipped up a roux (which, I'm pleased to say, went from start to finish in about 10 minutes, even using the cast-iron skillet, so I think I officially have the secret now). Dueling boiling oil! What could be more fun?

The calas were kind of a disappointment. They were too dry, probably because the rice had slightly overcooked, or maybe because the eggs weren't quite eggy enough. Either way, I wasn't entirely happy with them, although I felt the remoulade was better this time as I'd backed off the green onion content slightly (plus I'm sure the bits of pulverized plastic from the grip breaking off added that certain something!).

With all the hard parts of the gumbo finished, it was time for Da Game. L called Hester running back the opening kickoff, but it was still unbelievable seeing it happen. I, in turn, called the missed Indianapolis extra point, and Gil and I put the haunch whammy (which won us the Arizona game) on Vinatieri for the missed field goal. As for the rest of the game, let us never speak of it.

I was not alone in my cooking difficulties. The bread didn't seem to want to rise. The filling for the peanut butter pie didn't seem to want to go all mousse-y. But in the end, we didn't starve, despite our anxiety on that score. I'm also glad to report that by the time the gumbo was ready, I was actually feeling up to eating a bit. Late in the game, when things got really pathetic on the ursine end, L turned to me and said: "I know you're not feeling well, but it's time to start drinking. What can I get you?" And he fixed me a great hot toddy.

By that time of the evening, the stomach troubles seemed to have been beaten into submission by a more generic cold or flu. I had the chills (although our digital thermometer insisted that I had no fever) and I felt like someone had been beating me with a sack of oranges. My body apparently lacks confidence in my ability to interpret symptoms as a sign that I should take steps to address illness, because it later started a fun round up of upper back spasms on me. Good times, good times. A hot bath (amid the cries of "Worst. Hostess. Evar!") dealt with that, and soon after N declared that she could stay up for hours, but I looked like I needed some sleep. Bless her heart.

Festivities on Monday included sleeping in, celebrating the return to positive fingers, wailing and gnashing of teeth upon discovering that one only just barely needed toes to express the temperature in Virginia, and trying to make another dent in the leftovers, and trying on the bridesmaid's dress with supersecret low-back-converter thingamy. (Not in that order. I insisted on doing the dress try-on pre-gumbo.) Then, sadly, it was time to take our guests to the airport. Of course, we'll see them soon enough on both their current and natal stomping grounds, but it was still great to squeeze in a bonus visit before then, although I fear that it means that N is never setting foot in this arctic wasteland again. Don't worry, N, soon enough we'll be the humid jungle swamp you know and love.

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