Friday, June 26, 2009

London Lucky and Lakefront Thievery

It is a beautiful day in Chicago - finally, some relief from the stifling heat of the last several days - and I have much to be thankful for. This evening I'll enjoy a Brandi Carlile / Indigo Girls concert under the moon and stars, complete with picnic by K. Tomorrow I leave for nine days of vacationing in the United Kingdom. I'll fly into London and stay for a few days with a friend who is getting married on the 4th of July. I have not seen her since 2001, when we shared a room in Singapore. I expect to find her shining just as brightly as always and am looking forward to catching up and helping with the wedding preparations. Mid-week I'll travel to Cardiff, Wales, to stay with another dear long-lost friend. We'll go east to Kent together at week's end to meet up with still more chums from our Singapore days, and then spend all day next Saturday celebrating love, life, fun and drunkenness.

Life is good. But despite all of that, my heart is broken. I've just learned that my bike has been stolen. I rode her to work and parked her in a bike rack right at the entrance of Northwestern Law School, in a beautiful neighborhood with much foot traffic. She was locked with a cable lock. I thought this would be ok, but it was not. If you are a bike rider, please let this be a lesson to you. Use a kryptonite U-lock, preferably two of them, and don't trust your low-crime neighborhood to be bike-thief free.

I can't believe I'll never see her again! I did love her so. Not sure when I'll be able to scrounge up the money for another (undoubtedly less expensive) bike, but even when that day comes, I'll never forget her. RIP, Insight. Thanks for the lifts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Almost No-Work Whole Grain Bread: Take One

"Almost No-Work." I like the sound of that. So I decided to give this recipe from Mark Bittman a go.

1) Combine 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, 2 teaspoons salt and 3 cups whole wheat flour in a large bowl. I got fancy and used 2 cups whole wheat flour plus one cup dark rye flour.

2) Add 1 and 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; the dough should be quite wet and sticky but not liquid. At this point, I fretted over whether my dough was in fact wet and sticky enough. K advised me to "just go with it," so I did.

3) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for at least 12 and up to 24 hours. Well, my non-air-conditioned apartment should be warm enough. It's been in the mid-90's in Chicago the last few days. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Rising time will be shorter at warmer temperatures, or a bit longer if your kitchen is chilly. It was 9:30pm on Tuesday when I started the rise. As I left for work 11 hours later, the dough looked ready, but I wasn't. I had to hurry to the office, so the rise continued for 9 more hours, like it or not.

4) Measure about 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil. Use some of the oil to grease the loaf pan. If you like, add 1 cup chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit or proofed whole grains. Transfer the dough to the loaf pan, and use a rubber spatula gently to settle it in evenly. Brush the top with the remaining oil and sprinkle with cornmeal if you like. The surface of my dough was no longer dotted with bubbles when I got home from work on Wednesday. I quickly prepped it for the second rise, without adding any extras.

5) Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, an hour or two depending on the warmth of your kitchen. When it's almost ready, heat the oven to 350F.

6) Bake the bread until deep golden and hollow-sounding when tapped, about 45 minutes. I tapped it and it actually sounded hollow! Almost cavernous - hooray! Immediately turn out of the pan onto a rack and let it cool before slicing.

Here's a picture of my finished product.

A sight for sore eyes. K and I let it cool and then dug in. It tasted not bad at all. Dense and full-flavored, thanks at least in part to the dark rye. The recipe had warned that it would not make a very high loaf, but personally I prefer half-sandwiches, so that suits me just fine.

Here's a picture of K and I after enjoying the first few slices of my very first home-baked loaf of bread. We're pleased, as you can see. Delighted. Downright chummed.

Monday, June 22, 2009

How 'Bout That Blood Sugar

Back in April, I finally made a doctor's appointment, the easiest task I've ever managed to neglect for nearly a decade. Come mid-May, it was time to go in for my physical, and I actually found myself looking forward to it. I was eager to get my official nod and a clean bill of health. After the visit, I felt marvelous - like I had done myself a real solid. And this in spite of nearly fainting during a blood draw attempt.

A few weeks after my appointment, I received via snail mail a print-out with all my blood test results. I was unpleasantly surprised to see that the line for glucose was circled with a note reading "slightly + blood sugar." In her cover letter, my new doctor oh-so-helpfully recommended that I "work on eating healthy and exercising regularly to prevent the development of diabetes in the future." Well, here's the thing, doc: I already work out an average of four times a week (and that's not counting my beach volleyball league on Wednesdays), which is about as much as my schedule will allow. I already try to make healthy choices when it comes to food, and my personal chef - er, I mean, K - prepares quite nutritious meals. Moreover, perhaps you shouldn't send vague cover letters casually dropping the names of potentially serious diseases, completely devoid of meaningful context, to individuals who expected you to tell them that they are in perfect health. Perhaps some of those individuals may be prone to freaking out... Really though, ya couldn't have called?

It was time to bring out my big guns. So I called my mom (duh). She said that given the family history, I probably have a genetic tendency towards elevated blood sugar, which made me feel simultaneously a little better (It's not my fault!) and a little worse (There's nothing I can do!) To keep it in check, I should try to make a few easy adjustments to my diet, and it's "so much better to make some small changes now than to have to make some big changes later on." So substitute any white rice with brown rice, and any pasta should be whole wheat. (Done!) Cut down on bagels and eat only whole grain bread. (Life sans bagels could be tough, but I'll survive.) Fewer sweets whenever possible, (I don't think I consume many as is, but ok.) and... try to drink less beer. (Sob!)

Let's ignore the beer thing for now and focus on something slightly less painful and wholly more manageable. Bread! According to Mark Bittman, New York Times foodie and author of Food Matters, "whole wheat" and "whole grain" breads that are typically available at the grocery store are phonies, usually containing only 20 percent whole wheat flour and 80 percent white flour. Even whole wheat bread bought from a less shamelessly commercial outlet, like one's local bakery, is likely to contain mostly white flour unless otherwise marked. Outrageous! To solve this problem, I've purchased my very own whole wheat and dark rye flours, and this week I am going to bake some bread. Experienced baker I am not, but if I can make this work for me, it holds grand potential for both my blood sugar and my pocketbook. Ain't that a kick in the butt?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Boat Ride to Remember

K and I embarked on a three-hour maritime exploration of Chicago on Sunday, via the Chicago History Museum's 'A History of Beer' tour. And it was good. I mean real good.

Beautiful weather? Check. Couldn't have asked for better.

Unlimited beer on tap? Check. I was hoping for a little more variety (it was a tour for beer enthusiasts after all), but we made do with the two quality offerings: Goose Island 312 wheat ale and Goose Island's Summertime brew.

Friendly bartender? Yes indeed. And she encouraged the reuse of the plastic cups rather than wasting one for every beverage poured - good stuff.

Cooky lecturer? Check. Dude wrote a book called The Great Chicago Beer Cans that was published in 1979! He is obviously passionate about history, his city and his suds. The first thing he taught us was that there aren't any breweries along the Chicago River. Huh. And here I was thinking that we would pass by a couple on a history of beer tour - - ah well. After the lecture, he made his way through the group, stopping to chat with each person. As we passed the LaSalle and Clark Street bridges, K and I got a private little lesson on the Eastland Boat Disaster of 1915. "Over 800 people died right here." Geez.

Life jackets? Phew.

K shook his fist at the Lake Shore Drive bridge as we passed under it, in remembrance of how it made us late for the Harry Potter exhibition.

All boats going from the Chicago River to Lake Michigan or vice versa must pass through the Chicago Lock. Boats on their way out to the lake enter the lock and secure themselves to the wall. Then the gate opens, allowing for water to flow into the lock until it reaches lake level. Once that has been accomplished, boats in the lock and those on the lake waiting to come in can switch places. Close gate. Return water level in lock to river level. Open gate. Repeat. Simple, I know, but I found it interesting. Also, there's this whole separate etiquette and set of rules for boating, and it fascinates me.

All in all, it was a fantastic boat ride. There's something inspiring about being out on the water, whether it's in a one-person kayak in the wilderness or cruising down the Chicago River on the Ft. Dearborn with sixty other ruckus-raising beer drinkers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hops, Malt and Barley on the Big Lake

Tomorrow evening, K and I will be cruising the Chicago River and Lake Michigan on a Chicago History Museum boat tour, 'Exploring Chicago's Yeast Side: A History of Beer.' Here's the description:
Back by popular demand! Before Milwaukee claimed the title of beer capital of the Midwest, there was Chicago! Discover the city’s golden age of beer and brewing on this sunset tour. Ticket price includes beer, provided by Goose Island Brewery.
Sounds fun, right? I hope Goose Island brings their full lineup. So far, I've only tried their 312 wheat ale, the first beer I ordered at a restaurant in Chicago after we moved here last year. Intrigued by the telephone tap handle, I asked for a "three-twelve," oblivious to the fact that 312 ("three-one-two") is named for downtown Chicago's area code.

I learned about the tour when I visited the Chicago History Museum in April to see their Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial exhibit, which by the way, is ongoing until August 16. If you're a Lincoln fan like me, it's pretty cool to see the bed he died in and a copy of the Gettysburg address handwritten by the man himself. (He had fantastic penmanship!)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand: I thought the boat tour would be a good opportunity for us to max it and relax it while supporting a fine local institution. K and I have not yet done a boat tour here in our new city, but I've heard from tourists and locals alike that it is one of the best ways to see Chicago. We'll feel right at home out on the big lake. Here's a photo of it from Heritage Landing in our hometown of Muskegon, Michigan.

Let's hope the weather is that nice tomorrow, and that the beer doesn't go down too easy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Just Me, But with Pretty Feet

From the ankle down, I don't even recognize myself. My feet are so beautiful! I had my first pedicure on Tuesday (here's the before post), and I must say, I totally get it now - I understand the allure. The foot massage and massage chair were my favorite parts. So relaxed was I that I managed to doze off while a lively Bollywood dance number played on TV and a bouncy young child demanded to know why his mother was getting her eyebrows threaded.

In fact, several women came into Sonia Salon to get their eyebrows done. Threading seems to be their specialty. I have unruly eyebrows too, I thought to myself. And I'm way too lazy to pluck them... maybe I should try threading. I asked one of the other customers if the process was painful and she said it wasn't as bad as waxing. Then the woman doing the threading explained that it is easier on the skin because it doesn't traumatize or stretch it like waxing does. Threading is also cheaper (at least at Sonia Salon) and doesn't involve any products which could be harmful to me or the environment. Thus, I was convinced. It seemed like a great idea. And I proceeded to pay someone to use a twisted cotton thread to yank out lines of tiny hairs. By the follicles. On my face. And for the record, it hurt waaay more than waxing. I would without a doubt rather have unruly eyebrows. The woman next to me was getting her whole face done - are you kidding me?! Word to the wise: if you for some reason decide to do threading, have it done before, not after, another service at the salon. That way you can leave refreshed and not as I did, with red skin and eyes watering.

When I got home, K took one look at my purple polish and said, "You have Vikings [Minnesota's NFL franchise] toenails! I love 'em!" Well, not exactly what I was going for, but I do think the purple is fun. I'm also enjoying the excuse to post a picture of my sanuk flip flops, which I love. They are made out of yoga mat = pure genius. Oooh, and speaking of yoga mat and showing off - shortly after I started practicing yoga last year, K bought me my very own mat from yogamatic. Check it out:

It is a great quality, eco-friendly mat and part of the proceeds from this particular design benefit ongoing recovery efforts in New Orleans after Katrina. I've used it so much that "Cocktails To Go" is already fading. That must be where I put my hands for downward-dog! If you are ever in the market for a yoga mat, I would highly recommend yogamatic. They even offer free return shipping and recycling when you are ready to get a new mat. Ohm.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I Can't Afford a Massage

After surviving a mentally grueling ("grew-elle-ing") Week Without Coffee, I have decided to treat myself this week. What I would really adore is a full hour massage, but I do not want to spend that much money. So, inspired by a friend over at The Martha Initiative, I've decided on a bottom-up approach (wah-wah). In lieu of whole body relaxation, I'm going to focus on refreshing my feet. Today, I am going to get my first-ever pedicure.

I'll be entrusting my feet to the beautiful people at Sonia Salon, a spa I chose because of its reasonable price tag and relatively convenient location on North Clark. I am a little bit nervous about the part where the pedicurist removes the dry skin. My colleague C said that they sometimes use a shaver tool that she likened to a cheese slicer - yikes! She also told me that Oprah said that when she gets a pedicure they take off so much dry skin that she actually goes down a full shoe size. So, ok - first of all, yuck, and secondly, doesn't that hurt?

I guess even if it is a little uncomfortable, that's all right. I still want to have the pedicure experience. From now on, if I'm with a group of women and they start discussing beauty services, I won't have to confess that in all my years on this earth I haven't had a pedicure. I will still be wholly unqualified to converse about many of the topics that tend to come up in all-female groups, but pedicures will no longer be one of them.

Before I go, I would like to take this opportunity to declare that just because a woman is generally uninterested in 'girly' things or activities, this does not mean that she should not be taken seriously in the event that she decides to pursue a feminine interest every once in a while. I certainly reserve the right to be 'girly' (whatever that word means) in any way and at any time I choose. So K, I'm not sure if you thought I was joking when I told you about my appointment to have a pedicure this evening, but this is the real deal, buddy. No watermelon nails for me, though - I think I'll just stick to pink or peach.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Prolonged Absence of Buzz

I'm proud to say that I've successfully completed my WWC (Week Without Coffee). By far the biggest payoff was the see, I told you I could do it feeling. I even did it without being ridiculously irritable or mean to anyone (I think). The first couple of days were relatively easy, but then it got tough as my cravings intensified. I correctly predicted that I would not suffer headaches or any other physical withdrawal symptoms, but my mental battles with myself could get pretty brutal.

I was especially tempted after lunch on Tuesday (5-day mark), but no, I told myself, I can and will hold myself accountable. After that, I seemed to be over the hump, and it got easier again. It was a bell curve, if you will (sorry, my inner nerd is always rambunctious and occasionally irrepressible) - here's a visual:

On Thursday morning, I checked my previous WWC post to see exactly when my week would be up - 1:58pm. I decided that I would break my coffee fast the first time I had a real urge; I wouldn't drink it right at 1:58pm just because I could. So I ended up going without until Friday after lunch. A whole extra day! I broke my fast at Dunkin' Donuts because Friday was National Doughnut Day, and I never pass up a chance to get a free doughnut!

Within moments of drinking the first half of my small DD coffee, I could feel the caffeine coursing through my veins. And I must say, I didn't miss that sensation. Based on my WWC, I seem to crave coffee not for the caffeine buzz but more for its taste and familiar comfort. What I hope to take away from the experience is a greater tendency to ask myself, Do I really want another cup or would I be drinking it 'just because'? I think this will lead me to drink a little less coffee from now on and maybe, just maybe, even reach for the decaf every once in a while.

Except for the prolonged absence of buzz, I didn't notice any differences in the way my body was feeling without coffee. I suppose I would have to take on the challenge for much longer than one week to track any possible changes. But that was never, and isn't now, my intention. I know my overall health is affected by a vast and varied compendium of factors, some of which are far beyond my control. Surely coffee alone is not a deal maker or breaker. So drink up, fiends, and mark your calendar with my new favorite day: National Doughnut Day is always the first Friday in June.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

K's Welcome Home Party, Year 2000

Ok, Miranda, here's my first completed Learning to Love You More assignment - #28: Edit a photo album page. I call it "K's Welcome Home Party, Year 2000."

Details, from top: gas meter, baseball cap, bowl with salad, plastic cups and plates, lamppost, yard statue, back of folding chair.

I was supposed to complete the assignment with one of K's mom's photo albums, but we ended up being so busy throughout Memorial Day weekend that I couldn't find the time. Upon our return to Chicago, I started looking through an album of K's and came across a few pages of photos from his visit to our hometown of Muskegon, Michigan in the summer of 2000. The particular page I chose documents a welcome home party his parents had for him in their backyard. At that time, he was in the army, stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, and I was living in Singapore. We had broken up a year before (out of what I thought was necessity), and hadn't seen each other since, but our visits home overlapped for about a week and we re-connected fast. And so officially began our two and a half year long-distance relationship (followed, of course, by six and a half more recent years of domestic bliss). But that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that I am very grateful we both had the opportunity to visit Muskegon in 2000. Thanks for the project, LTLYM!