In Case of Emergency, Slice the Salami

What would be the last thing you eat before you die? People who love food ask this question to one another an ourselves a lot, a morbid amount actually. If I'm ever injured and need CPR, please administer it, but then also shove one of these items from my short list* in my mouth just in case I don't make it (in no particular order): 

Uni- (sea urchin, not to be confused with street urchin which I do not want in my mouth). You know the moment you walk onto the beach and that first breeze coming in off the ocean fills your entire body with clean, salt-water air and suddenly anything you were worrying about washes out of your mind with the receding waves? You can eat that, it's uni and its the most transformational food I've ever encountered. 

Mole salami from Salumi in Seattle- Mole is possibly one of the most complex and beautiful sauces that exists in the world. It tastes like all types of love. It usually has close to 30 ingredients, an abuela can spend days working on this black gold. Anyone who knows me probably knows my passion for cured meats. Even if we've only spoken briefly, I'm sure I mentioned something about sopressata or more likely salami. Marilyn and Armandino Batali  (Mario's parents) were brilliant enough to add components of mole to their incredible salami. I am inappropriate when I eat slices of this salami. I get goosebumps, I tear up, I make noises that I was actually embarrassed that my parents heard. The first time I tasted it I put my head down on the counter, asked for silence, and just started hitting the counter top with each chew. I'm not kidding. Luckily I was with my family and they have to still love me. 

Duck rillettes, tartines, cornichons, grainy Dijon- This will be the hardest to carry in a first-aid kit but it's critical that you have every component, ditch the band-aids to make room if you have to. Do you know why the French have a reputation for being culinary masters? Because they are. This dish of four components is simple, it's smart, it all works together...it's the exact opposite of the French government. 

Dill pickles- I prefer fermented versus vinegar, please note that somewhere. If there is an emergency and you have vinegar brined pickles, I will happily eat them. If there is an emergency and all you have is bread and butter pickles, I would sooner pass out and wait for a real rescue. These are near and dear to my heart, my grandmother made pickles and they are probably the first food I was truly obsessed with as a kid. My sisters and I once ate an entire jar of her pickles, drank the juice, barfed, and then tried to hid the evidence. We have an addiction, we are doing nothing to stop it. 

*List is subject to change and will be updated near the organ donation portion on my driver's license.  


What Happens When a Female Woody Allen Meets a Dutch Muppet

When I was in third grade I started taking gymnastics lessons. I actually wanted to take ballet but I couldn't convince any of my friends to switch. Either way I was interested in both for wardrobe reasons and I figured a leotard is a leotard. The first day of class I remember being told I couldn't wear tights with my leotard (I had early Edie Sedgwick aspirations), we had to put chalk on our hands which I found detestable from a sensory standpoint, and during class one someone explained the importance of tuck and roll. It was probably during the first class that someone said, "If you don't tuck your chin you could break your neck." That might be reasonable to say to most kids who don't have an insane memory and premature fear of death, however, I had seen "Harold and Maude" and totally knew where Harold was coming from. Those words, "You could break your neck" became a little cloud that hovered over every flip on the uneven bars, every somersault on the balance beam, with every move I feared paralysis or instant death. Perhaps needless to say I only lasted one session before deciding that no leotard was worth loosing the use of my lower limbs. When I was seventeen I started practicing yoga which I still continue to practice two or three times a week. After eleven years I still fear the hand and headstand..."I could break my neck" is on repeat during every attempt. I have a newish yoga instructor who, last night while I was once again flipping around attempting a handstand, just started very quietly saying "adventure" with each kick. After the third "adventure" I finally managed a handstand, it was glorious, and my fragile neck is intact. 

I think the worst thing that a nervous person could ever hear is, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." I mean I love FDR, but as a rider on the fear train, I don’t need anyone to suggest that I should add fear to my list of worries. Despite what has been at times a general sense of Woody Allen-esque neurosis, I have managed to have a lot of adventures. Seven years ago I was on study abroad in Strasbourg, France (adventure!) and became roommates with Megan (whom I now refer to as my platonic life partner). Megan was probably the first person I had ever met who really encouraged me to take risks, certainly the first person that I believed when she told me I would be fine. Since that first day in France we have had many hilarious, awkward, and strange escapades across many countries, including a drunken promise to move back to France which we actually did, and we are continuing our antics here in Chicago. It’s a game changer of the largest proportion to have someone encouraging you to do things you would otherwise be too afraid to attempt, even better when that person loves your crazy ideas too. I feel lucky to have a posse of ladies here, my dear PLP at the helm, who are fearless and who constantly remind me to forget about the tuck and roll and just enjoy the somersault.


What Do You Doodle?

The best job I've ever had was the summer I worked a gelato stand in Kalamazoo. I had just graduated from high school and was living in my first apartment. I had a very old, very beautiful Schwinn (since stolen in Chicago) that I would ride to work. I would often eat peanut buttery gelato for lunch, because that peanut butter swirl added a lot of extra protein. For dessert I might have the raspberry tiramisu gelato with some hot fudge added. Since then I almost never eat sweets because I'm pretty sure I used up my lifetime supply of insulin. Surprisingly, the ice cream was not the number one reason this job was the greatest, it's that I worked alone and spent most of the day sketching and writing while listening to whatever stack of music I had brought from home that morning. Some of the ideas I came up with that summer fueled my writing in college for the next four years. Also, I probably ate my body weight in free ice cream. 

A few months ago I was approached by a dude at karaoke who started our conversation by asking me my major. It's been about six years since that has happened and while I guess I am old enough now to see that as a compliment, I was also grossed out because that meant I was being hit on by someone that I could have babysat for. I informed him that I was no longer in college but that I had a writing degree which prompted him to say, "So you work as a writer." Adorable. He was pretty sure that his School of the Art Institute degree in photography would get him a photography job right out of college. I miss those disillusioned days of art school when everyone thought their day job would be their creative careers. I was not willing to crush the baby photographer's dream in the smoky haze of the VFW, I believe years 24-28 will take of that sufficiently. 

Last week my Uncle Keith passed away. He was an incredibly talented woodturner who practiced his craft diligently for six decades, was a founding member of the American Association of Woodturners, and taught free classes to anyone interested in learning the art. He did not make his living as a woodturner but he did not let his day job define his life and he never stopped attending to what he loved to do. Throughout my time in southern Illinois last week I found myself continually impressed and inspired by that part of his life. I spent so many post-college years trying to figure out how to come up with a career that would fulfill all of my interests and creative life. I came up with some weird solutions, started applying for grad schools, and then stopped this November. I realized that what I really want to do is a lot of little creative things. I want to have time to work on my podcast, to start a screenplay project with a friend and fellow writer, I want to take odd little freelance projects, I want to start banjo lessons (wildcard!), I want to spend a Sunday afternoon writing this blog and not worrying about Monday morning. None of this is to say that I hate my job, I actually find it very entertaining, but I have given up on the idea that I will have the kind of career that is straightforward, "I do this, so I am this." The other day I was having a conversation with someone who was lamenting how much she hates asking and being asked the question "So, what do you do?" I suggested that we instead start asking, "So, what do you doodle?" I promise you that the answer will be so much more insightful. 


Staggers and the Jags

My grandfather had a saying, "Don't let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass." I consider this to be a really good rule...that I never follow. When I was younger I used to have a terrible temper, I come by this honestly from my mom's side of the family. My three uncles, Gibson, Dennis, and Stephen, are ruddy-faced, quick with a joke, love whiskey first and beer second, but if they get their Irish up the party stops real fast. I somewhat notoriously lost my temper in fifth grade when I got into a fight with a boy who started a fight with my boyfriend. Some would later say I was trying to break up said fight (me), but I went about with all the rage my 11-year-old body could muster. I even took off my jacket as though I worried about blood splatters. 

There are about three bars in my neighborhood that I orbit around. I will confess that I am territorial and protective of each of them. These are the places where if I stop in for a drink I will likely know several people also hanging out or working behind the bar. There is a gnarly phenomenon amongst certain groups of Midwestern men in which they are so completely disrespectful to women it is unbelievable. Therein is the thing that makes me lose my temper these days in big, hot, profanity laden displays of fury. The list of skirmishes is long but here are three of my favorites from the last six months: When a dude told me that "Jolene" is a shitty song while I was singing it at my karaoke spot. When a dude asked if the chair next to me was taken and when I said yes he sat down anyway. When a dude said about me and a friend, "I don't know why these bitches are being so fucking stupid." That last one was a doozy and ended with him trying to sit in down at our table at which point I pulled the chair out from under him and kind of threw it...temper. In each of these cases the sense of entitlement is what kills me and they seem genuinely surprised when they get called out for acting like an utter dick weed. 

These men and the ladies they roll with (who seem to lack some sense of solidarity with their fellow females and no sense of how to dress in a seasonally appropriate way) have steadily taken over the neighborhood on the weekends. It used to be that they had the toehold on Bucktown and we all resolved to not to go north of North Ave. Well having ventured north of Division on a weekend for the first time in a long time, let me confirm that the Lincoln Park army has taken Wicker Park. I don't pretend to think that I'm not a part of gentrification albeit an earlier wave. But you know what I didn't do when I moved to the neighborhood, I didn't start calling the old Ukrainian women bitches and I didn't throw things at them from my moving car. Last night after leaving one of my three bars (the only one north of Division) I was waiting to cross an intersection with my friend Megan when she was hit in the chest with something thrown from a passing car. It's like it happened in slow motion, I saw the blur of the object, heard the thwack of something hitting her down coat, and then it landed at her feet. A chicken bone. Someone hit her with a chicken bone. They may have won the battle but we can win the war if we start throwing entire rotisserie chickens at any asshole wearing Ed Hardy. Follow me and my tiny fists of fury. 


Are You Ready For the Country?

I don't understand the suburbs. I never have and I'm guessing they aren't going to start making sense to me any time in the future. I think the suburbs are like purgatory, if purgatory means the worst part of heaven (I've been told there is no eating) and the worst part of hell (fire, brimstone, ect). They have some of the downsides of the city: houses close together, small yards, traffic. Then they also have downsides of the country: you have to drive everywhere, there isn't really neighborhoods, the surrounding areas are nothingness and highways. I'm not sure where the strip malls and bad chain restaurants fit in, but those are in the mix too. I say this speaking as someone who went to a suburb for the first time ever at the age of twenty. I'm a foreigner and I have no nostalgia for malls and P.F. Chang's. My friends who grew up on the suburbs have a real soft spot for that lifestyle. They would probably also hate where I grew up and wonder why someone would chose to live in a place where you have to worry about coyotes eating your pet ducks (and by "worry" I mean it happened...twice).  They would probably also be confused by having pet ducks. 

My parents moved to the country when my oldest sister was a toddler. To say that they were back to the land hippies is half true, my mom lived in town and was just along for the ride but my dad never really left the land. He grew up on a self-sufficient farm and lumber mill in Southern Illinois. They didn't have electricity until he was in junior high, indoor plumbing came along after he graduated high school. My aunts and uncles remember riding in a horse and wagon with my grandparents. Grocery shopping consisted of about five items that they didn't grow or raise themselves (sugar, salt, coffee, spices, flour). I remember being a kid and my dad saying to me, "Doesn't it bother you that you don't know where your milk comes from?" I think I was six and I had no idea what he was talking about. My parents tried to preserve a way of life that was and is continually vanishing, the connection between the land you live on and the food you eat. My sisters and I all hated it . 

Growing up I completely resented that my friends didn't have to do hard labor on the weekends an all summer long. Not once was I allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons, though I did hear that they ruled. I was up early to can tomatoes, pick green beans, stack fire wood, or tap trees for maple syrup (this was in late winter early spring). Trying to describe the way I grew up starts to sound like an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" no one else I knew had to build a fire after school in a cast iron stove. I did get to cut the tall grass with a scythe and no one else I knew was allowed to use incredibly dangerous, sharp farm tools. Prize! My sisters and I constantly vowed that we would never, under any circumstances, have a garden or live in the country. It sucked. 

Distance makes the heart grow fonder and now that we can all choose the lives we want to lead, we all have a garden and all love Bluegrass (another thing we thought sucked). I am the age my dad was when he had my oldest sister and I get it dude, loud and clear. Last night I went to a square dance, I'm learning wood turning, I want to take fiddle lessons this spring, and I can't live without growing my own tomatoes in the summer. I love the city, I am in love with Chicago, but give it a few years and you will probably find me on a front porch in Louisville eating homemade pickles. This is my wildest dream. 
Ye olde back yard.


Heart-Shaped Everything

When I was fifteen I was dumped by some schmuck two days before Valentine's Day. Bad form dude, that could have waited until two days after, but then again he knocked up his next girlfriend so my guess is that his decision making skills weren't top shelf. I came home from school the day before Valentine's Day to the unpleasant discovery that our miniature dachshund (fancy talk for weiner dog) had made his own discovery of one pound of chocolate truffles that my mom was going to give me for the holiday. If this was ever thought to be legend, let me verify that chocolate does make dogs sick, righteously ill to be more specific. So I spent that afternoon cleaning up 19 little mounds of my very own Valentine's chocolate out of beige carpet while lamenting the loss of both a boy and a treat. It was a real bummer. 

Some people find it odd to celebrate Valentine's Day with your family. The Adams family calls bullshit, we would also like to invite you to dinner because we love guests. When I was growing up we always made each other cards. My mom would let us pick out special paper, stickers, heart-shaped doilies, I reliably wanted a metric ton of glitter, then my sisters and I would craft. On the actual holiday we would exchange cards, my mom would give us a little present, then we would eat holiday dinner. Starting around the time I was twelve that dinner became cream of morel soup (dried from the previous Spring's woodland hunting), bread and cheese, and my mom would make a Black Forest cake for dessert. This cake takes two days to make and is four layers, it's a goddamn serious endeavor. Overall we came up with the most rich, decadent meal that we could think of, it's like we were aiming for gout. 

This Valentine's Day wasn't shaping up to be that awesome. I spent most of the last week dreading it actually. Then yesterday I walked into my favorite bar, to listen to one of my favorite musicians, and saw three of my favorite people get so excited to see me. Then we spent the next two hours laughing so hard it bordered on crying/screaming. So today I went back to the roots so to speak, I spent the day telling the people that I love just how amazing I think they are. You're in the mix too, dear readers whoever you might be, you are my ultimate Valentine this year and I'm so grateful to have ever made you laugh, or think, or remember your own weird stories. Happy Valentine's Day, you're the heart of gold. 


"If he's crazy, what does that make you?"

If a man is walking toward a woman and he wants to make a provocative comment to her as they pass one another, he's got just enough time to get out two words. I have noticed this lately in my own strolls up and down Chicago Avenue. One recent example took place as I walked past a man asking other people for money but to me he made some kissy noises and said, "Baby, please!" I turned half expecting him to complete the line with "don't go" but instead noticed that he was standing a couple of feet away from what was pretty clearly his own poop. I have seen this dude before...peeing on the corner of Damen and Chicago while wearing giant, yellow waders. Chicago Ave is his oyster and apparently the metaphorical shell reminds him of a toilet seat. As I kept walking I remembered a similar scene as I walked past "El Moderno Mexico" on Ashland and a man who was peeing against the building turned and said, "How you doin' mamacita?" While more than two words I give him points for a) continuing to pee and b) saying that to me while I had to step over his stream of urine as is pooled on the sidewalk. Every once in a while I forget that I have a beacon for truly crazy strangers but rest assured the beacon never waivers. 

This started when I had my first few jobs in downtown Kalamazoo. In the center of the downtown area is the Rickman House which is a half-way house for mentally disabled adults. At any given time there was an amazing cast of characters roaming the city. One wore a huge feather headdress, and referred to himeself as The Chief (no, he was not aware he was making a reference to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"). One man was dressed as Uncle Sam complete with wig and flag and would propose marriage to every woman he saw. There was a very large woman who would often, I saw it more than three times, get naked and dance to her reflection in front window of one particular store (hilariously named The Mole Hole). Since I worked in coffee shops in Kalamazoo for years, if there is one thing crazy people like to do it is drink coffee for a million hours, I got to know my regulars very well. More than my fellow employees I started to notice that I was the one that they sought out and cornered with their poetry for hours. To be honest, they were just more interesting and much funnier than the majority of college kids that were also hanging out. Therein is the source of the beacon. People who are continually met with dismissal when they try to start a conversation are keenly aware of when there is a window in a listener. Let me state for the record that I have no poker face for anything, ever, at all, so whenever someone says something bonkers the window blows open. Like when a man said to me, "I would drink your bathwater!" I said, "That's disgusting!" Then we both laughed and walked away.

At this point in my life the people who know me the best, who have known me the longest say things like, "You have more weird interactions with strangers than anyone I've ever met." That is actually a quote directly following this example: while walking down Division I was mid-sentence with my companion when the homeless Rastafarian passing us held up his hand, we high-fived, and I continued my story without missing a beat.