January 31, 2005
Fire in the Hole Redux

Another fire in the subway last week, this time in the middle of the night. It's entertainingly recounted here. Rang a lot of bells for me as I was in a similar fire (in about the same location) in 1997, although it never occured to me to look for the third rail. Looks like the CTA hasn't updated its emergency procedures at all, as confusion reigned last week just as it did for me. And, now as then, the first people on the scene were the media. At least the CTA provided last week's customers with a free transfer to ride the shuttle to the next stop; I was told I had to pay another fare.

Posted at 08:17 PM
The Way of All Comments

It's no small irony, then, that this is the day I finally get around to announcing that comments on most older posts have been closed. We have comment spammers to thank for this; the poker and drug guys will just have to take their action elsewhere. Unfortunately this also spells bad news for some of the entries that have taken on a life of their own, thanks to Google. Unfortunately we'll hear no more from the car emblem people, the friends of Cheetah, and the truly confused people here or here. Sorry, gang.

Posted at 08:16 PM

I should note that today is the third birthday of this site. The site seems to be meeting all the right developmental landmarks; it is using Crayons, climbing stairs, and learning to write its name. As for me? Still having fun.

Posted at 08:07 PM
January 29, 2005
The Wild World of Scones

As promised, as part of the Winter 2005 Adventures in Cooking series, this week I researched the wild world of scones.

This was a good deal more complicated than crumpets. There are thousands of recipes out there. (Find examples here, here, and here. There's even a scone newsletter.) One of the reasons everyone loves scones, it seems, is because they're so easy. Scones don't have to look perfect. Even better, you can throw pretty much anything in them short of a pair of tennis shoes.

I dutifully researched a few recipes and even considered one that would have required Droste chocolate, until I realized that would require me to slog across the frozen city tundra to a store that sold such a thing. What I really wanted, I realized after a little research, was a chocolate chip scone.

My fascination for this treat dates back to my nutrition-free 20s, when a chocolate chip scone from the long-gone Red Chair Bakery constituted lunch (it went best with milk and an issue of Ben Is Dead). Anyway, I decided to try the recipe here.

Bring the sticky!

A few notes: The recipe directs you to line your cookie sheet with parchment paper, which I did not have (nor was going to try to buy; see frozen tundra problem above). A nonstick cookie sheet worked just fine. It also calls for unsalted butter, which should be used cold (but not frozen, as mine unfortunately was initially). I used a few more chocolate chips than the half cup the recipe calls for, because you can never have too many.

These details aside, the recipe was ridiculously easy. Scone enthusiasts caution you not to "overwork" the dough, so I was cautious about that. My dough was so sticky, however, that I don't see how I could have overworked it without losing a nail (just what no one wants). The result, however, was light and fluffy and just as good as the scones of my youth.

Posted at 06:17 PM
January 26, 2005
Bon Mots

Perhaps 500+ pages of SJ Perelman was too much to try at one go; I gave up on his omnibus yesterday. That's not to say, however, that he's not worth a read. Here are a few choice bits:

The weather is always capricious in the Middle West, and although it was midsummer, the worst blizzard in Chicago's history greeted us on our arrival. The streets were crowded with thousands of newsreel cameramen trying to photograph one another bucking the storm on the Lake Front. It was a novel idea for the newsreels and I wished them well. ...

The run was marked by only one incident out of the ordinary. I had ordered breaded veal cutlet the first evening and my waiter, poking his head into the kitchen, had repeated the order. The cook, unfortunately, understood him to say "dreaded veal cutlet" and resenting the slur, sprang at the waiter with drawn razor. In a few seconds I was the only living remnant of the shambles, and at Topeka I was compelled to wait until a new shambles was hooked on and I proceeded with dinner.

Posted at 07:28 PM
January 24, 2005
She Certainly Can Can-Can

GB reports on a local artist who is planning a year of performances to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 1995 Chicago heat wave. The calendar isn't much use for long-term planning, but the documentation itself reads like a performance art blog of sorts. It'll be fun to see what else she comes up with; the "performances" run the gamut from the traditional readings, etc., to improvised rolling in the snow. She writes:

There is something about these outdoor movement pieces that resonates with the idea of the heat wave. I don't fully understand it yet, but I think it has to do with: 1) total acceptance of, and interaction with, weather and environmental conditions, and 2) that fact that twice in one week my outdoor improvisation has been interrupted by people walking by who are worried about my safety and offer help. So at the same time that HEAT:05 deals with social isolation, I am impressed by the civic concern of Chicagoans.

Posted at 08:22 PM
January 23, 2005
"The Crumpet is a Different Beast"

It's irritating, isn't it, to have a telephone conversation with someone whose attention is really elsewhere, whether the person is watching television or watching a brawl happen across the room? "Yes, what? (sound of chewing) I'm listening.... (muffled unidentified crashing sounds) Ummm...yeah...(shuffling of papers) What did you say? No, really." My attention has really been elsewhere lately, so this site has felt like one of those conversations, except I'm the person not really paying attention.

However, winter draws us inward and, this weekend, toward what I can only describe as teatime bread products. Not too long ago, at our local fancy grocery store, we came across crumpets. As Americans, this was a first for us and we were surprised at how much they looked like English muffins. So earlier this week, after a particularly trying day, I came home with crumpets, English muffins, and a jar of Nutella for a taste test at home.

The products at hand were Gourmet Baker Crumpets ("British-Style Toaster Muffins," the package helpfully amplifies) and Bay's Sourdough English Muffins. In addition to the Nutella, we also had butter, jam, and a pot of Earl Grey. A few experts say a crumpet should be heated on a grill, but we opted for the lazier method of using a toaster ("heat or toast," says the crumpet package, somewhat confusingly). The crumpets actually required two go-rounds in the toaster and probably could have used a third.

Under the close supervision of the cat, we sat down to compare and contrast.

Unbuttered: The humble crumpet.

Muffin vs. Crumpet, plain:
E: The muffins are crispier. The crumpets are creamier. A lot denser, too.
A: The crumpet is less rugged.
E: But chewier.
A: Sort of a soft center. (Way too soft, if you ask me; it needed more toasting as it was a bit clammy as it cooled.)

Watch those sharp edges: The English Muffin.

Muffin vs. Crumpet with butter:
E: Is the muffin really just a conveyance for the butter?
A: I don't know, I sort of like it.
E: The crumpet is really more pancake-like.
A: And more spongy.

Muffin vs. Crumpet with butter and jam:
E: The English muffin is less easy to spread things on. But it's crispy, nice.
A: Makes me feel like I need scrambled eggs. (Note: It is five p.m.)
E: The crumpet has a better bread-to-jelly ratio.
A: Nice and solid, if a little cool in the center. I don't really get a sense of the flavor of the bread, though.
(E launches into a discussion of sourdough and salt content, which I didn't write down, but he's probably right, that's what I'm missing.)

Muffin vs. Crumpet with Nutella:
A: It's all about the Nutella for me right now. Mmmm.
A: The English muffin is like a chocolate-covered pretzel.
E: Not a bad comparison.
A: The crumpet is quite chewy.
E: It doesn't hold up to cooling as well. But still nice.
E: The crumpet is certainly a different beast.
A: It needs more careful handling, needed to be cooked more.

As the cat surreptitiously licked the butter knives, we decided that while we probably couldn't eat crumpets every day, we wouldn't turn one away either if it came to the door (and what a suprise that would be). As for me, I still remain an English muffin girl (with Nutella) at heart.

When it turns away, the crumpet looks like a tiny, tiny pancake.

Next week: The Wild World of Scones.

Posted at 06:01 PM
January 20, 2005
Attention, New Yorkerphiles

Today's war just not doing it for ya? This article, "The New Yorker at War," takes us back to the days of WWII, William Shawn, and telegrams. Vintage NYerphiles will recognize the spotlighted reporter EJ Kahn. I read Kahn's book, About the New Yorker and Me, a few years ago during a bout of strep throat, and it seemed to be mostly about him playing tennis in his spare time, but perhaps that was an effect of my high fever.

Posted at 06:58 PM
January 17, 2005
Critter Trax

Snow fell on Southern Indiana a couple of nights ago. Walking outside briefly yesterday, I spotted these critter tracks. Maybe left by deer, on their morning walk to pick up the paper and maybe a bottle of milk? We can always hope.

Posted at 05:49 PM
January 13, 2005
Bean and Nothingness

The Bean, in winter.

Posted at 08:27 PM
January 12, 2005
Faint Praise

...they make the polite romantic disconnections of academia stand in for those of all white middle-class America...

Ain't rock criticism fun? Mr. Xgau's review of the Vulgar Boatmen tells it like it is. Or isn't it? It's a good review, but it makes me feel a little sad at the same time. (Scroll down)

Posted at 06:35 PM
January 10, 2005
New Year's Reading

A nasty post-holiday cold allowed me (and E., apparently) lots of time for reading in the past few weeks:

Jaime Hernandez, Locas: I've always had a soft spot for Maggie & Hopey of Love & Rockets the comic (less so for Love & Rockets the band), but I was not dedicated enough to haunt the comic stores looking for new installments, and before I knew it the thing was finished. So it's great to have everything in one (massive) volume. Review here. (Fun fact: Like Hopey, I always wanted to dance down the Soul Train line.) File under "Gift most difficult to explain to my parents."

Larry McMurtry, All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers and Some Can Whistle: Finally got around to reading the Danny Deck novels, as I'd always wondered what happened to this mysterious character who makes a cameo in some of McMurtry's other books. While it's fun to see how the author connects his various novels together, and the first book, All My Friends, has a bizarrely satisfying streak of existential despair that culminates in its hero wading disgustedly into a river, reading them as a pair disappointingly demonstrates how often McMurtry reuses and recycles his archetypes (cranky housekeeper, hard-bitten old cowboy, etc.). He does this in all his books, but perhaps to worse effect in these two, because Deck himself is a strangely empty, passive character and his much-vaunted daughter is described as beautiful and lovable but, confusingly, is one of his least charming, brattiest creations. She's ill-fated, not surprisingly as the offspring of many McMurtry characters end up dead, crazy, in prison, or generally warped and bitter. (Fun side fact: In real life, McMurtry's son James is a musician in the alt-country vein.) File under "Oh, for god's sake!"

Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay: Affectionate memoir of unworldly young women visiting Europe in the 1920s before embarking on what turned out to be major careers as writers and actresses. The book hasn't lost its appeal (in its day, it was made into a movie) though the authors' influence has sadly evaporated from the cultural atmosphere. A nice companion piece to Kimbrough's book about her mid-life return to Europe, Forty Plus and Fancy Free, which I read as a child. (Fun side fact: Kimbrough was from Muncie.) File under "Why don't more books have illustrations like these (by New Yorker illustrator Constantin Alajalov)?"

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Thought I'd get on the bandwagon with these. Strangely, it's hard to read this without envisioning the actors from the movies, which should serve as a warning to me about the Lemony Snicket adaptation. (Fun side fact: In an unfortunate collision of literary worlds, I keep wanting to call Dumbledore "Gandalf.") File under "Better late than never."

Posted at 09:15 PM
January 05, 2005
Oh, to Write Like This!

An editor's job is to make writing easy to read and understand, but sometimes even I just want to pull out all the stops. I vastly enjoyed the following sentence in this article about the 30th anniversary of hiphop (worth a read throughout):

Because at heart, hiphop remains a radical, revolutionary enterprise for no other reason than its rendering people of African descent anything but invisible, forgettable, and dismissible in the consensual hallucination-simulacrum twilight zone of digitized mass distractions we call our lives in the matrixized, conservative-Christianized, Goebbelsized-by-Fox 21st century.

Posted at 06:40 PM
January 04, 2005
I Know My Chicken*

Recently I was compelled to fact-check the old political canard "a chicken in every pot." Specifically, who said it? Most sites (like this one) say it's associated with Herbert Hoover, but that he didn't really say it, the RNC did. This site agrees, more or less.

Strangely, a lot of people get it wrong and attribute the slogan to Roosevelt. You'd think, for instance, that the Young Conservatives would know better. PETA also makes this mistake, although they were probably having a lot of problems with the concept, period. Even the dubious minds behind this site can't get it right--nor can the objectivists. In Louisiana things are even worse--these people think Huey Long said it.

But, anyway. Hoover. Children who hear this "rap" for schoolchildren will never forget: "A chicken in every pot/A car in every garage/Herbert Hoover wanted/But it was a mirage." Cluck to the Izzo?

As usual with this kind of search, various oddities surface. The oddest of all was this one, from "The History of Spandex":

President Theodore Roosevelt was finally forced to intervene after a violent Spandex Uprising took place in what is regarded as a precursor to the first strip mall near Los Angelenos, California. New Labor laws preventing Spandex strikes saved thousands of jobs and lives. 'Teddy' campaigned that year with the slogan, "A Chicken In Every Pot, Spandex on Every Butt." He won, roundly.

But is it even an American meme? To the surprise of many, we may have the French to thank for this whole thing. Bartleby thinks it dates back to Henry IV : Anxious to see prosperity reach all classes, he is reputed to have said, "There should be a chicken in every peasant's pot every Sunday." So there you have it. Now, who's hungry?

*who else remembers Cibo Matto?

Posted at 06:48 PM
January 03, 2005
Don't We All?

From today's now-deleted crop of comment spam, only this remains:

I feel partially hydrogenated!

Posted at 09:12 PM