Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicago Resuscitated: Summer's Here!

One thing I can say about Chicago seasons is that they are abrupt, and summer’s descent upon the city last weekend was no different. Yes, we had a dash of seventy-degree weather here or there in April and earlier in May, but when summer (or any other season) decides to come to Chicago, it seems to happen overnight. And so the temps leapt up into the eighties on Saturday, and there they will stay that way, or close to it, for quite some time (much to my elation).

I missed the first weekend of summer in the city, because I was back in Ohio (where we were getting a similar taste of the first days of the new season), gathering boxes for the move, visiting family, and eating ice cream (yes, Mr. Freeze!!). On my hour-and-a-half long commute out of downtown and onto the skyway on Friday, though, I gasped out load when I heard a DJ on one of the radio stations report: “Tomorrow we will see temperatures that we haven’t seen for 200 days.” I literally frowned at the radio as I drove out of the city, thinking about how many cold days we get in this city.

I’m still debating whether the winters are worth it, but there’s no denying that Chicago gets its resurrection every summer. Indeed today the beaches and the running path were enlivened by Chicagoans (and tourists) soaking in those much-missed summer rays. I was so eager to get to the beach first thing upon my arrival in the city, that I was cursing up a storm as I drove around for half an hour trying to find a parking spot in my neighborhood (thank GOODNESS I’m moving soon and won’t have to deal with that as often anymore!). As soon as I had all my boxes unloaded, and the car parked, I was off to Oak Street Beach. And I have only one word to describe how it felt to be there, basking in the sun—glorious!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Next Home Awaits

As I gradually pack up my small number of belongings (actually, not quite as small as I had anticipated—how can one accumulate so much stuff in a studio apartment?), I’m trying to hone my perceptions of this home before I move out next week. I am reminded of the hermit crab I bought my brother for his birthday when we were kids. The crab was so attached to his shell that he refused to move into the bigger one we provided him, and eventually he died. I’m realizing that I’ve been a little too much of a hermit in this place, a bit stifled as well, and it’s time to move on.

I definitely have mixed feelings about this shell that I’m about to shed. I’ve experienced the gamut of human emotions in this place, particularly during last summer and fall. In fact, let’s be frank, I’ve experienced a lot of crap in this apartment, alone, by myself, staring heartbreak dead in the face, and trying to navigate my way around it. This apartment has been my haven from the world, a place where I have gone to cry, to write, to eat, to shower, to sleep, to host friends and family, to laugh on the phone for hours.

This home is an extension of so many facets of me. Bits of myself echo back everywhere I look. The green walls, scratches on the wood floor from my move-in day, nail holes anchoring my favorite pieces of art, dirt on the kitchen floor—that’s all mine, and it all fits together just so. And, in many ways this apartment is a symbol of my stubbornness and independence.

As much as I identify with this place, however, memories fade. In a couple of years, I won’t remember the details anymore. So, here I go again, documenting the moment, so that, like the rest of my Chicago experience, I can come back to this very place in future years…

The hallways of my building have a rich floral carpet disguising an uneven floor, and motion-sensing air fresheners release a sweet floral scent when you walk by. A giant mirror greets you as you step off the elevator at each floor. They still use those vintage gold trash cans with the ash trays on top, just off the elevator, even though no one is allowed to smoke in the hallways. Oh, and one of the two elevators likes to either conk out altogether, or randomly stop on the fifth floor, even when you don’t want it to.

The building lobby has dark wood paneling, a fireplace, and a portrait of Shakespeare hanging on the wall. If you walk to the back, toward the laundry room, it usually smells like trash, because the trash chute (oh how I will miss the convenience of the trash chute) deposits its contents somewhere around there, and the dumpsters are right out back.

My place (many floors above the stinky dumpsters) has what I like to call a hallway when you first walk in. It’s about 24 square feet of space with a coat closet to the right, and the bathroom to the left before you step into the living/bedroom, which is painted with the celery color I spent an hour debating over at Home Depot. The kitchen is painted a contrasting beige, and I have a large serving dish displayed above the cupboards that ties the colors together perfectly. There’s a fabulous full-length mirror built into my clothes closet, but that closet isn’t big enough for all my clothes, let alone my shoes.

The bathroom has those cute little white hexagon tiles all over the floor. The vanity has three mirrored doors I can position to see the back of my hair as I fix it. The towel bars, soap holders, and radiator in the bathroom are all painted black, and it sometimes chips off when I clean. The sinks are constantly getting clogged up, and I once had some kind of black tar ooze up into my kitchen sink from, apparently, the apartment next door, one morning when I went to get a glass of water (yea, that was kind of gross).

My kitchen is actually quite sizeable, and set off from the rest of the apartment. It has nice oak cabinets, on top of which stand a row of empty wine bottles that I will soon recycle.

I will never forget the evening view outside my window, of high rises lit up against the nighttime Chicago sky, nor the late-night, open-window saxophone strains.

Yet, as much affection as I have for this place (my fellow Cancerians can empathize with me here--home is where the heart is), I am so excited about the move. This is actually the perfect time for me to begin a new Chicago chapter. Many wonderful new beginnings started this week (writing-related), completely unexpectedly, and almost immediately after I was able to put events from the past to rest. My intuition is sending me all the right vibes. It's so energizing.

So, as the move date inches closer, I wait eagerly to get my hands on the new place, learn its quirks, find its secrets. I know that it won’t take long before the new walls reverberate with Emily, too.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jumping on the Cupcake Bandwagon: more, Please!

With the last bits of chocolate frosting from my more cupcake melting in my mouth, I have to admit that I’m not as cynical about cupcakes as I once was. Now, I’m a big fan of cupcakes—I mean, really, who isn’t—but this whole cupcake craze, well, it just seemed a bit excessive. Honestly, I was appalled that couples started using cupcakes in place of wedding cakes at weddings (I've gotten over it, but am still just a bit too traditional for something like that). And the number of cupcake shops, well, they seemed to be very popular on TV shows and movies a few years back, but I didn’t realize that there were so many shops dedicated to these miniature cakes until I moved to the city.

Thanks to my foodie co-workers, cupcakes made their way into the office, and even into the occasional afternoon “snack run.” more made its way in when a dozen cupcakes were delivered to our office after Elizabeth won some kind of contest, and I have to admit that they were scrumptious (especially the Lemon Meringue). Sugar Bliss is the closest cupcake shop to the office, so Christina and I sometimes escape the office in the afternoon to go on a quick cupcake run (though their cupcakes aren't quite more's). Actually paying four to six bucks for a cupcake still felt a bit, dare I say, preposterous to me, though, which is why I only do it once in awhile. Free gourmet cupcakes, though? Now that I can handle.

Again, thanks to Elizabeth, I found out that more does this advertising on Facebook where you can tag yourself in their cupcake pictures and get a free cupcake. You have to be quick about it, though, before the picture hits the maximum number of tags. I managed to tag myself just minutes after becoming a fan of the page this week, so today I made my first trip to more today to claim my reward.
It’s a good thing that the cupcakes are pricey enough to be a special treat only, because the shop is dangerously close to my apartment. If it were a bit more economical, I might gain some noticeable poundage. They do the minimalist d├ęcor thing, and the cupcakes are set up on glass shelves where not a crumb is visible. The glass case is right in front of your face, rather than down below in a typical pastry display case, which is pretty smart and extremely luring.

A line snaked out the door when I arrived, and I waited patiently for my free cupcake. The girl behind the counter looked a little relieved when I said I’d come to claim my free cupcake, because, well, that’s a lot easier than someone hand-picking two-dozen cupcakes. When I left the shop, the line was even longer. I tucked my box in my purse, and walked home a tad gingerly, making certain not to jostle or smash my treat.

Arriving home, I put my cupcake (it was the more signature cupcake—chocolate with a white cream in the center) in the refrigerator to save for later. Needless to say, later has come and gone, and I can still taste it. Absolutely delicious. Worth $4? For sure. Even better because it was free? You bet!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

gdgt Live in Chicago

This evening, I attended an event at which, a year ago, my friends would never have expected to find me—a party thrown by a gadget website. My job and, more specifically, my particular clients, have turned me on to gadgets and up-and-coming technology, immersing me in the exciting world of TV-Internet integration, smartphones, mobile devices, and more. So, I was unabashedly excited all day about going to the gdgt party at Gallery 233.

gdgt.com is a site I originally started reading for work, but began frequenting in my spare time after buying my Droid in November. It's a great guide for all the features on my phone, as well as how-to’s and answers to common questions or issues with the phone. It’s a great, community-oriented resource for all my tech inquiries (and no, no one’s paying me to write any of this). So, when Free Things to Do in Chicago posted about the gdgt party earlier this week, I emailed all my co-workers and started getting a bit, well, psyched!


I have seen pictures and read about a large number of the devices that I actually got to play with and view in action tonight, which is really, really cool. Microsoft demoed the Windows 7 Phone that’s not coming out until fall, as well as the KIN phones which launch tomorrow (the "Turtle" is the cutest phone I’ve ever held in my hand—it’s like a makeup compact in shape and size); Boxee showed off its capabilities and I spent some serious time chit-chatting with their reps; and I got to play with uber expensive Logitech mice.


My favorite table was the CherryPal table, though. A company like CherryPal stands out in the tech space because they are making technology affordable for developing nations. They manufacture small, simplistic, and inexpensive computers that make connectivity and technology accessible in nations that have very little. I asked their rep how they could afford to make such inexpensive computers (the smallest one starts at $99, with a 2 GB memory, and an SD slot—simple but functional). He told me that they are a company of 50 people, they work out of a warehouse with no A/C in Palo Alto, CA—in other words, they have very little overhead. That, and the fact that they sell thousands of these computers, allows them to continue doing what they’re doing. FYI, when I said that the little computer was like a tablet with a keyboard, he told me they're going to be releasing a tablet.


After spending some time at CherryPal (the last table I visited during the evening), I mingled with a few co-workers, and watched some interviews that will no doubt appear on gdgt soon. I spent some time whining about how the iPad competitors have been pulling out of the market left and right, and had some completely nerdy conversations with some other event-goers as we speculated about HP's tablet and how the company's acquisition of Palm will affect HP's approach to the device. I met some cool people, not the least of which was engadget blogger Nilay Patel (I read his stuff on a daily basis, and was really excited to meet him).

So, tonight, I completely embraced my tech geekiness, a side of me to which usually only my co-workers are privy, and it was so much fun! Along the way, I acquired a couple of free T-shirts, a free month of Zune Pass and a couple of free drinks; met Nilay; and made a really good (hopefully) connection with an editor in Chicago. Oh, and enjoyed the 10:1 men to women ratio at this event (ladies, pay attention). I’m still excited about the whole evening, which is why I’m writing this instead of sleeping…

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Enterprising Kitchen's Bubble Bash

Facebook leads me to great finds sometimes, thanks to wall posts and fan pages posted by my friends and acquaintances. Last Thursday, my friend Marcy posted a link to The Enterprising Kitchen’s (TEK) “Bubble Bash.” I hadn’t heard of TEK, but I was intrigued by the name of the benefit, so I followed the link to the website, where I read about this great organization and what they’re doing for women. TEK is a non-profit organization that helps low-income women learn job skills through a six-month training program during which they manufacture beautiful, all-natural soaps and bath products and gain knowledge of the business aspect. Theirs is a mission I can stand behind, as TEK empowers women who have faced difficult circumstances to be self-sufficient, providing an opportunity to gain the skills necessary to do so.

After visiting to the website, where I discovered that the event registration was already closed (the event was that evening, after all), I messaged Marcy about volunteering. To my surprise, she told me that they still needed people to help out that evening, and I should come by the benefit.

It was a beautiful evening. Held at the Chicago Cultural Center, the venue was lovely and spacious enough to hold the great turnout. Numerous tables were set out with products and various packages for silent bidding. I was honestly feeling a little awkward at first, as Marcy hadn’t arrived yet, and I didn’t know anyone else there, but Jasmine, who began the program in November, walked up and engaged me in conversation and we had a great chat. She made me feel more comfortable in the room of strangers, was eloquent and out-going, and I really enjoyed hearing about her experience with TEK.

I met a number of other great women that evening—both volunteers and women finishing the TEK program. While I had to leave the event before the end of the night, I really had a nice time meeting these women, and learning more about TEK. I think it’s a great organization, and would encourage others to become involved and to check out the bath products, especially if you’re interested in women empowering women.

Good-Bye to My Joffrey Favorite

Having lived in Chicago a relatively short time (under two years), and only having become acquainted with the Joffrey Ballet beyond the name and legend when I first saw them perform in their 2009 spring production and thereafter, I have missed many years of great dancing by a company I highly admire and respect. Only this year did I truly become familiar with the faces and dancing styles of each of the company's dancers, watching them in performance after performance, either as a reviewer for Clef Notes, or for personal pleasure. In that time, I have developed favorites and I am sad to see my most favorite male dancer, Calvin Kitten, say adieu to the Joffrey.

I had seen Kitten perform prior to 2009’s Nutcracker; so I recognized him immediately as Fritz, in the opening scene of this year’s holiday production. Then, of course, I was enthralled by his dancing--technically superior, athletic, spirited, yet with a refined grace--as the Snow Prince. I remember writing in my review that he actually stole the Snow Scene—a scene that I had, up until then, associated with its light, airy, graceful choreography for female dancers, particularly for the Snow Queen. But Kitten is such a dynamo, and he has an indescribable presence. You simply cannot avert your eyes when he’s on stage and after he's gone, the impression lingers.

It was after submitting my Nutcracker review that I read on Fabrice Calmels’ blog that Kitten would be retiring this season, and I wished I had been able to write in my review some kind of tribute to his last opening night as the Snow Prince with the Joffrey—because Kitten burst on the stage “like a winter wind” (as I wrote in the review), and there will be a certain energy lacking without him. I will miss Kitten’s sophisticated elegance and clean technique next season, as my eyes will no doubt fruitlessly try to seek him out on the stage. But I’m glad I had the chance to be amazed by him before he concluded his Joffrey chapter.

Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times's Hedy Weiss wrote a nice send-off article for both Calvin Kitten and Suzanne Lopez, who are leaving the Joffrey this season. Check it out if you're a fan of either of these fabulous dancers. In all likelihood, Calvin Kitten will never see this blog post. But if he does, Calvin, best of luck to you! You will be missed by your many admirers!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Strange Chili Cocktails, Fun Chilly Evening

Last night I went out with some friends to celebrate—could you guess it—yet another going away party! This time, the celebration led us to Between in Wicker Park, where we surprised Matt who’s moving to San Francisco at the end of the week.

The atmosphere at Between is interesting—in a good way. They have all kinds of exotic-looking light fixtures, which add a touch of whimsy and a dim romantic glow to the place. Rows of long red tassels encircled our corner by the windows, where we sat on cushy cubes around a low square table. Our corner wasn’t really made for ten people, but in the words of Tim Gunn, we made it work. It was quite cozy, in fact, which was nice because, for May, it was uncharacteristically frigid yesterday (forties for temps!).

Bad picture of the cool light fixtures at Between

We were there more for drinks than for food, although we indulged in both. And I have to admit—depending on what you ordered, you’d either have a fabulous experience, or a terrible one. Take the “Hot and Dirty” martini, for instance--the topic of much conversation throughout the evening. Now, admittedly, I didn’t get too near this drink (after a quick whiff of it, I decided to save myself the trouble). Matt ordered it and after his first sip was insisting that everyone else try it. A fan of fruity drinks myself, the moment I heard the word “savory” to describe the cocktail, I was out. I watched one cringing face after another, and soon I was examining the drink with floating chili pepper bits on the surface. It smelled like liquid dinner—literally.

Reactions to the other drinks were similarly mixed. I was a bit dismayed that my ten-dollar cocktails were filled far below the brim, in part because our server did a pretty good job of spilling a bit of just about everything on the table as she brought our drinks (and she was only bringing about four at a time and they weren’t that busy until later in the evening, so, having been a server, I had little sympathy for this). I enjoyed my Passion Between—it’s difficult to screw up a passion fruit martini, however, and, as long as it was sweet, I was going to like it.

Potato-Wrapped Shrimp

The food was okay. I ordered potato-wrapped shrimp. Again, I was less than thrilled about the quantity I received for my money. Yes, they were pretty good, but at $3/shrimp, they should have been much better. Their octopus is excellent, though. It was quite tender and tasty.

Octopus Dish

We had great conversation all night. Lots of banter about restaurants, which, honestly, seems to be the topic of choice at any Chicago get-together. At some point during our cocktails, someone suggested we head out to Sayat Nova for Bollywood dance night, which apparently happens once per month on a Saturday night (not 100% sure, and couldn’t find the info on their website). Not one of us knows how to dance to Bollywood music, but it sounded like a lot of fun, so that’s where we headed next.

Sayat Nova was a blast. A little pricey ($15 cover), but fun—I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love Bollywood music? I immediately wished I hadn’t been wearing heels or carrying my large purse, but I did the best I could on the dance floor. We all had fun laughing at ourselves and learning some new moves from some of the women who knew what they were doing. I would’ve liked to have stayed out later, but still recovering from a head cold, I decided to call it a night just after midnight. But there’s always next month's Bollywood Dance Party!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pretty Sushi

Before going to the Joffrey Ballet’s opening night of Eclectica on Wednesday (find the review in Clef Notes' Summer Issue), Im and I stopped at Oysy for sushi. I’d never been before, and I have to admit that the atmosphere is a little on the sterile side (which I guess is both good and bad for a restaurant), but the sushi is pretty good.

When it comes to raw fish I’m mainly a maki-only kind of girl (not for lack of trying other types of sushi and sashimi, I might add). There’s just something about the seaweed, and the rice, and the fish all rolled up tight and dipped in a touch of soy sauce that excites my taste buds. We ordered the Godzilla, Rainbow Dragon, and Dynamite maki (Im ordered the fatty tuna, too, which I’ll eat once in awhile, but am quite happy to forgo on most occasions). Now, I’m pretty sure that you can’t go wrong with a Godzilla roll anywhere—I’ve loved it every time, and everywhere I’ve ever ordered it. In my opinion, you can’t really go astray with tobiko either, which is part of why I loved the Rainbow Dragon. The roe adds that nice little crunch, without significantly changing the taste (well, at least I don’t notice much difference in the taste).

But when it comes to Oysy’s Rainbow Dragon roll, I think I loved the presentation even more than the taste. You’ve got to hand it to Oysy for presentation. Check out how awesome our Rainbow Dragon roll looked:

Oysy's Rainbow Dragon Maki

You’ve got to love the colors of the wasabi-, chili-, and black-tobiko, not to mention the eyes and tail. Then of course it’s stuffed with all those kinds of fish: salmon, tuna, white tuna, eel, shrimp… Yum! (That's part of the Dynamite maki to the right.) Our dragon was even cuter in real life.

Oysy was the perfect place to go before the ballet. It wasn’t insanely busy, so we were able to get in and out pretty quickly and make it to the performance with time to spare, which I really appreciated. If you’re headed to Auditorium Theatre and need a place to grab a bite before the show, Oysy’s not a bad choice.