Thursday, September 30, 2010

Real Is Love ...

Regarding the heartbreaking stories of young people committing suicide to escape relentless bullying, stories that continue to appear with alarming, increasing frequency, may I ask, of those who would be so unfathomably cruel to other human beings:


Love is love. It has no limits. It has no parameters. It may not look like you have come to expect it, but that does not make it wrong. That may make it different. But different is not wrong.

Accept that how others choose to love has no bearing on your life and let them be.

In the words of John Lennon:

Love is real, real is love,
Love is feeling, feeling love,
Love is wanting to be loved.
Love is touch, touch is love,
Love is reaching, reaching love,
Love is asking to be loved.
Love is you,
You and me,
Love is knowing,
We can be.
Love is free, free is love,
Love is living, living love,
Love is needing to be loved.

Every word, thought, and deed stems from one of two places:

Love or fear.

Choose love.

I implore you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

angelo:HOME ...

I am so excited to write this post.

Earlier today, my pal Angelo debuted his latest angelo:HOME offerings on QVC. I wasn't home to watch in real time, but I had scheduled the hour on my DVR when he first announced it.

So tonight, I was able to dial it up and, well, as I wrote to him a few minutes ago, "I already knew this about you, but the QVC appearance reinforced it: You are eleventymillion shades of genius! *So* much thoughtful detail!"

So much, people.

I should have known. But until tonight, I'd only seen photographs of his line, and while they're lovely, lovely photographs, they can appear flat. Because, you know, they are.

But to see his products styled and well-lit on the set of QVC?

Let me tell you a little story: Once upon a time, however many months ago now, I was watching an episode of "Rate My Space" on HGTV. Angelo was the host of the show. He designed a master bedroom suite. During the reveal, I was literally pointing and shouting at my TV. Yes, that might seem a little insane, but that's how taken I was with what he'd created. It was less about the products he chose – though they all worked together beautifully, of course – but more about how he presented them in the room. Asymmetrically.

But not "asymmetrical" as in two different nightstands or mismatched lamps. Oh, no. "Asymmetrical" as in the art hanging above the bed justified to the left and then stepped down toward the center. And pillows following the same configuration on the bed. Even the ottomans at the foot of the bed were set to the left. And yet, the effect wasn't lopsided. It was genius. I'd never seen anything like it on any design show. So much of what I see is safe and expected, variations on the Pottery Barn catalog.

But Angelo designs at the intersection of masculine, feminine, quirky, and classic with such an emphasis on detail. And that's what I was able to see tonight.

If I may ...

Take, for example, his Hudson chair in this fabulously graphic black and white vine print. Print, right? Oh, no. No, no. The pattern isn't printed, it's woven. You know, like damask. It's textured, not flat. Infinitely richer than I thought it was. Of course, I should have known better. (By the way, it also comes in pumpkin and apple green. I know, right?! Fabulous.)

The vine fabric is also featured in ...

... this set of nesting ottomans. Nesting. Ottomans. Genius, right? I love the largest of the three, the leather. Get this: It's recycled leather! I have no idea how it's created, but how cool is that? It's beautiful and eco-friendly. And they're sturdy. On the show today, Angelo stood on one to demonstrate that we're not talking about fabric-covered cardboard here. By the by, he offers many ottoman options on his site.

But speaking of the brown leather ...

I'm hip to it because I have this chair and ottoman in my TV room. The ottoman comes with the chair. The chair is way comfy. The ottoman is adorable. And the chair is named after his dog, Baxter. This wasn't featured on QVC, but you should know about it.

Oh, and the bedding!

This is the Gramercy Park collection in celadon. It also comes in sunny yellow, but if ever there were a "Beth" palette, this is it, so I chose this pretty picture. (You can see the yellow collection here.) Oh, where to begin? The kidney pillow, the horizontal pillow in the foreground? It's reversible, which I love, but that pattern isn't printed onto the fabric, it's embroidered. Another detail to love! And are you seeing the nailhead trim on the grey flannel pillow behind it? And are you thinking that that's echoed in the polka dot fabric behind it? Of course you are. But check this: The polka dot fabric? Embroidered! And – ohmygosh, are you sitting down? – the polka dot sham is the same width as the bed! Like a body pillow! "But," you're thinking, "I don't want to have to go out and buy a body pillow to put inside it." You don't have to! It's designed to hold two standard pillows (for a queen) or three standard pillows (for a king). Is that just about the coolest thing you've ever seen in bedding? Ever?! Detail! Genius! Oh, and the comforter? It's a duvet over an insert, which you can remove to wash the duvet. Or you can insert a heavier comforter for the cooler months. Oh, and it's reversible! All of this, in one bedding collection? Now do you understand my glee?!

And I have to tell you about the Westgate bedding because it's too wonderful to not mention.

Completely different feel, equally as beautiful. This is the blue palette, but it also comes in spice. I love the tufted pillows, the rectangle and the square. And the Asian-inspired print. I could go on, and I haven't even touched on the coordinating sheet sets. In 400 thread count. Striped for Gramercy to mix up the interplay of pattern on your bed even further, solid for Westgate to tone things down.

But I have to get to the rugs! Oh, the rugs! First, the pictures, Westgate then Gramercy ...

Beautiful, right? The reverse graphic floral of Westgate, the incomplete argyle of Gramercy? I love them both, but they get even better. Check out the sizes of the rugs: 3'9" x 11'9" and 2' x 7'6".

Wait, what?

More thoughtful detail! The 2' x 7'6" rug can function as a runner in a hallway or on each side of a bed. (Or anywhere else in your home you're in need of a long, skinny rug, maybe in front of French doors?)

The 3'9" x 11'9" rug – I know, it's nearly 12 feet long, or wide, depending on how you look at it – was designed for the foot of a bed because so much of a rug in a bedroom ends up underneath the bed and you don't get to see it or use it. Brilliant, no?

Yes. Brilliant.

I haven't even begun to touch on everything. You can see all of his offerings in his product showroom on his web site. Each page for each product features links to the retailers that carry each item. And the best thing? It's all so affordable. Seriously. That's from whence stems my awe. His collection is beautiful, well made, well appointed, and well priced.

He truly wants everyone to be able to surround themselves with beautiful things.

Life just got a little more luxurious.

It bears mentioning that I wrote this post of my own (verbose) volition. He has no idea that I'm writing it. Well, he will, once I tell him, but I finished watching his hour on QVC and immediately started writing. I'm just that wowed. And it takes a lot to wow me. It really does. But angelo:HOME wows me. Easily. I'm such a fan. And I'm sure you will be, too.

Weekendable ...

This weekend past was particularly weekendy.

Friday night was like many of my Friday nights, spent on the couch with a movie moving across the TV. But that was slightly later. Earlier, I trundled off to Blockbuster to see if it might have a previously viewed copy of "A Single Man," as I have wanted to add it to my DVD library but have not wanted to pay full price for it, which is odd, because I don't usually give a second thought to paying for anything creative. And that movie certainly fills that bill.

But I made the trek, and not only did I find what I was looking for, I found it on the "3 for $20" table along with "Up In The Air" and "Crazy Heart." An excellent use of a yuppie food coupon, as my friend Drew once referred to a $20, because when friends go out to dinner, everyone throws $20s on the table to settle the bill.

And with that, I headed to the grocery store, to procure a frozen pizza - don't scoff; Home Run Inn makes a damn fine frozen pizza, especially the Signature line - and, for reasons I won't expound upon now, Creamsicles. Only they aren't officially Creamsicles, as those are the creation of the Popsicle people, and these are from Dean's. I will only say that I'd forgotten how much a Creamsicle-esque frozen confection tastes like a baby aspirin.

So I returned home, to the couch, and popped in "A Single Man," partly to see it again and partly to make sure the used disc was OK. I fell asleep about halfway through the movie. But that is no commentary on the exquisite performances in that film. If you haven't seen it, you must. And you must hear it, as well. The score is perfection.

Saturday day was spent puttering about in the kitchen, preparing the linguine I'd been craving the morning before, when I was awoken at 4 a.m. by the suck-thwacking of my bedroom shades which were at the mercy of the winds outside.

I must say, I make outstanding linguine and white clam sauce. And I make it very rarely, so when I want it, I really want it. And a dish tastes exponentially better when you really have a taste for it. So I had a plateful (after shooting it to share an image on Facebook and Twitter, which I'm sharing here, too, because who doesn't want to behold a plate of pasta?) and then took half to my mom, who wasn't home, but who was happy to find it in the refrigerator later.

Back home, I did up my dishes and decided that I wanted a mugful of warm cider. Being ciderless, I decided that red wine would stand in nicely. So while I caught up with a friend on the phone, I opened a bottle I'd bought the day before. Red wine on a Saturday afternoon is a lovely thing.

And later, off the phone, I decided I'd like to read, so I set up in my comfy chair with my book, under my afghan, glass of wine within reach, candle burning, music wafting in from the next room.

I don't know how many people regard particular moments, but I was very aware, especially after I'd returned from putting on a sweatshirt to ward off the chill coming through my open windows, that my life is extraordinary in what some might see as rather ordinary ways. But the gratitude was palpable. As it should be. Every day.

And Saturday night, I put on "Chloe," because my pal Angelo and I had been chatting about the fabulousity of Julianne Moore, and I hadn't even realized that Liam Neeson played her husband. I will watch Liam in anything. I even have "Clash of the Titans" on hand.

And then my friend Barbara called, to report on her new job, and we spent a long time on the phone, as we always do. I've always marveled at our ability to while away so many minutes on the phone. Minutes, that is, that turn into hours.

Overnight, I had a dream about someone with whom I used to work at the Tribune, which was odd, because while I liked him very much then and still do (we're friends on Facebook), I didn't think I had any reason to dream about him. But my brain connects dots in interesting ways.

Sunday brought with it a desire to bake. These cool temperatures make me want to turn on my oven. And so I decided to make oatmeal cookies, the epitome of fall. And then I decided to make an apple crostata. But that would have required a trip to the store, which would have required me making myself presentable to go to the store. So then I decided to make brownies, because on Friday I'd picked up dark-chocolate cocoa. A Twitterpal had recently made my brownie recipe with it and reported back that they turned out fabulously but insanely rich, so I wanted to taste for myself.

Yup, she's right. They're outstanding. Practically black, and so a good option to make for a Halloween party. Never mind that I don't throw or attend Halloween parties. I need to make another batch with slightly stiffer frosting. And those, I will share. These, the maiden batch, will be consumed by me, over time, and my mom, who took some home yesterday when she stopped by with soup.

Sunday night, of course, is all about "Mad Men." And if Jon Hamm doesn't win the Emmy next year, there is no justice in the world. What an amazing performance last night.

And here we are. Monday morning. Coffee and Steven Wilson's "Insurgentes" on the stereo, which I've been raving about all weekend. I've owned it for a year and a half or so, and it's one of those albums that I listen to every so often and then think, "Why don't I listen to this more?" It's great. If you don't know about it, you should. And now you do.

Yesterday I had the thought that it'd be nice if scientists could figure out a way to expand the earth's orbit to make the year longer so we could have two Saturdays every week – or, as my friend Roger pointed out, one Saturday that's twice as long, which would be fine, too.

Alas, that's one wish that will likely go unfulfilled.

I suppose a better solution is to savor the uniqueness of every day.

And so, I'm appreciating Monday for what it is.

Here's hoping yours is swell, too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Birth Date ...

Tomorrow, my friend would have turned 40.

He would have invited me to his birthday lunch in L.A.

And perhaps, for 40, I would have made the trip.

I should have made the trips in years past.

I regret those now. Opportunities missed. Unappreciated.

I have no patience for those who gripe about their birthdays, about turning the calendar to another year.

There will come a day – and we've no way of knowing when – when we will have celebrated our last birthday. There will be no more.

Dave never had the chance to celebrate his 40th birthday. Our lives come with no guarantees. Some stretch on for decades upon decades. Others end before they've even begun.

So he's been on my mind, more than usual lately. And earlier, hesitantly, I typed in the address of his blog.

It's still there, suspended in time.

His final post was a farewell to John Updike, who died, we now know, just a few days before Dave.

I still have those moments, those impulses to call him. He was my partner in procrastination. And these days, more than ever, we'd have so much to discuss.

He would be glum about another letdown season for the Cubs.

He would be incensed about the latest chapter of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

He would be saddened at the state of our country, the protests, the bickering, the threats, and the lies.

And he would be eager to vote on November 2. He would be up early and out of the house. He would cast his ballot and affix his sticker that proclaimed "I Voted!" and then take himself out for a treat.

He would do so many things, if only he were here.

His friend Rhonda wrote to a group of us on Facebook to let us know of her plan to observe his birthday with a random act of kindness.

I love that idea. Join us, won't you? Do something subtle. Or do something grand. Whatever the moment calls for. And then do something else, the next day. And the next. Just because.

And if you happen to find yourself in the proximity of chocolate cake, have a slice with a glass of milk.

Because Dave would want you to have chocolate cake and a glass of milk. For you, not for him. He'd want you to be happy.

Happy birthday to you, my friend. We love you and miss you every day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The 2010 3-Day: The Season Continues ...

Hello, walkers!

The second half of the 3-Day "season" kicks off this weekend in Seattle! Beware of men throwing fish!

I walked Chicago this year, as I have every year since 2005. And the funny thing about walking so early in the schedule is that I'm prone to forgetting that there are so many more walks left in the year, so many more walkers who are continuing to fundraise, continuing to gather gear, and possibly continuing to fret about whether they're truly up for what appears to many non-walkers to be, well, more than a little crazy.

So, I wanted to pop in to say:

Woooooooo! Go, walkers!

That's what I'd be yelling if I were standing alongside a route, cheering walkers as they traipsed by. So let's consider this a virtual route. Oh, look! Here's comes another one of you!

Woooooooo! Go, walkers! Wooooooooo!

I understand the trepidation. I do. I've been there. I'm still there, a little bit, every year. I usually do the event "alone." I don't sign up as part of a team. I often show up at Opening Ceremonies with no plans to meet up with anyone.

But every year, I meet amazing people. This year, I began the event with Kristy and Erin and ended the event with Michael, very much a 3-Day celebrity. Predictably, Michael and his wife – and 3-Day crew captain – Monica have become fast friends of mine. It's one of the happy side-effects of the 3-Day, the formed friendships.

And this year, I really questioned whether I'd be able to complete the event. I am not in the best of shape these days.

And you know what? I didn't walk every mile. I walked 45 of the 60. And you know what? That's just fine.

Some years – most years – I walk every step.

This year, my body wasn't able to do that. And I listened to it. And the event was just as special as every other.

So, my walker friends, don't fret. Fretting is not a part of the 3-Day universe.

Gather your gear and pack your bags and make your way to Opening Ceremonies and let the experience unfold.

There is support every step of the way. Veteran walkers and a slew of crew along the route, at intersections, in Pit Stops, in Grab-and-Gos, and in camp are there for you.

People transform from strangers into friends in mere moments on the 3-Day.

It's amazing.

So, as my friend Gemma says, "plenty of Kleenex" and "surrender to the schmaltz."

You're in for three of the most incredible days of your life.

It's not about walking every step. It's about being there.

Always remember, walkers, you are awesome.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Why I'm Not A Chef ...

I love food.

God, how I love food.

I have no recollection of being a picky eater. My mom may have anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but as well as I can remember – and I can remember pretty well – I ate without much complaint. Crusts could be left on my sandwiches. I was always willing to try something new. I do remember her spending a fair amount of time getting the "white stuff" off of oranges when she would peel them for me, but that's not unusual, right? Who likes pith?

I liked hanging out in the kitchen with her, from the earliest of ages. I have clear memories of standing on a chair by the sink, "doing dishes," pouring water from one plastic container into the next. Even now, I like doing dishes. I have friends who detest that chore, but I like it. Warm, soapy water, making everything clean, the instant gratification and the empty sink.

I learned how to make bread when I was 8. My Aunt Anne taught me and my cousin Lora. I don't know if she still makes it. I do. Not as often as others would like, I reckon, but it's been warm. Now that fall is approaching, my interest in yeast has returned.

I grew up in a family of women who grew up in a family of women who cooked. I was not raised on shortcuts. Box mixes equaled mortal sins. It's not as though we churned our own butter, but making a cake required all the component ingredients, not eggs and oil and the contents of a box. And frosting? In a can? Why not just rob a bank instead? If you're going to bring that kind of shame on the family, you may as well line your pockets.

My friends, by comparison, were not schooled with such skills. They called me a "gourmet chef." I never did understand why. I could cook, yes. I could cook reasonably well for someone my age, I suppose. But "gourmet chef"? People need higher standards.

Still, I liked to cook for people. Really, I liked to bake for people. I'm a good cook but I'm a better baker.

And so, in my 20s, as I endeavored to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life, I struck upon the notion of culinary school.

The reasoning was pretty simple: I like to cook –> I should get paid to cook.

I mentioned my plan to a friend, a former professor. She had a friend in the restaurant business in New York. She suggested I write to Roger.

So I did.

And Roger gave me some perspective and advice: 1) Culinary schools churn out a lot of cooks, he said, not chefs. 2) Everyone has a romantic notion about being a chef, but before I plunked down $25,000 (at the time) for a 2-year degree, I needed to spend some time in a working kitchen. That, he said, would tell me whether I really wanted to pursue this life.


So, being me, I waited – a long time – before I spent some time in a professional kitchen.

And you know what?

I didn't like it.

The people were perfectly nice, but I quickly realized that a working kitchen is no place for a perfectionist. Or, at least, the time I spent didn't allow me to become proficient enough to allow enough time for me to do things as particularly as I wanted them done.

And when the head pastry chef told me that, out of school (again, at the time) that I could expect to make $7 a hour to start?


I abandoned that plan pretty swiftly.

And contented myself with the notion that throwing the occasional dinner party and baking up a storm for the holidays was more my culinary speed.

I stand in awe of great chefs. I am delighted that Allen Sternweiler has returned to Chicago after too long away. I think he is a genius.

But me? Nope. I'm not a chef. Never was. Never will be. I like the checkered pants. And the jackets are cool. But I'm grateful that Roger offered such good advice.

And I think he was the one who told me about Gray's Papaya, so I owe him for that, too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Likability ...

There's a direct correlation, I suppose, between fame and animus.

The more people who know who you are, the more people may be inclined to not like you.

I wonder how that feels.

I wonder if you become inured to it, distracted by the fame.

After all, the more people who know who you are, the more people may also be inclined to like you.

I guess which way the balance tips depends on what you offer them.

I'm thinking about this today because the Internet is on fire with snark about Christine O'Donnell, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from the state of Delaware, extreme chastity promoter, scientists-have-engineered-mice-with-fully-functioning-human-brains believer.

And there's a lot more snark fodder where that came from.

We all want to be liked, of course. But some people seem more affected by others' opinions, less able to shrug off ill will.

I wonder why that is?

Nature? Nurture? Are some brains wired differently? Do more neurons equal more courage and less concern? Or did some people learn early on that they can't please all of the people all of the time?

I've long had a fear of success because of the underlying fear that if I'm successful, some people won't like me.

I know it's silly.

I'm not successful now (by conventional standards, I mean) and some people don't like me. So I'm not batting 1.000, anyway. I don't have a record to maintain.

Yet it bothers me, the notion of people's resentment.

It's hard to get past, especially when the people are close to you. It's easier to shrug off snark from strangers, but from those who matter in your life? Ouch.

I'm well aware of the fact that I have two choices: I can a) get over it, or b) stay stuck.

And slowly, I'm rocking my way out of the ruts. Doing more, caring less. About what others think, that is. It seems to be part of the turning-40 package.

Slowly, I'm acclimating to the reality that those who don't like me are never going to like me, no matter how I try to contort myself to please them. They will always find fault. Because it's not really me they dislike. It's some aspect of themselves. I'm just the screen onto which they project it.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I know that I need to get out of my own way.

Though in the process of getting out of my own way, I may, by extension, step into someone else's way, like not paying attention and accidentally bumping into someone on the street.

So, in advance, allow me to say "Excuse me."

Because it's the polite thing to do.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Cell Phone, Myself ...

My cell phone, for all its low-tech techetry in this high-tech world, may as well be this. --->

My phone is an antiquity. A relic. I'm pretty sure one just like it was recently discovered in the burial chamber of one of the pyramids in Egypt.

And I'm pretty sure that one was in better condition than mine.

Yes, boys and girls, my cell phone was manufactured in ...


[Pause for aghast gasps!]

And the funny thing is, I didn't want to get another cell phone, back then. But a friend gave me a Bluetooth device for Christmas and I needed to upgrade my phone in order to use it. So I upgraded. To a RAZR. Which, even then, was already behind the curve.

And I was suitably taken with Bluetooth technology, though I used my device more often when walking than driving.

But since 2006, huge advancements have been made in cell-phone technology and I have not kept up.

Friends have encouraged me to join the iPhone nation: "You need an iPhone!" I've heard it many times.

But I don't. I don't use my phone very much as it is. I didn't use my phone very much even when I had some semblance of a life.

Hell, I resisted getting text on it until, what? 2007? 2008?

I didn't see the point. It's a phone. The whole point of it is to use it to talk, right?

No, actually, not. The point is to use it to communicate. However.

So I added text, because my then-trainer was practically a zygote and texting was really the only way he'd communicate. And I admit that I did find it useful. Sometimes even fun.

But I do not need a smart phone. Nor do I need the monthly bill I would receive if I were to get a smart phone.

I spend enough time on the computer as it is. I do not need one in the palm of my hand. And I do not want to pay $100 a month for the privilege of becoming overly addicted to another electronic device.

But my little phone is literally falling apart. The battery cover refuses to stay in place. It pops off all the time. And I snap it back. And it pops off again. It is a war of wills and my phone is winning.

I went to the cell-phone store a few months ago, ready to give in. I told the sales guy that I just wanted a "regular" phone. His face fell. Visibly. He followed me to the other side of the store, but I knew he didn't want to be there.

Then again, neither did I. Because "regular" phones these days are sad. They have no heft. They have no design. It's as though the phone makers produce them for the sole purpose of dissuasion. "Are you kidding?" they ask, with their boringness. "Go back to the other side of the store. You know you want a touch screen. You know you want apps. You know you want GPS. Don't you understand that you should derive your self-image from your phone? What are you? Pathetic?"

Well, actually ...

I did, after all, recently try binder clips to hold the back of my phone in place. But they interfered with the keypad. So I tried a rubber band, but it impeded my phone's ability to fully close.

I posted my dilemma on Facebook. My friend Andy replied, "Have you forgotten a little something called duct tape?"

I had, as a matter of fact.

I might have to give that a try.

It is silver ...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thoughts On A Drive Home ...

I went out last night, for the second night in a row. I am perilously close to "normal" in terms of a social life this week.

Driving home, I took a route that I normally don't take at night, so everything seemed a bit different, almost as if I was in an entirely new part of the country. Or the world, for that matter. A McDonald's, after all, can be anywhere.

But as I was zipping down a dark stretch, between oases of well-lit parking lots and strip malls, I was thinking out loud, as I often do in the car, talking to myself in lieu of listening to the radio.

And I started thinking about Greece, where I've never been, but where I very much want to go. (My friend Martha is there, painting – or maybe she's moved on to Turkey by now – so Greece is on my mind.)

And that started me thinking about the time I was in The Art Institute and there, in the middle of a gallery, was a white marble bust from Greece, just set on a pedestal, not under glass. And I know that I'm not supposed to touch things in a museum, but it was right there, and the card on the pedestal revealed that it was dated from about 3,000 B.C., and I stood there thinking that I was standing in front of something that was 5,000 years old, that 5,000 years ago, someone's hands carved that haunting visage out of a block of marble, and so I looked around, found myself alone (but for the cameras that I'm sure were watching) and I reached out and barely touched the tip of my index finger to the base.

And I marveled that in the smallest of ways, I was part of a continuum that spanned 5,000 years – and continues on.

And then, in the car, as I neared the familiar markers nearer to my home, my brain made its way to Colorforms.

Yep, Colorforms.

Do you remember Colorforms? Those bits of plastic that stuck to surfaces and each other by static cling?

My brain landed on them because of the bit of plastic that's on my windshield to remind me when I need my next oil change.

But I was amused that in the span of 15 minutes or so, my brain had somehow made its way from thinking about Greece and an ancient sculptor to Colorforms. I remember being fond of the Peanuts set.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Pet Lover: Oblivion ...

I'm biased, of course.

My pal Brian is part of Pet Lover. And I adore Brian and I adore the band.

And while I'm happy to fawn over my friends, Pet Lover deserves every good thing written about it. And it deserves to be written about a lot more.

Local indie bands are a dime a dozen. Really good local indie bands are rare currency. Pet Lover is, of course, the latter.

"Oblivion," the band's latest effort, was a long time coming, but entirely worth the wait.

I've written before about my distaste for the homogeneity that's become the bland hallmark of the music industry, overproduction to the point of obscurity, guitar riffs by focus group. No thank you.

Pet Lover is a different animal, and "Oblivion" is a particular pleasure for the variety it offers in this musical world of more of the same. As is known to regular readers of this blog, I fully cop to being a sappy girl, and for that reason, "Deep Blue Mind" stands out as my favorite song. Mind you, it is not a sappy song in the fine tradition of sappy songs. The boys have not gotten in touch with their inner Manilows. (I would wager that none of them have ever spent a weekend in New England.) But I was captivated by the unexpected piano moment on the bridge. It transforms a classic Pet Lover tune into something even more for me.

Though the next track, "Cowboys and Idiots," quickly dispenses with any sentimentality with its in-your-face open. (Is it inspired by "Bonanza"?) And just in case you were settling into the band's sound, "Detroit" provides an unexpected jolt.

"Junkpile," the second cut on the album, was featured this weekend on WXRT's Local Anesthetic, the last bastion of real music in Chicago, an endorsement of the band's worthiness.

Intrigued? You should be. And I haven't even mentioned the harmonies. Oh, wait. I just did.

You can sample "Oblivion" on and then download the disc for a mere $7.

If you'd rather have hard copies of "Oblivion" or the band's earlier releases, "New Game" and "Spitsbergen," you can order those here.

You can also catch them live. The band's part of a triple bill next Thursday night, September 16, at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Avenue. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets for the 21-and-over show are a recession-friendly eight bucks each.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Lamp Edition ...

You may or may not know the story of the $5 lamp.

Here's the short version:

I bought a lamp. It cost $5.

Now you're up to speed.

It needs a new shade. Because the old shade is broken. But more importantly, because the old shade is ugly.

The selection of lampshades at most stores bores me. So I've been poking around online.

Of course, when shopping for a lampshade, it's really best to be able to dress the base with the shade, to be able to stand back and make sure the scale is proper and the effect is whole.

No can do on the Internets, eh?

Well, really, you kind of can.

Note: I did not spend a lot of time on the following endeavor.

I used the picture of the lamp from the Craigslist posting. It's not great, but it sufficed.

And I pulled over images of shades from a lampshade site to get vague ideas how they'll look with the base.

I did not bother to do cutouts of the shades, hence the white space around them (because the site from whence they came had a white background, too).

And I did not worry precisely about scale, so as you look at them, don't think, "Oh, that's too big" or "That's too small." I'll make sure I order a shade that's proportionate to the base. And pay no attention to the wall color in the picture. I haven't decided where this lamp will live, so I'm not considering the color of a room in my decision. (The base, by the way, is simple black. The photo is a bit fuzzy on that front.)

This is an exercise in aesthetics. Which shade do you like best with the base? I'll number each entry. Please to be sharing your thoughts in the comments.

Will I buy the shade that earns the most votes? Not necessarily. But I'd like everyone's opinion.

(And if you're wondering, yes, I have a clear favorite.)

1. Grey Velvet Stripe

2. Faux Leather

3. Butterscotch Stripe

4. Olive Sage Stripe

5. CrissCross

6. Swirls

7. Heather Vertical

Friday, September 03, 2010

Heart Of Pound Cake ...

There exists, in my kitchen, a heart of darkness.

Perhaps the heart of darkness. Perhaps Joseph Conrad wasn't really writing about Marlow and Kurtz and the Congo.

Or perhaps the last words of Kurtz – "The horror! The horror!" – were not about his savagery.

Perhaps they were about pound cake.

Pound cake, lowly, unassuming pound cake, calls to me. It is not fancy. It is not fine. It makes you think that it is humble.

But it lies.

I consider myself a somewhat accomplished baker. My family and friends would agree. Likewise, my mother is skilled in the art of baking. Much of what I know I learned from her.

If there is a gene that regulates the ability to make pound cake, we do not have it.

My aunt Stana had it. Her Imperial pound cake, so named for the margarine called for in the recipe, not a regime, was the cake of legends. Made in a tube pan with a layer of ground walnuts on the bottom before the batter was baked, which then became the top, and cut into wedges, it was sturdy yet light, the pound cake ideal.

My mother has tried to replicate it. We have done research. We have tried butter and margarine of varying temperatures, cold eggs, room-temperature eggs, folding the flour, every possible thing.

And every time, the cakes did not rise.

Mind you, they rose slightly, but they would not rise as we knew they should.

Mom moved on. She enjoys great success with many baked goods. Those who know of it clamor for her nut roll.

But the other day, a friend posted a link to a story that featured a pound cake, a simple, loaf-shaped pound cake, the most unassuming of them all.

And I was overcome with desire. I wanted pound cake.

I needed pound cake.

And so yesterday, I bought a box of cake flour – for all my baking skill, I do not often bake cakes, so cake flour does not live with my baking supplies – and followed the Cook's Illustrated recipe for Classic Pound Cake. I followed it to the letter. I even used my digital kitchen scale to weigh the sugar and flour, to be exact.

The batter was ethereal, a sugar-scented cloud. I smoothed it into the loaf pan. I set it lovingly smack dab in the middle of my oven. I stepped away gingerly, as if it were a souffle.

I waited the interminable time it takes for pound cake to bake. Pound cake will not be rushed.

Later, I stepped back to the oven, turned on the light, and peered through the window. It was climbing up the pan, but it was not rising properly in the center. I told myself that the rising came later. I continued to wait.

The timer rang. I opened the door.

My pound cake had risen beyond the pan, but it was flat.

It would not be sturdy yet light. It would be heavy.

Like my heart.

Where had I gone wrong?

I removed the pan to a wire rack to let the cake cool for the indicated 15 minutes.

I reread the recipe. The only mistake I must have made was letting the butter get just a little too soft. It needs to stay very cool. Alas.

Just before the timer rang, I turned the cake out of its pan and righted it between two wire racks.

It released perfectly, butterscotch-scented and -hued. Perfect, but for the flatness.

I waited again, for it to cool.

I would try it, of course. Too-dense pound cake is better than no pound cake at all.

Before the cooling time was up, I sliced off an end, figuring it cooled the most first.

And I broke off a corner and set it almost ceremoniously upon my tongue.

And it was good.

I resolved to buy a digital thermometer to try again, to know, next time, the precise temperature of the all-important butter.

I will master the ways of pound cake.

I will not bow.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wherefore Art Thou, Pound Cake? ...

I want pound cake.

Earlier today, Twitterpal Angelo posted a link to a New York Times story about rose water, and the accompanying art for the story featured a loaf of pound cake, rose water-scented pound cake.

And since that moment, "pound cake" has been whispering to me. My brain keeps returning to the notion: "Pound cake would be really good right now. With a glass of milk. Regular pound cake. Just baked in loaf pan. Or maybe in a tube pan. With the layer of ground walnuts on the top. It's not really pound cake, though, because you don't use a pound of butter. You only use half a pound of butter. Can you imagine if you used a whole pound of butter? That wouldn't even be good. But a half pound is good. I love the texture of pound cake. It's dense but not. Even though I like it when it's too dense. It's more moist. But that's because it's underbaked, probably."

See? My brain can riff endlessly when it comes to pound cake.

"Pound cake is my Kryptonite," I tweeted. Pound cake.

I thought I might have to make one, just to make my brain shut up. (The carbs would probably send me right to sleep. But then I'm quite sure I'd have dreamt about pound cake.)

But all the recipes call for cake flour. And I don't have cake flour. And I didn't want to go to the store. And I didn't want to try a substitution.

And then I thought I could just go to the store and buy pound cake, because all bakery departments sell pound cake, or hell, I'd buy a frozen one from Sara Lee. But I was on the phone with a friend when I had that brainstorm, sitting in the dark, not able to see a clock, and she mentioned it was 10:30 p.m. And by the time we hung up, there was no way I was going to get dressed and looking even remotely presentable enough to enter a store. With, you know, lights on. And other people. With, you know, eyes. Who could conceivably see me.

So I am pound cake-less, sadly. But still wanting carbs. So I went poking through my photos, looking at shots of cookies past, and ran across this image from a photo shoot however many years ago that accompanied a story I did about creating multiple kinds of cookies out of a few basic doughs. I've posted the picture before, but I'm posting it again, because it pleases me.

And I am also posting this image, because it has absolutely nothing to do with pound cake but I like it. The typewriter was my dad's dad's. The fan was my dad's mom's. And the little trunk was bought it in an antique store many years ago.