Friday, March 25, 2011

For the Love of George

Meet my Curious George.  He is actually the first in a long line of Curious Georges that belong to Piano Teacher Wicky.  My sister gave him to me when I turned two, which makes him twenty . . . well, old!  He's pretty faded these days, but he still has a very cheery disposition, which is amazing considering how often I used to use him as a pillow while traveling.  He is wearing a pin now that says "may you be as smart at 65 as you thought you were at 18," which he put on for my dad's last visit, since my dad had recently turned 65.  Over the years he's worn a few different pins: one just said "huggable," which could never be disputed anyway, and for a while he went political with a "Snoopy for President" pin.  He was followed by many younger brothers, including a Cubs George (wearing a blue baseball hat and a blue pinstriped jersey), and some teeny tiny Georges that still sit on the piano at my dad's house, waiting for me to come home and give them a concert.
            Over the years, my love of George spread to a great appreciation for all monkeys (yes, even ones with tails).  And I've gotten plenty of birthday and Christmas gifts that prove it, including monkey pajamas, monkey slippers, a monkey CD case, a monkey pillow (made for me by my aunt).  I could go on and on.
            When I was twelve and my youngest cousin was born, I gave him a Curious George.  My uncle told me that his already-huge eyes opened even wider when he saw that cuddly monkey (I'm not sure how true this statement is but I choose to believe it).
            So tomorrow I am heading off to another baby shower and I thought what better gift to give a new little one than a new Curious George.  I spiffed this George up a bit with a green polka-dot bowtie, and he is bringing a book of some of his favorite stories with him (all about him, of course).  We don't know yet if this baby will be a boy or a girl but I think a good George will make either one happy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Brownie Update

This post is a wee bit tardy, but I wanted to let you know how successful my Guinness brownies turned out last weekend.  All that is left of them at this point is the sweet memories.  And once I frosted them with some Bailey's frosting, all of that craziness from the oven was forgotten.

The recipe is one I found at this lovely lady's blog.  There was a lot of chocolate involved, and even though I had to get out a double boiler, it wasn't nearly as much trouble as I had expected.  And well worth any trouble I did go to.
The frosting recipe is one I tweaked from a recipe for Car Bomb Cupcakes, which, let's face it, was the same thing I ended up making, but in more portable brownie form.  It's basically a variation on the classic Buttercream Frosting recipe off of the Domino's Confectioner's Sugar box.  I'm putting it here with my variations (mainly: more liquid, less sugar - it was becoming very stiff)

Bailey's Frosting:
1/2 cup butter (again, it called for unsalted, but I say hey, if you're going to add salt later, why bother with bland butter?) at room temp please
~3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 pinch salt (yes, even with salted butter, I still add some more salt)
3 Tablespoon's Bailey's Irish Cream
1 Tablespoon milk

I always like to start with the butter and about 1 cup of sugar, and cream those together in the mixer on medium speed or so.  Then add liquids and rest of sugar in stages, tasting as you go (tasting often always yields best results, both for the frosting and your disposition).  Remember, unlike baking, where it's a science and you have to put it in the oven before you know how it'll turn out, frosting is like soup: what you taste is what you get.  So trust your eyes and tastebuds: if it's too dry, add more liquid, if it's too wet, add more sugar.  Basically the only amount I stick to is the butter, the rest are negotiable!

I decorated the whole pan with some green candy melt.  I had big plans for making it plaid, but it just turned into a criss-cross pattern.  Not as lovely as I would have liked, but once they were cut up into 2"X2" pieces, nobody seemed to care.
Overall, I give them a C for pub crawl transportability (still better than a cupcake) but an A for flavor.  Plus, it always impresses friends when you can whip a good snack out of your mom-sized purse.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I am a Midwest Girl now.

Monday night, while driving home in some awesome Chicago rush-hour traffic I heard a hiss, hoping it was coming from the car next to me (I always like to assume/imply a quick spurt of air is coming from the guy next to me instead of myself).  Alas, it was my right rear tire, which had had a nasty-looking air bubble for about two years and had impressively held on this long.  
            So I pulled over to the side of I-90, called triple A, then my mother, to tell her that I might be having the worst Monday/start of the work-week ever.  Much to my surprise, after only about 15 minutes, a nice man from the Dept. of Transportation pulled up behind me, and told me to get back in my car while he took care of everything.  Within a half hour of getting the flat tire, I was back on the road, on my way home, with the guy's card and explicit instructions to call him whenever something like this happens again.  
            My Monday didn't seem to be getting much better because when I got home I had a measly 2 pieces of mail in my mailbox.  One, a catalog, and the other, a skinny little envelope from an architecture school on the east coast.  Knowing what a small envelope means, I unlocked the door to my apartment and thought for the first time in months "I'm home."  As in really home, where I'm going to stay for many years.  
            I love my condo, I love my city, and I love my friends.  And they all love me back.  Minutes later, I checked my email, which included an acceptance from IIT.  In the next month, I'm going to be making a big decision about which school I will spend the next 3 years at.  But happily, that decision will not include the stress of a possible move.  Even though I probably won't have much time to blog while I'm at school, I have picked up a new blog address, Future Architect Wicky.  Hopefully I'll have fun things to say over there too, though probably not all about architecture.  As you can tell, my piano teaching blog is rarely about teaching!  

The above image is brought to you by the clever souls at Mina Lee.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bacon-Fest Upset

Last week, Ruthie emailed me with an exciting prospect: a way to win free tickets to the upcoming BaconFest.  The person with the best poem about bacon would win 2 tickets to the beloved event.  Ruthie and I sat down and quickly scrawled off some inspired verses.  Here is what we came up with:

Ode to an unorthodox sandwich
by Ruthie

When I request my meal,
The waiter may gasp,
As my fellow diners grasp
The extent of my zeal.

Veggie burger with bacon?
I ask with a grin.
For it is no sin
To make a veggie burger non-vegetarian.

The delectable bacon grease
Seeps into the faux meat.
And the saltiness, can’t beat
That crunch as my teeth bite off a piece.

Beans and rice
Formed into a patty
Just cries out for a little fatty
Pork belly slice.

Ode to Bacon
by Wicky
I love you on a BLT
Especially if you’re a wee bit crispy.
Or simply with some runny eggs,
After a night with many kegs.
Or drizzled with a bit of syrup,
Is enough to make me chirrup.
I love you in a bowl of popcorn:
My favorite snack on a winter’s morn.
I love you in a bloody mary;
It never leaves me quite contrary.
I love you in a chocolate bar,
Even though that sounds quite bizarre.  
Hissing, spurting, on my griddle,
Adding girth to my dear middle.
I’ve dabbled with a couple sausage,
But found them all too average
Because you’re what makes my jaw start achin’
And me drool, anticipatin’
All my love:
A strip of bacon. 

I will let you, dear readers, judge for yourselves.  Here is the link to the 6 finalists.  I have not yet had the heart to read through them.  I'm sure they are all worthy in their own right.  But Ruthie and I have started planning our own alternative bacon-fest.  Whatever/whenever it is, it will surely be a sizzling good time.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's Alive!

What's going on in my oven right now?  I am currently baking a batch of Guinness brownies, for St. Patty's festivities tomorrow (more on that later, depending on how they turn out) but I just checked on them and here's what I found happening:
a large, unsightly mound in my brownies?!
Judging by the batter, they are going to taste fabulous, but seriously.  What is happening?  Is it just the yeast?  I've made beer bread before, which of course rises in the middle, so maybe it's just something I've never noticed before.  But scary.

UPDATE: 5 minutes later.  I have just taken it out of the oven and the big bulge has now cracked on top and steam is pouring out.  It looks like a creepy old swamp man blowing smoke.  eek!  Will definitely frost these brownies.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Fabulous Life

 . . . involves lots of good food and drink, which I was treated to last night.  My friend Ruthie (I've decided to give her a label now because she is my partner in crime for so many things) discovered a social-network type site called Grub With Us, and we've now gone out to 2 meals with groups from that site.  The first one, back in January, was a dinner at Sapori Trattoria (an Italian favorite in Lakeview).  Last night we were treated to a very yummy Vietnamese dinner at Simply It, in Lincoln Park.  The meal was complimented by a few fabulous cocktails, mixed up by the girls from Through the Liquor Glass.
            Dinner itself was family-style (it always is with a Grub With Us crowd), and included Pineapple Calamari, served in a hollowed-out half of a pineapple, and Coconut and Mango Beef, served in a hollowed-out coconut.  There were other delicious dishes served on, ahem, plates, but since I am a sucker for great presentation I am singling those two out.
            Dessert was another story.  It was fried banana, alongside some different ice creams, etc.  Ruthie and I both hate bananas but since we love dessert, and that was the only option, we dug in and found it to be . . . well, fried anyway!  The strawberry ice cream was very good.  But seriously, Ruthie and I were inspired by the book we're reading for our "food lovers' book club:" Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything, and so we tried the foods that we didn't think we would like.  I still don't like bananas, but I can be an adult about it.
            In case all this doesn't seem fabulous enough, I want to show you a little of what Ruthie has to offer.  She has recently started writing a neighborhood blog for the Chicago Red Eye.  Her neighborhood is Wicker Park/Bucktown, which always seems to have chic things going on.  A few weeks ago, she put on a photo shoot featuring clothes from a nearby boutique and many of our friends.  No, I am not in the photo shoot, but at least you can see how fabulous my friends are.
           And now, lest you think my life is too fabulous . . . I will take it down a notch.  I don't get phone calls often, but this morning and yesterday morning I've had wrong numbers from random people.  I know they're not reading my blog, because they don't know me, but seriously people, thanks for reminding me how rarely my phone rings!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

La Musique

My friend Ruthie and I went to a concert at Schubas last night.  She had won the tickets, so we didn't know anything about the band beforehand, we were just going where the free stuff was.  But I was so pleasantly surprised by the show.  I hate to be one of those people who hears a band live once and thinks they're the best band ever, but I might be changing my tune, when it comes to these guys.
This is a French band called Revolver.  Look them up.  Love them.  My heart is still melted, in a puddle, somewhere on the dance floor at Schubas.

you should also keep an ear out for The Belle Brigade, the opening band.  They too had amazing harmonies.  I'm a sucker for good harmonies.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Inedible Cupcakes and Incredibly Edible Chocolates

Last night I went down to the South Loop to take a chocolate-making class at Canady Le Chocolatiere.
I had bought a Groupon to take this class sometime last fall with two friends.  One of them used it right away (and I haven't forgiven her for it) but my other friend, Sarah, kindly waited to use it with me.  I was glad to have her there because there was a lot of info to absorb and a second set of ears was quite helpful.  I never knew how serious chocolate making is, although it shouldn't have surprised me!
           But the class was a great success and I have a lovely box of filled chocolates made by myself and the other students to enjoy over the next few days, depending on how long I can make myself wait to open it.  If I show some real restraint I may even save it to share with a friend.
           I had planned to send some of those chocolates off to a few friends who have birthdays in the next week, but my selfishness has gotten the better of me, so instead I woke up this morning and made them some turtles out of the mixed nuts and old hershey bars.  Well, they look cute anyway :-)
           Tomorrow afternoon I am going to my first ever baby shower (for parents who are my own generation anyway).   My friends Brian and Anaïs, who got married last April (you may recall, I made them a quilt for their wedding) moved out to Las Vegas for work in the fall, so I haven't seen them since September.  I didn't even know Anaïs was pregnant when she left, so it will be very exciting to see her tomorrow.
          I am a very bad guest at weddings and showers because I don't like to buy things from the gift registry.  I would much rather make them something, which often turns out to be not as pretty as I had pictured in my mind.  This project was no different!  I made some "cupcakes" out of receiving blankets and onesies, inspired by this post I found online.  Not being a big coffee drinker, my coffee-maker is teeny tiny, so my coffee filters were not the full-sized ones I needed for this project, so I made do with some parchment paper and scallop-edged scissors.
           I found this sweet guy, Mumble Billie Bear, at Anthropologie last week.  I brought him home, put him on my dining table, and then he started helping me with my homework.  I thought for a while that maybe I shouldn't give him away.  He looked at me with his kind of sad eyes like he wasn't sure I should give him away either, but after we picked out a fitting ribbon to tie around his neck, he looks more excited for the party.  I think that Baby Girl Caccamo will love her new, very soft bear.  Hopefully I will get to visit him sometime.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's (always) a small world

In my (relatively) short life, I've been to lots of places and run into lots of people.  I saw a high school classmate when I was on a school trip in the Roman Forum, and ran into another friend at a cafe in Venice.  My favorite small world moment is probably walking across a big street in a crosswalk in Hong Kong with about 100 other people and bumping into a friend walking the other direction.  I've unexpectedly stood face to face with a grade school classmate on the L in Chicago, almost 900 miles from where we both grew up.
          In spite of these stories, I still go a little crazy when I run into people at very normal places like the grocery store.  I've lived in Chicago for a little over 6 years now, which should technically make me feel like an actual resident of the city, but it's only when I run into people while doing everyday errands that I feel like "I really live here!"  So I had a funny surprise yesterday while waiting in line at the post office to mail my mom her birthday package (perhaps more on that tomorrow or a later day).  Standing 2 people behind me (until I let the in-between people cut me in line, that is) was a guy who I took my drawing class with last fall.  He was pretty much the only student, other than me, who was taking it very seriously and showing up each week.
          His name is Josh Garber and he is a sculptor.  I urge you to check out his website - if you live in the midwest you may have even seen some of his sculptures and not even known it.  The one that I have seen is outside the CTA brown line Kimball L stop (the pic to the right is him, at the L stop - thanks google).  Since I had known him for probably a month before I decided to stalk him online and find his work, I was actually very surprised by what his artwork looked like.  I think of him as kind of a quiet, sweet man, yet his drawings in class were always rather dark and disturbed (mostly because I think he was frustrated by the medium).  Finding these 2 aspects of his personality already to be a kind of dichotomy, seeing his sculptures confused me even more.  But they're definitely very cool.
          Anyway, the very first thing he said to me was "you must be hearing back from schools soon" because he was always asking about my applying to architecture programs.  When I finally got a chance to ask him what he's up to, he said he is working on a piece for the Ritz Carlton on Michigan Ave., among other things.  Well that sounds like it's way more interesting than my stuff; I can't believe he let me talk for so long about my piddly applications.  Let's all keep our eyes peeled for Josh Garber, both in sculpture form, and at our local post offices.