Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summer in the City

I'm getting to know my super hot Lumix camera more and more every day, but I still make a ton of mistakes. I'm not quick on the draw, but once in a while things come together. Pardon me while I bore you with some of the successes from time to time. Feel free to click on the photo to enlarge.

Just wait till my wide angle lens converter arrives from its native Japan! You'll be asleep so fast you won't know what hit you!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Doug Henning Haunts My Thoughts

I think about Doug Henning, a lot. Doug Henning was a famous magician (now deceased) when I was a kid, who seemed to constantly be appearing on television sitting on a rainbow or in a cloud bank and dressing in spandex, or whatever the tight clothing material du jour was back then. He had a sing-songy voice and an air of forced excitement about him, ready to pull a trick out of his bushy mustache at any time. I think about him now because his voice reminds me of chef Rick Bayless, a Chicago-based artist of Mexican cuisine who has his own show on PBS as well as a place on Top Chef Masters, and seems to half-sing everything he says, too. I love Rick Bayless with all of my heart, but I do struggle with his sing-songiness, just like I did with Doug Henning's.

Tonight at a happy hour on the rooftop of a local ad agency, I mentioned Doug Henning and his funny voice stylings to the group of people I was chatting with and my offering was met with absolute crickets. There wasn't a glimmer of recognition in a single eye around that circle for Doug Henning. Nobody had fond memories of his hand-waving artistry like I do. Does anyone out there remember this dude or am I truly alone? Is Doug Henning destined to be forgotten forever?

Running Out of Gas

I'm not in the best shape of my life, so a long (but fun!) bike ride this weekend, plus riding to and from work today, has left me without an ounce of energy left to spare. I'm spent, like someone's fat cat passed out on a warm summer sidewalk.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tuna Poke

I love to cook, bake, prepare food – all that stuff. But I really read more about it than I do it, with the exception of baking which I pretty much do constantly. I'm somewhat lazy and sandwiches are just so easy to make for dinner so why go to too much trouble? But last weekend a sale on Hawaiian fish at Coastal Seafoods inspired me to venture out and make something I've eaten before, but never prepared myself.

Poke (pronounced POH-kay) is a Hawaiian staple, a simple dish often prepared there in paradise. It could not be simpler to make but, honestly, here in Minnesota it's too expensive to be a staple of my own diet. Sushi grade tuna is not cheap, but as a once-in-a-while treat – aloha! I simply diced up some fresh sweet onion I picked up at the farmer's market along with some green onions from the same place, diced up some jalapeno pepper, toasted some sesame seeds, diced up some ahi tuna, and tossed it all together with some toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. The mixture marinated for an hour in the fridge and when it was done I had a light and tasty raw tuna dinner that made me feel light and airy and like I should do the hula. I'm looking forward to making it for friends at parties, once I hit the lottery. Until then, I'll keep bringing the black bean dip.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

When Heroes Sleep

This picture makes me think of those dramatic National Geographic visuals that capture scenes of firemen passed out dead asleep after days spent fighting intense forest fires. Or photos of cops out cold after hours and hours of saving a small child from the bottom of a well after a particularly brutal thunderstorm. Here is Hakeem sleeping, sort of under our couch or as close as he can get to it, exhausted from saving our lives from that horrible mouse. Heroes come in all forms.

Klondike Kat Always Gets His Mouse!

If that headline means anything to you, you're either old like me or you watched a lot of television growing up like I did. Congratulations. But the headline has new meaning to me today because – drumroll, please! – my Hakeem Wallace felled a mighty (icky) mouse in our home yesterday!

Yes, I thought the whole mouse saga was over, too. I haven't really seen any signs of fresh, new rodents in a long time and I really thought I had the problem licked. (Wow, I kind of wish I hadn't written "rodents" and "licked" in the same sentence there.) But then yesterday morning as I stood in the kitchen sleepily preparing Hakeem's breakfast at about 530am just before going to the gym, a little gray mouse darted out from under the stove or the fridge and ran across the room! The diseased varmint didn't even have the decency to try and hide his presence by sneaking creepily along the baseboards and leaving quietly. It skittered diagonally across the checkered tile floor and into a closet that would have taken me forever to dig through and I had no time because I had a class to attend at 600am. Plus I didn't want to find it. After "the incident" happened, I put Hakeem's vittles down on the floor and looked at him sleeping on the living room carpet and asked him what he was good for. In his defense, he did not see the vermin assault my kitchen because he was too busy snoozing, but still, he should have a sixth sense about these things.

So horrified was I that a live mouse had invaded in the hot month of July that I had no choice but to talk about it at work. I had been so surprised during the mouse months a couple of years ago to find out that almost everyone has, or has had, mice. It was oddly comforting to hear their stories even though it didn't change the fact that I was living amongst the hairy beasts. Folks at work assured me that mice can visit anytime of year and that when you least expect them – expect them! I stewed about that mouse all day while pondering if now was the time to burn everything I own and start over with nothing. I pictured myself turning into Carl from Caddyshack, attempting to kill that gopher no matter what the cost. Then last night after a full day of work and an evening of beers, I came home to a dark loft. Hakeem greeted me at the door and we walked into the living room together. After I patted his tummy as is our ritual, I turned to walk through the dining room (Can I really call it a dining room? Perhaps dining area is better!), and caught sight of a very little, very dead, gray mouse with a bloody puncture wound through its gut. I never knew that having dead vermin in my home could make me so happy! My brave, obese Hakeem did what kitties everywhere do all the time, at least when they don't weigh twenty-four pounds and aren't entering their golden years. He killed the mouse! I admit I doubted him, which I'm sure I will eternally regret, but in the end he proved he is my hero and one Hell of a great animal.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dead Horses

Another awesome show at the Varsity. Super hot Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses brought good ol' real alt-country to town on the back of their steel horses and rocked the prettily lit house. A surprise delight was the opening act, Jesse Dayton, whom I'd never heard of before that night. It was all rockabilly all the time, but he laced it with story songs spun with a mild essence of hip hop. You could tell he enjoyed every minute up there in front of the crowd that was hungry for Ryan but thinking Jesse sounded pretty damn good, too. And the $2.50 Pabst cans pretty much made it all perfect.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Everything on a Stick

The Minnesota State Fair returns in full force next month, bringing with it scores of foods on a stick. The powers that be at the fair would be smart to add these chocolate dipped baby bananas with sugar coated fennel seeds on a pretty, twisty stick, and some mini-cheeseburgers on a stick. I wish I could say I created these, but the truth is we had our summer work party today at the Chambers Hotel downtown and we scored one of the final party menus including Jean-Georges Vongerichten's awesome food before they switch over to a D'Amico kitchen soon. The candied fennel seeds are ultra-crunchy and the banana insides are super creamy and they should always be together. We also enjoyed a host of savory appetizers, like this mini-cheeseburger, chicken samosas, mushroom egg rolls in a galangal emulsion (I have galangal emulsion every day, don't you?) and tuna rolls. Good stuff.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Now that the craziness of June has subsided, I've been able to resume my weekend walks over to the river. I could not love Water Power Park more than I do, and today it was like I was being set up for a welcome back photo op when a blue heron, in the lower right of the photo, perched happily along the water. (You can click on the photo for a close up.) Thank you, heron.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I'm Back and I'm Mad as Hell!

My super cute little iMac and I have been reunited and, like a couple of teenagers just off a break, we're thrilled to be together again. The hard drive just fell apart one day and I've learned that this is one of the most common computer failures out there. I absolutely cannot believe that I only backed up my data for the first time a few months ago, how lucky can I be? From here on out, regular and stringent backups will be par for the course. Because I backed up my data, including thousands of photos and songs as well as documents written through the years, all I had to do was drag them over to my old iMac with the new hard drive. Easy peasy. Big sigh of relief!

What is not a relief is going to a pretty decent restaurant and finding misspellings on the menu. I absolutely don't get this. I'm ok with misspellings in emails or on grocery lists or in text messages and the like, but when a professional business goes to the trouble of creating, keylining, printing and laminating a menu, how on earth does the process not include several people to proofread it?! Case in point, Mad Jack's in Vadnais Heights. Yes, Vadnais Heights. You know, that one suburb north of St. Paul? I know, I feel the same way. But friends meet where it's convenient so that's what we did. A good tap beer list couldn't make up for the spelling errors on the menu, though the actual beers did make them easier to take.

One of the most maddening to me is the common misspelling of "chipotle." I know it's a foreign word, but it is ubiquitous now that the burrito restaurant that bears its name has deliciously taken over America. In fact, the Mad Jack's in Vadnais Heights is just across the way from a strip mall with a Chipotle restaurant. All the managers would have had to do was step outside and gaze across the parking lot to know how to spell the word correctly on their menu. So sad, but so not alone. On the same Mad Jack's menu was a description for "Filet Appetizers" (they really dug deep to name this one) that included not one, but two misspellings. "Tomatos" are served alongside "gorganzola" for the fancily named menu item. And please don't even get me started on the capitalization of "filet" in the description, the use of the number two rather than the word two, and the lack of a comma between "garlic" and "tomatos." There's more, but I'll stop. If you'll look carefully, you'll notice that they spell "tomatoes" correctly in the Jacked Up Nachos description above the Filet Appetizers. I don't get it.

Ok, apparently my recent computer crisis has turned me into Andy Rooney. I'll settle down before I post again, though I'll admit to now having plans to continue to document the lack of spell-checking of the American restaurant menu. That's my promise to you, America.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We Regret To Inform You

My beloved iMac is experiencing technical difficulties and so I may be absent for a few days. Hopefully the fine geniuses at First Tech can make my sad Mac happy again. Pray for us.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Bad Day for Ducks

I love ducks and I adore frogs. However, I hate both of them when they call out all night long as I try to sleep in a tent with my head just feet away from their endless warbling. And that is why I am extra happy that I no longer leave home without a good pair of earplugs. For heavy duty needs, like camping on my cousin's gorgeous pond, chock-full of talkative animals and reptiles, I've found it's also good to throw some Codeine into the mix.

This weekend a large part of my super fun and huge family got together in the stunningly gorgeous countryside of my cousin's home in central Wisconsin. I think Minnesota is beautiful, but Wisconsin is really something special. If it weren't for their pesky heritage of serial killers, they'd really have it all going on. Still, we enjoyed serial killer-free kayaking, swimming, bean bag toss, drinking, eating, and even an homage to the show "Survivor" that pitted the red team against the blue team in various physical activities! So you can see how tired a person might be after a full day in the sun. Imagine yourself nestling into your sleeping bag inside your tent at the side of pond where, during the day, peace reigns supreme. But now it's night and all of the animals are wide awake, talking to one another, possibly about their anger at the hordes of invaders suddenly living on their property, sitting around the campfire and laughing. Tree frogs burble loudly above while bullfrogs and ducks chatter away in the water below. There is little chance of slumber for a light sleeper like me, until I take a swig of Codeine and force a pair of spongy little plugs into my ear canals. Most of the big sounds are gone, and all I can hear is the faint quacking of those damn Aflac ducks off somewhere in the distance. Still, sleep becomes reality.

This morning, after a full eight uninterrupted hours of sleep, I found out just how good those earplugs and Codeine worked. It turns out that at some point late into the night, a neighbor's hunting dog had gotten loose from its home and found its way to my cousin's property. Imagine the anticipatory excitement this trained bird dog felt upon finding a flock of slow and not particularly intelligent ducks just sitting there like, well, like sitting ducks. Apparently it chased after them, thrashing about in the pond on the chase all while my cousins, still drinking around the campfire, screamed and threatened the dog with bodily harm for rushing the ducks. Finally the dog was subdued, before it could do any permanent damage and eat a duck before my cousins got to. But then this morning, just hours after that while I snoozed in my tent, the noisy ducks were innocently swimming around their home, their pond, when suddenly one was grabbed and pulled underwater, not unlike a surfer on the ocean when a shark takes a bite. The ducks went crazy when their brother, or maybe it was their sister, was violently pulled from their close flock and dragged under the dank water by a hungry snapping turtle! Apparently the turtle, about the size of a toilet seat cover, found the bird would be a juicy little breakfast and went for its leg under the water. The ducks made a huge ruckus, capturing the attention of my cousins who screamed at the turtle to let go. Snapping turtles are notoriously mean and tough and difficult to mess with, so nobody was excited to try to fight it on its own turf. But finally, after pulling the duck under on and off for several minutes, someone grabbed a kayak paddle and beat the turtle with it, all the while folks yelling and the ducks going crazy with fear. The snapping turtle surprisingly relented after taking quite a shell beating from that paddle. The duck survived, though with a pronounced limp, and returned to its flock to continue swimming around and making noise and keeping campers awake.

All of this occurred mere feet from me, and I never heard a thing. I slept like a rock through it all and couldn't believe it when I heard the stories this morning. Now all I need to do is find myself an Elvis doctor who will prescribe me Codeine on demand and sleep shall no longer be my nemesis. Any chance there's an unscrupulous doctor reading this?