Monday, January 18, 2010

New cooker in the hooooouseee...

I grew up in a semi-small town in Illinois. In my humble opinion, it truly is the heart of the midwest. Corn fields nearby. People had decent-sized yards. And, most significantly, we had corresponding family values. We always ate dinner together as a family at our kitchen table. Perhaps my family embraced the "midwesterner" identity more than others. My friends would all laugh and think it was funny when I had to be home by 5:30 p.m. so I could eat dinner with the fam. But I did it. It was the rule.

I also come from a family of planners. For example, my dad would write out the grocery list each week. To take it a step further, he would itemize the list by where the item was in the grocery store. (Truly, my father is the most efficient man I have ever met.) Going along with that planning was the retention of a meat man and a large freezer for the basement. Oh yes, my parents bought meat from a meat man. Therefore most days, one of my parents would take the selected meat from the basement freezer and put it in the sink to thaw for dinner that night. We ate a lot of hamburgers and pork chops.

In addition to the "meat with a veggie" option, we also did casseroles. Hamburger casserole and tuna noodle casserole are two that come to mind. If it came in a casserole dish, we were likely to eat it. I wonder how many cans of cream of mushroom soup my family went through each year. Oh, and we either drank Koolaid or milk with dinner. Two percent milk. None of that sissy skim milk.*

So, as I grow into an adult (shudder), I am learning to cook. My mother was capable of doing nearly anything in the kitchen. I wanted to be able to do the same. Granted, by the time my mom was my age, she had two small children and had to cook for a "family." Me? I'm a career woman. It was by choice, yes, but my decisions to go to school for what seemed like a million years created some sort of deficiency in my brain toward any sort of culinary ability. In addition to that, I became very good friends with someone whose job it seemed was to go out to eat all the time. A busy job plus lots of dinners out meant I didn't use my kitchen.

Well, that busy job started to stress me out. I wasn't sleeping well. I seemed to catch a lot of colds. And one day I had the predictable cold symptoms. My head felt like it was going to explode and I couldn't stop blowing my nose. The one thing that always made me feel better was my mom's homemade chicken soup. So, despite getting home from work at a late hour, I set to chopping. Carrots, celery and onions. I poached a couple of chicken breasts. I put it all in a pot, threw some bouillon in and let it set. While the soup didn't quite seem to heal me as my mother's had in the past, I noticed something: all that chopping, the business in the kitchen? It made me feel better. Rather than stress about the pile of files I had left on my desk for the day, I was focused on the task at hand.

So, I took it upon myself to start cooking a bit more. Experimenting. I had a boyfriend who was willing and ready to sample my culinary experiments. I had all this "restaurant experience" (meaning, eating at them) to pretend I knew what I was doing. My best friend in Florida would tell me all these tales about the fabulous meals she would create. It was official. I was going to start cooking.

Don't get me wrong, I have no aspirations aside from pleasing those for whom I cook. I undertook the risky task of making Christmas dinner for six when my parents were in town. I went to the meat market, printed out recipes, the works. But when my mother took a bite of my beef tenderloin (with a pinot noir reduction sauce) and said "It melts in the mouth like butter," I knew I had to continue working at this new craft. She liked it! In fact, everyone liked it.

So I forge on. I still make the requisite panicky calls to my mom if things don't go quite right. Yet I have a growing level of confidence in my abilities in the kitchen. I made a wicked good ham and potato soup this past weekend and wasn't all that surprised when my boyfriend loved it. So, here I am. A budding woman in the kitchen. A career woman who likes to cook. I dig.

*It must be said that this blog is not intended to make fun of my family. Far from it. I am so very grateful for our family dinners. Furthermore, if I had the space (and the room in my budget for a ridiculous electrical budget), I'd be all over my own meat man (Olympic Meat Packers, I'm looking at you!) and planning my meals. But I'm going to stick with the skim milk.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Drive-by or fireworks? You decide.

I have lived in Chicago since 2000, the year I first moved to Rogers Park to go to college (at Loyola...go Ramblers).

I lived in Rogers Park for two years, then moved to Wilmette for a year, then moved to home for over four years. From Lakeview, I moved up to Lincoln Square for two years (cockroaches and all) and finally, I am in the Ukrainian Village. In any event, I have lived in the Chicago and its areas for ten years now.

This past Friday night, I witnessed my first attempted drive-by. I think. My boyfriend and I were in my kitchen taking a break from our marathon Lost weekend. I was making popcorn and he was keeping me company. We were talking about our friends, and boyfriend said, "Yeah, they think if they move outside of Lincoln Park they will get shot." No sooner were those words out of his mouth when we heard five loud pops. Right in front of my building.

I peeked out the shades and saw a white jeep driving south on my street, the driver side door partially ajar and being shut. Boyfriend and I looked at each other wordlessly, then shut the lights off to get a better look at the darkened street. A brief discussion as to whether we heard gunshots or firecrackers, the more typical culprit of loud bangs we hear, and he decided to go downstairs.

So he threw his shoes on and went downstairs to make sure that there was no one laying there bleeding on the sidewalk. He also did a "casing of the perimeter." You know, to look for shell cases. Evidence. I know we are both lawyers (in civil practice) but hey, we know things. And shell casings are left behind. Right?

Within five minutes, two cop cars went peeling down my street. Then another police SUV drove the wrong way down my street. One of the cop cars paused and asked a guy walking to his car, "Are you alright?" He just nodded.

We were kind of shook up after this happened. I sort of burned the popcorn, and we didn't resume our Lost-watching for a bit. Of course, the discussion continued on as to whether they were actually gunshots we heard.

We recovered no evidence in our search. That should be very highly significant given that we are excellent "evidence-finders." Jury is still out. But I am relatively certain that gunshots rang out. Right in front of my building. I would be lying if I said that it didn't creep me out. That being said, I feel like I got a bit of street cred now. Right?

My guess is jury is still out on that one too.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Embarking on a new decade

A childhood friend asked me recently, "What sorts of things do you want to do this year, our last year of our 20s, to make it memorable?" To be honest, the question took me aback. Not the fact that she asked me this question, which is, admittedly, a fair question, but the fact that I just had no real answer for her.

So here I go. What sorts of things can I do to make this year memorable in my last ten or so months of being in my twenties?

Five years ago, had someone asked me, "What do you want to accomplish by the time you're thirty?" I would have answered: Own my own condo. Be married.

I chuckle now at those goals. A mixture of naivety and lack of awareness, they were honest answers at the time, and goals that I believed I could fulfill. Unfortunately, there were certain conditions precedent that did not occur. I did not get a high-paying job right out of law school. Oh, and those loans to go to law school? I quickly discovered that I really did have to pay them back. And the marriage thing? Got that one wrong too. Turns out you should date someone that you really can imagine making you happy "'til death do us part."

It is not surprising that shortly after graduating law school, I quit making new years resolutions. Given my sad state of affairs on my "before thirty goals," I just was tired of feeling like a failure. Of course, I still look at the new year and hope that I will lose ten pounds (actually, more like twenty pounds this year). I still hope that I will budget better and save more money. However, those five or so years since I graduated law school, I have wised up. Resolutions aren't the way to go. Self-awareness is where it's at.

Therefore, it is on the third of January (and the eve of starting a new job) that I take stock at where I am in my life. I have made what I believe to be a terrific career move in quitting my private practice career and moving into the government sector. I am dating someone who makes me laugh and feel beautiful on a daily basis. I have family that might be far away, but I know they are always there when I need them. I have friends that truly are out-of-this-world fabulous.

So, in looking at 2010, the year I turn thirty, I vow to accomplish this: Be grateful every day for my life and know that no matter what life throws at me, I will learn something, and use it to be a better person.

And maybe lose ten pounds before the big 3-0 strikes. Hey, I'm only human.