Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Little Pink Notebook

For Christmas, my mother filled my "stocking" with all sorts of goodies.  One of said goodies was a two-pack of those darling little moleskin notebooks in the most lovely shades of pink.  I decided that I would carry one with me at all times.  You know, for when inspiration strikes, whether it be inspiration for a new blog entry or inspiration via a particularly compelling Cabernet.  I need to write things down as I think of them.  I just don't remember things.  (And no, this isn't another one of those "I'm getting old" postings.  I just genuinely cannot remember things if I do not write them down.)

This was one thing I jotted down in my notebook the other day: "Life of the Fabulously Awkward."  Strange?  Well, you'll notice that I changed the name of my blog.  I was inspired.  By my newest friend, a sassy and smart 25-year-old, we'll just call her Ms. Sass.  She makes me laugh on a regular basis.  Our latest source of hysteria, aside from the plethora of crap we recently discovered underneath my computer cart leftover from my office's former inhabitant, is describing awkward encounters.  You see, she finds it more hilarious when I have awkward moments.  She would.  Me?  I prefer hers.  Naturally.

I was describing an incident enfolding in which I had "met" a coworker that I had actually met before.  You see, she was a friend of a friend and we'd met at dinner a few times perhaps two years ago and commiserated about our lives as lawyers and how much we disliked our particular jobs.  We'd exchanged business cards.  Well, when I met this individual at my new job (what are the odds?), it became readily apparent that she did not have any recollection of meeting me.  The horror.  I am just narcissistic enough that this made me feel small for a moment.  Then I remembered that I'm not as important to everyone else as I am in my own mind.  Oh look, I AM a narcissist.  Ha.  But let's proceed onward with this particular awkward tale.  There was not really an appropriate time at that moment for me to say, "We've actually met."  There wasn't much time after that either.  So my decision was to wait awhile, then bring it up, say over drinks or when we'd been working together for awhile.  Turn it into a funny tale, make her laugh, make her feel a bit awkward for not remembering me.  I had a plan.

Unfortunately, like so much of life, my plan did not work out as expected.  She walked into my office the other day and hands me my old business card.  And yep, I felt completely awkward.  My face flushed, betraying my desire to remain cool and collected.  Awkward moments ensued, including me owning up to the prior conversation and my inability to find the right time to bring up the fact that we had, in fact, met before.  After I explained this to Ms. Sass, she was in complete fits of giggles.  She decided that my life was, in fact, more awkward than hers.  She's probably right.

While I will love the birds in all their decorating glory and for their symbolism in how this blog initially began, my blog will now reflect my life, a journey of food, friends and awkward moments, all recorded in my little pink notebook.  But only fabulously awkward moments.  I am a narcissist, after all.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Working out during Restaurant Week is like mitigating damages, right?

In addition to this week being a week of gluttony for myself and my boyfriend, thankyouverymuch, Restaurant Week, I have resumed a more regular workout plan.  Brutal.  But necessary.  As I have learned in my work as an attorney, mitigation of damages tends to be a good thing.  So to the gym I send myself.

Day two of our reservations: Lockwood Restaurant & Bar, a lovely spot in the Palmer House Hilton.  We made this reservation because it was one of the spots recommended by the Chicago Tribune's food critic.  Phil Vettel says, "Any excuse to eat Phillip Foss' food is a good one."  He's a pretty smart guy and I love reading his restaurant reviews, so we booked it.

My knowledge of the Palmer House Hilton was limited to knowing that my former boss used to stay there until he had a fit about the express lane one day.  Walking into the ornate lobby, I can see why he loved it.  It's a gorgeous hotel, apparently the presidential choice since Ulysses S. Grant, according to their website.  The restaurant, located on the opposite end of the building from the lobby is no exception.  The lighting is lovely, decor romantic with a pretty careful balance between modern and classical.    

As we sipped the lovely unoaked chardonnay recommended by our server, Sam, my favorite dining companion and I got into a conversation about how we would like to be able to just talk about chef's like Phil Vettel does.  I agreed.  I mean, how marvelous would it be to just casually say, "Yeah, we're a fan of Phillip Foss' food" and really know what that meant.  At this stage, we have one friend who is a chef, a sous chef, nonetheless, and a newly thriving French restaurant in Evanston, who has amazed us with his creations and we know is French-inspired.  But other than that, we rely on our own research.  Namely, we eat their food.

So, my experience with Phillip Foss' food?  Simple.  Prepared well.  Rather than sauces, the food is accentuated and enhanced by complementing flavors.  A roast chicken, skin on, atop a bed of compressed jerusalem artichoke and wild mushrooms that melted in my mouth is a good example.  Rather than covered in a rich and creamy sauce (which I do love, don't get me wrong), you taste the lovely flavors of the chicken and the herbs in which it was prepared.

And the butter.  Oh, the butter served at Lockwood with the warm, fresh-baked rolls.  Organic.  Salty.  Creamy.  Just marvelous.  I even requested another roll to help me put more of that delectable butter into my body.  I should be ashamed, right.  Honestly, with the love affair I am starting with the butter on my tables, I don't know how the treadmill can save me and keep me in my skinny jeans.  My strategy?  Keep on truckin'.  Both in the gym and with the eating.  Cuz a girl's gotta eat, right?  She just should make sure that those damages (aka fat cells) are put in check.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So, I ate at Hooters during Restaurant Week.

I had two really down and out days after our first fabulous meal of Restaurant Week at David Burke's Primehouse.  Two days with no fabulous prix fixe dinners; I now know how those who live in rural areas live.  I kid, I kid.  Living like a high roller for a week hasn't deluded my entire perception of reality, I swear.  To prove it to you, I will admit this: I ate at Hooters last night.

::::Pause for dramatic effect::::

In my defense, it was for the kids: 

2010 continued an effort on behalf of Hooters, Inc. to work with Holy Family Lutheran School in their tuition assistance program.  One third of all wings sales went to the school.  So we ate wings.  Just wings.  Oh, and cheese fries.  At Hooters.  During restaurant week.  I shouldn't be ashamed, it was for a good cause, and I did my best to eat my body weight in wings.  The jalapeno cheese sauce on the fries was pretty tasty as well.  Did I mention that they were CURLY fries?  Well, they were, which makes them better.

So, I guess I did have three "courses."  Course one: "Big Daddy" Miller Lite on draft.  (What, it was on sale and in a frosty mug!  Who can say no to that?!)  Course two: Curly fries with an au jus of cheese sauce.  Course three: Wings.  Lots of wings.  (And for dessert, an antacid.  This getting older stuff is for the birds.)

Tonight I go back to my fancy-schmancy dining: Lockwood is on tap, the restaurant in the Palmer House Hilton.  Too bad one-third of our money spent on Restaurant Week doesn't go to the children.  I have a feeling they'd make a lot more money.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Restaurant Week, Part One: David Burke's Primehouse

Unfortunately, or perhaps it is rather fortunate given my chosen lifestyle, I received my tax refund on the same day my boyfriend says to me, "Have you looked at any of the 'Restaurant Week' menus? A lot look very good."

Restaurant Week 2010, on its third year in Chicago, boasts over 170 restaurants, all featuring some variety of the prix fixe menu, a favorite among the budget-conscious, or those who just may like their options narrowed down for them. For dinner, $32 will get you a three-course meal including a starter, an entree, and dessert. Sign. Me. Up. Well, as I mentioned before, my boyfriend and I received our tax refunds on the same day, had a brief conversation about the restaurants, at which point I went a little crazy and just started booking reservations. We ended up with four reservations.

In typical "Amanda" fashion, I chose to pore over the menus before heading out: drinks and restaurant week menu. I had decided beforehand that in addition to learning to eat runnier yolks this year (a task not to be explored at DB's, but elsewhere), I was going to learn to drink a more classic cocktail. A perusal of their cocktail menu had me fixated on the "Tickled Gibson" which is essentially an icy triangle glass of good vodka (in this case, Chopin) garnished with picked onions, or as the menu boasts "housemade pickled red tropea." Well, I like onions. And I like pickles. And generally, I like vodka. Granted, I usually opt for a little soda with the liquor, but I was ready to branch out. Another twenty minutes looking at the menu ahead of time, and I was set.

The scene of the evening started out rather poorly. Chicago was once again being hit with another snow storm, this one consisting of wet and heavy snow that was more like icy little drops of rain. But my man and I refuse to cancel our plans. We'd never leave if we chose bailed every time the weather got nasty. So we bundled up and trekked off the bus stop. (I always feel a little odd taking the bus out when we are going to drop money on dinner. However, unless it is very late, it is a great way to "pinch pennies" when your pennies are going elsewhere, like on $14 cocktails.)

On time to the restaurant, we were seated immediately (point one, DB's!) in the warm dining room that was abuzz with activity. Excited diners, mostly young people, and bustling servers. We were sat in a cozy booth (my favorite) and tucked in for what we hoped to be a promising meal.

Our server approached us, young, enthusiastic, and with the most gorgeous curly blonde hair tucked back into a pony tail, and explained the restaurant week menu and that we were able to upgrade to their full steaks for an additional surcharge. At this point, I was ready for my "grown-up" cocktail and ordered my Gibson. For my favorite date, a Gin Gimlet (oh, James Bond would be proud.) The verdict on my cocktail? Two (pickled) thumbs up. Yes, it was a glass of icy vodka. But it was tasty. And I could pop those onions all day long. Yum. But the man's Gimlet was incredible, made with Hendrick's Gin, a cucumber and rose-petal infused gin, lime juice and a slice of cucumber. At the first sip of his cocktail, I decided that this would be the drink I would drink if I was able to retire rich and lounge poolside all day. Incredible.

Our meals were superb, I likely will go into more details via yelp review at a later time. Suffice it to say, the Delmonico steak (the center cut of a ribeye) at seven ounces was sized perfectly for my dainty lady stomach (ha!) and the lobster bisque was incredible. Service was marvelous, and the evening went off without a hitch. Granted, we spent $50 on drinks (in addition to our prix fixe menu), but we agreed it was worth every penny.

Yes, our refunded tax dollars maybe better put to use at our present debt. But as my boyfriend noted to me as we left last night: "This is what I love about not having kids and not living in the suburbs." Me too. For now, I will be a bit selfish, I will eat brilliantly, and drink even better. Hey, Restaurant Week is one week a year. And for that week, I will eat like it's my job and have the funds to pay for it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Modern Art

Attending a liberal arts college (and then a Jesuit university) meant that I took a certain amount of "liberal arts" classes. One of those classes to fulfill the liberal arts requirement was Art History. I signed up for the class fully expecting it to be beyond boring. I was very pleasantly surprised when I enjoyed the class. It helped me obtain a much deeper appreciation of art. When I walked into the Galleria dell'Academia in Florence (or Firenze, for those Italians amongst us), my breath was taken away. Not only did the David appear to me as the the magnificent piece that no Art History text could ever accurately describe, the variety of Michaelangelo's partially completed sculptures out on display made me believe that Michaelangelo had been liberating his subject from the marble. I fell so much in love with Monet and the Impressionist era that I purchased a Impressionistic-style painting from a street artist in front of the Duomo in Florence. The artist promised to me that had studied at the Academy, and I believed it.

Unfortunately, my memories of that class and the knowledge that I so much enjoyed at the time has faded to a mere glimmer. I do recall my professor explaining how the Art Institute of Chicago used to have a suggested donation of eight dollars, a suggestion at which my art history professor would scoff and toss in a quarter as a lowly art student. I also recall the correct pronunciations of the artists' names, for the most part. And of course, my heart still loved the Impressionist era. But as for matching paintings, sculpture and architecture to its appropriate artist and era? My skills are gone.

Lucky for me, despite the fact that the Art Institute of Chicago now costs a whopping $18.00 per person (love the modern wing, but wowza, that's hefty), the entire month of February is free. Huzzah! What better way to spend a state holiday off from work, than to take in the culture of a truly world class museum, right?

Of course, as I mentioned above, much of my knowledge about art and its creators has dissipated over the years. I do recall the basics, and I remember my favorites, which would explain how we ended up making a beeline for that section. Additionally, I remembered certain things as we leisurely walked among the temperature-controlled rooms. But mostly, I took it all in. I continue to be grateful that I live in such a marvelous city houses museums with such priceless artifacts. And, like any child of my generation, I was reminded of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, specifically the scene where Cameron tells Ferris that he hasn't seen anything good today, and Ferris responds that they looked at priceless works of art. Me too, I thought as I took in the fact that I could see certain brush strokes on the canvas, knowing that these masterpieces, such as Seurat's Afternoon on La Grand Jatte were painted hundreds of years ago.

Of course, modern art has emerged more as a statement than its subtler ancestors. The Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, designed by the renowned architect Renzo Piano (a name I recall only because of his last name), is relatively new. Of course, the structure of this new space is art in and of itself. It houses Jackson Pollack pieces, one of the abstract expressionists that I admire and can appreciate, and that I recall seeing in my younger visits pre-Modern Wing.

But there are new pieces such as the one I posted here. Note the wallpaper with a sleeping man, a depiction of a lynching, an empty wedding gown, and the bag of cat litter. This all, taken together, according to artist Robert Gober, means something. My question, as I attempted to make sense (before I read his explanation) was....Whaaaa? To me? Makes no sense. Of course, I believe that modern art, such as this, means more to the artist creating it rather than to the casual fan such as myself. Gober intended the repeating images, one disturbing, to reflect the past of our nation. The wedding dress, empty for a reason, represented something else. And the cat litter? Well, we all know it absorbs the bad, and there was some reference to diapers that I just basically stopped following. I know, whaaaaa?

Clearly, art today has as much to do with artist's expression as it does with the final result. However, everyone knows about one of Michaelangelo's greatest pieces, the Last Judgment, located in the Sistine Chapel. Most know that he was commissioned for this work by the Pope. A refresher look at my old Art History text reminds me that Michaelangelo, ever the tortured artist, unexpectedly depicted himself in this masterpiece. Michaelangelo painted himself as the face of the empty skin dangling from the Apostle's left hand, the face stretched to reflect his torment. Expression was there back then as well.

Of course, I can never imagine Michaelangelo using cat litter. But who knows. Had cat litter existed in the 1500s, perhaps Michaelangelo could have used it to represent the absorption of his guilt. You never know.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Decisions, decisions

I think everyone in his or her life has a difficult time. You know, the time where you made bad decisions. Maybe you hurt someone. You most certainly hurt yourself in some sense of the word hurt. I, like most others, went through such a period.

In 2005, I graduated from law school. It was the last hurdle in what had been a long-standing dream of mine to become a lawyer. Well, the last educational hurdle. There was the pesky bar exam. Now that was the last hurdle. Oh wait, I had to find a job. You see where I am going with this. I finished law school and felt, for the first time, lost. I had to study to pass the bar exam. I had no job. I would have to pay back this exorbitant amount of money that I borrowed in order to realize my dream. My reaction to this stressful time in my life? Make bad decisions. So I did. I now refer to 2005 as my "year of bad decisions."

Some of them didn’t have long-lasting ramifications past the next day hangover. Some did. One stuck around til mid-2008. However, most people, myself included, begin to see how bad decisions affect their lives. Some may just get tired of living a life of constant apologies. Some may have near-death experiences. And some, like me, just have a sudden moment of clarity. My particular moment was on a hot July night in 2008. I’d spent the evening with good friends and wine. I came home to what I’ll refer to as "my ultimate bad decision." His reaction? Blowing up in typical fashion. Mine? Clarity, followed by a firm decision to end things. I was done. I was taking my life back. No longer would I allow this bad decision to rule my life. Oh yeah, I was tired of apologizing too.

In all honesty, we learn and grow from that tough period. We gain wisdom. We usually become better people. We also learn that, unfortunately, there are casualties of these bad decisions usually in the form of friendships or other relationships. These types of break-ups stem from people who just cannot see you past your mistakes. And truthfully, perhaps these casualties are not so unfortunate. It is through the difficult times when you realize who you truly are, and more importantly the type of person you strive to be. If a friend can’t last past this period of self-discovery, then so be it. It’s her decision, not yours, and one with which you should not burden yourself. So they become part of the past. Ghosts, if you will.

So you let go. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Understand that forgiving yourself is crucial, not making others forgive you. See the error of your ways. Embrace those who are still by your side, and be grateful that you have met those people along the way. If the ghosts come back to haunt you, beware. You are a different person today than you were when you met them. It is possible that there is a place in your life, but likely not.

So, here I am today. I don’t always make the right decision, as last weekend’s hangover suggests, but I make the right one more times than not. I am learning to forgive myself for my mistakes. Most importantly, I try to tell the people in my life how much they mean to me, and how grateful I am for their support. And the ghosts that reappear? I recommend shooing. Or hitting the ignore button on facebook. Works for me.