" That's just the sort of blinkered, Philistine Pig ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative garbage!"

John Cleese

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Church Cookbook Weekly

Welcome Back!

It's been a week since we launched what I'm sure will be the next Internet sensation, something on par with Natalie Portman's "I'm A Vegan Now!" declaration in HuffPost (natch) earlier this week (new SNC coming soon).

Much like a super-sized TV premiere, to kick off the first edition of CCW, we have TWO recipes from The Book that promise to illuminate the mind and dazzle the senses.

Yes. Two concoctions. First up, the headliner:
Popcorn Salad

Best made the day before

6 c. popped popcorn (without butter)
1 c. chopped celery
1 bunch chopped green onions
6-7 strips bacon, fried and crumbled
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. Miracle Whip

Mix all together. No one will guess there is popcorn in it and it is very good.
In small towns, you hold your good recipes close to the vest. The good ones are part of you, part of your personality, part of who you are in relation to the town. Mrs. Chadwick down the street may be a hard-working housewife with two bland kids and a husband who ignores her in the exact same way Mrs. Jones is two streets over but have you had her beef stroganoff? It's heaven!

Church cookbook entries, then, become a strategic game. Give a little but never much. Sometimes - like in the case of Popcorn Salad, I'm guessing - it's a big fuck you to the church cookbook organizer over some long-forgotten slight, something like forgetting to say goodbye after the 4th grade Christmas pageant in 1984 ("the least she coulda done is say goodbye. I even brought her a pie last month when Jim was sick and she barely said thank you for that!")

So you get something like this (click on picture to make it really ugly):

I like popcorn, bacon, mayo, cheese and onions. I also like tuna and peanut butter but that doesn't mean they should be eaten together (wait...........nope).

Growing up, I don't recall eating this or even seeing it. I do recall seeing the same effort put forth at various functions. It's akin to the person who brought a boxed pasta salad mixture, the kind of effort that says I'm putting forth no effort at all. My individual contribution to this gathering says everything I want to say about the impetus, invitation and odd collection of people gathered here today.

The Internet is awash in Popcorn Salad recipes. Check the search and go to the fifth one down. "A great way to get your kids to eat healthy?" Really? Throw a few carrots into it and it's healthy?

Eating it is like putting mayo, melted cheese and bacon fat in a blender and drinking it. Vile? No. Ridiculous? Yes, most definitely. And you know popcorn is in it contrary to the recipe description. You know it's there and you ask, "WTF?" I didn't dare try it the day after. Mrs. Ney did and promptly spit it out.

Ultimate Setting: End-of-the-year fresh-soph baseball party

Brought By: Mother whose kid didn't play (unfairly in her mind)

Drink Pairing: Mark IV Black Cherry Cola

I had eight bites of Popcorn Salad and it was not very good, unlike the recipe's iron-clad satisfaction guarantee.

I had only one bite of our next entry.

It's called "Dessert," just...Dessert. It goes by alternate names on the Internet, one called it "Fruit Magic," which I enjoyed immensely.

From The Book:

9x13 pan
Spread evenly in pan:
1 - 15 oz. can of crushed pineapple
1 can cherry pie filling spread over the pineapple layer
1 box of yellow cake mix, dry, sprinkle over the fruit mixture

Sprinkle 1 c. of chopped nuts over the cake mix. Cut 2 sticks of oleo into bits and pieces over the top of all. Bake 40 minutes at 350. Can be topped with whipped topping or ice cream to serve.
A disclaimer. We substituted coconut for chopped nuts due to the $10 recipe rule. We found this to be a reasonable substitution, knowing there would be a textural difference but it wouldn't dramatically affect how the ingredients interacted with each other.

The sugar levels would be the same and the salt level wouldn't be altered since the nuts weren't listed as "salted."

In small towns, people have certain assignments corresponding with every scheduled get-together throughout the year. Thanksgiving means Margie's sister brings green bean casserole with canned fried onions. Fourth of July means Dan dusts off his chef's hat and makes his famous potato salad, one of two times in the year Dan touches kitchen utensils, the other being for his famous venison chili to celebrate the end of deer season.

Other times, hastily thrown-together events take place, like Eric's first Communion that just happens to coincide with a pretty important Bears game late in the year and the vital families were already getting together anyway.

Announced on the Friday before, haphazard food preparations are the only ones on the menu and recipes like Dessert slip into the fold. So much time was spent trying to get the main dishes, the idea of dessert falls by the wayside and you end up with Dessert.

The evidence (click on picture for full effect):

Taking a bite, you can't find a discernible difference between the yellow cake mix and the pineapple, there's no salt to separate the flavors and the whole thing collapsed onto itself into a big, sugary glop. Speaking of that, it's not an immediate sugar rush. It's an immediate high-fructose corn syrup rush, the kind that makes your mind race instead of just being oddly alert.

If blindfolded, I couldn't have told you any of the ingredients. Wait, that's not true. I could have told you there was a cake dipped into a glass of water element with a hint of a dirty dishrag quality and something that might have been cherries at some point in the space-time continuum.

A friend of ours got a piece, served it with ice cream and loved it, a guy whose food choices that will become evident in the drink pairing.

Vile? Yes. Ridiculous? Yes. Is it food? No, not even close. It's not even a good vehicle for sugar. One bite and I couldn't get the chemical taste out of my mouth for three hours.

Ultimate Setting: First Communion/Bears Game

Brought By: Host Who Forgot To Make Dessert

Drink Pairing: Myer's Dark Rum and Tab

Next Up: Our first one-dish meal at CCW, Hamburger Casserole that contains a can of cream of chicken soup and a can of cheese soup with frozen hash browns and two cups of sour cream.

Time to butch up, arteries. Gotta game to play.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This Is Brad Rogers

He's #38.

Get to know him because Adam Robinson is lost for the year.

With Wegher's bad hand and bad ribs, we will know the peculiar stylings of Brad Rogers very soon. He travelled last week and was on the sidelines when Robinson went down.

Thank all that is holy Indiana and Northwestern are the next two games and at home.

Because this could get very interesting.

P.S. - At 5'8", 225...God Dang!

Reports From the Sticks...

I officially live in Bumpkinville...Last night the dog was sprayed by a skunk in our backyard. It's always fun at 10:15 at night to be giving your dog a tomato juice bath. It actually worked.
Seriously, a fucking skunk.
Ok, I admit it. I had no idea Skip Bayless was Rick Bayless' brother. No clue. Now, Rick seems like a pleasant enough guy. Skip? Good god what a jack ass. I am completely convinced if someone told Skip that the sky was blue he would say it was pink and then p-shaw your insistence upon it by simply looking at the sky.
Skip is part of Unemployment Theater as he is on a godawful waste of time-yet I watch it- show called "First Take"...It's essentially sports for gnat brains. You get plenty of Patriots and Cowboys news though...
I don't know what side to take on the whole Deadspin-ESPN kerfuffle. On one hand, I love taking the WWL down a peg. But Deadspin's publishing of rumors and "I know a guy who knows.." reeks of playground powtiness.
I have some issues with Deadspin anyway..I enjoy it but it really isn't a sports site of any kind. There's really no analysis to speak of and it's just sort of a snarky rag. ESPN at least, attempts to analyze. Yes, it's 90% biased but at least it's an attempt.
Speaking of ESPN, I just want to say that USC LOST TO WASHINGTON!! Did you guys forget about this? You also don't get the championship because you are fast. I'm looking at you Colin Cowherd.
I like Dan Bernstein but his smugness is getting a bit much. Yesterday he was pretty petulant about Cutler.
Bernstein is a guy that I would be friends with and could be great company most of the time but then will occasionally come across as a know it all ass at some party and then you have to act like you don't know him.
I have rewatched the final drive of Saturday's game 8 times now.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Moronic Monday

Anybody see Shone Greene highlights yesterday?

Two things I'm almost glad about: I watched the Michigan State game after knowing the outcome (my nerves would have been shot) and Greene isn't on this Iowa team.

If Greene stayed, my nerves would be shot every second for the next month with starry-eyed National Championship dreaming. That would be a team where thoughts jettison themselves out of the one-game-at-a-time and see what happens realm and into full-fledged sports meatball silliness. And I'd be right there...in full meatball mode...100%...for an entire month.

Some quick Michigan State thoughts.

1. Ballard had his best game as a defensive tackle. After moving in, it seemed like he's been figuring out how to make moves in tight space as opposed to simply relying on the bull-run and swim. I think he has. Not one senior on that defensive line, fellas.

2. The receiving corps isn't dropping balls, relatively speaking. Stanzi took over halfway through last year and the receivers are finally locking in on Stanzi's particular ball-throw and tendencies.

3. I'd like to thank Michigan State for abandoning what worked for 3 3/4 quarters and rushing three on the last drive.

4. And I'd like to thank Rucker for so obviously playing the fade and McNutt recognizing it so well. It's odd that Rucker wouldn't understand that Iowa tried the fade multiple times in the game, at least hedge his bets both ways, anticipate an Iowa adjustment and play straight-up but he completely showed his hand.

5. Iowa won without getting any breaks for the first time this year, on the road, against a good team. And not just relating to turnovers. Passing plays were just missed. Robinson just missed breaking a couple. Won without fortuitousness. They need some experience with that to keep this going.

6. Losing Richardson is a loss, but Vandervelde is not a dropoff. Again, it was the left side that offered little Saturday. The right side was fine. Bulaga is getting back to form but it seems like he's trying to overcompensate for the revolving door at left guard. I almost feel bad for Reiff as he's played three different positions in the last four games.

7. On that, O'Keefe didn't have a spectacular game. I don't understand why he continues to play toward the short field so much with the left-side line not producing and I don't see why that little drag/out pattern that got Sandeman killed does anything. Every play doesn't have to be vertical but with that play so absolutely horizontal, it accomplishes nothing. At least have your east-west plays begin to trend toward north-south. I don't envy O'Keefe for having to draw up a game plan for this offense. It's a serious work in progress. He did have issues with having the foresight to set up plays for later in the game, though. MSU's safeties were cheating all day and were never really kept honest. It felt like he simply stumbled into the Rucker thing.

8. The hook and ladder was really close to being a pick by the Michigan State receiver but Angerer simply blew the coverage and Conklin completely over-pursued. Brett Greenwood better be back soon. Conklin looks like a wet puppy out there. And Move. Cato. Over!

9. On the Michigan State touchdown, Edds quit too early on his coverage. It was Sash's deep zone but with the end zone that close, it was inexplicable why he stopped that early.

10. Wegher fumbled that. Okay, one break.

Back Soon

The Suburban Office of the BRE was inundated with wild skunks last week and, therefore, priorities shifted.
Back at it tomorrow....

Oh, and if I wasn't an Iowa fan I would HATE them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Church Cookbook Weekly


It's good to have you with us today for the inaugural edition of Church Cookbook Weekly.

As the anticipation for our little venture has been building for months due to our wildly successful viral campaign, people in the media have begun to compare our potential to the Droid destroying the iPhone.

I can't say we will be bigger than Top Chef or Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking. I can only say that we merely strive to destroy any and all comers. Molecular gastronomy? Pffft! Slow Food? Piffle! Robuchon? Hack! El Bulli? McDonald's with a hostess!

For the uninitiated, the impetus of this brilliant venture comes from the 50th anniversary cookbook edition of my childhood church, a work of staggering depth and heartbreaking genius.

I say this because never in the history of man has every one of the recipes that I grew up with been collected in one bounded place, something that immediately transports me back to the halcyon days of childhood and sends me mentally prancing through the fields of the salad days.

Since every copy of the four million originally printed is scrupulously guarded and never shared, Church Cookbook Weekly will be a rare glimpse into a world seldom seen.

The region I grew up in isn't like other places. It's vaguely German with sprinkles of Dutch, some Polish but mostly (and simply) Midwestern. In the Midwest, each area has its own unique cornucopia of historic ethnicities that inform the mix yet it morphs into something all its own.

Some other history that influences the food is that it's a pretty heavy union area. In the late 70s and 80s, strikes were commonplace and conversations regularly revolved around the next union contract dispute and speculation over the length of the next holdout. Holdouts there were and they went on for months. Cool Whip, Velvetta and Western dressing became the focus of hundreds of recipes.

Husbands worked long hours and wives raised big families, which demanded straightforward recipes with cheap ingredients. My hometown, also, was a satellite of a satellite of a major industrial area. It wasn't a poor area per se, just the definition of working class. Paychecks were bi-weekly, sometimes even monthly. Meals were planned well ahead, dried goods were the norm and canned fruits were the pizzaz. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was wasted.

It wasn't really on the way to bigger places as well so reading the cookbook is like taking a stroll through not only the supermarket shelves but the market dynamics of the area. It's a peek into the decisions made at the major Midwestern food distribution centers and where my little corner of the world sat on the totem pole.

As with much of America 25 years ago, food was just above sustenance. If the bacon on top of the meatloaf happened to have a bit of crisp and the edges weren't dry, that was a bonus, not really a prerequisite. The lime Jello and marshmallow concoction so ubiquitous at potlucks was called "Hawaiian Salad" because it had DelMonte canned pineapple in it.

Making a rhubarb pie from scratch and bringing it to social gatherings had the potential to elicit snickers over the elitism of it all. Clearly defined and unspoken rules outlining time and cost excepted to be expended were firmly in place. Psychologically, it was so very Protestant in conception. Some may have a bit more time and money than others but flouting it was tantamount to purposefully giving the middle finger to the social fabric of the entire community.

And speaking of middle fingers, Church Cookbook Weekly is NOT one to the people and food I grew up on. Quite the contrary. And it is NOT something that pokes fun at the quaintness of it all.

It's a celebration in so many ways. While some editions will be recipes grounded in the absolute ridiculous (like the first one), some will be foods that redefine "evocative." Like fine wine, some will take me on a ship through the sands of time, evoking banana seats, garden hoses, the smell of the Mississippi at dusk on a hot summer night and the wafting smoke of Swisher Sweets.

So...to get us through another Chicago winter, I will take a trip back in time through food. And write about it.

The rules: Can't cost more than $10 (reasonable substitutions will be made) and everything has to be available at Target and/or Aldi.

The inaugural recipe taken directly from The Book:
Popcorn Salad

Best made the day before

6 c. popped popcorn (without butter)
1 c. chopped celery
1 bunch chopped green onions
6-7 strips bacon, fried and crumbled
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. Miracle Whip

Mix all together. No one will guess there is popcorn in it and it is very good.
Reading certain recipes makes you think of possibilities. Like is this supposed to be refrigerated? Of course you do so but it doesn't say that. And what in all that is holy is this going to taste like? Celery, onions, bacon, cheese and Miracle Whip? And we're never going to know there is popcorn in it? What sort of congealed, mildly crunchy texture is this going to become the next day?

I can only venture to guess what this will rekindle. An obvious moment without tasting it first will be church basements after a Sunday baptism for someone only vaguely related to the family but demands attendance at one in the afternoon. An unfortunate feeling of missing out on NFL games casts a pall over the air with the taste of creamy onion bacon with some unknown other substance offering only a brief respite from my own melancholy. An eye is diligently kept on the family that typically starts the exodus, hoping they've run through all the obligatory social obligations on the docket for that week. "Watch the mom's coat," I say. "That's the key."

Or maybe it will be a flashback to doing the dishes as a kid where I'm asked to dump some unidentifiable, gelatinous mess into the garbage and the feeling of how unnaturally the smily goop completely emptied out of the casserole pan and into the trash.

But that's just it.

We're going to find out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shut Up! Shut Up! Shut Up!

NOT the umpires' fault, people.

Not. Angels world is in full-fledge meltdown mode right now. I've always said this world has the capacity to easily outshine any fanbase for sheer, unmitigated stupidity and it's currently on full display.

Yes. McClelland grooved on 0-2 fastball to A-Rod in the bottom of the ninth. McClelland made 67 fielding blunders in New York. McClelland thought he should throw to second in Game 2 to try to get an absolutely meaningless run in the bottom of the 13th. McClelland only produced five runs on 17 hits in the three losses.

I prepared myself. The Yankees are the better team. And yes, a $200 million payroll certainly informs that. If you have the money, you spend it. They're just better. The Yankees probably have six Hall of Famers on their roster. Angels? Maybe two. Maybe.

In true Bears' fan fashion ("Beating the Packers is more important than winning the Super Bowl!"), part of me is fine with just beating the Red Sox. Let's dump that idiotic baseball storyline and move onto new, more stupid ones. Like how the umpires ruined everything.

We have some experience with that here in Chicago.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ah, the Internets...

This kind of speaks for itself but it is pretty much proof that maybe the massive availability of technology isn't such a great thing. The 1:04 or so mark is absolutely fantastic.
In case you didn't know, Ohio State lost to Purdue Saturday in a bit of an upset....

Thanks to BHGP for posting this originally....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Fatuousness

Huffington Post has quite the following, me included. I check it out daily. It's popcorn news, kind of a one-stop-shop for all the hyper-updated stupidity in the world.

During the campaign, they were a bit of an internet zeitgeist. It was fun. Not top-shelf serious or something bursting at the seams with integrity but if you wanted to get the gist of the 58 things unworthy of true in-depth analysis that happened in the last few hours, HuffPost was a decent little place to get it.

Wanna know why Glenn Beck cried last night? HuffPost has it. Wanna know what Sarah Palin said to the grocery clerk? HuffPost has it. Wanna know what shirt Jon Gosselin wore to the Emmys? HuffPost has it. And let's not forget that Jessica Wakeman worked there. They paid her to, you know, write stuff.

But with the profusion...well...let's just say it...the copying of the business model by oodles of people with more to come, HuffPost has morphed into Arianna Huffington's bully pulpit with the sole purpose of promoting itself...with Glenn Beck and Jon Gosselin updates. It was inevitable. That foundation was just teeming with sand.

What the point? Well, Arianna Huffington was scheduled to go on MSNBC's The Ed Show (or something) last night and talk about her recent piece in HuffPost that called for Biden to resign over his opposition to any escalation in Afghanistan on principle. It's a dippy piece right in line with the usual internet extrapolation coupled with pie-in-the-sky ideals.

Then Balloon Boy happened right as she was about to go on the air, bumping her talking point on a show that probably gets outdrawn by Cooking For Real or House Hunters. Screw it! Arianna's gonna give cable news in general a stern talking-to about their ridiculous voyeurism and what it means for a news organization to have some integrity.

Which brings me to what I learned from HuffPost today:

1. Arianna challenges Balloon Boy story

2. Balloon Boy ALIVE (Video)

3. Fourth-Grader asks Obama, "Why Do People Hate You?"

4. Glenn Beck Cries AGAIN

5. January Jones Drinks Beer, Dons Leather (Shows Boobs In Accompanying Picture)

6. Best Balloon Boy Jokes: Pick Your Favorite

7. WATCH: Balloon Boy Throws Up On Today Show and GMA

8. Halle Berry And Padma Lakshmi Dare To Bare (Boobs)

9. Jon Gosselin SUED By TLC For Breach Of Contract

10. Meghan McCain Posts Scandalous Pic, Threatens To Quit (Boobs)

11. UNBELIEVABLE: The 9 Weirdest-Looking Animals You Didn't Know Existed

12. LIVING: The Slow Sex Revolution

13. Editorial: Media Blow Balloon Boy Story

14. Whoopi's New Show

15. Shauna's Shaw's SEX TAPE: Lorenzo Lamas's Ex Explicit VIDEO

16. The Most Inappropriate Halloween Costumes Possible

17. 13 Weird (And Adorable) Halloween Costumes For Kids

18. Father Richard Heene (Balloon Boy's Father) Facing Scrutiny Over "Hoax" Allegations

That was all on the front page in the last 20 minutes. I didn't even look into the bowels of the beast. That's where it gets really strange.

But yes, cable news is all fluff and deserve a good scolding, especially from HuffPost, the bastion of high-brow talking points...and boobs.

Iowa, 18-16.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Get This Off My Television

I, too, watched an interview with Cleese, Jones, Idle and Gilliam last night.

Unfortunately, it wasn't anything like Olbermann's.

As they make their whirlwind tour ahead of the 40th anniversary of the inception of Flying Circus, airing Almost The Truth on IFC starting Sunday night and continuing throughout the week (tonight, it streams on its website a live Q & A from New York starting at 8pm if you're the streamer type), the guys stopped by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for an entire show dedicated to them.

I can barely judge with any authority because I've only watched Fallon on occasion, maybe ten times since he started. But it's been six months, Jimmy. Stage fright should have left the building five months ago. On the times I've watched the show, you can tell he has a group of writers that aren't half-bad. Maybe not good but with the right timing, the right pause, the right emphasis, things could come off marginally funny. In the least, it could be something to build off, something to hone.

The writers have to be beating their heads against the wall watching this crap.

Now, the Wheel of Carpet Samplers skit threw Cleese into a laugh jag that he barely recovered from, and it was a bit funny. Not bad. Terribly derivative but passable for a new show airing at 11:30. Again, something to build off. But watching it made me undecided whether Cleese fell into the laugh jag because it was kinda funny or because Fallon so brutalized the set-up ("Name as many things as you can in three seconds - go!" Guy says, "Toasters." Fallon says, "No, we were going for dinosaurs." Fallon stood there stilted and nervously laughing like he's told his first joke ever that someone actually liked).

The interview segment wasn't so much cringe-worthy because all four simply took it over and did what they do. But give it a watch with an eye on Fallon. The nervous energy alone! I won't even get into the questions or the odd look Fallon gave Idle when Idle jabbed Fallon a bit on the unbelievable messiness of the whole interview.

For some odd reason, I keep up on TV ratings. Fallon was tied with Ferguson this summer and delivering better demos. That's changed a bit with Ferguson currently scoring more viewers but Fallon is still winning the demo battle.

I pose a question: HOW?!

This is just brutal-ass television.

Mate's Musings

It's been awhile since I've opened up the dusty recesses of my brain for one of these...

Went to the Lucinda Williams concert at Park West last night. I'm not terribly familiar with her work but the wife is a big fan. I enjoyed it alot. I like Park West as a venue in general and she had a pretty damn good band backing her up. Good crowd, too.
BUT can people at concerts stop cheering when someone mentions the town that you're in if it's a lyric in the song? "Chicago? Did she mention Chicago?! That's where I currently live!"
All I can say is "Nobody rocks like....(looks at back of guitar) Springfield!!"
Monty Python is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year and are promoting a documentary that is going to start airing this weekend on the IFC. If you can get it on Hulu or whatnot I highly recommend watching the interview Olberman did with Terry Jones, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam. It's not the most groundbreaking interview but Olberman comes across exactly how I would interviewing them. In complete debt to their genius. 30 years later and noone has touched them in comedy. Not. Even. Close.
Currently "dog sitting" the in law's Chihuahua puppy. Yep. It's roughly the size of a hamster and I've lost track of it about 6 times in the house already. Seriously, it's like babysitting a bat.
Wandered into my local library the other day. Is there anything more disturbing or depressing than a library at 3:00 on a Tuesday afternoon.? Apparently, society's rejects all congregate in periodicals. Wow.
One guy (And I'm not kidding) looked like an evil Roy Orbison. I was seriously creeped the fuck out and had to leave.
Thank God. "30 Rock" returns tonight.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Browns, Food & "Sprints!"

Attention Browns Fans.

Brady Quinn's house is on the market. Trade deadline is one week away. He has escalators in his contract relating to number of snaps played they won't be reached with Derek Anderson, he of the 2/17 Sunday, starting. Mr. Quinn's out an estimated $11 million with his benching (probably the reason he's selling, really).

Blow it up. Well. That's inaccurate. What would they be blowing up exactly? But if he has value, you move him. Putting my Quinn feelings aside (hate him. First and second round picks for that, folks?), what you might get from a highly improbable Quinn resurgence doesn't get this team to the playoffs in the near future. SO DUMP HIM! Everybody wins.

While they didn't get much back from Edwards - he of the GREATEST 64 YARD, 1 TD PERFORMANCE IN THE HISTORY OF MAN MONDAY NIGHT - that 3rd round pick could become a 2nd round pick if Edwards catches a certain undisclosed number of balls (probably a ridiculously high number). If they can squeeze a couple of mid-rounders out of a team for Quinn, there should be tons of flexibility to wheel and deal for team needs. Rebuild the defense with guys that can actually run the 3-4. I know it's anathema to all the evidence the offense has shown over the last year and a half. But defense first.

And I swear, if the Browns draft Tebow, I'm a Jets fan. You've been warned.

Quite The Dichotomy

The Neys' five-year anniversary came with it two restaurant visits not only on back-to-back days but back-to-back meals.

Blackbird and Frontera. Blackbird for us, Frontera with family.

Blackbird first. If I were loaded, meals would be bought for every friend of mine skittish about the whole prospect. It's why food can be freakin' transcendent.

Menu: Duck tartare, burrata salad, octopus confit, pork collar, short rib, sweet corn bavarois, chocolate-pistachio cremeux and a bottle of 2005 Sanguis "Bossman" California Syrah.

Best meal this year in my book. And Mate, I think I'm buying you the wine. You'd love it. My god, it was good.

Blackbird is consistently innovative, always right on in preparation, never stuffy and always filling. As with every great meal, you remember the little things. The French toast on the sweet corn bourvois, the sesame gnocchi on the short rib, the wine pairing with the pork collar and the fact that the octopus confit made us reconsider octopus, period.

Let's turn the page over to Frontera.

The last time we went to Frontera was four years ago, sat in the bar, I believe Mate met us and had some quick eats for some reason or another. It was good, fine, pleasant enough. We ate at Topolobampo probably five years ago, enjoyed it well enough and have marginally regretted that we haven't been back since to either of them.

We figured after the Top Chef: Masters' win for Bayless, getting a reservation would be difficult but I gave it a try and got one. Good. Mrs. Ney's parents were coming in. Good family spot that people might know. Always good to give the in-laws a conversation piece for their friends that might have heard of it. Plus, it's going to be good food, right?

Not really. Actually, it was kinda bad.

Some of it was clouded by the almost comically-bad service, something reminiscent of [insert chain restaurant here], right down to the "anyone wanna start off with some margaritas or appetizers to get things goin'?" Forgot three things, let two items sit in the window to congeal and still served them and just generally didn't give a shit. It was hilarious. Couple that with Surly McSurlington at the front desk and it was a recipe for quite a comic lunch. I wait tables so I know exactly why things happen. I can see the little ballet happening. Meaning I forgive so much. Be flippant about your incompetence, though, and I become apoplectic.

Even if everything from a service standpoint would have been fine, the flavors, while there, wouldn't have been anything spectacular. We didn't expect a whole lot. It's a tourist trap. Always has been for the most part. That's why he opened Topolobampo and the new XOCO. Frontera's the cash cow that allows other things to happen.

We love Mr. Bayless, love his recipes, will probably go back to Topolobampo and really want to get to XOCO soon. Frontera? Yeah...that's done.

Read It, Read It, Read It!

You've been told by pretty much everybody to read it by now, so just do it. Be a follower.

Malcolm Gladwell's piece in the New Yorker this week comparing concussions in the NFL to dogfighting makes me glad for the 12,512th reason that Mate and I took the 1990 high school football season off.

I suffered what was probably a concussion playing football in '89 against Monticello. There was a time frame in the game I simply don't remember and I had a strange blurriness the rest of the night. Every time I read descriptions of the symptoms of a concussion since, they matched up to a tee.

Picture that you're in a car going 25 MPH without a seat belt on and you hit a wall. Your head hits the windshield with 100g's of force on average. In football, in practice, that happens to a lineman, linebacker and running back 30 times a session on average. Actual games are worse.

The dogfighting parallel is used for effect, mostly. It's what Gladwell typically does. It's the science in this one that is jaw-dropping.

If little Christos ever enter this realm of existence, football is off the table.

Read it.

Tales From the Abyss

Wow did I get lazy last week. There's really no reason why I didn't post much, I just didn't.

Anyway, all I have to say today is that thank GOD the Iowa football team is good this year. I actually can pass unemployment time reading about it instead of being reminded of how bad they are.

As Christo pointed out--this team is void of "Iowa issues". I have yet to read about Clearinghouse problems, Turf Toe, Butt strains or amoeba infections.
It's fun to watch this team. Are they great? No. Will they lose this week? Most likely but not for certain (it's WISCONSIN, folks. Not the '85 Bears) and is Stanzi the most schitzo quarterback in college football? Yep. But there isn't a team on their schedule that scares me. It is conceivable that Iowa will be 10-0 going into Columbus on November 14th and going against a team that is OMGFLAWED!
And I hate to be "this guy" but Iowa gets no respect at all. None. Read the national post games of the Penn State and Michigan games and it's all "what (team) did wrong" and not what Iowa did right. It's hardly worth getting worked up over because if you're not one of ESPN/CBS/Fox/College Football News/whatever Blow Job Teams (USC, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame, you know the list) it's nothing new. Just annoying.

Oh and apparently the Chiefs are still playing....
Driving down to the BP last night to buy a Mega Millions ticket. (Yep. 170 million beans. I'm playing) and apparently Laurence Holmes is now the night guy. I have no idea as I've tuned out the Score until baseball season starts again.
Anyway, Larry was on the radio for 20 seconds before he said something stupid. A new record. But for the life of me I can't remember what it was exactly. Something about the Blackhawks and the tv dispute between Versus and Directv. I let out a "Oh, my God!" and turned off the radio. AND I DON'T CARE ABOUT HOCKEY AT ALL!!
I must've been so enraged I burnt it out of my system. It was truly Laurenceesque. I'm hoping someone else was listening.
And preseason NBA is being played. There is nothing on Earth I am more indifferent to. And that includes Jon and Kate Plus 8.
Watched "Away We Go"....Meh. God, I'm sick of quirk. And Maya Rudolph?! Really? And I know noone who acts like the people in this movie. None.
But I do recommend "Anvil: the Story of Anvil"...It's "Spinal Tap" without the actors. You don't have to like heavy metal at all. It's just so...fucking relatable and sad and at times, goddamn uplifting.
Rent it now.

Monday, October 12, 2009

10 Monday Things

This weekend was a top-fiver in Christo's sporting realm. Angels swept the Red Sox, Iowa beat Michigan and the Browns...won (?). Let's do a list.

1. Extra cupcakes for all! They did it against Papelbon. It's not in the same context but "one strike away" carries with it a certain weight in Angels world. Papelbon was one strike away from ending yesterday's game three times. Take the series to Game Four, in Boston, Lester vs. Saunders, and my nerves become quite frayed. Done. Over. Let's move on from the freakin' Red Sox storyline.

2. Wanna meet 470 morons? Go here. "The Bears should have never gotten rid of Ortman!" Rick Morrisey drives the moron bus, everyone.

3. Good punter = bad team. That was taken to a new level yesterday when Browns punter Dave Zastudil put seven inside the 20 and three inside the one. When Anderson completes two of 17 passes on the day, Zastudil was the entire offense. It was the 1991 Anamosa game all over again. I'll say this, the Browns haven't given up but this isn't an NFL offense. No offensive TD once again for the ninth time in the last eleven games.

4. Iowa is lucky to be 6-0. No doubt. But it's been fun. They actually look like a real college football program. They have issues but they feel like issues every good team/program could have instead of issues with a distinctive Iowa taint to them. On another note, you don't rush the field against a mediocre Michigan team. You just don't. Maybe a casual stride to mill around with the players because you can. Not a rush.

5. But. Stanzi. Step into your throws, please. It helps when attempting to hit your receivers in stride and that's a good thing. And it's safe to say Reiff won't be at guard much the rest of the year. Whew! That was ugly.

6. A herd of zebras could have trampled through my apartment, defecating all over my furniture and it still wouldn't have been a bigger disaster than last night's episode of Mad Men. I can't think of a time in my TV viewing life when I went from really liking a show to pretty much hating it so quickly. Maybe Lost in episode five when I realized, "Ooooh, I'm going to be jerked around! No thank you. I'll just move on now."

7. But given that, I've given Flash Forward the time. Now, this IS a bad show. Just not good. For popcorn thrills with absolutely no expectations, though, it's serviceable. I don't hate this because it doesn't really deserve a critical eye. Perfect DVR show to pop on when you've seen that episode of Family Guy 48 times at one in the morning.

8. I've always been kinda fascinated by geology. This summer, after taunting me for 10 years on my bookshelf with its Earth Scienceness and War & Peace-type girth, I finally read Annals Of The Former World by John McPhee and truly loved every second of it. So, in an attempt to replicate that enjoyment on a lesser level, I figured Ken Burns' National Parks documentary series on PBS a couple of weeks ago would, in the least, make for good filler. Tried three times and fell asleep three times. Positively soporific!

9. Great long-from piece by Christopher Borelli in the Trib on Rick Bayless. We love Mr. Borelli here at the BRE. If only the Tribune knew how to use him.

10. Saturday was the five-year anniversary of the union of Mr. and Mrs. Ney. The Chicago Marathon will always hold a place in our hearts for that reason. Seriously. We had no idea when we planned our wedding that it was ending two hours before and two blocks away. Everything turned out quite nicely, though and we look back upon it as a great day.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Fatuousness

Oh Boy, The Right Wing Has To Be Positively Apoplectic

Let's all calm down a bit. It's not that big of a deal.

Of course I'm referencing the fact that Dewayne Wise just declared for free agency.

I kid. Let us all understand, though, that Yasir Arafat also won the Peace Prize.

Personally, I think AskMen.com's Most Influential Man survey has more integrity. See, in that, 500,000 people answered the call and the winner was...a fictional character. If you're a Mad Men fan like I am, maybe you should read the reasons Don Draper won. Drop. Dead. Hilarious.

Here we have a show where Matthew Weiner, he of The Sopranos fame, is very astutely writing a completely abhorrent lead character who essentially wings it ethically and morally at every turn. Draper's a cautionary tale and a brilliant look into unbridled selfishness. The whole show is!

Oh, and he's Not Real.

Short one today. I dare not mention anything about Iowa or the Angels lest things become jinxed.

Oh, what the heck. Angels in four, Iowa 26-17.

Book it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Quick Recommendation, Part Two


I haven't been to the formerly-named John O'Donnell stadium for 20 years. Mate and I hopped in the old Datsun 210 a couple of times in the late 80s/early 90s to catch a QC Angel game. We probably saw Major League legends Chad Curtis and Jim Edmonds play. We maybe even had a brief glimpse at a skinny Roberto (Berto) Hernandez sitting in those football stands for bleachers.

Ah, the memories.

Sugar, a fictional depiction of a Dominican pitcher playing Minor League baseball in a fictional Iowa town which the Quad-Cities and the former John O'Donnell Stadium stands in for, hits all the right notes.

I didn't expect much, probably because I didn't know much. Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott, back helming At The Movies replacing the cringe-inducing embarrassment that was Lyons and Mankiewicz, reminded me the film existed.

I expected moderately clunky baseball, marginally clunky acting and some saccharine writing.

I knew it would probably be better than most baseball docudramas given its reputation but this good? No.

It's a well-crafted, entirely unexpected film that doesn't placate at every turn. No game-winning finish, no triumph over tragedy, none of it. It's about baseball. Sure. But baseball only serves as a storytelling device. It's an immigrant story oddly along the lines of Ramin Bahrani, he of the previous BRE post; something where great care was taken to allow the tone and subject to develop naturally...slowly, and allow the viewer to experience it at their own pace. In the end, there's an air in the film that demands attention.

At the literal end, a pause/stare/reflection is taken by Santos. Usually a cheap writing trick looking to squirm its way out of a corner written into, I can't recall a more effective use in recent memory. Much of the credit should be given to Soto, the lead actor who gives a wonderfully-mannered performance, but the build-up itself also feels every bit right.

Sugar should be praised for everything it isn't and it should be praised for everything it is.

Just a superb film.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Quick Tuesday Recommendation

Fresh off the greatest football game ever played by the greatest human to ever play the game, maybe you need a little respite from all the sporting endeavors that happened this weekend.

If so, I offer this - a triple feature.

Ramin Bahrani's first three films.

Netflix and Blockbuster.com have them all so saddle up, partner. You won't be disappointed.

I struggle to describe Bahrani's style and maybe that's the point. He's not styleless, just that his style and, in particular, the end-product, mimics nothing I've seen before.

It's certainly realism with sprinkles of neo-realism but that description feels insufficient. I could talk about the integrity and "independent-ness" of them all but that puts them into the context of the bloated, limp and wildly pretentious realm of independent filmmaking. I could say he's created something entirely new by offering glimpses into micro worlds but that pigeon-holes them as well.

I could say they are probably some of the best films I've seen in a long time but I don't think they really are. They might be all or none of this. Even describing Bahrani's films as ruminations, something to be Experienced with a capital 'E' isn't accurate.

What you get is a small-case 'e' experience, a cerebral peek into a group of characters' lives and choices. When they end, you don't take those perfunctory two minutes to catalog the reasons and decisions and point of it all. There really isn't one in the traditional sense. You're just supposed to watch. Not in the too-clever-for-words way some films are done. Bahrani simply offers a story he likes. Take from it what you want. He offers no hand-holding.

I think we're seeing something pretty great from a great new director. In an interview for Goodbye Solo, Bahrani talked about "exploring how people live in the world." That's an accurate description.

For the viewer, you'll be shocked how much you remember every bit, every choice and every ending to each exploration.

Sports, Sports, Sports...It's All I Have

With the Chiefs being absolute pissed on horseshit, my interest in the NFL is at "Rerun of Night Court" levels but I did manage to watch about 15 minutes of the Brett Favre against Green Bay over hyped bullshit.
OK, he played great but I fucking hate him more. That little smug smirk he has just makes me want to see someone cheap shot him.
I thought Ron Jaworski was going to ejaculate on camera. And they play again. Great.
I rewatched the Iowa-Arkansas State catnap yesterday (I'm unemployed. Fuck you.) and I gotta say, that game could've easily been 38-7. Iowa was never in danger (barring a freak play) of losing. Unlike UNI where they probably should've. And nice officiating! Holy shit.
However, I do have the over/under on Stanzi throwing into triple coverage for Saturday at 8. And they can stop with the "gunslinger" shit. He makes stupid decisions at least 4 times a game and it's going to cost them a win down the road if he doesn't stop. Gunslinger? God, I hate that stupid Terry Bradshaw shit.
And Unemployment Theater gets good today because the baseball playoffs start. And, yes, they are extending the life of baseball in the Metro Dome so that sucks but I kinda hope the Twins win. Why? No reason really. I like watching Joe Mauer hit. When it doesn't affect the Sox.
Since I stop listening to the Score when football season starts (BearsBearsBearsBears) I haven't got the moron brigades crow eating over Jake Peavy.
Folks, this was a HUGE get. Sox have the best pitching staff in that division and it's not even close. No excuses next year. None.
Yeah, take a shot at Figgins. But rely on pitching and improve your defense and the division is yours. Easily.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Are You Chewing Gum?!

I've resisted pretty much up to this point....WHY?!
Good golly, where have you been all my life?!

I have recently become a wine fan. Now, I am by no means an expert nor do I want to be. I still loathe wine snobs and generally feel that if you like it, you like it. A good number of reds taste very similar to me and I've really only begun to discover it. I also am essentially only familiar with California and a few Australian wines at this point. But beer just gives me a headache anymore and a general logy feeling. I'll still drink it at a tailgate or party but i have officially turned into a wine guy.
I know some friends who will welcome this (Christo) and a few that will mock me because of how "fruity" it is. (Smacks forehead) Don't care. Melikes wine. Reds mainly. Not a big White fan but the wife loves it. A few Rieslings I've had are above average. I'm sure Christo can give me some pointers on whites.
That said, I have also discovered that ONE bottle and a half is my limit. Got the wine buzz last night and it's glorious. Just glorious. But i finished off this "meh" Merlot we've had in the house for awhile and it was a bad decision. Half bottle too much. Damn. But I'm new.
So, you can officially put me in the wine club.
A Christo and wife with Mate and wife trip to Napa/Santa Barbara/Sonoma/etc. is in future. Or wherever.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Let's exorcise this demon, you MFers!

Extra cupcakes if you do it against this dick and his dumb-ass, tough guy stare.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Holy Crap!

Out...but the first round?

The reasons are going to come out.

IOC voters are notoriously loose-lipped. I expect one voter's comment will be particularly striking and the media to latch onto it as the definitive reason for this debacle.

In the end, the IOC, despite it's protestations, is entirely political and have used the selection to give it to a place where it's most needed economically in some weird attempt to exert their influence. But don't look for reasons, everyone. IOC voting is essentially a high school girl contest on how's the most popular.

I feel bad for the people in Chicago who worked to get the Olympics for entirely altruistic reasons. That kinda sucks.

But I can't help but think of the career trajectory of Daley's father and how the '68 Democratic Convention, something that was also seen, to a lesser extent obviously, as a way to showcase the city and how it ended up being Daley's Waterloo.

Different situations of course, but both were essentially an extension of a Daley hubris looking to project Chicago's weight onto the national stage and both went horribly, horribly wrong.

If Daley handles this gracefully and actually gets back to the business of Chicago, the damage can be minimized. Doubt that.

As I said to Mate, mark my words, Forrest Claypool will be mayor in two years. He goes for Stroger's seat and gets it, challenges Daley in 2011 and wins.

Claypool has to be absolutely beaming right now.

On another note, $20 Madrid gets it. 2,300 murders a year in Rio, in the end, will scare the bejesus out of the voters.

UPDATE: Rio? Can't wait to see how this plays out in the Chicago storyline.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Keep Breathing....

First off, if I'm still living in Chicago in 2016 you have permission to put a piston in my brain...

That said, how can people not see through this? It's an obvious Daley Boondoggle. More phony contracts, more reasons to jack up taxes and fees for everything and a chance to stay in office in perpetuity. And the idiots lap it up. Well, at least the 34% who favor it.

And if you are going to a bar tomorrow to watch the vote you are an honorary member of the T of A March edition.
Going back to Kinnick on Saturday. Do I tempt fate again? I was there for the UNI game and we all know how well they played in that game. Honestly, I have no idea about Arkansas State. I try to ignore that state in general and have been pretty successful. Except my brief life threatening night in a Holiday Inn outside Little Rock. Nice town.
Anyway, I'll say, 38-12.
Can someone please knock the living crap out of Skip Bayless?! Unemployment Theater in all it's glory. God, what an asshat. And when did Hannah Storm become a fucking whore?
Flipping through the channels on the AM side of the dial as I was bored with the Score's never eding Bears analysis and stopped at WLS long enough to hear Rush say this:"And Democrats kill people before they are even born."...Yep.
Kinda speaks for itself.

We'll Know How The Next Seven Years Go In 24 Hours

I can happen.

Atlanta and Los Angeles made a profit.

Chicago's "budget" is only $3.8 billion. Beijing's was $40 billion.

Little in the way of a massive overhaul of the infrastructure in Chicago will be done and you have to admit that the plans to transform the lakefront and the Near South Side show a modicum of thoughtfulness and a level of intelligent thrift.

I have a 48 year-old friend who's lived in the city all his life, most of it on the South Side. We've talked about the Olympic bid at length on a few occasions and invariably, when the discussion comes around to Daley, he says, to the letter every time, "I don't know, this city looks really good compared to what it was."

I'm an Iowa transplant, only living here six years, and I couldn't, with any real authority, speak like I'm a real Chicago guy for at least ten more years in my estimation. Just haven't gone through enough. I can only agree with my friend in what I saw on the trips into the city to watch Sox/Cubs games in the 80s and 90s. I was ugly. It was a dirty city, a disorganized city, a scary city in many ways.

Heck, just in the last four years, my neighborhood has seen dramatic improvement. Without injecting too many Malcolm Gladwell-esque terms here, it seems if a tipping point hit. For a neighborhood that was so nondescript and transient a few years ago, I now see a lot of the same faces for longer stretches. No longer a brief holdover until they can find something better a bit further south, it's as if the place reached a point where it became acceptable to call it...(gasp)...home and hold a certain amount of...(gasp)...pride in the area.

Maybe I'm projecting a little. I'll give you that, but waiting tables for the last six years in the neighborhood allows you to get to know the overall vibe a bit. In my limited scope, the same thing seems to be happening in adjacent neighborhoods as well.

In short, it's as if a lot of areas in the city reached a point of livability that people now find it unacceptable to literally take a shit in the alley. Nope. Haven't seen one in years (dog tried to eat the last one).

So yes. The city is more pretty. I agree. Daley gets some credit for that even if the foundation was laid by taxing out "the unsavory elements" from neighborhoods. Unbridled, bald-ass and thoroughly dirty gentrification in Chicago has been well documented.

If it happens tomorrow, if Chicago gets the Olympics, a slew of unintended consequences may occur, though.

Daley gets a new 10-year reign. Any chinks in Daley's armor that began to appear recently are no longer relevant. It's akin to voting out a president during a war. Just doesn't happen. Stroger's officially done if he wasn't already. Back room deals with the last bastion of Stroger supporters will be made to avoid the media disaster so soon after getting the Games.

Oddly, it might save both newspapers in town. A ongoing, incredibly complicated and extraordinarily detailed story like the Olympics is something that only big organizations like a local daily can effectively cover and actually sell (it would be their Coral Ridge Mall on steroids).

And that's where some good might come out of winning the bid. The way Chicago has been run over the last century will no longer be simply a local or regional story that evokes a tsk and a head shake. It will no longer be "That's just Chicago being Chicago," something that, in the tone, almost inexplicably demonstrated a sense of pride in it's own "Old School" urban sensibility.

It will be national now. There should be 12,000 noses snooping around every minute decision made w/r/t the Olympics. The Federal government will be involved financially with Fitzgerald in tow. Simply subverting the local elements looking to buck the Chicago Way won't work anymore. The formula for success will get oodles more complicated and the process much more out in the open.

Wishful thinking? Sure. Probably a bit. Maybe it has something to do with the seeming inevitability of it all but it can't be denied that, with getting the Olympics, Chicago would have a new playbook in whatever form it eventually takes.

I don't want the Olympics but there might be something here.

Something to rest your hat on. Something to shake up the ongoing, century-old stupidity.

But I've been known to be wrong.