Really, there are many things I could have done with said baguette, but whipping up tapenade was first on my list because I happened to have some olives, capers and olive oil just hanging around in my pantry. I also had a robust thyme plant in my garden just begging for a pruning.
I happened upon this baguette by buying a loaf of sourdough at La Boulangerie, the neighborhood french bakery that cooks up remarkable yeasty creations without preservatives. So when the lady at the register offered me a free baguette with my purchase, I knew I’d better find a way to eat it immediately lest it get moldy.
All I did was chop up garlic, green olives, capers, some thyme, and add a little lime juice and olive oil:
I then sliced some bread, toasted it, and slathered it with this salty concoction. Delicious!
2012 was an incredible year for music. Personal highlights include attending SXSW in Austin, TX, in March (where I caught Django Django’s first U.S. show); covering a dozen or so local shows with great friends in tow; a 7th row seat at a Prince concert at the United Center this fall, and seeing dozens of fantastic sets at Pitchfork, Riot Fest and neighborhood festivals.
As far as my top albums go, this is a very personal list. It tends to diverge from a lot of the popular top album choices I’ve read this year, and just because I’m posting it doesn’t mean it might be for you. For example, everyone seems to be wetting their pants over Japandroids, but I can’t even take them seriously after their weak Pitchfork performance. I also happen to be predisposed to female singers (but only mildly enjoyed Fiona Apple’s contribution).
With that disclaimer, here are my best new records of 2012:
1. “Confess” — Twin Shadow
I’d call this pop with depth. And synthesizers. It’s just such pleasurable, gripping music that takes you on an emotional trajectory without necessarily conveying a certain mood. It sounds like Morrissey-meets-The Psychedelic Furs, with a healthy spin of something that is entirely Twin Shadow’s own. The songs are melodic and high-octane, yet murky and intriguing enough to linger over. Why hasn’t this album gotten more attention?
2. “In Our Heads” — Hot Chip
This one is pure fun to me. The first five songs are perfect. I have never not been in the mood for listening to this since it came out. I love to play it when I’m working and just bop my head along to it. The band’s set at Pitchfork proved this record is seriously dance-able, too. If you want something groovy, non-cerebral and energizing, give this a spin.
3. “Attack on Memory” — Cloud Nothings
I fell in love with Cloud Nothings as soon as I heard the track “Cut You” on KEXP earlier this year. This is a power pop punk record that reminds me of a somber version of the pop-punk I listened to in high school. There’s something very pure, very simple about this record, something that makes its tamed angst appealing to both the person I was in high school and the person I am now. I should also add that their rockout with abandon in the torrential rain at Pitchfork this year was blissful.
4. “Tramp” — Sharon Van Etten
This is one of the few releases that I feel got the appropriate amount of praise this year. However, it resonated with me so personally that I’m of the opinion that one might not be able to appreciate it fully if he or she isn’t, say, a woman who has slowly digested sadness. Is that unfair? Van Etten seems soulfully resigned here, with the exception of a heartbreak-induced inkling of efficacy on “Give Out.” She’s memorialized her suffering, eulogized failed love, captured that window of grief before transformation and enlightenment have come. I find this to be a necessary emotional salve of a record for any woman recovering from a painful relationship, especially if it tried her own concept of self respect.
5. “The Only Place”— Best Coast
Again, another simple, straightforward record. You either love Best Coast/Bethany Cosentino or you hate her, and the beauty of this is Cosentino has stayed true to what’s so polarizing about her. Her first record, Crazy For You, was a perfect summer album. This follow-up is a perfect lonely-romance, girl-sitting-by-the-telephone record. The songs could have been sung by the wistful Olivia Newton John in Grease and fit right in. They’re like variations of the same simple, lovelorn track, actually. I get this image of Cosentino’s lover as a guy whom she loves helplessly as she struggles to fit in to the world around her. OK, so it’s not revelatory or lyrically progressing beyond the spareness of its predecessor, but it works for me.
6. “Handwritten”—The Gaslight Anthem
I don’t listen to mainstream radio, but I wonder if nearly every song from this record has been featured on it. “45” will especially be a classic for decades. I’m not too well-versed in older Gaslight Anthem records; in fact I just started to get into them a month or so before this album was released. It captivated me immediately. Redolent of Springsteen and nostalgia I never knew I had, this is an impressive compilation of soulful rock and it makes me feel all sappy.
I had crushes on these records this year, although they haven’t yet sparked love:
"Our House on the Hill" —The Babies
"Open Your Heart" — The Men
"Lonerism" —Tame Impala
"Rock and Roll Night Club" — Mac DeMarco
Best Shows of the Year
I totally flipped my lid during these sets:
Django Django at SXSW
Destroyer at the Metro
Gaslight Anthem at Riot Fest
Best Coast at the Vic
Mac DeMarco at the Empty Bottle
Magnetic Fields at the Vic
Cloud Nothings at Pitchfork
We Were Promised Jetpacks at SXSW
Prince at the United Center
The Raveonettes at Lincoln Hall
Thee Oh Sees/Ty Segall at Logan Square Auditorium
Best Tracks of the Year
Here is the stuff that got some major Spotify playlist action:
I can’t imagine the depths of loss and heartbreak the Sandy Hook community is experiencing right now, and I know it’s doubtful I’ll ever have to experience such tragedy personally.
I do take issue with the popular tendency to declare that this isn’t the time for politics. I’ve seen quite a few Facebook posts saying that those who link this tragedy to their gun-law positions are simply capitalizing on it to advance their own political agendas.
I disagree completely. What “political agenda” does the everyday person have that isn’t valid? Now is the time to start talking, to progress. Too often friends and colleagues will shy away from political discussion because it makes them uncomfortable. I don’t consider this level of politeness to be a good thing.
We are in need of engaged political debate from everybody—not just Congress or those who went to Ivy League schools or talking heads—and we should welcome it, especially in these rare circumstances where we all, as a culture, feel emotionally invested.
What’s my take on the gun debate? I have been more impressed by arguments positing that one encounters more regulation when buying a car than one does when purchasing a gun than I am by the positions that cling to the notion that guns had nothing to do with the problem; it was only the intent that mattered. Obviously sporadic murder is highly effective with firearms; take the example of the Chinese attacker who, on the same day as the Sandy Hook slaying, took to a school with a knife and caused far less-extreme results.
A gun is extremely dangerous. So is extreme mental instability—you can’t have a tragedy like the Sandy Hook slayings without both parts of that equation. You hear that? Both parts.
Some people want to address this shooting—and the slew of similar ones in the past—by suggesting more guns as a solution by way of counter-attack. Some ask: If the teachers were armed, would this have happened? What if we’d had armed security to take this shooter out?
Part of me likes the armed security idea. The other part wonders what would happen if and when the armed security guard was having his own mental issues. Or if a teacher had a breakdown of her own. Or if both the teachers and security guards tasked with such protection managed to remain sane and responsible, but weren’t able to immediately nip the heavily-armed shooter in the bud when he entered the school. Is a shootout really that much of a solution?
Yet banning guns seems ineffective. They’d still be available on the black market.
What’s so radical about just regulating them enough so, say, a person with a mentally unstable family member, or a mentally unstable person himself—probably couldn’t buy them? Maybe it’s more difficult than that; I don’t know. I’m not too well-versed on what regulation like this would entail. But I’m putting it out there for discussion.
For you constitutional purists who find this highly offensive to our second amendment rights, I say this: The Constitution is a fine document. I am in awe of the insight and compassion that informed most of it. But for all our founding fathers’ foresight, how could they have possibly imagined the physical, infrastructural ways in which Colonial America could change and develop? Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s not wholly unpatriotic to keep that in mind when reinterpreting the gun clause.
And if you find fault with my opinion, good—say it. As opposed to those who would rather shush you and I right now and pretend it’s opportunistic for us to be voicing our concerns regarding this debate, I think it’s more necessary than ever we further it.
The Top Five Chicago Restaurants I Went to in 2012 (and Other Notable Mentions)
If you know anything about me, you understand that I love to eat. Cooking is great too, but that hobby has merely arisen from my need to be constantly consuming delicious things.
In 2012, I started taking that need more seriously and made an extra-special attempt to get out to restaurants that I normally wouldn’t. Whether it was prompted by my fellow foodies, my restaurant club, a fun date or just the desire to get out and have some really special food, I was treated to new tiers of culinary greatness this year. And now it’s time to discuss it.
So without further ado, here are the five best restaurants I went to this year (read on for runners up and other recognition):
1. NEXT, the Childhood Menu
This meal was the most expensive I’ve ever partaken in (I paid more than $200 with alcohol pairings) and it was also the best I’ve ever had. I really did get what I paid for, so much so that I was overcome with emotion toward the middle of the meal and felt like, if pressed, I could even conjure up a tear or two. Never had eating been so poignant.
The dinner, which was inspired by the chefs’ childhoods in Michigan, gave me the thrill of somehow being 10 yet eating with utmost sophistication. It was amazing.
Not only was each course (there were 10) adventurous and delicious, but it was all new to me: the flavors, the textures, the presentation—it expanded my idea of what dining could be. It was as if I were participating in an experience, and each course was like a milestone of sensation.
I still have the menu (framed) and I’ll give you some highlights:
A peanut butter and jelly “gift” that came in a box tied with a ribbon. The bonbon-type pastry exploded in my mouth.
Fish-n-chips, with cucumber waves, apple cider foam, awesome crunchy “land’, an orange juice-tasting sun, amazing white fish under a flaky potato crisp thing, and a yummy flower. See the guy on the right reeling the fish in?
A “salad” of impossibly-savory, dehydrated, leaf-type vegetables with a smokiness and a crunch that invoked a walk through the woods. (This is where I contemplated tearing up.)
A “hamburger” of meat that tasted better than any steak, fish, crustacean or poultry I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Whatever that meat was, it was divine.
The unforgettable lunch box: an actual old-school metal box! With ingeniously sophisticated takes on brown bag staples.
Donuts and egg beaters doused in what looked like cookie batter. It wasn’t cookie batter. It was foie gras.
Sweet potato “logs” that were lit like camp fire and stayed lit so we could roast our marshmallows over them, and then eat them with ice cream.
Some of the best wines and liqueurs I’ve ever tried.
The only negative I’d give to the experience was that between all that booze—there was a new, full glass for nearly every course—and rich food, I was having difficulty keeping it all down right around the time the cab pulled up. Worth it.
When it comes to restaurants, I prize creativity. It’s not enough to be exotic in this city anymore; you have to be inspired. Yusho is just that. It’s whimsical Japanese small plates with plenty of umami. The professionals call it yakitori-inspired, or Japanese street food.
I know small plates are becoming so trendy and overpriced that they’re on the verge of turning into a royal pain in the ass, but Yusho gets it right. I split about 10 plates with four other friends, and ended up shelling out about $60 at the end of the night (including tax, tip and beer).
Standout dishes include:
An amazing pork-belly ramen with layers of pork and chicken broth and a hen’s egg.
Fried chicken skins that were served like chips. This is an ingenious idea. Between the immensely satisfying crunch and fun of eating them and the rich flavor, they were the picture of indulgence.
Fried chicken liver dumplings that gave foie gras a run for its money. Although, we had the foie gras, too, and it was also pretty great.
Soft serve chocolate ice cream with divine puffy, crunchy rice kernels for garnish.
What can I say? This place knows how to do meat and fish. They served me the best scallops I’ve ever had, hands down. And I’ve had me some scallops in my day.
The veal tartare was a joyful little platter of politically-incorrect goodness, served chilled with a poached egg. I don’t even remember the rest of it, just that the server was bad-ass, the communal setting was fun and everything felt very fun and special.
4. Sticky Rice
There is a more in-depth post from when my restaurant club visited this place here, but to sum it up, this is a Thai place to take someone who considers him or herself a connoisseur of Thai food. Its specialty is Northern Thai sausage, which is homemade. It’s better known among Chicagoans as that one place that serves bugs on the menu.
We tried the bugs—an ant egg omelette, some fried worms—and they were totally innocuous. The real pleasure came from the weird shit. I’m talking cow intestines and fried cuttlefish. Oh, it was fantastic.
There was lychee coconut soup and fever-level hot papaya salad and banana blossom chicken salad, among much, much more. One of the best features of this place is its BYOB policy and affordable, expansive menu.
5. Karyn’s Raw
I don’t care if you self-identify with Ron Swanson, you have to try this all-raw place.It’s touted as holistic health eating; it’s really just fantastic, innovative and uplifting food.
Think about what it means to serve only uncooked, vegan things. That means the cream cheese in the spring rolls is made from nuts. And the coconut ice cream with those amazingly chewy-cookie things doesn’t come close to dairy. This food is labored over and inspired, and you can taste that commitment.
I wish I could better remember what I had. The even-more impressive thing about this menu is that it’s updated regularly, so I can’t seem to find what I had online. I know that my brother had a fantastic smoothie for an appetizer and I had some miraculously-formulated tortellini for dinner, followed by that perfect ice “cream.”
The final pleasure of Karyn’s Raw is the feeling of pleasantness when you’re done eating. You have not overloaded your body with a bunch of heavy ingredients that it has to expend massive energy to process, instead, you’re getting a bunch of live enzymes. Hurrah!
Lula Cafe—American, Logan Square
The perfect neighborhood restaurant. They manage to make kale an indulgence, for crying out loud. You can order off the reasonably-priced cafe menu and still get high-end food, or treat yourself to a dinner on par with its neighbor, Longman & Eagle. Lula reminds me of the hipper younger sister of Longman & Eagle that gets better grades.
Kiki’s Bistro—French, Near North Side
This place might be a little staid, but goes above the boring Chicago-French bistro with some standout dishes (try the ribs, ye gods), an appealingly quiet atmosphere and quite a bit of history.
They had me longing for eggplant when they were through with me. I don’t even like eggplant.
Jerry’s Sandwiches—American, Wicker Park
When the pulse of other Wicker Park staples like Big Star and Peace are too much for you and you just want to walk in somewhere close, immediately get a seat, not compromise on the beer selection or food quality and hell, maybe even sit next to a goddamn fireplace, Jerry’s is your place. In fact, this restaurant has such great sandwiches that they’d get my vote even without the warmth and charm. When I have gone here, I’ve gotten the fried oyster po’ boy. As in, yes, this unassuming little sandwich place has the gall and vision to take fried oysters, some pickles and some other shit and throw it into a revelation of a sandwich. Enough said.
Blackbird—American, Near West Side
After one visit I’d say this place is underwhelming for the price, service and atmosphere, but has mad potential. The dishes were exciting and mostly very, very good. The seating was too crowded, the waiter pissed off my brother in 10 minutes and the check was, um, big. But remember that whole new-flavor-sensation riff I was on with NEXT up top? Blackbird was (albeit unsteadily) going in that direction. I’d love to try the sister restaurant, Avec, about which I’ve heard great things.
Most Unexpectedly Good Fried Chicken: Dunlays on the Square (in Logan Square). It’s $14 and the rest of the menu is hit or miss, but they’re doing something damn right with the chicken and the buttermilk and the hot sauce. If you know your fried chicken, this place is a diamond in Chicago’s- Northwest-side-rough.
Cutest Logan Square Brunch Spot: Jam (tucked next to New Wave, facing Logan). The servers should all be models; the teensy little place is decorated straight out of apartmenttherapy.com; and they have a divine Scotch egg. Among other yummies.
Best Kuma’s Clone: Lockdown in Ukranian Village. Everyone wants to copy Kuma’s these days, and Lockdown has shamelessly pulled it off. The cheesy prison theme is a little over the top, but they at least got the burgers right. Try it! No one should wait two hours for a burger, especially when they can get the same quality here and wait for 20 minutes.
Best Weird Soup from a Coffee Shop: This pains me to say because of a dickhead legal move this establishment pulled on my next mention below, but New Wave Cafe serves amazing tomato blue cheese soup. I know, it doesn’t even sound appetizing, but it’s weirdly, addictively delicious.
Best Crepe: A lemon-curd crepe from Le Boulangerie in Logan Square. This place has excellent croissants, breads, macarons, etc., but just try one of these kinds of crepes. I don’t even like lemon, and I love this. Please support this awesome and authentic bakery on account of it being the real thing, too.
God, reading savvy marketing speak is embarrassing sometimes.
You know what I mean. The conspiratorial, contrived chatter of young, successful companies who want to shove their youth and success down your throat. I wish these Grubhubs, Groupons and now, dangit, chic little airlines of the world would stop co-opting my language as part of their brand marketing. I don’t want to be your friend! I am not buying your products and services because you can fashionably fragment a sentence! Stop with the fake familiarity!
I made this ice cream with only four ingredients: Avocado, coconut milk, agave nectar and lemon juice. In addition to being relatively healthy, this combination of ingredients makes a superior ice cream. The avocado gives a rich, buttery texture to the dessert, and just enough flavor to taste exotic without being overly avocado-y.
To make your own, puree half a ripe avocado with half a can of coconut milk. Add a splash of lemon (or lime) juice. You want it to have a citrus edge but not be tangy. Add as much agave nectar as you like for desired sweetness. Then freeze, and, if you don’t have an ice cream maker (I don’t) simply churn every few hours and let freeze overnight. This amount serves two.