Monthly Archives: September 2007

Midwest FurFest: Less Than 24 Hours Remain!

Here’s a quick reminder that $30 pre-registration for Midwest FurFest 2007 ends at midnight tonight! The price will rise to $40 for preregistration and at the door after that. You can register online with most major credit cards or PayPal, or you can mail in your registration with a check or money order. Given today is a Sunday, we will accept $30 mail-in registrations postmarked October 1, but no later!

See you in November!

Duncan’s Subjective, Opinionated, Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Wine

So, a few days ago, blaireau_bougon asked a simple question with a complicated answer:
Exactly how do you train a palate on wine? I’ve had various wines in the past, and I’ve never figured out what was “good” and what wasn’t…

I’ll preface this by saying I’m not an expert on wine, and likely never will be. But over the years I have learned how to appreciate it, so I reckon that counts for something. First off, the simple answer to the question of what is “good” and what isn’t: if you like it, it’s good. Really, that’s all that matters ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s true if it’s a box of Franzia’s Chillable Red or a bottle of 1984 Cote du Rhone. Now, if you want to explore, to find out what you like, well, that takes us down a whole other path entirely…

Pull up a chair and let’s talk about wine…

Fall TV So Far

So the first few programs have come and gone and let’s see what the scoreboard says.

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox) – Wow. Nice way to take an amusing and interesting British series and screw it up, Fox. Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares (on BBC America) has been a great show, with Gordon Ramsey showing his personable side and helping and urging on restaurant owners in difficult situations. Fox’s version is, let’s take Ramsey in his “I’m a dick” persona from Hell’s Kitchen and instead of shouting at aspiring chefs, make him shout at failing restaurant owners. What can wrong? Yeah, this Season Pass was deleted.

Survivor: China (CBS) – They say they’re in China, but for all the chintzy theming and such they could be at any of their standard Pacific island locations. I’m not seeing a whole lot new and different, and if this week’s episode doesn’t hold our interest, this may be the first season that we’ve bailed on the show completely. Keeping the Season Pass (for now).

Heroes (NBC) – Sweet. Nice to see it back. #1 on the Season Pass list.

Chuck (NBC) – There’s good possibilities here. A lot of geek wish fulfillment and some outright silliness (My comment on the now-deceased ex-roommate-spy’s derring-do: “Man, Neo did it so much better in The Matrix.”). I’ll be curious to see how it goes from here. Keeping the Season Pass.

Reaper (The CW) – This show has had great buzz, and I see why. I loved this show. Despite the sidekick’s Jack-Black-wannabe moves, the story carried it along well, and the humor was pretty darned good. Kevin Smith produces the show and directed the first episode (which, by the way, if going to be re-run Thursday night). I urge everyone to check this show out! Season Pass stays in the top five.

Still to see this week: Journeyman (my expectations are low), Bionic Woman (ditto), House (one of takaza‘s shows, I’m going to see how I like it).

Townhouses, Beer, and Heroes!

In retrospect, we didn’t really do all that much last weekend. On Friday we stayed in and were couch potatoes for the evening.

Saturday, we hit the road. takaza wanted to check out a couple of townhouses under development, and I think we finally found a floor plan that is just perfect for us. The Wilmington floor plan in NeuHaven in Antioch would be fantastic – the “Optional Extended Kitchen” means that the kitchen, dining room, and great room are all one continuous space, and that fits our style of living and entertaining very well. The downstairs family room approximates Dan’s idea of a basement enough to keep him happy; we’d just need to install a bar and an entertainment center and we’d be good to go! The salesman was annoying and couldn’t wrap his head around “January, 2009” and kept trying to sell us on a unit for summer, 2008, but they’re still building and should have some models that match what we’re looking for when we are ready to buy. And hey, we’d be about a half mile from aureth‘s parents’ place ๐Ÿ™‚

While we were out, we also stopped by Antioch Packing House and put in the order for steaks for the LAFF Softball picnic (20+ pounds of steak. And it’s not too late to put in your RSVP!). Then it was down to Wine Knows where they were doing their Oktoberfest beer tasting. Holy cow, that was a lot of beers! After trying a couple of interesting beers from Summit Brewing and Brewery Ommegang, I moved on to the next table, where they had the entire line of Unibroue beers available. I have to admit I got about halfway through before I had to surrender – most of those were 7% – 9% alcohol, and they weren’t being stingy with their pours! All of them were pretty tasty, though. The one real horror of the tasting was the Rodenbach Sour Ale, which may be true to its style, but was truly horrible to my taste. The runner-up was the Wells Banana Bread Ale; being a homebrewer, I’m afraid I associate the smell and taste of esters in my beer to be a sign that something has gone quite wrong with the fermentation.

After the tasting, I walked out with a four-pack of Brewery Ommegang’s Hennepin Farmhouse Saison (extremely tasty!), as well as a bottle of the Woop Woop shiraz and a very tasty and inexpensive Spanish tempranillo/cabernet blend. I was feeling a bit tipsy, so Dan drove us to get some food. My first choice, The Full Slab, was closed due to equipment issues, so we settled for Bill’s Pub North. Um, yeah. As my review says, we chose poorly. ‘Nuff said. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and snuggling ๐Ÿ™‚

Sunday we did a bit of housecleaning, then dexcat came over and he and Dan talked MFF publications stuff. I was peripheral tot he conversation, but it sounds like Dex has a lot of great ideas and can really improve on our already pretty nifty con book, pocket program, and restaurant guide. I ran tot he grocery store, then made a tasty roast chicken. The rest of the evening was spent watching The Simpsons and a couple of other programs before heading to bed (not nearly early enough).

Oh, and tonight? Oh yeah, Heroes is back!

One more thing: As of today, I am no longer a contractor but a full time employee at $employer! W00t!

Midwest FurFest: Time Is Running Out!

Not unlike the constant ticking that Captain Hook heard from the crocodile* the clock is ticking on inexpensive pre-registration for Midwest FurFest 2007! In just SIX short days, the cost of pre-registration will rise from $30 to $40, at midnight of September 30. Thatโ€™s ten dollars you can save that can be used to buy dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants around the Hyatt Regency Woodfield, or to commission art from one of the talent artists in our Artists Alley, or buy that comic youโ€™ve had your eye on in our Dealers Room. And that ten dollars would certainly be welcome at the Charity Auction (look for a great announcement about our charity very soon, by the way!).

So how do you save that ten dollars? Pre-register NOW at http://www.furfest.org; you can register online with most major credit cards, or you can download and print out a registration form and mail it in with your check or money order (must be postmarked by 9/30/07). Registration will be $40 after 9/30/07 and at the door. Questions? Check out our Registration FAQ at http://www.furfest.org/2007/mff-register.html

Weโ€™ll see you in November!

* Howโ€™s that for a theme tie-in?

(steak) LAFF (steak) Soft (steak) Ball (steak)!

So we’re a few weeks out from LAFF Softball, which is on Saturday, October 6 at Madison Meadow Park (Madison and Ahrens Ave, Lombard, IL). As many of you already know, takaza and I will be grilling up steaks (NY strip steaks, baby!) after the game. We will also be serving apple pie and some delicious side dishes as well (possibilities include grilled asparagus with a lemon-rosemary dressing, grilled potato packets with fresh herbs and butter, or something similar, depending on how I can work the budget). All this for only $10! This is going to be a whole lot of fun and even if you’re interested in playing there will be good food and good company. Yes, even at a LAFF event. Trust me on this.

So, who’s interested? If possible, we’d like to get RSVP’s by noon on Friday, September 21 (this Friday), though if you decide that you’re interested after that you can let me know and we can probably squeeze you in. If you’ve already RSVP’d to steviemaxwell or on you don’t need to RSVP again, but otherwise you can either leave a comment here or e-mail Stevie at his account at gmail.com with the username steviemaxwell@. When RSVP’ing, please respond with: attending softball or not, attending picnic or not, wanting steak or not. Any response of “N, N, Y” will earn a boot to the head. The final deadline for RSVP’s is Friday, October 6.

Appley Doux? Don’t Mind If I Do!

That was the weekend that was. On Friday, takaza and I went out after work for a quick trip to Sam’s Club to price out some shelves that he had his eye on so we could bring some order to our garage (and hopefully other areas of the house as well). We didn’t buy anything while we were there, but we had some better numbers to work with. On the way home, we decided to try one of the family restaurants in Grayslake, the Hillside Restaurant. While Dan’s meal was pretty blah, my Reuben was excellent, with some of the better corned beef that I’ve had in a while. Afterwards, we stopped by the Prairie Croissant Cafe and picked up some coffee beans (they get theirs from Metropolis Coffee in Chicago, my second-favorite roastery there ๐Ÿ™‚

On Saturday, Dan had to go over to his mom’s place to hook up her new DVD recorder and show her how to use it. I struck off on my own and joined roho, genet, feren, lady_curmudgeon, and colliedoc for brunch at Las Vegas Restaurant in Antioch. Afterwards we walked around downtown a bit to fight off the inevitable food coma and we were joined by linnaeus. The lot of us headed north to Brightonwood Orchard, home of Aeppeltreow Winery. We sampled some of the new wines for 2007, but I wound up buying a bottle of the very tasty Appley Doux sweet sparkling cider and a bottle of Pommeaux apple dessert wine (fortified with apple eau de vie). Then it was over to the apple barn where we checked out some of the wonderful heirloom varieties. My favorite, Northern Spy, wasn’t in yet, but I picked up some Northern Greening and Gravenstein apples.

After returning from the orchard, Straif and I headed south and picked up Dan, then stopped at Garden Fresh to get some dinner fixins before returning to Antioch. Roho grilled up some delicious burgers and sausages from Antioch Packing House, then I went to work on the grill, test-grilling a couple of different things to see how they might work for the upcoming picnic. The verdicts:
Grilled Butternut Squash: Delicious, very potatoe-y when grilled. This begs the question, though, why not just grill potatoes, which are easier to deal with in quantity?
Grilled Honeydew Melon: The grilling didn’t really add much to the flavor. Maybe good for a garnish in a salad? Probably won’t pursue this for the picnic.
Grilled Honey Crisp Apples: Excellent! Nicely caramelized, very tasty. Might be a bit too expensive, though (there’s a reason the orchard nicknames them “Money Crisp” apples)
Grilled Nectarines: No verdict, since the coals were dying and I never succeeded in doing much more than warming the nectarines.

Sunday got a lot crazier than expected. First, we were surprised by a call from our landlord wanting to come in and change the furnace filter (read: “I want to come by and make sure you guys aren’t destroying my place.”) That’s cool, though – this was the first time he’s been out since we moved and, and I can understand his concern. Fortunately, we’re good tenants and he seemed happy with what he saw. We also talked about re-upping our lease and he seemed very amenable to that, so we’re covered for next year, it appears (thank heavens!). After he left, we drove back to Sam’s Club and bought the shelves we had looked at on Friday. We rearranged some of the stuff in the garage and put the shelves together, then Dan started replacing the various boxes on the shelves. Dan’s mom showed up to start work on a slipcover for our sofa, and I went to work in the kitchen making the aforementioned Apple Slab Pie. That sucker took seven pounds of apples and four pie crusts, but it came out well and I’m very happy with the results. In the midst of the chaos, luckytheevildog showed up and Dan helped him install a new hard drive on his computer. I whipped up dinner for everyone, a simple fettuccine with a modified pesto consisting of olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs (basil, oregano, and parsley), and Parmesan cheese. I cooked up some Italian sausages to serve on the side, and I was very happy with the results. The pie definitely passed muster; I’ll be posting the recipe in the next few days, since Dan’s mom wants a copy.

The alarm went off far too early this morning, and I’m dragging a bit now. Coming up this week…um, beats me. I know I have a lot of work to do for Midwest FurFest, though, so that will probably be my primary non-work focus. For now, though, I’m going in search of caffeine!

Blogs, Plans and More Plans

I’ve picked up a couple of new blogs to follow that I thought I’d mention here. I started with The Stew, which picks up has commentary that doesn’t appear in the Chicago Tribune as well as advance articles. That had a pointer to a post in Michael Ruhlman’s blog by Anthony Bourdain (who I adore!) – I liked the blog so much I added it to my daily reading. Then recently, Ruhlman was a stop on the “virtual book tour” by Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet. His amusing, occasionally profane food blog went onto my list. Then Roberts linked to fantastic and funny video about making lobster rolls over at Serious Eats which sent me investigating that blog more, and I became a fan there as well (particularly since they just added Mario Batali to their list of contributors!).

As an aside, you may wonder how I keep up with all these blogs? I use Firefox and every morning click a single button that loads ’em all in tabs, using the Morning Coffee extension. This works well with blogs that are updated daily; blogs that update less frequently I add to my Google Reader page. The latter is the case for Cheese Underground, which focuses solely on Wisconsin cheese, and Megnut, another interesting foodie blog, both of which only update a couple of times a month. Oh! And I should also mention another recent addition to my Reader, Winnipeg Eats. Sure, I don’t live in Winnipeg, but it’s written by a good friend and I like her writing ๐Ÿ™‚

Our calendar for the next few weekends is slowly filling up, as it is wont to do. It’s looking like we may make a return visit to Brightonwood Orchard this weekend (mmm, heirloom apples!), and while we’re there we’ll see what’s new at the adjoining winery. I expect a rigorous sampling of the winery’s wares and other spirits may ensue afterwards!

I’ve been reading up on various farmers markets in the area, as well as other local foods (since it is, after all, Eat Local Month) and while the Grayslake Farmers Market is fun, it’s a bit small. And yes, there’s some interesting places in Chicago, but I was looking around and I found many references for the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin. This dovetails neatly with my interest in finding out more about Wisconsin artisan cheeses (I even ordered a cool Wisconsin Cheese/Wine/Beer tour map!). Since I’ve been wanting to explore Madison a bit anyway, it sounds like a perfect excuse to get up that way. Some Saturday (not the coming one, but maybe the 22nd or the 29th), we’re going to hit the road early and spend the day checking the place out. Should be fun!

And then we have the big trip coming up. As some of you may have seen takaza mention, we’re going to hit the road for a weekend in late October (yeah, he couldn’t keep it a secret ๐Ÿ™‚ Patterned after Alton Brown’s recently-completed Feasting on Asphalt 2: The River Run, we’re going to tour Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin along the Mississippi River, shunning interstates and aiming for small towns to find stuff that’s interesting, tasty, and different. We may fail miserably, and eat some of the worst food ever, but we may also find the most amazing and delightful places, too. We’ll be renting a minivan that will hold everyone and drive out to Moline, Illinois on Friday night. Starting Saturday, we’ll strike out north along the river and see what there is to see. While I have a couple of places I do want to see along the way (including Kalmes Restaurant, which AB visited – “A little bit of Luxembourg in Iowa”) mostly we’ll be relying on serendipity to help us find something interesting. We’ll spend Saturday night somewhere along the way (Maybe, Dubuque? Maybe La Crosse, if we can actually find a hotel that isn’t booked), then meander home through Wisconsin. I’m really looking forward to this trip!

Thai, Moving, Meeting, Moving Again

After work on Friday, we got a call from colliedoc: he was on his way up from his new job (yay!) until his car died and he was stuck in North Chicago, near Abbott Park. We drove down and picked him up, then proceeded over to Wine Knows where we browsed a bit and tasted some of the wines they had available. Straif picked out a Riesling, and I got a bottle of the 2005 Woop Woop Shiraz. We were then joined by roho, genet, feren, and lady_curmudgeon and we went over to Lovely Thai for dinner. They happily served our wine with no corkage fee (!) and the seven of us had an excellent dinner with appetizers that came to $90. What a great deal! the wines were quite tasty as well, I might add. After dinner takaza and I took our leave from the rest of the group and went home to head to bed.

On Saturday, after a follow-up visit with my podiatrist (everything is healing nice, thank you!), Dan and I drove down to Naperville to help the folks at Ohana House move. We got in three trips between Oldhana and Newhana (heh) before it got too late to deal with things. their new place is quite fabulous, though I think the real winner is emrldgrrl, who got a snazzy studio apartment out of the deal ๐Ÿ™‚ For dinner we went to a Chinese restaurant near Newhana that featured amusing patrons and a hostess/waitress who didn’t speak much English but was certainly very fast! Dinner was quite tasty as well.

Sunday brought the Midwest FurFest staff meeting, which was rather productive. As we were eating lunch after the meeting we got a call from datahawk that there was a problem with the landlords of Oldhana and they might need to get everything out before the night was over. We hustled down to Naperville again to lend a hand, but the crisis was averted just before we arrived and they have another week to move stuff. As long as we were there, though, we packed a load of stuff and hauled it up to Newhana. From there we drove home (with a stop at Oberweiss Dairy, ’cause we had a hankering for tasty ice cream) then went off to bed.

Not too much going on this week except for maybe a trip down to Elk Grove Village on Wednesday for some factory testing of new equipment for my employer. And hey, we don’t seem to have much in the way of plans next weekend. I’m sure that will change between now and then, though…

Items of Note for Chicagoans

* All is not lost for mass transit in Chicago. On Monday, the State Senate will meet in a previously-unscheduled session to vote on Julie Hamos’ transit bill that the State House failed to pass earlier this week.

* In spite of the fact that the personable owner of Hot Doug’s, everyone’s favorite “encased meat emporium”, broke his leg a few weeks ago so badly it required surgery, he is coming back starting next Wednesday! From the website: “It appears that Doug’s leg is coming along nicely (and his bank account is not), so, HOT DOUG’S WILL RE-OPEN WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. We appreciate your patience during this solemn time of convalescence and look forward to serving you a nice sausage (that’s assuming Doug can ween himself off the vicodin).” Dang, I need to find an excuse to get into the city next weekend…

* The owner of the local Krispy Kreme franchise has filed for bankruptcy and plans to close half of their 15 outlets in the Chicago area.

* The Chicago City Council approved a measure that will allow people’s dogs to dine with them at outdoor cafes. One restaurant plans to celebrate by offering beer for dogs!

* And finally, even though I don’t think anyone I know has a membership but a few do have T-shirts from there, the owner of Cheetah Gym is closing all three locations due to “employee theft and graft”.

Labor Day Weekend Wrapup

What didn’t we do last weekend? Well, we didn’t drive any great distance, or fly, or deal with hordes of people. We opted instead for a quieter (and less expensive!) approach to the holiday. As my previous short posts hinted, the weekend had its ups and downs, but it all worked out well in the end.

After work on Friday, we did some quick cleaning around the house in preparation for the weekend’s company, then grabbed dinner at Scott Dogs and did a bit of shopping at Sam’s Club and Garden Fresh Market.

On Saturday, following a trip back to the podiatrist, who did things that not everyone may be interested in reading about

I Can Has Steak!

For the record:

Chocolate Chess Pie
1 oz. Praline Liqueur
1 oz. Stolichnya Vanilla Vodka
1 oz. Heavy cream
1 Tbsp. Hersheys Chocolate Syrup

Shake with ice, then strain. Serve in martini glass as is or in old fashioned glass over ice.


1″ thick New York strip steaks are on the grill cooking. Oven fries are in the oven. Friends are having fun. All is right with the world.

Edit after dinner: I neglected to mention the 2005 Marquis-Phillips Shiraz. That stuff is heaven in a bottle. I will now go die a happy man.