Archive | June, 2012

Cubs vs. Sox – The Crosstown Classic

20 Jun

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Just a short post today … not my usual story-telling novels.  Robin and I are lucky enough this evening to be the guests of our friends this evening at a Chicago White Sox vs. Chicago Cubs “crosstown classic” game at US Cellular Field (the Sox home park).  Being the sort of Chicago sports fan that I am, which is to say “somewhat aloof and above all the rah rah” – that’s borne of not being born here, thought it would be fun to share a few thoughts about this.

My sports fandom is generally one of “I enjoy sporting events but I generally don’t follow sports or teams.”  I’ve never been that guy that reads the sports section every day, never been that guy that is in Rotisserie League baseball or Fantasy Football, never been that person who can spout what happened to the Cubs/Sox/Bulls/Bears/Blackhawks/etc. in the last game.  I don’t tuck in and watch a game (or a whole Sunday of games).  Just not me.  I LOVE going to games – if offered a ticket, hell yes, I will go – I love the scene, the spectacle,and well, the games are more fun to watch live. I do watch some sports on TV (yes, auto racing being the primary one), but it’s most likely as their social gathering going on around it.

So therefore, I’m not afflicted by the whole Cubs vs. Sox rivalry here.  I was going to wear an orange shirt today, just to protest, but wound up in a blue shirt just because it looked better for being in the office.  

ImageBut I find it funny that you can find Sox fans that are more excited to see the Cubs lose than to see their own team win.  And as far as the Cubs attention about the White Sox – mostly it’s “oh, huh.  They won? Whatever.”  Why CAN’T these fans be fans of the City’s teams?  Why can’t one congratulate the other when they win?  

ImageWhen the White Sox went to the World Series a few years ago (and totally ran the table, by the way), why couldn’t Cubs fans put on Sox jerseys and have some fun.  And when the few that did do that, actually do it, why did the Sox fans get upset about it? 

ImageNow then, I do have to admit to a bit of Fandom – the Iowa Hawkeyes.  MY Iowa Hawkeyes.  I have been a Hawkeye since I was a kid.  My Dad was a Hawkeye.  My sister is one.  Hell, I was even Herky The Hawk for a short period!  But I’m not one of those Iowa fans that disses the Iowa State Cyclones or cheers when they lose.  Not my style.  Just as long as the Hawkeyes trounce them every year.

I don’t purport to have any answers.  All I know is tonight is the longest day of the year.  I’m going to go spend the evening in a beautiful ballpark, on a beautiful evening, with good friends, cold beer, a tasty hot dog, awesome seats and my lovely wife.  

And that my friends, is a great night.  I hope Chicago wins the game tonight!  Go Bears!  (wait, what???)

As you were,

Stew 

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It’s National Martini Day! You know what to do.

19 Jun

 

This is a repost of a blog post I wrote about this time last year.  It IS National Martini Day, folks.  You know what to do!

And in case you do not, please read below.

As you were,

Stew

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Outside of my office – 333 West Wacker Drive in Chicago – aka “where Ferris Bueller’s dad worked”, there’s a bus shelter, and of course they have advertising on the shelter.  They just updated the ad on it with this image:


Well, far be it for me to not be inspired by this – I snapped the picture above, texted it to my pal “GASHM” who promptly replied with “Funny, I was just thinking that a “proper Martini” is the way I’m going to relax this evening.  I could shake enough for two!”

So, about 9:30 PM, it was “Martini O’Clock” on GASHM’s screened-in porch.  We solved every world problem over a couple of ice cold Ketel One Martinis.  Perfect.

Which of course inspired this blog post.  So many people seem to find the art of a proper Martini to be very daunting, but yet, it is very easy, if you just follow some simple techniques.  I thought I’d use this opportunity to teach you, my friends, the art of a proper Martini.

You know, just in case I come to visit or something.

Let’s pause a minute though to talk about what a proper Martini really is.  In my humble opinion, a proper Martini can be made ONLY with vodka or gin, Vermouth if you’d like, and some ice.  An olive for garnish or a lemon peel.  That’s it.  All those OTHER pretenders to the Martini throne – Cosmopolitans, Appletini’s, Chocomartini’s, etc. etc. are simply Martini-like cocktails.

I was taught the art of a proper Martini by none other than a woman named Tana Foreman – who was bartender in my hometown of Newton, IA back when I was in college.  Tana was the Newton Country Club bar manager – we only had a few customers that drank “up” Martinis back then and she took special care in making sure that I not only knew how to make them, but new how to make good ones.  People from Newton will remember her also from Palma’s Restaurant, and the Hawkeye Lounge at the Terrace Inn.  Hope she’s still around and kicking.

Finally, before the recipe, I have to give props to a good work friend and Martini aficionado, Lisa PF.  Lisa, who is a grand master wizard of market and language research, is a also a wizard of turning a phrase.  I LOVE the way Lisa orders a martini.  Her brand is Belvidere vodka and she orders it as such:

“Belvidere Martini up.  VERY cold.  VERY dry.  With olives.”

Of course writing it doesn’t do it justice – you have to hear Lisa’s cadence and emphasis to appreciate it.  But whenever she orders one, I’m powerless to say anything but “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The Proper Martini:

Gear:  Martini Shaker – I find that either a dome-top shaker with a built in strainer and cap works well, and have a collection of them.   That said, I find that the BEST Martinis are made in a Boston shaker – which a two-part affair that most pro bartenders use – it has a metal cup that fits into a pint glass – this works great because you can get a bigger “shake” impact out of it – the shaker is larger and allows the ice to build up some speed before it whacks into the other end of the shaker.  The art though is straining it out – you can either use a separate strainer or do the ‘crack and pour’ technique where you create a tiny slot by separating the two halfs of the shaker just a bit and pouring from there.

Standard shaker

Boston Shaker

Cocktail strainer

Glassware:  the best Martini glasses aren’t those 8-oz monsters they use in restaurants these days – the best ones are 4 ounces – so you’re forced to make a smaller drink that stays cold while you drink it.

Ingredients:

  • Ice.  LOTS of ice.  My friends always kid me about how much ice I use.  But they NEVER complain about my cocktails.
  • Water (you’ll water see in a moment)
  • Premium Vodka or Gin.  Your choice on brands. My faves are Ketel One vodka and Bombay gin (but not Sapphire).
  • Premium white vermouth – my favorite is Noilly Pratt.
  • Olives – I prefer stuffed Manzanilla cocktail olives versus the big queen monsters that taste like all salt.

For ONE proper Martini:

  • 3 oz vodka or gin
  • 1 teaspoon vermouth
  • 1 olive

Pre-chill your glass by filling it with ice to the brim, then filling it with water.  Do this 10 minutes or so before you want to serve your martini.  You can also of course just keep your glasses in the freezer, ready to go.  Or, set it outside in the snow in the winter.

Fill your shaker 3/4 full of ice, and then add the vermouth.  Put the top on the shaker and shake vigorously for about a minute.  This breaks up the ice a bit and also coats the ice with the vermouth.  Pour out the vermouth and any water using the strainer of your shaker.  Remove the top of the shaker and add the vodka or gin.  Put the top and cap on the shaker and shake vigorously for a good minute, then set the shaker down to rest for a moment.  While your shaker is resting, drink the water from your pre-chilling martini glass and toss out the ice.   The water is good hydration – you need it when you drink Martinis!  Pick up your shaker again, and shake for another 20-30 seconds, then uncap the shaker and strain it into a glass.  If you’ve done it right, there will be little shards of ice floating on top of the martini.

Spear your olive with a toothpick, shake off any excess brine (don’t use those lame plastic swords!) and gently place in your glass.  Sip.  Savor.  Ahhh. Sandpaper – it takes the rough edges off.  (Right Lisa?)

Enjoy!

As you were,

Stew

That “This is Amazing!” moment

12 Jun

There is a fairly famous and popular “bit” by the comedian Louis CK, that he titles “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy”. In the clip he talks about stuff we take for granted now that is truly incredible, and we get upset when it doesn’t work right. His point: HELLO! It’s amazing that it exists at all! The best little bit of the clip is where he talks about people on airplanes using the in-flight WiFi and when it drops out they get all pissed off. His point to them? You’re in a metal tube, sitting in an armchair like in your living room, shooting through the sky at 500 miles per hour. That little feat is amazing enough. And now you’re pissed off that somehow you can’t connect from the internet from there? Here is the clip:

This post is somewhat close in relation to my “FM Technology” post – in that post, I talk about how so much of what we do works by FM Technology – defined as “F’ing Magic!”. I’m writing this right now in a “This is Amazing” moment. I’m on a speeding Metra train, using my tiny little, screaming fast laptop, connected to the internet via a Sprint 4G USB device, and somehow the words I write are getting published in real time to my Word Press account by the process of my laptop taking my information, turning it into a stream of data, that my little 4G device transmits to a series of towers as I speed along, which then gets transmitted through a telephone network, out to the Internet network and to some data center somewhere where that stream of data is stored. You then, once I click my “publish” button and enable to you see it, can then through whatever connectivity you have, send a request to that server, which then sends my words through a series of wires, satellite links, fiber optic cables, Cable TV lines, etc. into your computer or laptop or tablet or smart phone, which then decodes it and creates a visual image of my words that you can read.

Excuse me, that’s Amazing.

It seems like these days we do all take it all for granted, but I have to admit that I try as often as possible to have an “amazing” moment. My favorite Amazing moment has been when I’m hurtling through the air in the steel tube connected to the internet – that alone is plenty amazing as Louis CK says. But, add to that the rest of the story, whenI really experience that “This is Amazing!” moment is when I’m chatting through Facebook in real time, with my good friend, Simon, who lives in the UK, whom I met on the internet through an online travel site, and where he and I finally met in person last summer in Cancun. He and I are chatting in real time, and when I start deconstructing all the “This is Amazing” things to enable that to happen – all the way down to him reading my review of a resort in Mexico on CancunCares.com (that’s how we “met in 2007) … well … Ok, that’s all kinds of Amazing.

I could go on and on about all the little Amazing things we have these days – 10,000 songs in your pocket (iPod), computers in our hands (smartphones and tablets), cooking with radar (Microwave ovens), a whole room full of maps in our cars (GPS), etc. etc. As I noted in my “FM Technology” post, I often think of my grandfathers and my dad – all men that left the world too early – who all appreciated cool stuff, and try to consider what they’d think of all of this now. Anyway, onward to a different “This is amazing!” moment.

This past weekend, we went to Galena IL to go stay at a friend’s vacation home on the Eagle Ridge golf resort. Beautiful place. Galena, if you’re not familiar, is a town in FAR northwest Illinois, near the Mississippi. That area – pretty much all of Jo Daviess county in Illinois, is an area that opted out of getting scoured pool-table flat by the ice ages somehow, and does Illinois’ best imitation of actually having terrain. Northeast through south-central Illinois is table-top flat. I’m from Iowa. People joke about Iowa being flat, but I’ve ridden across it 4 times on a bicycle. Trust me, it is anything BUT flat. Maybe flat compared to Colorado, but compared to the flat parts of Illinois, Iowa is positively hilly. Well compared to the rest of Illinois, the Galena area is positively mountainous. Beautiful!

One of the unique features of this vacation home (besides being beautiful) is that it was totally disconnected. No cable TV or satellite TV, no internet. No phones. The owner has it that way intentionally. He does have a mad-good home theater installed –and a killer house-wide music system. But beyond that, pretty much a disconnected zone. That forced my internet-deprived sons out of their usual routine of online video games, YouTube, Netflix, etc. etc.

Anyway, it is also miles from any big city, and is considered by the government agency that considers such things to be a “protected dark sky” area – there are observatories and such there and they restrict the amount of light pollution to preserve the sky visibility. Tucson is another such area. Tucson is so dark it is as if they have piped in the darkness. This is one area where big government is accomplishing something great. These skies are incredible!

Therefore, our “this is amazing” moment this past weekend came not from high tech, but the heavens. We got back to the house after dinner and it was DARK. We all headed outside to look at the stars – and it was truly Amazing. In the Chicago area, our light pollution is so bad that you can barely see the Big Dipper. This was the total opposite of that. We could see so many stars, constellations, planets, satellites, shooting stars (meteors), distant airplanes, etc., that we all five of us pulled up chairs, fixed beverages and turned our faces to the skies and enjoyed stargazing for nearly 2 hours. And said “This is Amazing!” multiple times. We talked, we didn’t talk, we ooh’ed and ah’d, we all yelled “Hey, did you see that??” when a meteor shot across our view. We watched the show together. It was great.  We are so used to a sky with very few stars and a vaguely orange glow from all the street lighting, that when met with a truly dark sky filled with stars, well, it stopped us in our tracks.

Now that is Amazing. On so many levels.

Go have an amazing moment today, OK?

As you were,

Stew

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