"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer



Shhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet.

Well, truth be told, I didn't kill da wabbit, but I sure did cook his ass...er, cottontail...tails. I've always wanted to make rabbit stew to serve with some quality French red wine, and I had chosen this weekend to make my fantasy a reality. I don't have much of a dining room, at all really, but as long as there's enough room to stand around my kitchen island, we can make a dinner party happen.

Friday night Tina and I picked up Peter and Mopsy from Paulina Meat Market ("Bunny killer's here!"), and then we got their trimmings from Family Fruit Market in Six Corners. Carrots, potatoes, as well as the holy trinity of onion, bell peppers, and celery, and several different kinds of wild and domestic mushrooms.

After a ride in the morning up to Highland Park with the team - there was no way I could squander yet another of the seemingly endless September sunny days we are having this late November - I sat on the stoop with a Refresco glass bottle Coke and smiled as Jack fooled around before getting down to business.

Jack and coke:

First, I had to peel and precook the potatoes. The recipe calls for a 12 to 24 hour simmer, I only had time for five. Then, it was time to chop the veggies and make the stock.

The Paulina butchers had quartered each of the rabbits, setting aside the visera, backbones, and liver in a separate wrapper. Reserving the liver for now, the backbone and other material went into my small pot, along with a red onion, two stalks of celery, carrot, and a liberal amount of salt and pepper.

While this simmered I turned to the rabbits. As it was my first time doing this, when I unwrapped their two packages I fully expected them to be deboned.

Not so. Just a couple of minutes trying to do that to raw meat first had me wondering if rabbit stew traditionally was served bone-in, and then washing my hands and turning to youtube, where I found this helpful demonstration:

Be sure to skip ahead to about 2.15 if you want to miss the guts coming out, and to 2.45 if you don't want to see the cute little rabbit turd on the cutting board.

Long story short, this wry Brit chef told me I needed to brown it first, and then the bones would come out quite cleanly. Thankfully Paulina Meat Market had taken care of the guts (and presumably the cute little turds) so soon I was happilyy browning away, nearly passing out from the extremely rich aroma of the meat searing in a large amount of butter.

Done, I set the meat aside to cool, and retrieved my trusty stock pot. I've made several good soups in this pot, including a beer and cheese, tomato basil, and most recently a butternut squash, with black beans and chorizo. I think even one St. Paddy's day I made some corned beef in there.

Into the loosening olive oil went, in order: onion, the julienne-cut (not bad for the first time, either!) celery, peppers and carrots, lots of garlic, tomato, and almost a full bottle of cheap white wine. More pricey viogner was called for. Right. After that came to a boil, I dropped the flame to let it reduce, and got on over to Tina's for some herbs.

Tina was in the middle of getting some broccoli from her garden, in order to make a souffle. Outside I snipped a big handful of parsley, and from behind her kitchen table I snagged some rosemary and thyme.

Back at the apartment I walked into a wondrous aroma: the rabbit stock, the softening veggies, and the cooling, golden meat just waiting to be taken off of the bone.

With the deboning mission accomplished, the meat, livers, the stock, herbs, and potatoes went into the pot, then it was time to make myself presentable and then wait for the arrival of guests while I finished the pear and Gorgonzola salad with the pecans I'd candied earlier.

Rick, a great friend living in Madison, Wisconsin arrived first, bearing must-haves for any menu featuring French provincial cuisine:

Rob's baked brie was decorated perfectly for the occasion:

Tina's souffle didn't exactly rise, but it certainly rose to the occasion, with it's cheesy, creamy, veggie goodness, the perfect side for any French-inspired menu:

Of course, the bachelor doesn't have enough bowls and spoons for his stew party, but does have two of his own cheese boards. Go figure. So many thanks for Susan, Cari, and Scott for the extra utensils and bowls, as well as more cheese and noshes.

Brian and Jamie brought two excellent bottles - a Cotes Du Rhone and a knock out Alsace Riesling.

And when Greg, Peter, Erik and Tracy arrived (with a bottle of Booker's 130 proof bourbon, I might add) it was officially a party:

Oh, and creampuffs and brownies for dessert! Rick attempted both at once:

And as I drank more, the disco jacket had to make an appearance:

It was an unqualified success. Thanks for coming, each of you. As I said in my toast, what good is a meal without good friends with whom to enjoy it?

Let's do it again soon.


Thursday hate

Brian and Erik ride to work:

Christmas trees in November.

By time the big day rolls around how can you still stand to look at the damn thing?! I think even Thanksgiving weekend is too early to be putting up lights and tinsel and shit. And these assholes in my neighborhood are putting them up while their fucking pumpkins are still rotting on their porch!

Enjoy Fall, for God's sake. Get out and shoot a deer, play some football. Fry up that walleye that's been in the freezer. Watch 25 football games in a row, and drink a case of beer. There's plenty of time for cookies and cake and cocktails in December.

When I was a kid, we didn't put up the Christmas tree until the night of the last day of school before holiday break. We had an old artificial tree from the '60s that we'd put up, and then drag a box of ornaments up from the basement that was as big as me. We'd order Pizza Hut and spend the night decorating it and listening to Bing Crosby sing-a-long LPs.

And if you think that's waiting too long? My mom's family didn't put up the tree until Christmas Eve night. Bare. It was decorated, and had presents under it, when they woke up. Now that's making the day special.


Picture of the day

(With apologies to Newt...)

"Whoa...hey guys...um...I think I'll take the stairs..."

(from Red Kite Prayer)

Hump Day

Hipsters discussing cyclocross.


Santa Rampage.


The best part about cyclocross crash-porn is that it's mostly guilt-free. Mostly.


I couldn't have said it better myself (wait for it...1:10).


Canberra, Corn, and Candide

Ah Monday, what delightful little surprises you bring.

This arrived from Australia in the mail today:

All I will say is that there is more than just a book in that envelope. It is Promise that's hidden away in there.


I've recovered from my little rant last Thursday, and I have taken the very first steps towards directing my anger in a positive direction. I hope to tell you more soon, right after the New Year, if all goes to plan...but a simple building block of that plan was put into place just tonight, in a meal of homemade polenta, baked kale with olive oil and sea salt, and some leftover butternut squash soup with black beans and chorizo (note, that is meat - I ain't going veggie...) that I made Friday:


As I cooked that dinner tonight and listened to the Aaron Copeland station on Pandora, Leonard Bernstein's Overture to Candide began to play, and out spilled the most vivid visions and breathless emotions from over 20 years ago, my freshman year of high school.

On the first day of class in fall 1987, I sat in the band hall amid applause and cheers from the other students, directed at me for the sole reason that I was the first tuba player they'd ever had, even the seniors. I still had no idea what I was doing with that giant hunk of brass, having just switched over at the very end of 7th grade from trumpet, riding the instrument's demand straight out of the reject 4th period band to the top tier concert band and now this. I still had no idea at the time that I was reading a different clef and couldn't play anything higher than a middle E flat, but here I was.

Less than two months later I was in the back row of the East High Symphonic Band, in the midst of a city-wide concert on a gymnasium floor - a "battle of the bands" if you will. While the other schools were pandering - with TV show medleys (Dallas and Dynasty), or watered down movie themes - we shocked the room (or at least the other band directors) by belting out the opening staccati to Bertstein's lively intro to his opera.

Our brand new director, James Bowers, was a lot of things, some not always positive as it came to be over the following years, but he was a challenging teacher, and he showed huge balls programming a piece like this for his debut performance.

Candide is fast and complicated, written in time-signatures I'd never seen before. I faked half of it but it didn't matter. The multilayered rhythms whisked me along regardless to a level of existence that I've only reached since during peak performance; music, bicycling... As the playful melodies bantered about between the winds and brass and percussion, interrupted by my quick bursts of bass - the little kid piping into the conversation - I was electrified, overcome with a pulsing energy that made it impossible to sit still. When the final melody came to a head in the horns, then bubbled out of the winds, suddenly ending in that last tutti chord, I sat there in a daze as the applause washed over us, breathing heavily and tingling as though I had climaxed.


Thursday hate

Fuck you, Michael Pollan.

I can't walk past the meat case in my grocery store without wanting to vomit, and like Haley Joel Osment, I see dead people, and high fructose corn syrup, everywhere. Dead people made of corn syrup and oil.

Of course, I am partially kidding. I have referenced Mr. Pollan many times in this space, and I highly respect his writing. After reading his piece, Unhappy Meals, in the New York Times Magazine I felt compelled to write a somewhat longer piece than I will give tonight. Partially because it is late, mostly because I am filled with such apprehension and indecision.

I have read excerpts from his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, before and have spoken with many people who have finished it. But I never expected that upon finally reading for myself that it would affect me so deeply.

I shop at my neighborhood farmers market almost every weekend in the summer. I try to buy free range beef and eggs whenever I can. But I honestly have never imagined anything so wrenchingly beautiful as Pollan's account of Joel Salatin's "beyond organic" farm, summed up so succinctly by his image of a happy pig scratching itself against a tree, grunting with pleasure in the afternoon shade.

That image is then contrasted with the madness that is the alternative, the shit-stained, scab-covered hordes of steer and chicken driven insane by close quarters and lack fresh air and sunlight, being fed a diet of relentlessly subsidized corn that makes them sick, requiring them to be pumped full of drugs to get them through to slaughter. It's not really the suffering that hits me so hard, for there is an equal amount of human misery to worry about, but the unsustainability of it all. The hubris we display in thinking that our answer is the only answer. It's the wrong answer: the barren, scorched, burned earth we leave behind, polluted and diseased by manure so toxic farmers can't use it as fertizer.

And yet, the days and meals go by, shopping carts and mouths fill up with colorful boxes and labels all filled with the same mountains of unending corn, just reassembled into different shapes. What was once a delicacy, what once was slaughtered in rituals and prayers, is now merely shrink-wrapped in hunks of manufactured meat, or pre-cooked into a ready-to-microwave meal, now at a low, low price. Why not have it every day? And they do.

I now know what Chris McCandless must have felt like; I understand his irrational compulsion to throw it all away and leave it all behind, to become one with the earth. It makes me want to scream, as I type on this plastic computer, made from oil and corn, powered by petroleum...I can't escape it.

To be ignorant is one thing. To be willfully ignorant is quite another. I know I can't change the world, but I can't be sociopath, in good conscience, either...and to buy into this system knowing the inputs is to be a willfully ignorant sociopath.

So I choose delusion, and hope that I can change the world.


The weekend

No biking this weekend - coach's orders (rest and recovery) - so I got to sleep in and take some long walks with Jack, as well indulge myself a bit, as well.

How beautiful was the weather? See for yourself, if you were snowed-in in Colorado or something:

That night was a fundraiser for the Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association (GIPNA), a wine and cheese tasting to benefit the renovation of the historic bungalow at the southeast corner of the park. Note that my name is much prettier than my friend Tina's:

Why would anyone go to a wine-tasting and not taste each of the nine Cotes Du Rhone labels offered? By time we had worked our way down the list to the last wine, a Chateauneuf Du Pape, it was gone. People had been skipping all the rest, including three labels of white, plus a rose, instead tasting - no, drinking - all of the big, spicy wine for themselves.

Oh well. It was a fun time, still. Here's a rare view from the balcony of the Independence Park fieldhouse:

And inside the upstairs level, filled with neighbors drinking all that CDP while listening to some smooth, loungy piano jazz:

The rest of the evening saw us moving from another fun raiser at St. Edward's Catholic school - "Red Rock" - where parents' bands entertained friends and family in the school's gym. The place was right around the corner from the Irish-American Heritage center - basically a bar within an old elementary school - so, naturally:

We ended up at Queen Albert's, a Filipino restaurant and kareoke bar just around the corner from home. Serving great food until well after midnight, it was packed with natives from all over Chicago singing to robotic, MIDI accompaniment to generic white girls in bikinis in various states of pastoral beauty behind the words on the screen. Tina sang "The Gambler," Rob gave us an Elvis ballad, and I struggled horribly with a Sinatra tune. I learned the hard way that "Luck Be A Lady" must only be sung in front of a live band.

Sunday I took Jack on a long stroll through the Old Irving neighborhood, west of Pulaski, on our way to the Starbucks at Kostner and Irving to chill with a book for a bit. I was amazed at the houses over there, it was as though I were in Oak Park. Beautiful two- and three story single family homes along sunny tree-lined streets, fall color spilled everywhere. I was suddenly wistful - for what, I'm not sure - but I wanted to see Packards and Studebakers along the curbsides. These are from a stretch of Byron between Avondale and Kostner:

The rest of the day was spent in Greg's backyard, drinking cold beers over the fire and listening to the Bears game. Even a shitty performance like theirs couldn't ruin such a perfect day as this.


Happy Birthday, Jack!

I actually don't know just how old you are, only that they told me on my first day with you that you could be one and a half. But that first day with you was a year ago, this coming Monday.

We got off to a rough start didn't we? I didn't understand you, you just kept pushing my buttons...we might not even have stayed to together had things worked out slightly different...

But, I am very glad they didn't. I will never, as long as I live, forget our long walk up Kimball from Logan Square that sunny Friday evening in late March. You were there for me, and have been ever since.

You make me laugh each day:

You make the absolute most of each day:

You're at my side everywhere I go:

And you never let me out of your sight:

You give me everything you have to give.

I love you Jack. You're my boy.

Sunday at the Harp

Last night, Kevin Flynn dedicated a song to me, with his band, The Avondale Ramblers.

Considering I only heard him dedicate one song in the five years I was in Kiss n Ride with him, I was honored.

So, I'd like to dedicate this to Kevin.

Sunday morning at the Harp and Shamrock.

We walked in the door at 11, clapping our shoulders free of the blustery cold outside and brushing the dead leaves out of our hair. Inside awaits warm wood, alluring neon, and a welcoming smirk above a big hand unscrewing a bottle.

"Two bloodies, Buddy."

"Pints?" Buddy would ask, hopefully. He hated making bloody marys, as he did with any drink with more than two ingredients, and of course, we responded, "naw...highballs!" and drank them fast so he'd have to make 'em again. The smirk would turn to a sneer below the salt and pepper mustache and kid's haircut, and he slouched even more as he spiced and Tobascoed away.

In the corner was either Sean's hot dog machine, complete with bun warmer or a huge crock of chili. Either way there were several bags of potato chips as well. All that was needed was for us to dig in.

But first we'd sit along the wall under the Paddy mirrors, the framed Hubert H. Humphrey campaign poster, and the map of Europe with no England on it, and sip our drinks while the neighborhood hags and Joe Plumbers smoked by the window, their gray haze snaking around their wrinkled faces. The Bears pregame wrapped up on the televisions over the bar.

After kick off and we'd gotten our first beer, then it was time eat. There was always more than enough, and always free...for regulars, anyways. Just plop it all on a paper plate and take it back to the table and your bottle. It always seemed to me that somebody new would see all of us eating and be afraid to ask.

Those Bears games were somehow comically magical that year. Jim Miller nearly always found a way to make us laugh in disbelief at the end, to cheer and scream triumphantly in a way we never quite felt we deserved, but the joy at 3pm was genuine nonetheless.

With endorphins from the win coursing through our system, Monday felt a week away. By halftime of the second game, I'd probably moved on to Jameson, or at least began mixing it in with the rotation. The crowd would get younger and more familiar as the sun began to set. The wood glowed in the ambient light from the street lamps and the bar signs; nowhere else could've seemed more like home.

At 7:30, the afternoon games and highlights over, the evening game starting, we were in 5th gear and stopping for no one. Now it was Jameson exclusively and I was bumming cigarettes from Sean, who would occasionally come from behind the bar to take his eagle shot on the Golden Tee machine.

Game over, we turned up the juke box. Thin Lizzie, The Pogues, Willy Nelson, and Elvis; as we got drunker, our own Kiss n' Ride EP that was in there. Someone would trip, get up, order another one. Old friends came by, beckoned or by surprise, backs were patted, drinks spilled. We found a neighborhood Joe asleep on the toilet, snoring loudly. That waitress from next door I wanted to get on would come in. Somebody would try to climb over the bar. Somebody would get thrown out.

Then Sean would start turning out the lights, and suddenly Monday didn't seem so far off any more. We'd put our scarves and coats back on, slur our goodbyes, and head back out into the blustery cold.


Thursday Hate

First: Yankees fans. That's like rooting for Walmart.


James E. Cox. That is the name of the uninsured, unlicensed driver and otherwise waste of viable organs that killed a mother and her posthumously-delivered son on October 21 while running a red light on the west side. He was arrested yesterday after it was revealed that he was high on cocaine at the time. The Chicago Tribune also reported Cox has been cited 15 prior times for driving without a license. Why is it we had to wait for someone to die before this piece of shit was finally arrested? Don't you think after the 3rd, or even the 5th, time that somebody would see a pattern here?

Mayor Daley, if it's about money, I understand, man. I am available. Standard union wage is all I am asking - much cheaper than it will cost to house this asshole downstate for 15 years. The only thing else it will cost the city is some handcuffs, a standard issue taser, and a sock filled with ball bearings. And a few rolls of paper towels to clean up the blood.


The carnage continued Halloween night with another hit and run, this time in North Center. Rachel Gilliam was struck and killed at the Lincoln and Cullom intersection sometime after 3am, Sunday morning. The driver fled the scene.

Note that the URL of the link above says, "hit-and-run-accident." No. That is not an accident. A hit and run is a crime.

She worked at Bowman's, a sister restaurant of O'Donovan's, where I waited tables in 2007, while between jobs for three months. I am sure several people I worked with there are grieving pretty severely now. I actually knew Rachel. A friend reminded me that she was the ex-girlfriend of my ex-girlfriend's current husband. We all had hung out together several times back in 2004-2005. Hearing that dragged to the surface a whole bunch of bad memories which I really didn't want to relive.


Riding home today, just past Montrose on Elston, a CPD squad car was parked in the bike lane. No hazard or flashers. Diddy and Alan are on my wheel, so I wave left behind my ass with my right hand and take the lane. A grey Saab guns it behind us, and risks probably six lives, including his and ours passing us to get to the red light maybe 100 yards beyond. I look back at the cop in the car as if to ask, "you gonna do anything about that?"

Too busy talking on a cell phone.


Did Santa buy Halloween or something? Was there some sort of holiday-merger?




Heineken. And anyone who thinks that is good beer. And the tribal armband tattoos they are probably wearing.


Hump Day

Spiced Pumpkin Pie or Iced Gingerbread?

First time I've ever done this, but man I love Clif! They are a major sponsor of my cycling team, and I just couldn't be more grateful. A super-friendly rep showed up to the team meeting meeting last night and bestowed us with a bunch of free product, including the seasonal-flavors us Clif-geeks wait all year for. We all wish they'd make these year-round, but there's a reason Christmas only comes once a year: it's all the more special.

I actually had the Cranberry Orange Nut Bread after my ride to Northbrook this morning and, I'm not kidding, it almost tasted as good my mom's.


Mundial or Nuevo Leon? The Chicago Cycling Examiner covers Pilsen.


Red Vines or Twizzlers?

When I was kid, at the movies I'd use a Red Vines to drink my Coke with. The only thing that tasted better than that were the burps after.



A second spring, every leaf a crackling, golden bloom
Their softly rustling, whispered hidden words were songs
That lured me shirtless and bare into a warm, thoughtful breeze.
I hoped that it might last forever, as I walked among the trees
Through peaceful evenings and golden sunsets, that all along
Were just the lying double talk of a manic, relentless doom.

Like dead skin it collects in nooks and corners, insectile
Leaving behind skeletal fingers to wave and mock and cackle
As I try to cover my flushed, raw skin, caught bare in its malice.
I thank God for light, for heat, for wise words that offer solace
For the ease that which this modern life arms me to attack
The primal dread, fear growing as the sun retreats, all the while.

Imagine those nights, breathless within, while the howls outside
Those musty, mudden walls announced that summer was slain.
Flickering candles in hollow lanterns do little to allay the fears
Of those who now must seal away and mete out nightly tears.
Chilling winds and driven snow will soon arrive to cover the plain
When the bonfires of
Samhain are gone and warming embers died.

Long months are ahead, and I must ignore the hopeless wails
Of old men and wolves for whom this winter will be their last.
Under harsh beams or withering candles, beneath nylon or hay
In front of a television or storyteller, sanity's tested either way.
I hope the husk I hear in my ear is a new voice, not the past
Whispers who've told me sweet lies of dewey grass and lover's tales.