I’ve been “on the road” most of the last week. Quick trip to Chicago to see the kids and grandkid.
Just a couple of points out of it all:
The influence of New York influenced Puerto Rican cooking was evident in what the daughter-in-law was doing in the kitchen. I clearly have a lot to learn about Caribbean seasonings! Every meal was a joy. One interesting dish was a pizza, but unlike any other I’d had. I think the bread had some olive oil on it, but not any sauce per se, then a layer of goat cheese, slices of green and yellow zucchini slices, some basil, and then a drizzle of lemon juice. (Not sure if some other spices might have been hiding in it somewhere, but didn’t see any). Just tasty and given me a load of ideas for other variations on “pizza”. Another dish was a pot roasted chicken surrounded by vegetables. A mix of onions, carrots, what I think were yams or sweet potatoes, and orange sections (peel left on). A beautiful riot of red/orange colors in the bowl at the table! Chicken covered in a lot of oregano and some lesser spices (TBD…) then slow cooked to very very tender. OMG!
I’m surprised the son has not added a set of “love handles” (then again, his spouse is a nurse so likely keeps the calorie count under control… one doesn’t argue with an E.R. Nurse…)
So on my “to do” list is to study spices and islands cooking.
We had a couple of ‘ersatz parties’. I’ve had a general preconception of Chicago as dreary and not particular a place I’d want to be. This was softened some when I attended the climate conference there a few years back. While exposure to locals was limited, I found them a bit ‘gruff at a distance’ but as soon as you needed help or said hello they were quick and easy friends. One guy at a train platform control booth, when I asked how to use the ticket machine, even told me to just come on through the gate and get on the train with whatever I had… That is something of a Chicago trait I’ve learned more about — folks “do what needs doing” with only passing nods to rules if the rules are in the way. Traffic, for example, has a ‘make it work first, signs or stripes not so much’ style. Rules are followed when helpful, ‘bent’ when necessary. But over all, I’d mostly been there in winter and folks are huddling inside, streets a mess. This trip was different. It was early summer and folks were glorying in it.
So there was a ‘block party’ scheduled. Folks parked cars to block off the ends of the block, set up a bounce house. Two guys who worked at competing local brewpubs set up a beer tent (and shared the ‘taps box’ between their two brands!) with just a donations bucket. “Metropolitan” and “Surly” IIRC (accuracy not guaranteed as it was good and I made a big donation ;-) One house had a slow cooker full of hotdogs, big bag of buns and condiments on the table. All the hotdogs you could eat donated to the party. There was pulled pork, big trays of fresh fruit slices and berries, a strawberry upside down cake, some spiced fruit that I think was mango? and some salsa like thing (no tomatoes in it, but onions and green stuff and some spices and some ??? and…) and more.
Somewhere along the way, I found myself being friends with a dozen folks I’d never met before. A ’30 something’ black lady who was touring the street with a 60 something Polish extraction native of Chicago guy and his wife from Ireland, the hotdog folks doing the ‘steps sitting’ thing, some Hispanic kids playing ball in the street, even the “Alderman” came by. (Chicago has their own political names and I’m not sure what an Alderman is, but folks were busy passing on their concerns and desires – the “alderman” being nothing like what I expected was a ’30 something’ young lady). Even had two police stroll up, start being all “Who’s truck is this?” demanding about a pickup inside the barrier parked in the non-parking temporary sign zone. Folks talked with them, said “Hey, we’re fine, parked cars are folks who live here, so no tickets please” and the cops went away. Sure, it was a “rule” on no-parking in block parties, but this is Chicago…
Another day another party… the flat below the Son’s had a kid with a 2nd birthday, so had set up a BBQ in the common backyard. I took the dogs down for a ‘walk’ and was invited to have a beer and stay. Eventually we ended up with our whole extended family joining their extended group in the back yard. Our 18 month kid being the same size as their 2 year old, and them playing well together.
The grandson is busy learning words at a surprising rate. He makes an interesting distinction between “no” and “nope”. When unhappy (like getting his nose wiped) he will say “Nooo!” as a protest. But when asked something like “Want more cereal?” or “Pick up your toy.” when he is no so disposed says “Nope!” with emphasis on the P plosive sound. Just cute. At the party we worked on “Hola!” and “Mira” as his first Spanish… (And “Maya” as the birthday girl’s name… where he got to practice his flirting skills ;-)
So we added that pizza to the table and I had some barbacoa and more beer along with some great Spanish rice (whole green olives in it… that’s an interesting idea…) Got to practice my Spanish, too, as about 1/2 the folks present spoke little English and the same percentage of our group having little or no Spanish – or very rusty Spanish… But everyone got by fine with a constantly rotating mix of Spanish, English, and Spanglish. As dusk arrived, lightning bugs started streaking in the vines and bushes around the yard adding their bit of magic to the party.
It is summer, and in Chicago, after a long indoors winter, folks are ready to get out and enjoy the good weather. Not wasting a bit of it.
We also went to a park on Lake Michigan and again, folks were busy enjoying life. Birds galore, kids chasing geese, boats all over, swimming and more. Another day went to the zoo. The zoo is free. Yes, zero cost. Parking was $30, but if you want to go by other transport, not a problem for a free day at the zoo. (Parking is by the hour, $40 max, and is what funds the zoo, so we were happy to pay it). Again, full of people much more interested in enjoying the place than being bothered about anything.
Folks in Chicago know how to just enjoy life and make it good in the good times. After putting up with winter, slushy streets, days of cold and dark, it is a celebration of life and good times. Seems like the whole city gets into it. We drove by several other ‘block parties’ in other neighborhoods while there.
So my attitude about Chicago has shifted. Winters they enjoy lots of indoor museums and shows and such. So you can find things of interest in winter, but expect it all to be indoors. The real kick, IMHO, comes in Spring and Summer. Outdoor concerts (some free), block parties, zoos, beach time, boats, BBQ in the yard, family, neighbors and even stray visitors, y’all come!
We had one day of too hot and muggy, and the rest of the days were basically glorious. 70s to low 80s and modest humidity. (Prior week had torrential downpours, so YMMV and watch the weather reports…)
So here I am, back in California. It is “just another perfect day like all the others”. ’60s F at night, may reach 80F today, but likely just high 70s. Low humidity. No bugs. And outside you see folks in cars going places…
Nobody glories in the Same Old Same Old. Yeah, someone somewhere is having a party and someone somewhere is at a park. Largely isolated from each other. Strangers in the same street. My neighborhood does have an annual July 4th block party. I meet and talk with mostly the same folks I already know, like everyone else… Just not the same dynamic. When “great weather” means “Just another day going to work”, you treat it differently.
I find myself thinking that a regular Week-In-Chicago-Spring would be a great “attitude adjustment” about just what really is important and just what really is of value… and just how to really enjoy life when the opportunity presents.