Talkin’ About A Resolution

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Compared to the sheer raucousness of 2010 or the professional slackery of 2011, 2012 was all in all a pretty subdued year.

Big transition with the new job – which is big on organizational accountability but small on professional visibility, something I had a bit of trouble getting used to. At 37 years old, I feel like I should be doing everything possible to elevate my profile and it’s kind of hard to do that when 95% of your time is spent on two massive client implementations, but that’s just the way things are right now.

2012 wasn’t without its moments though. From truckloads of Jameson shots on Stone Street during my time in NY, to a beer-fueled afternoon at Belmont Park, to firing my lowest round ever at Cog Hill there was much merriment to be had. People I’d previously only talked to on Twitter or who lived 4000 miles away until 5 months ago became among my dearest friends.

One big problem with 2012: I let being busy and being stressed ruin a lot of things. I found that for most of the year the only exercise I got was walking to the train or client visits. I drank a LOT (well, that’s not too surprising) and slept a lot too. Plenty of nights this late summer/ fall I came home so frustrated and fed up that I would eat dinner and be upstairs by 8, only to wake up at 4am only to dread getting out of bed for the next couple hours. That’s not normal, and that’s something I had to stop doing. So I did.

There’s definitely plenty of other areas for improvement this coming year, and this is my attempt to hold myself accountable for them:

First and foremost – get back into some semblance of shape. During my time in NY, I did a really good job of work/life/party balance. It probably helped immensely that I wasn’t coming home to a fridge full of food, and a great dinner, so my typical routine was get back to my apartment, throw on my running shoes and knock out 3 miles before going home to shower and either walk to Whole Foods to pick up something for dinner or chow down on bar food and beer, which might have negated the whole run but oh well. I was knocking out 15 miles a week like it was nothing. I even banged out a 7:30 mile on a gorgeous March evening, which is like 3 minutes faster than my normal sluggish pace. When my NY stint was up, I pretty much stopped all that, Between March and October I maybe ran 15 miles TOTAL. I ran one 5k race with a terrible head cold and was so disgusted by the whole thing that my shoes ended up buried in dust bunnies. I ran a 5K on Thanksgiving and may as well have eaten dinner before I did so, because it was just that pathetic.

So I need to get back to it. I’m not really a good gym person especially in winter because I hate crowds and hate driving there, so the only alternative is to just get off my duff at home and get active again. Whether that means getting up an hour earlier or not succumbing to the evening Twitter-and teeVee trap I so often fall for, I’m not sure. But it’s just going to have to happen, and I full intend on running and finishing the Shamrock Shuffle in Spring. I need to eat less too. I don’t necessarily eat poorly, I just eat too damned much.

Second, there’s golf. I play a LOT of golf. I watch a lot of golf. I think about golf al the time and use tons of golf analogies in my everyday existence. I probably spent twice as much time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving on the golf course than I did watching football every weekend. When people hear how much I play and how much I enjoy playing, they assume I’m good – and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m pretty bad. I bought a really nice set of Mizuno irons for myself in April as sort of a “congrats on the new job” present. I got fitted, hit every iron completely pure a ton of times in the simulator…and was on top of the world. Turns out the indoor simulator is the golf equivalent of the department store fitting room skinny mirror. It’s a lot different when you get out in the real world. I hit fat shots and hook shots galore all year long (except for that one magical day at Cog Hill in August). I just never felt comfortable standing over the ball because I had no idea where these magical high-priced beauties were gonna hit it. I lost a lot of balls this summer.

So what’s to be done? Well, I’m going to buy another new set of irons. Instead of buying a “player’s blade” designed for a 5-10 handicap so I can look like a big shot I’m going to buy something a little more like the 8 year old Hogan Apex Edges I came over from. I don’t like expensive mistakes, but this past golf season was one of them.

Finally, I’m raising my sock game. Way too much boring black and navy blue in the drawer this year – and when you’re decaffeinated and getting dressed at dark-thirty in December it’s kinda hard to tell the difference. So the only answer? Brighter colors, which for the most part match better than boring darks.

Brighter socks, brighter side of life. In the end, there’s a lot more going for me than going against me. It’s a shame I lost sight of that this year, and it’s time to start remembering that this coming year.

Happy New Year, my friends.

The Ultimate Latergram

August 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

For better or worse, one of the things that defines me is where I’m from – good old Rochester, NY. Like I always say, it’s a great place to be from. Pretty scenic, easy to get around (if you don’t mind driving anywhere), and when I left in 1993 it was a decent place to raise a family. My roots run deep there, but for the most part everyone’s branched out. Rochester is most famous of course for Eastman Kodak. George Eastman was a quiet captain on industry and an absolutely fascinating study. I’m surprised someone like David McCullough never took on the challenge of writing about him. I’d definitely buy the book.

We all know what’s happened to Kodak in recent years and it hasn’t been pretty. The seemingly endless string of 4 or 5 figure at a time staff cuts. Refocusing (sorry, had to do it) their strategy from film to digital to consumer digital to easier to use consumer digital to “corporate imaging,” whatever that means. Selling off division after division in order to try to raise enough money to cover expenses. The bankruptcy filing at the beginning of the year.

But we also know what Kodak gave us in the past. Sturdy, reliable cameras at a reasonable price, and the film to fill them with and capture memories. So when a nostalgic sap like me comes across one of those cameras at an estate sale for $10 you just have to buy it, right? Then when you actually rustle through the bag that it came with and find an unused roll of Fotomat (remember those little huts?) 126 film in it you quickly realize that you simply have to take pictures with that film, right?

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So that’s what I’m going to do. 12 exposures on that roll of film. I need to use them wisely. If anyone has any ideas on subject matter – do tell. Two are already spoken for – need to do one of the family and one of Chicago. Better yet – if anyone wants to take a picture with it, we could have a little fun with it. I’ll gladly plop it in a box as long as you promise to send it back.

Post your ideas in the comments below, or better yet…let me know if you want to take a picture. This could be fun.

 

 

The Great Garden Experiment

June 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

When I was a kid, we always had a garden. However, I don’t recall our gardens ever being very bountiful. It seemed like every time I’d go into the garden to look at how the tomatoes were doing all I would see are those giant disgusting tomato slugs. our eggplant yield typically hovered around 1 per season. We grew enough strawberries to eat off the vine, but nowhere near enough to slap together a shortcake.

I’ve always dabbled in growing stuff. That means that I usually throw a few hot pepper seedlings into a pot every May and try to remember to water them once a week. Worked well on our 5th floor balcony in the city, but works much less well in the suburbs when the rabbits and squirrels devour them. I hope they all got bad heartburn.

But this year, we’re going whole hog. Raised beds made from our demolished fence posts. High quality buck-a-bag topsoil. Direct sunlight. Yesterday we planted 3 tomato plants, 2 purple basil plants, 2 zucchini seedlings, 2 butternut squash seedlings and then dumped some carrot, cucumber and radish seeds into the dirt. We’ll see how this all pans out. If nothing else, I can use this much-neglected blog to track progress…

Dining In: Korean-Style Tacos

April 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Spring is a time of cleansing for many. In the Ilk household that includes a good cleansing of all the meat that accumulates in our garage freezer over the winter. Gotta make room for all the bottles of vodka somehow, right?

Thursday afternoon Mrs Ilk informed me that I had a few pounds of short ribs left out there that needed to get used before they got turned into an unrecognizable frozen mass. With an early onset of warm weather this year, I really didn’t want to use them to make a hearty stew or chili, because that would probably doom us to six more weeks of winter. So I thought to myself “what else can I do with short ribs?” The answer quickly ran me over faster than a line of hipsters scrambling to a food truck in Los Angeles. It was time to try my hands at Korean tacos.

Instead of frantically scouring the Internet for recipes, this one was as easy as picking up the phone. I had the pleasure of spending the past 12 weeks while I was working in NY sitting across from a foodie named Dan. Not only can the guy tell you where to get the best pizza/pasta/Chinese/Middle Eastern/Malaysian food in proximity to any of the five boroughs, but he’s also quite the cook. A cook who happens to be married to a Korean. So from my basement bunker at 3:58 the day before the holiday, I rang him. I assumed he feared the worst – that I had some kind of nagging work issue he was going to have to spend 45 minutes puzzling over instead of heading home.

Conversation went something like this:

Dan: “Dude.”

Ilk: “Man.”

Dan: “Bro.”

Ilk: “Homey.”

Dan: “Homeslice.”

Ilk: “Bruh, I need to make some Korean tacos. Need tips and figured you were the man.”

Dan: “Yeah kid, I got your back. Soy sauce, Korean pear juice, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, jalapenos, you can slice up some apples, pears and onions too. Enjoy.”

Ilk: “Thanks broskillet. Peace out.”

I scribbled it all down in usual illegible fashion on a notepad and then got to thinking. The only thing I was really concerned about was the Korean pear juice. So it was off to the Asian market in Westmont, where my search for Korean pear juice turned up fruitless. However I did learn that 4 year olds and live fish tanks don’t mix: (click to enlarge because I have no idea how to crop)

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This was as close as he would get. Seriously.

I didn’t want to miss one minute of online Masters coverage, so rather than scour the Western suburbs for other Asian markets I decided to just use apple juice instead. I slapped the marinade together and let it brew overnight, meat went in first thing the next morning. Braised the meat in the afternoon and stuffed the face in the evening. Results were extremely tasty, but could probably benefit from a bit more spice.

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Here’s how it all came together:

What you need:

For the meat:

5 lbs shortribs

For the marinade:

2/3 c soy sauce

1/3 c Korean pear juice (or boring old apple juice)

4 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp minced ginger

2 tsp sriracha

2-3 shakes red pepper flakes

1 can of pickled jalapenos, drained

1 onion, sliced

1 apple, sliced

1 pear, sliced

Combine all the marinade ingredients into a giant bowl and mix well. Put shortribs into airtight container or gigantic Ziploc bag, pour marinade over. Let them marinate for anywhere from 6 hours (we did 8) to overnight.

Preheat oven to 325.

Pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil into a Dutch oven and coat the bottom thoroughly. Heat to medium high on the stovetop, and then sear the short ribs on all sides until browned, about 5 minutes.  Pour marinade over the meat and put into oven covered for 90 minutes or so. We have a pretty big Dutch oven, so I had to dump another 1/2 c or so of the soy/juice mixture in to cover the ribs adequately. (Internet research tells me that for braising, you want the meat about 1/3 to 1/2 covered).

After 90 minutes, remove the cover from the Dutch oven and braise uncovered for another 20-30 minutes. By this point most of the ribs should be completely detached from the bone and bobbing up and down in the juice like a bunch of meaty icebergs. Remove meat from oven. Detach meat from bones when necessary and chop/shred the meat into small pieces.

Serve on warmed tortillas with garnishes. We went with a simple mixture of kimchee and fresh grated radishes, but feel free to add any other sort of pickled goodness you desire, and enjoy.

Bonus and wholly unrelated pro tip for those of you who’ve read this far: Make mimosas with Semi-secco Cava. You’ll thank me later.

Life Gets In The Way, Yeah Yeah

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

When I started blogging again last fall, my plan was to blog occasionally. But not this occasionally.

The new job had me shuttling back and forth between home in Chicago and my office in NY for the past 12 weeks. Naturally, with my typical luck I was booked on 3 different airlines during those weeks so I wasn’t even able to rack up elite status on any carrier. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay in a corporate apartment instead of a typical NY 12×10 hotel room. Couldn’t beat the view of Battery Park City or of the Statue of Liberty (as long as you pressed your nose against the window glass and looked as far left as you could).

People asked me all the time “how do you handle being away all week?” My stock answer was “I’m in New York. If I can’t find something to do every night and just sit around moping alone then it’s my own damned fault.”

I met a ton of great people, many of whom I’d talked to on Twitter many times. Always great to put names with faces, even greater when you do it over beers. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, and I’m thankful to them all.

I was too lazy to blog, mainly because I was too lazy to take my laptop home at night and let’s be honest – while an iPad is an incredible device, typing anything longer than a tweet on it downright sucks.

But now I’m back into a somewhat regular routine – aside from the whole working in the basement until the office here opens end of April thing. Trust me – while working from home sounds great, it has a lot of downsides. Like the urge t raid the fridge every 10 minutes.

I like Westwood to win the Masters. Snedeker’s my sleeper.

 

 

Off The Menu: “Sestina d’Inverno”

January 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s snowing in Chicago right now (where I’m supposed to be), supposed to snow in New York (where I’m stuck right now because it’s snowing in Chicago)…so I’ve got snow on the brain. A pal of mine posted a picture on Instagram of a snowy Chicago suburban scene with a catchy little blurb about how if he were an Eskimo, he’d have an alternate word for snow.

Whenever I think of alternate words for snow, I think of Anthony Hecht’s “Sestina d’Inverno” and my homework on the first day of AP English class senior year – to write an interpretation of the poem. I can’t remember what sort of trite nonsense I slapped together and turned in (how I got a 5 on that exam will forever remain one of life’s great mysteries), but I guarantee it didn’t do the original work justice:

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
Where there are twenty-seven words for “snow,”
Not all of them polite, the wayward mind
Basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
Some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
Alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

And O that we were there. But here the natives
Of this grey, sunless city of Rochester
Have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(Bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
Comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

An ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
Bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
Blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
Roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
With sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island

Was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
The grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
Was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
Unable to conceive of Rochester,
Made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

Dream as we may, there is far more to making
Do than some wistful reverie of an island,
Especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn’t mind
Such profitable weather, while the natives
Sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,
The single verity of heaven’s making,
Deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
And the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,
Where to the natives destiny is snow
That is neither to our mind nor of our making.

Dining In: Arroz Con Pollo

January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

(note, I am writing this on my iPad while hurtling through the pitch black sky on my way to NYC so I’m dispensing with my usual anecdotal blather)

“Arroz con pollo.”

Just kinda rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it? The rolling R, the double L that magically becomes a Y…it just sounds fun, right?

Took a crack at making it yesterday as an accompaniment to watching the New York Football Giants dethrone the Packers. I grabbed a pretty simple recipe from Three Guys From Miami (who I’ve leaned on a couple times in the past) and went to town. Resulting dish had great flavor although was a touch saltier than I would have liked. Printed below, with my modifications in parentheses:

http://icuban.com/food/arroz_con_pollo.html

Arroz Con Pollo – Chicken with Rice

By Three Guys From Miami

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

Arroz con pollo is enjoyed by many Latin cultures. The Cuban version is highly spiced – but NOT spicy hot. It’s a favorite Cuban Sunday lunch dish,

INGREDIENTS:

4 strips bacon
8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
To taste salt, pepper, and cumin for chicken
1/2 cup olive oil for frying
1 large onion, chopped
5 cachucha peppers, chopped (Substitute 1 large green or red pepper – we used one green and one yellow)
4 cloves garlic, mashed
1 12-ounce bottle beer
3 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon Bijol Powder (eliminated, we used yellow rice which eliminated the need)
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons cumin, ground (replaced the cumin and the oregano with 1 T of Goya Adobo powder)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 1/2 cups parboiled rice
1/2 cup frozen green baby peas (eliminated because I forgot)

Sauté the bacon in a large frying pan. Reduce heat to low and let the fat render out of the bacon – about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, season the chicken lightly with salt, pepper and a little cumin. Once the fat is released, remove the bacon, increase temperature to medium-high and add the chicken to the hot bacon fat. Remove the chicken when it is browned on both sides.

Add a little olive oil to the same pan you fried the chicken in, and sauté the onion and green pepper until the onion is translucent. Add the mashed garlic and cook an additional minute or two, stirring frequently.

Take the chicken broth and beer and pour into a large covered pot. Add the browned chicken pieces, cooked onions and green pepper, tomato sauce, Bijol, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. And hey, why let all that delicious bacon go to waste? Chop it up and toss it in! Bring everything to a rolling boil, reduce heat, cover and cook on low for 15 minutes.

Add the rice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. When the rice has absorbed some of the liquid, cover and simmer on low for about 30-45 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked and not soupy. Add the frozen peas during the last five minutes of cooking only.

For a dinner, serve the whole chicken pieces with the rice. For a party, you may remove the chicken, skin, de-bone and break it into bite-size chunks. However, DO NOT try to substitute any boneless, skinless chicken in this recipe – unless you enjoy serving a disaster!

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