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:

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,


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!

New Additions In The Kitchen And How They Came To Be, Part 1

January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

It all started innocently enough right after Thanksgiving. Mrs Ilk came back from her annual post-Turkey Day extended stay at my in-laws and all she could talk about was the damned milk frother. I suppose that’s better than her complaining about the fact I left the kitchen a complete disaster during my 6 days of bachelorhood. But yeah, clearly my inlaws’ latest kitchen gadget purchase had her all excited. “It froths! And scalds! And there’s no clean-up!”

On and on it went. The next couple subsequent weekends as I fired up my French press she’d always ask me how much better my coffee would taste if I had frothed milk to go with it. Naturally I agreed. So when it came time to Christmas shop, I knew exactly what item was on the top of my list. I plowed my way through the Xanaxed Stepfords in Williams-Sonoma at Oak Brook to the coffee accessories section and asked about a frother. Mind you at the time I thought that the milk frother which I was in the market for was one of those flimsy little rods with the coils at the end. But no, turns out that those don’t have a heating element – so they do live up to their name as a frother, but they don’t scald. Nope, what I needed was apparently something that goes by its trade name – an Aeroccino. This magical device retails for $99 and never goes on sale anywhere from what I was told. So I bought it. That next day when we were making coffee the subject of the frother came up yet again…and I was beaming on the inside.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. We moseyed downstairs at the surprisingly reasonable hour of 7:30. I’d been told in advance that there was something I needed to open right away from Mrs Ilk’s dad because he was SO EXCITED TO GIVE IT TO US. For whatever reason it was imperative that I open this before anything else, even before we unleashed Ilk 2.0 on his giant present pile. Mrs Ilk handed me the bag – (immediately dashing my secret hope that it was a set of Titleist AP2s) and I peeked inside.

It was an Aeroccino. Christmas was ruined. I’d misinterpreted secret hints about a present for passive-aggressive yearning for a present. Whoops. Being the brat that I am, the first words out of my mouth were “welp, that’s one less present you need to open” before I grabbed the one that I’d bought out from under the tree, stomped and huffed over to the guest bedroom and dumped it on the dresser in there.

Boxing Day rolls around, and we’re off to the mall to return it. My wonderful wife is a lot of wonderful things, but she has a tendency to be absolutely paralyzed by indecision. It was important that we exchange this mystical device right away, or it would still be sitting on the guest room dresser in April. So we head into WIlliams-Sonoma once again.

Couple side notes on Williams-Sonoma:

1) It is not a good store for a 4 year old. Everything’s at grabbing level and none of it is very interesting to them but they have to touch it anyway.

2) My Iowan-Minnesotan mother-in-law cannot pronounce “Sonoma” no matter how hard she tries. It always comes out “Smomona.” Like nails on a chalkboard for me.

We got funneled to the left side of the store. This happens to be the demonstration side. That particular day’s demonstration item? The Nespresso.

I have a strange sentiment about the whole coffee-in-a-pod trend. Flavia, Keurig, Nespresso all of them are are all the rage right now. All of them are really convenient. Nespressos taste REALLY good, but the yield per pod/cost per pod equation is definitely not value-oriented. I don’t care how strong and concentrated the stuff is, I want a full mug of coffee. Between our French neighbors and my French now-former boss (the story of his reaction to me tendering my resignation earlier this week is a post in itself) I’ve tried my share of it. But the biggest problem of all in my eyes that also gives the greatest insight into my whacked out mind is WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU RUN OUT OF PODS AND SOMEHOW HAVEN’T ORDERED NEW ONES?

Well, I guess that’s a dilemma we may face one day. Because we now own one. Store credit + spending bonus + Christmas money made it a deal too good to pass up. We pretty much plowed through the “starter kit” of pods they gave us when we  bought it in about 48 hours. There was a time last week when I think we pretty much blacked out from overcaffeination. We experimented with shorts, talls, two pods in one cup. “Hey, let’s have another one.” Our coffee cupboard runneth over. I’m cheating on my press pot and feel really guilty but this is almost too easy not to take advantage of.

Coming soon: part 2, the Great Sodastream Caper

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