Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day of Recovery

You've probably guessed by now that I take Halloween seriously, as do my Halloween colleagues Layla and Sara. Although we like to put a ton of time, work, and energy into Halloween, some years we just mess it up a little bit. Example: the year the three of us saw a Guns n Roses and Poison cover band show the night before the big Halloween party. Whoops a daisy. To make a long story short (and less detailed, since me mudder will be reading this - sorry Mom), we drank too much at the show and barely made it through the party the next night. My favorite memory is watching Layla and a ridiculously cute guy deep in conversation. Right as he finished asking her a question with great interest, she looked him right in the eye and yawned the biggest, most insane yawn I've ever seen. Halfway through her yawn, she realized what was happening, but it was like the yawn just wouldn't end. It just kept going, Layla's mouth (and eyes) open wide, right in that cute guy's face. Yeah, that party did not see us at our finest. We practically begged guests to leave around midnight. Waa waa!

It has taken us awhile to figure out the perfect system of how to get through Halloween weekend. Not only are the costumes a lot of work, but we usually cook a ton of food, decorate in great detail, and make a zillion runs to Target. After a few years of getting used to this routine, Layla and I finally figured out that it would be worth it to fly home Monday morning instead of Sunday night. Our post-Halloween Sundays at Sara's house, then, became sacred. We'd wake up at our leisure, pick at leftovers and lay on couches recounting the events of the night and judging our favorite costumes, and eventually around 2 pm, start cleaning up the house. Later that night, we'd do sushi at Ru San's and make it back home in time for The Simpsons. It is a perfect and much-needed way to end the weekend - The Day of Recovery.

Now, even though I didn't have to fly anywhere or cook any food or anything this year, I still needed the sacred Day of Recovery. Halloween stretched well over Friday and Saturday nights this year. Because I'm a bit last minute with things, I was working on two different costumes during the week and kind of let my apartment turn into a craphole. Here's how it goes:

My coffee table becomes awesome.
Bras and suspenders and a giant ace bandage everywhere - whoops a daisy.
Just some vampire teeth and cut up pantyhose in the bathroom.
The usual.
I don't take out the trash or recycling for days and days.
Dishes do not get done.
Every pair of tights I own is on the floor.

You get the idea. Thankfully, this hot mess resulted in two good costumes, I think, and a really fun weekend. Friday night I was Mondo Guerra from Project Runway:

And Saturday night I was Lorena with her head on backwards from True Blood. I didn't really get great pictures of this, but it was fun.

So needless to say, after two costumes in two nights, 3 bands, 2 parties, and a few bars here and there, I needed my own Day of Recovery. Although I missed terribly the gossiping and sushi and picking up empty, smelly bottles off the lanai and wonderful Sara and Layla that would have usually filled my day, I was surprisingly productive today! I did a bunch of cooking for the week and tried out a new recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins. Holy crap. Here are some food pictures because that's what I love:
Steel cut oatmeal. This is one of my favorite breakfasts. Add in a touch of maple syrup and some sliced bananas and blueberries and you've got an amazing meal!
Rice and beans concoction my sister made up. It's one of those box mixes (Roundy's - keeping it classy) with corn, spinach, and tomatoes mixed in.
Add some sharp cheddar and plain Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream) - delicious!

The banana muffins recipe was so easy and quick. Check it here.
Eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla, and more plain yogurt.
Flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Mashed up near-rotten banana. Lovely.
I mixed in chocolate chunks which are heartier than chocolate chips and do the job well.

They're really delicious, and I'll probably make this recipe again some day. In the meantime, I'll be eating these muffins and watching Child's Play on television because that's what's on instead of The Simpsons. To that, I say "Booo-urns," but I know deep down in my heart that it's really not all that bad.

P.S. Bonus picture of Mondo eating a burrito! Just now sent by Genia.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloweener and High Expectations

From 2002 - 2009, I traveled to Atlanta, GA every Halloween to visit my sister Sara and attend her legendary Halloween parties. My cousin Layla joined me every year, and on a couple of occasions, other cousins and my brother came down as well. One year, my brother Emil, myself, and all four Hodi cousins stayed with Sara at her house for the whole weekend. That's seven, count 'em, seven of us loud, demanding, hungry, and sometimes smelly family members, all staying in one house, along with Sara's two roommates at the time. That weekend was intense.

These aforementioned legendary Halloween parties were, well, legendary. Really. Every year, they grew bigger and bigger. At one party (in Sara's old house), this guy who nobody knew showed up wearing a costume that made him look like a giant Jägermeister bottle. When we complimented his costume, he informed us that he wasn't just dressed as the booze, but was actually a representative from Jägermeister who was assigned to "the biggest parties in Atlanta" on Halloween night, and Sara's house was on the list. He then proceeded to hand out tshirts, pins, and shots of Jäger mixed with honey and served in test tubes. Holy crap!

People don't mess around when it comes to Sara's parties. Although I don't have pictures from the first few years (the non digital-camera years), here's some evidence of the awesomeness that would abound at these parties. The last one I attended was themed The Carnival of the Dead and had a website dedicated to it where you could buy tickets. I'm just sayin'. Thanks to my dear sister, I take Halloween very seriously and have high expectations for costumes (although I'm totally last minute and half-assed this year, so I guess I'm all talk). Nevertheless, here is some inspiration for you all during this festive holiday time:

Just the rain cloud and the rainbow.

The Palin Family.

Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett.

Bruce Jenner!

Kim Kardashian and Joan Holloway from Mad Men.

The Kardashian sisters, in all their bumpit-big-butt glory.

Fortune teller at the Carnival of the Dead.

Fire dancer at the Carnival.

Knife thrower and lady on the wheel.

The tiger that jumps through the ring of fire and her trainer.

Dick in a Box.

The girl who stands up on top of the elephant.

The ringmistresses!

The clan - what a motley crew.

IRAQULA!!! It rhymes with Dracula.

Papa Smurf.

I'ma Mario! I'ma gonna ween!

Black widow.

Bret Michaels and Lacy from Rock of Love.

Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth.

Cookie Monster.

This was me celebrating in Madison last year. The whole night was pretty boring, but, if I may brag for a minute, I think my costume was pretty awesome. I was a Sexy Hobo, duh. It was supposed to be a joke, but since then, I've seen a lot of people googling "sexy hobo" and how to make a sexy hobo costume. That's just embarrassing.

So, alls I'm saying is, let's get it together for Halloween this year, babies. Let's get some inspiration that doesn't come from Halloween Express and look totally busted up. I'm talkin' Autumn Witch and Wicked Innocence. Yuck:

Here's your bonus Halloween videos of my sister and I in Target and Walgreens, interacting with things.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Feeling Lucky

Dudes, it truly has been a Rocktober this year. There have been many other Rocktobers in the past, but this is the first Rocktober during which I've really taken full advantage of all the amazing music that has come to Madison, or close to Madison. I wish I had the attention span and patience to write up each show I've seen, but I don't think I do. I also never take pictures or video anymore because my camera battery is busted up, and I don't write anything down because I feel real busy while the bands are playing. You know, listening. Rocking. Instead, please enjoy some videos of some amazing bands that I feel incredibly lucky to have seen in the last month (or couple of months - it's been a few months worth of rocking).

August 27, 2010 - Ozomatli at The Barrymore, Madison WI

This video isn't from the show I saw (probably none of these will be), but it's my favorite song by them. Ozomatli is incredibly fun and upbeat, passionate and musical and full of love and life and joy. Getting to stand just ten feet away from them, and then to experience them coming out into the crowd and forming a messy conga line with their instruments, right next to me, was just amazing. This band inspires me like not many others can. And sometimes they have some choreographed dances. Yow!

August 28, 2010 - Rodrigo y Gabriela at Ravinia, Glencoe, IL

This was my first time seeing Rodrigo y Gabriela, and although the venue wasn't ideal for a first-timer (think mid-size outdoor venue catering to families and picnics, along with 32 cousins-and-cousins'-friends being louder than anything you've ever heard), it was amazing to stand by myself under the stars on a warm night and close my eyes and experience this phenomenal guitar playing.

September 28, 2010 - The National at The Orpheum, Madison, WI

I already wrote all about this one here. Lovely show, and topped off by the fact that the band had played at the Obama rally in town that afternoon, so they were super excited and happy. The whole show was in a good mood.

October 1, 2010 - David Rovics at Tex Tubb's Cadillac Ranch, Madison, WI

I've been listening to David Rovics for years. My sister met him a long time ago and showed me so much of his music, and although I don't listen to him too often anymore, his songs still strike a huge chord with me when I see him play live. This song in particular makes me think of the revolutionaries in my very own family, my history, my family's history, and it makes me so sad and so proud and joyful all at once. David is a really important musician. See him at some point. I mean it.

October 1, 2010 - Valient Thorr at The Frequency, Madison, WI

Okay, so the reason I picked this video is mostly because you can get the full effect of the duel guitars at the beginning, as well as the whole energy of the singer when he gets all up in your business. Ugh, they're so hilarious and great! The sound isn't so great on this video, so check out some others if you're interested. I'm sure many of you are. That's why I had to go to this show alone, right? Because all of you love Valient Thorr as much as I do, but you were just "busy" that night, right? Yeah, that's the ticket.

In other news, seeing Valient Thorr on the same night as David Rovics was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. I went from teary-eyed and inspired and hopeful at the first show to ridiculously blissful and nearly stunned by hilarity at the second show. I don't know what it is about bands like Valient Thorr, but they make me clap my hands together like a toddler. My cheeks and stomach hurt that night from smiling and laughing so hard. They're just so great and funny and ridiculous. But, still a strange combination on one night.

October 5, 2010 - King Khan & The Shrines at The Annex, Madison, WI

These guys were pretty great. They're a ten (or so) piece soul band fronted by a guy who wears a gold lamé cape onstage and there's a go-go-type dancer in the band as well. I mean, yeah, that's probably going to be great no matter what, you know?

October 6, 2010 - Muse with Passion Pit at The Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI
Passion Pit

I love Passion Pit. I put them on before work if I'm having a crabby day and my mood instantly changes. I'm amazed that the singer managed to use his high voice for almost the whole show. He sings 8 zillion times higher than I ever could.


I had to include this video because it's from the show I was at, and also because of the most amazing start to a show I've seen probably ever. There's about three minutes of "intro" stuff which was actually really cool - there were three giant pillars, probably about 30 feet tall, made out of screens that projected images throughout the whole show. But if you start watching right around 2:45, you'll see the amazing moment where the curtains drop and each of the members is standing on his own pillar, totally separate from the other band members, but yet coming together in one of the hugest sounds I've ever heard from a 3(sometimes 4)-piece band. Something really struck me about how far apart they were from each other, yet how together and amazing and big they sounded. Oh lord, I get such chills!

Here is another video of them doing the same song, because that's how much I love this song.

I love Muse. I have since I first heard them on the game Guitar Hero. You heard me. I am constantly amazed at the singer and his gigantic voice, mostly because he's a tiny little man. And they have beautiful piano parts too. Probably one of the best shows I've ever been to ever in life. In LIFE!

October 9, 2010 - The Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Conductor Ascher Fisch
Video of the Beethoven Symphony (performed by The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie)

Well, I obviously went to this one with my parents. The conductor had to step in only a week before this performance (it was supposed to be Riccardo Muti, but he was seriously ill and couldn't do it) and handle two really obscure and non-crowd-pleasing pieces besides the Beethoven. He did it with amazing style and grace, which is no easy feat with a snobbish Chicago Symphony crowd. I'm just sayin'; these people are uptight. But it was a lovely show.

October 11, 2010 - Youngblood Brass Band at The High Noon Saloon, Madison, WI

See this band. Just do it. If the video doesn't explain enough, then come visit me and I'll smack you upside the head, and maybe you'll get it then. Oh, also, the snare player is the guy who runs the drum line that one of my students plays piano in, and he's great.

October 14, 2010 - The Walkmen at The Barrymore, Madison, WI

I'd love to sit here and write about what a great show this was (because it was!), but right now all I can think about is Genia pointing out that the singer was wearing a watch and how weird that was. Anybody? Wearing a watch onstage? Sort of strange, right? He also kept his jacket on and kind of looked like somebody's dad. But yeah, great show. Wonderful.

October 14, 2010 - The New Deal at The Majestic, Madison, WI

Alls I know about this show was that Lynn and I showed up, got out of paying the $22 cover, danced for either 5 or 25 minutes, and left. It was wonderful.

October 16, 2010 - Devotchka at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL

If you've met me, you probably know that Devotchka is my absolute 100% favorite band of all time. I've seen them four times now, and I always have trouble deciding which show was the best one. This last one, for example, was interesting because I felt a disjointedness within the band; they didn't really interact with each other much, and seemed a little separated during some of the music. But during the last song, "Such a Lovely Thing," they came together with more force, energy, and intensity than I've ever seen from them before. It was strange and wonderful.

October 22, 2010 - Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem at The Eagles Ballroom, Milwauke, WI
Hot Chip

My favorite song by them, which they don't play live very often.

LCD Soundsystem

You know who you should hang out with at dance-y shows? Crazy People. They are really, really fun. I'm serious. Find yourself a Crazy friend or two, and take them to see this band. You'll have a ridiculously fun night.

October 23, 2010 - Phantogram with Josiah Wolf at The High Noon Saloon
Josiah Wolf

Please recognize that the guy is playing his guitar and his drums at the same time - very little looping used live. And the woman's voice is just lovely. I had to pick this video because, duh, they covered "All of Me," but at the show, it was amazing to watch him play everything at once. Really, go see them if you can.


I think Phantogram might be my favorite show out of all of these, or at least a close tie with Muse. And that feels funny to say, seeing as I have seen two of my all-time favorites in the last couple of months, but really. This band was amazing. They have a screen behind them to project video, which really enhances the already innovative music. On this tour, they were playing with a drummer who I think is from The Mathematicians, and it made the sound full and complete. It was mellow and beautiful while also being exciting and unique. Amazing show.

October 24, 2010 - DJ Rekha at The Majestic, Madison, WI

DJ Rekha does not disappoint. Her music is called Basement Bhangra, which is basically Indian music mixed with other beats and dance music. It's so much fun to dance to, and all these Indian kids come out to the shows; half the fun is watching them dance.

So...maybe this is why I'm so tired lately. Or, it could be because I haven't been eating enough protein. No, it's probably all the rocking I've been doing. Yeah. That sounds way cooler.

I'm feeling very fortunate as of late to be able to live in this life surrounded by and made up of music. Whether it's teaching, working on writing a music theory reference guide (my new project!) with one of my coworkers, playing a bit myself, or seeing all these wonderful artists, I am so grateful to be able to have this be my life. I will not get sick of this. All I want is more. Good job, music.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Pita Inn

There's a little restaurant in Skokie, IL called The Pita Inn. Oh yes, that link has music. This place is amazing. Vegan and straightedge kids, hardcore carnivores and drunks, come from far and wide to sample tastes of the smooth hummus, garlicky baba ghannouj, and succulent meats. Well, wait. The vegan kids don't eat the meat. And maybe some of the straight-edge kids don't either. Sometimes the drunks may stick to the veggie options, but other times they choose meats. Oh lord, where was I?

Sometimes when I'm visiting my family in Chicago, I get to go on a little outing to The Pita Inn with Dad. If the weather is nice, we take his red convertible. He asks me repeatedly if I'd like to drive, and after saying "no thanks" three or four times, I finally ask "Do you want me to drive?" He promptly hands me the keys and settles into the passenger seat. I drive that car like an old lady. It's just too beautiful for my regular Impatient Jackass driving.

We drive to The Pita Inn Market, which is next door to the restaurant. My father is greeted by his friend at the counter immediately; they start laughing and catching up in Arabic, and I begin wandering down the aisles. There are at least 14 types of olive oil on the shelf right underneath about ten types of honey. Some of the honey has chunks of honeycomb in the jar, but no label. Just down from there are about 30 types of jam. My eyes linger on the fig jam but I move away reluctantly, remembering the jar I already have in my refrigerator in Madison. In the back of the store is a small refrigerated case with three kinds of feta cheese (French, Greek, Bulgarian) and several types of olives. Dad's friend hands us tiny plates with samples of everything to help us decide what to get. Behind us is the shelf of nuts: pistachios, almonds, cashews, walnuts, some with spices, some plain, all taking up an entire aisle. Another aisle of the store is devoted to non-food items including tea sets, olive oil soaps, other skin products, movies, dvds, hookahs, and tobacco. You can buy a beautiful tea set for under $20.

Each shelf in the store is stuffed full with groceries and other items that you'd find at most markets, as well as certain gems that you really cannot find just anywhere. For example: preserved lemons, a special food coloring that's used for the dessert kunafa, and sesame candy, along with various chocolates I only recognize from my childhood times in Ireland. Oh, and phone cards. You can buy a ton of phone cards here. I love this place. I could stand around in the aisles for hours.

I always leave the store with bags full of wonderful groceries that I wouldn't even attempt to find in Madison. My staples are hummus and baba ghannouj and fresh-baked pillowy pita bread, but I've collected some other odds and ends on various trips. Like this one - I also got a bag full of dates and a package of lahem b'ajeen (which my parents referred to as "Arabic pizza" when I was a child to get me to eat it. Nice work, Mom and Dad!). The jar of pickles is straight from my dad though; no store can compare.
At the bottom of this picture is the lahem b'ajeen, and at the top is the hummus. Delicious.

On this most current trip, I bought some of that unmarked honey. It's delicious, and very good looking, which is always a lovely combination.

I also bought a giant bottle of Sultan olive oil because, you know, it's called Sultan. And this kind of olive oil tastes different. Better.
I always feel well-stocked after a shopping trip to the Pita Inn Market, mostly because I can do so much with just these few items. I can easily put together several diverse meals with just a few items. Meals like this are some of my favorites. Maybe it's in the same realm as One of Each; you get so many tastes and flavors, and you can combine everything just as you like it. There is something so appealing about having just a few items, but so many possibilities.

What is it about food in general though? Food is memories. Food is comfort. Food is home. Food is family. Food is definitely my family. You cannot come into my parents' home (or my aunties' homes, or my cousins' or sister's homes - it runs in the family) without being well-fed and, very likely, uncomfortably stuffed. It doesn't matter if you're not hungry. Perhaps you'll sample new and unfamiliar fruits or be treated to homemade soup, or maybe, if you're lucky, get an entire meal complete with cousins, upwards of seven meats, zillions of sides, people stealing off your plate, and perhaps even a rendition of the family song. Eating, sitting around the table together, it's all so important and critical. Food is huge.

This past Sunday comes to mind. I eat brunch with my family in the backyard of my parents' home. As we finish our fried eggs and bangers and rashers (irish breakfast meats - sausages and bacon, basically), we sit in the sun, chatting, and my father, without breaking the conversation, hands me a small piece of Arabic bread with cheese and tomatoes stuffed inside. I take it wordlessly and eat it; the perfect ending to a lovely family breakfast, My Lovely Family breakfast. Irish and Iraqi, all in one. It's perfect and natural and delicious.

Yes, the food is delicious, and yes, this is a very important factor in deciding what to eat because, you know, you should eat delicious things. But there is also that little spark of culture and history and family, all wrapped up in a couple of food items. The need to connect somehow when I feel homesick. And this homesickness is not about Chicago as a city. When I'm homesick for Chicago, I turn on WBBM NewsRadio 78. We get totally clear reception up here. I listen to the traffic report on the 8's and it makes me smile with a little pang in my heart. But this other homesickness, this is about my family, and being homesick for them, for sitting around a table and my dad passing me olives at the end of a meal, and for my mom making the most delicious foods from both sides of our world, which is no easy feat.

And so, tonight's dinner: spoonfuls of hummus and baba ghannouj with sliced tomato, greek feta cheese, olives, and warm pita bread. So many items! So many combinations! So many sexy results!
Maybe tomato and cheese inside the bread.
Or perhaps a tomato dipped in baba ghannouj.
How about a single, perfect olive? How about 12 of them? Because that's how many I ate.

And as for dessert...I'm not huge on dessert-y things right now, but I did find the perfect, tiny bite - Turkish Delights! I remember tasting these at parties when I was younger and knowing they tasted funny, but also knowing it was a good funny. Like, "let me get a couple more of those" funny. They're usually flavored in lemon, mint, or rose, which is actually flavored with rose water.

Okay, I'm going to go try to fry an egg like my mother can. Please understand if I or anybody else in my family tries to feed you all the time. It's probably because we love you.