Most people are bad; but not all

People are bad: Somewhere in Chicago, somebody let this poor little pit bull (now named Willow) come to within inches of starving to death. Then they abandoned her.

Some people are good: Neighborhood rescue Felines & Canines took her in and is nursing her back to health. They set up the Willow Fund where you can donate to her care and to support this wonderful animal rescue.

They nursed her back to good health and she's now in a loving home, romping around. This warms my heart to no end.

People are bad: Somebody used a stolen credit card to donate $8,000 to the Willow Fund. Way to get their hopes up, jerk.

You can follow Willow's progress on the Felines & Canines Facebook page.

Buy The Book of Jezebel

You should probably buy The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things, edited by founder Anna Holmes, with my wife Kate Harding, Amanda Hess and many others contributing.

It's funny and occasionally mean. But not undeservedly so-- Dick Cheney had it coming.

It has been fun to see that some of the reviewers-- who in theory didn't like the book-- were forced to admit that it and/or its authors are awesome. Even the Daily Caller was forced to admit that readers will be "confronted" with "humor and a high level of intelligence." How awful it must be! They're less sure about the rage, but some people get a little confused by any rage other than their own.

If you're looking for more of an answer to the question, "What's this all about then?" Then you should head on over to the Washington Post for an interview with Kate Harding and Anna Holmes.

What is this?

(h/t Steve Atkins)

Twisted Tapas: Great Tapas in Rogers Park

In October, a wonderful new small plates restaurant called Twisted Tapas opened near to us here in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. We've been making a point to stop in every Tuesday (we're calling it our own "Tapas Tuesday") for a glass of wine or two and some really great food.

Twisted Tapas is located at 1146 W Pratt Blvd, Chicago IL 60626, and their phone number is (773) 856-3486.

They don't yet have a website live, but you can find their Facebook page here. Below find a copy of their menu as of October 30th, 2013. (When they get their website live, I'll update this to send people to their website instead. I figured that posting this here for now would help them show up more in search results until that happens.)

Chicken and Lentils in the Crock Pot

Here's another easy crock pot recipe. I adapted it from this recipe, changing things up a bit to make things easier, because I'm really lazy.
  • About 1.5 pounds of chicken. I think we had closer to 1.7. Go as cheap as you can stand. Any meat ends up moist and delicious after 8+ hours in the crock pot. I think we used Aldi chicken breast tenders. Good meat, but you end up spending some time cutting out some veins.
  • About 8 ounces (half a bag) of brown lentils.
  • Some garlic. I used only 2-3 cloves, because I'm not a huge fan of super-garlicky flavor.
  • Chicken broth. We ended up using nearly four cups, instead of the original recipe's two cups, otherwise we couldn't cover the lentils properly. That was fine; the lentils suck up the broth like a sponge, this won't be too soupy.
  • An onion.
  • Spices: Paprika, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and coriander. A little salt and pepper can't hurt, either. I used smoked paprika because that's all we had, and it worked fine.
Prep was very easy.

First, peel the gross parts off of the onion, then slice it up into small pieces. I ended up using about two thirds of it; I was a little worried that if I used the whole thing, this would taste like nothing but onions. Line the bottom of the crock pot with the onion bits. Dice the garlic and throw it on top of that.

The recipe says put the chicken down next, then put the lentils on top. But don't do that -- that almost sank us. There wasn't enough broth to cover the lentils and that's why we ended up adding so much more broth.

Put down some spices (2 teaspoons paprika, a teaspoon each of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and coriander).

Clean the lentils. To clean them, rinse them in a strainer. Eyeball them to look for any stones or dirt or gross ones, and pull them out. Mine were fine, there was nothing to pull out. Add the lentils to the crock pot.

Clean and cut up the chicken however you want. I cut it up into big chunks, so it could move around easily when I stirred the mixture later. Throw the chicken in on top of the lentils.

Add some more spices on top of the chicken -- exactly the same amount as before (2 teaspoons paprika, a teaspoon each of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and coriander). This is about double what the recipe suggests. Other readers suggested that you do this, to make the dish less bland. It really helps.

Add in your chicken broth. Are you adding two cups, or four cups? Up to you, but make sure the lentils are well covered and that the chicken's at least a bit into the broth. Me, I'd probably cover it all with broth.

Close up the crock put, put the thing on low, and let it cook for 8-10 hours. After seven hours, we were a little worried that the lentils were underdone (because we put them on top, instead of under the chicken), so I put it up to high for the last couple of hours. I stirred it every few hours, then toward the end we'd taste a lentil or two to see how soft the lentils were.

That's all there is to it. We served ours over white rice, cooked in the rice cooker with broth instead of water. It was delicious, and it served four people amply. It could have probably served five. And this turned out to be much easier than the original recipe -- no need to brown the chicken ahead of time or use corn starch.

Salsa Chicken in the Crock Pot

I've been cooking a lot more lately, trying to slow down spending on meals out. I still shop at Dollar Tree, but I've also broadened my horizons where I can. (I'll need to do a separate post on Aldi soon!) Reddit has some great discussion boards (subreddits) on both budgeting and cooking: /r/frugal/, /r/budgetfood, and /r/slowcooking.

The Slow Cooking subreddit turned me on to Salsa Chicken. This was super easy to cook in the crock pot, and I'd highly recommend it.

All you need is:
  • A couple of chicken breasts. (I defrosted a couple of huge ones we bought at Jewel when chicken was on sale for $1.99/pound.)
  • A jar of salsa. (That would be Dollar Tree's finest $1 medium chunky salsa, thank you very much.)
  • A packet of taco seasoning. (How much? Don't remember. Probably $.79 from Family Dollar.) 
  • Peppers. (I bought a bag of little sweet peppers at Aldi for $1.49. They aren't always very good; I should have just bought a couple of big red peppers. A few of these little ones were crappy and I threw them out. The others worked out okay, though.)
  • Geen onion. (I only had dehydrated onion bits handy, so a neighbor came up with some green onions for me to chop up and add to the mix.)
  • Can of black beans. (I was worried that a whole can would be too much, but it worked out fine. I strained the beans before adding them. $1 at Dollar Tree.)
  • Can of sweet corn. (I was also worried that a whole can would be too much, but it was fine. I strained these as well. Nobody wants to drink corn juice. $.79 from Dollar Tree or Family Dollar, I forget which.)
  • Whole large tomato, diced. (I had a tomato left over from checking out the new Trader Joe's by our house. It was $.79. I actually felt TJ's produce was kind of beat up. I'm glad I checked it out, but I probably won't be buying produce there again.)
I sliced the chicken into 1/2 inch or one inch slices or so. Then I just mixed everything up in the crock pot, and made sure the chicken was mostly covered. I cooked it in the crock pot, on low, for about nine and a half hours. This came out fantastically well. You didn't even need a knife to cut the chicken. We ate this with tortilla chips.

Not counting the chips or green onions, this cost under $8 to make a huge dinner for two, with leftovers. We could have comfortably fed one or two more people. And you don't have to add peppers or seasoning. If you only have corn or beans (and not both), you could have just added one. I also didn't need to add the extra tomato, was just using up what I had around.

iOS vs Android: Go away and leave me alone

Every week or two, I'll be at the corner bar with my iPad, and some random person will come up and want to debate me about my choice of iOS versus Android. I really am tired of debating, not primarily because the other person is typically slurring and incoherent (that's just an added bonus), but more so because the other person is usually implying that I'm stupid to "fall for the hype" by having chosen iOS. Except, here's the thing: I'm not stupid for choosing iOS, and you're not stupid for choosing Android. Use whatever you want. I could care less. Because you've asked, I'm going to tell you that, for a variety of reasons, iOS is the smartphone platform I want to use. I'm not trying to convert you or convince you that you've made a bad choice, and you need to stop doing the same thing to me.

Here's what people tend to say in these discussions.
  • Ohhh, you use Apple stuff because you like paying more? No, I like it because I find that it breaks less, and I found iOS super easy to use. Just like how I've used every computer operating system out there, from *BSD to Linux to Windows, and I've since moved to Mac because it does exactly what I need, it just works, and I don't have to mess around with drivers or viruses. Same with iOS. A friend of mine went from iOS to Android last year because she didn't want to shell out for the latest and greatest iPhone. She ended up going back to her old iPhone after a week. Too much like a computer, she said about Android. Very powerful, but not easy. I agree.
  • Ohhh, you use iOS because you like being forced into a walled garden? Look, unless you've rooted your phone and you're currently side-loading apps, then you don't know what you're talking about. Most Android phones are locked down, and the Google Play store just ain't that different than the Apple App Store. You're pushing a button to download Angry Birds, I'm pushing a button to download Angry Birds. I don't know what walls you think I have that you don't have, but unless you're truly a master hax0r, you don't actually know either. Go away.
  • Well, I've rooted my phone and installed this and this and this and I'm an elite hax0r and you're dumb. Good for you! We have something in common. I ran a jailbroken iPhone on T-Mobile for quite a long time, and I had a lot of fun hacking my various Android phones prior to that. But now, my day job focuses on designing software, so I get my "make it do what I want" fix there. I just want a cool phone that just works nowadays. Good for you're that you're still in the hacking phase. I've already moved on from it.
  • Ohhh, you use iOS because you like being locked into iTunes? Oh, you're so young. Back when I was running Android, it didn't have a music store and it didn't have a way to rent and download movies and it didn't have slick stuff like the ability to buy the new Elvis Costello album from my phone and have it automatically download to my tablet and computer. Hell, even the Netflix app came out a year earlier for iOS than for Android. It sounds like Android has caught up and now you can rent a movie to watch on the plane just like you can on iOS. I think. If so, great! Good for you! But when I was on Android, that stuff didn't exist, so I moved on -- and I'm not really seeing some compelling reason to change back.
  • Ohhh, you must hate open source, huh? Uh, no, I've been running Linux longer than you have, and that phrase "open source" doesn't apply here, not the way you think it does. Android is an ecosystem being driven very specifically by Google, and Google's not just in this for their health. Try go building an Android phone and see if you can include the Google Play store without Google's signoff. Sure, some aspects of it are more open, but mostly in that they're configurable by the carrier, which is not the same as community freedom and end user freedom. And all of these different Android phones having different front-end user interfaces, depending on the carrier or the manufacturer. I find that fragmentation of the user experience to be a pain in the ass when trying to explain to my mom how to turn on wifi or whatever. I'm happy to avoid this issue.
  • Google "does no evil" and Apple is a relentless money-grubbing monster who would kill us all if it would make their stock rise. If you believe this, you need a brain transplant. They're both huge profit-driven companies, and I don't think you can honestly say that one of them cares more about saving kittens than the other. But if you really want to push me on the social justice angle, I will point out that Apple's CEO is gay and every time some anti-LBGT fratboy calls somebody a F----T in a text message from their iPhone, they're doing it on a device from a company run by the most powerful gay man in America. (That's almost as good as Eric Allman's quote about hate speech sent via email.)
  • If you just actually tried an Android phone, you'd love it. Hey, I was using an Android phone before you even heard of it. I bought one of the first T-Mobile G1s and later I went all out and ordered a Google Nexus One. It didn't help that my Nexus One was a lemon, with an intermittent microphone issue that made the microphone stop working periodically. That made it hard to use the phone for work calls, and I couldn't get any help from Google. Compare that to when the home button stopped working out on my iPhone 5, and I walked into an Apple Store and was able to talk to a real human who was able to hand me a free replacement phone.
Again, I'm not dissing you if you want to run an Android phone. It works for you! Good on you! But stop trying to crap over my choice, just because it's different than yours. I am tired of this debate.

48 Hours in Minneapolis-St. Paul? Try #2

Here's what to do in Minneapolis, if you don't know anything all, don't have access to Google, and think Potbelly is fine dining. However, if you're willing to try a little harder than that, the next time you find yourself with 48 hours to spend in Minneapolis, here's what you should do instead:

Friday, 5:00 pm: Arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). Take the light rail downtown if you're up for an adventure. If you're tired and weary from flying, take a taxi. It's not cheap, though it'll cost less than cabbing it in from larger airports in larger cities like NYC & Chicago.

Don't stay out by the airport or the Mall of America. Nothing there is on a pedestrian scale, thus it will be a baffling ordeal just to get coffee in the morning. Instead, stay in downtown Minneapolis. Check your favorite travel site (such as Expedia, Orbitz or for a 3.5-4.5 star hotel. Avoid the Embassy Suites, Hyatt Place or Normandy; they've all seen better days. Consider the Millennium; it recently underwent massive renovation and was nice even before that. Other solid choices include the Radisson Blu, Hyatt, or Marquette. The W Hotel (Foshay) is hip and young. The Grand Hotel provides old school elegance. (We haven't stayed at the Grand yet; but it's on our list for a future visit.) (Hotel list revised March 2015.)

Friday, 7:00 pm: Like steak? Don't go to Capital Grille. It's actually fine, but it's a chain, a place you can find in any big city nowadays. Local options abound. SEVEN is hip and upscale. Murray's is the oldest of the old school. Manny's is a bit like how I imagine Morton's of Chicago was, once upon a time. JD Hoyt's is more of an old school supper club, but the room is nice and the food is fantastic.

Sadly, most of the vegetarian places I used to love seem to have closed. But if you're looking to avoid meat, I have a novel suggestion: Fogo de Chao. It is a Brazilian steakhouse, a churrascaria. But trust me -- vegetarians will find much to love here as long as you don't mind watching other people gorge on steak. Instead of approximately $50 for all you can eat steak, you can opt-for the approximately $25 "salad bar only" choice. Their salad bar is to die for. It makes all other salad bars cry in shame. I actually most often go to this restaurant just for lunch, and just for the salad course. It is thick with vegetables and cheeses, potatoes and pasta salads. Freshly dressed asparagus. Fresh mozzarella. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Friday, 8:00 pm: As noted in that other article, Minneapolis has a strong and thriving theatre and music scene. Check the City Pages to see what your options are for the evening. TC Tix is also a good place to check, it's a "half price tickets" site. If nothing appeals to you, jump in a cab and head over to the Whiskey Junction bar. There will be a band. It will be local. It will probably be blues or classic rock. The scene may be silly. It will definitely be fun.

If you like jazz, then you're in luck. The area has two fantastic jazz clubs. My favorite is the Artists' Quarter, located in Downtown St. Paul. It's worth the cab ride there and back. I have a bias in that I've known the owner for years and have always loved this place. Don't take my word for it, though -- the reviews, universally positive, often say things like "this is what a jazz club should be:" dark, subterranean, not expensive.

Friday, 11:00 pm: Need a nightcap? Kieran's Irish Pub in the block E complex is a bright spot in an otherwise dull development block. Kieran owns a few pubs around, and he has a knack for taking something that starts as office space in a glass office block and turning into something that looks and feels authentic (or at least very fun). There is often live music.

Saturday, 10:00 am: For the love of god, don't go to Potbelly. If it's nice out and you want to go for a very short walk to get your coffee, walk to a specific downtown Dunn Brothers coffee shop at 201 3rd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401. It's a neat, old historic two-story brick building. The coffee is great, the service is good, and they'll be plenty of light breakfast options. If you have a car, head over to the French Meadow Bakery/Cafe on Lyndale Avenue South. Their menu is large, mostly organic, and fantastic. Be patient; it can take some time to order and find a table.

Saturday, 11:00 am: The Mississippi River is one of the stunning natural features of the area. If you can't find anything at or near the river, you're dead inside and need to stop writing travelogues. Nicollet Island, St. Anthony Main, and the Mill Ruins Park are just a few of the things you'll find near downtown. If you're up for a drive, take the south river road south/east bound out of downtown Minneapolis, and follow it down toward Minnehaha Falls, at the confluence of the river and Minnehaha Creek. It's a great place for an informal hike or a bike ride (rentals available). The Sea Salt Eatery is highly ranked and worth checking out.

Saturday, 2:00 pm: The Mall of America is fun to visit if you like to shop or have kids (and patience). If that's not your thing, take the kids to Historic Fort Snelling instead. If the weather's not nice, go see a movie at the fancy Showplace ICON movie theatre in St. Louis Park. Premium VIP seating with cushy leather chairs, gourmet food and a full bar will make it a movie-going experience you'll not soon forget.

Saturday, 6:00 pm: I guess you could go see a baseball game, if that's your thing. Or you could experience the arts up close at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a wonderful museum of fine art located in South Minneapolis. Admission is free.

Sunday, 9:00 am: Don't eat breakfast at your hotel. Hop in the car and head over to St. Paul's Cathedral Hill area. The Cathedral itself is very pretty, and you can kill time walking around while waiting for W.A. Frost to open at 10:30 am for brunch.

Sunday, 12:00 pm: After a long and leisurely brunch, Mark's suggestions aren't too bad. He recommends visiting the Minnesota History Museum and Science Museum of Minnesota, both located in downtown St. Paul.

Sunday, 5:00 pm: If you've got time for an early dinner before departure, for the love of all that is holy, don't eat sad pizza at some place that has no windows. Go to Pizza Luce, a local chain with multiple locations. Their gourmet pizza is quite possibly the best pizza you may ever have in your entire life. And they have slices ready for easy snacking, if you're on the run.

Time For Something New

Last night, I attended a community meeting regarding whether or not the community supports lifting the packaged liquor store license moratorium in a specific area right around the corner from our home.

It was loud and long. As reported by Benjamin Woodard, over 100 people attended. My wife, our next door neighbor and our upstairs neighbors joined me as well.

The meeting degenerated into a forum questioning the right of the owner of 6800 North Sheridan (represented by MARC Realty) to decline to renew the lease of the liquor store currently in that building, called Isam's. The store's owner Sam Sadaqa really rallied the troops for this one. Nearly every person who stood up to speak expressed their displeasure that the current liquor store is closing.

The problem is, though, is that Isam's is done, regardless. The landlord indicated that lease negotiations fell through and thus, Isam's will be leaving the building irrespective of any other action taken or not taken. Meaning, the choices before the community are basically, do you want a new liquor store or no liquor store. This was lost on the crowd.

A number of people were trying to defend this store as being a useful source of food for the community. Sorry, but I strongly disagree with that. As my wife pointed out, the store has long been dirty and run down inside. It's been that way the entire time we've lived around the corner from it. And regardless of claims to the contrary, Isam's isn't really a place where you would want to buy food. As this Yelp reviewer states, "The "food" bit of Isam's Food & Liquor is non-existent, or should be. You don't want to touch those dusty groceries." The inside of this store hasn't seen a fresh vegetable in years, and I'd be afraid to buy even a frozen pizza here. Bad food options are plentiful nearby. There's a 7-11 across the street, and there's Sonny's just up the street. But there are better choices very nearby as well. The wonderful Morse Fresh Market is only a few blocks away -- I walk up there all the time to pick up vegetables and other staples. (And I'm not some food snob -- ask my wife. Our shopping is primarily split between Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Morse Fresh Market. I don't have a lot of extra grocery dollars to throw around.)

So, let's forget about the food. What about the liquor? This Yelp reviewer has it right, they have the world's largest crappy wine selection, and by the way, almost all of the bottles are dusty. Got a friend coming by, and you want to pick up a nice bottle of bourbon? Sorry, they've only got Jim Beam. And what's up with beer prices? This Yelp reviewer echoes what I've heard from a few different prices: Beer prices there are variable and/or higher than average.

I'd already given up on the store, myself. We jump in the car or jump on the bus and go somewhere else when we want to restock, because the quality and selection at Isam's just hasn't ever been that great. (Unless you're looking for half pints, which the store has in abundance.)

So, it's time for something else, and that's why I voiced my support for removing the package store moratorium, allowing the building owners to proceed with leasing part of the space to Pradeep Patel, who says he will be opening a more upscale liquor store, similar to his "Red Violin" liquor store, elsewhere in the neighborhood. That store opened over some vocal community opposition, but has gotten positive reviews. A commenter on that DNAInfo article explained, "I've been to this liquor store and despite the many objections by the local tee-totalers, it's actually a nice shop!" Another agreed. "This is a luxury goods store, not some corner crime magnet." That echoes my experience as well. I've been in to Red Violin on two different occasions and I liked what I saw. (I haven't been there more often as it's not geographically convenient for me.)

Here's to hoping that Mr. Patel gets a chance to apply for a packaged goods license at that location. If not, let the space empty out and give the building owner an opportunity to clean it up and lease it out to someone else. The building owner and management have done great work improving the rest of the commercial spaces (and attracting interesting tenants like SP Kebab and Ciao Bella Cafe). I hope that trend continues.

Frozen Food from Dollar Tree

Wow, I used to blog a lot more than I do nowadays. I guess Facebook has mostly replaced stuff like personal blogs. Anyway...

My adventures of late have mostly involved trying various things from Family Dollar and Dollar Tree, trying to figure out which things are acceptable to buy from the dollar store, and which ones are not. I'm a huge fan of both Dollar Tree and Family Dollar. Most things are of good quality, but there are always a few things here and there where I end up regretting buying the cheap knock-off dollar store brand. Q-Tips, for example. The cheap ones are pretty awful. Paper towel, kleenex and soap, though -- they're great things to buy at the dollar store. The quality seems very comparable to what you'd buy elsewhere.

And then there's food. Did you know that Dollar Tree has a frozen food section? Like with everything else at Dollar Tree, each frozen item is $1. That includes little pizzas, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, Jamaican patties (which are pretty good), and other random stuff. They've even got frozen salmon filets and tiny little steaks. The salmon appears to be from China -- not doing that -- and the steaks scare me. So while I'm not buying either of those, I did end up buying quite a bit of other stuff, walking out with two bags of frozen foods for under $20.

Yesterday, I tried this PiƱata Beef Enchilda TV dinner for lunch, and it was actually quite good. I'll be sure to pick up a couple more of them the next time I stop in the store.

When it comes to blogging about food from Dollar Tree, I'm apparently late to the game. Here's a review of that TV dinner from "The 99 Cent Chef," a blog I'm now going to be following.

There's also a few different websites out there talking about the $1 frozen steaks. Here's one of my favorites. I think I'll be picking up one of those steaks for Murray for his birthday come this July.