View of downtown Chicago skyline from Lincoln Park

Chicago, a Love Letter

I’m gonna miss Chicago.

I’m gonna miss the usual stuff, of course. Friends, routines, my cute apartment. But I’m also gonna miss so much small stuff.

My barista at the pie shop, who remembers my name and that I like my coffee black, so always fills the cup to the top. My minutes spent walking near the River’s north branch, watching bumbling ducklings in the spring or Northwestern’s sleek rowing team in the summer.

I’m gonna miss the slant of sunlight coming through my apartment at sunset, the way my plants bend towards that one window over the course of months, no matter how many times I rotate them.

How I always snag a seat on the Brown Line in the morning, or the chocolaty smell of the Blommer’s factory when I disembark at Merchandise Mart. The dogs and puppies running up the hill at Horner Park, or the jangly folk band at the Saturday farmers market playing to an audience of wiggling toddlers. Sunrise yoga in Millennium Park. Sunbathers at North Avenue, Osterman, 31st Street beaches. Tacos from Las Barrilitos, 12 a.m. cheeseburgers at Red Hot Ranch, any open bottle at Income Tax. Drinking canned wine on the River Walk during a summer heat wave. The Lake gets plenty of love, but for me, my heart belongs to the ever-moving, ever-changing River.

I’m gonna miss Chicagoans, polite but direct with zero fucks to give. Like how, on a snowy day this week, another barista from another coffee shop asked me if it was hot out, because I looked like a sweaty mess. Or the bedside manner of my dentist, who couldn’t hide their reaction to my toothbrushing technique. I won’t forget the busker trilling “Imagine” at the Dearborn Blue Line station, a bard of the underground whose message may never reach the surface. The crowd at a recent Cat Power show, swaying and feeling their way through her seminal “I Don’t Blame You.” The drag queens and artists of Berlin like Lucy Stoole and Kenzie Coulee, who turned the idea of a circus freakshow on its head with poise, and grace, and holy fuck, so much goddamn bravery, their glittering existence a fuck you to every bigoted asshole this country has ever produced.

There’s always a bend in the river worth exploring.

I’m gonna miss the Chicago Tribune, my home for the last 2 years, 11 months and 3 days. Tomorrow, I walk out of the Tribune newsroom for the last time, taking a new job back in New York City, where I lived and loved 5 years prior. For the second time in my life, I’ll be leaving the city I love most.

Except for a youthful interest in geology and marine biology, I’ve only ever wanted to be a journalist and writer — I’ve never known anything else. From joining the high school newspaper to running the college magazine to landing bylines in publications as an adult, it’s always been my life’s goal to write and nurture my curiosity. Working at the Tribune has given me that and more. I’ve strived for inclusivity, covering queer food and brown food and all food, ‘cuz everyone has to eat, as both a writer and an editor. I helped start a union! I’ve strived to bring diverse voices into the fold, tapping my artsy writer friends and colleagues Jessi Roti for a piece on a food-and-music fest serving Chicago’s West Side, or KT Hawbaker for an interview with queer POC creating their own platforms for food and stories. My incredible, kind, generous editor and friend, Joe Gray let me do anything and everything, from every wild idea (taste testing weird internet shit) to helping style test kitchen photo shoots. My friends Sade Carpenter, Adam Lukach, Jessi, Marissa Conrad, Grace Wong, KT, Dawn Rhodes, Ese Olumhense, Louisa Chu, Alison Bowen and countless others kept me sane. Mentors like Joe and critic Phil Vettel kept me sharp. Of course, shout-out to my Food & Dining team Louisa, Nick Kindelsperger, Grace, Jennifer Day, Josh Noel and Kasondra Van Treeck for being consistently curious and challenging.

Along the way, I wrote about a chef who ran away and joined the circus, how chefs are grappling with sexual harassment amid Me Too, the great sommelier scandal of 2018, how to host Friendsgiving, a personal essay on my immigrant upbringing, and in the last few weeks, started a wine column even I didn’t know would end because, well, resigning surprised even me. I edited hundreds of stories about food and restaurants and chefs and talent in this amazing, supportive, diverse city. I’ve attended journalism workshops and committee meetings and college lectures and leadership conferences, always to be a better journalist, a better citizen.

I’ve always tried, and I’ll always continue to. I don’t believe there’s any other way to exist.

What’s next?

On Monday, I’ll be back in New York for my first day as senior travel editor at Thrillist. I’ll have some time to officially move back East, but for now, I don’t know quite what to expect, but it’s a new bend in the river of my own life. I can’t wait to walk along it, through its rapids and its shallows.

It’ll be a new flow, and I’m ready for it to take me away. Until then, thank you for everything, Chicago.

BeRoll, Vol. 1

I love the b-roll feature over at Good Beer Hunting, these little vignettes that peek into the beer world with just the smallest bit of explanation. Who has time to show everything? Moments can be as special as the whole story, some times, more.

A friend and her boyfriend invited me and my own SO out to the ‘burbs this weekend (specifically, Barrington), to meet her friends and their animals. They have a charming little farm set behind their ranch house, with seven lambs, two goats, countless chickens and roosters and, most excitingly, two mini-horses named Penny and Stella.

“They used to be named Special and Delight, but they sounded like retired strippers,” said Pam, one of the owners.

We spent an hour or so feeding apples and Mrs. Pasture Cookies for Horses to Penny and Stella — “flat hands, unless you hate your thumbs,” said Suzanne, the other owner — and then spent the rest of the afternoon talking, laughing and drinking wine. I even got to ride a lawnmower, so all in all, Saturday was a Delight, or something.

feeing a horse a red apple

 

Summer Daze

Full disclosure: I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately. World affairs being what they are, coupled with my somewhat crippling impostor syndrome, I’ve become an emotional turtle. Even as I’m producing some work I’m super proud of, I’m terrified it’s not enough —  “But for whom?” my therapist has asked.

I still don’t know the answer to that, but I feel small and shitty regardless, because the world is literally burning around us.

We’re living in the age of self-care, but the idea is not a new one. As I’ve started seeking therapy, and working on some inner stuff that I’ve long been ignoring, I’ve been figuring out new and socially acceptable ways to cocoon, rather than just take up the full-time #hermitlife, tempting as it is.

I reasonably understand I can’t take on Atlas’ burden, so I’ve been taking a step back. Breathing. Calming my racing thoughts. Chilling the fuck out.

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Summer sets off my SAD (seasonal affective disorder), or more colloquially, summertime sadness, but as a solutions-oriented person, I’ve spent the season seeking out coping methods. I’ve largely succeeded (for now). Starting therapy is a first step, but it’s also a culmination of my efforts, and I’d be a fool to think the my work on myself was done.

Home has become my favorite safe space, the ultimate of bliss stations. Not to get too twee about it, but my plants have helped.

Last week, a bunch of friends sent me that Washington Post article about plant-obsessed millennials, makes me a statistic now, I guess. I’ve got about 20 plants throughout the apartment, but they’re hardly a chore (I’m not giving them a weekly shower), and their existence goes beyond “livin’ for the ‘Gram.” (Though I’ll post pics of them from time to time.) Handsome though they are, my royal palm, silver-leaf philodendron and stag-horn fern are my favorite for the way they sound — rustling at every errant breeze, dry and papery and soothing. Their softly humming chorus is aural Ambien. I love mixing a cocktail at violet hour and posting up on my couch with a book, my phone and computer far away in another room. As golden light filters through my mini-conservatory of leaves, I escape from world-weariness, if only until sundown.

Speaking of books, I’ve read a lot more this summer, even though I intended to write more than read. (Working on it.) I’ve tried to avoid majority voices (straight, cis-gendered white men, if you have to know), for POC, LGBT and otherwise diverse voices. My life as a media person necessitates that I’m always in contact with the former, so my free time is better spent getting to know the latter. This isn’t to brag or otherwise be performative; the simple of act of reading people who more closely resemble me has been a balm, creatively and emotionally, reminding me that representation is nothing to scoff at.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that I’m fine, or will be. I’ve been crying a lot of late, but not because of anxiety. My favorite summertime programming, So You Think You Can Dance has been blissfully cathartic (OMFG), even if it’s painfully heteronormative, and a few other streaming things have just been beautiful and/or idiotically manipulative, which is cool too, I guess. You can’t be serious all the time. Even a cheap cry is a nice release.

Other than that, movement and activity has kept my mind clear. Swimming, in particular, has been a boon, as I’ve met a few weight-loss milestones and burned off some wiggles. Friends, too, have coaxed me out of my den of sadness: barbecues, boat adventures, cocktails, wine and music have been in my self-care rotation. I think my biggest lesson this summer has been listening to my body, to my feelings, and people that probably know better than me what I need, like sunshine and time on the lake and Champagne with smoked shrimp. 

The work continues, but my favorite season is up to bat. Fall has always been a comfort and reprieve from stifling summers, and my birthday — much as I loathe celebrating it — marks the last real day of summer, and the closing of Virgo season, a sort of signal that I am, in fact, in control of my life.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Bright flamingo mural on a Chicago club

002. Weekly Dose: Gay Stuff

A look at the stuff that’s fueled my week, published every Sunday occasionally or whatever, don’t judge me. 

“Queer, tender, true. I like those things.” – Gabrielle Hamilton, Mind of a Chef

I spent my first birthday in New York at the now-famous Prune, a narrow little charmer of a restaurant in the East Village. My friend from Kasey took me — it was more like a treat for the both of us, since she’s two weeks older than me. There’s a banquette just underneath some mercury-glass mirrors; they pull out a table for you as you slide in, scoothing it back over your legs as you settle in. I don’t remember much of the meal — some sensible rosé or other in a cute tumblr, impossibly cool New Yorkers all around me, a kitchen humming with activity — but I do remember one dish in particular.

We started with a simply prepared avocado half, with olive oil spilling out the concave once housing the pit. Flaky sea salt covered the avocado’s fleshy surface, a sprig of parsley the lone garnish. The effect of the golden oil and verdant fruit mirrored that of the dappled fall sunshine just outside the window. It was barely anything, truth be told, but life changing in its way.

I’ve had meals conjured from foams and gums and wizardy, but the combination of that honest avocado, shared with one of my closest friends in a nondescript restaurant — I’ve never felt so welcome.

I’ve never felt truly part of the LGBT community — lots of baggage to unpack — but I do hope that each of us, this Pride week, Pride month, find some measure of belonging. Cheers to the queer, the tender, the true.

//TASTE:  

I recall the avocado at Prune because Kasey and her new husband were in town this week. When I first moved to Chicago, Kasey (a student at Northwestern) and I shared a teeny apartment in Uptown — it’s been a decade since she last saw the city. She and Brian are big beer fans, so I took them to the newly designated Malt Row in Ravenswood for some local brews from Dovetail and Begyle. Afterward, we headed to Map Room, still one of my favorite bars in the city. My guests agreed.

map room.jpg

//SEE: 

I had to kill a mouse this week. A few months ago, when we initially realized there was a problem, our landlord came in and plugged up all the holes with steel wool. He left some traps, and we thought that was it. It helped for a little while; we caught a mouse that week and thought that was it, the our unwanted roommate was just sneaky. Then last month, we noticed little paw prints on some butter in the counter, plus some scratching noises underneath the sink. There was an entry hole we missed in the cabinet, so we laid two traps and the tainted butter down there, and a few days later, we caught the mouse.

Then this week happened. I came home from picking up pizza dough from the grocery store and as I placed my keys on the kitchen counter, I saw the scurry of another grey lightning bolt duck back behind the oven. The other trap held another teeny brown thing, squeaking and writhing in panic. My heart leapt out of my chest, first because there was now a fourth mouse in as many months, and I didn’t know how long the little guy was there. It could have been hours, torturously wiggling to get out of the glue.

I set up a ziplock plastic bag with baking soda, placed the trap, mouse first, into it and slowly dropped in some vinegar. As the baking soda started to fizz, I quickly closed the bag, and placed it into a grocery bag as quickly-gentle as possible. I couldn’t watch the life get snuffed out of the silly little creature, but I also couldn’t let it suffer.

I did something I haven’t done in a long time: I prayed for the little one’s quick, painless passing.

//HEAR:

It’s a two-fer this week, with two podcasts that should be on your radar. First up is The Sewers of Paris. It’s not new, but it’s new to me, a real pleasure because I have a whole backlog of episodes to listen to. Billed as “interviews with gay men about entertainment that changed their lives,” the show is produced by Matt Baume. Matt asks very poignant questions of these men, going beyond just the musicals, books, and television that left a lasting impression — topics span loss, love, nostalgia, coming to terms with identity, really the gamut of the queer (and human) experience. The episodes I’ve listened to so far feature Glen Weldon (NPR), Guy Branam (Talk Show the Game Show), and author Dave Holmes, and each one is a seamless blend of charm, hilarity and insight.

//FEEL: 

Next podcast? Nancy, hosted by Tobin Low and Kathy Tu. Speaking with them for the Chicago TribuneI asked them about representation even within the LGBT space and how they navigate their newfound platform. The most recent episode, which explores Orlando one year after the attacks on Pulse nightclub claimed 49 lives, will give you all the feels.

millennium.jpg

//SMELL:

Chicago is in full bloom, and like any good Chicagoan, I’m spending as much time outside as possible. Millennium Park’s lawn is fresh and sharp, thanks to semi-frequent rain, while walking near the Chicago River in my neighborhood smells of jasmine and linden and ozone (a tree branch was struck with lightning, and the smell is not unpleasant). I’m not synesthetic (I wish!), but it does smell like the color blue, if that makes sense?

Escape from New York: Long Island

 

There we were, just wandering through Greenport, Long Island, looking for oysters and wine, when we stumbled upon this buzzy little shack upon the waterfront. Oysters? Check. Wine? You betcha.

Owned and operated by Little Creek Oyster Farm, this little bait and tackle shop was the wheelhouse of a whaling ship in a past life before being brought to shore. Sitting mostly empty for the last few years, its current iteration is bright, laid-back and personality-filled as the headquarters and shipping center for the oyster producer.

As soon as our group walked in, we were greeted with, “Are you my gin-and-tonic people?” Turns out the girl behind the counter was mine and Fiona’s regular server when we used to frequent Two Boots in Grand Central Station for a post-work happy hour drink! It was a pleasant surprise to run into her so far from New York; she recently moved to Greenport toescape city life, and who can blame her? The village, with its waterfront and smattering of shops and restaurants, is at once charming, welcoming and relaxed.

Bait and Tackle Greenport

Little Creek Oysters is stocked with vintage tackle gear, oyster knives, hot sauces and even oyster tasting journals. The main attraction, though, are the buckets of locally grown oysters (current offerings appear on the wall).

We glanced at the menu before rapid-fire ordering a bottle of Muscadet, a bucket of “shuck yourself” oysters and a selection of pickles. After everyone tried their hand at prying open the bivalves, I became the designated shucker in between sips of the crisp, salty white. Talk about a perfect pairing.

More Oysters

shucking materials

 

Of course, you can always order the platter of oysters (and clams!) pre-shucked, but where’s the fun in that?

Little Creek Oyster Farm
37 Front St, Greenport, NY 11944