2010 was an uneven year. Yet it featured none of the jagged highs and lows of 2006, nor any of the breezy forward movement of 2009. Jeff says it’s just how life goes outside the bubble; bigger moments thickly wrapped in the minutiae of daily life, small progress after doldrum periods. The one consistency throughout this past year is that we continued to eat well, even if it involved snarfing down a works pizza from Pete’s while watching South Park reruns. An honest meal can happen anywhere, after all.

10 – Two carrot juices after yoga: This counts as a meal if you define “meal” as a moment of silent communion between you and any consumable. Yoga was particularly hot that day. I wasn’t going to make it to the train stop on water alone. The sunset was hitting just the right notes with the late February breeze on my skin. I didn’t even mind that the hipster behind the counter articulated a snarky assumption about my station in life.

9 – Kebab Inn: We’d successfully located a pair of new boots for Jeff after much research and hemming and hawing. They fit. They weren’t going to come out from under him if it rained. He liked them. So we celebrated with kebab and gyros in Bucktown. They were great, but not the defining aspect that places this meal in my top ten. Ney. It was the condiments we got with them. This place serves foundation-shattering harissa and tzatzki. In fact, they didn’t even call the condiments by their usual names. I suspect it’s because these little sauces have transcended nomenclature. Regardless, I encourage a visit here and that you take some home to smear on your loved ones, if they don’t mind a little burning.

8 – Roast chicken and a “nice salad”: This meal is a classic in our little apartment. I’ve been making it since I moved in 2009 and have every intention of continuing to do so past 2010. In this way, it deserves a place on this list. The smell of rosemary and garlic elicits a sort of erotic domesticity for both of us. Jeff has smelled this dinner from blocks away on walks home from work and hoped with all his heart that it was his house serving it up. Plus, the meal is well balanced. Cold/hot – acidic/fat – veg/meat. It just fundamentally works without having to explain further.

7 – Jeff’s chicken “menchiladas”: This recipe should be on a Most Wanted poster. The amount of cheese, cream, salt and starch in Jeff’s enchiladas is subversive in the way that all good bachelor recipes should be. This pan of gooey love mocks me, as if to say “Of course these will make your pants too tight, baby. All the more reason to take them off.” *sigh* That cad.

6 – Lamb pho at Trang’s new place (not Lac Viet): What happens when you take a slightly crazed Vietnamese chef and let him loose in a full scale kitchen? Lamb pho. Sweet baby Jeebus, I love it when fusion works. It was also Jeff’s first experience with pho. I envy him in a small way because his virgin palate experienced the full spectrum of juxtaposed flavors – Greek-style roasted lamb with Vietnamese broth, Thai basil and ridiculously fresh bean sprouts. After 7 cramped, skanky hours on the Megabus from Chicago, this meal was exactly the sort of soul cuddle we needed. And Trang gave us hot sweetened soy milk at the end. Eeeeee

5 – Pho at home: Inspired by the above, we returned to the Windy City, hellbent on replicating pho at home. The adventure spanned some three days and we still had to run out to the store for last minute ingredients, even after consulting Farmer Damon, the pho expert. As it turns out, fish sauce is a significant contribution to pho’s je ne sais quois. Ours will never be as good as Trang’s since we didn’t learn to make it over a military stove somewhere in Vietnam. However, process and anticipation certainly made up for a lack of experience.

4 – Lamb shoulder on the grill: Jeff often stops at Whole Foods on the way home from work, especially when his account is flush, and surprises me with new things, often along the lines of wine and cheese. He landed lamb shoulder on this particular adventure. We’d never had that particular cut and it was a really good price, cheaper than steak. When confronted by unknown cuts of meat, our first inclination is to sear it on the grill with some garlic. Oh my. I can’t even remember what we had for sides. Perhaps asparagus.

3 – Thanksgiving for two: I already done blogged this, so will spare you further detail lest I become mundane. However, Jeff declared it was one of the best meals he’s ever had and certainly his best Thanksgiving. Yes, he did eat the brussel sprouts and the sweet potatoes.

2 – Dumpling Sunday: This idea was born out of conflict. We’d been squabbling with each other over this and that, but more honestly because the sun went away and it was cold, cold, cold. We both go a little crazy in the winter. Whilst in a work-day revery, I stumbled upon the Minimalist column in the New York Times. The shumai recipe inspired such a wholesome feeling of an industrious Saturday immersed in steam and flour that our enthusiasm for life was renewed in a few short IM messages. We even upped the ante and made char su bao (BBQ pork yeast buns). It took all weekend and Jeff came down with a cold late Friday night, but our Sunday feast was well worth it. As it turns out, he’s really good at folding dumplings.

1 – Sunda: Oh Sunda. I blogged about this before as well and won’t even attempt to recreate that moment of inspiration here. Perhaps I’ll copy pasta the content in this forum. Sunda is not a place that I would typically attend. It’s Asian fusion and anyone who knows me knows that I will turn down a meal on principle, especially if that principle is neo-imperialist pig-fuckery. However, 2010 has been a year of reassessment and expansion; of willingness to revisit things under different circumstances. Plus, Seth recommended it. Seth is no fool when it comes to Chicago dining. Jeff and I have been three times since our first visit. Every meal is exquisite. We find ourselves so wrapped up in the mutual experience that we fall in love with each other and the world even further and often leave determined to start a hedonist revolution, which lasts as long as it takes for us to get a cab home, attack each other in sake-and-kobe induced lust and smoke a cigarette after. Yeah. It’s that good.

No list is complete without an addendum of strong contenders, natch. They are as follows:

1 – Ordering Chinese delivery: Great Dragon is on our speed dial and knows our address without having to ask. As provincial as it may seem, I will never tire of having Chinese food delivered to me.

2 – Violet Hour chickpea popcorn: It’s since been taken off the menu, due to “seasonal availability.” Grrrr….

3 – Flash Taco hot dogs: Around cocktail two at Violet Hour, we start riffing about why Chicago doesn’t have hot dog carts. It just doesn’t make sense in a city this large with such an obsession over encased meat that there are no fucking hot dog carts. We have tamales galore, but that’s it. Jeff, a New-Yorker at heart, will invariably wax poetic about dirty water dogs. By cocktail three, I’m demanding “some fuggin’ hatdags.” (Chicago is starting to show on me in more ways than my expanding ass.) Flash Taco is a few doors down and I’ve stumbled a few times in my heels.

4 – Tamale carts: I love you, little tamale ladies. Especially you, the lady on the corner of Milwaukee and Division. $2 = a very satisfying meal, particularly when eaten while walking and even more so if it’s kinda cold and foggy out.

To wrap up, I will respond to some light critique regarding food as a hobby and expository subject. Given our world’s conditions – poverty, crime, fascist dictators, the Tea Party – this pursuit may seem trivial, even bourgeois. When the budget affords, you will often find us eating political things like lamb, foie gras, rabbit, caviar, hot dogs etc. with great amoral gusto. It isn’t a matter of awareness for us. We do, in fact, know “what’s in that” and that knowledge is part of the thrill. It isn’t entirely a matter of not caring either. We contribute to locally and sustainably produced goods when we can. However, we’re not going to be those assholes at the restaurant or those dupes at the checkout counter. We’re hedonists, plain and simple. Considering the degree to which our culture continues to flagellate itself with 24-7 work availability, fast food and fad diets, hedonism can be a strong social, if not political, commentary. To quote a colleague in Brooklyn, “When you start having fun, the jerks lose their power.”

Cheers to another year and not another 10 pounds,
A

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