Saturday, January 31, 2009

For the love of okra.

This evening I was hired for an event at this intriguing Oak Park home to benefit the Infant Welfare Society.I meticulously laid out the dishes for my favorite mix and match Chinese take out dinner and proceeded to serve a trio of appetizers.
With forty guests in attendance it took me (with the help of the great LB) about thirty minutes to filled the colorful buffet and it came out perfectly. Guests grab a take out box and begin to fill it according to their personal tastes...with four proteins, threes bases, countless toppings, four sauces, and several fun crunchy garnishes the possibilities are pretty much endless!
All the guests fell into our Chinese New Year theme and loved their boxes. A couple of people came to me and asked what made their box so gentleman was breaking a slight sweat when he asked. I assumed it was just bland palates talking because I make the buffet mild on purpose leaving obvious options for heating it up in the toppings. I didn't think much of it until I passed a group at the buffet and over heard a gentleman saying, "Well I never thought of okra as Asian, but what the heck."
Umm...those little toppings were not okra....they were Serrano chilies.
That was a food recognition error I was not anticipating. About four people overheated themselves in the name of loving some okra!

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Big Picture

This remarkable image of the crowds at the inauguration of President Obama can be found at
The image in a compilation of 220 images taken with a camera with a robotic arm. Once on the site you can zoom in and pan around...
I even managed to zoom in close enough to find Leif lifting a red coated Emma to get a better view of the jumbo tron!

First Prize

Leif served on the board of America SCORES Chicago for several years and even served as board chair before stepping down due to his business school commitments. America SCORES Chicago uses soccer, creative writing and service learning to combat obesity, illiteracy and poor decision-making in urban communities. It is a cause Leif believes wholeheartedly! Last night the organization hosted their Red Carpet Poetry Slam and Leif came home with the big award...and he didn't even read a word of poetry.
Leif was the honored recipient of the Red Carpet Slam Calliope Award named after the eldest of the muses; calliope literally means "beautifully voiced." Recipients of the award serve as role models in their community and use their voices to empower youth. A dear friend of Leif's and Public Allies Alumni came in from Seattle to present the award. Leif was humbled by the honor and pleased to be recognized by this great organization!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inauguration revisited

My canvassing partner CR decided inaugural stories from DC deserve to be shared. I couldn't agree more and was delighted to receive her invitation to join her and three other women who had all made the journey to Washington for the swearing in of our 44th president.

I had never met the other ladies at our table at the Buzz Cafe, but from the outset it was clear we were bound by similar experiences. We sipped coffee and told tales of freezing bodies and warming spirits, of smuggled hand warmers, and not so glittering galas. I learned one woman lent the ball gown she wore to the Illinois Ball on Monday to a complete stranger for a ball on Tuesday; she expects it will be returned by mail. One strong willed lady rode her bike to the inauguration from Maryland while another travelled by chauffeured car and yet another wandered over from her hotel across the street right into the crowd. Someone mentioned the joy of seeing multi-generational families bringing wheel chair bound elders to witness history in the making, another mentioned the thirty or so children who were briefly lost in the crowd, and another spoke of volunteers bursting into tears as President Obama took the oath of office. There were surprise tickets, orange tickets, blue tickets, and no tickets at all and a few tickets left unused...each storyteller's experience was unique and each had their own voice, but all the tales were similar in theme...we are one.

Thank you CR for insisting we share our are quite the keeper of history.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday Dinner

My parents came in for the night and gave us cause to eat ribs, break out the Wii, laugh really hard, and play many games of Apples to Apples. Finn won the prize for linking the description "fresh" to "girlfriends!"
It was nice to have them at our family table!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dinner for Four

We invited some dear friends to share in a meal last night. I was in the mood to do some cooking and while most of the dishes I offered were variations on my regular culinary themes the meal was quite nice complete with fine wine and even better company.
Fennel, Shrimp, and White Wine Crostini
Puree of Butternut Squash with Honey and Currents and Frizzled Sage

Goat Cheese, hand dipped Ricotta, Lemon and Arugula Ravioli
Red and Golden Beets with Bombolini and Marcona Almonds
Moroccan flavor Seabass with Broccolini, Israeli couscous, and Blood Orange.

Coffee with Cream and Sugar

The day after

The morning following President Obama's historic inauguration the Elsmo Four packed up, said good-bye to our amazing friends, and headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Chi-town with heads full of incredible memories.
We arrived at Reagan National Airport at 11:00am for our 1pm flight. As soon as we arrived it was clear US Airways was in trouble...they were trapped in the crush of post inaugural departures. There were lines every where for US Air, but no lines for any other airline.
We made it to our correct line around 11:30am and began to wait. Our 1pm flight came and went and when we finally made it to the head of the line it was after 6pm. I know what you are thinking, "What a nightmare!" It was a long long wait, but everyone (save for a few) was in such an extraordinarily good mood it was actually no so bad. The line was filled with people who had all had different experiences on a similar theme in the past several days; each and every one of them was a joy to speak with. The kids did not complain once; they laughed and read, and were generally amazing. Leif and I were very proud of them!
We stayed at the Comfort Inn near the Pentagon and made our way home the following day.

It was the trip of a lifetime filled with memories that will last least as long as the line we stood in!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Ball

Three things I heard about Inaugural balls:

Fact Number 1: Do not wear heels; comfortable shoes are a must.

Fact Number 2: Be willing to part with your coat; check it and you may never get it back.

Fact Number 3: Bring your own food; lines are long and sometimes fare is scarce

As we rode the train into The District for the Midwestern Ball those three tid bits remained to be proven true or false, but I wore heels of conservative height, brought a coat, and did not pack snacks.

The convention center stop on the Metro line was closed for security reasons so we got off the train at Chinatown and started to walk. The streets were filled with extraordinarily well dressed people marching toward the well lit building that played host to eight of the ten official inaugural galas held on the 20th. As we narrowed on our destination it suddenly occurred to me we were being herded; we were a mass of adults in formal wear being funneled like sheep through gate after gate until we were turned out into our pasture...

The Midwestern Ball...True or False?

Fact Number 1: TRUE. Do not wear heels to the ball. I am sorry I did. The shoes were pretty, but my feet hurt for two full days following. There is no seating available unless you choose to sit on the floor in your gown and believe me there were many barefoot ground sitters around the perimeter of the room.

Fact Number 2: TRUE. The good news is I still have my coat, but I am certain there are folks who did not at the end of the evening. When entering the convention center greeters are calling out the locations of various balls and coat checks..."Western Ball Coat Check Second Floor"..."Mid Atlantic Ball Hall A"..."Home states Ball this way"...and on and on. It was overwhelming. We immediately made the decision to keep our coats. We tucked them under a set of drapes near the stage area and hoped for the best!

Fact Number 3: FALSE. There was food available throughout the evening and a cash bar. I will not comment on the quality of the offerings (think veggies and dip), but the suggestion people leave starving is false. We did not experience hunger desperation, but after returning home the rosemary and goat cheese sandwiches MCB made for us at 1:30am hit the spot!

Sheryl Crow performed to an enthusiastic crowd and proved herself to be quite an exceptional musician!

After Vice-President and Mrs. Biden made their appearance at the ball the moment all those in attendance had waited for was upon us...As President Obama and our stunning First Lady took the stage he quipped that it was time to “dance with the one who brung me, who does everything that I do except backwards and in heels.”
In that moment my feet stopped hurting, my coat was the furthest thing from my mind, and the contents of the buffet seemed insignificant...I realized it is this moment that ball goers crave...a rare glimpse at their victorious candidate before his real work begins. It is a moment without judgement; a time only for celebration and support.
Pretty cool if you ask me...I'd do it again in four years.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The "not quite" Parade

While Emma and Leif witnessed history in the making on the steps of the United States Capital, Finn and I headed to the Inaugural Parade. Since security of this event was so complex we made our way to our seats at 11:30 am for the 2:30 parade. We navigated our way through the maze of blocked streets and found the security check point for the Green ticket area. As I approached the first line of security they told me my purse was too big for entry. They suggested I empty the bag, put the items in my coat pockets and fold the bag in half. Well it wouldn't fold and the next thing I knew I had budging pockets and a red leather purse in the trash can on 17th St. This all seemed rather strange to me as my bag wasn't that big but I headed back toward security and they let me pass. Just as I was nearing the metal detectors and wondering why they would let me wear a coat stuffed with the same contents as the purse they made me throw away, a security officer approached me an said I could opt to try to get the bag through the check point if I wanted. I mulled this over for a moment...I surely did not want to draw the attention of the snipers posted all over; the last thing I wanted was to end up on MSNBC for attempting to bring an empty red leather purse from Target into the Inaugural Parade, but then again I only have two purses so I pulled it out of the trash and risked a security breech. I walked nervously forward with the crumpled bag in my outstretched hands..."I am willing to part with this bag" I kept saying over and over and then they passed it through the check point. Crisis averted!

We sat in the freezing cold among passionate kind-hearted and enthusiastic Obamacrats! As much as we loved talking with our parade mates we could not deny the dropping temperatures and the late start. The event was more than 90 minutes off schedule and we were seated across from the White House at the very end of the route. After five hours in the cold Finn was not faring well...his lips turned blue and he stopped talking. I considered taking him to the medical tent to buy some time, but opted instead for and early departure; I thought it best to choose parenting over politics! We did manage to see Al Roker and Jamie Lee Curtis before we made a break for it! As Finn warmed up (and it took a while) all his personality came back and he was perfectly fine!
As much as we would have liked to have seen the First Family walk down Pennsylvania Ave I know we made the right choice...I'd bet every penny in my red leather purse the Obama Family would agree!

The Inauguration

As the temperatures dropped the big day was upon us! The Obama administration graciously gave our family two orange tickets to the Swearing In ceremony. Leif and Emma headed out bright and early to go through the off site security check point prior to being bused to the capital with a police escort.
Their view was obscured by an enormous media stand and a grove of trees, but both said energy in the area was unbelievable! Both were moved by the swearing in and President Obama's speech.
Emma was tickled by the stumbles during the swearing in and quick to point out her favorite line from the inaugural address:
"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist".

What an incredible day for Father and Daughter to share. They were at once freezing, inspired, giddy, humbled, and honored.

Day of Service: January 19

Bright and early on Monday morning we headed back to The Mayflower Hotel to catch the buses to RFK Stadium for the Friends and Family of the Obamas Day of Service outing. The eager group filled several buses and friends dating back to Leif's days at Public Allies were the most precious in the crowd!Both current and former Public Allies (and even allies by proxy like me) tend to have hard core volunteer instincts and capabilities...I am convinced several PA alumni thought they would be digging trenches or painting houses at this event! This day of service, however, was more about making a massive statement than actual volunteering...okay the Red Cross volunteers who waited on us while we were "volunteering" were really volunteering, but we really just marched in line. It was fun and just a little funny...
When we set foot in the tent it was clear this was one well organized event. The goal of the day was to assemble 75,000 care packages for our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Red Cross expected more than 10,000 volunteers!
Our job was to walk in circles...take an empty bag and make our way through the line allowing volunteers to drop items into the bags and deposit them at the end...repeat and repeat and repeat! Emma and Finn loved it and the simplicity of the event really allowed them both to become invested in the day! Of course Emma figured out mathematically exactly how long it would take volunteers to fill the bags and had some serious concerns the Red Cross may have underestimated the efficiency of their volunteers...we assured her everything would be fine even though we had done more than our share of bag filling!
Michelle arrived at the event and the crowd went wild! Our instincts told us to back away and keep filling bags, but I managed to snap this picture of her in the middle of the flurry. It was an exciting and slightly sobering moment; in an instant I realized just how little privacy our first family will have and how Leif's friend Michelle has achieved a level of celebrity that is both a blessing and a curse.

After filling about 100 bags between the four of us the kids and I wrote letters to the troops and received these brownies as a thank you gift! I was exhausted and didn't even use a shovel or a paint brush!

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