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The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

The Christmas That Was Almost Ruined

December27

We hosted Christmas Dinner this year, the first time we’ve REALLY hosted a holiday meal. We’ve participated in pot luck in the past (including one year I made a turkey and it was the best tasting turkey IN THE ENTIRE WORLD and I’d never made a turkey before), and one year we half-assed it to the point of not bothering to check to see how long a spiral sliced ham needed to cook and wound up pan frying slices of ham for everyone’s dinner.

This year we made lasagna, cauliflower gratin, mashed potatoes, peas, 2 kinds of rolls, and a spiral sliced ham (well, the ham only needed to be heated up; it was already cooked). All of this, except for the ham, was made from scratch.

There was also cheese and crackers, pumpkin-cranberry muffins, and 4 types of cookies, as well as sugared almonds and spiced mixed nuts. The muffins, cookies, and nuts were also made from scratch.

This was a lot of cooking. I have a 9 month old who needs to be within touching distance of me at all times. I did a lot of prep cooking while he napped or was in bed.

Whew!

Nesko has never personally had to work to host a holiday meal. In the past, we either went to my parents’ or else his family hosted, which is to say that he sat around and drank and talked while Teh Wimmens busted their asses cleaning and cooking. Which meant that Nesko kept fluttering around the kitchen on Christmas early afternoon waving his hands and exclaiming that Christmas “was ruined.”

It was hilarious. And of course nothing was ruined.

The ham and lasagna went in then came out and were covered in foil to stay warm, and the cauliflower and potatoes went in. The peas were microwaved. The rolls were cooked the day before (but I should have heated them up in the oven but I was afraid they’d dry out or something).

Oh! There was also devilled eggs and fudge that didn’t set right (and I need to make a cake so I can melt that fudge down and turn it into frosting).

Next Christmas we are going to make appetizers, cookies, and pie. And if people want actual food we can have sandwiches or something. But people were very interested in the appetizers and were kind of full when the main meal came out. Sure, we could just skip appetizers, but they are MUCH easier to throw together than a meal is.

When we finally have a million billion dollars, we’re going to remodel our kitchen and put in two ovens to make life easier.

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Birthday Prep for Nesko, and our neighborhood is awesome.

October22

Nesko’s birthday is this Saturday (and next Saturday is Halloween and the Saturday after that is his brother’s birthday. The holidays are flying thick and fast now!) I’m making spanicopita, pastitsio, and chocolate-vanilla marble cheesecake.

I wanted to get good feta for the spanicopita and kefalotyri for the pastitsio, so we went to Andy’s Fruit Ranch. There, we found that kefalotyri is like $11.00 a pound, which we can’t afford right now so I got romano instead. I was able to get almost everything on our list except for Spinach (their fresh spinach looks really good and I don’t want it to sit in the fridge for three days; we’ll pick some up on Saturday morning), and chocolate cookies for the cheesecake’s crust.

They had almost no chocolate cookies.

They had some chocolate flavored maria cookies, but I’ve never had those before and have no idea if they taste like a butt or not. I know they’re a popular cookie, but do they work well in a cheesecake crust? No idea. They had oreos, which are nommy, but they were pretty expensive. They had some ladyfingers that were flavored half chocolate and half vanilla, which is not enough chocolate, and they had cookies drenched in chocolate covering.

Mmm, imported cookies.

Upshot is that Nesko’s going to pick up some kind of hard chocolate wafer cookie on the way home from work tonight so I can crush them into crumbs for the crust. It’s not that big a deal, having to make two trips. In fact, a few decades ago, it was common to make multiple trips when grocery shopping: you hit the butcher, you hit the bakery, you hit the green grocer. Stores specialized in what they sold.

Andy’s Fruit Ranch mostly specializes in import and ethnic things. They had cases of Jupi and Cockta. They had one million Polish cookies. They had Goya and La Preferida products out the windows. This is what Andy’s Fruit Ranch is.

I’m glad to have a resource like them, one that sells 6 different kinds of phyllo dough, 4 different kinds of feta, amazing cuts of meat, frozen Burek. It’s really awesome! We live in a cool neighborhood that has a lot of grocery stores like this, catering to different ethnicities (including at least one halal butcher).

So it’s kind of disappointing to read negative reviews on Yelp or whatever, from people who don’t really understand what an ethnic market is. Sorry, no, a place like this isn’t going to have every different brand of doritos, coke, pepperidge farm bread, whatever. If you want a wide selection of American products, go to a chain grocery store. If you want butter from Ireland and Poland and Germany, honey from all over Europe, 15 different kinds of olive oil, fresh fluffy packages of pita and naan, then come here. It’s this weird kind of entitlement. “Improve your selection, and THEN I might consider coming back!” Do these folks write overly wordy reviews of Jewel or Dominicks lamenting the lack of freekeh, poppy seed filling, Dr Oetker’s products? Do they really think that a specialty grocery store with a thronging clientele is going to come crawling after them? Weird.

posted under baking, Chicago, cooking, damn hipsters, home, Nesko | Comments Off on Birthday Prep for Nesko, and our neighborhood is awesome.

Moving Update

August10

We are moving at the end of the month, to a rental property that Nesko’s family owns. We would have moved some two or three months ago, but the previous tenants took longer to move out than they claimed they would. In retrospect, they may have been having difficulty pulling together a deposit for the new place. It’s a two flat, brick building from the 1920s or so, with a big basement with lots of storage in it. It’s three (small) bedrooms, a large-ish kitchen (I think we could put a small table in there, Nesko disagrees), a dining room, full bathroom, laundry/utility room, large living room with decorative fireplace, and small sunroom.

The previous tenants took with them or lost or broke several items: the fairly expensive smoke/carbon monoxide detector with a ten year battery; a glass lampshade for a wall light; every single plastic cover for the heating vents (cleverly replaced with taped up paper or cardboard); a screw-in sink strainer; a light switch cover; the back door’s doorknob. They also left the walls absolutely filthy, beyond what would be considered “normal wear and tear” (although the floors look fine) and ruined the brand new counter tops. They got flooded or something, and are all warped and buckled. “Take it out of the security deposit,” you say? Ah ha ha ha! They used the security deposit as the last month’s rent.

Additionally, they left behind a creepy wooden “welcome” sign featuring a character who looks slightly like Speedy Gonzalez, if he were drawn by someone who’d never actually seen Speedy Gonzalez, but had had someone describe the character in vague detail; and five million roaches.

If talk of bugs grosses you out then skip the rest of this entry, because I’m going to talk about roaches and roach abatement in perhaps too much detail.

Nesko, one of his sisters, and I checked out the apartment on Wednesday night. We had a camera and measuring tape so we could measure room and take some photos. We wound up not using those tools because we were too disgusted. We walked into the kitchen and turned the lights on, looked around. “Oh, huh,” said Nesko, “there’s a baby roach here. Well, I’ll just kill it.” He did so. Then we noticed other baby roaches. A lot of other baby roaches. And larger roaches as well. All over the kitchen. They were absolutely not at all concerned with our presence and continued wandering around the kitchen looking for stuff to eat/people to sicken. They were in the kitchen. They were in the dining room. They were in the bathroom. They were in all three bedrooms. They were in the living room. They were in the sun room.

In the wild and crazy 70s, my mom lived in a commune or something one summer. Maybe it was a flop house. Anyway, a bunch of people lived in an old and crappy house. When my mom got up late at night/early in the morning to use the toilet or get ready for work, she’d slip out of the bedroom she shared with several other people and go into the hallway and turn the light on. The ceiling would be dark brown for one or two seconds, and then suddenly go to white as the lights flicked on and the roaches scattered. The apartment isn’t that bad. But it’s still disgusting. We took stock that Wednesday, noted the stuff that was missing (door knob? seriously?) and then headed out. I did some online research into roach abatement and developed A Plan Of Action involving many, many poisons.

Nesko and I went back on Saturday, during the day.

We stopped at Target to pick up some stuff we needed. Checking out went like this: baby food, baby food, waterproof bibs, baby food, sippy cups, baby food, baby food, paper towels, baby food, roach bait traps, roach poison gel, roach poison gel, roach fogger bombs. We have a baby, and we have roaches.

It’s relatively rare to see roaches during the day. When you do, it generally means that either the roach population is so freaking large that night foraging alone isn’t enough to sustain them (augh! augh! augh!) or else it means there’s so little food that they’re desperate. Given that roaches eat plastic, paper, glue, etc I don’t think the second reason explains why there were roaches all over the place on Saturday during the day. There weren’t as many roaches as there had been during the night, but they were still out and active and extremely unconcerned by our presence.

We started out putting down bait traps. I had wanted to get two packages of bait traps. Nesko talked me into getting only one package. Like a fool, I listened to him, and not to my sixth sense involving poison and death. I also didn’t get roach spray, thinking we wouldn’t encounter any actual roaches, it being the middle of the day and all. Again, I am a fool not to trust my inner deadliness. We put bait traps under the sink, under the stove, under the fridge, all over the kitchen, and in the dining room. I tried to put down the poison gel but really sucked at it, so Nesko started laying down sticky brown lines of death. Roach death. He accidentally dropped a line of poison gel in the sink, in the middle of it, not under some nook or cranny or crevice. Within a minute or two it was swarmed with roaches of all sizes.

Several years ago, we answered an ad for an apartment that promised to have “brand new windows with brand new mini blinds.” It claimed to have “a recently remodeled kitchen with stainless steal appliances” and said that “the walls were freshly painted.” This was a lie sundae with lie sauce liberally poured atop it. The apartment was a shit hole with battered, filthy, half-painted walls, no interior doors, and a broken kitchen floor that needed a new subfloor. Also, there were no appliances. We made a verbal deal (like idiots! we should have gotten it in writing!) to do repairs to the property in exchange for rent reduction (the ONLY reason we signed the damn lease) and the building manager told us to go to a particular used appliance store to pick out our “stainless steel” appliances. It took a full month to find out where to go, which meant we were eating out a lot since we didn’t have a fridge/freezer to store food in or a stove to cook it on. Why yes, this DID cost us a lot of money! When we were finally able to meet up with the guy who ran the store (we made several trips out there only to find it was closed, despite posted hours) he kept steering us to the crappiest, most beat up appliances he had. They were dirty, avocado green colored, missing knobs or handles, whatever. One fridge smelled like rotting death when I opened it up. The guy claimed that smell could be cleaned out if we wanted that fridge (it was otherwise perfect, almost brand new, gleaming white) but I did not believe him. If it were possible to remove the smell, wouldn’t he have done so BEFORE setting it out on the floor to sell it? I mean, don’t you want your wares to be in the best possible shape so people actually WANT to buy them? We passed on that fridge, but the smell has stayed with me.

So, given the state of the rest of the apartment, I don’t think you can blame me for opening the fridge to check it out to see if it had the stank or not.

It did not stink!

It was gleaming white and clean inside, I was glad to see, except for a few odd specks on the floor of the fridge.

“You, ah, might not want to put your hand there,” Nesko said and I looked at the top of the fridge door where I had my hand.

“CHRIST HAVE MERCY,” I yelled, and jumped back.

There were roaches on the shelves of the fridge door, in the butter keep, and swarming over the rubber door seal, right near where I had my hands. The odd specks on the floor of the fridge were dead roaches. I finished freaking out and Nesko put gel poison in the nooks of the door seal and along some molding next to the fridge. I opened up the freezer and it was the same thing. The freezer had roaches in it. The freezer. Had roaches. Freezer. There were a few in the body of the freezer, but most were in the rubber door seal. Nesko put down more poison.

One or both of us are going back this week to see how much of the poison gel is gone and how active the roach population is. We are going to put down more bait traps, fog the basement, and get a dehumidifier to put down there. We will probably fog the apartment, but we haven’t done so yet because the people upstairs have kids and don’t speak English, and we want to give them warning to clear the kids out for a few hours. Actually, we also want to see if they have roaches. If so, we’ll give them roach fogger, bait traps, and Nesko will put down gel poison.

Once the roaches are gone, or at least not so incredibly active, we’re going to scrub down the apartment and repaint the walls. The ceiling in the bathroom needs to be repaired and we’re going to put in a fan. And I think that’s all we need to do to move in.

Anyway, the craziest thing about the apartment wasn’t the roaches in the fridge. Nesko might argue with me, but I do think this is crazier. The fireplace in the living room used to be a functional fireplace with a chimney and everything, but the previous owners blocked it off so now it’s just decorative (and not a fire hazard). It had some crap-ass plastic brick veneer and I wondered what was beneath that. Tile? Plaster? Wood? One of the veneer bricks was loose and fell of. You know what’s under the janky plastic brick veneer?

Actual brick.

Someone put brick veneer over actual brick.

They also painted the brick border and limestone details dark brown.

We are pulling the stupid veneer off, and if there is extensive damage under the veneer, fine. We will put up veneer or SOMETHING that does not look like ass. But probably we can fix it. I’m checking out, right now, how to get paint off of limestone. Because seriously. Who paints over limestone? Assholes. That’s who.

At least the floors are in good shape, and the windows and mini blinds are new and somehow haven’t been broken.

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