Monthly Archives: November 2012

November 28th, 2012

Chicago by Night

So here are a few photos from my recent trip to Chicago that I thought you might enjoy. Here I am with Randy Richardson, author of the book Cheeseland and President of the CWA, Chicago Writers Association. We sampled the beer and nachos at Rock Bottom Brewery located at Grand Avenue and State Street, and shared memories of growing up here in the days when road trips to Wisconsin, where the drinking age was lower, were a part of growing up.

I’m not afraid to walk underneath the El tracks in Chicago – what do you take me for, a tourist or something? Have you ever been to Chicago? Leave a comment down below, and let me know.

Rivers come and rivers go. The Chicago River is the only river I’m aware of whose direction was reversed by engineers, a feat they accomplished exactly 112 years ago. To be honest, the Chicago River ain’t much to look at by day, but at night it lights up with the reflections of the city lights.

Take that, all you newfangled architects out there: Marina Towers, Chicago’s own twin towers. Built in 1964 and containing 450 condominiums and 900 parking spaces each, the corncob towers still score high for eye-popping uniqueness, don’t they?


In Chicago there are many famous buildings, and they don’t all look like corncobs. Remember this one, from the Transformers movie?

My favorite theater marquis on North State Street deserves a place in this little pantheon too. By day it might even escape your notice, but by night it lights up the sky.


November 22nd, 2012

Blast Off Space Orville

Space Orville is a 16-year-old computer gamer living in the future. After being recruited by UPS, the intergalactic CIA of the distant future, he is sent on a mission to do no less than save the universe. Off he goes, equipped only with his own unique skills and a special all-purpose backpack called Kahoots. Get it? Every time he needs something he just has to remind himself it’s “in Kahoots”.

Encompassing a fireworks display of language, action and ideas, this book turned out to be a kaleidoscope of wild images, connections and sensations, all tied together in an intricate structure with highly likable characters. I absolutely loved this book and am now combing through my Christmas present list to see who all I can give it to.

No pun intended, this book rockets along, as Space Orville travels through space on his mission which will require him to use the Fog Napkin to stymie the evil plan of Bizmo the Inconceivable and his Boggler. Along the way, Space Orville meets a number of endearing characters who join him on the mission and also help him to understand the spiritual and mechanical underpinnings of the universe.

Space Orville has a sort of R2D2 helper named NeutroFuzz, which gives occasion to dozens of new verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Embarrassed, NeutroFuzz “pinkified and dimbled.” Later, “muted finklings came from NeutroFuzz.” The spaceships have names like the Bella Fonty, the Rog Shuggoth, or Hooba, the Nerve Banana, and in some cases personalities, such as Robard, a spaceship with a scathing sense of irony.

I enjoyed the constant word games and vocabulary hijinks. There are all sorts of strange gadgets and foods in this made-up future world, but the names are hilarious. Space Orville’s favorite breakfast, made in a foodulator, is Happy Scraps tapioca puffs.

Zapping his way through the different layers of the universe, will Space Orville manage to complete his mission and get home again? I wll not reveal the answer here, but I will say this book introduced me to new ideas about the relationships between space and time, language, and the dreaming versus the real world. A classic for YA readers young and old, Space Orville deserves a place on every bookshelf.

November 19th, 2012

Bullet River – A Book Review

Every time I read a book by Dani Amore, I feel I’m in the hands of a real pro. A body is discovered, and the Garbage Collector (that’s just a nickname) has to find out who did it and why.

Be aware that once you start this book, you will probably not put it down again even if you smell smoke or if fire breaks out. The sentences are so clipped, the dialogue so spare, I found myself devouring the story just to know what was coming next.

Reading this sort of mystery is always a pleasure because pros like Dani Amore stick to certain formulas – there has to be some violence, there has to be some badness – but I’ve learned with this author to expect the unexpected. I love what this Garbage Collector accomplishes with a baseball bat.

Until you reach the end of the story, you are held hostage to your Kindle. Short, sweet, and explosive, this book delivers on its promise.

November 4th, 2012

Don’t Let Your Special Diet Get You Down

You can laugh about certain things, or you can cry. I choose to laugh. But that’s easy for me to say.

My wife and two of my three sons have celiac disease. Their bodies are not equipped with the enzyme that breaks down gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. If they go off the diet, they get diarrhea, bloating, and stomach cramps that leave them writhing on the floor. Not such a laughing matter.

Add to that the fact that I decided to go meat-free eleven years ago. Why? I read a book that convinced me it would be a healthier choice.

So now you know why my oldest son claims to be the only one in our house eating “normal” food.

My wife and the other two boys have to avoid things like bread, pasta, cake and cookies. No bagels for them, imagine! As if that weren’t bad enough, tiny amounts of wheat flour or flour-containing ingredients can be found in many sauces, salad dressings, soups, drinks and even ice creams. We always study the ingredients carefully. We interrogate waiters and waitresses and make them bring out the industrial sized product package, so we can check.

We don’t sit around the house crying about our complicated culinary situation. Instead, we’ve all become closet Jamie Olivers because of it. We’ve gotten more creative in the kitchen.

My wife makes gluten free bread once or twice a week, using gluten free flour and gluten free yeast. Even my son who eats “normal” food clamors for a piece when that comes out of the oven, steaming hot. Or her special jelly cookies (pictured).

I like to make lasagna, and since we are all big lasagna eaters I always make one gluten free and one with normal wheat-containing noodles. Bet you can’t tell which is which …






Delicious dishes all of us can eat, and like to eat, are easy to prepare and always tasty. We would serve meat alongside some of these, for the meat eaters. Others make good stand-alone meals. Here’s an unofficial top ten list:

• Risotto with saffron or with peas, beans and carrots
• Baked au gratin potatoes or garlic mashed potatoes
• Pizza made with gluten free crust
• Greek salad with feta cheese, potatoes, black olives
• Stuffed peppers (rice and tomato sauce mixture)
• Rice salad with cubed cheese, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and onions
• Potato salad (several different recipes)
• Gluten free pasta such as gnocchi with pesto sauce
• Raclette (boiled potatoes with melted cheese and pickles)
• Grilled vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, onions, squash)

So cooking for special diets doesn’t drive us crazy. It’s everyday life for us. Pity the poor people who invite us over for dinner, though. We usually end up spending half an hour on the phone reassuring them that, although we may seem like space aliens, we are in fact harmless.

Do you have a special diet too? How does it affect your cooking routine? Do you find it challenging informing people about it when you’re invited to eat with them?