Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lightning Storms in Chicago

One of the most impressive things about living in Chicago is witnessing the thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are a fairly routine event during the summer, and they have a tendency to arrive on time around 4:30 in the afternoon (right when most of us have to get home from work, actually), although they can come at other times. Storms tend to be quick and powerful, but sometimes we can get multicell storms the last for hours.

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Growing up in Vermont lightning storms were far less common, and were of a far more mellow variety, although my family tended to treat them with respect. I remember watching the approaching storms on the weather channel, and then helping my mom and dad unplug all the television sets and major electronic items. Then we would occasionally stay up late with the lights off waiting to see a flash or two on the horizon.

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Now that I think about it I suppose I have witnessed some impressive thunderstorms of the East Coast variety. For instance, I remember sitting in an apartment on a high floor in a high-rise in Pittsburgh when lightning went past horizontally and even in an upwards direction. When I was in grade school I wrote an essay on a storm I saw from a sailboat. The storm was perfectly in synch with a priest singing Latin words to Pachelbel's Canon, making for an amazing effect. Then there was a time when I was in a tent on the top of a hill in a lightning storm and I got to witness a tree fall not twenty feet away. I suppose if it fell the other way I might not be here. In a more reflective fashion, I remember watching thunderstorms out on the bay in Provincetown from my bedroom windows. The open bay meant you could see bolts many miles out in the distance.

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Well, none of these storms compare even remotely to what Chicago can dish out in a typical summer. There is even a whole new vocabulary that an East Coaster has to learn full of terms like "microbursts," "downbursts," "mesocyclones," "supercells with rotation" -- and it is in Chicago that I first got in the habit of checking the NOAA severe weather alerts, and it's also where I heard my first real tornado siren. Midwestern storms are far more serious than anything I've seen on the East Coast, although it's true that someone from Arkansas or northern Indiana might think I've seen nothing yet.

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But even what Chicago can dish out can be pretty impressive. A case in point: earlier this week, a series of thunderstorms went through Chicago and left 300,000 people in the surrounding areas without power. They were accompanied by tornado warnings with even a few touchdowns. And here's the best indicator I could come up with: I got to see the Sears Tower get hit by over twenty thunderbolts in a little over an hour, occurring for the most part at regular one and a half to two minute intervals! The rhythm was so regular that I was able to predict the next bolt with a high degree of accuracy, and hence I was able to catch the bolts on film. Some of the strikes were more impressive than others. Unfortunately, I missed the most impressive hits: at least two or three times when a bolt hit the Sears Tower it was followed by a shower of sparks all throughout the surrounding area. I'll have to leave that effect to your imagination.

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Recording lightning bolts on film was also a very interesting experience, since it disclosed a far more complicated phenomenon than what I saw with my naked eye. or instance, on film, a single bolt reveals itself to have been a complicated series of bolts all directed at the same place. And one can see that a single bolt often has different power levels throughout the striking process.

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Well, it was quite a storm, and I had the perfect view point to witness it. Hence, in this post I can offer you some highlights of the show. All these photographs represent a "single" hit on the Sears Tower in the actual order of the sequence. I also have three film clips. The first one is in real time so you can listen to the boom of the thunder afterwards. The second two have been slowed down slightly so you can appreciate the complexity of the event.

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People often compare Chicago to New York. I suppose it comes with the territory of still claiming to be "second city." But there are a few things that Chicago does better than New York, and one of these has got to be the lightning storms. Although I suppose for some people that might make it worse?


Regardless, enjoy the clips from a safe distance!

Slow Motion Lightning Strike

Slow Motion Cloud to Cloud Lightning

Saturday, August 4, 2007

New Apartment!!

Well, it has been a long time since I last posted something on this blog. I suppose this is the standard place in the blogworld to come up with some pretentious phrase, like, "I've been too busy doing absolutely fabulous and fantastic things that you will make you terribly jealous to write in my blog." Whether they've been fantastic or not, I'll leave up to you, but honestly, I've been so busy lately that I forgot that I even had a blog. It dawned on me when the latest bill arrived, and I was like, "Oh yah, I have one of those things."

IceActually, it has been more than a half a year since I've written anything longer than a paragraph or two here, and a lot has happened in that half a year, more than I can possibly relate in a single blog entry. But that's part of the reason that the art of the catalog was invented. There were parties in New York, hiking in Vermont, the all night music festival in Chicago called Looptopia, the Chicago Blues Festival that played in my apartment (more on that in a moment), beautiful runs along the lake, great bike rides at 2 AM, runs with famous rock stars (well, they were singing, I was running past), Jamesjversluisthe possibility of being put on a more serious track in my company, days when all of Lake Michigan was covered with ice, early mornings hours when tugboats broke through it, hours of working on my dissertation, presenting papers at workshops, a number of fabulous dinner parties chez moi, connections with old friends and new, and some beautiful moonlit nights.

But the biggest piece of news is probably something that you've all heard about by this point, but since the whole story hasn't been told, it's perhaps worth most of this blog entry. In a nutshell, I moved. Until the beginning of this past month I've lived in a rather extraordinary arrangement for a graduate student. As you know, after having lived for most of a decade in a graduate student apartment in Hyde Park,Hydepark1 last fall I decided to move into something a bit better. My apartment in Hyde Park was reasonably nice. It was a one bedroom with one of the larger kitchen spaces I've found near the U of C. It had lots of closet space, and it came furnished with a set of a few comfortable, if slightly dilapidated pieces of furniture. But the apartment was rather expensive, falling apart, and after five years, rather depressing. So, I started checking out other neighborhoods, I searched, I walked into almost every high rise in downtown Chicago, and finally found my bit of paradise.

BoatraceCompared to my old apartment the new place was stunning. It was on the 39th floor overlooking Lake Michigan, it had all the appliances one would want, including a washer/dryer, central air, a full gym with indoor swimming pool, and the layout was perfect for me. And what's more it had fantastic views. From my windows I could see the sun rise in the morning, observe entire yacht races far out on the lake (The Kennedy's presidential yacht even moors nearby)Kennedyyacht, watch the fireworks when they went off twice a week, and perhaps most spectacularly, watch the moon as it cast it's light over the lake early in the morning. And not only was the apartment on one of the best pieces of real estate in the most expensive zip code in Chicago (11th most expensive zip code in America, by the way), but it also was built on top of what is arguably the greatest grocery store in the world, Fox & Obel. And all this for about $200 more per month than a dilapidated university apartment building.

There was one further detail about the building that was sort of amusing. Although I'm not entirely sure from whence this all started, people sometimes talk about me having a thing for redheads. I'm not entirely sure if it is true, but if it is, perhaps it's the Irish in me, or maybe it can be attributed to some of the relationships/crushes I've had, or perhaps watching Mike Hammer with my dad in my formative years, or perhaps people just assume there's something Charlie Brown about meRedhead. Well, whether you think I have a thing for redheads or not, one evening in my little piece of paradise I ran into a cute redhead on the elevator, and noted that she pressed the button for the 57th floor. After a little investigation I decided that she was probably married, so alas it was not to be. Then a couple months later I got on the same elevator, and a second cute redhead got on the elevator with what I take was her boyfriend. I was amazed to discover that she also pressed the button to go to the 57th floor. Castleanthrax1Finally, one night when I went out to get some groceries for a friend and I, I returned and an even cuter redhead got on the elevator. And guess what? She also was going to the 57th floor. All this made me think that I was living in my own personal castle Anthrax from Monty Python's The Holy Grail: "Welcome to the 57th floor. We are but eight score young redheads, all between twenty-three and thirty-four years of age with college degrees . . . "

Anyway, back to the apartment. How did I do it? How could a graduate student afford paradise?Clouds474 Well, my paradise had fine print. I could rent a $300,000 apartment overlooking Lake Michigan for as long as I wanted, but if the unit sold—and the real estate agents were trying to sell it—I would have to move out within 30 days. Yes, if the unit sold I would not only have to find another place to live, but apply, be approved, and move everything I own into the new place in less than 30 days. But the building management went out of their way to assure me that things were not that bad, and that if there was another unit available in the building, I could move into it in no time. I wouldn't even have to reserve the elevator. It seemed a reasonable risk, so I signed the contract. I just hoped that it wouldn't sell, and that if it did at least not when I was busy.

Well, sure enough, in the seventh week of classes this past spring, when I was working almost full time at my company, teaching a class, grading papers, meeting with professors about my dissertation, and having absolutely no time to do anything, I got the notice under my door that the unit had sold. That meant that I had 30 days to pull off something close to a miracle. I went to talk to my building's management, and discovered that they did not have any available apartments, so I'd have to move to a different building. That very weekend I went out looking for a place, and, to my disappointment, none of the buildings I wanted to live in had apartments available. I looked through Craigslist, and every time I inquired about an apartment it had either already sold or I couldn't move into it for at least a couple months. Finally, when all hope seemed lost an advertisement came up on Craigslist: a studio with "Million Dollar Views." I applied for it immediately, but was not really hoping for much, since it was probably already taken, and surely an apartment with a million dollar view would sell in no time. But to my surprise the very next day I received a message that it was available and I could view the place that day. I had planned on looking at a half dozen other apartments, but after seeing the view from this particular unit, I almost decided on the spot it was where I was going to live. What I actually did was tell the owner I was interested, wandered out into the park, made a few phone calls to my sister, and then called the owner back to say that I would take the place.

BuckinghamfountainOf course, this was only half the ordeal. The next stage was trying to figure out the day I was going to move. This turned out to be more of a challenge than I initially thought. When I applied for this new apartment, I had looked at the elevator sign-up sheet in the new building, and saw that it was completely free the entire week. This meant that all I would need to do is find a day during that week when my old building would let me reserve an elevator to move out. So I went to my old building and discovered there was indeed one day that week I could move. So, I went back to the new building to book the elevator and discovered to my horror that in the meantime the freight elevator was taken off line the entire week! Apparently, a building manager also looked at the same elevator sign-up sheet, and decided that it would be a most excellent time to repair the elevator. So, the only day I could move in was well after I had to be out of my new building. This is actually the recipe for a disaster move: move everything out of the apartment onto a truck, then from a truck into storage (which would have to be rented for a month), then back onto the truck, and then into my new apartment. I had gone through that hell before, and I didn't want to see it again. So I had to begin negotiations between the two buildings. Negotiations involved walking back and forth between the buildings a half dozen times throughout an entire afternoon. Finally, after getting concessions from each management company, I got my solution: if my landlord was willing to let me move in three days before my lease began, I could move out of my first building one day and into the second building the next. Finally the move was possible.

But then the second challenge had to be met. In between teaching classes, writing my dissertation, working in the research firm, and trying to live a normal life, I had to put everything I own into boxes. Then I had to move all these boxes onto a truck, then off of a truck, then into my new building. Thank god I had some friends to help me. The heroes in this operation included my friends Brian, Manasi, and Janet. The four of us managed to perform the whole operation, and everyone was a hero. Brian probably lifted just about every box into the truck, Spiritedawayboat1and also took me out to the U-Haul place in the middle of a not very nice neighborhood; Manasi pulled off the miracle of moving boxes that were bigger than she was with her collapsible luggage cart, and Janet was there at the end of the first day to move boxes, and be sure everything worked out alright. Actually, Janet was also my voice of reason, and even paid for my dinner when I thought I was taking her out to dinner. And the next day, when Manasi and Brian had scheduling conflicts, she came through in a big way, and the two of us on our own managed to move everything I own from the truck, up the elevator and into the apartment in under five hours. Everything including ten book shelves, two dining room tables, eight chairs, a full-sized keyboard and stand, a stand-up copier, about 20 boxes of appliances and kitchen supplies, all my blankets, and last but not least, 50 boxes of books. Wonderwoman_calendarMind you Janet is not a very big woman—quite petite actually—but she earned super-hero status by lifting dozens of boxes that were bigger than she was, and at one moment single-handedly moving enormous bookshelves off of the truck without the slightest complaint. To say that I owe her one is an understatement. I owe her dozens and dozens, and probably couldn't have handled the situation without her. Anyway, a thanks to you all! And next time I'll get movers : )

One amusing note about the move was when Janet and I first got on the elevator. Radishspirit1 My building actually has a fair number of retirees in it, and the first one we encountered in the elevator was a large old man who breathed very deeply and looked at us out of the corner of his eyes. It was actually marvelous, since he looked just like the radish spirit from Spirited Away. I suppose the reference was reinforced even more by the fact that just the evening before I watched a boat crossing lake Michigan towards my old apartment that looked just like a boat from that movie. If you haven't seen Spirited Away,Spiritedaway you should really check it out. It is an awesome movie. I suppose I just like the aesthetic: there are sparse scenes with enormous beauty, like the scene when they take the train through the water.

So there you have it, my eviction from paradise. But after having lived in my new apartment for two months I can honestly say that I have moved from paradise to Shangri-La. My new apartment may even be better than my old one. Viewatnight For one thing, the view is equally stunning. From my full wall of windows I can see almost the entire skyline of the loop in Chicago from McCormick Place, past the museums and the aquarium, past the harbor, through the south loop, throughout the full expanse of Grant Park including the bean, all the way north to the new Trump Tower. In fact, when the Trump Tower is finished I will be able to see the three tallest buildings in North America from my windows (well, with the possible exception of the CN tower in Toronto). Location-wise I think it is the equivalent of being at the corner of Central Park West in New York City. And since the apartment faces southwest I can see most of the approaching weather fronts and the spectacular lightning storms the Midwest sends our way. The apartment layout is even better in many respects than my last one,Aonview and it has all the appliances I need, again including the marvelous power of a washer and dryer. The building is on a peninsula by the lake, and it also has a full athletic club with racquetball courts, and an indoor swimming pool with a speaker system that plays classical music, lots of public spaces, and even a grocery store.Cityview But perhaps what is better than all of that is the fact that it has green spaces. Even now, as I write this e-mail I'm sitting in a little outdoor courtyard surrounded by trees, and complete with hammocks. Not bad for downtown Chicago.

Oh, and yes, to follow up on the comment about the Chicago Blues Festival. My apartment is located directly parallel to the main stage of the Grant Park music festivals,Bluesfestival so I'm technically in the back row at all the concerts. So when the Chicago Blues Festival happened earlier this month, I was able to listen to the louder acts from my apartment windows. Not bad for a graduate student dig. And amusingly enough, the first morning that I was in my apartment I woke up to singers praising the Lord at the Chicago Gospel Festival. A rather nice welcome if you ask me.

So, the story has a happy ending. And now all my friends still have a nice place to stay in the city, complete with a good inflatable guest bed.

One final epilogue. On the last day I spent in my old apartment there was a wonderful fireworks show in front of my windows while I packed the last things and cleaned the apartment. This was followed by a gorgeous lightning storm from the windows of my new apartment later that night. So let me end the tale with a video clip of the celebration.

Monday, July 23, 2007

7/22/07 Roman Dinner

And yet another post from my dinner parties. This was my second dinner featuring Rome, and was held in honor of the departure of my friends Brian and Judy for the Big Apple. We also had gone to see the movie Ratatouille the week before, so I prepared the zucchini in the style of the featured dish from that movie.

1. Insalata Verde e Pomodorini Canditi

2. Primi Piatti: Tonnarelli al Tè Verde con Gamberi e Pomodorini Canditi

(Based on a recipe from the Roman cook Paolo Londero at the Hotel Hassler)

3. Contorni: Zucchine in Padella con Aceto e Peperoncino

(Traditional Roman dish, served in the style of Rat-atouille)

4. Secondi Piatti: Agnello alla Cacciatora

(Based on a traditional recipe from the Roman restaurant Checchino dal 1887)

4. Dolci: Crema di Tè a Gelsomino

(OK, this is a simple French recipe from Alain Ducasse, but I think it will be a nice variation on the Tonnarelli dish)

The highlight of the meal was the pasta made with green tea, which made a sensational combination with the roasted tomatoes and shrimp. The zucchini dish was very similar to the Roman Zucchini dish I served a few weeks before, but I added more vinegar, stacked the zucchini like the ratatouille dish from the movie, and baked the columns in the oven. I also thought the Jasmine custards came out well: the tea added just enough flavor to liven up the desert.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

7/7/2007 Roman Dinner

And another menu from my series of dinners. This one was in honor of my friend Fanny being in town. She has gone to Rome more than once, and said that this was the best Italian meal she had outside of Italy (Thanks Fanny). You'll probably also notice that by this point I do have a fondness for green salads.

1. Insalata Verde

2. Primi Piatti: Bruschetta con Pomodorini Canditi

(Using a combination of roasted tomatoes with sugar and regular cold tomatoes really makes Bruschetta shine)

3. Secondi Piatti: Fettuccine con Ragù alla Romana

(Recipe from Roman restaurant Fortunato al Pantheon)

4. Contorni: Zucchine in Padella con Aceto e Peperoncino

5. Dolci: I actually ran out of time so I just went to the local Bakery and Fox & Obel and bought us all chocolate tarts. In retrospect that is very Italian I suppose.

The hit of the event was the zucchini dish. The zucchini was just pan-fried in garlic-infused olive oil, then tossed with red peperoncino peppers, and then doused with balsamic vinegar. But the dish was definitely the highlight of the meal, and our plates were quickly cleared.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

4/20/2007 Piedmont Dinner

Another dinner in my series of meals at chez Hannon. This dinner was a small celebration in order to bring a few friends together. I chose Piedmont since my friend Abby's family is from Piedmont. She really got into the spirit of things and brought two really good bottles of wine from the 90s (Thanks Abby). I think this was my biggest dinner party this year. I usually aim for four to six people, but this party grew to eight. I actually prepared the meal in less than three hours, which I still think is remarkable. And I only broke two dishes!

1. Insalata Verde

2. Primo Piatti: Risotto alla Millanese con Tartufo

(The traditional risotto dish. I've made it so many times now I forget where the recipe is from, but the addition of truffles is pure Piedmont.)

3. Secondi Piatti: Trotelle alla Savoia

4. Contorni: Fagiolo verde

(WIth a slight truffle flavor, after all, if you have them on hand you might as well put then in everything. )

5. Dolci: Pere Ubriache. (Drunken pears are so simple, but man they're good.)

It was fun cooking with truffles. I had never cooked with them before, and although I didn't get the prize Piedmont white truffle, the truffle I got was good. I was amused, however, that there actually was a possibility that I could have purchased a $500.00 Piedmont white truffle, since Fox & Obel had them in stock. I was very tempted, but in the end decided I did not want to put down half a grand for a few little tubers!

Monday, April 16, 2007

4/15/07 Venetian Dinner

As many of you know, one of my favorite pasttimes is cooking elaborate meals. I've decided that whenever I do a big dinner party, I'm going to post the meals to my blog. That way those of you who were there can review the wonders of the meal, and those of you who weren't there can figure out what you missed, and vow to come next time : )

1. Insalata Verde

[A Italian surprise appetizer]

2. Primo Piatti: Rice e bisi

3. Secondi Piatti: Spaghetti con Tonno, Olive, e Pomodori

(From the restaurant Fiaschetteria Toscana in Venice)

4. Contorni: Asparago

5. Dolci: Delizie con fiore di latte

The highlight of this dinner was the Italian surprise appetizer. What I did was make cannoli shells out of pure Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then filled them with minced salmon and Italian goat cheese, with a chive pressed through to add color and a little flavor to the cheese. The idea was that it was a meld of Italian land-flavors and the sea, in the shape of a very popular Venetian dish. My friends Brian and Judy are also quite fond of salmon, so it was quite appropriate. The delizie made with figs was somewhat less creative, but perhaps even more tasty. I bought a special, admittedly Norwegian, pan for it.