Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Train Rocks Public Transport

Yesterday I was waiting for the Red Line at Chicago Avenue, when the CTA Holiday Train pulled up. Covered in twinkly lights, with elves on board passing out candy canes, and all the ads replaced by holiday riddles (ie, Where do elves keep their money? A snow bank), it's impossible not to smile when you climb aboard. Santa even has his own open-air flatcar carrying his sleigh and reindeer.

The Holiday Train has been rolling for 20 years. It runs on a different line each day, Wednesday through Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Check here for the schedule.

And one for the road: What is an elf's favorite meal at the North Pole? A brrr grr.

Tales of Butter

Butter man Abel Gonzales
Perhaps by now you've heard about the butter crisis in Norway. Due to factors such as weak milk production by the nation's cows, butter is missing from supermarket shelves at the time of year it's most needed - for Christmas bun baking. To cope, Norwegians are making butter runs to neighboring countries such as Germany and Sweden. A few days ago, cops busted butter smugglers trying to sell 550 pounds of yellowy goodness brought in from Sweden.

Let's hope a similar crisis never hits Texas in October. Because that's when the State Fair serves up its audacious deep-fried butter. Abel Gonzales Jr (pictured) is the genius who concocted the recipe. I was lucky enough to visit him a few months ago and taste test the following:

Fried butter
Deep-fried butter (Grade: A) - much more awesome than I expected, kind of like the southwest's sopapilla

Deep-fried s'more (Grade: A-) - nice balance of gooey interior and crisp exterior

Deep-fried cookie dough (Grade: B-) - can't believe I'm saying this, but it was almost too sweet

Deep-fried Frito pie (Grade: C) - you better be a meat and sour cream fan for this one

Deep-fried Ding Dong (Grade: C+) - the cake-iness gets totally mushed in the fryer
Fried s'more

So there you go: a belated Texas State Fair round-up, brought on by Norway's imperiled butter supply.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora died today at age 70. Below is the story of when we met her on the island of Sao Vicente, off West Africa's coast (from an old blog post):

Cape Verde's most famous resident is the singer Cesaria Evora, who has made her living crooning about her country and its beauty. Her deep, smooth voice and romantic songs - called mornas - vaulted her to international stardom, and she tours throughout the world.

So imagine our surprise when we walk down the street in Mindelo (Sao Vicente's capital) and see Cesaria Evora sitting on her front porch. Imagine our greater surprise when she invites us in and offers us a beer (served by a pierced houseboy in an apron).

We couldn't say much to each other directly, since we don't speak Criolo or French and Cesaria doesn't speak English. Everything had to be translated by Peter, Cesaria's 87-year-old uncle, a dapper gentleman in white linen trousers, as sharp-dressed as they come, except for his unzipped fly.

Cesaria asked why we had come to Cape Verde, and where else we had visited in the country. As Peter relayed our answers, she listened graciously puffing on Marlboro Reds held between fingers heavy with gold rings.

At the end of our visit, Cesaria let us take photos (after telling Peter to zip up first), and then she invited us back.

She was a class act. You can see the Barefoot Diva (she only performed shoeless) singing here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hello, Cleveland!

Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2012 inductees today: Guns N' Roses, the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Laura Nyro, Donovan and The Small Faces. The ceremony will be April 14 in C-Town, where it's held every third year. (Apparently, it's too much to ask industry types to travel to the woebegon city annually; the other years it takes place in NYC).

Performers on the ballot who did not make it in included The Cure, Heart, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and War.

Then there's Rush, who wasn't even nominated - despite the fact they've sold more than 40 million records and have "more consecutive gold and platinum records than everyone except the Beatles and the Rolling Stones" (both in the Hall, btw), according to Wired's GeekDad blog.

Rush doesn't hold it against Cleveland, though. Their newest album is titled Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland.

NPR is conducting a poll of whether Rush should be in the Hall. Submit your vote here. At press time, almost 16,000 voters (97.3%) want them in the limelight.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Christmas Story Story

Now that it's cold enough outside to stick a tongue to a flagpole, I always think of Cleveland, Ohio. You probably do, too, without realizing it. Because the city holds the house from A Christmas Story, the 1983 film in which Ralphie yearns for a Red Ryder BB gun.

It's a big tourist attraction. In 2004, a fan named Brian Jones bought the private residence on eBay for $150,000 and replicated the interior to match the movie set (only the home's exterior had been used for filming). Jones' job, by the way: manufacturing leg lamps.

When I visited, there was a line to get in. Fans swarmed the place, snapping pix by the Christmas tree, at the mailbox (where Ralphie waited for his decoder pin) and - most popularly - huddled around the leg lamp. This was April, mind you. In December there's the added bonus of having Randy (aka the now-36-year-old actor who played the little bro) on site to show you around. Afterward everyone crosses the street to the gift shop to buy - that's right - a leg lamp! (We prefer the key chain version, as well as a bar of Lifebuoy Soap to wash out dirty mouths).