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26 November 2011

I am Draco Malfoy.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, I had a mini-HP Deathly Hallows marathon. It's rare that I have six+ hours of down time to devote to watching a movies, so I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit the ending of the series in it's entirety.

As an English teacher, I love the HP series. It's served as a great "gateway" series to get kids hooked into reading. And I love that the films have prompted some critical engagement with our kids -- comparing the books to the films, discussing what the films got wrong and what they did better -- really engaging with both texts. As a reader, I love the HP series because it opened a pretty awesome magical world to me that I had grown out of. And, while the books have their flaws, they are pretty well written and very enjoyable.

I also love the characters that Rowling gives us. She uses traditional dramatic types to fill her pages and gives them modern day (even if they are "magical") struggles to challenge them and force them to reveal their true selves. They have depth and dimension, but, sadly, not all are dynamic. Which doesn't mean that I like them any less. It just means that I identify with the less.

Let's start at the beginning: Harry himself. Harry is our hero. He is our self-sacrificing, Christ-like figure. He struggles to accept the role of The Chosen One, but he realizes that there is more planned for him than he knows. He doesn't change or grow or develop all that much. His true self is eventually revealed through the (constant) intercession of his two best friends and the many others who dedicate their lives to making sure he lives. He achieves beyond what I can ever expect to. He is far too courageous to be real. While we should all aspire to be like him, that is an unrealistic aspiration. We can never expect to achieve his feats. He is, after all, The Chosen One. We are just The Many.

Hermione is perfect. She knows right from wrong and has an inscrutable moral guide. She never sways from doing the right thing, even when it is hard or seemingly impossible. She stands up to bullies and faces her fear. While I love her tenacity, she just isn't real for me. She never changes of grows or develops as a character. She is perfect from the beginning to the end.

Ron is Ron. He struggles with jealousy, but that never truly deters his loyalty. He is a good friend and has a kind heart. He doesn't always do what is right at first, but he eventually follows his conscience. Of the three leads, Ron is the most flawed and the most redeemed. But his struggles aren't the same struggles that so many of us face. Ours seem to be greater, demanding more evolution and introspection.

But Draco. I see myself and so many of us in Draco. And it took me a long time to realize this. I've always wanted to hate Draco because of his naturally evil leanings, but I've come to realize that I hate Draco because I see all of the things that I hate in myself in him. Draco is a young, impressionable boy who follows his family/friends blindly because they are the people who love and support him. Even when he finally sees the evil around him, he struggles to do the "right" thing. This side of him really starts to show in the last few books of the series. He thinks that he has all the answers for all of life's questions and this makes him cocky. And he hides his vulnerability because he knows that it makes him weak. He presents a strong, steely exterior to the world when, in reality, he is torn apart inside. He has perfected his poker face, and it never truly breaks. But, despite all of his inherent evilness, he grows. He changes He develops from a cold, heartless kid into someone who turns away from the dark and towards the light. He helps the "good guys" (albeit subtly), and he serves to be the most dynamic HP character (in my humble opinion).

I see so much of Draco in me. I struggle with the same allegiances, forsaking what is truly right and good for me to stay with the comfortable and easy of those around me. I often find myself presenting a stoic exterior to the world to disguise the turmoil and frustration I sometimes feel inside. I like to pretend that I have all of life's answers, but I really have no clue what I am doing. And, I would like to see myself growing and developing and eventually becoming the person I would like to be. I just wonder if I actually have the tenacity and strength to get there.

I aspire to be Draco. To turn away from the toxic and trying and find the honesty and truth in the world. That takes guts. And I don't think I'm made of such stuff. But Draco reminds me that even the worst among us can change and become better.

25 November 2011

Happy Christmas Crafting

I actually made something I saw on Pinterest! Well, I've made other things before, but those were mainly food stuffs and some AMAZING jello shots (which, speaking of, I need to make again. SOON). I also found a great way to make use of the way-too-many corks that I have lying around the house. Add a few jingle bells and some shiny red ribbon, and there you have it!

(And, yes, I made this while listening to Christmas music. Don't' hate a girl for being sentimental. It's that time of year. And I kinda miss the fam back home ....)

My little wreath for the holidays.
Ain't she precious?

On a semi-related note ... When sorting through my copious amount of corks, I stumbled upon one dated November 22, 2009 from Thanksgiving in Spain. Which makes me remember fondly better times that I need to get back to. Ahhh ... good times, good times. 

22 November 2011

Oops! Forgot one!

One of my new skulls got left out of the mix. My bad! 

Best. Salad. Of. My. Life.

My last meal in Chicago. Tear. All good things must come to end, and they certainly ended well. 

My gracious host and I hit up Davanti for dinner tonight, and I had the pleasure of enjoying the most amazing salad. It wasn't truly a salad because the only thing green on it was a few leaves of watercress, but it was still fantastic nonetheless. (I'm definitely of the mind that salads are green. Jello "salad" and spaghetti "salad" and things of the sort aren't truly salads. We just don't have another word to describe them, so we go with "salad.") This lovely concoction was made of all things wonderful: roasted hazelnuts, whipped chèvre, farro (which is a new grain for me that I'm quickly starting to love) and roasted squash. Put all together with a mildly spicy apple-cider-vinegrette ... amazing. 

It had the perfect balance of textures. A little crunch to balance out the smoothness of the chèvre and roasted squash. The spiciness of the vinaigrette to compliment the saltiness of the chèvre. And it was hearty as well. A wonderfully autumnal "salad." It was beautifully balanced, and I could have easily eaten four platefuls. But that would have left me no room for all of the other goodies (tuscan bread with ricotta and honey comb, marinated olives, risotto -- yes, again -- carbonara ...), so I had to pace myself. 

This is DEFINITELY something that I will be attempting at home at some point. And I'll definitely be investigating this farro business a bit further. What a tasty little grain. 

The picture doesn't do it justice ...

A bit more from Chicago ...

NCTE has ended and ALAN has begun. After shipping off my giant box o' books that I got at registration, I attended a few hours worth of presentations and then headed down to the Field Museum for some leg-stretching and sight-seeing. 

On my way down Michigan, I happened upon Agora, a public art instillation that is named after the Greek city-state (and not the recent Rachel Weiss movie ... which, if you have actually seen it and know what I am talking about, I will love you forever.). I'm not normally into this kind of art, but I found it to be pretty cool. Especially when walking amongst all of the legs milling about. It also made me feel short which I was definitely a fan of. 

Agora, looking south.

Agora, looking north.

Compulsory skyline shot.

This wall was covered in the most beautifully autumnal vine.

Dinosaurs have invaded Chicago! And this one obviously needs a snack.

I also encountered many-a skull while in the Field Museum, and I became more than a little fascinated by them. So, of course, I took their pictures.

I absolutely love the shadow these figures cast upon the wall. Pretty cool, no?

 And, last but not least, a cool feathery weed thing. And, yes, that is it's scientific name.

The best thing about the Field Museum was that there were exhibits on China and the Mayans and India and chocolate. Because of this, I can write my admission off as a business expense because I was clearly researching for my curriculum. (Well, not with the chocolate part. That was just for me.)

21 November 2011

I'm a soup convert

I've always made jokes that soup is for poor people. I know that it is poor taste, but it is just my artificial attempt at being elitist. Anyway, I've never really liked soup because I'm generally not a fan of the watery consistency of most soups. I do however like a good bisque ... I think partly because I like the name. 

At The Gage in Chicago this week, I had the most amazing lobster pumpkin bisque. It was creamy and wonderful and amazing. It was one of those soups that came out in two parts - the meat and the liquid. When the waiter served me, my big white bowl simply had a lump of lobster meat and a bit of garnish. Over the top of that he poured the actual soup from a small silver pitcher. And, since I'm a whore for presentation, I LOVED it. (The first time soup was ever served this way for me, I was convinced that I had ordered and received the wrong thing. But when I saw the dish in it's entirety, I was far less concerned.) 

The meal was outstanding, but the bisque was by far the stand out element. Presentation aside, the soup was creamy and rich and had the perfect balance of rusticity and decadence. And ideal autumn soup. 

19 November 2011

Chicagoland by night

After presenting today and attending a few panels, it was completely dark when I left the hotel. I decided to seize the opportunity to take some night photographs of Chicago. I absolutely suck at night photography because I can't ever seem to get my settings right. But, I gave it the ol' college try and I'm pretty pleased with the results. Some are certainly better than others, but I'm happy overall. 

Yes, please. A slice as big as my hand ... 
The Bean at night.

This is probably my favorite. 

The next few are all taken at Millennium Park. There are these two towers that are all glass bricks that are illuminated from the inside. On one side they project faces that are all a part of a water feature in warmer weather. Given that it is hellaciously cold, the water feature has been turned off. But the faces and lights are still on. I love how they change color regularly and how the light plays in the glass bricks. I think I'm going to get all of these enlarged and place them all together on my wall in frames. Wouldn't that be awesome?

18 November 2011

Best. Beer. Of. My. Life.

While in Chicago, I had the opportunity to visit Revolution Brewing, a small local brewing company that is doing some very amazing things. I actually went twice because, after I had this beer once, I knew I had to go back for it again. The food was pretty fantastic as well, but the beer was definitely stand out.

I'm speaking about the Barrel Aged Black Power. A. Mazing. Seriously. It has these amazing bourbon notes buried in a rich black smoothness. It seriously is the most amazing beer I've ever had in my life. I'm honestly sad to be leaving Chicago because I would like to drink this beer again, and I know it will be gone very soon. 

If you ever get to Chicago, make sure you stop here. PHENOMENAL. 
I know the picture is dark, but so is the beer. 

17 November 2011

Taking Chi-Town by storm

I landed in Chicago last night, all ready for my first NCTE. It's amazing that this is my first year ever, especially given that I've been teaching English for about ten years now. Anyway, today involved walking around town and doing the touristy things. I haven't been to Chicago in 7 or 10 years, so I wanted to see the sights. Sadly, I've never actually visited Chicago in any season other than fall and winter, so it is always cold. What is that about?

See the moon in the urban wind tunnel?

Millenium Park

The Bean! Or, more accurately, "Cloud Gate." It's been so long
since I've been to Chicago that this didn't even exist the last time I was here. 

I love the perspective.  

Looking up at the omphalos of the bean.

The weather was simply gorgeous.

Buckingham Fountain.
I've never seen this with water in it. It's always too cold when I come to visit. 

Holy Name Cathedral

My love affair with dessert continues

Have I ever mentioned how much I love dessert? I'm pretty confident that I have. I'm one of those people who checks out the dessert menu before the actual meal menu. I have a wicked sweet tooth, and it only occasionally gets me into trouble. And when a friend suggests a restaurant and specifically mentions the dessert, I'm sold (thank you SOOOOO much, Sheila, for the rec. Best meal of my trip!)

I hit up Quartino with a girlfriend while in Chicago, and I'm so glad I did. The wine was served old-world style with no stemware of fancy-schmancy getups (despite my love of the fancy-schmancy). It came to you in carafes and cups. Just like the old world. Dinner was served in a tapas style (which I adore because it lets me try more of what the menu has to offer). My girlfriend and I shared the gnocchi and the shrimp risotto (because I'm a sucker for a good risotto), and she had the polenta fries while I hoarded the calamari. Everything was fantastic. Perfectly cooked and well seasoned. I had no complaints about the meal. 

Especially when it came to dessert. 

Ahhhh ... dessert ...

I had the zeppoles (at the suggestion of Sheila. Thank you yet again), and they were sinfully heavenly. Lightly fried and then dusted with some powdered sugar with dark chocolate and/or honey for a dipping sauce ... mmmmmmmmm ... heaven. I added a glass of lemon cello to make it all complete. 

I left sated and ready for bed.
Um ... Yum!

13 November 2011

A few pics I forgot!

In a very non-mb moment, I actually had a few pictures taken of people ... including myself! 

Me and my pops
My wonderful parents

and me. :)


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