Check out the “Bear Down” podcast

I love the idea of podcasts more than the actual things. They promise more than they actually deliver, they almost always need editing and truncating, and most importantly, I never have time to hear the whole thing. I sometimes wish I had to commute every day, so I could find some really good ones and, even more ambitiously, keep up with them. The ones I listen to have been piling up in my ipod like unread newspapers and copies of Atlantic and Money Magazine. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for them all.

But I want to give a shout-out to my old friend Matt Walsh (of Upright Citizens fame) and his friends who’ve been putting up the “Bear Down” podcast for two seasons now. Stationed out in LA (which they say gives them perspective), they analyze the results of the week’s Chicago Bears game with insight and humor, knowing enough to actually be interesting and funny enough to not be ponderous.

It’s like watching the game with funny fans who aren’t meatheads (mostly), or bitter former jocks, or short-fused know-it-alls, or macho masters of the world who dream of the day when they can buy a skybox and piss down on the fans. They also have great fake interviews with coaches, owners and former players that are almost believable, and completely hilarious.

So if you need a weekly recap in which no one is shouting at the camera or radio, and like a good laugh besides, check out the “Bear Down” podcast.

We Few, We Buffoonish Few

So now the list of candidates for the mayor of Chicago has come down to five candidates. A measly five candidates, in every sense of the word. At least, that was the number that filed their petitions with the city clerk today.

When Da Mare announced he was retiring next year, hordes of local politicians began to jockey for position like the hopefuls who would pull the sword from the stone. Unknown aldermen held press conferences, state senators began to send out gossip tidbits about forming exploratory committees, etc. It looked like it was going to be a humorous campaign with more hyperbole than you could shake a Chicago Spire at.

But aspirants quickly began to fall away in October, when people realized they would be running against Rahm Emanuel and his money, and maybe when they realized that the city is pretty much broke right now. It was like Henny Penny in reverse, with everyone gung ho at the start but falling away when they realized how much work was involved and how slim their personal chances were.

So we’re left with Rahm Emanuel, Carol Mosely Braun (sheeesh), Gery Chico (probably Daley’s pick), Miguel Del Valle and US Rep. Danny Davis (he’s seemingly everywhere–does he hold more than one office?). They’re all politicians who know how to bloviate and hurl accusations and innuendo, but there are no outsized characters in the group except Emanuel. State Sen James Meeks is expected to file his petitions before the deadline next week.

Which is all too bad for me and my ilk. For a couple weeks I was trying to figure out how I could lampoon this process somehow, especially with some short dramatic episodes on the radio. I stirred and stirred the ingredients but nothing seemed to gel in my mind. Back in the 80s, Aaron Freeman hit a home run with his “Council Wars” episodes about the fights between Harold Washington and various retrograde aldermen who were acting like big men to oppose him. What would work this time? King Arthur? The Godfather? SpongeBob? Sniffing around the idea of a “Cannonball Run” take-off sounded okay, but who can remember anything distinctive about that piece of slop? (It may have been the presence of Sheriff Tom Dart as a possible candidate that made me salivate for the chance to bring in some Southern law enforcement burlesques, but now we’ll never know, since Dart declined to run in order to spend time with his family. And his current job, which has nothing but upsides for him.)

And now, as the initial thrill fades and the field thins out, we’re left with the almost-certain election of Emanuel to the mayor’s office. It will be loud and profane, but I don’t know if it will lend itself well to ridicule and parody.

Unless after the election, some of the aldermen grow a pair and stand up a little bit against the new mayor.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

For more, better, and nastier observations about what’s going on in Chicago politically, check out Driftglass. It’s hilarious.

The Bounty of the Harvest: Hard Cider

It’s a beautiful fall day here in Chicago, though it’s hard to consider 65 degrees as very autumnal. But the harvests are all in, and that has meant it’s time for apple cider.

And while apple cider is nice — one of God’s true gifts to humankind — hard cider can be even better. Or at least it appeals to the part of me that likes gadget and likes to play mad scientist once in a while.

(It’s not that my daughter in the background was scared of my fermenting experiments or the skull candle. She’d just woken up from a well-earned nap.)

Last year I fermented some ciders using a lager yeast, which came out pretty tasty. However, the drafts tasted a lot like those that I made years ago with champagne yeast. They weren’t quite as dry as the champagne batches (which were too dry to even enjoy), but they were very very crisp.

So this year, I made the trip over to “Brew and Grow” to see if they had any yeasts that were specific to making cider. (Cider of course will ferment on its own, if left to its own devices, but it can be a bit of a gamble to end up with a flavor that you like.) And sure enough, amidst all the hydroponic and home gardening equipment for closet-grown “tomatoes”, they sold some yeast specifically made for ciders. The pack was for five gallons of cider, which is about three gallons more than I will drink this winter, so I just estimated the proper amounts. No big deal to put too much in.

I made different batches by using cider from two different farms: Seedlings Orchard, which is run by a friend of mine, and Crane’s Orchard, which is the big chimichanga up by our cottage. The bottles from Seedlings had been pasteurized by ultra-violet light, while Crane’s was just au naturel. (Seedlings is also marketing their own hard cider at liquor stores in the Chicago area, though I haven’t tried it.)

After 10 or so days in the jugs, the bubbling subsided, and I took a measure of specific gravity. Surprisingly, it read that there was NO potential alcohol in either batch. I still haven’t figured that one out — did this yeast not produce any alcohol when it digested the sugars? That seems impossible. Will have to talk with other brewers about this when I think of it. So I siphoned off the liquid into beer bottles and capped them, as shown above, after priming each half-gallon with about a teaspoon of corn sugar. After a week, I brought some to a friend’s house for his birthday.

The results? The cider from Crane’s was clear and crisp, with just the right amount of carbonation. Good adequate drink. But the batch from Seedlings had a lot more complexity, a little peppery bite to the flavor, a touch more carbonation. If forced to choose between the two, I think I’d take Seedlings.

Now I need to find a bottle or two of the commercially made stuff and see if mine is at all similar to it. Seedlings has some “varietal” ciders, with mutsu and jonagold and the like, which they were selling at the farmers markets this fall. To me, those flavors are so delicate that I think fermenting them would almost remove the flavor. For now, I’m going to stick with the generic apple cider, though I do like Seedlings’ combo of cider and cherry juice.

Better living through chemistry.

A Salute to Sparky Anderson

The Tigers have lost another legendary personality. George Lee Anderson, better known and loved as Sparky, has died at the age of 76. Along with the loss of Ernie Harwell earlier in the year, it’s a one-two punch to the gut for Bengals fans. Sparky was the genuine article, by all accounts, and never forgot his humble beginnings. As such, he was the perfect fit for a place like Detroit, a place with a very finely tuned bullshit meter (not that it stops them from electing fools and felons, naturally).

For a terrific appreciation of Sparky, check out Joe Posnansky’s excellent piece in Sports Illustrated. It will tell you all you need to know about why this guy was such a classic. However, I’m waiting to read in even one of these tribute articles that Sparky was a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, for his minor league playing days in Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Royals. (The picture with this post came from their website.)

And so, I felt the need to salute Sparky with a poem on Bardball. It just started with small phrases and kept going. It seems very fitting. Sparky was not an educated man, so a flowery tribute would’ve rung hollow. So long, Sparky. The Hot Stove League in heaven just got livelier.

The snowy hair
The doleful stare
The mangled speech
The subtle preach
The dubious start
The gentle heart
The hook that stings
Three Series rings
The postgame pipe
The misplaced hype
Shaggy dog stories
Humble glories
A light gone dark
We’ll miss you, Spark