Things I Have Put in My Mouth Lately: Malört and Irn-Bru

This past weekend was one for the ages as far as swallowing strange liquids is concerned. Top three for me, at least.

For the uninitiated (i.e. most folks outside the Chicago area, where it was formerly produced and is primarily distributed), Jeppson’s Malört is a type of bäsk, or Swedish wormwood schnapps. You may recognize wormwood as “that stuff in absinthe that’s supposed to make you trip balls,” if you’re a teenager or an ill-informed, pearl-clutching moral guardian. Neither absinthe nor Malört contain anywhere near enough thujone to make you hallucinate and/or die. The one time I tried absinthe, all I got was a mild buzz followed by a faux-consumptive cough that lasted for a week afterward. I guess you could say the experience was historically accurate in that sense.

Anyway, the worst you can say about wormwood in distilled alcohol is that it’s super gross. Not long after I first came to Chicagoland in the summer of 2005, I saw the famed Malört face for the first time. I don’t have a funny story to tell about the circumstances because my long-term memory is a sieve that strains out virtually everything that isn’t personal humiliation or obscure trivia, but suffice it to say that I was not the one making the face. My friends who were native to the area filled me in and, like the true champions they are, never tried to subject me to that particular rite of passage.

As the years passed, I started to consider it something of a point of pride to have dodged the Malört hazing for so long. Every time I missed a round of shots for the out-of-towners, I gloated a bit. I confided in others that, despite all my years in Chicago, the stuff had never crossed my lips. More than once, I was told I was tempting fate.

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Used to be one of the rotten ones

It snowed yesterday, the third-earliest snowfall on record for Chicago.

Hot Doug’s closed on Friday. I never made it down one last time like I meant to. It kept escaping my mind until the beginning of this week, at which point the lines had already grown beyond my tolerance level. I waited for over three hours early in the summer as it was.

I will be going to Club Foot one more time tomorrow night before it, too, shuts its doors. It’s one of those places where most of the stories I can tell are ones I lived only vicariously, but I have memories of my own as well. I’ll drink to the music and take pictures of the memorabilia on the walls and use the uncanny glowing hand dryer one more time.

The city drops its leaves while you aren’t paying attention.

—–

Today marks ten years to the day since I left high school, having tested for my diploma over summer vacation. I knew the anniversary was coming up, so I went back to my old LiveJournal and checked. (It’s like reading a stranger’s writing in places. I read what I wrote and find references and inside jokes I no longer understand. Other posts could have been written yesterday.)

I was seventeen. I had just started my first job as a dishwasher at a Thai restaurant. I was excited to start college courses.

My post from that day:

“I left high school today. For good.

I also applied to SCC today, and I’ll start classes in two weeks, if luck holds.

I just got off work (which I’m loving) an hour ago. Now I’m holed up at Bloodstrike. Soon, I get to ride home through the night and breathe in the fall air.

I love my life. I feel free. If this is adulthood, I’m not so scared.

I’m taking the bus out to Sacramento tomorrow to take some assessment tests for my English and math placement. Wish me luck.”

I could laugh or cry at that girl, on the verge of learning about work and distance and sex and heartbreak and blind unthinking fear, but still oblivious.

Maybe I’ll choose to love her instead.

We’re not so different, after all. I’ve come full circle, and here I am in the middle of another autumn, in a relatively new work situation, with a sense of independence I don’t fully understand and the perpetual feeling that I’ve gotten myself in over my head, even though I’ve always been able to kick my way back to the surface all these years. I’m still lugging around a heart that wants to be everywhere at once.

—–

This is fairly desultory. What it boils down to is that I’m feeling the passage of time intensely these days.

Here is a dedication.

Destination unknown

I’ve got a serious case of wanderlust. It’d be easy enough to blame it on a rough winter, but I think it goes deeper than that (not that -20F windchills aren’t a ringing endorsement for being Elsewhere). I haven’t even been home to California to visit my family in almost a year, to say nothing of any other travel. I’ve been half-planning a trip to New Orleans since 2012 and I’m no closer to actually taking it. I’m not sure I’ve been farther than freakin’ Naperville in the past six months.

There are reasons for this, of course, largely financial. I’m buried under a pile of medical bills from last year, compounded by snowballing debt from a bout of manic overspending that preceded the incurring of those bills. If I still had all the money I’ve lost to bank overdraft fees since the summer, I could be on a goddamn beach somewhere at this very moment. But now, at a time when I most want to escape my surroundings and myself, to stare out a window at the scenery passing me by while someone else does the driving, I’m least able to.

—–

I was walking to CVS earlier this evening and noticed a bar two blocks from my apartment that I’d never seen before. I’ve lived here for well over a year. The bar was obviously not new; it looked like one of those dives that have been sitting inconspicuously on the same corner for thirty years or more. I realize the blotting out of familiar surroundings is a common misfire of the brainmeats, but it’s still something that I find fascinating, especially given all the other misfires I run into every day. Sometimes I find myself wondering if these things pop into existence from nothing when I look in their direction, and if they’ll still be there tomorrow.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I should be spending more time exploring Chicago. I’ve spent seven years of my life here (and another year prior to that in the suburbs making frequent visits), but there’s no way you could ever know everything about a city that continually sheds its skin piece by piece. Really, if I can get out of my head and into something I didn’t know before, maybe that will be enough.

—–

I’ve been listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins lately. It seems to gel with my current mental state. This song seems fitting to add here.

Things I have put in my mouth lately: Glazed & Infused and The Orbit Room

I’m still gathering my thoughts on B-Fest 2014, which was this past weekend. (“Fever dreams tinged with PTSD” might be a more accurate descriptor than “thoughts,” granted.) In the meantime, I’ve got a backlog of food-related scribblings I’ve been meaning to put to pixels.

Various doughnuts, Glazed & Infused (multiple locations around Chicago, @GoGlazed)

Much has been made of the recent doughnut revival, as if doughnuts had been gasping on their deathbed. (I think we were all just tired of trying to make cupcakes happen.) That said, these ones are pretty frickin’ awesome. We had them twice at work recently, once thanks to a thoughtful co-worker and once through a pop-up restaurant program, and I was able to try pieces of five kinds. I’ll go from my least favorite to most favorite.

Caramel Apple: This was the only one I didn’t like. The doughnut was lacking in apple flavor and the topping had an off, burnt taste, whether from the caramel or the peanuts. I don’t see this flavor on their website now. Coincidence?
Old Fashioned: I love old fashioned doughnuts, so I’m particular about what I want out of one. In particular, this means lots of craggy, crusty, crunchy edges, and Glazed & Infused goes a bit restrained on this front. This is really a personal quibble, though. The doughnut has a nice, tender crumb and a vanilla bean glaze that actually provides some flavor beyond “noncommittally sweet.”
Maple Bacon Long John: lololol BACON DOUGHNUT. Now that we’ve got the hipster giggles out of the way, this was tasty, though my admiration may have more to do with the “maple long john” part than the “bacon” part. I’m a sucker for maple doughnuts. It runs in the family. Anyway, the raised doughnut dough is light, the glaze has a true maple flavor, and the bacon is front and center rather than an afterthought.
Fruit Fritter: I think this one took all the fruit flavor from the caramel apple and ran. Where that one was bland and slightly dry, this was lush and oozing with apple. Really, in my opinion, it’s hard to screw up a fritter.
Crème Brûlée: A winner. That great raised dough, intensely flavored vanilla-bean-flecked custard filling, and a torched sugar crust? Deliver directly to face. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200, unless that money is going immediately toward more doughnuts.

Le Bourjois Pig, The Orbit Room (2959 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618)

[sic] on that burger name, for the record. Written as printed on the menu. (Possibly a conflict with this Bourgeois Pig, or is that just idle speculation?)

I’d had my eye on LBP for several visits before taking the plunge. It’s a behemoth of a burger topped with bacon, caramelized onions, roasted pears, and Brie. I’m at a loss for adjectives that don’t make me sound like Hedonism Bot.

How wonderfully decadent!

No chocolate icing here. Not that you’d be able to tell, because Instagram.

If you’re a stickler for burger construction, be forewarned; this shit is going to fall apart on you constantly. I found myself taking bites of the burger, then popping the fallen pieces of pear in behind them.

How does it taste, though? Good, in the way that makes you feel bad about yourself afterwards. There’s a lot going on. The pears, in addition to having a desire to escape, ended up overpowered by the other toppings (especially the Brie rind); I wonder how thinner slices of raw pear would fare in the mix. Also, with so many other flavors going on, the beef ended up playing second fiddle, which was a shame because it was a great juicy medium-rare. I’ve had simpler burgers here and I know they’re not hiding anything.

Verdict? I’d eat it again, but there are other things on Orbit Room’s menu that I’m overdue to try first. If you end up there to drink, be advised, their food isn’t just stomach insulation. They put thought into it, and even if you’re not drunk yet, you will eat too much.

Also, their onion rings are awesome. But that’s for another day.