Friday, January 20, 2012

Peace At Last For Etta James

The sheer force of passion and pain that pushed through Etta James' voice transcended genres, eras and cultures. She was known as a singer's singer who could sing rock, r&b, blues and jazz with equal ease but Etta earned the title of blues diva long before the term became popular.  She believed in the honesty of blues music. I'll never forget when I first saw her perform live in Chicago, she declared, "Blues is life. People who don't like the blues are phony people." That may be a highly generalized statement but that was Etta, she didn't mince words or hold back what she felt. And neither did her music. Her voice could roar with authority, it could purr with sultriness. Whatever she sang, from covers like her signature "At Last" which was a Glen Miller tune, to the songs that she wrote like "I'd Rather Go Blind,", she stamped them with the undercurrent of sass and ache in her voice and made them her own. With four Grammy Awards and inductions into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was widely acknowledged as one of the most influential female singers ever yet she never quite got her due. She lashed out at Beyonce for singing her signature song at the 2009 presidential inauguration because Etta should have been invited to sing it or at least acknowledged for popularizing it. She battled for respect and acknowledgement throughout her 60 year career and in the end, she's being hailed as matriarch of the blues, one of the most unforgettable singers of all time. At last.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Montreal Public Art

Montreal is an art-loving city. That's part of the European flavor of this town. Museums, art galleries and public art fill every block. But Montreal also hosts lots of theater, fashion, concerts and fashion so you almost need a separate visit just to view the art. Rushing about from place to place, I was amazed at how much art I encountered.  My first art encounter was the painting above,which was actually in the press offices for the Montreal Jazz Fest. I was immediately struck by its energy and 80s vibe.

I stopped to snap this sculpture on my way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  The carvings remind me of Native American art.

I know this just looks like two twirly pipes but it is an art installation, I checked. It sits near the Montreal Harbor and I pondered the pipe and water connection.

Monuments and statues are popular in Montreal. They litter the streets and parks like shiny ornaments. This piece decorates the entrance of a hotel in Old Montreal. I don't know who he is but the surreal shape and squatness of the horse amused me.

This was my favorite. Simple yet profound. I resisted taking a photo of me hugging this art work so I wouldn't obscure the image. I regret that now. What art has caught your fancy during your travels?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taste Trippin' Part Ocho

It's the new year and I can't think of a better place to kick it off than Peru.  The country that invented ceviche holds a special place in my heart but I quickly discovered other Peruvian dishes to love as well. Stepping into the steaming South American heat is a welcome relief to Chicago winter weather but I had to settle for the cozy warmth of Between Peruvian Cafe. My hubby and I journeyed there for our first dinner with the social dining network, Grub With Us.  Between the sultry ambiance, the tasty dishes and the gregarious group of diners, many of whom were Peruvian, it was almost as fun as munching a meal in Lima.

The decor grabbed me as soon as we walked in. The space is covered with crimson walls, sheer curtains over banquettes and interesting lighting as you can see above.

I stared at these quirky chandeliers for  quite awhile, trying to figure out what they were made of. They  really supplied the restaurant with a sexy, mysterious vibe.

Besides ceviche, the other Peruvian invention I love is the delectable Pisco Sour, on the right. Between Peruvian Cafe actually boasts a pisco bar, with a myriad of combinations. Pisco is a brandy or aguardiente distilled from the white muscat grape. It's the national drink of Peru although Chile claims it as well and there's a furious debate that continues over which country originated the drink. The drink on the left is actually a beer martini that my hubby gulped down. I refused to try it so I can't tell you what it tastes like.

This is the ceviche classico, called the best ceviche in Chicago and I agree totally.  It's Leche de Tigre style, with cilantro, red onion, glazed sweet potato and Andean corn. It might look like a simple hodge podge of ingredients but together, they dazzled my taste buds. The mixture of lime with other seasoning just made it so favorable. We ate these with the homemade plantain chips in the first photo. I could have eaten this all night  but there were five other dishes to try.

 Chupe de Camorones  or traditional Peruvian prawn soup was the next course. My shellfish allergy kept me from sampling it but it smelled wonderful and was quickly slurped down by the rest of the group.

The Peruvian version of paella is called arroz con mariscos  and it was studded with octopus, squid and shrimp. Salsa Criolla topped it off and it also proved a favorite with my shellfish eating new friends.

I ended up shoveling down lots of this dish, which after the ceviche, was my favorite. It's a stir fry noodle dish with chicken and fresh tomato.  It tasted like a Peruvian seasoned pasta dish, which is always a hit with me. I also had a tilapia dish that was okay but not as memorable as Tallarin Saltado, which is what this delicacy is called.

Of course, the best part was dessert and I was actually surprised at how much I liked both of these. I'm not a flan fan but this version on the right, was made with organic quinoa and a rich caramel sauce that made me a believer. The dessert on the left is the Peruvian version of french toast with Picarones honey and vanilla ice cream. Again, it sounds simple but the taste was outstanding. What taste adventures have you tried lately?