Archive for January 27, 2010

Chicago River, Just After Dusk

On days when it’s very cold, the Chicago River does occasionally freeze over.  If the ice is at all thick, they send a big ice-breaking boat up and down the river periodically to avoid damage to all of the other vessels that pass through.

Spotted this just after dusk as I left the office a few weeks ago.  Taking long exposures on this bridge is particularly tricky though – all of the bridges over the river are movable (technically, most are “bascule” bridges).  What this means to me as a photographer is that there is a gap in the middle that is not physically stabilized – if you stand in the middle when anything goes across the bridge, the whole structure acts a little like a diving board.  Stabilizing the camera against the railing (or even with a tripod) is fairly useless if a double-long bus goes by just as your shutter finger comes down.

Which doesn’t really get too frustrating until after the fourth or fifth time.  In a row.  Needless to say, there were a few throw-aways from this set… here’s the best of the bunch:

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Once In Your Life, Make Cinnamon Rolls from Scratch

It was a four-hour endeavor, but I tell you with every fiber of my being, it was totally worth it.

Seriously, folks.  If you’ve got a few hours to kill (or as in our case, a whole Sunday afternoon), make them.  I was skeptical at first: I like a Cinnabon as much as the next person, but I generally don’t consider them worth the caloric investment.  We read somewhere, though, that if you make cinnamon buns yourself just once, you’ll never go back.

So we got started mid-afternoon yesterday, cutting and boiling the potatoes (yes, you read right, potatoes), sifting flour, feeding the yeast. As we finally put them in the oven, we collapsed onto the couch, exhausted. Our knees ached.  The tower of dirty dishes loomed.

Four or five minutes later, from the depths of the couch:

Chef 1: “That was a hell of a lot of work.”
Chef 2: “No kidding – what on earth were we thinking?”

< a few seconds pass…>

Chef 1: “I think I smell them.”

< a few more seconds pass…>

Chef 2: “Oh. My. God.”

Within moments, the smell began to fill the house from top to bottom, sneaking under door frames and around corners, just like in the cartoons.  I was tempted to go out into the garage for a minute or two and re-enter the house, just to have it hit me full-force all over again.

But no time for such an indulgence – we still needed to make the glaze.

They came out of the oven perfectly golden brown, and unimaginably pillowy (owing to the potato starch).  Fortunately, the recipe insisted they needed to cool for 10 minutes before  they were to be glazed.  This gave me the opportunity to photograph them both before the glaze was applied:

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and after:

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Recipe appears below, for the ambitious among you.

Go ahead and try them – you’ll be glad you did.

Yukon Gold Cinnamon Rolls

recipe courtesy of bon appetit
(March 2009 issue, as well as on their website)

Makes 12 Rolls

N.B. Many people have commented on bon appetit’s website that much more flour was required to make the dough come together than is indicated in the recipe.  This was our experience as well – almost twice as much!



  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1  tablespoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
  • 3 1/4-ounce envelopes active dry yeast (scant 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


  • 1 1/3 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature


  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt



  • Combine potatoes, 2 cups water, and 1 tablespoon coarse salt in large saucepan. Boil until potatoes are very tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Mash potatoes with water in pan (do not drain water). Add butter and mash until butter is melted. Whisk in eggs, then 1 cup flour; mash until very smooth. Let potatoes stand until barely lukewarm, about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, pour 1/2 cup warm water into large bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment; stir in yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add potato mixture to yeast mixture; mix on low speed until well blended, 2 minutes. Mix in 3 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well. Beat until sticky dough forms.
  • Spread 1/2 cup flour on work surface. Scrape dough out onto floured work surface. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is very sticky, about 8 minutes.
  • Coat large bowl with butter. Transfer dough to bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make filling

  • Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour in medium bowl. Using fork, mix in butter.
  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Turn dough out onto well-floured work surface. Roll out dough to 24×16-inch rectangle. Sprinkle filling evenly over dough. Starting at 1 long side, roll up dough jelly-roll style, enclosing filling. Using large knife dipped in flour, cut roll crosswise into 12 pieces. Transfer rolls to baking sheet, spacing rolls about 3/4 inch apart. Cover baking sheet loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes (rolls will be very puffy).
  • Bake cinnamon rolls until golden, about 20 minutes. Cool rolls 10 minutes on baking sheet.

Meanwhile, make glaze

  • Whisk powdered sugar, melted butter, 2 tablespoons milk, vanilla, and coarse salt in small bowl. If glaze is too thick to spread, add more milk by 1/2 teaspoonfuls as needed. Spread glaze over warm rolls.

The CSO’s 85th Birthday Celebration for Pierre Boulez

As a music major in college, and again in grad school, we spent a fair amount of time talking about Pierre Boulez.  An important 20th century composer and a tireless advocate for modern music.  Since 1995, he has been Conductor Emeritus for the Chicago Symphony.  I’ve lived in the Chicago area since 1999 and have always meant to go see him – he usually conducts a few times each year.

I got a bit of a wakeup call this past fall when the CSO announced that Boulez was doing a series of concerts in January to celebrate his 85th birthday (incidentally, I’m strongly of the opinion that no one should work on his or her birthday, especially his or her 85th).  I mean, I hate to be crass, but the guy’s 85 – I better get to it.  And I really have no excuse – I’ve worked within walking distance of Symphony Hall for almost 10 years.

So yesterday, I took the afternoon off and went to the CSO’s matinee performance.  Program information here.  The Bartok concerto was fiery – almost bombastic – and the sound of two pianos (and a whole mess of percussion) at the hand of a Hungarian truly cannot be described. Reminded me of a dear Hungarian colleague in grad school who once inspired, could talk for hours about Kodaly and Bartok. I’m pretty sure he circular-breathed, but only when talking about Hungarian composers. Zsolt, if you’re reading this – you would have really enjoyed this concert, and I really miss our conversations! Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite comprised the entire second half of the program, and it was an exhilarating crescendo from the opening to the (forgive me) fiery close.  I hope to have half this guy’s energy when I reach half his age.

In stark defiance of the CSO’s strict policy against audio, video or still photography in the hall, I managed to snap a picture as the last note of the concert still hung in the hall (there should be a name for that wonderful moment between the dramatic end of a concert and the beginning of the applause!).

What a magical afternoon – thanks, Maestro Boulez.

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Photo Featured on

The folks at (AOL’s travel site) were kind enough to feature one of my photos as their “Photo of the Day” yesterday, 1/19/2010. Screenshot below links to the relevant blog entry. Click here to see the original image on Flickr.

Thanks, folks!