Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Snack Time Report: Friday, October 30, 2009

By the way, this week we're bats.

Steph and I went to the Chicago Photography Center to see the opening of our friend Shannon Benine's multi-media installation, "Means Without End." I was really impressed by the work; having heard about it for a while now as she was working on it, it was really great to see how it came together. Basically it's a big installation of tiled sheets of (analog, color) photo paper, which had been folded into paper Peace Cranes and then exposed to light, then unfolded. The result is that the paper remains black in much of its area but in some areas it's taken on a red or orange color. Individually they might look like kaleidoscope images or snowflakes or something; en masse they read as a sort of woven or tiled fabric. Their quantity represent the number of American servicemen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003.

The prints formed a cave-like structure in the corner of the gallery, which viewers could enter. Inside was a directional speaker playing an audio track of, if I understand correctly, soldiers or Marines experiencing a mortar attack. Standing inside the structure, listening to that audio, and looking out through the translucent photograms was a powerful experience, a reminder that decisions about war are decisions about human lives.

Heavy stuff...but let's talk about snacks. This event was catered, and catered well. There was an open bar with a bartender serving wine and a selection of quality beer. I had a 312 to start with, and a bit later a Goose Island Harvest Ale. I was offered a glass but preferred the bottle (at a well-attended event, involving much shuffling about and bumping elbows, the bottle is less likely to spill). The bar also had nice dishes of mixed nuts.

There was also a large snack table which sort of wrapped around a convex corner of the gallery, which was a good choice since it prevented the crowd from obstructing the snacks. (A table in a concave corner can be rendered inaccessible by only a few snackers, or more often just people standing there oblivious of the fact that people might want snacks, but a pair of tables arranged like an L around a convex corner allows much greater access.)

There were mini pulled-pork sandwiches on dinner rolls; the meat was good and the sauce was sweet. There was a fondue pot full of hot cheese fondue, and a large tray of various items for dipping: bread, and cold cooked potatoes and vegetables. The bread was the easiest to dip, the bamboo skewers tended to fragment the potatoes. Fortunately there were tongs to retrieved the inevitable dropped fragments. This was only my second time having fondue, and it was fun and tasty.

Then there were some sort of quesadilla things, and salsa to put on them. These were probably my favorite item, I'm sure I ate quite a few. They were filled with a yellow cheese and some kind of meat (unless it was mushrooms?), and the tortillas had a pleasant soft-yet-crispy exterior. The salsa was a mild salsa fresca, which is how I like it.

Lasty, there were some odd cold skewers, which featured the unusual combination of peaches and sausage. I'm not a big fruit-and-meat-combo guy, but I gave 'em a fair day in court. The peaches had a taste that suggested they'd been soaked in something, but I couldn't figure out what; the sausage was good and unless I was hallucinating it had the anise seed flavor of good Italian sausage. Overall they were good but personally, I preferred the quesadillas.

The caterers were vigilant about keeping the table well-stocked, and were courteous and professional. They had a stack of business cards on the table so I picked one up; the company is AEL + Associates, INC, run by chef and president Andrew E. Lawrence. If you want to hire them, you can email him at They aren't paying me to plug them or anything but in the interest of full disclosure, they did give me two beers and some awesome snacks.

I usually like the keep the snack report pretty light, but writing this, I can't help but notice that there is something perversely decadent, sort of Roman Empire, about eating and drinking lavishly at the opening reception for a work of art memorializing our war dead. I don't want to script the take-away from this, but I noticed it and couldn't help but point it out. Make of it what you will. Regardless, get out there, see some art, get your drink on, and get yourself some snacks! Happy Halloween!

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