Being a square

Hullo, big city lights!

Whelp (that’s a slang version of “well” … this isn’t a birth announcement! No mammal offspring in the vicinity!), Cdubs and I have officially made the previously mentioned Palmer Square gem our home. We’re finally settled now … all snug like a couple of bugs with big brains and bigger hearts on a nice big rug. And this just in: we love it. It’s been four weeks since the move and yet we still manage to announce the following sentence to each other on a daily basis: “Wow, this place is SO cool.”

After scouring this rad apartment, our hands and noses as our trusty guides … we haven’t found one iota of ick or bad or dumb or lame … well, except for the water temperature / pressure … and window sills that leak nasty blood-water (see for yourself, I dare ya:)

Someone call Stephen King ...

But despite awkward (and cold … and non-pressure-ful … and blood-like … and not delicious gravy) drippings, we’ve pleasantly nestled into this joint like a couple of Nestle(R) crunch bars (I selected “crunch” and not the “caramel” variety for good reason: we both fried ourselves on a sand skillet under the hot sun two weeks ago in Panama City Beach, Florida).

Side note: At this point I want to keep the metaphors brewing because they’re oh-so-fun … but I’m on my last diet ginger ale and my brain power is waning like the eggplant I sauteed earlier for dinner. (OK that’s the last one.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, our view. It isn’t anything to cry over …

Lookit, maw! I can see Palmer Square from here.

And the park across the street doesn’t stink either … (well, figuratively – doggy play dates are prevalent down there and thus so too are the oceans of turdlagmites.)

The pathway to Palmerness

Cdubs and I plan to take full advantage of this urban oasis anchored in front of our new home (picnics, anyone!?). In fact, I’ve become an ol’ regular at Palmer Square Park as of late. After measuring the pathway using Gmaps Pedometer AND confirming my findings with MapMyRun.com, I determined, through science, that one lap is approximately .5 miles. So that means two laps equals a MILE … which is both convenient and enticing.

But the convenience isn’t why I’m sharing this particular piece of information with you. Every time I head down to the path for a run I learn something new about this city … about my neighbors … about their dogs, their drinks of choice, their strollers, their sunscreen selections and more. But sit tight for a few days (bad metaphor alert) as I’m beginning to feel the weight of twilight on my forehead like a cowboy hat that is just a leeeeetle too snug.

My next post will unleash a band of stories from my days of yore in Palmer Square Park. And by “yore” I guess I don’t mean yore at all since my only experiences in the park are recent. I just wanted to use the word yore. How often do you get to use “yore” in a sentence? Definitely not as often as as.

ps. Music download of the week – Mango Tree by Angus and Julia Stone (the ain’t too shabby either)

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Papa knows best!

Deep-dish delights (DDDs). Cheese-meat-sauce-dough-fat bombs (CMSDFs). Pizza-bowl muffins (PBMs). Italian Sausage-stuffed pies (ISSPs). Baked mozzarella and marinara dream-boats (BMMDBs). Beer’s fatty sidekick / stuntdouble (BFS[s]). Hangover helpers (HHs). Greesy gut-filling friendlies (GGFFs).

Whatever pseudonym you (and your appetite) have conjured up, this delectable, savory treat will always refer to itself under one name: Chicago-Style Pizza.

Pizza = the secret to Bruce's shiny coat!

I like to consider myself a connoisseur of pizza for a few reasons:

1. Since solid food became acceptable to my digestive system around age 1, I’ve made sure to maintain a steady diet of pizza (average 2 – 3 times / week) to help me grow into the strong and limber woman I am today.

2. My best bud Tara and I started our very own Pizza Steering Committee with some of the coolies at work. This club, although incredibly exclusive and very secretive, enlightened our taste buds and effectively quenched our thirst for the zesty combination of meat, cheese and marinara sauce on a bi-weekly basis.

3. I’ve had my share of pizza at a variety of times during the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even forth meal (originated by Taco Bell, ironically). Re: breakfast – I must say, those Italians know their coffee cake. HA! Get it!? Italian coffee cake = pizza? Give it a minute.

4. My favorite part about pizza is eating it. I don’t get into the highly scientific sniff test or discuss the consistency of the dough with my fellow pizza-scarfing cronies. When a pizza is plopped in front of my face, I get right down to business, no questions asked.

5. I think calzones and hot pockets are disgusting posers! Nothing infuriates me more than a party sans-pizza yet avec pizza rolls. Don’t even bother inviting me, I’ll just throw the garbage on the floor and jump out the window in the name of pizza. Hopefully I’ll have my pizzachute with me.

6. If anyone ever spelled pizza with a “K” … I’d punch them with a pepperoni. (I got that one off of our ol’ PSC twitter account … which I urge you to find because it’s hilarious if I do say so myself)

So, bottom line, I love pizza. But here’s the kicker: my favorite pizza is not some hidden gem serving deep-dish-delights by the slice on lower-Wacker. It isn’t some famous parlor, neitha! So what is it, you ask?

It’s Papa Johns. You read me right.

Sauce in non-eco friendly tubs!? Yes please!

I love everything about Papa Johns. I love its sweet-sassy-zesty sauce, its not-very-but-sorta-greasy cheese, its non-creepy-nor-mystery meats, it’s fresh veggies (and plenty of them), its soft, soft, sweet dough (like a lovers touch!), its plethora of tantalizing sauces (who needs milk for calcium when you have a vat of aromatic and tasty garlic butter!?) … not to mention Papa’s ease on my bank book. Thanks for dinner and now the ability to buy more pizza or maybe go on a trip somewhere, Pappy!

So there you have it. In a city full of “chicago-style-pizza” … I still place all pepperoni on Papa. When it comes to meat and cheese pies, these papa-cats know what’s up.

Although I am ashamed to admit it, infidelity has wedged it’s way into my relationship with Papa since my move to Chicago. I think he understands, though, deep down … seeing that I am in deep-dish territory and he doesn’t really have anything deeper than 1″ to keep my heart and stomach from wandering into another Italian’s parlor.

So, to be fair (and completely transparent to Papa), here are some other Chicago pizza joints I’ve tried and rather liked:

1. Sunday specials include a free growler of microbrew (YUM!) with any large pizza purchase.

2. This pizza, when enjoyed on-location, appears as a delightful pizza-shroom and is served in a bowl in which it is baked. Unbelievably delish.

3. Cdubs introduced this deep-dish-delight to me, and for that I am forever grateful.

4. If you want an absolutely delicious thin-crust pizza with fresh everything, go with Pete’s. Fast delivery too. Plus you can get a side of BBQ ribs or manicotti if you so desire.

5. Delightful deep-dish, BYOB, unbelievably peppy and friendly waitstaff.

6. Hipsters rejoice – this place is delicious, hip (pitchfork’s soundtrack buzzing overhead) and all-organic. Eat real!

7. (or as Cdubs calls it: Happy Clown Pizza) I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting this greasy-pie-spoon joint as of yet, but Cdubs has and he wholeheartedly approves.

OK Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans who know pizza in Chicago: what am I missing? Any suggestions? Give me the scoop on the pies, but don’t tell Papa.

Posted in good eatin' | 10 Comments

Nerdisms

I’ve lived in Chicago exactly one year. That’s 12 months. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. (which doesn’t really sound like many minutes …)

Although I’ve become a semi-savvy CTA user, a bike rider, an amateur (experimental and not that good) cook, a new restaurant obsessor, a microbrew freak, a recycler, a traffic connoisseur, a local volunteer, a Tony’s shopper, an amazon lover, a neglector of loud city sounds (well … I have developed an ambivalence for noise pollution I suppose … as ambulance #4 rolls by my windows whilst I type) … I’ve still been unable to shake my destiny for lifelong nerdism.

No matter what I do or where I go in this city, I consistently feel like the queen of dorks. I will say that I’ve never lacked confidence (see running blog post … i.e. trying out for the pom-pom squad as a chubby adolescent with two left feet), but living here definitely transformed my “medium-sized crustacean in a friendly and surprisingly talented puddle” mentality to “single-celled organism in a vast body of glorious superstar water” mindset.

Let me provide a few examples.

1. Not only is my bike a rather-upright and comfortable contraption (unlike the “cool” road bike models prevalent in my neighborhood), my helmet resembles an empty fish bowl that sits 2 inches too high on my think-tank … making my head appear large enough to host its own weather system(s).

2. I have homemade bangs (I haven’t found a reasonable beauty-parlor nearby yet … and my kitchen scissors are the next best thing). Sometimes, right after I give my bangs a nice choparooski, I slightly resemble Georgie Porgie (puddin’ pie) or that dude who stuck his thumb in a pie. Either way, I look like someone with something to do with a pie and ABCs… an unfortunate nerd who should be constantly reciting nursery rhymes whilst eating cherry filling.

2a. I say “beauty parlor”

3. I like bad 80s movies and sometimes feel that I would rather watch them than the indie/foreign flicks with oodles of awards and thumbs-ups. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy quality films too … but sometimes I just want to be entertained. Sometimes I crave big hair, keyboards, The Cars, crummy sound tracks that never exit the brain and jokes that don’t need to include bodily noises/sexual references to be hilarious. Examples: Overboard, Earth Girls Are Easy, Troop Beverly Hills, High Spirits, Big Trouble In Little China, UHF, Big Business, Short Circuit, The Last Unicorn, Drop Dead Fred … I could go on forever…

4. I wear makeup. Apparently, in this neighborhood, makeup is a sign of materialism and shallowness. Interesting perspective, but my eyeliner is doing you a favor, punks. You don’t want to see these eyeballs clean.

5. I drive a KIA. Not only that, it’s an SUV. I feel like a complete a-hole every time I hop in.

6. I work in marketing and George Carlin hates me for that. Here, one must be one or more of the following to be cool: artist, musician, video producer, architect, actor/actress, director, chef, social worker, poet, writer, coffee shop owner, vegetarian, vegan or bike repair-person.

7. I have a blog.

8. I listen to Owl City when I run sometimes. Also Enya. Occasionally Yanni. Just kidding. Sort of. But not really.

9. I smile in pictures. This is death to cool in the hipster world.

10. I post photo albums on Facebook. Also, I tweet.

11. I like American / velveeta cheese. And typing that out made me hungry.

12. I have a sweet SLR camera but have no idea how to use it.

13. I feel like high-fiving someone when I successfully parallel park.

14. My obsession with my cat drives me to: let him have my pillow, drink my milk when I’m not done with it, sit on my chair when I’m not done sitting in it, walk on my computer as I attempt to use it.

15. I feel like high-fiving fellow runners when I run past them on Logan Boulevard.

16. I can speak fluent Ewok.

17. I use a Crest SpinBrush (r) and tell everyone about it.

18. I make terrible / boring lists explaining why I’m a destined nerd.

19. I went to Medieval Times for my 28th birthday.

20. I think Lady Gaga is awesome.

Posted in Snafus | 6 Comments

Dab will do ya

Life in the city is a whirlwind as of late… and the weather isn’t the only thing changing … Therefore, a simple list is all I have for you today.

1. Exercise. I forgot how much I like to run outside (since the great winter of 2010 / 2011, I’ve been getting my move on with Chalene Johnson of within the comfort of my own 1-bedroom apartment … and yes, my downstairs neighbor hates me for it. I received a passive-aggressive under-the-door-surprise note to prove it…)

2. Mus-ac. I forgot about (rediscovered with running mix) … and particularly adore Lights Out and LES Artists. Started listening to Local Natives, Bird and The Bee and Tunng.

3. Move. The original plan to move into Chris’ insanely cheap 3-bedroom Logan Square apartment was promptly speared in the heart and shattered by a disturbing knock on the door Saturday, February 12th. Unfortunate circumstances in the landlord’s family was going to irrevocably render Chris as an ex-tenant April 1st. Last weekend we played a spirited game of furniture Tetris in a local storage unit and Chris promptly moved into my humble (and small) 1-bedroom abode. Have no fear though, faithful readers: May 1 we begin our official cohabitation in a much larger Palmer Square gem (we’re counting down the days). On that note: expect an upcoming blog describing the trials and tribulations of finding cheap, livable spaces in the Chicagoland area… I bet you didn’t know I write fiction.

4. Spring. Today, April 2nd, 2011, spring decided to roll out of bed and make some buttermilk pancakes. Unfortunately the syrup was room temperature (what is up with people who don’t heat their syrup!?)… but that didn’t stop Chris and me from hopping on our bikes to get in on the delectable feast. But that’s only part of the story … as we were riding, we happened to roll into this fantastic hidden antique/consignment warehouse on Hubbard Street called . Not only was this three-story wonderland full of dreamy, glorious, good-for-something stuff … it was also hosting a wedding. A wedding! This place reminded me of the room of green ornaments Dorothy visited in Return To Oz. And people were getting hitched there! Reception and all!!! REMARKABLE. My jaw still hurts from hitting the floor.

OK that’s all I got for now as we are already late for a party. Don’t forget to floss.

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Thundersnow: You can run, but you can’t hide

SNOMG! SNOWPOCALYPSE! SNOWMAGEDDON! SNOWTORIOUS B.I.G!

These are just a few clever labels friends have conjured up to describe the recent Midwestern blizzard. This historic storm is currently pounding and kneading Chicago like a kitchen full of nasty bread dough, and all I can do is watch the carnage from my window and blog about it.

Old Man Winter Cometh!

Last night, as the wind, ice and snow kicked at the side of my building like some annoyingly angry karate kid with frozen fists, I was introduced to a new concept: Thundersnow. I was sitting on the couch with my boyfriend and cat, enjoying some rather delicious country chicken chowder I crocked all day and listening to the wind swirl fat white flakes around the street. Suddenly the room lit up in dazzling white light. The flash was so unexpected that all three of us looked at each other with wide eyes and soup-rimmed mouths.

“Was that … ?” I asked, mouth still gaping.
“I think so…” Chris replied, handing me a napkin.
“Heck yeah it was! Thundersnow is REAL!” Bruce meowed.

Then a rumble of thunder shook the sills.

This was Thundersnow: A thunderstorm that occurs amidst a blizzard. (I’m pretty sure the proper way to write it out is in two words: thunder snow, but I think “thundersnow” as one entity is more exciting). This phenomena was so fascinating that I instantly had a flashback to my childhood years of a Wizard-of-Oz-induced tornado obsession, which eventually turned into an overall obsession of weather.

Since diapers I’ve been addicted to weather reports. The discovery of The Weather Channel occurred when I was seven years old and my life was forever changed. From that time on, my bedroom TV glowed with the blue TWC logo 24-7. I loved to learn how weather worked, how it moved and how it impacted the globe. The uncontrollable force of nature captivated me, and for years I thought I would some day become a meteorologist.

Unfortunately, after shadowing a meteorologist in Lincoln, IL for a day when I was sixteen, I realized the profession isn’t quite as exciting as it appears on TWC. Although it is a career that requires a significant amount of scientific understanding and mental agility, I quickly discovered that the men and women who report the weather on the news (which is essentially what I wanted to do) aren’t always licensed meteorologists who study weather. Many simply get the report from the local Doppler Radar station and share it with the masses by exhibiting graceful arm motions in front of a green screen. The real weather predictors work in front of computers most of the day (and night), monitoring high and low pressure systems and making sure severe weather warnings are distributed in a timely manner. (Side note: One guy at this particular station was nicknamed “Dr. Death” when he worked at a station in Oklahoma because he did not issue a tornado warning in ample time. His mistake resulted in a number of local injuries and deaths. I remember feeling uncomfortable when they shared this story with smiles on their faces. I thought Dr. Death was not an incredibly tactful nickname but who was I to judge?)

I’m not stating that the weatherman/woman on the local news is reporting something he/she knows nothing about. The weather reporters understand weather systems and probably have a degree in broadcast meteorology, but when it comes to hunkering down and actually making the big scientific predictions, they typically rely on the local experts for the scoop.

Once I learned this I had an internal dilemma: did I want to report the weather or predict it? Predicting it sounded more intellectually stimulating … but reporting it sounded more fun.

I eventually decided I wasn’t good enough at science to pursue meteorology either way, but occasionally I wonder how exciting my life might be as a meteorologist during an epic thundersnow event.

And now its time to find my car in a pile of snow avec mon partner in crime. In case I die out there, let it be known that this was entirely his idea.

Posted in Snafus | 3 Comments

Touring the land of food and beverage

This just in: every so often (probably once a month-ish) I’ll present a list of local Chicago hot spots recently graced by my country mouse toes and teeth. I’ll share a mini description of the joint, note whether my time there was pleasant, uneventful, disenchanting, delectable, nasty, gratifying, bothersome or toothsome and include a hot-spot hot-link (Side note: remember when URLs were called “hot links?” Also, don’t you hate it when people sound out URL phonetically (Earl)!?)

I’ll begin today with a list of places I’ve been since my transition to this urban-scape (April 2010) that have impacted my love for all things food and drink. Next time I’ll update with a more comprehensive list of places I’ve been over the past 30 days.

So, without further ado, here are the places that cannot be forgotten no matter how many times my bones and cartilage are crunched in the durable and tenacious spring-loaded mousetrap of life:

1. . It would be blasphemy if I did not start with this little joint (and I’m not even religious!). Lula is consistently ranked among the top 25 best restaurants in this great city (via urbanspoon.com) and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little extra cool because I live three blocks from its doorstep. Although quaint with closely aligned tables (and therefore a consistently noisy and occasionally uncomfortable atmosphere), Lula has an artistic charm with an aesthetically pleasing decor. A fresh round of local art hangs on the walls every time I stop in for some seasonal organic grub and naturally raised meats and poultry (that sentence sounds contrived … and it probably is). In sum, the cocktails are fun, the beer list lengthy and the delectable treats are plentiful. Plus, the final bill wont make you wonder if you can pay your unbelievably expensive rent later that month. (Oh yeah, and apparently Lula has a sister restaurant in Pilsen called Nightwood that I must try out.)

2. . This place is down the street from Lula – just north of the . The interior is rustic yet squeaky clean … like an ol’ western bar with a sterilized edge. Do I dare compare the atmosphere of Longman to the images in a recent Restoration Hardware magazine I flipped through at my parent’s house a few weeks back (holy run-on sentence, batman!)? No, I don’t dare. At this point I might attempt to get even more creative with this mini review, but the content on Longman’s website puts my writing to absolute shame … so learn more there. Want my humble, unpoetic opinion of this place? I felt adventurous … just like that good looking mouse in An American Tail. The flavors were uniquely laced together and everything was meticulously aligned on the plate like edible art. The result? Delicious. (I must say, though, that the descriptions on the menu used a lot of culinary terms foreign to a country mouse’s vocabulary. I think I played my confusion off rather well, regardless.) Also, the final check nearly put Chris in a cardiac arrest. But then we did the dutch thing so it was all good.

3. Chris and I discovered this little pleasure on the way home from my first excursion. After riding around in the city for nearly four hours we were hungry like the wolf … ready to devour anything within four inches from our luscious lips. This place, located in Ukrainian Village, has a swanky outdoor patio surrounded by a jungle of indigenous plant species. The outdoor paradise is what really caught our fancy, as we looked and smelled like a couple of gerbils and didn’t want to offend the eyes and nostrils of nearby diners. The drinking arrangement was BYOB which was fortunate as the food, although delicious, was rather detrimental to the ol’ bank book (noticing a trend here). The interior had a simplistic, modern air and was quite small, therefore I’d recommend a warm weather visit so you can sit outside among the star. Yes, the singular star. In the city you are lucky to see one star in the sky … dang light pollution! Its kind of like a trade off with the teeth situation – up here teeth are plentiful but down in the country a single tooth is the norm. Oh, and apparently the brunch at Jam is eggtastic.

4. A fiddle aurally welcomed my mouse ears as I scurried through the door of this little gem. Located in the outskirts of Humbolt Park, Feed has a down-home feel that I could not ignore. I was warm, comfortable and unafraid to use a toothpick (score!). I’d describe Feed as a home-cooked meal served up with some southern hospitality by a hipster chick (luckily I wore my skinny jeans and pigtail braids for this feast). The menu includes down-home favorites such as fried chicken, sweet potato pie, corn pudding, mac and cheese … basically anything that makes you pleasantly plump. (Dang, Gina! I’m hungry just blogging about it.) Also, I could be wrong but I think flannel shirts and/or doilies are accepted as currency here. I might Wiki that to be sure.

Next time I’ll give a review on some more local faves … including the two trendy hot-spots Chris introduced me to for our 1-year anniversary (November 2010! Time flies when you’re eating a lot!). Are you eager with anticipation? You should be, because this city is wild, man!

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Food Day: go away.

Since my transition from country living to city living I’ve had the luxury of working day-to-day in the comfort of my own home. This of course has its perks, but also its downfalls (i.e. all work and no play makes Kristi a dull boy).

Talking to Bruce (my cat) as if he were an old baby-friend has never made me feel particularly eccentric and I’ve never even been fazed by my ability to carry on a discussion with myself (I’m the most introspective person I know, right me?). That being said, lately I have noticed a frequency in cat-self conversation that might spill beyond the “normal” point: Two days ago I caught myself asking Bruce how to do a screen shot on my MacBook and yesterday I asked myself to answer the phone.

So, cabin fever might be setting in … and the frigid outside temperatures aren’t doing much to remedy the situation … but what is the most horrific part (or lovely part, depending on how you look at it) of working from home? The sudden and mysterious disappearance of food days.

Food Day, the day at work that makes a standard potluck gathering look like a continental breakfast at the Red Roof Inn, is a day held dear by all cubicle inhabitants roaming the corporate landscape. Little known fact: In corporate America, food days go against the concept of simple economics in that they are in high demand AND high supply. When analyzed from a real estate industry perspective, food days are like being in a buyers market AND a sellers market at the same exact time. Is this making you hungry?

So some of you might be wondering: “What the heck is a ‘food day’ … and why have a food day?”

“Food Day” is not just a clever title. Taken literally, it is a day of food that typically occurs in the workplace. A food day’s purpose is celebration. Celebration of virtually anything worth celebrating. Birthdays. Retirements. Anniversaries. Farewells. Welcome backs. Holidays. Certifications. Designations. Promotions. New babies. Weddings. Project completions. Supply cabinet restocks. Asbestos removals. The addition of Coke Zero to the vending machines. Tornado survival. Tiger-escape-from-zoo survival. Taco bar addition in the cafeteria. Seasonal changes. Etc.

Now you’re asking, “How is a food day confirmed by employees?”

Typically an email is sent to a department titled, “Food Day Friday” or whatever day the event shall take place. A truly organized food day will include a sign-up sheet posted in a convenient location where all participants are required to list what they plan to bring to avoid standard delight duplication. The unspoken rule is that an individual who does not contribute to the food day shall not participate in the food day unless he / she is the reason for said food day. This rule is commonly broken.

When sponsored by a single department, non-participating departments can catch wind of the food day easily and in a variety of ways. Scent immediately notifies those not involved in the food day that there is, in fact, a food day. Another way a food day will be revealed is via office-gossip. For example: “Did you hear that HR is having a food day?” This single statement is not only heard by the recipient to whom the communication message was directed … this utterance, no matter how quiet or seemingly small, is immediately heard across oceans of cubicles. Ears perk up and tummies rumble. People in corporate America commonly forget that in a building full of carpet walls … word travels fast.

Sight is another sense commonly regarded as a food day’s dead giveaway. Sight notification occurs when an individual whose nostrils or ears were earlier notified of the food day decides to venture out into the unknown to identify the location of the food. Once the site of food has been determined via the naked eye, it is this individual’s job, because he/she is a team player, to eagerly run back to report the information to his/her fellow work-cronies.

Now you ask, “Are there any complications brought on by these alleged food days?”

Absolutely. I argue that food days, although fun and tasty, are rather detrimental to the health of corporate America. The typical food day spread consists of cookies, cakes, pies, taco dip, potato chips, cheese spreads, sweet tea, pizza, meatballs, and cocktail weenies. These foods are so plentiful during one’s typical 2,000 calorie day that the excess treats tend to spill out from the tip food pyramid in a gush of sugar and fat. 2,000 calorie days double or even triple during a standard food day.

Not only are food days unhealthy and promote poor eating habits, but they are also consistently supplied at the absolute worst location: among fields of desks where people sit for hours on end, moving only the tips of their chubby sausage fingers in front of a glowing computer screen. Productivity can be low, and caloric intake can be very high.

In conclusion, food days are prevalent, easily identifiable, fun and well-rounded events yet fatty deposits grow exponentially with every bite of cake and dip of a chip. Since I’ve transitioned to a work-remote situation my fatty deposits have shrunk but my crazy deposits have expanded.

Posted in culture-shock, good eatin' | 8 Comments