Tag Archive: Chicago

Bach & Mexico

Apparently, I said this 3 years ago today upon attending a CSO performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s B-minor Mass, not a bad piece of music. Facebook reminded me of it, and I thought it was worth broadcasting more widely.

Chicago, IL
16 April 2013

I ate salsa, guacamole, torta, and drank mescal and margarita. Then, I stepped outside into the cold, damp, gray, windy Chicago evening. A fitting reality check before a performance of Bach’s B-minor Mass. What would Bach, that dour old Lutheran, have known of the sultry, sensual pleasures of Mexico? Bach was a Chicago-style composer.

I heard Bach’s B-minor Mass this evening by the CSO. IF I had run into the composer at the bar afterwards, I might have said, “That was a pretty good song, Jack. Good effort.” Would a Lutheran expect anymore than that?


Today’s Traffic Scofflaw

Fellow Illinoisans, native or neo, reluctant or rejoicing (or anyone, really):

Which of the following three excuses offered gets the woman off the legal hook who both failed to stop at a stop sign and failed to yield to a pedestrian (yours truly) in a crosswalk?:

1) “I slowed down.”
2) “I’m rushing to get home.”
3) “I saw you.”

I confronted her after she blew by me, and these are the three proffered explanations for her behavior. She was convinced of her innocence.

And this behavior behind the wheel immediately adjacent to two public schools during dismissal hour on a school day.

Happy St. Jo-Pat’s Day!

I volunteered to bring snack for tonight’s choir rehearsal, which fell on the fallow day between St. Patrick’s Day (and its drying pools of green sidewalk vomit) and St. Joseph’s Day (and its decadent ricotta-filled southern Italian doughnuts). I wore a red t-shirt and red socks (St. Joseph) and a green-and-white striped button-down shirt (St. Patrick). I bridged the gap.

I decided to bring both Irish Soda Bread <http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/irish-soda-bread-recipe> 


and zeppole


<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeppole&gt;, which I bought at Il Giardino del Dolce (“The Garden of Dessert”), in Chicago’s Elmwood Park neighborhood <http://www.ilgiardinodeldolce.com&gt;, to build a sweet culinary bridge between the two feasts, too.


It’s too bad that St. Joseph’s Day isn’t better known as an Italian American feast, so much less fraught is it than Columbus Day, tainted by the disease and suffering inflicted on native peoples following Columbus’s “discovery” of America. The consumption of zeppole alone would make Italophiles out of everyone—and unlike the elixir of St. Patrick, you needn’t be 21 to consume them.

I grew up in and around Utica, NY, which to this day has a strong Italian American community, and several thriving Italian bakeries, pastry shops and markets. I remember eating zeppole every year, though I only knew them as “St. Joseph’s Day pastries” until I met the Italian Americans of New Haven, CT. I think one of the reasons I grew to love New Haven so was that many of the foodways that I treasured from my childhood in Utica remained strong there, too. I didn’t have to drive back home every time I wanted a taste of my old world.


Laying out both of these traditional foods side by side, with their strong cultural associations, reminded me of the way in which my mother’s family was a living example of this spread. My Poppa was Irish American, or at least the Dowdall family claimed Irish as their predominant ethnic strain. My Nana was first generation Italian American, both her parents having emigrated from two tiny villages in Lazio (Selvacava & Ausonia), near Formia. (By the way, the scenery is mountainous, dramatic and beautiful, and I just discovered that there’s an agriturismo in Selvacava: <http://www.lortotragliulivi.it/agriturismo%20italia.html&gt;!)

When Poppa (Jack) told his eldest brother, Jim, that he was dating an Italian girl (Amelia), Jim punched him. Italians and Irish didn’t mix in the 1930s.

By the time I was a kid, though, things were calmer on the multiethnic front lines of 1016 Rutger Street in Utica. For St. Patrick’s Day, we wore green and hung Hallmark® leprechauns in the windows. My Italian Nana would cook corned beef and cabbage and bake soda bread for my Irish Poppa et al. Two days later, on St. Joseph’s Day, my Irish Poppa would buy the zeppole at the Florentine Pastry Shop on Bleeker Street in the heart of Italian East Utica for my Italian Nana et al. (We didn’t think to wear red, though, and Hallmark® didn’t sell St. Joseph’s Day decorations.)

The father of a dear friend of mine was named Joseph Patrick. He was Pat to us, but others in town knew him as Joe. I was confused the first time I heard him called Joe. That’s when I learned his full name. Only later did I get it: he was Italian Irish American. He married a Polish Italian American. 

Nowadays, people are both fascinated, yet unbothered, by many of these ethnic distinctions. Are we thus richer or poorer? As in Andersonville, just down the street from me in Chicago, which bears only the palest shadow of its earlier “Swedishness”, what have we lost as our ethnic enclaves have been assimilated and their children dispersed?

On St. Patrick’s Day, they say, we are all Irish. If so, then on St. Joseph’s Day, let’s all be Italian, and on Pulaski Day, let’s all be Polish, and on Chinese New Year, let’s all be Chinese, and on and on.

But, even more importantly, cherish your own heritage; nurture and share it. If you don’t, who will? And who would be poorer without it? You would be. And so would everyone around you.

Happy St. Jo-Pat’s Day, friends!



Well THAT was a hell of a week!


An organist who makes you chuckle?

I recently played two organ recitals (hopefully there will be more about that soon). I received a lot of positive comments about my biography in the program, so I thought I’d share it with you.


Organist and pianist Christian M. Clough is really happy that both you and he are here today.

Christian goes to concerts, operas and plays occasionally, and generally finds performers’ biographies dull as dishwater.

Christian moved to Hamilton with his family in 1980, and graduated at the top of his class at Hamilton Central School in 1987. He went away to college determined not to pursue a career in music, and chose to major in geology, but one too many late-winter field trips in Western New York digging trilobite fossils out of damp, cold riverbeds in waning sunlight under cold, drizzly skies turned him away from field geology. After his graduation, Magna cum laude, from the University of Rochester, where he was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa, he looked toward a career in management at Walt Disney World. Little did he know at that tender age that climbing the corporate ladder would require spending an unspecified number of summers in polyester costumes under blistering summer sun in the withering humidity of central Florida for tiny hourly wages.  He sought supplementary income, and a musical outlet, through part-time employment as Organist-Choirmaster in a small Episcopal church near Orlando that didn’t really want good music at the traditional service, just fewer praise songs than at the “family” service. When the resident squirrels chewed up the speaker cones of the 1950s Allen electronic organ, Christian planned his escape back Up North, where he entered the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music, earning a Master of Music in Organ Performance and Choral Conducting from the Yale School of Music (1997), and a Master of Arts in Religion, in Liturgical Studies, Magna cum laude, from Yale Divinity School (2003), punctuated by a fabulous year of private organ study and cultural tourism in London and beyond.  He loved New England, but left for full-time work in Santa Barbara, where he was uncomfortable living in paradise (Did you know that Central New Yorkers think it’s divine punishment to have to endure that much sunshine, and also that they need to wear long underwear annually?), so he moved Back East in 2005 to work as Director of Music Ministries at The Church of the Epiphany in Washington, DC, which, in summer, is worse than central Florida (except for the polyester). When the opportunity to flee northward arose again last winter, Christian accepted a job in Chicago as Director of Music at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood. There, he conducts three choirs and oversees a fourth, and plays a wonderful 2004 Martin Pasi two-manual tracker organ for two services every Sunday.

Christian’s mission in life is to “Cultivate Curiosity, Encourage Exploration, Deliver Delight”. He hopes that, in bringing both familiar and new musical works to life this afternoon, you will be inspired to look and listen just over the horizon from your own musical comfort zone, and find greater delight as a curious individual. You can read more of Christian’s own explorations and ruminations on his blog, “18 Pockets”, at <18pockets.wordpress.com> (Please leave comments and stimulate conversation!). To inquire about additional performances and offerings, please contact Christian at <christian.clough@aya.yale.edu>.

Christian has won a few prizes and merit scholarships along the way. His piano teachers have included Lois Rainsford and Kerry Eustance Koen; his organ teachers, the late Mary Ann Dodd, John Bodinger, Michael Messina, Charles Krigbaum, Thomas Murray, Gerre Hancock, Anne Marsden Thomas, James Parsons and Martin Jean. He’s supposed to tell you that, as a professional. More importantly, they have all been sources of invaluable inspiration, each in her or his own way, and many of them have become dear friends and treasured mentors over the years.

Immediately following this concert, Christian plans to spend forty-eight hours enjoying what he hopes will be a heart-stoppingly beautiful display of fall foliage in this, his beloved hometown, before returning to that great city in the pancake-flat Midwest.

29 February 2012

I’ve got lots to say about moving to a new, huge city, about leaving a partner behind, about braving the winter wind and taking a risk on working in the church in yet another place.

But tonight, I want to talk about cooking.

I am (well, Putney and I are) staying as long-term guests of a parishioner in my new church while we look for a suitable apartment to rent. It’s great – companionship, hospitality, assistance in learning the lay of the land, etc. My host suggested that we could take turns cooking on weeknights, and tonight – the fourth night – was my first time wearing the chef’s hat.

As the evening approached, I lacked inspiration. I worried about having enough time. I wandered around the supermarket yesterday searching for the ingredients that would inspire a search for the right recipe.

Yesterday, I bought asparagus and broccoli crowns. Hardly a full meal, but at least we would get our vitamins.

At the office today, as the cooking deadline loomed ever closer, and the workload got heavier, foreshadowing a late departure for home, I began to sweat. What would be healthy, tasty, easy? And swear. Will I fail to impress with my first culinary test? #$%#^! Sweat’n’Swear. Like the Buffalo Wings we feared back in Rochester.

Then, Pizza. No, I didn’t eat one, whole, in a panic. My little chef voice whispered the word. A one-dish meal. With chicken breast (lean protein) and a bit of mildly pungent cheese and broccoli. I walked back to the market. “Do you sell pizza dough?” He led me to the Pillsbury tubes. Ack.

In the end, panic led to inspiration. I made this up. It was awesome, at least for a first attempt. Try, and enjoy.

Caramelized Red Onion, Broccoli and Chicken White Pizza

pizza dough
about 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small strips about 1/2-inch wide and 1 inch long
2 broccoli crowns, cut into bit-size florets, stems ad lib. (I give the stems to Putney, who loves them, and who doesn’t like the crowns; it’s a symbiotic relationship.)
1 medium red onion, or half large red onion, divided
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced, divided
4 ounces lite Swiss cheese (e.g., Jarlsburg) or other moderately-flavorful soft cheese such as gouda or Havarti, shredded
extra-virgin olive oil
a few peppercorns
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Prepare your favorite pizza dough, either homemade or acquired. I made mine from scratch, following a simple recipe on http://www.allrecipes.com, but there are innumerable options. Mine came together in half an hour, and was perfect. I would have made it with whole-wheat flour if there had been some in the house. I used SAF Instant Yeast (the red one), recommended by The Baker’s Catalog. Let the dough rest before attempting to roll it out.

Bring 1 quart water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add about 1/4 of the sliced onion, 1 clove sliced garlic, the peppercorns and the cut-up chicken. Return to a boil and parboil, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken and vegetables from the water and set aside.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in frying pan over medium heat. Sauté remaining sliced red onion until soft. Add remaining sliced garlic. Continue cooking until all are gently browned. Remove from heat.

Toss raw broccoli florets with 2 tablespoons olive oil to coat.

Add chicken and broccoli to frying pan with onions. Stir all together, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Roll out the dough on a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza stone to your desired shape. Brush the dough with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Spread the chicken-and-vegetable mixture evenly across the dough, then sprinkle with the cheese.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes before cutting. Serves 4, give or take.

We had a side of steamed asparagus tossed with EVOO, salt, pepper and toasted pine nuts. A nice white wine would go well, or a fragrant light (not necessarily ‘lite’) beer.

Let me know if you try it, and if you have any questions, comments, improvements. I’ve never before written down a recipe for a dish I created. It’s not the world’s most unique food offering, but it’s a start, maybe, and it really was good.