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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Schrader: A big fan of Kassisms

By Barry Schrader.................................August 18, 2009

In DeKalb County we hear sayings like “Welcome to the Barb City," “Knee high by the Fourth of July” and “corn as high as an elephant’s eye … (actually taken from 'Oklahoma,' I know) but if you read the Chicago press you may hear terms like “The Chicago Way” and “State of Corruption.”
I recently got to meet the man who coined his own terms of endearment for the politicians who run Cook County and the state of Illinois, much to their chagrin. His name is John Kass, he writes a political column for the Chicago Tribune and he held a barbecue recently for which I happened to obtain a ticket.
Even columnists like myself have their favorites in the field – mine used to be Mike Royko of the Daily News and later the Trib and Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle. Sadly, both of those great penmen have died, but others have arisen to take their places on the pages of their respective papers. I also had great respect for the late John Callaway, whose insightful interviews were aired on WTTW in Chicago for many years.
But I have to admit to now being a fan of Kass, despite the fact that we live and write in two different worlds.
He was born the son of a Greek immigrant grocer on Chicago’s south side. I was born the son of a farmer in “Corn Country,” aka DeKalb. I was nurtured in a bucolic environment and grew up in the country near the “gently flowing” Kishwaukee River. Kass witnessed his father being harassed by city meat inspectors who came into the store and loaded up with sacks of steaks, just so his father could stay in business.

Newspaper columnist John Kass tells dinner guests how to prepare “Beer Can Chicken”.

He also witnessed life in the rough and tough neighborhoods where the presence of mob figures and ward bosses were part of everyday life. So I imagine we have a different outlook on things, ingrained from childhood experiences that left indelible impressions on our psyches.
So I have to admire his attitude when he said in a recent TV interview that “I do this because I love this city and this state ... and want good government.”
He has a way of cutting to the quick, so to speak, as his column is full of “Kassisms” and nicknames for myriad political and mob-connected characters who abound in his city and all the way down to Springfield, where the tentacles of “The Chicago Way” seem to stretch.
To name a few Kassisms: Gov. Dead Meat (Blagojevich), Mayor Shortshanks (Richard M. Daley), Roland “Tombstone” Burris (our new senator who has the biggest mausoleum in the cemetery with boastful inscriptions on it), and Feditis (politicians’ loss of memory about past misdeeds when being questioned by federal prosecutors). Then there is what he calls “The Combine,” a powerful coalition of Democrats and Republicans who work together to raise money for their mutual friends (like Rezko and company) to keep themselves in power and line their own pockets. A couple more of my favorite terms of his are “Chumbolones” and “Hopium.” The first is what citizens of Chicago (and Illinois) are when they let the politicians get away with all they do, and the second seems to be what people smoke so they don’t see what’s happening in Illinois politics. Or something like that. I’ll have to ask our two local elected leaders “Farmer Bob” Pritchard and Brad “The Voice” Burzynski if I have this all straight. I’m sure they read and relish Kass’ every word.
But getting back to the BBQ held at the McCormick estate, Cantigny, in Wheaton. Kass introduced us to "Beer Can Chicken" on the grill. I had never heard of his recipe but it really is tasty. I won’t list all the details, but you take a chicken and, after applying an appropriate seasoning rub, open a can of beer, take a sip or two to empty it halfway, insert it into the chicken's body cavity, then stand the bird and can upright on the grill so the liquid bubbles up inside as it cooks for an hour or so. Then, voila, you have a tender and juicy meal. If you want the recipe, check out his Web site, not mine. I only know how to scramble eggs and whip up a batch of flapjacks on rare occasions at our house. That’s one reason why I married a farm girl!

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115