Navy Pier Ferris wheel offers unique look at the city

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger

Staff writer

The Navy Pier Ferris wheel is an iconic sight for tourists and Chicagoans.

Standing nearly 200 feet high, the Centennial Wheel is a behemoth, weighing 992,080 pounds, powered by 8 motors with over 10,000 bolts connecting the machine together. 

Devonne Phams, Senior Guest Experience Manager, and his staff are responsible for making sure riders have a great experience.

Phams has been with Navy Pier for 6 years, starting as an attraction attendant and working through the ranks to be promoted to Senior Guest Experience Manager. Part of his role is managing the staff who run the Ferris wheel, who ensure that guests have “a safe but fun time.”

Safety is a big part of their work, he said. Each morning, Phams’ team checks the Centennial Wheel to make sure everything is operational. They open and close doors, check the video screens and PA systems (in case a guest needs to contact the operator), as well as making sure the 42 gondolas are clean. 

On a good day during the week, Phams said they get close to 3,500 people on the Ferris wheel, but the number rises to 8,000 during the weekend. It can hold up to 420 people at a time with 8-10 people per gondola. 

The Centennial Wheel operates year round; with air conditioning for the hot summer months and heat for the cooler months. The Ferris wheel team monitors weather conditions, whether it is ice accumulation in the winter or thunderstorms. For safety precautions, the Ferris wheel is shut down if lightning strikes within 5 miles of Navy Pier.

At night, the Ferris wheel staff closes windows that guests may have opened during the day, collect and turn in any lost items, as well as cleaning the gondolas. They lock and secure the Ferris wheel for the night. And the cycle begins the next day.

Phams’ favorite part of the job is the people.

“We get people from all over the world,” he said. “They are totally amazed by the new Ferris wheel itself.” 

A particular moment that stands out for Phams is the annual Camp One Step. A nonprofit dedicated to provide educational and fun experiences for children with cancer brings a group of  kids to Navy Pier to ride the Ferris wheel. Each year, they put together a campfire song for Phams. “It’s really awesome,” he said.

Phams invites people to check out the Ferris wheel.

The view from the top is phenomenal. There’s nothing like it in the city,” he said.

Taste to offer De La Soul, 82 food vendors from across the city

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

With July comes the annual Taste of Chicago, a celebration of all that’s great to eat in the city.

This year’s Taste will be held July 10-14 in Grant Park and will feature 82 restaurants and food trucks and 300 menu items. The event also offers live music including headliners De La Soul with Taylor Bennett and Courtney Barnett with Sunflower Bean among others.

Mary May, a spokesperson with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said the event will offer something new even for longtime Taste of Chicago veterans.

“We have a number of new restaurants this year,” she said. “We have more restaurants than we’ve ever had.”

However, not all restaurants and food trucks will be available through the entire festival, so attendees should check schedules on the website TasteofChicago.us. While the general admissions area is free, the music performances are ticketed events and food tickets begin at $10 for 14 tickets. Visitors can purchase those online. In addition, people can also purchase tickets to the Taste Oasis area. This is a new area which provides attendees with exclusive access to music and seating and dining options. Those tickets are $50.

May suggested visitors try the new entrants and try restaurants that are unfamiliar. Often, Chicagoans spend most of their time in their neighborhoods, places they’re already familiar. She said Taste aims to shake that up and break people out of their habits.

“One big thing about the Taste of Chicago is it is an appeal for people to get out and try a new restaurant,” she said. “After Taste is over, we want people to go out and see a new part of the city and to spread their wings.”

In addition to the food and music, the festival will also offer chef-led demonstrations and other specialty events. On July 10, the Best Lists event will recognize award-winning chefs and restaurants listed on “best of” lists. On July 11, the City Streets event will feature chefs from around Chicago. July 12 will feature a Healthy Eating event will spotlight dishes that are vegan or vegetarian. On July 13 the Spicy Hot demonstration will highlight cuisines that bring the heat and sample the all-time American favorite Mac N Cheese on July 14 at the Mac N Cheese Smackdown.

The new restaurants include: 90 Miles Cuban Café, A Place by Damao, Bar Takito, Barangaroos Aussie Pies, Ben’s Bar-Be-Cue, Big Wang’s Chinese Street Food, Black Dog Gelato, Brazilian Bowl Inc., Buscia’s, Bacon Buns, Coastline Catering, Da Pizza Dude, Dmen Tap, Dog Haus, Egg Rolls Etc., Frönen, Gordo’s, Homemade Ice Cream Bars, Hakka Bakka Indian Kati Rolls, Jason’s Deli, Jeannie’s Flan Inc., Jeni’s, Splendid Ice Creams, Josephine’s Cooking, Jus Sandwiches, Kitchen 17, Lao Sze Chuan, Luella’s Gospel Bird, Madame VanderKloot’s Weiner Emporium, Mr. Quiles Mexican Food, Ms. Tittle’s Cupcakes, Nourish Catering, Pink Flamingo (Flamingo Rum Club), Pink Taco, Seoul Taco, The Cookie Crate, The Slab Bar-B-Que, Three Legged Tacos, Whadda Jerk and Yvolina’s Tamales.

Several options available for fresh, local vegetables

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

With summer comes fresh, local produce.

In Streeterville, this means the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents’ (SOAR) annual farmer’s market which will return June 4 and continue through the end of October, opening every Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s front plaza.

But, even if Tuesday’s are inconvenient, residents can now get fresh, home-delivered produce thanks to a new and customizable straight-from-the-farm delivery service, courtesy of Angelic Organics. That service will begin June 24.

John Peterson is a farmer who owns Angelic Organics, one of the very earliest community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in the area. The farm is located in Caledonia, two hours outside of Chicago.

Angelic Organics relies on “shareholders” to sign up for weekly fresh produce boxes and Peterson said he’s happy to pack and substitute whatever clients want.

“We’re now doing customized boxes,” Peterson said. “People choose ahead of time the vegetables they like and they don’t like and they don’t get what they don’t want. That’s a breakthrough for community agriculture.”

Peterson said his boxes are filled with the same range of vegetables available at a farmer’s market.

Peterson hopes to  begin June 24. Shareholders get 20 weekly deliveries or 10 bi-weekly deliveries of a ¾ bushel box, which Peterson said is about 1.5 paper grocery bags filied with vegetables. Each deliver is $40, though there is an extra $12 for home delivery service.

There are no pickup sites in Streeterville or New Eastside, though the delivery service does deliver to the neighborhoods.

To find out more, visit the website, angelicorganics.com.

In the meantime, if residents can’t wait until the end of June to get fresh veggies, SOAR president Deborah Gershbein said all the vendors from last year are returning to this year’s market.

“We have about 45 tents out on the plaza with a variety of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables and herbs and baked goods and prepared foods and beautiful flowers,” Gershbein said.

Gershbein said as the months continue into fall, the produce will change so residents should check out the market each week.

“As the season warms up then we get asparagus, onions and those types of things, and then we get into strawberries,” she said.  

This year will also feature chef demonstrations. On June 25 the chef from SPACE 519 will prepare a dish made of market ingredients. While the market will open the first Tuesday of the month, a season opening ceremony for the market’s fifth season is set for noon, June 18.

“We will celebrate with a huge Eli’s Cheesecake, topped with fresh locally grown strawberries,” Gershbein said.

Grilling tips from the pros: III Forks, Southern Cut chefs share their secrets

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The weather is warm and the coals are hot.

But what to grill? And how?

Grilling doesn’t need to be complicated, but it takes some planning.

Shane Timmons, the executive chef from Southern Cut Barbecue in Streeterville, said the best cooks are prepared cooks.

“Always be prepared and always have a destination for everything,” Timmons said. “When it comes off the grill, it will go off the grill and go onto this plate with these tongs. I always keep tongs and plates that handle raw and cooked meat separate. … The more organized you are, the quicker and better your grilling will be. It’s the same thing with any restaurant, they call it mise en place, which means everything in its place.”

Timmons said especially if cooks are grilling vegetables, they need to have one cutting board for raw meat, one  for cooked meat and another for vegetables. All of these need to be set out ahead of time to avoid confusion, contamination and possible illness.

Timmons said depending on what is being grilled, cooks should come prepared.

“Obviously when you are grilling steak you want a nice hot grill. No matter what you’re using, it has to be hot enough to give it a quick sear,” he said. “You don’t want the temperature to be too low or it will end up chewy. I like to pull it out of the refrigerator an hour or so before I grill it to get to room temperature.”

Timmons said he likes to season steaks with salt, pepper and some garlic and onion powder, though he said steak seasoning is mostly up to personal preference. While cooks are waiting for the steaks to get to room temperature, he recommends working on the sides, like baked potatoes.

Cruz Almanza, the grill chef at III Forks in New Eastside, said he doesn’t generally season a steak until after it’s off the grill, and a good cut doesn’t need seasoning.

“If you pair a nice cutlet with a side of mash potatoes, you don’t need anything else,” he said. “But if you want to put a crown on the steak, we offer king’s butter so that puts a little extra on it.”

King’s butter is foie gras, truffles with a touch of honey, but outside of III Forks, Cruz said he doesn’t use it.

“At home I just grill a nice cut of meat,” he said.

Marinating, too, requires forethought. Timmons said it’s best to marinate overnight, though at a minimum, cooks should marinate chicken and shrimp for four hours. He recommends wiping off any oil used in the marinate before grilling the meat, otherwise the open flame will ignite the oil and burn the mean unevenly.

Besides meat, vegetables go well on the grill and work great as sides. Corn is a standard go-to, but other vegetables can be grilled with good result, Cruz reports.

“There’s something I love about grilling onions,” he said. “I grew up in central Mexico and if we’re doing a carne asada or barbecue at home we have hot grilled onions.”

Cruz recommends cooking them in a very hot cast iron skillet with beer or even whiskey to flambé them until  they’re caramelized, maybe adding a pinch of brown sugar and salt or Worcestershire sauce.

He also recommends grilling peppers.

“I love the grilled serrano peppers and banana peppers grilled are fantastic,” he said. “It’s not a big thing until you taste it, and sometimes we stuff them with cheese too. Some grilled banana peppers with some chihuahua cheese, that’s a great pairing with your steak.”

Historic anchor adrift in Streeterville

(Published in April 29, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Streeterville was undergoing a real estate boom in 2007 and developers were looking toward a bright future when a piece of the past surfaced for the first time in more than a century at the corner of Illinois Street and Grand Avenue.

It was an anchor and it was 35 feet underground.

Realtor and neighborhood booster Gail Spreen believes it could be a relic from George “Cap” Streeter’s boat—a direct link to the eponymous founder of Streeterville.

“It’s the same style anchor that’s on Cap Streeter’s boats,” Spreen said.

Streeter famously helped settle the area when his boat ran aground on a sandbar. From there, the silt and sand from the river and lake built up, along with dumped debris, to create real estate.

Chicago History Museum vice president of education John Russick said there may be no way to say for sure whether the anchor came from Streeter’s boat, but it is an important artifact. It represents a time before developers built “modern” Chicago and offers a potential link to the beginning of that development, he said.

Russick said there’s no doubt the Streeter story is true. Streeter was sued in court and eventually evicted from Streeterville, so court records document his history. But in other areas, the historical record is sparse. While there are photos of Streeter, Russick said there are no known, verifiable pieces of his boat.

“I’ve never heard of anything that was found of the boat. We have some photographs … so we know what it looks like,” Russick said. “But no, we have no physical evidence of his boat. With the possible exception of the anchor.”

Now, above ground at last, the old anchor needs a home.

Spreen acquired the anchor in 2011 from the man who owned the property where it was uncovered. She’s hopeful someone will help find a permanent home for the artifact.

“Someday this anchor is going to go someplace where people appreciate it,” she said. “But until we have a location for it, it’s staying with me.”

Covered in rust and barnacles, the anchor is in two pieces and attached to a 35-foot chain. Spreen said she’d like to see it near the eight-foot statue of Streeter, at the corner of McClurg and Grand near Yolk, where it was found.

“The best case would be where we wanted it, next to Cap Streeter,” she said.

This historic anchor might once have belonged to Cap Streeter. Photo courtesy Gail Spreen

The bizarre, hate-filled history of Mother’s Day

(Published April 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The roots of Mother’s Day lie embedded in the blood-soaked soil of history.

Before President Woodrow Wilson recognized the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in 1914, women had been fighting for the holiday since shortly after the Civil War.

According to National Geographic, Julia Ward Howe, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” suggested a Mothers’ Peace Day in 1872.

Initially, people celebrated the holiday by meeting in churches, social halls or other public places to sing, pray and read essays about peace.

Chicago was among a handful of cities to take up the tradition, and Chicagoans celebrated the holiday in June until 1913.

But that version of the holiday failed to gain much popularity outside of peace activists. By the turn of the 20th century, people suggested a more politically neutral holiday to honor mothers.

One of those early proponents was former football coach Frank Hering. In 1904 he announced at an Indianapolis gathering of The Fraternal Order of Eagles that the group needed to promote one Sunday each year as a day for mothers. The national organization picked up the challenge through its member clubs to champion a mother’s day in cities across the country.

The group still considers Hering as the father of Mother’s Day, much to the everlasting ire of Anna Jarvis.

Jarvis is generally considered the founder of Mother’s Day even though her mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for Civil War wounded on both sides of the war and tried to start a Mother’s Friendship Day for Civil War mothers, according to Mentalfloss.com.

The elder Jarvis died in 1905. The younger Jarvis worked furiously through letters and talks around the world to promote a day in honor of mothers. Her idea caught on among some elite supporters, including H. J. Heinz and John Wanamaker. Nearly 10 years later, in 1914, Congress passed a law recognizing the holiday and President Wilson signed it into law.

Even so, Jarvis couldn’t stand that Hering and his fraternal organization promoted Hering as the originator of Mother’s Day. In the 1920s she issued a statement claiming he “kidnapped” Mother’s Day, according to National Geographic.

Jarvis wrote that Hering was, “making a desperate effort to snatch from me the rightful title of originator and founder of Mother’s Day, established by me after decades of untold labor, time, and expense.”

For the rest of her life, she signed everything, “Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day.” By 1920 she was already souring on the holiday’s commercial aspects.

According to mentalfloss.com, white carnations were always part of Mother’s Day, but soon florists added other flower arrangements, card companies designed greeting cards and stores were promoting Mother’s Day gifts and candies.

Outraged, Jarvis wrote that these commercial industries were, “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”

She tried to get Mother’s Day trademarked, but the trademark office denied the request. FTD offered to share its profits with Jarvis, but this enraged her. In 1934 the post office issued a Mother’s Day stamp and this, too, infuriated her.

By Jarvis’ way of thinking, Mother’s Day should be celebrated with a handwritten letter to mom, and nothing more. Jarvis, it should be noted, had no children.

“A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world,” she wrote.

In later years, she had to be dragged from public Mother’s Day events and she was arrested for trying to stop the sale of carnations and finally she tried to have the holiday rescinded.

Jarvis died in a mental health institution in Pennsylvania in 1948. She had no money, though, and her bill was paid by a florists’ association.

Across The Pond offers a series of ballet pieces for Joffrey audiences

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Published April 25, 2019

On April 24 at the Auditorium Theater, The Joffrey Ballet premiered Across the Pond, a collection of three ballets by UK choreographers. “Yonder Blue” and “Home”were world premieres, whereas “Vespertine” was a Joffrey premiere.

The performances run through May 5 and tickets start at $35.

The performances varied from contemporary to classical, with classic orchestral arrangements to electronic scores.

“Yonder Blue,” by Andrew McNicol is a stunning and airy vision of dancers dressed in different shades of blue. The stage is a blank canvas and the set is dressed mostly on lighting. The music starts with sweeping violins as a group dances amongst smoke, as if on a cloud. Throughout the performance, different groups of dancers melt and unfold onto one another, as the lighting changes shades of blue.

Liam Scarlett’s “Vespertine” is a baroque-inspired dream. The stage solely consists of simplistic chandeliers that suggested opulence. Performers switch from classically inspired burgundy outfits, to nude leotards. “Vesperine” is not without its modern influences, as the music goes quiet with only the sound of ballet shoes on the stage. Dresses are used to highlight dance moves, with matador-like displays. A female soloist performs impressively amidst four male dancers.  

“Home” is a story about American immigrants and the struggles they face. Andrea Walker’s contemporary work features a man struggling to fit in in the place he has always called home. The costuming is simple and modern, with sweatpants and T-shirts. The man tries to fit in within the perfectly choreographed masses, but struggles. Lights flash and provoke a sense of foreboding, along with sharp, intense modern music. The man finds fleeting connections with others until he finds someone who feels familiar. They mirror each other’s movements without struggle. The performance ends as the pledge of allegiance is said.

In honor of Melville’s 200th birthday, Chicago Opera to perform ‘Moby Dick’

(Published April 18, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger

Next week the Chicago Opera Theater, 70 E Lake St., will perform an operatic adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer at the Harris Theater.

The performances will be April 25 at 7:30 p.m. and April 28 at 3 p.m. The performances wrap up several months of celebrations in honor of Melville’s birth, 200 years ago.

The “Moby Dick” opera focuses on Captain Ahab’s quest for revenge, Starbuck’s struggle against the quest, and the transformation of Greenhorn (Ishmael) from a lost soul to future storyteller.

Scheer said when he was asked to write the libretto, he found “there was a lot of operatic potential and a lot of operatic challenges. But there were these huge themes, great characters and a beautiful text that can be exploited in a libretto.”

Scheer said his job was to, “distill … it down to big broad strokes that tell the story and invite music in, so that music conveys emotional content and subtlety of the storytelling.”

Scheer said he’s happy his opera is part of the overall celebration of the author.

“It’s fantastic to celebrate a great artist who have an enduring legacy. These kinds of anniversaries remind people to pick up of the book and see what all the fuss is about,” Scheer said.

Besides the opera, the Newberry Library opened an exhibition “Melville: Finding America at Sea” that in January showcased the Newberry’s collection of Melville works and artistic responses.

The exhibition also showcased art inspired by Melville. Hansen explains that there has been a “long lineage of people reimagining or thinking about what Melville’s work looks like.” One of the centerpieces was the 1930s Rockwell Kent illustrated Moby Dick that is “typically thought of as one of the most beautiful books of the 20th century.”

With the exhibition, the Newberry had a Moby-Dick Read-a-Thon where about 150 speakers who read aloud the full text in 25.5 hours. There was a symposium “Making Melville Legible” as well as several performances.

The next exhibition is “The Legacy of Chicago Dance” that explores the history of dance in Chicago. It will open April 27 and closes July 6.

CAC to offer spring break programming for local families

(Published April 4, 2019)

The Chicago Architecture Center is offering a slew of activities for kids over spring break, April 15 — 19.

The STEM programming offers educational activities for kids 5-16 and some projects involve make-and-take activities. Everything is free with CAC admission, $12 for adults and $8 for students. Kids must come with an adult, though older teens may come alone. The camps are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

Chicago Architecture Center is located at 111 East Wacker Drive, steps from Michigan Avenue.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Winning Works Showcases Diversity

By Stephanie Racine

The Joffrey Ballet presented its ninth annual Winning Works showcase this weekend, March 9 and 10at the Edlis Neeson Theater, located inside the Museum of Contemporary Art. Winning Works featured four choreographic competition-winning ballets—all by ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists. 

Líneas, choreographed by Edgar Zendejas, is an intricate and stunningly complex piece. Groups of dancers clothed in simple white costumes, weave in and out with one another, as individuals and smaller groups momentarily break from the crowd. The modern presentation is juxtaposed with a classical composition, filled with strings and piano. Tommie-Waheed Evans’s Coup de Grâce is futuristically dynamic and frantically beautiful. Flashing lights, frenzied pas de deux, and drums bring a sense of doom. The ominous atmosphere is ultimately overcome by the dancers uniting together.

Vessels Bearing focuses on rice and the rice bowl being an essential part of Asian culture. Xiang Xu’s ballet uses rice bowls to enhance the production. Dancers bow to the bowls in a circle around a soloist in an unassuming nude leotard. The bowls are slid around the stage, adding to the musical arrangement. Bowls adorn the stage, as the dancers leap around them. To conclude, the soloist moves in a hypnotically robotic way as she exists. Give the People What They Want, by Marissa Osato,  explores humanity’s societal expectations, and how it can be a struggle to conform. Patterned-clad dancers perform together in unison with big smiles on their faces. A soloist struggles against what is expected of her, turning her costume inside-out while she violently moves across the stage. The others attempt to help her to no avail, but ultimately turn their clothing inside out as well.

To learn more about The Joffrey and Winning Works, visit Joffrey.org/winningworks.

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