Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thanks, Maggie!

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Timing.  Timing is everything.  I had been saving the following blog for when the weather got colder since it describes an inside tour.  I thought it would be a good thing for people to do when it was just too bitter to be out in the wind.  And then Maggie Daley died.  I knew immediately what I was going to submit this weekend.

As it has been spoken and written about this weekend, Maggie Daley was a “Champion of Culture”.  She gracefully pushed to have the city infused with it. The building that will host her visitation was high on her list of beautiful importance that deserved to be preserved, renovated, and put to use for the people of Chicago and visitors.  I am happy to give you a visitor’s view…

 Culture: Free for the Taking

Free things are usually classified as “And it was worth every penny.” or     “Wow! That was free!”.  I stumbled upon this free tour while I was in the Chicago Cultural Center the other day.  I actually was there to take the Chicago InstaGreeter walking tour and another tourist recommended this one.  It is a guided 1 hour tour of the Cultural Center building itself.

The building was built for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.  It is a building you might pass on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph when you are at Millennium Park without even really noticing it. But if you look closely enough, it is a real gem of a building that was just days from being bulldozed when it was renovated in 1974.  The building was first built as a library to show the rest of the world that Chicago had class and that they were educated and cultured and not the “aggies” that everyone in New York thought they were.  There is so much marble in the building it will make your head spin.  It reminds me of a lot Rome with the marble and detail in the cathedrals there.  But the real surprise is the incredible amount of the Tiffany glass that is inlaid in the marble on the walls.

In the photo below is a sample of just how much.  If you stand in this particular spot, you can see all 5 floors….of white marble.

The building was days away from destruction, electricity cut off and bulldozers ready, when the first Mayor Daley stopped it and decided then and there to start preserving old historic and beautiful buildings. (History says that his wife, Eleanor “Sis” Daley, and other ladies were behind this…happy wife, happy life.) I cannot imagine what they were thinking when contemplating bulldozing this place.  It is literally full of marble.

The tour is approximately one hour and is full of historical nuggets of information regarding this time in our history, not too long after the end of the Civil War and after the Great Chicago Fire.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and kept the group interested by asking questions. I am the proud owner of much useless information inside this coconut of mine, so I answered some questions.  (You know in school when you are saying under your breath…”When am I EVER going to need to know this stuff?”… on a day like today, that’s when.  If you were wondering what this useless, but prize winning info was… I will brag…What is the the origin of the t-shirt? and What is the pineapple a symbol of?… Rhodes Scholar, I know….and no, I will not give you the answers.  Just like your teachers used to say…”Do I look like an encyclopedia?  Go look it up.”)

I would advise that this tour is not for real little ones.  They might want to poke their eyes out if you bring them along.  Actually, they might want to poke your eyes out if you bring them along.

The domes, yes plural, are amazing.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Rotunda, a tribute to the Civil War, has doors that are this big and overhead are etchings of the battles won.

Since this building originally was the 1st Chicago Public Library, the Preston Bradley Hall has many references to literature and books,

and authors.

And here is another stained glass Tiffany dome from the Preston Bradley Hall.  This is the hall where the books were delivered to patrons.  A downloaded book could never give you the goosebumps this room can give. The day I was there a pianist was giving a free concert playing the most gorgeous music and it really did bring tears to my eyes.

This is the amazing view of Millennium Park from the upstairs window.

The views inside and out are well worth seeing.  (This one falls under the category of “Wow! And it’s free!”)  What a bargain!  No reservations are needed, but the tours are only on certain days of the week.  Best to check the website.  There are free events planned in this building daily.  It is a great inside tour if the weather is snarky outside.  And you just never know when you are going to stumble upon some culture…

like a free concert,

or two,

a soft chair,

or a good bowl of Cajun Corn Chowder.

Go see the Chicago Cultural Center and tip your hat to the Daley women.  The one who saved it and the one who brought it to life.  Thanks, Maggie. Your legacy will definitively live on.

<a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB001937" title="Maggie Daley" href="/topic/politics/maggie-daley-PECLB001937.topic">Maggie Daley</a> toasts the unveiling of the first live floral carpet and the tulip design "Tulipa Maggie Daley" at the <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PEHST000867" title="John Hancock" href="/topic/arts-culture/john-hancock-PEHST000867.topic">John Hancock</a> Center in Chicago. Tulipa Maggie Daley is an elegant, pink lily-flowering tulip that has been years in development. Maggie Daley loves tulips, even carried them in her bouquet when she married that guy who runs the city. She's the first mayor's wife ever to be honored with her own Dutch bloom and joins a select group of other first ladies -- Laura and <a class="taxInlineTagLink" id="PECLB0004543" title="Barbara Bush" href="/topic/politics/government/presidents-of-the-united-states/barbara-bush-PECLB0004543.topic">Barbara Bush</a> and Hillary Clinton -- who have tulips named for them.

Photo Credit: William DeShazer, Chicago Tribune / May 6, 2010  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-maggie050610toast20100506095210,0,5366786.photo

Collin McLoughlin- Not Over You (Gavin Degraw Cover)

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I have been a fan of this singer songwriter for about a year now. Everything this man touches turns to gold. Musically, he can do no wrong. He recently released an EP on itunes called Stark Perspective which you can buy here:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/stark-perspective-ep/id474773756

I can’t get enough of the raw acoustic feel that McLoughlin has that goes along with his great voice. Enjoy your new favorite song!

Plan Ahead: Shop “Small Business Saturday” in a Local Downtown

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Next Saturday, after all of the crazy Black Friday shopping is over, there is a call to arms to head downtown.  (Not “The Downtown” as in the o.b.v.i.o.u.s.l.y. cool phrase for downtown Chicago to make it sound like it is the only downtown you know.)  Not THAT downtown, but head to your local Main-Street-USA downtown and support a local business owner.

Support your neighbor.

You may not have been in a small American downtown in a while, and if not, you don’t know what you’re missing.  You might only shop at Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Nordstrom’s, Kohls…or Walgreens.  (It’s probably best not to tell your beloved that you got their gift at Walgreens though.)

So this Saturday, pick a downtown.  Local if you can, but if you are visiting relatives, go to their downtown. Find a new downtown.  Head West, young man!   Jump on the UP-W and shop Oak Park or River Forest, Elmhurst, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, West Chicago, or Geneva.  Meet the owner and thank them for being there before they thank you for the business.  And support them with your hard earned cash; don’t just eat the free food they’re serving.  We would never want our downtowns to be ghost towns.   They are the best slice of Americana there is.

And if you really want a hometown experience, head south 1 hour over the Mason Dixon Line in Illinois (Interstate 80) to Morris. (Take your passport if you feel the need.) Morris has a fabulous downtown.  Make a day of it.  Have lunch, shop, have dinner and stay for one of the live bands that the bars or restaurants schedule on any given weekend. …55 South to 80 West, you can’t miss it.  Scroll down to see just a few (ok, more than a few) of the shops in this great little town.

American Express is even helping you out with a $25 advance to spend locally.  You just have to “like” them on Facebook and pledge to shop small and they will gift your card.

https://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday

Now get out there and do your civic duty!  Get out of your Big Box Store rut!  No need to “Occupy Anything”.   Black Friday sounds like drudgery, but Small Business Saturday sounds like fun and you don’t even have to go at 3am.   Plan ahead…  shop small, but BUY BIG, and maybe you will find that for the rest of the year you will choose to support these stores, too.

Count the number of times I used the word “downtown” and you could be a winner.  I said “you could”, but probably not. There is actually nothing to win.

Won’t You Be …My Neighbor

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Won’t you please,

Won’t you please…

Please won’t you be, my neighbor.

In the Chicago Tribune last weekend, there was an article about the attraction for retirees to live in a college town.  This is a secret that we have recently been privy to.  We chose Wheaton for easy Metra access for an inbound commute to Chicago for our college son, but we have been pleasantly surprised at the college atmosphere around us.  The beauty of the school is the first thing to notice.  It is a fabulous place for my 70 pound dog to walk me.  She LOVES the unbelievable amount of active, smart, taunting, college squirrels in all of these gorgeous trees. Me and my arm sockets…not so much.  The second perk is the amount of activity the college provides to the community.  This in turn is great for restaurants and business in general.

The school has a long history of excellence.  Wheaton College, known originally as Illinois Institute, was one of the first large occupiers of Wheaton, IL.  The first was the railroad…(I feel so connected).

Who wouldn’t want a neighbor that looks like this…

or this…

or this…

One of the main streets in Wheaton, Blanchard Street, was named for the first college president, Jonathan Blanchard.  He arrived just before the Civil War broke out.  Blanchard Hall, the photo below, is the original campus building.  It was patterned after buildings at Oxford University in England and was built entirely of limestone from Batavia, IL.

And one of their most recent additions is the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.

Besides the typical concerts and sporting events, the best part of a college atmosphere is how active it makes the community feel.  I was in Noodles and Company last night and there was a small group of college kids, (they looked like football players), having a Bible group.  (Not typical in most college or non-college towns.)  There is always a young person running, rolling, or walking past me.  One morning while my dog was walking me, I felt like I accidentally stepped into a 5K…but it was just the number of people up early running.

So whether you are retired or not, living in a college town definitely has it’s advantages.  To check out a beautiful campus, local history or art exhibit, concert or sporting event just take the Metra UP-W to Wheaton College.

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

This college is…a great neighbor.

Death by Cocoa Bean

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If you’ve gotta go, I can’t think of a more pleasant way.  I decided to “take one for the team” and register for a dessert class.  The Cocoa Bean in Geneva was referred to me by my friend, Julie, who reveres their cakes.  Each year on her birthday her sister gives her a whole cake to enjoy all by herself.  No sharing required, unless she wants to.  She does not want a new bag of the season, not a piece of jewelry, not a trip to Vegas, not even a dinner out at a five star restaurant.  She wants a cake.  A whole cake and nothing but the cake.  On second thought, I don’t want to speak for her.  I am sure she would never turn down any of those other aforementioned things, (ahem…Kyle), but this cake must be gooood.

So after hearing this, I knew I had to check it out.  While reading the website I noticed on Sunday afternoons they offer classes, so I jumped on the UP-W line and headed west to Geneva.  It is a little walk when arriving, but Geneva is so beautiful that it is not a sacrifice….and I was going to a dessert class, for heaven’s sake, I could stand to burn a few before and after.  Best surprise of the day…another French Market at the train station!  More on that in the Spring, since this was the last one of the season.

Could this weather be better? I think not. And neither did the gazillion other people enjoying 3rd Street in Geneva.  This street alone could keep this blog going indefinitely.  So many people were out and about loving the weather and the shops and restaurants.

Our class started at 12:00 in the working kitchen of the bakery. For a person like me, that was a great place to be sitting.  Surrounded by ovens, a marble slab counter, small, medium and giant mixers, and every whisk, spatula and gadget imaginable.

We dove right in with a pumpkin mousse and sponge cake roulade.

Think: dessert rolled like a giant Hostess Ho Ho. (I loved peeling and eating those when I was young…I would still love peeling and eating those if it wasn’t culinarily incorrect, which is like politically incorrect only referring to bad stuff we can no longer openly buy in a grocery store and put into our bodies without guilt…shame…and transfats…WHAT? There are no transfats in Ho Ho’s???…putting that on the grocery list for next time.)

This homemade Ho Ho was made with vanilla cake with pumpkin mousse cream filling.  Pastry Chef Paul (owner) made it two ways; layered with a chocolate ganache and also layered with raspberry. Obviously, this was the raspberry.  Dessert #1 in the stomach….this could get crazy.

Next, he made a simple pumpkin bar with homemade cream cheese frosting. Simple and common, but the techniques we learned were very helpful.  How to prevent bubbles, or dense cake, or ugly cutting.

 Dessert #2 in the stomach… Starting to worry.

Next on the list, a pecan torte in a chocolate crust.  I had to stop.  I just could not make myself take a bite of another dessert.  No matter how much the people around me raved…I had to stop.  But you don’t think I just skipped it, do you?  They said at the beginning they would give us boxes to take things home…I am always planning ahead.

Lastly, he made crème brulee in a roasted pumpkin shell.  The presentation was gorgeous, daarling.  Love learning the tricks of the trade.  Roasting the pumpkins with cinnamon and sugar, learning about real vanilla, when to use tempering, and hot water baths.  (Not with bubbles and lavender, silly, as a cooking method.)

The class was informative and filling…need to go run a 5K.   (I should have run the Hot Chocolate 5K in Chicago yesterday, but that might have defeated the purpose since there was hot chocolate,  chocolate fountains and fondue after.)

We were all sent home with boxes of goodies.  This was in the box.  Can you imagine making these thin layers??  There were croissants and pastries from the storefront, samples of what we saw Chef Paul make, a pumpkin with crème brulee, and a serious sugar high.   That won’t deter me from going again, though.  I am much tougher than that.

Their website has the schedule for the rest of the holiday season.  Mark this in your calendar for a must do, just make sure to eat lots of vegetables a for few days before.  It’s all in the training.