Wednesday, September 30, 2009

OOOOH! Travelling Art

Chicago Art on Track is happening October 10 from 11am-8pm. You board at Adams and Wabash. The CTA fare is waived for this particular train, but they do suggest a $10 donation.

Who's going with me?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Birthday Viands

One of the reasons I didn't post much last week was that Dave was in town. For my birthday. I was busy having a life instead of reporting on it. But now he's gone and I can resume my exhausting schedule of surfing the internet and writing about things.

And one of my favorite things to write about (and explore!) is food. So let's cut right to the chase and talk about what I ate on my birthday.

The morning started out right with a brunch date with my friend Heather. Heather is like a walking encyclopedia of the amazing places to eat in this town. Plus, she's always interested in trying new things. Which is what we did on my birthday. We decided to try Rick Bayless' new place, Xoco. Um. I don't really know what so say about this experience except that it was so good that I want to go back there and eat ALL THE TIME.

The menu is based on Mexican street food, full of tortas, churros and the like. The tortas come baked or fried, and they are perfect. I had the Cubana, and the beauty of eating someplace run by people who like food was evident right away. I have a dairy allergy, and they not only kept the cheese and cilantro crema out of my sandwich, they marked it dairy allergy in the ordering system, just to be sure the kitchen was clear on it. Even without all the melty, cheesy yumminess, that torta was one of the best things I have ever eaten. Ever.

I also had chocolate with my meal. That's one of Xoco's specialties. They grind Mexican chocolate beans right there and cook them up into these amazing hot drinks... I had the Almondrillo or the Almondrado (I am blanking on the name and it's not listed on the website) which is made with almond milk instead of regular dairy. It was so rich that I had to sip it. One taste filled my entire mouth with a deep chocolate flavor, and it took me a good thirty minutes to get through one small cup. With the torta, it was an indescribable flavor combination. Good, but better than good. So much better than good. Way, way beyond good, tasty, delicious, and any other words you can think of for really, really good food.

They don't do takeout yet, but I understand that day is coming. I'm not sure how my pants size will withstand the draw of takeout Xoco.

So that was the food I started my day with.

I finished my day with a birthday dinner at Uncommon Ground on Devon. Again, magical, amazing food. I can't even tell you what I had because it was all specials. The salad was topped with fried artichoke bits and had an artichoke something dressing-type thing moated with some other really good dressing-type thing, two different types of cherry tomatoes and some other really tasty stuff. On my first bite, several different things happened in my mouth at once. Almost to the point where I couldn't focus on anything else because of the flavors. Lovely.

My entree was the salmon--Columbia River wild-caught salmon--with a corn and veggie mixture, sitting on top of a potato and sauteed onion patty. I told Dave at one point that I couldn't decide what to take a bite of next, though it really didn't matter because it was all so wonderful. I practically licked the plate clean.

And then, because it was my birthday, I got dessert. A chocolate stout cake with a chocolate gelato and some kind of flavored whipped cream. All served separately on a long plate. (One of my cousins used to take charge at family Thanksgiving meals and be sure that no foods were touching on the plates of us youngsters. She would have been pleased by this plate.)

I know I mentioned above that I have a dairy allergy. Eating dairy makes my glands swell and can trigger asthma attacks. But I didn't know this until I was in my early 30's and sometimes I just say "To hell with it." Which is what I did so I could have that dessert. I didn't eat all of the whipped cream, but I did eat all of the gelato. What was amazing was how much better they all tasted when combined than they did as separate entities. I almost licked that plate clean as well.

One of the best parts of the evening, though--I mean, aside from the food, which was hard to top--was our server, Whitney. If all of the staff at Uncommon Ground on Devon are as fabulous as she was, you can't possibly have a bad dining experience there. She was friendly, funny, cheerful and knowledgeable. And she promised to not sing when Dave mentioned that it was my birthday. For that alone, she has my undying thanks. If there's one thing I hate about dining out on my birthday, it's being sung at by a group of servers.

So that's the food I ate to celebrate my luck in surviving another year. Great good fortune indeed, if I was able to live long enough to eat at both Uncommon Ground and Xoco all in one day.

Things you need to know: Xoco is at 449 North Clark Street, though you enter on Illinois. Uncommon Ground on Devon is at 1401 W Devon Ave. Check their websites for hours.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Running Away to the Circus

The Midnight Circus, that is.

My friend Chris called me yesterday to invite me to attend a performance by one of his very favorite ensembles in Chicago. "If you don't absolutely adore them, I will be very sad," he said.

Not a problem, Chris, I do adore them. I could not have enjoyed myself more.

The Midnight Circus is a tremendous group of circus artists with a talent pool so deep that as Chris said, you could see a performance of their every single day and never see the same show twice. They could change up acts and members and still put on a great show. For example, today's performance included a juggler. At the end of his act, the rest of the ensemble formed about three-quarters of a circle around him and juggled with him, exchanging clubs with him all the way around the circuit and back. And they never dropped a club. It was gorgeous.

There are also some amazing contortionists and aerialists, and they invite new artists in to work with them all the time. The Chicago Boyz Acrobatic Team joined them today, just as an example of the high-energy work this troupe produces when they play with other artists. One of the clowns got right in there and played with the group, as they did double dutch with an additional single jumprope.

But the Midnight Circus isn't just people swinging from fabric and dancing on tightropes and doing flying somersaults over each other and playing "Tears of a Clown" on the saxophone while balancing on a ladder (I kid you not, it was awesome). They have heart.

There is a little member of the ensemble. I'd guess he's about four. An articulate four, he made an announcement that was clear as a bell. He's dressed in a much smaller version of the ringmaster's outfit, except he has a bowler instead of a top hat. In fact, he appears to be a much smaller version of the ringmaster, like, maybe, his son. And this child participates in some of the clown routines.

He's obviously rehearsed, he works very hard, and he's got about the level of finesse and polish you'd expect from a four year-old. So he's a little kid and not a "professional quality" performer. Yet. But his family is teaching him the ropes. He clearly understands stage behavior and focus and communication. He's learning the craft of clown and enjoying himself HUGELY. And they bring kids from the audience on stage to participate in his routines too. In simple things, fun things, and it brings a sweetness to a show that would otherwise be lots of "Bam! Pow! Awesome!" Which is perfectly fine, but there's something wonderful about seeing a baby clown work. And seeing his parents love him so much they include him in an enterprise that brings them great joy.

There was a second (very) young performer in the show we saw today as well. The male aerialist's little sister. She was maybe six or seven, and she started out with a little bit of contortion and some acrobatics and then moved on to her main focus, the trapeze. Watching her brother work with her--it was her routine, but he was there to spot her and to support her and to encourage her, and she was so happy to be working with him... Chris and I both got all sniffly because it was so beautiful and loving.

And then there are the dogs. Lola, who has been with the ensemble for a while, and the "recently rescued" Junebug, who was debuting this weekend, I believe. For a dog not trained to the work from puppyhood, she did very well. I don't know how she managed to do all of her tricks, in fact, her tail was whipping around so happily that it was wagging her and should have thrown her off balance. She was joy embodied, despite being surrounded by a crowd of cheering strangers.

All of this says to me that there's a lot of love in this ensemble. It seems to reach out and encompass anyone who comes within their circle. Including organizations like the Chicago Parks Department. Today's shows were benefits to help pay for a playground for Chase Park. The Circus unmistakably see themselves as members of the Chicago community. They support other local artists (witness the Chicago Boyz, with whom one of the Midnight Circus ensemble members has apparently done some training, he was handling the ropes on one end of the double dutch), and they give back to the community when they can. Plus, they bring performers in from other places, like Sweden and Australia and London and Kazakhstan and Russia.

So the love is reason enough to attend a Midnight Circus production. But you also get to see work by artists who are continuing to expand their skill sets. As I mentioned, all of the ensemble members juggle, one of the clowns joined the jumprope, and Chris--who labels himself a Midnight Circus groupie--said he'd never seen the ladder trick before. Good artists are always stretching themselves, and these people apparently do that. Plus, the show is just fun.

If you get a chance to see the Midnight Circus perform, I highly recommend it. Chris says they participate in Chicagoween (they're listed on the website), so that may be your next opportunity. A Midnight Circus performance has energy, thrills, beauty, intelligence and heart. That's a night (or an afternoon) of good theatre, right there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Field Trip

(Honestly, I couldn't help myself. And I'm sure no one has ever made that joke before.)

Yesterday I visited the Field Museum of Natural History. It's a HUGE building crammed with fascinating stuff. And I say that about the bits they have out for you to see. Given what I know about museums, I'm sure there's even more behind the scenes.

For those of you who are interested in such things--and I don't know how you could not find something to interest you at the Field--basic admission to is free on the second Monday of every month, thanks to a generous donation by Target. The free second Mondays program is a great way to get acquainted with the Field, but I know I'll have to go back and probably pay. Which is fine, because I spent about five hours inside and didn't see even a quarter of the stuff they have on display.

This is one of the first things I saw as I approached the musem. I took a picture of the entire building, but it wasn't nearly as impressive as the place looks when you're walking up to it. Anyway, this brontosaurus(?) model is hanging out on the terrace on the west end of the museum. I have no idea whether or how one gets to it, but finding out can be a project for another day.

I love it. I think it looks like a watch dinosaur. I want one of those in my yard.

Below is the facade of the museum. Shortly after I took it, a very nice woman asked me to take her picture on the steps and offered to take mine in exchange. I opted to not use that picture. I look like a walrus in it. Anyway, you'll never, ever guess what the big draw, pay additional exhibit is at the Field right now. There's a teency little clue in the photo, but I bet you won't find it.

Still can't figure it out? I'll give you a hint. It's related to a very popular international holiday that happens to be this coming Sunday. And if that doesn't give you enough of a clue, maybe the fellers hanging out in the next picture will.

I'd just like to take this moment to say that museums have certainly changed over the years. The Field actually offers a fantastic opportunity to see that in action. I could compare the newer exhibits with the older ones, since it doesn't look like they re-vamp already existing displays. When I visited museums as a kid, with one notable exception, they never had the kind of fun, interactive, interesting, creative take on their collections and exhibits that museums seem to now. I LOVE that there are pirates rappelling from the ceiling. I. Love. It.

And I love the fascinating juxtapositions you get when you mix pirates with natural history. Here's Sue. With pirates. Isn't she gorgeous?

A couple of thoughts about Sue, while we're admiring her. She's amazing, I think. And the museum had three different docents standing there, sharing information about her. I'm not surprised, she's a big draw, and a pretty significant treasure.

But she's smaller than I expected. I don't know, I had the idea of a T-Rex all built up in my mind. I was thinking she'd take up two thirds of the main hall. I was thinking she'd tower over me by twice as much as she did.

I think poor Sue suffered from what I refer to as my Stonehenge Syndrome. I call it that because my visit to Stonehenge in 1988 was the first time I experienced the phenomenon. It was one of the out-of-town trips my exchange group took when I was studying in London. As we drove up to it on the bus, almost every student in my group said the same thing. "That's it? I--I don't know. I thought it would be, you know, bigger."

Part of that response could be due to the largeness of the area that is Salisbury Plain, and part due to the fact that Stonehenge had been built up in our minds as this imposing, mysterious place. And it is fabulous and awe-inspiring. But it's also only about half as tall as we were all expecting it to be, thanks to the various films and photographs we'd seen earlier in our lives.

So my response to Sue was a bit like that. The main hall of the Field is VAST. It's HUGE. Sue is a bit dwarfed by the space she resides in. She also suffers by comparison to the dinosaurs in films like Jurassic Park. And, she's been built up as such a fearsome predator that she just didn't seem as big as she by rights ought to be.

Still, though, she's pretty incredible.

This, by the way, is not her head. I know that it's attached to her body, and it looks for all the world like her head, but it's not. Sue's skull weighs about 600lbs., and is thus too heavy to attach to her skeleton. So there's a replica on the body, and her actual head is in a glass case on the second floor. Which is kind of cool, because it's at eye level and you get a better idea of how big it actually is.

There's a whole bunch of interactive stuff up there with the head, but I was tired and hungry by the time I found it, and sped through that part of the museum. I'll be back, multiple times, I'm sure, so there's really no rush. I can't see it all in one visit, so I'm making sure that I really enjoy myself with what I do see.

And now for the Pirates!

Yes, I did indeed fork out the $8 admission fee to visit the exhibit. I hadn't been planning to, but when I saw the pirates rappelling from the ceiling like this fearsome fellow, I had to see it. I'm glad I did.

I took no photographs inside the Pirates! exhibit. You're not supposed to. Nor food nor drink nor photography be allowed, and I'm generally pretty cool about following the rules when they seem to make sense. In this case, I figured it was a contractual thing with the entity in charge of the exhibit (it travels). Plus, as an actor, I'm pretty touchy about people taking/using my image without my consent, so I was willing to abide by their request about photos.

The Pirates! exhibit is pretty cool. It follows the history of the pirate Sam Bellamy and his final ship the Whydah through their lives to their horrible end at the bottom of the sea after running onto a sandbar during a hurricane. It has lots of really interesting information, though I felt like there were some important bits missing. Bits that were significant parts of the storytelling. Like how/where Bellamy came across the Whydah, what happened in their encounter and how he eventually won her. That may have been at a station I missed, but I covered that room pretty thoroughly, and we went from a history of the slave trade, how the Whydah was built and her early route and the cannons and other weaponry found aboard to "Bellamy followed her for three days at sea before he finally caught her."

Wait, what?

The same thing happened near the end. I'm still not sure how long he had the ship before it sank.

However, there were some awesome artifacts in this exhibit. The ship's bell. The remaining remains of the eight year-old pirate John(?) King. The treasure. That bit was probably the singlemost awesome part of my entire trip to the Field Museum. They had the actual treasure, the only actual pirate treasure ever brought up from the bottom of the ocean. In a big glass case you can walk around. AND, a small interactive station where you can touch it. Those of you who know me know how tactile I am. There's nothing like being able to actually get my hands on history. I was all over that stuff. I would argue that was the very best moment of the trip for me.

One anecdote from the exhibit and then we can move on to the other bits I saw yesterday. There's a section that deals with how important certain occupations were in the pirate world, they needed carpenters and armorers, for instance, and would frequently force those people to sign the ship's articles and join the crew. (Other pirates joined freely, it was, all things considered, a fairly democratic enterprise.) Anyway, among those pressed into service as it were were musicians. Because pirates liked their leisure time activities. Including theatre. And drinking.

The story goes that there was a play taking place on board the Whydah. The Royal Pirate. A group of crew members walked into the performance just as the protagonist was sentenced to death. They'd been imbibing, and were unaware that a play was going on. So they leapt to their comrade's defense, lobbing grenades and attacking the assemblage. In the melee, they broke the actor's leg, cut off the playwright's arm and killed a member of the audience.

It must have been a tremendously realistic production.

The Pirates! exhibit is full of interesting facts, fun interactions and great visuals. There is awesome music tailored to each section, there are some great videos. It's so full that I hit my "Can't. Take. In. Any. More. Information." point before reaching the end of it. Though petting pirate treasure snapped me back out of my trance. Briefly.

I think it took me almost two hours to go through. Though that may not surprise anybody who's gone to a museum with me. One of my life's goals is to know everything, so I tend to read all the placards and look at stuff intently for long periods of time and generally dawdle so I can soak it all in before moving on.

Anyway, contrast all of this modern, interactive, exciting approach to history with the way museums used to do it, and you can definitely tell that things have changed dramatically in the past 15-20 years. Fascinatingly enough, you can make that very comparison in the Field Museum itself.

These are masks from the various Northwest tribes. I wandered through this exhibit because I was feeling a bit homesick for the PNW, and the native artwork always grounds me. Don't ask me why, I do not know. I only know that while the big stone statues at the International Museum of Surgical Science creeped me out, the towering totem poles from the Coastal Tribes made me feel all safe and at home.

(Interesting side note here: Not only is there a really big Pacific Northwest tribal collection on display at the Field, but the Shedd Aquarium, right next door has revamped their largest exhibit to mimic the Pacific Northwest coast. So when I feel homesick, I can go to either and get my fix. I wonder if the display at the Shedd is as cold as the Oregon and Washington coasts are.)

Anyhow, compare the above photo with the music, videos, sets and interactive stations of the Pirates! exhibit and you'll see what I mean about how things have changed as far as how museums display their collections. It's even more obvious if you go through the Plains and Southern Tribes section, though the Platte Earth House is a modern and notable exception.

I just realized how very, VERY long this entry has become. I wound my way through one other section of the Field yesterday in the five hours I spent there, Ancient Americas. But I have a whole bunch to say about that, so I think I'll save it for another time. Maybe even tomorrow.

I'm going to wrap up by saying that the Field Museum of Natural History is well worth the time and money you spend to go there. There's way more than anyone can see in a single visit. I made it through three exhibits, and there are easily four times that many in the building.

Things you should also know: The museum is open 9am-5pm daily except Dec. 25. There are several price packages available, depending on which special exhibits you wish to see, and special prices for Chicago residents every. single. day. So you don't have to wait until Second Monday to get a discounted admission. But Second Mondays are free.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gold Coast Adventures

This is the Charnley-Persky House, at 1365 N. Astor in the Gold Coast. Can I just say that the air in that part of town feels like money? I've decided I want to live there. AND, I want to learn how to put on the air of entitlement that emanated from a woman who walked her dog past us while we were waiting.

Heather and I decided to tour the Charnley-Persky house this past Wednesday for a number of reasons. 1) She wanted to see it. 2) Once I knew it existed, I wanted to see it too. 3) It's right around the corner and a bit from the International Museum of Surgical Science, which I wanted to visit to see their anatomical illustration exhibit. 4) It's free on Wednesdays.

That's right, on Wednesdays at noon, the first fifteen people get a free tour of the house by a Society of Architectural Historians-trained docent. Be sure to get there early, because they really do ONLY let fifteen people in. And make sure you keep your place in line. You don't want to get pushed out by a couple of entitled rude people like some of our fellow waiters-in-line did. We both got there around 11:30--after agreeing to arrive no later than 11am--and were third and fifth in line. (I was a teeny bit later than Heather.) Depending on the time of year, you shouldn't have to get there much earlier than that.

There's lots more information on the website, so I'll just tell you that the Charnley-Persky House is architecturally important because it signaled the rise of modern architecture from the frou-frou so enjoyed by the Victorians. There are much better pictures than the ones I took here. I suspect this photographer was neither rushed nor trying to shoot around fourteen other people in the house's cramped interior. And it is cramped. Especially since the light well, while beautiful and innovative, takes up a large chunk of the useable space in the house's interior. Right in the middle of all three floors.

The house is also significant because Frank Lloyd Wright worked as a draftsman on it, and Louis Sullivan was the designer. It's one of the only remaining buildings that was a result of their collaboration.

You can definitely see the beginnings of the Prairie School in the kind of detailing and the lines of the building both inside and out. It was an interesting tour, though Heather and I both agreed that at 45 minutes it was about fifteen minutes too long, and that we were glad we took the free tour. (There are also longer tours that include a visit to the Albert F Madlener Residence at various times on Saturdays--check the website--$10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors.)

These beauties are on Schiller, just around the corner from the Charnley-Persky House, and I insisted on snapping a picture. Because they are lovely and I wouldn't mind squatting in one. I suspect they're a bit beyond my price range, however. But aren't they GORGEOUS? And all individual.

Then it was on to the International Museum of Surgical Science*. I HAD to get a picture of the sculpture outside. The sick person looks like he has no bones, and the surgeon's face suggests he will heal the sick man, though he's a bit grumpy about the imposition.

I was a bit annoyed to discover that the museum had a $10 entrance fee, as that seemed a bit excessive. HOWEVER. That fee covers all four floors of the museum and it took us two hours to go through it. The education (and entertainment) we derived from the visit was definitely worth $5 an hour.

There is so much interesting and horrifying stuff in the museum that I can't really begin to describe or catalogue it for you. It's very usefully arranged by either category or country. There was the apothocary diorama on the first floor (AWESOME). The Hall of Immortals on the second floor. (Great big statues of important figures in medicine, including the guy who figured out that maybe maternal mortality rates were connected to students dissecting dead bodies and then going straight into the delivery rooms where they would put their hands in laboring women without washing. Important people like that.) Rooms displaying certain countries' contributions to medicine and things like the nursing room, the x-ray room and the pain management rooms on the third and fourth floors. (Note to the curators: You might want to provide translations of the placards in all of the rooms, not just the rooms about South/Central America and Spain.)

There was way too much to take in, but some of the high(low?)lights include: an assortment of amputation instruments including a breast amputation fork (I don't want to know); an iron lung; a collection of gall, kidney, bladder and uterine stones that were actually kind of cool looking, as in they might make nice jewelry cool looking; numerous large, creepy busts and statues (and some large, occasionally distressing murals); a discussion of how keeping surgical instruments in pretty silk and velvet cases led to sepsis and yet people didn't figure that out for the longest time; and ancient Roman speculums for vaginal examinations (um, NO THANK YOU). As Heather said, it was an "awesome combination of fascinating and horrible."

We finally got to the anatomical illustration exhibit I wanted to see, all the way up on the fourth floor, and I was, frankly, underwhelmed. It was mostly computer-driven, and I'd been hoping for hand-drawn illustrations, which I love and find soothing. Plus, I'd pretty much filled up with information and images by the time we got through the entire rest of the museum, and to pique my interest at that point would have required something extraordinary.

Which we found in the very next room.

Pareidolia by Vesna Jovanovic

This was art. Amazing, incredible, anatomical art including a self-portrait (Timekeeper, 2007) involving body scans, gears, wings and tentacles that is breathtaking in its beauty, meaning and self-revelation. That exhibit may have been worth $10 all by itself, even though there were only twelve images. At less than $1 per image, that's cheap for the delight you'll find there. (And if you go on Tuesdays, admission to the museum is free.)

One other interesting tidbit about the museum. It is an almost exact replica of Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, because the original owner adored Marie Antionette and her father had the house built for her as a wedding present. It's not an exact replica because it's a story taller, but otherwise it's supposed to be pretty close. Which is astonishing because I thought Le Petit Trianon would have been more cottage-like, if you get my meaning. I mean, wasn't that where Marie Antionette went to play shepherdess? And this building isn't remotely like a cottage, not in size, scale or shape. Though, as Heather pointed out, it would indeed look like a cottage when compared with, say, Versailles.

Anyway, if you get off on medical stuff, and take a kind of perverse joy in the slightly gross (like we do), this is a museum you should visit. There's a lot of really great information here. We both learned a ton, though I'd like to unlearn some of it now, please.

Here's the important information: The International Museum of Surgical Science is at 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive. Admission $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, free on Tuesdays. Check the website for hours because they appear to be seasonal.

*(I'm only following the printed material when I write it this way. The museum is specifically designated International Museum of Surgical Science on every single piece of paper I saw. And also on the website.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Quick Note About Brunch

8:35am Saturday Phone rings.

Becca: You awake?
Sally: Yes.
Becca: Can you drive me to Costco? I'll buy you breakfast.
Sally: Yes.
Becca: Okay. So get in your car and come right now.
Sally: Let me brush my teeth and put in my contacts.
Becca: Okay.

Breakfast? Was at Over Easy on Damen. Go. Now. It doesn't seem to matter what you order. It's all good. All of it.

I had the Salsiccia Breakfast Sandwich and Becca had the Dark Cherry Peach Cobbler French Toast which are both weekly specials and which we reluctantly shared with each other because, DAMN. TASTY. She says that when she and her husband go, they usually order one sandwich and one sweet breakfast thing and then split them both, so that everybody gets as much goodness as possible.

The service was fantastic, my water glass and coffee cup never got below half full, and everybody was really cheerful.

Best moment. A small person, probably two or three, wandered back to the wooden eggs on the wall, and then, when asked to by his father, told the eggs good-bye. "Bye, eggs!" he said, at least twice.

Seriously. Go. Now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I'm trying really hard to not just write about food, but I suspect that's going to be a primary focus of this blog. Because, DUDE, the food in this city is amazing. I remarked to a couple of people yesterday that I cannot believe how lucky I am. I live in a city where I don't ever have to eat at the same place twice, unless I want to. Considering where I came from, that realization is liberating.

BUT. I'm not going to write just about food in this entry. Even though I am eating some incredible pastry thing from one of the bakeries on Clark St. in Rogers Park. It will be difficult, but I plan to be strong.

The plan for today was to write about the Chicago Jazz Festival, which I attended with friends on Friday evening. But I didn't listen to the music much (SHAME on me!), for which two factors are primarily responsible:

1) I went with friends who are such interesting people that we mostly ate and chatted and used the music as a really nice background.

2) The music didn't move me as much as I expected it to. Which is shocking, considering we're talking about jazz.

The Trio was playing when we got there, and I really, really, really don't like free jazz, much as I try to. It simply leaves me cold. So talking was less painful for me than trying to focus on what the artists were doing.

Then Madeline Peyroux was up. And while I liked her sound, I'm not particularly into female vocalists. In any genre. There are a few I like, Peyroux is well on her way to becoming one, but for the most part, I just don't enjoy hearing female voices sing. I'm not even sure that's something I can train myself out of. It's a fairly visceral response. So once again, talking was the preferable option.

So that by the time the people I was excited about seeing--the Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quintet--hit the stage, I was fully in conversation mode. Plus, I was talking about the show I'm working on, which is always going to be more interesting to me than anything else going on in my vicinity except food and perhaps naked people, and it was too chilly for the latter last night.

I intended to provide photographs from the evening, because I took my camera and everything, only I forgot to take pictures until it was too dark for the little digital point and shoot to handle. Which made me sad, because the full moon rising on one side of Grant Park and the gorgeous lit skyline on the other side were well worth photographing in the clear air we had Friday night.

But I will say this. The fact that Chicago has a free three-day outdoor jazz festival--playing on three stages at once, mind you--blows me away. It's a beautiful thing. How lucky are we to live here?

Now, about the food. What? You didn't think I was going to be able to refrain, did you? Not a chance, when these pastries are so good.

These wonderful things are from Panaderia Ayutla on N. Clark St. Oh. My. God. I set out to find the best pastries in the neighborhood, and even though this is the first bakery I've hit, they are already a strong contender. Because the pastries are amazing. And, this plateful was LESS THAN TWO DOLLARS. I now have visions of throwing a BYOB--bring your own breakfast--potluck brunch and making this my contribution. Because. So. Good.

Pastry. It's what's for dinner.

So there you are. Jazz and food. And friends. Really, what more does a person need to be happy?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Andersonville: Round One

A bonus post! To make up for being so late with Sunday's.

After yet another day of doing lots with very little to show for it at the end, I hopped back on the 22 Clark bus and headed down to Andersonville to meet my friend Heather. We've decided, you see, that as long as I don't have a job and she has Wednesdays off, we should make them date days. It's a great opportunity for us to spend some time together and to explore the city at the same time. Tonight, she had a rehearsal, and she spent the day recovering from her move, so we met up in Andersonville for a brief walking tour and dinner.

Andersonville has Swedish origins which bubble to the surface with places like the Swedish bakery and the Swedish American Museum. But it's also a fabulous little area for shops, restaurants and overall coolness. I had noticed it on the bus when we rode through on Saturday and knew I wanted to venture there eventually. I hadn't realized eventually would come so soon.

In researching what we might do there, I discovered that Andersonville has a website, which is not only where I discovered their farmers' market is on Wednesday evenings, but also that they've organized a civic effort to support all of the lovely little businesses in the area. Andersonville 20/20 is a community-based initiative in which residents are challenged to spend $20 a week in a local business. That's all. But if everyone who lives there does that, the whole area wins. According to the website, they've already brought $120K into the community that wasn't there before. Or at least not spent there before. That's the way to keep a neighborhood alive.

And thanks to the Andersonville website, I've also got a handy list of activities and locales I want to explore further.

Our first stop (once I got off the bus) was at the farmers' market. It's small, just one block, but they had some fantastic looking produce and some jam that was to die for. I didn't get any, but if they're there the next time I go, I definitely will. Chocolate raspberry, if you can even imagine, and that was only one of several. Heather tried the lemon blueberry and said it was yummy too.

I did, however, get some berries, having fore-armed myself with plastic tubs for carrying easily squished produce home with me. And they worked perfectly. Three pints of berries (rasp-, black- and blue-) fit easily into two large Glad disposable containers and made it home Just Fine. They're in the fridge now, waiting for their time tomorrow morning when they will become a crisp. Mmmm...

Speaking of food, dinner was at La Cocina de Frida, where I discovered the joys of cinnamon in sangria (who KNEW it could be so good?) and had tilapia on their gorgeous patio. It reminded me of the rooftop garden of the hotel I stayed in on my last night in Cabo back in 2002, when I went there to work on a sea turtle recovery program (one currently battening down the hatches in the face of Hurricane Jimena). Lush and green and alive, with falling water, it is the patio I dreamed of during the long years in Moscow where no such place exists.

And then we wandered back out onto the street and eventually ended up right next door at A Taste of Heaven for dessert. Where I had the raspberry brownie. Oh. My. God. So. Good. Also, too much for one person to eat in one sitting, I should not have, but I did. I also had coffee because it was Free Coffee Wednesday, which is a major selling point if ever I've heard one, even though the baked goods should bring you in all by themselves.

The Andersonville community has a really hip vibe to it which was even more charming on the street than it appeared to be from the bus. I'll be back to wander Andersonville again when I have a bit more time. Certainly I'll be back for the Farmers' Market. But I'll also come back just to explore Andersonville.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Two Worlds: Green City Market & Blackstone Branch Library

Originally this post was going to be solely about the Green City Market. I started writing it Saturday morning, on the Clark 22 bus as I rode towards Lincoln Park. But then my phone rang. My friend Rebecca wanted to know if I was busy that afternoon because she and her husband and mother were going to be traveling to Hyde Park to see some recently restored murals in a library there. I thought it sounded interesting, so I said yes. And then I went back to writing.

Green City Market
This seemed like a good place to begin my forays into my new life here. I mean, a girl needs to eat and all.

The Green City Market is, as the website says, Chicago's only year-round farmers' market. It's held every Saturday (7am -1pm in summer, 8am-1pm in winter) in Lincoln Park. In the summertime, the market is outdoors near the South Pond between N. Clark & Stockton Drive. In the winter, it's held in the South Gallery of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

This market is one of the top ten farmers' markets in the country, so you can imagine how excited I was about going. I was expecting to be impressed. Turns out it's not that different from Moscow's farmers' market, which surprised me. There's certainly more food available than in Moscow, and you can get elk, lamb, beef and pork there, as well as milk. I had some wonderful apple cider donuts fresh out of the fryer, but other than that, the diversity of the clientele and the lack of social awareness booths, it was pretty much like Moscow's market, right down to the live music. Just bigger.

The bus trip took an hour, and I had to carry back anything I bought, so I was fairly circumspect with the purchasing. I got an eggplant, some green bell peppers, some garlic and some onions. The soup I made yesterday and the spaghetti sauce I made this evening both have the Green City Market to thank for their existence.

In fact, I would have to say that the bus trip was the best part of the entire morning. I opted to go by bus rather than by train because I wanted to see more of the city. I need know how Chicago is put together, and the bus gave me a really great sense of what goes where, simply by traveling down Clark St. from Rogers Park to Lincoln Park and back again.

I do plan to visit the Green City Market again this Saturday, and I'm going to be better prepared. There were lots of berries that I couldn't buy because I had no way to transport them safely, but thanks to a suggestion from my mom, I'll be stuffing my backpack with tupperware wannabees to haul all those berries home. There are crisps to be made and fruits to be frozen for winter smoothies.

The Blackstone Murals
Chicago's first branch library, the Blackstone Memorial Branch Library in Hyde Park, opened in 1904. Its fortunes have fluctuated over the century plus since then. When it was built, the marble foyer, mahogany furniture and the Oliver Dennett Grover murals all attested to its importance to the culture. The original cost of the building was $250,000. Renovations and updates within the last 10-15 years have cost around $800,000. But there are some things that require that kind of monetary care, and a library this beautiful is one of them.

Don't you think every library should be lit this way?

That's my friend Rebecca and her husband, by the way. I don't know who the guy in red is.

You can already tell from the exterior, I think, that this library is going to be something special. And you know that for sure when you walk into the entry dome and look up.

The murals were restored just recently. In fact, there was a presentation on the process last night at the library. If I hadn't had stupid technical issues getting these images off my phone, you would have had advance notice about it. Sorry. Next time I'm taking a real camera. Anyway, bear in mind that these are indeed phone pictures while looking at them. And consider heading to the library to look at the murals in person. They're well worth it.





Everyone we spoke with on staff was very helpful. The head librarian even let us look at a scrapbook of the library's history. It's a beautiful place, a once upon a time temple to the importance of reading. Thank goodness someone thought it was worth preserving. And judging from how busy it was while we were there, half an hour before closing on a Saturday, the neighborhood thinks it's worth using.