Moby Dick opera to debut next week to celebrate Melville birth

(Published April 18, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, staff writer

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.

A guide to the best best brunches downtown

(Published April 1, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Easter Sunday is a day of church service and reflection for some. Besides church, Easter is a great day for brunch with many restaurants offering special brunch menus. Chicago has an array of brunch options, including classics, or something new never tried before, here are the top picks in Streeterville and New Eastside.

Streeterville

Yolk

355 E Ohio St

Eatyolk.com

One of many chain locations throughout the city, Yolk is located at the corner of Grand and McClurg. Open 6am-3pm on weekdays, 7am on weekends. Yolk has plenty of egg-based options, including build your own skillets, scramblers, or omelets. They also have a variety of burgers to choose from, for those who prefer lunch at brunch.

Hot Tip: They are BYOB!  Yolk offers fresh orange juice for mimosas and Bloody Mary mix.

Kanela Breakfast Club

502 E Illinois St

Kanela, open 8am to 3pm every day, is a brunch spot with Greek influences has options for every type of brunchgoer. They have vegan options, like an impossible burger, avocado toast, or chia seed pudding. Their vegetarian options include egg white omelets with spicy feta. For everyone else, they have specialty options like, a pork and jam sandwich and a crab cake benedict.

Hot Tip: Try any of the authentic Greek options, especially loukoumades, which are honey doughnuts!

Beatrix

671 N St Clair St

Beatrixrestaurants.com

Beatrix is an all-day restaurant, which offers breakfast during the week until 11am and brunch on the weekends, 8am-3pm. They have an assortment of brunch cocktails, juices, coffees, and teas. “The New Healthy” restaurant has quinoa cakes, a poke bowl, and a chia cereal bowl.

Hot Tip: They have a bakery and coffee bar for quick fixes. The bakery includes gluten-free options.

Hampton Social

164 E. Grand Ave

Hamptonsocial.com

Newly opened in Fall 2018, Hampton Social in Streeterville has brunch on the weekends 10am to 3pm. Their East Coast-inspired brunch includes clam chowder, yellowtail ceviche, and shrimp tacos. Their terrace is covered for colder days, but will be open once it warms up.

Hot Tip: Make a reservation on OpenTable to secure your brunch spot!

The Signature Room

875 N. Michigan Ave.

Signatureroom.com

Families and friends can enjoy a gourmet brunch buffet and a visit with the Easter Bunny in the sky on the 95th floor. Easter brunch is served from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on April 21 for $80 per adult, and $35 per child aged 4-12, excluding tax and gratuity. Children under the age of three eat for free. Pricing includes one glass of Signature Room Sparkling Wine and choice of soda, juice, coffee, and tea. The restaurant opens for regular dinner service from 6-9:30 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 312-787-9596.

Hot Tip: The Easter brunch at The Signature Room features live piano music, photo opportunities with the Easter Bunny, and a spread of chilled seafood, salad, charcuterie, fresh fruit, soup, and more. Guests have access to a chef-attended carving station, made-to-order entrées, and a dessert buffet.

E.T.A Restaurant and Bar

455 N. Park Drive

Etarestaurantandbar.com

E.T.A., located inside Loew’s Hotel, E.T.A. is a great spot for residents as well as visitors. E.T.A. offers diners a classic, wood-ensconced dining room meant to evoke classic Chicago’s taverns, even while the food is modern, fresh and locally sourced.

Hot Tip: While E.T.A. always offers breakfast lunch and dinner options, for Easter, E.T.A. has a special brunch menu available 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. that’s $45 per person or $17 for children 5-12 and free for kids under 4. Brunch comes with a chance for kids to decorate Easter eggs, a take away gift for the table and a free bloody mary or mimosa.

New Eastside

City that Brunches (NES)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Easter Sunday is a day of church service and reflection for some. Besides church, Easter is a great day for brunch with many restaurants offering special brunch menus. Chicago has an array of brunch options, including classics, or something new never tried before, here are the top picks in New Eastside and nearby.

Eggy’s Diner

333 E. Benton Place

Eggysdiner.com

Eggy’s is a New Eastside mainstay, with an “urban comfort food” tagline. Located in the Park at Lakeshore East, Eggy’s is open 7:30am-3pm. Eggy’s offers a variety of brunch and lunch options, both unique and classic. With a focus on eggs, patrons can order a classic benedict or combo; or enjoy novelties like chilaquiles or breakfast poutine.

Hot tip: The chicken and waffles is a signature specialty that includes a half a fried chicken!

Wildberry

130 E. Randolph Street

Wildberrycafe.com

Wildberry is a popular destination for tourists and residents alike in Prudential Plaza, open every day 6:30am-2pm. There is an assortment of pancakes, crepes, waffles, and French toast to choose from. Waffles can be done gluten free and both savory and sweet crepes are available. Their signature berry bliss includes fresh berries, mascarpone, vanilla anglaise, and blackberry coulis.

Hot Tip: There is often a long wait at Wildberry during peak hours on weekends. Get in line virtually via Yelp, but make sure you arrive 10-15 minutes before your seat time. Sometimes they’re early!

About Last Knife

168 North Michigan Avenue

alkchicago.com

About Last Knife is the restaurant inside the Hotel Julian at Michigan and Randolph with brunch availabilities every day until 2pm. The steakhouse offers timeless steak and eggs, but adds twists like the beef wellington benedict that comes with béarnaise sauce.  

Hot Tip: Enjoy steakhouse classics during brunch times as well—they have beef wellington, filet, or hanger steak available.  

Cindy’s

12 S Michigan Ave

Cindysrooftop.com

Cindy’s, located in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, is a rooftop brunch destination. They have an open-air terrace, with great views of Millennium Park and the lake. Brunch is available on weekends, 10am-2pm. The menu includes platters, which are shareable between 3-4 people. Platter options include pancakes, lox and bagels, and oysters on the half shell.Hot Tip: They have curated cocktails for an alcohol-infused brunch!

Shark research includes regular residents at the Shedd

(Published March 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

This month, as gray skies finally give way to blue, some residents will be sailing around the Bahamas.

It may sound like an ideal vacation—but there are sharks. Lots and lots of sharks. The Shedd Aquarium is taking regular people along on a shark research expedition as part of an ongoing series of citizen scientist projects.

Dr. Steve Kessel, director of marine research at Shedd Aquarium, said the trips are valuable both for science and for the regular people who sign up.

“The participants that join these expeditions get authentic hands-on experiences conducting field research with sharks,” Kessel said. “This includes opportunities to get up close and personal with wild sharks, contributing to the ultimate and very necessary goal of improving shark conservation management.”

The groups are small, about 15 people, and of those, eight are citizen researchers. Kessel said those eight people get so excited by studying sharks that they often turn into citizen shark advocates. Plus, he said, the scientists need the help.

“The inclusion of participants alone makes this specific research expedition possible,” he said. “We get a whole other research trip to an area of the Bahamas that would otherwise go un-surveyed. This will represent a very important spatial data point that will be invaluable in the broader understanding of the shark populations that use the protected waters of The Bahamas, and how we maintain and improve shark conservation in this region moving forward.”

While the trip is fun, it is actual work and Kessel said before anyone signs up, they should be ready to work.  

“People who will get the most out of this trip are those who revel in the opportunity to get their hands dirty and want to contribute important scientific data to Shedd Aquarium’s shark and ray conservation research program,” he said.

A typical research day starts with breakfast and then teams break up for team assignments. Some researchers tag sharks while others take underwater video. Evenings are spent entering data, studding marine samples or learning about sharks and marine ecology. There is an occasional movie night and some days citizen researchers can kick back for a bit.

“This is a research trip rather than a pleasure trip and as such the activities can be quite physically demanding,” Kesssel said. “This isn’t to say that we won’t have any fun, some more relaxing activities are also built in.”

The next research trip will be an iguana study in June.

Check the Shedd’s website, sheddaquarium.org, for details.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Winning Works Showcases Diversity

March 11

By Stephanie Racine

The Joffrey Ballet presented its ninth annual Winning Works showcase over weekend, March 9 and 10 at 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.

A look behind the dye

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Dyeing the Chicago River green is a downtown tradition that spans decades.

Plumbers with the Plumbers Local 130 union began using dye for spotting water leaks and river pollution in 1962, after Mayor Richard M. Daley sought attractions to draw crowds downtown and to the river—which at the time wasn’t developed.

Pat McCarthy, a recording secretary with the Plumbers Local 130 union and the boat coordinator, said volunteers still prepare the dye and sift it by hand into the water.

“We use about 50 pounds of dye,” he said. “It’s a powder and it starts off [as] an orange color. We sprinkle that into a quarter mile stretch of the river.”

The group dyes the same stretch of the river every year—the section separating Streeterville and the New Eastside starting at either Wabash or State Street and following Wacker to the lake. The exact portions of the river that will be dyed are announced closer to the day of.

The dye—whose exact formula remains a mystery—is harmless to fish and other living organisms in the river, and McCarthy said it only lasts a day or a day and a half.

It’s a messy job that leaves volunteers covered in color.

“There’s a lot of cleanup on the boats afterward,” he said.

McCarthy works to coordinate the St. Patrick’s Day parade in addition to his river duties. It’s a busy, dirty and long day for him, but he doesn’t mind.

McCarthy said he’s proud to be involved in the events because he’s a first-generation American. His parents emigrated from Ireland, so being involved with an Irish holiday in the city that adopted his family is a special experience for him.

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like a real Dubliner


By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

While St. Patrick’s Day may be confused for a day of excessive drinking, green beer and general rowdiness in America, Ireland’s national day is celebrated a bit differently in the homeland.

Justin Dolan, vice-consul at the Irish consulate in Chicago, said in Ireland, the holiday honoring the country’s patron saint is a day for family, food and, for some, a church service. While some Irish may drink on St. Patrick’s Day, green beer is only for tourists.

“There’s partly a religious sense to it and it’s our national day as well,” Dolan said. “So some people might go to church or Mass, and some people might have an Irish fry for breakfast.”

An Irish fry could include bacon, sausages and eggs; it is not a light breakfast and not the sort of thing people eat every day.

“It might be the one day they allow it,” Dolan said.

Dolan said larger Irish cities have a noontime parade, but the rivers stay free of dye—as does the beer.

“We don’t dye our river,” Dolan said. “And green beer is something I’ve never seen in Ireland. It might be some of the bars that expect a lot of American visitors offer it. But you might drink a pint of Guinness. It’s not a day for heavy drinking but it does happen.”

While the color green is part of the holiday, Dolan said it’s not ever-present on the holiday, the way it is in the United States.

“In Ireland, yes, people will wear a bit of green but the most important thing is, they wear a sprig of shamrock, a live shamrock they pick from their garden and they wear it on their lapel,” he said.

At its heart, the holiday is about celebrating everyday Irish culture, including food and family.

“It’s got a family focus for sure,” Dolan said. “People in Ireland tend to eat things like bacon and cabbage; that’s the Irish sister of corned beef and cabbage.”

Other popular Irish dishes include kale and potatoes, soda bread and a fish pie, roast beef or an Irish stew.

“There’s no one food (for St. Patrick’s Day),” Dolan said. “It’s a day for eating the best of Irish ingredients. So you might have a beef and Guinness stew with a pint of Guinness. It’s a day for good Irish food.”

Dolan said many Irish bars in Chicago will have some sort of Irish food on the menu for St. Patrick’s Day but the culinary curious can also have a look at the Irish Food Board’s website at bordbia.ie for ideas and recipes.

Here is one recipe, courtesy Bord Bia:

Braised beef in Irish stout

Courtesy Bord Bia

To get our readers in the Irish spirit, here is an authentic St. Patrick’s Day staple. Sláinte!

Serves 4-6                   

Ingredients

  • 1kg shoulder beef, cut into thin slices
  • 1 tablespoon olive or rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, 2 carrots, 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 250ml well reduced beef stock
  • 125ml stout
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 50g butter
  • 75g streaky bacon, diced
  • 100g wild mushrooms, if available, sliced
  • 50g small onions, peeled
  • 25g flour                           

To Cook

Heat the oil in a large pan, brown the meat well. Remove to a pot. Next sauté half an onion, leeks, carrots and celery. Add to the meat along with the garlic. Pour in the stock and stout, season. Simmer gently for approximately 1½ hours. Remove the meat from the pot. Strain the liquid. Discard the vegetables.

Place the meat back in a clean pot, plus the liquid. Sauté the bacon, mushrooms and remaining onion in 25g of butter. Add to the pot. Reheat the lot. Blend the flour with remaining butter. Stir it into the sauce, stirring well. Taste for seasoning.

Serving Suggestions

Serve in a deep dish with buttery mash.

Recipe courtesy of Bord Bia. For more information visit bordbia.ie

[Braised beef in Irish stout is a St. Patrick’s Day staple. Photo courtesy Bord Bia]

Holi celebration set for Navy Pier

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Holi is coming to downtown Chicago.

Holi is a Hindu celebration that runs March 20-21. Navy Pier is hosting a free Holi festival on March 23, from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Aon Grand Ballroom.

Holi is known as the festival of colors and the festival of love.

It is a celebration of letting go of resentments, while playfully dousing others in colored powder or water. Holi begins with the lighting of a bonfire, meant to symbolize the triumph of good over bad, according to the official Holi Festival website.

A number of legends attached to the festival.

The legend that is said to have led to the celebration of colors involves the Hindi god, Krishna becoming jealous of his soulmate Radha’s light complexion, according to the Holi site. Krishna complained to his mother, who told him to color Radha’s skin any color he wished. He did so, and the mischievous act turned into a celebration, and a symbol of love between partners.

“Lovers long to apply color on their beloveds face and express their affection for each other,” the Holi site said.

Navy Pier’s celebration will feature musicians Red Baraat and Funkadesi. There will also be dance performances from groups including Peirce Elementary School and Mandala Arts. Bombay Wraps will sell food and colored powders will be available to be thrown outside in the Miller Lite Beer Garden, as supplies last, until 4 p.m. Visitors may not throw powder inside.

To learn more about the Holi celebration at Navy Pier, visit navypier.org/event. To learn more about Holi, visit holifestival.org.

Buildings go green to show St. Patrick’s Day pride


By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Green river. Green beer. Green buildings. Is Chicago the greenest city in the world?

For the seventh year in a row, the nonprofit group ShamROCK Chicago says yes. ShamROCK Chicago is the nonprofit that works with downtown buildings to go green—to light up at night in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Blair Ciecko, director of branding and communications for the group, said the project is a fun way to promote Irish culture.

The tradition of greening landmarks comes from Tourism Ireland, a nonprofit that works to spread Irish pride around the globe, and dates back 10 years. Chicago’s joins cities worldwide, including London and Sydney who also participate in the greening initiative

Ciecko said the Chicago project is also a bit of competition with Boston—a city famous for its Irish roots.

This year’s greening kicks off March 11 with an event at a Chicago Blackhawks game.

“Prior to the game, in the atrium, were going to flip a big switch to turn the building green,” Ciecko said.

She said building owners are receptive to the celebration and the greening has grown since it started. This year, Ciecko said residents can expect nearly a dozen buildings to go green, including Willis Tower, Soldier Field, the Broadway in Chicago playhouses. Last year Navy Pier joined in and the iconic Ferris wheel lit its spokes in green light.

Ciecko added she hopes the lights get people in the spirit of the season, because even without Irish heritage, there’s a reason to celebrate.

“There’s no political aspect or donation aspect,” she said. “It’s a good way to let everyone know it’s St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.”

“Take some selfies and post them on our Facebook page,” she said. “Or Tweet them at us.”

The greening will run from March 11 to 17.
To find out more about the group, visit shamrockchicago2019.com.

Area businesses lend a hand to help Girls Scouts sell cookies

By Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

Girl Scouts are busy selling their famous cookies all over downtown Chicago while partnering with local businesses that provide warm spaces where scouts can sell extra boxes through the end of March.

Troop 20461, from South Loop Elementary, recently sold cookies at Pinstripes in Streeterville on a blustery Saturday morning. Troop co-leader Angelica Prado helped set up, and fourth grade troop members Mia Prado and Katie Boone sold to Pinstripes customers.

“My favorite part of selling Girl Scout cookies is asking people to buy our cookies,” Mia said. “Even if they say no, they know who we are and they can tell more people about the cookies.”

“I like selling Girl Scout cookies because it teaches me to set a goal and try to complete that goal,” Katie added.

“The girls decide on a cookie goal and work to reach that goal,” Katie’s mom and troop co-leader Aimee Boone, said. Troop 20461 set their goal for each girl to sell 100 boxes of cookies.

At the end of cookie season, the troop can decide what to do with their share of the profits, which is about 90 cents per box.

A portion goes to a charitable donation of the troop’s choice. Troop 20461 will be donating to Mercy Home for Boys and Girls this year. They also vote on something fun to do as a troop, as a reward for all the hard work they do during cookie sales.

Girl Scouts will set up booths at select locations until the end of March. Troop 20461 will be back at Pinstripes, 435 E Illinois St., March 24 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

On March 2, they will be selling cookies at Sod Room, 1454 S Michigan Ave., from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

“Inviting them to sell at Sod Room helps shift the ownership back to the child,” Sod Room owner Cynthia Valenciana said. “That’s hard in today’s climate, and there’s so much power in that.”

For a list of cookie booth locations, dates and times, visit the Girl Scouts’ website, girlscouts.org, and use the “cookie finder” to locate nearby booths.

Tough and hearty, the tradition of tulips along Michigan Ave. celebrate city’s spirit, history

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

All along Michigan Avenue, flower boxes sit, topped with a layer of pine boughs and inches of snow, ice and street salt.

They are as gray as winter skies.

But, buried within the boxes are bulbs—thousands of tulips and hyacinth bulbs—ready to erupt into a riot of color just as soon as the mercury allows.

The seasonal routine began in the early 1990s, an initiative of Mayor Richard M. Daley and business leaders on Michigan Avenue as a way to spruce up the busy thoroughfare. In the decades since, the flowers have become nothing short of a national phenomenon.

In 2016, the American Society of Landscape Architects awarded the city and the Michigan Avenue Streetscape Association its Landmark Award for 20 years of Magnificent Mile blooms.

Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Mike Claffey said the flowers have found fans in cities far and wide. CDOT is now in charge of the planting program.

“Many cities have reached out to CDOT for background on how to launch a similar planting program—including New York City and San Francisco,” Claffey said in an email. “When Gavin Newsom (now governor of California) was mayor of San Francisco, he asked for and was given a tour of Chicago’s tulips on Michigan Avenue and he asked a number of detailed questions about the program.”

Maintaining the 2.3 miles of Michigan Avenue included in the program is a big job.

Claffey said each November the city plants 110,000 bulbs on Michigan from Roosevelt Road to Oak and the southern section where the planters are bigger, from Roosevelt to the river, includes 78,000 grape hyacinth.

Over eight days in November, a 10-person crew of A Safe Haven workers plant the bulbs. A Safe Haven Foundation employs at-risk youth, veterans and people recovering from substance abuse. This year’s tulip varieties are show winner, margarita, orange emperor, double negrita, apricot impression and pretty princess. Later, the beds are covered with pine boughs to protect the bulbs from extreme cold.

The flowers must be chosen carefully, as not too much can survive Chicago’s winters which can be downright arctic, even without polar vortices. But, Claffey said, when the bulbs bloom, usually in early April, it’s a treat for Chicagoans.

“They represent the spirit of Chicago,” Claffey said, adding that the city’s motto is urbs in horto, Latin for city in a garden.

“It’s a way to celebrate another winter is over in Chicago and the toughness of the city,” he said.

By May, however, it is over and the city replants the planters with summer selections. But the bulbs live on.  

“They’re transported to the Garfield Park Conservatory where each year the public is invited to pick up a bag of tulip bulbs in late May for the low, low price of zero dollars,” Claffey said.

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