Why does Chicago smell like dessert?

Late one night last year, as I walked home from the State and Lake train station, I encountered a mystery that I have only recently solved.

As I made my way across Michigan Avenue, I smelled the alluring scent of chocolate brownies. I remember thinking, “Some nearby bakery is getting an oddly early start on the day.” But as I continued my walk up the hill to Columbus Avenue, then back down into Lake Shore East Park, the sweet scent (seemingly impossibly) lingered.

Even the irresistible scent of Garrett Popcorn’s Chicago Mix only emanates a block or so from the store. How had this chocolate fragrance followed me for a half mile? Had I accidentally dipped my sleeve into a chocolate fountain?

No. I checked. Unsure of what had transpired, I was at least happy that for one shining moment, Chicago smelled like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

A short time later, the delicious perfume struck me again as I strolled down the Riverwalk. I smiled with glee as I walked, the scent following me all the way to Merchandise Mart – in fact, growing perceptively stronger along the way.

Chicago had become Choco-Land; not some bleak big city with open sewers and pollution, but a wondrous fairyland of desserts and decadent calories.

My childhood was spent in residences near paper mills and horse farms – never have I lived in proximity to such a pleasing bouquet of smells. But what was the source?

A little Internet sleuthing gave me the answer. The incredible aromatic perk bestowed upon our neighborhood emanates from Blommer Chocolate Company, located just northwest of the Loop.

When the chocolate is being made, and the winds blow in from the west, our world becomes a heavenly place to dwell.

— Matthew Reiss | Community Contributor

Joffrey Ballet’s “Winning Works”

I attended opening night of the Joffrey Ballet’s 7th Annual Winning Works program on Sunday, March 13, at the Harold Washington Library’s Cindy Pritzker Auditorium.

Winning Works is a program designed to promote diversity in the dance community. The show featured four performances, each created by a different choreographer. Each performance included a video introduction, in which we saw the dancers in rehearsal, and heard each choreographer’s vision.

The first performance, Scend, was perhaps the closest to classical ballet — beautiful to watch and inspiring to see the amount of technical skill on display.

The second piece, Moonlight, featured Debussy’s Clair de Lune; the lead dancers commanded the stage for this performance, evoking an ethereal quality, and a sense of longing.

Hopeful Undertones explored the heightened emotions of adolescence, the performance feeling very much like a high school hallway before first bell.

And my favorite piece, Suite Hearts, rounded out the evening — a high energy, lightning fast ode to flirting.

Winning Works is an engaging program that reminds us of the power of dance to express emotion without saying a word.

Matthew Reiss has been a Lakeshore East resident since 2007 and a New Eastside News writer since 2015. He married his true love at the Blackstone Hotel and earned a law degree from the University of Kansas, but prefers to spend his evenings onstage, performing and directing for the local comedy group, The Stuntmen.

Food (or lack thereof) for thought

Normally in this column I go pretty light and try to find some of the humor in our daily New Eastside activities. “He who laughs lasts” has always been one of my guiding principals. But not this month. In our city’s coldest hours, I take a slightly different tone.

It started innocently enough on a chilly, but otherwise bright and sunny, Saturday afternoon stroll down Michigan Avenue. I observed something that made me uncomfortable, a sight that I am sure many of you have seen numerous times.

What I saw  was a group of Chicago citizens sitting on the pavement in the cold weather, clearly homeless, looking for any kind of handout of food or money.  Another group was right next to them — and I mean literally right next to them — dining inside a nice restaurant, separated only by a thin pane of glass.

They were less than a stone’s throw away from each other, but as far as lifestyle and circumstance, they might as well have been miles apart.

No moralizing here, it is just an uncomfortable observation.

On a related note, I was more than pleased to read New Eastside News’ recent story about New Eastside for Charity, an organization dedicated to helping the area’s homeless population, founded by a group of our neighbors.

The organization has already had one successful clothing drive.  Here’s to hoping that with the help of many of our readers, this organization will grow and progress over the years — maybe  even to the point where, in the future, that thin pane of glass won’t separate us as much.

Cohn-Fucious quote for the month: “It is better to light one candle, than to curse the darkness.”

A moving experience

reiss001-01I have lived in Lakeshore East for a decade, all of it in the same apartment building, until last month.

For most of you, November 2, 2016, will long be remembered in Chicago lore as the day the Cubs finally won the World Series. I shall also remember that date as the day I chose to move from one Lakeshore East apartment building to another.

I took a vacation day for the occasion, which seems absurd in retrospect, because it was the hardest working “vacation” I have ever taken. It was a full-day affair, moving out of one apartment into a second apartment, then coming back to the first apartment to clean it and turn in the key before midnight. By the end, I was an unpleasant emotional mélange of crabby and giddy from packing fatigue and physical exhaustion.

As my wife and I worked late into the night, we kept track of the Cubs game through the reactions of the only other people using the elevators — a horde of pizza delivery folks. They all had the game on in their vehicles and gave me updates upon request.

moving_truckWe finished just as the Cubs were forced into extra innings. I had no TV and I was too tired to go anywhere, so I tracked the box score on my phone. But I didn’t need the phone to know when the game was over. Ecstatic shouts, car horns and sirens erupted in a jubilant symphony.

I was elated that the Cubs were finally victorious, that the move was over — the only casualty being the mysterious disappearance of our cat’s miniature playhouse, which got lost in the shuffle — and that we could finally go to sleep in our hastily constructed bed.

If I had known that the Cubs’ fate was dependent on me moving, I would have done it years ago.

Matthew Reiss has been a Lakeshore East resident since 2007 and a New Eastside News writer since 2015. He married his true love at the Blackstone Hotel and earned a law degree from the University of Kansas, but prefers to spend his evenings onstage, performing and directing for the local comedy group, The Stuntmen.

— Matthew Reiss

Christmas every four years

cohn0001b-01This month, “Coach’s Corner” travels into dangerous territory that will no doubt reduce my popularity with the 12-and-under crowd. Yet, due to its importance, I persist. The risky topic of December’s column is making Christmas, and the entire holiday season, like the Olympics by celebrating them every four years instead of every year.

Now, before I present my clearly lost and hopeless case — and before you suggest renaming the column “Grinch’s Corner” — let me first state that I love the holiday season. I truly do.

The decorations, the family gatherings, Christmas music, the cheerful holiday spirit, the gift giving, office parties and all the trimmings are splendid. Indeed, some of my greatest memories as a child were of Christmas mornings, coming down the stairs and seeing all the presents under the tree. Those memories still give me goosebumps.

the_grinchSo, no: it is not due to a dislike of the holidays that I suggest the once-every-four-year “Olympic” idea. It is more the sad reality that, as you get older and time goes by faster, the holiday season simply comes too often.

This month, our beautiful New Eastside will be all decked out in holiday regalia. The Santa sightings and the Mag Mile shops and the condo parties will deliver some holiday cheer, but, for many of us, the relentless “here it comes again” feeling will pervade.

How special it would be — with the anticipation and the wait of four long years — when Christmas season finally arrives. We would really be celebrating! Buying gifts, sending cards, attending parties, cooking, and gathering with the family would be truly special.

Anyone with me here?  Christmas once every four years instead of every year?  Anyone?

Maybe I will present this to our local alderman. That is, if I can get past the legion of angry 12-and-under protestors.

Jon Cohn is a native Chicagoan. He has worked as a high school coach, youth coach, recreational director and sports official. He has been a radio and TV sports announcer for many years.

Besides the New Eastside News, Cohn writes a weekly sports column for a suburban paper and has completed his first book, Stuff, People Might Want To Know (From Someone Who Really Shouldn’t Be Writing A Book).

— Jon Cohn

Afternoon tea, an Autumn respite


As the days get shorter and the air gets colder, you may be tempted to tuck into one of the gorgeous hotels along the sprawling Magnificent Mile for afternoon tea. Great idea, but do you know proper high tea etiquette? Let’s look at some often-overlooked fundamentals.

Always tea first, and then cream.

Back in the day, the upper classes were the only ones who could afford the fine China capable of withstanding hot tea poured before cream, which was used to buffer the impact. The lower classes, particularly the service classes, used inexpensive pottery that would shatter if hot tea was poured directly into it.

Never put your pinky finger out while sipping the tea.

I’m not sure how this affectation took root, but it’s bad manners. We’re drinking tea, not liquid gold. No need to make a horse and pony show of it.

Don’t stir like a hurricane.

Proper etiquette is to take your spoon and stir the sugar by moving the spoon from six o clock to twelve o clock and back and forth again. We don’t want to swirl or churn the tea, and we especially don’t want to clink the silver spoon into the fine china.

Never place your hand on the saucer.

When we’re having tea, we want to hold the cup and saucer together and place our hands under the cup. Never put the hand on top of the saucer to stabilize it unless you feel you are about to drop something.

Respect the dress code.

Most afternoon tea reservations will require a dress code of you. The best guideline is to dress in business casual at the very least. Jeans are often tolerated, as long as they are smart-looking and of a darker wash. Flip flops will be towed at the owner’s expense.

Mischaela Advani is an international etiquette expert whose knowledgebase includes instruction from protocol instructors formerly employed by the Royal Household of HRH Queen Elizabeth.

Keep your head on a swivel

I heard a football coach recently talk about a lesson he imparts to kids, and it hit the nail on the head for living in today’s unpredictable world.

His advice? Have fun. Live your life as you wish, but always “keep your head on a swivel.” To appreciate the beauty of that wisdom, let’s discuss what it means.

In football terms, it refers to an offensive lineman who gets down in his stance and — right before the play — turns his head left, then right, then left again and maybe right yet again, all the while searching for unexpected moves by the defense.

tom-brady-new-england-patriots-nfl-oyo-sportstoys-minifigures-12Coaches teach their players to consider all possibilities and advise them to keep their heads on a swivel. Their bodies must remain motionless to avoid a penalty. As in football, so in life.

We all know that things can be pretty dangerous out there these days. You don’t want to live life in fear; but on the other hand, awareness can go a long way toward avoiding trouble — sometimes of the serious variety.

In restaurants and stores, know where a second exit is, just in case.

Walking down an empty street, look around occasionally, just to make sure no one is following you.

At a concert or sporting event, keep eyes and ears open for anything a little suspicious. Sometimes it requires not much more than looking around and checking out the surroundings.

Repeat above recommendations for outdoor parks or public buildings.

Crossing the street when the light signal indicates walk is an exceptionally important occasion. I notice a lot of people see the walk signal and put their heads down and proceed to meander across a busy street, often while looking down at their cell phones.

Your friendly coach here doesn’t need to tell you that there are lots of “distracted” drivers out there.

When you cross an intersection don’t assume cars are stopping. Despite warnings and training, many behind the wheel continue to text or check emails while driving. All it takes is one distracted driver who doesn’t see a red light and we have big trouble.

Finally, you don’t want to go through life paranoid and devoid of spontaneous enjoyment, but “keeping your head on a swivel” is a good habit.

As Cohn-Fuscious would say: “If you are busy rowing the boat, you don’t have time to rock it.”

The Joffrey Ballet’s “Romeo & Juliet”

rj000003In a riveting and passionate rendering of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the dancers of The Joffrey Ballet displayed raw emotion and palpable tension, beautifully and artistically weaving romance and tragedy into this twentieth-century version.

Taking place in roughly three periods in Italian history — Mussolini’s 1930s, the rise of the Red Brigade in the 1950s and Berlusconi’s rule in the 1990s — the production layers in austere-looking videos with minimalist set pieces. By the second act, the black-and-white aesthetic gives way to a warmer color palette, lending the production a more familiar and sensuous feel.

Bonus: Look for real-life couple Dylan Gutierrez and Jeraldine Mendoza in the title roles 10/15, 10/20 and 10/22.

Until 10/23.

— Angela Gagnon / Tricia Parker

Halloween etiquette: a cultural perspective

MISCHAELA3-01Halloween is one of my favorite holidays personally. Busy office hours, social engagements, and the gravity of life give way to a holiday in which everyone can be a kid again for a day. Fanciful costumes and seriously sweet treats abound — and you can be an angel or a devil depending on what color of marabou you pick out.

However, as with all things, there is a certain set of etiquette to follow.  Here are my guidelines on how to behave during the witching hours.

Make sure your costume is culturally appropriate.

Every year there are always a bevy of culturally and racially insensitive costumes online and at every costume shop. It’s up to the consumer to use good judgment. The shock jocks among us might just be gunning for the shock factor, but please consider the feelings of others. Embodying a stereotype or joke at their expense, if even for the day, is bad manners.

gg-designs-embroidery-happy-ghost-applique-powered-by-cubecart-lqshpg-clipartIf trick or treating, follow protocol.

If you’re going trick or treating, please follow the standard universal rules. Only go to homes or apartments with the porch light on, don’t take more than one piece of candy unless invited to take more, and definitely don’t walk anywhere that isn’t a pathway or driveway unless specified. Be a good Halloween citizen, this way your neighbors and friends are encouraged to participate year after year.

Understand other cultural traditions.

The day after Halloween is the beautiful Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This is not “Mexican Halloween,” despite how your fraternity or sorority positioned it to you back at university.

Dia de los Muertos is an occasion when Mexicans and the Mexican diasporic populations take time to visit the graves, vaults, or resting places of their relatives and ancestors to give them an offering of food for their spiritual journey and take time to remember them. On the night of the 31st, celebrants prepare items for the deceased children who will be coming back.

Respect the Mexican culture and sacred elements by avoiding masquerading around the city in a bustier and your face painted as a Mexican sugar skull.  Save it for your wedding night, Mildred.

Mischaela Advani is an international etiquette expert whose knowledgebase includes instruction from protocol instructors formerly employed by the Royal Household of HRH Queen Elizabeth. She happily resides in Lakeshore East with her husband and English Bulldog.

Sitting is the new smoking

Against all odds,  “Coaches Corner“ is back! The early line was one-and-done, so we’ve exceeded expectations.

A special thanks goes out to our New Eastside editors and their apparent,  but appreciated, lapse in judgment.

Now, on to our topic this month — and I hope you are not sitting down when you read this.

Recent studies suggest that too much sitting is bad for your health.

I heard one expert say it in rather striking terms: ”Sitting is the new smoking.” Bad for the heart. Bad for the digestive system. Bad for blood circulation. To sum it up: just plain bad.

Now don’t take this personally, but sometimes we acquire activity-challenged habits without thinking. No worries, Coach’s Corner is here to help.

Here are some examples of the phenomenon known as, don’t sit, stand!

Waiting for a table at our favorite restaurant (my next book could be titled, “Waiting at Wildberry’s”). Here’s the key. You’re going to be sitting during your entire meal, so why not walk around, move about, or at least get up and stretch while you wait

Waiting to board a flight at the airport. You’re going to sit on the plane, sometimes for three or four hours. It makes no sense to sit before bording.

You’re at a play, or concert or movie and you got there a bit early. Don’t sit and wait — you will be sitting during the entire show.  Get up and circulate. Walk the halls a bit.  Whatever it takes.

There are many other examples, but hopefully you get the point. The old coach is just trying to keep you as healthy as possible.

Remember how Groucho Marx answered the question “what happened to your get up and go?“

“I think It got up and went,” he said.

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