Ryan Evans, Streeterville pizza chef, has his eye on the pie

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Ryan Evans has pie-in-the-sky dreams. Well, pizza pie-in-the-sky dreams.

Evans, executive chef at Streeterville Pizzeria and Tap, in May unveiled the neighborhood eatery’s new menu complete with some ambitious new flavors he hopes will rake in awards—and maybe national attention.

Evans knows pizza.

“My grandfather and I used to make pizza when I was a kid,” he said. “My very first memory is pouring water into the mixing bowl.”

He’s long since graduated from his home kitchen and, at almost 33, he’s been making pizzas professionally for more than 17 years (he had to get a waiver to begin his kitchen work as a minor) and last year won his first award at a Las Vegas pizza competition. He placed third in the mid-America pizza classic division.

“I prepared for a couple of months,” Evans explained. “That was in 2018 and I went out to Las Vegas and met some really good people and did pretty decent. I really used that as an opportunity to meet the higher ups in the pizza community.”

One of those people was Leo Spizzirri, a master pizza instructor at The Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Lisle, is one of two such pizza schools in the United States affiliated with the oldest pizza schools in Italy. Evans, of course, signed up for a course.

“It’s five days, 40 hours and it teaches fundamental dough chemistry, the physicality of working in a pizzeria and a whole bunch of hands-on chemistry,” he said.

Following the course, Evans worked with Spizzirri as an assistant for six months, where he dove into dough chemistry and worked out what he believes is the best blend of dough for Streeterville Pizzeria. His dough is part fermented whole wheat dough, sourdough and high-gluten King Arthur dough for a crust that’s slightly sour and sweet and it takes five days to make.

Besides the dough, Evans has spent his time at Streeterville Pizzeria tinkering away, redeveloping the pizza menu, with emphasis on a Detroit-style pie that is simple and delicious. He tries to follow the Italian rule for pizzas—the toppings can, at most, include five ingredients, two of which are sauce and cheese.

“So Detroit-style pizza is a rectangle or square pizza,” he said. “It’s an inch of fluffy focaccia bread with a golden crown of cheese baked around the side. It’s delicious and it’s pretty unique in Chicago.”

He acknowledges Chicago is a hard city for pizza chefs. With a wealth of renowned pizza spots, it can be hard to stand out. But Evans is confident he’s got what it takes to win in Chicago and, he hopes, in Italy.

“Chicago is a very tough city, and we don’t have a huge foot print here,” he said. “We can’t do quantity so quality will have to be our mark.”

Headache Foundation honors Nobel laureate neurobiologist Eric Kandel

(Published May, 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The Chicago-based National Headache Foundation honored pioneering neurobiologist Eric Kandel in May as part of their annual gala fundraiser.

Kandel won a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2000 for his work showing how memories can physically alter the brain. Kandel will be 90 in November, and in an exclusive interview with the News, he talked about his current research.

“I’m studying age-related memory loss,” he said.

Through experiments he has shown older adults can offset memory loss and improve memory through the release of osteocalcin, a hormone released from the bones. The best way to get it is by exercise and movement. Kandel said his discovery changed his life.  

“I walk everywhere,” he said. “I now walk to work, and I walk back (from)work, and I walk more than I used to.”

While Kandel said he personally hasn’t done extensive research in headaches, early in his career he studied spreading depression, which is thought to be the underlying cause of migraines.

“Headaches are a universal problem,” he said.

Among migraine sufferers is his granddaughter. During the awards ceremony, Kandel said might have changed his research if he was aware of  her condition earlier in his career.

“Had I known one of my grandchildren would develop migraine headaches, I would have continued to study migraines,” he said. “But, I’m still relatively young.”

Headache Foundation Executive Chairman Seymour Diamond praised Kandel’s work before awarding him the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“His work has contributed in so many ways to understanding headaches,” Diamond said.

The evening raised $225,000 for headache research.

With a message of optimism, Lightfoot sworn in as mayor

By Jesse Wright | Published on May 20, 2019

On May 20, US District Judge Susan Cox swore in Lori Lightfoot as Chicago’s mayor at a ceremony attended by thousands at the Wintrust Arena.

Lightfoot is the city’s first openly gay and African American female mayor, and the significance was not lost of Lightfoot.

“I can’t help but feel the spirit of the late great mayor, Harold Washington,” she said.  Washington was the city’s first African American mayor and he stepped into office in 1983 and left in 1987. Lightfoot’s mention of Washington drew a standing ovation.

But it was a historic day for others, too, as Lightfoot noted. Besides Lightfoot, Melissa Conyears-Ervin was sworn in as city treasurer and Anna Valencia was sworn in as the city clerk. All are African American women and this is the first time voters elected African American females to all three citywide positions.

The city’s aldermen were also sworn in.

For her first speech as mayor, Lightfoot’s message was an optimistic and firm promise to unite the city, and work for the betterment of those who need help. In addition, she promised to end aldermanic privilege after the inauguration ceremony.

“I’m looking ahead to a city of safe streets and strong schools for every child regardless of neighborhood or zip code,” she said. “A city where people want to grow old and not flee. A city of sanctuary against fear where no one must hide in the shadows. A city that is affordable for families and seniors and where every job pays a living wage. A city of fairness and hope and prosperity for the many, not just for the few, a city that holds equity and inclusion as our guiding principles.”

She made reference to recent anti-abortion laws passed in Alabama, and she promised that Chicago would fight for women’s rights.

“We must stand with women all across our country who fear for their basic rights and feel powerless in the face of the hateful legislation designed to control our bodies, our choices,” she said. “We cannot go back – not in Chicago, not as a nation.  We will join together and we will fight.”

This, too, drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

She also looked inward, at the problems within City Hall, an institution plagued by a history of corruption and she promised reform. She told the audience after the inauguration, she would sign an executive order ending aldermanic privilege, a tradition that allows aldermen to pass or block city government actions that could hurt or benefit their wards. Critics have charged the system allows for corruption, favoritism and inconsistent application of ordinances around the city.

“It means this,” she said. “It means ending their unilateral and unchecked control over every single thing that goes on in their wards. Aldermen will have a voice but not a veto. This is the time of for a new era of trust.”

This promise drew some of the loudest, most sustained applause.

Following the ceremony, City Hall hosted an open house for the public.

Not Your Average Mother’s Day

(Published April 30, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Treat mom to a unique Mother’s Day experience that goes beyond brunch.

Family Game Night Out

Does mom love family game night, but is often stressed playing host? Try Family Game Night Out in Lakeview, which takes the pressure off mom. Invite the whole family, from 6-24 guests, to play familiar party games in a private room that includes a host. Family Game Night Out is BYOB and welcomes guests to bring snacks. $45 per person for a 2-3 hour experience, depending on the number of guests. Make reservations in advance. Recommended for game players 18 and up.

gamenightout.com

2828 N Clark St., Chicago

312-448-724

Donut Tour

If mom is a pastry fan, then the Chicago Donut tour will be a treat. The Underground Donut Tour has two Chicago-based tours, one of which covers downtown, the other covers Wicker Park. The downtown tour encompasses two miles and each donut shop stop includes samples. Tours run Thursday to Sunday and begin at 9 a.m. The downtown tour is $35 for adults and $15 for children.

undergrounddonuttour.com

Freeze and Float

For a relaxing Mother’s Day, take mom to River North’s Freeze and Float, a recently opened spa specializing in cryotherapy treatments, infrared saunas and flotation therapy. Cryotherapy hyper-cools the body for three minutes, with temperatures in the chambers reaching -184F. According to the Freeze and Float website, Cryotherapy has rejuvenating effects, similar to the benefits of icing inflamed muscles. Infrared saunas improve circulation and help with injury recovery. Floatation therapy in Epsom-salt filled water is a meditative experience. They also offer classic massages, facials, and beauty treatments. For pricing and more information, visit Freeze and Float’s website, or call them.

freezefloatspa.com

371 W Ontario St.

312 809-7008

Windy Kitty

For the cat-lover mom, Windy Kitty is the place to go. Windy Kitty is a cat cafe in Wicker Park, where mom can hang out with some rescue cats, while having a snack or coffee. Cats at the cafe are available for adoption, but enjoy being visited too. Windy Kitty also features a kitten nursery, available to visit for those over 10. Windy Kitty strongly suggests reservations. Admission is $14 per person per hour. For parties of five people or more, Windy Kitty recommends a private party reservation. They often have fun events, such as Yoga with Cats or Painting with Cats. For more information, visit their website, or email them. w

1746 W North Ave

Let it Out

Moms often are subject to a lot of stress. To give mom a way to let go of that stress, take her to The Rage Room, in River North’s Escapades Escape Room. For those over 18, the Rage Room allows visitors to break as many items, such as televisions, crockery, and computer equipment, as they desire. The Rage Room provides safety wear to go along with a baseball bat, crowbar or golf club. The room can be shared with up to 15 people in a party, but only one person goes in at a time. Experiences can last up to 2 hours, or can be as little as 15 minutes. Prices vary. Online reservations required. Visit their website for more information.

www.escapadesescapegames.com

153 W. Ohio

312-526-3072

Learn Something New

For the jack-of-all-trades mom, check out Dabble, which has classes available in a variety of subjects. Pasta making, archery, glassblowing and soap making are just a few available on Dabble in the upcoming weeks. They also have food tours, architecture tours and drinking tours. Prices, locations, and times vary. Dabble’s website has a list of classes and is constantly updating new times, dates, and experiences.

dabble.co/chicago/

GPAC elects new leaders, even as former GPAC group announces it’s not going anywhere

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

In April, the Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC) that is officially recognized by the Chicago Park District elected a new board, even as the ousted Grant Park Advisory Council continued to meet.

The GPAC advises the city on park usage and programs and takes input from the public.

Leslie Recht, a founder of the original GPAC, is the new president, Jim Wales is vice president, John Talbot is secretary and Richard Ward is the treasurer.

“As the four newly elected officers (recognized by the CPD), we are learning and listening, so that we can be as knowledgeable and transparent as possible into the future,” Ward said in an email.

The original GPAC board came under scrutiny a year ago by the Chicago Park District over impropriety allegations against its former president Bob O’Neill. The CPD removed O’Neill and in February the CPD inspector general’s office released a scathing report that accused O’Neill of using the nonprofit Grant Park Conservancy he heads as a personal piggybank by illegally re-selling park permits at an exorbitant rate.

O’Neill disputes the allegations. He added the conservancy is overseen by a board the includes several attorneys and the board and the CPD were aware of how he was managing the conservancy.

O’Neill has agreed to step away from the GPAC group he once led. Council spokesperson Omari Jinaki said Roman Sanders is the new president. He added the group will continue to meet because the CPD ignored the GPAC’s bylaws when it removed O’Neill and the  recent GPAC election was also illegal because it violates bylaws.

“With very little notice, the CPD proposed an April 10 election, which is also outside of the GPAC election period. Moreover, the CPD never held a valid February 2019 meeting which is the requisite meeting timeline for the nominations for GPAC officers,” Jinaki wrote.

In the meantime, Recht’s group is planning a redesign of the website with a new domain name. Recht said she hopes attendees will go to her group’s GPAC meetings.

“Everyone who has been going to the Bob O’Neill meetings is welcome to come to the GPAC meetings. We welcome them,” she said.

Recht said she wants the community’s input on a framework plan of what the park needs. One urgent need is an updated dog area.

“The dog friendly area is really behind the times,” she said.

Recht said besides house pets, some TSA security dogs live in the area and use the park as well.

“It’s not just residents; there are a number of people who need space to run their dogs,” Recht said.

Recht said the first meeting will be May 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Maggie Daley field house and this will be an organizational meeting.

Grant Park still has two advisory councils, though the city recognizes only one. Photo by Jesse Wright

Get to know Rep. Kam Buckner

(Published April 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

After State Rep. Christian Mitchell accepted appointment as deputy governor in January, he left his seat open with two more years to go in his term.

Democratic committeemen from the 10 wards in Illinois House District 26 appointed Kambium “Kam” Buckner to the position. Buckner is a former college football player who holds a law degree. He has worked for a number of politicians though had never held political office. Buckner will be up for election in 2020 in the Democratic primary and his term ends in 2021.

How has the session been going? What are you proudest to work on this term?

This session has been highlighted by the desire to tackle some very big ticket items. The raising of the minimum wage in the very early days of the session set a tone of ambitious legislative action that addresses policy issues, much of which are long overdue. I am most proud of my work this session on consumer protection. I have filed legislation that addresses predatory lending that unduly affects our elderly residents. I am also very proud to have worked to create a better atmosphere for Chicago Public School students by co-sponsoring bills to create an elected school board and increase bargaining rights.

More generally, what issues are important to you and what would you like to work on?

As a Chicago Public School alum and the son of a 30-year CPS educator, education is of the utmost importance to me. I think Springfield has to do a better job of supporting school districts. I also am very focused on transportation and infrastructure. Illinois has underfunded our roads, bridges and tunnels for far too long.

You were appointed rather than elected. With the lack of a mandate, does that make it harder to pass legislation?

In my situation, it was important to hit the ground running. It was helpful that I already had a pretty good understanding of the workings of the legislature and the things that I wanted to accomplish.

What inspired you to get into public service?

My parents. My mother was a teacher and her penchant for working for others trickled down to all of her children. My father spent decades as a police officer and the dedication and passion that I saw him exhibit through his work, made it very clear to me that your life’s work should exist in that nuanced spot where your passions, skills and experiences converge with the needs of others.

Looking forward to 2020, do you expect to run for re-election?

Over the years we have seen a major decline in our infrastructure, education and innovation while we have seen increases in people fleeing the state and we have an opportunity, not to make Illinois the state that it used to be, but to give it a chance to be the state it has always deserved to be and I want to be a part of that solution.

Finally, what’s some trivia that’s not well known about you?

Most people are aware of my background in sports, as I played football at the University of Illinois, but they don’t know about my affinity for the performing arts. I took ballet for a number of years as a child and still occasionally sing with a blues band.

Peregrine falcons find a home in Chicago

(Published April 30, 2019

Abhinanda Datta, Staff Writer

If you spot a mid-sized raptor swoop in at incredible speed and catch another bird in flight, don’t be surprised—it is just a peregrine falcon.

Found throughout the world, these birds have found a home in the Midwest, with more than 20 American peregrine falcons in the Chicagoland area.

With a body length of 15 – 20 inches, the peregrines can attain a speed of 200 mph when diving on their prey.

According to Mary Hennen, collections assistant in the Bird Division at the Field Museum, an estimated 400-500 pairs of Peregrines once nested in the Midwest and eastern United States. But by the 1960s, the species had been wiped out regionally.

“The primary cause was the buildup of DDT and its byproducts in the birds,” she said. “These accumulated chemicals caused abnormal reproductive behavior in adults and thinning of shells, which led to egg breakage.”

The Chicago Peregrine Program began in 1985 as a cooperative effort between the Chicago Academy of Sciences, Lincoln Park Zoo, Illinois Department of Conservation and the Illinois Audubon Society, with the aim of restoring the population.

From a single breeding pair at a Chicago-Wacker site in 1988, Illinois had 12 breeding pairs in over 23 different territories by 2011.

“Although Peregrines still remain endangered in some states, in Illinois, the population has rebounded. In fact, our Peregrine status has been upgraded from endangered to threatened,” Hennen said.

In May, eggs that were laid during March-April, are incubated for about 30-32 days. The male and the female take turns looking after the eggs. Hatching begins in mid-May or around Mother’s Day.

“This is also the time period where the adults are most defensive of the nest site. Males will spend most of their time hunting in order to feed the female and chicks,” Hennen said.

In the coming months, especially around mid-June to July, people can see the peregrine fledglings’ first flight as they glide down from the nest site. People can also observe the birds through the Illinois Peregrine Webcams found on the Field Museum website. For more information, visit fieldmuseum.com.

A peregrine falcon from a 2018 webcam in Rockford. Photo courtesy the Field Museum

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

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A look at the numbers behind the Navy Pier fireworks

(Published April 30, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

With the warmer weather comes Navy Pier fireworks.

May 25 is the start of the annual Navy Pier fireworks and Melrose Pyrotechnics will again produce the weekly displays, just as they have for the past 15 years.

For the audience, it’s 10 minutes of fun filled with fire, smoke and dazzling colors all set to music. But the behind the scenes is real work and somebody has to do it. One of those somebodies is Jonathan Gesse, a soundtrack producer with Melrose Pyrotechnics.

Gesse said “a minimum of 30-hours preparation goes into each Navy Pier display, which includes everything from soundtrack design, choreography, labeling, packaging, setup, product testing and transportation.”

The day of the show, five technicians set up about 10 hours beforehand, including monitoring the equipment in advance of the show.

Each show is a “unique pyromusical experience,” Gesse said. “Our team of choreographers uses industry software to ‘script’ each display according to the musical soundtrack by listening to the music and building scenes of light and color.” Once the show is ready to start, Melrose sends a “coded radio signal from Navy Pier to the fireworks crew, which the firing computer receives and synchronizes itself to the music that plays through the speakers at Navy Pier.”

Melrose gets fireworks from all over the world including China, Italy and Spain. They use 500 new products each year and more than 1,400 feet of XLR cable for the shows.

Gesse said the heights achieved by fireworks depends on the diameter of the shell. Three- and four-inch shells will generally explode from about 300 to 400 feet in the sky, and 10 inch shells will rise to well over 10,000 feet in the air before they break.

“At Navy Pier, we use aerial shells ranging from two-and-a-half inches up to 10 inches in diameter,” Gesse said.

This year, there will be 31 firework performances, each Wednesday and Saturday from May 25 to Aug. 31 with additional shows July 4 and New Year’s Eve. Wednesday fireworks are at 9:30 p.m. and Saturdays are at 10:15 p.m., weather dependent.

The displays last 10 minutes while the July 4 and New Year’s Eve displays last 15 minutes. Last year, CBS reported that nearly 100,000 people attended the July 4 celebration and that the fireworks performance had 2,000 firework shells go off with “300 different effects.”

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