Learning to cook; kids can hone their culinary skills at Sur La Table

(Published March 31)

By Angela Gagnon – Staff Writer

Kids can get busy in the kitchen at Sur La Table and experience some hands-on cooking fun this summer and learn to make delicious classic summer eats from scratch.

Sur La Table, located at 900 North Michigan Ave., offers three- and five-day cooking classes for kids 8-12 and teens 13-17. The classes start in July, last about two hours each and are limited to 16 students.

“All of our classes are taught by classically trained culinary professionals,” said Adam Leach, resident chef at Sur La Table.

Sur La Table will offer two camps this summer. One incorporates different themes each day like backyard BBQ or pizza parties and will include about four different recipes per day. The other camp will focus on teaching different techniques, like working with pasta and pizza dough, learning knife skills or grilling or BBQ techniques.

“There will also be a bakery and pastry component this year, which will take place one day as an all encompassing experience in the five day camp,” added Leach.

Kids get to eat what they make and even compete in a friendly mystery box competition at the end of each series similar to the TV show, Chopped wherein chefs must create a meal with a box of mystery ingredients.  

“Teams get a menu together, curated through the instructor, but created by the kids. They use what skills they’ve learned the previous days to put it all together for a final menu,” said Leach.

The chef picks a mystery ingredient to be used somewhere in the menu, and kids are encouraged to use a kitchen gadget they haven’t used before. “The winning team gets a prize,” said Leach.

“I look at my job here as inspiring people to cook more at home and build confidence in the kitchen,” said Leach. “I like people to leave the class wanting to cook more!”
In addition to gaining culinary skills, kids will take home a packet of recipes and a Sur La Table apron. Register for the classes at surlatable.com.

Sweetwater Tavern and Grill reopens after repairs

(Published March 14)

By Jesse Wright

After being closed for months for repairs, Sweetwater Tavern and Grill reopened its doors on March 8.

The popular New Eastside bar and grill, at 225 N. Michigan Ave., was packed by 5 p.m. that day and longtime fans said they were happy to have their favorite spot back.

“I had come here about a dozen times before it reopened,” customer Ken Goncharoff said.

In the two months since the restaurant closed, construction crews added stainless steel accents, more seating options, including more bar seats, and an updated ceiling.

But Goncharoff said he didn’t notice most of it because his favorite parts of the bar are unchanged.

“To be honest, it looks the same,” he said. “The bar looks different and the ceiling looks different, but I love the atmosphere here. That’s why I come here, and that hasn’t changed. I liked it before and I like it now.”

Sweetwater is gearing up for a massive St. Patrick’s Day patio party March 16.

The bar and grill will open at 9 a.m. and will offer green beer, bagpipes and Irish food, including corned beef Reuben, shepherd’s pie and corned beef poutine.

For more information, visit sweetwatertavernandgrille.com.

Mega companies coming to downtown Chicago leads to opportunities in housing market

By Urban Real Estate

A new year has brought a wait-and-see attitude as the national climate, interest rates and a major local mayoral election bring some pause to buyers and sellers looking to make their next move. Chicago City Hall, the future of the city’s pension plan and property tax proposals all have people watching to see what the next Chicago will look like.

Multinational companies, however, have bigger bets set on the Windy City and that might be the key difference to our future over any other market.

Matt Farrell, managing broker of Urban Real Estate, sees this as the opportunity that makes downtown neighborhoods desirable even when the national and local climate may differ.

“Each of these companies has hundreds of employees who are also making their move into the city. Some are renters, others are prospective buyers. They all need a place to live, and there are few communities like the New Eastside that offer an immense level of convenience, privacy and beauty, all within steps of the hustle and bustle of the city.”

Chicago has a great deal to offer, both to companies and residents.

“There is really no surprise as to why this city continues to draw investors and businesses from across the globe,” Farrell added. “We may have our winters, but the access to public transportation, universities, museums, medical systems, an unrivaled lakefront setting, paired with O’Hare’s planned expansion, make Chicago the perfect fit.”

“The best advice we can give our seller clients is to do everything they can to make their homes look as pristine as possible. Beautiful, updated homes will always do better than a home that hasn’t been tended to. Consider your own personal and financial goals, and plan whether this may be the time to sell your home or to seek a second home at a great price,” Farrell said. “The market pace may have stabilized, but Chicago has and will continue to find its way to continued growth.”

GEMS students get lessons in fashion, music and literature

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Sixth graders strutted their stuff on Jan. 17 at the annual GEMS World Academy fashion show.

The show is in its fifth year. The students wrote music and then designed a clothing ensemble and wrote a poem based on that music.

The interdisciplinary exercise was the brainchild of Elysia Sheehan, the school’s art and design teacher. The project is a fun way to kick off the school year and it also combines several subjects into a participatory, interactive learning assignment.

“It started from a conversation I had with a new student in our first year while we were doing some team building activities during the first week of school,” she explained. “She was expressing that at the time she felt more nervous than excited about starting at a new school. We began talking about what we could do to help ease her transition into GEMS and about the things she enjoys most. She spoke about how much she enjoys drawing and making fashion designs. The whole idea evolved from there with input from students and teachers who were excited to build out our curriculum for the year.”

The project starts with a design. This year, students had to pick a genre of music and design an outfit that would represent that. To build their wardrobe, students are given $10 and taken to a thrift store.

“Students learn to sew, have weekly visits with a fashion designer, keep a process journal to document their personal growth and goals, and build on their foundation for constructing fashion,” said Sheehan.

Besides designing and sewing original clothing, the students also got a musical education. Music teacher Chris Roebuck and language and literature teacher Melissa Cuclich helped students discover new genres of music and understand poetry, respectively.

“In previous years, their fashions have reflected technology, humanities inquiries, science, et cetera,” said Sheehan. “After designing the garments, the students model them on the ‘runway’ during a fashion show event in our gym.”

Parents, teachers and other students packed the place in support of the sixth graders who walked, strutted and, in one case, skateboarded down the aisle.

GEMS sixth grade student Max Robertson skates his way down the runway for a fashion show in January. Photo by Jesse Wright

GEMS World Academy is a private school in the New Eastside. To find out more about the school, visit them online at gemsworldacademy-chicago.com.

Mister Rogers documentary to air on PBS in February

Staff reports

(Published Jan. 16)

Fans of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood will get a treat Feb. 9.

That Saturday, WTTW11, Chicago’s public broadcasting station, will air “Won’t you be my Neighbor,” a hit documentary film about Fred Rogers, the host of the hit childrens television show.

The film highlights Rogers’ pioneering contributions to public television and children’s programming, namely promoting kindness and tolerance. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and has been nominated for numerous awards.

 The show aired on PBS stations around the country for decades and generations of adults watched the show as kids.

The top Chicago openings for 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The New Year will bring new developments to the city. Here are the top new developments residents can look forward to this year.

Hotels

1.     Actor and New York developer Robert DeNiro is coming to Chicago. DeNiro’s development team is opening the Nobu Hotel in December 2019 along Restaurant Row. In addition to luxury hotel rooms, the property will boast a street level Japanese restaurant and a rooftop lounge.

2.     The Hotel Essex has been working on its Michigan Avenue property for a while now, and it’s expected to open in May of 2019. Located at 800 S. Michigan Ave., across from Grant Park, the hotel will be in the heart of the city and offer 254 rooms.

4.     The Hilton brand will open another Homewood Suites in downtown Chicago in May. This one will be across from Grant Park at 1101 S. Wabash Ave., within easy walking distance to the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium.

Restaurants

1.     Some of the top names in Korean food are coming to the city. Dave Park and Jennifer Tran operated Hanbun in Westmont until early 2018, and now they’re looking to open Jeong at 1460 W. Chicago Ave. Park offers a modern take on Korean food in a fine-dining space, and Jeong will hold about 40 people.

2. James Beard Award-winning chef Zach Engel’s Israeli restaurant Galit is nothing if not ambitious. Engel will serve up the usual pita and hummus, but he will also feature Midwestern produce to combine the familiar with the foreign against a formal dining background. Galit will open in Lincoln Park at 2429 N. Lincoln Ave.

Residencies

1.   New for the New Eastside, the Vista Tower project is expected to wrap up this year. At 1,191 feet, the tower has 101 floors and at floor 47, there is an outdoor pool, a reservable kitchen and a wine-tasting room.

2.    Nema, at 1200 S. Indiana Ave., will be completed this year. The building will offer 76 floors and 800 units and stands 887 feet tall and the luxury apartments are sure to make a mark on the South Loop.

3.    In Streeterville, the One Bennett Park building at 514 N Peshtigo Court is already open, but on the top floors of the luxury apartments, the work continues. However, the 70-story building will be completed in 2019 after the final condominiums are finished.

Best places to stay active inside

By Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

During the cold, dark winter months, it can be easy to stay sedentary. Getting motivated to move outdoors requires lots of clothes and a tolerance for low temperatures. Never fear—plenty of businesses specialize in indoor activities, offering a variety of opportunities for fitness.  

Ice skating

The McFetridge Sports Center, 3843 N. California Ave., offers indoor ice skating, tennis and yoga. Open skate costs $5 per person during select hours and tennis costs $25 per hour. Try a drop-in yoga class for $12. For more information, visit mcfetridgesportscenter.com

Rock climbing

Go indoor rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, 100 S. Morgan St. Try an Intro to Climbing class to learn the basics of climbing under the guidance of expert instructors. The 60-minute class takes place on both ropes and boulders and includes gear rental. $25 for members and $49 for non-members. For more information, visit brooklynboulders.com/gowanus/

Ping pong

Hone your ping pong skills at SPIN Chicago, 344 N. State St., in a fun and energizing social environment. Taking aim at that tiny white ball will get your heart pumping. $25 per hour during off-peak hours / $39 during peak hours. Stop by for $10 ping pong on Sundays from 5-8 p.m. For more information, visit wearespin.com/location/chicago/

Bumper cars

WhirlyBall, 1825 W. Webster, offers fitness-forward and fun activities to get visitors moving. WhirlyBall is not only the name of the business, but also a game where players sit in souped-up bumper cars armed with a hand scoop and fling a wiffle ball around with friends. There’s also bowling, laser tag, pool tables and a climbing wall. Walk ins are  $15 for a 30-minute session with a four-player minimum. For more information, visit whirlyball.com

Bowling

Pinstripes, 435 E. Illinois, features bowling and bocce ball games in a social setting with game-side food and drink. Bowling is $8-18 per hour per person, depending on the hours. Shoes can be rented for $5. Bocce ball is $5-12 per person per hour. Reservations are recommended. For more information, visit pinstripes.com/chicago-illinois/

Indoor golf

Play18 offers an ultimate indoor golf experience in a relaxed country club atmosphere. Play18 features PGA Tour simulators and personal driving bays along with a locker room, full bar and lounge. Reserve online. $50 per hour. For more information, visit play18chicago.com

Air workout

AIR®, a boutique fitness lab, offers classes that incorporate aerial exercises on hammocks for a unique twist on the average fitness regimen. The 50-minute Air Foundation class fuses elements of conditioning, pilates, ballet and HIIT (high intensity interval training) on aerial hammocks. There are two locations to choose from: River North, 357 W. Erie St., and South Loop, 1317 S. Michigan Ave. $30 per class or $10 for community classes. For more information, visit airfitnow.com

Basketball

Check out Swish House for basketball fitness classes that makes working out fun. The high intensity interval training classes provide a unique team-based environment that engages the competitive spirit. Classes are $25 and are held at The Mercy Home for Boys and Girls at 1140 W. Jackson Blvd. For more information, visit swishhouse.com

Take a walk

Take a walk through the beautiful Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., or Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 N. Stockton Drive, to get your heart rate up while enjoying warm lush gardens and a brief respite from the cold. Free admission to both.

GEMS holds topping out ceremony for last beam in Upper Builing


By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The topping out ceremony is an old ritual for new buildings. The ceremony celebrates when the final beam is laid in place and is a milestone for any project. On Nov. 30, the New Eastside’s GEMS World Academy got to hold their own topping out ceremony for their new building.

With the new building, dubbed the Upper School, the private academy can expand class sizes and will serve grades six through 12. The building is located at 355 E. Wacker Drive, behind the main building at 350 East South Water St. and the Upper School means more than just extra space. Students will get a full-sized gym, music practice rooms, new lockers and classrooms dedicated to design courses.

This represents the largest expansion to date for the five-year-old campus. Thomas M. Cangiano, head of the school since July of 2018, said he understands what a big deal the topping out ceremony is for the students and faculty. “All the work is going to be in the interior from now on,” he said. “When the kids left the school last spring (in 2018), they left a hole in the ground. So to see this frame come up so quickly and to see there were already a few floors built, I think it gives the kids a sense of how quickly the building can go up.”

Cangiano said he hopes the Upper Building will wow the neighbors as well. Much of the first floor will feature practice studios for dance and other activities and all the action will be visible to pedestrians through large plate glass windows.

The building will be ready for move in by the fall 2019 semester.

As Chicagoans will be able to look in, Cangiano wants the students to look out, beyond the school and into the heart of the city. The school has a sizeable international student population, but Cangiano has long maintained that the school must prepare international citizens to also be citizens of Chicago. “You can’t really be a true international citizen unless you’re a good local citizen,” he said. “You have to understand the context in which you live and go to school and play and the economics, economic development, transportation, infrastructure and mundane things like revenue and expenses.”

Fashion design classes offer creative fun for kids

By Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

Children in downtown Chicago have an opportunity to channel their artistic, creative energy while learning from a fashion professional.

New Eastside resident Michelle Kim, a fashion designer, has been offering design classes to kids since July 2018. Kim is the founder of Mizel Jewelry and holds a masters degree in fashion design from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Parents said the classes encourage their kids to be creative and to develop ideas, while Kim said the classes inspire her, too. “Teaching these classes is very inspirational for me because I am a designer myself, and the kids often think of things adults don’t, like a unique color combination or pattern,” Kim said.

The classes, geared toward children as young as first grade, are held every other weekend in the New Eastside and typically follow a seasonal theme. Kim has introduced embroidery, fabric embellishment, collaging, beading, sewing and knitting since she began teaching the classes.

Her students have worked on hair accessories, backpacks, shoes, jewelry, clothing and lunch boxes and used various kid-friendly materials to create unique and personalized designs.

Kim will lead a winter class focused on cold weather items such as berets and sweatshirts. Students will work with material like faux fur and pom-poms along with fabric paints, felt, sequins and fake gems.

New Eastside mom Michelle Johnston said her 6-year-old daughter, Dilly, has gone to seven or eight ofand the design classes, and her daughter loves getting creative. “Dilly was so proud of her creations and Michelle was always so encouraging and complimented them on their designs,.” Johnston said.

Kim stresses that “perfect is not creative” and that the kids should “relax and have fun.” Once the drawing is complete, they embellish or decorate it with the materials to make their image come alive. “Dilly loved having access to all these wonderful tools, ribbons, jewels, fabrics at her fingertips,” Johnston said. “She learned a new skill each week and it was wearable art… shoes, t-shirt, hat, backpack and was personalized.”

Kim also puts together themed events for adults around holidays or special occasions. Plans are in the works for a Valentine’s Day “Moms’ Night Out” in which neighborhood moms can work with Kim to make something for their kids.

For more information about themes and price, visit https://www.mizelkids.com.

[Designer Michelle Kim teaches neighborhood kids the finer points of fashion at one of her design courses for kids. Photo by Angela Gagnon]

Many avenues to help the homeless this season

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Homeless people are a part of downtown.

When walking downtown, every street corner seems to include a cup outstretched, and every awning seems to cover a pile of ragged blankets sheltering a homeless person who may be in need of a helping hand this holiday season.

The Chicago Tribune reported over the summer that there may be over 4,000 homeless people in the city, with 1,500 of those living outdoors. During the winter months and at Christmastime especially, many may feel a need to do something—to offer a sandwich or a few bucks to a homeless person, to donate a few cans to a food pantry or to give their time or money to a charity. But what’s the best course of action?

“I’d like to adopt an all of the above approach,” said Michael Nameche, the director of development for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, located on Lake Street near the New Eastside.

Since 1980, Nameche’s organization has worked to prevent and end homelessness in the city, and Nameche said he’s learned two things—that there is no one solution and that everyone can do something.

“[Homelessness is] a big problem, and so most homeless service agencies will accept help at whatever level someone can give,” he said. “If I were to make suggestions, there are choices. There is no wrong way. That’s the important thing. Some folks choose to donate money and that is very effective because it’s the most liquid of help so it can be addressed toward whatever is needed at the moment…Others like to donate their time and that is also very valuable.”

That said, Nameche compared volunteering to working out: It is most effective if people do it more than once. “When a nonprofit makes an investment in a volunteer, they like them to stick around for a while,” he said. “If you know you can’t sustain it for a while, maybe that’s not the best avenue.”

If you don’t think you can sign on to a long-term commitment, never fear; there are other options. One route, especially for groups like residential buildings and neighborhood organizations, is hosting a drive for clothing, food or money. “Drives for things that are needed are good; however, I think it’s always best to have a conversation with a local nonprofit to come up with someone that you know will be received well.,” Nameche said.

Nameche said sometimes nonprofits get surprised with a truckload of donations they don’t need or cannot use, and it can be hard to turn away someone’s genuine desire to help. “It’s terrible if someone brings you a shipment of hats and scarves if you’ve just got a whole bunch of hats and scarves,” he said.

Nameche said another benefit of talking to a local nonprofit is would-be donors may be inspired to collect things that would have never occurred to anyone. Nameche said donations like CTA passes could mean the difference between a job and unemployment for some homeless people.

“People of very modest means might not have a dime to them, but they might have to get across town to get to a doctor’s appointment or a job interview. Imagine if you have a job interview but you can’t get to it because you can’t get on the CTA,” Nameche said.

He also said a winter or holiday drive is a great start, but organizations that do routine work with local homeless nonprofits could make a real difference in their neighborhoods. This goes for individuals, too. “Much like going to the gym, it’s a good idea to establish relationships with an organization you feel a connection to because it’s doing good in your community,” he said.

Nameche said volunteers and organizations should feel free to shop around to find a good fit.

“Finding a good volunteer gig is like getting on the dating scene; you have to find a good match,” he explained. “Much like dating, you have to be patient, and you have to put yourself out there, and if the first time you contact a nonprofit and they don’t seem to jump on what you have to offer, don’t get discouraged just because it’s not the right fit.”

Nameche said there is something out there for every volunteer. Some nonprofits need volunteers in the evening as tutors, others need help during the daytime and some just need volunteers on the weekends. Volunteering could be a great way to help for retired residents and anyone on a fixed income who doesn’t want to make a financial commitment—especially those who have time during the day.

“If somebody is available during the day, that’s the rarest kind of volunteer,” Nameche said.

He said there are also groups, like his, where volunteers don’t even need to work directly with the homeless population, if that is a concern. Organizations like Coalition for the Homeless need volunteers to do simple office jobs. Volunteers could make a real difference “stuffing envelopes or doing office work so we don’t have to pay people to do that,” he said.

No matter what one does, it all makes a difference, Nameche said.

“Sometimes when people ask, ‘What can I do to help the homeless?’ What they’re asking is, ‘Should I give to people in the street?’ That’s a very personal decision and we don’t have a position on if it’s right to give to people on the street,” he said. “It’s right for some people. Some people carry cash, some people don’t. … Some people like that face–to-face interaction.

“If you’re troubled by seeing people on the street as most people should be, then come up with your own response. Just know that the best thing is to get folks who are in dire need of help connected to professional services. That’s sometimes something you don’t have time for, but you do have time to slip them a couple of bucks. It’s not wrong. But don’t be a cynic and find your response to that issue. It might be buying them a sandwich once a week or it might be volunteering once a week. Everybody has their own pathway, and if everybody did something, then the needle would move.”

Nameche said anyone who wants to get started finding a local nonprofit to get involved with can visit www.volunteermatch.org and see what is available close by. Visit www.chicagohomeless.org to find out more about the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

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