An Abbreviated Presidency

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Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic is a marvelous tale of James A. Garfield and his brief presidency, the madman who shot him and the medical errors, hubris and willful ignorance that led to the infection which ultimately killed him.

There is a sense of déjà vu throughout the book’s research: the fury of the political dealing and vitriol, the backdrop of race relations less than twenty years after the end of the Civil War, the unrelenting demands from an all-too accessible public. Villains abound. The president’s political nemesis, Roscoe Conkling, was corrupt, bombastic and brazenly ambitious; he assumed his ‘ownership’ of Vice President Chester A. Arthur was absolute and astounded when Arthur met the challenge of political ascent without any input from or contact with Conkling. The assassin, Charles Julius Guiteau, was deluded, mentally ill and broke, yet lucid enough to purchase a gun using borrowed money and close in on the unprotected president as he was about to board a train to leave Washington. The surgeon who took charge of Garfield’s care, D. Willard Bliss, was controlling, self-promoting and ultimately incompetent; his actions prevented the president’s recovery.

One of the many tragedies in this story is how the bullet itself did not kill the wounded president. Despite the British physician Joseph Lister’s discovery and promotion of antisepsis–“preventing infection by destroying germs”–most doctors in the United States refused to acknowledge Lister’s research and resolutely ignored the protocols he recommended.

In a story with very few heroes, one of them is the prolific inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, who summoned all of his energies to create a device, an induction balance, to detect the metal bullet lodged within the wounded president’s body. Another is Julia Sand, a homebound woman who corresponded with then-Vice President Arthur, providing guidance and insights from which he drew courage and confidence to lead the country in an entirely unexpected and positive way.

Aside from the rich historical and political detail captured in the book, one of the delights was learning about and understanding James A. Garfield as a man–his childhood, his service in the Civil War, his courtship of his wife and the ups and downs of their marriage, his education and his relationship with his children. Millard brings Garfield to life in a marvelous ‘you are there’ way. He comes across as admirable, likable, smart and utterly self-aware. Although the times are very different, he made me wistful for what a government leader could be.

Lucky Platter — Good Food With an Artsy Vibe

You notice the ceiling first, before the array of sculptures, photos and paintings covering the walls and ledges. Balls of tin foil affixed in 1-3-5-3-1 formation to the ceiling tiles.  Let your eye travel down to the colander lights, the strength of the metal offset by the jiggly crystals lining the circumference. Expand your view and take in the oilcloth covered tables and booth surfaces, a happy jumble of patterns and colors. Raise your gaze up and take in the walls. The soft, buttery-colored surface is purposefully decorated with black and white photographs, flea market paint-by-number paintings, circus posters, plates and original designs.

On the restaurant’s ledges and hanging from the ceiling rest a dozen metal sculptures designed by the regionally famous Ritch Branstrom. Branstrom is known for his sculptures in the Found Object Art style. Lucky Platter boasts several Branstrom fish and birds as well as the whimsical couple above the street-side entrance door. It’s a picnic scene: the man is playing a zither and he is entertaining the woman perched coquettishly on the other side of the picnic’s bounty. The words Lucky Platter are also done in the Branstrom style, every last piece constructed of found, recycled, rescued and gifted scrap metal.

By this time you remember you are hungry and look at the menu. Eric Singer, the owner, describes the kitchen’s output as “funkalicious post-Hippy eclectic world cuisine.” The menus, decorated in a fifty-ish decoupage style, foretell the creativity described therein. The food is delicious, fun and hearty, comfort food with a grown up twist. Breakfast lasts until 2 p.m. and dinner starts at 3 p.m. Kids are welcome here; actually, everyone is welcome here. Lucky Platter is the quintessential Evanstonian restaurant.

Lucky Platter (847-869-4064), located at 514 Main Street in Evanston, is a half a block east of the Chicago-Main Street intersection. Open every day from 7:30 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., Sunday until 8:00 p.m.

Color Love

My Schlumbergera is blooming and it’s gorgeous.

Color Love

Earlier in the week I saw Tommy and Lexi from across the street and shamelessly sprinted after them. They were very sweet and a little shy. The photo does not do them justice.

Color Love

Wednesday morning’s winter wonderland looked like marshmallow frosting.

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Food, Glorious Food at Now We’re Cookin’

The Hill Arts District in Evanston, just west of where Noyes Street and Green Bay Road intersect, houses unique lofts and live-work spaces. Now We’re Cookin’ resides on the site of a former dairy. Described as a multi-faceted culinary service center, it ranks as one Evanston’s best kept secrets and is home to the city’s only Food Business Incubator for start-up food businesses.

According to Nell Funk, Chef and Owner, Now We’re Cookin’ provides services in a few different realms: a shared kitchen space for caterers, chefs and others who need the size and capabilities of a commercial kitchen; a facility for monthly seminars on Introduction to Entrepreneurship and quarterly Food Business 101 courses, chef training and classes for non-chefs; a corporate meeting space for presentations and team building exercises; a private event space for parties and events; a high-end, chef’s kitchen for filming food-related events and cooking shows; and private consulting for food-related companies.

Nell’s favorite part of the business is running the Incubator. When a person or team is ready to launch a food business, they apply to join the Incubator; once enrolled, each pairs with an experienced mentor and is given access to a range of services and industry connections. One of the bonuses of the Incubator relationship is exposure to strategy sessions with business students through a special affiliation with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the Levy Entrepreneurial Institute and the School’s Food and Agribusiness Club.

I attended one of these presentations in February and watched teams of students–many with prior food experience–map out creative and innovative ideas to address specific issues. The burgeoning food business clients included Bakers Man Chicago (specialty baked cookies and baked goods), Prohibition Spice Co. (sausage spice blends and rubs) and D-ology (allergy-free and gluten-free baked goods). Each business appreciated the feedback and the students appreciated the chance to offer strategic advice to food entrepreneurs. Several team members expressed interest in continuing to work with ‘their’ business; maybe that new involvement is just what’s needed to help both parties meet their respective goals.

Preparing food is the most basic form of creativity. We all eat. What other art form involves all five of our senses?  If you are passionate about wanting to start your own food business, or just want to learn more to see if you have what it takes, it’s worth a call to Now We’re Cookin’. Located at 1601 Payne Street, Unit C, in Evanston or call 847-570-4140.

Frozen Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is frozen. The mounds in the photo are rock solid; in any other season, they are repetitive waves that could lull you to sleep. I walked way past where the beach normally ends, but was too fearful to go further.Frozen Lake Michigan

Look at the layers in the sky. It was breathtaking as well as breathtakingly cold. Walking home, I saw two coyotes walking along the shoreline, but my hands were too stiff to cooperate and I could not take a picture. Spring can not come soon enough.

The World to Come

The World to Come  Dara Horn’s book, The World to Come, is a marvelous read. The novel weaves histories and characters from the past (Chagall, Europe in the period between World War I and World War II, the Holocaust) with modern-day New York and a brother-sister relationship that clings to, and restrained by, the experiences of a sad childhood. Her character descriptions are wonderful. The story is complex, filled with deep knowledge of Yiddish literature, painting, biblical allegory and the trauma of Vietnam. What distinguishes this book for me more than anything else is the last chapter; it is spellbinding, luminous and utterly unique.