Prairie Joe’s and The Drunken Gallery

Faithful readers of Everything Evanston know that art and food are constant themes. How lucky for us that we can partake of both within one cozy location! Visit Prairie Joe’s for good food, amazing milkshakes, kitschy décor and fanciful art, all courtesy of Aydin Dincer the owner, chef and artist. Prairie Joe’s is a three-generation, family run business with plenty of regulars, creativity and humor. The contents of the overspilling shelves beckon the viewer to touch the objects; whimsical menus and selected comments posted around the restaurant cultivate smiles and laughter. Located at 1921 Central Street, a block from the Metra station, Prairie Joe’s is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch every day of the week. Cash only.

 

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30 Stores Sure to Satisfy Every Single Person On Your List

I love the challenge of finding unusual and creative gifts for other people. Recently I visited several shops in Evanston and was amazed by the range of items available. December brings Chanukah and Christmas, but there are things to celebrate throughout the year. Here are some ideas to make your shopping local, fun and efficient. Don’t worry if you are not a gazillionaire: every store here offers items guaranteed to delight the lucky recipients without breaking your budget.

Kids: You are never too young to be fashionable, and the kids in your life will look great outfitted in some of the adorable clothes at lollie (1312 Chicago Avenue). The store carries sizes 0-14 and has a great selection of games and puzzles. For hands-on creative gifts, Blick Art Materials (1755 Maple Avenue) carries items like chubby crayons for toddlers–perfect for those still building fine motor skills–and a large selection of age-appropriate kits to inspire and guide creativity for the budding artist regardless of skill level.

Girls (Tweens, Teens and Twenties): Check out the cute tops, bags and jewelry at The Mexican Shop (801 Dempster Street). I loved the cheeky knee socks with irreverent quotes, bold faux bijoux and funky accessories. Ten Thousand Villages (719 Main Street) also offers a fine selection of adorable handmade jewelry and practical housewares, plus everything they sell abides by fair trade practices and benefits the artists who made the items.

Guys (Tweens, Teens and Twenties): If you have not yet visited Quake Collectibles (743 Main Street), a gift is the perfect excuse to do so. They sell comic books, action figures, games and more. Bucephalus Bikes (1424 Lake Street) offers Can O’Tune Up as well as all kinds of accessories for your ride. Keep in mind, both of these places may also appeal to the girls on your list!

Young Professionals: I love just about everything in Stumble & Relish (1310 1/2A Chicago Avenue). For visual interest, clever displays and classy items to decorate your home or person, this store is a necessary stop, and most of what you see is sourced from local artisans. If décor is a consideration, Paramour Bungalow offers cheery, unusual and creative gifts for the home…and the hosts and hostesses who tend to them.

Sophisticated Ladies: Two of my favorite stores are within a block of one another: Talia (1526 Chicago Avenue) for chic dresses, suits and separates and Eve J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio (623 Grove Street) for unique jewelry. Ask for help if you are unsure or overwhelmed; the owners and salespeople know their wares and will guide you to the perfect gift item.

Sophisticated Men: Shaving accessories and Swiss Army pen knives at Corrado Cutlery (716 Main Street) and a subscription for growler or howler refills from Sketchbook Brewing Company (825 Chicago Avenue) will satisfy the discerning men in your life.

Housewarming and Host/Hostess Gifts: Exotic salt and pepper flavors, hard-to-find herbs and pre-packaged rubs at The Spice House (1941 Central Street), a loaf from Hewn (810 Dempster Street), coffee from Chapin Coffee (online only) and a pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company (749 Chicago Avenue). Yum!

One-Stop Shopping: The Galleria of Evanston (1627 Sherman Avenue) showcases over 40 unique “shops” in one location. A combined gallery space and retail store, everything in the galleria comes from local Evanston or Chicago-based artists or specialty retailers. Some of the more unusual items I saw and loved include Violins By Design, The Glass Station, Laura Tanner Jewelry and CoolPeaces. It’s a fun, happy store with something for almost everyone.

Experiences make great, memory-making gifts at any age. Still searching? Gift certificates to one of Evanston’s many wonderful restaurants such as Campagnola (815 Chicago Avenue), Lucky Platter (514 Main Street) or The Cellar at the Stained Glass (820 Clark Street) would be a welcome splurge…offer to babysit if the recipient has young children at home so their evening will truly be ‘carefree.’ Other ideas include:

  • Book a tour of FEW Spirits (918 Chicago Avenue);
  • Learn about wine at a class offered by The Wine Goddess (702 Main Street);
  • Sign up for needlepoint lessons at The Needle’s Excellency (1630 Central Street);
  • Buy tickets to attend a movie, concert or show at Northwestern (various locations on campus);
  • Pre-pay for a massage (including the tip) at Zen Shiatsu Chicago (825A Chicago Avenue);
  • Splurge for a spa package at Agora Spa (501 Main Street) to buff, pluck and file away the stresses;
  • Visit Eureka! Antiques & Collectibles (705 Washington Street) and browse through the best collection of ephemera in the Midwest to remind someone of a treasured experience from the past. Movie buffs will recognize the owner, Bindy Bitterman, from her small but essential role in Finding Vivian Maier.

For a wonderful family experience, splurge on a family portrait with David Sutton at Sutton Studios (3417 Church Street). David’s specialty is taking photos of people with their pets. He is talented, philanthropic, patient–and he understands animals. (And not just cats and dogs…he will photograph your exotics, too.) I treasure the photos he took of me and my puppies.

Finally, for the person who seems to have everything, make a donation in their honor to a charity they care about. Two of my favorites are Senior Connections (535 Custer Avenue) and the Evanston Public Library (various locations). You cannot go wrong by supporting programs that benefit homebound seniors or reading programs. Even a $5 donation will be graciously accepted by the charity and your honoree will be notified without knowing the specific amount of your gift. Everyone benefits.

Happy shopping and gift giving!

 

 

 

 

Whistling Vivaldi: Listening to Dr. Claude Steele

One of the books I read as a pre-teen was Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Published in 1961, the author describes how, with the help of a doctor, he temporarily darkened the color of his skin to “pass” as a black man, and traveled throughout the segregated South keeping a journal of his experiences. The book is based upon his journal entries; a BlackLikeMe movie of the same title was produced in 1964.

I thought about this book recently, mainly because it creates empathy between the author and black men in a way that even the most liberal white person could not fathom. There is something about walking in another person’s shoes that bridges the divide, however unintentional, between sympathy, compassion and awareness to truly “getting it.”

It is with that frame of mind that I am absorbing the protests and demonstrations that took place across the country after the Staten Island, New York grand jury refused to indict the police officers responsible for choking Eric Garner to death. Layer atop this tragedy stories about black men driving who are disproportionately stopped by police for investigatory reasons (“driving while black“). Add worried comments and questions from parents of black children, especially boys, about how they drill into their sons how they need to walk, talk and be when around white people, and especially around law enforcement officers.

This is a tragedy of national proportions, and not just for black families. It affects all of us, and until all of us take responsibility for it and work for positive change, it will continue. So with hope in my heart and the need to learn, I was eager to attend the program sponsored by Family Action Network; program partners included ten local schools and not for profit groups. Although long scheduled, Dr. Steele’s presence this week was a welcome relief of good timing. A video of the entire program is available on FAN’s YouTube channel.

The Evanston Township High School auditorium, packed to near capacity with approximately twelve hundred people, included students, teachers, parents and concerned townspeople. All eagerly waited to hear Claude Steele, Ph.D., current Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the groundbreaking work, Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us.Whistling_Vivaldi_-_both_covers

claude-steele

Dr. Steele divided the lecture into three sections: identification of the problem; an explanation of why stereotypes are a threat; suggestions and remedies for going forward. He was promoting the book, but more importantly he was promoting his life’s work of research and experience upon which the book is based. The problem Dr. Steele found, almost by accident, was that minority students, whether they were African-American college students or college women (of any race) studying advanced math, received lower grades compared to their white male counterparts even if their SAT scores at the time of admission were identical. Further, the same problem could be demonstrated in nearly all situations where any minority group was under-represented.

Once Dr. Steele’s research identified the tendency for students to underperform if their abilities are negatively stereotyped, his team sought to understand why this occurred. They determined that in situations where a negative stereotype looms, there is so much anxiety regarding how the qualified–but still minority–student feels about the situation that performance declines. The expectations of society were affecting the interpretation of personal experience. This was the stereotype threat. Past success did not protect the students regardless of how well qualified they were, and caring about performing well in an area where “your” group is seen negatively by “society” only increased the pressure and contributed to the under-performance. And because the situation was so sensitive, often times it was not discussed (avoidance), thereby making it worse.

Dr. Steele presented several video clips showing examples of how contextual expectations affected performance. One clip was from the movie 8 Mile; another was a segment from excerpts from Jane Elliott’s lesson in discrimination commonly referred to as the “Blue-Eyed/Brown-Eyed Test.” Dr. Steele pointed out the social cues that reinforce discrimination and how a teacher’s instructions can make all the difference–both positively and negatively. Although a teacher could never get away with conducting an experiment like the Blue-Eyed/Brown-Eyed Test today, the lessons it teaches are still relevant today and just as controversial as they were in 1968.

Fortunately, further research demonstrated the effectiveness of remedies to fix and improve the situations and change the outcomes. Each of these behaviors and changes can “lift” the stereotypes.

  • Be aware the impact of instructions and how they affect academic performance.
  • Learn how to change the interpretation of events so they are less personalized.
  • Practice identifying how the other person might feel.
  • Create new habits (the 10,000 hour rule, or practice makes perfect) and maintain those habits to make changes in ability.
  • Identify role models for guidance.
  • Know how to recognize the signs and tendencies of the stereotypes communicated and structure the world at hand to compensate for it.
  • Develop a vocabulary and concepts to discuss these difficult issues and not hide from them.
  • Recognize the role of context within the domain.

It was a fascinating evening. There was so much good will in the room, so much feeling of ‘we must do better’ the sentiment seemed palpable. I think most people left the auditorium feeling optimistic. With guidance and awareness, we can all be the change.

 

 

 

Introducing Sketchbook Brewing Company

In the alley between Chicago Avenue and Hinman Avenue, at the space perpendicular to 825 Chicago Avenue, there lies a brewery, Sketchbook Brewing Company, newly opened on Friday, November 21, 2014. It’s just down the street to the trailblazing FEW Spirits, a local distillery open since June 2011. Neither business has a flashy street presence, their somewhat hidden aspect adding to the allure. One needs to know where to look to find them, and when you do, it is worth the trip.

Sketchbook describes itself as ‘Evanston’s community-supported nanobrewery’: initial funding for the brewery came from a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $25,000 from 250 friends, relatives and interested strangers. The two men bringing life to Sketchbook are Shawn Decker, a multimedia artist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Cesar Marron, a manager of software engineering for Teradata and one of three winners in the 2013 Sam Adams’ Longshot American Homebrew Contest.

Cesar and Shawn have thousands of hours of homebrewing experience and own hundreds of cookbooks and brewing guides between them. Longtime members of the Evanston Homebrew Club, the location they chose for Sketchbook even shares a wall with Brew Camp on Chicago Avenue. The men are tinkerers and “do it yourself” kind of guys, and in fact did much of the construction work on the brewery themselves. Together they develop recipes and tweak the ingredients to develop unique tastes that they and customers love. I tasted both ciders, Sparta and Tarta Sparta (cider with cherries) and Primo beer and loved them; they were delicious.

Currently Cesar and Shawn brew a new batch of beer about twice a week and offer six taps for tastings and fills ofgrowlers (64 ounce glass containers) and howlers (32 ounce glass containers). Each batch takes about 20 days: one day to brew, about 12 days to ferment and about seven days to mature, carbonate and settle. Once the container is filled and sealed, it should remain carbonated for two or three days. Sketchbook beers and ciders are organic; even the spent grain after a fermentation is donated to others as chicken feed and compost.

Sketchbook Brewing Company beer and ciders are currently served in a few Evanston restaurants including Boltwood, Firehouse Grill and Prairie Moon, with more locations in the works. The brewery is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm, Saturdays 12 noon to 6 pm and Sundays from 12 noon to 4 pm. Stop in to say hello, sample the beers and take some home. Just look for the orange door.

The Renaissance Woman on Grove Street

 

The description was compelling: come meet a woman who was hidden as a child in France during the Holocaust, worked as an archeologist in Israel and now designs jewelry in her studio in Evanston. Offered by Beth Emet The Free Synagogue as part of its Fall 2014 Adult Education program, I signed up immediately.

The talk and gallery tour met at the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio in downtown Evanston. The gallery is deceiving at first glance. The soft peach tones of the walls immediately disarm the viewer and relax the eye. What was probably one big room 30 years ago is now a warren of cozy spaces created for consulting with clients. Designed by renowned artist and designer Celeste Sotola, visitors wander among the Pearl Room, the Gem Room/Library, the Diamond Room and the Wedding Band Alcove. I walked around the gallery and studied the showcases. Interesting and unusual items such as vases, garden objects, and found objects creatively displayed the jewelry pieces, which included necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants and pins. I saw a rainbow’s array of rare pearls, gems and stones in unusual settings and daring combinations.  The staff is friendly, solicitous and discreet without being pushy. They are eager to tell you about each piece.

Twice a year, Spring and Fall, Eve presents a new collection; the Fall 2014 collection is Garden of Eden. The collections range from twenty to one hundred unique pieces, incorporate a theme and include a narrative that shares the sources of Eve’s inspiration, such as poetry, literature, nature and personal memories. The names of the collections are diverse and represent Eve’s wide range of interests.  Everything in the collection comes from Eve’s imagination, which she conveys to others through sketches. Based on theses sketches, artisans make models to test the piece as it looks as a dimensional object. This collaboration continues between Eve and her goldsmiths until the piece is perfect.

Eve talked about her childhood and life’s experiences and how those experiences are expressed in her work. For several years, she and her parents hid among several different secret locations, and at times Eve was hidden in a separate location from her parents. Yet in spite of the inevitable stresses, her parents protected her body as well as her psyche; Eve’s memories of this time in her life are not anguished, and she still finds inspiration in how her parents coped with and survived such a horrendous time in their lives.

After the war, the three of them–their extended family on both sides having been murdered by the Nazis–immigrated to Canada. Eve attended the prestigious McGill University and graduated with a degree in business and accounting, starting her career as a CPA. But she was too creative and ambitious to remain solely in accounting. She volunteered and worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, learning how to reassemble pottery from ceramic shards recovered at archeological digs. Perhaps most significantly, Eve began to make her own jewelry and to teach herself about the materials and tools.

A few years later Eve married, and soon she and her husband Maurice were parents to two young children. Her husband’s business took the family to the Midwest and they settled in Evanston, IL. Eve went back to graduate school at the University of Illinois and received degrees in linguistics (she is conversant in ten languages!) and medieval poetry. She found work as a high school language teacher, and traveled to Israel during the summers to work at archeological digs, helping to reassemble ceramic pieces. When romance languages fell out of favor and her teaching services were no longer needed, she took some metalsmith classes and learned how to weld. She incorporated these new skills into her jewelry-making business, now based in her home studio in the family’s basement. She moved her business into the current location in 1987 and expanded the space to its current size and look in 1991.

Today the business is truly a family enterprise with Eve at its hub: Eve’s daughter Diane is an established glass artisan, and together they collaborate on various pieces in each of the collections. Diane’s husband, Matthew, a professional photographer and art director, designs and maintains the Eve J. Alfillé online presence; Eve’s husband is involved in the back-end operations of the gallery, and years ago designed a specialized computer program to track inventory and sales.

So often word ‘unique’ is bandied about carelessly without any thought of its true meaning, but unique is what you will find here. No two pieces are exactly the same and everything is made by hand in the studio in the back. For the woman who has everything, for a couple looking to select personalized rings that symbolize an upcoming engagement or marriage, for any occasion or no occasion at all, an ideal gift may certainly be found within the walls of the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio.