Herb Gardening

By Caryl Clem:

Learning to cook in the 1950’s provided little exposure to the sensation of fresh herbs to flavor your food dishes. Collectible today are the orange and green tins from A&P storing cinnamon, sage, marjoram and all the common spices of that era. My eternal gratitude to the Italian chef in the 1960’s who introduced me to fresh basil, garlic, rosemary and oregano at the neighborhood store. After eating the meal we prepared, my mind set about spices shifted, now I was suspicious of any that came in a can or jar.

Fresh herbs you just picked have unbelievable flavor with health benefits.  Many herbs contain immune fighting vitamins and heart healthy antioxidants. If you love a variety of flowers blooming through the summer in your yard, consider herbal beds. Purple ruffle basil has deep purple/ red leaves. Basil comes in over 8 types, ranging in flavors of licorice, anise, and citrus with a peppery bite. Another Mediterranean favorite, purslane has yellow flowers with a piquant lemony flavor. Borage has dazzling blue flowers with a cucumber flavor. Perilla used in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam has a cinnamon edge with a cumin/citrus bite. Mrytle has orange blossom flavor leaves. Chives have purple button top flowers. The array of different leaves and blooms is attractive many naturally attract bees and birds. Herbs are thoroughly explained in “Herbs and Spices, the Cooks Reference” by Jill Norman.Culinary opportunity herbs offer include plant origin, flavors, growing conditions, decorative appeal describing blooming, with recipe advice.

Traditional favorites found in stores around the Chicago area are rosemary, basil, sage, parsley, dill, cilantro, mint, oregano, marjoram, and thyme.  All of these herbs except cilantro and mint love well drained soil and sun. Mint is an aggressive plant; I have it in its own territory by a window well. Cilantro does better in the shade. To keep a supply of cilantro all summer, keep planting seeds every 2-3 weeks. If you use cilantro often, try Rau Ram from Asia with a citrus more peppery bite. Marjoram is like a baby sister to oregano, same family but its flavor weakens the longer it is cooked. Another partial shade herb is Angelica from Russia and Scandinavia with yellow flowers, popular to use with fish described as a juniper, anise, and celery mix. A book recommended in an article on gardening in Chicago by the Chicago Tribune referenced, “Homegrown Herb Garden, A guide to Growing and Culinary Use”by Lisa Baker Morgan and Amy McCormick.

Warmer days ahead should include growing fresh herbs for your kitchen. When temperatures will average 60 degrees or higher during the day and no lower than 45 degrees at night, your herbs will flourish. Herbs are resilient requiring little maintenance. You can have it all, colorful beauty, flavor and healthy cuisine in your own yard.  Enjoy your inside/out herbal spice shelf.

Buckingham Fountain

My first experience visiting Buckingham Fountain was not pleasant. I remember my Dad and I walking very close to edge of the fountain; terrified of the Art Deco seahorse that was, supposedly, a state staring at me, spouting water. I began to cry; only in kindergarten at the time. The fountain represents Lake Michigan, with four sets of sea horses (two per set) symbolizing the four states—Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana—that bordered the lake. Setting gracefully in Grant Park since 1927, from afar, Buckingham Fountain was absolutely beautiful whether it was during the day or watching the light show at night. I remember many summer evenings driving “downtown” as we described it then to gather at the fountain.

In 1924, one million was donated to the city to build the fountain by Kate Sturges Buckingham, philanthropist and art patron in memory of her brother, Clarence Buckingham, who was director of the Art Institute. My grade school built in 1962 was named after Kate Sturges Buckingham so I know the name well. Work began in 1925; taking two years to build. The fountain is one of the finest ornamental structures though not always appreciated for its elegance The Buckingham Fountain was manually operated from 1927 through the 1970s and my significant other who was 18 was arrested for the first time swimming drunk in the fountain with his friends one night. Back in the 1970’s days, they were arrested but let go, generally without legal consequences, after their parents picked them up.

For years, the fountain was entirely manually operated by two stationary engineers who each worked a daily twelve-hour shift. Historically, the major water displays occurred only twice a day, three times a week. These displays were so popular that they began to be offered every day in the late 1950s. According to the Chicago Park District, they used a keyboard with twenty-one electric switches that could fade, brighten, and blend colors to create numerous light effects. Although the light show was first automated in 1968, the water continued to be manually operated until 1980, when the operations were fully computerized. There were some years that the fountain was not operated here in Chicago but in Atlanta. The Chicago Park District offers some wonderful information concerning the structure, the fountains water capacity and upgrading the computer controlling the fountain in 2013 as well as water display hours.

In accordance with the stay home order, all Chicago Park District fieldhouses and playgrounds will remain closed until April 30th. But generally the fountain does not open until mid May through October, so visiting would be a great trip to put on your wish list.

Keeping in step at the parks

By Caryl Clem:

April’s monthly theme is for everyone to walk so put on your favorite soles and head for a park while practicing social distancing. Cook County Forest Preserves feature 70,000 acres and over 350 trails to investigate while Chicago’s parks cover 7,600 acres. To locate the scenic 31,000 acres with 206 pathways and trails to explore; the largest selection of endangered and wildlife species in Lake County along the Des Plaines River or the shores of Lake Michigan.

A contest had been held to decide what the best park should offer and the winner influenced the next 50 years of park designs, Frederick Law Olmsted. The New York Central Park in 1857, was a showcase of beauty, a park with rolling landscapes and graceful wrought iron benches. The most frequent visitors were the wealthy. The best roads were there for carriage races held on a regular basis. By the turn of the century parks were constructed for the working class in neighborhood locations.  The love of sports becomes part of park services in the 1960’s.  Parks offers a huge variety of activities from museums, conservatories, cultural centers in addition to exercise.  A majority of parks feature a younger child area with playground equipment and sand boxes. Any park is an adventure to walk through while studying nature. There are interactive maps with GPS available, for instance LCFPD.org/maps.

The Rails to Trails movement idea started in Chicago. May Theilgaard Watts in 1963 wrote to the Chicago Tribune proposing closed Chicago-Aurora-Elgin railroad line was a space to walk going to waste, this was a missed opportunity. In her words, “ if we have the courage and foresight..then from this strip we can create a proud resource.”  Years later, The Illinois Prairie Path Organization turned her words into a reality currently used by over 800,000 people who have walked along the Illinois Prairie Path. Outside of  Chicago, this site offers locations complete with ratings.

The best example of wetlands is in the Spring Bluff forest preserve in Winthrop Harbor that links to the Chiwaukee Prairie in Wisconsin. The 4, 500 acre is the highest quality of coastal area in Illinois and southeast Wisconsin awarded the Ramsar Wetland of International Significance in 2015.

History and culture exploration are offered in several parks; for example The Dunn Museum in Libertyville, Indian Park near the West Rogers Park area’s Cultural Center offering Native American themes to pay tribute to the former Pottawattomie tribes that occupied this territory,  and Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park . Old roads and horse trails wind through Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods.

For dog owners,  (annual permits required )pawsitivly great spots In Lake County,

   Dog Park Maps
Duck Farm »              Independence Grove »             Lakewood »
Prairie Wolf »             Waukegan Savanna »

For Chicago, check out these trails for your favorite pet.

Currently, many parks are closed so check before going. Spend April walking, even around your neighborhood. Doctors advise a minimum of 30 minutes for at least 5 days a week. When the parks open again, explore and feel the excitement of a new adventure while improving your health.

The Good Old Days: Rain

I love rainy days; especially weather watching for storms. I get so excited checking weather reports and the radar; technology that we have today versus the good old days. Though Alexa and Weather Underground do make mistakes. But even back then, everyone loves a rainy day…. napping, reading, playing a game or spending time with your own vehicles of nostalgia though for many that may be on our computers, phones and visiting social network sites.

Just the other day there was a morning rain storm and for many in the area, electricity was lost for hours. Today’s people could not survive with the loss of power during a rain storm and unfortunately attics are not made for snuggling. Right before the storm really began, I took my usual, summer morning walk and loved watching the clouds formulate while the raindrops slowly fell and it felt beautiful. The winds picked up as soon as I reached the house.

At the elementary school I work, grades kindergarten – second, no one…no one… liked to get rained on. We would always have extra umbrellas available if we were escorting a student from a car or bus. One of my jobs was to help manage kindergarten recess and generally it was outside. The kindergarten classes would eat lunch first and then all 100+ students would head out one door to the playground. I would open that door, always checking the grounds first before releasing them.  One spring day, the air was heavy, a little cloudy but none of the other recess supervisors had rain indicators on their phones saying that rain was on the way. Our phones did not lie about weather alerts today, but I was hesitant when I opened the door.Well, we let them go and they were all out less than ten minutes, when there was no thunder, lightening…. but pouring rain. I blew the whistle to have them line up early and I was shocked how well they managed. Some screamed but for the most part, they didn’t run slamming into the one door we always used that entered the building. They lined up in their five class lines, facing one of the other supervisors and the wall of the building, who always stood there. As I passed the lines to open the door and let, them in, some were actually holding their hands out, smiling, looking up at the sky as the rain continued, quietly stamping the puddles already forming, but each line gracefully walked into the building.

Some had spring jackets on and they didn’t complain after hanging their coats and heading into their classrooms. Some did ask if they could change their shoes since they had an extra pair of tennis shoes for P.E. The main office had video cameras and watched them come in; hoping there would not be a mob and there wasn’t. Those adults viewing the cameras were surprised at the smiles of fun on their faces.

Oh, boy how good their bare feet would have felt in the rain that poured most of the afternoon….just like the good old days.

Magical summers

Many Baby Boomers growing up did not always have their summers planned with vacations. Some went to summer camp and many, like me, waited anxiously for best friends to get home from camp so we could play or create the next adventure. Some of us had no place to go during the summer with the exemption of exploring the neighborhood because we did have full freedom to go outside and play on a nice day.  Full freedom to explore and be back by 6 for dinner or for some until the street lights came on. No fear of stranger… danger!

Sometimes, we would go to the local playground or city park such as Chicago’s Bessemer which had a community pool or Stoney Island Park, which was popular for its ball fields, now known as Jessie Owen Park on the South Side of Chicago. Of course, riding our bikes(without helmets) often doing all sorts of stunts to get there. Many families had plastic, above ground pools in their backyard…not so different as those today.  The backyard sprinklers were are last resort but always fun once turned on. We never got sick drinking from the hoses either. Playing hopscotch, kick the can, red light, green light, red rover, Chinese jump rope, jacks( inside and out.)

I am not sure if it initially came from boredom or just not sure what to explore next but we produced plays, musicals and all sorts of summer shows for our families. One my friends and I did was about Betsy Ross and instead of the infamous lemonade s tand we re-created the Sip and Stir on a front porch which was originally an ice cream shop in Old Town. We made chocolate shakes and decorated the porch with tissue flowers. Though unless we had help from a Mom, we had to make sure that cooler was stocked with ice.

If in junior high and a Chicago city kid, sometimes we would ride the local Illinois Central Train downtown for lunch in the Narcissus room at Marshall Fields. Sometimes we would ride the bus to Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park on the west side; one of the first indoor malls.

However, screens did come into play when it was a rainy day. You could select from 3- 5 channels. If it was Saturday morning, you had a variety of cartoons to choose. Prime television was generally in the evening and reserved as a family event after your friends returned home. Board games or blind mans bluff were always an option and some of us had indoor ping pong or pool tables that we were allowed to play in the cooler finished basement since some did not have air conditioning.

Saturday afternoons could offer corny black and white horror movies such as Attack of The Crab Monsters,Teenagers From Outer Space and I Was A Teenage Werewolf. This was all after adjusting the TV antennas which could take some time especially if weather was poor and Mom watching over you while you made Jiffy Pop, the best stove- top popcorn that you loved to gently slide back and forth over the burner and watch the foil expand to new heights. Evenings were always spent with my favorite paint by number set from Bargain Town or reading which was encouraged before I went to bed. We always took trips to the local Chicago Public Library branch. Today, I am an avid reader and love to paint for fun.

Raising children in the 1990’s actually was pretty similar to the 1960’s though there television sets had a lot more channels to select. And they still made Jiffy Pop and my kids loved to help. Personal computers were just showing up in homes and they were pretty bad. So were pagers used mainly for work and more Mom’s needed jobs. I still let my children take over the neighborhood on bikes.Though, they did not have the run of as many blocks like we did in the old days. They did play outside and established some creative plays to perform for parents. Games were similar like tag, Red Rover with the exception of Marco Polo, a new game at the pool. I found sometimes, as parents,we would get too involved in the preparation of games and adventures. Maybe,we should have taken a back seat more often and just watched them build their creativity and love for one another. A very difficult exercise.

Today, just give kids markers, chalk, paper, and even washable paint. Let them go for it outside. Give them boxes, paper towel rolls, saved cereal boxes, tape and let them create their own summer houses, vehicles or forts. Pull out old clothes, dresses and see what they can do. Let them play with their friends and learn together. As far as games,Duck, Duck Goose and Monkey in the Middle seems to be popular. Gathering by themselves to play without you is the best of time for your children during the summer.

But never limit your field trip trips to the local library. You can actually cook Jiffy Pop on the grill outside. And watch the entire shows and movies from the past on Netflix. Maybe true summer fun hasn’t changed that much after all.