A Vanishing Man: Charles Finch’s Latest Victorian Mystery

              Charles Lenox is a well-educated, well-connected young man, but even he, when called to the Duke of Dorset’s home after a painting is found to have been stolen, knows his place. After all, even among the aristocracy, a Duke is way above Lenox, particularly now that he has taken to detecting (after all, what well-bred man works?). But status doesn’t deter Lenox from carrying out his investigation—even when it involves standing up to the Duke and pursuing the revelation of a long-held family secret that leads to murder.Finch, Charles_CREDIT Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

              Lenox is the hero of a series of Victorian era mysteries involving Charles Lenox written by bestselling author Charles Finch who though he calls Chicago his home, seems mainly to live in London during the mid-to-late 1800s. His newest Lenox novel, The Vanishing Man (Minotaur 2019; $26.99) is the second in his three-series prequel showing the detective when he was young and just starting off. The prequels take place before the 11 other Lenox mysteries Finch has written.

              Interestingly, Finch has been writing his novels for so long, he says he’s never had a real job. He also has a philosophy of writing that goes against what’s commonly recommended.

              “I think you should write what you love,” he says. “Not what you know or see. And I love that period of history.”

              He must as he spends a lot of time in a different country and different century. Though Finch says he’s a hypochondriac and would be afraid to really be a part of a time when even a simple infection could kill–penicillin after all is still over half a century from being discovered.

              “But I would love to walk down the streets and get a feeling for what it was like at that time,” he says. “I’d like to really immerse myself.”

              Instead Finch delves deep into research and history.

              “This book was especially difficult to peel myself away from,” he says.

               He’s also an avid reader of Victorian novels (Finch lists Anthony Trollope, Sherlock Holmes and George Elliott as among his favorites), Finch lived in England for almost four years so though he can’t go back to Victorian times, he at least is very familiar with the country. He says he chose his latest plot because he wanted to wade into Shakespeare and examine some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the great playwright.

              “Writing about Shakespeare gave me a chance to look into every old apocryphal story about him and his times, and in the end– without giving too much away–I discovered one of the most plausible—and unproven–theories about his life,” he says. “It’s one which is directly connected to the crime Lenox is solving in 1851.”


Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen

The cookbook, her first, is the outcome of her award winning blog and herdesire to educate people about Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food says Maureen Abood about Lebanese food.
“I want people to learn how to make this adventuresome but easily accessible food.”

Balancing the tangy flavors of yogurt, pomegranate and lemon, zesty spices and herbs such as cinnamon, mint and garlic, the sweetness of molasses and rose water along with grains and nuts is one of the defining factors of what makes Mediterranean cuisine so appealing says Maureen Abood, author of Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen (Running Press 2015; $30).

“And, of course, it’s healthy as well,” she adds.

Abood, who learned to cook from her Lebanese family, was the chief development officer for the St. Jude League in Chicago when a series of less-then-positive life events propelled her to leave her job and move to San Francisco to attend culinary school.

Raised in Lansing, where there is a large Lebanese population, she had spent summers at the family vacation house in Harbor Springs. That’s where she retreated after graduating. Her goal was to write a blog about the foods of her childhood.

“There aren’t many people around during the off-season,” says Abood, “and that was good for my creativity.”

The cookbook, her first, is the outcome of her award winning blog and her desire to educate people about Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food.

“I want people to learn how to make this adventuresome but easily accessible food,” she says.

For those just starting on this culinary journey, Abood suggests starting with Chicken Hushweh (pronounced HUSH-wee), a dish she describes as always a favorite with family and friends.

“You can make a nice Romaine salad with a lemon vinaigrette, maybe topped with some freshly chopped mint to serve with it,” says Abood noting that her recipe for hummus and pita chips would also be a good accompaniment.

Her Pomegranate Rose sorbet offers a light, sweet-tart and refreshing dessert.  

“I like to top it with chopped pistachios, the green and pink look pretty,” she says. “With the Chicken Hushweh, you have a great but easy meal.”

For more information or to visit her online store, maureenabood.com

Hushweh (Chicken Rice Pilaf with Butter Toasted Almonds)

Makes 12 servings

For the chicken:

1 (3- to 4-pound free-range chicken (or if time is of the essence buy a roasted chicken from the grocery store)

1 large yellow onion, quartered

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Few grinds of black pepper

For the rice:

2 tablespoons salted butter

1 pound ground beef chuck or lamb

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Few grinds of black pepper

1 cup parboiled long-grain white rice (such as Uncle Ben’s)

2 cups chicken broth

1 cinnamon stick

3/4 cup Butter Toasted Almonds (see recipe below), divided

Heat the oven to 425°F   

Pat the chicken dry. Place it in a large roasting pan. Stuff the cavity with the onion. Rub a couple of tablespoons of oil evenly over the skin and season the chicken all over lightly with paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Roast the chicken until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced and the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160°F in the thigh on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 hour. Baste the chicken every 15 minutes with its juices while it roasts.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 4-quart Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the ground beef and season it with the ground cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Cook the meat, stirring constantly and using a metal spoon to crumble it into small pieces until no trace of pink remains, about 5 minutes.

Stir the rice into the meat until it is completely coated with juices. Pour in the broth and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, tuck in the cinnamon stick, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until all of the broth is absorbed.

Transfer the roasted chicken to a cutting board and when it is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Shred the chicken into 1-inch pieces.

Remove the cinnamon stick and add the chicken, 1/2 cup of the toasted nuts, and the remaining 3 tablespoons butter to the hot rice mixture, stirring to combine. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Sprinkle with the remaining nuts and serve immediately.

Butter Toasted Pine Nuts and Almonds

½ teaspoon salted butter

1 cup slivered olives or whole pine nuts

Fine sea salt, to taste

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir the nuts to coat them with the butter and continue stirring constantly until the nuts are golden brown. Keep a close watch over the nuts; they can burn quickly once they begin to brown.

Transfer the nuts to a bowl while they are still warm and salt them lightly. When they have cooled to room temperature, store the nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a month or in the freezer for up to one year.

Pomegranate Rose Sorbet

Makes 8 servings

3⁄4 cup granulated sugar

3⁄4 cup warm water

1⁄4 cup light corn syrup

11⁄2 cups   100 percent pure pomegranate juice

Juice of 1 lemon

3 drops rose water

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat the sugar with the warm water until the water boils and the sugar melts. Add the corn syrup, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and rose water and simmer for 3 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a heatproof bowl, cool for 10 minutes, and then cover and chill it until it is completely cold. Or, pour the slightly cooled mixture into a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag and immerse it in a bowl of ice water until it is completely cold.

Churn the pomegranate mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Chill the sorbet in the freezer in an airtight container for at least 12 hours and up to several weeks.

Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a small mixing bowl, prepare the topping by whisking the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt, then cutting the butter in with a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, working the mixture until it is coarse crumbs.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl or in the stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until they light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and rose water and mix until they are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture just until they are combined. Mix in half of the milk, then alternate mixing in another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, the remaining milk, and the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Scatter the raspberries over the top of the batter and gently press them in, just by about 1/2-inch. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the raspberries.

Bake the cake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for at least 20 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a plate. Turn the cake over onto another plate to have the top facing up.

Reprinted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms © 2015 by Maureen Abood, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Raspberry Rose Crumb Cake

This recipe is adapted from SmittenKitchen.com, where it is a blueberry coffee cake.


5 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt


2 cups minus 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon rose water

3 cups fresh raspberries

1/2 cup milk, whole or 2 percent

Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a small mixing bowl, prepare the topping by whisking the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt, then cutting the butter in with a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, working the mixture until it is coarse crumbs.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl or in the stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until they light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and rose water and mix until they are incorporated and the batter is smooth. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture just until they are combined. Mix in half of the milk, then alternate mixing in another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, the remaining milk, and the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Scatter the raspberries over the top of the batter and gently press them in, just by about 1/2-inch. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the raspberries.

Bake the cake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for at least 20 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a plate. Turn the cake over onto another plate to have the top facing up.

Bitten by the Blues: The Alligator Records Story

              Bruce Iglauer, president and founder of Alligator Records, describes himself as an actively bad musician who can’t read music, and can only sometimes sing on pitch. Yet he was able to turn a $2500 inheritance into the largest independent record label in the world. Bitten by the Blues: The Alligator Records Story (University of Chicago Press 2018; $30), co-authored with Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the College of Education at Northern Illinois University, is Iglauer’s memoir encompassing more than a half century of the blues, not only in Chicago but throughout the globe.

              Iglauer and Roberts chatted with Shelf Life blogger Jane Simon Ammeson about their book as well as their working relationship.

Jane: Bruce, you started off in the mailroom and worked your way up to owning your own independent blues record label. Give us a little background on how that happened and how you took some of your inheritance to start Alligator Records. Would it be possible to do something like this today?

Bruce: My inheritance was a ridiculously small amount of money to start a record label. I spent every penny recording that first Hound Dog Taylor album and pressing a thousand copies. With the help of a well-established distributors, I was able to get my record into a lot of stores, and with the help of a format of radio called “progressive rock”, I was able to score a lot of radio play. Now almost all those distributors are gone, along with all but a handful of record stores. “Progressive rock” radio disappeared decades ago. So, the path I took is no longer viable. But at the same time, these days, with digital recording, it’s possible to record an album for a few thousand dollars or maybe even less. And using services like CD Baby or The Orchard, it’s possible for that album to be available online without ever being in the form of a CD or an LP. However, without the know-how and connections that an established label has, it’s almost impossible for self-produced artist or a startup label to get the media attention that his or her music may deserve. So—can you make a record on a tiny budget like I did with Hound Dog Taylor? Yes. Can you make the world know that your music exists? These days, that’s very, very difficult. And the streaming services that are taking over as the way people listen to music pay so little that making enough money to continue to make commercial recordings is almost impossible.

Jane: Did you have an abundance of confidence or was that a scary time for you?

Bruce: I was scared, and I only had enough money to make one record. I knew that if I ever wanted to make a second one, I’d have to sell enough of the first. So, I knew that any mistake could be the end of my brand new label. But I was determined and believed in the music I was recording. I figured if I loved the blues so much, other people would too—if they only heard it.

Jane: Do you find it amazing that you’re not a musician but have been so successful in the music world?

Bruce: I’ve learned a lot about the blues from spending hundreds of hours with blues musicians, and I can speak their language. I’ve produced or co-produced over 130 albums, and my combination of some musical knowledge and unlimited enthusiasm seems to inspire blues musicians to great performances. I often tell musicians—If you record for Alligator, your goal should be to make records where you can say “this is my best music, the music I want my children and grandchildren to listen to.” If musicians don’t want to make their career best records, we don’t want them on Alligator.

Jane: Patrick, what was it like working with Bruce on the book? Did you have a background in the music industry at all? Or did you learn as you went along?

Patrick:  I joke that when I initially sat down with Bruce to begin the project, I worried he wouldn’t have much to say. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We recorded over 100 hours of audio—Bruce talking while I occasionally prompted him with questions or requests for clarification. I don’t have a background in the music industry, and I think this fact helped us write for readers like me who may not have extensive knowledge of blues music or the record business. It’s a very accessible book, and even readers without much blues history under their belts will enjoy learning about some truly remarkable personalities, the great Hound Dog Taylor being one notable example.

Jane: What was the inspiration for writing Bitten by the Blues? Are there take-aways you’d like people to get besides just a good read?

Bruce: The book is not intended to be about me. I see myself as a camera and hope that the readers will be able to see the wonderful, exciting world of the Chicago blues clubs in the 1970s and 80s, when most of the music was in the black community and shared by people who had a vibrant culture and heritage. I also want to give the readers an idea of how blues recordings are created, and to tell them something about the musical giants I’ve been able to work with, tour with, and who became my friends. And I want to give them a look at what it means to be a specialized independent record label, and how the recording business used to work, and how it works now. Mostly, I hope that this memoir will inspire people to listen to some of the charismatic blues artists who have created this timeless, exhilarating music.


What: Bruce Iglauer and Patrick Roberts share stories, answer questions and sign copies of their books

When: Friday, February 22; 7 to 8 p.m.

Where: Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: Contact City Lit Books at 773-235-2523; citylitbooks.com

Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future

              In January 2011, Newsweek magazine published an article titled “America’s Dying Cities” focusing on 10 cities with the steepest drop in overall population as well as the largest decline in the number of residents under the age of 18. Among those listed such as Detroit and Flint, was South Bend, Indiana which over the years had lost or seen diminished several large manufacturing companies including Studebaker and an exodus of young talent.

              “What is particularly troubling for this small city is that the number of young people declined by 2.5% during the previous decade,” the article posited, “casting further doubt on whether this city will ever be able to recover.”

              Around that same time, Pete Buttigieg, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and had worked for the management strategy consulting firm McKinsey and Company—the type of resume that screams New York, Los Angeles or London, but certainly not his native South Bend—moved back to the city where he grew up and threw his hat into the ring as a Democratic mayoral candidate. He was 29 years old.

 Buttigieg won his election. During his first term, as an officer in U.S. Navy Reserve from 2009-2017, he took a leave of absence to serve for a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan in 2014, receiving the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work. Back home, he won re-election with 80% of the vote despite having come out as gay just four months earlier. Let me repeat that—a gay man was re-elected in Indiana with 80% of the vote.

              “I’ve found people are really accepting,” Buttigieg tells me when we finally connect on the phone—since we set up a time to talk it’s been changed numerous times because he’s been very busy since announcing he was going to run for president. He’s appeared on “The View,” “CBS This Morning,” and “CNN” and has been interviewed by Rolling Stone, the New Yorker and the New York Times to name just a few. Plus, his father, a Notre Dame professor, had passed away.

              The citizens of South Bend also like results and this city, which Newsweek had doubted could come back just eight years ago, is doing just that.

              Buttigieg, who is only 37, shares both his story and the story of South Bend as well as his views for creating a bright future for our country in his new book, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future (Liveright 2019; $27.95).

              I live near South Bend, my brother taught at Notre Dame University for 30 years, my son went to Holy Cross College and I’m a big football fan so I’m there a lot. Over the years I’ve watched the city’s downtown empty out, morphing into a place of empty storefronts as retail and restaurants left either for good or for the area around University Mall, a large sprawling indoor shopping center surrounded by smaller strip malls, car dealerships and both chain and independent restaurants.

              Then came such Buttigieg initiatives as “1000 Homes in 1000 Days initiative,” which demolished or rehabilitated abandoned homes in the city. His “Smart Streets” redefined the downtown, making it both safer and more appealing. Two years ago, the city made the largest investment ever—over $50 million– in its parks and trails, creating the green spaces so valued by urban dwellers.  

              “There’s been an evolution in economic redevelopment,” Buttigieg tells me. “It’s not about smoke-stack chasing anymore. The coin of the realm is the work force—the people. A city is made of people and it needs to be fun and a place you want to live. We didn’t have those expectations before.”

              Buttigieg talks of “urban patriots,” a term he uses to describe groups of people who savor the challenge of turning a rust belt city around and making it a “cool” city.

              “It’s a type of militancy in how people are approaching it which is quite different than when people were leaving cities,” he says. “I grew up believing success had to do with leaving home, but once I got out, I missed that sense of place and I realized I could be part of my city’s economic re-development. So, I moved home. At a moment when we’re being told that the Rust Belt is full of resentment, I think South Bend is a reply, we’ve found a way of coming together, getting funding to make our city better. There’s a sense of optimism. I think people are beginning to look at politics and politicians and asking do they make life better or not and what do they bring to the table to help everyone.”

              Here’s what South Bend is like now. You can go white water rafting through the center of town. Vibrant neighborhoods consisting of coffee shops, eclectic boutiques, trendy restaurants and outdoor gathering places thrive in the downtown. Last fall, Garth Brooks performed outdoors in Notre Dame’s football stadium (its $400 million expansion which added several thousand premium seats as well as new academic buildings was completed just two years ago) in front of a sold-out crowd of 84,000 on a very cold and rainy October night. SF Motors started manufacturing at the old Hummer plant, producing electric cars. Walking trails, including one along the St. Joseph River, abound.  Eddy Street Commons located across from the Notre Dame campus continues to expand, a destination of bars, shops and eateries as well as condos and apartment buildings. Old neighborhoods with homes that once had sagging porches and peeling paint, are now pristinely restored.

              “We’re calling out to another generation,” says Buttigieg. “There’s an energy here, people are proud of their city and are working together to make it even better.”

              Indeed. The other day, I was flipping through a magazine article about the best places in Indiana and paused at a magnificent photo of a downtown scene lit with colored lights reflecting on the sparkling waters of a river. Where is this? I wondered. Looking down, I saw the answer: South Bend.

Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures

              When we think of Ben Hecht—and really, how many of us do? it’s because the college drop-out, turned Chicago Daily News reporter and then screenwriter personifies the early part of the 19th century. He was a war and crime journalist who went beyond writing and instead helped solve murder cases, along with the help of fellow newsman, Charlie MacArthur of the Chicago Examiner.  

Adina Hoffman

              Indeed many people, including author Adina Hoffman know and love Hecht’s movies including such classics as Scarface, Twentieth Century, The Front Page and Notorious without even knowing his name.

              “I worked as a film critic throughout the 90s, and it was only when I started to really involve myself in film history that I read Hecht’s memoir, A Child of the Century,” says Hoffman, author of the just released Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures (Yale University Press 2018; Amazon price $17.61), noting there is so much of Hecht’s DNA in the movies made during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

              But as Hoffman read more and more about Hecht, she realized there was more to him than a Jazz Age writer who overindulged in a variety of vices.

“I realized that his screenwriting was in some ways just the start of it,” says Hoffman, whose biography of Taha Muhammad Ali, My Happiness was named one of the best twenty books of 2009 by the Barnes & Noble Review and won the UK’s 2010 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize.  “Maybe for him, it was the least of it. Hecht had multiple occupations—really preoccupations—and threw himself with gusto into being a journalist, novelist, playwright, a film director, producer, a memoirist, and Jewish activist, someone passionately engaged with the future of Palestine/Israel. I was fascinated by that multiplicity of his, by all the hats he managed to wear at once and with such incredible panache—even genius.”

              Hoffman also deeply identified with Hecht’s desire to be involved in a serious if playful way with several realms at once and his having multiple job descriptions much as she does.

“At the same time, there are certain things that set Hecht apart from me in a very basic way: his political positions in terms of Israel/Palestine are approximately the opposite of my own, and I thought it would be an interesting challenge to write about someone with whom I strongly disagree on this front,” she says.

              Though she’s spent much of her adult life living in Jerusalem, Hoffman did the majority of her research at The Newberry in Chicago which holds Hecht’s papers.

              “He seems to have been friend or colleague or rhetorical sparring partner to or with almost anybody who was anybody in twentieth century culture,” says Hoffman.  “I’d find myself in the course of a day reading these incredibly lively, funny letters and telegrams to and from everyone from David O. Selznick to Carl Sandburg, Menachem Begin, Katharine Hepburn, George Grosz, Sherwood Anderson, the gangster Mickey Cohen, Groucho Marx, and on and on. There are also marvelous photographs, drafts of his work, scrapbooks, objects—passports, pipes, letter openers, and even his first Oscar.”

              Hoffman says one of the purposes of her book is for Hecht to be much better remembered than he is today.

“He was someone who played a central role in creating American popular culture as we know it, but he’s been almost completely forgotten,” she says. “I think people around Chicago and in the Midwest know more about him than most others. I got an awful lot of blank or confused looks when people would ask me what I was working on and I’d say a book about Ben Hecht. The full range of his accomplishment or accomplishments is something I’d like people to realize—and also the complex way that his Jewishness figured into the rest of it. Hecht claimed he ‘became a Jew in 1939’—which is to say, he became a Jew because of the Holocaust—but I totally disagree. Being Jewish was always a part of him, as was being American. And there was absolutely no contradiction in his being both things at once and in the most vital way.”


What: Author talk and book signing

When: Tuesday, February 19 at 6 pm

Where: Ruggles Hall, The Newberry, 60 West Walton St., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free and open to the public. Registration required.

FYI: (312) 943-9090; newberry.org

Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks

“People couldn’t see beyond his optimistic outlook and took him to be naïve and have a simplistic outlook on life,” says Wilson. “But Banks was a very deep thinker, he’s someone who overcame a lot of obstacles but never said anything bad about people.

              A college baseball player whose batting average was lower than his grade point average, Columbus, Indiana ophthalmologist Doug Wilson turned his passion for the sport to writing about the iconic players he admired in his youth.

              His latest, Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2019; Amazon price $23.95), tells the story of the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs. Recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs and raised in a segregated community in Texas, Banks was always positive and had a good word to say about everything. These characteristics often led to people underestimating the man who would become known as “Mr. Cub.”

              “People couldn’t see beyond his optimistic outlook and took him to be naïve and have a simplistic outlook on life,” says Wilson. “But Banks was a very deep thinker, he’s someone who overcame a lot of obstacles but never said anything bad about people. If reporters asked him about someone who had said something negative about him, Banks would change things around so that he deflected the question without being rude.”

              But in the end, it was Banks good natured spirits that won the day says Wilson, recounting the rocky relationship between Leo Durocher and Banks.

              “You couldn’t have come up with two different kind of guys,” says Wilson. “Durocher, well…the title of his book Nice Guys Finish Last says it all and Banks was the ultimate nice guy. Durocher hated Banks’s guts and tried everything he could to run him out of town but there was no way PK Wrigley was going to let that happened. And all the time Durocher was trying to get rid of him, Banks just smiled. When Durocher would talk to reporters about how Banks was ruining the Cubs, they’d run to him and ask him about that, and Banks would just say “Leo Durocher is the best manager ever. He always took the high road.”

              Wilson whose previous books include Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds, The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych which was selected by the Library of Michigan as a Michigan Notable book for 2014, Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson (2014) and Pudge: The Biography of Carlton Fisk, not only read every interview he could find with Banks dating back to 1950 as well as endless newspaper accounts and books, says he also was able to located several friends from Banks’s youth including those who knew him when was seven years old and another who played bay with him in high school.

              “I also found three guys who played with Ernie in the Negro League when he was with the Kansas City Monarchs,” says Wilson. “They said he was shy around people. But his persona changed after he became comfortable in Chicago.”

              By interviewing friends from his boyhood, Wilson says it helped him see how overwhelming it must have been to be confined to segregated schools and neighborhoods and the challenges that Banks faced in becoming a player at a time when African Americans were just beginning to be allowed to play in the major league. Amazingly, Banks would be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a place in the Hall of Fame and he would always remain optimistic.

              “Years later, Leo Durocher had a change of heart, perhaps surgically induced, in 1983 a very contrite 78-year-old Leo, recovering from a recent open heart procedure, perhaps seeing his own mortality at last, spoke at a Cubs reunion and tearfully apologized to the team in general and Ernie Banks specifically for how he had behaved,” writes Wilson.

              In other words, says Wilson, “Ernie won.”


              What: Doug Wilson has several book events in the Chicagoland area.

              When & Where: Saturday, February 16 at 2 pm at Anderson’s Bookshop, 5112 Main St, Downers Grove, IL. This event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, Let’s Play Two, from Anderson’s Bookshop. Call Anderson’s Bookshop Downers Grove (630) 963-2665.

              When & Where: Saturday, March 2 at 6 pm at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL. Free.  (773) 293-2665.

              For more information, visit dougwilsonbaseball.blogspot.com/

May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and The Art of Persuasion

Whether we go out to dine, order online or grab a sack of burgers from McDonald’s on our way home, we use a familiar tool to decide what to get. But it’s one we seldom even think about though it ultimately impacts our budget and our food.

              “We just take menus for granted, that’s one of the things that was so intriguing to me,” says Alison Pearlman who may be one of the few people who doesn’t. She first started collecting them when traveling with her parents and respective step-parents as a teen throughout the United States and Europe. Now Pearlman, an art historian and food aficionado, has written May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and The Art of Persuasion (Agate 2018; $16), which takes a look at menus ranging from gourmet restaurants to fast food and casual chains and those in between.

              File it under “it’s a hard job but someone has to do it,” in researching her book, Pearlman visited over 60 restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area where she dined, collected or photographed menus and documented her experiences.

              “It added up to 77 visits because I visited restaurants multiple times so I could try the drive-thru and the eat-in and I went to Applebee’s in one location and then to a different Applebee’s over the course of my research after the Applebee’s chain started to roll out these tablet menus and so I went to an  Applebee’s that had one of those” says Pearlman, an art historian, who also tried three different versions of a Domino pizza mobile ordering app.

              As Pearlman views it, menus aren’t just a piece of paper (or a chalk board or sign above the counter), they’re living documents.

              “It’s a piece of the performance,” says Pearlman. “The servers, the interior design and the décor all amplify the menu, they’re all part of the environment and I think of them as partners in persuasion. The whole theater of the restaurant and what the menu says has a large role to play in that theater.”

              Pearlman research such subjects as how menus are created and why certain looks are chosen, the use of photos, choices offered, descriptive words, tantalizing hints of exotic ingredients and even ordering items not on the menu—the latter making you feel like a total insider.

So why not just order instead of trying to understand why a menu is structured a certain way?

              Pearlman says we should care because menus broker a central relationship in our life—that of eating out.

              “According to the National Restaurant Association in the United States, restaurants get 48 percent of the money we spend on food,” she says. Research by Toast, a restaurant point-of-sale and management system, indicates that 51% of American diners go out to eat more than once a week.

              “Crafty, well-designed menus satisfy both diners and restauranteurs, bringing harmony to the relationship,” says Pearlman. “They do this by limiting our choices in what we can buy and how we can dine while convincing us that what they’re offering is what we want. It’s really not too much to say they impact our happiness.”

              As for Pearlman’s relationship with menus, after writing her book, she says she has lost her innocence.

              “I look at them in a totally different way,” she says.

Book Signings: Lost Restaurants of Chicago by Greg Borzo

For those of us who grew up in and around Chicago, there are names of long gone restaurants that still tug at our heart, evoking memories of foods no longer served, surroundings replaced and aromas we many never smell again.

Hoe Sai Gai

          For me, that’s the allure of Greg Borzo’s latest book, Lost Restaurants of Chicago with foreword by Dough Sohn, the owner of the now closed Hot Doug’s.

          Borzo, a Chicagoan historian who has written several books about the city’s bicycling, transportation and history including its fountains frequently gives tours and talks for organizations such as Forgotten Chicago, the Chicago History Museum and Chicago Cycling Club. The idea for his latest came about when he and his friends were chatting about the good times they’d had at restaurants over the years and how many were gone. His book goes further back though, starting over a century-and-a-half ago.


          “My list of restaurants to research from at least a hundred people,” he says, noting that he still gets some complaints about places he left out but then with seven out of eight restaurants closing within a few years of opening, the number of those gone are overwhelming.

          I ask Borzo what some of his favorite are “lost” restaurants. Some he had dined at, like The Great Gritzbe’s Flying Food Show, a Richard Melman restaurant that opened in 1974.


          “It had a dessert bar and you could get as many desserts as you wanted, like a salad bar,” he recalls about the restaurant that closed in 1883. “There’s also Trader Vic’s which was in the Palmer House. Its décor was completely over the top.”

          When Trader Vic’s, a Tiki bar extraordinaire first opened in 1957, bringing it up to its Polynesian zenith cost $500,000 which included a décor boasting huge Eastern Island carved wooden heads, totem poles, canoes and massive Maori beams. It was part of the Tiki rage that swept the U.S. and Trader Vic’s had its competitors include Don the Beachcomber which featured 85 types of run and 65 different cocktails.

          There are also places he wishes he ate at but didn’t such as Maxim’s de Paris, which was opened from 1963 to 1982.

          “It was a replica of the Maxim’s in Paris,” says Borzo. “I went to it when it later when the building was an event space.”

          Which is another phenomena of Chicago restaurants.

          “Many single locations have been many different restaurants,” says Borzo.

Indeed, Bistro 110 at 110 East Pearson used to be the Blackhawk, then became Bar Toma Restaurant which is now closed.

“This book is a history book too,” says Borzo. “It reflects the character of the city through the food and showing the different income levels. Some people were going to diners, others to the Pump Room.”

The girl on the trapeze at Flo’s Restaurant and Cocktail Parlous

Borzo and I both share a laugh about the now closed Flo’s Restaurant and Cocktail Parlor which was located at 17 West Randolph, near what is now Macy’s flagship store. I used to see it as a kid when my parents took me shopping in the Loop. It was notable because a woman in a form fitting Playboy-bunny like costume and spiked heels climbed out on a swing on the second floor balcony to advertise the place.         

Greg Borzo

          “I’ve eaten at a lot of the places I write about,” says Borzo. “And those that were already closed I tried to find people who had eaten there, researched old newspaper stories and searched through vintage photos.”


What: Greg Borzo talk and book signing

When, Where and Contact Information:

Thursday, January 24 at 5 p.m.  

Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St., 6-7 p.m. A free raffle will give away more than $1,000 of gifts: trips, tours, food, books and more.

(312) 747-4300; slpl.bibliocommons.com/events

Saturday, February 9 at 5 p.m.

The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

(773) 293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

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