The story behind ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’

LINCOLN IN THE BARDOSeveral decades ago, George Saunders and his wife were visiting Washington D.C. when their cousin mentioned that anecdotal evidence indicated President Abraham Lincoln had surreptitiously visited the tomb of his 11-year-old son, Willie.

For years, the story of Lincoln, so overcome by grief, that he stole into the monument where his son was interred, nagged at the edges of Saunders’s mind. But Saunders, who teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University, had never written a novel and besides his writing was mostly satirical in nature.

“But this material has been calling me all these years,” says Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House 2017; $28). “It’s like their story was a stalker, it kept showing up at my window and it needed to get out.”

Justifying his foray into a new literary form by telling himself he’d had a nice run regarding his career—Saunders is an acclaimed short story writer who is included in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people the world, he decided why not try “this Lincoln thing.”

Saunders still had doubts about his ability to tell the story in the way the way it needed to be told. But having grown up in Chicago as part of a devout Catholic family and now having adapted some of the tenets of Buddhism in the Tibetan tradition, he has written a book that though just recently released is already garnering great reviews.

Bardo is a Tibetan concept–a kind of transitional zone says Saunders.

“We’re all in the bardo right now that goes from birth to death,” he says, noting that Buddhists would call these transition stages reincarnation and noting that the book takes place just after that, in the bardo that goes from death to whatever comes next. “Now is the time to live–knowing that death is coming—if we can accept ourselves as a mess.”

With all his research, Saunders has come to see how Lincoln persevered despite the immense weight of the Civil War, the deaths of so many Americans and that of his son as well.

“We had a president back then who bent,” he says, “when others would have broken.”

Advertisements

How the French Saved America

Give credit to France for the forming of our nation because without their help we might still be, as stereotypes go, eating crumpets, drinking tea and speaking with British accents.

That’s the focus of a new book by noted author Tom Shachtman in his latest book How the French Saved America: Soldiers, Sailors, Diplomats, Louis Xvi, and The Success of a Revolution (St. Martin’s Press 2017; $27.99).

While many of us know about the Marquis de Lafayette whose help during the Revolutionary War was so vital that we’ve named cities after him–Lafayette, Indiana and Louisiana come quickly to mind. But the Marquis wasn’t the only Frenchman who risked his life to help America achieve its independence. Indeed, according to Shachtman in his extensively researched and wonderfully written book, almost ten percent of those who perished fighting for our cause were from France.

Those surviving include not only Lafayette but also Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse, commander of the French fleet during the Battle of the Chesapeake.  He and his men created a naval blockade of Yorktown thus allowing General George Washington and yet another Frenchman, Comte de Rochambeau, to defeat British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in what was a decisive battle. Another, Louis Duportail founded the Army Corps of Engineers.

Even Shachtman, who has written or co-authored more than thirty books as well as documentaries for ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and BBC, taught at New York University and lectured at Harvard, Stanford and the Library of Congress, at first didn’t realize how much the French impacted America’s victory. He first became aware of France’s significance when writing another book Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment and decided to pursue the subject. The assistance the French provided included, among a long list, money to pay our troops, weapons, safe harbor for privateers, troops, battlefield leadership and engineering expertise.

So why is France’s contribution not better known?

“We are too invested in our own myths to acknowledge how much we owe our freedom to France,” says Shachtman, noting our belief in our rugged individualism and self-sufficiency could also play a big part. “The war might not have been won at all, or not been won by 1783 if not for the French.”

Ifyougo:

What: Tom Shachtman has three talks and book signings in the Chicago area.

When: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 6 pm

Where: The Newberry, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL

FYI: 312-255-3610; publicprograms@newberry.org

What: Learn & Lunch with Tom Shachtman

When: Wednesday, October 18 at noon

Where: University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL

FYI: 847-446-8880 to make a reservation

What: Tom Shachtman Reading & Signing

When: Thu. October 19 at 7pm

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

FYI: (773) 293-2665

 

Author shares Rosh Hashanah recipes: Cookbook offers sweet, savory recipes to celebrate the new year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, celebrates heritage and a chance for rejuvenation.

Emily Paster, author of the newly released “The Joys of Jewish Preserving: Modern Recipes with Traditional Roots, for Jams, Pickles, Fruit Butters, and More — for Holidays and Every Day” said the most common Rosh Hashanah tradition is to eat sweet foods to symbolize the hope for a new year.

“Ashkenazi Jews, for example, often begin the Rosh Hashanah meal by dipping slices of apple in honey,” said Paster, who lives in the Chicago area and writes the popular blog westoftheloop.com. “Quince is the traditional Rosh Hashanah fruit for Sephardic Jews. Other foods are traditional because eating them is considered to be a good omen for the new year, bringing luck and prosperity. These traditions are often based on a food’s color or appearance; or, more obscurely, they are a play on the Hebrew or Yiddish name for the food.”

 As an example of this play on words, Paster gives the example of eftes de prasa, or leek fritters.

“With fall being peak season for leeks, these sweet, tender fritters are the perfect appetizer for your Rosh Hashanah meal. And, naturally, leeks are also a symbolic food for the start of the new year. The word for leek in Hebrew is related to the word kareyt, which means ‘to cut.’ Prior to eating leeks on Rosh Hashanah, Sephardic Jews recite a special prayer that those who wish to hurt them will instead be cut down.”

Some of the Rosh Hashanah recipes included in Paster’s book are Fruitful Fig Jam, Golden Pumpkin Butter, Quince Paste and Apple Honey and Rose Water Jam.

“Every recipe in my book was inspired by an idea, and I developed every recipe myself because I wanted it to be a cookbook that everyone can use,” Paster says.

Some recipes call for canning and the use of a pressure cooker. If you’re short on time, you can make the jams, ketchups, pickles, conserves, chutneys and pastes and then refrigerate them. It means a shorter shelf life but less time in the kitchen.

As for Paster, this Rosh Hashanah holiday she’ll definitely be making a round challah.

“Usually challah is a braided oval, but we make a round one on RH to symbolize the never-ending cycle of years and seasons, says Paster, a graduate of Princeton University and University of Michigan’s Law School and a former attorney whose interest in food segued into researching and writing about the subject.

“I begin the meal with chicken soup and a meat-filled dumpling called kreplach. These dumplings are not as famous as matzo balls, but they are very special and traditional for the High Holidays. Some people serve them the night before Yom Kippur — which is the day we fast. I also usually make brisket for the main course. These leek patties are a nice side dish. Dessert is often an apple or honey cake. I like to change it every year.”

Eftes de Prasa (Leek Fritters)

6 leeks, white and green parts only, halved and sliced thinly

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 eggs beaten

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs, such as Panko

1/4 cup chopped chives

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup neutral oil with high smoke point from frying, such as canola or grapeseed

Lemon wedges for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.

Sauté the sliced leeks until softened, about ten minutes, but do not allow them to brown. Adjust heat as necessary. Season well with salt and pepper.

Place softened leeks in a large bowl. Add beaten egg, bread crumbs, and chives and combine well.

Heat oil for frying in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 250. When oil is shimmering, but not smoking, form golf ball-sized balls of batter with damp hands and drop them, three or four at a time, in the skillet and flatten slightly with a spatula.

Cook fritters until browned on first side, 1-2 minutes and turn carefully turn them over and cook on other side, another 1-2 minutes until browned. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil to the skillet as necessary. Keep cooked fritters warm in the oven until all the batter is cooked.

Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing.

Fritters can be made in advance and chilled until needed. Reheat in a 400 degree oven prior to serving.

Challah

Makes 1 loaf

4 cups all-purpose flour

2¼ teaspoons instant yeast

1 cup water,

approximately 110 degrees

3 eggs, at room temperature

¼ cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon salt

Poppy or sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, yeast, and warm water. Stir to combine. Add 2 eggs, the vegetable oil, sugar, honey, and salt.

Mix the dough with the dough hook until a smooth dough emerges, about 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead by hand for an additional 5 minutes, adding more flour frequently to prevent sticking.

The dough should be smooth and elastic. It may be slightly tacky to the touch.

Place the dough in a bowl that has been oiled on all sides. Cover the dough with a clean cloth and allow it to rise in a warm place for 2 hours or until doubled in size. Punch down risen dough and divide into 3 equal parts. I like to use my kitchen scale to ensure my pieces are of equal size.

Roll each piece into a thin strand about 2 feet long. Pinch the 3 strands together at the top and then braid until you reach the end of each strand. Take the ends and pinch them closed and tuck the under the loaf.

Carefully transfer the braided loaf to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Cover the loaf with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Before placing the loaf in the oven, beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water in

a small bowl. Brush the egg wash on the challah, making sure to get in the crevices of the braids. If desired, sprinkle sesame or poppy seeds over the top. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

Allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Apple, Honey and Rose Water Jam

Makes four 8-ounce jars

3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-in dice (6 to 7 cups prepped)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1½ cups sugar

1 cup honey

1 teaspoon rose water

Prepare a boiling water bath and heat four 8-ounce jars.

Place the apples, ½ cup of water, and lemon juice in a wide, deep saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stir, and cover the pot. Lower the heat to medium, and cook until the apples are soft, about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent sticking or burning.

Mash the apples coarsely with a fork or potato masher. Add the sugar and honey to the pot, stirring to dissolve. Return to a boil over medium-high heat.

Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and mounds up on a spoon, about 10 to 15 minutes. It will splatter, so use caution.

Remove the jam from the heat and stir in the rose water. Ladle jam into clean, warm jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace at the top. Bubble the jars and wipe the rims with a damp cloth. Place the lids on the jars and screw on the rings just until you feel resistance. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Allow to cool in the water for 5 minutes before removing. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest

Before the Civil War, a network of secret routes and safe houses crisscrossed the Midwest to help African Americans travel north to escape slavery. Although many slaves were able to escape to the safety of Canada, others met untimely deaths on the treacherous journey—and some of these unfortunates still linger, unable to rest in peace.

The author in front of an Underground Railroad stop said to be haunted.

In Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest, Jane Simon Ammeson investigates unforgettable and chilling tales of these restless ghosts that still walk the night. This unique collection includes true and gruesome stories, like the story of a lost toddler who wanders the woods near the Story Inn, eternally searching for the mother torn from him by slave hunters, or the tale of the Hannah House, where an overturned oil lamp sparked a fire that trapped slaves hiding in the basement and burned them alive. Brave visitors who visit the house, which is now a bed and breakfast, claim they can still hear voices moaning and crying from the basement.

Ammeson also includes incredible true stories of daring escapes and close calls on the Underground Railroad. A fascinating and spine-tingling glimpse into our past, Hauntings of the Underground Railroad will keep you up all night.

Chicago’s Fabulous Fountains by Greg Borzo with photos by Julia Thiel

Hiding in plain sight, Chicago’s many fountains are gems of art, history, politics and culture, their stories often overlooked.

Sure we all know Buckingham Fountain and the Crown Fountain in Millennial Park. But what about the Nelson Algren Fountain at Division Street and Ashland and Milwaukee avenues which was opposed by the Polish community and many residents near the Polonia Triangle because he wrote about life there with a brutal honesty? Or the Drexel Boulevard Fountain, originally named the Thomas Dorsey Fountain, after the South Side musician considered to be the father of gospel music which is bookend by the newly restored Drexel Fountain?

I thought not. But then neither did I until I chatted with Greg Borzo about his newest book, Chicago’s Fabulous Fountains (Southern Illinois University Press 2017; $39.95) with photos by Julia Thiel.

A news officer covering science at the University of Chicago, Borzo also volunteers to give tours of the “L” and often was asked about the fountains they passed on the route.

“I realized that people knew about the Chicago Fire and World’s Columbian Exposition which was held in Chicago in 1893 but they didn’t know anything about Chicago’s fountains,” says Borzo.

And so, because Borzo likes to chronicle the city’s intriguing icons and is the author of The Chicago “L,” and Chicago Cable Cars, he began extensively researching Chicago’s fountains, past and present. In the process he inspired his friends, who he dubbed “fountain finders,” to join in the search.

“They got a fountain buzz going and they’d say there’s one at such and such” says Borzo. “As I found out about fountains, I began to realize it’s about the artists, the ethnic groups, the politics—it’s so much more than just a pretty fountain.”

Immersed in fountain lore, Borzo connects the historic dots—or should we say splashes of water.

“People are very interested in the 1893 Fair and what I found is there are four fountains directly related to the fair—which were built for the fair or part of the fair,” he says. “The Rosenberg Fountain on Michigan Avenue and 11th Street was built in time for the Fair but was built near the Illinois Central Station that used to stand at 11th and Roosevelt for people getting off the train could get a drink.”

The fountain was a gift to the city by Joseph Rosenberg, a former paperboy who used to get thirsty while his rou

te. To prevent that happening to others, the fountain had metal drinking cans attached by a chain–doesn’t sound very sanitary, does it?

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was also worried about thirsty people and wanted to provide water instead of stopping at a bar for a whiskey.

“Fountain Girl was located at the fair and people could take one of the tin cups chained to the fountain to get a drink,” says Borzo. “After the Fair, they moved Fountain Girl to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union skyscraper in the downtown and when that got torn down the fountain was moved again to Lincoln Park. The city didn’t ban shared drinking cups until 1911. The Illinois Humane Society had about 60 fountains with shared cups, two still at Chicago and Michigan. Now they’re cute fountains but instead of the cups they have troughs for water for carriage horses.”

Which brings up another point. While I always assumed that once it was built, a fountain stayed in one place. But that’s not necessarily so. According to Borzo, fountains were moved quite frequently.

 

Researching the 125 existing outdoor fountains in the city wasn’t easy.

“There’s no record of many of them,” he says, noting there are records of “lost” fountains that no longer exist. Others are slipping away.

“Laredo Taft, great sculpture artist, made two of the greatest fountains—the Neo-classical bronze Fountain of the Great Lakes right next to the Art Institute which shows five maidens each holding a shell with the water pouring from one shell to the next—it’s elegant, beautiful and large,” says Borzo. “He had another one that was a failure called the Fountain of Time. It’s made out of

 

Does he have a favorite fountain?

thin concrete and is wearing away and there’s no way to prevent that.”

“My favorite is the one I’m spending time with at the moment,” he says but then relents. “There are six fountains at the base at the AON Center. The nice thing is you don’t haveto pay admission and at night they’re lit. It’s fountain heaven.”

Ifyougo

What: Greg Borzo book signing

When & Where: Wednesday, June 14 at 6pm; Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street, Chicago IL. 312-747-4300