September 24, 2020

Fort Sheridan Nature Preserve

As the Lake Michigan shoreline in the city continues to be officially off-limits, I have explored other nature spots in the Chicago environs.

The Fort Sheridan Nature Preserve, with a Lake Forest address, provides visitors not only beach access, but several trail options. The first path I chose, the Lake Overlook Trail, took me past a lovely pond, allowed me to see Lake Michigan from a 70-foot high bluff and provided a photo op in front of a wondrously green ravine towards the north of the property.

The site brags that the Fort Sheridan preserve is a North American flyway for migratory birds with 236 species having been spotted in the park’s savanna, ravines and lakefront foliage.

On a future visit, I hope to explore the Parade Grounds Trail, the Fort Sheridan Cemetery which has gravestones dating back to 1890, and the surrounding Fort Sheridan Historic District which ceased being used by the military in 1993.

The property is interesting as a historical site, but free access to this stunning lakeside preserve is the real draw with hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, swimming, fishing, bird watching and picnicking being allowed.

Fort Sheridan Nature Preserve is open 6:30 am to sunset daily. Free visitor parking is near trail entrances.

This is the perfect get-away for city dwellers needing to commune with Lake Michigan. The forest, ravines and trails are a bonus.

https://www.lcfpd.org/fort-sheridan/

117 Sheridan Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045

More Reality Shows of Note on Netflix

How is Netflix getting me to consider programs I would not normally watch? When I open the app, a show trailer starts playing above the list of selections. The clips are engaging, upbeat and often pique my curiosity. How else to explain my current viewing selections: “Love On the Spectrum,” “Restaurants on the Edge” and “Sugar High.”

I have been a fan of “Sugar Rush,” a cooking competition using sweet ingredients. When I exhausted those episodes, Netflix automatically cued up a related show from the same producers, “Sugar High.” Stone-cold professionals compete to make sugar creations that delight the tastebuds and the eyes. Much like sculptors and glassblowers, the chefs skillfully fashion shapes using ingredients like sugar, isomalt and paper wafers. I would not have the heart to destroy these artistic creations by eating them, however.

“Restaurants on the Edge” is a bit sleepy in its pacing, but features scenic restaurants in different countries that need help with their menus, decor and promotion.

Three restaurant gurus arrive in the area and find local beverages, food stuffs and decorating ideas to refresh the dining establishment in question. The show tries to defy the adage that the better the view, the worse the food.

“Love on the Spectrum,” an Australian documentary series, introduced me to young people who are autistic and in search of what we all want: love and romance. Cian O’Clery, the series’ creator and director, films men and women as they openly discuss being “on the spectrum.” We watch them go on first dates and interact with their families. The show accomplishes something rare as we feel genuine empathy for young couples who have found love and for those still searching for romance. “Love On the Spectrum” finds the balance between documentary and reality show which impels you to keep watching. At just five episodes, the series leaves you wanting progress reports on all of these endearing people.

During these stressful times, Netflix has carried many serious scripted shows, but I am keeping my streaming subscription because they are offering fun, reasonably intelligent programs that emphasize food, fashion, art, travel and love.

Indian Matchmaking on Netflix

I saw the title, “Indian Matchmaking,” on Netflix and laughed at the absurdity of wanting to watch a program on that topic. The Netflix home page had a trailer for the show which I inadvertently started watching. Call me flabbergasted, but I got hooked into watching episode one which led to episode two, three and…

The star of the show is an Indian matchmaker hired by families and sometimes individuals to find them a suitable mate. This is a very foreign concept in the U. S., so that was the first thing that intrigued me. In fact, Indian singles do sometimes find their own spouses which are referred to as “love matches,” but tradition dies hard in Indian families both in India and abroad.

The cast of characters includes lawyers, a doctor, a blogger/podcaster, business owners, teachers, a jewelry designer and a wedding planner, with most of the families appearing to be upper middle class to wealthy. It costs money to hire a matchmaker after all.

Some of the prospective brides or grooms are endearing, so I found myself rooting for them to find successful matches. Other candidates make it apparent why they are single with entrenched opinions and unrealistic expectations.

Several singles from the show have dangling marriage searches so Season Two is all but assured. One couple did in fact make it to the wedding feast during the show. The series “Indian Matchmaking” is a mixture of cultural study, travelogue and mystery romance. More, please.

“The Final Table” on Netflix

In my quest to be lightly entertained, I parceled out one or two episodes nightly of the cooking competition, “The Final Table,” on Netflix.

Teams of two culinary professionals from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America are tasked with making signature dishes from different cuisines. Single episodes each feature culinary nods to India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy, Japan, France and the United States.

The first round of dishes are judged by three people from that particular country — two celebrities and a food critic. In the episode’s second round, called The Final Plate, teams must fashion a dish highlighting one ingredient, and judged by a celebrity chef from that evening’s country.

The Final Table

One team is eliminated per show with the series winnowing down to four competitors who compete against each other for the honor of being seated at a table with the nine celebrity judges.

I did not fall in love with this show immediately, but if you like food and restaurants, you may want to persevere. Throughout the show, clips highlighting famous chefs and competitors, alike, are fascinating. Learning about different cuisines and ingredients is another benefit.

For local bragging rights, Chicago’s own Grant Achatz is the celebrity chef representing the United States. His restaurant, Alinea, and other world-famous dining establishments mentioned in the series now go on my dream dining list.

The Elephant Queen doc on Apple +

I try to keep my streaming services to a very limited number, but I recently was given a year free of Apple + with the purchase of an iPhone. I must be honest, not much appealed to me at first perusal. Too many kiddie shows and programs aimed at family entertainment.

A photo of a mother elephant with her offspring caught my eye, however. To be honest, nature programs are almost never on my “to watch list”, but something called to me when I saw the documentary entitled “The Elephant Queen.”

Directed by husband and wife Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble, the cinematography is amazing with up-close filming of mammals, birds, insects and weather conditions.

The tag line says it all: “A story of love, courage and coming home.” There truly is a story line with a 50-year-old matriarch leading her Kenyan elephant tribe to water, food and safety, with joys and sadness along the journey. Chiwetel Eijiofor is the resonant narrator.

I am still not generally a fan of nature shows, but this lovely and engaging production may be the ticket if you want to take a vicarious trip to the wild.

Studio Gang Boathouse near Belmont and the Chicago River

My biking brother-in-law frequently touts the trails and parks around the Chicago River. This past weekend, I visited the WMS Boathouse at Clark Park on the north branch of the Chicago River near Belmont.

The Boathouse is actually two spectacular buildings with a dock area for launching non-motorized boats and 22,620-square-feet of training areas and boat storage. The Chicago Rowing Foundation and Chicago Park District partnered to create this space for human-powered boats.

Admiring the architecture, I had the sneaking suspicion this was a Jeanne Gang creation. Bingo. Studio Gang completed this structure in 2013. The striking zinc-and-slate-clad building won an American Institute of Architects award in 2016, citing “a wonderful relationship between building, river and the park where it sits.” I could not agree more.

Some of the Boathouse operations are on hiatus right now, but in normal times you can rent kayaks and canoes for use on the Chicago River.

I was also able to admire the Kerry Wood Cubs Field which is across the street from the Boathouse. A return visit is needed since my brother-in-law noted that I missed the Garden south of the Boathouse which has dirt jumps and trails for bikers. Who ever said there are no nature adventures in big cities?

The WMS Boathouse at Clark Park
Chicago Park District
3400 N. Rockwell Street
Chicago, IL 60618

https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/clark-richard-park