As we approach this season of Thanksgiving, we are finding new ways for families to gather around cooking and enjoying food together. We are pleased to highlight JoAnn Seagren’s virtual meals, complete with enticing recipes, and Giò Crisafulli‘s philosophical musings on a proper mealtime. To ease the stress of not being together physically, Chris Lautenslager suggests a way to enjoy nature and gaining peace of mind while bicycling. Jamilah Dorsey poignantly reminds us of the loss of family members in 2020, and how our good memories of them provide comfort.
As coronavirus numbers spike again all over the country, we are including by popular demand Tara Sheahan’s yoga breathing technique to help you de-stress. And in the spirit of the season we encourage you to give generously to the Greater Chicago Food Depository to help feed those most in need. Here’s wishing you the opportunity to find your Happy Place during this most unusual holiday season. When it comes to making sacrifices in order to ensure each other’s safety, just remember that we are all in this together! To Gratitude! Happy Thanksgiving!
You may send your happy place essays to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see previous installments of Happy Place, click here for parts one, two, three, four and five.—Chaz Ebert
JoAnn Seagren, Managing Director of JA Glynn Private Wealth
In my previous life, (BC: Before Covid), leaving the fast track of work and social obligations to take a pit stop long enough to have meaningful conversations with my two children, ages 26 and 28, was rare. Not that we didn’t want to do this – we did – but we are all highly motivated, hard workers who love the outdoors and being with friends, and somehow weeks and even months would slip by without a spoken word between us.
But as the pandemic hit, we found a happy place we never anticipated: Family FaceTime Cooking. It all started with my son Parker’s request for Banana Cookies the first weekend of March 2020. I was about to bake them and pack them into a box headed for Seattle, and then I had an idea: I’d teach him how to bake his own cookies. His sister and her boyfriend in Boston heard we were doing this and they said, “We’re in!” and my husband decided he’d be the baker here in Chicago. A night of conversation, laughter, delicious soft, frosted banana cookies, and of course, excessive consumption, ensued on FaceTime.
We decided to avoid sweets for a while and cook dinner instead the following weekend, and I sent a simple recipe they loved from their childhood: Chicken Colorado with rice and a salad. Week after week, we found our happy place with cooking and conversation and we didn’t miss a single week for 5 months! We have even celebrated 3 birthday dinners so far. I imparted motherly cooking wisdom and motherly advice sometimes, too. I received comfort and inspiration every week, despite the stress of quarantine.
We used our Family Cooking text group throughout the week to follow up on ideas discussed during cooking, and we’d share serious and humorous thoughts, podcasts, articles and videos. In August, scheduling got harder and I suggested we might put Family Cooking on hold for a while, but there was a resounding NO! and so we adjusted to every other week or so.
I’m compiling all of the recipes, photos of the dishes we cooked, and some screen shots of our video calls in what we voted to name the Covid Comfort Cooking Cookbook. I’m sending it to family and friends for the holidays, along with my gratitude for the truly meaningful time we experienced as we engaged face-to-face virtually, sharing an activity that paved the way for genuine and inspired conversations, love and laughter.
Frosted Banana Cookies
¾ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
2 mashed ripe bananas
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
Add sugar and blend. Add egg, vanilla and bananas. Sift together flour, salt and soda. Add to egg mixture. Place dough by teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 350 degrees for 8 minutes. They should be golden on the edges only when you remove from oven. Cool on wire rack with a piece of waxed paper. Makes about 3 dozen.
6 TB brown sugar
4 TB butter
4 TB cream or whole milk
2-3 cups of powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
Place brown sugar, butter and milk in pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and add enough powdered sugar to make spreadable, not too thick, not too runny. Add vanilla. Return pan to lowest heat so frosting remains soft while you frost the cookies. Frost the cookies when they have slightly cooled. The frosting cools fast and “hugs” the cookies.
Chicken “Colorado” (Serves 4)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 TB minced fresh parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1 clove of garlic, minced
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
4 medium chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
3 TB melted butter
Combine Parmesan, parsley, oregano, garlic and pepper with a fork in a broad, flat medium bowl. Using tongs, dip chicken breasts quickly in melted butter – both sides – then roll in cheese mixture. Place in shallow baking dish. Drizzle any extra butter and any extra cheese coating over the chicken.
Bake at 375 degrees for 25 min. until tender. Pour the juices over rice or couscous or potatoes or other veggies you choose to serve with the chicken.
Also good left over cold (picnics!). It can make sandwiches or be put in salad, too.
Jamilah Dorsey, Calculus Teacher at Evanston Township High School, Illinois
As my family and I grieve over the death of my father, Harold S. Dorsey, I find my happy place in listening to the recording of his voice on my phone. It gives me great comfort hearing him say his name, as I listen to it over and over again. We are proud of the legacy of art he leaves behind. My father was an artist and art historian in Jackson, Mississippi. He graduated from Arkansas AM&N College (now The University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff) in 1960, and studied there under Art Professor John Howard. He taught art at Prairie View A&M University for 20 years before retiring in 2008. He will be greatly missed.
Sculpture by Harold S. Dorsey
Chris Lautenslager, CEO of Prosperity Loop, LLC
I’ve learned over the years that for me the joy of sharing life with others provides my deepest sense of happiness. During normal times I would choose those experiences that allow me to connect with family and friends that I love.
However, during this decidedly not-normal 2020 period of quasi-quarantine I can easily transition to my own personal happy place, riding my bike.
I absolutely love riding my bike, whether down the verdant mountains of Colorado or along the vibrant lakefront in Chicago.
The wonderment of a perfect summer day with the warm sun on my face or even the slight chill of autumn with a gentle breeze behind me contributes to my personal joy.
Biking reminds me of all that is good in the world. As I glide along I experience positive feelings and emotions as if I am taken back to my younger self reliving days filled with laughter and possibility.
And I can’t underestimate the feelings of physical health and vitality I feel as I pedal along the roadway. I’d like to encourage everyone to explore this happiness opportunity for themselves.
You don’t even need to own a bike, just hop on a Divvy or other rental bike service and give it a try. It’s well worth the ride.
Giò Crisafulli, Chief Entertainment Critic for NOIAFT and writer/director/producer at Zio Ciccio Cinema.
A happy place for me no matter the circumstance or mood has always been sharing a meal with others. An Italian meal has seven or eight consecutive stages: an aperitivo drink that opens the gastronomic senses; a small antipasto that gets the ball rolling with cheeses or very light meat, fish or bread; a plate of hot pasta or risotto; a plate of meat or seafood; leafy green salad to lend a helping hand to digestion; cheeses complimented by fruits and walnuts; a small dessert of either cake, custard, ice cream or cannoli; a small coffee, then a digestivo drink that brings us to a close.
Was that seven or eight? Nine? Nice. Because hand in hand with that cuisine is the company kept around the table, the heart and soul of the matter; appreciation of the plentiful bounty found in life and each other, flavors of experiences shared through the concerted time it takes to cultivate, prepare and pause while others talk and taste and you give of yourself throughout. This is how we do family, friendship, hellos, goodbyes, love, sex and art which are really all of apiece; that is to say, invested in each other.
The survival of this in society and civility has been tested in ways that threaten the fabric of who we are, of what American ideals have always been even when failing to live up to them. Imperfect as we may be, it’s the baked-into-my-very-being belief in We The People seated at the same table, the listening and giving of each other that I continually call upon and look forward to, even if social distancing makes it less physically feasible. Down the street from us in Queens is the Museum of the Moving Image; a wonderful living testament to whom I and my life/producing partner Melissa refer to as the goddess Pellicola. It’s no wonder why in its temporary exhibit on Martin Scorsese a couple years back the family dinner table he grew up with was actually on display. I’ll tell you, that hit home.
Donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository
There is great joy found in giving to those in need, and I cannot think of a better place to contribute a Thanksgiving gift than The Greater Chicago Food Depository. It consists of a network of more than 700 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs that provide food where it is most needed in Cook County. Public benefits outreach and job training programs are also in place to support the community.
You can make a donation here or by sending a check payable to Greater Chicago Food Depository to the following address: Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Pl, Chicago, IL, 60632. You can also find out how to get involved here. For more information on the Greater Chicago Food Depository or to make a donation, see here.
Tara Sheahan’s Yoga Breathing Exercise
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By popular demand, we are bringing back the Yoga Breathing video by Tara Sheahan as we enter another period of semi-Quarantining.
Tara shares how she finds her Happy Place teaching Breathelab natural nose breathing to millions of people who want an instant way to find a burst of uplift. Her music is created by son Aidan ‘Sunfeather.’ He created this track for Erica Ford’s New York Peace Week, an event to end gun violence with love-in-action.
“We’re designed to breathe through our nose – it’s how we secrete ‘feel good’ hormones by activating the lower lobes of the lungs,” says Tara. She learned the neurobiology of breathing when she was 42 years old and training for the Winter Olympics in cross country skiing. She then studied and taught meditation and breath work for 20 years. “I wanted a quick way to get the benefits of a more quiet mind and inner happiness. And believe it or not your Nose knows how to get you there,” says Tara.
Tara gives us a tip if we want to continue. “You can find more Breathelab practices at newly launched www.Ameliorate-Your-Life.com, an extraordinary wellness program from the comfort of your own home!”