They're Super serious about chili

  • Written by Kelly White


cooking chili photo 2-1

Photo by Kelly White

Chef Michael Niksic, of, led the discussion on multi-layered flavors and compound cooking approaches, as well as straightforward approaches to making various types of chili on Jan. 29 at the Oak Lawn Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave.

The Super Bowl means gathering with friends over football and delicious food. With this in mind, the Oak Lawn Public Library staff provided a presentation conveniently titled, “Serious Chili Cooking.”

Chef Michael Niksic, of, led the discussion on multi-layered flavors and compound cooking approaches, as well as straightforward approaches to making various types of chili on Jan. 29 at the library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave.

Everyone who attended was ready to have many misconceptions about food preparation shattered,” Niksic said. “Understanding why you do things in a particular manner allows you to transfer that knowledge into all facets of cooking. It separates real chefs from wannabes.”

Attendees were able to learn how to liven up their basic chili recipes for exciting meals to help make it through the rest of winter,” said Melissa Apple, adult programming librarian at the Oak Lawn Public Library. “I chose this program because I thought it was perfect for the season, and also in preparation for Super Bowl Sunday.”

More than 50 people attended the free event hoping to spice up their cooking skills. This was not a hands-on class. However, substantial portions of roast turkey and red bean andouille sausage chili were served to all in attendance.

Chili should be eaten with a fork because it’s supposed to be made robust and hearty,” Niksic said. “If you’re eating chili with a spoon, you’re eating soup.”

Niksic said it is also important not to take recipes to heart while cooking.

Recipes are only suggestions; they are not contracts,” Niksic said. “You can take a chili recipe and change it up, adding additional flavors. Embellishments are always a smart idea. You should always go along with your own flavor line.”

This was the first time the library has ever held a chili cooking presentation, according to Apple.

We don’t have too many programs where patrons can watch food being made and get to sample it,” Apple said. “This was definitely a fun and tasty event.”

Niksic said with all of his chili cooking experience, he has never entered a chili-cooking competition for one important reason.

In those types of cook-offs and competitions, you are instructed to cook chili in a large aluminum pot,” Niksic said. “As a chef, I recommend to never, ever cook any of your food in an aluminum pot or pan. Aluminum is a soft metal. When you are heating up items in it while cooking, the aluminum immediately comes off of the pan and goes directly into your food.”

Niksic said he prefers stainless steel for this reason.

Apple heard about Niksic’s relaxed cooking classes from other libraries and reached out to him personally for the event.

Niksic’s cooking career began on the South Side of Chicago in the Rupcich Family restaurant in 1976. He entered the Washburne Trade School in June of 1976, and graduated from the chef’s training program in May of 1978. He also completed a meat cutting program at the Washburne Trade School after his chef training. He then apprenticed as a line cook, sauté cook, grill man and banquet cook under Stuart Johnson at the Hyatt Regency Chicago in the 4 star French restaurant Truffles.

In Chicago, he eventually opened La Grillade, the first mesquite grilling fine dining restaurant. Since then, he has opened, or helped open, over 22 restaurants of various cuisine and themes. He began in 2004.

It’s important to remember that the way you cook something in your kitchen (and) in your own home is the absolute right way to cook it,” Niksic said. “Every cook is different and has a different palate.”

Protestors call for new management at Chicago Ridge Animal Welfare League site

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


animal welfare protest photo  2-11

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Protesters demonstrate on Jan. 27 outside the Animal Welfare League at 10305 Southwest Highway in Chicago Ridge, calling for new management at the shelter, where adoption of dogs and cats has been temporarily suspended due to an outbreak of illness.

Animal rights activists, rescuers and some current and former volunteers are calling for new management to be installed at the Animal Welfare League shelter in Chicago Ridge.

The site, which could be housing as many as 1,000 animals at any time, is one of the biggest shelters in the Chicago area. It accepts cats, dogs and other animals turned in as strays, or surrendered by owners, as well as sick and injured wildlife.

Assertions of bad management there have been discussed for years on social media. But activists started holding protests outside the shelter last week, when an outbreak of illness among dogs in the shelter led to a temporary suspension of adoptions of dogs and cats.

What was initially thought to be "kennel cough," a common occurrence in animal shelters, apparently turned into an outbreak of more-serious canine influenza. The protesters blame director Linda Estrada for allowing the illnesses to spread. The suspension of adoptions had originally been limited to dogs, but was expanded to include cats as well.

As of Jan. 30, a petition calling for an investigation into the management of the facility was signed by 12,430 people.

Employees and volunteers standing outside on the morning of Jan. 27, during one of the protests, stopped everyone going in. They said the shelter was only open for people bringing in pets with “medical emergencies” to be seen by veterinarians on staff.

Today, our objective is to expose continuous years of animal neglect and waste, fraud and abuse of the administration,” said Chris Jastczemski, of Palos Hills, one of the organizers of the protest at the site on Saturday morning.

She was among dozens of people carrying signs calling for the resignation of Estrada and her board of directors. Some signs also included photos of dogs that allegedly died at the shelter due to lack of care.

We don’t want to close this shelter. There is a need for it in this area. But there is gross mismanagement,” said Julie Freeman, who works with Small Paws rescue in Carol Stream.

She was there with Terri Crotty, of Wags to Wishes in Joliet. Both women said they visit the Animal Welfare League site to “pull” animals they believe would otherwise be euthanized because they are either sick or just waiting too long for adoption.

If we talk, we’re blacklisted here,” said Sandi Rusek, who works with Pet Harbor, which lists stray dogs online.

She was among those whose said the Animal Welfare League does not post found animals on its website, or others, so owners have little chance of reuniting with their pets.

Tracy Caccavella, a licensed wildlife rehabber from Oak Lawn, said she gets called to the shelter to pick up orphaned or sick wild animals such as rabbits or squirrels that are found and turned in.

But she maintains that the staff led by Estrada does not take precautions against spreading infections when moving in and out of isolation rooms.

They are not using wearing shoe covers or masks in the isolation rooms. Why are they not taking these standard precautions,” she wondered. She also claimed that animals sometimes get too much medication, causing minor problems to worsen.

Asked to respond to Caccavella’s complaints, Peggy Price, an employee watching the protest on Saturday, said staff may have been moving between isolation rooms. She also denied the assertions of protesters that Estrada is a “bully,” who would fire employees or volunteers who speak out against her.

We’re all here because we care for the animals. I wouldn’t be here if I was treated like that,” said Price.

Several protesters suggested that Chicago Ridge village officials should look into the situation.

This is a needed facility, but we need transparency. Everyone on the board needs to go. These protests are a long time coming,” said Shannon Gaglione, of Naperville, a former volunteer.

The village needs to get involved. This is a holocaust of animals,” said Terry Maderak of Chicago’s West Elsdon neighborhood, claiming that too many animals are dying from illness or being euthanized.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, after touring the facility on Jan. 29, said the village does not have personnel qualified for inspections.

That is for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. And I saw the latest reports from IDA inspections that gave the facility good marks,” said the mayor.

Photos of dogs lying in their own excrement or blood have been circulating online, some taken in 2015. While Tokar and others who have toured the facility have said they found it in good condition, the activists assert that there are back rooms that visitors aren’t allowed in.

Tokar said euthanasia isn’t as common as the activists say either, and is used mainly on dogs that have been found to be aggressive and unsuitable for adoption.

They say it is cheaper to feed and house the animals than euthanize them, which costs about $300,” said the mayor.

I looks to me like there are tons of volunteers, more than employees. I don’t think (Estrada) is a bad person. She has a good heart and they are doing the best they can. We are trying to bring the two sides together to resolve this,” said Tokar.



Pilgrim Faith Church closer to diversity goal

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Chris Rapp’s vision for an organization that welcomes diversity at Pilgrim Faith Church in Oak Lawn is a step closer to reality.

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Council of Northern Illinois will have a chapter at the church, 9411 S. 51st Ave., beginning next month. Rapp, who is the chairperson of the Open and Affirming Commission at the church, said that she has filled out the paperwork and is now awaiting a response from a representative from the PFLAG’s national organization.

“We are getting excited,” said Rapp, who grew up in Oak Lawn and has been a member of the church dating back to when she was age 4.

The group will hold their first meeting on Sunday, March 18. The group is scheduled to meet the third Sunday of every month at Pilgrim Faith.

Rapp said it has been a lengthy but well worth it process. Her interest in PFLAG began last year when two discussion sessions about the organization were held at the Oak Lawn Library.

The sessions were led by John Hickey and his wife, Mary Ann. Hickey grew up in the Chicago Ridge and is a graduate of Richards High School. His wife also graduated from Richards. The couple became involved with PFLAG after their son told them he was gay when he was 15 years old.

Rapp came away impressed with the Hickeys, who hold informational sessions to reach out to parents who are processing their thoughts after a child informs them that they are gay or bisexual.

“The origins of the PFLAG chapter in Oak Lawn originated with those two sessions at the Oak Lawn Library last January and June,” Hickey said. “Chris came to both of them. That’s how we met. She took the lead on this and told us this is something they should be doing.”

Rapp then attended a couple more PFLAG meetings and was intrigued by the fact that the two gatherings were much different in scope. The meetings were tailored to the needs of that particular organization.

“That’s what I really liked about them,” Rapp said. “They can be so different. One can be more political while another focuses on family.”

After discussing the merits of PFLAG with members of Pilgrim Faith Church and Peg McClanahan, the pastor, the Hickeys were invited to hold a couple of information sessions at the church to see if there was interest.

McClanahan also believed that the organization was a good fit at Pilgrim Faith.

“We are very open and affirming,” McClanahan said. “We welcomed this organization.”

The Hickeys led the discussion that was attended by members of the church and people from different communities who wanted to know more about what PFLAG represents.

PFLAG was founded in 1972 when a mother publicly supported her gay son. The organization unites people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender with families, friends and allies. PFLAG has 400 chapters and 200,000 members in all 50 states. Members range from multiple generations of American families in urban centers, small cities and rural areas in all 50 states, according to PFLAG.

Hickey added that if Pilgrim Faith were to decide to begin a chapter, they could attend workshops and take part in fundraisers, along with holding monthly meetings.

“For parents it can be difficult accepting when somebody comes out,” Hickey said. “At these meetings, we break down some of these myths. Some people say there is a gay agenda. And, well, there is a gay agenda. And that is accepting everyone. Gay rights are human rights.”

Hickey said the priority of the organization is to bring families together in an inclusive world. The monthly meetings and workshops will go over education and about how to sustain themselves after they come out. Discussions will also focus on accepting human diversity and if gay individuals are accepted in the workplace.

A group of about 20 attended the first session and the people in attendance were eager to move the process along. A new chapter does not have to have a large group of members, according to Hickey. But for it to move past the informational phase, several officers have to be appointed.

By the next information session, the group at Pilgrim Faith had appointed a secretary, a treasurer, a vice president and a president, one more than the minimum required. Rapp has been selected as the president for the first year.

Rapp said the first meetings will be more about listening and finding out what members would like to focus on.

“At least we are there just for continuity,” Rapp said. “We are making contacts. We know there is a need. “I think there is still lot of these parents who don’t accept their kids. We have to help change that.”

Medical marijuana user says 'It helped get my life back'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

jake soto photo 1-25

Photo by Joe Boyle

Jake Soto explains how his life used to be before being introduced to medicinal marijuana during a testimonial last week at the Worth Village Hall. Soto lined up the medications he used to take before he began using cannabis.

Jake Soto said the pain was unbearable and even morphine and other prescriptions were providing him with little relief.

“I had to figure something else out,” said Soto during an information testimonial last week at the Worth Village Hall. “We had to find out a different option because what I was doing wasn’t working. I decided to go with cannabis.”

Soto, 36, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, was the featured speaker during the meeting. He told the sparse crowd that injuries suffered working as a laborer created a painful existence. He has seven herniated discs in his back.

“I was taking lots of opioids and muscle relaxers,” Soto said. “I was on 320 milligrams of morphine a day. I was taking pills when I woke up and when I went to sleep.”

Soto was often irritable while dealing with his constant pain. His wife and two children often received the brunt of his frustration. Soto knew he had to do something. He then arranged a meeting with Brittany Kim, director of patient outreach for Windy City Cannabis, which has dispensaries not only in Worth but Homewood, Justice and Posen.

After holding discussions with Kim at the Justice dispensary, treatments were arranged for Soto ranging from edibles to extracts. Edibles include any food or beverage infused with cannabis, consumed daily. Extracts are potent concentrates derived from cannabis. They are popular due to their high THC/CBD content. They can be inhaled as smoke or vapor. Another method is dried cannabis flowers, which are most commonly consumed by inhalation of smoke or vapor

Soto uses a combination of these methods to mitigate the pain from his injuries. After just a brief period of taking medicinal marijuana, Soto noticed a significant difference. He felt much better physically and began to ween himself off a long list of medications he was taking daily.

“It helped get my life back,” Soto said.

Kim began last week’s session by stating she is pleased that Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell ordered Illinois officials this month to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition of medical marijuana, which could provide more access to the drug. The Illinois Department of Public Health had rejected intractable pain as a reason for medicinal marijuana treatment. Mitchell ordered the agency to add the condition.

“That certainly is good news,” said Kim, who has been working for Windy City Cannabis for two years. “But the (health department) is going to appeal. We will just have to wait and see.”

Kim provided people who attended the session with a history of cannabis use that dates back thousands of years. Cannabis was used for medicinal purposes through the 19th century, Kim said. However, it was in the 1930s that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics viewed marijuana as a menace. The propaganda film “Reefer Madness” tried to inform the public of not only the dangers but the subversive nature of marijuana.

After the 1960s, President Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971. However, the bipartisan Shafer Commission appointed by Nixon considered laws decriminalizing personal use of cannabis. But it was later denied by Nixon.

Kim added it was difficult to erase those stigmas surrounding medicinal marijuana until many residents became more accepting of its use to relieve pain. The Illinois Compassion Care Act passed in 2013 and that opened the door for dispensaries to open. The Worth facility opened up in January of 2016.

“We had to start the conversation,” Kim said. “It’s offering patients another option.”

Kim said that medicinal marijuana is not for everybody. While not a cure, the drug can offer relief for people who are suffering from a series of ailments, Kim added. She added that the Rauner administration has not been as receptive to medicinal marijuana. The pilot program for medicinal marijuana treatment has been extended in Illinois from this year to 2020.

She believes that dispensaries provide comfort to people who are suffering from various amount of pain and should be continued. She pointed to Soto as a living example.

Soto said that after six months, he had reduced his level of morphine daily intake to 90 milligrams. He only takes a couple of other medications due to medicinal marijuana, he said.

“I was back going to soccer games and baseball games to see my kids play,” Soto said about his 9-year-old and 6-year-old sons. “I’m much happier now. Taking all those opioids depressed me. With cannabis, you get your life back.”

Testimonials and Information on medicinal marijuana are provided at 6 p.m. the third Thursdays of the month at the Worth Village Hall, 7112 W. 111th St. More information can be obtained at

Hickory Hills residents get some details about I-294 expansion project

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

karen frisco photo 1-25

Photo by Sharon J. Filkins

Hickory Hills residents (from left) Marzena Ciszek and Karen Frisco listen to tollway staff member John Nelson explain plans for I-294 expansion Monday night.

Illinois Tollway officials met with Hickory Hills residents and City Council members and staff on Monday to provide an overview of the planned expansion of the I-294 tollway, which borders the east side of the city.

Rocco J. Zucchero, the tollway’s chief planning officer, explained that the planned expansion will include adding lanes in both directions on the 22-mile section of I-294, from Balmoral Avenue on the north, to the 95th Street interchange.

“This section carries the most traffic, including trucks, and has the worst congestion delays. This project is designed to alleviate these problems. Our plan is to have four lanes of traffic open throughout the duration of the project,” Zucchero said.

Construction is scheduled to begin this year with an anticipated completion in 2022.

Zucchero stated that the Tollway Agency had identified 11 property owners in Hickory Hills, whose property abuts the tollway. The purpose of the meeting was to address their concerns and questions about the project.

He said that in most cases, the impact on the resident’s property would involve strips of right-of-way, which is approximately 10 feet.

Karen Grisco, a resident whose home is one of only two that faces the tollway, rather than backing up to it as most homes do, questioned Zuccchero about the timeline for the project.

“When will you know if you need some, or all, of my property?”

Zucchero replied it would be in the next four or five months. He stated again that the agency was anticipating that for the most part, any acquisitions would be for a right-of-way or easement portions.

“Appraisers will meet with residents to determine fair market value and negotiations will begin with the owners. It should be no less than 60 days,” Zucchero said.

In a later conversation, Grisco explained that when her house was built by her grandfather many years ago, it was built on open land, as was the home next to it.

“As the years passed, the land behind the two houses was purchased by a developer who built a large subdivision. The entire subdivision was built facing in the other direction,” she said. “So only my neighbor and I now face the tollway, with a sound wall and drainage ditch across the street from our driveways.”

Her neighbor, Marzena Ciszek, added that even with the sound wall she can hear the traffic.

“But you get used to it. It is livable,” she said.

During the presentation, residents asked if the sound walls would be replaced when the construction was done. Zucchero assured them they would be.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley stated later that the city had met with the Tollway Agency in two previous meetings.

“The communication has been good and very transparent. They have been very diligent in alleviating our early concerns about the impact on our residents.”