Creativity Features Ideas

Mourning Commute

As a freshly minted college graduate waiting for the paint to dry on my diploma (there was a spill…), I’m still developing my capacity to complete the daily commute. I have heard horror stories of road weary professionals commuting by plane, train, Segway, or blimp to locations ranging from Andorra to Mordor. This stands in distressing contrast to my understanding of a commute, which during academia years meant the journey from my bed to the bathroom. During that voyage, the only traffic I encountered was other roommates and debris from last night’s party. Now, as I ricochet from school into real world, it’s time for my real education in the morning commute.

I live on the border of two Chicago neighborhoods: Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. Occasionally I straddle this abstract border and loiter in Wicker Village or Ukrainian Park. One phantasmagorical afternoon I think I even discovered a Wicker Ukrainian.

I work on the 16th floor of the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s downtown Loop. Google Maps tells me it is 2.6 miles away but as someone who struggles with punctuality I think they should factor in the vertical commute at the receiving end. So with a 331 ft elevation change let’s call my commute an even 2.6627 miles.

Until Chicago finally completes a zeppelin and zip line system—sustainable, but a safety hazard—my commuting options include the paradoxical underground elevated train, bus, taxi, foot, bike, hitchhiking, Zamboni, or infant stroller. While I’ve considered each individually and in combination, I’ve settled on bicycling because I have a snazzy helmet that reminds me of the Commander Keen video game.

So after the howls from my “Agitated Lemur” alarm clock rouse me from slumber town I sprint through my bathroom commute, toss on a neck noose, and jump on my wheels. The first person I interact with in the morning is the drowsy Dodge driver I cut off as I cross Ashland Ave. Then like butter on a chalkboard, I glide over to Milwaukee and sew myself into the string of bicycles commuting to work.

Every morning has ups, downs, potholes, snowdrifts and loopty-loops when I enter the Loop. At the corner of Kinzie and Milwaukee, I bike past the Blommer Chocolate Company where I enjoy approximately 13 seconds of sublime olfactory bliss. Soon fudge melts into urban haze and I arrive at the Thompson Center.

It would take an intricate novella or nimble interpretative dance to explain how I deposit my bike in my building’s basement and trek up 331 ft but let me just say Blommer Chocolate is not the only Willy Wonka-esque moment of my commute.

So I suppose I’m now an adult with an adult commute. Yet is this really something to mourn when my mornings are full of cocoa loops in addition to Cocoa Pebbles? Maybe I should celebrate the quacking lemurs as a sign of a new morning adventure. That or I should just lobby the governor to finish the zip line…

Pic Credit: Art Rock (Hennie)

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Leadership & Marshmallows

When people think about pretzels and beer—they probably imagine a sports bar. Mitchell Greenberg thinks about marshmallows.

Mitchell’s marshmallow mania begins a year and half ago. After 15 years of production design he was tired—and also curious. He wanted to know how to make marshmallows.[1]

So Mitchell took to the kitchen with no culinary experience and made his first batch of marshmallows. To his shock he discovered that handmade marshmallows aren’t like their fluffy, flavorless, manufactured brethren. They’re in a different country all together. They are chewy, packed with flavor, and they possess a real, interesting texture.

“I shared them with my friends and family and they loved them,” Mitchell says over the phone. “I had a positive reaction from everyone. When they taste the marshmallows you can see the smile on their face.”

Buoyed by the wide smiles Mitchell spent six months refining his marshmallow recipe and creating original flavors. Yes, he has created a Pretzels and Beer marshmallow. And a Ginger -Wasabi one was well.

This is when Mitchell decided he would open up MitchMallows. “Candy,” Mitchell explains, “is memories…Everyone has a good feeling about candy.” He knew he had a product that could sell and he knew there would be a market.

But having an idea is one thing—implementing it is something else entirely. Luckily for Mitchell he learned the pragmatics of opening his own culinary business with help from Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

Putting his time, assets, and energy into marshmallows was a big step—but it wasn’t a forced decision. “It felt right,” Mitchell says. “I agonize over details, but ultimately I go with my gut.”

The process of opening a culinary operation in New York City took Mitchell another half year and he eventually found a rental kitchen space through the Queens Economic Development Corp’s Long Island City’s entrepreneurial space

Now, Mitchell spends about half of his time making MitchMallows and the other half keeping his business in order from behind a computer.

“Making marshmallows,” Mitch says, “is a Zen moment for me. I even lose track of time when I’m making them.”

I’d also wager Mitchell probably loses track of all his adventurous ideas. Right now MitchMallows has around 36 flavors and the list is growing. “My goal,” Mitchell says, “is to create a whole meal in marshmallow form.”

But Mitchell isn’t exactly a mad, whimsical, Willy-Wonka character. He has a chef’s love of food, creative new ideas, and the guts (and patience) to take them through a test run.

His ideas would make any molecular gastronomist jealous. Consider his Tomato MitchMallow. After roasting it over a flame he puts it between bread and adds lettuce and a piece of bacon. It’s a BLT crossed with a s’more. It’s weird—but it works.

At the core MitchMallows is about new ideas and passion. “Where my mind takes me,” Mitchell says, “my marshmallows go.” But there’s also something else. Mitchell has the energy to try out new ideas, regardless of how far off the map they may seem and he has the political skills to enlist support from local organizations geared to help small businesses. He’s a pragmatic leader who pushes an agenda, gets things done, and makes marshmallows.

If you want to visit Mitchell and try some of his MitchMallows head to the Brooklyn Foodshed Market on Sundays.

[1] For those of you who don’t know how to make marshmallows: it’s not a new recipe. In fact, it’s 4,000 years old and can be traced back to the Egyptians who made the chewy treats from marsh mallow plant sap mixed with honey.