How one bakery is celebrating Dia de los Muertos, Madigan’s quiet arraignment and more in your Chicago news roundup

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

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Masa Madre co-owners Elena Vázquez Felgueres (left) and Tamar Fasja Unikel (right) stand behind freshly baked pan de muerto.

Masa Madre co-owners Elena Vázquez Felgueres (left) and Tamar Fasja Unikel (right) at the kitchen of Masa Madre, the bakery the women co-own. For now, they are based at The Hatchery, a food business incubator at 135 N. Kedzie Ave. in East Garfield Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a five-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

This afternoon will be sunny with a high near 68 degrees. Tonight will be mostly clear with a low near 45. Tomorrow will be sunny with a high near 70.

Top story

Baking bread for Dia de los Muertos at Masa Madre in East Garfield Park

“We’re about to bake the pan de muerto,” says Tamar Fasja Unikel, heading into the depths of the Hatchery, the vast East Garfield Park restaurant and food service incubator.

Fasja Unikel is half of Masa Madre, an artisanal bakery fusing Mexican and Jewish traditions. Pan de muerto, literally, “bread of the dead,” are sweet, pillowy round loafs, decorated with symbolic bones, that can be eaten plain, dipped in coffee or hot chocolate, or reverently placed along with marigolds and photos on an ofrenda, the altar honoring the memories of departed loved ones.

In kitchen D-119 waits her business partner, Elena Vázquez Felgueres. The two met about 10 years ago at Centro, an arts and fashion school in Mexico City. Both moved to Chicago with their spouses independently, then reconnected here and decided to go into business together.

From Wednesday through Friday, their baking days, they begin at 4 a.m. and run until orders go out about 11:30 a.m. They lead a team of four bakers, but are very hands-on, plucking finished breads from the oven, painting them with butter, handing them over to be doused in sugar.

Masa Madre is a “virtual” bakery — they work in a single rented space, a kitchen crammed with baking racks and tables and stacks of boxes. They have outlets and take orders for pick-up and delivery, but hope to open a brick-and-mortar bakery in the West Loop next year.

Masa Madre means “mother dough.” They chose the name because back when they started in 2018, buying ingredients at Costco and baking at home, they focused on sourdough, with its venerated eternal starter.

“We evolved into making more yeasted breads,” says Fasja Unikel. “The name stuck. We really base our recipes and all of our culture through our mothers and grandmothers. it’s a homely, heritage-based cuisine, so we really like the name, something that really represents us.”

That already-important family takes on even more significance on the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, which began today. The deeply felt, family-oriented festival is built around reverence for relations rather than any frightening view of mortality. A time when the barrier between the world of the living and the realm of the dead is thought to be thinner, more permeable than it is the rest of the year. A day when your departed family members can reach out to you from the next world to express the love they still carry, and you can reach back toward them with the foods they enjoyed in life.

“In Mexico, instead of mourning, we celebrate their lives and remember them,” said Vázquez Felgueres.

Neil Steinberg has more with Vázquez Felgueres, Fasja Unikel and Masa Madre here.

More news you need

  1. Fourteen people were shot, including three children, in a drive-by shooting in East Garfield Park last night. The children are 3, 11 and 13 years old, police said.
  2. The man accused of killing seven people at the Highland Park July 4 parade returned to court today for the first time since he was indicted two months ago. Our David Struett has the latest from the trial here.
  3. The common respiratory virus that led to a recent spike in parents taking kids to local emergency rooms hasn’t let up, and things could soon get worse. Doctors say Chicago, like the rest of the country, could be in for a “tri-epidemic” of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.
  4. Officers on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s security detail say they exchanged gunfire with robbery suspects this morning near the 606 Trail in Logan Square. No injuries were reported, according to police.
  5. Since his indictment in March, a few scribbled signatures have been the only public sign that former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is personally engaged in the racketeering conspiracy case leveled against him. With previous permission from a judge, Madigan didn’t participate in his arraignment today, during which his lawyer said he’s not guilty, our Jon Seidel reports.
  6. The Hideout will close for the rest of the year after a former employee accused the music venue of fostering a toxic work environment, leading to a wave of canceled bookings. Our David Struett has more on the allegations facing the venue and the music community’s response here.
  7. Chicago voters needing language help at polls will have less of it on Election Day, after a new state law reduced the number of voting precincts — meaning fewer bilingual ballots and election judges across six languages. Precinct reduction has had a negative, if unintended, consequence for voters with limited English proficiency, community and advocacy groups say.
  8. Democrat Toni Preckwinkle is seeking her fourth term as Cook County Board president and facing a familiar general election challenger — former Ald. Bob Fioretti, who’s running as a Republican after losing his Democratic primary challenge to Preckwinkle in 2018. Our Mohammad Samra looks into how the two candidates are running their campaigns this time around here.
  9. The Chicago Urban League today announced a “transformational” $6.6 million gift from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the largest single donation the 106-year-old organization has ever received. The Chicago chapter was reportedly one of 25 Urban League branches across the U.S. to receive gifts from Scott.

A bright one

‘Smashing Pumpkins’: Not the band, but a climate-friendly way to get rid of jack-o-lanterns

This Halloween season has come to an end. The trick-or-treaters had their fun and jack-o-lanterns across Chicagoland are getting cleared from stoops.

While throwing these past perfect pumpkins into the trash might seem like a good option, it’s not the best for our planet. When tossed, pumpkins end up in landfills as food waste. Buried under heaps of trash, they rot and release methane — one of the most potent greenhouse gasses. Food waste makes up 37% of Cook County’s landfill material, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

But there is a very cathartic and environmentally friendly way to dispose of Halloween gourds: a pumpkin smash.

merlin_108786481.jpg

A “Pumpkin Smash” event from last month at the Purdue University Northwest campus in Westville, Ind. The University of Illinois Extension will hold several pumpkin-smashing events in Chicago this weekend.

Jeff Mayes/AP

These events are exactly what they sound like — a chance for people to smash their beloved jack-o-lanterns into a compostable mess using a baseball bat or other creative methods. Once smashed, the chunks are transferred to composting sites across Illinois. Composting reduces methane creation and transforms the pumpkins into useful organic material – like nutrients for soil or mulch.

Kathryn Pereira is a local foods systems and small farms educator with the U of I Extension. It is hosting several pumpkin smashes in the Chicago area.

“Honestly, I think it is the most fun way to educate people on composting,” she said. “They get into it more than you can possibly imagine.”

WBEZ’s Indira Khera has more on pumpkin smashing and where you can join in this weekend here.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

What’s something you can only find in Chicago?

Send us an email at newsletters@suntimes.com and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: What’s something every Chicagoan needs to prepare for winter here?

Here’s what some of you said...

“Warm boots with rubber soles that have good grip. Forget trying to walk around outside with leather-soled boots, unless you love to ice-skate!” — Jennifer Rossignuolo

“Heavy furniture for calling dibs on your dug out parking spot.” — Temeka Bester

“Extra gloves, hat, coat, blanket, shovel and snacks in the car just in case.” — Adrianne Pienias Wieczorek

“Add an hour to your commute time when it snows — no matter the amount of snow or ferocity. Flurries or blizzard, for some reason it’s the same. Also BYOS. Bring your own shovel. I have one in my car all winter.” — Cheryl Wisniewski

“Waterproof boots and thermal gloves. Also a good hat.” — Joan Fregapane

“Keep certain items available in the trunk of your car, so you’re prepared for the worst on the roads, in case of an unforeseen emergency.” — Claudia Moon Zikuda

“A sense of humor — and lots of hand-warmers and foot-warmers.” — Joel Bader

“Big bags of cheap cat litter in case you get stuck in the snow.” — Karen Brady

“A good bottle of Irish whiskey.” — Greg Andrews

“Nerves of steel.” — Theresa Ellingsen

Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition.Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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