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Elements Wine Bar: Good Wine Vibes

I stepped into the recently opened Elements Wine Bar in downtown Valparaiso, took in the ambiance and was immediately beyond excited!  In my mind, I was thinking “Ayeeee, this is my spot!” Mesmerized by the colorful lanterns hanging overhead, as the soulful sounds of Susan Tedeschi played through the speakers I curiously peaked around the bar. Oh yes, there’s wine on tap!

Although super excited, I played it cool.  I didn’t jump up and down like a kid, lol.  I decided that I’d save that for my next visit.

I’ve always frequented wineries, so this was my first experience in a wine bar.  It’s self-service. Here’s what you do:

  1. Select your glass; they’re hanging on a rack under the wine machines.
  2. When you enter the bar you will receive a plastic card from one of the employees to track your tab.  Insert the card into the machine.
  3. Choose your wine from the numerous bottles displayed in the machine.
  4. Select your taste, either a 2 oz, 4 oz., or a 6 oz. portion. Displayed above each bottle’s taste portion on the machine are the prices; they range depending on the wine.  My first taste was a 2 oz Petite Petite Blend for $2.50.  It was fabulous!  I had to get a glass.
  5. Don’t forget to REMOVE YOUR CARD after your selection.  I kept leaving my card inserted in the machine and not realizing it until I was ready to go for another taste.  I obviously was trying to buy a round for everyone in the bar, lol, I’m so generous!

There are 20 bottles on tap, but much more are available.  Wine imports from all over the world including Napa, Italy, France, Australia, New Zeeland, Chile, Austria, and Germany are displayed on the wine rack and behind the bar.  The selection always changes.

See something on the rack display that peaks your interest?  You can get any bottle of wine opened.   Say you’re eyeing that $300 bottle of 2007 Opus One but don’t want to commit to buying the whole bottle. Request it opened for a tasting.  The tasting of the luxury wines will run anywhere from $15-$20 but at least you’re not spending $300, and you can tell all of your friends that you tried a 2007 Opus One.

The cozy environment and music greatly enhance the experience. Owner Michelle Prosser desired a jazzy look with a friendly welcoming atmosphere.

“I wanted comfortable, velvet tufted furniture, and natural woods with a bit of funkiness” -Owner, Michelle Prosser

She nailed her vision.  I loved the cozy with a bit of edge design.  I felt welcome from the minute I walked in.  Cotteena was on staff my first visit.  She explained the concept and steps to me a couple of times. I didn’t absorb everything the first time because I was too distracted taking in everything (sigh…thank goodness for friendly, patient, wine enthusiasts, lol).  I found not only the staff to be friendly but the fellow wine drinkers in the bar were very nice and pleasant.  The mood is very laid back.

Michelle fell in love with wine ten years ago while frequenting the Michigan Wine Trails. Some of her favorite tasting rooms are Contessa in Coloma and the Warner tasting room in Paw Paw.

Speaking with the knowledgeable winemakers at wineries inspired her to study wine.   She set out on this path in 2011 while managing Kelsey’s Steak House in Valparaiso.

“Wine to me is intellectual; I enjoy the cerebral aspect just as much as I enjoy drinking it.”

— Michelle Prosser, Owner of Elements Wine Bar

Once she began this education, she couldn’t stop.  She described it a Black Hole of information; once you dive in you never want to get out.  “Wine is so interesting and fun; I just kept taking more and more classes!”  She also took her studies abroad to Florence, Italy, where she achieved one of several wine certifications.

Equipped with a passion for wine,  desire for her own business, and encouragement from her boss at Kelsey’s, she was prompted to make a move and open Elements.  Yep, her boss encouraged her to quit and pursue her dream; I had to make sure that I heard her right…that’s indeed what she said.  Shout out to supportive bosses; you know who you are!!!  Unsure of reception when starting this venture, she found additional support from the city of Valparaiso and her business neighbors.

“I love doing business here in Valparaiso! I didn’t know what to expect initially. This experience has been wonderful.”

— Elements Wine Bar Owner, Michelle Prosser

 From left:  Cotteena, Michelle, and Starlett From left:  Cotteena, Michelle, and Starlett

Patrons are encouraged to speak with any of the wine bar employees and ask questions, as they’re all knowledgeable about the wine selections.

Wanting to learn a bit more about wine myself, I asked Michelle the following questions:

What would you recommend for someone who usually prefers a sweeter wine?

We have something for every palate. I like to talk to people when they come in to see what they usually drink.  I find that many come in with a favored wine but want to branch out into other wines.  I know it can be a turnoff to jump too drastically when you’re used to sweet, and you jump to something like a Napa Cabernet…I can find a nice bridge for them.  I’ve been pretty lucky with finding wine for people after speaking with them.”

 Any bottle of wine can be opened at the customer's request Any bottle of wine can be opened at the customer’s request

What’s the difference in wine taste from country to country?
Italy has its indigenous grapes.  Many of their grapes don’t grow well in other areas, so they’re going to have their unique flavor profile.  One of the easiest ways to think of it is old world and new world.  New world wine would be anywhere except Europe.  American and Australian wines would typically be more fruit forward. New World wines like those of NAPA will give you bigger, bolder flavors.   Older World wines may tend to be softer, less fruit forward; there’s more elegance to it.  They’re not going for the bigger bolder flavors as much. There’s also colder climate and warmer climate.  Colder climate wines like Riesling will give you more acidity and a different kind of fruit flavor than a warmer climate wine that will have more tropical fruit flavors to it.

 Meat and Cheese Platters Are Available Meat and Cheese Platters Are Available  A mixture of craft and domestic bottles are available for non-wine drinkers. A mixture of craft and domestic bottles are available for non-wine drinkers.

Although the bar doesn’t offer full kitchen services, guests can nosh on meat and cheese platters and popcorn.  If you’re looking for something a bit heartier, you can either bring in carryout or have food delivered to the bar from local restaurants.

Not necessarily a wine drinker but still interested in socializing? You’ll be happy to know that Elements Wine Bar offers a mix of 8 different bottled domestic and craft beers.

I can’t say enough good about Elements Wine Bar.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, do yourself a favor and GO!

Make sure to tell me your favorite selection in the comments!

“The Steele Merlot is absolutely fabulous. Not only is it robust, the aftertaste gives you an explosion in your mouth. The oaky finish is phenomenal. For this price point it’s a steal! (Pun Intended)”

— Patron, Teresa Janovitz of Portage, IN

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Elements Wine Bar is Non-Smoking

  • There’s Indoor and Outdoor Patio Seating

  • Patrons Must Be 21 and Over

Ragnarok Axe Throwing; Nonstop Fun

I grew up in the country and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve handled an ax. My dad used to chop firewood to heat our home, but my job was stacking. So obviously, I never imagined myself throwing axes for entertainment. However, here I am at Ragnarok Axe Throwing, tapping into my inner Viking along with my family and friends.

Well, there’s a first time for everything; it won’t be my last either because, believe me when I say it was SO MUCH FUN! I credit this incredibly hilarious time to a healthy mix of our fun group and our engaging host Deanna!

Man and woman throwing axes at targets at Ragnarok Axe Throwing
Fierce Competition

Ragnarok Axe Throwing is all about customer experience, so if you’re down for a crazy and adventurous outing with your crew, this is the place for you! Warning, this post is riddled with ax puns! 

Axe competition host at Ragnarok Axe Throwing in Chicago
Our host for the day, Deanna

Ragnarok Axe Throwing

Ragnarok Axe Throwing is located in Chicago’s South Loop on the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Ave. The new Viking-themed range, aptly-titled “Asgard,” features spectacular views of Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan.

View of Michigan Ave from Ragnarok Axe Throwing in the Fine Arts Building in Chicago
View of Michigan Ave.

None in our group had prior ax-perience. In other words, we had no idea what we were in for; there understandably was some apprehension, namely, are we CRAZY and well ARE WE CRAZY!!! Our group chat was a mix of excitement and terrifying memes!!! Also, the session booked was to be an hour and a half, and I mostly wondered if the activity would keep our group’s attention for that long.

Axe throwing competitors with Noric name tags at Ragnarok Axe Throwing
Donovan’s name pun needed lots of explaining

The ax-perience began upon entry into the range room. Our “axepert,” Deanna greeted us and immediately tasked the group with creating Noric inspired individual and team names; ax puns were highly encouraged.

Our “axe”pert then gave us the 411 on safety, correct posture, and technique for throwing our axes. As a result, safety reservations were quickly put to rest.

Let the Games Begin

We divided into teams, and the competitive games began! What ensued was an afternoon of high energy competition, hysterical laughter, and lots of smack talk. Surprisingly, Deanna engaged with us the whole time. She created multiple games pitting us in fierce competition with each other, and she was also an excellent hype person. We also developed a few skills within a short amount of time.

I hadn’t laughed this hard in a while. The session flew by, and I was disappointed as it came to a close. Time does fly when you’re having fun! We’d gone through several competitions followed by crowning and stamping the winners. I’ll just put it out there that I was on the winning team!

Lumber Lord stamp on arm of axe throwing competition winner at Ragnarok Axe Throwing
I am a Lumber Lord

Ax throwing is definitely something that I will do again, who knows, maybe I’ll end up on a league.

Competitors in axe throwing cage at Ragnarok Axe Throwing
Ax throwing cage

I received a complimentary session for myself and a group of friends, however, the summary of my experience is genuine and my own. I highly recommend Ragnarok Axe Throwing for an unforgettable time. Click here for other fun things to do in Chicago! 

Group picture of competitors at Ragnarok Axe Throwing in Chicago
Warriors

White Castle Turkey Stuffing Recipe

Who knew that White Castle sliders made an excellent stuffing! I had no idea until a few weeks ago but discovered through conversation with others that the recipe has been around a long time. Word on the street is this creative twist on stuffing was born years ago when a White Castle employee wanting to enhance her grandmother’s stuffing added White Castle Burgers. This recipe is easy and straightforward; therefore, perfect for me! 

Jump to Recipe
White Castle sliders turkey stuffing
White Castle Sliders

I’ve always shied away from making stuffing for large family gatherings in the past, usually leaving it to the older and experienced who have it down to a science. In my family, the stuffing is the co-star of the meal. Therefore, whoever stepped up to task better be sure their stuffing or dressing is up to snuff. While purchasing the ingredients for this recipe, the grandmotherly type at the check-out inquired if I was making stuffing as she scanned my items. I replied, “yes,” she then proceeded to tell me how much sage she uses and warned me not to use too much, lol. See, serious business!

I think that I’m ready to throw my hat into the ring with this easy White Castle Stuffing recipe. It’s delicious and family-approved; the whole pan was devoured so give it a try!

Ingredients

  • 12 White Castle Sliders, extra onion, no pickles
  • 1 1/2 cups Celery, diced
  • 1 cup diced mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Thyme, ground
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sage, ground
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3/4 teaspoon Black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 1 tsp salt according to taste preference
  • 1 or 1/4 cup Chicken broth (If stuffing the turkey 1/4 cup, if transferring to a casserole dish 1 cup)

White Castle Turkey Stuffing Directions

In a large mixing bowl, tear the Sliders into pieces.

White Castle turkey stuffing recipe, break burgers into chunks
White Castle Sliders

Melt butter in a saucepan and add diced mushrooms, garlic, and celery. Do a quick saute leaving the crunch on the celery.

White Castle stuffing recipe, diced mushrooms, diced celery, and 2 gloves garlic

Add the sauteed vegetables, seasonings, and broth to hamburger pieces and mix well.

White Castle stuffing recipe-mix celery, mushrooms, burger, chunks, chicken broth, and seasonings in bowl.

Transfer to casserole dish and bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is brown. Or stuff the ingredients into the cavity of the turkey, prepare ingredients as noted above, but reduce chicken broth to 1/4 Cup, then cook as you usually would.

White Castle stuffing recipe-transfer to casserole dish.

Enjoy!

Let me know how you enjoyed this recipe in the comments! Click here for another easy recipe.

This recipe creation was a sponsored collaboration with White Castle, all thoughts and opinions stated are my own. Delicious!

Easy White Castle Stuffing

Use White Castle Sliders in this easy to make stuffing that your family will love
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Holiday Stuffing, Stuffing, Thanksgiving Stuffing, Turkey Stuffing, White Castle, White Castle Stuffing
Servings: 10

Equipment

  • Casserole Dish
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Saute Pan

Ingredients

  • 12 White Castle Sliders No pickles, extra onion
  • 1 cup chicken broth 1/4 cup if stuffing turkey
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup diced mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp Sage 1 1/2 tbsp if using fresh sage
  • 1 1/4 tsp Thyme 1 tbsp if using fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp salt add salt according to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Cut the burgers into chunks and put into a mixing bowl
  • Dice celery and mushroom
  • Melt 2 tbsp butter in skillet and add celery, mushroom, and garlic; saute until celery is slightly softened but still crunchy
  • Add saute mixture and seasoning to mixing bowl with burger chunks
  • Add 1 cup chicken broth and toss well
  • Transfer mixture to casserole dish
  • Bake 30-35 minutes or until top is browned
  • Enjoy
Fern hotel room at plant hotel pop-up in Chicago

Chicago’s First Plant Hotel Pop-Up Opens

A recent survey conducted by Orbitz revealed that 63% of millennial travelers expressed the amenity they’d like to see on the road is more plants in their hotel rooms. Orbitz, in collaboration with the Kimpton Grey Hotel and Garfield Park Conservatory, decided to give the people what they want! After all, Millennials travel the most out of any group and are driving the growth in the travel industry. 

Chair and table setting in lobby of hotel
Kimpton Gray Lobby

I’m no Millennial, but I’m down for this! I was invited to pay a visit to the hotel during the press preview day and let me say; I’d love to see more hotels follow suit! Imagine spending a day sightseeing and coming back to your very own oasis to relax in! That’s what vacation’s about after all! The atmosphere in each of the rooms was an instant mood booster for me.

Greenhouse set up in lobby at Kimpton Gray Hotel in Chicago
Greenhouse

The Kimpton Gray Hotel recently named one of Chicago’s Best Hotels of 2019 by U.S. News and World Report, created a total of 5-themed rooms for the collaboration, all with a different sound and smell. Each room is modeled after an area at Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the world’s most extensive botanical gardens under glass!

Room of foliage at Plant Hotel Pop-Up at Kimpton Gray Hotel
Aroid Room at Kimpton Gray Hotel

VIP Greenery Experiences

Botanically-inspired relaxation kits welcome each guest upon entry to their room. Although bookings sold out quickly, that doesn’t’ mean you can’t get in on the fun. The hotel will be hosting happy hours Friday through Sunday during the pop-up from 5-6 at an elaborate greenhouse set up in the lobby where guests can snip herbs for their cocktails. The pop-up runs from October 18th through October 20th.

Loving plants is smart! Scientific evidence shows that living with houseplants can do wonders for your health

Jennifer Van Valkenburg, president and CEO of Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance

Here’s a glimpse into the rooms featured during the Plant Hotel Pop-Up.

Palm House

Includes lush palms and plants native to tropical habitats around the world.

Bed in hotel room with lots of foliage

Sugar Room

The plant hotel’s Sugar Room was one of my favorites; the smells of fruit bearing plants and trees permeating the air were sensational!!!! The room included Theobroma Cacao, Coffee Arabica, Air Plants, Breadfruit Plant, and Alpinia Zerumbet, all botanicals that you can eat.

woman holding bowl of fruit in hotel room
Sugar Room
Bed in hotel room featuring foliage
Sugar Room

Desert Room

Incorporates a wide array of cacti and succulents that have adapted to a desert environment around the world.

cactus' on nightstand in hotel room

Fern Room

Features lush ferns native to the verdant, prehistoric landscape of Chicago.

hotel room decorated with fern foliage
Fern Room

Aroid Room

Aroids in the wild grow on the floor of the rainforest, which is why these low light plants also make great houseplants .

Hotel room with live trees
Aroid Room

Guests not fortunate enough to snag one of the pop-up rooms can choose one of the greenhouse plants at check-in for their hotel room.

This pop-up brings so much life into the hotel. It’s a perfect match to Kimpton’s dedication to sustainability and our connections throughout the community

Dina Fenili, director of sales and marketing at The Gray

Foliage donations will be made by the hotel to different organizations around the city upon completion of the pop-up.

So what do you think? Are plant hotels something that you’d like to see more of when traveling? Tell me in the comments.

The Kimpton Gray hotel is located at 122 W. Monroe St., Chicago.

Saugatuck, Michigan Weekend Getaway: Food, Activities, Shopping

A two-hour ride from Chicago along the Lake Michigan coast sits the charming town of Saugatuck, Michigan. Named in the top 10 of Best Coastal Small Towns in 2019 by USA Today, Saugatuck is buzzing with gorgeous art galleries, fantastic eateries, eclectic shops, and beautiful beaches. Also, there’s an assortment of quaint Bed & Breakfasts and boutique hotels to enjoy a cozy and relaxing stay.  It was the perfect destination for our recent quick-getaway away from the city.

1880 built building in downtown Saugatuck, Michigan
Saugatuck Village Hall

The 2-hour drive on a Friday from Chicago put us in town around 1 p.m. Check-in at our Airbnb was 4 p.m., so we had a few hours for exploring and eating.

The harbor in downtown Saugatuck
Downtown Saugatuck

Friday

Lunch at Farmhouse Deli-Douglas

Our first stop was at The Farmhouse Deli & Pantry, in Douglas, sister city to Saugatuck. We often bounced between the two towns during our visit.

Deli refrigerator with an assortment of meats and cheeses
The Farmhouse Deli

The smells permeating the air heightened the anticipation, and the food did not disappoint! The Farmhouse Deli & Pantry serves cold and hot sandwiches, soups, and salads featuring locally sourced cheeses and meats. Some of their meats are smoked in-house. We were both pretty hungry when we stopped in. I had my heart set on a sandwich but changed my tune once I sampled the chili. Dave had the vegan Bahn-Mi, which was equally delicious. We both were happy with the decision to pop in here.

I sampled many of the deli items and ended up purchasing a pint of smoked salmon jerky and Korean meatballs for me to snack on later. There’s an excellent selection of packaged and jarred gourmet foods for purchasing. This place is incredible, and I highly recommend stopping in during a visit to the area.

Saugatuck Antique Pavillion

Probably the most organized antique mall I’ve ever visited, making browsing easy and enjoyable. Also, I was pleasantly surprised upon entry as I noticed that it didn’t have the smell of most antique shops. With over 175 dealers in a 24,000 square foot space, you’re bound to find something you don’t need but want, lol.

Next door to the Antique Pavillion is Saugatuck Brewing Company, which naturally was our next stop!

Saugatuck Brewing Co.

Inside of a brewery
Saugatuck Brewing Co.

The 24,000 square foot brewery has 16 taps of rotating mainstays, seasonals, and a variety of specialty styles that range from Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts to Sessionable IPAs and hard cider. We started in the pub with a few beers along with the drunken hummus and house-made potato chips and onion dip. The appetizers were delicious and just enough to hold us over till dinner.

Green building that's a brewery
Saugatuck Brewing Co.

In addition to the pub, they have a barrel room with 15 beers on tap, bumper pool, shuffleboard, darts, pinball, and live music. We ended up coming back later in the evening to hear live music in the barrel room.

woman holding a glass of hard cider
Hard Cider at Saugatuck Brewing Company

Where to Stay in Saugatuck, Michigan

living room with blue couch and chair and white walls
Maple Cottages Green Cottage

The town carries a variety of Bed and Breakfasts, Inns, and Rentals. We decided on a cute cottage rented through Airbnb.   It was clean, well-stocked, and gave the best beach vibes. Rob, the owner, was great with communication, making check-in seamless. I’d stay here again. 

bedroom decorated in blue and white
Green Cottage Maple Cottages

Dinner at Everyday People Cafe

puff pastry stuffed with shrimp
SAVORY DUSTED & SEARED SHRIMP, GARLIC, SHALLOT, SUN DRIED TOMATO, BASIL, SAMBUCA CREAM
& PUFF PASTRY

We attempted dining at Phil’s Bar & Grill in downtown Saugatuck. However, there was a 70-minute wait. As a result, we wound up at Everyday People Cafe in downtown Douglas. I couldn’t have been more pleased with our choice. The sophisticated space served incredible food along with superb service.

romaine salad with Parmesan cheese
Asian Ceasar

Dave and I started off sharing the Asian Caesar Salad, one bite in, I immediately regretted offering to share. I can’t even describe how amazing this salad was. It created an explosion of delightful flavors so incredible that I had to refrain from ordering a second salad since I also had an entree coming. I’d drive to Douglas, MI from Chicago just for another go at that salad!

Grilled pork chop topped with blue cheese
TWELVE-OUNCE LOCAL CHOP, ONION JAM, GORGONZOLA CHEESE, MASHED POTATOES, MARKET VEGETABLE, & DEMI-GLACE

Saturday

White dog sitting outside of a store in downtown Saugatuck
This dog is a whole mood!

Breakfast at Blue Star Diner

plate of eggs and potatoes
Blue Star Cafe

Start your Saturday with breakfast at Blue Star Cafe in Douglas, a no-frills retro diner with reasonable prices and friendly service. There’s also an ice-cream parlor attached. The restaurant is small and cozy. The server told my friend and me that we looked like we needed coffee, lol, took a liking to her immediately. I loved my omelet and home fries. Great local spot!

Saugatuck Dune Rides

Man and woman smiling inside a jeep at Saugatuck Sand dunes
Saugatuck Dune Rides Tour Guide Frosty

I highly recommend a tour of the dunes with Saugatuck Dune Rides during your stay! If possible, try to get Frosty as your guide. He’s skilled at fast-paced winding through the dunes and quite knowledgeable of the history of the dunes. 

I’m ashamed to admit that even though I grew up about 20 miles from Saugatuck, I’d never heard about the lost town of Singapore. It’s Michigan’s Most Famous Ghost Town buried beneath the dunes! This once bustling town aided in the rebuilding after the Great Chicago Fire and subsequently disappeared, entirely covered by the sand drifts from Lake Michigan in a matter of 4-years! This tour is a can’t miss activity.

Uncommon Coffee Roasters Downtown Saugatuck

Bench with the words spread love and coffee written on it
Downtown Saugatuck

Hospitable coffee-house and a lovely setting to take a break from all the walking and shopping. The coffee is excellent! They have a roasting facility in Douglas where they roast their globally sourced green coffee in small batches, ensuring the best quality.

Saugatuck, Michigan Art Galleries and Shops

There are over 30 art galleries in the area along with scores of trendy boutiques and shops with unique finds to pop into around town. So many one-of-a-kind items!

James Conner Gallery

I had a pleasant conversation with James Conner at his gallery about the small Midwest towns where we grew up. Mr. Conner is well known for his colorful montages of American cities and universities. His galleries feature original oils and watercolors, art prints, inspirational art, historical engravings, handcrafted gifts of wood, glass, and pottery.

Man painting a landscape of trees
Artist James Conner
Man holding up an art print
James Conner is know as “The Portrait Painter of American Cities”

Amazwi Contemporary Art

A vast array of diverse African Artist’ works celebrating the natural beauty of Africa fill this gallery. Interesting works that push beyond the pre-conceived ideas of what African art is. This place is a GEM!

African Art displays including an elephant

Good Goods

A stunning display of handmade American Art occupies this multi-level gallery. There were so many pieces to marvel at; everything from fine art, jewelry, glass, sculptures, to woodwork and soaps. Take your time here.

Urban Found

Reasonably priced hand-selected jewelry, clothing, industrial home decor, candles, and other cool Boho-Chic finds. I ended up purchasing several pairs of earrings.

Mitten Brewing Company

After working up an appetite from all of the walking and shopping stop in at Mitten Brewing Company for a beer and pizza, they serve some of the yummiest pizza I’ve ever had! The beer is incredible too. Their creative selection of pizzas like the Westerdog ( Chili bean sauce, all-beef franks, Colby-Jack cheese, diced white onions, shredded kosher pickles, ketchup, yellow mustard) will keep you coming back for more. Can’t decide on one; can get a pizza flight! Man, I love this place!

Mitten Brewing Company Sign
The Mitten Brewing Co.
Pizza and beers on a table
The Mitten Brewing Co. Pizza

Sunday Breakfast

Cranes Restaurant & Pie Pantry

Before heading home, stop in at Cranes Restaurant & Winery for breakfast and an apple crisp to take back. If you visit during the apple-picking season, that’s a bonus. There are lots of activities for families there. You can easily spend the whole day!

Windmill Restaurant

Another breakfast option before heading home is Windmill restaurant in downtown Holland, about 15 minutes from Saugatuck. They dish-out delicious home-style breakfast all day! We try to stop in whenever we’re in the area. You have to order the Bird’s Nest!

I hope that this post inspires you to visit Saugatuck! I’m already making a list of activities and restaurants for our next trip. Which other Midwest towns should I visit? Let me know in the comments.

Red sculpture of a family in downtown Saugatuck
Sculpture in Downtown Saugatuck

5 Reasons Why You Should Do a Chicago Food Tour

Chicago, a city known for its gorgeous skyline, breathtaking architecture, museums, sports, and my favorite pastime, FOOD!

Do Rite Donuts

Where does one looking to immerse themselves in the city’s food scene begin when the options are endless? There are numerous ways to go about it. However, I’ve found one of the best and easiest is through a food tour. Each time I’ve joined one, I walked away impressed, and joyful from what I experienced. My most recent outing was the Gateway to West Loop food tour with Chicago Food Planet! Founded in 2006, Chicago Food Planet is the city’s longest-running food tour company. To say it was an afternoon well spent is an understatement. I recommend it to anyone desiring an unforgettable afternoon in one of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. Here’s why:

TASTE A VARIETY OF FOOD

Thin crust pizza topped with cheese, tomato, and basil
Bonci’s Margherita Pizza

Let’s be real; the number one reason to do a Chicago Food Tour is that Chicago’s food is iconic. A food tour allows the opportunity to taste a variety of the city’s excellent offerings. The portions are the perfect size for getting a good taste without overdoing it. The tour made six stops. We indulged in sampling everything from local artisan handmade donuts to a typical Roman street food snack.

Slider hamburger topped with pulled pork and pickle
Kuma’s Corner Led Zeppelin Burger

Discover Gems You May Have Otherwise Overlooked

A week before my tour I’d walked past Cemitas Puebla in the West Loop. I was curious as I glanced inside and wondered why’d I never noticed it before. I got super enthused after our guide, Mark, informed us that it was the second stop on our tour. My discovery of Cemitas, the sandwiches of Puebla, Mexico, did not leave me disappointed. The homemade bun, similar to brioche, is sweet with sesame seeds. Stuffed inside was flavorful chicken, avocado, and Oaxaca cheese. I topped mine with the chipotle and Verde sauce, and it was heaven! I had no idea how famous this sandwich was in Chicago!

Slider size sandwich with chicken and avocado on sesame bun
Cemitas

While strolling the neighborhood, our guide also spoke on some of the other restaurants, not on our tour. There are just too many great eateries in the West Loop to contain within a 2 1/2 hour tour! Therefore, I left with a long list of award-winning, Michelin rated, Top Chef eateries to check out in the future.

Get to Know the People Behind the Food

Inspiring stories of the locals behind the food creates feelings of connection and heightens appreciation for what’s in front of you. For instance, just knowing John Ross, owner of Formento’s loved his Nonna and named his restaurant after her makes you go awwww. Throughout his restaurant are many special touches in homage to her from the menu to pictures on the wall. As a child, he loved spending Sundays with her while she cooked all day for the evening meal and the gathering of his large family. Desiring to recreate that feeling in his restaurant, he incorporated long booths to push tables together for family-style meals and conversation.

Meatball covered in tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese
Nonna’s Meatball

It stirred up some of my favorite memories in my ma-ma and pa-pa’s kitchen. It seemed like they were always cooking and wanting to feed us. Once I became an adult, I realized how much joy feeding us bought them. Now, whenever I eat one of Nonna’s (Italian for grandma) meatballs at Formento’s those feelings will return. The narratives about the business owners, their home countries, and families were some of my favorite moments from the day. If you didn’t notice things like this tug at my heartstrings.

Education About Chicago Neighborhoods

Chicago Food Planet tour guide standing on street
Chicago Food Planet Tour Guide

Having a professional tour guide share details about the people, historical facts, businesses, and architecture of a neighborhood leaves an impression and awareness of the progression of the city. The tour took us through the many changes of the West Loop; from a working-class residential neighborhood, meatpacking district, manufacturing, Chicago’s Skid Rowe, to dining mecca. We learned of many key people and developments that contributed to what you see today.

Man and woman walking in West Loop Chicago
West Loop’s Fulton Market

Fun Fact. Mary Todd Lincoln moved into the West Loop after the assassination of her husband Abraham Lincoln and remained until the 1890’s.

Mural of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln Mural, West Loop Chicago

Become Acquainted with People from All over the World

Food tours are an excellent way to meet new people! Our group was a mix of individuals from Missouri, New York, Oregon, England, Chicago, and suburbs. You know what they say; “people who love food are always the best people.” Everyone was in a great mood and excited to share a meal with you. Donovan and I had lots of laughs and great conversations with different individuals. The memories will linger long after the tour is complete!

4 people posing next to a giant donut statue
Do-Rite Donuts, West Loop
3 people posing next to a giant donut statue
Donovan and I with our Tour Guide Mark

So, as you can see, I’m an advocate for Chicago Food Tours. I was offered a complimentary tour for a guest and me by Chicago Food Planet. However, all opinions here are my own. This tour was my second with Chicago Food Planet. My husband and I took their flagship Bucktown/Wicker Park tour in 2012 for our anniversary. And we still fondly recall it as one of our favorite anniversary outings.

Chicago Food Planet has tours year-round. Book yours today!

Chicago’s Skyline: Best Places for Viewing

I’m sure you’ve seen numerous pictures of the Chicago Skyline in your social media feeds.  Many may think that these pictures are mostly from tourists but a large portion of them are from locals too.  As a local it’s something that I never tire of.  The skyline is beautiful and each time it comes into sight there’s a certain energy and excitement that infuses me and it hasn’t dulled over time. 

Woman capturing a picture of the Chicago Skyline from the top of the John Hancock Building
Chicago Skyline View from 360 Chicago

Chicago’s skyline is ranked as one of the worlds tallest and most magnificent.  It’s one of the reasons that over 57 million tourists flocked to Chicago in 2018, setting a record!  It should be ogled again and again!

View of John Hancock Building

With and abundance of rooftop bars and patios where should you settle in to take in the Chicago Skyline and other views?  Here’s a list of my favorite spots in the Chicago.

Chicago Riverwalk

Woman sitting at Chicago Riverwalk reading a book
Chicago Riverwalk

The Chicago Riverwalk spans 1.25 miles so there are many great spots to soak in the city whether it’s taking a stroll or relaxing at one of the many bars or eateries along the river.  There’s no shortage of activity with live music, Art on the Mart, and boaters and kayaks passing by.  The Riverwalk is open daily from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Table setting with wine and cocktails at the Chicago Riverwalk
City Winery at Chicago Riverwalk

Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant

Sitting on the top floor of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Cindy’s Rooftop restaurant and terrace has one of the most enviable views of Chicago with Lake Michigan as a backdrop against Millennium Park.  The panoramic views from the terrace are unmatched.  While one may come for the scenery, you’ll stay for the creative cocktails and food.  Beverage Curator David Morr knows his stuff!  Pro Tip:  make a reservation, this is one of the hottest spots in Chicago!

Aire Chicago

Nestled in the center of The Loop amid skyscrapers, Aire Rooftop Bar on top of the Hyatt Centric gives a magnificent perspective of Chicago’s architecture.  The rooftop bar also curate’s monthly art series featuring local artists for you to enjoy while chilling with cocktails and friends. 

Offshore at Navy Pier

At 36,000 square feet, Offshore, holds the Guinness World Record for the largest rooftop deck in the world!  The all-seasons/all-weather spot at Navy Pier delivers extraordinary sights of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline.  There’s plenty of space for visitors to take in different angles of the beautiful city. You’ll want to linger for awhile.

Interior of Navy Pier Rooftop Bar Offshore
Offshore Rooftop Bar and Restaurant at Navy Pier

Museum Campus

Lakefront Trail with Chicago Skyline as backdrop
Lakefront Trail at Museum Campus

Museum Campus, home to three of the city’s most notable museums, is southeast of downtown. The Lakefront Trail winding through Museum Campus has numerous spots for gazing.  I love hitting the Campus early in the morning to reflect and appreciate the scenery. 

Patio at Cafe Brauer

The Patio sits just south of the main zoo grounds at Café Brauer, a historic Prairie School-style landmark. Overlooking the pond at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, the Patio at Café Brauer offers an exceptional observation of Chicago’s skyline and it’s dog-friendly.

London House Hotel

I was blown away the first time I enjoyed the sweeping views of Chicago from the top of London House Hotel. This spot allows you to observe activities on the Chicago River, bustling Michigan Avenue, and Lake Michigan. The night scenes are amazing too!

Night view of Chicago Skyline
Night view of Chicago from London House hotel rooftop

Up Room Lounge at the Robey Hotel

Rooftop lounge overlooking the city of Chicago
Up Room Lounge

Located in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, the Robey Hotel is the tallest building for miles. The Up Room lounge and terrace on 13th floor delivers an incredibly sexy view of the cityscape. It’s the perfect spot for date night or maybe even an evening with the girls!

360 Chicago

Positioned on the 94th floor of the iconic John Hancock building, 1,000 feet above Michigan Avenue; the observation deck offers stunning 360-degree views of the city’s famous Skyline and scenic Lake Michigan to guests the moment they step off the elevator.  On a clear day, individuals can see as many as four states and as far as 55 miles. In addition, guests can also learn facts about Chicago neighborhoods and architecture through 18 stations of interactive touchscreens and info kiosks. Or take a TILT over the edge of the building, 1,000 feet above The Magnificent Mile

North Avenue Beach

Lake Michigan with Chicago Skyline as backdrop
Chicago Skyline

The popular North Avenue Beach is one of my favorite spots for relaxation and people watching.  There’s an abundance of fun activities to engage in with the beautiful skyline as a backdrop.

Lake Michigan and sandy beach
North Avenue Beach

VU Rooftop Bar

This 13,000 square foot rooftop oasis next to McCormick place in Chicago’s South Loop is a welcome addition in an area where rooftop bars are lacking. With Chef driven fare, fancy cocktails, and TV’s on the outdoor deck, what more could you ask for?

I can’t get enough of the views of this beautiful city, it’s truly a work of art! Where’s your favorite place to soak it in? Let me know in the comments.

Easy Summer Cocktail Recipes for Your Next Party

After my interview with David Mor, Beverage Manager of Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant in Chicago about all things cocktails, I decided this will be the summer of rooftop entertaining with creative drinks. He explained the basics and essentials for creating great cocktails and motivated me to step outside the box and experiment with different flavors. My biggest takeaway was, cocktails need not be overly complicated and we all possess the skills to create great drinks at home.

Every classic cocktail is the foundation of all modern drinks that we do.  We’re just taking recipes that have always worked and adding in our own ideas to amplify it.

David M. Mor, Beverage Manager at Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant Chicago

Once you learn the classics, the sky’s the limit! So go with what inspires you, and experiment with new things like fresh herbs, fruits, syrups, bitters, and seasonal flavors.

There’s an abundance of twists you can do, it’s actually exciting and a bit overwhelming. I explored Binny’s Beverage Depot with a whole new perspective after my conversation with him. I’m a bit obsessed with all of the flavors of bitters and simple syrups at the moment. I’ve also recently discovered maple syrups when I was gifted with Runamok maple-infused flavored syrups. You can substitute these for simple syrups in mixology recipes. The flavors that this novice has created from them is incredible!

Below are three summer cocktail recipes that David shared with me to incorporate in my next party. My favorite of the three is the Sparkling Lemonade, I’ll be making lots of those this summer!

Try them out and let me know what you think in the comments!

Essential tools for the home bar
  • 1 Mixing Glass
  • Lg Shaker
  • Sm Shaker
  • 1 Bar Spoon
  • Jigger (Measuring Unit)
  • Strainer

Mango Mojitos

  • 2 oz white rum Plantation 3star rum, super affordable and good quality
  • ¾ oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ oz mango syrup (fresh 100^% mango juice from Mariano or whole foods, add equal parts sugar put on the stove until sugar is dissolved)

Add several mint leaves to the glass and agitate. Add rum, flavored Syrup and fill the glass halfway with club soda. Add cubed ice and stir.

Sparkling Lemonade

  • 1 oz Fresh Squeezed Meyer Lemon Juice (use regular lemon if Meyer lemon is out of season)
  • 1 1/2 oz Dry London Gin
  • 1 oz fresh Basil Syrup

Add lemon juice, gin, and syrup to the glass. Fill with tonic, add ice and stir. Garnish with a lemon peel and a sprig of basil.

French 75

  • 1 ½ oz London Dry Gin (Plymouth or Beefeater Gin)
  • ¾ oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • Sparkling wine (Prosecco)

Add gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup, to a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, cover, and shake vigorously for about 7 seconds. Strain into a martini glass. Top with sparkling wine (Prosecco) run lemon peel across the rim of the glass. Enjoy!

Cocktail Essentials and Basics for Home Bartending

I considered naming this blog post Cocktail Making For Dummies because that aptly describes where I feel my capabilities lie with home bartending.  My level of expertise ends with the gin and tonic which happens to be my favorite drink.  I’ve mastered that!

Patio and rooftop season presents the perfect time for me to get out of my cocktail rut and expand my horizons.  The only problem was I didn’t know where to start and I don’t like wasting time or money. Therefore, I enlisted the help of someone excelling in the cocktail field, David Mor, Beverage Manager for Cindy’s restaurant in Chicago. Known for its magnificent views, Cindy’s is one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago. However, while one may come for the views, you’ll stay for the drinks! They even offer a nice spirit-free cocktail selection.

I initially met David at an event for wine and spirits.  His approachable nature and enthusiasm for cocktails and spirits were both exciting and the reason that he was the only person I reached out to for assistance.  I was grateful for the opportunity to pick his brain regarding all things cocktails starting with basic components and essential supplies needed for the home bar.

His openness during our conversation regarding his start in bartending was refreshing. He explained, “my background is in purely home bartending.  I did not start at this bougie awesome bar where I learned the eccentricities of Japanese spirits. No, I bought a bunch of books, made a bunch of drinks at home and ¾ of them failed because I wasn’t using the right ingredients, proper ice or tools.”

Myths Dispelled

He expressed that cocktails need not be overly complicated and making great drinks is definitely something that many are capable of. Several cocktail myths were dispelled early on in our conversation, namely:

You need an endless supply of bar tools at home:  One only needs a few items to get started.

  • 1 Mixing Glass
  • Lg Shaker
  • Sm Shaker
  • 1 Bar Spoon
  • Jigger (Measuring Unit)
  • Strainer

You need to buy the most expensive ingredients: “Obviously if you use higher quality products it’s going to taste better but if you don’t know how to mix them properly it’s not going to be balanced and you’re not going to be able to appreciate it regardless”

The more ingredients in the cocktail, the better: “I think people believe that you need six ingredients…..You can, and there are some nice punches that you can make that do involve many components, and I encourage people to do that because I do think it’s fun to break out of your comfort zone.  But the first thing that I learned was the foundation of cocktails. 

He recommended starting with a cocktail book that has really solid recipes that you can trust. “No shade to Pinterest, I love it for all things decor and fun gift ideas but for the purpose of making cocktails try a reputable cookbook from trustworthy bartenders who’ve accumulated good recipes”  I too love Pinterest but I must admit, I haven’t had much luck with the cocktail recipes. My last attempt at a punch was a miserable fail.

Classic Cocktails

David trusts the recipes in the following books and feels they have a long list of classics to choose from.

  • The Craft of the Cocktail
  • Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s guide
  • PDT cocktail book

The majority of classic drinks featured in these books can be executed by just having gin, whiskey, and brandy on hand along with your major mixers like Dry Vermouth, Sweet Vermouth, a bitter, and syrup.

“Every classic cocktail is the foundation of all modern drinks that we do.  We’re just taking recipes that have always worked and adding in our own ideas to amplify it.”

An example of a few classics are a sour, an old fashioned and a highball.

  • Sour:  Spirit, citrus, sugar
  • Old Fashioned: Spirit, bitter, sugar, water
  • High Ball:  Spirit, tonic or soda

Once you have the basics down then add in your own flair and personality.

Perhaps you’d prefer to put a spin on an Old Fashioned? ” If you want to make an old fashioned totally different take a walk down the Binny’s aisle where there are bitters and find a bitter flavor you don’t typically use.  You can find cola bitters, chocolate mole bitters etc…it’s all the same idea, bitters are all the same except fruits, herbs, and spices that they masquerade them with.  You can change the flavor profile with a few dashes of something.  Then maybe choose a rye whiskey instead of a bourbon to make it a bit spicier.”

“Also, instead of doing a classic gin and tonic; why not infuse your gin with strawberries to make a strawberry gin and tonic? In addition, you can add a sprig of rosemary.  You now have a totally different cocktail from the 2-ingredient classic drink.”

So basically relax, have fun, and go with what inspires you! Sounds easy enough to me! (Click here for a few summer cocktail recipes that David gave me to try at home!)

Curating the seasonal beverage menu for a restaurant like Cindy’s keeps David busy.  I asked a few questions about his inspiration and drink preferences:

CBNT Cocktail

What inspires you when designing cocktails for the masses?

“Seasonality-If I’m making a drink in July it’s going to be something totally different than I’m making in November.  Because the ingredients that I’m craving at that moment will be really fresh, tiki flavors verses autumnal and savory flavors. I’m heavily influenced by art, I used to be an actor.  I love musicals and music and so I let songs influence what I’m working on. If I’m listening to jazz I tend to make stirred cocktails. If I’m listening to pop summer music I make crushable margaritas, fun sours, and mojitos.  And then I tend to be very influenced by the women in my life and I’ve named a lot of drinks after them.  I have drinks on the menu named after my best friend and my mother.  Women who’ve had a great impact on me……I’ve always wanted to pay homage to them on any menu that I put together.

What do you drink at home?

I drink sherry, a lot of gin, I love Japanese Whiskey, and Sake…..I have a general appreciation for most categories of booze.

Is there anyone that you look up to in the field?

I attribute why I bartend today to 3 people: one is Ashley Smith who taught me the foundation of bartending and not to get ahead of myself, basically, you can’t come up with the most creative cocktail in the world if you don’t understand the classics first. Another is Julia Momose, the bar creator at Kumiko.  She taught me to finesse and polish, and that everything matters.  This was from afar, I follow her on Instagram.    I felt challenged to take my craft more seriously…..everything really matters. Stephanie Andrews, the cocktail director at Billy Sunday (also the recipient of the Jean Banchet Award for Best Mixologist.) She inspired me to learn how to take myself a little less serious, be a real professional in this industry, and gain traction by my creativity.

What kind of questions should we as patrons ask when ordering a drink and may be unsure of what to order?

I think there’s a question that we should not be asking and that’s “what’s good here?”  It’s such an open-ended question and difficult to answer, although innocent.  My good will not always be your good…I love Negroni but you may hate gin so it belittles the point of the question because I’m not able to give you what you want.  Therefore, it’s better if you’re able to give as much information as you can and pinpoint what you’re in the mood for. Something like “I’m into refreshing and fruity, or I prefer gin-forward drinks” This will make your life and the bartender’s job so much easier. 

What can guests expect at Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant

My hope is that they come in and are pleasantly surprised by everything but the view. They’re going to love the view, it’s gorgeous!  I think they should expect that the pictures are true to life, it’s a beautiful experience, I hope that they taste some of the best drinks in the city.  Our wine program is exquisite and we have a lot of local brewery offerings.  Cindy’s is a Chicago friendly establishment.  We’re located in a historical building with a lot of roots in Chicago and the community.  I hope they see the story that we’re telling through the menu, what a true Chicago summer experience is like; an oasis. Cindy’s isn’t a place just about the view It’s truly a restaurant first and the view is like the dessert.

David’s passion for hospitality shines, it’s beyond obvious that he loves what he’s doing! I picked up on that the first time I met him. “I think that I have a beautiful job, I get to make people laugh and smile….. You never know what people are going through or what kind of day they had and you have the power to make their day better, at least at that moment. I take that part of hospitality very seriously….. I don’t care if you’re the best bartender in the world if you’re the most hospitable person in the restaurant, we’re going to hire and recommend you.

Be sure to check out Cindy’s Rooftop Restaurant, you’ll most likely spot David interacting with guests or joking behind the bar so make sure to say hi!

Chicago Gourmet Announces Entertainment-Packed Encore Events!

Come September; the spotlight is on Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet! The nation’s premier culinary festival gives guests a true backstage pass to some of the most exclusive, entertainment-packed events taking place throughout Chicago September 24-29th! The 12th year of Chicago Gourmet is better than ever with nine encore events celebrating the Lights, Camera, Napkin! theme.

The organizers announced at a press conference today, the ancillary activities taking place during the week leading up to the main event. There’s no shortage of exciting experiences and celebrations to dive into. 

Attendees will notice that theatre is incorporated into many of the festivities; an homage to the city of Chicago’s declaration of 2019 as the ‘Year of Chicago Theatre’!

Tickets for the encore events went on sale!  Take a peek at the list of happenings and snag your ticket while they’re still available.

Raise your Glass to Freedom:  A Hamilton Exclusive

Chef Rick Bayless will host an exclusive VIP evening at the CIBC theatre with “Hamilton”.  Theatre-goers will enjoy early access, a cocktail reception with small bites, premier seating, and an exclusive question-and-answer session with a cast member after the show.  This year’s event will benefit The Bayless Family Foundation “Stepping Stone” Grants, which supports established Chicago theatre organizations with a vision for institutional and artistic growth.

Tuesday, September 24, 6-10:30 p.m.$450/person

Take the Gun, Leave the Cannoli

Join chefs Fabio Viviani (Siena Tavern), Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno, Maillard Tavern), Carolina Diaz (Terzo Piano) and Federico Comacchio (Coco Pazzo) for a mobster-inspired Italian feast aboard the Odyssey Chicago River. Guests will enjoy traditional Italian fare and full-bodied wines curated by Alpana Singh, MS (Check Please!, Terra & Vine), all set against the stunning backdrop of the Chicago River. Proceeds will support the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which creates hospitality career pathways to post-secondary education and the workforce. An offer you can’t refuse!

Wednesday, September 25, 7-10 p.m. $250/person

Jef Comedy Jam

Join Chicago native and self-proclaimed funniest chef in the world, Jeff Mauro (Pork & Mindy’s), at Theater on the Lake for an evening of good company and a side of laughs?  Diners will indulge in delicious fare and refreshing cocktails while enjoying a show by some of Chicago’s most well-known comedians, including “The Restaurant” comedy group.  The perfect recipe for an unforgettable evening, a portion of proceeds will be donated to the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Thursday, September 26, 6-9 p.m., $90/person  

Battle of the Masters

Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits Master Sommelier Serafin Alvarado will host an afternoon of delectable food, perfectly paired wine and show-stopping musical numbers.  Seven master sommeliers and three certified wine educators – some of whom include Fred Dame, MS (Daou Vineyards and Winery), Kathy Morgan, MS (Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits) and Alpana Singh, MS (Check Please!, Terra & Vine) – will compete head-to-head as they pair both wine and song with delicious dishes to benefit the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Friday, September 27, noon-2 p.m., $200/person

The Big Chill(I):  Gourmet Chili Cook-Off

Hosted by Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde) this star-studded chili competition will take place on the Harris Theater Rooftop. Participating chefs, including, Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven), Jimmy Bannos, Jr (The Purple Pig, Piggie Smalls Gyro Shop), Abe Conlon (Fat Rice), Diana Davila (Mi Tocaya Antojeria), Cedric Harden (River Roast), Kim Leali (One Off Hospitality), Chris Pandel (Swift & Sons) and Jose Sosa (Gibsons Italia) will pull out all the stops to see whose creation will reign supreme.  This event will honor the firefighters and police officers who risk their lives every day with proceeds benefiting the 100 Club, which provides for the families of first responders who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Saturday, September 28, 8-11 p.m.: $95/person

Rise & Shine Gourmet

The annual comforting combo of yoga and brunch includes a restorative yoga session, provided by CorePower Yoga, and bliss-inducing brunch bites from Jason Hammel (Lula Café) at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, one of Chicago’s landmark properties and a highly lauded 21st-century boutique hotel. Proceeds will benefit Pilot Light, which helps children make healthier food choices. 

Sunday, September 29, 8:30-10:45 a.m. or 10 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: $40/person

Chicago Gourmet event week promises to be a grand time so start your planning!

Tickets for the main and encore events are on sales now. Hamburger Hop and Late Night Gourmet tickets will go on sale in August so stay tuned!

Chicago Gourmet is founded by the Illinois Restaurant Association and produced in partnership with Bon Appetit and Souther Glazer’s Wine & Spirits.

National Restaurant Association Show: The Future of Dining

The National Restaurant Association Show is the place to explore everything that’s happening in the restaurant industry.  During its run here in Chicago, over 67,000 food service professionals from around the world gathered at McCormick Place. On display were the latest trends in the food service industry from ingredients, advancements in restaurant technology, kitchen gadgets and more. 

National Restaurant Association Show's Opening Ceremony
National Restaurant Association Show’s Opening Ceremony

Why should this interest you?  Because as patrons the new products and technology will have a direct impact on our dining experiences in the months and years to come.

National Restaurant Association

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association or NRA for short is the leading business association for the restaurant industry.   The NRA is comprised of one million restaurant and food service outlets and a workforce of 15.1 million employees. The National Restaurant Association Show is the most comprehensive trade show for the restaurant, food service, and hospitality industry in the U.S. and abroad.

This year’s theme was ‘100 Years of Wow’ in celebration of the trade show’s 100-year anniversary.

Chef Rick Bayless at the National Restaurant Association Show's Opening Ceremony
Chef Rick Bayless at the National Restaurant Association Show’s Opening Ceremony

National Restaurant Association Show

The trade-only show ran for 4 days and was filled with Education sessions, chef demonstrations, hot products from over 2,300 exhibitors, and award honors in food and beverage and innovation.

Cocktail tasting at the National Restaurant Association Show
Cocktail Demonstration and Tasting

NRA Panel Discussions

Panel discussion at the National Restaurant Association Show
Panel Discussing The Future of Dining

Some of the topics included:

  • The future of restaurants; experts spoke on how technology is helping restaurants with efficiency and improve operations.
  • The Future of Dining; leaders discussed major trends that could shake up the food service industry in the years to come.

NRA Chef Demonstrations

Chef Diana Davila at the National Restaurant Association Show
Chef Diana Davila courtesy of NRA

Celebrity and up and coming chefs such as Rick Bayless, Andrew Zimmern, Diana Davila, and Anjula Davi, demonstrated their cooking techniques, shared their stories, and gave practical suggestions for at home cooks.

Chef pasta demonstration at the National Restaurant Association Show
Photo Courtesy of NRA

I learned from Chef Andrew Zimmern that I’m committing a few cooking mistakes at home.   He stated that most home cooks.

  • Don’t use enough heat
  • Overcrowd their skillets
  • Don’t taste their food

Frankly, no one could ever accuse me of not tasting my food.  I actually over taste to the point of being full once the dish is complete.  However, I am guilty of oftentimes not allowing the skillet to thoroughly heat to a high temperature and overcrowding.  Mostly because of rushing.  As a result, browning, a vital step towards exceptional flavor is hindered. Browning meat and caramelizing vegetables such as onion leaves behind a fond (the brown particles found at the bottom of a pan after browning) which is the foundation of flavor in a dish as it gives increased levels of flavor.  The more places that you can season, add textures, and different flavors makes the difference between a decent meal and a curl your toes good meal!

Kitchen Innovation and Food and Beverage Awards at the NRA Show

Kitchen Innovation (KI) Awards were bestowed for the latest in equipment designed to improve back-of-house operations and benefit food service operators. View the list of winners here.

Kitchen Innovation Awards at the National Restaurant Association Show
Kitchen Innovation Awards at the National Restaurant Association Show

Food and Beverage Awards (FABI) honored the year’s most delicious, unique, and exciting food and beverage products that benefit restaurant operators and consumers.  Check out the list of recipients and products here

FABI award presentation at the National Restaurant Association Show
FABI Awards

Exhibitor Floor at the NRA

I was mostly looking forward to the exhibitor floor. Testing out products and discovering new things was both exciting and informative! The following are a few products and takeaways.

Efficiency

In an effort to improve customer service and dining experiences as well as take some of the toil off of humans, more restaurants are utilizing robots. As a result, don’t be surprised if your server is not human in the future. Speaking from my background as a former waitress, it’s about time! So many nights after my shift felt like I’d just finished a marathon!

Plant Based Foods are on the Rise

My biggest takeaway was that the demand for plant based products is rapidly growing!  I was beyond impressed at the how far things have come in terms of taste and availability of plant-based foods. The taste of Good Catch’s fish-free tuna surprised me! I eat plant based 80-90 percent of the time and I will surely check for this at Whole Foods.

Beyond Meat is another great brand with plant-based burgers, sausages, and crumbles. Their products are available in many restaurants and stores.

Plant based sausage links on a pretzel bun
Beyond Meat’s Plant-Based Beyond Sausage

Food Safety, Quality, and Sustainability

Consumers are more mindful of the quality of what we consume and its effects on our health and the environment. Sustainability is a term I’ve learned a great deal about this year and it’s influenced the products I buy.  Sustainability is a way for people to use resources without the resources running out. Or in other words, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Thankfully, more and more suppliers and restaurants are adopting practices that lessen the impact on our environment.

Smoked trout
Fortune Fish & Gourmet Company’s Smoked Trout

Fortune Fish & Gourmet Company as well as Halpern’s Steak & Seafood were two out of many companies present who have implemented practices to protect the environment through sustainable fisheries and sustainable agriculture. The smoked trout from Fortune Fish & Gourmet Company was outstanding! The best smoked trout I’ve ever had, hands-down!

The steak from Halpern’s was also incredible! And, whether consumers are looking for “All Natural”, “Sustainably Raised” or “Local” or “Grass Fed products; they meet the need.

Two companies worth looking into for sure!

ZAMBOOZY

Ever had a beer slushie? They may be coming to a bar or restaurant near you thanks to Zamboozy, the adult slushie freezer. Created by the Taylor Company, Zamboozy was designed to make it easy for owners/operators to turn ordinary craft brews and cocktails into trending frozen adult beverages. I was told that you can turn basically any craft beer into a slushie and I do love a good craft beer! Although, my favorite from my slushie taste test was the sangria. Perfect summer treat!

Fried Green Tomatoes Co.

Green tomatoes and batter mix for frying
Fried Green Tomatoes

Batter mix from Fried Green Tomatoes Co. became available two and a half years ago after repeated requests from customers at their food truck. After tasting their fried pickles and green tomatoes, there’s no question as to why this mix is such high demand. To see which stores in your area carry the mix click here. Also, you can also get this product shipped.

Trident Seafood Protein Noodles

These fish noodles are packed with 1O grams of protein per serving, zero fat, gluten-free, non gmo, and only 7 grams of carbs! Made from Wild Alaska Pollock, fully cooked and ready to go, a great alternative to pasta! They reminded me of calamari which is even better. Click here for more information and recipes. You can find this product at Costco.

Fish noodles with vegetables and bread crumbs
Fish Noodles

Java House Cold Brew Coffee

Incredible cold brew, plain and simple. I prefer cream and a scant amount of sugar in my coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed this coffee black and didn’t miss a beat. Learn more about Java House here.

Java House coffee k-cups and cold brew bottles
Java House Cold Brew

Junior Sterno Smore’s Maker

Who doesn’t love smores; especially when camping? I’ve tried every trick in the book while out in the woods and had few successes along with many fails. The simple and easy design of the Junior Sterno S’Mores Maker makes this a no-brainer purchase. It’s only $14.99 on Amazon!

Tennessee Cheesecake

Tennessee Cheesecake was the standout at the National Restaurant Association Show for me. Trust me, I tried my fair share of desserts while there. Valerie Wilson set out to create the perfect cheesecake in 1981 and spent many hours of careful research and development to create the perfect product. She succeeded! The cheesecakes can be shipped nationwide for those of not lucky enough to be in Nashville Tennessee.

Frozen Ramen

Shin Uchi frozen ramen created quite the buzz at the National Restaurant Association Show. It’s a great alternative for ramen lovers at home. I was told that by the representative that I should be able to find this product at Asian stores across Chicago. I hope she’s right!

Frozen ramen on display at the National Restaurant Association Show
Frozen Ramen

The National Restaurant Association Show demonstrated that the future of dining is efficient, more responsible, and cognizant of what diners and consumers want. Additionally, with restaurant sales projected to reach over $825 billion in 2018, the future is also bright.

What do you think of some of the trends in the restaurant industry? Let me know in the comments.

New Buffalo, Michigan: Where to Eat, Shop, and Drink

A change of pace and scenery is good for the soul and the Midwest presents numerous opportunities to change things up. Many aren’t able to take frequent vacations or weekends away. A daycation is an excellent alternative. There’s no shortage of cute towns surrounding Lake Michigan, and often they’re only a short drive or train ride away. I decided to try AMTRAK for the first time for a daycation in New Buffalo, MI. In only an hour and 15 minutes, I was in the beach town. The ride was quick and easy. I left Chicago from Union Station on a Friday morning train at 7:20 and arrived in New Buffalo, Michigan at 8:37 a.m., 9:37 Michigan (Eastern) time. Also, my ticket there was only $12!

New Buffalo, Michigan

White Exterior of beach restaurant
Stray Dog Bar & Grill in downtown New Buffalo, Michigan

New Buffalo, Michigan is a small town located on the shores of Lake Michigan
at the mouth of the Galien River. It’s one of my favorites places for exploring. The area offers friendly locals, breweries, restaurants, wineries, beaches, and lots of shopping opportunities.

The AMTRAK drops you off right downtown within walking distance of plenty of shops and restaurants. There’s also UBER available for the places a bit outside of downtown.

Luisa’s Cafe

Red Luisa's Cafe sign
Luisa’s Cafe

My friends met me downtown, and our first stop was for breakfast at Luisa’s, a small family run cafe serving delicious food made with fresh, natural, and simple ingredients. Additionally, the family owns the attached Harbert Swedish Bakery. Our party was seated right away, and the service was excellent. During warmer months many have reported long waits as Luisa’s is a local favorite. We enjoyed an incredible meal of spinach quiche, eggs, Swedish pancakes, Southern Pecan pancakes, and great coffee. The no-frills cafe is charming with cute touches; a real gem!

Luisa’s Cafe
Harbert Swedish Bakery

We stopped in the Swedish bakery attached to the cafe on our way out to pick up some sweets for later. The blueberry coffee cake we enjoyed for breakfast the next morning did not disappoint.

Antique Shopping

After breakfast, we browsed some of the antique stores along Red Arrow Highway.

Harbert Antique Mall

Harbert Antique Mall is a 10-minute drive outside of town, therefore, you’d need to take an UBER or taxi. With Over 50 dealer displays you’ll want to set aside some time here. While there was a considerable selection, I felt things were laid out well and didn’t feel it was over cluttered. There is an abundance of hidden gems inside. I walked away with a stein!

Lakeside Antiques

Lakeside Antiques is 5 miles outside of downtown. My friends and I felt that their offerings were a bit more high end. There are three large buildings with an array of furniture styles and accessories, fine art, European and Americana antiques and more. I scored a cast iron griddle in excellent condition!

I don’t feel one has to be majorly into antiques to enjoy these stores. It’s just fun looking and discussing all of the memories that the pieces recall to mind. I was worn out from all of the visual stimulation and excitement.

New Buffalo, Michigan Breweries

Ghost Isle Brewery

Ghost Isle Brewery and restaurant opened spring of 2019. We popped in for a beer break. The New Buffalo microbrewery overlooks 156 acres of wetlands and focuses on a lighter less bitter style of beer. The Restaurant offers a full menu including, appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and entrees. Also, there’s a covered patio which seats over 100 people with a firepit and lawn for games of cornhole — a fun place to chill once the temperature warms.

Beer Church Brewery

Located inside of an old Methodist church, the recently renovated brewery now seats over 100 people inside and offers Neapolitan pizza, cocktails, and wine in addition to the beer. I love the new vibe!

Beer Church Neapolitan Pizza
Beer Church Brewery

Lunch at David’s Delicatessen

David’s Delicatessen is open daily for breakfast and lunch. The menu continually changes depending on ingredients received from farms. They’re known for their Reuben sandwiches. Of course, that’s what I tried. There are three variations to choose from on the menu. I stuck with the traditional and devoured it!

After hours, the deli transforms into a pop-up bar The False Front serving specialty cocktails, wine, beer, and light snacks.

Downtown New Buffalo, Michigan Shopping

The shops lining Whitaker and surrounding streets offer unique finds and deals.

Sweetwater Boating Supplies

A beach supply and gift shop with tons of selection.

Environmentally safe shopping bag with local produce printed on the front
Sweetwater shop in downtown New Buffalo, Michigan

The Hidden Gem

Owned by cousins Jessica and Lisa, the eclectic shop showcases many items from local artists.

The Hidden Gem

Posh Upscale Consignment Boutique

Posh offer ladies apparel, jewelry, handbags, footwear, accessories, coats, and more from premium labels like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Prada, Ann Taylor, Lululemon, DKNY, etc.

Oinks

We wrapped up the day at Oinks, a local favorite serving Sherman’s Ice Cream. Every summer the line to get into this place wraps the building. There’s so much nostalgia within these walls!

I’m already planning the next daycation! My friends and I felt like we were on vacation and while it was only for a day it refreshed my mind and spirit!

What do you like to do during your daycations? Tell me in the comments?

Things to do in Chicago During May

May will hopefully bring the warm weather to Chicago that we’ve been craving. Rain or shine there’s plenty of fun things to do in the city with many activities being free or low cost. Whether it’s family activities, date night, or a night out with the girls, this list has something for everyone.

Here are a few things to enjoy during the month of May in Chicago!

Check out Loop at Navy Pier

Experience Loop, a FREE, interactive art installation for all ages, in Polk Bros Park! Sit down inside the retro-futuristic machine and activate the mechanism, causing beautiful images inspired by 13 fairy tales to come to life to the sounds of a music box. The Loop art installation runs through May 12, see it before it’s gone! Polk Bros Park, Navy Pier

Hamilton the Exhibition

Statue displays at Alexander Hamilton Exhibition
Hamilton the Exhibition (photo Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)

See Alexander Hamilton’s remarkable story through his eyes in this 360-degree immersive exhibition inspired by the revolutionary musical. Get tickets here.NORTHERLY ISLAND • CHICAGO, IL

Free Tuesdays at the Chicago History Museum

Every Tuesday in May, Illinois residents can take in the history of Chicago and hear the stories of the people through interactive exhibitions and public programs for FREE. Chicago History Museum,1601 N Clark St, Chicago

Food Truck Social at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo, Sat, May 11, 7:30 pm: Experience the most excellent meals (on wheels) Chicago has to offer, while also enjoying the zoo after hours. In addition to dozens of food trucks, there will be fun activities, live music, and drinks available for purchase. Lincoln Park Zoo Tickets are $10 here

Chicago Riverwalk Season Celebration

Chicago River
Chicago River Walk

Riverwalk, Monday, May 13-Sunday, May 19: (FREE)The City of Chicago will highlight the Riverwalk’s free summer programming during a public celebration running Monday, May 13, through Sunday, May 19. Activities include Year of Chicago Theatre themed programs, Art on The MART, walking tours led by the Chicago Architecture Center, Fishing at the Jetty led by the Chicago Park District and a pyrotechnic display off of the south drive of the Merchandise Mart on Monday, May 13. For complete details, visit ChicagoRiverwalk.us.

MUSIC BOX THEATRE MOVIES AT GALLAGHER WAY

Free movies at Gallagher Way
Music Box Movies at Gallagher Way

WED, MAY 16TH, 2018 TO WED, SEP 19TH, 2018 (FREE)

Gather your friends and family and come enjoy Gallagher Way’s free summer movie series brought to you by Music Box Theatre.

Kicking off Wednesday, May 16 and running every other Wednesday through September. Relax and picnic as you enjoy classic films such as A League of Their Own, Back to the Future, Home Alone, Twister and more. Gates open at 6:00 pm, screening starts at 7:30 pm. Full Schedule Here Gallager Way: 3635 N Clark St, Chicago

Chicago Antiques, Arts, & Design Show at The Mart

Antiques on display at The Mart
Chicago Antiques at The Mart

May 16-19, 2019 at The Mart The show will feature 75 premier national and international exhibitors presenting fine antiques, decorative and fine arts reflecting all design periods from ancient to 20th-century modern. The Mart Purchase tickets here

Chicago Wine Festival – Lincoln Park Wine Fest 2019

Glass of Red Wine
Over 60 varieties of wines available at Lincoln Park Zoo Wine Festival


Friday, May 17 – Sunday, May 19 Over 60 varieties of wines available for tasting. Tickets include 12 Tastings with each purchase. Beyond samplings, wine connoisseurs will also appreciate hearing the expertise of brand ambassadors and sommeliers. Live music, food-wine pairings, artisans, and the products/services of wine-related vendors will also be present. Tickets are on sale here, however, Groupon currently is offering discount tickets, get them before they’re gone! Jonquil Park

4th Annual House Music Conference and Festival

Friday, May 24-Saturday, May 25 Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion (FREE) The Chicago House Music Festival will feature an industry gathering, DJs and live performances showcasing the various sounds and styles of house music. Bust a move and bread a sweat as you celebrate the genre born in Chicago that has gone on to transform dance music internationally.
For a full schedule of events, visit the website: www.chicago.gov/dcase

Live on the Lake, Navy Pier 

Miller Lite Beer Garden at Navy Pier
Miller Lite Beer Garden

May 25, 2019: FREE live music in the Miller Lite Beer Garden will feature local favorites, national touring acts, and exciting new artists all summer long. Navy Pier

PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

  • 2:00PM – 3:00PM & 3:30PM – 4:30PM | The Contenders
  • 5:30PM – 6:30 PM & 7:00PM – 8:00PM | Creedence Revived
  • 9:10PM – 10:00PM & 10:25PM -11:30PM | Soul Commitments

Check out Offshore, the Nation’s Largest Rooftop Lounge

Offshore Rooftop Deck at Navy Pier
Offshore at Navy Pier

Opening sometime around Memorial Day weekend, Offshore’s all-seasons/all-weather venue spans over 36,000 square feet and boasts a full-service bar, world-class kitchen, terraces, seven cozy fire pits, an entertainment and gaming area, and multiple sizeable social gathering spaces. Offshore at Navy Pier

Memorial Day Parade

Memorial Day Parade in Chicago
Memorial Day Parade

Saturday, May 25th (FREE)

Chicago’s Memorial Day Parade honors all men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. 

The Wreath Laying Ceremony will begin at 11 am on Daley Plaza (Dearborn and Washington Streets). The parade will then step off at noon and proceed south on State Street from Lake Street to Van Buren Street Kickoff at Daley Plaza

Offshore, Nation’s Largest Rooftop Deck Opens at Navy Pier

Get ready to take in new spectacular views of Chicago’s skyline at the recently opened Offshore, the nation’s largest rooftop. The sexy and sophisticated space sits on the third floor atop Navy Pier’s Festival Hall at 1000 East Grand. Guests will enjoy panoramic, unmatched views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline.

Navy Pier

Offshore’s all-seasons/all-weather venue spans over 36,000 square feet and boasts a full-service bar, world-class kitchen, terraces, seven cozy fire pits, an entertainment and gaming area, and multiple large social gathering spaces.

Offshore at Navy Pier
Offshore at Navy Pier
Offshore Gaming Area

Offshore Cuisine and Bar

The culinary direction is led by Executive Chef Michael Shrader. Shrader served as Executive Chef for The N9NE Group and was the Founder and Executive Chef at Urban Union Chicago. Offshore will focus on seasonal, modern American cuisine with global influences served as small, shareable plates. Special on-site catering menus will also be available.

Clay Livingston, formerly of Red Herring Lounge and Kitchen in Louisville, will develop and curate the beverage program. Patrons should expect playful house-made craft cocktails, wine, champagne, and strong local craft beer options.

Chicago Skyline
Offshore will offer unmatched view of Chicago’s Skyline

Interior Details

Visitors will be greeted with a wall of cascading, colorful propellers flanked by two slate metal vintage series pool tables on either side. Floating globe lights line the corridor leading to a 16-foot-tall, 8,500 square foot indoor space. The beautiful indoor space also includes an expansive 100 foot, 60-stool bar. A barrel-vaulted roof and an operable glass enclosure covering the entire interior will fully retract, allowing the Lake Michigan breeze in, regardless of the season. The far Northeast corner of the Pier delivers a unique perspective of the city skyline not found anywhere else.

The 20,000 square foot Terrace features communal and high top tables allowing patrons to move about freely socializing while enjoying cocktails. The fire pits spread throughout the space will surely enhance the ambiance prompting relaxed, enjoyable conversation. A highlight of the deck is a 450 square-foot planter with lush greenery shaped like Chicago’s “Y” symbol, a nod to the Chicago River. On the Southeast end of the terrace, a stage for live entertainment overlooks the city’s skyline. Two private lawns with sail shade canopies will act as a destination for group gaming, social gatherings, bridal parties, weddings, and much more.

Offshore will surely be the destination for Chicago fun this summer, it’s amazing!

Chicago Skyline

Hours of Operation

The hours of operation for Offshore are Monday – Thursday 4 p.m. – midnight, Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. – midnight.

Additional Information

  • Patrons must be 21 and over to enter Offshore.
  • Offshore is easily accessible through the pier, with ample valet service available.
  • To learn more click HERE
  • For more information or to make a group reservation, please contact Director of Sales & Marketing Kathleen Jenkins at kathleen@drinkoffshore.com.

How to Reduce Food Waste at Home

The restaurants of DineAmic Hospitality teamed with James Beard Foundation Greens for a New Year, No Waste dinner. The evening shed light on the problem of food waste and discussed what communities could do to reduce food waste.

Barrio Restaurant Event Room
Barrio Event Room

Food Waste: A Global Problem

Fact: Approximately 1.3 billion tons of food produced in the world for human consumption is either lost or wasted. The United States throws away an estimated 40% of food provided, equal to $1,500 in wasted money each year in every household. The numbers are astounding considering many people go hungry and are without access to quality food.

Bowl with a variety of vegetables
40% of food produced in the United States is thrown away

Restaurants are some of the biggest contributors with about 11.4 million tons of food wasted annually at a cost of about $25 billion per year.

Chefs often awe us with beautiful food presentations created in their restaurants. However, we often don’t consider the amount of waste that comes with serving that perfect cut of fish. Therefore, it’s encouraging to hear how culinary leaders are adopting the mission to eliminate food waste while continuing to put forth beautiful flavorful dishes.

The evening began with cocktails

James Beard Foundation Waste Not

Launched in 2018, Waste Not is a multi-year campaign that challenges us to reduce food waste by thinking differently about food and adopting full-use cooking methods. A series of educational tools and events were created in support of the campaign demonstrating how each can make a difference by incorporating small changes.

DineAmic Group Chefs Jeremy Tannehill and Kevin Abshire's Proscuitto Sausage
Proscuitto Sausage

Suggestions For Reducing Food Waste at Home

If each American eliminated food waste just one day a week, more than 7.8 million tons of food would be saved each year — enough to provide almost 13 billion meals to the hungry. The following are a few suggestions and tips for home cooks contributed by chefs in the Waste Not Cookbook.

• When salad greens start to wilt, sauté them with some olive oil and garlic for a bright side dish.
• Save asparagus bottoms, carrot tops, mushroom stems, and other vegetable parts in freezer bags or containers for use in stocks, soups, and sauces.
• Buy meat, poultry, and fish on the bone. Save the bones for making stocks, or cook larger meat bones and feed them to pets.
• Use leftover rice to make fried rice on days you don’t feel like cooking something new, folding in whatever protein and vegetables you have on hand.
• If fruit gets too soft or old, put it in the freezer to use later in a homemade smoothie, or purée and mix with seltzer for a refreshing homemade soda.

Fabio Viviani's Yellowfin Tuna topped with frisee salad
Yellowfin Tuna

New Year, No Waste Dinner at Barrio

Throughout the dinner, chefs from various DineAmic Hospitality restaurants provided detailed descriptions of their dishes revealing how everything from onion peels to the usually discarded shrimp tails was repurposed to diminish or eliminate waste.

For Example:
Chef Ken Biffar of Siena Tavern explained how he used every part of new potatoes to create this fantastic appetizer.

Chef Ken Biffar of Siena Tavern's Crispy Potato Skins appetizer
Crispy Potato Skins

He first Roasted New Potatoes and removed the flesh. The skins were then fried and seasoned with sea salt. Next, the flesh was pureed with egg yolks (reserved from the salad preparation at Sienna Tavern restaurant) and then black truffle was added. They then used reserved onion; caramelized it along with black garlic to create a puree. A portion of the water used to boil potatoes for the mashed potatoes in the restaurant was added to a bit of cream to create the potato foam on top. Lastly, it was topped with Calvisius caviar, a fully sustainable fish. It was seriously one of my favorite bites from the evening with all of the levels of potato coming through.

4 Chefs smiling at the camera with their arms around each other
Chefs of Dinamic Group Hospitality Restaurants

A Mission Close to Heart

Katsuji Tanabe executive chef of Barrio, got emotional as he spoke on his personal experience with food. Growing up food was a day-to-day issue because his family didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. His mother repeatedly emphasized not wasting anything. He stated that it was important for chefs to take the lead in teaching others how to turn things around and reduce food waste.

Chef Katsuji Tanabe's Pozole Rojo:  A soup filled with seafood
Pozole Rojo

An unforgettable evening with an important message about mindfulness. Although my family and I have been proactively trying to cut down on food waste, there’s always room for improvement.

Some of the methods we use are:

  • Plan a menu for the week.
  • Eat any leftovers from meals for lunch or dinner the next day
  • Prep meals beforehand, we usually prep lunches for the week on Sundays
  • Properly Store fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer
  • Create a list for the grocery store with the exact quantities needed.
  • Eat everything in the cabinets and refrigerator even if we’d rather have something else. I often tell my son that we’re not buying additional food if there’s something to eat at home. My husband has gotten creative with fridge foraging and has put together some delicious meals (there have been a few clear misses too, lol)
  • Freeze foods that you know you won’t eat in time
  • Only buy what we need and avoid the urge to fill cabinets and refrigerator.

As stated, developing good habits even in small things makes a huge difference. Hopefully, this article will inspire others to follow suit. The benefits to the earth, environment, and community are numerous.

How do you reduce food waste? Let me know in the comments.

Fury Room Chicago; woman holding a bat

Anger Rooms: De-stress by Breaking Things

Bad breakup? Overwhelmed at work? Having a crummy week? Stress and rough patches are inevitable no matter who we are. Perhaps things have moved beyond stress, and you’re dealing with anger from divorce, loss of employment, or another trying situation.

What do you do when you need to breathe?

Would throwing a bottle against a wall or taking a bat to a television help? Maybe the thought crossed your mind but you thought the better of it.  What if I told you that there’s a place where you could destroy things for fun?

A single bat in a room with graffiti on the walls
Fury Room in Chicago’s Lincoln Square Neighborhood invites people to decompress by breaking things.

Individuals are seeking new ways to escape from day-to-day pressures. As a result, anger rooms are gaining popularity and appearing in cities all over the world. Chicago’s newest additions to the scene are the Fury Room in Lincoln Square and Escapades-Rage Room in River North.

Of course, a strenuous workout may do the trick for some. But others may need a release on a grander scale. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s more fun to break things. You can even scream while doing it!

Woman beating a body opponent training bag with a sledghammer
Blow of some steam by beating things at Chicago’s Fury Room

The owners of Chicago’s Fury room and Chicago Rage Room-Escapades want visitors to de-stress and release anger and frustration while destroying things in a safe environment without judgment.  Although the name denotes angry emotions, you don’t need to be incensed to take advantage of it.  It’s a great release for everyday stress and quite a workout.  After I smashed a table and television, I experienced a certain calmness.  It was therapeutic. 

Giving it a try is simple. Both places operate pretty much the same.

Video footage of Fury Room

Safety Gear

First, you gear up.  The protective gear covers you from head to toe.  Although, it’s a chore getting dressed you’ll appreciate the safety measures once you see glass flying at you.  Knowing you’re fully protected gives you the confidence to let loose and go crazy.

Choose your weapon: 

I utilized a sledgehammer and baseball bat.

Woman covered in protective gear holding sledgehammer
Participants must gear up from head to toe before entering rooms

Select Your Package:

Brown Couch
Themed living room

Select your package based upon the type and amount of items you’d like to break. Fury Room has three themed rooms to choose from with two rooms accommodating up to four people.  I’m sure the favorite will most likely be the space that resembles a living room.  Several people who watched my Instagram stories from my media sneak peek mentioned that they’ve always dreamed of trashing an apartment. Escapades offers one Rage Room plus escape rooms.

Select Your Song:

Get your adrenaline pumping by having your favorite tunes blaring during your tantrum.  You can either bring your own music or select something while there.

I admit, I initially felt a bit awkward smashing things.  I mean purposely damaging things is taboo.  Plus there’s jail if you do it in public, lol. I felt as if I was misbehaving, but after I loosened up and got into, I had a blast!  It’s fun destroying things without consequence.

The Fury Room is located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, and Chicago Rage Room Escapades can be found downtown in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Give them a visit when there’s the need to blow off some steam! 

Remember to capture all the glory on video!

Click here for other fun things to do in the Midwest!

woman holding a crowbar over her head
Choose from 3 themed rooms at Chicago’s Fury Room