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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Locavore Farm offers Dine-on-the-Land Dinners

Summer is a lovely season for dining, whether it's on a trendy downtown rooftop or al fresco on a patio or enjoying a picnic at a scenic park. But, for the ultimate in outdoor dining, you need to pay a visit to Locavore Farms in Grant Park, Illinois.

There's so much to love about this place, including the backstory. A busy professional suburban couple, Chris and Rachael Jones, tired of their hectic life and grabbing easy, but not so healthy food made a conscious decision not only to make a move with their two children to live a quieter more rural lifestyle, but to grow their own food and focus on sharing that bounty with others while also bringing in other local farmers with a similar philosophy of wanting to provide good food for people and providing an opportunity for them to slow down and really appreciate where it comes from.

They open up their farm, which has just begun season two, several times a year for visitors to come enjoy life on their small family farm. The events include a tour, five-course dinner, craft beers and cocktails, hay rides, a fire-pit to relax by. Beautifully decorated with chic country touches, like painted mason jars filled with wildflowers, benches and seats adorned with colorful quilts and throw pillows, lighted jars hanging from trees that give a lovely glow as the sun sets, you almost feel like you've stepped onto the site of a photo shoot for a magazine. Everything looks perfect.

The food is always a spectacular feast of what's in season, with five courses prepared using fresh ingredients from their own garden and from local farms by creative chefs. For dinner, guests gather at a custom made table that seats 100. Tickets go quickly for these events, so don't wait. There are three remaining dine-on-the-land dinners scheduled this year (August's is already sold out) and there will be an Oktoberfest celebration there on October 8.

It's truly a lovely experience of arriving in late afternoon as the sun shines and the blue sky as a backdrop as frogs croak in the pond, stems of emerging crops blow in the wind and a perfectly situated hay bale sits covered in a floral quilt. Then listening to live music on a blanket as the sun sets caps off the diner perfectly.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mushroom Hunting in Galena

Earlier this month, I was invited to an exclusive media event at Galena's Eagle Ridge Resort. It had been a good 15 years since I had been to Galena, so I was excited for this little getaway. I had never been hunting for morels before, so it was a fun experience. We had the opportunity to be taken to a top secret spot by Eagle Ridge's executive chef and food and beverage director where we received tips on what to look for and how to spot them. Though I only found a couple, it was quite a thrill to search and finally come one.

Along with our hunt, we were treated to creative meals that featured morels (more to come on that on my food blog - chicagofoodiesisters.com)

Eagle Ridge is a top rated luxury resort with some of the most beautiful, lush surroundings for golfers. In 2014, Midwest Living rated Eagle Ridge as one of the "45 Midwest Resorts We Love." As part of the 6,800-acre Galena Territory, it includes 80 rustic, elegant rooms and over 200 homes and villas, a 6000-square foot spa, award winning restaurants and 63 holes of championship golf. For more information, go to eagleridge.com.            

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Free country concerts to stream live in Chicago this week

Country music fans in Chicago are in for a treat this week as The Soundtrack of America: Made in Tennessee exclusive live streamed concert series begins tomorrow. Three concerts will be streamed live from iconic attractions in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville to Congress Park in Chicago.

The series includes performances from country stars Citizen Cope, Jason Isbell and Old Crow Medicine Show and Ashley Monroe, featuring a two-sided video wall in a high traffic location in Chicago and will have interactive capabilities between artists and the audience as well as 360-degree panoramic camera angle, making it the first long distance concert of its kind. The concert series is being hosted by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development to give Chicago a taste of Tennessee’s music scene as well as some of the foods and beverages famous to the state.  

If you're in the area this week. Stop by and check it out.

Concert Location and Times: 
Congress Park (Southeast Side across from Congress Plaza Hotel) 
Monday: 5:30 p.m. (Live Streamed from Memphis) Citizen Cope 
Tuesday: 5:00 – 5:30 (IVE STREAMED FROM NASHVILLE) Old Crow; 5:45 – 6:30 Jason Isbell 
Wednesday: 5:30 p.m. (LIVE STREAMED from Knoxville) Ashley Monroe

Citizen Cope, known for his eclectic and versatile sound, will be the first artist to take the stage on May 23 live from the famous Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis. Two-time GRAMMY® Award winner Jason Isbell will perform day two of the experience live from Music City on May 24th at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and singer, songwriter, and member of the country music trio Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe will come back to the city she calls home for a live performance at the historic Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville on May 25th. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Spa at the JW Marriott

The invite from the JW Marriott in Chicago for an overnight and spa visit couldn't have come at a better time. It was just after the final weeks of winter when everything just feel blah. And at a time when I had been working like crazy and really needed an excuse for a getaway. Also, nearly all our getaways during our almost 25 year marriage have been with the kids in tow - so this time hubby and I made it into a little weekend alone. 

So, we headed downtown during the last weekend of March, hitting the Good Food Festival at the UIC Forum on our way there. We checked in mid-afternoon and were greeted by this:

And also this. It was a lovely welcome. I probably could have just hung in the room all weekend soaking up the silent time away from our houseful of boys. But...it's hard to go to the city and not take in as much as you can. Oh, and I had a spa appointment that I was looking forward to, as well.

My spa appointment was for a 50-minute massage and one I was really looking forward. Don't laugh -- ok, you can laugh. It's pretty absurd. My most recent massage was in January at a post-holiday party for a non-profit board that I sit on. The group thought it would be fun to go bowling. So, we played a few frames, overindulged in authentic catered Mexican cuisine and then had a chance to get a chair massage. Well, the massage chair was set up in the lounge. And for most of the night, it was quiet and dark in there. Well, by the time it got to be my turn, I think there were some complaints that the NFL playoff game wasn't on. So, as I went in for my massage, they turned on the t.v. and the room filled with rowdy, liquor-filled football fans. The massage chair happened to be in a corner right beneath the big screen. So, as I closed my eyes and tried to relax, the game went into overtime and everyone in the room went crazy. The game was blaring above my head. Not exactly the most tranquil setting. LOL. Sometimes I feel like I'm being followed by a hidden camera crew or unknowingly been insterted into an SNL skit. So, this time I was excited to get a massage and do it right.

The greeter in the reception area took me for a little tour when I arrived of the rooms where I could prepare for and relax after the massage. The massage therapist was wonderful - working the areas I requested without too much pressure. 

I then retreated to the relaxation room where I enjoyed cucumber water and some amazing roasted marcona almonds and thumbed through fashion magazines. I got lost in a wonderfully serene zone and hubby finally texted to see if I'd gotten lost. Had we not had dinner reservations that night, I probably would have lingered just a little longer.

Our dinner reservation was right inside the hotel at The Florentine. We sipped wine and savored such wonderful dishes as Mozzarella di Buffalo and braised pork shank. (More will be posted on dinner at the Chicago Foodie Sisters blog.)

The evening ended with a relaxing bubble bath. Then we were up early the next day to do some exploring. The valet parking allowed us a few hours beyond check out, so we checked out and checked our bags and went on our way for a bit. The JW is located in a great spot - close to theaters, shopping, the financial district. We decided to do a walk over to Millennium Park, stopping on the way for lunch and a pint at the legendary Berghoff Restaurant. We also popped in to check out the Chicago Cultural Center and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. 

The JW Marriott - and its Central Loop location - makes for a great getaway for those living in the burbs, like me. A train ride on Metra to the Van Buren station is just a short walk from the JW Marriott, so if you'd rather not have to worry about parking, that is another option. For tourists, it's a great location that is close to so much that you'll want to see and do while in this magnificent city. And, the spa is a must - do whatever you can to fit it into your itinerary. I've utilized the spa at a couple other Marriott properties and it's a luxurious addition to the stay that brings it pretty close to perfection.

Keep the JW Marriott in mind for your summer travel plans - can't believe summer is just around the corner! 

P.S. The lobby and open areas are pretty stunning.

JW Marriott
151 W. Adams
Chicago, Il 
(312) 660-8200

***The J.W. Marriott provided a complimentary one-night stay and spa service. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Berghoff in Chicago

Boasting liquor license #1 after prohibition in the city of Chicago, this old school dining spot is legendary in Chicago. If you're a fan of German cuisine, it's a place you'll want to add on your itinerary on a visit to the Windy City.

The restaurant opened in 1898 as a men's only salloon where the food was secondary - a free corned beef sandwich with a stein of beer. It was during prohibition that it became a full-service restaurant serving soda.

There's a large menu of German specialties - sauerbraten to Spinatkn√∂del to sausages, but I usually go for the basic but delicious wiener schnitzel. The tender, battered veal cutlet comes served along with German fried potatoes and a vegetable.

No visit is complete without sampling the brews. If you're not sure what to try, go for the flight where you can try out the five most popular beers on the menu. Find more info at theberghoff.com.

An old menu hangs on the wall at the entrance to the restaurant.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Blastcamp in Hobart, IN

As a mom of boys, I long ago had to get over my fear of them getting a boo-boo. Once they get to a certain point, bruises and scrapes are like a badge of honor no matter how much mom doesn't want to see them get hurt. I've had to try not to worry when they play rough and just have to shake my head when they break an arm playing dodgeball or end up taking them for stitches after they walk off the baseball field with blood oozing from their forehead.

My youngest had long been looking forward to turning 10 to be old enough to go to a paintball field. He was quite pleased with his first experience - an outdoor paint ball field in Hobart, Indiana called Blastcamp.

The site of a former Nike Missle Base is open for walk-on play or groups. There's some neat history there. You can read more on their website, Blastcamp.com. It's been in businesses for 25 years.

Do a little online research before a trip as I was able to get a good deal through Groupon.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chicago Dining Cruises

365 Days of Fun: Day 7
(A series of 365 of our favorite spots from over two decades of travel in Midwest)

Because I'm from the Chicago area, I often write about travels elsewhere and sometimes neglect to emphasize the fabulous attractions in and around Chicago. One thing I always recommend to visitors to Chicago is to somehow see the city from the water. 

There are many boat tours you can take on the river and on the lake. There are architectural river tours where you can learn a lot about the history and architectural style of many famous landmarks in the Windy City. There are Wendella Sightseeing tours, which give a brief history as they make their way down along the river and out onto the lake (going through the locks is always a thrill!) There are speedboat tours out of Navy Pier on the Seadog for the thrill seekers. And there are a number of dinner cruises at Navy Pier where you can enjoy an upscale meal with dancing and spectacular views. These are my favorites - being a foodie they combine my love of good food with my favorite city!

Chicago Dining Cruises has a fleet of four ships that cruise from Navy Pier - three that offer regular dinner cruises: the Odyssey, the Mystic Blue and the Spirit of Chicago. The Odyssey offers a luxurious meal with appetizers and entrees served tableside, award-winning wines, microbrews and inspired cocktails, upscale DJ and a relaxing rooftop lounge with spectacular views. The Mystic Blue offers cool drinks and a tasty buffet freshly prepared onboard, dancing and DJ entertainment, a fabulous view of the city's beautiful skyline through the largest picture windows on the lake and a a modern rooftop lounge. The Spirt of Chicago features a new menu developed by Chopped champion and celebrity chef, Eric LeVine, an interactive MC, dancing on spacious dance floors and a rooftop lounge offering breathtaking skyline views.

My most recent cruise was aboard the Odyssey last winter to preview the menu for Chicago Restaurant Week. It was an amazing meal at a discounted price in celebration of the yearly Chicago Restaurant Week where you'll find deals and so many great city dining spots. The Odyssey offers lunch, dinner, brunch and specialty cruises. You can visit the website, OdysseyCruise.com and search the promotions and special offers tab where there's often a promo code to get a percentage off of your reservation.

Photo by Carrie Steinweg
Dessert on an Odyssey Cruise during Chicago Restaurant Week.

Take a peek at this special prix fixe menu available on Friday evenings from January - March for just $44.90 per person on the Odyssey:

Prix Fixe Plated Dinner Menu

First course

Shrimp & Watermelon Salad
Romaine Lettuce & Arugula | Pickled Shallots | Orange Vinaigrette

Entrée Choices

Oven Baked Atlantic Salmon Filet
Lemon Orzo with Red Onion & Sun Dried Tomatoes | Citrus Dill Sauce
Maple & Mustard Glazed Chicken Breast
Fingerling Potatoes & Chives | Haricot Verts | Dijon Mustard Cream Sauce
Greek Zucchini Fritters
Lemon Orzo with Red Onions & Sun Dried Tomatoes | Spring Onion & Cucumber Tzatziki


Odyssey Signature Dessert Station
Mini Pastry Cups | Cakes | Pastries | Seasonal Fruit
*Price does not include taxes or fees. Menus, times and prices are subject to change.
For more information, visit Odyssey.com. The website for Mystic Blue is MysticBlueCrusies.com and you'll find more on Spirit of Chicago cruises at SpiritOfChicago.com.