Monday, January 17, 2011

Warm Weather Chicago

Grapefruit tree - Lincoln Park Conservatory
For those of you not in the Windy City right now, the weather is crap. It's something like 19 degrees with a wind chill probably in the single digits. On top of that lovely forecast we're enjoying some snow that changes to light hail and then to slush. Fun times right? For those of us who don't have a warm weather vacation in the works, there are a few places in the city you can head to for some summer-like temps. I'm not talking about tanning (boo, let's try to avoid those) but about our two fabulous (and free!) conservatories - the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Garfield Park Conservatory.

...and a papaya tree too!

Though these locations are not food related, they promise a bit of respite from the frozen city tundra and a worthwhile activity to treat visitors to between dining destinations. My parents came in town this weekend and all I could think about was visiting one of the conservatories. Upon entering we were greeted with humid tropical conditions and the heavenly scent of orange jasmine. I love to take my time walking through and seeing all the lush greens. The Lincoln Park location has four main sections - the palms (humid), ferns (so relaxing there was a women meditating there today), orchids (vibrant colors across the rainbow) and the show space (for seasonal shows). This conservatory is located just around the corner from the Lincoln Park Zoo (also free) so you, your friends and family could spend the whole day enjoying the neighborhood.

The Garfield Park Conservatory (designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen) is the second largest conservatory in the country. I do love going here but public transportation to the destination can be a little exciting. If you're looking to visit the conservatory, plan to visit on Saturday, February 5 or Saturday the 12th for a sweet treat. The annual Sweet Saturdays will feature live music, tropical treat stations, hands-on activities and more. I'm sure it will be busy, but definitely think it's worth checking out!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chicago - A Cupcake Kind of Town

Oh so tasty treat - Sprinkles
There have been countless articles about the emergence of the cupcake in Chicago and across the country. There was a great article in the New York Times last year about the cupcake craze, which seems to (shockingly) have picked up some speed, especially here in the Windy City. Really, what's not to like? You get a little cake and some frosting and magical things can happen. There is also the opportunity to get creative.

One of my favorite shops is More. This is a local Chicago shop, and though the staff is not particularly friendly, nor the shop overly inviting, I find myself craving their creative cakes (think bacon maple, sweet potato orange, cupcakes flavored like popular cocktails and even bacon ranch).

Another local shop I love dearly is Molly's. The cupcakes themselves are classic and decadent (here you can order them filled with sweet treats like cookie dough or Nutella), but the joy is entirely in the visit to the shop itself. You can top your cake with a variety of different sprinkles, order an Intelligentsia coffee drink, play a board game or two and take a seat on one of their indoor swings. This is a place where any adult can easily feel like a kid (ahem, that would be me!)
B-day treat of Phoebe's

I dream of Lakeview neighborhood Phoebe's Cupcakes which makes a divinely decadent salted caramel. Then there are the cakes (and cookies, and other desserts) available at Lincoln Park fave Sweet Mandy B's (they make pricey but beautiful birthday cakes to boot). On top of the local stores there are now the addition of cupcake trucks - just in case you need your fix and the sugar fairy isn't close enough.

As if we didn't have enough saturation in the cupcake market, there is now the addition of other national cupcake chains encroaching on our fare city. There is Sprinkles (of LA fame), Crumbs (of NY), and soon to opening the famed Magnolia Bakery (also of NY - hey, what is it with these guys?!)

Don't get me wrong, I do love my cupcakes, but is it any wonder that we're looking for new sugary treats? We need something to get us going through the cold winter months, and I like a little variety in my desserts. I've got a doughnut concept in mind, but its execution is still farther on the horizon. Until then, it will be....cupcakes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Kicking the New Year off with a Healthy Spinach Treat

Happy New Year! I'm sure there are a lot of resolutions floating around out there and some, 48+ hours into 2011, they may already have been broken. No fear! You can kick things off on the right track b eating healthy right now. I (as you can read from past entries) do not always err on the healthy side. It's much easier for me in the summer/fall when I'm visiting farmers markets and stocking up on local produce, but in the winter? It's tough! I've been trying to shed a few more pounds though and in the frozen foods aisle of Whole Foods have discovered a fabulous new staple.

One of my absolute favorite treats to eat are Dr. Praeger's Spinach Pancakes. Sounds tempting right? These little cakes have 10 ingredients. That's it! Spinach my friends is number one. You think you're eating a potato pancake but all that healthy goodness is still there. Each pancake is 80 calories and just 4 grams of fat. There are 2 grams of fiber (that's 10% of your daily value folks) and 15% of your Vitamin A intake. I'll often eat two of these for breakfast and through in an egg and some fruit to start off the day.

Good stuff!