Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Green Chicago and Family Farmed Expo

I had a "Green Chicago" weekend, here's the skinny...

Friday night: I attended an Italian wine & food pairing and olive oil tasting hosted by a local Winestyles. Mario Rizzotti, the Academia Barilla's Italian Culinary Specialist and judge on the Food Network series Iron Chef America demonstrated how to professionally taste olive oil. I have a new appreciation for the production and taste of this delicious oil and left with a large bottle of organic evoo from Italy and a few new recipes to try at home.

Saturday AM: I shopped at Chicago's Green City Market, held inside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park. This was my first visit to a farmer's market this year and definitely won't be my last. The market was open from 8 am to 1 pm and although I got there a bit late in the morning I was still able to purchase fresh eggs, bread and cheese. I was hoping to buy fresh bacon cuts for my son who is a BLT addict but the meat for sale at the market was limited. Overall prices were good at the Green City market, volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful and the market was well organized and staffed. Tip: arrive as early as possible, by the time I arrived around 11 am some of the produce and dairy had already sold out.

Saturday PM: I attended the Family Farmed Expo held at the UIC Forum in downtown Chicago. I follow @FamilyFarmed on Twitter and happily won 2 free tickets to the event by tweeting. I was already planning on attending the event but winning free tickets was a delightful surprise. I've been looking for local Illinois CSA's (community supported agriculture) and met numerous farmers at the Expo who offer a seasonal share from their farm. Being unsuccessful in my pork shopping earlier in the morning I was also happy to find an Illinois farmer (Hasselmann Family Farm) selling numerous cuts of bacon at the Expo. I left late in the day with a bag full of information, a freezer bag full of food and a new membership to Chicago Fair Trade. The Expo was inspiring, educational and just plain fun. It was great to be surrounded by farmers, foodies, chefs and others like myself who are passionate about sustainable, organic and humane farming.

Chicago was full of St. Patrick's Day celebrations on Saturday so after the river was dyed green, the parade was over and my Green shopping complete I headed to a local Irish pub in my old hood for a Guinness before spending the evening at the Irish American Heritage Center on Chicago's northwest side. Friends and I enjoyed a rousing show by The Sullivan Brother's and numerous glasses of goodness while surrounded by Irish dancers and their crazy curly locks. If you haven't been to the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, it's worth a visit. Home is a former school converted into one of the nation's most important Irish cultural organizations featuring music rooms, dance studio space, a library, museum, theater, ballroom and pubs.

Sunday: I spent the afternoon at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier. This was my first, and likely last visit to the show. Big names, little bang for your buck. About $30 dollars just to walk in the door ($14 parking, discounted with admission from a whopping $24 at Navy Pier) and $15 admission ticket. I sat in on 1 seminar and 1 cooking demonstration and walked the vendor aisles but was not impressed. I find it hard to enjoy gardens in a windowless conference hall even with the creativity of the designs (The Lookinglass Theater "actors" portraying characters from Alice in Wonderland in 1 garden were so annoying as to make me run away). I also have little tolerance for the infomercial spokesman selling everything from mops to vegetable mandolins. As I was leaving I realized, "I never smelled one flower in the entire place".

Chicago...with all of her faults, scandal, crime and history is truly a great metropolis. And when the world views our city-by-the-lake for something besides corruption, a failed Olympic bid, gun toting mobsters and politics we all benefit. When Chicago opens her arms to the small farmer, the windowbox and rooftop gardener, the innovative chef and the entrepreneur... and when you can sit down in a neighborhood pub, drink a cold beer and meet new friends while listening to culturally rich music, it's a great city indeed.

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