December 19, 2013

'Tis the Look Beyond Ourselves

During a time when many of us are scrambling to find the perfect gifts for all the loved ones in our lives, we must remember that it's not the monetary value of a gift, but the thought that counts.  And while we're on the topic of thoughtfulness...I hope everyone will take the time to think about those who don't have the luxury of being stressed to find the perfect present.  Those who instead worry about feeding or clothing their families, who have recently lost their job or who feel particularly lonely this time of year.

The spirit of the season should inspire us all to give to those who have less than us.  Let us inspire others through our actions.  Whether it's actually stopping to drop a dollar into one of the red Salvation Army buckets, donating to the clothing or food drive sponsored by your work or school - every little bit counts and could make a huge difference in the life of someone who really needs it.

My challenge to you this season: be the person who inspires others.  Be the one to donate on your walk to work; someone walking behind you may see your act of kindness and, instead of buying that Starbucks latte, they donate those few dollars to someone who needs it more.  Be the person who stops at Target to buy canned goods not for the recipe you have planned, but for your local food donation bin.  Be the person who holds doors open for others, the person who smiles and says hello.  Be someone who cares about others, and show it through your everyday actions - big & small.

If you're looking for more ways to make a difference, I've spotlighted some of my favorite unique charities that are based right here in the Chicago area.  These are some seriously cool companies doing some seriously meaningful things. Check them out - I hope you get inspired too.

Growing Home's Website

Growing Home's mission: to operate, promote, and demonstrate the use of organic agriculture as a vehicle for job training, employment, and community development.  The Benefits of this company are two-fold. First, they provide transitional employment for individuals with criminal backgrounds or those facing homelessness; and second, their programs bring more local and organic produce to the Chicago area, which benefits the entire community.  In fact, their produce is sold at the Green City Market, through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program, and to many local restaurants.  Anyone can donate to this fantastic organization or even volunteer - learn more about how to do so here.


Reverse the Curse

Founder Jeremy Freeman views himself as a "social entrepreneur who is seeking to change the world. One goat at a time." A statement that may seem humorous at first, but Jeremy has a real cause that is really inspiring. In 2011 he founded Reverse the Curse (the name is a play on the legendary Cubs curse*), which gives goats to impoverished families and entrepreneurs in the Dominican Republic to enrich their lives and help lift them out of poverty.  The company partnered with World Vision back in May 2011 and in just a few years they've managed to give hundreds of goats and two chickens to families in need.  Going forward, the organization is excited for the opportunity to work directly with partners in the Dominican Republic to develop goat breeding centers and goat farms.  Checkout their site for how to donate - and don't miss the comfy lookin' tees for sale here.
*Reverse the Curse is not associated or affiliated with The Chicago Cubs or MLB Licensing.


 Working Bikes

Working Bikes is a unique company that seeks out discarded or damaged bicycles in the Chicago and surrounding areas. The company also collects bikes, bike parts, crutches, sewing machines and wheelchairs from donors, recycling events and their their many drop-off locations. They repair and refurbish bikes so they can be reused in both the local community and other countries in need.  From their website:

"Global Impact: Working Bikes ships thousands of bicycles each year to our partners in countries throughout Latin America and Africa including, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Uganda, Ghana, and many others.  
Local Impact: Working Bikes partners with homeless transition, refugee resettlement, and youth empowerment programs here in Chicago to donate bicycles and put them to good use on the streets of our own community."

The company donates over 6,000 bikes a year with the philosophy that bikes are not just one of the most economical and common modes of transportation, providing access to jobs, schools & medical attention, but they also provide a means to transport goods and generate electricity via pedal-powered machines.

Talk about thinking outside the box - each one of these companies is doing important work to better the world, and each one of them should make us think "What more can I do to help?" 

'Tis the season to look beyond ourselves

December 10, 2013

'Tis the Season for Great Taste: First Annual Tasting Table Open Market!

Though I managed to get less than four hours of sleep Friday night (work holiday party, followed by some live blues, late night tacos & dancing 'til 4 am at a country western dive bar), I was not going to miss the Tasting Table Open Market, something I'd been looking forward to for months.  I'm very happy to report that I made it to the Market right as doors opened at 11 am with a smile on my face, ready to support my community.

The first annual TT Open Market was held on the third floor of Block 37, an urban shopping center located in the Chicago Loop on State Street.  The space was raw and beautiful; huge windows faced the festively decorated Macy's and allowed natural light to flood the room.  Exposed rafters and concrete floors were warmed immensely by hanging lights, poinsettias and evergreen garland.  Bustling bodies flocked to the vendor tables to sample and snack - everywhere you looked people were smiling, laughing & tasting, just exactly as intended.

Upon entering my friend Angie & I made a beeline to the Intelligentsia table (a Chicago original), where they were pouring hot cups of their Celebration Blend: a mix designed to mimic a hot toddy with flavors of spiced rum, red fruits, mulling spices and wild honey aromatics.  Usually I prefer a little almond milk in my coffee - not necessary with this cup. It was so.good.  

We made our way around to all the vendors in a speedier fashion than I'd prefer, but I had an appointment to run to and was left with no choice.  Still, we managed to strike up some lovely conversations with a handful of participating folks. Making an effort to learn about another person & what they are passionate about really does wonders for your soul.  Have you ever heard that passion is infectious?  It's completely true.  Though I feel I don't always know what to say, engaging by asking simple questions - "How did you get started?  What is your favorite product?  Do you have a retail space?" - can be the little spark that ignites a meaningful conversation.  You get to walk away with more knowledge and you leave that person feeling uplifted because you took a genuine interest.

⋗  if you want to be interesting, be interested  

Now, a little shout out to some of the products & people we got to know at the Market, in addition to Intelligentsia:

G & C Pantry Co.: Within the first minute of talking with these friendly folks I learned that G & C Pantry was born out of a demand for hot sauces - smoked jalapeño & sweet potato flavors, to be exact. These uniquely flavorful sauces are the brainchild of the chef and owner of one of my favorite spots in the city. Chef Mark Steur of Carriage House decided to start bottling his original recipe sauces because they were constantly disappearing off the tables in his restaurant.  They are now for sale through G & C Pantry, along with his kitchen brine, which means everyone wins.  If you haven't made your way to Carriage House yet to enjoy the 'modern low country fare' - fix that soon.  Not only is the food fantastic, but it's one of the most beautiful & cozy spots I have ever seen.

Chef Mark Steur explains the G & C Pantry Co. dishes

Jalapeno & Sweet Potato hot sauces

BeKnown: The ladies of BeKnown were simply a delight to speak with, and their homemade maple almond nut milk in mason jars melted my heart.  BeKnown is a new catering service that's focused on using whole (as in not processed), locally sourced ingredients to create healthy, delicious dishes for omnivores & carnivores alike.

Maple Almond Nut Milk

Bittercube: Handcrafting bitters and cocktail consulting?  These gents know their stuff.  While speaking with Ira Koplowitz we found out that he learned about making bitters while working at the Violet Hour, one of Chicago's most impressive cocktail operations.  He experimented with different recipes and took his craft further by starting Bittercube with friend, Nicholas Kosevich.  Find out more about these two here.


Beurrage: A small bakery located in Pilsen, Beurrage boasted an impressive offering of sweet & savory croissants, among other goodies.  It was difficult choose just one, but once we did we were convinced we made the right decision.  Who wouldn't love layers of flaky, buttery croissant enveloping fig, prosciutto & chèvre?!

Le Sirop by Femme du Coupe: Curated cocktail syrups that, just like fashion, change with the seasons. An adorable and incredibly knowledgeable gal sporting a perfectly festive shade of red lipstick mixed up the syrups with some locally made apple cider - a super refreshing treat after our coffee.

Lavender Honey syrup

A few more photos from the event below - cheers!

Love love these prints

Old Town Social & Nellcote menus

Cocktail area

Lillie's Q

Mama's Nuts

Malika Ameen // By M Desserts

found Vintage Living

Do-Rite Donuts

Belly Q/Urban Belly // Belly Dog

Chef Bill Kim (R) of Belly Q and Urban Belly

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December 5, 2013

Tasting Table Market in Block 37!

No weekend plans yet?  Or, perhaps your nights are planned but your Saturday is free?  If you have any sort of appetite or appreciation for thoughtfully made foods & goods (not to mention tasty as hell), then get yourself and your friends to Block 37 (108 N State St) this weekend for the first annual Tasting Table Open Market Chicago!

photo: Tasting Table Open Market

This is your chance!  Sample all those restaurants you read about, dream about & over which your mouths water.  No need to plan your tactical CTA transfers or drive all over the city to various nabes to get to the spread out spots; Tasting Table has brought them all together for you in one place.  Wasn't that thoughtful of them?!

The Market takes place over two days, broken into a Night Market on Friday 12/6 from 6-9 pm, and a Day Market on Saturday 12/7 from 11 am-4 pm. 60 chefs and food artisans will be dishing out their signature eats & treats - and it's only $5 to get in!  Sounds like a great place to pick up gifts for the foodies in your life and fill your belly while you're at it.  Plus, supporting local small businesses and restaurants should always be at the top of everyone's lists!

A full list of vendors can be found below for each day of the Market, as well as some of my favorites/recommendations and spots I'm dying to try.  Happy tasting!

My Favorites List:  Acaida, Blackbird, Fish Bar, Intelligentsia, Longman & Eagle, Parson's Chicken & Fish, Little Goat Bread, Lillie's Q, Middle West

My Must Try List: !Bang!Bang Pie Shop, Maria's Packaged Goods, Mott St., Pecking Order, Rare Tea Cellar, Sauce and Bread Kitchen, Bittercube, Do-Rite Donuts, Fat Rice, The Farinata Project, Found Vintage Living, OSB at L&E Sausage Shop

※ Friday Night Market ※

Acadia | !Bang!Bang Pie Shop | Blackbird | The Bristol | Floriole Cafe & Bakery | Femme du Coup | Fish Bar | Fig Catering | G & C Pantry Co. | Intelligentsia | La Sirena Clandestina | Longman & Eagle | Maria's Packaged Goods | Manna Organics | Marz Community Brewing | Mott St. | Nellcote | Old Town Social | Parson's Chicken & Fish | Pecking Order | Rare Tea Cellar | Saigon Sisters | The Salsa Truck | Sauce and Bread Kitchen | Seasons Soda | Smalls Smoke Shack | Travelle | Uncanned

※ Saturday Day Market ※

be known | Beurrage | Bittercube | BLiS | Breslin Farms LLC | By M Desserts | Do-Rite Donuts | Edible Type | The Farinata Project | Fat Rice | Femme du Coup | Found Vintage Living | G & C Pantry Co. | Intelligentsia | Katherine Anne Confections | Lillie's Q | Little Goat Bread | Mama's Nuts | Manna Organics | Mayana Chocolate | midwestroots | Middle West | Martyn George | Nellcote | Nourishing Notes | OSB at L&E Saturday Sausage Shop | Old Town Social | Parson's Chicken & Fish | Peerless Bread & Jam | Rare Bird Preserves | Rare Tea Cellar | Rustic Tart | The Salsa Truck | Sauce and Bread Kitchen | The Scrumptious Pantry | Seasons Soda | Spiaggia | urban belly

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