Chicago Botanic Garden – Lightscape

Just in time for the holidays, the Chicago Botanic Garden is debuting a Christmas light display throughout the grounds this year.  Located in Glencoe, IL, the Botanic Garden Lightscape is open from November 22 – January 5.

A mile-long path is illuminated with LED lights, music, and colorful holiday displays.  Entry times start at 4:30 pm with the last entry time at 8:00 pm.  The garden doesn’t close until 10:00 pm so you will have plenty of time to walk around.

Many of the displays are choreographed with music, like this flame garden:

The trail of singing trees was exceptional because each tree “sang” a different part of the song (alto, tenor, etc.)

I enjoyed the row of cherry blossom trees because they were pink, but also because each of the lights on the trees was a small flower:

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This enchanting walk can be even more festive with the purchase of a cup of hot chocolate or cider which you can find along the trail.  There are also plenty of opportunities to take pictures together.  Or, if you are like my SO, you can cut me completely out of the selfie you take together.

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Plan ahead because this event will sell out.  Ticket prices vary depending on the date you choose.  Purchasing tickets the day of the event will cost you an extra $2.00.  I would also recommend purchasing parking when you order your tickets because they are half-price online ($10).

Happy Holidays!

Day Drinking – Chicago Ale Fest – Winter Edition

Did you miss the winter edition?  Mark your calendars: the summer edition will take place on June 1, 2019.

Chicago Ale Fest is a bi-annual event that takes place every winter and summer.  This year the winter one took place on Saturday, February 2 at Lacuna Artist Lofts.

Like many other beer festivals, there were more vendors than you could visit in one afternoon.  Majority of them were local craft breweries, but there were a good number of out-of-state options to try as well.  Sours were trending this year (not my thing but my son loves them).

There are two entry times to choose from: 12:00-3:00 pm (with a 1 hour early entry option) and 6:00-9:00 pm (also with a 1 hour early entry option).  We chose the earlier session (with the extra hour).  The cost for 4 hours was around $70 but you know your girl found this on Groupon and only paid $44 (with a 20% promo code).  I love a deal!

With the entry fee you get a signature tasting glass and they also gave you a lanyard with a punch card attached.  The vendors were supposed to mark off a beer every time you received a pour.  As you can see from my pic below, no one was particularly diligent in marking your card (‘cause you know I did not just have one).  It was way too busy for that.

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Quite a few vendors also had “treasures” available.  We collected logo stickers, coasters, koozies, and bottle openers.  The most interesting one was the Grapefruit IPA chapstick.  Well, that, and the bottle opener with the roach clip.

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A handful of food trucks were in the parking lot to fill all of your buzz-fueled hunger needs.  The beef skewer from Chicago Culinary Kitchen and the pork on naan from The Roaming Hog were delicious.

Food trucks 1

Food trucks 2

The location changes each time and the 2019 Winter Edition was held at the Lacuna Artist Lofts in the Pilsen neighborhood.  Once the world’s largest macaroni factory, the Loft is now home to some offices and retail spaces for painters, photographers, sculptors, clothing designers, and other creative minds.  This was a really cool space and below is a picture of one of the rooms (there were 3 or 4 rooms total):

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The Summer Edition will be taking place on June 1 at Butler Field in Grant Park.  This event is already available on Groupon.  The Winter Edition was available on Goldstar so I am assuming you will find the Summer Edition on there eventually.

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – First Bites Bash and Chicago Restaurant Week

Not from Chicago?  Restaurant week is a national event.  To find out when your city is hosting theirs, click here.

First Bites Bash is the kick-off event to Chicago Restaurant Week.  It is a one-night celebration of food and the local chefs that make our city/state a foodie paradise.  This year (2019), the event was held at the Field Museum of Natural History.  More than 70 chefs and restaurants were represented this year.  Tasting portions, from savory to sweet and everything in between, were available.

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Tickets for the event were $125.00.  This covered all the food you could taste in three hours along with the various beverages offered.  Stella Artois, Don Julio, and Josh Wines were just a few of the liquor vendors there.  And these were not tasting portions, they were full pours.  The bash is also a fundraiser and this year’s recipient was Pilot Light, which is a non-profit that helps children make healthier choices through food education.

In addition to delicious tasting food, presentation was well-thought out for a few of the chefs.  And if you watch as many food shows and I do, or even if you only watch one show, you know that presentation is one of the key things contestants are judged on.

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As I mentioned in the first paragraph, sweets were available as well.  Mini portions of cheesecake, donuts, and ice cream sandwiches were there to tempt your sweet tooth.  There was also a chocolate fountain with a variety of foods for dipping.

Chicago Restaurant Week, now in its 12th year, is an annual event that actually takes place over the course of two weeks and involves some of the best restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs.  Participating restaurants put together a special “prix-fixe” menu for their location featuring some of their best dishes.  Prix-fixe means a set price for a complete meal.   Restaurants are challenged to provide a multi-course (usually 3-4 courses) dining experience for under $50 (some locations are more expensive).  Because you are getting a full meal for a discounted price, the portions are smaller.  This year (2019), Chicago Restaurant Week runs from January 25 through February 8.

One of the great things about the prix-fixe menu dining experience is sharing.  My SO and I decided to try a restaurant in the city that we had never been to before called Somerset.  They offered 4 different options for an appetizer, 3 different salads, 4 main courses, and 3 desserts to choose from. So, between the two of us we were able to try 8 different dishes.  You can see the list of all participating restaurants, and filter them by location, here.  Use this as an opportunity to try a place you have never been to before.  Or maybe a place that just opened.  Or a cuisine you want to try but are afraid to invest a whole dish on.  So many reasons to take advantage of Restaurant Week.

Happy dining!

Below is a list of the First Bites Bash participating restaurants and what they were serving that night:

First Bites Bash menu

Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon

One of the cheapest, easiest, and most fun things to do in the winter is to go skating outdoors.  One of the better places to do this in Chicago is at the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.

The ice skating ribbon can be found in the Maggie Daley Park section of Grant Park in the Loop.  This public skating venue opened in December of 2014 and has been a popular winter stop in Chicago ever since.  It is unique in that, it is not just an oval rink, like most skating parks (indoor or outdoor).  It loops around a quarter mile path and also has different elevations.  This means that you are skating on an incline or decline in various sections.  These are not steep, so you won’t feel like you are struggling to get up the hill or speeding out of control going down.  It is very subtle.
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If you are not an experienced skater, the nice thing about skating here is that there are people out there of all skating abilities.  They have railings along the edges if you need to stop for a moment or two.  The best part is you don’t have a bunch of hockey players speeding around or playing tag.  I raised a couple of hockey players.  Trust me, I know.

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Admission is FREE if you own your own skates.  Rentals cost between $13-15 depending on the day of the week.  They also have lockers that you can rent for your belongings (only $2.00).  You can also pre-purchase parking at the Millenium Lakeside Garages but you might be able to find cheaper parking if you are willing to walk a bit.

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The biggest thing you need to know about is the Zamboni run times.  It takes anywhere from 45-60 minutes for the Zamboni to clear the ice.  Yes, that long.  And you don’t want to be arriving right when it starts and get stuck sitting there for an hour.  Or getting on the ice for a short time only to be told you have to get off so they can clean the ice.  Speaking from experience here folks.  They have a schedule on the website but even there they suggest you follow them on twitter (@MaggieDaleyPark) because the schedule could change depending on the weather.

Zamboni

Christkindlmarket and Naper Lights Show – Naperville

A Christkindlmarket, or Christmas market, is a street market that is open during the weeks leading up to the holiday.  This outdoor shopping/dining experience originated in Germany back in the Middle Ages but can now be found in cities around the globe.  In Chicago, the Christkindlmarket can be found at the Daley Plaza.  In 2016, a second location popped up on the grounds of the Naper Settlement in Naperville.

The Christkindlmarket in Naperville is smaller in scale to the one in Chicago but it is just as quaint.  It is open Thursday – Sunday through December 16 and then it is open daily through Christmas Eve.  Also, bonus – it is free.  Admission AND parking.

We did not have any food that night, but they have a number of stands with a variety of options.  Austrian specialties, cheeses, crepes, Belgian waffles, pierogi, chocolates, pretzels, cookies, and candies.  There are also quite a few options for beverages.  Belgian hot chocolate, beer, wine, and ciders.  We tried the Honeycrisp apple cider and the salted caramel cider (whipped cream topping).  And of course we had to buy the signature Christkindlmarket mug.

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There are craft vendors as well.  Some of them have very unique pieces of jewely, wood carved statues, and hand knit creations.  If you are a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, I found the snowblowing/ski mask that you didn’t know you needed:

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And then there are the ornaments and other Christmas collectible.  Do you collect Nutcrackers or buy them for someone who does?  Check out this selection:

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How about white lace ornaments?

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Or just ornaments in general?  If you gift special ornaments each year or participate in an ornament exchange (it’s a thing.  It’s not my thing, but it’s a thing), you need to hit this market.  Every size, color, shape you can imagine.  Or theme.  Animals, sports, occupation, hobby.  The list goes on.

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Click here for a full list of vendors and what they offer.

There were no choirs or other groups performing the night we were there but, you could plan your night around some additional entertainment as well.

When you have finished eating/drinking/shopping, take a stroll through the Naper Lights display.  It is right there on the property.  Multiple light displays, some set to music, can be found on this short walk.  It’s just festive, so why not?

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This holiday event is only open until Christmas Eve so get out there while you can!