The crowd gasped at Soldier Field on Saturday but it wasn’t because Kahlil Mack sacked another quarterback. It was surely Bears’ weather outside but inside the toasty United Club, Martha Stewart revealed to her own league of fans that she was readying three 30-pound turkeys for her Thanksgiving spread just a few days away. It was part of the Martha Stewart Wine & Food Experience, presented by USA TODAY, which landed in Chicago as part of a 12-city tour celebrating outstanding food, drink and chefs.
More than 1,000 guests grazed on bites of coffee and cocoa dusted venison carpaccio (courtesy of Travelle’s Jeff Vucko); Tony Priolo’s outstanding sformalttodi zucca (that would be savory heirloom squash flan to the rest of us); and banana cake with foie mousse and banana nut by Steadfast among the 30 participating restaurants. The Grand Tasting sampling experience featured local chefs and restaurateurs in branded booths allowing food fans to taste some of the best of the city in one afternoon.
Chicagoans, Jelian and Terrell Steward attended the food feast “to get some ideas for their catering company.” Kari and Connor Blankenship, professed devotees of the culinary arts, were thrilled to meet Graham Elliot, who signed aprons and posed gleefully for selfies with his fans. The chef, author, restaurateur and television personality has participated in the Wine and Food Experience in other cities, however, the Chicago rendition was particularly exciting. “ I do TV and people assume I live in LA but this is where I live and cook and it’s important for people to remember that. Plus, the palate is super discerning here with people going out to dine and try new things three times a week - it’s very exciting for chefs when you have people who appreciate what you do.”
Other chefs just like to get out of their restaurant, meet fans and see others comrades in cookery. Stephanie Izard, the first female chef to win Bravo's Top Chef and Executive Chef of Girl & the Goat, has a long list of Chicago restaurants yet to sample and the eatery on the top of her list, Etta, was serendipitously placed right next to her booth. “As a matter of fact, I think my husband is going to take me there for my birthday,” she laughed. Izard advised everyone to do pot luck for the holidays (she contributing a couple ducks for the grill and a turkey while guests bring their best side dishes).
Chef/owner Joe Frillman of Daisies, a small indie eatery in the white-hot culinary neighborhood of Logan Square, jumped at the opportunity to participate Wine & Food Experience Chicago to allow attendees to experience what’s cooking beyond downtown. Frillman, who serves as executive chef, office manager, front of the house helper and face of Daisies, won the 2018 Jean Banchet Award for Best Neighborhood Restaurant in Chicago.
Spirits, beers and nearly 40 wine varietals, including three Martha Stewart Wine Co. varietals, moistened the pipes of attendees and there was a conga line of the spiritually curious at the Rums of Puerto Rico booth offering eight aged sipping rums. Interactive elements also kept attendees buzzed from stenciling aprons to learning how to be a proper mixologist.
As pork shoulder with dried fruits perfumed the air, all eyes were on the lifestyle leader preparing a recipe from her latest cookbook, Martha Stewart's Pressure Cooker: 100+ Fabulous New Recipes for the Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot®. If you’re one of the lucky 40 coming to Stewart’s place for Thanksgiving, know that the favorite hostess gift she ever received was a 14-ounce tin of Beluga caviar. That and a nice bottle of fine White Burgundy.
Many of us, from middle school kids to senior citizens, have felt a reawakening about our country - and not via the perfunctory flag waving and barbecue on the Fourth of July - but deeper feelings about what it means to be an American.
Perhaps this is the year to forgo manufactured fun at theme parks, Hollywood tours or the Jersey shore and instead fill our hearts as well as out eyes with the salt of the earth. The splendor of the Black Hills that blister from the surrounding plains; canyons, ravines and the other-worldly nature of the Badlands; miles without strip malls or billboards but bison and meadows; and the incredible visual testaments of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s the All-American vacation in the middle of the country in South Dakota that’s brimming with history, wild geography, Native American culture, iconic monuments and beautiful American nvistas all short drives from one another.
Hill City (www.hillcitysd.com), in the heart of the Black Hills, has a dual history of miners who came to prospect for gold and later the small mountain town became a paleontological and geological center for exploration and discovery. It’s definitely worth visiting for the excellent Museum at the Black Hills Institute ofGeological Research (www.everythingprehistoric.com)
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial
Nearly three million people from across the planet make the trip to see the 60-ft.- high granite faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone (about 24 miles from Rapid City). Celebrating it’s 76th birthday in 2017, the monument is mesmerizing in its grandeur but kids will definitely need a little more than staring at it from afar. Walk the Presidential Trail, an easy half-mile in length to get a tad closer to the sculpture. Breakfast or lunch at the on-site Carver’s Cafe, the only three-star Certified Green Restaurant in South Dakota! A 25-minute drive deposits you at the stunning Crazy Horse Memorial that sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began in 1948 after Lakota Chief Standing Bear.
Custer State Park
The 71,000-acre Custer State Park is also home to one of the world's largest bison herds and if you can wait until late summer to take your bucket list trip to South Dakota, you’re in for the visual treat of a lifetime when the 52nd Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival takes place. Cowboys, cowgirls and crews star in the saddle to move the 1,300 herd. The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is free and open to the public and it roars in on Sept. 29, 2017. Following the roundup, there’s a weekend full of fun via an arts festival and dutch oven cook off.
Badlands National Park
It’s hard to choose between sunset and sunrise at Badlands National Park because each offer different visuals that are equally disarming. One is a lavender and peach settling of the day among the buttes and canyons; the other a glorious awakening to mesas, spires and gullies afire with red volcanic rock. Either way or both, your camera will be clicking to capture the changing colors over the mystic wonderland carved by wind and water over countless years. You’re bound to spy bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and other wildlife.
If you’d like to astonish the next hipster bartender you encounter with your knowledge of his favorite drink, get to the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown, Kentucky. You can travel the area’s bourbon trail any time of the year, but spring also brings Bardstown’s inaugural Cocktail Week featuring creative cocktails, distillery/restaurant pairings, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Mixed Drink Challenge and a Spring Sampler
Bardstown offers 16 B & B’s, including some that are kid friendly (put ’em in the jail cell room at The Jailer’s Inn). Couples and girlfriends will go for Springhill Winery & Plantation B&B. Shelbyville, American Saddlebred Capital of the World, is just a half hour north and a dream away for horse lovers. Take a horse farm tour to see how the magnificent animals are trained, enjoy horseback riding lessons or embark on a trail ride in the fresh spring air.