It’s a Winter Wonderland in the Windy City!

The Sears Tower decked out for Christmas!

The Sears Tower decked out for Christmas!

December in Chicago is truly magical – Michigan Avenue aglow with Christmas lights on the trees, garlands hung on lamp posts throughout the neighborhoods, and people wearing fashionable wool coats. To get in step with the holiday season, just follow these three holiday tips from Tip C…

Tip #1: Go to Market!

Not sure what to get your Secret Santa this holiday season? Then I suggest you check out these shopping opportunities:

  • Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, November 20 – December 24
    Since 1997, residents and visitors have enjoyed this outdoor German market organized by the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest. Christkindlmarket is held annually at Daley Plaza and celebrates the traditions of Nuremberg, Germany. You’ll see the spirit of Christkind reflected in the many wares and food you will find there. Stop by the Käthe Wohlfahrt tent to purchase glass ornaments, nutcrackers, and other holiday treasures. Or, pick up a traditional German cuckoo clock from Fehrenbach Black Forest Clocks. While you shop, drink some Glühwein in a Christkindlmarket ceramic boot and eat German delicacies, such as bratwurst, warm pretzels, and strudel. It’s a cultural experience you can’t miss!
  • One of a Kind Show at Merchandise Mart, December 6-9
    Clearly, this is the market where you’ll find one of a kind gifts! From food to fashion, there’s something for everyone at the One of a Kind Show. Buy colorful hats and mittens to keep your kiddies warm from 32 Degrees or buy a lamp made out of industrial materials for your man from ReTech. In addition, there’s plenty to see and do while you’re shopping at Merchandise Mart. Click here for the schedule of fashion shows, artist talks, and musical performances.
  • Dose Market HoliDose at River East Art Center, December 9
    Dose is another market that showcases unique gifts by local artists, like moccasins from Girl in Camp and terrariums by Turtlehill. And, you don’t want to miss out on the food! Click here to see what’s cooking during the HoliDose! (Tip: Don’t fret if you happen to miss the HoliDose on December 9. Dose Market occurs on the 2nd Sunday of every month!).

Go to Merchandise Mart for the One of a Kind Show, December 6-9!

 Get a dose of the holiday season at Dose Market’s HoliDose, December 9.

These boots are made for drinking...Chriskindlmarket ceramic mugs!

These boots are made for drinking…Chriskindlmarket ceramic mugs!

Tip #2: Baby, it’s cold outside…but enjoy it while you can!

While it’s nice to drink a warm cup of hot cocoa and cozy up next to the fireplace, it’s also a good idea to breathe in the crisp, cool air outside.

  • ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, every Friday – Sunday until December 26
    The Lincoln Park Zoo is the perfect destination for families. It’s FREE (minus parking) and extremely entertaining. In addition to the light displays, there’s live ice carving, 3-D displays, and of course animals! (Tip: The first 1,000 guests each night will receive cool holiday specs to check out the lights!).
  • Ice skating
    The most popular outdoor ice skating rink in the city is McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park located downtown. But if you prefer a little more space to do your spins and jumps, try the Rink at Wrigley in Wrigleyville. (Tip: Go to Rink at Wrigley Monday – Thursday. Admission and skate rental are cheaper on weekdays!). If you’re closer to the Southside, check out the Ice Rink at Midway Plaisance Park. It is next to the gorgeous campus of University of Chicago. Admission is FREE and skate rental is $6.

This is a taste of ZooLights 2011. Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo website to see what’s in store this year!

Tip #3: Sit down and enjoy the show!

Chicago is known for theater and improv…don’t miss out this month!

  • Nutcracker at Joffrey Ballet
    Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is a timeless two-act ballet typically held during the Winter season. When Nutcracker is performed by the Joffrey Ballet, it’s simply breathtaking. Watch this 25-year Christmas tradition come to life with bold costumes, jaw-dropping scenery, and beautiful dancing. (Tip: If you’re a college student, take advantage of Student Rush tickets for only $15! Click here for details.).
  • Happy Holly-Daze: A Drinking Game-Performance at Cornservatory
    If you’re feeling “bah humbug” about Christmas, try something a little less traditional, like Happy Holly-Daze. This performance by Corn Productions mixes drinks, comedy, and Christmas nostalgia. Also, if you’re into BYOB spots, this is the performance for you!
  • Macy’s Yes, Virginia the Musical by Peabody Elementary School, December 8
    Elizabeth Peabody Elementary School was awarded a $1,000 grant by Macy’s to perform Yes, Virginia the Musical, a play about a little girl’s belief in Santa Claus. Only 100 schools across the country received the grant; and Peabody is the only school in Chicago that was bestowed the honor.  This is a proud moment for yours truly (a.k.a. Tip C), because Peabody Elementary is the school my sister, Pam Nicandro-Osorio, teaches at. Please support her students by attending the musical at Wells Community Academy High School, 936 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL, on Saturday, December 8 at 1:00 p.m. Tickets are $2 per person or a donation (e.g., unused toys, canned goods, toiletries, etc.) made to the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Macy's "Yes, Virginia the Musical" performed by Peabody Elementary School

Macy’s “Yes, Virginia the Musical” performed by Peabody Elementary School on Saturday, December 8

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Reading is FUN-damental!

Dear Friends,

Sorry! I know I’ve been completely M.I.A. I have no good excuse for my absence, except life just got in the way – Fourth of July weekend, bad Internet connection, job hunting before I complete my Masters… Well, you get the gist.

I did, however, get the chance to catch up on a little reading during my hiatus. Last week, I received my copy of Chicago Magazine’s “2012 Best of Chicago” issue. And I picked up copies of Chicago Social’s “The Restaurant Issue 2012” and The Real Chicago Summer 2012 booklet. (Tip: Look inside bars and cafes for these magazines and brochures. They’re often FREE!). These are some of the best resources to find exciting places, products, and services in the city. Why? Because the articles are influenced by readers and social Chicagoans like you and me.

Chicago guides

Your Chicago guides!

I haven’t done everything that’s listed in these publications, but I did spot some of my personal favorites:

I will eventually review all of these places. In the meantime, pick up a Chicago guide and explore the city with me!

Bang Bang Pie Shop: A slice of heaven in Logan Square

Go for the pies and stay for the biscuits at Bang Bang Pie Shop, located at 2051 N. California Ave.

Welcome to Bang Bang Pie Shop!

Husband-wife team Dave and Megan Miller created a business that reflects recipes passed down from Megan’s family, which are sweet and homey. As you enter Bang Bang you’ll notice the staff rolling dough in the open kitchen, parents pushing baby strollers into the shop, and couples having conversations over a slice of pie.

Everything inside Bang Bang Pie Shop is made from scratch – from the biscuits and pies that come piping hot from the oven to the fresh roasted coffee brewed daily. (Tip: If you’re a coffee addict like me, buy a 12-ounce bag of Bang Bang Magic Beans!). Though Bang Bang may not have a large menu, it’s the details that make the dining experience so special.

Bang Bang Pie Shop Menu

Bang Bang Pie Shop Menu…short, yet affordable!

Coffee Station

Stop by the coffee station for Bang Bang Magic Beans!

Order a biscuit and head to the topping bar. You’ll find a variety of homemade butters and jams to accent your biscuit. (Tip: Try the biscuit with black pepper honey butter and blueberry lavender jam. Or, add chive butter to the ham biscuit. Trust me, these combos work!). Bang Bang also serves biscuits and gravy, but only on weekends.

Biscuit

Biscuit with black pepper honey butter and blueberry lavender jam

Biscuit Topping Bar

Biscuit Topping Bar

Candied Bacon

Sweet & Savory: Get a side of candied bacon to go with your biscuit!

Of course Bang Bang’s specialty is the pie! And there are different pies to satisfy all sugar cravings – cream pies, custard pies, fruit pies, and chocolate pies. During a recent trip, my party tried the honey pie and chocolate peanut butter banana pie and they were TO-DIE-FOR…just look at the photos below! We wanted to sample the blueberry pie as well, but it sold out. (Tip: Arrive at the shop early or pre-order a whole pie to ensure you get your favorite flavor!).

Bang Bang Pies

Bang Bang Pies: Honey Pie (left), Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Pie (right)

Aside from the nosh, Bang Bang serves up a theater experience. Check out Speakeasy, a Prohibition themed murder-mystery where you could be the prime suspect. It’s BYOB and all players receive a slice of pie. Click here, to reserve your spot for Speakeasy at Bang Bang Pie Shop on Saturday, July 7, 2012.

Flyer for "Speakeasy"

“Speakeasy” (live theater with a slice of pie)

Bang Bang is open Tuesday through Friday 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Dig into Bang Bang Pie Shop today (except on Mondays when it’s closed)!

Other tips about the area:

  • You don’t have to travel far to reach 90 Miles Cuban Café (2540 W. Armitage Ave.). Enjoy a traditional Cuban meal with a side of white rice, black beans, and plantains. (Tip: Look out for the daily specials, especially the picadillo. It’s a must-try dish!). The restaurant is also BYOB! If you bring rum or wine, the staff will mix you mojitos or sangria!!!
  • Be a locavore and drink a beer at Revolution Brewing (2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.), one of Chicago’s craft breweries. Pair the Anti-Hero IPA with a hand-tossed pizza. (Tip: Ladies, it’s a great place to impress a guy on a first or second date!).

‘F’ is for Fun Festivals in Chicago

Mark your calendars...it's festival season!

Though festival season has already kicked off in Chicago – SausageFest, Ribfest, Green Music Fest, and Gay Pride Weekend – the city really gets into full swing come July. Festivals are a great way to explore other neighborhoods, scope out the music scene, and eat delicious food from various local restaurants. So I’m providing you with a full list of fun this summer. (Tip: Check deal sites like Groupon for special festival discounts!). Trust me, you won’t be bored…

July

August

September

Adagio Teas: Take afternoon tea in Downtown Chicago

Ditch the doilies and flowery porcelain teapots, and travel to Adagio Teas for a 21st century tea experience, located at 617 N. State St.

Welcome to Adagio Teas!

Welcome to Adagio Teas!

Adagio began as an online tea store headquartered in Clifton, New Jersey. Although Adagio made a healthy profit during its first decade, the company chose to expand its business from the Internet to the streets. It would have been easy to set up shop in New Jersey or New York, but Adagio Teas selected 3 cities in Illinois – first Naperville, then Skokie, and finally Chicago. (Tip: Don’t forget to bring your Belly Card! Earn 15 points and grab a tea to go!).

What sets Adagio apart from other modern teashops is its variety of teas, tea snacks, and tea wares. (Tip: Enjoy a perfect cup of tea with the Tasting Set. For $9 bucks you can sip tea like the professionals every day!). Adagio carries more than a hundred teas varying from the traditional English Breakfast Tea to Jasmine Phoenix Pearls, sold in loose-leaf form and teabags. The store also has a long tea bar for you to sample its unique tea blends. Some are simply fruity, while others have healing/cleansing components. Try the Happy Belly to settle your stomach or the Sleepy Brew to have sweet dreams.

Tea wares sold at Adagio Teas

Tea wares sold at Adagio Teas

The staff members at Adagio are tea experts, which is why you’d want to take tea lessons at the store Tuesday or Thursday night. (Tip: Visit the Adagio Teas Chicago website for Groupon deals. Book a class at a fraction of the cost!). Learn how to properly brew tea, cook with tea, and combine different teas. Not only will you gain all this knowledge about tea, but you will go home with complimentary packets of tea and tasty treats.

Tea sampler from Adagio Teas

Tea sampler from Adagio Teas

Step inside the Adagio Teas store today! (Tip: Now that it’s summertime, check out Adagio’s special Iced Tea Set!).

Adagio Teas is open Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Saturday 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., and Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

This is a video featuring the Adagio Teas store in Naperville, IL. The location on State Street doesn’t have the exact same layout, but it does give you an idea of the Adagio experience.

Other tips about the area:

  • If you prefer shabby chic interiors, walk to P.O.S.H. Chicago (613 N. State St.) to decorate your home with “one of a kind” wares. Pick up vintage coronation plates from England, 1950s American diner mugs, or Parisian perfume bottles.
  • Toast to a special occasion or just for the heck of it at Pops for Champagne (601 N. State St.). Pops has an abundance of champagne and sparkling wines, as well as small bites like cheese and charcuterie. If you want to be a tad adventurous, try a champagne cocktail. I fully recommend ordering La Vie en Rose, which contains elderflower liqueur, sugar cube, Peychaud’s, and brut champagne.
  • Imagine taking your favorite childhood food and elevating it. That’s exactly what Chef Graham Elliot did when he created Grahamwich (615 N. State St.). It’s a restaurant that serves fun food, such as grilled cheese with tomato marmalade, truffled popcorn, and cinnamon stick soft serve.

A loyalty program that will make your Belly happy!

Get a belly full of rewards with the Belly Card! You must be thinking, “What makes Belly so different from other loyalty programs like Foursquare? What’s in it for me?” Well, here’s a video that will explain…

 

As you can see, the process is simple! Each time you scan your Belly Card or Belly App at your favorite restaurant, shop, etc. you rack up 5 points for that location. (Tip: If you forget your Belly Card at home or can’t access the Belly App from your smartphone, don’t panic! Just type in your e-mail address on the iPad!).

These are a few examples of what you could earn with your Belly points:

By joining Belly you’ll not only support local businesses, but a local company. Like Groupon and GrubHub, Belly started right here in Chicago!

Follow Flop the Belly Dog and grab a Belly Card today! (Tip: Use your Belly Card during the Do-Division Street Fest this weekend to earn double Belly points!).

Look for the Belly iPad at your favorite places!

Belly Card and Belly App

Easy process: Scan the Belly Card (left) or Belly App (right) to the iPad!

Mojo Spa: Be a natural beauty in Wicker Park

Get pampered from head-to-toe at Mojo Spa, located at 1468 N. Milwaukee Ave. Last Tuesday, I happened to walk in for a much needed pedicure. (Tip: Call the shop to see if they have any spa specials. Mojo offered a FREE mani with pedi the day I went!). I’ve been to Mojo twice before and I simply love its business model – spa, boutique, and bakery all rolled into one!

Step inside Mojo Spa!

Step inside Mojo Spa!

Owner and innovator Amanda Kezios was a personal chef before opening Mojo Spa. She relayed her love of cooking with fresh, natural ingredients to creating handmade beauty products. Though Amanda is running a successful beauty business, she hasn’t parted from her culinary background. You’ll notice most of the products sold at the store are made to look like baked goods or sound like a food recipe. For instance, my fabulous manicurist Anna used Mojo’s Sinful Strawberry Face & Body Scrub (pretty sure I spotted some seeds in it) to exfoliate my worn feet.

Mojo Spa Beauty Products

Mojo Spa Beauty Products

Mojo’s spa menu may not be as extensive as your typical nail salon (e.g., acrylics, waxing, etc.), but it does have impressive spa packages. (Tip: Have a morning of Beauty and Brunch! Schedule a Silver, Gold, or Platinum Package on a Sunday to receive a complimentary brunch. It’s a fantastic gift for bachelorettes and birthday girls!). Some packages come with special hand and foot masks, as well as soy candle massage. Regardless, you will always receive a sweet treat with service, like these…

Mojo Desserts

Mojo Desserts: Lemon Sugar Cookies (left), Layered Raspberry Cheesecake (right)

If your hands and feet are already perfectly polished, go window shopping! Amanda makes awesome accessories in addition to amazing beauty products. She crafts jewelry, knitwear, and handbags in her spare time. Is there anything this woman can’t do? My favorite Mojo accessory is the clutch with agate stone. It’s a beautiful handcrafted bag with smart compartments – take a peek at the photo below. (Tip: If you can’t find what you’re looking for at the store, visit the Mojo Spa Style page on Etsy!).

Mojo Spa Style Clutch with Agate Stone

Mojo Spa Style Clutch with Agate Stone

Schedule an appointment at Mojo Spa today! There’s nothing artificial about it!

Mojo is open on select Mondays, Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Tip: Attend Pajama Nights on the first Friday of select months for makeovers, facials, and desserts!).

Other tips about the area:

  • Need to perk up after a relaxing day at the spa? Then walk next door to Wormhole Coffee. Get a side of 80s nostalgia with your Vanilla Bean Latte or Peanut Butter Koopa Troopa. You can’t miss the DeLorean à la “Back to the Future” inside Wormhole!
  • Have a “High Fidelity” moment just around the corner at Double Door (1572 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Double Door is a music venue and Chicago institution. Just look at the pictures of legendary performers plastered along its walls! It’s the rockin’ party you always wanted to throw in your parents’ basement – listen to live music, order a drink special from the massive bar, have fun in the photo booth, or hold an impromptu ping pong tournament.