Organic Food 101

You’ve seen the label ‘organic’ for years now, but what does this really mean and what are the benefits to you and your family?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the word ‘organic’ references the way farmers grow and process agricultural products. Organic farming practices are designed to address several factors, such as pest and weed control, usage of additives, animal habitats and treatment, pollution, and more.

For produce to be certified as organic, it must have been grown on soil that has been free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for at least 3 years. For meat to carry the organic certification, the animals must be raised in living conditions that allow them to continue their natural behaviors, fed natural, GMO-free foods, and cannot be given hormones or antibiotics. Finally, when it comes to processed organic foods, they must be free of artificial preservatives, food coloring, or flavors.

Over the years, research has shown potential health benefits of eating organic, such as an increase in nutrients, like Vitamin C, iron, and magnesium, in produce and an increase in omega-3 fatty acids in organic meat due to feeding requirements for the animal. Additionally, crops grown organically have shown lower levels of pesticide residue due to fertilization practices and lower levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal that can affect the liver and kidneys.

Generally, organic foods are more expensive than traditional foods, which is a factor that hinders many from opting to go fully organic. However, depending on your family’s financial situation or health requirements, it may be worth the additional cost.

THIS WEEKEND IN CHICAGO – Left to Our Own Devices!

There have been rumblings that Chicago wishes to reopen its bars and indoor dining at restaurants, but that’s not happening this weekend. So, once again, we’re left to our own devices for our weekend fun!

Interested in traveling abroad and with no passport? Beginning this Saturday and every Saturday through February 27th, you can do just that with Virtual City Walks: International Edition. All six tours, which include Boston, Chicago, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, New York City, and Prague, will be held online via Zoom and are open to registration only as a complete series via Eventbrite for $60 plus processing fees. Each virtual tour in this inaugural series will begin at 11 a.m. Central Time in the capable hands of local experts and guides who know their streets the best while enjoying their surprises and architectural icons. The series kicks-off with the tour “Copenhagen: Scandinavian Cool,” which was produced in partnership with the Danish Architecture Center. You will virtually explore four of Copenhagen’s most exciting new buildings and public spaces that make Denmark’s capital so surprising and special today and ranks high among the world’s most livable cities!

Enjoy an evening with the New Philharmonic’s A Night of Broadway and Opera streaming On Demand beginning this Saturday (7:30 p.m.) through February 28th. This program presents works from some of the best-loved Broadway musicals and operas with four acclaimed guest artists: Alisa Jordheim (soprano), Kate Tombaugh (mezzo-soprano), Jesse Donner (tenor), and Bill McMurray (bass/baritone). The first half of the program features opera selections from Bizet’s “Carmen” to Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” to Lehar’s “Merry Widow” and others. The second half features Broadway selections from Herman’s “Hello Dolly” to Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” to Schönberg’s “Les Misérables” and others!

If you’re looking for some fresh air and love the crispness of the cold air, the Ice-Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park in the heart of downtown Chicago is a winter attraction unlike any other. Admission to the Skating Ribbon is always free, but you’ll need a reservation in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines and masks being required. All skating sessions are 90-minutes long with check-in beginning 30 minutes prior to your reserved time. Skate rental is $16 and $5 if you bring your own.

If you need to get out of the house for a while, then ChiTown Movies Presents: Drive-In Theatre might be just what you need. Catch a classic or blockbuster movie from the comfort of your car at their drive-in located at 2343 S. Throop St. in the Pilsen neighborhood. Outside food and drink are not permitted, but you will have the option to purchase popcorn, tacos, wings, frozen mangos, and more delivered right to your car as you enjoy the movie! This weekend’s movies include — Saturday (Weekend at Bernie’s, 9:00 p.m.) and Sunday (Finding Nemo, 5 p.m. & Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, 7:30 p.m.)!!

Finally, Sunday brings us the National Football League’s Conference Championship Games to find out which two teams will go head-to-head in this season’s Super Bowl LV game. The first game kicks-off for the NFC championship at 2:05 p.m. CST on FOX with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers. The second game kicks-off for the AFC championship at 5:40 p.m. CST on CBS with the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. Whether you’re a fan of these teams or not, it sure to be an exciting day of football!

Sue Moss and Dean’s Team Chicago

Chicago Neighborhood News: Museum Campus, Loop, Virtual, Logan Square

Museum Campus: Well, it’s been a while, but the Field Museum, located at 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, is opening up again to the general public! Beginning Saturday, January 23, visitors can enjoy the many amazing sights and exhibitions this world-class museum has to offer. Illinois residents can also enjoy free entry on Monday, January 25, and on Thursday, January 28. Favorites like Sue the T. Rex and Maximo the Titanosaur will be on hand as well the museum’s latest exhibition, “Apsáaooke Women and Warriors,” about a southern Montana indigenous tribe. As expected, masks and social distancing will be enforced. Find more info regarding exhibits and ticket prices here.

Museum Campus: Like its neighbor, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium is opening its door again as well. Located at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive, the Shedd and all its underwater friends will open to members beginning January 27 through January 29. General admission to the public will be on Saturday, January 30. Tickets for the public go on sale today, January 23, at noon. Masks are mandatory and social distancing will be strictly enforced. Find more info here.

Loop: Willis Towers, located at 233 South Wacker Drive, is home to the first public art installation by renowned artistOlafur Eliasson. The piece, entitled Atmospheric wave wall, located on the Jackson Boulevard wall exterior, was created specifically for the Willis Tower. The 30-foot by 60-foot design, inspired by Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, comprises over 1,900 metal curved tiles that catch the sun and the motion of people moving past it, creating a dynamic visual experience. At night this eye-popping fixture is backlit, enabling bursts of light to disperse between the tiles. Find more info here.

Virtual: Beginning today, January 21, and running until Sunday, January 24, check out HotHouse Meets Havana, a Cuban jazz virtual festival blending the best Latin jazz musicians in Cuba with American jazz musicians and composers. Brought to you by local non-profit HotHouse, tune in each night at 7 pm on their streaming platform for a free two-hour virtual presentation. Featured musicians include top Cuban flute player Orlando “Maraca” Valle, Chicago born master saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca, and many more. Each performance will be up on HotHouse’s website for 24 hours. Find more info here.

Logan Square: It may be cold this weekend, but that’s no reason not to check out the plethora of local vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market. The best part? It’s indoors. Taking place each Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm at 3029 North Rockwell Street, this farmers market hosts vendors including Bee in Beezyness, The Chick and the Pea, Jilly’s Jerky, Stamper Cheese, and Yoberri Gourmet, among many others. High-risk shoppers can attend the market between 9 am to 10 am. Masks and social distancing will be enforced. And if you aren’t quite ready to be out and about, you can always place your order through their virtual market. Find more info here.


Restaurant Review: Liberation Donuts

When one thinks of fresh and delicious donuts, we often have a Homer Simpson moment of pure ecstasy. What one doesn’t often think of are vegan donuts. Liberation Donuts in West Town is about to change all that with their vegan spin on this classic scrumptious creation.

Located at 2054 West Grand Avenue, Liberation Donuts operates out of the Breakroom, a vegan cafe owned by Upton’s Naturals founder Dan Staackmann. Staackmann noticed that Chicago was devoid of a vegan donut option that wasn’t baked and went to work on a fried version that was vegan and delicious. From this need, Liberation Donut was born and began operations last year.

Motivated by the animal rights movement, the donuts available at Liberation Donuts are named after either an animal or a philosophy based on animal liberation. Liberation Donuts may just be the perfect entry point for those new or curious about vegan food to partake in healthy food choices. Even Homer Simpson would approve.

As for the options available, one can’t go wrong with anything Liberation Donuts is serving up fresh on the daily. Sanctuary is a plain cake donut, but with the addition of cherry and rosemary jam, there’s nothing plain about it. The Balaclava donut features sweet tahini and pumpkin seed baklava creating a moist blend of flavors that will awaken the taste buds. The Flapjack has maple and spice chocolate crumb, while Lydia’s Eclair is made with chocolate and tasty vegan pastry cream.

The Total Liberation donut consists of plain cake, lemon, and poppyseed, producing something akin to a sweet symphony for your mouth. The Resistance (noticing a theme yet?) has sweet tahini, strawberry sauce, and black sesame seeds. The delicious creation they call The Bolt Cutter is a savory salvo towards new ways of creating pastries with its blend of chocolate cake, chocolate, and cocoa nibs. Likewise, the Firestorm with its chocolate cake, chocolate, cinnamon, guajillo chili, and the Beach Cow made with chocolate cake, vanilla, and Maldon salt, may make you forget all about that Dunkin place.

Rounding out the yummy vegan options at Liberation Donuts are the It’s Me Sesame with chocolate cake highlighted by zig zag tahini, the classic-inspired chocolate cake and powdered sugar flavored Undercover, and the Kindness donut duo of either chocolate or vanilla glaze with sprinkles. A personal favorite is For Greta, named after Staackmann’s own German Shepherd. This plain cake circle of heaven has pink vanilla, vegan whipped cream, and fresh strawberries.

Besides the fantastic donuts, there is another reason to check out this West Town spot. Liberation Donuts donates 50 percent of the proceeds from each donut sold to a different animal rights or humanitarian organization each month.

Liberation Donuts is open for pick up or delivery Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 7:30 pm, and Friday through Sunday from 9 am to 7:30 pm. You can check out their menu on Tock here.


Chicago Home and Lifestyles – Feeding Backyard Birds in Winter

Many people stop feeding birds in winter. Whether they find it too hard or simply think the birds leave, winter is the most important time to feed. Cold weather climes will find many of the birds’ natural food supplies buried in snow. So, the birds you feed in summer will overwinter if they have sufficient food. You will even see birds you do not see in summer if you are providing the right food. 

Blue Jays, woodpeckers, cardinals, sparrows, and finches are just a few species you find at the winter bird feeders. Doves like Mourning and Turtle will practically live in your backyard if you provide ground food. You will need a ground feeder for these doves or just toss food on the ground. We keep an 8-foot round circle clear of snow within reach of the back porch to toss food daily. We feed early morning and evening. Cardinals are here before sunup! 

Do use larger feeders in the winter and keep them relatively close to the house for ease of filling. We have an open back porch with a roof, so our main feeders are under shelter. For those in the open, purchase a good-sized feeder with a roof that extends to keep the seed as dry as possible. This will feed the perching birds. Wet seed can mold and cause disease. 

Clean out any wet or frozen seed regularly. Be sure to clean feeders monthly with a mild unscented dish soap solution. Rinse, then sanitize with a bleach solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water, and then dry thoroughly before refilling. Do put feeders out in the most severe winds. It is good to have shelter close by like hedges, bushes, or brush piles for birds to offer safety from predators. If you have feeders close to the house, keep at least five feet from windows and use decorative clings so birds will not fly into them. 

Do not cheap out on seed! This is true all year long. Cheap seed is made with half fillers that birds reject, so they accumulate in the feeders and get wet and moldy. Birds need high-fat seed for energy in the winter. Black oil sunflower, safflower, and white millet provide a good mix for most birds that winter over. Add some raw peanut hearts for many birds. We feed in-shell peanuts to keep the squirrels at bay. We were delighted to see that Blue Jays love the peanuts and take them into the trees to shell and eat. You can use a mix entirely made up of hulled seeds, so you minimize the mess of hulls after the winter, but it is expensive. We have been offering suet with fruit and seeds this year. The woodpeckers are particularly fond of this, but all the birds like it. Again, it is high fat for maximum energy. 

Keep up birdhouses and shelters year-round to provide roosting sites. Add a weatherproof heater to your birdbath, or buy an already heated one. We have our birdbath next to the garage to provide electricity for the heater and bushes on either side for shelter. They should be several feet away to provide shelter but not provide ambush cover for predators. We keep the seed in the house as keeping it in the garage or a shed invites rodents, and it is more difficult to keep dry. 

So, do feed the birds this winter. It is a little more work but well worth it. The birds will brighten up the entire backyard with their visits and songs. They do help to get you through the darkest days of winter. 


Bring Some R&R Into Your Home

Your home is your oasis. A place to kick back and relax from your day. So, why not invest in some items that can boost the zen in your home? Check out the tips below to help you achieve ultimate bliss!

Introduce calming scents. A calming scent, like lavender, valerian, camomile, and bergamot, can do wonders for easing stress or anxiety. Find candles that incorporate these scents or purchase essential oils and diffusers, like this one from URPOWER that has over 44,000 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Drown out the noise. Having trouble sleeping due to distracting outside noises? A sound machine might be the solution. Like this one from Letsfit, most of them offer several sounds to choose from including natural noises, fan sound effects, and white noise.

Wake up more naturally. Studies have shown that waking up to natural light can allow you to wake with more energy and in a better mood. However, if you can’t wake to real sunlight, a wake-up light, like this one from Philips, can also get the job done. In addition to simulating the sunrise and sunset, it has natural wake-up sounds, FM radio, and tap snooze.

Get an at-home massage. Nothing feels better than a great massage. Bring that feeling home with a shoulder massager like this one from Naipo. Most massagers offer different modes and speeds for you to choose from depending on the area you are massaging or personal preference.

Whether you try one or more of these tips or find something else that works best for you, self care and relaxation is always a great investment!

THIS WEEKEND IN CHICAGO – Getting Through January – At Home!

It’s tough enough getting through January here in Chicago with the weather, gray days, and being indoors, let alone having our usual indoor winter events put on hold. In any event, here are some ideas to keep you from climbing the walls at home sweet home this weekend!

Join Watson Adventures’ NEW Around the World Virtual Scavenger Hunt: The Asia Pacific Game this Saturday from 3:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m. This unique scavenger hunt shows you the best of Australia, Singapore, China, Japan, New Zealand, and more from the comfort of home. You’ll be sent off to explore this area’s best landmarks and museums via links to eye-popping websites for you to answer fun, tricky questions. Stops along the way include the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the giant pandas in China, and more! Teams of up to six can play together or remotely with no previous knowledge being required. Advance booking is required at $19 per person.

Round up some family and/or friends for an epic game night of Let’s Roam’s Chicago Virtual Game Night on its one-of-a-kind video platform. Your evening will consist of five rounds of fun games, which include Trivia (8,000+ questions & 60+ categories) for you to go brain-to-brain with your family or friends; Charades (dozens of themed categories to choose from); Let’s Draw (Pictionary with a virtual twist); Trivia About You (complete a short questionnaire and Let’s Roam’s platform will auto-generate personalized questions); and Drinking Games (for the party animals)! Just access your virtual game night on a desktop, laptop, or tablet!!

If you’re a fan of dollhouses, the Mount Prospect Historical Society offers Dollhouse Video Tours now through February 15th. The virtual tour will consist of five dollhouses in their collection, plus one owned by a local resident. The tours are also shot from the dolls’ perspective, and there’s even a fun I Spy-style game asking viewers to locate certain items in each of the six miniature houses!!

Need to get out for some fresh air and don’t care that it’s January? Then head on over to Recess (838 W. Kinzie St.) for their Fire & Ice Pop Up this Saturday (7 p.m.-8 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.-6 p.m.). Enjoy a stroll through their patio as you explore ice sculptures and snap photos at their many photo ops. Once you’ve had enough ice, head on over to one of their fire pit tables to warm up. Your ticket includes one-hour admission to view the ice sculptures and take your photos, a s’mores kit and pretzel stick and one specialty cocktail for adults, and snowflake crafting for the kids! Buy your tickets now as space is limited!!

Have an incredibly fun and safe experience this weekend at ChiTown Movies Presents: Drive-In Theatre under the stars at their drive-in located at 2343 S. Throop St. in the Pilsen neighborhood. Watch classic and blockbuster movies right from the comfort of your car. Outside food and drink are not permitted; however, you will have the option to have popcorn, tacos, wings, frozen mangos, and more delivered right to your car as you enjoy the movie! This weekend’s movies include — Saturday (Moana, 5 p.m. & Jaws, 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (Jurassic Park, 5 p.m. & Jaws, 7:30 p.m.)!!

Sue Moss and Dean’s Team Chicago

Chicago Neighborhood News: West Loop, Virtual

Virtual: The Chicago History Museum’s Urban History Seminar series continues on Thursday, January 14, at 7 pm with a presentation of “The Elusiveness of History: Responding Again to the Great Chicago Fire.” Led by Carl S. Smith, emeritus professor at Northwestern University, this virtual event features a deep scholarly dive into one of Chicago’s most infamous events that is sure to bring a detailed understanding of the 1871 fire followed by a discussion. This free educational Zoom experience starts at 7 pm. Find more info here.

Virtual: The Art Institute celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day with spoken word performances and stories by Rebirth Poetry Ensemble and In the Spirit featuring Zahra Baker and Emily Hooper in response to the Art Institute’s exhibition “Bisa Butler: Portraits.” This free zoom production takes place on Monday, January 18, at 5 pm. Commemorate the legacy of Dr. King with this mixture of media that is sure to be thought provoking and inspiring. Be sure to register ahead of time. Find more info here.

Virtual: While the Chicago Cultural Museum is currently closed to visitors, you can still tour the historic building virtually on the first and third Wednesday of every month. Choose between either a prerecorded video tour series or a live 40-minute virtual docent-led tour highlighting the building’s history and unique architecture. Originally the city’s central first public library completed in 1897 by the country’s best architects, the Chicago Cultural Museum is home to the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome, which can be viewed during these free virtual tours. The next showing takes place on January 20 at 1:15 pm. Find more info here.

West Loop: Not everything is relegated to being virtual during the shutdown. Head over to Recess, located at 838 West Kinzie Street, for the Fire & Ice Pop Up now until January 31. Taking place in their heated outdoor space, check out the ice sculptures while sipping on specialty cocktails and enjoying s’mores. Each ticket includes one-hour admission to the pop up, s’mores kit, pretzel stick, ice sculpture viewing, one fire & ice specialty cocktail, and a branded Recess beanie. Admission is $5 for kids under 12 and $30 for adults. The pop up runs Thursday through Sunday each week until the end of the month. Hurry because tickets are going fast. Find more info here.

Virtual: The Chicago Movie Tours presents Movie Makeup, Costumes, & Toupees in 1920s Chicago on Tuesday, January 19, from 7 pm to 8 pm. This free 60-minute presentation provides an overview of the functions and purposes of movie makeup and costumes. Chicago’s expert toupee maker of the 1920s is profiled, focusing on how he adapted to trends in the movies of the time. You will also view historic advertisements and photos from magazines and newspapers, spotlighting the standards of beauty according to Hollywood. Register now to receive an email with information on how to join this virtual program. Find more info here.


Restaurant Review: Marvin’s Food & Fuel

Time and time again, we return to comfort food to soothe the unfortunate reality of a continued shutdown due to the pandemic. One spot playing heavily on the comfort and nostalgia aspect is Marvin’s Food & Fuel.

Located at 954 West Fulton Market in the West Loop, this casual neighborhood joint opened in the late summer, serving up familiar comfort food with a menu created by chef Mitch Cavanah of GT Fish & Oyster fame. 

Marvin’s Food and Fuel currently offers TV dinners to go. These are not to be confused with the TV dinners sitting in the frozen section of your local supermarket. There’s no rubbery steak insisting on staying ice cold in the middle no matter how much you nuke it, nor is there some strange blend of ingredients labeled as pudding sitting in the corner of the tray.

The TV dinners available for pick up or delivery at Marvin’s are freshly prepared classic choices that you can heat at home. The turkey dinner features roasted turkey breast with brown turkey gravy, herb stuffing, and baked apple crumble. Their meatloaf dinner consists of BBQ beef meatloaf, whipped potatoes with Parmesan, and chocolate chip bread pudding. The Lasagna TV Dinner with ricotta and beef Bolognese, roasted cauliflower with pine nut gremolata, and berry crumble rounds out the current options available. Each dinner costs $15. You can order from the website Toast here.

Of course, Marvin’s Food & Fuel offers much more than their TV dinners. The menu is stuffed with an array of comfort cuisine perfect for getting through a when-will-this-be-over pandemic winter. Highlights off the sandwich menu include the char siu pork sandwich with daikon sauce, pickled jalapeno, and garlic aioli. Their take on the skirt steak sandwich, featuring provolone, spicy giardiniera, and horseradish cream, is a standout bursting with flavor. The pulled mushroom sandwich with Jax’s BBQ sauce and pickled red cabbage is one of the best lunchtime meals you can grab on the quick in the West Loop. And finally, Marvin’s burger with double smashed patties, American cheese, caramelized onions, and Marvin’s special sauce is a tour de force for burger lovers.

You can easily get by with the options on the starter menu alone. Particular standouts are the potato latkes tots with a smoked salmon dip, the grilled chicken wings with a Thai chili glaze, and the housemade pastrami platter with sauerkraut, mustard trio, and rye bread.

Despite the cold weather, the spiked ice cream drinks on the menu are well worth the extra chill thanks to the cool sweet mixtures in favorites such as the creamsicle with orange liqueur and vodka, chococo-loco with coffee liqueur and crème de cacao, and the pina colada with coconut rum and a blend of aged rums. Each ice cream drink offered at Marvin’s can be made without alcohol as well.

Marvin’s Food & Fuel is open Wednesday through Friday from 4 pm to 11 pm, Saturday from 10 am to 11 pm, and Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.


Chicago Home and Lifestyles – You Too Can Become a Morning Person

I have always been a morning person. For most of my adult life, I’ve either had an early morning job or lived with someone who does. But I do understand there are many people who have great difficulty getting up early and often feel sluggish throughout the morning.

First, you need to understand your circadian rhythm. It is your internal clock that regulates when to sleep, eat, and get up. Some people are naturally morning people, and that can depend on genetics. Still, we can train ourselves to be early risers and be productive too. That is a good thing as more than 50% of Americans feel their best before noon. Biologists have also discovered early risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

Do not try to do this overnight. If you usually wake up at 8 am, setting your alarm for 5 am will feel like you are getting up in the middle of the night. Go gradually; try half an hour earlier every day for a week. Then try another half hour earlier next week. Before you know it, you will get to the wake-up time you want.

But of course, you will need to go to sleep earlier in the evening. That can be difficult also. It is good to have an alarm to go to sleep as well as waking. Your phone can alert you one hour before sleeping that it is time to wind down. During this hour before bed, you must refrain from blue light from devices and any mentally stimulating activities. Try meditating or writing a journal to help get you ready for sleep.

Exercising in the morning is a great way to get the whole mind and body going at the beginning of the day. It releases endorphins to carry you through the morning. Exercise also helps you sleep at night. If you cannot exercise in the morning, do so at least four hours before sleeping. Exercise raises body temperature. It takes four hours or so for your body’s temperature to lower, which encourages sleep mode.

Do get enough light during the day. Your circadian rhythm works best when you get enough light exposure. Blind people often have problems with their rhythms without the benefit of natural light. Bright light helps you sleep better and wake more refreshed. It is more difficult in winter so you may need to use a special light to get all you need. Conversely, again watch that blue light in the evening. It keeps your brain in wake mode.

Make your bedroom pleasant for sleeping by keeping it neat and tidy. Invest in good sheets and bedding. Keep it cool; 65 degrees is best for sleep. No TV! Many apps have soothing sounds to fall asleep too. Wake up with pleasant sounds, not a blaring alarm. Get a good night’s sleep, and you’ll be ready to get up early and go!