Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A New Home!

Good morning to all of my blogger friends! I have exciting news: my blog has been picked up by the Chicago Tribune's blogger website and is now located at http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-quirk/.

I'm so excited for this next step in my blogging career, and I hope you'll visit me over there! It might be annoying for some of you since you'll need to sign up for the website to comment, but you can always get me on Twitter @ChicagoQuirk.

I will of course still read all of your blogs, but I won't be posting here anymore. Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll come see me at my new home!

 - Your Chicago Quirk

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's a "Taste of Summer and Junk Grabbing" Kind of Weekend

Tonight I'm staying in and baking up a storm for my cousin's graduation party and my friend's bacon dinner party. However, I'm hitting the town on Sunday to try to get to all of these festivals.

Since I've started tracking all of my summer activities, I've realized that I'm just a giant cow who's obsessed with food festivals! There's the Windy City Ribfest in Uptown and Taste of River North. I went to the Uptown ribfest last year, and it's really just a place to grab lunch. There's not much of an atmosphere, and it's in a pretty gross part of Uptown. The food is great, though. I've never made it over to the Taste of River North, so I'm excited to try it out.

Chinatown is incredibly underrated, and I think the summer fair this Sunday is the best way to experience the neighborhood for the first time. I do have to say, though, that this is a pretty weird festival. There's the classic lion dance procession at 1:00 p.m. and various neighborhood vendors and food throughout the day, but there's also Brazilian dance, belly dancers and Ronald McDonald leading the parade. I'll still be there.

Leave it to the Everleigh Social Club to push the envelope. Everyone loves a good trivia night, but when you call it "Grab My Junk" and toss in the Chicago Starlets you get ten times the fun! I can't tell you much more because I'm writing this at work, and most of the Everleigh Social Club's website is blocked due to pornographic images (I'm so going to get fired), but I can tell you that the show on July 19 at 9:00 p.m. and tickets are $10.

Are you single and looking for "the one." Maybe you should take your chances at Old St. Pat's World's Largest Block Party. Aside from the fact that it's a huge event (18,000 attendees) with high-end entertainment (Plain White T's, Cobra Starship and Bare Naked Ladies are performing), the church claims that over 70 marriages have resulted from couples meeting at the block party. Apparently Oprah called it "the place to meet your match."


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Renaissance Faire

I've told you many times that I'm a total geek. Now I'm going to prove it. This is my sister and me in Renaissance Faire costumes. Hers is rented, but mine is bought, paid for and sitting in my closet.

Granted, this photo is about five years old, but the point is from age 17 until 22 I put on one of my costumes (oh yes, I have two) and went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire with my friends every weekend. We all met while working at Medieval Times, so it wasn't that strange of an activity for us. I was also doing Shakespeare in the Park, so there were whole summers where I wore period garb almost as much as normal clothes.

Now that I've shared my experience, I do have to tell you that, geek or not, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is worth checking out.

For one, the scenery is gorgeous. Even though it's only open in the summer, the buildings are permanent, so people have put a lot of time and effort into building the shops. Aside from the fact that they sell some pretty awesome merchandise, many of the shop owners have purchased the building and live above the store all summer long.

This is one of my favorites.

Once you're inside the shops, you'll be extremely impressed with the quality and artistry available. Yes, there are swords and strange costumes, but just about everything is handmade. My suede bodice cost me about $150 and was made by the shopkeeper, and it's stunning! There are gorgeous glass-blown items, and you can watch the artist make the pieces in the shop. Same with metal and leather artists. It's really amazing to watch.

Then there are the actors:

The faire comes fully-equipped with a cast ranging from the queen to lowly peasants. The nobility - the queen, ladies-in-waiting, Lord Chancelor, etc. - actually stage performances throughout the faire, but there are dozens of other characters roaming around and interacting with the guests. I had a few friends who did this, and they create elaborate stories and have the most amazing costumes. I never did it because they don't get paid, and I was never geeky enough to drive to Wisconsin every weekend without pay.

Me in costume number two. With a goat.
There are also some fun rides, a petting zoo, various comedy and acrobatic acts and some VERY delicious food.

About five years ago, my husband and I grew out of going to faire every weekend and lost touch with just about all of our Medieval Times friends. I haven't gone in two years, and I'm a tiny bit afraid that my bodice won't fit anymore. Sure, I bought it when I was 17, but you know that doesn't matter. 

So, if you're willing to drive just a few feet over the Wisconsin border, definitely visit the Bristol Renaissance Faire. It opened last weekend and runs until Memorial Day. You can save money by buying your tickets in advance online, but be sure to stick around the front gate for a few minutes. Sometimes the peasants will stand on top of the tower and hurl insults at you. Faire is fun!  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chicago Quirk's Favorite Things: CTA Merchandise

I would never have thought to shop on the CTA website, but as I was researching for yesterday's 'Did You Know, Chicago?,' I found some really cool stuff!

I seriously want this umbrella.

I'm not sure how good these would look, but, in theory, they're pretty cool.

Sport your neighborhood pride with a t-shirt featuring your closest 'L' stop. I bought this one last year at a boutique by my apartment, but it's way cheaper on the CTA site.

Who doesn't love affordable vintage prints?

My husband's nephew is definitely getting one of these for Hanukkah this year.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Did You Know, Chicago? The 'L'

Those were some crazy storms this morning!! The power has been going in and out all day, so today's 'Did You Know, Chicago' is going to be a short one.

I love the 'L.' I think it's because my goal growing up was to live in the city, and being on the 'L' is a sure fire reminder that I'm a Chicagoan. (For any non-Chicagoans reading this, the 'L' is the nickname for Chicago's elevated train system. Some of the train lines do go underground, but they're still called the 'L.')

As much as our transit system sucks, it has a great history:

The first EL train ran from Van Buren to 39th, and the car was actually a steam locomotive pulling four wooden coaches. I don't know about you, but that idea scares the crap out of me.

The elevated line under construction in 1896 on Lake Street in downtown Chicago. This view is looking west from Wabash Avenue. The "Loop" came to refer not only to the downtown elevated structure but also to the central business district. (Photo Courtesy of Chicago Historical Society)

Ever wonder why the downtown business district is called "The Loop?" It's because the 'L' trains make a giant circle around the area. The area considered to be "The Loop" has long since expanded outside of the track lines, but the name stuck.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) didn't actual have control over the train system until the late 1940s. Before that, the system was controlled by the president of Chicago Edison, and before that each line was operated independently by various companies.

When the CTA took over, they created one fare system for the entire line. The CTA sold tokens, one per train ride, up until 1999 when they introduced the fare card. I kind of wish they still sold tokens because they are very cool looking.

Food for thoughts; the Chicago 'L'/subway system versus the Tokyo subway system. I guess we're not so bad after all:

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's a "Summer Dance and Burgers" Kind of Weekend

Happy gorgeous Friday! Too bad I'll be spending it in a jury room at 26th and California. That's okay, though, because at least I'm not driving out to the suburbs. Okay, no more Debbie downer. One of my favorite events starts this weekend: Summer Dance Chicago.

I love the whole idea of this event. I always wanted to be one of those people that gets up and just starts salsa dancing like an expert, but, alas, I usually end up tripping someone. (People always think that just because I'm a tap dancer, I should be able to ballroom dance too. Not the case.) Summer Dance Chicago gives you lessons beforehand so you can bust a move with everyone else. And the fact that most people are amateurs makes you feel a lot better about your skill. Check out the whole list of events here. The best one: on July 23 the event will celebrate Soul Train's 40th Anniversary with free Soul Train Line dance lessons. Um, that's amazing.

Don't forget West Fest! I've never been, but it looks pretty cool.

There are a few art fairs going on this weekend, and we're not talking PTA. The DuSable Museum is hosting its 37th Annual Back to Our Roots Arts & Crafts Festival, featuring works related to African American themes, history and culture by fine artists only. There's also the 54th Annual Gold Coast Art Fair in Grant Park this weekend. According to the website, somebody called it the "Granddaddy of American Art Festivals." Not sure who said that or why but whatever. 

If you're thinking of doing The L.A.T.E. Ride this year, I'd probably skip it. My husband and his dad participated last year, and it was pretty bad. They don't actually close down any streets, so you're trying to get around the cars. And they don't stagger the start time so you're riding in a giant crowd of people the whole time. My husband said they couldn't actual even get up enough speed to peddle. They just sort of hopped along.

I plan to stuff my face at the Roscoe Village Burger Fest on Sunday afternoon. Burgers, cocktails, music. Yes, please!

Yes! via

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Farmer's Markets Scare Me

I love the idea and concept of the farmer's market, but I have to confess that I've only been a few times. I'm always busy or I don't get there in time, and my dreams of coming home with all the ingredients for a delicious and locally-grown organic dinner are dashed.

I finally made it to the Green City Market on Saturday morning, and I was so unprepared and overwhelmed that I left feeling very disappointed. The few markets I've been to have been smaller and much more diverse. I wasn't sure where to start. (I went to a market in Kansas City a few times, and it was unbelievable! I swear they had more stuff there than a grocery store. And there were actual farmers selling the products. Overalls and straw hats!!!!)

Well, I started circling and looking at a few items. I found some nice blueberries I wanted, and I went into my wallet and realized I didn't have any cash. I asked the lady if they took credit cards, and she laughed at me. Actually laughed! Needless to say, that was the end of the farmer's market for me.

Since my embarrassment, I've done research to arm myself with the ability to tackle the next market head on.

Bring Cash in Small Bills
Sounds like common sense, but when you get to the market and realize that all your cash went to last night's cab ride home you'll feel as dumb as I did. Hit the ATM beforehand and try to convince the clerk down the street to give you change.

Bring Large, Re-usable Bags
The booths have small plastic bags for your purchases, but you'll feel like a douche walking among the people with their overpriced Vera Bradley shopping totes.

Go Early or Go Late
It's pretty obvious that the best items are put out and gone first. However, I'm not even going to kid myself into thinking I'll be at the market at 7:00 a.m. I did find out though, that if you go late you'll get the best deals. The farmers don't want to drag all that stuff home, so they'll discount the products to get rid of them. Sure, my raspberries might be a little mushy, but they're half off. 

Ask Questions
This is the hardest for me because I seriously know nothing about food. I read that it's a good idea to ask the farmer what's good this week and what their best item is that day. You can also ask for cooking and serving suggestions.

Don't Just Buy Fruit
I tend to go with the basics. I can eat an apple, so I should buy apples. Unfortunately, those apples are more expensive then, say, onions that can be used in multiple meals. You can also pick up your eggs for the week and delicious cheeses and meats.

Do a Few Laps Before Buying
I guess it's like buying gas - the vendor two booths down could be selling the same thing for cheaper. That way you can also find the prettiest items.

I think I'll start slow and find a smaller market to visit, and then work my way up to the Green City Market. It is pretty intense for a newbie.

Love this! Apparently a woman named Ellie Carlson does cooking demonstration in the character of an 1850s homemaker at the Green City Market. Image via the Illinois Humanities Council

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Did You Know, Chicago? The Chicago Flood

We've all heard of the Chicago Fire, but have you heard of the Chicago Flood?

In 1992, construction crews working near the Kinzie Street Bridge punctured the ceiling on one of the abandoned tunnels under the Chicago River. It started leaking, but, in true Chicago fashion, nobody did anything about it.

After several weeks the leaking got worse and completely flooded the tunnels. The water rose so high that it flooded the basements of many downtown buildings. Electricity and natural gas was knocked out, and the entire Loop, Financial District, City Hall and even the subways, Board of Trade and Chicago Mercanitle Exchange were closed and evacuated.

The damage was estimated to cost about $1 billion. Some people didn't return to work for a month, and the subways were rerouted for weeks while water was pumped out of the tunnels. The flood cost the city even more money when the buildings and insurance companies sued.
What was really strange about the flood is that nobody was injured, and if you were standing on the street you would never know anything was wrong.

Even funnier: the city had absolutely no idea where the water was coming from until they started finding fish everywhere. 
Dehumidifiers snake out of DePaul University's Loop building at Jackson Boulevard and Wabash Avenue. The dehumidifiers were deployed to remove moisture from the air in the building's flooded basements. (Image and caption via the Chicago Tribune.)
The Great Chicago Flood of 1992 was an odd calamity that turned the Loop into a "soggy ghost town." It became an international news phenomenon, a joke for weeks on late-night talk shows and an item satirized by political cartoonists like the Chicago Tribune's Jeff MacNelly. (Image and caption via the Chicago Tribune.)

A passerby looks at a flood sale sign in a hand bag store at Wabash and Randolph Streets. Items in numerous downtown Chicago basements and sub-basements were damaged or destroyed due to the Great Chicago Flood.  (Image and caption via the Chicago Tribune.)


Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy 4th of July Weekend!

Happy 4th! Not a ton on the big event docket, so just relax and enjoy. I'm putting on a bathing suit for the first time this season so I'm a little nervous, but I do love hitting the beach.

It's the last weekend for the Taste of Chicago! Have you gone yet?

Entertaining out-of-towners this weekend? Pay with a Bank of America card, and you'll get free admission to the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Shedd Aquarium, the Chicago History Museum, the DuSable Museum of African American History. I normally would ignore a credit card promotion like this, but admission to these museums can be pricy. If I had a Bank of America card, I'd take advantage of this.

If you're looking for urban 4th of July fireworks, Navy Pier is your only option. If you're willing to branch out into the suburbs, here's a list of fireworks displays to check out.

I might go to the African-Caribbean International Festival of Life. I haven't found too much information about it, but the website makes me want to get up and dance.

And remember, please wear sunscreen when you're outside this weekend! Anyone and everyone can get skin cancer, whether you're prone to burning or not. You'll notice a new badge on the right column of my blog. I took the pledge to be sun savvy. You should too!