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When one thinks about baking…we don’t normally concern ourselves with where to purchase flour.  Our local grocer has abundance as well as quite a few varieties.  But Illinois has Hodgson Mill still operating since the Civil War.   5th generation is still grinding grain as it was hundreds of years ago, using stones.  They are located in Effingham, IL about 200 miles from Chicago.  If you’re an advent baker like me, it was a site to see.

Having been raised by a mother from the “hippie” era, we were whole grain children.  Literally grinding our whole-wheat kernels into flour.  I longed for the “white” flour most of my friends had in their homes.

Of course this grinding of the grain might have prepared me to wonder what it was like for the early Illinois settlers?  Wheat flour was neither indigenous nor easy for them to initially grow.  When it was harvested the kernels were brought to the miller or one would travel to the closest grain mill. 

Today, Hodgson grinds many varieties of grains and sells varying ingredients related to baking.  The amazing feature is that they continue to sell a product that is free from Genetically Modified Organisms – they know their farm sources and use no chemicals in any food preparations.

Buckwheat, not even related to wheat, but rather a grass, is one wonderful product they prepare.  Early Illinois settlers relied on Buckwheat for baking because early wheat took so long to grow – buckwheat could be ready for harvest within about 60 days. We might know buckwheat for our pancakes…but here is a recipe that makes muffins:

Buckwheat- Corn Muffins
(Hodgson Mill Recipe Collection)

1 cup Hodgson Mill Buckwheat Flour
½ cup Hodgson Mill Yello Cornmeal
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 ¼ cups milk
¼ cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or grease muffin cups.  Mix together buckwheat flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Combine eggs, milk and butter; beat.  Add to dry ingredients; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened (batter will be thin).  Fill muffin tins 2/3 full.  Bake 15-20 minutes or until done.  Yield:  12 muffins.

Hodgson Mill products are available at retail food outlets nationwide or you can order online at www.hodgsonmill.com

Bon Appetite!
Chef Jenny

Chef Jenny has worked front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house in the hospitality industry for at least 25 years. Currently she teaches culinary and hospitality management at Washburne Culinary Institute  in Chicago. Her love of history and passion for sweets has culminated in her own book, Midwest Sweet Baking History: Delectable Classics around Lake Michigan available on Amazon.   

Do you need help planning a summer vacation? The summer season will be here before you know it and the kids will soon be asking you “Are we there yet?” Forgo the car and go for a train ride; sit back and relax.   To help inspire a car free

Southwest Chief in Henderson County, IL

vacation, Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation are teaming up with State, regional and local tourism offices to showcase the variety of tourist destinations in Illinois. The event is free and all happening under one roof at the historic Great Hall of Chicago Union Station, Thursday, May 17th (210 South Canal St.) for Illinois Tourism Day from 7:00 am until 4:00 pm.

While rising gas prices are still the top of traveler’s minds, Amtrak provides an alternative to help trim costs. Downstate and Chicago area city and county representatives along the three state-supported Illinois Amtrak routes will be on hand from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm to hand out tourism literature and answer any questions.  Let them help you plan an itinerary to suit your interests. 

Stop in for Amtrak ticket drawings and to enjoy live music from Rootabaga Jammers, Big Band Music 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. It’s a great way to plan a summer getaway.  Hope you can join us.

Ciao –

Mother’s Day is celebrated Sunday, May 13, 2012.  It marks the occasion for children to express their love and respect for their mother.   That expression can come in many ways from pampering to flowers, cards and handmade gifts.  The most important thing is to tell her you love her and she will always be important to you.

If you looking for ways to express your love and support to the special someone.  I have listed a few ideas and activities to share with them.  As Mother Day arrives sometimes it can be difficult to find something special and unique to do each year.  I created a short list of things going on around the state during Mother’s day weekend.   Find what interest you and your Mom.

Art Sprees: Mother’s Day Art Spree
Illinois Artisans
100 W Randolph
Chicago, IL 60601
Wednesday, May 09, 2012 – Friday, May 11, 2012, 10:00 AM – 3:30 PM

Morton Arboretum
4100 Rte 53 at I-88
Bike Rentals now available

NEW! Bike rentals for adults and children. Coast under a canopy of trees. Bike nine miles of paved roads that wind through our magnificent tree collections. Take advantage of this opportunity to explore our expansive grounds in a new and up close way.
Auto-free” Zone
Bring your own bicycle and ride through the Arboretum’s East Side
May 4-September 9
Fridays: 5:30 p.m.-sunset
Saturday & Sundays: 7-9 a.m.

Fundamentals of Tea Time Desserts
At the French Pastry School in Chicago
May 15 – May 17
226 W Jackson Blvd
Chicago, IL 60601
Enthusiast – $575.00
Scott Green, Pastry Chef Instructor, 2011 National Pastry Champion
National Pastry Champion, Chef Scott Green, will teach you how to make these elegant bites in this three-day, hands-on course at The French Pastry School. You’ll learn to make the elegant and popular macaron which you can adjust to fit any flavor or color scheme; hazelnut and chocolate financiers (nut flour cakes); coconut rochers; madeleines; éclairs and more. You will start from the basics and create a spread that would rival the Queen’s tea service! Wrap everything up after the final buffet and bring it home to share with your family and friends.

Mother’s Day Brunch at the Carleton Hotel
The Carleton of Oak Park
1110 Pleasant Street
Oak Park, IL 60302
Make your reservation now for our famous Mother’s Day Brunch on Sunday, May 13th from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. Served in our beautiful Grand Ballroom. For reservations, call (708)848-4250.

Shop at Volo Antique Malls & Mercantile Mall
Dates: May 12, 2012 – May 13, 2012

Times: 10am – 5pm
Category: Family
Location: Volo Antique Malls, 27640 W. Volo Village Rd., Volo, IL., IL 60073
Phone: 815-344-6062 Visit Our Website

Join The Volo Antique Malls & Mercantile Mall For Our 5th Annual “Mothers Day Special Event Saturday and Sunday, May 12th & 13th  All Weekend Long! Mall Gift Card Drawings both days and Stemmed Carnations While They Last. For All the Details See Events at VOLOSHOPPING.COM

Wishing you lasting Mother’s Day memories for you and your Mother, enjoy!

Ciao –

As the temperatures start to heat up, the Illinois Office of Tourism is ready for an even hotter summer with a super state showdown–the Illinois Fan Favorite Sweepstakes!

Beginning Monday, May 7th, 64 Illinois attractions will go head-to-head to compete for bragging rights as the Enjoy Illinois Facebook page “fan favorite.” Our Facebook fans will vote to choose their favorite attraction (museum, park, state historic site, etc.) through a bracket-style competition in the style of a college basketball tournament.

Aside from cheering on your favorites—think Chicago’s Navy Pier, Lincoln’s Home in Springfield, and Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois—every week a fan votes, he or she earns another entry into a sweepstakes for a chance to win one of three Illinois trip packages and a $500 Shell gift card during this six-week promotion.

Imagine spending two luxurious nights in a deluxe suite at The Peninsula Hotel Chicago—which features a bedroom, living room, dressing area and more; dining at Lettuce Entertain You’s modern Latin restaurant, Nacional 27; having four CityPASS booklets to explore Chicago’s finest cultural attractions; and taking to the water on a Chicago’s First Lady Cruise–all of this is just waiting for the winner of the Chicago getaway prize.

While in the midst of living history, the Springfield getaway prize winner will delight in a two-night stay at the Springfield Hilton; enjoy tickets to the state-of-the-art Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Knight’s Action Park and Caribbean Water Adventure, the Route 66 Drive-In, and Springfield Walks tours; as well as receive a gift card to the new sports superstore, Scheels.

And for a more intimate getaway, the Galena getaway prize winner–and their special guest–will delight in a two-night stay at Eagle Ridge, a 6,800 acre resort located amid the breathtaking scenery of northwest Illinois.  Additional prizes include dinners at Fried Green Tomatoes and One Eleven Main; a Fever River Outfitters scooter excursion to Galena Cellars Vineyard, along with a private tour and tasting; and a Galena Jack’s carriage ride along historic streets and 19th century architecture.

And remember, while each of these three prizes are pretty awesome, they each come with a $500 Shell gift card!

So, Illinois Tourism fans, grab your face paint, foam fingers and a mouse, and get to voting!

For more information about the Illinois Fan Favorite Sweepstakes or to plan your next getaway, please visit enjoyillinois.com or facebook.com/enjoyIllinois.

Lisa Link

Marketing/Advertising Manager

Illinois Office of Tourism

All this warm weather we’ve been having means that Spring is in bloom a little early this year. So all the trees and flowers are blossoming which I’m sure you have noticed.

I attended the Chicago Flower Show in March and the horticulturist said that flowering season is ahead by 3-4 weeks. I have even spotted a few green sprouts from my own tulips that I planted last fall. So my goal this year is to master the technique of keeping my flowers blooming all summer long which is much harder than it looks.

This year, at the Garden show, I attended a talk by Kris Bachtell of mortonarb.org titled “What’s Old is New Again: Hydrangeas”. It was a great talk with lots of great tips that I hope to apply to my own garden this year, especially my Hydrangea bush.

Lupe’s Garden

For example, one great tip is to photograph your garden often so you can capture the changing seasons. This is just another reason why I attend these sessions; I’m always trying to learn from the masters. (See photo of my garden and its sprouts.)

If you’re looking for more inspiration mark your calendars for the Chicago Botanic Antique & Garden Fair, April 20-22, 2012 click here for more information http://www.chicagobotanic.org.  I hope to see there.  Below are my photos from the Chicago Flower Show.

Does your closet look like this?

How to decorate your bedroom with nature

Vegetables in a flower garden

Decorating with flowers

Do you have a favorite garden walk or event in your area, tell us about it?  If you do photograph your garden or someone else’s send us photos to post on flickr.

Have a blooming Spring!

Ciao –