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19 pizzeria palace

Palace Pizzeria in Southern Illinois

Chicago sure has some great pizza, but it isn’t the only place in IL. to get delicious pie!     In the Southern tip of IL. the best place on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is the Palace Pizzeria located in Cobden, the center of the wine trail. This is THE place to do your one stop wine tasting because the Palace offers wines from all of the wineries on the trail. The pizza is awesome and there is also a great selection of premium beers. This is also a great weekend party spot. We went for karaoke night and had a blast.  Doug and Nancy (the owners) were wonderful hosts. If you are hitting the wine trail, you must visit the Palace! The Palace Pizzeria offers salads, sandwiches, appetizers, breads, personal stuffed pizza logs (calzones), specialty pizzas, thin, thick and double-thick crusts along with the award-winning super special ten topper pizza.

We enjoyed the veggie pizza.  The ingredients for the handmade crust and astounding sauce are carefully selected. The freshest toppings are a wonderful complement, and all components meld perfectly together for that award-winning taste.      Tell us about your favorite Illinois Pizza!

Enjoy eating in Southern IL!


20 fresh way to beat winter

Snowshoe in the Woods

Even though I’ve taken advantage of the less-than-normal winter so far, soon enough reality will hit me. Hopefully, the “reality” will be less than 20 inches of white stuff over a day and a half!

However, I spotted something that I thought sounded pretty cool. Paddle and Trail of Aurora whipped up an idea that I’m definitely willing to don my long underwear for.

It begins with a shuttle from Aurora’s Paddle and Trail up to North Aurora.  Then you embark on a guided (or unguided) snowshoe along the gorgeous Fox River trail for a little over 3 miles (about an hour). The tour begins at twilight which is the perfect time to spot elements of Fox Valley wildlife like Bald Eagles, fluffy ospreys, foxes and mink. I love snowshoeing because any one can do it and if I remember correctly, you feel like you’re floating on top of the snow.

You’re led back to downtown Aurora where Chef Amaury will be waiting for you at 33 West with a glass of unparallel wine and a platter of mouth-watering artisanal cheeses.  He is known far and wide for his gourmet offerings, interesting pairings and seasonal cooking with locally grown, organic ingredients.

This combo of outdoorsy activity followed by some upscale fare really appeals to my sense of seeking eclectic experiences. For me, this is a perfect way to combat cabin fever.  The dates for this package are Dec. 29 and Jan. 12.

Paddle and Trail also have a location in the Rockford area too.



1 winter bird watching

Bald Eagles in Flight

What better way to start off the new year, then trying to spot Bald Eagles!    I am lucky enough to live near the Cache River Wetlands, and, the Wetlands offer great opportunities for eagle watching, as well as spotting other birds.  The Cache River Wetland Center provides resource and identification materials to help you spot eagles and other birds in the area and along the rivers. They will provide maps and directions to the viewing station for the nest just off Illinois Route 37 off Perks road and south of the visitor’s center.    I enjoyed the mild winter day in Southern Illinois bird watching on my own, but, if you prefer some guidance, bundle up and join us on Sat. Jan 7th or, Feb. 4th from 3 to 6pm at 

Blue Heron

 Bellrose Waterfowl Reserve, an area typically closed to the public, to witness the majestic sight of ducks and geese arriving at  sunset to roost on the icy water. Bellrose Waterfowl Reserve includes 400 acres of wetlands that are managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide food and shelter for waterfowl during migration. Staff will provide spotting scopes and binoculars. For more information or to call ahead, contact Cypress Creek NWR at (618) 634-2231.

Share your eagle sightings with us!

Enjoy Southern Illinois!


2 looking for last minute gifts

Are you looking for last minute gifts? Don’t stress!  I will let you in on my secret shopping places.  The lines are usually short, limited crowds and excellent customer service.  You can always find the most exceptional and one of kind items there.  These retailers are located all over Illinois.  I enjoy receiving gifts from these shops too, because they can be very unique and exclusive.  While someone looking in from the outside might think they are expensive, you will soon see the prices vary and the options are endless.  The displays will draw you in with their beauty.  You can usually find something unique, ordinary, one of kind, quirky or just fun.  Are you ready for my big secret? 

Museum Shops, there you have it! 

Since I live in Chicago, I have the luxury of going to the various museums around the city.  If you’re a museum member you get a discount.  You can find some great items for all ages.  The objects are from all over the world and you don’t even need a plane ticket.  If there is a special exhibit one of your recipients like, score! The shops will usually carry unique items relating to the exhibit.  When I am traveling, I always stop in the Museum shops. Here’s a tip for next year, I try to buy holiday gifts when traveling throughout the year, easier on the wallet.  I have a few gifts from the Illinois Artisan shop in Rend Lake from the summer I will be giving away this Christmas.   I store them in a Christmas decorated box until wrapping season arrives.  

Here are the list of places I have visited and my purchases, but don’t limit yourself.  I am sure there is a museum shop near you. A portion of your purchase help support the many fine programs at the museums.

Illinois Artisans
James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph Street, Suite 2-200
Chicago, IL 60601
T. 312.814.5321
Monday – Friday 9AM-5PM

Purchase – A hat for my son’s girlfriend.

Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center
14967 Gun Creek Trail
Whittington, IL
T. 618.629.
Monday – Friday 9AM – 5PM


Purchase – Jewelry for my 4 nieces and pottery décor for my friend’s newly remodeled bathroom.

Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL
Monday–Wednesday, 10:30–5:00
Thursday, 10:30–8:00
Friday–Sunday, 10:30–5:00
Website: http://www.artic.edu/

Purchase – Book of Wisdom for my 23yr. old son, I thought what 23yr old couldn’t use some wisdom.    

Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL
T. 312.280.2660
10am–8pm Mon–Sat
10am–6pm Sun
10am–5pm Christmas Eve
10am–5pm New Year’s Eve

Purchase – A puzzle for my 3yr old neighbor. 

The Museum of Science and Industry
57th Street and Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
T. 773-684-1414
9:30AM – 4PM

Purchase – Dr. Suess bag, book and plushed toy for my 2yr old niece.  Dr. Suess exhibit is being featured at the museum until Jan. 8th.

These are a hand full of my shopping purchases.  Shhh…mums the word, I hope my family members don’t see this post, it would be like peeking before Christmas.     

If you can’t find the perfect gift, the Museum usually sell gift certificates that can be used at a later date. Make sure you include a brochure and Muesum calendar for future exhibits so they can plan their visit. 

Shop local and Happy Holidays!


3 holidays history and a gingerbread

Dr. Ruben Boyajian is surgeon from Effingham, Illinois, renowned for his medical skill the world over……and also renowned for being an artisan in gingerbread. Every holiday season, Ruben creates a large scale, intricately detailed model of a local attraction and offers it up to the community to enjoy.

Having had his creations recognized in several nationally published magazines and articles, this year Ruben chose to model the Wright Home in nearby Altamont Illinois. The Wright home is one of only two pieces of architecture in Effingham County that reside on the National Register of Historic Places.

The model, which measures almost three feet across, is complete with ‘local villagers’ enjoying a brisk winters eve on the lawn and one can see through the open front door Santa’s elves busy with their holiday celebration.

The real Wright home is elaborately decorated in intricate detail with wrought iron railings, cornices and fascias, and the gingerbread version leaves nothing to be desired. Even the wrought iron is recreated, with icing, of course.

The Gingerbread creation will be on display throughout the holiday season at the Effingham Visitors Center, just south of Interstate 57/70 exit 160 in Effingham. Stop by and enjoy this wonderful piece of holiday artwork!

-Ed Baumgarten