Reflections on a New York City Christmas

WashingtonSquare Park - Christmas 2012

I have been experiencing a wave of nostalgia – it comes with age and recent losses of dear friends and our beloved little kitty Pepper. For me, the holidays seem to inspire reflections on the past – thinking back to how much New York City used to mean to me at Christmas. I have been digging up wonderful Christmas-related NYC photos from the Library of Congress and decided to delve into my own archives to see what I could find. When I was a child and up through about 2004, my parents would visit NYC every December for an annual psychiatric meeting at the Waldorf Astoria. While my dad was attending lectures, my mom would go window shopping with some of her friends. As children, my sisters and I always looked forward to my parents coming home with intriguing presents. My dad would also visit Russ & Daughters and purchase obscene amounts of candy that he had shipped home. Chocolate covered coffee beans, pastel chocolate mint lentils, and chocolate covered raspberry rings are the candies that I remember most. He would tell me stories about buying pretzels and roasted chestnuts from street vendors, shopping at B. Altman, Gimbels, and other now defunct stores; telling me tales that made it sound so magical.

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Natural Products Expo East 2014 Highlights

My daughter has been wanting to go to this show ever since we attended the spectacular Expo West show in Anaheim in March 2012. The Baltimore show is much smaller, but nevertheless, a lot of fun and exhausting. I concentrated my efforts on finding unique companies that might need my marketing communications services, as well as looking for artisanal potato chips and honey. I also was determined to pick up some samples of Vitamin D and goat soap. Admittedly, potato chips and honey have always been two of my favorite indulgences, I was recently diagnosed with a low Vitamin D level, and I have been on a goat product kick for a while. I was delighted to find the Original Saratoga Chips booth, especially when I saw the Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar Chips. I am always on the lookout for unique flavors in kettle chips. Rachelle Boff and Keith Snovely were very nice and gave me a full size bag of the original chips. This is indeed America’s original kettle chip with a fascinating history dating back to 1853. I hope they expand and start selling these delicious chips in the Midwest. This chip gets my vote for the best of show in this category. Second place goes to One Potato Two Potato for their kettle chips and cute name.

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Matchbooks Strike Memories of Shuttered Windy City Businesses

This article is dedicated to Linda W., a generous collector who donated her entire matchbook collection to me after reading my previous blog on this subject: Matchbooks Spark The Unearthing of Long Forgotten Histories. The matches in this blog were selected from her collection – some for their visual appeal and others for the sagas that accompany the now shuttered establishments. I had no idea that Carson Pirie Scott had restaurants at O’Hare Airport until I looked at this matchbook. In fact, Carson Pirie Scott operated two restaurants at O’Hare Airport. They were both located in a building that connected Terminals 2 and 3. The formal restaurant, Seven Continents, was located on the building’s upper level and the casual cafeteria called the Tartan Tray was on the main level.

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Tenuta’s Delizioso Deli Worth the Road Trip to Kenosha

I think I was Italian in a previous life – what else would explain my love of Italian grocery stores and cuisine, Italian art, Italian designers, and the country itself. I traveled to Italy twice in the early 1980s and fell in love with Venice and Florence. But alas, time passed and obligations piled up over the years and I have not been back to glorious Italia. For now I have to satiate my quest for unusual Italian food products by frequenting the best damn Italian deli this side of the Atlantic Ocean! And listening to Louis Prima when the mood strikes. So twice a year we drive to Kenosha and thoroughly enjoy shopping at Tenuta’s Deli, a Kenosha tradition since 1950.

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Who Can Take a Sunrise, Sprinkle it with Dew – Cover it with Choc’late and a Miracle or Two

The candy man can, or the candy woman. I was in my glory a few weeks ago when I spent 2 1/2 delectable days at the Sweets and Snacks Expo at McCormick Place. It was a smorgasbord of colors, tastes, and treats that could have easily caused a 5-pound weight gain. I managed to avoid this malady due to all the walking at the convention as well as back and forth to the train station. As a lifelong candy addict, this amazing expo sent me into a sweet-tooth stratosphere. I was delighted to find tried and true candy favorites, discover wonderful new companies, and meet passionate candymakers that rivaled Willy Wonka with their unbridled enthusiasm. One of the secrets I uncovered is that the behemoth companies such as Wrigley (part of Mars since 2008), Kraft, Mars, Nutella, Ferrara Pan, and Hershey’s were incredibly stingy in giving away product samples. Wrigley was giving away diminutive packets of gum that were new on the market – kind of cool, but with just 6 pieces of gum, a rip-off at the suggested retail price of 69 cents. Necco was an exception to this rule and had full-size rolls for the taking. Many of the smaller companies were very generous and gave away full-size products if you asked nicely.

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When a Deal is Not a Deal – Buyer Beware

I am a sucker for a good deal – I use the word sucker because time and time again I think I am scoring a bargain when in reality I’m buying stuff I don’t need. I am a member of Groupon, Restaurant.com, DoubleTake Deals, Saveology, LivingSocial … and up until a few days ago – KGB Deals. I have dabbled on member-only shopping sites such as Beyond the Rack, Open Sky, NoMoreRack, and HauteLook to name a few, but dropped this habit when I lost my full-time job last June. In addition, these sites are frustrating because they tend to sell out in the first 45 seconds of the sale and rarely have my size. If you take a peek in my wallet you will find preferred cards from stores like Jewel-Osco, CVS Pharmacy, Dominick’s, etc. And I am a proud longstanding member of MyPoints, which is one of the best programs on the Internet. Internet Deal Sites Let’s start with my recent experience with KGB Deals. I bought a KGB Deals voucher for $10.50 for a $35.00 no-chip manicure at Salon 62. I started calling the salon in April to make an appointment since my voucher was going to expire on May 12. No answer during business hours for weeks on end, which I found odd. I left a message on their answering machine and nobody called me back. I decided to drive over there one day, again during business hours, only to find it dark with undelivered mail slips on the door. So I reported this to KGB Deals and they waited until May 11 to get back to me. Apparently there was some family emergency that shut down the business. When I called, Anna was rather snarky and wouldn’t bend on extending the life of the voucher. I was left with no choice but to change…

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My Past and Occasional Present Pursuit of the Perfect Hot Dog

I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener that is what I’d really like to be ’cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener everyone would be in love with me   Oh, I’m glad I’m not an Oscar Mayer wiener that is what I’d never want to be ’cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener everyone would take a bite of me   Truthfully, I never wanted to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener – I am a Vienna Beef kind of gal, through and through, followed by Hebrew National. When I was a teenager, my dad and I decided that we would become hot dog connoisseurs and pursue the perfect dog. Growing up in Chicago – the hot dog capital of America, this seemed like a logical and glorious quest. Zagat and the Internet did not yet exist for suggestions, but hot dog dives were abundant and we stumbled upon several prime examples within just 2 miles of our house. And on occasion there was a review in the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Reader and we tried those establishments. Quite a few of these “Ma and Pa” places still exist, but many are long defunct.

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My Easter Weekend Ode to Rabbits, Bunnies and Symbolism

When personified, there is something about rabbits and bunnies that can be downright creepy … eliciting a similar reaction as clowns do. This morning on ABC7 Chicago News, a viewer shared a shot of her baby crying hysterically on the lap of a human dressed as the Easter Bunny. I cannot say I blame this child – the costumed creature was downright scary. Stuffed bunny rabbits are very cute and Jeff’s daughter, who is now 24 and married, was in love with these until the age of 13 or 14. And dwarf rabbits apparently make wonderful pets, as evidenced by my older sister turning to mush when her little bunny Shana is nearby – my serious, scholarly sister with the PhD! Rabbits have been used effectively and annoyingly in advertising, by film directors and artists, in cartoons, and of course – as a lighthearted symbol of the Easter holiday.

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My Foray into the Awesome World of Natural Products – Part Two

This is a continuation of the blog I wrote earlier on my awesome experience at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. In this piece I am singing the laurels of the natural body products section of this vast show. While there were also an amazing number of supplement and vitamin exhibitors, I find these products daunting and didn’t give this area more than a cursory look. I met many nice people in the natural body products area, but one person in particular stood out in the crowd. Shannon Graham and her husband Goeff started their company Grahams Natural Alternatives as a response to their son Ryan suffering from eczema at 14 months of age and the lack of available natural treatment options. Based in Australia’s Gold Coast region, Shannon is a native of Canada and as such has a unique and delightful hybrid Aussie/Canadian accent. I was attracted to Grahams Natural Alternatives not only thanks to Shannon’s considerable charm, but because this product line has helped many children and adults with eczema and psoriasis. I visited this booth several times and chatted with Shannon about their products and how Jeff and I have suffered from dry skin and bouts of an eczema-related condition. She generously gave me several full-size eczema products and Sooth-it Balm, advanced therapy ointment for dry, cracked skin to use at home.

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My Foray into the Awesome World of Natural Foods – Part One

I accompanied my daughter to the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim last week and was blown away by the enormous array of products, people, tastes and sounds. By day 3 I was operating on sensory overload and couldn’t coherently digest much more, literally or metaphorically. I have been to food shows before – the National Restaurant Show in 2011 (and will go again this year) as well as the KeHE Specialty Food Show Chicago 2011. But this convention was by far the most remarkable, mind-blowing experience on earth – it is a must for anyone involved in any aspect of the natural foods and products business. The world of natural products is a far cry from the stressful, politically fraught, backstabbing work environment in which I toiled from 2004-2011. I met some of the nicest folks at this show and whether any of these encounters translate to business deals in PR or brokering is secondary. My daughter already has an impressive clientele list for whom she does demos and independent sales – and boy was I impressed with her networking skills. 

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