Frego food storage review – pricey but worth it

As a baby boomer, you may be able to do cool things with your time like attend classes at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Northwestern University. These peer-led study groups cover a broad array of fascinating topics ranging from great short stories to Chicago theater and from quantum physics to world history. And if you find yourself back in class, you may also find yourself back to making “school” lunches for yourself and/or your spouse.
Heard recently about a new type of container for carrying lunch (or any food). The company makes a lot of important claims on its website for Frego food storage containers: No toxins. Shatter-resistant glass containers in super-padded silicone sleeves with airtight lids. After testing a sample, here are a few comments about those claims:
  • Yes, leakproof. Packed some very juicy chili in the two-cupper (~$20), snugged the lid into place, and carried it on its side all day. Just to be safe, put it in a plastic bag since it was going to be turned over and jerked around in a wheeled case. Opened it for lunch and  nary a drop had spilled. Ate, covered it up again, and took it home with still not a leak in sight.
  • Yes, shatter-resistant. The silicone “sleeve” (kind of like a cradle, really) encases the glass and makes a cozy, padded nest for it. It feels really solid and significant inside that silicone.
  • Yes, heat in the microwave. Nice that the silicone doesn’t get hot in the microwave, so you can pick up a heated container without oven mitts – but only the silicone part because the glass does get hot. This feature can come in handy especially for people who live alone and don’t want to dirty up more dishes than necessary. Store, heat, eat.
  • Yes, easy to wash. Glass is just plain easy to get clean. The silicone container cleans up fine. We washed by hand, but all parts are said to be safe on either rack of a dishwasher.
  • BPA-free. Mayo Clinic talks about possible BPA complications. Many reasons to be glad about not having it in materials that come in contact with your food.
  • Yes, re-writable. Using dry-erase markers on the silicone case, you can write non-smearing notes to your loved ones when you send them off with food-to-go. Then later, wipe it off with a wet paper towel.
  • Yes, good-looking. The whole ensemble feels very high quality and makes you feel good about putting food in there for yourself or your family.
The only downside may be that the whole ensemble – glass inner container, silicone outer container and silicone lid – when put together and filled can be fairly heavy. If you consider this for a kid, check it against how much weight he already has in his backpack. If you’re an adult who doesn’t want to lug too much extra weight around on your shoulder or back, carry it in a rolling bag because it won’t spill even if it sits sideways all day.
Frego storage containers are a handsome, practical, high-quality way to store and heat foods. Each has a lifetime guarantee, too, so it may be worth it to you to pay a little more.

Memorial Day – 5 wines, 2 vodka cocktails, and 2 whiskies

Memorial Day is one of our country’s biggest weekends. The first official party to celebrate warm weather each year is always a fine time to enjoy some of life’s lighter wines and spirits.

Sparkling wines to love:

  • Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut – the Spanish cava in the sexy black bottle that’s been one of the most popular sparkling wines in the U.S. for forty years. Crisp, clean, and well-balanced, medium-bodied with a palate of apple, pear and bright citrus flavors, it has a moderately long finish and a crisp touch of ginger. Pairs well with most any food.
  • Freixenet Carta Nevada Brut – This refreshingly light, slightly sweet cava has fresh, fruity flavor while still pleasantly dry. Full, ripe peach, apricot fruit and vanilla nose, with big, round, soft flavors in the mouth and an appealing finish. Perfect for brunch or for mixing champagne cocktails. Great for those new to sparkling wines.

Three rosé wines perfect for indulging yourself:

  • Alta Vista: Rosé 2015—100% Malbec. Reddish hue, fruity aromas of ripe and sour cherries and floral notes of red roses, with a persistent flavor of recently picked grapes. Great with pasta dishes such as pesto and bright salads. ~$13 
  • Masi Agricola: Rosa dei Masi 2015—Using the Appassimento drying technique to concentrate flavors, this rosé is fresh and fruity, yet complex and elegant. 100% Refosco grapes yield a soft pink wine brushed with cherry tones and intense aromas of berries, especially raspberries and wild cherries. Soft and well-balanced with lively and refreshing acidity. Excellent as an aperitif, with antipasti or seafood dishes. ~SRP $15
  • The Seeker Rosé 2015A classic dry Provence rosé blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Cinsault from vineyards influenced by the sea, sunshine and granite-schist soils. Elegant, fresh and delicately fruity, refreshing on its own or pairs well with a wide variety of shellfish, salads, and berry-based dishes. ~$14

Two vodka cocktails to enjoy for Memorial Day, Father’s Day and/or National Martini Day (both on June 19, 2016):

And how about these 2 whiskies to stir your senses:

  • Speyburn 10-year-old Scotch whisky – Smooth and mellow, pale amber colored, non-peaty, this is a Scotch to warm the heart without stressing the nose or the palate. Mild and easy going, this gold-medal single malt at 2014 International Wine & Spirit competition, is a great one for warm weather. A bargain at ~$23
  • Hibiki Suntory Japanese Harmony Whisky – A deliciously complex, smooth and gentle whisky made to be sipped over a giant ice ball or drunk neat. It’s a lovely blend of at least 10 different whiskies, aged in 5 different types of casks. The whole effect of flavors and aromas is like music from a fine orchestra. Beautiful for warm weather. ~$75

Boka Chef makes Pure Leaf tea look fabulous

Chef Wolen transforming tea in Lincoln Park
Chef Wolen transforming tea in Lincoln Park

Besides the delicious smoothie recipe he introduced at the Pure Leaf TeaHouse Collection traveling tea house in Lincoln Park last week, Chef Lee Wolen applied his culinary flair to a few more recipes using their unique flavors of presweetened tea-in-a-bottle and fresh herbs to accent those combinations. Here’s one that really appeals in the warm weather we’re finally getting in Chicago.

Tea Off by Lee Wolen

  • 1 ounce blackberry sage tea syrup
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice, fresh
  • 1 ounce Pure Leaf Tea House Collection™ Black Tea Wild Blackberry & Sage (where to buy)
  • soda water
  • elderflower tonic water
  • 2 crushed blackberries, for garnish
  • 1 sage leaf, for garnish
  • 1-1.5 oz gin (optional)


Combine all and reduce to a syrup, chill and reserve.


Combine all ingredients except tonic and soda water in a glass with ice. Top the glass off with equal parts tonic and soda. Garnish with crushed blackberries and a sage leaf.

How to tell food is healthy for kids – for real

English: vegetables
English: vegetables (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s gratifying to see Chicago companies getting together to make it easier for kids to eat healthy food. And in case you wonder just what “healthy for kids” means, here are specific guidelines from Healthy Fare for Kids® (works for us grownups, too). And here are the new FDA labeling requirements. Yay! And after you’re done with all that, below that, a cool recipe to serve 4 small people.

HFFK Nutritional Guidelines

Look for this logo on meats/foods you buy
Look for this logo on meats/foods you buy

There are eight Healthy Fare for Kids’ nutritional guidelines for home cooks and restaurants to follow, and all must be met for the complete meal to be so designated.

1. Center of the plate: lean protein with fresh vegetables and/or fruit
Pairing 2-3 ounces of protein – a lean cut of meat or legumes with at least one cup of fresh vegetables and/or fruit. If the protein is meat or poultry, it must be raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. If seafood, choose a variety of sustainable seafood.

2. Portion sizes: Keep it simple
Children consume almost twice as many calories when eating food in restaurants. A child’s stomach is about the size of their fist, so smaller portions of good food will fill them up and leave them satisfied.

3. Use whole grain breads and pasta
Choose about a two-ounce serving of whole grains instead of highly refined grain products. Whole grain products are packed with nutrients and fiber and will contain at least 51% of whole grains.

4. Use cooking methods that are lower in fat while still retaining flavors
Steer away from serving deep-fried food that is high in fat, saturated fat and calories. As well, avoid all food using trans fat or hydrogenated fats. Try olive oils for cooking and canola oils for baking.

5. Prepare your dishes with great flavors while limiting salt and sugar
High sodium diets can cause a number of health challenges, even in children. Build your dish with flavor profiles that introduce children to the naturally delicious taste of healthy foods while limiting salt and sugar. Sodium levels must be lower than 665 mg. per serving.

6. Keep it local and seasonal
Local produce is fresher, tastier and a hands-on way to get kids engaged in learning about local and seasonal food. It’s great for the environment and kids love to be a part of being green. Check out for fresh locally grown vegetables and fish in Chicago.

7. Serve no-sugar beverages and small, if any, desserts
Have kids order flat or sparkling water flavored with vegetables or fruit. Or serve a one-cup serving of non-flavored organic milk or a dairy equivalent in your meal. Soda and concentrated fruit juice are unwelcome guests at the table. Finally, if you want to add dessert to the meal, continue the idea of small and seasonal.

8. Keep the bread basket off the table before the meal
In restaurants, substitute the bread for fresh vegetables and at home, put out some fresh vegetables while the meal is being prepared. Both will allow kids hunger to be satisfied with the main meal while getting some of their daily vegetable needs.

For more information, please contact Diane Schmidt at Visit for a complete and growing list of participating chefs, restaurants, businesses and partner organizations. Follow Healthy Fare for Kids on Facebook (, Twitter (@HealthyFare4Kid).

Healthy Fare for Kids® Recipe
Whole Wheat Tortillas with Turkey and Beans©
by Chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris

  • 1 cup dried pinto beans
  • ½ cup yellow onions – diced
  • ½ cup poblano peppers – seeds removed and diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 4 small whole wheat tortillas or whole grain corn tortillas
  • 8 slices of turkey
  • 1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes – sliced in half
  • ½ cup cucumber – peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cilantro – chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ cup Monterey jack cheese – grated (optional)
  1. In a small bowl, cover pinto beans with 1inch of water and soak overnight in the refrigerator. Drain water and rinse. In a small sauce pot, cover the beans in 1 inch of water and simmer until they are tender (make sure they remain covered in water the entire cooking time, add extra water if necessary) about 1-1½ hours. (Canned beans can be used as a substitute)
  2. Sauté the onion and poblano peppers in 2 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add the cooked beans to the vegetables and continue to cook till liquid has reduced to the desired consistency. Season with salt & pepper. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the beans into a coarse puree.
  3. In a small bowl, toss the tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, warm the whole wheat tortilla and 2 slices of turkey . Spoon ¼ cup of mashed beans on half of the tortilla, add a spoon of the tomato mixture and grated cheese if desired, fold in half.


Breakfast, lunch & dinner ideas Memorial Day 2016

Start your Memorial Day with a delicious -and shockingly healthy – smoothie you can make at home. Much-praised Chef Lee Wolen of top-rated Boka Restaurant created this recipe and others using the unique flavors of Pure Leaf TeaHouse Collection of presweetened teas. When an 8-year-old says she’s okay with raw kale in her smoothie ‘cuz it tastes so good, you know you’ve got a winner.

Copy of Chef Wolen Pure Leaf
Boka Chef Lee Wolen slinging smoothies in Lincoln Park

Apple Ginger Tea Smoothie with Blueberries and Kale

  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1.5 cup Pure Leaf Tea House Collection™ Green Tea Fuji Apple & Ginger
  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    Whirl everything in a blender until smooth. Garnish with chopped apple and fresh grated ginger.

Then, after you’ve digested that, and at a reasonable hour – say, eleven thirty-ish – pull out one of these lovely bubbly wines for lunch and toast your Memorial Day in earnest. Gorgeous bubblies like:

SEGURA VIUDAS RESERVA HEREDAD – an exquisite and aromatic cava (Spanish bubbly made with methode champenoise). You’ll enjoy serving it from its pewter-embellished bottle, and its smooth taste pairs well with any grilled foods or other treats you decide upon. Should you be camping out, could there be anything better than a little bubbly with your S’mores? ~$25

LOS VASCOS ROSÉ 2015 – Bright, pale pink color. On the nose, aromas of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and pomegranates underscored by white chocolate and sugar syrup. The palate is fresh, balanced and persistent. ~$14

VALDO ROSÉ BRUT – a color like scarlet brush strokes on rose petals. Bouquet is of fine and elegant blossoms with a persistent presence of raspberry and a cascade of tiny bubbles. Altogether a pleasant round warm flavor with a charming fruity aroma. ~$14

PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES TAVEL AOC 2014 – a pretty rosé wine with violet tints and a nice salmon color and an intense nose with white flowers. ~$24

THEN, you’re probably exhausted so you’ll want to just go out and let others wait upon you for dinner. Luckily there are dozens of downtown spots to take yourself and family and friends for dining al fresco. Here are a just a few.

Beatrix – River North519 N. Clark, patio and open window seats are perfect for sipping a fresh juice, specialty iced coffee or signature cocktail like the Mexican Iced Coffee and Malted Freddo, and the Habenero-Pineapple Margarita and Blueberry Tom Collins, both made with homemade fresh juices. The full wine bar has open floor-to-ceiling windows.

Beatrix – Streeterville671 N St Clair St., seats 80-100 outdoors.
Spend the whole day if you like, with  breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner served there, or pick up something from The Market to enjoy in the sun.
Hub 5151 W. Hubbard,  seats 35 outside. Nosh on your favorites like Pulled Chicken Nachos or the Kale & Avocado Salad, while sipping on signature frozen drinks such as the Passionfruit Margarita, while you sit back and watch the hustle and bustle of River North.
Osteria Via Stato & Pizzeria Via Stato620 N. State, together seat 80 outside on one of the most active corners in River North. Just Bring Me Lunch at Pizzeria is about satisfying meals served quickly Mondays through Fridays. A three-course menu option (soup, sandwich, dessert) in a hurry for only $9.95 per person. Later, try the three-course Italian Dinner Party at Osteria, for $39.95 per person. Both restaurants offer wines-by-the glass and more than 300 Italian labels.

Bellyup Smokehouse & Saloon, 1132 S. Wabash, offers a Beyonce Boozy Lemonade for Memorial Day Weekend Friday, May 27 through Sunday, May 29 (CLOSED on Monday, May 30). 10 bucks for the lemonade cocktail special.

Memorial Day 2016 – 3 bubbly ideas and 9 north side restaurants

As Chicagoans gratefully welcome warmer temps, we’re ready to start toasting summer with Memorial Day food and drinks.  One of the best ways to celebrate is with sparkling wine, and here are some fun ideas from Segura Viudas, one of Spain’s most popular maker of bubblies.

For beach or boat, throw a few  Segura Viudas Brut Minis (~$6) in your bag alongside your sunscreen and life preserver. It’s enchanting to have your own little bottle of smooth bubbly whenever you want. OR if you’re going climbing or some other adventurous trip, take along a full-size bottle of Segura Viudas Gran Cuvée Reserva (~$14) to celebrate when you reach your goal.

If you just want to stay home and impress your friends or family with your cooking skills, stock a few bottles of the affordable and always-versatile cavas Segura Viudas Brut (~$10) or Segura Viudas Rosé Brut (~$10). Try Spicy Fish Tacos or build your own taco bar with spicy salsa from scratchCava goes great with spicy foods without turning up the heat.

And then, of course, if you just want to let the pros do all the work, you’ve got a ton of fun Chicago food and drink options. Here are 9 on the north side:

  1. CASTAWAYS BAR & GRILL, North Avenue Beach, is open all weekend serving salads, wraps, sandwiches, and quesadillas accompanied by frozen cocktails and even Corona in a can. Music, too.
  2. CLARK STREET DOG & BAR, 3040 N Clark St., starts the fun on Friday through Monday with $7 to $9 summer cocktails. Open 9 am til late night.
  3. COMMONWEALTH TAVERN, 2000 W. Roscoe, features $3 to $14 brunch items on Saturday and Sunday, with a $3 Build-Your- Own Mimosa Bar and $6 Build-Your- Own Bloody Mary Bar.
  4. FLAGSHIP, 1622 W. Belmont, introduces al fresco dining this Memorial Day. Choose from succulent brunch items 11 am to 3 pm on Saturday and Monday only.
  5. KANELA BREAKFAST CLUB, 5 north side locations, intros al fresco dining and a new bar menu this Memorial Day weekend. Check out special drink concoctions like Rosemary’s Bubbly (gin, fresh squeezed grapefruit, lemon and orange juices, rosemary syrup, a splash of prosecco, served on the rocks; $9).
  6. KIZUKI RAMEN & IZAKAYA, 1482 N. Milwaukee, Monday only for lunch or dinner, $4.50 (half-off regularly $9) Shochu Sake flights. Surprise yourself with this rich combination.
  7. MAK: MODERN ASIAN KITCHEN, 1924 W. Division, opens its small-but-charming patio for Memorial Day, serving the dynamic flavors of traditional Chinese cuisine with a healthy and modern twist.
  8. STRETCH BAR & GRILL, 3485 N. Clark St., offers 25-percent off and a free Stretch koozie to all Veterans with proof of Military ID. Check out their Cubs game day beer, shot and food specials.
  9. TAVERN ON LITTLE FORT, 4128 N. Lincoln Ave., has Saturday and Sunday deals on brunch items along with a $3 Build-Your- Own Mimosa Bar and $5 Build-Your- Own Bloody Mary Bar.

4 Chicago summer fun ideas

Feel the beat and eat food from Tennessee!
Feel the beat and eat food from Tennessee!

After-work music party in the park! May 23, 24 and 25:  Hot country music and food from Tennessee – right here in downtown Chicago. The Soundtrack of America: Made in Tennessee concert series will be streamed live here onto a two-sided video wall in Congress Park. Country stars Citizen Cope, Jason Isbell and Old Crow Medicine Show and Ashley Monroe will be performing at iconic attractions in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville. The video screens have 360-degree panoramic camera angles and interactive capabilities between artists and audience. It’s the first long-distance concert of its kind, and local vendors will have the finest foods from Tennessee on offer throughout. The party starts at 5:30 pm Monday, 5 pm Tuesday, 5:30 pm Wednesday. Congress Park is located at the south end of E. Congress Parkway at about 530  S. Michigan Ave.

May 27 to 29: The World Gelato Tour comes to town. Chicago favorites Black Dog Gelato and Vero Coffee & Gelato are two of 16 contestants that will be participating in the World Tour. In this free cultural public event, 16 gelato artisan teams from North and South America will tell their stories and present their unique flavors to the public and to a jury of experts and journalists, whose votes will be combined to award the best gelato flavor in the Americas. The top three flavors and artisans will represent the Eastern Americas at the Grand Finale of Gelato World Tour to be held in Rimini, Italy in 2017. Join the gelato party in Millennium Park noon to 8 pm each day. Tickets here.
Memorial Day weekend: ROOF on the Wit Hotel will be regularly transforming its rooftop space into vacation dreamlands from four different countries this summer. This Memorial Day weekend feast your eyes on decorative vibrant colors and lush greenery representing Rio de Janeiro, site of the Summer 2016 Olympic Games. Indulge in traditional Brazilian street fare such as feijoada (black beans, chourico, cilantro, bacon, fried farm egg, hot sauce), pastel (smoked shrimp, hearts of palm, marcona almond, orange, pineapple) and coxinhas (jidori chicken, grilled corn, roasted peppers, pimento aioli), that are carefully prepared by the Wit culinary team. Then sip your stress away with a lime-sparked caipirinha made with Leblon cachaça.
Memorial Day weekend carnival DJ lineup:

All summer: The Renaissance Hotel by Marriott, 1 W. Upper Wacker, has opened its new rooftop lounge called Raised. Great views, beautiful warming-fire devices for cool nights, great mixed drinks and wines, and a fun atmosphere make this a great place to enjoy a summer afternoon or evening. Enter the Renaissance’s trendy cocktail lounge on the main floor and then take the elevator up to the third floor. The space has both inside and outside areas large enough to accommodate big parties, but with plenty of smaller spaces designed to make you feel cozy. And the views during “l’heure bleu” (just after sunset when clear skies turn deep blue) are fabulous. Check it out online here.

British sparkling beats out champagne and Queen turns 90

In honor of Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, the British consul invited Chicagoans to sample top-quality British cheeses, sandwich combinations, wines and spirits. That may seem like a contradiction in terms to some here in the U.S. who have traditionally not considered England a model of good cuisine or a source of good wine. But the British have always been known for their broad range of beers and ales (served room temperature), and the U.K. is also proud to be the source of 70% of the world’s brands of gin.
Hattingley Valley sparkling - courtesy of Christina Slaton
Hattingley Valley sparkling – courtesy of Christina Slaton

And lately England is coming out on top in another surprising arena: sparkling wines. Cuvees from England have taken the top prize in the last two International Wine & Spirits Competitions, according to an online article on Grape Collective. Some experts say that England has the same soils as the Champagne region of France and now, as global warming heats things up, it’s getting similar temperature conditions, too – or at least three out of four years, according to one attendee sipping Hattingley Valley English sparkling wine. A perfect setup for making prize sparkling wines. A British brand Fieldstone sparkling wine won a recent blind tasting against competitors from Champagne. Someone at the event said, “I guess global warming is good for something.”

British Scotch eggs, sandwiches and cheeses - courtesy of Christina Slaton
British Scotch eggs, sandwiches and cheeses

The cheeses were savory and the finger sandwiches appealing, making a nice showing for our fellow-English-speaking allies. Cheeses included Amber Valley Sage Derby (a surprising pale-green-laced yellow cheese with a soft texture like Havarti), Amber Valley Blue Stilton (beyond comparing with the average blue cheese you get here in America), English Vintage Reserve Cheddar (the British do a great job with cheddar), Wigmore Soft Brie, and Dunlop Mild (semi-soft and pleasing). Next to them were plates of a well-known British snack known as the Scotch egg – breaded and deep-fried hard-boiled eggs – served sliced in quarters and topped with a dab of grainy mustard. Familiar pub fare.

The event also showcased several brands of gin made in the U.K. Gins, including Beefeater, Hayman’s, Sipsmith and Plymouth, offered creative cocktails using various combinations with Madeira, bitters and more. Guests were drinking everything from dusty dry to barely-sweet pink cocktails, and everyone lifted their glasses as the Consul General Robert Chatterton Dickson proposed a happy birthday toast to the Queen. The magnificent view from the consulate’s 61st floor home made an impressive background for Chicagoans joining in to celebrate good things British.

Pick produce to music at Chicago 2016 farmers’ market kickoff

English: Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) with vari...
English: Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) with variously colored stems on sale at an outdoor farmers’ market in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you love shopping at farmers’ markets? I remember my first visit years ago – my imagination was so fired up that I was expecting home-grown tomatoes even though it was June! If you haven’t tried it yet, this is the year to start treating yourself. You can even celebrate the opening of the season by attending a “garden” party complete with music at Daly Plaza next Thursday, May 12 from 11:30 to 3 pm.

You’re probably not going to save money shopping at a farmers’ market, but you’ll get to choose from fresh-from-the-earth, often organically grown produce and know that you’re supporting local growers. Well, as local as possible. This is Chicago, after all. You’ll find farmers from downstate Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin and a few closer. At least you’ll know they don’t have to pick their produce unripe so it will travel well in a truck for thousands of miles

Spring brings options like green onions, young greens like Swiss chard, arugula and spinach, garlic scapes (check out this spinach/garlic scape soup recipe) and more.  A great time to top up your vitamin K levels… Here’s a full list of by-the-day-of-the-week farmers’ markets in Chicago 2016.