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FESTIVE TREATS AND TRAPPINGS: CREATING UNFORGETTABLE, STYLISH HOLIDAYS AT THE RANDOLPH STREET HOLIDAY MARKET   12/01/2012
Randolph Street Market ~ Chicago Antique Market ~ Indie Designer Market ~ Modern Vintage Chicago ~ Fashion, Jewelry, Flea Market, Antique Shows
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Randolph Street Market ~ Chicago Antique Market ~ Indie Designer Market ~ Modern Vintage Chicago ~ Fashion, Jewelry, Flea Market, Antique Shows

This past weekend the holidays started off with a stylish bang as more than 90 vintage vendors filled Plumber Hall for the annual Randolph Street Holiday Market. While the stalls were packed with their consistently exciting inventory of glittering jewelry and chic apparel, this month we were on the hunt for something to make our holiday parties pop. In addition to a variety of vintage barware, silver place settings, and antique holiday decorations, we found ourselves drawn to the many local food vendors selling artisanal treats and the furniture dealers showing off perfect statement pieces that would be the talk of any holiday party. Here are some of our favorite finds:

TREATS:

This month the market featured nearly 15 artisan food vendors selling a variety of snacks from homemade sweets to flavored pasta. All of these foods would be a great way to add unique, local flavor to party snacks or give as hostess gifts and stocking stuffers.



Our first tasty stop was to talk to Kate Nolan of Chocolate Twist out of Riverside, IL. Kate explain that Chocolate Twist is a small batch, house made confectionary specializing in caramels, chocolates, homemade hot cocoa mix, and other sweet treats. Without a storefront to call home, Kate pedals her wears at markets and stores throughout the city, and was a newcomer to Randolph Street market. As Kate told us, “I’ve always wanted to do Randolph Street…and it has been outstanding for us. The customers here are great, interesting, they want to try new flavors. They’re not scared of food, which is really refreshing…and it’s nice because there is a nice balance of customers.” As we talked, plenty of customers where trying samples of her caramels, including popular holiday flavors such as pumpkin spice and gingerbread stout, and one such customer bought multiple bags with plans to send them to friends and family for the holidays.



Next up we decide to jump to the other side of the flavor spectrum and try some spicy samples at Bigfat’s Hot Sauce. We spoke to Jeremy Walsh who explained that Bigfat’s is all about fresh flavors and unique tastes for hot sauce. “We don’t rely on vinegar and salt like a lot of other hot sauces do. We rely on fresh ingredients and make them taste as good as possible before we put the heat in, but we do like our heat.” While the idea for the product began in Chicago back in the 90’s, Bigfat’s really got going three and a half years ago in Hawaii. However, the owners soon decided to move the growing operation back to the mainland where it all started, and now operates locally out of Niles. They offer a range of flavors and heat levels, but surprisingly their biggest seller is their hottest sauce – the 808 ghost pepper sauce. Jeremy explained that it’s often bought as a gift: “Seems like everybody knows somebody who likes something really, really hot.”



For something even more unusual we stopped by Pasta Pappone to talk to Jon Mulholland about his artisanal flavored pastas. He had more than ten flavors on display, and explained that the pastas are classic noodles made in a traditional way, but infused with flavors from vegetables, spices, and even wine and chocolate. To ensure great taste, they use all natural ingredients from the Midwest and no preservatives – just like Grandma used to do it. Jon’s booth was quite popular, as customers picked their favorite pasta flavor – pumpkin spice was a big seller – to add a new twist to meals or give as unique gifts to friends and family. A recent addition to the Randolph Street Market, Jon told us, “As a food vendor I do a lot of farmers markets, so I was a little apprehensive about doing something that is not focused on food, but as I’ve done more of them I’ve realized it’s even better for us because [the pasta] is a different alternative for people.”



We found another rare treat when we stopped to talk with Elizabeth Prewitt of Good Hope Rusks. The self-proclaimed head rusketeer, Elizabeth described a rusk as a crunchy baked biscuit that is kind of like a biscotti, but not as sweet, and is great for dipping in coffee or tea. She discovered this traditional South Africa breakfast and snack food while completing a personal bread-making project for which she baked a different bread recipe six days a week for an entire year. As she explained, “I discovered rusks then and just kind of fell in love with them. Fast forward a few years and I realized there is nothing quite like them on the market and decide to have a go at it.”



Elizabeth bakes all the rusks herself in her Chicago kitchen, with a recipe that uses 100% whole grain flour and is low in sugar. She adds her own twist by creating interesting flavors, such as Anise and Cacao Nib, Coffee and Cardamom, and Triple Sesame, as well as two new holiday flavors, Gingerbread Man and Pumpkin and Pecan. These are another example of a great holiday gift or party snack. As Elizabeth told us, “They make really excellent gifts because they are lightweight if you are traveling, they aren’t going to weigh your bag down, and they’re not going to pull your stocking off the mantel if you want to put them in there, and they last for basically ever…If you leave them in the pantry for 6 months they still taste fresh as a daisy.”



To finish out our snack-a-thon we also stopped by market veteran Mo Treats to taste their signature delight dessert pie minis and we also happily waited in a long line to sample sizzling hot mushroom empanadas from the market’s busiest food vendor, Empanadus.

Trappings:

Once we checked food off our list, it was time to look for the décor and furniture pieces that would make our holiday party memorable.



Our first stop was at Lehman Antiques to talk to Lorena Lehman about her repurposed industrial furniture. There were plenty of intriguing pieces to discuss, but Lorena mentioned a worktable they had just sold, and confirmed our holiday décor hypothesis. “We had a really great worktable with drawers that we sold, and they were buying it to use for a buffet for a holiday party.” Another popular item was industrial seating, such as stools and extra chairs that would be perfect for accommodating guests. We asked why these chairs were so popular around the holiday season, and Lorena gave us a simple and compelling answer: “People need it and it goes with the look of their home.”



As we continued our search, our inner child was thrilled when we came upon a giant wooden rocking horse at Mainstreet Mercantile. Run by father and son team Pete and Sam PeGan, Mainstreet features an eclectic collection of repurposed furniture, lighting, and one-of-a-kind décor pieces. Many of the items were industrial style and incorporated recycled items such as manhole covers, factory carts, and vintage cameras. Pete showed us one piece he was particularly proud of, an old cabinet from a lab that his son Sam had stripped down to the raw metal, added wood, and turned into, as Pete put it, “a real cool bar.” As classic tunes drifted out of the attached vintage sound system, we couldn’t help but imagine mixing holiday cocktails for friends while receiving compliments on our hip and inventive bar. Not surprisingly, Pete told us that many of his customers are city people. As he explained, “People have smaller apartments and a lot more modern type condos in the city, so this industrial stuff is the look, it’s what’s really popular.”

After having fun exploring the industrial furniture, we were in the mood to check out some classic holiday décor at Golden Key Antiques. We couldn’t help being swept up in owner Mark McKee’s enthusiasm for his nostalgic inventory, such as his picture perfect selection of vintage sleds and toboggans. As we scoured the shelves of holiday dishware, silver, festive chalkboards, and red and green furniture, Mark explained why he prefers vintage decorations to new items. “I think vintage decorations have a little bit better look, they have a different look and feel to them…and of what’s out there new, there’s some interesting stuff, but a lot of time there’s not that big of a selection. So you can find some of the older stuff that is just different than what everybody else has.”



As we made our way out of the market with visions of sugarplums and holiday barware dancing in our heads, we made once last stop at Neon Motors. A maverick in many ways, Neon Motors was the only vendor to have set-up shop outdoors in the parking lot, which was surprisingly possible on the unseasonably warm November day. We got a chance to speak with Jesse, who offered us his thoughts on what he described as a blend of industrial, mid-modern, and space age furniture. “I think the attraction of the industrial stuff is it’s not just capturing America’s height and America’s height in the world, it’s also that this stuff will last forever. It’s strong; it’s sort of a response to the times.”



We were particularly taken with his enthusiasm for utilitarian pieces, such as library cabinets, used as decorative statement pieces in ways that make them more like art installations than functional furniture. With the current trend toward recycling and upcycling, this type of decorative repurposing is the perfect way to keep a home current in both the world of style and the world of eco-friendly living.



So with that our day at the market was over, and we left full of ideas for great gifts, memorable party dishes, and a wish-list of décor items that would surely make any holiday party one to remember.
 
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