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updated: 3/13/2012 1:12 PM

Green thumbs and beer on tap for weekend fun

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  • Peppermint Paddy Martini

    Peppermint Paddy Martini
    Courtesy of McCormick

  • Dina Cimarusti of Alliance Bakery won CARBA's 2011 cake competition with this fanciful creation.

    Dina Cimarusti of Alliance Bakery won CARBA's 2011 cake competition with this fanciful creation.
    Courtesy of CARBA


  • Luck of the Irish Cake Pops

    Luck of the Irish Cake Pops
    Courtesy of McCormick

  • Bill Zars/ ¬ Deb Pankey new column mug for food front. ¬

    Bill Zars/ ¬ Deb Pankey new column mug for food front. ¬


If you're eager to get your backyard garden started, learn more about local agriculture or want to watch top chefs cook with seasonal vegetables and decorate unique cakes, you may need to skip the St. Patrick's Day parade.

Between's Good Food Festival and the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with the land and that which grows from it.

The Good Food Festival and Conference starts Thursday at the UIC Forum in Chicago with seminars designed to enlighten attendees on such topics as agriculture policies and regionally sourced school lunches.

Not that those aren't important, but the real fun happens Saturday, March 17, when you can attend sessions on sausage making, sustainable gardening, cheese making and bee keeping as well as wander the expo meeting some 150 farmers and artisanal food producers and sampling their products.

There's a kids activity area and a stage where chefs, including Bruce Sherman of North Pond Restaurant and Heather Terhune of Sable Kitchen & Bar, will demonstrate recipes using local and artisan ingredients.

Tickets to the expo and access to the food court, chef demos and kids activities cost $15 in advance at or $20 on site; kids 12 and younger get in free. Some of the seminars and workshops cost an additional $30 to $60.

If you'd rather eat cake than learn how to grow the wheat and mill the flour to make it, you might find more to like at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show.

Besides the daily Garden Gourmet chef demonstrations that have become a popular part of the show (which runs through Sunday on Navy Pier), suburban and Chicago bakers will compete for bragging rights at the annual Chicago Area Retail Bakers Association Cake Decorating Competition.

The bakers have between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday to decorate a fondant cake, wedding cake and sculpted cake that fits with the flower show theme, "Hort Couture." The winner will represent the area at the All Things Baking show in Houston in September.

Tickets to the Chicago Flower & Garden Show are available at the Navy Pier Box Office and online at Weekday admission is $15 when purchased online; $17 at the box office. Weekend admission is $17 when tickets are purchased online; $19 at the box office. Tickets for children ages 4 through 12 are $5. Discounted parking at Navy Pier, group rates and tours also are offered.

Going green: Beer isn't the only thing you may be tempted to tint green this weekend ... though if you do want to turn your pale ale a verdant hue McCormick recommends five to six drops of green food coloring for every 12 ounces.

Anyway, the little leprechauns in your family might enjoy a fizzy green soda which can be achieved by squeezing six drops of green food coloring into an 8-ounce glass of lemon-lime soda. If you want to give blue cheese or ranch dressing a holiday makeover, the folks at McCormick say you'll need 10 to 12 drops per ½ cup of dip.

If you're not into beer or eating artificially colored foods, toast the man who saved the Emerald Isle with a Peppermint Paddy Martini.

Fill a cocktail shaker one-third full with ice then add 8 ounces Irish cream liqueur, 2 ounces crème de cacao liqueur, 2 ounces vanilla vodka, 2 ounces heavy cream and ¼ teaspoon pure peppermint extract. Shake and strain into a glass that's been dipped in sugar.

If you want, garnish it with a dollop of Peppermint Whipped Cream, that you make by whipping 1 cup heavy cream and ¼ cup confectioners' sugar with ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Makes enough for several cocktails.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.

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