By the time you read this, it will be nearly official: The kids will be jingle belling and everyone will be telling you be of good cheer! It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year!
The holidays in Decatur kick off early with a host of fabulously festive events you won’t want to miss. Lest you overlook, let us review:
Lighted Nighttime Christmas Parade
For more than 60 years, the Decatur Jaycees have presented the community with a festive moving celebration of the holidays, and this year’s iteration, “All I Want for Christmas,” is poised to light up the night downtown on November 23.
As many as 60 entries entertain young and old, and typically at least half of them are floats, says Jaycees Administrative Vice President and Parade Chairman Tanya Haubner. “It’s the sixth year of the lighted parade, and we’re so happy to still do this for the community.”
When this year’s parade steps off shortly after the 5:30 pm trophies and awards, expect a host of floats set to lights and music with coordinated walkers, the Toys for Tots wagon accepting toy donations and new this year, the Sheriff’s office with a fleet of antique police cars. Kids should have their letters for Santa at the ready, too, as local letter carriers will be walking the route, ready to post them back to Santa at the North Pole.
The parade route runs north up 51 (Franklin Street), west across North Street and back south on 51 (Main Street). Find your favorite spot to watch, or consider volunteering—they’re always looking for people to help with lineup and walkers to hand out candy!
Heritage & Holly Tour
Decatur’s Captains of Industry will come roaring back to life as historical gems from the 1800s and 1900s open their doors for the 2013 Heritage & Holly Tour, November 29 and 30 (with a candlelight tour available on the first night). Sponsored by NWRAPS (Near West Restoration and Preservation Society), this year’s version features homes owned by major industrial leaders as well as displays of manufacturing memorabilia and more.
Starting at Central Christian Church, tour-goers will be treated to live music and sweet treats along the way, with the option of traveling by the convenient hop-on-hop-off trolley service or making their own way. “It’s always fun to ride the trolley—it adds to the atmosphere,” says NWRAPS President Donna Williams.
Some of the 10 stops include the Mueller Museum, Decatur manufacturing museum the Culver House, the Millikin Homestead and a Civil War-era home on Edward Street. “We’ll have special music at different stops and a few other surprises,” says Donna.
On William Street, the Gebhart House, formerly owned by the venerable downtown Decatur department store proprietor, will highlight a special trend of the time, “The Captain’s Wife Goes Shopping.” With a department store windows theme, it will hearken to the excitement of the old Marshall Fields-style windows the industry wives would see while Christmas shopping.
Also not to miss on the roster: #4 Millikin Place, which was designed and built for the Muellers by Marion Mahony, the first woman registered as an architect in the state of Illinois.
Hours are 4-8 pm on November 29 and 12-6 pm on November 30.
Downtown Christmas Walk
This year’s downtown holiday shopping extravaganza, set for Wednesday, December 4, is facilitated by the newly formed dTown CoOp, a group of downtown merchants who came together to maintain traditions and move downtown retail forward.
“The Christmas Walk is one of the most time-honored Decatur traditions,” says CoOp member Stephanie Irby of Events Plus. “It’s one of the many times a year you’re proud to be from Decatur.”
Shoppers this year can expect the usual festive mix of offerings, from carolers and carriage rides to treats, warm drinks and festive decorations and music. Hours for the 2013 Walk are 4:30 to 8 pm, and a list of participating merchants will be available in November.
Decatur Jaycees Lighted Christmas Parade: Saturday, November 23, 5:30 pm
More details: firstname.lastname@example.org, 413-0990
Heritage & Holly Tour: Friday, November 29, 4-8 pm (candlelight tour available)/Saturday, November 30, 12-6 pm
More details: www.nwraps.org, 412-7170
Downtown Christmas Walk: Wednesday, December 4, 4:30-8 pm
More details: email@example.com, 521-6884
Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor that the cookie is making a comeback. According to local bakery experts, cookies are the new cupcake, and there’s no better way to give in to the latest dessert trend than topping off your favorite meal with a fresh-baked treat. It would seem that cookies aren’t just for kids anymore. Those small, sometimes round and flat baked goodies can’t be resisted, so we started asking around about pairing cookies with food and wine, and what we learned will make your mouth water. As autumn fades to winter and we glide into the holiday baking season, here are our top suggestions for perfect cookie pairings:
Embrace the last few weeks of grilling season with a juicy steak dinner and a complementing glass of full-bodied cabernet. Our bakery experts say you can’t go wrong with a dark chocolate sugar cookie covered in chocolate ganache icing to end your meal. The bitterness of the chocolate mingles on the taste buds with the oaky fruit flavor of a good cabernet.
Sugar & Spice
Spices and seasoning from a chicken dish, which is often paired with a light and fruity white wine, find a perfect harmony with the ever-popular snicker-doodle. That blend of sugar sweet with spicy cinnamon still has a way of taking me back to my childhood at first bite. Throw in a sweet wine with hints of caramels and nuts, and you’ve created heaven on earth.
If all of this is sounding a little too much for your more uncomplicated palate, you can’t go wrong with the all-American meatloaf and an earthy red wine that will marry well with the meat and tomato sauce. For your cookie selection, you should keep it simple, and it doesn’t get more simple than the classic chocolate chip cookie! We promise nothing will go better with Grandma’s time-honored meatloaf recipe than your famous chocolate chip cookies. All that melty goodness will leave you and your dinner guests in a food-induced coma.
Not a big fan of wine? Don’t worry, beer lovers! We found a cookie pairing for your favorite glass of hops and barley. A current cookie trend includes adding salty and crunchy texture to usually soft and chewy cookies. This is a great option for those cookie lovers that can’t decide if they are craving something salty or something sweet. That’s right, folks! Pretzels and nuts are finding their way into mixing bowls, and what goes better with pretzels and nuts than a frosty beer? Nothing that we can think of!
Party planners, listen up! We’re told cut-out shortbread cookies make the perfect party pleaser! Find any shape cookie cutter to match your holiday party theme. Leaves and acorns, gingerbread men and angels can be decorated with colored sugars to complement your color scheme. Cookie cutter expert Aaron Hiser with Aaron’s Cookie Cutters & More suggests metal cookie cutters for your next cookie cutting experience, “especially when baking cookies for friends and family with food allergies. Metal cookie cutters do not retain gluten or peanut oil, unlike their plastic cookie cutter counterparts.”
You’ve got a few ideas to toss around the kitchen—now how do you find local resources for all your baking needs? For those new to baking and the art of cookie decorating, visit Cake Lady Supply. We found the staff there to be most helpful in answering all our cookie-related questions. They would be a great resource for your holiday DIY baking projects. If you still need some additional instruction or are perhaps looking for someone to come into your home to help host a cookie decorating party, try Tracy Gabriel at Crave It!. She’s looking for fun people with whom she can share her love of baking.
If you’re anything like us, the thought of all this holiday baking has your head spinning, and you’re thinking you really just want to sit down with a bottle of wine while someone else does all the work. We have suggestions for that, too! Decatur is the home of a few local bakeries including Mowry Baking Company and Wildflour Artisan Bakery & Café, all happy to provide sweet treats for your next gathering.
However your cookie crumbles, there’s great taste awaiting you just inside the next mixing bowl!
Local Baking Resources:
Aaron’s Cookie Cutters & More: firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-2872
Crave It!: Tracy Gabriel - 454-1375
Mowry Baking Company: 231 N. Main Street, Decatur - 521-8393
Wildflour Artisan Bakery & Cafe: 256 W. Main Street, Decatur - 422-3300
Cake Lady Supply: 328 W. Eldorado Street, Decatur - 429-2253
Think the only workshop working overtime this time of year is up north? Think again! It’s out east, back in Richard Lieth’s Mt. Zion garage. The former farm boy and retired Caterpillar employee stays close to his roots with a hobby that results in great gifts for all: pedal tractor restoration.
Many of us recall the glory days of rolling down the sidewalk, legs pumping, hair flying as we guided our metal steed to adventures of all walks (or as far as the next driveway in mom terms). Richard helps bring those memories back to life.
It’s a hobby he picked up a couple decades ago and one that’s resulted not only in personal satisfaction but an impressive collection as well. “I tore down a barn that had a pedal tractor in it and decided to fix it up. It kind of took off from there and now I probably have between 90 and 100 of them,” he says.
His skills and collection span all brands, from John Deere, International and Case to Allis-Chalmers, Oliver, Ford and Minneapolis-Moline. He’s even gotten into accessories here and there. “I have a few implements I’ve customized, and I built a wheat drill one winter, just to see if I could,” he laughs. “I built eight of them and then sold them.” Last year he built a John Deere pull-type plow by measuring the full-size version and scaling it down. He calls them “pretty accurate” at 98-99% of the original.
Time takes on little meaning here—Richard estimates he put 120 hours or so into the plow. To restore a whole pedal tractor? He puts that at about a week, not working consecutively of course. He does it for the love and the passion, so whatever he puts into it he’s sure to get out of it. “I just enjoy it. You have to like it and enjoy it to do it.”
Born and raised on a farm south of Effingham, he didn’t particularly learn the skills of restoration, but through farm life, work at Caterpillar and now helping out a contractor friend part time, he’s acquired more than a fair range of abilities. “I’m kind of a jack of all trades, master of none,” he laughs. Selling himself short to be sure, as restoration like this takes not just paint but parts, sandblasting, mechanical work and more. His garage holds a host of tools from a metal brake and a lathe to welders.
From the moment he sees one, he knows what it takes to restore it. That’s why he wants an in-person review before he’ll agree to quote or work on a piece. “When the full-size tractors made a body style change or an engineering change, the pedal tractors did the same thing,” he said. “Later on they changed every three to four years when they had longer production runs.”
Between all the variations and all the wear and tear and love pedal tractors endure, that can mean a lot of work. But for Richard and his customers, it’s all worthwhile: “Most people restore because they’re restoring memories from their childhood.”