SHOW TIME!

The Windy City. The Cubs. The Magnificent Mile. Pizza and hot dogs. The Blues Brothers…

…the Housewares Show!

The International Housewares Show, held in Chicago every March, gathers tens of thousands of kitchenware-focused store owners, product manufacturers, catalogue marketers, and online retailers from all over the world for three hectic days in one spot: McCormick Place, certainly the largest building complex I’ve ever been in.

My fellow test baker Susan Reid, who once lived in Chicago, said that she always found it discouraging to pass the place on her daily jog. “You’d jog, and jog, and jog, and 15 minutes later, you’d STILL be jogging past the darned McCormick!”

Yes, it’s that big. According to the literature, McCormick Place covers more than 100 acres. And I feel like I walked every one of them.

So what did I see at the show?

Lightweight, colorful, unbreakable mixing bowls – tiny to huge – made from 100% recycled materials… An ergonomic lemon juicer that feels REALLY good in your hand…

Step #1: Drive 80 miles from my home to the airport at 5 a.m. Saturday. Fly 2 1/2 hours to Chicago. Step off the plane, and what’s the first thing I see?

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Didn’t I just leave Vermont? Ben & Jerry’s, you’re ubiquitous. AND delicious.

Linked non-stick English muffin rings… A surprising book: Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, by P.L. Travers (Did you know this was part of the original series? I didn’t)…

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Find the train from Midway Airport to Chicago. Sure, I could have spent $22 and taken the hotel shuttle right to my destination. Or with a little extra effort (exercise is good!) I could spend $2.25 to take the commuter train.

When you own your own business – as all of us employee-owners do, here at King Arthur – that’s a no-brainer.

A hand-held, adjustable, non-scary mandoline… A flexible spatula perfectly sized to pick up and move one hot, delicate cookie at a time…

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WHOA! There’s no place in Vermont that looks like this.

Acrylic (no scraped knuckles) four-sided box grater that folds absolutely flat – and I mean FLAT – for drawer storage… French ficelle pan – to bake four “demi-baguettes…”

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Thankfully, there’s no place in Vermont with gas prices like this, either… I feel your pain, Chicago.

A microwave-safe acrylic liquid measuring cup with an absolutely non-drip spout and ingenious handle that hooks securely over your fingers, so you can’t possibly drop it… A bread machine that bakes four baguettes IN the machine. Well, they’re not really baguettes; more like long rolls. But still…

As I boarded the train, I noticed some older women with shamrocks painted on their faces. “Cute,” I thought. “They must be going to a party.”

When I got off the train and emerged in downtown Chicago, I was met with green everywhere. People wearing green. People painted green. Green cars and buses. Green balloons. Politicians all in green.

Sure and begorrah, it was Chicago’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, and I’d unknowingly walked right into the middle of the festivities!

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And that’s not all I walked into. Try 40°F; SCREAMING 50mph winds, and rain. These kids waiting for the parade were game, but I noticed they’d all retreated to their warm cars when I looped back around after taking a few pictures.

For you fancy decorators: a pair of tweezers with bowl-shaped ends specially designed to pick up tiny little sugar pearls and other sugar decos… “Towels to aprons” – turn any towel into an apron (then back to a towel), instantly…

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You can’t see it in this picture, but I’m betting that lots of the Shannon Rovers Pipe Band’s knees were knocking as they “warmed” up for the parade.

A wacky-but-wonderful cake slicer/server… A  French glass tabletop butter churner… Mini spatulas, all shapes…

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Did I mention it was windy?

A 7 1/2-quart dough rising container that’s flat, not tall – perfect for storing no-knead dough in the fridge… A fresh herb mill – just twist to finely (and beautifully) chop parsley, cilantro, basil, or any other favorite…

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After the parade, I wandered over to my favorite Chicago building: the historic Tribune building, now the WGN radio building. This fascinating structure has bits of history from all over the world embedded in its foundation.

I took my usual leisurely stroll around it, touching part of a temple from Peking’s Forbidden City… looking up at a stone from London’s House of Parliament… Fort Sumter… Notre Dame… Lincoln’s tomb… the Arc de Triomphe… a Cambodian temple… Norway’s Trondheim Cathedral… Roman ruins… and a heartbreaking new addition: the World Trade Center.

If you ever visit Chicago, don’t miss the Tribune Building. It’s striking.

Flexible silicone liquid measuring cups with ALL the markings (1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, etc.); squeeze to direct liquid exactly where you want it… Biodegradable plastic storage – when you’re done with it, you don’t need to feel guilty that it’ll live in the landfill forever…

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Walking back to the hotel, I saw this storefront across six lanes of traffic. Well, how could I resist? After gingerly hop-skip-jumping my across the street(s), I discovered not steamed buns filled with sweet bean paste, but a display of traditional decorated wedding cakes – which you can just make out in the left-hand window.

Sigh… That’s OK. I’ll find a Corner Bakery (and maybe even a corner bakery) later.

You know our Wisconsin bowls? If you love what they’re made of, you’ll love the tools, pizza peels, and prep boards we’ve found made out of that same wood-based, sustainably produced, dishwasher-safe, non-staining material… A peach pitter/wedger – really!

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Next up: pizza! Wht’s a visit to Chicago without pizza? Many of you may remember I was quizzing you on your favorite Chicago pizza spots awhile ago. Lou Malnati’s was one of several places that kept coming up. And, since there was a Lou’s just 2 blocks from my hotel, that was the one I chose to try.

Garlic tools galore… Classic French glass oven-safe ramekins, for individual desserts… Springform pans, numerous sizes… An adjustable silicone pie shield…

I ordered a 6” deep-dish “Lou.” Here’s how the menu describes it:

“World Famous Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza: The ‘Lou’ – A pizza so good we gave it his name! Fresh spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese. No substitutions please.”

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I couldn’t even wait to get back to the hotel before opening the box to see how it looked. Oh, yes…

Back in my room, I’d planned on eating half right away, and saving the rest for dinner. But I ended up eating the whole thing at once.

And the verdict? Pretty good. Not-knock-my-socks off good; I really believe the version I made in a recent blog is better. But definitely tasty, and light – the freshness of the vegetables is apparent.

A tool that looks like a palm-sized salad spinner – add an onion or other hard veggies, yank the cord a couple of times, and voilà! Perfectly chopped veggies, in like 5 seconds… Dual-container oil & vinegar spritzer…

Whew, long day. Off to bed.

Next morning – show time! I hop on the shuttle bus to McCormick Place, unsure of the hour. Let’s see, my iPhone says 7:45 a.m., but is that in Vermont, or Chicago? Is it standard time, or Daylight Savings (since Daylight Savings happened in the middle of the night)?

I ask the bus driver what time it is. He looks at his wristwatch: 7:45 a.m.

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It’s still a bit shadowy outside, and the Sunday morning streets are deserted.

An easy, inexpensive tool for sharpening your own scissors… A double mini-burger press for making sliders… AWESOME new cupcake papers…

However, it isn’t long before I see more people in one place than I’ve seen since my last Red Sox game.

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Let the race begin! Doors open at 8:30 a.m., but the crowd gathers well in advance. Bus after bus pulls up to the garage and disgorges its load of showgoers, who head towards the entrance in an unending stream.

A hearth bread pan (for boule-shaped loaves) and crown muffin pan – made in the U.S.A. by our favorite pan supplier… Tangy-sweet garlic hot pepper jam… New, stiff cardboard-like bake-and-give pans, made from recycled materials…

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Waiting for the fun to begin, I perused some of the signage show officials had put up on various walls. Congratulations, Betty – you’re older than my mom! But sorry, King Arthur Flour (est. 1790) beat you to the punch by a century or so.

Microwave baking pans. Yes, microwave baking; trust me, it’s coming… An extra-long, extra-sturdy (read: STOP bending those kitchen spoons!) ice cream spade… GADGETS GALORE…

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At 8:30 the escalators open, and up they come…

A glove with gripping palm for opening stubborn jars… Stoneware monkey bread pan, in its classic tall/slim configuration… Tired of plastic? Classic, nostalgic-look square glass storage containers with snap-on lids.

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…down the Grand Concourse, and – at last! – into any of the three huge show areas.

Alas! This is where my photo essay must end. I’m an obedient person; I follow the rules:

“Attendee Code of Conduct: Attendees are not allowed to bring any photography equipment on the exhibit floor or to take photos of any booth or product… Confiscation of memory cards… expulsion from the show…”

Sigh.

All kinds of interesting cake pans… A cool slicer for slicing big, flat loaves (like ciabatta) lengthwise, to make pan bagna… Sustainably produced (fill in the blank)…

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Well, I’m not THAT obedient. I tried, I really did. But then, I found myself at the RSVP booth. They’re one of our long-time vendors. I confessed I WISHED I could take some pictures. And I was, shall we say, given permission to do so. Which I did, most surreptitiously. Mea culpa.

This is typical of what I spent 2 days (and our product development team, a full 3 days) carefully looking at, talking about, and ruminating over. Anything and everything to do with food and kitchens. If you’re a foodie, like we are, it’s sheer heaven.

Fun and fancy gift bags for your holiday baking… Speaking of the holidays: Christmas chocolate molds…

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I hadn’t been to the Housewares Show in a few years. And I discovered they’ve gone high-tech.

Punctuation-wise, this area is ready to welcome one blogger. Size-wise, there was probably room for six. Nice touch!

A portable, self-contained oven for camping or RV-ing… A lightweight, attractive serving tray large enough to hold your biggest batch of cookies… Mini tools of all types…

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And, the big Twitter board in the lobby displayed showgoers’ tweets, in real time.

C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) is a 20-year-old non-profit dedicated to offering inner city high-schoolers a culinary education, via a competitive process; King Arthur helped support the cause this year.

I spoke with Ebony, who’s qualified for next month’s finals. She wants to be a baker.

YES! Good luck, Ebony, from your fellow bakers at King Arthur Flour.

An electric cupcake baker: bake 8 cupcakes or muffins without heating your oven… An ice cream sandwich iron, for making the cookie part of traditional ice cream sandwiches…

And why oh why is there NO picture of my fellow foodies – Deb, Emily, and Liz, three members of the King Arthur Flour product  development team?

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The show was just so darned big we couldn’t find one another – despite our best technical efforts!

A stay-warm thermal dough rising mat… Grain mills, both electric and hand-turned…

Did I mention GADGETS GALORE?!

So that’s it, folks… I hope you enjoyed accompanying me (virtually) to the International Housewares Show. Our product development team will be extra-busy these next few weeks, trying to choose exactly what will go in our catalogues next fall.

There’s no telling which of the items I saw will land on our final list: there are tons of variables that can sideline even the most promising prospect, from pricing to availability to lead times to minimums to… well, if you’ve been in retail, you know what I’m saying.

But in the end, we’ll come up with the widest variety of top-quality products, at the most reasonable prices, that we possibly can.

Because we know you expect no less from your best baking resource: King Arthur Flour.

And, a final note: If I’ve mentioned anything that really strikes your fancy, let me know via the comments below. We always love your input.

Note to Kathy D: Sorry, I never found the United Solutions booth or Big Joe!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Peggy

    I’m glad to see that a lot of those commenting are interested in the thermal warming mat and the flat dough rising container like I am. The silicone (or non-metal) grate sounds terrific and my fingers would appreciate not getting trimmed when I grate something. Thanks for the review of the show, it sounded like a great trade show.

    Reply
  2. Jill

    Like many others, I’m also intrigued by the thermal dough rising mat. It sounds like it would be really useful! Chicago is so awesome with or without a big housewares show going on!

    We’re on it, Jill… (and considering it’s 17°F here today, we’re definitely “on” it!) 🙂 PJH

    Reply
  3. Patti S

    PJ, while you were seeing GREEN in Chicago, I was making your savory Irish Cheese Bread for the THIRD TIME upon request from home and work. Fantastic!
    Anyway, I request, on behalf of my fellow Americans, any and all gadgets MADE IN THE USA! I’m trying to boycott foriegn stuff, and it’s really difficult, but when I find it, and I need it, I’ll pay for MITUSA stuff any time. Please, please, please (and this goes for your readers, too!) look for, ask for, buy, and sell American-made products. We could end a recession this way, folks! Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Kathy

    I agree with Karen (8:19 on 3/16) – cheddar cheese on pizza? Please don’t think that’s typical of Chicago; maybe our neighbors to the north in Wisconsin. Actually, I did have the Lou once, and it’s not bad, but I’m a purist: give me a Malnati’s plain cheese* deep dish so I can taste the tomato-yness of the sauce and the freshness & chewiness of the crust. And it should be eaten immediately – the trip back to your hotel room probably didn’t do it justice. Giordano’s, Uno/Due’s, Edwardo’s, Gino’s are very good, but I do hope you’ll give Malnati’s another try!
    (*all the pizzas at LM sre mozzarella except for the Lou)

    Reply

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