Over the past weekend, Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL (the oldest outdoor music festival in the U.S.) hosted its annual Ultimate Picnic Contest. In the lawn seating areas, many attendees don't even need a contest to go all out and bedeck their sections of the grass with chairs, pillows, table coverings, candelabra and gourmet munchies. I would imagine that this spirit inspired Ravinia to start a yearly contest, and each year has drawn a spectacular range of dynamically themed entries.
I decided to get into the fray this year for the first time. I titled my debut "Midway-a-Fare," a food display in the guise of a vintage amusement park, complete with Ferris wheel made from TinkerToys and loaded with snacks; a merry-go-round of adult beverages; a tented "hall of mirrors" to display the cheeses and cupcakes; an old-fashioned popcorn popper; and a subsandwich station replicating the popular throwback carnival ride "The Matterhorn." Originally, Ravinia began in 1904 as an amusement park, created to lure riders to the new Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railroad. My theme selection proved to be quite apropos.
While setting up my installation, there was no end of gawkers and admirers, some even bold enough to make inquiries while I was fervently engaged in setting up by the 6:00 p.m. deadline. When the judges and photographers finally arrived at my location, like most others, they were immediately drawn to the Ferris wheel. One of the judges was Monica Pedersen of HGTV's Designed to Sell. She absolutely loved my nostalgic use of wax paper to wrap the sandwich sections.
There was such an eye-feast of creativity displayed that humid Saturday evening. I received an Honorable Mention for my efforts, along with an autographed copy of Monica Pedersen's current publication Make It Beautiful, and so I popped open a bottle of champagne I had been saving for a festive occasion such as this to share with my extremely helpful cohorts Dana, Capucine and Mike. I could then exhale and take in the night's live musical offerings of Chicago jazz legend, Ramsey Lewis.
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