Tag Archives: princeton

Falling for Flour House Bakery & Coffee

Over Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to travel home (northern Illinois) to visit family and friends for an extended weekend. One friend in particular, Sarah, and I hadn’t seen each other in over a year. It was amazing that not only where we going to be in the same area at the same time, but we both had time in our schedules to hang out and catch up.

Now, one thing I’ve noticed is that when you’re planning to see old friends, the challenge always seems to be, ‘Where do we meet up?’

For us, Flour House Bakery & Coffee was the perfect answer. The year-old addition to Princeton’s downtown art district has attracted a lot of attention from the local community. I had also been there over the summer, and the atmosphere (and need I mention the coffee?) was just right—artsy, vintage, and fresh. My second visit did not disappoint, either.

Exterior of the Flour House Coffee & Bakery

The vibe of the Flour House starts from the exterior facade. The signage almost looks like dough-shaped letters strung together, just in a much more polished way. It sits atop a generously sized black-and-white awning that flaps in the breeze, almost beckoning passersby to come inside. Sarah and I were glad to escape from the late November chill that hung in the air.

Inside, we were greeted by the sight of whitewashed walls—built in bookshelves, actually—lined with an assortment of books, lamps, and other curated items. The place was bustling with people placing and collecting orders, and filled with the din of conversations rising up to the original tin ceiling.

The scent of cinnamon and coffee grounds mingled with that of the baked goods displayed behind the counter. For a small batch bakery, the Flour House offered a variety of options.

Fresh Baked Goods in the Flour House

As appetizing as everything looked (many of the names were also mouthwatering—hello Heath Bar Cheesecake!), I went for the tried and true bagel. These were also freshly baked, with four flavors to choose from. I ordered a plain one, with cinnamon spread on the side.

Bagel and Hot Chocolate from the Flour House

While I also ordered coffee, Sarah tried out some hot chocolate. And, as you can see from the above picture, it was topped with a rich foam. What a decadent treat!

We sat at one of the several small tables available and took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the cozy bakery. It ended up being the perfect way to while away the morning after Thanksgiving. Instead of getting caught in throngs of frazzled deal hunters, we enjoyed the slowed pace of our hometown life.

This place is definitely on my list for a return visit. What is a hidden gem from your area?

Interior of Flour House Bakery & Coffee

Know Before You Go

Hours: Thursday – Monday: 7 am to 4 pm

Address: 950 North Main Street, Princeton, IL 61356

Website: http://www.princetonflourhouse.com/

They also post their daily menu on Facebook.

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Night Lights

Christmastime is upon us.

One thing that means: lights. Lights, lights and more lights.

Christmas Lights In Downtown Princeton photo(48)

Princeton’s downtown is festively decorated this year, with rope lights outlining the humble skyline and adorning dormant trees. I drive through this scene almost nightly when going to and from work. I really wanted to get out and soak up the magic, and luckily for me, I have a friend for late night adventures like this.

Sarah and I explored the downtown area (legally) one night after I got off work, meeting there and walking along the shops with cameras in hand. Every time we meet up turns into a photo adventure in one way or another.

I have to hand it to the small business owners. They went all out in decorating mode with beautifully lit front window displays. The colored lights from trees reflected in our Christmas hungry eyes.

As a young child, my family used to go on “pajama runs” to see displays all over the county. As a young adult, this experience gazing at lit decorations in Princeton’s shopping district made the child in me very happy.

Christmas lights. There’s something about the twinkling, the colors, the big glass bulbs and small delicate strings, the lights that chase each other, the lights shining from living room windows facing the street.

It’s family, it’s magical, it’s Christmas encapsulated.

Shop Small

In the Sauk Valley area, it’s a movement known as Shop Small.

Across the nation, it might be better known as Small Business Saturday, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in a weekend of shopping extravaganzas.

Last week I was working on stories for Sauk Valley Media’s upcoming gift guide.

I was interviewing the owner of a small gift shop in Sterling about jewelry. Between questions, one employee looked intently at my wrist.

“Where’d you get that bracelet?” she asked. “We carry ones just like it. Blue, black.”Bracelet

“It was a few summers ago,” I said. I told her I didn’t really remember.

But I did.

Kohls. The popular department store, which came to Sterling a few years ago, has more than 1,100 U.S. locations. I don’t feel guilt about where I bought the bracelet from, but that lady’s simple question prodded my brain.

“They say a dollar spent in the community turns seven times,” the co-owner of a jewelry store in Dixon told me at another interview.

Small businesses have to stick together these days. The French Market I blogged about in September was a collaboration between several businesses in Princeton’s Art District, and it successfully generated business and buzz about stores many people drive past but seldom enter.

This post is not meant to scold people for not shopping locally, and it’s not meant to condemn shopping at nationwide chains. Rather, my intent is to raise awareness about local businesses. Shopping locally is going to be a part of my personal push to live where I am. Along with exploring local parks, which I’ve done a lot of this fall, I think it’s worth delving into local shops and eateries. I want to get all that I can from this area before I move on. And when I do, I want to carry a local mentality with me.

I’ve rethought my Christmas shopping strategy for this year. I’m going to make my list earlier than usual and see what Princeton, Dixon and Sterling have to offer before I go elsewhere.

I put this thought into action right after the gift shop interview. Bushel Basket Candle Co. adjoins the Sterling Mall and has an array of wonderful-smelling candles. I knew from the moment I walked in that I’d leave with something.

What inspiration will you find this season from shopping small?

French Markets and Painted Pumpkins

Autumn Collage
From top left to bottom right: my haul from the market, “The Scream” replicated on a pumpkin, an attempt at painting a sunrise, a delicious hazelnut truffle.

Even the weather seemed to know about the change of season. Temperatures dipped the last few days, and today was no exception. North-central Illinois topped out in the low 60s, perfect jeans and sweater weather for an afternoon outing.

I found out about this “French market” last night as a Facebook event. Local stores and vendors in Princeton’s North End Art District planned to set up on the city’s wide downtown sidewalks and bring event goers a taste of the European country. It was smaller than I expected, but it was lovely. Quality over quantity. That’s what this soirée was.

On one side, one vendor sold dessert crepes while another beside him gave away tidbits of savory pork in hopes of enticing passersby to sit for a meal. I bought a dessert crepe: #5, which was topped with chocolate, caramel, and pecans.

Most of the shops on the other side had tents up, and many were strung with lights. I was told that an image of the Eiffel Tower would be projected onto a storefront at dusk to add to the ambiance. My friend and I slowly perused the wares, antiques and jewelry lining each table. In one tent, a box of sea glass pendants caught my eye. They were varying shapes and sizes wrapped in wire and accented by different colors of Swarovski beads. At $25 a piece, buying one was my splurge for the day.

Our time downtown would have been brief if store owners hadn’t also extended their hours for the day. I have to admit, I’m not a frequent visitor downtown, so we poked our heads in one store and ended up walking through every square foot of that retail space. I’ve bookmarked some items in my head that would make good Christmas presents. The North End Art District may see me again in a few short months.

Before we departed for the next leg of our adventure, we skirted the tents back to one that sold coffee and truffles. I sampled a cocoa-covered hazelnut one with a nutty center. What a treat!

The Facebook event page said this is the first of an annual event, and I hope this is true. I thoroughly enjoyed the quaint, cultural atmosphere. My only complaint: I didn’t see the caricature artist, but we may not have walked the entire premises of the market. If I’m in the area again next year, I will definitely stop by.

Next stop was a park on the edge of town. The mission: paint little pumpkins we had previously purchased at Walmart for 78 cents per pound. My friend is in art education and therefore maintains a rather extensive stash of acrylic paints and brushes.

We claimed a picnic table in one of the shelters and set up our work station. For me it was like a trip back to grade school, lining up outside the janitor’s closet to rinse dirty paintbrushes in the industrial-sized sink after an art project.

I didn’t have a particular image in my head of what I wanted to paint, so I drew a face on in charcoal with a curly mustache before abandoning that idea and choosing to try to replicate the sunrise I saw that morning. My friend had her idea down pat. She looked up an image of “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch, on my phone and set to work. Check out the picture. Hers turned out amazing, and you can barely make out an abstract version of a sunrise on mine.

My pumpkin will be going on the front stoop soon so everyone can see it.

Between a French market and painting a pumpkin, what better way is there to commemorate the beginning of fall?