Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Patriotic Picnic: Cantigny Park

We recently discovered Cantigny Park, practically in our own backyard!  Where, oh where, have we been all these years!  It's located in Wheaton, Illinois and approximately 20 minutes from our house. 

Cantigny Park was the former home of Robert McCormick, who owned and ran the Chicago Tribune and made it into a formidable publication in the early part of the 20th century.  His biography is rather interesting and worthy of a read.  Upon his death in 1955 he bequeathed his estate to the McCormick Charitable Trust, now the McCormick Foundation, and at his request, the estate was opened to the public.

What a legacy!  The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful.

Filled with flowers, plants and trees of all sorts, the paths invite the visitor to walk and wander through its many gardens . . .

. . . and stop to admire the pools and statues that dot the landscape.

The marvelous Rose Garden contains more than 1,000 rose bushes, representing many, many varieties and classifications.  I could spend hours in this garden alone.  Now that we know this place is here, I must come back next year when the roses are at their peak.

Image result for chicago peace rose

This is the Chicago Peace Rose, described as a "glowing pink rose with a butter yellow heart."  This variety was hybridized in these very gardens.

Robert McCormick's second wife was very fond of oriental art, and brought back many curiosities from their many trips to Asia, especially China.  A pair of Foo Dog statues (also known as Imperial Guardian Lions) flank the front of the house.

The 500-acre property was originally called Red Oaks, but McCormick renamed it Cantigny, after the battle in France in which he saw action with the Army's 1st Battalion.

He also endowed the First Division Museum on the same premises, but it's currently closed for remodeling.  It contains all kinds of tanks from WWI, and from other wars that followed it.  It's now become a military museum.

Once the museum reopens, we'll have to go back.  Alas!  What sacrifice!

After wandering around all morning, and visiting his former home (no pictures allowed, unfortunately), it was time for lunch in one of their picnic groves.

And because military history enveloped us everywhere, it seemed logical to bring out the red, white and blue.

I prepared an easy and delicious picnic that could stay in the car for a few hours while we wandered around the park:  Sandwiches made with Egg and Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade on French Baguette. To drink we had lemonade.  We had also tucked a bottle of Sancerre in the picnic basket but it was so hot that we craved the lemonade above all else and never got around to opening the wine.

The sandwiches were messy and drippy, but utterly delicious.  The recipe was simplicity itself:  I sliced hard-boiled eggs, and added some Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade from a jar (that you should always keep in your pantry for emergencies, sometimes it's called Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta).  A dash of salt and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes enhanced the flavor, but were not really needed, so feel free to skip these, if you'd rather.

The sandwich was hard to photograph because it wanted to fall apart; I need to work on my sandwich building skills.  My husband, reluctantly held out what was left of his so I could snap a photo.  I should've made a couple more!

Then, for dessert, we had freshly cubed peaches marinated in Grand Marnier, and served with Madeleines to help soak up the boozy juice.  Light and so perfectly suited for the season!  The peaches have been marvelous this year here in the Midwest!

I love museum gift shops.  They always carry such intriguing merchandise!  And books, of course, wonderful books.  I found this small collection of poems from World War I, the most famous of which is "In Flanders' Fields."  It is very poignant and reminds us of how truly tragic war can be.  

I wish I had been able to find red poppies instead of red carnations, to honor our fallen soldiers.  After WW I, poppies have been adopted as a symbol of remembrance.  But my local florists didn't have any.  It would have required a special order.  Why don't I ever see poppies at the florist or grocery store?  Note to self:  Plant some poppies in the garden this fall. 

This afternoon, I was once again reminded to be grateful for our country, with all its flaws.  And to live in the moment, and have many, many picnics!

This adorable dragonfly that I also found at the gift shop says it best:  Enjoy today!