I just returned from the Chicago Food Show - an annual supermarket industry convention sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute.

I feel as if I've just crawled through trick-or-treat boot camp.To properly report on this event, I shall first (for journalism's sake) devour a Twinkie to simulate the sugar high required to wander for miles through McCormick Place.

Old hands (with calloused feet) who have attended this convention many times go by this motto: "You'll Never Waddle Alone."

I'll say. There were more than 35,000 bag-toting business people gazing and grazing along with me.

The expansive maze of booths and hoopla (Regis Philbin grinning and hugging folks for a "photo op," Mary Lou Retton pushing health items, and a bored Morris the Cat (Purina) curled up in a director's chair - waiting for irritating humans to be seen with him - I have photographic proof).

Cell phones and chickens beaks. Moon Pies and macadamias. Big business! Food industry sales totals are estimated at $392 billion.

Conventioneers with food-related professions were identified by colored name tags - alerting company representatives to the reason these wanderers were grabbing handfuls of samples. A Ding Dong here - a pack of Gummy Worms there.

My grey badge spelled PRESS. After hours of playing human pinball in crowded aisles, I hid the badge in my pocketand concluded: These overly friendly salesmen aren't really delighted to be talking to ME . . . they want their goods featured in the newspaper! - Duh!

The products that jumped out as unique and interesting?

- MINI MOONPIE: The Chattanooga Bakery Inc. has shrunk their beloved MoonPie product. Watch for these babies at Halloween time - they're filled with orange marshmallow, covered in chocolate and dotted with pumpkin-shape candy toppings.

- THE UNHOLEY BAGEL: An "unorthodox" roll without the hole - filled with cream cheese. Kept in the frozen food sections. Owner and originator Larry Baras' '97 revenue was estimated at $10 million. He says, "For 43 years I thought, like a lot of men do, that I'd be kind of like James Bond, not Murray Lender (bagel king). It's a little embarrassing."

- CAPE COD CHIPS: Originating and still being "kettle fried" at their Hyannis factory, this premium chip has held its own against other potato chips. Look for new products - Golden and Dark Russet Chips, 40 percent Reduced Fat Chips (NO OLESTRA!), Yukon Gold Potato Chips, Sea Salt Popcorn, Dill & Herb Marinade Mix, and Firecracker Barbecue Potato Chips.

- SPECIALTY PRODUCE: Frieda's Inc., one of the nation's leading marketers of unique, imported produce has introduced the "Vegetarian Meal Center," the "Asian Marketplace," and a line of Latin products being offered under the name of "El Mercado del Frieda." Look for Choy Sums - oriental cabbages; fresh organic tofu.

- ORGANIC PRODUCE: Frank Capurro & Sons is featuring organically grown Romaine hearts, spinach and spring mix. Watch for brussel sprouts. Organics are on their way up, say industry predictors. Beloved American cookbook author Mollie Katzen will unveil a signature line of vegetarian specialty foods.

- IMPORTED PRODUCTS: The newest tomato product out of Holland is the "Tomingo," an on-the-vine mini-plum tomato that has a beautiful deep red color and "outstanding" flavor.

Looking back, the trek through miles of free samples was a rough one. But it was worth the blisters, sisters. You should have seen the joy in my son's eyes when I presented him with a bulging bagful of junk food.

I kept the bright orange Archway Cookie Tour hat.

*****

Recipe

LESLIE REVAIN'S DRISCOLL'S

BLUEBERRY-BUTTERMILK GINGER CAKE

2 6-ounce packages Driscoll's blueberries, rinsed and dried

2 cups all-purpose flour, divided

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 sticks sweet butter, slightly softened

1 cup sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Garnish:

Confectioner's sugar and unsweetened whipped cream

Blueberries

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in the middle. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform cake pan (or a regular cake pan with 2-inch-high sides, greased and floured with a circle of waxed paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan). Measure two cups of berries setting them aside for the cake.

Measure 1/2 tablespoon of flour and set aside. Sift remaining flour with ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt, baking powder, baking soda; set aside.

With an electric mixer on high speed, cream the butter and sugar well, about 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl down once or twice. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until the mixture is light and smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl several times during the process. (Don't worry if the mixture looks slightly curdled even after several minutes, it will be fine). Turn the mixer to low and add the flour and spice mixture 1/4 cup at a time, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add lemon extract. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. In a small bowl, toss the 2 cups of blueberries with the reserved 1/2 tablespoon of flour. Scatter the berries over the batter and gently press to set them into the batter. Do not cover berries with batter.

Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 50 to 55 min-utes.

Place the cake on a rack to cool. Run a knife along the inner edge of the pan to release the cake. Let cool for 10-15 minutes. Release and remove the outer ring if using a springform pan. If using a regular cake pan, place a second rack over the top of the cake and turn the cake over onto the second rack. Carefully peel off the waxed paper, flipping it over and placing it back on the bottom of the cake. Turn cake back over so that it is now sitting on the waxed paper on top of the first rack. Allow cake to cool completely.

Sift a dusting of confectioner's sugar over the top of the cake. Cut wedges and serve with whipped cream and remaining berries. Serves 8-10.

- Each serving contains 393 calories, 19g fat, 52g carb, 440mg sodium, 51mg cholesterol.

- From Driscoll's