29 January 2010


LL and I drive into Chicago today--no real plan in mind other than a visit to the big Whole Foods just off North Avenue on Kingsbury. Our meandering itinerary:

Design Within Reach
Fun, and expensive. In reach for whom? Gorgeous leather furniture. Rockers. Coffee tables.

Whole Foods
Intelligentisia coffee--Lincoln Park Blend. A gift for CA, and he will share! Also, haricot verts for dinner tonight, cranberry nut bread for breakfast tomorrow, dried oyster mushrooms to add to tonight's risotto.

We can never resist a hot dog... Although, this time I opt for the pulled pork with sweet potato fries while LL really doesn't resist the hot dog and curly fries.

I hadn't gotten it together to order pastries, but I am able to pick up two cakes for Sunday's guests and a few petit fours for moi! And, tomorrow the little girls will find they have some yummy porcupines for their treat.

We finish off our afternoon with a relaxing cup of coffee in this very Austrian cafe.

26 January 2010


CA and I head early this morning to Health Bridge in Huntley to discuss membership. We meet friends and get the big tour. We've been members in CL in the past, but the Huntley facility is over-the-top beautiful. There are so many windows, and everything is pristine.

We sign on, then work out for 40 minutes or so. The great news is that there is a family time every day, and we are delighted that we can take the little girls swimming today and every day until they leave, if we want.

We know that we need to buy new swim suits in order to pull this off--the little girls have grown since arriving in early October. We look at Kohl's and as we are discussing the limited-to-non-existent options, a kind woman directs us to Target where we find many to choose from.

We are in the pool at HB by 2:45pm, and having a ball. MK and NJ come along for moral support, but don't swim. CA and I play a one-on-one defense, and it is exhausting and hilarious. KF has no fear, and LG is an electric, dynamic sprite!

By 4:00pm we are deep into getting everyone dressed and ready to head home--hungry, tired, and satisfied.

25 January 2010


Maybe a subliminal connection to upcoming Mardi Gras, but today I got the urge to try making gumbo and since we had most of the ingredients in the house I spent my early evening doing just that--chopping onions, peppers, and celery (the holy trinity) and carefully stirring the roux. The entire house has a welcoming aroma of comfort and plenty.

It's cooling now and by the time we reheat it tomorrow evening it will be just perfect. There will be a bottle of hot sauce on the table for those who will... Think I'll serve it with some corn fritters and honey.

23 January 2010


Four-year old LG has been invited to sleepover at the effervescent Sophie's house/condo in Chicago, and realistically will need some moral support... I volunteer, and on Saturday morning we take the commuter train into the city. We are armed with warm jackets, scarves, gloves, hats, and backpacks. Prepared for everything and on an adventure.

LG discovers train travel isn't near as exciting as it seemed, especially on a Saturday train that makes EIGHTEEN stops! She delights in the station--Ogilvie Center--and her sense of adventure is renewed.

We walk from Canal and Madison north to Washington Street, east to Wacker and around the curve in the Chicago River to the LaSalle Street Bridge. LG has found a stick and is determined to drop it over the side of the bridge and into the river. There are no signs prohibiting, so I say, "Go for it." After about 30 minutes--we are meandering as well as walking--we arrive at 118 W. Kinzie and Mercadito. Yep! I've managed to return to my newest, favorite restaurant in just two weeks.

We are early and the restaurant is not crowded, so it's a relaxing wait for L+E and Sophie to join us. Relaxing for me, especially, because I am enjoying a Margarita! They do them so well.
margarita tradicional
tequila blanco, grand marnier,
fresh lime juice, organic agave nectar

We order dessert pancakes (LG insists on calling all pancakes flapjacks like we just rolled in from the cattle drive.) for LG and Sophie:
pancakes $12.
manchego cheese, strawberries, cinnamon butter, maple syrup

And, start off the adult portion of the meal with three gaucamoles:
tomatillo pico de gallo, jalapeño, garlic,vkey lime, cilantro
jícama, chipotle, pico de gallo
apple, tomatillo, almonds, habanero

You can't beat the tradicional, and the chips are to-die-for.

L+G spend some time on the menu and eventually order two entrees to share:
chile relleno
roasted poblano, scrambled eggs,
bacon, queso fresco, caramelized onion,
black bean purée, chile de árbol salsa
(four small tacos per order, with home made corn tortillas)
chile ancho rubbed pork, grilled pineapple,
chile de árbol salsa

I can't resist repeating the steak tacos CA and I had on our first visit.
rosemary marinated organic skirt steak,
potato-rajas-cactus fundido, avocado

When L+E first arrived at the restaurant, I bragged that the food at Mercadito was the best food I'd had in my mouth for quite awhile. At the end of the meal, EG reiterated my comments. A very fine meal.

We veg out at L+E's for the rest of the afternoon while the little girls play dress up, ice skating, shadow puppets, etc., and finish off their evening with Nanny McPhee. We settle them into Sophie's room and finish off the evening with Charlie Wilson's War.

About 2:00am LG joins me in my bed. I wipe away her tears and she cuddles, warmly, close to me and is immediately asleep. Sweet.

On Sunday a.m. LG mixes up a batch of wonderful multi-grain pancakes, and EG fries up some yummy bacon. We rhapsodize over the merits of pork as we linger over coffee.

The little girls continue their play until time to load us into the Subaru. We spend a bit of time at the newer Whole Fields near North Avenue buying pasta, bread, and Daffodils. EG makes a successful dash to the Jefferson Park station (after missing the Clybourn and Irving Park trains), and by 2:48pm LG and I are on our way home.

We had a great sleepover and I'm looking forward to my own bed tonight!

22 January 2010


Most mornings I roll out of bed and head straight for the coffee. Food doesn't usually enter my mind until closer to lunch-time. But, today I'm immediately interested in baking scones again, and for whatever reason making lemon curd...

LG has stated her dislike for the dried fruits, so... This time I leave out the dried fruits, but add the lemon zest and a bit of juice to the toasted pecans.

I use Martha Stewart's lemon curd recipe and it is wonderful. I've used it in the past for a cheesecake topping. It's easy and fool-proof. Just the perfect accompaniment for these delicious scones.

21 January 2010


In the past 24 hours, I've read Donald Miller's newest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I'm quite moved by his thoughts and words. Lots to process and to re-read. And, in there somewhere mid-afternoon I take a nap! Yep! A good long nap.

I spend the morning in the basement with the little girls and DM, sorting and weeding out. I still have too much stuff, but it's good to tackle the overload again. I've been asking DM to sort his stuff for years, and he finally does it and does a great job. Kind of a trip down memory lane for him--high school, college, grad school, early days in central Europe, marriage and time in Norway, and lots of books. The little girls find playing cards and sea shells, and build a small fort along the back wall with cartons and furniture.

While I hide-out/veg-out in my bedroom all afternoon, the little girls play dress-up and entertain their Papa.


Tonight as we prepare dinner, I am also making chicken wild rice soup.The vegetable soup from yesterday disappeared at lunch today. The little girls love meat and KF especially loves vegetables. It's been years since I've made soup from this Uncle Ben's mix, but I remember the seasoning packet is great, and the quality of the WalMart Great Value mixed veggies is outstanding.


1/2 cup Celery, chopped
1/2 cup Sweet onion, chopped
1 T. Butter
1 box Uncle Ben's Long Grain and Wild Rice, Original Recipe
1 qt. Chicken stock
12 oz. Mixed vegetables (frozen steamables)
3 Chicken breast halves, diced

1. Cook Uncle Ben's according to package directions, except shorten cooking time to 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, sauté onions and celery in 1 T. butter until translucent.
3. Add chicken stock to Uncle Ben's mixture.
4. Stir in sautéed onion and celery and frozen mixed vegetables; bring to a simmer.
5. Add lemon zest and juice.
6. Add chicken breast halves, turning to coat with sauce, and continue simmering until chicken is cooked through. Don't overcook.
7. Season with salt and pepper.

Our real meal tonight is Chicken with Tarragon Cream, and we have it with rice and steamed broccoli. The sauce is incredible. We talk about next time cutting the chicken breast halves into strips or chunks, adding broccoli flowerettes, and making this more of a casserole to serve over the rice.

[Bon Appetite, May 1988]

1 T Butter
1 T Olive oil
4 Chicken breast halves, boneless
1 cup Chicken broth
1/4 cup Shallots or red onion, diced
1 tsp. Dried tarragon, crushed with fingers
1/2 cup Whipping cream
1 tsp. Lemon juice
1/2 tsp. Lemon zest [grated peel]
Freshly ground pepper
Rice, cooked and served as side dish.

1. Melt butter with oil in heavy skillet over medium heat.
2. Saute chicken until lightly browned, about 1 minute per side.
3. Stir in broth, onions, and tarragon.
4. Cover and simmer until chicken is opaque, about 10 minutes.
5. Remove chicken to serving platter and keep warm.
6. Boil pan juices until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 7 minutes.
7. Add cream and simmer until reduced to sauce consistency;
stir constantly--this takes awhile, about 15 minutes.
8. You may want to add juices that have drained onto chicken platter.
9. Stir in lemon juice and zest.
10. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
11. Arrange chicken on platter with rice or noodles.
12. Pour sauce over chicken.
13. May garnish with lemon slices and/or parsley.

20 January 2010


I am in the mood for vegetable soup and have a lovely pound of meat in the freezer. However, the family expresses extreme interest in having quiche and salad for dinner tonight. We do the bacon-green onion version which is my favorite, and MK made a wonderful salad--Romaine, shaved carrots, diced apples, and chopped pecans with Ken's raspberry-pecan salad dressing. YUM!

And in the midst of making two quiches and taking a phone call from a long-lost friend, I whip a batch of beef vegetable soup from memory and with innovation. It's maybe the best I've ever made, or at least it's been a very long time since I made it this good.

The innovation was adding fire-roasted tomatoes, and because I don't have any beef stock on-hand I use some organic chicken stock and it certainly works well. I think the chefs would call this layering flavors...


1  lb. Beef sirloin, lean (1" chunks)
2  T. Olive oil
2  tsp. Salt
1/2  Cup Sweet onion, diced
1/2  Cup Celery with tops, chopped
1  Cup Tomato juice
1  Can Fire roasted tomatoes
1-1/2  Cups Beef or chicken stock
1  lrg Potato, peeled and diced
1  bag steamable mixed vegetables (I used WalMart's Great Value brand and the carrots are lovely.)
Salt and pepper

1. Heat olive oil to a searing temp.
2. Add stew beef and sear on all sides.
3. Salt generously.
4. Add onions and celery, stirring to mix with beef juices. Cook until onions approach translucence.
5. Add tomato juice, fire roasted tomatoes, and stock.
6. Bring just to a boil and add potatoes. Turn flame down to high simmer and cook until potatoes are just starting to be tender.
7. Add frozen mixed vegetables and continue to simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender chrisp.
8. Taste and adjust seasonings by adding additional salt and pepper, as desired.

We are back to ordering a few items from Market Day--beef stew meat, pork tenderloin, and tilapia or yellow-fin tuna. The quality is outstanding and it's a short distance to the pick-up point at a local grammar school. In fact we have a choice of 3 or 4 pick-up locations within a 5 - 10 minute drive, so we choose the site that has the most convenient pick-up day.

I don't think Market Day is available outside of the Chicago suburban area, and I'm really amazed this hasn't been franchised throughout the country. It is a great source of fund raising for local schools and as I said the food quality is always amazing.


DM+MK tell the little girls that they will go to the McDonald's Playland today, and immediately LG pushes the envelope and begins campaigning vigorously for Monkey Joe's. KF talks alot for just 2-years, and she begins babbling non-stop--interjecting a few discernable words along with the appropriate hand signals, head shakes, and gestures.

It turns out that she doesn't want Monkey Joe to high-five her or to hug her!

No problem because there will be no Monkey Joe's today.

19 January 2010


MK needs an inexpensive solution to window coverings for LG and KF's bedroom windows. The windows are identical, actually a window and a doorway to a small balcony in each room that are slightly inset totaling 78" of width and 94" of length.

Since DM+MK are planning on moving their family back from Slovakia to the U.S. within the next 18 months and since these windows are in the rooms of very active and creative little girls, we need to keep the options fun and cheap.

We purchase these 54" x 90"opaque panels at TJMaxx for $5.99 each, and we'll need three panels per room. I'll sew ribbon tabs on the top edge and trim out the outside edge and bottom of each end panel, and just the bottom of the middle panel.

I found the brown bubble ribbon at Hobby Lobby at $6.00 for three rolls, and RvH gave me the two checkered ribbons to use for Merci Beaucoup. After pressing and sewing, I'll post the results.

Oh, and while we are out LG makes a pillow fort on my bed. She manages to carry the pillows from all over the house, but doesn't have the strength to put them back alone...

18 January 2010

CHILLING: Would you care for a bag of ice?

It's been more than a year since I planned to post a few photos of our kitchen. It's almost never presentable enough, or if it is we are in the midst of entertaining and who has times for photos then? So here are a few before with our mismatched white frig.

And, as these things go--in the middle of emptying the frig, I migrate into the pantry and completely clean and reorganize it, ending my first big 2010 procrastination. Voilà! It's now ready for the Container Store photo shoot! If only they'd ask...

rice is stored in a large vase

Rubber Maid lids make perfect floor trays

With amazing speed, we have our new frig. Yep! It was such a DEAL that we didn't really explore all it's options while at Lowe's and when I was reading about it online I refused to believe/take in a significant feature--it has TWO ice makers! Who in the world needs two? One in the upper French Door (!!!) frig and one in the pull-out-drawer freezer. I am considering establishing an ice delivery service for catering events...

                spices from a Paris grocery store - Shopi in Levallois