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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bliss at Claimjumpers

The Chicago suburbs are new lucky recipients of the football sized, baked fresh daily, Chocolate Eclair, to be found at Claimjumper's in Lombard. My mom-in-law and three sister's-in-law split it this past Monday night and I had to physically restrain myself from burying my face in it and snorting the hot fudge up my nose.

Our waiter-in-training called us "dolls" and proceeded to tell us about his girlfriend being seven weeks pregnant, then about his sister who is ALSO pregnant, with a convicted felon's child. But then he brought out four individual dishes of whipped cream to go with the eclair, so it was all ok.

I highly recommend the California citrus chopped salad and the mini cheeseburger "sliders."

Mmmmm. I love food. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Breakfast with the Family

I wish I'd had my camera last Saturday morning, around 10:00 am.

My mom, dad, sister and husband, Scott and I made the 74 mile trek out west to Rockford to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa. Before we met up with them, we decided to fortify ourselves with a Swedish Breakfast at the Stockholm Inn, a popular Scandinavian restaurant that features dirt cheap, "retiree" prices and an amazing kitchen that bakes all their breads and coffeecakes fresh each day.

Now, just so you understand, Rockford has a huge population of Swedes. None of us could figure out why, but it's a huge part of the culture. Blue and yellow flags hang everywhere, even the local hospital is "Swedish American." I am 1/4 Swedish by descent, but thanks to Grandma's influence, it is the dominating culture in our family's heritage. The food, especially the breads and sweets, are a personal Achilles Heel.

So anyways, back to the story. We arrive at the restaurant and are ushered to our table, surrounded by bustling and buzzing bluehairs, excited by the smells of melted butter wafting from the kitchen.

I am hungry, REALLY hungry. And I have a well-known propensity for over-ordering. Yes, I admit, my eyes are bigger then my stomach. The problem is, I don't stop eating when I'm full (I get that from Dad) so I guess to be totally accurate I should say my eyes and my stomach are the same size. Whatever.

I open the menu and start salivating. Mountains and mountains of carbs: pieces of homemade skorpa (Swedish coffeecake that has been slowly toasted until crisp), their famous Swedish pancakes, homemade cinnamon rolls with buttery warm frosting, hash get the idea.

My family begins to place their order. As we continue to speak, the waitress's blue eyes grow bigger and bigger and bigger. For the sake of possible embarrassment, the quotes shall remain nameless:

"Yes, I'd like a cinnamon roll and 3 large buttermilk pancakes."

"Hi. May I have the stack of three Swedish pancakes (Each one is the size of a plate, then rolled up), an order of hash browns, and two fried eggs?"

"I'd like the large cheddar omelet, and stack of three Swedish pancakes."

At this point, the waitress leans in and asks, "Uh, would you like the toast that comes with the omelet? You ARE getting three pancakes and hash brown's with the eggs."

And then SOMEONE pipes in, "Of course we'll eat the toast! Can you bring out wheat?"

The waitress disappears and we sigh and lean back, anticipating the waves of food we're about to encounter. The cinnamon roll makes an appearance shortly, and I must say, based on my impressions from one bite, it was phenomenal. Everyone is jealous of the individual who thought to order it.

Twenty minutes later, the food comes. This is point when I wished for my camera. It was obscene and all we could do was laugh at the MOUNDS of butter we were each given (it seemed like I had two dollaps that were each 1/4 cup), the immense size of the Swedish pancakes (I thought they'd be like Mom's, small, round, and thin. NOPE.), and how many carbs we were all consuming.

Ask me if my father finished EVERY BITE OF HIS MEAL. Ask me. I couldn't believe it. Thankfully he runs four times a week and eats salad for lunch most of the time.

If you've never tasted a Swedish pancake, you haven't lived yet. I have a great recipe that Mom dug up from an old Swedish cookbook. Ask me for it and I can post it. They melt in your mouth, and are best topped with a little melted butter and warm maple syrup. My sister and I have been known to smear strawberry jam, butter, AND syrup on them, with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar for good measure...but that's just crazy.

It was a great meal, full of laughs and a good start to an emotional, wonderful, day. I love my family and I love the memories we make together.

Time Off

I spent last week at home and it was lovely.

Lovely to spend time doing the things I never get to do: lunch with a dear friend in downtown Glen Ellyn (gotta love the $9 buffet at Mykha's, whoo hoo!) ; making six batches of pesto sauce from the basil "tree" in my backyard; coffee and journaling at Starbucks in the middle of the day; a two hour nap, twice; wandering through The Little Traveler in Geneva on Friday and stopping for lunch at the amazing Moveable Feast (Oprah's favorite brownies!); and having plenty of time to make dinner for Scott on a weeknight, but choosing not to because I was lazy.

It was lovely to be home, and I must admit, it is a struggle to get into gear back in the office.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

To Market, To Market

It was an overcast, rainy day in the south of France.

I had been looking forward to the infamous Provence Farmers market that just happened to land on our last day in Arles, France for weeks. It rotates between a series of towns each month, and we were lucky enough to time our trip to enjoy it. Or so we thought.

My shopping list was ready to go: honey, table linens, soap, olive oil---mostly a long list of gifts to bring back with us at rock bottom prices. How exciting, to buy directly from the the farmers and bee keepers themselves! To see butchers roasting their chickens by the dozens, as the juices dripped down onto golden potatoes below! A real French market is truly a wonderful thing.

We trudged through town from our hotel into the little train station, walked inside through dirty glass doors, and stumbling, asked the nice looking lady behind the Tourist Bureau counter in broken French, "Excuse I, where The Market?" or something to that effect.

She shook her head slowly, looking at us through narrowed eyes, and responded in perfect English, "It's not here today, you've missed it."

Utter devastation. That's what I felt. Disbelief and sadness at having missed out on one of the pinnacle shopping experiences of my life. And my list! What to do with my long list of gifts and food items that I just couldn't live with out?

We left the train station and S tried to console me. "It's ok honey, you didn't really need a fifth bottle of olive oil anyways," but to no avail.

Back through town we walked, ambling on the bumpy cobblestone streets, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted some colorful tents over a series of booths.

"LOOK! It must be the market! That lady was wrong!" I began panting heavily, and pulled S by the hand over to the first line of vendors. I realized that we were late, and had only 30 minutes to weave our way through a mile and half of unsurpassed fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, honey, antiques, meat, breads, linens, furniture, sterling silver pieces, vintage pictures, books and more before it closed at 2:00pm. I was foaming at the mouth. Literally.

The first vendor was an old woman selling beautiful fruit, her face tanned and creased from long hours spent in the sun. My heart beat quickly as I stepped forward and pointed to a wooden crate full of gloriously red strawberries, glistening with ripeness.

"Cela, s'il vous plaît," I said to her, meaning that I wanted ONE of the little pints within the wood crate. She smiled up at me and said "Oui," and proceeded to pour the entire 6 KILOS of strawberries from the wooden crate into a huge plastic bag.

"15 euros s'il vous plaît, madame," she said.

Oops. That's the equivalent to $20 worth of strawberries. My husband, the banker, was quietly and steadily fuming behind me. I could feel the burning heat of his anger on my back, knowing that I had rushed into this purchase and unfortunately proven myself an unsavy buyer.

I paid the woman, and sheepishly handed the large bag of strawberries to him.

"What did you do?" "What did you do?!" he asked, looking down at the large bag of already masticating strawberries hanging from his hand.

"I don't know, I just panicked! There's just too much here, it's too overwhelming!"

"Well, I'm holding the money from now on."

Every purchase from then on out (lovely, affordable tablecloths, soap etc) had to be "Pre-Approved" from my own personal loan officer. I was embarrassed and was trying to figure out what we were going to do with 13.2 lbs of strawberries.

At the end of the afternoon we headed back to our little hotel, heavily laden with successful purchases. We walked through the front door and I wandered into the kitchen (it's a small beautiful bed and breakfast, our favorite spot of the trip ), asking in broken french if I could somehow wash the berries off so we could eat them. By this time, they were oozing juice all over, furry with dust, and bruised pretty badly.

The woman who runs the hotel flung herself back into the kitchen, and feverishly started grabbing crystal bowls, a silver bucket with ice water for dunking the berries off, sugar, china plates and a tablecloth. She proceeded to walk out into the garden with her arms full of all the paraphernaliaia and set a table for us out under the trees.

We had the loveliest little picnic lunch, sitting in the shade, and I will tell you that I have never had strawberries so sweet.

It was worth every dime.

The End

It was one of those moments I'll remember for the rest of my life: the sun warm on my face, the sound of the wind moving through leaves in the lemon trees around us, and the sweet taste of perfect strawberries exploding in my mouth.

By the way, what you see here represents about 1/3 of the total purchased amount of strawberries. We ate the remaining edible ones that night, in a delicious strawberry soup with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

All's well that ends well, right?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Cozy Days

The best sort of day to me is a rainy day. A pleasant warmth suffuses me as I look out the window to see gray clouds and hear the sound of steady raindrops. Does this mean I'm missing a gene or something?

You hear often about weather-related depression...I'm the exact opposite. I get depressed when it's gorgeous outside, usually because it means I miss out on the beauty of the day, stuck behind a desk for 12 hours.

Things that make me happy: putting on my jammies at 6:00pm and cuddling up on the couch with warm blanket and a good book, the warmth and light and good smells of the kitchen against the gloom outside, eating pancakes for supper on dark, stormy nights, and hearing the sound of the rain hitting our bedroom windows as I drift off to sleep.

Cozy days are soothing. They force a person to relax, there's no yardwork to be done, running errands ends up being a pain-in-the-rear, so it's easier to just lay on the couch, hour after hour.

After an entire weekend of that, I'm a very happy girl.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's GOT to be a pumpkin...



Well, it looks like the dogwoods are coming back, inch by inch. Unfortunately, not enough to block the neighbor's air conditioner from the dining room window.

Sigh. Maybe next year.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Few Favorite Things Regarding September

  • Crisp evenings where you leave the windows open at night and snuggle under your down comforter
  • Making apple pie and enjoying the fragrance as it bakes, wafting through the house and smelling of buttery cinnamon and apples
  • Wearing jeans and fleece again
  • Breaking out the fall decorations for the house: S counted over 65 gourd related items on display last year. Evidently we're at over 80 right now, and pumpkins haven't even arrived at Home Depot yet. I smell a "soap" problem...
  • The scent of (illegally) burning leaves
  • Welcoming back my Ugg boots. Yes, I know they're totally "out," but how can you go wrong wearing something that feels like a house slipper to work?
  • Chicago weather in the fall--it is awesome, and is definitely the best time of year to visit.
  • My birthday, because I am secretly still an eight-year-old and love an excuse to celebrate and get presents
  • The clear, sapphire blue color of the sky in September
  • Coming home from work and preparing comfort food for dinner-- beef bourguignonne, white chicken chili with corn bread muffins, whole roasted chicken with lemon and thyme and mashed potatoes and on and on. Winter foods are my favorites!
  • Making a fire in our soon-to-exist fireplace
  • The colors of fall: burnt sienna, warm reds and sunny reminds me of Tuscany

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again

I woke up this morning with that song rolling through my mind.
It stayed there as I showered, dressed and got on the train for my workday. You see, I've been on "vacation" this past week, up in lovely South Haven, MI. "Vacation," because there were 10 adults and 7 children, under the age of 4, mind you, in a seven bedroom rental house, built back circa 1971.
Just a few snippets:

-It rained steadily Sunday-Tuesday.

-Scott and I were lucky enough to have the bedroom without a door, down in the basement. We did, however, get to "upgrade" midweek.  That was nice.

-The sun came out Wednesday and Thursday and playing in the warm sand down at the beach felt glorious after being cooped up.

-We only had to call 911 once.  Not even lying.
-Watching from far above, up on the bluff, as my husband and his two brothers ran buck naked, down 156 steps, onto the beach and into 57 degree water as the sun set behind the lake. The three brothers were preceded by three naked toddlers, who wanted to emulate their dads. The boys lost a bet to their dad on the golf course and we were all secretly grateful-- no one wanted to see Grandpa naked.
-Seeing respectfully firsthand just how hard it is to be a fulltime Mom (or Dad), and feeling something like the joyful exuberance a parent must feel as I played with, read to, and told stories to my nieces and nephews. The the look of wide-eyed wonder in their faces was priceless.

-Hearing an endless stream of hilariously stupid stories each night after the kids went to bed. It's good to get to know your spouse and his family better through things like that.

It was nice to get away. But it's even nicer to be home, and with a three day weekend ahead of us.