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Monday, December 29, 2008

Best. Present. Ever.

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Sam received one gift this year from my parents, grandparents and his aunt and uncle, and oh what a gift it is.  He took a four hour nap on Saturday after burning off all his toddler energy in this....who wants to come over for a playdate!  Bring your People Magazines and I'll make lowfat egg nog lattes for us all.

Christmas Fun

I cannot believe it's been a month since I posted last, we've had so much going on I'm overwhelmed at trying to catch up on everything.  Here's a dubious Sam on Santa's lap at the Bank on the 20th.  He wasn't sure of what to ask for...or whether he should trust the hairy fellow.
And exploring the giant "balls" on the tree at the lighting in Glen Ellyn.  He was in heaven.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  We hope you are all well and are staying warm.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy 16th Birthday Soph!

I've been meaning to post these forever, but am only now getting around to it.  As if you need to look at food after the past two days...
My favorite dessert in the world, mk's "Cake and Shake."  Three tiny layers (literally, it's about four bites) of moist rich chocolate cake sandwiched between three different types of chocolate frosting.  Served with a mini vanilla malt on the side.


This was called "Banana" and was a delicious bread pudding with homemade ice cream.  Good, but not as good as mine.  :)  
Happy Birthday dearie, hope you had as much fun as I did on our city day!

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Turkehhh"

Not the most appetizing thing to stare at while eating breakfast, but he did ok.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Trying to Cook on Thanksgiving Eve

Why, oh why did Sam decide to drop his morning nap today?  I was attempting to start making this, along with a traditional sour cream cranberry coffee cake that my mom always makes (we cut it in half and share it with a neighbor) and apple sage stuffing.  And the gravy.  And a pecan pie.
My 18 month old sous chef didn't quite understand what his role was supposed to be in the process.  
I am anxiously awaiting Scott's return here within the hour and fully intend on taking a long hot shower during Sam's afternoon nap to recover.  Then I may escape to sit in Starbucks for an hour or two and make Scott vacuum downstairs.  
Hope your Thanksgiving is warm and full of family and good food!  Ours will be!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Little After-Dinner Dancing...

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Just what the doctor ordered during this stressful time.  :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Upside Down Apple Cake that No One Got to Eat

Sigh.

Heavy sigh.  There is a story here my friends, a story of the past three weeks or so, but I am too tired to tell it.  Suffice to say it involved the stomach flu for all three of us, the computer crashing...$170 later, then being in the shop for five days, job issues and stress for Scott and continued uncertainty.  One thing I know though, besides the fact that God is good, is that this cake blew my mind.  

I pulled it out of the oven, along with homemade parmesan rosemary crackers, just an hour and a half before four of our friends were supposed to come out from the city for a cozy Saturday night dinner that I'd spent two days making.  At 4:15 pm I threw up, 12 hours after Sam had the flu.  We called off the dinner and most of it went into the freezer in the garage.  So sad.

This cake was too yummy not to share.

Rebekah's Glorious Upside Down Apple Cake
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 eggs
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. good vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
4 TB. salted butter, melted
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
juice of one lemon

Beat the eggs with the 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes or so.  Stir together the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl.  Add it carefully to the egg mixture, then add the heavy cream and mix just until it comes together.

In a separate small bowl, melt 4 TB. butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1 cup brown sugar together. Divide the mixture into the bottom of two well greased 8 inch round pans.  Peel and slice about 4 cups of apples (I used Empire), squeeze the lemon juice over them and mix with your hands.  Lay the apples down on top of the brown sugar in a circle pattern.  Pour batter over top of apples.

Bake 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Turn oven temperature down to 325 and bake another 15-20 minutes or until cake is done.  Cool cake for 5 minutes in the pan, then gently turn out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Red Cup! Red Cup!!

Yea!   No winter drinks yet though.  It does feel a little wrong to be carrying that cup around in 73 degree weather today.  I managed though.

Our Favorite Winter Fruit

I will be forever indebted to my friend in California, Amy, who first introduced me to this wonderful winter fruit.  Pomegranates are now in season and they are our family's favorite winter fruit by a long shot.  Scott will eat a bowl of these like cereal, with a spoon.  I enjoy them by the handful, sprinkled over salads and cereal.  Sam just likes them.  Any way, how, or where.
They are a bit time consuming to open and peel, Pom's website has a great diagram.  I think it is well worth the time spent, especially when you consider how great they are for you.  If you chew up the seed, it's high in fiber too!
Springbrook Market is selling them for .89 cents a piece, the best deal in town.  Otherwise, you'll pay around $3 for one at Jewel or Dominicks.  Happy peeling!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Classic

I promise you, we didn't even set him up.  I turned around and there he was, snuggling up to the fire hydrant like it was his new best friend.

Halloween 2008

Sam decided to be a Dalmatian this year, because he likes dogs and because his Aunt Lesley offered his mom a free costume.  Here he is with his two buddies from Storytime, looking slightly startled. 

And with the rest of the cousins, we're just missing Batman off to the left.

Pensive and flirtatious.

Sorry for the absence...

I've been a little tied up.
Especially this afternoon, when Sam decided to reorganize all my books in the attic.  And then make a phone call.  No idea who he wanted to talk to.

The latter part of October flew by, as our computer crashed for a few days, Scott resigned at the bank, we hosted two small parties and rehearsals have started in earnest for two Christmas concerts.

I'm off to dust off the books and get them back on the shelves.  Sam is talking now, so I'm assuming he understood me as I lectured him about the integrity of books and how these are not HIS to play with.  We'll see.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Momentous Occasion: The Barbershop with Great Grandpa

Today Sam went for his first "Man" cut at Sheridan's Barbershop, after our weekly family date at Starbucks this morning.  We've been waving and walking by these barbers since Sam was born, seeing as they're located right beside the local Starbucks.  

Great Grandpa also needed a haircut, so we decided to have a four generation span in the two chairs.  Unfortunately my dad missed out, needing to be at work in the city.

Sam helps Barber Mark with the brush, maintaining a mouthful of fruit snacks all the while.

Immediately after the flash went off in this picture, Sam burst into a glorious smile.  Thanks a lot Buddy.
How blessed and happy we are to have our precious family so close by for memories like these!  A perfect Friday morning.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Happy Fall from Sonny Acres!

Our family had a fun outing last weekend amongst the pumpkins, ponies, chickens, and caramel apples at Sonny Acres Farm.  It was a sweltering day though, much to my disgust.  You can almost make out the beads of sweat on Sam's glistening forehead.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Worth-the-Hassle, Wow-Your-Friends, German Chocolate Cake

This, my friends, is a serious cake for people who are serious about their desserts.   Fortunately enough, it is not seriously hard to make, just requiring one extra step beyond a normal scratch cake.  I and my entire family can vouch that it is worth your time.

Mindblowingly Good German Chocolate Cake (From Kathleen King's must-have cookbook, Tate's Bake Shop) yields either two 10 inch layers or three 9 inch layers

4 oz. Baker's German Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup canned cream of coconut (Coco Lopez is the brand)
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup salted butter, softened to room temp
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 tsp. good vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour three 9 inch rounds or two 10 inch rounds.  Microwave chopped chocolate and cream of coconut until melted and smooth, about a minute or two.  Stir well to combine.  Set aside to cool.

Mix together flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl, set aside.

In a mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often.  Beat in the vanilla.  Stir in melted chocolate mixture and mix until combined.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture, ending with the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to a soft peak.  Do this right before you are ready to use them.  Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the cake mixture.  Fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges start to pull away from the sides and the center feels springy to the touch.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and turn it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.  Spread the frosting evenly between layers, the sides do not get iced.

German Chocolate Cake Frosting 
1 cup butter
2 cups evaporated milk (About a can and a half)
6 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup pecans (I buy the salted and toasted ones from Trader Joe's)

In a small saucepan stir together the butter, milk, egg yolks and sugar.  Cook the ingredients over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and is golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Add vanilla.  Remove from heat.  Cool it completely.  Taste for salt and add a bit if you need to.
Stir in pecans and coconut.
If you make this icing in advance, store it in a plastic container with a lid and bring it to room temp before icing the cake.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sam wins friends, influences people with new helmet

"Hey guys, what's up?  Do you like my cool hat?"
"Wait, what do you mean 'it's not a hat'?"
"So you're saying I don't look cool?"
Awwwww man.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Squirrel Deterrent for your Pumpkins


Are you being driven NUTS (no joke intended) by little furry friends who are nibbling away at your hard won gourds and pumpkins?  Then listen up my friend, for I have an answer for you.

Spray Lacquer.  Yep.  That's it.  I buy my pumpkins, wash them off well, dry them in the sun and then spray them from top to bottom with Liquid/Spray Shellac or Laquer from your local hardware store.

I'm not sure why, but it seems to work like a charm.  Last year I'd get the odd bite here or there, but for the most part squirrels seemed to detest the taste of it.

If, however, you're trying to salvage indian corn outside, you're on your own.  There's no hope for the likes of you.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Chicken Stock Overload

I don't really know how or why this happened, but somehow I ended up with EIGHT quarts of homemade chicken stock in my deep freeze out in the garage.  I can feel a serious bout of soups coming on: white chicken chili, butternut squash apple, beef chili....

My Chicken Stock (a compilation of several recipes, based off Ina Garten's)

3 carcasses of roasting chickens, and any other chicken parts you want to throw in (breasts on the bone, necks, whatever.  You can freeze the chicken carcasses after you've eaten the meat, then just defrost them all when you're ready to make the stock.)
2 large onions, unpeeled and quartered
1 leek, top and bottom trimmed, cut in half and washed out well, quartered
4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
6 carrots, washed, unpeeled, cut in half
20 sprigs of fresh parsley
1 TB. whole black peppercorns
15 sprigs fresh thyme
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
1 TB. kosher salt
3 quarts of your favorite store-bought chicken stock (I like Trader Joe's)
4 quarts of water

Place the chickens, onions, leeks, celery, carrots, parsley, garlic and salt into a 16 to 20 quart stockpot.  Place the peppercorns and thyme sprigs into a tea ball or cheesecloth pouch and add to the pot.  (It keeps the peppercorns from floating at the top and thereby getting skimmed off.)  Add the 3 quarts of chicken stock to the pot, then the water...enough water that it covers the ingredients, could be a little more or less then 4 quarts.  Bring to a boil, once boiling, turn heat down to a simmer.  Skim off the gray foam that comes to the top in the first 30 minutes, the more you skim the junk off, the clearer your stock will be at the end.  Simmer uncovered for 4 hours.

Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids.  Chill the stock overnight.  The next day, remove the surface fat.  Use within a day or two, or pack into containers or ziplock bags and freeze for up to 3 months.  

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Magic

I just discovered that popcorn works magic.  

Sam is finally at the age where he can eat it without choking himself.  I popped one of the 100 calorie bags and stuck it all in a ziplock bag to bring with to Costco.

60 glorious minutes later...Sam was sitting happily in the cart, reaching into the bag, eating his popcorn kernel by kernel while I strolled the isles, lazily shopping through the clothes and even getting a head start on Christmas shopping.

Thank you dear Jesus for popcorn.

Anyone need a knife block?

Random, I know, but I just bought a bigger one that finally fits all my knives.  If anyone has a good home for an 8 slot beechwood knife block, let me know.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A First Taste of Spaghetti


I think he liked it.  :)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Awww, come ON!

You might tell me I'm out of my mind, but I got immediately crabby when I pulled up the weather for this week and saw that it's supposed to be in the 80's until Friday.  

GEEZ. 

Even Google has gone Fall on me today, why can't I be wearing jeans and enjoying my down comforter??  

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sam attempts to dribble

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I love his throaty, wild chuckle as he tries to bounce the ball.  What fun these sweet days are!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Arboretum

Thought this moth was strikingly pretty when we were enjoying a gorgeous day at the Arboretum with our cousins.  That's all.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Delicious Taste of Paris at the French Market

I bit into a pain au chocolat at the French Market on Saturday and was completely transported back to the streets of Paris.  This croissant was The. Same.  Just as good as anything we'd ever had in France, and loads better then any others here in the States.  Flakey, buttery layers that dissolve on your tongue and a fascinating chocolate "goo" in the inside that you just can't get enough of.
Ironically enough, it's one of the cheaper treats at the market, made by french nuns (not even kidding) at a bakery out of Elmhurst, I believe.  Only $2.35 for this baby.  Stop by their booth in the southern row of the French Market some Saturday morning and treat yourself to a taste of heaven.  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Happy Fall, from our house

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am in full FALL mode here.  We've had multiple evenings in the 40's now and you know what that means....fires in the fireplace!

Yeah, you know you wish you were here, cuddled up on the couch with a glass of red wine in your hand.

What would you do with 150 individually wrapped Snickerdoodles?

My little friend Eva is running for 8th grade class president.  Sam and I thought we'd aid her efforts with a blatantly devious plan to bribe the junior highers with food.  We'll know later today if it worked.  

Snickerdoodles (adapted from Gale Gand's recipe)

For the topping: 3 TB sugar & 1/2 tsp. cinnamon or your own cinnamon sugar, to taste

3 1/2 cups flour
1 TB. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 TB. light corn syrup
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

To make cookie dough, stir together the dry ingredients.  In a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment, cream the butter.  Add the sugar and continue to mix, adding the eggs one at a time and blending well.  Add corn syrup and vanilla.  Gently mix in the dry ingredients and mix until well blended.  Chill the dough for 1 hour.  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll balls of dough into the size of a walnut and then roll them in cinnamon sugar a few times until well coated.  Place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 8-9 minutes, rotating tray halfway through baking.  

You can also form the balls, roll them in cinnamon sugar and place on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze until hard.  Then place all the balls in a ziplock bag and keep in the freezer, baking them normally, just out of the freezer as you need them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

CSA #7

This week we got the best tomato I've ever eaten (on a whole wheat toasted bagel, smeared with organic cream cheese, kosher salt and pepper), asian pears, peppers, an acorn squash, kohlrabi, greens and more kale.  Oh, and a garlic too.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Thankful

I am so thankful today.  Thankful that everyone is safe, except for the poor man who decided that life wasn't worth living anymore.

Thankful for golf, that kept Scott out of the office yesterday when a gunman disarmed a cop, ran into Wheaton Bank and took all 12 of the employees and a few customers in the lobby hostage.  From 1:30 pm until about 4:45 pm the whole city held its breath, waiting and watching to see what he would do.  Swat teams from the FBI and the County, strange looking green tanks and helicopters descended around the building.  All trains were shut down coming to and from Wheaton.

Thankful for Ruth Carlson, another senior commercial lender in the bank with Scott, who courageously and fearlessly talked the gunman into letting people go one by one, until he was left with just two, my cousin Christian and another woman named Kim.

Thankful for the incredible chain of prayer that started almost immediately...we and our family were receiving calls, emails and facebook messages from people all over the globe saying that they were praying right then.  

Thankful that everyone got out safe and unharmed, and that no one had to witness that final shot.

Thankful that day is over.  

Please pray for the family of Mr. Long, he had two little children (4 and 2) and a wife who are left to pick up the pieces.  And for the employees who lived through this ordeal and have to go back to work on Tuesday.

Yes, that is Scott up there in this photo from today's Chicago Tribune, and my cousin Christian is hugging Ruth, after finally making it out of there.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ahem.

Confession time.  

It's a rainy day out here, gray skies and a high of 64 degrees.  Good thing I pulled out all our fall decorations back on August 21st, so I was READY.

But I'm standing on a slippery slope here.  After getting home from Bible Study today I put Nat King Cole on our iPod and let it pick out songs from everything he's done.  The first five ones were from his Christmas Song album.  

And I?  I did not turn it off.  In fact I can still hear it from here, "silent night, holy night..."

How can something so wrong feel so right?  

Don't tell anyone but I may even make a fire tonight for when Scott comes home.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sweet and Sour Tempura Chicken

Ok folks, just got up from a super easy, SUPER delicious dinner tonight and I had to tell someone.  

Trader Joe's makes Tempura Chicken with a pineapple sweet and sour sauce in their frozen section.  For $6.99 (the bag easily fed two of us) it was BETTER then the PF Chang's we had last night.  Insanely good.  Crispy, flavorful, chicken breast that baked up on a cookie sheet, and then the sauce was finger-lickin' good.  

I paired it with Trader Joe's Asian Salad mix (mandarin oranges, wontons, spring greens and almonds) and it was divine.  You could just as easily toss the chicken with pineapple chunks and bell peppers and serve it atop some jasmine rice.

Had to share the love.  This may be my new favorite meal.  Scott also asked that it be added to the rotation.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Future Interior Designer?

So the other day, I pulled out all our fall decorations during Sam's morning nap.  His eyes were like saucers when he woke up and saw all the various pumpkins, gourds, leaves and candles strewn about the house.  I knew we'd run into issues the first time he wanted to play with them, of course, so I was ready to calmly explain that these were not toys and that he needed to be gentle with them.

For about the next half hour Sam would pick up a pumpkin, bring it over to me in the kitchen, and show it to me, like, "Look what I found!!"  I told him to go put it back, and that it wasn't a toy.  

It wasn't until later when I saw how he'd neatly arranged them.  It cracked me up for some reason.  

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Our Own Little Garden of Eden

He'll kill me for this when he's older.  In our defense, we were treating a massive case of diaper rash.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Transitionary Soup


So our evenings this past week have been cool, like 53 degree cool.  I am loving it, needless to say, and am entirely on board with fall being around the corner.  This month's Everyday Food featured a bunch of broccoli recipes, one of which was this Broccoli Corn Chowder Soup.  After doubling the veggies and adding some grated sharp white cheddar cheese, it was delicious.  Comes together in just one pot, and only takes about 25 minutes to prepare and cook. 

Broccoli Chowder with Corn and Potatoes (adapted from Everyday Food Sept '08)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup flour
2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth (or one quart of homemade chicken stock, it's the best)
3 white potatoes, or Yukon Golds, washed well and diced
2 heads of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets, stalks peeled and thinly sliced
10 oz. frozen corn (the frozen corn from Costco is awesome, only $5 for a massive bag)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups whole milk
1-2 cups grated sharp white cheddar
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot, cook onion in a few TB. olive oil until it begins to soften, about 6-8 minutes.  Add garlic, cook one more minute being careful not to burn it.  Add flour, stirring constantly, cook for about 30 seconds.  Add broth and potato, bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until potato is tender, about 10 minutes.  Add broccoli, corn, thyme, and milk; cook until broccoli is crisp-tender, 8-10 minutes.  Add cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, August 29, 2008

CSA #6

This week the haul was a little light, supposedly due to the cooler weather we've been having.  Tomatoes, purple beans, squash, cucumbers, one head of garlic, kale, cabbage and tiny tiny potatoes.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An Ode to Summer Fruit

Sour Cherries at the French Market...
Breathtakingly delicious strawberries from a small farm down in Murphysboro, IL.  I've never tasted better.

Looking at these pictures just makes me happy.  Thought I'd share the joy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Dream Night in the City

So how lucky were WE back in June when my husband's boss and friend asked us to join he and his wife for pizza, fireworks and a ride down the Chicago River on a private yacht back in June.  I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about it, because it ended up being one of the highlights of our summer.

It was the perfect night: cool and crisp, not a cloud in the sky.  I don't even think we hit traffic driving downtown, magical from the start.
It was a really fun group, three couples in all, dressed warmly in fleeces against the breeze from the lake.  This boat even came with it's own friendly captain, Dan.
For me, the ultimate highlight of the evening was when one of my husband's customers asked, "What's for dessert?"  None of us had thought to bring anything, but LUCKILY we just HAPPENED to be a few blocks from the most fabulous place in town for brownies, tarts, cookies, cakes and more...Fox and Obel.
I offered (of COURSE) to hop out (well, scramble up a wooden wall, totally undignified-like, was more like it...good thing I wore jeans) while they docked the boat illegally at Dick's Last Resort and waited for me to come back with a variety of desserts.  Scott's cash was burning a hole in my pocket and I literally had an adrenaline rush going as I surveyed the plethora of treats sitting in front of me at that amazing grocery store.  
We cruised up and down the river, gazing at the beautifully lit buildings.  I felt like a rock star, perched on the bow of the boat, watching the city slowly float by.

We ended the evening out on the lake, anchored for a perfect view of the skyline and then the fireworks that are shot off at Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday nights in the summertime.  

What a night.