Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tickled pink

I am beyond excited. My sister Dayna found out she is having a girl yesterday.  I grew up in a very girly family of three girls, and so far, my mom has two grandsons from my sister Laura and me. A girl!!!! I can't wait to be her auntie...tea parties, oh my!  Oh, I'm so excited in so many have the next generation sitting at the table with my mom, sisters and me chatting after Christmas dinner; for little knobby knees sticking out from under princess skirts; and to see my little sister in her daughter.

Best of all - I can read the Hanna Andersson catalogs now with purpose!

Monday, February 15, 2010

City Sweet Travel: Riviera Maya

Jeremy and I just got back from a short getaway to the Riviera Maya in Mexico. It was my first big trip away from Jack, and we all did well, with many thanks to some wonderful friends back here in Chicago. Some of the highlights from our stay at the Maroma Hotel:

1. The beach: Yes, I now know the true color of Carribbean blue. We left behind a foot of snow in Chicago, and we relished the 80-degree weather, the sun, and the soothing sound of the gentle waves. I have never seen a more pristine beach with crystal-clear water.

2. The service: The staff at Maroma were endlessly accommodating. I already miss my turndown service.  A special shout-out to Sergio who was stationed along the beachfront. 

3. Our room: There are 65 rooms at the Maroma - it's a smaller hotel, which we loved. The rooms were tucked away all around the hotel grounds, and each room had its own private entrance. We had a lovely private porch, where we drank our coffee every morning. We were not beachside but could hear the waves at night.

4. The food: How could I not mention the food? Fresh fruit, fresh seafood, the mole, oh my! Just to give you a taste of the quality, here is the bread basket (with freshly made jams) at our breakfast table every morning.

5. The serenity: I'm not sure if I can capture the words to describe how at peace we felt - the everyday worries melting away. For me, it was just the right amount of time away, without going too long with being away from Jack.

We landed back in Chicago, and I turned on XRT as we drove over to pick up Jack from our friends' house. The radio host was saying what a beautiful day it had been in Chicago - albeit in the 20s, it was sunny. I just had to smile. Sunday morning, I found myself reading the Travel section, planning our next getaway.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Cloth-napkin dining with Jack

I've had the opportunity to eat lunch at Prairie Grass Cafe twice, paired with visits to one of my favorite places, the Chicago Botanic Garden. Tonight, Jeremy's mom took us all - including Jack - out for dinner there, which I was very excited to do and introduce Jeremy to.  This restaurant has a menu of upscale comfort food made with seasonal ingredients.

Prairie Grass Cafe is the perfect restaurant for recovering new parents who were once foodies. They use ingredients from local farms, mostly organic, and are extremely accommodating of children. When we sat down, I relished the cloth napkins...cloth-napkin dining with Jack? They asked if Jack wanted whole or skim milk...another plus. They had a very nice children's menu, and we just love our appetizers (how could a simple cream of mushroom soup be so velvety and so delicious?). Our entrees of duck for Ellen and Jeremy and beef from Tallgrass Beef for me were great; the wine list was reasonably priced and extensive.  Dinner was finished with a scoop of homemade vanilla bean ice cream for Jack.

It was a great dinner for the fabulous food and not being stressed about having my two-year-old out after sundown. The atmosphere was friendly yet elegant. It was a bit expensive but I highly recommend for a special treat!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snowy February Friday

Hi. Jack didn't nap today, and Mommy is tired. Since he wasn't doing the nap and I wasn't getting any work done, I felt like we should be somewhat productive in the late afternoon. So on went the winter coats and out the door we went. On our way to the ATM, we cruised past Snippets, and Jack said, "haircut?" If a two-year-old is asking for a haircut, I thought I should probably take him up on the offer.

Two lollipops later, I had a well-coiffed little boy. And he was a prince during the whole hair-cutting process. We may be on to something! Back into the car with two more errands to run, the last being a stop at Whole Foods. Jeremy and I typically do some sort of take-out on Friday nights, but tonight, it was easiest to pick up a roast chicken and some fresh vegetables. 

So tonight's dinner wasn't a full-fledged home-cooked dinner but that's okay. We made mashed potatoes (the secret is a dollop of sour cream, which I learned at Thanksgiving, courtesy of my mother-in-law) and some yummy roasted maple-mustard green beans (and carrots). This recipe was first made famous by Mark's epic meal and was much appreciated at my family's Christmas table (especially by Uncle Geoff).

Roasted Maple-Mustard Green Beans
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Serves 4.

1 T. maple syrup
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. grainy mustard
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 pound green beans, stem ends snapped off
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks about 2 inches long and ¼ inch thick
1 T. olive oil
1 T. minced fresh parsley

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine maple syrup, mustards, and cayenne in small bowl.
2. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil; arrange beans and carrots on baking sheet. Drizzle with oil; using hands, toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, toss to coat, and distribute in even layer. Roast 10 minutes.

3. Remove baking sheet from oven. Using tongs, coat beans and carrots evenly with maple-mustard mixture; redistribute in even layer. Continue roasting until carrots and beans are dark golden brown in spots and beans are starting to shrivel, 10 to 12 minutes longer.
4. Adjust seasoning with salt and toss well to combine. Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another first for today...

I made a recipe tonight I had earmarked in the February 2010 issue of Parents - the first time I've used a recipe from this magazine.  It did not take very long (I made it more complicated by simultaneously making a lemon buttermilk cake and trying to keep Jack entertained). It was good and felt healthier than Chinese take-out:

Crispy beef with broccoli
For the beef marinade:
1 1/2 t. reduced sodium soy sauce
1 t. cornstarch
freshly ground black pepper

For the stir-fry sauce:
3 T. oyster sauce
2 t. water
2 t. balsamic vinegar

To prepare:
1 lb beef top sirloin or flank steak, thinly sliced into 1/8"-thick strips
1 1/2 lbs. broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets (about 4 cups)
1 T. canola or vegetable oil
1 T. minced garlic (6 gloves)

1. In a medium bowl, combine the ingredients for the marinade. Add the beef and let marinade for 10 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate for a couple of hours. (I did the first option and it turned out fine!)
2. In a small bowl, using a fork, mix together the ingredients for the stir-fry sauce. Set aside.
3. In a wok or large saute pan, add 1 inch of water (about 5 cups) and bring to a boil.  Add broccoli and cover to cook for 3 minutes. The broccoli should be bright green and crisp-tender; you should be able to pierce the stem with a fork.  Using a slotted spoon, remove broccoli and pat dry.
4. Discard the water in the pan and dry it well. Place over high heat and when hot, add the canola oil and swirl to coat. Add the garlic and saute for 15 to 30 seconds, until fragrant. Toss in the steak strips, keeping them in one layer and saute for 30 seconds. Flip the strips and cook the other side for 1 to 2 minutes more or until done.
5. Pour the stir-fry sauce and stir to combine. Add the cooked broccoli back into the pan and toss to coat well. Serve with rice.

Yes, it's true

We have gone international, gentle reader. I have a counter on my blog (it doesn't tell me much identifying information - just what browsers people use when they read my blog, their country, etc.). Well, I'm proud to report that City Sweet had its very first international reader today. Hello, Canada!!!