Sunday, December 18, 2011


This weekend was a quiet one, and we needed it. Last week, I was out four of the five weeknights for lots of holiday cheer and that is too much for me and for the kids. Jeremy and I each had a work holiday party Thursday, along with Jack's holiday party at school Friday.
Jack with the Day School's beloved "Grandma" Penny.

By yesterday morning, I was pooped. Jack and I both were sick, and we all hid away from the world, spending Saturday in our pjs and watching the snow from our window. Jeremy and I even had to cancel our plans to attend friends' holiday party that night.

Today, we regrouped. We were all feeling better and the sun was shining brightly. I took off early in the morning, hitting stores as they opened. I finished my Christmas shopping and bought my ingredients for my Hanukkah dinner (how many people can say that in the same sentence?). I came through our front door, stashing a few toy shopping bags in the front closet and triumphantly holding an 8-pound, bone-in turkey breast.

And the big to-do after an early lunch: We took Jossie for her first haircut. Everyone I know has an opinion on if we should cut her hair or not, but I reasoned, I'm the mama, so I get to decide. And so:


I started dinner around 4 p.m. tonight. I have been determined to find the best shepherd's pie recipe ever. I have tried many a recipe and this time, I modified one I had found through the Epicurious app. While my version doesn't use the traditional ground lamb, I think I've found a winner. The fresh rosemary really makes this dish; one whiff of it, and I feel like I'm in Tommy Nevin's Pub back in Evanston. 

The Best Shepherd's Pie Ever
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 pounds ground beef
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat parsley
1 cup frozen peas
3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup half-and-half
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Egg wash:
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon water

In a large sauté pan (I used my dutch oven) over medium-high heat, heat the oil, then add the onion, carrot, and meat. Cook until browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Drain the fat and add the broth, tomato paste, and herbs. Simmer until the juices thicken, about 10-12 minutes, then add the peas.

Pour the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and set aside. 

Meanwhile, bring the potatoes to a boil in salted water. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes; drain.

Mash the potatoes with the butter, half-and-half, salt and pepper. My preferred mashing method is to bust out the electric hand mixer.

Spread the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture, then crosshatch the top with a fork.

Brush the potatoes with egg wash.

Bake in a 375-degree oven until golden, 30 to 35 minutes.

Shepherd's pie is not the most photogenic. I tried to take pictures but they were not pretty. Just trust me on this one and try out this recipe some cold winter night.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Visions of sugar plums

One of Jack's classmates hosted the loveliest holiday cookie party today after class. Parents held their children's hands as we crossed a sunny but chilly Michigan Avenue to our hosts' building.

Sweet smells of buttercream icing and candy welcomed us. Our hosts had thought of every detail - each child had a red tin with his or her name on it, which Jack and his classmates decorated with holiday stickers. Lunch was served and then it was cookie time. Cookies lined the tables; small hands filled the tins. Undecorated cookies were set at the end of one table, with a tub of Sweet Mandy B's icing and sprinkles for decorating.

A few of the recipes shared:

Stylin' Snowmen
1 cup white chocolate chips
50 mini chocolate chips
Orange decorators' gel
Fruit leather
10 gummy rings
10 gumdrops
10 (8-inch long) pretzel rods

Place the white chocolate chips in a 2-quart bowl. Microwave them for 1 minute, then stir with a wooden spoon. If the chips are not completely melted, microwave them for 30 seconds more, then stir until smooth. Let the chocolate cool and thicken slightly.

One at a time, dip one end of a pretzel rod into the melted chocolate and use a plastic spoon or knife to spread the chocolate two-thirds of the way down the pretzel rod. Place the pretzel on a sheet of waxed paper and press on mini chocolate chips for eyes and buttons. Use orange decorators' gel to add a carrot nose.

Chill the pretzels in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens, about 2 minutes.

Stand the pretzels in a mug or glass and tie on strips of fruit leather for scarves. For each hat, stretch a gummy ring over the narrow end of a gumdrop and secure it to the pretzel rod with a dab of melted chocolate. Makes 10.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 ½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces), divided
3 large egg whites
2 ½ cups powdered sugar, divided
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray.  Melt 1 cup chocolate chips in glass bowl in microwave, stirring twice, about 2 minutes. 

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl to soft peaks.  Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar.  Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow creme.  Whisk 1 cup sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.  On low speed, beat dry ingredients into meringue.  Stir in lukewarm chocolate and ½ cup chocolate chips (dough will become very stiff).

Place ½ cup sugar in bowl.  Roll 1 rounded tablespoon dough into ball; roll in sugar, coating thickly.  Place on prepared sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart.  Bake until puffed and tops crack, about 8 minutes.  Cool on sheets for 10 minutes.  Transfer to rack; cool.  Makes about 24.

Italian Pizzelles
This is an Italian wafer-like cookie that Jack and I brought. It requires a pizzelle press.

3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter and vanilla. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Batter will be stiff enough to be dropped by spoon. Batter can be refrigerated to be used as a later time. Bake using a pizzelle press, following the manufacturer's instructions. Makes 30 pizzelles.

And one mama's honest response when I asked for cookie recipes:

Pressed wreath cookies
1 roll Pillsbury premade sugar cookie dough
Peppermint candies

Shove dough into cookie press (wreath-shaped, of course). Sprinkle cookies with peppermint candies and bake per package instructions. Place in extremely overpriced cookie tin in hopes of fooling friends. Even the extremely overpriced cookie tin won't fool anyone but they won't call you on it either!

We are very fortunate to have found Jack's preschool. It is such a warm community of teachers, parents and children. And today's activity could not have been more festive and full of childlike wonder.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making time for the good stuff

I would like to preface this post by saying I love Internet shopping. It is my saving grace this holiday season. Thank you, Amazon.

This past Sunday morning, I was standing on Michigan Avenue and thought to myself, "What the heck am I doing here?"

You could feel the rush of holiday shoppers descending on this shopping destination. I myself had just left church. Taking advantage of my validated parking at a nearby building (that's city living for you - validated parking to attend church), I had three errands to run: Return a pair of pants bought online; buy gloves for Jeremy at Bloomingdale's; and buy a box of thank you notes. I kept my head down and moved quickly.

As most parents I know, Jeremy and I are trying to keep perspective on the holiday season, focusing on the joys of Christmas and spending more time with family and less time on the hustle and bustle of the season.

Last night, we felt the joy. Jack and I made a mess of holiday cookies. Emphasis on the mess. There were sprinkles everywhere but we had the Frank Sinatra holiday station playing on Pandora; Jossie squealing at her toys as the Christmas lights sparkled; and the sweet smells of sugar cookies perfuming the air.

I've shared this recipe before but it's worth sharing again. It's my mom's tried-and-true recipe:

Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar

Mix powdered sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and almond extracts. Stir in flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Divide dough in half. Roll each half 3/16-inch thick on a lightly flour-covered surgace. Cut dough in desired shapes with cookie cutters. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 7 to 8 minutes (until edges are slightly browned). Frost and decorate as desired.

I did not frost the cookies; I simply used sprinkles because it was easier. I picked up red and green sanding sugar at Williams-Sonoma and was so pleased with the results. If you do have time for frosting, however:

Creamy Decorators' Frosting
Beat 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 t. vanilla extract and about 1 T. water or 1 to 2 T. of half and half until smooth and of spreading consistency. Tint with 2 to 3 drops of food coloring, if desired. Makes enough for 3 to 5 dozen cookies.

This morning, I plugged in the Christmas tree lights and held Jack close as we enjoyed a quiet moment. I asked him what Christmas is about.

"Being nice...," he replied and I felt my heart sing and a tear spring to my eye. " Santa, so I can get presents."

Okay, so maybe there's a bit more work to be done.

And mamas, my BFF turned me on to this website if you do need some quick, good ideas for Christmas gifts. All of these links are my own personal editorial - nothing was sponsored - just me spreading my finds.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

So maybe we won't sell Jack to the circus just yet

I found this in his cubby at school this morning.


Jack's latest trick is hiding things just to drive me bonkers. Last night, we were both overtired from our Thanksgiving travels, us both recovering from colds, and me having a long day at work. The plug for Jack's small ceramic piggy bank from Nordstrom was missing, and he and I escalated into an argument before bedtime about its whereabouts. It was irrational and fueled by our tiredness and Jack's overall contrarian behavior.

Jack and Jossie share a bedroom, and our arguing woke a sleeping Jossie, who started crying, adding to the situation. I told Jack if he couldn't take care of his things, I would take his piggy bank. He followed me as I huffed into my bedroom, and Jeremy, carrying a crying Jossie, was close behind.

The arguing continued and then I - quite without thinking - dropped the piggy bank. Intentional or not, I don't know. 

Piggy didn't break into a few clean pieces. He broke into a million zillion little pieces. We all stopped, shocked. Then Jack escalated into hysterical crying, which set Jossie off as well.

I needed a moment to collect myself, but then a calmness washed over me. As Jeremy comforted Jossie, I took a sobbing Jack into my arms and settled him into his bed, which the day before I had made with flannel sheets as the weather is turning colder. He cried and clung to me, desperate for my acceptance and love. I was able to speak calmly and plainly to him - that he needed to listen but that I also was pushed too far and no one is perfect. He wound his skinny arms around my neck and promised he would be a "good listener."

Jack feel soundly asleep quickly. Jeremy brought Jossie in and gently laid her down in her crib. We closed their bedroom door softly behind us.

And then I cried. I cried and I cried. I asked Jeremy and God for forgiveness for showing such weakness in front of my children. Jeremy comforted me. I feel overwhelmed with my work and managing my home life with two small children who depend on me. And the holidays are almost upon us - a time I love but also a time that brings more work and planning. I climbed into my bed and fell asleep.

Okay. I don't want you to worry about me (Mom). The change from the piggy bank is in a plastic bag on Jack's dresser and the ceramic pieces have been swept up. And I'm pulling myself together as well.

I believe that if you're in a difficult situation, you should take action over simply complaining. It's the early hours of Tuesday morning, and I'm already feel some clarity about steps I can take at work - at an organization I care deeply about - and some changes I can take at home to ease my mind.

I haven't gone to a dark place, to be sure. I love my family and I feel loved. The fact that I can write about these things to you, gentle reader, must mean something too.

As we approach the Christmas season, I wish for peace in our lives. I pray for focus on what really matters and to dwell less on the niggling stuff. We'll get there, I promise.

Friday, November 25, 2011


I'm pretty sure if City Sweet had an official holiday, it would be Thanksgiving - a holiday built around food and feeling grateful.

And yesterday was a perfect day in New York - sunny and high 50s. We're visiting Jeremy's family, and Jack continued Papa's tradition of heading to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And my mother-in-law made a perfect turkey (just ask Jossie, who had three helpings and you should see that girl around pumpkin pie - she made her mama proud).

All that said, I didn't have much time for reflection. I've got lots to reflect upon from this past year, but not a lot of focus this day. Jack was acting defiant - I was taking it personally until I realized he was just acting four.  And Jossie clung to me most of the day, like my little baby monkey. I'm still a little sick too - so I took a long nap in the afternoon. The end of the evening, I was curled up in bed with Jack and Jossie sleeping around me, Jossie half-grousing/half-nursing and Jack routinely kicking me in the shins.

Jeremy found us all in bed when he came to bed. He settled Jossie into her travel crib and got ready for bed himself. As he settled in, he said to me (sorry, Jeremy, you're married to a blogger), "Everything I'm thankful for is because of you."

Well, then.

I'm grateful for love.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

World Prematurity Day

Today is the first-ever World Prematurity Day and Jossie's 10-month birthday to boot. A few facts from the March of Dimes:

  • 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely.
  • Worldwide, 13 million babies are born too early each year.
  • Each year, 1 out of every 13 babies will die from being born too early.
Jossie was born January 17, weighing 3 lb 6 oz.
We were in Prentice's NICU for 22 days.
Between today and January 17, Jossie's first birthday, we are raising funds for the March of Dimes in honor of our strong girl. Please consider making a gift of $5, $10, $25 or more if you are so inclined, to Jossie's fund.

Jossie is 10 months and 18 pounds today.
Thank you!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Happy 4th birthday to Jack

I'm sitting in the back of cab on this rainy Tuesday afternoon, clutching shopping bags - one with a few Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, a balloon from Nordstrom's kids' shoe department, and my purse. Jack is sitting next to me, playing with his new toy airplane and talking in robot-speak. I look up to the front of the cab where I see a paper November 2011 calendar taped to the dashboard, and I smile.

Today Jack is 4.

I don't think my heart could grow any bigger to love this guy, but it does. You know when you're in a new relationship - be it dating or friendship - and you're trying to figure out the person and their personality? Well, I'm realizing that can also happen with your own children, nieces and nephews. Sure, you know these little people since birth, but there are subtle revelations along life's path where you get to see your little one's personality and character reveal itself, and that's pretty cool, to say the least.

I was fortunate to take off today from work to spend the day with my guy. I was touched by the birthday celebration the teachers did for Jack at preschool - they had him stand in front of the class as they celebrated wonderful him. Kids are no angels to be sure, but his preschool teachers invoke such a strong sense of love, respect and responsibility in the classroom, that the kids can't help but follow their lead. And when my guy declared his favorite colors were pink and purple, and I braced myself, all of the other big boys took it in stride. As one teacher asked him a few other questions, I couldn't help but smile. It was like watching a little Jeremy - with all of Jeremy's mannerisms - speaking before his class.

The day was rounded out by having lunch with Daddy at Nordstrom's Cafe, a new pair of Batman rainboots, a lovely party at Mommy's office, complete with cupcakes and presents (seriously, it will never be lost on me how awesome my workplace is), our cab ride home, and dinner with Maria and her daughter Ruby.

I don't have a lot of parenting perspective just yet, but here's what I know so far. The three's weren't so bad. The two's were like reasoning with a crazy person, but the three's were much smoother. We had our moments, and I certainly lost my patience big-time here and there, but overall, Jack is growing and maturing, and it's wonderful to see. This year, he became a big brother and a preschooler. He says things like, "You look so beautiful, Mommy," and he's empathetic. Jeremy and I have moved past the stage of just feeding and watering Jack - now we're on to helping him grow his emotional, intellectual and spiritual self, and that is an overwhelming privilege.

Happy birthday, my sweet boy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Best baby food ever

One of my favorite baby food cookbooks is Cooking for Baby by Lisa Barnes.  And this is, hands' down, one of Jack's and now Jossie's favorite recipes. It's called pumpkin soup, but the consistency, for me, always comes out more like pumpkin pasta, which I think is easier to feed to baby.

Pumpkin soup with alphabet pasta

1 T. butter
1 T. yellow onion, finely diced
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 T. applesauce
1/8 t. allspice
1/8 t. dried thyme
1/4 c. mini alphabet noodles (we like Eden Organic)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add pumpkin puree, broth, applesauce, allspice and thyme and bring to a boil.

Add alphabet noodles and cook until tender, 8-10 minutes, or according to package directions.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Fully realized kind of day

I promised myself I wouldn't do retro-blogging. If a day went by and I didn't write down my thoughts for that day, so be it.

But I'm breaking my rules. Today is Monday, and I have to write about last Friday.

Friday morning, I was sitting in the Museum of Contemporary Art's darkened auditorium in the last row next to my friend and fellow board member for a group we volunteer with. We're both in dresses, legs crossed. At our feet are programs for the event our group has sponsored, along with index cards and pens for the audience's questions. She's quietly clicking away on her Blackberry, and I feel this urge to lean over and give her a squeeze. She was the last friend who had visited me in the hospital before Jossie was born. She's a fundraiser for the medical center I was at and not only held my hand but had ensured I was getting the right people to look in on me. I remember her clicking away on her phone in my hospital room, working hard to get my questions answered.

And here we were Friday on a lovely October morning, being so normal. Wearing nametags and networking over coffee and danish with fellow fundraisers. Listening to a program that challenged me to think creatively about my fundraising profession and reminded me of the strong connections forged with others in this field. Happy to be here.

After the morning lecture, I was desperate to finish a grant proposal that was due that day. I had to pick up Jack at 11:45 a.m. from preschool, so rather than go into the office, I decided I would work along Michigan Avenue to save time.  I ended up in the lobby of Prentice. They have free wi-fi, good tea and vegan muffins (taste better than they sound) and I liked the idea of being there and being able to leave any old time I wanted. I also liked know that Jossie was at home and not in 1082E on the 10th floor.

Halfway through the proposal, I realize it's time to fetch Jack. He's still young enough that I can kiss his face over and over in front of his friends when I get to his school, and he's not embarrassed. I like that. We don't need to be home until 12:30 p.m., so Jack and I do some seriously fast shopping at 900 N. Michigan. I score a new winter coat and gloves.

On our way out, Jack declares he'd rather take a cab than a bus. Yes, this comes from a 3-year-old. We end up taking a cab because we're far from the bus stop. And I think it's fun to teach a preschooler how to hail a cab.

We're home, and Maria sticks around and eats lunch with us. I love when she does that - it's nice to stop and have time to chat with her. Jossie is asleep, and I'm banking on Jack taking a nap too so I can finish my proposal. That doesn't happen. He yutzes around, watching TV, as I type away at my laptop, frantically emailing drafts to my co-worker to ensure I'm making sense. This proposal is for one of my favorite families who funds our work, so I want to give them my best.

Proposal gets sent, and Jossie is up. After a change and a bottle, we're headed to the pediatrician to our beloved Dr. Hong. It's Jossie's nine-month check-up, and Jossie girl is 25% percentile for weight (17 lbs 6 oz), 50-75% for length, and 50% for head circumference for her actual age. Also 100% in awesome hair; here's a picture taken a week ago:

We end the day by visiting Jeremy's office and seeing his co-workers and then a yummy dinner at Epic Burger. There's a young family sitting next to us - their infant baby is seated in a high chair, her Tiny Diner spread out, and appropriate finger foods and sippy cup are offered. I look over at my Jossie, my second, who is sitting in Jeremy's arms, playing with a paper napkin.

What was good about today? It was a good mix. I got to have my volunteer work, my work and my kids. Seeing people I care about and who care about me. And shopping. I've missed you, shopping.

As working mamas, we don't always get days like these - feeling that balance. And I had it, at least for a day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One for the road

Today I took my first business trip since my 1998 jaunt to a printing plant in Winston-Salem, NC as the then-yearbook editor at Northwestern. My big adventure today wasn’t so big – a day trip to Milwaukee for a land trust conference via Amtrak.  Woo-wee.

I never really experienced the highs and lows of business travel – the late-night sing-a-longs in a lonely hotel lobby I’m assuming you people do, so this experience was quite the novelty. Even after spilling a cup of coffee on myself in the wee hours of the morning on the train, I still chuckled when Jeremy texted me that both kids were awake and ready to start their day at 5:40 a.m. Ah, peace and quiet, how I’ve missed you, gentle friends.

And it was a really productive day – I attended two great sessions that hopefully will help me grow professionally and, in turn, help my organization. I also met some nice people and – Jeremy – if we’re ever in Missoula, Montana, I have a friend we can stay with.

Yet my mind always goes back to my first and most dear profession: Motherhood. And in honor of my good friend who’s going to be a first-time mama soon and is a seasoned business traveler, I present without further adieu:

Universal truths about motherhood and business travel:
  1. No matter where you are or what time you woke up, it’s magical to watch the sun rise.
  2. Always wear black; it hides stains (please see coffee spill above).
  3. Anti-bacterial wipes are indispensible.
  4. Calories still count so make good food choices.
  5. You can never have too many tissues or napkins (please see coffee spill above).
  6. People get grumpy when they are hungry and tired.
  7. Playing nice always gets you further – you never know when you’ll need an ally or a buddy to help you out.
  8. Make sure your batteries are always charged.
  9. Expect and welcome diversions from the original plan.
  10. A beer at the end of the day never hurt anyone.

What would you add? C’mon, give me your best.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm getting older too

Much birthday ballyhoo last week, including phone calls from family and friends, co-workers who don't pretend anymore there's a "meeting in the conference room" when trying to lure you in for birthday carrot cake from Dinkel's Bakery, gifts from Jeremy including flowers, sparkles and a date at Roka Akor (sushi and wine on a school night!) and handmade cards. I'm grateful for it all.

But a birthday is only one day, and I'm most privileged to tell time these days through my kids.

Being a city mama and all, I could be doing more to take full advantage of living in Chicago. My weekends are spent mostly doing piles of laundry, going grocery shopping and getting ready for the week ahead. So this Sunday, after Jossie was down for her nap and Jeremy was tucked away with his NFL, Jack and I headed out into the fall sunshine to catch the bus to Navy Pier.

Navy Pier is a tourist trap on steroids. Its carnival-like atmosphere is full of kitschy mall stores, overpriced junk food and amusement park rides. We typically make a beeline to the Chicago Children's Museum, and on this day, Jack and I took advantage of every Halloween-themed activity there, including decorating pumpkins and making a superhero cape. Mommy was into making the cape way more than Jack, who was perfectly content cutting up string into itty-bitty pieces. I, on the other hand, had my head down in concentration, tracing the cape pattern on scraps of fabric, cutting it out with too-blunt scissors and decorating it with knick-knacks, wielding the hot glue gun. Periodically, I would invite Jack's feedback so the other parents would stop shooting me dirty looks for basically doing this project all on my own. He would look up from his pile of string and safety scissors to give a nod of approval.

Not bad, eh?

After the museum, we went in search of Thomas the Tank Engine for a train ride. As Jack was buckled into his train seat, me, ever the emotional wreck, nearly cried at the sight. I flashed back to this moment more than two years ago.

And now here we were, my Jack, so tall with his cape across his lanky shoulders. Still a baby at almost-4-years-old in so many ways and growing up so fast at the same time. This is the boy who fell down a few stairs at preschool the other day, and when I made a big fuss over him, he looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "Stop asking me, Mommy, if I'm okay. I'm fine."

Yes, Jack, but am I?

Luckily, Jossie girl is still my baby love, and I'm enjoying every minute of her babyhood, even the teething and sleepless nights. Here she is with half of a pumpkin pancake stuck to her face, taken by Jack.

Until tomorrow...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall is here

Standing at the Green City Market Saturday morning, I don't think I could be any happier. It was a crisp, sunny autumn morning, I was carrying a cup of apple cider as I surveyed the acorn squash. Baby girl Jossie was doing her best kicks in her stroller and Jack was running up to me with flowers he bought with his Daddy as an early birthday present to me.

That pristine scenario was quickly washed away when Jack spilled the apple cider, started to cry and had a tantrum because we pitched the now-empty cup.

And that's life with kids.

It's full of joy, it's messy and it's uncontrollable.

The kiddos did give me a nice gift Sunday afternoon. They both took really long afternoon naps. Oh, I love afternoon naps. Jeremy headed to the gym, and I was alone. Alone in my kitchen. And I cooked. I turned a mound of apples into Jossie's apple puree. I took three zucchini - the last of summer - and steamed and blended them into baby food. And I made Italian wedding soup for Jeremy and me because it's fall, and it's time for soup, lightweight sweaters and cuddles under the covers.

How many great recipes start with this combination?

Baby food-in-waiting, harvest-style.

I also got to talk on the phone with my best friend. We are both so much on the go lately, it's nice to have time to just chat. No texts or emails - just voice-to-voice. And that was nice.

Late that afternoon, we ended our weekend at Grand Street Gardens' Fall Fest. Check out my cute pumpkins.

I turn 35 in three days. Oy. When I am a 35-year-old, I shall wear rooster pj pants.

Good night.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

To my dad

Today is my dad's 60th birthday. Surrounded by a house full of girls (even our cat Chloe), my dad has always been the quiet one.

But he was always there for us - especially for the not-so-fun stuff. Moving us in and out of college; taking us to buy a car (that was never a good time); math projects; oh, the list goes on.

I know he had to do a lot to be home every night in time for dinner. Even now, myself an adult, I see how far he walked to and fro the commuter train when we lived in the hilly suburbs of Pittsburgh, and I still think it's really far. Eating together as a family has all kinds of benefits, and we were lucky as kids to have both parents at the dinner table.

Once in middle school, he left work early to watch me play on the volleyball team (my only foray into sports) and that meant the world to me. I still remember it.

The only thing he can cook are omelets, which I still haven't mastered. That drives me nuts.

He was the first guy in mine and my sisters' lives and he was the one to walk us down the aisles to our husbands. Family comes first in his book, and we're grateful for the example he's given us of a good husband, father and now grandfather.

Happy birthday to the only person I know who likes fruitcake. We love you, Dad.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My day

Maria and I exchanged texts today about how the day was going and how pick-up went at preschool. We basically can read each other's mind at this point, so our correspondence is brief. As I signed off with a "thanks!" I realized I should focus my attention back on my organization's board meeting, given I was just about to speak about Openlands' fundraising goals for the coming year.

I'm very aware of my many worlds lately and my traversing from one to the next.  I start the morning in a sleepy state, often waking up to a cat sleeping on my pillow and a preschooler, clad in Buzz Lightyear pjs, elbowing me. Minutes later, I have my infant daughter tucked under my arm as I'm trying to pour my first cup of coffee for the day.

I'm at school with Jack for the morning drop-off, watching him play with his friends, trying to figure out which one is Oscar, whom he talks about at home. I say hello to my fellow mommys and we discuss our concerns about the kids playing outside in the courtyard next to the busy Michigan Avenue. I give Jack one last hug before dashing for the bus.

The bus gives me five minutes to be by myself. I check my email; I look out the window; I think about my day. As I walk the two blocks to my office from the bus stop, I notice a businessman playing a game of chess with a homeless man.

I'm at work, talking grant proposal deadlines, donor cultivation and stewardship and someone's net worth. My workplace is comfortable; I forget to change out of my sneakers for the entire day, and that's okay. One of Jack's watercolor paintings decorates my office.  Things are stressful as we discuss budgets and the new year.

I'm at home for the evening - where the real marathon begins. Dinner, baths, bedtimes, cleaning up of toys and resetting the house for a new day. Sometimes we open a bottle of wine and sometimes I blog.

Where did today take you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

School days

Nothing too profound to report today - I've enjoyed the last few days bringing Jack to school before work. We take the Chicago Avenue bus together and then walk a few blocks to his school, his small hand in mine. Here are a few pictures from the last couple of days.

Waiting for the bus...

Humoring Mommy...

And Jack's school (on the corner), in the middle of Chicago's Michigan Avenue...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First day of school

This morning, as Jack is still hanging out in his jammies, he's watching Disney Junior. A segment comes on between shows and it's a compilation of Disney mommys and their babies - Bambi, Dumbo, etc. as Jennifer Garner reads this poem, A Mother's Song.

I look at Jack, yutzing around and can't believe we're here: It's his first day of preschool. I can still remember the moment of his birth exactly on that November eve and now we're suiting him up in his monkey backpack and convincing him it's time to retire the summer sandals for his sensible sneakers.

And so Jack - and my heart - headed out to preschool today.

Today's class was only an hour long, and Jack brought along his entourage of Maria, Mommy, Daddy and baby sister Jossie.  It was totally free-form: The kids played with toys, had a snack when they wanted to and said hello to the class bunny, Hopsy Cabbage. Jack mostly played on his own but toward the end, starting to warm up to the others.  All in all, it was a very good morning, and Jack has already declared he's looking forward to going back.

We celebrated the first day of school with lunch at one of of Jeremy's and my favorite places, L'Apetito, which you can find in the base of the John Hancock Building. It's an Italian bakery and they have wonderful sandwiches, salads, pizzas and desserts. Even though it's in a prominent location - right on Michigan Avenue - I feel like it's still under-the-radar as a good lunch spot. As we're there, I picked Jack up and swung him around. He giggled and threw his head back. I caught his head in the palm of my hand, pull him close and rested my head in his hair. It's like someone hit the rewind button at that moment, and I can remember holding Jack that way as an infant, nuzzling his head close.

It really does go all too fast.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Still standing!

So my best intentions for chronicling the weekend through photo and video were dashed by the madhouse of activity that ensued. You know - the typical insanity of driving around the North Shore, terrorizing little bakeries to make me cookie platters RIGHT NOW, which comes with special events planning.

I'm grateful to my parents for keeping Jack and Jossie, so Jeremy could fly (safely) to New York to do his thing and I could do the aforementioned bakery terrorizing. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

And without further adieu, here are the two pictures I did take this weekend with my phone. The first is the fully accessible trail that winds along the lake bluff, with majestic views of Lake Michigan. I was walking the path with my best friend Amy and her daughter Cate when I took this.

And this one is from our Sunday night benefit, which had the theme of a French country picnic. We rolled up the sides of the tent and let the delicious lake breezes in. My phone was in one hand and a glass of white wine was in the other.

And here's a picture I stole from a board member - my favorite part of the weekend was seeing the almost-full moon's reflection off of Lake Michigan. Heavenly.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mixed emotions

It's 6:45 a.m., and I'm checking email, nursing a baby and writing a blog post. Sounds about right for myself these days.

Our grand opening of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is today and tomorrow - hence the lack of posts in the last couple of weeks. I've been working on this opening since I returned from maternity leave in early April. I'm honored to be a part of a wonderful team who is making this weekend and the Preserve happen. The weather is looking good, and we are ready.

As the retrospectives for 9/11 play on TV, I enter this weekend with one part concern and two parts feeling blessed. My concern is that Jeremy has to fly tomorrow on 9/11 to New York for business. He will be fine, but I don't love it nonetheless.

Okay, on to the fun stuff: I'm blessed that my parents are driving here right now and I get to spend the weekend surrounded by them and my children, spending time looking inward and being reminded of what's most truly important to me.

I also get to participate in a weekend of activities at the Preserve. The Preserve is situated on a working military base. About 400 Naval families are stationed here, and we've invited them to participate in our open house today. It's nice to be part of something bigger than my own little life this weekend, spending time looking outward, enjoying nature with a lot of people.

I'm armed with my camera and my Flip - hopefully to capture some of the weekend for you. And after this weekend, I'm looking at some exciting things for my writing here - beautifying the blog design and I'm potentially entering a partnership to learn more about local farming, so I can bring you some original, firsthand information about feeding your family local, healthy foods without breaking the bank.

Happy Saturday! Here's a picture from the Preserve's lake bluffs, which my colleague just took:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Living right now

It's Labor Day weekend - the last official weekend of summer. Jeremy and I are at home with the kids, having one last weekend of hanging around in our jams, eschewing nap schedules and sipping another glass of red wine after the kids go to bed. We watched Northwestern's first victory of the season yesterday, and Jack and I made a new chocolate chip cookie recipe:

Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies from Secrets of a Restaurant Chef

·         2 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 cup rolled oats
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
·         1 cup brown sugar
·         1/2 cup granulated sugar
·         2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
·         2 eggs
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         12 ounces block dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
·         1 cup walnuts, chopped
·         Large flake sea salt, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and kosher salt.

In large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter. Using an electric beater or the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until it they are light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat them into the butter and sugar mixture. Add in the vanilla as well.

With a rubber spatula or with the stand mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture. Mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks and walnuts.

Spoon the cookie dough by 2 tablespoon-size balls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Place the cookie dough balls 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 12 to 13 minutes.

When the cookies come out of the oven immediately sprinkle each cookie with a few grains of sea salt. This is really important to do while the cookies are hot.

Let the cookies cool for 2 to 3 minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack.

* * *

But don't let the laziness trick you: We're readying ourselves for a crazy month. I won't bore you with the details but a quick list includes my first gala benefit for Openlands, Jack's first day of preschool, business trips for Jeremy, budgeting at work, visits from family, milestone birthdays for both of our dads and a trip home to Cleveland. Oy.

I got a little worked up this afternoon just thinking about it all, so Jeremy declared we were going outside. He barely packed a thing, and I practically got hives at the prospect of leaving the house with no sippy cups, no snacks and no sun hats.

We headed to Northwestern's lake fill to soak in the sun, the views of Chicago and the waves of Lake Michigan. Being outside, I was able to let go. And it was nice to just be.

We ended Daddy's outing with an early dinner at Lulu's. If Lulu was a woman, Jeremy would have left me for her and her wide rice noodles year ago. And Jack loves the dinosaurs they have to play with.

So tomorrow, we rest one more day, and after that, September, it is on.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Poor second kid

As I was feeding Jossie baby food out of a plastic cup with a plastic spoon at the eating area of Whole Foods last week, this thought crossed my mind: I would have never done this with Jack.

As Jack's parents, Jeremy and I are slightly nervous, always tired and afraid that each phase might not end. We put a lot of research into everything, diligently reading our child-rearing books. I just put a bunch of back-to-school books on hold at the library to ready Jack - and frankly, me - for his first day of preschool.

As Jossie's parents, we are more at ease - even when we were given a three-pound baby. She goes with the flow and so do we. We cuddle her to no end because we know these baby days are brief.

A few other differences that make me laugh at us...
  • I read in one of my four baby food cookbooks that lamb is the most easily digestible meat for babies. For baby Jack, I bought ground lamb, browned it and pureed it into a fine paste with water.  It was disgusting. Neither he nor I ate it. And Jossie had her first bite of meat this past weekend, and she loved it: tiny bites of rotisserie chicken breast from Costco. Yum!
  • When Jack was little, he had days where he wouldn't stop crying, unless we held him. I was so tired and had to lay down. I was so afraid I would roll over on him, so I put him in the Baby Bjorn on my chest, and then propped pillows around me so I wouldn't roll over. We blissfully slept that way in the afternoons. On the other hand, encouraged by Dr. Sears, Jossie and I co-slept - as a tiny baby, she would sleep on my pillow, cupped in my hands, our faces toward one another. As she got older, she easily slept in the crook of my arm. I trusted myself and my body to know I wouldn't roll over.
  • And then there's this move Jeremy pulled the other day:

Happy almost-Labor Day!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Too fast

So I took a break from blogging, but, honestly, you haven't missed much. I kept a diary in elementary school and felt the need to write in it daily, even if there was nothing noteworthy to write. Many an entry was "I got up. I went to school. I came home. I went to bed." That's kind of been my life these past few weeks. Not to say it's been boring...just very routine.

Work is heating up as we prepare for a bevy of special events this fall. If you really know special events, they aren't that glamorous - they boil down to a bunch of spreadsheets and to do lists. And at home, we continue to carry on. Morning and night routines contain at least 42 steps apiece, and by the end of the day, I'm beat in my t-shirt stained with spit-up.

Amid this routine day-in and day-out, my babies are the measures of time. My almost-4-year-old treads between being my baby and turning into a little kid.  He's the one who will ask me in all seriousness if the meter is hungry, after I chirp, "Time to feed the parking meter!" And he's also my guy who looks so grown up after getting his back-to-school haircut as he asks me questions about preschool and making friends.

Even my preemie is growing up - at last weigh-in, Jossie is 15 lb 4 oz at 7 months old. Yes, I have an app on my iPad to track her growth, and it tells me she's in the 17th percentile for her actual age! I try to hold her on my lap, and she wiggles and wriggles, looking around for something to chew on (we're teething). Tonight, she feel asleep in my arms as we rocked, and I couldn't help but hold her close. I know this time around that this won't last for forever.

So this is another thing I've learned about parenthood: Life is a constant treadmill of the same activity...feeding, cleaning, disciplining and repeat. And then, suddenly, you stand back one day, and the biggest project of your life - your child - is becoming more and more independent.

I don't know about you, but the very thought of Jack and Jossie not needing me sends me directly to comfort food. Here's a mac and cheese recipe I tried this weekend:

Mac and cheese

  •  Kosher salt
  •  Vegetable oil
  •  1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • 1 quart milk
  •  8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  •  3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Food-rific weekend

I love that food is always more than just food. It's friends and family coming together for a shared experience.

Friday, Jack, Jossie and I dropped off a meal to a new friend, who is a beautiful person inside and out, and mom to a 2-year-old daughter and newborn twin boys. Oy! You can check out her blog here. I love bringing new parents brunch (because, honey, you ain't going out to brunch anytime soon with a newborn), and this dish is over-the-top in every way:

Savory breakfast bread and sausage strata
Adapted from Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market by Sara Foster
Serves 8 to 10

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 lb breakfast sausage, de-cased (your butcher can do this for you)
1 5 oz bag of pre-washed baby spinach leaves
2 1/2 cups milk
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
6 cups 1 1/2-inch cubes day-old French bread
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese (about 6 oz)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 oz)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1. Butter a 9x13 baking dish. Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook for 4 minutes or so, breaking into pieces as it cooks.  Stir in the spinach and saute until it is just wilted, about two minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, and drain off any liquid.

2. Whisk together the milk, eggs, mustard, salt and pepper. Add the bread and stir to coat. Stir in the sausage mixture, cheeses, thyme and rosemary and pour into prepared dish.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or, preferably, overnight.

3. Twenty minutes before you're ready to serve, remove from fridge.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until it is puffy and golden brown.  Remove the bread pudding from the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm and enjoy.

Saturday, we headed to the Green City Market with our friends Emily and Steve. On his own, Jack discovered pickling cucumbers at Genesis Growers, and Auntie Em encouraged him to make pickles. So we bought four, and Jack and I made a batch of these yesterday afternoon. This is an easy recipe for kids, and Jack proudly peeks in the fridge from time to time to see how his pickles are doing:

Jack's superhero "get you out of a pickle" fridge pickles
Adapted from The Foster's Market Cookbook by Sara Foster

Makes about 1 quart

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon pickling spice
4 to 5 small pickling cucumbers, sliced in quarters
1/4 small white onion, thinly sliced into rounds

1. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper and pickling spices in a quart jar. Place the lid on the jar and shake until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Layer the cucumbers and onion in the jar using a wooden spoon to press them tightly into the jar. Place the lid on the jar, shake it well, and refrigerate at least 4 hours, shaking the jar occasionally to keep the ingredients mixed. These pickles will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 month.

Last night, we met friends Scott and Sarah for dinner out at Nightwood in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. It's been a long time since the four of us have been out sans kids, and this place was perfect. They used locally sourced organic ingredients, integrated into wonderfully creative dishes with Latin and Asian influences. 

And now it's Sunday. I had high hopes of going to church by myself but it's raining and we're all tired and hanging out in our pjs. As you can see, I'm on a Foster's Market kick - Sara Foster worked with Martha Stewart before opening this market in Durham, NC in 1990. We had the opportunity to visit when my cousin got married in Raleigh in 2007. I love all of her cookbooks. Here's another favorite recipe, which we made this morning:

Buttermilk pancakes 
Adapted from The Foster's Market Cookbook by Sara Foster

Makes about 20 (4-inch) pancakes.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix the flour, both sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk egg yolks, buttermilk, 6 tablespoons of the butter and vanilla in a separate bowl and set aside. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle over medium-high heat until a drop of water dances on the surface. Add flour mixture to liquids and stir just until well blended. Gently fold in the whites; do not overmix.

Scoop about 1/4 cup batter to make each pancake, spreading it or allowing it to settle. Space pancakes 2 inches apart. Cook until batter forms bubbles. Flip the cakes and cook about 2 minutes more. Top with berries, bananas and/or syrup. Enjoy!