Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy with what we have

The holidays hullabaloo are winding down. I'm at work today - New Year's Eve is a fundraiser's Super Bowl. I'm waiting for today's mail and last-minute phone calls from donors as I keep tabs on our nation nearing the fiscal cliff. I suspect our politicians have their toes curled over the edge at this point.

Winter is coming. I'm looking forward to some quieter days. Some togetherness. Jeremy and I left the condo together this morning and I reflected that 2012 might be one of our best years. Save for my brother-in-law's run-in with a tree branch, our family has been healthy. (He's fine now, by the way.) Jossie is healthy and has not shown any developmental delays because of her prematurity. Our kids are small enough that life isn't too complicated yet with after-school activities and social drama. We're just here and happy with what we have (which includes my awesome new Sodastream - I'm a believer, people).

My children can be crazy little animals (as exhibited by their behavior this weekend as we paid our visits to friends) but they are mine. While their needs are great, they won't be little for forever, and I'm trying to remember that. They're only in my nest for so long, and I'm constantly trying to be present when I'm with them.

We're renewing our memberships to museums for wintertime visits, and there are stacks of Chicago Public Library books on the kids' dresser. I'm thrilled at the amount of non-digital gifts we received for Christmas, and I'm hoping for hours of imaginary play. Well, at least a few minutes.

Jossie is in love with her baby dolls. After they had gone to bed one night, I was cleaning up toys and noticed that Joss had put her doll in its high chair and had fashioned a potholder to be the baby's bib. Her doll's tray was filled with lots of play food. It made me smile.

Two years ago, during a bitterly cold January midnight's hour, Jossie's early birth knocked me upside-down.  Now, her birthday is a bright joy just a few weeks after the holidays. Jossie is little enough that we'll just have a small family party at home, and it'll be sparkly pinks, silvers and whites because I can.

Here are some of my wintertime delights right now:

On my Pandora station: The Avett Brothers
On my DVR (which I never have time to watch): The Little Paris Kitchen and she has a cookbook coming out in February!
On Jack's nightstand: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (for all those who love reading)

Much love to you and happy wishes for 2013.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A life of significance

Last Friday night, I was planning to write impassioned weekly blog posts on how we - you and me, reader - can change the world by writing our legislators, teaching our kids tolerance and love, and working with our school's administrators to make our schools safer.

A week of reflection has led me in a different direction. I'm forming the idea that we - each and every one of us - can make change. We can honor those teachers and young students whose lives were lost last Friday. And we can each do it in our own way.

I am guided by two major events this week. One - something that happens weekly. I, like many others, sought solace in my church this past Sunday. The associate pastor's sermon was based on a life of generous living, citing Luke 3:7-18. It's a life of being attentive to other's needs and to give back, and that's a life I'd like to lead.

We can't make change happen overnight. But incremental change happens daily. We can positively affect our children, our friends, our colleagues. And a moment will come when we can stand back - and maybe the end of 2012 is a good time to do this for you personally - and think about the collective positive change that has happened. Because you cared. Because you helped. Because you spoke your mind. Every little step adds up to something big.

The second major event this week brought me great sorrow. I am one of thousands of people who benefited from the leadership, guidance and teachings of Jimmie Alford, who passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 69 this Tuesday. He is a leader in the non-profit movement, and I benefited from Openlands being one of his clients and I was one of his students of a graduate class at North Park University.  He lived his life true. He wasn't ashamed to tell you of his humble beginnings and of the company he built. His love for his beautiful wife and partner, Maree, his family and society was worn on his sleeve. He believed that we as part of the non-profit world could make great societal change and everything he did, he did humbly. He had vision, leadership and compassion.

Jeremy and I attended his memorial service today. An incredible man and an incredible life of significance. He touched many and now it's our job to carry on his good service. As one friend remembered him, Jimmie never had work-life balance. He just had life balance - everything he did - in both career and family - served a higher meaning, and that's a life I'd like to lead.

So this is my simple call to action: Do not be afraid to share your gifts with the world. Positive change will come of it, I'm sure. Good night, my friends.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


After Friday's terrible story from Newtown, Connecticut, all I wanted was my family, my kids, my joy. Much of the weekend was spent thinking of and praying for the parents who lost their precious children, as well as feeling this sense of gratitude - as well as guilt for that gratitude - that I had my children with me, safe and sound. I still has moments of exasperation but overall tried to practice a bit more patience when my kids' behavior got nutty.

It was rainy and bleak most of the weekend but Jeremy and I turned up the holidays indoors. We made our annual visit to breakfast with Santa at the Chicago Botanic Garden early Saturday morning, which included a visit to the Wonderland Express. The kids loved the holiday trains; I loved seeing the miniature Chicago landmarks created from natural materials.

Visiting with Santa was an adventure. As we waited in line, Jossie kept making beelines for "San-tie, San-tie." But when it was our turn - and I set my sweet girl down in front of the big jolly man, Jossie burst into tears. When Santa asked her what she wanted, she sobbed, "baby doll."  And big brother Jack was pleased/relieved to hear he was on the nice list before asking for more Legos.

Jeremy's parents and sister arrived in the late morning for a quick weekend visit and a Hanukkah party that night. I'm not sure how it works out this way, but most of the holidays I host are the Jewish ones - Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Hanukkah. And I have to say, I kind of rocked Hanukkah Saturday night - not bad for an Italian Protestant girl. At one point, I believe I went so far as to instruct my Jewish mother-in-law on the making of latkes.

My new favorite nosh with pre-dinner drinks is Ina's rosemary cashews - a hint of heat and a hint of sweet.

Rosemary cashews
From Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home

1 pound cashew nuts
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until they are warmed through. Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, pepper, sugar, salt and butter in a large bowl. Toss the warm nuts with the rosemary mixture until the nuts are completely coated. Serve warm.

Dinner was latkes, homemade applesauce, rack of lamb, and Brussels sprouts. Dessert was cookies and zucchini bread. It was nice to have this family time - around one table.

I really needed a little holiday.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Send our love

The teachers and administrators at Jack's school mean the world to us. As Jack is the oldest, every twist and turn of his development and learning is new to us. They have guided us, providing us sound advice. We had a field trip Friday morning with his class, and - even though each child had his or her own chaperone - I noticed the teachers periodically taking count of the kids. Yesterday, we received an email from the school's director sending pointers on talking about tragedies with kids and reaffirming her love for our children and our families.

I, like many others, will attend church today to help find reason and solace in Friday's tragedy. Let's send our love and prayers to the families who lost their loved ones. Here are the school administrators' and teachers' Facebook pages, in case you have a few minutes to send your thoughts:

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Sandy Hook Elementary's principal
Mary Sherlach, Sandy Hook Elementary's school psychologist
Lauren Rousseau, Teacher
Victoria Soto, Teacher
Rachel D'Avino, Teacher
Anne Marie Murphy, Teacher

To access the students' pages, you'll see links on the teachers' pages.

Addendum: I'm realizing that some of this pages are "unauthorized" - set up by a well-meaning person who is not related to the families. Please use your own judgement. For those who would like to send financial support to those in need, please look here for one suggestion.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's time

This holiday season, I have a new decoration - a "Happy Holidays" metal sign with lots of swirls to tuck holiday cards into. It's overflowing with adorable pictures of my family and friends' little ones.

You and me - we can't let those little ones down.

Today there was a horrific tragedy for our nation. Twenty-eight dead at a Connecticut elementary school because of a gunman; 20 of the total are children. 11 days before Christmas.

Today, we mourn. We hold our children close. We put posts on Facebook and tweet on Twitter, crying for stricter gun laws and sending our prayers to those families who lost their children. We light the candles on the menorah and the lights on the Christmas tree to represent hope. We even quote Mr. Rogers because we need common sense and a reminder of the good in the world.

Today can last as long as we need it to. To grieve. To try to make sense of a senseless act. To send peace to the families who have experienced the unthinkable. Let us have today.

But tomorrow will come.

When you become a parent, your heart is not within you any more. It walks to the bus stop; it plays at the playground; it sits in a school classroom.

We have to do something, and it's time. My readers - you - have resources at your disposable and it's time we use them. I've learned a lot from 2012, and one of my biggest lessons is that something big can start from something small. So let's have faith that we can make a change. Let's make our schools safer for our kids. For our Jack. For our Jossie. For your son. For your daughter.

It's time to write our legislators. It's time we make donations to relevant non-profits. It's time we recognize the need to make mental health care accessible for all. It's time we - you and me -  stand up to bullying and the effects it has.

Please join me. Here's a petition to sign.

And tonight, let's kiss our sleeping sweet children on their heads.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keeping traditions

One of the nicest things about the holiday season is remembering the traditions our families taught us, as well as forging new ones.

Jeremy and I helped host a Hanukkah party at Jack's preschool last Friday. Jeremy had the kids laughing with a Hanukkah picture book he read. He also talked about our family menorah, which we inherited from Jeremy's grandparents.  They have both passed on now, but I know how much they would have loved the idea that we were sharing something so special.  That Sunday night, we lit the menorah. Jossie tried to lead us in a round of "Happy Birthday to you," while Jeremy explained the tradition. 

The next night, as Jack decorated our small but mighty Christmas tree with a few more sparkly ornaments, I take a pan of Christmas cookies out of the oven, a recipe my grandma often made. A cookie that was on every plate of Christmas cookies that she would set down on the table after dinner was done. She and my grandpa are also gone, and I am comforted by the idea of carrying on their memory in my own small ways. 

I can see the wheels turning in Jack's head. Right now, he is starting to embrace our traditions. Right now, he doesn't realize that we're kind of different in that we celebrate two holidays and two faiths. Right now, things are working for us as we honor our past and we look to the future.

The days have been crazy. My trusted co-worker - another working mama and faithful City Sweet reader - and I have started a mantra to cheer one another on. It's go time - work deadlines, school engagements and preparing for the holidays. More to come as the days quiet down, and we focus on the blessings of this holiday season.

Go, you, go!

The lights shine brightly.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

No style points

I often say we get things done in my house - it might not be pretty, but it gets done.

This past week exemplified that.

I have been sick for the better part of the last two weeks - hence no blog posts. It was all I could do to keep my family and my work going, let alone anything else. This week started with me being dead tired, still congested and plates and plates full of work at the office.

I have tried to climb back.

I ended the week in better footing. Still more work to do at the office but was energized by a new group project, an extraordinary surprise grant and a few proposals sent. We were invited to a cookie exchange Friday night, and it was all new friends to meet - the kids and I had a great time. And it was in a different part of the city we rarely visit anymore, so that was exciting and new too.

Today is December 1 and the holidays are upon us. I feel like I write this blog post every year, but I'm feeling it more and more as a mother and a fundraiser this time of year. It's busy - there are a lot of things taking my attention, and my goal is to be present this holiday season.

To be present at home with my kids. When Jossie grabs my hand with her chubby hand. When Jack asks me to cuddle when he's watching a TV show. When Jeremy is talking with me. And to be present at work. To look at my co-workers and not my email when they're speaking with me. Just to be.

The holidays are a special time. But so is time spent with people whom you love, value and admire. And that can be any day of the year.

More to come - wishing you a reflective and loving holiday season.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An early Thanksgiving

A million people gathered tonight for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade down Michigan Avenue, celebrating the start of the holiday season in Chicago.

A couple of blocks east, I was straightening a Thanksgiving-themed paper tablecloth on a table in the nurses' lounge, the parade on the television behind me. My fellow volunteers set up trays of Thanksgiving cookies.

Today is World Prematurity Day, a day to raise awareness of premature birth. As part of the day, I volunteered through the March of Dimes to host a Thanksgiving dinner for the NICU nurses and doctors at Prentice Women's Hospital, where both Jack and Jossie were born. My fellow NICU grad parents and I provided Thanksgiving dishes and decorations to thank the staff for their service.

What a good, good evening. There's probably not a nicer group of people - a roomful of nurses - to make you feel good about life.  They were very appreciative of our efforts but in our eyes, we can never do enough to say thank you for taking care of our babies. I had the honor of seeing a few of "our" nurses who cared for Jossie. They loved seeing pictures of her today and hearing how well she is doing.

For anyone who has experienced something tough in their life and that would probably be all of us, I hope you get to experience this type of full-circle moment. Twenty-two months ago today, Jossie was born and it was scary. Twenty-two months later, I'm eating pumpkin pie and enjoying the company of some very, very nice and caring people. That was pretty cool. As I headed through the halls of the NICU to leave, the smells and the sounds so familiar, I felt a little lighter in spite of myself.

Reality hits me in the elevator. I see a family and I know that everything is not okay. A million people two blocks away are enjoying the revelry of the parade, and I know this family is not okay. Their life is their loved one's medical fight right now; the outside world is so foreign.

Life is messy and all over the place - kind of like this post. My wish to you is that the high of your highs is much greater than the low of your lows. Good night, my friends.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A mother's memories

Jack bounced on me this morning at 6:22 a.m. and asked me if it was still his birthday.

No, I replied. It's over.

We had a great weekend, and now I'm exhausted. My house is a disaster, and Roscoe the cat puked under our dining room table. I'll clean it up eventually.

Planning special events is a part of my professional work but I still get worked up about planning family events - guests in town; a kids' birthday blow-out Saturday afternoon; and a casual dinner party Saturday night. Everything went better than expected but I have to say, the best moments were the unplanned ones. Cherished memories - the moments I will hold most closely to my heart - include:
  • After Jack's preschool class had cupcakes Friday to celebrate Jack's birthday, the teacher turned on the music and the kids had a spontaneous dance party. While many of the boys stood to the side, Jack and his friend Nicholas were right there in the thick of it, letting the girls grab their hands and dance in circles. It was just fun - being kids and being silly.
  • Jack's cousin Andrew slept over. They fell asleep in the same twin bed, arms intertwined. 
  • Last night, we had some of our family and friends over for dinner. Sitting at the dining room table, it was just really nice. And maybe that's the wine talking.
  • Jeremy's parents bought Jack a bike today. We took him to a park to practice. It's a mild day in Chicago, and Jack was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and his new Star Wars watch from BFF Charlie. We watched him ride his bike joyfully, his scrawny little arms and hands gripping the handles. It was pure joy for him.
  • Jossie and her piece of birthday cake. Enough said.

Go get 'em this week!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Happy birthday to Jack

Jack, we have seen you grow from a vocal, passionate baby into a vocal, passionate little boy.

You are loved, and you are loving. As you whispered into my ear at bedtime earlier this week, you’ll always be my baby. Still small enough for cuddles but growing into a wonderful , boundary-pushing individual and a watchful big brother of Jossie. Happy five years, my love.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Autumn supper club

This year, a group of friends, Jeremy and I started a supper club. Our aspirations were set high - flaming desserts and the like were what we strove for. Saturday night's get-together did not disappoint. Three words for you: blue cheese air.

Our theme and main dish is set by the host; last night's theme was "harvest." It was perfectly appropriate for this early-November night - a lovely gathering of friends around a festive table, lit by candlelight.

Appetizers and a cocktail
Cider-bourbon cocktail

Serves 2

3/4 cup apple cider
1/3 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 (2 1/2-inch-long) thin slices fresh peeled ginger
2 thin slices lady apple, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add cider, bourbon, lemon juice, and ginger; shake to combine. Strain cocktail into 2 coupes. Garnish with apple slices.

Ricotta-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates
From Good Deal with Dave Lieberman
1 pound bacon
25 Medjool dates
1/3 cup ricotta cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Cut the bacon in half lengthwise to make twice as many slices. Set aside. To remove the pits from the dates, cut the tips off each end of the dates and insert the flat end of the skewer until it pushes the pit out of the date. Repeat with remaining dates.

Place the ricotta in the bottom corner of a strong plastic bag and seal tightly. Use scissors to cut a small hole in the tip of 1 of the corners. Now use the bag like a piping bag to fill the dates with the cheese.

Wrap the ricotta stuffed dates with a slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick through the belly of the date. Arrange all the prepared dates on a parchment-lined baking sheet, allowing at least a little space between each one for good browning. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until bacon is browned and crispy. Remove from the baking sheet and gently remove toothpicks. Serve immediately.

Figs with prosciutto and blue cheese air 
10-12 figs
1/2 lb prosciutto
Good balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup milk
4 oz blue cheese
1 teaspoon soy lecithin granules (found in Whole Foods health section)
Microgreens for garnish

Crumble blue cheese and combine with milk in a bowl.  Soak for a couple hours until milk absorbs the cheese flavor.  Strain milk from cheese into another bowl.

Cut figs into quarters. Arrange fig pieces, prosciutto and microgreens on a platter.  Drizzle with balsamic.

Pour soy lecithin into cheese-flavored milk.  Create foam with immersion blender.  Dollop foam over the figs and prosciutto and serve.

Main dish
Roasted game hens with caramelized root vegetables and dried-currant sauce
Adapted from

Serves 6

Caramelized root vegetables
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 medium rutabagas, peeled, cut into 1/3-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
2 medium turnips, peeled, cut into 1/3-inch cubes (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/3-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 large parsnips, peeled, cut into 1/3-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 medium butternut squash
2 (7.25-ounce) jars whole roasted peeled chestnuts, halved
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated orange peel
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon juniper berries,* crushed in mortar with pestle
6 (1-pound) Cornish game hens, thawed if frozen, rinsed, patted dry

3 oranges
a handful of thyme sprigs

1/4 cup dried currants

*Available in the spice section of most supermarkets.

For caramelized root vegetables:
Melt butter with oil in very large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes. Add rutabagas and next 4 ingredients; sauté until vegetables are caramelized and tender, stirring often, about 30 minutes. Stir in chestnuts, garlic, and thyme; sauté 5 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring frequently, until heated through before serving.

For hens:
Mix 1/4 cup thyme, shallots, oil, orange peel, garlic, and crushed juniper berries in small bowl for marinade. Rub marinade all over hens. Place hens in large roasting pan; cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sprinkle hens with salt and pepper. Stuff cavities of hen with 1/2 orange and a few thyme sprigs. Roast until hens are cooked through and juices run clear when thighs are pierced with fork, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from oven.

Pour pan juices from hens into small saucepan; add dried currants and remaining 1 tablespoon thyme. Boil until liquid is reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes (sauce will be thin). Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Place 1 hen half on each plate. Divide caramelized vegetables among plates. Spoon sauce over hens and serve.

Balsamic-roasted Brussels sprouts
From Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the core
4 ounces pancetta, sliced ¼ inch thick
¼ cup good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon syrupy balsamic vinegar (see note)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan, including some of the loose leaves, which get crispy when they’re roasted. Cut the pancetta into ½-inch dice and add to the pan. Add the olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and toss with your hands. Spread out the mixture in a single layer.

Roast the Brussels sprouts for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re tender and nicely browned and the pancetta is cooked. Toss once during roasting. Remove from the oven, drizzle immediately with the balsamic vinegar, and toss again. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.

Note: You can buy aged balsamic vinegar that’s syrupy—and very expensive—or you can boil good balsamic vinegar until reduced to half its volume and it will become syrupy as well.

Sweet potato casserole
From my mom

4 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (4 medium-sized)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine above ingredients thoroughly  making sure to cool potatoes slightly before adding eggs. Place in a greased baking dish and sprinkle with topping (I halved the topping). Bake for 30 minutes.

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Blend together brown sugar, nuts and butter. Add in flour and stir to combine.

Old-Fashioned Apple (and Pear) Crisp
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! Ideas and Recipes for Easy Parties That Are Really Fun

Serves 10

2.5 pounds Anjou Pears
2.5 pounds McIntosh or Macoun apples
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the topping:

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 14 by 2-inch oval baking dish.

Peel, core, and cut the apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the zests, juices, sugar, and spices. Pour into the dish.

To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm.

It was a wonderful evening with good food and friends with numerous bottles of wine and stories shared. Happy election week ahead...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Desperately seeking Ina

Coconut cupcakes.

Those were the words I planned to say to Ina Garten at her book-signing today at the Barnes & Noble at Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, Ill. Ten years ago, my then-roommate Emily came home from her friend's bridal shower and was raving about the coconut cupcakes that someone had made from a Barefoot Contessa cookbook. We did our research, bought The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and discovered her new show on Food Network. A love affair began. Since Jeremy's parents have a house in East Hampton, NY, where Ina's show is based, I am not afraid to frequent (or stalk, call it what you want) many of Ina's favorite haunts, like The Seafood Shop and Loaves and Fishes. My sister Laura and I once stopped at the Bridgehampton Florist, hoping to see the owner Michael, a frequent guest on Ina's show.

And I have been known to slowly ride my mother-in-law's bicycle past Ina's tall hedges, in hopes that Ina might be out in the driveway and would wave me in for a drink in her garden.

One can dream.

Alas, due to the storms out east (my New York-dwelling in-laws are fine, by the way - sister-in-law is still without power but hoping it will be restored tomorrow), the book tour was understandably postponed. I did not do my research ahead of time, so Jossie and I were dismayed to see this sign this morning when we arrived at the bookstore.

I will probably not be able to make it to the rescheduled signing, so I will resume my quest to run into Ina next summer.

I had anticipated that we'd have some time on our hands regardless of the book-signing, so I had signed Jossie up for a trial Gymboree class. The instructor was enthusiastic and engaging. (When we first arrived, he tried making small talk with my 21-month-old about her Halloween costume. She just gave him her signature wilting stare but quickly warmed up.)  Jossie loves to dance and move and had the best time.

As we sat in a circle at the end, I brushed my lips against the back of her head and held her close.

It hit me then how little time I really get with my daughter one-on-one, with her being the youngest and me working full-time. She is good about fitting in and going with Jack's flow but it was nice to see her personality on her own. I love watching her with other kids - she quietly surveys her fellow students. One adorable little boy was tugging on a colorful fabric tunnel in class, and Jossie jumped in and started tugging the other side of the tunnel, gauging his reaction.

So the cancelled book-signing did not ruin our day. It was really nice to have this time with Jossie, my little love. I can only imagine what life will give this mother-daughter duo. Maybe someday she'll join me for that bike ride past Ina's house.

Happy Friday, loves.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Today was my work's annual luncheon, our biggest fundraiser for the year. The event continues to grow in attendance and revenue. Everything was great about today - great audience, great vendors, great stories told. But I think the nicest part of my day was back at the office.

Fellow staffers opened up a few of the leftover bottles of wine and we toasted our organization's work and our successes; I had kicked off my shoes. Everyone who was in the office this afternoon was crammed into the office's kitchen. And it was nice. It's important to me to really want to be at work - especially when it means time away from Jack and Jossie. I care about these people and they care about me, and that's comforting to know.

I was ready to order take-out when I got home tonight but had one last burst of energy and made this fairly simple pasta for our dinner instead. All of the comfort of macaroni and cheese with a bit of autumn thrown in:

Linguine with pumpkin Parmesan sauce

1 pound long strand linguine
1 tablespoon butter
2 small shallots, diced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 15-ounce pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

In a saucepan heat the butter until just melted and add the shallots. Cook the shallots until soft, about 8 minutes. Add salt. Pour in the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, and chicken stock.

Stir the mixture well over medium heat until smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan until just melted and serve with cooked linguine.

This is a great kid-friendly dish with pantry ingredients. I think next time I'll add a little sage.

Jeremy is on a business trip tonight. It's a rainy night in Chicago, and I have a glass of wine to cozy up with. The kids miraculously went to bed early, so I can just relax my aching legs. Good night, my friends.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Golden day

I wish I had a term for a day that makes all other days of work worth it. It's a day when everything aligns - the kids are in a good mood; the weather is picture-perfect; and Jeremy and I are just living in the moment.

Yesterday was one of those days. We started our day with the most perfect food: Doughnuts.


I thank my lucky stars I live in today's world...a world with over-priced fancy doughnuts. Glazed and Infused is great - ridiculous varieties (maple with bacon, chocolate chip cookie and salted caramel crunch), strong coffee, and a relaxed vibe. Except when children are there. Especially children who have just eaten a lot of sugar.

Best Friend has always been raving about The Morton Arboretum in Chicago's western suburbs. I finally took her words to heart and off we went after our power breakfast. We were incredibly lucky that one of my work colleagues/friends was also there with her family - they welcomed us as we arrived and set us on our way of fun.

Hi, gorgeous...yes, spending a day at an arboretum at the height of fall is the bee's knees. And the Children's Garden there was great fun - a ton of mazes, tree houses and great climbers.


Jack asked me if I "made this place." One of the causalities that comes with having a mother who works in the conservation field!

How does one end a perfect day? Well, with pumpkin of course. I 100% stole this recipe from this clever blog. This recipe is so easy and gives you bite-sized, portable pumpkin pies.

Impossible pumpkin pie cupcakes
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/8 teaspoon cloves)
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup half and half (or evaporated milk)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or silicone liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and half and half until well combined. Add in dry ingredients and whisk until no streaks of flour remain and batter is smooth.

Fill each muffin cup with approximately 1/3 cup of batter.

Bake for 20 minutes. Cool cupcakes in pan. They will sink as they cool.

Chill cupcakes before serving. Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Makes 12.


Saturday, October 20, 2012


It has been a long - some points challenging and some points productive - week. Jack was acting out this week, so I begged off a work event this morning to be at home with my family. Turns out, I was the one who needed the TLC. I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning and never really got back to sleep. I was a grump.

We went to one of the last outdoor markets of the season at the Green City Market. The sky was an overcast gray; the trees were beautiful autumnal hues. I did not take any pictures; I just tried to breathe in the nature of Lincoln Park, with Chicago as our backdrop. The Market was very quiet, and it was one of our best trips. We savored hot apple cider from Seedling; apple cider doughnuts from Zullo's; a ciabatta and a loaf of pumpkin sourdough bread from Bennison's Bakery; a fistful of herbs from Smits Farm; and end-of-the-season tomatoes. I also discovered Italian sweet peppers from a vendor, whom I'm regrettably forgetting the name. They look like large chile peppers but are not spicy and quite sweet. The farmer told me that they are sugar-sweet in the summer but have a mild flavor right now.

I tried two new recipes today. After the fact, I realized they probably shouldn't be served together because the quinoa recipe is served cold, but it was still good. Northwestern lost in bittersweet fashion, so we needed an end-of-the-day soul-soothing meal and this delivered.

Roman-style chicken
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

2 skinless chicken breast halves, with ribs
6 skinless chicken thighs, with bones
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced (I substituted two orange Italian sweet peppers)
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced (I substituted two yellow Italian sweet peppers)
3 ounces prosciutto, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian herbs
1/2 cup chicken stock (low-sodium, preferred)
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. In a heavy, large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until browned on both sides (about five minutes on each side). Remove from the pan and set aside.

Keeping the same pan over medium heat, add the peppers and prosciutto and cook until the peppers have browned and the prosciutto is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, and herbs. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.

If serving immediately, add the capers and the parsley. Stir to combine and serve. If making ahead of time, transfer the chicken and sauce to a storage container, cool, and refrigerate. The next day, reheat the chicken to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the capers and the parsley and serve.

Tomato basil quinoa salad
3 cups prepared quinoa
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (removing seeds) - approximately 4 medium-sized tomatoes
2 cups spinach
1 cup packed basil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the quinoa: Rinse 1 cup of dried quinoa using a fine-mesh sieve for two minutes under running water. Stir the quinoa with your hand. Shake off excess water. In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, warm a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Toast quinoa in the oil for one minute.  Add 2 cups of cooking liquid (water, chicken broth or vegetable broth) and bring to a rolling boil. Turn the burner down to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid and stand 5 minutes.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and set aside.

In a food processor, finely chop basil leaves and spinach. Set aside.

In a large bowl add prepared quinoa, tomatoes, chopped greens, and dressing. Mix until combined, and add more salt and pepper to taste.

Chill for at least four hours. Top with parmesan cheese (optional) before serving.

It was a satisfying end to a hectic week. I leave you with this pretty picture of Jossie that Jack took; she looks 12 years old.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

As the work week draws to a close

My rallying cry for motherhood is "we just do the best we can." Can I get an Amen, ladies? I most recently said it to one of my friends on the topic of breastfeeding, but it's pretty much applicable to all aspects of parenting.

I've had a week of questioning of where I'm needed most. I was reminded today that I can be at work, and my kids are being loved and are happy. That's the best any mom can hope for. Many thanks to Maria for sending me this picture at lunchtime today as I ate at my desk; I needed it. 

And save some french fries for me.