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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tiny reminders

I think we all get wrapped up in our own little worlds a lot of the time. Every once in awhile, you need to do a little market research - check out how the rest of the world is doing and come to the conclusion that hey, things aren't that bad. Or even, honey, things could be a lot worse.

I am dreaming of wide open spaces for my kids to play...or at least a basement to throw all of their toys. Friday night, we attended a lovely party of parents, teachers and wine at Jack's school on Michigan Avenue. It was great in its own right and the makings of another blog post but we'll leave it at that it was very charming. And afterwards, Jeremy and I walked through the brisk fall evening, the twinkling lights of Michigan Avenue around us. We stopped for a late dinner at one of our new favorites in Streeterville, sharing some calamari, red wine and simple entrees. Just a quick drive and we were home. And that was really nice - I was reminded that living in a smaller space so close to downtown has its upsides.

Monday morning came as it always does. As I walked in my office building, I felt the anxiety - of work, home, the holidays, classes for the kids, all of it. I got into the elevator and realized the woman behind me was mumbling - she wasn't on her phone; she was just talking to herself. And I could see she wasn't okay. I got off at the 16th floor and she proceeded on. It's obvious that she had something mentally going on, and I realized my anxiety of planning our holiday card isn't anything compared to the mental stresses others are enduring.

Tuesday morning - it's a nice morning today so I walked to work. Started thinking about listing our condo in the new year and the worries that come with finding a new place. There's a lot of pressure on Jeremy and me - we want to get something great for the I want to interview the neighbors before we move in kind of crazy. And then I passed the commuter train station and see newspaper laid out alongside the sidewalk, obviously someone's makeshift bed. So noted.

There are reality checks everywhere throughout my days to remind how good life is. It keeps me grounded; it sometimes frustrates me; it's always there. What are your tiny reminders?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My birthday

My sixth birthday was pretty awesome. It was my first real "friends" birthday party, and my mom made a Flintstones-themed birthday cake. We played pin-the-tail on the donkey and the party eventually dissolved into the boys chasing the girls in our smocked party dresses around our house.

Thirty years later (oy), I am happy to report that my birthday Saturday was awesome in its own right. It's all due to my great husband for making good plans and watching the kids. The day was peppered with phone calls, text messages, emails and Facebook posts from friends and family. Each of those greetings only took a minute for the person to do but it added up to a day of love for me - I was overwhelmed by it all. Thank you if you were one of those kind souls who reached out to me - it meant the world to me!

As I am a mama blogging about my family's life living in Chicago, I wanted to share with you some of the great experiences I had in my city Saturday:

Cake decorating class at Give Me Some Sugar. I don't think I've taken a class since Jack was born, so this was literally and figuratively a treat for me. The class is a basic 101 on cake decorating and they provide you with a cake to decorate and bring home. The owner-instructor was helpful, approachable and sassy. My dear friend Emily and I practiced row after row of design and were proud of our final work. If you live in Chicago, the owner promises there will be a Groupon out for a group class after Thanksgiving. The store is based in Chicago's Roscoe Village neighborhood.

Autumn fun at Christy Webber Landscapes - Farm and Garden Center. Formerly Grand Street Gardens, this garden center welcomes each season with fanfare. In the springtime, there are pastel-colored flowers and wind chimes for gentle breezes. In the summer, there are vegetable plants and garden tools. In the winter, the cold wind makes the festive party lights twinkle and smells of earthy pine fill the air. And in the fall - my favorite - there are piles of orange, white and green gourds and pumpkins, a haystack maze for the kids and some city free-range chickens walking around.  Jeremy, the kids and I filled our red wagon with mums and pumpkins. This center is based in Chicago's West Town neighborhood.

Dinner for two at Chez Joel. Nothing like a romantic dinner for two in a French bistro on a brisk autumn night. Chez Joel had excellent service, a lovely atmosphere and delicious, honest bistro fare. The restaurant - believe it or not - is located in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood.

Jazz and drinks at the Jazz Showcase. Jeremy and I love seeing live jazz and it was one of our typical dates in college and our young married life. We haven't seen live jazz since Jack was born (sensing a theme?) and we were excited to visit the new location of the Showcase. While it didn't have the grit of the old location, it was a great place to see pianist Benny Green and his trio. We had front row seats, and it was the perfect nightcap to my birthday. The Showcase is located in Chicago's Printers Row neighborhood.

All in all, a great day!