August 31, 2007

I'm in Love

With the new Whole Foods in Northbrook at Willow and Waukegan.

After my friend Red Thread stopped into the new South Loop Whole Foods (just off the Taylor Street ramp off I-90/94) she politely offered me blogging dibs on the store. I thanked her for the heads up, but then made wry comment like, *yawn* Big Organic is growing again?

I can head to the Whole Foods in Evanston, Deerfield or the newish one in Sauganash. But I stopped in to the just-opened Northbrook location and I get it. I'm smitten. The store is more spacious than any Whole Foods I've been in. Everything looks so fresh.

And their foragers, professionals who seek out local foods, are doing a good job. They have fabulous pastries from Rolf's Patisserie in Lincolnwood (pricey enough that it's easy to keep temptation at bay), Chef Earl's fresh salsa and hummus, some great Wisconsin cheeses. To steal a phrase from another ubiquitous food outlet: I'm lovin' it!

Here are excerpts from Red Thread's post at the Chicago Moms Blog that I now relate to:

The angels sang and my recyclable tote bag was hungry for new items. First, you walk into the produce. Glorious, glorious fruits & veggies stacked like art....

The next thing I really noticed was a huge section of not just cosmetics and vitamins for sale, but IMO, a larger section of clothing than I've seen at Chicago WFs.

But wait...turn a corner to the bakery! A wall of fresh bread greets you and get this. There's a dessert bar! Dear goddess, why do you tempt me so? You can also get fresh pizza, made-to-order sandwiches, gelatto, fancy chocolates, and deli stuff.

The Curious Incident of the Cow (and my 7 year-old) in the Day (at Whole Foods)

My mother-in-law brought the boys to the Northbrook store the day it opened. I was dismayed to learn that Pikachu, who "doesn't like people dressed up in animal costumes" harassed someone in a cow costume. My progeny stepped on the cow's toes, whacked the poor thing's tail and goodness knows what else. After missing out on from a mini-golf adventure my bad seed wrote a letter of apology to the store manager. When we delivered it yesterday, the manager-on-duty, Red Elk, kindly and sympathetically accepted the suddenly shy and demure Pikachu's note. He even got down to my boy's eye level to have a gentle talk with him. He's either a dad or a former preschool teacher.

Apology complete, we picked up the fresh loaf of bread we planned to buy. We also purchased several items we hadn't planned on, but got hooked after a sample or three: Earl's mild salsa, artisan cheese, beer chips (completely addicting honey-sweetened potato chips), and artichoke-lemon pesto. Damn you Big Organic, you've got me under your spell!

August 26, 2007

The New Spatulatta Cookbook

My little chefs and I were so excited when our review copy of The Spatulatta Cookbook arrived. The boys waited impatiently while I gave the book a once-over before passing it on.

I love the colorful and instructive photos and the fact that it's divided by seasons- a sophisticated move for a children's cookbook. It also has sections on vegetarian food and snacks.
I appreciate the glossary of cooking terms as well as tips on how to set a nice table (though my boys probably skipped right over that part). The boys like the photos as well as the comments the girls serve up with each recipe.

When I handed the book over to the boys I told them to pick a recipe, which is why the first dish we tried was a sweet treat called Berry Dip and Roll. BD &R is a summer snack or dessert made by dipping strawberries in sour cream and then rolling them in cinnamon sugar. Of course this was a hit- and a little bit of a mess because Smartypants assembled the entire thing while I was still in bed.

But that's what this book is all about- empowering kids to cook, right?

Next up: Sweet Potato Pie, another recipe the boys chose. I helped out with this one, but as you can see here, the boys did much of the work. (This can be a lesson in patience for the adult who cooks with them.) The recipe made enough for two pies, so we had one to eat ourselves and another to share with extended family. Each time our relatives raved about the delicious pie, my boys absolutely beamed with pride. The relatives weren't just being nice- the pie was great!

Of course, the book isn't filled with desserts. There are plenty of fine family meals to be made from this book: Be My Valentine Chicken Saute, Caprese Salad, Kalbi Beef, Millet and Chickpea Salad, to name a few. We look forward to trying more now that our power has been restored....

You can buy the book, signed, from the Spatulatta site or click over to see what's cooking this week. Last time I checked, Olivia was foraging for foods that she and her guest chef cooked into a delicious meal. And the week before that it was an adorable little boy making Swedish pancakes. If you want your book signed in person, meet them on September 15 at Anderson's bookshop in Downer's Grove. Click here for details.

And while you're clicking away, see what some of my foodie friends are saying about this cookbook:
Bon Bons for Breakfast
Food for Thought
Mother May I?
Andrea's Recipes


You can also click over to my personal blog, Hormone-colored Days, to win a free Spatulatta Cookbook and other great stuff!

August 24, 2007

Chicago's Sweetest Farmer's Market

Originally posted at the Chicago Moms Blog.

Many people have posted about their for love the Green City Market, but my favorite city market takes place Thursday mornings at Eli’s Cheesecake World on the northwest side.

A typical trip to Eli’s means blowing the diet in a big way- they make tempting tarts, plump éclairs and at least eight varieties of cheesecake all calling like sirens from their lovely refrigerated display case. But on Thursdays you can purchase produce from local farms and products from area vendors to balance out all those luscious, sugary, buttery, and calorie-laden desserts.

It’s a small market, but a sweet one. The boys and I spent over 20 minutes ogling the produce from the Nichols Farm and Orchard. We laughed at the odd looking heirloom tomatoes, admired the cute, tiny pickle cukes, and questioned many items we’d never seen before. The vendor happily explained orange eggplants that resemble tiny pumpkins, lemon cucumbers that looked like gourds and offered up samples of everything that tempted us. We filled up our bags with a patriotic selection of fingerling potatoes-red, white and blue, half a dozen exotic eggplants*, lots of cukes and some interesting tomatoes.

We also purchased up some handcrafted Vietnamese goods from the fair-trade store 10,000 Villages, which had a booth on site. We picked up some tips on bicycling around Chicago and green cleaning supplies (you won't believe what you can do with a lemon) and learned that this year's Annual Cheesecake Festival will take place Sept. 15-16. This community celebration also serves as a fundraiser (foodraiser?) for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Donate two cans of food or $1 to the cause and your good deed will be rewarded with a slice of cheesecake- what a sweet way to introduce your little one to philanthropy.

Eli's Cheesecake World 6701 W Forest Preserve Drive (Harlem and Montrose), Chicago
Read up on Eli's factory tours (yum!) at Scrambled CAKE.

* We don't always get around to eating the exotic foods we buy. Sometimes we just watch them rot on the countertop.

August 23, 2007

Click over to Hormone-colored Days and leave a comment to win great prizes!

Click over to my other blog, Hormone-colored Days, and leave a comment to enter my contest. Thanks to my friends at Lands' End online, I'm giving away a great new Ergo Jr. backpack!

But I couldn't stop there; what good is an empty backpack? I'm going to fill it with a just-released copy of the Spatulatta Cookbook, a new copy of Take Ten: Meditations for the Hurried Parent, a few sweet creamy caramels from our trip to the chocolate factory and other surprises for you and your little one!

All you need to do is leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway. There's no catch, just pure swaggy fun!

August 21, 2007

Scrambled SAKE- Our Visit to Springfield

We enjoyed a recent family getaway to Springfield. Yes, I actually said enjoy and Springfield in the same sentence! Unlike our disastrous earlier attempt to introduce the boys to the Land of Lincoln, this trip was fun! This time we headed downstate with grandma, grandpa, and my brother’s family, which made a big difference. And we got to see cool new sites, like the Lincoln Museum (read a related Chicago Parent mag. travel review here).

We were 11 in all, 6 adults and 5 kids. Dining as such a large group, we were not as concerned with excellent food as we were with simply getting everyone served the food they ordered in a reasonable amount of time (i.e. under 20-30 minutes). Sadly, several of these restaurants were not able to do this. Some did rise to the challenge, though.

Here’s a round-up of restaurants to keep in mind when you head to our state capital.

DAY 1
After visiting Abe Lincoln’s home during our first day we were hot and tired. A park ranger suggested we walk over the The Livery to eat a family-friendly dinner. We walked a few steamy blocks only to find it was closed. We stopped into the place next door, Robbie's, but decided it wasn’t right for us. The hostess very graciously directed us to a nearby restaurant that might better meet our needs. In retrospect Robbie’s would have been fine. I still feel guilty that we didn’t give them a try, so maybe you will and then let me know what you think.

Augie's Front Burner, right across from the Old Capitol, was not the restaurant we were sent to, but it's where we ended up after wandering inthe hot weather. Of course, we were even more tired, hot, hungry and probably a bit “ripe” by the time we walked in the door. Augie’s is a casual restaurant with upscale food, food that earned them Springfield’s fine dining award in 2006. Our waiter took great care of our large party and rushed the kids’ meals. We encountered a slight bump when buttered noodles were served with (gasp) parsley flakes on top, but everyone survived. This was the best meal of our trip. Sorry, I don’t remember what we actually ate-I was on vacation, after all, and didn’t have my notebook handy.

DAY 2
After a great morning at the Lincoln Museum we walked a few blocks to Cafe Brio. Their Mexican/Middle Eastern vibe is a refreshing addition to the Old Capitol area, but not a great place for kids or a large group, based on our experience. They don’t have printed kids menus or any distractions (other than the waitstaff with their piercings and multi-colored hair) to keep the young ‘uns busy while waiting for the meals…and we waited a looooong time.

After tiring afternoon running about town- we visited the new capitol, the old capitol, and Lincoln’s tomb- we relaxed at our hotel and then headed to the nearby O’Charley’s for dinner. O’Charley’s is a 230-strong chain with units from Minnesota down to the Gulf coast. Think Bennigan's with less “flair.” Kids eat free and we learned that many adults do, too when the service is poor. I was practically asleep by the time my food arrived, so I don't have many comments here. I do recall, though, that Pikachu was delighted to order Baked Cheetos as a side dish for his popcorn shrimp.

DAY 3
We finally made it to The Livery for lunch. If you want to know why Americans are so overweight, pop into this restaurant and get a clue. Their specialty is the Horseshoe. Take a hamburger, top it with fries and cover it with melted cheese and you've got a Horseshoe. I’m not sure if they were joking when they told us the Horseshoe is a local tradition, but we felt obligated to try it. If you’re intrigued, go with the Ponyshoe, a smaller version. They also serve real homemade soup. Good stuff, it hit the spot even on a hot day. I suspect their milkshakes are also top-notch, but I couldn't handle that and a Ponyshoe. The fast, friendly service steeped in local culture makes The Livery worth a visit.

Our last family dining stop was Monical's Pizza, another place near our hotel (a Hampton Inn and Suites—loved it!) on the outskirts of town. There are close to 60 Monical’s throughout Central Illinois, with several in Indiana and one in Wisconsin. They did a great job of seating and serving us efficiently. Each child received a multi-page kids menu with activities and crayons to keep 'em busy. Monical’s also provided little tabletop booklets full of brainteasers to keep adults occupied while waiting for a pan pizza. (Giordano’s and Edwardo’s, are you listening?) Even so, we stuck with quicker cooking ultra thin and crisp pizza. It didn't have much sauce, but I guess that's their style. We rounded off our meal with two family-size salads topped with their house dressing. Our waitress brought the dressing on the side in squirt bottles, so even the kids could top off the salads on their own. We likey.


DAY 4
We stopped at the Illinois State Fair before heading home. Like the food, I was hot and fried after a few hours. Fried food is expected at a fair, corndogs, too, but the fair provided an unprecedented number of foods in the “on-a-stick genre.” Shrimp? Pizza? Eggs? Who knew such a thing was possible?

August 09, 2007

I got a golden ticket! And you can get one, too!

Long Grove Confectionery, 333 Lexington Drive, Buffalo Grove
(847) 459-3100


I didn't have to hire a roomful of wage slaves to open hundreds of candy bars for me to get my golden ticket, I merely called the Long Grove Confectionery to sign up their chocolate factory tour. You can, too!


As much as I'm looking forward to the tour, my excitement is tempered by the fact that I will be the sole adult chaperon to four rambunctious boys. I will threaten to eat their chocolate if they don't behave. This should keep them in line because, as my two boys know, this is no idle threat.


Tours take place Monday-Thursday between 10 and 1, and last about an hour. They cost only $2 per person and rumor is your get your weight in chocolate at the end. Full details and ideas for what else to do in the NW 'burbs can be found here.

The outgoing message on the tour hotline assures me we will have time to shop in the outlet store, but it's open to the public even without tours. I've been to the store before and I can assure you there are deals to be had, people.


For other sweet local tours check out this page on ChicagoParent.com and read the Scrambled CAKE commentary of the Eli's Cheesecake factory tour here.

August 07, 2007

The Paula Kamen Cucumber-Tomato Salad, a recipe for cool

Like many good recipes, this one comes from a friend.

About a decade ago, DH and I were part of an informal chavurah, a group of friends who met for monthly vegetarian potluck shabbat dinners and discussion.

It was a hip group.

Intellectually and artistically hip, I mean. Our group included the creators of the (now) syndicated Edge City comic (which you can read in the Chicago Sun-Times), a woman who clerked for a Supreme Court judge, several writers, including this one, who is now also known for her CancerBitch diaries on Chicago Public Radio (click over for good news), and Feminist Fatale, Paula Kamen.

You may be wondering how the rather square DH and I, the only suburbanites in the group, wound up in such good company. I wondered that, too. I'm convinced it was a fluke, but that's fodder for another post.

On to Paula's amazing salad. This was her standard chavurah dish, and now it's my standard summer dish. It's healthy and refreshing, and the boys eat it! I make almost weekly.

Ingredients
6 plum tomatoes
6 pickle cucumbers
1/4 to 1/2 of a sweet onion
1/2 lb. of feta cheese (Go for the more expensive French or Greek variety; they are smooth and creamy. Consider using goat cheese if your only feta choice is the prepackaged stuff.)
1-2 large serving spoonfuls of kalamata olives, without pits
Seasoning to taste: basil, oregano, pepper, salt, olive oil, balsamic or rice wine vinegar

Chop first four ingredients into chunks. If you like them large, as Paula does, fine. You want to go small, that's okay, too. I usually keep the onions chunks large, so the kids can easily pick them out. If I don't have a lot of olive, I may slice them in half as well.

Adapt the ratio of ingredients to meet your tastes. I often wind up with a huge salad because I think, Oh, just one more tomato and then it looks to tomato-y so I add more cukes, then a bit more cheese, then back to the tomatoes, etc.

If you've got extra feta, cut it into cubes and enjoy as a chaser to watermelon slices. This delightful sweet/salty combo is perfect for a sultry summer night.

Paula has new book on women and mental health due out soon. I'll let you know when it's released.

August 05, 2007

Lake Michigan picnic

I'd like to tell you how much we enjoyed our lakeside picnic Friday night. After all, we were meeting a group of our friends and I'd prepared a lovely trio of salads: southwest black bean and corn, pasta with goat cheese, garden-fresh tomatoes and a few choice veggies, and, finally, our summer favorite- a pleasing cucumber-tomato combo.


The thing is, we never made it to he picnic. Both boys were sick Friday afternoon. Pikachu (the 7 year-old formerly known as Splinter) was burning up and lethargic when I picked him up from camp. (Counselor: yeah, he seems a little out of sorts...) He had a fever of 102!

Not only did we miss the picnic, we barely made it to sleep Friday night. It was the worst night we've had in years. One child or the other up was up just about every hour of the night. Poor boys. Poor Mommy (and to a lesser extent, Daddy).

Thankfully, both boys were doing better by Saturday afternoon when the mail arrived. As I was taking Pikachu's temperature, Smartypants burst into the room with a large box, "Look what just came!"

I put the thermometer down and asked him to bring me some hand sanitizer, so my germy hands would not contaminate whatever wonders awaited in the box. I did a quick wipedown and opened a box of...hand sanitizer! The folks at Germ-X sent me some samples; with two sick kids in the house, the timing could have been better.

Sometimes life imitates art and sometimes it imitates commercials.

August 03, 2007

Yahoo! A Mom's Night Out at Viand

Viand, 155 East Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 255-8505

The kind folks at Yahoo! treated a group of blogging mamas to a night out to kick off the BlogHer Conference. Specifically, the Chicago Moms Bloggers and contributors to their sister site, the Silicon Valley Moms Blog were treated like queens for a night. The drinks flowed and the food kept coming. Chef Brett whipped up customized flatbread pizzas (goat cheese? capers? mushrooms? you got it) and served up delicious chicken satay with a flavorful, but not too spicy peanut sauce, as well as a variety of potstickers. He dished out the compliments, too--much to the appreciation of our group of 30 and 40-something year old women.

As if the food and flattery weren't enough, I got to meet many of my "virtual friends" and make many more, I also received a fabulous swag bag, and then I headed back to my swanky hotel to enjoy the rest of the BlogHer weekend. What a treat!

Last weekend I felt like Cinderella at the ball. Now, I'm back to real life, cooking, cleaning, working, carpooling and all the regular mom stuff. And I'm still catching up on my sleep...and my blogging!

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