Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas at Home

This year, we decided to spend Christmas Eve and morning at home in Chicago, before loading up the car and heading for Michigan to spend time with our families. It was a wonderful, intimate celebration - just the three of us, then the two of us. We went to Mass, had a lovely dinner, then made a fire in our fireplace, drank Champagne, ate cake, and enjoyed each other's company. After a long four weeks of waiting to celebrate, it felt just right.






Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Turkey Pot Pie + Celebrating Advent

Our home felt like it had the happiest of revolving doors this past week, with family coming to stay, sharing meals, laughing, drinking, playing games, watching parades and football and movies, just generally enjoying each other. We had a perfect turkey dinner, complete with 3 kinds of pie (pumpkin, chocolate, rhubarb). Anne made it clear that she likes whipped cream, hold the pie please.




I love Thanksgiving. But man, what comes after is something else. Pie for breakfast! Leftovers for days! A freezer full of amazing turkey stock! ADVENT!

Last year I started noticing that there are people who really, intentionally celebrate Advent. I have spent my whole life just diving in after Thanksgiving - getting the tree, putting up the lights, listening to nothing but Christmas music and watching nothing but Christmas movies. In the last couple of years, I realized that by the time Christmas rolled around, I was a little bit ready for it to be done. Last year I wasn't totally ready to commit, but I started making plans to really do Advent this year. Here's some of what we're doing to keep the red and green at bay until closer to the actual day. :-)


Advent candles! We're lighting them every night at dinner. We'll add some greens this weekend from our parish wreath sale.



Our beautiful nativity scene on the buffet in the dining room, and journeying Magi on the mantel. And the Advent calendar my mom gave us last year, filled with Hershey's candy cane kisses (or as Anne calls them, "pollypops"). We open a door each night after dinner.



And the most exciting part... the Jesse Tree! We've never done this tradition before, but I love the idea. Each day, there is a Scripture reading that illuminates part of salvation history, part of Jesus' family tree. And for each day, there is an ornament which is a symbol for the reading of that day - 25 ornaments for 25 days leading up to Jesus' birth. We're using Ann Voskamp's book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift to guide us through the stories - I love the beautiful illustrations!


Turkey Pot Pie

I've started making turkey pot pie after Thanksgiving every year - it's a great way to use up leftover turkey, and a little bit of sherry and cream in the sauce makes it extra-special.

Heidi Swanson's rye pie crust (my very favorite)


3 tablespoons butter
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1/4-1/2 cup sherry
2 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 baking potato, peeled and diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup (or more, if you like) shredded or chopped cooked turkey
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
splash of heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a large wide, shallow saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, and celery, and sauté until they begin to take on a little color and softness. Sprinkle the flour over the top, stir, and cook another minute or two, until the flour is evenly distributed. Deglaze the pan with the sherry, then add the chicken or turkey stock, potato, and peas, and bring to a simmer. The filling should be slightly thickened - not too runny or too thick. Add the turkey, thyme, cream, salt and pepper, and give it a taste. Allow to cool before pouring into the pie shell.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and roll out pie crust. Arrange crust in the pie plate, and pour in cooled filling. Cover with second piece of dough, decoratively crimp the edges, and make a few steam vents in the top with a sharp knife. Brush the top with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water), and bake until the crust is deeply golden and the filling bubbles, about 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before slicing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Halloween Candy Cookies

Last week I broke down and hired some help. Her name is Elvia, and she's available to play with Anne for up to 3 hours every day so that I can do things like work out, shower, and get dressed without a small person clinging to and climbing on me.


At least that's what it feels like. What I really did was join a gym that has childcare.


Now, I'm not going to jump to crazy conclusions (who, me?) and say that this is life-changing, but you guys... this might be life-changing. Last week I swam laps while Anne played. Today, I spent a half hour on the elliptical machine, reading a book. This is my kind of multitasking! It's amazing to have a reason to get out of the house (especially since winter has settled in a few weeks early this year), and I have the energy and time to do the things I need to do (things like craft make cookies clean the house) when Anne goes down for her nap.

Did I mention this is all for $40 PER MONTH?! I'm so excited.


Changing gears: I realize that I'm late in sharing this recipe. But here I go anyway. Better late than never! I bought a Costco-sized bag of Halloween candy, hoping for some trick-or-treaters. We got none. I ate a little of it, and then decided I either had to get creative with it or throw it away (never!). So I unwrapped it, chopped it all into pieces, and folded it into cookie dough. It is exactly as amazing as it sounds.

P.S. The irony of a post about joining a gym combined with a recipe for ridiculously decadent cookies is not lost on me.


Halloween Candy Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4+ cups leftover Halloween candy, chopped up

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until well-combined. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix, scraping down the sides as needed. Dump in all the chopped up candy and fold in. Scoop onto cookie sheets and bake 10-12 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Chow down!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our First Michaelmas!

Last night we celebrated Michaelmas (the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael) for the first time! There are so many different ways to celebrate it, and I had a hard time choosing. A friend of mine from our parish did a bonfire on the beach a couple of years ago, so we teamed up together this year to recreate it.

Michaelmas 2014

We reserved a fire pit on the beach, and the weather yesterday was absolutely ideal. As we drove up, I  rolled down the windows and enjoyed the 78-degree sunshine and the few leaves that were starting to turn. A few blocks from the beach, though, a cold burst of wind started blowing, a layer of cloud settled over the lake, and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in 15 minutes. While I would have preferred one last warm evening on the beach, you can't deny the appropriateness of such a drastic shift on a night when you're celebrating the changing seasons, among other things.

Michaelmas 2014

Michaelmas 2014

Michaelmas 2014

Michaelmas 2014

Each child received a cape of light, which I made the day before by dyeing white silk scarves with turmeric (I followed the instructions here). The capes are symbolic of the courage and strength needed to stand up and fight against evil. All of the kids in our group are under 7, so we didn't say much else about them - just tied the capes on and let them run around. It was great. Then we gathered around our bonfire and said the St. Michael prayer together, which I printed out on quarter sheets using this lovely download from Kendra.

St. Michael Prayer

We had such a wonderful time around the fire, enjoying each other, talking and eating s'mores. It was one of those rare, sweet times when I feel like I am living just the life I want to, and giving Anne exactly the childhood I dream for her.

Michaelmas 2014
St. Michael? Are you on your way to help?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back to School

The first September breeze fluttered
across the tops
of the withered grass
and fall came tumbling in as
if someone had thrown
open a door.
       --Liz Rosenberg

Autumn Color Spectrum

It rained this morning, then was humid and warm. Then late this afternoon, a strong wind started to blow, a Mary Poppins wind, from the West. I told Anne that the wind was blowing so hard because it was blowing the Fall here. And I was right. The mercury is dropping, and the high tomorrow is only 60 degrees in Chicago! Fall is here. I see a pumpkin spice latte in the near future, apple picking, soup, and sweaters. And as usual, there's the cheery back-to-school feeling. The excitement of being poised and ready to learn something new.

We held our first meeting of the new year for the Well-Read Mom group this evening. I sat around a big round table with 7 like-minded women, women who believe in the importance of reading great things so that we can instill in our children a love of literature. So that we can, as Sarah of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast says, build our family culture around books. So that we can remind ourselves that we are not just dinner-makers, nose-wipers, and diaper-changers. We have brains that need exercise, just like the rest of our muscles.

I love these women. They are so earnest, so funny, so brave and honest and kind. They are amazing mothers, amazing friends. As Marcie Stokman, founder of Well-Read Mom, reminded us tonight, motherhood can be a lonely journey, and women do better when we band together. When we live this challenging vocation in community. I am so lucky to have found such a village in the midst of a big, impersonal city.

Next week we start a little back-to-school of sorts; a park district swim class on Monday mornings, and a Music Together class on Thursday mornings. I think we could both do with a bit more structure, and I'm looking forward to building at least a semblance of a schedule around those two anchors. As for me, a stack of nonfiction titles are calling me out of my summer novel-reading riot. Well, as soon as I finish Outlander (WHOA, you guys).

Are you going "back to school" this fall? What does it look like in your life?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blueberry Cobbler

blueberry cobbler |

This past Sunday Anne and I went to a wedding up in northern Michigan. The ceremony was on a balcony overlooking the water, and the reception was outside at a beautiful old cherry farm, complete with pie and dancing in the 100-plus-year-old barn. It was a perfect day. The bride is one of my oldest childhood friends, almost like a second little sister. She's my little sister's best friend - my sister was a bridesmaid, and she will be a bridesmaid(matron?) in my sister's wedding in November. It was so sweet and almost surreal seeing them together like that; beautiful, composed, tender-hearted, on the cusp of the great adventure of marriage. Supporting each other, standing side by side, just like they have done almost since birth. I saw so many people who aren't part of my daily life anymore, but who were fixtures in my childhood. Familiar as my own parents, my childhood home. It's so miraculous and strange to go back, to see them interacting with my little daughter, to hear them remark how much she reminds them of me at her age. It was a precious time.

blueberry picking |

Yesterday was the feast of St. Monica, my patron and one of Anne's namesakes, and today is the feast of St. Augustine. I've been thinking about their lives, specifically how much can be accomplished when we persist in prayer, and brainstorming how I can make it more of a habit in our daily life. Anne has started to participate when we pray, making the sign of the cross, folding her hands and scrunching her eyes closed, saying "Amen." (She actually said "Amen" several times during the wedding ceremony, including just after the bride said her vows. She gets it.) She is so enthusiastic and proud of herself, and I just want to keep her going. When we were growing up, we knew that prayer was an ongoing conversation with a God who wanted to know what was in our hearts, no matter how silly or insignificant it seemed. I want Anne to know that, too, as soon as possible.

blueberry picking |

We were flying solo this week, as we so often do in this insanely busy season of my husband's career. We did all the things you want to do in Michigan in the summer: picked blueberries, swam in lakes, watched the sunset, ate ice cream and pie, sweet corn and tomatoes. I had the rare chance to spend some quality one-on-one time with my sister's soon-to-be husband, as we sat belly-up to the bar where she works, sipping PBR and laughing. He is a keeper. Thank you, God!

blueberries |

We are squeezing the last drops from this summer, paying no attention to the purple stains on our fingers and tongues (and some of our shirts).

blueberry cobbler |

Blueberry Cobbler

3 cups fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
zest of one small lemon

2/3 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup rye flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a baking dish (I used a deeper 10-inch covered dish, but you could use a wider, shallower pan if you make sure to keep your eye on it - cooking time would be shorter), gently toss together blueberries, cornstarch, sugar, and lemon zest. In a separate bowl, stir together flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Beat the egg slightly in another bowl or liquid measuring cup, and add the buttermilk and butter. Stir together, pour into the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Drop in large spoonfuls on top of the blueberries, sprinkle with sugar, and bake 25-30 minutes, until berries are bubbling and top is golden.

Serve cobbler warm with vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guest post: Why Can't We Call it a "Playout"?

I'm over at Someday Saints today, sharing some thoughts about getting and staying fit while chasing a kid. Check it out! It's the first in Gina's series about fitness, so stay tuned to her blog for the rest! I'm looking forward to reading what the other contributors have to say!

Why Can't We Call it a "Playout?"


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pasta Luglio

Pasta Luglio

It feels like summer. Yesterday we spent the entire morning at the park and pool, and most of the afternoon in the front yard. Last night after Anne was in bed, I scooped a bowl of homemade strawberry ice cream and sat on the front stoop watching the fireflies come out. This morning, we spent a solid hour sidewalk chalking the front walkway (a beach scene!), blowing bubbles, and watching the planes fly overhead. This afternoon we walked to the park and the farmers' market. We stopped at the market for a while and listened to a woman play the accordion. Anne danced, and drank tiny sips of water out of the top of my Klean Kanteen bottle.

I tend to read mostly non-fiction: memoirs, parenting, self-help, religion. I've decided that July is the Month of the Novel, and I am doing what I can to get through as much fiction as possible this month. On the list: The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and The Godwulf Manuscript, by Robert B. Parker. I've bitten off more than I can chew, but that's not terribly surprising. The bigger your stack of books, the more books you read in the end, even if you never finish the whole thing (How could you ever finish? Have you seen a library?). What are you reading this summer? Have you seen the selections for the Well-Read Mom for this year? I am excited for that.

I'm running a half marathon next week (!), and I've run something like 170 (!!) miles in training since March. I don't particularly love the running, especially the amount of time it takes each week. I'm looking forward to crossing the finish line and getting back to more reasonable, balanced workouts. What has been amazing about this process for me has been seeing myself uncompromisingly committed to reaching my goal. I signed up for the half marathon and paid the ridiculous entry fee, I downloaded a training plan, and I have done basically every single thing on the training plan, rain or shine, in spite of other plans, fatigue, soreness, or just plain whiny laziness. I have gotten out and run my miles 3-4 times a week without fail for 4 months. I feel shocked! I guess it just goes to show you that you never stop learning things about yourself. I, apparently, am very goal-oriented, and benefit greatly from a specific schedule that I can follow. I'm excited to test this knowledge in other areas of my life.

I let Anne run around and pick things at the market for dinner tonight (her contributions: yellow squash and mushrooms), and as usual, the simplest seasonal ingredients worked their magic to form the most amazing pasta dish I've eaten in a long time. Buon appetito!

Licking her lips

Pasta Luglio
(serves 2 for dinner, 4 as a first course)

This is a weeknight dinner, and I have a busy toddler who likes to "help," so I go as quickly as I can. This means that I do not chop everything before I start cooking. Chop one thing, toss it in. Chop another, add. Chop more, add more, etc. Cooking times between additions would honestly be something like "as long as it takes to chop half and onion." It's a very forgiving recipe, just wing it.

1/2 pound penne or other short pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow summer squash, quartered and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
splash of white wine
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
5-6 large leaves fresh basil, shredded
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Boil a pot of water for the pasta. Salt generously (it should taste like seawater), and cook the pasta about a minute shy of al dente (for penne, 9-10 minutes). Reserve about 2 cups of the starchy pasta water for the sauce (or splash it in the sauce as you're cooking the pasta, as I did - see below).

Place the olive oil in a wide, shallow saucepan over medium heat. Add the squash, season with salt and pepper, and let sit for a minute. Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softening and pan starts to look dry. Splash with white wine and cook another minute. Add the tomato paste and stir together, splashing in enough pasta water to thin the paste into a sauce that coats the vegetables. Stir in the pasta and cook for a minute or two. Remove from heat and add grated cheese, basil, and butter. Stir until the butter and cheese are melted. Taste, adjust seasonings if needed, and serve.