Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nourish to Flourish

Several years ago, I went through a two week period where I was terribly overwhelmed by my work. I was simultaneously organizing back to back private dinner events and chairing a large local fundraiser. I am sorry to say, one of the first thing to go during this busy time were our regular family dinners. Sure people ate, but it was a fend for yourself environment and we were just a little disconnected. Frozen pizza even graced our table on more than one occasion. Fed up, I decided to take back the dinner hour. I threw four potatoes in the oven, baked some chicken parts seasoned with Lawry's, and boiled some frozen broccoli. It was about as far from gourmet as my dinners get, but at least I had I cooked it. I called the family to dinner and when Finn saw that sad salty chicken he gasped and exclaimed, "Oh my! Is it Thanksgiving already?" Take the chicken wing and choke me; I wanted to die.
Does this sound like a story told by an authority on family dining?
Think again.
Yesterday evening I presented a Nourish to Flourish program on behalf of the Lincoln School Wellness Committee to a room full of folks anxious to recapture the family dinner hour. To be honest, I'd never given a presentation like this before and I was a little nervous. My self deprecating humor was a big asset in breaking down any barriers in the room and I really think a bunch of folks bought into my approach to weekly family dinners. My hour long presentation illuminated the reasons family dinners are beneficial, how to create healthy eating habits in children, and also provided a menu, recipes and tastings for a week's worth of dinners. We covered crock pots, planned leftovers, and how to get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. We talked about whole grains omega 3's and nutrient dense foods. Phew!

I was flattered to be asked and I guess people thought it was a success because I've already been asked to bring it to another local elementary school!

My sample week at a glance...

Monday: Honey Orange Salmon Skewers with Smashed Potatoes and Roasted Veggies
Tuesday: Chinese Style Rice Porridge with Chicken, Cilantro, Scallions, and Chili Garlic Sauce

Wednesday: Double duty pasta Primavera with Basil and Parmesan.

Thursday: Crock Pot Pork Tacos with Radish, Black Bean, and Cucumber
Friday: Sloppy Turkey Joe Sliders

I had so much fun that I didn't want it to be over! I am anxious to do it all again!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I am just madly in love with this necklace Leif gave me for my birthday! We found Alouette Artisan Jewelry at the Harrison Street Arts Festival and I had no idea Leif had taken the designer's business card, called her, arranged for a showing, and selected this stunning vintage inspired gift for me! What a perfectly lovely surprise.

Alouette Artisan Jewelry
Jamie Anne McClellen

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Using their Heads...

Emma and one of her besties, Sammy, are putting together a creative video project for school and I thought their props were totally creepy. I am curious to see the final product, but in the meantime I just had to line them all up for a quick photo!

David vs Goliath

Wilt Chamberlain said, "Everybody pulls for David; nobody roots for Goliath," and I am here to tell you his statement is totally true! Thankfully, Finn had number the nearly 5'6 #99 well in hand for a good part of his game today!
Visuals like that tickle me to no end!
Finn was crushed his sweet shot missed wide by just a bit, but over all he played an admirably scrappy game this afternoon!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

West Town Tavern

West Town Tavern
1329 W. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
  • Tavern Beer Cheese with Crunchy Toasts
  • Tavern Potato Chips with Rosemary Balsamic Syrup, White Truffle Oil, Parmesan Cheese
  • Leif: Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Cheddar Garlic Scalloped Potatoes and Zinfandel Reduction
  • Mel: Slow Smoked Pork Spare Ribs and Pork Confit with Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts and Juniper Zinfandel Reduction
  • Emma: Crispy Slow Cooked Moulard Duck Leg with Parsnip Potato Cake, Garlic Greens, and Savory Apple Butter
  • Finn: Zinfandel Braised Short Rib Pot Roast, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Pennsylvania Black Vinegar Sauce.
  • Chocolate Devil's Food Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Last night Leif and the kids treated me to dinner at West Town Tavern to celebrate my birthday and it was simply divine! I have been clamoring to dine at this inviting tavern for quite some time now, but every time we've planned to go our plans have been derailed for some reason or another. Last night they went off without a hitch, however, and we settled in for some honest contemporary comfort food. Everything we ate was memorable, well prepared, and comforting and the restaurant buzzed with warmth the entire time we were there.

Our server was hard at work, but eager to spend an extra moment at our table and even explained to Emma from detailed notes what was in the sauce on her duck. Emma fell madly in love with her dinner and needed to know what made it all so wonderful; She learned veal stock was the key to the sauce. As she lapped up the remainder of her dinner she lamented how cruise ships continue to dump waste in our oceans and regulating this practice is next to impossible.

Finn took down a gorgeous portion of pot roast all the while casually explaining to us that some kids at school have dubbed Fridays 'Slap Your Ass Day.' I almost choked on my Brussels Sprouts and Leif stifled a laugh, but Finn quickly informed us he is "not an ass slapper" and "refuses to participate in that holiday" because, you know, he just plays Four Square.

We had one of our regular Elsmo family dinners in rather extraordinary setting and I was reminded quite quickly that we can, in fact, take our children anywhere and enjoy their company just as much as any of our friends. Just as I was feeling about as proud as a mom can feel, our server came over to our table and paid our family the best public compliment we have ever received. Period. And then I felt even prouder. What an absolutely perfect gift.
Happy birthday to me.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Yesterday, my lovely neighbors took me out for lunch to celebrate my birthday and we happened across this adorable dog display.
I adore living in a community where a creative family frames their protective dog like a piece of art for all the world to see! Too cute!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On the Shelf

I obtained this vintage wooden chef from my paternal grandmother's kitchen. I think she is a broken down pepper mill and sometimes I worry she is missing her salty partner, but I just love that she watches over my kitchen everyday!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Soccer in Full Swing

The fall soccer season is in full swing and the red wedge dropped a player in the box today and narrowly escaped getting a card in my estimation, but made up for it by scoring a goal later in the game! When asked why he leveled the kid he responded, "Well personally I think he tripped, but it wasn't like I was gonna let him score or anything." It was a great week-end of games for Finn and the rest of his team all around and I think it looks like they are going to have a great season!


This morning when Leif joined us in the family room to watch Chelsea play Blackpool he very politely asked Finn to move over so he could have his favorite place on the couch. Finn complied and we all started watching the game. Moments later, Little Lu came along and starting nestling in behind Leif on the couch. Leif leaned forward, looked back, and said, "Oh, I see. You are looking for a little patch of sun. Okay, you can have it."
Leif got up from his place on the couch and moved to a different place in the room.
He left this behind...
It appears the question of who wears the pants in our house has been officially answered and clearly it isn't Leif!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

at home date.

I had a moment of epiphany late last week.
It occurred to me that we entertain at our house a lot and we eat at the family table a lot and we go out to dinner a lot, but I rarely cook a romantic dinner just for Leif. Part of this is a function of busy schedules for sure and by the time Friday rolls around it is just nice to have a pizza delivered, throw in a movie, and unwind. There is nothing wrong with keeping things casual, but then again there is really nothing wrong with making an evening special when you can. Last night Finn had a birthday party sleepover and Emma was spending the night with JbCoolcat and I decided to take advantage of the circumstances and have a stay at home date with my Leifer.
Cobb Salad Variation: Lime Seared Scallop, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, Avocado, Heirloom Tomato, Boston Lettuce, Chipotle Cilantro Crema

Grilled Lamb Chops with Rosemary and Lemon, Split Roasted Garlic Potato with Herb Sour Cream, Green Beans, and Figs
We sat on our deck in the glow of candle light, listening to Ella and Louis, eating and talking well past midnight. I have to be honest, we needed a night like this and I highly recommend surprising your loved one with an at home date and enjoying a little alone time! we weren't totally alone.
Java and Lu were very present for our date night.
I guess they could feel the love in the air and to these two, love should always come in the form of bacon and lamb!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Get in Line!

Sometimes I think entering the teen years can be terribly unfair. Teens are growing a million inches a minute and their hormones are kicking in big time. When you add a pair of glasses and a mouthful of metal to this tinderbox of development suddenly you are looking at awkwardness personified. Or so I thought...
Our beautiful Emma became a "brace face" today and I don't think you can tell at all! Emma has wanted to straighten her teeth for a while and today she started her Invisalign treatment. After a year her teeth will be as perfect as possible and she won't have to deal with metal, cement, or tightening in the meantime. She simply has to change out her custom designed clear trays every two weeks! She is pretty darn excited about the whole thing! She is even more excited about the fact she has the chance to win a long standing bet. Emma has always been a nail biter and several years ago I offered to pay her fifty dollars if I had to clip her nails once. She has never been able to hold off long enough to earn the cash. She figured out pretty quickly today that she can't bite her nails with her Invisalign trays in her mouth. Considering she can only remove them for meal time she is pretty sure she's going to pocket that money pretty fast!

Straight teeth and long nails?
I think she is on the road to becoming a lovely young lady!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Mimosa Pudica, known as Humble or Sensitive plants are among my favorites to keep around the house. These little plants are hyper emotional and fold up their leaves, drop their stems and pout if you touch them. Just look.
I have always wondered why they behave in this manner so I looked it up. In case you were wondering these seismonastic movements are caused by calcium ions increasing pulvini wall pliability and decreased turgor pressure as a result of external stimulation. Duh.

And to think I just thought they were super neat.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dinner for M&M

Last year, we invited Matt over for a foodie dinner party and we had such a great time we decided to make it an annual affair. Last night Matt and Marta joined us for a seven course dinner on the deck...oh my yum!
Grilled Romesco Crostini with Buratta Cheese, Figs and Arugula
Ali's Momofuku Inspired Pork Belly Buns

Angie and Brian even stopped by for the first two courses before leaving their boys behind to spend the night and scooting off to Blackbird to celebrate their 11th anniversary.
Ricotta and basil Ravioli Puttanesca
Moroccan Flavor Sea Bass
I love having an excuse to cook big and every dish last night was pretty darn good if I do say so myself, but just like last year, I missed photographing my favorite dish of the night! Our sixth course featured Wild Mushroom and Tarragon Pancakes with Sun dried Tomato Frosting and Vanilla Balsamic Syrup; they were as close to perfect as I had imagined they would be.
We dined late into the evening and when we finally came inside the five boys were sound asleep in a giant pile on the floor! Emma has proven she has the magic touch for sure!!
It was a perfect evening filled with great company and good food!
I am already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


This afternoon I had the chance to spend some time in a Vietnamese market. Among the treasures I picked up were a bunch of spiny rambutan fruits. Rambut in Malay means "hairy" and these quirky little nuggets certainly are. Opening them is as much fun as eating them! They are sweet as can be and remind me of their culinary cousin the lychee nut. Yum.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Side Trip: Little Norway

On our way home from our camping trip a little wanderlust came over me and I instinctively exited when I saw a sign for Little Norway. When you have a Leif and a car full of Elsmos you pretty much have to stop at Little Norway! Heck Finnr was even wearing his Norway shirt! It seemed like our outing was meant to be and it was.
In 1865, the Haugen family arrived in southeastern Wisconsin and settled into an area Norwegians called Niessedahle (valley of they elves) and began to build a life for their family. Today, their farm is part of an attraction called Little Norway where tourists can enjoy a glimpse into a bit of American history. We learned a great deal on our tour and Finn discovered 27 elves hiding on the property!
Interestingly enough we learned a great deal about spoons. The first thing Norwegians learned to carve was their own spoon and once it was finished they carried it in their pocket everywhere. That way, if they happened to be a a neighbors house at meal time they could whip out their spoon and dig in. "Have spoon will travel" sounds like a good motto to me! We also learned about spring houses for cooling food, why Norwegian trunks have a rounded top, and the origin of the saying "pop goes the weasel!"

The highlight of the tour was most certainly the Norway House.
This spectacular house of worship was built in Norway in 1892 and transported for display at the Chicago World's fair in 1893. After the fair closed the Norway House was disassembed and moved to a Lake Geneva estate. In 1935, Isak Dahle, had the building moved for the third and final time to the grounds of Little Norway where it has been open to the public ever since.

The building and it's contents are beautiful and brought back many memories of Leif's dad, Thad. At every turn we were reminded of him especially when we found this piece tucked into a corner...
...all four of us stood there looking at Thad's boat and realized he was haunting us in the best possible way. It was a humbling full circle moment to find a little piece of the Heavenly Hunk immortalized in a Norwegian museum. It was pretty clear the Elsmo Four were supposed to end up at Little Norway and even though it didn't seem possible, we all appreciate Thad's boat a little more since being there.
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