Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Countdown Chains

I decided to count down the days before Christmas a little more creatively than normal this year.  Instead of using a traditional advent calendar, I made a Christmas countdown chain for each of the kids.  Each little wrapped box in the chain contains a fun bauble, trinket or sweet and the kids will open one present each day until Christmas Eve.  Even though they are getting older, both Emma and Finn squealed with delight when they found the cheery chains hanging in their doorways!  I think this is shaping up to be the perfect way to celebrate the spirit of the season each day!


Its too bad our late fall backyard color didn't survive the blustery day today, but now I am even happier that I captured our pear tree in all it's glory yesterday!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


After finding myself a little perplexed by the limited number of Michelin starred restaurants on Chicago's 2012 list, I made a reservation at the one star rated, Courtright's to get my bearings, but after enjoying a five course degustation this evening, I wasn't sure that I had gained any more clarity about the ranking criteria than I possessed before. 

According to Michelin, stars reflect "what's on the plate and only what's on the plate". The five criteria restaurants are judged on are: quality of ingredients, skill of preparation and combination of flavors, level of creativity, value for money, and consistency of culinary standards Other criteria, such as d├ęcor and service, do not affect star ratings. 

Undoubtedly, a city girl like me would naturally prefer to dine in an urban space akin to Blackbird, Naha, or Schwa more than a venue touting suburban predictability, but according to the criteria I should be focused on the plates and not the twinkling Christmas lights in the garden or the heavy handed water colors on the walls.

And the fare was both memorable and dependable. I wouldn't qualify our meal as unexpectedly creative, but I can't imagine a diner being disappointed with a meal at Courtright's. These days, highly praised meals are often cooked in immersion circulators or treated with liquid nitrogen; Chef Bacle's honest and classic cuisine is a refreshing throwback to timeless cooking techniques. 

We cleaned our plates.
Seriously, I wanted to pick the boar bone.
That's telling.
We watched children meet Santa Claus.
(The jolly man even stopped by our table)
We ate chestnuts, prunes, and too many truffles.
Apple biscuits with cinnamon ice cream made for a perfectly comfortable dessert.
In the end, I even liked the glowy garden lights.

Before we knew it, we found ourselves wrapped up in an unfamiliar brand of suburban coziness and left feeling full and comfortable and warm. I've decided to let that happy suburban feeling serve as a reminder that comparing restaurants is basically pointless. Who needs clarity when it comes to feeling comfortable? 

Courtright's star shines brightly because of the genuinely welcoming nature of their dishes and the consistency and care of a capable chef.
It is as simple as that.
 Escargot Tart, Foie Gras, Truffle Vinaigrette, Balsamic Reduction, Chicory
 Wild Boar Chop with Gin Sauce, Prune Puree, Roasted Onion
Roasted Partridge with Jus, Chestnuts, Quince Puree, Cabbage and Black Sasuage

8989 Archer Ave
Willow Springs, IL

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leftover Day

 Yesterday, our friends the Tillotsons joined Eddie and the four of us for our annual leftover day celebration.  I think Finn said it best when he commented that, "These people are really fun to do nothing with!"
 Four movies and a cozy plates of leftovers made our lazy day simply perfect!

Leftover Breakfast

Can you say rise and shine?
Turkey Biscuits and Gravy
Scratch made thyme biscuits, stuffing thickened sausage gravy, turkey, and cranberries.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Images

 Once again, my dad brought an amazing Thanksgiving  appetizer to share at our table. This year it seemed fitting that he brought his self titled "Graceful Broken Wings" for Emma.  He used his mother's recipe and (with my mom's help) made something very delicious!  My family  snuggled up to watch the Packers play while  I cooked up a storm.  We have many things to be thankful for!  Not the least of which was a grand day with family and friends.

Turkey Breast Roulade with Gravy...aka the reason I may never cook a whole turkey again.
Herb Braised Turkey and Maple Glazed Turkey Legs with Cherries and Apricots.
Trio of Sides...Fried and Soaked Sprouts, Smashed Rutabaga, and Roasted Beets.

Roasted Red Beets, Honey Roasted Pecans, Herb Goat Cheese, and Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette
Swedish Potato Fans with Garlic, Rosemary and Herb Sour Cream

Giving thanks full plates and table full of loved ones makes Thanksgiving my favorite day of the year.
Love and Turkey everyone!

Turkey Tale

Bacon Wrapped Turkey Breast Roulade
Sage, Shiitake, and Sausage Stuffing
White Wine Pan Gravy

Thursday, November 24, 2011


With love from the Elsmo Four.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Starting Point.

If this shocks you, I apologize. 
Her healing starts right here.  
As a source of inspiration Emma wanted to document the start of her recovery.   Now she can look back here to see how far she has come if she is ever feeling frustrated with her healing process.  All signs point to a successful surgery and with some seriously hard work she'll be better than 100% in several months.  Something about this photo speaks to Emma's incredible strength and we are all glad she will have it as a not so gentle reminder of her impressive resolve.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Best Medicine...

 Our house was a parade of teenage girls this week-end and Emma was loving every minute of her healing time with her friends.  They were all movies and popcorn and cuddles.  I think she lucky to have such an exceptional cast of characters in her life!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tough Little Baby

Post surgery Emma looks like half a football player,
but she is tougher than a whole one.
Despite her toughness and linebacker looking bandages, she still needs a good deal of gentle care and help around the house.  I sort of feel like we have a baby again.  I had to cut Emma's meat at dinner last night, helped her get dressed this morning and put her down for a nap this afternoon.  We are giving her medicines every 4 hours (even in the middle of the night) and watching her sleep more than we have in years.  Thankfully she does not spit up or throw tantrums!  As sorry as we are that Emma has to go through this we are all enjoying this cozy time together and it feels oddly lovely to take care of our sweet little girl again.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Emma's Shoulder

After sustaining an impact injury in July while dancing, Emma's shoulder never recovered.  She's been in physical therapy twice per week ever since, but her multidirectional instability proved too great for minimally invasive treatment options.  Her shoulder basically kept falling out all over the place and the best option for correcting the condition was surgical.  

After dancing for months on a bum shoulder and seeing her Momenta performances through, Emma underwent an exploratory arthroscopic procedure this morning.  Taking a look around made it clear she would benefit from a surgical intervention called, capsular shift. The surgery tightened the ligaments that surround and support the shoulder joint and served to shift the capsule back into its rightful place so that it can help hold the joint together.  Emma's doctor said he could have driven a truck through her ligaments!  No wonder her shoulder was falling out all over the place!

I thought it was interesting that we got to take pictures of Emma's joint home with us.  Please enjoy this different kind of portrait...
I have no idea how to look at these pictures, but Emma's doctor complimented the over-all condition and cleanliness of her shoulder joint.  He is also very confident that the procedure will help her tremendously.  

Our girl had a little panic attack upon waking up and a small adverse reaction to the anesthesia, but other than that came through the 2 1/2 hour procedure like a champ.  Outside of a droopy eyelid caused by the nerve blocker that will keep her shoulder numb for 24 hours she looks great!  She is resting comfortably and it feels like she is finally on the road to recovery!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


"If I am going to get anywhere in the world of soccer I pretty much have to get to England by the time I am 15." 
-Finn Elsmo, age 9
Several weeks ago Finn tried out for a soccer team that will be traveling to play in the Gothica Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden this summer.  The Gothica cup is the finest international youth soccer tournament in the world and hosts 1,600 teams from 70 nations.  Needless to say, Finn was beyond stoked a the prospect of getting several international matches under his belt and his determination to be included on the team was reflected in his level of play at the try-out.

Finn was thrilled to get the good news that he'll be heading to Sweden this summer with Team Coerver, but equally delighted to learn the team will have a three day stop over in London for practice sessions and a friendly match with a British youth club before heading to the tournament.

"Oh man! I'm going to be like four years ahead of schedule!" -Finn Elsmo, yesterday. 
And the best part...it looks like I'll get to go with him!  
Hello Lingonberries!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mel's Michelin List

Yesterday, the list of star ranked restaurants from the red 2012 Michelin Guide for Chicago hit the web. I could wax on about how stingy I thought the 2012 list was...where was Blackbird's second star and how the heck does Next miss out on the stars all together?  To get my bearings,  I've already made a reservation to dine at one star new comer Courtright's in the coming weeks.  I knew one of my predictions was off the mark when The Girl and the Goat ended up on the Bib Gourmand list in lieu of earning a star, but local favorite Sen sushi's inclusion on the same list was a happy surprise.  I enjoyed a fine lunch there last week-end and had a chance to talk to the owner about their big honor.

Writing the little story for the paper got me to thinking about how many Michelin starred meals I've actually enjoyed over the years.  So...here it is Mel's Michelin list...to date.

The Stars

The Bib Gourmand

*Coming soon Courtright's!

All in all I'd say this is a pretty delicious list!
Alinea provided the best meal of my life, but Schwa, The French Laundry and Blackbird all impressed me with unforgettable fare.  Arami is my favorite regular haunt and West Town Tavern is Emma's all time favorite restaurant. Cheers to good taste!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Smash

 Nancy could not have been more delighted to have her two eldest grand-daughters together over the week-end.  Leif and I had a wonderful time having our niece, Ashley,  with us for Emma's performances and we sincerely hope we get to see her more often in the future!


I have been a fan of Ella Gill's for quite some time now.  She is a rather insanely talented folk musician and is in the process of putting together some recordings.  Ella was in the hunt for some album cover art and I photographed her in a series of different locations in hopes of creating an image she feels captures the spirit of what she is trying to do.  These are from the marsh series, but my favorites are in our train track and beach series.  I am not sure which images she'll select in the end, but you can bet I'll be celebrating the release of her first studio recordings right here!  She is just a delight to be around and I cannot wait to photograph her again. Ella is girl who is going places for sure.

Friday, November 11, 2011

An Autumn Study of Emma Grace

The amazing Emma Grace is one of my all time favorite subjects to photograph.  
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