Saturday, March 31, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Our kind of town!

Leif is such a doll!  Without a shred of input he planned out a little spring break stay-cation for the four of us.  We love enjoying our hometown like tourists and Leif's plan to make a suite at the Omni Hotel our home base for the night suited us perfectly!  Not only did the kids have a chance to take a swim, but we also enjoyed a nice dinner  at the Atwood Cafe and saw Fela! at the Oriental Theatre.  The musical celebrates the Afrobeat rhythms and life of Nigerian musician and activist, Fela Kuti.  All four of us loved the show even though following the plot was a little tricky at times and totally agree with the Tony Awards for costume design and choreography Fela won!  The ensemble was one of the most memorable I've seen in years!  After the show we had a little ice cream at Ghirardelli before turning in for the evening.  This morning the kids enjoyed more pool time before we headed out to have a lovely lunch at Bandera and to enjoy a long walk down the Mag mile!  This really is our kind of town.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I fall asleep in the full and certain hope
That my slumber shall not be broken;
And that though I be all-forgetting,
Yet shall I not be forgotten,
But continue that life in the thoughts and deeds
Of those I loved.
Samuel Butler -1835-1902

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ode to the TV Dinner

We never try to cram too much into our spring break week.  Personally, I just like to see my kids unwind and relax and I always love to see what they'll choose to do with a little vista of time.  Today (in classic spring break form), Emma decided she wanted to bake some cupcakes.  One of Emma's besties gave her a copy of  Hello Cupcake  for Christmas and this is literally the first moment she has had to put it to good use.  Emma spent the afternoon in the kitchen and with very minimal help turned out an entire TV Dinner made from cupcakes! I thought her entire display was pretty remarkable, but I really chuckled when I saw those "mashed potatoes!"  Who knew caramel sauce and a slice of yellow Starburst candy could stand in for butter and gravy. This was the first of what I hope to be many sweet spring break surprises!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Spring Hat Dinner

After enjoying the company of a group of  incredible women several times over the past year I decided to invite them over for a spring dinner party.  Some where along the way everyone decided to wear hats and in an instant the spring hat dinner was born!  I whipped up six feminine dishes and we settled in for an unforgettable evening of  girl talk and laughter.
Arpege Inspired Egg
Soft Scrambled Egg, Citrus Cream, Chive and Maple Syrup
The Green Goddess Salad
Cucumber,  Kale, Lavender, Goat Cheese, Asparagus, Pistachio
Lemon Ricotta Ravioli
Three Peas, Crispy Parmesan, Watercress
Chilly Noodles
Ahi, Somen, Egg, Nori, Scallion
Chicken and Potatoes and Vegetables
Tomato Roulade, Twice Baked Potato Tower, Zucchini, Balsamic, Prosciutto, Basil 
Thank you for coming, Sol, Clarisol, Dawn, Celena, Gabrielle, Kaberi, Alicia, and Ngozi!
It was an honor to fill my table with such an extraordinary group of women.
I cannot wait until next time!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

He's the Man!

Vikas would like to point out that Finn is totally the MAN! 
He brought his parents over to follow my method for getting a reservation at The French Laundry and Finn was in charge of one of our six phones.  As luck would have it Finn was the one who finally got through after we made more than 600 calls in 18 minutes!  Vikas will have to find himself a nice Napa Valley babysitter now that his parents have a date at one of the world's best restaurants.

Friends at Last?

Java and Lu have had about five years to to develop their codependent love-hate relationship.  For as long as we've had her,  Lu has been a terrible influence on our good dog.  It is funny to watch how the dynamics in the animal hierarchy around our house have started to change a now that our Java girl has really started to slow down. Little Lu is doing everything she can to keep our old biddy young at heart.  She keeps keeps close proximity to Java at all times these days and even scampers and skips about to rouse her old friend into playing outside or sunbathing on the deck.  It is nice to know our Lu can be a good influence when it really matters; we sure are glad they have each other!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Do we fit the profile?

The Elsmo Four stand with Trayvon Martin.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pear Tree Beauty

It is only mid March and spring is in full swing around here!  The unseasonably warm weather has coaxed my favorite tree into showing us her beauty even earlier than usual this year.
Welcome spring.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Potluck 2.0

On Saint Patrick's Day Leif and I were invited to participate in a showy cooking-centric dinner party that I have affectionately come to refer to as Potluck 2.0!  This wasn't a run of the mill casserole laden affair, but a thoughtful approach to connecting friends through food.  Our hosts Mike and Sally gathered an interesting set of guests and each couple was responsible for providing one course to make up our impressive meal. Bill started us off by preparing a memorable seared Ahi salad.  He educated us about purchasing saku blocks of sashimi grade fish to use at home.  Most of the finest Japanese restaurants use flash frozen fish and I found a nice online source to purchase fish in this form (Click HERE to check it out).   After searing his pristine fish in a well seasoned cast iron skillet, Bill served his dish with wines selected by their friend, Charlie Trotter's sommelier.  The pairings were obviously perfect!

I took my turn in the kitchen next.  Bill's Japanese inspired dish and pairings were subtle, elegant and refined.  I was happy to offer an aggressive counter balance to his memorable dish.  I turned my favorite Thai inspired  "Smackdown Dumplings" green for the occasion and let all of our guests take turns wrapping them.  Agata was a dumpling making natural and attributed her years of making perogi to her obvious dexterity! And because we don't know a famous chef's wine expert we paired our dish with Tiger beer.
Thai Inspired Dumplings
with Golden Garlic, Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce
Pea shoots, Sprouts, and Black Sesame
Makes about 40 Dumplings.

½ C water chestnuts
3 garlic cloves
1 lemongrass stalk, sliced
¾ lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ lb ground chicken breast
¼ lb ground chicken thigh
2T brown sugar
1t sherry vinegar
1t sesame chili oil
Salt and white pepper
1 egg
2T cornstarch
1 egg, slightly beaten
25 wonton or dumpling wrappers
Golden garlic (recipe follows)
Thai sweet and spicy sauce (recipe follows)
Soy sauce
Micro Greens, pea pods and black sesame seeds

Combine the water chestnuts, garlic and lemongrass in the bowl of a food processor and process until minced.  Add the shrimp and chicken and process until quite smooth. Add the sugar, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper and process until incorporated. While the machine is running add the egg and corn starch and process until combined.

Place 1 heaping teaspoon in the center of each wrapper.  Paint some egg on the edges of the wrapper to act as glue.  Carefully fold the wrapper half to snuggly encapsulate the filling. Take care to eliminate air bubbles before pinching  the ends together to make a classic wonton shape.  

Steam the dumplings in a bamboo steam lines with parchment for 8 minutes or until cooked through.  Place dumplings in a bowl and garnish with golden garlic, sweet and spicy sauce, soy sauce, micro greens, peapods, and black sesame.  Enjoy immediately.

Golden Garlic
½ C Garlic, roughly chopped.
½ C Canola Oil.

Combine the oil and garlic in a pan an put over medium heat.  Stir occasionally as oil begins to bubble.  When garlic turns just golden remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Transfer to a clean container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Sweet and Spicy Sauce
2C Sugar
1 C White Vinegar
1t salt
2T Lee Kum Kee Chili Garlic Sauce

Combine 1 C of Sugar and the vinegar in a sauce pan.and bring to a boil.  Stir until sugar is completely dissolved before adding the second cup of sugar.  Allow mixture to return to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium, add the salt and allow sauce to simmer for five minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the chili garlic sauce.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

While Bill and I were prepping our plates Lisa was quietly puttering behind us.  She diligently manned her pots and pans on the stove top and before I knew it  gorgeous bowls full of velvety asparagus soup littered the kitchen counters!  Lisa's soup was an exercise in seasonal sensibility and simplicity; I cannot pick a favorite dish of this night, but I'll admit that I've  thought about this soup several times in the wake of this party!
Next up?  Czech Chicken Paprika made by Bob and Liz.  Their recipe for this rich and homey dish is on the menu at their family resutarant.  Klas Restaurant opened in 1922 and is the oldest operating Czechoslovakian restaurant in the country!  Listening to these two talk about steamed bread dumplings, hearty organic rye bread, and crispy roast duck was infectious and tasting their chicken paprika proved they can put their money where their mouth is!  You can bet I will be taking the Elsmo Four to Klas as soon as possible!
5734 W Cermak Rd. 
Cicero, IL 60804
After slurping up the last of our Czech Chicken, the humorous and engaging, Thom took center stage and demonstrated how to capture the spirit of Saint Patrick's Day in a few bites.  He layered corned beef and brussels sprouts between layers of pastry and baked them in mini muffin tins.  It was a creative take on a tradtional Irish boiled dinner.
From there our hosts rounded out Thom's potatoes and Lisa's green beans with some outstanding grilled steaks and lamb chops.  Sally whacked off part of her finger while whipping  up a pretty insane mango, mint and jalapeno compote for the lamb chops.  After all no foodie fest is ever complete with out at least  little blood splatter!  We ended our delicous evening with Paul and Agata's perfect lemon cake and coffee.
Honestly this was a most creative and engaging way to spend and evening!  I hope Mike and Sally plan to do it again and my dumplings tasted good enough to keep me on the guest list!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stepping back to 1962

Our friend Nadim sits on the board of the Timeline Theater Company and invited us to be his guests at their annual gala on Friday evening.  The theme Step into Time 1962 forced me to channel my inner Betty Draper and don a mad men inspired mustard yellow sheath and all together fabulous yellow coat.  I found the dress in the Cherry Rivers shop on Etsy and all I needed was a little hair spray to pull my vintage look together.  Leif wore a skinny tie and managed a slick his hair in classic early '60's style.  We drank an Old Fashioned and enjoyed the company of great friends.
We even won a pretty spectacular piece of art in the silent auction.  I was looking for a way to drive up bids and make a donation to a worthy cause, but ended up winning this Chicago sky line by Chicago artist Errol Jacobson that looks perfect in our house!
Check out Timeline Theater's video below and consider checking out their next productions!
Enron is running through April 1st and My Kind of Town opens May 1st.
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