Sunday, December 30, 2012

So Long 2012...

We could not have asked for a more remarkable year; we were on the go and moving around the globe.  We spent countless hours with friends and treasured our time with family.
Leif and I have vowed to get more than one picture of the two of us together in 2013, but other than that we wouldn't change much about this little life of ours.

Dinner at the Arms

 Leif's brother and his family returned to Oak Park yesterday and Nancy prepared and served a lovely dinner for us at the Oak Park Arms.  She secured the pretty formal dining room to ensure all of us would be comfortable, but that didn't stop us from sneaking some cozy family time in her apartment before we all parted ways for the evening!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in the OP

I felt a little like a quick change artist, but after our late afternoon return from Wisco I actually pulled off full scale Christmas dinner with three hours of prep time before our guests arrived.  Cooking for the Tillotsons is always a pleasure because I know how much fun we'll have around the table! 

After exchanging gifts we enjoyed an Italian style feast featuring Emma's favorite pasta Bolognese, a gorgeous Caesar salad, homemade sea salt and rosemary foccacia, broccoli with white wine chilies and orange, Burrata cheese, and  marinated cauliflower, carrots and olives.  It was festive and delicious!

Following dinner we opened the holiday crackers Nancy gave us; they were filled with games, jokes and paper crowns.  Needless to say bouts of laughter ensued! 

Our evening ended with Amy's carrot cake and a batch of South American caramel filled sandwich cookies called, Alfajores.  Emma's friend Sebastian's grandmother made the delicate treats and I have to be honest they were the best cookies I have ever had in my life.  Seriously.  
It was a sweet way to end a grand holiday meal!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in Wisconsin

 This year we were lucky enough to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with my brother and his adorable family at their new house in historic Cedarburg.  My family lived in Cedarburg for a portion of our childhood and returning to this "so cute you could die" community conjured a special sort of nostalgia for me.  My parents joined in for a festive evening featuring a mighty fine crown roast of pork, a lovely mass at Advent Lutheran Church and some serious fun with Lincoln Logs.

 Christmas morning brought the inevitable excitement a visit from Santa brings.  It was delightful to hear my nephews squeal as they unearthed their holiday treasures!  We drank coffee, enjoyed breakfast, and celebrated with a pajama clad gift opening.

 Happiness came in the form of Beats for Finn and a box full of balloons for Emma.  My brother's wife Amy knows that a teenage girl would rather have cash than anything else, but she puts the bills inside inflated balloons to make for some unforgettable gift opening.  How cute is that? Emma has had a long time fear of popping balloons and was visibly concerned about the task her gift presents, but no-one should underestimate the amazing Emma Grace...she figured out how to remove the money by deflating all 12 balloons without hearing a single scary pop! 
 After the last presents were opened we all parted ways to continue our holiday celebrations in our own ways, but was a wonderful gift to spend a portion of our Christmas as a family and I am already looking forward our next visit to Cedarburg.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mother and Sons.

 Leif's brother Eric, his wife Jean and two of their four kids braved the winter weather and arrived from Virginia late yesterday to pick Nancy up for a holiday road trip to see some extended family in Wisconsin. Nancy wanted to be sure to make the most of their very brief stay in Oak Park and we decided hosting a little dinner at our place was the perfect way to commemorate the occasion. Nancy planned the cozy menu and I tried my best to make her vision come to life.

 We served roasted pork with two sauces, homemade challah, that roasted cauliflower from Thanksgiving, lemon scented green beans, twice baked potato towers, tomato mozzarella salad, and  kale chips for good vision.  Jean brought a homemade chocolate angel food cake for dessert.

 Emma and her cousin Elizabeth hit it off right away and I have to admit, I was pretty smitten with her myself!  This was the first time we've  had the chance to meet her and she is smart as a whip and absolutely darling.

 It is so rare when we all get together that times always flies by! I blinked and dinner was done, before it finished  Finn enjoyed catching up with his cousin Seth.   I think our whirlwind meal made Nancy feel like a million bucks to have her family all together at our family table.
I hope it isn't too long before we can do this again!

(don't you love how Little Lu manages to sneak into every family picture?)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas to me!

Most folks who  me know me are aware of how much I am inspired by photography. I love seeing the world through a lens and certainly appreciate how others see the micro details of the world. I recently backed a kickstarter project that helped, Kevin Hoth, pull off Emptiness and Presence  An Exhibition of Photography.  Thanks to a bunch of folks, the project was funded and I am certain everyone who had the chance to visit the Colorado show enjoyed it.  Even though I wasn't able to be at the gallery in person, I was thrilled to receive my piece from his collection yesterday!  I asked Kevin to pick an image out for me and opening it felt like I had treated myself to my own holiday present!  I simply adore the image he selected; it captures the theme of his exhibition on every level.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Made of Money.

Whenever Finn makes a dinner request I always respond, "Hey, do you think we are made of money?"  We always laugh over Finn's expensive taste in food...crab legs, lobster, lamb, sushi, and steaks are always at the top of his list, but yesterday when he asked to have rack of lamb for supper I not only forked over the cash, but I served it up on the red plate!
Why such an extravagant meal on a Tuesday night?  Well, Finn has been preparing for a long and challenging test on the constitution for nearly two weeks now.  All seventh graders must pass the test to advance to eighth grade, but the score students earn the first time the test is administered goes into the grade book.  Pretty high stakes!

Finn has been tirelessly devoted to memorizing the material including all 27 amendments, how a bill becomes a low, the checks each branch of government has over other branches, the six powers of the President, the  Virginia plan, the process of judicial review, enumerable rights, and the ten articles of the constitution are seriously just the tip of the iceberg.  Finn did not complain about the workload  and maintained a true sense of fun through out the studying process.  I was so happy that he understood the importance of this test that he asked me to help him get ready.  
And boy was he!

Finn scored a 95% on the test, but he didn't get the red plate and succulent lamb because he got an A.  He earned this special meal because of his great attitude and superb work ethic!  Getting an A was just natural result of of believing in himself, asking for help, and putting his nose to the grind stone.  We are really proud of him and most importantly he is very proud of himself.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Val's Halla House Party

During the past two weeks I've been busy planning a fundraiser for Val's Halla Records in Oak Park with some dear friends and the amazing Val herself. The Gills throw a lot of memorable parties and this one was no exception!  As you can see, Sue, has a ton of vision when it comes to perfecting all of the tiny little details that make a party unforgettable...

 I was in charge of the food and I was lucky to have a bunch of merry kitchen elves to help out for the evening.  The food was lovely and our signature cocktail was divine! I thought our mixologist was pretty handsome, too.

The Valhalla
(inspired by San Fransico Mixologist J. Raglin)

2 Parts Orange Infused Tequila 
1 Part Fresh Lime Juice
1 Part Falernum 
Several Dashes Angoustra Bitters
Clementine Wedges studded with Cloves

Shake the tequila, lime juice, falernum and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Shake well and pour into a glass. Ganish with clove studded clementines.  

We mixed these drinks in large batches.  We kept the cold tequila in a separate pitcher.  We combined the falernum, lime juice and bitters in a second pitcher and iced it down.  We poured equal parts tequila and strained mixer into garnished glasses.
It was a hit!

To infuse the tequila: Steep 1/2 pound of orange peels in 1 liter of tequila for five days. Strain before using.

The house filled to the brim with eighty of Val's loyal supporters including politicians and a television star while a jazz trio performed featuring mandolin sounds of the renowned Don Stiernberg.

When we combined all of our volunteer efforts...everything from the company and decor to the music and the food...we ended our evening with a smile that looked like this...
Cheers to you Val and to a great many years ahead!  
I am pretty sure you can feel the love so many folks have for you.
I had such fun being a part of a truly special evening.
Our party sold out in advance, but many folks have been inclined to donate to help Val keep the lights on.  If you's like to pitch in visit this address:

Images 1,2, 7, 11-13, 16 and 17 were take by Cristina Beller
She is a friend of Val's Halla Records and a mighty fine photographer.
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