Monday, November 28, 2011

Bass Pro Shop Holiday Festivities

My Friend and I took our boys (we had 5 boys ages 5 and under - good times) to Bass Pro Shop to check out the holiday festivities they were hosting.

There was a craft table (M-F between 5 and 7pm) where you could make ornaments and take them home for free. This week is the "Winter Animal" ornament. Next week is the "snowman ornament" I think...

Then the kids get to see Santa and get their picture taken for free ALL WEEK and I think until Dec 24!! The free photo size is 4x6. The last image is a snap shot of the actual picture the boys took with Santa. I think its so cute how 1. Brant totally knows what's up 2. Mason is scared to death 3. Jaxon is only standing there so he can focus on devouring his candy cane. It could have been a great white shark standing behind him, he would never had known.

Healthy Holiday Celebrations in the city

Here are some events in the city that are health related - feel free to share other events in the comments!

Ferry Acupuncture
What: Holiday party
Location: 1630 W. Division
Date: Dec 4
Time: 11am-2pm
Details: Door prizes, mimosa brunch, discounted gift certificates, free mini treatments, gift bags

Therapeutic Massage
Chicago Institute of Natural Health
November 14 - December 31
8 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1420
Take a break from the holiday hustle and bustle and treat yourself to a relaxing and physically rejuvenating experience. Mention "Winter WonderLoop" and receive 30% off or bring a friend and you both get 40% off! You will also receive a complimentary nutritional consult to start off the New Year as a happier, healthier you!

Chicago Institute of Natural Health
November 14 - December 31
8 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1420
Explore the amazing benefits of a 5000 year-old Chinese technique to help melt the stress away and balance your energy. Mention "Winter WonderLoop" and receive 30% off or bring a friend and you both get 40% off! You will also receive a complimentary nutritional consult to start off the New Year as a happier, healthier you!

Nutritional Consultation
Chicago Institute of Natural Health
November 14 - December 31
8 S. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1420
Start the New Year off right with a nutritional consultation. A nutritionist will analyze your diet to make sure you're getting appropriate amounts of protein, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals so you don't look like a you just came out of a drive-thru window. Mention "Winter WonderLoop" and receive 30% off or bring a friend and you both get 40% off!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Remembering my daddy-o

The boys and I decorated the house for Christmas over the weekend. As I was handing them ornaments to hang on the tree I realized almost every one had a sweet story behind it or represented a stage in someone's life: my parents before they were divorced, when my great grandpa was alive, when my mom was a Brownie troop leader, etc.
Some ornaments were from my husband's family, others were from old friends. A few I remember excitedly hanging when I was little - like the Sesame Street charactors.

This year I hung up a Purdue University ornament I had given my dad a few years before he died. I found it still in the box when my sister and I were cleaning out his house after his death. This year will be nine years since my dad died of cancer; he was 48. My dad passed on December 1 and I can remember that Christmas being so awful. My sister and I were drowning in sadness and grief. No gift, no holiday song, or perfectly lit tree could put a true smile on my face that Christmas season.

It wasn't that my dad and I had this awesome, healthy relationship and some holiday tradition we shared wasn't the same without him. To be 25 years old and watch cancer take your dad's life - it was an intense life lesson that I had yet to digest. After he died I felt like I was standing on one leg. To say I was "wobbly" for quite some time is an understatement.

I kept a lot of my dad's things - the Purdue ornament, his harmonica, his watch, etc. My favorite is a book of matches from the bar his parents owned off of Halsted called Jack's Tiny Tap.

I always say I'm going to put these things into shadow boxes or whatever but there is something comforting about picking up these items - feeling them, smelling them, remembering how they felt in my hands as a child. I had the same warm feeling when we were decorating the tree. There is something about me picking up the same ornaments I had hung when I was Brant's age and handing them to my boys just as my mom did with me; it's soothing to the soul.

Christmas 2002 is a sad memory but not neccesarily something I want to push into a dusty, dark corner. It makes me appreciate the joy I have in my heart today. It reminds me how important it is to let people in your life know how much you love them. It helps me remember how strong I can be. These days you would not know I ever felt "wobbly" on my one leg. Or how often I fell over - many times not wanting to get back up. Nowdays, I can do cartwheels. And you know who is cheering the loudest about that? My dad.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Garland/Decor Tips

My sister and her husband's place was decorated beautifully for Thanksgiving dinner - felt like I was walking into a magazine! She keeps it simple yet elegant.

Here are her tips for doing the same in your home:
  • Your centerpiece can be beautiful and subtle at the same time. Don't mix too many colors.
  • Keep it simple and cost effective by using green things like moss, grass, ivy, evergreen, etc.
  • Keep it fresh by using real fruit, vegetables and/or flowers
  • Keep trying. You may have to play around a bit to get the look you want.
  • You want your centerpiece to stand out but not steal the show. It should look effortless not laborious.

See below details about the center piece: Basic clear candle holder you can customize to any occasion. Around the white candle pillar she has moss topped with fresh Asters. Joy framed the center piece base with fresh gourdes, faux fall leaves from the Dollar Store, faux acorns and fresh cranberries. 

Joy says, "Not everyone can eat later in the day. You want your garland to look stunning in natural daylight and/or candlelight."

Good point! I never thought of that.

What you Need:
  • Fresh Boxwood or Evergreen
  • 1 Bag of Cranberries
  • Faux Acorns or Chestnuts
  • 1 Fresh Bouquet of Asters
  • Faux Fall Leaves
  • Candles
  • Crab Apples
For christmas, Joy is going to keep the garland but make the following changes:
  • Swap the fall leaves for snowflakes
  • Swap the acorns/chestnuts for pinecones
  • Swap the Aster for a winter flower like Poinsetta, Amaryllis or Jasmine

Entertaining Tips Part 2

My sister, Joy, did such an amazing job for Thanksgiving dinner I had to take pics and share.
Here are my favorite parts of what we ate.

We save time by buying a container of pre-washed organic mixed greens and add cherry tomatoes (halved), red onion (diced) and cucumber (peeled, seeded and chopped). I made creamy garlic dressing from scratch (my family requests me to make this dressing quite a bit). It is so easy. We pre-dress the salad (no complaints so far about that). It's the kind of dressing that makes your mouth water when you think about it.
  • 1/2c mayo
  • 1/2c sour cream
  • 1/4 teasp dry mustard
  • 1/4 teasp dried basil
  • 1 clove (or two if its small) of minced garlic
  • 2 teasp white vinegar
Mix well and serve.

Presenting the main dishes:
My sister served turkey and beef tenderloin. I loved how she garnished the platters. The turkey was sliced and then surrounded by fresh rosemary and black grapes. The beef was sliced and framed with curly parsley and grapes. I get herbs from a produce store and they are cheap - I pay a buck for a decent size bag. Stuff the herbs in the turkey cavity and use what's left over as garnish. The grapes were a big hit with the kiddos so thumbs up for Auntie Joy.

Dessert Table:
My mom made a mascarpone pumpkin pie. It was awesome. Joy wanted guests to just be able to fill up their dessert plate. Once chilled, we popped it out of the pan and cut up the pumpkin pie into squares - topped it with freshly made whipping cream. Great make-ahead dish!

Ode to Spain:
Digestives are huge in Europe and are awesome after a big meal but not everyone enjoys them. Joy put a sweet twist on a digestive by making Brandy Alexanders (brandy is considered a digestive). She served them in her husband's grandmother's wine glasses, which made it special and elegant.
  • 1 1/2 oz brandy
  • 1 oz dark creme de cacao
  • 1 oz half-and-half
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 scoop of ice cream

 In a blender, with ice cubes, combine the brandy, creme de cacao, ice cream and half-and-half. Blend well. Garnish with the nutmeg (fresh is preferred).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Slow cooker bacon jam

My husband is a HUGE bacon fan so I made this for him last year (Martha Stewart's recipe). It was a crowd-pleaser devoured up by both men and women. It also makes a great gift to the bacon-lover in your family or circle of friends.


  • 1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced small
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup brewed coffee


  1. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet (reserve for another use); add onions and garlic, and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and coffee and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes. Add bacon and stir to combine.
  2. Transfer mixture to a 6-quart slow cooker and cook on high, uncovered, until liquid is syrupy, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Transfer to a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped. Let cool, then refrigerate in airtight containers, up to 4 weeks.

Cook your bird upside down

Before Adam and I were married I was appalled when he said he hated turkey because it was dry and had no flavor. I rock at making a turkey, I thought.
Wait...I do, right? RIGHT?!?!
Well I can say I make a mean turkey now - probably wasn't always the case.
Here are my tricks:

In a bowl I combine 2 sticks softened butter, 2-3 TBSP EVOO, S&P, chopped fresh sage to taste (I use a good handful because I'm a huge fan), and a lil flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped, 1 garlic clove minced. I combine well and cover the outside of the turkey as well as under the skin and on top of the breast meat (this is of course after I removed the gizzards, etc, rinsed my bird and patted dry).

Then I stuff the cavity with the remaining sage, parsley, 1/2 lemon, whole crown of garlic, a couple of carrots, some celery stalks, 1/2 apple - whatever I have on hand. I throw the Gizzards, etc into the roasting pan along with the other half of my lemon and apple, some veggies, water, etc. I set my oven to 450 and let the bird brown - about 30-45 min.

Then after it's browned I flip the turkey so it cooks breast-down, in all of the juices. I turn my oven to 350. It's a great flavor and once you cook breast-down, I promise you will never go back to basting.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Entertaining tips PART 1

Holiday season is fast approaching! Here are some tips to make things less stressful.

Tip #1
Take a deep breath and relax. Just kidding!! I hate that tip. HA! When hosting I do, however, get in the best mindset as possible. I pour a glass of wine for myself and take a sip here and there (or gulp - depends on how bad I burned something) to remind myself that this is supposed to be fun.

Tip #2
Have a designated room for coats and shoes (possibly wet or muddy). Some people use the ol bedroom but I don't realy like people in my room. I clear out my family's coat closet and hang up my guests' coat. For wet boots I have plenty of rugs/towels on hand at the door. As for storage, I use those plastic storage bins and set the boots in there.

Tip #3
Have a designated place or room for breastfeeding, to calm a toddler's meltdown, etc. I use Jaxon's room. It has a rocking chair, some books, etc. It's a long day for kiddos - lots of people, interrupted nap times, etc. so I find some quiet time with a parent is the best remedy. Although I don't care for people in my bedroom, I always make an exception if I see a stressed mama and a tired tot.

Set up a drink station. This is my favorite to plan. Put the station where you want your guests to gather and catch up. I have a small house so I always set up the station in the basement. It keeps people moving and prevents guests from hovering in the kitchen, where I'm usually at trying to finish things up. I have a table with a festive table cloth - beneath the table I have coolers filled with bottled water and pop. On top of the table I have cups, water pitcher with a few slices of cucumber in it, coffee bar (appropriate cups, stirrers, sugar and cream. We have a Keurig so I just move the whole thing to the drink station. But I really like Dunkin Donuts Box O' Joe) and a punch for the kiddos (1 liter of 50/50, a quart of softened sherbert, and a big can of pineapple juice. The juice makes it sweet so add to taste.). I'm always pleasantly surprised at how many adults I see drinking the punch.
Please note that if you are hosting a brunch, you can put a basket of goodies on the drink station like donuts, bagels, scones, muffins, etc.

Halloween Candy Leftover Ideas

I was cleaning out my recipe book cabinet and realized I still have some Halloween candy leftover. So here is what I did with it.

Idea #1
I bought the dry PB cookie dough mix because it was on sale for a $1 awhile back. It's easy for Jaxon and I to make together. Anyway I took the snack size Snickers bars I had left and cut them in half. I wrapped the PB cookie dough around the snickers. My neighbor made these for me last year and I LOVED them. I baked them in a mini muffin tin. I actually have no idea why I did this. I mean if I'm making cookies that I want to look professional I bake them in a muffin tin. They are the perfect thickness and shape. But the cookies were just for us so...not sure. I really liked the way they turned out though!

But if you invert it, it can look like this: A Pilgrim Hat for Thanksgiving
I piped frosting around the "cone" and stuck brown sprinkles on it. I had a bunch of Dots so I softened a yellow Dot in the microwave and flattened it. Then I cut it into a square. I'm sure there are better ways to make this hat with Laffy Taffy or Air Heads but this is all I had. 

I like dipping Kit Kat into peanut butter so I'm going to try wrapping the PB cookie dough around some Kit Kat. I'll let ya know how it goes.

Idea #2 Reese Pieces Chocolate cookies
The boys got a ton of Reese Pieces this year. So we made cookies out of them.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup Cocoa Powder

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 large eggs

  • 2 c reese pieces

  • PREHEAT oven to 350ยบ F.
    COMBINE flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in Reese pieces. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

    BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until cookies are puffed and centers are set but still soft. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely

    Idea #3
    I like to use Candy Corn for decoration around the house. One year I had a vase filled with candy corn and stuck flowers in it. This year Joy filled a candle holder with them.