Friday, December 19, 2014

Apéritif Friday - The Daddy Paddy Melt, Baked Potato Crisps, and Advice to Newlyweds

Today I have a very simple, brief word of advice to newlyweds:

Do not have sex in March.

For lo, no matter what, sex in March results in conceptions in March. And what do March conceptions bring?

December babies.

There is no reason for anyone other than baby Jesus to be born in December. I wish someone would have advised me to practice abstinence in March. And told my in-laws the same back in March of 1970. And cautioned my brother to hang on a tic when I'm sure he and his wife declared a New Year resolution to procreate. Twice.

Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam. We've got Mr. Musky's birthday early this month, then Jake's. Then my sweet niece Chloe, my groovy nephew Jay, and my rock star sister-in-law Kelly wraps up the birthday madness in mid-January.

Enough already.

I know the December and January babies across the globe are shouting out with a hearty "AMEN!"

So if you're one who just looooooves the month of December and all the holiday fun and tradition between Thanksgiving and Christmas and you recently wed, do yourself a favor and abstain in the month of March. According to my very own December baby, July is a good month to get funky. Because in his opinion, a March birthday would be the bomb.

Every year on his birthday Mr. Musky says how jealous he is of me, because I get to celebrate in June with a boat ride and an outdoor dinner. He gets a nosy dog, chilly weather, and never has the pleasure of dining alfresco on his big day. For the math challenged, that makes September another acceptable month for foolin' around.
All that griping aside, we do what we can to keep birthdays special and independent of the biggest holiday of the year around here. In our household, birthday dinners are special occasions offering the perfect excuse to eat out at a fancy restaurant. Capital Grille seems to get the nod often. But after Thanksgiving, Kahley merely mentioned that she'd like a Daddy Paddy Melt at some point. Jake seconded it with a request for homemade fries, so visions of savory goodness nestled in my beloved's noggin. Instead of dining out, he said he'd walk me through how to make his world famous Daddy Paddy Melts.

But I drew the line on homemade fries. No way was I getting the Griddler AND the fryer out on the same night - regardless of whose birthday it was. I'm not that crazy.

There's a very specific method to the madness that must be followed. First, have an apéritif. Look who bought himself a birthday present. Why hello, Mr. Sapphire.
The Birthday Boy craves nothing other than a bit of the goodness out of the blue bottle with some water. All. The. Time. I, on the other hand, mix it up. Sometimes I go pure, and sip it with club soda and a lime wedge. Other times I squeeze a chunk of orange in. On birthday night though, I got really fancy and used a hunk of grapefruit.
It's a bitter concoction, so if you like things a bit sweeter I recommend using a splash of honey simple syrup. Ginger simple syrup would probably taste yummy too. Basically anything sweet you've got that cuts the bitterness.

Cocktails at the ready, it was time to begin. But first - a variation on homemade french fries.

Baked Potato Crisps
4-6 large russet potatoes
Coconut Oil Spray
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and slice them on the thinnest setting of a mandolin.
Spray a baking sheet with oil, line up the potatoes on the tray, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
Pop them into the oven and bake them for 10-15 minutes. Watch them closely, and pull them out of the oven when they reach your desired doneness. We all like them a very dark brown color - not quite burnt, but definitely cooked and crispy. Remove them to some paper towels to cool.

Daddy Paddy Melt
1 lb Grass Fed Ground Beef
1 lb Ground Veal
2 Eggs
2 T Steak Seasoning (I used Chicago Chop Seasoning, but Montreal Steak Seasoning works well too)
2 Onions, thinly sliced
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
2T Cooking fat of choice (I used bacon fat. Ghee works too. If you use butter, use 1T of butter and 1T of olive or avocado oil)
8 slices of cheese. I used an aged Wisconsin Cheddar and smoked Gouda.
8 slices of dark rye bread
1 stick of butter, melted or softened to room temperature
2t garlic powder

Combine the first four ingredients until incorporated, being careful not to over mix. Divide the mixture into half, then in half again and form each quarter of meat into an oval shaped disc. Place on parchment paper on a sheet tray and store in the refrigerator.

Warm a frying pan over medium-low heat and add the 2T of cooking fat. Add the onions and sprinkle them with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently. After five minutes, add the chopped garlic and continue to cook the onions for another 10-15 minutes over low heat. Set aside.

Preheat the Griddler (or a grill pan if you don't own a griddler) to 375 degrees. Once it comes up to temperature, add two of the patties, close the contraption and cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove the patties to a platter and cook the other two. The burgers will not be cooked through; rather, they will have solid grill marks on them and will be 3/4 of the way cooked.

Mix the softened or melted butter with the garlic powder. Brush or schmear the butter mixture onto two pieces of bread, then place the bread on the grill, butter side down. Start building your sandwiches by placing a piece of cheese on each piece of bread, then place a patty on top of the cheese. Top the patty with grilled onions, another piece of cheese...
...and top them with another piece of bread butter side up. Close the grill and cook the sandwiches until the cheese begins to melt and the sandwiches are crunchy crispy to the touch. Remove and keep warm while you make the other two sandwiches.

If you are cooking these in a grill pan on the stove, you'll need to carefully flip the burgers, cooking them on each side for approximately 4-5 minutes over medium-low heat.

Per the Birthday Boy, it was time to move on to one of his presents - a trio of wine which I highly recommend for the wine lover in your life. We always have wine on hand, but rarely splurge on expensive bottles. Since he is nearly impossible to buy for, I sprung for three really nice bottles, wrapped them up for him, and told him to go on a wine tour from France to Italy to Napa.
It doesn't hurt that I get to enjoy the spoils of his birthday. Even if French oaky wine isn't my favorite, it pairs wonderfully with the Daddy Paddy Melt and crunchy Potato Crisps.
Give this a whirl to celebrate someone's birthday or on New Year's Day (hello hangover helper). It's an all around winner in our house.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Apéritif Friday - The Aristocrat, Pulled Pork and Homemade Giardiniera

Friends. They're essential to a happy life, and I don't care who you are or how introverted you might be, we all need some good ones. They play different roles in our lives, to be sure. I am blessed with several, and I started this post off by talking about how they've all influenced me over the years, and how they inspire me in the world of cocktailing.

But you're here to read a blog post, not a book. Consider this topic tucked away for a kindle download in the future.

Three different friends are responsible for the inspiration for today's deliciousness. One friend influenced the apéritif, another gifted me with some golden nectar that I used to switch up the libation, and yet another inspired the topping for our dinner.

I love them all.

I'm enjoying a hilarious group text with some long time friends that make me snort on Friday nights and holidays when the alcohol is free flowing. One recently shared a picture of her special Mommy Tonic in order to host a major holiday while wrangling a toddler, teenagers and her mother-in-law all at the same time.

She sent her picture before 10:00 a.m. I don't judge.
This tasty looking beverage and its ingredients stopped me dead in my tracks. She called it The Aristocrat. Lillet sits in my liquor cabinet, sad because I have yet to crack it open. Hennessey pouts in the back corner, ticked because he rarely makes an appearance, other than to grace a peppercorn sauce. We're pretty much off all soda around here, but that didn't stop me.

Because recently at an out-of-town horse show, this sweet gem pulled a special treat out of her brown paper bag.
And while I tried to be a good sport and sip some of her nectar with whiskey, I just was not into it. The dust at a horse barn sends me into an asthmatic tizzy. Perhaps she felt sorry for me, perhaps it was her sweet way of wooing me to come back in January, perhaps it was a parting gift to say, "No effing way will I sit next to you when you wear a surgical mask at the next horse show," but girlfriend gifted me the Ginger Syrup from her vacation to Tybee Island last summer.
My ingredient list complete, here's my version of Mommy's Tonic, aka The Aristocrat.

1.5 oz Hennessy
1 oz Lillet
1/2 oz Ginger Syrup*
Mix in a shaker with ice, then top with Club Soda and stir to mix. Garnish with a lemon twist. If desired, add a squeeze of lemon to the drink before mixing.

*If you don't have Ginger Syrup, just mix the Hennessy and the Lillet and top with ginger ale (omit the club soda).

I loved this drink. Recent posts suggest I've been in a fall rut that includes cranberry and orange with bourbon, so this was a very nice change of pace. It tastes a bit lighter to me than the bourbon drinks I seem to favor, but still packs a solid punch that reminds me to switch to wine just before dinner after enjoying two of these gems as an apéritif .
Meet sweet Amy again.
Her husband and I need to get together. Don't get all in the gutter on me now - we simply need to cook and cocktail and hang out together. He gardens and makes giant vats of pickled goodness to enjoy throughout the year, and Amy brought some with her to last winter's girls weekend. Inspired, I decided to make my own, even though I had to go to the grocery store to buy my ingredients.

The result? Giardiniera so good, I've made it at least half a dozen times since, and we will never eat another pulled pork wrap without it. Last Saturday we decided to make pulled pork last minute - I say last minute because pork butt is best when you buy it a week in advance, rub it, wrap it in plastic and place it in the fridge for about 3-4 days before roasting it. We decided to make it at about 8:00 a.m., even though we had no pork butt in the house, no smoker ready, and no giardiniera prepared.


So we ran out to the store and bought the ingredients.

I made it in the morning, because it's best when the vegetables can chill in the salt water solution for a few hours. It's ideal to let the finished mix sit a couple of days before eating it, but it can be also consumed immediately. Our neighbors came to the cabin this summer and INHALED it with corn chips faster than I could mix it up.
Homemade Giardiniera
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into tiny, bite sized pieces (about the size of a thimble)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 - 8 spicy peppers. I used 4 jalapeño peppers, seeds and membranes removed. For a spicier mix, leave the seeds and membranes in tact, use more jalapeños, or a mix of spicy peppers
1/2 cup salt

For the dressing:
6 cloves garlic
2 T Italian Seasoning
1 t Celery Seed
1 t Red Pepper Flakes (more to taste if you like it spicier)
1 t freshly ground Black pepper
2 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
2 cups Olive Oil
1/2 cup olives with pimentos, sliced thinly

In a large non-metal bowl add the vegetables, salt and cover with water, gently stirring to dissolve the salt. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of four hours. Meanwhile, combine the first six ingredients to make the dressing, then slowly whisk in the olive oil to combine. Cover and set aside.

Strain and rinse the vegetables, returning them to the large bowl. Whisk the dressing, then pour it over the vegetables, add the olives and gently stir to combine. Carefully ladle the giardiniera into glass container jars making sure enough dressing is included to cover the vegetables. Enjoy immediately and store in the refrigerator for up to a month. I will forever think of Amy and Mike when I make this.
It takes a bit of prep time to assemble, but the effort is so worth it. This stuff is great as a dip with corn chips or rice crackers, it's good on salads, divine as a sandwich topping, perfect atop a sausage or hot dog, and even makes for a great snack straight out of the container on a spoon. Give it a try!

I rubbed the pork immediately when we got home with some Famous Dave's rib rub mixed with Avocado Oil to make a thick, wet paste. Mr. Musky got the Weber grill ready - the Green Egg would have taken way too long and we wanted to impart some smoky flavor into the meat quickly. But we had no wood chips ready, so what were we to do?

If you have a griller in your life, go straight to Amazon and buy these. I promise you, they will come in handy when you're pressed for time but still want something infused with good smoky flavor.

They do the job in a pinch and make a great stocking stuffer for the griller in your life. We placed the pork in a rack over an aluminum pan. Mr. Musky poured red wine and water in to the pan, and set it all on the grill over indirect heat (roughly 250 degrees) for about four hours. We then moved it to a 250 degree oven for another four hours. Our roast was about 7.3 pounds. Regardless of the size of your butt (heh heh), roast it until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees.

While the pork cooked away, Kahley and I wrapped some Christmas presents, watched Wisconsin take on Minnesota for the Paul Bunyan Axe and I sipped The Aristocrat. With a fire burning and the soft glow of electric lights illuminating our workspace, it almost felt Norman Rockwell-esque.

Until the dog puked.

I love it that Jake still crawls under the tree and shakes all of his presents. Miller knows that something under there is all his, so he cozies up to Jake to see if this is THEEEE one.
I've got Jake stumped with this one. The note on the card has him really befuddled. It reads, "Have a drink on us. Love, Mom and Dad." Come back in January to find out what's in the red, liqudy box.

While the pork continued to cook, Jake and a buddy played around outside with our newest backyard addition. I hereby apologize to our neighbors for the late night pucks sailing into their yard.
Upon seeing this, Kahley promptly asked her dad: "Hey. Can you build me a horse?"
Her face tells the answer.

Finally, the star ingredient was finished. Behold the masterpiece of slow roasted divinity.
I simply cannot tell you how much satisfaction it gives me to pull apart perfectly cooked pork butt. Which is really the don't get all groded out on me.
That dark brown stuff? It's called bark. So fantastic. Even my firstborn who shudders at the thought of gulping down chunks of charred animal fat picked out the best pieces faster than I could stab her hands away with the bear claws.
Back in the day, we made pulled pork sandwiches the Emeril way, found here. If you're looking for a big boy, hearty sandwich, I highly recommend this method. But since our diets have evolved, we're more into tasting the pork and having some vegetables involved versus getting all filled up on
gluten-y bread that makes us want to curl up and take a nap. So we pile the pork onto a tortilla and top it with some homemade condiment goodness.

Here's how the boys prefer to eat their pulled pork - on a tortilla, with some aged cheddar. End of story.
Here's how I enjoy mine - piled up, topped with homemade slaw (recipe here), topped with homemade giardiniera.
Repeat, but for seconds omit the tortilla.

We're really fancy around here with the Dixie plates. Good 'ole Norman is rolling over in his grave, I'm sure.

Thanks to all my friends who positively influence me in so many ways. Especially when it comes to good food and drink.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Glossary of Teenager Vernacular, Part 2

Nearly once per week words will fly out of my kids' mouths and I pause.
I am still learning how they communicate. Sometimes I keep up based on the context of the conversation and I figure it out. Other times? Not so much. So I ask for clarification. Here are some more words and phrases and their meanings. If you don't see something on this list that you're wondering about, check out my first version on the topic, A Glossary of Teenager Vernacular.

Smoosh - Verb.

Turn it up, Turn it down? Oops - I got that wrong. Jake quickly corrected me. "MA! It's just 'turn up' or 'turn down'."

Me: "Turnip? The root vegetable? That I boil and mix in with the mashed potatoes?"

Jake: "Ma. No. It's 'Turn up.' Two words."

I was dumfounded, and had no clue what it meant. "Turn up the radio? Your voice? You're all turned on by a girl?"

My idiocy was met with a bunch of smirking and head shakes from my sophisticated son. Clearly, I was clueless. So I went to the expert for the definition. My daughter. It means:

Turn up - to start partying.

Turn down - to end partying. You never want to turn down, apparently. But sometimes you turn down because you're so wild and the police are coming. So it's an intentional turn down.

"Turn Down for What?" is a song, snippets of which I've actually heard. Curiouser and curiouser, I pulled up the video on my laptop to get a better understanding of this phrase. Grandma wanted to see it too - she was here recovering from back surgery. Neither of my kids had ever viewed the video.

There are no words. We did watch it to the bitter end, and I then announced that we all needed to run to church and take communion. Wanna see the video? I don't recommend it. But if you're morbidly curious like me and get really pumped for songs with a mere eleven words to the lyrics, you'll find it here. Just know that you'll feel like you need a shower afterward.

Basic - Adjective. Word to describe a girl who wears yoga pants, UGG boots, a North Face jacket, uses a white iPhone and looooooooovvvvvves Starbucks. She is unoriginal. And this is a bad thing, according to my 9th grade boy. But not according to my 11th grade girl, who says:

"OK...I agree with the definition for the most part, but here's the thing: I'm basic. I'm a privileged white girl, I love my Starbucks and I love horses. Used in a social media post, it would read something along the lines of 'Let's convince my mom to go to Starbucks. #basic.'"

She winked at me. I just stared at her. And reminded her she doesn't own a North Face jacket. She offered clarification.

"Basically anytime a girl acts girly. It's a white girl thing. And I'm OK with it."

Mmmkay. Now I've got it. Moving on. And no, I did not take her out to get a Starbucks with her not so subtle, imaginary Twitter update.

ILY - I call this a textism, or a phrase shortened to a ridiculous level. I love you. I actually knew this one. Er, I mean, figured it out in an adequate amount of time to convince my son that I knew what it meant when he texted me those letters one day. He probably wanted Starbucks. #basic.

TBH - Another textism shortened to a ridiculous level. To Be Honest.

IDK - I don't know.

IKR? - I know, right?

rn - This one popped up a couple of weeks ago and I was dumbfounded. Then it happened again, about five minutes later. I knew my friend "Nurse Michele" with her RN degree wasn't anywhere near Jake. Sometimes I think my kid just sits behind his little apparatus of intelligence, playing Jedi mind tricks on me. So I texted back. "What is rn?"

"Right Now."


ATM - I know this one! Automated Teller Machine! They're all the rage, man!

Nope. I'm so 1990s. ATM is another blasted textism. "At the moment."

Disgusted with the direction of my beloved English Language, I tried to play along. One day my thoughtful son declined to tell me he had to stay after school to meet with a teacher. I was out running errands (shocker! Mom doesn't sit in silk robes eating bon bons all day getting foot massages from the pool guy. BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE A POOL, DUH!). Obviously, I was annoyed. So I told him he'd just have to wait until I could get there. He texted me, oh, I don't know, TWO minutes later, asking when exactly would I be there? Yes, because when I'm three towns over in Chicagoland hell, er, I mean afternoon traffic, I can PRECISELY calculate my arrival time. So I told him I'd be there after I made a VIS.

I tried to beat him at his own shortened, textism game.

And can you believe that he never even asked me what VIS means? Made me a little sad. Instead, he just sucked down the spoils of my VIS and enjoyed the white chocolate mocha that I brought him.

*****Do you hear that? It's the crickets. Telling me I bombed at this game.*****

Sigh again. BTW - that's "by the way" for those keeping track - VIS stands for Very Important Stop. Like when the mother picks up Starbucks for no apparent reason for the child who neglects to give her any advance warning that he has to stay after school.

*****More crickets. Don't use this one around your kids, unless you like the sound of silence.*****

Thot - Pronounced "Thaught." Noun. Girl who doesn't care about her reputation and will do what it takes to get around. "That girl's been with five guys in a week. She's a thot."

Grandma's input: "In my day, we called those a Ho. Or a Nimp (snappy pop of the lips to emphasize the 'p' sound.) It means they're oversexed. They're nimpophiliacs."

Sometimes Grandma has significant language recall issues.

Gettin' some digits - Outdated phrase. This one worried me for a minute, my head in the gutter thanks to smoosh. But it means to ask another for his / her phone number. To text, of course. Never to actually speak to one another. I'm told nobody ever says this, yet I obviously heard it once because it made the list. Kahley: "If I ever asked Jake if he was going to be 'gettin some digits,' it was a total joke."

Gettin' it - Phrase to describe someone who is having a good time, looks cool, etc. Example: when walking out of Oberweis one day, a hotrod with a cool looking dude driving sped past, some funky hip-hop music blaring out of his downed window. An unnamed passenger in my car noticed. "He's gettin' it." Not to be confused with "Gettin it in." See A Glossary of Teenager Vernacular, Volume 1

I was instructed to delete the whole "gettin' it" phrase and definition. I don't always do what I'm told.

Grandma loves this banter. "This is entertaining and educational. What more could I want? I love being here when you kids get home from school."
I just smiled, and tucked it all away into my memory bank. And kept blogging along. What better way for my mother learn the modern day label for a whore?

Brah - noun. Which since I started this post, changed to Bruh. It means brother, or bro, but not in the literal sense. It's a term of endearment, but I have to draw the line somewhere. "Jake, do not call me Brah. Or Bruh. Or any other word that starts with B. I'm your mother."

Cray Cray - adjective. Crazy. "Kahley, do not call me Cray Cray. I am perfectly sane at all times."

Or Nah, Or Naw - Phrase meaning, "Or Not." This one really annoys me. I loathe the bastardization of our language, and this one not only has a missing father, but also a red-headed stepchild. It's like Freddy Krueger's bladed fingers screeching on a steel beam to my ears.

What's Gucci, Main? - Disclaimer: nobody really says this anymore, so it's outdated. But Jake said it to me one day, probably thinking I wouldn't know he's so 2012. I stopped him dead in his tracks.

"Explain that to me. I have no idea what you just said."

"Well, the white guy's definition is "What's up?"

"And the Main?"


"So, it means 'What's up, Man?'"


"And the non-white version?" I just sought clarification, that's all.

"What's Gucci, Main."

"So black guys say this?"


"Then why did you say it to me?"

"To mess with you. But remember - it's outdated."

"Right. I'll be sure to come up with something else when I go out with my homies girlfriends for dinner this week."

Sigh a third time.

I'm entering that phase in life where I could care less if I keep up. I want to start morphing into my future self - the Grandma that can't say words correctly and makes them all laugh (we love you, Mom!). The eccentric Aunt who wears purple and gives them Brach's butterscotch candies. The cranky Great Grandma who tells them to shut up and fix her a Manhattan.

Yes. I will own the Great Grandma role some day. But until then, I'll just keep on learning from them and mixing my own damned drinks. IDK, TBH I could turn up my cray cray afternoon and drink a Manhattan rn.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Twenty years ago today, at 3:30 in the afternoon, I walked down a candlelit aisle to marry my best friend in life.
Ten years seems inevitable. 
But twenty?
That's something.

As I reflect on my life, it's hard to remember a time when he wasn't there. There have been more days with him than without him, and I still feel like we're on the side of just getting started. Well into our beginning, mind you, but certainly not past the midway point together.
I am part realist, part dreamer. One certainly has to balance the other, and as I age, I find that I keep dreaming as much as I realistically look toward the future.
But with this man by my side, this perfectly imperfect creature, I can say that I also fondly look back and smile about the memories already made,
while anxiously looking forward to what's yet to come.
Jobs come and go, we accumulate stuff, explore hobbies, and morph as human beings. Along the way, God blessed us with the greatest gift of all: our two punky kids. What was important to us twenty years ago looks a bit different now. Our goals and dreams are still present, but they're laced with a solid dose of reality and anticipation of an empty nest while we prudently attempt to relish the moment we're in.
I've said it before, and I'll say it over and over. The day I don't say it anymore, you can bet your buttons we're through.
I'm still not bored.
Thanks, Babe, for making me laugh every day and for loving me with all you've got. I'm excited to live the next twenty with you.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Apéritif Friday - The Restoration Cocktail, Butternut Squash Soup and Fancy Grilled Cheese

Mama Bear came to stay with us for nearly three weeks. We started out at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, where she underwent a second back surgery. The entire lumbar region of her spine is now fused together, with lots of pretty silvery hardware in the forms of screws and rods to show for it. If she ever walks through an airport metal detector, it will light up like a pinball machine.

Given my dad's recent health issues, it was completely out of the question for him to stay with us while she was in the hospital and at our home recovering. So we had to make arrangements for him to stay at a healthcare facility near their home to ensure he had 'round the clock care. Sweet relatives and friends drove him to and from dialysis and popped in on him to visit. Thanks to the mystery healthcare worker who checked in on him - mystery because he can't remember your name to tell me who you are, but thank you for recognizing him as my dad and for looking out for him.

Placing Dad in a home was not an easy decision for my mother to make, and I know it was so hard for her to say goodbye to him. But it was the right choice, and I reminded them both often that it was a temporary situation.
After five days in the hospital, Mom came back home with me to continue recovering. And while I could talk about the challenge of caring for a parent, it would be a half-truth. Because more than anything, I enjoyed our time together. We went for long walks every day at nearby forest preserves to speed up her recovery.
We shopped together, sat and chatted for hours on end and kicked back for a daily dose of teenager entertainment every afternoon when the kids came home from school.
She even joined us at parent-teacher conferences and squeezed in a hockey game and a horse show. What a trooper.
We had so much fun walking and shopping, that I got a heavy glob of stink-eye from the surgeon during her follow-up appointment, accusing her of "overdoing" it. As we walked back out to the car, I asked her if she wanted to go back home. 
"What I'd really like is to hit up that outlet mall we passed on the way here. Can we do that?"

Girlfriend sings my soul music. To hell with doctor's orders! More shopping it was.

Having her here solo allowed me to focus on getting her better. A couple of nights into her stay, she requested a cocktail. I came up with a new concoction, and told her if she liked it she'd have to name it. After making a fire, lighting some candles and getting her all cozied up in the chair, I pressed this lovely gem into her hand. 
She loved it. And she adores my photobomber, who rarely left her side for nearly three weeks.
After thinking about an appropriate name for several minutes, she finally announced with confidence and a flourish: "Restoration."
"Perfect. Restoration, it is." She might have had more than one of these suckers during her stay.

To spread the Restoration love, I made up a batch for the annual chili cook off, which we held while Mom stayed with us. I learned that Restoration can not only bounce a body back from major surgery - it can also allow a middle-aged attorney to manage two exuberant youngsters at said party and boomerang a postpartum mama back to the land of adults with a soothing buzz.
You're welcome, Mr. Adam and Ms. Nara. And for all of the inquiring universe, yours truly retained that spoon. My chili still reigns supreme.


A couple of nights ago I picked up our weekly supply of vegetables at the CSA, and two more butternut squashes appeared in the mix. I've got those suckers coming out of my ears. That night a local chef ladled out little cups of butternut squash soup for the members, and the minute the spoon hit my mouth I knew his soup was in my culinary future. While I didn't have my camera out the other night and didn't intend to post these recipes at all, I surprised myself and the rest of the family with a dinner so yummy it immediately became blog worthy. I knew I was on to something midway through the preparation so I snapped a few photos with my phone.

If you're looking to amp up your arsenal of fall goodness and need some new soup and sandwich creations, try these on for size.
Fancy Grilled Cheese and Butternut Squash Soup.

Oh my. Delightful. A perfect flavor combination of salty, savory and sweet with textures of smooth, gooey, creamy and crunchy. Mr. Musky and I loved this way more than the kids did. I think they are under the guise that grilled cheese must be artificially yellow in color and should have no other adornment, with the exception of a bowl of nasty tomato soup on the side. 

This felt grown up to me. And I guess I must be a grown up now. Sigh.

Here you go. Build a fire, light some candles, and give Restoration, Butternut Squash Soup and Fancy Grilled Cheese a go this weekend. You'll love it.

The Restoration Cocktail
4 oz Bourbon (I used Woodford Reserve)
2 oz Cointreau
2 oz Cranberry Juice (I prefer the all natural, really tart 100% stuff)
Dash (about 1/4 teaspoon) Blood Orange Bitters
The juice of one orange, or two clementines
Orange or Clementine rind to garnish

Mix all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and pour it through a fine meshed strainer into a cocktail glass, with or without ice. If desired, top with club soda (and stir) for fizziness and garnish with an orange rind.

Butternut Squash Soup (recipe adapted from Jeremy DeRango, Executive Chef)
One large Butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into one inch cubes
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
4-5 slices bacon
1 large or 2 small onions, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
White wine (naturally)
6 cups chicken stock
Pinch cinnamon
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
4 oz whole milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle the butternut squash cubes with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Toss to mix, then place the squash in 1 or 2 squares of aluminum foil. Fold the foil up to create a package, place the package(s) on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the squash is fork tender.

While the squash cooks, fry the bacon until crispy in a large soup pot and remove it to drain on paper towels. Remove the bacon fat until 1-2T remains. Toss in the onion and wilt on medium to medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, a bit of salt and pepper and deglaze with the wine, scraping up any bacon bits that have stuck to the pot. Pour in the stock and add the spices, stirring to combine. Crank the heat up to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. 

Add the squash with all of its juices from the foil packets, then blend the soup with an immersion blender to a smooth consistency. 

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, stirring constantly to create a blond roux. Continue stirring until the flour is completely incorporated and the mixture has a slight nutty aroma. Add the roux gradually to the soup, stirring constantly to incorporate (you may not need to use all of the roux - just continue adding until the soup is a consistency you like). The soup will thicken as it continues to boil. Add the heavy cream or milk and taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg or sage as necessary. 

Top with the crunchy bacon or slightly whipped heavy cream. 
Thanks for the early Christmas gift, Mama Bear. I love my fennel colored Le Creuset!
Fancy Grilled Cheese
Sourdough Bread
Cranberry Chutney
Spicy Honey Mustard
Gouda Cheese
Jarlsberg Cheese
Gouda Truffle Cheese
Bacon, fried crispy

Spread one slice of bread with the chutney and another with the mustard.
Melt 2 T of butter in a large pan over medium heat. Place the bread in the pan, condiment side up. Add thinly sliced cheese to both pieces of bread, then lie the bacon atop one of the pieces of bread. Swirl the bread around the pan to absorb all the butter and to distribute the heat evenly.
Once the cheese starts to melt, combine the bread pieces into a sandwich and place a lid on the pan cockeyed so steam can escape (this will trap some of the heat inside, encouraging the cheese to continue melting). Flip the sandwich as necessary and add additional butter to the pan to ensure even, brown crusty goodness on the bread. Slice and serve with a bowl of butternut squash soup and a glass of Restoration. White wine pairs well with this, too.

Enjoy, and Happy Friday!