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!