Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

DSCN4155I almost missed it the first time. It was an afternoon not too long after Tom’s eye surgery. I was driving, slowly, as one must when taking in the scenery at the Morton Arboretum. My giant pirate was clicking photos from the passenger window, the snow covered wonderland posing with crested limbs and scarves of white.

I stopped, then backed up, slowly.

“What is that?” 

An apparition, it seemed, materializing,  right then and there, in the snow and shadows, just for us.


Two months later, with several more feet of snow accumulated, we once again crept through this winter wonderland, my pirate without his patch at the helm of our polar arc, me positioned like a passenger pigeon with a camera, when I barely saw it.

Wait, Tom. Stop! Back up, slowly, slower . . . ” and out of the car I bounded like a winter hare.

It is amazing, is it not, where one can find strength just when one needs it?


There, under the strong limbs of a mighty oak tree, my Antler Man and I  found strength, hiding under a very strong and well positioned bench.


Do, please click on the photos to get a better view.

Addition to post: below is a picture of the Strength bench up close, which I hope to sit on one fine WARM day. The letters are metal, the seat I believe is oak. 





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Doom was always lurking around corners. Ma tended toward old wives’ tales. If I read too much, my eyes would cross. If I cropped-dscn39801.jpgwashed my hair too often, it would fall out before I reached the age of 30. Pantyhose and tampons would render me sterile. Nail polish would brand me a hussy. Shaving my armpits, well, you don’t want to know that one. Plucking my eyebrows could cause any number of vision problems, which, perhaps, is probably why I fell and hurt myself running, and . . .

. . . I was never, ever, under any circumstances to turn the oven on!

The sturdy Tappan Gas Range of my two previous posts, followed our family from the west side of Chicago to the suburb of Maywood. Both houses were across from what would become I-290,  locally dubbed the Congress Expressway and then the Eisenhower. For more than 50 years, I lived either on the north or the south side of the Ike, but, those are stories for other days. Today’s is the story of my home, the range, and Hershey’s Cocoa.

My mother, with all her superstitions and worry, was the best at making hot cocoa. Cold days, after walking home from school, we would often find a cup of hot chocolate waiting. Ma would make a cup for Daddy sometimes, late at night. I know. How do I know? I know because I was reading a book, under my bed covers, when I was supposed to be fast asleep.

I digress.

I have a bundle of letters tied with a ribbon. They are letters written to my mother during WWII. They are from her brothers and brothers-in-law, cousins and boys from the neighborhood who had gone off to war. They are from many theaters of battle, some with words sliced out by a censor’s razor. They speak of the Chicago Cubs or the White Sox, others asking after the other boys who hung out on the street corner. They talk of weather and of missing loved ones and of the things in between the lines that speak of war without words. They are the sorts of letters that arrived in countless homes. In almost every letter my mother kept, however, there was a common theme;

Vi, I can’t wait to come home and have a cup of your hot cocoa.

I did not know of these letters until I was a young mother when my mom gave them to, saying she thought I would appreciate having them – and I did. Still do. All I knew as a girl of thirteen, however, was that Ma made good cocoa, with Hershey’s cocoa. The same Hershey’s cocoa that my cousin Mary Jane made each morning, as a young teen, after she had warmed up the old coal stove.

The conversation with my cousin, and the photograph of the new stove reminded me of the letter, my mother, and of a small act of defiance when I was about thirteen years old.

My mother, father and Yia Yia had all gone out somewhere. So had my Aunt Christina and Uncle Joe, who lived next door. For all of them to be gone at the same time, including my grandmother, who hardly ever left the house, leads me to believe that someone must have died and they all went to the wake. They NEVER all went somewhere together, unless it was a wake or a wedding.

I finished my homework then decided I would make some cocoa. Just like that! Out came the Hershey’s container, a half gallon glass jar of milk, and a small pan. I read the directions and proceeded to turn on the burner and warm the milk. I was warned to never turn on the oven. No one said anything about a burner. I managed to make the hot cocoa without setting the pan, a towel, or anything else on fire. It was very good. I cleaned everything up, but,  you know, there is a unique aroma that comes with hot Hershey’s cocoa that permeates the air and is subtly detectable when coming in from the cold –  that, and the pang of guilt that arises after doing something you are not supposed to do.

When my parents and grandmother came home, I spilled the beans faster than a nervous coffee grinder. Yia Yia slipped quietly to her room. My father looked at me; she who never disobeyed. My mother: well, hysterical would probably describe her mien, as the woulda, shoulda, couldas spewed forth. Finally, Daddy interceded on my behalf.  “Violet, she should have asked, but, nothing bad happened, she was careful, she cleaned up after herself and she really  IS old enough to start cooking.”

Thus began my warm and sweet love affair with cooking – one pan of Hershey’s cocoa at a time – and it was on the front right burner of that sturdy Tappan range. It really is amazing what memories come forth when visiting a big box store.

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1621013_saI found another memory in a box.  A big box. Actually, a big box store. Funny, isn’t it, where memories emerge?

There we were, on a snow filled New Year’s Day, shopping for a new stove at Best Buy. Among the many items that go on sale in the new year are appliances. In this newly minted year, we find we need to replace our oven, so, off we pottered, research having been done online and through a few well-placed phone calls, looking for a range.

Trudging into the store after making our way through a parking lot that had not yet been plowed from the first 24 hours of a 48 hour snowfall, we stomped slush from our feet and were greeted with a rush of welcome fit for a duke and duchess. We were so welcomed, of course, because we were just about the only patrons in the store!

Off we went, the Duke of Deer and his Duchess, down aisles of all things electronic, toward the big appliances. Once we found our bearings, we inspected a fine row of stoves and rounded a corner of stainless steel, when I exclaimed “oh, this is just like the stove we had when I was growing up!”; and it was. White enamel in look and as pure as the white driven snow, it had coal, black burner grates and (WAIT FOR IT) and an analog clock with a chubby, round face and arrowed hands, right smack dab in the middle of the range.

My girlish glee immediately aroused a clerk, smelling the prospect of a sale, maybe the only sale on that very first day of 2014. A rather young chap, he slid around an LG, or was it a Samsung, and, swift as a lord-a-leaping, opened the  white oven door. “This is GE’s new retro model, and it is only $….“. We weren’t interested in buying this smart new model. Though it would have fit into our budget, it would not have worked in our kitchen.

Even so, the Duke of Deer, whose childhood also held such a white cooking wonder, and his Duchess spent several sweet moments DSCN3980warmly recalling the features of their childhood ovens. How very wondrous it seemed.

Now, dear reader, there is more to this New Year’s day story, which I will soon share with you, for one thing, you know,  always leads to another when memories are stirred on the Cutoff – and they even involves Hershey’s Cocoa.

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Grasses swaying with snow 2014 commenced with traditional midwestern frigidity, with snow falling in the early hours of the New Year. Fall it did, continually, for some 48 hours, dumping almost 18 inches of powdery white in some areas, two feet in others. We managed to accumulate foot or so here on the Cutoff before it was over. We were “snowed in” until dinnertime Thursday night when our good neighbor plowed us out with his truck.

We are so very fortunate, for we had plenty of food put by and our homely nest was cozy and warm. A crude path was swept out early, up to the Barn, where Tom could spend some time in his office. Just the fact that he is doing well enough to do some computer work now is an encouraging new year omen. The snow made all seem clean and right in our little cut off corner, and the ever-growing icicles provided a Zhivagoan mood, giving one the impression of an Ice Palace. We were just glad we didn’t need to string a guide rope from one door to the other, for we were close to white out conditions a few times.

Come late afternoon, when the flakes were no longer dusting our existence, I ventured Fairy with snowout, stomping a path to the compost pile, then trudging the opposite direction, down the long drive to the mailbox, which was as empty as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. No mail awaited, but, it didn’t really matter, for the bills will come when they come.

Freezing, I stood, watching squirrels scamper about, pilfering provisions from a bin full of walnuts Tom left out in the Fall. They were having so much fun, chasing each other, sailing across tree limbs, and leaving shards of shells everywhere, I couldn’t help but wonder if they weren’t a little drunk on walnut juice imbibed on New Year’s Eve.

Or, perhaps, they had been under the spell of the garden fairies.

I simply cannot help myself. In spite of the terrible cold (we awoke to -8°F this morning), and the danger, as well as inconveniences, of such snow accumulation, there is still such sparkling beauty amid the cold starkness for us to behold, and, just beyond the five foot towers of snow, there is always the possibility of unexpected visitors.


DSCN3874Three sisters with big pine with snow


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Fresh pastaFor my birthday, Jennifer treated me to an afternoon at the newly opened Eataly Chicago. It is a gastronic extravaganza with two floors of anything and everything relating to Italian food. While most items were a bit pricey in nature, it was still fun to explore this indoor marketplace, with a Nutella Bar, several restaurants, esperesso stations, fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, wine – oh, the list goes on and on. Let me just say that it is a fun experience and a place to go if you are looking for a specialty cooking ingredient or item. The photo above is of fresh pasta, and below are a few of the scenes we encountered.


Making mozzarella cheese.


A pear and chocolate Pannetone.

Panetonne:Pear & Chips

Pastries and chocolates, fruit and vegetables, you name it, Eataly has it. Do you have a specialty market in your area?





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In abeyance

columbus-avenue-rainy-day-1885.jpg!BlogA few posts are in abeyance, waiting, patiently, to be aired while I’m on the road.

I’m hoping, since I will be traveling solo this trip, that I don’t encounter rain on the way.  Things seem to be leaking on the Cutoff; our refrigerator and the windshield of our mocha colored VW with a latte interior. I am roaming today, with towels left on the kitchen floor, and towels in the car, just in a case of a downpour, though I would sure love to see a rainbow along the way.

I went to the library in Westchester yesterday, as it was the only library around that had an unchecked copy of the book we are reading for our September discussion group.  I also picked up  a few audio books  -well, actually four audio books. I just couldn’t decide. They will keep me company, along with Wisconsin’s wonderful public radio broadcasts – or, I may just listen to the quiet,  watch the corn and soybeans and diary farms pass me by and think about the prairie.

As long as I was in Westchester, I stopped, for a second time this week, at the Wolf Road Prairie. I hope to show you some pictures soon, along with our own burgeoning attempt at prairie plants and grasses.

A basket of food is packed for nourishment, and I’m anticipating a few scenic stops along the way. Do you pack up food for a long road trip?

Well, the  grandchildren are waiting, so, off I go, bidding you fair-thee-well until I’m online again.

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. . . so we called friends Rick and Patty, arranged to meet them on the green at the Burr Ridge Shopping Center, stowed some cold  drinks in a cooler (and I hid some chocolate cake in honor of you-know-who’s birthday). We loaded up some lawn chairs, and off we went to a free concert, under the stars, about as far as the crow flies from our house.

We are fortunate to have quite a few free music venues in the good old summertime, mere minutes from our life here on the Cutoff. All summer, we’ve been meaning to take advantage of them. Finally, yesterday, our chance arrived – and we grabbed it.

DSCN2421Burr Ridge Center is a new, smallish center with mixed usage. Restaurants dot the few blocks with trendy stores, a Starbucks, Barbara’s Bookstore and condos nestled in on top. In the center’s planning, an expanse of lawn was laid. A modern, airy and lighted band shell emerges in June. This same lawn hosts a farmers market on Thursdays.

The concert was set to start at 7:30. We arrived an hour early and staked out a good spot amongst other early birds. It was like a mini-Ravinia, which is the crown jewel in outdoor concerts in summer. Groups had rounds of chairs, blankets and tables, wine coolers and sushi, all a-ready for a night of big band sounds, which arrived, right on time, compliments of The Steve Cooper Orchestra, whose musical renditions and vocal accompaniments stirred the crowd, a mixture of ages and backgrounds. They all seemed to be in the mood. We certainly were.

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DSCN2223Last weekend, we visited several gardens on Chicago’s North Shore during one of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. These days are always a delight and, as many of you know, Tom and I frequent them whenever we can.

Chicago’s North Shore houses magnificent estates with storied, historical pasts and vibrant gardening attributes, including sweeping lawns meticulously groomed by resident gardeners. They hold in their grasp garden rooms more expansive than most of our more humble gardens, with expansive swaths of floral and fauna, as well as amazing sculptures hidden amongst the rose arbors and at the end of plane tree allees.

While I am a bit busy this weekend, I did want to take jus a moment to introduce you to a few faces we met on last weekend’s Open Days adventure, as well as the scenic view of Lake Michigan a short distance from the garden where these photos were taken. Much of this garden was designed by the great garden landscaper, Rosemary Verey. The sculpture of her, below on left, was done by the renowned garden sculptor, Simon Verity. This garden had only one folly, which I hope to show you soon.

Have a great day, wherever you are reading this from, and try to take some time to enjoy the scenery.





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Image from Monarch Watch at http://www.monarchwatch.org/

I held it, ever-so-gently, between my thumb and first two fingers. I placed it on my hand, where it danced across my flesh, and I felt the innocent wonder of the wee girl I once was who chased monarch butterflies across the yard, holding them softly, then letting them flit away.

Visiting the Salt Creek Butterfly Farm Thursday afternoon. I had an exceptionally busy week of paperwork, weeding, planting, committee work, and life in general. The monarch butterfly, held briefly in my custody, was pure bliss. Just the simple touch of the monarch settled my soul and took my thoughts aloft to other places.

Have you ever held a butterfly or been to a butterfly garden or farm?

Before going to the butterfly farm, about 24 women met here on the Cutoff for lunch. We had been on a tour of an area nursery, The Hidden Gardens, and stopped by, in between nursery and farm for a little lunch. I made Ina Garten’s (Barefoot Contessa) Chicken Salad Veronique. There was just enough left over for dinner for Tom and I.  Since there are no more leftovers to share with you, I thought I would share the recipe instead.

I’ve made this chicken salad several times. It is easy and best prepared several hours, or the day before, serving. I’ve used pecans, but, prefer cashews, and I cut back just a bit on the tarragon, which brings a delectable taste sensation to the salad. A few guests asked what the herb was, detecting something different in chicken salad. I also added a few spoon’s worth of sour cream.

Here it is, dear reader, my solstice gift to you whichever hemisphere you are reading this in.

Chicken Salad Veronique adapted from “Barefoot Contessa at Home” 

4 split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on

olive oil

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 c good mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s)

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves

1 cup small-diced celery

1 cup green grapes, cut in half

Preheat oven to 350° oven

Place chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan (I line the pan with parchment paper), rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste

Roast for 35-40 minutes (I kept mine in longer) until cooked through.  Set aside and let cool.

Remove meat from bones. Discard skin and bones.

Cut chicken into 3/4 inch pieces.

Place in bowl.

Add mayonnaise, tarragon leaves, celery, grapes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper (I omitted the salt). Toss

Just before serving, add toasted pecans or walnuts.  Enjoy!

Here it sits with our very first tomato, just picked from our community garden plot. Chicken salad:first tomato

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seed packetsI can’t seem to catch my breath. Weeds are taking over our humble acreage here on the Cutoff. This afternoon, I broke the weeder. Pushing too hard on the handle, it broke! We have some pretty tough weeds in our garden. Tomatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, zucchini and peppers have needed tending in our plot in the Community Garden. I’m trying to finish up some projects and the upcoming Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire has us all busy making final preparations. In-the-meantime, forceful storms rolled in right at suppertime, pounding the skies with thunder and pelting the windows with rain.

So, what do I do? I sit here, my mind wandering, thinking of Honeyman Farms in Homer Glen, where rows and rows of seed packets fill a horse barn. Every kind of seed from a bevy of distributors; heirloom, seed collectors, beans and zinnias and chinese cabbage. There were so many seeds I wanted to buy for the pure beauty of the graphics on the packages – rather like judging a book by its cover. I’m easily swayed.

We wandered around, me reading every seed packet, he exploring a hearty collection of garden tools. DSCN1653

There were golden jars of clover honey for sale and garden plants just out the door, just waiting to be slipped into soil.

Remnants of long ago horse breeding caught our eyes. Old barns have so much to say, don’t they, with their corners and eaves and places that seem especially made for new life?


We strolled around to the pond were bullfrogs reign, and past raspberry canes, the owner inviting us back mid-season to do our picking. Just sitting, thinking about our recent outing, feels good, this taking time to catch one’s breath. Feels real good.

It’s late, my friend. I think I’ll wander on up to bed, read a few pages from Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior”, listen to the raindrops on the roof, and call it day.


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