Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

002008There I was, walking around Jackson Square Mall in downtown La Grange with three of my very dear friends;  antique sleuths, each and every one. We were talking and teasing, “Penny, you really need to have this” or “my mother had one of these” in the companionable way of old friends.

As we walked toward my favorite booth crammed with used books, nestled in a nook that was probably a closet in a previous life, I squeezed in and I glanced up at the cookbooks. in the far corner.  What should be staring back?  “The Stillmeadow Cookbook” by Gladys Taber. Well, dear reader, Gladys’ book jumped into my greedy little hands like a puppy who’s been left home alone all afternoon. Squeaking like a mouse, I gingerly opened the pages of this well-preserved, hard bound edition – and promptly declared it was mine, all mine!

You may recall that I adore Gladys Taber and her writings about Stillmeadow Farm. My introduction to her was at the very same Jackson Square Mall where this cookbook emerged, on the same shelf where my first introduction to Gladys Taber’s words was.  When I wrote that first post, I quickly learned through generous comments of others that there were more than 50 books written by Gladys Taber and that there was well-establish organization of Taber fans;  aptly called the Friends of Gladys Taber. I keep meaning to sign up for their newsletter, which I understand is quite wonderful.

Since that first discovery of Gladys Taber and her common sense wisdom and wit and words that are filled with the simpler things in life and country living, I have acquired a baker’s dozen worth of her homespun books, filled with stories and articles that were published in the likes of Good Housekeeping Magazine and other periodicals. How I miss those days of short story installments and serial essays that used to be in women’s magazines. Ah well, dear friend, those days are past, but, we can still find words in books, some of which sit patiently on shelves in used book stores and booths, just waiting to be discovered.




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DSCN4406I could not have asked for a more pleasant Easter, full of all its hopes and promise. The air warmed as the day rose. We opened windows and doors, inviting the outside in. We were surrounded by the gift of family as greetings of Happy Easter, Christos Anesti, and Shalom went from lip to cheek through the portal of celebration; each bringing different belief systems and varied customs, each carrying a plate or platter, box or bag, filled with sustenance to nourish our bodies in this season of nourishing our souls.

I am always my most content, as you, dear reader, surely know, when folks are gathered around our long, worn wooden table. This Easter, we  also used the table in our cozy dining room as we served our meal buffet-style. This glass table came from our dear friend Marilyn, who wondered to me several years ago if one of our daughters might want it? I jumped at the chance and said “No, me. Pick me! I need it” and she did. It has been with grateful delight that we sit around this airy orb in our little glass room on $59 upholstered chairs from T.J. Maxx.

We ate and talked and reminisced, as families tend to do. We laughed and commiserated over pastichio and turkey, salad and ann array of vegetables, Italian sweet bread, Greek Easter Bread and potato rolls. Our meal was followed by every type of sweet, from diples and baklava, to karidopeta, lemon pound cake and shortbread. Can you see my waist expanding?

Those who could not be with us were with us just the same. Ted pulled down my framed photo of the “club girls”, and we pointed and named and recalled the years these women gathered to play cards. We ate on Tom’s mother Carolyn’s Brown Eyed Susan plates using her Coronation flatware. A bouquet of iris from Tom sat in a treasured Crate and Barrel ribbon vase, as Heather arranged a spray of roses she brought that seemed to be tailor made to sit atop a well much-used tablecloth.

Sitting, rather contentedly I thought, in Tom’s grandmother’s (or was it his great grandmother’s?) rocking chair, was the bunny Kezzie gave us to take home before we left her house in Minnesota last Sunday. I have picked it up for a cuddle or two and nuzzled in to its soft cloth belly to catch a scent of our Kezzie-kins, reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit. Isn’t it sweet when children give us their treasures to take with us?

Here is hoping you had a pleasant weekend with all the hope and promise of this season.


Iris from Tom and Keizzie's bunnyDSCN4402DSCN4396DSCN4413

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A poet could write volumes about diners, because they’re so beautiful. They’re brightly lit, with chrome and booths and Naugahyde and great waitresses. Now, it might not be so great in the health department, but I think diner food is really worth experiencing periodically.  David Lynch


Denver omelets and grilled cheese sandwiches. Swiss steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. Being recognized by name with “Hi, Hon. Howyadoin’ today?” by the waitress as she pours your coffee into a thick, white mug. The cook, his papered head showing over the half wall of the grill, starts your order as soon as he hears you say it, the stub from the waitress just a reminder of whether to add Swiss or cheddar at the end.

With all our fancy, four starred, gourmet restaurants – gastronomical emporiums that I certainly have enjoyed – I think it is the homespun diner that I love the best, especially during a cold, white winter such as 2014 has been. Our favorite diner is Cafe Calbay, just around the corner from the “main drag”, across the street from the train station, a block from the post office, and on the way to anywhere I need to be.

How about you? Is there a diner, cafe, local restaurant where someone knows you name is Hon, Sweetie, of Dear?

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It rained on the January day we closed the deal, buying this rambling old house on the Cutoff. We finished packing and cleaning up our old house during a snowfall, then moved in on a Saturday. Remarkably, moving in day brought just enough warmth to melt most of the snow and allowed us and the movers to haul all our possessions without trudging through sludge and slosh and snow. It was nine years ago now. Funny how time goes by in a whisper.

My friend Sue helped us move in, bringing a big container of chocolate chip cookies along. She unpacked boxes in DSCN3980our big kitchen, and started putting pots and pans in cabinets, silverware in just the right drawer, and the cheerful Brown Eyed Susan dishes I inherited from Tom’s mother in the glassed in cabinet across from the sink, which is where they still rest when not in use. In fact,  I have not moved anything from where Sue put it.

I had packed food from the freezer into a few big ice chests, thinking about what I might make for dinner in the new house on our first night.  So, out came some chicken, a can of tomato paste, a bag of square Greek noodles and a big pot to make some Greek chicken stew;  a simple dish with a distinct aroma that ushered one home into another as it bubbled in our homey kitchen.

The stove was big and functional.  We decided not to replace it. It was certainly used, but, serviceable, although one of the knobs looked just a bit distorted. I wondered about it as I turned on a burner and made that first meal, but, I knew the stove had been used to feed the very large family of the precious owners

As the years wore on, I discovered what had happened to the knob. It seemed that every-so-often the oven door wouldn’t quite close, except if I had a cake in the oven, which was when it would not quite open.  A little squirt of cooking spray seemed to do the trick when it wouldn’t open, and I learned to check the door to see how it hinged before putting in a cake – or turkey. One or two squirts meant a door that opened easily. It also meant a door that didn’t quite close.

As the years wore on, the knobs on the stove slowly morphed into peculiar shapes. Cooking heat was escaping the oven with increasing regularity. I could only hazard a guess at where 350° was – only because it was where the knob was most deformed.  Then, with a very hot oven near the holidays, I burnt my fingertips turning on a burner forgetting the oven door was ajar.

DSCN3999The time had most definitely come to replace the stove, commencing with appliance shopping that brought about memories of stoves in lifetimes past earlier this month. This shopping was done in between snowstorms, a purchase made and a date for delivery was set, and then reset because of dangerous weather conditions. These frigid temperatures have wreaked havoc on so many activities, including deliveries of all sorts of things.

Finally, on a Saturday,  when much of the snow had melted and delivery men could travel safely, our new stove arrived, complete with an oven door that opens, and closes properly, knobs that are well-marked and don’t resemble wontons, and a myriad of other culinary uses that I didn’t even know I missed – until I had them back.

As the temperatures and snow continued to batter our area, I have been as content as a pig on the 4th of July, baking and cooking with my efficient new stove, including a batch of chocolate chip cookies, which I made this afternoon, thinking of my friend Sue and her help on that moving day, nine years ago.

What have you been cooking or baking lately? Have you ever had a stove that had seen better days?

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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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DSCN3180We wandered a bit around Lake Katherine, watching the swans preen on their little island, the ducks sunning on a fallen log, and the geese taking turns being first as they maneuvered overhead. It was a crisp, late summer day; more a prelude to fall than a nod to summer. There were several photographers out and about, catching the birds, the slant of the sun on goldenrod, the passage of time with their cameras.

It was a short walk for we had endured a rough week and tired. Walking back, a young couple were seen hanging on to a canoe, each one blaming the other for capsizing. The water is shallow in Lake Katherine, so they were in no danger, except, perhaps on their car ride home as they relived their oaring. We left the blame game to them after offering a hand, he dripping wet, she worried about her lost flip-flop, glad it wasn’t us rising out of the lake.

DSCN3174Dragonflies flitted and bees buzzed around the Autumn Joy Sedum. Can you find the dragonfly? No butterflies, except for the cabbage moths. No butterflies on a late summer day in a park that was about to hold a butterfly festival. I’m hoping it was just this odd summer weather we had. I’m hoping.

A little worse for the wear, we headed for the car, and drove off in search of a plush horse.

We found it!


An ice cream parlor of fame in Palos Park, it was but a few miles from Lake Katherine.  For the past several years, Tom has been wanting to find The Plush Horse. Now, we have, and it will take real will power to stay away from this enchanting ice cream parlor.


We each ordered one scoop in a cup, which was good, for a very big scoop it was, and headed outside to a lovely alcove that was perfect for sitting and licking one’s lips over a dish of ice cream. I had one of my summertime favorites, moose tracks, and Tom had black walnut. We ate contentedly while sitting on one of these Adirondack chairs, checking out the bird houses and wind chimes, and enjoying being out in the near perfect day.



We’ll be back. Yep. We’ll be back. Where to you dip your ice cream cone?


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DSCN2732The sprinkler is slowly undulating out back, swaying with its own rhythm, rhyming as it flows, like verses in a poem, back and forth, back and forth. I should be standing, holding the magic wand of water, I know. Less waste of water, more control of where the water goes. It is just that the gardens, front and back, and our little 10X10 plot at the community garden seem to take up much of my time these days; holding hoses, chasing weeds, and, mostly, oohing and aahing over Mother Nature’s bounty. I have so many things I want to tell and so little time. It seems someone has been stealing my moments these days. When I catch the little imp whose hiding my minutes, there will be consequences.

The little community garden our small committee of determined women started last spring has yielded a bounty of harvests, and even more goodwill, over these summer months. Each time I am there lately, there are other gardeners about, watering their plants, stringing vines, picking beans or digging up potatoes.

Tom and Gus, two buddies who share a plot, have such colorful eggplant growing, I may be convinced to try this vegetable one more time,



and, oh, the multitude of tomatoes, of every kind! From cherry tomatoes, to Big Boys and beyond, we have all been part of a picking frenzy.  This one below, still green, has a ways to go to ripen. The family that tends this plot were busy watering it the other day. Mom, Dad, and two young boys. The youngest was about four years old, bored and hot and wanting to go home. The older son, who seemed to be about eight and reminded me of our grand-nephew Scott, was enjoying himself, however. When I asked why they decided to take on a plot, the father pointed to his older son and said “It was my boy there. He wanted to do this, and so, we did. We live in a condo, so this gives us a way to give our boy a garden.”



Oh, the delight in hearing this!. I asked the young lad if he was happy he had a garden, and he said he did and wants to do one next year. He then asked if the little flowers I had in the corners were marigolds (they are) and what the vines in my garden were. I told him zucchini. His father asked me if I knew what was growing, pointing to one of the plots. I gently pulled back stems and showed him the potatoes that were barely visible, hidden in the soil, to which his son told us how and when they should be harvested and pointed out where some had already been taken from the ground. He’d been doing some investigating on the computer, it seems.

Do you have any idea how much this conversation warmed my soul? How this family was able to enrich this curious young boy’s life, give him the experience of growing and tending a garden, teaching him to respect the earth, work with his hands, venture forth on a project – and how much respect I have for these parents in their endeavors? It made my day. My summer, in fact. It is what we are all about in this community project.

Then, there was the woman, yesterday, who squealed with glee from her plot. I shouted from over the ears of corn that separated us, “did you pull out a carrot?”. Yes. she had. I knew she’d been waiting and watching and surveying her soil for the right moment and her very first homegrown carrot. A middle aged woman and her newly claimed prize, never before attempted. A jewel in the soil of her life.


So, off I go now, my friend, for there a few peppers waiting for me in our own little plot of soil. It will go into tonight’s dinner pot, with a few of the tomatoes in the bowl up above as well. We saw the peppers just about ready to pick yesterday, when Tom was watering. That’s him,  in yellow, just behind our neighbor’s row of corn, when I went to document the cantaloupe she has growing in her garden as well.

First, I need to turn that sprinkler off, then, see about those imps who have been harvesting my time . . .


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There is much I should be doing right now, must get done, or at least try. Instead, my mind wanders to the simpler days of my youth. Long ago summers when the whir of the mixer would sing me awake in the early morning hours and the sweet aroma of cookies baking in the oven before the day grew too hot. Company would be coming. Who would they be? Would there be another baptism in the backyard?  A gathering of my grandmother’s circle of cousins?  Another One Yia Yia, maybe? The club girls stopping in before a game of cards next door at my aunt’s house?

Today is one such day where the heat is back, the humidity is hovering like the memories that float in and out of my mood and I stare, like a child, into the cool refrigerator, waiting for something to magically appear to sate my sweet tooth. Something must be in there. Must.

I’ve been thinking of must, which is the first juice pressed from grapes in the winemaking process. As with most things in days gone by, nothing was wasted, including the first juices in the fermentation of wine. These juices would not make good wine, but, they could still be employed to make pudding.  Moustalevria!

Only one person brought must to our house. Louie. When he made wine, he would bring my grandmother, Yia Yia, the must. She would make it into the most delectable pudding.  Moustalevria. Mουσταλευριά.

Louie was married to Marika, who was my father’s first cousin. Marika (a derivation of the name Mary) had immigrated to the United States as a young woman of about 18 years old. Her marriage to Louie was arranged, as the story goes, at the baptism of my Aunt Christina, my father’s sister. Marika and Louie were quite a handsome couple and I loved it when they came over. They spoke two languages, fluently, and there was an “air” about them that for some reason seemed magical to me.

Of course, part of the magic was the silver dollars Louie gave us every time he came for a visti. What treasures they were to receive. I loved to play with them and marvel at their feel in my hand and of my good fortune.

The real treat, however was the bottle with must. It would be boiled with flour and spices until it grew thick, then, it would be places in a large, shallow soup bowl and put into the refrigerator to set.

I can still taste it; sweet, smooth and gelatinous.

I would open the refrigerator, when no one was looking, and stare, as if the pudding could do tricks in the cold.  I would keep checking the moustalevria until someone, an adult, finally took a sliver of the pudding. Then, I would cut a piece with a butter knife, once, then twice, creating a wedge, ever-so-thin, slide the knife underneath, then I would slip carefully out of the dish, close my eyes, place it in my mouth and savor it. The problem was that, as with many sweet things, I would not be able to stop at one slice. I would sneak one more, then another, sometimes walking away, only to come back again and again, until Yia Yia would ask who had been into the pudding. Somehow, she always knew it was me, and I would be told I had to stop eating it, or I would get sick, until my mother or father would speak to me, in no-uncertain-terms, and Yia Yia would tell them to leave me alone! My great defender . . .

. . . and now I really must try my hand at making some.

Did you ever sneak something to eat as a child?

Image and recipe. I understand grape juice can be substituted for the must.

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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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DSCN1727Illinois. It is both complicated and simple with its windy city of Chicago that Carl Sandburg immortalized in his City of Big Shoulders, nestled at the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes carved out of ice eons ago. It has some of the richest soil on earth that produces corn and soy beans and pumpkins. The historic town of Galena sits in the northwestern corner of the state with modern day ski lifts and once rich deposits of lead. while the Shawnee National Forest, on the state’s its southern tip, was once populated by native North Americans and remains resplendent in its natural beauty. Illinois is like a family; complicated, conflicting, often argumentative, always proud of where it has been, what it has accomplished, and where it is headed.

The Land of Lincoln. The Prairie State. Illinois is rich in resources, both natural and human, and much of its terrain was carved from the great glaciers that cut into it long before man settled on it.

We love exploring it – and so we did this weekend as we marked our anniversary. DSCN1726

Tom and I met in college toward the center of the state. Even though both of us were raised in the suburbs of Chicago; he a south suburban lad, myself a gal from the west side, we had never been to Starved Rock State Park together. Tom remembers, as a very young boy, sitting on the top of a rock, Starved Rock,  looking out across the tree tops. So, we deemed Starved Rock as our destination, booked a room at the Lodge, and headed out on the road to discovery.

Starved Rock is only about ninety minutes from our house, mostly interstate driving. We arrived on Sunday just in time to have lunch at the Lodge, check in, then wander about the park. This is the scenery from the restaurant where we ate lunch.


This lush, forested park has eighteen canyons surrounded by rock formations born out of glacial melt thousands of years ago. The canyons provide a majestic gift to the flat fields of this part of Illinois. especially when the spring rains give rise to their waterfalls. Starved Rock State Park has become the wintering over locale for eagles, drawing visitors to the park even in winter.


Throughout Starved Rock are statues; old trees repurposed as eagles and bears, settlers and dogs, and all manner of creatures carved out of wood. I am always appreciative when I see new life coming from old life.



DSCN1773We decided to take one of the closer and less strenuous paths, though even the path we chose through French Canyon involved plenty of climbing up and down stairs, looking down into the magnificent canyon, with the forest floor coming alive in native columbine, shooting star, bloodroot, native violet, and ferns. It is amazing how life will cling to the walls of a canyon and how trees seem to arise out of them, determined to live and grow.

Starved Rock

Can you find our shadows looking down into the canyon? You may have to click onto the picture a time or two, but, there we are, tiny shadows in the great, big forest.

Tom and Penny's shadows:Starved Rock #2

Jennifer and Jason recommended a Cajun restaurant for us to try. Yes. A Cajun restaurant. After all that climbing, we needed some nourishment, so, off we went to Ron’s Cajun Connection, not much more than a road stop diner on a country road in a town called Utica. It was loud, busy, and full of welcome mat hospitality. We devoured our gumbo; the best one will find in this neck of the cornfields. Yum. Good means are always a part of travel, don’t you agree?


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