Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

Meanwhile, grate the rind from the lemon into a bowl. Squeeze the naked lemon and add the juice to the rind”.  Ruth Reichl.

“My Kitchen Year”, page 97


In between a long morning event and an early evening obligation that meant Tom and I each being on our own for dinner, I had a sudden craving for Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Soup). I had just dropped some mail off at the post office when the craving hit; that urge that is felt for something sweet or something cold or, well, for something comforting and reminiscent of one’s own history. The fact that I had taken a few moments that afternoon to indulge in a few pages of Ruth Reichl’s memoir/cookbook, “My Kitchen Year” may have been the ticket to this urge. It was the passage in which she describes snow falling her feelings after the sudden end of Gourmet Magazine, then notices a lemon on the counter – and begins making Greek Lemon Soup!

With about 30 minutes “to kill” and the realization that a small, local. La Grange restaurant, The Grapevine, was just a few blocks away, I parked the car and walked over to the restaurant, stepped up to the counter and ordered one bowl of Avgolemono soup!

The Grapevine’s Avgolemono is as close to my grandmother’s soup as I have ever eaten. It tastes like lemon, and chicken, and rice and it brings me back into her nourishing embrace. While I make, rather well, many of my Yia Yia’s meals, this soup is one I do not make, so, I appreciate having a good source  nearby.

I found a small table, poured a glass of water, settled myself and soon detected the unique aroma of toasted sesame seed. A basket of warmed Greek bread was set before me, followed by a steaming bowl of my favorite soup. I stirred it slowly, in part to cool it off, in part to see the pieces of chicken and rice floating in the lemony broth, and in part to appreciate the enticing dance of steam spiraling upward. I added a few dashes of pepper and stirred it in, recalling the time my sister went to add pepper to her lemon soup, unaware that the lid was not secure, dumping most of the pepper into her soup. Yia Yia was upset, for she had filled the shaker and had not secured it well rendering the bowl of soup was no longer edible. Things like that mattered in our house. Food was not to be wasted.

Odd, sometimes, is it not, what memories come to us over a bowl of steaming soup?

Equally interesting how words on a page can stir our emotions and lead us to do something unplanned, like ordering a bowl of soup.img_0548

“I stood for the longest time simply staring down at the bright yellow ball, reveling in the color, allowing the oil to perfume my fingers. Then, almost unconsciously, I began grating the zest, concentrating on the scent, stopping every few seconds to inhale the aroma.” page 96

I took my time eating my soup, enjoying the bread, savoring the flavors and textures, before heading out to my next engagement, and I thought of the words that wended their way into my thoughts and looked forward to reading more of Ruth Reichl’s book, filled with the “136 recipes that saved”  her life in the year after Gourmet Magazine ceased.

Have words on a page ever led you to making or eating a favorite dish? or a new one?

Have you read “My Kitchen Year” or any of Ruth Reichl’s other books?

Were you a fan of Gourmet Magazine?


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IMG_6512 An  inventive and fun challenge entered my life this past spring.

It was Greek Easter. Jennifer and Jason had invited us, along with several other family members, to their home for what turned out to be a most delectable feast along with companionable conversation, laughter, and all that comes with the gathering of kin.

Ever since the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon/90th anniversary celebration in April, I was itching to attempt the floral decoration shown in the top photo. It was an abundant spray of tulips and carnations set in a bowl of pink Easter eggs. Teri’s arrangement was spectacular. With Greek (Eastern Orthodox) Easter being observed quite late this past spring, I had a window of opportunity to do my own experimenting with the typical red Easter egg dye symbolic of Greek Easter.

So . . .


. . . I pulled out a smaller vase, the one that I had, in fact, made my own centerpiece for the April luncheon, with a plan to bring it to Jennifer and Jason’s. Lilies and tulips, roses and other spring blooms were nestled into the red eggs and a swirl of grass from the grocer’s florist. The deep red eggs bled into a soft pink as they sat in the water, which enhanced the allure of the bouquet.

As we were leaving, I told Jennifer to keep the vase. It was, to be honest, a $3 purchase from a local grocery store that had already proved its worth in holding flowers. Some time ago, I heard (or read) a suggestion that when bringing flowers as a hostess gift it is considerate to bring it in a vase. The last thing a host or hostess needs when guests are arriving and food preparation is underway, is to search for a suitable vase. I have found it to be a twice appreciated gesture, the flowers and the container, and does not need to be in Waterford crystal. A Mason jar or thrift store find serves the purpose and saves the host a hurried look for a container.

So . . .

. . . on Mother’s Day, Tom assembled a brunch at our house. Jennifer came in with her edible contribution


and this lovely bouquet!

She thought it would be a fun tradition to pass the vase back and forth, from time-to-time, no pressure, just fun – and I wholeheartedly agreed, but, only after I admired her first attempt at flower arranging. Can you just imagine, dear readers, how brightly I glowed at Jennifer’s attention to detail and nod to my interest in flowers?

Thus began a new tradition; this floral adventure between mother and daughter and the traveling vase.

So . . .

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. . . about an hour before leaving on Labor Day for J & J’s house for lunch, I remembered the traveling vase and decided to see what I could find in the  fading gardens here on the Cutoff.

Zinnias and lemon geranium were clipped from the pots on the deck and nestled into floating lemon grass and a spray of Joe Pye Weed that was past its bloom. These came from the now fading Prairie garden. The Joe Pye Weed made a very useful floral “frog”. Green and purple basil, oregano, Rosemary, and Turkey Grass (Big Bluestem) for height, all managed, as well, to follow me inside and into the traveling vase.

Off we went for a lovely lunch – and so goes the continuing adventure of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase.

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Guess where I’ve been?


Need another hint?


It was heartwarming to spend time with these two youngsters, our grandest of grandchildren, while I was Up North this past week. I was lending a small hand as our son-in-law, Tom, began his recovery from surgery after an already challenging summer from an injury. I wish I could be there, still, but responsibilities on the home front necessitated my homecoming. Hopefully, enough leftovers will make up for my leaving, and some cheerful memories will linger for Kezzie and Ezra.


The darling dog is Tundra, a Goldendoodle. She is the newest resident of the Up North limb of our family tree. Tundra is very sweet, becoming very big, and learning the rules of the manor – when she isn’t being silly out back, that is.


The first night I was there, after dinner at Pieology (where I chose and enjoyed a pesto sauced pizza) we stopped at the library to return and check out more books. We left with two bags filled with books (can you imagine how much this warms my heart?) and Keziah showed me around their newly opened library. I was more than impressed by the children’s section, with books at child level, a welcoming atmosphere, and interactive manipulatives that stimulate budding imaginations.

I appreciate and admire communities that value libraries and libraries that have the foresight to evolve with changing times – daring to keeping libraries relevant and friendly places for young people while maintaining the community service of lending out books.

Speaking of books, I would like to recommend one to those of you who enjoying cooking with children. The Forest Feast for Kids is by Erin Gleeson*. Actually, I would like to recommend it to all of you. It is a fun, well illustrated, photographed, and detailed book full of vegetarian recipes for children to prepare. We gave it to Keziah for her birthday and were pleased to learn that 61qJKe+MLDL._SX366_BO1,204,203,200_she has been enjoying it. She pulled it out on the last day I was there. We snuggled and explored the book together, talking about the different recipes, like melon cake (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), cut and stacked to make a three-layered “cake” with yogurt in the middle. We discussed what we could make for lunch. While we were missing one or two ingredients for most of the recipes, the cookbook inspired and led us to ideas of our own of what else we could make with the ingredients at hand. Kezzie decided to make “cracker sandwiches” – and here she is with her creation.


Earlier on the same day, Ezra was intently “forking” peanut butter cookie dough. He proved to be a very good sous chef.


I always find it fun to be in the kitchen with children – and these two sweetie pies make food preparation extra special.

I am home, now, and I miss them already, but, it is what it is, and so goes life here on the Cutoff.

*Erin Gleeson is also the author of The Forest Floor, her earlier cookbook.

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IMG_8144Homeward bound, we decided to take a small detour. I wanted to check out Crawdad Slough, where I have spotted an egret. She is usually hidden along the reedy edges of the shore, stock still or slowly moving toward an unsuspecting target. I saw her, recently, high up in a tree and wondered if she was building a nest. The detour was my wandering hope that Tom could see it on our way home.

There we were, chatting significantly about the insignificant, just moseying along in the late afternoon, when I saw it!  Not the egret, but, instead a sign. No. Not an omen or an octagon, saying STOP. It was a big, bright, yellow sign, just out of the corner of my eye as I drove right past it.

Did you see that, Tom?”.


That sign?”

I hung a quick left into someone’s driveway and whipped my way back from whence we came.



The sign pointed north. As soon as I turned, there it was. Just up a drive. A big yellow box with bold black letters.


We pulled into the driveway and hopped out of our mocha VW with a latte interior – such a trusty traveller she is – and looked around to see if anyone was outside. I called a cheery “Hello. Anyone here?” IMG_8759With nary a soul in sight, we walked up to the box. It had a few latches but no lock and key, and some bold honeybees painted around it.

There we were, the ever-patient Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop (she who stops at every box) and looked to see if we could open it. We fiddled a bit with the latches, then we slowly opened one door, then the next. One must be very careful when opening a newfound box – especially one with such large bumble bees depicted on it!

Inside was a sign with explanations, and an honor system for any customer wanting a jar of honey. How nice! Honor systems are not unusual down country lanes or in rural areas, but, they are not very common hereabouts, even in our semi-rural neck of the woods.

What a surprisingly delightful discovery this was; while not a white egret, a very sweet cache of local honey.


I dutifully signed the guest sheet. We slipped our payment for our jar of Hilltop Honey in the appropriated container, closed and latched the bright yellow doors, and set back on the road-less-travelled home, where I promptly made a cup of tea with honey – and very good honey it was.


I try to buy local honey, not only to support local businesses and beekeepers, but, also because it is said that ingesting local honey helps counteract seasonal allergies. I do not know if this is scientifically true, but, I do not that my own seasonal allergies have abated since I have been using local honey. Most of the honey I buy is from this general area, usually a farm stand, appropriately called The Farm, but, none of it is from hives only four miles from our home.

So it goes; a sweetened tale of life here on the Cutoff, where small detours sometimes lead to large, snowy white birds – or honey pots and the honor system.

(I did feel, just a wee bit, that I had just discovered the Bee Tree in the Hundred Acre Woods.)


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IMG_8656I was sitting with my laptop, on my lap, my eyes on the computer screen. my ears on the strains of music.

I always look forward to PBS’s airing of A Capitol Fourth and enjoy the program; the music, the people, the tributes, and the memories.

I was relishing it all, from military bands to pop stars, my eyes wandering from computer screen to television screen, watching performers and attendees enjoy our national birthday party.

Kenny Loggins came on, first playing Convictions of the Heart, then rolling into Footloose. Not really a song one would expect on Independence Day, but, then, again, why not? We ARE free to dance where we want. Flash Mobs pop up and invade social media, those being “flashed” seem to enjoy them, but, I digress.

My feet always start to move when Loggins’ Footloose comes on, and I did right then;  I felt footloose and started dancing around, hoping I didn’t bump into the furniture, knock a lamp over, or bungle my back. Sometimes it is fun to just cut loose.

We saw Kenny Loggins in concert a few years ago. It was a wonderful outdoor concert at the Morton Arboretum. By the time the stars and fireflies came out, even  the trees were swaying to Danger Zone.

Kenny’s songs played often and loudly in our house. The House at Pooh Corner was a strong contenders for Katy’s father/daughter wedding dance. James (you know who) won out.

Kenny was singing, my toes were tapping, the Capitol rocked – and my memory wheel started turning back several decades to the year we spent the 4th of July, Independence Day, in Washington D.C. The girls were old enough to appreciate the trip, young enough to go along with all the historical venues (well, most of them).

We spent the entire day, July 4, touring D.C. sites, starting with the reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the National Archives, and ending with the fireworks display on the Mall. We rode the trolley to Arlington National Cemetery, quietly taking in the rows upon rows of burial markers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and also paid respects at the Kennedy graves, then onward to the Lincoln Memorial, which was full of people, the reflecting pond suddenly coming to life for me where it had been before only in historical photos, Forrest Gump, etc. We spent time at the Smithsonian’s museums and more changing of the guard at the National Archives. We spent time on the Mall, witnessed the Viet Nam Memorial, and listened to a bit of a character expound on why he was running for president . . . let’s just say there have always been characters running for president. This candidate wore a safari outfit, complete with a whip, like Indiana Jones, and he shared his arrest record.

Unplanned and unprepared, we found a spot on the lawn of Mall to wait for the fireworks – after we dined on the worst hot dogs imaginable and lived to tell about it! We sat on our sweatshirts, as we did not have blankets to place on the grass. Religious groups, aging hippies and folks from all walks of life and countries made what appeared like a human blanket on the nation’s lawn. It was really one big block party. I think the four of us will always remember it, though in different ways, with different but valid convictions in our hearts.



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IMG_6517A sea of pink flowers,  artfully arranged by the ladies of the garden club. A simple set of instructions: clear vase, pink, white, green and black flowers and adornments.

A historical presentation of The Little Black Dress, modeled in vintage dresses covering the nine decades our garden club has been celebrating this year, in the grandeur of the magnificent Medinah Country Club.

More than 130 women, elegantly attired in black and pink, green and white, tailored and flowing, long and short, sipping drinks and chatting with friends as they perused more than twenty artistically adorned raffle baskets.


A delectably plated luncheon of tomato bisque soup, salad topped with warm chicken, and this pièce de résistance.


It was a remarkably memorable afternoon. Two wonderful women, my friends,  were honored as Women of the Year. Our garden club members and their guests forgot their worries and troubles for a few hours, or, at least felt those burdens lift.  They were, hopefully, feeling as special as they are in this all-too- brief  but very special moment in time

A few glimpses into the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon – A Little Black Dress.

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IMG_5896When I think of orchids, I think of my mother-in-law, who always wore an orchid on Mother’s Day. She requested a cymbidium orchid for our wedding. I had heard of orchids, but never cymbidiums before. I mentioned it to our florist, who was also a cousin. Irene jotted it down as if it were no big thing. Little did I know then that cymbidiums are commonly used for corsages.

Over the years, I observed her carefully take her orchid off and put it in a little plastic bag that held a moistened paper towel. She would place it in the refrigerator. When I asked her why she did this, she said it would keep the orchid fresh and she would be able to wear it again, which she did, pinning it on her lapel for work the next day, and sometimes even the Sunday following Mother’s Day.

I thought about my mother-in-law last week as I passed a row of cymbidium orchids during an outing of our garden club to Orchids by Hausermann in Villa Park. As soon as I saw the sign naming this orchid, my mother-in-law came to mind. I was busy talking and now sorry I didn’t get a photo of one.


IMG_5907Hausermann’s, as most folks around here refer to this business, is the oldest and largest orchid producer in the Midwest, with clients around the world. It was started in 1920 and today is run by 4th and 5th generation family. Come February and March, Hausermann’s holds an open house on two weekends, inviting the public in to their growing spaces.  While Hausermann’s is open to the public during business hours, this is a yearly opportunity to see the entire operations, including a peek through the glassed-in room where orchids are propagated.

We were able to walk the many connected greenhouses, taking in exotic scents and colors and features of hundreds of orchid varieties. Staff wheeled out more orchids as bare spots started to appear on tables.  A holding station for selected orchids was available, allowing shoppers to continue to browse before purchasing their plants. There was even a room for refreshments, replete with coffee, tea, strudel, muffins, etc.


IMG_5876About ten of us managed to work our way to a long table where we rested and chatted and put the world to right on a cold and cloudy winter day. It was a casual gathering as members wandered about, left purchases with one of us while they ran back for another treasure. While my friends walked out with well-wrapped packages, I managed to leave without making a purchase.  I did, however,manage to capture a few photos to share with you.

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Perhaps I’ll venture back one day soon and buy a cymbidium. IMG_5879IMG_5845IMG_5917


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