Category Archives: The Block

For Auld Lang Syne, For Sure

Happy 2017 everyone. I’ve de-Christmased the house in preparation for an organizing binge. More on that later.

Was going to make a bunch of appetizers for New Year’s Eve, but apparently while I was sleeping there was a run on mini-pita breads and red pepper jelly so Imma gonna just bookmark this recipe for chicken salad pitas right here for next time.

Did make these tidbits though.  Easy and can be served warm or at room temperature.

Beef Tenderloin Crostini with Caramelized Onions and Horseradish Cream Sauce

For the beef:
2-3 lb. beef tenderloin roast
2 tsp kosher salt
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

For the onions:
1 medium size yellow onion
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP unsalted butter
pinch of salt, pepper and cayenne pepper

For the cream sauce:
1/2 cup lite sour cream
1 TBSP prepared horseradish
1 TBSP pink peppercorns, crushed or ground

1 long French baguette, sliced into thin rounds.

The day before you cook it, place beef on a rack on cookie sheet. Coat the beef with the salt and place uncovered in a refrigerator overnight (gotta trust me here).

The next day, take beef out of refrigerator about 1 hour before you are ready to cook.  Heat oven to 425ºF. Rub beef with the 1 TBSP of olive oil and place back on the rack on cookie sheet. Roast about 30 minutes or until the meat temperature reaches 135ºF (that’s my version of medium rare).  Remove from oven and let rest.

While the beef roasts, prepare onions.  Slice onion into thin slices.  Melt butter and oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until onions are fully caramelized, about 20 more minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Place slices of baguette on a different baking sheet and toast rounds for about 10-15 minutes.

Combine sour cream, horseradish and a pinch of the ground pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate until needed.

When ready to assemble, thinly slice the beef (an electric knife is a useful thing here). Place a smidge of onions on each toast, top with a slice of beef, a dollop of the cream and sprinkle with some ground pink pepper.  If you had fresh parsley around, you could also chop that finely and sprinkle on for some color.

Here’s a quick recap of Plaid Christmases.

Kids table

Blurry grown-up table

The gang from Plaid Christmas One


Made a new cocktail that was a hit, even with the Manhattan die hards. #diehardisachristmasmovie.  It’s call Santa’s Little Helper from blogger Aunt Peaches.

All you do is soak two cinnamon sticks and a bunch of whole cranberries in good bourbon overnight. Note – Aunt Peaches uses cloves. I’m not a fan, I think they overpower. Make your own call, I’m not the boss of you!  The next day, fill a glass with ice.  Pour in three parts infused bourbon, one part triple sec, and fill the glass with Sprite or even diet Sierra Mist. Garnish with the cranberries from the bourbon.

Onward folks.  We saw 2016 off in style, at the Harrison’s last Illinois-based NYE bash before they take the party back to the land of Oz.

There were lots of laughs and many tears.  We will miss these people with all our hearts.

But not their Vegemite.

A cup o’ kindness to you all and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2017.


It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like The Middle of February

Seriously, 11 degrees below zero in the middle of December?  Two major snowstorms? Is the universe trying to stop Plaid Christmas?!  Because nothing stops Plaid Christmas. Nothing!

All right, well, the weather did move the first Plaid Christmas back by a week. But I’ll give you the recipes now because now next week I’m doing two Plaid Christmases (Christmasi??) in two days. So not likely going to feel like recipe writing. And thanks to The Block

we did an impromptu practice Plaid Christmas last night when the original got pushed back.

However, moving Plaid Christmas One closer to Plaid Christmas Two allowed me to go to a cookie exchange yesterday.

Twas a bittersweet cookie exchange though to honor our dear friends, the Harrisons, who are moving back to Australia. The Block will be all the less kind, funny and joyful without them. *stupid computer got something in my eyes again*

For the exchange I made these Brown Butter Sugar Cookies from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

We tried multiple toppings and all agreed sanding sugar was a better topping than sprinkles. But everyone loved them, even Drummer Boy, who is not a big cookie eater.

However, those cookies were incorrectly attributed by me on Instagram to What’s Gaby Cooking. So to make up for it, I made her Molasses Cookies. Couldn’t be easier.  Used a scant two tablespoon cookie scoop and cooked 2 minutes longer than the recipe called for.

As a gift for the hostess and a snack for Plaid Christmas (one cannot exist on Chex Mix alone. JK – yes you can) I made these Union Square Cafe Nuts via Smitten Kitchen.  Only thing I did different is reduced the cayenne pepper a little. Glad I did, they still have heat at the end, but not overwhelming.

On to the meal. Totally pulled a Rachel from Friends – a layer of jelly, a layer of ground beef – when making GF meatballs and marinara sauce simultaneously.  I started the meatballs, paused probably to tell the cat to get off the table, then looked up a the meatball recipe and continued. That is, until I got to the “add a whole can of tomatoes”. That seemed wrong. Yep, was following the marinara recipe in the middle of the meatball recipe.

I soldiered on though, and what a happy accident indeed. So I present to you:

Accidental Gluten Free Meatballs

1 lb. ground beef
1/3 heaping cup of gluten free panko crumbs
scant 1/4 cup of milk (I actually used a little less)
1/2 TBSP dried parsley
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
3 TBSP finely minced onion
1 egg
2 TBSP olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl with your hands until fully incorporated. Shape in to balls with about 2-3 tablespoons of meat per meatball. Heat oil in a skillet and add meatballs. Brown, turning very gently, until browned all over.  Place meatballs on a greased baking pan and cook until done, about 15-20 minutes. These can be chilled and reheated in the sauce.

Plaid Christmas will include Skinnytaste’s Crockpot Bolognese Sauce and Two Peas and Their Pod’s Slow Cooker Marinara.  That way we take care of the meat eaters, the vegetarians, the gluten free crowd and the butter noodles crowd. Trying a new GF pasta, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Will also be making the world’s easiest Rosemary Roast Salmon that I’ve talked about before. The only thing I do differently is mix olive oil with dijon mustard and pinch of chopped rosemary and rub it over the salmon before putting the lemons on. It’s a hit every time and can be prepped ahead and kept in the fridge.  Thanks to The Block for taking care of yesterday’s salmon with gusto

all the while not being allowed in the front room or dining room because I had already set the tables before Plaid Christmas was moved. So it was a cozy practice Plaid Christmas.

In between all these festivities, we had one of the best School of Rock shows to date. Drummer Boy, Guitar Boy and friend and neighbor Singer Girl were all in the Motown band together and they killed it.

See Kevin’s Facebook account for some video footage if you are interested. Or I can send you some, I only have like 40GB of video though #proud parent.

I would be remiss in all my talk about Plaid Christmas – which, by the way, I’ve been planning for 4 years because that’s the McNamara Christmas rotation – if I did not link to one of the funniest annual features on the internet.  The 2016 Hater’s Guide to The Williams-Sonoma Catalog.  Even though it is a little close to home this year (ok I know he’s making fun of me), it still is one of my favorite reads. Not safe for delicate eyes though.

May Santa bring you all a Murder Vacuum.   Have a great holiday everyone.


Dry Rub Dry Run

They say practice makes perfect.  I don’t know about that, but people do seem to enjoy the practice efforts.
20161106_124906_resizedThe Kiddie Cocktails do make it go down a little easier, if ya know what I’m sayin’

First up, the turkey.  I made this Cranberry Dry Rub from Foodie with Family. The only snafu was I could not find freeze dried cranberries anywhere. So I had to oven-dry Craisins as I mentioned in a prior post. Nonetheless, I used Foodie with Family’s Turkey recipe, replacing sweet potatoes with regular and used butter instead of olive oil. Turned out great.

20161106_121008_resizedThe potatoes underneath were just so-so. But not to fear, made Smitten Kitchen’s Sweet Potato Roast. Even people who don’t like sweet potatoes liked these.


Made Pioneer Woman’s Beautiful Brussel Sprouts. Sorry PW, it’s not you, it’s me. Just not a huge sprout fan.


And now this.

20161106_124145_resizedHey, it is practice after all. I might add, this was the only dish completely polished off.

We finished with Smitten Kitchen’s Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crumble with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious.

20161106_140441_resizedI found some gluten free gingersnaps yesterday at Whole Foods. Might try this again for McNamara Christmas. Which is what I’m practicing for today!

That’s right, I have 6 events in 45 days here. So there’s a lot of list-making and practicing coming up.  For now,  I think I’ll practice with some sangria.


And leave you with this, from our event last night at the Museum of Science and Industry. I hope science can fix whatever is wrong with Guitar Boy’s neck.

dsc_0312Have a great week and a safe and warm Thanksgiving everyone.

A Very Tardy End of Summer Post – In Poetic Verse

Editor’s Note: It’s better if you sing it to the tune of Gilligan’s Island.

We went on vacation to Michigan City
With a quick stop in Grand Beach
We drove home for bit, 12 hours to be exact,
Then South Bend we did reach
Then South Bend we did reach.

We came back home and went to camp
Practiced instruments for a singing señora
Because with sBork now joining the band
We rocked out in Aurora
We rocked out in Aurora.

Then me and mBork made a feast
for the post-show rock and roll crowd
With so many families here at once,
The children were really loud,
The children were really loud.

And next thing you know the Second Set
Was turning ten years old,
With Drummer Boy
and Miss M too
the Big C and his smile
A movie star
Baby D and a Nemo hood
Here on Lucky Rhino!


Sweet house we rented:


Sweet kids we took:


Sweet drumsticks I made:


I made these Honey Teriyaki Drumsticks from Skinnytaste.  Doubled the recipe, didn’t use sesame seeds (Drummer Boy has a bad reaction – and you never know when he might actually enjoy the food I cook!). These got thumbs up all around from those who do eat food.  Served with white rice with extra sauce spooned over.  Yum!

Since it was vacation, it begged for dessert. Begged, wouldn’t shut up about it. So if you are going to do dessert, go big, go YUGE, go Pioneer Woman’s Easy Peach Dumplings.  Turn this


Into this:


You feel like a horrible person while making these.  So much butter! Soda! Processed dough! Trust me, you get over it when they are done and topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. FYI – I used one of the tiny cans of Sprite you can buy at Target.  6 oz. maybe, but not a regular size one.

Unfortunately we had to go to South Bend for Kevin’s dad’s memorial service. There are lots of places on the internet to read about how great Bill Guilfoile was, but here is one from Kevin.

Even though the circumstances were sad, the cousins enjoyed getting together.  It’s probably been about 4 years since we’ve all been in one place.  So logically, we played a card game (Mafia) where people had to gang up on each other and accuse each other of crimes.  Natch.

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The Big Show

The boys and sBork did a great show for School of Rock. They represented the Austin City Limits festival with B-52s, Weezer and Billy Idol.


DSC_0804 (1)

DSC_0850So we has a Aprés Rock Show get together for those who came to the show.  With an Asian themed dinner party.  Just like all the hep bands do.

I made this Asian Chopped Salad also from Skinnytaste.  It’s a great salad, colorful and crunchy.


And mBork made these Dragon Noodles which were


She also made Asian Marinated flank steak and I did a basic grilled chicken with an lightly spiced brine.

Grilled Chicken with Asian Brine
Heat 8 cups water with 8 TBSP salt and 4 TBSP sugar, 1/2 tsp ground ginger and 3 splashes of low sodium soy sauce.  Heat only until salt and sugar dissolved. Once cool, place chicken parts (we used boneless breasts) in bag or covered bowl with brine to cover and put back in the refrigerator. Boneless – brine up to 6 hours before, bone-in could probably stay in longer.  Take out, dry off and grill as you normally would. Discard the brine.

The Big 1-0

The Second Set are all turning 10 within sixteen days in August/September so we had the family party.


I made Olympic themed goody boxes with my Avery template that I’m always going on about. Filled them with Cheetos, pretzels, red/white/blue Hershey’s kisses – you know, the snacks of champions.


I was in charge of salads so I made a Zippy Orzo Summer Salad from Pinch of Yum.  Spinach, fresh corn, garlic, cucumbers.  A bowl of summer.  The only thing I did differently was I did not add chicken and I sautéed the baby spinach with the corn and garlic.


Also made this Nancy’s Chopped Salad from Smitten Kitchen. Didn’t use chickpeas because although I like them pureed (hummus) or fried crunchy (Vistro restaurant in Hinsdale, check it out), I don’t like them whole.  Go figure.


And then we had a majority of the Expensive People* over for Pizza Night (*so named because the first time we went out over 16 years ago, it got a leeeeetle out of hand food and drink-wise at the restaurant).


And now it’s back to school.


Back to the daily grind, the piles of homework, soccer practice and certainly cut down on the parties. Well, until the next Pizza Night!

Have a great week everyone!


Warm Weather Appetizers But Not Hot Weather, Because Gross

Our neighbors (with babies** – yay!) invited everyone down for a last minute “just because” appetizer and dessert party. I took stock of what was in the fridge and took my cookbook collection to tell me what to make.


Can’t go wrong with Ina Garten at the Barefoot Contessa.  You can assume that because as you can see on the right, I have 6 of her books. But they have literally never failed me. (P.S I’m lying about this collection – there is another set of shelves full of cookbooks. And two binders worth of ripped out magazine recipes. OK..four binders.  OK.. four binders sorted by meal course and color coded. Sigh.)

I went with her Roasted Shrimp Cocktail.  However, I took the suggestion of “Robert Y” in the comments on the same recipe at the Food Network site and brined the shrimp, tossed in olive oil and Old Bay seasoning and preheated the pans so the undersides cooked without having to flip a bunch of shrimp – genius!.  Turned out great. In fact, I’d urge you to make this sauce instead of picking up a jar the next time you need a seafood sauce. It is easy-peasy and the taste if soooooo much better than jarred.


But I had cherries and nothing in my bajillion books was inspiring me.  To the internet!!  I decided on a sweet/savory Cherry Crostini two ways.  I adapted it from Bon Appetit’s Savory Cherry Crostini recipe and Heather Christo’s Roasted Cherry Crostini.


Cherry Crostini

2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
3 cups pitted, halved cherries (I used Yellow Rainer)
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
pinch of salt and pepper
pinch of sugar
log of goat cheese
best ricotta you can find
balsamic glaze (I used this one from Trader Joe’s)
extra thyme leaves
sea salt
skinny baguette, sliced and toasted

Heat the olive oil in a saute or frying pan over medium heat.  Once hot, add the cherries, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper.  Saute until soft and just beginning to brown (3-5 minutes) but not completely mush, you want them to look like cherries.  Remove from heat and cool. I actually put it in the refrigerator for use later.

When ready to go to, spread some of either the goat cheese or the ricotta on the toasted baguette slices. Top the goat cheese one with a spoonful of cherry mixture, a sprinkle of additional thyme leaves and pinch of sea salt.  Top the ricotta one with the cherry mixture and drizzle just the tiniest bit of balsamic glaze over top.

**By the way, to me babies = anyone still talking in a tiny voice. So thanks for the party, guys!


Have a lovely week everyone.

And, it’s Summer.

So, the last couple of months were a blur.  Grab a beverage of your choice and let’s catch up.

So, as promised lo’ those many months ago, the photo from the TV Trivia Night school fundraiser. Our table’s theme was Saturday Night Live and I think we can all agree, we brought it!


Including the wine labels made just for the occasion.

SNL bottles

Made this dish about four Sundays ago. It’s Smitten Kitchen’s Sheet Pan Chicken Tikka and it couldn’t be easier. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a dish with minimal oversight and mess.


The only thing I did differently is subbed carrots for cauliflower. Because cauliflower is one of the few vegetables I just can’t stand. Yeah, that’s right all you “but you haven’t tried cauliflower pizza crust yet – then you’ll love it” people.  No, I won’t love it because I’ll pass out from the smell of grinding it into a “dough”.  So just leave it alone. We’re done here.

I’m in a big tumeric phase.  It’s a great, natural anti-inflammatory and since I had pneumonia a couple of weeks ago (yep, why catch any old cold when you fly.  Go big, I always say!!!) I’ve also been making this tumeric “tea”. Very soothing.

Tumeric Tea

Combine 1/8 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp tumeric, 1 TBSP honey, juice of 1/2 a large lemon (or to taste) and 6 oz. boiling water.  Stir to dissolve everything.  And when you are home by yourself, no one argues with you about who got the Yoda mug “last”.


We had another successful School of Rock show – Aerosmith.  With a special appearance by a Duxbury Cousin.


Drummer Boy’s tattoos still haven’t worn off.  Should I be concerned about what those are made of?!

So within two months it went from cold and rainy, one day of 60 degrees (aka, Spring) and now it is summer.  And not just any summer, last day of elementary school for Guitar Boy.  Off to junior high next year *this computer got something in my eyes again*


But the last day of school was followed quickly with the hallowed tradition of Pet Parade!  We’ve been making Drummer Boy and Singer Girl take the same picture every year since they were babies.



They have been getting only marginally more tolerant of it in the last 9 years.


So what was on deck tonight?

Making the Greek Flank Steak and Hummus Platter from How Sweet It Is.  Made it a couple weeks back and liked it so much we’re doing it again.


The only thing I did different is no olives (see also, cauliflower) and I made some homemade Skordalia.  It’s delicious thinned out as a dip for naan, as I did, or leave it a thicker mash as a side dish.



2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 tsp kosher salt
6 cloves garlic (I used Trader Joes crushed and frozen)
3/4 cups slivered almonds
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 TBSP Champagne vinegar (you could probably substitute white wine vinegar)
2 TBSP fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup water or reserved potato water
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.


Place peeled potatoes in a pot and cover with water.  Add the teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer about 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are completely tender.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the potato water if you can.  Let potatoes cool.

Put almonds, garlic and olive oil in a food processor and process to a paste.

Mix, mash or put potatoes through a ricer (that’s what I did).   Add the oil mixture, lemon juice, vinegar and mash.  Add water or reserved potato water a little at a time until you get the consistency you like.  Mix in salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with grilled naan or pita chips as a dip, or just like mashed potatoes as a side.

And you see that cup in the lead picture.  I may have accidentally gone to Tuesday Morning where they had these Napa Style cups.  So I then accidentally made a Strawberry Basil Mule.

Strawberry Basil Mule

WHAT YOU NEED (for 2 drinks)

1 cup frozen strawberries
3 oz vodka (I used Tito’s)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 TBSP Agave nectar or simple syrup
6 sliced fresh strawberries
10 oz chilled ginger beer or ginger ale
2 springs basil


Tear off a leaf of basil and tear the leaf. Run it around the rim of the glasses to release the oil.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the frozen strawberries, a handful of ice cubes, the lemon juice, the agave and vodka.  Shake until cold and combined then strain into two glasses.  Add fresh strawberries and top with ginger beer.  Add the remaining basil sprigs.

And summer vacation begins. As Phineas and Ferb say, the annual problem for our generation, is finding a good way to spend it. Find your best way.

Have a great week everyone.

A Delayed Easter Recap

It’s been a long two weeks. It all started Thursday night (Maundy Thursday – who knew?!) with a work-related ladies poker party. Once we got someone from the Audit Department in there, the rules were official…and then I started to lose. But completely fun nonetheless.


We moved immediately into Good Friday Pizza Night with a visit from Grandma and our Duxbury Guilfoiles.

duxThen onto, of course, The Block’s Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday.

egghuntsignHere they come.


And there they go.

egghunt2Remember that scene in the movie Parenthood where Rick Moranis’ kid knows French and Steve Martin’s kid is all “he likes to hit things with his head” with a bucket on his head?  Yeah, well, welcome to my world.

bucketheadEaster was a lot of the same food as seen in past Easter posts.


Hint: Pasta Blanco is just plain butter noodles but thanks to Uncle Tom I learned how to class the joint up a bit. But there was the addition of this Crunchy Spring Salad from The Kitchn.


Super bright and springy. I added thinly sliced carrots too for color.  Of course, we busted out some new desserts. Well, there were three planned, and two more showed up. As it shall be. I mean really, there are 30 people, you need at least 5 desserts right?


If you need something simple, this Chocolate Toffee Trifle from Or So She Says is super easy as you used boxed cake mix and Heath pieces.

dessertBunny Garden Pudding (bottom right) is just bunny Peeps in Smitten Kitchen’s Best Chocolate Pudding Ever in graham cracker tart shells.  Some of the bunnies fainted from the deliciousness.

And lest we forget a new cocktail!  Grapefruit Daiquiris from How Sweet It Is are delicious, not too sweet and would be fantastic if the weather here ever warms up (to quote my friend Laura T. with respect to this weather – “Mother Nature, I think you are drunk”).


Table favors were teeny, tiny succulents from Mountain Crest Gardens in bunnies.


And my new purple highball (yep, I said highball) glasses from Crate and Barrel.


And then, of course, our own McNamara/Guilfoile/Kuhn Easter Egg Hunt with these fabulous ladies.



mollyEgg won’t fit.


But D don’t care.


And all the cousins in a selfie taking process (which makes for a better picture when they don’t know we’re watching).


I don’t mean to bring the post down, but we ended on a sad note Monday when my step-father Jim passed away.  What can you say about a guy that has five daughters and marries my mom who has four more?

McGovern wed

Only that he was a strong, strong man who loved us all very much.  We will miss you Jim.

And so we don’t end that way, and now this.


And this is picture of me trying to write this blog post tonight with “help”.


We’re going to a trivia contest fundraiser this weekend that involves TV related costumes (which was NOT disclosed to me in advance of me writing the check).  So you have those pictures to look forward to.

Have a great rest of the week.


Well, That Went By Fast

People, I cannot believe it is December 29th. What happened? There was no snow before Christmas (note – hating on the snow now). There was a Wednesday night Pizza Night. There were holidays rendered in cheese.




Ok. I promise, that’s it. No more cheese sculptures. Until it’s time for cheese hearts, cheese shamrocks….  Although I will say that after Cheese Snowman was mangled I made a joke on Instagram about zombies and Darryl Dixon/Norman Reedus’ body double liked my picture. Swoon.

Moving on, I made a lot of different food that wasn’t cheese based. I made these easy Apricot Glazed Chicken Thighs from Shutterbean on one busy weeknight. Super fast and super delicious. Didn’t take a picture because, well, we’ve been over how my brown food photography skills are. So you’ll just have to trust me and make it soon.

This Big Italian Salad from Once Upon a Chef:


The dressing for this salad was really good. I think it would go well with any type of salad you want. And probably fantastic during summer with freshly grown herbs.

For Christmas Eve dinner, I did what I always do, Smitten Kitchen’s Braised Short Ribs with mashed potatoes. The crowd demands it. Plus you can make it the day before.


In the treats category, How Sweet Eats Peppermint Pattie Brownies


Smitten Kitchen’s Easy Roasted Sugar and Spice Candied Nuts.


Smitten Kitchen’s Mom’s Apple Cake – Guitar Boy’s favorite.


Gluten Free Chocolate Pan Cake from King Arthur Flour. With their Easy Chocolate Frosting. It was good. LIght and fluffy. I used milk and not water as we aren’t watching dairy.


For both Neighbors Christmas and Mac Christmas I made everyone sprinkles mix using Avery design website again.

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My favorite one was “Bears on the Glen” mix with green sprinkles on the bottom and orange and blue on the top. Get it? Fun, right? I’ll understand if you want to leave and click back over to Facebook now.

As to presents, we had a very llama/narwhal-heavy Christmas. Want some salt or pepper?  No probllama!


And of course, Star Wars figured prominently. Went to the movie too and it was great.


One of my favorite gifts was this handmade artwork by Fake Sister.


Or from my Nerd collection of gifts, maybe my very-hard-to-photograph Mother of Dragons wine glasses.


Or maybe this?


Ah yes, just like my childhood, when my mom would make 2001: A Space Odyssey pancakes every Sunday.

There were Christmas carols at GG’s.


And we did some Christmas Crackers this year (the English party favor kind, not the snowflake-shaped Ritz kind). Then the kids put on a musical number with bells that were in the crackers, as expertly directed by me. Well, “expertly” might be a bit of a stretch. As is “musical number.” A clanging mess just might be slightly more accurate. At least they all cooperated for the picture.



So I’ll take a one day breather, and then on to New Year’s Eve, Guitar Boy’s New Year’s Day family party brunch and then some classmates coming over to celebrate his birthday with Nerf and Halo–as one does as a tween–on Saturday. There will be some Avery projects and a significant amount of puff pastry goin’ on the next few days. I’ll report back as soon as I dig out.

Have a safe and happy New Year everyone. Peace out 2015.

From Halloween Roundup to
Practice Thanksgiving

For those who live in Chicago-land, it was your typical, rainy and cold Halloween. Followed immediately by a week of gorgeous 70 degree days. D’oh!

The rain didn’t stop the intrepid Green Arrow and Coke Can though, joined by their friend the Jawa.

or spooky porch decorations from being up, complete with fog bubbles

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or dads from The Block, providing images that nightmares are made of.

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Post trick-or-treating we came back here for some chili, Smitten Kitchen’s Easy Baked Mac-and-Cheese (I didn’t take a picture, so just imagine….mac and cheese) and of course, pizza.  We had a kids drink station, complete with haunted lamp and Sprite with brain ice-cubes (oh the things you find when you clean up your utility room after eight years!).

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Mbork made spooky deviled egg eyeballs


We made Halloween chocolate covered pretzels with bloody eyes (as one does)


And we also had this Hot Maple Bourbon Cider from Foodie with Family. Delicious. What is wrong with me, why do I suddenly like the hint of bourbon? Oh, no! I’m old!

Ok, that’s done. NEXT!

On to Practice Thanksgiving. Here is what was tried:

The Pioneer Woman’s basic Thanksgiving stuffing.


Food 52’s Andouille and Cornbread Stuffing and Martha’s Bacon and Herb Turkey Breast.


Yep, bacon in your turkey. That’s a thing.

Food and Wine’s Maple Ginger Roasted Vegetables. I only did carrots and Brussel sprouts because that’s what I had. And at the last minute, and because there was clear demand for the can-shaped cranberry relish *now with more can ridges!*  I decided to use the leftover cranberries from the stuffing to make a fresh cranberry sauce. I’ve done all sorts cranberry sauces with a bevy of fancy ingredients over the years: orange zest, Grand Marnier, ginger, citrus, etc. Yet this sauce won over even the most die hard non-cranberry eater next door.

Easy Cranberry Sauce

WHAT YOU NEED (for 5 adults)
2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot.  Cook about 10 minutes until cranberries burst, stirring frequently. Crush the cranberries with your spoon, but leave some whole.  It will thicken naturally.  That’s it.  All in, you’re talking about 15 minutes. No tubular plop sound and it lacks the slicing precision of the canned stuff, but delicious nonetheless.


While some liked the andouille sausage and cornbread stuffing, we didn’t think it was right for the Thanksgiving vibe.  So Pioneer Woman wins that round. The turkey is a keeper, though if I do a deconstructed turkey again, that means putting the bacon butter compound into all the pieces. But, then again, gravy flavored like bacon. Soooo…….yes.

And now, this.

IMG_1798Have a great week everyone.

Fall Fall and a Little More Fall

So many Honeycrisp apples.  Decided to do an apple based dinner.  And dessert.  But no, no apple dessert because despite cleaning out the kitchen benches to allow me to see all the pans,

leading me to believe I, in fact, owned ALL the pans, I did not have the right size pan for the apple cake I wanted to make.  Sure I could have substituted a different pan, but I didn’t. Because, math.

So dinner went on as planned otherwise with Cider Braised Chicken with Spiced Butternut Squash from How Sweet It Is.  I’ll be totally honest, I was not loving how this smelled before it went in the oven. Really strong.  So much so I was texting guests to say “I’m not sure about this so manage your expectations”.  But how dare I doubt Jessica at How Sweet It Is.  This was delicious. I didn’t use the mushrooms because mushrooms and I are not friends. But you go ahead and add them if you like.


And as a side I did my standard Apple Walnut Salad. This is very versatile salad.  You can add almost any crunchy vegetable you like. If you don’t like blue cheese, leave it off, or substitute with goat cheese or maybe even ricotta salata.  Whatevs.

Everyday Apple Walnut Salad
3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
3 TBSP maple syrup
2 TBSP apple cider vinegar
1 TBSP dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and pepper
Bag of your favorite lettuce (I use Romaine)
1/2 bag of baby spinach
2 Honeycrisp apples, cored and diced
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup crumble blue cheese (optional for the haters)
Any other crunchy vegetable you want (celery, shredded carrots, jicama)

Mix first 5 ingredients in a jar and shake to make dressing.  Combine the remaining salad ingredients in a bowl and toss with the dressing.

So about that dessert. Having softened 12 tablespoons of butter before my discovery of my need to go to TJ Maxx/Homegoods to get a 10 inch non-springform cake pan (I HAVE to, I have no choice!), I searched for other recipes that needed 12 tablespoons of softened butter. And lo’ and behold, Cookies and Cups comes through again with Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Salty Butterscotch Sauce.


I didn’t have time to make the sauce, so I just melted some Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Sauce and poured in on top. I don’t think anyone stormed out in protest.

And the Halloween Block Party 2015 went off without a hitch.  I made The Pioneer Woman’s totally 80’s Bacon Appetizer. Because who doesn’t want a warm cheese coated bacon wrapped cracker on a cool fall day.  No one, no one doesn’t want that (hmm?).  There was also mummy wrapping,


pinatas, DSC_1024 fear factor,


tug of war,


and bobbing for donuts.


We had it all.  Just like Bogey and Bacall (the kids love that reference).  But mostly, we had live action Hungry Hungry Hippos.

You wish you lived here. You can admit it.

Next up, Halloween decor faves. Happy Thursday.