Archive for the 'Cooking' Category

Last-Minute Father’s Day Gift Ideas (if your baby daddy is anything like mine)

Dad wants to smoke meat. It’s primitive, it’s delicious, there’s a technique to it that Dad can constantly hone (keeping him occupied outside for hours, which he likes). It does not have to be super fancy. In fact, although you can make your own (which sounds right up dad’s alley), we found for the cost of materials, you can get a decent one from a place like Menards and you don’t have to built it.

Dad wants beer. Good beer. Check out the unique selection of Pipeworks Brewing Co. (PBC), a new small-batch craft brewery out of Chicago (check out facebook for releases and distribution). If you can’t make it to our beautiful city to buy dad a hoppy IPA or a malty porter from the fine men of PBC, visit your local liquor store and get Dad a craft brew with a rad label.

Dad wants an important-looking bottle opener on his key chain to open his craft beer bottles. Dig this nifty church key-looking one from SuckUK.



Dad wants a cool shirt. You’ve got your Threadlesses, your Snorgs, your BustedTees. Christ, even Target carries a decent selection of ironic/vintage/meme-y shirts. Those are fine and good, but consider an original, hand-printed shirt from design group Slow Loris out of Guemes Island, Wash. They have some sick new designs out now, but my all-time favorite is the auto engine diagram shirt I got for my husband. Your dad will thank you (especially if he’s broken down and needs to find the ignition wire).

Dad wants to be lazy. In the shade. Being rocked gently by the summer’s breeze. Sound a little corny? Guess what? Dad is also corny. Get him a hammock. In return, he will finish up those “honey-do” and “daddy-do” lists from all the energy he’s restored from lazing around in his human cocoon. Hey, I bet he’d even share it.

Dad wants to survive the apocalypse. He read “The Road,” loves “Walking Dead” and “Survivorman” and now it’s his mission to keep his kinfolk safe not if, but when disaster strikes. “SAS Survival Handbook” will offer him peace of mind as we approach the revelation.


Bottom line: Get Dad an ugly tie, he’ll wear it. Buy him the wrong wrench, he’ll find use for it. That’s the beauty of dads. They aren’t picky. Truth is, he’d be happy with a six pack of PBR and hot dogs grillin’ on a Smokey Joe. As long as you’re by his side.


Bye, Bye Baby Weight

When I first started this blog, I hadn’t zeroed in on children’s music quite yet. I was a longtime writer and new mom just looking for an outlet to discuss, well, everything under the sun (and “son,” hehe). I posted here and there about meal planning, baby food and family nutrition. Oh yeah, and a little lamenting about my struggle to lose my baby weight.

It wasn’t until last August that my husband and I initiated a lifestyle that matched the values I discussed so much back then. I’m happy to say six months to almost the day, I am 40 pounds lighter. The time breezed by, but I learned so much (and am excited about what I have yet to discover). The loss was slow and steady, so I’ve cherished every pound that’s vanished, every new notch on my belt and every minute I can run on the treadmill. Running. I know. Crazy!

We’re cooking a lot of really amazing dishes. The fridge is full of fresh produce to the point that I broke my vegetable drawer the other day (oops!). Cocoa roast almonds take up the cupboard space where boxes of Raisinettes used to reside (though they never lasted very long). I have something called flaxseed meal in my baking supplies now and it rocks my world. The highlight of my weekend was using it to make a “muffin in a minute” and it’s a top breakfast request from Ollie.

I’m sure it’s suspicious – annoying, even – when people ask me how hard it was and about all the sacrifices I’ve had to make, when I tell them with honesty that after the initial week of junk food detox, it’s been incredibly easy and actually very exciting to cook with new foods and recipes. I have not had a sugar crash in forever. I don’t get headaches. I am not winded walking up stairs. I can run with (and after) my child with ease. I have not been either ravenously hungry or sickeningly full in six months. I’ve found healthy ways to cope with the bad days and there are WAY fewer bad days now. I’d be lying if I said it was difficult.

Phew! Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Maybe it will mean another lost pound! 🙂

OK, back to rockin’ out!

Riot Grrrl Weekend

Sara Marcus reading from her book "Girls to the Front" at Qumby's, Chicago.

I had a really amazing Saturday doing much-needed catching up/girl hang-time in Wicker Park with my ladies, which included feeling the riot grrrl love at the Chicago book tour stop of “Girls to the Front”. Author Sara Marcus (her new book is the definitive history of Riot Grrrl) read from the first chapter, and did a Q&A with music journo Jessica Hopper, then the attendees. Sunday kicked off grubbing at the local family restaurant with my boys and BFF followed by serious pumpkin carving, acorn squash roasting and pizza making.

“Girls to the Front”

Being in that room full of riot grrrls pushing 40, a few teens and 20-somethings carrying the torch and even one proud riot grrrl mom who looked to be about my mom’s age – it was comforting to know riot grrrl did not just fizzle out when the zines ceased or Bikini Kill broke up. As long as we’re alive, it’s alive. And I’m glad someone – particularly someone who remembers it, cares about it and spent five years doing it right – documented it in this way. Being in the company of these women had me realizing, too, that at least some of those women are also moms now. And that is rad as hell.

This whole idea of teenagers and 20-somethings fed up with the patriarchal punk scene where they’re just decoration at the shows; politicians telling them what they can and can’t do with their OWN bodies; and the ominous feeling of alienation at school/home and then doing something grass-roots/creative/peaceful (albeit often loud) about it – it’s MIND-BLOWING to me. Girls with NO resources who have NO networks and NO Internet,  found each other based on a mutual need to make life better for themselves and their friends – and it spread underground like wildfire.

My sailor tattoo-inspired swallow jack-o-lantern.

Gay Teens – the New Riot Grrrls?

All of this reminiscing led me to draw a parallel to the current gay rights movement, particularly in the teen community. Gay rights has SO much in common with riot grrl (and RG has always been nothing if not LGBT-friendly and outspoken about gender/queer equality issues to boot). You have a bunch of people who are largely being treated like shit by their peers, misunderstood by their families and churches and being completely infringed upon by the government. It’s like everyone is against them, but there is so much power, strength and ambition in their numbers and their allies – it’s just a matter of finding them. I know there’s always been a strong gay scene for artists, musicians and zinesters – I’d love to see them organize more on the gay rights platform like riot grrrl organized on the feminist platform. I’d like to see it start with young gay people who are tired of feeling alone and defeated. I think the timing is great. Gay teens NEED this right now. It could save lives.

“2011: The Revenge of Print”

The whole riot grrrl discussion and zine-lined walls/ambiance at the bookstore got me super amped to participate in this zine challenge in 2011 where former zinesters cut, paste and photocopy “the next issue” they never got to make for whatever reason. If it works out, the third issue of my college zine “Hush Kitty” will have been 13 years in the  making. Ha! The best part of this project will be reconnecting with my contributors – all who have gone on to do great things from pursuing a Ph.D. in France to coming out and moving to Portland. I can’t wait to see what everybody submits!

Acorn squash, halved, rubbed and ready to bake. Or "flowers" as Ollie called them.

Fall Flavas!

On a lighter note, I found a good recipe for what has always been a super-easy/delicious fall dish: Acorn Squash with brown sugar and butter. My only note to this recipe is that I was running out of maple syrup, so I substituted one of the two tablespoons with honey, which turned out great.

Om Nom Nom Nom: Meal Planning and Stuff

Rules blow and menu planning seems forced. I hate diets because I don’t like being told what/how much to eat. But if I’m honest, my family desperately needed to meal plan, so I made a fun, not-too-strict din-din routine we can live with. So far, this is the first week I remembered Meatless Mondays (after about three fails). I usually have turkey sausage for breakfast and that has been really hard to break on Monday mornings when my head’s still super foggy from the weekend (excuses, excuses!).

Let me just say Taco Tuesday is the bomb, Pizza Friday coming in at a close second. But we really, really need to work on Wild Card Wednesday. That’s our time to be creative and try something new. We’ve kind of been sucking at that. Do you meal plan? What is your favorite foodie night?

Foodie Friday: Phony Fiber, Vapid Veggies

Remember you kind of secretly knew miniature chocolate chip cookie cereal was not an acceptable breakfast, but begged your mom for a box of Cookie Crisp anyway? For my sisters and me, it was a Saturday morning treat.

Remember slurping up Chef Boyardee Beefaroni so obnoxiously that it left you with a brownish-red sauce mustache? And were you shocked the first time you saw and tasted actual pasta bolognese? Or maybe you are like me and although you can spot authentic food, you still find comfort in canned slop on occasion.

I admit to eating and enjoying junk food sometimes. But even at a young age, I knew the difference between actual food and junk food. And we always had a variety of homemade dinners and fresh fruit and veggies in the house.

As a newish mom, I am really having a hard time with corporations trying to slip vitamins, nutrients and fiber into junk food, though, thinking they are going to win points with parents.

If you’re a parent and  you think it’s OK not to offer veggies to your child anymore b/c the Chef is now putting a serving in their faux canned pasta, you’re wrong.

If you think you don’t need to serve your kids fresh fruits and whole grains because Kellogg is adding fiber to their sugary cereals, think again.

I’d like to give parents more credit than to believe they think it’s OK to use processed foods to supplement fiber/vegetable intake.

And for the parents like me that KNOW you can’t plop a dish of Beefaroni down in front of your kids and expect that to sustain them, don’t you feel a little insulted? Do we appear so lazy and ignorant that marketing people are going there?! And about the kids – is it wrong to teach them that veggies can taste good and shouldn’t be frowned upon?

If you’re truly struggling to get your child to eat real food, consider getting creative with food like this lady.

As always, I encourage everyone to vote with their forks, question the  marketing hype and for goodness sakes, give your kids (and yourselves) a little more credit!

Foodie Friday: A Chat With EyeCandy’s Nichole V.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For our first Foodie Friday, I’d like to introduce you to someone who is near and dear to my heart: my sister and confection connoisseur Nichole V. Some of my earliest foodie memories include cooking and baking with this lady on weekends when my mom was at work and my dad was occupied with yardwork or car projects. This freedom to create in the kitchen inspired her life-long passion for cooking and baking. To this day, even informal gatherings around her kitchen island turn into bountiful feasts of epic proportions! No one goes hungry in Nichole’s presence.

Today, she’s taken her life-long panache for whimsical sweets and cake-y treats to the next level with her EyeCandy confections business in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.

Catering friends’ and family members’ baby showers, baptisms and birthday parties was a natural fit for this young mama of six-year-old Nicholas. This summer, her venture has taken off big-time, and just about every weekend, she and biz partner/BFF Becky G. have been up to her eyeballs in flour and sugar for big custom cookie and cupcake orders all over town.

I got the chance to talk to her about the secrets to her sweet success and how she balances baking and being a mom …

EB: What inspires your creations?

NV: Mixing art and food together makes for a happy event. Our clients trust our inspirations and creativity.

EB: What about being in the kitchen makes you feel most at home, most comfortable?

NV: Although a successful recipe largely comes down to science, baking is also very therapeutic. Where else can you listen to your iPod and girl talk all day while playing in flour and sugar?

EB: When did you get EyeCandy off the ground? What were some of your first orders?

NV: EyeCandy was founded in 2001. It started off as kind of a hobby – experimenting with chocolate making holiday candies and cookies for friends and family. One Halloween, we made some taffy apples for a friend and jokingly, she said “You should do this for a living.” After that, we started making taffy apples and cookie designs for friends and family. It wasn’t until a good friend asked us to create a design to raffle off at a silent auction for the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) that we got serious. The design received a lot of attention and sold for more than $160. This opportunity gave us the confidence we needed to take our talents outside the realm of friends and family.

EB: Everyone loves your lemon cookies – they’ve become your signature. How did that come about?

NV: Like any good baker, you need to do your research. After many trials and errors, we finally found a recipe that would stand up to our design but needed a little more pizazz. Lemon is known for brightening up dishes – it seemed like the perfect complement for our sugar cookies. It is our No. 1 seller.

EB: Who inspires you? Do you have a favorite chef?

NV: There is something to say about having a best friend. Mine is Becky G., who I’ve known for 35 years and is also my business partner. I can remember her running over to my house asking my mom if I could come over to bake cookies with her and her mom. I’d drop everything and run right over. Her mom was so patient, letting us crack the eggs, roll out the dough, use her fancy cutters and whip up some of the best buttercream you’ve ever tasted. Honestly, every time we whip up a batch of dough, it takes me right back to my childhood.

EB: What is your calling card? Is it all in the product or do you think your outgoing personality and dedication might have something to do with your success?

NV: The dedication we put into these cookies comes from true passion. Our clients trust us and give us full range to be creative. Becky and I are both very detailed-oriented people. Some might say two strong heads in the kitchen is a recipe for disaster, but we really complement each other.

EB: What are some of the more unique projects you’ve done?

NV: Baby showers and graduations are the most popular requests for cookies. We did centerpieces for the Chicago Bears Super Bowl XLI. Every year, we raffle off a themed basket of cookies for UCP. Bachelorettes will order some “Sex and the City”-type cookies. Cupcakes have been high in demand, as well.

EB: You seem to be a big critic of your work — you’re always “test kitchening” and trying new recipes and tweaks to make your batters and icings. Tell me more about that process.

NV: One thing I will say, practice makes perfect. Every order we do we learn new tricks to make our product better each time.

EB: We have a lot of readers who are parents. What’s balancing parenthood like with the demands of cookies and cupcakes flying out of your kitchen every weekend?

NV: Nicholas (my son) loves to cook/bake. He’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and help out. I make him his own dough to play with. He has his own rolling pin, apron and cutters. This gives him a sense of participation without being front and center when Becky and I are in production with an order. Our general rule is to bake late at night and frost early in the morning when Nick is asleep – that schedule helps me balance my mom duties!

EB: What can we expect from EyeCandy in the future?

NV: We would love to see EyeCandy in a storefront someday. As long as we’re filling orders, we will always remain dedicated to creating sweet treats that are truly unique to each individual and event.

Become EyeCandy and sister company FH Catering’s Facebook fan here. For more information on EyeCandy, contact Nichole at

Something Borrowed: Food Revolution Campaign

Chef Jamie Oliver is doing something awesome for our kids and I caught some of his TV show the other day to see for myself. He’s single-handedly teaching kids and schools how to make food exciting, healthy, affordable and fun by using REAL ingredients.

If you care about the health of our children and the food they eat, take 30 seconds to sign this petition now.

Enter your email addy to subscribe.

Join 21 other followers

Bettie Page Kids Clothing

140-Character Musings