Austrian Liptauer

Spreads and Spreadsheets

How do you handle growing to do lists? Do you tackle them head on until you’re done? Do you tackle a bit at a time taking breaks? Do you procrastinate until you’re nearly out of time to accomplish everything? Or do you handle what you can and let the lower priority items slide? Continue reading

grape tomatoes

Playing with the Queen of Tarts

I’ve lamented here before about my “black thumb.” I have an inability to grow most things (with the exception of a few hardy herbs). Miss A, however, inherited a green thumb from someone, somewhere along the line. She can grow most things, and more importantly keep them alive! Continue reading

whole hog flx wienery

Going Whole Hog – FLX Wienery

We grew up in Chicago. We know sausage. We know hot dogs. In fact, I grew up two blocks from the number one hot dog joint in the country. And after many trips across the border to Wisconsin (Miss A is in fact a legitimate “cheesehead” born in LaCrosse), we know brats. At least that’s what we thought. Then we were introduced to the FLX Wienery in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Continue reading

our view

Ties that Bind

One of the reasons we love the Finger Lakes region of New York is the sense of community. Everyone we come across at the wineries, in the restaurants, along the hiking trails or in one of the many quaint towns along the lakes is friendly, helpful and welcoming. They are always excited to share the stories behind the wine, their wineries, the fresh local fare and creative recipes as well as the many places to visit and things to do; but they’re also just open to simply making friends and sharing experiences. This has been the case both when we traveled with and without the kids and it’s what makes this an area to treasure (and an area we hope to call home someday). our view

Do you ever think about where you plan to live next? Or perhaps you’ve already found your home. Well, for Mike and I our plan is to relocate as soon as these munchkins are grown (but you never know how or when new doors might open). There are just too many things to do and see in this world and we want to explore. After our first trip through the Finger Lakes, it fast became a top contender for our next home – and much to our surprise as this was an area we had never really heard of and stopped through on a whim! So we went back this time trying to be skeptical – playing the devil’s advocate so to speak. You know, perhaps we had just been seeing things through those rose-colored vacation glasses and it wasn’t really everything we remembered. Fruit Packing House

Then we met Tina, our airbnb host for this beautiful little house on their family’s sixth generation farm and vineyard. Tina greeted us like we were long-time friends. We stayed in the old fruit packing house which had been lovingly converted into a beautiful private residence for her mother-in-law to live in when she returns for the summers from Florida. When she’s in Florida the house is rented as a little getaway for two. Her mother-in-law is a painter and many of her works adorn the walls, and the home is filled with natural light and inspirational views out every window. We’ve used airbnb (and similar vacation rental sites) numerous times, and this is easily our favorite of the bunch. While Mike and I spent the majority of our time touring the area, visiting wineries and hitting many of the area’s delicious restaurants, we also spent time with Tina and her husband Eric, which led to one of our most idyllic vacation moments. tying vines

As we drank local wine, shared stories and listened to a local band with Tina, Eric and their good friend Laury (at one of our favorite restaurants which we’ll post about soon), Mike and I expressed our love for the area and for learning about wine and wine production. The next thing we knew Tina invited us to help down at the vineyards. It was time to tie the vines. So, the next morning we met Tina at the farm and she gave us a brief lesson on how to carefully, but securely tie the vines. We spent the next four hours on the side of the hill, with Lake Seneca behind us, vines all around us and the sun on our faces. So much for playing devil’s advocate! The Finger Lakes, once again, called us home. heaven on earth

We learned a few things that morning as we tied the vines of one of our favorite varietals, Cabernet Franc. (Hopefully my black-thumb won’t ruin the 2015 production!) Wine production is an incredibly hands-on and intricate process. It’s labor intensive. It’s detail-oriented. It’s time consuming and it requires a great deal of knowledge. But it’s also peaceful and meditative, challenging and interesting, consistently unique and something that allows for creativity and inventiveness. In fact it’s not unlike cooking to us in that regard. It’s absolutely something we love. We could have stayed out there for days! Alas, we were running short on our time and wanted to squeeze in a few more wineries and restaurants. So after our zen-like morning, we dusted off and stopped in at Red Newt Cellars & Bistro just up the road. Red Newt Cellars

Our motivation for stopping in was three-fold – 1) We wanted to see if they had any little stuffed Red Newt animals to bring home to Miss A (we were tasked with finding her as many winery mascot stuffed animals as possible), 2) We heard they provided a delicious, fresh lunch and had a beautiful deck on which to enjoy it, and 3) They sell Verjooz. Verjooz, or verjuice, was created by our very own hosts – Tina and Eric and the Finger Lakes Food Company, and from the very same grapes we had just been tying! It’s a green juice, harvested from Cab Franc grapes at a Brix measurement of about 10-12. In layman’s terms, that means the grapes are young and still primarily sour. Most table wines are produced from grapes harvested with a Brix measurement between 21 and 25. Verjooz is not something you’d want to drink, but rather use to enhance recipes. It brings freshness to recipes and enhances the flavors of the dish, similar to using a splash of citrus (That’s why they refer to it as the “lime of the vine.”). verjooz

The two recipes that follow, are hardly recipes. They are simple dishes, easily prepared and they hardly need instruction. That said, they are flavorful, delicious and ideal for summer lunch on the deck, in the sun, while enjoying a glass of wine (red or white pairs nicely). They are also perfect for using Verjooz! The first is a grilled cheese sandwich inspired by our lunch at Red Newt (which incidentally was another place we enjoyed meaningful conversations with the tasting room hosts and guests). It’s served on house-made anadama bread with New York state sharp cheddar. Additional ingredients are available including bacon, kale and, when in season, tomatoes. We’re also sharing a recipe for a side dish (which I have been eating as a light lunch as well), a cucumber-dill salad. lunch at Red Newt

The salad is easily assembled in about 10 minutes. Using a mandoline, we sliced an English cucumber and a shallot. cucumber and shallots

Then we chopped up about 1/8 cup of fresh dill. I never used to enjoy dill, but lately I find myself absolutely craving it – on fish, in salads, even on French toast! Interesting how our tastes change over time. dill

We then tossed the veggies with white wine vinegar, Verjooz, honey and salt and pepper. cucumber dill salad

The result is a sweet and sour salad that makes for a great light lunch with some French bread, or a side dish to a picnic meal. Mike and the kids typically don’t enjoy cucumber, but since we were doing a little “cooking around the world” stateside, they were willing to indulge me. (The kids were actually really excited to be cooking for the blog again. They both even stopped playing to help in the kitchen the entire time!) I gave the salad 4 spoons (it’s a winning combo of flavor, simplicity and ease), Mike and Mr. N gave it 3 spoons and Miss A, 2 spoons.

Print the recipe: Cucumber-Dill Salad

bread and butter

For the grilled cheese, the kids buttered the bread and massaged the kale (it really does work!). We also toasted the buttered side of the bread on a griddle until golden brown. massaged kale

We then sauteed the kale with shallots, garlic, a splash of red wine vinegar and Verjooz. kale and shallots

Next we assembled our sandwiches. I chose kale, tomato (heirloom – frozen from last summer) and bacon. The kids opted for only bacon, no surprise there. While I’d prefer they tried the kale, in the spirit of Red Newt, sandwiches are made to order! grilled cheese

Once assembled, we baked the sandwiches at 300F until the cheese was good and melty. I should note here, we didn’t use homemade bread or NY state cheddar, but if you have it on hand, go for it! If you don’t, any bread and sharp cheese combo will do. We used sourdough and Kerrygold Dubliner Cheese. Grilled cheese and kale sandwich

It’s no surprise the sandwiches went over well. It’s hard to go wrong with a grilled cheese sandwich. A hint of sourness from the bread and Verjooz, a salty bite from the bacon and cheese, sweetness from the shallots and tomato, and a slight bitterness from the kale, not to mention the crunch of the toasted bread – it covers nearly the entire flavor profile wheel! Mr. N and Miss A both voted 4 spoons (Actually, Miss A was insisting it was 5 spoons – off our charts!). Mike and I gave them a solid 3 spoons. However, what was surprising is that Mr. N requested to try a bite of my sandwich, kale and all, and liked it! He even said he’d eat one that way next time. Nicely done Verjooz! I think a new slogan might be in order – Verjooz, for making vegetables your kids will eat!!

Print this recipe: Grilled Cheese and Kale Sandwich

Side note: while we didn’t find a red newt for Miss A, she did make out like a bandit from this trip!

Miss A's winery friends.

Miss A’s winery friends posing for a “family picture.” Photography by Miss A.

And a Red Newt (well, black in this case) still made it home. Red Newt Cellars & Bistro

Torrents of Spring

Torrents of Spring – a comical little story by Hemingway if you like satires and are familiar with the writing style of his generation. It’s also a rather fitting description of our life.

Hello! It has been quite some time since our Chopped Challenge. As you may have noticed, we are on a bit of a hiatus here at Eat, Play, Love; however, before we continue the self-imposed pause on our journey, I wanted to share the winning recipes from our big day, a few updates and a teaser.

You may remember, our appetizer basket required the use of rice flour, macadamia nuts, Parmesan cheese and spinach. Miss A and I made a roasted garlic macadamia nut hummus with spinach and macadamia pesto served with rice flour fry bread. While it was delicious it was no match for Mike and Mr. N’s hand-made rice flour pierogi filled with potato and bison meat and served with a butter macadamia nut sauce. pierogi

Print the recipe here: Pierogis

Then we had a meatless basket which challenged us to combine cauliflower, kale, apricots and chili. Miss A and I opted for a slow cooker recipe since we had to jet out mid-event to the birthday party on that cold, snowy day (doesn’t seem fair that months later we’re still waking up to snow!). The strategy paid off in the end when our chili nachos won the round against Mr. N and Mike’s fried vegetable spring rolls with chili apricot sauce. The funny thing is, that I much preferred the boys’ dish. In fact I prefer their take on spring rolls to those I’ve had in restaurants. But the majority rules, and the chili was a hit with the boys who ate leftovers for the rest of the week! chili nachos

Print the recipe here: Chili Nachos

Last, but definitely not least, was our dessert round. This is often the toughest round and typically where Mike’s teams have lost in the past. Dessert is his weakness. It was much the same this year since Miss A and I brought out the berry semi-freddo using the basket ingredients of puff pastry, oreos, peppermint schnapps and cream cheese. It was the clear victor over Mike and Mr. N’s oreo crusted, mint-infused cheesecake. berry semi-freddo

Print the recipe: Berry Semi-Freddo

Thank you again for participating in and following along with our annual Chopped Challenge. It’s one of our favorite things to do as a family each year. Speaking of family, we’re all doing well. Thank you to those of you that have reached out. We are all alive and well, just busy, busy, busy. The kids’ schedules and a few trips and adventures on the horizon have turned our lives a bit upside down once again. We’ve had to reprioritize some things and sadly blogging had to take a back seat.

Miss A is rolling along in first grade and still loving every minute of gymnastics. She and Mike also found time to hit the daddy-daughter dance again this year (notice all those missing teeth!). IMG_4479


As for Mr. N, well, he’s found himself in another play in the city! He auditioned last month and rehearsals are now underway. He’s the only child in the play and has about 100 lines! It is an original screenplay about the Oklahoma City bombing, which was now 20 years ago! He’s very excited, as are practice

Well, that’s all for now folks. I have to run get Miss A’s dinner made before gymnastics. We miss you all and want you know we’re still silently lurking in the blog world. We hope to be back sometime over the summer, at which point we might have some news about our next big adventure. Until then, cheers!

Proud Mama

As promised, we have finally returned to an international cooking post. Many of you know we first founded this blog as a way to try new foods and “to open our children up to other cultures around the world.” Well, it appears as though our efforts are paying off. A few weeks into the new school year, Miss A came home very excited that they had another new student in their 1st grade class. eggs and butter

Now anytime a new student arrives there is much excitement, but this particular student had a very unique story. He didn’t just relocate from another area school or even another state. He came all the way from another country! Miss A was beside herself with excitement, “He had to move here on a plane! And he came from really, really far away and he doesn’t know English!” creaming butter

Miss A couldn’t remember where he came from, but she had an idea, “Maybe we could make a recipe from where he lives for the blog!” I was thrilled. Not only did we have our next country from which to cook, but we had a personal reason to learn about another country. Then her eyes got big and you could see the little wheels just spinning top speed and she said, “Maybe we could even make something for my whole class!” Genius. creaming butter two

With approval from her teacher we set about to find a recipe that would feed 24 while still leaving a few on-hand for us. The first task was to learn the new student’s home country. Miss A set about her duty and discovered he flew all the way to our little neck of the woods from Yemen. We then did a little research on the country and consulted the globe. Miss A and Mr. N were very impressed to learn that Yemen is more than 7,500 miles from our home. Talk about a major move! stand mixing

Miss A gathered a few facts to share with her class and wrote them in her journal. We then found the website, Queen of Sheba Yemeni Recipes. I emailed the author and she graciously pointed me to a recipe that would be both easy to make and easy to serve individually wrapped – the Yemeni Ka’ak. Ka’ak is an Arabic word for cake and the Yemeni version of ka’ak is like a cross between a biscuit and a cookie. Some versions feature different flours or the addition of dates, but we went for the basic recipe. yeast bread

Ka’ak is leavened by yeast – one of my worst fears, but fortunately Miss A is much more skilled with yeast than I. We opted to make the recipe using the stand mixer, best not to take chances, I figured. It’s a very basic dough recipe. Easy to follow and relatively quick to make. We made two batches to accommodate the quantity we needed for school. ka'ak dough

All four of us spent the afternoon in the kitchen making these, each having our own role to play in the process. It reminded me of another reason we started this blog, to spend time together in the kitchen learning about new foods, and about each other. We haven’t cooked like this in quite a while, so I’m grateful the day shaped up as it did. The kids are growing too fast! shaping ka'ak

As for the recipe, well, the dough didn’t rise like I expected, but it was not dense either. We were also not quite as skilled at shaping the ka’ak as the Queen, but should you want to try, her video tutorial is an excellent resource: Overall, I was pleased with how these baked up. rolling dough

They weren’t as pretty as I’d hoped, but I imagine with a little practice that’s a solvable problem. As for cooking with yeast, well, it seemed to do just fine for us this go-round. I completely credit Miss A of course. While I was nervous about the dough’s lack of rising, the ka’ak fluffed up quite nicely in the baking process and had a light, fluffy texture with fabulous looking crumb.egg wash and seeds

Best of all, the ka’ak tasted wonderful! My research suggested that the ka’ak are served on special occasions or with afternoon tea, so I decided to enjoy mine with a cup of lemon grass green tea. It was a lovely complement to the tea and truly special straight from the oven. The ka’ak are light to eat but very filling, and a combination of subtle sweet and savory flavors. sesame seeds

Mike and the kids loved their ka’ak as well; although they skipped the tea. But, do you know what this means? 4 spoons all around! Success! And with a yeast leavened recipe nonetheless. We haven’t had an all-around winner in a while, so this was quite exciting. No one wanted to stop with just one, but we restrained ourselves and packaged them up for Miss A’s classroom. ka'ak

We wrapped 23 ka’ak for the students and teacher, and we packaged five for Miss A’s new Yemeni friend. She thought we should send one for his whole family. I can’t tell you how proud she made me with her thoughtfulness and generosity. While I hate to see them grow so quickly, I do love to see how they are developing into caring, thoughtful people. Again, it’s that bittersweet feeling that comes with being a parent. Yemeni ka'ak

That evening, we printed off 24 copies of the recipe and attached them to each bag. Miss A loaded them into a bag and got her journal ready for sharing with the class. Had you been in her class that day, she would have told you that Yemen is next to Saudi Arabia and two seas. It has mountains and its flag is red, white and black. It is in the Middle East which is part of Asia. Asia is a continent. She was very proud of all that she learned. Arabic cake

The students weren’t allowed to try the treats until they got home and their parents could make that decision. The next day half the class said they tried them and everyone seemed to like them. At least according to Miss A. As for the new Yemeni student, well, Miss A delivered his with a special note attached (which she did on her own). yemen recipe

“I made ka’ak for you and your family. I am giving these to you since you had to leave your home behind and your friends. It would be scary to do that. We made these since the recipe is from Yemen. From your friend, Miss A.” yeast biscuits

I asked Miss A if her Yemeni friend liked the ka’ak. She said, “He doesn’t talk English yet, but he knew what they were. He didn’t say much, but he smiled the whole time.”

To print the recipe click here: Yemeni Ka’ak

Needless to say, I’m a proud Mama. Believe me, my kids aren’t angels and we have our fair share of emotions and challenges around here (daily when it comes to Miss A’s clothing), but that’s what makes these moments all the more precious. Parenthood is bittersweet. It’s exhausting, it’s challenging, it’s tedious, it’s joyous, it’s amazing and it’s enriching. It makes my heart sing and my heart ache. But I wouldn’t trade a single second of it for anything in the world. And while I expected parenthood, much like this blog, to be about teaching my children, I am continually amazed at how both teach me. afternoon tea