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 we.play 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!

A Busy Kitchen

While we don’t post nearly as often as we used to, our kitchens by no means have slowed down. We’ve been making new and old recipes pretty regularly now. Sometimes the kids are on-hand to help, but most of the time they have other things keeping them busy. homework

While I’m usually at the sink, stove or counter, the kids are doing their homework, coloring, or just talking with me about their day. When Mike is home, he’ll be in the kitchen with me, helping me chop vegetables or putting dishes away. We have one cat, Chipper, that likes to sit at the stool on the other side of the counter or at the kitchen window so that he can supervise everyone, especially his little brother Hobbs. He much prefers to observe him from above. chipper

As for Hobbs, he’s either running through the kitchen chasing toys, nipping at my toes and whining to be picked up, or curled up in a little ball on the rug in the center of my work area. I’m fairly certain he’s going to cause me to have accident one of these days. However, more often than not, he’s climbing things he’s not supposed to and having to repeatedly be set back on the floor. He is awful cute though. Hobbs

We haven’t made too many international dishes lately; although we do have plans for a new recipe next weekend. I have, however, been teaching Mr. N some kitchen basics. He’s old enough now to learn how to operate the stove, oven and microwave. I’ve even had him make a few meals for he and Miss A all by himself. I just walk him through step-by-step. So far we’ve tackled pasta, shrimp, roasted chickpeas and homemade pizza. We, of course, have had to start with his favorite foods! LEGOS

It’s been fun to teach him and spend this time with him. It gives us a few minutes in his busy day that are just ours. I think he enjoys it too. At first he wasn’t too thrilled to have to learn these things, but once I explained to him that someday he might want to cook a special meal for a special girl, he was much more on board. He’s growing up so much! Fortunately for me, those days are still a ways off (whew!), and the only girl he’s cooking for right now is his little sister. And I have to say, she was very impressed that Mr. N made her dinner. She adores him and loves anything he does for her, unless of course he’s made her mad that day, in which case he’s best just steering clear of her six-year old wrath. sibling rivalry

So, the kitchen, it’s still the center of our ever-changing universe. And until Miss A and I get that next international recipe rolling, I thought I’d share with you a dish that Mike and I ate last week. It’s definitely a warm, comforting fall dish loaded with fresh and inviting flavors. It’s an Acorn Squash stuffed with Lemon & Ginger Risotto. Stuffed Acorn Squash

You can find the recipe here: Lemon Ginger Risotto with Acorn Squash

I roasted the acorn squash while I prepared the risotto. Once both dishes were done, I scooped the risotto into the squash for serving. squash and risotto

The sharp, fresh taste of the lemon and ginger were a great complement for the nutty flavor of the squash. Mike and I both gave the dish 3 spoons. lemon ginger risotto with acorn squash

We topped the risotto with toasted walnuts. We didn’t use any Parmesan or cream as we were trying to keep it healthy, but either would be a nice addition as well. Fortunately we made enough risotto to stuff two more squash later in the week. Lemon & Ginger Risotto

The leftover risotto heated well, but this time we tweaked the recipe a bit and added some sauteed spinach to the risotto as well as some mild Italian sausage. We enjoyed this version as much as the first. The spinach added a little lemony bitterness to the dish that to me just completed it perfectly. acorn squash

The kids, as many of you know, eat many things, and often many exotic or unusual things. Squash, however, is not one of them. Try as I might, they do not like the sweetness or the texture of the vegetable. In all fairness, I didn’t either until I was in my 20’s, so there’s still hope. Until then, there’s more for Mike and I to enjoy. Acorn Squash Stuffed with Lemon & Ginger Risotto

We’ll be back in a bit with Miss A’s international dish. It’s a yeast-based recipe, so goodness knows how we’ll fare. Fortunately, Miss A is better at cooking with yeast than I am, so our odds are better with her in the kitchen. Until then, enjoy your changing seasons and have a great Halloween! More soon. Cheers!

Harvesting the Last Days of Summer

This has been a beautiful week! For the first time in recent memory, our annual trip to an apple farm was done wearing shorts and t-shirts. And we’re not complaining! We’ll take this summer-like weather as long as we can get it. onions

So to keep up the guise of summer, we’ve been enjoying the end of summer’s harvest with our meals. Today’s recipe is reminiscent of our trip to Michigan in August. On the last afternoon of our vacation, we enjoyed a wonderful gourmet pizza at a local winery. We’ve since recreated it at home several times. While the prep time is a little lengthy, Mike and I think this Summer Harvest Pizza is worth the effort. balsamic caramelized onions

We start the meal prep early in the day by making a semolina pizza crust. We use my bread machine to simplify the process. The dough recipe makes enough for three large pizzas. We make one for Mike and I, one for the kids and then ten mini-pizzas for the kids to take in their school lunches. Later in the day, about an hour before dinner, we begin the remainder of the prep, starting with caramelized onions. semolina pizza dough

Next, we prepare the figs. We’ve used several different recipes off the web as guidelines. (Like this one or this one.) After cleaning and slicing the figs, we toss them into an oven-proof dish. We drizzle them with honey, balsamic and a bit of brown sugar. We then bake them for 20 minutes at 400F. oven roasted figs

Next up comes the candied bacon. This was not included on our pizza in Michigan, but after reading it over at Rufus’ blog, we knew it had a place on this dish. The recipe is so simple, we’ve made it several times (dangerously simple). candied bacon

Both the figs and the bacon cook up conveniently while the onions are doing their thing on the stove. Then there’s only one last thing to do before assembly. Slice the heirloom tomatoes. heirloom tomatoes

The onions usually take about 45-60 minutes. Once they are done, we roll out the dough and place it on a pizza tray lined with parchment or foil, and sprinkled with corn meal to prevent the pizza from sticking. Then we brush the pizza crust with olive oil and begin to pile on the ingredients. We like to start with the onions, followed by the tomatoes. harvest pizza

Next we add the figs, a few handfuls of arugula, the candied bacon bits and a sprinkle of goat cheese crumbles. You can also add a fresh squeeze of lemon juice at this point as well. We’ve done both with and without and either way was equally enjoyable. The pizza then bakes for 15-20 minutes at 400F. summer pizza

Once the crust is golden brown and the pizza is nice and hot, we remove it from the oven and sprinkle a bit more fresh arugula over the top. veggie pizza

Then we slice and serve. I like to add a bit of balsamic reduction over the top just prior to serving as well. Adds that extra bit of sweet tang to the dish. Mike and I both thoroughly enjoy this tribute to summer on a pizza. It’s packed with a variety of flavors and textures – a true delight to the taste buds. tomatoes and heirlooms

Mike and I both give it a solid 3 spoons. It’d be tough to get a homemade pizza to rank 4 spoons – we grew up on Chicago-style pizza after all. That said, it’s a good gourmet-style pizza that we’ll surely make again. The kids, however, weren’t into this one at all. Far too many visible vegetables for them. They opted for a more traditional sauce and cheese pizza one night and a pesto pizza another night. That’s fine by us – more slices for us! homemade pizza

I found a good batch of figs at the market recently, so this last time I roasted a triple batch. I’ve frozen them along with some slices of heirloom tomatoes in hopes that they’ll work over the winter. I would love to have this pizza in the middle of January. It may not be summer then, but a good bottle of wine, the fireplace and the taste of summer on a pizza…sounds like a nice winter evening to me.

Print this recipe: Summer Harvest Pizza

fig pizza

Now, I suppose we’ll start moving onto fall…somewhat reluctantly, although I admit I do love fall cuisine. I’m going to have Mr. N pick our next country to cook from this week. So we’ll be back in a week or two with his choice and a dish to go along with it. Have a great week everyone!

Sweet and Saucy

Can you believe the kids are on their 5th week of school already! Mr. N is now in 5th grade – his last year before middle school – and Miss A is now in 1st grade. It’s their last time at the same school for the rest of their schooling years. So bittersweet. Time is certainly flying.

Miss A's first day of 1st grade.

Miss A’s first day of 1st grade.

Fortunately for us, we have a bit of a slow down (relatively speaking) coming our way. Mr. N’s plays are wrapped up, summer activities have come to an end and for the first time since early May, we have nothing scheduled on our weekends from now until Thanksgiving. That’s not to say we won’t keep busy, but it certainly gives us more flexibility. I hardly know what to do with myself! For starters…I’m getting a post up here!

Mr. N's first day of 5th grade.

Mr. N’s first day of 5th grade.

Last weekend was our annual neighborhood block party. Mike has been smoking something or other for the last few years, and this year was no exception. This time around he chose a pork shoulder – actually two pork shoulders. We made a large batch of sliders and nachos. Both were equally delicious and not a single bite was leftover. While I didn’t have time to blog either dish in their entirety, I did grab a few pictures of the homemade BBQ sauce we made for the sliders. jalapeno and shallot

I wanted to use a recipe that didn’t involve ketchup as a base. I also wanted to make use of some flavors from our home state of Illinois this time of year. I had some beautiful red jalapenos from one of my favorite places in Illinois and wanted to pair them with some fruit. We chose raspberries as they are plentiful this time of year and one of our favorite things to pick in August and September. raspberries

The recipe was simple. We sautéed the jalapeno with some shallots (also locally grown). Next we added a little garlic and some adobo sauce and brought it up to a simmer. The raspberries were then added and cooked for just a few minutes before adding some apple cider vinegar, honey, sugar and salt. apple cider vinegar

After a good mixing of the ingredients we let the sauce simmer until it reduced by about half. I wasn’t happy with the thickness of the sauce at this point, so I added a little cornstarch. Much better.raspberry sauce

I let the sauce cool for a bit and then tossed it in the blender. In the meantime, Mike wrapped up the pork and we started to assemble the sliders. pork shoulder

I was really satisfied with the sauce. It was sweet, tangy and brought just the slightest amount of heat. pork sliders

The sliders were a hit, as was the sauce. For Mike and I the sauce was 3-1/2 and 4 spoons, respectively. Mr. N gave it 3 spoons; although he preferred his slider without any sauce (the flavor from the smoker was incredible on its own!). Miss A, unfortunately, wouldn’t even try the sauce. Once she saw the jalapenos, she was out. Unlike her brother, Miss A is becoming a bit more discerning in her tastes and a bit more stubborn with what she’s willing to try. Still, I suspect she tries more different foods than most. raspberry jalapeno bbq sauce

Fortunately for the rest of us, we made a large batch of sauce and were able to freeze a few portions for later this year. I’d like to try it salmon and grilled chicken. We also had a half of pork shoulder leftover that will be a nice treat this winter. I love the taste of summer in the depths of the cold, gray days, but we won’t talk about those just yet. The next time I get around to blogging, I have a great end of summer harvest pizza to share. We’ll keep the summer theme going for just a bit longer here anyway.

Print this recipe: Raspberry Jalapeno BBQ Sauce

Until then, we’ll be running the kids around – gymnastics, swimming and acting. I’ll be turning another year older (eek!) and we’ll be keeping busy in our newly found free time with another thing we brought home from the farmy…Hobbs

Hobbs is the newest addition to the family and a very welcome one. Chipper (our almost two-year old kitty) was very ready to have a friend again, and he’s welcomed the little one right into the fold. And Miss A is quite the little animal charmer. She spends much of her day playing with him and carrying him around. Never a dull moment – and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! Enjoy your day everyone! animal charmer

Precious Moments

First a brief update – Mr. N’s show is going very well. His performances blow me away – every time. For those of you that don’t know the story of Medea, Medea is betrayed by her husband Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) and she is filled with rage that culminates in the murdering of her two sons. Mr. N is one of those sons. He plays his role spectacularly and makes me wince and tense each and every time he calls out “Mother!” just before he dies.

medea 2


I tell you, even though I know it’s not real, it is not an easy thing to watch. It’s an incredibly well-done show that is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and powerful. He even had his first review printed in a local stage review. The reviewer said of Mr. N and his stage brother, “…deliver performances that are wise beyond their years as Medea’s children.” He is thrilled.


And today we are off to Miss A’s gymnastics performance. She is all a flutter about it. She’s been dressed and ready to go for hours, and has literally been climbing the walls! I’m not kidding. She has learned how to scale a doorway – and not by feet on either side of the frame – but rather by gripping one side of the door frame like a koala and climbing her way up to to the ceiling. It’s a good thing she has a place to go and get this energy out!

Now back to our French adventure. If you guessed that the kids’ favorite French food was crepes you would be correct! We tried a variety of foods from mussels and macaroons, to cheese and of course chocolate (well, them, not me). As you can imagine, everything was delicious and it’s hard to truly pick a favorite, but the one thing the kids kept coming back to again and again, were crepes. They were fast, available everywhere and the toppings were unlimited. So today we bring you French crepes.

Crepe ingredients

We started by blending together flour, milk, water, eggs, sugar and salt. We let the batter sit at room temperature for about an hour before pouring it a bit at a time into our greased and hot skillet.

blended batter

The crepes cooked for about two-minutes on the first side – waiting until you see the edges brown is crucial so as not to flip too early and make a mess. crepes cooking

We sprinkled a little sugar on either sides as the crepes cooked – just as we watched them do in Paris. While we didn’t have all the fancy crepe equipment the creperies do, our skillets worked just fine. browned crepe

Although smaller than the crepes in Paris, we were still able to fill these with similar ingredients. I never realized how easy these are to make and am surprised we’ve never tried them before. I can guarantee we will be making these again. crepes

We filled our crepes with our favorite ingredients from our trip. For Miss A and Mike that would be Nutella and bananas. For Mr. N and I, it was lemon, honey and cinnamon. We threw on a bit of confectioner’s sugar for good measure as well. nutella and banana

The crepes, not surprisingly were a hit. The kids gave them 3-1/2 spoons. Mike and I came in at 3 spoons. They were good, but not quite as good as in the City of Lights. I mean honestly how could they be! But while our kitchen isn’t in Paris, we are sure to be making these again. Perhaps with savory ingredients for the next go-round. lemon and honey

And as promised here are some more images from our time in Paris. Despite only having three full days and cramming quite a bit of sightseeing into the day, we did manage to find time to lounge about in parks, linger over meals, play at parks, picnic and simply be together as a family with no outside interruptions. It was a precious time.

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We’ll be back soon with highlights and recipes from our next European destination. Have a great week!