Marks of Time and Travel

We sure are happy May has arrived! Speaking of May, do you have any traditions for the spring festival, May Day? When I was growing up my mom would help us gather flowers from around the house. We’d bundle the flowers, place them on a neighbor’s doorstep, ring the doorbell and run. It was a mother-approved game of ding-dong ditch!may day

Fast-forward 30-some odd years and my children and I have put our own little twist on the tradition. Each year, we pick-up a bouquet of flowers, or a nice outdoor flower arrangement, and we leave it on my mom’s doorstep. The kids take this very seriously – there are many heated discussions about the best place to hide, who will ring the doorbell, who will carry the flowers, and ultimately how they will run back to the car (which I’ve parked down the street well out of sight). 30 years later

Some years my mom is surprised, other times she does a good job of appearing surprised. Sometimes we drive away with the kids in fits of giggles and so proud of their stealth-like maneuvers, and other times they hide at the side of the house and pop out just as my mom wonders aloud where the flowers possibly could have come from! This year was a hide at the side of the house year; however, still complete with lots of giggles.girl scout

Giggles. This house is full of giggles. Especially with Miss A around. She’s either making herself giggle, or making the rest of us giggle. She is definitely a character, and definitely keeps us on our toes! She’s been spending a lot of time practicing dribbling a basketball. However, don’t ask her if she’s going to play basketball, which is what Papa recently asked her. She quickly replied as though it was the most ridiculous of suggestions, “Papa, have you not looked at me lately,” referencing her small height while looking way up at the basketball hoop. Then she continued dribbling before running off into cartwheels. Constant motion this one!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theater

Speaking of Papa and Nana, they have joined us for the past few weeks. They are up from Florida to help us through Mr. N’s busy play season and also to give Mike and I a little respite! We’ve all been so grateful for their visit. I don’t know what we would have done without them these past few weeks!

Photo credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo credit: Adapt Theatre

Mr. N’s show opened a few weeks ago. It has since received a Jeff Recommendation, a big deal here in Chicago theater. He’s having the time of his life and again, we couldn’t be more grateful or proud. I’ve often said there are few things I enjoy more than watching him perform. It’s such a mix of so many emotions – pride, love, amazement, excitement, happiness, surprise, and peace. Then of course there’s the emotions he elicits through his character, and this play takes you on quite the roller coaster. I have yet to leave with a dry eye and I’ve seen it three times already!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

We still have a few more weeks of performances to go, but I can feel the wind down coming. There’s a calm on the horizon. Hopefully it’s not one of those calms followed by a storm!

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

Photo Credit: Adapt Theatre

I’m dying to get back in the kitchen, especially with summer on the way. I’ve been drooling over many of the recipes on my favorite blogs. It’s been near torture seeing these beautiful recipes and photos and knowing I just don’t have the time to put much thought into cooking right now. Soon though. Definitely soon. In fact, I’m going to have the kids do a little cooking around the world with us on our first free moment to commemorate our latest travels.

Finger Lakes Region, NY 2011

Finger Lakes Region, NY 2011

Thanks to Nana and Papa, Mike and I got away for a week this month for our 15th anniversary (which is actually coming in June). We toyed with several different places to go, but one place kept coming back to us. It’s a beautiful slice of the world we stumbled on randomly on a road trip back in 2011.

Watkins Glen State Park, NY 2011

Watkins Glen State Park, NY 2011

And it’s a place we returned to on purpose in 2013.

Grape juice tasting  - FLX, NY 2013

Grape juice tasting – FLX, NY 2013

The Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York drew us in, spoiled us with all of its charm and beauty and kept a piece of our souls. It has a way of welcoming us into its fold and keeping us coming back.

Anniversary in FLX, NY 2015

Anniversary in FLX, NY 2015

How could we not spend a special anniversary in such a place?! And I have to say this adventure did not disappoint – in the least. So in the next week or so, to keep the memory of this trip and the fire it ignited within us alive, we’re going to break our hiatus and cook up one or two dishes inspired by our latest (but certainly not last) visit.

Until then, I came across this quote yesterday and it summed up exactly how the Finger Lakes have repeatedly made me feel. We love to travel, we’re lucky to have seen many amazing places on this earth, but we’re especially grateful to have experienced places that call to our souls.

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” Anthony Bourdain

P.S. I had no idea this was going to be such a lengthy post! I guess I’ve missed both writing and cooking!

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

IMG_4445

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!

It’s Time to Vote….Chopped Challenge 2015

Sure we hardly have time to blog let alone cook these days, but we’re not about to miss our annual Chopped Challenge live blogging event! It seems it has become a sacred family tradition. As Mike and I were trying to figure out how to logistically pull it off this year, the kids became quite adamant that it still happen on Super Bowl Sunday (Sunday, February 1st). It appears the kids take this just as seriously as we do, and why not, it’s always a ton of fun.

Remember this mess from 2012:dirty dishes

Or this delicious winner from 2012 (Chiptole Grilled Lobster over Stir Fried Buckwheat Noodles):chopped main course

We kicked things up a notch in 2013 with homemade pasta versus lentil burgers. The homemade pasta won the prize, but the lentil burgers have been made many times since. Black Beluga Lentil Burgers with Muffaletta Olive Salad

beluga lentil and artichoke pasta

And last year, well the competition got stiff. Chopped Challenge Teams 2014Arghboozing

The kids favorite dish from last year – Toasted Apple and Bacon Tortellini. fried tortellini

So are you ready for this year’s cooking challenge? Below we’ll have three polls – one for appetizers, one for the main course, and one for dessert. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the format, we base this off of the Food Network’s “Chopped” series. The premise is simple, contestants must use the ingredients in the basket (no matter how crazy they seem) to create a dish. There are three rounds (appetizer, main course, and dessert). The winning dish of each round is selected based on taste, presentation and creativity.

Well, below you’ll find three basket options for each round. This year we’re pulling from the baskets that didn’t make the cut in the past three years. Some of the baskets are clearly more kind than others; though we won’t name names. We’re excited about them all and look forward to the challenge. So, please select one basket (hitting “vote” on each poll – total of three) for each of the three rounds. The winners will then be announced in our live cook-off event on Sunday, February 1st, as Mike and I will go head-to-head to see what we can cook-up (will Mike be able to knock me off the winner’s circle this year?). Mr. N and Miss A will again serve as sous chefs, though teams have yet to be picked.

So without further ado…vote early and often! Voting remains open until Friday, January 30th. And make sure to stay tuned for the live blogging event and subsequent recipes. We can’t wait to see what you drop in our baskets this year!

For the Appetizer Basket we selected the non-winning baskets from 2013.

The Main Course options were taken from the non-winning baskets from 2014.

And the Dessert Basket comes to us from our very first year’s non-winning baskets in 2012.

Thanks for voting and we’ll be back, live (all day) on Sunday, February 1st for Chopped Challenge 2015!!!!

Holiday Round-up

Happy holidays! While we’ve prepared for the holidays for weeks now, I’m still not quite ready. Fortunately the shopping is done. Now we just have cooking/baking, cleaning up and wrapping to do. No worries though, it will all get done. It always does. For as long as the to do lists get this time of year, it never seems to stress me. I love the holidays. I love the traditions, the memory making, the family celebrations, the laughter and the love. And we’re already off to a good start. old school xmas tree

Last night was the first of our four celebrations, our traditional Christmas at my mom and dad’s. Would you be surprised that there was enough food to feed the whole neighborhood? It makes it hard to believe I have to cook more food! I’m having a hard time even thinking about it, I’m still so full. Here’s a few of the gems that adorned yesterday’s holiday table:
Cranberry Bruschetta
Cranberry Bruschetta

Spicy Maple Walnuts
Spicy Maple Walnuts

An Uzbek treat that seems to have become a regular at the holidays now, Sugar-Coated Almonds.
sugar-coated almonds

And of course Christmas isn’t complete without mom’s Oatmeal Cookies.
Mom's Oatmeal Cookies

As for tomorrow night, it’s our special Christmas Eve dinner. Mike, Mr. N, Miss A and I will all sit down for an intimate dinner, we’ll open some presents (the kids usually exchange with each other on Christmas Eve), we’ll put on our new Christmas jammies, grab some cookies and milk and pile into the car for a Christmas lights drive before tucking the kids into their warm beds to await Santa’s arrival. It’s my favorite night of the season. xmas eve

On tomorrow evening’s menu is a special family recipe, but not one of our own. We’re making the Bartolini Lasagna. You can’t go wrong with a dish from Chicago John and his clan. In fact last year, Chicago John’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara was the star of Christmas Eve dinner. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Bartolini recipes are becoming a Christmas tradition of their own.

Then it’s Christmas Day and the children will be up bright and early (At least not as early as my sister and I used to arise – sorry mom and dad!). We’ll spend the morning opening the goodies from Santa, lounging about in our jammies and listening to Christmas music. We’ve got hot cocoa and mimosas lined up to go and we’ll be serving them along with a batch of one of our most popular recipes from the past several years, the Maple Bacon Biscuits
maple bacon biscuits from Vermont

The family will pop in after 1 p.m. and we’ll serve hot breakfast dishes all day long. The kids will likely still be in their jammies, unless we head out to sled, and we’ll have a slow, lazy day with our loved ones. sledding

But wait, there’s one more! This treat from Egypt has also become a staple at our holiday meals and we’ll be making this for the big day as well. Next to the oatmeal cookies, it’s one of Mike’s favorite desserts, the Egyptian Baklawa. I can smell the orange blossom water already. Mmmm!
Baklawa

Needless to say, we’ll be good and full come Wednesday night.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday, a Merry Christmas and an amazing New Year. Thank you all for following us here at Eat, Play, Love. We’ll be sharing a warming, healthy soup for the New Year and then launch back into cooking around the world. Until then, may you all enjoy peace, love, happiness and health throughout the season and the New Year. Happy holidays! Mike, Kristy, Mr. N and Miss A

Just Desserts – The Dessert Basket

Today is the last post from our Chopped Challenge 2013. And what better way to celebrate and spread some cheer than with desserts. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along as much as we enjoyed the event. I have to say this last round was just as delicious as the rest and was by far the kids’ favorite. Our ingredients for the dessert basket came to us from Dawn at First Look, Then Cook – Mangoes, Pretzels, Bacon and Agave Nectar. Dessert basket Continue reading

Gratitude.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and even though I try to be grateful throughout the year, I still find myself overwhelmed with thanks this time of year. So I’m postponing our Canadian vacation recipe for a special Thanksgiving treat.

Even though, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, there have been many things this year that have snored the mango, there are so many more for which I am thankful. It goes without saying that I’m thankful for Mike, Mr. N and Miss A. I thank my lucky stars for their health and happiness every day. I’m also thankful for my wonderful friends, neighbors, mentors, co-workers and of course the many friends I have come to make through this blog. My life is richer with each passing day. Continue reading