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

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

Blossoms are Blooming

We’ve mentioned before here and here how much we love visiting the Finger Lakes Wine Country in New York. The lakes, the wineries, the local food scene, the people, the community and well, everything. Continue reading

New York State of Mind

Just a brief post to say we’ve all recovered and we’re bound once again for one of our favorite destinations! Finger Lakes New York here we come! Hopefully Hobbs will keep himself out of trouble while we’re away! What do you think? 


If all goes as planned, we’re hoping to bring back some fresh cherries, wine and a lifetime of memories. We then hope to have a delicious cherry recipe to share too. We’ve been dabbling in the kitchen, but haven’t given it our official spoon ratings yet. It does appear to be blog-worthy though as Mr. N did declare, “You should make this more often. It’s delicious!” Perhaps I found a non-dessert 4 spooner? 


So, until next time…we’re on the road again – laughing, smiling, singing, planning, scheming and probably breaking up a few sibling squabbles along the way (“He’s touching me.” “She started it!”). Frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

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!