Thursday, June 23, 2011


During this economic downturn, while some people are bellyaching over low pay, lack of promotions or increased workload, I've gotten wiser in my negotiations (and thankful that I have a job to complain about!). I asked myself, what would genuinely make me a happier employee? For me, the answer was easy. More time with my family.

I am now working from home one day a week.

Sure, I'm still working a full day, but now I have two hours (or more) less of a commute, which is time I can spend doing things like picking strawberries with my kids at McCann's U-Pick Berry Farm in Woodstock (find a whole list of local U-picks here). I can be picking berries at 8am and back at work by 9am. In that one hour I spent quality time with my children, collected about 10 lbs of the most delicious local strawberries and snap peas, and got a serious squatting workout.

Take an hour today and spend it in a special way with those who appreciate your love the most (and believe me, that isn't your employer).

McCann's is a good place to start. At $1.75/lb for strawberries and $2/lb for snap peas, how can you go wrong? Strawberry picking will end next week, so seriously, get in the car now!

In life, U-Pick your priorities.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Think back a moment and reminisce about all of the homes you've ever lived in. Which one brings back the fondest memories?

I bet you liked your neighbors at that house, didn't you? Neighbors can make your homestead heaven or hell.

I am blessed with awesome neighbors, which is one reason I love my town so much that I created a blog about it! Whether they are calling the police because people are snooping around my house (sure they were just painters writing an estimate, but their van wasn't marked and we weren't home), returning our dog who slipped out the door when I was bringing in groceries, or just giving a friendly wave as I pull up from a long day at work, my neighbors enhance my home life and contribute to a wonderful sense of community.

Unfortunately, this past Thanksgiving, one of our dearest neighbors passed away. She was a 94 year old spunky retired teacher who always made a point of greeting us with a smile and a kind word (usually about how wonderful our children were, even when the kids kept kicking balls accidentally into her flower beds). Every spring she would offer me the rhubarb from a large plant she had growing in her backyard, and each year I took her up on the offer. I always baked a treat with it and sent a little over to her house in gratitude.

This year her son, who is watching the house as they prepare it for sale, made the same standing offer. I just kept postponing my cutting, not feeling right about it. Finally, after the poor rhubarb plant overgrew and shot off its seed, I figured that if she was looking down on me, she would hate for it to go to waste. So I cut, and I cut, and I cut.

And I made this and named it after her:

Arlene's Strawberry Rhubarb Gelatin Salad
adapted from Rosy Rhubarb Salad at

4 cups fresh sliced rhubarb (1/4 inch slices)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 large package (0.6 oz) sugar free strawberry gelatin
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp grated orange rind
1 cup sliced strawberries

Heat rhubarb, water and sugar in saucepan until rhubarb is soft.
Combine rhubarb mixture and gelatin in a bowl and stir until gelatin is dissolved.
Add applesauce, OJ and orange rind.
Chill 2 hours until gelatin is semi firm.
Fold in strawberries and mix well.
Refrigerate overnight.
Share with your neighbor.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peeps and Poops

For one of my birthdays as a teen, my dad gave me a card with a quote I'll never forget: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." -Thoreau

How many of us as adults give up daydreaming about our future? How many of us give up on setting big, risky new goals because we don't think achieving them is possible? I'm guilty of this. I use the excuse that I'm "risk adverse" (this is code for "deathly afraid of failure").

Every small business owner in your hometown took a leap of faith. Their passion for something drove them to risk their personal and family stability to share their passion with the world. Support them! Some of my favorite local small businesses are Akasha Yoga, the Running Depot, the Little Way, and Carriage House Antiques.

So why am I blabbing on about this? Because I have found a niche that needs filled in the northwest 'burbs of Chicago. We are sorely in need of a cloth diapering store. I am convinced there is enough demand for cloth diapers in our area that the first person to open a store is going to strike gold! Cloth diapering is making a serious comeback. Modern cloth diapers are not your grandma's cloth diapers. But more about why they are so great in a later post...

If you know someone in or around Crystal Lake who agrees with me and wants to chat about it, contact me. Otherwise, I fear my overly supportive husband is going to empty our savings and open a store while I'm not looking.

He even has a name for it. "Peeps and Poops".

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My baby is allergic to me.

Hello, hello! I'm back after a long hiatus to bring my littlest son, Simon, into the world. Isn't he cute?!

So when given the choice of playing with him, or toying around in the kitchen, he won...every time. Until, that is, I learned that my perfect little baby has a not so perfect allergy to milk. And since I'm nursing him, that means that I'm going dairy free for the next year or so. *sigh*

It's bad enough to think about a diet with no cheese, ice cream or yogurt, but what's even more challenging is no milk and no butter because it is in EVERYTHING--except Oreos, go figure (makes you wonder what's in that creamy filling). Despite what some say, I'm finding that most dairy alternatives (soy yogurt, rice cheese, etc) taste either like nothing or like dirty socks.

But being the good mommy I am, I looked at this as a chance to spread my culinary wings and dig through online recipes and my local library's cookbooks. The problem is, all I want to cut out is dairy. I don't want to be a vegan, and I don't want the every-allergy-under-the-sun cookbook. And for the love of Pete, don't give me super weird ingredients that I can only get for $100 at the health food store!!!

I started simple. Muffins. All of the ingredients I found in my local supermarket, Jewel, although I will warn you that the Almond Meal/Flour is $12/bag. I nearly fell over until I saw that the only ingredient was blanched almonds, and it took quite a bit of nuts to make that bag.

And if you're going to say that quinoa is a weird ingredient, you have no idea what I was up against. If you're reading this blog and have never tried quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), it's time to go out and buy some of this protein packed super grain. It rocks.

Apricot Almond Quinoa Muffins
adapted from Veganomicon

1 cup sweetened vanilla soymilk
1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 tsp each vanilla extract and almond extract
1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup almond meal/flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each: salt, cardamom, cinnamon
1 1/4 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup diced dried apricots

Preheat over to 350 degrees and grease your muffin tin.
Mix in a small bowl the soymilk, flaxseed, oil, agave and extracts.
Whisk in a large bowl the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
Make a well in the middle of flour mixture, add the soymilk mixture and combine, being careful not to over stir.
Stir in the quinoa and apricots.
Fill the muffin tin and bake for 20-22 minutes.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Preparation for the New Year!

I'm in full blown nesting mode! Yesterday, on my "day off" from work, I was washing walls, moving furniture (or rather, directing where furniture should be moved), and scouring Once a Month Cookbooks so I can stock the freezer to prevent starvation once our new bundle of sleep-depriving joy arrives!

I figured I'd go into the garage and see what meat we had in the freezer and if there were any leftovers that we needed to use to make space for the new freezer meals I would be preparing...and guess what I found?!

I found the bottom of my deep freezer!

I freaked! This was a first as the freezer is usually packed to the gills with organic flours and local meats and fruits and freezer burned who-knows-what. This was not good. I clearly failed at properly preparing for local winter eating. The thing about trying to eat locally is that you really need to be sensitive to the seasonality of food. Beef isn't butchered in winter. If you didn't freeze your peas back in spring, the only thing local about your vegetable is that it's coming from your local grocery store.

So as I sheepishly returned to the kitchen realizing that a very expensive trip to Whole Foods was in my future, I figured in preparation for 2011, I'd get on Willow Lea's pre-order list for a Quarter Beef in the spring. I spoke with Michele Aavang, and she is taking reservations for butcher dates of March 15, April 12 and May 4. Price is $1.30/lb live weight.

I felt a little better getting my beef order in, only to turn around and see the growing pile of mail on our counter which included 2011 seed catalogs for Burpee and Seed Savers.....