Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Patriotic Picnic: Cantigny Park

We recently discovered Cantigny Park, practically in our own backyard!  Where, oh where, have we been all these years!  It's located in Wheaton, Illinois and approximately 20 minutes from our house. 

Cantigny Park was the former home of Robert McCormick, who owned and ran the Chicago Tribune and made it into a formidable publication in the early part of the 20th century.  His biography is rather interesting and worthy of a read.  Upon his death in 1955 he bequeathed his estate to the McCormick Charitable Trust, now the McCormick Foundation, and at his request, the estate was opened to the public.

What a legacy!  The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful.

Filled with flowers, plants and trees of all sorts, the paths invite the visitor to walk and wander through its many gardens . . .

. . . and stop to admire the pools and statues that dot the landscape.

The marvelous Rose Garden contains more than 1,000 rose bushes, representing many, many varieties and classifications.  I could spend hours in this garden alone.  Now that we know this place is here, I must come back next year when the roses are at their peak.

Image result for chicago peace rose

This is the Chicago Peace Rose, described as a "glowing pink rose with a butter yellow heart."  This variety was hybridized in these very gardens.

Robert McCormick's second wife was very fond of oriental art, and brought back many curiosities from their many trips to Asia, especially China.  A pair of Foo Dog statues (also known as Imperial Guardian Lions) flank the front of the house.

The 500-acre property was originally called Red Oaks, but McCormick renamed it Cantigny, after the battle in France in which he saw action with the Army's 1st Battalion.

He also endowed the First Division Museum on the same premises, but it's currently closed for remodeling.  It contains all kinds of tanks from WWI, and from other wars that followed it.  It's now become a military museum.

Once the museum reopens, we'll have to go back.  Alas!  What sacrifice!

After wandering around all morning, and visiting his former home (no pictures allowed, unfortunately), it was time for lunch in one of their picnic groves.

And because military history enveloped us everywhere, it seemed logical to bring out the red, white and blue.

I prepared an easy and delicious picnic that could stay in the car for a few hours while we wandered around the park:  Sandwiches made with Egg and Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade on French Baguette. To drink we had lemonade.  We had also tucked a bottle of Sancerre in the picnic basket but it was so hot that we craved the lemonade above all else and never got around to opening the wine.

The sandwiches were messy and drippy, but utterly delicious.  The recipe was simplicity itself:  I sliced hard-boiled eggs, and added some Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade from a jar (that you should always keep in your pantry for emergencies, sometimes it's called Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta).  A dash of salt and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes enhanced the flavor, but were not really needed, so feel free to skip these, if you'd rather.

The sandwich was hard to photograph because it wanted to fall apart; I need to work on my sandwich building skills.  My husband, reluctantly held out what was left of his so I could snap a photo.  I should've made a couple more!

Then, for dessert, we had freshly cubed peaches marinated in Grand Marnier, and served with Madeleines to help soak up the boozy juice.  Light and so perfectly suited for the season!  The peaches have been marvelous this year here in the Midwest!

I love museum gift shops.  They always carry such intriguing merchandise!  And books, of course, wonderful books.  I found this small collection of poems from World War I, the most famous of which is "In Flanders' Fields."  It is very poignant and reminds us of how truly tragic war can be.  

I wish I had been able to find red poppies instead of red carnations, to honor our fallen soldiers.  After WW I, poppies have been adopted as a symbol of remembrance.  But my local florists didn't have any.  It would have required a special order.  Why don't I ever see poppies at the florist or grocery store?  Note to self:  Plant some poppies in the garden this fall. 

This afternoon, I was once again reminded to be grateful for our country, with all its flaws.  And to live in the moment, and have many, many picnics!

This adorable dragonfly that I also found at the gift shop says it best:  Enjoy today!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Getting back on the horse: Blogging again.

But the horse never bucked me!  The problem is life.  A demanding job.  A longer commute. Facebook.  Too many things happening!  I've missed blogging dreadfully, and I have so much to share that I'm making a promise to myself not to be gone so long in the future.

Since food is fun, comforting, and emotionally easy to address, I'll start with that:

Here was last night's dinner - Chicken Tortilla Soup.  It was truly delicious.  I followed The Pioneer Woman's recipe, more or less.  I've been turning up the heat in my kitchen a bit more for the last couple of years after reading of all the many health benefits chili peppers offer.  I know, I'm late to the party.  In addition to Vitamin C, carotenoids, and antioxidants, they are great to help regulate insulin in the body, and even helps break up gallstones!

Can you tell I'm getting older?  Now food not only has to taste delicious, but it has to have some redeeming healthy quality, if only to justify it to myself.  My heat tolerance is still low, compared to that of most of my friends, but it's definitely improving.  If you attempt to make this recipe, take it nice and slow with the hot spices, until you find the level of heat with which you are comfortable - and be sure to have some sour cream on hand to cool things down in a hurry!

Our interest in Mexican food was rekindled recently during a visit to Rick Bayless' "Topolobampo" restaurant here in Chicago.  We waited for our table next door at "Frontera Grill" sipping sangría (we are not into margaritas), admiring their alebrije - a Mexican folk art sculpture of a fantastical creature. 

. . . and enjoying the most unusual, but delicious Chef's Choice Guacamole, made with mashed avocado, infused with morita chile, grilled onions, oregano, chorizo and queso fresco.  It was fabulous!

And that was only the beginning because the 5-course meal that followed at Topolo's (as the name is frequently shortened) was inspired.  The courses were described elaborately and presented with flare, but when it came down to it, the food was of the utmost freshness and simplicity.  It took us three and a half hours to finish the meal.  I felt like I was in Europe, in one of those delightful suppers that never seem to end, and in which the conversation flows like good wine.  If you have the opportunity to visit one of Rick Bayless' restaurants, don't miss it!  It's definitely worth it!

Martha Stewart posted the beautiful picture above of  her Leftover Salade Niçoise, and it spoke to me because it reminded me a bit of my grandmother's salad  - Carmela's Salad, of which I have previously written.  I felt like Martha was challenging me to take it up a few notches, so, of course, I had to try making it . . .

. . . even down to making up a batch of my own Roasted Red Peppers.

Voilà!  I omitted the anchovies, because neither my husband nor I will eat them (although I don't mind them in a Caesar Salad Dressing, where their fuzzy texture is obliterated by the blender, another day, perhaps). Everything was Martha-worthy - organic, locally grown, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, pesticide-free, and wild-caught.  We feasted on it for two days.  Challenge met, Martha!

North Carolina Pulled Pork was another new entrée to feature at our table in a recent weekend dinner.  I convinced myself that because it was dressed with apple cider vinegar and honey, it had to be healthy. The pork came out very tender, but we decided we really missed the barbecue sauce, so I'm not sure if I'll be making this one again.

My attempts at healthier eating aren't always successful, but sometimes they are.  Dr. Hyman's Green Breakfast Smoothie, which he touts as probably "the healthiest smoothie in the whole world" has been part of my breakfast for the last few months, and I'm enjoying it! It is actually very tasty, and easy to make with the help of a good Vitamix blender, and my wonderful husband, who prepares the veggies for me.

Since our recent trip to Hawai’i we've welcomed papayas back into our lives.  I don't know why we've ignored this delicious fruit in the past.  My mother was very fond of it.  In Cuba it is generally known as "Fruta Bomba" - Bomb Fruit.  In Havana, especially, the sophisticated town mice would never utter the name "papaya" which in Cuban slang represents the female genitalia.  This article will help explain this Cuban idiosyncrasy.  I guess it's better that it look like a bomb than a part of the female anatomy.  We humans are so sexually repressed!  Ha!  In any case, they've been exceptionally good this year, and we have indulged.  Go buy a papaya before the season runs out!

Ah!  Food!  We can't avoid dealing with it daily.  And what joy it brings when we do it right!

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” —Virginia Woolf

I'm back!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcoming January

What better way is there to welcome January than with a riot of mini carnations, the January birth flower - my birth flower, in garnet (birthstone) red?

In the language of flowers dark red carnations signify deep love and affection.  I dedicate them to you, my friends and fellow bloggers, with sincerest regard.

May the new year bring you love.  In the end, isn't that all that matters?