RECIPE: Tarragon Infused Lemon Blueberry Jelly

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Ever have fruit that is past eating fresh, but not quite ready to be thrown away yet? And it's just a pint or so of fruit?

Well, put that guilt away my friend! Grab a clean glass jar and a saucepan and make yourself refrigerator jam/jelly.

It's so easy. and the jam or jelly keeps for up to 2 weeks. If you have an upcoming brunch, it is a perfect thing to serve with your toast or bagels! And you can be all fancy pants domestic diva-like announcing, "Oh, this is jelly I just jarred a couple days ago!" and bask in the oohs and ahhs of wonderment.

Seriously, pathetically easy. I like a firmer jelly, so I use gelatin in my fruit. You can use pectin, or nothing at all. Most fruit has natural pectin and combined with the sugar thickens up naturally. It depends on what you like consistency-wise. This little concoction includes gelatin and I infused fresh tarragon from the garden, as well as a healthy dose of chamomile tea to brighten the blueberries!

Good Morning!

Tarragon Infused Lemon Blueberry Jelly

1 half package of Knox gelatin 
dash of salt 
12 ounces of very ripe blueberries 
1/2 cup sugar 
2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice 
1/4 cup tarragon sprigs tied in a bundle with cotton twine 

1 cup of strong brewed chamomile tea ( you won't use all of it, you will use 1/4 cup for the jelly and 2 tablespoons for the gelatin)


Place 2 tablespoons of chamomile tea in a ramekin and sprinkle the half package of Knox gelatin over it to soften the gelatin- set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, cook the berries together with the tarragon bundle, sugar and the lemon juice and salt until blueberries begin to soften. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes the blueberries will be getting thick and popping and starting to look a little crushed up. 

Take a potato masher or pastry cutter and mash up the berries loosely. Stir.
As you stir add the quarter cup of chamomile tea and the gelatin and cook on low heat until the gelatin is dissolved and the jelly is starting to thicken.

Pull tarragon out of the pan. Let cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes then pour in a sterilized jar until cooled completely. Seal and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Back to School Tradition: THAT math homework night (you know the one.)

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It happens every year. The first school week, your kid coasts, and they think, "Hey! This is easy! Why was I so nervous? Why was I so worried?" Then week 2 hits, and the homework moves up to normal levels. And that one, infamous night, it happens. For your kids, it may be reading, science, writing? For our bundle of joy, it's math.

And what makes it worse, is that for me, it's math.

And you know how this night goes. The slamming of the pencil down on the table. The yelp of "I don't get it!" And the water works start as their hands go to hold their head in frustration. It's painful. Your heart breaks. And in a way, you relive your own "That" night again. It's like going back to school all over again for you, and it wasn't all roses then. And it's not all roses now.

Usually this all goes down as I am washing dinner dishes, because of course your child has procrastinated until after dinner to do her least favorite subject. Wouldn't you?

But I've done this before, and I'm getting to be a pro. It's gonna be a long night. So I dry my hands on a dish towel, and I put the coffee pot on with a generous helping of Starbucks Fall blend. I allow the rich and spicy scent to settle my nerves. I make a cup of chamomile tea for my daughter to settle her down, too. I pour my Fall blend brew into my favorite cup. And together we tackle divisibility and story problems.

The steam wafting out of the mug helps to calm my temper as she loses hers. I take deep breaths as I explain things. My patience helps her patience. Slowly, I see the light bulbs go off in my daughter's head. Is this the magic teachers strive for every day, that glimmer of understanding- and knowing you are a part of it?

I don't know. I am just a mom, not by any means a teacher. Teachers should be canonized. Maybe moms should be too. I don't know.

But as my daughter now finishes her math homework with more speed and confidence, with little help from me, I sit and enjoy my cup of coffee for a few minutes. I bask in the joy that we survived another one of our yearly 1st math homework meltdowns.

For your annual homework meltdowns, I recommend a warm cup of steaming yummy. It could be tea or hot cocoa. I recommend chamomile for your kid. It helps calm them down a little and is very soothing, especially if it's getting late in the evening.

For the mom that has so much to do AFTER homework (like me) I recommend Starbucks Fall blend. It's smokey and smooth. It brings a little joy to math-and that for me is a lot.
Learn about it here.

Please note: Starbucks Fall blend was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions abut Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks!

RECIPE: Lemon Blueberry Filled Coffee Crumb Cake

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There are still blueberries out there, fellow foodies! It's not officially fall yet! But yes, I saw some woman post a picture of her garden in Calgary COVERED in snow yesterday. My heart skipped a beat. I am SO not ready for that noise. No, sir.

So let's be in denial together. Let's bake with all the wonderful, ripe produce at the farmers markets into delicious cakes and pies. And I urge you to start with this little cake, perfect for breakfast, dessert, or a nice snack to pull out for your next book club (wine) meeting.

Lemon Blueberry Filled Coffee Crumb Cake


3/4 cup flour 
1/4 cup light brown sugar 
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon 
pinch of salt 
1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice 
1/4 cup of honey roasted almond accents 
5 tablespoons of butter softened 
2 cups of flour 
1 teaspoon of baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon of salt 
1 stick of butter softened 
1 cup sugar 
2 eggs, room temperature 
2 teaspoons vanilla 
1 cup of sour cream 
Blueberry filling 
1 1/2 cups of right blueberries cleaned and picked through 
1 tablespoon of sugar 
1 teaspoon of lemon juice 
Dash of salt 
1/2 cup strawberry rhubarb jam (or other berry jam)


Macerate the blueberries with sugar, lemon juice and salt while you prepare the batter.

In a medium bowl, mix the crumble (flour brown sugar, cinnamon and salt) with a fork. Crumble in the softened butter to the dry ingredients. Sprinkle the lemon juice on top until you have a nice, crumbly texture. Finally add the almond accents and toss to combine and set-aside.

 Now work on the batter. In a small bowl mix together the 2 cups of flour baking soda and baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl with a stand mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until creamy. Alternate your dry ingredients with the sour cream until the batter is nice and creamy. 

Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray an 8 x 8 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour half the batter on the bottom. Dollop the berry jam evenly on top of the batter. Next fill the pan with the waiting blueberries and all of their juices. Finally pour the remaining batter on top of the blueberry filling evenly.

Take your crumble and sprinkle on top of the batter. Evenly bake on the center rack for one hour until cake is puffy and golden and toothpick comes out clean. You'll have some blueberry juice on your toothpick from the filling so don't be alarmed about that. You don't want wet batter on your toothpick. Let cake cool for about 15 to 20 minutes before cutting, allowing the berry filling to set.

RECIPE: S'more Cookie Bars

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I know, I know.

It's pumpkin spice this and apple spice that. It seems after Labor Day, everyone is so anxious to get on the fall bandwagon.

But summer is not officially over yet, peeps!

And I am going down fighting. Here in Chicago, summer started late, so Mother Nature owes us.  I refuse to put my fall decor up until October. So there.

And lets celebrate our rebellion by making my newest family favorite, these ridiculously delicious S'more cookie bars.

S'more Cookie Bars
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction 


1/2 cup butter, softened 
3/4 of a cup light brown sugar 
1 teaspoon of vanilla 
one egg 
1 cup flour 
1 cup graham cracker crumbs 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1 1/4 cup chocolate chunks 
7.5 ounces marshmallow cream 
1/2 cup mini marshmallows 
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs 
2 tablespoons of melted butter 
2 tablespoons of flour 


Line a 13 x 9 Pyrex pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. In a medium bowl toss the dry ingredients, set aside. In a large bowl or stand mixer cream the butter with sugar until light and fluffy, then add the vanilla and the egg and whip until creamy. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients on low. 

Press two thirds of the graham cracker mixture on the bottom of the pan making and even crust with the palm of your hand.

Next, heat the marshmallow cream in the microwave on half power for 30 seconds or so until it has softened and can pour out of the container without much fuss. It helps to use a spatula that's been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray to help get the rest of marshmallow cream out. Pushed and spread the marshmallow cream evenly across the crust.

 Sprinkle with the chocolate chunks.

Mold the remaining crust dough into flat disks and place them over the chocolate chunks in areas. Don't be worried that you're not covering everything. It's okay if some of the chocolate chunks peek through.

Bake on the middle rack for 25 minutes until things begin to melt and get golden.

Meanwhile make the crumble by mixing the graham cracker crumbs with the flour and the melted butter by using a fork and your fingers. Pull out the pan for a minute and sprinkle the bar cookies with the crumble mixture and top with the mini marshmallows. Bake in the oven for the last 10 minutes of baking. Bake only until the top marshmallows you just sprinkled start to melt and the crumble begins to set.

Take out of the oven and cool for 10 minutes then pull the parchment out of the Pyrex dish and place on a cutting board. Flatten the paper and cut the bars into squares while it's still warm then let the bar cookie set and cool completely. Store in an airtight container for one week-but they won't last that long!

Back to School Tradition: An Ode to Back to School Eve

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'Twas the night before start of school,
and all through the house,
my youngling was packing
as I yelled at my spouse.

The clean backpack was packed,
by the doorway with care,
with prayers that her day,
would not be a bear.

My child will be nested,
all snug in her bed,
Thank God for Melatonin-
to help rest her "off-schedule" head.

And I with my coffee,
'cause the night is still young,
It's the Fall blend from Starbucks,
so warm on my tongue.

Every year it's the same,
as we get a little older-
the school backpack getting heavier
for my little one to shoulder.

So after the supplies are labeled,
and lunches prepped correct,
the laundry is folded,
tomorrow's outfit perfect,

I sip my coffee in peace,
and make a mamma bear prayer,
in the quiet of night-
in my favorite chair.

Help my daughter be brave,
let her classmates be kind,
let her teachers be open,
to guide her creative mind.

Tomorrow we'll spring from our beds,
morning chaos will ensue,
but tonight in the quiet,
I have one wish for you.

May your child's day be bright,
with a year full of hope,
Happy Back to School Day to you-
with much coffee to help cope!

If you too wish to buy some Fall blend to help the Back to School roller coaster, here is a link about it:

Please note: Starbucks Fall blend was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions abut Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks!

ENTERTAINING: Tips on Moving a Party Indoors When it Rains

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Summer is perfect for outdoor entertaining. And as we have a city house, entertaining sometimes is limited because of space. So we do use the summertime to have our bigger parties, being able to use our large deck and yard in the back for people to sit, eat and socialize. In fact, we count on that extra space to host our annual Labor Day party properly.

What else can we count on Chicago? Unpredictable weather. 

Last year, as well as this year, rain storms threatened. I had to set up the food, drinks and eating areas inside last minute for 10 adults and 10 kids. After I panicked and chugged a glass of wine, hubby and I got to work. In the end, it all worked out fine. Everyone was stuffed, buzzed and left happy as ever, saying it was a great party. So mission accomplished!

The main things you need to ask yourself are "where am I putting the food so it makes sense and foot traffic through the line can be organized?" Same with the beverages. Then think through where people can sit and enjoy the food, kids included. Kids are more flexible. They can sit where ever, including the floor, and eat on their own schedule as they are playing with other kids. So keep that in mind and use it to your advantage!

Where can I put food? 
Do you have a buffet in the dining room that's loaded with pictures? Dump them in a drawer and set up the sides on top with serving utensils. If you don't have a buffet, do you have a small folding table you were going to put outside that now can be popped in a corner of the dining room to hold some dishes? Splitting up the food from mains and sides between two areas opens up the food lines a little, so there is not a big traffic jam in one area.

Where can I seat people?
Clear up any and all tables you have in the house, and pull out the extra chairs you have so that people can find seats and empty surfaces to eat and chat.

Use your living room coffee table too if you have one. You can't see it in this pic-I swear I took a pic of it for you. But oh well! I threw a table cloth on the coffee table in the living room, and let kids know that they could sit around it on the floor and eat their dinner. If you are worried about messes on the carpet, place a washable blanket underneath the table, and throw it in the wash once the guest are gone. If your living room has a TV, entice the kids to sit and eat with a Pixar movie playing. That always works here!

Where else can I put food?
Use your kitchen counters. Here is the Italian beef that I decided to put in a crock pot to save space (versus large trays over Sternos that take up a ton of room), and plug that baby in. Place rolls and toppings near it. To the left I was going to put some other pyrex pans filled with entrees.

Don't forget your stove. It's a major surface area in your kitchen, and makes things easy for you because you won't have to travel far once things are heated up. I decided once I pulled out my lasagnas, I was going to just keep them on the stove, have a pot of heated sauce for topping on a burner, throw in the serving spoons and let the hunger games begin.

Figure out a place where guests can grab the essentials; plates, utensils, napkins, pepper. I decided the small counter near my stove which was now going to feature the main dishes hot out of the oven was best. Make the area nice by using matching linen and some flowers to alert people visually to the area.

Find a place to feature your desserts. Here my kitchen table was doing double duty. We cleared it, added the leaf to make it larger and brought out extra chairs so it could accommodate more guests to eat comfortably. And it helped show off my homemade pies that I was serving for dessert. 

Now this year I bought a long and skinny folding table that fits nicely under my dining room window. Its skinniness allows it to stay out of the way, but I can put out all my desserts, coffee cups, desert plates, coffee carafe and forks on this table. It keep things out of the way until needed toward the end of the evening. I bought it at Kmart for 30 bucks. It caused a marital argument of monumental proportion of which I won. But every time I use it at a party, I am sooo happy. It can work for drinks, or you can put plates and stuff on it too. It has been worth the marital strife. Trust me.

Where do I put drinks?
Find some counter space for wine glasses, charms, cups, a sharpie (for guests to write their name so they don't lose their drink) cocktail ingredients and such if you don't have a bar. We don't have a traditional bar. SO I move all of C' school papers, and the misc nonsense that piles up on this part of the counter, and I made it a drink station. 

We also kept a giant cooler outside the kitchen door with pop and juice. It's the only thing we kept outside, and we kept it close for guests so they wouldn't get too wet if they wanted to grab a beer just outside the door.

SO there you have it! Don't cry in your beer when the rain comes for your party, your party can still be rocking inside! You may need to move a couple of things in drawers for the day, to clear off tables and open up space. But your house can be put back together once the guests are gone and your hangover leaves you. :) But for the day, the party must go on!

HOW TO VIDEOS: How to Make a Fresh Peach Lattice Pie Series

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People love my pies. I have spent years reading, learning, testing and perfecting pie making techniques. I have used a pastry cutter, food processor, and simply my own two hands and a fork to make pie crusts. And my favorite thing to make in the summer is a peach pie using fresh farm stand peaches from Michigan.

I have posted this recipe in the past, and I make it every time we vacation at our lake house rental in Michigan. We usually enjoy it on our "annual sunset pie cruise" on the lake, where we nibble on pie a la mode while watching the sun go down over the lake as my husband drives the pontoon boat rental around. Then we usually wait until "magic hour" when the fish start going crazy-and we get casting. I think I caught 10 large bass this trip! No joke! See.....

Our little lake house rental is SMALL. But even a small, minimal kitchen can allow for great things. And this pie proves it. Here, I show you in three phases how to make a peach pie. I include how to pick ripe peaches and easily slice them off the pit. Because my husband forgot my pastry cutter at home, I had to make this pie crust by hand with a fork and knife-really old school. So it's good to learn that technique as well! And finally, I dedicate one episode to making a lattice top. It's easy. I swear. Just watch. You'll see!

And I do end in episode 3 on the annual pie cruise, so you get to see our pretty sunset. Sigh*. I am wishing I was there right now.

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