Fresh Picks (Nov 5 & 19)

For November 5th we received carola potatoes, bunched carrots, baby bok choi, dried beans, arugula, parsley, crimini mushrooms and tomato puree.


Right away I used the tomato puree, carrots, some of the beans, potatoes and parsley in a big pot of soup.


I just chopped and chucked it all in along with whatever else looked interesting in the fridge like cauliflower and celery, added water to cover it, a parmesan rind, some salt and pepper, and simmered it uncovered for about an hour.

I missed out on the bok choy and arugula but managed to stick the mushrooms in Ellie Krieger’s Quesadilla Recipe.

For the past few orders I’ve not focused on using all the ingredients in my order. Sometimes it’s just too hard to be creative! But I came back with a vengeance on November 19th….

DSC_0022Pumpkin, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Onions, Celery Root, Potatoes and Spinach above.

The onions got diced up and put into Ina Garten’s Turkey Meatloaf recipe, it’s one of the staple meals that the entire family will eat.

I used some of the pumpkin, brussels sprouts, celery root and potatoes together for a roast vegetable dish. Tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted on high heat until they are both crispy and soft. Delish!


But I still have more of almost everything left over, besides the celery root. And I was determined to stop wasting!

So, I used up the rest of the pumpkin, carrots and potatoes in this gorgeous Pumpkin, Carrot and Potato Soup from Nigella Lawson.DSC_0051

I also had left over brussels sprouts. I found a tasty Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad that even Ben ate!


Brussels sprouts shaved in the food processor with hard boiled egg, pine nuts and grated parmesan doused in a lemon mustard vinaigrette.

And spinach, simply sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Sometimes simple is the best way…


I’m always amazed how much it cooks down!


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Acts of Kindness

Have you even noticed how often complete strangers can make or break your entire day?

Like if someone stops their car on a busy street to let you in. That can really make my day. On the flip side, someone honking at me because I’m not driving quick enough can stay with me for hours, a black cloud over my head.

Often I wonder why people are so aggressive and angry, especially when driving. That is probably for another blog though.

However, when I see anger and aggression towards me in any form I try not to take it personally. I try to reason that it has nothing to do with me. That person is having a bad moment in time and to try to be empathetic instead of angry back.

I know it’s not the normal way to think. I’ve been very blessed in my life to have been raised by parents who have instilled these life lessons onto me.

I remember doing a long haul drive once with my father. I was still in high school and new to driving but my father trusted me enough to dose off while I drove. When he woke he found me in a stand off position. We were on a two lane highway and there was a car on our tail driving madly. I was holding steady right next to another car, not letting them pass as a punishment for their rude tail gating. My father assessed the situation and said, “Pull to the side.”

I started to complain how they were rushing me and that I was in the right, that they should not follow that closely.

He said, “If someone wants to pass you, just let them. You have no idea what’s going on. What if they are angry and have a gun? Is it worth it to be right?”

My mother was the same. She was the kind of person that gave rides after school to kids who lived in the projects because their parents couldn’t.

As many of you know, the Calisoff clan has been sitting around the dinner table for months now saying what we are grateful for. Often there are repeats. Ben is always grateful for the special treats his teachers give him and for the dessert he hasn’t eaten yet. Jack is grateful for outdoor play and in the winter he’s started to be grateful for school! The twins often name things we did on other days or repeat the older boys. They still need prompting to remember the nice things that happened that day but I don’t think it’s too early for them to start.

In fact I’ve realized it’s time to up the life lessons in the Calisoff household to the next level.

Acts of Kindness.

Last night I introduced the second level of my home schooling efforts to make my kids into little mensches. When I mentioned it, they had no idea what an act of kindness was.

“Jack, it’s like when we were in Target tonight and you found a penny and gave it to Ben instead of keeping it yourself. It made him so happy. That was an act of kindness.”

Jack got it right away and started to try to do nice things for the twins as well.

Ben still didn’t get it.

So I continued, “Ben, if you share that is an act of kindness. Let’s say someone in school lost their scissors and you give them yours to use. That is an act of kindness.”

“I’m not sharing!” Ben said.

“Well Ben, if don’t want to share, there are plenty of other ways to do acts of kindness. You do something you don’t want to do that your aide asks to make her happy, that can be act of kindness to.” (Might as well try to get some good behavior out of this exercise as well!)

I also told the kids I would tell them my own act of kindness, so I’d better get cracking myself! Anyone reading this need any help with anything?

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Peggy Notebaert Museum Visit

With the temperatures dropping into the teens this week it was time to sift through my mommy wallet (you know the one that is the size of a small purse and has enough card slots to paper a small country?) and see what museum memberships we had that had not yet expired.

Today we picked the Peggy Notebaert Museum. It had been long enough since our last visit that the room for temporary displays was new again. This time we got to see the “Rainforest Adventure”.

DSC_1003It was full of interactive things to see and do for the kids like the treehouse above.

Live Blue Macaw

Live Blue Macaw 

Family of stuffed animal Apes in a tree stump.

Family of stuffed animal Apes in a tree stump.

I forgot how perfect this museum was for little toddlers. It’s small enough that you can see all of it in a morning and still make it home in time for naps, it hardly ever gets overcrowded, there is a small gated playroom for when you just need to corral your kid/kids for a bit, and all the exhibits are friendly for really young kids.


Riverworks Exhibit

Extreme Green House

Extreme Green House Exhibit

Butterfly Exhibit

Butterfly Exhibit

I must admit we also had another ulterior motive for picking this particular museum today.


Surprise! Jack had a field trip here this morning as well. There is his look of shock when he realized the person calling his name from the balcony was his mother.

The twins thought it was super cool to crash Jack’s field trip and get to eat lunch with their big brother.

DSC_0021 - Version 2

Luckily Jack still thinks getting surprised by his mom and little brothers is kind of cool too. For now…


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Winter’s Coming

Winter’s Coming.

Adam and I working our way through Game of Thrones right now and they keep saying it… Winter’s Coming. It’s always said with ominous dread and every time we hear it I can’t help but think that winter is coming for us as well.

In fact it’s hard to believe it’s NOT winter. Did you ever notice that 365 days is just long enough for you to completely forget everything that happened the year before?

Every year Adam and I have the same conversation.

I wonder that it’s already November and we still haven’t really suffered harsh cold yet. Adam’s answer is always the same.

“Nikki, winter doesn’t start until December 20th.”

And even though I do dread the cold, I also start preparing for all the wonderful things Chicago has to offer this time of year.

Here is my ambitious list of things to see before winter is over this year…

1. Zoo Lights. There are two different zoo lights you can see in and around Chicago. If I could only choose one I’d pick the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. It’s closer to us and I feel like they do a bang up job covering the entire zoo. But if we get the time, I’d stop by and see the Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic. It’s a trek, but in addition to lights they have a laser light show reminiscent of your single days attending concerts in the 80s.

Jack holding hands with the Piercy boys.

Zoo Lights 2 years ago

2. Chicago Botanical Garden’s Wonderland Express. The kids love the trains but I love to see the intricately detailed structures all hand crafted from natural materials.DSC_0741

3. Gnome Hunting at the Morton Arboretum. If we plan it right, we can search for the gnomes while it’s still light out then stay on to see Illumination. This is an interactive light show through the trees that is a delight for the eyes.

4. Ice Skating. I hear Wrigley Field has a rink in their parking lot I’ve always wanted to check out. I find Millennium Park Ice Rink too crowded. If that doesn’t work there is always McFetridge Sports Center.

5. Sledding. We are lucky to have a hill right next to your house at Oz Park but I hear Soldier Field has a sledding hill that is kept snowy thanks to the park district no matter what the conditions.

6. Holiday Train. A great winter staple, kids love to ride the specially decorated, lit up train, get the free candy canes.


7. Hanukkah Teddies. It’s time to start our new tradition up again. I hope I can think of eight new ideas!

Day 8. Finally Captured.

8. Winter Wonderfest. A great event for the older boys, with jumpy houses, train rides and other more adventurous rides for Jack. Plus, my weakness – funnel cakes!

9. Ringling Barnum & Bailey. The kids really seemed to enjoy it in the past and I’d love to fit it again this year.

10. Museums. So many! I’m sure we’ll hit our favorite, the Museum of Science and Industry at least once, and hopefully many more.

Did I forget anything?

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Irv and Shelly’s Cooking Party

DSC_0956I must say when my friend Hedy suggested we take our husbands to a cooking party for Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, I was not sure if it was a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of appealing things about it.

I love Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks. They are the mostly local and organic veggie selection I get every other week and blog about cooking up. They keep me on my toes, alleviating me from the cooking doldrums. Otherwise I might fall into the trap of cooking up the same three meals every week.

I also love cooking. But cooking is something I do all the time. All the time. Three meals a day for between 3 to 6 people, seven days a week. We do often eat out on the weekends, but never THREE meals a day. I also love my kids but if someone asked me to get a sitter for my own kids to hang out with other kids my answer would be NO THANK YOU.

Finally, I love the Smiths. They are one of those cool couples that fit into a rare category for us. I like the wife. Adam likes the husband. They have a kid the same age as one of ours.

After weighing all the positive and negatives, we said yes and pushed the send button on the email.

And I’m glad we did.

Salmon Salad on Crostini

Salmon Salad on Crostini

Because taking some time away from the kids to hang out with friends and your husband is a lot of fun.


Cooking with Irv from Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks.


Hedy and I

And cooking without two two year olds pulling on each leg asking to be picked up AND with a glass of wine is a whole ‘nother kind of experience.

And so often Adam and I get into a rut where we never do anything that doesn’t revolve around the kids and once we are pulled out of it, we realize that we need to do it more often.

And we learned to cook samosas!

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New Winter Ritual

We have started an elaborate new winter ritual that works wonders for everyone on the weekends.

Stick with me, it’s a bit involved…

First we drop the twins off at the playroom at our club. Then Adam takes Jack to play racquetball while I take Ben swimming.IMG_7700

Adam has been waiting seven years to play racquetball so this is quite a big deal for him. I’m pleased to see that Jack is finding it a big deal too.

Ben is basically swimming, but I worry if he doesn’t go every week he’ll lose it. In a few weeks he’ll be amazing and it’s beautiful to watch. I never thought flaying like a shot chicken while half sinking and swallowing water could be a beautiful thing but you just have to see what it looked like before that to appreciate the beauty.

The twin like the playroom and after about an hour Adam retrieves them and brings them to the pool where all six of us swim together. Even with the shortened time frame, the twins are still the first to get out so it works out well.IMG_7706

Afterwards Adam will take us to lunch or dinner at the restaurant, not having to cook this meal and see all the kids pig out AND get to pick their own meal for once is the best feeling for me! A nice glass of pinot noir helps too. And for desserts we have convinced them that health smoothies are the only treat they need. Another bonus.IMG_7712

That evening all the kids are already showered up from the club and everyone always goes to sleep quickly, which gives Adam and I more time, another brilliant side effect of the day.

I won’t say that I love the cold weather in Chicago, but it’s nice to live in a place where the seasons change, where life is delineated by weather, and the rituals that go with it.

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Halloween 2014

Well Elsa the the Snow Queen struck us on Halloween. The power of all those Disney dresses must have been the reason that it HAILED buckets on us all day.

Not that it stopped us from enjoying every moment of Halloween.

Starting with a Halloween parade at Jack and Ben’s school…DSC_0869


Afterwards I stayed at school (we had a sitter for the twins) so I could volunteer for Jack’s Halloween party. I figured it was fair since I did Ben’s Pumpkin Patch field trip the week before.

It was a real eye opener to be in Jack’s class. I’ve done a few field trips but watching the kids in the classroom is completely different.

I was very pleased to see Jack was such a stellar student. I was in charge of the skeleton pasta project. Many kids couldn’t figure out the instructions, or their skeletons were messy, or they complained about the task. Jack figured it out quickly and without incident and his skeleton was perfect.


Afterwards he very sweetly helped me clean up the area. Helping his own mother without me asking! It melted my heart. He’s growing up so nicely.

DSC_0843Ben, on the other hand, still needs a few more years of growing I’m afraid. I got pulled out of Jack’s class and called into the office by Ben’s aide to discuss Ben’s behavior. It was not good. When I arrived he was complaining of being strangled and kicked by the authorities (which they assured me was not true – Ben often has trouble articulation what is actually happening when it happens, something we constantly work on, using words to describe things accurately) and the authorities were in a tizzy about his outrageous actions.

I took Ben on my lap and did the 3 step trick – 1. empathize 2. ask questions 3. problem solve. I asked what happened before he was getting manhandled. After a bit of empathy he was able to tell me he wanted more time at the candy corn guessing game. We decided, together, that next time he would use his words not his hands. Maybe his aide would give him more time if he asked, or tell him he could have more time after the other kids took a turn, or maybe she would say, Ben the longer you guess,  the longer you have to wait for a sample of that delicious candy corn.

The principal also said we should have a plan in place in case this happens at the next party. That is was too much stimulation for Ben. I agreed.

I also mentioned that the Special Ed teacher wrote me that Ben had 4 very good days in a row this week. That after 2 months he’s finally understanding and responding to the schedule. And that as soon as he got used to it, his aide arrived and a new schedule began where he spent more time in the regular classroom. And this new schedule would take time for him to adjust too as well.

I was glad I could be there to talk to him and the staff and hopefully we all understand each other a bit better now.

After school we picked up the kids and some ice and finished setting up for our annual Halloween party. I was a mess at organizing this year. Forgot to invite two dear friends until the last minute. We set up and shopped for the entire party the night before.


We emptied the back room and set up the pumpkin from last year. It sings and plays music. The kids managed to tear it to shreds about 1 hour into the party….

DSC_0854Here are the twins ‘helping’ us set up the drink station.

We trick or treated first with some of our friends….DSC_0906

Then we headed back to the house for the party.


People came bearing many gifts. Lots of alcohol, including a bottle of my beloved Patron and a big assortment of stuff from our upstairs neighbor who works for Diageo.  Also coffee from my friend Tami’s company, Cindy’s famous cookie cake and Jackie brought two huge trays of cupcakes…

Jackie and Aaron

Jackie and Aaron

Aaron really enjoyed the cupcakes. I don’t think either twin ate any dinner, but that happens on Halloween and you just gotta look the other way. Jack asked me how many pieces of candy he could have and I said, “Today just don’t ask me how many you can eat and I won’t tell you.”

I think he was confused and ended up eating none.

Here was our youngest attendee, Matthew….


And my favorite costume of the night from Alex…


Hope everyone had as much fun on Halloween as we did. Until next year….

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Fresh Picks October 2014

I’ve been bad about my fresh picks order lately. I’m not using all the veggies as diligently as I should.

But I have used most of them.

On October 8th we received a pumpkin, fennel, broccoli, arugula, leeks, potato, and red onion.


I made the leeks and potato into a lovely, simple soup. The broccoli was steamed, the fennel was roasted. Red onion was put into a salad or something, I can’t remember. The pumpkin is decorating my house and the arugula was unfortunately wasted.

On October 22,butter lettuce, red peppers, cabbage, onions, spinach, squash, candied turnips, and onions.


Cabbage was shredded into an Asian Style Slaw.

DSC_0839I also used one of the red peppers for that. Squash, turnip, and leftover red peppers were cut up with some cauliflower and roasted another night. In the winter I love roast veg. There a few veggies that don’t taste great roasted with a coat of oil, salt and pepper.DSC_0841

Spinach made a nice salad. Onions in our house always get used but I can’t remember what I did with these. Finally, the butter lettuce died before I could get to it.

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Early Trick or Treating

I hereby declare this year as the year of Elsa. Disney’s hit movie, Frozen, was a huge hit for Halloween this year and almost every single girl was wearing an Elsa gown. We even saw Jack’s classmate and younger sister in matching Elsa outfits.

There were two main characters in the movie. Both women. But I didn’t see much of Anna on the halloween circuit. Which made me wonder if young girls identify with the tortured, complicated Snow Queen better than the carefree, fun loving, brave little sister who actually is the real heroine in the story. Or maybe they just all want to be the one with superpowers and really cool dress.

Either way, with four boys I will not have the opportunity to dig into a little girls psyche.

I did, however, ask Adam if we had bought Disney stock BEFORE this movie came out.

Our costumes this year were also from a movie, but a very different genre.


It all started with Ben’s decision to be Darth Vader. The fact that he always wants to be the bad guy is a psyche I’m actually trying to avoid digging into.

Jack came up with the idea of all being Star Wars characters and claimed Anakin Skywalker as his own. Then he cleverly thought the twins would make good R2D2s. The hats for the twins made me think they could use them later for a bar mitzvah. They would make really cool Kippahs.

When candy is involved, it's best to run, not walk.

When candy is involved, it’s best to run, not walk.

We trick or treated this weekend BOTH days. Saturday was the Clark Street Spooktacular and Sunday, Halloween on Armitage. Having attended both, I must say I really preferred

Mini Jr Mint were too hard to resist!

Mini Jr Mint were too hard to resist!

Armitage. It’s much smaller, quainter, and less crowded. Clark Street had some great additions like street performers. We also got more candy, but in order to do so we had to push ourselves and our stroller into and around a lot of people, screaming at our kids to stay close the whole time. Armitage there was time to stop and chat with each store. The shops actually seemed interested in the kids and commented on their costumes. And it was close enough to our house that we could just walk there unhindered by a stroller. Armitage also has nice candy in fancy bowls. I loved the samples from Vosges Chocolate. I even trick or treated for a mini bar of Pink Himalayan Crystal Salt Caramel Bar. And a Jr Mint. Okay, and a mini Heath Bar. Alright I ate a bunch of candy people! I was worse than the kids on Armitage!

Twins on Clark Street

Double R2D2 sighting on Clark Street.

Aaron's lovey Baby comes along on Armitage. He even fed him a candy bar.

Aaron’s lovey Baby comes along on Armitage. He even fed him a candy bar.

We already have huge bags of candy and Halloween is not even here yet. Lord help me keep to my diet!

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Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm

Today I left the twins with a sitter so I could go on a field trip with Ben. Originally I booked it because I wasn’t sure if he’d have an aide and there was no way another chaperone could handle him. But his new aide started yesterday (more on her later) so it ended up Ben had 2 people covering him full time.

It was my first time interacting with Ben’s class and it was very different from Jack’s. When I attended Jack’s field trips it was with complete joy and enthusiasm. This time around there was still joy and enthusiasm, but it was mixed with trepidation. You just can not go 6 hours with Ben without having an episode, even when you are doing something great like a trip to a pumpkin farm.

We did lots of fun things like a hay ride and a corn maze.

Hay ride on actual real hay stacks!

Hay ride on real hay stacks!

I thought it was funny how a bunch of city kids reacted to the farm. They were all deathly afraid of the bees and they thought sitting on the dirty hay bales was gross.

There were a couple of more provincial things that were enjoyable because we were on a pumpkin farm but would be absolutely intolerable in the city, like the dragon and giant show. It was a spin off of Jack and the Beanstalk. The lesson was that the giant was lazy and needed to work harder if he wanted to eat well.

Animatronic show

Animatronic show

Later one of the owners and farmer gave a lecture about the farm, pollination and basically told us that the health of his crop was due to God. The last time Ben was introduced to God was when my father asked him if he knew who God was and Ben answered, “You mean Godzilla?”

Luckily this did not turn into another esoteric Ben conversation (I’m finding it hard enough to answer the questions he has about infinity and death!). At that moment Ben was busy playing with his group sticker that was suppose to be on his back instead of listening.

DSC_0732As for breakdowns Ben only had a few. One in particular was when it was time to ride the train. For some reason he got scared. He wanted to watch first then ride. That was the same language he used at Great America and never rode a ride the entire trip. It was a train very similiar to the one he rode this past weekend at the zoo.

I used the opportunity to point out to his new aide that he was suffering from anxiety. I then tried to show her how to handle him. I asked what he was afraid of. He said the water (there was a small man made pond in track). I asked him to come over to the rail so we could look at it together. I pointed out that the water did not touch the train. I also told him that he could watch, but there may only be one train ride and if so he would miss his opportunity. The aide watched patiently. Finally she turned to Ben and said, “Do you want me to ride with you?”

His eyes lit up and he said, “Yes!”

He grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the train.DSC_0706

Sadly I realized as I was trying to teach the aide a lesson, she had just taught me a more valuable one.


Goat Feeding

Sometimes when you are in a relationship with someone you get to a point where there is a lot of ‘water under the bridge’. It’s hard to give of yourself completely, so willingly, so fully when you feel they have taken so much already. Ben’s new aide has no such resentments yet. I hope it stays that way. Because Ben is just a kid, and he’s growing. And one day this is all going to be a distant memory. A shadow of who he sees himself as in the future. And I need to keep that in mind and live through these days with as much patience and grace as she showed me today.

She also managed to get him back to the group after he ran away. I’m not sure how she did that either. Usually when I try to get Ben to do something he doesn’t want it ends in my carrying him away while he claws and scratches at my face.

I’m very happy today, because I now have a lot of hope that things are going to be even better for him at school. Because of his new aide he will start going to the regular classroom a lot more and hopefully he will get more of the social interaction he desperately needs to learn.

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