Spotting a Lighthouse

The weather in Central Illinois is finally taking a turn toward fall.

Fall may be my favorite season. I love the sunny days and cool evenings and colorful hues. I love the smell of the fall air.

Fall is football and sweatshirts and a slower pace than the busy summer that just passed.

I could do without the shorter days and the fact that winter follows on fall's tail, but in general I embrace the seasonal changes autumn brings.

Today's weather reminds me of the temps I experienced on my weekend adventure to Minnesota a few weeks ago. It's almost the exact weather in which I said my farewell to the North Shore, with a stop for a glimpse of the Two Harbors Lighthouse.

If you look really hard, you can see it perched on the cliff in the photo below. It seemed much closer when I wasn't looking through the lens of my digital camera. But even if you can't see much of the lighouse, at least the scenery around it is striking.

And here it is again, just in case you don't believe me that there really was a lighthouse perched on a cliff.

Sayonara, reminiscences about Minnesota.

Next up: applesauce and Chicago, in no particular order.


A Minnesota Wedding

As hard as it is to believe, Schleppy and I did not spend our entire weekend in Minnesota exploring the shore and eating pie. We could have, but we had more important things to attend to. Like the wedding!

And oh what a wedding it was. The weather, as I mentioned, was perfect perfect perfect. I didn't even need my sweater at the outdoor ceremony, which took advantage of the views I showed you here.

The ceremony was beautiful--short and sweet and very personal, exactly what I expected from the lovely creative couple tying the knot.

Afterward, we enjoyed cocktails on a deck overlooking the spectacular scenery and then dinner in the dining room which, of course, also overlooked the spectacular scenery.

Cara's crafty touches were present throughout, particularly on the tables.

And, of course, the couple's two adorable rescue dogs were there in spirit since they couldn't be there in real life.

First, they helped direct guests to their tables.

Then they made an appearance atop one of the two cakes, which I thought I had a photo of but can't find. You can see the cake topper in Schleppy's post over at the Fresh Home blog, though.

The groom made the chocolate one, a rich, dark, semisweet chocolate cake.

And the bride made the white one, a light sweet dessert with a lovely hint of vanilla bean. It was a contest to see who could make the best wedding cake, but I don't know that anyone could declare one cake a winner over the other. Both were to-die-for.

After the dining came the dance, which was full of fun surprises like giant balloons that were thrown onto the dance floor from the balcony and a photo booth upstairs.

The dance was a blast and would have been the perfect end to the night, only it wasn't. Because next we all changed into casual clothes (bride and groom included) and headed down to the beach to start a huge bonfire and roast marshmallows. Could there be a more perfect end to a most perfect wedding day?
I think not.


Betty's Pies

In Duluth last weekend, Schleppy and I ate way too much at Fitger's pub. Wild rice burgers. Regular burgers. Dark Fitger's beer. Huge hills of homemade sweet potato fries that, I'm pretty sure, were fried along with some onion rings. (Can you say deeelicious?)

And then, 20 minutes later, while we ogled over the views on our drive to Lutsen, I slammed on the brakes. There, before us, appeared a beacon in our overstuffed haze.

Betty's Pies.

So, because neither of us will ever turn down a slice of pie, no matter how full we are, we stopped.

It was just what you'd imagine a little pie place located outside of Middle of Nowhere, Minnesota, would be.

Naturally, we had to order a big mug of coffee to go with our pie. And boy am I glad we did, because I discovered what may very well be Conservative Boy's Ultimate Mug. We're talking a big, hefty mug with a serious handle that you can get a good grip on. A mug I had to buy for the hubby as a souvenir.

Besides, how can anyone walk away from a mug that has a pie on it?

Once we took a few sips of piping hot coffee, the important part arrived: the pie. It was a tough decision, but I went with a piece of strawberry rhubarb (long since out of season down south) a la mode.

Schleppy opted for a concoction that involved about every type of fruit on the menu, with a crumb topping rather than the traditional crust.

Both were to-die-for. Both made us very miserable.

I very nearly had to unbutton my jeans on the rest of the ride. That's how full we were. But it was worth it.

(On a side note, we later learned that Betty's was not even the best pie place in the area. Can you believe this? If I had no shame and more time, I would have tried every pie place in that part of the state. Maybe next time ...)


The North Shore

Last weekend, I ditched Conservative Boy and Butter and headed north to Minnesota for a whirlwind (yet strangely relaxing) trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior for a wonderful wedding.

My friend Cara (formerly known as the Failed Feminist), whose craftiness I've mentioned numerous times here, got hitched to her honey (and a fellow Drake alum) at a gorgeous resort on the shore of Lake Superior in Lutsen, Minnesota.

So I hopped a flight to Minneapolis, snagged a hot red Dodge Charger for a rental car, picked up my lovely friend Schleppy (aka Rachel in Brooklyn), and cruised the four and a half hours to Lutsen.

Along the way, we stopped for delicious burgers (of the traditional and wild rice variety) at Fitger's, a brewery in Duluth. Then we made another stop for pie ... but that, naturally, deserves its own post.

And then we were there, in a location that was so much more beautiful than I could have pictured.

So, naturally, Schleppy and I did some exploring. And played checkers and sipped tea like the 80 years olds we need to be on occasion. And watched the sun set over Lake Superior.

And slept to the sound of waves lapping the shore in our lovely little room.

Saturday morning dawned with the most gorgeous weather you could imagine. It was warmer than expected (perfect fall temps, if you ask me) and sunny, with a blue sky this writer won't even bother to describe.

And so Schleppy and I found time for a leisurely breakfast, massages, yoga on the dock, and a short hike before we got ready for the wedding.

And I'm pretty sure I said, at least 30 times, that the North Shore was amazing.



Last weekend, we finally put together the lovely little fire pit we received as a wedding gift.

Just in time for Labor Day, last Saturday evening turned crisp and cool. Perfect for throwing on a sweatshirt and sitting by the fire.

And so a team of boys armed with an assortment of wood and sticks set about building said fire.

Conservative Boy took the lead on the first attempt. Let me just say this: If he ever was in Boy Scouts, he must not have stuck with it for long.

His methods were a bit unorthodox. I will not say more, as Not-So-Conservative Grandmom reads this and it's best that she not know the details. She would be horrified by C.B.'s technique and incredibly concerned for her grandson's safety.

Fortunately, the rest of the crowd took over and coaxed a few little flames into a roaring fire, perfect for roasting marshmallows and making s'mores.

It was a wonderful way to spend the evening, and I hope we can do it again soon. (As long as someone is around to supervise my husband's fire-building attempts, that is.)


Grilled Eggplant and Tomato Salad

I made this when we had the usual crowd over for dinner last Saturday night.

I made it even though I knew there were only two of us (Conservative Mom and I) who would touch the eggplant. (Although, to his credit, Conservative Dad did have a taste.)

It was an easy, yummy little side dish to go with our pork chops and corn on the cob and grilled potatoes. I recommend it.

However, I'd cut the eggplant thinner than I did, as some of it could have cooked longer. And the tomatoes might have held up better if they were a tad thicker. But with my cooking, you may have noticed, there's always room for improvement ...

Still, it was tasty. And I enjoyed the leftovers this week.


Just So You Know ...

Right now, Butter is bored.

He thinks it's lame that his mother works all day and then comes home and types away on her laptop in the evening.

Not cool, he says. Remember me? I'm your sweet puppy who needs a belly rub and some play time.

Butter has been busy lately—he spends afternoons at the office with Conservative Boy and Conservative Dad, keeping an eye on the things and making certain the secretaries don't get lonely.

So when he comes home in the evening, he just wants to relax. He can't understand why I wouldn't want to do the same. (And Conservative Boy echoes his sentiments.)

I'm working on it, guys, I tell them. But I'm a creature who is used to being busy, to going 100 mph and trying to cram as many to-dos in the day as possible.

I want to slow down and relax, but I've grown so accustomed to go, go, go, work, work, work, that it's taking some time to get used to not having to juggle 50 things at once.

But I'm working on it. I really am.


Pretty Little Flowers

The last couple of weeks, I have been grocery shopping on Monday or Tuesday nights. And I've hit the jackpot each time I pass the flowers: Buckets full of seriously clearanced buds that still look beautiful. The other day, I snagged three bouquets of various sizes for $2. No joke.

And so I have been scattering little vases of fresh flowers around our house.

Only this week, I shopped on Saturday. And I wasn't about to spend $7 a bouquet for the sale flowers, so I went home empty-handed.

But then I realized that was just plain silly, because I have my own zinnias to cut.

In the backyard, two transplants (one pink and one yellow).

And in the planter out front, a few zinnias I planted from seed are finally blooming, with the most lovely petite blossoms.

This has led me to believe that I should include more flowers in next year's garden.

Because there's something so wonderful about a little bouquet of colorful blossoms you've grown yourself—blossoms that have not been drenched in pesticides or shipped from who knows where—sitting on the kitchen table.

Don't you agree?


Canning: Roasted Tomato-Garlic Salsa

I couldn't help it. I had to have it.

When I read about the Williams-Sonoma book The Art of Preserving, there was only one thing to do: Order a used copy ASAP.

And I'm so glad I did.

Even if you don't preserve food, you can't help but enjoy the lovely photography that fills the book. And if you do preserve food? It's a goldmine—a combination of classic jams and jellies and the like, along with plenty of sweet and savory recipes beyond the canning norm. And there are even recipes for dishes—from crepes with meyer lemon-ginger marmalade to chicken-lime soup with pickled jalapenos—for you to try in the kitchen.

Last week, I stuck with a tried-and-true canning technique, however, and made the Roasted Tomato-Garlic Salsa from the book.

My instinct after a few bites of the leftovers is that it's good. Nice flavor.

Conservative Hubby, of course, doesn't think it's flavorful enough. But he says that about everything, which leads me to believe his taste buds are not the most discerning characters.

Because it's a holiday, and I'm feeling a bit lazy, I was dreading typing up the entire recipe for you. But lucky you (and me), I came across a news article that features it. So here you go. Have at it.

And happy Labor Day!


Balloons, Vino, Art, and Abe

There is a weekend in August when I can't help but be incredibly excited that I live in L-Town. It's a weekend that I wish came more than once a year.

It happened last weekend. It's the Art & Balloon festival, which now also includes a wine festival and flea markets galore.

This year, downtown L-Town was packed with people attending the art fair, the wine fest, the farmer's markets, and the flea markets.

And out at the airport, there were more crowds enjoying fair food and rides, live music, and (of course) the beautiful hot-air balloons.

On Saturday morning, I headed straight for the farmer's market on my bike (with my new basket for carrying my purchases). I also made a stop at the annual book sale in the basement of the library.

And I even hit up a few garage sales on the way home.

At one, I ran into Abe Lincoln. For real. A walking, talking Abe dressed for work in his standard black suit. He rode up to the garage sale on his motorcycle, with his signature hat strapped to the back of the bike.

I guess even lawyers and presidents like Abe enjoy a good garage sale now and then.

About an hour later, I went back downtown on my bike and checked out the flea markets a bit.

And then two hours after that, I joined Kid Sister and Conservative Mom downtown again for the art fair.

We perused the art and sculpture and pottery and jewelry. And before we left, I bought a mug to match the one I bought two years ago. And some beautiful copper earrings with the Celtic circle, which represents the interdependence of life.

Then, that evening, Conservative Hubby and I headed to Kid Sister and T-Bear's for a BBQ. It was delicious and fun, so much so that we almost missed the balloon glow at the airport. Fortunately, we arrived just in time to see the end of it and enjoy the band a bit.

And Sunday? Sunday it was time for the wine tent. We (even Conservative Hubby!) sampled a variety of tasty Central Illinois wines, and I bought a bottle of driest red I could find. (Note to self: Central Illinois is all about sweet wine.)

All in all, not a bad weekend, eh?

You're welcome to join us for the fun next year. Assuming we're not at a wedding, that is ...