Department Outing

I believe I have mentioned that my Awesome Employer sets aside budget money each year for every department to have a group outing. They always involve food and generally involve an activity of some kind. This year, Lisa suggested Cook Cork & Fork, a place in Palatine that teaches groups to cook and then everyone stuffs their faces.

Groups are offered a variety of seasonal menus.  Since Lisa and I are the pickiest eaters, process of elimination led us to the Italian menu.  Chicken Marsala, herb risotto, grilled vegetables, and tiramisu.

I have been to several places that do cooking classes – which is weird since I really do not cook at home – and the difference with this place was that there was no Front of the Room Demo.  We were split into groups and told what to do.   I snagged the tiramisu.  It was a job so easy was like the first time I saw guacamole made table-side.  That’s all there is to it?  And they charge what?  The most difficult thing is blending the mascarpone and cream just until it is smooth, because if you over blend, it will curdle.  And that would suck.  But it was so easy and people make such a big deal out of it.  The lady fingers are dipped into a mixture of espresso and Kahlua and then you layer it up and put it in the refrigerator.


Then I went to watch the rest of my group.  They had finished their prep and were on to cooking up the dishes.


I somehow missed taking pictures of the final products.  Except for my tiramisu.


There was plenty of what I call Adult Supervision and everything turned out great.  In addition to group events, Cook Cork & Fork has regularly scheduled events for individuals or small groups.  They are located in Palatine and I can happily recommend them to grown ups in the Northwest suburbs looking for something to do together.


The Hunt for Decent Chocolate

My first stop in the Hunt for Decent Chocolate was Rocket Fizz, the candy store in the Glen Town Center. Its niche is specialty candy and sodas.  I walked in the door and was greeted immediately. I replied with, “American chocolate is crap!”

“Yes it is,” a young man replied. “Follow me.”

On a table toward the back of the store, he showed me a collection of international brands. This included a Hershey bar that was made in Canada. Since I understood British Cadbury and American Cadbury to be different, I presumed the same was true of American Hershey and Canadian Hershey. I decided to try that, and something called “Magic Stars”. Then the young man pointed me to the corner with some higher end American chocolate, saying, “It really isn’t all crap.” So I grabbed one of those, too.

On the way to my book club that weekend, I bought a plain old Hershey bar and decided that we would all taste test it.   We all agreed that the Canadian version was more chocolaty and less waxy than the Pennsylvania-made bar. At the same time, it was still milk chocolate, and I think I have finally outgrown milk chocolate.

A week or so later, I tried the Magic Stars. I liked that they came in a bag with small pieces. I might actually decide to eat less than an entire bag. And they were very tasty. But again, milk chocolate. Time to hit the dark stuff.


I was flying to I-forget-where one morning and I wandered by the Vosges store at O’Hare.   Fancy-fancy stuff. But they did have bars of chocolate, including a dark chocolate with Hawaiian sea salt and caramel. Sold. For seven dollars.

Very tasty. It has just the right amount of salt and the chocolate was very smooth. The caramel was very tasty, but it was the liquid kind, as opposed to the chewy kind.   There might be some gourmet reason why this kind of caramel is better, but I was travelling and trying to break off a square or two was..messy. And anyway, at seven dollars a bar it was more than I really wanted to pay. The search continued.

Pinterest-y Things We Did This Weekend

I was in Indianapolis this weekend for my friend Austin’s 40th birthday.  I think 40th birthday parties are meant for us to drink like we are 20 years old and decorate like we are four.  Austin’s fantastic boyfriend, Justin, threw a party with a Rainbows & Unicorns theme.  Or, My Little Pony farting rainbows:




My job was to find the perfect sangria recipe.  “Perfect” means:

  1. Easy to make
  2. Not too many ingredients
  3. Nothing in it that I won’t personally consume (like cloves or something)
  4. Does not have to sit overnight.

I found this. But neglected to take pictures of it.  We tripled the recipe and used Menage a Trois Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a random find at the store.  While the recipe says to let sit overnight for the best flavor, I don’t think ours was sitting for much more than two hours.  Justin liked the idea of using ginger ale instead of sugar and it was fabulous.  I was inspired to write this blog to be sure that I don’t lose the recipe.

Then there was the cake:



Justin rocked this.  The recipe is simply yellow cake mix, prepared and separated into six cups.  Then food coloring is added to each cup.  Then the batter is poured into the baking pan one at a time for the swirl effect.  Very pretty and very tasty.  I found an online recipe if you don’t believe me. 

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is as crafty as we get.


Department Outing

It is not news that my employer freakin’ rocks.  That’s why I work there.  Small perk:  each year every department has a budget to do a group outing.  Most departments just do a long lunch somewhere, but my people – most of us, anyway – want to do something.  A couple of years ago, we went to Gameworks.  When one person left right after we ate, and another pocketed the game card to give to the grandchildren, we were pretty disappointed.  So.

Where do you go when most people want to do something, but others just want to eat?  My friend and colleague remembered her kid once going to a party at Morkes Chocolate in Palatine.  It was very easily within the budget and I voted Yes.

When you walk in the door, it looks like a better than average chocolate store.  Then they have the party room in the back.  Where we found a table full of these:



We were each asked if we preferred milk or dark chocolate.  When I am eating it straight up, I prefer milk chocolate.  But something told me that with all of this sugar, I’d better go dark.  We were all sort of staring in awe at our trays, and when the staff came back with our fondue cups, one remarked, “This is the quietest group I have ever had.”  Because we aren’t six.  And we didn’t have any sugar in us yet.   According to my phone, it took about thirty minutes to turn that tray into this:



I texted this pic to my mother, Kay, who told me to leave it at the office.

I am pretty sure dark chocolate was the correct decision.  It was funny watching how each person attacked the project.  I was going for neatness.  Not because I am particularly neat or even artistic.  I just didn’t want to embarrass myself by making a mess.  Also, in the great scheme of eating chocolate covered things, I like to know what I am eating.  So I didn’t fully coat anything.  My boss went for efficiency and was finished first.  In hindsight, he said that his method made for some really thick chocolate.  The best of us was C, who said she had experience from working in a doughnut shop.  Awesome.  Next up was truffle making.  We started with empty shells:


Then filled them with..truffle filling and topped them with..stuff.  I picked peanuts and sprinkles:


Because a few of our group stayed behind for last-minute-work purposes, we took their trays and made boxes for them.  Well.  I didn’t, because I was too slow.  But someone did.  And then we had pizza.  I ate my chocolate covered pineapples and banana and one of the sponge cakes.  The fruit was better.  Then I packed up the rest.

Two of us left nearly full boxes in the lunchroom for our very appreciative colleagues.  I brought mine home so as to keep the strawberries and caramels and make my mother take the rest to her office.

Win.  Win.  Win.  And I am totally taking the nephew here sometime.

Again With the Cupcakes

I was wandering around the old neighborhood in Park Ridge – that would be my old office neighborhood – and marveling at all of the new stuff.  I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a cupcakery:  Mrs. A’s Cupcakes and Cookies.  So I went in, determined to buy only two.

I asked the nice lady behind the counter: which was her favorite?  Yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting.  Which is also my favorite.  “But you were looking to try something different?”  Yes.  She said the Red Velvet was the most popular, but she suggested the Salted Caramel or the Lemon.  Sold.



Before you say Ew!, the lady asked if it would bother me if the cakes touched and I told her it would not.  I brought them home to share with my mother, Kay, but couldn’t decide which one I wanted, so I cut them in half.  The salted caramel was a yellow cake with cream cheese frosting and salted caramel on top.   Kay determined it was tasty, but not necessary to the universe of cupcakes.  I thought I would have matched salted caramel with some kind of chocolate – either cake or frosting.  We agreed that the cake part was extremely good.  Kay decided that swapping the frosting with Betty Crocker in the can would improve it to near perfection.

The lemon was a yellow cake that seemed to have a lemony flavor, but the frosting was where the lemon really came out.  I loved it.  Lighter than the average buttercream, which is appropriate for a lemon flavor.  Kay agreed that it was the better of the flavors, but still seemed skeptical about the frosting.

The cost was pretty standard for the industry – just under $3.00 for the standard cupcakes and just over $3.00 for the specialities.  These were both specialities.  They also do cakes, cookies and events.  I imagine I will be back again some time.


DC Story I Forgot to Tell

A couple of weeks ago, when I was back in Washington, I did my FourSquare check in at National Airport.  A few minutes later, I received a message from my friend Austin.  He was also in Washington on business.  We went to high school together, but now he lives in San Francisco, and I haven’t seen him in several years.

People, this is what social media is all about.

However, a couple of co-workers invited me to try a different restaurant with them, so I made plans with Austin for the next night and headed over to Founding Farmers Restaurant.  They are all very local and green and stuff.  I didn’t take any pictures, as I generally link to the ones on a restaurant’s website.  So I am sorry to tell you that Founding Farmers is woefully lacking in that respect.

Happily, the food is freakin’ fabulous.

I started with the Popcorn of the Day.  I realize that as a matter of cost, popcorn is always a rip-off, but if a high-end restaurant is going to bother, I am going to try it.   It was a barbecue spice flavor and tasted wonderful.  My more adventurous companions took the advice of some colleagues and has the dates wrapped in blue cheese and bacon.  They were equally pleased.

I ordered the butternut squash ravioli for my entrée, and when I tasted it, discovered that Founding Farmers does not place salt and pepper on the table.  I had an internal eye-roll moment before asking the waiter if the chef would have a problem with my salting my meal.  He replied that the chef didn’t need to know and brought me a shaker.  I have now forgotten what my companions ate, but we were all happy with our choices.  (Note: Founding Farmers also has a Grilled Cheese sandwich on the menu, which I later found on a local list of Best in Town.)

For dessert, we could decide between the Seasonal Fruit Tart and the Red Velvet Cake so we ordered both.  The cake was very tasty, but that tart was worth going back for all by itself.  It came with a scoop of ice cream, so the three of us would have been perfectly satisfied splitting the one dessert.

Overall, an outstanding meal.  I only wish it were walkable from my office.

Lucky for me, Austin had also been eating large “on the road” meals and was happy to meet me at my regular Noodles & Company for something simple.  We spent three hours catching up without running out of things to say.  He later noted on Facebook that with some friends, it doesn’t matter how long it has been, you can pick up right where you left off.  Totally true.  However, I sometimes worry that I take that gift for granted and don’t reach out to people often enough – thinking there will always be time.  But that is a subject for another post.

So thank you to Pat and Kathy, who got me out to try something new.  Thank you Austin, for paying attention to FourSquare and catching me on the spot.  And Holly – I will see you next time!


The Price of Low Fat Chocolate Milk

On the average day, I drink a Milk Chug for breakfast.  To be specific, a 16 ounce bottle of Dean’s Low Fat Chocolate Milk.  All chocolatey goodness with the required protein and ridiculously convenient.   I buy them from the sundry store in my building.  Not cost-efficient, but hardly as bad as a Starbucks habit (which will come on in the winter).

Because it is an occupational hazard, I know the price of milk is rising, so I have been waiting for the retail cost of my daily milk chug to go up.  Then the other day, when I grabbed a bottle from the store refrigerator, I noticed something off:

The bottle read 14 ounces of chocolate milk.

Now I knew about that kind of cheating on ice cream – same price, smaller container.  But I had never seen it with milk before.  Gallon, half-gallon, pint, half-pint.  But 14 ounces?

Huh.  Dennis, the proprietor of the store, said the price had been going up wholesale.  He just hadn’t passed it on yet.  And when I made the comment about ice cream, he said that lots of other products have been doing that – potato chips and cereal were the two he mentioned.  Things that tend to go stale in my house, anyway.

So.  Two fewer ounces of chocolate milk are hardly going to kill me.  But attention must be paid!