Making Lavender Sugar on

Now is the Time to Make Homemade Gifts

Making Lavender Sugar for Homemade Gifts

Making Lavender Sugar

Homemade Gifts

It’s never to early to start making homemade gifts. Less expensive and more personal, they can also be easy to make. If you don’t know what to buy, or are attending a party, a gift from the kitchen can be the perfect solution.

Gifts From Children

Since most children have limited funds, creative homemade gifts are more authentic than something bought in their name.  What could be better than homemade gifts for grandma, or homemade gifts for teachers. Butters, granola and flavored sugars are all easy family-friendly kitchen projects.

Sugar on


Flavored Sugars

Although I am not a child, I still prefer a simple project. Something slightly unusual, but easy to make in bulk. This year my theme is lavender sugar.


Finely Ground Sugar and Lavender on

Finely Ground Sugar and Lavender

Hostess Gifts

Instead of a bottle of wine or a fragrant candle, it’s nice to bring something different to a party. I’ve chosen lavender sugar because it is so versatile.

What to Do with Lavender Sugar

Although flavored sugars are often used in baking, they can also add flavor to butters, whipped cream and drinks. Now that Starbucks have become an ubiquitous feature of the American landscape, coffee and tea drinking have been embraced by young and old alike. Almost everyone now has a favorite coffee or tea. Personally, I like the floral flavors of lavender sugar with tea, or when added to a latte. I also think lavender sugar is delicious when added to whipped cream for fruit pies or made into a compound butter for breakfast biscuits or scones.

Homemade Gifts for Men

Since many people find men hard to shop for, I thought I would share my holiday gift idea. For the men on my list I’m making a gift of lavender sugar, syrup and a cocktail recipe. My favorite lavender cocktail is a Lavender Martini. The recipe is from the Cypress restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina and was published in Food & Wine magazine. My variation is slightly more indulgent than the original. Instead of garnishing with a sprig of lavender, I gild the lily by encasing the rim of the glass in lavender sugar. Since winter is long in Chicago, I hope this drink can substitute for a trip to the south of France.


Holiday Ideas

Find out why you want Vernors Ginger Ale for Thanksgiving and get my mom’s holiday punch recipe in my blog post about the Detroit original. Also for holiday dessert ideas: try my recipes for chocolate rugelah and tiramisu.

Lavender on



Lavender Sugar

Makes 2 cups

1 tablespoon culinary lavender buds

2 cups sugar


Add the lavender and 1 cup of sugar to a food processor and process until well blended. Mix the fine-ground lavender sugar with 1 cup sugar. Divide into 2 decorative containers.

Lavender Syrup

Makes 1 cup

1 cup lavender sugar

1 cup water


Add the water and sugar to a saucepan. Heat over medium. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Strain.Pour the cool syrup into a decorative bottle.

Vernors Boston Cooler Ice Cream Drink

Vernors Ginger Ale and Why You Want it for Thanksgiving

Vernors Boston Cooler Ice Cream Drink

Vernors Boston Cooler

Vernors Ginger Ale

Vernors Ginger Ale (originally Vernor’s) is a bold flavored, highly effervescent soda pop with notes of vanilla. Originally a product of Detroit, it is now part of theDr. Pepper Snapple Group. Nevertheless it has a devoted following. Named Serious Eats “Best Ginger Ale” in 2014, it has a unique flavor profile. Popular as a beverage, ingredient and remedy; it is ubiquitous in Michigan households.


According to the Detroit Free Press, James Vernor studied pharmacy and received the first license to practice in the state of Michigan. Trying to mimic Irish ginger ales, he began experimenting with ginger syrups before being called up for the Civil War. Although lore has it that he returned home and found the beverage improved by four years of storage in oak casks, family members think he came up with the idea, then tried it when he returned home. In either case, he created one of the first soft drinks. Originally sold only at the Vernor’s Pharmacy soda fountain, in 1911 he applied for a patent for the soda that he’d been selling since 1880. Eventually James got out of the pharmacy business, and focused solely on the ginger ale he described as “deliciously different.”

Vernors Ginger Ale And Why You Want It for Thanksgiving

Iced Vernors Ginger Ale

Vernors at Thanksgiving

I’ve always loved Vernors, referred to as pop in my home state of Michigan. Like Coca-Cola, it has a strong taste and lots of bubbles. Imagine a mildly gingery flavored cream soda, rather than a traditional dry ginger ale. I find Vernors the a perfect accompaniment for a heavy meal like Thankgiving because It’s carbonation and ginger properties naturally aid digestion. The ginger flavor also blends well with the other holiday spices

Family Punch Recipe

My mother was not a pop drinker. Nevertheless, as a native of Michigan, her holiday punch recipe contains Vernors. A simple formula, it combines equal parts orange juice, cranberry juice and Vernors ginger ale. Simply pour the ingredients into a punch bowl over ice. An uncomplicated task, it’s a perfect way to get children to help prepare for company. I should know, it was my job.

Black Cow Ice Cream Drink

Black Cow


The most famous Vernors dessert is a Boston Cooler. It’s named for a street in Detroit that is renown for its palatial homes. Similar to a root beer float, it’s just Vernors poured over two scoops of vanilla ice cream. There are many variations of this treat. For a chocolate version, called a Black Cow, chocolate ice cream is substituted for vanilla. My father actually preferred his ice cream drinks as a frappe. His signature dessert drink blended the ice cream and ginger ale, with a tablespoon or two of creme de cocoa. Another more adult version, adds a jigger of rum, whisky or vanilla vodka to the mix. There are even Vernors cake and cupcake recipes, although I’ve never tried them.

Vernors Soda Pop

Vernors “Deliciously Different” Soda Pop


Ginger is widely accepted as a stomachache or nausea remedy. However, in Michigan, Vernors Ginger Ale is an all purpose remedy. Here are the three medicinal reasons I turn to Vernors. When I have indigestion I find the intense carbonation an excellent tonic. For a stomachache I find sipping the flattened ginger pop soothing. Finally, the most surprising way I use the drink is to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat or laryngitis. I warm the pop in the microwave and add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice.

Other Unique Products

For other great product ideas, read my articles about Spark Syrup for vinaigrette and holiday cocktails, and Lillie’s Q Barbeque Sauces and Spice House spice blends for easy oven baked ribs.



Shoyu Ramen

Ramen: New York, Chicago and How it Became So Popular

Shoyu Ramen



I don’t know about you, but the first time I saw ramen, it came it came in a brightly colored plastic package. Instant ramen, a 1970’s Japanese innovation, was popular with college students. It was cheap and filling. My boyfriend and his roommate bought every possible flavor.


The popularity of an artisanal version of the Japanese soup has now spread to cities across the country. In fact, in big cities it’s hard to keep up with the newest ramen purveyors.

Furious Ramen

Furious Spoon Ramen


In “The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze” NYU professor, George Solt chronicles the soup’s rise to cult status. A Chinese meal brought to Japan by nineteenth century traders, it became a working class staple. Renewed enthusiasm for the soup began with the development of instant ramen in the 70’s. In the 80’s and 90’s it morphed into a national foodie craze with celebrity chefs and ramen museums. It has now become an iconic national dish. In 2014, even The New Yorker ran an article on “The History of the Ramen Noodle.”  In it, the author recounts Professor Solt’s explanation of the important place ramen occupied in the US effort to fight the spread of communism in occupied post-war Japan. The US imported wheat for ramen noodles to alleviate food shortages and improve community morale.


It is the ramen broth that sets a ramen shop apart. Momofuko Noodle Bar, in New York City’s East Village can probably be credited with starting the craze in the US. Their tonkotsu broth is famous for the depth of it’s pork flavor. The Momofuko broth is made from a long simmering stock of pork bones, ham hocks, bacon and chicken legs.  Generous slices of Berkshire pork belly and shredded pork shoulder further reinforce the hearty pork flavor.

At the Bar at Furious Spoon

Bar Seating at Furious Spoon

Furious Spoon

Chicago’s Furious Spoon gets high marks for its wide range of flavorful broths, and homemade noodles. Vegetarians and light eaters like the miso based vegetable soup. I prefer the heartier choices. I usually get the Shoyu with pork belly and a poached egg, or the spicy Furious Ramen which adds white pepper chicken to the above proteins, along with marinated mushrooms and garlic relish. While some may not like the bar and communal hightop seating, it is actually appropriate to the meal. Ramen should be eaten right away, while it is piping hot. The noodles, broth and toppings start to degrade almost immediately. Slurping is not only expected, cupping them in your mouth enhances the flavors.

Furious Spoon Decor

Furious Spoon Restaurant

Table To Stix Ramen

Table to Stix is my local ramen shop. An Evanston favorite, it is popular with both locals and Northwestern students. They offer three broths, miso, shoyu and tonkotsu. I like the shrimp focused shoyu or the veggie miso. While I can’t resist the crunchy corn, I try to limit my hot sauce and toppings so that the flavorful broth can shine through.

Ramen to Stix Decor

Ramen to Stix Restaurant

Chicago Restaurants

For other  Chicago restaurant ideas read my reviews of Cellar Door ProvisionsMango Pickle, and The Lucky Platter.



Stack of Cappuccino Macaron

Why the Macaron is Everywhere and Where to Get One in Chicago


The Macaron is everywhere. A colorful french cookie, it is available in pastry shops across the US. The opportunity to pair unique flavor combinations, have made it a favorite of both bakers and foodies. The cute technicolor treats are also photogenic, and have become a popular feature on Instagram. Like the doughnut, it’s even been declared “the new cupcake.”

Stack of Cappuccino Macaron

Cappuccino Macaron

Macaron vs Macaroon

Although both the macaron and macaroon are usually gluten-free, that is where the similarity ends. Macarons are meringue sandwich cookies that have a remarkable texture. The exterior is delicate and crunchy, which gives way to a chewy finish. The imaginative macaron fillings range from fruit curds, to ganache or buttercream . Alternatively, a macaroon usually refers to a coconut macaroon, a chewy cookie made with coconut, egg whites and sugar. Since they do not require flour, they are a popular Passover dessert.

Three Macaron

Chocolate, Salted Caramel & Cappuccino Flavors


The original merengue cookie was brought to France from Italy in 1533, by the chef of Catherine of Medici. In the mid-twentieth Lauderee, one of the original Parisian tea rooms created the modern interpretation of the delicacy. A merengue sandwich cookie with filling. In 1993 a patron bought, promoted and expanded the business, including a shop on the Champs Elysees. The brand’s exquisite macaron boxes are a symbol of luxury. They are now Lauderee shops around the world and online.

Macaron Flavors at the Bakery

Macaron Flavors


In Chicago, one of my favorite spots, is authentic french patisserie Vanille. Located in the Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods, this acclaimed bakery’s artisanal desserts include a line of macarons. Traditional macaron flavors include nutella, red velvet, rose and lavender. Seasonal favorites range from strawberry- lemongrass to gingerbread.

Bennison's Bakery Sign

Bennison’s Bakery


Chicago Magazine recognized my local favorite, Evanston’s Bennison’s Bakery as having the best macarons they had found. This week’s flavors include cappuccino, salted caramel, and pistachio, as well as fall favorites pumpkin and taffy apple.

Pumpkin Macaron on Pumpkin Pie

Decorated Pumpkin Pie


For more dessert ideas read my articles about Chicago’s Cellar Door Provisions, and my recipes for hot chocolate, tiramisu and dutch babies.


Monkey Bread

Why Cellar Door Provisions is Chicago’s Best Bakery

Monkey Bread

Monkey Bread at Cellar Door Provisions

Cellar Door Provisions

Cellar Door ProvIsions in Chicago’s Logan Square is more than a bakery. Described as the “best cafe in town” in Bon Appetit‘s recent article “Chicago is the Restaurant City of the Year,” it is also a bistro on weekend nights. More importantly what sets Cellar Door Provisions apart is it’s dedication to technique and community oriented sourcing. It’s a high end dining experience at a reasonable price.

Squash Soup

Squash Soup


Cellar Door Provisions is dedicated to locavore principles. Their sources are local farms, and they make almost everything they serve in house. That includes butter, yogurt, cheese, spice blends, bread and pastries. Their menu changes weekly and sometimes more often.

Lunch Menu at Cellar Door Provisions

Lunch Menu


I thought I was going to Cellar Door Provisions for a healthy gourmet lunch. I soon learned it might also be the best bakery in Chicago. Fortunately, my friend was acquainted with their pastries. We began with caneles before they sold out.  They are perfection, tender and custardy inside, with a crackly caramelized crust. A fruit tart was just the dessert for such an earnestly wholesome meal. The one here has a memorable crust, with an extraordinary balance of salt and sweet.

Pear Tart and a Canale at Cellar Door Provisions

Pear Tart and a Canale

Return Visits

There are many great Chicago bakeries. Nevertheless, I have been longing for one that also incorporates whole grains like Sqirl and Huckleberry in California. I was so excited I returned twice in the next week. The first visit yielded an unusual palmier, made with spelt flour and caraway in addition to sugar, it packs both sweet and savory in every bite. On my subsequent visit I discovered more delicious pastries made with the same care, ranging from rugelah and sesame cookies to monkey bread.

Sesame Cookies at Cellar Door Provisions

Sesame Cookies

Bread & Butter

Homemade bread and butter are definitely worth considering. The attention to detail is evident in the loaf’s crusty exterior and flavorful tangy center. It’s a hearty choice, the perfect accompaniment to soup or salad.

House-made Butter & Bread

House-made Butter & Bread


The lunch menu provides numerous opportunities to sample local produce. Kale salad and squash soup are tasty.  Nevertheless they are eclipsed by the dishes that include the ethereal baked goods. The quiche, a  revolving staple, is extraordinary, featuring a custard that is incomparably rich. Even the Chinese steamed buns that accompany a melange of roasted vegetables are light and airy.

Steamed Buns with Roasted Vegetables

Steamed Buns with Roasted Vegetables

Chicago Restaurants

For other Chicago restaurant ideas read my reviews of Ixcateco Grill, Afghan Kebab House, and Na Korn.




Fresh Herbs

Why Now is the Time for Herbs

Fresh Herbs


Herbs in the Garden

I love having fresh herbs for whatever I am cooking. My garden has a profusion of every variety. Three types of basil, English and lemon thyme, rosemary, parsley and lemongrass. I even have lavender for making syrup.

Garden Herbs

Herbs in the Garden

Great Lakes Gardening

Herbs are hearty plants. Given favorable conditions they thrive with little attention. Nevertheless the Chicago climate will not sustain them long past October. Not wanting to let something so precious go to waste, I experiment while I can.. I also fill my freezer with some favorites.

Egg Salad Sandwich with Herbs

Egg Salad Sandwich with Chives and Parsley

Egg Salad Experiment

I thought I would love a zesty light egg salad filled with herbs and vegetables. In truth, the crunch I enjoy in chicken salad did not translate to my conception of egg salad. I enjoyed photographing the components of the dish, more than the sandwich. Perhaps comfort foods aren’t meant to be improved.

Egg Salad Components

Photographing Egg Salad


My favorite food to make from herbs is pesto. I have plenty of basil, pine nuts and parmesan for the traditional variety. I’ve also been experimenting with some new pesto recipes. My newest creation is a mint, parsley, lemon and walnut pesto that I paired with lamb marinated in garlic and rosemary.

Toasted Walnuts


Frozen Fresh Herbs

One way to preserve fresh herbs is to freeze them. The easiest way is to chop fresh herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays. On winter days the ice cubes can be added to impart fresh flavor to sauces and stews

Mint Parsley Walnut Pesto

Mint Parsley Pesto


Syrups are a delicious addition to desserts, tea, sodas and cocktails. They are also easy to make; one part sugar dissolved in 1 part boiling water then infused with at least an ounce of the chosen herb for two hours. Strain and your syrup is ready. Thyme, basil and lemongrass are some of my favorites.

For more fall meal ideas try my chicken sausage succotash, chicken soup, or charred broccoli.


Mint Parsley Pesto

2 handfuls of parsley

2 handfuls of mint

1/4  cup walnuts

1/2 clove minced garlic

Lemon zest from 1/2 a lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Toast walnuts over medium high heat, stirring frequently/ for 5 minutes. The walnuts are ready when they are slightly browned and smell toasty.

Process all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Add more olive oil if necessary for pourable  consistency. Taste for flavor balance. Serve as a sauce for meat or vegetables.



Not Scary Spider Sushi Roll

When You Are Looking for Great Sushi

Not Scary Spider Sushi Roll

Not Scary Spider Sushi Roll


Like most major cities, Chicago has a wealth of sushi restaurants. While I like to try the newest and most authentic spots, I most often have sushi delivered.

Make It Better

Although Evanston has both neighborhood and date-night sushi places, my favorite local sushi purveyor is Wilmette’s 153 Akira at 1137 Greenleaf Ave. A welcoming neighborhood restaurant, it has developed a reputation for quality. In 2015 it won Make It Better‘s Best Sushi Restaurant.

 Best Sushi Restaurant 2015

Make It Better’s Best Sushi Restaurant 2015

153 Akira

153 Akira offers a wide selection. My favorites are the sushi bar appetizers, the fusion rolls and the poke bowls. Traditionalists enjoy the the high quality of the sushi and sashimi options. There are also plenty of choices for people who don’t eat raw fish, including both noodle soups and traditional Japanese entrees.


My devotion to 153 Akira began when I tried the the sushi bar entrees. The Hamachi Ponzu and Tuna Tar Tar transported me back to a meal I’d had at Nobu, without the high prices. Traditional “kitchen appetizers” such as the Negi Beef Roll and Edamame are also also delicious.

Bowl of Edamame


Fusion Rolls

In addition to classic rolls, 153 Akira has a list of more than 20 unique fusion rolls. My order usually includes the Not Scary Spider (softshell crab, avocado, tuna and cucumber topped with pineapple sauce, eel sauce and tobiko) and the Red Ocean (Spicy tuna and cucumber topped with seared tuna, spicy mayo, eel sauce and tobiko.)

Red Ocean Sushi Roll

Red Ocean Sushi Roll at 153 Akira

Poke Bowl

My new favorite “healthyish” meal is poke. Protein and vegetables on a bed of brown rice feels virtuous when I’ve had too many desserts. Fortunately 153 Akira has added poke bowls to their menu. I like the both the tuna – based Hawaiian Classic and the Salmon Obsession.

Under the Weather

When I have a cold, I like soup for dinner. If I don’t have chicken noodle in the freezer, I order the Tempura Udon from 153 Akira. A broth – based soup topped with shrimp and vegetable tempura, it always warms me up.

Chicagoland Dining

For other ideas about where to eat around Chicagoland read my reviews of: Chicago’s Ixcateco Grill, Evanston’s Afghan Kebab House, and The Lucky Platter.