Monday, December 19, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays My daughter gives Santa Claus her famous side-eye

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#makesmesmilemondays a visit with Santa Claus

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Italian for Children: Insieme a Chicago debuts January 16th

File:Flag of Italy.svgI am happy to share the details of a new Italian language program for children in Chicago!

Insieme a Chicago is an Italian language program for children from birth to 6 years old. “Insieme” is Italian for “together” and as the name implies “Insieme a Chicago” gathers Italian speakers and Italianophiles “together”, in a space specifically designed for their little ones! Children will enjoy playing age appropriate games, singing songs, nursery rhymes and lullabies, dancing, listening to storytelling and participating in fun activities with their peers in a 100% Italian environment.

Parents are encouraged to participate in the program with their children: both will experience the warm, Italian sense of community that naturally spreads through Insieme a Chicago.

The “Insieme” children are divided into two age-based groups hosting a maximum of 8 students each: “Il Nido” for children 0 to 3 years old and “Il Volo” for children 4 to 6 years old. While our little ones (0-3) will engage in a multilevel setting, our older ones (4-6) will be assigned to a beginner/intermediate group or a native and native-like group.

A group for children older than 6 is coming soon!

With the goal of play-based learning and sharing of our Italian heritage and fondness, Insieme a Chicago invites you to join in creating a little piece of Italy in Chicago for our children to grow with…together!

• “Il nido” Group for children 0 to 3 years old

o 60 minutes once a week program

o 8 weeks session

o The group meets on Mondays from 10 to 11am

o First session starts on Monday, January 16th and ends on March 5th 2012

o Inauguration price: $20 per class

o Siblings discount: second child receives 10% discount. More discount opportunities for families of more than two children!

o Infants through 9 months are tuition free

• “Il volo” Group, for children 4 to 6 years old

o 85 minutes once a week program

o 8 week session

o The group meets on Mondays from 4 to 5.25 pm

o First session starts on January 16th and ends on March 5th 2012

o Inauguration price: $27 per class

o Siblings discount: second child receives 10% discount. More discount opportunities for families of more than two children!

• All classes will meet at: 3759 N. Ravenswood Avenue, Suite 119 Chicago, IL 60613

Interested? For more information, contact Contact: Barbara De Bernardi, Program Director at; Tel. 312/451.6880

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Book Recommendations

This article originally appeared on

Growing up, I always looked forward to receiving a haul of books from Santa - who knew very well that this book loving girl needed a lot of material to get her through the long, cold winter months. I fondly remember wiling away hours cuddled up under the Christmas tree with a good book, or two, or three.

So, to help Santa out a little, here are my top seven picks for fun, new holiday reads, all available at,, or better yet, at your local bookseller or library:

Tag along with a band of Christmas elves that strive to make people's lives better in the days leading up to Christmas in theThe Helpful Elves by August Kopisch. The story itself is based on a turn-of-the-century poem by Kopisch; the cute, die-cut elves peeking out over each page give the book itself a retro feel . Ages 2 - 7

The amazing animal and insect photography of Curious Critters by David Fitzsimmons leads children to the answers of such questions as Can squirrels fly? and What do turtles and humans have in common? David FitzSimmons' stunning photography is simply brilliant; he manages to capture creatures at their magnificent, natural best. Set this book on your coffee table for browsing throughout the year. All ages

In Santa's New Idea, by Nina Chen, Santa mixes Christmas up a bit when he decides to let the toys choose the children! This simple board book is perfect for toddlers and early preschoolers. Ages 2 - 5

Merry Christmas, Mr. Snowman by Wolfgang Hamel tells the tale of a group of schoolchildren building a snowman on Christmas Eve. When the weather turns too hot for Mr. Snowman, it's time to take the party outdoors. Ages 2 - 7

The Nutcracker Ballet, written and illustrated by Chicagoan Aleksandra Efinmova, a former ballerina, is the perfect accompaniment for a first trip to the eponymous ballet. Classical illustrations and easy-to-read text introduce children to the wonders and stories behind classical ballet. Efinmova has also penned Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, both primers to the world or ballet, as part of her continuing Growing through Arts series of books, cd's and toys focused on the classical arts ( Ages 3 - 10

Sister Bear: A Norse Tale, by award-winning, bestselling author Jane Yolen, is a lovely take on a traditional Norwegian folktale. When a young Norwegian girl, Halva, takes in an abandoned bear cub as her unofficial sister, she disovers a kindred spirit. Follow along as this bear/girl duo sled through the snow, frolic and fight a band of giant trolls. The rich illustrations of Linda Graves will transport you to wintertime in Scandinavia. Ages 4-10

Forget about the frilly, prissy princesses! Learn the truth behind some of history's most notorious women in Goosebottom Books' new series, The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Dastardly Dames. From the atrocious Agrippina to the bold Black Queen Catherine de 'Medici, these books charm with their fun take on some of history's most challenging rulers, bringing them back to life by detailing what they wore, ate, and why they made certain, often downright nasty, choices. Maps, photos and historic artifacts supply the historical context. Currently available titles in the series introduce young readers to Cleopatra, Agrippina, Mary Tudor, Catherine de' Medici, Marie Antoinette, and Cixi, the Dragon Empress. Ages 4-12

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dinner with Dessert with Friends - Easiest Holiday Dessert Ever: Pumpkin Dump Cake

Thanks to Duncan Hines for sponsoring my writing. There's no limit to the baking possibilities, so grab your favorite Duncan Hines mix and Comstock or Wilderness fruit fillings and Bake On!

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This year, our winter break begins the day before Christmas Eve, leaving me with little time to spend prepping the home or preparing elaborate pre-holiday meals. I am always on the lookout for holiday decor and recipe ideas that are simple, simple, simple.

Here's a tried and tested menu for a simple pumpkin themed dinner and dessert with friends:

Antipasti: Selection of Italian Antipasti: Prosciutto, Olives, Taralli - we love the selection at Caputo's Fresh Markets. Here is a great how-to on Italian antipasti by Giada DeLaurentiis.

Primo PiattoPumpkin Risotto 

Secondo: Braised Chicken with Garlic and White Wine

Contorno: If I had more time, baked artichokes with lemon. But since I don't, simple, sauteed broccoli will do.

Dolce: The kids will even be able to help with this easy recipe! Pumpkin Dump Cake is more like a pudding. Serve it will a dollop of whipped cream - I guarantee that this will become a holiday favorite for your family, too!

Pumpkin Dump Cake
-1 (29 oz.) can pumpkin
-1 cup of sugar
- 1 (13 oz.) can evaporated milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tbs pumpkin pie spices
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 box Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake Mix
- 3/4 cup butter, melted
- 1 c. pecans, chopped
Combine pumpkin, sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, pumpkin pie spices and salt in mixing bowl. Beat well. Pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 inch glass pan. Sprinkle cake mix over pumpkin mixture, then sprinkle on the pecans. Pour melted butter over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Remember to check out Duncan Hines' website to find some great recipes for your holiday get-together! I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

#makesmesmilemondays Depression Cooking with Clara Cannuciara

Clara Cannuciara's online cooking show, Great Depression Cooking with Clara, always makes me smile. This spunky 97 year old grandma presents easy, inexpensive recipes that her mother used to prepare during the depression. I enjoyed her book too, which is a collection of anecdotes and recipes. Born in Chicago in 1915, Clara is the daughter of Sicilian parents, and many of her recipes reflect her Italian heritage: Pasta with peas is one of our favorites, and she also demonstrates an easy recipe for traditional holiday biscotti. Visit Clara's website, and find a list of her delicious recipes here.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Callling All Sweet Teeth! Enter to win a trip for two to CakeSpy headquarters in Seattle!

Here's a fun contest I'm happy to share with my sweet toothed readers!

Have you ever been to It bills itself as a Dessert Detective Agency "dedicated to seeking sweetness (literally) in everyday life." You'll find writing about bakeries, sweet inspired art, baking product reviews, baking experiments, interviews and insight from bakers and food artists. 

Jessie Oleson, a.k.a. sweet treats blogger CakeSpy, and Sasquatch Books have teamed up to offer a lucky winner a trip for two to CakeSpy headquarters in Seattle! CakeSpy is "accepting applications" for dessert detectives in the So You Wanna Be a CakeSpy? Contest.

To enter the contest, submit a color photo of your own sweet treat along with a brief description. Jessie will be picking her favorite from the entries, and the winner will enjoy a trip for two to Seattle and a host of other fun prizes, including CakeSpy artwork, CakeSpy goodies, and signed copies of Jessie's new book CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life. Meanwhile, just in time for that holiday cookie exchange you're invited to, check out some of Jessie's sweet recipes here:

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Disclosure: I would have posted this contest info regardless, because I like, but in return CakeSpy and Sasquatch Books are sending me a copy of Jessie's latest book.