On Sunday it was time for all of us (minus Ryan and Turkey) to head home so that Moose could march with his school’s band in the town Memorial Day parade on Monday. We said a sad goodbye to Combo Breaker:
And got a few last pictures:
We took one last walk around the beautiful hotel lobby:
And then hit the road. We were excited to watch the odometer kick over to 80,000 miles on the way. We were even more excited to stop at Portillo’s and eat lunch on their patio!
It was weird arriving home without two members of our family, but they returned Monday with gifts. I didn’t have the opportunity to stop at a Jewel-Osco while we were in Chicago, but Ryan found time to buy my favorite chocolate torte:
And he brought back staff medals for the entire family as thanks for the work we did over the weekend…I was rather overwhelmed at being recognized!
And so that wraps up what was a slightly shorter than usual but greatly appreciated trip up to Chicagoland for Combo Breaker. Hopefully it won’t be another three years before we make it back, but like I said, I won’t take it for granted again!
After what was a very strange and low-key Christmas last year, this year’s three-day Christmas celebration was closer to the normal we remember. We started the day on Christmas Eve by forgetting to eat the Christmas Crunch I had been saving specifically for that day. The Fab Five (specifically Turkey) finished building the Lego Millennium Falcon in the morning:
I found some time to play Animal Crossing and deliver gifts to all my neighbors:
We enjoyed Portillo’s for an early dinner before church:
And we got to go to church inside this Christmas Eve!
On the way home, we stopped to see the city of St. Louis Christmas tree and drove through the Way of Lights:
Of course I took pictures when we got home!
We lit the Advent wreath and had birthday cake:
And the Fab Five received their yearly gift of Christmas jammies…this year’s theme was gnomes!
I filled the stockings and made sure the tree and nativity scene were just right before I went to bed:
On Christmas Day morning we had our traditional Christmas coffee cake, plus the previously-forgotten Christmas Crunch:
We got to go to church on Christmas Day this year!
And I even had a chance to take a picture of the Fab Five without their masks before the service because we arrived so early and there was hardly anybody else there yet:
We opened presents after we got home:
And had the best meal of the year, the “pick out dinner.”
There were old favorites and a few new items:
I think the star of the meal, though, was the charcuterie board I put together, featuring salame roses:
Seriously, it’s the most delicious dinner ever!
And this morning, we were back at church, and again we had an opportunity to take a mask-free picture, this time of the whole family!
Tonight we had our fancy Christmas dinner, featuring beef Wellington:
It was also a delicious dinner (but not as good as the pick out dinner!).
For dessert I made both a gingerbread Yule log with sugared cranberries and a more traditional chocolate variety:
So this Christmas was still a little different, but more familiar than last year. I’m so grateful we had more opportunities for worship this year, and the ability to have family visit. Maybe next Christmas will be more normal still!
This recipe for a copycat of the famous Portillo’s chocolate cake is hardly new…you can find it all over the internet. And the special ingredient, mayonnaise, is hardly unique to Portillo’s…I’ve seen decades-old cake recipes use mayo as an ingredient. But just in case you’ve never run across this recipe for an amazingly moist chocolate cake with tons of frosting, I thought I’d share it here, too! It’s perfect for a birthday or other celebration!!!
1 box devil’s food cake mix
1 cup ice-cold water
1 cup mayonnaise
2-3 tubs milk chocolate frosting (yes, canned frosting, and you really can’t use too much!)
Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and “flour” (since it’s a chocolate cake, I used cocoa powder) two cake pans.
Combine cake mix, eggs, water, and mayonnaise in large bowl. Mix on low for 30 seconds. Increase to high and mix for 5 minutes more.
Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness.
Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Turn out cakes and cool completely.
Level cake tops and frost the cake with lots of chocolate frosting. Seriously…Portillo’s uses two pounds of frosting in each of their chocolate cakes, so use more than you think you should! Top with sprinkles if desired.
Today, Ryan and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary!
The traditional 20th anniversary gift is china, so Ryan gave me this beautiful vintage brooch (from England!):
I had Cardinals jerseys customized as my gift to him:
We’re still not comfortable eating out, so we had Portillo’s Italian beef and sausage shipped right to our door:
And I made s’mores bark for dessert:
We couldn’t go on the trip to London that Ryan had planned for our 20th anniversary (maybe next year…or the year after), but he could take a trip to visit my island of Gloriana, which I had ready for a wedding celebration:
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years…I hope the next 20 don’t fly by quite as quickly!
This has been a good month for cooking! We’ve had some favorite meals and some special meals, and we even had two different dinners from Portillo’s, because this time when I ordered our Italian beef and sausage combo I added in an order of tamales (totally delicious, and we have enough left in the freezer for another meal!). I’ll admit I was a little worried about being able to find everything I needed for all of our culinary traditions, but while I did have to enter a few more stores than I would have preferred, in the end I found everything that was necessary.
We also baked all of the things. I’m shocked there are any baking supplies left in our town. The kitchen still smells vaguely like a bakery!
And a few special beverages for the holidays…hot chocolate from our New Year’s Eve hot chocolate bar, wassail (which I’ve made a few times in the last two months), and homemade eggnog, which is a real treat!
You’d think that would be the end of fancy meals for a while, but Ryan’s birthday is tomorrow, so we’ll have at least one more special dinner in the next month!
Time for a look at this year’s scaled-back Christmas celebration. Some things were the same, like starting Christmas Eve with a bowl of Christmas Crunch:
Some things were different…but not necessarily because of COVID-19. I had a fun time playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and helping Jingle deliver his gifts yesterday morning:
The Fab Five finished this year’s Advent project, Lego Diagon Alley:
And I played Animal Crossing some more:
Our Christmas Eve dinner was different this year…I ordered tamales from Portillo’s, and we had them before church.
I always take pictures before church. This year, I took two sets. One with the year’s hottest accessory:
And one without:
This year, we attended an outdoor Christmas Eve service. It was cold, so we weren’t too sad it was short (although I missed all off the familiar Christmas hymns!). We did chuckle when a helicopter flew over during “Silent Night,” drowning out the singing!
We drove through the Way of Lights on the way home:
For Jesus’ birthday cake this year, I made a peppermint chocolate cake with two kinds of frosting (white chocolate peppermint buttercream inside, and an Italian buttercream outside). I think this is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made!
Of course there were new Christmas jammies:
We skipped playing Ticket to Ride on Christmas Eve, so I just had to fill the stockings and set up the nativity scene under the tree before bed:
We didn’t have to get up early, so we enjoyed our traditional Christmas morning coffee cake a little later than usual (but not much):
And since we didn’t have a Christmas Day service to go to (probably the biggest disappointment of the holiday for me), we opened presents in the morning, which was very strange!
We had our traditional Christmas Eve “pick out dinner” for Christmas Day lunch…and dinner (we’re saving our fancy Christmas feast for Sunday…stay tuned!). Here’s a look at some of the things we had:
We spent the afternoon watching Christmas movies, including my very favorite, White Christmas. We played our annual Christmas Eve game of Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries tonight. And since we were a day late, we also played the new Ticket to Ride game Ryan gave me, the 15th anniversary edition with clear trains, which I love! Everything is different this year…we might as well embrace it!
“Hail, O everlasting morn! Hail, redemption’s happy dawn! Sing through all Jerusalem: ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!'”
I’m not going to lie…I’m not really sure that I’m ready for the 2020-21 school year. If I’m totally honest, I’m kind of dreading it for several reasons, and the top reason actually has nothing to do with COVID-19. Instead, I’m apprehensive because it’s Turkey and Bunny’s last year of homeschooling. That’s right…this experiment that we began in 2008 when they started kindergarten is now coming to a close, at least for them. And I’m afraid I’m going to spend the entire school year crying, as each “last time” comes up.
But, our homeschooling experiment is far from over, especially now that Moose is joining us at home while doing distance-learning for at least the first semester of his first year of high school (which, again if I’m honest, is a little scary to me), so one way or another, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for our most unique and challenging year of homeschooling (which includes two twelfth graders, a 9th grader, an 8th grader, and a 3rd grader) yet!
First, a look at some of the fun we’ve had in the last week of summer vacation, including Lego-building and cookie-baking. We may not have been able to travel this summer, or even do the usual local stuff we would during the summer, but we still managed to have fun experiences!
Tonight was our annual “Farewell to Summer” dinner, this time a mail-order meal from Portillo’s, which mirrors a dinner we had shortly before summer break began.
A summer classic for dessert…root beer floats:
Plus some Frango mints, another little taste of Chicago:
This year’s first-day-of-school outfits are Animal Crossing themed. It’s a good reflection of our summer, and they were pretty easy to get in a time when clothes shopping can be a little challenging.
The school room has been cleaned and organized…it looks pretty much like it did for most of last year, with the keyboard being the most recent (but not really new anymore) addition:
I prepared the schultüte for tomorrow, too:
So that’s pretty much it. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be, and our 13th year of homeschooling begins bright and early tomorrow morning!
Here we are, already at the end of our virtual vacation. After packing up the car, we had one more stop planned before we hit the road…a tour of Wrigley Field! (Pardon the blurry photo…it’s a picture of a not great picture I took in college!)
After visiting the Friendly Confines, we would have made our way to Rainbow Cone to enjoy the ice cream treat they’re famous for:
I love driving through the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago…there are so many cool vintage signs!
The final stop of our Memorial Day Weekend trip is always a meal at Portillo’s, where I get the Italian beef, dipped, of course!
And then home sweet home…no matter how much fun we’ve had, it’s always nice to pull into our driveway (and begin the process of doing all of our vacation laundry!).
Continuing “virtual vacation” week with a special Tasty Tuesday…Portillo’s at home!
It’s not news that I love Portillo’s and a big part of any trip we take to Chicago includes stopping at Portillo’s on the way home. I already shared my special Mother’s Day dinner of the Portillo’s Italian beef and sausage combo, but let’s take a closer look, while I dream about visiting Chicago from the comfort of my home.
Their shipping via UPS was excellent and speedy (and is included in the price, which I think is beyond reasonable!), and when I received my order the ice packs were still frozen solid. The dinner for eight kit includes two containers of beef gravy, two packages of Portillo’s amazing Italian beef, an eight-pack of Italian sausages, a jar of hot giardiniera, a bag of roasted sweet peppers, and eight Turano French bread rolls. There are also detailed reheating instructions, and a PAPER HAT!
The reheating process was pretty easy, and didn’t take long at all, and when it was all said and done, I had a Portillo’s Italian beef (dipped, of course), that tasted almost like being in the restaurant. Sorry there’s no picture of the Italian sausage, or even better, the full combo…I’m really just here for the beef, but I heard from many reputable sources in my house that the sausage was good!
I would definitely do this again, especially if the time before we get to go back to Chicago stretches out too long. There was way more meat than we could put in eight sandwiches, so we were able to stretch the leftovers out for a whole other dinner. The only downside was that we didn’t have enough of the amazing rolls left for everybody to have one the second time around. That’s a minor detail, though, and I think the value of what we received for the price we paid ($99.95 plus tax shipped) was exceptional! I’m glad we could have a little taste of Chicago at home!!!