Scent #1: See by Chloe

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Here’s the official description of See by Chloe printed on the Fragrance Sampler box: “An optimistic scent, with beautiful apple blossom, designed to capture your playful charm.”

When I think back to when I was 8 or 9 years old and growing up in the suburbs, I remember it in perpetual sunny summertime. And if it was summertime, I was riding my purple bike with the flowered banana seat.

There were a few houses beyond my mom’s but the subdivision was still being developed, and construction crews were busting their butts to build lots of new houses over the summer. Every morning, after a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, possibly wearing yellow seersucker shorts, I would roll down our short driveway and into the residential street to survey the goings-on from my purple bike. By that time — mid-morning and not too hot yet — the tan and grimy construction workers had been out for hours, their small excavators parked haphazardly, and stacks of plywood everywhere. I remember the brightness of the day and sounds of construction as I pedaled coolly past. Although it can’t be true, it feels like I didn’t go back inside the house until the lightning bugs came out and my mom called me in.

When I spritzed See by Chloe on my neck this morning, that bright memory came rushing back. Nothing more optimistic than sunny summertime.

Five fragrances

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I bought this Fragrance Sampler for Her at Sephora using the Sephora gift card my father in law gave me for Christmas. I love perfume, and even though I recently decided Flowerbomb by Viktor & Rolf would be my signature scent from age 40 to the day I die, I like to change it up every so often.

The sampler comes with a voucher for a free Rollerball of your favorite featured fragrance. So worst case, I get a free Rollerball of Flowerbomb, because it’s one of the five samples.

Will Flowerbomb be dethroned? Check back for the daily reviews!

16 sweet kids’ books

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The Plot, by Greta: It’s about crayons that quit. It’s funny!

The Backstory, by Mom: A super cute Christmas present from my sister to Greta, and the impetus for this list. The crayons each write a letter to Duncan, their owner, sharing their frustrations or requests. We’ve read it many times over the past few days. I just love when a kid’s book is beautiful and has a cute story. A great present.

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The Plot, by Greta: It’s about mistakes that you can make things out of.

The Backstory, by Mom: Cute for artsy kids like Greta. The lesson is, when paint drips and paper rips, you can turn your creation into something even better.

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The Plot, by Greta: There’s animals and neat colors. And people with friends.

The Backstory, by Mom: It has that great, distinctive artwork by Eric Carle and it’s a pleasure to read. A must-have for any toddler’s library.

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The Plot, by Greta: The little girl is mad — very mad. She’s really funny. She throws a fit. I have days like this.

The Backstory, by Mom: On the good behavior scale, Greta ranks above average in my opinion. But she was having quite a few “no, no, no” days a few years back. Patsy, who was treated to many of those disagreeable moods, got this book for Greta. I think recognizing herself in the little girl sort of took the wind out of Greta’s sails, in a good way. It’s a funny book — ripped from the headlines of real life with a preschooler! — with a sweet ending where she apologizes to her mom for being such a stinkpot.

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The Plot, by Greta: The little blue truck helps others. My brother really likes this book. And me!

The Backstory, by Mom: Mag was way into this book at one time. It was the theme of his 1-year birthday cake. The little blue truck says hi to every duck and horse on his way through a drive in the country. Then an unfriendly, speeding dump truck blows through and gets stuck in the mud. None of the animals will help because the truck was a jerk. Little Blue has a conscience so he tries to help the dump. Then because Little Blue needs help, the other animals pitch in. It has pretty, autumnal illustrations and cute animal and truck sounds.

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The Plot, by Greta: Patsy got me this book for Christmas one year. The brother pulls down his pants, which is funny.

The Backstory, by Mom: You don’t have to be a working mom to love this book. It’s about a little girl exploring her many career options. Smart and funny.

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The Plot, by Greta: This is a Christmas book and a pop-up book. It’s really cool.

The Backstory, by Mom: We have 2 or 3 of these. When Greta was an infant and we lived in Clintonville, Barrak — excited new dad that he was — came home with it a few nights before Christmas. Then we got a few more as gifts. It’s the classic “Twas the night before Christmas” story told in pop-up fashion, all crisp black and white with dots of red here and there. It’s almost too delicate for little hands.

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The Plot, by Greta: The little boy comes back to this tree every year because it’s his bestest friend. Ever.

The Backstory, by Mom: I can’t read this book without crying. The tree is a mother, right? She selflessly gives everything to make the boy happy.

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The Plot, by Greta: A little tractor helps a little calf. And every sunset, they go to the apple tree as friends.

The Backstory, by Mom: Even though Greta provided the plot, this is one of Mag’s favorites. Otis the tractor makes a sound that goes something like ‘putt puff puttedy chuff.’ The sound helps the scared little calf fall asleep, and Otis becomes like a surrogate mom. Sometimes I hear Magnus muttering that sound.

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The Plot, by Greta: A little boy meets the moon in the nighttime. And the little boy plays with the moon in the park.

The Backstory, by Mom: A bedtime favorite that came along when Magnus was a baby. The words are so soothing, the pictures (and the book itself) became unnecessary. “I took the moon for a walk last night / it followed me home like a still summer kite / though there wasn’t a string or a tail in sight / when I took the moon for a walk.” He’s 3 1/2 now and we just moved the glider out of his room. This is a story I’ll miss.

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The Plot, by Greta: It’s a Halloween book. There’s a witch and there’s a broom that she rides, and a cat. She loses her hat and she loses her wand. And she loses her bow. And all her stuff.

The Backstory, by Mom: A really cute Halloween story about a witch who keeps dropping her stuff. Each time she lands to pick up whatever she dropped, she lets more and more animals onto her broom until it finally snaps in half. The cadence and repetition of the story makes it enjoyable for kids. Or at least it does for me.

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The Plot, by Greta: It’s about a pumpkin that thinks he’s a pumpkin but really is a squash.

The Backstory, by Mom: Well, she kind of gave away the big twist there. The oddly shaped pumpkin doesn’t fit in with his round neighbors in the patch. October 31 comes and goes and he’s still sitting in the patch waiting for someone to pick him. Heartbreaking. Then he finally realizes he’s gay. I mean, a squash. A family favorite.

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The Plot, by Greta: I have no idea what this book is.

The Backstory, by Mom: Okay. The kids don’t really give two shits about this book. For starters, I can’t make it past page 6 or 7 without bursting into tears so we hardly ever read it. I bought this book from the Barnes & Noble in Mason, Ohio when I was around 7 months pregnant with Greta. Barrak and I had gone to the Cincinnati tennis tournament in Mason. While Barrak was filling up the gas tank afterward, I sat in the passenger seat flipping through my new purchase. The story is all about the hopes a mom has for her daughter as she grows up, has adventures, and leaves home. Jesus Christ. I rolled out of our Subaru and waddled around to my unsuspecting husband, my face wet and crumpled. ‘What?!? WHAT HAPPENED?!?!” he asked. This book just does a number on me. Maybe someday Greta can read it to herself.

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The Plot, by Greta: The girl lost her bunny in the laundromat. She went looking everywhere for her bunny. It was surprising for the girl when her dad found the bunny. It makes me feel happy.

The Backstory, by Mom: Greta loves this book. It’s by Mo Willems, who also writes the “Pigeon” series. Which Magnus is partial to.

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The Plot, by Greta: The donkey turned into a rock. Everyone in his family went looking for him. This book is sad and happy!

The Backstory, by Mom: This was a favorite of mine as a kid. Now that I’m a parent, it’s a fricking nightmare. It’s so hopelessly sad: a little boy accidentally turns himself into a rock. His poor parents! Can you imagine their despair? They can’t find Sylvester anywhere. At one point, one of them even unknowingly sits on him. But it has a happy ending.

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The Plot, by Greta: It’s about a little bunny and his grandma, which reminds me of when I go to my grandma’s house.

The Backstory, by Mom: This is one of the first gifts we got after Greta was born, from neighbors in Clintonville, and it has a Pavlovian effect on both my kids. The story makes no sense at all but the rhyme is soothing. That’s why it’s a classic I guess. If you ever get a chance to hear Susan Sarandon read it, which she does on an HBO special, get your blankie ready.

Accidental ham & bean soup

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When you find yourself with a half-eaten Honeybaked Ham, you know it’s time to make ham & bean soup. There are probably more complex recipes out there. But I use a simple one scribbled years ago while my mom rattled off the basic ingredients over the phone.

I’m calling this version ‘accidental’ because it came out extra good through no doing of mine. I sent Barrak to Kroger to get dried pinto or Great Northern beans and he came back with a mixed bag of 16 different dried beans. It includes pintos, blackeye peas, barley, navy, large and baby lima, white, red kidney, great northern, lentils and more.

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I’m not sure which of those 16 varietals should get credit — or if it’s due to the brown sugar crust on the ham — but the soup came out so mild and salty-sweet. It was kind of a revelation. Here’s the gist of the recipe:

  • Tablespoon of olive oil for sautéing
  • Honeybaked Ham — the bone + 2-3 cups of ham chopped off it
  • Bag of 16 dried beans (we used Kroger brand) / NOTE: chuck the ‘ham flavor packet’ that comes inside the bag
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • Tablespoon or more of fresh thyme leaves
  • Black pepper & NO salt (you get enough from the ham)
  • Bay leaf
  • About 8 cups of stock (I used 2 cups of leftover homemade vegetable stock + an entire box of chicken stock)

This one has to simmer away for a good long while. If you start around 11am, it should be irresistible by dinnertime.

First, follow the directions on the bag of dried beans for a “fast soak.” Basically, you put the beans in a large stock pot, cover with two inches of cold water and bring it to a rapid boil for two minutes. Then remove from the heat, cover and let it sit while you drive to the gym, sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes listening to the astronaut Commander Chris Hatfield on Fresh Air, go inside the gym and do your thing, go to Kroger to buy cinnamon raisin bread for the kids’ toast and Silk Almond Milk Light for your husband’s protein shakes and drive home. That’s probably 2 1/2 hours. Drain and rinse the cooked beans in a colander.

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Pretty!

Next, sauté chopped carrots, onion and celery in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add thyme, bay leaf and black pepper. Add ham bone, ham, cooked beans and enough stock to make it a soup. You could even use water. Any meat still on the ham bone will slowly fall off while simmering on medium-low heat.

Let it simmer and thicken up while you putz around the house, shower, start putting Christmas decorations away, and the like. Then leave it slow-bubbling away on low while you make a dusk-hour run to Toys R Us so the kids can spend their gift cards from Aunt Kathy.

After returning your filthy mini-van to its cold spot in the garage a few hours later, lugging a newly purchased Glitzi Globes art set and smoke-breathing dragon into the house, throwing puffy coats and hats all over the kitchen table, and rushing some chicken nuggets into the oven for the kids, it’s time to ladle up this soul-warming goodness.

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Have your ham & bean soup with a cold Stella Artois for maximum enjoyment.

Egg soufflé

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I usually make this egg soufflé with Gruyere cheese and chives on Christmas morning. Despite the thousands of ‘make ahead’ egg dishes in the world, I choose to make this one, which requires constant stirring of a roux, careful folding and immediate baking. To boot, the kids won’t touch it. But the grown-ups like it, and it was lovely alongside Grandpa’s rib-sticking sausage gravy and biscuits. It’s light and elegant and — for a soufflé — foolproof.

Foolproof unless you realize on Christmas morning that you forgot to buy Gruyere cheese. Sliced baby Swiss made an OK substitute. After 15 minutes in the freezer, I was able to grate the slices in the food processor with only minor wreckage to the work bowl.

The recipe comes from the mother of famed French chef Jacques Pepin, so it’s called “Maman’s Cheese Soufflé.” Click here to see it.

Grandpa Jon’s sausage gravy & biscuits

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As is tradition, Grandpa Jon came over at 7am on Christmas morning. Last year, he brought sausage gravy and biscuits by happenstance. This year, I put in my order in advance. The biscuits are made with cream, not buttermilk, so they’re sweet and mild. The sausage gravy is hot and rich with big chunks of spicy sausage — great with strong coffee. It’s just the thing on Christmas morning.

Here’s his recipe:

Sweet Cream Biscuits

  • 2 1/2 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream

Stir everything together with a wooden spoon, then squish the dough with your hands on a floured surface. Punch the dough and roll it out flat. Cut out circles with a biscuit cutter or small glass and bake them for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Makes about a dozen.

Sausage Gravy

  • 1 lb. Bob Evans sausage
  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • Black pepper & salt to taste
  • 1 quart of cream (or half milk, half cream)

Cook the sausage first, crumbling it up with a wooden spoon. Then add the flour until it’s brown. Add the spices, then the cream and cook slow on low heat.

Split a biscuit in half, ladle sausage gravy over top and grab a fork!

Spiced chocolate chunk walnut cookies

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I’ve been making these cookies for Barrak at Christmastime since we lived in Clintonville, just the two of us. Barrak declares these ‘the best cookie recipe ever.’ They’re kind of a man’s cookie, like winter lager is a man’s beer. The cinnamon and ginger add warmth and spice, and make them seem Christmasy. You shape them into chunky balls and roll them in powdered sugar, which turns into light icing in the oven. If you’re like me, you’ll want to eat these by a roaring fire in a posh ski lodge wearing thick socks.

These are the cookies we’ll leave for Santa in a couple days.

Click here for the recipe. One change I make: toasted pecans instead of walnuts.

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My recipe is well-worn and stained with vanilla extract.