December 15, 2014

Holiday Open House Treats...

Recently, we had our annual Christmas Open House at Clever Girl; and everybody had a splendid time.  The band was playing, the cocktails were flowing and the shop was buzzing with the Christmas spirit.  I discovered something that night: I discovered that our customers love caramelized bacon!  

I should have known this would be a hit, because anytime people discover this crunchy, sweet, spicy treat, they go a little bit nuts...  And, wouldn't you know that it's a recipe from Ina Garten?  
Here's what it looks like--and trust me, it disappears quickly, so make PLENTY.  Once you get going, it's easy to keep making batch after batch.  Wiz it up in the food processor (or a mini-prep works just fine, too, if you have one of those.)
Lay out your bacon on a rack and pop that onto a lined baking sheet.  (Hint: Don't let any topping land on the bottom of your pan, it may smoke if you do.)  Pop it in the oven and prepare for the stampede that is guaranteed to follow.
What's so nice about this caramelized bacon is that it's so versatile; great for tailgating, or with martinis at a cocktail party.  Top a burger with this and you'll hear the angels singing softly in the background.  Oh, and be prepared, while it's baking, a pack of dogs may spontaneously appear at your doorstep.
Caramelized Bacon
Gather the goods.  Here's what you need:

½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
½ cup chopped or whole pecans
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
½ pound thick-sliced applewood-smoked bacon 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil (for easy cleaning) and place a wire baking rack on top.

Combine the brown sugar and pecans in a food processor and process until the pecans are finely ground. Add the salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper and pulse to combine. Add the maple syrup and pulse again to moisten the crumbs.

Cut each bacon slice in half crosswise and line up the pieces on the baking rack without touching. With a small spoon, evenly spread the pecan mixture on top of each piece of bacon, using all of the mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the topping is very browned but not burnt. If it's underbaked, the bacon won't crisp as it cools.

While it's hot, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside to cool. Serve at room temperature. (The caramelized bacon can be made early in the day and stored at room temperature.)

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust.

The other item everyone was quite taken with was the cranberry cocktail skewers.  Truly, these couldn't be any easier to make.  We served them with our favorite mix from Stonewall Kitchen (that we conveniently sell both at the store and online, click here

These little beauties require only two ingredients and the result is an absolutely stunning little morsel of sweet-tart deliciousness.
Sugared Cranberries

Gather the goods.  Here's what you need:

2 cups sugar, divided
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries


Combine ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in cranberries until well coated. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to wire rack; let dry for at least 1 hour.
Working in batches, roll cranberries in remaining 1½ cups sugar until well coated; let dry for at least 1 hour.

Really, this is so simple.  Store them air tight, and skewer them up as needed.  They look lovely in a bowl, and some people like to serve them as a little nibble on their own.
Gathering with family and friends is such a wonderful part of the season.  Opening your home to others is such a special  gift.   I wish you all a Merry Christmas!  

December 7, 2014

"P" is for Paperwhites...

One thing I look forward to every early winter is the planting of the paperwhites.  I fill all sorts of bowls and containers with the bulbs, and enjoy the fascinating process of watching them grow.  From rather homely little bulbs, green shoots emerge, followed by the flowering stalks.  The sweet scent greets me every time I pass a container in the house.  

What's especially nice about paperwhites, much like hyacinth bulbs, is that they don't need soil to grow--just a bit of fresh water, and they are quite content.  As they grow taller and taller, I stake them with twigs and twine to keep them upright.  I found a picture on Pinterest and was inspired to top mine up with ornaments.  I love Pinterest, by the way. Check out ours right here.

P. S.  Remember, the Clever Girl Open House
 is THIS Thursday, December 11th, from 5-8 pm.
 We so look forward to seeing you in the shop!  

November 28, 2014

Small Business Saturday

Here at Clever Girl, we think everyday is a Small Business Day.  However, today
marks the "OFFICIAL"


As you have probably heard, "Small Business Saturday" is now marked yearly on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  While I certainly applaud the acknowledgement of that day, shopping locally is really done 365 days a year--not just one!  
Here, in Western Springs, we are fortunate to have many independent businesses that offer goods and services to the community. I am also encouraged thought the year by the many, many comments we hear from customers expressing their gratitude that we are here.  So many of you do truly try and "look local first".  It is no coincidence that communities that are thriving have actual downtown shopping areas--it's just a natural part of small town living.  The convenience of avoiding a lengthy trip to the mall, or a pilgrimage to a big-box store is a huge asset.  So, this weekend, and over the next busy weeks of the season, and in all the years ahead, we look forward to seeing you and serving you locally.  It's what it's all about...

Please join us for cider & donuts this Small Business Saturday! 

November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Wishes...


My wish for all of you on this lovely day is the gift of being together, much laughter, happy reflection, and thankfulness as we look ahead...

November 18, 2014

Ina has done it Again...

It's here!  The latest wonderful cookbook by Ina Garten has hit the shelves here at Clever Girl, and it does NOT disappoint.  We always admire her straight forward, un-fussy approach to entertaining, and this book is packed with hints and tips to ease the job of the hostess.  The focus in Ina's latest book is on preparing dishes ahead of time so that you can be freed up to enjoy your own party.  Certainly her recipes work just as well for informal and family gatherings as well. 

It's not too soon to begin thinking about your Christmas list, and this will be a most welcome gift under the tree, or as a treat to yourself, as you begin to plan your holiday menus and entertaining...
I was at a recent party for a friend; and dessert was served in mini-skillets, which was rustic in it's presentation, but special to receive your own individual little serving.  As I looked through the cookbook, this brownie recipe struck a chord...  If you try it, I'd love to hear what you think!

Skillet Brownies (Serves 4)

  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces plus ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 1½ ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee powder, such as Nescafe
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream, such as Haagen-Dazs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the butter, 4 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water just until the chocolate melts. Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee powder, vanilla and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together ¼ cup of the flour, the baking powder, and salt and stir it into the chocolate mixture. Toss the remaining ½ cup of chocolate chips and one tablespoon of flour together in a medium bowl and add them to the chocolate mixture. Spoon the mixture into four individual cast iron skillets (the skillets I use measure 5 inches on the top, 3½ inches on the bottom) and place them on a sheet pan. Bake for 22 minutes exactly. Don’t overbake! A toothpick inserted in the center will not come out clean. Cool slightly and serve warm with a scoop of ice cream.

***Don't Forget!  This cookbook, and oh-so many other goodies are available on our website.  Click here

**Save the date!  Thursday, December 11th is the Clever Girl Christmas Open House--plan to visit and have a bit of Christmas Cheer!

November 5, 2014

Magic Mittens...

Just in case you've forgotten what "winter" can entail around here, feast your eyes upon this...
With the truly chilly winter weather looming ahead, we feel duty bound to share a magical secret with our fellow Clever Girls.  In case you two don't know each other yet, allow us to introduce you to the Magic Mitten...
While we have no way of knowing what kind of winter we'll be having here in Chicago,  it's a pretty safe bet that at some point it will be cold, and there's going to be some snow, and you are going to need a pair of these mittens.  From the inside out, here's a break-down on the magic part:
  • Fully lined in micro-fleece for extreme softness and warmth
  • Inside has divided fingers (like a glove)
  • Suede outside for secure grip (yes, you can drive in them)
  • Adjustable toggle at the wrist means you can keep the wind out
And then we get to the fun part.  The colors.  There are lots to choose from beyond the serviceable Black and Brown.  The Cherry Red is my favorite this season.  So, if you'd like to experience a little magic, head on over and check these out...  And if you're thinking about your Christmas list, these make a truly wonderful gift!

P.S. A side note to our blog readers, the Elves are working overtime, and Christmas will be on display Monday 11-10-14.  Ho ho ho, and here we go!

September 26, 2014

Best $12.00 EVER!

As we tidied up the shop today, my eye was struck by the glittering, flickering little jewels on the counter. A veritable rainbow of Swarovski crystal colors beamed back at me.  Every color of the spectrum is on that rack; and I was struck that these inexpensive, little earrings are quite possibly the best value in the whole store.  After all, what can you get for $12 anymore?

1/50th of a bottle of #5.....???

A small sip of fun fizzyness.....???
Or maybe a coffee beverage for you and a friend.....???

One movie ticket & a small popcorn.....???
None of those things are going to last...but these will.  A perfect pair of the most sparkly, dazzling, tasteful, not-too-big-not-too-small earrings a girl could ever find.  It's the best way to spend $12.00!  That, Clever Girls, seems quite the bargain!
Click here to see the colors.  For those of you in the area, pop in and look at these little gems in person.  If you're not in our neck of the woods, pick out a few colors from our web site, and we'll dispatch them right to your door.  Best twelve dollars ever!

September 8, 2014

Maple Meets Bacon...

There's been a yummy development here at Clever Girl.  Maple Bacon Onion Jam has found its way onto the shelves, and into our hearts.  What can we say?  This stuff is really good.  
So far we've tried this with a baked brie and on a roasted pork loin, but my favorite is this "pizza" recipe.  Cut it into tiny little squares and serve as a starter with a really cold, crisp Riesling and presto; you've got a party...

Savory Jam Pizza

Gather the goods.  Here's what you need:

  • 1 12-inch prepared pizza crust
  • 1/3 cup Maple Bacon Onion Jam 
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 thin strips prosciutto, sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 Tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed arugula

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Place crust on a baking sheet. Spread jam over crust. Evenly distribute the red onion, prosciutto, and goat cheese over crust. Bake for 10-15 minutes until hot and bubbly.
Remove from oven. Top with arugula, cut and serve immediately.

With layers of robust flavor, this artfully crafted and savory combination of spices, sweet brown sugar, apples, shallots and bits of real bacon is a versatile pantry essential.  Try this on your next burger, or over a grilled chicken breast.  Heck, just slather some on a cracker for a quick hor dourve.  

Come in and meet your new best friend!  At Clever Girl, we want to share the love.  Stop in this Thursday, (9-11-14) and sample this tasty treat.  You can always view our tasting schedule (and other events) on our Clever Calender, located on the web site.  Click HERE to check it out...

September 5, 2014

From Sweden with Love...

I suppose when we think of major contributions in history, we tend to think of the Greeks--after all, they gave us sundials, the first alarm clocks, the Olympics, maps and the Parthenon.  They have had a few smart guys with names like Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, too, but lets consider the Swedes for a moment, shall we?

After all,  Abba is nothing to take lightly.  Many people list Dancing Queen as their all time favorite song, and the band has sold an estimated 50 million albums, so there must be something there, right?  (It's estimated that one in five British households own their album, Gold.)

I am also quite grateful for the contribution of Absolute Vodka--a Swedish export that is never out of stock on my bar.  

And then there is Ikea;  also a pretty nifty Swedish export that I'm grateful for from time to time.  I always get a kick out of the asterisk  in the catalog that * Some  products require assembly.....Really?  'Ya think?

Perhaps my favorite Swedish thing is the Swedish chef.  As Muppets go, he's right up there with Kermit and Ralph the Dog on my list.  (And, after a little of the Absolute, some people begin to sound a wee bit like him, yes?)

All of which brings me to my latest Swedish favorite, the dishtowel. I've been a fan of these for a while, and I'm thrilled that we've got them in the store now. These are so handy to have around! With normal use, these cloths easily last six months. These are great for general household cleaning and around the kitchen. They are great for cleaning windows without leaving streaks or lint and they polish silver without being abrasive.   Click here to check them out on the web site.  The chicken is my favorite.  Thank you Sweden!!!

July 28, 2014

All Kinds of Yummy Things...

Can it be that it's almost August?  How did it get here so quickly?  There has been a lot going on at the store as usual.  We are beginning to receive some of our fall merchandise, and, dare I say it, CHRISTMAS items are starting to stream into the stockroom!  

A fresh batch of our Giving Bowls arrived last week, and there are some really clever new words and phrases. YMLY and YOLO have become quite popular to send off with collage students.  (Don't know what that means?  YMLY translates into: Your Mommy Loves You, and YOLO is You Only Live Once.)  Please keep in mind that we are happy to take custom orders on these sweet little bowls, just select your word or phrase, and the color.  Increments of four or more, please, and give us four weeks to have them custom made for you... We have an "Idea" sheet at the counter, and will be happy to help you make up your order.

New in the kitchen department is Volume 7 in The Gathering of Friends cookbook series. It's subtitled Entertaining with Simplicity, and this one is bursting with all kinds of thoughtful, tasty recipes and inspiring photos of not only the food, but great tablescapes and entertaining ideas.  Chapters include Savory Starters, Fresh From the Garden Salads and Sweet Endings. We gave these a test this weekend, and they were delicious!
Tuxedo Meatballs

  • 10 oz. pkg. bowtie pasta
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • ½ c. chicken broth
  • fresh basil leaves 
  • 1 red bell pepper 
  • toothpicks
Cook pasta al dente, according to directions on package; rinse and set aside.
Form meatballs into 1 ½-in size balls. In a heavy pot, over medium-high heat, brown meatballs, turning until browned on all sides. Pour chicken broth over meatballs and cover the pot with a lid; simmer until the meatballs are fully cooked in the center.
Clean basil leaves. Rinse and remove seeds from bell pepper; chop into small pieces. Assemble Tuxedo Meatball appetizers on a toothpick, starting with a meatball; add a basil leaf, bow-tie pasta and top with a piece of bell pepper (as pictured).

Line a serving tray with rows of Tuxedo Meatballs and serve warm.

*We got our peppers and fresh basil at Earl's Farm Market in Glenn, Michigan.  Definitely stop in there for bountiful, super fresh produce! 

A last piece of yummy news; our summer sale starts this week, and all of you loyal Chronicle readers get the early notice!  Customers wait all year for this sale.  We've taken markdowns on clothing, stationary, jewelry and more...we don't have to tell you, the early bird gets the worm!

June 1, 2014

Sunrise Song...

I'm off to Maine for the first time this season...the chilly evenings remain, but the days have crossed the fine line into being warmer, and it's time to open up for another season.   

In Maine, the rumble of the lobster boats is the second thing I hear each morning.  Before the boats begin their pleasant murmuring, out on the water, in the near darkness that is not yet morning, something else makes the first sound of the day.
Sunrise in Maine
Just after four AM, a solo begins: The sweet and earnest melody of a solitary song bird.  He leads off on his own, often for several minutes, before another joins the chorus.  It seems to me, that he is, in fact, singing. This is not a typical bird call; there is no "chirping" to speak of.  No mate replies from across the woods.  Rather, it is truly a song and performance that provides a soundtrack that precedes the sun's first rays breaking across the Atlantic.  Perhaps he is serenading the moon; saying goodnight as it fades to another sector of the planet, rising over the opposite hemisphere in silence.  Sometimes, especially now in the spring, the wind caries the conversations and songs of all the birds, and projects them like an amphitheater, acting as a sort of "auto-tune"in a modern recording studio, that makes even starlets--who have no business singing--sound passably good.  

This particular bird moves around a bit between verses.  Beginning first in the tall pines, then up on the roof, and eventually over to the rocky caves, he works the room, so-to-speak. I've no idea what kind of bird it is, or what it looks like, and I never hear his song again except for these very early morning performances.  I suppose he might work the whole coast, like some transient performer...Perhaps someone down on Cape Elizabeth hears him every day while eating lunch in her garden, as he makes the "bird circuit".  

I hope he is cozy and safe during these still chilly nights; I would happily tip him generously for his daily warble, and look forward to hearing him all season long...

May 10, 2014

Happy Mother's Day, Clever Girls

Happy Mother's Day!

I'm always so impressed with all of the Dads and children that come in to shop for "Mommy" in preparation for Mother's Day.   Everyone is in a happy mood and eager to find just the right thing to wrap up for their special mothers.  (We love that so many of you are shopping locally!)  Bravo to all of the great shoppers out there, and a very Happy Mother's Day to everybody...

Exciting news! We've been sipping on an extra dose of  creative juices around here lately, and have formed a new club for all of our customers. 

So let me ask you, "Do you have a birthday?" It's the only requirement to join our new little club. Well, that and an email address. Be sure to give us your info at the check out desk, and we'll get you in the club ASAP. (And, don't worry, we only need to know the MONTH you were born in, not the date or the year.) A rather useful coupon will come your way once you've gone another year around the sun...

And a little update on the feline front; there's a new member in the family.  "Oliver" has joined the menagerie, and is doing quite well.  He has a few issues due to malformed paws and front legs, but he's spunky, very determined, and adapting quickly to his forever home.  The dogs love him.  Mabel, the other cat, however, is not so thrilled.  
I do believe she may be plotting a few things...

April 19, 2014

Happy Easter!

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

A Blessed Easter To You All!

April 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Well Clever Girls, unless you're living under a rock, you've seen the Throwback Thursday trend popping up on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else, for that matter. The idea is to post a picture of yourself from "the past".  Never one to miss a trend, we've hopped on the bandwagon just in time for Easter.  How about a little Q & A with one of the newest Clever Girls, Rosanne, modeling some of her best outfits from Easter long ago...
CG: Was Easter a big holiday for you growing up?
RL: It was, and still is.  Somehow it's even more special to me than Christmas.  When I was eight or nine, I played Christ the Lord is Risen Today on the organ at church.  It's a beautiful song.  I love the traditions, and particularly the music of Easter. My husband still colors eggs with my daughter Anne every year--and she's in college now!
CG: What were some of your childhood traditions?  Did the Easter Bunny visit your house?
RL: He did!  We colored eggs the day before, and left them out for him to hide.  My mom always made us great Easter baskets with candy and little gifts as well.  We had a great time "hunting" for the eggs, and then got our baskets to open.  It was so exciting.

CG: So, do you still believe in the Easter Bunny?
RL: Sadly, no.  When I was in second grade, Andrea L. was over at my house for lunch.  The topic of the tooth fairy came up, she very decidedly announced that there was no such thing.  "It's your parents, silly." I believe were her exact words.  She then listed off all the other things, like Santa and the Easter Bunny, and wiped them all out in one fell swoop.  My mother, who was making us lunch was ready to strangle her.

CG: Any traditions for the Easter meal?  Did you go out, or eat at home?
RL: After church, we had a traditional Easter brunch at home. We always had an Easter ham; and, this is so 1960's, but we always had an apricot Jello salad with pineapple and whipped cream; plus all the usual trimmings.  Hands down, however, the highlight was the lamb cake that came from a local bakery every year.  That was awesome! 
CG: Easter Bonnet, Yes or no?
RL: Oh, yes! (see photo below)
CG: Favorite Easter Candy?
RL: Well, now Cadbury Eggs and I love black, licorice jelly beans...
CG: Colored egg method?
RL: We're old-school classic.  It's got to be the Paas kit in the box.
CG: Are you into marshmallow peeps?
RL: Not really.  One is ok, but any more than that and I'm in a sugar coma.  My sister still makes that Jello salad though; and that's almost the same thing...

Clever Girl: Well, You've got the darling dress, gloves, and a handbag--you really have always been into fashion, haven't you?
Rosanne: Absolutely.  My Aunt Geneva sent us special Easter outfits from Florida, and I had to accessorize it even back then.  This picture is from 1966, and I was already so into it!


March 26, 2014

It's Our Party!

Come to our Birthday Party!

'Tis true!  Clever Girl is celebrating 6 wonderful years in Western Springs.  The time has just flown by!  Please join us for Birthday Cake, Champagne and treats on April 4th to celebrate with us. (For details, click here.)
We've gotten in so many new, fresh, spring clothing lines that you'll be chomping at the bit to wear.  After this particular winter, bright colors and whimsical patterns look especially refreshing. The scarf racks are bursting with a rainbow of adorable prints--guaranteed to lift your spirits.  Usually I've planted up our front door with pansies and ivy, but I don't dare do it yet this spring, even thought I've certainly seen some robins hoping about already.  I just know that if I plant them, we'll have a blizzard the next day for certain!  Perhaps next week...
On a different note, my sweet cat, Basil died recently, and I thought I might just mention it here.  He was a steadfast little companion, and I miss him dearly.  His sister, Mabel is still with me, and doing well.  I mention this because they were rescue cats, adopted from the Humane Society.  They were born on September 11, 2001--literally on that most awful day.  They came into this world, and were abandoned at the door of the rescue facility.  I wasn't really looking for any pets, but the call went out that this litter of nine black cats urgently needed homes.(Black cats are particularly unwanted.) I certainly wasn't planning on taking any--let alone two, but, that's how these thing go; and I've never regretted it at all.  Please, please, remember all of the abandoned cats and dogs waiting for their forever homes.  They will offer you unconditional love and affection, and be forever grateful that they are warm, safe and secure. I was blessed to have dear Basil and will miss my much loved friend.

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