All posts by Kathy Aabram

Fresh fare

Amid the lockdown a lot of us kept to our patios and decks and made the best of it. But with summer winding down and our favorite restaurants now open, it’s time to try some professional patios. A cool beverage and fine meal taste a lot better when someone else prepares them for you. Here are three of our favorite local options.

Weingarten Tent

SixtyFour Wine Bar & Kitchen in Naperville’s Water Street District has two options for outdoor seating—the patio in back of the restaurant along the river and the festive outdoor tent east of the restaurant. The Weingarten tent often offers live music and themed wine events. “Those diners wanting to enjoy the lively, fun atmosphere of our outdoor seating should make reservations, but for those who seek a more quiet, reserved experience we still offer the Reserve Room for an indoor experience,” says owner Loren Beadle. With 64 wines by the glass, you may need to come back a few times.
123 Water St., Naperville

Gillerson’s Grubbery

Against the backdrop of a cool brick façade, take an outside seat at one of Gillerson’s tables under the signature black umbrellas. Gillerson’s is serving its award-wining burgers and craft beers in patio seating on dedicated street space in downtown Aurora, thanks to help from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. Outdoor dining has been so well received by the community that “we’re looking at ways to offer permanent outdoor dining,” says owner Dan Emerson. While you’re enjoying the attentive service and warm weather, try the Rebel Duck burger, prepared with steak burger, pork shoulder, bacon, white cheddar, and fried onion strings. Check social media for special evenings with live music or outdoor movies.
33 W. New York St., Aurora

The Table at Crate

Technically it’s not a patio, but it’s better—the Rooftop Lounge atop the Table at Crate, which overlooks the Green in the heart of Oakbrook Center. Sure, you can do outdoor seating on the ground-level patio at Crate & Barrel, but the Rooftop Lounge is a singular experience, with seating for up to 18 people. Go early to try the lounge’s twist on afternoon teatime (think cupcakes and tea-infused cocktails). The ever-changing menu is created by culinary director and James Beard Award finalist Bill Kim, including several vegetarian and gluten-free options. For lunch and dinner, work your way through a menu of fresh salads, tartines, healthy bowls, and entrées. It’s a perfect place to unwind with a craft cocktail or glass of rosé.
35 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook

Photos courtesy The Table at Crate

Covid Catering

Interviews by Kathy Aabram

Dining in Illinois has changed dramatically over the last four months. Local restaurants have risen to the challenge and along the way have learned new valuable lessons. Naperville interviewed Brian Goewey, owner chef/restauranteur of BG Hospitality Group (Gia Mia, Livia Italian Eatery) and Tim McEnery, founder and CEO of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, to see how they are faring.

What has surprised you about doing business during the shutdown? What lessons have you learned?

BG We have become even more aware of how what we do operationally affects our guests and communities. Our employees and guests are our No. 1 asset and we are grateful for their flexibility. Without them, we would not be where we are today.

CH We were humbled by the enthusiasm and patience of our guests and staff during such a trying time. All were extremely cooperative with reopening measures and very encouraging when we started delivery and curbside pickup.

Has there been any upside to the shutdown?

BG We have partnered with several delivery services, implemented online ordering, and tested several different types of to-go packaging in order to still provide excellent food quality and service, albeit from a social distance.

CH Before the shutdown, we weren’t offering curbside or delivery. And now, it’s likely that both will be added permanently. This addition has added a convenience to guests and wine club members.

How have you changed your menu to accommodate carryout and delivery orders? Are you still working with a modified menu during the reopening?

BG The leadership team reviews menus regularly. We have modified the takeout menu to only include items that will travel well so we can maintain the integrity of the food. We also offer family-style menus that are economically priced for families going through financial uncertainties, and offer many different choices within these packages.

CH We’ve taken some of the biggest crowd favorites and added them to the patio, inside, curbside, and delivery menus. This has helped ensure guest satisfaction and alleviates some of the pressure on the kitchen, while staff slowly returns.

Photo Courtesy Cooper’s Hawk

Hard Seltzers, Easy Drinking

If you’ve tried hard seltzers and weren’t impressed, maybe it’s because they weren’t crafted Chicago style. Out-of-towners, after all, don’t always get the City of Big Shoulders. We expect high quality with no nonsense and purity with no pretense.

Thanks to two Chicago-area names in brewing—Buffalo Creek and Solemn Oath—we now have our own locally made hard seltzers. And they didn’t just jump into the trend with an ordinary product. They held back, looking at what was good and what was not good. Then they worked on a superior product. That means it’s time to revisit hard seltzers.

Just in case you didn’t notice hard seltzers belly up to the bar and buy a round for the millennials (who promptly bought a second round), you should get up to speed. Hard seltzer is just what it sounds like—sparkling water with alcohol and light flavorings (hello, White Claw). They’re low-carb, low-calorie, refreshing, and affordable. Last year sales grew 200 percent. As popular as they are, even a city renowned for craft brewing and multinational spirits companies didn’t produce its own hard seltzer. Until now.

Up in Long Grove, Buffalo Creek Brewing taproom customers had been asking owner Mike Marr if he would make a hard seltzer. He obliged with, “Hell, yeah.” But Marr didn’t want to follow the crowd or make something just because. Instead he decided to make an ultra-clean hard seltzer. By using a reverse osmosis system, Buffalo Creek starts with pure water, free of the minerals and chemicals typically found in tap water. For the alcohol, they dissolve just enough dextrose to give Champagne yeast a special treat. That yields a drink with five percent alcohol by volume and 100 calories in a 12-ounce pour. After fermentation they infuse boysenberry extract into the mix. Black Hoof is a refreshing hit with the flavor profile of raspberries and blackberries in an ultra-clean, gluten-free hard seltzer. A fresh batch arrives in the taproom every Friday but usually runs out by Sunday afternoon.

If you can’t spare time for a Long Grove outing, Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville introduced Chicago’s first locally made canned hard seltzer. After making a name for itself as a local brewery, SOB branched out into hard seltzer with its City Water brand last fall. They spent the better part of a year perfecting its recipes for City Water, ultimately settling on four standout flavors: Lime Coconut, Mixed Berry, Grapefruit, and Valencia Orange Cranberry. At five percent ABV, City Water weighs in at an appealing 110 calories—in a category that’s hard to get right. Hard seltzer not only has to be crisp and refreshing, but it also has to have a perfect balance of flavor and alcohol. City Water may have hit the mark; reviewers are saying it’s among the very best.

City Water should be easy to find, too. You’ll find it at Whole Foods, Binny’s and independent stores. It’s also at select restaurants and, of course, is sold packaged at the Solemn Oath brewery in Naperville (1661 Quincy Ave.).

Before reaching for the White Claw, consider raising a glass filled with a locally made hard seltzer. Your inner Chicagoan will be glad you did.—KA

Photo courtesy Solemn Oath

Spring Menu

Ask Aunt V (Naperville)

Spring Soup, Salad and Ravioli
April 23 | 6 to 8 p.m., $75
Don your apron and grab a chef’s knife in preparation for making creamy asparagus soup, spinach ravioli, and artichoke salad in this hands-on class. Vegetarian and gluten free options are available.

College of DuPage (Glen Ellyn)

Fundamentals of Sauce Making
April 19–May 3 | 1 to 4 p.m., $129
Sauces add flavor, color, and taste to many dishes. Learn the basics of sauce pairings from meats to desserts. Participants are guided through demonstration and also work hands-on through varieties of sauce basics.

Marcel’s Culinary Experience (Glen Ellyn)

Farm to Fork: Fresh and Seasonal
April 17 | 6:30 to 9 p.m., $90
A chef and assistant will teach the nuances of a lovely spring dinner. On the menu: caramelized shallot and onion dip with young spring vegetables; early tender greens with charred asparagus, hard cooked eggs, and green goddess dressing; espresso-rubbed pork tenderloin with parsley-tarragon chimichurri, greens, and beans with fried bread; and roasted strawberry trifles with butter crunch.

Spring Fresh
April 30 | 6:30 to 9 p.m., $85
This experiential class will cover a spring menu of wild mushroom and pancetta stuffed artichokes, farfalle with spring pea ragu, browned butter scallops, and vanilla bean panna cotta with cherry compote.

North American Pizza & Culinary Academy (Lisle)

Best of Breakfast Brunch
April 4 | 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., $65
Plan and prepare a scrumptious guest-worthy brunch. The menu includes homemade biscuits and gravy, yogurt with mixed fruit and homemade granola, bacon and cheddar scones, and individual vegetable quiches. Your chef instructor will teach the proper techniques to elevate your cooking.

Nourished Kitchen (Hinsdale)

Buddha Bowls: Power Up With Plant Protein
April 9 | 6 to 8:30 p.m., $75
Power up with grains and beans, and rethink simple meals with our flavorful vegetarian bowls. Learn how simple it is to make these delicious bowls to fuel you throughout the day—it’s an easy way to incorporate more veggies, beans, grains, and nuts and seeds into your diet.

Meatless Meals: Vegetarian Made Delicious
April 15 | 6 to 8:30 p.m., $75
Transform seasonal farm-fresh produce, hearty beans, earthy grains, plus crunchy nuts and seeds into delicious meals packed with protein. This demonstration class will provide you with the knowledge you need to add more vegetables in to your menu.

Sur La Table (Naperville)

The Easter Table
April 9 | 6:30 to 9 p.m., $79
In this hands-on class learn techniques that will help you create a festive Easter table. Learn to make an herb pork tenderloin with fruit chutney that accentuates sweet and savory. Assemble a creamy potato leek gratin and finish with a light and airy olive oil cake infused with lemon.

Spring Macarons
April 7 & 26 | 9 a.m. to noon, $69
Master the macaron (shown above) in this in-depth class. Learn how to create the perfect batter, pipe the ideal shape, and create delicious fillings. Et voilà—two macaron flavors later you’ll be a pâtisserie pro.

Photo courtesy Sur la Table

Novel Ideas

Styled by Kate Loscalzo

From photography and movies to sports and science, gift books are a fit for any occasion.

1. Ballpark by Paul Goldberger (Knopf) The history of baseball, told through the stories of the national ballparks.

2. Last Call by Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press) Bartenders answer the question, “What’s the last thing you’d want to drink before you die?”

3. The Art of Curiosity by Exploratorium (Weldon Owen) Well-known creatives share their thoughts on science and education.

4. Coincidences at Museums by Angela Stief and Stefan Draschan (Hatje Cantz) Art and viewer merge in this fun, gift-worthy volume.

5. Star Wars: The Ultimate Pop-Up Galaxy by Matthew Reinhart and Kevin Wilson (Insight Editions) Blast into hyperspace for a journey through the Star Wars saga.

Photograph by Olivia Kohler

Canned Cocktails

Are ready-to-drink beverages class or crass? Here are some collective thoughts on what my friends and I chilled, shook, and poured over ice  

Cardinal Spirits 

Bramble Mule

A riff on the Moscow Mule, this red festive drink is bursting with hibiscus, raspberry, and ginger notes. The alcohol is imperceptible and the drink is on the sweet side, which makes it dangerous. Serve over ice with a twist of lime. We all loved it.

Two Brothers Artisan Spirits

Strawberry Vodka Lemonade

You will taste the vodka in this surprisingly dry, delicious, and smooth drink. None of us were prepared to like it as much as we did. (I mean, strawberry lemonade is for kids, right?!) A tip of the glass goes to local purveyors (and brothers) Jim and Jason Ebel for this fine concoction. 


Tequila Lime Margarita

Heavy on the booze and light on the margarita, this is the ready-made cocktail for tequila lovers. Or you could skip the can and just pour yourself a shot of tequila. Quarters anyone? None of us would recommend it. 

New Holland Spirits 

Blueberry Gin Lemonade

Get past the blueberry smell and you’ll find yourself with a nicely balanced tart gin and lemonade. While none of us could taste the blueberry, we all liked this drink. A couple of us thought it could use a bit more gin, but overall it was very good.

Greenhook Ginsmiths 

Gin & Tonic 

This is not widely available in the Midwest, but Greenhook ( should expand beyond its East Coast origins soon. The gin is high quality and bites through the tonic with crisp and bracing satisfaction. It was a thumbs-up in our group. Drink one, and then open another to make sure you believe your own sense of good taste.

Chicago Distilling 

Canned Old Fashioned with Blind Tiger Bourbon

This pleasant-smelling drink is heavy on the cinnamon and ginger. Although the bourbon was strong, the drink lacks complexity overall. It may taste better when the snow is on the ground and the fire is roaring. We split on our opinions—the women liked it well enough, but the men, not so much.

Koloa Kaua’i 

Mai Tai Cocktail

Flat, cloyingly sweet, and heavy on the almond extract, we collectively hated this drink. (The addition of yellow #5 should have tipped us off.) None of us could taste the rum—it may have been there but we couldn’t drink it long enough to find out. Once you’ve had a real Mai Tai at the Monkey Pod in Maui, you just can’t drink this pale imitation. 



This is the drink for every Cosmo-loving woman who is too tired to drag out the vodka, lime and cranberry juices, and triple sec. It’s flavorful, smooth, and balanced; decent over ice, but perfect when shaken.

Be sure to follow directions on the label: If it says pour it over ice, then do it. Some drinks, that were mediocre when sipped directly from the can, were transformed when shaken or served over rocks. Most can be purchased at a grocery or liquor store near you.

The Journey

Writing Journey member Eleanor Roth with Danielle Egan-Miller

Romance novelist Kelly Duff long sensed a void in the solitary process of writing. But she couldn’t figure out how to fill it.

Then in 2012, she joined the Naperville region of National Novel Writing Month (, an annual event designed to encourage writers to complete a novel in just 30 days. Through it she found the Writing Journey (, a year-round writing community with members across the suburbs. Her involvement in the group has been well spent as a published author in the group’s annual anthology, but it’s the community that she cherishes.

“Being a published author has been the greatest benefit, but I have to say it’s the camaraderie I thrive on,” Duff says. “Some of the best critiques I’ve received were from writers who don’t write contemporary romance. They look at my work with a different set of eyes.”

Like Duff, Jenny Johnson has benefited from the group. “The Writing Journey has helped me meet people in the area, and it’s also helped me find accountability partners, people to help me brainstorm with, and it’s opened my eyes to different parts of the craft and publication. Plus, both the stories that I’ve had published in the last six months started as Journey projects.”

The Writing Journey has existed in various forms since 2006. After participating in National Novel Writing Month ( that year, a group decided to form a year-round writing club. Now sponsored by the Glen Ellyn and Woodridge public libraries, the Writing Journey has 60 active members and over 200 on its mailing list. The Naperville Library continues to support the annual NaNoWriMo efforts each fall.

Unlike many writing groups, the Writing Journey created an à la carte approach, comprising various activities and subgroups called Paths. Paths include publication in an anthology, a critique group, editing, Shakespeare Reader’s Theatre, monthly general meetings, social events, and workshops. The group welcomed Browne & Miller Literary Associates’ president Danielle Egan-Miller (above) to its February general meeting.

Since 2009 the group has published 10 anthologies, available on Amazon, including The Love Anthology, a collection of poems, short stories, and flash fiction.

Cofounding member and lead editor Tim Yao works a day job as a technologist. With Writing Journey, he gets to work a different part of his brain. “Being a part of a creative community is wonderful. It’s the whole reason I got involved in the first place,” he says.

Photo courtesy Tim Yao

Hot Reads

By Kathy Aabram | Styling by Paige Wassel

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
A suburban couple’s dark hobby murder will shock even savvy suspense readers.

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
Elderly Irishman Maurice Hannigan offers five heartwarming toasts to those he loved.

The Last Letter by Rebecca Yarros
A promise to his best friend leads an army serviceman to a family in need and a chance at true love.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
An enthralling novel about a young Irish couple trying to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
A young Vietnamese woman travels to America in the hopes of finding a husband and a better life.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
A twisty, fast-paced tale that reflects suburbia’s dark and corrupt underside.

Photograph by Olivia Kohler

Stories of Hope

A local guest author contributes her story of love and learning to Simply Amazing

The uplifting saga of a local autism expert is featured in a new book, Simply Amazing, authored by the former producer of The Howard Stern Show and current WMAP radio host, K.C. Armstrong. His book features guest writers gleaned from interviews conducted on his show, World’s Most Amazing People, including National Autism Academy founder Jeanne Beard, a Wheaton resident.

“He looks for people with a mission,” Beard says. “He had a cousin on the spectrum and heard about me.” Simply Amazing includes personal accounts of overcoming adversity and personal resilience, transforming their struggles into public benefit.

Beard’s struggle was to figure out why her two boys didn’t relate to her, and what could be causing their social disconnect. Eventually she was introduced to Dr. Timothy Wahlberg at the Prairie Clinic in Geneva, which was a pivotal parenting moment. “He explained how my sons’ minds work, and I got a handle on parenting,” says Beard. “I wanted and needed more and more information and strategies.”

Eventually Beard partnered with Wahlberg, who gave her unlimited access to his notes, to learn how to better parent her sons. “I was mentored by a leading expert in North America,” says Beard. “It was unprecedented.”

As Beard grew in her knowledge as the mother of two kids on the spectrum, she recognized that she had a special vantage point to teach other parents about autism. “Education is the answer,” she says. “Autism is still a mystery, but my mission became helping parents.”

Now Beard is the author of her own book, Autism & the Rest of Us: How to Sustain a Healthy, Functional, and Satisfying Relationship with a Person on the Autism Spectrum, which she describes as an intimate read that takes parents on a deep emotional dive. She founded the National Autism Academy ( in 2016 to offer parental and professional online training and professional education for parents and teachers.

“My chapter in Simply Amazing is part of my mission to ease the difficulty for children with autism. By helping their parents, siblings, teachers, and the professionals surrounding them to understand how their minds work, and how to help them successfully navigate the social environment in which we live.”

Beard’s sons are now 20 and 22, and as her oldest “ages out” of the educational system, she and countless other families need to put a support structure in place, since there is a 16-year waiting list for a group home.

Despite the myriad challenges, Beard emphasizes that the only things different in people on the autism spectrum are processing information and sensory hypersensitivity, though these differences can have far-reaching effects.

“There’s so much hope for these kids,” Beard says. “But when you understand how they process things, everything begins to make sense. It’s like learning a foreign language—when we speak their language, it works.”

On the Mend

Denise Ibrahim has loved being an orthopedic surgeon for the last 16 years. “The honesty and purity of pediatric patients makes my job joyous,” the DuPage Medical Group physician says. “I enjoy kids and appreciate their candor and fun.” Dr. Ibrahim finds it a privilege to help kids recover and shares her observations on youth sports injuries.

Accident or Overuse?
Overuse injuries—when the same muscles are being repeatedly taxed, which causes stress and pain—are prevalent among today’s young athletes. While the injuries are sport-specific, the treatment always involves rest. The trend to specialize in one sport too early, and not allow proper rest when needed, may be hurting our student athletes more than it’s helping them. I am competitive and I understand the need for kids to play sports, push themselves and win. But I want parents and kids to know that resting, when needed, can save you from problems in the long run.

Keeping Kids in Tip-Top Shape
Nutrition and sleep are the most important things when it comes to keeping kids healthy. Because of soil depletion, foods aren’t as mineral heavy and it’s difficult for children to build healthy bones if they’re not getting enough vitamin D3, magnesium and calcium. Good food-based supplements can help, but avoid vitamins loaded with sugar and filler. Ninety percent of the young people I test are below average in D3.

Treatment 101
An after-injury guide for when to see a specialist

Muscle strain or sprain
A tendon or
ligament injury
At-home treatments for strains and sprains are rest, elevation, ice, anti-inflammatory medication and occasional immobilization.

Bone fracture
Visible deformity, swelling, and/or reproducible pain in the same location
Bruising and swelling may indicate a more severe injury that requires a medical evaluation.