Cooking Through the Seasons: July

21 July 2015
Published in Food & Spirits

Celebrate National Picnic Month with everything from a grab-and-go meal to a recipe for mouth-watering buttermilk oven-fried chicken!  


July is National Picnic Month! I love packing a picnic and visiting my favorite spot by the water to relax and connect with the outdoors for a bit. But what to eat? In this month's column, I'm going to share a few ideas: A meal you can whip up in a jiffy and a classic picnic food that will take a little more prep time, but is so worth it!


Before we get to the recipes, let's first talk about food storage. I love using glass mason jars for meals on the go. They are easy to transport and keep cold, and you can eat right out of the jars. Find more safe food packing tips here.
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OK, let's get to some picnic meal planning. For my first (quicker) picnic idea, fill a mason jar with fresh fruit (I like organic apricots) and fill another with store-bought or homemade (recommended) chicken salad. Throw in a sleeve of your favorite crackers and voilà! 
Pack your jars, utensils, plus your beverage of choice (lemonade, or a zesty white or aromatic red wine would pair nicely) into an insulated cooler and fill with ice. Head out to your favorite place to picnic or check out our recommended local spots here. Our story also includes a picnic check list. 
For my second idea, I'm sharing my homemade buttermilk oven-fried chicken recipe. Add a potato salad and lemon cake for the ultimate old-fashioned summer picnic! Note: My chicken recipe is oven-baked versus deep-fried. It's just as tasty if you ask me – and you can justify that extra piece! 
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Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
4  bone-in chicken breast halves
4 chicken leg and thigh quarters
2/3 cup seasoned flour
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter 
Cooking spray


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Combine flour and panko crumbs in a shallow dish. Pour buttermilk into a separate shallow dish. 

3. Coat a large cookie sheet with cooking spray and set aside. 

4. Rinse chicken pieces in cold water. See safe poultry handling tips here

5. Add chicken to the buttermilk dish, turning to coat.

6. Transfer chicken from buttermilk to a work surface. Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Working with one piece of chicken at a time, dredge chicken in flour mixture, shaking off excess. Set aside. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken and flour mixture. 

7. Arrange chicken onto the cookie sheet.

8.  Melt butter and drizzle over the chicken. Bake for 75 minutes or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees in the center of the largest piece. 

The recommended way to transport the chicken is to let it cool and then loosely pack in foil or a paper bag. 


If you make this recipe, be sure to share your photos with us via Facebook



chefChef Debi Stuckwisch, of Johnsburg, learned to cook homemade food from a young age with her mother and grandmother – using natural ingredients from farm to table. She followed her dream to be a professional chef by graduating from Kendall College – America's No. 1 culinary school. Her company, Meals Like Mom, offers a weekly meal services and catering. Contact her at 847.778.9351 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit and like her Facebook page. 

Cooking Through the Seasons: June

18 June 2015
Published in Food & Spirits

Make the most of the June strawberry harvest with a fresh, creamy strawberry cheesecake – perfect for any occasion. 


In June, we celebrate the strawberry harvest and are lucky in McHenry County to have farms – like my favorite, Stade's in McHenry – that offer U-pick, as well as farmers markets that bring the fruit to our town centers. June also happens to be National Dairy Month, celebrating dairy farmers and the benefits of adding dairy to our diet. National Dairy Month is particularly relevant in McHenry County as Harvard was once the milk capital of the world! Turns out, dairy and strawberries make a great team. And so, for my June food column, I'm delighted to share my recipe for strawberry cheesecake! 


The key to a great strawberry cheesecake is using the freshest ingredients, starting with the fruit. I remember as a young child helping my grandma pick berries for jams, pies and cakes. On hot summer days in the small southern Illinois town of Christopher, we would spend time in Grandpa's garden picking the strawberries, blackberries and raspberries. I remember the smell of the fruit and the taste of the first berries – their sweetness and juiciness was so delicious. Returning to my grandparents' house, I would nearly have to take a bath because my face and usually my clothes where dripping with berry juice! After berries were picked and cleaned, it was time to make cheesecake. 


Enjoy my decadent strawberry cheesecake recipe. And please share your baking memories and photos with us via Facebook



Strawberry Cheesecake


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2 cups graham cracker crumbs 
2 tablespoons raw sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
2 pounds of cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cup raw sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
4 large cage-free brown eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Strawberry Glaze

2 cups farm-picked or organic strawberries, stems removed, divided
1 cup raw sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup water



Prepare a springform pan so that no water leaks into it while cooking by folding foil all around the pan. I use three sheets of foil and crimp the top of the foil sheets around the top edge of the pan. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the lower third of the oven. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor until finely ground. Put in large bowl and mix in the sugar, salt and butter. Put all of the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the springform pan. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.


Cut cream cheese into chunks and place into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for four minutes. Add the salt and vanilla, then eggs one at a time, beating the mixture for one minute after each addition. Add the heavy cream and the sour cream. Beat until incorporated. Set aside. 


Prepare two quarts of boiling water. Pour cream cheese mixture into the springform pan. Place springform pan into a roasting pan and put into oven. Slowly add the hot water to roasting pan until it reaches 1/2 way up the springform pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the heat of the oven and crack the door open 1 inch. Let the cake cool in the oven for one hour. Remove from oven. Cover the top of the cheesecake with foil and refrigerate. Do not touch the cheesecake for a minimum of four hours.
While the cake sets it the fridge, prepare the glaze and strawberry topping. For the glaze, mash one cup of the strawberries and set aside. In a sauce pan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add water and mashed berries and bring to a boil for three minutes until mixture thickens. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Halve the other cup of strawberries and set aside. When the cheesecake is finished cooling, remove it from the springform pan and drizzle some of the glaze over it and top, saving some glaze for the strawberry toping. For the strawberry topping, mix the halved strawberries with the rest of the glaze. Top cake with the mixture. Refrigerate until ready to eat. 


chefChef Debi Stuckwisch, of Johnsburg, learned to cook homemade food from a young age with her mother and grandmother – using natural ingredients from farm to table. She followed her dream to be a professional chef by graduating from Kendall College – America's No. 1 culinary school. Her company, Meals Like Mom, offers a weekly meal services and catering. Contact her at 847.778.9351 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit and like her Facebook page. 

Garden Series: Sowing in Spring

02 March 2015
Published in Home & Garden

Find out which vegetables can be sown in early spring and when they can be expected to mature. 



Carrots can be planted from the very early spring through late August, and grow best when sown directly into the garden. They can mature between nine and 12 weeks depending upon the variety. A loose soil is recommended. 


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Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale and lettuce, do best when sown in early spring, and grow quickly. Greens can be harvested several times before the heat of the summer – just cut off the top of the greens, and they will grow another crop in a couple of weeks. 


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If you like radishes, there are several heirloom varieties that are very good. Most of the cultivars mature in 20 to 30 days. One of my favorites is French Breakfast, which is from as early as the 1870s. French Breakfast is milder in flavor. On the outside, it is red on top and white on the bottom. The greens can be harvested as the bulb is growing, and are great steamed.




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This is part two in a series on gardening in McHenry County by Janness Abraham, owner of Forever Gardens in Crystal Lake. Abraham has been helping clients improve their outdoor spaces for 24 years. For more, call 815.459.3877, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

Great Escapes Close to Home

10 March 2015
Published in Places

Exciting getaways are closer to home than you might think! Whether you’re planning your family's spring break, a couples retreat or a weekend with friends, explore what awaits you in our guide to great escapes! 




car icon black2 = Miles from Woodstock.


pinterest logo black Follow for more getaway ideas. 







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Paramount Theatre presents "Les Misérables," a live Broadway-caliber performance March 18-April 26, 2015. Photo: Tom King


The Aurora area is perfect for weekend getaways, boasting exciting events and festivals year-round. From world-class theater to opera, and every type of live music imaginable, the performances never end. 


Live sports more your style? Aurora has professional baseball, college football, USSSA-sanctioned tournaments, biathlons, triathlons and whitewater rapids.


Need some retail therapy? The Premium Outlets is sure to cure. Find impressive savings with more than 120 designer brands such as Ann Taylor and Armani. Need more of a low-key shopping experience? Young and old alike fall in love with the local charm of Sandwich's renowned antique stores, where a vintage find can bring about memories to cherish forever.


View the entire Chicago area from Fermilab’s 15th floor. Take an architectural tour that includes works by Bruce Goff, Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. 


Dine at any of Aurora’s Culinary Champions or visit a real Enjoy Illinois Delicious Destination while traveling the historic Illinois Lincoln Highway. The kids will love the various waterparks and hands-on museums. Shopping and family packages available at – so hop on down and create a weekend experience that's worlds away from ordinary!


For more, visit or call 630.256.3190.





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The Morton Arboretum in Lisle is an amazing 1,700-acre garden of trees and other plants from around the world. 


No matter what time of year, there’s always something fun and unique going on in DuPage County. 


History: Cantigny Park (Wheaton) is a 500-acre park that features the Robert R. McCormick Museum housed in a historic mansion built in 1896, the First Division Museum with tanks, cannons and other historic equipment located on the grounds, more than 29 acres of formal gardens, picnic grounds, and a top-ranked public golf course. Naper Settlement (Naperville) is an outdoor living history museum that is a must-see for any American history buff. Graue Mill & Museum (Oak Brook) is Illinois’ only operating waterwheel gristmill. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad and now features fascinating exhibits and displays. 


Culture: Stroll through the unique Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art (Elmhurst). Thrill to the excitement of a Broadway-style live performance at the award-winning Drury Lane Theatre (Oakbrook Terrace). Enjoy a variety of performing arts at the McAninch Arts Center (Glen Ellyn) on the College of DuPage campus. 


Natural Wonders: Drive or stroll through The Morton Arboretum (Lisle), an amazing 1,700-acre garden of trees and other woody plants from around the world. Enjoy the Children's Garden, Maze Garden, 16 miles of hiking trails, guided tours, special events and more throughout their environmentally friendly and handicapped-accessible grounds and facilities. 


Shopping: DuPage County rivals Chicago for spectacular shopping. Oakbrook Center (Oak Brook) was voted Illinois’ No. 1 upscale shopping destination with more than 160 stores and restaurants. Chicago Premium Outlets (Aurora) already has more than 120 stores and is going through a major expansion. 


Dining: You’ll never go hungry in DuPage County, with hundreds of top-notch restaurants. Stop in for a tasting at the award-winning Lynfred Winery (Roselle) – Illinois’ first!


For more: Visit or call 630.575.8070.






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Geneva Lake is a great place to play on the water from swimming and boating to sightseeing and dining. 



Spring is here and it’s not too early to start planning your summer vacation. Whether planning a getaway for family, friends or couples, nearby Lake Geneva, Wis., is the perfect place to fulfill your summer vacation wish list. 


Geneva Lake is the most accessible body of water in Wisconsin, which means you don’t have to look any further for a great place to play on the water. The area’s four beaches provide ample opportunities for swimming and sunbathing. Boating fans can take advantage of a variety of watercraft rentals from Leatherlips Watersports, Jerry’s Majestic Marine, and Clear Water Outdoor. Guests of the Abbey Resort and Avani Spa can rent a slip in the resort’s harbor, giving them access to their own watercraft during their stay. 


The Lake Geneva Cruise Line offers a variety of tours including sightseeing, dining and historic cruises. The Mail Boat Tour is a perennial favorite as all ages get a kick out of watching the Mail Jumpers leap on and off the moving boat to deliver mail dock by dock around Geneva Lake.


Adventure seekers enjoy ziplining with Arial Adventures or Lake Geneva Canopy Tours or a hot air balloon experience with Lake Geneva Balloon Company. Dan Patch Stables at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa offers pony rides for little cowboys and cowgirls or horseback riding through acres of the beautiful Grand Geneva property for those 7 years old and older. 


Golfers can challenge themselves on championship courses including Lake Lawn Resort’s course Majestic Oaks, known for its stately oaks, deep sand bunkers and subtle undulations. The Palmer, Player and Trevino courses also await golfers at Geneva National Golf Club.  


Shoppers can also enjoy the walkable downtown filled with fun boutiques. And there are no shortage of restaurants with a view in Lake Geneva to enjoy.


For more, visit or call 800.345.1020.






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Take an electric streetcar tour along Lake Michigan and through downtown Kenosha.


Just a short distance away, an abundance of family fun awaits you on the Lake Michigan shore! The Kenosha area in Southeastern Wisconsin is perfect for a spring break adventure, a weekend getaway, or a summer vacation.


Kids of all ages love the free Jelly Belly Express train tour – and free candy samples – at Jelly Belly Visitor Center. Also enjoy a train of a different kind: a scenic ride aboard an authentic Electric Streetcar that travels along Lake Michigan and through downtown Kenosha. Enjoy educational and entertaining experiences at five museums – three are on the streetcar route. At the free Kenosha Public Museum, see the mammoths that were un-earthed in Kenosha County and plan to spend some time at the Field Station, where hands-on activities allow exploration of the arts and sciences. The free Dinosaur Discovery Museum holds the largest display of meat-eating dinosaurs in the country, while the Civil War Museum is one of only three venues featuring a 360-degree film experience in the country – and is the only 360-degree Civil War feature.


Learn about Kenosha’s industrial and automotive history at the free Kenosha History Center, and uncover Lake Michigan shipwreck history inside the seasonal Southport Light Station Museum. Get artsy at Alpaca Art Pottery Painting – and get active at RecPlex (home to an indoor waterpark and an ice arena) or Kenosha YMCA. During the summer months, enjoy Kenosha Kingfish baseball games, the Bristol Renaissance Faire and a climb to the top of Southport Lighthouse (ages 8 and older). 


For more, visit or call 800.654.7309.






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Take a walk up the picturesque Milwaukee Riverwalk to pose with the “Bronze Fonz” of “Happy Days” fame. 


Looking for somewhere to take the family for a spring getaway? You’re just a short drive away from a fun getaway in Milwaukee. Milwaukee makes it easier and more affordable to get away so you can focus on the fun. Now is a great time to visit the city with two brand new museum exhibits opening. The Milwaukee Public Museum’s "Crossroads of Civilization: Ancient Worlds of the Near East and Mediterranean" opens March 15 and will feature life-size figures created in-house, like a recreation of King Tut in his chariot and state-of-the-art interactive displays. Betty Brinn Children's Museum, designed specifically for kids 10 and younger, recently opened its new "Word Headquarters" feature exhibit, an interactive pretend communications company. Discovery World continues to inspire and entertain with its interactive science and technology exhibits, and a visit to the Milwaukee County Zoo provides year-round family fun.

Come up for Cubs/Brewers games May 8-10 and be sure to join in the tailgating at Miller Park or take in pre-game fun at a brewery tour at MillerCoors or Lakefront Brewery. Add arts and culture to the mix with Broadway productions at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, including Beauty and the Beast, Blue Man Group and Book of Mormon, and be inspired by original creations from fashion designers including Dior, St. Laurent and Cardin on display at the lakefront Milwaukee Art Museum’s current exhibit through May 3.

 Foodies can begin exploring Milwaukee’s burgeoning culinary scene at the Historic Third Ward’s Milwaukee Public Market, featuring Wisconsin products, seafood, chocolates, frozen custard and more. Take a short walk up the picturesque Riverwalk, past the “Bronze Fonz” of “Happy Days” fame, to Old World Third Street, where the city’s German heritage is celebrated with legendary Mader’s restaurant and specialty shops featuring Usinger sausages, cheese and spices.

For more, visit or call 800.554.1448.



EXPO: Joining Businesses, Families

05 March 2015
Published in Places

Crystal Lake Home & Business EXPO brings local businesses, leaders and residents together under one roof to celebrate community. 


Meet 130 local businesses and organizations – all in one place – during the Crystal Lake Home & Business EXPO March 28-29 at Crystal Lake South High School (1200 S. McHenry Ave.). 


Hosted by the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce, EXPO is free to attend with fun promised for all ages. Businesses exhibit their latest products and services, with owners and employees ready to answer questions. From home improvement to financial services, education to athletics, there will be an exciting range of local businesses to explore. 



Business owners like Richard Harms of Countryside exhibit new products and answer questions at EXPO. 


Community leaders and civic organizations will also be on hand. “Children can meet someone special like your local county and state representatives, policemen, firemen or local librarian,” chamber President Mary Margaret Maule said. 


Everyone will receive some great items from local businesses, plus every 100th person receives a door prize and this year’s raffle includes a Crystal Lake entertainment package valued at more than $500; boys’ and girls’ bikes; and a Kindle, donated by In Sync Systems. 


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 Organizations like Summers Academy of Dance share what makes them a unique part of the community. 


Come hungry. Café EXPO features great food from Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria & Pub; Galloway’s Chicago Sub Shop; Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant; and Morkes Chocolates. 


>> For the latest list of exhibitors and prizes, visit Pick up a Community Guide or the new Shopping & Dining Guide at the chamber office: 427 W. Virginia St.

A Lost World Under Our Feet

07 March 2015
Published in History

An Oakwood Hills man discovers traces of life on Earth – even before dinosaurs – right under his feet.


Nothing is more satisfying than taking a trip back in time and losing yourself in the past. You only have to pretend that you have a time machine and set the dial for the time and place you want to explore. 


Let's set our time machine for McHenry County, 420 million years ago during Earth’s Silurian Period. 


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 The first coral James Iverson found on his property in Oakwood Hills is hundreds of millions of years old.  Photo: Evan Hart


The reign of the dinosaurs was still roughly 200 million years into the future during this period, but the shallow tropical sea that covered Illinois teemed with life. Shelled animals like brachiopods, clams, snails and trilobites called this sea home. A massive coral reef that contained sponges, crinoids and bryozoans stretched from Racine, Wis., to Thornton, Ill. 


It was by accident that James Iverson, 54, ended up taking a trip to this prehistoric period, and it's a trip he can't resist taking regularly. It started right in his back yard. 


"I found my first McHenry County fossil about 20 years ago while landscaping on my property in Oakwood Hills," Iverson said. "The hexagon pattern made me think it was a fossilized bee’s nest. A trip to the local library and a couple geology books later and I had a new appreciation for what I had found. It turned out to be a piece of coral – hundreds of millions of years old. I was fascinated and hooked."


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A brachiopod (marine animal from the Silurian Period) found in Crystal Lake. Photo: Evan Hart


Since then, Iverson has searched quarries, gravel pits, farm fields and river banks throughout McHenry County.


"I’m always amazed by my discoveries," he said. "Hidden in plain sight is a lost world of marine fossils just waiting to be discovered." 


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Sedimentary rock found in Cary. Photo: Evan Hart


An ancient brachiopod from a quarry in Crystal Lake was followed by numerous pieces of coral discovered in Oakwood Hills, Bull Valley and Cary. Sedimentary rocks with varying layers of color and, from a much more recent time, an expertly crafted arrowhead from a Fox River Grove riverbank also made their way into Iverson's collection. 


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An arrowhead found along the river bank in Fox River Grove. Photo: Evan Hart


"With the approahcing spring weather, I encourage others to get outside and take a trip back in time to uncover the geology of McHenry County," Iverson said. 


Helpful Resources:


Opening image: Eurypterus, a common Upper Silurian eurypteid, by Obsidian Soul. 


Animal Mandalas in Woodstock

04 December 2014
Published in People

Woodstock author and artist Wendy Piersall brings the beautiful, intricate creatures of her new book "Coloring Animal Mandalas” to life at Read Between the Lynes on December 6. You can color these pieces of art during the afternoon book signing and meet and greet. 


wendy-piersall-headshotMeet “Coloring Animal Mandalas” author Wendy Piersall from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Read Between the Lynes on the Woodstock Square and experience the relaxing art of mandalas while you’re there. “I will have an area set up at with plenty of colored pencils, pencil sharpeners and printouts from 'Coloring Animal Mandalas’,” Piersall said. 


Piersall, a Woodstock resident, has been drawing these circular, spiritual animal patterns since 2009. When her publisher, Ulysses Press, asked her to create a book dedicated to animal mandalas, she jumped at the chance. ‘Coloring Animal Mandalas’ was released in September 2014. 


The book is perfect for tweens, teens and adults. “You don't have to be artistic to enjoy or be good at coloring – all you need is an interest in the process," she explained. “Coloring as an adult is very relaxing and almost meditative. So the process of coloring is just as important as the finished product.” 



 "Coloring Animal Mandalas" was published this fall, with a flower mandalas book due next summer. 


An Artistic Journey

The book is a full-circle, “deeply gratifying” journey for Piersall. With 20 years’ experience in graphic design, she took a break from illustration 10 years ago after experiencing burnout. “It is a personal triumph for me to be able to not only get back to doing artwork again, but also to have the opportunity to work with a national publisher,” she said of her Berkley, Calif., publishing house. “I feel so blessed and honored to be able to do illustration work at all, but to have so many people enjoy my work is the icing on a very rich cake.”


Her artistic process for publication includes drawing in Adobe Illustrator. “I think my world record for fastest mandala drawn was 10 minutes,” she recalled. “Sometimes I get lucky and can make something beautiful with little tricks in the software. But that's very rare. Usually, the mandalas take between two to six hours to draw each. They take about the same amount of time – sometimes more – to color them.”


Recently, Piersall has gone back to working with paper with paint, pens and pencils. “I've always loved the feeling of having the utensils in my hands and how colors lay down onto paper,” she explained. “It always helps my creativity to break away from the screen and do art for the sake of art. I am able to capture a little of this process on my computer by using a drawing tablet, which is like an electronic pen and paper. I honestly don't think I could function as an artist without it.” 



Piersall suggests using colored pencils or fine-tip markers to color the mandalas. 


Mandalas and More

Look for “Coloring Flower Mandalas” from the Piersall-Ulysses team next summer.


She's also trying her hand at illustrating a friend's children's book. “[The book] is going to take a lot of extra work on my part because I don't have a lot of experience drawing people or scenes," she said. "So I am taking a few months to dive into some self-training so that I can work on that with her next spring.” 


Keep up with Piersall’s works in progress via Instagram, her blog and on YouTube



Creativity blooms in Piersall's studio-office at her home in Woodstock. 


Loving Life in McHenry County

Piersall and her husband and children moved to Woodstock from DuPage County just over a year ago. “We were very drawn to Woodstock and have absolutely fallen in love with everything about the area,” she said. “It’s not just the incredible scenery and beautiful historical architecture that we love – and we love that a lot. 


“The people up here are amazing,” she added. “There seems to be a thriving creative community all over McHenry County and it absolutely feeds my artistic side to be a part of it all. We had always dreamed of having a house on a lake somewhere, but now that we're in Woodstock, I honestly don't think we would ever want to live anywhere else.” 


She’s excited to be hosting the book signing and mandala coloring workshop at Ready Between the Lynes – “a great indie bookstore that loves to support local authors like me,” she said. 


“Plus it's on the Woodstock Square during the Christmas season,” she added. “In addition to all of the great shops, Woodstock also has free horse-drawn carriage rides this weekend. What's not to love about all of that?”

Amber’s Art Place at the Dole

11 November 2014
Published in Places


Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 6.27.14 PMAmbers Art Place: Art from the Heart


Amber’s Art Place brings owner Amber Larsens vision full circle to operate an all-ages space in Crystal Lake where fine arts flourish. Art is an integral part of our daily lives it is all around us and offers real meaning to life,she explained. 


Opened in October 2014 in the historic Dole Mansion, Ambers Art Place is a natural next step in Larsens journey as an artist and educator. 


She spent 20 years teaching art in District 47, then in 2008, founded Creative Artistry Fine Art School, located in a cottage behind the Dole. For six years, she built enrollment, classes, staff and scholarships. But growth meant less time for instruction. She longed to return to her roots and focus on fine arts education. The timing was perfect to open her own studio. 


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Ambers Art Place is a reflection of Amber Larsens years as an educator and passion for fine arts.


Fine Art and Fun

Ambers Art Place, located on the third floor of the Dole, is a reflection of Larsens years as an educator and passion for fine arts. It offers classes for every age, every skill level and every budget. Classes include Young Art (4-8), Youth Art (8-17) and Adult Art. 


Larsen also hosts special events like Adult Paint & Pour parties, art parties for children, Christmas Elf Workshop, workshops during holiday breaks, as well as summer art camps.


In conjunction with the Donna Vestal Foundation, Ambers Art Place offers 12 full-year scholarships for children ages 5-17 based on artistic merit and financial need. Our goal is to offer fine art instruction for all children,she said.



Amber's Art Place offers classes for every age, skill level and budget. 


Beyond the Studio

Larsen said its important to engage children at an early age because art is essential in human development. Art teaches creative and critical thinking skills, fine motor skills, problem solving and freedom of expression, and builds self-esteem,she said. 


And because she believes art also resides outside of her studios four walls, she offers students plein air (outdoor) art experiences, art field trips and visits to other artist studios. McHenry County is so inspiring I see art everywhere here,she said.



Amber's Art Place occupies studios 301-303 at Lakeside Legacy Arts Park (third floor, far right). 


Arts-Centric Community

Larsen, a Wilmington, Ohio, native, has found a good fit in Crystal Lake, where she, her husband and two children have lived since 1992. The community has been very supportive of the arts – they really believe in it,she said. Seeing people rally to save the Dole [in 2002] made me want to get involved.

She looks forward to partnering with fellow artist of all disciplines in the Dole/Lakeside Legacy building.



Dole Mansion, 401 Country Club Road, 3rd Floor, Crystal Lake

Call: 815.404.6520

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



More Photos: MCL Photo Gallery 

The Food Shed Co-op: Your Store

09 November 2014
Published in Food & Spirits

The Food Shed Co-op – a local grocery store where consumers are owners and decision makers – is gaining momentum in McHenry County. Learn about the perks of ownership, progress that's been made and what is still needed to break ground on the store. 



iqMmiLaltOcM0AGa7VOlkKJcTUUAVBHJkJ9YwP3lVtwIt’s only a matter of time – as well as members and cash – before The Food Shed Co-op grocery store opens its doors in McHenry County. Approaching 300 owners and a rate of five to 10 new owners weekly, The Food Shed is gaining momentum every day. This news is much to the delight of folks wanting to spend their dollars on healthier, fresher, locally sourced food that is produced ethically on farms close to home. 


The Food Shed is a small part of a large global food movement and one of many cooperatives that have opened in the United States recently. Think of a food co-op as a year-round farmers market where quality control and decision-making is in the hands of consumers instead of corporations. 


So how does it work? The food cooperative model is a community-owned grocery store that will operate according to the 7 Cooperative Principals and according to what its owners want.


Two shares of stock ($100 per share) must be purchased to become an owner. Owners have a stake in what is stocked on the shelves of the Food Shed Co-op when it opens.


Making Progress

The Food Shed has made great strides in fewer than two years since a dozen residents met to discuss a community-owned grocery store. In October 2014 alone, the owners elected their first board of directors and won a $20,350 grant from the USDA to fund a feasibility/market study, which will help determine store size and exact location within McHenry County. Woodstock and Crystal Lake are being considered. 


A market study and a financial analysis will provide data needed to narrow down the store's location, how large the store should be, how much money is required and number of owners needed.


The Food Shed regularly runs ownership drives to reach the 800-1,000 members generally needed to get a store underway. The $1 million to $1.5 million needed to build a store comes from owner equity loans, grants, etc. It’s an exciting time for McHenry County consumers longing for control over their food choices. 




Volunteers like Ryan and Katrina Ellison (at the McHenry County Fair) are needed to help spread the word about The Food Shed Co-op.  



Bigger Picture of Co-ops

I’m involved with The Food Shed Co-Op because business as usual in regard to the environment, our food supply and consumption in general is neither sustainable nor desirable. Food co-ops like The Food Shed, on the other hand, provide the following benefits:


-A channel to take our global thoughts, joys and concerns and put them into action locally. 

-A way for families and individuals to shop for the food we need and leave a smaller footprint on the planet, compared to where we buy food now. 

-A vehicle to understanding the climate and social impacts of the foods we choose to put into our baskets.

-A way to connect communities in our increasingly disconnected world. For example, some envision the Food Shed as a destination for education (e.g., cooking classes) and a space for music, community events and group meetings. The possibilities are endless, which is why new members and volunteers are so important – to continue adding to the dialogue as we grow and eventually break ground. We hope you join us! 


For more, like The Food Shed Co-op on Facebook, call 815.315.1541 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



SCOTTScott Brix is a member of the board of directors of The Food Shed Co-op. He owns Wildzyme Bioproducts Inc., a Woodstock company that provides technical service and bulk sales of industrial enzymes and probiotics for food, beverage and nutrition applications. He lives in rural Marengo.

Local Craft Brewery Takeover

14 October 2014
Published in Food & Spirits

The McHenry County craft beer scene is flourishing, and this new crop of brewmasters is excited to share these uniquely local beers with you.

Photography and story by Rich Hacker

McHenry County is known for great food, festive gatherings and a well-centered sense of community. What better than a good, local craft beer with which to pair that reputation? With a recent surge of exceptional craft breweries in McHenry County, this pairing is an exciting reality. Enjoy the following tour of our local craft breweries and be sure to carve out some time to pay them a visit and taste for yourself:  



Wild Onion Brewing/The Onion Pub, Lake Barrington

  • What to expect: This brewpub-turned-production brewery, owned by brothers Mike and John Kainz, focuses on making great seasonal beer, giving back to the community and reducing its carbon footprint by using sustainable materials.
  • Known for: Hop Slayer, a double India Pale Ale (IPA), is the brewery’s biggest seller, and a hophead’s dream. Other favorites include the wet-hopped Otis IPA made with hops grown on site and the Drago Russian Imperial Stout, aged nine months in retired whiskey barrels (photo).
  • While you’re there: Enjoy a meal at the restaurant, bring home a growler, book a brewery tour or plan your next special event at the banquet space.


Chain O’Lakes Brewing, Downtown McHenry

  • What to expect: This brewpub and taproom owned by Curt (photo) and Linda Ames has no televisions so good conversations can flow freely, and although there is no food, patrons are welcome to bring in their own orders or have food delivered.
  • Known for: The brewery boasts: "Good beer, made here at McHenry County’s first brewery.” The most popular beers include Fox River Scotch Ale and COL’s IPA. They are bigger batch beers and are permanently on tap. Every Friday, new small batch beers (30 gallons) are delivered from tank to tap and are available until gone.
  • Meant to be: “When I was in the military, I told far too many people that I was going to open a brewery when I retired, so I pretty much had to,” Curt Ames explained.



Scorched Earth Brewing, Algonquin

  • What to expect: This production brewery also offers a homey taproom for tasting and gatherings. Although the brewery does not serve food, it occasionally collaborates with food trucks, giving patrons easy access to a meal.
  • Known for: Owner and former home brewer Mike Dallas says that he would rather be known for high-quality products than be known for one flagship beer. Head brewer, Dan Payson, describes the products as “soul beers’ – things we’re all familiar with, with a new twist.” He uses traditional methods paired with locally sourced ingredients to produce traditional-style beers.
  • Connection to nature: The name “Scorched Earth” comes from the rebirth of the native prairies in Illinois after a fire.



Crystal Lake Brewing, Downtown Crystal Lake

  • What to expect: A production brewery and taproom (photo) that invites patrons to bring their own food or order delivery.
  • Known for: Owned by John O'Fallon and Chuck Ross, Crystal Lake Brewing boasts three flagship beers. First, Slalom King Rye IPA, features a big hop aroma and firm, but not harsh, bitterness, finishing with a terrific spicy note. Second, Wake Maker Pale Ale, is a traditional American-style pale with a bold citrus hop flavor and aroma. Third, Beach Blonde American Wheat Ale, is a balanced, light ale that people new to craft beer will find very approachable.
  • Coming to a pub near you: With a dream to be served in every restaurant in McHenry County, O'Fallon says you’ll soon find Crystal Lake Brewing beers on tap at local restaurants and pubs.


cary ale

Cary Ale House & Brewing Co., Downtown Cary

  • What to expect: Alehouse and restaurant.
  • Known for: Cary Ale House & Brewing Co. includes a full-service bar stocked with wine, liquor and, of course, beer – not only their own, but other local beers. They intend to have a few staple beers on tap at all times, as well as rotating seasonal craft beers on tap at different times throughout the year. The alehouse also features a full menu of classic pub favorites, plus regular live music. Dustin Davies, the head brewmaster and co-owner, said Cary Ale House plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help fund brewing equipment for a future brewery. 
  • In with the new: Cary Ale House & Brewing Co. is housed in the site of the old Cary Public House, creating a new, community-oriented downtown destination.


View MCL's Facebook gallery for more local brewery photos. 


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