Donut Challenge Day 4: Ingram’s Busy Bee – Look to the Locals

Donut Challenge Day 4We’re on Day 4 now of our Challenge and friends have been asking if we’re getting sick of donuts yet. The answer? Of course not! Our secret? We’re eating only about one donut-worth apiece (give or take) each day.

For Day 4 we tried donuts from a true old-fashioned bakery. Ingram’s Busy Bee has been selling local families their scratch-made cakes, cookies and pastries in downtown Downers Grove since I was a child, if not longer. Which is why I wanted to include them in our challenge. Their business isn’t based on a fad or a “concept,” but simply years of proving they can deliver a great product.

In my bucket list adventures I have always valued authenticity. When I traveled to Russia in my 20’s I did a homestay, living with Russian families instead of booking a curated tour, staying in hotels & seeing carefully selected sites. When I’ve sought to experience the food of a region in the U.S., I’ve based my choices, as much as possible, on recommendations from the locals. And whenever we travel somewhere new, I try to avoid the tourist traps and find where everyday folks shop and eat (although the kitschy shops always manage to lure me in).

Never has this philosophy let me down. And it held true in this case as well.

Ingram’s Busy Bee bakery sits on Main Street, about a block away from the train station in the IMG_3609longtime business district of town. The bright yellow-and-black-striped awning and windows decked with seasonal decorations remind me of trips to this and other local bakeries in my childhood. Inside high-up shelves showcase tiered decorated cakes and glass-fronted cases display rows upon rows of baked goods ready to take home.

I eyed the frosted cookies, but had to hurry to buy my donuts since the girl behind the counter was already stacking trays from the case onto a cart in preparation for closing time a half hour later. Thankfully she still had a nice variety of donuts for me to choose from. I brought home two chocolate frosted cake donut holes (this was the first shop to offer bite-sized versions), our usual glazed donut, and a custard-filled bismarck.

IMG_3610Two words for all three donuts: oh. wow. The glazed donut was beautiful to behold. A very tall, golden yeast pastry, with a dense, but light, texture, it managed to be flakey without giving way to air pockets (like Stan’s glazed). It wasn’t too sweet and had just the right flavor.

The donut holes were also dense, but with a moist cake-like texture that was perfectly crisp on the outside. A thick, smooth daub of hardened chocolate icing on top melded nicely with the buttery cake flavor. It’s a good thing we only had donut holes and not whole donuts, because I’m not sure I could have stopped after only two bites (which is how much it took to eat the half of a donut hole that I split with Katherine – they don’t skimp on size).IMG_3611

Finally there’s the piece-de-resistance: the custard-filled bismarck. This yeast donut, like the glazed one, stood 3-4″ tall, dusted with a generous coating of powdered sugar. It was heavy with filling, so we knew we wouldn’t miss out on tasting custard in every bite. The custard itself overflowed when I cut into the bismarck, not dripping like the watery custards in some Boston Creme donuts, but clotted thick like pudding. The flavor of donut and custard balanced well without being too sweet. This one won as our overall favorite from Ingram’s.

Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery Scores 

Presentation: 4 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3 stars

Texture: 5 stars

Glaze: 5 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 5 stars

Overall Score: 4.17 stars

It’s no wonder to me that Busy Bee comes out as the top scorer so far in our challenge. They’ve had decades to perfect their donuts and have clearly earned the spot they hold as a local bakery. This is no flash-in-the-pan donut shop or concept shop. This is an honest-to-goodness hometown business that knows how to please. Following the lead of the locals proves to be a good philosophy once again!

Is there a locally-owned bakery like this in your town or region that people rave about? Do you look to locals for recommendations when planning your bucket list adventures?

Donut Challenge Day 3: Honey Fluff Donuts & Sensory Reset

Donut Challenge Day 3Our donut tour of the Western Suburbs of Chicagoland continues today with a stop at Honey Fluff Donuts in Countryside. As I’ve done the past two days, I want to point out a broader concept I learned from this visit before giving you our review of the shop. What I realized from visiting Honey Fluff is that not every business needs to be the best or a standout to do well. And not every stop on any adventure will be amazing. In fact, maybe our adventures shouldn’t be one hundred percent over-the-top mind blowing. Sometimes it’s good to have an ordinary, everyday experience as you explore. I think of it as a sensory reset. Having a break from newness or from being “wowed” gives our minds and senses an opportunity to settle. It prepares us to be amazed again. After all, how much do you notice a light being turned on in a glaringly bright room compared with that same light being lit in a dim space?

When you plan adventures for yourself or your family, consider this factor. Think about whether it would be valuable to build in a “down” day intIMG_3598o your schedule, for a longer vacation. Or a break in an intense day-long activity. Or whatever a sensory reset might look like for your given adventure.

Not that Honey Fluff was a sensory reset exactly, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

IMG_3565Honey Fluff Donuts is located in a strip mall on Joliet Road not far from I-55 and I-294. An easy stop on a commute or trip across the area. What I noticed as I pulled up in front were the prominent signs featuring their deals. I like deals! 4 donuts for $3.39, plus tax? Yes, please! Of course the afternoon special offering a baker’s dozen for $6.80 plus tax would have been tempting too – except I don’t want to burn us out on donut eating (which is a very real possibility this week). Given that it’s not far from where I work, I can see myself stopping by for a baker’s dozen on another afternoon as a treat for the family. Instead this time I bought 4 donuts, which ended up costing about the same as one Dough Boy donut at Stan’s Donuts (for comparison’s sake). And I think that’s what Honey Fluff Donuts has going for them – their prices are reasonable enough for a family to grab a dozen for breakfast.

IMG_3606In addition to the requisite glazed donut, I chose a Boston Kreme, a buttermilk cake,  and a chocolate frosted cake. The shop had sold out of their sour cream donuts, which I would have liked to try. Otherwise, their selection followed the standard donut shop listings – nothing unique. Which I don’t think hurts them at all. Honey Fluff seems like a solid neighborhood donut shop that isn’t out to win accolades as much as they want to offer customers regular donuts.

Among the four we sampled, the Boston Kreme won out for best donut. The custard filling was delightfully thick and creamy smooth and they didn’t skimp on it – even cutting it into quarters, we both ended up with mouthfuls of filling (it drives me nuts when a donut is filled unevenly). The chocolate frosting tasted sweet and chocolatey, just as expected and the donut itself, while not flakey like Stan’s, held up well to the filling.

The glazed donut was underwhelmingly basic. A thin layer of glaze coated a donut that was more cake-like than you typically find in a yeast donut. I like that the donut held up well – it didn’t squish flat like some do. The flavor didn’t stand out. The same was true of the buttermilk cake donut. It was slightly crisp on the outside with a decent cake texture, but I couldn’t tell the difference taste-wise between it and the yellow cake donut with chocolate frosting. If it hadn’t been evening when we tried them, I would have liked to have had a cup of coffee alongside these donuts. That’s the kind of donuts they are – your donut-and-coffee type.

Bearing in mind the above, here are our ratings.

Honey Fluff Donut Scores

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 2 stars

Texture: 3 stars

Glaze: 3 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 2.5 stars

Overall Score: 2.75 stars

Do you have a local donut shop near you like Honey Fluff? And what do you think of my sensory reset theory? Have you ever worked in a break during your adventures?



Donut Challenge Day 1: DeEtta’s Bakery

Donut Challenge Day 1If you’re following along, you know that my daughter Katherine and I have embarked on a seven-day tour of seven donut shops/bakeries in the Western Suburbs of Chicago in search of our favorite. Before I give you the Day 1 results, I want to point out something about this challenge: it’s interesting because it has a theme. In other words, if you are searching for a way to spice up a weekend, a vacation or a school break, look for a theme to center your activities on. We chose donuts because it had become apparent that there were some good shops out there that we hadn’t tried and after all, what were we waiting for? But you might make a summer-long goal of visiting every park in your town. Or maybe you want to check out all the food trucks in a city near you during a given week. Giving yourself a list to work through adds purpose and direction to what otherwise might be an aimless week off.

So for our Donut Challenge, Katherine devised a rating scheme. Each shop will be judged on the following categories: presentation, variety, creativity/uniqueness, texture, glaze (because we plan to try a glazed donut at every stop), overall donut flavor, and overall score. She chose a 5-star scale, where 1 star = bad, 2 stars = worse than average, 3 stars = average, 4 stars = better than average and 5 stars = amazing!

IMG_3550Yesterday we began our challenge at DeEtta’s Bakery on Fifth Avenue in Naperville. This isn’t strictly a donut shop per se, but on Friday through Sunday they serve freshly made donuts. And they recently won a judge’s choice award for their chocolate sour cream old-fashioned at the Chicago Donut Fest.

We drove across town to this little bakery that sits just across the street from Naperville North High School. Katherine surmised that students probably stop by there on Friday mornings to grab a donut. I’ll bet she’s right! As it was, a steady stream of cars flowed into the small lot there bringing patrons eager for coffee and donuts.

Behind the counter, two women worked serving coffee and packaging donuts for customers. We didn’t have to wait long. DeEtta’s offers a standard variety of donuts flavors, along with a handful of unique tastes like cinnamon sugar, pecan, and maple bacon. We chose to sample the vanilla sour cream old-fashioned and a chocolate frosted chocolate cake donut (we’re both big chocolate lovers), plus we brought home a maple bacon for my husband to try.


Katherine sampling the vanilla sour cream old fashioned

IMG_3553Here’s what we thought of DeEtta’s donuts: they were good. Actually, I thought the vanilla sour cream was very good. Coated in a thick layer of glaze that gave a little crunch as you bit into it, this donut was melt-in-your-mouth light. The sour cream gave it a moist texture and the edges were crumbly crisp, in a good way. The glaze added just the right amount of sweetness to the outside, without soaking in to make it soggy. I would say the vanilla sour cream was my favorite of the two. Katherine preferred the chocolate cake donut. I did like the flavor – a solid, light chocolate, and the frosting matched it well without being overwhelmingly chocolatey. The texture, on the other hand, was too cakey for my tastes. It literally felt like eating a donut-shaped slice of cake. I like cake, but not in the morning, so that did not work for me. As for the maple bacon, Mike enjoyed the donut but didn’t care for the bacon topping. While clearly the bacon had been cooked to a crisp, it became chewy sitting atop the donut. That didn’t stop him from eating either the donut or the bacon, though!

Now before I give you our combined star ratings for DeEtta’s, I want to note that ratings for flavor variety and creativity/uniqueness may skew toward the donut shops during our challenge. After all, if all you are serving is donuts (and coffee), then you have space and time to experiment. On the other hand, bakeries may choose to narrow their offerings to a group of tried and true flavors, while also giving customers other pastry choices such as coffee cakes, muffins, and scones. I’m not sure we should hold that against them. We may have to adjust our scoring as we go along.

That said, here is what we thought of DeEtta’s donuts:

DeEtta’s Bakery Donut Scores

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3.5 stars

Texture: 4 stars

Glaze: 4.5 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 4 stars

Overall Score: 3 2/3 stars

Have you been to DeEtta’s for their donuts? If you have, which donut(s) is your favorite?

Why I Didn’t Create an Over-the-Top Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day yesterday was low key at my house. My husband cooked an amazing meal for me on Sunday. I gave him chocolate and each of my girls a little Valentine’s candy on the 14th.

Over-the-top Valentines Compared to the heart-themed-breakfast, love-notes-in-lunch-boxes fusses many of my fellow moms made, it doesn’t sound much like a bucket list celebration, does it?

There’s a reason for that.

Over-the-top celebrations aren’t sustainable for me. And I would argue they aren’t healthy or sustainable for most. They raise the bar and set expectations such that we’re often scrambling to find ways to make the next event memorable, to wow our kids or spouse or friends or social media followers with our creativity and pizzazz, to outdo ourselves. And in the process we cheapen everyday life and rob our kids of anticipation.

Going big has become such a way of life in our culture that I suspect we’re losing the ability to appreciate the ordinary. Our sense of perspective has been skewed by this desire for every milestone or occasion to be bright and amazing. When Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day and Easter share the same level of riotous hype in a household, how do kids learn which of those days is most significant?

When teenage girls become accustomed to up-do’s and manicures and professional makeup for homecoming dances, preceded by an elaborate “ask” by their date, then prom must include limousines and multi-hundred-dollar dresses and fancy “after parties.” But what’s left for the day they become engaged? And how can they help but expect the type of wedding that requires an exorbitant price tag when a mere high school dance merited so many frivolous expenses?

We have become so focused on giving our kids everything now, that we are leaving nothing for later. What will your children’s bucket lists look like when they reach their 20s and their 30s? When they are your age, what will they be hoping to do? How will they not be bored in retirement having done it all already?

More importantly, what do your kids bucket lists look like right now? In the wake of the hype and the busyness and the constant need to go big and achieve much, I’m hearing from kids how they just want a day to hang out at home and do nothing. They want a break from it all. Are you brave enough to give it to them? Or do you fear making them feel “left out” by not giving them every over-the-top experience you think their peers are getting?

Break the cycle. Dare to be the parent who invites their kids to enjoy the ordinary and leaves some bucket list experiences for the future. I know a lot of other moms who would appreciate it. And I’m pretty sure in the long run, your kids will too.

1603UdemyDisct Feeling exhausted from trying to match the over-the-top expectations prevalent among parents? Are you still eager to give your kids meaningful experiences that bring your family closer? I can teach you how. Check out my book Family Bucket Lists, or take my online course, Bonding Through Bucket Lists.

Bucket List Bonds: Another Reason the Cubs Win Was Such a Big Deal

I have talked often about the way going after life goals brings connection (it’s the theme of my video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Bucket Lists). And usually I’m talking about connection in the present tense, with those in your life today. But this past weekend in Chicagoland I witnessed how powerful that bond can be even with those gone from our lives. Like my grandma.

bucketlistbondscubswinGrandma Seman loved sports. When she moved from her home in Hawaii to a suburb near ours a few years after my grandfather died, I got to spend a lot of time with her. On almost every visit to her house, her tv or radio would be tuned in to a Chicago sports game. To this day, I take great comfort in the hollow sound of a ball game on AM radio. Because it brings back those days at Grandma’s house.

While she enjoyed sports year round – football, basketball, and hockey, Grandma’s favorite team by far was the Chicago Cubs. She would sit in her recliner with a crochet project in her lap and give her own play-by-play of the game. She’d exclaim over runs scored and scowl at what she thought were poor calls. And more than anything, she’d talk about the players. Grandma knew each one by name, reputation and background. Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg came up most often. But she could chat just as fluently about Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and other ball players. And like many Cubs fans before and after her, Grandma suffered disappointment after disappointment.

It’s hardly news that the Cubs finally had their day when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fight for the National League Pennant on Saturday. All over the Chicago Metro area longtime fans danced for joy, sang “Go, Cubs, Go!” and shot off fireworks. My own daughter shrieked and bounced all around the house (and she’s only waited 17 years, nowhere close to what others have).

My first thought was of Grandma. How thrilled she would have been to see her Cubbies get to the World Series. As she did with other Cubs’ wins, she would have talked like she never had a doubt they’d do it. Grandma always had faith that the Cubs could go far. Seeing them win the National League pennant would have been on her bucket list. Which made it a bittersweet day.

Turns out, a lot of other people were feeling the same way. That win brought back the memories of so many Cubs fans who longed to see their team go to the World Series. Social media lit up with people giving shout-outs to those they wished had been alive for that day. The connection in that moment of a long-awaited dream come true spanned generations and even death.

If you ever wondered about the power of a life goal to bond people together, talk to a Cubs fan about last Saturday. They know that power.

It also explains why Steve Goodman’s song, A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request, has such staying power. Take a look: