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?

Spring Break Adventure: The Donut Challenge

The Donut ChallengeIt’s Spring Break here. While many families have left town to head South (for the warmth), North (for skiing), or just about anywhere else to simply get away and explore somewhere new, most of my family is home. Our youngest needed to have her tonsils removed and Spring Break allows just enough time for her to recover without missing any school. On Friday she had surgery and since then we’ve been chilling around the house, watching movies and catching up on projects that have been waiting for our attention, while Evelyn chills on the couch or in her room.

Notice I said most of our family is home. Our eldest was lucky enough to accompany her grandmother on a trip to New Jersey to help watch her cousins. That leaves Katherine here to spend her break watching her sister get over tonsil surgery. Relaxing? Yes. Interesting? That depends on what we find to do besides watching an endless stream of movies.

Which led Katherine and I to create The Donut Challenge. We have heard of various donut shops and bakeries in the area, but somehow we’ve only managed to try one non-chain donut shop in all the years we lived here. It’s time to change that. We’re setting out to try donuts from seven shops in Naperville and the surrounding suburbs over the next seven days. Katherine devised a rating system that critiques each shop’s donuts on a variety of characteristics, from presentation, to texture, to flavor variety and more. And to make comparisons simpler, we plan to sample a simple glazed donut at each location (if available). By the end of Spring Break, hopefully we’ll have narrowed it down to our favorite, without putting on too many pounds.DONUT Challenge List

Here are the places we will be visiting on The Donut Challenge:

DeEtta’s Bakery in Naperville

Stan’s Donuts and Coffee in Oak Brook, IL

Honey Fluff Donuts in Countryside, IL

Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove, IL

Glaze Donuts in Naperville, IL

Dimples Donuts in Naperville, IL

Sylvia’s Bakery in Darien, IL

My goal is to report back on our findings each day. So stay tuned…

Do you have a favorite donut shop? What makes it most appealing to you?


Road Trip Planning Help

Help Road Trip PlanningPlanning to head out on a road trip with your family soon? If you’re like me, the days leading up to your departure will be filled with trying to remember everything that needs to be done – stop the mail and newspaper, arrange for pet sitters or house sitters, double-check hotel reservations, check that the car is in good shape. And that doesn’t include packing. I always climb into our car for long trips with a sense of dread, as in “what have I forgotten.” Because all it takes is leaving behind one key item to throw a trip out of whack. On the flip side though, sometimes bringing along just the right item can turn the miles on the road from humdrum to delightfully memorable.

So for your sake and mine, I put together a list of Family Road Trip Must-Haves. These are the top 10 things I’ve found to make a positive impact on our trips. They’re the essentials I want to remember for every trip. Some of them might seem obvious (snacks!), but believe me, in the thick of preparation when mom is juggling packing lists for multiple family members, along with all those other duties, even the obvious can get overlooked. Some of the items I only discovered or only became available after years of traveling with kids (portable hotspots, anyone?). And others we learned to pack the hard way (cleanup supplies!).

I hope this list helps you as you get ready to head out of town. While you’re at it, I’d encourage you to also download the free 18 Summer & Family Vacations chart. It’s a simple way to plan and record how your family spends free time together. It allows you to see at a glance how you’re doing and what you want to pursue to maximize the years you have as your children are growing.

How about you? What is on your list of top things to bring on a family road trip?

I always enjoy hearing what other families can’t do without. I often learn how I can improve the experience for my crew.

Planning What You’ll Ask When You Meet Someone Famous

My bucket list includes meeting a handful of people I admire – comedians, authors, actors. And my goal in meeting them isn’t just to stand in a line for their autograph. I’d like to get even a few seconds to have a real conversation with them. Except given the chance, I don’t know what I’d say or ask. Which, I’m learning, needs to change. Because having a specific question could be the key to that meaningful conversation (and might intrMeetFamousoduce a surprising connection between you and that person). That’s what happened for a writer friend of mine, Sara Marchessault.

Before I share Sara’s story with you, you must know this about her: she is an avid journal-keeper. And not just someone who writes in a journal every day, but
an intentional, creative journal writer who uses her skill and interest in journaling to help other people every day. Check out her website to learn more about Sara. Sign up for her newsletter for periodic journaling prompts sent to your inbox. Most of all: pick up a copy of her book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.

Now, here’s Sara’s bucket list story of how meeting someone famous intersected with her life’s passion:

Do you have a list in your head, or maybe written down somewhere, of people you would really like to meet?

When I was a kid I really wanted to meet Pope John Paul II. I think seeing his photo in catechism every week made me want to see what he would be like in person.

I have since modified my list to people who are much more accessible than the Pope. Elizabeth Gilbert is on my list. So is Ann Patchett.SaraMLizG

In April 2015 I met Ann Patchett, right here in Tallahassee at the Word of South Festival.

And [in April 2016] I got to meet Elizabeth Gilbert. There we are in the photo [to the right].

I was giddy like a middle schooler in the 90s about to meet NKOTB.

She was in town as part of Opening Nights and when I was invited to the meet and greet reception before the event (thanks to my oldest friend, Betsy) I knew I was going to get to ask her the question I really wanted to ask.

It was great. There were maybe 25 people there and it was easy to get a few minutes to talk with her. And my burning question was….

Where did you get the idea for Tomorrow Morning’s name?

Tomorrow Morning is a character in her book The Signature of All Things.

And guess where she found his name?

In an old journal.

Let me say that again….in an old journal!

How freaking cool is that?

Here is a real life example of what can happen when one person engages in a regular practice of keeping a record of life. What was probably at least a hundred years later, inspiration is found in the pages and a voice from the past is heard anew.

She found the name in a journal. It was a name that a teacher had given to a boy who appeared at the school, wanting to learn. And she, Elizabeth Gilbert, loved it and wanted it to be in her book.

As Elizabeth Gilbert shared later that evening, “life meeting life.” But instead of face-to-face, it was through pages composed long ago.

You just never know what will happen with your writing.

What I do know is that the practice of actually writing is sacred.

It’s also therapeutic, healing, clarifying, and can guide you to find the meaning and purpose in your daily actions.

It can ground you to your life experience and help you be the leader in your life.

It can even become your legacy.

Beyond-Pen-Paper_ebook_2-188x300Sara Marchessault is a coach, writer, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times.

In the comments tell us, who have you always wanted to meet and what do you plan to ask them when you do?

What Could You Give Up to Have More of What You Want?

I tried giving up sugar once. I drank my tea and coffee black, skipped carbonated drinks, avoided desserts. And I read labels, checking for insidious ingredients like corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. But the prevalence of sugar in the foods we consumed became so overwhelming and my desire for sweets so strong, I gave up giving it

I admire my friends who go cold turkey off sugar and caffeine and carbohydrates and a variety of unhealthy edibles. I’d love to know what it feels like and how my body functions without those in my system. But I’ve never be able to do it. I’ve never wanted it enough to battle through the headaches and malaise that seem to hit every time I try to eliminate such foods.

On the other hand, I don’t have a problem spending days away from social media. I can skip FaceBook, ignore Twitter and never glance at Instagram without a thought.

I say all of this because we are on the threshold of the season of Lent. A 40-day period in which many will practice self-denial. A flurry of “I’m giving up” proclamations will go out on social media tomorrow. And the question, which comes up for me every year is, “will I participate? And if so, how?”

You don’t have to be Catholic or Lutheran or from any other liturgical tradition that follows the Church calendar to practice giving something up (although the spiritual side of the practice that accompanies the tradition may be, in some respects, the most powerful aspect of it). In fact, you may have a faith background that practices denial at another time of year. But why not join those who are sacrificing a personal comfort or indulgence over the next forty days? Test your own self-restraint. See what life is like without the presence of something.

In many ways, a challenge like this fits in well with bucket list living. Think about something you’ve always wanted to try doing without. It could be chocolate, sugar, or another food. Or it may be social media, television watching, or sleeping late. Could this be your time to try giving it up?

Or, for a more powerful motivation, consider it this way: what has been missing from or lacking in your life recently? Time with your kids? Laughter? Sleep? Exercise? What could you give up in order to gain that missing piece?

Let the next 40 days be your invitation to tackle a “giving up” bucket list goal. I look forward to celebrating the results in April!