Category Archives: Family

Hosting Sunday Brunch

Can you believe that we’ve never hosted a Sunday brunch until now? My friend Chris voiced his incredulity, and when I pondered it my own mind boggled a bit too. We’ve had weekend guests who have shared in breakfast and brunch-like meals, but never have we had people over specifically with the intent of brunching. This was the first time, and though it came off without a hitch, it was a lot of work, so we likely won’t be doing this with any regularity.

The pièce de résistance was a bowl of Pennsylvania Dutch pickled beets and eggs, but that was so pretty it deserved its own post (to follow later today). It also required a 48-hour prep time, which gives you an indication of the forethought and planning that is required – such as the baked French toast you can see above. I’m not a fan of making French toast because of all the smoke and mess, so a baked version was much more to my liking. It could (and actually should) be prepared the night beforehand, so the bread can soak up the batter.

The home fries (with onion and yellow peppers) and the frittata had to be made right before serving, which is where the stress of the whole thing surfaces. Both, however, won’t be harmed by waiting around for an hour or so – and some people prefer a room temperature frittata anyway.

This was my first freaking frittata and it was fabulous, if I do say so myself. Following the advice of various frittata experts, I cooked up the vegetables separately to eliminate a lot of the excess liquid they would otherwise bring to the dish, and it turned out quite nicely.

The deviled eggs (half with horseradish) were provided by Suzie, and I always find that the secret to getting really good deviled eggs is to ask someone else to do them. I provided the traditional brunch libations (Bloody Marys and mimosas).

We brought out the waffle-maker (as we do once or twice a year) and other people baked them up.

Is it worth having a waffle-maker if you’re only going to use it once a year? The answer is yes. At least on this morning. I’ll sing a different song when I trip over it in the attic again.

It was a grand time, and it turns out that the key to a great brunch isn’t so much about the food or fanciness of the dinnerware, but rather in the family and friends we were lucky enough to assemble. We’ll do it again when spring returns.


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A Pancit Birthday Dinner for Mom

We left it in the hands of Mom as to what kind of birthday dinner she wanted, and she chose a traditional Filipino one of pancit and adobo. I made those dishes (the latter in a slow cooker, which I’m still not completely sold on as far as cooking adobo goes). Andy made the sensational lavender cake depicted here, and it was a fun evening that I won’t bog down with excessive verbiage. The photos tell most of the story. (Cheese board by Suzie Ko, so there’s no otherwise-likely litigation in the future.)

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A Mother’s Birthday

Today we celebrate my Mom’s birthday, and as the woman who brought me into the world and has had to deal with me ever since, she deserves more than mere accolades. We’ll do a proper dinner at our house tomorrow evening, but for now here’s a birthday place-card. Here’s wishing the happiest of birthdays to the person who gave me a sense of style, showed me a sense of purpose, and loved me even when I didn’t always deserve it.

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Brother & Faux Sister

This photo takes me back. Not just to the first day of 2017, but way back to my childhood, when my brother and I would play with Suzie and our cousins on New Year’s Day. Relegated to the family room and later the basement, we were also sentenced to the kid’s table in the kitchen for our dining enjoyment, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Times have changed, and there are new kids at the table and in the family room, but every once in a great while I see a glimmer of the mischievous fun we had in our childhood. I see that in this photo, and it makes me smile. (In an effort to pretend that we have in fact grown up, I have omitted the next shot that showed Suzie flipping me the bird. Maybe things haven’t changed that much.)

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From My Fam to Yours: Xmas Day

The day after Santa arrives is always a celebration, even if there’s the usual deflated expectations of hype and hoopla. This time around there was nothing but smiles, and a rambunctious crew ready to run wild until someone busted a lip open. Such is the excitement of Christmas Day, and the perils of a game of chase.

We’ve come a long way from the days of prim and proper behavior, of dressing up and settling formally into a church pew. I never thought I’d miss that, but part of me does.

Still, there is nothing that can dim the magic of Christmas, especially when you learn to embrace family and friends more than you do throughout the rest of the year. That’s the lesson I’ll try to remember as we begin the long trudge through winter darkness.


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From My Fam to Yours: Xmas Eve

Welcome to the Ilagan Christmas Eve Spectacular!

We have dancing girls!

We have dancing boys!

We have the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, coupled with a fancy surf and turf dinner!

Best of all, we have family!

I got all my sisters with me! (Which are none.)

I don’t know if I get more joy watching the twins open up their presents, or my parents open theirs.

That’s what Christmas Eve is all about.

Hope yours was as lovable as mine.

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Horsing Around in a Restaurant


Sometimes that’s all I can say.

And it’s more than enough.

Not sure where they learned to pose like this, but promise you it wasn’t from me.

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The Ilagan Tree Tradition

My brother and I have been going to get the Ilagan family Christmas tree (off and on) for our entire lives. Some years we skip it, but eventually we get back around to driving over to Bob’s Tree Farm and picking out a tree for the family. For the past couple of years, we’ve brought the twins along with us, with dinner afterward, preferably at the cozy Cock & Bull. This year we set out for the same adventure.

Emi wore her sequined high-tops.

I was more than a little envious.

She also showed me an impromptu drawing she did. That’s me. (Why do I look so fat? Don’t answer.)

We made it to Bob’s Trees and found this reindeer, then quickly found an acceptable tree. What used to be the most fun part of the night had quickly become the most trying, as all I wanted was dinner at the Cock & Bull. I’d asked my brother to call and make sure they were open (last year they were closed for a holiday party so we ended up at another place that everyone complained about for an entire year).

Of course, he never called, and when we arrived the Cock & Bull was not open, so we ended up in the same place that he and the twins hated so much last year. I shrugged it off because, well, these things are not surprising.

We made the most of it and the twins were fine once they made their salad bar trip and shared some chicken tenders. The holidays are not always perfect, and when things don’t turn out as perfectly-planned as you like, the only thing to do is go with the flow.

Christmas has a way of softening the most righteously indignant among us.

A full-pour Manhattan does too.

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Thanksgiving Family Photos

It was a quiet Thanksgiving, but sometimes those are the best. And quite frankly, we probably won’t see a really quiet Thanksgiving until the twins gain about ten years. In the meantime, there is joyful noise and running around, and somewhere in the middle of it all a moment to sit down, give thanks, and enjoy a home-cooked meal.

PS – Keep your eyes peeled for a Special Guest Appearance by the OG Ko Jello Salad!

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My Nephew

Noah doesn’t often sit still for a good photo to be taken.

But he knows how to rock a hat.

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My Niece

Eli knows how to strike a pose, especially when there’s a bright backdrop like this coral bark maple.

She simply glows.

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Fall Day with the Ilagan Twins

It would be impossible to top last year’s treasure hunt with my niece and nephew, so I didn’t even bother trying. Unfortunately, I should have had another plan in store, because a couple of hours without a schedule makes for a chaotic series of scrambles when trying to keep a pair of six-year-olds occupied. Still, just being around the twins has its fun moments, and kids are often easily entertained when Uncle Al is at his wit’s end.

We began with a walk around the yard, which held onto its fall foliage but was a far cry from the summer sumptuousness of just a few weeks before. Time is measured in the steps of children.

The day held a few surprises, such as these bags of silly treats, hanging in the branches of a brilliant coral bark maple.

This year’s treasure was a pair of nonsensical objects that, thank you Jesus, kept the twins busy for a few precious minutes: Silly Putty and Squirmles. Throwback toys to my own childhood, they still somehow work their magic all these years later, even if they were greeted with skeptical eyes at first.

We also checked the original fairy traps we’d set last year, because my backyard is a veritable breeding ground for fairies.

Back inside, we had cider and mozzarella sticks. (I was told children eat such things.) They played with their putty and squirmles, but weren’t at all interested in assembling the felt turkeys I’d bought at the last minute. Oh well, best laid plans. We’ll do a holiday get-together next, or maybe a winter weekend before the years fly by.



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‘Tis (Almost) The Season

If you’re anything like me, and for your sake I hope to God you’re not, you will already have begun your holiday shopping. I’ve only made a small dent in mine, but it’s an admirable dent and I look to continue that this weekend. For those seeking unique and one-of-a-kind gifts, particularly in the rustic furniture line, check out my brother’s shop in Ballston Spa: DeadWood Field & Furniture. It’s a cozy little nook in a cozy little town, and a perfect jumping-off point for holiday gift gathering.

Much of the focus is on his hand-crafted wooden furniture – rustic, bold, and teeming with echoes of the Adirondacks that surround us. His pieces can be custom-ordered and designed to your own specifications. Don’t be afraid to think and propose things that seem out-of-the-box. I’ve seen him rise to the challenge of corner shelving, kids’ coat cubbies, dining room sets, and bed frames. He’s crafted portable kitchen islands that can be moved as needed, sliding wooden doors, and plant stands for indoor or outdoor use.

Not that you’re limited to immense, stalwart big-ticket pieces – there are a number of smaller items for your browsing and buying pleasure, something to fit those hard-to-buy-for people who have everything.

It’s worth a look-see, and then amble on down the street to visit the rest of Ballston Spa – it’s got some great old-school charm, a couple of restaurants and cafes, and several other interesting shops. It’s almost the season, and I’m starting to get excited.

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A Recap and a Belated Birthday Wish

It’s my annual belated birthday wish to my father, who has the distinction of being born on a day now marked with infamy – 9/11. As such, he gets his birthday shout-out a day late, but with no less fanfare. He’s never been the biggest self-trumpeter, but without our birthdays we wouldn’t be here, so we celebrate such things with his indulgence. Happy Birthday Dad!

As for the previous week, it was mostly about Washington, DC. From brunch with a baby to dinners with an old friend, it was a typically monumental visit. Everybody needs some time all alone. Farewell for now, sweet whimsical Washington.

Summer started to go to seed.

This I promise you.

Don’t you wanna dance?

How sweet it is.

Eat her out.

The Hunks of the Day were all from across-the-pond: Jack Whitehall, Danny Mac, & Ashley Cain.

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Best. Gay. Uncle. Ever.

I’m not claiming that title.


Today is somehow ‘Gay Uncles Day’ which is ridiculous and wonderful and something I want nothing to do with unless gifts are involved. In a world where the hunt for the next Hallmark Holiday has run dry, leave it to the Gay Uncles to step up the fabulousness. (Though I do wonder why the Gay Aunts aren’t included.)

It just so happens that my niece and nephew will be visiting us for a summer dinner later today, so we’ll celebrate in our own way (likely with Uncle Al doing their bidding). They’ve provided a bright spot in this otherwise rather dark summer, and for that I am grateful. Summer’s not over yet, and I’m reminded of that in the exuberance of a child. Or two.

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