Erin Walsh prides herself on cooking from scratch.
It is simply what she remembers growing up on an Indiana farm.
And as she spends the holidays 200 miles away from family who still live in the Hoosier State, the Arlington Heights mom looks to the comfort foods she learned from her mother and past generations to connect her with family this holiday season.
"I've lived here 12 years and I still get homesick," she said. "Anything to make me feel better this time of year."
Erin recalls childhood afternoons helping her grandmother make pies and cut and toss homemade egg noodles into soup. She fell in love with the sensory experience but also valued learning to make these dishes.
"They taught me something their moms taught them. There was that sense of pulling something into a new generation that I can pass on," she said.
Erin now enjoys cooking meals for husband, John, and children Kerry, 17, Patrick, 11, Brodie, 9 and Collin, 3. She avoids boxes or mixes, looking to her grandma as guidance.
"What's always in my head is if my grandmother was with us would she see this as food or would she see this as some foreign substance that needs to be used as putty on the side of a car?" she said.
Dinners may consist of kid-friendly fare, such as sloppy Joes and pizzas made with homemade dough, or dishes like orange chicken and beef teriyaki that have more complex flavors. Getting the kids involved in cooking, she said, brings them all to the table.
"I know it is the one thing with a house of three boys that brings us all together," she said.
As the holidays approach, Erin gravitates toward easy weeknight meals that make her think of family far away. Among the dishes she enjoys is her mom's potato soup that includes the homemade egg noodles she learned to make as a child.
"It is my comfort food," she said.
For a quick breakfast for family or to share with friends, Erin bakes scones that she fills with fruit or chocolate chips.
"My girlfriends always know they can count on me to have scones and coffee at my house," she said.
The final recipe Erin shares with us this holiday season is a treat that almost disappeared from family memories: Sugar Cream Pie.
Erin said her great-grandmother served Sugar Cream Pie with every holiday meal but passed away without sharing the recipe. So Erin spent several years figuring out how she made it in order to replicate it and she final hit on this formula.
"It is sugar and cream made into a custard, poured into a pie crust and baked so the top caramelizes," she said. "It is like a creme brulee, but much sweeter and denser."
Erin says having special dishes like the pie on her holiday table reminds her of home and family.
"There are foods that I still make every year so even if I am not home, I enjoy a piece of home."