Food blog, feeding a big Italian family keeps retiree busy

 
By Sally Eyre
Posted12/15/2015 5:44 AM
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  • Cara Kretz of North Barrington often serves her Baked Clams Italian Style for holiday feasts.

      Cara Kretz of North Barrington often serves her Baked Clams Italian Style for holiday feasts. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Cara Kretz of North Barrington  makes her Baked Clams Italian Style for the Feast of the 7 Fishes, which is celebrated on Christmas Eve.

      Cara Kretz of North Barrington makes her Baked Clams Italian Style for the Feast of the 7 Fishes, which is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Cara Kretz of North Barrington shares the recipe for Baked Clams Italian Style.

      Cara Kretz of North Barrington shares the recipe for Baked Clams Italian Style. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Cara Kretz of North Barrington recently retireed from the corporate world to write a food blog.

      Cara Kretz of North Barrington recently retireed from the corporate world to write a food blog. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Laura Stoecker/lstoecker@dailyherald.comCara Kretz of North Barrington and her "Baked Clams Italian Style" dish.

    Laura Stoecker/lstoecker@dailyherald.comCara Kretz of North Barrington and her "Baked Clams Italian Style" dish.

Since retiring last May, Cara Kretz, of North Barrington, hasn't taken a day off.

Cara worked for forty years in the travel industry, eventually helping to start up a travel software company (you know, the kind that helps you find the lowest plane fares) that was bought by Google. Cara stayed on with Google, traveling coast to coast (she probably got great airfares!) but this past May, she decided to retire for one specific reason. She wanted to write a food blog.

"I love to travel, I love to cook and I love to write," explains Cara. "I realized that nowadays, with so many prepared foods, and the ease of picking up fast food, the art of cooking is becoming lost. I wanted my nephews and nieces, and young people like them, to know how to cook." Cara's blog has recipes and photographs, but it also features 'how-to' videos.

"The best way to learn is by doing, " says Cara.

Starting a blog is not as easy as it sounds.

"Since retiring, I've been obsessed with getting the blog up. It's so different from the corporate rhythm of life. " Cara has had to learn about computer systems, photography and filming videos. What she hasn't had to learn however, is how to cook.

"The cooking is the easy part!" she laughs. "I don't fear it, I love it! The hardest part is remembering to measure the ingredients for the blog recipes!"

Cara grew up in a large Italian family where three generations of women were always cooking in the kitchen. "Family and food -- it was always a big production."

As the oldest of eight children, Cara is now the matriarch of the family and loves taking on the hosting responsibilities. Obviously, Cara cooks Italian, and many of the blog recipes are from her mother and grandmother. (Her mother once gave all of her children a handmade collection of her recipes titled, "It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times, it was Dinnertime."

"My blog and my life have definitely converged," admits Cara. For inspiration, any meal, event or holiday party, becomes fair game for the blog.

"I'll have folks over for dinner and before they can eat, I ask, 'do you mind if I take a photo?'"

Inspiration also comes from Cara's recent membership in a local cooperative farm. She loves getting her weekly box of vegetables.

"I don't know what will be in it -- it's always a surprise. I really get inspired by that box!" Her blog currently highlights one creation -- a platter of colorful, roasted vegetables, cut unusually small and beautifully arranged.

The next big thing of course is the Christmas Holidays. Cara and her sisters bake several types of Italian Christmas cookies. Today she shares two of her traditional cookie recipes and readers who are interested in subscribing to her blog can receive a free e-book with some of her favorite cookie recipes at homemadeItaliancooking.com.

The real anticipation, however, is for her family's traditional Feast of the 7 Fishes, which happens on Christmas Eve.

"For as long as I can remember this is the way we've done Christmas Eve. The meal lasts three to five hours. Every course is served separately."

The meal begins with an appetizer course, usually some kind of seafood such as crab legs or baked clams. Cara shares her baked clams recipe. Next, comes the pasta course where there are three or four pasta dishes, after that there will typically be a beef course with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Another course is what her mother always called "the coffee experience," a collection of espresso and cappuccino choices, followed, naturally, by several desserts.

"Obviously we have more than enough food. I've accepted that we are cooking for everyone to take home leftovers. The take-home containers are all a part of it! I think back to when my mother used to do it with eight kids … as we got older, we helped her serve and clean up each course -- sometimes we had to wash dishes between the courses!" she says.

Cara is delighted to be able to host 25 relatives for the feast this year.

"To me it's important to have them all come here -- all the nieces and nephews. My mother was a wonderful cook and she made everything festive and fun. Now I love to throw my own parties." Maybe Cara will actually take a day off following the holidays!

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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