It’s Meet a Mom Monday! Today we’re introducing McKenzie Roman, Chicago mom of 2 sweet daughters, and PR Freelancer! McKenzie wears many hats, but I have been especially inspired by how she gets her daughters involved in her volunteer work (she has so many great ideas for little ways that they can help). I also love seeing the meals that she cooks for her family & posts on her amazing Instagram account, talk about dinner goals!
Keep reading our interview below, where McKenzie shares more about how she got involved in fundraising and volunteering in Chicago, how her career journey took her from Capitol Hill to culinary school, and a recipe I’m now DYING to try!
Hi McKenzie! Thanks for speaking with us today!
Thank you! I am so flattered that you asked me to contribute. I love Lincoln Park Moms and look to the website and instagram handle for fun activities to do with my children, to get more involved in the community and for ways to support our local businesses and restaurants.
Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Chicago?
I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas until 14 then went to high school in Scottsdale, Arizona but consider San Diego, California home (my parents and sisters live there with their families and have since I was in my early 20s). I went to DePaul University in Lincoln Park and after a 10 year stint living and working in New York City, returned in 2016 when my husband took a job here in Chicago.
How many kids do you have, and how old are they?
I have two daughters; Lennox (4 years old) and Darby (2 years old).
Can you tell us a little about your career journey, and how it brought you to where you are today?
After DePaul, I worked for a US Senator on Capitol Hill but soon realized that politics was not my passion and moved to New York City to attend culinary school. I worked in restaurant kitchens for nearly two years (The Spotted Pig and a few others) before transitioning to Public Relations working with restaurant groups, food and beverage brands and Chefs. Following our move to Chicago, I left full time PR and now freelance on short term projects in the food and beverage industry.
I have to say I’m super inspired by the meals you cook and post on Instagram! Where do you find your inspiration, and what is your trick to getting dinner on the table with your kids running around?
Oh thank you! Having a culinary degree certainly helps! While I haven’t cooked professionally for a very long time, the pandemic certainly renewed my passion for it and I love menu planning each week and tackling new culinary challenges (such as the scotch eggs and gluten free doughnuts I recently made).
I look to my large cookbook collection, favorite recipe sites and culinary magazines for inspiration and then consult with my husband on what he would like from what I want to make that week. I make sure to have variety and offer a vegetarian, red meat, seafood, and poultry option each week. I rarely follow a recipe exactly (only exception being baking), but rather use my knowledge to concoct flavor combinations and try out different cooking techniques to achieve something similar to the original inspiration. I am proud to say that I have only repeated a meal once throughout this entire pandemic (Alison Roman’s The Pasta recipe from The New York Times) and that was because my husband specifically requested I make it again he loves it so much. Highly recommend making it if you haven’t yet. Although if you make it…don’t fear the anchovies, you can hardly taste them and they bring such a depth of flavor to the dish!
My husband has celiac disease and while we aren’t a solely gluten free household (the girls eat lots of gluten!), I adapt everything for him when cooking for the two of us.
I would love to tell you that my children eat the crispy salmon or butternut squash risotto I recently made, but the reality is that I make two meals every night (one for us and one for them). While I always try to get them to taste our meals, more often than not my daughters say no.
For me the key to getting dinner on the table is meal prep. I put a lot of time and energy into my grocery list so I can be as efficient as possible when shopping and then I come home and prep everything (washing produce, chopping, storage, etc) so I can easily prepare meals. I also try to prep as much as I can throughout the day so that I am only assembling and finishing the meal at night. For example, this morning I made a grilled artichoke soup while the kids were eating breakfast because I had all of the ingredients ready to go (onions were chopped and artichokes were pre-grilled) and could sauté, simmer, blend, cool and refrigerate before we left for preschool. And then later tonight I will quickly re-heat and top with shredded chicken, parsley and olive oil!
What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?
There are so many things I love about being a mom and raising my kids has sent me back to my own childhood – giving me an appreciation for my parents perspective and their experiences raising my sisters and I.
I also love seeing their eyes light up with every new discovery. From scootering around the neighborhood to frolicking in the snow to playing house with their dolls and dollhouse, everything is done with an innocence and a sense of awe. I love that with young children every moment is a new adventure and it reminds me to find joy in the simplest of things.
Raising kids in the city through a global pandemic is no joke! Do you have any favorite mom hacks or tips that make your everyday life easier during these times?
Oh gosh, aren’t we all just trying to survive!? I have had to become quite creative with activities so back in April I started taking the girls out for “trunk snacks.” We packed up a bunch of snacks, hopped in the car, drove to a fun or new location, parked somewhere safe and chowed down all while sitting in the trunk. At first we ventured to familiar places (Wrigley Field or the parking lot next to Stan’s donuts in the West Loop) but then used it as a way to explore and discover new places (Northwestern University’s campus in Evanston and The University of Chicago’s campus in Hyde Park). Not only did it get us out of the house for some fresh air but also helped us learn more about Chicago and what the city has to offer.
What are your favorite restaurants in Chicago for take-out/delivery?
Old Pueblo Cantina
What are your favorite restaurants in Chicago for “date night”, during “normal” times?
Maple & Ash
What are your favorite things to do with your family around the city, both now and in “normal” times?
We love to explore all of the various outdoor places the city has to offer and Chicago has so many! Some of our favorites are the Osaka Garden in Jackson Park, the Bahá’i Temple in Wilmette, North Park Village Nature Reserve, Humboldt Park, the 606, the Lakefront trail and our backyard park, Lincoln Park! We also love the various museums and make regular visits to the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry.
I know you do a lot of volunteering and fundraising for local organizations! Can you tell us more about which organizations you work with, and how you got involved? Sometimes it’s hard to take that first step!
When I lived in NYC pre-kids, I volunteered weekly for ten years at an organization that cooked and home-delivered nutritious medically tailored meals for people too sick to shop or cook for themselves. I began volunteering at God’s Love We Deliver as a way to earn extra credit in culinary school but soon realized that it gave me so much more.
So when we moved to Chicago I knew I wanted to volunteer with a local organization to not only get involved in the community and give back but also as a way to meet new people. But with a new baby and limited free time, I looked towards joining a charity board at first. A friend introduced me to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and I soon joined their guild board helping to support the BGCC’s mission through fundraising and volunteer events.
Once my second child got a little older, I looked for organizations where I could have a direct impact, similar to my work in NYC. I had previously donated baby items to Share our Spare and knew I wanted to find an organization that helps young children so I reached out about volunteer opportunities. I now volunteer weekly helping sort clothes, making clothing bundles and building diaper kits and also fundraise for their annual auction and diaper drives. It has been a welcome respite from the realities of this pandemic and the chaos that has unfolded. Walking into Share our Spare puts an immediate smile on my face and I find so much joy in working with them and helping further their mission of ensuring every child in Chicago has the essentials they need to thrive in the first five years of life.
For those who want to volunteer but do not know where to start or want to know more about what I do at Share our Spare or The Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, please reach out!
What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
My husband and I give updated takes on traditional anniversary gifts so for our 6th anniversary this year (iron) I gave my husband the gift of ironed sheets for 52 weeks! It has now expanded to my daughters sheets as well and what I thought would be a weekly chore has now turned into a nice relaxing activity once the girls are asleep.
Rapid Fire Round!
Favorite makeup product:
I love the CoverGirl Clump Crusher (green tube) to help my blue eyes pop and bring some color to my barely there blonde eyelashes.
DePaul University/Political Science & Minor in Geography
Can’t leave the house without:
If I have the kids, its our “go bag” which is a small zippered bag that houses extra diapers (for my 2 year old), extra undies (for my 4 year old), wipes, snacks, a small first aid kit, hand sanitizer, etc.
If I don’t have the kids… chapstick. I have a half dozen around the house (bedroom, kitchen, bathroom), in the car, and in the “go bag,” so I am never far from chapped lip relief.
Haribo Gummies (original goldbear or twin cherries!)
Last book you read:
I try to read before I go to bed but usually end up passing out soon after I turn a few pages. However I recently received an advanced copy of my dear friend (and Logan Square mom!) Julia Fine’s new novel The Upstairs House and read it in less than 2 days. The book examines a new mother’s unraveling and provides a surreal examination of the postpartum experience. I HIGHLY recommend it for all of your readers (out 2/23!). And buy it from a local bookstore like Women & Children First or Volumes!
Your binge shows:
Call My Agent (Dix Por Cent)
Drive to Survive