Holly Peterson makes Garlic Skewered Beef, Chicken, Shrimp

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Holly Petersen expresses herself by sewing and cooking for her family. She marinates meat and shrimp in resealable bags, at left, for ease of prep and cleanup.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Holly Petersen of Palatine uses zip sealing bags for marinating so they can be turned easily.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Holly Peterson makes Garlic Skewered Beef, Chicken, Shrimp

Garlic Skewered Beef, Chicken, or Shrimp

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print story Published: 5/27/2009 12:00 AM

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Growing up in the aggressively feminist '70s, Holly Petersen didn't want to fit the female stereotypes her sisters-in-arms were fighting. But she did.

Cooking and sewing fired up her creative synapses in a way that other pursuits did not, and she was independent enough to follow her natural inclinations.

"I think the whole point of the women's movement was being able to choose," says the Palatine dressmaker and mother of two. "Whether it's working with exquisite fabrics or a great recipe with good ingredients, they are certainly utilitarian but creative ways to express yourself."

Petersen can take lovely silk or linen and turn it into a fine garment, or harvest fresh tomatoes from her garden and make a tasty salad. Either way, "it's lovingly prepared. That's part of the package" and the motivation behind the work.

Petersen has worked her whole life, first as a home economics teacher and later as a custom dressmaker. Working at home, sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning, allowed her to be involved with her children and their schools.

"I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world," she says.

Because her hours were flexible she was able to cook meals and bake treats, something she learned from her mother and grandmother.

"It's a natural part of family life," she says. "I'm making memories."

Though she sometimes resorts to a frozen pizza in a pinch, prepared foods and trips to McDonald's are not Petersen's style. She would rather serve homemade macaroni and cheese, from-scratch spaghetti sauce, chili and soups like lentil, chicken noodle, tortilla and wild rice with ham.

She stocks the freezer with leftovers for fast meals that don't require a drive-through.

The cookie jar is generally well-stocked with homemade ginger snaps, chocolate chip or sugar cookies, recipes she picked up, surprisingly, while working in her dorm cafeteria at Iowa State University. She's never made brownies from a box.

At home, the refrigerator is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables.

"The bulk of the food you eat has to be healthy," says Petersen, "but I think you can throw in a few indulgences."

This week we get the more nutritious side of Petersen's repertoire. The zippy little black bean dip with corn and Southwest flavors is "cool and refreshing, but has healthy stuff in there."

Tree Salad combines artichoke hearts, hearts of palm and blue cheese. "The dressing is a pretty green and slightly sweet," Petersen says.

She spoils her family by serving all three versions of marinated kebabs: beef, chicken and shrimp.

"My family feels gypped if I don't," says Petersen, who makes them thread the skewers.

To balance the meal she skewers some vegetables and potatoes too, brushes them with marinade and adds them to the grill.

"To me, food is just part of the way you celebrate your family," she says. "It's about the good feelings people derive when they gather together and share good food."

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