Friday, May 27, 2011

A blog award & 10 Facts

I got an award! Andrea from Chicago Quirk thinks I'm worthy, which is flattering to me because I think her blog is pretty darn neat. She blogs all about fun things to do in Chicago, which is one of my favorite things to talk about, too!
This award comes with 10 facts about me... and then 10 bloggers I want to pass it along to. So here are 10 facts you might not know.

1.) I have a bachelors and masters degree in Education, but have chosen to follow my passion and to work in the food industry.

2.) I've always been active and somewhat athletic, without excelling in any one sport. I think it's because I could never focus on one activity long enough to really get good. But I love playing sports and working out.

3.) Joe and I met the first weekend of college, but didn't start dating until fall of our Senior year.

4.) Speaking of college, I went to the University of Missouri, and am a proud Tiger!

5.) My favorite magazine is British Marie Claire, and before they sold it at Barnes and Nobel, I used to have anyone visiting Europe bring back a copy for me.

6.) I want to live abroad someday. My first choice is Paris, but anywhere in Europe is an adventure I'd love to take. I know it's not too late, too, because my parents didn't live in the Netherlands until they were older and had two kids in college.

7.) I am a sucker for bad reality TV. Thankfully, we don't have cable, so my exposure is limited. But if we did, I'd be all up to date on various Kardashian exploits, and I'd hate myself for liking it so much!

8.) Growing up, I went to 3 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and 2 high schools.

9.) I'm half Irish and half Italian... explains my love for beer and good food!

10.) My favorite childhood book was Eloise, and my mom took my sister and I to tea at the Plaza on a trip to New York so we could be like her.

Now, I'll pass this on to 10 blogs that I enjoy. These are a mix of real life friends and internet friends... blogging about fashion, decorating, and general life. Some have blogged forever, others are just getting started. Check them out!

Ordinary Tales
A Honey Do Home
Leather & Lace
Hey, Lady Grey
Odds and Ends
Life is Sweet*
Minted Life
Ashley Nicole Catherine
Lincoln Park on a Lark

Happy Friday everyone! Have a great holiday weekend!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some things I'm thankful for...

It's so easy to get caught up in thinking about all the things I want. Things I don't have, but wish I did. This is especially hard to avoid in the blogging world, when so many blogs are filled with images of beautiful clothing, homes, and other desirable must-haves. I could write many posts about things I want, like a single family home in the city, or a cute dress from Anthropologie.

Love the print on this Anthropologie dress!
 It's so easy to get caught up in wanting more, and I think to some extent that is ok. For instance, I want a baby someday, and a slightly larger home at some point in the future. You have to have something you're working towards and looking forward to, or life would be pretty boring. But it's important to be happy with what you already have, especially when there are so many people in our world who struggle to survive on so little. When I stop to think about it, I feel very lucky to have so many non-material riches, and it puts things in prospective to list them in one place. I'm going to look back to this list on grumpy days, when I get frustrated with feeling like life is too hard.

I'm Thankful For...

A Loving Husband-- He's really the best guy out there, and I tell him every day how happy I am that we are together. We get along so well, and almost five years into our marriage I am still in awe of how easy it is for us. He loves my cooking, rarely grumbles when I ask him to take out the trash, and makes me laugh. It sounds so cliché, but he really is my best friend, and I'm so lucky to spend every day with him!

A Comfortable Home-- Ok, this is more material, but still something I'm very grateful for. We've owned our condo for 3 years, and I still am a bit it awe that we actually own this place! Chicago is an expensive city, and I dream of living here but also someday having a house, but really I'm so thankful for the well-built, decorated and furnished, 2-bedroom, 1,000 square feet that belong to us. Well, belong to us and the bank, but I'm going to look past that part on my list of good things :)

My Family-- We may be spread out over five different states, but I still feel close to my parents and three siblings. We can make each other crazy, but more often we make each other happy. There is a lot of love and laughter in my family, and I'm so thankful for the good relationships we have with each other. Although I would maybe love my sister more if she started a blog of her own... right Laura? 

My Friends-- I have great friends, here in Chicago, and all around the country. I could go on and on about how wonderful all these people are, but I'll just leave it at saying I wouldn't be the person I am without having so many amazing friends. I blogged about it before here.

My Health-- Joe and I are active people, who eat well and take care of our bodies. I'm thankful for the strength and motivation to run and work out, and to enjoy doing things like running races. I'm also so grateful Joe has recently started biking, since his bum knee has prevented him from running for the last couple years. I don't take for granted that we are healthy and active.

So I might not have a million dollars or the killer wardrobe I dream of, but I still think I can qualify as being rich. What are you the most thankful for in your life?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Signs of Summer

I don't want to go so far as to say summer has arrived, but I will say yesterday was a pretty nice day. I swear, this rainy/cold spring weather is dragging on forever! I had yesterday off, and spent the day doing my usual day off stuff-- gym, groceries, laundry-- you know the drill. I had the windows open and did get outside a little bit, but I have to admit I was feeling pretty antsy by the time Joe got home from work. We scarfed down dinner (Polenta Pizza from Moosewood-- YUM!), and headed straight for Montrose Beach.

Looking North from Montrose Beach
I love this beach because it's close to where we live, and there is a HUGE parking lot. The beach is big, and there are a few trails and paths around where you can walk. We played on the beach, then walked besides the lake, enjoying some great views of downtown. It was a PERFECT night-- not to warm or cold, not many bugs, and great quality time with my favorite guy.

Thinking intensely about how far he could throw the frisbee.
We both agreed we need to get a group of friends to the beach sometime soon, and that more picnics or evening visits will be happening this summer!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Asparagus and Sun Dried Tomato Frittata

A frittata is basically a big omelet, similar to a Spanish tortilla. It is also an excellent way to use up some leftover meat or produce that is hanging out in your fridge. After canning asparagus a couple weeks ago, I had a lot of leftover ends of asparagus from trimming the vegetables to fit into the jars. You don't want the very bottom of the asparagus, which tends to be tough and stringy, but the other 2-4 inches between the end and the "jar-worthy" tips were leftover and begging to be used up.

I also had some goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes, some fresh basil, a bunch of eggs, and a little heavy cream.  Any leftover zucchini, ham, turkey, mushrooms, or other fridge lurkers could be great in this recipe, too. It's basically a catch-all, with lots of room for experimenting. Below is a very loose recipe for making a frittata. Try this tomorrow morning, for a delicious start to your Sunday morning.

First, saute any vegetables that are not cooked. For this recipe, that means cooking about 1 cup of asparagus spears, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds, in a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook in a saute pan for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a large bowl, whisk together the following:
8 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
1/4 cup sliced sum dried tomatoes
1 cup cooked asparagus
3 Tbsp fresh basil, torn

Wipe out the pan that you cooked the asparagus in, and warm over medium heat. Grease the pan liberally with oil or cooking spray, and pour the egg mixture into the pan. Dot the top of the eggs with pieces of the goat cheese and patiently let the frittata cook for at least 10 minutes, without stirring. Transfer the pan to the oven, and broil for 5-10 minutes, until the top is set. Loosen the frittata with a spatula, and flip over onto a cutting board. Cut into slices and enjoy!

P.S. I hate writing recipes, so this probably makes no sense! If you want to see another recipe for a frittata, click here for a more detailed recipe.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Goose Island Brewed for Food

Goose Island and Time Out Chicago have paired up this summer to offer a series of dinners featuring intricate food paired with their collection of vintage ales. Every other week they're hosting a dinner at a different restaurant, and this Tuesday we had a chance to go to Three Aces for a fantastic dining experience.

Our friends Angela and Pedro found the website to buy tickets, even though it's supposed to be by invite only. But we're all total foodies and beer fanatics, so we fit in perfectly with the small group that had gathered. There were about 30 people at the dinner, which was small enough to allow the chefs and a Goose Island brewer to talk to us between each course. We loved hearing their insights into each pairing, and I was so pleased with the quality of food that was presented over the course of the evening.

I could write a few wordy paragraphs about the delicious food, but I'll try to spare you. In short, we started with a fresh tasting spring pea soup, and then had light and flavorful ricotta gnocchi. Next was a simple arugula salad with a nice slice of aged soft goat cheese. The fourth course was farrow with house cured bacon, and the meal was topped off with a hazelnut mousse. Each beer paired well with the food, although my favorite was probably the Fleur or Sophie. Goose Island's vintage brews are complex and flavorful, and represent strong examples of some of my favorite European style beers.

Hearing the chefs and brewer talk about the meal was really interesting, and I loved seeing how well planned the collaboration was.

It was a great night out, and we're looking forward to catching another one of these dinners before the end of summer! We all agreed it would be interesting to see how another chef created a different menu for the same collection of brews. Thanks Goose Island and Time Out! And if you live in Chicago, check out Three Aces. They made special food for our dinner, but their regular menu looks really tasty and very affordable.
** I wish I could take pictures that looked this nice, but that is not the case. These pictures were all taken by a photographer who was helping to run the event, and I took them off the Goose Island Facebook page. You should be a fan, too, so you see what other fun events are coming up!**

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Urban Gardening-- year two

As of today I have officially started my second season of back porch gardening. I love living in the city and have zero desire to have a house with a big yard to tend to... but I do really love the idea of growing some of my own food. With our limited space, thing means growing my own herbs in the summer, and attempting to grow a couple simple fruits or veggies.

The rosemary plant is the same one from last year, which survived the winter living inside. I've also planted two tomato plants... they were both supposed to be Juliet tomatoes, but carelessly picking up the wrong plant lead to one Juliet plant and one Red Beefsteak. I've never grown big tomatoes like the beefsteaks before, so we'll see how that grows.  I'm also trying out a yellow mini bell pepper plant, and have a bunch of basil in the works.

The empty spot in the middle is for thyme, and I might also plant a little oregeno. It's so fun to just go out back and cut the fresh herbs that I need for my favorite summer recipes!  Also, so you see my little gnome watching over the plants?

I also got a couple hanging planters, and put one on each side of the door. I can't wait to see how these grow as the weather warms up. Speaking of weather, it's been obnoxiously cold here for the last couple days. Can we get to summer already?  Or at least a nice type of spring weather??? I'm not ok with 50 degree temps in mid-May!

Soon enough we'll be sitting outside, doing some of our favorite summer things:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Preserving the Market

Remember my loot from the Green City Market last weekend? The bread was eaten almost immediately, and some of the beef was made into amazing hamburgers a couple nights ago. But the real treasure from this market visit was the beautiful asparagus that I'd been waiting all winter to buy.  

Last summer was the first time I canned a variety of pickled vegetables, but I had started this little hobby later in the summer, when asparagus were already long gone. So this year I knew better, and I had been waiting patiently for my first chance to get some local, organic asparagus that were worthy for the task at hand.

I used a recipe from my favorite book for canning, and everything went smoothly.  Now I just need to wait patiently for at least a few more weeks, to let the flavors really develop. I can't wait to see how they turned out!

If anyone wants the recipe, or some advice on canning, just let me know!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My new favorite show

Ok, that title might be a bit of an exaggeration. I think actually my favorite show is either Modern Family or 30 Rock, and I'm also quite obsessed with Big Love (just finished season 4, now dying for season 5 to be on DVD).  But, I spend a lot of random weekdays at home, with only myself to entertain. And that is when I turn to stupid girly shows, which entertain me to no end. If we had cable, I'd probably waste far too much time on shows about crazy brunette sisters (I want to hate them, but I just can't resist!!).  But with no cable, and a subscription to Hulu Plus, this has become my favorite guilty pleasure:

Cougar Town!  Does anyone else watch this? It's a show about absolutely nothing, and I love it. They just sit around and drink a ton of red wine, and talk about the most mindless things. I would love to be their friend in real life! I laugh out loud at each episode, and look forward to the next one. If you're looking for some mindless comedy, check this show out. And, very important, be sure to drink red wine right along with them. Also, take dorky self portraits, since you're home alone in the first place. Cheers!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Chickpea and Spinach Vegetarian Tacos

These were the best accidental Cinco De Mayo tacos I ever could have imagined. You see, on Sunday I planned some meals for the week and made my usual grocery trips. It wasn't until mid-week that I realized I had planned to make Mexican food on Thursday, May 5. I tried to convince Joe I need to make margaritas to go with these delicious tacos, but for some reason he thought that was silly. No matter what you're drinking, though, these are some unique and delicious vegetarian tacos. The filling is healthy and flavorful, and the fancy toppings make these something special. I can guarantee this recipe will be gracing our kitchen multiple times this summer, and one day I'll finally see how well it pairs with a frosty lime beverage (apparently reserved for weekends!).

Chickpea and Spinach Tacos
from Epicurious

Serves 4

8 to 10 corn or flour tortillas

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground ancho chile (or chili powder)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 small shallot lobe, thinly sliced
1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes in their juices
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 to 2 1/2 cups lightly packed spinach leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
4 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
4 tablespoon roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
1 lime


Warm the tortillas and wrap them in aluminum foil to keep warm.
Pour the oil into a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the ground ancho, stir to combine, and cook until it sizzles and becomes very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until the vegetables start to soften and slightly brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

Stir in the tomato and chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato softens and starts to break down. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach wilts, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lay the tortillas out on a plate and divide the chickpea-spinach mixture among them. Top with the avocado and feta and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Dash a little Tabasco on each taco, squeeze the lime over them, and enjoy!


To roast the pumpkin seeds, warm one Tablespoon of oil in a saute pan. When warm, add the pumpkin seeds, and a sprinkle of salt. Stir the seeds until they start to smell fragrant, about 4 or 5 minutes. Careful, they will pop a little!    **Be sure to buy pepitas, which are just the green inside part of the pumpkin seed. Regular seeds from a carving pumpkin are way too rough and stringy!**

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cooking Updates

As some of you know, I used to have a cooking blog. I guess I still have one, but I haven't actually posted anything there since December. I had been blogging about recipes and cooking-related topics for a few years, and got sick of always having to rehash about what I made, how to do it, and typing out detailed recipes. I'm living in the world of food right now, thanks to my job at Whole Foods, so I don't always feel like blogging about recipes on my time off.

However, I am still cooking a TON, and find that I do sometimes want to share my favorite recipes. I'm going to use this blog as a place to share occasional kitchen successes, while also talking to you about whatever else comes to mind. That's the beauty of having a blog... I can use it to talk about whatever I want!

I've updated the tabs up top. Below my header is a tab for Recipes, where I'll link up any food-related posts. I'll also continue to put links there for recipes that I like but don't feel like blogging about. Check back later today for a fantastic vegetarian taco recipe I made last week, and let me know if you're cooking anything tasty I should know about!

Latest Happenings...

It's hard to justify a weekend recap that doesn't happen until Wednesday. Therefore, I'll just say this is a post about some stuff we've done lately. It's starting to feel like spring here, and life is really good. I love feeling so happy with where I am in my life!

 Green City Market on Saturday morning. Amazing breakfast thanks to Floriole.

Pretty spring flowers!

Farmer's market goodies...
Dietzler Farms beef, fresh asparagus, Spicy Cheddar Boule from Crumb.

Catching up with friends at the DIY fair. We got great tips on gardening,
baking sourdough bread, brewing, making yogurt, and other crafty endeavors.

Joe cooked dinner on Saturday. 
I am so spoiled by this guy!

Amazing bread on the side, thanks to the market!

Hanging out with the girls on Sunday, while the guys brewed some beer.
I'd like to say we helped... but mostly we just chatted and ate waaaay to much!

It was a great weekend, even though I had to work at 5 am on Sunday. 
Fun friends, good food & beer, time with the husband... pretty much all I need to be happy!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Weekend Plans

TGIF! I am lucky enough to have another Saturday off this weekend, so today's shift feels like a 'real' Friday. Overall I have no desire to go back to the 9-5 world, but there is something to be said for way Friday feels after a long week of work. Tonight Joe and I are going to eat sushi that I'm going to bring home from Whole Foods, and plan to just relax in front of a movie. We have to save our energy for Saturday, which is shaping up to be a busy day!

One of the things we're doing Saturday is going to this DIY fair. One of my friends is a member of the Delta Emerging Leaders, and she's helping to put together this awesome event. There will be workshops and booths about all kinds of crafty stuff, plus cheap New Belgium beer for the guys we're dragging along. Although some of the workshops are interesting for the gentlemen, too. A bunch of our friends are also planning to go, so it should be a great time!


We're also going to try to get up early to visit the Green City Market. This weekend is the first outdoor market of the year, so we're going to try to get there before the crowds. I even suggested to Joe that we could go to the market without drinking any coffee, then try to go back to bed when we get home!  I'm hoping to get some asparagus, which I'm going to can in some kind of spicy brine. I always miss my chance to can asparagus, because I don't get into summer preserving mode until it warms up more. But this year I'm ready, and will hopefully have delicious results.

We're also hoping to brew with our friends on Sunday, after I get off work. It should be a great weekend! But I guess I have one more day of work to get through first, which means it's about time to get myself off the couch. Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The day I have been waiting for!

Boulevard Brewing Company has finally arrived in Chicago!!

This was my beer of choice in Missouri, and I have so many memories that include drinking this beer. There was a keg at my graduation party, and we had bottles of it at our wedding. Most nights out included a Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat, and we did a tour of the brewery with my sister when she came to visit us in KC one summer. I can't tell you how happy I was to see these bottles from their Smokestack series on the shelf at the Lakeview Whole Foods yesterday!

See how excited I was to find some Boulevard
on a trip to Colorado last year?

A Lovely Cake in a Dark Kitchen

Last week there was a one day sale on organic strawberries, and I ended up bringing home THREE pounds of strawberries for less than $5. It was such a deal, and it wasn't until I got home that I started to wonder what exactly I was going to do with 48 ounces of lovely red berries. For the first few days we sliced those babies up and enjoyed them with breakfast or lunch, mixed with mango and pineapple at one point. Fresh and tasty, and still two pounds were left in the fridge.  I knew I needed to get serious, which usually means it's time to make dessert.

May I introduce you to the French yogurt cake, courtesy of Chocolate and Zucchini.

A bit spongy, slightly sweet, and scented with citrus from the lemon and tangerine zest I mixed into the batter. The perfect vehicle for sweetened strawberries. Whipped cream would have been perfect, but since I was already living large and eating dessert on a Tuesday, I decided a little yogurt would be more appropriate. Whipped cream on Tuesday is a slippery slope, leading to cookies on Monday and brownies on Thursday. While I love a good dessert, this girlish figure doesn't come without a bit of discipline. That being said, I would love to make this again for a dinner party, and in that case I would top with a mix of fresh berries and a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

You can find the recipe here.

I was so focused on eating the cake that I didn't look at the pictures very closely.
Turns out it was darker in my kitchen than I realized!