Category Archives: Life

Here We Go!

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Hello, friends! Long time no see. I’m doing a little drive-by on my deeply loved, but lately neglected blog to tell you about an exciting adventure we have coming up….TONIGHT!

Robert and I are leaving for a two-week long vacation! We’re flying to Zurich tonight. We’ll be spending one week in Switzerland and one week in Northern Italy. To say we’re excited would be a tremendous understatement. We’re going to be on the move A LOT. We’ll be in a new city almost every day with the exception of two nights in Lucerne and then three nights in Venice at the end of our trip. We’re taking all of our stuff in big travel backpacks {pictured above. How did I wind up with the smaller one?} and I’m kind of thrilled about them. Of course, I have yet to pack so my opinion on the matter could soon change : ) Though the backpacks may seem rugged, rest assured we’ll be shacking up in hotels and not hostels #thisisthirty

This trip is also a big deal for me because I won’t be working at all for the full 16 days–no laptop, no e-mail–nothing. I may even go social-media free. Anyone who owns his or her own business knows how difficult it is to step away. You worry about work you’re missing out on that will get assigned to someone else. You wonder if you truly tied up all loose ends or whether you’re going to let someone down while you’re away. You wonder whether your editors {or clients or other business contacts} will replace you with a newer, shinier model in your absence. Whenever these moments of worry strike, I try to trust all of the hard work I’ve put into my career up to this point and believe it will be enough to help me pick back up when we return.

Of course, I know that even more than experiencing the awesome adventures, dreamy landscapes, and delicious food,I need this time away to clear my mind, hang out with my husband, and recharge. It’s so important and I’m beyond grateful that I get to do it in such a fun and grand way.

So here we go! And a huge thank you to Robert. He’s spent countless hours carefully planning every single day {his itineraries are epic} to make this the vacation we’ve both been dreaming about since before we got married. I actually have no idea what to expect so I can’t wait for each day to bring new adventures and surprises.

See you all in July!!

Life Lately: Home Improvements

Hi friends! It’s been a while since I did a little Life Lately post and updated you on some of the fun things going on around here besides food. So today I’m excited to share some of the big home improvements we’ve made lately. Our main living floor, which includes the living room, dining room, and kitchen is very nearly D-O-N-E!

If you’re new to the blog, we bought our townhouse in Chicago last July and moved in in August. Since we got married in September we didn’t do much furnishing/decorating for a while. The first big improvement was our kitchen backsplash in December. I also introduced you to Jana Bek. Her eye is amazing and she’s such a joy to work with. She’s made everything so easy for us and the best part is that although she provides tremendous input she takes all of our opinions and preferences into account so everything is still 110% us.

Eventually I hope to do a home tour with higher quality photos, but for now here’s a glimpse at our home as a work in progress.

 Living room. Light, bright, and cozy were what we were going for. I love that we worked in pieces we already had like the couch, Santa Monica print (a gift from Robert after a trip to L.A. together), the sampler (a handmade wedding gift), white stag, and side table along with newer items like the coffee table, pillows, rug, lamp, and painting.

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Our new built-ins. When we moved in, the spaces where you see the white cabinets were just two open, unfinished holes. Two weeks ago we had the cabinets built and we’re so happy with how they came out.

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 Dining room. The new light fixture may be my favorite part of our home so far.

DSCN3654Record table

For Robert’s birthday this past friday (happy birthday, love!) I gave him a record player and my parents gave him the speakers. We had such a fun date Friday evening after work shopping for records and starting our collection. The turntable has been spinning pretty much ever since he set it up Friday night. I’m loving it just as much as he is. In this age of multi-tasking devices, there’s something so simple and satisfying about an object that serves only one purpose. Plus, it looks pretty cool if you ask me : ) The records and seagrass bench probably won’t live there permanently {the bench lives in our bedroom–our next big project}, but it works here for now.

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Finally, here’s a shot of the kitchen table in party mode before Robert’s birthday party on Saturday. I realized afterward that I didn’t get a final picture with the most important dishes–slow cooker BBQ pulled chicken {for sliders} and two trays of mac & cheese. For those who asked for recipes, check out the links above. It was also my first time making a three layer cake and frosting from scratch.

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We had so much fun celebrating with friends {too much fun to remember to take any pictures, apparently} and loved inviting so many people into our home for the first time. Creating this space into something we love has made it feel more like a home than ever before.

5 Ways to Master Pinterest for Recipes

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Hello! Happy New Year! I hope you all had a happy and healthy holiday. We sure did! Robert and I returned last night from a two week long whirlwind east coast trip. During that time we drove from Chicago to Pittsburgh, PA; Ocean City, MD; Dover, DE; New York City; Mount Snow, VT; Killington, VT; and on our drive back to Chicago we got stuck in Milan, OH for two days due to bad weather. We are thrilled to be home and settling back into a routine again. I’m especially excited to get into the kitchen and cook up lots of healthy, clean meals that I hope to share with you very soon.

During our many hours on the road I had plenty of time to think. One of the the things I kept coming back to is how much I love Pinterest. (Here are my boards.) I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a useful tool when it comes to meal planning and cooking (I hinted at it in this post). However, I know not everyone feels this way. You may find Pinterest overwhelming or consider it a needless distraction. So that’s why I’m here to share with you my five tips for winning at Pinterest especially when it comes to planning meals. Over time and with trial and error here’s what I’ve found works best for me. I hope it helps you, too!

5 Ways to Master Pinterest for Recipes 

1. Only pin what you’ll eat. I realize this may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing. We have a tendency to fantasize about our future selves. For instance, you may imagine that your future self loooves spaghetti squash so you pin dozens of recipes using that ingredient. In reality maybe it’s not your favorite. So when looking through your Pinterest boards you walk away uninspired because you’re not looking at foods you’ll actually make. Thus, only pin what you like. When possible, read recipes before pinning to ensure you like all of the ingredients (or can easily adjust them) and they fit with the time you’re willing to commit. If you don’t like to spend more than 30 minutes in the kitchen cooking dinner don’t pin recipes that take three hours to make. You could also create separate boards for weeknight meals (30 minutes or less) and weekend/dinner party meals (30+ minutes) if that works better for you.

2. Categorize your boards. Create separate boards for different types of meals rather than having one food board. This means different things to different people. Mine are divided by main ingredient/type (poultry, meat, fish, sweets, soup, slow cooker, salads, etc.) This makes complete sense to me, but another way of organizing may make more sense to you. Perhaps you’d prefer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or maybe you have a board for healthy meals and one for more indulgent recipes (hello, balance!) Or maybe the time suggestion in the tip above floats your boat. The point is to create a system where you can more easily find recipes that fulfill your needs. If I’m craving soup I know exactly where to look. If I’m trying to eat more fish I go straight to the fish board. The easier recipes are to find the more likely you are to make them.

3. Follow bloggers you love on Pinterest. This can work for any kind of blog, but let’s keep with the food theme here. If you like a certain food blogger you’ll probably like the stuff they’re pinning, too. Some of my favorite bloggers/pinners include Pinch of Yum, Maria from Two Peas and Their Pod, Ali from Gimme Some Oven, Gaby from What’s Gaby CookingBeverly from Bev CooksJoy from Joy the Baker, Lori from RecipeGirl, and many others. By the same token, the more people you follow on Pinterest (and like) the more awesome stuff you’ll be exposed to when you check Pinterest each day.

4. Pin stuff you find on your own. The tip above increases the items in your feed that you can repin, but to truly make Pinterest work for you it helps to pin items you find on your own. How do you do that? If you read a food blog and see a recipe you like, pin it. Pin recipes you see in magazines, too. Every month I receive Cooking LightFood & Wine, and Bon Appetit in addition to health magazines like Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Fitness, and others (hey, it’s my job!) Any time I find a recipe I like I pin it and then recycle the magazine (unless I have an article in there). You can also follow all of these magazines on Pinterest and Facebook for even more items to repin. The food magazines also link to great round-up posts if you “like” their Facebook page and can pin recipes from their site.

5. Pin individual recipes. Sometimes you’ll see a pin for “50 slow cooker recipes” or “100 one pot meals.” Don’t pin those. Instead, click through those lists and only pin the recipes you’d actually make—back to tip #1. It’s more time consuming, of course, but it’s so worth it. Making Pinterest work for you means being able to quickly find a recipe you want to cook. If you do the work ahead of time to identify those recipes you can ensure every item on your board is something you’ll love.

Well, there you have it! Do you have any other tips to add? If so, please share in the comments below! I still have more to learn when it comes to maximizing Pinterest. (I also want to figure out how to get a “pin it” button over my images…so far I haven’t had much luck…) I hope my tips help you so you can enjoy Pinterest as much as I do!

Life Lately

Happy Friday! I hope you had a great week and are looking forward to a fun and relaxing weekend. I sure am! As always, there’s lots going on here so I thought I’d take a break from regularly scheduled recipe posting (who am I kidding? there’s no schedule) and catch you up on a few fun things:

1. Wedding Photos!

We got our wedding photos last weekend!! Looking through our photos for the first time and reliving our happiest day is something I’ll always remember. We recently got a new TV and somehow Robert figured out how to view the images on the big, fancy hi-def screen. So we got cozy on the couch and scrolled in total comfort and joy. Every time I look through them I find a new gem I hadn’t noticed before or discover another favorite. I plan to share more with you early next year, but for now a sneak peak at my current fave:

2. Pure Barre

A few weeks ago I found myself in a Pure Barre class. I was actually on my way to yoga and decided, on a whim, to try Pure Barre. I’m the least spontaneous person on the planet so I surprised even myself with this move. At first, I liked it. A few days later I went again and liked it more. By the third class I was falling in love. Pure Barre and I are officially dating. We see each other 3 to 4 times per week. It took me a few classes  to figure out how exactly to do the moves (and I’m still learning). For instance, when your leg lifts up behind you, you’re not actually moving your leg, but activating muscles deep in your glutes. Your leg is along for the ride. I love that it creates both a physical and mental challenge. You know how much I adore yoga, but I needed something new lately. The hour flies by and I can’t believe it’s over. I always leave class feeling great–in a way I haven’t experienced with any activity before. I feel like I worked my body really hard, but I’m totally energized, alert, and ready to tackle the rest of my day.

3. These Peppermint Cookie Brownies

Peppermint Cookie Brownies

There’s only one time of year when I think putting cookies IN brownies is a totally genius thing to do and fortunately that time is right now. WOW! Fantastic brownie recipe + crushed Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (find them at Trader Joe’s) = the most delicious brownie I’ve ever had. Plus, it only dirties one pot. That’s huge! Sometimes I avoid baking because I don’t want to deal with the dishes afterward (true story), but with this recipe there’s no excuse. I’ll probably be making another batch later today. Find the recipe at What’s Gaby Cooking. The only change I made is adding about 2 to 3 extra crushed cookies on the top before baking for a visual clue of what’s inside.

How I Plan Our Meals & Grocery Shop

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I’ve wanted to write this post for so long, but I wasn’t sure how helpful it would be for others. However, last week I had an experience that made it clear just how important creating a meal plan and grocery shopping routine that works for us (and sticking to it) has been.

Last Saturday, after yoga, I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up a few ingredients for a recipe. While there, I decided to do our shopping for the week to save some time on Sunday, which is when I normally do it. Without a list, I winged it—I bought a bunch of fruit, veggies, fish, chicken, yogurt, etc. Sounds great, right? It wasn’t. Each day, I was totally distracted by what I was going to make with these ingredients since I didn’t have a plan ahead of time. And because they were kind of random (um…shrimp and sweet potatoes is not the best combination in my mind), every meal this week was kind of a dud. What’s more, I had to run to a little store near us twice to fill in some gaps, which ended up costing us more than we normally spend on weekly groceries. Finally, we were left with a lot of random items I didn’t use – a bunch of parsley, an extra beet, some turnips, greens, and I never did touch that shrimp (luckily it’s frozen).

For us, a successful meal plan and grocery shopping list means by the end of the week our refrigerator is close to bare. I love that sight on Sunday morning just as much as I love the sight of a freshly stocked fridge by Sunday afternoon. This recent experience reinforced just how well our routine has been working for us.

I should also mention that I love grocery shopping—as long as I prepare ahead of time— and that’s why I’m often the one who does it in our household.

I love learning what works for others so if you find yourself in a meal rut, overspending on groceries, or creating dinners that don’t make you do a happy dance in the kitchen each night maybe what works for us can help you too.

1. Check the calendar. Robert and I share a Google Calendar so I can easily see whether he has anything scheduled in the evenings. This helps me determine how many dinners we need. I can also identify particularly busy days and plan quick meals or slow cooker recipes for those nights.

2. Plan meals. My favorite, but also the most challenging and time-consuming part. Every Sunday morning, I head downstairs to the couch with my iPad and a few of my favorite cookbooks. I get about 90% of our meals from my Pinterest boards. I recently tweaked them so now I have specific boards for poultry, fish, meat, slow cooker, soup, vegetarian, and more. I update them daily with new items from blogs I follow, recipes I find online, and meals other people pin. I choose about one meal from any combination of those boards for a well-rounded week. In the summer I check out my grilling and salad boards, too. Then I flip through my cookbooks and see if anything catches my eye. Finally, I write down what we’re having each day to make sure we have a good balance. On average, I plan for about five dinners at home per week.

3. Make a grocery list. Next, I go through each recipe and identify ingredients we’ll need. I used to make my list on paper, but lately I’ve been using the Grocery iQ App and really enjoy it. My favorite part is that the items we always buy–staples such as milk, yogurt, apples, bananas, etc.–are already there and i just need to click to add them to the list.

4. Hit the cheaper store first. I almost always go to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. By stopping at the cheaper store first (TJ’s) I pick up the majority of the items on my list and fill in any remaining holes at Whole Foods.

5. Clean out the fridge. Once I return home and before unpacking my (reusable) bags filled with fresh goodies, I make sure the fridge is completely clear of any foods we’ll no longer eat. This includes any remaining leftovers, fruits or veggies past their prime, etc. Of course we do our best to minimize this waste and it helps that Robert loves leftovers more than anyone I know, but there still seem to be some stragglers from time to time.

Of course every person and every household is different. Over time, this is what we’ve found works best for us in order to have delicious weeknight meals (and lunches since we both usually eat leftovers for lunch), maximize our food dollars, and still have plenty of time to relax together in the evenings. I hope you find it helpful!

Spring & Summer Goals

You guys. Last weekend was incredible. If you follow me on Facebook you may know that I flew to New York, got in a car with my sister and brother-in-law, drove four hours up to our family’s ski house in Vermont, and surprised my dad for his 65th birthday. He.was.shocked! I’ve never surprised anyone in my life and it was awesome. Then, of course, we proceeded to have a weekend packed with tons of food, fun, and family (and wine). Although I felt perfectly fine, I spent the entire day Saturday planted on the couch because I could.

I mean why would you leave this?

I mean why would you leave this?

We even managed to take a few ski runs on Sunday!

There was way more snow on the mountain than this photo would have you believe, but the wax sure came in handy!

There was way more snow on the mountain than this photo would have you believe, but the wax sure came in handy!

When I got back to Chicago on Monday I hit up Whole Foods to restock for the week. I must’ve seemed like a kid in a candy shop. After months of seeing all of the same foods over and over (I’m looking at you winter squash and sweet potatoes), there were so many foods I hadn’t seen in so long. Instead of shopping on autopilot like I’ve been doing lately I was stunned everywhere I turned: Gorgeous, thick asparagus, TONS of kale and chard in a kaleidoscope of colors, baby lettuces, and so much more. I have to admit I felt a little giddy just thinking about how much more new stuff there will be in the next few weeks and months. (OMG I CAN’T WAIT FOR STRAWBERRIES. YES I AM YELLING!)

Hello baby artichokes. You're very cute, but I have no idea how to cook you.

Hello baby artichokes. You’re very cute, but I have no idea how to cook you.

As I looked down at my grocery list of all too familiar ingredients I set goal #1 right then and there: I am going to branch out big time. If some kind of food scares me or stumps me then that’s a green light to get it. I’ve got to become more fearless. More specifically, I’m going to try one new food or plant per week. I’m also going to learn how to cook foods I’ve had before, like swiss chard, in more ways. (This weekend I had grilled romaine lettuce for the first time and it was mind blowing.)

In the produce section, I often step back and like to observe what people buy. I feel a sense of envy whenever people confidently reach for the odd looking ingredients (um daikon radish?) like they know exactly what to do with it. I want to be that guy!

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Chayote squash? No problem! (Uhhhhh…..)

In the bulk foods aisle yesterday I watched as a woman filled a giant bag with dried fava beans and even asked her what she planned to do with them. Hey, I never claimed to be shy. Unfortunately her accent was so thick it sounded to me like she was going to saute them with onions and then make a cake, but I can’t be sure I heard that right.

As I got home and started unpacking my (same old boring) groceries my eyes fixed on our poor neglected little deck and even more forgotten grill. That’s when I set goal #2: This gal is going to learn how to grill! Robert does most of the grilling around here in the summer, but there’s no reason I can’t learn, too! I have this weird thing with fire, but I just need to get back to goal #1 and be a little more fearless. And let’s face it, when goal #1 leads me to buy strange foods I have no idea what to do with, chances are they’ll taste pretty darn good when I fulfill goal #2 and learn how to grill. Because everything tastes better from the grill.

So here it goes! A spring and summer full of strange looking vegetables, tons of grilling, and a whole lot of fearlessness. Who’s in?!

 

Slow Cooker Asian Shredded Beef

I feel like I recently entered a crazy new phase in my life–and not just because I cooked a roast for the first time on Sunday (which I did. And it was awesome. I’ll tell you about it very soon.)

For many years–even while living in Park City, Burlington, and Chicago–my day-to-day life looked almost identical: some combination of working all day at my computer, walking the dogs morning, afternoon, and evening, and practicing yoga after work. Though it may seem boring to you, I thrived on this routine. But lately, in this crazy new phase in my life, it seems as if every day and every week is completely different.

Some days I jump in to sub yoga classes with only a few hours notice, which can mean sometimes I teach as many as two or three yoga classes in a row (most are in the evenings after I’ve wrapped up work.) I can even feel my work life shifting. Although I still write a lot for magazines (my first love), I have new projects for different outlets going on that are challenging me in completely new ways. And then I’ve had some crazy awesome opportunities in recent weeks. Last week, I did a little photo session at Lululemon on Michigan Ave. and then taught a free class there on Sunday morning (I mean…what?!?!) Monday afternoon I was invited to speak on a panel at Northwestern about freelancing.

I still have Yoga Sculpt Teacher Training on Sundays, which has changed things up. And there’s my love for cooking, which sometimes leads me to chop onions at 7 or 8 a.m., slow-roast fish while still in my sweaty yoga clothes, and peruse cooking magazines and websites pretty much any spare moment I find. And let’s not kid ourselves, I dream about our wedding (and life beyond that) about 85 percent of the time. Okay fine. 90 percent of the time.

How I manage to do all this (and still walk the dogs three times a day) and spend all the QT I can possibly find with my guy, I have no idea. BUT I LOVE IT. I wouldn’t trade any of it for a moment and sometimes I feel like I’m strapped into the seat of a roller coaster with my arms in the air just along for the ride. I’ve never felt this way before in my meticulously planned, routine-loving life.

Sunday night dinner for two (though we could've fed about 10 more)

What all of this has to do with Slow Cooker Asian Beef? Well, I’m not exactly sure besides the fact that it’s totally different from anything I’ve ever made before and I actually felt quite fearless going into it. And with good reason: It’s ridiculously simple. This is the closest I’ve ever come to the toss-ingredients-in-the-slow-cooker-and-leave-it-alone-for-8-hours-without-sauteeing-a-darn-thing-first approach. The only part that took any work–and by work I mean patience — was reducing the sauce. I was determined to reduce it as much as I could to really amp up the flavors. It took about 25-30 minutes, but was worth every painstaking moment of wondering if it had reduced at all (kind of like watching water boil.)

Can I just say something about beef? I’m sorry if this makes my vegetarian friends cringe. Do with this what you may, but there is something so satisfying, so primal about sinking your teeth into meat. There just is. I don’t cook or eat red meat very often, but when I do I appreciate it so much. And when it tastes this good–somewhat sweet (honey!), the tiniest bit spicy (sriracha!), totally umami (soy sauce!)–I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it.

Slow Cooker Asian Shredded Beef

Slightly adapted from Foodie with Family (awesome blog, by the way!)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 3.25-pound boneless bottom round beef roast

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup plus 3-4 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp sriracha

6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

Preparation

Place the beef in the slow cooker. Top with garlic cloves and ginger. In a bowl, whisk together the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of the honey, soy sauce, and sriracha. Pour over the beef in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 7-8 hours.

When done cooking, use tongs to transfer beef to a large dish (9×13 baking dish worked for me). Pour juices from slow cooker into a small pan on the stove. Add 3-4 Tbsp of honey and stir to combine. Bring liquid to boil over high heat and continue cooking at a boil for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about half. While the sauce is boiling shred the beef using two forks.

Once the liquid reduces, pour through a mesh strainer over the beef and toss to combine. (Discard what’s left in the strainer – mostly garlic and ginger pieces.) Serve with brown rice and steamed broccoli.

Sculpting a New Beginning

If you told me just three months ago that in 19 days I’d be starting Yoga Sculpt teacher training I’d tell you that you were off your rocker. There’s absolutely no way. You’re crazy.

But I am.

For those who’ve never heard of Yoga Sculpt before, it’s heated power yoga with weights and it’s just as intense as it sounds. Each class includes strength-training exercises such as squats, lunges, bicep and tricep curls while you’re in yoga poses (such as Warrior II or Chair) as well as cardio, plyometrics, and lots of other components I’ll learn about very soon.

You want to know the truth? I can hardly make it through a single Sculpt class without stopping to catch my breath. At least once per class (and frequently more often than that) I have to put down the weights and do the exercises without them.

It’s humbling and challenging and sometimes the most difficult thing I do in a day and that’s exactly why I want to teach it.

Hello frenemies: Let's do this! (Usually they're stacked more neatly, but I snapped this right after a Sculpt class.)

Hello frenemies. Let’s do this! 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years it’s that change and growth happen when I challenge myself. Like so many other humans I’m a creature of habit and feel most comfortable when I’m doing things I know I’m good at. But true joy, true reward, and true balance, I’ve learned, come from those experiences where I step outside my comfort zone, try something new, push myself, and make mistakes. (Nowhere is this more evident in my every day life than when I cook.) I also experience all of these things in every single Sculpt class. Even when it feels like I’m the only one gasping for air or moving without weights in a class packed with 30 other sweaty bodies I never feel defeated. Because for the first time in my life I truly feel like the only person I’m competing against is myself.

I’ve also learned there’s something so deeply rewarding about noticing real, tangible progress in some aspect of your life. For me, Sculpt isn’t about sculpting a certain kind of body. It’s about becoming stronger physically, cardiovascularly (is that a word?), and mentally. I may not notice a change every time I step on my mat. If there’s anything I’ve learned from yoga (without weights) it’s that every day is different and some days I may feel stronger or weaker than others. But over time, with practice, patience, and focus, change will happen inside and out.

Of course, I could continue being solely a Sculpt student, but I love teaching yoga so much and I can’t wait to learn more about this puzzling practice and share the yoga love. I also want to help students see the bigger picture like I have: it’s not about the immediate physical changes. It’s about the long-term rewards that come from dedication, progress, and lots of sweaty fun along the way.

Chicken with Tomatoes & Mushrooms

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Happy New Year, friends!

I hardly know where to begin. Is it really 2013? For the first time in my life I was really sad to see the year come to an end. It was without question the very best year of my life. The funny thing is when I think about all of the wonderful things that happened in 2012, it seems like they occurred within the span of a single week: I moved into a new apartment with Robert, I passed my yoga audition and officially became a yoga instructor at CorePower Yoga, I learned a book I ghost wrote was accepted by the publisher, and I got engaged! (Read the full recap of that unbelievable week here.)

But the truth is although these mega life events came to fruition within a single week in August, I had been planting the seeds all year long and even before 2012: I took the leap and signed up for yoga Teacher Training early in the year; I scored the writing contract at the end of 2011 and pushed my writing limits throughout most of 2012; and Robert and I had been building the foundation of our relationship since the day we met in 2010 (though I had no idea he would ask for forever in 2012). When I look back at the magical milestones that occurred in 2012, they’re a great reminder of just how far hard work, dedication, and following my heart can take me in my life. They’re also a great reminder for those moments, down the road, whenever I feel stuck that when I keep pushing forward, stay focused, and challenge myself in new ways marvelous things can happen.

Of course there were countless highlights that occurred outside of that week including a few trips to California (L.A., Carmel by the Sea, San Francisco, and Sonoma), New York, Vermont, Kansas City, Michigan, Florida, FRANCE, and a Christmas cruise with Robert’s family.

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Merry Christmas from a Caribbean Cruise

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve I knew there were so many wonderful things waiting for me on the other side of 2013 and I’m ready to dive in. Of course there’s our wedding in September (!!!) and a honeymoon after that (no idea where we’ll be going yet – happily, Robert’s in charge of that!) We’ll also be celebrating lots of other friends who are getting hitched this year all across the country. Hopefully we can plan another trip for the end of Robert’s busy season (though I’m not sure it’ll be quite as fancy as France). And when it comes to work, well, who knows what the future holds! Every year has been dramatically different from the one before it with new and ever-changing opportunities. So I’ll continue plugging along with my magazine and custom publishing writing and the rest is an open book (PUN!) I also want to continue pushing the limits right here with cooking and blogging. I have big ideas in store for this lil’ blog that could. Thank you so, so much for taking this journey with me : )

For now, I thought I’d kick off the year with a super simple, super delicious, and super healthy home-cooked meal: Chicken with tomatoes and mushrooms. It doesn’t get any simpler than this, folks. Just three ingredients (four if you count the two cloves of garlic (not pictured)…five if you count dried oregano…). Point is: that’s it! With so few basic and inexpensive ingredients it’s a great step toward my eco friendly and budget conscious goals for 2013.

Mushrooms, Chicken, and Tomatoes. (Four ingredients if you count the two cloves of garlic.)

Mushrooms, Chicken, and Tomatoes

It kind of tasted like a stripped down chicken cacciatore. At one point I contemplated adding some onion or even a little red wine, but I wanted to see what would happen if I kept things as simple as possible. I’m so glad I did–it was the kind of soul-warming food you want in early January, took less than 30 minutes to prepare, and created very little mess to clean up (it’s a one-pot meal). I served it over brown rice with a simple salad of arugula, fresh navel orange, toasted blanched almonds, and a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. In a word: success.

Chicken with mushrooms & arugula salad

 Arugula salad & chicken with tomatoes and mushrooms 

Chicken with Tomatoes & Mushrooms

Serves 4

Ingredients

1.5 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

16 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms (or any kind)

1 (14.5 oz) can diced & fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles (or any kind of tomatoes you like)

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Preparation

Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add chicken to pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook chicken, turning to cook all sides, until cooked through. Transfer chicken to plate, cover with foil. Add minced garlic to pot and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano. Cook, covered, until tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes. Add chicken and any accumulated juices back to the pot. Toss to coat and cover until chicken is heated through.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

French Cooking School

Cooking together

Let the butter lovefest begin

Friday night was one of the most fun, special, and memorable experiences of my life. Exactly a year ago (for our one year) Robert gave me a gift certificate for a French cooking lesson and we were finally able to redeem it this weekend. I had no idea what to expect going into the evening and in the end it was absolutely perfect.

The instructor, G, was hilarious, helpful, and engaging.

Heyyyy G

Heyyyy G

We got to do a lot of the prep work, I learned about proper knife skills (turns out I’ve been using knives incorrectly forever), the group of six couples couldn’t have been a more perfect match, and the food was absolutely delicious.

The happy chefs

Overall it was an ideal combination of learning, cooking, and eating as well as meeting new people, and doing something completely new and exciting. I should’ve known we were in for a great night when the confirmation e-mail earlier in the day instructed us to bring two to three bottles of wine per couple. We brought one of the bottles of wine from a vineyard in the Loire Valley that we visited during our trip to France earlier this year.

Robert looks like he's leading the wine-tasting portion of the evening here, but he's just refilling our glasses (again)

Robert looks like he could be leading the wine tasting portion of the evening. Nope, just refilling our glasses (again).

The class lasted four or five hours (our sense of time got a little fuzzy) and in true European fashion we sat down to the most incredible French feast around 11pm. Here’s a look at our menu:

Starter: Scallop filled with Mornay sauce and julienned veggies in puff pastry

Entree: Sauteed chicken cooked in a mushroom, white wine, cognac, and tomato sauce (unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of this)

Side: Seasonal vegetables (turnip and carrot) roasted with fresh rosemary, thyme, and parsley

Side: Roasted seasonal vegetables (turnip and carrot) with fresh rosemary, thyme, and parsley

Dessert: French lemon tart with fresh whipped cream

Dessert: French lemon tart with fresh whipped cream

If you like to cook, eat, or drink (or do any one of those three things) I highly recommend taking a cooking class like the one we did. I hope to do it again many times in the future. We went to a place called Cook Au Vin here in Chicago. You don’t even need to be a skilled chef to do it–they show you exactly how to do everything and the chef (and one of the eager students) took care of the most complicated parts of cooking the food.

It was truly such a special experience and I had the best time sharing it with my guy. When I walked into a restaurant for a blind date two years ago today I had no idea I was about to meet my future husband. These two years have been filled with so much laughter, love, and–of course–food. There’s no one in the world I’d rather share all of it with than you.

Happy two years <3

Happy two, my love