Category Archives: Life

Mom & Dad Visit Chicago and We Did STUFF

IMG_5781Earlier this week, my Mom and Dad flew from New York to Chicago to hang out for a few days. On Monday night, Robert joined us for dinner at Revolution Brewing, but had to catch a flight that evening for work (sadface). Still, the three of us (and Remy and Pippa!) managed to have the BEST time so I thought I’d share a few highlights from their short visit.

We didn’t have any solid plans for their trip. I was hoping they could help me take care of a few odd projects around the house. Nothing major. They’re just so good at organizing and making spaces more functional. They’ve lived in four homes in the past six years and each has been flawless, so I figured they could offer some advice.

Well, before I knew it they were measuring things, making lists, and pulling items out of kitchen cabinets. I realized I hadn’t made any major updates to my kitchen since we moved into our home over a year ago. But this week I learned that as time goes by, it’s great to reevaluate how you can make your spaces work even better for you. Armed with our lists and measuring tape, we headed out the door.

First, we needed sustenance so I took my parents to one of my favorite places in Chicago: Protein Bar. You guys, I’m obsessed. I go at least once a week. I just can’t get enough so I had to share the goodness with them. They loved it too! And then we took a selfie.

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Next, we hit up Bed Bath & Beyond and The Container Store. Do we know how to have a good time or what? The truth is, my parents make everything fun–even tedious tasks like running errands. Finally, we went to Whole Foods and picked up ingredients to cook for dinner. And gelato.

Back at the homestead THIS happened. It may look completely discombobulated to you, but to me it says progress. We (okay my mom, mostly) reorganized the kitchen so everything is a heck of a lot easier to grab when we need it. She also scrubbed shelves and pots and pans that had been somewhat neglected (oops) and taught me how to do this kind of stuff properly. Looks like I still have a lot of learning to do.

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One of the updates I’m most excited about is absolutely ridiculous. I finally got a Simple Human trashcan. Besides its functionality and sleek design, here’s why I love it: It meant we could move the trash out from under the sink, which allowed us to move the recycling bin from the pantry to the sink, and the dog food, which was awkwardly placed in a tiny utility closet, to the floor of the pantry. I also got new containers for their food that are so much easier to access. Feeding time at the Fowler Zoo is now so much faster and easier. I realize how absurdly boring all of this sounds, yet I learned a lot this week about carefully considering how your spaces work for you. If you can move things around or find an item that makes your life just a little bit easier, it makes a world of difference for everyday tasks.

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Pippa approves (and she loves my parents, too).

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While my mom continued her cleaning and organizing mission (gah, she’s the best!) my dad got started on dinner.

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On the menu: homemade shrimp cocktail and cocktail sauce.

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Grilled BBQ pork chops and corn (wrapped in foil with butter, salt, and pepper and then grilled and omg it’s insane). I made a salad.

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And finally, pie from Bang Bang Pie. Two slices of Key Lime, Peanut Butter Vengeance, and Mixed Berry Plum. It was sooo good.

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Wednesday, we continued our errand/home improvement spree with stops at Target and Home Depot. It seems silly that we’d spend our short time together doing this kind of stuff instead of, say, bopping around downtown. But to me, there’s something pretty special about doing completely ordinary things when my family is here. It makes them feel more like family than guests. This is the kind of priceless stuff they’d occasionally help with if we lived closer together. So we just packed it into a few short days.

Plus, I’ve spent my whole life witnessing my parents build an awesome home for my sister and me. I love that Robert and I get to do that now, but I still have a lot of learning and growing to do. It’s a process. Although at this stage of life my parents feel like friends (they’re my favorite people to hang out with), I also love that they were able to visit and Mom and Dad me for a few days.

After way too short a visit, Wednesday afternoon they were off and I was so sad to see them go. I get teary any time I leave them or they leave me. I love living in Chicago and know it’s where we belong right now, but living so far away from my family is the pits. I hope the distance doesn’t last forever. I’m so grateful I got to spend a few days hanging out with the coolest people I know. They never cease to amaze me with their knowledge, experience, and ability to turn what may seem like dull tasks into the happiest memories. Thanks Mom and Dad!

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

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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?!