Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy Memorial Day!

I haven't posted in a few days because, like most Americans, I was celebrating the unofficial kick-off to Summer! While I was enjoying delicious grilled food, sunshine, and shopping for white pants, I did take some time to reflect on the meaning of the day and I hope others did as well.

Hopefully I never forget that the reason for the day is the bravery and dedication of Americans throughout history. Even today, while we enjoy BBQ and boating, several of our fellow citizens are overseas, enduring conditions most of us would find intolerable (or, at the very least, uncomfortable). Risking their lives and missing precious time with loved ones. And they do this because they believe in what they are fighting for. And they volunteered to do it. And what they get in return is really pretty minimal.

The least we can give these men and women is our thanks.

I hope this day of all days, we each take the time to make sure they have it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sunday Dinner - with all the trimmings!

Lately I've been having a very grown up urge to end the weekend with a hearty, balanced meal worthy of a family dinner table. It can be hard to feel creative enough or have the patience to whip up such a masterpiece at the end of a busy weekend, though.

I've made these items separately lately and I think combining them would lead to the perfect, no-fuss Sunday dinner!

On a side note, I'll be buying whole chickens to cook from now on. The whole chicken cost about $5. We had plenty of leftovers that Teddy was able to munch on over a few days while I traveled this week. Plus, I can make soup with scraps. Inexpensive, healthy, and easy!

Appetizer - Goat cheese and tomato skewers
Main - Baked whole chicken with veggie trimmings
Dessert - Mini Nutella cakes (fresh out of the oven with vanilla ice cream if you're feeling ambitious!)

Goat Cheese and Tomato Skewers

You'll Need:
Cherry Tomatoes
1 package of herbed goat cheese
Bread crumbs

I can't take credit for this recipe as I know I saw it online somewhere. Sadly I don't remember where, as I'd be revisiting that site often for easy recipes like this one!

Simply scoop the goat cheese onto a spoon and roll into a ball using your hands. Next roll in the breadcrumbs and attach to a cherry tomato using a toothpick.

Whole Chicken with Zucchini

You'll Need:
Whole chicken, around 3 or 4 lbs, thawed
Half cup olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic to taste
Veggies of your choice (I used zucchini)

I (mostly) followed these instructions.

Ensure the chicken is thawed completely through. Remove the insides (this was easy for me since it was just a little plastic baggie).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour some olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic into the bottom of a glass pan.

Rinse the chicken and dry with a paper towel, then set in the glass pan. Rub the chicken with the olive oil mixture from the pan.

Cook the chicken for about 60 minutes, keeping an eye on it and continuing to rub the entire chicken with the olive oil.

When there are about 20 minutes of cooking time left, cut up the zucchini and put in the pan with the chicken.

Remove from the oven and let everything sit for a few minutes before serving.

Mini Nutella Cakes

One of the easiest recipes for a treat I've ever used! One of my favorite things to make and share. Delicious warm, right out of the oven. There's also a lot of variations out on the web that can be found with a quick google search.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summer Lovin'

Festivals in the city = Summer!
What Summer means to me - leisurely days sipping cocktails in the sun!
"Two bare feet on the dashboard"
Floating in the pool
Boat drinks
Outdoor cocktails
People watching
Cherry wine
Grilling out
House full of friends
Open windows
Summer storms
Walks around the neighborhood with Teddy
Tan lines
Late nights with our parents in Michigan
Jello shots
Sand between my toes
Star gazing
Ice cream
Country music
Chicago festivals
A good book and a park bench
Cheap sunglasses

What are you most excited for, now that Summer is here?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dose of Domestic

"The secret of a happy life is continuous small treats."

This week was packed - literally filled to the brim - with lots of activities, friends, and enjoying the summer sunshine! Chicago is such a wonderful place when the sun makes an appearance - everyone out and about, friendly people, new places to try. The city comes alive for me in the Summer.

Started the week with an al fresco date night with Teddy where we narrowly escaped getting rained on. Lots of birthdays this week meant quite a few dinners at some great places.

Over the weekend one of my oldest and dearest friends came to visit to celebrate another girlfriend's birthday. Do you ever forget how much you love your friends until you have a fabulous night to remind you? This particular night ended with a full-fledged sing along to Wilson Phillips in the cab on the way to enjoy late-night burritos. I think our cab driver really enjoyed us. Hold on for one more day!

I also worked on some cards for an upcoming bachelorette party and tonight I am tackling roasting an entire chicken for the first time - wish me luck!

Dinner at Sola.
Working on some DIY watercolor stationery - instructions and finished project coming soon!

Enjoyed some sidewalk art and an adorable lemonade stand while walking to brunch.

Creative cocktails at the Violet Hour.

Out and about downtown.

Girls Night!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DIY Roundup

When the weather gets warm, it's the perfect time to gather up some crafty materials, spread a blanket in the yard, and enjoy some sun while getting a little creative!

So many cute DIYs around the web lately, and so easy!

Here are some of the most adorable, and easy, projects I've got my eye on. Something for everyone to try!

Wood End Table - via Eat.Live.Shop.
Geode Bottle Stoppers - via Cupcakes and Cashmere.
Petal Necklace - via Curly in the City.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Reduced Fat Comfort Food: Turkey Casserole

I am a sucker for comfort food: creamy, hearty, super filling comfort food - yum!

However, such delicious fare is not easy on the waistline and usually requires more prep time than what I can spare. I came across this recipe when looking for a new way to utilize lean ground turkey (a staple in our house, but one I tire of). It was perfectly rich and creamy, without the guilt!

Another bonus: This recipe makes enough for plenty of leftovers (which is a way I love to save money!) and I suspect the leftovers will be even better than the first time around!

You'll Need:
1 lb lean ground turkey
2 cups whole grain small noodles (shells or macaroni)
8 oz. fat free sour cream
8 oz. fat free cream cheese
1 tomato, chopped
Half an onion, chopped
1 24 oz. can reduced fat pasta sauce
Half cup reduced-fat shredded cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brown the ground turkey on the stove with whatever seasoning you like. As the turkey is browning, boil water and add the pasta to cook according to instructions.

Once pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a glass baking dish. Next pour the pasta sauce, sour cream, and cream cheese into the same pot and begin simmering. Stir occasionally so that the ingredients mix properly.

As the sauce is simmering and the turkey is browning, chop up your onions and tomatoes.

When the meat is done cooking and the sauce is pink in color and a creamy consistency, pour all ingredients into the glass pan with the noodles and stir together. Stir in your vegetables.

Sprinkle some of the shredded cheese on top and place in oven. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, and enjoy!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Lately I've been feeling a bit down in the dumps. There are a variety of reasons for this, unfortunately, but I try my best to keep things in perspective and remember that I have an amazing life that's worth being grateful for.

Isn't it amazing how feeling gratitude in the moment can change your entire outlook?

So true, and I need to remind myself of this as often as possible. Here are just a few things that I'm pausing today to consider - I am betting everyone out there, no matter how dim things can seem, can find a few things like this in their own life to be thankful for.

A husband that always opens doors for me, says thank you for all the things that I do, cleans our drain when it gets clogged (what a terrible job), and looks for little ways every single day to make my life easier and better.

A steady job that, even when I am tired and frustrated and complaining, never fails to deposit money into my account every two weeks :) A job that lets me use my brain, talk to intelligent people, and see new places. Many people in the world today would love to have the job that I complain about.

A place to live. It may not be much, just a little apartment on a cluttered city street, but it's mine and its a roof over my head and a place for Teddy and I to call home. It has a lovely bay window and a yard to enjoy the sunshine and my favorite coffee maker.

Safe landings on my many flights - that's always something to be thankful for!

Fitting into my skinny jeans.

Crisp, freshly laundered sheets.

Fresh Spring flowers.

The first day you can open windows and let fresh air circulate.

Ice cream.

Freedom to go where I want, when I want. The freedom to marry whomever I choose and allow that partnership to be what is best for both of us. Freedom to say what I want in whatever medium I choose. Freedom to work, to play, to be educated, to read. Such easy things to take for granted when so many go without these things every day.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dose of Domestic

"The secret of a happy life is continuous small treats."

This week was another busy one! I had a few outings for work, including indulging in an amazing 4 course dinner at a steakhouse downtown (ultra-rich dessert pictured below). I had a very relaxing weekend that included plenty of movies and naps, a Sunday church and brunch outing, and catching up on HBO shows with friends over a great new chicken recipe! We also had a little excitement around here as a woman who apparently had a bit too much fun this afternoon took a little snooze on our front porch. She ended up hitting her head and we had to call the police to have an ambulance come and help her out. Those Sunday Fun-days will get you!

Hope everyone had a terrific weekend!
Famous Butter Cake from Maestro Steakhouse. Don't worry - I worked out extra hard the next day!

Spinach and Feta stuffed chicken. Recipe coming soon!
A Friday evening bowling outing - I'm still terrible but had fun!
Cocktails downtown with the girls!
Walking on the sunny side of the street.

Friday, May 11, 2012

For the women in my life......

As mother's day approaches, I wanted to send a special shout out to each of the women in my life.

Though many are not mothers at all, every woman I am blessed to have as a part of my life teaches me something and brings into my world their own special brand of comfort. This list is by no means all encompassing, as I know there are many women and girls who influence me every day at home, at work, and in my family. This list is simply the people I should tell every day how much I appreciate them, but do not.

So, let me say it today.

To my oldest girlfriends - the ones who cook for me, comfort me, give me advice, bring me hot chocolate, spend days and nights with me when I'm lonely, drink wine beside me, make sure I find a cab home, listen to me, share clothes, blankets, and couch space with me, and don't judge me - I hope you know how much I appreciate you.

To my grandmothers - the matriarchs, the glue, an example of putting family first, a wealth of knowledge if I'm willing to listen, a comforting word, a cozy presence, a home cooked meal, a greeting card for no reason, a person I can always learn from - I'm sorry I don't reach out more. I think of you all the time.

To my sister - a shared history, the same laugh and "phone voice", partner in crime, protector and little one at the same time, the person who can make me laugh or cry like no other, the person who has been there the whole time and always will be - I hope you know I would do anything for you.

To my Mother-in-Law - my reminder of summer, the warmest hugs, a huge supporter, number one fan, ultimate salsa and casserole-maker, and best boat companion - Thank you for all that you do.

And, most of all, to my Mother - a house that will always be home, a listening ear, a compassionate advocate, a steadfast cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on, the jello-shot-maker, the original DIY-er, a person to bounce ideas off of....the person I can't wait to tell everything to, the person whose approval I most want, the person I know will always be waiting at home - Thank you for being you and for always being there.

Mom, I am so blessed to call you my mother and my friend. I love you!

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Green Chile "Enchiladas"

I have enchiladas in quotes because these aren't made the traditional way - they are basically a "short cut" that use only a few ingredients. Super easy to make and great as leftovers, they are a much healthier alternative to traditional cheesy, creamy Mexican goodness!

You'll need:
3 or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I use organic)
6 or more tortillas (I use a whole wheat, low carb version)
Packet of ready-to-go brown rice (Trader Joes organic brown rice for me, as usual)
Half of a block of fat free cream cheese
Half a cup of chicken broth (I use low sodium, organic stock)
1 small can of green chiles
Optional: black beans, shredded cheese

Bake the chicken breasts in the oven for half an hour at 350 after seasoning them with salt, pepper, and garlic.

While the chicken breasts are cooking, simmer the cream cheese, chicken broth, and green chiles in a saucepan until all ingredients are melted and form a sauce texture. Once the sauce reaches a creamy consistency, set aside.

Once chicken is done baking, remove from the oven and shred. Cook the rice and mix the chicken and rice in a large bowl. Now would be the time to add the beans and the shredded cheese, if you're using.

Fill each of the tortillas with the chicken mixture and roll them. Place the rolls seam-side down side by side in a glass pan. Pour the green chile sauce over the entire pan. Sprinkle on some shredded cheese if you'd like (I didn't).

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Day Off - What is THAT Like??

Won't be quite this relaxing.....but close!
I have today off to recover from all of my recent travels and overloaded schedule. How nice. I can't recall the last time I used a vacation day for no reason at all. It feels extremely wasteful and yet I've been looking forward to it for days! Here's what I have on deck:

Enjoy a cup of coffee while catching up on "Girls". Obviously I need to do this once Teddy leaves for work.

Take a walk, possibly hit up Walgreens and Trader Joes although I'm not sure those errands are "day off" worthy.

Pit stop at the craft store for some wooden beads I need for a project.

Hop on the train and head downtown to do a little shopping with a gift card that's burning a hole in my pocket! I may or may not make a stop at Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake. We'll see how my self control holds up.

Massage appointment at 3:30.

Spend the evening researching new recipes and trying them out on Teddy for dinner!

All in all, a day full of all the little things I enjoy that get pushed aside so easily these days. What's your favorite way to spend a day off?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dose of Domestic

"The secret of a happy life is continuous small treats."

This week was a tough one with lots of travel and time away from home. Not a lot of time to work on DIY projects or cook for my little family - I believe each of my meals for the last 7 days was ordered in or eaten out. For those that travel for work, what's your secret for staying somewhat fit??

I spent the week in Orange County and, while I missed Teddy and home, there were lots of little things along the way that brought a smile to my face and made me grateful for my adventures!

Here's a little taste of the things that captured my attention this week:

I've been hearing this song around a bit and find it impossible not to smile when it comes on. Thought I'd share :)

While in CA, my friend hosted me for dinner and showed me these adorable gold brick bookends she makes. You can find them on etsy here for a bargain price - so cute!

Enjoying dinner on a rooftop in Laguna. So beautiful here!

The weekend was a bit dreary in Chicago. Spent Sunday afternoon in a dive bar with Teddy enjoying cocktails and watching the rain. A great way to end the week!

Friday, May 4, 2012

DIY: Canvas Word Art

Studded canvas hanging in our kitchen!
I've been seeing a lot of word-based art on canvas lately. There's plenty of cute pieces out there, but usually I think a person who had the time could create something similar themselves. I gave this project a whirl just for fun, but thought it looked decent enough to hang in our kitchen. Practice makes perfect though, and I'm looking forward to making more in other colors and styles.

What you'll need:
  1. 1 or 2 pre-stretched, pre-treated canvases (size of your choice). Note - I buy mine at Jo-Ann Fabrics as they are much cheaper than at an art store, and are almost always on sale. Plus, you can find coupons in the Sunday paper every week.
  2. Black spray paint - I use a matte version.
  3. Double-sided tape
  4. Access to a computer and printer
  5. Thumb-tacks (optional)
The first step is to decide which words or phrases you want to place on the canvas. I build a simple document in Microsoft Word and then choose a fun font. You'll need to make sure the print is very large, and it's also good to know that cursive is harder to cut out, but easier to apply later on.

Print the words you have created; hold the paper up to the canvas to make sure it's an appropriate size.

Cut out the words or letters and apply them to the canvas with the double sided tape. It's important to make sure the letters are very flat to the canvas. This can be a tedious process and takes a bit of time. Best to do in front of an engrossing movie or on a rainy afternoon!

Once your words are properly taped to the canvas, prepare to paint!

Place the canvas flat on top of an old towel or surface that you don't mind getting dirty. I did this in our dungeon of a basement :)

Spray paint the canvas standing above it, leaving about 3 feet of space. Use a quick back and forth motion and don't over-saturate. It's hand-painted, so it's going to be imperfect and a bit fuzzy - that's part of the appeal!

Once the paint is dry (the next day) carefully peel the paper words off the canvas. At this time, add your "studs" by sticking thumb tacks around the border of the canvas. Another tedious process but I like the effect.

And Voila!

Here is a smaller canvas I painted pink and then filled in the letters with black acrylic paint for a baby gift.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Adult Beverage: Cucumber Basil Lemonade

With a few sunny days under our belt, I'm sure I speak for most Chicagoans when I say that I'm dreaming of cookouts, outdoor festivals, and dining al fresco.

I whipped up this concoction for a backyard get-together we hosted last summer and I know it will be a staple at any summer gathering I host!
Cucumber Basil Lemonade - with a punch:

1 cucumber - half for the lemonade and half for garnish
A few sprigs of basil
1 can of frozen lemonade concentrate
Large pitcher of water
1 lemon, sliced - half for the lemonade and half for garnish
Pinches of sugar
Citrus Vodka - this part will be to your taste! I used a good half a bottle in mine.

Mix the frozen lemonade mixture into a large pitcher with cool water. Stir in some sugar and the sliced lemons. Cut up the cucumber and the basil and add to the mixture. Add the vodka last and let cool in the fridge for 2 hours prior to serving.

I set mine out with some plates of sliced cucumber and lemons so people could add more to taste. A terrific summer treat! Watch out though - the ingredients really hide the vodka flavor so you just may end up indulging a bit more than you intended!