April 11, 2014


Today is different. Today is exciting. Today is emotional. Today is new. Today has been coming for a long time now...

Today is my last day at a job that I've held for 6 years, 2 months and 7 days. I woke up this morning at 5:30 am feeling refreshed and ready to start my day with a sweaty 60 min yoga sculpt class. I needed to begin this day on my mat, present in this moment that has been brewing for what feels like so long now. 

The decision to leave the comforts of a job and routine so familiar and so "good on paper" was a not an easy one; in fact it's been downright scary at times, but I knew I had to make the change. I've learned so much during this time and in this place, and I was never going to feel completely ready, but the time had come that I had to jump. I had to leap with my heart full of optimism and faith in myself and not look back. Thankfully, I have an incredible network of support around me - family and friends who encourage me to follow my dreams and pursue that which will leave my heart and soul feeling fulfilled at the end of the day. 

In 11 days I leave for Costa Rica to take what I am happily referring to as a mini sabbatical. The opportunity to live life for almost 2 months in a beautiful country, where I will no doubt learn a great deal about myself and continue to discover who I am, spend time with people I care about, work on projects that fulfill and motivate me, and plan for the future - one. day. at. a. time. It's an opportunity I simply could not let pass by me.  

Upon my return from Central America I get to follow my passion into the food & natural products industry by working with my family's company and contracting other exciting projects with individuals I have come to know and respect immensely. All in the spirit of good food, good living and doing good for all that is bigger than me and bigger than us. 

Making big life changes is scary, sure - but what's even scarier is regret. I feel it in my bones that I am meant to pursue what's in sight. I know it won't be easy, but I am ready for the new challenges and experiences that await me on the other side of change... 

April 1, 2014

Asparagus + Basil Pasta with Goat Cheese + Toasted Pine Nuts

In order to catch up on life's latest happenings (some big changes for me...more on that later!) I had one of my girlfriends over for dinner last week. I told her I planned to cook some asparagus pasta...not an asparagus lover, Alex said she'd just pick it out if she didn't like it. Fast forward to the end of our meal that night and not only had I heard "YUM" out of her, but her bowl was practically licked clean. With one recipe I had changed her mind about this ingredient and I challenge you to do the same for the non-asparagus lovers in your life. The flavors in this dish are light & fresh but full of zest. It's a super healthy recipe so you won't feel bad eating every last bite - and it pairs nicely with delicious, mellow wine. Enjoy!

Asparagus + Basil Pasta with Goat Cheese + Toasted Pine Nuts

*makes 2 servings

- 2 servings of whole wheat pasta noodles (we like thin whole wheat spaghetti)
- 1 bunch asparagus, shaved 
- 1 bunch green onions, diced well up into the green parts 
- 1/4 c VRGF olive oil (or other high quality brand)
- pinch of sea salt
- pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Basil sauce:
- 1/4 c VRGF olive oil (or other high quality brand)
- juice from 1 lemon
- lemon zest (from 1/2 the lemon)
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1 large garlic clove (or two smaller cloves)
- 1/4 c fresh basil leaves

Pasta toppings:
- asparagus tips + 1 tsp butter
- 1/4 c crumbled goat cheese
- 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted 
- torn fresh basil (about 3 leaves divided between two servings)
- fresh ground black pepper

Prepare pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, prepare asparagus and sauce.

Rinse asparagus and pat dry. Cut off tips and set aside in a small bowl. Using a potato peeler, shave the asparagus lengthwise into long strips. 

In a large pan or heavy bottom pot, heat 1/4 c olive oil over medium heat. Add in diced green onions and saute for 2 mins, stirring constantly. Stir in asparagus strips, add salt and pepper and continue to cook over medium-low heat until tender, about 10 mins. Cook the asparagus tips by steaming them or adding them to a small pot of boiling water. Boil for about 4 mins, then drain water. Add 1 tsp butter to pot and mix with tips; set aside.

In a shallow baking pan add the pine nuts and toast until golden, about 7-10 mins. Remove and set aside.

Combine all ingredients for the Basil sauce in a small food processor and pulse until well combined. Once the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add it to the pot of asparagus and green onions. Stir until well combined then remove from heat. 

Divide the pasta mixture into serving bowls. Top evenly but generously with the Basil sauce. Add asparagus tips, toasted pine nuts, goat cheese and fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately. 

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February 28, 2014

Bad Ass Butcher: Andrea Deibler Makes Her Mark with Whole Animal Butchery

I was recently asked to guest blog for the upcoming Good Food Festival & Conference Chicago - one of my favorite events of the entire year here in our food-loving city. This Festival represents all things that have become so important to me - good food, whole foods, natural products, healthy living, environmental conscientiousness, community, sustainability, responsibility and supporting your local farmer and neighbor. This year's Festival marks the 10th Anniversary and everyone involved could not be more excited. I'll be at the Festival representing my family's company - Tiny But Mighty Popcorn - and I can't wait to connect with more incredible souls this year. Check here for tickets and I hope to see you there!

In the meantime, head to the Good Food Festival & Conference's Blog to read my piece on local Chicago butcher Andrea Deibler - one bad ass lady who is making a name for herself through the practice of whole animal butchery.

Andrea Deibler | photo: ©Ashley Arp

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February 21, 2014

To Be In Awe...

I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful Costa Rica for my second time this past week, and I was just as awestruck as the first time around. Being in the jungle, up in the mountains, on the beach looking into an endless ocean...you really begin to remember just how small we are and just how big & beautiful this world is. We must treat it with respect, as we must treat one another, for it's a force more powerful than we know.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.  -Albert Einstein

photo: ashley arp | Uvita, Costa Rica

February 2, 2014

Lightened Up Caramel Corn!

Usually, you're not going to find this girl indulging in sweets. I'm much more of a savory fan. When presented with the option of cheese or caramel corn, I'll choose cheese every time.  However, I recently discovered this recipe for lightened up caramel corn and it's gotten me to forget about cheese for at least a little while...

Just the right amount of subtle, sweet flavor (thanks to coconut oil for popping the popcorn and a little vanilla almond milk in the sauce), this lightened up caramel corn is a must try. It takes less than 15 mins to whip up this tasty little treat and it's perfect for a game day get together or movie night in.

Lightened Up (Tiny But Mighty) Caramel Corn

Adapted from Amy's Caramel Corn
Popcorn: Heat 2 tbsp coconut oil in a Stir Crazy or heavy pot with lid (there should be enough oil so it melts down to about a single layer of oil in the bottom of the pot).  Add 1/2 cup of Tiny But Mighty popcorn kernels to the oil and cover with lid (make sure not to add too many kernels - you also want these in a single layer at the bottom of the pot. Too many kernels won't allow them all to pop!).  Let pop, shaking pot once about halfway through to move unpopped kernels to the bottom of the pot, then remove from heat.  Move popcorn to a large mixing bowl.
Sauce: In a small saucepan bring 6 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp vanilla unsweetened almond milk and 1/2 cup brown sugar to a boil.  Simmer over medium heat and stir constantly for 5 mins.  Remove from heat and pour over popped popcorn and mix until well combined.  Let stand a few mins and stir again, repeating this step two more times - then enjoy

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January 31, 2014

Restaurant Week at Cicchetti!

When Restaurant Week 2014 rolled around I already had the names of a few new spots tagged in my mind, hoping they'd be participating in this newly extended 14-day food extravaganza.  When I checked the list of restaurants my eyes lit up as soon as I spotted Cicchetti (pronounced Chi-ketty).  When I first read about Cicchetti I was immediately impressed by the concept & consideration dreamed up by the owners.  When Cicchetti opened in December it was officially given the Green Seal certification for their use of sustainable materials in both construction & kitchen operation.  Their website also showcases a dedication to viable food practices, simply stating: 

"Cicchetti is the realization of our dream to showcase the great wealth of sustainably produced Midwestern food and spirits in an Italian/Mediterranean context."

 With chef Mike Sheerin, formerly of Blackbird and Trencherman, running the kitchen alongside pastry chef Sarah Jordan, formerly of Blackbird and Boka, the folks dining at Cicchetti are in more than good and capable hands.  We enjoyed every ounce of our meal - the portions were perfectly delicate but not too dainty, and the flavors spot on.  This is one small plates spot I'll be visiting again and again.

Check out Cichetti's Restaurant Week Menu here - and photos of our dinner below!

Cicchetti Restaurant Week menu (L) and regular menu (R)

Inside the front bar

Back dining room

A delicious & affordable red blend of which we ordered not one, but two bottles

La Quercia Prosciutto, slow cooked sweet potatoes, pumpkin seed salsa verde w/ greens

Nonna’s Meatballs, pancetta tomato sauce, ciabatta (these were incredible!!!)

Bruschette Assortite - (clockwise) porkbelly, fennel, golden raisin agrodolce; 
tuna conserva, pickled shallot, parsley; duck liver, cocoa nibs 

White Bean Soup with Speck Crème, pickled escarole (amazing!!!)

Gnocchi with Braised Pork Shank, celery root, pear, buttermilk, dill, chestnut crisps (to die for!!!) 

Braised Short Rib Ravioli, house tomato sauce

Reverse Affogato coffee ice cream, malted crème, anglaise, seasonal doughnuts

Ricotta Cheese Cake braised apples, graham cracker

We were unexpectedly gifted with shots of limoncello at the end of our meal - we left quite happy

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January 6, 2014

Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows!

Baby, it's cold outside!  I hope you've all been staying warm on this bitterly cold day - and staying safe!  What better time of year to enjoy some hot cocoa with marshmallows - especially if they're homemade vanilla bean marshmallows! Now doesn't that sound nice?

Homemade hot chocolate + vanilla bean marshmallows on Christmas Day

I took my first attempt at marshmallow making a few days before Christmas.  After whipping up my standard holiday goodies I wanted to add something fun & surprising to the mix.  For some reason, marshmallows had been on my mind. I remember one of the only times I really enjoyed a marshmallow was at Hot Chocolate - an incredible restaurant in Chicago.  It was there that I first tasted house-made Mexican hot chocolate with house-made marshmallows.  The combination was unforgettable.  Beyond that - unless it's sandwiched between two graham crackers with a chunk of chocolate & toasted - you probably won't find me consuming these sweet little treats.

I am aware that marshmallows, for the most part, are universally adored.  Little did I know just how huge of a hit these little vanilla-spiked squares would be - particularly with members of my family.  We enjoyed them on Christmas at my brother's house and again at my parents' house in Iowa for our extended family Christmas. This recipe makes about 24 marshmallows (depending on how you cut them) and there wasn't a scrap to be found after our two family get-togethers.  I'd call that a success.

I found a recipe for vanilla bean marshmallows from MarthaStewart.com and followed it almost exactly - it starts out a bit odd (especially if you've never made marshmallows before) but I included some photos to give an idea that you're on the right track.

Recipe below - stay warm out there!

Vanilla Bean Marshmallows - finished product

Sugar, corn syrup + water boiling

Water + gelatin before adding boiling mixture

Scraped Madagascar vanilla bean

Marshmallow mixture setting

Sifted powdered sugar

Lovely little treats

Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

  • *makes about 24 1.5" x 2" marshmallows*


    • - Nonstick cooking spray
    • - 3 (1/4-ounce) packages unflavored gelatin (4 come in a single box)
    • - 1/2 cup cold water
    • - 2 cups granulated sugar
    • - 2/3 cup light corn syrup
    • - 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
    • - 1 vanilla bean, scraped
    • - 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • - powdered sugar, sifted - for coating

    • Directions

    • Lightly spray a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides (like a sling); set aside.

    • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water; let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan combine sugar, corn syrup & 1/4 cup water. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; boil rapidly for 1 minute. Remove from heat; turn the mixer on high and slowly pour the boiling syrup down the side of the mixer bowl into the gelatin mixture. Add salt and continue mixing for 11 minutes.

    • Add vanilla extract & vanilla bean seeds, and mix until well combined. Spray a rubber spatula or your hands with cooking spray. Spread marshmallow mixture evenly into prepared pan.  Wrap sprayed sides of plastic wrap over top of marshmallow mixture in pan.  Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray and place, spray side down, on top of marshmallows if not all the way covered already. Let stand for at least 2 hours (no more than 6).

    • Remove wrapped marshmallows from pan and place on a cutting board.  Unwrap marshmallows on cutting board.  Using a sharp knife that has been heated under hot water & wiped clean, begin to cut marshmallows into 2-inch squares.  Rinse knife under hot water and wipe clean after every other cut.

    • Once marshmallows are all cut, add powdered sugar to a medium bowl and toss marshmallows to coat, working in batches. Marshmallows will keep in an airtight container for up to 6 days.