December 30, 2012

Omelets in a Bag - Say Whaaaaat?!

Omelets in a bag.'s totally a thing...and a damn good one at that.  Easy, tasty, quick & foolproof - an ingenious way to make delicious, perfectly-formed omelets, and I had no idea this method existed until I spent some time with my aunts over Christmas break...lucky me :)

My aunt Lori & my aunt Jo are two of the most kind, loving, encouraging & creative people I know.  I am so fortunate to know them, and to be able to call them family.  My aunt Lori & I have been close for a very long time - not only is she my godmother, but she has also become one of my best friends.  She lives life with a zest that is indescribable.  To know her is to love her, and if you're lucky enough to spend some time around her, your quality of life is sure to improve.

Lori & Jo recently celebrated their 2 year marriage anniversary.  Yep, that's right - they got married in Iowa on their 10 year anniversary of being together because gay marriage is legal in Iowa - because love is not prejudice, blind or discriminatory - because love is love - and because IOWA FREAKING ROCKS!!!  (Pretty damn proud native right here).  It was the most amazing day and none of us will ever forget it.  The day brought together everything wonderful about Lori & Jo, their friends and their families - the amount of love present that day was simply sublime.

Jo & Lori on their wedding day | So much love

December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

Hi all - Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!!!  My wish came true to have a white Christmas - my siblings & I have been at our parents' house in Iowa since Friday night and we've been laughing, eating, cocktailing, snowmobiling, listening to old Christmas music, gathering by the fire, watching Christmas movies, playing games & loving every minute of it.  I've uploaded a few pics of our winter adventures so far - check them out below.  I am so lucky to have such an amazing & fun-loving family!

I hope you all have been able to spend time with the people you love - family, friends, loved ones - safe travels to all who are flying or driving & cheers to a very Happy New Year!!!

My parents have five 30 ft. evergreens in their front yard that my dad puts old fashioned
colored lights on each year - they are especially breathtaking after a fresh fallen snow!

December 23, 2012

Lydia's Holiday Shrimp Dip!

'Tis the season for holiday parties galore - how many have you been to so far?  Whether ugly sweater, formal or just a cozy get-together, the holidays always bring out good people, good times, spirits (both etheral and sippable) and lots of savory & sweet treats.  We do our best to enjoy in moderation but it's not always the easiest thing to do.  If you're tasked to bring something to a holiday party this year I have an easy and not too waistline-offensive recipe that is tasty & easy to throw together.

This shrimp dip is a recipe my mom has been making for holiday & cocktail parties for years - it's always a hit and almost guaranteed not to be repeated by anyone else at the party.  It only takes about 20 mins from start to finish (not counting 30 mins chill time), and you can serve this dip with anything from buttery Ritz crackers to lower-sodium whole wheat crackers to red pepper strips.

Check out the photos & recipe below!  Happy Holidays!

What you need

December 21, 2012

Discover Ada St.┃A Hidden Little Gem

It's not even been a year since Ada St. opened its doors, yet it seems like I had waited much longer to try this place - on a random Monday night last week, it finally happened.  My friend Alex found out the restaurant was screening Home Alone - apparently they often screen movies on Monday nights at this joint - they also include a complimentary bucket of movie popcorn for any patrons in the house.  A super cozy spot, incredibly delicious food, soul-warming cocktails and Home Alone?! Pretty good way to get us into the holiday spirit if you ask me!

I had heard a lot about Ada so I was expecting pretty big things, especially considering this spot comes from the talents who also brought us DMK Burger Bar.  Overall - we were not disappointed.  The interior of Ada is totally my style - exposed brick, lots of candles, stacks of vinyl records, vintage meets Deco, a big dark bar & a cute chef in the kitchen - visible to customers anticipating craft cocktails & delectable dishes.  As we sat down I immediately noticed the closed off open-air patio.  Based on what I've read about this place, we're definitely going to have to come back when patio season begins again.  The patio boasts 50 seats, is covered in AstroTurf and features a fire pit, picnic tables & a ping pong table.  Sounds like a backyard party with a few close friends and 40+ strangers that I could get down with!
(More review & photos below!)


December 19, 2012


It's been almost a week since the unimaginable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  As we keep all those precious souls who lost their lives, and all those affected by it, in our thoughts, prayers & hearts - we also must remember kindness.  There was a great article posted on the Today News website connected through the hashtag #26Acts - created to honor the victims of Sandy Hook.  The article gives a list of 26 real life examples of how people across the country are doing random acts of kindness, in hopes to inspire kindness in others.  Check out the article here, and think about what your next random act of kindness will be...spread the holiday spirit.

December 13, 2012

Check It: Healthified Blueberry Banana Bread

The last time I visited my dermatologist and the last time I got a facial I left with some parting words of advice for my particular skin type - lay off the dairy, if possible, and you'll see an improvement in your overall complexion.  Well, a couple months later I now fill my coffee with light soy milk instead of cream or regular milk, I take calcium chews every day & I do my very best to lessen my cheese intake...although, I am telling you now I will never, ever fully give up cheese.  Not only is it one of my favorite foods (all shapes & forms), but it's the basis of so many amazing dishes of which I refuse to deprive myself. The thing to remember?  Moderation.  It's all about moderation.

Given my effort to reduce my daily dairy consumption, I was super excited when I found a recipe for a delicious banana bread that uses natural honey & applesauce instead of milk or butter - also no oil or sugar!  I added some blueberries into the mix to bump up the sweetness & flavor a bit. Another bonus of this recipe was that it already called for whole wheat flour for the bread.  When I bake I usually like to substitute all (or at least half) the amount of all-purpose flour a recipe calls for with whole wheat flour to up the nutritional value.  Done & done.

Check out photos & recipe below!

You know you want some...

December 12, 2012

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Country, But You Can't Take the Country Out of the Girl...

I love that I grew up in Iowa.  Iowa has a huge chunk of my heart, and it always will.  I love that I grew up with two hard working & loving parents, four crazy siblings, dogs, four-wheelers, snowmobiles, ice hockey, rope swings, tree houses, epic games of capture the flag, ice skating, both sides of my extended family in Iowa, paintball, timber runs, lawn mowers, a huge stone fireplace, snow plows, boats, fishing, clay pigeon shooting, gravel & dirt roads, fireworks, muggy summers, massive snow storms/snow drifts, BBQs, bonfires and 80+ acres of land to explore.  I was (and still am) very lucky.

I'm still in the chapter of my life where I've not yet partnered up with anyone for good, so I get to head back to Iowa for any holiday I please - and yes, I'm pretty spoiled in that respect.  I must admit that, although I look forward to building & sharing a life with someone someday, I do somewhat selfishly cling to my independence at times...but I think that's OK to do right now...and down the road, OK in moderation.  It will be a challenge to one day let go of the abundant time with my family, particularly at the holidays, but I'm sure the love I'll get from my other family & my other half (whomever they may be) will surely make up for it.  In the meantime, you'll find me in Iowa for the holidays - outdoors shooting clay pigeons on Thanksgiving, tearing up the ice in hockey skates at Christmas, or inside cooking & baking up a storm!

This year my parents hosted Thanksgiving and I was lucky enough to have my grandma Betty show me how to make her famous stuffing.  Watching, listening & going through the motions with her - those moments to me are priceless.  There are many more of her original recipes I plan on asking her to walk me through for a first go - her famous kolaches, dill gravy & potatoes, and chicken noodle soup to start - recipes I plan to carry with me & keep passing down for generations to come.

If you need a stuffing recipe for any upcoming holiday I've included my grandmother's amazing recipe below, along with some fun photos from Thanksgiving day this year & Christmas day a couple years ago when we had a massively charming white Christmas in Iowa.  Fingers crossed for the same thing this year!  Enjoy :)

Simple ingredients make one amazing stuffing

December 5, 2012

Healthy BBQ, Brown Rice & Turkey Stuffed Peppers!

Stuffed Peppers can be taken in several different directions, and just the other night mine went the BBQ-flavor route.  As I began to prepare the peppers for the dish I realized I didn't have any tomato sauce - a typical key ingredient.  For a few seconds I thought my stuffed pepper recipe was doomed...but then I got to thinking - improvise!  I knew I had some tomatoes in the fridge that only had a couple days left in them before they could no longer be used, a bottle of ketchup & some BBQ sauce.  With these three ingredients I was able to create some delicious, healthy BBQ sauce-flavored stuffed peppers!

As I've said before, improvising & experimenting is a fantastic way to improve your cooking knowledge and skills.  As we cruise into the prime of the holiday season, we should take a step back to think about how lucky we are to have what we do. Food, shelter, clothing, clean water & virtually unlimited use of these things - all of which we too often take for granted. By teaching yourself to be more resourceful in your cooking, you'll save yourself money & probably end up using ingredients you may have otherwise let go to waste.  You can come up with some pretty rad, original recipes too.  Live a bit more modestly when you can & exercise your resourcefulness...attributes that can be applied to many other areas of life well beyond cooking.

Check out the photos & recipe below for my version of stuffed peppers - but don't be shy to change up the recipe a bit to fit your supplies or preferences.  I've also included some substitutions next to the ingredients to get your thoughts rolling!


December 4, 2012

Get Into It: Renegade Craft Fair - Holiday Market Edition!

Although the weather in the Midwest may try to convince us otherwise, the holidays are upon us.  There may not be snow on the ground or chill in the air, but you can still get your holiday on at several fun happenings around the city.  There are many markets & holiday-themed happenings in December here in Chicago - all providing the opportunity to continue in the spirit of supporting local artisans & shopping small businesses while bonding with your friends, neighbors & fellow hip strangers.

This past Sunday I went with a couple of my go-to gals to check out the Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Market that was held at the Pulaski Field Museum in Wicker Park.  A charming maze of indie designs & artisan creations, we toured the Fieldhouse wide-eyed in wonderment.  If you have never been to a craft fair or vintage market you must add it to your immediate to-do list.  Strolling the talent of creative & unique individuals who have worked hard to offer beautiful (or delicious!) products gives such a feeling & sense of community, and it puts me at a level of happiness pretty hard to top.  In fact, I hope to be one of those vendors someday ... correction: I will be one of those vendors someday :)

Check out the photos below from our holiday market adventure - I've also posted some information about a couple of the other fairs/markets that are coming up - hope to see you at one of those bad boys!

Dose Market: Hello, HoliDOSE!
Catch the HoliDose on December 9, 2012, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, at the River East Art Center (435 E. Illinois St.) for the very finest in holiday awesomeness.
$8 advanced tickets sold online
$10 at the door

Randolph Street Holiday Market
Don't miss the sixth annual Randolph Street Holiday Market December 15+16, 2012!
Saturday, December 15, 2012  - 10am to 6pm | Sunday, December 16, 2012 - 10am to 5pm
Plumbers Hall (Indoors Only!) | 1340 W. Washington, Chicago
$8 advanced tickets sold online
$10 at the door

Magic happening here

November 27, 2012

'Tis the Season...

For Mason Jars: Holiday Style

Berry & pine branches picked from my parents' land in Iowa  #ArpCompound

My first Christmas decoration is up ~ Cheers!

November 26, 2012

The New Star of the Holidays: Sweet Potato Soufflé

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!  I certainly did, back home in Iowa with my siblings, parents & extended family - we're one loud & crazy bunch and I wouldn't have it any other way.  With over 20 people under my parents' roof on Thanksgiving day, there were many stories told, so much amazing food shared & many laughs had by all.  With each new holiday comes the chance to make new memories; many of mine include waking up early to have coffee with my mom, discussing our game plan for the day.  What time is everyone coming over?  What time should we start to put the casseroles together?  When should she make her famous crust-less pumpkin pies?  And...when shall we pour our first mimosa? :)

Usually at Thanksgiving I make a pumpkin swirl cheesecake with a gingerbread crust (email me if you'd like the recipe!) but this year, I took the savory (and still fairly healthy) route.  Most of the main dishes were already covered by my mom, grandma or aunts & uncles, except for one: the sweet potatoes.  I knew I wanted to put a spin on things to try and get those non-sweet potato lovers to actually try and really enjoy sweet potatoes, so I came up with a delectable little recipe for a sweet potato soufflé.  After the entire casserole dish was practically wiped clean by the end of our dinner, it has officially been requested that I make the soufflé for all Thanksgiving dinners going forward - a sure sign of success!

Check out the recipe & photos below - though I made this for Thanksgiving, it would be good anytime of the year for any holiday!

Gorgeous spuds

November 20, 2012

Lighten Up: Pre-Turkey Day Saucy Shrimp Stir Fry

With Thanksgiving just around the corner you are probably seeing a ton of Thanksgiving-related recipes in & around the blogosphere - but not here...well at least...not today :)  On this fine Tuesday I thought I'd give you a quick, healthy & delicious little dish you can make yourself for lunch or dinner in the time we have left leading up to turkey day - or perhaps one of the days after t-day when you need a change from the leftover turkey, green bean casserole, potatoes & stuffing.

This recipe is something I came up with one evening when I was craving Thai food and/or stir fry, but not wanting to spend $20 on myself to order it & have it delivered!  Also, this is a much healthier version of a peanut-flavored stir fry since it uses ingredients such as whole wheat noodles, low sodium soy sauce & all natural peanut butter.  The addition of the bell peppers give more than a healthy dose of vitamin C (one serving gets you to 750 percent of the daily recommendation for the vitamin) and the shrimp are a fantastic, lower calorie source of protein.

I made up this recipe using what I had on hand in my cupboards but - for your convenience - I have listed optional ingredients below next to the ones I used, in case you don't quite have in your cupboards what I did at the time.  The flavors will be almost identical & this dish is sure to please no matter what you substitute!

See below for photos & recipe, and keep checking back for some fantastic Thanksgiving recipes I will post after turkey day - as I will be doing it all real time on Thursday & taking photos along the way!

Enjoy :)

Saucy little dish

November 13, 2012

November 12, 2012

Healthy Baked Acorn Squash with Quinoa + Dried Cherries

Thanksgiving is fast approaching (only 1 week from this Thursday!) which means the Fall season will be coming to a close soon. It also means that I am getting my fill on cooking with gourds - remember the butternut squash soup or the pumpkin cream cheese bread from weeks past?  Well I have another seasonal recipe for you, this time using acorn squash.  Although technically a winter squash, I tend to associate it with classic Fall flavors - which you'll find in this recipe in the subtle hints of brown sugar & maple syrup.

Final product | Get in my belly

November 9, 2012

Chowder, Po' Boys & Mason Jars: Fish Bar Delivers the Goods

It's been over a year and a half of yearning, but the stars finally aligned for Fish Bar & I to meet face to face, and it was a match made in heaven.  One surefire way to win this girl's heart?  Serve your beer (or any beverage for that matter) in a mason jar & consider me the happiest camper around.  It also doesn't hurt your chances to offer me the best clam chowder in town (a bold statement, I know).  Me & Fish Bar?  We got along just swimmingly...

Mason jars & menus

Immediately upon walking into Fish Bar you're hit with good vibes.  A cozy & intimate spot with a vintage sea town feel, everyone in the place seemed more than happy to be there - and we couldn't wait to sit down and join them to taste the incredible smelling food permeating the air.  The only thing in our way?  A 45 min wait - that was for 2 people on a weekend night around 8:45 - they don't take reservations but it's definitely worth the wait.

November 6, 2012



Because you can.
Because complaining doesn't get you anywhere or change anything.
Because you are a free citizen of the United States.
Because your health, rights & income will all be affected by it.
Because your opinion means nothing when merely expressed via social media.
Because it is not only your democratic right, but a privilege.
Because every vote counts, which means you can make a difference.

I voted today. I hope you did too.

November 5, 2012

Lightened Up Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread

Those who know me well know that I do not have much of a sweet tooth (I'm definitely a savory kinda gal), and although I do bake frequently I usually end up giving most of it away to friends, family or coworkers.  However, if you put cream cheese in any type of sweet treat - cheesecake, cream cheese frosting, cheesecake bars, etc. - I am automatically on board.  I just can't help myself!

In an attempt to satisfy recent cravings, I went on the hunt for a recipe that combined cream cheese & fall flavors in a way that wasn't too sweet or decadent.  The perfect combo?  Pumpkin cream cheese bread!  I adapted a recipe that I found via Pinterest so it is lighter & healthier, but still delicious!

Check out the recipe & photos below and have a happy Monday, YO!!

Post-bake  | Cracks permitted

October 31, 2012

A New Adventure: Roasted Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup with Apples!

First off - HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!  What is/was your costume this year?  Trying to be creative without spending a ton of money, I went with an iconic figure and it turned out pretty well - I only spent $2 for the red & white polka dot fabric and $3 for the red socks - I already owned everything else I wore!  I got a lot of compliments on how it came together, so that was pretty's a little photo of the finished product:

Rosie the Riveter 

NOW...onto the food...

Have you ever cooked anything involving butternut squash?  Until the other night I had not, and let me tell you it can be quite the process depending on the complexity of the meal you are preparing.  Yes, I have heard that pre-cut, frozen butternut squash exists (although I have yet to see it...quite possibly because I wasn't looking for it) but where is the fun in that?!  If you're like me, you find a great sense of peace, comfort & happiness in the many detailed steps of preparing a meal from scratch. There's just something about obtaining fresh produce (bonus if it was locally grown), washing it, peeling it, cutting into it & discovering what's inside - not just the seeds...the color, smell, taste...completely amazing components of nature if you really think about it.

October 24, 2012

Jenny + Garald | 10.20.12 | Best Day Ever...

On Saturday, October 20th at 3:30 pm, in the cozy little village of the Amana Colonies, one of my dearest (and oldest) friends married her best friend & love of her life - and it really was the Best Day Ever...

Best Day Ever

It was a gorgeous Saturday in rural Iowa - the sun was shining and there was a slight nip in the air...a perfect fall day.  As we walked into the lower level of the Iowa Theater Artists Company, we were greeted by soft lighting, smiling faces, wooden beams, colorful mums & music quietly playing in the background...a room so cozy and full of anticipation.  As soon as the guests were all seated, two of Jenny's brothers stood at the front and began strumming their guitars, softly singing their own amazing acoustic rendition of the song "Lullaby" - instantly, the love in the room was palpable.

October 17, 2012

Healthy Buffalo-Style Turkey & Spinach Meatloaf!

How much do you love buffalo-style...well...anything?!  I love it, can't seem to get enough, and most people I know feel the same way.  When thinking about the pound of lean ground turkey I had sitting in my freezer I knew it'd been a while since I made a meatloaf...yet I wanted something with a kick and I just so happened to have a full bottle of Cholula in the fridge - this sparked the idea of a buffalo-style meatloaf!  Why hadn't I thought of this one before??  Turns out there are a handful of recipes for buffalo-style meatloaf online, but I know the basics of a meatloaf and wanted to do my own version, which turned out just right and is pretty darn healthy too!

Side note: I must apologize for the lack of "finished product" photos in this post...I was chatting up a storm with a friend while cooking and we were so hungry by the time the meatloaf was done, we cut into it & started devouring it without me remembering to snap a few pics!  We also ate out on my back deck last night - such a nice night, but not great for lighting...hopefully you can use your imagination for what it will look like coming out of the oven - piping hot & smelling amazing - until you can make the meatloaf yourself!  I served this bad boy over a bed of quinoa seasoned with a little olive oil, Cholula hot sauce and cracked pepper - a delicious & healthy little combo.

Recipe below...

Fresh spinach | Eggs for whites | Onion & garlic

October 12, 2012

I Dreamt of Chicken Tortilla Soup...

With temperatures falling and leaves turning, hot soups, hearty stews & comforting crock-pot recipes dance in our dreams...and hopefully make their way into reality!  I recently busted out my trusty crock-pot (I'm more of a griller during the warmer months) and couldn't wait to try out a new recipe.  Since I had been craving Mexican cuisine for about a week, I decided I'd come up with a tortilla soup recipe - warm, hearty & soul-satisfying!

Having made chicken tortilla soup once a couple years ago - and after reading a few different recipes online - I made my way to the grocery store & ended up picking out the ingredients that I was hungry for.  That's the beauty of cooking in a long as you have a base (a little water, or a broth or sauce) you can pretty much throw in any promising combination of ingredients & it will simmer into a delicious meal you can savor for days.  This particular concoction turned out better than I expected - and I had high hopes to begin with!

I should also note that, in addition to crock-pots producing tasty meals, there is also the element of ease - have you ever heard of "set it and forget it"???  Most days during the week I'm gone from my apartment for typically 11 hours - from the time I leave for work in the a.m. until I return home after the gym - now, that is too much time to leave a crock-pot meal simmering.  However, I found the best way to work around a long day is to prepare the meal at night, right before you go to bed, and let it simmer on low until you wake up - hopefully about 7 hours (if we're lucky to catch that much shuteye!).

I put all the ingredients in the crock-pot, went to bed & awoke to the smell of simmering goodness - I dreamt of chicken tortilla soup...and it came true!!!  Just a couple small additional steps the next morning & I had lunch that day & several days after - and enough to share with a few lucky friends...

Recipe below!


October 10, 2012

Caramel Apple Spice Muffins!

Happy Hump Day!  Lately I've been in the mood for something a little sweet - something apple, something spice, something caramel...what to do?  Make up a muffin recipe to satisfy my cravings!  These little treats have an oozy-gooey center & are best served warm with a glass of milk to help wash them down.  Recipe below...hope you enjoy!

Apples to Apples

October 5, 2012

Maid-Rite Hits Chicago - Loose Meat Changes People's Lives

Have you ever heard of Maid-Rite?  If you're from or have spent time in the Midwest, chances are you have...but if you haven't been to one yet & you find yourself wandering the streets of Chicago, then you should definitely go check it out. Maid-Rite just opened its first Chicago location in the heart of Lincoln Park at 2429 N. Lincoln Avenue. Conveniently located across the street from Lincoln Hall, it's a tasty & affordable option for a quick bite before or after a show (they're open until 3am on Fridays & Saturdays!) and a viable Lincoln Ave. option to Qdoba and Micky D's.  Keep scrolling down for some mouth-watering photos & an explanation of this fascinatingly tasty Midwest classic... 

Chicago Maid-Rite | 2429 N. Lincoln Ave.

October 2, 2012

A Little Autumn in Iowa...And a Healthier Crab Wonton Recipe!

Happy October, everyone!  I know, I'm a couple days late - but life happened...and it will continue to happen.  While it does, don't forget to stop & take a look at the beauty that is also happening all around you - yes ladies & gents, fall is in the house! Pumpkin spice lattes are brewing, temps are falling, leaves are changing and so are people's wardrobes - have you busted out your boots, jeans & cozy sweaters yet?!?

This past weekend was spent in Iowa surrounded by family & friends and I couldn't have been happier about it.  I was home to celebrate our good friend Jenny's wedding shower/bachelorette party, and my parents were kind enough (no surprise there) to let us use their house for the festivities.  Before the party kicked off Saturday afternoon, my friend Angie & I embarked on a Super Target run in the morning with my mom (standard), then settled-in back at the house to watch the Iowa game with my folks.

Besides fall candles in almost every room of my parents' house (wonder where I get it!), another staple of fall in the Arp household are the bowls of candy corn + peanuts you'll find in the kitchen, living room & family room.  If you have never tried this trusty little combo, it is a must do in the months of October & November.  I don't love candy corn on its own, but paired with the peanuts it is a match made in sweet & salty heaven.

Game day snacks | Candy corn + peanuts

Cozied up in my parents' family room, I felt so happy and at peace - being home during the fall is especially wonderful.  I treasure those simple days spent doing a whole lot of nothing - football watching, laughing, laying around and dozing off on the couch as the smell of food in the oven & fall candles fill the air.  Halftime of the Hawkeye game found me on the four-wheeler, zipping around my parents' land trying to capture the best shots of the gorgeous fall foliage that I could possibly get. Being out in the fresh country air & feeling free as a bird is like a mini-reset to the soul.

Foliage | Arp Compound

September 27, 2012

Whatever You Got - Quinoa Bake!

We all have those nights at home when we need to throw something together for dinner - we want it to be tasty & healthy, yet it may seem like we have nothing on hand but a bunch of random ingredients.  This is the best time to be creative!  A self-taught home cook (with the exception of watching my mother & grandmother cook growing up) I have learned that ingredient substitution can be the key to a successful meal, just when thought you didn't have what you need!

I call the recipe below Whatever You Got - Quinoa Bake because after reading a number of various quinoa recipes online, I realized I had similar ingredients but none that exactly matched any recipe I found.  I noticed that some recipes called for milk & flour - but I only had breadcrumbs and low-fat sour cream.  Some called for fresh spinach & parmesan cheese, or shallots & bell peppers - but I only had frozen spinach & fat-free feta.  What to do?  Substitute!  Use up what you have, whether it's fresh or frozen ingredients - if the combination sounds like it would be good then give it a try!  This is also a great way to learn some cooking basics :)

It's also a good idea to keep some staple items in your cupboard to serve as a base for those random week night (or weekend) dishes. Some of my favorites include quinoa, rice & pasta - they are affordable, will last you a long time & offer endless meal options.  I have to say that quinoa is my current favorite, although it used to do nothing but sit on the shelves in the grocery store and intimidate me as I made my way down the aisle.  Afraid no more, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and I now collaborate often, lucky for me.  This little wonder seed (also considered a whole-grain but is actually a seed) is not only packed with vitamins, minerals & fiber, but it is also a complete protein - which means it's a great alternative to protein-rich meats & fish.  

To cook quinoa you must first soak the seeds in water (cold or room temp) for a few minutes in order to remove the naturally bitter coating called saponin.  I like to put the seeds in a sieve set in a bowl of water to soak - that way it's easily transferable to the pot for cooking.  Various brands of quinoa may give you slightly different cooking directions, but I think it's easiest to stick to a rule of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water (or broth if you choose).

Check out the recipe for my Whatever You Got - Quinoa Bake below - a healthy & filling weeknight dinner.  The combination I came up with ended up tasting somewhat similar to Thanksgiving stuffing - I was not mad.  I've also listed suggestions for substitutions, so get creative y'all!

Chicken broth | Bouillon cubes | Quinoa

September 24, 2012

Autumn Spice, Game Day Chili & Everything Nice...

Saturday marked one of my favorite days of the year - the first official day of fall.  As I've mentioned, I'm a sucker for the seasonal changes that come with living in the Midwest.  I grew up in a home where the different seasons were signified & celebrated by changing decor, scented candles, cozy fires and baking - traditions that are still deeply rooted in my own life today.  There are so many wonderful things to love about fall - some of my personal favorites include:

pumpkin & spice scented candles | crisp fall temps | CHAI LATTES |  football  | acorn squash | spiked apple cider BOOTS & JEANS | pumpkin spice doughnuts the wood burning fireplace in my cozy apartment | apple orchards |  pumpkin patches  | BONFIRES | candy corn & peanutscinnamon in my coffee | PUMPKIN SWIRL CHEESECAKE | sweaters | decorative gourds | baking pumpkin bread | CHILI | hayrack rides | changing leaves {

A little throw-back fall photo: a trip to the pumpkin patch with my siblings & cousins - circa 1992.  Since then many more cousins & another sibling of mine were added to our huge, hilarious family...

L-R: my cousins Ben, Jordan, my little brother Andrew (red hoodie), my cousin Aaron
(yellow coat), my older brother Ian (glasses), our hilarious uncle Matt, my cousin Nate,
Me (next to Ian), my sister Abbey (huge grin) and my cousin Jaelynn (pink coat)

Some of the best fall days are spent watching football, whether it be at a rowdy bar, in the comfort of your home or if you're lucky - at the actual game.  Saturday I had some family over to watch the Hawkeyes - who unfortunately lost by one point last minute, but we won't focus on that right now - rather, we'll focus on the high points of the day...  

It was a crisp 55 degrees outside and the sun was shining.  I had my pumpkin & autumn spiced candles burning, and cinnamon sticks boiling in a small pot on the stove - the air smelled heavenly.  My brother & sister-in-law showed up just in time for kick-off, bags of goodies & a mini-pumpkin in hand as a gift for the host - they know me so well!  As I put the last of the ingredients for the chili in the stock pot to simmer (recipe below!), my brother busted out his shakers & impressive ingredients and proceeded to make the most decadent, over-the-top delicious bloody marys from scratch.  

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, talking, eating & laughing - yet another great day filled with the simplest of pleasures.  I get so much joy out of hosting - a trait I definitely acquired from my mother & grandmother - and I love almost nothing more than spending quality time with family.  We are lucky to have days like yesterday, as my brother & his wife recently relocated to Chicago after spending 4+ years in Austin, TX.  Austin is a fantastic city and I know they miss it dearly, but they are happy to be closer to family & we are thrilled to have them closer too.  

I look forward to many more days like yesterday - in the meantime, I share with you a few snapshots of how I'm representin' Fall in my apartment, and the recipe for the easy & healthy chili I made Saturday...enjoy!

Mantle above my fireplace

Autumn Spice soy candle in the bedroom

A vintage photo of my mom (circa 1972) sits on a side table in my living room

Dining table: mason jar of matchbooks, bowl full of gourds &
the pumpkin my brother & sister-in-law brought me

Ashley's Autumn Chili
Feeds about 6 people


- 1 (1 lb.) pkg. extra lean ground beef
- 1 diced green pepper
- 1 diced red pepper
- 1 diced yellow pepper
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 small red onion diced

- 1 can reduced sodium kidney beans
- 1 can reduced sodium black beans
- 1 29 oz. can tomato sauce
- 1 14.7 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 3 tblsp cumin
- 3 tblsp chili powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup stout or pale ale beer


Combine beef, all peppers, garlic and onion in a large pot on the stove.  Saute until beef is cooked.  Add all remaining ingredients to pot (beans through beer) and stir well.  Simmer on medium-low heat for 45 minutes, making sure to stir the chili every 5 minutes or so, to ensure it doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pot.
Top chili in individual bowls with a shredded, reduced fat cheese of your choice & a dollop of fat free Greek yogurt (in place of sour cream).  Serve with a side of French bread.

Chili spread

September 20, 2012

Bavette's with a Side of David Byrne & St. Vincent

Tuesday night turned out to be one of those perfect nights out in the City - the kind you plan and then endlessly anticipate - and if you're lucky, it all comes together in the most magical way.  Enter: Bavette's Bar & Boeuf and David Bryne (with St. Vincent) at the Chicago Theater...

On the cusp of fall, the air was crisp & fresh as I walked off the train and into Bavette's - the newly opened steakhouse and oyster bar from Brendan Sodikoff.  The first to arrive of my friends, I waited in a large tufted leather booth, taking in my surroundings.  The dimly-lit space boasts loads of exposed brick (love), big & beautiful chandeliers, antiqued mirrors and a Parisian/speakeasy vibe.  Jazz music permeated my subconscious as I gazed over the cocktail menu, settling on the Lillet Rosé Martini to start - an easy mix of Russian vodka, St. Germain & Litllet Rosé.  As I waited for my dining companions to arrive I couldn't help but grin as I stared back at the beautiful little antique plates in the center of the table, just waiting to assist with our meal - they were near replicas of the antique tea saucers my grandmother had given my sisters & I many years ago.

Bavette's | Lillet Rosé martini

September 18, 2012

Quick and Healthy Spinach, Beet & Feta Salad with a Side of Savory Pasta and Friendship

Every so often I love to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night, hang with a great friend, cook and share stories over a bottle of wine and a great meal - which is exactly what my friend Alex & I did last weekend.  With Alex being the fellow foodie & fun gal that she is, you'll typically find us hitting up brand new spots for dinner or brunch, exchanging emails about food fests & restaurant write-ups or passing recipes back & forth - we can't ever seem to get enough and it's fantastic.

Our Friday night was filled with red wine, laughter, my healthy spinach salad (a great end of summer into fall salad to take anywhere), and one delicious pasta sauce, recipe courtesy of Alex's mama - simply de-lish!  This meal is a good example of balancing health and indulgence - get your greens but also remember, you have to allow yourself to enjoy the finer, more buttery things in life from time to time :)  Check out the recipes below!

Salad pre-dressing

September 16, 2012

Cheers to Another Year of Successful Cultivation!

The second annual Chicago Chipotle Cultivate Festival was yet another successful meeting of artisans, chefs, farmers, musicians and sustainability & food integrity enthusiasts.  This year's turnout was larger and more enthusiastic than last year, hopefully an indication of the continued growth & success the festival will see in coming years.

Walking into Lincoln Park you could immediately feel the buzz of sharing ideas, discovery & happiness.  The sun was shining and the air was warm, filled with intoxicating smells of fresh popped popcorn, fresh brewed coffee, portabella mushroom & garlic soup, chocolate truffles, simmering pulled pork & cornbread, meatballs, fresh guacamole and other goodness.  The craft beer tent was hopping (pun quite possibly intended) and the musicians were jamming.  There were young adults, more seasoned folk, families, dogs & endless opportunities to mingle & enjoy some of the best things in life.

A special shout out goes out to the crew of Tiny But Mighty Popcorn and everyone who came by to see us.  We had a very successful day and so enjoyed meeting all the many new people - sharing stories, insight & good food - we loved seeing all the familiar faces too!

If you missed this year's Fest then check out some photos I took & posted below - and don't forget to keep an eye out for news regarding the third annual Cultivate Festival - date TBD!

Have a great week all!

Getting set-up in the Artisans' Tent

September 13, 2012

Cultivate Fest is Almost Here!! Be There, or Be Square...

Have you heard of the Chipotle Cultivate Festival?  If not, you're probably not alone - but you better recognize! The second annual festival kicks off this Saturday (9/15) at 11:00 am and runs until 7:00 pm.  Cultivate is an amazing, eye-opening festival (only in Chicago & Denver) focused on farm to table food, locally sourced products, farmers, famous chefs and they have a craft beer tent and great music.  Mayer Hawthorne headlined last year and G. Love & Special Sauce is headlining this year - and did I mention that it's FREE admission?!  That's right, you only need to pay for the food & drink you consume and the products you buy - the music & experience are free.

The festival also holds a special place in my heart because my Aunt & Uncle's Popcorn - Tiny But Mighty Popcorn - will yet again have a booth showcasing their amazing product.  Now, I know it could easily seem that I am just biased, but after learning about the product and consuming it for many, many years I can honestly say I would support it regardless of who was growing and selling it, because it is that AMAZING!!!  However, I am incredibly lucky enough that the popcorn is a product planted, grown, packaged & produced all by my amazing Aunt Lynn & Uncle Gene Mealhow.  I couldn't be happier for them and their hard work & dedication over the last decade+ is really starting to pay off!

You can read more about their full story here on their website.

2011 Cultivate Festival: me, Uncle/Farmer Gene, my sister Abbey

September 11, 2012

The Purple Pig: Worth the Wait

First off today - a special mention of all those who were affected by the World Trade Center attack as we mark the 11th anniversary of that incredibly sad & difficult day today.  All those who were lost, who are carrying on without their loved ones, and all those who have played an active role in rebuilding the City of New York and this country hold a special place in our hearts today and forever.


The Purple Pig had been at the top of my restaurant list since its debut a little over two years ago.  That's right, it took two years for the stars to align for myself and The Pig...two years and nearly a two-hour wait, accompanied by two glasses of delicious red wine...and it was totally worth it.

The Purple Pig sits along the infamously touristy Magnificent Mile, but don't be deceived by its local - this place is anything but gimmicky.  It's a serious & authentic take on not just pork, but Mediterranean small plates, beer and they've got a wine list for days.  Bon Appétit discovered The Pig's potential not long after they opened in 2010, naming it one of The 10 Best New Restaurants in America.

Not taking reservations can lead to some hefty wait times, but don't let that deter you from going - they have an open terrace connected to their outdoor patio where customers can mingle & sip while waiting for a table.  The girls & I happily ordered wine from the awesomely friendly waitress outside and spent the time catching up with each others' lives.  You see, that's the thing about waiting - you can allow it to be a negative thing, or you can make the most of it by reconnecting with some of your all-time favorite people in this life, which is exactly what we did.

September 9, 2012

End of Summer Sweet Corn & Blueberry Salad

Summer may be coming to a close, but it's not over yet!  Now is a fabulous time to be hitting up those outdoor farmers markets & trying out the summer recipes you've been pining over.  If you can get your hands on some sweet corn (I'd recommend Iowa sweet corn of course!) I have a fabulous & healthy salad recipe that you should be taking to your end of the summer get-togethers, courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens.

This corn & blueberry salad was a hit at the barbeque I took it to, so much so that I ended up emailing the recipe to most of the people at the party.  I also told some friends & coworkers about the dish and, even though they hadn't actually tasted it, they were intrigued enough to ask for the recipe also!

A slightly modified version of the recipe is below - I adjusted the amounts of a few ingredients according to my taste & it turned out great - Enjoy & cheers to these final summer days!

Corn & Blueberry Salad 

(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

  • 5 ears (Iowa) sweet corn, husked
  • cups fresh blueberries, rinsed
  • 1 large cucumber, skin on & diced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


In a large pot bring salted water to a boil. Add corn. Boil 5 minutes, or until tender. When cool enough to handle, slice the corn off the cobs into a bowl.  Set aside.

Cut up cucumber, onion and jalapeno and chop cilantro. In a large serving bowl combine the corn, blueberries, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno. 

For dressing, combine lime juice, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, cumin and 1/2 tsp. salt. Whisk ingredients together, adjusting according to taste. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate several hours (I only did 2 hours) or overnight (up to 24 hours). Makes 6 to 8 servings.

September 7, 2012

Table Talk...and Touches that Make a Place Your Own

A little over a year ago I moved into the apartment I now call home.  It's currently my fifth year living in Chicago & my fourth apartment...some people have said that I'm crazy for moving so much, but experiencing the different areas of the city has been an exciting part of every move, and I don't regret any of matter how many times my past roommates & I said "we're never doing this again!"

With about five months left in my last lease (with roommates, and I should mention they are two of the most awesome girls I know), something just...clicked.  It was as if I woke up one morning feeling totally ready for more independence...I was completely ready for a place of my own.  After finding my one bedroom, eclectic little gem in LP I was excited to settle in and set the mood of my new place.

One of my most favorite things about getting into a new space is making it your own.  Giving it those personal touches that not only make it a home, but make it your home.  Over the years my style has morphed into a mix of vintage & new, with a healthy sprinkling of personal touches - it's cozy & inviting & interesting.  I typically don't hang things on the walls unless I made them (like the prints I did in Venice when I was 20), or someone I know made them (like one of my uncle Matt's prints he did in college); I have numerous vases, dishes & jewelry from my mother, grandmother & great-grandmother; black & white original photos of my grandparents from the 1950's; my late grandfather's hand drawn blueprints framed above my bookshelf; and a headboard made by my incredibly talented Aunt Jo (she should seriously have her own HGTV show).

Papa's blueprints & family photos

September 5, 2012

Fall Is...Almost in the Air!

Pinterest is blowing up with Pins related to all things Fall...Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back as of yesterday at Starbucks....and I've been asked to submit my Holiday time off requests at work by this Friday - Fall is definitely on the horizon!  Refinery29 recently shared a wonderful and healthy recipe for a Roasted Squash & Kale salad that sounds like it would be the perfect Thanksgiving side dish!  Check it out below...

Photo courtesy of - Recipes by , Photographed by 

September 4, 2012

LP's New Top Spot - the J. Parker

I hope you all had a wonderful Labor Day weekend - I know I did.  One of my best friends got married on Saturday and I had the privilege of standing up next to her (and salsa-ing the night away with her fun & incredibly sweet extended Colombian family!).  I got to see some friends from Iowa and Vegas whom I hadn't see in a very long time, and on Monday my sister and I ventured to Lincoln Park Zoo and later found ourselves enjoying one of the last weekends of summer atop Hotel Lincoln on the beautiful new J. Parker rooftop patio.

Enter into the lobby of the adorable revamped Hotel Lincoln (don't forget to peek your head into Elaine's Coffee Call - too cute to miss) and head towards the elevator where a friendly staff member is manning the host station.  He'll politely ask you if you have reservations and will let you know the status of the rooftop, whether your answer is yes or no.  After letting him know we had not made a reservation, he let us know there were plenty of seats in the covered area inside & plenty of standing room all around.

Elaine's Coffee Call

August 30, 2012

The Scenic Route

Today I took the afternoon off work because tonight kicks-off this weekend's festivities for one of my best friend's weddings.  I left just after lunch, and as I walked from my office to the train I knew it was warm outside, but I couldn't wait to get home, put on some workout clothes and head outside for a nice long run.  I'm one of those "crazy" people who loves the heat.  I also am in love with the change of seasons (even snow holds a special place in my heart), and I believe it is for that very reason that I do not live in California or somewhere in the South where warm weather is a much more permanent fixture.

I have a favorite running route that I affectionately refer to as the scenic route (emphasis on "the").  My journey starts outside my front door in Lincoln Park and takes me down Armitage towards the Lincoln Park Zoo.  When I run this route on Saturday mornings I get so giddy as I pass by the Green City Market - just seeing that kind of community and knowing what's taking place there gives me the warm & fuzzies.  I love local sourcing.  I love fresh produce.  I love small businesses.  I love when I remember to bring $4 with me to get a fresh fruit smoothie on my way back home.

My route then takes me through the softball diamonds and across the beautifully landscaped bridge over Lake Shore Drive.  Suddenly I see the water - water so blue it almost looks like an ocean instead of a lake.  Sand, people running, biking, yoga-ing, playing volleyball, running on the beach & playing in the water - having just run through the hustle & bustle of a major city, along tree-lined streets, several parks, past a zoo, and now next to sand - all set against one amazing skyline - I almost have to this real life?

Once I leave the lake path I pass one of the boat harbors and head back towards the Zoo - one of the most gorgeous spots in the city is the park nestled in between the Conservatory & the Zoo.  The landscaping is breathtaking - I have always wanted to have a picnic here and believe me, I will make it happen one of these days...

It wasn't until I was nearing the end of my run that I saw the temp reading at 101 degrees - perhaps a bit of an exaggeration of the truth, but it was definitely HOT.  There's just something about running this particular route - it's beautiful and calming - the perfect 5 miles.  It takes me past the same street, the same building I called home when I first moved to the city 5 years ago.  It gets me thinking about how much has changed in those 5 years.  I am a different person than I was when I first moved here - I'm a stronger, more independent many ways a happier, more confident person.  I think about the people I've loved, those I've lost, but perhaps most importantly those I've gained.  It's crazy to think how time flies, but every time I run this route it gets me excited about the unknown & everything that is to come.  I am truly lucky to get to live in this great city.