May 30, 2013

Say Hello...

I'm super excited to announce a new series I'll be posting here every so often that I'm calling Say Hello.
Say Hello will introduce you all to some pretty wonderful people doing some pretty wonderful things - specifically focusing on Iowans (my heart) and Chicagoans (my home).

The idea for Say Hello stems from my desire to connect with others, strengthen community & focus on positivity.  I've received so much encouragement and so many kind words since starting this little ol' blog almost a year ago, I feel that I owe it to all those who take the time to read to connect them on a deeper level with those who inspire me day in & day out.  This is my chance to introduce you to everyday people doing inspiring things, in hopes that you will take the chance to Say Hello...

So often in life we lose ourselves in the day-to-day motions and forget that we are all part of a community. No matter how big (the world) or small (your world), we should constantly be thinking about and contributing to the betterment of our communities.  One of the best ways to strengthen community (that also won't cost you a dime) is to cultivate connections & relationships with people.  This world is full of interesting individuals who have passions, goals, good intentions & wonderful ideas - who are also wonderfully supportive of others - but you may never know unless you make an effort to Say Hello.

I'll admit, I haven't always fully realized & lived life this way, but it's been abundantly clear to me for sometime now & just keeps settling in: life is all about the genuine experiences we allow ourselves to have.  It's not about things, money, labels, status or material possessions; it's about the people we are, the people we're becoming, people we meet, connections we make & the things we learn along the way.  It's these experiences and connections that will leave us feeling full & satisfied at the end of this delicious journey we call life.

My hope is that with each Say Hello piece I post, readers will be inspired, new connections will be made & communities will be strengthened.  If you know me personally chances are you've heard me say "stop by and say hello!"  Each & every time I utter those words I mean them.  By saying hello, you never know how you might connect or what you can discover.  Conquer your fears, be present in the moment & just Say Hello...

The first Say Hello piece will be up early next week so check back soon!

xo Ashley

May 27, 2013

A Rhubarb Jam For All

This recipe is for all you rhubarb naysayers out there - I challenge you to try rhubarb again by making this recipe for homemade rhubarb jam.  The flavors of this jam are tart & sweet, but not too much of either.  If you enjoy strawberry jam then I think this jam has a fighting chance of pleasing your taste buds - the natural tartness of the rhubarb has a similar taste when it’s cooked down to spreadable form with sugar, water & lemon juice.

Although I've always enjoyed rhubarb, prior to this past weekend I’d never cooked anything with this often misjudged ingredient.  Knowing full well that a large, ripe rhubarb bush grew so loyally in the backyard of my parents’ property in Iowa every May, I was bound & determined to pick some and attempt a recipe with this palatable plant.  I knew an easy but tasty recipe would be jam - something pretty much everyone would be willing to try on their wheat & rye toast on Sunday morning.

Natural beauties

May 22, 2013

Daley Plaza Farmers Market + Chicago Sun-Times!

Hey all!  You'll hear me talk about the importance (and awesomeness) of Farmers Markets quite a bit on here, but rest assured - I practice what I preach.  In fact, I was at opening day of the Daley Plaza Farmers Market last week & not only did I enjoy some triple mushroom tacos from River Valley Ranch & Kitchens (the caption says I was enjoying a tamale but they were sold out, so I was enjoying the yummy mushroom tacos instead!), but my photo was also snapped & featured in the Chicago Sun-Times!  Click here to check out the photo gallery on CST's website.

Now, go forth and get thee to a Farmers Market near you!

Photo property of Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

May 21, 2013

Healthy Peach, Balsamic, Grilled Chicken + Goat Cheese Lettuce Wraps!

Summer is right around the corner and many of us have already had a taste of the luscious warm weather & sunshine.  Summertime means firing up the grill and creating & enjoying almost every meal on my back porch - by far one of my favorite pastimes.  It also means lots of bright, fresh & juicy produce!  Be sure to hit up your local farmers market to get the absolute best produce in your area.  BONUS: by shopping at farmers markets you’ll also be supporting local products, and therefore, local people - strengthening your community & local economy while enjoying the freshest food available.  Sounds like a good deal to me!

To kick off the start of summer I have a tasty & healthy recipe for you that combines fresh ingredients and will leave you feeling full, satisfied & ready for summer.  This dish doesn't take long to make and the combination of flavors is simply divine.  Fresh, juicy peaches paired with tart goat cheese, baby tomatoes & lean grilled chicken - all wrapped inside crisp leaves of Romaine lettuce & topped with tangy balsamic vinaigrette.  Check out the mouthwatering photos below, followed by the easy peasy recipe for these bad boys.  Enjoy!

Tantalizing, eh?

May 20, 2013


Please keep all those who experienced incredible devastation in Oklahoma earlier today in your thoughts, and let’s keep hope for the future protection of all those in our Heartland.

To find ways you can help, CLICK HERE.

You can find more information about the tornadoes and the rescue + recovery effort HERE.

Image property of

May 15, 2013

TBM + the 2013 Green Festival Chicago

To all Chicagoans or anyone who will be in the Chicago-area this weekend - come by Navy Pier on Saturday & Sunday for the Chicago 2013 Green Festival - I'll be there with Tiny But Mighty Popcorn popping FRESH popcorn & spreading the good word!  This is the same Festival I was in New York City for last month & I cannot wait for another awesome two days.  The TBM crew had a blast, made many new friends, discovered some awesome new products & spread the deliciousness of Tiny But Mighty Popcorn to as many people we could.  I absolutely love being a part of festivals like the Green Fest.  The sense of community among the vendors & festival-goers I've witnessed is truly inspiring, and we've got a great team who will be representing TBM at this year's Fest - people who are not only devoted to spreading the word about our unique ancient heirloom popcorn, but also people who love coming together & connecting with others on incredibly important issues like supporting local farmers, artisans & creators; bringing wholesome, good-for-you food & products to the community; and working together toward a more sustainable, healthier environment.

May 12, 2013

My Heart

A very, very happy Mother's Day to my amazing momma, Lydia! A truly beautiful, strong & incredible lady with an infectious spirit who loves with all her heart always. I love you mom!!! 
#mothersday #mom #bestmomever #lydiarocks

My Heart || 

May 10, 2013

Picasso + Chicago

Last night I finally made my way to the Art Institute to view the awe-inspiring Picasso Exhibit.  It was a rainy spring evening in Chicago as my friend Meg & I walked over to the Museum from my office. As we made the ten minute trek with umbrellas in hand, we couldn't help but notice how eerily peaceful it was downtown.  The sleek architecture of the Modern Wing glistened with fresh rain, and all the flowers of neighboring Millennium Park were in full bloom as the bright green hue of the budding trees picked up the green undertones in the stormy sky.  It felt like the perfect evening to head to this hauntingly beautiful exhibit.

Picasso and Chicago opened on February 20, 2013 and runs through this Sunday, May 12.  If you haven’t yet visited but are planning to make it over the next few days, know that it will be crowded - but please do not let that stop you - hours have been extended to 8 pm, and this Exhibit is truly something to be seen.  The sheer volume of pieces and range of Picasso’s work included are simply remarkable.  The Exhibit also marks a century-long relationship between Chicago and Picasso, as told by the Art Institute:

“A century ago, in 1913, the Art Institute of Chicago became the first art museum in the country to present the work of a young Spaniard who would become the preeminent artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso. This February the museum celebrates the special 100-year relationship between Picasso and Chicago by bringing together over 250 of the finest examples of the artist's paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and ceramics from private collections in the city, as well as from the museum's collection, for the first large-scale Picasso exhibition organized by the museum in almost 30 years.” - Art Institute Chicago

May 7, 2013

Antique Taco: A Cozy Taco Joint Drenched In Vintage Charm

There's no shortage of tasty taquerias in the city of Chicago, but this particular little gem  - nestled on Milwaukee Ave in Wicker Park - stands out from the rest.  Antique Taco was opened almost one year ago (celebrating their 1st birthday on May 15th!) by husband & wife team Rick and Ashley Ortiz.  Rick serves as head chef, creatively employing his passion for fresh ingredients & his Mexican heritage, while Ashley owns the title of creative director, having spent several years prior to opening AT as an event planner & lover of antiques.  However, if you stroll into this bustling, petite taqueria on any given afternoon you'll find both owners working everything from the register to the back of the kitchen & front of the house, ensuring their market-style Mexican fare reaches all who have traveled to enjoy.

The attention to detail at AT is obvious, evidenced by the trove of vintage finds (some even for sale!) and the carefully constructed tacos built with the highest quality fresh ingredients.  For those of you out there who know how important it is to support & source food locally, Antique Taco has your back.  In fact, the names & phone numbers of the local farms and producers with whom they work are listed on a big board in the kitchen, visible to all patrons anxiously waiting in line to place an order.

Welcome to Antique Taco | Vintage items for sale

May 4, 2013

Derby Day

Happy Derby Day, all!  Maybe you have plans to get all gussied up today & head to a bar, charity event or Derby-themed party - or maybe you'll be watching the Derby from the comfort of your own home relaxing - either way I hope you have a wonderful Saturday!

It was a crazy busy at work this past week and there seems to be an influx of social commitments on my calendar lately - certainly not something I'm complaining about, but it sure can tire a girl out.  Thankfully I was able to recharge this morning - not by sleeping in - but by attending my first yoga class in quite a while...and oh how I missed it!  I already have 75 minutes of sweaty bliss under my belt this morning & man does that feel good.  I also made a healthy breakfast of kale, eggs + tomatoes when I got home that I enjoyed with a fresh-pressed cup of coffee w/ almond milk.  So.Good.

Kale + Eggs | sautéed kale, olive oil + garlic, poached eggs, fresh baby 
tomatoes, cracked pepper | pressed coffee w/ almond milk on the side

Now it's time to get myself ready to head to a 30th birthday party that's goin' down Derby-style - affectionately referred to as "Thirby" by the birthday boy & his guests - looking forward to what is sure to be a fun day.  In the spirit of Derby Day, I leave you with a photo a photo from the photo booth at the Children's Charity Derby Event I attended last year with a group of great friends - so fun :)

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Ladies who Derby | Mary, Cindy, Elizabeth & me

May 1, 2013

Fresh Strawberry Layer Cake + Cream Cheese Buttercream: A Blissful Joining of Two Delicious Forces

This past weekend I had the chance to make the birthday cake for little Norah’s 1st birthday party, held at Morgan Creek Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Norah is the daughter of my friend Abby & her husband Justin.  We visited them in Des Moines back in February and planning for Norah’s party came up - at which point I volunteered to do the cake.  As I've mentioned, I love to bake and it’s not often that I get to bake large cakes - and I also happen to love a good culinary challenge.  Although it would take a good amount of time & planning, I couldn't wait to create something for Norah’s party that would be crafted with a whole lotta love, and would be enjoyed by all at the party.  And boy was it!  The cake received rave reviews and there were smiles all around - I also made a little cupcake for miss Norah to enjoy.  Needless to say she wore a huge smile on her little frosting-covered face. 

Birthday girl Norah!