June 24, 2013

Caught in a Costa Rican Day Dream...

Well - I’m back from Costa Rica.  After a long day of traveling on Saturday - including missing a flight out of San Jose, re-booking, almost missing my connecting flight in Houston & finally landing in Chicago around midnight - I am still in a Costa Rican day dream.  I’m not sure that I can accurately describe the profound effect this trip had on me - on my view of life, on my heart & on my soul - it’s all been changed for the better. I was able to live life as a local; although we had some incredible excursions & adventures, this trip was not the least bit touristy, which is the way I’d always prefer an experience to be.  I met so many fun, interesting, kind & giving people - many Americans who have been living in Costa Rica for 5-10+ years, simply loving life & living in the moment.  They make a living out of the lush tropical surroundings and adventures found there, working & playing hard while enjoying a more simplified way of life.  I surely left a piece of my heart in Costa Rica - the biggest question that I’m left with now is, “When can I make it back there?” 

Thank you for checking back after my near 10-day absence on here - your loyalty is awesome & humbling.  This is just a quick check-in - there will be more photos to come, more about my adventures in Costa Rica & an introduction to some of the amazing new friends I made & places I loved - including some places YOU NEED TO VISIT if you ever make it to Costa Rica, and I sincerely hope you do.  Until then...here’s a few shots of the place that stole my heart

Stopping for a photo during the drive from SJO to Dominical

Practicing my headstand in our front yard overlooking Playa Hermosa

Playa Ventanas de Osa

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June 15, 2013

La Vida Aventurera

Adios for now, my friends - I'm off to experience la vida aventurera - the adventurous life.

About a month ago I took a friend up on an offer that came about quite serendipitously; now my bags are packed & I'm filled with excitement as I prepare for a week-long adventure in Costa Rica.  I'm still saying "wow..."

My friend Amanda is already living la vida aventurera - after recently becoming a certified yoga instructor in Iowa, she's now residing in a house in Uvita, Costa Rica teaching yoga, loving life and surely learning a lot about herself in a place so beautiful & full of life.  I am fortunate & grateful that she has asked me to join her for part of this adventure - all it took was the mere mention of an offer and I was on board - no need to convince this girl.  I have the travel bug real bad right now.  Any spark of opportunity that crosses my path, well I'm gonna turn that spark into a fire & get my ass out there to see this amazing world.

Here's a peek at the house where I'm staying - Amanda sent me these photos & I think I actually screamed out loud with excitement...

Uvita, Costa Rica

View from the house | Uvita, Costa Rica

I also purchased my first pair of hiking boots for this trip and all the necessary hiking gear, as we'll be taking on the rainforest.  Just knowing my first hiking experience is going to be in the rainforest still makes me feel like I'm dreaming.  My time there will also be filled with a healthy amount of yoga, hammocks, beaches, swimming, indulging, rum, music, rain, warmth, dancing, nature, laughter & peace.  Wish me safe travels - I'll be anxious to share my experience with you all when I return.  I'll be posting photos every so often so follow me on Instagram to keep up!

Hasta luego - for now...


June 14, 2013

Mason Jar Love ♡

If you know me well, you know my affinity for Mason jars.  Whether I'm using one as a vase, drinking juice out of a mini jar or using one to store all my collected matchbooks from over the years, their sense of nostalgia wins me over every time - I just simply adore them.  And now - TADAAA - today's Tasting Table Newsletter has led me to the discovery of the Mason Jar Shaker!  Brooklyn-based design company, W&P Designs, created the product - and other similarly fabulous finds on their site - out of a combined passion for "vintage Americana, Southern sensibility, and New York industrialism."  For me - it was love at first sight.

I don't yet own my own Mason Shaker but wanted to show you some images of this beauty; all images shown below are from the company's website, (property of W&P Designs).  But don't you worry - as soon as I'm able to order my own, get it home & mix up my first cocktail, I'll post some pics for you guys & let you know how I'm liking it!  In the meantime, keep up with the all the fun this company is shaking up by following them on Instagram - you'll not only get a glimpse of some tantalizing cocktails, but they also post delicious recipes & photos of their new products.

Mason Shaker | http://www.masonshaker.com/

Follow them on Instagram | http://instagram.com/masonshaker


W&P cocktail set

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June 9, 2013

Weekend Musings & a Side of #dailysoul

Hey all - hope you've had a lovely weekend.  This was my first weekend back in Chicago since mid-May and boy was it nice to just be home.  I looked forward all week to having a relaxing evening to myself Friday night, and that's just what I did.  I grilled myself a tasty little dinner, caught up with a couple different friends over the phone, then spent the evening enjoying some red wine while cleaning out my closet & drawers. Man did it feel good to purge & simplify like that.  Before I knew it I had eight brown paper Whole Foods bags filled with clothing & shoes for the Salvation Army and a huge smile on my face.

Saturday I was up early and started my morning with a run.  I have a favorite route that's about 5.25 miles and takes me by some of the best spots in my 'hood.  The city just has a certain buzz about it on Saturday & Sunday mornings, which makes me especially love this route on the weekends.  It takes me from my apartment in Lincoln Park to the Green City Market (love seeing people out supporting local!), past the Lincoln Park Zoo, over to the beach, along the lake and past the lily pond & several parks.  I took a photo from the running path along the lake and posted it to Instagram as part of a #dailysoul hashtag project my friend Mary Beth & a few other rockin' ladies came up with.  All you Instagrammers out there checkout their #dailysoul challenge here!

I cherish these runs ♥ #dailysoul

Saturday afternoon led me to good food, delicious sangria (made strongly by my dear friend Elizabeth), and great friends at the Old Town Art Fair & Wells Street festivals.  It was a beautiful day to spend outside, walking the charming neighborhood streets and listening to live music.  I ended the evening catching up with friends while sipping a finely made Old Fashioned at Scofflaw - by far one of my favorite cocktail spots in Chicago.

Me & two of my favorite ladies - Angie & Mary

My little sis Abbey & I at Old Town Art Fest

This morning I was picked up by my sister Abbey and we had ourselves a sista day!  We made our way over to Logan Square (so in love with that 'hood) and started the day with brunch at Reno (amazing wood-fired bagels), stops in little stores & then a stroll through the Logan Square Farmers Market, where I purchased basil & rosemary plants which are now sittin' pretty in my window sill at home.

Mmmmm Reno | Must go back

Sittin' pretty at la casa de Ashley

It's now Sunday evening and I sit here writing this post with windows open & sun shining in; once I finish writing I'm going to make an asparagus & goat cheese omelet for dinner & begin packing for my week-long retreat to Costa Rica (more on that later!) - yes, life is good and I am a happy girl.

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June 7, 2013

Summer Rhubarb + Strawberry Crisp!

In case you weren't convinced to try out a rhubarb recipe when I posted the homemade rhubarb jam a couple weeks ago, here’s your second chance.  Those of you out there who don’t fancy rhubarb (or at least think you don’t), this crisp combines the tartness of rhubarb with the sweetness of strawberries and then unites them both with the perfect crumble topping (not too hard or crunchy, but not soggy either).  

Enjoy this dish in the morning with your coffee (as my mom has been doing during her recovery post-hip replacement - I made it especially for her!) or for dessert with a side of vanilla ice cream.  One of my new favorite finds is an ice cream I discovered at the Green Festival Chicago a few weeks ago called SODelicious (Dairy Free) Coconut Milk Ice Cream.  Whether you try to avoid dairy or not, this ice cream is simply delicious and a great alternative to traditional ice cream.  Even if you only care to try it for the coconut flavor you might be a permanent convert - it's seriously that good.  

I was back in Iowa at my folks' house when I made the crisp and was able to find some of this ice cream in the Organic section of the Edgewood Road Hy-Vee.  I bought a little pint of the Vanilla Bean and my mom, sister & aunt flipped over the flavor - it was the perfect companion for the crisp.  Check out the recipe below!

Image courtesy of the SO Delicious website | Go there for a printable coupon!

Fresh picked rhubarb, sliced strawberries & peonies in my work station

Lemon makes pretty much everything better

Crumble topping


Ooey-gooey yumminess post-bake

Summer Rhubarb + Strawberry Crisp 


- 4 cups rhubarb, diced into 1 inch chunks
- 3 cups strawberries, hulled & halved
- 1 lemon (the juice only)
- 1 1/4 c sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 c orange juice
- 1 c whole wheat flour
- 1/2 c light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
- 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted but cooled to room temp
- 4 tbsp ( ½ stick) unsalted butter, room temp

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Grease a 9” x 13” glass baking dish.

Fruit: Wash and cut up rhubarb and strawberries and place together in a large bowl.  Add 3/4 c of the sugar and the lemon juice to bowl & toss fruit.  In a measuring cup, mix the cornstarch & the orange juice with a whisk, then add to the bowl of fruit.  Pour the mixture into the greased 9” x 13” glass baking dish and set aside.

Topping:  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the brown sugar, salt & oatmeal.  With the mixer on low speed, add all of the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles.  Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, almost covering the top in a solid layer (it’s ok to leave gaps where fruit will show).

Bake on the center oven rack for 1 hour - or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown.  Serve warm with ice cream (can be re-heated for later).

*adapted from Ina Garten

June 4, 2013

Say Hello: Andy & Carrie Schumacher of Cobble Hill Restaurant

Whether you grew up in a big city or small town, the idea of spreading your wings & trying something new appeals to many.  Some people leave their hometown to find permanent residency in another city; others choose to stay where they grew up & create a life of their own; then there are those who move away, find wonderful adventures & eventually return to their roots, which - lucky for Cedar Rapids, IA and all who cross its path - is exactly what Andy & Carrie Schumacher did.

I first met Carrie when I interviewed for a waitressing job at Quinton's Bar & Deli as a sophomore at the University of Iowa in 2003.  Mid-interview she found out I was from the Cedar Rapids area & excitedly proclaimed, "my boyfriend is from Cedar Rapids - he works in the kitchen here!"  After telling me that was Andy, I told her I actually knew him because my dad taught him in high school.  Good ol' Iowa connections & a successful interview later, I was hired.  Although I didn't get the chance to actually work with Andy & Carrie (they had recently graduated & were preparing to move), we ended up crossing paths a couple of times in the following years, including at their lovely wedding in Iowa City, attended by a healthy crew of Quinton's folk.

Carrie + Andy Schumacher

The couple, who both originally hail from Iowa, made the decision to move back to Cedar Rapids a little over five years ago after living in Brooklyn, NY for a few years.  A seemingly brave decision for a young couple accustomed to the eclectic, bustling neighborhoods of a bigger city, but one that makes complete sense if you spend even a few minutes getting to know these two.  When I asked them what they loved most about Iowa their responses were simple, honest & from the heart:

Andy: I love Iowa and I am proud to be from here and live here.  Life is a little slower, easier, cheaper, people are a little more real and it just seems all around peaceful.  I enjoy the seasons (even though winter is a little long), and family is close, which is a big help.
Carrie: Ditto.  Especially the peaceful part.

Since moving back to their home state, the pair - along with their two children - have spent time building quite a beautiful life and just recently were able to fully realize their dream of owning & operating their own restaurant.  Cobble Hill opened its doors in February 2013 and in just a few short months has captured the hearts & appetites of the community, single-handedly changing the way people think about food, locally sourced products, sustainability - and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Cobble Hill

As soon as I got wind of what these two had cooked up I called & made a reservation for the next weekend I'd be back in town - I then spent the next two weeks anxiously counting down the days to what was sure to be an incredible dining experience.  As it turns out, my expectations were exceeded tenfold...

View from 2nd St | Cedar Rapids, IA

Walking into Cobble Hill you instantly feel transported to a world that didn't previously exist in downtown Cedar Rapids.  For a moment you may actually forget that you're in Iowa...then you notice the giant pig drawn on the chalkboard wall to your left & your soul smiles.  Suddenly, you feel at home in this simple, beautiful space; you can feel the buzz of genuine Midwestern hospitality in your bones.

At first sight

Front bar

So cozy 

Once inside, we were greeted by a friendly hostess (Andy's sister & another former student of Mr. Arp) who walked us to our table; we later found out that each table in the space was built by the hands of the chef & his friends out of reclaimed wood from a barn in Asbury, Iowa.  The perfect compliment to the bevy of exposed brick, metal tub chairs & modern urban vibe of this softly-lit stunner.

Reclaimed wood | Metal | Brick

We started our evening by gazing over the impressive cocktail list - teeming with the type of inventive craft cocktails I had grown accustomed to seeing in Chicago, but not yet in this part of Iowa.  My affinity for delicious, thoughtfully constructed drinks was appeased with my first taste of The Father - a mix of Cedar Ridge Apple Brandy, rosemary, ginger, honey, St. Germain elderflower & bitters with an orange twist.

Left: The Father | Right: Rosemary's Pearls

Head to Cobble Hill any given evening and you may find The Father has been swapped out for another tasty libation; the menus at Cobble Hill will see changes every so often as the chefs & mixologists adjust to the changing seasons - an important factor when the goal is to serve your patrons dishes & drinks made with the best quality, freshest ingredients available.

On Cobble Hill cuisine...
Andy: We do upscale seasonally inspired cuisine. Our menu is small, focused, and technique driven. We try to accomplish food that is true expressions of ingredients and shows restraint and refinement.

And boy, do they ever.  Over the course of three hours my parents, two sisters & I ordered and happily devoured almost every dish on the menu that night, with a couple of surprise dishes sent over to our table by the chef himself.  Every bite was followed by an immediate smile and someone declaring, "oh my...you've got to try this!"  Brimming with well thought out flavors, Cobble Hill's cuisine had even my father - a man who never strays far from his comfort zone of meat & potatoes - grinning from ear to ear with satisfaction.  

Head Chef Andy preparing desserts

Some of our favorite dishes from the evening included the Goat Cheese Gnudi with Roasted CarrotsParis Style Gnocchi with Braised Lamb and Braised Berkshire Pork Belly as starters.  The Goat Ricotta Cannelloni and the Sausage Stuffed Salt Fork Farms Chicken were the entrées that stole our hearts.

Clockwise from top left: Amuse-bouche of prosciutto | Roasted heirloom beet salad - Morgan Creek greens, dill, rye streusel,
orange vinaigrette  | Sea scallops - orange, cocoa streusel, hearts of palm, basil | Paris style gnocchi - braised lamb, chilies, mint

Clockwise from top left: Braised Berkshire pork belly - asparagus, lemon, Salt Fork Farms egg, fresh herbs | View 2 of pork
belly | Grilled Berkshire pork shoulder - black bean falafel, peanut crème fraiche, four-herb salad, lime | Goat cheese gnudi with
roasted carrots - warm carrot-fennel puree, arugula & parsley

Clockwise from top left: Goat ricotta cannelloni - Oregon morel mushrooms, wild ramps, shaved radish | Wagyu flat iron
steak - whipped parsnip, savoy cabbage, rosemary shallots | Sausage stuffed Salt Fork Farms chicken - melted leeks, Romesco
sauce, black garbanzo beans & puffed pasta | Roasted Halibut - Morgan Creek Farms spring onions, lemon, wild mushrooms,
white bean panisse

Hard at work in the Cobble Hill kitchen

We followed our dinner with a pot of French press from local coffee company The Blue Strawberry, along with all four of the desserts on the dessert menu (yep, we know how to indulge).  One of the best, most impressive attributes of the team at Cobble Hill is how they cultivate & strengthen their local community by working with local producers & farmers, such as Blue Strawberry and Morgan Creek Farms

Heading into dessert

Clockwise from top left: Angel cake and strawberries - strawberry rose gelato, almond mousse, strawberry cinnamon puree |
Apricots & plums - salted apricot gelato, Madeline cake, almond plums, apricot puree | Yuzu frozen mousse - coconut sorbet, winter
citrus, Thai basil | Cobble Hill Kit-Kat - cherry puree, bananasorbet, lime air, cocoa streusel

After savoring every last bite of dessert, we were finally ready to admit to ourselves that it was time to head home.  All of us on cloud nine & in total food euphoria, we stopped by the open kitchen in the back of the house to thank Andy & Carrie for a wonderful meal and incredible experience.

Although it was most of my family's first time meeting Andy & Carrie, they felt as if they had known them from long ago.  Carrie & Andy have a special way of making you feel welcomed - you're not just diners in a restaurant - you're friends who they hope to see come back to Cobble Hill over & over again because, well, they really do...

Pictured: five of the eight Arp family members thoroughly enjoying Cobble Hill

A little advice...
Carrie: Do what you do from the heart. My mother in law gave us a quote for our office that she and my father in law hung in their own business for years. "We are here to love, not to grow rich." I think that if we keep sight of this, we will be okay. 
Andy: Love what you do and be inspired to bring what you love to others.

A little inspiration...
Carrie: I am inspired by others quite often (most often my kids). I am very moved to see them live in the moment and really enjoy that. I think that the best treasures come from living in the moment and not over-thinking things. When I am interacting with customers or any person for that matter, I find my best person when I am not thinking about how I need to be or who I think I should be...but when I just am. 
Andy: When I am coming up with new dishes I usually look towards the season for inspiration and really try to make a certain ingredient shine. If we are using radishes, for example, I will try to really make the dish express how a radish should taste. We do this in different ways including repeating the ingredient in different forms and textures and combining it with other flavors that will compliment it but not overwhelm it.

Before we made our way out the door I asked the couple a question - whether or not they were planning on doing Sunday brunch in the future.  I was hoping for a yes, but it turns out the answer I got was so much better than that: they thought about doing brunch on the weekend, but realized ultimately they would rather spend that time with their kids, together as a family. ♥

Carrie: My ideal Sunday is a slow Sunday. May sound cheesy...but waking up with the windows open in the spring (the birds by our house seem extra eager to wake the entire neighborhood), followed by great coffee, breakfast with Andy and my kiddos-french doors open, then followed by gardening and just digging in the dirt, probably a long walk, ending with dinner and wine on the patio. I have a weak spot for all of these things..my kids, coffee, and getting dirty.
Andy: My ideal Sunday is not thinking about the restaurant, focusing on my children and spending time just relaxing around the house with Carrie, Sierra and Julien. Having Sunday and Mondays off are a lifesaver for us.

The indoor garden the couple's children helped create, which sits at the front of the house
next to the windows

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Stop into Cobble Hill soon and Say Hello to Andy, Carrie & the crew - you will not regret it.
Reservations can be made by calling 319-366-3177

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