October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!!!

I just had to share this youtube video a friend passed along today.  Little kids, all dressed up for Halloween, had their usual candy swapped out for healthier snacks - and their reactions are priceless!!!  I think it's especially funny to anyone who works - or shops - in the natural foods/natural products/health industries.
Tofu ghost-mallows anyone??


October 30, 2013

Salad Inspiration - Vol. 1

I had to share this gorgeous salad I had for lunch today - the colors (not to mention the taste!) make me so, so happy.  Goes to show you don't need artificial dyes or processed foods to create and enjoy something beautiful, healthy & oh-so-tasty.  This Volume of Salad Inspiration showcases a bowl of red & purple shredded kale, quinoa, chopped pecans, grilled chicken and pomegranate seeds with a lemon vinaigrette.  Already admitting I've transformed into a dirty little kale lover, this concoction left me wondering why I don't incorporate pomegranate seeds into my meals more often.  They're tart, crunchy and loaded with antioxidants, which means I'll be finding ways to enjoy these little babies a lot more often!

※ ※ ※

October 28, 2013

Goat Cheese, Fig + Caramelized Onion Crostinis

After my last post covering the Harvest dinner/potluck I held at my apartment I received a bunch of emails and requests for the goat cheese crostini recipe.  Well, my lovely friend Quinn put these together and they were a huge hit at the party.  They are light but loaded with flavor, making them the perfect bite to get your appetite going without filling you up too much just before dinner.  Plus - they are super easy!  Quinn was sweet enough to send me her recipe to share with all of you, so here it is - enjoy!

Goat Cheese, Fig + Caramelized Onion Crostinis

- 1 French Baguette
- 1 small log of goat cheese (left out to soften). You could also use gorgonzola if you prefer.
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
- 2 yellow onions, cut into thinly sliced strips
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- fig jam or fig preserves (I used store bought, but some recipes give instructions for how to make)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F).  Cut the baguette into crostini-size pieces and put on a baking sheet.  Brush with olive oil and bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes.  (Can be done ahead of time)  

In saucepan, heat up 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter on medium heat. Add the onions then cover and cook on medium-low heat for about ten minutes.  Uncover, cook on low heat for about 25-30 minutes, stirring about every five minutes.  If they are cooking too fast, lower the heat.  When onions are golden brown (caramelized), add 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, a dash of salt & pepper and deglaze any brown bits for the pan.  Cook for about 2-3 more minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.

To assemble the crostinis, spread goat cheese first, add about a teaspoon of fig jam, and then topped with caramelized onions.  Serve warm, but also ok at room temp!

※ ※ ※

October 22, 2013

Harvest Dinner Party & a Happy Heart

There is almost nothing I enjoy more than playing host to family & friends in my home. Right now, home is my beautiful, quirky one-bedroom apartment in Lincoln Park.  No matter the season, this place brims with a charm that makes my heart happy day in & day out.  Today, much of the Midwest will see snow for the first time in months, but I don't mind a bit because that means I get to fire up my wood-burning fireplace & cozy up under a big cable-knit blanket to write or watch a movie.  Talk about my happy place.  Having this quaint spot mostly to myself for the past two years has no doubt spoiled me, but I love to share the good vibes of my little bungalow by having people over for dinner, drinks or weekend visits in hopes that they leave with their hearts feeling a bit happier too.

photos of my grandparents & great grandfather in my bedroom

On Saturday night I had the pleasure of hosting seven girlfriends for a fall/harvest dinner party at my place, and it was a smashing success.  I must say, I have some pretty awesome ladies in my life who are not only genuine, fun, smart and funny as hell, but each one of them knows how to prepare a mean fall dish, as evidenced by our menu that night.

Planning a dinner party is one of my absolute favorite things to do for some very specific reasons; I obviously adore the hosting aspect, but it's the idea of bringing people together to break bread, connect face-to-face & forge or strengthen a sense of community that I love the most.  We're all busy, we all have conflicting schedules, but if we can somehow carve out the time to commit to sitting down with one another to reconnect and share a meal, it doesn't just fill our stomachs - it feeds our souls. 

Table set & ready

Getting their spiked cider on

This cider made my entire apartment smell heavenly

Goodness simmering in my kitchen

Goat cheese, fig & caramelized onion crostinis!

Homemade hummus dip & fresh veggies

Look at those smiles - I heart my friends

Table of plenty

Halloween cookies, decorated by Cindy!

After dinner we broke out dessert (Halloween cookies, pumpkin bars & pumpkin macaroons!) and a few more bottles of wine.  Eventually the Maker's Mark made an appearance alongside the bottle of Owl's Brew that was sent to me as a gift - I must say the two went together quite well.  The post-dinner music switched from Band of Horses, Beta Radio and Shovels & Rope to YouTube video requests for songs from our high school days and hilarious SNL clips.

We also spent the next few hours playing a game that you download on your cell phone called Heads Up. It's sort of like Pictionary & Catch Phrase combined.  Look it up & download it for your next party or family get together - trust me, you won't be disappointed!  Our favorite categories had us acting out clues or humming them - I haven't laughed that hard in a really long time.  At one point I stepped away from the game to snap some photos of this perfect evening - happily buzzed on spiked cider & wine, full of delicious food and completely content, loving each other's company - none of us wanted to be anywhere else.  It was immediately decided that this was going to be a tradition, the next one to be held in December.  
Heart = Happy - oh so Happy.

Games begin

Laughter ensues

These girls are awesome

Maker's + Owl's Brew

The last ones to leave the party - I laugh til I cry with these two

The next morning - dinner party success!

This guy looked lonely - luckily he joined the others in my tummy a short while later :)

We did good

There were so many amazing dishes prepared that night: spiced rum-spiked apple cider with cinnamon sticks; homemade hummus dip & veggies; fig, goat cheese & caramelized onion crostinis; pumpkin & goat cheese empanadas; creamy butternut squash soup; a pear, goat cheese & candied walnut mixed greens salad with maple balsamic dressing; Maker's Mark & cider glazed turkey and pork meatballs with rosemary & sage; Gorgonzola, pear & walnut flat bread pizzas; and homemade pumpkin bars, Halloween cookies & pumpkin macaroons for dessert.  We ate extremely well thanks to every one's hard work & creativity.

I leave you now with my recipe for the meatballs I made - these were the perfect touch to compliment the butternut squash soup, meatless pizzas & other dishes.  And they couldn't have been much easier either!  I hope you enjoy :)

Maker's Mark & Apple Cider Glazed Turkey + Pork Meatballs
*adapted from this recipe

- 1 lb lean ground turkey, thawed
- 1/2 - 1 lb ground pork sausage, thawed
- 1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp dried onion flakes
- 1/4 tsp coarsely ground sea salt
- 1/2 tsp coarsely ground pepper
- 1 egg, whisked

- 1/2 c Maker's Mark Bourbon (or similar bourbon of your choice)
- 1 1/2 c apple cider
- 1/4 c brown sugar
- sprig of fresh rosemary to simmer in pot

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Cover a large cookie sheet with a layer of foil and spray with cooking spray - set aside.

In a large bowl combine all ingredients for the meatballs.  Roll into 1.5 inch balls and place on the cookie sheet in rows - they can be close together.  (You will have between 20-30 meatballs depending on the size you roll them).  Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Add all glaze ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until combined.  Add to a small saucepan and cook on medium-high for about 10 mins, or until glaze starts to appear thicker and shiny.  Add the cooked meatballs to the glaze & stir to coat evenly.  Simmer on low heat until ready to serve (careful not to simmer for too long so glaze evaporates.  I recommend not simmering for longer than 45 mins on very low heat).

Serve with a big spoon for plating or with toothpicks - enjoy!

※ ※ ※

October 18, 2013

Say Hello: Costa Rica and Andrew Mattison of Rancho DiAndrew

Costa Rica.  It’s hard to know exactly where to begin.  Though my trip was over three months ago, it still feels like just yesterday I was soaking up the surreal scene around me, doing yoga under the hot sun in the front yard of our home overlooking the ocean and Playa Hermosa. Since returning from Costa I've dreamed about going back nearly every single day - maybe for a week, possibly a month...or for the foreseeable future? Sounds a little far-fetched I know, but if you had an experience like I did it's not all that hard to imagine.  I still don’t know what the outcome will be; all I know is that I can’t wait to be back again.

Working on my headstand in our front yard

The unique opportunity to visit this incredible place seemed to pop up out of nowhere, catching me a bit off guard; yet somehow my decision to say yes required a surprisingly minimal amount of thought. “Use your passport and come to Costa Rica. Yoga, beaches, jungle, sunshine, happiness.  Just do it.”  With little effort I was coerced into traveling over 2,000 miles by myself to a country I’d never been to, not really knowing what to expect when I got there.  I simply knew I had a place to stay with my friend Amanda, who would be arriving down there for her first time just two weeks before me.  Beyond that, and my return flight home, no plans were made.  Little did I know the life-changing adventure that was about to unfold, who I’d meet or how it would all impact me.  Allowing myself to say yes to this experience was the best decision I've made yet.

Is this real life?

Heading through the jungle to Playa Ventanas

Though my time in Costa Rica was only one week of my life, it changed me forever.  You know, there parts of this earth so incredibly beautiful, that beauty will seep through to your soul; that shit can and should have a profound effect on your life.  Of course, seeing parts of this big ol’ world you've never seen before is sure to open your eyes, but only the lucky ones allow it to open their hearts.  

Physically being in Costa Rica was completely surreal.  Waking up in the mountains, surrounded by the rain forest, under a different kind of sunshine.  The sound of monkeys and the occasional peaceful rain storm, followed by one incredible sunset after another and stars reflecting off the ocean at night.  All of that would have been more than enough to bring me back, but it was the people I met and spent time getting to know in Costa who really made my trip unforgettable.    


Amanda & I under my favorite tree at Playa Hermosa

Enjoying a rainstorm from the hammock on our front porch

Our friend Don

Hiking to see Ventanas de Osa

Ventanas de Osa | Windows to the Sea

Not my first time on a quad #countrygirl

While in CR I was able to seemingly live life as a local and not a tourist; the people I spent my days with all contributed to me having that experience.  We lived in a house up in the mountains; I happily grocery shopped & cooked meals for friends; we hosted a dinner party; our friend Chris was by now a veteran of Costa, and also the musician playing gigs at the local bar (not to mention the one driving us all over Costa - thank you, Chris!); our friend Don took us on a 4-hour quad excursion through the jungle & hiking to see Ventanas de Osa - way more fun than having to pay a tour guide.  Then there was Andrew - or Drew, as most people know him.  Drew is one of those incredibly happy, unbelievably hard working, life-loving kinda guys.  He literally whistles while he works, particularly when he's cooking up a storm for his friends or guests. And oh yeah - he also has some of the kindest eyes you'll ever see.

Andrew | photo: Rancho DiAndrew

Drew is a California transplant who's called Costa Rica home for 5+ years now - and his home isn't your average bungalow - it's a custom-built eco-compound complete with a main house - Casa Rica (his primary residence complete with yoga deck & guest quarters), second and third houses - Mango House Casita, respectively, as well as two gorgeous cabins - El Jardin & Bird's Nest - complete with stunning ocean & jungle views.  The property, dubbed Rancho DiAndrew after Andrew and his brotherDionysos, was the realization of a dream that began many, many years ago.  

Back in 1987, Andrew's father, Richard Mattisontook a surf trip to Costa Rica and fell in love with the lush coastal mountains that met the great Pacific.  After a serendipitous meeting with a local Tico in a bar one night, Richard was invited to visit a beautiful one hundred acre farm in San Josecito.  It was this land that stole Richard's heart - a lush jungle high up in the mountains, overlooking the ocean.  When an offer was extended to him to purchase it at an incredible price, he couldn't pass it up.  Richard bought the property the very next day and over the next 15 years he brought Di & Andrew to Costa for their summer vacations. It was during that time that Andrew fell in love with the culture & beauty of Costa Rica, and he decided to make it his life's goal to start a business and live life in CR.  After graduating from California State University, Monterey Bay with a business degree in Hotel/Resort Management in 2008, Drew made his way back to CR to build Rancho DiAndrew and begin a new chapter of his life, and to this day he considers it the most rewarding thing he's ever done.  

On our way up to Drew's

Dinner on my last night in Costa

After meeting Andrew, getting to know him & spending time in his world, it's obvious why he's so happy in CR.  He works hard but loves what he does and where he does it, and his passion is infectious.  Not only does he own & operate Rancho DiAndrew, but he's the most bad ass waterfall tour guide in Costa Rica (more info here!), an incredible surfer who loves giving lessons (sign up here!) and an excellent chef who will cook for you if you're smart enough to book your next retreat or vacation at Rancho DiAndrew

Q&A with Andrew Mattison of Rancho DiAndrew

Ashley: What made you want to move to Costa Rica? 
Drew: I have been traveling to Costa Rica with my family since 1991 to surf and experience the great culture. There is no place quite like the Southern coast of Costa Rica. Coastal mountains full of world class waterfalls that meet the ocean with incredible beaches and surf spots. It has everything I enjoy about nature in one region. Since I was about 15 I knew I wanted to make a life here. After working in the hospitality business for most of my life I realized this was my calling to make a living and enjoy Costa Rica. 

Ashley: What do you love about living in Costa Rica?
Drew: I love being able to go for a surf and have an ice cold coconut and fresh ceviche once you leave the water. I love being able to work in and enjoy fresh jungle swimming pools that make you feel better than you have ever felt before.  I love the community of Ticos and expats all living together and helping each other. This is an amazing thing that is hard to find anywhere. The people that live here and move here (for the most part) love what this place is and stand together to protect it from developers and people who don't respect the environment.

Waterfall tour | photo: Rancho DiAndrew

Andrew cliff jumping on his waterfall tour | photo: Rancho DiAndrew

Ashley: Do you plan to stay in Costa Rica?
Drew: I plan on staying in Costa Rica as long as it stays as good as it is now. People/Governments seem to have a way of going to the nicest places on earth and ruining them with hi density condos, pollution, etc. I will stay in Costa Rica until they ruin it. I hope it never happens this way here. We shall see...

Ashley: Why should people visit Costa Rica/Rancho DiAndrew?
Drew: People should visit Rancho DiAndrew for several reasons. It has the complete package of what you think of when you hear Costa Rica: jungle, wildlife, waterfalls, great beaches/surf spots, amazing views of the mountains and ocean, and every tour you can think of is available. Cliff diving, repelling, zip lining, white water rafting, kayaking, whale watching, ATV tours, horseback riding, sport fishing, etc. The list goes on and on.  The focus at Rancho DiAndrew is on customer service, which explains why it's the number #1 ranked specialty lodging in the Uvita area (and has been for 2 years). Rancho DiAndrew also offers world class yoga retreats - like the upcoming STELLAR LIFE RETREAT (November & January dates!), surf adventures and waterfall tours to guests & visitors in the area.

Basically, Rancho DiAndrew and this area of Costa Rica have everything you could wish to do on your Costa Rican vacation. We make sure to do everything in our power to make your vacation the best it can be. Come check us out, you won't be disappointed!

Drew surfing in Costa | photo: Rancho DiAndrew

Outdoor kitchen at Rancho DiAndrew

Cabin prep with Drew

Drew leading a friend on the tour | photo: Rancho DiAndrew

※ ※ ※

October 9, 2013

Harvest Kale Salad

Along with cooler, crisp temps, Fall brings with it a coziness that is hard to resist - particularly when it's in the form of baked goods containing the words pumpkin, apple or spice.  I'm a firm believer of the "everything in moderation" ideal - a pumpkin spice latte here, an apple fritter there - nothing to freak out about.  But I'm also someone who really enjoys & believes in keeping balance, which means I like to fill the spaces in between my sweeter indulgences with lots of rich produce, greens, fruits & veggies.  My recipe for an easy to prepare Harvest Kale Salad has some sweet & savory notes of fall and is packed with oh so good for you ingredients that will leave you feeling happy, satisfied & energized.

Harvest Kale Salad


Preparing Kale

Makings of a vinaigrette

Kale - pre-massage

Kale - post-massage


Healthy & colorful Fall ingredients

Preparing to toss

Ready to enjoy

Harvest Kale Salad


- 1 bunch green kale
- lemon juice (half of one lemon)
- 1 tbsp good quality olive oil
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 c dried cranberries
- 1/2 c raisins
- 1/3 c pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 c reduced-fat crumbled Feta cheese
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/4 c good quality olive oil
- lemon juice (half of one lemon)
- 1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced


Tear kale leaves from hard center rib into bite-sized pieces; rinse kale and spin in a salad spinner or pat with paper towels to dry.  Add kale to a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, half of the lemon juice (about 1 tbsp) and add sea salt.  Massage kale with hands, making sure to toss and coat all the kale evenly with oil, lemon & salt.  NOTE: Kale is naturally bitter, so massaging it with olive oil, lemon juice & a little sea salt removes the bitter taste from the leaves, making for a much more enjoyable kale experience.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette.  Add the cranberries, raisins, pumpkin seeds and Feta cheese to the bowl of kale.  Toss ingredients, then drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss again to evenly coat.  Serve immediately or cover, refrigerate and serve the next day.

※ ※ ※