Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuesday Night Cobbler

It occurred to me yesterday afternoon that it's almost the end of July and I haven't made a single cobbler this year. Usually that is my go-to summer dessert, so the realization kind of disturbed me. Too preoccupied for cobbler.

Since I didn't feel like going to the store, I made two personal sized, easy peach cobblers. I improvised using what we had around the house and the result was delicious. Even better, I only used two mason jars and a cereal bowl --- easy clean up. The mason jar idea was inspired by my mother-in-law who made some delicious miniature pies in mason jars a couple weeks ago. She made homemade dough and it was delicious - so this is my weeknight version of a mason jar dessert.

3 peaches (or whatever fruit you have on hand)
a few spoonfuls of sugar
a few spoonfuls of flour (I used whole wheat to make myself feel better)
1/6-1/4 cup butter

  1. Slice the peaches and divide about 1/3 between the two mason jars.
  2. Sprinkle sugar in the jar, over the peaches.
  3. Add more peaches.
  4. In a small bowl, knead the butter (must be chilled), flour and more sugar. It should start to form a crumble. Add more sugar/flour/butter to taste.
  5. Once it is a crumbly consistency, sprinkle half into the mason jars.
  6. Add more peaches.
  7. Sprinkle a little sugar on top of the peaches if you'd like, then add the rest of the crumble to the jars.
  8. Bake in the mason jars at 375 for about 50 minutes.
  9. Let cool and enjoy!


Monday, June 3, 2013

20 week recap

This was a pretty busy week for us baby-wise. On Wednesday, we went in for our 20 week ultrasound appointment (the "big one"). We knew we wanted to find out the baby's gender and could. not. wait. We had a student work with us for most of the ultrasound. She was great and took all of the baby's measurements, made sure everything was in working order, etc. Unfortunately, since we had a student running the majority of the appointment, we had to wait until after the entire (one hour!) ultrasound for the sonographer to come in and give us the boy or girl news.

After a lot of suspense...

Baby's right foot -- this shot took a full 20 minutes to get:)


On Friday, we headed up to Lake Geneva for John's annual work celebration. It was a great weekend - the weather ended up being nice and I actually found a few maternity dresses that were cocktail-attire appropriate. On Saturday, John played golf while I got my first prenatal massage and spent some time by the Grand Geneva pool. Nice and relaxing.

We headed back on Sunday and somehow ended up at Pottery Barn Kids where I got to confirm a few of my registry choices, then the hardware store to pick out matching paint samples. Operation baby room is officially underway!

In other news, the Blackhawks won last night - which made John happy and therefore made me happy. And I am making headway eating the rest of John's birthday ice cream cake in our freezer (someone has to do it.)

Now back to it. Happy Monday.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Goodbye "Skinny" Clothes - The Tweener Stage

The past few weeks I have been doing a complete closet overhaul. More for my sanity than anything else. Trying on four pairs of pants before finding something that is work appropriate and still remotely attractive can really start a day off on the wrong foot.

The bottom of my closet now has two storage boxes labeled "skinny clothes summer" and "skinny clothes winter." Anything that makes me uncomfortable, is too short, or too tight (even with a belly band) goes straight into the bins to be brought out next spring (fingers crossed:))

After a very frumpy-feeling day of wearing maternity chinos, a maternity tee and a cardigan, I decided to spend some time figuring out how to dress while pregnant. The pregnancy books aren't much help in this area. Even the What to Expect When You're Expecting app says to "raid your husband's closet." ...but what about when I want to go to work... or out in public? Maternity clothes are expensive, so I've started trying to incorporate my regular clothes with my maternity clothes and figure out multiple ways to wear things. At least for now, here are a few things I've learned.

1. Belts above the bump are amazing. They make you look like you're growing a baby and not a gut. My sister-in-law gave me a patent leather tortoise print skinny belt for Christmas. I have a pair of patent leather tortoise flats and pairing the two together has helped me make a lot of outfits. I also stopped by the J. Crew outlet on a recent road trip and picked up patent navy and patent blush pink skinny belts at an extra 40% off.

2. All maxi dresses are not created equal. I've tried to create a lot of outfits with a few maternity maxi dresses I've bought. I've ordered a lot from Gap and Old Navy and subsequently sent a lot back. There seem to be two types of maxi dresses. The first are fitted at the bust, then flow out at the waist. The second are more fitted all the way down and have room for your bump. Right now I really like the latter. I've tried them with belts over the bump, as well as with a thin sweater over the dress. This one from Old Navy is one of my favorites - any not too $$.

3. Experiment with regular clothes. When my pants quit fitting, I moved on to maternity pants. The problem is that maternity pants (and especially maternity tops) are still too big. It's really hard to find options that fit right. I have a wonderful pair of go-to black pants (the Pixie from J. Crew) that I still have a some room in (they stretch a lot!) I've been pairing them with looser, longer button downs and belting them. Adding a blazer to the skinny pants also helps.

Blush, lipstick and a fresh haircut also help!

A quick list of my favorite places for maternity clothes (because who wants to spend a fortune on clothes that are so short-lived?) Gap (wait for a 40% off sale), Old Navy, Loft (wait for a 40% off sale), ASOS. I have also ordered a few things on sale from A Pea in the Pod and hear H&M has great maternity (even though everything I've seen in our store seems to be sweats...)

Now for a few iPhone stomach shots... none of the photos are great, but you get the idea. :)

Gray dress - H&M (old), cardigan - Loft

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kate Spade Surprise Sale

I've been waiting on this day since February! This (and the 80 degree weather... and being woken up to John making breakfast - what can I say, it's been a good Tuesday:)) definitely made my morning. It's the Kate Spade surprise sale today and tomorrow. Up to 75% off:) The perfect time to buy a baby bag I think... 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Soft Pretzels

Way back when, I mentioned my craving for homemade soft pretzels. I actually made these in February, during primo football season, and they were FANTASTIC - chewy and perfect. However, then first trimester nausea hit and I couldn't face, much less write about anything with sea salt. Now that I'm back to a normal, sea-salty diet, I'm excited to share this recipe that (I promise) is much less intimidating than it looks. 

OK, get all your kitchen tools ready and clear off a counter top. While fairly easy, this recipe will take over your kitchen and cover it in flour. Or maybe you're a much more organized cook and that was just me... No judging.

1 1/3 cups warm water
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2 1/4 tsp (one packet) yeast
4 1/2 cups flour
4 tablespoons melted butter
water (for boiling)
2/3 cup baking soda
2 tbsp melter butter or egg wash (egg mixed with a bit of water)
Sea salt or kosher salt (I picked mine up from the spice bins at Whole Foods)


1. Mix 1 1/3 cups water with the sugar, yeast and salt. Let this sit for a while until it starts to bubble (activate the yeast).

2. Add flour and the 4 tbsps of butter. (Technically, you should use the paddle attachment for the first part and the dough hook for the second part, but I used my regular mixing whisk and it turned out just fine. Work with what you have.) Mix it on low. If you don't have a dough hook, you'll want to do a bit of kneading by hand until the dough bounces back when touched.

3. Place the dough in a bowl (it will double in size, so keep that in mind when choosing your bowl) and set it in a warm place for about an hour or until said doubling in size has occurred.

4. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, line a large baking sheet or two with parchment paper, and start boiling a pot of water with the baking soda. (Yes, you will both boil and bake the pretzels.)

5. Take about an eighth of the dough out of the bowl to make your first pretzel. Cover the bowl with a wet paper towel to keep the rest of the dough from drying out (trust me, it dries out fast!).

6. Roll out the pretzel dough (use flour to keep it from sticking) until you have a rope that's about a foot to a foot and a half. This is the part that took me the longest amount of time. Once you have a decent rope of dough, make a u-shape, then pull each side down and across to make a pretzel formation. Pinch the dough in the areas where it connects to keep the pretzel from falling apart in the next step. (See photos below.)

7. Use a flat, slotted spatula to lower the formed pretzel into the boiling water. Let it stay in the water for 30 seconds then remove the pretzel from the water and set it on the baking sheet. Brush the pretzel with melted butter or egg wash and sprinkle with sea or kosher salt. (With the sea salt I found it easiest to push each piece of salt into the pretzel). Repeat this process until all of your pretzels are salted and on the baking sheet.

8. Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown.

Adapted from...

A few variations...
I ended up making six pretzels and braiding the remaining dough with white cheddar cheese. I boiled and baked the same as the regular pretzels. I'd think you could also stuff the pretzel dough with cheeses or deli meat to make stuffed breads (or mini pretzel bites!)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

We're Going to be Parents:)

This year marked our seventh trip down to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. Here's our official Derby day shot for those who don't already know the news!:) Cheers with mocktails all around!

Yesterday marked the start of our 17th week and the baby is the size of a turnip. (I didn't know exactly what a turnip looks like either, so here's a photo.*)

We're really excited for this new chapter in our lives! I actually found out while I was away on a work trip (not the best timing!) But I kept it a secret until I got back home and surprised John with an 'early Valentine's Day' present.

We told our parents around week seven. My parents are in Kentucky, so we called them with the news. John's parents live about an hour away and we were able to schedule a Sunday evening dinner with them. They received 'belated Valentine's Day' presents - wrapped up onesies. There was A LOT of screaming. Good thing baby's hearing hadn't developed at that point. Everyone is very excited -- especially since this will be the first grandchild on each side:)

Baby Gap has the cutest onesies! I bought these in Las Vegas and the cashier asked how old my son was. I turned bright red and mumbled something confusing about gifts.

No wonder I thought about this nonstop all day was craving this on my trip! I should have known.

We've started cleaning out our second bedroom for a nursery (and even bought a crib already -- thank you Pottery Barn sale!) I'll try not to make all my posts about this, but I'm also not making any promises:)

*P.S. I made a trip to Whole Foods in between writing and posting. Let me say that there is quite a large spectrum of turnip sizes! This baby could be huge.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Bookworm Months

My 'stack of books'

One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to read at least two books a month. I started off really strong... then started getting 'bus sick' (i.e. - I've never gotten car sick. ever. and recently Chicago bus drivers have been making it hard for me to ride and read.) Don't worry, the nauseas feeling goes away after I turn off my Kindle and focus on looking out the window, but it's cutting down on about an hour of my reading time each day!

Here is what I've finished thus far. Thought I would share, because I really enjoyed many of them!

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green - This one was one Time magazine's best books of the year. It is young adult fiction... I'll admit that - so a quick read, but really good regardless.

Where'd You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple - This story is told through emails, letters, and other written documents. It's put together in a clever way and I found it to be a quirky, well-written mystery.

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides - I believe this book won a Pulitzer, so yes, it's good:) It follows several different characters through one intertwined story.

Sharp Objects and Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
I had read Gone Girl a few months back and loved. it. In February, Gillian Flynn's earlier novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places were my Costa Rica beach reads. They are both rather twisted and dark - just putting that out there. I enjoyed them and they made my plane rides tolerable and kept me glued to my beach chair. You can feel her writing developing with each of the books -- her characters and methods of story-telling become more intricate. I can't wait to see what's next after Gone Girl:)

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides - Another dark one! But a quick, gripping read. I read this in a few hours on my way to and from Nashville. After reading Middlesex and the Marriage Plot (I finished that one in December, so it didn't make my 2013 resolutions cut), I figured I might as well finish up his trio.

NW, Zadie Smith - This wasn't my favorite. I really liked Zadie Smith's White Teeth and On Beauty, but I found NW difficult to follow. I appreciate the changes in pace and narrative, but the story never went anywhere. I didn't feel compelled to keep picking it back up.

I slacked off a bit in April, due to my motion-less reading predicament. But I am almost through Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. So far, so good. A great message of knowing what you deserve and asking for what you want. She doesn't sugar coat things or allude that you can easily have it all, but she does talk about balance and making time for what matters. I've highlighted a ton of this book, so maybe a full post on that is in my future.

Ok so pretty much I recommend all the books I read (except maybe NW, depending on your reading preferences.) That's partially because if I don't like a book I don't tend to finish it. (I do give adequate benefit of the doubt - I never quit before I'm about a third through, just in case.) A few of those include The Year of Living Biblically; Mennonite in a Little Black Dress; Eat, Pray, Love; and the Happiness Project. Maybe it just depends on my mood or the height of my expectations. And maybe I'd end up really liking those books if I gave them another try. Who knows.

Any suggestions for the coming months?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy Seven Years!

It's our seven year anniversary today! I admit I keep track of both our 'dating' anniversary, as well as our wedding anniversary. May 1 has been an important date for us longer than June 19, our *real* anniversary, and is also the date of our engagement, so why quit acknowledging it? (I also celebrate my dog Spud's birthday, which was yesterday if you were wondering.)

We've fit a lot into the past seven years. A move to Chicago, a combined total of six jobs, nine apartments/condos, one master's degree, 13 countries, one dog, one wedding and one home purchase. I'm excited to continue on our adventure:)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Techy Things

Can I list this post under DIY? Sure.

If anyone is like me and looking for a few key tutorials, I wanted to share these snippets of information. Here are this week's "techy" accomplishments (aka, things I'm patting myself on the back for):

1. You'll notice I added Instagram to my sidebar. I did a little research and easily found the badges, but through, you can add an actual grid or slide show to your page. 

2. I've been working on a lot of website analytics for work and have learned how to create a source/tracking code in Google Analytics. Here's my favorite new bookmark:
Bonus: it automatically adds to your analytics page. (Find the stats for these tracking code under "campaigns" in your analytics page. Note: it takes about an hour for the new campaigns to show up... my refresh button and I tested this.) 

3. I feel like I should have three accomplishments this week. It's only Tuesday, so updates may be forthcoming. However, I did make a major computer upgrade. John had a huge surprise for me Friday after work. We were driving to West Elm to pick up a new dresser for our bedroom and suddenly turned into the Apple parking garage. I've been hinting for a while, but was completely shocked. Happy anniversary/birthday/Christmas/lots of other holidays to me:) #besthubbyever

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Feeling like Spring!

It is sunny and semi-warm out! Maybe there will be spring this year after all! To welcome the warm temperatures and holiday weekend I stopped in to A New Leaf on Wells yesterday afternoon. I love that place. Walking in to that amazing smell will just instantly lift your mood. I also love that you can pick out your own arrangements and they will wrap them up in papers and cut the stems for you. If it's a gift, they help arrange it a bit and dress it up with ribbon. Beautiful flowers, no-fuss, quick, and the prices aren't crazy. I picked out some white hydrangeas with a few light green and pink accents for our mantle.

They also had anemones for a dollar each. I don't know what it is about anemones, but I think they are so pretty. It must be the dark center that contrasts with the lighter and daintier petals. I really wanted white and black anemones in my wedding bouquet. We called everywhere to see if we could get some shipped in. There was a drought or hot spell or something in California that year, so no anemones. These will do though!

I also picked up some "cute" pears. Really, if pears could be cute, these win hands down. Red and gold and about three inches tall.

Happy "hopefully spring" everyone!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pura Vida

Yes. I did take a bit of a hiatus! Things have been crazy (per usual) but there will be plenty more on that later.

It's sadly still winter in Chicago (evidenced by my puffy coat and boots), so I'd like to take some time to reflect on my February girls' trip to Costa Rica!

Costa Rica has been on my bucket list ever since sixth grade. Seriously. That long. In fifth grade, the class above us hosted Costa Rican exchange students for two weeks. I couldn't wait to spend time with a new friend from Costa Rica when my turn came around. Unfortunately, the school decided the program would be once every two years. Instead, our class studied Costa Rica for the entire month of January.

Costa Rica has always seemed exotic to me with it's rain forests and wildlife. We stayed outside of Liberia at the Hilton Papaguyo - an all-inclusive resort. We took a day trip to the rain forest and did a short nature walk and stopped by some hot springs (we thought the hot springs would be in nature... they were at a hot spring hotel -- still pretty, but not quite the same.)

The rest of the trip was spent relaxing (a spa day and beach reading - doesn't get much better) and catching up. I'm ready for my next vacation!

View from our balcony window. Not a bad scene to wake up to!


Did anyone else watch a rain forest music video in elementary school science class? The beauty, the rain forest, the tropical rain forest! (going through my head the entire time.)

Traditional Costa Rica food - rice and beans
The 'hot springs'
Cheers to girls' trips!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Valentine's Day - whether you're celebrating with friends, family, pups (mine's cuddled up right next to me), or significant others!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Obsession with Mason Jars

I'm really loving mason jars these days. They are inexpensive, classic and incredibly versatile.

On a recent rainy weekend I did a little chalkboard art project. I cannot wait to use these chalkboard jars for porch party get-togethers in when the weather gets warmer. In the meantime, they can double as cute packaging for a valentine! 

To make the jars, I masked a rectangular space with painters' tape, added a few coats of chalkboard paint with a sponge brush (you will need at least two - it streaks), and let it dry. I removed the paint not too far into the drying process so that I could fix anything that went out of my tape lines before it was permanent. Step-by-step photos are below. 

It's hard having chalkboard paint in the house. So many options and possibilities! While my mason jars were drying I wandered around our condo, paintbrush in hand, hoping to find old items I could paint. My goal was to find an old, but still fun picture frame that needed a new life as a classy chalkboard. I had no luck, but an old night stand that I'd already painted white and added a mercury glass handle to got a new coat of chalk board paint on its front panel. (Got to love old IKEA pieces --- no shame in experimenting! and at least I didn't try to tackle a wall.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013


This is the calendar at my desk. Why I've been craving macarons the past week needs no explanation.

So I thought, why buy macarons when I could learn how to make them? Great thought - but it turns out macarons are quite high maintenance. This recipe might take me a bit of practice, but I'll share it, via Martha Stewart, in case anyone happens to be a macaron prodigy (and if so, please share your secrets.)

I set aside a Saturday afternoon to make these finicky little cookies. While the final product was not quite ready for a public debut, they were quite tasty and a nice chewy consistency. There's definitely potential - and for a somewhat decadent dessert during Saturday night movie night, they worked just great.

Ingredients for cookies:
  • 1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup ground blanched almonds (this sounds fancy, but it just means skin-less)
  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • food coloring (if desired)

Ingredients for filling:
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk together the confectioners' sugar and ground almonds (make sure these are really finally ground). Set aside.
3. In the a separate bowl, whip egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy. Add in your food coloring if you want colored macarons.
4. Increase the speed to high and gradually add in the granulated sugar. Whip until stiff glossy peaks form.
5. Gently fold in the confectioners' sugar/almond mixture.
6. Using either a pastry bag (or a large ziplock bag with a corner cut, which is what I did - no professional baker am I) pipe 1-inch disks of batter onto the baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
7. Let these stand at room temperature until the shiny surface on the macaroons turns dull (about 15 min.) I've also seen recipes that say to let them set an hour, which I'm going to try next time, as mine didn't rise as much as I'd hoped.
8. Bake for 15 minutes with the door slightly open.
9. Remove from oven and let sit on the baking sheet until completely cooled. Gently remove the macarons from the parchment.

While the macarons are baking, you can start making the filling. I tried raspberry filling, and it seems like it is pretty easy to adjust for other flavors.

1. Whisk egg whites and sugar in an electric mixer. Set the mixer bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking opens, until the sugar is dissolved and its warm to the touch.
2. Put the bowl back on the mixer and whip on high speed until the mix is stiff and shiny (3-5 min). Add in butter, one piece at a time, and continue mixing until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. To make raspberry filling, using about half the butter and a spoonful or two of raspberry jam.

Flip half the macarons so the flat side faces up. Pipe in the filling and top with another macaron. Either eat or refrigerate.

Baking with the oven door open - which actually makes them a good winter cookie!

Heating the filling

Friday, February 1, 2013

Whiskey and Wine

It's guys' night at our house.

I'm sitting in our bedroom, cuddling with our pup, listening to guys chant and shout while negotiating poker hands and throwing down sipping tumblers of whiskey. Ah, guys night. (Does anyone else hear phantom neighbors knocking on your door when you know it's way too loud in your place? The joys of condo living.)

In preparation for the event, I pinned a few recipes that look absolutely indulgent yet fratty. My husband begged me not to politely declined my offer to make homemade pretzels with jalapeno dip and miniature deep dish pizzas for the affair. So now I need another excuse, because both sound phenomenal.

I fortunately escaped guys' night and tagged along with a friend to a dinner party. (Which was lots of fun - thanks Blair!) We ended up having a great conversation with a visitor from Argentina and it made me want to go back! John and I took a trip to Buenos Aires and Mendoza (Malbec and chocolate pairings at 9 a.m. anyone?) in April and it was one of my favorite trips to date. If anyone is looking for a getaway that is cultural, warm and a little off the beaten path, I highly recommend Argentina. It's more affordable than Europe, the people are the friendliest I've met (one b&b even let me borrow their front desk computer so I could turn in a grad school paper on time - no questions), and the food is to die for. Not to mention they have the hustle of the big city in Buenos Aires, the quaintness of wine country and mountains in Mendoza, and glaciers in Patagonia.

On a side note, we booked our winery visits, cooking class and hiking/rappelling in Mendoza through Uncorking Argentina and they were absolutely. amazing. Here and here are a few helpful articles on the area from the NY Times and on one of my favorite restaurants in Mendoza, Azafran.

Since it's about 10 degrees in Chicago and snowing, I'm going to continue reminiscing. Vacation cannot come soon enough!
Uco Valley. THIS is where I would live if logistics were not a question. 

Tasting notes = Not quite pros.


Lunch, tea and vineyards.

Photos: Me, John and friends
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