Every Part of Me

I don’t know how to ride a bike because of an unfortunate incident with a brick mailbox. I spend hours every week looking for my next home — even when I’m not in the market — because of my love of houses and their interiors. I can’t take a vacation without perusing TripAdvisor to find the number one hotel or the top restaurant in the area that I just have to visit before leaving. I think Nueske bacon is the only kind of bacon that anyone should ever eat. I take pleasure in a good beer and an even better laugh with friends. I love spending time outdoors and I think a weekend at the lake is the perfect escape. I like hosting parties and surrounding myself with a good group of people. I enjoy camping and peaceful nights under the stars. I believe hard work is the key to success, and it usually means starting at the bottom. I enjoy going to Wrigley Field and staring at the ivy, or hearing “…and now, your Chicago Bulls…” at the United Center. I think the band Chicago is one of the best things to come out of the city of Chicago. I know that friends are family.

Tomorrow marks one year since my dad died, and the only way I know how to deal with my feelings about it is to write — write down every part of me that is all because of him. I wish I could capture it all on paper and go back through each and every memory. From trips to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to St. Thomas, we were lucky to see quite a bit. Lucky to share precious memories. Now, I feel luckier to have his Pandora radio stations programmed just to hear what kind of music he’d be listening to if he was with us right now. Lucky to have a brother that looks more and more like him every day. Lucky to have a mom who continues to hold the two of us up. Lucky to have friends who are family. Lucky to have a fiance who has been the ultimate backbone this year through all of my ups and downs.

I wish every day that my dad would be here as a plan my beautiful wedding. I wish he could dance to the band I know he’d love, take a shot of whiskey with the campers and walk me down the aisle. I wish he was here sitting in his recliner helping me design the home of my dreams. But, I know he’s right next to me every step of the way, and every day I am thankful for every part of me that is because of him.

Farmers Market Fresh

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The farmers market in my town is really one of a kind. Every time my mom visits she says Midwest Living should do a piece on it, and I’d be surprised if they hadn’t. The old barn was built in the 1920s and it’s been around ever since. The market is indoors which keeps it open all year long. There’s even an adorable cafe that has the best home-cooked food that always makes you feel like you’re back at grandma’s house.

I always buy a lot of produce, and sometimes I have a hard time using it up, but I have been trying my best to find recipes that use what I have left in my kitchen. Last week it was sweet corn and zucchini, this week it was peaches.

I’ve pinned this Zucchini Sweet Corn Pie from Pinch of Yum a million times. I kept looking at it, and it was making my mouth water. Finally, last Sunday, I got up early and made it for breakfast.

I’m not really a breakfast person, so I always find different things to eat that will start my day off right. My mom used to make us soup before school because it’s all that we would eat. Zucchini pie was never far off either.

FullSizeRender (23)This Zucchini Sweet Corn pie is crustless and filled with gooey cheese. You can’t go wrong. I added bell peppers because I had them and they needed to be used. You can throw in whatever sounds good to you!

Filed Under Food |

Chicago Food + Wine Festival

FullSizeRender-15There are few things I love more in life than good people and good food. My weekend combined both of those things, and it left my heart so full. On Saturday, I attended the Chicago Food + Wine Festival with my mom and one of my best friends of 25 years. Although the weather wasn’t the best, Lincoln Park was beautiful and the festival was underneath big tents that kept us dry all afternoon long. FullSizeRender-18

This was the first year for the Chicago Food + Wine Festival.  Chefs from all over the city were on hand giving out tastings of their best dishes, and wineries and other spirits makers were showcasing their products. But, it wasn’t just about the tastings.

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The chefs held several seminars and cooking classes. We sat through a presentation by two of my favorites: Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat and Little Goat, and Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Xoco and Topolobampo. Each chef was extremely entertaining and laid-back. It was almost like you were sitting at their kitchen table at their home listening while they cook.

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FullSizeRender-12We also got a chance to sample some Taittinger Champagne. Five glasses of bubbly was right up our alleys.

FullSizeRender-20FullSizeRender-10Pulled Pork and Cole Slaw
Martin’s BBQ Joint (Nashville, TN)

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Corn on the cob with lemon aioli, shaved truffles and Parmesan
The Florentine (151 W. Adams)

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Tuna tostada
Earl’s Kitchen + Bar (Coming soon to Clybourn and Halsted)

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DIY pie – Chocolate crust, chocolate filling, raspberries, chocolate shavings and coconut
Hoosier Mama Pie Company (1618 1/2 Chicago Avenue)

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Fiesta, fiesta!

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I have pretty great friends. And, they’re all so good at what they do, they are moving on to bigger and better cities. That’s the nature of working in the TV business. You start in a small city and work your way up.

My good friend, Kate, recently moved to Milwaukee. To celebrate her success, I threw a little fiesta. We had a blast. The fajitas were fresh and delicious and the sangria was flowing.

I wanted to host the party outdoors, but it’s tough when living at an apartment to have so many people inside. We are lucky enough that our apartment complex has large picnic tables in the back courtyard, so I pulled a few together and we had dinner outside.

I wanted to cover the tables, but not spend too much money, and I lucked out with a summer clearance sale at Target. I found tablecloths and a large white drink bin for a great price, and my table looked adorable. I added some sunflowers, and we were set!

Since it’s summer and the bugs are everywhere, I decided to set-up the food table in my apartment hallway. No one is living downstairs and we had plenty of room to keep the food cool and bug-less.

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It took me a few days to plan out the meal. Everyone brought an appetizer or a drink, and I made the main dishes and dessert. I marinaded the meat on Wednesday for 24 hours using this recipe from The Pioneer Woman, sliced and cooked in on Thursday and just had to warm it up before Friday’s party right after I got home from work.

Kate brought the sangria and it was fabulous. We mixed together a few recipes to create our own concoction. By the end of the night, we loved it so much, we were throwing in all of the white wine we could find.

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My key to hosting a good party? Be prepared. It’s always much more fun if your dishes are made ahead of time and you can mingle with your friends without spending the whole time in the kitchen.

A great success to celebrate the great success of even better friends!

Filed Under Food |

Orange Jello Salad

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Summer desserts and salads can be tough. Nothing holds up in the hot, humid weather. Cookies and cakes don’t stay fresh. Chocolate melts. I usually go for something that is refreshing versus sweet.  I’m the one that pulls out ice cream almost every night. It’s my favorite food and I can never have enough of it. Of course there are those nights where a pint of Edy’s Slow Churn Chocolate Chip is all that I need and deserve in life, but I’m learning to be better.

This dessert salad has been in my family for years. I found myself craving it the other night, instead of a bowl of ice cream, and although it’s not super diet-friendly, I’ve made it a bit healthier than the original to lighten it up.

Orange Jello Salad

1 large tub of Lite Cool Whip
1 small tub of low-fat cottage cheese
1 small can of crushed pineapple, drained
1 small can of mandarin oranges, drained
1 small package of sugar-free orange Jello

DIRECTIONS:
Mix together Cool Whip and low-fat cottage cheese until combined. Add in pineapple, mandarin oranges and Jello. Mix well. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Serve chilled.

Mandarin Orange Salad

FullSizeRender(9)I’m cracking down on eating healthier. My diet isn’t where it should be, and my energy level isn’t either. So, instead of feeling tired and groggy all day long, I’m rededicating my time to doing what makes me feel good. I work at a hotel and am constantly surrounded by heavy food. We are lucky enough to have food available to us all day long, but I can’t eat lasagna and Mexican every single day without feeling horrible about it afterward.

My boyfriend and I are doing it together. It means packing healthy snacks, packing lunches, getting rid of all of the ice cream that I love so much, and adding in things that are much healthier. It also means stepping up the workout game, whether that means going for a long walk or run on the Notre Dame campus, or getting to my favorite cardio dance and barre classes during the week. My mantra right now is dedication.

There was one salad we always had at every party growing up. And, it wasn’t just at our own house. My mom was asked to bring her Mandarin Orange Salad to almost every party. It’s perfect in any season and is super easy to throw together. I almost always have all of the ingredients to make the dressing in my pantry, and I use the dressing on lots of other salads, too.  It doesn’t make a whole lot, so if you are making it for a big party, you probably will want to double it, or even triple it. I promise it will be a hit.

Mandarin Orange Salad

1 head of lettuce
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 large can of mandarin oranges, drained
½ cup of sliced almonds
1 T. of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt

DIRECTIONS:
In a saute pan, heat sugar and salt on medium high heat. When sugar and salt mixture begins to melt, add in almonds. Turn off heat and stir until almonds are coated. Lay out on parchment paper or a plate and set aside to cool.

In a bowl, mix together lettuce, green onions and mandarin oranges. Add in almonds. Coat with dressing.

DRESSING:
½ cup vegetable oil
2 T. sugar
2 T. vinegar
1 T. parsley, chopped
½ t. salt
dash of pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Mix together above ingredients and serve over salad.

Zucchini Fritters

FullSizeRender(8)I love potato pancakes, but we all know they aren’t the best choice to keep you energized and feeling healthy the rest of the day. When I went to the farmer’s market this past week, I bought loads of zucchini. It’s one of my favorite vegetables and right now, it’s popping up everywhere.

While surfing Pinterest, I found a recipe for zucchini fritters. The recipe is so easy, and they are the perfect way to get some vegetables into your diet.

Zucchini Fritters
Makes about 10 fritters

1  1/2 pounds of grated zucchini
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of flour
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
2 cloves of garlic
1 large egg
2 T of olive oil

DIRECTIONS:
Grate zucchini and lightly salt. Let sit for ten minutes.

Squeeze and drain zucchini with a cheesecloth until most of the water is gone.

Mix together zucchini, salt, flour, cheese, garlic and the egg.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil.

Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to help size fritters. Flatten with a spatula.

Let cook for two minutes until golden brown, and then flip for another two minutes.

IMG_2878Enjoy!

eat.explore.empower,
-M

Recipe from: Damn Delicious

 

Repurposed Jewelry Board

IMG_2691I’ve been talking about this jewelry board for months. I have a ton of necklaces and needed a place to be able to see them when I’m getting ready, and to display them.

My good friend, Megan, came up with the idea to use Command hooks and hang them on the wall. I did that for awhile, but when my mom visited a friend’s home, she discovered how to create a fabric-lined jewelry board and decided to make me one of my own.

FullSizeRender-7My mom found an old Pottery Barn cork board at a garage sale for cheap. The frame was in good condition, and it had potential. She picked it up and we picked out a fabric, and a color to spray-paint the frame. We chose a color that’s in between gold and silver for the spray paint, and a yellow and gray fabric that would pick up the colors of my bedroom.

IMG_2624My mom spray painted the frame and then slipped the fabric underneath it, making sure to pull the fabric tightly. She secured the fabric on the back of the frame.

The hardest part of the whole project was hanging it. The frame was magnetic, but there was no hook, so we had to improvise and make our own.

It’s so nice to have all of my necklaces displayed so perfectly. I look at my new jewelry board also as a piece of art for my room — functional art.

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eat.explore.empower,
-M

Chocolate Banana cake with Peanut Butter frosting

FullSizeRender-6There are few flavor combinations I love more than chocolate, banana and peanut butter. I had a Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix sitting in my baking pantry for weeks, and this past weekend, I broke it out, doctored it up a bit, and came up with a delicious concoction.

Chocolate Banana cake with Peanut Butter frosting

CHOCOLATE CAKE:
1 box of chocolate cake mix (follow instructions)
3 bananas, mashed

DIRECTIONS:
Follow instructions on the box to make the chocolate cake and add in mashed bananas to the batter.

PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING:
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1 cup of peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. powdered sugar
2 T. milk

DIRECTIONS:
Mix butter and peanut butter until combine. Add in vanilla. Add in powdered sugar mixture slowly. Add milk, slowly until desired consistency.

I had a small bag of Heath bar pieces left in my pantry too, so I threw them on top. The frosting is pretty thick, so you can thin it out by adding more milk, or you can top it with something to make it look a little nicer. I made my chocolate cake in a springform pan. You could do it in a 9×13, or even as cupcakes.

 

Enjoy!

eat.explore.empower,
-M

Operation: Desk Design

usefulI recently started a new job.  I have a beautiful place to work, and a cubicle that is a pretty good size. At my last job, I was surrounded by navy blue walls that I couldn’t stand. And, although I tried to cover them with pictures and meaningful momentos, it just wasn’t enough.

This time, I decided I’d pimp my cubicle a bit with something that made it feel a little more like home.

IMG_2712I jumped on Pinterest to come up with some design ideas. My mom was an art teacher and always knows how to do projects, so I went to her for some of my brainstorming. Although I didn’t necessarily get the artistic trait, I try my best.

I knew I wanted to cover my cubicle walls in fabric. I didn’t want a pattern that would be distracting or hard on the eyes, but I wanted to choose something in the color scheme of where I work. I chose a gold and blue Aztec print that I love. It was half-price at JoAnn Fabrics. And, even though I spent around $100 on this project, I think I saved quite a bit by choosing fabrics that were on sale.

I tacked the fabric along the cork-like walls with T-pins. I made sure to pull it taught and to get out as many wrinkles as I could. The hardest part was measuring panels that were the right size. It’s especially difficult when a large desktop computer is in the way.

FullSizeRender-2From there, I hung up gold frames. The girl before me had several notes on her desk that she left for me, and I wanted to consolidate them. So, I typed the notes up on two sheets, isolated each note in text boxes, and put them in 8x 10 gold frames. I used the T-pins to hang the frames along the cork as well.

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I saw a great idea for a homemade blotter on Pinterest. I thought it would be easy, but, for me, it turned out to be a glue-filled mess. My plan was to spray a clear blotter with adhesive and then lay a fabric on it from behind. That plan didn’t work as I thought, so I ended up wrapping the blotter in fabric and sealing the back of it. I have another clear blotter resting over the top of the one that I made, so I don’t fray the edges as I work. FullSizeRender-1

Before I started my job, I bought an adorable clock and rubber plant from TJ Maxx. They add a little bit of life. Now, I’m on the hunt for a lamp and maybe even a small rug to round out my design.

FullSizeRender-4 eat.explore.empower,
-M