Monday, October 5, 2009

Music Is What Feelings Sound Like

I'm welcoming Autumn with open arms. It's funny, in the deep of Winter, I can't wait to feel the warmth of the Summer sun. In the thick humidity of Summer, I can't wait for the crisp chill of Autumn. As long as the seasons eventually change, I'm happy.

Now that I've unpacked my scarves, rain boots and jackets, nothing feels better than curling up on the couch after work with a glass of hot apple cider. The farmer's market's are filled with pumpkins, apple butter and sweet potatoes. Leaves are starting to yellow and drop with the brisk winds, and my Sunday afternoons are spent hiking through the park district.

The only thing I tend to bring with me on these weekend hikes is my iPod. I can tune the world out and enjoy the last bit of sunshine before Daylight Savings time ends. Since everyone is always looking for new music, I thought I'd share my current playlist.

Lightning Strikes by Angel Taylor
One I Love by The Bridges
Delayed Devotion by Duffy
Born To Do by Everybody Else
Never Say Never by The Fray
You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates
These Walls by Hanson
Chinese by Lily Allen
Try a Little Tenderness by Otis Redding
Shelter by Ray Lamontage
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths
Breathe by Taylor Swift
Messing With My Head by Tinted Windows
You Send Me by Aretha Franklin
Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here by She & Him
Southern Girl by Amos Lee


Photo Credit: WeHeartIt Entry 777974

Friday, October 2, 2009

Caution: Hard Hat Area

Things are a little different around here, temporarily. I made some administration changes to my blog and my photos have suffered. I'm the process of fixing the issue and uploading the missing photos to my posts again. I hope you understand; have a little faith that everything will be back up and running properly by tomorrow! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!


Photo Credit: Mr. Zager

Monday, September 28, 2009

Witty Words

"I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air."

- Nathaniel Hawthorne


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Autumn Apple Pecan Bread

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 cup apple cinnamon applesauce
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 apples - cored, peeled, and diced
1/2 cup pecans - chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and flour surface. In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk canola oil and brown sugar. Mix in cinnamon, apple butter and apple cinnamon applesauce. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Stir in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Add apples and pecans, fold until combined.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and tap the sides of the pan to distribute mixture evenly into pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into bread comes out clean.

Enjoy 20 minutes after baking, within a few days refrigerated, or freeze individual slices to take to work!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Peanut Butter Banana Oaties

These cookies have very quickly become my favorite cookie! I'm lovingly calling them "Peanut Butter Banana Oaties" - and they're a sweet, salty, and creamy little piece of heaven! I have used healthy alternatives to butter, all-purpose flour, and peanut butter; and these cookies just so happen to be Vegan (even though I'm not). If you don't have my alternatives readily available feel free to substitute regular butter, all-purpose flour, and your favorite peanut butter.

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter alternative, like Earth Balance

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter

2 bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cups all purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet melt 1 stick of butter alternative over medium heat. Add the oatmeal and cook, stirring until toasted. About 5 minutes. Don't skip this step, toasting the oatmeal really adds a great nutty flavor and softens the oats perfectly for the cookies! Meanwhile, mash the bananas with a potato masher.

Mix 2 sticks of softened butter alternative, brown sugar, and granulated sugar and beat on medium high speed until fluffy. Add the peanut butter, bananas, and vanilla and beat until fluffy again. Add the salt and baking soda and beat until combined. Add the oatmeal and beat until incorporated. Add the flours one at a time and mix until just combined.

Using a large spoon, scoop the cookie dough into medium sized balls and place onto the cookie sheet about an 1 1/2'' apart. Bake for 10 minutes. Take cookies out of the oven, flatten with a fork, and place back into the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then move to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

NOTE: I wanted the health benefits of using whole wheat flour, so you'll notice in the recipe, I pretty much used half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. If you're using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, you have to use a little bit more than you would all-purpose flour, because it's finer. But the combination of the two worked great for these cookies. If you only have all-purpose flour, you should use about 2 1/4 cups in the recipe.

Now, a word of advice about butter alternatives. I never used to be the type of gal to substitute anything for butter, I wanted the real thing. Then I started learning more about eating healthy and the difference between good and bad fats (trans fats = bad, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated = good). I'm not going to delve into the science of it all, but lately I just try watch what I put into my body without sacrificing flavor and quality. With my sweet tooth, I sure wasn't going to stop making baked goods, so I found a great substitute for butter! It's called Earth Balance. Whole Foods carries it, I'm sure other grocery stores do as well. They make buttery spreads, and buttery sticks for baking and cooking (which is what I used in these cookies).

I also used Earth Balance peanut butter in these cookies. I was always a JIF lover (and I still am), but I wanted to try a lightly sweetened natural peanut butter, that I don't need to stir or refrigerate. Believe me when I say this is the best all-natural peanut butter I have ever had. It's flying off the shelves at Whole Foods, they were out of it last week!

I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I did! The recipe makes a lot of dough (approximately 3 dozen cookies), so bake half and freeze half, and that way, when you're craving something sweet, you can whip up a fresh batch of cookies in no time!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Make It A Movie Night!

I'm an avid subscriber of Netflix - I seriously think it's the best thing since peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Although, lately my rental activity has been less than pleasing. Can someone please explain to me why I felt the urge to rent Dance Flick? Or Adventureland? I was not impressed with Duplicity. I Love You, Man was not Paul Rudd's best work, even though I adore him. Sunshine Cleaning was charming in a grim sort of way, but it didn't blow me away.

The good news is, last night, my luck changed. State of Play arrived in my mailbox. This was just what I needed. I lust after a good thriller, especially a good politcal thriller. The film opens with a fast pace through the streets of Washington D.C. - lots of dark corners, alleyways, and gunshots. Then we're introduced to Cal (Russell Crowe), a reporter, and Della (Rachel McAdams), a blogger, at The Washington Globe. Cal is an old-time journalist who works a little slower than his peers and has a certain charisma that works in his favor. He doesn't want to write a story for the headlines - he prefers to get the facts and print only the truth.

After Congressman Collins (Ben Affleck), the old college roommate and friend of Cal, tearfully announces the death of one of his Congressional aides, we learn that the Congressman and his aide we're a little more than colleagues - they had an affair. In the midst of four murders, a sex scandal, the disappearance of the aide to Congressman Collins, and the Congressman's investigation on a private security group that plans to monopolize homeland security - Cal and Della start sneaking around for answers.

At first, Cameron (Helen Mirren), the editor of The Washington Globe, immediately wants to run the story regardless of whether or not it's fact or fiction, to save their failing paper. But as things fall into place, and Cal and Della uncover more pieces to the puzzle and their connections, Cameron realizes that they have an inside story at their fingertips and that the shocking truth is about to be revealed.

Just as you think you know what's going on, something else is unraveled that will have you rethinking your theory. The film movies along quickly, and I promise you'll be at the edge of your seat. The final moments will surprise you. Other notable cast include Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, and Robin Wright Penn. Only after I finished the film did I realize it was based on a BBC series staring James McAvoy and Bill Nighy, which I've never seen, but I'm now tempted to rent.


Photo Credits: Universal Pictures

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Witty Words

"She knows when to hold herself back while everyone else you know gives too much of themselves at one time. So when she comes out, it's a great tour-de-force."
- About Jacqueline Kennedy


Complimentary Culinary Combinations

Previously, I posted about my obsession with cookbooks. We all know that some are better than others - some we buy just for the photography, some we buy to enhance our culinary skills, and some just collect dust on our bookshelves. But The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg is a one of a kind treasure for any cook, no matter what your skill level is. This is a kitchen resource, not a cookbook, that will encourage your culinary creativity, and allow you to cook the most flavorful meals without a cookbook.

I'm sure you've all been there. Trying to use ingredients you currently have stocked in your pantry and refrigerator to make a tasty meal is sometimes difficult. What pairs best with certain ingredients? How do I jazz up the same old chicken dish for dinner? What if something I normally use is out of season? This book will give an abundance of combinations to mix up things at your dinner table! For example, did you know that there are 100 different complimentary culinary combinations (I dare you to say that five times fast!) for an orange? It's true!

The Flavor Bible celebrates it's one year anniversary this week, and I'm so happy I came across it. Let's all say it together - "Happy Anniversary to The Flavor Bible!" I am seriously considering purchasing a copy for every friend and family member for the holiday season, it's an outstanding resource - especially for those who like to experiment in the kitchen. Pretty soon, you'll be cooking like a professional chef, whipping up your own creations!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Chipotle Mayonnaise and Fresh Vegetable Wrap

This is my favorite wrap to make for lunch. It's naturally sweet and has the perfect spice from my homemade Chipotle Mayonnaise. Using the freshest ingredients from the farmer's market, I feel good about what I'm putting into my body, and actually feel healthier. It tastes absolutely delicious and I'm planning on eating one for lunch every day this week. It's a great alternative to cold cuts!

To make the Chipotle Mayonnaise you'll need Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce, 1 6 oz. containter Fage Total 0% Yogurt , and 1 32 oz container Kraft Mayo with Olive Oil. Combine 1/3 cup yogurt, 1/3 cup mayo, and 2 tablespoons hot sauce. Whisk until smooth. Refrigerate in an airtight container for about 1 week. Keep in mind, with the addition of the yogurt, it will tone down the heat of the hot sauce, so make sure you taste test your finished product to achieve your desired level of hotness.

Spread an even layer of the Chipotle Mayonnaise down the center of a whole-wheat tortilla. Top with sweet corn kernals, avocado chunks, slices of red pepper, and bite-sized pieces of pepper jack cheese. Roll it all up and enjoy your fresh lunch!


Witty Words

"To catch a snooping guest, try filling your medicine cabinet with marbles. Nothing announces a nosy partygoer more successfully than an avalanche of marbles striking a porcelain sink."
- Amy Sedaris


Friday, September 4, 2009

'Tis The Season

I'm planning a trip to my local farmer's market tomorrow to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies for my week. I would love to start creating weekly meals revolving around what is in season - I truly believe in the Slow Food Movement. Although I love the market, sometimes I get overwhelmed because I never know how to best use seasonal produce. For example, in Illinois, eggplant is in season - but other than eggplant parmesan, how else can I prepare it?

Well, my problem has been solved! I found this wonderful resource on Epicurious this morning. It's a Peak-Season Ingredient Map. You select the present month, click on your state, and it will then give you a list of ingredients that are currently in season in your area. Once you find the ingredient you have purchased (or plan on purchasing), you can click on it and Epicurious will present you with an abundance of recipes!

Bon Appetit!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"I Want To Go To There"

For someone that lives in a bustling urban metropolis, ironically I like to escape it more often than not. Two years ago, on a whim, I moved to The Windy City from rural Ohio with cliched fantasies of life according to Sex & The City. Well, city living is not at all like Sex & The City. Sure, for the first few months I was still living in that daydream, skipping around downtown and heading out every weekend. But, after a while, all that came to a hault. I missed the vast country, the peace and quiet, and not having to look over my shoulder at every waking moment.

Thankfully, I'm slowly finding ways to appease my pastoral desires. Have you heard of "glamping"? Or farm dinners? Or farm vacations, for that matter? With a little time and money (okay, a lot of money), you can have the most relaxing, luxurious and countrified vacation. All three of these outings would appeal to you foodies out there as well - because these hot spots revolve around fresh, local gourmet food.

During a visit to The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, you can stay in a "luxury canvas community," as they call it. Don't you worry though, this isn't your typical camping experience - each tent has electricity and heated floors in the private master bath. You can even arrange for a private gourmet chef (or cooking lesson) and butler (because who else would start the campfire?). The nightly rates include three gourmet meals a day and transportation from Missoula International Airport. You can make reservations for between $715-$915 per night. So start saving your money, honey!

But if luxury camping in The American West just isn't your style, then try taking a trip to a farmstead. Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee is just 25 minutes from Knoxville in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains. This place is the stuff that dreams are made of. The farm sits on 4,200 acres and guests can enjoy and a multitude of activities - from fly fishing and hiking, to cooking classes and yoga.

Blackberry Farm has two inventive gourmet restaurants that prepare meals from the fruits of their own orchards, livestock, produce gardens, and bee hives. They make their own cheese, honey, preserves, breads, and serve their own eggs. Included in the nightly rate are three gourmet meals a day. Estate Rooms start at $995 a night, and private Hill Cottages or Mountain Homes are also available (believe me, you don't even want me to list those prices!). This hotel continuously receives recognition as one of the world's top travel and leisure destinations, but unless I win the lottery, I will just have to settle for a visit in my dreams.

I'm happy to say that I'm looking forward to planning a more afforable excursion, a farm dinner. Outstanding in the Field, a California-based traveling culinary experience, re-connects diners to the origins of their food. So far, they have arranged 54 dinners in ten U.S. States and Eastern Canada. These dinners sell out quickly - but don't worry, there's always next year! Ingredients are almost all local and prepared by a chef of the region. A long white linen communal table is arranged for each dinner. Depending on the location, you may be dining at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches. After a quick tour of the site - producers, farmers, culinary artisans and guests all sit down to enjoy the food, company and surroundings.


Outstanding in the Field Photo: Andrea Wyner

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fresh Blueberry Sauce

Ah, blueberries. Although available year round, we have about another month of peak blueberry season and I'm going to fully take advantage of it. I'm very lucky to live in a city that is abundant with farmer's markets and locally grown produce. When you choose to buy local food, you get more than just great-tasting, fresh food. Buying locally strengthens local economies, supports family farms, and promotes a sense of community. It's nice to be able to build relationships with the people who are growing the food that you put on your table each day. It's a win-win for all parties involved!

One of my favorite ways to use a pint of fresh blueberries is to whip up a sauce to smother my pancakes in. Every weekend, I treat myself to a lavish breakfast. It's a good way unwind from a hard-worked week. Below is my recipe for fresh blueberry sauce, to make your everyday pancake just a little bit sweeter. Adding lemon and/or cinnamon to blueberries actually enhances their flavor, so I've added both!

Fresh Blueberry Sauce:

4 cups blueberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until mixture begins to heat up and dissolve, then use a potato masher to crush blueberries and release their natural juices. Reduce heat and cook until almost boiling, and sauce is to the consistency of your liking (generally, if it coats the back of a spoon). Serve immediately.


Shortbread Cookies

A fellow blogger recently posted a recipe for shortbread cookies and let me tell you, they are heavenly! They're the kind of good that will make you close your eyes and savour every last bite. I dare you not to eat more than one, it's simply impossible. After you make these, you will most certainly throw out that box of Lorna Doones hiding in your pantry because nothing beats homemade. You can also throw out that new form-fitting dress you just bought because these babies are full of sin (*ahem*, butter).

I didn't have any cookie cutters with fluted edges so I used an upside-down metal tartlette shell, and that worked perfectly! The cookies are best chilled, by themselves or with a sweet filling. I played around with fillings this weekend and here are some of my favorites:
  • Haagen Dazs Five - Passion Fruit Ice Cream
  • Nutella and Hazelnuts
  • Homemade Cream Cheese Frosting
    • 8 oz Neufchatel Cheese
    • 1 stick Unsalted Butter
    • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
    • 3.5 cups Confectioner's Sugar
    • Pinch of Salt
  • Michigan Cherry Jam
  • Lemon Curd
Enjoy! These cookies are so fun to play around with, get creative and personalize them. You can also freeze them for a quick dessert anytime. But, if you're like me, they won't last very long.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Red Wine Spaghetti

This is not your typical red wine spaghetti. This is spaghetti boiled in red wine. Why didn't I think of this before? I found this recipe in the September 2009 issue of Food & Wine Magazine.

There is an article titled "
When a Mediocre Wine is Good News" with a handful of recipes on what do to do with wine you just won't drink (I know, I know, but it happens!).

You must admit, more than once, you've probably experimented with a new wine only to find out that it just isn't your style. Perhaps, you've been given a bottle as a gift, but it's just not something you'd normally drink. Or, like me, your wine store had an entire bin of $3 clearance wines. The wine enhances the flavor of the spaghetti in this recipe, giving it a very rustic and delightful "wine-soaked" taste.

A very rich aroma flows into your kitchen when making this meal, I guarantee your friends and family will be drooling. Just look at the color of the pasta when all is said and done, it's beautiful! All of the ingredients pulled together look stunning on a white plate, and with the addition of the walnuts and fresh parsley to the whole wheat spaghetti - this dish is full of healthful antioxidants.

I used a bit more crushed red pepper than is listed here (about a 1/2 teaspoon), I like a little heat in my dishes. For the wine, I selected a simple Merlot, but any dry red wine will work. I also substituted whole-wheat spaghetti for regular spaghetti.

Here is the recipe:
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 1/4 cups dry red wine
  • Salt
  • 3/4 pound spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1 cup walnuts (4 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan, combine the water with 3 cups of the wine and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and red pepper and season with salt. Cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed, 2 minutes.

Add the parsley, nuts, the 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve, passing grated cheese at the table.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed, Order Pizza

I'm in love. I always have been, always will be. With whom? Well, not someone but something. Cookbooks. I should probably discuss this addiction to a paid professional. I'm serious, I can't walk into a bookstore without browsing the cookbook section. I can't go through a work week without searching Amazon for newly released cookbooks. I have never not asked for some sort of cookbook for Christmas. I don't go one weekend without experimenting with a handful of new recipes.

What is the attraction? The author, the tantalizing recipes, the sensational photography? All of the above. I'm not even going to mention my obsession with food magazines and food blogs, that's another story for another time.

Last night, I was assessing the decor in my apartment. What changes do I want to make? What additions do I want to purchase? What rearranging do I need to do? Then it hit me. I have A LOT of cookbooks. They're under my coffee table, on top of my end tables, in my cabinets, on top of my fridge, and in my bedroom. They're beginning to take over my apartment, like an army of ants.

Some are challenging. There are a few that I have never once successfully recreated a meal from, I just like dreaming of that accomplishment and glancing at the creative photographs. Some are charming. I have all of the Magnolia Bakery cookbooks. They make me want to dress up skirt aprons, braid my hair and move to the country. Some don't have any photographs. Those sometimes frustrate me, I'm a visual person. You know, the ones with the hand drawn images of recipes, what is that? I don't know what that's supposed to be! Is that a casserole or a clown face? Some are educational, like The Flavor Bible. Truth be told, all have taught me something.

I'm not saying I know my stuff, but I have learned a lot from these books. If you're looking for something new or a change of taste, here are my recommendations:

  • Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart
  • The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
  • The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger
  • Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Holidays by Lilly Pulitzer
  • Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt by Marlena Spieler
  • Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schrieber and Julie Richardson
  • The Ski Country Cookbook by Barbara Scott-Goodman and Rita Maas
  • Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by Giada De Laurentiis
  • At Home with Magnolia: Classic American Recipes from the Owner of Magnolia Bakery by Allysa Torey
  • Everyday Food: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart Living Magazine
  • Cover & Bake by Cook's Illustrated Magazine
  • The Best Light Recipe by Cook's Illustrated Magazine
  • Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients by Ina Garten
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond


Photo Source: yvestown

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If You're Happy and You Know It...

Everybody gets stressed. At the present moment, I'm unbelievably stressed. My shoulders are so tense that they're actually sore. I'm sensing that I'm in the middle of a "quarter-life crisis" - and apparently that is a real term. According to sources, a "quarter-life crisis" involves insecurity regarding long-term plans or life goals, disappointment with one's job, frustration with social ills, loneliness, desire to have children, a sense that everyone is doing better than you, confusion of identity, and financially-rooted stress.

Who am I? What do I want? And, how do I get it? These questions are most common in your mid-twenties because you have just been catapulted into the "real world" and want follow your dreams, but you have no idea where to begin.

I think everyone has these issues at some point in their life, whether or not it's termed a quarter-life crisis, a mid-life crisis, or whatever. But instead of getting down about it, there are many books out there to help you work through it. Sometimes creating a list is constructive, and can help you reevaluate your choices. It can be as simple as writing down what you're thankful for, or what makes you happy. This is beneficial at any age, no matter what stage in life you're in. It helps maintain an emotional balance, and just might bring you back on track. You can then surround yourself with the little things that will brighten your day.

What makes me happy...

food photography
experimenting with new recipes
a nap
bubble baths
helping a stranger
a long drive down a country road
curling up with a good book
a walk at dusk
a lakeside breeze
a perfectly sunny day
making someone laugh
peanut butter & jelly
freshly washed sheets
rosy cheeks in the winter
casual Friday
fresh coffee
movie previews
a summer rain
farmer's markets (it's a rainbow of colors!)
Sunday night HBO
wearing a dress
Full House reruns

What makes YOU happy?

Fondly, Optimistic

Photo Credit: antoaneta

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ice Cream Grahamwiches

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! I was flipping through Gourmet Magazine this weekend, and fell in love with an ice cream sandwich recipe. I had planned a relaxing weekend for myself - reading, lounging on the beach, and no heavy cooking. So instead of creating the Gourmet ice cream sandwiches exactly as their recipe entailed, I decided to make my own version, with a few shortcuts. Because gosh darn it, it's 90 degrees and I wanted ice cream sandwiches - without the effort!

Recipe (makes about a dozen):
1 pack Honey Graham Crackers
2 cups Blueberries
1/4 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
2 tsp Cornstarch

Transfer ice cream to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 10-second intervals until softened. Spread ice cream thinly in a 9x9-inch baking dish and freeze until firm while making blueberry compote.

Cook blueberries, sugar, and zest in a saucepan over medium-high heat, thoroughly crushing blueberries with a pastry blender or potato masher, until juices are released. Stir in lemon juice and cornstarch and bring blueberry mixture to a boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Mixture will thicken. Transfer to a bowl and chill in refrigerator for about an hour.

When blueberry compote has chilled, spread over frozen ice cream and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours. When ice cream mixture is firm, cut into squares the size of a half of a graham cracker. Place the ice cream square between two halves of graham crackers, and enjoy! Napkins will be required, this is a gooey, oozy and crumbly dessert - but definitely worth it! Individually wrap and freeze remaining sandwiches for another steamy summer afternoon.


Blueberry-Orange Muffins

Summertime means fresh berries at the Farmer's Market. During my past few trips, I stocked up on Michigan Blueberries. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C; making them a healthful snack and a smart addition to any baked good. This morning I decided to whip up some muffins for the week ahead. Knowing that I had Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix in my pantry (which I love more than anything else on this planet), I choose to bake Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins. They turned out heavenly; the blueberries and the orange zest made the muffins so moist with a very refreshing flavor.

Recipe (makes about 9):
1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1 Egg
1/3 cup Milk
1 tablespoon Orange Zest
1 1/2 cups Blueberries
Confectioner's Sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a muffin pan with cooking spray or use muffins cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, egg, and milk. Add orange zest and blueberries to batter, combine until evenly mixed. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup three-quarters full. Bake until golden, 13-15 minutes. Let muffins cool, dust with confectioner's sugar.

I like to individually wrap my leftover muffins in plastic wrap, then in foil, and freeze them. They make a great breakfast on the go. Just place the frozen muffin on your counter to thaw the night before, and by morning, you'll have a fresh muffin to grab and take with you on your way out the door. There's nothing better than a homemade breakfast!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

To Have and To Hold

I want to emphasize again how wonderful Etsy is! This morning, I found the most beautiful handmade clutches. They're made by FIAZCO and she says she's "been designing and sewing since Barbie and Ken first started dating." I like her already!

Although she has plenty of stunning designs on her Etsy page, she will also accomodate custom orders. These would be perfect for bridesmaids, or any other special occassion. There are even fabric swatches available so you can match them to your dress (but remember, not too matchy-matchy)!

This clutch was one of my favorites!

Sky blue fabric with bold chocolate brown flowers.

Lined with vibrant Peacock colored Duponi silk.

And it has a bright Nickel frame.

These are one of a kind! The clutches are only $65, meaning you'll still have money to put inside it. But, they are so cute, I'd carry it around empty!

I bet all of your lady friends will want to know where to get one. Compliments are guaranteed. I can't wait to get my hands on one! Pun intended.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


"The only time to eat diet food,

is while you're waiting for the steak to cook!"

- Julia Child

I'm in an exceptionally good mood, therefore I've decided to post my first giveaway! Why am I in such high spirits? Because I have a three-day weekend ahead of me and I'm expecting an Amazon shipment I'm really excited about (two new cookbooks!). My plan is to nap on the beach all weekend, do plenty of cooking and baking, and go see Julie & Julia! Have you seen it? Do you want to see it? Do you want a Fandango gift certificate for two FREE tickets to see it? Just comment on this post with your e-mail, and you're entered to win! One winner will randomly be selected on Sunday evening.


WINNER: #3 - Danielle. Congrats Danielle, I hope you enjoy Julie & Julia! Thanks to everyone who commented, there will be more chances to win prizes in the future, so keep reading!

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sounds In The City

I work on the 54th floor of a big city skyscraper. At this altitude, the sirens below are just a faint echo. For the most part, it's quiet and serene up here. Out my window I watch storms roll in and planes fly out. I see all kinds of traffic on the highway (it's a blessing not to be able to hear it) and laugh at sight-seeing boats heading down the Chicago River in the pouring rain (I've never seen so many ponchos outside of Disney World).

Today, was a different story. I'm minding my own business, typing away on my computer, when all of sudden - I hear music, loud and clear. I turn around to look out my window and very quickly I realize the music is coming from a neighboring condominium building. The building is presently under construction, and the construction crew is blasting their boom box. Do they still make boom boxes? I sure hope so, those things were so dorktastic.

What shocked me the most were the song choices.

I heard...

"My Guy" by Mary Wells

"Under The Boardwalk" by The Drifters

"Cruisin" by Huey Lewis and Gwenyth Paltrow

"At Last" by Etta James

"Lady Marmalade" by Patti Labelle

Oh, and I swear I heard a song by Barbara Streisand.

Okay, maybe it was Boy George.

I couldn't tell.

Sorry, I'm listening through glass here!

Who would have thought that "At Last" would be heard on a construction site? I work for a construction company and I've never heard it! Denim button-downs (while wearing jeans), Timberland boots, and canteens are the things that make up a construction site. Not Huey Lewis and Gwenyth Paltrow. I would have expected Def Leppard, AC/DC, or Guns N' Roses. Maybe even a little Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, or Jimmy Buffett. But Etta James? Nah. Never. Maybe tomorrow they'll play some Celine Dion. She sounds right up their alley.


Photo Credit: Lawrence Sinclair

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The End of An Era

Grandma - "Oh Sam, let me take a look at you."

Grandma - "Fred, she's gotten her boobies."

Grandpa - "I better get my magnifying glass. Ha Ha Ha."

Grandma - "Oh, and they are so PERKY."


Sadly, John Hughes has passed away. My childhood was spent watching his iconic films. They were essential cinematic representations of what it was like to be a teen in the 80's. The 80's wouldn't be as bitchin' as they were without John Hughes. Where would we be without The Griswolds? Ferris? The Brain, The Athlete, The Basket Case, The Princess, and The Criminal?

I live in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and Hughes has certainly left his mark here. He grew up outside of Chicago and set many of his movies in the city's northern suburbs. Memories and filming locations from Home Alone, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Christmas Vacation, The Breakfast Club, Curly Sue, Planes Trains and Automobiles, She's Having a Baby, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck, Weird Science and Risky Business are all within minutes of my home. His films will always be a permanent part of my history. Growing up, I wanted to be Molly Ringwald. But who didn't?

I encourage you to honor Mr. Hughes. Go dig up your Sixteen Candles VHS (watching an 80's movie on DVD just isn't the same), drag your dusty video player out of the basement, and laugh in his memory. His films will always be timeless classics.


(500) Days of Summer

I loved, loved, loved this film. It's one of the most original romantic comedies I've seen in a while. I hate to even call it a romantic comedy, because it's far from the typical cliche.

It reminds me of a modern day When Harry Met Sally, with a visual style similar to Juno. Even the lighting is impressive; the creativity poured into this film is endless. It's unpredictable, and the humor is sometimes unexpected (you will laugh out loud). It's perfectly cast and very witty.

The film opens with a narrative, and bounces through the 500 days of their relationship, in no particular order. Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer, falls for Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Tom believes he's met the woman of his dreams. Here's the kicker - Summer is a non-believer in love; in her mind, love only happens in fairy tales. She's young, carefree, and isn't looking for anything serious.

Tom is determined to change her attitude on love, until one day Summer breaks up with him. With the help of his too-funny-for-words sidekicks (and his prepubescent sister), he spends the rest of the film trying to figure out what went wrong.

The acting is superb. I'm a sucker for believable acting, it's what makes or breaks a film. If you can't distinguish between a character and the actor, you know that's talent. I don't remember the last time I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun, anyone?) but he really threw himself back into the acting world with flying colors. Zooey Deschanel shines in the film. She is spot on as Summer, and I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role. I love her 60's hair, feminine style and sing-song voice.

SIDE NOTE: Anytime I see a film with Zooey in the cast, I always leave the theater wanting to be her (every guy wants to date her, ever gal wants to be her). This usually means purchasing a cute headband, a high-waisted skirt and a pretty blouse. Then running home and cutting myself some bangs.

Now back to the film review...

Tom - "Did you ever have a boyfriend?"

Summer - "Of course."

Tom - "What happened, why didn't they work out?"

Summer - "What always happens? Life."

The thing I love best about this film is that it is realistic. Everyone can relate to their situation in one way or another. It's not a love story, it's a story about love. Don't expect a "happily ever after" at the end. This film is emotional, hilarious, and visually stunning. It will affect you; I promise you that you will leave the theater moved by it. Although parts of it were sad, you're left feeling hopeful. It has become my favorite film of 2009. I wouldn't be surprised if it's showered in awards.

Be sure to check out the soundtrack. It's a great mix!


Photo Credits: Fox Searchlight

I'm Still Here!

I thought I should let you know (yes, you!), I haven't abandoned my blog. I promise. I love it here, why would I ever leave? I love thinking that people actually read my blog, so why would I stop?

I've been a very busy girl for the past 7-10 days (I don't even know what day of the week it is anymore). If someone hands me another proposal to write, I swear I'm going to punch them in the ovaries. Oh come on, I wouldn't really!

"I've got to get busy writing - busy, busy, busy!" Anyone know where that quote is from? Frosty the Snowman. I can hear Professor Hinkle saying it now. It cracks me up because instead of working, that's where my mind has wandered to. Well, at least I can still laugh. Even if I'm up to my eyeballs in deadlines!


Photo Credit: Martha

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ants Marching

Every morning I commute to the Chicago Loop for work. I actually enjoy commuting because I don't have to worry about highway traffic. Don't get me started on Chicago's traffic. I turn into an evil person when I get stuck in it, or even think about it. So let's not go there! Instead, I take the glamorous Metra train from just outside the city. It's heaven-sent, I always have a seat (shocking, I know!); you "L" riders know how cherished something like that is.

The Metra is just one big carpool, with the same people over and over again. It's comfortable; it's a routine. It's nice to see the same riders and conductors every morning; we're like family. Okay, I don't actually talk to any of them, but I pretend to know them. When the conductor flashes me a wink, I feel like I should know him. That would be the only reason why a wink would be somewhat appropriate.

The Metra is usually right on time, except for the rare occasion (like this morning) when there is a "pedestrian-train incident." It's always eye-opening when I hear that announcement. It makes my heart skip a beat, I can feel the reaction all around me. I actually notice the person standing next to me for once, and strike up a conversation about what happened. The news forces me wake up a little quicker, and I immediately start paying more attention to those train bells.

But enough about that traumatizing part of train commuting. I'm going to brush off my shoulders and think happy thoughts. The best part of my morning routine is a cup from my local coffee shop. The Brothers K. This place makes the best latte in the world. The latte art is beautiful; and the coffee so well-balanced. It's not bitter and is served the perfect temperature with just enough sweetness. It's a treat for me. I look forward to it. It drags me out of bed in the morning.

One morning, I got one of these. It made my day.

I heart you too, Brothers K!

Tomorrow, I'm going to get up and do it all over again.


Photo Credits: Serhio, CoffeeGeek, and RebeccaAnne

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hell Froze Over

Do you remember the first time you felt like an adult? I mean, really felt like an adult. Like you've grown up and there's no turning back? It's a strange feeling; not exactly a welcome one. You're fully aware that it's impending; and you just have to let it sink in whether you like it or not. Recently, I've made that transition, and you're probably going to laugh when I reveal why.

In a way, I've lost that warm fuzzy feeling I had a few years ago. When my clothes from high school still fit (certainly a distant memory nowadays); and when I didn't worry about my future, or how much time I had left to squeeze in everything I want to accomplish.

Now, I'm going to admit what snapped me into reality.


My internal clock is adjusting!

What is happening to me?

I can't seem to keep my eyes open past 10pm on weeknights anymore (let alone weekends, but I'm so not going to go there). I struggle to get out of bed in the morning at 6:30am for work; and I fight and moan all the way to the shower.

Sometimes I even walk to the shower with my eyes still closed, as if those extra seconds are going to grant me enough rest to make it through the day.

I can't seem to sleep in on my days off anymore either. My family always said that if that ever happened; hell froze over. I was the kid who slept until noon (at least!) every weekend and all summer long. Oh my, not anymore! I'm up no later than 9am, and I wake up confused, wondering how I'm going to fill this new time frame.

But I guess this is all part of the plan, right? I'm on my way to bigger and better things, right? That's honestly what I keep telling myself.


Photo Credit: Deltasly

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bored to Death

Jason Schwartzman
is in a TV Show?

While watching True Blood this evening, I saw a preview for a new show on HBO called Bored to Death that I'm really excited about. It's a new comedy series coming to the network in September 2009, and it stars Jason Schwartzman. It appears to be about a young writer, who reads a lot of detective novels; therefore he feels like he's perfectly capable to solve real life crimes. I mean, why not? I'd definitely hire him.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love all of Jason Schwartzman's projects. How can you not fall for his quirky self? He's simply alluring. I love, love, love his schoolboy-esque mop-top haircut. Not to mention, he has talent in his blood (his uncle is Francis Ford Coppola). The new series also stars Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis, with such notable guest stars as Parker Posey and Kristen Wiig (of SNL fame).

For a taste of Jason's charisma, catch him in this summer's comedy flick, Funny People. Jason also stars in my personal favorite, Shopgirl, among many other films.

Be sure to set your TIVO's for Bored to Death this September!