Dinner Staples / / Chili

Basic Chili

Food and football is a pretty big deal for my family (go, Notre Dame!). Life is shared and experienced around the dinner table and also during the wins and losses of our favorite teams. One reason why food is so enjoyed is because everyone in my family cooks.

My mom was the main cook when we were young, but my dad was always in charge of grilling, pie baking, and most of the summer canning (apple sauce, marinara, beets, etc.). When my oldest brother was a senior in high school, he would cook gourmet meals for us on the weekends. Because there were a lot of available cooks in the kitchen, I didn’t actually get that much practice (except for baking, I always baked with my mother). I knew enough basics from observing and making simple dinners for myself, but I never had to prepare an entire meal for someone until I got married.

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Coconut Zucchini Cookies

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Fall is here ladies and gentlemen and I couldn’t be more excited about it! Summer may overflow with optimism, but fall brings layers, a cool breeze twirling through my windows, apple picking, pumpkin everything, football(!) and warm lattes are many of the reasons why fall has my heart. But most importantly, fall is also the season I fell in love with Jordan.

Summer weather doesn’t inhibit me from using my oven (despite the sweating that ensues), but baking in the fall is a more pleasant experience. My father’s mini orchard is in full swing and I have plans for the bowl of apples and pears in my kitchen, but my remaining zucchini’s were calling my name first. The apples and pears will have to wait until next week.

Over the weekend I spent a little time (ok, maybe more than a little) perusing Pinterest and found a Coconut Zucchini Cookies recipe that I wanted to try. I love cookies especially when they involve lots of different inclusions (this one has coconut, chocolate, oatmeal and zucchini!). My mother would generally add chocolate to everything (to appease all our different tastes): chocolate chip cookies were really oatmeal chocolate chip and banana cupcakes might have chocolate chips blended in or maybe chocolate icing. This recipe seemed like something she would have tried.

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These cookies are almost better as a snack than as dessert (they aren’t that sweet). I ate a few after playing tennis with Jordan and it was the perfect compliment to the smoothie I was drinking.

Hopefully you are as excited about fall as me and soak up this season for all it offers.

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Wicker Parking

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I remember an evening, after the movie Wicker Park premiered staring Josh Hartnett (remember him?), when a few friends and I tried to locate the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago. Remember the days before Google Maps and smart phones? I’m not sure where we were at the beginning of the night, but after searching unsuccessfully, during a bitter cold evening in January or February, we wound up eating ice cream at a Cold Stone creamery (which really doesn’t make sense!).

Last week, before Jordan left for a friend’s bachelor party weekend, we spent a free afternoon in the city – a pre-celebratory birthday date. I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I first found out Jordan would be out of town for our birthday, so I wanted this day to be memorable and to do something or go somewhere new. Jordan suggested that we find an interesting restaurant and choose the neighborhood accordingly. We decided on Birchwood Kitchen (more on that later), but before dinner we explored and shopped.

We love Wicker Park. It is full of small coffee shops, record and book stores. The clothing stores are a mix of low and high-end with a splash of vintage and now that the vintage has mirrored my childhood wardrobe, I’m feeling an instant connection. I found a few fun pieces of clothing that I’m excited to work into regular rotation and an LP of Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise at Reckless Records. That album (and live concert) has always been one of my favorites; I’m instantly teleported to the end of high school.

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Ok, Birchwood Kitchen was a major win! The menu is simple with salads, sandwiches, and burgers, but fresh and delicious ingredients. They also sell coffee, lattes, and homemade bakery items. The inside of the restaurant is more typical of a coffee shop (comfortable benches and plenty of tables to have a work meeting or a coffee date with a friend), but the patio outside is the ideal place to spend a summer night! It is literally nestled into the neighborhood (you could see neighbors in their backyards). As we paid our bill at the counter, I noticed all the fresh pastries and convinced Jordan to purchase some for dessert. Jordan chose a lemon bar and I picked out banana chocolate chip bread. They were delicious!

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I just love exploring this grand city. There is so much to see and discover.

My Birthday, Your Birthday

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If I had to share my birthday with anyone, I’m sure glad it is with Jordan.

Jordan is out-of-town this weekend for a bachelor party and although I’m glad he’s able to spend quality time with wonderful friends, it feels strange to have this day all to myself! We haven’t spent a birthday apart since 2006 (and in fact, we were at each other’s birthday parties in ’04 & ’05).

Now that I’m used to sharing this day, I’ve realized I prefer having my better half around.

Happy Birthday, Love! I’m ready and excited for another year with you.

…I tried compiling a picture for each year (in order: ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’13), but apparently we missed 2010-2013. Whoops!

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He Asked and I Said Yes

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One of the reasons I began this blogging journey is to create a visual record of our life: present events and reminiscing on past events.

Six years ago today, Jordan proposed to me.

The week before Jordan proposed didn’t exactly go as planned. We left on a Friday evening, ready and excited, to spend Labor day weekend in Ohio visiting friends and enjoying the last of the summer. A mere 30 minutes from our final destination, Jordan’s engine overheated and the car stopped running. Thankfully, we were rescued by our friends while the car was towed. We had to wait until after the holiday to hear if the car could be saved.

We enjoyed our weekend despite the uncertainty of the car situation. As soon as they opened, the car was officially determined DOA and we immediately purchased Megabus tickets to get home. I had missed one day of classes already, so I left on Tuesday, but Jordan stayed two extra days to decide how to settle the car (thankfully the mechanic purchased the title). Jordan originally planned events during the remainder of the week to celebrate our upcoming birthday, so that I wouldn’t suspect a special evening. Because of our separate travel, the week was cut short. I still was unsuspecting when he suggested we dine at a quaint local restaurant once he arrived from Ohio on Thursday. We had talked about getting married and even briefly looked at rings that spring, but I didn’t know if Jordan had bought a ring or not. Unbeknownst to me, Jordan already had successfully designed and purchased a ring. He even asked my parents earlier that summer!

It was a muggy September evening and after dinner Jordan wanted to get ice cream. I noticed he was driving in an odd direction, but thought maybe he had a new ice cream place for us to try. Eventually we pulled up to a forest preserve and he surprised me with ice cream nestled in a cooler! After we finished eating inside of the car, Jordan suggested we take a walk (I still was clueless to what was about to happen). This particular forest preserve is situated next to the church where we first met, so it was fun to reminisce about those early high school years. As soon as we stepped out of the car I immediately got bit by an entire army of mosquitoes and asked if we could stay in the car. I wasn’t game for the romantic walk that was planned (poor Jordan), so instead he just went for the big question in his parent’s Buick!

I remember Jordan asking and me saying yes, but the words he used went right over my head. The next day we had a big birthday party planned, which in fact he planned to be an engagement party! I didn’t know a lot at 20 (and not much more at almost 27), but I knew that Jordan was the man for me.

These pictures really made me laugh and smile. We look like such babies! It’s special to still have everyone in these photos in our life in such important ways.

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For Your Listening Pleasure

Popular Podcasts

My brothers and I listened to a lot of music and children’s radio programs when we were young. Recordings of The Sound of Music and Anne of Green Gables were in constant rotation. When I was around five, I received a Fisher-Price tape recorder for either a birthday or Christmas present. It had a rounded handle, colored buttons, and a microphone! Now for the first time, I had a way to listen my own stuff on the go!

On family road trips we often listened to Adventures in Odyssey, a radio drama program. Adventures in Odyssey began as a radio show in 1987 and has since released the episodes for home listening (we had them on cassette tape!). Odysessy is a fully realized world, with interesting and deep characters that are challenged with real life dilemmas. Most episodes take place in the present, but they also focus on historical events. When I sing the U.S. National Anthem, I think of the Adventures in Odyssey episode where they retell the event that influenced the poem!

After listening to a few episodes with my family, I would grab my trusty tape recorder, start an episode and toss a blanket over my head to isolate myself with the story. I would spend countless hours each week listening, learning, and using my imagination. At first, reading didn’t come easy to me, but these audio tapes allowed me to delve into a different world, just like books can.

When I began commuting to Chicago, I learned early on that music wasn’t the best distraction for the drive. Podcasts are fresh and new – you don’t know when one segment will end and another will begin, while songs can become predictable – they are usually around 3 – 3.5 minutes each (for this same reason, I don’t usually to listen to music while I workout).

I am constantly listening to podcasts: on my way to and from work, when I cook or clean or while I’m working from home. Just like when Jordan and I began watching The Big Bang Theory this summer, when I discover a new podcast I binge listen!  Below are a few of my favorite podcasts, which can all be found through iTunes or listened directly from their websites.

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Peaches and Crème

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Chicago is currently experiencing a string of hot days, but I’m still reminded that August is coming to a close: school has begun, sunsets earlier, and stores have started stocking their aisles with sweaters. These are the signs that summer will be leaving us soon. Before fall fully sets in, I’m relishing in the last of the summer produce that is available. Especially peaches!

Every week I have been trying to make a trip to our local farmer’s market, but if that hasn’t been possible I stock up on organic produce from our grocery store. Lately, peaches have been my go-to fruit. I use them in our spinach smoothies, peach and blueberry crisps, or even simply for an afternoon snack. Last week I decided to branch out and make a pie with my surplus of peaches.

Peach Pie

The process of baking is very cathartic for me. It’s amazing to start with simple ingredients that don’t amount to much alone (flour, sugar, eggs, etc), but when mixed together they become something great! Usually when I bake I stick with quick, easy, and reliable recipes. Quick breads, cookies, or crisps in the summer tend to be my go-to dessert, but if I have the time I try to challenge myself.

I chose a peach pie from Smitten Kitchen that I had made several summers ago. Sometimes pies can be to doughy, but because this recipe only uses a bottom crust, the result is a lighter dessert. On day one, I prepared the homemade crème fraîche and mixed the pie dough so it could all chill overnight. The next day I cut the peaches and mixed with a little sugar, rolled out the pie dough, and assembled. And you know what? It turned out just like I hoped and it tasted great!

Peach Pie

Peach Pie

What are your favorite ways to bake with summer fruit?

Tinker Bell and Me

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“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

Growing up a baby of the ’80s, Disney movies were the only movies in our house for my brothers and I to watch. The second golden age of Disney animation was beginning and we had a VHS player! What more did we need? “Which is your favorite Disney film?” was a common question to ask your friends. Like any girl would, I enjoyed a good princess movie, but Peter Pan has always been my favorite.

I absolutely loved Tinker Bell. She was feisty and small, independent and yet she still needed Peter. As the youngest of two brothers, I often felt like Tink: desperately needing to be heard, striving for my own identity, but clinging to the comfort of older siblings. Other people must have seen the similarities as well, because Tinker Bell was one of my nicknames. I even dressed like her for two Halloweens in a row!

Life has been interesting lately. I try to live a balanced life and one that is full of perspective, but sometimes wallowing feels good. Impatient Tinker Bell had a tendency to wallow and pout if things didn’t go her way… though it usually just got her in trouble. And really, it gets me in trouble too.

A year can feel very overwhelming without structure. There are days when I miss the structure that being in school gave me. For years, I would go into a counselors office and walk out with a set plan and over the course of the semester I executed that plan. Now, I have no one to tell me which course to take. There are just endless possibilities. Jordan and I are working through the possibilities and I’m trying to not wallow when something doesn’t pan out like I had hoped. It’s kinda exciting, but I wish I could sprinkle some of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust to make everything just right. Though, really, I just need to pray and surrender. I believe God always has a bigger and better plan.

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^These photos were taken in and around Kensington Garden and Regent’s Street. The Peter Pan statue is in Kensington Garden.

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Chicago on Two Wheels

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Jordan and I are amidst a love affair, a love affair with Chicago. When I was younger, Chicago used to feel really overwhelming to me. Over time, through day trips with friends in high school, music festivals/concerts in college, and date nights with Jordan in the beginning of our relationship, the city became smaller, intimate and more manageable. Working in Chicago for two years had a huge impact on me in discovering that manageability. Driving in Chicago traffic was either going to break my fear or leave me running for the hills. I crushed my fear (except for parallel parking, that still alludes me) and became comfortable. I even could answer questions about directions! I knew streets and neighborhoods and could contribute to a conversation. My confidence level soared a few notches in those two years. Every now and then Jordan and I discuss the notion of moving to Chicago, but it’s never felt like quite the right time. Maybe it will one day or maybe it’ll just exist for fun Tuesday date nights and weekend excursions. Jordan and I recently experienced Chicago in a new way, on a bike.

I received my first (non-brother-hand-me-down) bicycle when I was seven. Our neighborhood in Ohio was filled with families with young children. Two of those families had three daughters. A set of pink and purple banana seat bikes was exchanged between those two families. The week we moved from Ohio to Illinois, I was gifted the purple one (with unicorns!). I felt so special, especially after dealing with neighborhood kids teasing me for using a boys bike. It was a hard move for me, but that bicycle helped to sooth my broken heart (I was a very tragic seven-year old, apparently) .

I rode that bike until I couldn’t fit on it anymore (eventually I received a brand new bike for once, though I missed those unicorns). Around the block, on a trail, to a friend’s house and back, or maybe to get a special summer treat from Dairy Queen. I knew I had arrived in my new surroundings once I felt comfortable biking alone. Somewhere along the lines of learning to drive, my bike began to collect dust in my parent’s garage. Biking allows for a special connection to your surroundings, I wish I would have kept up the habit.

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Jordan and I had noticed bike rentals popping up in Chicago. We kept saying we wanted to try them, but needed a somewhat leisurely afternoon to enjoy them. We took a recent Saturday afternoon to bike around the city. I was a little hesitant at first when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to use the sidewalk. You mean I have to bike with traffic?!? Jordan reminded me about the bike lanes, which are extremely helpful especially since it had been years since I last rode a bike.

We rented bikes from Divvy. We started in Old Town and traveled as far south as Buckingham Fountain. You pay one flat fee for 24 hours, but you have to stop every 30 minutes and rent a new bike if you don’t want to incur any extra charges. Thankfully, Jordan found an app on the Apple App Store that guided us to each checkpoint. Stopping every 30 minutes was a little tedious at first, but we were quicker with the on/off process towards the end. Jordan and I have caught the biking bug once again and we’ve discovered that  A) we need to buy bikes and use them in our own town more often and B) we need to rent bikes in each town we visit.

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Biking is my new favorite way to view a city; more expansive viewing than walking, but more intimate than driving.

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Summertime Vegetables

Summertime Vegetables

Early on in our marriage, I thought salads would be the best way for Jordan and I to eat our vegetables. My mom makes excellent salads, but sadly I do not. I never seem to have enough ingredients or the right dressing (I hate salads that are heavy on lettuce, light on toppings). I’d buy a bag of lettuce with the intention to eat salads all week, but something would interrupt our dinner routine and before I knew it the lettuce had gone bad.

I’ve learned my lesson and realized that the toppings to a salad (carrots, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, etc) stay fresh longer by themselves than combined in a salad. It’s easier to toss in a handful of tomatoes or spinach (that I do keep on hand, but mainly for smoothies) to a dish than preserve fresh lettuce.

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