Back in the Saddle

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Fall Mich Ave

Not writing on the blog for the last 2 weeks has been really weird. It has been the longest I have gone without posting since I started Just a Chi Town Girl 5 years ago. Oddly though, the timing was alright. I have been to 5 states in the last 12 days. Vacation, work, events. I have spoken to 100 people at a brand conference. I had to get out of my head that I was out of my league (one of my co-presenters was a VP at National Geographic! The actual National Geographic!) and while there is always room for improvement, I feel like I nailed it. Drop the mic nailed it.

Feeling like you nailed something is the best feeling, oh my goodness. Note to self: do that more often.

What else I have been up to:

Serial Podcast: I know I wrote about it before but it’s at the point where I won’t run with Ryan on Thursday mornings because I need to go for a walk by myself to listen to the latest episode immediately. Oh and I am also reading extensively the comments in articles like this. Fascinating.

Using my Kitchen Aid mixer: I have wanted one since I was in high school (seriously) and my mom bought my one for my wedding. But with summer and not baking, it sat unused…until a loaf of banana bread happened a few weeks ago. Now I use it for everything other than Luna Bell’s cat food. It’s like having someone else in the kitchen with me, someone who will stir and mix and not complain or take too long. Totally and utterly fantastic.

College Football: I think I would be a really great college football coach because I love it and when you love something enough, you can be good at it. That and I would run my team like a business and in our Monday morning 1:1s, we would discuss if they did their job on the field and if they are going to keep their job for the following week’s game. Oh and inspire them be upstanding young pillars of their communities.

Raiding my parents holiday décor: I have been lucky enough to see my parents quite a bit this Fall due to work commitments in my home state and in addition to wine, Scandal, goulash and college football marathons, I have gone to town on their stashes of festive goodness. My family has always been huge on Halloween and Christmas. With no 200 person parties in sight, they are sitting on a damn holiday treasure trove. My house is a ball of smiling pumpkin, fall glory right now courtesy of my Mama and don’t get me started on the epic wreath I inherited from my Dad and stepmom. Jackpot.

Shred 415: This treadmill/weight workout kicks my butt every time but again, there’s something about doing something really hard. Running on an incline of 12% at 7 miles an hour turns me into the little engine that could (I think I can, I think I can, I might throw up, I think I can) but finishing a Shred class feels drop the mic good.

Even though it’s been a busy few weeks, I have missed this blog and am so happy to be back in the saddle. Back in the game. Making a comeback.

You know what I mean.

Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake

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I have been feeling really under the weather this weekend. Blame it on the on and off snow we are still getting or the hot tolerable/cold temps, it’s been stuffy nose, copious amounts of tea, napping central over here. After digging into takeout lasagna from Rose Angelis, a leftover bottle of wine was staring me in the eye. I was feeling so badly that drinking it sounded terrible (tough times, I know) but I could cook with it.

10pm sounds like as good a time as any to bake a chocolate cake, right?

Smitten Kitchen can do no wrong and this red wine chocolate cake is no different. I hate red velvet cake, a ton of food coloring isn’t my jam, but the red wine gave it a red color and flavor that was a perfect balance of bitter (from the wine) and sweet (the chocolate) so it was basically what red velvet cake wants to be when it grows up. And given the late hour in which the cake was baked, the easiness of the recipe was a big plus.

Also a plus? Cake with coffee for breakfast.




Jeni’s Ice Cream

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I’m going full tilt on pie this year.

A few weeks ago, I decided to place an order for Thanksgiving pies somewhere, giving up after a few years of mediocre (at best) apple and pumpkin attempts. Baking is my thing and I got discouraged. But I am letting going of my story that I’m incapable and I’m going all out- homemade crust, not skimping in sugar…and in case that fails, Jeni’s Ice Cream.

This place opened at the beginning of cold weather season in Chicago and has had a line out the door until 11pm every night. We could only go “It’s cold, who wants ice cream?” and “how good could it really be?” so many times and on our way home from dinner last night, Ryan and I stopped in to decide for ourselves.

My god.

Now I understand why when I went to Columbus, OH for work people lost their shit telling me about Jeni’s. It’s unbelievable. Should have skipped dinner unbelievable. We went with a
scoop of the sweet corn & black berry and their special vanilla but with unlimited samples, I can assure you that they’re all ridiculously good. Sweet, creamy and real– all local cream and milk and produce.

So the moral of my story is this: I am masking my fear of making another year of so-so pies with Jeni’s Ice Cream because truthfully, after a scoop or two of the Cinderella Pumpkin or Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean, no one will be talking about my Thanksgiving pies anyways. Everybody wins.


Link Love

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Luna Bell and I are very committed to yoga this week, trying to shake off this mercury in retrograde business.

I loved this article about a sweet woman, her love of running and living (and leaving) life her way.

I vowed to not make pies for Thanksgiving this year but maybe I could try these salted caramel hand pies

Strong piece by Chicago Magazine on the death of Charlie Trotter.

How cozy (and not frumpy) do these pj’s look?

I love chandeliers and am eyeing this print for our bedroom. Chandeliers and champagne bottles is a design aesthetic, right?

Food Bookmarks

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Since I haven’t been able to eat anything in the last 48 hours without, um, consequences, I have been bookmarking important food related things for when the flu has left the building. Like this list of 12 whiskey and food pairings.


And this grown up grilled cheese.


And definitely these No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bites.

The second our household gets healthy, this kitchen is going to work.

(Images via BuzzFeed, CupofJo and SincerelyCaroline)

October Link Love

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We are having house guests in a few weeks and I see us all drinking coffee while hot loaves of these breads come out of the oven.

To add to that cozy hosting fantasy, I should probably make this Masala Chai.

This tote made me laugh and reminds me of my friend Megan.

I DVR’ed Hocus Pocus last night- there are so many reasons why it’s the best Halloween movie ever.

Counting Crows’ August and Everything After is 20 years old and still one of my favorite albums of all time.

I have my eye on these wedges that would be a nice alternative to boots or heels this Fall.

Happy 1st Day of October!

Baked Apples

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The big question of fall cooking,
for me, is “Will this make my house smell amazing?” and if the answer is yes, I consider it a done deal. Apples halved with a little butter, cinnamon and brown sugar, baked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes and topped with vanilla bean ice cream hit the smell requirement and was the perfect treat to end a lovely weekend.


Red Wine Chocolate Cake

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I don’t know about you but this chilly weather has made me absolutely ravenous.  I was running errands today and even though I had a perfectly reasonable breakfast and lunch, it was all I could do to not stop in every bakery and restaurant I saw and stuff my face.

My body must still remember the never ending hibernation of Chicago Winter 2011.

Cue scouring my favorite foodie websites and finding this fabulous Red Wine Chocolate Cake.  In a list of my top 5 favorite things, red wine, chocolate and cake are probably numbers 1-3 so to find a recipe with all of them in the title, I mean, seriously, just stop.  Not to mention, it requires little to no shopping- trust me, there is red wine and chocolate in our apartment at all times.

I’m doing a test run of this bad boy tonight and if it turns out as delish as that picture looks, it has won itself a spot on the menu for the inaugural Dinner Club next month.

Click here for the full recipe.

(Image via SmittenKitchen)

Caramel Cupcakes Inspired by The Help

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Last night, I posted about my fav recent read “The Help”.  This morning, I had a comment from Former College Co-Worker Cindy with a link to a recipe for Caramel Cupcakes.

You see, one of the main characters in the book is a maid named Minny whose claim to fame (in addition to her sassy mouth) is her caramel cake.

“Minny near bout the best cook in Hinds County, maybe even all a Mississippi.  The Junior League Benefit come around ever fall and they be wanting her to make ten caramel cakes to auction off.  She ought a be the most sought-after help in the state.”

Just reading about the cake made my mouth water so thank goodness the lovely blogger over at “The Cupcake Project” created a cupcake recipe based on the cake from the book!

Click here for the recipe- I can’t wait to make it!

Thanks so much, Cindy- I miss you too!