On Shallots and Only What Matters

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Did I ever tell you about the time I cried while cutting a shallot?

I took a cooking class in the Latin Quarter of Paris last September (Le Foodist, highly recommend it) and in group classes like that, everyone has a multiple jobs. I stirred the custard for the homemade French vanilla bean ice cream every 4 minutes, balled turnips, diced herbs and, among other things, I cut the shallots.

Chef Fred demonstrated the proper technique and I got to work. I took a breath and could smell the sweet soft scent of this onion-like bulb with every pass of my knife. Methodical, sensory, cut, slide, smell, feel. I felt myself tear up and be on the verge of a legit cry. I was in a kitchen in a foreign land, cutting a shallot, preparing a meal with strangers, learning new things and I realized it was the first time in too long that I let myself feel something just for the sake of feeling it. I was inspired and deep in my gut happy, ready to cry in public.

That day in that Parisian kitchen was on to something.

I don’t think I need to actually cry in public (all that frequently at least) but there’s something to zeroing in on all of the things that matter, the goals at hand and releasing everything else that I want to remember about that day.

To carrying with me only what matters.

I love this photo because a gorilla could have been strangling me and I would still have been stirring and smiling and drinking wine- absolutely nothing was going to phase me that day. My intention is that 2016 being more of that kind of joyful, present, grounded, inspired living.

To only what matters.


Just A Chi Town Girl’s Last(ish) Minute Gift Guide

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2015 Holiday Gifts

For those on your list that didn’t specifically ask for a robe (again), Christmas shopping can end up snowballing (holiday pun intended) into an ordeal. Here are a few things that are on my gift go-to list that I think are great for everyone from your sister to her boyfriend that you have never met to the co-worker who you know is getting you something so you should probably have something wrapped and ready to go.

Cooking Like a Master Chef: Chef Graham Elliot has won Michelin Stars, cooking shows (any heard of a little thing called Master Chef?), James Beard nominations all while running 2 very successful Chicago restaurants and now he has another winner on his hands- his new and first ever cookbook. It’s equal parts inspiring and accessible which means this is something your pro-in-the-kitchen dad will eat up as well as your roommate who is hoping to make something other than ramen in the new year. Our holiday menu is filled with recipes from this cookbook!

KeySmart: I know, I know- getting someone a key chain for Christmas sounds lame but I have been using my KeySmart for 6 months and I love it. Fishing in my bag for a jingle of keys that resembled that of a janitor was annoying so when I saw a co-worker with this neat stack of keys that fit cleanly in his pocket, I ordered one immediately. With the extensions, up to 20 keys can fit in there and it will hands down be the most useful thing under the tree this year.

Duke Cannon Soap: It’s pithy, honest, American and doesn’t give a f*ck. Did I mention its soap? With product names “Big Ass Bar of Soap” that “smells like victory/productivity/accomplishment”, this men’s skin care company is for dude’s dudes. Aaand  I am going say women who like dude’s dudes too because I most certainly bought 2 bars, one for my dad and one for my husband, and while my dad did get his I definitely took ownership of the one in our house because it smelled so damn good. And who doesn’t want to start the day smelling like victory?

NARS Gipsy Lipstick:  My best friend always gifts me the best beauty products. I mentioned this to her on my birthday this year and she said that she loves giving people something they can love, use up and then not have it laying around the house. I think she is on to something. This sheer red lipstick is my daily go-to and the perfect new color to play with after you change out of your Christmas jammies.

Club W: The gift that keeps giving, Club W is a wine club that allows the recipient to select what wine arrives each month. With videos of sommeliers discussing the bottles available via their sleek app, there’s no surprise when a shipment arrives and it’s a really great way to try new varietals you’ve never heard of. Winter is coming (in theory)- the people on your Christmas list might as well be well prepared, right?

A Cautionary Tale About Jalapenos

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I spent about an hour last night with butter on, in and around my nose.

Public Service Announcement: do not scrape the seeds from the inside of a jalapeno with your bare hands.

Bonus tip: if you do, do not rub or itch your nose. Under any circumstances.

Like an idiot, I went to town on those jalapeno seeds with my fingers, did not wash my hands or even think about it. Heading outside to kick on the grill, I noticed that my nose felt prickly. Then warm. Then really, really hot. Then burning. Flat out burning.

It was at this moment I realized that this was probably jalapeno related.

I washed my face and tried to rub the burn off to no avail; it got worse and worse so I googled “What do you do when you get jalapeno on your face?”. Every single post started with the sentence “When cutting jalapenos, be sure to wear gloves.”

Bro. I would not be googling this had I worn gloves. Lay off me.

We don’t drink milk so the only dairy product on hand was butter so butter it was. And butter it stayed for an hour, aka when the burning began to calm down. My husband walks in the door to find me trying to finish dinner with one hand and with a stick of butter on my face in the other. It worked, eventually, but my goodness. Hot and bothered is the only way I can describe it and not in the good way.

In conclusion: be far more careful around hot peppers than I was last night and have butter on hand in case of an emergency.


Heirloom Tomato Bloody Mary

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carafe y

Like I said yesterday, I could not resist the stunners that were these yellow heirloom tomatoes at The Green City Market and thus, they became a Bloody Mary too. What can I say? When Williams-Sonoma asks what unique spin you can put on a Bloody Mary, you go for it. And going for it is always a good move, in life and in cocktails. The proof is in the glass in this case.

yellow tomatoes

yellow juicer

yellow juice

First thing’s first: juice these bad boys. I felt like the yellow tomatoes were special in their own right so I kept the recipe pretty traditional on this Bloody Mary with one exception: Old Bay. I have always loved Old Bay but my husband grew up in Chesapeake Bay country and is deeply devoted to this combination of spices. We put containers of Old Bay in our wedding gift bags and I keep small packets of it in a majority of my purses because God forbid we’re out for brunch and a restaurant doesn’t have it for his Bloody Mary.


As a result, I absolutely had to include it in this recipe and I am so glad I did- it adds so much more flavor than celery salt does. To get mixing, I added 2 tablespoons lemon juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce to taste, a Tablespoon of salt, pepper and at least that of Old Bay. I finished it off with Sriracha because I like a little heat at the end of each sip. As always, add, taste and repeat until the flavor is where you want it!


I kept the garnish simple with a single piece of bacon but it was sort of special bacon. I tossed the bacon (turkey, in this case) in a ziploc with dijon mustard, brown sugar and a little bit of maple syrup. Once evenly coated, I put them in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. The brown sugar mixture caramelized and I had a stick of sweet bacon to pop in the drink instead it being curled up the way it ends up when you cook it in a pan. I also think a skewer with shrimp, maybe wrapped in bacon or prosciutto, would be great with this Bloody Mary and the seafood would play off the Old Bay well. Ooohh, maybe top the Bloody Mary with fresh crab.

Almost as great as the fact that Bloody Mary’s can be made from entirely fresh ingredients? That the weekend is upon us and it’s time for brunch. I’ll have a Bloody Mary, please…

A Bowl Full of Cherries

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I don’t know what the phrase “life is like a bowl full of cherries” really means but this past Saturday had a bowl full of cherries in it and it was lovely so I have to think it means good things. I watched Forget Paris and mindlessly pitted cherries and was left with the best problem: what do I do with this beautiful bowl of summer?


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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)

Bread & Wine: A Review

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I loved author Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet because reading them felt like sitting down with a girlfriend over coffee and digging into those things in life that we celebrate, those that we mourn, the lessons we’ve learned and the faith that holds it all together. In reading Shauna’s third literary gem, we’re switching from coffee to wine and shifting the conversation to the relationships that make up a life and the meals that happen along the way.

To be clear: transitioning from coffee to wine is always fine by me.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes explores through a collection of essays what it means to be nourished on the inside and out and how through our relationship with God, we end up nourishing those around us. They say that life is what happens while you’re making other plans and through Shauna’s incredibly relatable writing, she shares the life that happens while you’re sitting around your table. While filled with some seriously delicious recipes, this is not a cookbook. The recipes act as place markers almost- the food made meaningful by the experience surrounding it. And the experiences surrounding the food are beautiful opportunities to celebrate the way God teaches and feeds us as we, in turn, teach and feed, figuratively and otherwise, those around us.

Bread & Wine feels very full circle to me. With Cold Tangerines, I shamelessly said “Me too!” to Shauna’s quest for celebrating the joy in everyday life. By Bittersweet, I needed the voice that gently reminded me that there are two side of the joy coin and I could sit with the side that hurt without having to pretty anything up; that God’s grace was more present than ever. Bread & Wine opened me up to the possibility that simply showing up and starting where I am is exactly what God created me for and how I will best serve my community, around my table and otherwise.

So, cheers and bon appetit- Bread & Wine is sure to fill you up, in more ways than one.


Days Like Today Are My Best Friend

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Luna Bell faked an injury, Ryan had to submit a last minute job app, we got on a bus that did not take us on Inner Lake Shore but all the way up to freaking Belmont…to say we got a late start to the day is an understatement.  But we finally made it to the Green City Market, finally got an order of apple cider donuts and finally had some coffee.

And then we looked up.

It is Fall.  So perfectly, crisply Fall.

Lincoln Park was packed with people with sweaters and jackets on.  Babies were bundled to a fault, and there was a lot more hugging and snuggling going on- it’s cold, people gotta stay warm!

We walked all the way home, holding hands and our bags filled to the brim with straight from the farm goodness.

Days like today are my best friend.