Strawberry + Rose Quickbread | A Recipe From Local Milk

As my pursuit of navigating the world of photography continues, I’ve found a tremendous increase in my enthusiasm for food and cooking. This correlation should come to no surprise seeing as all of my social media feeds are full of incredible food photography. The more and more I’ve talked to people pursuing the same thing, I’ve realized they’ve had the same response, though sometimes in reverse (they’ve taken up cooking and photography happened to come second).

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As long as I can remember, cooking has given me anxiety. For those of you who know me, I react very little to stress and anxiety, most of the time it just doesn’t phase me. Cooking has always been the one thing that really shook me up. I have a perfectionist mentality and I like to be the best at whatever I do. When I cook or bake, rarely does my first (or second, or third) try come out perfect, or even close to perfect. In the past, I would just get frustrated, throw everything away and swear to never cook again.

Little did I know that this precious time, alone with yourself and nature’s best gifts, is not about perfection. It’s being thoughtful about those moments in time, focusing on the task at hand, letting the rest of your life take a backseat, and getting better, little by little. The more I cook, the more at ease I feel, and the more I understand slow living. It’s something I’m mindfully practicing throughout the rest of my life. Take a breath, slow down, and enjoy each moment for what it is.

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This recipe is one I’ve been eyeing for a few weeks. There’s something romantic to me about baking. It’s not easy and it’s incredibly exact. Your focus is required and your connection to each ingredient and how they work together is a must. It tests me more than anything, but it also teaches me patience (I get distracted very easily).

I’ve been following Beth Kirby’s blog, Local Milk, for a few years now. I was first attracted to her photography, but fell in love with both her recipes and their accompanying stories.  Her dishes are fairly simple, but at the same time can be very technique driven. This is a recipe she did for Mother Magazine in April. While she used raspberries in her recipe, I exchanged them for strawberries because I just love the combination of strawberries and rose, and I had so many of them lying around.

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Strawberry + Rose Quickbread | From Local Milk 

*Makes one small loaf

1 c. all purpose flour

1/3 c. granulated sugar

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. rosewater

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 large egg

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 c. sliced strawberries

 

Heat oven to 350°F. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt to evenly combine. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, rosewater, egg, olive oil, and vanilla. Lightly whisk to combine. Add this to the dry ingredients. Gently combine just until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated. Be careful to not overmix. Fold in the strawberries. Lightly grease your loaf pan, pour the batter in, and bake it on the center rack for about 35-45 minutes or until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean and the top is golden brown.

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Takashi Murakami | The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg

There’s nothing quite like a good art exhibit, especially when it brings some one like Takashi Murakami to the city. For those of you who are unaware of who this man is exactly, maybe you’d recognize his work on Kanye West’s Graduation album cover, or his long-lasting collaborations with Louis Vuitton. He’s one of the few artists that have been able to blur the lines between high art and commercialism.

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His style is bold and colorful, and uses a wide range of media. There is a heavy influence of manga (Japanese graphic novels) in the superflat style, a term he coined which describes the specific style of Japanese anime and manga. In that comic style, you can find character’s, many times Buddhist monks, represented throughout his work. It was fun to watch stories evolve from painting to painting. Though, my favorite was the wall of smiling flowers. It makes you feel so happy.

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The sheer detail of each piece is mind boggling, and the process is borderline nauseating. Part of the exhibit breaks down the steps of his process for one (of maybe a hundred) character in one of his works. Starting with sketches on trace paper, to computer renderings, to more sketches, colors and finite details.  It would take a lifetime for a single person to complete one of his wall-sized works. Thankfully he employs a team of people that make the execution just a little bit quicker.

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Check out the detail on those paintings behind this massive alien-octopus sculpture. Layers upon layers upon layers are seen in even his most minimal works.

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He titled his exhibit The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg after a Japanese folklore that expresses the idea that an octopus will eat its own leg for self-protection. The exhibit is an incredible retrospective of his work showcasing his evolving style from Nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) to his current, and iconic pop-art meets manga instillations. His exhibit began at the Museum of Contemporary Art earlier this month and will be there until the end of September. It’s the perfect way to get out of the heat and see some pretty cool art. (Pro-tip – if you live in Illinois, the MCA is free on Tuesdays!)

 

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Saturdays At The Market

Shots from Green City Market this past Saturday. Every year the market vendors grow and grow, offering a wider variety of produce and goods each time. The warmth, the smiles, and the juicy strawberries get me every time!

 

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Create & Cultivate Conference in New York

Earlier this month I flew (or so I thought) to New York for the Create & Cultivate conference. The conference was to be an all-day event on Saturday, so most of my other activities were planned for either Friday or Sunday. My flight left at 7:30am on Friday morning, giving me plenty of time to get settled in my Airbnb, get some exercise in, and explore the city. Wellllll that didn’t exactly go as planned. During our flight both Laguardia and JFK airports closed due to rain and high winds, so we were diverted to land in Albany. ALBANY! We all got off the plane with no clue as to if our flight was ever going to take off again that day. They assured us it would, but hour after hour we continued to get news that neither airport has reopened. We had been just 1 of 6 diverted flights to Albany alone, and the agent at the desk was getting some serious harassment. I decided just to take matters into my own hands and buy an Amtrak ticket – a 2.5hr ride into Penn Station. Well 12 hours after my original flight left, I finally made it to my Airbnb, exhausted, hungry, and annoyed that an entire day I had planned in NYC was shot.
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I couldn’t bear to travel anymore, but I was starving, so I walked over to Sunday In Brooklyn and grabbed a seat at the bar. All I remember saying to the bartender was something along the lines of “wine and food please”, like I was lost in the desert and had just found an oasis. I’m hoping what was actually said can off a little more elegant, but I honestly didn’t really care. Several glasses of wine and about three quarters of the menu later, I had finally come to, and the restaurant was packed to the brim. The wait seemed to be long and the people standing behind me were anxious for either a drink or a table. In classic form, I ordered a whiskey and asked for the check. I was satisfied and one more seat in the joint would probably satisfy someone behind me – and the host. Let’s be honest, a chaotic and busy restaurant may be preferable to the owners, but it’s a nightmare for a host, even a good one. The longer you linger at your table, the more chaotic the night gets, and let me tell you, people do NOT like waiting!
The conference was the next morning with a strict start time of 8am. Hundreds of women (and a handful of men) herded to the The Knockdown Center, a massive industrial building in Queens. We were all waiting in line, shaking hands and handing out business cards before the doors opened. Once they did, HOLY SHIT. The prettiest booths I’ve ever seen were lined up all the way around the building. The weather had turned to warm, cloudless skies, and the interiors of the building seemed to mimic that. There was one little coffee shop out back that got hit with the brunt of everyones morning caffeine fix, however, with some stroke of genius, I had brought a little cold brew coffee with me allowing me to browse around before the crowds came. I headed over to Vital Proteins for one of their beauty waters. I opted for the Matcha Latte with their Aloe water. So damn good – I ended up finding myself here several more times throughout the day.
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There were so many drink options from Health-Aid Kombucha (my absolute favorite) to Kopari’s coconut water. I was basically just walking around to find another drink. While I was beverage hopping, I did get to check out the insane amount of other things happening. I created my own mini-Birchbox, and fell IN LOVE with Clarin’s Multi-Active Jour cream. The smell is so yummy. There was a glam booth where girls were getting their hair braided and curled, or you could get your makeup touched up with Laura Mercier products (obsessed!). I bought the most beautiful ring set at Gorjana. I’m so happy about this purchase. I literally could have bought everything there. I also had a notebook case pressed with my initials. I have something of a notebook addiction. I’m currently writing in four different notebooks, not including anything on my computer. It’s a problem, I know.
While it seems like I may have only been there for the goodies and free drinks, I had a full day packed with panels of badass #girlbosses and one f*cking. These chicks ranged from very successful bloggers to designers to brand VP’s. It was a great mix of backgrounds that brought up interesting discussions and new points of view.
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The conference was mainly focused on social media, blogging, e-commerce and marketing, which ended up bringing together many women working in fashion, beauty, and/or wellness. While I tend to work with and speak to an audience connected to the hospitality industry, I constantly find myself talking a lot about these topics i.e. women’s fashion in fine dining. So there was an automatic connection I could make with everyone I met or heard speak. I met with brands, designers, influencers and chief marketing officers who were all offerings ideas about best practices for a successful business. I soon realized that what I was taking away from each person was universal knowledge (not subject to one industry or another) about the necessity of successfully utilizing different online platforms.
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It was comforting to hear these highly successful women talk about what it was like for them when they first started because it mimicked the trenches myself and the other women sitting around me were going through. We weren’t alone, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For me, an over arching topic that was brought up time and time again was authenticity. Being yourself, finding your voice and creating consistent and authentic content seem to be paradigm to these ladies’ achievements. Be inspired by what other’s are doing, but don’t lose YOU. There were some other really great points made regarding engagement, conversion rates, negotiating contracts, and affiliate programs. You know its good when everybody’s intensely taking notes. What I found to be the most intriguing nugget of information was from Lauryn Evarts of The Skinny Confidential. First, I love her, she’s f*cking hilarious. Second, she laid down some serious knowledge about growth hacking.
Growth hacking is about diversifying content and distributing followers to your different platforms. The first part means that your different platforms should offer different kinds of content. For instance, you should NOT be sharing a photo to Instagram and then, though Instagram, sharing that same post to Twitter and Facebook. The content won’t be presented the same way, and if your content is the exact same, it doesn’t give your audience a reason to be engaged or even follow you on your other accounts. This leads into the second part of growth hacking, distributing followers. Once you’ve diversified your content, then you can start nudging followers to your different sites. If you post on Twitter saying you’re debuting a new Spring menu, then you should let your followers know that they can check out your Instagram page to see some photos.  Once they’re on you’re Instagram account, you can let your followers know that the new Spring menu is up on your website and that they should check it out. Diversifying your audience allows them to feel more of a connection to both you and your business, which in turn gives them more incentive to make an investment, in this example, a reservation. Evarts says she growth hacks all day every day, and it has become essential to the success of her business. Hell Yes.
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My absolute favorite panel, however, was lead by Bobby Kim from The Hundreds. It was all about representing people on the fringe, whether thats women, minorities, or people of different body types. It was eye-opening and empowering. Bobby did a phenomenal job at directing the conversation and keeping things light. Topics went from realizing that only you can direct your own life, to finding a voice for black women in fashion, to rape culture. It was vastly different from anything else that day, and incredibly refreshing. It was inspiring to hear all these women using the platforms they worked hard to gain (by being themselves) to speak out about issues they see or have gone through.
The day ended with me making a last lap to collect all the cool little snacks that were lying around and grab a coveted coffee that seemed to be the hottest commodity of the day. It was a whirlwind, but I learned a ton, made lasting connections to incredible women pursing their passions, and left more inspired than I could’ve imagined.
I headed back to Chicago on Sunday, and thankfully had a smooth flight without any glitches. It was a long and tiring weekend, but I squeezed out of New York all that I could (as you one does), and am more anxious than ever to go back.
**Watch out for a follow-up post on my exquisite dinner at Aska Saturday Night!

The Ultimate Beauty Berry Smoothie For Mother’s Day

 It’s no coincidence that Mother’s Day falls right in the middle of Spring. It’s a beautiful time during which we celebrate the most beautiful women. To us children, mothers seem to defy age. They live within the eternity of their undying love for us. At least that’s how I view mine. She is the eternal candle guiding me through the tough realities of life. Mom, to me you are timeless.

♥ I know it may be cliche to say that you’ve always supported me, and would do anything for me, but it’s true and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have someone like that.
♥ I know, being your first child, you worry about the choices I make, but please know that I’ve been watching and learning from you my whole life and you’ve been nothing short of inspiring.
♥ Don’t be afraid of where my life takes me because the examples you’ve set have nourished me at every crossroad I’ve come to, and have made me unafraid to take risks.
♥ But know, that I’m only unafraid because I have you to turn to when times get hard.

Mom, you are the one I look up to when I’m searching for the woman I hope to be, and I cherish both your love and your friendship! So, in honor of the most beautiful woman I know, here is my version of the Ultimate Beauty Berry Smoothie to celebrate that glowing Mama in your life!
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I have to admit, this is not your everyday, quick & easy smoothie recipe, but, if you’re looking for that, check this one out! No, this is something that takes a little extra time and care, because after all, hasn’t Mom always done that for you? There’s a good blend of fruits, veggies, and protein in here to keep you feeling good all day. Seriously, I’ve been making this, or a version of this for myself almost everyday for the past few weeks. So. Damn. Good. It’s really great after a workout and will keep you full until dinner. My NutriBullet (that my awesome Mama got me for Christmas last year) literally is the greatest thing I own. And no, I was not paid to say that. I just absolutely love the thing, especially since I’m not quite ready to splurge on a Vitamix. Anyway, here’s the smoothie that will super power your beauty routine!
MDS Avocado
MDS Vital Proteins
MDS Yumbutter Open
MDS Smoothie Ingredients
MDS Sun potion
Ultimate Beauty Berry Smoothie
  • 1 packet frozen Açai purée, Amafruits Organic & Unsweetened
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1-1/2 cups of Spinach
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1 tbsp. nut butter (similar here)
  • 1 scoop
  • 1 tbsp. tocos, Sun Potion
  • 1/4 cup carrot juice
  • 1/4 cup almond milk, Califia Farms
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • honey to taste, Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Fair Trade Raw Honey

Add everything to your blender of choice and pulse. Once everything is mixed nicely, turn up the blender and purée everything until its thick and creamy! You may need to add a little more almond milk depending on the consistency.

The Perfect Surprise Staycation At The Robey Chicago

I’ve always thought about indulging in a staycation somewhere in the city. Usually, it never pans out, getting lost in the comfort of our home and the chaos of our schedules. We always end up questioning ourselves, asking why we would spend so much money when we could just stay at home? We may still go out to dinner and have a few drinks afterwards, but it typically ends with me falling asleep on our couch.

This year for our anniversary, Mark asked me not to make any plans – our ritual in past years has been dinner at a restaurant neither of us had been. However, when I got home from work Sunday afternoon, I was instructed to pack an overnight bag. WTF? He also said that we had to leave soon, so I had to be fast. That’s a tall order for someone like me who packs and unpacks about a hundred times before I leave. I grabbed my Everlane Weekender and excitedly started throwing things in it. Thankfully, in the fury, I remembered such things as my phone charger and toothbrush (most of the time I forget). The best part was that I barely had enough time to pack, let alone try to anticipate where we were going. It was a total surprise. He had planned the perfect staycation.

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I couldn’t believe it. At 5pm we pulled up to The Robey in Wicker Park. I had done a piece on the boutique hotel for the blog previously, and was dying to come back and check out the rooms. Score! Our room was a suite on the top floor – and oh were those views good! The window-lined wall showcased a perfect, sunny skyline. Perfect church steeples dotted the rest of the view which looked south. I swore I could see my childhood home, though Mark firmly said I could not. Regardless, words could not explain my excitement.

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The room, just like the hotel’s common areas, had a unique mid-century modern design to it, and the masculine minimalism made it easy for me to snap magazine worthy photos. The entire wall behind the bed was lined with cloudy, textured glass which housed the long bathroom. Le Labo Santal33 products garnished the bathroom sink and shower, which caused another moment of excitement for me, as this is one of my favorite scents.

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We were very tempted to raid the mini bar as it was stocked with all of our favorite things, mainly St. George Spirits that we fell in love with in San Francisco. We contemplated fixing our own drinks in the room and sitting at the marble table in the corner gazing out over the city, but decided to check out some of the hotel’s other areas.

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We had dinner reservations, another surprise, later that evening, so we headed down to the 2nd floor lounge for a cocktail. It’s a large space with sections of couches and a large table in the center. It’s open all day so you can find people having business meetings, enjoying a coffee, or lounging with a cocktail like us. It would be a perfect place to host a Mad Men-style party with its central bar and low-sitting couches.

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Dinner was at sushi hotspot, Juno, in Lincoln Park. We both had been wanting to dine there for a while, so I was elated when the car pulled up. We tend to go overboard when order, especially sushi. It felt like we had everything on the menu – at least the Nigiri we crushed in about ten minutes. The kitchen sent out some of the best bites of the night, particularly the King and Queen Juno rolls. They were by-far my favorite. We paired sake with dinner, Mark choosing a Daiginjo, and I opted for a Junmai. I wish I had snapped more photos from dinner, but I was in a flurry of excitement, and the food was coming so fast.

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Once dinner was over, we weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we headed back to Wicker Park for a nightcap. One of our favorite restaurants in the area is Publican Anker, and conveniently, it’s located across the street from The Robey. Our liquor of choice is always Bourbon, so Mark ordered me a Willet 12yr and for himself a 20yr Pappy Van Winkle. Pure Heaven. Seeing as sushi rarely fills either of us up, no matter how tasty or how much we eat, we ordered a few of Publican Anker’s vegetable-driven dishes to snack on with our whiskey. Towards the end, in true fashion, Mark ordered burgers to-go (he’s done this every time we’ve dined here) – it turned out to be perfect, soaking up whatever alcohol was still in my system, and allowing me to have a hang-over-free morning!

In the morning, with no plans for the day, we slept in, heavily. We weren’t on vacation, and didn’t feel the need to explore, so we just enjoyed the long morning. I grabbed us some coffee and bagels from the 2nd floor, and we ate them on the marble table in our room looking out at the city, reminiscing about the night before. We slowly showered and packed. I begged Mark to let me take home the robes, but alas, his logic won out, and we left them behind.

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This little staycation ended up being exactly what we needed. It allowed us to really focus on ourselves and each other. We were able to take our minds off work and household duties like cleaning and paying the bills. We came back refreshed and inspired. I’m already planning our next staycation, and so should you!

Robey Staycation Zara Shoes

Blood Orange Gin & Tonic | The Perfect Spring Cocktail

 


This is a post dedicated to all those who drank copious amounts of Gin & Tonics with me in my early twenties. While my tastes have changed, my love for this drink has not.


 

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As the weather cuts our jeans into shorts and sweaters into tank tops, cocktail bars are starting to swap hot toddies for crisp and refreshing boozy concoctions. Herbs and citrus are king right now pairing perfectly with our favorite clear spirits. I’ve never been a fan of vodka, but gin has always found its way into one of my favorite spirits (after whiskey of course). Gin can span from incredibly herbaceous to having notes of orange and cinnamon. Both sides of the spectrum brings it’s own personality to each cocktail. While, I rarely discriminate spirits, I find myself more in the herb-driven camp. Actually, I lean much more heavily that way being that my favorite gin is The Botanist from the Scottish distillery, Bruichladdich.

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Located on the island of Islay, Bruichladdich is well known for their über-peaty whiskies, most notably, Octomore, the world’s most heavily peated single malt. Their foray into gin is not the path most take in distilleries on these tiny islands. However, The Botanist, true to it’s name, has proven to be something truly unique in the world of gin. The distillery forages 22 botanicals sourced solely from the island to supplement the classic herb bouquet. In addition to the traditional juniper, cassia bark, angelica, and coriander, herbs such as hawthorn, heather, wood sage, and sweet cicely add a more grounding herbaceousness than most other spirits of it’s kind.

I prefer to enjoy The Botanist in cocktails where its complex nuances can be highlighted. I’ve found that a classic Gin & Tonic, with only two primary ingredients, is the best place to enjoy this spirit. I follow two commandments with Gin & Tonics – first, you must use high quality gin, and second, you must use high quality tonic. Since this drink consists of few ingredients, the quality of those ingredients becomes much more apparent.

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I typically purchase small bottles of  Fever Tree’s Indian Tonic or Q Drinks Tonic, both of which are less sweet than most, and not overtly bitter. They’re really great for showcasing the quality of the gin.

As far as citrus goes, people tend to shuffle towards lemon or lime based on preference. For me, lime tastes the best, but again, that’s based on my preference. Since it’s just now becoming warm, and all of the trees and flowers are starting to blossom, I’ve added a little blood orange juice. It enhances the bitter quality of the tonic and gives the cocktail a beautiful pink color for Spring! The addition of rhubarb bitters is a perfect bridge between the citrus and gin, and just gives it a little something extra.

 

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Blood Orange Gin & Tonic

1.5 oz. Gin

.5 oz. Blood Orange Juice

.5 oz. Lime Juice

4 oz. (or so) Tonic Water

A few dashes of Rhubarb Bitters

 

Add gin, blood orange juice, lime juice, rhubarb bitters and ice to your glass. Pour over tonic water, and stir gently. Drink copiously.