Monday, August 22, 2011

I think it's love: Pastoral Artisan

Who's having a molasses-esque Monday morning? I know it's not just me. Admit it!

As per usual these days, I have a slammed work day ahead of me and a baseball game tonight with my girl KMac (GO BRAVES!!!), so I'll keep this short and sweet.

Very sweet ... and... DELICIOUS.

I am talking about none other than Pastoral, the house of amazingness that I am proud to call my next door neighbor.

That's right - neighbor. 

If you're a Chicagoan and haven't yet had the immense pleasure of introducing yourself to Pastoral, please drop what you're doing and go eat lunch there. 

It's as though wine & cheese got together and had a glorious love child in the form of a little shop. I am aware that wine and cheese is not an entirely original combination, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Pastoral takes an old friendship and turns it into a modern day romance. 

Walls of wine - amazing varieties, quirky beers, and convenient picnic packs. I accept. 

The chamber of cheeses

Cheese from cows, cheese from goats, cheese from sheep, cheese from Wisconsin, cheese from Sweden. You name it and the cheese ninjas at Pastoral have got it, ready to give you a sample and watch knowingly as you nearly cry out in wonderment. 

But what really puts this place over the top ... 

Oh yeah. They serve up uhhmazing sandwiches and salads, such as the tasty treat pictured above. This monster is actually a side salad - and costs right around $4!! Mixed greens, goat cheese, tomatoes, spiced almonds (!!!) and balsamic dressing. A perfect Cinch! meal. 

I also tried a sandwich of the vegetarian variety, spread with goat cheese, almond butter and avocado. That sandwich is not pictured because it was too busy being shoveled into my face... apologies.

I'm deeply in foodie love with this place, and am so grateful to have their charm oozing into my apartment from next door. 

What makes a great local spot in your town?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weds-Day: Flunking Pre-Cana

Today, I had a realization. 

I'm getting married. In like ... less than 300 days. 

If you think I don't know that this sounds bizarre, that's not true. I know. I know it sounds bizarre. And it has nothing to do with not being excited - in fact, I think I'd say it's the opposite. I've had so much fun just reveling in the idea of getting married, it's tough to motivate myself to do actual work. 

Especially when the "work" looks like this:

The word that comes to mind is ... "Daunting."

And trust me, I know it sounds like play, but some of it is downright WORK. 

In reality, I believe I've "completed" more than "14" (I hope. Dear God how I hope.) 

So in the true spirit of fun, I have decided to focus on this most pressing task this weekend:

Gulp. We've really put this one off. Which is ironic, considering how important said task is where we're tying the knot.

But, this box is an espeically crucial one to check off, so check off we will. Along with choosing our officiant comes the both deeply meaningful and deeply dreadful premarital counseling, known to us Catholics as pre-cana, aka the spilling of guts in order to make sure we are not only feeling love vibes but also that we don't have crazy different goals leading us to the mutual biting off of heads later in life.

A close girly friend of my tried to perk me up about this particularly non-glamorous (but important!!) task by encouraging me to "have fun with it." I liked this advice much in the way I like the idea of attempting to eat 10 salentine crackers in 1 minute - sounds easy, but can it be done?!

The whole fun bit got me thinking: People do this counseling stuff on the regular... wonder how the starlets of America (& not America) would stack up against the stiff, holy judgment? If I were the guy wearing the robe (or a guy in general), here's how my picks would grade.

5. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie - C

Are these two for real, or do they just secretly wish Mr. & Mrs. Smith was constantly playing on loop? I vote the latter. Your kids are cute guys, but no amount of cuddly nuggets are going to keep your mugs off the tabloids.

4. Simba & Nala - A 

Girlfriend knows how to keep a dude in line. Even though these two rely on lyrical conversation in order to communicate, I'm giving them a straight up A.

3.  Prince William Arthur Philip Louis & Kate Middleton - C+

I understand it's beyond tempting to give these two high marks at first blush, but a seasoned pre-cana-er knows better. 
Let's face it, I think Kate tied the knot just so she could sell all of her clothes on ebay every time she wears something in public.

(This grade brought to you by complete and total princess jealousy.)

2. Simon & Tamra Barney (of The Real Housewives of OC) - B+

Don't be fooled by that nasty divorce! You know a couple's got a lot going for them when the only way to keep life interesting is to throw dog leashes at one another and get each other arrested for said dog leashing throwing. Keep up the good work, lovebirds!

1. Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola & Ronnie Ortiz-Magro of Jersey Shore - F

I'm sorry. There's just nothing I can say to justify anything above an F for these two, even as a joke... Once you throw your girlfriend's twin bed mattress onto an outdoor porch in rage and cry enough tears to collectively fill the Hoover Dam, I just think it's time to say "Sayonara!"  

Which Hollywood stars fail pre-cana the hardest? Raise your hand if you think JC & I will flunk! :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Magical Mushrooms for a Chef in Training

[Scroll down for my Grilled Portobello Burger recipe idea!]

Happy Tuesday party peeps! My Tuesday was not all that happy. Lame, but honest.

It could have something to do with the fact that my Tuesday feels more like Wednesday, or Thursday. My work schedule is about to return back to a normal, manageable one here, starting next week. I just need life to calm down a bit, between career, home-making, and just realizing what a hot mess I am.

Seriously, I need a haircut almost as badly as this guy

(Please watch the whole thing. I'm scared.)

As you guys know, I am learning a lot about what it's like to live with a boy who is not your dad or brother (aka who doesn't have a mom around.) First, I discovered the entire house frequently smells like tacos. Standard. Secondly, I realized that boys are really, really helpful with home improvement jobs (or at least my guy is. Awesome!) Third, I learned that boys really do enjoy when you feed them, even if they don't admit they would like a little help, erm... "diversifying" their options. 

For example, one night JC sat down to a dinner of about 6 oz of plain sirloin steak. Literally that was it. Needless to say, I took this as my time for an intervention. Especially after I mentioned just doubling whatever I cook, and John's eager answer was, "I'lleatwhateveryouputinfrontofme!!!" 

So this week, I decided to try my hand at domesticism and feed us Crowdemans. 

Have any of you guys happened upon Whole Foods's Family Meal Planner? Um, LIFE CHANGING! I like to consider myself a creative cook, but this week of easy, well-balanced meals is just too good to be true. 

Last night, I tried my hand at grilled portobello burgers. 

After John & I finished up our furniture picking up adventure, I decided to fry up these pups while JC was dropping the zippy car off. By the time he got home, dinner was on the table. 

Hey, I said domestic, didn't I? 

Marinated & Grilled Portybello Mushroom Burgs

You'll need:
4 large portobello caps
4 100% whole wheat hamburger buns
Balsamic Vinegar
Fixins' (Spicy mustard, sliced onion, avocado & salsa if you're me!)
Sliced raw bell pepper strips
Hummus of your choosing 

After washing, soak portobellos in a balsamic vinegar & cinnamon marinade. I don't know what inspired me to add cinnamon to balsamic vin but it was truly amazeballcity. 

Grill 'em up, or skillet them. The portys grill quick so keep flipping. 

Prepare your fixins'

Voila! Serve with raw tri-colored pepper strips on the side, with hummus (we chose spinach & artichoke variety.)

These were delicious and ridiculously easy. My one regret would be not thinking to add a slice of part skim cheese on top of that magical mushroom. JC even admitted he could hardly tell the difference between the mush & the meat :) (although he made me promise not to tell you guys he said so!)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Things to sit on

... and other cool cozy stuff!

First off, thanks to my lovely readers who left me comments on last night's post! I love updating my little blog but it's so much more fun for me when you guys join in.

JC & I made big strides in the making-house-a-home department this past weekend, and I wish all of our new pieces could just appear in our living room. But instead, we wait.

Where I last left off, we were here: 

It was progress, but far from cozy. 

Since then we have drywall & paint (!!!!), and are just waiting on the doors (which are going to be amazeballz apparently!) I'm planning a "before and after" post recapping the construction progress, but until then, we've focused on filling up our now empty (except for the lovely bar, a John Crowder original - not to be discounted in the least) living room. 

A peek at the loot we made off with: 

Remo sofa from Macy's in coffee. Pic doesn't do this thing justice - it's really a sort of light olive.

And a blurry JC looks pretty sassy-good on it in the Macy's showroom.

Paige ottoman, also from Macy's. We'll be using this as a coffee table with a nice tray situation for bevvys and such. Love that it functions as extra seating and storage. In the words of Debra the Macy's show room lady, "Practical."

We ran home with a pillow from the sofa, just to make sure it would look as fly as I was imagining with the brilliantly amazing Fireworks Rug (which I now own - BOOYA!). I think it goes quite well, with similar bursts woven throughout. 

Some other treats, fresh out the Zipcar trunk: 

Really classic console table for behind our couch - plus a bit of extra storage. From HomeGoods

Let there be LIGHT in our ill lit home! Two of these floor lamps.

I'm flat out amazed at how much of a difference the lighting makes, particularly the massive floor lamps. Our living area has gone from cavern of confusion to cozy empty partytown.

Also waiting on the delivery of this classy item from the Barn of Pottery: 


How cozy/old are we?? I can't wait to put it all together and show yous guyz. 

What's your favorite room to deck out? What makes a room awesome?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Fabulous Farewell & Back to Basics Lunch

[Scroll down for "Back to Basics Roasted Veggie Scramble" - my favorite complete, easy lunch!]

Hope you've had a fantastic weekend! Mine was full of both play (too much play, ahem) and productivity (furniture, furniture, furniture!! More tomorrow.) 

This weekend we said "see you later" to a lovely and amazing new girly friend who is headed back to Texas. 

We will really miss this well dressed, classy-establisment-loving lady! 

For farewell dinner I had the immense pleasure of checking out Quartino. In the face of so much culinary hype, I've been meaning to hit this spot for quite some time. It really did not disappoint. Excellently priced menu items were a crowd pleaser for our wallet conscious crew, while still allowing us to feel a little fancypants, ordering wine by the 1/4 and 1/2 litre (love.) 

I enjoyed a sampling of mushroom, tomato & eggplant bruschette, followed by a perfectly portioned baked eggplant parmigiana. 

Ummmm yes, we will be back. 

After a joyous evening that may or may not have ended at late-night watering hole Hangge Uppe (shameful), and then actually ended at Wiener Circle with "everything" dogs and cheddar fries (beyond shameful), I woke up Saturday laughing at how much fun we'd had getting down and shaking our groove thangs, but also regretting my mega food hangover. A couple more meals out, and I was feeling totally off track. A weekend like this one - a special occassion - is totally permissible in my book if it's once in a while, but for me I've been a nutrition ninja during the week only to sabotage on weekends.

I think we've all been there, so I wanted to share some recent strategies for getting my gut back on track.

It all starts with ... 


I've always wanted to laugh in the face of nutrition hopefuls who promise that we can re-wire our food cravings if we just behave long enough. Like there is magic dust laced in zucchini or something. 

I don't know about magic dust, but I DO know that even just 6 months ago I never would have gravitated towards colorful veggies in the super market, I didn't use to be able to eat tomatoes plain with goat cheese on top (or eat tomatoes at all without cringing), I wouldn't have dipped raw red pepper into hummus and enjoyed it, and I never would have preferred to eat meat only 1-2 times a week. I realized tonight I can't remember the last time I added salt to something. These things just happened to me after I focused myself on complete, fruit-and-veggie-centric meals, and though we all have our big slip-ups and late night hot dog devourings, it's nice to know our bodies are so trainable. 

Onto the easy lunches I've been enjoying recently:

Back to Basics Roasted Veggie Scramble
1 C. Sauteed Veggies, like onions, garlic, squash, carrots etc.
1/2 C. Lentils
1/2 C. Quinoa
2 T Annie's Ginger Sesame Dressing (Salsa works great as well)

I love lentils. Aside from being a kick in the pants source of protein, their rich nutty flavor is perf mcgerf.

Not a gorgeous meal, but super tasty, simple, and a great way to reset. 

In the pic above I added some guac for a little extra plant based fat. Delish!

What's your go-to healthy lunch choice?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The walls are alive!!!

This is a ginormo week for us if you've been keeping tabs on our love nest situation. After barking up more trees than I care to count and many, many a sassypants email to our property manager, I walked in to our apartment to THIS the other day:

Those steely beams might not exude excitement at first blush, but they are the makings of dividing bedroom walls, advancing us one step closer towards having a real homey two bed two bath killer pad.

In the meantime though, I am just too much of a nester to settle for apartment chaos and the waiting game. Therefore, we dove right in with the pieces of our apartment that we can actually control - kitchen, kitchen, kitchen!

Here's a little glimpse. After a massive Target trip, it's starting to come together.

Side note: I spy with my little eye a wine problem. I'm ok with it. 

I'm really loving the RED all up in our kitchen. We even sprang for this festive silverware (Actually not the same but you get the gist):

But aside from looking fly, our kitchen has already become home to tasty concoctions and Crowdeman dinners together.

His & hers from earlier this week:

His: Sirloin steak & plain baked potato with butter. I'm not kidding, that's all this guy eats, and he's perfectly content with that. I'm considering an intervention.

Hers: Broiled wild Atlantic salmon, veggie kabob, & small sweet potato smothered with almond butter and cinnamon. MMM!

After bouncing around from state to state for the longer part of two weeks, it's amazeballz to have a great kitchen laboratory to help me get back on track. More on that tomorrow.

What do you guys think of the makings of our new home??

Monday, August 8, 2011

Music Monday: Lollapalooza Time Machine

Happy Monday friends, family, strangers & stalkers!

For me, this is kind of like Tuesday, because my team is now training on Sundays. How fun is that? About as fun as it sounds.

This weekend was mostly awesome with some pepperings of horrendous and obnoxious. I am talking of course about Lollapalooza-goers screwing up my schedule and taking over my 'hood with their shredded hippie tunics and war paint. Seriously, what's with the war paint. I don't get it. I waited 15 minutes for a southbound red line. Once on that red line, I had the unique privilege of listening to underage festival freaks ask each other, "Do you feel anything yet??" while filling my nostrils with pungent bathing suit concert sweat.


As discouraging as these encounters always are, I am a little sad that I missed this year's lolla. I think a little known fact about me is how much I love music, and how, as my fiance would say, I'm a little bit of a hippie. It's true. As a high school version of myself I spent all my spare change on concerts in Atlanta. It was awesome, and I miss it, and resent the fact that life gets in the way these days.

All of that being said, there weren't any acts at Lolla this year that I totally couldn't live without seeing (sorry Eminem.) I would have liked to check out MMJ & Two Door Cinema Club, but frankly it wasn't worth the price tag nor sweat smells.

Instead, I thought it would be fun to create my own little Lolla time machine, and visit all of the acts from years past that I'm bummed I missed and wish I could have seen. Let's get this party started.

2006: Death Cab for Cutie

I always love these guys live. They are probably my #2 most seen band next to Modest Mouse, but it doesn't get old. 2006 was right when these dudes were on the cusp of discovery as well, so it would have been awesome to see them one more time in (what I believe was) their prime.

(Runners Up: Broken Social Scene, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket, Matisyahu, Umphrey's McGee)

2007 - TIE: Modest Mouse & Tokyo Police Club

Enough said. I can't possibly be asked to choose between these two Godsends. Modest Mouse has the slight edge due to my obsession with every Isaac Brock brainchild, but I've never seen TPC, so, tie I say.

(Runners Up: Snow Patrol, Interpol, moe.)

I would shell out some serious cash to see my dudes in action, not to mention in my city. It breaks my musical heart that I've never been able to see them, so I hope (oh, I hope) they will come back to visit me. 

(Runners up: G. Love & Special Sauce, The John Butler Trio, Iron & Wine, Explosions in the Sky, Broken Social Scene, Wilco ... Man I would love my time machine right about now!)

(Runners up: Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, Ke$ha)

As for 2010, I was in attendance and Phoenix took my #1 pick (no, not Arcade Fire, enough already.) Lady Gaga was a shocking (and trippy bordering on cracked out) second. 

Here's to hoping that Lolla 2012 looks anything like 2006 - 2009, because those years were for realsies.

Lolla goers - what was your favorite act this year?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm gettin' close to Portland town

So... I know I haven't blogged in a century. For this, I apologize. My life has been outrage with business trips, followed by pleasure trips. I started the below post before I left for vacation, so I thought I would finish it off before giving you guys some of my August goals. I'll post more about my travels after that. Enjoy!

I haven't had much downtime considering I am jetting across America for work and then for vacation next week. Or, as my father has decided, I'm running for president.

Even though it's a pain spending each day of one week in an airport (literally...), it's a nice change of pace to get myself out of the office and into the field. I am missing Chicago though, especially because our incomplete lovenest is still waiting for me to come home and unpack it. Another story...

So all three cities I have never been to before. I was pretty stoked when my boss decided I should go to ...


I'm just going to come right out with it. Portland may or may not be the weirdest place I have ever been. 

I stayed here: 

A lot of people describe the Jupiter Hotel and adjoining Doug Fir lounge as "retro", "fun", "edgy" and "an experience". It was an experience alright. Even though Doug Fir lounge is supposedly home to the most live shows in all of Oregon, this place just freaked me out a little. 

You can't make this stuff up. 

The outside really made me nervous as the place is more like a motel - double decker action with doors opening to outside. 

Luckily the room itself was prettiness and clean, which helped me understand the hype a little more clearly.

Even though this was there. Waste-reducing soap. Seriously...

Oh and these. 

I have always heard that Portland is a hip place with an outdoorsy flare, but first impressions mean a lot and the only word I could think to describe this place was "rough". 

The hotel room doors were also giant chalkboards. This, I loved. But again, the roughness! The language! It was a little hard to take in. 

My first morning in Portland, I emerged at 9:30am, feeling like I was a sinner for waking up this late on a Monday. After all, 9:30am in Chicago and you've already missed all of the traffic and commuters. 

Apparently not so in Portland. I wonder if this "July" weather could have had anything to do with it?

Seriously, nothing was open until 11am. Except this lovely little coffee shop, which began the softening of my heart towards this little mountain city. 

They made me a yummy egg sandwich with avocado on wheat bread. Paired with a soy latte and part of a lara bar (which I brought from home because I'm a psycho), this breakfast was dynamite. 

I really enjoyed the fact the pierced ladies manning the coffee bar did not bat an eyelash at my healthy eating requests, which is very unlike Chicago, where the mere mention of "wheat bread" and "no meat please" is enough to earn some very offended stares. 

As I walked around the quiet east side of Portland, I started to realize this place was not half bad. In fact, it was kind of right up my alley in that it sort of resembles a giant outdoor Anthropologie store. And that, I can be very very okay with. 

Then I discovered this amazeballs hardware store that must have taken up a whole block. Since the 19 vintage clothing stores were not yet open, I wandered in and took in the views of hundreds of old and beautiful glass knobs, screws, gadgets....

And LIGHTS! They had a million bajillion old school lamps n'  stuff. At this point I'm thinking, touche Portland. You're not half bad.