It’s Been Quite a Ride

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel

I am ready to close the proverbial door on 2012.  Anyone with me?  It has been a year of great highs and lows both personally and globally, but glass half-full kind of girl that I am, I prefer to reflect on the moments worth celebrating.

One of the highlights of my year was launching this tiny little blog in January.  Talk about a learning curve!  Starting with the retelling of a crazy adventure that was too good to keep to myself, I dove head first into the blogosphere intending to share my, well, my love of life I suppose.  I leave the year much more tech savvy than I entered it and with a clearer sense of where I want the blog to go.  The new format (which I hope you have noticed today!) is part of that focus, and I look forward to bringing you more original images and content that take advantage of this clean, wide, streamlined layout.

my dressing room

February brought what continues to be my most widely read post.  From India to Indiana, it seems women everywhere are still searching for the perfect nude pump.

sleeping sails

Beautiful and unexpected weather visited Chicago in March, bringing runners and revelers to Lake Michigan months early.

 upside down chick

A visit to The Museum of Science and Industry on the last Saturday in April taught our family  a lesson about Perseverance.

mom

In May I counted celebrating Mother’s Day with my mom as one of my greatest blessings.

mini carrot cakes

I also leaked her closely guarded carrot cake recipe.

sharpie triathlon tattoo hugs

Ah, June.  My first triathlon was a great high and horrible low all at once, and because of that I walked away with tremendous gratitude.  And exhaustion.  Thank goodness my little sister sharpied our  favorite expression on my arm before the race because I almost sank  and think it may have saved me!

alligator

sea turtle

A trip to Kiawah Island in July brought us close to creatures big and small.  Witnessing the journey from shell to sea for a group of loggerhead turtles is something I will never forget.

Lucy Vincent Beach

fishing

fishing nets

the bare essentials

Martha’s Vineyard in August was the best part of summer.  Exploring Lucy Vincent Beach, fishing with Captain Tom Langman, and wandering Menemsha were highlights of the vacation.

acorns

September brought autumn’s arrival.

apple picking

And October, a trip to the apple orchard in Wisconsin.

birthday

And my 40th.  Yes I’m fussing with my candles.

The Sartorialist

Fashion blogger and photographer Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist came to Chicago for a book signing in November.

peppermint bark

ginger cookies

Cookies and chocolate were all over December – just ask my poor neglected bathroom scale. Which brings us to the New Year.  Resolutions or no resolutions?  I’m already working on my list….

All images via the aesthete and the dilettante

The Perfect Cookie

Okay, so perfect in a cookie is awfully subjective.  But these Ginger Sparkle Cookies are crispy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, spicy, sweet, healthy (comparatively speaking), and can easily be made vegan and/or gluten-free.  Phew.  And did I mention that they are insanely delicious?  As in, I cannot stop putting them in my mouth delicious?  I suppose that negates the healthy factor…

This recipe comes from a very accomplished vegan cook and close friend of mine.  If you don’t have soy milk on hand, I have made them with real milk in a pinch and they turn out just as well.

Ginger Sparkle Cookies
(makes 24-30 cookies)

  • 4 tablespoons turbinado or demerrara sugar (you can use regular sugar, but the large crystals of the above are what add sparkle and crunch to the cookie)
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour or 2 1/3 gluten free all-purpose baking flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum ONLY IF you are using gluten free flour (this aids in binding)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 soy milk or regular milk
  • 1 cup regular sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with silpat.
  2. Place turbinado or demarrara sugar in a small bowl.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices (and xanthan gum if using gluten free flour).
  4. In a separate large bowl, combine the oil, molasses, soy or regular milk, vanilla, and regular sugar.
  5. Pour dry ingredients into wet and combine well.
  6. Roll into 1-inch balls, flatten into a disk, press the cookie tops into the turbinado or demerrara sugar and place sugar side up on prepared cookie sheet.  (Fair warning, the dough will be sticky.  I find it helps a great deal to keep a tablespoon or so of canola oil in a tiny bowl so I can continually coat my fingers and palms with it during the rolling process.  It won’t entirely prevent the dough from sticking to your hands, but it’s almost impossible without it.)
  7. Bake 10-12 minutes, then let cool for 5-10 minutes on sheet before transferring to cooling rack.

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

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‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONDER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

Wishing each and every one of you a holiday season filled with peace, warmth, and love (and bunches of cookies!).

What to Do

Image 2Last night at my daughter’s 5th grade Christmas concert, a collective and profound sadness weighed heavily in the auditorium.  It was impossible to live in the moment and not contemplate the atrocities of last Friday as we waited for our young musicians to take the stage.  When the children began to sing their carols and eek out the notes of The Holly and the Ivy on their instruments, many of us had tears streaming down our cheeks over the enormity of it all.

When horrific, unimaginable things occur in life we justifiably seek explanations so our thoughts can rest on something concrete.  Concrete facts bring understanding and allow us to categorize and file things away.  We all know, though, that this one is too big to push into the corners of our minds or slip quietly into the past.  And I don’t think we want it to.

We mustn’t forget that we are blessed to live in a country where we have not only the privilege and right to voice our opinions but also the ability to affect change.  Please, please call, e-mail, tweet, or hand write your state and national level leaders and let them know what you want to see in legislation.  I am working on letters to my senators and representatives in support of an assault weapons ban with clear and concise language without loopholes.  I am also writing to ask for readily accessible healthcare and insurance coverage for mental illness.  Click here (http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml) to find and contact all state and federal elected officials and government agencies.  It is so much easier than you think.

Imagine Waking Up to This

Image 10I did.  Two blissful mornings in a row while visiting my sister and her fiancé in Florida.  She gave him the beautiful Alex Duetto II machine below as an engagement gift (have I mentioned how brilliant she is?  I think I have).  The above photo is of the actual cappuccino he made on morning two.  Seriously.

Image 3I was totally fascinated with the process because this cappuccino was truly SO much better than any I had ever had.  He graciously spent some time showing me how it’s done and below are the photos I took along the way.

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Image 4Above, the espresso being extracted.  The gorgeous caramel color of the top layer (above and below) is called the crema.  No dairy has been added – what you are seeing are the emulsified oils that have been forced out of the grounds.  And it is what makes the perfect shot.

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The next step is steaming the milk.  Sounds easy, but there is actually a science – and an art – to it.  You have to “stretch” the milk by keeping the steaming wand just below the surface, then sink it deeper to create a whirlpool, AND not let it get too hot (i.e. not too hot to the touch – so basically Starbucks is doing everything wrong).

Image 12The artful pour, below:

Image 8 Morning one cappuccino:

Image 1And my bunkmate while I was there, rescue pup Jovie:

ImageShe was the best inner spoon ever.  Two bests in one weekend.  When was the last time that happened to you?

Roasted Pheasants with Dates and Apricots

DSC_0060Roast chicken is a typical Sunday dinner in our home, but this weekend I was lucky enough to make pheasant given to me by a friend who knows I love wild game.  This recipe for Roasted Illinois Scottish Pheasants with Dates and Apricots from my go-to cooking site, Epicurious, turned out beautifully and would work just as well with a butterflied turkey breast.  The dates cook down and soften into this amazing melt in your mouth sugary goodness while the apricots and lime juice add the prefect amount of brightness and acidity to the dish.  Wild rice would have been my starch of choice, but the heaping portion of plain buttered white rice was the peace offering to my children who were not only trying something new but were also being served sauteed spinach with pine nuts.

Eric, if you are reading this, thank you and feel free to drop by after a hunt any time – my kitchen is always open.  Next time you’ll have to stay for dinner!

A Fiery Night Sky

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Last night during my flight home from Florida, I witnessed a sunset unlike any I have ever seen. Ember-bright streaks of orange bled into a brilliant yellow swath of sky, creating the illusion of an ocean on fire. Magnifying the effect were clouds saturated in black and dark grey that read like an ominous, smoky shoreline. The resulting scene was so truly unbelievable I closed my eyes and opened them again to be sure it wasn’t my imagination.

I didn’t look away until the illusion vaporized into night, its fleeting magnificence leaving me full of emotion.  Watching it was like hearing a movement of extraordinary beauty at the symphony or sharing an unforgettable kiss: the quiet vacancy felt afterward was almost as powerful as the experience itself.