Seeking Calm

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This morning I escaped, slipping out the door in search of calm. When worry steals my breath, I often find it hidden in the trees, on the wings of birds, or waiting patiently for me along rocky shores. Where do you go when you need life to pour air back into your lungs? When you need a gentle reminder that the world is as big or as small as you allow it to be?

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Morning light doesn’t always lend itself to capturing surroundings on film, but I took my camera and these images to remember the day’s journey. What I lost in perfect photographic lighting, I gained in solitude and song. The birds were singing praises to the sunlight, calling to each other as they searched for breakfast and each other. I heard a great blue heron’s wings beat against the water as it took flight, a robin’s tiny feet rustling through leaves in search of worms, the whistling upward trill of a glossy brewer’s blackbird. And as I listened to the smooth sound of rocks slipping against each other under the weight of my feet, I was reminded that this is not just their place, it is my place too, so long as I tread lightly and lovingly. Continue reading

Sunny Side Up

I have a confession to make. When I was in first grade, I pilfered the lemon yellow crayon out of a classmate’s desk. I’d worn mine down to a nub and she hadn’t even reached the peeling-down-of-the-paper stage!  In my six year old mind, she clearly didn’t love yellow as much as I did.  I needed it.  Alas, the guilt kept me up all night so I snuck it back into her crayon box, heart racing, when she was at the pencil sharpener the next day.

I’m as crazy over yellow now as I was then, especially in spring and summer when I’m craving color and sunshine.  So many people think they can’t wear yellow, but there is a shade for everyone. My friend Stephanie, a fair skinned, flaxen haired beauty of Swedish descent, looks stunning in the pale, lemon yellow of my crayon stealing years.  As a brunette, the golden, runny egg yolk version looks best on me and I love to wear it in both bold statement making pieces (my Alberto Moretti velvet day slippers – on huge sale here) and in smaller touches (my favorite Lem Lem scarf, similar here). The best part is, wearing it never fails to elicit a smile or two. And who wouldn’t want to be a ray of sunshine in someone’s day?

Below, street style images of the mood-lifting hue, then links to pieces you can buy Continue reading

Seasonally Inspired: Raspberry Rhubarb Compote

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Rhubarb is in season right now, so catch it while you can.  Instead of making the usual suspects (pie and crisp), why not try this simple, delicious, sweet-tart compote?  It can be spooned over ice cream, big meringues with whipped cream, pudding or pound cake, or swirled into your morning yogurt if you’re feeling virtuous.  I’m having a friend for lunch tomorrow and plan on serving it over panna cotta that’s chilling as I write this.  I’d planned on making something else for dessert, but abandoned those plans as soon as I spotted those crisp, rosy stalks at Elawa Farm’s garden market this morning.

Raspberry Rhubarb Compote

makes 1 1/2 cups

  • 5 medium stalks rhubarb chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 6 ounces fresh raspberries (1 small container)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • zest of a lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Cut bean in half width-wise and save other half for another use.  Cut bean-half length-wise and scrape seeds out by running knife along length of pod.
  2. Place chopped rhubarb, raspberries, vanilla bean seeds and the pod you just scraped them from, lemon zest, sugar and water in a medium saucepan.  Stir.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until rhubarb has softened.
  4. Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash some of the softened rhubarb pieces and stir to distribute.
  5. Turn off heat and stir in the lemon juice.  Remove vanilla bean pod.
  6. Spoon warm over ice cream or allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.  Compote will thicken as it cools.

 

 

The Bee’s Knees

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Just when we thought Spring would never arrive in Chicago, it dropped in for a surprise visit yesterday afternoon.  The Chicago Botanic Garden, one of our favorite places to explore during any season, is bursting with buds and flowers right now.  I took these photos on a path winding through the Japanese Garden just as the sky shifted from overcast to this glorious blue.

DSC_0145DSC_0148 DSC_0146all photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Strawberry Avocado Salad with Fennel and Mint

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If you’ve been craving bright, fresh, seasonal ingredients that taste like Spring, I have the perfect salad for you.  Sweet strawberries, creamy avocado and crisp shaved fennel are layered on delicate bibb lettuce leaves and dressed with a lime-ginger-mint vinaigrette.  Finished with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of sea salt, this salad makes a light, satisfying lunch or delightful first course for a Spring inspired menu.

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Strawberry Avocado Salad with Fennel and Mint

serves four

  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey, plus more for drizzle (replace honey with 2 teaspoons agave if making vegan)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
  • 1 head Bibb lettuce, leaves torn into large pieces
  • 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed and shaved thin with a knife or on a mandolin
  • 2 avocados, halved and sliced thin
  • 8 ounces fresh strawberries, sliced
  1. Whisk oil, lime juice, honey, ginger, shallot and mint together in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Layer fennel, strawberries and avocado on lettuce leaves on four plates and dress with vinaigrette.  Drizzle each salad with honey and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Garnish with fresh mint.

DSC_0405recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Good Morning, Sunshine! Have Some Coffee Cake

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Today marks the first day of spring, but here in the arctic tundra (also known as Chicago) we are waking up to temperatures in the low teens with wind chills hovering around zero. Whether you are anxiously waiting for your destination vacation or hunkering down at home for a stay-cation, I’ve created a warm citrusy coffeecake to distract you from the misery. Think of it as a little ray of sunshine on your plate.

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Orange Almond Coffee Cake

makes one 10-inch cake

  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice, divided
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/4 cups almond meal
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour or gluten-free all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum only if using gluten-free flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Butter a 10-inch cast iron skillet.*
  2. Cut one orange into thin rounds. Peel the other orange with a vegetable peeler into long strips from top to bottom, avoiding the pith. Cut peeled strips into long, 1/8th-inch wide strips with a knife.
  3. Make a syrup by heating 3/4 cup of the sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup of the orange juice in a sauce pan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Bring mixture to a boil, add orange rounds, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add orange zest strips and continue to simmer until syrup has reduced by half and strips have softened, about 15 minutes more.
  4. While syrup is simmering, place sliced almonds on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 5-7 minutes or until light golden, stirring once halfway through toasting.
  5. Remove orange rounds and strips from syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Carefully pour 1/2 cup of the syrup into a pyrex measuring cup. Discard any extra (or save for a cocktail).
  6. Add the 1/2 cup of syrup back to the sauce pan with the heat on medium-low and add two tablespoons butter, stirring until melted. Stir in the almond extract and the Grand Marnier or Cointreau and remove pan from heat.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, almond meal, regular or gluten-free all purpose flour, xanthan gum (if using gluten-free flour), baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined.
  8. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and the cooled syrup mixture until combined.
  9. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined.
  10. Add one cooked orange round (you can discard the extra rounds or save for another use) to the center of your prepared skillet or cake pan and scatter the zest strips and toasted almonds over the the bottom of the pan. Spoon cake batter (it will be thick) into pan and spread into an even layer.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. If cake begins to brown early (this happened at about 25 minutes for me) loosely cover with aluminum foil.
  12. While cake is baking, make a thin glaze by whisking the remaining 1/4 cup orange juice with 1 cup powdered sugar in a medium bowl until smooth.
  13. Let cake cool in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Remove cake from pan (it will still be warm) by placing a wire rack over top of cake and flipping over. Set rack on a baking sheet.
  14. Poke holes in cake all over with a toothpick. Spoon glaze over warm cake, rubbing in gently with back of spoon, until top is covered and glaze has drizzled down the sides.

*Baking in cast iron creates a wonderful, crunchy cake exterior while allowing the inside to stay incredibly moist and tender. I didn’t try this in a traditional cake pan, but if I did, I would butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan and follow all of the steps as written, running a knife around the edge of cake before inverting it onto a cooling rack.

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recipe and photos via the aesthete and the dilettante