Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Tastemaker Top 10 with Sarah of So Hungry I Could Blog

The Tastemaker Top 10 is a collection of 10 questions asked by me and answered by some of my favorite bloggers. Here they will tell you a little bit about themselves, their blogs, and of course, their favorite foods and restaurants. This week's post is a first for A Squared: It's a two-parter! Today, we are talking to Sarah of the fun food blog So Hungry I Could Blog. Sarah shares the blog with her friend Caitlin and we'll be hearing her answers to these questions next week... so come back next Tuesday to hear from the other half of So Hungry I Could Blog! Today, meet Sarah:


Name: Sarah Steimer

Blog: So Hungry I Could Blog

Location: Chicago

Now, tell us about your...

1. Favorite meal, food, or cuisine:
Late summer/early fall foods. Chicago gives you the option of hitting a farmer’s market pretty much every day of the week, so I’m spoiled by seasonal produce. Once August and September hit, I’m elbow-deep in heirloom tomatoes, squash, apples, and dark, leafy greens. OK, and cheese.

2. 
Favorite restaurant in your city: Lula Cafe! I’ve fallen hard for many a Lula dish, most recently the spring onion and nettle tamales on the brunch menu. And their cocktails? Well, it’s the only restaurant where I actually look forward to waiting for a table (at the bar).

3.
Favorite restaurant outside of your city: I’m a Pittsburgh native, so I have to go with a hometown choice: Mad Mex. Solid Tex-Mex food and margaritas. Now, if you want my favorite ‘burgh restaurant secret, it’s brunch at The Zenith, which doubles as an antique store.

4.
Favorite food memory: Homemade breakfast with the fam! I can’t be sure, but I think 64 percent of my childhood might have included pancakes or French toast and an oldies radio station. Basically, I spent a lot of time covered in maple syrup and knowing Temptations lyrics.

5. Favorite guilty pleasure food: Ice cream, preferably from a cool parlor. I don’t feel even a little guilty.

6. Favorite ingredient (something you love to cook with, or something you see on a menu and know you have to order): Pickled onions. I love tacos, and nothing perfects a taco like some pickled onion highlights (yeah, there are some on that Lula tamale I told you about, too).

7. Favorite recipe: Caitlin and I did a savory jam guide last August, for which I made this quick tomato jam. No special ingredients, no pectin. It paired perfectly with wine and cheese for a movie in Grant Park.


8. Favorite kitchen tool, utensil, product, etc.: A sharp knife. That’s all I ask.

9. Favorite thing about blogging: Caitlin and I have both noted how cooking and blogging can be such a great escape. Plus it’s also a pretty cool way to track of how our tastes and abilities have changed.


Thanks so much for your thoughts, Sarah!

Do you have a blogger that you'd recommend to be featured on the Tastemaker Top 10? Or are you a blogger that would like to participate? Email me at aasquaredblog@gmail.com and let me know!



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Monday, August 18, 2014

Thank You.

I'm feeling a little mushy on this Monday. This weekend, my husband and some of my favorite people pulled off the ultimate surprise: they managed to plan a weekend full of birthday surprises for the Queen of Surprise Hating... a.k.a. Me.


You see, I didn't want/need to do anything big for my 30th birthday. I told my husband months ago that I didn't want to plan anything for myself and that as long as he made a reservation for dinner at a fab restaurant I would be a happy girl. Well, as my big day approached (it was yesterday) I started to get a little nervous that he hadn't given it any thought-- and he totally played along with the whole thing. He was so good at it, in fact, that I basically melted down on Friday night thinking that he had forgotten my birthday all together. And I was punishing him big time.


That went on until about 10 PM on Friday night when I heard a knock at my front door and behind it was my Chicago best friend Alexis along with these balloons and my best friend Meghan and her fiance Will, who flew in from New York City to surprise me! That's when I knew I had been had-- big time. And to my further surprise, it was only the beginning!


So, that night we drank a lot of wine and played some Cards Against Humanity while I calmed myself down and got over the shock of my surprise visitors.


And then on Saturday we headed over to our neighborhood bar Flagship Tavern & Grill for brunch where I devoured a plate of huevos rancheros. In the midst of my meltdown turned shock on Friday night, I may not have eaten as much as I should have. After that, Meghan and Alexis took me downtown for a girls' afternoon of blowouts at Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon. We were getting prepped for a birthday dinner that evening, which I knew very little about. I was told that Alex made a reservation somewhere downtown for the 5 of us and that we'd be going out for cocktails afterward.


I was super excited when our Uber rolled up in front of Cicchetti, a newer Italian restaurant that's been on my 'must try' list for quite some time now. I was even more excited when they led us into the private dining room where four other good friends were waiting to surprise me-- along with my parents!


I was so touched that everyone came out to celebrate my birthday-- and that they managed to keep the whole thing a surprise for months!

 

Oh and in case you are interested-- and this is a food blog, so you might be-- dinner at Cicchetti was amazing! With such a big group, we were able to try a ton of items off the menu. I'm planning on writing up a dedicated post about my birthday dinner, so come back for that later this week!


Alexis decided we should head on over to Three Dots & a Dash after dinner. It's an underground tiki bar in the middle of the city and another place that's been on my 'to visit' list. A few more friends joined us there and my mom and dad came along too!


The drinks here take forever to make, but they are so pretty! Mom and I were both drinking the Siboney-- a delicious and potent mixture of dark Jamaica rum, passionfruit, pineapple, and lemon.






On Sunday we were moving (understandably) a bit more slowly, so we kept things low key at our place. My parents came by to see the condo for the first time, the boys played some MarioKart, and we enjoyed a few pastries from Dinkel's for breakfast and a late afternoon pizza party from Pizzeria Serio. Then everyone was on their way-- back to Rhode Island, New York, or just across town. And I took a birthday nap. I am a 30 year old lady, after all.


So, I want to say thank you today-- to Alex for planning an unforgettable weekend even when I was being a brat and doubted that he'd planned anything at all. I am very lucky to have a husband like you! To my Meghan and Will for making the trip out to Chicago (in the home stretch of their wedding planning, no less) and to Alexis for helping them to coordinate the whole weekend. And to all of them for keeping it a secret for such a long time! To my parents for also making a top secret visit to Chicago and for the beautiful birthday dinner. To my other great friends for coming out to celebrate with me-- I'm lucky to have such great friends in this city! To my siblings and friends and everyone else: the gifts, cards, cookies, Facebook messages, shout outs, and texts/calls were amazing and made this weekend so special. Thank you all for the birthday wishes. You know how to make a girl feel good-- and excited about what my thirties have in store!


 

Friday, August 15, 2014

30 Things I Learned Before 30

I'm turning 30 this weekend.

When I was in my early twenties, 30 seemed like a big scary number. Like, this is the age when you need to have your life figured out and be less of a hot mess because you're actually an adult. Now that 30 is upon me though, I feel confident and excited about it. In a way, I feel like I was born to be 30. I've always been a bit of an old soul-- the big sister in a family of 5, the lone kid sitting at the adults' table at a holiday dinner, and the 'mom' of my group of friends always reminding girls to watch their drinks and dispensing life advice whether or not they asked for it. And frankly, when I think about myself at ages 16-21 I cringe a little bit at how petty and dramatic and superficial I could be back then. I don't ever want to go back there, no matter how good my skin looked, how few gray hairs I had, or how much I could drink and still wake up as a functional human the next morning.

#22. I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22.

At 30, I am feeling comfortable in my skin, have experienced enough to know what's important and to steer clear of the drama (for the most part). And I am really proud of all that I have accomplished and the life that I've built for myself. I am so far away from accomplishing everything that I put on my 30 before 30 bucket list, but if I've learned anything in these 30 years it is to not sweat the small stuff.

#10. Prosecco even makes cupcakes better.

So, today on the eve of my 30's I would like to share a few things I have learned along the way-- some serious, some funny, and some just ridiculous... I'm looking forward to learning even more in this next decade:

1. How to properly poach an egg. Once you get the hang of it, there is no other way to make them at home.
2. Happiness is a choice. You can blame your past and your circumstances for your unhappiness as much as you want, but you are in control of your own life and have the ability to choose happiness. So, choose it.
3. Saving money sucks, but the peace of mind that it brings knowing you have it "just in case" is priceless.
4. Having more 'stuff' doesn't make you happier or richer. Having more experiences will though.
5. My mom's recipes will always taste better when prepared by my mom.
6. Tanned skin is beautiful, but sun spots are ugly and skin cancer is scary, expensive, and deadly. And it will make you feel like an idiot for ever oiling up at the beach or visiting a tanning bed.
7. When it comes to friendships, quality trumps quantity.
8. In that same vein, if a friendship does not make you a happier, stronger, and more fulfilled person then it may not be worth the effort. This one took me a long time to learn... and I'm still learning it.
9. Exercise is a necessary evil. It calms my brain and my body. And as a food blogger/lover, it is an essential part of my daily routine.
10. Chocolate makes every situation better. So does prosecco. And mac and cheese.
11. I am just not a gambler. I'd much rather spend my money and know exactly what I'm getting back-- like a great meal or a pair of shoes.
12. I love cooking and I find it to be really fun and relaxing-- except on Friday nights. On Fridays, someone else should be cooking for me (and for you too).
13. Hangovers are awful and they get exponentially worse with each passing year. Drink responsibly.
14. Carbs may make me fat, but giving them up makes me miserable.
15. Living in the city is crazy, expensive, exhausting, and smelly, but I have survived it and now I can't imagine life any other way.
16. The Freshman 15 is very real. It took only 3 months to gain, about 3 years to lose, and even longer to master the ability to keep it off. #TheStruggle
17. A nap or a good night's sleep is a luxury.
18. The most long lasting friendships you'll have in life are the ones that can fall out of touch for a while and then suddenly pick back up like no time has passed at all. I'm grateful for those girls.
19. If your circumstances haven't changed and you're still complaining about them, then you need to change them for yourself.
20. When your boss offers to buy you lunch/coffee/a cocktail, always always say 'yes.'
21. Marriage is a lot of work, but it's totally worth it to wake up with your best friend every day.
22. My twenty-second year was one of the best of my life and I wish I would have known it then. I lived in the big city and had a big girl income with no responsibilities. Life was good.
23. How to make a homemade pie crust. It is a challenge, but the outcome is well worth the practice!
24. 9 out of 10 things your parents told you when you were a kid (to which you responded 'you don't know anything!') were actually true.
25. Designing beautiful buildings is fun, but being an architect is a tedious, frustrating, and often very isolating career. I learned that the long and hard way.
26. If a man can make you laugh, he's worth a second date. And maybe a third.
27. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: this rule applies to diets, jobs, apartments, items purchased via late night infomercials, and boyfriends.
28. Even though I didn't know it then, the few months in college that I spent living abroad in Europe really shaped the adult that I became. It taught me to be independent, fearless, mature, and opened my eyes to a big world that I'm still dying to explore further.
29. Not everyone gets along with their siblings and I'm very lucky to have 4 that I love so much.
30. Don't sweat the small stuff. Life is short, so enjoy it more and worry less. I have learned this, but I need to be better about putting it into practice.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

In My Lunchbox This Week: Chicken, Peach & Goat Cheese Salad with Chive Vinaigrette

Last week I hinted about a salad recipe that I wanted to share with you and today I'm following through. This salad has become one of my favorites recently because it is filled with all of the fresh flavors of summer: crisp greens, sweet peaches, fresh onions and herbs, and nutty sunflower seeds. Topped with some shredded chicken breast and creamy goat cheese and topped with a simple vinaigrette, it's exactly the kind of lunch I want to eat-- so satisfying and filling that I recently enjoyed it for 4 lunches in a row.

Excuse the photography, please. This was an actual lunch at my desk, in my Tupperware, under the fluorescent light.

So, give this delicious summer salad a try. It makes a great lunch, but served with a little crusty bread on the side it would be an excellent easy no-cooking-needed dinner on a hot summer night.


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mixed greens *I love this Fresh Express Baby Kale Mix with Chard & Spinach
  • 1 peach, pitted and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 Tbs. red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cooked chicken breast *Try this recipe for slow cooker shredded chicken -- it's super versatile and amazing!
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 Tbs. roasted sunflower seeds

For the Chive Vinaigrette:

  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbs. honey
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar 
  • 1/2 Tbs. fresh chives, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Arrange greens in a bowl and top with diced peaches, sliced onion, chicken, goat cheese, and sunflower seeds.

Separately in a small bowl or carafe, whisk together olive oil and next 5 ingredients (through salt and pepper). Dress salad with desired amount of dressing.*

*This recipe will make more dressing than is needed for this amount of salad. Store leftover dressing in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


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