A Squared: June 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Lemon Grilled Chicken & Italian Stuffed Peppers

Tonight's dinner was completely inspired by a photo that I found on Pinterest.  As soon as I saw it I repinned it immediately just knowing that if it tasted half as good as it looked I would have a fabulous dinner to blog about.  When I decided I'd actually make it the link was bad so I scoured the internet to find the real thing which led me to the Proud Italian Cook blog.  I hadn't discovered this blog until now (amazing since I LOVE everything about Italian cooking), but I am a new fan.  Also, this blog has possibly the most delicious looking photography ever!  Check it out:

Do these peppers look totally amazing or what?

There wasn't much of a recipe that I could find, but more of an ingredient guide so I got creative and figured it out myself.  The peppers are definitely the star of this show, so I just served them alongside a simple and flavorful grilled chicken breast and it was a perfect grilled dinner for a summer night.  The leftover peppers also made a great lunch for the next day.


For the Lemon Grilled Chicken:
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dry oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder

For the Italian Stuffed Peppers:
  • 2 large bell peppers *I prefer red or orange, but yellow or green will work too
  • Olive oil spray or cooking spray
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/4 grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs. Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. fresh Italian herbs, finely chopped *I used basil, oregano, and parsley
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
Rinse chicken breasts with cold water and pat dry.  In a shallow glass dish whisk together olive oil and remaining 6 ingredients until combined.  Add the chicken breasts and pierce each one several times with a form (this will help the marinade to penetrate the chicken) and then turn each one over to coat on both sides.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, if not 3-4 hours.  Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and grill 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through and the juices run clear.

For the stuffed peppers, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and your grill to medium-high heat.  Slice each pepper in half from top to bottom and carefully remove the white membranes and seeds from the inside of the peppers.  Lightly spray each side of the peppers and grill 2-3 minutes on each side until the peppers are just becoming soft and grill marks appear.  In a medium bowl, combine rice and the following 7 ingredients.  Once peppers are cooled enough to handle, stuff each with 1/4 of the rice mixture and line up on a foil lined baking sheet.  Arrange diced mozzarella evenly on top of the peppers and gently press into the rice stuffing (as the cheese has a tendency to slide off during baking).  Bake for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Stuffed pepper recipe inspiration courtesy of Proud Italian Cook.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Anniversary Wish

Just a quick Monday morning post to wish my wonderful parents a very happy 29th anniversary!

Thank you both for being such great parents and for always loving each other enough to make it through the good and the bad over the past 3+ decades that you've been together.  Thank you for the lessons you have taught us and for the example that you've set.  Here's to many more decades of love, happiness, and laughter!

Love you!

Mom and Dad on their wedding day in 1983

"Good relationships don't just happen. They take time, patience and two people who truly want to be together.”

Mom, Dad, and me on my wedding day in 2011

Sunday, June 24, 2012

PRIDE Weekend Recap

Hello everyone!

I'm sitting here writing this a little sunburned and a lot exhausted and that usually means that it was a really good weekend.  I also know it was a good weekend when I was having too much fun to document it in photos.  I've got a handful of photos to share with you though.

Hope you had a great summer weekend too!

On Saturday we went shopping and this time it was all for Alex, for a change.  We were busy getting him ready to go black tie for an upcoming wedding and it was more of a challenge than expected.  I took this picture when he came out of a fitting room saying he looked like a vampire.  Nice.

We had a few treats this weekend too.  On Saturday night we went out to celebrate a few friends who have recently graduated from grad school.  It was a perfect summer night for drinks in the beer garden and the only picture I took was of this delightful Boston Cream cupcake.  My friend Kit from over at the Kit(tchen) threw the party for her fiance and the Boston Cream cupcakes felt totally appropriate since we're both Chicago girls by way of New England.

I also wanted to introduce you to my new summer obsession: Edy's All Fruit Pomegranate popsicles.  Just trust me and try them.  Amazing.

And after living in Chicago for almost 4 years, I finally made it to my first Gay Pride Parade on Sunday!  I'm a little ashamed to say that I have never been, but I was out of town for a wedding last year and then before that I was working on Sundays (although only 2 blocks away from the parade route).  So, I figured it was about time I went and my bff Alexis-- a northside resident and parade veteran-- showed me the ropes.  It was a long day (which is probably why I am so tired tonight), but it was a ton of fun and for sure a memorable experience.  I think something like 800,000 people were in attendance.  Here are a few highlights:

Lola, Alexis, and me in Lakeview watching the Pride parade.

The Windy City Cowboys linedancing down Broadway to the music of Shania Twain.


Gay veterans of the US armed services-- thank you for serving our country!

Jamie Laurita of the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

 Chipotle's float.  It says "Homo Estas?"  Amazing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Five Years of A Squared

The 22nd is a special date for the Mister and me.  Today (June 22nd) marks our 8th month of marriage and it is also the five year anniversary of our first date.  It's too bad that we got engaged on August 20th (only 2 days before!), otherwise that would have made a perfect trifecta of 22's.  But hey, he put a ring on it.  I'm not looking that gift horse in the mouth.

I can't believe that we have already spent five years together.  It certainly doesn't feel that long until I look back and think about everything that we have experienced together and then at how far we have come in those five years-- and then it feels like a lifetime already.

Team Rough Putters on the night of our first date: June 2007

When I met Alex I wasn't really looking for a relationship.  I had lived in Boston for 5 days, had been working at my first big girl job for 2 days, and was really just trying to survive.  So when we bumped into each other in the office kitchen on my second day of work and within a few minutes he had convinced me to join his team for that Friday's office mini-golf tournament (it was for real.  Be jealous) and to join a group of coworkers and him at lunch the next day I didn't think anything of his friendliness.  Little did I know that this group rarely got together for lunch, but that he arranged a group of people that he thought would make me comfortable. And little did I know that these advances were very out of character for my mostly quiet and reserved husband.  He was interested and he didn't play any games with me.  That kind of honesty and thoughtfulness can be very rare in a twentysomething guy and those are two of the qualities that I still love most about him.

Moving from Boston to Chicago: September 2008

We went out for drinks after Friday's mini-golf tournament.  And then we went out for dinner on Saturday night.  And then for lunch on Sunday.  By Monday, (after 1 whole week at my new office) we were a couple.  Fast forward to five years later and he's still my best friend, my biggest supporter, the love of my life.  And now he's my husband.

Our wedding day: October 2011

Thanks, Alex for five years of love and laughter.  Looking forward to seeing what the next five (and everything after that) have in store for us too.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

City Walks #35 & #36: Wicker Park

This is a City Walk that I have been anxious to take on for a while.  Wicker Park is a little off the beaten path for us and it is one of those neighborhoods that we really don't spend a lot of time in.  There are tons of cool bars and restaurants in Wicker Park that we've been told we have to try so this was a great way to take some time to figure out where everything in this neighborhood is located.  We encountered some surprises along the way, but I am now much less intimidated by this part of town.

City Walk #35: Wicker Park to Bucktown

This City Walk took us up Damen Ave., the main drag through Wicker Park that leads into the Bucktown neighborhood.  The street is totally crowded with fun boutiques, cute restaurants, and trendy bars.  It's a place where I need to spend more time, clearly.

Our first stop kind of set the tone for the whole City Walk.  When we approached #1623 (1) we found that Jolie Joli is now a Nanette Lepore boutique.  Right on the heels of that was #1639 (2) a luxury space for lease formerly known as Embelezar.  We arrived at the corner of Damen and Wabansia, #1657 (3) to find that Daffodil Hill is now a boutique called Riley.  Do you see where I am going with this?

 At this point we were 3 for 3 on retailers that no longer exist, which is impressive considering that the City Deck is less than 2 years old.  The streak continued as we arrived at #1702 (4) to see that the gift shop Climate is now a spa called Ener.  Finally, we spotted Pagoda Red at #1714 (5) and it was still there and looking very Asian and cool.  At last!  #1721 Caffe De Luca (6) also appeared to exist, but whether or not it is still open for business is debatable.  Things looked awfully quiet over there.

Our luck finally seemed to be turning around as we found two very cool boutiques: #1723 Stitch (7) and #1735 Clothes Minded (8) are both alive, kicking, and selling some great clothes.  However, when we found Raizy at #1944 (9) we found that it is now the new location for TipsyCake, one of the bakeries that we checked out for our wedding cake.

 Not surprisingly, when we ventured further up Damen to look for Vermillion at #1944 (10) it was sad and vacant.  We did end up finishing the Walk with a bang though-- the sex shop G-Boutique was still open (and very pink!) at #2131 N. Damen (11).  Kind of amazing that in two years, more than half of these stores have already turned over, isn't it?

#36: Wicker Park Historic Neighborhood

After our disappointing walk up Damen Ave. it was nice to see a part of Wicker Park that hasn't seen a whole lot of change over the past century, let alone year.  This was a great little tour of some of the historical homes in Wicker Park that were built back when the neighborhood was a destination for German and Scandinavian immigrants.  I had always been under the impression that the homes in Wicker Park were either new and nice or old and a little dumpy, so this tour was quite the surprise.  I fell in love with these cool old gingerbread-looking homes!

The first homes on the Walk were located on W. Caton St., a cute little treelined street between Milwaukee and N. Leavitt.  #2138 (1) had some very cool detailing on the porch and #2146 (2) was probably my favorite-- from the stone details to the arches to the stained glass details it was really beautiful.  #2150 (3) had a huge facade of stone, but was still very ornate with a gorgeous arched front entry.

Across the street, #2150 (4) was a little boxier in appearance than the rest of these very whimsical houses, but it certainly didn't lack in attention to detail.  We left W. Caton St. and made our way down W. Pierce Ave. where we saw another one of my favorite homes from this Walk.  I don't think the photo really does it justice, but #2137 (5) had intricate ornamentation all over it and each piece was painted in a fun bright color.  It reminded me a little bit of a cuckoo clock.  And finally, we arrived at #1521 N. Hoyne (6) to find a beautiful Victorian house with metal detailing.

I mean, seriously?  Did you know that there were houses this beautiful tucked away on the side streets of Wicker Park?  I did not and I am so glad we discovered them!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: My Take on Mom's Marinara Sauce

Happy first day of summer!

What is better on a 95 degree day that happens to be the first day of summer than a hot pot of marinara sauce?  Okay maybe not, but this is a great recipe to break out when you've got a day at home since it cooks low and slow for several hours and it's good if you're around to stir it occasionally.  While I was getting something done around the house before my afternoon at the beach I decided to make a batch as it's great to freeze and use again (or freeze and have ready for those nights when I am away and Alex has to fend for himself).

Spaghetti was always one of my favorite meals that my mom made growing up and for as long as I can remember she made her own sauce.  Her recipe has evolved over the past few decades and I have made my own tweaks to it as well, which is the great thing about marinara sauce-- there are about a million ways to make it and you can hardly ever go wrong.  I think it's especially great to make your own since you can control how much salt, sugar, oil goes into it and it can be a really healthy addition to any dinner.  It can also be pretty budget friendly as canned tomatoes are always on sale and this recipe makes probably 12-15 servings.  So, get out your slow cooker and start experimenting!

My Take on Mom's Marinara Sauce

  • 1/3 cup red wine *I prefer to use Chianti, but any dry red will work
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 12 oz. tomato paste
  • 28 oz. can tomato puree
  • 28 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 28 oz. water *just fill one of the cans
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. dry Italian herbs *I like a combination of basil, oregano, and parsley, but an Italian seasoning blend will work or any combination of your liking
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Set your slow cooker to low heat and add the wine.  Separately, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the the tomato paste to the onion and garlic mixture and cook for about 8 minutes.  Add the tomato paste mixture to the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients through salt and pepper.  Stir ingredients to combine and cover.  Let the sauce cook on low heat for 5 hours, stirring occasionally.  After 5 hours remove the lid and cook for one additional hour on high heat to thicken.  Remove the bay leaf and serve or let the sauce cool and store.  I like to portion it out into smaller containers and then freeze them so that I can take out and use just as much as I need for dinner.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Perfect Summer in the City Weekend

I'm a day late on the weekend recap, but my weekend was a day longer than usual so I'm just catching up now.  We started out with no set plans, but it ended up turning into one of those great summertime city weekends where the days are so fun and full that you're exhausted on Monday morning.  Or Tuesday morning for me since I took Monday off.  :)  We spent most of our weekend eating, exploring, boating, and beaching.  There really is nothing better than Chicago in the summer.

I was a little under the weather on Friday evening (and still exhausted from last weekend), so we laid low, but more than made up for it the rest of the weekend.

Saturday was a really hot day and we got a little brave (or stupid) and decided to spend the day outside.  Not our best idea.  We wanted to do some more neighborhood exploring and did a couple of Wicker Park city walks.  This neighborhood tops my list of those that we need to explore further-- I just wish it would have been a smidge cooler so we could have enjoyed it more! 

After some architectural exploring, a tour of retail spaces that no longer exist, and a visit with Cowileo we stopped in at The Boundary to watch the soccer games and enjoy some beer and bar food. 

I think we may have both suffered a little heatstroke on Saturday and we returned home totally wiped out.  We were planning to head to a street festival that evening but ended up falling asleep (oops) and then waking up to torrential downpours.  So we ordered in from Q, one of our favorite BBQ restaurants in Chicago, and called it a night.

On Sunday my good friend Mike took us out on Lake Michigan on his boat.  I think it's actually the first time that we have been out on the Lake on a non-tour boat since we have lived here and it was the perfect way to spend a warm Sunday in the city.

Alex's weekend fun ended after our day on the water, but mine continued on Monday.  I got some stuff done around the house and made a batch of marinara sauce.  Random, I know.  But it's better to do it on a day when I'm around since it's a long slow cooking process.

My bff Alexis always has Mondays off so we took advantage of our overlapping weekends and headed to the beach.  It was another blistering hot day, so it was wonderful to spend it at Lake Michigan again.  Not a bad way to end the weekend!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day: Top Ten Things I Learned From My Dad

I'm sending out a very happy (long distance) Father's Day wish to my dad today!  I'm not there to celebrate with him today, but we did get to visit last weekend during my brother's wedding reception weekend so we already had a bit of a pre-Father's Day celebration.

With that in mind, I wanted to dedicate today's blog post to my dad and pass on a sampling of the life lessons that he has passed on to my siblings and me over the past 20-something years.  In my life he's always been the perfect combination of cheerleader, tough love, and goofball and although sometimes I couldn't stand him for it, I wouldn't be where I am now without it.  Thanks, Dad for always knowing when I needed a parent and when I needed a friend-- you're the best!

1. If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
2. The "key change" is the best part of any song-- specifically 80's rock ballads.
3. In business and in love, success means taking a risk.  You'll never get what you really want by playing it safe.
4. Always ask to speak with someone who is "empowered" if you actually want to see results.  This is especially true in the customer service arena.
5. Stressing out over a situation won't accomplish anything.  Except to make you more stressed out.
6. Buying on credit is a slippery slope into living beyond your means.  And having money saved up means nothing when you're still in debt.
7. Everything tastes better when it's been cooked on the grill.
8. Respect and love are never a given.  They have to be earned.
9. At some point you have to stop living your life for everyone else and just live it for yourself.
10. Embarrassing your children is one of life's greatest joys.

And because he's taught me so much, two bonus life lessons:

11. You're never too old for a prank, a Pee Wee Herman movie, a dance party, or a good "your mom" joke.
12. It's never too late to change the course of your future.

Happy Father's Day, Dad! Love, Your First (and Favorite) Daughter  :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

NYC on the Horizon

I'm so excited! 

As I mentioned in a previous post, my husband has never been to New York City.  Can you believe it?  This is especially tragic since he lived a train ride away in Boston for two years and because I have visited NYC a handful of times (without him) since we have been together.  Oops.  The good news is that we have finally booked tickets are headed to the Big Apple for a long weekend in September!

Alex is an architect and he loves everything about the buildings here in Chicago, so I am pretty confident that he will also love New York and will have me running around all weekend while he photographs every skyscraper he recognizes.

We'll be staying with these two (love them!) in their fab new apartment:

I'm also hoping that we get to see

this girl
these two
this guy

I am pretty excited to have an excuse to do some of the more touristy things on this visit like going to the top of the Empire State Building, checking out the museums, and eating New York pizza, of course.  I think Alex has already started an itineray full of his "must see" buildings.  Maybe Meg and I will also pose for everyone at the High Line again or Matt Boo will take us on his very own architecture/Lady Gaga tour of NYC again:

We shall see.

We'll definitely report back with all the details on our trip.  I can't wait!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

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