A Squared: September 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Start Spreading The News

Happy Thursday!  I'm happy to report that it's the end of the work week for Alex and me.  We're off to New York City tonight for a long weekend getaway.  We'll be visiting with friends and seeing the sights for the next couple of days and I will be sure to report back on our busy weekend.  It's Alex's first trip to NYC (yay!) so I'm excited to do some of the more touristy things with him that I don't often get to do when I'm there by myself spending time with my girlfriends.  The weather forecast isn't looking great, but I know we will still manage to have a great time.

We have a few things on our agenda: A trip to the Highline (I haven't seen it since the second part opened), a walking tour (requested by Alex and led by me-- yikes!) of the cool new downtown highrises, the standard sights like Central Park and the Guggenheim, and a sandwich at 'wichcraft because I have a big old foodie crush on Tom Colicchio.  Guilty!

Here are a few of my favorite NYC sightseeing memories from trips past:

Goofing off on the Highline
A Tour of Matt's favorite NYC spots

After post-college job interviews. Spoiler alert: I chose Boston!

What are your favorite things to do and see in NYC?  Any sights or restaurants (you know I love food) that we can't miss?  Suggestions are welcome!

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Shortcut Southwest Chicken & Rice

Every now and then even a creative cook needs a few shortcuts.  The lovely folks at Kraft foods have been standing outside my office for the past few weeks handing out Fresh Takes packets and I have amassed quite a collection in my fridge.  If you aren't familiar with the FreshTake product, it's a blend of shredded Kraft cheese, breadcrumbs, and seasoning that you can use as a breading for meats or for a variety of other recipe ideas that Kraft has created.  It's a simple, but smart product.

So, this week when we were packing and getting ready for a weekend away-- and when I was feeling tired and uninspired this was just what I needed to get dinner on the table.  I created a quick Southwestern-inspired rice side dish and served it with grilled bell peppers and onions to round out the meal.  And dinner was as easy as that!

Simple Southwest Chicken & Rice


  • 1 package Kraft FreshTakes Southwest Three Cheese Recipe
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts *Each FreshTakes package could probably accomodate at least 4-6 chicken breasts.  I've only prepared a recipe for 2 people here though. 
  • 1/2 cup dry brown rice
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes with green chiles, liquid reserved
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Prepare chicken breasts according to directions on FreshTakes package and arrange on prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until the breading begins to brown and chicken is completely cooked through (not pink in the center) and the juices run clear.

Separately, drain and reserve the liquid from the canned tomatoes and add to a liquid measuring cup.  Typically, this yields somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 cup of liquid.  Add water to the liquid until you have reached 1 total cup of liquid and add to a medium saucepan along with rice.  Cook rice according to package directions and once complete, stir in reserved tomatoes and chiles, cumin, chili powder, and garlic.

Monday, September 24, 2012

City Walk #28: Lincoln Square

This weekend in Chicago was my favorite kind-- chilly and sunny (perfect fall weather!) with very little on our To Do List.  We're doing some traveling next weekend so we decided to keep this one low key to save our energy (and funds) for our upcoming trip.  I love a good walk in the fall weather and with nothing to do on Sunday, we got up and decided to venture north to Lincoln Square-- one of my favorite neighborhoods that is just far enough away from downtown that we don't get there all that often. 

Before we started the official City Walk we stopped for brunch a little bit south of Lincoln Square.  Sola is a fantastic restaurant that we were introduced to a few years ago when Alex was working at an architecture firm that did a lot of restaurant design.  They designed Sola before he joined the firm, but had a close relationship to the owner so we had the oppportunity to dine there a few times and it's always good-- especially brunch though!  They call it New American food, but there is a definite Hawaiian influence on the menu at Sola (which now holds an even more special place in my heart after our honeymoon).  I had a delicious omelet with bacon and pears and Alex ordered an enormous "upside down" banana pancake.  The highlight of brunch at Sola (for us, at least) is always the creative mimosas (Blood Orange for him, Pineapple Passionfruit for me) and the malasadas-- Portuguese style donuts served with raspberry sauce and hot fudge.  I don't even like donuts, but I LOVE these.  Totally amazing!

City Walk #28: Lincoln Square

After we were sufficiently stuffed, we decided it was best that we walk to the starting point of the Lincoln Square City Walk instead of taking the train one stop.  The Walk begins on N. Lincoln Ave. just north of Montrose Ave.  Lincoln Square has a really cute neighborhood feel-- it's the old German section of town so there are still a bunch of brauhauses and bakeries around, but it's also become a more family-focused neighborhood too.

The first stop on the list is the Bad Dog Tavern [1].  We would have stopped in for a drink, but I could barely walk after brunch so we just passed by.  I love their slogan: Come. Sit. Stay.  Immediately following that is the Old Town School of Folk Music [2] which has spaces on either side of Lincoln Ave.  It's a famous school here in Chicago where all different kinds of music and dance classes and performances are held.

Nerd alert!  The next building was featured on the City Walk because of its architectural significance.  #4611 N. Lincoln Ave. [3]  was designed by acclaimed architect Louis Sullivan in 1922.  There is some really beautiful terra-cotta work all around the two doorways and black and white tiling that spells out "Krause"-- there's some more German influence right there.  Today the building houses a more modern marketing and design firm.

Walking a little further up the street, we finally reached the arch that formally welcomes you to the Lincoln Square neighborhood.  This is more of the official "square" of Lincoln Square, a narrow interior street lined with shops and cafes and a fountain.  It's adorable.

Once we walked past the arch the first stop is one of my favorites-- Merz Apothecary [4].  They actually have a counter inside of the big Macy's down on State Street (where I sometimes get lost on my lunch break) and I love looking at all of the pretty things they sell.  It's like an old fashioned European pharmacy-- they sell great soaps, lotions, and herbal products.

On the same side of the street as Merz were two more shops to see on our Walk.  The first store-- Traipse [5] no longer exists and a consignment shop and boutique is there in its place.  Right next door is De'o Fave'nte [6], an interesting place that apparently sells imported products and has some really funky hats and creepy mannequin hats in the front window.

Across the street was another great store called Enjoy [7].  I love this place!  They describe themselves as an "urban general store" and they sell tons of unique gifts and great Chicago-themed (and non-cheesy items).  If I weren't trying to be frugal in preparation for our weekend away I could have done some serious damage there.  Following that we worked our way toward the fountain and next door was Cafe Selmare [8], a cute little cafe with a huge outdoor patio and the Book Cellar [9] across the street.  It's bookstore meets wine bar, but we arrived too early in the day to check it out.  I am making a mental note to come back when they are open though.

I love this neighborhood and there were tons of cool things to see, but honestly, my favorite part of our Lincoln Square walk wasn't even on the card.  Once we finished up I noticed a giant cow and some German flags and decided I needed to check this place out.  Gene's Sausage Shop is a really cool old fashioned German butcher shop/deli/market with amazing products-- a huge variety of fresh meats (including some really gross things like headcheese and pork chops in gelatin. Ew.), homemade pierogies and dumplings, imported candy, and pastries like the plum kuchen that my Oma used to make.  It's probably a good thing that we don't live closer to Lincoln Square, otherwise I'd be hanging out at Gene's every weekend!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Just For Fun: Simple Butternut Squash Soup

I know I have already proclaimed my love for all things fall and pumpkin numerous times in the past several posts, so bear with me as I go there again.  My love for pumpkin is not exclusive and does in fact extend further into the squash family-- specifically butternut.  I think the flavor and texture of butternut squash is pretty similar to that of pumpkin and that maybe the appeal of both is how seasonal they are.  Absence does make the heart grow fonder!

Butternut squash is so hearty that it usually makes for a delicious and filling meal where you don't even miss the meat.  When it comes to ingredients like squash or sweet potatoes I usually prefer a more savory preparation and one of my favorite dinners featuring squash is ravioli.  My friend Kit over at the TheKittchen has a fast and delicious recipe for butternut squash ravioli that you should definitely check out. 

My other favorite is to turn it into a soup.  It is a simple and low maintenance recipe and because it only includes a little oil and cream (and is made primarily of fruits and veggies) it is actually pretty good for you too.  The recipe makes a huge amount so its one of my favorite things to take to work for a delicious fall lunch.  I've included some no fail step-by-step pictorial instructions below.  Give it a try on this chilly fall weekend and enjoy!

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add onions to hot oil, stirring frequently.  Cook onions for 4-5 minutes or until translucent.  Add garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the cubed squash to the pot, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.  Continue cooking the squash until it begins to soften, about 10-12 minutes.

 Once the squash has begun to soften, add the diced apples and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes, stirring a few times.

Add broth and wine to the pan and turn the heat to high.  Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cover.  Cook for another 15 minutes and then remove from heat and remove lid.

After allowing the soup to cool slightly, you will need to puree it.  I prefer to use an immersion blender (the Cuisinart Smart Stick set is amazing! See the bottom of this post for more info), which is convenient because you can blend the soup right in the pot.  Just be sure to stir in between blending to find any lumps that you missed.  The second option is to ladle the soup into a blender to puree.  If using this method, it is usually wiser to let it cool a little longer before pouring it into the blender.

If you used a blender, return the pureed mixture to the pot.  Heat the mixture over low heat and stir in the nutmeg, sage, cream, and salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into soup bowls and serve.  This soup also freezes really well, so I like to portion it out into individual plastic containers that I can grab and bring to work with me for lunch as needed.

  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced *I prefer Honeycrisp apples
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground sage
  • 2 Tbs. cream *Use regular whipping cream or half-and-half; heavy whipping cream has twice the fat
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Thursday, September 20, 2012

City Walks #25 & #26: Northwestern University & Baha'i Temple

This is probably going to sound so nerdy, but I was really excited for these two recent non-city City Walks.  I love Chicago and the craziness of downtown life, but sometimes I forget what it's like to live in the slower paced suburban world where people drive cars and have backyards.  Alex and I go back and forth a lot about whether we'll start a family in Chicago or in the suburbs, but both agree that we don't know the Chicago suburbs nearly well enough to make that decision without a little research.

The next two City Walks took us just north of Chicago to Evanston (home of Northwestern University) and Wilmette-- a perfect excuse for us to do some suburban exploring.  I was confused at first that they were included in the Chicago City Walks deck (as they are neither in Chicago, nor are they really "cities"), but Evanston and Wilmette are off of the last few stops of Chicago's Purple El train line so they are still accessible via the city's public transportation system.

City Walk #25: Northwestern University

As the name states, this Walk took us all around the Northwestern University campus.  I've been to Evanston a few times before, but never to the actual campus.  We started the official walk right at the main entrance of the campus-- an arch [1] on Chicago Avenue.  The Northwestern campus is really beautiful and reminds me a lot of the one at Syracuse with a mix of breathtaking older academic halls and glassy new modern buildings.  Except that Northwestern is on the beach.  And it's a short train ride away from an amazing city.  So, maybe it is a little different from Syracuse, but what a nice peaceful campus.

The campus doesn't have a rectangular quad like Syracuse and a lot of other schools have and instead, it's a little more rambling.  As we walked along the pathways that wind through the center of the campus, we approached the outdoor Sculpture Garden [2], our next stop.  Among other famous sculptors, the Garden features works by Sir Henry Moore and Joan Miro.

We continued walking to the other side of the campus away from the old ivy covered stone buildings and toward a cluster of more modern ones.  The next stop on the walk was the Block Museum of Art [3].  Unfortunately, it wasn't open for us to go inside and check out, but it is supposed to be a pretty good museum.  Northwestern has pretty reputable communications and drama programs, so it makes sense that this museum is known for its photography and film exhibits.

Following our tour of the sculpture garden, we continued walking and circled all the way around campus-- a few times actually.  We got lost.  Once we finally figured out where we were going, we approached our final stop.  The Deering Library [4] is blocked off for construction at the moment, but even from behind the construction barricades you can still see what a beautiful place it is.  It's a large Gothic style library covered in ivy and with dramatic window and stone detailing.

After our tour of Northwestern concluded we wandered back into downtown Evanston to make our way toward the train stations again.  We had gotten up remarkably early on Sunday (ambitious-- especially considering this was the morning after Nick and Tara's wedding), so we did make a slight detour to Clarke's for a big greasy brunch.  Perfect.

City Walk #26: Baha'i Temple

 After we finished up our omelettes in Evanston we hopped on the purple line and took it all the way to the end-- the Linden stop in Wilmette.  I can safely say that I have never ridden the purple line this far.  Did you know that at Linden it is no longer elevated?  News to me.

Before I get into the Baha'i Temple, let me just say that I am in love with the town of Wilmette.  They have cobblestone streets, a New England-esque harbor, an adorable downtown, big beautiful traditional homes (think Ferris Beuller's house/neighborhood), and it's an affluent suburb that is situated right on the CTA.  Now we just need to save our pennies for the next 20 years to afford to live there.  I'm joking, but not really.  The North Shore neighborhoods are pricy areas to live in and Wilmette is no exception.  But, I digress.

Our first official stop on the Walk (just a few blocks away from the train stop) is one of the coolest and also strangest buildings that I have seen in the Chicago area.  The Baha'i Temple [1] is one of only seven Baha'i temples in the world and it is actually the only one in all of North America.  The place is enormous and has 9 almost identical entrances symbolizing the 9 major religions of the world and the fact that all are welcome to worship together at the temple.  It's really a pretty fascinating place surrounded by sprawling grounds with manicured symmetrical gardens and fountains.  They are also in the process of building a large visitors center on the grounds as well.

Until this Walk I had only just driven by when I was in the North Shore with my boss for work.  He also appreciates architecture and while we were in the area he insisted that I see this temple in the middle of suburbia.  This was the first time that I have also been able to go inside.

My curious architect husband also managed to snap a forbidden photo of the interior of the temple.  Check out that amazing domed ceiling.  Isn't that beautiful?

This City Walk actually only included two stops-- the second of which was just a short walk around Sheridan Road to Gillson Park [2].  Parks like this one are yet another reason that the suburbs start to sound appealing when it comes to settling down.  It's a huge public park with a nice beach (and a dog beach), tennis courts, an ice rink, and the Wallace Bowl-- an outdoor amphitheatre. 

We wandered around the park enjoying the nice weather for a while and on our way out we walked through a lovely little wildflower garden planted on the edge of the park. Adorable.

This Walk was a great way for us to do some exploring of the suburbs and definitely confirmed my theory that if I have to leave the city, the North Shore is (ideally) where I would want to go.  Stay tuned to this blog in the coming years (yes, years) to see where we actually end up....


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: A Dinner Fail & A Dessert Win

Have you ever experienced a dinner disaster?  Like, you spent time making an entire meal that was then physically impossible to eat?  Well, that happened here.  I mentioned in another post that when we visited the Green City Market I found these great little cherry peppers that I was so excited to cook with.  I'd only ever had them before from the grocery store olive bar or on an antipasti platter.  They're normally marinated-- almost pickled-- and stuffed with a creamy cheese.  They have this great sweet and spicy flavor.  So, my thought was wouldn't it be great to grill the peppers and some onions and then serve them with an orzo salad in a tangy vinaigrette with goat cheese to play on those marinated pepper flavors?  

Dinner at least looked good, right?

After giving it a try, I now understand why they pickle them.  I also now know why after spending an hour googling recipes involving cherry peppers, the only ones that came up were for pickling and marinating them.  They are hot.  REALLY hot.  So hot that even my habanero loving husband could only stomach one pepper.  Epic dinner fail.  But, I guess they can't all be winners.

Once we were done with this super spicy meal we were dying for something sweet.  I also figured we could use something moderately healthy since we dumped the vegetable component of our meal in the garbage.  We had an abundance of peaches in the fridge so we whipped up this quick and healthy dessert to round out our meal.

Grilled Peaches with Frozen Yogurt

  • 1 large ripe peach, sliced in half with the pit removed
  • Extra virgin olive oil spray
  • 1/2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 Tbs. sliced almonds, toasted
  • Vanilla frozen yogurt, for serving
  • Additional cinnamon, for serving

Heat the grill to medium high heat.  Spray the cut sides of the peaches with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar and cinnamon.  Gently press the brown sugar mixture into the peaches and place on the grill cut side down.  Grill until softened and grill marks begin to appear.  Turn the peaches over and grill on the skin side for an additional 2-3 minutes and remove.

Place each peach in a bowl and add a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt.  Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with almonds, and add a dash of cinnamon.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Favorite Things: The Perfect Pair Of Jeans

Do you have a favorite pair of jeans?  I do-- or did, rather.  And I have been desperately hunting for a new pair for the past year.  All you women know that finding a great pair of jeans that both fit and flatter is no easy task.

Enter the Blues Jean Bar.  It's an awesome upscale denim boutique (with locations around the country) where the sales associates are actually known as "jeantenders," meaning that instead of keeping the products on the floor for you to peruse yourself, they keep a variety of jeans behind the bar, you tell them what you're looking for (i.e dark wash skinny jeans or medium rinse lowrise bootcut), and they select a few jeans for you to try on based on your body type and preference.  A simple, yet amazing concept.

A few years ago my bff Alexis won a private jeans & cocktail party at the BJB in a silent auction. I attended and found my most favorite pair of jeans ever. I wore those straight leg Serfontaines so often and so hard that they are basically unwearable now. A sad realization, for sure. I was even sadder to find out that Serfontaine has since gone out of business. After months of scouring the internet for a replacement for my beloved favorite jeans and endless trips to the department stores I decided it was time to enlist the help of the ladies at the BJB again. Luckily, Alexis and I went in on another private jeans party at Minds Matter's silent auction and we finally hosted our event last week.

The ladies at the Blues Jean Bar did not disappoint. I brought in my old favorite jeans, told them my sob story, and they got right to work helping me find a worthy replacement. They recommended Paige Denim-- a brand I have never tried before-- they were the first pair I tried on and I'm in love! They are comfy, a little stretchy, and the fit is amazing-- no muffin tops, no extra fabric bunching-- just right.  I even bought a pair of Paige skinnies too.  I think I found a new favorite after all!

I'm so excited to get these jeans tailored and then style them up for the fall. The skinny jeans are perfect for tucking into riding boots-- one of my favorite fall accessories for both work and weekends. And the straight legs will look phenomenal with a good pair of heels and a jacket for a Saturday night in Chicago.  I had a little fun putting together a few looks for fall below that I am anxious to try out... bring on the denim and sweater weather!

What is your "go to" brand when it comes to perfect jeans?  Do you have any tips for finding a flattering pair?

Paige Jeans: Two Ways For Fall

Armani Jeans navy t shirt, $97 / Ponte blazer / Paige Denim skinny fit jeans / Paige Denim faded jeans / Tory Burch genuine leather boots / AllSaints platform high heels / Kate Spade clutch / AX Paris yellow gold jewelry, $24 / Alex and Ani set of bangle / J.Crew j crew / Coach Bleecker Legacy Leather Weekend Tote

Looking for more style and shopping posts?

My Top 10 New Mom Must Haves
My 10 Favorite Baby Gifts from Uncommon Goods 
My 10 Favorite Items from Month One of Motherhood 
Labor Day Barbecue: My Top 10 Entertaining Essentials 
10 Favorite Items for Celebrating the Beginning of Fall
My Favorite Things: Loafer Love
Top 10 Holiday Gifts for the Foodie [Under $25!]
Top 10 Kitchen Gadgets on my Wishlist  

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