Field Trip to Chicago!


Whenever I'm home, I make it a point to sit back and appreciate that Chicago, one of the best cities in the world, is just an hour away. And while it is an hour away, and with it thousands of opportunities, I've been there just a handful of times in my entire life. And when we go, we go as tourists; mainly sticking to the downtown area and Navy Pier. That had to change. It just had to change. Luckily, my friend Lafayette, who I've known for close to...TEN (oh wow.) years, just moved down to the Second City, and was nice enough to show me the real Chi-Town. I had a BLAST.

Bon Appetit is one of my favorite magazines, and my reading library has been so backed up that I've only JUST finished the "Travel Issue" from months ago. It was a good thing too, since they wrote a great feature on Chicago that gave me a few ideas of where to go when I went to visit.


First up was P.O.S.H. aka one of those vintage home goods stores that you thought only existed in your dreams. It's located in a swanky part of town with all types of stores that appeal to the hipster in all of us. P.O.S.H. is one part vintage, one part European, and one part etsy-esque all rolled into a beautiful package with a tiny conservatory in the back. Vintage hotel silverware and dinnerware, adorable one-of-a-kind tea towels, milk glass mixing bowls, vintage market baskets,  letter-pressed cards with clever sayings on them, and more fill the many shelves and tables that fill this place. And there is definitely something for every single person that walks in. If you're looking for a unique gift for someone that is fond of quality-made items that you just can't find anymore, try P.O.S.H. I declared that I was not about to leave that store empty-handed under any circumstances (thanks for being patient, L) and walked away with two cute gray plaid dinner plates that were even on SALE.  Lafayette even scored a deal on some awesome vintage maps, so I'd say that it was win-win for all parties involved.


Back in July when I was in New York, Eataly was at the top of my "must-see" list, but there were just too many other things I wanted to do (two pages worth in fact), that we never made it. When I was contemplating where to visit in Chicago, I made SURE that Eataly was on my (much shorter) list. And I have to say it: I was really disappointed. I don't know, maybe I built it up too much, or maybe I was expecting something a little bit more authentic. Mario Batali once described his vision for Eataly as feeling like you've just stepped into a classic Italian piazza, but that's not how I felt. I felt like I was in an upscale food mart. Don't get me wrong, the surroundings were beautiful, and the smells mouth-watering, but it felt too gimmicky for me to really get into it. But don't let this to deter you, go. Decide for yourself. It's worth a visit to form an opinion at LEAST. Bottom line: I'm happy I went, but I don't think I'll go back. I still love you, Mario!


One of the things I really like about Chicago is the architecture. To work up an appetite for lunch, Lafayette and I decided to take a walk around his neighborhood. I love any American city with European roots, and Chicago is no exception. We each picked out at least a dozen houses that we'd love to buy and live in. Someday, right? And another thing I've noticed? People in Chicago are actually....nice. What a concept, right? I think my years spent on the East Coast have hardened me, and I've forgotten my roots. People smile at you for no reason, and it feels so weird to me! In the Midwest, complete strangers talk to you like they've known you for ages. And honestly, when did friendliness become such a bad thing? I need to spend an extended amount of time in the place where everyone says "hello," and the grocery stores are deserted because it's Sunday and the Packers/Bears are on.


I'm getting pretty into Wicker Park, a very trendy neighborhood in Chicago, and I think I have Birchwood Kitchen to blame! Since it was a Saturday, and since we were in a city, the only logical meal to have was brunch (obviously) and Lafayette picked the best place! If you asked me to describe Birchwood Kitchen in one word, that word would be: FRESH. Seriously. I have never tasted anything so pure and from the earth as I did eating those splendid roasted potatoes, and beautiful green salad! I ordered the Breakfast Sandwich, Lafayette ordered the Croque Vert, and each of us grew a little quieter as there really shouldn't be so much talking when you're concentrated on the piece of culinary art and deliciousness that is in front of you. The atmosphere is cozy, modern, and very inviting. The staff is young and friendly, and the food...well, it just couldn't have been better. I plan on making many trips back to this place in the near future.


I had a train to catch in a few hours, but I just can't leave a new place without first checking out a popular bakery, and as soon as Lafayette casually mentioned the word "pie" it was settled. So off we went on the El, full as we were but not so full that we'd ever pass up pie, all the way to Logan Square to Bang Bang Pie Shop. When we walked in, the first thing I noticed was that everyone working behind the counter was a twentysomthing, and every single one of them looked like the coolest kids in Chicago. You want to be them, you want to make pies, you want to eat said pies, you just want to have it all. After reading the menu, and lamenting that the signature pie was already sold out, we decided on the French Silk, which was absolutely no one's consolation prize (PIEze, if you will). The French Silk is a winner, and my new first choice. It's everything that it should be: creamy, smooth, choclately rich without being so overwhelmingly rich that you get a tummy ache. AND THE CRUST. This pie actually brought a lasting smile to my face, for it has been quite a while since a bakery has really blown me away. And the feeling of discovering something new is really one of the best feelings. It was the best ending to a fantastic day trip.


I'll be back, Chicago. You haven't seen the last of me.


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Sydney in the City

photo 3 Right, well, to say that I had the time of my life in NYC would be putting it pretty lightly, I'd say. I HAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE. Even when it was down pouring, even when it was so hot that we felt like we were walking in slow motion. I wouldn't change a second of it. And it sure is true what they say: that city certainly never sleeps. Maybe I would've changed that actually; Maybe we could've slept a smidgen more.

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I got there pretty much on time Thursday afternoon, and that evening my best friend Tori whisked me to dinner at Alice's Tea Cup, which was just like a dream, really. If you're even remotely a fan of Alice in Wonderland, then you'll love this cafe's nod to a classic. Everything is very kitschy and weird in the best way, with waitresses in vintage dress, and tables with doll heads in them. I loved it, I loved the huge tea selection, and the FOOD. The food was TOPS. It was the perfect kick-off to my big summer adventure...until it started to rain.

And not just any rain, my friend. Oh no. Hurricane rain. And as a woman of color I must tell you: water and hair are mortal enemies when it isn't bath time. And because my little umbrella refused to be our big protector from the elements, Tori and I ran to the closest Duane Reade for both shelter, and emergency ponchos. And I'll tell ya, those glorified saran-wrap sacks with hoods actually served us well. Sure, we got horrified stares from the pretty fashionistas on the F train, but we were relatively dry. And we just couldn't stop laughing all the way home.

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We were fortunate enough to stay at a little B & B in Brooklyn, so we got to do some exploring. On Saturday we decided to grab a quick breakfast at a nice cafe called Ted and Honey where we got breakfast sandwiches that were positively divine. I never would've thought to eat a leafy green salad for breakfast, but in New York, I'm up for anything. Afterwards we decided to semi-surpise my other best friend at work, then take a very wet stroll around the East Village. Tori was dying to catch at least a bit of the Germany/France game, so we ducked into a nearby bar with plenty of open tables.

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We spent the Fourth of July on top of my friend Devin's rooftop mainly saying "excuse me" to the millions of hipsters joining us, and commenting on how terrible we thought the band playing was. We saw the Fireworks from the Brooklyn Bridge though, and that made it much better.

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Saturday was spent the exact way it should be: with your best friends, having a makeshift picnic in Central Park with items you find from Trader Joe's, and laughing until you cried. We were supposed to meet up with our other friends that afternoon, but got there a bit early. To kill the time, Tori took me to one of her favorite cookie shops, which she's been excited to take me to for months. If you've never been to Levain Bakery, then you haven't tasted the decadence that is a gourmet cookie. This place has it made, let me tell you. It's this tiny hole-in-the-wall that you might probably pass right by, but you wouldn't, because the line is constantly out the door. There are only a few selections of cookies, and only cookies, and it's WORTH IT. Must try.

Later that afternoon I corralled the group into coming with me to The High Line, an old train track that has been repurposed into a totally excellent park. It's got trees and vine tunnels, and plenty of benches, and amazing views. It doesn't take you long to get from end to end, but there's so much to see and do. And if you get peckish, there's a nice little indoor gourmet food court for you to enjoy along the way.

After we left the High Line, everyone was up for drinks, so they took me to the Art Bar, which is the type of place that you would expect in New York if you've ever watched Friends. It's cozy and intimate, and there are sofas and throw pillows everywhere. The drinks are delicious, and the music was constantly on point. 

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We spent the rest of the night wandering around the West Village, admiring all the designer storefronts, and even making it to Katz's Deli! I didn't get a chance to order a sandwich (I'd stopped earlier at Bleecker Street Pizza for a quick slice), but that didn't stop me from taking a billion pictures and making the patrons by the window super uncomfortable. Hey, par for the course if you want to sit near the entrance and people-watch.

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Sunday's breakfast was by far the dreamiest. We ventured to Provence en Boîte in Carroll Gardens' Restaurant Row, and as soon as we stepped inside, it felt like we'd just left New York and entered a little French cafe. It's rustic and chic, and French casual, always with a hint of sophistication. And when one is in a sophisticated French cafe, one must always order French press coffee. One simply must. Our waiter was also outstandingly hilarious and friendly, so that was a plus. As the swift breeze flowed in and out of the windows, blowing the flags up and down with the warm breeze, Tori and I felt compelled to give in to the magic, and order dishes as sophisticated as the atmosphere: For Tori, Eggs Florentine, and Eggs Benedict for me. Both OUT OF THIS WORLD. And perhaps I say that a lot, but I MEAN IT. My eggs were so good, and the brioche so fluffy, that I was slightly disappointed that it had ended so soon.

We got to see an old High School best chum of mine for thirty minutes later that afternoon which was lovely. It was sad that the time was so short, but after five years, we'll take it! I promised I'd be back and we'd do something spectacular then anyway. After, we went to a pet store called Puppies where I got Oscar an ADORABLE "I Heart NY" hooded sweatshirt that I know he (re: my mother and myself) will love.

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That night Tori took me on my first trip to Williamsburg where the mustaches and beards are plenty, and there is always the threat of a sculpting-wax shortage. I loved it. It reminded me of Allston, honestly. But far, far more expensive.

We had dinner at this totally awesome restaurant and biergarten called Radegast, where the authentic German beer flows freely and the waiters speak with faint German accents. Tori had beet latkes with the best goat cheese aioli that I've ever tasted (I hadn't had any prior, so my opinion is high), and I had Swiss Chard and Beet Pieorgies. Devin ordered lamb bratwurst with Sauerkraut, and since I'm from the Midwest, I couldn't stop myself from trying a giant bite. The prices are great, the food is good, and it really feels like there's a little bit of Germany residing in Brooklyn.

We ended up staying out WELLL into Monday morning, which made parting a little groggy and way too quick. But we all got dressed and ready in record time, let me tell you. I grabbed a great fried egg breakfast sandwich from a kiosk in Bryant Park, and I was on my way back to Beantown.

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I've just now finished my last B'Day truffle from Momofuku Milk Bar, and now it really feels like my dream adventure is officially over. But all is well. If I didn't leave, I wouldn't appreciate just how special these moments truly are. Miss you already, but I'll be back.


Count on it.


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Birthday Weekend in Pictures!

Birthdays are great when you can spend them with friends! photo

Something I don't do very often is get very, very dressed up. And I never wear heels. It's not that I can't walk in them, it's that Boston has more cobblestone streets than I'd like to count, and walking on those, with heels that could break your ankles, is not a good time. But if you can't dress up on your birthday, when can you?

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FINALLY I can cross the Tip Tap Room off of my list of places to visit! If you've never been, you must go for the huge selections of beers on tap (Get it? Tip TAP Room) alone! Go for the beer, stay for the pleasantly unusual menu. Antelope Meat Loaf? Okay!

We ended up choosing the classic Steak Tips, and a special for the night: Korean Style Ribs with Kimchi! Loved it. There was a time when I would turn down any spicy food, but now that I'm older and more mature (Kind of. Not really.) I've learned to welcome all of the flavors into my life.


After dinner we went dancing at West End Johnnies on Portland Street, then hobbled home, vowing to never wear heels again.

Until next year, I guess.


Happy Wednesday!

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When Chocolate Chip Cookies Just Aren't Enough

The sad news: My work chum, Kate, had her last day at the office today. The happy news: We ate like champions.


When Kate told me that this week would be her last, I immediately started brainstorming the perfect going away surprise. But the more i thought about, and the more I scoured my cookbooks for the answer, the less certain I became. So I asked her: What was her favorite go-to dessert? Her answer: chocolate chip cookies. Good. Done.

But then I thought about it: chocolate chip cookies are always amazing, and absolutely no one can tell me otherwise, but are they good for goodbyes? I guess it depends on who you ask, but for me, no way. They're the perfect treat to have in hand for hangout sessions, good for break ups, great for sick days, and perfect for when you need a quick pick-me-up. But for goodbyes, they're just not epic enough. So it was time to think outside of the box: how can I stay true to her favorite, while still taking it to the next level? Then it came to me: a chocolate chip cookie cake. 


When I was little, my parents got for me one Christmas a Mrs. Fields Cookie Oven. They were just like the Easy Bake Ovens, but way better because it was like having a mall favorite right in your play room. I made tiny cookie cakes and brownies constantly, and as I set out to make Kate's cake, it took me back. What was so good about those cakes, other than the fact that they cooked like magic under a dinky light bulb, was that they always turned out gloriously under-baked. So chewy, so yummy. And now that I'm feeling all nostalgic, I wonder what happened to it...

(Note to self: scour the basement next time I'm home. I've got mini cookies to make.)


I've got a fun little story to tell you. Last night, I made two of these cakes. And it wasn't because I wanted us to have one at home. It was because I didn't exercise enough patience, and tragically broke Cake # 1.

A word to the wise: If a recipe tells you to wait until something is completely cooled before taking it out of the pan, wait until it is completely cool. In my haste to start frosting this thing, I thought that just leaving the pan on the wire rack for thirty minutes would do the trick. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Yeah, it came out of the pan alright, but in several very large chunks. Cake #1 was hurled in pieces into both the trash and my mouth. Cake #2 went straight into the freezer as soon as it was out of the oven, and cool enough for me to handle it without an oven mitt on.

I would also like to note that this was my first successful attempt at using a pastry bag! Also, this was my first time using gel-based food coloring instead of liquid. The colors are more vibrant, you don't taste the colors, so to speak, and it just takes a few drops to get the shade you desire. Use gel food coloring. Trust me.


After frosting, cover your cake and pop it in the fridge overnight. It allows the buttercream to set, and makes it taste OUT OF THIS WORLD. Seriously, the buttercream was the best part, and I saved the best part for last.

One piece of this cake, and you're done. But man, is it worth it.


I miss my work chum Kate already, but we had a forced office group hug, so I'm counting today as one of the best I've had in a while.


Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake:

What You'll Need:

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4  teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg  and 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325F. Throughly grease a  9 inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to size. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

With an electric mixer set to medium speed, beat the butter and both sugars together until combined. Beat in the egg, then egg yolk, one at a time until combined. Then add the vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat at a low speed until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips using a rubber spatula.

Scoop the dough into the prepared cake pan, and use your fingers to evenly press the dough into the pan. Bake until the cake is golden, and the outer edges have started to harden; about 20-25 minutes (Watch out for cracking!) Place on a wire rack to cool COMPLETELY before removing from the pan.

Make sure to throughly wrap in plastic wrap to ensure freshness. If kept at room temperature, this can last for up to five days.


SOURCE Brown Eyed Baker



What You'll Need:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the powdered sugar and butter together using an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture comes together, and is throughly mixed.

With the mixer on low speed, combine the milk and vanilla extract, and slowly stream it into the butter-sugar mixture.

Once fully incorporated, turn the mixer to high speed and beat until the frosting is perfectly light and fluffy, for a minimum of five minutes. (As Joy the Baker says: "The longer the frosting is beaten, the lighter and fluffier it becomes!")

Add dyes into the frosting for the desired color, and beat until fully incorporated.


Next stop: Key Lime Pie for my work chum Brad's 25th!



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When You're Having a Dinner Party...

photoIt would be wrong of me to ignore the hospitality gene that has been passed down to me from my parents and grandparents. You just can't ignore the need to entertain forever, and I've just decided to give in, once and for all. photo

On Saturday night, Anna made the trek all the way across town to my apartment, for a nice, gluten-free gourmet dinner! To spruce the place up, I stopped by Kabloom in Coolidge Corner for some gorgeous, vibrant carnations. (And Anna brought some GORGEOUS pinkish, purplish tulips that are thriving nicely.)  Since I'm big on black and white dish and tableware, I like to add eye-catching pops of color to the table any way I can.

photoOn the menu? California-style BLTs, with a little twist. Instead of bacon, I used proscuitto. I added avocado. AND, for the piece de resistance, I added basil mayonnaise. Believe me when I say, basil mayonnaise can take any good sandwich to an entirely different level.


Side note: shout out to Crate and Barrel for the super cute plates! I paid $5.95 for each, but it looks like I paid much, much more! (When is it appropriate to call myself a Bargain Princess?)


And for dessert? Flourless Chocolate Cake, with a generous dollop of buttercream frosting in the center.

So...I feel like no matter what I write, it actually won't do this cake proper justice. Never in my life have I made something so decadent, so rich, and yet so pleasantly light and airy. With every spoonful you get that sweet choclately taste, which is complimented by the slightly salted, very creamy buttercream frosting. It's like eating a fudgey brownie, but one that's made from chocolate clouds. I may or may not have had one for lunch today. (I did.)

Summertime means more free time, more of my favorite foods, and more dishes to be made and served. BRING ON THE WARM WEATHER THAT BRINGS ME AND MY FRIENDS TOGETHER.

You HAVE to try this basil mayonnaise recipe from The Kitchn, and of course, the Flourless Chocolate Cake from What's Gaby Cooking. But not in that order...unless that's the kind of food combining you're into.


Happy Tuesday!


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My Weekend in Pictures

photo-3As a natural homebody, I sometimes have to make myself leave the house and go places other than the grocery store and corner sandwich shop. That's why I'm so glad my best friend Anna (this is her blog!) lives in this city as well. She's one of my favorite activity partners, and also one of the only people I know that doesn't think I talk too much. Bless her, she puts up with my long-winded stories. photo-4If there is one thing that Bostonians can do, it's drink, which means that Boston is nowhere near in short supply of bars and pubs.

As a person who doesn't like to go out much, I can't stand places that play music louder than normal speaking level (Call me crazy, but when is it ever fun to literally shout out a story to a person sitting two feet away from you?). That leaves out a good chunk of establishments for me. But one place that has never failed to keep me happy is Goody Glover's in the North End. It's one of the only restaurants in the neighborhood that isn't Italian, (it's very, very Irish. Like, many of the servers have wonderful Irish accents and everything) and it ticks every box on my list: appropriately balanced audio, friendly staff, a true pub feel complete with dark furniture built into the wall, and food that is TO DIE FOR. You have not lived, my friend, until you have tried one of their potato spring rolls. It's kind of one of those places that can easily get passed up if you're not paying attention, but if you're in the mood for a Grade A burger and a pint of Magner's, find yourself at Goody Glover's this instant.

photo-6Anna and I had time to spare before our movie, so I suggested we hit up my favorite cupcakery in Boston: Sweet. It is the Girly-Girl's dream. There's pink everywhere, Marie Antoinette playing on a loop, and cupcakes with the perfect frosting-to-cake-body ratio. If you've never had a Buttermilk Pancake cupcake, Sweet is the place to fix that. AND, best of all, there are great vegan and gluten-free options that are just as sweet (see what I did there?). Sweet is the kind of bakery that I'd love to open in the (very distant) future.

photo-7Mmm Cookies and Cream.

Side note: Have you heard of the Cupcake Sandwich? If you haven't, then I can assure you, you've been eating your cupcakes all wrong. Listen, the next time you hit up a bakery, take a seat and try this little trick: unwrap the cupcake, carefully split it in half so that one half is the cupcake top with frosting and the other half is plain cake. Carefully join the frosting side and bald cake together to make a sandwich with frosting in the center. Voila, a Cupcake Sandwich. You'll never eat a cupcake the same way again.


Hamburgers and cupcakes: do Saturdays get much better?

What did you do this weekend??

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My Holiday in Pictures

Boston is snowed in, but this isn't my first rodeo. I come from a place that MADE us go out to recess in this kind of weather, but Boston just isn't handling it like the pros of the Midwest. Single digit temperatures make you tough, so embrace it, Northeast! Since the city has decided to take a break and stay inside, I figured now would be a good time to share a few pictures from my trip home to Wisconsin. I miss it dearly, and being snowed in without a cuddly miniature schnauzer to keep me company isn't helping.

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Usually, I stay with my family for Christmas and New Year's, but since I had to get back to work right after the holidays, I decided to spend New Year's with some of my favorite people.

That's Melyssa and Caitlin. I've known them for two years, but it really feels like longer. They're two of the weirdest people you'll meet, but also the funniest, and the best.

Our friendship can be completely summed up in two pictures:

We don't always get to see each other, but when we do, it feels like we're sisters.

Noticeably missing: My best friend, Emily. But you'll meet her soon enough.


Stay cool, wherever you are.

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