7.31.2014

My Chicago Guide

i've received quite a few emails in the last year asking me the best things to do, restaurants to eat at, places to see, areas to shop, and so on, in Chicago. although i've lived here for a year, i still feel like there's so much left for me to explore and discover! 
if you want to be a true tourist, here's what you should see/do:

Millennium Park + the 'bean' 
Navy Pier 
Water Tower Place
John Hancock Observatory (360 Chicago)
Lincoln Park Zoo
Sears Tower Skydeck (i refuse to call it Willis Tower)
Grant Park
The Shedd Aquarium
The Museum of Science and Industry
The Field Museum
Buckingham Fountain
Lakefront Path
North Ave or Oak St Beach 

best places for shopping (in my opinion):

State St (south of the river, in the loop)
Michigan Ave
Water Tower Place
900 North Michigan Shops
Armitage Ave + Halsted St (Lincoln Park)
intersection of North Ave, Damen Ave, and Milwaukee Ave (Wicker Park)

best places for restaurant options (if you want to walk around and pick a place):

River North 
West Loop 
Broadway St (Lakeview East/Boystown)

some of my favorite restaurants:

Green St Smoked Meats (West Loop)
Ann Sather (Lakeview)
Las Fuentes (Lincoln Park
Antique Taco (Wicker Park)
Wilde (Lakeview East/Boystown)
Homeslice (Lincoln Park)
Pastoral (Lakeview East/Boystown)
Epic Burger (chain - many locations)

you MUST eat Chicago-style pizza. MUST. here's my ranking of options:

Lou Malnati's (i would eat it once a week if i could)
Giordano's 
Pizano's
all others 

you also must eat at Portillo's and you must order a Chocolate Cake Shake 

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make time for a game, concert, or other show
sports, comedy, and music are a shared love. make time to take in a Cubs or Bulls game. go to a comedy club for a night. see who's performing in the city during the time you'll be here and buy tickets! if you can't find anything else, try going to a Blue Man Group show - it's entertaining and in a cool theater. 

know where you're going/have a plan

there's so many places to see, so many things to do, and so many restaurants to eat at that it's best to have a rough idea of what your day will look like before heading out the door. map it out so that you're not spending more time traveling to places than you are experiencing them. not to mention, there's few things that are more annoying to Chicagoans than tourists standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk with a map opened. 

ask for help! 

although we may not all look eager to help, we probably will. if you're lost or can't seem to find a certain intersection/place, ask someone on the street. they should know how to give you directions. if you can't find a willing soul, step in a restaurant or business and ask an employee. 

use public transportation

the subway system (what we Chicagoans call the 'el') is easy to navigate, cheap, and will get you just about anywhere you need to go.

wear comfortable shoes/clothes

since you'll probably spend most of your day standing and walking, it's important to wear shoes that can last all day long. there's nothing worse that getting an hour into your day and realizing you chose the wrong outfit for your activity.

walk fast

this is sort of a joke, but also not. those of us that call Chicago home tend to walk about 2.5 times faster than the rest of the people in the city. i think it's due to the fact that we have to walk fast during the winter to get out of the bitter cold, so it just becomes part of who we are. 

consider the time of year before you come

while the winter is beautiful in the city, it's cold. like, real cold. if you're hoping to do things outside and walk around, consider coming in late spring or early fall. if you want to hit up the beach and possibly sweat a lot, come during the summer! if you want to know what it's really like to live in Chicago, come in January. then you'll never come back ;) 

(this is certainly not a complete list of all of the wonderful things Chicago has to offer, but it's a start! spend some time doing online research for a more complete view of the city!)

7.30.2014

Over the Weekend...




i can hardly believe that there's only one month of 'summer' left. seriously, where did it go? the realization struck me last week, so i decided it's time to get down to business and do all the things i want to do while the weather is still beautiful. 

some girlfriends and i went to Randolph St Market on Saturday to browse the antiques and enjoy a mimosa together (if you buy the package of 4 tickets, you each get a mimosa! we were sold when we saw that). there were quite a few unique pieces of furniture and plenty of things that you could buy and refurbish. if i'd had a car, i probably would have picked up a few of the smaller pieces to use in my new place, but i didn't feel like messing with delivery fees or trying to jam everything in a cab. i was this close to buying a wooden stool with a furry top, but decided against it because it would shed like crazy. let's be honest, i have enough fur between the two cats to last me a lifetime...i don't need anymore. 

after perusing the outdoor area for awhile, we made our way inside where the vendors mostly sold jewelry, clothing, china, and art. there was a very distinct smell of french onion dip as soon as we entered, which was quickly (and graciously) masked by the wonderful aroma of cinnamon roasted nuts. man! those smell delicious. after making our way past the male bust lamps and Home Goods placemats (word to sellers: maybe remove the retail store sticker before trying to sell the item for more than it's actually worth), we found ourselves amongst the vintage Coach bags and old over-sized hats. as someone that has a strong like for clothing, it's always interesting to me to see what was once 'in style' to wear. what would now be used only for Halloween or a costume party would have once been a prized possession in a young woman's closet. i quickly thought, 'what on earth are my kids going to think about the clothes that i wore?! are skinny jeans and maxi skirts going to be the laughing stock of my children's generation?!' i really am curious to know that one day. what they will think of my music, clothing, home decor style, hairstyles, makeup, cell phone, etc. it's crazy to think that our current way of life will be considered 'old' and 'outdated'. i imagine the conversations going something like this:

me: i remember the days when i had to actually dial a phone number to call someone.
unborn (and very far off) child: WHAT?! what a waste of time!

me: i remember the days when i had to actually drive my car to get somewhere.
unborn (and very far off) child: you mean you had to DO something in the car to get somewhere, you couldn't just sit and let the computer drive you?!

me: i remember the days when i had to have a wireless internet connection to access anything online.
unborn (and very far off) child: you mean, you weren't always and forever connected to the internet with unlimited access and no issues, like ever? whoa. 

who knew that walking through an antique market could lead to such deep thoughts ;)

although nobody else in the group purchased anything, i walked away with a pretty gemstone ring (similar to those shown in the photos, it's on my left hand but you can't see it) that i couldn't pass up. i'm a sucker for jewelry, i tell you. 

dress | Gap
cardigan | Old Navy
belt | Target
earrings | Nissa Jewelry
wallet | Fossil
sunglasses | Kate Spade

7.29.2014

The Easiest Pesto Chicken Sandwich

ingredients:
shredded chicken
pesto (store-bought or homemade!)
ciabatta roll 
provolone cheese
roma tomato slices
arugula

to make the shredded chicken, i buy thin-sliced boneless skinless chicken breasts at the store and bake them in the oven at 400ยบ for 10-12 minutes (until cooked through). to shred it, i toss it in my mixer and let the mixer to the work -- that little trick saves lots of time and hand cramps from shredding it yourself! you certainly can shred it yourself with a couple forks, too. 

once the chicken is shredded, i mix in the (store-bought) pesto to evenly coat the chicken. you can use as much or as little as you like. i probably use close to 1/4 cup on a pound of chicken. what can i say, i love pesto! 

toast your ciabatta roll in the oven or toaster oven, melting the provolone cheese on it just before you're ready to take it out of the oven. add a couple slices of roma tomatoes, a nice amount of chicken, and a pile of arugula. 

devour the sandwich. 

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i love how simple and easy this sandwich is to make. i like to make something fresh for lunch everyday, but i don't want to spend 30-45 minutes making lunch, so this chicken is perfect to keep on-hand for a week's worth of lunches/dinners. the chicken is also really yummy on an arugula salad with some sliced roma tomatoes and drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. 

7.28.2014

My Guide to Working From Home

when i first moved to Chicago, i wasn't sure what i wanted to 'do for a living', so i accepted an internship at an event planning/restaurant company as a marketing assistant. it was good experience, but the biggest thing i took away from it was that i was not made to work in an office environment. i felt like my creativity was stifled and did not enjoy having to adhere to a set schedule. i didn't like the monotony of going into the office and doing the same thing every time, so i knew that i had to do something else. 

i've been fortunate enough to run my own business and work from home. never in a million years did i think that this is what i would be doing, but i'm so glad that i am! working from home is definitely the best environment for me, so i'm hoping to make it happen for as long as i can. it's been about a year since i've been doing it exclusively, so i thought i'd share some things i've learned along the way. (some of these things can apply to those of you that work in a different environment, as well.)


have a designated workspace

i can't even express how important this is! even if i didn't need a desk for jewelry making, i would want one for my computer and work-related materials to keep them all together and have a place to go to when i need to work. although working from my bed is nice sometimes, i like to have a spot that i keep everything together and can go to when i need to get down to business.

making 'to do' lists is essential

part of this is probably just my personality (i like to cross things off), but another part is that i can easily get distracted by other things happening around me and forget to do something. i like to have a running list on my desk with my tasks - it's just how my brain works. if i don't write it down, i'll likely forget. 

get other things done first

since i have a totally flexible schedule, i find i'm the least distracted and most productive when i don't have other things that i need to do. for example, if i know that i have to run to the grocery store or clean the apartment, it's best for me to do those things before i start working (or on a lunch break) so that i can focus totally on my work. 

setup a lunch break

something that has worked well for me is setting up a designated time for a lunch break. on days where i'm going to be sitting at my desk all day, it helps to have a schedule to hold myself accountable to. if i set my lunch for noon to one, then i know how much time i have left to get work done before lunch. it's nice to have something to look forward to! 

curb 'the munchies' with water

i don't know about you, but having my pantry full of food just 20 feet away from me at all times is pretty tempting. i tend to be a snacker, so i've had to learn to reign that in a bit since working from home. what helps me a ton is having a glass of water nearby. i'll add lemon or berries to it to dress it up a bit and will reach for that (instead of chips!) if i feel the need to munch!

set work hours

although i don't do this, for some people it will be absolutely essential to set work hours. figure out a schedule that is reasonable and will work for you, and stick to it!

keep your weekends work-free

this is probably the thing that i have the hardest time with. since all of my work is within arms reach all the time, i have to mentally shut off my 'work brain' on the weekend so that i get a break. obviously, if i need to do work, i will. but if i'm just bored or have some free time on a Saturday, i no longer allow myself to do anything work-related because i want to use that time to relax and rest.

be active

to avoid feeling cooped up all day long, i like to get out and do something every day. whether it be going to Starbucks for an hour or two to work, picking up lunch, or running an errand, i find that my productivity increases after that time of getting out and doing something. take an hour to exercise or use your lunch break to walk around outside!

although there are surely other things that can help productivity for us work-from-home people, these are a few things that i've found work well for me! have other tips or ideas? i'd love for you to leave a comment below! 

7.26.2014

Date Night (with P.F. Chang's)


it's been almost a year now since Mike and i were in a long-distance relationship. although we both agree that long-distance was good for us, we're both incredibly happy that it's no longer the case. we see each other just about every weekend, so we've definitely been taking advantage of our relatively close proximity to spend time together. it's been fun to have him around to explore Chicago with me! 

since seeing each other regularly is 'old news' these days, i've found that i appreciate date night even more. and it's even better when it's a full date day, which is what happened last weekend! we decided to rent some bikes and ride along the lakefront path, both for exercise and to enjoy the beautiful weather we had. on our ride, we decided to stop at Lincoln Park Zoo - one of our favorite things to do together. after watching the monkeys and apes for quite some time (they're incredibly fascinating to us) and walking through the cat house to admire the lion and few cervals they have, we got back on our bikes to continue riding. after what felt like hours (it was pretty toasty outside, so every minute felt like 30), we finally made it back to my apartment to clean up and get ready for dinner. we took a fast-paced walk down to P.F. Chang's and were seated immediately, at which time we could  have probably eaten anything put in front of us. hungry doesn't begin to describe how we felt. 

P.F. Chang's has a new seasonal menu featuring perfect pairings with new dishes and wine pairings (and craft beers!). my family is particularly fond of P.F. Chang's and i dine there probably about every 2 months or so. i'm hooked on their crispy green beans, chicken lettuce wraps, and chang's spicy chicken, but you really can't go wrong with any dish! although i tend to stick to my ways, especially when it comes to ordering food, i was excited to try some items off the new menu to broaden my horizons a bit. i'm not a particularly adventurous person when it comes to food, but Mike is willing to try just about anything and there's almost a 100% chance that he'll eat every last bite (even if he doesn't like it much!). he tends to eat about 1 1/2 meals every time we go out to eat - his and the leftovers from mine. 


after browsing the menu for a few minutes, we settled on starting with the Heirloom Tomato Salad (we wanted the Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Spring Rolls but they were out) and a couple entrees. his was the Chiang Mai Curry Noodles with Chicken (the man loves curry, which i do not share an affinity for) and mine was the Korean BBQ Chicken Stir-Fry. i ordered the wine pairing for the salad and Mike enjoyed a beer. 


the salad was a yummy combination of fresh tomatoes, avocado, basil, and a zesty dressing. i love a good vegetable salad (sans lettuce), so i was excited to try it! the mix of flavors and textures was refreshing and tasty, and went perfectly with my glass of white wine. when our entrees arrived, we were both pretty excited to dig in and give them a try. Mike's plate was clear within about 7 minutes and then he helped himself to some of my Korean BBQ. i'd never tried any sort of dish like that before and i was pleasantly surprised by how much i liked it. like i said, i'm not particularly adventurous with food, so i'm always hesitant to order an entire dish that i'm not 100% sure that i'll like, but i can honestly say that i'd order this entree again. the mix of veggies, chicken, and kimchi slaw was wonderful. the veggies still had a bit of crunch to them and the chicken was nice and tender.  it had a bit of a kick to it, but nothing my wine couldn't handle! 


overall, we really enjoyed our meal. it was light and refreshing, but also incredibly filling. we walked out of the restaurant happy as clams.

P.F. Chang's is currently running a Perfect Pairing Contest, where one lucky winner will win an all-inclusive food trip to Boston, including a personal tour of the Samuel Adams Brewery and a craft beer pairing dinner at P.F. Chang's! You can enter the contest here.

this post is sponsored by P.F. Chang's. all opinions and images are my own.