Cozy Up

Let’s be honest, the best part of being cold is being able to warm up in wool coats, cozy scarfs and fuzzy hats. Bundling up for the first snowfall, walking down the twinkling light-lined streets and collecting snowflakes on your eyelashes is what winter is all about. 

Unfortunately, the sparkle of the first snow fades into January and the pretty snow gets dirty, slushy and in the way. You stop caring about looking cute in the snow and start worrying about your ears actually getting frostbite. 

So warm up with this craft and have your cake and eat it too. This is a super easy, crochet hat. I know that no one thinks that crocheting is cool other than me, but I like to think (or at least hope) that I can convince you that crocheting something practical (and not just apple coasters) might actually inspire you to give it go. 

I’ve been meaning to start making crochet hats for some time now, but it wasn’t until my boss from my volunteering gig at DSC requested that I make a hat for her baby boy that was I actually inspired to learn how to do it. And guess what? I wasn’t hard! In fact, it turned out to be ridiculously easy! 

Due to my lack of a tripod, I couldn’t make a video of myself crocheting the hat. So instead, I provided step-by-step directions with links to the sites that helped me learn. This pattern was inspired by this blog if you would like to read the original directions.

Cozy Crochet Hat

yarn – whatever kind you want!
crochet hook – the yarn you pick will tell you what size hook you need

Part A: Make a circle the width of your head
1. Chain stich four.
2. Use a slip stich to connect the first and fourth stich to make a circle.
3. Chain stich three, and then double crochet into the center of the circle. Do this nine times total.
4. Slip stitch the 9th double crochet stitch into the third chain stitch to complete the circle. 
5.  Chain stitch out three, and then double crochet stitch back into the slip stitch. Double crochet two stitches into each stitch of the circle to make the second row. When you get back to the beginning, slip stitch into the third chain stitch to complete the circle.
6. Repeat step five, except alternate between two double crochets per stitch and one double crochet per stitch. So you will do two double crochets in the first stitch, then one double crochet in the next, and follow this 1,2 pattern.
7. Repeat step five, except follow a 2,1,1 pattern.
8. Repeat step five, except follow a 2, 1,1,1 pattern. Get the idea? Continue this pattern until you have made seven rows of a circles. 

Part B: Make a tube the desired length
1. Once your base circle is the desired width (about seven rows, but more or less depending on the size of your head), you can stop adding an extra single stitch between every double stitch. 
2. Chain stitch out three, and then double crochet once in every stitch, following a 1:1 pattern all the way around. 
3. Repeat step two until you have made enough rows to have a hat that covers your ears.

And poof! You have a hat!

This one’s for baby, which actually gets even cuter but I don’t want to ruin the surprise for the lucky little boy who hasn’t gotten it yet. I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense and that I don’t have very many pictures! Let me know if you have questions, and I can totally explain better.

‘You need more than talent to be good at what you do.’

Before digital cameras, before Photoshop and before stock photo sites, there were creatives who specialized in the art of advertising at its very core. They took photos on actual film that actually had to be developed. They had to capture effects when they took the photo, not in post-production. They were talented, they were creative and they still are — and a few of the very best happened to be related to me. My Uncle Jim Carlson and Aunt Ame Albright are one dynamic duo in the world of advertising. My Aunt’s the writer, my uncle’s the art director and together they are a great example of what can happen when talent and ambition merge. While Jim and Ame were made in the era before advertising went digital, the change didn’t stop them. They worked through the transition and embraced the changes while keeping some of the old fires alive. They are incredibly talented and just plain incredible people. They took some time to chat about their craft with me so that I could share it with you!

* * *

Emjoyable: Can you tell me about your career time line and the places you’ve worked at and how you progressed to each one?

Jim: I studied painting at the School of the Art Institute. I was drafted, so I was gone in the Army for a few years. Before the Army though, I had a job at an industrial ad agency, which was really quite boring. When I came back from the Army, I met a guy at the train station. He was a graphics guy, and he said he knew someone looking for an art director. So I went in and got a job. I was there for 4 -5 years when I started to get restless. Leo Burnett tried to get me, and I had declined a few times, but I was eventually offered a good job as Art Director on Virginia Slims cigarettes. It was fun! It was the “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby” campaign, and I shot old time photographs of women in modern fashion stuff. I was in New York with a lot of high-fashion people, and it was just an exciting thing!

After that, at Leo Burnett, more of my accounts were food related. I was the art director for KFC, Nestea, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and cereals and Pillsbury Dough Boy ads. Most my stuff at Leo Burnett was TV ads, but those still had still shoots and photography to go with the TV campaign. After 11 years at Leo Burnett, I decided I wanted to work for myself. I got a lot of different clients (you want anything you can get), but I was still doing a lot of food things, a lot of storyboards and concepts for companies like Coors, Coca-Cola, Squirt and Salerno butter cookies on our own. I did a lot of new products for Kraft cheeses, a lot of labels and photography of the cheese.

Emjoyable: At Leo Burnett, did you choose to focus on food or did they choose for you?

Jim: We were kind of able to choose somewhat. At the time, the agency creative department was divided into groups. Each group was evenly divided between writers and art directors. When we would get an assignment, the writer would write and the art director would work on the art. We all had a shot at working on stuff, and then the team that ended up getting it more exclusively was the team that had the idea that was sold to the client. If we had a client we didn’t care to work on, we could go to the creative director and could usually get moved around. So we had some ability to pick and choose, but the sky wasn’t the limit. If one group had United Airlines, unless we changed groups, you couldn’t just work on anything you wanted. I was happy with what my group had. We had 7-Up, SC Johnson and RCA to name a few.

Emjoyable: Can you elaborate more on the food photography you worked on?

Jim: Most of the food photography I worked on at an agency level was done with some of the heavy-hitter food photographers in the country. Leo Burnett didn’t care where you went or how much it cost as long as you got the best quality photo you could. One ad had a recipe for a pizza, so we had a custom oven built that opened in the back so you could take pictures as the pizza cooked. Companies would always send a food stylist and then there was the photographer and the art director. I would basically light it and make it look appetizing. If I had an idea, I could guide the food stylist. For example, for the pizza, the stylist wanted to chop up all the toppings, and I suggested that we use bigger chunks to make it look more appetizing. I Learned a lot working with professional food stylists about how to make something look really good.

Emjoyable: What’s an example of something that you made look really good?

Jim: One client I had was a hot dog company called Big City Reds. They’re not available in the grocery store, they’re a commercial hot dog, but they still need advertising and that was a client we had gotten on our own. They sent us a bunch of these hot dogs to photograph. I tried to cook it, and it’s edible then, but it doesn’t look good. I tried using Kitchen Bouquet, and I wiped down the hot dog and then it looked cooked. Then I used a bent coat hanger and a torch and got it nice and hot, and I burned lines for grill marks. Natural casing on a hot dog makes it curve when it’s cooked, so I bent a wire and stuck it through the hot dog until it curved. I wanted it to be a Chicago style hot dog, but in Galena, I couldn’t find a lot of the ingredients, like a poppy seed bun. So I sprayed a plain bun with glue and glued on poppy seeds exactly how I wanted them. Then I went through several jars of relish with tweezers and picked out the perfectly cubed chunks of relish. I set up a sweep — a paper background — that was a medium-light grey and curved. Then I designed a jig, stuck it into the back of the paper and into the hot dog. And now this fancy hot dog looked like it was floating. I didn’t have Photoshop then, and it took 4 – 5 hours to get ready. It’s all the prep that takes all the time, and that’s what I learned from the food stylist. You have to be creative and find ways to make stuff look really good. That’s what I think is fun. It’s a challenge, and I think it’s fun making food look really, really good.

Emjoyable: What are the standards for good food photography? What makes a “good” photo?

Jim: First is the lighting. I don’t like lighting that looks flat, and by flat I mean that the food item doesn’t have shape, dimension, shadow, light and dark. When things are hot, I like to see steam and really look hot. It’s hard to make things look hot. I shot some steaks for a restaurant client, and we waited until dark and fired up the Weber Kettle. We had these gorgeous bone-in ribeye steaks. We set up a camera on a tripod and Ame had a spritzer bottle full of olive oil. She’d spritz down into the fire and the fire would blast the steak and I’d snap the picture. If not for the flame and the moisture on the meat, it doesn’t look hot. And when it doesn’t look hot, it really just lays there and is a huge negative. In a lot of food magazines now, the current trend is to stand over a plate of food and just take a picture of it. To me, it looks very unappetizing, clinical and even messy. It just looks sloppy to me. That is not appetizing food photography in my opinion. The things that sell are the things that make you say, “Wow! That looks really good!” You want people to say, “Wow! I want that!”

Emjoyable: What obligation do you have to truth when it comes to making food look really good?

Jim & Ame: You have to be careful about how you do some of that. You can represent it to look its very best, but you can’t enhance it to things that aren’t really there. Campbell’s soup was sued and lost over something like that. They had a bowl of vegetable soup, and they filled the bowl with marbles first so the vegetables all came to the top. It looked like there were more vegetables than there really were, and if the potatoes were soggy, they would put in fresh potatoes instead of the ones in the can. They created a law saying you can’t do that. For example, one of the tricks is to use cold mashed potatoes and scoop them into a cone and it looks like vanilla ice cream. That way, you can use a toothpick to make the potatoes look exactly how you want them too. If you put real ice cream under the light, it will just melt. You literally have seconds to shoot ice cream. We wanted to shoot an ice cream bar with a bite taken out of it, and before your very eyes it would start to melt. It’s really very difficult to shoot ice cream. But in the case of the mashed potatoes, if you want a photo to illustrate a story, you could use it, but if you were shooting for Haagen Dazs or the ice cream people and just doctored up the mashed potatoes, that’s totally illegal and you can face serious fines.

Emjoyable: How has technology changed photography and advertising over the years?

Jim & Ame: The biggest thing that digital photography did to the business was that it made everything happen immediately. We had a client that was a flavor house. In their display at a trade show, they had huge graphics of food shots. So when I shot them, I would set up my camera, I’d load up all my film and I’d get my shots done. Then I would load the film into the boxes in a dark room, tape them up and Fed Ex them to a lab in Chicago. I’d pay for rush processing, Fed Ex them back and get high-resolution scans made on a disk. I would then work with the scans and put them in to our graphic designers. All those stages are gone now. It’s good that you can get it faster but bad that clients want to see everything right now. You don’t have the time you used to have to finish things and get them the same way we want them. That’s a pretty big change. The speed is remarkable. Digital photography has come a long way. We avoided it at first because the quality wasn’t there, but really quickly it turned around.

One of the other major differences that the digital industry has influenced is the growth of stock photography houses. It used to be all the ad people would look for individual photographers to do their food photography, but now with dozens of stock photos, why pay a big-name photographer thousands of dollars when you can go on iStock and buy a photo starting at $50 (and ranging through $1,500 or more, but still much cheaper than a photographer with a day rate of $10,000). When a client knows they can pay 5% of what a professional would cost, it really hurt professional photographers. It has changed the industry and not necessarily for the better. If you want a closeup of grass, you can go to a stock house, have several to choose from immediately. That hit the photography industry hard. One advantage, though, is that you can see the photo before you spend the money. Once you shoot and spend that much money, you have to work with what you did. You have more freedom w/ stock photography. For the speed and the cost, more people are going that direction.

Emjoyable: When it comes to being successful in advertising and photography, how much of that can be taught and how much do you have to be born with?

Jim: From an art standpoint, I think that talent is something that helps you an awful lot, but it’s more on-the-job training that hones your skills, rather than your talent. For example, Ame’s a fantastic writer, and she was a fantastic writer since she was in 5th grade. Being in the business and having the pressure of meeting deadlines and juggling projects, talent doesn’t have anything to do with it. You need to have more than talent to be good at what you do. You need to have a tough skin, so that when someone says ‘That sucks,’ you can say, ‘What can we do to fix this?’ That’s not talent; that’s experience. They’re different.

It’s hard because most people start off in advertising because they have a talent in something. They start off their careers because they have a talent in an area and it guides them. I think it starts with talent and passion and quickly changes and you quickly learn that you have to be creative now; it’s creativity on demand.  

Cranberry Bliss Bars

It wasn’t two seconds after finishing my pumpkin pie that I was blasting Christmas music and decking the halls. It’s not that I wasn’t doing that before Thanksgiving, but it’s nice to not be the only one now. The Christmas season is finally here! That means Delilah on the radio, glitter-frosted everything, elaborate window displays along Michigan Ave and State St and Starbucks red cups. 

Since I was 16, Starbucks has been a crucial part of my holiday festivities. Whether it was a Gingerbread Latte during a shopping break at Woodfield, a delicious Snowman Cookie on my way to class or a pound of Christmas Blend for everyone in my family, it seemed like the holidays weren’t complete without a Starbucks accessory. 

Since I stopped working at Starbucks in August, those treats suddenly got really expensive. I didn’t get my discount, partner beverage or partner mark out anymore, and that was a hard reality to face. So a few days ago, when I saw a Cranberry Bliss Bar begging me to buy it for over two dollars, I instantly knew what I would be baking on Sunday. I figured if I could master a comparable Cranberry Bliss Bar, I could maintain my tradition and my wallet. So I gave it a shot!

Cranberry Bliss Bars

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks (I used 3/4 cup white chocolate chips)

4 ounces cream cheese, softened 
3 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice (I thought this was a bit much, so I’d suggest 3)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup dried cranberries (I’d suggest 1/2 – 3/4 cup)

1/3 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil

Beat butter and brown sugar until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla, ginger and salt. Beat well.

Gradually mix in flour until smooth. 

Mix cranberries and white chocolate into the batter by hand.

Pour batter into a well-greased 9”x13” pan and spread evenly.

Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes or until cake is light brown on the edges. Let cool.

To make the frosting, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla until smooth.

When cake has cooled, spread frosting over the top and sprinkle with cranberries.

To make the drizzle,  mix oil and white chocolate chips in a bowl. Microwave for one minute and then stir until melted completely. Drizzle over bars.

Let cake sit for several hours, then cut into triangles. 

Black Friday

Black Friday is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of occasion. The idea of waking up in the middle of the night to fight huge crowds to take advantage of some great deals is capitalism at its finest! (Well, sort of. I think I actually heard that it’s not good for capitalism, but that’s not really the point.) It’s also people being just plain crazy. But I just love it! That’s half the fun of Thanksgiving! I’m a very by-the-book kind of girl, so shopping the morning after Thanksgiving just feels like the right thing to do!

This year was weird though, because a lot of the stores opened at midnight. But being a very by-the-book girl, I had a hard time staying up late to go Black Friday shopping at night. That seemed too weird for me. Since I was pretty much just going for the fun and festivities of the occasion, I skipped the midnight fiasco and decided I was just going to head out for the early morning deals. I had no idea that skipping the midnight rush would change the entire environment of Black Friday shopping. 

I was going for fun, but there were two things that I did actually want. The first was a Cake Pop Maker, which was on sale at JCPenney for $8.99 after rebate.

The second was a grandma sweater (for me of course) with a funny little pun embroidered on the front, which was on sale for $15, also at JCPenney. 

I got both of them without a problem. Apparently these were not hot items. I was shocked, too.

I got to JCPenney a little after 4 AM, which was one of the few stores that opened at 4 instead of midnight. The parking lot was full, not packed, and I actually found a pretty good spot without even trying. I walked right in, found the two things I needed fairly quickly and went to check out. I was shocked to find that there was hardly a line at all. The entire experience probably didn’t even take me 20 minutes.

That was all I really wanted, but I figured since I did get up early, I should probably make my way out to the west side and hit up the mall and maybe Best Buy. I couldn’t believe how empty it was! The mall lot was at least full enough to make me park in the back but Best Buy’s was almost empty! There were no lines at the registers in either Macy’s, Bergner’s or Best Buy! I was free to roam, try on some boots at my leisure and stroll down the aisles at a pace determined by me, not the swarms of people around me for once! It was bizarre. It didn’t even feel like Black Friday! It was refreshing and disappointing at the same time. 

So, I got home and had obviously worked up an appetite, which works out perfect when it’s the day after Thanksgiving because there’s so much food in the fridge! I made my own version of Starbucks’ Granda’s Turkey Sandwich. I used a left over roll and then put on honey butter, turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce! Could their possibly be anything better to come home to?! I thought not. 

I rounded out my day with a bake session to test out my new Cake Pop Maker. I attempted to recreate Starbucks’ Rocky Road Cake Pops. This was my test run, but I’m super excited to blog about my adventures in Cake Pop Land once I master the art and pin down an awesome recipe. 

I hope everyone had an awesome Black Friday, whether you’re a lover and bravely faced the midnight crowds or a hater and stayed home eating cookie dough and watching Elf. Either one sounds lovely!

Giving Thanks

I grew up with three brothers, eight cousins, three grandparents, three aunts and three uncles — just to name a few. Not a huge family but not a small one either. We were scattered around the midwest, but come the night before Thanksgiving, we were all drawn to Poplar Bluff, Missouri like magnets to my grama’s fridge. The whole family would come together for bumper pool, pinball, staircase slides, street football, organ playing and of course a gigantic Thanksgiving dinner. The festivities all seemed so elaborate. Maybe they were or maybe my memory has been warped by the sands of time, but I guess all that really matters is my fond memories of growing up with a family who loved each other. That’s something that I probably took advantage of at the time, but the older I get, the more I’ve noticed how thankful I am for that. Granted, I want to punch some of them in the face sometimes, but at the end of the day, they were the ones who had my back.

Thanksgiving has changed a lot. My grandparents moved out of Poplar Bluff, my family moved to literally opposite ends of the country and my huge feast was tailored down to only include my parents, one brother and Gramps. But no matter how much the scenery changes, the point remains the same. Thanksgiving is for remembering how blessed we are and being thankful for the people and things we have that we might not recognize enough throughout the year.

Today, I’m thankful for a lot of things. So today’s Inspired post highlights some of the most inspirational people I know.

*   *   *

I am thankful for my parents, who raised four pretty awesome kids.

I am thankful for my kind-of-annoying-but-also-pretty-great big brothers (and Kayiu!). (And Mike of course, who’s pictured later)

I am thankful for the best boyfriend a girl could ask for.

I am thankful for my incredibly determined, strong-willed and beautiful best friend.

I am thankful for my other best friend.

I am thankful for old friends.

I am thankful for new friends.

I’m thankful for my super-cool grampa.

I am thankful for the strongest little girl and sweetest little boy in my life (and their equally wonderful parents).

I am thankful for my cousins who grew up right along side me and are off doing great things!

And everyone else who has stepped into my life in any way!

* * *

I hope that everyone has had a lovely day with the people they love most!

T-Shirts and Long Days

I swear that there is some conspiracy among clock makers who decided to make time pass twice as slowly on the day before Thanksgiving. As it seemed like everyone in the world was leaving for their holiday travels, my coworker, Maja, and I sat at our desks watching time creep by. Hearing people leave the office one by one and knowing that we were in it for the long haul — or at least until 4. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about staying at work. If I really wanted to leave early, I probably could have, so no pity necessary.) It made for a very long, very slow day in Coworker Services.

But I survived! I’m writing to you today aboard the Union Pacific Northwest Metra line. I’ll be meeting my brother in Arlington Heights and riding with him back to our home, sweet home. I’m leaving behind my sparkly, big city for a holiday in good ole Rochester, Illinois. Good bye crazy traffic, hello country roads! Good bye public transportation, hello car! Good bye high-rise apartment, hello high school bedroom! It’s not that I’m not completely in love with the city, but I am still incredibly excited to go home!

As I was packing yesterday for my trip, I tried to open my bottom drawer and realized that I could barely get it open because it was stuffed-full of t-shirts. University of Illinois shirts, shirts from every city I have ever (or known anyone who has ever) been to, shirts that I made with puff-paint, the list goes on and on. Looking at my pile of shirts made me remember this cute idea I found online to turn an old t-shirt into a flower decoration. Problem solved!

Or so one would think. As I pulled t-shirts out of my drawer, one at a time, unfolding each one and analyzing its value, I kept finding reasons to hold on to each one. Some reminded me of track meets, others took me back to adventures I took with friends and some were reminiscent of my meaner days (Operation Ice anyone?). I got to the bottom of my drawer and realized I had accomplished nothing more than making a huge mess and discovering that I’m probably a hoarder.

But at this point, I was already set on making the t-shirt flower! So I opened my craft cabinet and realized that I had just enough fabric left over from a purse I made for my (practically) sister’s christmas present last year. That would have to do. I think a t-shirt would have made a cuter flower, since it’s the same color on the front and back, but I think this way worked out just fine. This idea was inspired by this t-shirt flower. I modified it slightly. It looks like a lot of steps, but really, I just took a lot of pictures.


t-shirt (or other cotton fabric)
sturdy paper such as card-stock or a thick magazine cover
glue (fabric glue would probably be better, but I just used Elmer’s white glue)
felt circle (I didn’t have any felt, so I just used a piece of thick construction paper)
silk ribbon


1. You will need to make a flower stencil. Start by folding a piece of thick paper in half. I used the cover of a magazine.  

Then fold over about a third of it.

Fold in the other third.

Cut it at an arc. 

Unfold it into a flower!

Trace the flower with permanent marker onto the backside of the fabric.

Do that eight times and cut out your eight flowers.

Fold each petal in half, and then in half again. Dab a bit of glue in the corner so it will hold. Pinch it tightly for about 15 seconds so that the glue holds and it doesn’t unfold.

Cut a circle out of felt or thick construction paper. Don’t use crummy paper or it will get soggy. Frost it with glue.

Attach four of the folded petals in a layer on the circle.

For the next layer, attach three petals on top of the first layer. 

Take your last petal and fold it together a little bit to make it a cone shape. Glue it a little bit to secure it.

Glue the cone in the center.

Put a large blob of glue on the back of a button and secure to the middle of the flower. (How cute is this heart-shaped button!?)

Put a little glue on the center of the ribbon and glue to the back of the flower.


Attach it to a scarf or a blazer, tie onto a vase or top off a pretty present with it! 

*   *   *

Happy Thanksgiving!

Say, cheese!

In case you haven’t noticed, I really, really like baking. My love for baking is unquestionably rooted in my love for dessert and my lack of a substantial income to purchase already-made fancy treats.

When I was really little, I remember getting ridiculously excited about Christmas Cookie Baking Day. When I was kind of little, I remember sifting through my mom’s recipe file and watching the Food Network and requesting to make all the new treats that I stumbled upon. When I wasn’t very little anymore, I remember constantly finding treats online and my parents coming home to me making chocolate crepes with chocolate moose filling.

Through my constant combing of food blogs, recipe-driven Google searches and my recent obsession with Pinterest, I’ve developed an appreciation for food photography, as well. There’s something to be said about how a photo can transform a dinner into a work of art. More than that, I’ve become interested in how the use of photography plays into whether or not I actually make any given recipe.

For example, as my coworker (from the Dave Barnes concert) pointed out, showing photos of every step of the process is one of the most appealing elements of a good recipe post — and I promise that’s not just me being bias since I do that. The step-by-step photo illustration is so much more appealing than a video demonstration, which, let’s be honest, no one watches. (Do they?!) Plus, I’m so much more likely to make a recipe that is pictured looking adorable than if it’s just slopped on a plate. Like someone probably said once, it’s all about the presentation!

I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t know any more about food photography than I do about regular photography, which is not very much. Recently, however, I have been much more aware of the impact of photography on my chosen recipes. So today, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite food blogs and how photography has added to their appeal.


The whole Sugar suite of sites is pretty great, but Yum Sugar in particular appeals to me. What I love about YumSugar is how it presents the photos with its recipes. They’re not included in the body of the recipe, so if you just want to see the directions, nothing gets in your way. The photos are then displayed at the bottom, so if you need to see something, you can pull it right up. Plus, all their finished products are just perfectly presented! I’ve found a ton of recipes I want to try, but some of the most tempting are the Chocolate Caramel Corn, Sweet Potato Fries and these adorable Turkey Cupcakes! Plus, YumSugar features the Week’s 10 Best Photos from the Yum Community

Our Best Bites

This blog is much intimate than YumSugar. It’s the endeavor of two lovely women who you really feel like you know after reading just a few posts. Their blog is much like mine in the sense that the ladies share stories alongside every recipe, which I think is great. The recipes feature photos with every step as well as tips and suggestions along the way. It’s like having your own personal chef right on your lap top! Some of my favorite recipes include these adorable Candy Corn CookiesEasy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins and this awesome post on Halloween party recipes. A friend of mine introduced me to this site, and it was a really great find.

Pillsbury Baking

I don’t even remember ever actually starting to follow Pillsbury Baking on Facebook, but at some point I apparently did and all these delicious-looking photos started filling up my news feed. What I love about Pillsbury Baking is that the recipes are so creative! It’s all these really original recipes that are incredibly easy because they primarily use already-made Pillsbury products. It sounds really commercial, but I never cease to be impressed. Some of my favorites are the Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies, Country Blueberry Coffee Cake and the “Be Mine” Brownie.

All three of these blogs share one thing in common, and that is that they use photography to show recipes as more than just food. They use photography to show how food can can be a gift, it can be art and it can bring families and friends together. And it’s just plain yummy!

So while I’ve got you all thinking about food as art, I want to stick in a little teaser for next week’s post, which I am super excited about! Next week, I will be featuring a famous food photographer, who happens to be my uncle. Former Art Director at Leo Burnett, Jim Carlson, will take some time to chat about the art of Food Photography. So get excited!

Mini Fruit Tartlets with Chocolate Drizzle

I’m a sucker for Bed, Bath & Beyond. Every time I set foot inside that place, I find something in their baking section that I just have to have. Some buys I do end up falling in love with and using pretty regularly, like my madeleine pan or my cookie cutter set. Other things, despite my best intentions, end up untouched in my cabinet years after I bought them. That is exactly what happened with my mini tart pans.

So Sunday, while I was organizing my baking cabinet, I yet again looked for a recipe to use these cute little pans … and yet again, failed. In my quest for a mini tart recipe, I stumbled upon this super simple recipe for Easy Fruit Tarts from Land O’Lakes. As much as I wanted to put my tartlet pans to good use, I couldn’t bring myself to buy extra ingredients and work extra hard just to use them. So back on my shelf they went, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. These bad boys were amazing!! I ate almost all them.

NOTE: I recently made fruit tarts again and I prefer the filling in that recipe. It would be great substituted in this recipe as well.

Easy Fruit Tarts
Courtesy of Land O’Lakes

 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons powdered sugar (this was my addition to the recipe)
1 package (15 count) frozen mini filo dough shells, thawed
assorted fresh fruit
1/4 cup seedless strawberry jam
1/4 cup chocolate frosting or chocolate chips (this was also my own addition)

Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, orange juice and vanilla until smooth.

I thought it was a little too sour-creamy, so I added 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar to sweeten it up a bit.

Spoon filling into filo shells, filling about 2/3 full.

*NOTE* This recipe will fill 15 cups (probably even more than that), but once they’re filled, they don’t keep very long. The original recipe suggested not filling them more than three hours in advance. Keeping that in mind, I only filled nine. I put the extra filling and fruit in the fridge to make later.

The next thing to do is add the fruit. I suggest using whatever fruit is either in season or cheap, depending on which is more important to you. I was shocked to find blackberries and raspberries so cheap, so I grabbed some of those. I also grabbed a kiwi and a clementine for about 50 cents each. Other good toppings would be blueberries, strawberries, apples and maybe even almonds. Go crazy! Whatever fruit you choose, just be sure to take out any seeds, remove any skin and cut into small pieces.

Top each tartlet with a collection of fruit pieces.

Place the strawberry jam in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds until melted. Drizzle each tartlet with a little jam. Be careful not to overdo it though, or the jam will run down the shell and you will end up with a sticky mess. You want just enough to tint the filling pink and make the fruit a little shiny.

Microwave some chocolate frosting for about 15 seconds or until melted. With a spoon, drizzle the frosting over the tartlets. You could also use chocolate chips for this, you just have to be really careful to not burn the chocolate while you’re melting it. Chips can also be a little harder to drizzle. But either one works!

Transfer to a new plate — since the other one got all chocolatey!

Serve with cocktails at your holiday party!  [Or power through them on the coach while watching Bears football in your sweatpants. Totally your call.]

Saturday Night Lights

I might be in the minority among people who don’t have a financially vested interest in it, but I fully support the early onset of Christmas histeria on the streets, in the malls and on the radio, probably as early as mid-October. I see a lot of Facebook posts and Tweets complaining about Christmas taking over before Black Friday, but I don’t sympathize with that point of view. I’m a Christmas enthusiast who doesn’t like to set a limit on when we can start celebrating the greatest holiday ever.

Which is why Saturday is going to be to incredible. I’m talking, like, really incredible! Saturday is the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Now, I’ve never been to the event, but how could one million lights, Mickey Mouse and a Christmas theme possibly be anything less than fantastic!?

This is one of the many perks of living in the lovely city of Chicago. Well, I’m sure that New York, LA and probably many other cities in the country (and world I assume) also have equally great Christmas kick-off events, but Rochester, IL does not, so this is big news for this girl! Living in the City has a lot of perks and one million Christmas lights and a parade to mark the turning on of said lights is definitely one of them. 

Let me elaborate for everyone in Chicagoland who might be considering a trip downtown to celebrate. The Magnificent Mile is a one-mile stretch of north Michigan Avenue, lined with darling boutiques and shops that for the most part (ignoring Forever 21 and a few shops in Water Tower Place) no one can afford. And every year at Christmas, they frost the street in Christmas lights and transform it into a winter wonderland, and then they turn it all on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. To add to the event, there is all-day activities and a huge parade to kick off the event. The parade is led by none other than Mickey Mouse himself. 

So tomorrow, after I watch the Illini get their butts kicked by University of Wisconsin and I make it back to Chi-town from Champaign, you will find me cozied up with a Starbucks Gingerbread Latte, my hand-crocheted scarf and my boyfriend in hand. I hope everyone in the city and the burbs can make it out to event! And if you do, be sure to give me a call! 

Happy Holidays!