Let’s do this!

One of my favorite blogs of all time is HRH Collection. The bogger’s name is is Alex, and she’s absolutely adorable. She has her own jewelry line, she’s incredibly stylish, her house is amazing, and she even has a cute little white bunny that makes occasional appearances (just like I have Aiko!). I really enjoy reading her blog and get really excited when she posts new things.  She has taught me the coolest way to jazz up my shorts, the art of using bronzer to highlight my cheekbones and just how to create the perfect combination of edgy and girly. Though she often finds herself apologizing for her brief delays between posts, Alex continues to follow through with photos, videos and text posts that really inspire me. The appeal of a great blog is that steady stream of fresh new content that keeps readers coming back.

That used to be me.

I used to have new posts every, single day. Mondays were for Recipes, Tuesdays were for Photos, etc. I had a strict Editorial Schedule that I actually stuck to! EmJoyable used to be an accurate depiction of doing things by the book, filled with seasonal recipes, activities and adventure, and inspiring other people to be as excited about everything as I am! Then I started slacking. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. I started planning a wedding, crafting a lot more, hanging out with friends and participating in recreational sports. Now don’t get me wrong, those are all very important things! And I love them! But those are the things that I want to share on EmJoyable. Those are the things I want to inspire other people to do! Those things are the reason EmJoyable was born!

And I’m back.

I had two big moments recently. The first came when I was walking through Montrose Harbor on my way to my playoff volleyball game. I realized that I am so incredibly happy. Like, ridiculously happy! I just want to freeze time and be in this phase of my life forever. I love my apartment and where it’s located in the heart of the best city in the world. I’m engaged to my best friend and we’re planning the coolest, most fun wedding of all time — and I get to make so many crafts for it!!! I have the best friends in the entire world who are so incredibly supportive and nice and fun and social and pretty and fantastic! I just, can’t help but squeal thinking how truly lucky I am, and if I could inspire even one of you to realize how happy you are in your own life, then my mission is complete.

The second moment came while I was having drinks with two of my favorite girls on Thursday night. One of them used to live in Chicago, recently moved to Michigan, and was just back in town for work. The other is my dearest friend in the City, who was born and raised in Chicago. (Keep in mind that I’ve only been here for about 2 years, so we had a nice dynamic going on here.) So we’re sitting on a patio outside of bar, drinking RumChata and chatting it up like girls do. We started talking about how great Chicago is and how there’s just this energy here that is just invigorating, that is impossible to match anywhere else (New Yorkers reading this, you’re allowed to disagree with me here, but you surely understand the sentiment for your own turf). And then EmJoyable came up. These girls are two of my biggest fans, and they have been checking my blog repeatedly, and finding the same old content. One of them even knew the exact date of the last time I posted! And I had let them down. I had let my readers down. Each time someone came to my site and left, after finding nothing new, I had missed an opportunity to inspire. One day last year, I had 3,899 views in a single day. Yesterday, I had 4.

I never realized until that moment that there are people on the other end of this blog. When you’re typing away into the backend of WordPress, it’s hard to see that there are actual people reading it on the other end. And they are people like me, checking their favorite blogs every day, and wanting to find something exciting. I have enough excitement in my life that I should I should always be able to provide that!

So I’m making this post as a commitment to inspire! As a commitment to you and myself that I am back, and I will always come back.

Love you!

My New Faves

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot more time reading other people’s blogs than writing my own. Sorry about that! But it’s been a really inspiring endeavor! There are so many good ideas out there and so many creative people to talk about them. Lately, EmJoyable has been primarily about cooking, but it’s more than that. It’s a lifestyle blog. It’s about doing cute things, celebrating everyday and embracing creativity! I wanted to share some of the blogs that I’ve been reading lately. I hope that you take some time to check them out and get inspired too! They’ve certainly put some ideas in my head that I will be trying out soon!

Cheers!

Baking/cooking blogs

Sweet Pea Kitchen
Just a Matter of Thyme
Chocolate Covered Katie
Heat Oven to 350
Dessert First
Bake or Break
Baking Bites

Fashion blogs

The Londoner
The Life Styled

 

Charlie Trotter’s

I’m normally not one for restaurant reviews. Typically, I wouldn’t even put myself into the category of fine dining connoisseur, let alone the finest-of-fine-dining connoisseur. However, today I’m making an exception. I couldn’t resist sharing my recent experience at one of the nicest restaurants I might ever set foot in: Charlie Trotter’s.

Charlie Trotter’s is one if the best restaurants in the world. You can view the website for a whole laundry list of awards and acclaims including one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” by Restaurant Magazine since 2004. Charlie Trotter’s offers two exquisite set-menu options, the Vegetable Menu and the Grand Menu, as well as optional wine or juice pairings designed to bring out the best in food and drink. (I clearly opted for the wine pairings.)

My Fiance and I have been wanting to go to Charlie Trotter’s for a while now. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do but had no push to actually make a reservation and go. When Charlie Trotter announced that he was going to be closing the restaurant to attend the University of Chicago to study Philosophy, we knew that our time was running out. With only a few weeks before the establishment would close its doors forever, Kenny and I made one of the only reservations we could get: 9:30 PM on a Tuesday.

With a high price tag and even higher standard for fine culinary creations, I went into this dinner with extremely high expectations. I was not disappointed.

When we arrived, I knew I was in for a treat. We were escorted up through three stories of small rooms, all of which looked like dining rooms pulled straight from a variety of French Tudor homes. Each room had a handfull of small tables, perfectly set with crystal stemware and white plates with Trotters signature ‘T’ in gold on the top. They took them away almost immediately after we sat down, but they did look lovely for their short stay.

It wasn’t long before our gold “T” plates were replaced by plate after plate of tiny, delicious courses. Each course was so unique and completely different than any other taste I’d ever experienced. Each course paired perfectly with a variety of top-notch wines that made each course even better, which was hard to believe was possible. The waitstaff was absolutely delightful and their passion for food and providing legendary service radiated through the entire meal. They were knowledgeable and friendly and totally on their A-Game. It was an absolutely delightful evening!

Charlie Trotter’s closed on August 31, so unfortunately, this review comes a little too late to allow you to get a reservation for yourself. However, I invite you to join me as I walk you through my dinner! I had the vegetable menu and wine pairing.

(I was too shy to take pictures of my meal, so unfortunately, I have no photos of my actual meal. However, I did find photos online of most of the courses, so I added those here instead.)

*   *   *

Globe Artichoke with Cauliflower, Pine Nuts & Mint
This was my favorite dish! I don’t know if it was because I was so hungry or just so excited to try my first course, but I absolutely loved this. The first bite I had was the salty pine nuts with the avocado sorbet and it was just to die for. 

Poached White Asparagus with Broccolini, Manchego Cheese & Fire-Roasted Red Peppers
I didn’t love this dish. The peppers were almost the consistency of Jello and the asparagus kind of tasted like pasta. Kenny loved it though, so it was probably just me. Sadly, this was my least favorite, but it was certainly not bad by any means. 

Crispy, Silken Tofu with Georgia Peaches, Red Curry & Pea Blossoms
This was the course I was least excited about when reading the menu, but it totally blew me away. I normally dont love tofu, so I was amazed by how much I loved this! It was crispy on the outside and the inside was so soft that it almost reminded me of pound caked. And with the peaches?! Loved it! 

One-Hour Poached Hen’s Egg with Morel Mushrooms, Swiss Chard & Liquorice
I have never been more impressed with an egg. I couldn’t believe the consistency of it! The yolk and the white were almost the same texture. The white was soft and smooth and the yolk was just firm enough to hold its shape. It all just melted together in the most interesting way! I was really impressed. 

Miso Tortellini with Red Cabbage, Turnip Confit & Ponzu
These little guys were very interesting! They were much firmer than I expected, which made them unlike any other tortellini I’d ever had. I liked them. Weren’t my favorite thing, but they were nice!

Apricot Sorbet with Anise Shortbread & Blackberries
I so badly wish I had a photo of this! This was my favorite of the dessert courses. It was exactly what it sounds like. This one lacked the strange complexity of a lot of the other courses, but more than made up for it with the burst of flavor in each element. It was simple, but just so delicious. The sorbet was so tart and sweet, and the shortbread was actually in crumb form so you got a little with every bite. Top notch. 

Zucchini Cake & Blossom with Whipped Basil & Saffron Reduction
This one was … complicated. I think that’s the best way to describe it. I wasn’t quite sure how to eat it and what things I was supposed to eat together. I do know that the zucchini cake was super moist and delicious and that sauce with the seed things in it was amazing with it! The whipped basil was kind of weird, but if you ate it with the olive oil sorbet, it was a great combination. 

Root Beer Leaf Ice Cream with Vanilla Cremeaux & Birch Syrup Infused Meringue
There is no way for me to describe how amazing the root beer leaf ice cream was. It was just so good! It was almost minty, but with that sweet kick of root beer. Kenny and I were head over heals about it! It was such a great way to round out the evening! And by this point, we were so full that I sadly couldn’t finish the entire thing. I think I might have offended the server by not finishing it, but I was just out of room!

NOTE: I would have loved to comment on the wine pairings as well, but I honestly know nothing about wine and I think I would just describe each of them as delicious. They were all great and perfectly matched with everything we ate.

*   *   *

It was just such a great experience! Charlie Trotter himself made his way around the restaurant while we were there and it was really nice to see him interact with the guests. After dinner, our server took us down to kitchen, which was so cool and unexpected! The whole evening was just so perfect!

Thank you so much, Mr. Trotter and best of luck in your future endeavors!

Fall Bucket List 2012

After six years as a barista, I will always define my seasons by Starbucks seasonal drinks. Now that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are out, I’m officially allowed to start blogging about fall! Fall is my absolute favorite season. October first is my favorite day of the year, pumpkin recipes never get old and you simply can’t beat the weather!

Right along with the change in weather this year is my change of local! I recently moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago that is absolutely beautiful. I live by some of the best patio restaurants, wine bars and extraordinary window shopping in the city. Now that I have this whole new turf to explore, on top of all the other fabulous fall activities, I feel like I need to make a 2012 Fall Bucket List.

I hope that fall inspires you to explore your neighborhood and go out and do cute things! (And yes, don’t worry, there will be a Go Do Cute Things – Fall Edition coming out soon!) Here’s my top 10 things to do this fall. I will keep you posted every step of the way.

*   *    *

1. Visit a Farmer’s Market (often).    
There’s a Farmer’s Market just up the street from me and all I want to do is wear a cable-knit sweater, sip my Caramel Apple Cider and peruse the tents full of produce. And then buy a huge bouquet of fresh flowers to walk home with and put in a vase on the kitchen table.

2. Try my hand at pie crust for a completely homemade apple pie.  
I’ve attempted homemade pie crust once before and failed miserably. As a recipe blogger, this is a task I MUST accomplish. I figure if I fill it with fresh apples, even if it totally sucks it won’t be that bad. 

3. Visit a local bar for a pumpkin inspired beer. 
I thought I accomplished this goal last Halloween at Fountainhead, but it turns it out it was just beer that was served out of a pumpkin, and wasn’t actually pumpkin flavored. I hear that there are several pumpkin ales and I’m excited to try at least three of them.

4. Build up my fall wardrobe with scarves, sweaters, flannel and boots!
Can you believe I’ve never owned tall, brown, leather boots? I couldn’t either! I am desperately in need of a pair this season! I know that fall attire has been in the stores for the past month, but I’ve been trying desperately to hold off on buying it all until I had a crisp, fall saturday afternoon to spend doing so. It will be a very expensive, very fulfilling, very fantastic day I just know it!

5. Not get last in my first-ever Fantasy Football Team. (Let’s go Oak Street Jenny MacAurthors!)
I’ve only really gotten into NFL football over the past two years, but when my fiance asked if I wanted to be on his league, I was extremely excited! I asked if EmJoyable was an appropriate Fantasy Football team team and it turns out that it’s not. So I opted to pay tribute to my favorite character on The League. I was an NFL columnist for a college sports website for a while, so hopefully that counts for something. I don’t expect to win, but I would just really, really like to not get last.

6. Make pumpkin seeds that don’t suck. 
I tried them last year and they were really soggy. My goal this year is to make delicious, crispy and salty pumpkin seeds that someone might actually want to eat.

7. Eat brunch outside.
And if we’re being honest, also eat lunch, dinner and dessert outside and as often as possible. My neighborhood is lined with trees and floral arrangements and I can only imagine how beautiful it will look when the leaves start to turn. Plus, I am surrounded by brunch places with cute patio seating outlined with rod-iron fences and strings of white lights. I could eat brunch on a different patio every weekend till Christmas.

8. Make a killer DIY R2D2 halloween costume.
No one seems to believe me when I say that this costume is going to be adorable, but I promise that it is! And it’s going to be easy and cheap! I hope you’re as excited about it as I am.

9. Host a fall-themed party (and make a few friends to invite to said party). 
I’m not exactly sure what this means. All I know is that I bought six wine glasses, so that will clearly be involved. There will certainly be pumpkin flavored snacks, a craft table (yes, like Mrs. Dunphy on Luke’s birthday on Modern Family) and probably a screening of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I just know it will be great.

10. Blog about ALL of these things!
I know I’ve been a total slacker lately and that makes me very sad. So I am making an honest vow to be better! No one likes a blogger that doesn’t blog. Let’s have a great fall together!

*   *   *

What things are you hoping to do this fall?!

J480 & Developmental Services Center

If there was ever a class that changed my life, it was JOUR 480: Literary Feature Writing with Prof. Walt Harrington. It was an in-depth writing class that absolutely fascinated me. The class taught the art of this delightful medium of storytelling that reads like a literary piece while upholding journalistic standards of integrity and fact. This class taught me a lot of things, including how to ask tough questions, how to paint images with detail and how to find the story worth telling.

My junior year of college, that story worth telling was about a very darling little girl and the amazing family that raised her. For the sake of the story, we’ll call her Sally. Sally had an older brother, a baby sister and two incredible parents who wanted nothing more than to raise three healthy, loving and happy children. They did just that. Sally just happened to have Down syndrome. I don’t think I saw anyone come within 10 feet of Sally without walking away with a smile. She was just a very strong and inspiring little girl. It was through my writing about this lovely family, that I ended up at at a very special organization that I feel so incredibly passionate about: Developmental Services Center (DSC).

DSC is such a great organization that provides support to children and adults with disabilities in Champaign County. Their mission is to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities by providing services and supports which enable them to live, work, learn and participate in their communities. The organization does so much good in their community that it gives me chills to just think about it. DSC is making a difference in people’s lives every single day. That’s just incredible to me.

I was so impressed by DSC and what they did that I immediately reached out to see what I could do to help. I ended up with an AWESOME volunteer job in the development department. Working under two of the most inspiring, motivated and nice people I have ever met, I gained hands-on experience on the inner-workings of a non-profit organization. I spent my hours there helping with fundraisers, getting donations, working on spreadsheets and writing success stories about DSC consumers. I loved every minute of it.

Why am I telling you this? Because DSC taught me the importance of doing good. Volunteering taught me what it means to do something because you genuinely care about it, not because you’re forced to. So my challenge to you is to find something that you care about and take a stand. Volunteer. Donate money. Run a 5K. Do whatever it takes to support what you care about. That is how you build character.

You can find out more about DSC here. If you’re able, please consider donating to DSC as well. All proceeds go directly toward providing supports and services for people with disabilities in Champaign county. If it’s time that you have, please consider volunteering at DSC. There are lots of ways you can get involved that are listed here.