Mmm Mmm Monday: Sweet Tooth

I've got cupcakes on my mind today. Truth be told, I've got cupcakes on my mind most days. Earlier this month, I confessed my newly formed allegiance to Sprinkles cupcakes. But, Sprinkles isn't the only game in town. Over the past few months, I have worked hard to make just a dent in what seems to be a never ending list of cupcake bakeries in the Chicago area. It has been an exhausting task. But it has been one that I've put my heart and soul and thighs into.

Banana Chocolate Chip Cupcake from Sweet Mandy B's

I started with Sweet Mandy B's (1209 W Webster Ave, Lincoln Park). This one came highly recommended by a few local friends. The shop was bright, feminine and cheery. The display of cupcakes and cakes was mouth watering. And my banana, chocolate chip cupcake was delightful. My only complaint? The icing. I'm not a huge fan of sugar icing. So although Sweet Mandy B's cake was delectable, the icing (because of my personal preference) left me with a bit of a sugar rush.

More Cupcakes

Next up, More Cupcakes (1 E Delaware Pl, Near North Side). These little treats were a happy accident. I was in need of a cupcake pick-me-up and More Cupcakes was the closest shop to where my sweet husband was when I asked him to bring some home. We were both impressed. Each cupcake came packaged in a little "to go" box, and their clean, simple branding was a feast for my eyes. The cupcakes didn't disappoint either. Straight forward flavors (at least the ones the hubby chose) and minimal "decorations" meant we could focus on what's important, eating them. And eat them we did, quickly.

But, I have to say my heart belongs to Molly's Cupcakes (2536 N Clark St, Lincoln Park). Maybe it's the name. Maybe it's the fact that these were my birthday cupcakes. But, I'm pretty sure it's just because they were delicious. Molly's cupcakes were a bit more flashy than the cupcakes I usually gravitate toward. Filled with creams, fruits and special surprises Molly's are what my girlfriend refers to as "sexy" cupcakes. There is a lot going on with these cups of cake. But all of it works. They smelled so good coming out of the box even my cat wanted to try them. But you can bet your sweet bippy I didn't share a bite.

Are you a fan of simple or "sexy" cupcakes?
Which cupcake bakery should be next on my list?


Thankful Things

"Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, 
earned, worn or consumed. 
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude." 
~ Denis Waitley

a. last weekend my hubby researched and took me on a private walking tour of Old Town before he took    me out for pancakes - clearly he knows the way to my heart
b. the Art Institute of Chicago is so magnificent and humongous you could spend a week there
c. sometimes I'll look out a window wherever we are and gasp at the beauty of this city
d. even though the temps have dropped, many of the flowers are still hanging on
e. after 7 days of searching at more than 10 shops, I finally got my hands on the domino special edition
f. it's always a blessing when I remember to look up
g. even after several years of living with him, our cat still cracks me up every day
h. with the constant traffic in this city, I'm so glad that I hardly EVER have to drive
i. it totally grabbed me and so I'm keeping this post short so I can get back to reading

What "minute" of this week brought you happiness?


The Chicago Botanic Garden

Last week on a particularly warm and sunny day, we made the long(ish) drive out to the 'burbs to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe). I'm happy to report it was another entertaining adventure to be added to our ever growing list of free things to do in Chicago. Is your mouth hanging open? Because mine was when I heard that admission to the 385 acre garden is free to the general public. What a happy surprise. And although there is generally a $20 parking fee charged to non-members, we found a way to avoid paying that tidy little sum too. In the Popular Library room of the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago public library, patrons are able to check out a pass that allows visitors to park at the Garden for free! All this bargainy free-ness definitely started our adventure off on a very positive note.

Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden.

Once inside, the Garden itself took care of continuing the afternoon's positivity. Generally, April might be too early to visit an attraction like the Chicago Botanic Garden. But this year's unseasonably warm March meant many of the flowers were blooming and there were plenty of stunning views to be enjoyed.

Crescent Garden @ Chicago Botanic Garden

The Crescent Garden.

Carolus Linnaeus statue @ Chicago Botanic Garden

Robert Berks' striking bronze of Carolus Linneaus
who established binomial nomenclature as the system of naming plants we still use today.

English Walled Garden @ Chicago Botanic Garden

A view from the English Walled Garden.
(...still waiting on a bit of tree greening)

Deliciously Fragrant Crab apple blossoms @ Chicago Botanic Garden

Fragrant Crab Apple blossoms were all throughout the gardens.

Chicago Botanic Garden

Japanese Garden @ Chicago Botanic Garden

A bridge onto the island housing The Japanese Garden.

Circle Garden @ Chicago Botanic Garden

The Circle Garden.

The Botanic Garden was quite a hike from the South Loop. But the fresh air, beautiful blooms and peaceful quiet of the gardens made the trek well worth our time. But don't take my word for it, if you're around Chicago take a day and pay a visit yourself.

Click HERE for a calendar of upcoming Garden events

I'm a sucker for tulips. 
Do you have a particular flower that makes your heart skip a beat?


Newbie Nugget: The Second City

On my journey from newbie to native, I'm picking up lots of little nuggets of knowledge about Chicago and her history. The story of this town is full of twists and turns and rife with drama, intrigue, and humor. I'm enjoying learning the stories behind nicknames and folklore that have made it into our everyday language. 

For instance, one of Chicago's nicknames is The Second City.

Did you know... in 1871 more than three square miles of Chicago was burned to the ground? (Of course you did.) But what you might not have put together is that it was Chicago's phoenix-like rebirth that earned her the nickname The Second City.

Hancock Tower - The Signature Room

I learned about the origin of the nickname as we wandered through Old Town this weekend. Up until then I had always assumed Chicago was considered The Second City in relation to New York City. It seems that I'm not the only one. Out in internet land, there is dissension as to how the moniker got attached. Some argue it was in the early 1890s, prior to the Chicago world's fair. During Chicago's competition with New York for the Great Columbian Exposition, opponents mockingly referred to Chicago as "the second city." Other sources credit Abbott J. Liebling, a New York writer, who much later (1952) wrote a book entitled Chicago: The Second City. But, it doesn't take a historian to notice that the 1871 origin story happened prior to any snarky New Yorker's name calling. So as a newbie Chicagoan I choose to believe the rebirth story.
What do you think?


Mmm Mmm Monday: Jam

There is no question - brunch is the new black. In a city jam packed with options it isn't easy to stand out from the crowd. I happily discovered that Jam, in Logan Square, has figured out the recipe to do just that. Take one part Chef Jeffrey Mauro, add a dash of cheerful, knowledgeable staffing and serve it all up in a space designed by Jerry Suqi. The result is pure brunch delight.

Located in Logan Square, Jam (3057 W Logan Blvd) grabs you from the moment you walk through its door. With a predominately modern aesthetic that include bright lime pops of color, it is clear when you walk through the door that this is no greasy spoon breakfast joint. The space communicates a sophisticated attention to detail that becomes more and more apparent with every bite of your meal.

Banana bread w chocolate ganache | Amuse bouche at Jam
An amuse bouche of Banana Bread with just a taste of rich dark chocolate

Whitefish Quiche @ Jam in Logan Square
Lemon Cured Whitefish Quiche
The waiter said, "Go ahead and take a picture. People do it all the time."

This "side" salad will change your culinary life | Jam in Logan Square Chicago
Pickled Red Onion and Bagel Chip Panzanella

My whitefish quiche was the stuff brunchy dreams are made of. Its flaky crust and bright citrus accents were spot on. It was garnished with black lava sea salt that gave it just the bite it needed. The quiche is served with a pickled red onion and bagel chip panzanella that quite frankly, I found even better than the quiche. I'm a sucker for a salty treat and the panzanella had fried capers throughout its mixed greens. The peppery arugula, capers and crunchy bagel chips were such a lovely accompaniment to the fluffy, white fish laced quiche. I fell quickly, deeply in love and now understand why my friend, Kimberly (who suggested Jam), said she had been dreaming about it all week.

Pineapple French Toast | Jam in Logan Square Chicago
Malted Custard French Toast

But the yumminess didn't stop at the quiche. We ended the meal with an order of french toast. Jam's french toast is so much more than your average, everyday french toast. Chef Mauro dips the bread in malted custard before grilling it to perfection. While the outside of the bread crisps, inside it becomes gooey and decadent. Ours was served with a pineapple, cranberry chutney and lime zested cream. The combination resulted in the perfect marriage of sweet and tart and was an ideal ending to a superb meal.

Jam is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 
I suggest we try all three.
 Meet you there?


Thankful Things

"I set foot in this city, and just walking down the street, 
it was like roots, like the motherland. 
I knew I belonged here."
~Oprah Winfrey

Thankful Things

a. We finally tried Potbelly. Limonata in the cooler case ensured that it won't be the last visit.
b. I participated even though I was 600 miles away...
c. I have to have a picnic in this spot once those trees are in full bloom. I think it's just about time!
d. I'm head over heels in love with the Harold Washington Library. Expect more posts to follow.
e. Just another example of pretty major wow-ness right out there for everyone to enjoy.
f. This week it's rhododendrons in bloom all along the dog walk. Not a bad view several times a day.

What is making you fall in love with the city where you live?


Bridal Daydreams

Last night I got a panicked text from my soon-to-be sister-in-law that they were moving their wedding up several months because of illness in her family. She is rightfully stressed and frazzled and almost starting from square one with her wedding planning.

Immediately my mind went into a fugue-like state where taffeta, flowers and towering wedding confections were twirling and whirling around. I loved our wedding. I loved planning our wedding. I loved attending our wedding. I loved every part of it. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to marry my husband all over again and pick out a whole new collection of pretty pieces.

Source: amsale.com via Molly on Pinterest

Like this Amsale Blue Label beauty Calista...

Or maybe these almost ready to explode white peonies?

Source: bcbg.com via Molly on Pinterest

I think I'd wear this BCBGMAXAZRIA Beti Lace Crochet Dress to my bridal shower.

...and have my favorite bakery recreate this stunning A Simple Cake masterpiece.

What do you think about this little sequin-embellished Anna Sui number for the bachelorette party?
Look for your invitation in the mail.


A Cultural Goldmine (With a Side Order of a Few New Friends)

I'm noticing that every time I cross something off my free things to do in Chicago itinerary, another few items make their way on to the list. Quite an exciting "problem" to face, isn't it? Last week, I was happy to have company as I moved another dollarless activity to the "completed" column. In the process, we seem to have unearthed a goldmine otherwise known as the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.).

I met up with Charlotte (yes, THAT Charlotte*) and Jade last Wednesday afternoon to do a bit of exploring and take advantage of the free tour that the Cultural Center offers three times per week. (Wednesday, Friday and Saturdays @ 1:15)

Free Concert @ Chicago Cultural Center

We arrived a little bit early and were able to catch the end of the weekly free concert as well as a healthy helping of stink eye from one of the concert's "quiet patrol".

Grand Army of the Republic Dome @ Chicago Cultural Center\
Healy & Millet Dome

Once the performance ended, we made our way back downstairs to join the tour. It was an afternoon full of oohing and ahhing at the building and its history (and pretty consistent giggling at our unintentionally funny tour guide). Lest you get the wrong idea, she was definitely informative. But she also might have said things like, "I couldn't care less."

The Bridge to Nowhere - Chicago Cultural Center
The Bridge to Nowhere
She undoubtedly (and probably unwittingly) gave the tour a comic element that we all enjoyed.

Tiffany Dome @ Chicago Cultural Center
Louis Comfort Tiffany Dome

Nicknamed the People's Palace, in 1991 the old Chicago Public Library building and a Civil War Memorial were united to create the Cultural Center. Over the past 20 years it has played host to numerous free public events (art exhibits, concerts, film screenings) and is one of the most visited attractions in Chicago.

Mother-of-Pearl and Glass Detail work @ Chicago Cultural Center

The building's two stunning domes, intricate mosaics, and vast array of iron and marble work make it a feast for the eye and a photographer's dream.

Tiffany Dome @ Chicago Cultural Center

I would definitely recommend this free activity if you're in Chicago and interested in learning a little bit about this breathtaking structure. The hour long tour was a nice length and provided the perfect introduction to an attraction I most certainly plan to continue visiting. A never ending buffet of free cultural events? That sounds awfully fantastic to me! For more information on the building's history or a list of upcoming events visit the Chicago Cultural Center's website

Are you a fan of guided tours or would you prefer to explore on your own?

* I would like to state for the record that after several years of an "online" friendship with Charlotte, Wednesday's official meet up was just as delightful as I hoped it would be. Charlotte is as funny and smart and engaging and lovely as I imagined her to be. I'm looking forward to lots more visits now that we're practically neighbors! Plus, I got to meet another new friend, Jade, in the process. Raise your hand if you're feeling incredibly fortunate. (I have both hands raised right now.)


Mmm Mmm Monday: Caffeine Edition

Finding a regular coffee shop is a very important step of making a new a place feel like home. We were incredibly fortunate that our hunt didn't take very long. When we moved to Chicago's South Loop earlier this year, Overflow Coffee Bar (1550 S. State Street) quickly became our go-to coffee shop. From my first Nutella Mocha, I was hooked.

Locally owned and operated, Overflow impressed us with its coffee but won our loyalty with its mission. That's right, it's a coffee shop with a Mission, stated values and a Vision! Overflow wants to do more than just caffeinate its customers. Overflow wants to be part of enriching the community.
We wish to be seen as a true 'third place.' Overflow is the place in the South Loop where people feel at home when they are outside their homes, where people can work and study in a relaxing atmosphere and where people get engaged in activities that change the world.

Their engagement in the community can be seen through a community events calendar that is connecting neighbors, their support of local artists, and their intention to give a portion of their profits back to local non-profits. Overflow is plugged in to the South Loop community.
L'Overflow Speziato
The Speziato

You're probably asking, "What about the coffee?" First let me say, "Yum." I have zero complaints. One of my favorite treats The Speziato. It's a coconut milk latte with chocolate, hazelnut and a dash of cayenne pepper. It sounds like there is a lot going on in that cup but I assure you it is a delightful combination and all the flavors play well together. And if how their product tastes isn't your only concern, here's the skinny on how the beans make it into Overflow's grinders. Overflow buys from Coffee Ambassadors. Coffee Ambassadors is an independently owned Chicago roaster who, according to the Overflow website, "buys coffee beans directly from farmers at a rate of 25% more than fair trade." Not too many stops along that path. The short supply line from the farm to my cup has to play a part in Overflow's delicious product.

Over the past few months it's become my favorite, "let's meet at" place. Overflow's shop is spacious and comfortable. There is plenty of room to get a little bit of work done on the complimentary Wi-Fi or to sit and read a book. (They even have a little book swap station if yours ends before you're ready to leave!) I particularly love the huge windows that look out on State Street. I will even admit to staring blankly out those windows more than once while I wait for the caffeine to jump start my brain.

For more information on Overflow's mission, their store hours or a list of upcoming events, check out Overflow's website.

What was it about your "go to" coffee shop that won your loyalty?


Declaring My Allegiance

As a born and raised St. Louisan, Cardinal Opening day is quite possibly the third biggest holiday of the calendar year. (Right behind Christmas and St. Patrick's Day). Baseball isn't just a pastime in St. Louis. Cardinal baseball is a way of life. Cardinal fandom is a birthright. Even if you can't spit Kyle Lohse's ERA from memory and David Freese's batting average doesn't roll off your tongue, if you were born in St. Louis you are expected to, "root, root, root for the home team." And while the Cardinals have a few friendly rivalries in the NL Central, none has loomed larger through the years than their friendly rivalry with the Cubs. So much so, that when friends and family members learned we were moving to Chicago their first words were, "As long as you don't become a Cubs fan."

I made promises that I intend to keep. I do not plan to cheer on the Cubs. But nobody ever mentioned anything about the White Sox. So today as my original home team plays the Cubs in St. Louis, I'm taking an opportunity to declare my (secondary) allegiance to a new home team.

Cheers to a great season, White Sox! Any enemy of the Cubs is a friend of mine.

Who are you "root, root, rooting" for this summer?


Easter Weekend Through My (iPhone) Lens

View from the Chase building
Unexpected moments of beauty

Chicago flag flying high
A visit to the Field Museum with a new friend

Easter Appetizers
A delicious holiday meal that started with a few killer appetizers

iPhone view of the Lake
Views that just never get old


Thankful Things

"In daily life we must see that 
it is not happiness that makes us grateful, 
but gratefulness that makes us happy." 
~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

This week I'm thankful for so many things:
a. an early moon sighting
b. representin'
c. seriously, I feel like every view is a postcard in this city
d. tulips + tour bus + the trib
e. sunsets over the south loop
f. a chance to go to the theatre
g. daffodils a-plenty

What is making your heart thankful today?


A Bit of Advice from a Former Chicagoan

We all know that Tina Fey is talented, brilliant, bossy and funny. I've also become a huge fan of her red carpet looks. But after watching the video below, I believe it is time to add wise to that list.

After spending several years living in Chicago, Fey has a little bit of advice about this city to which we should all pay close attention.

Or maybe it's just funny.

What's the best piece of advice YOU have to offer about Chicago?

Thanks to Lexi for finding and sharing this little ditty. 
Apparently while she's not texting, she's using her time wisely.