I Wish You Joy: the gift of good food

Picture courtesy of SugarHero.  The pot de crème recipe I used can be found here.

My friend Liz has the most perfect anecdote that describes her wonderful father in a few words.  She was once sitting in front of her laptop after a very bad day, barely typing, worrying about life in general.  Her father had been sitting in the next room.  He didn’t say anything to her; for all she knew, he didn’t realize she was upset.

After a few moments, she felt her father’s comforting presence behind her shoulder.  He didn’t say a word, but he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of candy corn, which he then placed on the keys of her laptop.  He kissed her on the head and went back on his way.  In that moment, Liz felt the love and comfort of her father, exmplefied in a handful of Halloween candy.  I think that image is incredibly beautiful, and it made me begin thinking about the gift of food.

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer making more elaborate desserts and breakfast than I would have dreamed of.  Being health-conscious, I usually didn’t eat more than a few bites or a little piece of the sugary delights I made (most of the time. Sometimes, you just gotta indulge). So why did I go on making them?

Probably because of the look on someone’s face when you hand them a package of homemade sugar cookies.  Or my mom’s smile of delight and her compliments when I handed her a slice of beautiful flourless chocolate torte, dappled with homemade whipped crème and beautiful crimson raspberries.  All of these things remind me why we go to the trouble of cooking: to come together.  To reignite the feelings of community that are totally missed when you funnel down McDonalds or Lean Cuisines in front of a TV by yourself.  Cooking intricate meals means that you took the time to think about what those your sharing it with will like.  For me, that meant adding heavy cream when I would have preferred Greek yogurt, or using ground beef when ground turkey is much more my speed.

Giving the gift of food is becoming one of my “love languages,” I think.  When pondering about what I’d like to give my Little (sorority little sister), I immediately began thinking about Reeses desserts, before I thought about anything else.  Nothing shows caring to me more than remembering what someone likes to eat and taking the time to make something special.

With this in mind, I am currently chilling chocolate pot de crèmes in the fridge, which I will top with fresh homemade whipped cream, in honor of my parent’s anniversary. Mom is in love with anything chocolatey, and my stepdad always gets a little sad whenever whipped cream isn’t incorporated somewhere in the dessert.  I’ll probably just chillax with some strawberries and maybe a bite or two of the cream, but seeing the happiness on their faces makes the little bit of extra time in the kitchen a million times worthwhile.

Here are some of my favorite food gift ideas:

Lemon shortbread in a pretty little jar. This recipe is to die for!

Mickey Mouse French Macaroons #Disney #MickeyMouse #macaroons #recipe

Mickey Mouse French Macaroons…these will be gifted to my brother. As soon as I can possibly figure out how to make macaroons…hm.

Truffle Hot Chocolate Balls...makes hot chocolate when dropped in milk. A pile of these individually wrapped mounds with a mug would make for a perfect gift!

Truffle hot chocolate balls. I’m getting excited for Christmas super early, I suppose, but these look good anytime of the year!

Don’t Be a Desk Potato! how to stay active at a desk job

Image courtesy of Levo League

Sitting at a desk for eight hours a day just does not do it for me.  During the school year, I spend so much time running to class, performing, working out, and rehearsing, that it feels like I barely sit down.  But for the past two summers I’ve held an amazing summer assistant job at a major company…which has meant desk work. A lot of it.  And in that time I’ve found that hours of restful sitting does not a happy Lauren make.

I was meditating on this issue the other day, while readin several great profiles of professional women from Levo League (by the way, if you haven’t checked this organization out, go do so right now! Probably the most excellent source of information for 20 something women I’ve come across).  One thing that all of them seem to have in common?  Insanely active lifestyles, and a passion for fitting fitness into the work day. I love that! I am so inspired by women who take on a full 40+ with gusto, and still remember that their bodies are incredibly important. 

Here are some of my tips for staying active at work, even at your desk!

1) Standing your ground

It might be tempting to sit in that office chair all day while you type away at the computer or file your heart out. But I say: do not give in!  My rule of thumb: if it can be done standing, do it. Example: one of my major jobs is scanning files into a database.  While I have to sit to enter info into the computer, I’ve discovered that organizing and assembling files is best done on my feet! Plus side: any afternoon drowsy spells are usually crushed.

2) Take a walk

If I do have to sit for a long period of time, I find myself itching to walk it off after about an hour.  I realize some companies are more restrictive, but even getting up and out of your seat for one minute is better than sitting all day!  Tip: when you need to get a drink or go to the bathroom, head to the station furthest from your desk. You’ll get a little extra walk in!

3) Don’t let the day beat you down

Sometimes after a long day, the last thing I want to do is workout.  I’m tired, grumpy, and would much rather go home and chill out with a good book and an iced coffee. But getting a little excercise in everyday is vital to my happiness.  I try to remember how good I’ll feel afterwards when I’m struggling to lace up my tennis shoes.  For me, the best time to work out is in the evenings after work.  But if you lose all motivation once 5 o’clock rolls around, try and fit a little workout in in the morning! It might seem difficult to wake up earlier, but you’ll be reaping the benefits all day long.

4) Get your fuel!

Whenever I feel like I’m lagging a little bit, I use these instant energy boosters:
-Water! I try and drink at least four glasses at work each day. Hydration keeps you focused
-Snack time: that tired might feeling might just be your body telling you it needs some TLC.  I try to always keep some snacks at work.  Favorites include watermelon, carrot sticks, or some low-fat and low-carb crackers or popcorn.
-Music: there’s nothing like a favorite jam coming on to give me some extra motivation. I love listening to Country Pop Pandora or Imagine Dragons!




lip service

lip service

Revlon long wearing lipstick $24 – target.com.au

Tarte sephora.com

Smashbox lip shine sephora.com

Clinique lip care sephora.com

Whenever feel like giving myself a little luxury, I always head to the lipstick or nail polish sections.  This summer I have loved playing around with bright lipsticks! They’re an awesome way to quickly class up any look, since they pull everything together.  If I’m running late in the morning, I throw my hair up in a sweet bun, line my eyes and add a little mascara, and swipe on a pop of color. Poof! Suddenly I’m a fashion maven.  Favorite shades for the summer are a fuschia berry or an orange red, but I’m excited to play with deeper plums and crimsons come fall.
1.  Revlon Ultimate Suede Colorstay: This color glides on silky smooth, and stays bright all day! Love the deepness of the colors coupled with a light feel. My Shade: Couture
2. Revlon Just Bitten Lip Stain: This stuff provides a lot of color bang for your buck.  It glides on like lip gloss and provides conditioning, but doesn’t come off sheer like some buttery lipsticks. My Shade: Smitten
3. Clinique Chubby Stick: confession…I’ve only stolen my friend’s version of this, but I love it! The softest lip stick you’ll ever try, with a nice light color. My Shade: Mightiest Maraschino
4. Smashbox Lip Enhancing Gloss: I swear by this stuff.  It provides rich color with a ton of gloss, giving a very Hollywood look. The gloss stays strong through a day of coffee sips and water bottles. My Shade: Afterglow
5. Tarte LipSurgence Lip Tint: THAT PINK! I’ve never tried this, but my friend Katie swears by Tarte.  I’d try anything to get that color. Anything that pink deserves to be worn. My Shade: Amused

The Easiest Summer Dessert in the World, or, Blueberry Raspberry Crisp

Tonight I cooked up a storm. Maybe it was the combination of being out of the kitchen for the weekend while eating delicious food. Or maybe I just was really craving some baking time.  Either way, tonight found me in front of the stove.  I made some stuffed peppers for dinner. Have you ever had the experience of wanting a dish to be amazing, and just getting “eh”? It’s a little sobering.  So I’m happy that dessert turned out perfectly!

We had a ton of leftover blueberries that my mom and I don’t particularly like to eat plain, so I decided to make something with them.  At the last second, I threw in the rest of our raspberries, because they were starting to get gooey level ripe and I didn’t have enough fruit.  Basically, this whole crisp was an improvisation, and it turned out amazing–so I encourage you to play!  (Note: I modified this recipe from a post on The Kitchn, an amazing recipe resource.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, run, don’t walk!).


The Fruit:
2 cups blueberries
2 cups raspberries (feel free to play and add other fruits, or switch up the ratio!)
1/8 c sugar (might want more, to taste. Our raspberries were very sweet)
2 tsps lemon juice (also to taste!  I love me some lemon)
2 tablespoons cornstarch, depending on juiciness of fruit (Our raspberries were super juicy!) 

For the Crisp:
 1/2 c  all-purpose flour
1/2 c non-quick oats
1/4 cup (4 ounces) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 heaping teaspoon cinnamon, more to taste
 A pinch of salt 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

I used an 8″ round pie dish and this spread very thinly on the bottom. Be sure to use a glass or ceramic dish!

Heat oven to 375°F.

1. The Fruit: Toss the fruit with sugar, lemon juice, and the cornstarch. Pour into the dish.

2. The Crisp: Whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Break the butter into a few large pieces and toss these in the dry ingredients. Using your whisk, crush the butter into the dry ingredients as you would with a pastry cutter.  I also used a knife to even it out.  You want a crumbly topping. Pour the crisp topping evenly over the fruit, spreading it out gently with a spatula.

3. Bake the crisp for 30-35 minutes, till the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Your kitchen will be smelling like heaven by now!  Let sit for a few minutes before serving so you don’t burn your tongue. Not speaking from experience, or anything.

Best paired with: a glass of milk, or, if we’re feeling adventurous, a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt.

I hope you all enjoy this easy summer dessert!  I know I’ll be making it again soon.


The Five Best Things About a Weekend in Chicago

I had a chance to take a bit of a mini vacation and visit two of my best friends from school who are studying improv for a few weeks in Chicago this summer.  I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, so needless to say, 3 pm Friday afternoon could not come soon enough.  It took four hours (traffic into Chitown at rush hour? Not my favorite thing in the world), but I made it–and had such a great time.

There is, in my opinion, no better cure all than getting away for a few days.  Without further ado, here are five of my favorite things from this trip:

1) The Lincoln Park Zoo

Two of my favorite things: cuddly animals, and free stuff.  This zoo is nestled in the middle of downtown Chicago in a beautiful wooded park.  The architecture alone is worth visiting, but I thankfully have friends as willing to coo over cute fluffy things as I am.  Favorites included these friendly meerkats, and an adorable otter who kept swimming back up to the glass to say hi.

2) Walk it out

I am not used to public transit, but that’s the way it goes in the Windy City–and I’m not complaining.  After being cooped up in traffic on my mini road trip, I was absolutely down to spend the weekend on my feet.  We logged miles, walking all over the city.  Favorite neighborhood to go for a stroll? Old Town, near W. North Ave and Wells.  Beautiful shops, temping restaurants, and the Second City and Steppenwolf theatres all within a few blocks!

3) Millennium Park

The girls were super excited about seeing the Bean, so we bussed over to Millennium Park one afternoon.  I loved pointing out all my favorite stores I can’t afford on Michigan Avenue!  We took the requisite pictures at the big reflective art installation, and then found a cozy patch of grass out on the lawn to lay in the sun.  I think the best relationships are the ones where you can do nothing, and still be perfectly contented.  The sense of peace that lying in the grass with your best friends gives you…one of life’s treasures.  Did I get sentimental enough for you?  Okay. I’ll move on.

4) Watch and Learn: Improv Comedy

Chicago is regarded as the comedy capital of the country, especially when it comes to improv and sketch.  I am not very well versed in either of those art forms,  but I was lucky enough to watch several shows of both varieties this weekend.  If you’re ever in town, don’t miss it! I would recommend the Second City and Improv Olympics. Both companies are incredible.  Watching these shows made me excited to get back to school and keep on working–there’s nothing like seeing people have fun on stage to make you wanna get back up there!

5) FOOD!

Chicago has some amazing restaurants.  I mostly window shopped, since I didn’t have a lot of time to eat.  But I was lucky enough to have brunch at Nookies in the Old Town neighborhood, where I had the best pancakes of my life.  They were simple: multigrain, with a little butter and a tiny bit of syrup, yogurt and fresh fruit on the side.  But my god, were they delicious.  I would have made the trip for the pancakes alone.  I am absolutely going to try to recreate them in my kitchen.  I don’t know if I can survive without them for long.

While all of these things were amazing, the best part of the trip was just spending quality time with my girls.  I can’t wait to get back to school and have them in my life everyday!


Running at Dawn, or, where is the coffee?

I haven’t had a lot going on this week, just from looking at my schedule. When I’m at school, every day is itemized to the max, and I spend the day bouncing from class to work to rehearsal and back again.

At home, it’s simpler. I wake up, I go to work for eight hours, I do some form of exercise, I see friends/work on life stuff, and then at around 11, I go to bed.  It should be simple. And yet, I feel like I go to bed every night thinking, “Wow, I wish I had more hours in the day.”  Every night this week has been jam packed with something, and since I work full time during the day, it doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

All of this is to say that because I haven’t been able to workout after work, I’ve ran two runs this week at 6 in the morning.

Cries of shock and alarm from my family. Strange faces and hands to my forehead from my friends. A random guy at Target who heard me talking about it at Target stared at me in a mix of admiration and fear.  I honestly can’t really believe I’ve been doing it myself.

Here’s some thoughts about the process of a first-thing-in-the-morning run:

-Don’t have to worry about getting a workout in later
-Cooler temps and beautiful weather
-Silence and stillness great for mind-body connection
-No need to share the roads, since you’re one of the few crazies up at this hour
-Endorphins wake you up to start the day!

-actually having to get up and out of bed that early
-timing can be an issue.  I have a very precise schedule, so if I walk out the door a few minutes late, I have to shorten my run. Also, if I don’t calculate it right, I might leave myself only half an hour to get ready–and there isn’t much I dislike more than having to rush my coffee ritual.
-hitting a midmorning wall when the endorphins wear off and the tired sets in
-having to go to bed earlier

I don’t think any of the pros/cons actually out weigh the others.  You just have to see what works for you. 

Some tips to get you out the door:

-Wear your workout clothes to bed! This might sound dumb, but it made the difference for me.  When you’re not having to stumble around looking for socks and a sports bra at 5:55, it’s much easier to wander out the door.

-Set up all your supplies.  For me, this means laying out headphones and iPhone so I can grab and go.

-Post run fuel up.  You should ALWAYS eat breakfast, but it’s absolutely essential after a good run! I ate 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on whole grain toast, and wish I’d done more…I was starving by 10:30

-Don’t sweat the distance: do what you can do.  My mile times weren’t as good on my first morning run, but then I realized the important thing was just getting out the door. I could have slept in and foregone a workout that day.

I’ll leave you with this: never in a million years did I ever think I’d get up early to run a few years ago. This week, I accomplished almost six miles before 7 o’clock. That makes me feel success and peace in ways I never thought I could.

Homemade Blueberry Lemon Breakfast Bread

You are all either going to love me or hate me after this post. Love me, because this is one of the most delicious breakfasts I’ve ever made. Hate me, because you won’t be able to stop yourself from eating more. 

While I let this cool, I went for a three and a half mile run, just in anticipation.

So, in honor of a rough Monday after a glorious Fourth of July weekend, I offer you my take on Good Life Eat’s Lemon Blueberry Drizzle Bread.

I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy anticipating. And sipping coffee, because it was seven a.m. But this is a fancy version from her original recipe!

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 large eggs
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries

For the Syrup: 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 3 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C) and place the rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan–I used pam and flour and it worked out fine. I also used a thick earthenware pan, and my bread was totally done after 50 minutes. 

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of flour, the baking powder and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, butter and lemon zest until light-colored, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, beating until well mixed before adding the next. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated.

In a small bowl, gently toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of flour. Carefully fold the blueberries into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted near the center of the bread comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Check with a toothpick to make sure! Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool for 5 minutes. Turn the bread out onto the cooling rack.

Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup: in a small saucepan, bring the lemon juice and sugar to a boil. Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved and the syrup has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.

Note: Don’t spill the simple syrup all over your hand, like I did. Have you ever had that moment when you spill something in the kitchen, and just kind of stand there thinking, “Wow, I wonder how hot this is? Is it hot? Is this emergency room level?” before the pain kicks in? It was not a new experience for me, unfortunately. Plus side: the syrup was just on the hot side of warm, enough to give an owie but not send me packing to urgent care.  Non plus side: I had to make more syrup while I scrubbed our hardwood floors on my hands and knees to divest them of all stickiness. Sigh.

While the bread is still warm, jab it all over with s skewer. Brush with the lemon syrup. Let the bread cool completely, about 2-3 hours.

Now, that is what the original recipe asks you to do. You could be horrifically impatient, like my family, and let it cool for thirty minutes tops before digging in.  And that would still be okay, because it will be delicious.  Mark my words.

Store bread in the refrigerator.

If you look at the original recipe, you might notice two glaring omissions. One: I used 1% instead of whole milk.  I don’t really like the taste of whole milk, and generally think recipes come out fine with the lighter stuff.  This one sure did.  Two: I did not top with glaze.  Too much sugar for my taste. But if you’re in the mood for a super sweet treat, go for it!


Fourth of July, Four Outings: A Family Affair

This has been quite the weekend.  With my twin brother home from school, I haven’t had time to write.  Or look at blogs.  Or check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.  Which has been an entirely good thing.

Sometimes I forget how much these things take on the feeling of obligations.  I get worried about not blogging; I worry about reading the plays that I “need” to finish by the end of the summer.  But a long weekend reminds you of what matters.  And what mattered to me was spending quality time with my brother, making people stare while we ran down the beach playing Frisbee very badly.  Making an apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, roasted corn salsa, and a beautiful blueberry lemon breakfast bread reminded me that cooking for people you love is the most special kind of all.  Sitting for a few hours at Barnes and Noble, being distracted by my brother’s avid discussions about educational reform and quoting The Emperor’s New Groove, gave me more satisfaction than any play I’ve read recently (theatre sacrilege, but still).

Camping in the backyard…sibling bonding at it’s finest. Note brother attempting to build a fire…

The always needed fire picture…love a good flame.

Apple pie baking commences. I only stole a few of these out of the bowl.

Few sights are as beautiful as a bowl of mixed pie dough. Good things come to those who wait.

Like this absolutely gorgeous apple pie.  I’ll post the recipe soon!

 And finally, a day spent on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Gorgeous view, beautiful day, and lots of fun playing Frisbee and football.

I hope you all had a blessed and comfortable weekend full of relaxation, fun, and family.

Fourth of July, Four Outings: Southern Supper

For the third entry in my Fourth of July event planning ideas, I’m taking a little bit of inspiration from my college town down south.  I am a southwestern/northern girl, if where I live plays into it.  But I feel that deep down in my soul, I’ve got a strong helping of the Southern sweet belle.  I’d love to sweep around a wrap around porch house, sipping on sweet tea…but the best I can do is an Independence Day get together with plenty of southern charm.

The Place:

A cozy home with a porch.  I’m picturing the gorgeous kind featured in Southern Living magazine, complete with gazebos and weeping willows in the back.  But anything with an open wall to the outdoors would be absolutely lovely!  Beginning in the afternoon gives this party plenty of time to pop. Bocce ball in the yard and lots of activities for the young and young at heart gives a little something for everyone.  My family’s favorites include bocce ball, Frisbee throwing, and a good ol’ fashioned game of croquet.

Southern Porch Before & After :: Hometalk

How pretty and bright is this?

Celebrate with a Bang

From Southern Living…be still my heart.  Deck, view and tablescaping all work together for a patriotic feast for the eyes.

The Menu:

Smoky chicken barbecue kabobs, root beer baked beans, shout hallelujah potato salad, and a red white and blue berry tart.

I realize that I’m bucking southern tradition a bit here by using grilled chicken instead of good ol’ fried.  But…confession time…I do not like fried chicken. At all. Or anything with bones in it, for that matter. Sacrilege and craziness, I know. Hopefully I make up for that woeful inadequacy with the fact that all of these recipes are from Southern Living magazine!

Root Beer Baked Beans Recipe

All-Star Berry Tart Recipe

My God, those berries! I will be making this soon, even though I missed the national holiday. It’s just to gorgeous to pass up.

The Outfit:

White lace hem button down crop top - shirts - blouses / shirts - women

C. Wonder | Paper Bag Short

I’m in love with this sweet and sassy outfit.  If you’re feeling adventurous, work those high heels from C. Wonder! If not, a pair of cute flats from Target would work just as well.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!  Tomorrow I’ll be posting what my family actually did for the holiday.  While it might not be as chic as these events, it was fun, charming, and real.  And I got to cook a lot.  So that’s true happiness right there.