Chitown shoes

A good pair of shoes on a man can be a deal breaker.  When I first moved to the Midwest from New York one of the first judgemental and superficial things I noticed were these hybrid men dress shoes.  Half loafer and half sneaker, they may even have laces, and the owner was most likely not wearing them because of orthopedic issues.  These shoes are bad.  I used to work in fundraising which for whatever reason is a female dominated workplace.  A coworker once said he was looking for a new pair of dress shoes and showed another female colleague and myself these rubber disasters.  We told him we were doing him and his girlfriend a favor, and no way could he buys those shoes.  I am sorry people, but they are bad.

There are so many great, simple and comfortable men's shoe options.  These cannot be an answer.  And, in Chicago many people have to commute in boots, so if you get to your workplace and then put on this geriatric cheesiness I don't know what to say!

Enter the Oak Street Bootmaker.  This is a wonderful family-owned Chicago men's shoemaker.  They are not bargain basement prices, but a good pair of shoes is well worth their money, especially if you have a good cobbler.  If not - find one, they will become a good friend.  I have a pair of black flats that should have been put to rest years ago that I keep taking back to the cobbler and he resurrects them to my amazement every time.  Back to Oak Street Bootmaker - the founder carried on this business from his father and all of the shoes are made in the USA.  "The highest standards of production are employed to yield shoes that are as durable as they are comfortable. Each pair makes use of replaceable outsoles, a feature normally reserved for formal footwear, to ensure a lifetime of wear."

They are not bad to look at too.  All-American and classic, they appeal to a wide range of tastes, ages, and interests.

Hello again!

Hi few dear readers,

Sorry for the MIA business.  I hope everyone is preparing for the holidays and looking forward to some cheer, family time, a nice meal, dressing up your pet in a cute hat (these all may be things I am looking forward to).  Living in a warm place is REALLY throwing my personal calendar off.  I am not directly complaining that it has been 78 and sunny for the past two weeks, but this is not December in my experience!  I am glad to be taking off to a snowy locale to celebrate Christmas to maybe check myself in that it will be January 1 in less than ten days.

I don't know how people really keep track of time if they have lived in a warm weather place for many years, the time blends!  I was talking with a friend about it when I was home for Thanksgiving and she made a funny and I think somewhat true comment.  "I don't think I could live somewhere like that, I need to live somewhere where to weather makes me suffer somewhat during the year."  Now the heat is nothing to mess with during the summer in South Florida, but it is the total opposite of when I "appreciate" good weather.  In Chicago everyone buckles down during the winter with the holidays, the Blackhawks, and a decent amount of drinking getting them through to the wonder of a Chicago summer.

This is not to say that I do not LOVE being able to walk out my door in shorts and t-shirt to walk the dog at all hours.  I never have an excuse not to go on a run, and really enjoying being outside!   I also do not think my legs have ever been this shade in December.

So I hope everyone has a great holiday and enjoys the people around them!

xo, katherine


In a pinch

I just came across this ingredient substitution table from allrecipes.com.  I needed to know what to substitute for shortening for the ginger cookies.  I have been to two grocery stores today, forgot to get this ingredient and I am not making a third trip.  You can copy-paste this into a Word table and it would be a great quick reference put up in your cabinet or pantry.  Happy cooking!

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Comedic relief

All this squawking about the holidays being a magical time of year is true.  For some.  For others it can be stressful, lonely, even sad.  The build up of the seasons by the media, our friends, coworkers may make one feel guilty about "not getting into it."  But, if someone is experiencing something negative or sad, the holidays have a way of exacerbating those feelings.  Loss, sickness, family strife, and general sadness can all take an extra toll during the holidays.

My advice would to be as active as you can possibly be, talk to those who provide you support, and buy this book.  No, it is not an advice book.  It is a hilarious darkly funny book of short stories by David Sedaris about the holidays.  I read it only last year, yet thought to myself, I really could have used this when I was having a tougher holiday a few years ago.  That is because tears from laughing so hard as he describes being a holiday elf at Macy's in New York City (Sedaris actually was one) were falling down my cheeks.  He also has a hilarious and kind of sick short story about a family that will do anything to make the perfect holiday newsletter to send out each year.  It really makes you laugh at all the hoopla and sit back and value what you think is important for the next couple of weeks.  So if you have a friend who you know might not be gunning for the holidays quite as much as the rest, give them this book.  They need to have a slightly dark sense of humor - you've been warned.  It'll hopefully provide them with some relief in not feeling guilty about not caring as much about trimming the tree this year.  It's ok, really.

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Nice one

As much as I love the holidays, I also love this -

Don't be empty handed

This holiday season you will probably be invited to someone's house for dinner, drinks, a party, maybe even a week long stay.  Your host most likely spent time and effort preparing for your visit and the gracious guest should always try to arrive with something in hand to give as thanks for the invitation. Allow me to channel my inner White Gloves and Party Manners.

This is where "the present drawer" comes in handy. (I will post on this, probably at length, another day.)   In short, the present drawer is where one keeps some extra candles, hand soaps, small picture frames in hand in case there's a last minute "oh sh-t" moment right before you head out the door.  People - don't allow your present drawer to be bare.  See a candle you like on sale - buy 2, notice a nice set of dish towels is half off- grab it.  Because inevitably you will forget to get something, or your spouse will mention that tomorrow night we need to go to my boss' home for drinks and you're booked solid from now until then.  Also, remember to keep some nice note cards to accompany the said present in the said drawer.

For now, here are a couple things I think are nice gifts to bring to a host of a holiday get together.  A bottle of wine is alway safe, but I say get them something more personal and fun (maybe throw in some wine with it for good measure anyways).  If you are staying the night I think the gift should be a bit more substantial, as overnight stays require more effort and time spent by the host.  (Overnight stay gifts to come later this week...)

Candles are a great option.  They come in a wide range of prices and (in my opinion) it is hard to have too many scented candles.  The first two items are from Anthropologie.  I think a pine scent is nice for the holidays, and the small votive holders (only $8 a pop) would be a nice present if you snagged 3 or 4 as a gift.  The last candle is from Calypso, which has lovely scents and packaging.

Claus Porto is a great soap brand.  Portuguese, founded in 1887, Claus Porto soaps are luxurious, have wonderful presentation, and make a great gift.  These almost-paper thin guest soaps are wonderful.  They are small enough that the host can change the soap before each gathering as they please and not feel wasteful.  It almost feels like opening a box of fine macaroons but without the calories.  These soap boxes are under $20 each and a lovely gift. 

Coffee tables books are also hard to have too many of in my mind.  It is a great way to give an easy, personal gift to someone.  Maybe you pick out a place you have taken a trip with the host in years past or have flirted with traveling to in the future.  It shows you know their interests, and is fun to look at with them if you have the time.

Enjoy the parties!

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Ginger alert

No I am not referring to a missing person.  (P.S. Is everyone aware of what a silver alert is?  I was not.  Until I moved to Florida.)

In any event, I am obsessed with ginger.  Sweet, savory, cut up pieces in hot water for a simple tea  - you name it.  So when Bon Appetit's Holiday cookie a day recipe appeared today, I may have squealed a wee bit.  The recipe is a triple threat - raw, powered, and crystallized ginger are required for these tasty delights.  (Note: you can find good, inexpensive crystallized ginger at World Market.)  We're having people over this weekend for a small party and I will be making these Chewy Ginger Cookies for the spread.  But not until Friday, otherwise I may consume all 48 prior to the party.

Image via bon appetit

Line drawn.

This is not a place to get into politics or touchy issues.  I know there are wide opinions on toys for kids in terms of gender issues, body image issues, the works.  But on Saturday morning I was on sitting at the island in our kitchen with the TV on in the background.  It had been left on since earlier, and kids cartoons were on and I had not bothered to get up and change it.  Obviously since 'tis the season most commercials were for toys.  This one commercial left me with my mouth open.

I studied public health, interned at anti-obesity organizations when in grad school, and still volunteer and advocate for children's nutritional improvement in America.  I do believe there is an epidemic of childhood obesity in this country.  And, Goliath's Pop the Pig is not helping.  I will not go as so far as to say this toy promotes children eating until you explode, but that is the point of the game!  You win if you feed the pig so much until it does not pop, but the belly is as big as possible.  I was literally shocked and I may even write a letter as I'm watching this commercial.  This toy company should be slightly more self-aware of the current problems with this country's youth before it touts a game involving stuffing food down a plastic pig.  I'm sorry but I think it is irresponsible and also kinda gross. 


Sucker for mercury

I love mercury glass - votive holders, candlesticks, Christmas ornaments...I could go on.  I recently happened upon this lamp from Ballard Designs, the Bethany Accent lamp.  I think it's very attractive, wouldn't take up too much space on a small writing desk or entry hall table for an apartment and is reasonably priced.  You could buy two to flank a sideboard in an entry way and it would look pretty smart.  Ideally I would use a drum lamp shade instead of what they offer, but it works just fine as is.  Ballard has other mercury table lamp options to choose from, but this would be my top choice.


Wellness Wednesday - Spartan Week Recap

Everything in moderation...including moderation." ~ Julia Child

The week before Thanksgiving I wanted to give up meat, coffee, booze, and sweets for a week.  This was in an effort to get my food choice on track before the holidays came and went, then wondering (knowing) why make pants were a little snug at the end of it all.  It was also to see if limiting these things had any discernible effect on me.  As I said, I know a week is not a very long time so it would probably be too short of a time to notice anything.  In terms of how my body felt, that proved to be correct.  In terms of my mind, I learned/reinforced a couple things about my diet and general mind frame on eating.

I come from stubborn stock, on both sides.  As soon as I'm told I cannot have anything of one thing - I want it more.  I wholly believe in everything in moderation and that is the key to a good diet and mind.  Everyone has their weaknesses and I combat them by not keeping those things in the house (read: potato chips and cookies).  But when out to lunch on a Saturday I'll get a small bag of chips with my sandwich and maybe even a cookie.  I have a little bit of what I love to eat and keep moving.  By not allowing say that one cookie I will allow myself other things (e.g. cheese) and eat more than I should because I feel like a saint (relatively) for giving up all those other things.

One thing that I do not think is good for you in the slightest is fake sugar/artificial sweetener.  I may have a Diet Coke once in a blue moon, but it cannot be good for you and I very much limit it in my diet.  In terms of diet products, I think if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  You're better off just eating a little of the real stuff, whatever that may be.

Lastly, a confession.  I didn't make it the whole week and flubbed on one thing - the booze.  I was home in DC on Monday and my dad and I had a wonderful meal out - lots of great conversation and a bottle of red wine to split.  So sorry about that.  But I say live in the moment, don't get carried away, and hop on the treadmill.
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Gift ideas: Stocking stuffers

In the beginning of a series of holiday gift ideas, I thought I would start off with stocking stuffers.  In my family growing up some big ticket items might be in one's stocking.  A check from our grandfather or a necklace I'd been pining after.  This year the gifts may be a bit more modest from my end, so here are a couple ideas for that extra gift to go by the fire.

A magazine subscription ~

Great offers are normally abound right now and it is literally the gift that keeps on giving.  I'm hoping for a Veranda or House Beautiful subscription myself.  But this is a thoughtful and fun gift to throw in.  For the stocking just buy the latest copy of the magazine.  And, since you don't want the magazines to arrive until after the holidays, this is a great last minute gift.

Potions and lotions ~

Men and women alike appreciate good skin care (although not all will admit it).  I think Khiel's has excellent packaging and products for men if you're buying for a guy who might be hesitant about coconut oil.  Also L'Occtaine is a favorite of mine for their Green Tea scent - it's divine.  Their travel size hand lotion is a great gift, and if you're traveling to your holiday destination you don't have to worry about the TSA keeping it.

Cocktail napkins ~

I am a paper lover.  Notecards, stationary, place cards, cocktail napkins, you name it!  A fun, inexpensive gift to throw in a stocking is a package of festive cocktail napkins.  I recommend not buying holiday themed napkins, as their recipient will not be able to use them until the coming year.  Caspari always has wonderful designs and they are a great way to add a little party to one's stocking.

What are your favorite stocking stuffer ideas?  Love to hear them!


Pachar place mats - different options

In researching table setting options and ideas for Thanksgiving I came across these wonderful place mats.  I love the design inspired by Indian block printing, and think they would mix in well with other prints.  They come in two options: hard, cork backed ones or the cotton two-sided ones.  The hard ones are better for easy cleaning yet the soft have the two prints on each.  From Williams-Sonoma, these Pachar Mix & Match place mats will add some spice and order to any table.


Dressing for success

The guilt of not blogging for a week has set in and I am tripling down today.  This product has been on mind to share with my dear readers because it is so amazingly delicious.  Makoto's Ginger Dressing is on my top ten, maybe even five, condiment list.  Which is big, you should see my refrigerator door. 

You will not find it in the salad dressing isle, but in produce area of your local market's refrigerated section.  So if you're buying 2-3 bottles at a time you can't keep it in the pantry which is kind of a bummer.  I use it on salads, to dip steamed veggies in, add it to marinades, and cannot say enough about how tasty I think it is.  The calorie content is also pretty low (80 per serving), and while the fat is higher than a low-fat dressing (7 grams), is is far less than deadly Caesar or ranch.  

Buy a bottle and let me know what you think!

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Rin Tin Tin

I love things with character and have a story.  This applies to both people and design.   I wanted to highlight one of my favorite house features - TIN.  The sound of the rain falling on a tin roof is so cathartic.  I have fond memories of staying in a cabin growing up in the summers, waking up to hearing the raindrops plop down on the roof above.  In terms of kitchens I am a country kitchen type of gal.  If I could somehow meld a farmhouse kitchen with a British countryside feel would be my dream.  Driving across the country you see old rusted tin roofs on farmhouses.  This makes me feel that even though things move pretty fast today, older design elements may help us slow down a bit and acknowledge the past.

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Wellness Wednesday - Tardy and Preholiday Edition

I have been absent for the past week, my apologies!  My brother and old friend came into town for the weekend and I've been busy in general.  OK, lame excuse over, we know that the next six weeks are crazy for most everyone.  Holiday parties, gift buying for family, bosses, friends, traveling, and avoiding getting sick during all of this! 

I have been blessed with a pretty decent metabolism and I try to exercise a good amount to keep it up.  A couple years ago I turned to my friend on a walk when we were both home for the holidays, saying I think I was gaining some weight between her mom's cookies and my love for mashed potatos.  We laughed and said it's downhill from here, no longer are the days where a few days of salads put us back on track.  Efforts and routine need to be implemented before the holidays begin so you/I don't get caught up in the desserts, cocktails, and airport snacks in the coming weeks.  And, that fact that I'm wearing shorts as I type this and it was 90 yesterday, I cannot hide in my cords and sweaters which is just as well.

All this yapping is leading up to my thought to cut back on unhealthy food for the week before Thanksgiving to get myself on track for the holidays.  I am a MAJOR creature of habit, and so when I start to eat unhealthy, extra two cookies before bed?  Sure.  Late night diner food with high school friends?  No problem.  So I have committed for the next week (Thursday to Wednesday) to cut out all sweets and booze.  While I'm making the effort I have decided to give my body a break on the hard to digest foods as well.  That means no meat, coffee, white carbs, and processed and/or fried foods. 

I am going to report back next week about if I think it made a difference.  Not just on the waistline but my overall mood, skin, etc.  I realize a week is probably not long enough to see major changes.  But my thought is that if people did this every month or two it would be a great way to recharge into healthy eating.  Honestly the hardest thing for me is going to be the coffee.  People that say "Just drink tea," obviously haven't met me in an airport before 9 am.  So may I apologize in advance to my fellow travelers next week. 

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Black bean and pumpkin soup

I love soup.  It is (can be) healthy.  It gets better with time.  You can pretty much throw anything in the pot you like.  The ingredients can be very cheap.  My kind of cooking.

But I have a block with dried beans.  Heidi and Molly (and others) say they're so much better.  But the soaking and the draining seemed so tedious.  I know I'm being high maintenance here.  Well not only are they cheaper, have less sodium, but these beans DO taste better when dried and coming from a bag.  Last night I made a black bean and pumpkin soup.  I even soaked the beans overnight on Saturday, drained them and didn't use them until Monday night.  I'm not sure how advised that is.  But I did it and it was fine/tasted delish.

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

1 medium white onion, chopped
2 oz olive oil
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 can (12 oz) Corona
1 16 oz dried black beans (soaked overnight) OR canned equivalent (drained and rinsed)
6 cups chicken stock
1 16 oz. pureed pumpkin
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
1 cinnamon stick

Heat olive oil in dutch oven/large pot, add onion and saute 10 minutes until soft and slightly browned.  Add the jalapeno and carrots to pot and mix for additional 5 minutes.  Add salt to taste.  Add beer to deglaze pan with spices called for and garlic.  Mix and wait 1-2 minutes.  Add pumpkin and incorporate, then adding 4 cups of chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer and add black beans.  Bring pot to low simmer, uncovered for 1 hour, tasting and adding S&P as necessary.  Add remaining chicken stock as needed because beans will absorb plenty of liquid.  If the beans are still not completely cooked, that's fine, but keep on stove simmering for another 30 minutes until tender.  Use immersion blender to puree half of soup, I eyed it.  You can also take half and put in a regular blender and puree.  Make sure it is cool enough so it does not splatter.

I then let it cool and put in the fridge.  It was dinner last night with some Texas Pete, crumbled tortilla chips, and a lil sour cream.


Wellness Wednesday - Smoothies

Recently I have been making smoothies for breakfast.  They are easy and I normally make too much so I throw the rest in the fridge still in the blender and take it out for a snack adding some extra ice cubes and reblending in the late afternoon.  Some tricks I have learned along the way....

Take fruits that are on the fritz and cut them up in small pieces and throwing in the freezer in small plastic bags.  This is your ice so you have more flavor and better texture.  Also the ripe fruit will have a higher sugar content so this is your smoothies sweetness without adding any additional sugar.  I use diary in my smoothies, normally about 6 oz of skim milk and some nonfat organic plain yogurt.  I don't use vanilla yogurt because of the extra sugar content it adds.  I add the yogurt in batches/spoonfuls until I have my desired consistency.  I then cut up a piece of fresh fruit or two and also add some kale leaves torn up and ginger minced.  I haven't used any additives like flax seeds yet, but I'm intrigued...I might pick something up on my next Whole Foods run.  My favorite combination thus far has been pear, banana, kale and ginger.  Yesterday morning I added a little apple cider idling in the back of the fridge to an apple banana smoothie, pretty sweet, but delicious. 


My smoothies do not look resemble this cornucopia of fruit in the slightest.  But my camera is dead and a stock image it is today.  

Next week I will start a little Wed through Wed project I'll write about here.  I am excited to share. 

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