Wednesday, August 1, 2012

30 Before 30...Day of Reckoning.

I've been behind on updating my 30 before 30 progress and enough people have asked about it, that I figured it was time to settle up on the list. I turned 30 a few weeks ago on July 7, 2012, and let me tell you, it was spectacular. I'd like to say I just woke up in bed at home feeling wiser and generally more awesome, but that would be a lie. I woke up on my 30th birthday in a tree house suite (upgraded because I happened to mention my birthday fell on the following day) in the middle of the Belizean wilderness. My boyfriend nailed my birthday celebration with a weeklong trip to Belize filled with secluded island SCUBA diving, Howler Monkey interaction, wild crocodile viewing, zip lining, mayan ruin touring and the best ceviche I've ever eaten.

So how did I do? 24 out of 30 isn't so bad, right?

The most important thing I gained from this experience is the motivation to get out there and try new things. Sounds hokey, but that sums it up. I would always say things like "Oh, I should really do that." and it never happened. The time constraints gave me the motivation I needed to actually pursue these awesome activities. This is a tactic I will employ in the future to make sure I'm getting the most out of the world around me. I hope you're inspired to go after your own list.

1. Join CrossFit. (Completed March 24, 2012) I'm five months in, I've got some pretty serious guns, and I know what a burpee is now (wish I didn't).
2. Get out of debt completely.  (Completed July 7, 2012) This feels great.  Enough said.
3. Buy myself a nice piece of jewelry. Thank you Amanda Keidan of Amanda Keidan Jewelry for making this happen.  I've worn my beautiful custom ring everyday since.
4. Take a Bikram yoga class.  (Completed March 25, 2012) It was so hot, but I didn't quit.  Mission accomplished.
5. Go SCUBA diving. (Completed December 2011)  This opened up a whole new world to me.
6. Get certified in Open Water Diving SCUBA.  (Completed July 9, 2012-I'm counting it) I am so comfortable in the water now and had the great pleasure of seeing a sea turtle, barracuda and sting ray.  I've got a new hobby now.
7. Come up with 30 great vegetarian/pescetarian recipes that I can make everyday. Well, this was a bust.  I came up with about three that I wrote down.  I've got to work on this for the end of the year.
8. Go to a shooting range and learn how to shoot. (Completed May 25, 2012)  I thought this would be a lot more exciting.  I don't think I need to do this again.
9. Drive myself or do a ride-a-long in a race car. (Completed May 26, 2012) See #8.  It's also really expensive.
10. Try absinthe. I knew this would be one that I completely forgot about.
11. Get my nephew to call me by my Auntie name "Essie". (Completed April 15, 2012) This was very exciting, but now every time he sees me on Facetime, he says "Oogy?".  That's one of my dogs....I've been replaced by a German Shepard.
12. Enter a design competition. (Completed March 31, 2012) I'm really glad I did this, and will certainly do another in the future.
13. Learn how to bake a great chocolate cake. (Completed April 8, 2012) Nailed this one.  It was so delicious!
14. Go hot air ballooning. (Completed June 24, 2012) I can't say enough good things about this.  Do it at some point in your life.
15. Learn 100 words in Hebrew. I am a horrible girlfriend to my Israeli boyfriend.  I never did this, and I think I know maybe 10 words.
16. Get acupuncture. I purchased the Groupon and then never went.  I'm still planning on going.
17. Reach 150 followers and 2000 pins on Pinterest.  Didn't get even close to this.  130 followers and 1400 pins.  Were my board names not compelling enough?
18. Take the Frank Lloyd Wright tour in Oak Park. (Completed May 19, 2012) Can't believe I waited so long to do this.  I had a great time and learned so much.
19. Visit the Farnsworth House in Plano, IL. (Completed June 17, 2012) This was great for several reasons including the obvious awesome architecture.  I went with my parents which is always a fun and hilarious time, and we also enjoyed a short nature walk leading up to the house.
20. 7-Day Juice Cleanse.  (Completed May 27, 2012) I don't need to do this again.  I almost passed out at Crossfit, and that's just not worth it no matter what the nutritional benefits are.
21. Volunteer at 'The Plant'. (Completed May 19, 2012)  I love the concept of of this group.  I had a good experience, but I probably won't be back regularly due to time constraints.
22. Go to a Baha'i service. (Completed March 20, 2012) This was cool.  Religion is an interesting arena, and I'm always interested in different viewpoints. 
23. Watch 'The Exorcist'. (Completed May 18, 2012) I feel better about myself for finally watching this.  How I'd gotten this far in life without seeing it is beyond me.
24. Create a great bar set up-cart, booze, mixers, accessories. Turns out this is an expensive endeavor, but I've enjoyed many a key lime martini and St. Germaine infused champagne cocktail in my limited selection.
25. Milk a cow. (Completed June 16, 2012) LOVED doing this.  We actually had a whole tour of a dairy farm along with the milking.  I did find out some things I was really disappointed to know about, and it is informing my more extensive education on the dairy industry.
26. Visit the Holocaust museum in Skokie, IL.  (Completed May 28, 2012-Memorial Day)  Moving and extremely well designed.  It amazes me that human beings have the capacity to treat each other so horribly. 
27. Eat an ostrich egg. (Completed April 8, 2012) Delicious and such a fun activity cracking it open!
28. Do WWOOF. (Completed April 7, 2012) I felt super crunchy, and that's a good thing!
29. Go to a MMA fight. (Completed April 13, 2012) I probably won't do this again, but I had a great time hanging out with my Dad while watching.
30. Buy a lotto ticket once a week until my birthday. (Completed July 7, 2012) Well, I didn't win.  Lesson learned.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


(The Hoop House)

I've got a back log a mile long of 30 before 30 posts to deliver to you, so I'll start with the least recent...WWOOF-ing #28.

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It's pretty much as it sounds-you have the opportunity to volunteer on an organic farm...anywhere in the world. This is a win win for both parties-small organic farmers get free labor and the chance to spread the word about organic farming, and volunteers have the opportunity to learn about organic farming in all its blood, sweat and tears glory and get a tasty lunch, or free accommodations if you stay multiple days.

I decided to try it out one unseasonably warm Saturday in April at a local organic family farm about an hour's drive from Chicago. I put on my most serious organic farming clothes (Lululemon cargo pants and a t-shirt with the word "Brentwood"(California) on it) that said "I'm ready to get dirty, but I'm going to look stylin' and privileged while doing it." I also thought ahead about my hydration needs and brought a water bottle from the Food Allergy Initiative benefit I volunteered at because I want the world to know that while children are starving in Africa, there are children on the North Shore of Chicago that needed a word for "picky". I kid, I kid. allergies are really scary.

Once I had my nonchalant look together, I rolled into my host farm and set about locating my host farmer. For the purposes of this post, I will call him Jack...okay, I just forgot his name. Jack gave me a rundown of the farm and what had led him to organic farming. His interest started with a desire to bring native grasses back to the area and has evolved into the breeding and selling of fainting goats, turkeys, fryer chickens, laying chickens, rabbits (for pets and meat), ducks and a delicious assortment of organic vegetables. Along with the help of Campbell the farm dog, we moved mobile chicken and turkey houses to fresh pasture; hence the name "pasture raised", collected eggs, refilled everyone's water (they don't have cool water bottles for turkeys), and planted row upon row of radishes.

You might be wondering what fainting goats are...don't worry, I never intended to gloss over these ridiculous animals. Besides being incredibly cute, they have the worst natural instincts of any animal I know of. When they feel scared, threatened or anxious, their back legs freeze up, and they fall over. Fight or flight? How about f**ked? (Sorry for the language Dad) I mean, damn goat, get your act together.

My experience with radish planting was both a learning experience and also richly rewarding. Radish seedlings come in pallets divided into cells, and you want to make sure you're only planting the largest seedling per planting hole. This means you pull the smaller little seedlings out to give the large seedling the best chance at thriving without competition (the fainting goats and radishes need to have a talk about their survival tactics). What are those seedlings and where do they go? Those are the micro greens that you see on finer restaurant menus and which ended up in my salad for lunch. Delicious!

As for the company? I had a lovely French gal along side me during the chicken watering and radish planting, who had been there about two weeks, and who'd come from an organic farm in Canada and was on her way to a goat cheese farm in the south after her stint here. She was basically earning her keep and moving from farm to farm across Canada and the United States and waiting out the bad economy back home. I loved her.

Was it worth my time? Would I do it again? Absolutely. And you should too. Sign up at for more information on how to get involved. Knowing where your food comes from and how it's produced is an invaluable experience. Thoughtful consumption connects us to our community-both local and international.

Here's a photo of my organic helper, Campbell.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MMA Tourney.

Most of you have questioned some items on my 30 before 30 list, and this next item definitely falls under that category.  Attending an MMA fight somehow made it onto my list-maybe it was seeing 'Warrior', maybe it's my secret desire to watch people bleed, at any rate an MMA tournament went down last Friday night at the Copernicus Theater in Chicago, and I was there to witness it.  Fearing for my safety (because those crazy fighters are likely to jump out of the cage and attack me at will) and due to the lack of interest my friends had of attending with me, my 62 year old Father joined me.  

I'll get to the actual fight in a minute, but my Dad was a particular highlight of the evening.  Dressed in pressed khaki pants, loafers, a pale lemon yellow checked button down under a cornflower blue cotton sweater, my Dad could not have looked more out of place.  Walking around the lobby munching on a slice of pizza and drinking a plastic cup of Polish beer, we must have been quite the sight.

When we eventually found our seats through the tattooed highly stylized crowd, the action began.  From our mezzanine seats we had a bit of trouble seeing some of the finer points of the fight, so we both whipped out our iPhones and looked up magnifying glass apps (me) and opera glasses apps (my Dad).  Neither of these really worked out, so we settled in for the series of fights.  This is what went down in mostly every fight:

  • Classy young women in maximum coverage hot pants and bras flash the round number to the crowd.
  • Fighter swaggers down the aisle to the cage on stage to his personal fight song, followed by his giant posse of handlers, coaches and sponsors.
  • The next fighter follows suit, and they meet in the cage.
  • They kick, punch, and hold each other on the ground until someone taps out.  Highlights at this stage: someone got punched in the head and bled all over himself, the other guy and the cage.  In another round, a guy had to try standing up four times before he actually made it.
  • The winner does a little fist pump, jumps on the cage, or something similar, and hugs it out with the loser.
  • The emcee acts really interested in the winner and ask all sorts of fascinating questions.
  • The winner does a shout out to his sponsors, and a group of meat heads somewhere in the audience whoops it up.
  • Repeat.
We left a little early to beat the parking lot traffic, and my Dad gave me one last amusing anecdote before he drove off in his Mercedes.  As he's trying to back out of his space, he realizes the car behind him is a little close.  This necessitates a little maneuvering.  Three young guys offer their assistance as my Dad Austin Powers' his way to freedom.  I giggle as I rock out to indie beats on 93XRT.

Lessons learned: MMA tournaments are not terribly interesting or exciting, but attending any event with my Dad is enormously humorous. 

That's Essie to you.

There's nothing quite like hearing your nephew say your name for the first time, and this past weekend my nephew Charlie gave me that satisfaction.  We often skype or facetime on the weekends, so it's a great opportunity for me to see the little man grow up, see his newest toys and even sing the alphabet song together. Okay, that was mostly me singing, but Charlie was thrilled.  One of the items on my 30 before 30 list was to have Charlie learn my Auntie name, which is Essie (Aunt Stephanie is hard to say and just sounds bad anyway).  When asked to say it, he clearly (and I think lovingly) said "ESSIE!".  Made my week.  He's also ahead of schedule (my birthday is July 7), which makes him the smartest almost 20 month old ever.  Then again, he also says "poop" when referring to a skateboard...

I love you little man.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Liquid Sunshine.

Who hasn't thought about the importance of a great looking watering can?  Here's a great option from Terrain for $34.  If you haven't checked out Terrain's online shop please do.  Or if you live in CT or PA, then visit them in person.

Chocolate Fix.

One of my greatest loves is a great slice of chocolate cake.  Along with a cold glass of milk, nothing quite hits the spot.  I consider myself somewhat of a chocolate cake connoisseur, and take every opportunity I can to "educate" myself on this subject.  I am not, however, a great baker, so I haven't attempted to make my own chocolate cake from scratch.  I decided this would be the perfect item to add to my 30 before 30 list, so it comes in at #13. 

The lucky recipients of this trial were my family and boyfriend on Easter Sunday.  They all enjoyed a slice that day and gave it rave reviews.  My Mother loved that the frosting wasn't too sweet, something that's a downside for her with cake.  We took half the cake home with the intention to distribute it to our work colleagues but...well, my good intentions didn't pan out.  I ate a slice (a big one too) of cake every morning for breakfast for a week and even managed to do a double one day when I dropped in for a quick lunch at my parent's home and took a little slice of their leftovers (sorry Dad!). 

It took forever (I think around three hours start to finish), but I declare this trial a success!  Here's the recipe taken from Epicurious with one minor addition from me (mayo!).

Chocolate Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting

For cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I substituted bittersweet for unsweetened)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup mayonaise (regular, not non-fat)
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

For frosting
2/3 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
8 oz milk chocolate, melted and cooled
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (again, I substitute bittersweet for unsweetened)

Make cake:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottom of each with a round of parchment or wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl. Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes in a standing mixer or 4 to 5 minutes with a handheld. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add chocolate and vanilla and beat until just combined. Add mayonaise.  Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in 3 batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just combined.

Divide batter between cake pans, spreading evenly, and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of each cake layer comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes.

Cool cake layers in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of each layer, then invert onto racks. Peel off paper and cool layers completely.

Make frosting:
Heat milk in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot. Whisk together yolks, flour, 1/3 cup confectioners sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then add hot milk in a stream, whisking. Transfer custard to saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture will be very thick), then transfer to a large bowl. Cover surface of custard with a buttered round of wax paper and cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Add vanilla and remaining cup confectioners sugar to custard and beat with cleaned beaters at moderate speed until combined well, then increase speed to medium-high and beat in butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, until smooth. Add chocolates and beat until combined well.

Frost cake:
Halve each cake layer horizontally using a long serrated knife. Layer cake, using a heaping 1/2 cup frosting between each layer, then frost top and sides with remaining frosting.

Cooks' notes:
·Cake layers can be made (but not halved) 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature. ·Frosting can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature (do not use a microwave) and beat with an electric mixer before using. 

Easter Ostrich Egg.

This post is a bit delayed, but I had to tell you about my ostrich egg experience.  About 80% of the friends, family and colleagues I've spoken to about ostrich eggs think they're creepy, but I can say definitively that they are delicious!  Before I get into my personal experience, here are a few things you should know about ostrich eggs:

1. Compared to all birds and their eggs, ostrich eggs are the smallest relative to their size.
2. An ostrich egg weighs approximately 5 lbs.
3. An ostrich egg is equivalent to roughly two dozen chicken eggs.
4. Ostrich eggs are roughly the same amount of calories per serving as a chicken egg but are much lower in cholesterol. 

Now that you're up to speed on ostrich egg facts, let's get down to my story.

It starts with an online order to O.K. Corral Ostrich Farms for a large ostrich egg ($25 each). Go big or go home, right?  A few days later I receive a giant dinosaur looking egg at my office.  I poke it, I look at it, I run my fingers over its orange peel like shell.  I send a few family members photos of it.  I get it home where it sits in the fridge and awaits Easter when it will be turned into a veggie frittata for a family brunch.

Easter Sunday roles around, and the fun begins!  With my boyfriend documenting every step of the way, I crack the thing open with the aid of a hammer and flat head screw driver.  Dig out a large enough hole where I can peel open the protective membrane.  Then I release the contents of the giant egg into a bowl, where along with cheese and tons of vegetables it turns into a lovely frittata.  In all the excitement, I never got a photo of the final product, but trust me, it looked great.

Verdict from the three family members at the table and my boyfriend?  It was a hit! Was it because of my incredible culinary skills? Probably, but I'll give a little credit to the giant bird with the long neck that contributed to the endeavor.

Almost the size of my head.

A little concerned that this thing is going to explode.

Digging out a hole.

The membrane was so thick I had to really tear it open.

I'm not sure if the yolk ruptured en route to me, or if it's just really yellow.

That's a lot of egg.