Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Twenty Dinners

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own. 

I love cookbooks, but sometimes, the authors, if they happen to be professional chefs, too, forget that most readers, including myself, are not exactly culinary experts. So I appreciate books written by home chefs like me, i.e. people who love cooking for others and have some culinary experience but know how to truly share the tricks and tips of a good recipe with the home cook.

6 Family Friendly Ways to Celebrate the Fourth of July in Chicago

This post originally appeared at, where I am a contributing writer. 
The Fourth of July calls for fun, flags, outdoor dining and of course, fireworks. Put on your best red, white and blue duds and get ready to celebrate our nation's independence. Here are six kid-friendly ways to celebrate the 4th in Chicago.

Chicago History Museums's 56th Annual Fourth of July Celebration
Chicago History Museum

Head to the Chicago History Museum on the 4th for the annual family festival from 10 a.m. - noon. Patriotic music, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and a keynote oration by civic leader Ronald J. Gidwitz will get you into the spirit of America. Wear red, white and blue and bring a flag so you can march in the children's costume parade led by the World's Tallest Uncle Sam. Afterward, head back to the museum to check out the grand opening of the new experiences in the Naphtali ben Yakov Pritzker American History Wing. The Museum opens at noon and admission is free for Illinois residents. The festival is free and no reservations are needed.

Millennium Park Family Fun Festival
Millennium Park Family Fun Festival

Millennium Park will be hosting a Family Fun Festival all summer long, every Saturday and Sunday, from June 22 - August 23, at 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On the Fourth of July, interactive activities, sing-a-longs and circle dances from Old Town School of Folk, story times, and arts and crafts for kids of all ages with have a patriotic theme.

Grant Park Music Festival Independence Day Salute at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Pritzker Pavilion

Celebrate the 4th with the Grammy Award-nominated Grant Park Orchestra led by Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar and the award-winning Grant Park Chorus led by Chorus Director Christopher Bell, in a summer of world premieres, The Independence Day Salute concert will be held on Saturday, July 4, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. at Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Spread out a blanket and enjoy a picnic as you listen to classic American tunes such as Stars and Stripes Forever and the 1812 Overture. Purchase tickets in advance at

Fireworks Dinner Cruise on the Spirit of Chicago
Enjoy the best view in the city of the spectacular Navy Pier fireworks from aboard Spirit of Chicago. Enjoy a festive buffet, interactive DJ entertainment and best of all, front-row seats to the fireworks. The cruise boards at Navy Pier at 7:45 p.m. and departs at 8:30 p.m., returning at 11:30 p.m. Call 866-273-2469 or book your cruise online.

Riverside Fireworks at Pinstripes
Pinstripes (435 E. Illinois St.) is hosting a family-friendly, four-course dinner overlooking the Chicago River to celebrate the nation's 239th birthday, and the riverside patio is the perfect place to watch the fireworks over Navy Pier. The event takes place on Saturday, July 4 at 7:30 p.m.; fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. Five bocce courts (5 indoor, 2 outdoor) and 11 bowling lanes including two private lanes round out this date for guaranteed family fun. Cost is $49 per person and reservations are required at

Fireworks at U.S. Cellular Field
White Sox fireworks

Nothing screams America like a good old fashioned baseball game, and U.S. Celluar Fieldrolls out the red carpet this year for its littlest fans. Cheer on the White Sox as they face the Seattle Mariners on the 4th and stay afterwards for an awesome fireworks show.

Photos: Chicago History Museum Fourth of July Celebration courtesy of Chicago History Museum; Pritzker Pavilion by Christoper Neseman; Fireworks at U.S. Cellular Field by Velcro. via flickr (CC BY 2.0)  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: CharlieCurls - Effortless No Heat Waves and Curls #byebyecurlingiron

Disclosure: I received a CharlieCurls for review purposes. As always, all opinions are my own. 

My daughter has beautiful, golden blonde hair. It's as straight a straight can be. Though most of the time she wears a cute ponytail with a bow because she's so busy and active and needs to keep her hair out of her face, like most girls, she loves for me to try out fun new hairstyles every once in awhile.

Enter CharlieCurls, an easy peasy hair twister that promises and delivers effortless, no heat waves and curls. We are sold on this fun new one piece curler.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Celebrate the Premiere of 'An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success' at American Girl Place Chicago

This post originally appeared at, where I am a contributing writer.

This summer, girls across the U.S. will be heading to the movies to "An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success," an inspiring feature-length movie based on the the book series that follows the culinary exploits of the American Girl 2015 Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas. Grace shows girls today that following your dreams can lead to sweet rewards, as she works toward opening a bakery of her very own. To celebrate the debut of "Grace Stirs Up Success," American Girl Place Chicago will be baking up fun all summer long with crafts activities, workshops, special diners and more.
On July 7, bring your girl and her doll to American Girl Place Chicago for an afternoon filled with Grace-inspired fun highlighting the city of Chicago: You'll enjoy Grace-inspired crafts and cookie decorating at the 360 CHICAGO observatory, where you'll be able to take in 360-degree views from 1,000 feet above Lake Michigan and Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile.

On July 17, moms and their girls are invited to a special dinner featuring fun craft-making activities. On July 9 or August 13, the Discover Truly Me Event will help girls to discover their hidden talents via fun crafts and group activities. All participants will receive a doll-sized Truly Me tee. The events calendar at American Girl Place Chicago updates frequently, with more events being added throughout the summer, so check back often, and plan your visit around one of the many festive happenings.

American Girl is also partnering with Williams-Sonoma, the premier specialty retailer of cookware and home furnishings in the United States, and will be offering a new line of premium, American Girl-branded products. While you're at Williams-Sonoma, pick up a limited edition American Girl spatula and 30 percent of the proceeds will benefit No Kid Hungry, a campaign that is dedicated to ending childhood hunger in the United States. For more information about the Williams-Sonoma product line and culinary classes,

Grace fans can explore Grace's world, receive a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming film, including the movie trailer and video clips, cast and character bios, movie-related events, games and downloadable wallpapers at

Consider extending the fun by spending your night at a Magnificent Mile area hotel that offers special, sweet amenities for girls and dolls. To make a reservation for the American Girl Place Chicago Cafe, call the reservation hotline at 877-247-5223 or book online at

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Get Ready for Summer with Indulgent Treatments at Chicago's Best Spas

Nothing beats summer in Chicago. It's time to dress up in your best summer dress and meet up with friends at a rooftop bar, hit Oak Street Beach in your teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini, and put your best face forward as you enjoy all the fun festivals, concerts and events on the summertime menu. Shed those winter time layers and get your summer glow on with these summer-focused treatments at six of Chicago's best spas.

Spa at Dana (660 N. State St.)
Summer glow treatments at the dana are infused with the essences of fruits and essential oils. Illuminate your skin with the Pineapple Guava Facial, which will give your skin a vitamin boost thanks to natural guava and pineapple fruit extracts, leaving you feeling refreshed and radiant. Balance and rejuvenate with the Oolong & Lavender Massage, a toning massage featuring the summery scent of lime and lavender essential oils. The Cherry Blossom Manicure and Pedicure will prep your feet for sandals: nails and cuticles are polished and exfoliated with an enzymatic cherry blossom cream followed by a luxurious massage with a cherry blossom shea butter and your pick of the hottest summer nail shades. Plan on spending some time in the relaxation lounge or steam room after your treatment.

Four Seasons Spa Chicago (900 N. Michigan Shops, 120 E Delaware Pl.)

The Spa at Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel is a luxe escape where innovative spa treatments will bring out your summer glow. The customized Radiant Facial will help brighten and plump skin, prepping your face for the summer sun. Get ready to hit the beach in your best bikini bod with body scrub. The Maui Sugar Scrub and Hawaiian Honey Therapy with wrap you in Lehua honey, scrub you with Maui cane sugar, and soothe your skin with Hawaiian kukui nut oils. The Signature Crystal Clear Scrub combines old world spa traditions with modern technology with sea salt, sugar and magnesium oxide crystals that will polish your body until it shines, an ideal treatment for evening out skin tone before taking in the sunshine.

Leah Chavie Skincare Boutique (2457 N. Halsted St.)
Leah Chavie Skincare Boutique

Leah Chavie (pictured above) combined her knowledge and love for skincare products and treatments to open her first skincare boutique in 2010. Arrange for a consultation and Chavie herself will help you map out a plan for revealing your best you. Get ready to hit the beach with the Biologique Recherch√© Detoxifying Body Wrap which will increase blood circulation, eliminate toxins and excess water, hydrate the skin and balance the skin's surface PH. The Thermojet Spanish Infrared Body Wrap promises to help you burn 1,200-1,800 calories per treatment, reducing the appearance of cellulite over time and aiding in lymphatic drainage.
Rejeuvanete your face just in time for summer with the Seaweed Facial, which leaves your skin healthy and vibrant. Complete your look with a UVA/UVB free, customized sunless tan. If you're looking for a more intense summer makeover, Leah Chavie has also partnered with FACE Chicago's Dr. Julian Dixon to bring you natural facial enhancements, an organic approach to anti-aging therapies that make use of biologic materials found in nature as well as advanced rejuvenating technologies.

bliss chicago (644 N. Lake Shore Drive, at the W Chicago Lakeshore)
bliss chicago

Located on the eighth floor of the W Chicago Lakeshore, bliss chicago offers a signature menu of spa services with spectacular views of summer as it unfolds on Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. Sixteen treatment rooms, four movie-screening manicure nail stations, a retail store packed with the best in bliss beauty products and a brownie buffet round out an awesome day at the spa. The Head-to-Toe Glow Treatment is a must if you want to step into your summer best skin, and offers a facial, body wrap and massage, or book a Carrot & Sesame Body Buff, an ultra-hydrating smoothing and skin softening treat.

Hotel Allegro Chicago (171 W. Randolph St.)
At the Hotel Allegro Chicago, the spa comes to you. In-Room Spa Services bring the summer-ready treatments directly to your room, so you can relax and unwind in the privacy of your guest room. The Spirulina Body Wrap is recommended for anyone looking to nourish and revitalize skin: Your body will be wrapped for 25 minutes to soak up essential elements from a vitamin-rich Spirulina Masque followed by a firming marine firming body creme and lavender body oil massage. The Aroma Journey Massage
will help you unwind after a long day of outdoor fun: indulge in a sensory balancing massage with your choice of one of four aromatherapy blends infused with your choice of essential oils.

The Spa at Trump (401 N Wabash Ave.)
Spa at Trump

The Spa at Trump has a full menu of fitness offerings that promise to get you into tip-top shape. Head to the The Terrace on Trump and watch the sun rise over the Chicago skyline while you practice yoga every Wednesday from 6 to 7 a.m. through September (weather permitting; class fee is $45).
Get into gear and enjoy the Chicago River Walk with River Walk Book Camp Class: every Saturday this challenging work out will take place from 8 to 9 a.m. along the Chicago River just outside of Trump (class fee is $45).
After your workout, head back to the spa for an Ultimate Kate Facial, the perfect treatment to help achieve that summertime glow: the 90-minute treatment begins with a superhydrating oxygen treatment using dermal boosters, plumping the skin with nutrients. After a relaxing pressure point massage, the experience continues with the Dermalucent therapy to protect the skin from free radical damage. Finally, relax with a Balancing Ayurvedic Massagefeaturing traditional massage techniques combined with specific oils, create a harmonious relationship among the three Doshas.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: The Book of Joan by Melissa Rivers

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Book of Joan. All opinions are my own. 

I have always liked Joan Rivers and her unquestionable verve and ultimate lack of political correctness. I could always count on her to make me laugh out loud.

It wasn't until I saw her documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, that came to truly respect the dynamo that she was. Her work ethic was amazing, and I'm in awe of how she managed to survive so many trials and tribulations in life, picking herself up each and every time, dusting off the debris of disaster, and getting back to her job: pointing out the laughable absurdities of life. 

The Book of Joan, written by Joan's daughter and best friend, Melissa, once again reminded me of everything that made this American icon so great. She managed to raise a wonderful daughter, on her own, after the suicide of her husband. This is Melissa's touching and funny take on perhaps one of the most celebrated mother-daughter relationships ever.

Key Lime Pie Smoothie with Organic Planet Protein from Garden of Life

Disclosure: I received product samples from Garden of Life. All opinions are my own, and I was not asked to write any reviews. 

Summer is here and I am already dedicating myself to a healthier me. 

The hot weather means I'll be in my bikini most of the summer. My kids are not in any summer camps so it will be me keeping them active this summer. I want to be my very healthiest me, so that I'm always putting my best foot forward. This starts in the morning for me: I need a breakfast that is light yet gives me the energy I need to get my day off on the right foot. 

Recently, I started incorporating Garden of Life's Organic Plant Protein into my breakfast smoothies.

Organic Plant Protein is a Certified USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified plant protein. It's a clean protein supplement, which means it's free of common allergens such as gluten, grains, dairy and soy. It's available in 4 flavors: Smooth Chocolate, Smooth Vanilla, Smooth Coffee (with Marley Coffee) and Smooth Energy (with Guayaki® Yerba Mate and added vitamin B12). All flavors are natural and organic, no artificial ingredients are used, and there's no gritty taste. It's a  highly digestible grain free plant protein with 13 enzymes and 1 billion CFU of probiotics (important for those people who have difficulty digesting grains).
Organic Plant Protein
So what's in it? 
  • Five organic American seed proteins — organic pea seed, organic flax seed, organic cranberry seed, organic chia seed and organic pumpkin seed. Garden of Life works with farmers to ensure that these ingredients are top quality and the cleanest available. 
  • 2 African Super Foods - Moringa and Baobab. Both rich in protein, minerals and antioxidants and purchased through the African Hub to guarantee Fair Trade.
  • Excellent Source Protein – 15 grams of quality plant protein per serving with Complete Amino Acid Profile – ideal for growth, building muscles and repairing tissues.†
  • Over 3g Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). Great for athletes, pre- or post-exercise, and anyone who wants to boost protein intake.
  • Less than 1g Sugar*, 2g to 4g of Fiber and Only 100 Calories per Serving.
  • Cleanest protein on the shelf with DUAL Certification - All Garden of Life proteins including Organic Plant Protein are dual certified, Certified USDA Organic, and Non-GMO Project Verified (Independent, third-party verification). 
  • Vegan Certified, Kosher - No Dairy, No Soy. No Artificial or Chemical Ingredients.
This product  not only gives me energy, but also keeps me feeling full until lunchtime. I no longer experience those mid-morning cravings that lead me to snack and ruin m lunch. My days have been starting with smoothies, a light salad for lunch with protein, a low carb dinner with lots of veggies. I've been losing weight and feeling great without feeling like I'm on a diet or depriving myself. 

If you're looking for a clean plant protein to fuel your summer days, give Garden of Life's Organic Plant Protein a try. Here's a summer smoothie recipe to get you started! 

Key Lime Pie Smoothie

2 scoops Garden of Life's Organic Plant Protein in vanilla
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 banana
Juice from one key lime
Zest of one key lime
1/2 teaspoon stevia
1 cup ice cubes
1 tablespoon crushed graham crackers and a dollop of coconut whipped cream to garnish your glass. 

Mix until smooth. Top with a dollop of Coconut Whipped Cream and a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs. 

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