A First Birthday, Many Thank You’s


A handful of people have asked me questions like, “How did you know you wanted to be a mother?” or “Did you always know you wanted to have kids?” since Olive was born.   Not sure I can say how I knew, but the truth is I have always known I would be a mother.  Understandably, this is not always the case for every mama and papa out there, but for me, I knew.   This sort of lifelong “knowing” has greatly taught me about my own instincts.  Being a mother was  something I always knew I wanted to be.  Excited about a new life that Matt and I would create, and obviously excited for seeing my own child grow and wander through this world, I was also incredibly intrigued and curious about how I would change.   Olive Julia has not only given me constant, heightened and welcomed enlightenment, but she has also helped shape me into a better and more well-rounded person, and I deeply, deeply thank her for that.

Last June, we celebrated our sweet lady’s very first birthday, and it was a big “Thank you” to Olive, but also to all of our beloved friends and family who generously carried us through our first year as new parents.   I wanted her birthday to be a warm gathering of friends and family.   After all, I don’t think Olive would be the sweet and good natured baby she is without the love and support of our extended family.  This birthday was for all of us. Many people have asked me to share the details of her birthday on B&Y, and I am happy to do so.


Olive’s first birthday party theme was inspired by summer farmer’s markets.  Being born on the first day of summer, and seeing as her mom and dad love spending time at our local markets, it seemed to fit.  I wanted the atmosphere to be comfortable where folks could picnic on the lawn, mingle by the drink table, and choose veggies and fruit as if they were at a local market.


I wanted to the party to be authentic yet tasteful.  The eye candy was the farmer’s market table which I set up exactly as you might see at a traditional market.  I purchased seasonal fruits and veggies from our local market and beefed it up with a few items from the grocery store.  I used a variety of baskets including small bushels and  other similar containers for berries and the like.  Using plywood and paint from Michael’s, I painted signs for the market.  I free wrote the letters to make the signs look like believable side of the road signs.  In addition, I bought bulk canvas bags and sprayed them with a fabric paint using a tree template.  These bags served as sacks for the farmer’s market treats that guests were able to fill them to the brim as goodie bags for the party.   A chalkboard sign indicated each guest to fill a tote from the market before they left the party.  A friend helped to supply the bunting, balloons were purchased from a local party store, and I bought a few items from Kara’s Party Ideas .  We spread blankets along the lawn, each accompained by balloons, party horns, and sidewalk chalk.


Matt grilled up dogs and burgers.  I made 3 side dishes including Alice Waters Summer Vegetable Salad, a garlic potato salad (Erin, if you are reading, this is your recipe from a few years back) and a sweet and savory slaw.  For dessert, I made blueberry hand pies for all everyone.  Olive had a special pear hand pie for her “cake” to fit in with the theme, but also to avoid blueberry stains!  Another chalkboard sign indicated the menu.  The drink station included a homemade lavender lemonade and classic sodas I bought from a local, boutique candy store.  We had green river, 312 root beer, and even sarsaparilla sodas.  We made sure beer and wine were plentiful, and I also encouraged the adults to add a topper of rose or sparkling white to the lavender lemonade…that was a huge hit.  Lastly, we indulged on a snow cone machine from Amazon, and purchased Jelly Belly syrups, cones, and straws.  The snow cones were a huge success!


Considering this was mostly an adults party, my sister-in-law and I organized a relay races for all guests.  This was the highlight of the party! We started with egg and spoon, moved on to potato sack races, 3 legged race, and ended with a picnic basket relay where each team member and to empty a basket, set a place setting with plates, silverware etc, put on whatever costumes pieces were in the basket, blow a party horn and then return to my sister-in-law, Allie,  for a slip of paper that indicated how you must return to your team after repacking the basket (i.e. moonwalk, crabwalk, disco, grapevine and so on).  Prizes for the winning team were homemade cookies made by my other sister-in-law, Jenna.  She made “Olive O’s”- a cookie inspired by the beloved Oreo as well as brown butter, chocolate chip cookies.  Yum!  We also had Bags and horseshoes set up on the side of the yard.

Her birthday was a huge success despite the sweltering early summer heat.  Everyone who attended brought lots of love, smiles, and good vibes.  Miss Olive made it through the whole party without napping, Grammy and Grandpa survived a backyard full of balloons, party favors, bubbles and food, and mom and dad felt proud, accomplished, and fortunate to celebrate their first year of parenthood.  Miss Olive- we love you!  Any suggestions for this year’s theme?  Have a question about some of my DIY projects or recipes?  Put a comment below!  Before you go, check out some of our photos from Olive’s first birthday party.

Pork Belly and Chickpea Chili- A Comeback Story


I am not sure I have ever made chili but maybe once in my life…probably because I really do not like beans and therefore stay away from chili.  This weekend, however,  I found myself not only making chili but also tasting lots of it after my friend Amy asked me to help with her first ever annual chili cook-off for charity.  Her idea was to invite folks who would decide if they wanted to be chili makers or chili tasters, and in addition raise funds for The Greater Chicago Food Depository, a charity that provides thousands of meals to people in the Chicagoland area everyday.    Cook-off and charity sounded like a no-brainer at first, but to be honest I was not sure I would be able to participate.  Being swamped at work with a variety of agendas I wasn’t sure how I could make another commitment.  Beginning to struggle back and forth about whether or not I could commit, I realized something very important which has catapulted a new attitude for me about the year ahead.  Sounds heavy, doesn’t it?  I mean, I get it.  When did chili become so profound?  But what this cook-off gave me was the opportunity to choose between stressing over whether or not this would fit into my schedule or embracing the commitment and trusting there would be time because food and event planning are things I love to do — things I want to be doing always and more of — so the decision to do this cook-off wasn’t just about “Could I?” it was about seeing an opportunity and embracing it.


Here is what I mean when I say “an exploration into a richer life” because you never know what may come of something and it can’t be wrong if it is something you truly love.  So when the world said, “Here — here is something that you love to do”,  I did it, and the reward was amazing.  Unfortunately, my pork belly, chickpea chili did not win (I mean, it was pretty awesome and got the praises of the TND crew- so, definite personal win), but regardless the whole day was really brilliant.  Everything seemed to flow right.  It was a day full of good food, good beer, good people, everyone down to be down.  I met some wonderful people at the cook-off and visited with more friends late into the evening over wine, little bites, and fulfilling conversation about art, theatre, food, travel….gah- I love stuff like this.  At the end of the night, while looking back at the happy mess of empty glasses among leftover cheese rinds and bits of mustard and relishes left strewn about, I scoffed at the fact that I had even considered not doing the cook-off.   I saw how the commitment paid off in evolving friendships and laughter coupled with ideas and stories that went on in my head long after everyone had gone home.  I had decided in that moment that this year is going to be a great year.  It is going to be my year, and with this post I re-claim my title as food (and sometimes travel) blogger, and am excited about what’s in the works, which includes a visit to Purple Door Ice Cream in Milwaukee and a sit down with my new fave gal pal and outstanding food stylist- Johanna Lowe of Martyn George.  In the meantime, here is my pork belly, chickpea chili recipe especially for you my dear Chicago friends.  This is sure to unearth you from the cold and warm your bellies and your hearts.  Unless you don’t like pork belly, but then you’re probably not reading my blog anyway.P1070362


*This recipe is from The New Best Recipe Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen.  This is my go to cookbook for solid, standard recipes.  Great if you are not an expert chef, and useful if you need a base from which you can add personal touches.  I adapted their Beef Chili with Kidney Beans recipe just a bit by adding more or less spices here and there, and exchanging the beef for ground pork belly and the beans for chickpeas.  Make a night or two ahead if you can.  Chili is always best when it has had some time to rest.


2tbl veg or corn oil

2 med onions finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 in cubes

6 garlic cloves, pressed

1/4 Adobo Chili powder

1 tbl freshly ground cumin

2 tsp freshly ground coriander

1-2 tbl red pepper flakes

1 tsp Herbs de Provence (original recipe calls for dried oregano)

1/2tsp cayenne pepper

2 lbs ground pork belly (ask your butcher to grind the meat for you if you do not have a meat grinder at home)

2 15 oz cans of garbanzo beans (rinsed)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can tomato puree


lime wedges for serving


Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onions, bell peppers, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, Herbs de Provence, cayenne, and cook — stirring occasionally until the onion and pepper are softened and browning — approx 10 mins.  Increase the heat to med-high, add half of the pork belly, cook for 3 or 4 minutes breaking the meat up as you mix, then add the other half of the pork.  Stir for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, bring to a boil then bring back down to a simmer and cook covered for one hour.  In the second hour, take the lid off but continue to simmer for 6o minutes.  Once it has simmered, take off of the heat and adjust seasoning.  If making a day or two in advance, let the chili cool to room temp before putting it in the fridge.  If serving right away, squeeze in a half to whole lime and mix throughout.


Valerie Bolon: Culinary Yogi

Valerie Bolon is the cat’s meow.  Don’t believe me? Check this: In the culinary world, Bolon has worked with some of the greatest chefs including Emeril Lagasse (Emeril’s New Orleans), Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate), Don Yamauchi (Gordon), and Shawn McClain (Spring). Previous Bravo TV Top Chef contestant and now personal chef, Valerie is one of the coolest chicks in the Chicago food scene.  Last week, I had the honor of sitting down with Valerie at The Map Room, a fitting scene for this experienced globetrotter, to talk about her background in food, personal endeavours, her childhood crush on Jack Tripper, yoga, and her latest project with business partner Rachel Winpar, Culinary Speakeasy.  What started out as an interview for a write-up turned into the beginning of a friendship…something that is easy to do with a gal like Valerie.

Born and raised in Glenview, Illinois, Valerie comes from a very close family, a set of people she often referenced as being the core to her strength throughout all of her culinary and travel experiences.  Every night at 6:30 sharp, dinner was on the table, no exception.  This type of tradition taught Valerie from a young age that food equals people coming together.  In fact, Valerie would tell you that the beginnings of her desire to deconstruct and” build something from nothing” -as she refers to her excitement when cooking- can be credited back to her working with her dad on building and fixing things around the house when she was young.  Years later that same desire to dissect things manifested itself in the world of food science at the University of lllinois.  Valerie completed her program and received her degree, but something inside told her she was cut out for something else… something off the radar and definitely out of an office.  The summer after she graduated, she took a job at a bakery and soon realized that this was the something different she had been looking for. Working with actual food, not only the science of it, would provide her the avenue to play, build, break down and put things together again.  After completing culinary school, Valerie left the states and traveled- an evolving passion and something she would return to time and time again to find inspiration and creative energy.  Upon her return, Valerie set off for New Orleans to work for the infamous Emeril’s.  She credits his restaurant as the place where she learned the most about what it takes to be a chef.  Thrown into the fire, working every station from pastries to the hot line, Valerie had to learn fast. She quickly realized there was a hierarchy in the kitchen and in order to succeed, you needed to put your head down and get the job done…humbly and without question. This was the different that Valerie had craved.  After a year and a half at Emeril’s, Vaerie set off to travel once again in order to find the inspiration for her next journey.  She says food has always been the best way to learn about different cultures , and this has always shaped each of her new adventures.  Most impressive to me was Valerie’s uncanny recollection of her travels including details of all of the places place she has visited, how she got to those places, the strangers who became close friends and the food that served as a vehicle to the rest of the world.  It was fascinating to hear speak so vividly about travel and one can tell how inspired it has made her as a chef and as a person.  Learning about cultures in different places has continued to encourage her work as a chef, having traveled to over thirty-five countries by the age of thirty-six. Impressive, indeed.

When she returned from traveling, Valerie made her rounds in Chicago going from noted restaurant Spring to the infamous Hot Chocolate.  She continued to travel in between, but she describes working at these restaurants as another milestone in her career.  At Hot Chocolate, Valerie says she really began to understand the invaluable tool of working with desserts.  Anyone who is a serious pastry chef will tell you the specificity involved in a recipe is downright a science…something Valerie was familiar with from her days at U of I.  Through these experiences Valerie learned how to be a good leader, and if she had a philosophy it would be, as she puts it “Just get involved in life” and get involved she did.  When Bravo producers came to Chicago to scout potential cast members for the fourth season of Top Chef, Valerie was recommended by Mindy Segal as an ideal addition to the cast.  Bravo reached out, Valerie accepted, and the rest is history.  Although, she was voted off early, Valerie does not regret the experience and was very happy for her Chicago friend Stephanie to take the title as Top Chef winner.  She said the biggest lesson she learned was to always remember to be more confident because when you are confident, you win in everything.  Being from the Chicago area and with season four being filmed here as well, I asked Valerie if the city she calls home as influenced her craft.  She answered “People make a place beautiful. People make life so interesting”.  This is when I fell in love with Valerie.  This is where her and I see eye to eye.  Now a practicing yoga instructor, Valerie has found a way to balance her energy while still promoting her enthusiasm for life.  She emanates an energy that is alive yet peaceful.  Her tremendous charity work has helped her to give back to communities while spreading the joy of life to all that will join her.

Currently, Valerie works as a personal chef and is half of the team for Culinary Speakeasy- a supper club event held several times throughout the year at her business partner Rachel’s home- a stunning and sprawling downtown apartment with five balconies and views to die for.  The menu replicates the beauty of the atmosphere in its simplicity and taste.  Using seasonal and local ingredients, Valerie and Rachel know how to throw an elegant yet warm, sophisticated yet down to earth event that highlights amazing cuisine.  There is no shortage of food on their five course menu and guests are invited to purchase wine to accompany their meals.  Most recently, Valerie led the team in the first ever Farm to Fork dinner in Naperville.  Taking her leadership skills to a whole new level, Valerie led a team of mostly strangers to head up one of last season’s most exciting farm dinners with a guest list that well exceeded three hundred people.

These days, Valerie admits she misses working with a team and is seeking out new projects for her career.  She will also tell you the only way to keep moving forward in life is to hone your craft.  Valerie lives food as she also admits it is what she thinks about all the time.  Yoga practice centers her thoughts giving them a depth that they have never had before.  This is what makes me most excited to see where Valerie’s adventures will take her next. “What matters is the effort. I measure myself against myself”, Valerie says as we finish our beers and chit-chat with everyone from the bartender to the bouncer who gives us some of his homemade chili before we end our night at the Map Room.  She even has her name written on the one of their infamous chalkboards above the bar.  Of course she knows everyone here.  Of course the Map Room is her neighborhood watering hole. Yep, exactly my kind of gal.

Peep some photos from October’s Culinary Speakeasy with Valerie and Rachel.

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Farm to Fork: A Personal Journey into Foodie Heaven

I have been wanting to go to a farm dinner for a long, long time.  The idea of eating outside on the land that sourced and inspired the menu has always seemed like the Jenna Temkin ultimate foodie experience.   Amazing meal guaranteed, outside, among potential new friends.  I am all over that.  This Saturday, I finally got my chance thanks to Red Frog Events invitation to their event called Farm to Fork.  The farm dinner took place in Naperville, IL. on the historic McDonald Farm which is now owned and operated by The Conservation Foundation and Green Earth Institute.  Check out my preview for the event on Chicago Foodies or click here.

Let’s start at the beginning.   Matt and I were inevitably late.  We are always running late when it comes to any event that is happening outside of city limits.  I don’t know if we underestimate our driving time or if the “we can be 20 minutes late” vibe of the city does not fly in the burbs, but alas we found ourselves dodging in and out of traffic, hitting congestion on Lake Shore Drive to 55 South, anxious-ridden from Google Maps estimated time of arrival and fraught that we would miss the shuttle from the parking lot to the farm therefore missing the aperitif and farm tour!  We didn’t even listen to music on the way over.  This is obviously ridiculous.  At one point, I laughed to myself and had the thought “This is a farm dinner.  No one is dying.”  But I was so excited, I could not stand the thought of missing one single part.  But everything has a funny way of working out, and when we arrived to the parking lot we were assured that the tour would not start for several minutes, and once we got to the farm we were warmly greeted with Two Brothers Farm to Fork Pale Ale (specially brewed for this event only I might add), Chateau Chantal wine, and a roaring fire against an intense fall sunset.  Yep.  Everything was going to be fine from here on out.

After an introduction by Red Frog event director Tyler Bradley, we were swept away to meet Martin Lemos; farm manager for Green Earth Institute.  Martin  spent time talking about the history of the farm and it’s organic and sustainable practices.  He also spoke about the farm’s connection to the surrounding areas including their CSA that provides 700 local families with produce throughout the growing season.  Afterward, he took our group into the fields to pick through the last of the season’s tomatoes.  Matt and I trampled through the dirt, the brisk air filling the night, as we popped sweet and crisp tomatoes into our mouths.  I could taste the earth in each bite and knew if this were any indication of what was ahead for dinner, I had probably uncovered my deepest foodie fantasy.

Next, we were lead over to one of the farm’s greenhouses where our table and farm dinner were awaiting us.  The greenhouse was delicately strung in twinkling lights, tables were dressed in white linens, a name card and a menu presented to each guest.  The air smelled of roasted veggies, freshly over turned dirt, and  the energy was buzzing and bright.  Lucky for us, we were seated next to Martin for dinner!

Um, P.S. Is that Bonnie Hunt? Just sayin…

Among excellent company on both sides of our table, dinner began.  Wine from Cheateau Chantal in Traverse City Michigan (yay!) was poured for those that chose the wine pairing while a selection of Two Brothers (Illinois represent!) filled the pint glasses of those that opted for the beer pairing with dinner.   I was certainly excited to see what former Top Chef contestant Valerie Bolon (along with direction from Tyler Bradley) had designed for the menu.  Warming our bellies, we began with an apple and onion soup with gruyere croutons and crispy bacon.  Only a few of us at our table were able to taste the original soup as they had run out during the last seating.  However, a port reduction took its place and it was a very fair replacement.   Perfectly balanced, the reduction set the mood for the marriage of savory and sweet we would see throughout the evening, as I imagined the apple and onion soup intended to do.  Cane and Able from Two Brothers and a 2011 Pinot Blanc sealed the deal on the first course.

The second course was a delightfully prepared arugula, pickled cucumber, radish, and goat cheese salad topped with pepitas.  This was one of my favorite dishes all night.  The pickled cucumbers were exceptionally tart and crisp and lovingly paired with the crispness of the radishes and the nuttiness of the arugula.  The pepitas were an added surprise reaching beyond the snap of the radishes and cucumbers and adding an entertaining crunch to every bite.  Goat cheese from La Clare Farms in Chilton, Wisconsin softened the salad proving it to be a well-rounded and dimensional dish.

Roasted beets and eggplant with fennel, mixed pears and creamed tatsoi ( an Asian varietal of Brassica Rapa…otherwise referred to as spinach mustard) is what our appetites met halfway through dinner.  Paired with Chateau Chantal’s 2010 Malbec and the ever so lovely Domaine Du Page from Two Brothers, this was the perfect set up for the next plate.

For the main course, our eyes widened as the candied jalapeno squash and roasted honey pork were brought to our tables.  The pork was delicately crisped and buttery while the squash melted away on our palettes … just like candy.  2011 Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Gris added depth to the dish while Matt gushed over the Outlaw IPA.

The final course was a brown butter berry tart with honey basil yogurt and honey balsamic caramel.  Need I say more?  Riesling and Ebel Weiss finished off the tart impeccably.

By the end of the night, Matt and I felt like we had made new friends, ate a deeply satisfying meal, and learned a thing or two about organic and sustainable farming in the process.  If the future of food culture is in educating society and encouraging ownership over the food we eat, The Green Earth Institute and The Conservation Foundation along with Red Frog Events are surely making it easier for the average person to experience the benefits of local eating firsthand.  In the meantime, I got to indulge in an event that I have been dying to be apart of for years.  All in all, a damn good night.

Comin’ Home For Dinner

We just discovered a new realm of foodie heaven, and I can’t believe we’ve been missing all the fun.  Last Tuesday night, Jenna and I had our first underground supper club experience thanks to Jeremy Leven’s Tuesday Night Dinner Series.   We had an amazing time.  Like I said, where have we been the last few years?

What started as a gathering of friends in 2008, cooking together at a friend’s place with whatever was leftover from each other’s refrigerators and cabinets, morphed into a once-a-month supper club open to the public – a way for Leven and his team to share their love of cooking with local, fresh ingredients, while serving food to the community in a way that’s affordable. TND’s mission is to connect with people on a more intimate level over their love of food, drink and social interaction.  Our kind of dinner party, for sure.

Today, TND moves each month to a different space to reflect different parts of the city, different communities and make new cultural connections.  Our first TND took place in Hype Park in a historical mansion which houses the Southside Hub of Production (SHoP); an art collective that houses different exhibits and performances throughout the year (http://southsidehub.org/).   This dinner, with the theme of “Comin’ Home”, was inspired by Leven’s own family recipes from childhood. TND’s menu featured four comfort food style plates.  The opener was a green bean casserole made with hericot verde and yellow beans dressed with a demi-glace reduction of oyster mushrooms and sherry cream topped with crispy onions. The second course featured buttermilk soaked chicken wings accompanied by three house-made sauces: a cherry/coffee/chipotle/bbq sauce, a coconut oil-based vegan hot sauce, and a Filipino-style teriyaki sauce.   For Jenna and I, the highlight of the menu was the pork shoulder meatloaf, cooked sous-vide style with rehydrated cherries and pistachios, paired with buttery, creamy, and piping hot mashed potatoes.  If that wasn’t enough, the desert course captured our hearts in the evening’s final plate: a blueberry-basil pot pie. The blueberry compote inside was warm and gooey housed in a crispy pot-pie style crust and warmed just before service.

What would a supper club be without cocktails? Lori, of the TND team, kept the drinks flowing all night with her house-made peach sangria and whiskey sour recipes.  In addition, Haymarket Brewery was kind enough to donate a keg of their summer IPA, a delicious pairing.  Needless to say, we left with our stomachs full and our appetites satisfied as we mingled throughout the evening meeting genuinely amazing people – just what TND intended.

As we arrived for the event, we could not help but notice the for sale sign in front of the mansion that housed the supper club on this particular Tuesday.  As we scoped out the various art installations throughout the space, Laura Shaffer, the creative director of SHoP, explained that this was supposed to be the last day of SHoP’s lease. Laura has worked hard to make this space a cultural community hub for artists and artistic expression for the Southside.  She has made Hype Park and SHoP her home.  Seems fitting that on the last night of their lease,  the TND  team would bring Laura, and each guest together in an intimate and comfortable setting; the way dinner at home should be.

Between TND’s homes-style cooking, the historic setting in which we dined, and Laura’s spirit for community and home, you couldn’t help but feel nostalgic and connected in a room full of strangers. Liz, coordinator of TND events, also explained that the food would be plated if front of everyone and each person was encouraged to pass along the plates to their neighbor as dinner began; a way of  reiterating the community vibe.  The only thing missing was your grandpa at the end of the table shouting for more and your uncle too sauced to get up from the recliner.  We later found out that SHoP’s lease had been extended through October with the hopes that the next owner would maintain and support Laura’s vision.  We think TND added a little magic and would find it hard to believe that a place this spirited could no longer exist after the energy we felt over dinner.

Wanna check out the next Tuesday Night Dinner?  You should.  They happen every last Tuesday of the month.  The price: an undeniable $20 per person. Check the following links for details.  Maybe we will see you there!  In the meantime, to see more photos of the event or some of  SHoP’s current installations, please see our slideshow below.


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