Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wine Tasting 101: 5 Tips for an Aspiring Wine Connoisseur

I have collaborated with our very own Windy City Epicurean, of Second City Food, Wine + Social, to bring you five easy wine tasting tips. While most of us are with our families this week, why not have a bottle (or three) of wine the right way! Discover what you like and enjoy!

5 Easy Wine Tasting Tips for the Aspiring Wine Connoisseur 

1.  Small amounts of wine in a large glass - Wine needs air and oxidation to expose the nuances and umami of the wine.  Pouring 2-3oz of wine in a large glass will allow you to swirl the wine around and incorporate the air in the glass.  

2.  Buy a set of decent wine glasses - Having decent wine glasses is important when it comes to drinking wine, if you want to really appreciate what the winemaker had in mind for the wine.  

3.  Remember the hot climate/cool climate method - Hot climate = more full-bodied wines and more alcoholic wines.  Cool climate = leaner wines, more acidic and lesser alcohol.  Do you like big, tannic California Cabernet Sauvignon? Stick with regions that are known for hot weather. 

4.  Treat wine like mouthwash in your mouth - Take a good 1/2 oz swig of wine into your mouth, and swish it around like mouthwash.  Get it in your gums and all around your mouth, and hold it for a few seconds.  This will allow you to get a full scope of what the wine is meant to be. 

5.  Know the wine regions that give you the best value for your buck - As wine regions become more popular, the price of the wines go up.  If you are looking for an old world wine, try Spanish and Austrian wine, for the best values.  They are constantly trying to make their way into America, and subsequently will price their wines to get sales.  There are very, very few BAD Spanish and Austrian wines.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Scotch Coffee

To deviate from wine for a few days, Dan and I have been playing around with different after dinner drinks. Anytime we have a cocktail, 85% of the bottle is left in the cabinet and it isn’t discovered again for another few weeks. We recently discovered that due to our lack of variation, we had a full cabinet and it was time to make something different. We settled on an after dinner drink that would be popular with both men and women: Scotch Coffee. Traditional Irish coffee is good, but Scotch coffee is slightly sweeter with less bite, especially with whipped cream. Simply prepare a shot of espresso and mix with: an ounce of good Scotch whiskey, a pinch of brown sugar and a large helping of whipped cream. With Thanksgiving coming in a couple of days, this would be a perfect party drink and absolutely delicious with a slice of pumpkin pie

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's an Insomniac, Charlie Brown!

Charlie Brown is one of the quintessential characters from my childhood; I’ve grown up watching movies like It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. He is one of those perfectly written characters that is both sad and charming, kind of like the human version of Eeyore-which was also one of my favorites when I was young. Maybe my taste in fictional characters should have alerted me to my future habits and my bleak sense of humor (at best). Nonetheless, here I am at 4 a.m. watching Brian Schatman talk about how it is Way Too Early because I couldn’t stop thinking about dinner, breakfast, dental school, the Bears’ loss, what I have to do, who I need to talk to tomorrow, why I wasn’t productive yesterday etc.

I am convinced that sometime during my college career, I became an insomniac. As a child, back when I first watched Charlie Brown for pure entertainment, I slept like a dead person. I literally didn’t move. I was so asleep that my first college roommate thought I had died the first night of school because I didn’t move. Somewhere in there, I stopped sleeping to wake up and finish a lab report or because I couldn’t sleep. Luckily, I spent a few blissful weeks sleeping well after I came home from school, but once I got into the swing of working, moving downtown, getting a puppy, and started applying for dental school, the stress and responsibility killed my beautiful sleep.

This, my friends, is why I am up right now and this is why I believe there should be a movie called: It’s an Insomniac, Charlie Brown. Why? Well, because my guess is that anyone who has a job, is a professional student, has a puppy, has a child, or has bad dreams is probably up right now just like me. Why not create a movie letting kids know what’s coming, but better yet, something for me to watch when I am up at 4 a.m. If it has Snoopy in it, I’ll probably like it. Even if it’s the story of my life and instead of the Wah Wah teacher, it’s the Wah Wah voice coming out of my own mouth when I talk to Dan about being like Charlie Brown or telling him it’s imperative to brush and floss his teeth twice a day. Does anyone else feel like the Wah Wah teacher? I’m fairly certain my mom did when I refused to clean my room in high school after she asked. Anyone else, Bueller, Bueller? At least I’m not that professor talking about Voo Doo economics…yet.

Right now, the Forevermark Diamond commercial is on television; you know, the one where it’s that man narrating about how he can’t even understand how he’d live without her laughing all the time. Welp, there goes my chance at a Forevermark. If I laughed all day, people would think I was sick. I have the aforementioned bleak (at best) humor and if I laughed all day, people would take it seriously. Seriously bad not seriously good. Oh yes, Charlie Brown.

I don’t think Charlie Brown would laugh all day. Charlie Brown whines and complains and mopes. {Hello, Katharine!}. I think my dog imitates me when I do that, too, just like Snoopy mocks Charlie Brown in It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas. See, I’m sad, I memorized the Charlie Brown Christmas movie. This is why I need a new one. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Five

It always seems that people want to meet for coffee; well, I found a place people will want to meet for tea over coffee. This place is David’s Tea and there are a couple of shops here in Chicago. I had originally heard about David’s from my friend Bryn, who lives in NYC; I was so intrigued that I made a trek to our Lincoln Park location and fell in love. That’s right, with tea. Previously, my go-to tea was either Earl Grey or English Breakfast. Now, it’s almost impossible to choose! Look for David’s tea in my upcoming holiday gift guide but for now, here are my five favorite teas from David’s Tea: 
Cold 911 (organic): an herbal tea perfect for getting rid of the winter colds we all get

Glitter and Gold: a cinnamon, black tea that shimmers once gold sugar crystals dissolve

Read my Lips: a black tea with hints of peppercorn, chocolate, vanilla, and mint; sinfully delicious 

Santa's Secret: peppermint black tea with sprinkles of candy canes

The Earl of Lemon: a fresh, white tea that combines classic Earl Grey with citrus 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gourmet Grilled Cheese Cookbook

Today I’d like to tell you all about a Gourmet Grilled Cheese Cookbook! One of my friends, and fellow blogger Kit Graham, has written a book about the best grilled cheese sandwiches and how to make them. Though I don’t like cheese, I’ve seen all of the recipes and they look divine (for people who like grilled cheese, which is probably everyone else in the world). I am getting in to the spirit of Holiday shopping and in the coming weeks, I am going to introduce a holiday shopping guide detailing several gift categories. I know that this book will be included in the guides and make a fabulous stocking stuffer for a few of my family and friends. What do you think? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Slithery Scarf

J. Crew shirt // Pashmina scarf // Tiffany sunglasses // Vintage Broach 

I am a scarf person. Whenever I feel like accessorizing an outfit, I reach for sunglasses and a scarf; it’s been this way since high school. I’m naturally cold, so scarves are a practical choice and anyone who’s seen my closet knows I have more scarves than anyone should. About a month ago, Sarah (of the Kissing Booth) and I ventured to the Randolph Street Market where we found hidden vintage gems. My favorite find was this gold, snake broach. I love how simple it is, but there is something so fun about wearing a snake –no wonder Britney did it. The red and gold combination felt classic and fitting; however I feel like I can (read: will) wear this broach with every scarf I have. Currently, I have my eye on a jeweled panther broach that would be fabulous paired with black or white.

Shop this look: 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How To: Rustic Tablescape

I have been a fan of decorating tables for quite some time; it helps when your mother taught you to appreciate finesse and trips to Pier 1 at a young age. Putting together a simple tablescape adds just the right amount of finesse and is an easy way to pull together a look. Last night, The Second City Food, Wine +Social Club had its inaugural event and I was lucky enough to dress the tables!  Our rustic look was fairly simple to achieve and would be perfect for a family dinner or a romantic table setting this winter. Here is how we did it:
-         After pressing and arranging cream-colored linens, we added a burlap runner to the table.
-         Next, we arranged a series of wine bottles on the runner and adorned each with a white tapered candle; all tapered candles were burned to different lengths. Tip: if you burn the bottom of the taper before you place it in the wine bottle, the melted wax will help it stick. No fires!
-         We placed larger white candles between some of the wine bottles. Those, too, were different lengths.
-         Fresh greenery was placed around the candles to soften the tablescape. The greens were unscented and without flowers; any scent would have prevented guests from properly smelling the wine.
-         Name cards were inserted into wine corks; the wine corks were altered to prevent rolling.
-         Each place was set with a customized menu and tasting notes. 

Shop Similar items here: 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pasta with Italian Sausage and Parsley

Everyone has days that result in craving savory food. Sometimes it’s because you had a shitty day at work, sometimes it’s because the weather is depressing, who knows, but a few nights ago, we had one of those days. A big bowl of pasta and a glass of wine sounded perfect, especially if I got to huddle under a warm blanket while eating. We decided to make pasta with parsley and Italian sausage; it is absolutely delicious and has been a staple on our savory food menu for a while. While the water heats, simply cook an onion and Italian sausage in chicken broth. Once pasta is al dente, mix the sausage, onions, and parsley together (pepper to taste). It is so simple and unbelievably good. With many wintery-weather months ahead, this is a good recipe to keep in your back pocket. 

P.S. I am SO happy to announce that Nicole of Cedar and Rush has won the giveaway!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Five

Today I teamed up with Andrew, of Food Truck Finder, to bring you five food trucks you must visit in Chicago this fall/winter. One of my best friends turned me on to food trucks and I can’t get enough! In fact, I am helping her find food trucks to cater her wedding. Food Truck Finder contains a wealth of information to help you find what you are looking for, I use it weekly.

His five picks are:

1) The Vault Van – One of the best donuts in Chicago, served up in a delivery truck from the 1950s with a three-on-the-tree transmission.  The Vault Van contains a vast variety of donuts, especially old-fashions, and typically has a greater variety than the Doughnut Vault itself! Gina, the mastermind behind the Vault Van, typically comes back to the Doughnut Vault after truck hours and sells the rest of the donuts there.

2) The Big Shish - Not many people know this truck exists; however, they have fantastic food.  I usually get a platter of beef tenderloin shishkabob, toubaleh salad, faro, and pita for 10 dollars. 

3) The Fat Shallot - Everyone loves the fat shallot because their food is fantastic and the owners are really nice.  Here's a BLT I had from them. It is a must try!  

4) La Adelita - I love Adelita 'cause he makes really flavorful Mexican food, home-fried tortilla chips, and spicy salsa.  I tend to stay away from the tortas and focus on the platters.  Teddy is the co-owner and drives the truck.  They cook their food out of Cupcakes for Courage's kitchen in Elmhurst and on weekends they have an amazing Mexican Breakfast that is definitely worth the drive there.

5) The Eastman Egg - They make really tasty egg sandwiches out of quality, local ingredients (Slagel Farm eggs).  I've only had them a few times 'cause I usually get downtown later in the morning after they've already left...but the few times I have had them, I loved their food.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hand-packed Burger with Crispy Shallots

Last night, Dan and I decided to make hand-packed burgers, something he has been doing successfully since college. As much as I try to not compare other burgers to his, I can’t help it. They have grown to be one of my favorites and last night we decided to elevate our toppings. Usually, these delicious burgers are packed with Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and shallots (occasionally there will be a brown sugar and coffee rub, too). Instead of use shallots in the burgers, we made crispy shallots that are good enough to eat alone; I’d compare them to a cross between caramelized onions and onion rings. Simply chop a few shallots and sauté in butter until they brown/crisp. To lessen our chances of having a heart-attack while eating these burgers, we made kale chips instead of fries. Surprisingly, we both enjoyed the kale chips and will probably eat them again. To make a good dinner better, we topped it off with a couple of German beers and enjoyed all of the prosts inside the caps. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Redesign Series

I am pleased to announce that over the next few months, Living’s as Easy as 312 will undergo a series of redesigns, the first of which is today! New additions to the site were overdue and I am so excited for what is to come. Today, the subscribe feature has been introduced; this will allow readers to receive an e-mail when site content has been updated. If there is no post, subscribers will not receive an e-mail. The comments section on the site has also been updated to ensure a more aesthetically pleasing experience and to connect readers with similar content both on my site and around the web. In the coming months, the navigation tools and organization of the site will be re-vamped to make all content more accessible to readers; all posts will be categorized and sorted to help you find exactly what you are looking for during your time on the site. Social media buttons are also being edited to make it easier for us to stay connected. Enjoy and thank you all for your ongoing support!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


            Yesterday, Chicago had its first snow of the season. I can’t remember the last time it snowed in early November here; I may have been in high school. There is something magical about the first snowfall of the season and it gets me so excited for all that is to come. Each year, I look forward to our annual Thanksgiving Galena trip and now, it is only two weeks away! We rent a large house and our entire family comes down for a week. We cook, sleep, watch old Christmas movies and do puzzles, but nothing is more fun than stepping out of the car when we arrive and smelling the wood burning fireplaces. In that moment, I know it is the holiday season and all the memories of Thanksgivings past come rushing back. If I could bottle that scent, I would. This year, Dan and I are bringing Payton (and her sweater collection) and it is hard to believe it is Dan’s fourth Galena trip. Time flies!
            Though it is two weeks away, I’m in the holiday mood already; I crave the family time and am so looking forward to wearing our stuffed-animal-sized earmuffs while in the hottub. In the days leading up to our trip I will be highlighting holiday packing, thanksgiving recipes, and how to dress warm enough to play football in the snow; today, however, I am going to tell you all how thankful I am. Not because I won’t say it on Thanksgiving, but because today, I am.
For those of you that know me well, it is no secret that I’ve had a difficult time the past few years. So many variables and so many questions circulating about what the future will hold. I suppose every 20-something has days/weeks/months like this. Years though, is that normal? Probably, but when it happens to you it seems like it happens to no one else. A couple of weeks ago, I got news that one of my best friends from college was engaged. While I was so excited, I was also sad because she was no longer a part of my life. I had always envisioned us growing gray and grouchy together and having phone calls about how much our hips hurt. I especially thought I’d be sharing her engagement with her. I decided to reach out, but at the same time, so did she. Yesterday, I spoke to her for the first time in two years and it was wonderful. It was like no time had gone by and I’m thankful for that.
After our phone call, I looked around and realized that while I’ve had a difficult time, I have so many wonderful things. We brought Payton home almost a year ago, we have a beautiful apartment, we have nice things etc. I have people around me whom I love and people around me that love me back. I have the simple things, too, like water and shoes. It is so easy to focus on the downers and the set-backs, but it’s much more fun to remember what you have and who you have; I don’t do it often enough. In light of me posting about which placemats I want, I am making sure that I am taking the time to say thank you, because I mean it and because I am, to everyone in my life: family, friends and readers. Thanks for reading J What are you thankful for this November?
Sidenote: posts will continue during Thanksgiving week. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Giveaway with SCFWSC!

I’m so excited to announce Living’s as Easy as 312’s first giveaway! In honor of the Second City Food Wine + Social Club’s inaugural event on November 18th, I teamed up with the other founding members to put together a basket celebrating our love of wine and social gatherings. The basket includes 4 stem-less wine glasses, tasting chocolates, a ceramic bottle stopper, and a bottle of wine, generously donated by Windy City Epicurean. To make the basket a bit more fun, the bottle of wine will not be revealed until the morning of the event, which is when the winner will be chosen, too. The bottle shown now is purely for aesthetics (read: I drank it last night). I cannot wait for one of you to win; this basket is perfect to bring to a holiday party or to enjoy on your own! Good luck! 
Living Easy 312 and SCFWSC Giveaway!

Friday, November 8, 2013

It's the freakin weekend...

This week has gone by so quickly; with all that’s been going on, the blog has been on the back of my mind but not forgotten. I am so excited to spend copious time with family and friends this weekend; however, I know Dan and I will be relaxing and watching Breaking Bad for most of tonight. We were late to the party and just started watching on Netflix. We are hooked; the show is incredible. For today’s post, instead of my normal Friday Five, which will resume next week, I am sharing a video that combines two wonderful things to make something special. Ladies and gentlemen: Breaking Bad sings R. Kelly’s Ignition. Have a great weekend and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sur Ma Table

Dan and I are beginning to embrace entertaining; whether it be dinner, a cocktail party, or a Bears’ indoor tailgate, there are entertaining essentials that you don’t know you need until you go shopping. As documented here, going to Sur la Table is a dangerous affair, especially with holiday season in full swing. How do you put together a welcome toast for family? I don’t know, but I’m sure this Santa spatula will help. In light of my inevitable trip before Thanksgiving, I am putting together a list of Must Own holiday items from Sur la Table (read: items I want and am attempting to justify purchasing for our Thanksgiving trip). 

1.      Rustic pumpkin soup bowl, $10 
2.      Copper, waffle-ribbed placemats, set of 4 $24 
3.      Sphere ice molds, $11 
4.      Reindeer topiary that is too adorable to pass up, $70 
5.      Mini holiday cookie cutters, set of 12, $6 
6.      Classic glass drip coffee maker, $35 
7.      Glass bottles for infused water, $9 
8.      Small cast iron skillets, perfect for mini frittatas! $11 
9.      Classic red wine decanter, $40 
10.  Bloom napkins, set of 4 $16