Native Foods Cafe: Evolution

Native Foods Cafe has been a mainstay in the Chicago vegan cuisine scene for almost a decade which is why it’s high time they shook things up a bit! And I’m not talking about straying from their animal rights ways. On the contrary. This national vegan food chain is edging towards a new menu, one that focuses on whole foods, or what they’ve coined as “plantiful.”

Native Foods has been one of my favorite haunts since they started springing up locations around the city. Their Soul Bowl, sweet potato fries, and Chicken Run Ranch sandwich kept me coming again and again and again. The cruelty free ingredients, tasty flavor combos, and casual atmosphere made this my go-to spot for a taste bud tapping, filling meal. Something that Native Foods Cafe has in common with most of Chicago’s other vegan food nooks is a heavy reliance on faux meats. But that’s all about to change.

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Rather than focusing their menu on highly processed meat substitutes or deep fried concoctions, Native Foods is laying the groundwork to serve healthier, more holistic fair. That doesn’t mean that they’re going raw or shirking some of their most popular items. On the contrary. They’re respecting the following for their cult classics but also rounding out their offerings to provide a greater variety of heartier veggie-based dishes. The fare is simpler. More roasting,blending, and steaming, less highly processed over-seasoned “meats” and mystery “cheeses.” The focus is to offer a truly plantiful spread, one that showcases the natural and robust flavors of the veggies, roots, fruits, and fungi. It’s about focusing on foods that celebrate a plant based diet rather than working so hard to replicate the taste of (sorry I have to say it!) flesh. A welcome evolution indeed!

As someone who can’t fill up on smoothies or leafy greens alone, the news of Native Food’s menu evolution is warmly welcomed. I love the idea of having the option of satiating my hunger healthfully with something beyond a salad. The new menu items are just as inventive as to be expected of the restaurant chain. We noshed on the new Buddha Bowl, which is filled with roasted veggies, avocado, brown rice, shiitake crisps, and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. We filled up on warm and steamy arancini balls, the ultimate comfort food on a cool autumn evening. On a second visit I scooped up the new barbecue sandwich, made with jackfruit in place of processed burger patty, and followed that with zucchini patties, which to my surprise, also came with a small (and delish) little side salad.

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The menu is not the only thing Native Foods is tweaking. The Wicker Park location, the national incubator for the chain, has also rolled out new decor, more grab and go items, and will soon be debuting biodegradable take out gear. The cleaner, more sophisticated space sways away from the family friendly diner feel of old in lieu of a sleek, minimalist approach that leans on industrial farmhouse chic. The Wicker Park storefront does a good job of balancing their more mature look while still retaining the warmth of their sister locations by providing casual cafe style seating towards the front and peppering tables and displays with living succulent centerpieces. I’m eager to see how the Wicker Park NFC’s transformation informs the other three Chicago locations.

Call me impressed. The new items offer just as much, if not more, of the eclectic flavor heavy elements that make Native Foods such a popular and burgeoning vegan business all across the country. As the new menu continues to be rolled out at the Wicker Park location (it will go national as the spring draws near) I’ll be at the head of the line eager to try more of their tasty concoctions. And as timing should have it – they just sent me a $10 reward to use on my birthday this Saturday. Nice! Buddha bowl here I come!

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Color Blocked Vintage Bookcase

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of pre-owned goods. Not only does buying second hand mean that I’m diverting an item from the waste stream, and therefore preventing another from being made, it also means I’m inheriting something with a history. An object with a soul, if you will.

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When we moved into our current place I found that something major was lacking from the living room: a bookcase. My previous apartment had built-ins, and the place before that did too. That’s why I ventured to one of my favorite vintage furniture shops, Good Deal Garage, in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Jam packed with loads of pre-loved furniture and decor, this is my go-to place whenever I need something with character for my little nest. So off I went to GDG and I found it. A very simple, but sturdy, wooden bookcase toward the back of the shop. It was filled with all manner of tchotchke but I could visualize it all cleaned up. Sold!

Fast forward half a year later. This wooden addition to my living room was doing its job, but feeling a bit too heavy for my current mood. An easy solution? Whitewash it! And I don’t mean the sociological use of the term, I mean good ‘ole grab a paint brush and get moving!

I was torn on whether or not to douse the whole piece in paint, if I should just clean up the interior, or if color blocking was the way to go. Because I have a variety of white and dark toned goodies to display, I went with the latter. So with a paintbrush in one hand, and my handy dandy masking tape in the other, I spent a toddler nap period painting the shelving unit. That equals 3 hours for two coats of paint, some time spent snacking and doing laundry, and then sitting and reading. So a very loose 3 hours indeed.

And the result? Awesome says I! I love how the white brought some life to the piece while allowing me to still showcase the rich woodsy material in one small strip. It ended up making my entire living room feel more airy and put together.

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Is there a furniture piece in your home that you think could do with a bit of freshening up? Or is there a recent project you finished to add some nuance to your space? If so, share below!

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City Kid: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Now that August is walking – well, more like running – I’m always looking for new ways to engage both his brain and brawn. And with the weather slowly turning from dry and hot to rainy and cool, I’m also looking for fun indoor spaces where he can burn some energy while engaging his imagination. So where to go? One of my favorite Chicago gems: the Nature museum!

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has been in their current space since 1999 but has been a part of Chicago’s history for more than a hundred years. An interactive educational space for people of all ages, the museum’s mission is to create a positive relationship between people and nature. Sounds like the perfect place to me!

Just a stone’s throw from the Lincoln Park Zoo, the museum sits north of Fullerton Avenue and is surrounded by a gorgeous (and hilly!) prairie restoration complete with hiking trail. It’s the perfect place to stroll your toddler before entering the museum itself. The fresh grassy smells are enough to make you want to escape the city for good. But we know that’s never going to happen, right?! At least we have a bit of ancient flat lands to explore in our urban backyard! Continue reading

August’s Nursery: First Edition

It’s been exactly a year since we converted our bedroom into a nursery for our little jelly belly. I was three weeks away from my due date and a maddening urge to nest hit me. I had made a plan for the space but hadn’t done much beyond having David put up the crib and pop some art on the wall. One year later his space has undergone a multitude of changes, which is when it occurred to me, I never shared the first edition!

Photo by Megan Saul Photography

Photo by Megan Saul Photography

We live in a vintage one bedroom in Chicago’s populous and energetic Lakeview neighborhood. Our flat is sizable for the area – we have a sun room, formal dining room, large kitchen and a living room with built-ins and a fireplace (just for show though!). When we found out we were pregnant in May of 2014 we decided we’d work with the space we have rather than moving into a larger apartment. We love the character and location of our current place and knew that to find a two bedroom even remotely as cute in such a good neighborhood would be a long shot. So we decided to stay!

 

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Maggie Daley Park

Our little jelly belly turned eight months earlier this month. Crazy how time flies, right?! Besides hitting a new age, our little man sprouted his first two teeth, said da-da, and started to crawl. And all in just a week! These  developmental leaps were a sudden wake up call that his infant days are fleeting.

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After this realization a rush of sentimentalism washed over me, prompting me to schedule some time off for a staycation with the boys. I wanted a handful of days where I could slow down, spend time with August and his dad, and soak up the season.

One of the highlights of our recent stint of hometown tourism was a visit to the new Maggie Daley park. Continue reading

Greening Martha: Eco Chic Autumn Table Runner

DIY Eco-Friendly Leaf Table Runner for Thanksgiving

There are so many incredible DIY craft tutorials out there to try – but how do we scratch that creative itch without compromising our earth-loving-ethics? That’s what the “Greening Martha” series is all about! I take some of the most lusted after Martha Stewart tutorials and give them an eco-friendly makeover, making you feel better about indulging your crafty cravings!

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought it was high-time to get some seasonal tutorials going. This month I’m bringing you a DIY twist for dressing up your holiday table: the Eco-Chic Autumn Table Runner.

Designed after Martha’s “Festive Fall Felt Trivets“, my rendition of this uber cute seasonal decor utilizes leftover fabric scraps from sweatshirts and t-shirts instead of virgin materials. By using textiles that you already have lying about your home you can spice up your Thanksgiving spread without purchasing new fabric, which wastes valuable resources and pollutes the environment.

For an in-depth account of the full effects of the textile industry, read this report from the Indian Textile Journal, which documents each step of the fabric creation process and its impact on the planet.

So in the true spirit of  the “Greening Martha” series, here’s a fun eco-friendly tutorial that will have you jumping for joy with your Thanksgiving table design, while feeling good about your conscious craft choices.

Greening Martha eco-friendly leaf table runner

Eco Chic Autumn Table Runner

Supplies Needed:

+ Various fabric scraps or used t-shirts, sweatshirt and other textiles
+ A sharp pair of fabric scissors
+ Fabric chalk, marker, pencil or crayon
+ A leaf (go get one from outside!)
+ A threaded sewing machine or old fashioned needle and thread

  1. Gather up your fabric, paying particular attention to the color scheme. Warm, earthy autumnal tones are best. Also try to find a variety of fabrics to create a more rustic look. Think cotton, knits, fleeces and other cozy textures.
  2. Grab your leaf and set it down on your first piece of fabric.
  3. Outline the leaf’s shape using fabric chalk, a marker, crayon, or anything else you may have lying around.
  4. Cutout your leaf outline – doubling the fabric if you want to be extra efficient.
  5. Trim up your leaf cutout to ensure it’s look even sharp.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 with your other fabrics.
  7. Once all your leaf shaped are cut out, set your sewing machine to a zig zag stitch pattern. If you’re stitching by hand – skip this step.
  8. One leaf at a time, stitch across the surface of the shape, lining up your next leaf just after you hit the edge. Alternate the orientations of the leaves with each new shape addition to ensure a more natural pattern.

DIY Green Tutorial: Thanksgiving Leaf Table Runner

 
And that’s it! In fifteen minutes or less you can have an eco-savvy, super chic table runner with which to adorn your Thanksgiving spread. It’s an easy, affordable, and of course, earth-friendly way to liven up your space without compromising your ethics.

Is there a sustainable how-to that’s caught your eyes for the holidays? If so – share the link in the comments below!

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Car-Free Week

Me and my bike!

Car-Free Week starts this coming Sunday – are you ready to rock and roll on your bike?!

With the temperatures cooling down and a crisp breeze in the air, it’s the perfect time of year to ride your bike to work. I know I tend to defer to public transit on hotter days, by these beautiful fall mornings mean I have no excuse! So consider ditching your car from September 22nd-28th and opt for a fossil-fuel free commute!  Continue reading