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!

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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The Real Deal Baby List

19 months! How can it be that it’s been so long since the birth of Augustine?! The last year and a half have flown by, and with that countless of onesies, shoes, and rattles. Edging ever closer to two, I’m now thinking back at all of the good things, and useless things, I acquired in preparation for my little bundle.

When August was first  born we were living in a spacious one bedroom, complete with three rescue pets. Fast forward 19 months later. Now the five of us (August, Peanut, Butter, Tomato, and I) live in a vintage 2 bedroom with way more leg room, and yet, we’ve actually down-sized since adding square footage. I’ve found that the adage “less is more” truly is the way to go. Less stuff means less to wash, clean, trip over, and, the most important thing, it means less clutter. So with that context in mind, here are my favorite “I can’t live without you” items that I’d recommend to any urban parent, as well as a few things I’d urge you to leave off your list.

Must-Haves

Sniglar Crib: When looking at cribs I was overwhelmed by the clunkiness of even the most modern of designs. Many people advised against getting a crib – saying to use a pack and play or  to co-sleep. But with my brood of critters, and need to keep the design of my space flowing, I decided that a crib it would be. I was hoping to find something sleek, simple, affordable, and small enough to fit into my bedroom alongside my queen size bed and vintage dresser. And then I found it. August’s Singlar crib, from the mother of all square-foot-savvy design houses: Ikea! Not only was it sleek and lovely to gaze upon, the space conscious design allowed me to squeeze it into my bedroom without any problems. It also has that gorgeous sanded beech wood that I knew I could pop some color on in a snap. I can’t praise the design (and value!) of this piece enough. Plus – since it’s Swedish – you don’t have to worry about the materials being comprised of toxic chemicals like flame retardants. Yuck! And once he’s old enough for a bed – this beauty will convert. Can you see just how in love I am with this thing? Go get one or put it on your registry!

A Rocking Chair: This is something I didn’t have, didn’t think I’d need, and now that I do, I wish I had scored it sooner. Having a designated nursing and “let’s get ready for sleep” spot has significantly helped with August’s routine. And the reason I recommend going retro with a rocking chair instead of a glider is that it will take up less space and with all the milk sprays of the early days of nursing, you don’t have to worry about the upholstery soaking up all those wayward liquids, so keep that in mind should you be considering a glider. Our rocking chair was scored second hand from my apartment’s previous inhabitants. I found a cushy pillow and seat cushion to strap on it and it works like a dream. I find that it puts me to sleep just as easily as August!

Vintage Dresser: My vintage dresser is one of my all-time favorite furniture pieces, both pre and post baby. Picked up from a Craigslist add, this classic piece has six sets of drawers, a nice wide surface, and a detachable mirror. Once pregnant I knew that I’d need a place to change the babe, but didn’t want to buy something new. So the dresser it was! Adding a foam changing pad to the top, and emptying the drawers of my stuff to make way for the baby’s, this furniture piece provided the perfect place for flipping diapers, clothes, or just having a coo fest in the mirror. I also love knowing that further down the line, once he’s potty trained, I can reclaim it for use in my own bedroom. So it’s an item that will far outlive the early infant years.

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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

Green Living: Eating Clean On a Budget

Eating clean – it’s the best and most clear cut way to describe what it means to limit your intake of pesticides. There seems to be an ongoing debate in mainstream media whether eating organic food actually makes a difference. A highly referenced 2012 Stanford study claims that there are no obvious health benefits to eating produce labelled organic. Can that really be so? Has history not taught us that ingesting insecticides, among other chemicals, causes increased risk of cancer, birth defects, and other health issues?

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Beautiful beets grown on a friend’s “beyond organic” farm in rural Pennsylvania.

If you’re anything like me you too are skeptical of recent headlines counterclaiming the benefits of eating organic. If you’re also like me, you know that choosing the big O also means paying significantly more for your fresh greens and fruits. So what’s a budget conscious health savvy vegetarian to do?!

Let me introduce you to the saving grace of shopping organic: The dirty dozen and clean fifteen. If you’re anything beyond a green living novice, these two lists are probably already part of your shopping arsenal. But if they’re not – be ready to take screenshots of the graphic below.

So what are these lists? Each year the EWG, aka Environmental Working Group, puts out a list of the 12 crops that have tested highest on the pesticide scale, as well as the 15 that are lowest. 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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DIY Gilded Baby Print Ornament

We are so excited about August’s first Christmas! How will he regard the feast, the presents, the stockings, the caroling?!

This important milestone is one that we’ll probably remember more than him, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t pull out all the stops for our little merry jelly belly. For this first baby-centric-Christmas we’ll be continuing some long-standing family traditions, while throwing in some new ones just for August. The first – an annual handmade Christmas ornament.

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To help inspire this sentimental tree trimming  I sifted through pin after pin on Pinterest but quickly found the tutorials lacking. Many of the handmade ornaments were too crafty looking (I know – there is such a thing I swear!). I wanted August’s first ornament to capture this important milestone while still retaining a modern classy feel. I really liked the idea of capturing a hand or foot print but instead of the traditional pressing method I opted for a different technique: embossing. This way I could capture his tiny digits without creating something too cliche. Continue reading