Alternative Birthday Cake: Baked Brie with Walnuts, Pistachios and Figs

During our Woodstock weekend (I hope you’re not sick of it yet!) we were celebrating our friend Brett’s 30th birthday. Since he isn’t a cake person, we have him to thank for this AMAZING baked brie “birthday cake” that we made!

After a five mile hike (honestly, anything would have tasted amazing!) we made a serious charcuterie board, with a centerpiece Brie. Topped with chopped walnuts, pistchios and figs, we baked the Brie at 375 degrees for 10 minutes (until warm and soft, but not until you have it melting outside of its casing). It was gorgeous, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for taking a million photos….

Not only was the full charcuterie spread gorgeous, but to make it even better, we topped the Brie with birthday candles and it was just too cute not to share!


This was the first time that I’ve seen an alternative birthday cake like this. Have you done anything along these lines? I would love to hear about it!

You can find the full baked Brie recipe here.

xx Jess

P.S. for anyone that has been following closely enough, you know my lactose-intolerant self did not eat the cheese 🙂 but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a good charcuterie board, and even better, appreciate my friends loving a great dish! 🙂

A Little Bit of Downtown Woodstock

During our Woodstock trip, we had a bit of time to spend downtown. I would have loved to spend more time, but the adorable shops with interesting finds of all kinds were so welcoming. Even the tongue-in-cheek signs (below) made me want to stay longer 🙂


Largely the town shpos are artisan stores with offerings ranging from pottery and wall art, to clothing and glassware. You have a few hippie shops with dreamcatchers and tie die shirts tapping into the town’s musical roots (which are honestly everywhere, if you find a local that is willing to share a few stories with you! Shoutout to the nice couple at the Bear Cafe….) 🙂

Just off the main street is an adorable waterfall, so all in all, it’s basically a dreamland. Happy wandering!

xx Jess



Our Woodstock Weekend: A Woodsy Airbnb

I am the biggest fan of Airbnb. I absolutely love that you can stay in an actual house / apartment in a real residential neighborhood rather than staying in a cookie-cutter hotel. I can appreciate that there are certainly times when you might like the consistency or reassurance of a hotel, but most of the time, living even a little bit like a local will make your trip better!

We rented an Airbnb in Woodstock this past weekend and it was adorable. The house felt authentic to its surroundings with a wood stove and a seven acre property with a stream running through the back. It was at the end of a dead end street (albeit with some intimidating signs going down that street!) but it was perfectly secluded. The leaves were in full color and absolutely gorgeous.




As soon as we got there, I walked around the Airbnb property and snapped a few photos of the house and grounds, and I hope you enjoy them!

Only because they were great, if you’re interested in checking this house on Airbnb, here it is! Happy travels!

xx Jess

And of course, a few of my friend Kelly on the property again 🙂

Our Woodstock Weekend – First Stop: Phoenecia Diner

This past weekend, we went to upstate New York with a few friends and rented an Airbnb to celebrate a few birthdays (mine included)! Mountain house / upstate weekends have *sneakily* become something that we’ve really loved in the past few years, and now that we’re in Chicago, we’ll still make a trip out for it! There is nothing better than a few friends, a house in the middle of nowhere with a hot tub, games, and a few drinks — it’s the perfect time!

This trip we picked Woodstock – a first for both of us. Only a three hour drive from NYC, it’s very easy to get there and a gorgeous town once you are. Our very first stop (before the Airbnb even) was to Phoenecia Diner, which was a few miles west of Woodstock. A quaint little diner seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the food is phenomenal. Breakfast is served all day, but the lunch menu is just as impressive. For later in the day there is a bar attached next door.


It’s a place that we had heard of through friends, but it really is worth the stop! Plus, the leaves were perfection this weekend, and we took advantage with as many foliage pictures as possible 🙂


If you go (or have been) let me know what you think! Also, I ordered the BLT (which was BOMB, I think I could literally lick this photo), but if you have a fav I want to hear about it so I can try next time!

xx Jess

P.S. the below pics are of my friend Kelly, but how cute, right??? Gotta love the red hair 🙂

Our First Fall in Chicago

Fall has hit hard and fast in Chicago. Coming from NYC (and originally Cincinnati), I had gotten used to the summer hitting that point where it’s truly disgusting and you just basically can’t go outside / want to sit on your couch and watch Netflix all day.

I naively referred to it as a breeze during the summertime, but the wind in Chicago keeps the heat so much more bearable! With that though, fall comes in quickly and that “nice breeze” is already pretty intense! I know we’re really in for it this winter, so fingers crossed it isn’t too bad!

I spent the afternoon this weekend wandering in Millenium Park. It’s really the Central Park of Chicago (one of my absolute favorite places in NYC), and I hadn’t really spent any time there. The leaves are just starting to turn and one of the types of trees is already

DSC_0506completely red. The park was buzzing with tourists, a few wedding photoshoots, a quinceañera, and Del Monte sponsored booths (which meant there were tons of people walking around with bananas / in banana costumes / with blowup bananas – it was a lot!).

I would love to pop out to the park sometime at sunrise, or early in the morning when it’s still quiet, but even in the thick of it, it’s gorgeous.

I saw The Bean (which is actually named Cloud Gate, who knew??), Jay Pritzker Pavilion with its iconic arches over the city skyline, and Lurie Gardens, and Nichols Bridgeway leading to the Art Institute of Chicago.

For my next adventure, I’ll need to check out the Adler Planetarium and the city skyline views from there! On a hunt for the best!

Do you have a favorite tourist spot / city skyline viewpoint in Chicago? I want to hear about it! Happy wandering 🙂

xx Jess


Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake

I came across this recipe on Epicurious and immediately thought that someone named Marie-Hélène obviously must make an amazing apple cake. To fill you in a bit on the back story (I had to do some digging) Marie-Hélène Brunet-Lhoste is a friend of Dorie Greenspan (enough said, right?) as well as a top editor of the Louis Vuitton City Guides, and one of the restaurant critics for the Paris edition. And she’s French. And bakes. Basically, I would eat anything that Marie-Hélène wants to make.

As the story goes, this recipe is Dorie Greenspan’s interpretation of Marie-Hélène’s cake, as she naturally doesn’t use a recipe and makes it by feel (and a little different) every time. The recipe is pretty fantastic, if I may say so myself (huge Dorie fan here!), although halfway through, I was convinced that this was going to be a flop.

A few things to watch out for:

  1. This is more apple than cake. As you’re mixing the apples intoDSC_0454 the batter, you’ll have a moment of near-panic when you’re looking at a bowl of apples with some batter on them, and thinking that there is no way this will ever set up / make anything. Hold true to the recipe – it does work. I’ve included a few photos just so you get a sense of just how much apple I’m talking about.
    • A side note on the apples: I cut mine in chunks, as the recipe calls for. Looking at the pictures in the Epicurious recipe, my guess would be that they cut their apples in thinner slices, more like you would for an apple pie (maybe cut in half, though). All will taste great, just a slightly different aesthetic!
  2. My cake had to cook about 30 minutes longer than the recipe recommends. It just stayed sooooo moist from all the juice of the apples that it just needed a lot more time. In the end, I took it out before burning, but never really got to a point where a knife inserted in the middle was coming out clean. Luckily, as the cake cooled, it did look as if it was cooked enough, but I was pretty deflated as I was taking it out of the oven, and was almost certain that I would be chalking this up to a loss.
  3. Use the springform pan. I didn’t have one (literally since making this, I have gone out and bought one), but it will make your life so much easier. The cake is so moist that inverting it / trying to get it out of a regular cake pan nearly destroys it. I got lucky, honestly, as I was convinced that it would completely fall apart.

Other than that, the recipe is super simple and clean. Do use the rum (it tastes amazing) and do use the four different types of apples. Don’t be shy putting them in — it’ll be a ton of apples and it will 100% taste amazing.

There are just two of us, and we ate the whole cake in 2 days. Just saying. Guess there will be a lot of gym time in my future this week!

Let me know how it works for you! If you’re in doubt, just cook it a little longer, but be patient. It will turn out!

You can find the full recipe here.

xx Jess

Creamy Tomato Soup

Soup season! I’ve been fighting off a bit of a cold, so feeling extra cozy, and looking for a bit of extra warmth (plus, my whole anthem this fall / winter is going to be souppppp). And today that meant a craving for some creamy tomato soup. I found this amazing recipe from A Sweet Pea Chef and it was so easy to make, and the perfect creamy soup that I was looking for.

DSC_0444As I went to put this together, I realized that I didn’t have carrots (oops) so I used a sweet potato instead, just to give it a bit of depth and add that texture to the mix. Other than that, I actually followed the instructions (haha, for once!).

I also toasted some bruschetta because soup is always better that way! You just need to heat the oven to 425, then brush the bread (a hearty / crusty bread is your best bet) with olive oil on both sides. Toast the bread in the oven for about 8 minutes, flipping halfway through. You may need to toast for more or less time, depending on the thickness of your bread slices.

Are you making some amazing soups this fall? I want to hear about them so I can add them to my soup list!

You can find the full recipe here.

xx Jess