No Resolutions This Year...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


For the first time in for as long as I remember (decades, people), I didn't set any new year's resolutions this year. Not one. Most days it has felt a little too laissez faire (and maybe this is a resolution in itself ... can I go a whole year without goals I'm constantly measuring myself against?), but the space it has opened in my brain is exactly the space I needed. I'm still working, still freelancing, still exercising, still setting goals, making lists, pinching pennies, wunderlusting, but I'm deciding what to do depending on my mood, not afraid of falling behind, taking on too much and mapping exactly what has to happen when. I feel like I've been given extra time and I feel I finally have the time to do pesky tasks I've ignored for too long, things I knew would make me more productive, but since they didn't fit neatly into my goals, they didn't get attention.

One of the first things I tackled this year was dealing with things around the house I had put off. We spend the majority of our time at home in our living room, and I've never liked the throw pillows we had on the couch. A hodgepodge of Brian's post-college buys and Target online orders I made in a rush that weren't what I was expecting (but I was too lazy to return), I finally took the time to pick ones I'd enjoy looking at. I was worried this could be a pricey project (every time I go to West Elm I'm shocked that the pillow cost that much, and wait, that's without the insert?!?!), but this, this and this from Wayfair caught my eye and a fraction of the cost I was expecting.





I also went through every drawer, shelf and closet and made piles of things to throw out and donate — we're at six big bags and counting. Next up on my list is making our den and desk space somewhere I actually want to work (it feels like a glorified storage unit for now) and our guest room a bit more cozy — it's currently functional, but far from cute. Basically, I want to get. stuff. done.

Also, after years of needing new glasses, I made an eye doctor appointment. Hurrah! This means more to Brian than myself who's tired of saying "YOU CAN'T SEE THE TV, I CAN TELL" and "YOU'RE SQUINTING AND THE BOOK IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU." Three years late, maybe, but point taken, my love.

I also feel like I have time to do things I want to be doing instead of arbitrary things I think I have to be doing. I want to make homemade pasta, take a yoga class, learn how to edit videos. Not locked into specific achievements, I think I can do more than any other year.

(This post was sponsored by Wayfair. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Make the Most.)

2018, A Year in Review

Saturday, January 5, 2019


A week into 2019, I'm better understanding 2018, why we needed it, what it did for us. 2018 was the year I'd been working towards and yearning for for a few years, and I look back at it proudly, fondly. In fact, I liked it so much, on a New Year's Eve run where I had the Lakeshore path to myself for miles, I got emotional at the thought of it ending, of new beginnings when I'm content with how things are going.

Looking back, I see why I didn't want to let this one go, it was a good one. I set a freelance goal for the year, and I nearly doubled it. I told myself it'd be nice to be able to run eight miles at a decent pace, I ran 10. I found a new job, the exact job I was looking for (and, in the process, surprised myself and turned down a job at my dream company). I traveled, I witnessed so much love, I pushed myself, I slowed down, I lived with intention, I let things go, I grew, I lived in a house that felt more like home than ever before with a husband I adore, and I'm still in shock regularly that both are mine.

It had its dark moments, of course, but overall it was one to hold on to. A year that showed me how much I can do. A year that stretched me thin but showed me potential. Another year with so many people and places I don't deserve but am so grateful to be surrounded with. A year that even when the glass was half empty (and, despite the gloating, there were several half-empty glasses), I was better at seeing the other side, of understanding what's outside my control and living in the moment because of it.

2018 set the groundwork, and it's the foundation we'll need going into 2019. This year will ask a lot of us, I can already tell, but we're ready for it because of years like 2018. We're going to have a beautiful year, and I'm excited to prioritize, focus and really make the most of it all.

Thank you for visiting my corner of the internet and for letting me share with you. I'm not sure what this space will look like this year, but I'm thankful it exists and has documented the past five years of my life. A few of my favorite 2018 moments below.

P.S. Year in review posts from 2017, 2016201520142013!

Do You Take Your Lunch to Work?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019




What do you usually eat for lunch? For years, through high school, college and now nearly nine years of full-time work, I've brought my lunch every single day. That's not an exaggeration — I didn't pay for a workday lunch once in 2018.

This habit started in high school, when I'd rather scarf down the lunch my mom made me and then study in the library for 30 minutes with friends than stand in a long line for a cafeteria lunch. In college, I worked as a receptionist during lunch hours and had to eat at my desk before rushing off to my next class. After college, I moved to the city and was trying to pay bills, have a social life and the latest fashions on a low, entry-level journalist salary — packing my lunch helped me stay afloat and continue to save for emergencies and our future home (and kept my closet full of miniskirts).

These days I workout during my lunch break, and thinking of my packed lunch waiting for me is what gets me through it. My closest friends and family know I preach this (and know I have no place giving financial advice), but I think bringing your lunch is a financial and health game changer. You don't have to grab pricey takeout or bring boring leftovers hoping they reheat OK. There are so many cheap and delicious meals you can pack that take 10 minutes or less to prepare the night before. And, you save so much money. I can typically make Brian and myself six breakfasts, six lunches and six dinners for $80 a week. And it only takes me a few minutes to prepare our lunches for the next day after dinner. Even if it only saves us a couple hundred dollars throughout the year, that's a vacation (at the sacrifice of nothing because getting to eat this leftover chickpea stew at work tomorrow is a luxury).

Of course, this isn't for everyone (sometimes Brian just needs that Chipotle burrito), and I often eat dinner out with friends (I have four social after-work commitments next week), but over the years I've tried to limit my eating out to places I want to try, with people I want to see, instead of wasting money and time on something I could prepare just as well, if not better, at home.

This year I'm improving my work lunch game with a SoYoung lunch poche, which fits all the essentials, with room for a drink and extra snacks. It's fully lined, with a removable insert for easy cleaning and a shoulder strap for easy carrying. I love that SoYoung is a woman-owned company (you can find the founder's amazing story here) and that every SoYoung product is made with the hope that it helps people embrace a little bit more wellness in their lives.

Do you bring your lunch to work? What do you pack? I swear by leftovers and always have a few options in the freezer to choose from to keep things at least a little exciting, but Brian takes the same peanut butter sandwich, on the same bread, with the same crackers, cookies, yogurt and fruit every day. In case you're not convinced to bring your lunch more often this year (I get it, sometimes a Potbelly cookie is the only thing that keeps me going from 2-5), any other finance/health tips/goals for 2019? I'm all ears.

(This post was sponsored by SoYoung. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Make the Most.)

Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi & Bottom of the Pot Cookbook Giveaway!

Monday, December 31, 2018


I've written a few times that making Iranian recipes always makes me emotional (the first dish I tried my hand at, this summer's compromise for another year of not being able to go to Iran together), and that's one of the reasons I avoid it. The other (the main reason) is that they're almost always time consuming. If I'm going to devout hours to a recipe, I want it to be perfect and an exact replica of my mother and grandmothers, but because I'm so new to this (with not even an ounce of their talents) and they never followed recipes, it's destined to be a letdown. But thanks to Naz Deravian's new cookbook, Bottom of the Pot, recipes are more approachable and feel closer to home. I made Naz's ghormeh sabzi (fresh herb stew) and tahdig (crunchy rice), and was pleasantly surprised (and proud) of how it turned out. My mom said it's one of the more difficult everyday dishes, and I've had my fair share of bad ones over the years, but this one was so good and easy (once you get past chopping eight bunches of herbs...).

Ghormeh sabzi has a big spot in my heart. First, it's delicious (see memes). There's nothing better than coming home, asking your mom whats for dinner, and finding out it's ghormeh sabzi. It was always my dad's favorite growing up, so we had it often. Like most things from my childhood, I didn't appreciate it then but am over the moon when my mom drops it off for us now. It's also the first dish Brian had an Iranian restaurant. I remember going to Noon o Kabab in December 2010 to introduce B to Persian kababs, but he ordered ghormeh sabzi, and I was so nervous! What if he doesn't like it? Is that a dealbreaker? He loved it, of course (again, who doesn't).

My tahdig (crunchy rice at the bottom of the pot) needs some work, but I'm excited to work on it next year. I want to use my cookbooks more often, and Bottom of the Pot will be getting the most love. To get you cooking Iranian food, too, Naz is giving one reader Bottom of the Pot. You don't have to be familiar with Iranian food to enjoy it — the recipes are approachable and universally delicious. Even if you don't want to cook from it, the stories in it are beautiful and illustrate the beautiful, rich culture well.

Ingredients:

For khoresh ghormeh sabzi (fresh herb stew, serves six): 
1/2 cup olive oil, divided (plus more for serving)
1 large yellow onion, diced
Kosher salt 
1.5 lbs stewing meat (beef, veal or lamb), fat trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon ground turmeric 
Ground black pepper 
4 bunches parsley, tough stems trimmed, finely chopped 
2 bunches cilantro, tough stems trimmed, finely chopped 
2 bunches green onions, green parts only, finely chopped 
1/2 bunch fresh fenugreek, leaves only, finely chopped, or 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek 
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, rinsed 
6 limoo Omani, pierced (*I didn't include these)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in 3 tablespoons hot water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (plus more as needed)

For tahdig (crunchy rice, individual serving): 
1 heaping cup cooked basmati rice 
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
Tiny sprinkle of ground saffron 
1 tablespoon clarified butter, unsalted butter or olive oil 
Kosher salt 

Direction:

For ghormeh sabzi:
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt, and reduce the heat to medium. Add the meat, turmeric, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the meat takes on some color. Add 3 cups hot water and bring to a gentle boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and summer until the meat is tender, about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the parsley, cilantro, green onions, and fenugreek. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant and reduced in volume, about 20 minutes. Add more oil if necessary and take care not to burn the herbs. Sprinkle with a little salt and set aside. 

While the meat summers and the herbs cook, prepare the black-eyed peas. Place the black-eyed peas in a small pot and cover with 2 1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Partially cover and bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and summer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the beans have softened but not completely cooked through. They will finish cooking through in the stew. Set aside. 

Turn the heat under the meat to medium. Add the herb mixture, the beans and their cooking water, the saffron water, the limoo Omani and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and summer for 1 hour. Add the lemon juice and continue simmering until the meat is tender, the beans are cooked through but holding their shape, and al the flavors have fallen in love, 30 minutes to one hour. The longer the stew simmers, the more flavorful it will be. Just keep an eye on the beans, so they keep their shape and don't turn mushy. As the stew simmers, gently press down on the dried limes with the back of a spoon so they release their juices. Repeat this a couple times. Taste as you go. If the stew needs more of a picker, add more lemon juice accordingly.

For tahdig: 
In a small bowl, combine the cooked rice and yogurt. 

Sprinkle the tiniest pinch of saffron, if you like. 

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. As soon as the butter sizzles, sprinkle on a little salt. Spread the rice mixture evenly across the bottom of the pot, packing it down. 

Wrap the lid in a small kitchen towel or a couple of layers of paper towel to catch the condensation. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low to low, and cook for 15-25 minutes. The longer you cook it, the more the tahdig will set. Check at 15 minutes. If it's not as crisp as you like, cook it longer, checking every five minutes. 

The giveaway will close at midnight CT on Friday, January 18. Open to all readers (not just U.S.!). One randomly selected winner will be notified by email. Good luck!!!
(This post was sponsored by Bottom of the Pot. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Make the Most.)

Perth and Sydney, Australia!

Thursday, December 20, 2018


Whenever Brian and I do things or see people that were a part of my childhood, it always leaves a strange, sinking feeling in my stomach. But a good one? It's hard to explain. It first happened when I took him to my childhood home and elementary school in England in 2013. It felt surreal walking through the halls and classrooms I walked through for 10 years with my boyfriend from another country. Needless to say, our trip to Australia last month was full of emotions. I didn't grow up going often, but since my dad's entire family lives there, it still feels familiar (and we'd see them as regularly as we could in England or Iran and now the States), and seeing him spend time and get close with people I love so much was incredibly special. All of this to say, lots of photos from our trip to Australia below...!

 

We had a seven-hour layover in Dubai on the way there, and we decided to take advantage of it and leave the airport. We took a taxi to the mall (one of the world's largest), where we drank milkshakes, saw the iconic fountain show and tried to take a quick nap by the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. I ran into an old friend at the airport in Chicago who happened to be on our flight! She was spending the week in Dubai visiting her boyfriend's family. We were so sleepy after a 15-hour flight (and had a 11-hour one to go...), we were jealous Betsy's travels were done at this point.


Whenever we land somewhere with family, the welcoming committee is very big and very welcoming (like, my latest trip to Iran). I've always shared stories about this with Brian, but it was so great for him to experience it, too. My cousin's husband, Justin, showed up in a USA shirt and Arsenal scarf. Side note, these two are best buds. They got to know each other a few years ago when Justin came to Chicago for our wedding, but the bromance really blossomed this trip. 







We spent our days going to breweries, wineries, restaurants and beaches. Not only was it warm, it's almost summer there, so things were in what's a late-May spirit for us (schools closing for the year, families planning their summer vacations). Indigenous flowers and plants we've never seen were in full bloom, too. It was such a welcomed change from cold, dreary Chicago.



My uncle's backyard is small but mighty. He has pomegranate trees, a grapefruit one, a lemon one, and a lime one, too. I've always wanted a citrus tree and was fascinated that this is something everyone has there.



Australians are very serious about their coffee. A coworker of mine who just spent a few months working in Sydney told me this before we left, and we saw it first-hand. Coffee breaks are long and black drip coffee is not welcomed. We had dozens of flat whites, and I was very into this turmeric latte.









My grandma has always sworn she can tell fortunes by reading the grounds of coffee cups. We put her to the test several times — we'll see if her predictions hold true :)



On our way to Perth, hour 20-something of sitting in a small airplane seat, I told Brian I was so frustrated that it took this much effort to see my family — something others around me seem to get to do easily and often. But, so many moments made the long journey worth it. Getting a glimpse of their everyday lives and making these memories are something we will never forget.



My family found out about Brian's love for Dominos (and his goal to eat it and see a soccer game in every continent), and we had it several times in two weeks. Their toppings were wild (Korean beef, tandoori chicken, cocktail shrimp...), nothing like what we're used to.



Since we were gone on Thanksgiving day, and Brian's family runs the Naperville Turkey Trot that day, we kept the tradition alive by going for a 5K run of our own. It was so hot, though, and after a week of breweries and wineries it felt extra tough.







One afternoon Justin took us on a walking food tour he created. We went to several of his favorite places and ordered his favorite dish at each to share. It was so much fun trying lots of different things, we've decided to steal the idea and do this when guests visit us, too. Our favorite was the duck liver parfait at Cantina 633, but it was all so good (apple strudel at Freddie Strudels, pulled lamb and pearl barley at Sayers Sisters, drinks on a patio I can't remember and pastries at Mary Street Bakery).



We were really into Australian burgers, which have pickled beets, grilled pineapple, a fried egg and spicy mayo. I'm excited to replicate them at home this winter.



My grandma lives alone, and I was really inspired by the things she does every day to stay happy and active since my grandpa passed. For example, she has her favorite positive poems and quotes in Farsi taped to the inside of her pantry. That way she can read them every morning when she goes to grab breakfast. She read them to us, and they were such a nice way to start the day, focusing on gratitude instead of the long list of to-dos ahead.






There were jacaranda trees everywhere, which turn from green to purple in the spring. My cousins live steps away from Hyde Park and one of our best days was spent picnicking with them, looking at the trees and chatting for hours. I mentioned that Brian and Justin's bromance really blossomed this trip — here's proof :)








My family catered this trip to our interests, so we spent our time eating, drinking, looking at the ocean and watching sports (B took his first Perth Glory game very seriously). They truly spoiled us, every day we'd talk about how grateful we are for this experience before we fell asleep.



After a week of Perth, the two of us went to Sydney (which is a five-hour flight away, much longer than we thought before booking). We'd contemplated going other places (Bali, New Zealand, Great Barrier Reef), but ultimately decided on Sydney for the city feel. I'm so glad we did, we were both blown away. So many cool things to do, eat and a great vibe overall. We rarely agree on places we could see ourselves living, but Sydney won both of our hearts instantly.





We took a red eye flight, which we've never done, and I found it so disorienting! We landed at 6am, exhausted and grumpy. We couldn't check into our Airbnb until the afternoon, so we went to The Fine Food Store for a long breakfast, and it was one of the best meals of our trip and a great way to recharge.








Seeing the Opera House up close was so cool (I wish we had had time for a show), and the Opera Bar was an awesome happy hour spot. We thought it'd be touristy and mediocre, but it was packed with locals and had great drinks. Then, dinner at Billy Kwong was truly a trip highlight. A friend of mine who is from Sydney had said her favorite meal in the whole city is Kwong's crispy duck with plum sauce, and we decided we had to try it since B loves duck. It was remarkable. As were the mussels. One of the best meals of our lives.







Our day at Bondi Beach was so relaxing. We ate breakfast on the beach, did most of the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee, had the best fried fish and grilled octopus of our lives.




On what was supposed to be our last day in Sydney, the city had the worst rainstorm in 44 years. We checked out of our Airbnb, dropped our suitcases off at a storage facility and ducked into a cafe, unsure of what to do next. We eventually made it to the Museum of Contemporary Art (which has a great brunch menu), where we found out our flight was canceled. We spent the next half of the day in that corner, trying to figure out new flights and a place to stay that night.







After the rain stopped, B suggested we try to go to walk through the Royal Botanic Garden and go to Harry's Cafe de Wheels. The night before, we saw a huge busload of Asian tourists stop to get meat pies there. We wondered what it was, looked it up and saw it's a Sydney staple. I loved it, but B wasn't one for the mushy peas. Also, it started pouring again immediately once we got there (two miles from our bag storage, no umbrellas).




By the time we checked into our hotel, we were drenched and exhausted. We had spent most of the day in the pouring rain or inside scrounging for WiFi. I was ready to get into bed, crack open the overpriced Pringles box in the hotel snack box and spend hours watching trash TV. B, on the other hand, was trying to see if we could get a table at Mr. Wong's, one of Sydney's most popular restaurants. I really wasn't in the mood to go, but I didn't want to rob him of the opportunity, so we figured we'd give it a shot. The ginormous restaurant was packed at 6pm (on a Wednesday!), but we waited for a table, and I'm so glad we did. We splurged on several courses (we didn't quite understand why the duck pancake appetizer was $50, but now we do, respect it and would do it all over again) and had such a nice time chatting, talking about the future and where we hope to go, in every way, next.









I'm so glad we got an extra day in Sydney because we wouldn't have gotten to go to Taronga Zoo otherwise. We're not typically zoo people, but this was recommended by too many people to ignore and was such a fun experience. You take a ferry to the zoo, and it's a five-minute lift up a hill once you get there (the giraffes have the best view of the city!). There were so many cool hands-on experiences, and a lot of the animals just roam around. If you're ever in Sydney, we can't recommend it enough.




It was strange seeing so many Christmas trees in hot weather. I know it's hot in places like LA, too, but it's at least winter in LA. It felt so strange that schools were closing for summer break in Sydney and Perth and Christmas trees were going up at the same time.



Brian's credit card came with a pass that gets us into airport lounges for free, where we typically load up on snacks. At the Sydney airport, the pass gets you $75 in free food/drink at a restaurant instead. We had less than an hour but didn't let a cent go to waste.




We came back to Perth for a few days where we ate more Dominos pizza and said hard goodbyes. I always forget how hard it is to leave until the last day when I have a lump in my throat from the moment I wake up. I love these people and am so grateful to have spent this time on the other side of the world with B. We'll be back, I'm sure, and I can't wait for that trip <3