15 Books to Read This Summer

This year I set a goal to make reading a priority. I’ve been a pretty voracious reader ever since I’ve been since a child but as I’ve gotten older, reading has been a hobby that has definitely slipped through the cracks as responsibilities piled up. In order to reach my goal, I’ve been devouring as many books as I can get my hands on and with summer (aka one of the best reading seasons) almost upon us, I’d thought I’d put out my list of recommendations.

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  1. Night Film by Marisha Pessl – I read this on the recommendation of a close friend and couldn’t put it down. I’m serious when I say that I couldn’t put it down. I was reading at work, at the gym, on the street, and in the kitchen while I cooked dinner at night. I was obsessed with this book to the point of bringing it up to my roommates and anyone who would listen at any available opportunity. I’m pretty sure half of Chicago has likely heard me talk about this book at this point and so if you don’t live in the Midwest, I’ll send this rec out into the interwebs in the hopes that you also will enjoy this book as much as I did.
  2. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood – As someone who was raised Catholic, I found the premise of this book to be extremely interesting before I’d even cracked the cover. However, I was not prepared for the laughs. This book is hilarious. Grab it as soon as you can.
  3. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell – This gave me all the happy, spring feels and also provided more than enough dramatic flair to get me completely and utterly hooked by the second chapter.
  4. More Than This by Patrick Ness – I wasn’t sure how I’d like this book as I had heard mixed reviews but overall definitely enjoyable. Especially if you’re into cool Matrix vibes and adventurous fiction.
  5. Lust and Wonder by Augusten Burroughs – Honestly, anything by Augusten Burroughs is wonderful but this little baby is exceptional. I was cry laughing at multiple points throughout the book and was struck hard in the feels at others. I was genuinely sad when I finished it and then dove deep into the internet hole of stalking Augusten Borrough’s personal life like some strange and unoriginal voyeur. Augusten, if you ever see this, I’m sorry, I enjoyed your book, and you and Christopher are adorable.
  6. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – So good. That’s all I can say. So good. And cute. And amazing. Read it.
  7. The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda – I love a murder mystery. Literally, get at me with any murder mystery recs that you have. This plot was a little different than what I’m used to and I loved every second of it.
  8. Love’s Executioner (And Other Tales of Psychotherapy) by Irvin D. Yalom – As a professional counselor, I loved this book but I honestly think it’s extremely useful for anyone and everyone (especially if you’re into reality television and/or personal growth).
  9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – So, full disclosure, I only read this because I liked the cover art and because they’re supposed to be turning it into a movie starring Sebastian Stan (yas gawd). But honestly, it’s amazing. A quick and easy read with a killer mystery to boot.
  10. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – This book is a classic. Just read it.
  11. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson – I read this while going through a bit of a funk because I had heard good things from people who had read it in similar states to myself. Plain and simple, this book is fucking hilarious. You will absolutely 110% laugh when you read this and every single section is enjoyable. If you’re okay with laughing on a beach in public, take this book with you or else read in the comfort of your own sunshine-filled personal space.
  12. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – An amazing book of poetry that has an almost cult-like following and for damn good reason. I think I read this book in twenty minutes and then proceeded to cry at the kitchen island in my parents house where I then forced my mom to listen while I recited certain passages aloud.
  13. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West – This is a collection of essays about feminism, pop culture, fat acceptance, and basically being a person in the digital age. I was actually interrupted several times while reading this book by important phone calls (i.e. family emergencies and potential employers) and I actually considered not answering either only so that I could keep reading. It’s that good.
  14. You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein – Refreshing and hilarious antics about growing up as a woman and all that that entails. Both relatable and inspirational.

Pizza Bread

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A few weeks ago, I went to one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood where I splurged on their incredible pizza bread. As a self-proclaimed carb queen, I had pretty high expectations and this bread did not disappoint. As I found myself craving more later in the week, I came up with this copycat recipe that dare I say was better than the original. To recreate it, you’ll need:

1 loaf Italian bread

1/4 cup olive oil (or more depending on the size of your loaf)

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 1/2 teaspoon parsley

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 log mozzarella cheese

Marinara sauce (I used the Thrive Market Organic Marinara)

Pepperoni slices

Fresh basil (optional)

To start, preheat the oven to 375 degrees slice the italian bread 3/4 of the way through so that the bottom is still intact. Mix the olive oil, garlic powder, parsley, salt, and pepper together and use a pastry brush to lightly brush the mixture onto each side of the slices you have created. Insert a folded slice of pepperoni into each of the bread slices that you have created and then layer slices of mozzarella on top of the loaf. Bake the bread for approximately ten minutes (or until the cheese is fully melted). While the bread is baking, heat up the marinara sauce in a small bowl and then set to the side. Once the cheese is fully melted and the bread is thoroughly warmed, garnish with shredded fresh basil. Tear, dip, and enjoy!

Chocolate Nutella Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Because who doesn’t love these flavors? I recently made these for a friend’s birthday and they were a huge hit. Thankfully, I had put one away for myself before the party started or else I wouldn’t have been able to grab one before they were gone! With Valentine’s Day coming up, there’s no better time to treat yourself and the ones you love than with the best Valentine of all (aka chocolate). So without further ado, here’s how to make these yummy bundles of deliciousness for yourself.

You will need:

For the cupcakes 

4 tablespoons melted butter (preferably unsalted)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup water

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 heaped cup cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

Cupcake liners or baking spray

For the frosting

1 stick (4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) softened butter

1/2 cup Nutella

1.5 tablespoons peanut butter

3 cups powdered sugar

4 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream (add more as needed if your mixture is dry)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter, vegetable oil, and egg and combine until wet mixtures are fully incorporated. Finally, add the buttermilk and the vanilla extract and stir until smooth (make sure there’s no dry ingredients left at the bottom of the bowl). Pour the mixture into a lined or greased cupcake tin, filling each tin about half way. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until fully risen and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Leave your cupcakes to cool while you make the frosting. I recommend using a stand or a hand mixer for this if you have either on hand, only to save yourself some time and effort. If you don’t have a mixer you can use or are interested in a great arm workout, you can use a wooden spoon or whisk. Combine the butter and 1 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar. Add in the vanilla extract, Nutella and peanut butter and continue to stir. Fold in the remaining powdered sugar and heavy cream or milk until the mixture is light and fluffy. Frost onto your cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

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Winter Skincare

As Chicago is currently in the midst of a mini blizzard, I’d thought I’d share my winter skincare favorites. I think most of us in snowy, cold climates fall victim to dry, itchy skin this time of year, which is why I try to keep my skincare products light and moisturizing. Most of these are products that I use year-round but are perfect to keep your skin feeling fresh during these chilly months.

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Laura Mercier Flawless Skin One-Step Cleanser – This has been my favorite cleanser for years now. It’s super light and very gentle, which I like as my combination skin can find some products too heavy or drying. I use this morning and night and it easily melts away my full-coverage makeup without leaving my skin feeling stripped and dried.

Skinceuticals Phloretin CF – This is a miracle product and I do not say that lightly. After struggling for most of my teenage and young adult years with stubborn acne, I was left with moderate discoloration and scarring that was a huge source of insecurity for me. My aesthetician recommended this serum which I’ve been using for roughly two years and the difference is incredible. In addition to improving the appearance of discoloration, this serum also works to improve fine lines and protect against environmental damage. It’s incredibly light and my face feels noticeably dry and patchier whenever I’ve gone a few days without using it. The product is a little pricey but worth every penny as you only need a few drops. I use this every morning and it’s my go to product whenever I’m feeling like I need a little top-up with my skin. If you struggle with uneven skin tone or damage from the elements, I’d highly recommend this product.

No. 7 Beautiful Skin Day Lotion, Normal/Dry – If you’re noticing a theme here, you’d be correct. I’m all about lightweight products that provide the same benefits as those that are thicker or heavier. This lotion is extremely well light but incredibly moisturizing. I use this in the morning as it provides a great moisturized base for my makeup as well as at night after I’ve cleansed my face. Although my skin is combination and prone to oily spots, I’ve found that the normal/dry provides just enough moisture without making my face feel greasy.

Skinceuticals Clarifying Clay Masque – Living in the city, my face falls victim to an excess of toxins simply by strolling outside. I love a good masque in order to clear my pores but am always concerned about the drying impact on my already parched skin in the winter. This masque is thick and creamy and doesn’t dry my skin out in the slightest while still managing to decongest my poor clogged pores. Unlike other clarifying masques, this one contains aloe and chamomile and provides a noticeably calming sensation to the skin that doesn’t leave behind any unsightly redness. I love putting this on a few minutes before I shower and letting it dry before washing it off under the steamy water as a warming winter ritual.

Trish McEvoy Beauty Booster Eye Serum – Another serum, I know. But this one is specifically for eyes and it’s never too early to think about fine lines and wrinkles. As someone with super fine skin under their eyes that’s exceptionally prone to bags and dark circles, this serum has made a huge difference in my general appearance. The serum is described as “water-light” and it’s 100% truth. However, despite its light consistency, it’s packed with all sorts of skin nutrients including peptides, hyaluronic acid, vitamins and antioxidants, making it super moisturizing and powerful for such a delicate area of your face. My dark circles are noticeably brighter after using this and it rids my eye bags almost instantly. While another product that’s definitely a little pricey, its benefits are definitely worth the hefty tag.

What are your winter skin favorites? I’d love to hear any and all of your recommendations in the comments.

Travel Guide: Nashville

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Ah, Nashville. The home of honky honk, hot chicken, and the even hotter hit series starring Hayden Panettiere. (RIP). This past October, I ditched Chicago for a few days to head south and explore the city everyone’s currently talking about. Armed with a list of recs, I made it a mission to hit as many spots as possible. Here were my faves, broken down by region.

Broadway

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge – Although not necessarily my scene, (3 floors, 4 stages, think MAJOR party), it’s an iconic Nashville spot and can you really hate on any place with three bars? Even if loud crowds and louder music aren’t your thing, it’s still worth checking out.

Acme Feed and Seed – Another multistory place with a whole lot to offer. Their self-described “eclectic southern fare” has something for everyone and can only be described as “pretty damn amazing”. With a great selection of classic cocktails and rooftop views of the river, this place is a must.

Merchants – Great place to go if you’re feeling just a little more fancy. The former hotel-turned-restaurant offers a great bistro vibe on the first floor with upscale dining on the second. Their third floor also offers private dining options, which is a great idea for any visiting bridal parties or the like (I say this because I must have seen at least 15 groups of women in “bride tribe” tank tops throughout my visit). While Merchants food is delicious, their drink menu really stole the show for me. It may be 9am in the city but just thinking about their Gin Gin Mule has me ready for happy hour.

Midtown

Tavern – If you’re looking for a place to instagram, this is one. Sleek dark brick, outdoor seating, ambient string lights, the works. Combine all of that with a blood orange mimosa to die for and you’ve got yourself the perfect Sunday brunch spot. My advice, if you have a sweet tooth like myself, is to go with the red velvet waffle. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Three Brothers Coffee – Another super Instagrammable spot (come on, I  know that’s what people read these posts for and it’s only right of me to deliver). In addition to the basics, they offer a number of seasonal specialty drinks that bring Pokemon to mind (aka gotta have ’em all). I’d recommend any caffeine-loving, social-media-using millennial make this spot a priority. Do it for the gram.

Hattie B’s – What’s more Nashville than hot chicken? I really don’t have a lot to say about this place other than go, experience the heat. Be happy.

The Gulch

Biscuit Love – Okay, now we’re getting serious. This place is totally worth the long line that spills around the block if you get there any time after they first open their doors. My advice is to look up their hours and make it an early morning unless you’ve got an endless reserve of patience or you’re still very full from dinner the night before. I urge you to learn from my mistakes and order the Bonuts. The table next to us ordered them and I suddenly didn’t feel so smug about having ordered a healthy entree when they arrived. Save yourself a kick in the ass and enjoy every delicious bite.

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Saint Anejo – I will likely come back to this place each time I visit Nashville for the rest of my life. A Mexican restaurant with a prime location, indoor/outdoor bar, and incredible homemade guacamole is basically all I need in life. Despite making the rookie mistake of filling up on chips and guac, I still managed to eat my entree because it was just that good. Also, I need to make mention of how incredibly accommodating the staff is. The only Michigan fan in the entire bar during a series of major games and they very graciously put on the Michigan vs. MSU game when I asked. Here’s to more margaritas and less losses next football season.

12 South

Edley’s Bar-B-Que – Southern barbecue, need I say more? If the smell alone isn’t enough to entice you in, perhaps the following will. Edley’s featured on Cheap Eats on the Cooking Channel and for good reason. You can’t find better barbecue for a better price. I’d definitely recommend making this your lunch spot in between browsing all of the super cute shops down 12 South.

5 Daughters Bakery – I’m almost ashamed to admit the sheer joy I felt biting into the glazed donut from 5 Daughters but that little bit of pastry is pure heaven so I’m really not that sorry. Do yourself a favor and order several of these bad boys in an array of flavors. You’ll be thanking yourself later when the drunchies hit and you’ve secured yourself a delectable snack that tastes like happiness.

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Honorable Mentions

Obviously there is more to Nashville than food and drink but if I included everything in this post, we’d be here all day. So here are some honorable mentions of attractions I’d recommend checking out.

Judith Bright Jewelry – Adorable jewelry and great for gifting!

Hero Boutique

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – Definitely a tourist attraction but totally worth a visit.

Two Old Hippies

Centennial Park – Absolutely beautiful and great area for a walk on a nice day. Also has a Parthenon replica that’s worth checking out.

Pedestrian Bridge

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About

Hi! I’m Madison, a 25-year-old caffeine enthusiast living in Chicago. When not perusing the internet for French Bulldog pups, I feel all the feelings as a mental health counselor. Blue Citrus is my way to connect with even more wonderful humans by sharing my thoughts and experiences and hopefully being another friendly voice on this weird, wide, (and sometimes hostile) web.