We’re skipping weekend favorites because guess what today is? My six year blog anniversary! Truly I cannot believe it’s been six years since I wrote this post and then two days later hit publish. I had no idea what I was doing, all I had was a genuine feeling of excitement to be able to finally share recipes with anyone who read them.
I knew I was doing what I loved from that moment on. Discovering baking, talking with you about my dreams, sharing my goals, going through a health journey and inspiring you has been all apart of this six years. And you’ve inspired me too. You’ve helped me grow and become the woman I am today. SO THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE! I LOVE YOU GUYS! xoxo
My favorite things
Go-to coffee order: To be honest, I usually drink coffee at home before my workouts and typically don’t drink it again the rest of the day. I really only like it in the mornings and out of a mug. I know I’m weird. Last year I had an obsession with fluffy lattes from Dollop here in Chicago; it’s a touch of maple syrup and a foamy almond milk latte. I really don’t do regular milk. I didn’t really grow up on it and always have almond milk in my fridge. Sometimes I also go to Starbucks and get an iced coffee with a little coconut milk.
Favorite recipe you’ve created: WHAT? This is SUCH a hard question. It would have to be my brown butter chocolate chip cookies OR my french silk pie. (Tony says my meatloaf!) I’m a baker at heart and always have been. I also love to bake really intricate recipes that ususally don’t make it on the blog. Like empanadas, deep dish cherry pie and anything that my Grandma makes!
Favorite foods to snack on during the day: I think I have an RXBar at least once a day. And if I have freshly baked muffins around, I’ll eat those. I also love fruit, so bananas or apples with peanut butter are a go to. Honestly it’s just usually peanut butter on just about anything.
Top 5 AK recipes that you regularly make: This is an awesome question. I make my sweet potato BBQ turkey meatloaf, turkey chili, black bean sweet potato enchiladas, thai quinoa salad, tahini brownies, paleo coconut flour banana bread and paleo chocolate chip cookies. Also skinny banana chocolate chip muffins. I know that was more than 5 but those are some of my go-tos.
Favorite workout studio in Chicago: I’m a regular at Crosstown Fitness (and a member!). I also love Shred 415, Barre Code, Flywheel Sports and Corepower Yoga.
Go-to cheap meal on a budget: This is easy! Avocado Toast with and eggs + tomato. I also love making homemade sweet potato fries with scrambled eggs, a little cheese and roasted asparagus. Also homemade rice and beans! I grew up on it and it’s SO easy and cheap to make. Recipe coming soon for that. 🙂
Are your playlists on Spotify: Yes they are! You can see all of them right here.
3 foods you can’t live without: Peanut butter, eggs, and really, really good BREAD OR if we’re talking actual food items then burgers, fries, and pumpkin pie.
Favorite healthy restaurants in Chicago: Left Coast, Beatrix, Real Good Juice in Southport, Rollapalooza (cause sushi can be healthy), Doc B’s, Protein Bar, Sweetgreen, True Food Kitchen
Favorite place to online shop: Revolve — hands down, it’s pretty much the only place I shop these days for clothes because they have the best stuff (look at their sale section!). Sometimes I do Stitch Fix, Anthropologie or Madewell too!
Playlists / artists you listen to: Honne, Oh Wonder, Bon Iver, Alt-J, Mumford & Sons, Florence and the Machine. Mostly indie/alternative. Oh and Mariah Carey jams from the 90s.
Favorite jeans: GRLFRND jeans, but I can’t find a link that I love right now! Sorry!
Life outside the kitchen
How did you navigate buying a place in Chicago: Tony and I kind of just decided that we were tired of paying rent in the city because it was ridiculously expensive, plus the cost of parking so we made a decision in 2016 that we would try and find a place. We got a relator who helped us search for places, but for most of it we used Trulia and Zillow to find places that were what we were looking for. That being said, don’t narrow it down too much when you use those search engines (for example, we wanted more than 1400 square feet and a lot of places just don’t include square feet so that would automatically eliminate them, even if they were larger than that).
Finally we found a place in July 2016 that we loved. We were the first at the open house (they are important to go to!) and we immediately made our offer after. Before we were even ready to make an offer, we met with our lender Molitor Financial (who Tony now works for!), and went through the home buying process with them. It’s very complicated but we felt better having a personalized experience rather than going through a large bank.
They held our hands and walked us through the entire home buying process and told us what we would need to prepare, etc. We closed on our home in September 2016 and have lived there ever since. It’s a condo and we love it!
Anyway, buying a home is very overwhelming, but if you are interested, meet with a relator and then find a lender. There are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing your home, including how much you want to pay, what your HOA fees will be, what your property taxes will be, if you’ll have to pay insurance on your mortgage, how much you’ll put down and more. Good luck!
Where are you getting inspo for your wedding: Most of it’s from Pinterest or just intuition on what I want. I’ve always loved vintage things and am a very romantic person, so this was something I factored in when choosing what would work — even with my wedding dress. For my colors, I chose ones that were neutral with deep forest greens because I really want my flowers to pop in the photos. I really loved using JuneBug Wedding for inspiration. It’s very close to my style.
How’d you meet Tony: You can read how we met and how he proposed right here!
What was your job before AK: I worked at General Mills corporate office in social/digital marketing. It was my dream job before AK grew and I loved my time there and the people! 🙂
What is your dream job? Is it AK? I think it evolves with the seasons of our lives. AK is definitely apart of my dream job, but I also see myself doing other things — maybe a cooking show, a cookbook, teaching yoga, starting a shop. It’s really just dependent on where life takes me in the next few years!
Can you make a Tony approved recipe category on the blog we can reference when cooking for the guys in our life? WAIT THIS IS THE BEST IDEA EVER. YES I WILL DO THAT.
Favorite date activity with Tony: We LOVE walking around the city. Usually on Saturdays, I go to my early morning workout, then Tony and I go out for brunch somewhere fun, then walk to a festival, vintage shop, or head to Wicker Park. Along the way, we’ll grab a drink or two, a good snack and meet up with friends. Then we’ll usually hang out at night, go to a show or just chill out.
We also are responsible for planning dates for one another about every two weeks without telling the other person what it is — it’s like a little surprise and SO much fun. Last week he picked a White Sox game, we’ve also done comedy shows, plays, new restaurants, tennis, biking, concerts.
What does Tony do now: Tony is a mortgage broker in Chicago. If you want to buy a place in Chicago, he’s your guy.
Favorite skincare products: YES YES YES. I love talking about skincare products I’m loving. There are so many and most of them I’ve found by experimenting. I don’t really like buying overly expensive products at all because it’s unnecessary. I actually feel like this needs it’s own dedicated post (which maybe I will do) however right now I’m loving the following (all affiliate links!):
Acure’s Skin Brightening Face Scrub
Trilogy Makeup Be Gone Cleansing Balm (lasts FOREVER)
Thayer’s Alcohol Free Witch Hazel Rose Petal Toner
Andalou Naturals Vitamin C & Turmeric Serum (I put this on after I tone my face)
Organic Rosehip Seed Oil (I use this at night — probably 5-6 drops)
Pumpkin Honey Mask (I do this probably 1x/week)
Super Aqua Cell Renewal Snail Sleeping Mask (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! This stuff is amazing)
Those are just some of what I use. It varies with the season and I love switching it up. Tell me your favs!
Tips for making time for date night, working full time, and working out: I schedule everything in and never get too caught up if things don’t work out the way you planned
Advice for switching careers when you feel like you’re “behind” or “older”: There is no behind or older, there is only ahead. My first advice is explore what you think you might like to do. Have conversations with people, set up informational interviews and network as much as possible. Next up, start small. I had my blog on the side for a few years before doing it full time. Lastly, make sure you are VERY passionate about what you think you might want to do because during those tough times when you think you won’t make it, your passion will push you forward. You will never EVER know what something’s like until you try it yourself.
Health + Wellness
How do you balance cooking for you and Tony if he’s not as “health focused” / tips for cooking for non-health-focused people: Tony’s definitely not health focused, but he’s willing to eat what I cook and 95% of the time he loves it. It’s also important though to let him pick the foods he loves too (like frozen pizza from Trader Joe’s and chips). If you tell someone that they aren’t going to be able to have the things they love, then they’ll feel deprived. I sincerely don’t feel that’s a healthy way of living your life. LIVE YOUR LIFE!
My best advice is to meal prep if you want to eat healthier OR pick a few meals out a week that you might enjoy! Make a plan to eat them. Avoid anything in excess or very processed when you can. Find healthy options of things you might like. Load up on veggies and commit to cooking them — a great way to do so is roasting a huge pan of them with a little garlic, avocado oil and salt and pepper — so easy and delish. If you don’t like chopping veggies, purchase pre-chopped veggies from the store. Plan out your snacks but don’t be obsessive about it; they can be as easy as an apple and packet of nut butter. Above all, do your research. Get inspired and commit to yourself that eating healthier is possible!
Tips for starting a health journey: First decide what your goals are. Is it to tone up? Lose weight? Eat healthier? Workout more? Also, ask yourself why you want to start your health journey. What’s your motivation? I started my health journey because I wanted to lose a little weight, but it’s changed so much over the past 5 years. Being healthy is different for everyone, so find what works for you. Choose fruits and veggies, research, take a new fitness class, find friends who are motivating or want the same lifestyle as you!
Tips for resisting the urge to go overboard with treats: I discovered that the reason I used to go overboard with treats was because I was depriving myself of them. If you allow yourself to have a treat (even every night!) you won’t feel deprived. Or, try having a treat during the day. We’re so used to waiting until 8pm to enjoy a cookie that we look forward to it all day long and devour it instead of enjoy it. Look, we all go overboard with treats every now and then — it’s NORMAL! If you find yourself doing it frequently, ask yourself what you’re feeling in that moment then walk away from the treat for 10 minutes. Write your feelings down. We often go overboard with things when we feel out of control or deprived or if we’re not getting what we need.
What does a typical week of workouts look like for you / what are your favorite ways to stay fit: I ususally workout 5x per week with a mix of workouts at Crosstown (mostly weight lifting), yoga, running or walking and biking. It really depends how I feel. I love high intensity exercise (just me!) but I also crave the gentle flow and soul soothing that yoga brings. I listen to my body and LOVE trying out new ways to stay active. I think it’s just apart of my personality to always be doing something.
Thoughts on juicing: I did a juice cleanse a few years back. Overall it was fine, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a long term solution. I think having juice is a great way to get fruit/veggies in, but a lot of the juices are loaded with sugar. Just be mindful and definitely don’t do it for a cleanse unless it’s recommended by an actual doctor.
Health & wellness tips for when you worked more of a desk job (routines, fitting in exercise w/ less flexible schedules): I usually got up early and ran or worked out OR went to a class after work. Some days I was exhausted, but I also just put it into my schedule and signed up for a class or met a friend after work. It helped me stay committed to my personal goals, even if I had to miss a few happy hours. On the days the gym seems daunting, I went for a 4 mile walk around my neighborhood. Most of all what helped me was finding workouts I really loved doing and looked forward to! For a very long time it was yoga and that helped me to stay motivated and committed.
How to stay motivated to work out when you really don’t feel it: FIND WHAT YOU LOVE! Mix it up when you get bored. Try an online workout. Also, timing is everything! Find a time that works with your schedule. For me, it’s usually the mornings because I love starting my day that way and not having something in my schedule for later in the day. I joined Classpass a few years back because I wanted to experience new workouts. It’s actually how I found Crosstown!
Tips for staying balanced and not hitting extremes (i.e. binge eating vs. restricting): Literally everything in moderation. It took me a VERY long time to realize what moderation meant, but I discovered it by really digging down deep and figuring out why I was hitting extremes in the first place. First and foremost, you must learn to love yourself and become satisfied with who you are on the inside not on the outside. Your self worth is not based on your appearance and eating an excess amount of donuts or nothing at all won’t change that. Be patient with yourself, because having an eating disorder or binging/depriving every once in awhile is a slippery slope that’s easy to fall down. Learning to be honest with yourself, finding peace with your body and understanding your emotions are critical to staying balanced.
What is your favorite quick breakfast? My favorite quick breakfast is overnight oats or toast with peanut butter and banana. I’ve eating PB and banana toast in my car before plenty of times (love it with a little cinnamon + salt on top). But actually now that I’ve gotten this question, I’m going to make an on the go breakfast bar for all of you. Whoo hoo!
Healthiest diet in your opinion: There is no healthiest diet out there. Our bodies are all different, they look different, we build muscles differently, we digest differently, our hearts beat differently. You have to find what works best for you, versus what works best for everyone else out there. That being said, don’t forget veggies are good for you (so eat lots). AND TREAT YO SELF every now and then. It’s good for the soul.
Food philosophy: My food philosophy is really quite simple. I truly try to enjoy everything. I eat kale salads, bread, chocolate, drink wine, eat eggs, avocados, and of course, you know I freaking love to bake. In general when we go out to eat, I’ll splurge a little on something enjoyable, but sometimes I’m just really feeling like a giant salad — and that’s OKAY!
In my world each day is different. Food is meant to be both pleasurable and nourishing; it refuels you after an intense workout and it fills your belly when you’re out at a delicious new restaurant with friends. I love cooking and most of it is bold, ethnic food. I love veggies and filling my plate with them, but I pretty much need something sweet at the end of every night. I’m not a perfect eater. I’m real and human. I order burgers sometimes because I’m craving them, but I don’t do that all the time. I try to eat lean proteins and lots of fruits and veggies. Most of all, I believe in portion control and eating until you feel satisfied — and knowing when that moment is.
Foods you incorporate for gut health: Well I’m not a nutritionist, but used to suffer a ton from gut issues. What’s helped me the most was pineapple, papaya enzymes, fermented foods, peppermint tea, activated charcoal, organic plain yogurt, probiotics and in general less sugar. Also kombucha is WONDERFUL!
Are you allergic to and/or stay away from any food groups: I’m not allergic to anything. I don’t really like pork much, processed meat or red meat (unless it’s a really good burger as mentioned above), but other than that I enjoy most foods. I really don’t eat much food out of boxes either I guess, probably because I love cooking so much.
What do you eat before / after an intense workout: Probably 1 1/2 hours before my workout I have a meal. After a workout I’ll usually have an RXBAR or peanut butter banana sprouted toast and eggs. It should be a ratio of 2:1 carbs to protein. I normally don’t eat before I workout in the morning, I just have my coffee and go.
Do you think a website / blog is necessary for bloggers with Instagram and other social outlets out there? Advantages / disadvantages of just using Instagram? You’re not really a blogger unless you actually have a blog! Soon, Instagram will become similar to Facebook. It will be more difficult to reach others without paying to promote. I like having a blog, because it’s a place to store all my recipes in searchable categories, tell a story, and above all, be who I am without the need to have someone like my photo. Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram and Insta stories, I’m not sure how anyone can just be on Instagram only and do it full time long-term, unless of course you have millions of followers. But who knows.
Advice for someone on the fence about starting a side “hustle” while still working full-time: I love this question! Make a business plan first and foremost — something that’s achievable and manageable for you. What can you afford to invest? How much time do you have per week? Above all, is it something you love enough that you’ll be willing to work towards even if that means compromising social life, etc.
How do you manage “switching off” at the end of the day when you primarily work from home? Depends on the day, but usually I have things planned out 30 days in advance. I also do the most pressing things first, then move on to other things that don’t necessarily have to get done. Working for yourself really doesn’t have an off switch. I feel like I’m always doing something — from accounting, editing, writing, photographing or planning — there’s always something to be done! That being said, I do really love what I do. And usually by 7pm I turn off my computer.
When can we expect an AK cookbook: I’m not sure! I had plans for this, but life just got in the way! We bought a house and got engaged. I’m also not certain what I’d write the cookbook on (the theme) so that’s been a struggle!
How did you start getting sponsors: I pitched a few brands, but five years ago partnerships with brands were very different! There were no influencer programs. Now it’s mostly word of mouth and brands coming to me. We also love pitching brands that are in line with what AK loves
When you had your corporate job how did you find time to blog: On the weekends I’d make recipes and at night I’d edit and write. Also I only blogged once or twice a week! Back then I was single and had a lot less responsibilities then I do now.
How do you stay encouraged when you’re trying to help clients / followers, etc. and there seems to be no growth, clicks, engagement, etc.: Keep on, keepin’ on! Also, experiment with your content. I never thought about clicks or anything when I first started. I just wrote and kept posting and sharing and using social media to the best of my knowledge. Today, it’s easy to get in FB or Instagram share/like groups (or create one yourself with other bloggers). Always try, even when you don’t feel like trying. Create campaigns that make sense for you or your brand!
Great post, as always – happy blog anniversary!
Loved this post! Happy anniversary!!
Thanks so much!
I could not be more happy for you. 6 years. Congratulations! To be able to follow your passion takes a remarkable amount of courage, motivation, and a lot more. Witnessing your dedication first hand has been one of the most impressive thing I have ever seen. You are my inspiration and I love you.
HI HUNNY. U CUTE AND I LOVE YOU.
Happy blogiversary! I love your blog and following your adventures on IG. Thanks for answering my question!
Thanks Natasha! You bet 🙂
I love this!! I think I have been following you for at least 3 years. Happy 6 years of blogging!!
Amazing! Thanks so much!!
Happy blogiversary, Monique! I’ve loved working with you – and following along as a reader, too! – for the past 5 or so years! Can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve next.
Thanks so much, Allie! It has been such a pleasure working with you, and I hope we continue to do so!
Happy blogiversary. I’ve enjoyed watching AK evolve & grow! xx
Thanks Hillary! <3
I stubbled upon your blog from a recipe on pinterest, and since then I have subscribed to your emails and followed you on IG. I live for your Instagram stories, because I love to know what you are up to and thoughts on things. I often find myself talking about your posts to my mom, even if it’s about Milly. You have come so far and I am so excited to see how you keep growing and changing. Thank you for the food and being you !
Thank you so much, Ashley! I’m glad you’ve been loving the Instagram stories 😉 I always like sharing my day-to-day with you guys.
You are the first blogger I followed and instantly connected with several years ago when I started learning how to cook and make/eat things that not only tasted great but left me feeling great, too. I love how your recipes are balanced but don’t sacrifice taste – that’s a hard balance to find! I’ve baked my way through most of your recipes as well…I’m also a baker by nature 🙂
Congratulations on all of the wonderful progress and growth that you’ve had with AK and life in general!
P.S. I’m so tempted to try a Crosstown Fitness class… I live near the Wriggly location! Ah! Looks awesome but a little scary…hehe.
I’m so glad you’ve loved the recipes on here! And agreed – taste is so, so important. Hope you continue to love all the baked goods, and definitely come try out Crosstown (it’s less intimidating than it looks 😉 ).
Been following you since 2012, Monique, and I love ALL your recipes. You’ve inspired me so much! Happy Anniversary! Such a helpful post. Thank you for sharing with us! <3
That’s so great to hear! Thanks so much. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed 🙂
Awesome as usual, and I loved getting this peek into Monique! I especially loved your tidbit on your food philosophy, the healthiest diet, and your workout routines because it’s all very much up my alley. Happy Blog Anniversary!!! And your first post is so cute and quirky (this is the part where I pretend I didn’t find this post like a year ago and then proceed to read each and every one of your posts in succession over the next few months). Heh, what can I say? I’m a devoted fan 😉
Years ago, I fell in love with your creative approach to nutrition and frequently use some version of your recipes. It’s been amazing to be part of your journey. Keep on rockin’!
I’m so inspired by your blog, your recipes, and your articles (literally always). I love the positive energy and honesty that you bring to the worlds of blogging, health, and fitness. You make this space happier! Happy, happy blog-iversary to you Monique! AK is my favorite.
Your blog is so amazing because it’s so authentic Your personality really comes through. I look forward to your new posts, and since I’ve only been reading for about a year, it’s nice to be able to go back and look at the older posts too. Congrats on 6 great years!
Thank you for the restaurant recommendations (especially so many with River North locations)! I’m headed to Chicago Friday and it’s nice to have some healthy restaurants to check out.
Love your posts and would DEF keep an Ambitious Kitchen cookbook on hand. What I like about bloggers’ cookbooks is that the theme is usually what they post on their sites… for you, I’d expect healthy-ish recipes that are recreations of classic indulgent dishes. When I think of you, I always think of desserts (of course) that use ingredients like coconut sugar and maple syrup with minimal oil and, you know, basic staples, just healthier. When I think of AK, my mind automatically goes to all sorts of dishes — pancakes, waffles, enchiladas, burgers, pizza, cookies, etc. — but when I make them, I know it’ll be a better-for-me dish than if I ordered the same thing at a restaurant. I think you could encourage people to move away from the dairy-free/gluten-free type of labels and find balance in the everyday meals that you love. If you ever go this route, I’ll be one of your first pre-orders! 😉 Can’t wait to see what else you do!
Love this, such great information. Thanks for sharing! Also, excited for a cookbook to come in the future from you! I don’t even think you would need a theme, just all your favorites in one place!
I hope to get it going soon!
Also LOVING the idea of a “Tony Approved” section – so perfect!
Right?! It would be a unique one!
Congrats on 6 years girl! That’s absolutely amazing! Love you and your amazing recipes, I’ve definitely made all 5 of the recipes you make most with awesome results…now i’m off to buy some cool new skincare things you recommended 🙂
Woohoo! What a fun list 🙂 Congrats!
Thank you! 🙂
Happy anniversary!to many more years of success!
Thank you Ana!