Experience the Great Outdoors (sans bears) with REI!


Yo, did you notice the leaves are changing color and the Chi temp is dropping?  Yup, Fall is falling on us.  Relaaaaaax….you don’t have to hibernate just yet.  Fall is an awesome time to get in touch with your naturalist side (and not your running naked down the street naturalistic side, mmk).  It’s not sweatingly hot and Mr. Misquito is making his retreat which makes this season a lot more pleasant for outdoor adventures.


Two weeks ago, we got the opportunity to take a lil’ hiking roadtrip, aptly titled Hikes and Hops, to Matthieson State Park and Starved Rock Lodge with the Chicago REI Outdoor School.  For those of you who don’t catch fish with your bare hands, REI is a leading seller of outdoor goods but also does outreach to help us city dwellers up our survival skills.


First, all class members got treated to the eye opening induction of Starbucks coffee and snacks as we got organized outside the Lincoln Park REI store.  The class maxed out at 10 people which was an intimate way to get to know other group members.  Our REI guides, Marisa and Chuck, were friendly fitness enthusiasts.  Both teach stand up paddleboarding in the summer and Marisa also leads SUP yoga.  As we took the relaxing 1.5 hour ride in a comfy blue 12 passenger van towards Ottawa, IL, Chuck and Marisa told us fun facts about the area and shared wildlife books to prepare us for the resident park creatures.  Luckily gators aren’t native Central Illinois-ans.


Once we got to Mathissen State Park, we made formal intros and did a circle share of what we wanted from the day.  Most group members echoed wishes for beautiful weather and animal sightings.  We were treated to both!  During our 70 degree day, we meandered past waterfalls and sandstone cliffs.  We saw frogs and toads (Marisa’s toad sighting wish was granted) while in the company of a diverse bunch of travellers, including a college professor/amateur astronomer, book reviewer/yoga teacher and systems manager/geologist.  Needless to say, we had really stimulating conversation, some which centered around how to manage a zombie apocolypse as we trekked through the quiet woods.


Mid day we ended up at the bottom of the lower vale and explored some hidden cove type areas.  Our guides then busted out a machete (or maybe it was just a kitchen knife) and skillfully ninja-ed up a watermelon and fancy cheddar cheese for us to munch on.



On the last leg of the day, the scenary changed and we entered a lulling prairie with yellow butterflies and waving native grasses.  We embraced the quiet moments of the trip as well as our surroundings lended themselves to reflection and private thoughts.

SAM_0621 (1)


At the end of our hike, we were treated to entrees and drinks at the Starved Rock Lodge, hence the Hops came into play.  We split a tasty helping of  panko breaded avocado fries with a spicy red chimi sauce before our main meal.  Monica picked a light and fluffy mushroom polenta while Kate ate a BBQ pulled pork with crispy waffle cut sweet potato fries.  Even with all that hiking, we were so full we had to skip out on the homemade ice cream and possibility of flourless chocolate cake.

So we can tell you are feeling slightly jealous of our beautiful day.  Why not have your own?  REI school has upcoming Hike and Hop classes as well as Urban Kayaking.  If you are new to nature, you can do basic bike riding classes, survival skills (for those “walker” attacks!) or even map reading.  We are especially partial to the Bike and Beans class.  Get caffienated while toodling on a bike at various Chicago micro-roasters?  Yes sir!  Sign up for an REI class ASAP! Your life may depend on it ;).



One Salad to Rule them All (AKA Fiesta Quinoa)


Did we ever admit sometimes we are terribly lazy? When it came time to prepare for the opening credits of our “Lord of the Rings” Ravinia park movie picnic, Kat, predictably, was poking about. With a nudge and some coaxing, she whipped up the easy peasy quinoa even Gollum would approve of…

Fiesta Quinoa


  • 2-3 cups Quinoa
  • Vegetarian broth
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can of corn
  • 1 cup of fire roasted salsa
  • 3/4 cup red bell peppers
  • Scallions (green onions), chopped
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp, chopped jalapeno
  • 1 tbsp, chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp grounded cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Lime



Cook quinoa in vegetarian broth as per instruction on quinoa package.  Rinse and drain black beans and corn and mix together with quinoa and bell peppers.  Add the mixture of fire roasted salsa, chopped scallions, cilantro and jalapeño pepper with cumin, salt, black pepper, olive oil and lime juice.

Modified recipe from savvyvegetarian.

Mmmm our precioussss quinoa was a success. We are sure it will make a return for the Return of the King movie next summer at Ravinia. Maybe you will brave the fires of Mordor and join us next time. Enjoy!


Zucchini Picnic Nachos


After the opening credits, the scene begins with the Chi Organic Girls running around trying to figure out what to bring to the outdoor movie in the park. A cartoon light bulb pops over Mon’s head. “I have 20 Godzilla sized Zucchinis from my garden. What to make?”

Grilled Zucchini Nachos

modified from here.

  • 1 medium zucchini or 2 small zucchini sliced about 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • Olive oil
  • pinch of Black pepper and salt
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 3/4 can of black beans, rinsed and drain
  • 1 large avocado, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • handful cilantro, chopped
  • Garlic, sea salt, black pepper
  • Tajin spice (Mexican spice found at any Mexican grocery store)
  • 1/2 fresh lime
  • shredded sharp cheddar, optional garnish

Slice zucchini into a bowl.  Add olive oil to coat the zucchini and sprinkle salt and black pepper.  Arrange zucchini on a grill pan over medium heat.  Grill until zucchini is tender as seen in picture.

photo (2)

Remove zucchini from grill and place two layers on a platter or flat container to take for a picnic.  Top with black beans, tomatoes, red onions, avocado, green onion, cilantro, sprinkle garlic, sea salt, black pepper and squeeze fresh lime juice. Recipe will feed about 6 people.

photo (1)


Wondering what other picnic goodies the gals will bring to the blanket? Coming after the intermission: Fiesta Quinoa!