Almond Breeze Stops at Taste of Chicago for National Homegrown Tour

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“It’s different…it tastes almost like milk.” I heard someone outside the Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Taste of Chicago tent.

“And what is that – is that an almond burger?”

What he was about to eat was a Home Run Chicken Slider with Creamy Breeze Guacamole made with almond milk.

Almond Breeze is halfway through it’s 2017 Homegrown Tour, which is a multi-city national tour featuring recipes made by Food Expert Patty Mastracco. When I usually think of almond milk, I think of it for my smoothies and cereal, and lately I’ve been using it for my protein shakes now that I’m training for the Chicago Marathon. While almond milk is great for those uses, it’s more versatile and can also be a milk substitute for savory foods. Food Expert Patty Mastracco specifically crafted recipes for each city on the tour using Almond Breeze almond milk, and for The Taste of Chicago, it was no different.

“The hardest part was coming up with something for Chicago because when someone thinks of Chicago eats, they think of dishes that aren’t that healthy,” Food Expert Patty Mastracco said. “So I started with classic recipes and gave them a fun twist.”

Food Expert Patty Mastracco at The Taste of Chicago 2017.

Almond Milk for Savory Foods:

For the popular Home Run Chicken Slider, one interesting thing she did was add almond milk to guacamole – something that already has creamy avocados. But, honestly, it really made a difference. It also changed the way I usually eat chicken sliders – which is with cheese instead of guacamole. But as a Chicago foodie, I love to try new things and this was my favorite sample that I tried at The Taste of Chicago food festival. Festival goers enjoyed free samples of a variety of almond milk (including chocolate milk) and almond milk based foods like the Chicago Breeze Ballpark Pretzels.

What’s really great about these is that for most recipes for cooking you can directly substitute almond milk for regular milk without compromising taste or texture. You can also use almond milk for baking, which might call for a shorter bake time. The only time you need extra almond milk is when making custards or puddings because almond milk doesn’t have saturated fat.

Below is my favorite Chicago recipes from Almond Breeze:


Home Run Chicken Sliders at The Taste of Chicago.

Home Run Chicken Slider:

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 6 to 10 minutes

1 lb. ground chicken

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup Blue Diamond Original Unsweetened Almond Breeze

1/4 cup finely minced red onion

1/4 cup shredded 4-cheese Mexican blend

2 tablespoons minced pickled jalapeno peppers

1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning blend

1 egg

Olive oil cooking spray

16 small rolls (2-inches in diameter)

Fresh pico de gallo

Mix together chicken, breadcrumbs, Almond Breeze, onion, cheese, peppers, seasoning and egg in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (May be prepared 1 day ahead and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.) Using wet hands, shape into 12 flat patties. Coat liberally on both sides with olive oil spray and cook over medium heat in a very large nonstick skillet for 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until nicely browned and cooked through. Spread roll bottoms with Creamy Breeze Guacamole, then sprinkle with pico de gallo. Place a slider and roll top on each. Makes 18 sliders.
Creamy Breeze Guacamole:

Prep time: 5 minutes

1/4 cup Blue Diamond Original Unsweetened Almond Breeze

2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon sliced pickled jalapeno peppers plus 1 tablespoon brine from jar

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1 large ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

1 medium green onion, sliced

Puree all ingredients in a small blender or food processor. Serve with Home Run Chicken Sliders. Makes 1 cup. Double recipe to make extra guacamole for dipping, if desired.

Almond Breeze National Tour Stops:

Don’t miss the opportunity to see what dairy-free, savory recipes Food Expert Patty Mastracco has whipped up for your city. After The Taste of Chicago, The Homegrown Tour will make the following stops:

Eat Drink San Francisco, August 24 -27, 2017

Farm-to-Fork Festival Sacramento, September 24, 2017

NYC Wine and Food Festival, October 12-14, 2017

Taste of Atlanta, October 21-23, 2017


1,000+ US Workers Share Their Thoughts on Taking PTO

Vacation is good for you, but does it look good on you?

With summer officially upon us, many employees are looking forward to their vacations, but paid time off (PTO) restrictions, lack of managerial support and stress upon returning can all affect that well-planned trip, according to a survey released today by leadership development and conversation experts at Fierce, Inc. Fierce surveyed over a thousand full-time employees across the U.S. and found some surprising variances in employee experiences around PTO.

While a third of respondents receive 20 or more vacation days each year, one in every five employees receives less than 10 days. Age, tenure and company size all play a large role—the lower the ranks, the less PTO granted.

And let’s discuss what PTO is for a minute – PTO can be vacation, but it can also be used for dealing with family matters, taking sick days, and volunteering of going to conferences. PTO is more fluid, but it’s still PTO – time away from work. So, in today’s digital age, is that a good thing because you can easily fix things in case of emergency or because you can travel and work for a company?

Let’s look at some of the survey’s key findings:

·      Post Vacation is Stressful: Two-thirds of responds noted they are either more stressed or have the same level of stress upon returning to the office than they did before vacation.

·      Co-workers are less-than supportive: Only 40% of respondents said their co-workers are supportive and encourage them to take time off

·       Time off varies widely:  Nearly a third of those surveyed (28%) have taken 3 days or less off consecutively over the past year, with another third taking off a full 5 days. Just 1 in 10 take 10 or more consecutive days off.

Post-PTO Stress: Stop Checking Your Email

For those that do take time off, however, the stress of work doesn’t stay away long, as returning to the office appears to offset any relaxation that may have occurred. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed are either more stressed or have the same level of stress once they return to the office. The main reported cause of this stress is catching up on missed work, followed by having to readjust to a work mindset and needing to resolve major issues that arose while away. 

While on vacation, half of all employees check in with the office, with 13 percent checking in daily.

Job Satisfaction and Post-Vacation:

There has been no change in the reported stress level upon returning from PTO since Fierce asked this same question of employees five years ago, indicating that post-vacation stress continues to be a concern. These numbers vary, however, when taking into consideration an employee’s current level of job satisfaction. Thirty-eight percent of those unsatisfied with work feel more stressed returning from vacation; just 14 percent of those very satisfied feel the same.

“PTO is a key benefit for any full-time employee, and one that most individuals take to heart as it is an essential component to striking a healthy work-life balance,” said Stacey Engle, Executive Vice President of Marketing at Fierce. “The fact that returning to work is a stressful situation speaks volumes to the lack of support many employees feel both leading up to, and upon returning from vacation. This is an issue all organizations should address to ensure employees are getting the most out of their time outside of the office and returning refreshed and ready to tackle what’s ahead.”

Company Support

Having PTO days is one thing, but receiving the support and encouragement to take those days is something else entirely. Over half of all respondents believe their managers support and encourage them to take time off, however, just 40 percent of employees believe the same of their co-workers.

This discrepancy is even more apparent when breaking down employees by job satisfaction and current income levels. Of those unsatisfied with their current job, 57 percent say no one encourages them or supports them taking PTO; just 18 percent of those very satisfied feel the same. Those in lower pay brackets have a similar experience: 45 percent of individuals in households making $50,000 or less a year say no one encourages them to take vacation, while less than 30 percent of those making $100,000 or more say the same.

 Impact of PTO on Loyalty

As a key benefit for many employees, just over half (56%) of respondents state that additional PTO would make them more loyal to an organization, with the other half not seeing it as a factor. This shifts, however, when taking age, position and tenure into account. The majority of those who are younger, in entry-level positions or are less tenured are receiving less PTO and claim additional PTO would increase their sense of loyalty to their organization.

“While offering a high number of vacation days isn’t possible for every organization, these results show that for those receiving fewer days, upping this number could make a big difference in overall satisfaction,” continued Engle. “This is a key area where open and honest conversations are key; employees need to feel empowered to ask for what they need, and managers must be open to hearing concerns of these employees. While it may not end in an extra week of vacation, the dialogue and mutual understanding will be beneficial in the long run for the individuals, and the company at large.”



The Ultimate Female Entrepreneur’s Guide To Techweek Chicago 2017

The one thing that startups can relate to is constant change. And that seems to be the case with one of the iconic and debatable tech conferences nationally, and especially in Chicago – Techweek.

The change I am alluding to is both in terms of mission as much as it is in structure.

Female entrepreneurs and women in tech usually ask if Techweek Chicago is worth it?

And, while there’s a blatant answer – go to the women in tech breakfast, which is part of Techweek, where 20 different leading technical women and entrepreneurs will speak, there are other considerations.

So, Windy City Cosmo reached out to the CEO of Techweek, Amanda Signorelli to get your questions answered about what to wear to Techweek, who should attend, and most importantly, what you’re signing up for. Because, as a past attendee (2013 and 2014), Techweek Chicago is not going to be like the Greek parties you’ve read about in 2013, nor have tricks up its sleeves like Microsoft’s act as sponsor in 2014, nor have to squash the sexist commentary and then transition like 2015.

No, this year, Techweek Chicago is going to be different. More serious. More structured. More impactful, maybe. And if you’re intrigued, there’s a discount code at the bottom of the article.

“Techweek was founded in 2011 as a small conference to gather the tech community that began bubbling after the Groupon IPO,” Signorelli shared, “Since 2011, we’ve seen the ecosystem grow and evolve from a nascent market to now a top-tier global tech ecosystem, driven by the growth in B2B software companies.”

Techweek: More Compact

Techweek Chicago is turning into more of a tech day, with just one full day of sessions and then a handful of sponsored events June 19-23, 2017.

At first glance, the conference seems light. I pulled out my calendar to block off sessions, and the substance was less frill and more business – which seems to be the new direction of Techweek. Sessions will touch on high-growth startup strategies and diversity in tech, as well as acquisitions and scaling businesses.

“Techweek this year is all about the content,” Signorelli shared, “Every evening event we have will be anchored with recognizing leaders in the community or sharing knowledge around a specific topic.”

Techweek Speakers:

I moved along to the speakers and familiar players from after work networking events are coming thru to impart their tips and techniques including Mike Rothman, CEO of SMS Assist; Pat Vihtelic, CEO of Home Chef; Amanda Lannert, CEO of Jellyvision; and Justyn Howard CEO of Sprout Social.

Usually, Techweek Chicago emphasizes their interactive sessions, networking opportunities, and their job fair, and launch competition to showcase the Chicago tech scene. And, I’m here to say, that all of those things are still part of the Techweek Chicago 2017 agenda.

Techweek Chicago Conference Highlights:

  • Techweek Chicago Kick-Off Party: Monday, June 19 at 5 p.m. at the MillerCoors rooftop
  • The Capital One Gathering, which will take over three floors and feature 3D printerspace, coding, robot wars and more: Tuesday, June 20 at 5 pm at Capital One
  • Techweek Launch Showcase, a summit featuring top local startups from the Techweek100: Wednesday, June 21 at 5:30 pm at the Bottom Lounge in the West Loop
  • Nerdery Virtual Reality Event, with leading content and interactive activities: Wednesday, June 21 at 7 pm at the Nerdery
  • Women in Tech Breakfast, where female business leaders share their thoughts on tech entrepreneurship, in partnership with Syndio: Thursday, June 22 at 7:30 am at VenueSix10
  • Growth Summit, panel of CEO’s speaking about company growth topics: Thursday, June 22 at 8:30 am at VenueSix10
  • GoGo Air Gathering, featuring the passenger experience in the future: 5:30 pm on Thursday, June 22 at GoGo Air
  • Techweek Gives Event, announcing the most generous company: Wednesday, June 21 (time and location TBD)

Techweek Charity: Give Back to S.T.E.A.M.

Another part of Techweek Chicago that is changing is that it is focusing on giving back. Techweek launched TechweekGives this year as an opportunity for Chicago’s technology community to come together and give money, time and goods to S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) and other nonprofits. The goal is to raise $1 million over a 90-day period, and two months in, they are over halfway to their goal with nearly $600K in money, goods and volunteer hours.

Interview with the CEO of Techweek:

Amanda CEO (1)

What innovations are you most excited about in the next five years? 

Signorelli: It’s hard to pick just one source of innovation, but I am personally excited to see the future of driverless cars because I hope that in the next five years, we can make the roads substantially safer for everyone. Yes, autonomous vehicles are cool, but they’ll also save lives. 

Do you find that in the launch competition that there is a focus on one type of technology or business model that resonates with the tech community? Feel free to give an example. 

Signorelli: Chicago is a B2B (Business to Business) tech city. While the B2C companies are certainly the easiest to digest in terms of business model, B2B startups resonate well with the tech community. From our finalists last year, we had strong representation from both models, MailControl, AcesHealth, and Shurpa were B2B and Schlep and Parqex were B2C (Business to Consumer). 

As a woman leading a tech conference, did you have any reservations? Why did you choose this role? 

Signorelli: No, I was fortunate to succeed a great female entrepreneur, Katy Lynch, before I took over and I never felt any reservations joining nor taking on the role. I choose this position because I truly love to learn about tech and early stage companies. I enjoy doing due diligence on interesting companies and seeing how tech trends evolve across markets. 

Are there any female entrepreneurs that you are partnering with this year? 

Signorelli: This year we have our Women in Tech breakfast kicking off the Growth Summit, which will feature 20 different leading technical women and entrepreneurs. Our Growth Summit lineup also includes some fantastic female entrepreneurs such as Nicole Staple, CEO of Brideside and Kristi Zhulke, CEO of Knowledgehound. 

What advice would you give a woman who is interested in tech and wondering how to gain skills in the community?

Signorelli: Build relationships and take notes. There are numerous organizations that offer great classes to teach hard skills and can help build a toolkit needed for a startup. However, what’s equally important is being engaged in the community and meeting the entrepreneurs who have success and listening to them. Take notes, ask questions, and be curious. 

Often times in tech, there are women-only conferences, what value do co-ed conferences bring to women? 

Signorelli: I’ve had this conversation with many fellow female entrepreneurs and there’s no right answer. However, I personally believe it is vital to have co-ed conferences that include dialogue from both genders. I want to celebrate great entrepreneurs for being just that—entrepreneurs—not just because they are female. That doesn’t change what they’ve accomplished. If we truly want to see a state of equity, all parties must share an equal voice.

 Do you think Techweek has helped change the dynamic of a more inclusive (gender, race, education) tech community? How so? 

Signorelli: Techweek is a reflection of the local community, and consequently, is a catalyst for conversation, which provides a chance to push for a more inclusive environment. Last year, in partnership with Capital One, we expanded the focus of diversity to include programs that fostered the development of technical skills for those with disabilities.

Techweek keeps growing, is there a reason someone should choose to attend Techweek Chi in their hometown vs. traveling to Techweek New York or LA?

Signorelli: Every Techweek event, just like our markets, is different. In LA, you’ll hear about fashion, ecommerce and e-gaming startups, while NYC is heavily weighted towards FinTech and media. And separately, Chicago has an emphasis around B2B SAS companies and Big Data. Someone should choose to attend a Techweek depending on their industry interest.

People on social media often ask, is it worth it to attend, so who will be most impacted by the content and people at Techweek? 

Signorelli: Techweek is a thoughtful assembly of events, each with its own purpose and ideal audience. Tech enthusiasts, students and engineers should attend our community festival. Early stage entrepreneurs and angel investors should attend the startup showcase and senior level executives, founders, and Venture Capitalists should attend Growth Summit. We work hard to ensure that there is something for everyone at Techweek.

What should you wear to Techweek – for men and women? 

Signorelli: We have early stage startup employees, bankers, Fortune 500 executives, and students. Everyone should feel comfortable wearing their work attire—with a touch of Techweek red!

Techweek Chicago Discount Tickets:

Tickets are on sale at There are three tickets this year, including a free pass. Plus, we are offering a 15% off Techweek Chicago discount code using: WINDYCITY.


5 Places to Eat Your Packed Lunch Outside in The Loop

I love working in the loop. There’s a nice energy here, and more importantly, there are tons of great restaurants to enjoy. But, lunch is one of those meals that you should probably pack and bring because it does get pricey with $12 lunches and $5 lattes.

But just because you pack your lunch for work, doesn’t mean it has to be boring. And most important, it doesn’t say that you have to sit at your desk. There are so many hidden gardens, lakefront spots, and cozy corners to enjoy the sunshine on your lunch break.

Below are my top five favorite places to go to lunch in the loop:

The Gardens at The Art Institute:

Just a few blocks from the Harold Washington Library, I like to grab a book and then head to The Art Institute. There’s a garden on the south side where you can read under the trees and by the fountain. It’s a serene and peaceful lunch spot. Sure, people meetup there, but most of the people are alone. The gardens at The Art Institue are perfect for meditating, reading, and treating yourself to a hot dog.

The Chicago Riverwalk off LaSalle and Wacker:

It may be hard to find a seat on the steps, but it’s worth it. You’ll be in direct sunlight, under the bridge sitting on the newly developed Riverwalk watching yachts or runners go by as you dip into your packed lunch and dream about happy hour.

South Riverside Plaza:

The Chicago River by the Lyric Opera House (on Madison in between Canal and Wacker) is truly one of my favorite places to have lunch in the loop. There are some nice trees for shade, and there are ample benches to sit with coworkers. There aren’t any picnic tables. But for a pb&j lunch, it’s nice to sit and look out at the water.

Millenium Park:

It’s cliché, but it’s great. I like to sit on the steps and look out over the city. You can choose to sit by the giant waterfalls, the bean, the gardens (and stick your feet in the water) or sit on the grass in the amphitheater. Personally, it’s a beautiful skyline view of the city, and it’s a great motivator to walk around.

Chase Plaza:

At 10 S. Dearborn St. is the Chase Tower, landmarked by it’s leaning tower design. There’s a beautiful plaza to sit and enjoy a waterfall. But, there’s also an underground auditorium. If you go through the Chase building and take the escalator down a level, there is an amazing Chase Auditorium.

Networking in the loop during your lunch break:

If you want to eat outside – then I recommend this guide, which has 25 great places from patios to rooftops to eat throughout the city.

If you’re networking on your lunch hour, and need to keep lunch under an hour, Yelp put together this list of places to eat in the loop in under an hour.

Lunch is one of those underutilized times for working professionals. But, it should be an opportunity to go to the gym, take a walk, meet up with friends or meet other professionals (which you can do using the Shapr app).

Personally, though, there are days when you need to recharge at work – and a tranquil garden, some fresh air, and a park bench are truly motivational and calming. You can’t do better or cheaper than Chicago parks and a homemade lunch to help you relax on your lunch break. What do you think?

As a bonus, there are healthy lunch ideas to pack here, and some more here, and here. 


Colombian Food in Chicago: Epic Margaritas and Dance Floor

I was in love with this Colombian restaurant from the moment I saw walls made out of pennies and men with margaritas. There are three things every Chicago city girl wants when she goes out on the weekend.

The first is good drinks. Like a martini or a margarita. We like them refreshing as we like them fruity as we like them picturesque.

The second thing is ambiance. We like a cool sign, different decor. Something to text our tinder boys about or at least we do it for the gram.

The last is a dance floor. I get that we are sophisticated, but we’re also fun. And there’s nothing more fun than dancing the tango.

Pueblito Viejo is an authentic Colombian restaurant with international music, a full-service bar, and live entertainment. And here you have all three elements to make one epic girls night. And I’m not just imaging this girls night. I saw it happen before my very eyes.

The woman next to us leaned over and asked us if we were on our first date.

My friend and I met her whole group of about 15 women. She was part of a group of mothers raising interracial children.

It was mom’s night out, and that met a couple rounds of margaritas. My friend and I were in. We started off with a martini – the bartender makes a fabulous French 75 and some apps. Here you won’t find salsa and chip or tacos, but what you do find are mouth watering gordita’s and empanadas.

There are so many good dishes to choose from on the menu. It is filled with traditional dishes, using high-quality, locally sourced products. Classics include Bandejas, seasoned skirt steak served with red beans, rice, fried pork rinds, sweet plantains, egg, and arepa; Churrascos, flame grilled outside skirt steak, with fried sweet plantains, cassava, salted boiled potatoes and chimichurri; and Sanchochos, rich beef rib stew with potatoes, cassava, green plantains, and corn.

After some light bites, we went big and had the most amazing steak on the menu – Churrasco Pueblito Viejo. This steak came out on a huge wood tray plated with fried sweet plantains, cassava, salted boiled potatoes, and chimichurri. We couldn’t even finish half of it – so if you order this, I suggest sharing it.

Then we couldn’t turn down one of the most classic margaritas on the menu, which came with an upside down beer poured halfway into it. It was epic to hold and even more fun to drink in between runs to the dance floor.

Pueblito Viejo is a family-run and operated Colombian restaurant, envisioned by owner Gonzalo Rodriguez. The first location was introduced in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood in 1994, and its success prompted the opening of the second location, in Miami’s Westchester neighborhood nine years later.

From the moment you enter, all of your senses come to life with the unique decor and antiques, folkloric Colombian music that will have you on your feet dancing. Their live show, Trovadores, is a unique and immersive comedic experience that involves audience members. You can experience Trovadores Thursday through Saturday night at various times throughout the evening.