Friday, February 27, 2015

February 2015

A few of my favorite things

Getting my fill of the classics with TCM's 31 Days of Oscar.
Putting a healthier spin on pancakes.
Having my own a sugar cookie bake-off...
...and turning an "oops!" in the kitchen into something yummy.
Trying out The Pasta Tree and mostly loving it.
Finding out that the fish fry at County Clare is damn good. 
Baking up honey bran muffins.
Finding out what those postcards in the tin are really all about.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cavallini & Company vintage postcards

Out of the tin and into the mailbox

I'd seen vintage postcards in tins at Barnes & Noble for years. While cards are my greatest impulse buy and j'adore vintage goodies, I'm also a crazy person about card quality (the weight and sheen of the paper, etc). Combining two of my favorite things, these particular vintage postcards seemed to have great potential — but since they come in a plastic-wrapped tin, I never took the plunge. 

What if the images were pretty but the paper quality sucked? Not being able to open the tin to see and feel the cards firsthand, it just wasn't worth the risk. Then, for Christmas, my mom gifted me a tin of Cavallini & Company postcards. I had one of those card geek moments of "Yes! I'm finally going to know what's in the tin!" 

Inside? High quality. Nine different designs (two cards per design) and every single one is lovely. These postcards are totally worth the purchase, and that stamp (snail mail humor!) of approval comes from someone you can trust: a hardcore card lover. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Honey bran muffins

This muffin will steal your heart 

Confession: I love honey bran muffins. Call me crazy, but I would probably choose a bran muffin over the ever-popular blueberry muffin. I don't know what it is! The texture, the flavor, the fact that they're not cakey or too sweet... Okay, it's probably all of those things combined, which is why I needed to have a way to make them at home whenever my heart desires. Well I found a very easy recipe (no electric mixer needed!) that turned out great. Think you're not that into bran? Try these and then come talk to me.

- - - - - - - 

**Makes 12 muffins**

3 TBS sugar
3 TBS brown sugar
3 TBS softened butter
2 TBS honey
2 tsp water, plus more if needed

1 cup flour
1 cup wheat bran 
4 tsp dry milk powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 TBS molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/2 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To start, make the glaze by mixing all of the glaze ingredients in a small bowl. *Note: The glaze is more like a paste, so I added an extra splash of water.

2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, wheat bran, dry milk powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, honey, molasses, vegetable oil, egg, and water until combined. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. 

4. In a muffin tin, brush glaze on the bottom and sides of each muffin cup. *Note: The original recipe calls for placing 1 TBS of glaze in each cup, then brushing it around — I did not use nearly as much glaze and the muffins still turned out with a wonderfully sweet outer crust. 

5. Pour the batter into each muffin cup, filling the cups 2/3 of the way. Don't fill them all the way — they rise a lot while baking. Bake for 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean (I would start checking them at 15 minutes). Invert immediately onto a cooling rack covered with foil or waxed paper and allow to cool.

- - - - - - - 

The glaze gives these muffins a sweet crust when you eat them right out of the oven — it's a really awesome texture. On day 2, the muffins are a touch tougher, but that didn't stop Adam and I from each having two for breakfast and having to restrain ourselves from going back for thirds. Yes, the crunchy crust is gone on day 2, but the muffins' sweet outside is still plenty wonderful. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

31 Days of Oscar

My picks for the week of Feb. 23


This is it! The last week of TCM's 31 Days of Oscar. But you know Turner Classic Movies plays amazing films all year through, right? Embrace the classics, people! For now, try these on for size:

The Goodbye Girl, 1977 - showing Feb 23

The stars: Richard Dreyfuss & Marsha Mason

The premise: What happens when an unemployed dancer is dumped and she and her young daughter are forced to live with an eccentric, struggling actor? 

Why I love it: This is one of those romantic comedies that actually feels very real and has truly talented actors at the helm. If you love romantic comedies and haven't seen this one, you're missing out. Plus Richard Dreyfuss is so cute and funny.

- - - - - - -

The Music Man, 1962 - showing March 1

The stars: Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and little Ron Howard

The premise: What happens when a con man sells the idea of a boys marching band to a small town in Iowa and things don't go according to plan? 

Why I love it: This is a quintessential American musical if ever I've seen one. It takes place in a small town, features an ensemble cast of funny characters, good music, great costumes & production value, and top talent in every role. Plus, you'll find a lot of references to this movie in pop culture — see it for the musical history lesson alone, if nothing else!

- - - - - - -

Fiddler on the Roof, 1971 - showing March 1

The star: Topol

The premise: What happens when a devout Jewish father must marry off his three daughters as Russia stands on the brink of revolution? 

Why I love it: My dad has been goofing around and wrapping dish towels around his head, singing "Matchmaker" for as long as I can remember, so this movie holds a special place in my heart. It's one of those that's really fun for the first half, then gets really serious. While usually I prefer my musicals to be happy throughout, I do love this one for its complexity. It's just so moving, so beautifully filmed, and the music is so haunting. And then there's Topol, in a league of his own. Fiddler really is the perfect musical to show someone who thinks all musicals are frivolous and silly — this one is certainly not.

- - - - - - -

Life is Beautiful, 1997 - showing March 1

The star: Roberto Benigni

The premise: What happens when a happy, humor-filled Jewish family is sent to a concentration camp and must rely on that humor to see them through?

Why I love it: Oh this movie is heart wrenching — but there are so many lovely bright spots and such a profoundly positive message that I'm willing to have my heart wrenched. It's amazing to watch this family and the lengths Roberto Benigni goes through to lift his son's spirits despite their unthinkable situation.

- - - - - - -

The Artist, 2011 - showing March 3

The stars:
Jean Dujardin & Berenice Bejo

The premise: What happens when a famous silent movie actor must face "talkies" and changing times?

Why I love it: I realize this movie might not be for everyone (in case you missed the boat, it's a silent film). Personally, I was held captive throughout the entire thing, maybe even more so than normal. You have to watch intently since there's no dialoguebut somehow you don't mind as the actors' performances leap off the screen. See this movie if: you love the flapper golden age, you're a fan of Singing in the Rain, you have an appreciation for movie history, you want to witness modern-day actors tackling a unique project, or if you just want to see something very special.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Friday night fish fry: County Clare

Winner winner, fish fry for dinner!

I've found it! A fish fry that dreams are made of! Yes, it warrants all of these exclamation marks. I've been searching for a long time — long before I started documenting the search here. Most times, I find a fish fry that's pretty good; it gets the job done. But County Clare was more than pretty good — it was pretty outstanding. 

First and foremost: the fish. It was perfectly battered, hot, never soggy, just amazing. With the fish you get a lemon wedge, a slice of rye bread and butter, a container of coleslaw, and a container of tarter sauce. I've found that bread and slaw are apparently a luxury item for a lot of other establishments boasting a fish fry, so make a mental note: County Clare knows how to dress a fish fry. 

Then there are the potato options, of which there are three: fries, tater tots, or homemade mashed potatoes. The mash changes daily, and the Friday we visited offered a garlic mash. I tried some off a friend's plate — amazing. If I wasn't the type of person who insists on eating a bite of crispy potato with almost every bite of fried fish, I'd get the mash in a heartbeat next time. That said, the tater tots were just as tots should be, and you don't even have to ask for ketchup! 10 points to County Clare for putting said ketchup in a little cup so no one has to struggle getting the damn stuff out of the bottle. This is the way to a hungry girl's heart. 


To top off the experience, County Clare also has its weekly Irish music session starting around 9:00. It's hard to think of a better way to spend a Friday night in Wisconsin's bleak wintry months. At County Clare, there's tunes, beer, and fried fish — and while it's a plenty lively place, you can still hold a conversation with friends you haven't seen in a while. Milwaukee, you and your other Friday night fish fries are going to have a hard time beating this one!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sugar cookie cupcakes

An "oops!" in the kitchen yields something yummy

When I was baking sugar cookies last week, I made an oops. I meant to halve the recipe for angel sugar cookies — instead, I halved everything but the oil. When the cookie dough turned out extremely runny (more like batter), I knew I'd done something wrong. But it tasted so good! I couldn't bring myself to toss it. 

So I experimented. I broke out some adorable red and white striped cupcake liners that had been sitting in the pantry for (probably) years and evenly distributed the batter between them. I sprinkled some red sugar on top of each (because why not?), then baked the sugar cookie cupcakes at 350 degrees. Not knowing how quickly the batter would set, I just kept an eye on the oven. The result: yum.

- - - - - - - 


1 large egg
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups plus 1 TBS flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream together eggs, oil, butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners and pour in batter so each cup is about 2/3 full. Bake for 14–20 minutes or until set.

- - - - - - - 

When these sugar cookie cupcakes were taste tested, high praise sounded throughout the house. The consistency is dense, but soft and crumbly; like a cupcake-sized Lofthouse sugar cookie with a richer, more buttery flavor. I don't love how the sprinkles look on top, but my mom thought they were cute. As you can see from the photo, the centers of the cupcakes sank, so in the future I might experiment with baking powder/soda to keep them from falling, or pipe a dollop of frosting in the middle of each. But in my opinion these cupcakes don't need embellishment; they're not super sweet, just buttery and wonderful. Arguably the best-tasting treat to come out of my weekend of sugar cookies — and they were an "oops!" Go figure.

Monday, February 16, 2015

31 Days of Oscar

My picks for the week of Feb. 16

As Turner Classic Movies' 31 Days of Oscar rolls along, I'm especially psyched about some of the movies on tap for this week. They're newer (relatively speaking) and the genres range from musical to Mel Brooks to sci-fi — a few of my favorite things!

Pillow Talk, 1959 - showing Feb 16

The stars: Doris Day & Rock Hudson

The premise: What happens when a stylish, independent interior decorator shares a telephone line with a ladies' man, vows to hate him, but is tricked into being totally wooed? 

Why I love it: Doris Day and Rock Hudson are such a perfect pair. You can tell they genuinely liked working together as their chemistry radiates off the screen. Doris is equal parts sunshine and bodacious babe, but Rock's character is so piggish by today's standards that you'll have to suspend your disbelief at times. Just appreciate this movie for what it is: a madcap romantic comedy with a predictable ending and lots of silliness along the way. 

- - - - - - -

Gigi, 1958 - showing Feb 16

The premise: What happens when a tomboy turned Parisian courtesan-in-training navigates romance with a high-society playboy? 

The stars: Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier

Why I love it: Paris around 1900. The music. The costumes. The overall aesthetics and quality. And I love a good Cinderealla story.

- - - - - - -

Auntie Mame, 1958 - showing Feb 21

The star: Rosalind Russell

The premise: What happens when a stuffy orphan boy is sent to live with his free-spirited aunt? 

Why I love it: This movie is everything. Rosalind Russell's performance is utterly inspired — larger than life, terribly funny, and with such emotional depth. I want to be Mame when I grow up. This movie also gives us great quotes to live by like "Live! Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!" I guess that's the real hook of Auntie Mame — she makes you want to live. 

- - - - - - -

The Producers, 1967 - showing Feb 21

The stars: Zero Mostel & Gene Wilder

The premise: What happens when two Broadway producers hatch a scheme to make millions by producing a musical that's a surefire flop? 

Why I love it: Did you see the 2005 version of this movie starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick? Don't let that deter you! The original Producers wins, hands down. Mostel is the perfect greasy mastermind, and Wilder is such a blend of jitters and hysterical yelling that it's insanely fun to watch. Plus: Mel Brooks humor.

- - - - - - -

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977 - showing Feb 22

The star: Richard Dreyfuss

The premise: What happens when UFO sightings increase as locals and government officials prepare to make contact with alien beings? 

Why I love it: It's time for nerd confessions! I love sci-fi. And UFO stories. And the unknown. And Richard Dreyfuss. This is probably one of my favorite science fiction movies. It's not action-packed and there are no space wars, explosions, or vilified men in black. I love how this movie proves you don't need such extremes to make an outstanding, captivating science fiction film. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Pasta Tree

Rollin' the dice on a date night dinner

I've heard a lot of mixed reviews about The Pasta Tree. Not only have I heard these reviews from friends and family, but you can see them for yourself on Yelp. So while Adam and I have always wanted to try The Pasta Tree, giving the good reviews the benefit of the doubt, we still had plenty of doubt. Lucky for us (and you), there's currently a Groupon for The Pasta Tree (get it here!), so we figured this is as good a time as any to give the East Side staple a whirl.

Walking into The Pasta Tree, I was immediately charmed: tables for two, tin ceilings, a sense of warmth. I was concerned for a moment when the hostess led us past (practically through) the kitchen to get to our table, but my concerns soon disappeared. There's a second alley-style dining room next to the front room, and while the seating is a little awkward, you can't beat the vibe: cozy European bistro. Where else can you find that sort of ambiance in Milwaukee?

For drinks, Adam got a beer and I chose a house white wine. We ordered a garden salad with balsamic dressing. The greens were crisp, fresh, and the salad was large enough to easily share between us. We actually found ourselves saying "This is a really good salad" — a rarity, as garden salads are usually nothing to write home about. Our server also brought out a small loaf of Italian bread with herbed butter to tide us over — really yummy.

In choosing our main entrees, Adam and I were careful about it. We read the Yelp reviews and deduced that clams or clam sauce of any kind were not advised (not that I would have gone for clams anyway). There were a few reviews saying that the scallops were jumbo and delicious, if scallops are your thing (we didn't try them, but I saw them on a neighbor's plate and can attest: they are jumbo!). 

Adam decided on tortellini with francese sauce (The Pasta Tree's tomato basil sauce with added mushrooms and a touch of cream). I'd been craving carbonara, so I ordered that with the house-made egg noodles. Cue the mixed reviews. I'm very sorry to say that I can't find a good thing to say about the carbonara. The pasta was soggy, the sauce was runny (sliding right off the noodles), and it was very bland. Adam and I decided that taking it home and dousing it in garlic salt and heaps of parmesan cheese would be best. Adam's pasta, on the other hand, we loved. I know, you'd think "It's just red sauce," but there is certainly something special about it. 

We didn't save room for dessert, and we were nervous anyway about ordering something disappointing. My coworker said to skip the creme brulee and Yelp had totally mixed reviews about the flourless chocolate cake. Plus, I had sugar cookies waiting at home. 

Our overall take-away: We'd go back for the meat sauce, fresh salad, herbed butter, and atmosphere. We might even try the tiramisu next time. I wouldn't take a chance on another cream sauce. The Pasta Tree proved itself to be the kind of place where you find a dish you love and stick with it — so I can see how, if you didn't find such an entree (i.e. carbonara), you wouldn't want to return to The Pasta Tree. Luckily for Adam and I, we found just enough to love.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Soft batch brown sugar cookies

Chewy & sweet with a hint of spice

Last weekend, I had a bake-off with myself: white sugar cookies vs. brown sugar cookies. Since then, I've shared (and eaten) plenty of each and have gotten mixed reviews as to which is the winner. Most people loved the angel sugar cookies made with white sugar the best; they're traditional, so that doesn't surprise me. But a couple friends raved about the brown sugar cookies, saying they couldn't wait to get the recipe — a sign of a great homemade treat. 

Personally, I find these brown sugar cookies taste a lot like blondies. Which is great! Except, at the end of the day, I probably prefer my blondie flavor in bar form. Even so, these cookies rock and I'll tell you why: You don't have to haul out the electric mixer. They stay soft for days. And they're one of those raid-the-pantry treats (you probably already have the ingredients on hand). 

- - - - - - - 


2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 and 1/2 tsp corn starch (or add an extra TBS flour)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 and 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature (see "Room temp egg note," below)
2 tsp vanilla
white sugar, for rolling

1. Mix together flour, baking soda, corn starch, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk melted butter and brown sugar until no lumps remain. Whisk in egg, then vanilla. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until combined (the dough will be soft, but thick). Cover dough and chill for 2 hours or overnight (chilling the dough is mandatory). 

3. Remove dough from fridge and, if needed, allow it to come to room temperature until it's just soft enough to start working with it (I chilled the dough overnight and had to let it soften at least 15 minutes before I could really start rolling out cookies). 

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour white sugar into a bowl. 

5. Using a TBS measure, scoop out dough and roll it into a ball. Roll the dough ball in white sugar and place on the baking sheet. Repeat for remaining dough, working in batches. 

6. Bake for 8 minutes, turning the baking sheet once in the middle of baking. Remove the sheet from the oven, and use the back of a spoon to gently flatten each cookie to create a flatter, crinkled top. Bake for 1 minute more. Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

*Room temp egg note: To bring an egg to room temperature, take it out of the fridge as soon as you start prepping. Or, submerge the egg in a bowl of warm water while you mix up the other ingredients.

- - - - - - - 

Now it's your turn to have a sugar cookie bake-off! Let me know which cookie is the winner in the comments blow. Happy baking!  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Best baking sheet

Never going back to burnt

My mom has this old, burnt, cookie sheet that we've used for as long as I can remember. I guess I liked it because it was smaller and lighter than some of the new ones she's acquired over the years. This past weekend, however, I was baking sugar cookies that did a lot of spreading out; a second cookie sheet was required to get the job done efficiently.

Luckily, my dad added to my mom's cookie sheet collection this past Christmas. He bought her one from William Sonoma; it got the best reviews on America's Test Kitchen, one of our favorite cooking shows. This new baking sheet is large and heavy and I hadn't really used it until this past Saturday. Now I'm never going back to burnt.

I'm no food scientist, so I don't know how William Sonoma does it, but they do it so right. This baking sheet is amazing! Just check out the difference in the above cookies: On the left, cookies baked on our old burnt sheet. On the right, cookies baked on the William Sonoma Baking Sheet of Wonders. These cookies were baked in the same oven for the same amount of time, but the ones on the left baked totally unevenly and browned way too quickly (the key to these angel sugar cookies to have hardly any golden color).

So now we all know! It's totally worth it to spring for the William Sonoma baking sheet — and, I'd imagine, most other products in their line of bake-ware. Methinks I'll start my own collection.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sugar cookies

Cookie bake-off: White vs. Brown sugar

Last weekend was an experiment in sugar cookies. I took two recipes (one for brown sugar cookies and another for angel sugar cookies made with white sugar) to see which came out on top. There wasn't really a winner — just two different types of sweet deliciousness. And there was a batch of "oops!" cookies in there, too, which I'll get into at a later date. For now, let's stick with the success stories, starting with the traditional white sugar cookie. 

The key to these cookies is chilling the dough and cooking them for exactly the right amount of time (no browning!). Also, I learned the value of a good baking sheet (more on that tomorrow). But back to the cookies themselves, I halved this recipe and got about 30 3-inch-diameter cookies out of the dough. I can tell you right now: You're going to want to make the full recipe. 

- - - - - - - 


2 large eggs
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups plus 2 TBS flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream together eggs, oil, butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate dough one hour. 

*Note: I refrigerated mine for two hours and it was perfectly fine. I'm guessing you could refrigerate overnight even — if the dough is too stiff to work with, just let it come to room temperature for 15 minutes or so. 

2. Onto an ungreased cookie sheet, drop balls of dough (you can use a cookie scoop, or I just used a TBS measure and rounded out the dough with a spoon). On the bottom of a round, flat drinking glass, smear a dab of butter, then dip the glass in granulated sugar. Use the glass to flatten the remaining balls of dough, dipping it in sugar for each cookie as you go (I fit 10 cookies per baking sheet). If desired, sprinkle each with white or colored sugar before baking.

3. Bake for 8 to 11 minutes, until cookies are just barely turning brown. I set my timer for 4 minutes, turned the baking sheet around in the oven, then baked for another 5 minutes exactly. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack. Be careful! The cookies are rather crumbly.

- - - - - - - 

I think my search for the perfect traditional sugar cookie is over, and the search had hardly even begun! These cookies aren't insanely sweet (unless you douse them in sanding sugar or frosting, of course) and the texture is so nice. I really think that taking the cookies out of the oven when they're just barely turning golden (like, really barely) makes a huge difference in the taste. Too-browned sugar cookies, to me, have a very distinct flavor — like those Pillsbury slice-and-bake sugar cookies, which I don't care for at all. Avoiding any real browning on these cookies does the trick!

Monday, February 9, 2015

There might be greater joy - but if there is, you tell me!

"There's nothin' like love" _ My Sister Eileen

Here's a song and dance performed by Bob Fosse and Janet Leigh, with Fosse choreography. It's simple and sweet without much fanfare, but isn't that fitting to how real love is a lot of the time? Enjoy this little ditty, and Happy (early) Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

31 Days of Oscar

My picks for the week of Feb. 9

Last week, I told you about Turner Classic Movie's annual 31 Days of Oscar and picked out five classic films I was must excited about. This week, I've got five more movies that come with the Kelsey stamp of approval. Check 'em out, or view the entire TCM schedule here.

Charade, 1963 - showing Feb 10

The stars: Audrey Hepburn & Cary Grant

The premise: What happens when a woman's husband is murdered and several shady characters turn up to claim a fortune said husband allegedly stole?

Why I love it: Suspense! Paris! Audrey Hepburn's outerwear! 

- - - - - - -

Funny Girl, 1968 - showing Feb 12

The star: Barbara Streisand 

The premise: What happens when a funny, fresh, fish-out-of-water starlet named Fanny Brice rises to fame while navigating love and marriage with a suave gambling man?

Why I love it: Barbara Streisand. She's good. So good. Watching this movie is like... laugh, cry, gape, and repeat. Laughing, because as the title implies, Babs really is a funny girl. Cry, because Fanny's romance is a turbulent one - and "People." Gape, because of the sheer power of Streisand's vocals (see also: "Rain On My Parade"). 

- - - - - - -

How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953 - showing Feb 13

The stars: Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall

The premise: What happens with three single women set out to marry millionaires and find love along the way? 

Why I love it: This is one silly movie, but that's why I love it. It's total just-for-fun fluff. Marilyn Monroe is my favorite, playing a girl who's totally blind without her glasses but insists on removing them whenever a beau comes to call ("Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses!"). She's too cute and charming.

- - - - - - -

Roman Holiday, 1953 - showing Feb 13

The stars: Gregory Peck & Audrey Hepburn

The premise: What happens when a bored princess escapes her guards and falls for an American in Rome? 

Why I love it: To be honest, I haven't seen this movie in ages - and that's why I'm excited to see it again. I mean... Audrey Hepburn + princess + Rome + romance = How can you go wrong? 

- - - - - - -

The Red Balloon, 1954 - showing Feb 14

The stars: A red balloon & an adorable little French boy

The premise: What happens when a living red balloon befriends a young boy and follows him around Paris? 

Why I love it: This practically-silent short French film is so charming I can't stand it. As Winnie the Pooh says "Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon." I'll go one step further - nobody can be uncheered with a balloon with a life of its own.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oatmeal banana pancakes

A healthier breakfast indulgence

My family loves pancakes — and coffee cake, muffins, and everything that should be a special treat but happens to taste great every weekend. So in an attempt to bring a dash of healthy to the table for at least one breakfast, I found a recipe for pancakes made with ground oats and banana instead of flour and white sugar. 

I'd never made anything like these before and was plenty skeptical. And no, these pancakes will in no way replace traditional pancakes in my book — but they'll be great to swap in every so often. The key, I think, is to really blend the batter so it's smooth — that way you lose the mushy oat texture. Also, the riper your banana, the sweeter and more flavorful the batter. 

This recipe makes enough to feed four people, if you have something extra to serve on the side like fruit or sausage. For a party of two, cutting the recipe in half would be just about perfect. Or, you could freeze the leftover pancakes — I hear that works like a charm!

- - - - - - - 


2 cups oats
1 and 1/4 cup vanilla almond milk
1 large ripe banana
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 heaping TBS honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
2 TBS butter, melted

Place all ingredients except egg in a blender and blend until smooth. Add egg and pulse until combined. Heat griddle or large pan, slather pan with butter, then pour 1/4 cup scoops of batter onto the griddle. At first, cook about 3 minutes on one side, then turn. As griddle gets hotter, cook 1 to 2 minutes per side. Serve with the toppings of your choice.

- - - - - - - 

Now my family still topped these cakes with butter and syrup, but at least I could feel good about giving them a more hearty base for their sugary flourishes. Myself, I went for a little layer of butter (duh) and a very thin layer of Nutella... Okay, and maybe a dusting of powdered sugar. What can I say? I'm no angel.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

31 Days of Oscar

TCM celebrates Academy Award winners

Throughout February, Turner Classic Movies is showing Oscar winning and nominated films, 24 hours a day. Each week this month, I'll choose five of my faves for you to check out. My weekly lists won't be exhaustive — there are plenty of others in the TCM lineup that I'd recommend, of course. But these are the films I'm most excited about. You can also view the entire schedule and see what strikes your personal fancy. Whatever you do, embrace these classics while you can! Here are my picks for the rest of this week:

The Awful Truth, 1937 - showing Feb 4

The stars: Cary Grant & Irene Dunne 

The premise: What happens when a divorced couple keeps getting mixed up in each other's lives? 

Why I love it: The Awful Truth is a classic screwball comedy - a sheer delight from beginning to end. Not to mention Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are so talented, funny, and terribly cute together.

- - - - - - - 

You Can't Take it With You, 1938 - showing Feb 5

The stars: Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stuart, Jean Arthur

The premise: What happens when a girl from an oddball, bohemian family falls for the son of a prominent banker? 

Why I love it: This is one of those movies with a bunch of wonderful characters and well-written lines. Frank Capra, director of It's a Wonderful Life, also directed this movie. In a similar vein, You Can't Take it With You is about sticking it to the man and staying true to yourself and your dreams. If you like that sort of thing — I know I sure do! — you're sure to enjoy this film.

- - - - - - - 

Gone With the Wind, 1939 - showing Feb 6

The stars: Vivien Leigh & Clark Gable

The premise: What happens when a pouty Southern plantation princess is forced to meet the challenges of the Civil War? 

Why I love it: I'll level with you - this isn't my favorite movie ever. But it's one that's worth seeing for Vivien Leigh being so perfectly snooty & insufferable — and for the costumes, the sets, the drama, and of course Clark Gable. 

- - - - - - - 

The Philadelphia Story, 1940 - showing Feb 7

The stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stuart

The premise: What happens when tabloid reporters crash a high society wedding? 

Why I love it: Just check out those stars. Notably, Katharine Hepburn - she's totally zany, and this role really highlights her signature quick-witted, vivacious spirit.

- - - - - - - 

Mrs. Miniver, 1944 - showing Feb 8

The star: Greer Garson

The premise: What happens when a British family is faced with the onset of World War II? 

Why I love it: This movie took me by surprise a few years back. It was on TV during TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, and my mom and I had it playing in the background. It wasn't long before we were riveted. Mrs. Miniver is a mix of lighthearted British-isms (think: courtship & flower shows in town) and a strong female lead bolstering her family through the uncertain times thrust upon them. I'm not usually into war movies, but I'm big into this one. Watch with Kleenex. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

4 Greek yogurt mix-ins

Give Greek a tasty makeover 

As I write this, I'm recuperating from wisdom teeth extraction. I look like I have grapes in my jowls and I can't yet confidently eat much of anything beyond pudding and mashed potatoes. At first I welcomed the chance to eat such things (I love pudding and taters!), but I've reached day three and I'm so over it. 

In an attempt to give my taste buds a little something different — and my body some protein, in theory — I combined plain Greek yogurt with various mix-ins. Some turned out better than others (cocoa yogurt, you will never replace chocolate pudding!), but they're all worth sharing. So whip up your own mixed yogurts and let me know if you find a way to improve them! I'm all ears... and sore teeth.

- - - - - - - 

Peanut butter & honey mix-in, AKA "cookie dough."

What to mix: 1 container yogurt, 1 heaping TBS peanut butter, 1 TBS honey, 1/4 tsp vanilla. 

This one is my favorite because it's sweet enough to pass for a healthy dessert (if you add mini chocolate chips) and nutritious enough to pack for lunch or a midday snack. 

- - - - - - - 

Banana cream pie mix-in.

What to mix: 1 container yogurt, 1 ripe mashed banana, 1/2 to 1 TBS honey, 1/4 tsp vanilla. 

I think this concoction would be best blended really well — like maybe even whipped with handheld beaters. And topping with graham cracker crumbs certainly couldn't hurt!

- - - - - - - 

Cocoa yogurt mix-in.

What to mix: 1 container yogurt, 1 to 1 and 1/2 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 TBS sugar, 1/4 tsp vanilla. 

Maybe this would have been better with semi-sweet cocoa, but even two TBS of white sugar just couldn't completely beat the yogurt's tang. Not my favorite, but that's probably because I'm trying to make chocolate pudding out of plain yogurt — something that can never truly be. I'd welcome suggestions on how to improve this one!

- - - - - - - 

Lemon meringue pie mix-in.  

What to mix: 1 container yogurt, 1 to 1 and 1/2 TBS lemon curd. 

If you're a fan of lemon pie or lemon bars, you're going to love this one — it really tastes like a lemony dessert filling, no buts about it! Definitely my runner-up favorite.