Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September 2015

A few of my favorite things

That time Erin Dolan became Erin Kelly. (The best day!)

Baking banana bran muffins.

Dinner at John's Sandwich Shop + a pile of cinnamon crisps.

Mixing up a party-ready Thai-style salad.

Finally crossing Swanky Seconds off my MKE bucket list.

Platefuls of graham cracker cookies + chocolate drizzle.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Crunchy Thai-style quinoa salad

Enjoy a good peanut sauce? This one's for you!

This has to be one of the prettiest salads. Check out that rainbow! Don't you just want to dive right in? Well this salad is as yummy as it is pretty — especially if you have a thing for peanut sauce.

- - - - - - -  


1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups shredded cabbage (or less, to taste)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cup matchstick carrots, roughly chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup diced green onions
1/2 cup cashews or peanuts
1 cup cooked edamame (found in freezer section)
1 lime, juiced

1/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS honey
2 TBS olive oil (or 1 TBS olive, 1 TBS sesame)
1 TBS water, to thin (more/less to taste)
Extra soy sauce to taste

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Cook frozen edamame according to package directions. Chop up the choppables. Combine all choppables in a large bowl.

2. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine peanut butter and honey. Microwave for 20 seconds, remove, and whisk to combine. Whisk in remaining dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over the quinoa, adding slowly to taste, and mix to combine. 

3. Add dressed quinoa to the bowl of choppables, mixing until everything is coated with dressing. Add lime juice and extra soy sauce to taste. Chill in the fridge until serving. 

- - - - - - - 

Truth time: I thought I liked peanut sauce. But I ended up diluting the dressing with extra tablespoons of soy sauce, and even then it was a little too too peanut-y for me. Next time, I might combine the same salad stuff and hunt down a different dressing, or cheat and use Newman's Own Sesame Ginger (it's delish!). That's not to say I didn't wolf down this salad – it's just that I discovered my own personal preference when it comes to Asian-inspired sauces.

That said, I took this salad to a party where all the true lovers of peanut sauce were all about it — especially the dressing. So peanut people, you do you! And whatever dressing you choose, do this salad. 

P.S. Add chicken to take this from side dish to main meal! 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

John's Sandwich Shop

A fresh spin on diner eats

When you walk into John's Sandwich Shop, you'll notice an updated diner vibe. There's a long counter with stools, a malt machine, and the fry cooks are visible from the very front of the one-room restaurant. But John's isn't a greasy spoon. The walls are always freshly painted, the décor is cute, there's outdoor seating, and one look at the menu reveals you're not dealing with typical diner fare.

I grew up with John's — and partially at John's. For my fish job ever, I was a bus girl there. Back then it was just as delicious, but decidedly more greasy. Famous for their breakfast, the post-church crowd always left me with sticky syrup spattered on my ill-fitting khaki pants. I shudder. But since those days of young me, John's has undergone a health-crazed transformation. Don't get me wrong, you can still find malts and egg-topped burgers on the menu, but you'll find them alongside The Grainiac (a chopped salad of toasted quinoa, cucumber, onion, tomato, and avocado with agave nectar, greens, and black beans) and other healthy eats. 

I love the balance John's shows in their menu. Whether you go greasy or green, there's something for everyone. I usually go for the quesadillas – they're served with these seriously yummy cinnamon-sugar crisps that are like automatic admittance to the Clean Plate Club. My mom (who is my go-to John's date) likes to switch it up. She sometimes gets a burger and sometimes indulges in the all-day breakfast. 

I can't think of when I had a bad meal at John's. My mom and I go every six weeks, like clockwork (whenever the family dog Pippin is at the groomer's). See? John's keeps 'em coming back! Some things of note: John's is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of place with hours from 6:30 to 8:00. They're also cash-only. Kind of annoying, but also right in line with their quaint, family-owned and operated vibe. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Swanky seconds

Shorewood's re-sale wonderland 

Have you ever taken Capitol Drive all the way to Lake Michigan? Just a few blocks west of the shore you'll find Swanky Seconds — a re-sale shop that I'd been meaning to check out for a while now. You'll often see garment racks of clothes outside the shop windows with signs that say "Terrific $10 treasures" – but don't stop at sidewalk browsing.

Stepping inside is so worth it. I could have easily spent a couple of hours in Swanky Seconds. There are all kinds of clothes – and more good than bad or ugly. From weekenders to fancy handbags, there's also all manner of purses. And the prices are really reasonable! Most bags I looked at hovered around $30, and same with the dresses.

Though you'd never know it from the outside, Swanky Seconds sprawls out and offers much more than clothes. Furniture, artwork, mirrors, and assorted décor — they have it all! It's like a game of I Spy, and that's why you probably need at least an hour to take it all in.

And let's not forget jewelry. And outerwear. And shoes. While Adam is an anomaly among men and enjoys these kinds of outings, I think this would be a fun spot to stop with your gal pals. So if re-sale shopping is your thing, add Swanky Seconds to your Milwaukee bucket list!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Graham cracker cookies

A no-fuss cookie that's simply delicious

What says childhood to me? A lot of things. Graham crackers are one of those things. We'd eat them with a bowl of milk for breakfast (sometimes still do) and help Grandma frost them with stovetop glaze for an easy little treat. The more ways I can find to use graham crackers in dessert, the better — in pie crust, in blondies, and now in cookies! This recipe from Real Simple barely needed any tweaking. 

- - - - - - - 


2 cups flour
1 and 1/4 cups finely crushed graham crackers
1 to 1 and 1/2 cups broken graham cracker pieces
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together finely crushed graham crackers, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 

2. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars. Use an electric mixer to mix until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and mix well.

3. Slowly add the flour mixture to the large bowl, mixing until just combined. Fold in the broken graham cracker pieces.

4. Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter onto prepared baking sheet (I got 8 cookies on each sheet). Use the back of a spoon to slightly press down each ball of dough. Bake at 325 for 7 minutes. Turn the cookie sheet, and bake for another 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool a bit, then place cookies on a wire rack to fully cool.

5. Optional: Once all cookies are baked, melt chocolate in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring between each. Pour the melted chocolate into a ziplock bag. Trim one of the bottom corners from the bag and pipe a drizzle of chocolate on each cookie. 

- - - - - - - 

These cookies won't all come out perfectly shaped. Without the chocolate drizzle, they surely won't be the talk of Pinterest. But I say the chocolate is optional because these cookies are yummy enough without it. They're basically sugar cookies (crisp edges, soft centers) with a little more depth — and they're especially "Mmmm" inducing right out of the oven. Sometimes that's all you need.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Banana bran muffins

You'll be saying "Mmmm, bran..." (for real!) 

I've confessed my adoration of bran muffins before. While I love a good honey bran morsel, my favorite bran muffins are more muffin-y. You can find the best ones at Loaf & Jug. I had one of those Loaf & Jug muffins a couple weeks ago and set out to recreate the deliciousness in my own kitchen. These treats come pretty close. 

I heeded some of the comment suggestions of this AllRecipes recipe, adding a mix of spices and trying to make things a touch healthier. I used half butter/half applesauce and half all-purpose flour/half whole-wheat flour. Next time I might try going all applesauce and all whole-wheat — then again, why mess with a great thing? 

- - - - - - - 


1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 cup applesauce (I used cinnamon applesauce)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 bananas, mashed
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 tsp spice (ex: 1/2 tsp cinnamon + dashes of nutmeg/cloves)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional) 
oats + honey + cinnamon, for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin pan.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, applesauce, and brown sugar until fluffy. Add mashed bananas, milk, vanilla, and eggs. Mix well. 

3. Stir in flour, bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices until just combined. If adding, fold in walnuts. Pour batter into prepared muffin pan. If desired, top each cup with a sprinkling of oats and cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

- - - - - - - 

I made a half-batch of these a few days ago and have been bringing one with me to work each day this week. I've kept them in an airtight container, and they're still amazingly moist. Other notes: The amount of spice was just right, and you can use any mix of fall-ish spices you have on hand. I think allspice and pumpkin pie spice would be a nice addition. Next time I might forgo the honey drizzle on top — it's yummy, but not necessary. Let the banana bran speak for itself!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

From Van Gogh to Pollock

Milwaukee Art Museum welcomes modern rebels

Last week, I spent some time with the Milwaukee's Art Museum's current special exhibit: a collection of works by the art world's "modern rebels." I would never claim to be an art history buff, but I love to experience art and I know what I like when I see it. Well, there's a lot to like at the Milwaukee Art Museum's current special exhibit

In the exhibit From Van Gogh to Pollock, you'll see masterworks by Pollock and Van Gogh (naturally), also Warhol, Dali, Chagall, and Toulouse-Lautrec, just to name a few. Stare at these pieces and see what details you can pick out: whimsical characters, splotches of paint blending to form a wicked creature, and pencil smudges on otherwise crisp canvases of pop art. To paraphrase my brother's reaction to said smudges: Master artists, they're just like us! 

Anyway, a picture is worth a thousand words — you'd find it a lot more exciting if you just went to the museum yourself. But you have to act fast! From Van Gogh to Pollock runs through September 20th. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Erin & Tom: A match made in Elm Grove


My friends and I have called ourselves The Cins for about ten years. It's crazy to think that the birth of our group is a decade old. It's equally crazy to think that our predictions for Cin marriage order are also, roughly, a decade old. So far we got some things right: Shea would be first. We got some things wrong: Rachelle was convinced she'd be last or close to it, but she and Raul were hitched last year.

The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle. I don't remember the specifics, but I do remember we always said Erin would meet The One and that would be it. No laundry list of serious boyfriends. No years of courtship. Certainly no lengthy engagement. She'd meet him and marry him. And that's exactly what happened. Erin met Tom a little over a year ago. It's been said on more than one occasion that all of Elm Grove set them up and it's sort of true. Both Erin and Tom are known and adored by a lot of people — and those people knew, if only they met, these two crazy kids would end up adoring each other, too.

As onlookers, we felt it all happened so fast — engaged after three months. Three months! It's hard to imagine in today's world. But as Erin's Uncle Tim (Cardinal Timothy Dolan) said during his homily (surely more eloquently): Erin and Tom are romantics. They're absolutely crazy about each other and just crazy enough to believe that when it's right, it's right. When you have love, grab it and hold on. Don't look back. Don't waste another minute. Just say "I do."

It's not a philosophy that would work for a lot of us. But I seriously admire them for leaping. It takes a lot of faith and, as Uncle Tim also reminded us, a lot of courage. I hope, in our own way, we can all be so brave in love. Cheers to Tom, Erin, and Elm Grove — you did it! 

Coming up in 9-ish months: The accuracy of Cin baby predictions. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

3 summer dining spots in Milwaukee

Ideas for hungry Labor Day out-of-towners

Hosting family and friends from out of town this Labor Day weekend? Here are three of my favorite eateries when it's nice and summery in Milwaukee. Of course I have a laundry list of other places with outdoor dining that I'm itching to try, but I can only speak from experience — and in my experience, these spots are sure to be a hit!

Cafe Corazon. For a brunch that's a saucy, sloppy mess of tortillas, eggs, rice, beans, meat, and cheese, look no further than Cafe Corazon in Riverwest. This is the spot to bring anyone who loves Mexican food and Mexican-style brunch. It's especially good for hangovers and birthdays (they'll stick a candle in some guac for you!). 

Barnacle Bud's. This beach-style shack in Bay View is all about the experience. The place feels like a vacation from Milwaukee with its eclectic decor and patio on the water. The menu reflects the ambiance: Lots of grouper and shrimp. Looking for bloody marys? Barnacle Bud's has a brunch-time bloody mary bar with your name on it.

The Cafe at the Plaza. This place is a hidden gem if I ever saw one. It's located inside the Plaza Hotel (which is near the lakefront), and the outdoor dining happens in a quaint, ivy-covered courtyard — so Secret Garden! The Cafe at the Plaza should win on atmosphere alone, but then the food is scrumptious too. Lemon poppyseed pancakes anyone?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Coconut, oat, & chia breakfast cookies

A morning treat for your sweet tooth

Saying no to baked treats is hard, so my philosophy of "everything in moderation" goes right out the window whenever I have a surplus of cookies in the kitchen. In an attempt to have my cake and eat it too, I've been making banana oat cookies — a healthy treat that, if you think of it as more of a granola bar, is actually super satisfying. 

Well my dear friend Rachel has her own version of the healthy breakfast cookie, courtesy of Eating Bird Food. While eating bird food sounds like a sad life choice, I decided to give these breakfast cookies a whirl. Just like my favorite banana oat cookies, these coconut-oat treats are just what your sweet tooth ordered for mid-morning snack time. I doctored up the recipe a tad (why not add some vanilla and slivered almonds if you have them on hand, plus some salt for flavor?). I also unfortunately had to sub sweetened coconut for unsweetened (couldn't find unsweetened at the store). 

- - - - - - - 


1 and 1/2 TBS chia seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup chopped dates 
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup slivered almonds (optional)
1 TBS almond butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together chia seeds and almond milk. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes (a gel-like consistency will form).

2. To the chia seed mixture, add the mashed bananas, almond butter, vanilla, oats, coconut, cinnamon, and salt. Mix until combined. Fold in chopped dates, chocolate chips, and almonds (if using). 

3. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean-up. Scoop heaping tablespoon-sized amounts of dough on the foil. Use the back of a spoon or fork to press the dough down into more of a cookie shape. Sprinkle each cookie with cinnamon, and top with extra coconut and chocolate chips if desired. 

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 17 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

- - - - - - - 

These won't be replacing your indulgent desserts, but they're not supposed to. I made a batch last weekend and have been bringing them to work each day to satisfy my mid-morning snack cravings. I should also note that you could sub in peanut butter for almond butter and raisins or dried cranberries for the chopped dates. When it comes to these breakfast-y cookies, make it work with what you've got! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

August 2015

A few of my favorite things

Eating the best carrot cake ever at Buckley's. 

Surviving a sweltering day at the Renaissance Faire

Discovering what lies beneath the Mars Cheese Castle sign.

Rabbits at State Fair (and resisting stuffing one in my purse). 

Finding a new favorite creamy pasta salad.

An evening of Shakespeare with Boozy Bard Productions.

Nighttime outdoor dining in the Third Ward. 

Browsing the gorgeous cards and gifts at Soaps & Scents in Tosa. 

Whipping up salad for dinner on warm summer nights.