Thursday, April 28, 2016

April 2016

A few of my favorite things

Seeing Matilda with Mom & falling for Once.

Visiting the Shedd in Chicago.

A tasty date night at Company Brewing.

Cooking up Thai curry with veggies

Enjoying a scrumptious steak sandwich at Story Hill BKC.

Baking peach crisp with maple cream sauce

Indulging in some of the best mac n' cheese in Milwaukee

Feeling lots of birthday love

Story Hill BKC

A most pleasant & delicious Milwaukee lunch spot

Story Hill BKC doesn't only serve lunch — I've had their scrumptious small plates for dinner and I hear they have a killer weekend brunch. For dinner, there are plates to taste, share, and pass. It's been several months since I had dinner at Story Hill, but I remember the eats being yummy, if a bit pricey (as small plates tend to be). 

The lunch/brunch menu is comparably priced to other nice-casual eateries in Milwaukee, with most dishes in the $9 to $13 range. Our waiter smartly recommended a crowd favorite: the sirloin steak sandwich. Carved medium-rare beef is topped with shallot butter, arugula, and truffle peppercorn mayonnaise. Holy cow. (Steak puns!) Oh, and it's served on a crusty, sesame seed Italian roll. Heaven. 

The atmosphere at Story Hill is exceedingly pleasant. It's bustling, but not crowded. If there's a wait when you arrive (and there most likely will be), there's self-serve hot coffee and a pitcher of cream waiting, the $3 cost of which can be added to your tab later. I love that. There's a dining room and a bar room with high tables and a view of the kitchen, separated by a glass partition. It's neat to watch.

If you're going for dinner, Story Hill does accept reservations for any size party, Tuesday through Sunday (they're closed on Mondays). I'm itching to go back for brunch sometime. If you've been, please tell me what your favorite dishes are! Friends don't let friends order brunch food blindly. Though, if you ever must order brunch food blindly, I bet Story Hill is a safe place to do it. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Peach crisp with maple cream sauce

Where tastebuds die and go to heaven

I knew this recipe was an absolute keeper when it won over Adam's mom a few years back. The lady is a wizard in the kitchen, so knowing I made something she not only approved of but raved about made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Now normally I would step back and realize that she might just have been being nice, but that's not possible because this peach crisp is unequivocally delicious. The crisp is served warm with a drizzle of cool maple cream. And that maple cream... Good luck not ladling it into your mouth. Divine. Thank you, Pioneer Woman

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1 and 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 TBS light corn syrup
5 TBS real maple syrup (the good stuff) 

1 cup flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
8 TBS (1 stick) butter, cold
5 TBS maple syrup (the good stuff) 
1/2 a lemon
5 to 6 whole peaches, peeled and sliced (not overly ripe) 
*Note: You can use frozen peaches. Use about 2 bags frozen. Thaw and drain the peaches before using. Don't fret if they're still kind of juicy – mine were. 

1. For the maple cream sauce: Combine cream, 5 TBS maple syrup, and light corn syrup in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until combined, heated, and reduced — about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. 

*Note: The sauce will still be runny after cooking, but will set up and be much thicker in the fridge. Try not to eat it all before the peach crisp is cooked!

2. For the crisp: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Cut cold butter into small cubes and add to the mixture. Use a pastry cutter, fork, or your hands to combine until crumbly. 

3. In a bowl, combine sliced peaches with 2 TBS maple syrup and the zest & juice from 1/2 a lemon. Mix to combine. 

4. Pour peach mixture into an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. Cover evenly with crumb topping. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove foil and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crisp is golden brown and bubbling. 

5. To serve, drizzle (or ladle!) chilled maple cream sauce over warm peach crisp. Add more cream to taste (I like to add a lot!). 

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This amount is perfect for a small group (6 people max), so double the recipe if you're feeding more. It really comes together easily. You could make the cream sauce the day ahead, then prep the peach crisp and keep it in the fridge until you pop it in the oven. You could also sub apples for peaches, if that's more to your taste — but the peaches are fab. This is easily my favorite fruity dessert I've ever made. If you have something to rival it, please share — I'd love to hear what could possibly give peach crisp and maple cream a run for its money. 

Monday, April 25, 2016


A casual bistro & hidden gem in Walker's Point

I first tasted the wonders of Triskele's at holiday-time. My coworker Jenny, who is really up on her Yelp reviews, had read that the macaroni and cheese at Triskele's is some of the best in Milwaukee. That was enough to convince my fellow workers and I that we should give that famous macaroni a try for our company Christmas party. 

But before the mac, let's talk about Triskele's itself. It's not new or flashy. There's no exposed brick, urban-rustic juxtaposition, or clear glass garage doors with café tables spilling out onto a bustling downtown street. Quite the contrary. You have to look for Triskele's to find it — it's not on a main drag. It's very unassuming from the outside, and the inside isn't much different. There's a bar right when you walk in, some booths, and some tables. And when you take pics there with your iPhone, they will inevitably turn out very yellow. 

What makes Triskele's a Milwaukee gem is the food. As an appetizer, don't skip the parmesan fries with white truffle oil. They're hot from the fryer, perfectly crisp, and served with a side of parsley mayo. At Christmastime, my coworkers also enjoyed the mussels. Though I'm not a fan (texture!), I can tell they must have been good based on how quickly they disappeared. It was like The Walrus and the Carpenter: "They'd eaten every one." Those were oysters, but still.

The entrées at Triskele's change seasonally. At our company work party, Adam ordered a squash ravioli that was heaven (and no longer on the menu). But luckily for all of Milwaukee, the epically delicious macaroni and cheese is ever present. The macaroni (which is really penne) comes with the option of three cheeses: aged cheddar, goat cheese, or gorgonzola — or all three! Hear me now. ORDER ALL THREE. 

If you think you don't like goat cheese or gorgonzola, get over it, because at Triskele's you do. No one flavor overpowers the other, instead they work in harmonious, cheesy, crazy deliciousness. I've tried plenty of macaroni and cheese, and often times it's too one note or bland — Triskele's has mastered the art of macaroni. If you want to experience ultimate comfort and happiness served on a piping hot plate, get thee to Triskele's and order the three-cheese macaroni. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Birthday love

Some birthday things I'm thankful for

Last week, I entered my last year as a twenty-something. Dios mio! Actually I'm not too freaked out about it. What keeps me from succumbing to the "oh woe is me" of being almost-thirty? Friends, well-wishes, and some seriously lovely gifts that deserve a shout out. Maybe they'll inspire your future gift-giving endeavors, too. 

First of all, here's to Adam who gave me an adorable mint green trash can (trash cans can be adorable!) filled with colorful balled up paper hiding not trash, but treasures: gift cards to my favorite shops, fridge magnets, one of those fancy candles you can never justify buying for yourself, and a teensy Totoro keychain. It was a super cute idea and a great way to gift a bunch of little stuff. So if you're stumped for one sizable present for your S.O., find a unique way to gift assorted of little presents. Trash can anyone? 

Across the miles, my dear friend Rachel sent me a tiny box for tiny treasures, as she aptly named it. She made it herself! It's so charming. What is it about tiny things? Like, tiny succulents, tiny bud vases... Want to make someone happy on their birthday? Give them something tiny. Or homemade. Lucky for me, Rachel's gift was both! 

My so-sweet coworker Jenny gifted me a Milwaukee handkerchief, which will need to be framed or turned into a pillow. This hand-drawn illustration of Milwaukee (from HANmade Milwaukee) can be found in a lot of local boutiques in the form of a notebook, puzzle, apron, pillow cover, and of course handkerchief. Jenny actually used the handkerchief as the wrapping for other goodies: essential oils! I get headaches, and peppermint essential oil is really soothing. I used to borrow Jenny's peppermint oil at work — now I won't have to! 

Then there's my out-of-this-world coworker Pete who made (yes, made!) me this Planet Kelsey leather-bound journal. I am still floored by his insane talents. Pete makes Harry Potter wands, complete with velvet-lined boxes. He makes wooden Kubb sets (Kubb is a Viking lawn game — neat!). He makes all kinds of magical things — and he made me a journal! I die. If you're as obsessed with this piece of functioning art as I am, let me know — maybe I can hook you up with Pete.

Anyway, this post wasn't meant to be brag-y — just to say how incredibly grateful I am to have these awesome, thoughtful people in my life. And there are a bunch more of you: the card senders, the Facebook wall posters, the voicemail leavers, the texters, the visitors who came bearing aged Manchego and pink tulips — I'm thankful for all of you! I hope everyone can be so lucky. The birthday love really does make it easier to be almost-thirty. Bring it on.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

3 Favorite cake recipes

Chocolate, banana, and lemon for the win! 

Birthdays come but once a year, and mine is coming tomorrow! To celebrate, I'm rounding up three of my favorite cake recipes, one for each of my (almost-ish) three decades on this little blue planet. 

#1 Beatty's Chocolate Cake
In my book, dessert always starts with chocolate. You can't beat it! This cake from Ina Garten will knock your chocolate-loving socks off. It's so good, it doesn't even need to be slathered with frosting — in fact, I prefer it with less. The addition of freshly-brewed coffee and a dash of cinnamon makes it super special.

#2 Banana Dream Cake 
Who would really go out of their way for banana cake, right? Well this one will make a believer out of you. It's seriously divine — moist and flavorful, and the cream cheese frosting puts it over the deliciousness edge. Like, at a family party, someone told me "This is the best cake I've eaten in my entire life!" High praise. Would that I could go out of my way for this scrumptious cake every day!

#3 Lemon Chiffon Cake
If I had to pick a fruity dessert flavor for the rest of my life, it would be lemon, hands down. It's the most versatile and just so scrumptious, like in this light, heavenly, lemon chiffon cake. It's perfect for spring and summer with its bright, sunshiny vibe and an airiness that we all crave during warmer months. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wolf Peach

Brunch favorites with a posh twist in Riverwest

Milwaukee's Wolf Peach is a self-described "posh bar and restaurant." The décor is a mix of modern, rustic, and sophisticated glam. You'll find contemporary lighting and artwork, winding root-like sculptural elements, wood block tables topped with brown craft paper, sunny picture windows, and strategically-placed crystal chandeliers. The effect is somehow airy, cozy, chic, and homey all at once.

When my mom and I brunched at Wolf Peach last weekend, we were seated at the community table. Why not just have two smaller tables that you can push together in the event of a larger party? I'm not sure. 

But even when a second party joined us at the table, it was perfectly fine and not at all intrusive feeling. So if you go, don't fear the communal table! However if you plan ahead, you can also make a reservation. Without a reservation, you can wait for your table at the bar, sipping mimosas (like Mom and I did), so really it's a win-win. 

The brunch menu is mainly classics, some with a twist. You'll find traditional Eggs Benedict, corned beef hash, biscuits & gravy, and an omelet of the day. For the twist, check out the I'll Have What She's Having (Eggs Benedict with basil pesto and potato latkes) or Baked Polenta (ham, baked eggs, cherry tomatoes, and roasted mushrooms). 

I went for something sweet: The Smothered Buttermilk Waffle. Smothered with what? Hazelnut butter, strawberry-thyme jam, and whipped cream. Confession: Turns out I'm really not that into strawberries and strawberry syrup on things. I always think I might be, because I love strawberries, but it's just not so. But I can tell you that if strawberries and strawberry syrup are your thing, you will probably love this waffle! I did eat 3/4 of it after all. 

On the other hand, my mom ordered something seriously freaking fantastic: The Lumberjack Stack. It's a piece of French toast topped with herbed hashbrowns, a tasty breakfast sausage patty, a slice of melty cheddar cheese, and an over-easy egg — served with syrup on the side. If you like eating sweet and savory breakfast foods together (AKA if you're a fan of the McGriddle), the Lumberjack Stack is heaven. Lucky for me, my mom is an angel — she traded me the last quarter of her Stack for the last quarter of my waffle. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Next Act Theater presents "Motherhood Out Loud"

Reflections on what it is to be & have a mom 

"Do I have any eyes left?" my mom asked me after the house lights came back on. What that means in Kathyspeak is, "Did I cry my mascara all over my face?" I told her, "You have eyes left, but that's about it." She'd cried so much that the mascara was wiped clean away. Next Act Theater's Motherhood Out Loud will do that to you.

This play speaks to such universal truths that it's easy to be moved. We all have moms, or someone who has filled that motherly role. Motherhood Out Loud is a celebration and reflection of what it is to be and have a mom, specifically here in the U.S. Fourteen playwrights pooled their experiences and imaginations to create this play — a play full of stories and monologues from mothers in different walks of life at different stages of the game. We see moms during labor, the first day of school, their daughter's first period, their son's first date, the empty nesting, and so on.

These snapshots of life (performed by the seriously brilliant Michelle Lopez-Rios, Deborah Staples, Tami Workentin, and Doug Jarecki) really make you want to hug Mom. Or, if you're a mom yourself, I imagine you'll really want to hug your kids. Many of the monologues are laugh-out-loud funny: the sex ed, the mother-in-law. Some look at the various forms a mom can take: a surrogate mother to a gay couple, an unofficial step-mom, an adoptive mom. Others examine mothers' fears and protective instincts: a twenty-two-year-old son in the military, a seven-year-old son who likes to wear dresses. 

My mom wasn't alone when the house lights came back on. I saw lots of folks drying their eyes at the end of the show, myself included. If that's not a sign of remarkable theater, I don't know what is. With Mother's Day just around the corner, I say take Mom to this wonderful production of Motherhood Out Loud — and remember to pack the kleenex. 

For ticket information, visit

Friday, April 15, 2016

Company Brewing

A hip bar & restaurant in Milwaukee's Riverwest 

Looking to try something new before seeing a show downtown, Adam and I ventured into Company Brewing in River West. The place serves house-made beers on tap and a Puerto Rican-inspired dinner menu of appetizers, entrees, sides, and boards of cheese and charcuterie.

We started with Tostones — fried plantains. They were maybe a little too crispy, but our lovely waitress brought us some extra garlic vinaigrette for dipping. The vinaigrette helped a lot — we wolfed down those plantains! — though I think they could use some sort of aioli to really make them sing. Adam also insisted we try the fried pig's ear. The name alone turned me off. Call it pork, call it bacon, just don't call it something I can vividly picture on the animal. But in the spirit of being a good sport, I tried one and it was tasty. 

For dinner, Adam and I both ordered sandwiches. I went for the Artichoke Melt: Sartori fontina cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes, and arugula pressed between toasty ciabatta bread. It was melty and delicious and I would definitely order it again. It's a little oily, so don't be fooled into thinking this is some super-healthy veggie melt — but boy was it yummy. The fries on the side were good. Nothing to write home about, but good. For a place that seems to pride itself on foodie flavors, I wish the fries were served with something other than ketchup — that would take them to the next level.

Adam ordered the Jibarito: grilled steak, lettuce, tomato, and aioli sandwiched between two grilled plantains. Yep, the plantains act as the bread — something that isn't clear from the menu, so you might want to ask for a full description of certain items before ordering them. Luckily for Adam, he loved it and joined the clean plate club. 

Company Brewing, as the name implies, also brews their own beer. It sounds like the tap list changes with relative frequency — or maybe they just happened to release a new saison beer (which we both ordered) the night we dined there. Adam, the resident beer snob (I mean that in the best way), didn't much care for it. I thought it tasted fine, but I'm not big into beer. Oh it's hoppy? Don't care. Point is, Adam would say to skip the saison — I say, you do you.

So while our meal was a rather mixed bag of tricks, there's definitely enough greatness at Company Brewing to make me want to go back for more. Those sandwiches were killer, and the atmosphere is that blend of industrial-homey with lots of wood, metal, and rustic lighting juxtaposed with rows of hanging greenery and bright picture windows. Company Brewing also serves weekend brunch, which I'm especially keen to try. If you've been there for brunch, let me know what you thought! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Thai red curry with veggies

Peppers, onions & carrots cooked in coconut milk

Whenever we order Thai food, Adam and I disagree on two things: Meat and spice. He always goes for beef and I usually prefer chicken. He wants his eyes watering with heat and I prefer to survive the meal with my senses in tact. But when I'm the one making Thai food at home, I can do it my way — gotta love that. 

This particular dish from Cookie & Kate doesn't actually have any meat. It's also not super hot, spice-wise (even I added some Sriracha to my bowl before digging in). But it made a believer out of both myself and Adam, who, when I mentioned I might add meat next time, said he liked it just the way it was — straight up veggie. 

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2 cups basmati rice (so that you have leftovers!)
1 TBS coconut or olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 cup chopped carrots (3 or more carrots, depending on size)
1 TBS grated or finely chopped fresh ginger (about a 1-inch cube)
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 TBS Thai red curry paste (I used the Thai Kitchen brand)
1 14-oz. can coconut milk (regular, not light)
3/4 cup vegetable broth (or water)
1 and 1/2 cups firmly-packed, thinly-sliced kale (ribs removed first)
1 and 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 and 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 tsp salt + more to taste
chopped basil or cilantro & Sriracha, to garnish

1. Cook the rice according to the package directions. 

2. For the curry: Heat 1 TBS olive or coconut oil in a large skillet. Once oil is shimmering, add chopped onion and sprinkle with salt. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. 

3. Add the chopped bell peppers and carrots. Add a splash more oil if needed, sprinkle with salt, and cook until the vegetables start to get tender. Add 2 TBS curry paste and stir to combine with the veggies. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often. 

4. Add coconut milk, chopped kale, vegetable broth (or water), and 1 and 1/2 tsp sugar. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat and gently cook until the peppers and kale have softened to your liking. 

5. Remove curry from heat and season with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp salt. Divide rice and curry into bowls and garnish with chopped basil or cilantro. Add an extra sprinkling of salt and a drizzle of Sriracha, if desired. 

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Confession: Shopping for this recipe was the first time I ever bought kale. Crazy right? I'm so not hip. There are different kinds —  who knew? It doesn't smell good — who decided to eat this stuff? But once it simmered in the curry and finally (finally!) wilted, it was a nice addition. So if you're new to kale or if, like my brother, you think people who eat kale only do it so they can be like *hair toss* "I eat kale," this is a good foray into kale territory. 

Also, if you want extra sauce, just up the saucy ingredients by half: Add an extra TBS curry paste, an extra cup (or so) of coconut milk, extra broth, vinegar, soy sauce, etc. If you add extra spice and salt to taste, you can't go wrong.

P.S. I made this dish on a weeknight, so that should tell you something about how doable it is. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

7 Tips for visiting the Shedd Aquarium

A Chicago day trip done right

For Adam's birthday this past weekend, we took a day trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He'd never been before and I had only been once, at least a decade ago. The place is fun — maybe not mind-blowing, but fun. Here are some tips for planning your own visit. 

#1 Buy tickets in advance. 
There was a huge line out the aquarium's front entrance — all folks who hadn't bought tickets beforehand. The line was super long when we arrived at noon and was just as long, if not longer, when we left around 3:30. To skip the line, all you have to do is buy tickets online ahead of time. You can print them at home or have your mobile device handy. For adults, tickets are $37.50 for the all-access pass. 

#2 Get the all-access pass. 
If you're going to the Shedd Aquarium, do it right. The all-access pass gets you in to all of the exhibits, including the sharks, beluga whales, and dolphins. You'll also gain access to the Aquatic Show and a 4-D experience (you'll choose times for both of these shows when you purchase your tickets in advance).

#3 Missed the Aquatic Show? Don't sweat it. 
Okay, so it was fun to see the dolphins twirl, the belugas wave, and that little penguin trot along the sidewalk. But either get there early to get good seats near the water, or know that you'll be squinting a bit to catch all the action. If your show is at noon, they recommend arriving at 11:30, and so on. But like I said, if you happen to miss the show, don't sweat it. It really is geared toward kids, with staged dialogue between a couple of trainers and video montages promoting wildlife conservation. That said, if you do have kids along for the ride, don't miss the show! I'm sure they'd love it.

#4 Bring quarters and purse snacks. 
Even better than a coat check: lockers. Just three quarters will get you a locker for the day, and they're plenty big for two winter coats and a tote bag. As for snacks, while there are some exhibits that forbid food (due to open water), other exhibits allow food and drink. There's also a cafeteria where you can chow down on your own brown bag lunch if you're so inclined. FYI: If bagged lunches aren't your thing, the Shedd offers a few cafés and concession stands. 

#5 Expect crowds.
There's no avoiding it. The Shedd Aquarium is super crowded. Maybe going on a weekday would be better, but I would inquire with the Shedd staff as to when is the best time to go to avoid the crowd. If you're bringing kids, I suggest doing so sans stroller — they're cumbersome and awkward and some of the exhibits can only be accessed by flights of stairs. We saw more than a few families struggling. 

#6 Hit multiple museums in one day.
Adam and I arrived at the Shedd around noon. We parked by the Planetarium for $19. There are multiple parking lots around the various museums, which are all in same general vicinity. Once parked, it would be easy to walk from the Planetarium to the Shedd to the Field Museum, and so on. I say, if you can get yourself out of bed bright and early, go park once and take in multiple museums in one day. The aquarium had us tuckered out after about 3.5 hours, but if we had gotten there earlier, we could have fit in the Planetarium or Field Museum, too — and without having to park again! 

#7 Consider the City Pass. 
Gonna be in Chicago for a few days or a week? Purchase the City Pass! It'll get you into all of Chicago's museums, bypassing lines, for one week. Given the cost of each individual museum, the City Pass is so worth it for both savings and convenience.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Whimsical wall art for all ages

Grown-ups can do whimsy too! 

A couple weeks ago, I shared three of my favorite artists for decorating kids rooms. These pieces tended either nursery sweet, super bright and fun, or very fairytale — things I love, but really only work for children. Luckily, two of those artists also create pieces that skew more adult — or at least, I like to think they can pass. Here are three artists that'll satisfy your inner child. 

#1 Helen Dardik
What makes these pieces by Helen Dardik work for grown-ups are the color palette and subject matter. Either the colors are more muted, or the subject of the piece is something that, unlike most of Helen's art, could work outside of a kid's room.

Below: Wild Horses, Tiny Homes, Love

#2 Emily Winfield-Martin
These pieces certainly work on grown-up walls — I speak from experience. I pulled a similar Poppy portrait from Flow Magazine and worked it into the collage wall in our apartment, and a bookish friend of mine has I Saw Her In The Library in her own place. Most of Emily's work is rather strange and enchanted, but the subjects of these pieces are just the right mix of realism and magic.

Below: The Night Garden, I Saw Her In The Library, Shirley Poppy

#3 Kelly S 
The artist behind Loopy Lolly on Etsy simply goes by Kelly S. Her work has a definite Wonderland quality, but her technique and themes are sophisticated enough to pass in a grown-up home. Like my friend Rebecca said: "It is silly, but silly in the best way. Like, why do people have pictures of boats and fruit baskets in their house? I never understood stuff like that. People should have pictures of lady bunnies and man foxes being married and sitting on velvet fainting couches. Obviously." 

The point is, if you love it, go for it. Why be boring? Adam and I have Mr. Deer and Mrs. Rabbit hanging in our hallway. They're not front and center, but they lend the perfect dash of whimsy.

Below: Mr. Deer and Mrs. Rabbit, Mad Hatter Fox, Elephant Penguins

Tips for working a little whimsy into your wall art: 
- Buy smaller prints so they're not overwhelming — at least until you're totally confident in the look. 

- Work those smaller pieces into a college wall so that you can surround them with different styles and subject matters so that it's not all whimsy all the time. 

- Or, place whimsical artwork in less prominent places throughout your home so that, though it's not in your face, those fanciful touches are still there.