Sunday, November 26, 2017

Pumpkin chocolate chip oat muffins

Gluten-free & mostly wholesome 

In search of a yummy muffin recipe for Thanksgiving weekend, I circled back to one I'd drooled over on Instagram a while back — Pinch of Yum's favorite pumpkin muffins. Note that you do need a food processor or blender for this recipe. 

I liked that the muffins were free of flour and refined sugar, so they're packed with (mostly) wholesome ingredients — something we could all use more of after all the Thanksgiving over-eating. These muffins turned out really tasty! Delicious right out of the oven, and yummy the next day — especially if you zap 'em in the microwave for about 15 seconds. 

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2 cups rolled oats
1 cup pumpkin purée (canned works!)
6 oz. or 1 small container plain Greek yogurt (I subbed sour cream)
1/2 cup real maple syrup
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp cinnamon 
1/8 tsp salt 
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chocolate chips (optional)

*Note: Though the muffins were plenty tasty as-is (all those chocolate morsels!) I may try adding more spice next time (starting with 1/8 tsp each clove, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice) and/or 1/4–1/2 tsp of vanilla, because why not?

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

2. In a food processor or blender, pulse the oats until they're mostly smooth. 

3. If your food processor is large enough, add all other ingredients (minus chocolate chips) and pulse until just combined. If your food processor is small, transfer the pulsed oats to a large mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and beat with an electric mixer until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

4. Pour batter into prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15–20 minutes. Let cool 5–10 minutes in the pan before removing. Enjoy warm! 

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These muffins disappeared in no time, and I have to say it was nice knowing they're made with such a short list of simple ingredients. Will definitely make again — give 'em a whirl, friends! 

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Skylight presents "Annie"

A beloved family favorite delivers a dose of optimism 

Before opening weekend of Annie at Milwaukee's Skylight Music Theatre, I'd only seen and heard snippets of the iconic 1977 musical. Sure, I could sing along to "Tomorrow" and the chorus of "Hard Knock Life" like any good musical theater fan, but my knowledge of our red-headed, orphaned heroine pretty much stopped at face value. Before the curtain rose, I admit I worried a little that even for a self-identifying optimist like me, Annie would turn out to be a bit too syrupy and lean heavily on its one hit song. 

Boy were those worries cast aside in no time. But first, a quick run-down of the plot for those who've never even heard "Tomorrow." Annie, a plucky orphan who sees a world full of sunshine and possibility, gets the chance to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks. What starts as a charity case turns into an inseparable duo — but Annie still dreams of finding her real mom and dad. Toss in some shenanigans to threaten the happy ending, courtesy of crooked orphanage owner Miss Hannigan, and you've got the gist. 

Waiting for the show to begin, dozens of families trickled into the Skylight's Cabot Theatre, toting little girls in their Sunday best. Eyes gleaming, some of them were lucky enough to snag a booster seat, while others hung over the orchestra railing to sneak a peek at the conductor during Annie's overture. I remember being that little girl myself. Cue the fond nostalgia. 

We saw the Sky cast that day, starring the spunky KyLee Hennes as Annie. This young lady quickly stole my heart and, I admit, brought me to tears singing "Maybe" — a ballad in which orphan Annie wishes her parents would come back for her, musing: "Betcha they're good, why shouldn't they be? Their one mistake was giving up me." We weren't 10 minutes into the show, but this little girl had such heart and honesty in her song that I needed a Kleenex. A good sign. 

I was equally floored by the kids cast and youth ensemble, the girls who play Annie's cohorts at Miss Hannigan's orphanage. Each one brings their own special vim and vigor to the stage, and it's insanely fun to watch. I'd say "Hard Knock Life" is my clear favorite, but then I remember there's also a phenomenal adult cast. 

Carrie Hitchcock's Miss Hannigan is pitch-perfect in her blend of comedy and callousness. She delivers the kind of coarse, vaguely bawdy old crow audiences love to hate. Rounding out the sleazy scumbags are Matt Crowle as Hannigan's brother, Rooster, and Samantha Sostarich as Rooster's dame. Put all three together singing about "Easy Street" and it makes for a highly-entertaining trio.

As for the good guys, our mighty billionaire with the soft underbelly, Oliver Warbucks, is brought to life by the charming, wonderfully robust and strong-voiced Andrew Varela. Diane Lane plays Warbucks' smart, steadfast assistant, Grace Farrell. The strength of Lane's operatic vocals pairs beautifully with Varela's tenor and sweetly fills out Annie's collective sound. 

The Skylight's Annie isn't just a treat for the ears — it's also one for the eyes. I counted no less than seven scene changes, each rendered in a sort of winsome, picture-book style. When you add up everything from the stellar kids cast to the rich, jewel-toned costuming to the real dog on stage (Annie's dog Sandy is played by Skippy in the Sky cast), you get the quintessential family-friendly holiday outing — and the perfect story to inspire young girls. 

Director Molly Rhode says it best as she recalls her first infatuation with the movie Annie back in 1982: "I had a small obsession with it. A story with a kid at the center, and that kid was a girl, and that girl had a fierce and fiery spirit. That girl was tough as nails, and though the world had only given her hardship, she remained full of optimism. She persisted. Annie is her own agent of change. She doesn't wait for things to happen to her, she seizes the opportunity. What a stunning role model." 

35 years later, girls of all ages still need an Annie — a role model who embodies that "though she be but little, she is fierce" mentality. Annie will forever be a shining example that even the smallest of us can affect positive change, and with gumption, fortitude, and kindness, a new tomorrow is only a day away. 

Annie is playing now through December 27th at the Skylight Music Theatre. Tickets available at

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Milwaukee Rep presents "Holmes & Watson"

A heart-pounding drama of mystery & murder

Suspense, plot twists, believability, a dash of humor, a satisfying finale — that's what successful murder-mysteries are made of. When a play possesses all of these hallmarks and even boasts the company of everyone's favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, a surefire hit seems elementary, my dear Watson. So what of Holmes & Watson, a new drama making its midwest debut at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Let's examine the evidence, starting with a spoiler-free gist of the play by writer Jeffery Hatcher: Following Sherlock Holmes' "death" at Reichenbach Falls, Dr. Watson must travel far and wide to disprove the many charlatans who now claim to be the real Sherlock. When we meet Watson, he has just been called to a remote mental asylum housing three men, each claiming to be the late detective and matching his physical description. Now it's up to the sidekick to solve the mystery and determine which of the three gentleman, if any, is the real Sherlock Holmes. 

Without giving anything away, I can safely say that although Holmes & Watson is a new work, it's still a mystery that plays out as other classics of this genre tend to — with all the aforementioned suspense and plot twists. I brought my brother along to the theater on opening night, and we shared more than one suspicious, nervous, or wide-eyed glance over the course of the play. At one point I even gasped and grabbed his arm for dear life — a testament to the caliber of acting, directing, and writing on display. 

There really isn't a sour apple in the bunch, as far as actors go. The three Sherlocks are especially fun to watch, probably because it's always a treat to see someone new don the iconic — and in this case, figurative — double-brimmed hat. Ryan Imhoff plays a Sherlock most akin to Benedict Cumberbatch's quick-witted, brooding BBC iteration — and he's tall, dark, and handsome to boot. Grant Goodman gives us a straight-jacketed Sherlock, crazed but smart and convincing in his portrayal's originality. 

I have to say my favorite of the three goes to Rex Young, whose deaf, mute, and blind Sherlock held my attention in a sort of straight jacket of its own. Now that's stage presence. Norman Moses delivers a solid, likable Dr. Watson, though I must admit there were times in the doctor's investigation that lagged just a little. With an 80-minute, intermission-free show, one would hope to be on the very edge of one's seat for each precious moment. 

Still, I'd argue that almost every classic murder-mystery suffers from a smidgeon of wordy exposition — a momentary detour from the suspense. But when those suspenseful moments present themselves in Holmes & Watson, they'll have you holding your breath and clutching your neighbor's arm. To me, that's what makes Holmes & Watson feel like a new classic — one that lovers of traditional Sherlock Holmes will no doubt enjoy. 

One final favorite I have to acknowledge: The remarkable staging and set design, as well as direction by the Milwaukee Rep's former Artistic Director, Joseph Hanreddy. The multilevel set mixes practical effects — mainly chilling mists — and multimedia projections to flesh out the scenes to marvelous effect. 

So what's the final verdict? As the house lights came on after the wonderfully dizzying final scene, my brother and I left the theater saying, "That was fun!" If you ask me, that's just what an evening of "whodunnit?" should be. 

Holmes & Watson is playing through December 17th at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Info and tickets at

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Milwaukee Rep presents "Murder for Two"

Laugh-out-loud murder & mayhem in the Stackner Cabaret

Confession: They had to resuscitate me before I could write this post because I had died from laughter. Somehow the Milwaukee Repertory Theater keeps one-upping itself with the sheer joy it's bringing to the stage at the Stackner Cabaret. Murder for Two, running now through January 14th, is a mix of music, murder, and mayhem — or as Joe Kinosian, the show's co-author and Milwaukee High School of the Arts alumnus, calls it: "a love letter to musical theater, screwball comedy, and partnership." 

The 90-minute, intermission-free musical comedy features a whopping 13 characters played by just two actors. Sweet-voiced and charming, Matt Edmonds plays would-be detective Marcus Moscowicz. Aforementioned Milwaukeean and co-author of Murder for Two, Joe Kinosian, plays the zany lineup of most unusual suspects. Both fellas play the piano and sing and sweat their faces off. As far as musical talent goes, these guys are good — really good. 

In a nutshell, the story pays homage to classic murder-mystery plots: A mixed bag of folks holed up in a giant house, a sudden lethal gunshot, a new detective on scene, and the big question — whodunnit? I'm happy to report that Murder for Two keeps you guessing 'til the end. It's hilarious fun to watch Kinosian tackle his own spectrum of suspects — the merry widow, the quarreling married couple, the melodramatic ballerina, the cagey psychiatrist. 

I don't dare name them all, as half the fun is watching Kinosian pull character after character out of his magic hat. How one man can not only keep all those personalities straight but also bring them to life with such rapid-fire fluidity is absolutely astounding. At bow-taking time, I couldn't jump to my feet fast enough to give the Milwaukee native an insanely well-deserved standing ovation. 

Of course, as Kinosian said, Murder for Two isn't just a love letter to screwball comedy — it's also an ode to partnership. Though one might deduce that Kinosian's multiple personalities will forever steal the show, such characters would surely fall by the wacky wayside without a more cool and collected foil. 

Enter Matt Edmonds' "Detective" Moscowicz, an officer on a quest to solve the mystery and prove his worth. Edmonds lends a dash of heart to the otherwise crazy-funny plot and rides the wave of Kinosian's antics without skipping a beat. It's a marvel that he can make it through the show without bursting out laughing; I know the opening night crowd in the Stackner Cabaret could barely contain their own hysteric bursts. Kinosian calls it "Marx Bros.-style escapism." I call it a must-see. 

Murder for Two is playing through January 14th at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Info and tickets at

Monday, November 13, 2017

"Hamilton" in Chicago

In the room where it happened — with Lin-Manuel Miranda 

Blow us all away. I always knew that’s what finally seeing Hamilton would do. Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about why the then relatively-new Broadway sensation had me feeling helpless. Like so many others, I obsessed, gushed & freaked the hell out over the genius that is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer prize-winning hip hop musical. 

But when they announced Hamilton was coming to Chicago, I didn’t pull the trigger immediately. Figured I’d wait for it, wait for it, wait. And Alexander was wrong — I didn’t get nothing by waiting. By some stroke of luck or cosmic intervention, the crowd at the November 11th 2pm show in Chicago got so much more than we ever bargained for. 

You see, Lin-Manuel Miranda was there. Just there. Sitting center-orchestra, somewhere around Row N. Him and his lil’ burgundy beanie. The murmur started small. I looked up to see folks in the balcony leaning over, iphones blazing. The murmur grew. “Some celebrity,” the lady next to me said. 

Then the rumor reached us in orchestra-left — Lin-Manuel. “No, it couldn’t possibly,” I scoffed. But then he rose to his feet. I rose to mine, in complete fangirl hysterics. Lin-Manuel smiled and humbly waved at the adoring crowd, his genuine spirit palpable. It lasted all of 10 seconds, maybe 20. He then sat back down and snapped a selfie with the lucky lady sharing his armrest. Can. You. Imagine.

We all tried to play it cool, knowing the man himself was sitting right there as the curtain rose on his own masterpiece. Getting swept up in Hamilton takes all of two seconds — “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman…” It took my friends and I hours to digest all the things we loved and felt about this show, and while I won’t subject you to each and every nuance, I can’t fathom writing a traditional review either. There’s no point. You already know it’s going to be all fawning and flattery. So instead, for the sake of my personal memory bank, I’ll share some of what struck me most. 

First, there’s the visual spectacle, which all the incessant listening and lyric-memorizing in the world couldn’t have prepared me for. The delicious cocktail that is Hamilton’s Tony award-winning choreography, lighting design, scenic design, and costume design gives the audience a buzz like no other. The action is non-stop. There’s so much happening on the rotating stage that it’s hard to know where to look — in the best way. The dancers' movements are modern and precise, often framing the scene, acting as props, or serving to bring physical props on and off stage with artful grace.

One of the most effective and riveting bits of choreography is the manipulation of time throughout the show. Dancers reel backward to suggest a rewinding of time, move in slow-motion to suspend moments in time, and freeze to halt the clock altogether, giving certain doomed characters more time than they’d otherwise have. It’s spell-binding. 

What I noticed first about the lighting is the way in which it serves to highlight the strong curves of the dancers’ bodies and their cream-colored costumes. There are moments when the blinding white of the illuminated troupe beautifully punctuates the scene. The second thing to note about lighting is the way it highlights key moments in the story — mainly death. There’s a single bright light on Philip following his duel, reminiscent of the death of Enjolras and Gavroche in Les Miserables. And the final moment of the show hinges entirely on a bright, heaven-sent light shining down on Eliza — an inspired and unspeakably moving finish. 

Seeing Hamilton as a whole work of art, it becomes so much more than voices on a recording. The experience of it flows so effortlessly that time positively flies and you wish that, like the actors on stage, you too could manipulate the minutes and make them last. 

Reflecting back, it struck my friends and I that the first and second halves of the show differ entirely in tone — the first feeling lighter and full of promise, and the second delivering a slew of tender, tearful moments. What’s remarkable is the way in which Lin-Manuel Miranda paced these moments, never failing to keep up the energy of the show. He even winks at the audience when things are feeling a little too bleak: “Can we get back to politics? — Please!” 

While I could go on and on about Hamilton in the abstract sense, I have to close with a shout out to the phenomenal Chicago cast. Miguel Cervantes, be still my heart. Pure-voiced with the perfect blend of smarts and swagger, the man is a quintessential Alexander Hamilton. Sorry Lin-Manuel, but Cervantes wins this rap battle! We also swooned for Ari Afsar, whose softer take on Eliza hit all the right notes. 

Chris De’Sean Lee, Wallace Smith, and José Ramos as Lafayette & Jefferson, Mulligan & Madison, and Laurens & Philip, respectively, killed it. I’ve got a new place in my heart for “The Story of Tonight” thanks to those fine gentleman. Finally, I’ve gotta give it up for Alexander Gemingnani, our pouty, petulant King George. This is a character whose delivery remains mostly a mystery when just listening to the original cast recording; seeing the expressions and twitches from Gemingnani made an already-funny part all the more hilarious. 

It’s safe to say I’ll never forget my first time. I mean, as if the show wasn’t unforgettable enough on its own merits, there’s also the Lin-Manuel Miranda factor. It blows my mind that I’ll always be able to say that the first time I saw Hamilton, Lin-Manuel was there. And I truly see this as just the first of many Hamilton viewings. After all, this show is going to run forever. I like to consider the very last lines Eliza sings as a sort of invitation for us all: “Oh I can’t wait to see you again — it’s only a matter of time.” 

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Home, apothecary & lifestyle boutique in Bay View

I recently wandered into one of Bay View's newer storefronts, Ursa. I have to say, it's a breath of fresh air for Milwaukee's shop-local scene. The gorgeous, historic King building, located on KK next door to Bay View's Public Library, invites you in with its floor-to-ceiling windows and a lofted ceiling. The vibe is at once airy and welcoming - a spacious environment you'll be glad to get lost in. 

Following an impeccable first impression, enter the merch itself. Countless treasures await at this Bay View boutique — jewelry, vintage clothing, home décor, pottery & planters, wall art, soaps & scrubs. Yet the place isn't cluttered. Rather, you you feel you can breathe, take your time browsing, and ride with Ursa's thoughtful flow.

That's the key word really: Thoughtful. I got the sense that Ursa's goodies are highly curated and placed throughout the interior with intention. It's refreshing. I was actually lucky enough to chat a bit with owner Emily Kopplin during my pop-in, and she confirmed my suspicions — thoughtful is the name of the game. 

Emily told me that while some local artists are indeed represented, that's not Ursa's main objective. There are other shops in the area — like Waxwing and Sparrow Collective, to name a couple — who already make local artists their mission. Ursa isn't out to compete with that, rather compliment it by showcasing artists, designers, and collections that Emily feels are under-represented in the Milwaukee community. 

I'm a big fan of what Emily has set out to bring to Bay View. It's a veritable recipe for fresh finds that will keep Milwaukeeans coming back for more. With Christmas shopping just around the corner, I'll be stopping back at Ursa for sure. It's a breeze to shop local when there are quality boutiques like this one on the map. Check it out!