Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas With Grandma D

Christmas picture of my cousins and me with Grandma D

Keeping Tradition Alive

While certainly not my most flattering photo op (my friend Brodie already strongly advised I lose the chin cinched hat ASAP), these are pictures from my annual Christmas Day run with my brother, Kelly. For the last several years, my dad, brother, and I have made it a tradition to run from my parents' house in Brookfield to the Milwaukee lakefront (approximately 10 miles) on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, my dad is currently sidelined with a knee injury, so this year's run wasn't quite the same, but Kelly and I felt like we had to keep the tradition alive and brave the 8-foot snow mounds, uncleared sidewalks, and icy patches, to literally earn our Christmas day feast.

Running to the lakefront has become similar to a rite of passage in our family. I like to do the run each time I visit my parents. My mom made the journey for the first time a few months ago, and has been rewarded accordingly with a coveted spot in our secret sect. I love the run because I get to spend quality time with my family and enjoy memorable conversations (sometimes my dad will ask if there are any new guys in my life, which is always classic). I also love the variety of the route and terrain. During the course of the 10 mile journey, we experience the suburbs, parks and trails, the campus of Marquette University, the ghetto, the city, lakefront, and Milwaukee Art Museum (aka, Mecca).

I definitely love good family and holiday traditions (what could be more memorable?), and our annual Christmas run to the Lakefront is one of my favorites. Although we missed my dad this time, I'm glad my brother and I kept the tradition alive for yet another year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Bliss

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homemade Holiday Gifts

My favorite holiday gifts for friends are simple and homemade. This year, using an idea I found in a Martha Stewart holiday magazine, I made several batches of my famous homemade granola :), bagged them into 1lb window coffee bags, and decorated with festive ribbons. I bought the coffee bags from an online coffee wholesaler, and used a modified recipe for granola that I found in the Joy of Cooking.

Dinner & Nutcracker

This past Friday night, a few friends and I went out to dinner at the Old Fashioned, followed by a performance of the Nutcracker at the Overture Center. I love the Old Fashioned, and hadn't been there in a while. It's a relatively recent entrant to the Madison dining scene and is essentially a trendy take on a Wisconsin supper club. It's good stuff. I enjoyed a burger, and we all split a $4.50 pitcher of Shlitz. It doesn't get much more Wisconsin than that. Afterwards, we headed to the nearby Overture Center, where we barely arrived in time for the show. The performance was good, but nothing extraordinary. I feel like I've seen the Nutcracker a bazillion times, and this performance wasn't particularly noteworthy, except for when two of the professional dancers fell on their butts during two seperate sequences. When does that ever happen?

Two Chicago Favorites

P.O.S.H. (613 N. State Street)

Chriskindlmarket (Daley Plaza)

P.O.S.H. (613 N. State Street) is one of my favorite stores in Chicago. Unlike the nearby homogenous big box stores, this cozy storefront, tucked just off Michigan Avenue, features an eclectic assortment of antique and vintage china, dinnerware, glassware, and flea market finds. It’s the perfect place to find very unique gifts and trinkets. I found a great Christmas present for my parents there during my most recent visit, the details of which I obviously can't yet divulge. I always make an effort to stop at POSH each time I'm in Chicago. The store also offers online sales. Not quite the same experience, but a nice option nonetheless.

More of a seasonal favorite, Christkindlmarket is the largest German holiday market outside of Germany. For the last 12 years, the event has been held daily on Daley Plaza from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. The market features a very large Christmas tree, nativity scene, daily dance and music entertainment, and vendors from Germany, Ukraine, Austria, and Chicago, selling beer, spiced wine, baked goods, toys, and handmade holiday ornaments.

I've made the trip to Chistindlmarket in December for the last several years. Last week, I met up with my friend and college roommate, KJ (Kristen), to enjoy the outdoor market. It was the coldest day in Chicago I've experienced, so shopping outside wasn't terribly pleasant, but we still had a good time. We enjoyed a lunch of traditional German potato pancakes with apple sauce, brats, and hot apple cider in the warming hut. Afterwards, we stocked up with traditional German candy and roasted nuts at the "Sweet Castle" and perused the beautiful handmade ornaments. Chriskindlmarket is definitely a beloved Chicago tradition, and a must-see during the holiday season.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Feeding My Inner Foodie

My dining adventures in Chicago were superb. I visited some classic favorites, and explored new territory as well. My inner foodie was very pleased.

Starting with a classic favorite, I enjoyed a record-breaking six meals at Fox and Obel Café (401 E. Illinois Street), which covered the span of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My favorites are still the breakfast offerings, specifically the French Toast, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, and Healthy Start Parfait (layers of milk an honey granola, vanilla yogurt, and seasonal berries). I also love any and all of the baked goods.

Also along the lines of breakfast, my friend Seif (Katie) introduced me to a new restaurant, The Bongo Room (1152 S Wabash Ave.), which specializes in creative French toast and pancakes. The strategy, as Seif explained it to me, is to order multiple items on the menu, but as half orders. That way you can sample as many different pancakes as possible. So Seif and I essentially created a pancake/french toast flight, and enjoyed four varieties, including the Chocolate Tower French Toast (bittersweet chocolate chunk bread stuffed with maple mascarpone, banana crème brulee sauce, bananas and shaved chocolate). It was quite hilarious to see all of the decadent varieties of pancakes spread across the table for just the two of us. It was sheer gluttony, and I loved every moment.

Next up was another Seif recommendation, Tango Sur (3763 N. Southport), which is where I enjoyed dinner on Monday with Seif, Karen, my friend Mel from college, and my colleague Cydney, and her boyfriend Ben. I loved this place, definitely now among my Chicago favorites. It’s essentially an Argentinian BYOB steak house with a very intimate atmosphere and great prices. We started out with appetizers, sampling the four varieties of Empanadas, as well as the Provoleta (Argentina provolone cheese cooked on the grill with olive oil and roasted red pepper). Seif and I then split the El Filet as an entrée (range grown filet mignon cooked on the grill then topped with a red onion wine sauce and accompanied with spinach mashed potatoes.) We also took advantage of the BYOB, with two bottles of red wine with dinner. I'm embarassed to admit I was a tiny bit hung over on Tuesday!

My next restaurant adventure was to The Publican (837 W. Fulton Market), which recently opened in October to much hype (it’s the latest venture from the team who opened Avec and Blackbird). The menu is unique and eclectic, and primarily highlights seafood and heirloom pork, as well as an incredible beer list and communal dining. Karen, her sister Sue, and I shared three dishes—the mussels, the heirloom apple salad, and a dish with chicken, sausage, and frites. The heirloom salad stood out most for me. It was very good. The rest was good, but not great. The service was very good, and the bathrooms are also cool. But I’d still pick Avec over The Publican any day.

And my final culinary adventure in Chicago was to Sweet Mandy B’s (1208 W. Webster Ave.), which features “old fashioned” homemade cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and more. I ordered two cookies and the "Magic" bar. I’m such a sucker for good bakeries. They just draw me in with their creamy frostings, cheery pleasantries, and sugar.

Chicago Dining Adventure Pics

The Bongo Room

Empanadas at Tango Sur

Mussels at The Publican

Sweet Mandy B's

Wish List Addendum

I've never been so excited for a cook book. I found this one in Chicago over the weekend and can't wait to pick up a copy of my own. This is my kind of baking, and Matt and Renato pretty much live my dream life. Here's a synopsis of the book:

Hip. Cool. Fashion-forward. These aren’t adjectives you’d ordinarily think of applying to baked goods.

Think again. Not every baker wants to re-create Grandma’s pound cake or cherry pie. Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito certainly didn’t, when they left their advertising careers behind, pooled their life savings, and opened their dream bakery, Baked, in Brooklyn, New York, a few years back. The visions that danced in their heads were of other, brand-new kinds of confections…

Things like a Malt Ball Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting, which captures the flavor of their favorite Whoppers candies (and ups the ante with a malted milk ball garnish). Things like spicy Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits that really wake up your taste buds at breakfast time. Things like a Sweet and Salty Cake created expressly for adults who are as salt-craving as they are sweet-toothed.

Which is not to say that Lewis and Poliafito sidestep tradition absolutely. Their Chocolate Pie (whose filling uses Ovaltine) pays loving homage to the classic roadside-diner dessert. Their Baked Brownies will wow even the most discriminating brownie connoisseur. And their Chocolate Chip Cookies? Words cannot describe. Whether trendsetting or tried-and-true, every idea in this book is freshly Baked.

Amassing A New Collection

Now you probably think I went crazy and spent all kinds of money on Michigan Avenue, but au contraire, my friend. Besides extravagant dining expenses, I kept my pocket book relatively tight lipped. I'm saving for skate skies.

My biggest purchases were the two ornaments pictured above. I'm on a mission to amass a fantastic collection of personalized Christmas ornaments. I found the top ornament at Crate&Barrel. It's the "Cook's Tools in Crock Ornament." I purchased it for close to $10, and of course when I checked online this morning, it's down to $6.97. But even at full price, I think it's an excellent ornament and truly fitting for my me and my love of cooking.

Obviously I found the second ornament at Starbucks. But luckily this time, I scored a deal. The ornament was 30% off, so I think I paid somewhere between $3 and $4. I fell in love with the ornament because it reminded me of all the Carmel Apple Spice drinks I had during my time in Chicago. Only on vacation do I indulge in the extravagance of daily grande Carmel Apple Spice drinks.

Snow Day in Chicago

These are a few pictures I took on Tuesday night in Chicago. As you can probably tell, we were in the midst of a bit of a snow storm. Tuesday is also the night we had tickets to see Dirty Dancing at the Cadillac Theatre and were planning to drive back to Madison afterwards. Instead, we declared a snow day and booked our hotel room for another night and called into work to extend our vacation yet another day. The evening was made much more enjoyable knowing we weren't going to have to plow through the snow back to Madison at midnight. The next day, Karen and I enjoyed a final run through the city, breakfast at Fox and Obel, and a shopping excursion to Lincoln Park.

My Chicago View

Here is a picture of the view from our hotel room in Chicago. Our room was on the top floor, and the woman who checked us in said we had the best view in the house. I'm sure they say that to everyone, but this time I believed it. It was most beautiful when everything was lit up at night. I love Chicago. Definitely my second favorite city.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Daily Mile Launch

I watched with awe the very exciting Ironman World Championships coverage on NBC over the weekend. It was different this time, as I tried to imagine myself during each stage of the race. I was also struck by all of the things that went wrong for some of the race leaders—flat tires, snapped break cables, upset stomachs, cramping and dizziness, etc. It’s amazing to see the world’s greatest athletes truly humbled and brought to their knees by Ironman. Most impressive, of course, was the race performance and sheer determination of women’s champion, Chrissie Wellington. She blazed past the other competitors, always with a smile on her face, and quickly jumped back into the race after a disappointing flat tire and CO2 cartridge mishap half-way into the bike leg.

The coverage certainly bumped up my excitement for next year’s race to a new level, as did an online article my friend Jen sent me this morning. It's an article titled “Wisconsin’s Kona Bound Women" on, in which both of our names are quickly mentioned. The article is written by Gaylia Osterlund, an Ironman staffer who writes a series on the Kona Bound age group women. It was definitely more rewarding than my debut in the Regent Neighborhood Association Newsletter, in which I was featured as "Kim" in an article about neighborhood Ironman Finishers. Sigh.

And in the most exciting news of all, my brother and his friend, Ben, officially launched their Web site, Dailymile, this afternoon. It’s been in private beta for several months now, and has increasingly gained momentum with over 100,000 miles logged to date. You can sign up for the site and invite your friends to join at Of course I’m a proud sister doing everything I can to support Kelly and Ben, but I also think it’s an incredible social network that I look forward to logging into each and every day. Please take just a few moments to check it out (and don’t forget to tell your friends!). The only thing more rewarding than putting in good miles, is doing it with friends.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December in the City

The time has come for my annual 5-day December trip to Chicago. I look forward to the trip all year long. There's nothing better than December in Chicago...the lights, festivities, cheer, glamour, and action.

As is the case every year, my roommate Karen is on the planning committee for an annual professional conference that takes place in Chicago each December. I come along, keep her company, and reap the benefits of free accommodations just off Michigan Avenue and plenty of opportunities for bumming around the city, breakfast every morning at Fox and Obel, great shopping, coffee, running on the lake shore path, exploring, unique dining, and meeting up with old friends from high school and college. It's like five days of completely selfish, uninterrupted Kristin time.

Karen also scored tickets for us to see the Pre-Broadway US Premiere of Dirty Dancing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Tuesday evening. I can't wait to see it on stage...Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

K & K's Holiday Dinner Party

Cydney, Ben, Karen, Kate, Karla, Max, Tony, Emily, and Chloe

The Making of a Dinner Party

Last night, Karen and I held a joint holiday dinner for our colleagues and their loved ones. My staff includes Emily and Chloe, and Karen's consists of Tony and Cydney. Since I love a good dinner party and obviously enjoy cooking very much, we thought it would be the perfect way to honor our colleagues and show them how much we appreciate them and their work.

Several weeks ago, we started party preparations and sent out hand-made invites a and decided on a menu of spinach artichoke dip, lasagna, salad, bread, and a few varieties of holiday cookies. Karen began setting the table earlier in the week with her grandma's china and silver (agonizing over fork placement and centerpiece selection) and I started cooking up a storm in the kitchen, baking three varieties of holiday cookie recipes from the latest issue of Rachel Ray and simmering homemade sauce for lasagna.

Things came together perfectly for the party. With lasagna cooking in the oven, mounds of snow covering the yard, Christmas tunes on the radio, a beautiful Christmas tree decorated with lights and colorful ornaments, garland on the mantel, and a fire burning, the house felt so cozy, warm, and welcoming. Everyone had a great time, the food was delicious, and I felt so lucky to work with such wonderful people. The dinner party was definitely a great success.

Trial and Error

For several months, I had been having issues with my turntable, seemingly as a result of my attempt to replace the needle. After I installed the new needle, the sound quality was suddenly off, and I could only get the music to play from the right speaker. After much trial and error, I decided to take it to a specialty shop for a diagnosis. Through another vinyl-collecting colleague, my friend Karen learned of a great recommendation for Madison’s resident turntable expert. In just a few days, he evaluated my turntable, gave it a tune and a new needle, and now it’s playing better than ever.

Apparently I had purchased and installed the wrong needle for my turntable, which is why I was having sound issues. He also reported that my turntable is in great working condition, and that it’s a classic Technics, likely from the 70’s. I had always been convinced that I needed to splurge on a better turntable (in my mind, the dream was the $1,200 Rega P3), but he assured me that my turntable is perfect.

Which is actually funny, since I found my current turntable in the dungeon-like basement of Karen’s former appartment. I had found it sitting on a table, next to the laundry room, with a simple sign stating, “Free. Take me if you wish.” Thinking that it looked better than my turntable at the time, and knowing that my conscience would not allow me to leave this beautiful turntable stranded in a dingy basement, I took it home and made it my own. Unsure of its origins, however, I was always apprehensive about its quality and performance. Now I can rest assure that I have a solid turntable.

So although it was a process to get to this point, and I was forced to go months without my beloved turntable, I guess I’m always learning. And now she's truly ready to spin, and I’m more excited than ever to break out my favorite records.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Atomic Records to Close in February

Milwaukee’s well-known vinyl shop, Atomic Records, announced plans last week to close its doors in February. Owner Rich Menning explained that after 24 years, the “decline of the music industry combined with the recent economic downturn” have made it impossible to remain open for business.

It’s sad to see such a beloved, indie-stocked, locally-owned vinyl shop close its doors. As I'm sure you can imagine, good vinyl shops are tough to come by these days, and Atomic was definitely the best in Milwaukee.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

NBC Airs 2008 Ironman World Championships, Saturday

This Saturday (Dec. 13) from 2–4pm (Eastern), NBC will air coverage of the 2008 Ironman Triathlon World Championships, which recently took place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on October 11th. I’m pretty excited to check out the coverage and get a glimpse of the race I’ll be competing in next October.

Speaking of which, plans are coming together nicely for the big trip. My parents have committed to making the trip with me, and we’ve already secured accommodations for the duration of our stay on the big island. Afterwards, we plan to travel to a few of the other islands. I’ve never been to Hawaii, so I’m excited to check it out. Of course I’m excited for the race, and the perhaps once in a lifetime chance to compete in the World Championships, but I’m most excited to swim in the ocean, lay on the beach and explore after the race.

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Christmas List

Following is my much-anticipated :) Christmas list. I put together my list last week, and then everything changed over the weekend. I went skate skiing for the first time, and pretty much fell in love with the sport. It was fast-paced, technique-driven, incredibly challenging, and a phenomenal cross-training workout. So now, all I really want is skate skies. I can just picture myself cruising around the groomed trails all winter long, taking occasional breaks in the warming hut to fuel up with hot chocolate and cookies. It's all about the hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Skate Skies

Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses (vinyl)
Eddie Bauer down comforter

Craft Thermal Split Finger Glove

North Face Ultra 104 GTX XCR trail running shoes

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein

North face booties
Title Nine Metro Sweater

Nick Drake, Pink Moon (vinyl)

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Frivolous, Furry, and Faux: Meet My New Throw

This is, perhaps, the most frivolous item I’ve ever purchased. Last weekend, during one of the many after-Thanksgiving sales, I bought an Espresso “Faux-Fur Throw” from Pottery Barn. Just had to have it. Here are the details:

Soft and plush, our faux-fur throws are irresistible. The espresso, ivory and gray fog throws have a channel cut reminiscent of vintage mink coats; the frosted taupe has variegated coloring and a uniform plush hand. Dry-clean. 50 x 60". Imported.

It might be frivolous, but you can’t tell me it’s not practical. This thing is keeping me snuggly and warm in these quickly-approaching-below-zero temperatures. Plus it just feels so furry and luxurious, but in a faux, animal-friendly sort of way.

Plus I got an awesome discount on it. I couldn't resist. And I figure it will last a lifetime.

Vetting of the "First" Puppy

I love the cover of this week's New Yorker, entitled "Vetting," by Barry Blitt. Interestingly, Blitt is also the infamous cartoonist behind the previous controversial terrorist fist-jabbing cover ("The Politics of Fear" from the July 21 issue).

For this week's piece, Blitt drew Barack Obama "vetting" various dogs as he attempts to select the "first" puppy. Interesting, vetting also means to "submit an animal to examination by a veterinarian." Quite clever.