Thursday, July 31, 2008


I had a nice time at last night's final concert on the square. It was just Kim, Jill, and I, and between the three of us, we brought over six lemon-themed dishes. I, of course, brought the lemon tart and also some lemon drop cookies. Jill brought a lemonade vodka concoction and lemon-flavored beans. Kim also brought lemon cookies, and lemon pepper pasta (from trader Joe's--pictured, right) with basil and lemon olive oil dressing.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so no pictures this time, but I can assure you that the spread was beautiful. So much, in fact, that two random concert-goers approached us during our picnic and said they were amazed with our spread and wanted to know more about each of our items. They were particularly enamored with Kim's pasta, which was not only beautiful, but vibrantly fresh and flavorful.

Last night's concert was pretty neat, too. It was the last concert of the 25th season, and featured a theme of "Our Town," and many performances based on life in Madison. The show ended with a rock music-themed pyrotechnics light show, which seemed to me like an odd way to end a symphony concert, but I suppose it was the next best thing to fireworks. And so another concert season ends. And a year of waiting ensues.

At least I can eat away my sorrow at Fresco tonight...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tart Obsession Continues

Pictured, right, is the lemon tart I made for tonight's concert on the square. As I mentioned in a previous post, we're on again for our culinary challenge, and this week's theme ingredient is LEMON.

Luckily, I decided to make two recipes, because the first didn't come out at all as I had hoped. My "Lemon Rain Drop Cookies" were lifeless. It makes me so sad and frustrated when you follow the directions precisely, and your dessert looks nothing like what is pictured in the cookbook.

And so the tart must suffice. And I think it looks pretty good. We'll see how it tastes tonight. I used a batch of "Sweet Tart Dough," which is the same dough I used for the two rhubarb strawberry tarts I made in recent weeks. The dough recipe makes enough for three crusts, so it's been nice to simply reach in the freezer and roll it out, rather than make a new batch of dough each time.

For the filling, I used the following recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my home to yours. Interestingly the recipe calls for whole lemons, excluding the seeds. So that's a sneak preview of my lemon contribution for tonight's picnic.

Lemon Tart Filling
2 Lemons
1.5 cups sugar
1 large egg, at room temp.
2 large egg yolks, at room temp.
1.5 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled

1. Bake crust until golden and cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 325F.
3. Scrub the lemons and dry.
4. Cut the lemons into small pieces.
5. Place the lemon pieces and sugar together in a blender and process until a regular consistency 6. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until a smooth consistency has been formed.
7. Tap the blender on your bench top a few times to eliminate some of the bubble and pour into the tart crust.
8. Transfer the tart pan on top of a baking sheet to the oven and bake for 20 min.
9. Increase the temperature to 350F and bake for another 25-30 min. When the tart has finished baking it should be fairly set, and the top will have a sugary crust.
10. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temp.
11. This can be served at room temp. or chilled (it can be served two days after it has been made as long as it's kept in the fridge).

Getting Shitty Over Sherbet

The coveted sherbet dish

Pizza Brutta

Last Thursday afternoon, my mom came into Madison for what we call a “Girls Day.” I took Friday off work and she stayed through that afternoon. We talked, walked, shopped, and ate. You know, girls stuff. We had a nice time together, just relaxing and catching up.

In terms of eating, we stuck to the classics. Pizza Brutta for dinner, Michael’s for custard, Lazy Jane’s for coffee and scones, and Monty’s Blue Plate Diner for lunch. Some serious comfort food. Pizza Brutta and Lazy Jane’s are certainly among my favorites. I’ve blogged about each before, but to sum it up, Pizza Brutta, the new kid on the block on Monroe Street, cooks the most amazingly tasty Neopolitan-style pizza with fresh, local ingredients, in a wood-burning oven. The atmosphere is friendly and casual, yet quaint and trendy—but not at all pretentious. Lazy Jane’s is a comfy and kitschy treasure chest on Willy Street that serves the best breakfasts in town. And the scones, available in a multitude of flavor combinations, are the best and biggest I’ve ever had. And I consider myself a scone connoisseur. And now that we’ve covered food…

Our shopping adventures took us to several garage sales and thrift stores, although we were slightly disappointed with the lack of Friday garage sales. While I’ve already accumulated quite the collection of vintage plates and glass ware for the various craft projects I’m working on, I’m still searching for new pieces. I also like to peruse the vinyl, and my mom and I love looking for used books at St. Vinny’s. The selection and prices can’t be beat. I must say it’s refreshing to have a mother who gets more kicks out of shopping at St. Vinny’s than, say, Macy’s. It’s seriously always the first thing she wants to do when she gets to town.

I almost had to throw my smack down at one thrift store on the west side of town. The store didn’t have baskets or carts to shop with, so I asked an employee if I could make a pile on the counter. She said that would be fine, so I started piling my treasures there. Another shopper apparently became quite enamored with one of my items and tried to take it from the pile, before she was stopped by the employee. The woman then tracked me down and asked if I really wanted the item. I said, "yes." She became quite shitty and said that she had a collection of sherbet dishes like the one I had chosen, and she really wanted it. And I said, "yes, I’m sorry, I would like to purchase it." The woman stormed out the store and my mom and I were then quite intrigued with the item.

As soon as my mom got home, she searched for the piece on Ebay. Apparently it’s an Iridescent Iris & Herringbone depression glass footed sherbet dish, which was produced by the Jeannette Glass Company sometime between 1928 to 1932. It’s a beautiful piece, but now it would feel like a crime to use such a coveted item for a craft project, and what am I going to do with one sherbet dish? So I think I’m going to try to sell it on Ebay. It seems like similar items are fetching somewhere between $10–40. And then at least someone who is collecting the set can have at it. Someone besides Ms. Shitty, I hope.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lunch Break

Lunch break at the Memorial Union Terrace last Thursday. It's kind of nice to have a lunch spot like this next to the office. Only wish I would take advantage of it more often...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

I love zucchini. And so last week, after finding a great recipe online, I decided to make Chocolate Zucchini Bread. For some reason, I decided to double the recipe and make multiple loafs, so I could then drive around town playing Santa, delivering bread to friends.

The bread was great. Tasted very much like chocolate cake, moist and chocolaty, but with the added nutrients of vegetables.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini
3 eggs
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350°F. Melt together butter and chocolate over medium heat in a double boiler. When melted remove from heat. Mix in mascarpone cheese until it melts in with the chocolate mixture. Place mixture into a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix in sugars, zucchini, eggs and vanilla on low speed until well combined. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add half of the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl. Then add the buttermilk. Then add the remaining dry ingredients. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8×4-inch loaf pans. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes (about 20-25 minutes for mini loaves) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans and continue to cool on wire rack.

Iron Drain

Tired. Overwhelmed. Moody. Menstrual.

It's not pretty. Last week marked my toughest Ironman training week yet, and it only gets worse from here until about mid-August. Here's a glimpse of last week's training:

Monday: Swim 40 mins.
Tuesday: Run 3 miles, Bike 38 miles
Wednesday: 7-mile run (2-mile warm-up, Yasso's 6 x 800's, 3:25, 3:23, 3:14, 3:23, 3:22, 3:25, 2-mile cool-down)
Thursday: Bike 30 mins. (spinning drills)
Friday: Swim 25 mins., Run 5 miles
Saturday: Bike 102 miles (16.7 mph)
Sunday: Run 21 miles

That's almost 190 miles in one week. Luckily the training is going well and I'm still injury-free (which is always a miracle in and of itself), but all of the miles are definitely taking their toll. I keep telling myself that I have to put in the miles now to feel strong during the race, but sometimes it's so hard to keep going.

I always have to pause and remember what it feels like to cross that finish line. The thought alone gives me goosebumps, and keeps me pushing through the pain and exhaustion. Only 40 more days until race day...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Restaurant Week

Next week (July 27-August 1) is restaurant week in Madison. Yay! It's essentially six days of Madison's finest restaurants offering three special, fixed-price, three course menus for $25 per person. It's a bi-annual event that is modeled after the highly-successful San Diego Restaurant Week.

I love eating out. Especially in Madison. Interestingly, Madison has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the Midwest. And I've eaten at A LOT of Madison restaurants, but there are always more to try. Restaurant Week gives me the perfect opportunity to try some of the more pricey local restaurants and sample a few courses at very affordable prices.

I already have reservations at both the Blue Marlin and Fresco next week. I'm heading to Blue Marlin on Tuesday evening with Kim, Kate, and Karen, and Fresco on Thursday evening with Jill, Ryan, and Jennifer. In total, there are 24 participating restaurants, including Cafe Continental, Eldorado Grill, Harvest, Lombardino's, and Quivey's Grove.

Just to make your mouth water a little, I've listed the menus for both Blue Marlin and Fresco below. I'll get to pick one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert at each. Read and weep.

-Bay Shrimp Gazpacho
-Blue Marlin Caesar Salad
-Blue Marlin Crab Cake

-Seared Norwegian Salmon with whipped potatoes, snap peas, carrots, peppercorn butter sauce
-Grilled Wisconsin Rainbow Trout with corn polenta, grilled eggplant, frisse salad with roasted red peppers
-Campanella pasta with arugula, crimini mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, pecorino cheese

-Tres Leche Cake
-Key Lime Pie
-Mango & Strawberry Sorbet

-Seared Sashimi Grade Scallop with Mascarpone polenta, Nueske’s bacon, and aged balsamic reduction
-Farmers’ Market Salad with mixed greens, seasonal vegetables, chèvre, and balsamic vinaigrette
-English Sweet Pea Soup with Mint crème fraiche and Nueske’s bacon garnish

-Pork Tenderloin with pineapple-jalapeño glaze, coconut risotto, snap pea, red pepper, pineapple
-Organic Norwegian Salmon with cucumber-dill sauce, chopped salad of radish, feta, green onion, black olive, local tomato, cucumber, hearts of palm
-Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi with seasonal vegetables and brown herb butter crème

-Dark Chocolate Cake with dark chocolate ganache and orange-scented bavarian cream
-Pineapple Crème Brulée with caramelized pineapple and burnt sugar crust
-Vanilla Ice Cream with strawberry-balsamic compote and almond florentine

I'm Hiring!

I'm in the process of hiring my very first full-time employee, which is both exciting and scary. It will certainly be a new and challenging experience. As most of you know, I've had my student worker, Chloe, for the past two years, and she is amazing. We work together so well, and our recruitment programs simply wouldn't work without her dedication and hard work. I love Chloe, and will be very sad to see her graduate next May :(

The new position that I'm hiring for is essentially my former position. The position vacancy listing is here. With a working title of Associate Recruitment Events Coordinator, the incumbent will assist me in the planning of recruitment programs and serve as a member of our freshman counseling staff.

Like I said...exciting and scary.

The Culinary Challenge

Kim and Kristin present basil creations at Wednesday's concert on the square

Jennifer and Jill

Our feast!

Kim's basil pasta dish

Jill's corn bread with basil and sun-dried tomatoes

Kristin's pressed sandwiches with pesto, fresh mozzarella, grilled veggies, and prosciutto, on Ciabatta bread

Last night’s concert on the square, and much-hyped culinary challenge, were a huge success. The weather was perfect, the food was the best yet, the music was twangy, and the company and conversation were, as always, hilarious and memorable.

The culinary challenge was a blast. All of the dishes were unique and delicious, and we had so much fun with the whole idea. Kim made a simple and flavorful pasta dish with basil linguine, and Jill made a hearty cornbread with basil and sun-dried tomatoes.

My pressed sandwiches turned out even better than I had hoped for. They looked amazing. Surprisingly, they were perfectly pressed, and you could clearly distinguish each beautiful layer of colorful veggies, basil, mozzarella, and prosciutto. The small sandwiches were also quite filling. Next time I try the recipe, however, I might attempt a modified version with just tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. I think a simplified version would be more appropriate for appetizers, whereas the sandwiches I made last night were hearty enough for a meal.

Since we obviously had so much fun with this week’s culinary challenge, we’ve decided to try it again next week, for the sixth and final concert of the summer, and then hope to continue the tradition by hosting dinner events each month at our homes. Kim picked “Lemons” as next week’s theme ingredient, so until then, I’ll be searching for the perfect lemon recipe.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bring on the Basil

I love Wednesdays in June and July. It means I’m halfway through my work week, and thus, that much closer to the promise of a sun- and fun-filled weekend, and also, more immediately, Wednesdays mark another concert on the square!

I know, I know. You’ve heard enough about my love of Concerts on the Square already. But stick with me for two more weeks. Tonight’s concert features the theme “String Fusion,” and a string trio by the name of Time for Three.

But even more important than the music, of course, is the food. And last week, my fellow concert goers and I decided on a culinary challenge for this week’s picnic. We chose a “theme ingredient,” and vowed to each bring a dish to share made with that particular ingredient. Basil is the name of the game for this week's Iron Chef challenge.

Luckily, I have a lot of basil in my garden, so that part was easy. Deciding on the perfect recipe was not. After much thought and research, I eventually picked a pressed sandwich recipe from Martha Stewart Magazine. It’s essentially a flattened sandwich with grilled veggies, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and pesto, on Ciabatta bread. I made my first-ever batch of basil last night. Delicious. This morning, I assembled all of the ingredients, and the sandwich is currently “pressing” in the refrigerator. I'll let you know how it turns out, and of course, what other kinds of basil treats everyone brings tonight! I can't wait.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feeling "Snacky G"

Karen and I often call each otherSnacky G.” Like if I notice that Karen is being particularly snacky one night, I’ll be like, “Hey there, Snacky G.” I’ll often use the term to describe myself as well. As in, “I’m feeling all Snacky G tonight.” Don’t ask. I'm sure this is just one of those things that doesn't translate well.

Anyways…I’ve recently come across two wonderful snacks that I’m excited to share. Both snacks were brought by friends to the weekly concerts on the square that I always talk about. A few weeks ago, my friend, Jill, brought Swiss cheese on Rosemary crackers. The flavor combo is to die for, and paired particularly well with my herb-flavored pasta last night.

And then last week, Kim brought tortilla chips with Cilantro Green Olive Salsa. I thought Kim was exaggerating when she explained that she could eat a full jar in one sitting. She wasn't lying. I could easily eat the whole jar by myself.

Since I was feeling particularly snacky last night, I went on a tour of local grocery stores to collect my new found snacks. I found the Rosemary crackers, Swiss cheese, and tortilla chips at Kopp's, and the salsa at Whole Foods. I've also seen the salsa at Cub Foods. After collecting my goods, it was obviously time to get my snack on. Enjoy!

Dinner—With All Ingredients Locally-Made

My garden is still coming along quite nicely. I’ve begun harvesting green peas and several herbs. The onions, tomatoes, sugar snap peas and peppers are getting close, and my pumpkin plant is already huge.

Last night, I made a fantastically simple pasta dish with fresh pasta from RP’s, zucchini and sugar snap peas from the farmer’s market, and fresh herbs—basil, oregano, and rosemary—from my garden, all thrown together with some olive oil. It was so simple and light, and it’s always refreshing to know that all ingredients were locally made.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Buffett Pics

Anne, Beth, and Kristin

Our Bus

Phil, Adam, Joel, Justin, Adam, and Brigham

Bantum gets an Ironman tattoo. Who knew it was that easy?

The ladies of Buffett

And the guys

Karen's sister Kate hides under a shark face

The show

Friday, July 18, 2008

Buffett Day!

Tomorrow at 11:30am, I'll be departing from my high school's parking lot, in a big, yellow school bus, with 44 of my high school friends. Destination: Alpine Valley. Why? Jimmy Buffett. I'll likely also be enjoying a deluxe junior cheeseburger and small cheddar fries from Beef-a-Roo. And perhaps I'll be cracking open my first Corona!

It's the same routine, year after year. Amazingly, this year will mark my 10th Jimmy Buffett show at Alpine Valley. It should be a very fun and interesting day, but it always goes by too fast.

Sadly, weather forcasts are not looking so tropical for tomorrow (we're now up to an 80% chance of thunderstorms), but Parrotheads truly know how to turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak, so surely we'll just break out the slip 'n slide!

An Culinary Journey

Mom, Kristin, and Dad on the Monona Terrace overlooking Lake Monona

Dinner at Taqueria Guadalajara

Chicken Sopa and la cerveza

Platillo Guadalajara--grilled beef, fried onions, cactus, pico de gallo sauce, a grilled chili, and refried beans with cheese

Torta with grilled steak, fried onions, avocado, and jalapeno peppers

Sucre Patisserie on the Capitol Square

White Chocolate Cloud=muroise cremeux, vanilla biscuit, and berry garnish

Lemon Tart= butter crust, lemon curd, and garnish

Noir de Chocolat=dark chocolate, chocolate cremeux, and ganache glaze

My parents came into Madison yesterday evening on their way back home from a week-long stay at our family’s cabin near Minoqua. They picked me up from work at 3ish, and we immediately headed to the Union Terrace where we enjoyed the warm weather, good conversation, refreshing pink lemonade, and a beautiful view of Lake Mendota.

At 5ish, we drove to Taqueria Guadalajara, a great little hole-in-the wall Mexican restaurant on Park Street. I blogged about it after my first visit last summer. It’s super cheap, and very authentic. I think my parents enjoyed it. Or at the very least, they thought it was an interesting experience.

From there, we drove back downtown and stopped at Sucre, which is a somewhat new addition to the capital square, a posh, European-style Patisserie, where we picked up fantastic little desserts to go. From hole-in-the-wall Mexican to a stuffy Patisserie, I’d say we truly hit both ends of the dining spectrum.

With our beautiful desserts in tote, we walked around the square to the Monona Terrace, where we were hoping to enjoy Mama Digdown’s Brass Band, a New Orleans jazz band that was scheduled to play as part of the Monona Terrace’s Concerts on the Rooftop series (Thursdays in June and July). Alas, big mama never made it onto stage, and I’m assuming the concert was cancelled due to the chance of inclement weather. Bummer. But still, despite the lack of music, we enjoyed our succulent desserts and the evening together.

Maxwell Street Days

This morning kicked off State Street’s Maxwell Street Days, an annual downtown Madison event named after the famous street sale in Chicago. Earlier in the day I took a stroll down State Street, and as always, it felt like Christmas in July with hundreds of sidewalk sales lining the streets, throngs of sweaty people, and salespeople with bull horns atop ladders, drawing in customers with proclamations of unbelievable deals and steals.

The event takes place today through Sunday, and as with any “bargain basement” type of sale, there is a whole lot of junk, but certainly some good deals as well. Today I found some nice orange North Face water shorts for $12 at Sports World, a few colorful plastic plates with intricate designs from Pop Deluxe for $4 each (perfect for concerts on the square!), and finally a delicious root beer float, the first of the summer, for $2 from the Chocolate Shoppe--perhaps the best deal of the day!

Probably the most interesting, and disturbing, observation of the day was that there was a line to get into Bop, this super trendy/pricey women's clothing store on State Street. It was like trying to get into a bar in college! A uniformed security guard allowed people to enter, only when the same number of people exited the shop. What is that? I certainly don't think that's in the spirit of Maxwell Street Days!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Muncie Race Pics

OK, my turn! Here are my pics from the Muncie Endurathon half-Ironman.

Hardrock Pic

Here's a great picture of my brother from last weekend's Hardrock 100. The top pic is of Kelly descending into Telluride after a long climb to Oscar's Pass. Bottom pic is of another runner climbing Oscar's Pass. Looks like fun!

My New International Friends

Like anyone, there are days I am very frustrated at work, and others when I truly enjoy my work and feel lucky to manage the programs I do. Yesterday was one of those truly rewarding days in which I planned a campus visit program for people who were very appreciative of my efforts.

Yesterday, our office hosted 26 international high school counselors, who were visiting campus as part of a 2-week bus tour to various colleges and universities in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The counselors were literally from all over the world—Ghana, Venezuela, China, Malaysia, Turkey, Italy, Oman, Tanzania, Barbados, and advise both international students and US citizens who live abroad.

Since our office budget doesn’t allow for much (make that any) international travel and recruiting, this bus tour was a great way for us to indirectly recruit great international students. According to the Open Doors Report 2007, published by the Institute of International Education, UW­–Madison ranks 19th among other US colleges and universities in the number of international students on campus. And since our international applications increased by nearly 30% this year, I’d expect we’re quickly climbing the charts.

The counselors were only scheduled to be at UW–Madison for approximately 3.5 hours, so my task was to pack in as much information and campus experiences as possible into a very short time. We started with an informal luncheon with our counseling staff and several current students—both domestic and international. Then one of our international counselors provided a brief presentation about the admissions process, campus, financial aid, etc. Afterwards, we headed out on a combination bus/walking tour of campus with two of our fabulous student tour guides. After the tour, we gave the counselors the opportunity to sample Babcock ice cream from the Union or pick up gear at the Bookstore before they needed to depart on their coach bus for the next campus.

Even though I only spent a few hours with the counselors, and am oftentimes more than happy to say goodbye to these types of visiting counselor groups, this time I was sad to see them off so soon. When I stepped on the bus with Margo to see them off, two of the counselors came up to the front of the bus and presented us with gifts from their home countries—tomato sauce from Rome, and handmade pottery from Barbados. I was so touched. Above is a picture of my new cream and sugar set, from Indigenous Potteries in Barbados! All in all, the visit went extremely smooth. It was fun and rewarding to plan, and I very much enjoyed meeting counselors from all over the world and introducing them to UW-Madison!

Last Night's Concert

Despite warnings on the Doppler 3000 of possible evening showers, last night’s concert on the square, which featured the theme “Songs Without Words,” went off without a hitch. I was joined by friends Abby, Jill, and Kim, and we once again enjoyed a wonderful feast of baked pita chips, sun dried tomato hummus, cilantro green olive salsa, iso peanuts, berry fruit salad, sharp white cheddar, basil and tomatoes with olive oil dressing, watermelon, and my strawberry rhubarb tart topped with chopped pistachios. Yes, I made it again!

Most of all, I love catching up with those girls and enjoying a beautiful summer evening with background symphony music. We found ourselves laughing and joking about so many things—Kim’s impersonations of her future mother-in-law from the Bronx, Abby’s confession that her longtime boyfriend regularly reads “Science News,” and obsesses that future generations will view refined sugars as unhealthy as we now view smoking...which presents great challenges in their relationship since Abby has the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest sweet tooth,” etc., etc.

We’re on again for next Wednesday’s concert, which is the second to the last of the summer’s six concert series :( To spice things up, we decided on an iron-chef sort of challenge for next week’s picnic. We chose basil as our theme ingredient, so we'll each be creating some type of dish that incorporates basil. I'm very know how much I like a good challenge!