If the holidays have you feeling stressed, wait until the credit card bills arrive... Just kidding. A great way to relax is to play the soundtrack from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and conjure thoughts of childhood. In addition to the Vince Guaraldi Trio's work, we're recommending mustard, salad dressing, a hot spot for vegetarians and some new acoustic music by the BoDeans.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio -- This music, the soundtrack to the popular Christmas special, is one of the more popular holiday records of all time -- with good reason. It's hard to listen to "Skating," "Fur Elise" or "Greensleeves" without conjuring happy memories of childhood. It's a timeless classic. --Drew Olson
Wisconsin Wilderness Cranberry Mustard / Plochman's Chicago Fire -- I love mustard, and recently, I've been really into two very different brands. The first, Wisconsin Wilderness Cranberry Mustard, is a gourmet, locally made mustard that's about $5 a jar and absolutely divine on turkey sandwiches. It also makes a nice little gift, either on its own or as a part of a gift basket. My second condiment of choice is Plochman's Chicago Fire, a super low-end mustard that costs about $1.30 per plastic bottle. It's simply Plochman's classic mustard mixed with Tabasco pepper sauce, but the result is a brilliant combination that's particularly delicious for pretzel dipping. --Molly Snyder Edler
"Live Acoustic" by the BoDeans -- Recorded in November 2008 in Schaumburg and Arlington Heights, Ill., this 13-song collection highlights the singing and harmonizing that have helped the band persevere. It also shows Sam and Kurt having fun, joking and setting the stage for their tunes. It's great stocking stuffer for the Milwaukee music fan on your list. It costs $15 at the band's site. --Jeff Sherman
Café Manna -- As a longtime vegetarian, I have been a fan of Brookfield's Café Manna since it opened in 2007. It is one of very few 100 percent meat-free dining experiences in the Milwaukee area, with plenty of vegan options as well. The food is nothing less than extraordinary, even satisfying for carnivores. Recently the restaurant expanded its menu to include several raw food dishes, which is an extremely rare find in this city. Raw food maintains the nutritious enzymes of the food much better than cooked food and Café Manna offers it up in tempting varieties: vegan pecan pate, marinated mushrooms and ribboned zucchini and herb salad. --Julie Lawrence
Dining at the Calderone Club bar -- Affectionately known amongst a group of friends as "our club," Downtown's Calderone Club never disappoints. In my mind, it's the best pizza in town, but what I truly enjoy is bellying up to the bar and letting Larry pour me a Peroni or Spotted Cow and dining right there. Everything's great here, from the chicken Marsala to the meatball sub. Stop in, grab a bar seat and mangia! --J.S.
Bolthouse Farms Creamy Yogurt Dressings -- Always a fan of Bolthouse Farms' juices (particularly the carrot), I was excited to try the salad dressing. They use yogurt and add fruit juices for a sweet, tangy taste. The ingredients are natural. There are no preservatives. They taste great on salads or as a dip and they have half the fat and calories of a more traditional variety. --D.O.
Lentil almond burgers -- These vegetarian burgers are just the thing to have on hand if you're rushing around or have company for the holidays. Keep them in the fridge or freezer, and serve them on buns or on their own with sliced tomatoes and relish. Try them with roasted potatoes and roasted broccoli.
6 cups water
1 cup brown lentils or green French lentils (see note)
2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 cup finely chopped carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2 medium)
1/3 cup finely chopped celery (about 1 stalk)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten (or flaxseed substitute)
1 T lemon juice
1. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in lentils, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until very tender and beginning to break down, about 25 minutes for brown lentils or 30 minutes for green lentils. Drain in a fine-mesh sieve.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 T oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, shallots and celery and cook, stirring, until softened, about three minutes. Add almonds, thyme, salt and pepper; continue cooking until the almonds are lightly browned, about two minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor; add 1 cup of the cooked lentils. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides once or twice, until the mixture is coarsely ground.
3. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the remaining lentils. Let cool for 10 minutes. Mix in egg yolk (or flaxseed) and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. Form the lentil mixture into five patties. Heat the remaining 1 T oil in a large non-stick skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook for three minutes. Turn gently and continue to cook until lightly browned and heated through, three minutes more. Serve immediately, or allow to cool then freeze.
(Note: French green lentils are smaller and firmer than brown lentils. They cook more quickly, too, in about 20 minutes. They can be found in natural-foods stores and some larger supermarkets. --J.L.
Driving the extra block to save on gas -- I'm pretty much a fill-‘er-up-where-it's-most-convenient" kind of guy, but lately I've taken to driving a few extra blocks to compare prices. It's amazing how just two blocks can save 5-10 cents per gallon. Especially if you are a Downtown resident and/or worker, drive past that Riverside stop in the Third Ward and you'll usually find cheaper prices down the road . --J.S.
Cuties -- I don't mean puppies and kids and those kinds of cuties -- although I highly recommend them, too -- I mean those little clementine tangerines that come in a mesh sack or a small wooden box. They are sweet, juicy and tasty and they're easy to peel, making them a quick, easy, healthy snack. Just what the doctor ordered while our homes and offices are overflowing with candies, cookies and other tempting holiday snacks. --Bobby Tanzilo