Deep Thoughts From The Window Seat

Only I could do this. Yes, only I could spend nine days in my adopted homeland, surrounded by all the people, places, things and weather that I love (except palmetto bugs… I will never love palmetto bugs) and spend way too much of that time thinking deep and often sad thoughts.

A normal 34-year-old would find herself on her college campus surrounded by 20-year-old southern beauties and think about wrinkles, grey hair, and dreams not achieved. There was some of that, but mostly it was about the true passage of time.

On one hand, I felt like just yesterday I was there. Every nook and cranny of campus brought up a host of memories; some mundane, like “a bird pooped on me right here the day I was manager for the restaurant class”, some momentous, like “this is where Tracy helped me walk away from my parents that first time.”

This random space off of Greene St. still gave me the same jolt of lightening I felt in the summer of 1997 that said “you belong at USC”. It all still felt fresh and new. There was no fog over these memories.

My  Favorite Spot on USC's Campus

It was my home. I loved it. I still love it. I wanted to eat in the GMP (but mostly because where we had mailboxes, they have this…)

Think this is on the meal plan?

Think this is on the meal plan?

I wanted to go to class. I wanted to go to a party.

Then the record screeched and reminded me I have too many degrees and a life up in Wisconsin to spend more than a couple hours on campus. Wah. Wah.

And now that I’ve seen it 13 years later, will I ever have a reason to come back? There is a whole world of things to see and I feel my clock ticking. Would I want to “waste” a trip on Columbia again?

Even worse, if I don’t, would I really never see the beautiful Horseshoe again? Will I ever go to another Carolina football game? (Actually, it might be OK if I don’t go to another game because nothing will top the one we saw. Wow.)

So that was part one – life is too short to travel to the same places, so keep those memories fresh, Maggie. Tear.

Part two – the heralded Charleston pier that I have built up to a cathedral of spiritual guidance in my head.

My first trip to Charleston in a middle school aged summer made me think I wanted to be a southerner, particularly a South Carolina southerner. Though I think that epiphany really happened at Hyman’s Seafood at the “Oprah Sat Here” table, my edited memory relates it back to the pier.

The next frame shows me staring off into the harbor December of 2001. I had just graduated. I had a job, parents and friends back at home, but didn’t really feel committed. Then, on a celebratory trip before we drove back north, I was back at the pier when it hit me that yes, that was the right thing to do.

We fast forward to 2003 on a trip with girlfriends when each and every one of them was in the process of falling in love. I was alone. Once again and always. I made a couple missteps on that trip before crying silently on that pier asking for someone to be sent to me.

Sure took your sweet ass time, didn’t you Pier Gods? :)

On our second to last day of this trip, we finally made it back to my holy land. I showed Randy and we took family pictures and I then asked for a moment alone.

Again, tears came streaming. My identity as Maggie Skarich Joos has been tossed around just like the waters were on that windy day. Becoming a mom, not having a professional role, failing at entrepreneurship, succeeding at teaching… The Maggie that visited the pier all those times before wouldn’t recognize me now. I’m not sure I recognize myself still, nor like where I am. I’m not sure I dislike it either.

I’m so confused about where I am right now. I always am when I hit that railing.

My Charleston Pier

So I stood there waiting for answers to come. I waited and waited. Randy was patient, but getting antsy.

Then I damn near fell in the ocean when the cruiseliner’s horn blew out of nowhere. I calmed myself down with a couple of deep breaths only to have a wave came out of nowhere and soak me to my undies.

OK, pier… I get it. Some of these questions I just have to figure out myself, huh?

I love you, my favorite place. I’ll be seeing you soon. (Columbia I might not make it back to, but Charleston – that place will always be on my list of repeats.)

Do you have a sacred space that is not an official place of worship? I’d love to hear about it. I used to have a spot on a hill by our Park Manor house. It was over 145 out by Good Hope Rd. You could see downtown Milwaukee off in the far, far distance. Made me feel like there was a whole world in front of me. There was. Is there still?

Healthy Shrimp and Grits – A Perfect Post SC Vacation Meal

Will I ever learn? Randy has figured out that we really need an in-between day between vacations and getting back to routine. I, on the other hand, would always stretch out vacation until the last possible minute. That’s all well and good, but as a mama that gets me in trouble for the following week. We had a perfectly perfect time down in South Carolina last week, but since we were up at 4am for our flight home (and thusly I napped all afternoon vs. running errands or doing laundry), I was and continue to be, all out of sorts and tired. Whew.

Many, many pictures and stories from the trip to come, but let’s start out with a guest post from my new friend Alisa from Southern Girl Eats Clean. Miss Alisa cleaned up a standard South Carolinian meal, shrimp and grits, for us today. It is so yummy and not nearly as bad for you as the traditional recipe. Instead, this one has veggies and garbanzo bean flour, making it gluten-free and relatively light.

Now, for my Yankee friends turning their nose up at grits, let me talk you back off the ledge. Think of grits as a mechanism to get other tasty flavors into your mouth. Typically, those flavors are of the cheese or cream variety, but Alisa’s recipe uses a blackening spice and rich broth. After eating our way through no less than six different restaurant versions last week, I can safely say this is a perfect recipe for everyday. Give it a whirl. I think you’ll be surprised.

Healthy Shrimp and Grits

Be sure to get good quality shrimp! Here in Milwaukee, I go to Empire Fish or the place in the Milwaukee Public Market. Shrimp can go bad fast, especially up here where we know it’s already been traveling for awhile. Fresh shrimp will make all the difference in preparing this meal.

*** Please note that I originally had an incorrect amount of polenta in the recipe. It has been fixed. One cup will make plenty!!!***

This classic Southern recipe is served throughout the Southeast.  Upscale restaurants in Charleston and Savannah serve this dish with each chef putting his or her own spin on this iconic meal.  For generations, shrimp and grits were served as a breakfast meal in the Charleston, South Carolina area.  Shrimp was plentiful in this area and grits were inexpensive.  It was important for the fishermen to make good use of the resources available to them.  So “shrimp and grits” were born on a fisherman’s table.

This is such a simple dish but, there are so many different variations of this recipe.  Most every version has at least one or two artery clogging fats like butter, half and half, bacon or cheese added to the grits. Very delicious and very unhealthy.

Once I became a clean eater and changed up my diet, I was determined to find a way to make a healthier version of this dish.  Shrimp and grits has been a favorite meal of mine for years and I just couldn’t give it up completely.  It took me a while to perfect the recipe, but I think I nailed it.  I added more veggies, left off the unhealthy fats, white flour, cream and bacon then replaced the white grits with polenta.

Veggies for Shrimp and Grits

This dish is gluten-free my friends and full of flavor.  Healthy, clean, real food doesn’t have to be boring and tasteless.  Give this recipe a try and see for yourself that it is possible to eat clean but still eat great tasting food.

Healthy Shrimp and Grits Recipe

Clean Eating Shrimp and Grits

Serves 4
Dietary Gluten Free
By author Alisa R


  • 2-3 tablespoons organic cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 shallots (finely sliced)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1/2 red, green, and yellow bell peppers (jullienned)
  • 1 cup fresh tomato, seeds removed (chopped)
  • 1-2 tablespoon blackening seasoning (see below)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons garbanzo bean flour
  • 2 tablespoons organic tomato paste
  • 1lb wild caught shrimp (peeled, deveined and tails removed)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup organic corn polenta
  • salt and pepper


Step 1
In a large saute’ pan heat 1-2 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat.
Step 2
Add 3 sliced shallots and 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic to pan and sauté until softened, 3-5 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to burn. You may add a tablespoon of chicken or vegetable broth to pan to prevent from sticking.
Step 3
Add the red, green, and yellow peppers to pan and cook, stirring often until tender crisp. Approximately, 5-7 minutes.
Step 4
Pour in 1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth. Add blackened seasoning, Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste, mix well and simmer for 3 minutes.
Step 5
In a small bowl whisk together garbanzo flour and 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable broth, pour into sauté pan with the vegetables, stir to mix well and let simmer until sauce is thickened.
Step 6
Once the sauce has thickened, add the shrimp, chopped tomatoes and remaining ½ cup of chicken or vegetable broth. (Or only enough to bring to desired consistency.) Simmer until shrimp are cooked through, approximately 3-5 minutes, stirring often.
Step 7
While shrimp is cooking, bring 3 cups of filtered water and ¼ - ½ tsp. of salt to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium/low and slowly stir in the polenta. Add a pinch of black pepper and 1 tsp. of garlic powder. Cook, stirring often until done. Approximately 4-5 minutes. The polenta will cook quickly. Do not allow polenta to sit or it will be too firm. Serve as soon as done.
Step 8
Place the polenta in 4 shallow bowls and spoon shrimp mixture over the top.
Blackening Seasoning
Step 9
Recipe for Blackened Seasoning is as follows: 1 T. each of garlic powder, onion powder and ground dried thyme. 1 ½ T. of paprika, 1 teaspoon each of cracked black pepper, dried basil and dried oregano. Then add 1 ¼ to 1 ½ teaspoons of cayenne, according to your taste. Mix well and store in an air tight container.

Setting The Scene For Braise Cooking School

Since I’m not in class this week, let me give you a little breakdown of what the Braise Culinary School classroom is like, so you can really play along at home.

First off, the textbook. Look at this tome! It is huge; full of every possible tip, trick and recipe I could ever need. (No, this won’t keep me from buying more cookbooks in the future. I have an addiction!) The classnotes reference the book, but we didn’t open it during class. The teacher gives us all we need to know live.

Textbook for Braise Culinary School

The lead teacher for the course is Dave Swanson, executive chef and owner of Braise. I’ll admit, I was tentative about working so closely with a professional chef. I think Chef Jules Parnell in my college restaurant management course scarred me for life! Dave couldn’t be further from the stereotype though. He’s funny, engaging, complimentary and answered all questions, no matter how silly, with a straight face.

Chef Dave Swanson Teaching at Braise Milwaukee

If the first class is to be like the future classes, we get a little lecture and/or demo from Dave, then we go back to our stations to practice. I’ve got a little bit of work to do to get more uniform cuts, don’t you think?

In case you are wondering, this food is not going to waste. All of our edible pieces will go towards “Family Dinner”, the employees pre-shift meal.

How to Cut a Potato

The room is set up perfectly. The lighting is great and there are tv screens for lecture and live video from the demo. Our class is small, but active, so all nine people stay standing the whole time, shuffling between our work stations and the front demo space.
How to Butcher a Chicken

The nine people in class run the gamut of ages. We only have one brave male. Everyone was very friendly once we got rolling. I honestly think we were all a little nervous. When I first got in, no one was talking. By the end of it, we were sharing butter knives like old friends. I guess wrestling with a raw chicken with a stranger will do that.

As you can see, we have official uniforms-chef’s coat, apron and hat. I just wore sneakers the first class, but might invest in chef clogs to protect my back. I forgot what it’s like to stand for so long!
Taking a Break at Milwaukee's Cooking School

Next week is part two of sauces. I’m going to have to do some homework to remember how to make the mother sauces. Those brain synapses haven’t fired in a long time. I can’t wait to start cooking truly from scratch again!