Friday, February 24, 2017

Tulum vacation 2017

5 girlfriends, 5 days in Mexico

Everything in my suitcase still has that beachy, salt water and sunblock smell. My friends and I got back late Tuesday night from our highly anticipated trip to Tulum, Mexico. It's something we'd been planning for over a year, and something our other friends have applauded us for. Five high school girlfriends, 30 years old (or on the cusp), and we made time for something unforgettable. Excuse me while I pat us all on the back for turning dreams into reality. 

I hadn't heard of Tulum before our ringleader Rachelle proposed the up-and-coming town as a destination for our Year 30 trip. A quick google and the rest of us were totally on board — and Tulum didn't disappoint. I'll dive into the details in another post about where we ate, the sights we saw, and the things we loved, but here's an overview so that maybe you can start planning your next girlfriends vacation sooner rather than later. 

Start by renting an amazing airbnb located near a place called Holistika, a jungle retreat center with yoga and other mind-body programming. Our particular airbnb was outside of town by about five minutes, and about 15 minutes from the beach. You definitely need a car. Could you bike? Sure, but it's ungodly hot in the afternoon. I can't imagine biking being much fun, especially all the way to the beach. It was a trek, even in a car, and roads are narrow and not super friendly to novice bikers. 

Speaking of the beach: white sand, turquoise water. It's perfect. Though there's an entire road lined with beaches and beachside hotels, we didn't know which one to pick as a jumping-off point. Luckily a google search led us to a great one: Playa Paraiso. We lounged in the sand and swam in the surf before stopping at one of the shaded sit-down cafés to share apps and pina coladas. 

The eating and drinking in Tulum was, overall, an amazing experience. Of course don't drink the tap water! My friends and I were good about that and therefore avoided Montezuma's Revenge. Our favorite things we ate ranged from cheap street tacos to fresh-caught fish and jungle-foraged produce at the hippest restaurant in Tulum. 

Then there was the drinking – everything from coffee to fresh smoothies and lime juice stirred with stalks of sugar cane. Nighttime drinks were certainly beachy and beautifully presented. Whether sitting beachside under a thatched roof sipping rosé or nestled under a jungle canopy (complete with disco ball!), the atmosphere for nightlife in Tulum is unreal. 

As for major daytime attractions, we ventured to the ruins (did you know aliens helped build them?) and a gorgeous set of cenotes, where I actually swam (look at me!) and dunked myself under water for the first time in at least a decade. If it wasn't already obvious, swimming isn't my thing. But Jess brought an underwater camera, which led to lots of mermaid-y photo-ops and entertainment. 

More details to come on exactly where we ventured in Tulum. For now, adios amigos! 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lunch at North Shore Boulangerie

A charming spot for a date lunch in Shorewood

Folks use the phrase "hidden gem" willy nilly, but I think North Shore Boulangerie really is one. You have to venture to the heart of Shorewood to find it, and you'll be glad you did. Their pastries and baguettes are wonderful, and the atmosphere is utterly charming. I'd say "why aren't there more cozy corner cafés in the Milwaukee?" — but then I guess this one might not feel as special. 

Half of the café is a grab-and-go bakery and coffee shop, with little tables for resting to munch and sip. The other half is set with slightly larger tables for sit-down lunching and brunching. Adam and I have lucked out, always snagging a spot by the sunny front windows. The lunch and Sunday brunch menus at North Shore Boulangerie are simple and just French enough to make you feel a little fancy — a nice-casual date lunch vibe.

I've only ever gotten the Dinde sandwich: sliced turkey, roasted tomatoes, fresh greens, aged cheddar, red onions, and aioli on country bread. It's so simple, but with fresh ingredients and house-baked bread with a tender middle and flaky crust, it's truly the best! Why complicate things? As for Adam, he's enjoyed the Croque Monsieur on our lunchtime visits to the boulangerie — heavenly, crusty, cheesy goodness. I'd get it myself if I hadn't fallen for the Dinde.

See, it's hard to stray from your tried-and-true favorites at North Shore Boulangerie. But other goodies on the menu sound so scrumptious, I told Adam we just have to lunch there more often so that I can eat my way through the menu. For instance the Matin: bacon, aged cheddar, crispy onions, and smoked paprika aioli on a baguette with a sunny egg. Or the Eggs Florentine: roasted Roma tomatoes, baby spinach, and poached eggs on country bread topped with hollandaise. 

Pro tip: Share a croissant, almond croissant, or pain au chocolat from the bakery while you wait for your meal! Sound indulgent? Maybe. But sometimes you've got to live a little. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Next Act Theatre presents “The Other Place”

A psychological mystery on stage in Milwaukee 

Before heading into the Next Act Theatre last week, my understanding of The Other Place was somewhat vague. I knew it would be a “psychological mystery,” per the Next Act website, and that Sharr White’s play had something to do with a woman giving a speech, seeing someone in a yellow bikini, and somehow becoming unraveled because of it. I also knew the magnificent Deborah Staples would be playing the lead; that was truly incentive enough for me to see this show.

Luckily, the vague story becomes clear and Deb Staples delivers a spectacularly raw and real performance as research scientist Julianna Smithton. Without giving away the crux of the story it’s hard to communicate the depth and dynamic shifts we see in Julianna, but I can say this much: Ms. Staples blew me away. From confident and salty to utterly lost and broken, the dramatic range she displays in The Other Place is remarkable, and often times terribly moving.

Though Deb Staples’ Julianna is at the center of The Other Place, I’m happy to say hers is not the only outstanding performance in this Next Act production. Cristina Panfilio took on three different characters with ease and grace, and some of the moments she shares with Julianna are especially tender. Those moments really made the show for me. And let’s not forget Todd Denning as Julianna’s husband, Ian — a caring, genuine man at his wit’s end. 

I realize I’m being annoyingly vague and haven’t given you much to go on plot wise. Variety called The Other Place a “haunting drama, so cleverly constructed that the nature and depth of the problem isn’t revealed until the last shattering scene.” Well that pretty much says it all — without saying much, if you get what I’m saying. 

The point is that The Other Place, as performed by the incredible talent at Next Act, is so very worthwhile — and it’s also worth it to maintain the mystery going into it. When all is finally revealed, you’ll be wowed at the complexity of Julianna’s story and the cunning way it all unfolds. Oh, and you’ll probably need some kleenex.

The Other Place is playing at Milwaukee's Next Act Theatre now through February 26th. Info and tickets at

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nessun Dorma

Cozy Italian eatery & bar in Riverwest 

Nessun Dorma is a hole-in-the-wall (restaurant-in-a-house?) in Riverwest, known for its paninis, bruschetta, and (just ask Yelp) its artichoke dip. This place has spent an eternity on my list of eateries to try. Last weekend, the stars finally aligned for a date night dinner in this cozy neighborhood favorite. 

We arrived around 6:30 on a Friday night. Though there aren't many tables at Nessun Dorma (maybe 10?), I was able to snag us a vacant one. The tables are first come, first served — so just grab an open one and don't wait to be seated. If you must wait, the bar isn't fancy, but it's a charmer. In fact the whole place is kinda like that — not fancy, but charming. Homey. Comforting. Neighborly. 

Adam and I decided on paninis for dinner. He went for the Puccini: Sliced beef tenderloin with capicola, sautéed peppers and onions, provolone, and Kalamata olive tapenade on Tuscan country bread. For me, it was the Portabella Philly: Balsamic-marinated portabella mushrooms, peppers, onions, and provolone on an Asiago ciabatta loaf with basil pesto mayo. Mmm. 

I'm sorry to say Adam didn't love his, but really that's his own fault. I warned him about olive tapenade (you had better really love olives!), and did you notice the lack of mayo? If a sandwich doesn't have mayo or an aioli, pass. 

But I absolutely loved (and devoured) that Portabella Philly. So gooey-cheesy-saucy and full of balsamic-basil flavor! Being a compassionate girlfriend, I let Adam have some bites as well. He raved, as he should. When you pick the right panini, Nessun Dorma does indeed live up to the hype. You better believe I'm going back to try the bruschetta and artichoke dip. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January 2017

A few of my favorite things 

Making simple & sumptuous roast chicken provençal (twice!). 
Wearing this robe & these slippers every chance I get.

Seeing Disgraced at the Milwaukee Rep — playing through Feb. 12th!

Cooking up easy-peasy Asian-style lettuce wraps.

Discovering a new favorite dessert at Café Corazon.

Seeing my first opera and loving every minute of it!

Baking Pippin a birthday pupcake.

Learning how not to fear homemade pie crusts at Palomino.

Roaming Wisconsin's north woods.

Honeypie pie-making classes

NO FEAR: Crust Making 101

Did you know you can take pie-making classes courtesy of Honeypie co-owner and Executive Pie Maker, Valeri Lucks? That's the ultimate offer from the maker of some of Milwaukee's most ultimate pies! I'd been dreaming of taking one of Valeri's classes for a while, but they're limited to 10 students per class; AKA they sell out in a jiffy. 

But I was on top of my game this January and secured three spots: one for my mom, one for me, and one for our Erin. The class was "NO FEAR: Crust Making 101," offered rather sporadically (once a month, tops). I was super psyched for this class! I love to bake but had never attempted to make my own pie crust. 

We arrived a touch before 6pm on a Monday night at Palomino, Honeypie's brother café with a larger, student-friendly kitchen. We helped ourselves to a drink (included in the $45 class price) and met our group in the kitchen. Valeri had everything arranged just so, with bowls, utensils, chilled water, flour, and aprons for all.

We quickly got to work, diving into the hands-on portion of the evening. We mixed flour, salt, and shortening with just-enough ice water, taking care not to over-mix or warm the dough excessively with our hands. We spread and rolled the dough on a floured work surface, then laid the flattened slabs into a small pie tin. Our trio found lots to laugh about — like how ours were turning out much more crumbly and much less photogenic than others in class. 

Still, Valeri was always encouraging and insistent and there are ways to fix almost any mistake when making pie crust from scratch. Like, when in doubt, pop the dough in the fridge or freezer for a while before continuing to work. She also says that, though butter is tasty, a crust made with shortening is easier; that's what they use in almost all of their Honeypie pie crusts. Who knew?!

Once we'd set the bottom crust into our mini pie pans, Valeri came around and scooped mixed berries into each. The berries were frozen, which apparently works better than fresh — not as watery. We carefully topped the filling with a second slab of dough, trimming the top and bottom edges to about an inch before crimping them. 

Then it was time for the pies to bake — about a 40-minute to an hour-long wait. During that time, the seasoned pie makers in class asked Valeri a string of smart questions. For example, did you know you should really bake a pie the day before you're going to eat it? That way it will actually be cool enough to be cut into neat slices.  Also, baking on a heated cookie sheet or pizza stone will help keep a soggy-bottomed pie at bay.

I personally asked if the restaurant's signature salted honey pie has sugar in the crust. Turns out, it doesn't! Valeri says that scrumdiddlyumptious pie is made with the same simple pie crust we'd learned in class. My mind is blown, and now I can't wait to try my hand at a salted honey pie with a homemade crust.

As we continued to wait for our mini berry pies to bake, some students enjoyed a drink at the bar. Erin, my mom, and I took the opportunity to wolf down some of that delicious Palomino cooking: a handmade biscuit to start, followed by fried chicken dinners with brussels sprouts, broccolini, and spicy corn. I went for a salad topped with fried chicken thighs, veggies, and a drizzle of ranch dressing and buffalo sauce. Easily my favorite guilty pleasure salad. 

At the end of the night, Valeri brought out our piping-hot pies to take home. She advised us to leave the lids cracked so the steam could escape, otherwise the crust would get soggy. When I got home with my fresh, beautiful berry pie, Adam and I dug right in. The pie crust was perfect: warm, flaky, and the ideal vessel for those sweet winter berries. I'd love to go back for Honeypie's other pie-making classes, like butter pie crusts, fillings, handhelds, and more. Getting schooled has never been so sweet!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

An up north Wisconsin weekend

Recapping life in the sugar bush

When in Wisconsin in January, you dream of escaping to 80 degrees and sunny. When you can't do that, it's best to embrace winter in all its glory. Our second-annual winter trip up north to Phillips, Wisconsin, was filled with homemade treats, snowy walks, lessons in authentic maple syrup, a trip to the local watering hole, and nasty women mobilizing. Here's a photographic recap.

Walks at magic hour on frozen Price Lake.

Breakfast with a Dutch Baby pancake, mimosas, and a choice mug.

A snowy tour of the sugarbush (a plantation of sugar maples) and learning the ins and outs of a real maple syrup operation. Fun Fact: Up until just five years ago, the owners were still carrying buckets of sap from these trees by hand! Can you imagine? Nowadays, it's pumped through a network of tubes.

Winter skies at sunset.

A trip to the antler bar, AKA Flambeau Forest Inn.

Writing postcards to our senators on a Sunday morning — because a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do these days. Those Wonder Woman stamps I bought last fall sure are comin' in handy!