Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bastille Days

Milwaukee's French fête in Cathedral Square Park


If you ask me, Bastille Days is one of the best fests in Milwaukee. It's located in the heart of downtown, it's free, the music is great, the vendors are worth a peek, and there are fortune tellers, occasional parades, and delicious food. Yes there's also atrocious parking, but you can afford to avoid that — since the fest itself is free, coughing up $10 for a parking structure is a no-brainer. 



Today I want to call out some of the delicious food that was up for grabs at 2017's Bastille Days. Yes we all love greasy fair food, but I say that's what State Fair and Summerfest are for. If I'm going to an ethnic fest like Bastille Days, I'm going to do my darnedest to eat vaguely ethnic foods. While I didn't try all of these (I'd need multiple stomachs do accomplish that), I think the options below are worth noting for future reference. So let's get hungry! 



First, the two delicious goodies pictured above: A Nutella waffle from Press (who we found in an actual booth, not their signature trailer) and a beignet from Beignets Français. Both were a sheer, sweet, worth-every-calory delight. You might wonder why a waffle counts as French food, and I'll tell you: In the north, where France borders Belgium, you can get true Belgian waffles from street vendors — just like the ones at Press. Heaven — and authentic! 



Other French food purveyors worth a stop: North Shore Boulangerie for tarte flambée, fresh baguettes, and a charcuterie plate; Le Reve for a tomato, brie, and pesto sandwich or warm brie and honey crostini; Sciortino's Bakery for a ham and brie sandwich; and Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro for a croque monsieur. Bon appétit!  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Washington Park Wednesdays

Live music at The Shell in Milwaukee's Washington Park


It's been a couple years since I last made it out to Wednesdays at the Shell — an event organized in part by a lovely former coworker of mine. Every Wednesday during a stretch of summer, live music takes the stage in Washington Park, located on the cusp of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. This year, Washington Park Wednesdays will run through August 30th. Crowds start to gather around 5pm with music kicking off at 6:00 and lasting until 8:30. 


Hungry? There has certainly been an uptick in food trucks since I last enjoyed a Wednesday night in Washington Park. When I came out for the first Wednesday of this 2017 season, I spied a smattering of ethnic eats whose scrumptious scents filled the air and were plenty tempting. But I'd had Press Waffles on my summer bucket list, so when I saw their darling little trailer, that was it. 



I went for goat cheese and chutney toppings, while my partner in sinful waffle crime went for strawberry, quark cheese, and basil. These waffles are a thing of beauty and taste just like true Belgian waffles — the likes of which you can't easily find at your favorite breakfast joint, no matter what the menu says. 



After snagging our breakfast-for-dinner, we plopped down on the grass to enjoy music and conversation. The nice thing about Washington Park Wednesdays is that it's not over-crowded — rather, the crowd is just right. You don't have to fight for space or climb all over people to get to and from your spot. 



Another nice thing about The Shell is that there are benches up front for any avid music lovers, but the grassy hill is far enough away that, should you choose to sit there, you don't have to shout to be heard. There's also plenty of room to let kids be kids, as we saw many turning cartwheels, playing tag, and tossing beach balls between them. It's a cool, diverse scene, and one that's totally worth adding to your Milwaukee summer music list. 



Check out the full lineup of Washington Park Wednesdays on their Facebook page. See you at The Shell! 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Theater RED presents "The Wayward Women"

A new Elizabethan comedy now playing in Milwaukee


Whoever heard of a new Elizabethan comedy? Maybe there are scads out there playing the worlds' stages, but I hadn't come across one until Theater RED's production of Jared McDaris' The Wayward Women. Although it's a new play, the lines are written in verse, and so the show sounds like something straight outta Shakespeare. 

The play is also performed in Original Practices Shakespeare. That is, as it would have been performed in Shakespeare's day, with actors using the audience as part of the story, creating a wholly immersive experience that's a hoot to behold. 



Such Shakespearean structure perfectly befits the story of The Wayward Women, which echoes the types of plot-lines you might find in works like The Twelfth Night. In McDaris' pastoral comedy, two Swiss men — the noble Cordelius and his servant Julian — are marooned on the island of Amosa after being banished by Cordelius' father. It just so happens that, on this island, women rule. 

We meet a cast of female characters, the two central being the quarreling Dame Anu and Dame Grendela. These ladies reside at opposite ends of the moral scale — "protestations vs. molestations." In an effort to force these two to get over themselves and maintain peace, the Duchess entrusts the castaways (one now disguised as a woman) to the Dames' care, and forbids the pious Anu and bawdy Grendela to look upon each other, under penalty of death. 



Long story short, the undisguised castaway Cordelius becomes the object of much affection for these two warring women, while the dress-wearing Julian pines for Dame Grendela's squire, Aquiline. The tale is one that feels familiar in a lot of ways (which helps when trying to navigate a new play written in verse — bring your thinking caps!), while at the same time turns such stories on their head. 

Like I said, women rule on this island. When Cordelius boasts about his accomplishments in battle and his relation to the king of Switzerland, the ladies of Amosa burst into hysterics and utter bewilderment at the thought of a land run by men — and it's great fun to watch! 

The women behind these wordy roles at Theater RED never back down from the challenge of verse, delivering lines with confidence, gusto, and complete commitment to their characters' motivations — even when those motivations are a bit cartoonish or melodramatic, in that delightfully Shakespearean way. 



A shoutout to director Christopher Elst for using the whole of the Alchemist Theatre to stage The Wayward Women — a touch that goes hand-in-hand with Original Practices Shakespeare. At one point, Dame Grendela sat down right next to me in an open aisle seat to heckle her on-stage opponent and plot her mischief; it made me feel like one of her cohorts. 

Finally, I simply have to sing the praises of Theatre RED's founders Marcee Doherty-Else and Christopher Elst, whose three-pillar mission is one that will keep me coming back for more. Their first pillar supports substantial roles for women, while the second promotes new playwrights — both evident in their choice of The Wayward Women. The third seeks to help artists grow their craft; this time, Theater RED provided their actors with training in verse. 

Theater RED's motivations are certainly creating quite a buzz in Milwaukee. I've told many people about my experience at The Wayward Women only to hear them say some variation of "Yes, I've heard of Theater RED – that's so cool!" Well friends, you can come out to support this wonderful theater and these pillars we so admire now through July 22nd at the Alchemist Theatre

Information and tickets at theaterred.com

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A trolley birthday party in Chicago

Celebrating "Just Jess!" on wheels


Clang, clang, clang — cue The Trolley SongMaybe trolley parties are run of the mill in the Windy City, but this Milwaukee girl had never considered such a thing until my princess of parties and birthday girl, Jess, decided we should celebrate her 30th on wheels.



We started with a barbecue in Jess's backyard. I made an avocado salsa (recipe coming soon!) and herbed potato salad, while Fritz manned the grill for her prosciutto-wrapped, cheese-filled jalapeño poppers. Let me tell you: Those poppers were inhaled



Fritz says all you have to do is mix cream cheese, shredded pepper jack, some lemon juice, and herbs of your choice for the filling. Slice jalapeños in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and stuff with the cheese mixture. Wrap in a slice of prosciutto, grill, and wolf. P.S. Shout out to Jess's Rob, who cooked up cheeseburgers and kept the evening running smoothly — a true host with the most! 



We boarded the trolley around 7pm, meaning we were driving through downtown Chicago and along Lake Michigan at the golden hour. The party playlist blasted only the raddest of jams: Backstreet Boys, Justin Beiber, Beyonce — you get the picture. The guilty and not-so-guilty pleasures one craves with a side of canned rosé. 



During our wild ride, the group hopped off the trolley for a couple photo ops — one by the lake and one in the heart of downtown. 



It really was a gorgeous, hilarious, bask-in-old-friends evening, and all thanks to our Jess and her birthday. So cheers to you, birthday girl! Thank you for being born and giving us all a night to remember. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Milwaukee's Shakespeare in the Park

Catch Much Ado About Nothing through July 22nd


They had me at Shakespearepark, and Much Ado. Toss in FREE SHOW and I'm there on the first night of performances. Now through July 22nd, the Optimist Theatre is staging the Bard's tale of love, jealousy, treachery, and wit at the Peck Pavilion downtown — for free. 

Quick note on Much Ado: If you're unfamiliar with it, it's one of Shakespeare's most famous comedies; a battle of the sexes with a happy ending. If you're going to dip your toe into Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing is a great way to go. You can also familiarize yourself with the story in two movie versions — one from 1993 starring Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, and Michael Keaton (just to name a few), or Joss Whedon's 2012 version. Both are worth your time.



So how does this free show work? All performances, save the matinee, begin at 8pm. Starting at 6pm, theater-goers are allowed to save seats (real stadium seats — not grass or benches!) with blankets and jackets. My friends and I arrived right at 6:00 and had our pick of the litter. We left our blankets sprawled across four seats, and retreated to the adjacent grove of trees for a picnic. 

I've driven past and probably even walked through the trees on Water and Kilbourn, but it never occurred to me to sit back and enjoy these urban woods. We parked ourselves on one of the many large concrete benches, in easy earshot of the soothing roar of a large fountain. That fountain is another thing I suppose I'd taken for granted, but sitting beneath tall shady trees on a 90-degree day, the fountain in view, it all felt vaguely European. Swoon.



My friends and I kept asking each other "How have we never done this before?" or "How did we not know this existed?" So I'm here to spread the word, not only about the phenomenal Shakespeare in the Park, but the entire experience. The Peck Pavilion hosts a whole slew of outdoor shows in the summertime, a fact I was completely oblivious to. 

But back to Much Ado: It was a sincere delight! Instead of typical Shakespearean drag, the scene was set in a beach-side bar to the tune of Hawaiian guitars and ukuleles — a fun, summery twist. The cast consisted entirely of local talent, many that you might recognize if you see enough theater in Milwaukee. There wasn't a dud in the bunch, rather the entire troupe had us laughing out loud and myself sighing, "That was wonderful," in the end.



And it was wonderful! You can hardly buy such a lovely evening, and Optimist Theatre is giving this one away for free. But as they'll remind you: While it's free to attend, it's not free to produce. Donations are welcome, so toss some cash in the basket at the end of the show, if you feel so moved. I'd wager you'll feel plenty moved indeed. 

Much Ado About Nothing is playing now through July 22nd at the Peck Pavilion. Find all the answers to your questions here! 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

4th of July with Tosa Tonight

Wauwatosa fireworks & an ABBA Salute


Is there anything more patriotic than an ABBA cover band on the 4th of July? The lead singer kicking off the first set donning a Swedish flag, gold lamé gogo boots, and a blond wig? Followed by a costume change involving red and blue capes? 

This is my America: Land of the Dancing Queens. Sure, some in the crowd like my curmudgeon uncle (his words) thought they looked like they were wearing giant ruffled diapers — and he's not necessarily wrong. But gee whiz, let's celebrate our freedom to wear ruffled diapers while impersonating Swedish popstars, gosh darn it! 

We have the people who organize Tosa Tonight to thank for this spectacle, as well as for coordinating all of the food vendors that lined Hart Park. Options included Belair Cantina, Gilles Frozen Custard, Ruby Tap for all the winos, Maxie's Southern Comfort (if you're willing to brave the long line), and Leff's Lucky town, where we picked up burgers and hotdogs for dinner. 



The green around the Rotary Performance Pavilion was packed when we got there, which was about 6pm. We parked at the top of 70th street and Milwaukee Ave, walked down, then weaseled our way between some folks on the lawn. In the future, I'd say get there closer to 5pm and hope for more open green space to pick from. And while I'm all for a blanket-style picnic, chairs would certainly help if you're hoping to catch a significant glimpse of the musical act. 



Almost immediately following the ABBA Salute, Wauwatosa set off its fireworks. They shoot 'em off on the right side of the stage, as you're facing it. So if you can get a spot on the right-hand side, that's the place to be. When the evening was over, we followed the mobs back to our car. Word of the wise: Do not attempt to drive through the Tosa Village after the fireworks; park on the south or north side of State Street, depending which way points home.

Do you have a favorite Milwaukee-area fireworks show? Sound off in the comments! I'd like to try something new next year — provided another ABBA Salute doesn't reel me back in. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party

Kicking off a Milwaukee July in Bayview 


Burnhearts street parties are starting to become a bit of a tradition for my friends and me. For the past two years, we've made a point to check out both winter's Mitten Fest and summer's Pabst Street Party. Three of the four times we ended up at Palomino for fried chicken and cheese curds after the fest, as fried chicken and cheese curds are always a great idea, whatever the weather. 



This year, we were especially enamored with a number of things that Burnhearts and Pabst threw together. First: The Tullamore Dew Irish Coffee Slush. Sweet Saint Patrick, what a delicious little drink! You know it's good when you you and your friends are in complete agreement that three rapid-fire rounds of the same frozen, creamy deliciousness is in no way overkill. More please. 



Second: We stumbled upon the musical stylings of singer/songwriter Joseph Huber and fell a little bit in love with the whole shebang — the fiddle, the suitcase kick drum, the harmonica, the stand-up bass. While our stomachs were screaming for dinner, our ears and hearts were fueling up on Huber's folksy, blue grass, foot-stompin' vibe. Yes we ignored our hunger pains to watch the whole set. Yes we bought two CDs. Yes it was so worth it.



Then there was custom screen-printing on t-shirts of your choice, courtesy of Redwall. Such a cool service! We also took local photographer Manda of Alwaysbee Photography up on her photo booth offer, posing for a couple pics in front of a Pabst backdrop (up top). With CDs and t-shirts in hand, our names on Manda's email list, and sweet Irish Coffee Slush in our bellies, we walked to Palomino to cap off the night with the aforementioned fried chicken and cheese curds. Just your typical great Milwaukee weekend.