Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A few holiday faves

Stocking stuffers & cards to send

Only 358 days until Christmas! So here are a few of my favorites from 2015 you'll want to take note of for next year.

Instagram gifts from Print Studio (formerly Prinstagram)

I'm a little bit obsessed with Print Studio. Fist, the interface is really nice to work with — user-friendly and attractive. This year, I ordered 2-inch magnets through Print Studio — a set of 10 for $14. I gave a few to my dad and split up the rest among friends and family. Talk about a fun, affordable gift! Every single one of my giftees gave a little squeal and laughed to see our memories on a magnet. They really are the perfect stocking stuffer for those friends you love but say "no gifts this year" (but nobody listens).

The only catch is that you can only choose from photos you've loaded to Instagram, so keep that in mind as you snap away in 2015. I know I'll be asking myself "What do I want to see on a magnet next Christmas?" Or in a frame, on a poster, in a book — Print Studio offers a lot of fun options for printing your grams.

Quill & Fox cards

While I'm a huge fan of Rifle Paper Company, I found another new favorite this holiday season: Quill & Fox. They're based in Portland and also have an Etsy shop with great prices for specialty cards. Just like Rifle Paper Company, Quill & Fox offers rather nostalgic, hand-designed cards. And they don't stop at wintry greetings — you can find cards for Mother's Day, birthdays, and just because. I plan to be a repeat shopper at Quill & Fox long before next Christmas.

And for those of you who appreciate customer service, I can speak from experience that Quill & Fox is fabulous at it. I noticed after my "your order has shipped" notification that I had selected the wrong shipping address. I contacted the shop owner right away and he promptly and kindly corrected the error immediately. Love that!

Handmade paper star ornaments

These stars are called Froebel Stars, and you can find them as handmade ornaments on Etsy — or you can make them yourself! I was lucky enough to have a little lesson in making my own paper stars, and I can tell you it's so fun and rewarding. There's just something therapeutic about folding colorful paper. Try it yourself and see!

It takes a bit to master the craft, but once you have the movements down you could churn out a bunch in no-time. You can make them with just paper, or (as my teacher did) dip the stars in hot wax, then add a dusting of glitter. The wax dries quickly and seals the glitter and paper, making the star much sturdier. By next Christmas, I plan to invest in some wax and oodles of quilling paper of my own.

December 2014

A few of my favorite things

Sharing recipes for pumpkin cake...
...and pecan pie.
Having warm drinks at Von Trier
Seeing Harvey at the Milwaukee Rep.
Lunching at Jack's Cafe.
Celebrating 25 Days of Christmas movies.
Seeing my brother in cap & gown.
Keeping up holiday traditions at the Goyette house.
Catching up with college girlfriends at the Ruby Tap.
Having a happy Christmas!
Dining with friends at the Stone Bowl Grill.
Reuniting with some of my favorite Marquette alums.
Having ourselves a very merry Cinmas!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stone Bowl Grill

Korean BBQ in MKE

My friend Rachelle taught English in South Korea a few years back, thus making her my very own expert on K-Pop and what to order at Korean BBQ restaurants. Since the Stone Bowl Grill opened on Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee, I've been there twice - both times with Rachelle as my food guide. Fun fact: One of Rachelle's many talents is knowing exactly the right amount of food to order for a crowd.

After this second trip, I feel decidedly more confident in what to order, thanks in full to Rachelle's knowledge. And it's a good thing because this place is so delicious and the atmosphere is very Date Night. But you're actually much better off going with a group, since Stone Bowl offers family-style portions.

In my limited experience & based solely on my own personal expert's advice, here's what to try when you go to Stone Bowl: As an app, get the pah-jeon. It's a pancake mixed with scallions and optional seafood. I personally don't care for that kind of seafood, but you do you. Rachelle also ordered us plain dumplings and spicy-sweet dumplings; I preferred the spicy-sweet, so try those on for size.

When it comes to BBQ meat, the kalbi is where it's at - so I'm told. I found it a little fatty for my taste, but I'm weird that way. If you're into tasty meat and don't have a strange aversion to textures like I do, go for the kalbi. And make sure you get lettuce, kimchi, and sauces on the side so you can make lettuce wraps with the meat.

You'll also want to try bibimbop, a hot stone bowl filled with rice and topped with fresh veggies and your choice of meat (or just veggies). Make sure to stir everything together in the bowl before you dig in. As for a noodle dish, Rachelle knows what I like: jap che, which is stirfried veggies and/or beef with noodles in a tasty sauce. I would say if you're a fan of other Asian noodle dishes and want to play it super safe, this is the place to start.

So let's level: Speaking as a Midwestern girl who's idea of Asian food is typically Pad Thai or Sesame Chicken, you can see just how adventurous I am when left to my own devices. I'm infinitely grateful to friends like Rachelle who push me to try something new. I hope there are plenty more adventurous folks out there who will give this (relatively) new restaurant a shot. This particular location on Farwell has seen businesses come and go - but I'd quite like the Stone Bowl Grill to last.

P.S. Please excuse the crummy photo quality - but you know that crummy photos mean great mood lighting, right?

Friends gettin' festive

Here's a shout out to celebrations with friends this holiday season. Cheers to each and every one of you!

Cheers to you, engaged friends!

Cheers to engagement parties!

Cheers to an almost-decade of college friends!

Cheers to truffle popcorn! (Not pictured, because we ate it all.)

Cheers to more of my favorite Marquette alums!

Cheers to a delish dinner at Stone Bowl - and to poor lighting!

Cheers to Cinmas 2014 - ti ams the most!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The time my brother graduated


In all the craziness of the holiday season, I somehow missed sharing something I'm insanely proud of: My brother Kevin graduated from UWM with a degree in graphic design and visual communication. He also landed a job right out of the gate. If I were the type of person to say things like "Holler!" in all seriousness, now would be the time.

But really, there's not much else to say beyond "I'm proud." My pride stems less from Kevin's academic achievement and more so that I share the same blood as this uniquely talented, imaginative, and brilliant artist. Kev, you can roll your eyes at my praise and point to other young artists who have made it big, but in my book you already are and always will be brilliant - and anyone who knows you and your work would agree that you never needed a diploma to prove it. Here's to you! Go get 'em, cowboy.

Red velvet cake & fluffy frosting

Revisiting a childhood favorite

Growing up, I remember my Great Aunt Marge was known for her red velvet cake and what we called "fluffy frosting." While we don't have the cake recipe on file, my mom still has the frosting recipe and requests it at least once each year — usually on her birthday, which is in January. But this year, I made Aunt Marge's frosting for Christmas with a red velvet cake recipe I found online. 

The cake itself is insane — so moist and delicious. I used two bottles of red food coloring to make it really pop. Make sure to add the coffee to the batter — it adds moisture, not coffee flavor. The frosting recipe makes enough to cover the middle and entire outside of the cake, so no need to double it. And finally, try topping this cake with DIY chocolate letters — being that they're DIY, you can make this cake to celebrate any occasion. How about "Yay 2015!"?

- - - - - - - 


2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 oz. red food coloring (I used 2 oz. - that's two full bottles)
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup hot coffee (don't skip this!)

1 cup milk
5 TBS flour
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix sugar and oil. Add eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and food coloring, and mix until combined. Stir in coffee and white vinegar.

4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing after each addition until just combined.

5. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 25-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake rest in the pans until the pans are cool to the touch, then turn onto racks to cool completely. *Note: I made my cakes the day before I frosted them. To store, wrap in plastic overnight.

5. For the frosting: On the stove, cook milk and flour over a low flame until thick. Let cool. In a large bowl, blend butter, sugar, and vanilla. Mix the two blends together on high speed about 3 to 5 minutes, until fluffy. Frost away! Store in a cool place.

- - - - - - - 

P.S. If you haven't played with chocolate letters yet, you must! They're so fun to make, and it's a blast to get creative with some simple shapes, too. If you want to add letters to a cake with chocolate frosting, try using white chocolate chips instead of dark chocolate. You could even try adding some food coloring to the white chocolate for colorful words. I've never tried this, so I can't attest to whether or not the letters would get too melty too quickly, but I think it would be worth a shot! 

It's plain as it can be, they thought of you & me

"The night they invented champagne" _Gigi

In honor of New Year's Eve this week, let's toast to champagne with a fun little song from 1958's Gigi. Happy celebrating!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Day 25: It's a Wonderful Life

"No man is a failure who has friends."

Risking cliché, let's end this 25 Days of Christmas movies with the Frank Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life. At first glance, you might think this is one of those not-really-a-Christmas-movie Christmas movies. It's just a story that happens to take place on Christmas Eve, right? Well overtly or not, there's a lot about It's a Wonderful Life that captures the spirit of the season.

George Bailey, played by the incomparable Jimmy Stewart, is the everyman - a small-town fellow with big dreams. When those dreams go unrealized, we feel for George and - sad as it is to admit it - we can't help but see a bit of ourselves in him. That's not a very festive place to be emotionally, but that's when the Christmas spirit comes to the rescue. When George reaches his breaking point, an angel (in the form of a darling little old man, played by Henry Travers) comes to show him the way through - and what could be more Christmasy than an angel restoring a man's faith in life?

The way George finds that faith has a lot to do with the values we all suddenly recall each December: Being thankful for the simple things, finding joy in family & friends, and realizing that small acts of kindness can affect great change in the lives of those around us. That is, after all, what this season is all about. Is it any wonder then that It's a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic?

Day 24: The Polar Express

"Well, ya comin'?"

I can't think of many picture books that top Chris Van Allsburg's to me. His stories and illustrations weave fantastical elements into everyday life, making readers walk the line between fantasy and reality. Personally, I never doubted the reality of The Polar Express. But in the movie, we're invited to question the magic just like the unnamed Hero Boy. Is it all real, or is it just a dream?

Personally, I enjoy the book more than the movie. Yes, the movie is a wonder to behold - the animation is gorgeous, Santa's workshop is unlike any other depiction out there, the theme music is spot-on, and I never fail to cry a little at the end (surprise surprise!). But that know-it-all kid makes me want to tear my hair out.

In spite of the annoying know-it-all, I still find the movie version completely worthwhile. But I'd argue that an even better way to experience The Polar Express is to listen to Chris Van Allsburg's words read aloud by Liam Neeson - the audio is available in full on youtube. It's a fitting way to experience the Hero Boy's journey and to discover the Conductor's message for ourselves: "Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Lawler family Christmas 2014

A recap of festivities, food, & favorite people

Wrapping presents with Pippin. (He's so much help.)
Making red velvet cake (recipe to come!) & chocolate letters.
Christmas Eve at Uncle Charlie's - Charlie Chaplin, that is?
Opening presents on Christmas morning.
Spinach, tomato, & basil quiche for a festive breakfast.
Party-ready Pippin.
Annual siblings pic in front of the tree.
A final photo shoot on the floor. Goodnight, Christmas Day!

Day 23: Home Alone 2, Lost in New York

"Another Christmas in the trenches."

My brother and I are huge Home Alone fans. Kevin says Home Alone 2 is his favorite, whereas I'm completely indecisive. I know Kevin loves Lost in New York because we get more Marv and Harry time ("Wow! What a hole!"). We also love the concierge played by Tim Curry and Rob Schneider as the bellhop ("No tip? Okay..."). So yes, the humor game has definitely been upped in the Home Alone sequel.

I would argue that the heart of the story has also been given a boost. You've got Mr. Duncan from Duncan's Toy Chest donating all the money raised on Christmas Eve to the children's hospital and you have The Bird Lady (or as we call her, Maggie - shout out Angels in the Outfield!). The Bird Lady's story is just as compelling as Old Man Marley's in the original movie, and it gets me every time when Kevin McCallister tells her: "I won't forget to remember you." I suppose if you like how the first Home Alone married humor and heart, you're probably right to agree with my brother and pick Home Alone 2: Lost in New York as your favorite of the pair - this movie offers even more of each. Oh, and still plenty of screams.

Day 22: A Charlie Brown Christmas

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

You know that technically the Christmas Season starts on Christmas Day, right? Convenient for me, since life caught up with me and I barely made it through watching all 25 movies on my list, let alone blogging about them. So bear with me - we're in the home stretch! And it's time to give some love to Snoopy and the gang. 

Aside from being adorable in a sad puppy sort of way, you gotta love Charlie Brown for his sometimes-bleak, contemplative outlook on life - always searching & questioning. This time, he's pondering the true meaning of Christmas and is fed up with the commercialism of the season, like his little sister asking Santa to "just send money."

In effect, Charlie Brown is the sad little evergreen in a sea of pink aluminum trees. He's a purist and can't be bought by the "big commercial racket," as Lucy calls it. Linus tells us in the end: "I never thought it was such a bad little tree... Maybe it just needs a little love." Like the tree, Charlie Brown needed to be shown love to give love, and so found the answer to his question of what Christmas is all about.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Noel chez les Goyettes

A Rachel & Kelsey holiday tradition 

Every year when Rachel comes home for Christmas, we watch holiday episodes of The Office, eat our favorite things, countdown to Christmas Day with the Advent calendar, and take pics in front of the fireplace & selfies with Rachel's mom — and every year it's the best! This year was no different. Cue the photographic journey for the sake of posterity. Joyeux Noel, tout le monde!

Day 21: The Office Christmas episodes

"I'm Jesus, David, and you know why? Because Phyllis, a woman, has uslurped my role as Santa."


Every year when my friend Rachel comes home for Christmas, we get together to eat all of our favorite things, take selfies with her mom, and watch Christmas episodes of The Office. Netflix has made it super easy to re-watch your favorite TV shows, and many of those shows have Christmas episodes. In fact, Huffington Post recently published "Your Handy Guide To The Best Christmas Episodes On Netflix." So whether or not The Office is your TV Show of choice, try mixing up your holiday movie viewing with a Netflix night!

If The Office is your TV Show of choice, here's a list of all of the Christmas-themed episodes. Speaking from experience, season two's "Christmas party" is a great one, giving us Yankee Swap and some first class Jim & Pam subplot. Season three's "Benihana Christmas" is one of the first episodes I remember seeing of The Office, and it's hard to beat the hilarity and horror of Michael marking his new "girlfriend" — the Asian waitress he just met — with a Sharpee so he can tell her apart from the other Asian waitress. Season six has "Secret Santa," where Phyllis dresses up as Santa and Michael pouts until he decides to trump Phyllis by dressing up as Jesus. 

As for which episodes to miss, take it from me: Don't bother with the "Moroccan Christmas" from season five. Granted, the Dwight subplot is great ("My horn can piece the sky!"), but the main plot involves getting Meredith to rehab, and it's just not as Christmasy as some of the other aforementioned gems. 

In conclusion, this is where I'll leave you: "Earlier today this office needed a Santa. And then it needed a second Santa. And then it needed a Jesus. And now, it needs a Michael. And that's one suit Phyllis cannot fit into." _ Michael Scott

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day 20: Elf

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear."

When writing these 25 Days of Christmas posts, sometimes I feel a bit silly. Or obvious. Like, who hasn't seen Elf? Should I really bother going into the details of such a beloved and widely-viewed movie? Then I found out I do know someone (who shall remain unnamed) that hasn't seen Elf. Gasp! So you see, I needn't feel silly or obvious. There are clueless folks and Scrooges out there who have yet to be shown the path to quality holiday entertainment! 

The premise: What happens when a human raised by Santa's elves ventures from the North Pole to New York to meet his real dad, a big city hot shot who happens to be on the Naughty List? 

The talent: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel (blonde!), & James Caan. 

The elfish lessons we can learn: Treat every day like Christmas. There's room for everyone on the Nice List. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

DIY chocolate letters

A creative & personalized dessert topper

A few years ago on A Beautiful Mess (a blog I follow), the girls made freehand chocolate trees to decorate a Christmas cake. For the past couple Christmases, I've used their trick to make trees of my own. When my brother graduated college last weekend, I jumped at the chance to bake him a "Congrats! You did it!" cake. To get my message across, I used the chocolate tree method - this time for writing.

The method couldn't be easier. Start by lining a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Pour a bunch of semi-sweet chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl and heat until the chips start to melt - about one minute. Then stir the chips until smooth and fully melted. Pour the melted chocolate into a plastic baggie, and trim off one of the bottom corners (just the very tip) - this is your makeshift piping bag!

Write out your message on the parchment/wax paper. If you're doing individual letters, it doesn't hurt to make multiples of the ones you'll be using in case any don't turn out. I played around with cursive and individual letters, but do what you like. When first starting out, I found that shorter words are definitely easier - festive words like "yay!" or, for the holidays, try "joy" or "noel." Feel free to fill up the parchment/wax paper with letters, words, scribbles, drawings (I've made snowflakes in the past) - you don't have to use everything you make, but it's fun to have the options.

Place the cookie sheet in the garage or in the fridge overnight. After you've frosted your cake/brownies/etc., pull the chocolate letters - they'll pop right off of the paper - and work quickly to gently place them into the frosting. Here's why you always use semi-sweet chocolate: As you handle the chocolate, it will melt a bit and get fingerprint-y, but semi-sweet will melt a bit slower than milk chocolate, giving you more time to work with it. If the  letters get too melt-y as you go, just be patient. Stick them back in the fridge/garage for a few minutes, then get back to work.

And no, the chocolate letters will never melt fully - they only melt a bit under the warmth of your body heat. Once you've placed the letters and are happy with them, leave them alone and they'll stay looking pretty until go-time. Though, if you can, I would store your dessert in a cool place just to keep the frosting and letters as firm as possible until serving time.

*Note: For this cake, I used the Beatty's chocolate cake recipe, but for the frosting I mixed 2 cups powdered sugar with 1 cup softened butter and 1 TBS milk. This is enough to frost the entire outside of the cake. For the middle layer, I melted a heaping TBS of Nutella with some chocolate chips in the microwave and spread it evenly across what would be the middle of the cake. Yay!