Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014

A few of my favorite things

Celebrating friends.

Mixing up mango, avocado, & tomato salsa — a vacation in your mouth.

Making glass flowers at the 2014 Bead&Button Show.

Spending a Sunday afternoon in Uncle Mike's backyard

Picnic & a play in the park.

Father's Day with the #1 Dad.

Spaghetti carbonara — so yummy you might get angry.
A "quiche" weekend getaway in Grand Rapids.

Christmas morning muffins.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Julia says "I do"


Julia & her dad having a Father of the Bride moment.

I've known the Novotny family for 20 years. I followed Maria around in second grade when I was new at school and thought she seemed nice — and that was enough for me. We played Little Women with her sister Kate and argued over who should be Beth because nobody wanted to be the dead one. We traveled the Oregon Trail and set up our own wedding coordinating business in the play-set out back. I'd go over to the Novotny house like part of the family. Their fridge always had 2% milk — my favorite. I remember coming through the back door one time and being greeted by a garbage-bag-laiden Mr. Novotny with a "Oh Kelsey! Can you put this in the trash?" 

Maria and I called boys from the phone in her basement in 8th grade. We didn't go to the same high school, but we passed notes to each other through our siblings, Kevin and Martha, who were in the same grade at St. Mary's Elm Grove. And we'd get together and take long walks around Underwood Parkway; there's so much to talk about when you're 15 — like that cute boy from Marquette High School, Kevin Jordan, who Maria would eventually marry. Our senior year, we welcomed her baby brother, Joe, into the world. Finally, a boy.

When we hit college, Maria wasn't so sure about Marquette. But she said that if I agreed to be her roommate, she would go there. Four years later, Maria was engaged to Kevin, then married. I was a bridesmaid along with all four of her sisters. Of all the girls, I was probably least close to Julia. After all, Kate was just a grade younger, Martha and my brother were the same age (so naturally we hoped they'd fall in love someday), and Meg came along in the glory days of our friendship. She was just a baby when Maria and I colored all over her arms and legs with washable markers. 

But Julia — Julia and I didn't really have as much of a history. At Maria's wedding, however, I feel that changed. Maria was busy getting married. Kate was busy being the maid of honor. The younger sisters were busy being, well, the younger sisters. And Julia and I bonded over champagne on the party bus. While we're still not super close, I wouldn't miss her wedding for the world. All of these girls are like the sisters I never had — and they certainly look beautiful when they're all lined up in fancy dress. 

To Julia's now-husband, John: What a blessing to join the Novotny family! If only Maria had an older brother... But I guess I could always wait for Joe. What's another 20 years?  

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Dinner date in Lake Country

My Friday night dinner date was with my parents at a little place called JC Bogar's in Hartland. It's kind of a "blink and you'll miss it" Mexican restaurant in a (sort of) strip mall. I say "sort of" because it's not one of those grungy strip malls — there just happen to be other stores in the same stretch of building. 

Inside, Bogar's is nothing special: a sports bar feel with tall tables and beige tile. But in the summer when the patio's open, it hits not only my need for yummy food, but also my need for outdoor dining. On the patio, there are bright yellow umbrellas over each table and Mexican "papel picado" garland swinging on the surrounding fence. Beyond the fence, a tree-filled park and a view of the rushing Bark River. And it seems that every time we sit on the patio at Bogar's, there's a band playing just out of eyesight — a local high school perhaps. Whoever's band practice it is, we Lawlers are big fans. 

What we weren't big fans of last night, however, was the initial service. It seemed like everyone on staff was having a rotten day — and wasn't shy to moan and groan about it in front of the customers. Keep it together, Bogar's! We waited at our table for about 20 minutes before anyone took our drink order (though someone did immediately bring us chips and salsa, so we couldn't fully complain). 

Luckily, a darling waitress (frazzled, but with her game face on and a smile) spotted us in all our neglected-ness and wasted no time in swiftly and apologetically coming to our hungry aid. Her winning attitude coupled with the "famous fish tacos" made the wait totally worthwhile. Not to mention the free fried ice cream (drizzled with honey, cinnamon, and sugar) they gave us as a thank-you for our patience. All right, Bogar's, you've done it again. We were thrilled with the eats and the outdoor aesthetics, but now it's time to make your employees as happy as your once-hungry customers.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What the Dormouse Said

Wisdom from children's books

A few years ago while visiting friends in the Twin Cities, we stopped at Patina (we always stop at Patina) and I saw this book. This wise, nostalgic, moving little book. 

Whenever I'm in need of a little inspiration, I turn to What the Dormouse Said. I keep it on my bedside table and, when I feel the need, carry it with me in my tote bag du jour. It's filled with quotations from over 200 beloved children's books, old and new — everything from Peter Pan to Charlotte's Web to Eloise to plenty of titles I'd never even heard of. 

The quotes are divided by topics such as "Faith and Courage," "Practical Musings," and "Acceptance." On more than one occasion, I've referred to The Dormouse when I can't find words of my own — say, for a sympathy card. It's marvelous how these words we read as children still hold value for us (reluctant) grown-ups. 

Some of my favorites:

"If tomorrow the sky falls, have clouds for breakfast. If night falls, use stars for streetlights." _If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbows, Cooper Edens, 1979

"Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways."
_Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery, 1909

"Piglet was to excited at the idea of being Useful that he forgot to be frightened any more." _Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne, 1926

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hey la, Gloria's back!

Pizza & old maids

For the next two weeks, my cousin's darling daughter, Gloria, is visiting from Florida. She's all of six-and-a-half years old — and given how vehemently she reiterated it, the "and-a-half" is key. 

Every summer for the past few years, she's come to stay with my Aunt Kal for a brief spell, and together we've gone to parades, the zoo, and watched only the best Disney movies. On Tuesday night, my mom and I carted all the fixings (and our girliest aprons) over to Kal's house and attempted homemade pizza.

Gloria was very smart about the process and had all the answers, like how best to situate her step-stool so she could reach the counter. She also explained that sometimes just rinsing your hands is better than a full-on soapy washing. Also: 3 + 3 + 3 pepperonis = 9 pepperonis.

For girl of not-yet-seven, Gloria has some major self-discipline. For instance, she didn't follow my lead in stuffing her face with taco dip, but rather warned me not to spoil my dinner — though she admitted to understanding that (when it comes to dips) I just can't help myself. Of course, when I asked what she eats in an "I just can't help myself!" way, her answer was watermelon. Girl's got some healthy habits. 

As for the pizza itself, it couldn't be less glamorous. The ingredients: Pillsbury pizza dough, Ragu sauce, Roundy's shredded mozzarella, deli peperoni, and some chopped veggies. But Gloria doesn't do fancy dining anyway — she's all about the plain cheese. And in the end, it was plenty tasty (though no Harmony). 

Zombie Kevin & Gloria.

After dinner, we goofed around, Gloria taught me some ballet moves, and we played Go Fish. Which: You don't just say "Go fish" when someone asks you for a card and you don't have it — you say "No. Go fish." Thank you for explaining the rules in such detail, Gloria. And after Go Fish came Old Maid. And when Gloria was stuck with the old maid card, she ran from the room, wailing with tears. 

I remember being that kid. I wanted it to be a teaching moment for Gloria, but instead we just kind of smoothed it over. Though I did tell her that nowadays "old maids" have the most fun; they're strong, independent women who get to do just what they want. I think my modern take on Old Maid sailed right over her head. But I've still got almost two weeks to trade wisdom with my favorite six-and-a-half-year-old.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cinnamon sugar muffins

AKA: Christmas morning muffins

I found this recipe in the days before Pinterest when I used to troll foodgawker and, well, gawk at food. These sweet nuggets have since become one of my family's absolute favorites.

Though I try to save them for special occasions, I'll gladly whip up these babies any day of the year — because, truly, you just whip 'em up. There's not even an electric mixer involved — just stirring. And if you're even a baby bit of a baker, the ingredients are always in the pantry/fridge. And I haven't even touched on the fact that these are some seriously heavenly, donut-y crisp on the outside and cake-y on the inside, addicting muffins. I make them on Christmas morning for a reason: they taste like Christmas morning.

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1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg (ideally room temperature)
1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin pan (this recipe will make 8–12 muffins, depending how much you fill each cup). Melt the 1/3 cup of butter for the muffin batter. 

2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the batter's dry ingredients. Add the batter's wet ingredients and stir until combined but still lumpy (don't over-mix!). Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until the edges start to turn golden. *Note: The tops should not be golden — just the very edges.

3. For the topping, mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. In a second small bowl, melt the butter. Dip the still-warm muffins in the melted butter, then roll the muffins in the cinnamon and sugar mix until coated. Place the muffins on a cooling rack. *Note: You can dip/roll just the top of each muffin, but why would you do that when you can coat the whole thing in butter and cinnamon-sugar?

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These muffins are wonderful right out of the oven, after the cinnamon and sugar topping has had a few minutes to set up. The melted butter in the topping sort of sinks into the muffin and creates an almost deep-fried, donut-y outer shell. 

This texture treat is the most distinct if you eat the muffins the day you make them, but they hold up wonderfully the next day and into the next few days when stored in an air-tight container. If you like, you can even pop them in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to rekindle that just-baked warmth.