Thursday, July 31, 2014

July 2014

A few of my favorite things

Cedarburg Strawberry Fest with Mom & a convertible.
A July 3rd filled with fireworks, basement smells, and meeting Noah.
Fourth of July in Tosa & a recipe for star-shaped brownies.
Wishing on a lantern & grilling cilantro lime turkey burgers.

Celebrating Bastille Day with baguettes & beignets.
Rooftop music in downtown Milwaukee.

An overnight trip up north with feasting & friends.
Tosa Tonight's evening with the Concord Chamber Orchestra.
A dinner of 4 tasty baguette toppers

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Music of the night

Phantom of the Opera tour 2014

Last night, Adam and I double-dated with our friends Joel and Vanessa for dinner and a Broadway show. This morning, all I can think is: 

#1. What delightful people! 
#2. I'm such a Broadway snob. 
#3. Never the nosebleeds. 

I love saving money as much as the next person, but so much is lost when you're sitting Balcony, Row D. But more on that later.

Dinner was a delight, as were our dinner dates. We went to Cubanitas, which always has such a vibrant, downtown vibe. The place is even better in summer, when its floor-to-ceiling windows open out onto the sidewalk. We ordered tasty beers, "not oaky, not tinny" Chardonnay, and guacamole with plantain chips to start. For dinner, plates of beef and fish served with yellow rice and black beans.

Vanessa, Joel, & plates of Bistec
Before we knew it, it was 7:10 and we had to high-tail it to the Performing Arts Center, myself clinging to these gargantuan Parisian platform sandals Aunt Kal handed down to me (I can see why she did). Despite inappropriate footwear, we made it to our seats just in time. Adam and I squinted at the stage and I longed to be close enough to really see the ballet dancers, the gorgeous costumes, and Christine's expressions. Her voice was outstanding (nearly on par with Sierra Boggess' "Wishing you were somehow here again"), and the Phantom offered shades of Ramin Karimloo at times. But at other times, I found they lacked passion and zing — that certain X factor. Though I'm sure some of my disappointment stems from being so far away from the action (hence, never the nosebleeds!). 

Either way, it was worth it for the experience, for the music, and for the times when the voices transported us to the Paris Opera House. I just wish we'd splurged for the floor seats! 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Crostini for dinner

4 tasty baguette toppers

You could put almost anything on a baguette and I'd eat it. You could even not put anything on a baguette and I'd still eat it. Last Friday, I toasted baguette slices (crostini) and topped them with four different yummies. With a green salad on the side, it made for a delicious little dinner.

First up, slices of brie with a dollop of fig jam. Note: A little jam goes a long way. In place of fig you could also try blackberry jam or honey with black pepper.

Brie & fig
I then made two goat cheese varieties. For one, a healthy layer of goat cheese topped with a ribbon of prosciutto, arugula, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. 

Goat cheese, prosciutto, & arugula
For the second of the goat cheese variety, I once again started with a layer of cheese. I then chopped up some roasted, marinated tomatoes you can find in the deli section of Metro Market. If you can't find tomatoes (or red peppers even) that are already marinated for you, substitute halved cherry tomatoes tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, some minced garlic, and fresh basil. I just chose the deli tomatoes this time out of convenience. When the tomatoes are set, top once again with arugula, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper. (I bet a drizzle of balsamic would be just as tasty!) 

Goat cheese, marinated tomatoes, & arugula

I kept it simple for the last type of crostini. I knew my brother would be home and he's not so hot on things like brie and goat cheese. So I spread the baguette with a thin layer of butter (because why not?) and topped it off with a thick slice of sharp cheddar cheese. Yum!

Butter & sharp cheddar

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pan pizza, ancient aliens, & ladies who lunch

AKA What we do when Dad's gone


Every year my dad goes on a motorcycle trip with a group of fellow Harley Davidson enthusiasts — and every year, my mom, brother, and I make a point of living it up in ways Dad might not approve. Not that we don't live it up when he's home — on the contrary! But my dad just doesn't understand the allure of pan-style pizza ("Who needs all that crust?"), History Channel conspiracy theories, and hours of shopping & salads for lunch. So the remaining Lawlers always plan to get our fix of these not-guilty pleasures when Dad's out of town.

On Thursday night, it was Topper's pizza for dinner: pan-style, straight pepperoni, and cheesy Topperstix with garlic butter dipping sauce. All things that would make Dad groan. On Friday night, I whipped up some assorted crostini (recipes to come!) — again, a meal of bread and cheese almost certainly wouldn't satiate my dad. For our viewing pleasure: the ridiculousness of "Ancient Aliens" and the Phil Collins genius of Disney's "Tarzan." 


On Saturday, my mom and I got up early to go to the new Mayfair shops — Nordstrom Rack and Saks 5th Avenue — and we each walked away with a new dress. For lunch, it was off to Le Reve in Wauwatosa — my favorite! Sitting on the sidewalk in downtown Tosa, Mom and I shared a Croque Madame and rounded out the meal with demie salads and double cappuccinos. As if the day could get any more delicious, a musical duo started playing jazz on the street corner. "Just like Paris!" my mom said. Well, maybe not just like Paris — but this annual weekend with my mom (and brother, when it's not Girls Only time) is as good as a little slice of Paris to me.

There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination

"Pure Imagination" _Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tosa Tonight: Concord Chamber Orchestra

Classical music en pleine air

All summer long, Tosa Tonight hosts musical acts at the Rotary Performance Pavilion in Hart Park near the Wauwatosa Village. Last week, Adam and I parked on a picnic blanket and enjoyed the Concord Chamber Orchestra's spirited renditions of Hungarian marches and John Williams classics.

The opening act started at 6:00 — a barber shop quartet, which I'm sorry to say we missed seeing. We parked along Honey Creek Parkway at about 6:45 without a hitch; as someone who dreads parking at busy events and crowded locations, trust me when I say this was an absolute breeze. Adam and I walked over to the pavilion and immediately started scoping out the dinner and drink options: Gilles, Leff's, Maxie's, Ruby Tap, and BelAir Cantina. We decided on Maxie's: a pulled pork sandwich topped with creamy slaw, gooey spirals of mac n' cheese, and a stack of bourbon chocolate chip cookies — great decisions, all.

We settled ourselves on the lawn and watched the interim act: a dance school from Delafield. With each new dance number, Adam asked "Are these the stars?" I finally had to break it to him: Sometimes, there aren't any stars, especially at a non-competing dance school. I should know — I went to one for 11 years. I explained how there are three camps: the "meh" camp which is probably 85% of the girls in the company, the pom squad camp which is maybe 10%, and the Star camp which is only 5% if you're lucky. "Which one were you?" Adam asked. Meh. So I clapped all the louder.

Finally the orchestra started up — and the jumpy little kids came out. They bopped around in front of the raised stage, the girls spinning, the boys chasing. There was a curly-haired girl dressed
in full Minnie Mouse costume, ears and all, and a boy bouncing a basketball painted with Spiderman's face. This isn't an unusual scene at a summer concert, but with lively classical music as a soundtrack it was absolutely hilarious — an epic juxtaposition. 

Fancy shoes and bunny ears keeping warm in the middle of July.

Eventually the conductor interrupted the classics and welcomed a high school senior named Grace onto the stage; she had the voice
of an angel. Grace sang two songs — "All of me" by John Legend (we groaned in annoyance, but she nailed it) and "I Dreamed a Dream." Amidst other orchestral favorites, they played the theme from Star Wars and a medley from Phantom of the Opera

But once the sun set, Adam complained of freezing (thank you, Wisconsin summers) and we decided to call it a night, marching back to the car in time to the music.

It feels like Christmas — in July!

Have a merry, muppet-y one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Greetings from Menasha!

A summer night Up North

Left to right: Hari, Guru, Lindsey, Me, Adam, Vanessa, Joel
Last weekend, Adam and I went Up North to a lakeside cottage that our friend Lindsey's sister is renting for the summer. The cottage sits on a tree-dotted lawn that stretches down to the pier and Lake Winnebago. The little house was entirely charming, with a one-room kitchen and sitting area, a baby pink bathroom, one real bedroom, and a windowed sun-room acting as a second bedroom.

When we arrived, Lindsey and her sister Lori wasted no time in making us feel at home, offering snacks and drinks and playing a motley collection of records ranging from Dolly Parton to Annie. Their dad (also visiting for the day) was busy kneading his famous burgers (smoked mozzarella is the secret ingredient). 

Lori, Lindsey, their dad, & the smoked mozzarella
With other friends arriving any minute, we decided to kill time with a game of Bocce Ball. Lindsey won nearly every toss, and I lost every toss — that's not an exaggeration. Naturally, Adam came out somewhere in the middle. But he delighted us with his juggling skills — a Win in my book.


When the whole crew was finally assembled, it was time to break out the jet skis. I've ridden a jet ski before, when I was little and visiting my grandparents in Florida. One time I was riding on the back of one with my dad when a pair of dolphins swam right alongside us. But the jet skiing in Menasha is seriously lacking in the cute water mammal arena, and instead gave me multiple wipeouts complete with giant grape-colored bruises.

Lori & Lindsey: Babes on a jet ski

Having had enough of scrapes and bumps and being wet (I'm a baby like that), I walked myself back to the house for some dry clothes. While gathering my things, I heard a small whimper from just outside the screen door; it was Matey, Lori's cockapoo. I asked her what she was crying about, sat down next to her on the lawn, and up she climbed right onto my lap. She sat there for the next twenty minutes. Between her warm, fuzzy body and the sun's setting rays, I was mighty comfy-cozy, even without dry clothes.

Just me and Matey

Once everyone joined me and Matey on dry land, there was grilling. Oh there was grilling! We ate a delicious dinner of (of course) Lindsey's dad's famous burgers, our friend Hari's special spicy chicken, and scrumptious bites of bison steak dripping with butter. The cottage was bursting with lively chatter, tastings of St Germain liqueur, the Grease soundtrack spinning on the record player — and then it was time for the fireworks. Our group stood in the road and Lori's husband set off one after another — big ones, illuminating the surrounding treetops and power lines. There's such a rush when you're that close to the crack!, swoosh!, and BOOM! of fireworks. 

After a display that would make even Gandalf proud came the moment Lindsey and I had been waiting for all day...

...S'mores! What more does a girl need? (Based on these pics, a girl certainly doesn't need a photo-worthy hairdo!)

We crowded around a crackling fire burning in the Weber grill, roasting 'mallows,  telling spooky stories, and letting the warm flames lull us to Sleepy Town. Of course we all feared that, after hearing Hari's story about the Lazarus Reflex, we'd be on the express train to Nightmare City. But to my knowledge, we all slept like a bunch of babies. 


The next morning: brunch in Appleton. We ate at Atlas Coffee Mill — a really tasty spot on the banks of the Fox River. It was a lovely day, so we sat on the patio under linen umbrellas with the river rushing by and a squadron of pelicans sunbathing in the shallows. About the time our vanilla chai lattes and cafe mochas arrived, an old man started playing the accordion — c'est si Européean! Add a killer breakfast burrito to the mix and voila: a perfect brunch.

In the last hours of our Up North jaunt, our group stopped back at the cottage and lounged on the grass, dreading the drive back to reality and the Monday morning to follow. Why can't we just play silly records, dine on superbly grilled meats, sit with puppies on our laps, and wake up to a cottage full of friends every day? 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Koss Lunar Series

Friday night rooftop music

Last weekend, we finally made it to Newaukee's Koss Lunar Series — an event held every Friday this summer on the roof of the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Each week features a different band or DJ, cash bar, a canopy of string lights, and the young, hip crowd that's now synonymous with Newaukee. Bonus: It's free to attend!

The music starts at 6:00 and goes til 11:00 (which was more like 11:30). We drank foamy (read: not really worth your money) Blue Moons and strong (read: worth your money) rum & cokes and grooved to DJ Poison Ivy. She played such great tunes I now plan to stalk her weekend whereabouts. I also wasted no time before texting my single girlfriends to say that they need to come and check out this fine, well-dressed, age-appropriate sampling of Milwaukeeans. Can we do this every Friday?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our Town

Wonderful earth & "The Wonder Years"

This summer, my family is re-watching "The Wonder Years" in its entirety. We're only on season 3, but I've cried or come close to it plenty of times. There was the episode where Mr. and Mrs. Arnold are fighting over pottery and Pepsi. There was the one where Karen runs away, but comes back home. This week we watched the one where Kevin wants to play tackle football and his mom just wants to keep him safe; she has to let him go and grow up, of course.

Another that had my eyes watering up was the one where Winnie stars in the school play and Kevin mans the spotlight. The play is Our Town, and maybe I missed the boat in high school English, but I've never read or seen it. My rough understanding is it's about a dead girl who comes back to earth for one last look at the life and people she left behind. When Winnie delivered Thornton Wilder's poetic lines and a tear slid down Kevin's cheek, I was a goner.

"Goodbye, Goodbye, world. Goodbye, Grover's Corners... Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking... and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths... and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?" _Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Playing with the Party Party app

Well this could be addicting.



Earlier this week, the crazy-creative girls at A Beautiful Mess unveiled their new Party Party iPhone app. It's seriously fun. Like, prepare for a time-suck when you first download it because you won't want to stop playing. Or group texting.

Rebecca test drives the Party Party app with a collage entitled: #Thursday.

The app has a self-timer that takes 1, 4, 9, or 16 photos. You can adjust the delay between each shot (anywhere from .5 to 5 seconds), or you can manually take each picture. Once you've captured your photos, you're given the option of turning them into a looping .gif, a square-shaped collage, or a strip of photos like you'd get at a photo booth. Next come the filters: pick one, and adjust brightness and contrast. Add a boarder if needed, and voila! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A year ago today...

Sir Paul McCartney in concert

Feeling nostalgic, I was looking at pictures from last summer, wondering where I was and what I was doing a year ago at this time. Well a year ago today, the Lawlers went to see Paul McCartney live at Miller Park. 

We're insanely lucky; we've seen Sir Paul a few times in Milwaukee. And Rachel and I even saw him in Liverpool (another story for another time). But back to last year: It was sweltering hot. Like sweat-dripping-down-your-back hot. And puddling. Puddling sweat. 

And it was so worth it. My favorite was when he sang "And I love her." Swoon! I don't recall him playing it in Milwaukee before last year. Or maybe I just wasn't tuned in to the underrated ballads in the past. Either way, we still need Paul — whether he's 64 or 104.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pontoon boating Potterheads

A trip to Lake Nagawicka & Seven Seas

Being a freelance writer for Premier Bride definitely has its perks — the biggest (until recently) was when I got to play a bridesmaid in a wedding photo shoot a little over a year ago. Imagine: Me in a photo shoot! What alternate universe is this? But last night's Premier Bride perk gave the photo shoot a run for its money: Deb (my freelance boss and the owner of Premier Bride of Greater Milwaukee) invited me to her condo in Lake Country for a pontoon boat ride.

View from Lake Nagawicka, Delafield.

As we walked down to the pier, the wind was picking up something fierce — but Deb was calm, cool, and confident. She's been boating for the past 22 years, so a little wind didn't scare her. Armed with some assorted snacks (cheese, sausage, crackers, pistachios) and a bottle of Pinot Grigio, we set off onto Lake Nagawicka. Deb's plan was to head to Seven Seas for dinner — a delightful surprise! 

Outdoor dining at Seven Seas.

I've been to Seven Seas just a handful of times in my life — once for a wedding I was in four years ago. It always struck me as being fancy shmancy, but the prices were actually quite affordable — depending on what you order, of course. Deb and I shared three appetizers: crab cakes, bruschetta, and an apple, walnut, & blue cheese salad. We chatted about Premier Bride, movies, and somehow got on the subject of Harry Potter. 

Turns out, Deb is a Potterhead too — as is her entire family. She, her husband, and their son read all seven books aloud together; her son had been too young to read the books himself when they first started the ritual. But by the time the 7th book debuted, he was able to join in — and it happened to be his turn to read when the faithful Dobby died. Oh the sobbing! "We had to stop for at least
a half-hour," Deb said. "I thought I had to go get the brown paper bag!" I confessed I had I similar reaction when Dumbledore died.

Just a couple of Potterheads.

When Deb and I finished dinner, it was back to the boat. We stopped to float in the middle of the lake, enjoying the sunset, another glass of Pinot, and some dark chocolate with sea salt Deb had stashed in her purse. When we got back to the condo, Deb and her son (who happened to be home) indulged my Harry Potter nerdom and showed me all of the goodies they bought at the Universal Studios gift shop. Deb pulled a Gryffindor robe from her closet, then scurried to another room hollering back: "Wanna see the Elder Wand?!" (Duh.)

Three wands and one Marauder's Map later, it was time to go. I drove away with such a feeling of gratitude: for the opportunity to write about weddings, for pontoon boats and big skies — but most of all for kindred spirits. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bastille Days

Vive la France!

J'adore Bastille Days: the miniature Tour Eiffel, the cost of admission (free!), and its street fair vibe. It's small enough to manage in one evening, but there's no shortage of sights, sounds, and tasty treats. C'est magnifique! 

Once we conquered the beast that is parking at Bastille Days (there are $10 lots — you just have to look hard enough), all we could think about was food. (Though really that's all I ever think about.) You name it, they have it at Bastille Days: Saz's famous sour cream & chive fries, mousse-stuffed crêpes topped with a cloud of whipped cream, and things that are actually French like a "brie & tomate" baguette sandwich. Not that the crêpes aren't French — I just wish the Bastille Days crêpe people would practice "less is more." Keep your mousse and your cream; just give me a nutella-filled triangle.

We ate our diverse dinners at the base of the Eiffel Tower with people stopping Erin to ask where she got the fries. Funny: No one inquired after my baguette sandwich. I then asked Renee to take a picture of Erin & I with the tower in the background. We thought she was going to take it at one of those really unflattering low angles that gives you a triple chin. We compensated with some ridiculous posing (Erin called this her French Face), but the angle wasn't at all what we'd predicted; I suppose that makes the posing all the more ridiculous.

After the photo shoot, we went in search of beignets and Hinterland Cherry Wheat beer. On our way, we were stopped by a Mardi Gras parade complete with a brass band, some giant Joker-looking puppet, a banner of the Mona Lisa, and Can Can dancers tossing strands of beads. That the parade lasted all of five minutes only added to its charm. (Wauwatosa's Fourth of July parade should take notes!)

Having survived the classic beignet pitfalls (burnt tongues and powdered sugar inhalation), we made our way to a small square stage in the center of Cathedral Square where we were drawn in by a troupe of belly dancers. Not only were the costumes rich, jewel-toned layers of eye candy, but the dancers themselves were enough to make me want to shout "Get it girl!" Seriously, how do they move like that? And many of the dancers defied mainstream definitions of belly-baring beauty, celebrating their curves with total confidence, artistry, and poise.

We rounded out the night by stopping at some of the local artists' tents, ogling turquoise jewelry and adorable Wisconsin t-shirts. We rocked out to the Soul Rebels Brass Band (or as Renee called them: "The Boys 2 Men of brass"), but sleepiness eventually caught up with us. Bonne nuit, Bastille Days. À l'année prochaine!