Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Big Salad

Everything but the kitchen sink

When my Aunt Kal made this salad for me and my mom, all I could think was: "You had to have the BIIIG salad." This salad is big, and it's a good thing it is because it goes fast. You see, it's not that kind of salad. In it, you'll find everything but the kitchen sink, not excluding pasta, bacon, and blue cheese.

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*Note: The following proportions are for a big party salad. If you're making it for a smaller party, cut these amounts in half.
2 bags romaine lettuce, pre-chopped
4 cooked chicken breasts
1 box small shell pasta or other small pasta
2 avocadoes
1 lb bacon
1 bunch of green onions
4 Roma tomatoes
gorgonzola cheese crumbles to taste
Martzetti Sweet Italian dressing (found near Produce)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the pasta. Cook the bacon and crumble. *Note: You can also use pre-cooked, pre-chopped bacon meant for salads (I did!). You'll find it packaged near the rest of the bacon in the grocery store.

2. Chop up the chicken. *Note: I used Italian marinated chicken breasts from the deli; so easy and flavorful!

3. Chop up the veggies. Just before serving, toss everything together with gorgonzola crumbles, lettuce, dressing, and salt & pepper to taste.

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To make this salad for just two people, I used half a bag of lettuce, 1-2 chicken breasts (depending how meaty you want your salad to be), and bacon & pasta to taste (I cooked an entire box of pasta, eyeballed how much to add to the salad, then saved the leftovers for lunch/dinner the next day). For the veggies, use just 1 avocado, 1 Roma tomato, and 2-3 green onions (depending on size).

Friday, August 29, 2014

One week from today...


Yes in one week, Adam and I are jetting off to Switzerland! We're going to spend time with his parents, who have been living there for the past four years. Adam's sister is also flying in from New York for the week. To get myself in gear for the Swiss delights ahead, here are some of my favorite photos and memories from the last time Adam and I were in Switz together, two years ago. Warning: I guess I was going through a filter-happy phase. Those are some lemony skies!

Hey Gruyeres! I like your cheese.

Chairs bolted into the rocks.

Swan Lake.

My favorite door.
Kelsey & Adam and the Chocolate Factory.
The view from Adam's parents' apartment. Sigh.
But the fun doesn't end there: Adam's parents are taking us all to Rome! I've been to Rome twice — the first time my freshman year of college to visit friends who were studying abroad.

Friends who journeyed.

Friends who studied in Roma.
The second time was the spring semester of my junior year, when Rachel and I studied abroad in France. That time it was all candid photos at too-perfect outdoor bistros and gelato for breakfast in St. Peter's Square. What will trip number three bring, I wonder?

Pasta, serenades, & sidewalk dining.

Good morning, St. Peter! Care for some gelato?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Design Seeds

Jessica Colaluca grows color

Ever hear of Design Seeds? It's a magical land (website) where you can browse gorgeous color palettes inspired by the seasons, travel, natural wonders, odds & ends, edibles, and living creatures. And you can search by color, too. What's not to love?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Movie night at the Towne Cinema

Road trip to Watertown

Did you know that Watertown is 52 minutes from Waukesha? I didn't. Thank you Google. My cousin Matt manages the Towne Cinema there, and every so often they host movie nights for family and friends. Last week: "Aladdin" in honor of Robin Williams

The Towne Cinema sits on Main Street and it's exactly how you'd imagine it to be. It's quaint and no-frills — homey. We sat just behind a little boy of about six. Right after "A Whole New World," he sighed heavily and said in a voice of sheer adoration: "I love the carpet." And when Jafar uttered the infamous words "I think it's time to say good-bye to Prince Abooboo," a kid in the back row hissed in a know-it-all tone: "It's Ali Ababwa." Kids: priceless.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Curry couscous salad

An easy idea for weekday lunches

Having a boring lunch, vending machine lunch, or no lunch at all is no way to spend the workday. Food is joy, and denying yourself that joy while at the office is, frankly, the pits. 

We're all busy, so finding time to make and pack an interesting lunch isn't the easiest thing in the world; me and my crackers and peanut butter stashed in a file cabinet totally get it. But then I rediscovered couscous. My college roommate and I would eat Near East couscous by the box. The best flavors: parmesan, roasted garlic, and toasted pine nut. 

Being on a curry kick since IndiaFest, I decided to inject some Indian flavor into my office life. Combining some light Googling with my own prowess (right), I've whipped up this curry couscous salad twice now. If you're smart about rationing and supplementing with fruit or something (and if you don't shovel half the pot into your mouth whilst cooking it), you can stretch this dish to three weekday lunches. And — bonus! — throwing it together couldn't be quicker or easier.

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Box of Near East couscous (roasted garlic flavor)
1 14-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2–3 green onions
shredded carrots (the packaged kind)
curry powder
garlic salt
black pepper
olive oil and/or butter
fresh lemon juice (optional)

1. Cook the couscous according to the package directions (including the spice pack!). In the mean time, chop up green onions. Chop up a handful of shredded carrots if desired. *Note: Just eyeball the amount of green onions and carrots to taste.

2. When couscous is done, place pot over a low flame and drizzle in olive oil to moisten. Stir in green onions, carrots, and drained and rinsed garbanzo beans. Stir in curry, garlic salt (or plain salt), and pepper to taste. If the mixture seems too dry, drizzle in more olive oil and up to 1 TBS butter. 

3. Remove from heat and stir in Craisins to taste. If you have a fresh lemon on hand, squeeze in some lemon juice. *Note: If you add too much lemon, counteract by stirring in more curry. Taste test as you go, then store in an airtight container in the fridge. Eat cold or warm — whatever you prefer!

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If all this stove-top work sounds like a pain, you're in for a treat. This boxed couscous takes all of 10 minutes to go from none to done! Now the question is: What else goes good with couscous? Let the great experiment begin!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

"Somewhere over the rainbow" _The Wizard of OZ

"A place where there isn't any trouble... Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?" asked Dorothy. It's a question we still ponder on gloomy days. Lucky for us, Judy's voice takes us to just such a place, even if only for a few short minutes. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Zoo A La Carte

Getting our graze on

These days it's called Milwaukee Journal Sentinel A La Carte, but it will always be Zoo A La Carte to me. The eating extravaganza falls at the same time as Irish Fest each year, adding to the greatness of that particular Milwaukee weekend. 

The Lawler ties to the Milwaukee County Zoo are twofold. One: My mom's dad (Papa) loved the zoo. He had a Zoo Pass so he could go every day if he wanted — and sometimes he did. He was obsessed. Papa was also obsessed with his video camera. He taped everything from my First Communion to a close-up of each ornament on our Christmas tree to — you guessed it — the goings-on at the zoo. It's impossible for my family to make a trip back there without thinking of Papa and his video camera. The second reason we're so keen on the zoo: My brother Kevin does face painting there as a summertime job — and I must say he's amazing at it! 

This past weekend at Zoo A La Carte, we went on a Sunday evening just after Kevin finished up work. It was a perfect time to go — all the delicious eats and animal entertainment with a considerably smaller crowd. As for what we ate, there are two staples on my Must Eat list: roasted corn doused in butter and seasoned salt and a strawberry lemonade (no ice) from Aladdin.


Then we always try something new. This time Kevin went for a macaroni and cheese burger, Adam tried the waffle-fries-nachos, and the tree of us shared "Asian donuts with Nutella drizzle" from Hue Vietnamese for dessert. I can't wait to see what goodies the zoo brings on board for next year's graze fest!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lemon chiffon cake

Layers of lemony goodness

Whenever we get together with my extended family, my go-to dessert offering is typically just this: anything chocolate. Brownies, cake, whatever it is — make it chocolate. It's is a crowd pleaser. And of course I, too, adore it in most any form. 

But without a festive gathering to bake for, I decided to please myself and my need to try something new. Thus: Lemon chiffon cake. It started as a baking experiment for me, and if my immediate family happened to enjoy the results, that would be icing on the cake (pun intended). Happily for all involved, they loved it! Except Kevin — he's one of those "anything chocolate" people.

The trick with chiffon cake of any flavor is beating egg whites until stiff peaks form, then folding them into the rest of the batter. I've heard of soft peaks and stiff peaks, but I've never actually beat egg whites into frothy submission before. Newsflash: It's tricky. At least for the first try. Here are a few tips courtesy of my Google research: 

Tip 1: Bring the eggs to room temperature, either by leaving them out of the fridge for an hour before you use them or by placing them in a bowl of warm water while you go about your other cake batter preparations. 

Tip 2: Use a glass or metal bowl — not plastic.

Tip 3: Make sure the bowl and the beaters are clean and dry. The first time I tried beating the egg whites, I used the same beaters I'd just used to mix the rest of the cake batter. I figured it couldn't hurt to reuse them since everything would eventually be folded together. Wrong-o! It seems any residue on the beaters or in the bowl can spoil the delicate balance that make eggs whites form peaks of any kind. (Yes, after one failed attempt I had to start over with all new egg whites — bummer!)

Tip 4: First the eggs whites will foam, then they'll combine into a creamy white mixture. This is when you have to be on the look out for stiff peaks. You can also over-beat egg whites, so out of paranoia I stopped beating them when I felt the mixture was fluffy enough (about 5–7 minutes of beating). Whether or not the stiff peaks were still to come, I'm not sure. I'm no Martha. But I do hope to figure out the science of perfectly stiff peaks someday!

Once you get past any egg white blunders, this layer cake comes together really easily and is absolutely delicious. The cake itself is lovely on its own — light and uncomplicated, with just a hint of lemon. The whipped cream topping (yes, whipped cream topping!) is what really takes it to Lemon Town. So fresh and tangy-sweet. If there's a cake that's more suited to summer, I've yet to find it.

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1 and 3/4 cups cake flour
1 TBS baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup water
1 TBS lemon zest

CAKE BATTER, PT. 2 (Egg whites)
6 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar

1 cup heavy whipping cream

jar of lemon curd (I used a 10-oz. jar of Dickinson's, which you can find in the peanut butter & jelly aisle at major grocery stores)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the Cake Batter, Pt. 1 ingredients until smooth.

2. For Cake Batter, Pt. 2 (egg whites): In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and continue beating. Slowly add sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

3. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into Cake Batter, Pt. 1. Fold in the rest of the egg whites until no streaks remain. Pour batter into two 9-in. round cake pans. *Note: The original recipe called for a 10-in. tube pan. You can try that, but the baking time will increase to about 60 minutes. Also, the original recipe said not to grease the pan, but I don't see how greasing the pan could be a bad thing. 

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 15–20 minutes. *Note: I took mine out at 17 minutes and they were cooked through. Next time, I would start checking the cakes at the 15-minute mark. The cakes are done when a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool.

5. For the whipped topping: In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form. In a separate smaller bowl, lightly beat the lemon curd so it's smoother and easier to work with. Fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream. Chill in the fridge.

6. Frost and layer the cake just before serving. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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We ate this cake for three nights straight, and I would say that's the max on its shelf life (it's too dry otherwise). Now that I know how to make a chiffon cake, I'm itching to try it with other, non-lemon flavors like vanilla and almond — and to get my stiff peaks down pat! So much cake, so little time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

IndiaFest Milwaukee 2014

Yum! — What am I eating?

God I love Indian food. But I admittedly never know what anything is called. I choose my meals by sight. At IndiaFest this past weekend, a woman standing next to me in line for Bombay Sweets tried making small talk about some scrumptious something whose name I couldn't repeat if you paid me. "Oh I don't know what that is," I said. "But the yellow stuff is amazing!"

Did you even know Milwaukee has an IndiaFest? Thank goodness I'm dating a half-Indian who knows other Indians who know things about IndiaFests! The fest took place at Humbolt Park with the main stage shining a spotlight on Indian dance, music, and fashion. Along the lawn's perimeter: the food, the henna, the eyebrow threading. But mostly the food. We visited the Bombay Sweets tent twice — once for a sort of combo plate of everything they had to offer, then again for some of Adam's favorite Indian sweets. 

I don't even think Adam knows what these crisp, orange, syrupy Indian funnel cakes are called — but he loves them with good reason. They're unlike anything I've ever tasted. It seems that when it comes to Indian sweets, the default technique is to soak fried dough in syrup. Sign me up for more of that!

"Be careful not to spill — I paid good money for that Lassi," said Mom.
After we'd eaten our fill (but not really, because one always wants to keep shoveling Indian food into one's mouth no matter how full one is), our friend Joel came to join us. Joel is like me — he doesn't know quite where to begin with Indian food, but he will eagerly try and enjoy most of it. 

So Adam and I stood in line a third time at Bombay Sweets and insisted Joel spend his last $10 on the combo plate. We pooled our singles to buy him a Mango Lassi, too. Adam ordered for him and carried his plate to the lawn; I snagged his plastic utensils and napkins and warned him to be careful not to spill his Mango Lassi. For all of five minutes, Joel was basically our child. Once we realized it, a good laugh followed. I do hope that visiting IndiaFest becomes a yearly ritual for our little family.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Irish Fest 2014

Sláinte, Milwaukee!


'Twas the most wonderful time of the year: Irish Fest weekend. On Friday night, Adam and I arrived at the festival grounds around 7:00. Price check: It cost $17 to get into the fest — $17! For Milwaukee festival-goers, that's steep. If we'd arrived before 5:30, it would have been only $5. Noted for next year.

But once inside the gates, it was of course totally worth the price tag. In fact, that's surely why they can afford to make the tickets so seemingly unaffordable; they know the people will pay it. And they're right. Anyway, we immediately found my parents and it was off to our favorite dinner spot: McBob's. They have a Reuben sandwich that would knock the kilt off a Scotsman. I know I'm crossing my cultures, but still. McBob's is seriously the place to go. Also: Mader's for their Irish nachos. Soft-but-crunchy potato chips topped with shredded corned beef, sour cream, and green onions. And you thought you went to Irish Fest just for the music.

Adam and I eventually vacated the grub hub and joined the teeming crowd at Gaelic Storm. They're always the kings of the fest — I blame "Titanic." I think they're great, but I must admit that I have just as much fun at any number of lesser known Irish bands playing on various smaller stages. 

Speaking of lesser known bands: After Gaelic Storm, it was off to Scythian! Standing on bleachers, 12 rows back, jumping like crazy, the show was an absolute non-stop party. The guys were so genuinely thrilled to be there and so full of life and gave one spirited performance after another. 

And now we start the countdown to next year: Only 360 days until Irish Fest 2015!

Sweetheart, they're suspecting things

"People will say we're in love" _Oklahoma!


Today calls for perfect voices and Gordon MacRae's everything.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Puffin in Bloom

Classic books, new artwork

A few months back, I was debating over iPhone cases. I eventually settled on one with art by Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Company. Now there are more Anna Bond designs on my shopping list. She's designed gorgeous covers for four classics from Puffin Books for their "Puffin in Bloom" series: Little Women, Heidi, A Little Princess, and Anne of Green Gables

The only thing better than a classic children's book is a classic children's book with drool-worthy cover art! These beauties are available for pre-order now and will be released on August 28th.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tosa Tonight: Scythian

A Milwaukee Irish Fest pre-party in Wauwatosa

Every year during the week leading up to Irish Fest, Wauwatosa hosts a sort of pre-party in the park. Last night, local band Tallymoore and D.C. natives Scythian brought down the Rotary Performance Pavilion with thundering jigs and sweet melodies.

You oughta be in beer commercials.
Indulging in one of my favorite activities, we packed a picnic, then sprawled out on the green in a sea of folding chairs. By the time we settled ourselves, a crowd had already gathered at the foot of the stage: youngsters sashaying with the Irish Fest mascots and groups of girlfriends several years my minor with wispy Pinterest braids and not a care in the world. 

We missed all but the tail end of the last song by Tallymoore, but their sound definitely peaked my interest for future listens. Scythian I'd seen once before, and simply put: They're a blast. Who can resist a bunch of seriously talented, Ireland-loving, bearded, plaid-shirt-wearing boys? Not this girl. 

But in all seriousness, total likability factor aside, these guys are amazing musicians. The fast-paced songs make you want to jump up and jig, and their rendition of sweetly sad ballads like "If Ever You Were Mine" are enough to make your heart ache. Check them out for yourself: Scythian plays Milwaukee Irish Fest 2014 every day this weekend. Get all the scoop here!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No-bake peanut butter cup bars

Make your own Reese's!

Once upon a time, a girl at work brought in a variation of these peanut butter cup bars. In a flash, the bars vanished, not a crumb to be found. And our tummies lived happily every after. The end. 

The moral of the story: These bars are a surefire hit! And you'll love making them as much as your friends, family, and coworkers will love devouring them. There's just two layers, no baking, and minimal mess. The hardest part of whipping up these tasty treats? Not spooning the entire peanut butter layer into your own mouth instead of into the pan. Truly.

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*Note: These proportions are for a 9x13 inch pan.
1 cup (two sticks) butter, melted 
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (fine crumbs are best)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup plus 4 TBS creamy peanut butter

1 and 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (See "Note" below)

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, confectioners sugar, and 1 cup of peanut butter until smoothly combined. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 inch pan.

2. In a microwave or on a stove-top, melt the chocolate chips with the remaining 4 TBS of peanut butter. Remove the mixture from heat once the chocolate begins to melt, then stir until smooth. Spread the mixture over the prepared peanut butter layer. Refrigerate for at least one hour, then cut into squares. 

*Note: Feel fee to switch up the chocolate layer: Try using only semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate. Or try a mix of semi-sweet or milk chocolate paired with butterscotch chips. Whatever the combination, a good rule is to make sure you're using more chocolate than peanut butter/butterscotch. (The first time I made these, I used a mix of milk chocolate and butterscotch chips — definitely delicious!)

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One final thought: Remove these from the pan right after they come out of the fridge. I let mine sit for about an hour, and the peanut butter layer wanted to stick to the bottom of the pan. Of course, I told myself I had to eat whatever little bits didn't come off cleanly... So maybe you should wait an hour!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, I believe in you.

A tribute to our Happy Thought

Social media is overrun with prayers, thoughts, hilarious stories, and tear-jerkers for the memory of Robin Williams. The beloved comedian was more like our collective wacky uncle than a movie star, but by now I'm sure many have seen — and cried over — this simply stated tweet from The Academy of Motion Pictures: 

Yes, from the average moviegoer to The Academy, it seems everyone has something to say about Robin's passing — and his life. I read a comment on Facebook from my cousin Matt which said that, for some reason, the death of Robin Williams feels so much more personal than the passing of other Hollywood greats. And that word — personal — struck me. 

How is it that one man can affect so many lives? In the past 24 hours, we've heard fellow comedians, actors, and directors call Robin Williams a genius time and again. They say that what he had could not be taught, and that X Factor is what made him such an extraordinary entertainer. Beyond "genius," a phrase that keeps cropping up is "generosity of spirit." I believe that while his genius made him the entertainer that he was, it was Robin's genuine nature and palpable kindheartedness that made him the man we all grew to love on a very personal level.

To name just one favorite Robin Williams role would be impossible. All last night, I kept realizing another movie, then another, then another in which Robin captured our hearts and wailed on our funny bones. He was our nanny, our captain, our genie, and our spirit of youth. He told us to "bee yourself" and taught us an eclectic celebration of the dance. Together, we learned how to play. Now as we look back with utter fondness and adoration for the all the joy this man has given, I like to think that Robin Williams is somewhere looking down on us, thinking: "That was a great game."

A picnic near North Point

Enjoying Milwaukee's green spaces

The morning after our journey to Ravinia, Adam and I had so many leftover munchables that there was nothing to do but pack a picnic. We walked to the North Point water tower, where there are plenty of green spaces. With Lake Michigan on the eastern horizon, we spread out our feast in the shade of a great tree.

To our south loomed an imposing house that resembles something out of a Jane Austen mini series. Or, if you're Adam, you'd skip over Ms. Austen altogether and just refer to it as Downton Abbey. Thinking for a moment that we were not in Milwaukee, but on a sprawling lawn in the English countryside was a much welcomed exercise for my imagination. (Have you stretched yours lately?)

But enough imagining — more eating! We dined on baguette & European butter, aged cheddar cheese, salami, red grapes, strawberries, and nutella. Adam commented on how very healthy we are. "Everything in moderation," I said. "Except nutella," he replied. It's good to know we agree on such important life philosophies as these.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I always try to chuckle hourly, it clears the brain

"Put a happy face" _Bye Bye Birdie

It's Monday... So spread sunshine all over the place!

Ravinia: "Return of the King" & the Chicago Symphony

A LotR nerd's dream come true

I'd never heard of Ravinia. Was I living under a rock? Maybe. But when I heard its name my mind immediately jumped: So Elvish! How fitting that my first trip to Ravinia was for a showing of "The Return of the King" featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In truth, they had me when they said the movie would be played on giant outdoor screens. To then also have a live orchestra play the gorgeous musical score along with the movie was like, okay, you can lead me to the Grey Havens tomorrow. (Translation: I can die happy.)

Not only were there violins, flutes, drums, and horns playing along with Howard Shore's three-time Academy Award winning score, there was a choir and soloists with voices so pure and sweet it was surely orc mischief (Translation: Too good to be true). But it was true! One soloist, we heard from a fellow fan, actually travels the world singing at Lord of the Rings concerts such at the one in Ravinia.  

Music and angelic voices aside, it was a dream to just be among people for whom it's the norm to talk candidly about Wood Elves and proudly sport t-shirts bearing the White Tree of Gondor. The guy camped out next to us let out fist pump after fist pump at key moments, and I lost count of the number of times the crowd erupted in cheer — everything from when Merry and Pippin first appear on the scene to the predictable outburst at Eowyn's "I am no man." Oh that such events happened on the regular! We Tolkien nerds would flock to the scene, desperately seeking any way back to Middle Earth. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Friday session at County Clare

Start your weekend the Irish way

Every Friday night, County Clare pub in Milwaukee hosts a session — that is, a rather informal gathering of musicians playing traditional Irish music. I can't believe I'd never been to a County Clare session before last Friday. It's such a magical, days-of-yore feeling to be sitting around drinking beer with a dozen talented musicians turning out tune after tune on fiddles, drums (
bodhráns), and flutes just a few tables away. There was also a man playing a tiompán, which is a kind of wooden box fitted with metal strings, played a like a xylophone (is my loose understanding of it). 

The music was beautiful and the vibe, laid-back. While Adam and the boys sat around gulping Guinness, I sat alone at the bar, mesmerized by the music and completely content. Truly, if you have nowhere to go on a Friday night and Irish music is your jam, County Clare is the place to be.