Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March 2016

A few of my favorite things

Discovering Hi-Fi Cafe, another bright spot in Bay View.

Making awesome herbed green potato salad (from Cookie & Kate).

Sharing my favorite magazine.

Basking in Milwaukee Art Museum's Art in Bloom.

Cooking up the best basic vegetarian chili (from Cookie & Kate).

Sharing some artists I love (for the kids, too!).

Checking out Antiques on Pierce (formerly Antiques on Second). 

Baking flourless chocolate truffle cake.

Being utterly stunned by American Song at the Milwaukee Rep.

Sharing tips for finding live Irish music in Milwaukee

Breakfasting at Miss Katie's Diner

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Whimsical kids wall art

3 Etsy artists perfect for kids rooms

For all of you who have youngsters in your life (or even if you're just young at heart like me), these art picks are for you. I would plaster them all over our walls if I didn't think they were just a bit too youthful/girly for the Man of the House. I prefer to compromise on apartment art, though that doesn't stop me from ogling these pieces and dreaming of the day I get to decorate a kid's room. That's what procreation is all about, right? Finally realizing your dreams of whimsical home décor? Here are 3 kid-friendly artists I love.

#1 Helen Dardik
I first saw Helen Dardik's work in Flow Magazine; she was a featured artist in the first issue I ever owned. Her work just screams "put me in a kid's room!" Across the board, her pieces are vibrant and whimsical, encouraging imagination, adventure, and discovery. 

Below: A Blooming Mind, Inside the Rainbow, His Royal Spirit

#2 Paola Zakimi
In my decorating daydreams, it's a struggle between bright/lively and soft/sweet. I'm not sure which I love more. Paola Zakimi's Etsy shop, Holli, definitely falls into the soft and sweet category. Her sketches are lovely, her little characters are darling, and I love her animal alphabet posters (available in multiple languages).

Below: Mae, English ABCs, My Lovely Tree in Summer

#3 Emily Winfield Martin
Emily Winfield Martin was yet another Flow Magazine discovery for me. She was a featured artist, with beautiful tear-out portraits just asking to be framed (and Adam and I did frame one!). Her work ranges from the slightly odd to the wonderfully magical. I'm definitely a bigger fan of her more kid-friendly pieces. How enchanting are these?

Below: Fairy Dream, Fox Girl, Circus Dream

Do you have a favorite artist whose work is perfect for little ones? Share in the comments! I'd love to grow my collection of favorites.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Cafe Hollander

A family-friendly group brunch in Tosa

I love holidays. There's almost always some out-of-town friends coming home for a visit, which almost always means gathering to eat something delicious. This Easter weekend, our friends from Minnesota came back to Wisconsin with their two Gerber-Baby-worthy kids in tow. 

Now that we're at a point in our lives where there are husbands and little ones (when did that happen?!), choosing a spot to dine isn't so easy-peasy. That new eatery on the east side? Too tiny for a party of nine. That place with the killer Eggs Benedict and an hour wait? We can't ask a three-year-old and a baby to wait that long without facing some consequences — no matter how freaking adorable they are. What to do? Where to go? Thank heavens for Cafe Hollander!

I've always enjoyed brunch at Cafe Hollander. If Bloody Marys and international beer lists a mile long are your thing, Hollander is a tough one to beat. But what I especially loved about the Tosa cafe this past weekend is that it was so family-friendly. 

Our group was able to make a reservation (something the new, hip n' trendy breakfast joints just don't do), there were coloring pages for the kids, and an Easter Bunny. Albeit, a bunny that looked like musty pink carpet — but hey, Hollander's heart was in the right place. I also like that, even if we didn't have a reservation, the cafe is so spacious that it's ideal for a larger group. Plus, the vibe is lively and just loud enough to be perfect for unpredictable kiddies. 

But lest you think I'm only praising Cafe Hollander for its family-friendly atmosphere, think again. The eats and drinks are delicious and the portions are large. I love the BELT + A, a BLT with egg and avocado, smeared with basil aioli (Hollander's sauce game is on point!). Adam got the blueberry pancakes, which are served with cinnamon butter that's a total game changer. I'm picky about restaurant pancakes, but I'm seriously daydreaming about these. 

As for the rest of our group, we had a couple of veggie omelets (everyone said they would get them again) and a Breakfast Mac n' Cheese: Macaroni and cheese with chorizo and an egg on top. I tried a bite — holy yum. Looks like I'm gonna have to go back. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Milwaukee Rep presents "American Song"

Reflections on fatherhood in a fractured America

I've seen some incredible theater at the Milwaukee Rep this season, but no show has humbled me so much as American Song. This world-premiere one-man play by Joanna Murray-Smith is truly a modern masterpiece, poetically addressing painful, poignant themes. It doesn't hurt that the solo talent in this Milwaukee Rep production is James DeVita, hailed by the Wall Street Journal as "America's finest classical actor." A bold statement to be sure, but seeing DeVita's performance in American Song made a believer out of me.

So what's the play about? The action is a man named Andy, a father and husband, building a wall. We watch him choose and lay stones and boulders as he tells us his life story — where he grew up, how he met his wife, how they had a baby, moved to New York, and how he landed a fancy job in sales. Andy paints a picture of a happy a life — a life that was, as he called it, "on track." 

But as he tells us about this perfect life, there's a shadow lurking. Andy frequently interrupts himself to question his life's actions: What inconsequential decisions had he made to lead to this moment? We come to find that Andy's smart, seemingly-normal, teenaged son was involved in a school shooting. In fact, he was one of the shooters, gunning down his peers before taking his own life. That was the day Andy's on-track life horrifically derailed.

His monologue, naturally, spirals into a black hole of questions: Did he do enough? Were there signs? Is the universe punishing him? Was there a flip that switched in his son's head — a chemical reaction? What happened to the little boy Andy knew? How did he get to this moment? Then there are questions about our greater American society: Access to firearms, technology, parenting, and so on. Andy doesn't have answers — just that black hole of questions. In this way, American Song resists preaching about or blaming any one evil. Rather, Andy's monologue draws all of these issues into the debate.

And debate we did. The Milwaukee Rep is doing something extraordinary with American Song, though it's much more a discussion than a debate. The play in done in one 90-minute act (Bravo James DeVita!) followed by a 5-minute response from a community leader and a 30-minute (or so) small group discussion amongst audience members. At the performance I saw, Paula Penebaker, President and CEO of the YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin, offered a 5-minute reflection (watch all the reflections here). I was also lucky enough to have Paula in my small group discussion, led by the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion.

In addition to Paula, our small group included myself, my friend Fritz, and two other women — a nurse and a 7th grade teacher. There was also our kindly discussion leader who taught us to use "I" statements and respect each other's time to speak. We were asked what resonated with us, and the dynamic perspectives amazed me.

The teacher wrestled with the idea of such atrocities happening in her own school. She voiced doubt in how to deal with students who might make the hair on the back of her neck stand up. It's a real struggle: remaining nonjudgmental vs. admitting concern for a student's odd behavior. See something, say something? She says you're "damned if you do, damned if you don't." As for the nurse, she told a story of a patient of hers with a suicide plan and a gun in his jacket pocket. She said she'd never felt that kind of crippling fear before.

Paula spoke of "otherness" and how we never think these things can happen to us, in our community — only to "other" people. As a black woman, she drew correlations to the black community — how white folks talk about the violence committed by "those people," and yet the gunmen in mass shootings are overwhelmingly young, affluent, white males. Her message was profound: That whether you're black or white, rich or poor, there's a pain and a gap that's at the root of any violent act. Can't we come together to help that pain? 

Then there was Fritz and I, the youngest of the group. What resonated the most with us was a quote from the play about being 30, which we nearly are. Andy says: "Sometimes I think the dumbest people in the world are around 30. Around 30, you are so fucking in love with yourself, you can’t see a thing. You’ve just got the hang of being a grown-up, but you’re not depressed about time ebbing. You’ve been handed the keys to the Porsche but you haven’t computed that you might possibly end up ramming it into a concrete pole. I was coming to the end of my twenties and I was a moron. I freely admit it."

That's some harsh perspective for a couple of 28-year-olds. But as Fritz said: "It's jarring, but you go forward with life and take that risk." The risk that you just might ram the Porsche into a concrete pole, despite all your best-laid plans. Andy's story shows us that you can do your darnedest to carefully build your life's wall, but cracks will form. Parts of the wall will crumble. It might bring the whole thing crashing down, or the surrounding stones might remain sturdy despite the weak spots. All we can do is our best — though, as a society, our best could most certainly be better. 

At the end of the play, Andy talks about our American Song, taken from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. In the poem, Whitman speaks of the carpenter, the mason, the mother — each singing a song that belongs to themselves an no other. Andy questions today's songs — how we each are so focused on singing louder and stronger than the other guy, rather than singing in harmony. I don't remember how the exact quote went, but I was moved to tears. What a simple yet profound metaphor for this American life, and one that all Milwaukee theater lovers should hear, feel, and mull over for days, weeks, months, and a lifetime to come. Affected? Immensely. Humbled? Incredibly so. 

American Song is playing at the Milwaukee Rep now through April 10th. Information and tickets at

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Flourless chocolate truffle cake

A decadent, dense, dreamy dessert 

Easter is a time for chocolate. Just ask any Catholic. So with Easter coming up this weekend, I tried a new recipe for flourless chocolate cake that's a.) super easy and b.) guaranteed to knock the socks off any chocoholics at your Easter brunch. 

I admit, I was a little nervous to attempt this. I'd never made a flourless cake before, and this one (and perhaps all flourless cake?) calls for baking the cake in a hot water bath with the pan wrapped in foil. That sounds tricky and like too much work, right? Wrong! If you have a larger pan that will comfortably fit a round cake pan inside, that's half the battle. And once you've wrapped said cake pan in foil, the hardest part is behind you. Really. 

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Large roasting pan + round cake pan that fits inside (I used a large round casserole dish as my roasting pan and a 9-inch round pan for the cake itself. You can also use a springform pan for the cake.)
Aluminum foil 
Parchment paper 

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
9 TBS (1 stick + 1 TBS) unsalted butter, diced
18 oz. chocolate (I used 12 oz. bittersweet + 6 oz. semi-sweet)
1/8 tsp cinnamon
6 large eggs, at room temperature 
Sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Chocolate ganache (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the insides and bottom of a cake pan. Cut a round piece of parchment paper and lay it in the bottom of the pan. Butter the top of the parchment paper. Wrap 4 layers of foil around the bottom/sides of the pan, bringing the foil to the top of the rim (if using heavy-duty foil, just do 3 layers). 

2. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water and 3/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat. 

3. In a medium-large saucepan, melt butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk sugar/water into the chocolate/butter until well blended. Whisk in cinnamon.

4. In a small bowl, whisk eggs until yolks and whites are combined (bordering on frothy). To temper the eggs, pour a little chocolate mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly until combined. Then add all of the tempered eggs to the batter and whisk until smooth. Pour batter into prepared cake pan.

5. Place the cake pan in a larger roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan so it comes halfway up the sides of the cake pan. I poured about 3 cups of hot tap water into the roasting pan, but this will vary depending on the width/depth of your pan. 

6. Bake cake in water bath for about 50 minutes, or until center no longer jiggles like crazy when shaken (mine cooked for about 55 minutes). Remove cake pan from water (most of the water will have evaporated) and place on a cooling rack. To keep water from going everywhere, I placed the cooling rack on a cookie sheet. Once cooled, the cake flipped out easily — just loosen the sides with a knife.

7. If making sweetened whipped cream: Beat 1 cup heavy cream with 1 TBS sugar and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp vanilla until stiff peaks form. If making ganache: Pour 1/2 cup heavy cream in a microwave-safe measuring cup. Add 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips. Microwave at 1-minute intervals, stirring between each to melt the chocolate. It will look like hot chocolate at first, but will set up nice n' fudgy. 

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The part about tempering the eggs? I didn't actually do this when I made the cake. But the idea behind tempering is that it gets your eggs acclimated to a higher temp so that they don't scramble. Confession: I found some tiny bits of cooked egg whites in my cake, hence suggesting you temper the eggs. I plan to do the same next time. No the cake won't be spoiled if you skip this step, but why risk it?

This cake turned out like a dense, creamy, dreamy chocolate truffle. It's so smooth and rich, it really doesn't need the ganache frosting that the original recipe calls for. Instead, I made sweetened whipped cream, dusted the cake with cocoa powder, and drizzled the ganache on top instead of coating it. Heavenly.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

3 Lady artists I love

Amanda Blake, Yuliya, and Becca Statlander

Yesterday, I let you in on the secret that is Flow Magazine. Today, I'm sharing just a few of the inspiring artists whose work I've come to love, all thanks to Flow. I actually discovered these three painters and illustrators through a blog post shared on the Flow Facebook page (like them so fast!). But enough chatter — let's enjoy these lovely works of art. Here are 3 lovely ladies to watch.

#1 Amanda Blake
Amanda Blake and her original oil paintings hail from Portland, Oregon. The focus of her paintings is usually girls and women in slightly-magical scenes, whether they're carrying ocean waves or cradling the night sky. I especially love how each of Amanda's works has a charming name, like the ones below (in order): "Everything Was As It Should Be," "The Stars Were Hers," "Her Bravery Knew No End," and "Lucy Counts the Stars." 

#2 Yuliya
Yuliya on Society6 doesn't offer much info about herself. There's no bio on her blog and the About section on her Facebook page simply says "I draw." She's right there — and I love her style of drawing. While I tend to more vibrant colors, I enjoy Yuliya's muted tones and how the subjects of her illustrations range from the everyday to the surreal.

#4 Becca Statlander
Oh Becca Statlander — you might be my favorite. To me, Becca's work is a perfect marriage of illustration style rendered in rich colors that really speak to me. Not unlike Yuliya, Becca depicts everyday scenes (who knew a breakfast table could be so captivating?) and more fantasy-driven subjects, like the twelve dancing princesses.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Flow Magazine

A magazine for lovers of paper & pretty things

Once upon a time, my group of friends did a Secret Santa gift exchange. Rachelle, who lives in New York, couldn't be there, but sent her gift for one of us to enjoy. Luckily, that someone was me — and that gift was Flow Magazine. My life has never been the same.

Flow hails from The Netherlands and "celebrates creativity, imperfection, and life's little pleasures." It started only in Dutch, but has grown to include a quarterly international publication.

It's really more like a bookazine, being printed on high-quality paper with gorgeous photos, illustrations, and spacious layouts. These days, while most magazines squeeze 100 pages of content in 50 pages, Flow takes its time and stretches out beautifully and unhurried — and without ads! Its founders are two women and it's definitely geared toward all things feminine, with plenty of empowerment in the mix.

When I first started reading Flow, it really did focus a lot on paper, cards, and snail mail. With my greeting card obsession, it should come as no surprise that I was hooked immediately. Each international edition still offers something for the paper lovers, like cool envelopes, a small notebook, or tear-out gift tags. And Flow advocates for everything snail mail and paper goods stand for: a slowing down and appreciation of simple pleasures.

Flow also focuses heavily on artists, both up-and-coming and well-known. The artists in Flow are all about hand-crafted work made with passion and heart. Their focus is typically happy, optimistic, and charming — capturing the loveliness of life. In each issue, there are pull-out pages of art on heavy-stock paper, just waiting to be framed.

There are conversations with inspiring people, like Ingrid Bergman, the photog behind Ernest the Hedgehog, and Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking. There are roundups of cool handmade products from around the interwebs with plenty of international goodies you might not otherwise discover. And recipes? Flow has those, too.

You'll also find articles that, to me, really resonate. They talk about living mindfully, feeling connected, unleashing creativity, embracing our imperfections, and daring to dream. But the way Flow tackles these topics isn't cheesy — it's #realtalk, usually backed by professors and scientists offering plenty of food for thought.

I really can't say enough about how wonderful Flow Magazine is. And it gets even more wonderful now that it's available at Barnes & Noble. Up until recently, my dear sweet Rachelle would bring Flow home for me from New York and her go-to international newsstand. Rachelle, thanks for always making room in your carry-on for Flow. Barnes & Noble, thanks for finally carrying this beautiful magazine. Flow, thanks for being one of my life's simple pleasures. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Milwaukee Art Museum presents Art in Bloom

Floral designs reflect fine art

First up: Apologies. What I'm about to show you is a one-weekend-only experience that is now over and done with for 2016. So although this entire post is one big tease, it's my goal to raise awareness for cool stuff happening in Milwaukee. At the very least, you can keep this particular arty coolness in the back your mind for next year. 

I'm talking about the Milwaukee Art Museum's annual Art in Bloom. It's a weekend where local florists create floral works of art inspired by certain pieces throughout the museum. It's enchanting to see how different floral designers draw inspiration from these great works. Some take a more literal approach — like the piece below, artfully mimicking a painted landscape. The one above, inspired by sculpture, captures the motion of a fuzzy dandelion blowing in the wind. 

The event is kind of a big deal — admission is $17 for non-members and it can be rather crowded. But if you're a lover of art and flowers, I sure wouldn't miss it. Keep Art in Bloom on your radar for next year! 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Waking Ned Devine"

An Irish movie that'll charm your socks off 

Waking Ned Devine is a Lawler family favorite. We watch it every year around St. Paddy's Day, homemade reuben sandwiches in hand. The premise of the movie is this: What happens when an Irishman named Ned dies from the shock of winning the lottery, and his friends attempt to impersonate him and claim the winnings? With a premise like that, I thought this movie was going to be all slapstick the first time I saw it. But while there's plenty of humor, laugh-out-loud moments, and a nakey old man riding a motorcycle over the Irish hills, Waking Ned Devine is actually a simple, charming comedy with a huge heart. 

The leads are Michael and Jackie — two old friends in their golden years who have lived all their lives in the tiny Irish village of Tullymore. These two and their cliffside town are so endearing that I'm sad to say goodbye to them each year when the movie's over. You grow to care for these characters, feel the warmth of their friendship, and wish you could spend even more time with them. 

The same can be said of the many other villagers we meet in Ned Devine, from the adorable (but stinky) pig farmer to the town witch to Mrs. Kennedy at the post office. Waking Ned Devine is, for me, like the movie version of a familiar book you can sink into. It's also gorgeously filmed and captures the best of Ireland's idyllic landscape: a quaint village, emerald hills, and majestic cliffs. Set to a stirring score rendered in Irish instrumentals (listen now!), my one-quarter-Irish heart beats wildly for everything Ned Devine

Moral of the story: I'm all for drinking your weight in Guinness, but Waking Ned Devine is by far my favorite way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The movie is free with an Amazon Prime membership, or you can rent Ned for $3. Slainté!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Live Irish music in Milwaukee

4 ways to get your fix

#1 Milwaukee Irish Fest
Mark your calendars for the weekend of August 18–21, 2016! Sure it's months away, but we can still dream of the good times. All or most of the acts for this year have already been announced, and the Irish Fest website also has a year-round calendar of events in the Milwaukee area. There's plenty to entertain Irish music lovers until August.

#2 Tosa Tonight
Every year around Irish Fest, Tosa Tonight brings in some seasonally-appropriate acts (like Scythian). Check in with Tosa Tonight and other live summer music schedules as things start to heat up in Milwaukee — odds are you'll find some Irish tunes in the mix.

#3 The Shamrock Club
The Shamrock Club has a list of all upcoming gigs by local Irish talent — who, when, and where in Milwaukee. While some bands play at arts centers, many of the performances take place at area pubs. 

#4 County Clare Friday sessions
Every Friday night at County Clare, a group of local Irish musicians get together and jam. It's the most wonderful experience, will only cost you a delicious beer or fish fry, and happens weekly.