Monday, October 31, 2016

October 2016

A few of my favorite things

Spending a weekend in Bayfield with some of my favorite people.
Marveling at the Milwaukee Ballet.

Tossing together a roasted sweet potato salad.

Sitting ringside at the Milwaukee Rep's The Royale.

A trip to the rooftop at Hotel Metro's Zen on 7.

Eating Indian food at Durbar.

Getting spooked at Renaissance Theaterworks' The Drowning Girls

Surviving China Lights at the Boerner Botanical Gardens.

Baking Ina's life-changing apple crisp.

Laughing out loud at Next Act Theatre's The Taming.

Renaissance Theaterworks presents "The Drowning Girls"

Three bathtubs, three women, three murders 

The Drowning Girls opens with a gasp for air, as the play by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic follows the real-life murders of three English women in the early 20th century. Bessie, Alice, and Margaret each married con man George Joseph Smith, who took them for all they were worth before drowning them in a bathtub. The media sensationalized the murders, calling the victims the "Brides in the Bath" — kinda catchy. The play comes at the right time in our own pop culture, with podcasts like Serial and Netflix originals like Making a Murderer fueling our fascination for the stories surrounding such unthinkable tragedy. Clearly this isn't a new phenomenon. 

The stage at Milwaukee's Renaissance Theaterworks is set with three bathtubs. Smith's late wives burst to the surface in the first moments of the play. There's an instant camaraderie between them as they dive into the cathartic telling of how they came to meet their watery end. Bessie, Alice, and Margaret (played by Elyse Endelman, Susie Duecker, and Marcee Doherty-Elst, respectively) each had their reasons to leap into Smith's arms: Love, freedom, and a last chance. It's troubling to hear the women speak of their position in society pre-Smith — pitiful spinsters, trapped in a man's world, hopeless.

In a way, they didn't so much leap into their murder's arms — rather, society pushed them. As a woman in 1912, if you didn't have a man, you had nothing, or were a burden to your family. One small part of the play that really struck me was when Smith takes Alice's money, saying he'll keep it for her, since she hasn't any pockets. 

The Drowning Girls skips around, taking us through the days and weeks leading up to each murder as told by the victims and those closest to them. Actors Edelman, Duecker, and Doherty-Elst each take on half-a-dozen characters, including their own murderer, to give us the entire scope of their stories. They speak of their position in life, how they met Smith, how he swept them off their feet — then how he came between them and their families and grew controlling, forcing them to sign wills and take out life insurance policies. 

We see the women fall in love with Smith — or at least the freedom he signifies. As Bessie, Endelman gives a most moving and sincere performance. She wears her breaking heart on her sleeve as she recounts the whirlwind romance, her hopes, her dreams — and how Smith smashed them all by leaving her three weeks into their marriage, only to make a murderous return one year later. Duecker's youthful Alice is an absolute delight through all the morbid sadness, and Doherty-Elst as Margaret makes you ache for her and the fact that she felt this awful man was her last chance at happiness. 

You might also ache for the actors themselves, who are repeatedly plunged or doused with water throughout the show while donning crisp white wedding gowns. But don't ache too hard — the production team has thought of everything, right down to quick-drying fabric and heating the bathtubs and pipes to keep the water (and actors) warm. The stage lighting casts eerie shadows and a sallow hue as the women approach death, effectively creating a murderous mood. Lace curtains sway in the backdrop — curtains that each woman rips from the rod as she reaches the point in her story when the wool is finally pulled from her eyes, seeing Smith as he truly is. 

Now to further applaud the entire artistic team behind The Drowning Girls: Save for the Lighting Designer, it's an all-female crew! For the past twenty-three years, Renaissance Theaterworks has been the only professional theater company in Milwaukee dedicated to furthering gender equality in the arts — both on stage and behind the scenes. As we're on the cusp of voting for our first female president, The Drowning Girls is all the more timely and poignant. Renaissance Theaterworks reminds us through art that, as women, it's time to come up for air, breathe, stand together, and move forward.  

The Drowning Girls is playing at Milwaukee's Renaissance Theaterworks through November 13th. Information and tickets at

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Milwaukee Rep presents "The Royale"

Fighting to make & change history

I'd been hearing amazing things about The Milwaukee Rep's The Royale for weeks and finally got the chance to see it. Spoiler alert: It's worth every bit of the buzz. On its surface, this is a play about boxing. Jay Jackson (played by David St. Louis) is a black man and heavyweight champion in the early 1900s who doesn't just want to be considered the best black boxer, but the best boxer, period. He and his team arrange a fight with the now-retired reigning heavyweight champ — a white man, of course. 

With this fight comes a media frenzy (such as it was in the early 1900s) and a tidal wave of clashing opinions on the subject of a black man trying to take the title from the white champ. Like I said, on the surface The Royale is the story of a boxer — but it's much, much more so a story of race in the Jim Crow era. 

In the first half of the show, I found myself convinced that this duel between black and white could only be a great thing. Jackson would naturally win, that win would be broadcast on radios across America and make the front page, and Jackson would go down in history as the best, period, paving the way for other black athletes. While it's true that's what happened to the real-life man Jay Jackson is based on, The Royale reminds us that progress is not all sunshine and strides forward — there's violent backlash, too. 

To be honest, I'd forgotten to consider that violent backlash until Jay Jackson's sister Nina (played by Sade Moore) comes to see him. Moore delivers a seriously moving and impassioned plea, striking blows with the heat of her words. She begs Jay to lose the fight, saying that there will be trouble across the country if he doesn't. Already Nina's family has received threats, and brawls have broken out between black and white men over the very fact of the fight — brawls that ended with those black men hung from lampposts. Such violence, and Jay Jackson has yet to even be crowned the champ. 

I don't want to give too much away, as there's a little twist near the end that is so imaginative, I'd rather you experience for yourself. But I can tell you that Jay wrestles with his reasons for wanting this win — for fame and glory, to prove to himself he's the best there is, and to set black athletes and people on a path to equality. David St. Louis gives a powerhouse performance — heated and affecting from start to finish. I also have to give a shout out to Xavier Scott Evans, who plays Jackson's young sparring partner. His performance is utterly charming and heartbreaking — a lethal combo on my fragile emotional balance. Warning: There may be tears, so bring kleenex.

And any piece written about The Royale cannot end before singing the highest praises of the overall production and staging. The set, the lighting, the sounds — it's an absolute marvel! Of course there's boxing in the show, but a punch is never thrown in the ring. Instead, the action is portrayed through innovative choreography: escalating rhythmic stomps and synchronized claps. Stage lights blindingly flash with every punch that lands. 

Outside of the ring, flashbulbs from turn-of-the-century cameras burst at the stage, as if the audience were a pack of reporters at a press conference. Even in silence, there seems to be a low humming noise, fueling our anticipation. Artful shadows add dimension and story to the walls of the theater. It's like every nuance has been considered for a fully immersed, sensory experience. Milwaukee theater fans, The Royale is a can't-miss.

The Royale is playing at the Milwaukee Rep now through November 6th. Information and tickets at

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bayfield, Wisconsin

Family vacation, Fall 2016

Ask me one of my favorite places in the world and I can tell you without hesitation: Bayfield in the fall. My family's been going up north to this small town on Lake Superior ever since I was born, and my mom had gone with her family ever since she was a little girl, too. So yeah, it holds a special place in all of our hearts.

Apple Fest is the big annual draw to Bayfield, but we always visit the weekend after to avoid the crowds. Our trip itinerary isn't full of spills and thrills, and that's exactly why it's so perfect. It's just what a small town, up north weekend should be. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in the little gem that is Bayfield. 

Walking in the woods
Getting out in nature and watching the colors change — that's the primary goal of most up north Wisconsin weekends in the fall, isn't it? It's no different in Bayfield. And there are some very picturesque spots to hike. Our first go-to is The Brownstone Trail  — or as we've called it my whole life: The Path. 

Then we walk up by the cemetery to wonder at history and snap a photo or two (with multiple chins) in front of the towering red tree. It never, ever fails to be this fiery shade during our annual Bayfield trip, like it knows we're coming and dresses to impress.

As you follow the main road just a few paces past the cemetery (on the left side, as you're leaving town), there's another wooded path to stumble upon. It leads you through fields and phot-ops to a small site dedicated to the unknown victims of a 1942 flood. History is cool!

Eating, drinking, and eating some more
Mmm — one of my favorite things to do in life. We started our tour of eating and drinking at Erickson Orchard & Country Store, where we bought apple cider donuts and tasted fresh apple chips — then quickly hatched a plot to purchase a fruit dehydrator and make millions. While at Erickson's, make sure to sit in the giant chair. 

Then it was on to the Bayfield Winery for a wine tasting: 5 samples for $5, and you get to keep the glass! There's also a little shop where you can buy necessary things like apple peelers and unnecessary things like giant pencils *cough* Adam *cough*. Note: It is in no way worth it to climb the two flights of stairs to look out of the barn loft window. All you will see is a dirty pane and a bunch of dead flies on the sill. But there is a tire swing, so swing away! 

As for legit restaurants in Bayfield, you can just about count them on one, maybe two hands. This year we checked out the Pier Plaza for a Friday fish fry. Verdict: The fish was good (a mix of whitefish and trout), the slaw was good, but the french fries are nothing to write home about and the garlic mashed potatoes were a disappointment. Next time, I might try a new spot instead. 

Then there's the old stand by: Maggie's. Man I love the vibe in this place. What I don't love: Tables right by a cold air vent and mediocre chicken fajitas. They looked fresh and beautiful, but tasted like a big nothing. Adam wasn't a fan of his brisket sandwich either. Other people had pizza and burgers — not mind-blowing, but solid.

Our surprise new favorite spot: Broad Street Eatery. They serve Turkish favorites and, you guessed it, pizza! Okay, so you didn't guess it. And we didn't guess that the pizza was going to be so tasty, but it was! And Kevin loved the chicken sandwich he got — so simple, so good. The place is in need of some TLC from an interior perspective, but the owners have plans to dress it up by next summer. Until then, you can always get pizza to go. 

For coffee drinks, hit up Big Water Coffee Roasters. We really fell in love with this place. The interior and overall brand is definitely the freshest in town. I got the feeling that Big Water could easily feel at home in a place like Bay View, for instance. Plus, their drinks are wonderful, with goodies like sugar bush lattes (sweetened with pure maple syrup) and frothy hot chocolates — the kind that make your eyes roll back in your head. 

Other places to try next time: Fat Radish and Ethel's. Check hours; lots of places are closed Sundays and early into the week. 

Enjoying the view
When we're not walking the woods or filling our bellies, my family can usually be found just enjoying the view. We always rent a condo on the water. The sun rises over the Lake Superior, and it's nice to make a point to get up at the crack of dawn one morning and watch the colors change. The sunsets aren't too shabby either! 

Also, just walking up Bayfield's many hilly streets will give you a great view of the blue lake framed by golden-yellow trees. This place really is so picturesque, and early October almost never fails to have gorgeous weather: sunny, but just crisp enough to remind you it's autumn. As always, I can't wait for next year. 

P.S. Huge THANK YOU to the lovely and talented photographer extraordinaire, Erin Gosch, for sharing many of these amazing photos. Me and my little blog are so grateful for you! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mochi Things

My favorite planners & calendars 

I would be lost without my planner. And I'm not one of those people who uses the calendar on their phone. Oh no. I do much better the old fashioned way. I did a lot of hunting for just the right planner last year. I decided I didn't need one the size of a notebook, nor did I need something short and stout with 400 lined pages. I just wanted monthly calendar spreads to jot down daily plans in a format that could fit in my purse. Bonus points for a cute design. 

My fellow planners, if you haven't heard of Mochi Things, get excited! The planners (journals, they call them) at Mochi Things rock my socks. You can certainly find journals that give you weekly spreads (if you're the kind of person who likes to log multiple tasks in a day), but they also offer the perfect little (but not too little) planners for people who prefer an overall monthly scope. 

You can go for their 2017 version (which starts with October and goes through next December, so you can get to planning right away!), or you can get a blank planner. I went with the blank planner last year and bought a new one for 2017. This planner has all of the monthly calendar spreads ready for you, but it's up to you to write in the name of each month and the corresponding dates. A little extra work, but worth it. The nice thing about the blank-ness is you really can start your next year's calendar whenever you want! 

Mochi Things does a fantastic job of laying out all the details of each planner in the product description, so be sure to read carefully. They outline the dimensions, the number of pages, etc. You'll notice some planners come with a plastic protector — my favorite! It's not only water-resistant, it provides little pockets that come in handy. 

Not only do the planners at Mochi Things tick all the functionality boxes, they're also freaking adorable and come in so many super fun styles and colors. There are more plain designs for you super serious people, but I love the patterns best. Basically, I'm obsessed with Mochi Things, and I think any planning person would be too! 

P.S. I can't take credit for the product pics — they're straight from the Mochi Things website. Their beautiful, take-my-money website.

Monday, October 24, 2016

China Lights at the Boerner Botanical Gardens

Hales Corners hosts an electric spectacle 

Over the weekend, I followed the teeming crowds to the Boerner Botanical Gardens for their special exhibit, China Lights. To say the lights are drawing droves is an understatement. I'd seen friends on Facebook urging folks that the lights would be best seen on a weeknight to avoid the masses and parking nightmares. I shrugged and figured it couldn't be that bad to head over on a Saturday. 

Oh how wrong I was! Parking took ages, and the signage will inevitably confuse you. The line to get tickets was insane, so buy ahead of time (or buy them on your phone while loitering near the entrance —  you can get in just by showing them the confirmation email).

Once inside, the place was packed — think Disney World on a postage stamp. We worked our way among the lights, inching along, blocked in by people on all sides. Caution to those bearing strollers. To those carting their tots in full-on red wagons: I cry for you. We made it through maybe half of the lights (I'm not sure, really) and decided it was just too much. On our way out, I heard a woman say to her troop: "Now that we're inside it won't be so crazy!" I burst out laughing (whoops!). So young. So naive. Someone needs to plant themselves outside the entrance in a Bowie-as-Jareth costume and just repeatedly shout "Turn back before it's too late!"

But enough with the woes — let's talk some wonders! The lights were, in a word, spectacular. Towering, glowing, electric rainbows. There's plenty of "ooh" and "aah" factor, and I imagine there was more that I didn't even see. My favorite had to be the winding bridge with its canopy of Chinese lanterns and lotus flowers. As with the lanterns and lotuses, I feel like some of the lights make sense and fit the Asian theme — while others are a bit of a needle scratch. What's with the Dutch windmill and tulips? Still, they were very pretty.

Anyway, the lights were fun. A marvel. Certainly perfect for families. But beware of the crowds (my God the crowds!), and know that everyone will be stopping to snap pics of everything, which also gets a little old. One great (and possibly sneaky) thing is that the tickets — at least the ones sold online — don't appear to have an expiration. My ticket wasn't scanned or anything, so I could very well use it to venture back into the gardens this week sometime — definitely at non-peak hours on a weeknight.

The China Lights are on display at the Boerner Botanical Gardens through November 6th from 5:30 to 10pm. Have fun — if you dare! 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Scheherazade & Angels in the Architecture

Story & Simplicity at the Milwaukee Ballet

I don't know how the Milwaukee Ballet picked such perfect foils for their two-part ballet this weekend, but they did. One is an ode to simplicity, the other a celebration of story and spectacle — both marvelous to behold. 

The evening started with Angels in the Architecture, danced to Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring." What an inspiring piece of music! The ballet, choreographed by Mark Godden, was inspired by the Shaker movement. While I don't know much about the Shakers, I know they enjoyed simple lives, devoted to their faith and communities. This certainly comes through in this mesmerizing ballet.

In Angels in the Architecture, the costumes are seemingly bare at a glance, yet they play an integral and transformative role in the choreography. I was lucky enough to see this ballet with my friend and former Bead Style coworker, Dana (of DSM Originals!), who happened to be a costume designer for the Milwaukee Ballet years ago. 

She observed to me how the women's flowing skirts were a feat of engineering, as they had to have enough fabric to whirl about, while also not tripping the dancers. And boy do these skirts whirl! Dana also noted the nude colors of the costumes — stark simplicity so that nothing could inhibit or distract from the gorgeous, precise forms the dancers took throughout the ballet. 

The lighting of Angels reminded me of early morning sunlight — barely there, but somehow still dramatic. Fun fact: The Lighting Designer, David Grill, has won three Prime Time Emmys — for both the Katy Perry and Beyonce Super Bowl half-time shows and the Salt Lake City opening ceremonies. That's some resume! 

The props were few and simple: brooms and Shaker-style chairs. Milwaukee Ballet shared a rather charming note about those chairs on Facebook (follow them!last week — a quote from Thomas Merton, which said, "The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it." How's that for inspiring? 

After intermission, it was time for Scheherazade — a story ballet based on One Thousand and One Nights (AKA Arabian Nights). Long story short, there's a king taking a new wife every night and killing her in the morning — until he meets Scheherazade. She tells the king stories each night — stories of Sinbad, Aladdin and the Genie, and the Flying Horse. Because he enjoys her stories so much, she survives from night to night and they even fall a little bit in love. 

When the king's evil advisor tells the him Scheherazade has been sleeping with one of the slaves, he goes insane and basically kills everyone, including the characters from Scheherazade's stories. Scheherazade is furious at what he's done and calls him out for being a murderous scumbag. At this point in the choreography, Scheherazade dances with such ferocity, all I could think was: Hell hath no fury like a woman whose man just slayed everyone in the kingdom. But the king sees the error of his ways, and the Genie grants his wish that all his evil doings be undone. Happily ever after, the end! 

If that sounds like a lot of story to get through in the 50-minute run time, it certainly is. Some of the stories-within-the-story come together better than others, and if I hadn't read the synopsis beforehand, I would have been totally lost. My favorite part has to be the Flying Horse — a story where a man flies to the moon and falls for a princess there, but the two have their hearts frozen by a wicked man. At this time, Scheherazade and her temperamental king actually step into the story world and work together to un-freeze the lovers' hearts. It's beautifully choreographed, and I just love the way the real world and story world bleed into each other. 

Scheherazade is all about the power of stories to save us and transform us. Before the show started, Artistic Director Michael Pink made a comment about how the ballet allows us to escape what's happening "out there" — something we could all use these days. This weekend, you can escape to both a simpler time and a time of fairytales come true. It's all happening at the Milwaukee Ballet

P.S. I obviously can't take credit for these professional pics, but I can thank the awesome pro who snapped them — thanks!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


A gourmet Indian restaurant in downtown Milwaukee

Durbar has the most luxurious personality of any Indian restaurant I've been to in Milwaukee. From the outside you wouldn't guess it, except that the place is located on the east side of downtown (near the Plaza Hotel and Buckley's). When you walk in, you're met with a tremendous crystal chandelier, richly-hued drapes of fabric, and shapely archways to various dining rooms. Lots of wow factor.

We went on a Thursday, and the restaurant was pretty empty; if memory serves me, just three other tables were seated while we were there. I wonder if it gets much busier on the weekends? Durbar opened in May, so maybe it's still finding its footing — or maybe it's the inconspicuous location in the Park East Hotel.

Anyway, we ordered wine to start. Two words: Generous pours. And it wasn't just because I ordered the cheapest wine on the menu (keeping it real people!) — everyone else with their fancy wine enjoyed the same copious amount. What's not to love about that?

For dinner, I went with chicken tikka masala — an admittedly safe choice, but so delicious! You have to set the bar somewhere. My group wasn't all about full-on sharing, so I'd recommend going with a sharing crowd if you want to be a little more adventurous. The entrĂ©es are served in silver bowls (drool!). The portions don't come off as huge, but I took half of my meal home, so trust me — they feed you plenty. Plus, we got vegetable pakora as an app (love it!), and that wonderful thin crispy bread is complimentary.

There's also a whole section of the menu devoted to fresh-made bread. Following one of my fellow diner's leads, I went for the aloo paratha: naan stuffed with potato, coriander, green chili, and Indian spices, all topped with butter. Super tasty, though I was eyeing the garlic naan from across the table and might go that route next time. One order of bread is definitely enough for at least two people.

After the leisurely eating came the Durbar flaw — waiting. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. We waited for our check to come. We waited as our waiter held on to our credit cards for a solid 20+ minutes before we finally asked for a status report. Turns out the system was giving them trouble — who knows. But it was an ordeal! And this was with only three other tables occupied. Point is, maybe you should bring cash when you visit Durbar — and maybe you should make sure you're not in a hurry. Do that, and I think you'll thoroughly enjoy the experience. Save for the waiting, I know I did.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Apple crisp

The best and most-delicious fall dessert 

Last month I made a peach crisp where the topping melted together and wasn't crumbly at all. Though the flavor was wonderful, I wished the topping had held its shape and texture. Well leave it to Ina Garten to pull through with a fabulous, crispy-crumbly recipe for old fashioned apple crisp! This one is such a winner, I'm done searching for apple crisp recipes for the foreseeable future. 

One thing to note: The original recipe calls for orange juice and zest. Just skip it. Almost all of the comments on the original recipe say the orange is overpowering. I skipped it and was thrilled with the results. Get to peelin' and bakin'! 

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5 pounds McIntosh apples 
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg

1 and 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup oats (old fashioned rolled)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 by 14-inch baking dish, or two smaller square or rectangular pans.

2. For the fruit filling: Peel apples, core, and slice into large wedges. Toss apples with lemon zest and juice, sugar, and spices. Pour into the dish(es). 

3. For the crumble topping: In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, salt, oats, and cold butter. Use an electric mixer to blend until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas (this can take a little while if the butter is good and cold — be patient!). Scatter the crumble topping evenly over the fruit filling. 

4. Place the crisp on a sheet pan (if you're using a more shallow dish, this is to catch any filling that might bubble over). Bake for 1 hour, or until the top is browned and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

- - - - - - - 

I made two smaller dishes of this — one we ate immediately and the other I saved for the next night, reheating it in a low oven (200–300 degrees or thereabouts) for about 20 minutes. The crisp is best served with good vanilla ice cream. I actually tried it the first time with Purple Door's salted caramel ice cream (the best ice cream, full stop!) — but the flavors didn't meld perfectly. Vanilla really is where it's at when it comes to apple crisp! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Zen on 7

A trip to the rooftop bar at Milwaukee's Hotel Metro

Over the summer, I was pretty psyched at how much I crossed off my Milwaukee bucket list. I caught live music at the Harbor House, in Lake Park, and at the Botanical Gardens. I had a cabin weekend and a camping weekend, Ren Faire days and nature days. But I never made it to Hotel Metro's Zen on 7 until a couple weeks ago. The problem is, the rooftop bar and lounge at Hotel Metro is reserved for private parties, except on Sundays and Mondays during the summer months. 

Life got in the way for me this summer, but luckily my fabulous Aunt Kal was invited to speak at an Alverno College alumni event, hosted at Zen on 7. Though I'm not an Alverno alum, my aunt invited me to come hear her speak — partly so she could find a friendly face in the audience, and (I'm sure) partly because she wanted me to hear what she had to say about putting yourself forward and coloring outside the lines as a woman in the workplace (she's an inspiration!). 

But that's a long story for another time, maybe. Let's talk Zen on 7. It's located on the roof of Hotel Metro in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. As you step off the elevator, don't be fooled by the winding hallway of office doors. Zen on 7 really has a fabulous thing going on, once you get there. The indoor room and bar is quite small and nothing terribly special, but outside is just awesome. 

There's a fabulous view of the surrounding buildings, which look especially lovely during the golden hour. The comfy couches, fireplace, fountain, bistro tables, and string lights overhead offer that same kind of cosmopolitan comfort found at The Outsider at The Journeyman Hotel — but Zen on 7 did it first. It's certainly a much more intimate space than The Outsider, but what's not to love about that? I'm bummed that I'll have to wait until next summer to go back to Zen on 7, but at least now I know it's definitely worth a stop!