Tuesday, January 31, 2017

An up north Wisconsin weekend

Recapping life in the sugar bush

When in Wisconsin in January, you dream of escaping to 80 degrees and sunny. When you can't do that, it's best to embrace winter in all its glory. Our second-annual winter trip up north to Phillips, Wisconsin, was filled with homemade treats, snowy walks, lessons in authentic maple syrup, a trip to the local watering hole, and nasty women mobilizing. Here's a photographic recap.

Walks at magic hour on frozen Price Lake.

Breakfast with a Dutch Baby pancake, mimosas, and a choice mug.

A snowy tour of the sugarbush (a plantation of sugar maples) and learning the ins and outs of a real maple syrup operation. Fun Fact: Up until just five years ago, the owners were still carrying buckets of sap from these trees by hand! Can you imagine? Nowadays, it's pumped through a network of tubes.

Winter skies at sunset.

A trip to the antler bar, AKA Flambeau Forest Inn.

Writing postcards to our senators on a Sunday morning — because a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do these days. Those Wonder Woman stamps I bought last fall sure are comin' in handy!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Milwaukee Opera Theatre presents "Zie Magic Flute"

Dreamy, inventive, not-your-grandma's opera 

Having never been to a live opera before, I really didn't know what to expect when I took my seat at the Tripoli Shrine dome on Monday for the Milwaukee Opera Theatre's production of Mozart's Zie Magic Flute. I figured there would be beautiful voices of course, but I had also mentally prepared myself for a slew songs sung in German and, therefore, a storyline I'd have to work hard to follow. 

Did I ever underestimate the creative magic that is the Milwaukee Opera Theatre! This particular production is performed in conjunction with Quasimodo Physical Theatre and Cadence Collective, so that's something special right off the bat. Then there's the venue, the Tripoli Shrine dome, which I'd never been to and is every bit as beautiful inside as out — mosaic tile for days, set aglow with theatrical uplighting. The seating encircled the dome with the "stage" set in the middle and a pianist, cellist, and flutist poised to fill the space with music.

Zie Magic Flute — a fairytale at heart — starts with a chorus of angelic voices raining down from the dome's second-floor balcony and a paper shadow-puppet prelude projected on a large white sheet, to give a taste of the adventure to come. The gist of that adventure: Three ladies rescue a prince from a serpent. The prince asks if there's anything he can do to repay them. Turns out, the ladies are envoys of the Queen of the Night, on a mission to save the Queen's kidnapped daughter. The prince agrees to win the princess's freedom and, after seeing her portrait, her heart. He is gifted a magic flute to help him through the fantastic trials that lie ahead — and the rest, you'll have to see for yourself. 

While the show program offers a helpful synopsis of Zie Magic Flute, you needn't be too dependent on it because (surprise!) the songs are performed in a mix of German and often-hilarious modern English. I totally didn't see it coming, so when the Queen's three envoys bantered back and forth about the "sexy boy" they'd saved (imagine a trio of sopranos singing words like "no way José" and "huh-uh"), it was an absolute hoot! Clearly this ain't your grandma's opera. 

Though the Milwaukee Opera Theatre doesn't take itself too seriously, it certainly maintains the integrity of classic opera when necessary. For instance, the Queen's famous aria — performed by Sarah Richardson — was sung sans humor and with all the glorious high notes perfectly executed. Though, even when humor abounds, the quality of singing is never, ever compromised. These opera pros are a joy to behold.

Then there are the costumes, staging, props, and movements of Zie Magic Flute. They're all so inventive, I found myself gazing in wonder at the playfulness of it all. The princess's "portrait" is in fact a toy viewfinder, the serpent's fiery breath — a ribbon dancer, and the serpent itself — an immense Chinese dragon-style puppet manned by the entire ensemble. A tutu-ed bird flies by on roller skates, at times dancing with the cellist as she plays her flawless melodies. 

In short, Zie Magic Flute is pure theatrical magic from start to finish — a dreamy, escapist evening spent in fairy land, where the dragon is slain and love prevails. It remains to be seen if the Milwaukee Opera Theatre can top this first opera experience for me — they certainly set the bar high! I simply can't wait to see what else this imagination-sparking company has up its sleeve. 

Zie Magic Flute plays now through Sunday, January 29th. Tickets at http://ziemagicflute.bpt.me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Milwaukee Rep presents "Disgraced"

A Pulitzer Prize-winning & conversation-starting play

Boy does the Milwaukee Repertory Theater know how to pick timely, award-winning, brilliantly-acted, edge-of-your-seat plays time and again. Disgraced comes from playwright Ayad Akhtar, whose Invisible Hand played the Stiemke Studio last year. This particular Akhtar play hit a little closer to home — both figuratively and literally. It takes place exclusively in a New York City high-rise, and the characters — though ethnically diverse — are all American.

Yet the themes are not dissimilar. Disgraced has a lot to do with fanatic Islam in relation to American society, though it doesn't stop there. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play runs the gamut of issues, from 9/11 to perceptions of Judaism to white privilege to extremist rage to art appreciation vs. appropriation — I could go on and on.

In fact, there are so many thought-provoking nuggets sprinkled throughout the fast-paced Disgraced, you will inevitably feel like this one's going to take a while to digest. Through the many layers and viewpoints expressed by the four main characters, I found it impossible to come away with any one concrete point. But surely that, in itself, is the point: that politics, religion, and racism are incredibly complex.

Disgraced tells the story of American-born, Muslim-raised Amir Kapoor (played by Maboud Ebrahimzadeh). Amir has changed his surname so as to distance himself from his Pakistani and Muslim roots — something he evidently feels he must do in order to make it as a successful mergers and acquisitions lawyer in New York. Amir is indeed successful by American society's standards: about to named partner and living in a Manhattan condo with his young, beautiful, rising-artist wife, Emily (a well-bred white woman — played by Janie Brookshire).

The central action in Disgraced is a dinner party, where Amir and Emily welcome Amir's colleague Jory (Austene Van) and her prestigious art-curator husband Isaac (Jason Babinsky) into their home. Jory is a vivacious black woman and sought-after attorney, who we learn pulled herself out of the slums. Isaac is a smart, high-brow, artistic type — and Jewish. Key details in the world of Disgraced

Over the course of dinner, there's some talk of "what's in this salad?" — but as you might imagine in a conversation-starting play, the characters' chatter quickly takes a serious turn. Name a hot-button issue, they cover it. Small gasps and fidgets escaped the audience in the Quadracci Powerhouse as Holy Books, airport security, and self-loathing took dinner conversation to a dicy level.

The actors each give superb, believable performances that will shake theater-goers throughout Disgraced's run at the Milwaukee Rep. I felt for these flawed people and their various views on race, politics, and religion — views that challenged me to question my own. I'm ultimately struck by how Disgraced drives home that our experiences, upbringings, and heritage will inevitably shape our lives, outlook, and the way we interact with the world around us. 

I can't help but draw timely comparisons to the Womens March and the voices that stand in opposition to that cause — women claiming they don't feel unheard, so why do the rest of you? Akhtar cunningly prompts us to stop and reflect. We're all products of our world — our personal little world — and that world shapes our view on everything. It can be beautiful, but it can also be disgraceful if you limit your scope to your own small experience. Personally, I'm making a conscious effort to choose introspection, honest conversation, and empathy over dismissiveness and derision. How about you? 

Thank you to Ayad Akhtar and the Milwaukee Rep for bringing such fiery, thought-provoking theater to our city. Disgraced is guaranteed to get folks thinking and talking; I speak from experience.

Disgraced is playing now through February 12th at the Milwaukee Rep. Find more info and tickets at milwaukeerep.com

*Photos by Michael Brosilow

Friday, January 20, 2017

Classics Reimagined books

Illustrated editions are a must-have for book lovers

Special editions of your favorite book are the kind of thing you really have to snatch up quickly. Odds are, these fancy versions won't be around forever. That's what makes them special! 

When I found this gorgeously-illustrated copy of Pride and Prejudice on the Anthropologie website, I decided my mom had to have it for Christmas. Being money conscious, I waited for them to offer a promo code on house & home. Anthro was slowly making its way through each department, offering a new promo code daily.

But by the time they got to house & home, they'd sold out of this book! I searched and searched and finally found another seller. Searching now, there are others to be found, but I swear it was nearly impossible just before Christmas. The book shipped from the UK; trust the Brits to create beautiful classic books. There are others in the Classics Reimagined series, too: The Wizard of OZ, Edgar Allan Poe, and Alice in Wonderland, just to name a few. 

And if they've sold out on one site, google your little heart out — you might still find them elsewhere. The paper is a wonderful stock and the illustrations are divine. I'm so thrilled to have added this special edition to my mom's book shelf. If you have a Jane Austen fan in your house — or if you yourself are the fan — treat yourself to this book! It's certainly cherish-worthy.

P.S. Where should you go to keep tabs on new special editions of your favorite books? Definitely keep an eye on the Anthropologie house & home section, as they always curate a beautiful collection of books. I've also gleaned lots of inspiration from Instagram accounts powered by book fanatics, like the.blonde.bookworm — she's a collecting fiend, and monitoring her feed is a great way to stay up-to-date on collectors editions of your favorite stories. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pupcake recipe

A single serving cupcake for your dog

Over the weekend, we celebrated our family dog Pippin's birthday. He's five years old now, which means he's older than me, the little scamp! Because he's a sweet boy, and because I'll take any excuse to bake, I made him a puppy cupcake — a pupcake! — for his special day. 

I started with a single serving recipe I found online. Other dog cake recipes make an actual entire cake, which is way too much work and food. The single serving is a key perk in this recipe. I doctored up the original because why not? Just look at that face!

- - - - - - - 

1/2 to 3/4 of an apple, finely diced (depends on size)
3 TBS peanut butter + more for frosting
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cinnamon 
drizzle of honey 
crumbled bacon 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

2. In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients until combined. *Note: You can always just kind of eyeball it — your dog will love and eat almost anything, after all! 

3. Line a cupcake pan with one or two cupcake liners (I actually turned mine into two smaller cupcakes, but you can make one giant one if you like!). Spoon the batter into the pan. *Note: If you don't have cupcake liners on hand, greasing the pan should be sufficient. 

4. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean (I baked mine for about 25 minutes). 

5. Allow the cupcake to cool completely, then frost with peanut butter and sprinkle with crumbled bacon. *Note: Tear off the cupcake liner before giving it to your dog, so they don't eat the paper!

- - - - - 

Pippin must have guessed what I was up to in the kitchen — he followed me around, helping me clean the measuring spoons by licking off the peanut butter. When it came time to finally dig into his birthday pupcake, he wasted no time slurping down the peanut butter and bacon — but he got a little confused once he got to the cake part. 

My advice: Break up the cupcake for your pup at this point. It's not only easier for them eat, it'll also discourage them from trying to down the whole thing in one gulp, like Pippin tried to do. Happy barking — I mean baking! (Had to.) 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Asian lettuce wraps

Ground turkey + veggies + a peanut & teriyaki sauce 

This recipe popped up on my Facebook newsfeed from Taste of Home — one of those where the video makes it look so easy peasy, so you pin it for later and never get around to making it. Well as luck would have it, I actually needed a quick meal for a crowd shortly after pinning this baby, and it was every bit as easy peasy as Taste of Home made it look. Chop up some stuff, fry up some ground turkey, whip up a sauce, and toss it all together in one pan. Everyone agreed the flavor was great (I cut back on the original amount of peanut butter) and that it's definitely worth making again. 

- - - - - - - 


1 to 1.5 pounds ground turkey (*See Turkey Note below)
1/2 cup shredded carrot
2 TBS minced fresh ginger 
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz. can water chestnuts, drained & chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped snow peas
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce (reduced sodium)
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1.5 to 3 TBS creamy peanut butter (I used just 1.5)
1 TBS rice vinegar
1 TBS sesame oil
Bibb lettuce leaves
Additional hoisin sauce (optional) 

*Turkey Note: The original recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of ground turkey. However, I can only ever find ground turkey in 1-pound packages. If you have the same problem, you can reduce the amount to 1 pound of turkey (as I did this time) or up the amount to 2 pounds of turkey (as I plan to do next time!). You may want to add more of the other ingredients, should you opt for 2 pounds of turkey.

1. In a large skillet, cook the turkey and carrot over medium heat until the meat is cooked through and the carrot is tender. Drain.

2. Add minced ginger and garlic, then cook one minute more. 

3. Stir in the chopped water chestnuts, green onions, snow peas, teriyaki sauce, hoisin sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, and oil. Heat through. 

4. Spoon the turkey and veggie mixture into the lettuce cups. Drizzle with additional hoisin sauce, if desired. 

- - - - - - - 

Like I said, the original recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of turkey, but I (accidentally) used a 1-pound package for my group of six. Next time, I'll definitely round up to 2 pounds of turkey instead. If you do the same, you might want to up the amount of veggies and sauce as well — probably by half. If you have leftovers, so be it! This fresh, flavorful mix is delicious reheated, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Café Corazon river west

Fish Tacos, Horchata & Tres Leches Cake

I've written about Café Corazon for brunch and about their newish location in Bay View – all great things! But I'd never dined inside at the river west location until recently. It was a charming experience the Monday after New Year's Day – a day when many restaurants in Milwaukee were closed (either because they're always closed Mondays or because of the holiday). Adam and I sat at a cute table for two in a back room lined with windows and colorful strings of lights.

We started with chips and salsa, then he went for enchiladas and me, fish tacos. Typically you can get either tilapia or salmon tacos – not both. But I was hemming and hawing between the two, and our waiter kindly offered to give me one of each. Score! I thought the tilapia was good, but plain. I wouldn't get it again – not when there's so much other deliciousness to pick from. The salmon taco was a little more exciting, with a chipotle sauce and creamy slaw. If I had to pick between the two fish, it'd be the salmon for sure.

But really, the tacos were far from my favorite thing during this trip to Café Corazon. My first favorite thing was the house-made horchata. It's made with soy milk, so if soy milk isn't your thing, maybe avoid the horchata. But if you're cool with soy and cinnamon and creamy drinks, this is your cue to indulge!

My second favorite thing was the tres leches cake that Adam and I shared for dessert. It's a huge hunk of sponge cake piled high with a mound of cream. The cake is soaked in – yep – three milks: condensed, evaporated, and heavy cream. Divine. Following up the good-not-great fish tacos with something so scrumptious was a smart way to finish the meal. Thanks to that cake, I'm clamoring to go back for more!

Monday, January 9, 2017

4 cozy gift ideas

Slippers & kimonos, picture books & novelty mugs

Christmas may be over, but as there are always occasions for gift giving (like a certain Hallmark holiday), I just had to share some of my favorites. Mind you, what's pictured is in no way the full extent of my favorite Christmas gifts. For instance there's a Totoro tote bag that I'm currently, well, toting. And a Harry Potter soup cauldron and the illustrated Chamber of Secrets (drool!). And a tiny hanging air plant. All favorite-able as well! But now onto the aforementioned slippers & kimonos, picture books & novelty mugs. 

#1 Sheepskin slippers
Boy did I squeal with delight when I unwrapped these — a Secret Santa gift from my dear friend (with impeccable taste!) Shea. I am obsessed with these fur-lined, moccasin-style, embroidered slippers. I'm told they come straight from a mountain town in Poland, exclusively by way of a holiday market in the Twin Cities. Of course, you can find something similar on Etsy (phew!). They're so warm and cozy and luxurious, I feel like a queen whenever I wear them — and I've been wearing them daily. 

#2 Handprint kimono
I've been dreaming of owning one of these gorgeous, lightweight kimono-style robes ever since I first saw them at Soaps & Scents. They're one-size-fits-all (perfect for gifting!) and the patterns are so varied and vibrant, it's easy to find one to suit your giftee. Mine has a pattern strewn with fantastical beasts. It's perfect to just throw on for a little warmth and cover, without roasting or feeling super bulky. Truly, this kimono gives me that easy-breezy fabulous feeling — like, cue my private balcony on the Riviera. Every woman needs a lil' of that in her life! 

#3 Illustrated Alice in Wonderland
Rifle Paper Company designs seem to be everywhere. Luckily for Alice lovers, Rifle is also in a newish edition of Alice in Wonderland. Here's a tip for the book lover on your gift list: You can never, ever go wrong gifting a gorgeous, special edition copy of their favorite book. Children's lit is my jam and I ogle illustrations on Pinterest in my spare time — combine the two, even in a book that I already have two copies of, and I'm over the moon.

#4 Novelty mug
My brother's girlfriend Erin really hit it out of the park with our family's Christmas gifts. We watch a lot of movies at our house and drink a lot of coffee during said movies. So Erin found a different mug for each of us, inspired by one of our favorite movies. Adam's is an amazing barrel-shaped mug from the Prancing Pony, and mine is a Mary Poppins mug — practically perfect in every way. No really, it is! It's sturdy, a nice size, pretty on the outside, pink on the inside, and the handle is shaped like the parrot on Poppins' umbrella — great for gripping. 

Here ends my gushing about how I lucked out with the Christmas gift givers in my life. But know that you too can be a gift giver that everyone gushes about — especially if you go with one of these ideas. Happy Hallmark holiday shopping! 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Roasted chicken Provençal

Chicken roasted with lemon, shallots, & herbs

I've confessed before that I don't make chicken. Whenever I need chicken for a quick weeknight meal – to toss in a salad, stir fry, or pasta — I bop across the street for deli or rotisserie chicken. So when I decided to buck up and actually roast chicken myself, it was a moment. It was also New Year's Eve, so you know — special occasions call for actually cooking. 

But here's a secret: This roasted chicken Provençal (from the New York Times by way of Pinterest) is so simple, I had to just smile and nod when everyone raved over the results. I may never go back to the deli again! Okay so that's a lie, but at least now I've got a go-to dinner party meal. Try it — I bet you'll agree.

- - - - - 


*Note: The amount below would feed about 4 people (if served with hearty side dishes), but you can always add more chicken to the pan. Just make sure not to crowd it! I ended up cooking 6 chicken legs and 4 thighs in a large roasting pan.

4 chicken legs or 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tsp kosher salt (more if making more chicken)
1 tsp black pepper (more if making more chicken
1/2 to 3/4 cup flour
3 TBS olive oil
2 TBS herbes de Provence (more if making more chicken)
1 to 2 lemons, cut into wedges 
8 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled
4 to 6 medium-sized shallots, peeled and cut into wedges
1/3 cup dry vermouth (or white wine)
springs of fresh thyme, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 or 425 degrees (this depends on your oven; the chicken didn't crisp quite enough in mine at 400 degrees, so I'll increase to 425 next time). 

2. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow pan or bowl, then lightly dredge the seasoned chicken in it. Shake the pieces to remove any excess flour. 

3. Pour olive oil in a large roasting pan and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the floured chicken in, arranging the pieces skin-side-up so they're not crowded (this encourages browning). Season the chicken with herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemon, shallots, and garlic cloves around the chicken (add more if needed — you can't overdo it!), then add the vermouth to the pan. 

4. Place the pan in the heated oven and roast for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and baste with the pan juices (or flip the chicken pieces to get the tops nice and juicy, then turn them skin-side-up again). Return to the oven and continue roasting for another 25 to 30 minutes, or until the skin is browned and the meat cooked through. 

5. Serve in the pan or on a platter, garnished with thyme. 

- - - - - - - 

The shallots and garlic were soft and delicious when they came out of the oven, so definitely serve those with the chicken. The pan juice is delicious as well, and you're definitely going to want to sop it up with some good crusty bread. 

And I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I really couldn't believe how easy this dish was. The hardest part was waiting an hour. What's more, it filled our apartment with a lovely, herby aroma that stayed with us for over 24 hours. I truly can't recommend this recipe enough – the New York Times does it again

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

December 2016

A few of my favorite things

Spending a weekend in Galena & watching a wedding in a window.

Baking Brussels chocolate & oatmeal cookies

Seeing A Christmas Carol at the Milwaukee Rep.

Baking the best sugar cookies (and eating them for weeks!). 

Sharing some of my favorite things, like Cream City Ribbon & original illustrations by my dear friend Erin Kelly

Monday, January 2, 2017

Company Brewing: Brunch

Bacon jam, truffled omelets & plaid

Oh Company Brewing, you tasty hipster haven, you. I've been to Company Brewing for dinner, a concert, and finally for brunch. We dragged ourselves out of bed on New Year's Day, expecting a packed house at 11:30, but there was plenty of room. The neighboring tables were filled with millennial types sporting all the plaid, corduroy overalls, and beanies in Milwaukee's river west. When I realized that I'd also thrown on plaid that morning, I had to laugh.

Maybe the hipsters come for the polenta pancakes (which I've heard taste like cornbread — do with that info what you will) or the vegan French toast — or maybe they come for the Brunch Burger, which is what won my heart. It's a juicy beef patty served on an English muffin, topped with Car Valley cheddar cheese, candied bacon jam, and a fried egg. Talk about hangover heaven! The flavors were robust in their own right but also mingled perfectly. Food porn to the max.

Others at our table enjoyed the Migas Verdes: Fried tortillas, pimento crema, charred tomatillo salsa, queso fresco, and scrambled eggs. Make sure to add chorizo for an extra kick of deliciousness! 

There was also a Truffled Mushroom Omelet with brie, mixed greens, and truffled mushrooms. You could immediately taste the truffle flavor — a point in this omelet's favor. However, there was no melty cheese — a huge point docked, in this Wisconsinite's book. My best guess is that the cheese is baked into the eggs, therefore indistinguishable. Who wants that? But the flavors were good otherwise, so if you're looking for a healthier option, this is a solid one. 

We also tried a side of the house-made sausage. It's a little on the sweet side, if that is or isn't your thing. As for the toast, it looks amazing, but tastes a little like grill char. It's also topped with unsalted oil, not butter — a major disappointment for a butter lover like me. Instead, I tried ordering a biscuit on the side, but they were fresh out. To me, that means they must be good!

Moral of the story: Some of the brunch goodies at Company Brewing are completely worthwhile — like the Brunch Burger. For others, my fellow taste testers and I have our quibbles. But the atmosphere, friendly staff, and bounty of unique food items make Company Brewing a worthwhile gamble for brunch in river west.