Friday, April 28, 2017

A dreamy birthday weekend in NYC

Thirty, you are magic 


Ahhh thirty. After spending this milestone birthday in New York with some of my best gals, my body is still catching up on sleep and adjusting to a diet that doesn't include daily pizza and cocktails. As for my heart, it's still feeling mighty full of love and gratitude for my dear friends who went out of their way to share in a most unforgettable weekend. Here are some of the highlights.

For lunch on my birthday, we bopped to Alice's Tea Cup. Actually, there was nothing bop-ish about it. Public transportation was feeling Mercury in retrograde (have you seen that one Seinfeld?), and we waited for a table for what felt like forever. 



But I have to say, sipping three types of scrumptious tea and savoring fresh-baked scones with clotted cream and berry jam in a sunlit upper room melted any hard feelings toward that morning's frustrating logistics. Oh the power of a good tea party! 

I'd never been to a museum in New York, so it was time to check one off the bucket list. The Met has a pay-what-you-can policy, which is nice (though I just saw a headline saying that policy might change for non-New Yorkers). The place is overwhelming in its vastness, architectural beauty, and the works on display. We certainly did not have enough time to enjoy it thoroughly — you'd need days, really. But we took a spin around the Egyptian wing (it just goes on and on!), and I tried to slow down for my favorite impressionists. 





What I didn't realize before going in was the variety of art housed at the Met. Airy, marble halls filled with statues and architectural wonders — even entire Parisian hotel rooms lifted from their homes and preserved for New York's viewing pleasure. It's astounding, and I'm kicking myself for not doing more research before our visit. Luckily, there's always next time. I plan to park myself in the American Wing with its Narnia lamppost and just take it in for a while.

On my birthday night, my sweet friends unveiled one of New York's signature treats: a Milk Bar birthday cake. The funfetti naked cake scrawled with "Kelsey, you are magic" in chocolate letters was truly delightful — and tasted just as delish. 



After cake, it was off to Beauty Bar, where there was far too much dancing and drinking to bother with blog-worthy photos. 

With the weather a little dreary, we browsed Chelsea Market (milk shakes and Japanese tacos!) and Artists & Fleas — an artist, designer, and vintage market. 



The gorgeous wearables were certainly tempting, and none more than these Star Wars pendants. Drool.

For $20, you can get your aura read. We have our friend Rachelle to thank for cluing us into this bizarre experience. First, you go to Magic Jewelry in Chinatown and get your picture taken on a special aura-reading camera. Once the photo develops and your aura is revealed, the resident aura specialist tells you what it means. 



She might tell you you're a workaholic, care too much about money or people, overthink, or have a lucky future — or she might ask you if you're on your period, as happened to one of our group. No, she wasn't on her period, but the aura guru was getting some very strong menstrual vibes. We left a little flabbergasted and proceeded to ask google for more answers, but all in all it was a fun experience. 

A piano bar in the West Village where everyone crowds around and sings show tunes — and only show tunes. Is this Heaven? No, it's Marie's Crisis. Shout out to my friend Rachel for knowing just what a birthday girl wants. We sang songs from Rent, Wicked, Oklahoma, Chicago (oh yes, oh yes, oh yes they both...), Les Mis, and plenty of others that I didn't know the words to. 



It's safe to say we all have a crush on the adorably charismatic piano-playing superstar, Michael James Roy. Here, take my money. There was a girl sitting at the bar who, we overheard, had been to Marie's Crisis three nights in one week. We laughed — but really I don't blame her. It's giving Disney World a run for its money in the "Happiest Place on Earth" department. 

Wandering home from a delicious brunch, Rachel told me a bit about her Brooklyn neighborhood, Carroll Gardens. She said there's a cat whose owner lets it roam the streets by day, and the cat has come to be known as the Mayor of Carroll Gardens. Rachel was lamenting the fact that though she'd heard of the elusive creature, she'd never seen it. 



Well not five minutes later, a cat crossed our path and lay down on the sunny sidewalk. We approached, checked its tag, and sure enough — "Petro, Neighborhood Cat." A passerby confirmed that Petro was indeed the Mayor. There's something strange about how the cat seemingly manifested from our conversation — like the universe conspired to put him in our world. Makes me wonder what else the universe has up its sleeve for the year ahead.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Chocolate almond cake

Julia Child's Reine de Saba


I've had Julia's cake on my must-try list for years now and finally had my Julie & Julia moment a couple weeks ago. While you might want to go at this cake with a couple of spoons, please don't. The making of it is a process. There's separating of eggs and stiff peaks and ground almonds involved. It's not difficult, but it takes a little time and love — and it's worth it. I love the almond flavor in this cake and the dense, fudgy texture. It's downright dreamy! 



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CHOCOLATE ALMOND CAKE

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
CAKE
8 TBS unsalted butter at room temp, plus more for pan
1/2 cup cake flour, plus more for pan
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 TBS freshly-brewed coffee or rum (I used coffee)
2/3 cup sugar, plus 1 TBS sugar
3 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1/3 cup ground almonds (I used a mini food processor)
1/4 tsp almond extract 
8-inch cake pan (I used 9-inch, but 8 would be best!)
Parchment paper

FROSTING
2 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 TBS freshly-brewed coffee or rum (I used coffee)
6 TBS unsalted butter, at room temp
sliced almonds for garnish

WHAT YOU'LL DO
1. To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the cake pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper and place in the bottom of the pan. 

2. Melt the chocolate and coffee/rum together in the microwave, heating in 30-second increments and stirring until smooth. 

3. Grind almonds in food processor until you have 1/3 cup (or buy ground almonds and measure 1/3 cup).

4. In a large bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat until well blended. 

5. In another large bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Sprinkle with 1 TBS sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. 

6. With a rubber spatula, mix the melted chocolate into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the ground almonds and almond extract. Stir in one quarter of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Continuing folding in a quarter of the egg whites at a time, alternating with sifted flour. Repeat until incorporated, but do not over work! 

7. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake about 25 minutes, or until the edges are set and the center is still moist. Place on cooling rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge and flip the cake onto the rack. Cool completely before frosting (I let it cool overnight).

8. To make the frosting: Fill a large bowl with ice water. Melt the chocolate and coffee/rum together in a medium-sized bowl in the microwave, heating in 30-second increments and stirring until smooth. Beat in butter. Set the bowl into the ice bath and beat until the mixture has cooled to a spreading consistency. Remove from ice bath and frost the cake. Garnish with sliced almonds. 

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I mentioned above that I used a 9-inch cake pan, though the recipe called for an 8-inch pan. Either way, this isn't a ginormous cake, but I imagine the 8-inch pan would yield a slightly taller, cuter cake. My 9-inch cake seemed rather flat and measly, though it looked miles better after frosting and tasted wonderful. This cake would be ideal for a group of eight or ten chocolate lovers — especially those in search of a Julie & Julia moment. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Next Act Theatre presents "Bloomsday"

An intimate, Irish, time-travel love story 


This one's for the romantics, the dreamers, the lovers of love stories with a bittersweet tone that, ultimately, give way to sweetness alone. That's what I found Next Act Theatre's Bloomsday to be — so very sweet. I've been lucky to see a lot of theater (relative to some) this season in Milwaukee, and I've been blown away plenty. Our city is ripe with talent and forward-thinking theater companies staging stories that are timely and thought-provoking, often times highlighting a social or political issue that leaves you feeling a little heavy. 



Bloomsday, on the other hand, is a refreshing journey to the past — the intimate past of two people, Cait and Robert, who spent one unforgettable day together in Dublin. Being one of the aforementioned romantics myself, I found Steven Dietz's play to be so completely inspiring. The prose itself it beautifully written — the kind of words you get wonderfully lost in. The staging at the Next Act lived up to the charm of these words, first with excellent performances and second, with the set itself — a delightful Dublin square. 

While the story centers on just two people, four actors bring these characters to life. Jordan Watson and Carrie Hitchcock play young Caithleen and older Cait, respectively, and Kyle Curry and Norman Moses play young Robbie and older Robert, respectively. You have to suspend your disbelief and questions of space-time relations in the world of Bloomsday and accept the circumstances for the magic that they are. We're swept away to a day 35 years in the past, when Robbie fell for Caithleen on a James Joyce literary tour. 



Watson plays Caithleen with such spunk and charm, I think the audience must fall for her nightly, as Robbie does. Curry's young Robbie captures that strange essence of a twenty-something boy — clueless, but adorably irresistible. Perhaps not surprisingly, as Bloomsday shows us the wisdom that comes with age, Norman Moses and Carrie Hitchcock positively shone as Robert and Cait. Both exude such ease and effortless storytelling, making it easy to sink into Dietz's gorgeous words. 

I especially loved Cait's telling of how, when people leave us, we have to put them somewhere in our hearts. "My ma I put in a chair near the south window, with a good quilt on her lap," she says. "Not too close — I don't want her grabbin' at me every time she needs something — but near enough that I can hear her sweet laugh." Cait's many musings on the future also struck me. "Every woman knows the future if she's got the nerve to look!" she says — but "askin' a boy to see his future is like askin' a mole to see the stars." 



Poetic, resonating — there are so many moments like this in Bloomsday. Nostalgic, beautifully melancholy moments. It's these moments that inspire us to act — to grab what we love in the present and press on toward the future. If only we could meet our younger selves and show them a bit of kindness. What might our futures hold? 

Bloomsday is playing at Next Act Theatre through April 30th. Information and tickets at nextact.org.

*Photos by Ross Zentner

Friday, April 14, 2017

Renaissance Theaterworks presents "The Violet Hour"

A thrilling journey through time


Spirited performances, laugh-out-loud moments, gorgeous costuming, and a healthy dose of the metaphysical — it's all waiting in The Violet Hour. The work by Richard Greenberg debuted in 2002, played Broadway in 2003, and now graces the stage at Milwaukee's Renaissance Theaterworks in the Third Ward.

The story is set in 1919 New York and tells of aspiring publisher John Pace Seavering (charmingly played by Neil Brookshire), a businessman who's just starting out and has yet to publish a single novel. Armed with the funds to send just one book to print, John is torn between a poetic tome by his Princeton chum, Denis, or an honest autobiography by his mistress, Jessie Brewster — a quasi-famous singer (the bewitching Marti Gobel slays this role)



Denis (played by Nicholas Harazin, oozing charisma) hasn't a penny to his name, though he's in love with an heiress named Rosamund (a lovely, lilting Cara Johnston) and needs the promise of being published to win her hand in marriage. Jessie, a black woman who rose to a glimmer of stardom in pre-1920s New York, is intent on having her life story nailed into peoples' brains.

It seems the fate of his friends lies in John's hands — or does it? Now for the metaphysical twist! John and his melodramatic assistant, Gidger (played with hysterical gusto by David Flores), receive a mysterious gift: a printing machine delivered to their office, unannounced. The machine starts spewing pages of history from the future (remember, this is 1919) — history of the world and the personal histories of each of the characters in our play. 



The Violet Hour repeatedly plays with the concept of predictability. John has tickets to a play that is said to be a good-but-predictable bit of theater, and Gidger questions why John would bother going at all if you can see the ending all along. Now, John and Gidger have their own sort of script before them: these pages from the future. Of course The Vioet Hour itself plays with this predictability, as who among us could foresee that a rogue fortune-telling printer would show up in 1919 — unless you read the show program. 

As John and Gidger marvel at the historical pages before them, it raises the question: Is the future fixed? Truly, the only certainty in life is that a future of some kind is inevitable. That, and death. How we get from here to there — the journey — depends entirely on our choices here and now. You might think life can be predictable and the future scripted, like a play with an ending you see coming a mile away, but in fact our choices make it unpredictable. 

Having peered into the future, John must decide: Denis' book or Jessie's? I certainly don't want to spoil the ending, but I will say that The Violet Hour offers no shortage of conversation and introspection after the curtain falls. If you could glimpse the consequences of your actions, how would you proceed? A good decision now can lead to sadness down the road — but how can we know that? All we can do is make the best of the present, as the future is indeed uncertain. 

The Violet Hour is playing at Milwaukee's Renaissance Theaterworks through April 30th. Information and tickets at r-t-w.com

*Photos by Ross E. Zentner

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Copycat Lofthouse sugar cookies

Cake cookies with buttercream frosting


You know those supermarket cake cookies with the quarter-inch frosting? People either love 'em or hate 'em? There's a copycat recipe for that! Now fair warning: The weird thing about these cookies is that the cookie itself tastes like a big ol' nothing. Truly, one bite and you won't even be tempted to take a second. 

But once you let the frosting get cozy with the cookie overnight, some kind of magic happens — and the crowd goes wild. If I'm being totally honest, I'd rather have one of these angel sugar cookies. But if you're a Lofthouse cake cookie connoisseur, you gotta make these babies! People say they're better than store-bought. 

Word of warning before you think you can have these cookies in your belly tonight... you can't. These are multi-step, multi-day cookies. Sounds obnoxious, but it's actually kind of nice to do a little bit every day instead of making a mountain of mess. Plus, I don't always have hours to devote to baking — but can I squeeze in time to just make some dough or frosting? Sure! Here's how I did it. Day one: Make cookie dough. Day two: Bake the cookies. Day three: Frost the cookies. Day four: Stuff your face. 



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COPYCAT LOFTHOUSE SUGAR COOKIES
Makes 4 dozen cookies

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
COOKIES 
6 cups flour, divided
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter, at room temperature 
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 and 1/2 cups sour cream

FROSTING
1 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
6 TBS heavy cream
Sprinkles

*Note: If this sounds like too much, halve the recipe like I did. To halve 3 eggs, add one to the mix, then whisk a second in a small bowl and pour in half the liquid. 

WHAT YOU'LL DO
1. For the cookies: Reserve 1 cup of flour for step 4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining cups of flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. 

2. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add vanilla and sour cream and beat at a low speed until just combined. 

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, beating until just combined. 

4. Add additional flour 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough reaches the right consistency for rolling (I ended up adding the full cup). 

5. Divide dough into two sections and flatten into rectangles, about 1 and 1/2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge overnight. 

6. To bake the cookies: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Flour a work surface and rolling pin, and roll each rectangle of chilled dough to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Use a 2 and 1/2-inch round cookie cutter (a drinking glass also works!) to cut out circles. 

7. Place on prepared baking sheet, and bake for 7–8 minutes, or until pale gold and just set. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely before frosting. (I cooled the cookies overnight, but you could bake and frost in the same day if you like!) 

8. For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream together butter and vanilla. Slowly beat in powdered sugar. Once smooth, add heavy cream, 1 TBS at a time, until the frosting is the right spreading consistency. Frost the cookies, top with sprinkles. Store on the counter in an airtight container. Allow the frosting to set and the flavors to develop overnight. This is key! 

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These cookies seem rather involved, but each step is really quite manageable. If you spread out the process over a series of days, as I did, it ends up being a leisurely endeavor. However, I would suggest halving the recipe. I always do and still end up with more cookies than I can handle. Plus, they're a little tricky to store, as stacking frosted cookies isn't ideal.  

Also, if you're going to halve the recipe, I recommend still making the full amount of frosting. If you want to pile the frosting on each cookie, as I did, there's just not enough to go around — better to have more than not enough. Happy baking! 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

2 Third Ward clothing boutiques

Buorsajo Boutique & Free Bird


Maybe it's that restless end-of-winter feeling, but I've been getting out of the apartment and into Milwaukee's Third Ward more often than usual lately. It could be thanks in part to Mod Gen, a shop boasting botanical beauties & home d├ęcor — my new favorite! It keeps me coming back, and that keeps me discovering new boutiques along the way. Here are two women's clothing stores that are worth a peek. 

Buorsajo Boutique
I walked by Buorsajo on my way to my favorite non-boutique, Anthropologie. The huge corner windows beckoned as a troupe of mothers and daughters exited the place, armfuls of shopping bags in tow — a sure sign of the must-have finds ahead. Inside, the offerings would appeal to a broad range of ages. A twenty-something would certainly find pieces worth ogling, as might a sixty-something. 



Right now, there are lots of summery, resort-style dresses, bold jumpsuits, classic blouses, and frocks perfect for wedding guests — all at reasonable-enough prices. I tried on an orange polka-dot midi skirt (not so midi on my shortness) which would have set me back about $50. Overall, I'd say Buorsajo's niche is a mix of closet staples and timeless specialty pieces. Functional and fun.

Free Bird
Compared to Buorsajo, Free Bird definitely exudes a more youthful, bohemian vibe. The layout of the store is lovely, with loads of natural light streaming through the Third Ward's signature picture windows. Walking into the shop, I was immediately ooh-ing and aah-ing at the presentation and vibe of the offerings. 



Upon closer inspection, however, I felt that many of the pieces were not quite my style. The best way I can describe it might be a higher-end Francesca's — a shop I used to love, but which now feels a little flimsy and young for me. That said, college-age ladies and twenty-somethings with more boho sensibilities will certainly find a lot to love at Free Bird. And I'm sure that if I were really in a spending mood, even I'd find something worth taking home. Both Buorsajo and Free Bird can expect return trips from me! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

March 2017

A few of my favorite things


Wrapping up a recap of what to see & eat in Tulum.


Loving every minute of the Milwaukee Opera Theatre's The Mikado.


Discovering a new favorite shop: Mod Gen in the Third Ward.


Sharing some of my favorite picture book finds


Great theater at the Milwaukee Rep: The Glass Menagerie & Grounded.


Cooking up Thai coconut chicken curry soup. Mmmm.