We focus on the simple pleasures this week: An interesting biography about a favorite author; a new way to listen to your music library (and your friends', too) and a satisfying bowl of classic Milwaukee chili.
Real Chili -- I consider myself to be an uber-Milwaukeean, yet somehow I did not eat at the iconic Real Chili, 419 E. Wells St., until this week. It seemed like the perfect destination after the very Milwaukee experience of celebrating the Bronze Fonz, so my boys and I eagerly plunked down on the casual restaurant's red stools and sampled a few bowls. We went with the mild variety, which still has a little bit of kick, but luckily not too much to assault my 5-year-olds' picky palates. I like the chopped spaghetti noodles, the finely grated cheese, the perfectly cooked beans and the side of oyster crackers. My only complaint was the massive amount of ground beef in the recipe, which inspires me to order a vegetarian version next time. Real Chili's upbeat environment features an interesting mix of lunchtime clientele. No one seemed the least bit bothered by my water-spilling chatterboxes. Ah, happy days. --Molly Snyder Edler
"Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante" -- I've already admitted in these pages that "History" -- a novel of World War II Rome by late, great novelist Elsa Morante is one of the few books to bring tears to my eyes. So, when I saw this bio -- the only one in any language, apparently -- and mysteriously considering how important Morante's work are in European literature -- I was intrigued, especially because it was written by an American, Lily Tuck. It seems appropriate that Tuck had a hard time researching and writing the book because Morante was a famously difficult person: judgmental, not always cordial or nice, easily offended. At a bit more than 200 pages, even Tuck would admit there's more to tell about the life and work of Morante, who, when married to Alberto Moravia, Morante formed half of one of Italy's most famous and celebrated couples. Despite some odd translations and flubbed spellings of Italian words, Tuck can be proud and satisfied to have taken the first stab -- and a very passionate, engaging one -- at unraveling this complex woman and author. In hardcover from Harper Books. --Bobby Tanzilo
Rewards Network Dining Program for Midwest Airlines Miles -- My Midwest Airlines Mastercard has already funded a bunch of free trips, both domestically and internationally. I've used frequent flier miles for trips to Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean, and not just because I'm addicted to my credit card. Instead, I signed up for the free "Rewards Network," where money spent on Milwaukee restaurants translates to free frequent flier miles. Depending on how often you eat out at participating restaurants (and there are dozens in town), you get double, triple and sometimes more miles, plus regular bonuses. And, like every such offer, they give you a bunch of miles just for signing up. Personally, I don't obsess over the details, since it's free, anyway. (Trust me, I'm always suspicious of some sort of "catch," but I've yet to find one.) Charge a couple fancy dinners a year, and you'll be well on your way to a free trip. --Andy Tarnoff
The Cheesecake Factory's "made to order" guacamole -- Few things are more disappointing when dining out than crummy guacamole. Sometimes, you can tell the stuff came in a big tub that has been frozen and thawed multiple times. Well, that's not the case at The Cheesecake Factory. During a recent visit to the Mayfair location (there is one near Bayshore Town Center, too), we ordered the guac and our server said: "They don't cut an avocado until you order it, so it's going to take about 15 minutes; is that OK?" When we said yes, she smiled and said: "It's worth it." She was right. The blend of ripe avocado, onion, tomato, chiles, cilantro and lime was exquisite. Feeling adventurous? Order it "hot." It's not going to make you reach for the ice water, but you will appreciate the kick. --Drew Olson
Picking up garbage, even when it's not yours -- Milwaukee is a clean city, a condition that impresses visitors. Our Downtown Clean Sweep Ambassadors, sanitation crews, citizens and neighborhood groups do a great job of keeping our city clean. But, admit it, we all walk past garbage on the sidewalk and do nothing about it. I'm guilty, too, of course. But, I'm out to change this as I recommend that we all start picking up at least some of other people's trash. A little bit of help could go a long way to keeping our city even cleaner. So, starting today, when you see a crusty can or newspaper on the sidewalk, stop, pick it up and throw it away! --Jeff Sherman
"Forth" by The Verve (On Your Own Records) -- It's been 11 years since the last record by Wigan, England's The Verve. That's more than a decade since "Bittersweet Symphony" was the soundtrack to my trips to Italy and Britain in 1997. In the interim, Richard Ashcroft released solo records and most people just wondered, "Whatever happened to The Verve?" or, even worse, didn't think about them at all. The new disc sounds a lot like The Verve, natch, and after such a long break, maybe that's not a bad thing. The vibe is spacey and ethereal, the songs melodic and Ashcroft's voice as recognizable and captivating as ever -- kind of like a U2 that is more interested in making music than in politics. "Forth" is released Aug. 26 but it's already streaming at the band's MySpace. --B.T.
Simplify Media application for the iPhone or iPod Touch -- This free (for now) application lets you listen to music from your home or work computer to your iPhone, iPod Touch or another computer. That's really cool. Cooler still is the idea that it allows you to share your library with up to 30 friends, and you can have access to their music too. The setup is easy. The possibilities are almost limitless. Our friend, John Steinmiller, refers to it as "Slingbox for your music." We just think it's awesome. Check it out at simplifymedia.com. --D.O.