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Grilled deliciousness.
Grilled deliciousness.

Ancient grilled cheese secrets

Have a cow, man. Why not? After all, it's Dairy Month here at Join us all month long as we explore all things that make you go "Moo" and celebrate America's Dairyland during the Dairy Days of Summer! Brought to you by and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

I'm far from being a gourmet cook, but I do enjoy preparing food and experimenting in the kitchen. Over the years, I've made hundreds of grilled cheese sandwiches and, since it's the last day of Dairy Month, I'm sharing the few simple rules I follow that produce a perfect grilled cheese sandwich every time.

  1. Figure out which pan works the best for grilled cheese and never, ever use another one. Re-buy the same pan if need be. I have made the mistake of using another pan because my grilled cheese sandwich pan was dirty, and it throws everything off. Don't mess with success, people.
  2. Butter the bread generously. This is no time to cut calories. Promise yourself you'll eat a salad for dinner and get slathering. The bread slices must be entirely covered in butter to make this thing really work.
  3. Make sure the pan is medium-hot enough. Don't throw the sammy on the griddle too fast or else it won't turn out like the sandwich that dreams are made of. And if it's too hot, it will burn the bread without melting the queso. It's zen and the art of grilled cheese time – something only you and your stove top can figure out together. Also, put a lid on the pan to trap the heat and melt the cheese all the way through.
  4. Use sliced or shredded cheese. If you have a block of cheese, don't cut into chunks, rather shred it before putting it between the slices of bread. It will melt better that way. Slices work well, too. But don't buy those plastic-wrapped " cheese" slices if you can help it. They melt well but they're kinda gross.
Wayne and his dummy.
Wayne and his dummy.
That's not really his right hand.
That's not really his right hand.

Red Hot Chili Puppets rock the world of ventriloquism

I was really looking forward to The Red Hot Chili Puppets’ show on the Summerfest Children’s Theater & Playzone Thursday at 12:45 p.m. Clearly under-researched, I was expecting a cloth-sock version of Flea backing up a googly-eyed Anthony.

Instead, the show featured a ventriloquist, Wayne, and his life-sized "dummy," Wingnut. You can imagine my initial disappointment.

But once I stopped bummin’ that I was not about to witness a cover of  "Yertle The Turtle" or even "Under the Bridge" by a chorus of soft-mouthed Muppet wannabes, I decided to give ol’ Wayne a chance to "laugh my head off until it pops off." (Which is what he guaranteed would happen to the audience at the beginning of his show, while he played a washboard).

Wayne Francis, who is from Denver, is celebrating his 15th year at Summerfest with more than a dozen shows throughout the 11-day festival. He travels with 10 large puppets, all of which he built and gives voice to, and says he never performs the same show twice. This I found impressive and suggested to me that Wayne actually likes what he does.

And after seeing his show, I was certain that Wayne really is a guy who loves his job. He is energetic, smiley and very engaging. I could have lived without his insistence that the entire audience recite the "Star-Spangled Banner" as well as his Chihuahua puppet named Chico who speaks Spanglish.

But he made my kids laugh. A lot. And he even made me laugh when he asked, "OK, who here likes free stuff?" and when everyone raised their hands he said, "Great. After the show I am giving away a baby boy." Also, at one point he performed with a big, creepy "talking" pillow that hit on a mom in the front row. "Wanna shake my corner?" the pillow asked the lady. I wanted more of that, but alas, it was not that kind of family show.

Wayne is, quite possibly, the best ventriloquist I have ever seen. Not that I have seen many, but wow. I know ventriloquism is the art of "belly talking" but I do not understand…

Bearded beers, just for you.
Bearded beers, just for you.

Put a beard on it!

Michele Lestochi invented the "can beard" for the PBR Crafting Challenge, an annual event held in Philadelphia. All of the crafts have to be Pabst Blue Ribbon themed or related.

"My boyfriend and I like to participate every year, and this year we wanted to do something quirky that no one would ever think of. Hence the birth of the can beard cozie," says Lestochi.

I asked Lestochi a few questions via email today about her craftacular invention.

Me: How did you get the idea to beard up a beer can?

Michele: The idea came from a long time weird obsession my boyfriend and I have had with beards. We joke that I have never seen his chin bare in the two-plus years we have been together, and if he ever shaved his beard I would have to leave him. It is silly interest. We also went to the East Coast Beard and Mustache Championship this year, which was awesome.

Me: What are they made from?

Michele: They are made from crafting fur fastened to elastic.

Me: What are they good for?

Michele: They are good for giving your beverage an extra shot of testosterone. The ultimate manly accessory for his favorite brew, or for the lady with beard envy.

Me: How can I buy one?

Michele: Right now I have them listed on Etsy, but because of the high demand the listing is out of stock. After I finish a few bulk orders the listing will be up and running! We are also in works to be featured on, one of my absolute favorite shopping sites.

Me: What do you do when you're not making beards for beer cans?

Michele: I am located in Philadelphia. For work I do the marketing for a local dog business, I also do freelance photography, design and styling. I am a recent college graduate with a degree in Advertising Art Direction from Temple University.

Me: Beardiful.

Inside the Clock Shadow Creamery, just before I bumped into Lori.
Inside the Clock Shadow Creamery, just before I bumped into Lori.

Hmmm, did we meet in person or on Facebook?

Yesterday, I attended the grand opening of the FIX building, 538 S. 2nd St., home of the Clock Shadow Creamery and Purple Door Ice Cream. After getting my son through the classic childhood trauma of licking his scoop of balsamic strawberry right onto the floor, I walked outside and ran into contributing writer, Lori Fredrich and her husband, Paul.

"Oh, hey," I said casually.

We proceeded to chat about ice cream flavors, whether or not we were touring the building and a few other this-and-thats. Then we departed.

But as I was walking away, it dawned on me that I might not have met Lori or Paul in person before. I started scrambling for memories, trying to remember if I met them at a work function in the past. I couldn't think of one.

Finally, I came to the conclusion I had not met them in person before, but because we are all such avid social media users – and I read Lori's articles religiously on – it really felt like we knew each other.

It's funny to think that because of social media we did not have the usual, "Nice to finally meet you in person" exchange. But it's a relief, actually. Instead of niceties, we just went right into it and talked about more interesting issues like whether or not the whiskey ice cream really tastes like whiskey or not.

So much has been written and said about how computers / social media are robbing us of real human contact, and I believe this to be true to an extent. But on the other hand, I find that technology connects me to others in a very human way.

I felt instantly comfortable in Lori's presence because I do know her. Through Facebook and Twitter, but still. Social media outlets serve a purpose I never thought about before: they are ice breakers. Platitude busters. In some cases, even first dates.

Before I wrote this, just to make sure I wasn't forgetting an in-person social interaction with Lori, I messaged her to ask, a bit sheepishly, if we had ever met before in person.

"I don't th…