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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Alissa went all out for this year's holiday sweater party.
Alissa went all out for this year's holiday sweater party.

Cheesy Christmas sweaters are bad fashion, good party starter

'Tis the season for some amazingly hideous holiday sweaters. You know them in an instant. Typically found only in fire engine red or jet black, these sweaters announce themselves before they enter a room, "I'm here! With bells on... literally." Some make noise, some flicker with the glow of battery operated lights, and some don't even need sound or light to make their point.

Cheesy Christmas sweater parties are quickly becoming the best way to celebrate the holidays with your friends on a cold winter's night. Because while they may be sins against fashion, sweaters are warm and therefore perfect for Wisconsin in December.

I attended my second cheesy/ugly holiday sweater party last weekend. And as I expected it would be, it was a blast. Unlike most, I don't buy a new sweater each year. Last year was the first sweater party I'd ever been to and even though I scoured the racks at thrift stores and department stores, I never found a cheesy sweater that really spoke to me. So I opted to head to Wal-Mart and try another idea. I found a really cheap, simple sweater dress, then headed to the arts and crafts department to find every bit of holiday magic I could. For roughly seventeen bucks, I had a truly unique design.

Everyone over the age of thirteen should have a hot glue gun. If you manage not to give yourself third degree burns first, you can make some pretty awesome projects in lightning fast speed.

I diligently sat on the floor for an hour and bedazzled my sweater with ribbons, plastic snowflakes and snowman patches. It was beautiful and disgusting all at the same time.

Every year I'm just going to add more holiday charm to my sweater until it's so weighted down with crap I can't physically wear it without falling down. Then I'll start all over again.

This year I also went all out with a cheesy hairdo. I figured a Snooki Poof would compliment my sweater perfectly along with a thick bow headband. You can't tell all that well in the photos, but that thing was big.…

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Ginger's pepper infused martini is a spicy treat.
Ginger's pepper infused martini is a spicy treat.

Ginger's pepper martini wows

My roommate's birthday was last week and to celebrate we headed out for dinner at Ginger, 235 South 2nd Street. The last time I indulged in Ginger's menu was two summers ago. Despite the heat that day we decided to eat outside on the patio. Ginger has a great outdoor space which is cut off from the rest of the hustle and bustle. Obviously, you'll have to wait a few months to enjoy it.

On that earlier trip, I ordered the "Pepper Martini." What arrived at our table was something that can only be described as green, dirty dish water. I half expected to find an old gym sock in the midst of that murky drink. I gulped, wondering if this was a joke. But I ordered it, so I had to give it a try. This drink has since been the topic of many conversations between me and my best friend's husband, who, after trying my drink, ordered at least one that night. The aesthetics are not the only aspect of this drink not meant for the faint of heart. It's a very spicy cocktail, served with blue cheese stuffed olives, and you will need a glass of water to accompany it.

Much to my disappointment, when I sat down at the table last Friday and rifled through the drink menu, I found no "Pepper Martini." With a pleading look on my face I asked if the waitress remembered the drink and if she would ask the bartender to give it a try. I knew when I saw her walking back to the table with that same muddy martini glass that I was in luck. It was the same martini I'd been dreaming about and possibly even more spicy this time around.

There were five of us out to dinner and if you haven't been to Ginger, their specialty is tapas dining. We all agreed it made sense for us each to choose one item to order and, if we were still hungry, we would just keep ordering after that. Well, we must've been starving because we ordered The Tater Tots, Fried Goat Cheese, The Grandioli Ravioli, Venison and Chorizo Ragu, Rosemary Pepper Lamb Chops, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Rosemary Mac and Cheese, Pizza 42 and Duck N…

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One night, two tiny Milwaukee treasures

Last Friday I finally did it. I went to Nessun Dorma, 2878 N. Weil St., and had dinner rather than just having drinks and jealously salivating over the neighboring table's menu choices.

There was a wait when we got there, but we took up residence next to the hostess station and before we could finish our first drinks we were at our table. For those that don't know, it's a fairly small place. Like so many hidden gems in Milwaukee, it's an old corner bar, smaller than the size of a flat in Riverwest duplex. It's a cozy joint, so waiting isn't too bad. By the way, they do not take reservations.

I've recently taken to asking servers or bartenders who look like they know what they're talking about for wine suggestions. I'm no wine snob. I know what I like when I taste it and the price on the bottle rarely, if ever, dictates my approval rating. The bartender gave me a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand of all places. It was perfect. Just what I needed to forget about the hours I'd spent commuting that week.

My friend sat down and immediately announced, "We have to get the artichoke dip. One of your readers suggested it last week, we have to get it!" Enough said. I love artichoke dip and, if you remember, it was freezing last Friday. Warm, cheesy carbs were exactly what I needed. (Thanks to the reader that made the suggestion!)

The apps were really great (we also ordered the pesto) and had we ordered just one more to share I wouldn't have even considered ordering an entrée. The artichoke dip was awesomely creamy and had just the right amount of kick. The pesto was supremely flavorful without making me feel like I immediately needed to stick four pieces of Doublemint in my mouth to rid the basil and garlic.

I ordered the seasonal vegetable salad with Portobello mushrooms and couldn't even finish it. My friend ordered the same with grilled chicken and her husband ordered the steak pizzaiola sandwich. All three of us were stuffed. What were we thinking?

Our …

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You can be sure Mayfair didn't look this empty on Black Friday.
You can be sure Mayfair didn't look this empty on Black Friday.

A latte buys Alissa's black Friday participation

I love shopping, and for the most part, I'm pretty frugal about spending. I'm always looking for a deal. So it might be a bit surprising that I've never dared to venture out on Black Friday. Until this year. Gulp!

I need my space when I shop. I don't like pressure from sales people and I hate feeling like I'm racing through a store, competing with other shoppers to find the best item for the best price. Not to mention, I've never had a desire to be that bug-eyed, sleep-deprived person that bursts through the door at Walmart at 4 a.m. only to be trampled by the masses behind me. It's just not how I picture my 15 minutes of fame playing out on the news. But, this year my boyfriend's sister decided she wanted to go and she bribed me with a latte to go along.

About 11 Thanksgiving night, as we drove home past tons of stores, I was awestruck to see people lined around the block to get into places like Best Buy and Toys 'R' Us. What is so good that it's worth camping outside in the freezing cold with a bunch of other insane shoppers, possibly not using a bathroom for 12 hours or so, just to be the first weirdo in the door? There's nothing I'm willing to get up for at 3 a.m.

Thankfully, she agreed to a 7 a.m. wake time and, again, with the promise of a Starbucks latte, I agreed to risk being trodden by a bunch of sales-crazed, over-caffeinated cheapskates to see what all the hype was about. We arrived at the mall at close to 7:30 and, to my amazement, found a parking spot relatively quickly.

Our adventure was nearly cut short when she managed to find the only frozen puddle in the entire lot and, had it not been for my cat-like reflexes (espresso to the rescue!), would've broken something and we'd have spent the next several hours in the urgent care.

Through the doors I expected to find utter mayhem. It was busy for sure and I was definitely feeling claustrophobic the minute we hit the main floor, but, so far, no one was screaming profanities or trying to stab one anot…

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