Creativity: 3 Ways

There has been so much going on this summer and so many things I could blog about…so I’m going to do a quick recap of highlights. A lot of my highlights this summer have been connected to creativity – either my own or someone else’s.

So, here are 3 ways creativity has my summer more fun!

1. Escape the Room [in my apartment]

Noah is seriously clever. For my birthday a couple months ago, Noah gifted me a surprise activity of Escape the Room (see this post to see what Escape the Room is/when we first learned how much fun they are!). Noah set up the living room in our apartment with a bunch of clues, hidden keys, and even lock boxes! It was so fun and a very impressive endeavor.

Noah put his computer skills to use by having one of the “locked” parts of the room be his computer. I had to enter the right password to be given a clue:

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Noah also ordered this ridiculous “book” lock box from amazon:

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I found it on the shelf and thought…”when did we get this book I didn’t know we owned?”

But, lo and behold:

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It opened and had a clue inside! Noah and I take advantage of a “family” Amazon account, and he joked that he was worried my parents would think he was extremely paranoid if they had seen the purchase. Rest assured, it was used for entertainment and not secure storage of real valuables. 😉

The most exciting clue was a white piece of paper with a cut out suspiciously similar to the shape of South America. Wondering if there was a South America connection, I pulled out the game board to Pandemic (a board game that includes a board with a map of the world) and fitted the paper on top of the map:

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Sure enough, it fit! AND, the crown drawn on the paper pointed me to the last clue – King of New York, another board game Noah and I own. Inside King of New York were the keys that let me “escape the room” – I won. 🙂

Well done, Noah – I think he could go into business with make-your-own-Escape-Rooms!

2. Creative cooking!

One of my favorite activities is having people over for large, delicious holiday meals, and one of the reasons I love hosting so much is because it’s a chance to make a lot of creative dishes I wouldn’t normally cook during the week. Shortly before I left to work in California this summer, Noah and I had friends over for the Jewish holiday Shavuot (if you want to know what Shavuot is, see here). Shavuot is traditionally a dairy holiday – in contrast to other Jewish holidays where the custom is to have a meat meal. I took the opportunity to make two new dairy dishes: a cheesy pasta bake and an Israeli-style cheesecake with a breton crust and chocolate ganache.

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There was more to dinner than glorified mac-and-cheese and cheesecake, but those were definitely the highlights!

Noah has also continued his pizza magic, and he has agreed to let me “decorate” the pizzas on a few occasions. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classic margherita, but sometimes I also want a little pizazz. 🙂 Below are a spinach/goat cheese/cream pizza and a cheddar/sweet potato/yellow pepper. They were both delicious!

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3. Building Sandcastles!

During my time working at camp in California, I had the immense pleasure of getting to spend about a week with only the other staff members. Staff week = so.much.fun. Each year we do a different staff bonding activity, and the activity is always something unusual/boundary pushing. This year, we made sandcastles! Not just any sandcastles though; this was serious business.

We were met on the beach by Karch – the master builder behind Castles by Karch. He won the U.S. Sandcastle Open (yes, apparently that’s a thing), and now teaches people how to build super bomb sandcastles.

After we got to the beach and were introduced to Karch, we were divided into teams and then set to work on our castles! My group had a few set backs (read: collapsing castles) at the beginning, but we persevered and ended up getting high marks! 😉

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The other groups were also hard at work:

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Although the competition was fierce, we were all smiling at the end:

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Stay tuned for some posts about a trip to Glacier National Park soon!

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Pesach is over…and now PIZZA!

Hello dear friends and family – surely the only folks who are still reading this blog after such a long hiatus. I really love blogging and sharing life’s adventures in this format, but my time for advertur-ing (not to mention recounting those adventures) has been so low during this first year of grad school – it’s been a real challenge to find time to write. You know what they say, “all work and no play makes Mollie bad at blogging” – or something like that.

Anyway, I am back with a vengeance and feeling eager to give recaps of everything that’s happened since…sheepishly looks at old postsJanuary.

Pesach (Passover) has recently ended, and as Jews everywhere have metaphorically left Egypt, we now get to celebrate freedom by eating chametz (leavened wheat/spelt/barley/oats/rye products – forbidden during Passover) again. Noah and I marked the joyous return of bread with pizza tonight.

And if you are thinking we went out for pizza, think again! Because Noah’s pizza-making hobby is stronger than ever and I am reaping all the benefits.

 

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He is the greatest.

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I don’t want to complain about Pesach though – it’s actually one of my favorite holidays. In large part, probably, because of the two seders involved. Seder literally means order, and the seder is a ritual dinner held on each of the first two nights of Pesach (one night in Israel). The traditional text (preserved in the haggadah) as well as many of the seder rituals derive from thousands of years ago. How cool is that?! The seder is an important family/community/educational tool, and many find it to be so impactful and joyous that contemporary Jewish population studies show that even families who are uninvolved with other Jewish activities/events during the year still often participate in a seder (and light Chanukah candles).

…can you tell I’m studying Jewish community for a living grad school?!

Anyway, we had the chance to host Noah’s parents, some of his extended family, my brother, and a couple friends from Minneapolis at our house for the first seder. The table was set to impress:

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Cooking consumed the 48 hours before (huge efforts put in also by Noah’s mom who made a ton of the food and provided the classic family recipes!):

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And one of the seder plates we used was something I painted myself! I’ll hopefully recount that painting adventure in an upcoming post. Spoiler: it was part of a date night.

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Noah and his dad worked hard to determine the perfect seating arrangement:

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Overall, great holiday. And now, great pizza. 🙂

Putting Presents to Good Use

Noah and I received several kitchen-related gifts lately that have brought us great joy. Number 1 on this list would definitely be a pizza stone from Noah’s parents for Chanukah. Noah has been making pizza about once a week with it, and my quality of life has undoubtedly improved.

Step 1:

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Step 2:

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Step 3:

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Repeat steps 1-3 with different topping combinations:

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The proud chef:

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Who needs to go out for date night when you have this at home?!:

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Two other wonderful gifts from Noah’s parents included the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook (also for Chanukah last month) and two, recently-delivered boxes of Harry and David Pears:

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The pears arrived last Thursday, so I thought they would be good to incorporate into a dessert for Shabbat dinner on Friday night. It seemed like the obvious choice to head to the King Arthur Cookbook for a good-looking pear recipe. I ended up making a few recipe adjustments based on what ingredients I had on hand, but the final result was a pear and blueberry tart:

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I think I put a tad too much cinnamon in at the end, but the tart was still fruity/sweet/good. I’m looking forward to more pears in the days to come!

Thank you, Paul and Eve, for the wonderful gifts!

Tu B’shvat – birthday for the trees!

Last Monday was Tu B’shvat – a Jewish holiday that is considered the “birthday for the trees.” The holiday has become symbolic for many different things such as:

  • a time to think about the ways in which Judaism and modern times call on us to be more “eco” and “green”
  • connecting to the land by eating different types of fruit, planting trees, or taking action to contribute to the ecosystem in positive ways
  • Kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism’s) teachings about how the four seasons and cycle of the trees represent our own layers as people
  • we, like trees, must always be continually searching and seeking personal and spiritual re-growth

There is also a custom (for some) to hold a seder on Tu B’shvat. Like the Passover seder, there are 4 cups of wine, but – unlike the Passover seder – there is not a fixed liturgy or script for the meal. A friend of mine and I collaborated (although she did most of the hard work!) to put together a seder for a meal with friends last Sunday night (at the beginning of the holiday). Given Tu B’shvat’s connection to trees, it is traditional to eat all the different kinds of fruit and tree foodstuffs at the meal: edible insides with inedible outer shells (nuts, oranges, etc), edible outside with inedible inner pit (plums, peaches, etc), and edible inside and outside (grapes, berries, etc). Each of these three categories of fruit are paired with the first three cups of wine. The fourth cup doesn’t have a particular type of fruit to eat with it, but we smell a fragrant fruit (fresh tart apples, lemon, etc). The fragrance – rather than the taste – of this last level of fruit recognizes the ultimate intangibility of the gifts we receive through food we eat as well as our inability to access the deepest levels of the spiritual world. We may not be able to *taste* complete divinity, but we can still *smell* it. Ah…I love Jewish symbolism. 🙂

Anyway, this fruit-filled meal was quite impressive.

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Food for a crowd:

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Complete with small seder plates at each seat featuring the seven species (the native “fruits” of the land of Israel – mentioned in Dvarim 8:8):

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I hope everyone gets to eat some fruit today. 🙂

New Master Cook

Since my grad school schedule has been busy and I had class into the evening a few nights a week, Noah has been cooking more the past few months. And he is my new favorite cook! Noah has some classic dishes – such as tuna pasta – that he likes making all the time…

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But he’s also been trying his hand at some more challenging dishes – such as pizza! Noah makes the dough from scratch (yum!) and has been experimenting with different topping levels and baking methods. For Chanukah, he got a pizza stone (thanks Paul and Eve!) and the most recent pizza was oh so crispy! The role of the stone is to absorb heat in the oven prior to putting the pizza on top, so then the pizza crust cooks evenly and quickly from underneath – just like a brick pizza oven would do!

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Since we’ve been missing Israeli cuisine, it’s also been good to have Noah’s homemade shakshuka:

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Finally, this beet “reuben” was seriously one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had – roasted beets with melted swiss, sauerkraut, and russian dressing on a baguette:

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Thanks for all the great meals, Noah! I appreciate all the delicious food. 🙂

Celebration of love – 60 years strong!

This weekend was a special occasion…Noah’s grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary! We were lucky enough to get to go to Vermont to celebrate the day with them. And it was a celebration indeed! The festivities focused around a wonderful dinner.

The main event was a grilled trout that was stuffed with herbs and scallions and marinated for about an hour (we speculated that longer marination might have resulted in an even stronger flavor):

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The fish was a bit startling to look at – (EYEBALLS!) – but the yummy smells got going as soon as the fish was cooking. Getting the fish on the grill required a somewhat involved process of moving the fish from the pan to the grill without letting all the herbs and such from the inside spill out:

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Success!

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Meanwhile, the indoor preparations were also underway: setting the table, preparing a cucumber/radish/yogurt dressing side dish, and cooking a “salad” of sauteed peppers and green beans over lettuce:

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Soon enough, the fish was done!

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Everything was delicious, and it was really nice to see three generations of the family there!

The happy family – 60 years strong!

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Plus, there was lemon cake with passionfruit filling for dessert so…who could ever complain? 🙂

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❤ ❤ ❤

Jerusalem Cafes: Round 6

I haven’t done a Jerusalem Cafes post in a while, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been accumulating visits to blog-worthy cafes! I have a lot to catch up on…but here are recaps from four cafe visits that I’ve really enjoyed! Most of the places are repeats of places I’ve been before (it’s nice to have been in Jerusalem for so long that I have favorites!), but there is a new cafe as well!

1. Caffit

An Emek Refaim classic, I’ve already blogged about Caffit once…okay twice. But it is oh, so delicious. Maybe I should really make a “best of” list instead of only honoring one “best breakfast in Jerusalem.”

Caffit has it all, but the assortment of dips/cheeses/spreads that accompanies their Israeli breakfast is the prime winner in my mind.

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2. Cafe Hillel

Cafe Hillel is a coffee/food chain around Jerusalem somewhat in the vein of Aroma. I’ve posted about Cafe Hillel before, but I gave a recap of some lunch items in that post. On my more recent visit, I ordered a breakfast dish: focaccia topped with 2 eggs. My dining companion ordered the Israeli breakfast.

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Everything was delicious! The focaccia was so tasty…probably because of the copious amounts of butter that seemed to be dribbled on top.

3. Kalo

Again, Kalo is somewhere that I’ve visited in the past – once and twice. Again, Kalo is so good that I want to show you more mouth-watering photographs.

Pictured below is an eggs benedict dish with smoked salmon (which I loved because they didn’t smother it in hollandaise as so often happens in the U.S…) as well as an Israeli breakfast.

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4. Cafe Yehoshua

Last but not least, Noah and I branched out from our typical digs and went for breakfast at the new-to-us Cafe Yehoshua in the Rehavia neighborhood. Friends had raved to us about Cafe Yehoshua for months, so we were eager to try it. They had a pretty extensive menu, serving all meals of the day. I went for the basic breakfast which was great (and even included a small piece of grilled cheese with a tomato soup shooter!), and Noah ordered a steak sandwich.

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The food was yummy, but the restaurant isn’t kosher which makes me feel less inclined to re-visit. If kashrut isn’t your thing, though, you would probably enjoy a visit!

If you missed them, check out my other Jerusalem Cafe posts here:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5