Day Trip to Stillwater

Stillwater is a relatively small town near the St. Croix river along the eastern edge of Minnesota. It’s only about a 40 minute drive from the Twin Cities, and I have long been eager to go for an afternoon and explore the town. My impression was that Stillwater had lots of cute restaurants, shops, and antiques, and I loved the idea of spending an afternoon in a scenic, little, Minnesota town.

When we pulled into Stillwater in the early afternoon, we saw that lots of people had a similar idea to us and the main street had a bit of traffic!

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After parking, we immediately walked down by the St. Croix river to check out the elevated water level:

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Stillwater has A LOT of hills. There are several historic staircases around the town that serve as a way to get up and down as well as a great sightseeing opportunity.

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Going up was quite exhausting, but the views were definitely worth it!

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After all the activity, it was time for a break…

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…and a trip to Nelson’s Ice Cream.

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Nelson’s is a Stillwater classic with lines out the door and a gajillion flavors to choose from. The flavor selection is impressive, to say the least, but the real madness of Nelson’s is the size of their scoops.

This is a child’s size:

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Yes, that is real life. I ordered monster cookie and zanzibar (dark chocolate) and Noah ordered java chip and cookies ‘n cream.

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Needless to say, we did not finish our child size cups. NOT EVEN CLOSE!

After the ice cream insanity, we were in need of some activity so we got out our bikes and went for a short ride:

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We started our ride on a protected path near a lake within a residential area of town. The lake path didn’t go too far (maybe only 10 minutes of riding), so we ventured out along the roads for a bit before backtracking to our starting spot and then heading to main street again for some window shopping.

Highlights of mainstreet were Tremblay’s Sweet Shop:

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And Stillwater Olive Oil Company:

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While we were walking around, Noah spotted a place called The Wedge & Wheel.

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The Wedge & Wheel is a specialty cheese shop. Rather than simply providing a wide selection of gourmet cheese, however, they also offer sit down service with custom designed cheese plates, simple dishes, and a large wine menu. Noah is a cheese fan. Or, should I say, CHEESE FAN. Read: has a lot of affection for cheese. Thus, it would have been pretty sad to leave Stillwater without visiting this store.

We waited until right before we were ready to head home and then stopped by The Wedge & Wheel for an early dinner. As soon as we walked in, we were  immediately impressed by the cheese case and then shown to our table and given a menu to peruse.

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The menu was brief but included an American cheese board, European cheese board, cheesemonger’s flight (hand picked for the customer), a grilled cheese sandwich, and a few cheese-focused salads.

We decided to order a cheesemonger’s flight and grilled cheese sandwich to share. To best assemble our flight, the waitress asked if we had any particular cheese likes or dislike (yes to chevre, no to blue cheese) and then came back with this:

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Our custom made board included a soft cheese from Jasper Hill Farm (we can’t remember exactly what type!), Red Barn Cheddar, and a goat’s milk cheese. The cheese board came with pickles, dried fruit, and toasted baguette. The grilled cheese sandwich (pictured on the right below) came on a cranberry bread and was also accompanied by pickles.

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Everything was delicious! Cheese is not a food that I generally consume in large quantities, so I did feel a little cheesed-out after having it constitute nearly my entire dinner. Nonetheless, this was a really neat and unique restaurant, and I would highly recommend it to any cheese (or food!) lovers who take a visit to Stillwater.

A Final Note on Passover

Even though Passover ended last Tuesday night, I still have a few more recipes and dishes I want to share from the holiday. I already posted about matzah granola, charoset, brisket and tsimmes. Here a few more delicious recipes to round out the holiday…

Spaghetti Squash Kugel

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I used this recipe and it was delicious! This side dish takes a little extra time because you have to bake the spaghetti squash first, but with a little planning ahead it’s quite simple.

Matzah Pizza

A Passover classic, matzah pizza is quick, simple, and the pie with the crunchiest crust (harhar).

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Our matzah pizza used a very light layer of marinara, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh sliced mozzarella.

Matzah Pie

Another classic, matzah pie is pretty much like matzah lasagna. I found inspiration for the recipe from this great cookbook I discovered last year through Noah’s mom:

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Like lasagna, you can stuff matzah pie with pretty much whatever you want. The cookbook had a recipe for a spinach and tomato matzah pie, but I modified and made something with dandelion greens, onion, tomato, tuna, and havarti cheese.
*full recipe below

First, take 3 slices of matzah and soak in warm water for three minutes. While the matzah soaks, saute 1/2 onion with 2 cloves minced garlic, half bunch dandelion greens, one can diced tomatoes, and one can tuna.

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When the matzah has soaked, remove it from the water and pat it dry. Then beat two eggs and dip a piece of matzah into the eggs (similar to french toast).

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Lay the egg-dipped matzah in the bottom of a casserole pan:

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Layer the vegetable and tuna mixture on top followed by shredded havarti cheese (you will need 6oz. shredded in total):

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Repeat this process again, ending with a final layer of matzah and cheese. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted:

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Tuna Vegetable Matzah Pie, serves 4-6
Ingredients
 - three pieces matzah
 - two eggs
 - 6 oz. havarti cheese, shredded
 - 1/2 onion
 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
 - 1, 15oz. can crushed tomatoes
 - 1/2 bunch dandelion greens
 - 1, 6oz. can tuna
 Method
 - soak the matzah in warm water for three minutes. Then set on a plate over
 paper towels to dry
 - saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil
 - when onion starts to color, add chopped dandelion greens, tomatoes (with sauce),
 and drained tuna
 - cook until greens wilt
 - beat the eggs and dip a piece of matzah into the egg, coating on both sides
 - place the egg-dipped matzah piece on the bottom of a casserole dish
 - layer half of the vegetable-tuna mixture on top of the matzah and 1/3 of the cheese
 - repeat this step and then finish with the final piece of matzah and 1/3 of the cheese
 - bake for 30 minutes at 350º

Matzah Toffee

And finally, what’s Passover without some sort of dessert?! Like the granola recipe, this toffee came from Martha Stewart.

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The toffee was crunchy, chocolatey, and delicious…although perhaps a bit heavy on the butter. Nonetheless, it was a big hit with friends I had over for a Passover dinner.

Which brings me to the final point…Passover food can be yummy, but it is best enjoyed in the company of others. 🙂

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Spoon-lickin’ V-Day

This was a delicious Valentine’s Day. Primary gifts – both given and received – focused on food. After much debate on what I could give that would appropriately relay my devoted girlfriend status, I decided to make chocolates with handcrafted wrapping. 

To start, I melted dark chocolate chips and prepared the toppings:

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Chocolate melts fast, so I made sure to have everything prepped and ready to go before I turned on the heat. After the chocolate melted, I quickly poured it into a parchment paper-lined bread pan (I would not recommend a bread pan to use for this, it just seemed like the best option from what was in my kitchen). I wanted to make the chocolate into four bars, each with one of the following toppings: banana chips, almonds, white chocolate chips, and hot and spicy pepitas:

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It’s important to get the toppings on the chocolate fast, otherwise it may start to harden. Once the toppings are firmly on the chocolate, I put the pan in the freezer while I cleaned up licked everything.

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I left the chocolates in the freezer for about 30 minutes (if I did this again, I would probably leave them a bit longer) and then took them out, cut into four pieces, and started on the decorations! My idea was to wrap each chocolate in foil and create a paper wrapping to go around that – similar to a hershey’s.

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I tried to come up with cute sayings to put on the wrapping…some worked a bit better than others. 🙂

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In the evening, Noah and I went to a dinner at Eastwood Nature Center in Osseo, MN. The evening included a meal, swing-dancing lessons, time to look around the nature center, and a visit with the center’s owl (definitely a highlight!). Eastwood decorated beautifully, and the tables for dinner were set with heart candles and flowers.

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The meal itself was fairly basic and served buffet style: turkey, salad, green beans, and potatoes:

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Swing dancing was definitely the highlight of the evening, but I was too busy groovin’ to take any pictures.

The next day, food gifts continued when Noah bought all the supplies for us to make a fruit tart! 

Wow – this was quite an endeavor! The whole process took about 6 hours. The cream had to chill for 3 hours, the dough for 90 minutes, and there was a lot of baking/resting/freezing time. Finally, it was time for us to actually cook the crust. Getting the dough into the tart pan proved a bit of a challenge as we didn’t have a rolling pin, but we managed to do alright! Before and after baking:

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Once the crust was cooked and cooled, it was time to get rolling with the filling. After chilling in the refrigerator for several hours, the cream needed no extra preparation and all we had to do was pour it into the crust:

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Then, we got to work chopping berries and creating a glaze by heating jelly on the stove:

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And finally…

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This thing looked good, if I say so myself. The cream piece of it really does seem to be an art though, and ours didn’t hold together quite so well…

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I’m not complaining though. It was delicious!

Did you eat anything great for Valentine’s Day?

No you’re not hardcore…

No you’re not hardcore, unless you live hardcore…so goes the classic Jack Black refrain from School of Rock.

I am not what you might call a risk-taker, but I’ve found my own way to live on the edge this summer with winter biking.

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Yes, I clearly look very tough. Last summer, I made a resolution to start using my bike as a primary means of transportation. Reasons being…

  • environmental
  • recreational
  • fun way to get exercise

When the seasons changed, as they do in Minnesota, I stopped because it was too cold rainy snowy take your pick of excuses. I noticed that I was more irritable at work and whenever driving in my car in the morning, I felt sad and a little guilty that I wasn’t biking. So, I decided to stop making excuses and do what I needed to do to be a winter biker!

Here’s what it took:

Clothes: Lack of appropriate clothing for winter biking was one of the main excuses I used to avoid it. I did not own any rain gear, nor did I own warm/waterproof boots that would be good for biking in. I decided to invest in the appropriate clothing. I bought a raincoat, rain pants, and boots. Total cost: ~$130

Tires: Riding on the snow and ice scares me. I am already a fairly cautious bike rider, and the extra instability of the snow and ice left me feeling really anxious and nervous about falling. Luckily, I live in the greatest biking city in the United States (I ❤ you, Minneapolis), so bike trails are consistently plowed and maintained throughout the winter. Still, conditions could be better. I decided to invest in some studded bike tires designed to travel well over ice and help with snow. Total cost: ~$170

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Courage: Lastly – and most importantly – I just had to do it! Even after getting the appropriate clothes and buying new tires, I was still really nervous. The first couple times, I had to convince myself I needed to actually go out and ride my bike (which wasn’t too hard since I’d already spent the money!). Each time I get to work in one piece though, I build a little more confidence and feel more ready for the next time.

Moral of the story, I may not be the biggest daredevil, but I am taking on the winter with my bike and getting a little braver every day. 🙂

In other news, I’ve continued to do some top-notch cooking from the Practical Paleo cookbook. As I shared last week, I made pumpkin pancakes which were so delicious that I wanted to try a few more recipes from the book.

At the beginning of the week, I made swirly crustless quiche. 

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The recipe was SUPER simple. All you do is combine everything in a bowl and then bake it into a delicious egg bake:

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It made a great lunch and dinner during the week:

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Trying my hand at a more ambition project, I also gave stuffed cabbage a whirl:

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This recipe was a lot more time consuming and involved steaming the cabbage, stuffing them with meat/veggie mixture, covering it with tomato/cranberry sauce (cranberry sauce also had to be made), and then cooking in the oven:

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This was a fun project, so I didn’t mind the extra time required by the recipe. The end result was very good, but I got a little sick of it by the time I had it for the fifth (or sixth!) meal. I need to remember to always downsize recipes a lot.

stuffed cabbage served with roasted sweet potatoes

stuffed cabbage served with roasted sweet potatoes

The Great Minnesota Get-Together

Each August, nearly two million Minnesotans and people-who-wish-they-were-Minnesotans flock to a twelve day celebration of fried food the Minnesota State Fair. The average daily attendance exceeds that of any other state fair in the country (um, because we’re the best), and the total attendance is bested only by Texas (um, their fair runs twice as long as ours. and everything’s bigger there. so basically that statistic should be discounted). When I moved to the Twin Cities a few years ago, I quickly learned that people live for the fair. Even if you don’t think you do, as soon as fair season rolls around, YOU DO

Every radio station, local celeb, and politician sets up there. Newspapers run reviews about all the new food items (and the old favorites), and the fodder of conversation for two weeks becomes what fair food items to get, what to try new this year, and where to find the hidden gems.

As someone unfamiliar with the fair culture, I didn’t understand what all the hullabaloo was about initially. Then, one fateful day in 2011, I went to the fair. And now I know. So, when summer hits, I – like every other Minnesotan and Minnesotan-wannabe – start thinking about the fair.

When August 22nd finally rolled around this year, we.were.there. Parking is a nightmare, so we rode our bikes to the party:

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As to be expected, the fairgrounds were packed:

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After admiring some food we were not going to eat:

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It was time to get serious. First stop: The Minneapple.

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The Minneapple is basically a fried apple pie. Noah got one last year and loved it, so he was excited to try this year’s menu addition – minnepumpkin pie:

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My first purchase was a state fair classic. Cheese curds:

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I will admit this was actually my first encounter with cheese curds. They never particularly appealed to me before, but for some reason, this year the thought of fried cheesy goodness hit the spot. They did not disappoint.

Moving on, inside the agriculture building was a wide selection of craft beers. We ordered a flight of four.

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As I alluded to before, each year the state fair releases a list of all the new foods that will be sold. This list is awaited with great anticipation, and the moment it debuts people begin to predict what will be earth-shattering, what will fall short, and what will become a new classic. This year, the item that caught my eye was a peanut butter and jelly shake. I am a total sucker for milkshakes (definitely in my top favorite foods), and I also love peanut butter and jelly. Win – win, right?

The vendor selling the pb&j shakes was Goertze’s Dairy Kone.

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Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the final product. I couldn’t taste any jelly to speak of – it really just seemed like a peanut butter shake. Of course, pb shakes are delicious, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

The final food purchase of the evening (and a mistake, in hindsight) were buffalo flavored potato ‘chips.’ Basically, medium-sliced potatoes fried and flavored with buffalo seasoning. Nothing special – a real shame since they came at such a high opportunity cost!

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Once eating anything else became a true impossibility, it was time to move on to some of the fair’s other entertainment. Namely, the Miracle of Life Barn. This aptly named barn is where they keep all of the pregnant animals, hatching eggs, and baby sheep/cows/chickens/bunnies. It’s fun to check out all the animals, but seriously watch out, because if you find yourself watching a sheep giving birth it can get prettttty gross. Real fast.

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Our last stop before leaving was the Sheep barn. We determined sheep are the cutest farm animal. Which should give you an idea about how cute the competition is (read: not cute at all).

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Don’t worry, the above sheep are not – as I feared – members of a violent extremist group whose chosen attire is white hoods. Rather, they wear those things to keep from getting dirty. Who knew?

Cooking from a book

I have several cookbooks, and I enjoy reading them. But when it comes time to choose a recipe, I very rarely pick one from a book. Instead, I opt for something I saw on a blog or found through a simple google-search. The internet makes it so easy to find recipes that have exactly the ingredients you are trying to use – which often seems more convenient than rifling through the pages of a *gasp* real live book.

I received Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi several months ago. I’ve paged through it on several occasions, admiring the beautiful photographs and wishing I were in Israel to enjoy the amazing food, but I had yet to follow a recipe directly from the book.

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Obviously, that needed to change. Last weekend, Noah and I chose a recipe and set to work.

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We selected a recipe for fish cakes in a tomato sauce. We followed the recipe pretty much exactly from the book, so I’m not going to repost it here. Even though I’ve only made one recipe, it was delicious and every recipe in the whole book looked amazing.

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The final masterpiece:

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So good! It was the perfect amount for four servings, so we each had leftovers for lunch the next day.

Food is Food

When I was struggling with an eating disorder, everything was classified into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good
– fruits
– vegetables
– skinless chicken breast
– fat free plain yogurt

The Bad
– bread
– grains
– red meat
– starchy vegetables

The Ugly
– oil of any kind
– butter
– full fat dairy
– salad dressing
– desserts
– candy
– fried anything

See a pattern?

[image source]

Cutting back on these extra calories from fat was one of the first habits to develop with my eating disorder, and it was one of the last to leave. Even after getting away from the bulk of eating disorder symptoms, I stayed all-too-familiar with the non-stick spray can, and you would have been hard-pressed to find butter or added oils in any of my home cooking.

To totally ditch the fat phobia, I’ve had to learn that fats add more than flavor to foods. They are an essential part of overall health and body functioning. Here are few reasons why you need to eat fat (and plenty of it):

  • fat is the food that provides the body with the greatest level of satiety, so without it you will constantly feel hungry
  • without fat, the body can’t process and retain nutrients fully, and you will feel weak and fatigued
  • the brain is over 65% fat, so you need to consume fats for clear thinking and productivity
  • without eating fat, your body will have a much harder time keeping warm
  • fat keeps skin healthy, helps hair grow, increases immunity, and stabilizes blood sugar
  • fat protects your organs

Moral of the story:

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Overcoming my fat-phobia has made me feel healthier, stronger, more energetic. Oh, and my food is tastier. 🙂 Eating out is no longer an anxiety-ridden process (how much hidden butter/oil is in my dish?!) but is, instead, a fun opportunity to try new and delicious food.

Check out some of the items in my kitchen these days:

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The big breakthrough with all of this…fat doesn’t make you fat. It makes you healthy and happy. And I’m okay with that. 🙂

They say, You are what you eat! That’s funny. I don’t remember eating a sexy beast this morning. ecard[image source]