How to learn from a loved one

The title of this post was inspired by an article I read online about how to increase blog traffic. I can’t remember where the article was or I would link to it…so forgive me!

The article said that making post titles that are highly searchable (ie, ‘how to…’) is a good strategy for directing more people to your blog. I’m happy with my readership and like writing primarily for friends and family, but if tons of people start reading my blog, it might lead to a new car and free trip to Hawaii. So, why not give it a shot?!

It’s probably pretty rare for two people to have the same set of interests. And, if I did have the exact same interests of someone else, what fun would that be? So, this post is devoted to two things I have learned more about and come to enjoy through someone else.

1. Games

2. Cheese

To me, games always fell into distinct categories: sports, computer games, video games, board games.

I love sports and have had a lifelong affinity for Clue, but my video and computer game involvement never got much past Mario Kart and Pajama Sam. Noah knows a lot more about games than I do and has taught me a lot about types of games that I never even knew existed.

Dominion, for example, is a deck-building game with a slightly medieval twist.

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The object of the games is to buy provinces (victory cards), but to do so requires accumulating treasure cards (like money), often obtained through action cards. The game is a lot of fun because it’s different every single time depending on what cards you purchase and have in your deck. In fact, the action cards available each game change because only 10 action cards are available for purchase each game.

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I’ve had a lot of fun learning something new, and it’s a good excuse to work on getting my competitive spirit in check.

The second new thing that I’ve been introduced to is cheese. Growing up, my family never ate cheese on its own (ie, cheese board style). I have a couple memories of eating cheddar cheese on Ritz crackers, but that’s about as far as it goes. Noah, however, is really into cheese (remember The Wedge & Wheel?). We were so impressed with the Wedge and Wheel that we wanted to look for someplace similar in Minneapolis. After a little research, Noah thought that France 44 would be a good place to check out for dinner.

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France 44 is at the intersection of France and 44th (der) in the Minneapolis (but almost Edina) area. They specialize in wine and cheese:

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In addition to cheese, they also sell an assortment of specialty foods:

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They sell a wide array of cheeses which are all cut to order and available to-go or as part of a snack/meal at the shop:

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The selection of constantly changing cheese-inspired deli items are also a highlight:

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There were a lot of great looking items, so making a choice on what to order was difficult, but eventually we settled on a cheese board (selected by the cheesemonger with input from us), mac and cheese, roasted vegetables, and a roasted garlic chevre sandwich. For the types of cheese in the flight, there was cheddar, gruyere, and gouda.

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Everything was delicious! Now that I’m discovering the great world of cheese, I’m actually starting to notice that there are a gajillion different types, and it’s a lot of fun to try different varieties, figure out likes and dislikes, and go visit fancy cheese stores (obviously).

So glad I have someone great to teach me about new things. 🙂

 

 

Weekend Visitor

This past weekend, Noah’s sister visited from Chicago. I’d say it was an opportunity to act like a tourist…but I sort of think we always act like tourists.

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Rachel got here Friday afternoon and we went to the Midtown Global Market (site of Kitchen in the Market) for dinner and then to a Ragamala Dance show at the Walker.

No pics from Friday, but there are plenty of photos from Saturday’s activities. It was a super active day, with a run in the morning and most of the afternoon occupied by a bike ride.

Noah and I each had our own bikes, and we rented a bike for Rachel from Nice Ride.

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Noah has a leftover Nice Ride membership from the summer, so we were able to get the bike for no charge. Also, Nice Ride has recently added a lot of new bike stations (including one very close to my apartment!) and extended the no-charge ride time for members from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. Noah and I had high ambitions for the bike ride, and we wanted to show Rachel all of the Minneapolis highlights:

  • Chain of Lakes (Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles)
  • Hiawatha Bridge and Midtown Greenway
  • Guthrie Theater and Mill District
  • Stone Arch Bridge
  • University of Minnesota
  • Nicollet Avenue Pedestrian Mall and Downtown

Please note the magical fact that all of these wonderful locations were accessible via protected bike path.

We somehow mustered the energy to hit all of the spots, although we didn’t actually bike along the chain of lakes because we could see it some from the greenway and had also run near the lakes that morning.

Hiawatha Bridge along the Midtown Greenway:

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Hiawatha Bridge and Greenway

View from the bridge linked the east and west banks of the University of MN:

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view from UofMN bridge

View of the Guthrie and Mill City Museum from the Stone Arch Bridge:

view of the Guthrie and Mill City Museum from the Stone Arch Bridge

Slightly over two hours later, the journey was complete and it was time to return the Nice Ride…

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…and get some beer!

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A friend of mine has a coworker who knows a guy who knows a guy (yes, I meant to type that twice) who works at the Excelsior Brewing Company and said he would give us a tour, so a group of us headed out there in the late afternoon. Apparently, it was one too many degrees of separation though, because when we got there the fellow in question was out boating and unable to show us around. We somehow managed to recover and sample some of the brews. On tap was a brown ale called Bitteschlappe,  Bridge Jumper IPA, and Big Island Blond. They were out of their pale ale (called XCLR), so those who ordered flights had to double up on a different variety:

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I ordered the brown ale because it had the lowest bitter rating. I enjoyed it for approximately 3oz. and then the beer flavor was too much. They say it’s an acquired taste…but I certainly have yet to acquire.

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After a sufficient amount of time in the brewery, we decided to walk around the town of Excelsior. From the drive in, we knew there was a cute Mainstreet that led to a park and pathway along Excelsior Bay. We walked through town to get to the water:

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Notice the prom pictures happening in the background behind us. This was clearly a hotspot for photos since we also saw a wedding!

When we got back to Minneapolis, we were all hungry and ready for dinner. We tried to go to Brasa but the line was too long, so we ended up at Bryant Lake Bowl instead.

Noah ordered a bison steak salad, I ordered a beef sandwich, and Rachel ordered a black bean and beet burger:

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The food was good, but we were still hungry after (maybe because of all the biking!). We picked up a slice of pizza to go from Pizza Luce later in the evening.

It was a lot of fun to have a visitor over the weekend, and I especially enjoyed the bike tour. Especially now that I know I’m leaving Minneapolis, I’ve been eager to go back to all of my favorite places one more time and, of course, take lots of pictures for the memory books!

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Humans Can Fly

A friend of mine recently got into aerials. What is aerials, you ask? It’s a form of acrobatic exercise that uses silks and other methods of mid-air suspension. I didn’t know about aerials until my friend began taking classes, so imagine my surprise to learn that it’s a fast-growing exercise option and there are a few studies around Minneapolis where one can take aerials classes.

As soon as I heard about aerials, I was fascinated. People flying though the air? Normal people who aren’t circus performers? How could there be such a thing?!

Luckily for me, Xelias, the studio where my friend hones her aerials skills, puts on an adult student showcase (essentially a recital for friends and family). I was so there!

The studio itself is in a warehouse building in Northeast Minneapolis, and the aerials equipment hung from the ceiling over a hefty layering of mats and pads:

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There were fourteen acts with small groups performing on a particular apparatus. The show featured performances on the trapeze:

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Tissu (the traditional silks):

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And the rope:

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I couldn’t take my eyes off the show the whole time. This was partly because it was entertaining/impressive to see people twirling around in the air and partly because I was wondering if someone was going to fall and plummet to their death a broken limb. Aerials seems like it takes an enormous amount of upper body strength and muscle control, and I’m sure it’s a really difficult workout. I looked into trying some classes though, and most studios require people to sign up for a semester or class package rather than just doing drop-in sessions. I suppose it makes sense given the need for skill development…but I’m not ready to make that level of commitment. Also, aerials generally seems to be pretty pricey running about $20/class or more. While it looks like it would be fun to try, I’m not exactly itching to make that sort of investment!

In other news…the Paint your Plate items are done!

I received a call on Wednesday saying the items were ready for pick-up, and I stopped by after work on Friday to get them. The mug and bowl came back wrapped in newspaper so it was extra exciting opening the package:

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Both things came out great:

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I’m looking forward to eating breakfast out of my bowl this week!

Wonderful Weekend

People often ask, “what was something fun you did this weekend?” Sometimes the question puts a lot of pressure on because if nothing immediately comes to mind I think, “oh no! Did I do nothing fun?!?!”

But, right now I would love to hear the question.

you: What was something fun you did this weekend?

me: EVERYTHING!

Yes, I had an absolutely phenomenal weekend. Not only was the trip to Stillwater great, but the rest of the weekend continued to be full of fun shenanigans with the love of my life, man of my dreams.

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Yes, I made that meme and am very proud.

The man in question planned a surprise outing for Sunday that I was looking forward to with great anticipation. I hopped on my bike without too many questions and followed the leader until we got here….

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Paint Your Plate is a make-it-yourself studio where you can select from a variety of dishes, figurines, and trinkets what (and how!) to paint. When we walked in, the average age of people in the store went up by about 10 years. But, no matter!

There were a lot of items to choose from, so we took some time decided what we wanted to paint:

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Eventually, I settled on a bowl and Noah chose a mug. We chose a seat at one of the tables and lightly cleaned our pieces to wipe off any dust:

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Next, it was time to choose paint colors, select stencils and stamps if we wanted, and sketch the outline of what we wanted to paint on the outside of our piece with a pencil. While we were there, we hardly talked because we were both so engrossed in our work. 🙂

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Noah put a geometric diamond design on his mug and it looked great:

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I decided to cover my bowl with stars, flowers, and polka dots.

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And since I am planning to use it for breakfast in the morning, I put a sunny message in the bottom:

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We couldn’t take the bowl and mug home with us because Paint Your Plate will glaze and fire the pieces over the course of the next week. When they’re ready, they’ll give us a call to come pick them up. I can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like!

By the time we were done at Paint Your Plate, it was past 6:00 and we were ready to bike home and go for dinner. Since we are leaving the Twin Cities soon, we are eager to go back to some of our favorite restaurants one more time. We settled on The Lynn on Bryant which we visited about a year ago and loved. As we remembered, the food was great. We even saw the Vermont-born head chef and owner sitting and talking with some customers!

We ordered the gnocchi to share as an appetizer and it was fabulous:

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The sauce was creamy and smooth, and we both especially liked the bread crumbs on top. For my entree, I ordered the Bryant Burger (veggie burger with chickpea fries).

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This is the same dish I ordered last time we visited the restaurant, but it was so good I knew that I had to get it again.

Noah ordered a lamb dish that came with a small pot pie as a side. He also thought it was excellent!

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Our eyes were a little bigger than our stomachs though, and we ended up ordering dessert even though it meant we left pretty stuffed.

Noah ordered an affogato (vanilla ice cream topped with espresso) and I ordered the warm chocolate cake:

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The chocolate cake was very dense – almost more like a thick mousse – and the ice cream on top was the perfect compliment to the warm chocolate.

This restaurant is SO good! It can be quite expensive or affordable depending on what you get. The burgers and sandwiches are $15 or less, but the regular entrees are closer to $30. So, you can definitely come on a smaller budget but be conscientious about what you order! Either way, I would say this place is worth a splurge. 🙂

Musings in Calhoun Square

Calhoun Square is located in the bustling Uptown intersection of Hennepin, Lake, and Lagoon. It houses Dogwood Coffee, Kitchen Window, about a dozen other awesome stores/restaurants, and is often hosting some sort of celebration or fair. My gym, LA Fitness, is inside Calhoun Square, and on my way there yesterday morning I really noticed how much the shopping center has grown since I moved here three years ago.

I took an extra moment to notice all the glitz and glamor that has come into Calhoun Square, and this lead to a lot of wonderings.

Such as….

Were these eggs bought specifically for this shoe display?

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Was the full impact of this shirt understood during design?

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Would my life be better if I owned bejeweled capri pants?

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How many people own an angry birds phone case?

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Or proudly wear this Hello Kitty necklace?

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Are there any human beings that look better in this dress than this mannequin? 

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And, finally, would the world be a better place if we were constantly asking one another this question?

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Calhoun Square. Check it out. Learn about yourself.

 

Pumpkin Cauliflower ‘Risotto’

I love risotto, but I almost never make it because I rarely have arborio rice on hand. I almost always, however, have brown rice on hand, so I decided to make a wannabe risotto of my own creation.

Risotto purists would say this dish bears nothing in common with true risotto because it lacks the incredible creaminess that can only be created by the slow cooking of arborio rice. To them, I say, “try this!”

I started with one cup dry brown basmati rice cooked in two cups water for about 45 minutes:

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I added 1 and 1/2 cups of vegetable broth and let heat while I started to steam a half head of cauliflower:

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After a few minutes of letting the broth heat, I added 1 cup of pumpkin puree to the rice:

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After the cauliflower was soft, I added it to the rice and let heat, covered for about 10 minutes:

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This dish was great and made about 4 servings. It is definitely best served warm, although I had it cold a couple days for lunch.

After whipping this up for dinner, I had big plans to go to the theater. The Orpheum is Minneapolis’ venue for touring Broadway shows, and for the last two years I’ve had season tickets and LOVE IT! There are about 6 shows each year, and I look forward to each one. Last week, the Orpheum was showing Once, a musical about a Scottish musician who repairs his broken heart and gets his big musical break by befriending a Czech woman.

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The inside of the Orpheum is beautiful, and I had great seats only about 20 rows from the stage:

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And no, that is not an illegal picture taken during the show. One of the most unique things about this performance was that the curtain never closed and there were always actors on stage! Additionally, the actors themselves formed the band for the show, and every actor had an instrument that they used both within character and on the side stage as part of a band. As people filed in to take their seats, the whole cast was onstage playing music and singing. At intermission, the audience was invited to go onstage and look at the set.

I loved the show and thought the music was great. I was also super impressed how the actors sang, played their instruments, and stayed so in character the whole time. If you have a chance to see Once, I would definitely recommend it!

The treacherous outdoors and Black Sheep Pizza

Finally, yes FINALLY, winter seems to be coming to an end. The snow is melting off of the sidewalks, and the road surfaces are nearly entirely visible. While the snow melting is a welcome development, it has led to a dangerous development. BLACK ICE!

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Noah recently shared this comedy sketch about black ice by Key and Peele with me, and I thought it was very funny…so check it out!

Anyway, as the snow has melted, a thin layer of black ice lays hidden on the sidewalk. In fact, I took a pretty nasty fall on the ice pictured above. I fell so hard that my keys flew out of pocket. I didn’t notice until I made it to the gym (where I was headed when leaving the apartment). I walked all the way (super cautiously, of course), and found the keys sitting at the scene of the crime:

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Since the snow and ice are melting more and more each day, I got the winter tires taken off of my bike on Wednesday. I biked to work on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and I had an awesome time.

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Even though the snow is melting, it’s still pretty cold outside, so I need the winter biking face essentials: balaclava and goggles. The helmet is an anytime must-have. 🙂

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One of the places I biked to this week was Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza. I’ve known about this pizza place for a while since it gets positive buzz within the Twin Cities food scene, and I was excited to finally try it. There are two locations: one in St. Paul and one in Minneapolis. I met a friend for lunch at the Minneapolis location on Washington Ave N.

We both ordered build your pizzas. I got mine with goat cheese, mushrooms, and fresh tomatoes. My friend ordered hers with feta, green olives, and roasted red peppers:

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The pizza was great! It was a thin crust and the toppings were flavorful. There were also a lot of great looking salads and side dishes on the menu that would be great for sharing with a larger party.

A Guide to Spring (in Minnesota)

It’s definitely supposed to be spring right now. Yet, as I write this, snow falls. So, here is a guide to enjoying the season of rejuvenation in Minnesota.

1. Don’t fear the white stuff! If it’s snowy, then you might as well take advantage of it. Noah and I recently went skiing at Theodore Wirth Park. The park in north Minneapolis has 20 miles of cross country skiing trails, tubing, and snowboarding areas.

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We enjoyed a little over an hour of skiing, and we got a great workout. The trails were beautiful!

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2. Celebrate indoors! Luckily for me, the holiday of Purim provided a perfect opportunity to have fun inside. I invited friends over to make the traditional triangular-shaped Purim cookie, hamantashen.

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Another Purim tradition is costumes, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to dress like a taco:

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And a person wearing footie pajamas (read: not really a costume):

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3. Try new food! One of the best indoor activities I know is eating, so I’ve enjoyed spending more time in the kitchen as well as trying some new restaurants.

We tried Victor’s 1959 Cafe, a Cuban restaurant in south Minneapolis.

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The restaurant featured lots of unique Cuban dishes, and I was excited to try a vegetarian dish with yuca and plantains. Noah had a salmon dish with beans, rice, and plantains.

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We also tried a Cuban beer and a Cafe Cubano (espresso sweetened with sugar and a tiny bit of milk):

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Highlights from my kitchen have been chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice from the Jerusalem cookbook:

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Salmon with thyme, broccoli, and rice:

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Peanut butter granola from CarrotsnCake:

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And cilantro burgers:

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The cilantro burgers were incredibly easy to make. Recipe as follows:

– 1 lb. ground beef
– 1 bunch chopped cilantro
– 1/4 cup chopped onion
– 2 eggs, beaten
– 1/2 cup flour

Mix everything together and then broil for 8 minutes on one side and 5-7 minutes on the other side (depending how pink you like it).

How to ____ in the winter

Minnesota winters are often among the coldest in the country. This year’s winter, however, has really outdone itself. This is my seventh winter in Minnesota and by far the worst. Schools have been cancelled five times (often on government order) due to extreme temperatures, and there were 36 consecutive days where Minneapolites woke up to sub-zero temps. I’ve managed to still keep biking on some days when it’s above zero, but those days have been few and far between. What’s worse, we’re now into March and spring seems far from around the corner.

Having such a prolonged and extremely frigid winter has been a challenge to several typically-enjoyed activities. How can we Minnesotans keep up when it looks like this outside?!

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How to exercise in the winter

I have run less this winter since any time since I started running (about six years ago). Normally, I continue to run outside a few days a week during the winter and head inside to the gym for the occasional treadmill run on an especially cold day. This winter, however, I have only run outside once since December! I’ve been logging a few miles on the treadmill, but it’s also started to feel a little too much like the dreadmill…

The solution? Find new activities! Fortunately, introductory free weeks to fitness facilities abound, and I recently tried out an awesome gym called The Shed Fitness in Uptown (I know, it just sounds hardcore, right?!). The Shed offers a variety of classes including spin, circuit training, body pump, TRX, and yoga sculpt. I tried five classes during my intro week, and I definitely hope to go back for more!

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How to stay busy inside in the winter

Normally, if I’m not at work or another scheduled activity, I like to spend a lot of time outside – walking, exploring, biking, visiting friends, etc. The severity of this winter has meant a lot more time cooped up indoors in my apartment, needing to fill long periods of time. The best solution I’ve found is to do more cooking! Plus, the extra time means I can put more effort into elaborate recipes and dishes that require extra prep time. Some favorites from the last couple weeks include:

homemade ice cream

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roasted kabocha squash

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chickpea and red pepper soup with quinoa (recipe from Women’s Day magazine)

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and chilean squash (from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook)

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How to smile big in the winter

It’s no secret that weather is a large determinant of mood for many people. I’ve never considered myself to be highly impacted in this regard, but there have definitely been a few times where I feel a bit down or blue and think sunshine sure would help! In this long winter abyss, it’s been nice to take special notice of ‘the little things’ and to make an effort to do something fun/goofy every day.

feeling positive after finding this note stuck to a bathroom mirror

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enjoying an impromtu photo shoot

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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?