Formaggio Kitchen Cheese/Cider Tasting

A few weeks ago, Noah and I went to a Formaggio Kitchen class. Formaggio Kitchen is a luxury food store (specialty in cheese) in the area, and they offer cheese tasting classes that often include wine pairings/tastings or other special ad-ons. The classes fill up fast, and Noah and I had to reserve our class months in advance! We signed up for a cheese tasting class done in partnership with Bantam Cider – a local ciderhouse that focuses on making fresh, all-natural ciders.

After looking forward to the class for weeks, Noah and I were excited to make our way to Formaggio’s class location (separate location from their store). When we sat down, we looked over the tasting menu for the evening and preemptively nibbled on some bread:

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The first cheese was a clothbound cheddar (from Cabot in Vermont!), and it came paired with Bantam’s classic cider – Wunderkind.

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After round one, we received a plate with the next four types of cheese: a grand cru, comte, chabichou, and charmoix (pictured below, clockwise from the top).

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Each of the cheeses came from a particular fromager that the buyers from Formaggio Kitchen have a relationship with. It was fun to hear the stories about the buyers building relationships with different farms, producers, and fromagers.

Each cheese was paired with a different cider, and the various tastes were supposed to complement and enhance one another. In order, the ciders were Rojo (aged with sour cherries and black peppercorns), Hopped Scrumpy (added hops towards the end of the fermentation period), Blackberry Sour (tart blackberries give it a sour/fruity taste), and Wild One (a funky cider that is open-fermented with wild yeasts, also a bit sour).

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Michelle da Silva, one of the founders of Bantam, was also at the class, and she provided lots of information about the cider-making process as well as the specifics of each cider. The evening was fun and informative, although I think I am not a sophisticated enough cheese eater or cider drinker to have fully appreciated the benefit of the pairings. I’m definitely glad we went and it was a fun date (the sort of thing that would be an ideal gift for a cheese/cider/wine fan), but it was a bit pricey and I don’t anticipate going to another class. We were, however, inspired to make a trip to the Formaggio Kitchen store recently where we bought some fresh mozzarella for Noah to try on his pizza masterpieces.

To close, I’ll share a pro-tip I learned about cheese eating…for the serious cheese eaters who want to take in the full flavor profile of their cheese, it is best to eat cheese on its own – not with bread or crackers. Since the bread has yeast, it can absorb/distort some of the cheese tastes, so the purists prefer eating cheese solo. BUT, for all of you who want to keep your crackers and bread, no judgement here. I like the bread too. 🙂

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Bridesmaid Bonanza

My best friend is getting married!!

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And lucky me gets to celebrate with her! A couple weekends ago I went to NY to celebrate a “triple threat” bachelorette celebration weekend: 1) morning bridal shower brunch, 2) afternoon bridesmaid limo winery tour, 3) evening bachelorette party.

The bridal shower honestly could not have been more perfect. Everyone helped out to plan different parts of the day, and it was so touching to see how much everyone there loved the bride, chipping in to make it an extra special event. From personal experience with my parts of the planning, however, I can say that the real planning star was the bride’s sister who put in a huge amount of effort to make everything absolutely wonderful. Such a labor of love and so, so beautiful. If you can’t tell, I got a bit emotional!

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After time for eating and drinking, we played a few games together as a group (there were a lot of female family members present as well as the bridesmaids/friends):

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After many stories were shared and laughs enjoyed by all, it was time for the limo to arrive! The gals grabbed our bachelorette goody bags (complete with brightly colored lipstick, party beads, crowns, and “team bride” wine glasses) and headed out for an afternoon of wine tasting:

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The first winery stop was at Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. The winery was seriously crowded, but the area was huge and there was a lot of open grass to spread out on.

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In addition to wine, Warwick Valley also had beer, cider, pizza, and live music that people of all ages seemed to be out enjoying. After having some lunch outdoors on blankets, we went to the bar for our first wine tasting:

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I loved the Harvest Moon wine from the list above!

Wine me:

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Stop two on the tour was Clearview Vineyard. Clearview had a completely different feel from the first stop – it was much smaller, much less crowded, and had a much more intimate feel. The owner greeted us when we arrived, seated us, and personally introduced each of the wines in our tasting menu. He also gave the bride a special cork – very sweet.

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There were originally plans to go to a third winery after Clearview, but we were all exhausted and had been at it for almost 5 hours already, so we decided it was best to go back to the house and relax a little before the bachelorette festivities continued.

After a rejuvenating dinner of pizza, everyone headed upstairs to reveal the super-secret party room to the bride:

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Her reaction was amazing when she saw all the decorations – and I can’t blame her because I had the exact same feeling when I first saw the room. It looked incredible! She was immediately instructed to put on her new “feyonce” shirt…

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…and then the games began. Don’t worry though, the games were pretty tame – mainly involving a “guess who bought the lingerie” game, bride trivia, and some B-grade karaoke:

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But just in case you think things didn’t get rowdy…don’t worry. There were penis cookies.

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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. 🙂

A Weekend of Birthday Fun

I had the greatest weekend. I got to celebrate Noah’s BIRTHDAY!! We had a full weekend of activities. First, we had a couple friends over for Shabbat dinner and games on Friday.

Homemade challah and a pear/blueberry tart:

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Saturday was Noah’s actual birthday, so we had birthday cake!!:

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I got an ice-cream cake from J.P. Licks (Noah’s and my favorite ice cream place!) and hid it in the freezer before Noah’s birthday. This card served as the perfect intro…

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…and then Noah knew just where to look because we’ve talked about wanting a J.P. Licks ice cream cake for a long time. 🙂

That night, we went out to dinner at Picco – a pizza and homemade ice cream place in the South End. They don’t take reservations for parties of less than 5 people, and when we got there it was a two hour wait for a table! Luckily, we were able to get spots at the bar after waiting only a few minutes.

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We ordered a pizza (with sauteed onions, garlic, mushrooms, and gruyere) and a calzone (with peppers, mushrooms, and spinach) to share:

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And since it was a celebration…a brownie sundae with homemade peanut butter chip and caramel swirl ice cream was in order:

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Wow wow wow – so good!

Sunday was the main birthday activity (yes, Noah’s birthday lasted all weekend). Noah and I have really enjoyed having succulents in our apartments in Jerusalem and Cambridge, and I discovered an activity called Plant Nite. It’s like the paint and wine nights that are becoming popular…except instead of making a picture, you make a terrarium with succulents! I seriously couldn’t believe this activity was a real thing, but I was really excited when I saw it because I thought we would have a lot of fun.

The event was held at a bar/restaurant in Boston. When we walked in, all the tables in the Plant Nite area were equipped with terrarium bowls and green tablecloths:

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We found a two-person table and snagged it right away because we only like talking to each other (joking…sort of). Excited to start:

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We made “winter wonderland” terrariums – which are like regular terrariums except with more sand art. Hard at work:

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Once the sand art was done, we could layer some soil in the pots (succulents have very shallow roots so you don’t need much soil):

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The final touch was accessorizing with rocks, moss, and figurines:

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Mine included an ironic rock:

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Plant Nite was a lot of fun, although I will say that the dudes in Boston really need to step it up because Noah was one of the only guys at this event!

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The final activity as part of the birthday celebration that I’ll mention is a game of X-wing that incorporated one of Noah’s birthday presents:

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Noah has really been enjoying X-wing lately. X-wing is a game that involves flying Star Wars ships, dodging meteors and trying to blow up the other person’s ships. As you can tell, the sophistication of my understanding of the game is still a little surface level – but I enjoy playing with Noah! I got him the play mat pictured above for his birthday since without it he needs to measure the appropriate amount of space to play on out every time. Let the games begin…

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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. 🙂

Visiting Beaver Creek

Noah and I were in Beaver Creek this week on a ski vacation with my family! Beaver Creek is in Colorado, about two hours from Denver.

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We stayed at a condo in the Kiva, and the whole family loved the accommodations! The condo was a three bedroom with king beds and a bath for each room – this is nice because usually my baby brother (who is not so baby anymore) ends up having to sleep on a pullout or small bed, so the extra space here was really nice for everyone.

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There was also a spacious living room with a huge TV (which wasn’t really utilized much by our group…) as well as a kitchen with a big island. Bonus: there were two porches! It was pretty cold though, so I can’t say we spent much time on them:

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Throughout the week, the whole group did a combination of skiing and relaxation. Noah and I went cross-country skiing two days and downhill once. The first day of cross-country skiing was on the primary Beaver Creek ski mountain. We took a chairlift to the cross-country area and then were able to take the same chair back down. The skiing was much more challenging than the cross-country I’m used to. I think the difficulty was a combination of poor conditions (hard/icy snow) and simply the fact we were on a mountain (!) – as opposed to some of the open field areas I’m used to doing cross-country. Regardless, the views were absolutely gorgeous and we had some good laughs:

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After a few too many falls, Samuel decided he would be best served by walking:

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We all persevered though and eventually made it home. 🙂

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For the next cross-country ski trip, we drove over to Vail (about 20 minutes from Beaver Creek) to seek better conditions at the Vail Nordic Center. The extra drive definitely paid off! This was some of the best cross-country skiing I’ve ever done. The trails were doable but still challenging in areas (it was on a golf course), and the landscape was beautiful. I felt like I really hit my stride a few times and left feeling totally exhausted. For this second ski trip I went with my Papa and Noah. Noah is an expect skier compared to us, so it was fun to watch him do his thing…

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…while we tried our best:

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Overall, a fabulous and fun ski outing. 🙂

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While the skiing was nice, it was also a real treat to have time to just sit around, relax, read, catch up on personal projects, and all that stuff that seems to fall by the wayside during busy semester schedules.

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Noah attempted to keep us warm by keeping the fireplace going (a difficult task because all the wood was outside on the wet, snowy porch!):

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And, of course, no ski vacation is complete without PIZZA:

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Happy winter. 🙂