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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Desserts from around the web

I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing dessert to Shabbat meals. This has served as a perfect excuse to make several of the dessert recipes that have been sitting on my ‘sweet things’ Pinterest board for days months years. It’s problematic to make an entire pan of brownies or a cake for myself, so Shabbat is the perfect opportunity to make a mouth-watering dish of sugar-chocolate-sweet-love (take your pick).

Here are a few highlights of desserts made in the last month. I didn’t make up any of the recipes, so I just link directly back to the original recipe source.

I made this flourless chocolate cake from Satisfying Eats. I had a slight mishap because I accidentally bought a can of straight coconut cream as opposed to canned coconut milk, so I had to dilute the cream with water to make it more milky…nonetheless it came out well.

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It may have been my cooking errors, but this wasn’t a cake that held together (don’t expect to eat it with your fingers!). I served it warm and gooey, eaten with spoons. This would be absolutely divine with some vanilla ice cream!

Next up were applesauce brownies from Something Swanky. Although they are advertised as healthy, they do not have ANY of that these-are-brownies-but-taste-sort-of-like-health-food thing going on. They are rich and dense and seriously delicious.

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I made two pans: one topped with chocolate chips and one topped with walnuts. This was my contribution to last week’s Thanksgiving meal. 🙂

While both of the previous two desserts were quite good, this next one is a whole other level. This is a gooey pumpkin spice latte chocolate pudding cake from Oh She Glows. Seriously, the name says it all. This cake is made in an unusual way; You make the batter, pour it into the pan, and then dump some hot coffee on top of it. It will look like something has gone terribly wrong and this will never be anything that tastes good:

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But, somehow, a miracle will occur when you put it into the oven and it will turn into this:

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In my opinion, this recipe was TOP NOTCH. For anyone who likes chocolate or pumpkin or things-that-taste-good, I suggest cooking this ASAP.

And, finally, the biggest crowd-pleaser I made were these oatmeal chocolate chip cheesecake bars from Lovely Little Kitchen. They were a bit labor intensive to make because there were a lot of layers (crust, cheesecake, chocolate topping), but overall it was totally worth it.

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These bars were a HUGE hit. In fact, several people have mentioned them to me again since that meal. So, if you are looking for something that will make people happy, I would suggest this recipe as a good candidate.

And one last food shot of what I’m baking right now….

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No desserts in the oven for this Shabbat, just some good old-fashioned challah. 🙂

 

Bloomfield Science Museum and CHALLAH

A couple weeks ago, Noah and I took a trip to the Bloomfield Science Museum.

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We happened to go on the day of Jerusalem’s first big rain, so the trip there and back was a bit wet. When we arrived at the museum, we quickly realized that we were about three-times the age of the typical visitor. But…no bother!

The museum was extremely interactive with exhibits on a range of topics, but we went to the museum particularly for an exhibit called Captcha.

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Captcha is about the history and applications of computer science. I don’t know if Noah learned anything new, but I definitely learned a lot! The exhibit included an interesting theme about what constitutes a computer (hint: a meat grinder is NOT a computer). While a meat grinder has inputs and outputs, the grinder doesn’t adjust its processor to react to particular inputs. The exhibit also posed the question if computers would ever learn to love, and there was an interactive survey for guests to indicate if they thought yes or no (about 1,000 more people thought that computers WILL be able to love in the future).

Although we went to the museum mainly for the Captcha exhibit, we also visited most of the other exhibits. The exhibitions on levers and shadows were especially fun:

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In other news, I made the most amazingly decadent delicious challah recipe! I saw the recipe months ago and had been waiting for the right occasion to make it. The recipe was for a pumpkin chocolate challah (link to recipe), and I essentially followed the recipe as written. Overall, this was quite a process and took about 4 hours between making the dough, letting it rise, and baking. 

The magic of this recipe comes from the combination of two components: pumpkin dough and chocolate filling.

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Before braiding the strands of challah as you normally would, flatten the strand to put chocolate in the center and then roll the strand around the chocolate:

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Once all of the strands are filled with chocolate, braid together and bake as normal:

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Chocolate explosion in the oven!!

Seriously people, this was SO GOOD. Make it for a special occasion…like the next time Halloween coincides with Shabbat. Luckily, that happens more often than Thanksgivukkah. 🙂

 

Pirot v’yerakot: adventures in Israeli Dining

Oh Israel, your food is a splendor.

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Here’s the breakdown…

Foods that are better in the USA: pizza, yogurt, plain black coffee

Foods that are better in Israel: everything else

No, I am definitely not using hyperbole. Just look at this banana:

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I rest my case. 

One of my great Israeli adventures so far is venturing to pirot v’yerakot (fruit and vegetable) stands, selecting a few things I’m unfamiliar with, taking them home, putting them in my mouth, and consulting google to learn what I’m eating.

Last week I shared my encounter with prickly pears. This week, I mystery grabbed these:

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Turns out this is what a passionfruit looks like! I had only ever had passionfruit as part of a juice or smoothie – not on its own. You can eat it by scooping out the insides with a spoon (don’t lose the precious juice!). The outside shell is hard and relatively easy to separate the fruit from:

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Salatim (salads) are also a great part of Israeli cuisine. Salatim doesn’t refer to simply the mix of lettuce that we Americans refer to as salad. In Israel, salatim refers to a wide array of appetizer-like spreads, dips, pickled vegetables, and overall deliciousness. Nearly every Supersal (a large grocery store chain), mikolets (smaller grocery stores – almost like convenient stores), and small specialty shops (cheese, meat, bread, etc.) sells a selection of salatim that you can buy in various sizes. This week, I picked up a few salatim to try:

Matbuha (a spicy tomato dip, also sometimes called Turkish Salad):

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Eggplant with tahini:

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And I am now on my first second third tub of hummus (also considered a type of salatim). In defense of my hummus consumption, however, I will point out that one entire tub was consumed by Shabbat guests on Friday night. I had a group over for Shabbat dinner where I got to break out my kiddush fountain (you pour wine from the main kiddush cup into the ‘fountain’ which distributes the wine into several smaller cups):

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And purchased challot from the popular Jerusalem bakery, Marzipan:

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Also before Shabbat, I popped into a shop near my apartment that sells prepared meats, salatim, and side dishes. Observant families don’t cook on Shabbat, which requires a lot of preparation in advance for the weekly holiday. As a result, it’s common for many families to buy some prepared food to lighten the amount of preparation that’s required.

When I say prepared food, I’m not talking frozen meals or processed faux-meats. There are freshly cooked meats, vegetables, appetizers, and soups. I decided to buy a mystery foil-wrapped cylinder because for once in my life I don’t have to worry about what sort of meat could be inside (halleluyah for kosher everywhere!!).

When I got home, I opened up the foil and discovered this:

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It was some sort of phyllo dough encased ground meat/potato/onion dish. I cooked it in the oven for about 30 minutes and this is what came out inside…

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Yum! I had it with some very delicious (and long) green beans as well as the aforementioned salatim.

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And…what is more appropriate to close out my Israel food rave than Tim Tams?

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Okay, so they come in a package. And they’re actually made in Australia. And they are a far cry from any semblance of healthy. But ask anyone who has participated in an Israel summer program, Birthright, or school trip, and you will quickly learn that Tim Tams are an essential part of the Israel experience. The double-layered wafers with a chocolate cream center can be found on the front shelf of each Supersal, mikolet, and every other food-selling establishment. But, the magic of Tim Tams goes far beyond chocolate or cookie. The true love of a relationship with a Tim Tam comes in the consumption.

There is really only one right way to eat a Tim Tam.

Step 1: Get a glass of milk. Coffee is also acceptable and tea might do in a pinch.

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Step 2: Take a small bite from one corner of the Tim Tam:

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Step 3: Take a small bite from the opposite corner of the Tim Tam:

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Step 4: Dip one open corner into the milk/coffee, and put the other open corner into your mouth. Use the Tim Tam as a straw and suck until you taste the milk.

Step 5: Eat the Tim Tam – whose chocolately wafer has now absorbed the milk and become oh-so-juicy-and-delicious.

Step 6: Ecstasy

And, because I am not completely oblivious to the state of the world, some brief comments about life in Israel over the last week.

The mood was very heavy at the beginning of last week. Last Tuesday was Tisha B’av, an annual Jewish fast day that is described in the Torah as a day of crying and misfortune for all generations. This damnation is in response to the report of 12 spies who were sent to take a peek at the promised land and report back to the newly-freed-from-Egypt Israelites. While the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey, the spies came back with a negative report, saying that the people in the land were great and fierce and the Israelites should just turn back now since they would surely never be able to truly enter the land. Furious that the Israelites would so easily fall into grief and despair when the land had, in fact, been promised to them, God decreed that the Israelites would not enter the promised land until that generation died out, leading to the subsequent 40-year wander in the desert. The tragedy of the day – the 9th (tesha) day of the Hebrew month of Av – would also continue indefinitely through all generations. Hence, Tisha B’av. 

Interestingly enough, the day truly has been one of great sorrow for the Jewish people throughout history. It is on this day that both the first and second temples were destroyed in Jerusalem (some 657 years apart), Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and Spain in 1492 (Columbus sailed the ocean blue…no? different theme?), Germany entered WWI in 1914, formal approval was received for the Nazi “Final Solution” in 1941, and mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began in 1942.

Clearly, it’s not a good day. The mourning of the day is also intensified because of safety concerns resulting from the day being used as a target for terrorist attacks in recent years. This past Monday, just before the start of the fast, there were two attacks in Jerusalem including one that involved a stolen tractor plowing over a bus and killing one person. Monday also marked the day that Hamas resumed rocket attacks on Israel, breaking yet another ceasefire and resuming the war that many Israelis had hoped and believed was coming to an end. Beginning tonight at midnight, another ceasefire is supposed to go into effect…hopefully this will last.

In closing, I recommend this op-ed by the always brilliant and ever insightful Thomas Friedman.

“3,000 years with no place to be and they want me to give up my milk and honey. Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea, not the country but the dwelling of his majesty. Jerusalem, if I forget you, fire not gonna come from me tongue. Jerusalem if I forget you, let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.”
– Matisyahu

Rustica

Rustica Bakery is a lovely cafe/bakery tucked into Calhoun Village along W Lake Street.

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I first learned about Rustica when I was searching for a source of good challah in the Twin Cities. A quick ‘best-of’ Google search led me there, and the recommendation did not disappoint. Since then, I’ve returned several times for both challah and other types of bread (Bon Appetit named Rustica one of the 10 best bread bakeries in the US!).

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In addition to bread, Rustica features a drink menu of coffee, tea, and espresso drinks as well as a small food menu of starters, salads, soups, and sandwiches.

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Not to mention a beautiful display case of baked goods:

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On this most recent visit, I had an iced green mint tea. The tea was good, but pretty pricey (nearly $3). Besides buying loaves of bread to take home, the only food I’ve ever gotten at Rustica is a bread and jam plate. You can choose any of their bread varieties, and they’ll serve you two slices with homemade jam and fresh Vermont butter.

Overall, I say that Rustica is a great bakery to buy loaves of bread, but it is a bit pricey for a snack or meal. Having never tried their pastries and desserts, I don’t know if they are worth the splurge too. Either way, I would encourage everyone to stop by for a loaf of their favorite bread (or challah on Fridays!).