Creativity: 3 Ways

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

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

1. Escape the Room [in my apartment]

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

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

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

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

But, lo and behold:

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

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

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

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

2. Creative cooking!

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

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

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

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3. Building Sandcastles!

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

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

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

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The other groups were also hard at work:

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

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

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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!

‘Get Better’ Chicken Soup

Last week, Noah wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to flex my chicken soup muscles and try making the ultimate “get well” food. There was no point doing it if not to do it well, so I started from scratch.

Just some water, a whole chicken, and veggies.

*full recipe below

First, I put a whole chicken into a pot with chunks from 1 1/2 onions and fronds from about 4 stalks of celery. I covered the chicken with cold water and set on the stove, brought to a boil, and simmered for slightly over 2 hours:

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After about two hours, I fished out the chicken from the pot and separated the meat from the bones/yucky stuff. After that long in the hot water, the meat was literally falling off the bones and the water had turned into a nice broth:

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To the chicken, I also added 3 chopped parsnips, 4 chopped carrots, 4 stalks chopped celery, and one bunch chopped parsley tops:

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I added the chicken and veggies back into the pot, brought to a boil again, and simmered for about 10 minutes until the veggies were all tender.

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The soup came out really well! The broth had a lot of flavor, and I left salt on the table to season to taste rather than adding directly to the soup. AND, it must have worked…because Noah isn’t sick anymore. 🙂 The soup made a huge quantity, so I ended up freezing about 1/3 of it and plan to defrost it in a week a two for more soup then!

"Get Better" Chicken Soup, serves 10
Ingredients
- 1 whole chicken, bones and all!
- 1 1/2 white onions
- 4 stalks celery, plus fronds
- 4 carrots
- 3 parsnips
- 1 bunch parsley
Method
- rinse chicken in cold water and set inside a very large pot
- cover the chicken with cold water and add onion (chopped
into large chucks) and celery fronds
- bring water to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours
- turn off heat and remove chicken from pot
- separate meat from bones and other yucky stuff
and place meat in a separate bowl 
- chop carrots, celery, parsnips, and parsley
- add chicken and chopped vegetables back into
broth, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes until
veggies are tender
- keep warm until serving

I served just with bread (challah, to be exact!), but you could definitely make noodles or rice on the side to serve the soup over.

Homemade Pizza

Big news from my day…

1. I biked to work because the week of no sunshine finally ended and the weather was A++++ beautiful!

2. I finally severed my relationship with Comcast, effective June 1. They said, “why are you canceling your service.” I said, “Because I’m moving somewhere that doesn’t have Comcast.” In my mind, I said, “Because I hate you with a passion that burns within the deepest parts of my soul and I will do everything in my human ability NEVER to use any Comcast service again.” Ahh…fantasy.

3. I updated my iPhone to the latest operating system. I have a natural skepticism towards upgrades, but my reluctance to do so was interfering with my ability to facetime. Woe is me.

4. I listened to a great radio show by my baby bro (8-10pm EST on Mondays, http://wamh.amherst.edu/)

5. I have now completed a third consecutive day without chewing gum (a record from the last 6 years!!). I wonder how long I need to go before I can say I’ve broken the addiction and am safe to reintroduce the substance in moderation. 🙂

6. I made homemade pizza!

I have had my eye on a yeast-free pizza dough recipe I pinned to my Pinterest board a long time ago. I decided to make the dough recipe and scrounge up whatever toppings I could from what I already had in my kitchen.

Making the dough could not have been easier. You mix everything in one bowl, spread it on a baking tray, and cook for 10 minutes at 400º. so simple

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While the crust baked, I worked on assembling toppings. I identified the following as possible toppings: black beans, tomato, green onions, smoked mozzarella cheese.

I started by making a black bean hummus to use in the traditional role of tomato sauce. I drained and rinsed one can of black beans, combined it with 3 tablespoons olive oil, and then pulverized the whole thing using an immersion blender.

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I chopped the tomato and green onions and grated 6oz of smoked mozzarella cheese (cheese unpictured):

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After the dough baked into a crust (10 minutes), I topped with the black bean spread, then tomatoes and green onions, and finally cheese:

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I put the pizza back in the 400º for fifteen minutes and…

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yumyumyum. I served with mixed greens on the side:

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After dinner, I made a cup of ginger yogi tea and was told these wise words:

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“Live in your strength.” It caught my attention because it made me wonder what my strength to live in is. What’s your strength to live in?

 

How to use your Pinterest Recipes

I have one purpose for using Pinterest and one purpose only. And that is storing recipes. I don’t use the social features, I don’t store craft projects for my future home or outfits for my future babies, I don’t mark the must-haves of this year’s summer or all the things that come in my favorite shade of teal. STRICTLY RECIPES. Okay, and a few workouts and inspirational messages.

I have a panoply of Pinterest recipes boards, including easy dinners, longer dinners, sides, desserts and snacks, things with protein powder, and, of course, breakfast.

Breakfast is often my favorite meal of the day, and I love trying variations of favorites (oatmeal or pancakes, yes please!) or simply having a big bowl of yogurt with fruit and granola. One of the best things about breakfast is that it’s easy to have all the essentials on hand and make a gajillion variations from that. As opposed to lunch and dinner that often recipe more specialized ingredients and I prepare ahead of time, the door to breakfast possibilities feels open to me every.single.morning.

So, my Pinterest breakfast board is bursting with delicious, easy, and quick recipes that I have all the ingredients to about 90% of all mornings. So why don’t I ever cook them (or hardly any recipes in my Pinterest for that matter)? Why?? Why?? WHY?? I don’t know, so it was high time to put an end to that. (breakfasts from my Pinterest found here, btw)

Last week was a great week for breakfast though. The Sunday before the week started, I sat down with my Pinterest and assigned recipes to each morning. I stored the direct link to each of the recipes on my desktop, and in the morning, I opened up that recipe and *boom* was away and cooking. THIS WAS AWESOME. Here are my highly success recipes from the week and the links to their sources.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Oatmeal Smoothie from Edible Perspective
served in a bowl and topped with strawberries

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Five Minute Chocolate Oatmeal from Chocolate Covered Katie
topped with strawberries and almond butter

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Cottage Cheese Pancakes from Healthy Recipes
topped with strawberries and almond butter

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 Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes from Minimalist Baker
topped with strawberries and almond butter

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Yes, there is a chocolate theme. And yes, I feel very proud of myself.

Breakfasts this week weren’t quite as exciting because my diet has been pretty limited due it being the holiday of Passover. But, I’ve still managed to have some pretty good food. More on that coming soon!

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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