Traveling to Amsterdam, staying at the ‘t hotel

Sorry for the break in blogging…I’ve been out of town! First, I was on a tiyul to the North with Pardes for three days (posts about that trip coming soon), and then Noah and I took a trip to Amsterdam for 5 days. We were extremely busy – rushing around to see lots of sites, visit museums, and enjoy exploring. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great during our visit to Amsterdam, and most days it was fairly cold and rainy. Nonetheless, we had a great time!

We left last Friday morning bright and early. Noah wasn’t feeling well so he tried to sleep during most of the flights.

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After a fairly full day of travel, we arrived to the Amsterdam airport shortly after 5:00pm.

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The Amsterdam airport is fairly unique in that it is very close to the city center. In fact, it takes slightly under 15 minutes to get from the airport train station (Schiphol) to the Amsterdam Centraal station in the Old City Center.

That is if the train is working….

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We waited for about 15 minutes by the tracks until someone came and told all of the would-be passengers that the train wasn’t running. After trying to figure out the bus system, we gave up and ended up taking a taxi into the city. The ride wasn’t too expensive though because two people behind us in line (a couple of travelers from Spain) asked if we wanted to share a cab!

I will say that the public transport train system in Amsterdam was pretty terrible from our experience. During our 5 days, we tried to use the train 4 times. 3 out of those 4 times the train wasn’t working (!!!) – something we discovered after buying tickets and spending time waiting around for the train. Fortunately, the train service desk was always very willing to give us a refund. Still, I hope our experience isn’t reflective of standard transit service, or I imagine it would be very frustrating to be an Amsterdammer.

After an unfortunately long amount of time, we finally made it to our hotel: ‘t hotel. Noah found ‘t hotel online while he was looking for a canal house we could stay in during our trip. The hotel is also a tea/breakfast shop, and the adorable sitting area greets you upon walking in the door:

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Our room was lovely – fairly spacious with a hot water station and comfortable bed (although there was some pretty gaudy wallpaper). The only downside of the room was that there was very little lighting (hence why the pictures are blurry/dark). I will, however, take full responsibility for the mess. 🙂

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To get to our room, we had to climb two extremely steep sets of stairs, a typical feature – we would soon learn – of canal houses:

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After dropping our stuff at the hotel, it was time to PLAY!!

We walked around and looked at some fun shops including this store which seemed to be one big, hot-food vending machine of sorts:

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We also stopped into a candy store and saw this funny display of American “candy:”

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Eventually we went to dinner at an Indonesian restaurant called Puri Mas. Indonesian food is very popular/common in Amsterdam (Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony), and we read about the traditional rijsttafel dinner in our guide book. Rijsttafel is a Dutch word that literally means ‘rice table,’ and it’s basically a sampler dinner of sorts – small servings of different meat and vegetable dishes accompanied by rice. We ordered the rijsttafel dinner at Puri Mas and it was delicious (although some dishes were a bit spicy):

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Post-dinner included a little more window shopping and a walk through Leidseplein – a square in southern Amsterdam with lots of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. The area seemed to be very popular among tourists, and we spotted one of these pop-up urinals:

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Exactly as it sounds, this urinal pops up from the ground at night to provide a place for people to relieve themselves that is more pleasant (for others) than the ground. We also saw these warning signs all over the place telling people to be careful about what drugs they buy (apparently some people were sold heroin as cocaine and died):

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I guess the rumors about people going crazy in Amsterdam are true…

Not everything in the square was so edgy though…such as this Mini Cooper store:

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Eventually, we were exhausted from the early start to the day and headed back to the hotel for some sleep.

In the morning, we got up fairly early to have breakfast before our 9:00am pre-arranged ticket time at the Van Gogh Museum. Breakfast was provided at the hotel and included juice, yogurt, coffee or tea, and – Noah’s favorite breakfast! – bread and cheese:

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While good, the breakfast got a little redundant after 5 days…I sure missed my yogurt and oatmeal. 🙂

Check back soon for the first day’s activities such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhoff Gardens!

Other Amsterdam Posts

Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

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Jerusalem Cafes: Round 4

Israel…land of milk and honey, land once thought to be the physical center of the world, now “only” the spiritual and emotional center of the world.

Also, land of cafe culture and a quite-possibly-perfected leisurely breakfast….

So, it’s time for another ‘Jerusalem Cafes’ post!

The last few weeks involved two visits to The Grand Cafe. Grand Cafe is practically next door to my apartment AND delicious, so it’s proved to be a great go-to place for any meal of the day. I went for lunch with Noah and we ordered eggplant lasagna, open-faced mozzarella toast, and a cappuccino:

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My next visit was with friends for breakfast so, of course, we ordered the signature Grand Cafe breakfast. This included the Israeli breakfast standards of eggs, bread, a hot drink, cold drink, and salad. While many Israeli breakfast come with fixed sides including some combination of cheese, spreads, tuna, avocado, and other vegetables, the Grand Cafe breakfast lets you select your own sides from a lengthy list. Around the table, we ended up with jam, tapenades, eggplant (with and without yogurt), roasted zucchini, gouda cheese, and yogurt with granola:

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The waitress we had at Grand Cafe was super sweet and brought us coffee mousse with a chocolate ‘espresso’ bean after the meal!

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Grand Cafe is definitely a favorite. Everything on their menu looks great, and everything from their coffees to salads are really tasty. Also, their dessert case looks amazing. 🙂

The next cafe we visited was Cafe Hillel. Cafe Hillel is an Israeli cafe/coffee shop chain – somewhat similar to Aroma – but slightly fancier. Noah and I met there for lunch during the week and had a nice meal. Many restaurants around Jerusalem offer a ‘business lunch’ which includes a lot of extras with an entree order if you go for lunch during the work week. I ordered eggplant/goat cheese ravioli with pesto cream sauce and it came as a business lunch with bread, salad, and juice (I chose carrot juice). Noah shared my business lunch extras with me and also ordered a caprese pizza (although there didn’t seem to be any basil) and a fruit shake:

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I really liked Cafe Hillel and there were a lot of salads and drinks that looked appetizing – I definitely hope to go back and try another dish!

Lastly, we went to Tomas Masaryk for dinner. Tomas is on Emek Refaim and has a fairly brief menu: salads, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, and a few fish dishes and starters.

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I liked the atmosphere of this restaurant, and we had a seat where we could see a little bit into the kitchen and saw the chefs working their magic with the pizza oven. For our meal, we ordered a pizza with spinach, tomatoes, stracciatella, and olives, a salad with sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and feta, and focaccia with eggplant, pesto, and mozzarella.

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The food was good, but I don’t think Tomas is a new favorite. If I’m eating on Emek, I’m still partial to Caffit!

Other Jerusalem Cafe posts:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3

Hydra: food

After our big hike, it was more-than-time for lunch when we finally made it back to the town center. We quickly located a souvlaki restaurant that looked perfect for lunch.

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Souvlaki is a popular Greek fast food of sorts that involves meat on skewers or with pita. Generally, meat options are pork, lamb, or chicken. Essentially all of the restaurants on Hydra had large outdoor seating areas looking out on the water, and after ordering, we found a nice table outside to enjoy the breeze and wait for our food.

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I ordered lamb kebabs and Noah ordered a Greek beer and chicken souvlaki:

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Lunch tasted great, but we were both in a bit of a meat-induced coma afterwards.

Following lunch, we strolled around the island streets a bit more and had a good laugh when we discovered this sign:

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After much speculation about what sort of conference the mules and donkeys were headed to, we saw this sign later in the day:

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Turns out the meeting was for mule and donkey owners to discuss problems facing their “traditional profession.” Maybe it had something to do with another poster we saw which seemed to be from some animal rights group protesting the treatment of mules and donkeys! I guess even the cutest of islands has their own crazy politics. 🙂

Besides learning about the mule and donkey drama of Hydra, we did some boat watching around the port:

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There were a couple ENORMOUS private yachts in the port…our guide book mentioned that celebrities often visit Hydra, so we had a good time guessing who might be inside!

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Eventually, it was time for a pick-me-up, so we found another cafe where we could relax and drink coffee as the sun set:

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For dinner Saturday night, we went to Psaropoula, a restaurant recommended by our guide book.

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The restaurant was near the water in the main town area, but it was unique because it wasn’t on street level. Getting to the restaurant required going up a flight of stairs to the rooftop level, and we sat outside on a rooftop balcony with great views out to the water:

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Like dinner the night before, we decided to order a few dishes and share. We ordered Greek salad again, eggplant rolls stuffed with halloumi cheese, and a feta cheese dish that consisted of feta wrapped in filo dough and drizzled with honey and sesame seeds:

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The meal also came with a bread basket, croutons, and dip:

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Yum!

Sunday morning we had our last eats on Hydra. Breakfast was from the Mistral Hotel again, and it was even more delicious than the first day’s breakfast. This time around, there was tomato soup followed by fruit, coffee, tea, bread, jam, olives, tomatoes, bruschetta, rice pudding, a sweet-cream filled danish, frittata, and a vegetable omelette.

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After making a pretty good dent in the breakfast food, we gathered our things and headed to catch a ferry back to Piraeus Port. Stay tuned for more about the Athens segment of the trip coming soon! 🙂

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring

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 350Âş 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 350Âş

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?

It’s a Deal

As evidenced by my past enthusiasm for Groupons and free stuff, I am a sucker for a good deal. Is it necessary to receive multiple emails daily from Living Social and Groupon? No. Is it necessary to treasure my Costco membership as though it were the last water bottle on a deserted island? No. But I do, because I love getting a deal. Costco, here I come!

But in all seriousness, I do not feel guilty about the $$$ I spend through Living Social and Groupon. One might think I am encouraged to spend more money by receiving these tempting deals direct to my inbox multiple times each day, but it is my firm belief that they both save me money and provide me with experiences I might not otherwise pursue.

For example, I am going to take my super cute bf on a date once in a while, AND I love finding fun new places for us to try/explore. Online deals make it easier to do the former on a budget and the latter without putting in a ton of time researching. I don’t just buy any deal that comes my way, but when I see something that looks good or I’ve been wanting to do, you can bet I scoop it up right away!

Over the summer, these are my deal highlights:

1. Eat Street Social

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Noah and I had wanted to try this place after reading about their specialty cocktails on a number of occasions. As fate would have it, Living Social was offering a deal for a three-course meal for two plus a bottle of wine for the low price of $30. I’ll take it! We chose a chardonnay for the wine…

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…and the meal included a caprese salad:

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mushroom risotto (this was my favorite course!):

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and steak with mashed potatoes and asparagus:

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Unfortunately, dessert was not one of the three courses provided (a clever trick indeed), so we ordered our own – an ‘oreo’ sandwich and chocolate torte:

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2. Barre Bliss

I first tried barre classes last spring as part of a different deal (I don’t think I blogged about it unfortunately) and was immediately intrigued. Barre is a group fitness class that is fast and furiously gaining popularity. The workout has its foundation in yoga and dance conditioning. It targets muscles through isometric movements common in ballet. The classes are called ‘barre’ because they are done with a mat at a ballet barre.

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I don’t think these classes are high-impact enough to be a sole form of exercise (you will work hard and sweat a little, but it doesn’t give that post-run/spin class feeling). I will admit, though, that they really work your muscles. I might not be covered in sweat head to toe and heaving for breath after barre, but my legs start doing that crazy shake thing when you can just.barely.hold.on.

Anyway, Groupon was offering a deal for 10 barre classes at a place called Barre Bliss a mere 6 blocks from my house. Full price classes can be anywhere from $12-20 for a drop in, and this deal was 10 classes for $49. What a steal!

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3. Minneapolis Bike Tour

Noah and I were already interested in participating in this Minneapolis bike event before a Living Social deal came out offering registration at two for the price of one. Perfect!

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The Minneapolis Bike Tour is a recreational ride for people of all ages around the Grand Rounds. There is the option for a 14-mile ride or a 36-mile ride, and proceeds were used for bike safety, education events, and trail improvement.

Riders needed to start the bike tour between 7:30-8am, so we got there bright and early! The start was on Kenwood Parkway, very near the sculpture garden, and there were A TON of people!

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We milled around the various vendors to kill time before the start. There were free bananas, so we couldn’t complain:
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Once the riders got going we spaced out almost immediately. About 5 miles in was the first rest stop, located on the shores of the scenic Lake Harriet:

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I don’t know how many participants there were, but people kept pouring in our whole time at the rest stop – and we were there for a good amount of time considering how many snacks we had to choose from:

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Due to time constraints, we were only able to do the 14-mile ride this year, but it was a great route and I would love to do the longer route in the future! Plus, they gave us cool bike lights:

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As you can see, these daily-deal purchases have done little to deplete my savings and allowed me a number of fun activities throughout the summer. Moral of the story is, get your groupon on.*

*disclaimer: this advice only applies to people with a healthy level of self-restraint and no history of shopping addictions. 

Wilde Roast Cafe

HOLD THE PHONE! There is a new restaurant to add to my ring of favorites in Minneapolis. Yessss, Wilde Roast Cafe made the cut.

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Previously located in Northeast, Wilde Roast now has primetime location on the riverfront right next to St. Anthony Main Theatre. This place has been on my (long) list of restaurants-to-try for ages, and now that I’ve been, I’m bummed that I never went there before now. The food was delicious. Selecting what to order was a challenge since I wanted approximately everything.

We finally settled on the Night Out Appetizer:

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This was honeyed goat cheese with roasted garlic, mixed olives, candied nuts, and toasted baguette. Delicious! For our entrees, I ordered a steak salad and Noah had filet mignon.

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The mignon came with mashed potatoes, gravy, and sauteed vegetables. We also had a side of tater tots:

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Everything was fabulous, and definitely want to come here again! They have happy hour during the week from 4-6 with half priced appetizers. A few appetizers shared between a couple people would certainly be enough for a meal, and I’m hoping to go back in the next couple weeks to do just that.