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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Tiyul to the Shuk

For my first month in Israel, I am doing an ulpan. An ulpan is an intensive Hebrew-learning program, designed to help olim (new immigrants to Israel) learn the national language quickly and practically. There are many places to do ulpan in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, and in addition to multi-month classes for new olim, there are week-long and month-long classes that are popular with students and tourists. Traditional ulpan is a huge time commitment, with participants being in class for 4-8 hours each day. I am doing ulpan through Ulpan-Or, and I am in class for 3.5 hours every day (besides Friday and Saturday – the Israeli weekend).

In addition to the daily classes, once a week I go on a tiyul (trip) with the ulpan. The idea of the tiyul is to familiarize ulpan students with an important area of Jerusalem as well as to give them the opportunity to use their Hebrew out on the street. This week, we went on an incredible tiyul to the shukShuk means market in Hebrew, and a visit to the shuk is an absolute must-do for any visitor to Jerusalem. The shuk is heaven on earth for any foodie, cook, bargain shopper, people watcher, or human being with a decent appreciation for fun. Most of the food is sold by weight, and the colors at every fruit and vegetable stand are enough to make you stop and stare:

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Nuts and dried fruit also make a strong appearance:

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As do tea and spices:

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And things that used to be alive:

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The shuk is full of amazing bakeries, featuring bread, pita, bourekas (baked phyllo dough pastries), and many other types of gluten-filled goodness.

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A trip to the shuk also necessitates a visit to Marzipan – Jerusalem’s most loved rugelach shop:

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With all the fabulous ingredients available, it would be easy to overlook the amazing eating to be done in the shuk itself…but this would be a great mistake! Ima is a Jerusalem restaurants with a few locations that specializes in kibbeh soup (seasoned ground meat dumplings served in a rich broth).

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Uzi Eli’s juice bar offers a remedy for everything, and if you go in to say ‘hi,’ Uzi is likely to tell you about his family whose Yemenite secrets he inherited as the key to his profession. Oh, and that if you are optimistic between the ages of 9 and 17 you will have a longer life. And that you should laugh for no reason.

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Mousseline is an ice cream shop offering homemade and unusual flavors – and featuring ingredients bought in the shuk! Flavor highlights include Grapefruit with Basil, Masala, Cinnamon, and Tonka (a South American vanilla bean).

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Visiting the shuk got me excited to make a regular routine of finding new and fresh ingredients to use in cooking; I definitely want to make it a habit to buy food there each week.

In closing…

SPOTTED: A GIANT GOURD!

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Day Trip to Stillwater

Stillwater is a relatively small town near the St. Croix river along the eastern edge of Minnesota. It’s only about a 40 minute drive from the Twin Cities, and I have long been eager to go for an afternoon and explore the town. My impression was that Stillwater had lots of cute restaurants, shops, and antiques, and I loved the idea of spending an afternoon in a scenic, little, Minnesota town.

When we pulled into Stillwater in the early afternoon, we saw that lots of people had a similar idea to us and the main street had a bit of traffic!

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After parking, we immediately walked down by the St. Croix river to check out the elevated water level:

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Stillwater has A LOT of hills. There are several historic staircases around the town that serve as a way to get up and down as well as a great sightseeing opportunity.

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Going up was quite exhausting, but the views were definitely worth it!

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After all the activity, it was time for a break…

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…and a trip to Nelson’s Ice Cream.

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Nelson’s is a Stillwater classic with lines out the door and a gajillion flavors to choose from. The flavor selection is impressive, to say the least, but the real madness of Nelson’s is the size of their scoops.

This is a child’s size:

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Yes, that is real life. I ordered monster cookie and zanzibar (dark chocolate) and Noah ordered java chip and cookies ‘n cream.

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Needless to say, we did not finish our child size cups. NOT EVEN CLOSE!

After the ice cream insanity, we were in need of some activity so we got out our bikes and went for a short ride:

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We started our ride on a protected path near a lake within a residential area of town. The lake path didn’t go too far (maybe only 10 minutes of riding), so we ventured out along the roads for a bit before backtracking to our starting spot and then heading to main street again for some window shopping.

Highlights of mainstreet were Tremblay’s Sweet Shop:

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And Stillwater Olive Oil Company:

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While we were walking around, Noah spotted a place called The Wedge & Wheel.

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The Wedge & Wheel is a specialty cheese shop. Rather than simply providing a wide selection of gourmet cheese, however, they also offer sit down service with custom designed cheese plates, simple dishes, and a large wine menu. Noah is a cheese fan. Or, should I say, CHEESE FAN. Read: has a lot of affection for cheese. Thus, it would have been pretty sad to leave Stillwater without visiting this store.

We waited until right before we were ready to head home and then stopped by The Wedge & Wheel for an early dinner. As soon as we walked in, we were  immediately impressed by the cheese case and then shown to our table and given a menu to peruse.

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The menu was brief but included an American cheese board, European cheese board, cheesemonger’s flight (hand picked for the customer), a grilled cheese sandwich, and a few cheese-focused salads.

We decided to order a cheesemonger’s flight and grilled cheese sandwich to share. To best assemble our flight, the waitress asked if we had any particular cheese likes or dislike (yes to chevre, no to blue cheese) and then came back with this:

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Our custom made board included a soft cheese from Jasper Hill Farm (we can’t remember exactly what type!), Red Barn Cheddar, and a goat’s milk cheese. The cheese board came with pickles, dried fruit, and toasted baguette. The grilled cheese sandwich (pictured on the right below) came on a cranberry bread and was also accompanied by pickles.

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Everything was delicious! Cheese is not a food that I generally consume in large quantities, so I did feel a little cheesed-out after having it constitute nearly my entire dinner. Nonetheless, this was a really neat and unique restaurant, and I would highly recommend it to any cheese (or food!) lovers who take a visit to Stillwater.

More of It

I once heard that a way to remember which one is desert:

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and which one is dessert:

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is by simply remembering that dessert is the one with two s’s because you want more of it. Um, yes, I usually would like more dessert. How did you know?!

In the recent past I’ve had the pleasure of visiting two Twin Cities dessert joints.

The first was Lynden’s Soda Fountain in St. Paul. 

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Lynden’s is an old-fashioned joint, offering sodas, ice cream, and candies in the style of a true 1950s soda shop.

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I went with a friend, and we both ordered sundaes. I ordered zoreo ice cream (dark chocolate zanzibar ice cream mixed with marshmallow swirls and oreo pieces) topped with hot fudge, and my friend ordered yippie skippie ice cream (peanut butter ice cream with chocolate covered pretzels) topped with peanut butter drizzle and oreos:

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Yum!

The second dessert joint I visited was Glam Doll Donuts

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Glam Doll is in Minneapolis on Nicollet and 26th, and is far from your average donut shop. It’s flirty, a little bit risque, and designed in the vintage style. And you will find much more than old fashioned with glaze. The donuts come in both classic and inventive varieties (peanut butter and sriracha, anyone?), and the selection changes slightly each day.

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I went with a friend and split two: a starlet with chocolate icing and sprinkles (who can resist a classic?) and the bombshell (spiced mexican chocolate and cayenne pepper):

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The donuts were very good, but donuts have never been a favorite for me, so I don’t think I will be rushing back here any time soon. For any donut enthusiasts though, this is a must-visit.

The Great Minnesota Get-Together

Each August, nearly two million Minnesotans and people-who-wish-they-were-Minnesotans flock to a twelve day celebration of fried food the Minnesota State Fair. The average daily attendance exceeds that of any other state fair in the country (um, because we’re the best), and the total attendance is bested only by Texas (um, their fair runs twice as long as ours. and everything’s bigger there. so basically that statistic should be discounted). When I moved to the Twin Cities a few years ago, I quickly learned that people live for the fair. Even if you don’t think you do, as soon as fair season rolls around, YOU DO

Every radio station, local celeb, and politician sets up there. Newspapers run reviews about all the new food items (and the old favorites), and the fodder of conversation for two weeks becomes what fair food items to get, what to try new this year, and where to find the hidden gems.

As someone unfamiliar with the fair culture, I didn’t understand what all the hullabaloo was about initially. Then, one fateful day in 2011, I went to the fair. And now I know. So, when summer hits, I – like every other Minnesotan and Minnesotan-wannabe – start thinking about the fair.

When August 22nd finally rolled around this year, we.were.there. Parking is a nightmare, so we rode our bikes to the party:

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As to be expected, the fairgrounds were packed:

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After admiring some food we were not going to eat:

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It was time to get serious. First stop: The Minneapple.

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The Minneapple is basically a fried apple pie. Noah got one last year and loved it, so he was excited to try this year’s menu addition – minnepumpkin pie:

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My first purchase was a state fair classic. Cheese curds:

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I will admit this was actually my first encounter with cheese curds. They never particularly appealed to me before, but for some reason, this year the thought of fried cheesy goodness hit the spot. They did not disappoint.

Moving on, inside the agriculture building was a wide selection of craft beers. We ordered a flight of four.

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As I alluded to before, each year the state fair releases a list of all the new foods that will be sold. This list is awaited with great anticipation, and the moment it debuts people begin to predict what will be earth-shattering, what will fall short, and what will become a new classic. This year, the item that caught my eye was a peanut butter and jelly shake. I am a total sucker for milkshakes (definitely in my top favorite foods), and I also love peanut butter and jelly. Win – win, right?

The vendor selling the pb&j shakes was Goertze’s Dairy Kone.

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Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the final product. I couldn’t taste any jelly to speak of – it really just seemed like a peanut butter shake. Of course, pb shakes are delicious, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

The final food purchase of the evening (and a mistake, in hindsight) were buffalo flavored potato ‘chips.’ Basically, medium-sliced potatoes fried and flavored with buffalo seasoning. Nothing special – a real shame since they came at such a high opportunity cost!

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Once eating anything else became a true impossibility, it was time to move on to some of the fair’s other entertainment. Namely, the Miracle of Life Barn. This aptly named barn is where they keep all of the pregnant animals, hatching eggs, and baby sheep/cows/chickens/bunnies. It’s fun to check out all the animals, but seriously watch out, because if you find yourself watching a sheep giving birth it can get prettttty gross. Real fast.

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Our last stop before leaving was the Sheep barn. We determined sheep are the cutest farm animal. Which should give you an idea about how cute the competition is (read: not cute at all).

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Don’t worry, the above sheep are not – as I feared – members of a violent extremist group whose chosen attire is white hoods. Rather, they wear those things to keep from getting dirty. Who knew?

Our Favorite Restaurant

During our trip to the boundary waters, we were in a very remote area. We were a solid 30 miles outside of Grand Marais proper, and we had no phone service, no internet, and – as it turned out – no options for dining. Well, there was one option. The Trail Center Lodge Creek quickly became our favorite restaurant. Admittedly, I did really enjoy the food, but there also wasn’t much competition given that it was the only place to go.

After busy days of hiking and canoeing, we didn’t feel like a long car ride, so it was to the Trail Center Lodge that we headed three consecutive nights.

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Since there wasn’t much around the area (am I repeating myself?!), the Trail Center Lodge functioned as a one-stop shop. Of sorts.

There was gas…

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There were groceries*…
*don’t let this word fool you into expecting a wide selection

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There was the saddest produce section I have ever seen…

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Fun fact: there were more types of mayo on sale here than vegetables. Oh yeah, and don’t bring your pets:

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I am assuming that other boundary waters adventurers had the same thinking we did in terms of not wanting to drive anywhere, because the wait time to get a table was about 45-70 minutes every night. The food was good though! There was a fairly extensive menu with burgers, steaks, salads, and sandwiches. Fresh bread came to the table at the start of every meal:

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And all entrees came with a salad:

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The first night, I got a salmon salad:

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Others ordered the blue cheese filet with pasta, mussels, and a regular filet with baked yams:

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The portions were all very generous and everyone enjoyed the meal.

The second night we went was Friday, and Friday at the Trail Center Lodge means ALL YOU CAN EAT FISH FRY. woop woop. I didn’t get the fish, but others did.

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No one at our table could even finish the regular serving of fish and chips, much less take advantage of the all-you-can-eat option. That is a lot of food!

The exciting thing for me the second night was the discovery of the Trail Center Lodge malts:

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be still my heart

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blended ice cream, I love you. I ordered a chocolate pumpkin malt, and the last night I tried pumpkin peanut butter.

Other food around the table included chocolate milk, fried chicken with fries, chili burger with fries, and another filet.

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There’s no question that the food at the Trail Center Lodge was pretty heavy, but for a few days on vacation it really hit the spot. If you are in the Poplar Creek area, definitely go here. But, then again, if you’re dining out in the Poplar Creek area, you won’t really have a choice. 🙂

Ready for PROM

Hi folks. This morning I was working on a NROLFW Stage 6 post (something I’ve been procrastinating for weeks) when my internet went out. What is the cause of this?! Still unknown. Strangely, this happens at my apartment occasionally. Generally my solution (after all of the obvious thing don’t work), is to go away and come back later. Then, it’s working! Magic? Perhaps. One of my roommates fixes it? Perhaps.

Anyway, I don’t have a NROLFW Stage 6 post due to this incident. Probably just the world trying to tell me that:

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But, really, we all know that’s not true. How did the caveman live without Google?! Speaking of, I was just listening to one of my favorite NPR shows, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, and their celebrity guest was Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt. He definitely made working at google sound really fun! At the Googleplex – as they call it – there are events and activities and fitness classes offered all day long, and the only three rules are that 1) you have to wear clothes, 2) you have to have fun, and 3) you can’t bring your boa constrictor to work.

The final rule was implemented after someone interpreted the ‘pets allowed’ policy to mean they could bring their boa constrictor. Naturally, the snake got loose and caused a little bit of a stir.

Still, I can’t complain…my job is amazing. Just last night in fact my job was to go to Sebastian Joe’s.

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I got a scoop of “the flavor formerly known as Nicollet Pot Hole.” (Why it is only formerly known…I’m not sure) Let me tell you – this is the flavor for chocolate lovers! It is chocolate with sea salt and caramel and truffles. So good. It was super rich though – I could hardly finish one small scoop!

I am so fortunate to have a job where my main responsible is to do fun things with high quality people and give them love. ❤

In other news, I am SO excited for the weekend. Why? BECAUSE I’M GOING TO PROM!

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No, I am not having an underage rendezvous this weekend. Rather, I will attending the most rockin late 90s/early 00s dance party at First Avenue presented by Radio K.

In the immortal words of Dane Cook, “screw guys, I just wanna dance.”