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.Ā 

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. šŸ™‚

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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!Ā 

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?

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Happy Father’s Day

Without a doubt one of the greatest gifts I happen to have been bestowed is that of a wonderful father. Trying to describe an individual using adjectives is never an easy task (and always seems to fall short of a real description), but if I had to try I would describe my father as kind, patient, generous, loving, funny, and tirelessly devoted to his family. And his dogs.

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My Pop has taught me that doing helpful/thoughtful things for the people you love is not a burden but simply a nice way of living:

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My Pop has taught me a lot of common sense – and also insisted in putting up safeguards in case common sense fails. For example, when I lock my keys in the car…

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I have both a spare set and a AAA membership.

My Pop has taught me a lot about loyalty, love, and commitment to family. For example, it’s okay to only want to play ‘Word with Friends’ with the people you love:

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And he’s taught me that a sense of humor and some friendly competition can go a long way:

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I am unbelievably lucky and grateful to have such a wonderful father who has been an incredible role model to me. Happy Father’s Day, Papa Bear. I love you. šŸ™‚

Friday Smiles

Given that it’s the end of the week, I want to look back and recognize some of the things that I really enjoyed this week. Sure there was some stress and rocky moments, but when it comes down to it, this was a great week and I am a very lucky person. Here are my top Friday smiles:

1. Morning Runs

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The weather hasn’t been consistently nice yet this spring, and it was nice to have some relaxing (albeit chilly) morning runs.

2. Seeing Michael Pollan Speak

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I – along with 1500 other people – listened to Michael Pollan speak about the significance of cooking for health, democracy, ethics, and development. Meals, according to Pollan, are a shared experience that help to create bonds and love between the individuals who enjoy them together. Speaking of….

3. Taco Dinner with Friends

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Potluck taco dinner with beloved friends = big happiness

4. Art Class

This week I worked on a mushroom value and perspective drawing. Here is the original picture:

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And here is my version:

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5. The Love Fern

Yes, this is ridiculously hilarious creepy girlfriend-ish wonderful…but I have created a love fern to help me survive my anguish while Noah is away in Italy (did I mention I am going to visit in 7 days?!?!?!).

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Bonus: it’s blooming!

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And there you have it, my Friday smiles. šŸ™‚

What are your Friday smiles?

The Love Tour: Valentine’s Day at the Zoo

Sorry for a couple-day hiatus in writing – I was out of town for the weekend, and Thursday night I had no time to blog due to the fact that I was onĀ the greatest Valentine’s Day date ever!

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‘The Love Tour: Mating rituals that might make you blush,’ run through the Minnesota Zoo as a fundraiser for their conservation programs. First of all, this date was a complete and total surprise, planned by the fabulous Noah. I will admit I had pretty high expectations since I had been hearing comments like “I’m so excited for Valentine’s Day” since last March, but this completely exceeded even my highest hopes.

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What made this theĀ greatest Valentine’s Day date ever? See for yourself…

First, we got to the zoo (I was immediately excited since I love the zoo but still didn’t really know what was going on). We went inside, and were greeted by friendly zoo staff and champagne.

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Waiters came by with appetizers – mini polenta cakes and lettuce wraps with strip steak and pico de gallo:

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That was about when I learned that we would be having a Tropics Trail Tour to learn all about the mating rituals and practices of animals. A delicious dinner follows the tour. Sneak peak at the dining room:

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While we’re waiting for the tour to begin, there’s plenty of entertainment (besides the food and champagne) to keep us occupied.

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I think I’m better at boggle, but these games were fun. šŸ™‚ After much anticipation, the tour began, and it was SO interesting/fun/funny/greatest time ever. The zookeepers leading the tours all volunteered their time for the event, and our guide told us that the keepers really enjoy the event since they don’t usually get to talk about mating rituals with their regular tour groups (ie, elementary school groups). Heading into the tropics, our first visit was to the ring-tailed lemurs:

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a little hard to see, but the lemur is sitting on the branch in the top middle area of the picture

Male lemurs rub their mating smelliness all over their tails and then wave their tails around to attract females. This lemur was sweet enough to have decorated his pen for us:

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how thoughtful

Next up was theĀ rhinocerosĀ hornbill:

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For anyone who says thatĀ monogamousĀ relationshipsĀ are unnatural for animals, they should meet aĀ rhinocerosĀ hornbill. These birds mate for life, and they can live for up to 90 years. What’s more, the female completely trusts the male to stay with and provide for her, as the mother stays inside a tree trunk for the entire egg-incubation time period. The male brings her food and all of the supplies for the nest. Even more faithful, though, are African Penguins. What makes African Penguins incredible is that no instance of dual-partnership has ever been recorded in the wild. Not a single one.Ā Wow!

on the trail

on the trail

Next up were tropical fish:

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We learned that zebra sharks are one of the few species that have ever been recorded to reproduce asexually. Female zebra sharks have reproduced alone. A Jesus-shark (as noted by our tour group), if you will.

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zebra shark

Although sad for the tour to end, I was excited to get to dinner, especially after seeing there was a live band!

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Our table number was number 38…

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…and there were salads and a bread basket waiting for us when we arrived:

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The salad was delicious with grapefruit, feta, and toasted almonds. For the main course, we were served beef tenderloin, cod, asparagus, and potatoes:

holy yum

holy yum

I took my fish home with me since I still needed room for dessert.

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fish to-go

Dessert was honestly one of the best things I have ever had. I don’t think Noah loved it quite as much, but I am way more of a chocolate person (all you ladies out there, say heyyyy). šŸ™‚

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Molten lava caked with chopped pistachios and fresh whipped cream (the whipped cream seemed to have a little espresso flavor). This was so good.

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Obviously. šŸ™‚

We even got treats to go in the form of two truffles from Max’s, the sponsoring organization.

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Overall, this was hands down the best Valentine’s Day I could have imagined. Thank you, Noah – you’re my African Penguin. ā¤