Masada and FOOD

In addition to hiking in Ein Gedi, my family also did a hike up Masada during our Israel travel.

Masada is a flattop mountain in the Ein Gedi area that has earned fame for its role as the site of Jewish rebels’ last stand against the Roman Empire. A magnificent palace was first built atop the mountain by Herod the Great in the 1st century. Years later, after Herod had died, the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire in 66 CE. The Romans destroyed the second temple in 70 CE and essentially ended the revolt then. A group of slightly less than 1,000 Jews, however, fled to Masada where they – historians believe – lived for over a year. One might think, why would the Roman army even bother with them anymore? I don’t know…maybe it was a matter of pride or finishing the job ‘right,’ but the Romans pursued the Jews to Masada and built eight camps around the mountain as they spent months preparing an assault ramp that would enable them to ambush the mountain.

All that is known about Masada’s tragic end comes from one survivor. The story states that, knowing the Roman forces couldn’t be held off for much longer, the Jews atop Masada decided that they would rather take their own lives in freedom than serve the Romans as slaves. Lots were drawn to determine 10 men who would kill the rest of the community, and, then, a final lot was drawn to determine who would kill the other nine and then commit suicide. One of the most interesting archeological finds from the site were pottery shards bearing names – generally thought to be evidence of the lots.

Today, Masada has become a site emblematic of both bravery and tragedy within the Jewish community during the time of Roman rule (and, more broadly, throughout history). The mountain is a popular site for Birthright groups, children having their Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel, and essentially any Zionist trip touring Israel. The iconic Masada experience is to hike the mountain just before dawn, reaching the top for sunrise.

Despite the pre-sunrise hour, my family acquiesced to hiking the mountain bright and early. The hike up the mountain took about 40 minutes at a pretty quick pace, and we reached the top a few minutes before official sunrise:

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Unfortunately, it ended up being a cloudy day and the magic of the sun was fairly obstructed by the clouds. Nonetheless, it was still a great hike with awesome views from the top…and, even if we didn’t get the full splendor of a clear sunrise, it was neat to see everything come into full color! 🙂

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Me with my “baby” bro:

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This is a picture of the tiered palace that served as Herod’s living quarters when he resided on the mountaintop:

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With all the hiking, biking, and swimming, there was – of course – also lots of eating during this vacation. A few quick highlights include…

Fresh honey at the cafeteria at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz:

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Yemenite street food in Tzfat. We ate a Lachuch Original where we had sandwiches made with malawa bread and filled with vegetables and cheese:

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Finally, we ate at a meat restaurant called Habikta in a town called Ramot by the sea of Galilee. The restaurant offered a broad menu of smoked meat dishes, burgers, homemade bagels and a salad bar:

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In closing, I must share the incredible coincidence of finding this poster hanging in a small lodge in the northern Galilee:

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This poster recalls the capture of the Jesse James Gang in Northfield, MN – the site of my alma mater. The historic capture continues to be remembered even after all these years through the annual ‘Jesse James Days,’ and I have very fond memories of attending the festival each year as a college student. 🙂

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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.

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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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?

Duluth Whole Foods

On our way up to the boundary waters we stopped in Duluth for lunch. We decided to try the Duluth Whole Foods Coop (no relation to the Whole Foods chain).

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The Coop had a neat system where foods were all identified as local, regional, or neither.

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In typical Coop fashion, there was a hot and cold salad bar:

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A made-to-order sandwich bar:

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And a coffee bar:

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There was also a wide selection of delicious looking desserts, produce, and grab-and-go foods:

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After much deliberation, I settled on a salad with a variety of veggies, hard-boiled eggs, honey mustard potato salad, cranberry chutney, and chicken. I also had a ginger kombucha:

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I also had a whoopie pie for dessert. 🙂

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Others in the group had a turkey sandwich, grilled cheese, falafel pita, protein salad, carrot cake cookie, and key lime pie:

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Everything was phenomenal. The only downside was that the coffee bar and made-to-order sandwich stations were extremely slow (like 15 minutes or so to make three sandwiches). Nonetheless, it was worth the wait! So worth the wait that we decided to stop here again for lunch on our way home. What can I say?! We’re creatures of habit. 🙂

I went with the salad bar again this time, but I loaded up on hard boiled eggs and had some traditional potato salad. I also tried a cranberry kombucha drink (unpictured):

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Others ordered turkey sandwiches and a roast beef/ham sandwich:

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Everyone left full and happy. I wish this place were in Minneapolis! The Wedge Coop in Minneapolis is amazing, but unfortunately there’s no sitting area so if you order deli food you have to take it to go.

Other Boundary Waters Trip Posts
Poplar Creek B&B
Hiking and Canoeing

Boundary Waters Hiking and Canoeing

While in the boundary waters, we spent one day hiking and one day canoeing. Rather than finding one long hike, we decided to piece together two shorter hikes for a full day.

Ready to hike with my baby little younger brother:

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The first hike was called Caribou Rock Trail, and it featured some beautiful views of the area as well as some parts of tougher trail that involved a little scrambling.

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The second hike was called Magnetic Rock Trail, and the whole trail was lined with blueberry bushes! This trail was a lot more crowded with families and individuals filling containers with blueberries. We didn’t bring a container to fill, so we enjoyed en route:

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The second day was consumed by a canoeing trip.

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The folks at our B&B helped us bring two canoes to Bearskin Lake:

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We canoed across Bearskin Lake and then walked across a short portage to Duncan Lake:

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The above pictures were actually taken at the start of the trip and not at the portage. I don’t have photos from the water since I didn’t want to risk my camera getting wet. This turned out to be a good call since the canoe with the supplies bag tipped over!

Total, we were out canoeing for about 4 hours, including a short hike and lunch break at Rose Lake Falls by Duncan Lake.

Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse

Gooseberry Falls State Park was a short 15-minute drive from our lodge in Two Harbors, and we enjoyed a short hike, pictures by the waterfall, and speculating about the interesting geology (we learned that the surface around Gooseberry Falls is volcanic bedrock).

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As we hiked, we got several views of the falls:

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After finishing the hike, we had a quick lunch of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and then took the 20-minute drive (or so) to Split Rock Lighthouse.

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Split Rock Lighthouse is run through the Minnesota Historical Society. After a horrible storm in 1905 left many sailors dead, this light house was constructed. Before the lighthouse, this area was particularly deadly because the magnetic interference of the iron ore within the rocks at Split Rock would throw compasses askew as far as 18 degrees!

Today, you can visit a small history exhibit, take tours of the facility, climb up the lighthouse tower, and see costumed guides showing what the lighthouse and the keeper’s home were like in the 1920’s.

This is what the lighthouse lens looked like from within the tower:

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View from the top:

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Keeper’s home furnished to reflect what it would have been like in the 1920’s:

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After finishing at the lighthouse, it was time to head back to Two Harbors to check out the action in town. Check back soon for a rundown of Two Harbors Heritage Days.

Other Two Harbors posts
Betty’s Pies
Grand Superior Lodge