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!

Formaggio Kitchen Cheese/Cider Tasting

A few weeks ago, Noah and I went to a Formaggio Kitchen class. Formaggio Kitchen is a luxury food store (specialty in cheese) in the area, and they offer cheese tasting classes that often include wine pairings/tastings or other special ad-ons. The classes fill up fast, and Noah and I had to reserve our class months in advance! We signed up for a cheese tasting class done in partnership with Bantam Cider – a local ciderhouse that focuses on making fresh, all-natural ciders.

After looking forward to the class for weeks, Noah and I were excited to make our way to Formaggio’s class location (separate location from their store). When we sat down, we looked over the tasting menu for the evening and preemptively nibbled on some bread:

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The first cheese was a clothbound cheddar (from Cabot in Vermont!), and it came paired with Bantam’s classic cider – Wunderkind.

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After round one, we received a plate with the next four types of cheese: a grand cru, comte, chabichou, and charmoix (pictured below, clockwise from the top).

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Each of the cheeses came from a particular fromager that the buyers from Formaggio Kitchen have a relationship with. It was fun to hear the stories about the buyers building relationships with different farms, producers, and fromagers.

Each cheese was paired with a different cider, and the various tastes were supposed to complement and enhance one another. In order, the ciders were Rojo (aged with sour cherries and black peppercorns), Hopped Scrumpy (added hops towards the end of the fermentation period), Blackberry Sour (tart blackberries give it a sour/fruity taste), and Wild One (a funky cider that is open-fermented with wild yeasts, also a bit sour).

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Michelle da Silva, one of the founders of Bantam, was also at the class, and she provided lots of information about the cider-making process as well as the specifics of each cider. The evening was fun and informative, although I think I am not a sophisticated enough cheese eater or cider drinker to have fully appreciated the benefit of the pairings. I’m definitely glad we went and it was a fun date (the sort of thing that would be an ideal gift for a cheese/cider/wine fan), but it was a bit pricey and I don’t anticipate going to another class. We were, however, inspired to make a trip to the Formaggio Kitchen store recently where we bought some fresh mozzarella for Noah to try on his pizza masterpieces.

To close, I’ll share a pro-tip I learned about cheese eating…for the serious cheese eaters who want to take in the full flavor profile of their cheese, it is best to eat cheese on its own – not with bread or crackers. Since the bread has yeast, it can absorb/distort some of the cheese tastes, so the purists prefer eating cheese solo. BUT, for all of you who want to keep your crackers and bread, no judgement here. I like the bread too. 🙂

Pesach is over…and now PIZZA!

Hello dear friends and family – surely the only folks who are still reading this blog after such a long hiatus. I really love blogging and sharing life’s adventures in this format, but my time for advertur-ing (not to mention recounting those adventures) has been so low during this first year of grad school – it’s been a real challenge to find time to write. You know what they say, “all work and no play makes Mollie bad at blogging” – or something like that.

Anyway, I am back with a vengeance and feeling eager to give recaps of everything that’s happened since…sheepishly looks at old postsJanuary.

Pesach (Passover) has recently ended, and as Jews everywhere have metaphorically left Egypt, we now get to celebrate freedom by eating chametz (leavened wheat/spelt/barley/oats/rye products – forbidden during Passover) again. Noah and I marked the joyous return of bread with pizza tonight.

And if you are thinking we went out for pizza, think again! Because Noah’s pizza-making hobby is stronger than ever and I am reaping all the benefits.

 

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He is the greatest.

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I don’t want to complain about Pesach though – it’s actually one of my favorite holidays. In large part, probably, because of the two seders involved. Seder literally means order, and the seder is a ritual dinner held on each of the first two nights of Pesach (one night in Israel). The traditional text (preserved in the haggadah) as well as many of the seder rituals derive from thousands of years ago. How cool is that?! The seder is an important family/community/educational tool, and many find it to be so impactful and joyous that contemporary Jewish population studies show that even families who are uninvolved with other Jewish activities/events during the year still often participate in a seder (and light Chanukah candles).

…can you tell I’m studying Jewish community for a living grad school?!

Anyway, we had the chance to host Noah’s parents, some of his extended family, my brother, and a couple friends from Minneapolis at our house for the first seder. The table was set to impress:

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Cooking consumed the 48 hours before (huge efforts put in also by Noah’s mom who made a ton of the food and provided the classic family recipes!):

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And one of the seder plates we used was something I painted myself! I’ll hopefully recount that painting adventure in an upcoming post. Spoiler: it was part of a date night.

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Noah and his dad worked hard to determine the perfect seating arrangement:

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Overall, great holiday. And now, great pizza. 🙂

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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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!

Visiting Beaver Creek

Noah and I were in Beaver Creek this week on a ski vacation with my family! Beaver Creek is in Colorado, about two hours from Denver.

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We stayed at a condo in the Kiva, and the whole family loved the accommodations! The condo was a three bedroom with king beds and a bath for each room – this is nice because usually my baby brother (who is not so baby anymore) ends up having to sleep on a pullout or small bed, so the extra space here was really nice for everyone.

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There was also a spacious living room with a huge TV (which wasn’t really utilized much by our group…) as well as a kitchen with a big island. Bonus: there were two porches! It was pretty cold though, so I can’t say we spent much time on them:

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Throughout the week, the whole group did a combination of skiing and relaxation. Noah and I went cross-country skiing two days and downhill once. The first day of cross-country skiing was on the primary Beaver Creek ski mountain. We took a chairlift to the cross-country area and then were able to take the same chair back down. The skiing was much more challenging than the cross-country I’m used to. I think the difficulty was a combination of poor conditions (hard/icy snow) and simply the fact we were on a mountain (!) – as opposed to some of the open field areas I’m used to doing cross-country. Regardless, the views were absolutely gorgeous and we had some good laughs:

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After a few too many falls, Samuel decided he would be best served by walking:

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We all persevered though and eventually made it home. 🙂

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For the next cross-country ski trip, we drove over to Vail (about 20 minutes from Beaver Creek) to seek better conditions at the Vail Nordic Center. The extra drive definitely paid off! This was some of the best cross-country skiing I’ve ever done. The trails were doable but still challenging in areas (it was on a golf course), and the landscape was beautiful. I felt like I really hit my stride a few times and left feeling totally exhausted. For this second ski trip I went with my Papa and Noah. Noah is an expect skier compared to us, so it was fun to watch him do his thing…

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…while we tried our best:

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Overall, a fabulous and fun ski outing. 🙂

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While the skiing was nice, it was also a real treat to have time to just sit around, relax, read, catch up on personal projects, and all that stuff that seems to fall by the wayside during busy semester schedules.

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Noah attempted to keep us warm by keeping the fireplace going (a difficult task because all the wood was outside on the wet, snowy porch!):

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And, of course, no ski vacation is complete without PIZZA:

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Happy winter. 🙂

New Master Cook

Since my grad school schedule has been busy and I had class into the evening a few nights a week, Noah has been cooking more the past few months. And he is my new favorite cook! Noah has some classic dishes – such as tuna pasta – that he likes making all the time…

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But he’s also been trying his hand at some more challenging dishes – such as pizza! Noah makes the dough from scratch (yum!) and has been experimenting with different topping levels and baking methods. For Chanukah, he got a pizza stone (thanks Paul and Eve!) and the most recent pizza was oh so crispy! The role of the stone is to absorb heat in the oven prior to putting the pizza on top, so then the pizza crust cooks evenly and quickly from underneath – just like a brick pizza oven would do!

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Since we’ve been missing Israeli cuisine, it’s also been good to have Noah’s homemade shakshuka:

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Finally, this beet “reuben” was seriously one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had – roasted beets with melted swiss, sauerkraut, and russian dressing on a baguette:

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Thanks for all the great meals, Noah! I appreciate all the delicious food. 🙂

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

Jerusalem Cafes: Round 3

Continuing my series of posts about Jerusalem cafes (see here and here), Noah and I went to a couple more places in the recent weeks.

For dinner, we went to Focaccia Bar Hamoshava – a meat restaurant on Emek Refaim.

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As the name implies, Focaccia’s specialty menu item is focaccia. The menu offers a range of uniquely Israeli focaccia varieties (such as eggplant/egg/tahini), as well as pastas, meat entrees, and a small collection of salads and sandwiches. The restaurant was very nice with an extremely friendly waiter! To start, Noah and I shared the basic focaccia with spreads (it came with egg salad, tapenade, eggplant, sun-dried tomato paste, and something vaguely resembling non-spicy salsa).

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Look at their beautiful ceramic plates:

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The focaccia reminded me more of a flat bread than the thick focaccia I am used to in the US…I liked this version a lot better!

For our main dishes we ordered salmon fettuccine and eggplant mousaka (fried eggplant with ground beef and lamb) to share. Everything was delicious, but it was a lot of food and we couldn’t finish everything!

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After the meal, our very friendly waiter treated us to coffees (I ordered decaf, Noah got Turkish coffee). I would definitely go back here again!

The other new place we tried in the past couple weeks was Caffit. In fact, we went there twice! The first time was after a slightly disastrous morning buying Rav Kavs (Israeli bus passes). Noah and I had intended to get bus passes and then treat ourselves to an Israeli breakfast.

Rav Kavs are only available at the Jerusalem central bus station and a smaller station called Davidka (which we believed to be closed on Fridays). So, we headed out to the Central bus station in the morning. The Central Station is ENORMOUS! In fact, it is practically an indoor shopping mall combined with a transportation hub:

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After getting our bearings, it was a little bit of a treasure hunt to find where we were supposed to buy the Rav Kavs – we were directed from one window to another until we finally ended up in a back room of the station devoted specifically to the production of new Rav Kavs. We had to take a number and wait about 20 minutes until it was our turn. Once inside, it went pretty quickly, but by the time we were done and leaving it was already past 11:00am. We started to take the bus home but got stuck in a big traffic back-up that eventually led us to get out and walk.

Originally, we planned to go to the Scottish Guest House for breakfast. The Scottish Guest House is located near the intersection of King David and Emek Refaim and is a beautiful bed and breakfast up on a hill, overlooking Jerusalem’s old city. I stayed there my first time in Jerusalem about five years ago, and I still remember the great breakfast spread they serve each morning! According to their website, breakfast is available to the public from 11-3 on Friday and Saturday. Since it was Friday, we thought this was a perfect opportunity to go! Unfortunately, their website appears not to have been updated in a while because when we finally arrived we were informed that they actually stop serving breakfast at 9:30….NOOO! At least we got some pretty views out of the detour:

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By this point, we had been thwarted by Rav Kavs, public transport, and the Scottish Guest House, so when we finally reached Caffit on Emek Refaim and learned they were no longer serving breakfast, we were too tired/hungry to be all that disappointed. Despite the day’s mishaps, we enjoyed a delicious lunch (I ordered the signature oreganato salad with fried zucchini and Noah ordered a pizza):

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We also ordered a fresh squeezed apple juice and iced chocolate milk:

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Caffit is a Jersualem favorite amongst both restaurant reviewers and locals and our lunch was great, so we were eager to return again for breakfast.

When we came back for breakfast, we made sure to get there when it was still breakfast time! Noah and I both ordered variations of the standard Israeli breakfast: bread, eggs, spreads, tuna, cheese, hot drink, cold drink.

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So much food deliciousness. This was amazing. If you find yourself in Jerusalem, go here soon. 🙂

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?