Holiday Spirit – Happy Chanukah!

Now that we’re in the midst of this year’s “holiday season,” the Chanukah lights have been sparkling at our house:

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Also, Noah gave me this great new sweatshirt as a Chanukah gift!:

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Even though the winter holidays are starting, my fall hiatus from blogging left a few fall holidays unaccounted for. The definite highlight of the fall holidays for me was Sukkot. Noah and I helped to build a sukkah at a friend’s house. We and few others spent the afternoon assembling/decorating the sukkah, and then we all enjoyed a wonderful meal outside together when the holiday started. I got some great photos of the sukkah-building process progressing throughout the afternoon. It started with the frame:

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Then we put up the walls and some lights:

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And finally we added the skach (the vegetation that covers the roof of the sukkah – skach must cover the majority of the roof but leave enough space left so you can see the sunshine and stars) and decorations!:

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Great holiday fun. 🙂

The last holiday to share a photo from is Halloween….Noah came back from a work trip just in time for Halloween, so we celebrated our reunion with some pumpkin carving:

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SpoOoOoOoOoOoOoky!!!

On that note, hag orim sameach (happy Festival or Lights), and hopefully I’ll check in again soon with some posts about our impromptu 3-day trip to Montreal (we’re leaving in the morning!!!).

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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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No you’re not hardcore…

No you’re not hardcore, unless you live hardcore…so goes the classic Jack Black refrain from School of Rock.

I am not what you might call a risk-taker, but I’ve found my own way to live on the edge this summer with winter biking.

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Yes, I clearly look very tough. Last summer, I made a resolution to start using my bike as a primary means of transportation. Reasons being…

  • environmental
  • recreational
  • fun way to get exercise

When the seasons changed, as they do in Minnesota, I stopped because it was too cold rainy snowy take your pick of excuses. I noticed that I was more irritable at work and whenever driving in my car in the morning, I felt sad and a little guilty that I wasn’t biking. So, I decided to stop making excuses and do what I needed to do to be a winter biker!

Here’s what it took:

Clothes: Lack of appropriate clothing for winter biking was one of the main excuses I used to avoid it. I did not own any rain gear, nor did I own warm/waterproof boots that would be good for biking in. I decided to invest in the appropriate clothing. I bought a raincoat, rain pants, and boots. Total cost: ~$130

Tires: Riding on the snow and ice scares me. I am already a fairly cautious bike rider, and the extra instability of the snow and ice left me feeling really anxious and nervous about falling. Luckily, I live in the greatest biking city in the United States (I ❤ you, Minneapolis), so bike trails are consistently plowed and maintained throughout the winter. Still, conditions could be better. I decided to invest in some studded bike tires designed to travel well over ice and help with snow. Total cost: ~$170

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Courage: Lastly – and most importantly – I just had to do it! Even after getting the appropriate clothes and buying new tires, I was still really nervous. The first couple times, I had to convince myself I needed to actually go out and ride my bike (which wasn’t too hard since I’d already spent the money!). Each time I get to work in one piece though, I build a little more confidence and feel more ready for the next time.

Moral of the story, I may not be the biggest daredevil, but I am taking on the winter with my bike and getting a little braver every day. 🙂

In other news, I’ve continued to do some top-notch cooking from the Practical Paleo cookbook. As I shared last week, I made pumpkin pancakes which were so delicious that I wanted to try a few more recipes from the book.

At the beginning of the week, I made swirly crustless quiche. 

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The recipe was SUPER simple. All you do is combine everything in a bowl and then bake it into a delicious egg bake:

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It made a great lunch and dinner during the week:

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Trying my hand at a more ambition project, I also gave stuffed cabbage a whirl:

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This recipe was a lot more time consuming and involved steaming the cabbage, stuffing them with meat/veggie mixture, covering it with tomato/cranberry sauce (cranberry sauce also had to be made), and then cooking in the oven:

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This was a fun project, so I didn’t mind the extra time required by the recipe. The end result was very good, but I got a little sick of it by the time I had it for the fifth (or sixth!) meal. I need to remember to always downsize recipes a lot.

stuffed cabbage served with roasted sweet potatoes

stuffed cabbage served with roasted sweet potatoes

Cross-Country Skiing in Vermont

Although it’s late March and the end of the skiing season, I was hoping to get in at least one cross-country skiing trip while in Vermont. Lucky for me, on my second day here we were able to go to Craftsbury for some skiing. The Craftsbury Nordic Center was very affordable – only $10 for a day pass and $15 for rentals! The snow wasn’t perfect (due to it being a warm day and so late in the season), but it didn’t slow us down too much and we had a great time skiing for about 2 hours.

Outside of being affordable and fun, the facility itself was great to use. There were maps and trail signs everywhere to clearly tell us where we were going:

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The views were spectacular:

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And the trails themselves were nice winding paths through the trees:

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What’s not to love about a great day skiing?

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Skiing always requires a great lunch to follow. I made a tuna salad to have with toast, spinach, carrots, and hummus. For the tuna salad, I used one small can of tuna packed in water, a few almonds, and a scoop of plain greek yogurt:

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All mixed up and on my sandwich:

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Noah stuck with the basics, pb & j with pretzels:

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Gotta love the classics! 🙂