What’s making us happy this week, Volume 3

Here’s what’s making us happy this week!

Emily

Playing Piano

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My mom is a piano teacher, so I grew up to the sounds of piano lessons. I admired the big kids who came for lessons who could play songs that required both hands and both white and black notes. I took piano lessons until my senior year of high school, when I pretty much quit playing. I had always wanted a piano, but it made more sense to wait until I wasn’t moving to a new residence every year. That time is now, and I’ve really been enjoying having a piano again. It is humbling, however, to have to go back to the songs I played in junior high…and not do very well at them. I appreciate that I have to totally focus on the music when I’m playing. I can’t think about the chores I need to do, or all the work to be done, or my hands stop playing the right notes. It’s also fun to find my old notes in my piano books. Check out the star I earned for playing this one!

Indian food

Goshen has an awesome Indian restaurant, Maple Indian Cuisine. I’ve had the lunch buffet a few times, but we went for dinner for the first time this week. It was pretty quiet on a Tuesday evening, but the service was attentive, and the food was great. The garlic naan and the aloo gobi (cauliflower & potatoes) were the standouts for me, but the chicken tikka masala was also delicious, with really tender, large pieces of chicken. I am always a fan of aloo gobi, but the cauliflower in this version really stood out, with strong flavors of coriander, cumin seed, and a hint of fennel seed. The garlic naan was perfectly baked and had lots of fresh garlic & cilantro. They also served an addictive cilantro chutney which I could (and did!) eat with a spoon. So glad we have an Indian restaurant now!

 James

Photoshop trolls

I’ve been laughing a bit too hard at these over the last few days. People make requests for changes to photos, and photoshoppers do it… but only kind of…

Iechyd Da Brewing Company

We don’t go to Iechyd Da very often. Our excuses are poor, at best. It’s too far (25 minutes away). It’s too busy (we often have to wait minutes before finding a place to sit). But we decided to go anyways, and were very happy.

We split a sandwich and salad, and Yum! We had the banh meatball sandwich, which was spicy and delicious, with a great chili mayo. Also delicious was the April Salad, a chicken caesar salad with the first asparagus of the season, and an amazing dressing.

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I was very impressed with their Big Pit Porter- smoky, sweet, and balanced. Solid.

These geese

Every day on my bike ride home, I see these two geese sitting quietly in a field by themselves, not far from where other geese are cavorting, loudly honking and being geese.

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This is what I imagine their conversation to be:

Margot: This field is so hip.
George: It’s like the coolest.
Margot: Well, we better enjoy it before the rest of the geese find out how cool this field is.
George: Shh, you’re running the ambience.
Margot: You can’t really appreciate the sky until you’ve sat in a field for hours. That’s when you achieve true V-ness.

All the light we cannot see

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Back in December, I was number 12 on the hold list for this book. When I got it, just before leaving for our Christmas travels, I forgot to check it out until my hold has expired. Why yes, I do work at the library, why do you ask? So, I shuffled it along the holds queue to the next person in line, thinking I’d try again later when the hype over this book had subsided. So I waited until February. When I was number 26 on the hold list. When it finally arrived a month later, I was a little hesitant. I am always reluctant to read “the book that everyone else is reading,” because I’m afraid it won’t live up to the hype. So, the question is, was it worth the wait?

Short answer: yes.

I always like books that have multiple story lines going on that begin separately, but then connect. I enjoyed both the story of Werner, an orphan growing up in a German mining town, who teaches himself to put together and fix radios, and the story of Marie-Laure, who grows up in Paris. Her father is the master of locks at the Museum of Natural History. Marie-Laure goes blind as a child, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood so that she can independently navigate her way home. The story takes place during World War II, another reason I was hesitant about this book. I read for relaxation before falling asleep, so stories about difficult and depressing themes aren’t always my first choice. I am glad I stuck with this one.

I was struck by the differences and similarities between these two main characters. Marie-Laure is strong and determined, and makes things happen. Her father equipped her to be strong and pretty self-sufficient as a blind person. Marie-Laure saves herself from a menacing German officer, helps transmit information to Allied forces, and even gets her great uncle to leave the house after many years spent inside. Meanwhile, Werner lets things happen to him. He ends up serving in the German armed forces, though he detests killing and violence. He is estranged from his sister in his quest to do what is expected of him. Both Werner and Marie-Laure are curious about science and the natural world. Werner discovers a science-themed radio program he loves to listen to with his sister (much like my own love for Bill Nye the Science Guy). Also, I loved Marie-Laure’s interest and joy in snails and other marine animals. A girl after my own heart!

I also appreciated the book’s short chapters, which made it easy to find stopping places. The book switched stories between chapters, which kept me on my toes, but also led to me having to flip back to recall events that had happened earlier. Overall, I was entranced by the book and was sad when it was over. I am happy to say that this book does hold up to its hype.

Have you read anything recently that held up to all the hype about it?

What’s making us happy this week, Volume 2

Emily

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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I didn’t jump into this series right when it came out on Netflix, but now I am hooked. The joke density is high–if I’m sleepy or feeling sluggish, I don’t watch this show because I know I’ll miss some of the jokes. I’ve laughed out loud in every episode. In one of my recent favorites, Titus discovers that gets better treatment from the general public if he’s in his werewolf costume (for work) instead of just walking down the street as the African American man he is. Ellie Kemper’s sunny persona really works here.

Morning glory scones

I tried a new scone recipe from Eating Well magazine this week. I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of white whole wheat, and used almond milk in place of the cow’s milk. I also split the batch in half so I could make two variations, chocolate-craisin & morning glory. A morning glory scone with a side of Ron Swanson is a great start to the day.

 

Good friends, hilarious games, chocolate cake

We got to hang out with some good friends we don’t see very often last night. 4 out of the 6 live in town, but the others came all the way from Virginia for a visit. Our evening included so many favorites–delicious food, great conversation, and a hilarious game. Funglish was the game of the evening (I know, it sounds more like a disease than a game). In this game, you use adjectives (only the ones provided on cards) to describe various words. If I give you the words black, white, paper, not living….would you guess newspaper? Funglish is great fun, and I recommend tracking it down for a fun evening with friends. Oh, and we also had homemade chocolate cake with salted chocolate ganache made by yours truly.

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Kids are awesome. And music education is super important!   

James

 

The weather

The sun is shining, it’s warm, and we have a porch swing!

  First front porch swing swinging of the season.   A video posted by James SW (@jamespostspictures) on

The promise of raspberries to come

The beginning of the raspberries.

A photo posted by James SW (@jamespostspictures) on

Pickled chard stems

We got some chard and after prepping the leaves, I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the stems. So I boiled some vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and smoked paprika, and then threw in the stems. I boiled a bit too long and they were mushy instead of crisp, but the flavor was great. Later in the week, I had some extra chopped carrots that didn’t make it on to our salad, and I threw those in the jar too. A few days later, they were awesome.

Silicon Valley on HBO

We don’t have a TV, but we have a cable package, because Comcast says it’s cheaper and that makes total sense. So now we have access to HBO, and I made my way through Silicon Valley very quickly. It’s by Mike Judge, so think a modern Office Space with enough nerd humor to make it extra enjoyable to me but not so much nerd humor that it would be inaccessible.

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Supper at the Soda Shop

Best cheese steak sandwich west of Reading, PA., and coconut macaroon pie. Yum.

Heading north

But seriously, why? Why did we think that a good spring break escape from the dreary gray of Indiana would be to the snowiest city in the country, Syracuse, New York?

Well, we went, and it snowed. But it was a nice kind of snow (if that exists).

We went to Syracuse to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who are crazy love snow. It was a fun-filled three days (plus two for travel). They got to show us a few of their favorite places like Dinosaur BBQ, Green Lake-

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and Empire Brewing, where I’m not sure which was best- the Creole food, the beer, or the awesome design of the tap handles.

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We also got to explore a few places new to them, like Abandon Brewing, a Belgian brewery in a beautiful old barn-

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And Brewery Ommegang, a Belgian Brewery (sensing a theme?) that makes Game of Thrones-themed beers (at least the beer was good.) We tried to cram in a tour, tasting and lunch, but ended up skipping the tour, mostly because CHICKEN AND WAFFLES WHY DO I NOT EAT YOU ALWAYS.

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And of course, there was a lot of Ping Pong, Dominion, and the best game ever… Coconuts. That game deserves its own post. There was plenty of bacon, and the obligatory stocking up at Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s.

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What’s making us happy this week

Emily

I’ll start with something that makes me happy every week, one of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour.

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It’s a weekly NPR podcast with intelligent discussion about pop culture. It’s entertaining, gives me great ideas for books to read and movies to watch, and gives me something to talk about at parties. There are three core members who are a part of the show each week, with another rotating guest, which is often another NPR celebrity like Audie Cornish or Gene Demby. At the end of each show, they have a segment called “What’s making us happy this week” where there share a pop culture gem that they’ve enjoyed that week. Hence the title of this here blog post!

 

Trader Joe’s

TJ’s is making me both happy and sad this week. I’m happy because we are stocked up on TJ’s goodies after a trip to Syracuse, NY. One of my favorite new finds were these Kettle Popped Sweet & Salty Popcorn chips. They are highly addictive, and also feel like a healthy food since they have chia seed and quinoa among their ingredients.

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Trader Joe’s also makes me sad because the closest ones to us are still 3 hours away, so our stocking up trips are few and far between. I agree that we should have one here in Michiana.

 

M*A*S*H on Netflix

I grew up claiming to hate M*A*S*H, mostly because my dad loved it. But the year after college I watched the first few seasons with my roommates and fell in love with the show. It’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s pretty solidly anti-war, especially considering its first seasons aired during the Vietnam War. I was pumped to see it on Netflix, and most of our days end now with an episode of M*A*S*H. Gotta love that Radar O’Reilly.

 

Signs of spring

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The daffodils on the south side of our house are almost in bloom, and we have purple and yellow crocuses (crocii?) in the front yard. The sun is shining, the weather’s starting to warm up, and things are actually starting to look green! Every day I check to see if our asparagus is starting to come up yet.


James

Safety. Safety makes me happy.

I got a very stylish vest to wear when I bike. Actually, more than safety, biking in nice weather makes me happy. I’ve literally been singing or whistling on the way to work (don’t worry… no one can hear me).

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Grass that is green

I was tired and grumpy on Thursday, but the sun was shining between rain storms, so I went for a walk. I was still tired and grumpy when I got back, but at least people liked my Instagram photo?

I forgot how green green could be.

A photo posted by James SW (@jamespostspictures) on

 

These mugs from Justin Rothshank.

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Founders KBS

Scored 3 bottles of this hard-to-find beer. It’s pretty delicious, and we’ll see what happens after some time in my cellar.

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Version control

At work, I finally got version control where I want it to be. A clean code repository made me surprisingly happy. Coders, you know what I mean…


 What’s making you happy this week?

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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I’m not the target audience, perhaps, for this book. The premise is simple- there’s this thing in biology/medicine that’s just kind of taken for granted, called HeLa, and this book tells the back story. Well, I knew nothing about HeLa (it’s an immortal cancerous cell culture), but I found this book fascinating.

The book tells the story of two paths diverging and meeting again. One path is the culture, taken from a woman without consent, and used in basically every important medical discovery in the last 60 years. The other path is the path of her family, after she died, who didn’t even know tissue was taken, let alone that part of her still lived in, and the turmoil of finding out about it years later.

Through the story of one woman and her family, big issues of medical ethics, consent, the greater good and more come up. When I get a blood test, do I still own my blood? Do I get to say if the blood can be used for medical testing for a new vaccine? Do I get to determine if my blood can be used to test a new weapon?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Breakfast for dinner

Recently, I’ve been putting breakfast for dinner on the meal plan more frequently. Always a classic, always delicious, plus it gives me a chance to try to dozens of pancake, waffle, egg, and breakfast bread recipes stockpiled in my Chrome bookmarks. IMG_0568 copyLast week we tried the Orange Pancakes with Berry-Orange Sauce from the blog Iowa Girl Eats. They were absolutely delicious! The pancakes were light and fluffy with a great orange flavor that wasn’t overpowering, and the sauce was tasty without being super sweet.

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I think our pancakes were extra fluffy because we used a combination of buttermilk & heavy whipping cream in place of the skim milk (they were leftover from another recipe earlier in theweek). We paired our pancakes with Applegate Farms turkey breakfast sausages from the freezer section, which I also highly recommend. The pancakes were also very tasty with good ol’ butter & maple syrup, and we will definitely make them again. Next time I want to try using part whole wheat flour to healthify them a little bit…if James will let me. He commented that he hasn’t made regular pancakes with all-purpose flour in years…I always ask for whole wheat pancakes. Anyway, I definitely recommend that you give these pancakes a try!

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Required reading #1

I think I’d describe myself as a voracious reader. I read 50 books last year and I consider libraries my happy place. In fact, I have occasionally drug James into cool-looking libraries when we travel. Growing up, some of my happiest memories are walking down to the Fayette library from my grandparents’ house to browse and check out new books. I had to be called for dinner multiple times while I was lost in a book. On a family camping trip after my senior year of college, I shut myself into the stifling hot minivan parked at our campsite so that I could finish the last Harry Potter book with being constantly interrupted by my brother, who found my obsession with the series mildly hilarious.

But, when I started college, I realized I had missed out on a lot of classic literature. My friends were all talking about what they read in the their AP English classes (which my tiny high school did not offer), and I would nod and smile, reluctant to admit that I’d hadn’t read any of them. I recall reading a few novels in my 7th grade Reading Enriched class (The Odyssey, The Chosen, Christy), and I remember reading Catch 22 for a high school English book report, but otherwise, I remember reading stories from our high school literature books, along with some Chaucer and Shakespeare. I didn’t seek out the classics on my own, either, and I certainly don’t blame my English teacher, but I recently decided to read some of “those books that everyone reads in high school” as a sort of project.

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The first book I chose was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I chose it because several friends recommended it when I put out a request for titles on Facebook, and because I liked the title (trees are pretty cool). But I really had no idea what to expect. It’s now been a few months since I read the book, but I really did enjoy it. I liked the glimpse into city life in the early 1900s–it was more than a glimpse, really. There are pages and pages of description about the stores Francie & her brother Neeley visited, stories of her uncle’s delivery horse who hated him, descriptions of Francie’s school, the street where she lived, and much more.

I also loved Francie Nolan, the book’s central character. Francie was delighted by the small things in life–a stale 5-cent pie from the bread factory, her father’s singing, a beautiful day. She was also determined to get what she wanted in life. When the teachers were cruel in her first school, she went to her father and asked for her help in getting into another neighborhood’s school in a nicer part of town. When she had to work to support the family instead of going to high school, she found a way to get straight into college courses without going to high school at all. I loved her determination and spunk.

All in all, I think it was a good first choice for me, and I can see why lots of people read this in high school lit classes. It gives a good glimpse into the early 1900s in New York City, it touches on issues of social class, gender dynamics, and immigration, and it tells the story of a family and all the choices they make. It’s not controversial, it’s not deeply thought-provoking, but I never felt bored, and I loved seeing the world through Francie’s eyes.

Up next….1984, I think.

All that and a crock of pickles

This year, James and I decided to exchange “experience presents” for our birthdays, instead of tangible objects. James got me a massage gift certificate (which I have yet to use!), and my present to James was a beer-themed trip to Grand Rapids, MI.

IMG_0438sWe began our day at Founders Brewing Co. for lunch & beer samples. The place was packed! We wandered around trying to find a table for awhile. Luckily, just as we were thinking it was hopeless, someone asked James if we wanted their table since they were finished. Within minutes, our server stopped by to give us the huge list of beer options.

IMG_0428_sThe T8R potato stout had a great, smooth mouthfeel and the Frangelic hazelnut stout has lots of great hazelnut flavor. The stand outs were definitely Blushing Monk and Rubaeus (so much raspberry in both!), the Backwoods Bastard, and then…the Kentucky Breakfast Stout 2013 that our server gave us on the house. He said we had to try it since we could only get it there at the brewery. I am not the beer nerd that my husband is, but even I knew this was a big deal!

While sampling, we also looked over the enormous sandwich menu and made our selections. James had the Backwoods Bastard: Dirty Bastard pulled pork, Colby Jack cheese, tangy coleslaw & Dirty Bastard BBQ sauce on toasted ciabatta. I had Charise’s Reuben: roasted sliced turkey, dill Havarti cheese, baby spinach, tomatoes, red onions, avocado, tangy coleslaw & 1,000 Island dressing on San Fran sourdough. The sandwiches were the size of our heads, and completely delicious.

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Our second stop was the People’s Cider Co. They are just getting started and actually are not yet licensed to sell their product. They did have a provisional license, so they were able to offer samples along with a $4 tour of the “facility.” I put facility in quotes because it is a tiny, 2-room operation in a building in an industrial park. It made us feel right at home because we visited lots of breweries like this in Denver. They keg their cider into bourbon barrels, and use traditional UK cider-making methods.IMG_0449s

We got to try both the P.C.C.O., a bourbon-barrel aged dry cider, and the Mrs. Sally Brown, a scrumpy (a style originally brewed in England). Both were great, but I think the best part was the atmosphere. There were a few other folks there, and conversation flowed freely between all of us and the owner. It was a really fun place to visit.

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Our final brewery stop of the day was Brewery Vivant. I was very much looking forward to this one because they are a Belgian brewery, which just so happens to be my favorite beer style. The building used to be a funeral home chapel, and they’ve redone the building to be LEED certified. The place was once again packed, but we got a table pretty quickly. I loved the atmosphere–dark and cozy. We again shared some samples, but I didn’t write down what we ordered. I do remember a coffee stout that was really delicious. We also ordered some snacks–we were still pretty full from lunch, but couldn’t resist getting beer cheese with soft pretzels, a crock o’ pickles for James, and garlic & parsley Belgian frites.

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After a great day of food and drink, we made the 2 hour drive back to Goshen. What a fun trip! I’d love to go back to Grand Rapids this spring/summer to explore some of the many beautiful outdoor spaces. I had researched a number of hiking trails, nature preserves, and the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, but we decided mid-February wasn’t the best time to check them out. There’s always next time!

A St Patrick’s Day tradition- Irish soda bread

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A new St. Patrick’s Day tradition is making the Irish Soda Bread from The Bread Bible. Dense, sweet, buttery, and delicious. The raisins are soaked in whisky, packing a ton of flavor into the lowliest of dried fruit.

Last year, I made both rolls and bread, and found the rolls had a much better texture. It takes a bit longer to make, but it’s worth it. I’d make them a bit larger next year, though, as they were slightly small.

A key part is the whisky butter- butter, the whisky left over from soaking the raisins, and a bit of sugar. It’s impossible to mix the whisky and butter completely, so it looks a bit weird until you spread it on. Probably blending it would help.

Another finding this year was how delicious the leftover whisky is- slightly sweet and smoother.