Around Town · Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Vander Mill Ciders

Earlier this week we finally got out to Vander Mill Ciders in Spring Lake, MI for lunch. I had heard good things about Vander Mill Cider and their food from a coworker, so I was excited to give it a try.

IMG_0293The inside of Vander Mill is very spacious, with simple, natural decor.

IMG_0294I loved the pretty little table settings!

IMG_0296I decided to go with their Perpetual Blizzard IPA to drink, and I was not disappointed! As described on their menu, the IPA had a “hoppy, fresh orange aroma followed by clean malt and fruit flavors with a slightly peppery orange finish.” Can I please have 5 more? Just joking. Mostly.

IMG_0304To eat, we chose the Purple Pig pizza. At first we were leery of trying it because of the cabbage (which is funny considering all the wild pizza toppings we’ve tried in Japan!), but the friendly waitress convinced us to give the pizza a try and we were glad we did.

IMG_0308Mmm, roasted pork shoulder, a garlic BΓ©chamel, fresh Winesap apple, local honey, sliced cabbage and mozzarella cheese!

IMG_0312Chad and I split the pizza, but we couldn’t even finish half of it because it was so filling! (We may or may not have finished it off for dinner, though πŸ˜‰ )

IMG_0315We had a great first experience at Vander Mill Ciders, and would like to go back to try more of their ciders, as well as other items off of their very appealing menu! Have you tried any new restaurants lately?

Food & Cooking · Seen · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Week in Pictures

This week was one filled with lovely nature, marketplace excursions, culinary delights (such as that jambalaya we tried for Fat Tuesday!), and a pattern search in and around our house. (Anything to keep us busy and keep our spirits up πŸ˜‰ )

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Rosy Mound #1

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Rosy Mound #2

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Rosy Mound #3

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Goodies from our Asian Market trip (some of which were used for our Hina Matsuri dinner)

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Bubble Tea at a restaurant next door to the Asian marketplace

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We tried pho for the first time!

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Pretty flowers sent to us

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My favorite beer

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Nutella French Toast #1

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Nutella French Toast #2

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Patterns #1 (Don’t the knots in the tree look like eyes?)

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Patterns #2

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Patterns #3

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Patterns #4

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Patterns #5

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Patterns #6

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Patterns #7

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Patterns #8 (Okay, so maybe I just wanted to take a picture of our kitties because I love them…)

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Goodies from a trip to The Cheese Lady in Muskegon (We tried the Vanilla Balsamic drizzled over fresh strawberries!)

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I made homemade Crab Rangoons and Gyoza…

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And Chad made amazing homemade ramen!

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Dinner party dishes #1

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Dinner Party Dishes #2

I wonder what the weekend has in store for us! What have you been up to this week?

Food & Cooking

Me Oh My Oh!

Happy Fat Tuesday! I’ve had the song “Jambalaya” stuck in my head all day today, and the question is: Has it been stuck in my head because it’s Fat Tuesday, or because I knew I was about to make this awesome recipe for the first time!?

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To be honest, I barely followed the recipe because it called for such large portions of sausage and shrimp. I basically cut the amount of sausage and fish down to a forth of what the recipe called, and then added more veggies and rice. It. turned out. AMAZING. I guess that’s the nice thing about jambalaya–it’s a mish-mash of delicious ingredients that come together to form a delicious meal, and you don’t have to be very exact. I was especially pleased because today was my first time making it!!

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This year was also my first year trying paczki, a type of Polish donut. I found out from this informative article that back in the 16th century, paczki were filled with pork fat and fried in lard, and I would just like to say I’m pleased paczki have developed into the lard-less, pork fat-free sweet pastries they are today.

Italian Masquerade Mask

Source

Something I didn’t do this year was wear a pretty mask. Will someone PLEASE give me an excuse to wear a pretty mask? I love the colors in the one above, and the colors and style in the one below.

Masquerade Mask

Source

I’ve also never been to a Mardi Gras celebration of any kind (aside from our little culinary fun tonight). I think going to New Orleans to see the festivities first-hand at least once would be fun just for the experience. Have you ever been, or would you like to go? If so, how was your experience? If not, why would you or wouldn’t you want to go?

Food & Cooking · Monday Matters · Tried

Hina Matsuri Dinner

Today it’s Hina Matsuri in Japan, also known as Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day, so I decided to make a Japanese meal to celebrate from Michigan.

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I was really excited to find a simple, pretty-looking recipe for chirashizushi using fresh, sushi-grade tuna. Chad went all over town in search of tuna I could use for the recipe, and finally found some at our local D&W supermarket. Chirashizushi is basically a bowl of sushi rice topped with fresh fish, and–in this case–a colorful salad mixture.

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Yes, I know this picture is blurry, but at least there are cute dolls decorating it.

In addition to the chirashizushi, I also made yudofu (recipe at my old blog, here!) and ichigo daifuku. Yudofu is basically tofu boiled with kombu (dried kalp), and ichigo daifuku is a lovely spring treat consisting of fresh strawberries wrapped in sweet red bean paste and mochi.

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Here you can see my colorful bowl of chirashizushi, as well as the plate of yudofu in the background. I used traditional white sticky rice rather than the brown rice for which the recipe called.

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So bright and cheery!

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Here are some up-close pictures of the ichigo daifuku. I had to do some conversions when using the recipe because everything was in grams and ounces, so I think I’ll be experimenting to make them look prettier in the future. When it comes down to it though, I didn’t care too much about how they looked because they tasted really yummy, and totally brought me back to Japan (they were one of my favorite Japanese sweets! Natsukashii!). You can find the recipe I adapted by clicking here.

We really enjoyed having a Hina Matsuri dinner, and I was so glad everything turned out! Hope you have a lovely Girl’s Day!

P.S. I know I had promised I’d be back last Friday, but something…unexpected came up. On the bright side, I’ve reserved the post I’d been planning to write, and should have it ready for you this Friday instead! πŸ™‚

Food & Cooking

Banana Nut Muffins

Last Saturday was National Banana Bread day, so I decided to whip up some banana bread–muffin style! I brought most of the Banana Nut muffins to work, but I saved a couple to eat up at home, too.

20140226-130420.jpgThe recipe is pretty simple, and only takes about a half an hour. What I especially like is that there are so many options for add-ins. You could choose several different kinds of nuts, or even put in chocolate chips!

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My favorite way to eat banana bread is when it’s been warmed with butter. Mmmmm πŸ™‚

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Find the recipe below (adapted slightly from my mom’s recipe), and enjoy!

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Banana Nut Muffins

Ingredients

1 1/4 c. flour

2/3 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1-1 1/2 c. mashed banana (depending on your taste!)

1/3 c. butter

2 Tbs. milk

2 eggs

Optional: 1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 chopped walnuts (or hazelnuts, chocolate chips, etc.)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl (leave out the nuts for now!).

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients before slowly adding them to the dry ingredients. Fold in your choice of nuts.

4. Fill a muffin pan with cupcake liners and spray them with cooking spray before adding a good amount of batter to each one. Or, if you’d prefer to make a loaf of bread, grease a loaf pan and add the batter to that instead.

5. Cook muffins for about 20-25 minutes, or a loaf for 35-45 minutes. Use a toothpick to make sure the batter is cooked all the way through. *Tip: if the muffins or your loaf of bread looks like it’s getting too dark, but the inside hasn’t finished cooking, cover with aluminum foil for the remaining cooking time. Keep checking about every five minutes.

6. Let cool, and serve (or, eat one after a couple minutes with butter, because who can really resist warm muffins out of the oven?).

 

Food & Cooking

Nutella + Croissants = Love

Breakfast in ParisBreakfast on our first morning in Paris, March 2012. Croissant, baguette, and hot cocoa.

When we took our 18-day FISH trip a couple years ago (France, Italy, Spain and Holland), we enjoyed some awesome food. I especially indulged in eating croissants in France–sometimes just buttery and flaky ones, other times buttery and flaky ones with chocolate inside. Since going to France, I have yet to enjoy croissants that are as delicious as the ones we ate in Paris. (I mentioned before that Starbucks’ new La Boulange line has some croissants, but they can’t compare.) Elizabeth Bard describes croissants perfectly in her book Lunch in Paris, which my sister-in-law and I made recipes from for our book club months ago.

I like flake, a croissant with an outer layer so fine and brittle that you get crumbs all over yourself from the first bite. When you pull it apart there should be some empty space, pockets of air between the buttery layers of dough. When you finally do rip off a hunk to dip in your coffee, it stretches a little before it breaks. More crumbs, but utterly worth the mess.

Ahhhhhhh *drools*….oh yeah…where was I? Oh yes, I was reaching a point about all this croissant-love. After leaving Paris, we headed to Rome, and part of the breakfast served at our hotel was croissants and Nutella. This was my first experience eating Nutella. (I had always mistakenly thought Nutella originated in France–when in actuality it’s from Italy–because when I studied abroad one of my French dorm-mates was constantly eating the stuff. That was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Nutella, so I wrongly assumed Nutella was French. My error was corrected by one of my lovely French friends a couple weeks after we got back from Europe, but when we were in Rome I was like, “Wow, Italians love Nutella, too!”)

Apparently, everyone loves Nutella (and why wouldn’t they!?), because the Nutella-croissant combo was also offered to us at our B&B in Barcelona. I quickly realized that I was developing an unhealthy addiction to the new-to-me breakfast treat, so it was good to return to Japan where Nutella was too pricey to buy regularly.

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Believe it or not, I actually never did purchase Nutella–not until I needed some for our bake-off last weekend. In honor of those glorious days in Europe, I decided to whip up some Pillsbury croissants this morning to have with some of the leftover Nutella. Of course the little meal wasn’t the same as what we had on our trip, but it definitely was good enough for a stand-in on a blustery winter morning. I’ll never tell how much I ate.

Do you have any foods that just aren’t the same as ones you had while traveling? What are some breakfasts you enjoyed while on a trip?

Food & Cooking · Monday Matters

Annual Bake-Off

This past Saturday we hosted this year’s annual Bake-Off, using the occasion to have a housewarming party as well. Before the party started, we prepared some fruit, cheese, sausage, crackers and nuts on the table, along with utensils, plates, and napkins, etc.

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We also set up an area with coffee, hot water and tea, wine, soda, and punch. The temperature outside was just perfect for leaving the beer to stay cold on our back porch πŸ™‚

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I adapted an easy Dreamsicle Punch recipe I saw to make a pink version more fitting for the Valentine’s weekend. Just combine a quart of Raspberry sherbet, a quart of vanilla ice cream, a liter of sprite or 7-up, and a can of cream soda to recreate this simple punch yourself. We added some sliced strawberries for extra decoration.

20140217-194910.jpgAs guests started arriving, our table started filling up with more and more delicious baked treats. Chocolate seemed to be in everyone’s dish this year, and everything was so decadent!

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I made a Nutella Strawberry Tart, but I was worried there wouldn’t be enough for everyone, so I made extra filling and made mini versions in phyllo dough as well.

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My friend Kara made some dense pumpkin muffins with whipped cream topping.

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A friend of the family made this chocolate cake with almond slivers. So pretty and delicious!

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My friend Caitlin made this lovely cake with cocoa and coffee flavors. Such nice presentation (and, once again, so yummy!).

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On this plate you can see a slice of the tart, a slice of the chocolate cake with almond slivers, and a slice of a fantastic Guiness Chocolate cake that I unfortunately didn’t get a full picture of (however, many of us teasingly compared its appearance to that cake in the movie Matilda). I can neither confirm nor deny tasting some of EVERYTHING.

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My sister-in-law Ariel took this picture showing my mother-in-law’s awesome French Vanilla Cherry Cream Puffs with Chocolate Ganache alongside my tart.

20140217-195004.jpgAbove you can see Ariel’s very popular Samoa Brownies.

20140217-195016.jpgI didn’t manage to take many pictures aside from ones involving all of the pretty treats, but Ariel took this nice one of my friend Tia and I giggling in our sugar comas.

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She also took this one of my brother-in-law, who was dealing with his sugar coma by passing out on the floor.

There were so many fantastic baked goods this year that voting was as difficult as ever. In the end it came to a very close match between the mini Nutella Strawberry Tarts and the Cream Puffs. We’re still working on some of the leftovers–thank goodness everyone took a little “variety” plate home! I’m already looking forward to next year πŸ™‚

What are some baked treats you’d like to try showing off at a party sometime?

Food & Cooking · Projects

Spreading a little love

I’ve been enjoying doing a few little crafty things here and there: making cute little robot cards using a pattern from the book Craft-a-Day: 365 Simple Handmade Projects, writing Valentines and a few other letters that I’m looking forward to sending, and getting crafty in the kitchen with special Valentine treats as well πŸ™‚

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I just love having sealed envelopes filled with hand-written messages ready to be sent! They’re even better when surrounded by lots of fun craft supplies!

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Here are the two robot cards I made. In Craft-a-Day, the author suggests using paper for the entire craft, but since I didn’t have any grey paper I just used foam. I thought the cards turned out pretty cute–one of robots is saying konnichiwa!, and the other one is saying hello.

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I also had a lot of fun making heart-shaped rice crispy treats today to bring into work tomorrow. I just made them like usual, spread them in a cookie sheet, let them cool, cut out hearts with a cookie cutter, and then frosted half of each one with a Strawberry Shortcake frosting.

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So easy and cute!

What I love most about the crafty things I’ve been up to this week is that they are all things I get to give to other people that spread a little love. I really enjoy that sort of thing anyway, but I realized after reading a couple of blogs this week that it just so happens to be “Random Acts of Kindness” week, too. Have you done anything kind for others this week, or received any kind surprises? Have you been up to anything crafty this week?

Food & Cooking · Monday Matters

Happy Lunar New Year

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I got the idea for this cute little paper cut here.

We’re several days into the start of the Lunar New Year, and this year is the year of the wooden horse. Although in Japan they don’t officially celebrate the Lunar New Year anymore, they do still follow the zodiac, so their New Year cards sent out to arrive on January first are almost always decorated with the yearly animal. Obviously we’re not in Japan anymore (stop reminding us!), but we figured we could still get down on some Japanese-Chinese food in honor of the Lunar New Year.

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We got an unexpected extra treat on the day we planned our little celebration: my brother and sister-in-law asked us to go to lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. We love the Fortune Cookie in Grand Haven, and always indulge in their FABULOUS crab rangoons. Several hours after that awesome meal, it was time to get started making our own.

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Don’t judge me for getting carried away with my deco.

I decided to make Japanese gyoza, often referred to as pot stickers in English. I was SO glad I purchased a little gyoza mold before leaving Japan–it made the whole process much less labor intensive. (I got the recipe for the filling here.)

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Yum! They turned out great!

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Chad decided to make tenshinhan, which is a dish we often ate at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Japan called Osho. This dish involves rice, crab, egg, green onions and all kinds of other deliciousness you can find in the recipe here. We were so pleased to finally find a recipe for this dish as I had been looking everywhere to no avail. I even asked the staff at Fortune Cookie, to which they replied, “Where did you have this dish?” And I said, “Um…a Chinese restaurant.” They asked, “Where?” I replied, “…Japan.” They didn’t seem to like that very much, and just replied by saying, “That’s not Chinese food.” Anyway, the happy ending to the story is we finally got a recipe, though Chad said he’d like to tweak it in the future (less eggs, more sauce, etc.).

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It was a lot of fun preparing the meal together, and just as much fun digging in. Have you ever tried your hand at making recipes like these?

 

Food & Cooking

Simple Bento

When we lived in Japan, I used to make our lunches for the following day every night after dinner. I haven’t done that as much since we’ve been home-must have just been one of those things that got lost without a regular routine for a while there. Despite my lack of keeping up on lunches as of late, I’ve started to get back into meal planning, and I’ve decided the lunch-making habit would be a good one to start up again, too.

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Tonight I just threw together a very simple bento with some random things I had in the house: peanut butter on celery sticks, cheese cubes & a couple of cherry tomatoes, baby carrot sticks, leftover pork chops that my mother-in-law made (amazing, by the way!), saltine crackers, and a boiled egg. Lots of color–which is always important!–, lots of variety, nutrients, and protein. (I was very excited to use some of the things I stocked up on before leaving Japan!) Should keep me nice and full!

What are some of your easy lunch ideas?