Foodies Rejoice: Bright Cellars Cheese Boxes Review

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Now that it's officially November, I figure it's time for me to start thinking about holiday travel, and, more specifically, what Wisconsin goodies I'll be bringing to my family (all across the country!) on my Thanksgiving and Christmas trips. Lucky for me, Bright Cellars, an awesome Wisconsin-based company known for their subscription wine experience, is launching something new: Bright Cellars cheese boxes to go with their wine! (Get started with the quiz here.)

Is there anything better to get in the mail?

Now, this company is no stranger to matching people with their preferences. It was founded by two MIT grads with a passion for wine, so moving on to cheese was a natural expansion. They already had a bright points algorithm, which they used to match people with wine. They've now expanded it to include cheese preferences!

Here's how it works: You can take an online quiz (click link to start the cheese quiz yourself!) detailing your preferences, and then the team at Bright Cellars works with their network of Wisconsin cheese makers to hand-select cheeses that are perfect for you.

I must admit, living in Wisconsin for over five years (crazy!) has made me a bit of a cheese snob, so when I opened the box, I was a tad skeptical. I felt the snobby foodie side of me—that I really try to suppress—surfacing.

But, I had nothing to worry about. The box contained four absolutely delicious cheeses: A tomato basil yellow cheddar, a hickory smoked gouda, a grand cru, and a blueberry white cheddar. (And fun informational cards about each type to satisfy my inner food nerd.) My favorite was probably the tomato basil cheddar --and the best thing about that is it's something I'd never buy on my own. All four were top-notch cheeses; the quality of cheese you'd expect to find on a fancy charcuterie board at a restaurant.

(Also: Note my Madison glass cutting board :) 

And now the cool part: I can rate and review my cheeses on their website (kinda like giving a song a thumbs up on Pandora), and then, based on this feedback, the algorithm gets even more accurate to match me with hand-picked cheeses for next month's box.

Because the only thing cooler than a box of cheese in the mail is a box of cheese that comes in the mail every month!

If you want to give it a try, they're offering rejoyce readers 50% off their first order here. Check out the cheese quiz and let me know if you discover any awesome new cheeses! :)

*Thanks for supporting brands that support rejoyce (follow me on Instagram for regular updates!), and thanks, Bright Cellars, for the complimentary box of cheese! 

Exploring Oregon

Thursday, June 9, 2016

We had a few requirements for our honeymoon:

1. Go immediately after our wedding
2. Somewhere easy + relaxed, where we wouldn't feel pressured to see a million art museums 
3. Somewhere neither of us have ever been

and, because of #1, we added:

4. Go somewhere that is at its peak in June

Madison is beautiful in June, so something pained me about hopping on a plane to the Caribbean (which is beautiful in February, when Madison is NOT). Still, Stephen loves the beach, so we landed on checking out Portland, Oregon briefly and spending a bulk of our time exploring the Oregon Coastline.

Now: let me preface this by saying we got unbelievably lucky with the weather. If you think gray skies and heavy rain when you think Oregon, you're probably right, but that was not our experience. It was sunny and vibrant and beautiful! 

Our first stop was Portland, a city that is somewhat reminiscent of my home city Pittsburgh with the rivers and bridges. We walked around and checked out the city, including hitting up the massive Powell's City of Books and grabbing ice cream at Salt + Straw that I'm still daydreaming about. So. Delicious.

The next morning, we took a run by the river:

And then went on a Willamette Valley wine tour via the Back Country Wine Tour company, which was my wedding gift to Stephen. (Pro tip: buy gifts that require you to drink wine—the things I do for love ;)

We stopped at four wineries: Brooks Wines, Maysara (run by 3 Persian sisters, it's name means "House of wine" in Farsi), De Ponte Cellars (home of Missy the cat!), and White Rose.

This region is famous for Pinot Noir...and, it turns out, Pinot Noir may just be my favorite red wine! It was really fascinating how the weather impacts the vintage. Just tasting a 2011 (cool year) and 2013 (hot year) made a really big difference. Not that I'm capable of explaining what the difference was. But I could discern that a difference existed. Especially when I was told about the existence of said difference ;) 

The next day...we headed west! The coast felt like Big Sur but WAY less people. We stayed in Cannon Beach, Oregon at The Ocean Lodge and I paid a little more (worth it) for the ocean views—including a view of Haystack Rock that never got old. (It seemed to magically transform with every hour of the day.)

A walk on the beach our first afternoon in Cannon Beach:

Views from Ecola State Park:

Van in Ecola State Park that just screamed "Oregon"

Views from Astoria (where the Goonies was set!)

Views from Oswald West State Park where we hiked the Cape Falcon was 2.5 miles out, but totally worth it! To me, it felt like walking the Pacific Coast Highway. So cool!:

And I'll end things with some sunset pictures:

If you're contemplating an Oregon trip, do it! We miss it already.

But the good news is Stephen + I have been to 15 states together...35 to go :)

Read This: When Breath Becomes Air

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sorry for the impromptu hiatus on the blog. The good news is, I've been doing a lot of reading and writing (for my book), just not on here! (And, of course, prepping for the wedding which is somehow < 2 weeks away. Eeeek!)

But I just read a book I couldn't help but gush about here. It's been near the top of the nonfiction NYT Bestseller list for a while now, so maybe you've already heard about the poignant story of Paul Kalanithi, the author of When Breath Becomes Air.

In short, Kalanithi was about to finish his intense residency as a neurosurgeon, when he was suddenly facing his own diagnosis: stage four lung cancer. (He had never smoked.) It is after this world-shattering diagnosis that Paul began his work on this book, that chronicles his winding path to become a doctor (he got a Masters in Literature first before med school!), his life's search to find meaning, and his ultimate transition from doctor to patient.

His experiences as a brain surgeon inform a lot of deep philosophical questions he poses throughout the book. Is the purpose to life really happiness? (He doesn't think so.) What does it mean to really be alive? (Is an intubated person in a coma alive?) How can you lead a meaningful life? The whole text is interspersed with literary quotes and poems, which (as an English major), I, of course, adored.

I will say I was surprised by some of the technical medical jargon in the book, but really my only other "critique" is that I could have easily read 100 more pages. The ending felt a bit rushed, and this is because, as his wife explains in the Epilogue, Paul sadly passed away before he could fully finish it. Oh, this book made me cry, but that's not surprising.

Still! Paul accomplished so much in his much too-short life, and now is inspiring thousands post-death. It's impossible to read this book and not feel inspired to take advantage of your time one earth.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is mortal—that is to say, everyone.

p.s. Quick fact For blog readers: Paul is Joanna Goddard's (of Cup of Jo fame) twin sister's late husband, so I'd been following his story before the book was published. He wrote some moving pieces for the New York Times, including this piece called How Long Have I Got Left?

2 Mind Blowing Documentaries

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Let me start by saying I, too, have come to hate the term "mind blowing" that seems to be plastered all over the internet in a desperate attempt to get clicks. "What Kylie Jenner wore to the After Party Will Blow Your Mind." No, I promise you, it won't. How little esteem do you ascribe to the synapses of my brain? That being said, I recently watched two Netflix documentaries that took 2 basic needs—clothes and food—and totally changed the way I view them. The messages of these documentaries have stuck with me and completely changed my perspective, so I feel justified in my post title. I'm even contemplating serious life style changes because of the intriguing (and heart wrenching) information they shared, so, I wanted to share them with you!

1. The True Cost

image via True Cost documentary
I have never been much of a shopper, but also have never come close to fully grasped the HORRENDOUS impact the fast-fashion industry is having on our environment (and on people in third-world countries!). All Caps HORRENDOUS totally justified. Even though the $4.50 tee-shirt from Forever 21 might seem cheap, the true cost is far reaching. From the genetically modified cotton farms (in Texas and India) where farmers are dying to dangerous factories in Bangladesh in Cambodia (where workers are dying), this eye-opening documentary will make you reconsider if you really need to buy a new shirt every week. The breadth of this documentary—and the breadth of the impact on fast-fashion on the world—is staggering.

Personally, I've always thought the Black Friday shopping frenzy was mildly stupid, but now I find it morally deplorable. There is a life beyond searching for meaning in stuff, and I think the more people can realize that, the better off our planet will be.

2. Cowspiracy

image via
This one was much more difficult for me to watch. Because, though I've always found shopping for clothes kind of boring (I'm known to wear the same striped tee shirt until there are holes in the sleeve...then wear it about 30 more times before getting rid of it), I've always loved eating. And I've loved eating in a no-restrictions kind of way. I've always been very much a carnivore—for my whole life!—and was nervous about watching a documentary that might make me think more closely about what I ate. Well, at my sister's urging, I watched it. And, even though it was shocking—livestock agriculture is literally unsustainable (even grass fed) and polluting the planet and ocean and impacting global warming more than you could imagine—I'm glad I did. Ever since adopting Tywin, I've been leaning into more plant-based meals, and this now has me toying with the idea of going full blown vegetarian here pretty soon. If you're thinking How bad could animal agriculture actually be??? I encourage you to check out this infographic (and then watch it)!


Both of these are available on Netflix and really worth your time (in my opinion). Have you already seen them? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Also, send all other documentary recs my way :)

My Wedding Anti-Diet

Friday, March 25, 2016

Color me clueless, but I lived nearly two decades of my life not even realizing dieting for one's wedding was a thing. I distinctly remember when I realized wedding diets existed in the world at large and how terrible this discovery felt. It felt like the time I realized "sophomore" was not spelled "sophmore"—an error I made consistently for countless years (including "sophmore" year of high school). (To this day, I take spelling much more seriously than dieting, you should too.)

I was in college, and the T.V. blared Royal Wedding coverage (but of course). The news people were discussing....wait for it...Kate Middleton's waistline. What else?

They were showing beautiful pictures of Kate six months ago and beautiful pictures of present day Kate and comparing her waist size in the pictures. Because really? This woman is about to officially become royalty so let's discuss her body at length, shall we? What else could we possibly cover about her? Oh yes, her clothes. Well, we'll cover her wardrobe extensively in the next segment and the next segment and the next segment, don't you worry.

So, one woman says: "I must say, she just looks so much thinner. I'm worried she's starving herself for the wedding."

Second woman responds: "Well, I say, let her do what she wants with her body. It's the most important day of her life. Of course she'd want to be in the best shape possible!"

And this is when I had my miserable epiphany. I can't remember my exact position but it's safe to assume I was sprawled out on the couch inhaling Sour Patch Kids. And I thought, eloquently:

Wait, what? People diet for weddings? Shit.

Because, as an athlete, when I asked myself the question: When should one be in the best shape of one's life? The following answers came to the forefront of my mind:

*When one's playing in the NCAA Tournament
*When one's climbing Mount Everest
*When one's swimming the English Channel
*When one's competing in the Olympics

These, to me, make sense. You should probably (at least attempt) to be in (somewhere near) the best shape of your life when you're participating in a vigorous athletic event. But when one's getting married? When you've found a person who wants to share the rest of your life with you, until death due you part? Why?  Had the stars ever been more misaligned?

I suppose (I admit this is likely an uncommon perspective), for the first 20 years of life I never associated being in shape with appearance. I mean you either can or can't run a mile in under 6 minutes and 30 seconds and it didn't matter how thin you are, if you didn't make your mile time you were benched until you did (this actually happened for my college  basketball team, some of the thinnest girls on the team didn't pass the test).

Of course, flash forward seven years, and now I'm actually planning a wedding and less blissfully naive about society's body standards, and I totally get it. You're going to have to wear a dress in front of tons of people, some of which you haven't seen in years. You're going to be professionally photographed for hours on end. Those photos will be broadcast all over social media, so even friends and friends of friends you purposefully didn't invite will be able to judge how you look and say passive aggressive comments like, "Well she looks nice but that dress just isn't for me, you know?"

So, when we were dress shopping, I had another epiphany to counteract my miserable epiphany of yore: I'm going to buy a dress that fits me. (Note: with my really short guest list, I already had not invited any passive-aggressive dress judgers to my wedding.) Furthermore, being what Cosmo calls "pear-shaped"—I tried on a few tight-all-the-way-down numbers, thought "nope," and told the dress attendant that I'm going to need to buy a dress that "goes out." And, then, the whole dress shopping experience became much easier and more enjoyable.

And therefore, my friends, I present to you the ultimate wedding (anti)diet: BUY A DRESS THAT FITS. THE END.


Read This: My New Author Girl Crush, Liane Moriarty

Monday, March 14, 2016

So every once in a while after I read a book I think, "I need to read every book by this author." It happened right away with Emily Giffin from the moment I finished Something Borrowed and I've loved reading all of her books and staying up to date as her new titles come out ever since (I look forward to her new book First Comes Love, out in June).

Well, I'm excited to report I have another official author girl crush: Liane Moriarty. This Australian writer was highly recommended to me, and as luck would have it my sister Becky bought me "The Husband's Secret" for Christmas, even though I hadn't mentioned the recommendations to her. Becky is an awesome gift giver!

Well, after flying through the Husband's Secret I knew I had to read them all :) My mom found The Hypnotist's Love Story for me half-priced, and I bought Big Little Lies used and read that in under a week, too! So I've read one Liane Moriarty book a month in 2016--not bad! She has 6 novels so these are the ones I've read:

And these are the ones I need to read:
She also writes children's books which I'm totally tempted to read as well.

But what are her books like?, you ask. Glad you asked! To keep the Emily Giffin comparison alive, I'd say she's a darker Emily Giffin. Similarly, her books center around women, but whereas most of Emily's center around, say the 25-30 year-old woman who's struggling to find love (speaking in generalities, of course), most of Moriarty's protagonists are slightly older than that, and most are moms. Or, should I say, since Moriarty is an Australian author, "mums." (Aside: I love the Australian elements thrown into these books. It's fun reading about people on the other side of the world! Who, of course, have a lot in common with us.)

I enjoy love stories, and there are certainly romantic elements weaved in throughout Moriarty's books, but it's not all love. In fact, two of the three books I've read of hers involve a murder--but don't think it's a murder mystery in the traditional sense of a crime-story genre. It's not!

In regards to the writing itself: All of her books (that I've read) are written in third person tight with alternating points of view. I do think a challenge here is, in each book, I did start to care about one point of view more than all of the rest. (I'd love to know, if you read them, which protagonists you preferred.) Regardless of POV, she's great at incorporating humor as she writes, and adept at drilling down to little insights about life that ring so true.

Overall, I find her writing incredible relatable, fun, and full of great tension. The girl will make you want to turn the page! I'd say The Hypnotist's Love Story was my least favorite of the three (not as complex/layered, felt a bit too simple), so I'd recommend starting with The Husband's Secret or Big Little Lies. If you check out the books (or have read them already) I'd love to know what you think! Next up on my Moriarty book list for April: What Alice Forgot which is apparently a tear-jerker. Happy Monday, friends! xx

(First two images of books from the author's website.)

Honeymoon Suggestions: What Should We Do in Oregon?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Of all the wedding decisions (venue! dress! flowers!), the honeymoon location was one of the most exciting for me. Stephen and I love traveling, but, since we dated for long distance for so long (when traveling = going to see the other person), we've only been on 2 big trips by ourselves during our 6+ years of dating.

Two years ago we went to the California coast and then, of course, Spain this past November! Both were wonderful and, well, kind of busy. In California we went from San Fran > Carmel > Yosemite > San Fran, and in Spain we did Madrid > Barcelona > Seville > Madrid.

So, for our honeymoon we had a new criteria: more relaxing. Less doing. This is hard for me as I am, at my core, a do-er. But, our first step of picking a place is complete! We picked a domestic place as I feel the pressures of "oh-my-gosh-we-have-to-do-everything-because-we-are-in-a-different-country-and-may-never-come-back" are relieved. Plus, less guilt for skipping art museums ;)

We booked our tickets last night from Madison to Portland, Oregon. Our loose plan is to explore Portland some, eat delicious food, and then hit a small town on the Oregon Coast (Manzanita? Cannon Beach?) to relax. But I would LOVE to hear all of your Oregon recommendations! From restaurants to activities to just cool places to hang out!

Image via here
Also, would love your opinion on this burning philosophical question: Does honeymooning in Oregon make us the most hipster/granola couple ever?  I don't really identify as a hipster because I don't have hipster style (never wore chunky glasses in my life!). But, of course, I don't really have style per se all unless "I actually woke up like this" counts as a style. (Trust me, I'm not putting that sh*t on Instagram.) (Working from home most of the time does NOT improve my wardrobe, for the record).

And when a friend recently asked where we were honeymooning and I said "We're choosing between the Oregon Coast and Arcadia Park in Maine" I'm pretty sure she gave me a "OMG-you're-a-hipster" look So I'm dying to know how I should appropriately categorize myself here. :)

Thanks in advance for all your Portland and Oregon recommendations!! xx