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Springalingadingdong!

Oh my gosh, you guys! I am SO excited about Spring springing up all over the place. Sorry (yet again) for a long absence. (I think that’s just the way it’s gonna work with me here…) These past few weeks I’ve been picking up new classes (with little kids! Eek!), working overtime, and spending any free time taking walks or enjoying the weather instead of sitting in front of my computer.

I’ve still had time to eat, thank heavens!

A lonnnng time ago, the fabulous Janetha B.’s momma cooked up some pulled chicken. When I saw it on her blog it looked so good that I decided to make up some of my own. I trimmed a coupla chicken breasts, put them in a pot with just enough water to cover, and added several T BBQ sauce, a T or so of apple cider vinegar, some hot sauce, and a pinch of red pepper flakes (sorry for the lack of precision… I eyeball everything). I mixed it up and boiled it until the chicken was cooked through, removed the chicken from the pot and shredded it with forks while the BBQ mixture boiled down a bit. I added the chicken back to the pot, made sure everything was coated, and voila! Dinner for a few days! Lord knows this girl loves her some BBQ, so I’ve actually made this several times in the past 2-3 weeks and enjoyed it in a few different ways, like in pitas with cukes and cheese, with mashed avocado on toast, straight-up, and my personal fave, on salad! Who misses needs Chipotle, anyways?

with mixed greens, carrots, pepper, and cukes

Hmmm…. Looking back on it I’ve eaten this a lot… Gettin’ in my greens, I guess.

And I know this is so far in the past, but I also had a lovely Easter Sunday. One of my students brought me a kulych, which is traditional Easter cake. It is dense and has some raisins in it, but is not overly sweet.

the wrapper says "christ has risen"

I tried it plain, but decided that it would be a delicious addition to oatmeal! So I mixed it in along with a little pot of strawberry yogurt, and it was a fun breakfast treat.

i swear that i eat off of plates, not just out of tupperware containers :)

We went for a long walk all around central Moscow, and the weather was perfect!

same street, different church

the kremlin

We stopped for lunch in a little cafe in Okhotny Ryad (an underground mall) that we’ve walked past a bunch of times without going in, but we finally gave it a chance. It was good! And cheap! I don’t think anyone had to pay more than $10, which is great as far as Moscow prices go :) I had a chicken sandwich. If memory serves me right, it came with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese? Whatever, it was tasty.

The following weekend was kind of crazy, because I went to a Russian bachelorette party type thing! One of the gals from my school is getting hitched, so she reserved a room at a local restaurant/club for a night of dining, dancing, and karaoke singing. It was quite the night, let me tell you!

When we arrived, my jaw dropped at the beautifully laid table, covered in cold snacks (zakuski) like salads, fish, olives, fruit, bread, cheese, and more. It was ridiculous how much food there was.

I tried some new things. Like tongue. Yeah. It is a very common food here, but I’ve never mustered the gumption to try it. But Alya (whom I adore, and can do no wrong in my book) promised me that it was very delicious and tender and that it was worth trying. It was a little weird to get my head around, but in the end I remembered that it’s just like any other meat, so I gave it a go. The verdict? Okay. I won’t race out to have it again, but if it is served to me I will happily eat it.

the tongue looks so ...tongue-y... in the upper right corner

I also ate an unbelievable amount of that cheese because it was sooooo good. Mmmmm. Cheese.

The following day I met Heazy to walk around in a “bubble festival” on Old Arbat. It started as a flash mob a few years ago, and tons of people come to the street to walk around in crazy costumes and wigs, blow bubbles, and share hugs! It was very strange to see, because in my experience Russians are not so open to making themselves look silly. Or hugging strangers. Heazy got hugged, but I dodged out of the way ;)

After that extravaganza, we went across town for another bout of wandering. When we had worked up an appetite, we went to a Ukrainian restaurant, Taras Bulba, to recharge. It was a fun little place, and it had an enormous menu. We both liked our food a lot, thought it was a good portion for the price, appreciated being able to choose the portion size, and agreed that the atmosphere was fun. (So should you visit Moscow, it gets a thumbs up!)

More than one page of their encyclopedic menu featured salo, which is salted lard, usually cured, but sometimes raw. I didn’t try any, but Olga‘s fam knows what’s up

mmm...lard!

I chose vinagret, which is a beet salad (and one of my favorites!) to start. This one was interesting because it had white beans in it, which I’d never seen before.

I chose the small order of stuffed cabbage (goluptsy) for my main dish. And I washed everything down with some honey-lemon kvass, which is a fermented, non-alcholic drink made from bread and yeast. (I think it is like a cousin of kombucha. According to Wikipedia, they are both Russian in origin!)

With full, happy bellies we walked across the Moscow River to get back on the Metro, and were greeted by one of my favorite sights, Red Square from the back (I think it is the south side?). When I see this, it makes me feel like I live in a fairy tale!

How have you been enjoying Spring?

Do you have a local place or sight that makes you happy? Where and why?

Wild Times

Hello! It’s been quite the week in Russia. Last Monday (22 March) there was a plane crash in Domodedovo (the suburb where I live),  two days ago terrorists attacked the subway lines, and earlier today there were two more bombings in southern Russia! A lot of crazy stuff has been happening in my life.

It is really interesting for me to experience and process these things as a foreigner. I won’t bore you with my personal ruminations on current events (but if you’re interested, please shoot me an email!), but between the chaos and confusion that Russians have been experiencing and the fact that I hardly speak Russian to understand what’s being said, it is a lot for my little mind to handle. Talking with my students tonight was really enlightening, because they have various positions (airline pilot, police officer, internal affairs) and relatives who are “important people” and have some interesting information and viewpoints. We agreed that we’ll never know the whole truth about what happened or what’s to come, but it’s been a valuable (albeit nerve wracking and devastating) discussion. My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and if you have a moment to send a positive thought to Russia, do it :) (For the record, no one I know was injured in the bombings, and I am just fine.)

Okay, serious stuff over.

Food?

Food!

On a whim, I bought an eggplant last week. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with said eggplant since I prefer it baked/roasted and have no oven, but I managed nonetheless and whipped up a tasty version of eggplant parm on my stovetop.

topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce, yum yum!

I also made some chicken tender-like things with the same breading (homemade breadcrumbs, flour, seasonings), but they were so good that I ate them all before getting a picture. Whoops. Such things happen.

I did slow down enough to snap a pic of this delightful stir fry inspired by Ellie. Hers looked tasty, so I made some, too! I stir fried chicken, peppers, carrots, onions, and onions in a splash of oil, garlic, and ginger, and added some teriyaki sauce, and ate it with rice.

I saw this highly priced, MSG-laden bottle of teriyaki sauce in my favorite weirdo corner store (weird only because it is quite small but has an interesting and varied selection, and lots of things I only ever see there. Like soy pudding, salad dressing, or cocoa powder) and decided to give it a whirl. I mean, if it’s “fully imported” (???) it’s got to be good, right?

The other wild event of late is that Heazy’s landlord went crazy and kicked her and her roomies out of their apartment with no warning (they don’t have the same rental laws here, so this sort of thing happens sometimes, I guess)! She got moved into a temporary apartment, but it was really uncomfortable, so I had her come visit me for the weekend. And what a weekend it was!

We started out going to a Georgian restaurant, but it was closed for a private party (a crazy looking one at that!). We then decided to go to a place near my house, Cafe Club Bono, which is in a strange building that houses the cinema, an arcade, a restaurant, and a disco. Yup. All in one. They have a little bit of everything on the menu, so we decided to share some sushi (well, avocado and cucumber rolls, since I don’t do fish) and a pizza.

a margherita with added arugula

I’ve had this idea for sushi pizza (still working it out, but it’s going to be great, I swear!), and somehow we decided to try the pizza with the soy sauce. Guys, this was a total win. I kid you not, it tasted really good! I am, however, aware that it sounds strange (maybe even gross) but we were digging it. After our bellies were filled with pizza and seaweed, we sat and finished our drinks, and then decided that we wanted to share a milkshake for dessert. We were trying to catch the waitress’s attention when a big, burly Russian man who worked in the building came to our table. I assumed he wanted our extra chair, but couldn’t understand what the heck he was saying. Something about “leave” and “can’t be here…” I kept asking him to repeat and to talk louder (it was so noisy!), but he just got angry at us! Luckily, one of my students just happened to be sitting at the table next door and she explained that we were in trouble because we had our coats on the backs of our chairs. We decided to forgo the milkshake and the wrath of the burly man and asked for the check. While we were waiting for it, the burly man came back and yelled at us again! Needless to say, we left the money and ran! I can’t believe that I essentially got kicked out of a club for my coat! Hmph. I didn’t even get to dance on the tables!

We’ve finally been experiencing some beautiful weather, so Heazy and I went for a long, long walk.

That says "airport" and is in the middle of the city... In what appears to be a cross between a dump and storage units?

war memorials!

it was a beautiful sunset over the urban sprawl...

all the snow and ice melts, but the water has nowhere to go. every yard and half the sidewalks are ponds now. usually there aren't handy footbridges like this one!

Somehow, our walk mysteriously ended at Baskin Robbins… Strange. We got sundaes. They were delicious.

i had a scoop of rocky road and a scoop of cookies n cream!

But since that didn’t qualify for real dinner and I had few groceries at home, we decided to go out to eat again. Where to go? Well, how about Cafe Club Bono? (Uhm, there are not to many options where I live….) This time we did not get kicked out, either :D I enjoyed a very tasty Caesar salad with chicken.

Monday (29 March) was pretty intense with the morning news. We took a slightly nervy trip into the center of Moscow. Feeling nervous works up a hunger! We stopped at a restaurant called Moo-Moo for lunch (I swear, I don’t usually eat out so much! Like I said, it’s been a wild week!). The serve up pretty typical Russian food cafeteria style, with big portions and low prices. Plus, their plates and bowls have cow print on them. I ordered an American coffee (not instant!), a bowl of borsch, grechka (buckwheat) and some meat in tomato sauce thing. It was delightful. And only cost $8. :)

After a day of walking around the city (very strange to think that there was utter chaos hours before, but that life continued to go on as normal–just fewer people on the metro and police dogs everywhere), I made it home, safe and sound.

Sadly (and scarily), I don’t think that this renewed conflict with the Caucasus is going to go away soon, especially considering today’s bombings in Dagestan (the republic next to Chechnya)… It is a strange time. So please think positive, peaceful thoughts for the people of Russia!

When’s the last time you went on a long walk? I’ve been going for walks a lot since the weather has been getting nicer. It’s one of my favorite ways to relax, and it’s good exercise! I went on a long one this afternoon.

Has anything wild happened in your life this past week? It’s been a pretty exciting week for me, to say the least.

Hi! Remember me? Maybe?

My apologies for the lengthy hiatus, but I just needed a break from blogging. But, now I’m back–turning over a new leaf with the arrival of Spring!

I’m mighty jealous of all of you in the States who are pulling out your skirts and sandals and sipping on your iced coffees. It is definitely getting sunnier and warmer here, but it won’t be that nice out for a while yet. In fact, we welcomed the first day of Spring with snow/rain and really strong gusts! It was nasty out! There is still a lot of snow on the ground here, but it seems to be melting slowly but surely. There are small lakes in every yard and the streets are practically rivers, so I’m keeping optimistic that I will know warm weather once again :)

So. How have you been spending your time? The past two months have been interesting for me! New friends, new shenanigans, and of course, some tasty food. Shall we get down to it? I’ll give you the greatest hits version of my semi-recent Russian adventures.

I’ve been a little soup-cooking maven. I make a pot or two a week! Soup is definitely my favorite savory food. Some highlights:

borsch!

tomato soup! (with a janetha-style spoon shot!)

beer-chicken soup! (the chicken is marinated and cooked in beer--try it, it adds a really tasty, rich flavor)

tortilla soup!

garlic soup!

There were other soups, but not many other photos. I have discovered/developed a great baked potato soup recipe, but for mysterious reasons, I can’t find any pictures of it …but I know I took some. Oh, well, here’s a picture of a loaded baked potato instead:

loaded with broccoli, cheese, "bacon," and a dollop of sour cream. this tasted like america. yessss.

Another all-American favorite? Macaroni and cheese. I love the stuff. Unfortunately, mac ‘n’ cheese in a box does not exist here, and I didn’t have enough room to bring a vault of Annie’s along with me. So I did it the old-fashioned way with real shredded cheese, milk, and spices. I also snuck some veggies in there by finely grating carrots and zucchini and adding them to the cheese mix along with some sauteed garlic and onion. Let me tell you, my Soviet-style makaroni is super tasty.

i don't have an oven, so i crisp-itized it in my pan...

Even though I didn’t bring macaroni with me, I did stock up on lots of peanut butter. One day, it dawned on me that despite my efforts, I probably won’t eat it all before summer, and that I don’t have to carefully ration each day’s portion. So I got a little nutty and whipped up noodles in peanut sauce! I melted some pb in a pan with a little soy sauce, garlic, lemon (limes are hard to find around here–weird, huh?), ginger, cayenne, and a pinch of sugar . Then I mixed it up with some noodles, broccoli, pepper, carrot, and green onion. I think I can toot my own horn for this one, because it was hella good. toot!

Since Lent started, I’ve been pleased to find a plethora of new vegetarian items. In general, vegetarian foods are hard to come by here; there is a lot of meat all over the place. However, I’ve been able to find tofu recently, and let me tell you, life is great! It isn’t the same as what we get in the US, but it tastes pretty good nonetheless. Oh, and it’s $1 per pack. I think I can handle that…  :D So tofu tenders have been a big hit with me for the past couple of weeks.

with a plop of bbq sauce--yum!

And, of course, I’ve been eating plenty of oatmeal. There is a saying/rhyme in Russian, shchi i kasha, pishcha nasha, which doesn’t sound so cute in English: cabbage soup and oatmeal are our foods. The point is, oatmeal is the breakfast food of choice in these parts. Usually I go with a pretty standard bowl with apple or banana, cinnamon, and pb. But I made two excellent bowls last week that I want to share with you.

The first is just pretty. Tropical oats! Which I drank with some tea that is called “Jungle Holiday.” No, really, it is. It was a festive breakfast.

made with oats, milk, and banana, then topped with pineapple, kiwi, and raspberry preserves

And then I invented a marvelous concoction: carrot cake oats! I didn’t know if this would work out, but it tasted awfully good! Plus, I felt like a cool kid for eating carrots at breakfast.

and the view out my kitchen window

This little bowlful of joy was easy to make. I heated 1/2 a sliced banana and a finely shredded carrot in milk, when it was starting to boil, I poured in the oats. Part way through cooking, I stirred in a bit of chopped pineapple (and would have added a few walnuts, but I didn’t have any, oops) and about a teaspoon of honey. I sprinkled in some cinnamon and ginger for good measure. When the oats were cooked, I topped them with a little vanilla yogurt to imitate that yummy cream cheese frosting. I think it’s a winner!

Okay. This is a mondo huge post. I’ll be back later with more. You deserve a rest. BYE!

A couple gratuitous pictures for you:

that is a VAN under there

We used to have a lot of snow. According to my students, it was a pretty rough winter, and a worse one than they’ve had for the past several years. I’m so glad we’re mostly done with snow for the season…

can you spot my friend andrey?

When it started to get a little bit warmer, most buildings had to put security tape around them so that people wouldn’t walk too close to the buildings. What’s the danger in walking next to a building, you ask? Well, there are giant icicles that develop and when it gets warm, they fall off the buildings! People die every year by being impaled by icicles! Death by icicle?!? Fact. There was a really big one that seemed ready to drop off, and a lot of people gathered outside to see what would happen.

Lastly, fill me in:

What’s your current temperature? Right now, it is about 34, but it feels so good! It might get up to the low 50s next week! Woo hoo!

Do you prefer cooking for yourself, or cooking for others? I love cooking for other people! When it’s just me, I don’t feel like putting in the effort to get too fancy, but when there’s someone there to eat it, I like to go all out and make something fun for dinner. I had a ball cooking garlic soup for my friends for lunch yesterday. It was a pleasant surprise :)

Winter Blues

First off, I would like to introduce you all to my super-awesome friend Ryan, who has just started his own food blog, FoodGrind! He’s been working in a Twin Cities restaurant for the past 6 months or so, and has a lot of downright useful tips for both creative cooking and the basics. Plus, you might be interested in a guy’s point of view… dirty jokes included. There’s no tofu, but he already has posted recipes for overnight pickles and bacon jam. Yeah, seriously. So I invite you to check out his blog!

bloggin' buddies!

So, Winter’s got me down. I think Seasonal Affective Disorder type things are taking a toll. When I was home, I went to the doctor, who said I am probably Vitamin D deficient; a blood test showed that my VitaD levels are pretty much in the toilet. And when there is sun here in Moscow, it is so cold that walking around outside isn’t very pleasant–not that my skin is exposed to soak up the sun anyways. Ick. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been feeling lethargic and unmotivated to do things. And super headachey (runs in the fam–lucky me, I get week-long cluster headaches) which has been making me grumpy, too. I cannot wait for it to warm up so that I can feel lively again. But I know I can’t mope around until March, so I’ve tried to be a little bit proactive about being active.

Even though I felt like butt over the weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and venture out to spend some time with Heazie B (aka Heather) in the big city. We decided to go to Le Quotidien, a French bakery chain that I guess is all over Europe. It’s no Pekarti, but I like it a lot because the atmosphere is really inviting and the food is of good quality. We sat and gabbed for a long time while sipping on coffee…

served in a bowl!

Eventually we got hungry, and ordered some food, too. For some reason, I got the Russian menu, and Heather’s was in English… I think I’ll take that as a compliment, and not a fluke. Anything to boost the ol’ ego, right?

I ended up getting a cup of potato leek soup that was served with brown bread. It was very tasty and filling. And according to the English menu, vegan? Mine just said vegetarian po-russkii.

and yeah, i ate that dill.

After what must have been 3 hours, we finally left the cafe behind and ventured into the cold, cold streets. We wandered around looking for something intriguing to eat for dinner, but weren’t finding the right places. At some point, we didn’t really know where we were anymore, and were mighty thankful to finally come across a Metro (and a bit of warmth!). Since I was getting really hungry, really fast, I suggested that we go right into the center and eat at Okhatny Ryad, an underground shopping mall right outside of Red Square. At the very least, we would be able to find something reliable and affordable.

We ended up going to Il Patio, an Italian restaurant that has pretty decent dishes and prices. I started off with a nice leafy salad.

And then we carb loaded by sharing focaccia with a picante tomato sauce and a four-cheese pizza with walnuts. The last time we went to Il Patio, we ordered a veggie pizza that had no cheese, and this time we realized our pizza had no sauce! Man, we’ve got to read the menus more closely…

....and i ate the basil and strawb atop the pizza....

Finally, we decided to splurge all the way and get ice cream, too. (Are you really surprised? C’mon, people.) I got a treat called Peach Melba, which was vanilla ice cream with strawberries and almonds, topped with half a peach. It was delicious.

i ate that mint, too.

Back in the comfort of my own home, I’ve been eating some old favorites. I made a yogurt mess with tvorog (an acceptable substitute for Greek yogurt), warmed frozen blueberries with a sprinkle of sugar, and a few shakes of Saigon Cinnamon (if you haven’t tried this, go out and get it. For a topping, the flavor is so much richer. McCormick makes it).

I cooked up a lazy dinner of spaghetti (aka the ultimate comfort food) with tons of veggie-rific sauce…

And I’ve been reconnecting with an old friend, Carrot Salad.

yup, eaten straight out of the container... classy!

And then yesterday, I made myself a little get-happy project: to cook up a pot of borsch! I’ve been meaning to make some for a very long time, but just haven’t got around to it. But yesterday was a perfect day to git ‘er done.

Borsch is very easy, and very easy to make “your own.” There is a saying that there are as many borsch recipes as there are kitchens in Russia (or, ahem, Ukraine. It’s actually a Ukrainian soup!) so it can definitely be altered to suit your own tastes. Here is the recipe that I learned from my host mother from study abroad in 2007. I made it vegetarian, here, but it is very good with meat or chicken, too. Just put it in the pot at the beginning, boil until tender, and skim off the fat as necessary.

To start, put about 2 liters of water in a pot to boil. Meanwhile, cut up 2 potatoes into bite-sized pieces and sliver 1/2 a small cabbage. Add them to the pot along with 2 bay leaves and a few peppercorns.

all chopped up! oh, ps, this is all of my counter space. not kidding.

In a saucepan, melt about 1.5 T butter. Of course, you can use olive oil, but I think the flavor is better with the butter (actually, when my host mom taught me, she used a hunk of pork fat!). Saute 1 chopped onion, 2-3 cloves garlic until they’re starting to get soft. Then add a large, shredded carrot (if you have the time and skill to matchstick/julienne, that works even better), 2 chopped tomatoes, and 1/2 a shredded beet. In the US, the beets are teeny-tiny, I would estimate that 2-3 beets there are the same size as one here. Sorry I forgot to take a picture for size reference. But either 3 little ones or one huge one… Cook them in the butter and cover with the pan lid for about 10 minutes.

look at the pretty colors!

Add the veggies to the pot. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and dill (plus anything else you like). At this point, I added another t or so of butter to the soup. Let the soup simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Then, add the other 1/2 of the shredded beet to the soup. Cook for another five minutes and then serve with sour cream and fresh dill.

Two handy hints for working with the beets: First, to reduce purple hands, rub your hands with olive oil or butter, it really helps to prevent staining; of course, wipe up any beet juice that gets on the counter, and do not wear your favorite clothes while shredding beets. It’s just a bad idea :) Second, the longer you wait to add your beets, the more purple your soup will be. If you cook them for a long time, your soup will probably turn brown (if that’s okay, cool, but I like the reddish-purpley color, myself). If you have it as leftovers, you can toss in a tablespoon of reserved shredded beets while you warm up the soup, and it will bring back the pretty color.

Cooking that was definitely a mood-brightener! I swear, I’m gonna send some to the beet-hating Obama. This stuff is good to look at, and delicious to eat–how could anyone hate a beet?!?

Well, that’s all for now folks. Until someday soon!

Oh, wait! Holly is hosting a giveaway! Enter here.

My gratuitous picture isn’t that exciting… But I had to show you this ginormous carrot! Seriously, how big is this thing? I told you that US produce is little in comparison ;) I think it’s about 11″ long, and 3″ thick at the top. Sheesh.

Do you get the Winter Blues? How do you cheer yourself up? Mmhmm. I have to make myself little projects, like cooking or making something. Going out with friends helps, too!

What’s your favorite comfort food? Spaghetti. Love it. So much. And maybe chicken fingers. They’re pretty great, too, in my book.

Do you eat garnishes in restaurants? I don’t know if it is a faux pas, but I really like them… So yes, I eat the little leaves and fruit bits that come next to my meals. They’re refreshing!

I Make It Snow

So, maybe Lil Wayne can make it rain, but did you know I can make it snow? (I am the best rapper alive. Obviously. Swagger right, check, game tight.) No, seriously, I made my own snow the other day! As I was walking to work, it was so cold that my breath was freezing in the air and crystallizing on my hair. Thus, snow! Photographic evidence:

um, not the most flattering shot, but you get the idea....

Unfortunately, I lost that awesome hat (thanks, Alia!) last night somewhere between being on the bus and getting off it… I realized it was missing pretty quick since my head was freezing (figuratively, not literally, this time). I even managed to catch the bus driver at the depot/station and get on to look for it, but it was gone! Mysterious. And sucky, because now how am I gonna keep warm?

Well,  one answer might be piping hot oatmeal. (Nice segue, eh?) I’ve had plenty recently, but here are two notable bowls.

The first, with a trio of peanut butters, Super Chunky, Dark Chocolate Dreams, and White Chocolate Wonderful. I was living it up with all three pbs, but I think in the future, I’ll just stick to one at a time. It was a pretty nutty combination. (Ha!)

And this little beauty was full of chopped apple, and topped with peanut butter, cinnamon, and toasted pumpkin seeds. A stellar combo, I highly recommend it!

I also made my second-ever pot of chili. I made it vegetarian this time and it came out so, so great! It was delicious, nutritious, and fed me for a week…

In a large pot, I heated up a splop of olive oil, and added 1 chopped carrot and 1/2 a bell pepper. After letting it cook for several minutes, I added in one clove of minced garlic and 1 chopped onion (medium, white), and let the veggies cook until tender. Then I added 1 can of white beans in tomato sauce, 1 can of kidney beans in “Chile” sauce, and 1 drained can of kidney beans. Next I added some (drained) canned sweet corn (I think it was about 1 cup, the can was an odd size, so I’m not sure). Finally, I plopped in a very heaping tablespoon of tomato paste and 1/2 a large jar of canned tomatoes in juice in the pot, and added a bit of water so it was the right consistency. I seasoned everything with chili powder, crushed red pepper, my spice blend, and a few dashes of hot sauce, and a few pinches of salt. I let it all simmer on the stove for about an hour while I worked up my appetite. It was very satisfying topped with sour cream :) And satisfying that it was effortless :D

Caro and I went out for our regular Japanese food. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the pictures of miso soup variety du jour and cucumber/avocado rolls before, so I’ll leave these blurry ones out (it was very dark inside, and my camera sucks in anything but bright lights). We did however, veer from the norm and ordered a blackberry tart thing for dessert. It looked so intriguing and delicious that we couldn’t resist sharing it.

Too bad that this was really, really bad. We ate it, both hoping for a bite that would justify this thing as a “dessert” worth ordering. Man, it was just dry and dull and flavorless. Blech.

Luckily, this dessert, which I enjoyed with Heather at our favorite French bakery-cafe, was not disappointing. (It wasn’t actually dessert, either, since we ate it before lunner, but whatever…) I had an especially good chocolate croissant (my fave!) and a latte. Life is good.

Heather’s roommate joined us after a bit, and we all went to get an actual meal at a place around the corner. We didn’t really know what kind of place it was, but luckily they had a late-running business lunch. We ordered soup and salad deals for about $7. Nice. I had a chicken Caesar salad…

….and a bowl of borsch that really did not want to be photographed. I swear, I took 5 pictures and this is the least blurry of them!

Oh, we all had little pots of tea, too, which might explain the array of white ceramic things all over the table… Yup.

Well, I am feeling tired, and I’ve got a gChat date, so let’s leave it at this for now.

More pictures soon.

Here’s a gratuitous one for you:

This is a sneaky picture I took in the Yeliseyev Gorcery store on Tverskaya. It is a foodie heaven, with a great selection, and lots of nice, imported goods. It is in a pre-revolutionary mansion that was owned by a famous merchant, and there are chandeliers galore. I can’t believe I’d never gone in before!!! I was actually rather surprised that the prices weren’t that bad. They were a little bit higher than at other stores, but really not by much!

I also took a picture of the peanut butter. There were 2 kinds, creamy and crunchy, from the same brand. That’s it. They all cost $9 (exchange rate is 29.8 roubles to the dollar)… Yeah. That’s what I’m up against. Sighh….

Questions for ya:

What’s the current temperature where you are? I think right now it is about -5F, and the highs for the first part of the week will be around 2-3. But at the end of the week, it’s supposed to be 20! Yeehaw! I’m getting out my bikini!

What is your favorite bakery item/pastry? I love chocolate croissants times a million. The other ways to clog my heart are with soft cookies and donuts. But they ain’t as classy…

Random Mishmash

Hey there, homeskillets. Sorry for bouncin’ on you like that. Time at home was too good to spend sitting at the computer, and I’ve been trying to resettle back into Russian Life for the past week or so. Oh, and I lost my camera card. Whoops. So, here I present to you a slew of random photos taken over a few weeks.

Good thing about being home #1: going out with friends. My girlie-o Jill and I went out a couple of times. Once was to Applebee’s, where I haven’t been in yeeeaaars, but it was so cold, we didn’t want to go anywhere that was farther. I had the Paradise Chicken Salad, which was surprisingly good.

I forgot to ask for the dressing on the side, but luckily, they didn’t drown the salad in it. Overall, pretty tasty. I like fruit chunks in my salads, and there was plenty of flavor here.

Jill suggested we get dessert, too, but we couldn’t agree on one thing (she wanted a maple blondie, but I don’t care for maple flavor….), so we went our separate ways. She got the maple blondie, and I got two of the dessert shooters, chocolate mousse and hot fudge sundae.

Hi, Jilly!

I thought they were actually in shot glasses—because at this size, one was enough! I ate a bit of both, but it was too much chocolate to eat it all. But considering the size of these things they’re a good deal for $1.99!

Good thing about being home #2: someone else cooking for me. You saw a taste of my stepmom’s kitchen skillz in the previous post, but my bio-mom is a great cook as well. When I was there for New Year’s, she cooked me a Thanksgiving-style dinner, since I missed being with my family in November (awwww). Since I lost my camera cord, I took pics on my mom’s camera, which, of course, I forgot to transfer onto my own computer… So you can’t see the whole meal, but here’s our giant turkey!

ummm... i may or may not have been nomming the missing wing while taking the photo :)

It made some badass leftover meals. (I LOVE holiday leftovers!!!) I made a take on my favorite sandwich, the post-Thanksgiving pile o’ everything. But I had the clever idea of using cold gravy as a spread on my bread (no mayo needed!), toasting it, and then composing the rest of my sandie with the requisite turkey, lettuce, cranberry sauce, veggie bits, and whatever else I no longer recall putting on there.

It was also nice to have my family’s traditional New Year’s dinner, pork, sauerkraut, potatoes, applesauce, homemade bread, and cranberries. It is a very beige meal, now that I look at it! At least it’s tasty.

My mom also had about twenty gajillion different kinds of cookies prepared while I was there. So sweets abounded. And then she made pie! Gee, Momma, you treat us right!

pie in the front, cookies in the back!

Good thing about being home #3: going out for breakfast. I LOVE going out for breakfast, it’s so fun for me, and always tastes so good. Lucky me, I had the opportunity to go to my favorite breakfast joint a couple more times when I was home. Once I went with my stepmom and ordered something I’d never tried before, but had seen on the menu for years. The Mexican Mashed meal was a layer of mashed potatoes mixed with corn and chorizo sausage, plus two eggs, served with a chipotle dipping sauce and toast.

I’m not gonna lie, this wasn’t my favorite thing I’ve had there. It seems like a fun idea, but it was just way too heavy for me. I did enjoy my toast, though! I got the homemade cinnamon raisin bread. Just look at all that cinnamon goodness!

I went back on my very last day in the U.S. of A. with Jill and her fiancé, and did get my favorite meal there, the Guy Scramble. It’s eggs mixed with black beans, salsa, avocado, cheese—nothing too fancy. This is something I have tried to replicate on my own, and while my version is good, The Friendly Toast’s reigns supreme.

It is just so much better when they make it for me. I ate up all my eggs, some of my homefries, and more of that luscious cinnamon raisin toast. Mmmm…. When you get it with a mug of hot cocoa with homemade whipped cream, you’ve got a little slice of heaven!

Then, for me, it was time to hop on an airplane, fly halfway across the world, and settle in again in our beloved city of Domodedovo.

It has been a hard week coming back. I’ve realized just how much I miss my family and friends in the US. I took it easy, watching a lot of American TV on the Internet and trying to get back in the groove of things here.

I went out a couple of times with my friends here to catch up and compare holidays. I met Caro by chance (I kid you not, we literally bumped into each other!) in Moscow, so we decided to let Fate do her job and spent the rest of the day together. We seem to go out for Japanese a lot, and we hit up another place near Aleksandrovkii Sad (Aleksander’s Garden, near the Kremlin). I tend to get the same thing again and again… Avocado rolls and soup (unfortunately, I haven’t learned to love fish sushi yet. It’s something about the texture… Any ideas how to get over that?). This soup was called Samurai Curry (I think) and was supposed to be quite spicy. I really wish that Russians knew the meaning of “spicy,” but otherwise the soup was all right. It had nice chunks of chicken, green onion, whatever was making it “spicy,” egg, tomato, and tofu in a miso-style broth.

Caro, at least, is more adventuresome than I am. She got this fabulous-looking dish. I think it was a variation on Philadelphia rolls… I just loved the presentation!

I also hit up the Starlite Diner, my American foods home away from home, with another friend. I was thisclose to getting something chock full of veggies (!!!), and then changed my mind at the last moment and got a buffalo chicken wrap. It is a favorite of mine: I mean, buffalo chicken? Yes, please!

Unfortunately, while the buffalo flavor was okay, there was waaaaay too much of the “crispy” part of the chicken, and it ended up being a weird texture (because so many bites were just “crispiness.” Eww)… And there was a LOT of mayo on it. So, a good experiment, but I guess I’ll leave buffalo chicken wraps to the American kitchens…  Oh, well. Now I know!

So that’s what I’ve been up to.

What have you been up to for the past 3 weeks? What’s the best/most interesting/most exciting thing that has happened to you? Hmmm…. I guess the most interesting thing is that I’m back in Russia… The best part was visiting my family when I was home, of course J

Hashbrowns or homefries? HOMEFRIES>hashbrowns. Forever.

Before and After

…the holidays, that is!

Because let me tell you, the days before Christmas were pretty swell!

First of all–I have to share with blogland because I am SO EXCITED–my two best buds got engaged. To each other. Can we get a round of “awwwww“? Yeah. I have been downright giddy since hearing this news.

Second of all, I got a pre-Christmas miracle when the Boy got to visit. Rumor has it, he hasn’t had two consecutive days off from work in about 4 months. And, at the last minute, he got 3 days off and a plane ticket! Yay! Especially since I haven’t seen him since August!

Oh, yeah, and there’s this little thing called being home, and not stuck on my lonesome in Russia. ;)

So… at the beginning of last week, we went to the Boston Pops holiday concert, a yearly family tradition. Before we got there, I was starvin’ like a Marvin, so the fam ducked into WF (!) and I finally got to try one of the Amazing Grass SuperFood protein bars. Am I the last person on earth to try these? I think so. I grabbed the Peanut Butter flavor to savor.

Overall, it was all right. I was impressed by how green the bar actually was inside. I liked the texture of it; it was chewy and dense. And it was nice and filling without sitting like a rock in my stomach. However, the peanut taste wasn’t very rich, and I would definitely have preferred it to be a stronger flavor. The taste if the bar itself was all right, it definitely tasted “green” and had a bit of sweetness that wasn’t overpowering or gross. So maybe a B-? I would try another Amazing Grass bar, but not in the peanut flavor. You can read nutritional info here.

After the concert (which was quite lovely, thanks for asking) we went to a little Vietnamese/Thai restaurant that was next door. I ordered Pho with flank steak.

The next morn, the Boy and I woke up bright and early, and I dragged him to my all-time favorite breakfast joint, the Friendly Toast. Since I occasionally have homesickness for certain foods from this restaurant (proof!), Luke was excited to finally eat there. He ordered a special, named “Tostada My Kwanzaa,” which I couldn’t resist taking a picture of. It was kind of crazy: tortillas, eggs, chorizo, corn, and some cheesy sauce. Obvi, I had to try it, and it was pretty tasty.

I tried something I’d never had or heard of before (maybe it is new to the menu??), Ole Miss. It was a piece of cayenne-cheddar toast topped with spiced, mashed sweet potatoes, scrambled eggs, and mango-sour cream goodness. With a side of homefries. Good lord was this a lot of food. Delicious, delicious food.

Then I took my gentleman friend on a tour of the Seacoast. We went all over the place, it seemed. If I’ve counted correctly, we were in 7 different towns in two states! After a while, we stopped for a classic New England activity: candlepin bowling. (It does exist!) It is a kind of bowling unique to New England and parts of Canada. Everything is much smaller–the balls are about the size of softballs, and the pins are about 1/3 the diameter of regular bowling pins. And you get to roll three times without clearing the fallen pins. It is much harder than regular bowling–no one has ever scored a perfect 300! But it is also much more fun ;)

Gearing up for a strike, I'm sure!

Clearly, this was good exercise, because we worked up hearty appetites. I dragged Luke to my favorite pizza place, Flatbread Pizza Co., for dinner. We started by sharing their awesome salad, a mix of organic lettuces, chopped celery and carrots, toasted sesame seeds, seaweed, and a berry vinaigrette.

We each ordered a small flatbread. Luke got the homemade sausage, and I ordered one with chicken, corn, black beans, and fire-roasted tomatoes that was topped with a dollop of sour cream and a lime wedge. We were eatin’ good, let me tell you!

sausage on left, chicken on right

The next day, which was Luke’s last, we had to do one more New England-y thing. Hit up a genuine clam shack for some fried fish. Yup. I talked him into going all out and getting a fried clam basket. I got chicken tenders…. I am pretty sure that other than coleslaw, there was not a single vegetable listed on that menu! No salads, no sides… However, everything was fresh and homemade, which counts for something (other than a vegetable serving).

Also, rumor has it that New Englanders eat more ice cream per capita than anywhere else. So….

..."when in Rome," right?

After I put Luke on a plane back home, it was crazy-home-times for me with the holidays. But after crazy-times come relaxing-times!

Saturday and Sunday were spent sitting next to the fire, reading, playing with the animals, and snoozing thinking deep, philosophical thoughts. (Yes, I have determined the meaning of life, why the sky is blue, and if your blue is my blue. Book and speaking tour coming soon… j/k.)

I got to enjoy one of the best parts of the holidays to the full extent–leftovers. There is a Russian saying, “ostanki–sladki,” which means that the leftovers are the sweetest part. A truth in my book.

ravioli and cider

Eating “dessert” for “breakfast” is pretty great, too.

Yes, that would be a piece of fruitcake. My stepmom made the most delicious fruitcake in the history of fruitcakes. Actually, I hesitate to even call it fruitcake, because it is so rich, and moist, and chewy, and wonderful. It does not resemble that rock-hard mass of red and green candied fruitbits in any way. It’s made with whole wheat flour and lots of medjool dates. If I can wrestle the recipe out of her, I will–I’ve got a sense it’s pretty healthy, too!

However, now it is back to real life. Running errands, tidying stuff up, going to the dentist, etc. In all honesty, I actually gotta jet to get my teeth cleaned right now… Eep!

Have a super-swell day, friendsters.

Do you like your leftovers straight-up, or do you invent new dishes with them? For me, it depends what’s left over, and how much there is! With holiday dinners, it’s special food that we only have occasionally, so I just like to reheat my favorite parts.

Bowling. Yay or Nay? Super huge YAY! Durhh. Loves it.

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