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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Some Grilling Notes

Grilled vegetables.The grilling season is upon us, so it’s time to expand our summer cooking horizons. Our most infallible item is still grilled salmon, but we’ve tried a few new things as well.

Salmon


Ridgefield's summers are great.I marinated the salmon in mixed garlic-lemon zest-lemon juice-olive oil-salt mixture last time. It had a bit of added flavor, but on the down side it separated from the skin and somewhat fell apart on the grill. I still like it as a variation of the plain grilled salmon, which I’ve grew quite tired off by now.

Grilled Italian sausages


Ignat, Vika and Alisa weekend.Of course we’ve grilled them before, but on occasion they were under-cooked inside or somewhat burned outside. So after doing some research we found that the secret step to insure evenly cooked, juicy and crispy on the outside sausages is poaching. Pretty much you put them in cold water, bring to a boil, let simmer minute, turn the heat off and let them cool in the pot.

Roasted peppers and onions


Welcoming summer.This is not a dish cooked on the grill, but it came out so nice, that I wanted to put it here before I forgot all about it. We found the recipe bounded together with the sausage recipe. Just in case the link will stop working: I mixed 6 bell peppers, large sweet onion, 6 tomatoes, 4 garlic cloves, a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil. The vegetables were julienned, cut and sliced to my liking. I did not have any fresh basil on hand, but I’m sure adding it would have only enhanced the flavors. I roasted the vegetables in 370 F degree oven for a little over an hour, turning twice.

Steak


Thick ribeye steak.This is not a new item for us either, but Daniel keeps experimenting with different cuts of meat. He figured out that the steak thinner than an inch comes out too dry and he actually liked the 2 inch rib eye the most so far. I marinated it in salt, pepper, oil and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce for about an hour. Not sure if that made the meat better, but it’s a possibility.

Corn


Marshmallows.We used to grill corn wrapped in foil, but I wanted to see if we can avoid this time consuming and waste-producing step. Turns out that you can. More over, the cooking time is shorter and the corn has more flavor! So we simply removed the husks, grilled the corn on medium heat for about 10 minutes turning once and rubbed it with butter right after, while it was still hot.

Pineapple


Grilled pineapple.We always loved pineapple in Brazilian steakhouses, but never grilled it at home before. I think Ilya got us excited about grilling it after our Canadian trip, so we tried it and the results were pretty nice. The process is simple — cut pineapple in wedges first, then cut the core and the skin off, then coat with a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon and grill.

Pork


Well done marshmallows.We’ve tried some recipe last year, but I can’t remember what it was. This time we marinated pork chops in mashed onion (I used an immersion blender to mash it), salt and pepper mixture. This is actually the recipe that I got from Illona for pork shish kebab, but we don’t have a mangal yet, so we just tried it with chops. They came out pretty well — soft and onion-y.

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Memorial Day Weekend

Garden with red mulch.This year our Memorial Day weekend ended up being a kind of suburban super-event. We’ve spent three and a half days working on our yard, front and back and have started, moved along and completed a large number of projects.

So I just wanted to do a diary kind of post and list out a bunch of these things in sequence.

Front yard with freshly cut grass.I had a half day at work on Friday because of an incoming long weekend. We’ve started with mowing the lawn right after arrival of my dad and my sister for their long weekend stay.

My dad asked us not to do the whole lawn ahead of their arrival because he loves the smell of a fresh cut grass.

Hydrangea.Speaking of mowers — we have purchased an electric Ego mower powered by a massive battery that lasts for a good hour and a half on a self-propelled machine. No messing with gasoline, no oil changes, no hard starts. Press a button and it runs.

In fact we were so impressed with it that now we have a full set of Ego tools — a wire grass trimmer, a chain saw, a hedge trimmer and as of this weekend a leaf blower for small clean-up jobs that can be used in place of a usual sweeper.

Leveling the sand.Back to the diary — we installed three large stepping stones next to our trash bins for easier access. And we finished fully mulching our “mid-yard” — total 10 bags of red mulch used. Home Depot had them on sale for $2 per bag.

Towards the end of Friday we marked down the area for our shed walkway with stakes and orange string.

Marking off the new portion.And at the end of the day I drove down to a local train station to pick up my mom who was coming down directly from Manhattan after her work day.

This was the first time that my parents decided to arrive separately — the reason for that was a nightmarish traffic that can precede a long weekend. Dad and sister drove out in the morning and missed it all and trains are trains.

Digging.On Saturday morning Alena took Arosha to taekwondo make up class and took my dad and Anna along with them for a walk in a park after the class.

Meanwhile my mom and Lina were busy making a massive lunch-dinner meal for the family — manti. Probably one of my favorite dishes, but it is very time and labor intensive to prepare.

Gravel.When Alena arrived we started digging the foundation of our shed walk. It was going very slowly. The soil was filled with gravel and we had to work our way through it with picks — these were kindly gifted to us by one of our neighbors.

After eating our lunch we proceeded to dig further and made good progress for the day.

Almost done.Also I went through our lawn with a rake to collect all the excess grass that was left by a mower a day before. The grass grows really quickly this time of the year and we decided to leave the grass on the lawn instead of bagging it.

In retrospect this was not a right decision, but an easily correctable one.

Grilling.Also we spend a good amount of time on walking around our whole property and cutting down parasitic vines off our trees. Some were chocking trees, some were just starting, but we had a lot. We used a big wire-cutters and an axe when that wouldn’t work.

After running through bushes, grass and tick-untreated areas we all did a mandatory shower and tick check — one of the dark sides of life in Connecticut.

Salmon and steak.We finished the Saturday with putting kids to bed and had a nice conversation for several hours in our kitchen with parents and Lina.

Sunday was started with work on the dig. And we only finally completed that job on Monday. We took out a large number of huge boulders out of the earth during the process.

Lunch on the porch.Then I took a drive to a local supermarket to acquire provisions for grilling. I bought three 2-inch thick steaks, a medium-sized salmon filet, 8 burger patties, vegetables and grilling beans.

The steaks, fish and vegetables we grilled for lunch. Everyone seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

Spruce and lilac.After lunch I used our manual aerator to lift up a bunch of soil in the areas of backyard where we are growing new grass — quite successfully so far.

We felt that we could’ve put down more seed during our initial sowing, so I repeated the process in the areas that seemed sparse with new grass.

Mulched bushes.When I was done with grass we got into our cars and went to a highly recommended nursery in Bethel — Hollandia Nursery.

My mom wanted to get us a new plan and she settled down on hydrangea. And Alena and I got a pair of our long-standing wishes fulfilled. Alena loves lilac and we bought a young plant for ourselves. And I wanted to get an evergreen tree for the longest time — so we got a young spruce.

Lilac.Then we rearranged out empty planting bed. We moved one of the bushes we planted last year closer to the center and planted our spruce close to the steps and our lilac to the opposite end of the bed.

For all these plants we started with peat moss “soup”, then backfilled it with earth and added fertilizer on top. The final touch should’ve been mulch which we didn’t have any left of.

Mulch.So Alena, my mom and I got into the car and went to Home Depot. We ended up buying another 14 bags of red mulch. My mom got a couple of perennials and we also picked up Ego blower on Memorial Day sale.

Monday morning we started with more digging and an early burger lunch. After my parents left we finished the dig and filled our foundation with small sand-like gravel and leveled that out.

Fig tree.Alena cleaned up our house beds from weeds, we trimmed some bushes and filled both of these beds with mulch along with our hosta plant by the door of the garage.

Then to finish our job with our walkway by the shed we needed some actual fine grain sand. So we went to Home Depot again and were surprised to discover that they had none. Went to nearby Lowe’s — same result.

Hosta at the start of driveway.But then we stumbled open a small fig tree which our kids really wanted to get. And it already had fruit developing on it. We bought that. Stopped by a nearby Raymore and Flanigan and cashed in our gift card for a guestroom bedside lamp.

Upon return home we planted our new fig tree, mulched it and that was pretty much the end of our weekend. Phew. So much stuff accomplished.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Venice 2018

Canals of Venice.It’s been a while since our Italian vacation, but Danya and I keep thinking about writing a few words and posting a few pictures about Venice. So here it is.

Doge's PalaceDanya and I have been to Venice once before, but for our children it was the first time. Before the trip we told them stories about this city on the water — how unusual, beautiful and epic it is. I think they were not disappointed.

Gandola ride.We arrived by bullet train and took a water bus to get to our hotel — Hilton Molino Stucky. We booked a suite room, but got upgraded into a humongous two bedroom two bathroom suite. Probably the largest room that we’ve ever stayed in.

Gandola ride.We had our first dinner at Trattoria ai Cacciatorri on Guidecca — same place where we enjoyed our anniversary dinner 5 years ago. It was nice. We got grilled calamari as an appetizer, and I am proud to say that both of our children tried them, although I don’t think that they were particularly taken with the meal. They did love their main pasta dish though! It was Thanksgiving too, so we toasted and gave thanks for all the good things that happened to us last year.

Walking around Venice.The next day was our wedding anniversary. We did a lot of Venice sight seeing. It was cold, but at least it was not raining and the streets were not flooded. After some bargaining, we took a gondola ride. Our gondolier was a tall good looking blue eyed Venetian, who was steering gondolas in narrow Venice canals for the last 10 years. He said that it took him 6 months to learn how to do it, but just as with driving cars, some people learn slower, and some will never be good.

Tiny streets of Venice.During the ride it was even more obvious that Venice is sinking — slowly, but surely. Some buildings had water covering the steps completely and getting uncomfortably close to the windows. As much as I liked visiting Venice, there is no way that I would have chosen to live there.

Wedding anniversary dinner.We ate dinner at some fancy and expensive place, which to my dismay did not have a risotto on the menu. I ended up ordering black ink spaghetti, which were just OK. It was still a nice and memorable experience with my most favorite people.

Hunting for Venetian masks.We wanted to buy some Venetian masks, so we visited all the mask stores that we could find. Sadly, we were not able to find the place where we bought our joker mask last time, but we found a few authentic stores which produced real things and not cheap made in China counterfeits. I also love buying jewelry while traveling, so Daniel got me a nice set of earrings and a matching necklace made with Murano glass.

Lunch.Executive lounge in Hilton proved to be very useful for having light free dinners, and that’s exactly where we went in the evening. Sadly there was no indoor pool in the hotel, but Anna was having trouble with her ears as is, so maybe it was for the best. By the way, we figured out that swimming cap in the pool greatly diminishes ear issues, so during our last Canada trip she had zero ear ache, even though she used the pool almost daily.

Flooded Venice.The next day was a little rainy, but not overwhelmingly so. Venice was somewhat flooded, and we had to use those raised wooden walkways on some streets and avoid certain streets altogether. A number of people was using special waterproof bags to protect their shoes, but we decided that we can get by without and as I mentioned just avoided especially flooded streets when possible. I’m sure it was fun to be wading though the humongous puddles though, but at 15 euros per shoe bag it was not worth it.

Saint Mark's Basilica.We visited Saint Mark’s Basilica, which is beautiful and unusual. The children seemed to like it too — it will be curious to see if they will recognize it on the pictures.

Flooded Venice.We continued our search for masks, and ended up buying a whole lot of them — four for us and one for Aaron. Anna got a cheap mask which she could wear the previous day, and it looks very cute on her. Arosha could not decide for a long time which variety of masks he likes best, but at the end he bought a sun and moon mask to match the overall stars and planets theme of his room. I think it fits very well and getting it certainly was very exciting for him. The masks that we got are three female faces, which we hanged over the fireplace in the living room, and a borg-looking mask which Daniel keeps in his home office room.

Gnocchi!We tried to find good gelato places, but I guess late November is not the prime time for this treat, so even though we bought it on few occasions, it was not as good as the one that we bought in Milan. By the way, there were a lot of Russian speaking people working in food industry in Venice. Pretty much every food place, including Hilton buffet, had someone who spoke Russian. Also, if on mainland Italy Anna’s and Aarons blond hair and blue eyes attracted extra attention and smiles, Venetians were completely indifferent.

View from the top of the bell tower.On our last day we went up the bell tower of St. Mark’s Cathedral. Sadly, we had to take the elevator — no option of using steps. The view was very beautiful.

Bell tower.Afterwards we walked around some more, bought more jewelry for me, ate lunch and went back to the hotel. It was raining pretty hard, and walking in the narrow streets with umbrellas was not very enjoyable.

Lunch.The next day we took a water taxi to the airport and departed home.

Water taxi to the airport.I know some people love Venice, and some find it smelly, hot and overcrowded. I think a lot of this experience depends on the time of the year when people visit. Yes, it was cold and rainy, but I still think that visiting during less popular months beats being there in crowds of people during the peak season.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Storage Shed

Our shed.Since we’ve moved in into our house more than 10 month ago we have done a lot of things. There is an endless stream of projects and purchases of various magnitude and we end up not writing anything about them.

As the time went we realized that we’d rather take care of our yard on our own instead of hiring somebody else to do it. Grass cutting, leaf clean up, snow plowing — all these things really add up cost-wise and you end up with subpar service.

Our shed.We weren’t really lucky in finding any good parties that would provide a quality service that we would be happy with. Initially we were paying $140 to get our grass cut twice each month.

At first that worked OK, but then the autumn started to get closer. Leaves started falling. Instead of mowing through the leaves and mulching them our hired help started avoiding those area altogether, which was ruining the grass.

Walkway. Work in progress.If it would rain and the soil would be soaked with water they would still come and ride their machinery through all that mud, ripping up the yard. Nobody really cared.

And then we were quoted $400 for leaf clean up that has to be done at least twice a year if not more. And on and on it goes.

Walkway.We did leaf clean up ourselves — mostly Alёna actually — with a small electric tube blower. Then one of the neighbors landed Alёna a walk behind gas blower. She said that she did the work in hours that would take her days with that tool. So we bought our own.

Then we bought a pressure washer. And then we bought a wheel barrow for yard work. And then we bought a grass mower. And a ton of other yard tools such as rakes and shovels of different kinds on top of that. And the snow blower will come closer to winter.

Unloading the shed.That’s when we realized that we really need a dedicated place to store all that gear since one of our cars has stopped fitting into the garage as we were taking up more and more space with our tools.

We decided to order a proper storage shed for our house. After some research we went into a place that was recommended by a lot of people in the next town over. We ended up ordering a 10 by 16 feet shed with windowed doors and windows, painted in the the same color as our house.

Pegboard. Garden tools.It is build from weather and pressure treated wood that is durable and should last for a long time. We also ordered a gravel foundation to be built for it. All in all it ended up costing us somewhere around $5,500.

We placed an order in the middle of March. The foundation was built in the first half of April and our custom built shed was delivered on May 1st. It was delivered and put in place by a single guy which was quite amazing to me.

Closet shelves repurposed.In the last couple of weeks we have installed a couple of pegboards inside and a bunch of shelves that I’ve removed and kept from when I rebuilt our master-closet. They really came in handy.

All-in-all we’re quite happy with our shed and the amount of additional space that it gave us. We’ve also gotten a number of compliments.

P.S. We’ve build a stone walk-way next to it to store our garbage bins at and we’re planning to extend this walkway to the entrance of the shed itself in the coming weeks. It came out OK for our first self-built walkway ever.

View from the back.

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Smart Home Update

Latest state of our smart home. The home screen doesn’t list the multitude of switches and other accessories used in customizations and automations.

Cameras are blanked out on purpose, but they actually do provide a live feed and recording inside the Home app.

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