Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tennessee Trip Highlights

Time really flies. It’s been more than a week since our vacation has ended and I, as usual, am having trouble figuring out which way to go about these posts. So I decided to just pick out some general categories about the whole trip and then split off location specific notes into separate posts.

Hotels


Throughout our trip we stayed at five different places. Four of those places were Hilton properties. We did not take advantage of our points for any of these since we’re saving them for our November trip, but we did get the full benefits of our Diamond VIP status.

Park Vista by Double Tree. Gatlinburg, Tennessee.All Hilton properties are great. Clean, big rooms, nice blankets, good breakfasts. I would rate them all at four out of five starts with the exception of one. The hotel where we spent six nights — the longest and most important part of our vacation was just superb and by far the best one of our trip. It was Park Vista by Double Tree (Hilton property) located right on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Our hotel. 15 stories atop a hill.Everything about it was great. The hotel itself was located on top of a mountain located right in the middle of a forest. We got upgraded to the top, fifteenth, floor. We had a balcony with a great view of Gatlinburg and the mountains that surround it.

View from the inside.This hotel had a very nice breakfast included with a chef that would cook hot to order meals. We also took advantage of the on property restaurant practically every day. Once we ate directly at it, but mostly we would order some dishes to go to bring up to our room and had our dinner while Anechka was tucked in for the night in the same room.

Other Hilton properties that we stayed at were located in Hershey, Pennsylvania — right near PA capital of Harrisburg, Chapel Hill, North Carolina — not far from NC capital of Raleigh, and the last one was located in Arlington, Virginia — right across the bridge from Washington, DC.

Skyland Resort at Shenandoah National Park.Our only non Hilton hotel was a lodge located right inside Shenandoah National Park. We did stay at the same lodge at the end of 2010. However because we had to reschedule our trip we ended up having to take the only left over room. It was located in a different part of the lodge (cabins are all over the property) and was somehow way below the standard that we are used to.

Double Tree at Gatlinburg.Floors we were not covered with carpet and cold. Beds were small, mattresses were old. Arosha kept falling off the bed throughout the night. Hot water would run out before one could take a quick shower. There were no laundry facilities and we couldn’t do without them because of Anna’s diapers (more on that later). And it smelled like … — well, it just smelled.

The only thing that it had going for it was the fact that it was located right in the woods and we had a nice porch where Arosha could play with leafs, sticks, stones and all other things he loves playing with. And the restaurant was nearby as opposed to the other cabins from which one had to climb atop a rather steep hill to get to it.

Arligngon, Virginia.Overall this contributed to us cutting our Shenandoah stay one night short. We ended up adding the night to our Tennessee stay which proved to be a very good move on our part.

Pools


The hotel in Tennessee had probably the best pool we’ve encountered during all our previous travels. It had a pair of shallow pools for kids, a hot tub, and an adult pool with a two story high slide leading right into it. Arosha loved it. I would put him between my legs, we would lie down on our backs and slide down right into the water. I have to admit that it was quite fun for me as well.

Pools at Gatlinburg Double Tree.There was another smaller slide leading into the kids pool, but it was a tube going through the wall. It was pretty dark inside and only on our last day I managed to talk Arosha into trying it. He had to go through it alone as I would not fit into it. So when he was ready to go in I told him that I’ll run down to the pool and catch him at the bottom.

The first time by the time I got there I saw a huge splash and Arosha managing to get above water on his own. Naturally he wanted to go again. On the second time by the time I got down to the pool I heard yelling coming through the tube:
– Ready??
– Ready.
– Ready???
– Ready!

Water slide.The next thing I see is Arosha flying through the tube with complete terror on his face. He splashes down into the pool, jump out with with complete ecstasy written all over his face. Again! Third time went very much like the previous run. Same “readies”, same terror, same happiness.

Alena also took Anna out to the pool. She also enjoyed it along. Alena would hold her in the water with her head above it and they would “swim” around the pool. One time Arosha and I talked Alena into trying the slide. We practically had to coerce her into it. Eventually she reluctantly agreed.

Another view of the slide.When she got up there I told Arosha — now listen to this! And then we heard multiple high pitched yells, screams and howls. She did end up liking it too. I’m glad we made her try.

Our other pool experience was rather sad. While we stayed in Arlington we decide to go to the pool. Arosha got all dressed, all prepared, totally happy. We all also got dressed for the pool. Then we couldn’t figure out which floor it was on. When we went down to the lobby to inquire where it is it turned out that this was the only hotel of our stay where there was no pool. It was a complete tragedy for poor Arosha. So much preparation and anticipation and such a fiasco. He was crushed. That will teach us a lesson for the future though.

Our Car


Our car has served us admirably. I’m really enjoying the “utility” part of our SUV. The cargo space easily fit a pair of large suitcases, a stroller and a good number of smaller bags and purses, while still allowing us to pull a cover over them.

Shenandoah fog and our car.The ride was comfortable and higher vantage point makes for a better trip — you can see more. Distronic made driving for 2,000 miles easier on me. Our car fully loaded with four people and a lot of cargo came out with a very respectable MPG of 26. That’s with mixed highway and city driving. We had to fill up only 4 times and that’s considering that we never waited for it to fall below 1/4th of the tank. Diesel rules.

One thing to note is that while I feel rather well driving Mercedes in and around New York it felt a bit awkward everywhere else. It attracts too much attention and really stands out. Something like Chevy Tahoe would feel somehow safer and more comfortable in that respect.

Another trail.However while before I never wanted anything to do with SUVs now I’m a big fan of an SUV as a family car. It is safe, heavy, stable and allowed us to easily park in all kinds of “off-road” ditches while in the parks.

Kids


Our kids did great. We feared that 400 miles in one day was not doable without many problems. Our original plan was to split it into two days when we left Shenandoah one day early. Turned out it wasn’t a problem at all. We kept planning to stop at 200 miles, 300 miles, but they just kept doing well. Only towards the end a little amount of crying ensued from Anyuta. Arosha had zero issues at all.

On the trail to Laurel Falls.The totally love nature. We could not drag Arosha away from anywhere. Sticks and stones, rivers and puddles. Arosha’s kind of paradise. Anyuta also was very happy to sit on the ground and taste grass, flowers, sticks and just plain good old dirt.

Arosha did great on hikes. We did numerous long hikes on steep trails that were about 3 miles in length and he walked them on his own without any problems. Anna on the other hand refused to sit in her ergo for the most part and Alena had to carry her. I don’t know where she gets the strength and energy. Us driving our stroller around was totally pointless. We haven’t used it once.

Nature fun.Sleeping in one room was perfectly fine too. We thought that’d all have to go on Anna’s schedule and go to sleep at 8pm. However once Alena did put her to bed we could still sit around and do other stuff. Arosha could watch some cartoons or all of us would go through our pictures we took throughout the day. Or we would eat dinner using bathroom sinks as dinner tables. It all work out rather well.

Laundry


Now this was a first for us. Because Anyuta is allergic to disposable diapers we have to use washable cloth ones. And as a result we had to do laundry every other day. Shenandoah was the worst. No laundry facilities and the closest town was 30 minutes away. Hot water would run out. Alena did hand wash them in the cold water.

View from the window of our Gatlinburg hotel.We dried them everywhere. Radiators, tables, TVs and so on. The best place though goes to the dashboard of our car while the car was sitting in the sun and we were away on a walk of some kind. Other hotels did have laundry facilities, yet it was still quite annoying to say the least.

Food


Food was … boring. This country is full of steak houses with very little variety. By the end of the trip we could not look at steaks, burgers and potatoes. We did eat at a nice Mexican restaurant once and one Cuban hole in the wall place. While in Washington we ended up running into a completely random and cheap Chinese place that was in China Town which was well reviewed by New York Times as it turned out. By most evenings my appetite for any food was nowhere to be found so we mostly ate from the appetizer sections of the menus.

Bullfish Grill at Pigeon Forge, Tennesssee.One thing that worried us slightly was the fact that Anyuta would always cry before at any kind of a restaurant. But Alena figured out a perfect solution. She can sit very well in a high chair on her own. Alena would put a plate in front of her and would put all kinds of non-choke hazard vegetables on that plate — string beans, broccoli, slices of carrots and so on. Anyuta would reach out for them and taste them. That kept her occupied rather well and would could eat in peace.

Overall


Overall it was a really nice road trip. A great vacation with an exception of one nightmarish night in Shenandoah. I’ll explain in more detail later. Otherwise we got very lucky with the weather, spring was in full bloom and we’ve seen a lot of beautiful and interesting new places. It was fun for all four of us and it was not as hard as we thought it would be. It actually wasn’t all that hard at all. Our kids are great.
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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Brooklyn Bridge Walk

On Brooklyn Bridge.This March is pretty cold. The weather is usually below zero degrees Celsius with a few exceptions.

Today is one of the rare warm days — it got up to 12° C, or at least that’s what the weather app was claiming. Danya suggested to go for a walk at Brooklyn Bridge and we all agreed that that’s a great idea.

Onto the bridge.We left home at around 11 and it took us about 35 minutes to get to the bridge. We got lucky with parking — did not have to look for it at all. It was pretty windy, but still nice.

Units.We walked on the bridge for a bit. There were a lot of people — pedestrians and bicyclists alike. We almost got to the first column, but the wind got very strong and Arosha got very scared. He started crying, hugging my legs and saying that he is afraid to be blown away by the wind. I figured that there was no point to force him to go any further, and him, I and Anюtka headed back. Danya and my mom made it to the first column and headed back as well. Anюtka was not sleeping by the way. She was kind of sitting in a stroller and was looking at all the beauty and motion around.

Tourising. Alёna's mom.After that I fed her in the car and we went to a pier. The view from there is just magnificent! Arosha was not behaving too well, but after a talk with his dad he started to listen to us more.

Pier under the bridge.We then went to eat some pizza at Juliana’s pizzeria. There was a line there, but it was not excessively long. Danya and Arosha went there first, while me, my mom and Anюtka stayed on the pier to enjoy the views some more.

View from the pier.We got a buffalo mozzarella Margherita pizza, which was really good. Anюta, who woke up from her nap as soon as we got inside, behaved really well. She was just sitting on my lap, and looking, and smiling, and when she wanted to try something too, so I let her chew on some pizza crust. She managed to chew off a few small pieces, but she spat them right out.

Juliana's Pizza. Our turn's next.After lunch we went back to the pier. There was the Brooklyn ice-creamery, so we figured, why not! Arosha got a peach ice-cream, Danya — a strawberry one, my mom — a chocolate one and I got a butter pecan one. It was really good too! My only fear is that Anюtka’s eczema will get worse after my food indulgences. She has a pretty bad case of it going on her face and I think that my diet has some effect on it. We’ll see…

Locks as lucky charms.When we were walking around Dumbo, I felt for a brief moment, as if we were tourists in a new and exciting place. Danya said that he had the same feeling and even went to look at the map of New York Water Taxi routes.

Arosha.I am glad that my mom was with us too. She mostly stayed home with me and did not see much of the great places that NYC has to offer, so each occasion like today really stands out for her. She’ll be leaving in just 11 short days. I hope she’ll go visit a Statue of Liberty with Danya’s dad before she leaves as they planned to.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

Christmas dinner table.В этом году мы традиционно собрались у нас дома в предрождественский вечер. Мы пригласили Даниных родителей и Мишу. Еще мы приглашали Даниного коллегу с женой, Игната с Викой и Маруков, но, к сожалению, никто из них не смог придти (в основном по болезни).

В пятницу Даня предложил пригласить в гости кого-то помимо родителей, и почему-то факт того, что надо будет приложить чуть больше усилий по украшению квартиры и готовке навеял на меня праздничный дух.

Us.В пятницу вечером Даня с Арошей сьездили за ёлкой (сторговались за $75). Мне она показалась очень большой, но она как раз хорошо уместилась у нас дома. Правда, как вяснилось, ствол у ёлки оказался слишком толстым для нашей посдставки. Я приуныла и начала ворчать что ёлка-то таки слишком большая. А Даня тем временем обрубил лишнюю древесину моим кухонным топориком — я им не пользуюсь и поэтому, в отличие от всех остальных ножей, он довольно-таки острый.

Вообще ёлки у нас дома не было уже 5 лет — мы отмечали Новый Год у Даниных родителей, и ёлку всегда ставили у них. В этом же году Арошке очень хотелось, чтобы мы поставили ёлку и у нас. Ну как не порадовать ребёнка?

Grandparents.Ароше очень нравилось наряжать ёлочку — правда, у него не совсем это пока получается. Еще он решил, что на ёлку надо повесить настоящие конфеты — идею эту он подсмотрел в одном из рассказов Зощенко о Лёле и Миньке. В связи с этим на ёлке у нас, кроме шаров и гирлянд, висят разноцветные “коровки”. Ароше очень нетерпелось похвастаться ёкой, и он настойчиво приглашал в гости бабушку и дедушку. В пятницу они не смогли к нам зайти, зато в субботу смогли полюбоваться и выразить свое восхищение нашей зелёной красавицей. Кстати, ёлка первые два дня не пахла, а потом отогрелась, отомлела и стала пахнуть очень сильно.

Beef braised in wine.На ужин я решила традиционно готовить мясо в вине и картошку с чесноком. Еще захотелось внести какое-то разнообразие, и я приготовила тыквенный суп-пюре. Когда мы в октябре ездили за яблоками, мы прикупили там еще большую тыкву. Из неё предполагалось что-то вырезать на Хэллоуин, но до этого руки так и не дошли. Так вот эта тыква мозолила мне глаза уже давно, а тут подвернулся такой хороший повод её так сказать слопать. Суп я готовила в два этапа — в понедельник, 23-го декабря, я запекла тыкву в духовке и сварила куриный бульон, а во вторник соединила все компоненты (бульон, тыкву, луковицу, специи и немного сливок), всё поварила и пюрировала. Получилось очень неплохо.

Greek salad.Еще мы с Даней сделали два салата — один из огурцов, помидоров, лука, брынзы и маслин. А второй получился неожидано — я планировала приготовить салат из стручковой фасоли с чесноком и кинзой. Когда Даня ходил в магазин за продуктами, он купил баночку оливок с каперсами. Вот эти самые оливки я тоже решила пустить в салат, и в результате я соединила их со стручковой фасолью (слегда отвареной в солёной воде), помидором, сладким перцем и кинзой. Заправила оливковым маслом и соком половинки лимона и дала помариноваться в холодильнике пару часов. Всем понравилось.

На сладкое были фрукты в шоколаде, которые как и в прошлом году купила Данина мама, мандарины и виноград. А пили мы моё любимое Бужоле.

Us.Вообще посидели мы очень хорошо. Я получила удовольствие. А засчёт того, что меню было лёгкое и большинство работы я сделала днём, пока Даня и Ароша гуляли и ездили стричься, я даже не была слишком уставшей к приходу гостей. Анюта вела себя нормально. Самое главное, что она хорошо поспала в первой половине дня, когда мне надо было поработать на кухне. Она, кстати, с удовольствием сидела у Миши на руках.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Our Day in Milan

Milan Cathedral.Milan. The commercial and industrial center of Italy. One of the fashion capitals of the world. We were not sure if we wanted to visit you. There are some people, who think you can be easily skipped on the first trip to Italy, but we did not, and we have no regrets.

Milano Centrale Train Station.We arrived to Milan on Wednesday (November 21st) afternoon by train. Before we boarded the train, I was secretly hoping that our travel companions will be as much fun as Lorenzo was. No such luck. First of all, they took one of our seats, which apparently is not a big deal, but we did not know it and felt uncomfortable at first. And secondly, they had no interest in communicating with us, which I absolutely expected, but still hoped for something more fun.

Streets of Milan.We ended up changing our sitting arrangement so that we would have no travel companions at all (there are usually two pairs of seats facing each other). The ride itself was relatively short, just under two hours. I think that one of the reasons why trains are so popular and well-scheduled in Europe is that distances between major travel destinations are not that great.

Our suite at Hilton Milan.Upon our arrival we took a short walk to the hotel and checked in. Since we only spent one night in Milan, we’d decided that staying close to the train station would be very convenient, and it actually was the case. The Hilton that we stayed in was very nice, and as Diamond VIP members we got our room upgraded to a suite, access to the executive lounge, free internet and free breakfast. The area around the hotel seemed safe, and the added benefit was that subway was close by.

Subway of Milan.After checking in we went to see the famous Milan Cathedral. It was just a few subway stops away, so we spent very little time getting there. The square in front of the church was quite busy — there were a lot of people and pigeons. The cathedral looked impressive from the outside, but I have to say that to me it was a bit less magical than the Florence one.

Inside the cathedral.After admiring it for a little while, we entered the place to check the inside. It looked expectantly Gothic — high ceilings, echoing steps, colorful mosaics depicting biblical scenes, altars, candles. I sat on one of the benches and thought about life; meanwhile Danya tried to take a few pictures despite poor light conditions. We also went to some sort of basement where sarcophagi with the corpses of a few religiously significant people were being stored. It felt a bit creepy.

On cathedral's roof.After that we decided to take a tour of the cathedral’s roof. We found the entrance easily, but it turned out that the tickets were sold in a separate shop, so we needed to acquire them prior to our admittance. The guards gave us good directions, so it was not a big deal (although I still don’t understand why they don’t sell them by the entrance). We opted for the elevator this time around.

Walking on the roof.Walking on the roof was a unique experience. You can’t really appreciate all the delicate details of the sculptures, spires and arches while looking at them from afar, so I am very glad that it’s possible to get so close to them. We also had an opportunity to look at Milan from above, but the day was somewhat hazy, so the view was just OK.

Another view from the top.There were also maintenance repair jobs going all over the place, so Danya was disappointed about the lack of more picturesque views. Oh well. It was still very nice, I am glad we did it. I’ve noticed that many statues had thin long sharp metal sticks attached to their tops. My guess is that it’s done to prevent pigeons from being too comfortable there.

Charleston.When we finished, it was time to eat. We walked around for a bit and picked a place at random. It was called Charleston, and we ended up having one of the best meals of our vacation over there. Since it was lunch, we ordered light — just a buffalo mozzarella pizza and spaghetti with chilli peppers. Both meals were super delicious, and I still salivate when I think about that pizza.

Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza.If I had a chance to eat a single meal from Italy again, it would definitely be buffalo mozzarella pizza. And pasta was just the right firmness. I’ve heard the term al dente so many times, but only at Charleston I understood the true meaning of it. I actually started to make firmer pasta at home upon our return from Italy.

Square in front of Milan Cathedral.We wondered around after lunch for a short while and went back to the hotel. There was nothing much to do, so we just relaxed, read, called Danya’s parents and Aroshka via face-time.

View from the roof.In a few hours we went to the executive lounge for some snacks and drinks. We’ve decided not to go out for dinner and just fill up on the free stuff that Hilton has to offer. And it was actually more than enough, because they had a great selection of snacks (salads, grilled vegetables, bruschetta, fish, olives) and wine was a plentiful as always. We went to bed early to be fresh for our last train ride next morning.

Street leading to our hotel.When we were reading about Milan we saw a lot of references about people gazing and looking at fashionable clothing. However people in Milan did not strike me as extra fashionable. I guess, after living in New York for over 10 years, it’s hard to be impressed.
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Balsamic Orange Ginger Sablefish

Balsamic Orange Ginger Glazed Sablefish.I got this recipe from the back of Trader Joe’s sablefish label. I am very glad that I tried it, because it tasted really good and was so easy to make. I had too much glaze left over, so I added more ginger and soy souse to it and used it for a stir-fry broccoli. Will definitely cook again!
  • 1 sablefish fillet (8-12 oz)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 1 inch of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • salt, pepper

Preheat the broiler and wrap a broiler pan with foil. Season sable to taste with salt and pepper on all sides. Combine honey, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, orange juice, orange zest, ginger, and oil. Mix well and coat fish with the mixture. The fish should be only lightly coated, as too much of the glaze can burn under the broiler.

Broil sablefish 4 inches away from the flame just until browned, 3-5 minutes. Finish off in a 450F oven until done. Sablefish is done when it flakes easily with a fork. Total cooking time is approximately 10 minutes per inch of thickness of fish.
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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chicken with Artichokes

Chicken with artichokes and tomatoes in creamy sauce.I saw this recipe on Dinner: A Love Story food blog back in March. I cooked it ones before, and again today. It is easy and delicious.

The recipe was taken down from the webpage, so my guess is that it was included in the book which Jenny Rosenstrach has recently published. I am actually thinking about getting the book, since a few recipes that I’ve used from DALS blog turned out to be nice.

I’ll just write my recollection of this chicken meal here. I know that in another half year I probably won’t remember it well, and I want to keep it in my repertoire. So I used:
  • 1.5 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 0.5 large sweet onion
  • 1 bag (12 oz) frozen artichoke hearts
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 glass water (or white wine)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/3 glass half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt, pepper

Season chicken and fry it in a few tablespoons of oil, a couple of minutes on each side. Take chicken from the pan, put aside. Add chopped onion to the pan, fry for a few minutes. Add tomatoes and artichokes (I ran them under cold water for 2-3 minutes to defrost), fry for another few minutes. Add chicken, water or wine, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Wait until water starts to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Mix mustard and half-and-half, add to the pan. When it starts boiling, turn down the heat. Voila!

P.S. I think original recipe had double the mustard, but on account of Arosha I’ve decided to be on a conservative side. Danya added some hot sause to his chicken to make it spicier.
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Apples and Fish Pie

Apples and fish pie.This fish pie is a bit unconventionally tasting because it has apples and vinegary onions, but it’s nice to have something different ones in a while.

I planned cooking this ahead, so I made a my own puff pastry dough one day before baking a pie. I tried a new recipe this time, and I think it’s a keeper. I usually use a store bought version, but it’s made from shortening and that stuff is not exactly healthy. Homemade dough is not just healthier, but is also easier to work with and tastes better.

For the dough:
Dought 1:
  • 200 grams butter
  • 2/3 cup flour
Dough 2:
  • 1 egg
  • cold water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Dough 1. Shred cold butter, mixing it with flour in the process of shredding so it won’t clump too much together. After the butter is shredded and mixed with flour, make a ball with it and put aside.

Dough 2. Mix flour, salt and lemon juice in a bowl. In a cup, beat an egg and add water so that total there are 2/3 cup of liquid. Pour water with egg into the flour and knead the dough.

Roll dough 2 into the square and put dough 1 on top (it should be close to the center, but a bit to the side). Then make an envelope around dough 1 with dough 2 (left side on top, upper and bottom parts on top, cover with the right side). Put the envelope in the fridge for 30 minutes. Take the envelope out of the refrigerator, carefully roll, fold it again, put in the fridge for another 30 minutes. Repeat.

For the filling:
  • 1-1.5 lb white fish fillets (we used wild Alaskan cod)
  • 2/3 sweet onion
  • 1.5 large apple, peeled
  • semolina (манка)
  • apple vinegar
  • lemon juice
  • salt, sugar, pepper

Thinly slice sweet onion and put in the mixture of vinegar, water, salt and sugar (I just used my taste for the proportions). Thinly slice apple and squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top. Dry fish fillets with paper towels, add salt, pepper and any other spices to taste.

To assemble the pie roll half the dough and put on greased baking sheet. Put filling in layers: semolina, apples, fish, onions (dry them with paper towels first). Roll the second half of the dough and cover the pie, sealing the edges by pressing together. Brush with beaten egg and make 1 inch long horizontal slashes.

Bake in 380 F preheated oven for 45 minutes. Enjoy!

P.S. Danya was not a fan of apples, but I actually enjoyed them. I think the combination of sweet apples, fish and sour onions was interesting.
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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chicken with Black Beans

Chicken with Black BeansThe idea for this dinner actually came from Danya. He was checking some photography blog and this meal looked good to him, so he forwarded me the recipe. I cooked it the next day, and it turned out very nice. We did not take any good pictures right away, but I asked Danya to take a snapshot with his new iPhone when we were finishing leftovers for lunch today, so at least we’ll have something for the post.

I’ll write down the original recipe here for the future reference.

BBQ Chicken and Black Bean Burritos


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3⁄4 pound skinless, boneless organic chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces 1⁄2 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium barbeque sauce
  • 15 ounces of low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1⁄2 cup (2 ounces) organic reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain tortillas
  • 1⁄4 cup organic nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken, onion, and garlic; cook 8 minutes or until chicken is done, stirring constantly.

2. Stir in barbeque sauce and beans. Sprinkle with cheese; cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Warm tortillas in skillet until lightly brown. Spoon about 1⁄2 cup chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla; top each with 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt, and roll up.

I used a bit more chicken, garlic and barbeque sauce, but mostly followed the recipe. There were no fancy tortillas in our local supermarket, so I bought the plain regular kind. They were pretty small, so we served them on the side instead of making actual burritos. I also boiled some rice (spicy Spanish rice for us and plain white for Aroshka) and made an avocado-tomato-lime juice salad.
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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Switch

Pasture Butter.In June we started buying grass fed local organic beef, no antibiotics pork and no antibiotics free roaming chicken. I kind of thought that it’s nearly impossible to afford, especially on one income, but the truth is that even though the price for this kind of meat is 2-3 times higher than for conventional one, it’s quite feasible to buy it.

The thing is that the portion of grocery bill allocated to meat is small compared to the amount that we spend on fruits and vegetables. I was surprised that 8 pounds of beef ordered from FreshDirect and consisting of ground beef, top round roast, beef liver and stew meat lasted us almost two months. We did of course ate more meat than 8 pounds during this time (chicken, pork, eating out, barbequing, hamburger patties from another store), but still. And I cooked plenty of meals with this beef too!

It’s not an end of the world when we eat conventional meat, but when I cook, I try using the better quality meat products almost exclusively. Unfortunately, there are no supermarkets nearby which have grass-fed beef and antibiotics free pork available, but at least our local Silverstar has all natural free roaming chicken. Luckily, there is FreshDirect, which is a convenient way to shop, and their shipping rates are minimal (a bit over $5 for us).

I was also excited that they have pasture butter from Organic Valley available. I don’t know if it’s in my head or what, but I think it tastes better, is more yellow in color (which is a sight of it being a true pasture butter), and it actually reminds me a lot of the butter that my grandmother used to manually make from her cow’s milk. It’s a seasonal product as expected, so I’ve ordered 3 packages of it just in case it’ll be out of stock soon.

We mostly buy conventional fruits and vegetables. I think that if we spend extra money on organic stuff, it should be animal products, although if I had a choice (if our local supermarket carried any organic produce other than milk, eggs and yogurt), I might buy organic berries, apples, potatoes, celery and peppers. I try to wash everything we eat really well and not to read too much about it not to freak out.

I hope that we’ll be able to keep affording better quality meat in the future. It really makes me feel better about eating meat overall.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Poached Eggs

Poached egg.There are tons of simple ways to cook and eat eggs. You can hard boil it, soft boil it, sunny side up fry it, scramble and fry it, make an omelet or you can eat it raw. All these ways have been know to me for ages, but what I was strangely not aware of was an existence of poached eggs. Poached egg is an egg cooked in an almost boiling water, but it cooks without a shell. It’s very easy to make and is quite tasty.

  • Put some water into a pot — enough to cover the whole egg once you drop it in.
  • Let it sit on the stove until the water starts to simmer. Don’t let the water boil or the egg will drop apart.
  • Break an egg into a small bowl or cup and discard the shell.
  • Add some vinegar into the pot. That will help to keep an egg together.
  • Turn the stove off.
  • Take a spoon and move it in circular motion to create a vortex in the center of the pot.
  • Carefully slip the egg off your bowl into the vortex.
  • When the egg whites solidify your poached egg should be ready.

Poached egg on a toast.Now you fish out your egg with a spoon (the one that has holes in it preferably) and place it on a plate with a paper towel. Paper towel will soak up all the extra water. After that toast a piece of bread and put your poached egg on top of it. And some salt and ground pepper. Now it’s ready to be eaten. Yum!
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Friday, June 15, 2012

Syrniki

SyrnikiSyrniki is one of my favorite things made of cheese. In fact, when I think about visiting Minsk I always fantasize about asking my mom or my sister to fry some for me. They are just sooo good!

I was a bit of a syrnik failier myself though. I tried making them a few times after immigration, but they always were a burning mess sticking to pan. I kind of gave up. Until this week.

Last Saturday we went to Daniels’ cousin’s house in CT to celebrate aunt Lilya’s birthday. The whole thing was really nice (I always enjoy visiting them), but one of the biggest highlights for me personally was Aroshka eating a ton of syrniki. I mean, this child usually spits out any cheese, does not drink milk and barely eats a tiny bit of yogurt now and then.

Slightly burnt, but still tasty syrniki.Lena cooked a bunch of syrniki in the morning, so they were still yummy an fresh. They are a bit different from what we used to cook in my family (thicker, more flour), but still nice nonetheless. She shared the recipe, and I cooked them twice already. I have to say that I did not follow the recipe exactly (I added more eggs, less sugar and less flour), but this recipe is a very good baseline and could be adjusted depending on your taste and the quality of cheese that you have on hand. You’ll need:

  • 1 lb farmer cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of vanilla extract

Mix everything together, form patties, fry in oil on medium heat until golden. Enjoy!

Oh, and you can also add raising or cranberries if you’d like (my mom often adds raisins). And of course a good nonstick pan makes frying them much easier.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers.When I was buying spinach for Spanakopita last week, one of the managers in our local supermarket expressed her love of this plant and made a few spinach-y meal suggestions. It turned out that I bought more spinach than I needed for my Greek pie, so I’ve decided to utilize her advice and stuffed some peppers for dinner last night.

I did not follow any specific recipe, but used bits of wisdom from a few resources. Here is what I came up with: Continue Reading
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lazy Nachos

Lazy nachos.I got this recipe on one of the blogs that I stumbled upon by accident, but keep coming back to. Here is the original post by Kara.

I’ve made a few minor changes due to the ingredients that I had on hand, so here is my version of this simple and for the most part healthy meal. Continue Reading
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pork Chops with Cranberries

I planned to cook pork with ginger and apples for today’s dinner, but the store was out of ginger. So I bought a bag of fresh cranberries instead (they were conveniently located underneath an empty ginger box) and figured that there must be some pork-apples-and-cranberries recipe on the net.

Not surprisingly, there are many. I picked this one, but enhanced it to my taste. It came out better than I expected. I will cook it again (hence the post)! So here is what I used: Continue Reading
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