Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas 2017

Christmas tree.This Christmas we have invited Daniеl’s parents and sister and his colleague Ilya with wife and two children. We also invited Misha, as we do every year, but he already made plans to spend it with his girlfriend and her family in California, so he could not join us.

I made a list of all the things that I need to buy on Thursday evening and spent 3 hours Friday morning food shopping. I went to 5 different stores, but at the end the refrigerator was full and I was happy.

Kids a day before Christmas.On Saturday morning we went to a speech therapist with Arosha — he is still working on shortening Russian R and integrating it to speech. Also, his Russian “sh”, “zh” and “ch” need a little correction from time to time, since he tends to substitute them with English versions, which are very similar, but still somewhat different.

We switched therapists a few months ago since the previous one stopped making home visits, was very expensive and kind of stopped being useful altogether. This one is less expensive, but has a lot of work experience back in Russia, so I hope that she’ll be helpful with honing that stubborn sound. Daniеl’s dad usually drives us to and from — the ride takes about 7 minutes and I could have done it myself, but I am mortified with parking, which is not so easy to find in that particular neighborhood.

Us a day before Christmas.After speech, we went home, ate lunch, and I spent about an hour prepping meat for my main Christmas course — beef braised in red wine. I also made a huge batch of compote out of apples, frozen black currants, raspberries, and sour cherries.

Then we had tickets for Christmas show “Morozko” in Russian Theater on Brighton. This is the second time that we’re going to the Christmas show there, and I am pretty happy with the quality of production. Both times it was a Moscow troupe touring USA. The children enjoyed the show, which is the most important thing.

Our Christmas tree.After the show Danya picked us up and we went for a nice dinner at local TGIF restaurant. Arosha and Anюta shared a steak.

At home, after children went so sleep, I spend another hour in the kitchen making filling for spanakopita and tiding everything up.

Arosha a day after Christmas.So imagine my disappointment when at 5:30 in the morning we were woken up by Anюta, who told us that Arosha keeps throwing up on his bed and needs our help. To make things even better, Anюta developed a nasty barking cough overnight. There was no way we could have anyone over for at least 3-4 days.

Arosha kept throwing up until 1 pm and then once more before bedtime. I have a stomachache for two days straight, and so does Daniеl. I cooked part of the meat and a bit of potatoes yesterday, and chicken soup today. I really hope that no one else will end up throwing up for 8+ hours, because, well, it sucks. I am glad that Arosha feels better today and even managed to eat some soup. This was quite an unglamorous Christmas, but I guess everyone has to have one of those once in a while.

Anюta a day after Christmas.Also, a few weeks ago Daniеl and the kids put up a Christmas tree. This is the third year when we use artificial tree instead of a real one, and I have to say I am pretty happy with it — real trees are not cut; set up and clean up is way easier; and we’ll start saving money next year since the price for this artificial one was 3 times the price of the real ones that we would get.

It took Danя about 5 minutes to set the tree up, and then Arosha and Anюta decorated it all by themselves! No, really, I must have put one or two ornaments on the tree, and that’s it. It’s amazing what a good job they’ve done! During the last few weeks Arosha and I kept buying new ornaments and putting them up. We also got a new topper star to replace the old one that just stopped working.
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Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas 2014

Детки и елка.Весь день 24-го декабря дождило. У обоих деток поднялась температура, появились сопли и кашель.

С Анюткой.Мы как обычно пригласили на ужин Даниных родителей, сестру с женихом и Мишу. В этом году я, честно говоря, так устала от мяса тушёного в вине, что несмотря на простоту этого рецепта, я решила приготовить что-то другое. Посоветовавшись с Даней, мы остановились на котлетах по-киевски. Давно я их не готовила — слишком трудоёмкие. К котлетам, приготовленным почти до готовности в предыдущий день, я подавала картошку с чесноком и укропом, салат с помидорами и фетой, и салат с редиской и греческим йогуртом. А еще мы с Арошей на сладкое испекли пирог с яблокам, грушей, черной и красной смородиной. Тесто было как у шарлотки, и получилось очень вкусно. Даня обычно равнодушен к сладкому, но даже ему понравилось.

Арошка.Посидели мы хорошо. Как всегда поговорили об отпусках, о политике, о праздниках. Насмешила Анюта — когда она решила, что уже пора спать, она всем сказала бай-бай, помахала ручкой и отправилась к входной двери. Видно, перепутала, в чьей квартире она находится, и отправилась домой. Хорошенького, мол, понемногу — детям спать пора.

Бабушка с внуком.А в понедельник я ходила в школу к Ароше. У них был праздничный сладкий стол, а потом они пели песенки под аккомпанемент мисс Люпион. Мне, в принципе, понравилось, хотя представление было и попроще, чем утренники в советских детских садах. К сожалению, пианино было расстроенным, а пела главная учительница весьма средненько, но в принципе я была очень рада, что они вообще поют и что-то подобное разучивают в школе. Первая песенка, кстати, была не Рождественская, а на тематику Хануки (Oh, Dreidel). Ну, а потом они пели Рождественские песенки, в частности, знаменитые Jingle Bells. Ароша, хоть он и утверждает обратное, совсем не пел, но бубенчиками в этих самых Jingle Bells звенел исправно.

Родители.А ёлку дома мы поставили пару недель назад. Она совсем уже подсохла, но всё равно доставляет лично мне кучу удовольствия. Надо заметить, что в этом году Ароша принимал самое активное участие в украшении зелёной красавицы. Именно он повесил большинство игрушек и конфеток, а так же придумал вырезать из бумаги снежинки, и принёс из школы бумажные ёлочку, минору и дрейдел, которые тоже стали ёлочными украшениями. Ну, и еще он всегда клянчит у бабушки и дедушки игрушки с их ёлочки. Ну очень хозяйственный 4-х летний мальчик у нас!

Даня.Даня к Рождеству получил неплохое повышение зарплаты, чему мы, кончено, рады.

Бабушка с внучкой.А Анютку всё мучает её диатез. Зимой он стал хуже — наверное, погода всё же оказывает влияние. Я стараюсь как можно меньше пользоваться гидрокартизоном, но без него не обходится.

Дядя Миша.Кстати, мы с Арошей как раз в эти дни читали сказки Эн Хогарт про Ослика Мафина и его весёлых друзей. Ему очень понравилось, особенно о том, как Мафин пытался петь, а все его друзья пугались, и о том, как он был сыщиком и переодевался в разные костюмы. Еще мы читали сказки о Финдусе и Песоне шведского писателя Свена Нурдквиста. Они Ароше понравились меньше, но оттуда он взял идею о самодельной ёлке. В результате, он притащил домой палку и хотел просверлить в ней каким-то образом дырки и вставить туда еловые ветки, но я предложила просто прикрепить их скотчем. Вобщем, мы сделали не одну, а две самодельные “ёлки”, которыми Ароша очень гордился.

Пирог со смородиной.
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Anniversary in Kyoto

One of the wooden wall at Nijo Castle.It has been almost 4 months now since our trip to Japan and yet I keep coming back to it, trying to write more and more about it. As I’ve said many many times before, this vacation of ours was amazing. And even the smallest references to Japan in our everyday lives fill up my heart with warmth. We’ve been to many places there that became special to us and one such place was Kyoto.


Originally we planned to stay in Osaka and make a couple of day visits to Kyoto. The express train ride was from 15 to 30 minutes long which is much shorter than our ride to Manhattan is. But later on we thought that Kyoto would be a great and very romantic place to spend our anniversary day and night at.

To make it even more special we made a reservation for a stay in Nishiyama Ryokan — a traditional Japanese inn — for the night of November 23rd. The stay also included a traditional Japanese dinner on the eve of 23rd and a breakfast on the morning of 24th. It also happened so that our anniversary of November 23rd fell on the same day as a national holiday in Japan.

Subway station.Our plan was simple — take a bullet train to Kyoto in the morning of the 23rd, buy the daily passes for Kyoto subway and buses and spend 2 days exploring the city with a stay and celebration in the above mentioned ryokan. We had the luxury of leaving all our bags in Osaka at our Hilton hotel, since we had a room there booked and paid for anyhow. And that’s exactly what we did.


On the early morning of our anniversary day we ate breakfast at our hotel buffet and soon after got on the train the schedule of which we confirmed via Hyperdia website — our JR station in Osaka was right across the street from our hotel.

Nijo Castle grounds.We got slightly confused by the signs at the station, since they were not specifying Kyoto on the train that we were supposed to take. When we asked for confirmation at the entrance booth we were told to take some other train which would get us to Kyoto later than the one we were thinking of taking.

It turned out that the sign at the station was actually specifying the last stop of the train (which makes sense) and Kyoto was one of the stops before that. So we did hop on the train that we planned to take and it worked out just right. In a little more than 20 minutes we were standing at the main Kyoto JR station right in the heart of Kyoto itself.

Inside Kyoto JR station.Our first order of business was to buy our passes for the local trains and buses — JR basically doesn’t have any lines to any of the places that we wanted to visit and we thought that instead of making it hard on ourselves by trying to calculate the cheapest and the correct fare to all the places we wanted to visit we would rather spend a little bit more money and just buy a pair of unlimited passes.

Inside Kyoto JR station.The option that we chose was a 2-day pass covering two main subway lines and most of the city buses for ¥2,000 per person. That came out to about $50 for both of us and gave us the freedom of hopping on as many buses and trains as we wanted.

After spending ¥4,000 on the passes we came to a sad realization that we had about ¥1,000 left. To put that into perspective a can of soda or tea typically costs ¥150. We had dollars, but when in Japan dollars are only good to purchase yen. So we needed to find an exchange place. And from what we read the best place to exchange money was a post office. And to our surprise there was one right outside the station.

Staircase at one of the subway stations.We walked into the post office and asked a man at the counter if they do currency exchanges. He confirmed that typically they do, but today being a holiday the bank portion of the post office was closed. We went back into the station which had a large underground mall inside and tried to find another currency exchange place. It was too early in the morning and all of them were closed. In addition to that at the information desk we were told that chances are that they are closed for the day because of the holiday.

We found an ATM machine and tried using our ATM card, but the machine told us that our bank declined the transaction. We found a couple more — some were in Japanese and we could not use, and the ones that were in English kept saying the same thing as the first one did. It was becoming obvious that we had no way to get money, the entrances to all the places that we wanted to visit are not free and that this “little” debacle might just ruin our day.

Golden Pavilion

Bus to Kinkakuji.We still decided to take our chances that we’ll have enough money and go to Kinkakuji — Golden Pavilion. We needed to go to the northern end of Karasuma subway line which goes right through Kyoto JR station and from there get on the right bus — no direct subway service, hence the need for bus pass. Luckily for us we had it all planned in advance and had detailed directions on how to get there.

On the bus.We went to Kitaoji Station (15 minute ride) and there we asked for direction on how to find the buses. Turned out that there was a bus terminal right at that station and each bus stop had a list of bus numbers and places that the bus stops at — this made things very easy. Soon after we were on a bus where we were pleasantly surprised to learn that each bus stop also has an English name on the sign. Plus it appeared that a most people were going to the same place as we were, so we had no problem getting off at the right stop.

Temple map.And from the stop we just followed all the people to the temple. Funnily enough a number of locals, when spotting us, were instantly pointing out the direction to go to for us even though we weren’t asking. Also there were maps on the way on which the temple was marked by a swastika symbol. In Japan swastika is an ancient sign of the sun and even though there is a lot of bad stigma associated with the symbol in the west it is still widely used in Japan.

Near the entrance to Kinkakuji.When we got to the entrance to the temple grounds we were relieved to find out that the entrance would cost us ¥400 per person or in other words pretty much as much money as we had in our pockets. Also upon getting inside we were surprised by how crowded the place was — tourists from Japan and all over the world. We were having a hard time getting to the fence to see the temple.

Crowd at Kinkakuji.Forget about taking a good photo. Matters were further complicated by all the dark clouds covering the sky which meant that in order for me to take a beautiful photograph I had to rest my camera on something for an HDR burst. However I was lucky enough to find a good place on the wooden fence and as a result I managed to capture the Golden Pavilion and an illusion of tranquility that this place would project if all the people would suddenly disappear.

Golden Pavilion — Kinkakuji.We started walking along the path that would take us through the territory and were soon stopped by a shy Japanese girl (15 years old maybe?) apologizing and asking if she could talk to us. We noticed her nervous classmates nearby and her teacher encouraging her to be brave. Turns out she had a school project where she needed to find foreign tourists and ask them (us) several questions in English.

Kinkakuji.She had a hard time writing down our names, but was happy to find out that we were from New York — a familiar word that she knew how to write. She asked us several more questions and asked to take a photograph with us. We should have asked the same in return, but it didn’t occur to us at the moment.

Here we are.She was very happy and quite relieved that she has completed her project. It seemed that she was the first and the bravest out of her class. I think in their culture it’s a hard barrier to cross — to “bother” somebody. But it was no bother for us and we were glad we could help.

Kinkakuji.After that we covered the whole path rather quickly and decided to leave the temple grounds. If the place would be serene and quite we would probably spend much more time here, but since it was so crowded we decided to get out of the mob of tourists and just walk around city street. Plus there was nothing else we could do since we had no money to get into the next place we wanted to visit anyhow.


Russian cartoon character — Cheburashka — seem to have taken over Japan.We spent over an hour walking through the streets. On our way we discovered several small temples, a whole bunch of closed banks, a number of restaurants for which we had no money and even got rejected at a local McDonald’s — they do not take credit cards.

Hirano Shrine.We were getting somewhat tired and hungry, so we decided to get back on the bus and go to our hotel. Remembering how there should be Wi-Fi available I thought that maybe we’ll try to call our bank and ask them to unblock our debit card for us in Japan. The bus took us to the same subway station that we were at when we got here. There we took a train back to the center of the city — the central station called Karasuma Oike. Here we jumped onto another train line called Tozai and went one stop to the east. Our hotel was located two blocks away. Very convenient and right in the center of the city.

Typical Kyoto street. This one leads to our hotel.To get to our hotel we had to walk along a tiny street. There was enough space for a single car to fit and there was no sidewalk — we just had to walk along the road itself. Our hotel was easy to find and even though its entrance had a historically old look the building was quite modern. It was just decorated as an older structure. When inside we were greeted by friendly staff, but we were told that they can keep our bags (we had none), yet check in only happens later in the day — it was still too early.

We asked them about currency exchanges and they gave us map which was listing all the banks in the area, but as with other ones — they were all closed. I got on their Wi-Fi network and tried to dial 1-800 number on the back of my debit card via Skype. That didn’t work. So I called my sister, explained the situation, gave them all my information and asked her fiance to call the bank and to pretend to be me. They were keeping him on hold for a long time and we decided not to wait for it to work out and just went out to explore the area.

Street mall.On the map here we saw a long long street that was covered with a roof and littered with all kinds of shops, restaurants and temples. These malls seems to be a popular type of thing in Japan as we saw these kinds of places in several other cities. We walked there, but our mood was pretty sour by now. We wanted to drink, but couldn’t buy anything, we want to eat, but all the places only took cash and no credit cards. After walking through this mall for some time we were starting to feel down right depressed.

Then we saw a 7-11 with an ATM inside. We decided to try our luck again and see what happens. We were hoping that maybe Lenny was successful by now and managed to get our card unlocked. I inserted my card, entered my pin and requested a withdrawal of ¥10,000. The machine started thinking, dialing and then we heard a magical whirling sound lighting up a feeling of hope in us and then it spit out the money! We were ecstatic. Never before we loved 7-11 as we did at that moment.

Entrance to our ryokan.We took our new found fortune and proceeded to buy some food. Alёna got herself some red bean ice-cream which she keeps cursing to this day and I got myself some cross of a bun with meat and a wanton. It was the most delicious wanton-bun thing I ever ate. We got ourselves some juice and tea and were on our way back to the subway station to proceed with our plan. Lenny has saved our day and our anniversary.

Nijo Castle

Gates to the castle. Palace is inside.Nijo Castle was located only 2 subway stops away from ours. It was the first thing that we put on our list of things to see when we were planning our trip since it was so close to our hotel. The hunger was gone, we were “rich” and an ancient castle was awaiting us. We were in a great mood.

Nijo Castle.Nijo Castle itself was built somewhere in early 1600s and is currently designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The castle has several high walls surrounded by moats, multiple ponds and gardens and a large palace which served as the residence and office of the shogun. And visitors were allowed inside the palace.

On one of the guard towers.We were asked to give up our shoes at the entrance and were welcomed inside. There was no photography allowed in there, but it was a very interesting self-guided tour. First thing that we noticed was the sound that the floors make — nightingale floors. When people walk on them they make a high pitched melodic squeaking sound. If we didn’t read about this before we would think that the floors were simply old, but in reality they were specifically designed this way so nobody would be able to approach the shogun without being noticed.

View from the tower.Inside there was a large number of different rooms and each one had its purpose. They had mannequins dressed in kimonos in most of them displaying what normally would be happening — a dinner, a meeting and so on. Shogun was always protected by body guards that were hidden from view behind different kinds of doors and closets. The place was quite huge inside. It took us at least 20 minutes to walk through it.

One of the paths inside the castle grounds.Afterwards we walked around the territory of the castle looking at the gardens, ancient buildings and taking photographs. It was all so interesting and unusual. So many great moments and memories — I can’t say this enough.


The sun was starting to set, we were tired and we were getting ready for our special anniversary dinner — we had to get back to hotel by 7pm — the dinner takes a very long time to prepare and has to be served at a precise time. We got back to subway and soon after we were at our hotel. We were warmly greeted, they showed us around, made some green tea for us and we had our dinner.

Our room at Nishiyama Ryokan.For dinner there were only 2 of us there, we tried a lot of different and unknown things for us, drank some sake and had a great time. The room was very cozy, the breakfast in the morning was equally great and a tea ceremony that they performed for us was very special too. Alёna claims that it was the best tea she has ever had a chance to drink, although I myself didn’t like the taste — it was too bitter for me.

I’m running through this part because I’ve already written about the hotel and our dinner in much more detail earlier. I’m really glad that we decided to spend some extra money and book a room here. Maybe it’s not a 100% authentic ancient place, but it was a perfect place for beginners like us.

Tea ceremony.It’s a great tradition that we have — to do something special on each one of our anniversaries and this day is definitely one of the most memorable and unusual days to date.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010


TurkeyThanksgiving is celebrated in Unites States on the fourth Thursday of November. Today is that day. I don’t remember when I started to like this holiday, but it’s one of my favorite holidays of the year. First of all it’s a family holidays and those are always my favorite. Second reason was added in 2006 — Alёna and I got married on Thanksgiving, so now we have two anniversaries during most of the years.

CornMy parents invited all of us for a Thanksgiving dinner to their place. We gave Shublik some turkey cat food before leaving, not to leave him out. Alёna, Arosha and I went to my parents. My mom, as always, made an elaborate dinner. Four or five different salads, corn on the cobs, two types of potatoes, baked cauliflower and of course a stuffed turkey. Everything was very delicious.

SaladsWe had a great time, remembering this year and what we’re thankful for, and we’ve got pretty happy lives and have a lot to be thankful for. The family of course is the biggest part of it. And our newest member had his first Thanksgiving too, although he’s still too young for turkey. He gets in the form of milk in a few hours.
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ra Pa Pam Pam!

Roasted Turkey Roulade.This year I used Inna Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics” cookbook to select the Christmas menu. Since it was only four of us, I’ve decided to go with simple, but new recipes. Also, since we’ve totally skipped turkey or even chicken this Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to correct the issue, and served it tonight.

“Roasted Turkey Roulade” turned out to be very good! If anybody’s interested I can send the recipe, but let me just mention that the stuffing includes dried figs and cranberries, Italian sausage, pine nuts, celery, onions and fresh rosemary which gave the stuffing a very nice hint of flavor.

Our Christmas dinner table — corn, turkey, mashed potatoes.I prepared the stuffing last night in order to reduce cooking time and to get less tired today. It was a smart move, since today it only took me and Danya, who helped to tie a rope around the meat, just 10 minutes to prepare a roulade for oven. I got a chance to use a meat thermometer — one of the last New Year’s presents from Danya. It turned out to be very useful, since I wouldn’t be able to measure the readiness of the dish so precisely without it.

I served the turkey with a “Confetti Corn” (an easy-to-make warm salad from corn, red onion and bell pepper) taken from the same book and oven-roasted garlic mashed potatoes. Yam! )

But enough about food — let’s talk about Christmas. Continue Reading
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