Saturday, March 30, 2013

Russian Feast part dva (two)

Russian Family Restaurant

Yum.  We went out for an authentic Russian meal last night at a new restaurant that recently opened in Redwood City.  I think my husband was a little worried that he wasn't going to enjoy his meal, since he wasn't a huge fan of the borscht and pelmeni.  We had to drag my daughter kicking and screaming and my son fell asleep in the car on the drive, so I didn't have high hopes for a peaceful meal with well-behaved kids.  I am happy to report that my husband and I were both wrong!!  He's actually wrong quite often but it's pretty rare for me :) 

We dined at Russian Family Restaurant, which is, exactly as the name implies, owned by a Russian family.  The wife cooks and the husband is the waiter.  I'm not sure if the other employee was a daughter but that would be sweet, wouldn't it?  Anyway, it was a beautiful evening, so we sat at an outside table where the kids wouldn't be too loud. Then came the hard part, deciding what to order!

There were 5 different soups and 7 appetizers, but since the dinner came with complimentary salads and rye bread, we skipped to the entrees.  I had the Chahokhbily iz kuritsy, which was Georgian- style stewed chicken in a tomato based sauce.  It was better than I expected!!  It was almost Middle-Eastern tasting with lots of different spices, not spicy but sooooo flavorful!  The chicken could be cut with a spoon.  Delicious, and since it was served with just a few potatoes and a piece of flatbread that I gave to my daughter, I felt like I stayed on my diet pretty well.

The kids shared Babushkiny Zrazy.  According to the menu, this translates into Grandma's patties.  It was basically mashed potato with ground meat in the middle, shaped into a patty and pan-fried then topped with a fresh mushroom sauce.  I expected it to be pretty plain, but everyone (except my daughter who was still in a funk) agreed that it was super tasty.  The kids also had a beef piroshki that was super fluffy and fresh- yum.

Steve had Shashlyk is baraniny.  Aren't these fun to try to pronounce?  His was kebabs of lamb.  He said it was good and my son seemed to enjoy it as well- I was too full to even try any and I forgot to take a picture too.  But I think you all know what a kebab looks like, right?

They also had 8 different European beers on tap and like 10 different types of Vodka- so we might have to come back another time without the kids :)  

All in all it was a very enjoyable meal and we all had a great night out!  Even my daughter who eventually came around :)

Have a great Easter tomorrow!!  I hope the Easter Bunny is good to you :)   

Friday, March 29, 2013

Let's Learn Russian!

Russian 101

Not an actual student of mine :)
Welcome to the super- duper beginner's course in learning Russian.  Taught by me.  How, you may ask, do I know Russian?  Well, I don't really, but I have taught at least 3 children who came to my class as 2 year olds that only spoke Russian.  So I will teach you what I learned from their parents.  "Ne plach"- that means no crying.  Seems harsh to say to a little kid but that was what they taught me to say.  Also, "moloko" is milk.  I probably also learned how to say "let me change your diaper" and "mommy will be back" but I don't remember those.  There, that is the extent of my teaching.  I know, pretty impressive.  Luckily, I was able to get some words and phrases from the internet.  The Russian language also uses its own alphabet so I found an example of that too.  Isn't the internet the best thing ever invented??? 

Here goes...  (the capital letters should be stressed in these first 2 sections)

Hi - privEt     Good Bye- dos vidAnya   Thank You- spasiba
Yes- da    No - Nyet     I Love You- ya tiby A l'ubly U

1- adin     2- dva     3- tri     4- chitYri    5- p'At     6- shEst
7- sEm     8- vOsim    9- dEvit    10- dEsit

(not sure exactly which syllable is stressed- sorry)

Black- chyor-niy     White- byeh-liy     Red- krahs-niy
Blue- see-niy     Green- zee-lyoh-niy   Yellow- zhyol-tiy

Russia is a wonderful country- Rasiya zamichAtel naya stranA

Tonight we are going out to eat at a Russian restaurant :)  I will let you know tomorrow how it went, but I thought it fitting that the last phrase should be......

 Bon Appetit-  Khoroshiy Appetit!!!!  

No, this is not the Russian restaurant!!! Dosvidanya everyone!!!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Field Trip and a Feast!

First, the Field Trip...

I love the area we live in, not only is the weather pretty nice (sorry Midwest) but there are so many different ethnic shops and restaurants around.  I've visited places (again, sorry Midwest) where there was a severe shortage of ethnicity.  We went out FOR Mexican food in the small town in Wisconsin where my father lives and they served tater tots with spicy cheese.  I'll admit they were kinda tasty but we have much better Mexican food in California.  And we have Russian bakeries!!!! 

I took the kids on a little culinary field trip today.  After school we drove to San Francisco (Geary Blvd. if you are in the area) and found a whole area with Russian bakeries, a grocery store, and a gift shop and deli.  We found a great parking spot, paid our meter and went shopping.  We hit up the bakery first.  There were piroshkis, soups, pelmeni (very like ravioli), all types of breads and cakes.  A bad time to not eat wheat or carbs.  So I decided I would take one for the team for our Russian feast.  We got a few different types of piroshki- beef, mushroom, and cabbage. 
I got a bag of frozen pelmeni, a small loaf of bread and a few cream horns for the kids.  For those of you unfamiliar with piroshki, they are a filled type of fried bread.  The name means "little pie" in Russian and that is what they are, a meat (or vegetarian) handheld pie.  They are also delicious (and greasy)!  If you'd like to try to make some here is a recipe.

Pelmeni were new to me and I soon found out they were pretty much just raviolis.  These ones had a sausage filling and the internet suggested that they should be served with butter, sour cream and salt and pepper.  I might have been a little heavy handed with the salt (or they might have already been salty), but we all found these a little too salty, but still pretty tasty!  The bread turned out to be nothing special.  The lady behind the counter wasn't very helpful, even when I explained we were doing a project on Russia, so for all I know we just bought plain ol' wheat bread!  The cream horns must've been pretty good because we didn't make it out of the bakery before they were devoured!
Our next stop was a few doors down at Europa Plus, a Russian grocery store.  This time the salesperson was very nice!  She showed us some candies, tried to talk us into some caviar (ick), and explained how a few items were used.  By now, the kids were in "full sugar mode" and so it wasn't long before they were running up and down the aisles.  I tried to take pictures but the battery on my camera was dying so I just got a few things and took my screaming kids and our treasures home!  We bought an Easter bread, called Kuhlich, some half-sour pickles, a few different types of candy, and a soft drink that the lady assured me was "like root beer only not as sweet".  I'd love to go back and spend more time with someone who could answer my questions.  The problem with the ethnic shops is that they assume you must know what the stuff is or you wouldn't be going there- so everything was in Russian and I had to guess what it was.  The saleslady helped some, but the store was pretty busy so we were on our own a lot.  By the time we left our time on the meter was out and it was raining, so we didn't get to the deli or the gift shops but I'd love to go back and check them out!

So we took our big ol' bag of stuff home and had a feast.  Well, first we drove through Golden Gate Park and looked at the Bison.  Did you know there were bison in San Francisco? 

 While I was making the borscht for dinner (recipe to follow), we sampled the pickles, the Easter bread, and the candies.  Can you say tummy ache?  They were all delicious, but it might be just that I haven't eaten any bread or candy for 2 months.  I had never had such fresh pickles before.  They were still crunchy and cucumbery and had a much different taste than I'm used to.  My son and I both loved them and I think I will be sad when they are gone. The Kuhlich (recipe) is like Italian Pannetone.  Dense and slightly sweet, with a couple raisins.  Would I buy it again? Probably not.  The chocolates were good but not any different than other chocolates that I could tell.  The "root beer" was not good.  One of those things that you have people taste just so you can see the look on their face :)  It was made of barley and rye and kind of tasted like bitter beer (I was assured it was nonalcoholic).  Russia has some tasty treats amd some that are an acquired taste.  Here is a recipe for another one we tried - borscht!

Borscht is really just vegetable soup.  Bright red vegetable soup.  That's because it has beets in it, along with cabbage, celery, onions, potatoes and dill.  The recipes I loosely based this on also called for juniper berries, but I forgot to look at the Russian markets, so hopefully that wasn't an important flavor.  Anyway it's a healthy recipe that you'll feel good about serving to your family.  And if you're lucky they might even eat some :)

For the recipe you will need:
  • 10 cups water
  • 3-4 beets- peeled
  • 2 -3 carrots- peeled and sliced
  • 1 potato- peeled and cubed
  • 1 onion- finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk - chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cabbage (not in picture)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 bunch fresh dill- minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic- chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 12 whole juniper berries (good luck finding those)
  • sour cream
  • pepper to taste
1. Start with a pot and add the water, onion,bay leaf, juniper berries, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, celery, about half the lemon juice, and the beets cut in half.
2. Cook on medium heat until the beets are able to be pierced with a fork- 15 minutes or so once the water heats up.
3. When the beets are soft take them out and either put them into a food processor and chop (clean way) or let them cool a minute and grate them on a box grater.  Wear gloves and old clothes because beets STAIN!!!  Add chopped beets back to soup.
4.  Let the soup cook about 5 more minutes then add dill and salt and pepper.  Taste and if too sweet, add more lemon juice.
5. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.  It can also be served cold.

I wasn't sure I was going to like this.  The only time I like beets are pickled beets.  I tried a bowl of the soup after the "photo shoot" and it was pretty good but I knew I was gonna be in trouble.  The trouble was that my picky eaters were going to be very turned off by the red chunkiness of the soup.  So I pureed it.  Now it was all about the flavor and no trying to pick out onions, or eat around the cabbage.  It kinda worked.  The kids each tried it.  A small victory, I know, but I'll take what I get. 

The adults ate theirs along with the piroshki and pelmeni.  Will I make borscht again?  No, probably not.  Would I order it at a restaurant?  Yeah, I just might.  But I know for sure I'm going back for those fresh pickles!!! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Russian Eggs Craft

Just in time for Easter!

I never really understood the reason for Easter Eggs, I mean what do they have to do with Easter?  The bunny too, but we can deal with that another time.  Well, it seems that colored eggs have a long tradition as a symbol of Spring.  Not always necessarily Easter, but of the growth and new life that happens in Spring.  Eggs were mentioned in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, China and, of course, Russia.  The bunny? I don't know. 

Russians have traditionally given eggs as gifts to celebrate Easter.  There are two main types of Russian Easter egg. "Krashenka" are a rather plain egg without decoration and usually dyed brown by boiling with onion skins.  For the technique click here.

The other type are called "pysanka" and are very elaborately painted using many steps and special tools and wax.  They are beautiful and these days are made on wooden eggs so they can be kept as treasures or sold as souvenirs. We are going to try to make some of these, but I think I have a much simpler way to do this----MARKERS!!  Ahhh, isn't modern life grand :)  Something that your Russian Babushka (Grandma) might have spent days doing can now be done in a few minutes with a sharpie and some colored pens.

There is also another type of famous egg in Russia- the Faberge.  Gustav Faberge owned a jewelry shop in Russia in the mid 1800's and made beautiful jewelled and enamel eggs.  Most of them were small and made to be worn as pendants, but for the Tsars he stepped it up a notch!  The eggs he made for Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II were made of precious metals and covered with gemstones.  They were larger and made for display.  Some opened to reveal a figure or scene inside.  There were a total of 44 of these amazing eggs made, of those, only 42 remain and they are in museums or private collections.  The Easter Bunny probably has the other 2 in his private collection!  We are going to try to see if we can make our own version of these too.  Not real gems, of course, that might blow the budget just a little :)

Easter Eggs!
For the project you will need:
  • at least a dozen hard boiled eggs
  • markers
  • food coloring
  • glue
  • sequins
  • paper towels

I didn't dye our eggs first.  I should have, it turns out.  We made a few using just the markers and the eggshell absorbed the ink.  They still looked pretty but in a strange, messed up way :) 

 I didn't feel like getting out the whole egg dying/vinegar/food coloring stuff so I just dropped a few drops of food color directly on the egg and rubbed it with a paper towel.  Guess what.  It totally worked and was hardly messy at all!!  My new way of coloring eggs.  After that, the marker didn't absorb and the colors stayed true.   This was where our lack of skill started to show.  We tried to recreate the intricate patterns, but by the end we had smiley faces and more simple designs. 

 For the "faux Faberge" we used sequins and glue.  My daughter went for a more jewel encrusted look while I made a pattern with my sequins.  My son stuck on 3 and then went to play.  He's not much of an art project kinda kid. 

Do our eggs look like they were made in Mother Russia?  No, absolutely not.  Did we have fun? Yes, undeniably.  Will my fingers be blue for the next 2 days? Probably.

Easter Bunny eat your
heart out!!!!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Week 36: Russia

Russia- Big and Beautiful!

Much like myself :)  Haha, I am totally kidding!  We're off to the next country- Russia!  I'm sorry I didn't get to a few posts I had planned for Costa Rica, but I wasn't feeling well for a couple days, and then the weather this weekend was just too beautiful to be inside at the computer!!  This week they said it might rain so maybe I'll get it all done :) 

Now, of ....snow? vodka? borscht?  Yes, all of those things but so much more!  Russia is the largest country in the world, 6,592,800 sq. miles, and has been inhabited since prehistoric times.  Those inhabitants were mostly nomadic tribes until about the 9th century.  Around that time Eastern Slavs (think Vikings), including warriors, traders and settlers, founded an area they called Rus.  This area, over the next 200 years, became one of the largest and wealthiest areas in Eurasia.  The Mongols invaded, and over the course of the next few centuries, the rule of Russia changed from the Mongols to the Grand Duchys to the Tsars, the Imperial Dynasty and the Socialists to the Communists, and finally back to the people.  Today, Russia is a democratic nation with a rapidly growing economy and a thriving tourism trade.

Here are a few interesting facts about Russia-
  • Because it is such a large country, Russia has many different environments.  Frozen tundra, grassy steppes, Forests, Mountains and warm beaches.
  • Russia (then the Soviet Union) put the first human in space.  On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth.  They beat the U.S. by less than a month.
  • Russia has a huge amount of coastline with parts of it in the Artic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Baltic Sea, the Bering Sea, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and, actually, even a few others but I think you get my point.
  • Because there is so much access to water, fishing is a big source of income and a major part of the diet in some areas.
  • The combined lakes of Russia hold 20% of the world's liquid fresh water.
  • Lake Baikal is the world's oldest, deepest and purest lake.  It has species of fish that are found no where else in the world.  It also has the only species of freshwater seal. 

There is a lot to do this week!  Easter is an important holiday in Russia, so we are going to make (well, try) some of the Russian style Easter Eggs

Russia is also the home to a large collection of Faberge Eggs that were collected by the Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II, so we will attempt to make our own jewelled egg. 

Then there's the food!  I found a couple of Russian restaurants and I know of a whole area of SF full of Russian bakeries and shops- FIELD TRIP!!  We are going to learn a card game called P'yanitsa and, well, who knows what else!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Art Project- Butterflies

The Beautiful Butterflies of Costa Rica

Who doesn't like butterflies?  I can't think of anyone, can you?  Imagine a place with a beautiful, tropical landscape, sparkling beaches, amazingly diverse plants and animals AND over 1250 different species of butterflies!!!  It's Costa Rica.  This place just gets better and better :)  I'm definitely gonna check on flight prices after this post.  I need a vacation :) 

Costa Rica is home to about 10% of all the world's butterfly species and, if you think about the size of the country, that fact is amazing.  The butterfly population helps the people of Costa Rica with more than just making their country pretty, they help pollinate the plants and trees and also provide another tourism draw. 
Butterfly gardens and conservation tours are a big draw. The Butterfly Conservatory seemed like a particularly educational trip.  The beauty and fragility of these creatures is astounding. 

The most well-known of the butterflies found in Costa Rica is the Blue Morpho.  This beautifully bright blue butterfly (say that 3 times) is also a master of camoflauge.  You'd think that a bright blue butterfly whose wingspan can reach almost 6 inches across would be an easy meal for a bird, right?  But when the Blue Morpho closes its wings it is the same color as wood or dirt.  
A swirled brown and black, with large "eyespots" that are meants to scare away anything that sees past the camoflauge.  When it is in flight and not easily hidden, the Blue Morpho has a crazy, erratic flight pattern that makes it hard to catch.  Nature is so cool.  So, in honor of this beautiful creature, we are going to make a butterfly for our art project this week.  Let's go...............

The Blue Morpho
For the project you will need:
  • black craft foam sheet or paper
  • brown paper or felt
  • blue glitter, sequins, feathers
  • pipecleaners for antennae
  • glue
  • scissors, exacto knife (supervised)

1. Cut your black foam or paper into shape of butterfly.  I folded it in half first so both sides are equal.  It was sticky-back foam so that's why it looks white on the back.

2. Since we used sticky backed foam, we decided to cut out what was going to be the blue sections.  Once they were cut out we flipped them over to the other side.  When we peeled the paper off the sticky section the glitter stuck right to it.  Smart, right?  Well, read on, it didn't work as well as planned.  Does it ever?

3. Now that you have the pretty blue wings made, peel the paper off the rest of the butterfly and stick it to the brown felt or paper.  Cut off excess brown.

4. Put a bunch of glue or double-sided tape in the "blue" section area and add the blue section back.  I didn't have double -sided tape but I think it would've worked better.  The glue didn't stick very well- maybe paste would be even better? 

5.  Add the antennae (I stuck them between the black sticky foam and the felt)and your beautiful butterfly is done.


Update: It's the next morning and the glue we put on in direction #5 never stuck.  It just melted into the felt.  Oh, well.  Hopefully yours works better or you come up with a better idea.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On the Menu: Costa Rican Food

Beans, Beans the musical food...

That's a lot of beans!!!
I won't finish that little ditty, but you adults know the rest :)  Guess what we're making today?  3 guesses.... BEANS!! Black beans are a main staple in the Costa Rican cuisine.  I found them in many recipes and, even though the kids probably won't eat it, I decided to make Black Bean Soup.  In Costa Rica, they eat a dish called gallo pinto, which is basically black beans and rice, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I remember when I lived alone and I would do the same thing!  $5 worth of ingredients could feed me for a week!!  Another common dish is fried plantains.  Plantains are those big, huge bananas that you see at the grocery store but you've never bought because they always look black and over-ripe.  Apparently they are supposed to look like that :)  They can't be eaten raw and are usually prepared deep fried.  I don't deep fry very often, so I found a recipe that oven "fried" them.  The reviews said they tasted as good as fried- we'll see :)  The cuisine of Costa Rica is a blended cuisine of the foods of Spain, America, the Caribbean, and South America.  All I know is that my house smells pretty good right now!!  The soup is cooking as I write this, read on to find out the results :) 

Black Bean Soup
For the recipe you will need:
  • 3 cups black beans - I used canned.
  • 1 med. onion - diced
  • 2 or 3 stalks of celery- diced
  • 1 red bell pepper - diced
  • 1 cup of fresh tomato or 1 can diced
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cloves garlic - minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger - minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil for sauteeing veggies
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp clove
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • sour cream (optional)
  • shredded cheese (optional)
1.  Saute the onion, pepper, celery, garlic and ginger in the olive oil until onion is translucent.  If using fresh tomato add that too.
2.  Put the cooked vegetables and all the other ingredients in a slow cooker and cook about 4 hours.  Or you can cook on stove top by bringing to a boil and simmering about 30 mins.
3.  I blended my soup (so the husband wouldn't see the tomatoes, bell pepper and onions) and served it with some shredded cheese and sour cream on top.  We also served it with.....

Oven Baked Maduros (sweet plantains)
For the recipe you will need:
  • Ripe plantains- black spots are good.
  • cooking spray
1.  Heat oven to 450° F
2. Coat nonstick cookie sheet with cooking spray.  I also used non-stick aluminum foil (just in case)
3. Cut the ends and peel plantain.
4. Cut into 1/2 inch slices on the diagonal
5.  Arrange on cookie sheet and coat top with spray
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, turning as needed, until golden and tender.

Ok, this meal might not be the prettiest think you ever plated up, but it is GOOODDD! At first I thought it was going to be really spicy, but when the sour cream and cheese were added it was perfect.  I mean really good. As good as a restaurant good.  The plantains were nothing special- kind of a warm banana.  But the soup was delicious.  The kids never got past the "brown-ness" of it, even when I served it with tortilla chips and called it "dip".  Ah, kids!  My cooking genius is wasted on them :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Week 35: Costa Rica

Costa Rica- the Land of Riches

Or a more literal translation- the rich coast.  We are headed to an amazing country this week- Costa Rica.  I didn't know much about this relatively small country in Central America, I knew it was supposed to have great beaches and rainforests but that was all I knew.  What a surprise to find this wonderful country!  I love doing this blog.  First, a little background ...

Costa Rica is located between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America.  The capital is San Jose (9.92°N / 84.07°W).  The area had many indigenous tribes but none of them were a strong force, so when the Spanish Conquistadors came ashore in the early 1500s, they were pretty quickly assimilated into colonial life.  Those who fled the Spanish retreated to the hills quietly.  Because there were not many indigenous people to be (forced) laborers, the Spanish colonists had to work their own land.  This was not very popular and so Costa Rica was not a very popular place to colonize.  That was a good thing for the Costa Rican people, without the oppression of the Spanish, the culture was allowed to grow into a very egalitarian society.  That's a fancy new word I learned- "egalitarian".  It means that the people were equals and free from "upper" and "lower" class inequalities.  Sounds good, right?  The country was freed entirely from Spanish rule in 1821 and by 1838 the Republic of Costa Rica was born.

This is a country that I think all other countries should take a look at.  Aside from the egalitarianism (wow, the word can get fancier!) of the country, they are also very forward thinking in other ways. 
  • In 1948, the country disbanded it's army and decreed that instead of an army of soldiers their country would have an "army of educators", and so, there is a very high literacy rate and good schools throughout the country.
  • 25% of the country is considered to be protected national parks and recreational hunting has been banned.  The biodiversity of the country is now one of it's main sources of income.  "Ecotourists" come to visit the rainforests and national parks to see the sloths, monkeys and other animals that make Costa Rica their home.

  • The government of Costa Rica has decreed that they will be carbon-neutral by 2021 and they have been ranked as one of the "greenest" countries by various world agencies.
A phrase often associated with Costa Rica is "pura vida", which means "pure life".  This reflects the Costa Rican way of life much like "Aloha" represents the Hawaiian mentality.  Ticos, as the Costa Rican people call themselves, use "Pura Vida" as a greeting or as a response to "how are you?".  I can't think of a more perfect attitude and I can't wait to learn more about this great country.