If I inspired you, I've done my job!

April 30, 2011

Black and White

I often hear that life is a black and white pattern. One black stripe is followed by a white one. Lately, I have been fallen into this pattern and could only perceive the world around me as an old noir broken down into black and white lines.

But have you ever noticed how striped patterns tend to opalesce with opulence of colors through camera lens or TV screen? I think sometimes to see the colors in life and break monochromatic rhythm of black and white all we need to do is to zoom out, look at it from afar. And let the black and white stripes shine with interference of new colorful patterns.

Often we inclined to think that if it's not black than it's white. For example, if we don't know how to do something, we rather disregard it as something difficult without even making a single attempt. But most of the times all it takes is to step out of this Black&White pattern, zoom out to see if there's any grey, and later colorful area.

My intend here in not to teach of preach, but to give creativity a chance. Even if it comes to such simple and everyday task, such as cooking a meal or a favorite treat. Just look around: almost on every package there are myriads of interesting and inspiring ideas longing to be embodied. Once you unleash your creativity it will bloom and bring the sweetest fruits that will fully satisfy the hart and the soul.

My husband learned baking cookies by reading the recipe on the back of the chocolate chips package. After a while he let himself be more creative and added second kind of chocolate chips—white chocolate. That was a huge success with kids. Thus the Black&White Chocolate Chip Cookie was born…

I took the idea of Black&White further a bit and mixed up two kinds of flour: 'black' whole wheat and 'white'—all purpose. Just for the fun of it!

Black and White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 1 1/2 dozen large cookies
1 cup butter (2 sticks) softened
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 t spoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cup white all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 t spoon baking soda
1 t spoon salt
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
6 oz white chocolate chips
  • In a bowl, beat butter with sugar until creamy, for about 2 minutes on high speed.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla extract continuing beating to combine.
  • Slowly add both flours, soda and salt, mix until all combined.
  • Finally, fold in chocolate chips. Cover the batter and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F, spoon about 1/4 cup (big cookie scooper) of batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, cool on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

Pour a glass of cold milk and sink your teeth into a freshly baked big cookie. A perfect Black&White snack!

April 20, 2011

The Bleach Experiment

A while ago I wrote about a newly discovered technique to renew clothes using bleach. I transformed a simple monotone jersey shirt into a vibrant tie-dye (in that case tie-bleach) garment.

This time I decided to repeat the experiment and I'll tell you why. I took my girls shopping for clothes the other day. I have to admit we rarely do that, but I really had a good time connecting with my daughters through chatting about their school and other silly subjects.

But purchase-wise, the trip was stressful. Despite the array of colorful outfits out there, I couldn't help but notice how overpriced kids clothes are while cheaply made. They even sell shorts that look like cut offs! Come on!

And it seems like distressed clothes trend is in now. So don't stress, distress the clothes at home.

This time I'm sharing this easy yet creative technique to turn an old black dress—this was my older daughter dress before, now she can wear as a top—into antiqued striped top. You don't have to use same diagonal direction that I have, it is totally up to your imagination.

Be careful using bleach though. Use gloves, protective goggles and cover the surface with painter's plastic or tarp. And make sure the room is WELL VENTILATED, i.e. open the windows if you're working indoors. Luckily the weather permits to do so now :)

You will need:

1 cup bleach
2 cups warm water
Spray bottle
Masking tape
Tarp (painter's plastic)
Cotton jersey dress/top
Fabric flower (I used the decorative daisy)—optional

Mix 2 parts water (2 cups)+1 part bleach (1 cup) in a spray bottle.

Line the surface with protective plastic (tarp). Tape a pattern of your choice on a dress with masking tape.

Spray the bleach solution on the dress. Let sit for 10 minutes or until changed to desired color.

Repeat with the back.
Air dry the dress. I ended up cutting off the bottom to make it more suitable as a top and because I didn't like the way the bleached pattern turned out on that part of the dress, but it's all up to you.
Wash in regular cycle, attach the flower (if using) and strike a pose!
I have more clothes I'm currently distressing—stress free!—so stay tuned…

April 18, 2011

…Easy to Be Green If It's Borscht!

Today it is scallions' turn to star in a recipe. They are non other but regular onion being very immature. This sophomore has not grown any bulb yet.
The word 'scallion' derived from Askalon (Ashkalon)—one of the Philistine cities and port on the Mediterranean coast. I'm guessing the use of this ingredient traveled in all four directions of the world.

It ended up in Russia as well (most likely it was here all along!). After long and cold winter, when our bodies running low on vitamins, here comes the green onion—one of the first crops, packed with nutrients. With its plentiful phytoncides (the antimicrobial elements in plants) scallions come just in time to fight germs leftover from winter ailments. Green onions are also sprouting early to help us with lingering respiratory diseases, which might accompanied us during the cold months. In 100 grams of scallions there's a daily doze of vitamin C along with vitamin A, B2 and B3. And even though eating hollow leaves raw can give you mildly bad breath, it can help killing germs inside the mouth.

You can eat them fresh in salads, dips and sandwiches or add to stir fries and soups. And that's what I'm doing—making borscht with green onions.
Every spring my mom would cook Green Borscht, using first greens from early farmer's markets. Although in Russia this soup is made with sorrel—a sour spinach-like leafy vegetable, I had not yet found it on this side of the pond. So I decided to use fresh spinach and to make this emerald colored soup sour, I add lemon juice. To prep fresh spinach, that could be sandy at times, use the same process as for leeks, described in my previous post.

Garnished with chopped hard boiled eggs and, as almost everything else in Russia, with a dollop of sour cream, this is my way to eat up spring!

Green Borscht
Serves 6 to 8
2 T spoons olive oil
2 bunches of scallions, chopped (makes about 2 cups)
1 lb white potatoes, cubed
1 bunch of fresh spinach, chopped (makes about 4-5 cups)
1 cup of chopped mixed fresh herbs: parsley, dill and cilantro
Salt+ground black pepper to taste
8 cups of water or chicken broth (I used water)
Juice of 1/2 medium lemon (about 2 T spoons)
To garnish:
Hard boiled eggs (I used 4), chopped
Sour cream
A lemon wedge to squeeze more juice in your bowl, if desired

  • Heat oil in a stock pot, add all the vegetables, salt and pepper lower the heat to medium, cover the pot and let vegetables sweat for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are half way cooked.
  • Pour water, raise the heat to high and let it boil. Once boiled, check for salt and adjust if needed.
  • Cover and let simmer for another 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Squeeze the lemon juice into the pot.
  • Serve and savour!
The scallions are not the 'key' ingredient in this dish, however, you will notice and appreciate their onion flavor that makes this soup tasting very fresh!

April 15, 2011

Chicken Leeken

As I was creating my yesterday’s post, I was thinking it would be unfair to mention only chives from the big family of onions. So I decided to dedicate the rest of the recipes this month to other members of this crunchy, empowered by nutrients family.

Next performance is by the tall brother named Leek. This wonderful vegetable does not grow a bulb like its more popular brother—the onion, it remains straight, cylindrical in shape. While its white part remains mostly hidden, its neatly pleated emerald leaves crest over the ground like a green peacock tail. Layer after layer leek is wrapped with vitamins and minerals that are essential to our health. They include potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur—that is what makes eating leeks a little bit gassy.

Leek has mild onion flavor but not as astringent as scallions. While prepping the chunky stud, you might not shed any tears as you do with regular onion, but you surely will smell the essential oils that are evaporating making your sinuses open up for more! These oils contain all the vitamins: ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and niacin (vitamin B3) as well as carotene, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and thiamin (vitamin A).

Originated from South-western Asia, leeks found many uses for its talents in Mediterranean cuisine. Baked into pies, stuffed with meet or simply braised they are quite popular in Turkey and Greece.

Here is some trivia about leeks from the Internet I find interesting : Dried specimens from archaeological sites in Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings showed that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet “from at least the 2nd millennium BCE onwards.” They also allude to surviving texts that show it had been also grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE.

The leek was the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.

The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, worn along with the daffodil (in Welsh, the daffodil is known as "Peter's Leek,") on St. David’s Day.

In Romania, the leek is also widely considered a symbol of Oltenia, a historical region in the southwestern part of the country.

This popular handsome guy hides a lot of dirt inside, however. Literally! That is why it requires detailed preparation. But it’s not hard. All you have to do is to let gravity give you a hand. Here is how:

Cut off the roots and dark green part of he leaves, this is about ½ of all the length.
Chop each stalk on bias.
Separate the layers and collect the chopped rings in the bowl. Pour cold tap water all the way to the brim and let stand for 20 minutes. All the sand will descend to the bottom. Transfer leeks into the colander (don not pour it over or the dirt will come back!) rinse, and let air dry or pat with clean absorbent towel. The crunchy rings are ready to be cooked!

And what are we cooking today? Chicken Leeken! You have probably already guessed, the inspiration comes from a familiar children's book story—Chicken Licken. One day I was reading this story to my son, amusing him with a very distinctive accent and pronouncing the short [i] sound in ‘Licken’ as long [i:] sound.

I love this dish for its simplicity and my kids love to eat it with chopsticks and ask for it often, although the memory of the story has faded away. Well, not FAR away, my son is only five!

Chicken Leeken

Serves 6 to 8

1 ¾ lb chicken breast, cut in thin strips (see photo)

1 bunch leeks (about 4 medium thickness), prepared as described above
2 T spoons chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1 inch cube of fresh ginger root, pressed through a garlic press
(yes, you can use this gadget here, too!)
1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 T spoons olive oil

2 cups uncooked white rice

  • Cook the rice in 4 cups of water with a pinch of salt.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet or wok and add chicken, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper and cook over high heat until chicken is no longer pink, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
  • Add leeks. Don’t worry if it looks like they don’t fit—the volume will reduce as you cook them. Let the leeks sweat for 20 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Turn off the heat and add chopped cilantro.
Serve over a bed of cooked rice.
…And as the story goes, a sly fox eats Chicken Leeken along with other silly birds! Bon appetite, foxy!

April 14, 2011

Spotlight on chives—the good guys

Since it’s April, I have decided to select a green ingredient for the ingredient of the month. Asparagus represents this time of year most commonly, but while it is basking in a spotlight of the culinary stage during the month of April, it is not the only opening crop during early gardening season.
I picked early chives. While you might find them on the shelves of your supermarket almost all year round, they are pioneers in my garden along with scallions and garlic.

These invigorating flavors, strong or subtle, along with dill, radishes, and sorrel were always associated with spring and early harvest for me since I was a little kid.

I chose onion's timid little brother not only because I like its mild oniony flavor—it is the smallest member of the onion family—but also because it has many nutritional qualities that are unfairly overlooked. I think it is because chives’ benefits are often compared to garlic’s and onions’ and in this comparison, they are rather faint. Never the less, chives are full of vitamins, enough to make it a main ingredient for a dish.

Alas, because of its size, I assume, it is mostly used as garnish or as an herb.

Chives are high in vitamins A and C, potassium, and calcium. Its sulfur compounds—sulfides and sulfoxides have antibiotic properties. Chives contain essential oil that can be extracted from fresh green leaves and used to cure fungus infection of the skin. Other health benefits, very similar to those of chives big brothers, include ability to lower the blood pressure and this aid circulatory system.

Although these little straws of oniony crunchiness grow wild in both hemispheres, farmers have also cultivated chives for many years. Chives were cultivated in Europe in early XVI century and became one of the staples of French cuisine along with tarragon and chervil. Chives are commonly used in fish and meat dishes or condiments. Most of the time, it is used fresh but you can find it in a freeze-dried form in your supermarket’s herb isle as well.
I have been growing my own chives for few years now in containers on my deck. I read somewhere that the beautiful purple flowers, which burst in a cluster, emanate scent that is pest (insects) repellent at the same time attractive for bees. That is why it is a good idea to plant them in or near your garden.

Add chives to your next soup or salad, baked creation or sauce to give your taste buds a delicate hint of onion flavor and crunchy texture! As much as I would like to come up with a dish that uses chives as a main ingredient, this time I used them as a secondary ingredient in my favorite salad and in Sloppy Joes.

These two dishes are very easy and will be ready in minutes. I have to mention that my joeys get jumpy for Sloppy Joes!


Chives Turkey Sloppy Joes for Joeys

Makes 8 ¼ lb sandwiches

2 lb ground turkey
1 cup chopped chives
½ cup chopped dill
1 generous T spoon dry chives
1 t spoon sea salt
½ t spoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (8 oz) tomato sauce
2 T spoons tomato paste
2 T spoons olive oil
1 T spoon balsamic vinegar (optional, not shown on the photo)

8 whole wheat buns (I used focaccia buns)

  • Heat oil in a sauce pan, add turkey, dry chives, salt and pepper, sauté on high until turkey is no longer pink (about 5-7 minutes) stirring to prevent scorching.
  • Add tomato paste, tomato sauce let it boil then turn the heat down and simmer partially closed for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add vinegar, stir, and then add fresh chives and dill.
  • Serve in a bun filled with about ¼ cup of turkey with some fresh vegetables and/or the following radish salad.


Chives and Radish Spring Salad

For 4 1-cup servings

2 bunches of fresh radishes, leaves and ends trimmed, quartered
½ cup (2-3 generous T spoons) chopped chives
2 T spoons chopped fresh dill
2 T spoons sour cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • In a bowl combine all the ingredients and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Serve with Sloppy Joes or as a snack.
For some there is an asparagus to remind the spring is here, for me it is this salad with fine oniony flavor of chives and fresh crunch of the radishes.

Instant Healthy Breakfast

This is a quick post about a new (at least for me) idea for instant breakfast. I love a bowl of warm quick oatmeal as my fist dish of the day but it seems not so quick when I try to enrich it with other ingredients. So I pack these little bowls of 1/2 cup of quick oatmeal, 1 T spoon of milled flax seeds, 1 T spoon of raisins and another T spoon of dried cranberries plus some crushed unsalted nuts and store it closed. Every morning I have a ready to go whole instant breakfast—I just transfer the mix to the serving bowl and pour 1 cup of boiling water. Mix and let stand for couple of minutes and viola—enjoy your instant bowl of wholesomeness!

April 13, 2011

Coffee Grind Art

As any parent I have my moments of hectic and sleepy mornings. Even thought I am not a coffee drinker, I must admit that a cup of java can save my day by charging me with enough energy to avoid sleepwalking while preparing lunches for the kids and arranging breakfast on the plates. However, most of the time my first cup of coffee is my last one for the day, although unfinished one. It would sit on a counter, half full, getting cold and bitter with regret of being misused.

Coffee grind is another story. I make sure I have a good use for this sandy once dry substance. I fertilize my garden and house plants with it, but sometimes it is called for something more creative.

Once I saw an instant coffee ad in a magazine with images made with coffee. So I decided to get creative and use my chocolate colored media for an art hour with my son. He wasn't going to school yet and I had to make sure he has something to do other than playing on the computer during the day. As any kid his age, my son loves to paint.
This time instead of paint that I ran out of we used glue and used dry coffee grind. It was so much fun watching as images appear after you blow the extra coffee dust away.

Besides the coffee grind we used school glue, paint brush and cardboard. We 'painted' silly images with glue and since it was white we couldn't see what is on the cardboard. Then we covered freshly 'painted' cardboard with coffee and then blew it off—coffee that stuck to brushstrokes revealed the picture.
Warning: this is a highly messy process, but what art project isn't?!

April 08, 2011


I will resume blogging soon! I have two posts lined up in the edit, just need a bit of time, because here if it rains, it SNOWS :)

April 05, 2011

Primavera—Tune(a) in to Spring

Primavera… what a nice word to describe this wonderful time of year, time of resurrection, time or rejuvenation, time of new beginnings…

I am very hopeful it will come soon but for now I watch a crazy dance of pesky snowflakes outside my window.

That was written last week. Since then we had one day of 77°F and now it's raining. But it is rather warm rain, the one that promises to wash away all the remnants of passing winter and soak up the soil for new crops so sprout. I have already spotted some tulips leaves curiously peaking out of the ground. Have to fear, tulips, warmth is finally here.

On another note, our CSA announced new season opening soon. That means eating straight from the earth is coming soon! Not to mention, I have started preparing my own planters to receive, nurture and grow new crops.

But for now, I have this easy tuna recipe. I don't usually cook with canned tuna but now I decided to give it a try. And it was quite tasty way to tune into Primavera!

Primavera is also a name for a pasta dish with a light creamy sauce and vegetables. So here's my variation…

Tuna Primavera
Serves 6 to 8 people
1 lb uncooked pasta of your choice—I liked these new fetuchini
1 12oz bag of frozen bell peppers
1 cup chopped celery stalks (about 2-3 stalks)
1 cup finely chopped red onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
1 16 oz can albacore white chunk tuna
1 teaspoon salt
few (5-6) black peppercorns
2 T spoons olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Boil pasta according the package directions.
  • While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet/wok heat the oil and sauté onions and garlic on a medium heat until translucent.
  • Add remaining vegetables and simmer on medium-low heat until pasta is cooked al-dente, tossing occasionally (takes about 10 minutes to thaw and cook all the vegetables).
  • Drain cooked pasta reserving about a 1/2 cup of cooking water.
  • Toss pasta with vegetables, add water, tuna, salt and pepper, rase heat and bring it all to boil. Once boiled, turn heat down to low, add cream and toll all together to cover all ingredients. And that's all! Enjoy!
Primiavera is served!

April 04, 2011

A Spring Fling, or is it?

works for me wednesday at we are that family
I have a confession to make. I have a dirty spring fling affair. When everyone leaves the house, I give in to passionate pleasures in every room of my house. The object of my affection is simple but skillful: on a granite countertops in the kitchen, on the wooden coffee table in the living room, on a ceramic floor tile in the bathroom and even in the 'bathfitter' bathtub! Not to mention how I love to push this diligent handyman against the mirrors and window panes… Are you jealous? Go get your own!

Don't worry about my reputation—I'm talking about cleaning with my favorite do-it-all guy—plain white vinegar!

You might know this acid guy for its skills in cooking—tenderizing meat, turning milk into buttermilk, etc., but to me it became a go-to solution for cleaning as well. As I mentioned in one of the posts, I make a 1:1 white distilled vinegar solution with water and essential oil for practically every surface in the house. But I also use it straight up from the bottle for glass, mirrors, granite and even my electric cook top. Just pour it in a spray bottle and you have a cheap substitution for your windex+fantastic+whateverbrandyoulike cleaner.
  • If you need to clean a kitchen sink, spread some baking soda—vinegar's long time girlfriend—in it and spray white vinegar to create a paste consistency. Let it sit for 2 minutes and clean it off with a sponge or just run water. This way you will not only clean your sink but deodorize it as well because vinegar can also eliminate odors. You can also pour some baking soda down the drain and then pour vinegar down to chaise it to de-clog your constipated drain. Use a cloth damped in vinegar to soak the back of the faucet to remove the hard water deposits.
  • In addition, you can clean and disinfect the guts of your coffee maker by running distilled white vinegar through one cycle (pleas check your coffee maker manual). Then use vinegar that is collected in the pot to clean any coffee stains/rings. Follow by another cycle of plain water.
  • Got nasty grime in your teapot/teakettle? You know, you can brew tea without it! Clean it by boiling vinegar+water mixture 1:1 and them wipe the inside clean and rinse.
  • China, flatware and glassware with nasty rings/stains will be good as new when cleaned/polished with vinegar+baking soda paste.
  • You can also use vinegar in your dishwasher—check your user manual, I don't own a dishwasher, but I heard vinegar helps prevent the water stains.
  • I clean, disinfect and deodorize wood chopping boards by covering them with cloth dipped in vinegar and letting the wood grain soak the vinegar up.
  • Do you own that state of the art stainless steel kitchen appliances that artfully display your kids' fingerprints? Spray some vinegar and wipe off with dry cloth. Clean inside the fridge with vinegar, too.
  • And if you have an electric cook top like I do, you know what a nightmare it could be after each cooking session. Just spray enough vinegar to cover the ugliest stains, let sit for 5 minutes and then wipe it off with a dry cloth. I also clean the inside of my glass oven door with vinegar by spraying it on the open door and letting it sit for 5 minutes, then wipe it with a dry cloth. However, if you have more stubborn stains, you would need some elbow grease.
That's not all! But you get the idea—who needs those chemical laden, technicolor colored, fancily bottled and irritatingly smelling cleaners, especially around your kitchen!

Now, let's bring that spray bottle full of white distilled vinegar to the bathroom. You probably guessed it—sinks, toilets, tubs can all be cleaned, disinfected and deodorized with vinegar. You can also clean shower doors, ceramic tile walls and even set the shower head free from mineral deposits—these deposits won't bring you fortune.
  • Soak shower head overnight in white vinegar then let warm water run through. If yours doesn't come off the wall, make the vinegar 'come' to it: soak a towel in vinegar and wrap it around the fixed shower head and leave over night.
  • You can pour few (3-4) cups of vinegar into the toilet bowl and let it sit for 10 minutes before flushing to eliminate odors.
  • Prolong the life of your toothbrushes by soaking them in vinegar overnight and then rinsing with warm water, every month or so.
  • I use vinegar to wash off hard stains from your hands.
  • And last, but not least, I use vinegar for my hair in lieu of the hair conditioner. Just rinse your hair with it after shampooing. You can use white or apple cider vinegar alike. It will leave your hair soft and shiny.
You might find many more uses for vinegar in the bathroom, if so, do share!

All around the house you will enjoy using vinegar. If you dust with it, it will not only clean surfaces, but will act as an air freshener, eliminating different odors, including smoke odor, if it happens to drift in your house.
  • When cleaning electronics that are made out of plastic, use a 1:1 vinegar+water solution. This will also prevent plastic from attracting dust ever so often since vinegar has anti-static qualities.
  • For this reason you can also use vinegar when doing laundry. Just add a 1/4 cup of it to the rinse cycle. And you're probably thinking that you can also clean the washing machine with it—yes, you can! Just check your user's manual again.
  • Bought a new glass picture frame? No need to let anyone know you bough it on clearance: cover it with a cloth soaked in vinegar for 20 minutes or so and it will peel off easily. You can do the same with a "Proud Parent…" bumper sticker on your car if you're not so proud anymore (or any other bumper sticker or decal)
  • Oh, yes, about wood surfaces! You can polish wood—furniture as well as wall panels—with mixture of 1 part olive oil+1/4 part vinegar+2 parts warm water rubbing it it with a soft cotton cloth. Same will work for leather surfaces like purses and wallets or even shoes (except patent leather)
With so many uses, so many skills how can you resist ditching your store bought cleaner for this plain yet very diligent stud? I couldn't! This new affair will save you money and save your house from invasion of chemicals and that's good enough for me. So go ahead, have a new spring cleaning fling!