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

August 11, 2011

Piccolo Amore

Have you ever thought about how certain words provoke particular associations? Probably not if you speak only one language. But for a bi—or multi—lingual individual this could be a daily practice.

I first started thinking about this a little while ago while interpreting one of the conversations from English to Russian and back. The lady said “Я поела огурец”//”I ate cucumber” and as soon as I heard the word “огурец”, which is Russian for “cucumber” I had an image in my head of a crisp, cool and watery—this is how I remembered cucumbers from the childhood—green vegetable, associations that are so strong I could almost feel the cucumber on my teeth!

Word “cucumber”, meaning of which is quite clear to me, still does not awake such associations as its Russian translation.

Now the word "pickle" brings yet another association, quite different too.

I know the song isn't about pickles but about love. I love pickles, always have. And this year, I braved to make my own.

The process turned out easier than I though. And the outcome was out of this world! And by “this world” I mean this side of the globe—I have never eaten such pickles here. But I was indulging in store bought varieties, so it’s no surprise.

Another way we experience associations is trough our taste buds. Once I took a bite of these home made pickles, I was transported in time back to the street markets of my hometown where old ladies were selling semi-sours from the large buckets.

Pickles Lacto-fermenting

You will need:

A 5 gallon paint bucket with lid (new, never used for paint, buy it in the paint supply aisle of your home improvement store)
A large pot 8 or 12 quart
10 pounds medium pickles (4˝ to 6˝ long), washed
6 quarts of water
1 cup minus 2 T spoons pickling or kosher salt
About a dozen fresh grape leaves—they keep the crunch
1 bunch of dill weeds, washed
1 head of garlic, peeled
1 T spoon coriander seeds
1 T spoon dill seeds
1 T spoon black peppercorns
5-6 dry chili peppers (optional)

*Keep cucumbers in cold water overnight for freshness*

  • In the bucket, layer washed grape leaves on the bottom to cover. Put in washed pickles, dill, garlic and spices.
  • In the pot, bring water and salt to boil. Slowly pour boiling water over the pickles into the bucket.
  • Close the bucket and keep it in a dry cool place. In 5 days you can open and skim the pickles as well as sample some semi-sours.

And that’s it for Piccolo amore!

August 04, 2011

The Cook's Soul

I love proverbs and saying from different cultures and in different languages. In Russia, we have yet another saying "Вкладывать душу" that literally translates to "put {one’s} soul in {something one does}”.

An imaginative little child that I was, when I first heard this phrase I tried to imagine how a person would put a piece of his soul in his project. It would look like a little cloud, emanating from the chest area, gently descending on a man's work, growing and smoothly enveloping the new creation, illuminating it from within.

As I matured, this saying became my guide. No matter what I do, I believe that a little particle of my soul always passes on to my work. On a bad day, when I complain about my daily rut, I remember that hologram I once had in my imagination when I was a child and instantly my perspective turns around. Because when you put your soul into something, you illuminate your creation as well as the process itself. I believe that you give or rather share life with your endeavors.

I also believe that soul is a flow of energy and everything has its own energy. When we touch the surface, we pass our own liveliness, creating a ripple effect. If we touch with kindness the ripples are smooth and soothing. We have an effect on everything we touch.

Now think about how we affect the food. When we cook, we pass our energy to the dish. That’s why it is even more important to pour your soul into your cooking. The food with soul is alive and potent whereas the commercially prepared food is weak and dead for most of the part. No wonder when we eat commercially prepared food, a.k.a. processed foods we often feel tired and sluggish.

When we cook, we get to share our soul, our heart and love with our dear ones. Machine has none of the above-mentioned qualities, at least since the last time I checked!

My dad’s cooking is a perfect example. He doesn’t cook often but when he does, he gives in wholeheartedly. Ever since I was little I enjoyed watching him cook: with love and kindness, he would carefully prepare the ingredients on a chopping board, making sure that each piece is equal to another. Then he would attentively combine everything over the element, creating a delicious dinner. It looked like he was in meditative state of mind. We always liked his cooking better than my moms, however, when confronted we were hesitant to admit it! He still cooks, alas even less often then before, but approaching his task with the same significance as ever.

One of my favorite dishes my dad cooks is a ragout of nightshades. We didn’t have a name for it until one day my husband told me that in Arabic cuisine they have a similar dish and its name is … The Cook’s Soul. Isn’t it poetic?

This time of the year, the nightshades are making appearance in the local gardens and farm markets. The nightshades are tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes. The latter one’s fruits aren’t eatable, of course—but it’s a story for another blog post …

The Cook's Soul
Serves 6
½ pound eggplants (2 medium)
½ pound tomatoes (3-4 medium)
½ pound bell peppers (2 large)
1 jalapeño pepper
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 T spoon tomato paste
2 T spoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Prepare the eggplants: peel the skin if desired and dice the eggplants. I peel it with a julienne peeler (I think it’s the name of this gadget) so it is easier to cut through the skin. Put the diced eggplants in the colander and pour 1 teaspoon of coarse salt over to let the bitter juice run off.

2. Prepare the tomatoes: score a cross on the top of each tomato (the opposite pole from where the tomato is connected to the vine) and pour an entire teapot of boiling water over the tomatoes. Let cool and peel the skin starting at the incision. Put whole peeled tomatoes aside.

3. Prepare the peppers: cut the top off, remove seeds and membrane and then cut the pepper in 8 and then slice across. Slice it with the inner side up so knife goes through the pepper’s flesh effortlessly. Otherwise, the skin will be in a way. Repeat the same with jalapeño pepper, with caution, if using.

4. Chop onion and carrots and crush the garlic.

5. In a large skillet heat oil and add onion, carrot, garlic and peppers. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let it all sweat for 10 minutes. Remove the cover; add salt and freshly ground black pepper.

6. Add diced eggplants. Mix it all together, cover and let it sweat for another 10 minutes.

7. Meanwhile dice tomatoes, preserving the juice. Use a serrated knife but if you don't have one, you can use a stake knife to easily cut through tomatoes. When eggplant is almost all translucent, add diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix it, cover and let cook for another 10 minutes until all comes together and eggplants are completely cooked—they will not have any white left inside.

8. Serve with bread, rice, or another nightshade representative—boiled potatoes.

Here’s a piece of my soul in the Cook’s Soul!

August 01, 2011

School your children, but learn from them

In Russian, there's a saying "Старики, как дети", in English: "Old people are like children". This means that the old people behave like children. But if you think about it and consider different understanding, it could mean that for us, adults, old people are as valuable as children. We have to take care of them both, we have to protect them both, but most importantly, in my understanding, they both can teach us life lessons…

It is clear how one can learn from an elderly person, whose stories are brimmed with life experiences and valuable lessons. But, with all due respect to the elders, today I want to talk about children and what they can teach us while we're so busy schooling them.

Las weekend, we had a sleep over and there was seven children in my house for two joyful days. I couldn’t help myself but devote my entire Sunday to my amusing little guests. And I have to admit, I had the best time in so long!

They reminded me how it is to be a child; how to be imaginative; how to be innovative; how to give into the moment wholeheartedly.

Have you ever noticed how children look at the world around us? Everything is new, everything is exciting, and everything brings joy. Why do we stop viewing the world through the looking glass of our inner child?

You might say that as we grow older we become more responsible. And I do agree. But look at the root of this word: response. How can you response to or for something that you don’t even pay full attention to, something you do in autopilot mode?

The kids look at things they encounter in life with their full attention. A genuine interest is what becomes a little propeller for their little ever-inquiring minds.

Why do we stop inquiring? Is it because we think we have acquired?

As we mature, we loose these valuable skills, disregarding them as “childish” and “immature”. But our inner children never give up, waiting patiently for another chance to come forth, to remind us of simple joys and how easy it is to be happy.

The children can show us that there is so little needed to be happy. They don’t really care about having many toys or things they just want company. The rest is easily falls into place when they turn their imagination on! I barely dare myself to give anyone a parenting advise, but I must say, stop overwhelming your kids with acquisition so they can go on inquiring! Give them something they can do/make, or better yet create, not just have in possession. Give them an experience! It applies to us, adults, too.

This past Sunday, we filled our day with just joy and laughter. One of the girls came up with idea of DIY water slide. We cut up a wide strip of heavy duty plastic (I used a pool cover bubble plastic) and laid it on a sloped part of our backyard. We have arranged two garden hoses, one at the beginning and the other one in the middle, to create a fun water slide, as good as any store-bought one! I think it was a genial idea! (My body thought otherwise, waking up all beaten up next morning, but who cares?!)

When we got hungry, another guest of mine proposed we make pizza for lunch. As I was making excuses to why I can’t make pizza right now (don’t have yeast, can’t go to store with all of them, etc.) she said that we could use pita bread. And so we did.

I set up a pizza making station and we started to create our own culinary “masterpieces”. I chopped any veggie I found in my fridge or garden, shredded some mozzarella cheese and got the tomato sauce.

Kids layered the ingredients on top of the pita bread, finishing with some garlic powder and ground black pepper. We grilled the pizzas on the gas grill for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese was melted. Then, impatiently waited for it to cool down, enough to be able to chomp on it… it was good!

Find time in your life to let your inner child out of it’s “naughty corner” of our daily rut and you will gain a new, fresh, and happy perspective on life!