Sunday, September 30, 2007

UGH: I killed my orchid!

Yesterday I was super sad and all because I did something totally stupid.

One of my orchids, the one I bought at the National Cathedral garden store, was sick so I kept it in the kitchen while it got better so that my other plants would not get infected (I am not kidding).

Then yesterday I was cooking and opened one of my cupboards and heard a snap!!!

OMG! I snapped off the top 5 inches of the orchid together with 3 buds! I have no clue if they will open up now. Super duper sad.


Today I went to Crafty Bastards Arts & Crafts Fair. It was a great day: warm, sunny, blue sky, great company and of course a chance to buy a lot of jewelry! I was really good at only buying things that I really like and that I haven't seen anywhere else, and that were under $30. The fair had so many creative ideas for clothing, bags, jewelry, etc., etc. I should have taken a camera to take pictures and then try to recreate those idea...or would it be plagiarism?

My first purchase: depending on your "status," some of you "lucky" girls might get this for Valentine's Day!
my imaginary boyfriend loves me!
My second purchase: these were only $8 and I haven't seen anything like this before, although I have noticed that there is quite a bit of jewelry made out of wood popping up in stores lately. Just yesterday I saw some rings made from wood in Wold Market.
My third purchase: I saw this necklace in Nana and absolutely loved it! It's so feminine, dainty, and I put on a new clasp so that now I can take the charms off and wear them in any combination I want. LOVE!

A weekend of cooking

This weekend I cooked up a storm!

Once again, I was testing recipes for Robyn Webb. On the menu: leak/spinach soup, butternut squash with parsnips soup, sausage with white beans and tomato stew, and mango lassies.

Quite a bit of food! I was so happy Jenn and Monica stopped by for the sausage with white beans and tomato stew (my favorite out of 4!) and mango lassies.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Last night I came home and needed to clean my apartment from top to bottom because a few girls were coming over to watch Ugly Betty, Gray's Anatomy and Big Shots. I was SO NOT looking forward to the cleaning part (who ever does?) but then my mood was lifted when I saw that one bud on one of my orchids was open!!!! It is so pretty. I can't wait to go back home tonight to see it again (yes, I'm quite obsessed about my flowers, especially orchids, especially when they are blooming).

The pictures below are of the same flower. I was trying to use a few artistic settings on my camera...some of it looks super cool (in my opinion).

Dinner: Stuffed peppers

I have been living on my own for 6 years now: time really does fly! What I find interesting, is that often times when I'm looking for something comforting, easy, quick and delicious for dinner, I travel back in times and cook something my parents used to make when I was little.

This time it was stuffed peppers. Green peppers were on sale, I was looking forward to another busy week (dancing, volunteering, more dancing, cooking class at Sur La Table, and oh yes, more dancing), and needed something easy to make, delicious and something that would be good as leftovers.

My dad makes stuffed peppers with canned tomatoes or tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish or a skillet; my mom can't stand stuffed peppers with tomatoes. I LOVE tomatoes, so decided to go with my dad (at least this time).

Super easy recipe:
1. cook rice (I used Spanish yellow rice that comes in little packets with seasoning) careful not to overcook
2. separately cook ground beef (or turkey, or chicken) with onions and garlic, don't forget to season with salt and pepper or any other spices (I was a bit shy on the seasonings because the rice was already seasoned)
3. combine rice and ground beef mixture with some canned drained tomatoes
4. put some canned tomatoes or tomato sauce on the bottom of an oven-proof dish
5. stuff green peppers with the rice/beef/tomato mixture and stand them up in the oven-proof dish
6. cover with some aluminum foil and bake at 375F for about 45-60 minutes depending on how crunchy or tender you want the green peppers to remain
7. serve with cheese and sour cream

Substitutions, etc
* add rinsed and drained black beans or garbanzo beans
* use cous-cous or orzo instead of rice
* go vegetarian and add mushrooms, cut up peppers, and corn
* spice it up with jalapeno peppers in the filling

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dinner: Butternut Squash Ravioli

This "recipe" came about in the same way most of my other recipes are "born." There was butternut squash on sale and I decided to make pureed soup and bought some heavy cream to enrich it. Then, while trying to fall asleep, an excellent idea came to me: why not make butternut squash ravioli instead?

I had leftover wanton wrappers from the dinner I made with Paige (Asian Chicken wantons) and decided to use them instead of making my own dough :)

Filling: roasted and pured squash, salt, pepper, fresh tarragon & cream

Place a spoonful of filling on a wanton

Put the second wanton on top, seal using H2O as glue & reinforce w/a fork

Now you have ravioli ready to be boiled!

Boil the ravioli (gently) for about 3-4 minutes

Remove with a slotted spoon and enjoy!

* I think my idea was better than the execution
* You can also make ravioli with other fillings: ricotta cheese, meat, minced vegetables, etc.
* I wonder if putting a raw egg in the filling would have helped to keep it all together
* I'm still glad I've tried it out :)

Orchid Obsession

I absolutely love flowers and plants. You know how there is a saying about
an old maid with tons of cats? Well, for me, it'd be tons of plants. I have African violets, geraniums, several vines, but my favorites are ORCHIDS. Is it because they are exotic? Is it because they are unique? Is it because they can be fussy? Probably all of the above. I love orchids in bloom and how the flowers last as long as a month (sometimes longer). I love when and orchid I've had for a while grows a new leaf, or even more exciting a new branch with buds, which will eventually turn into flowers.
This is the 3rd time this orchid is blooming!

Oh, and once I was fortunate enough to receive a bouquet of orchids at work.

This orchid I bought at the National Cathedral garden store and it's about to bloom for the second time! Cannot wait!
This is a super special orchid because I bought it in Florida, when Jenny and I were visiting Laura. It's going to bloom for the second time! I can't really even remember what color it is (dark pink?).
The next three pictures are of yet another orchid. The first two were taken on September 16th. The last one was taken today, September 26th. Just in 10 days, the buds have grown quite a bit and one of them looks like it's about to bloom! I promise to take more pictures once this orchid blooms. Can you feel the excitement?

Volunteering: benefits everyone!!!

Ever since my family immigrated to Seattle from Moscow, Russia, I have volunteered my time for various organizations and causes. In High School and College I tutored math and reading to students ranging in age from elementary school to college level. I was also a tutor for the Economics Department at the University of Washington.

When I moved to D.C. area, I wanted to find opportunities where I could help others through my skills and time. What I found is that most of the time, by volunteering my time, not only do I help those in need, but I also enrich my own life.

Volunteering helps you forget about the issues in your own life, while you are helping someone in need. It also gives you a great chance to meet new people, learn about new organizations, show off your skills and have fun!

Yes, have fun! All you need to do is choose organizations that are involved in the issues you care about or the organizations that require the skills you have. For example, I love cooking and anything that deals with food, thus I often volunteer at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Washington DCJCC has a program called Hunger Action: together with other volunteers I prepare meals for hundreds of homeless people. Other opportunities include gathering food at USDA (the Hebrew term for it is gleaning), volunteering at a food bank, etc. Please check the link above for more information.

You can also sign up with, and receive daily emails listing various volunteering opportunities in areas of your interest. That is exactly how I learned about Children's Law Center. Last week they held the 6th annual Helping Children Soar gala at the Kennedy Center and needed volunteers the day of the event to give directions, hand out programs, etc. After I provided directions for about an hour and a half, I had a chance to actually attend the event, enjoy free food and drink and, obviously, more importantly hear the inspirational speech of Kenya Douglas.

Another memorable volunteering opportunity was through Peace x Peace. I helped at their first ever New Voices at The Table event held at the Embassy of Kuwait! Not only did I have a chance to dress up, but when else would I have a chance to see the Embassy of Kuwait (which was absolutely beautiful), mingle with people who dedicate their lives to helping other women, and have a wonderful dinner (I know it sounds like it's all about the food)?

Another great thing about volunteering, is that often by volunteering your time, you get something in return. This is especially great for those of you who are short on money, but have free time and would like to attend cultural events. For example, by volunteering at the Washingon Jewish Film Festival, I received free movie tickets for each volunteering event I completed; the same applies to their literary programs! Also, last year I volunteered at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertainment Show. In return for 3 hours of my time and "work," I received free entrance to the show, met Paula Deen's sons, and enjoyed samples availabe from various vendors. 2007 show is coming up!

Other volunteering highlights for me include painting murals at several elementary schools and being the day of event volunteer for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

October is the official volunteering month: find some free time in your busy schedules and VOLUNTEER! I promise you will find it rewarding :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dessert: Merengue Cookies

When I was growing up, my mom often made merengue cookies, "beze" in Russian (although it sounds a bit French). I remember she used lined school paper to line the cookie sheet so that the cookies would not stick. They were like fluffy clouds when they came out of the oven. Once you bite into the cookies, you feel the crispy sweet outside and the soft, melt-in-your-mouth inside. Delicious!

A few months ago when Anna was visiting, we were making Paige's famous key lime pies and had some egg whites left over and decided to make merengue cookies. They were horrendous! Sweet, but super gooey and not worth the calories: the cookies ended up in the trash.

As I mentioned before, I work part time in Sur La Table's culinary program, and one of the biggest benefits is meeting professional chefs, who are full of culinary knowledge. One such chef is Sheilah Kaufman. During her Thursday class, I was preparing ingredients for a savory bread pudding and there were a few egg whites left over. She suggested I made merengue cookies. Feeling brave and adventurous, I decided to follow Sheilah's recipe and give the merengue cookies another try.

3 egg whites at room temperature (this is really important!)
3/4 cup of sugar

1) preheat the oven to 400F with a cookie sheet inside
2) start beating the egg whites in a super clean bowl on slow speed
3) when you see bubbles, increase the speed to high and start slowly
to add sugar
4) beat the eggs with sugar until glossy and shiny peaks are formed
5) take the cookie sheet out of the oven, line with parchment paper and
spoon the egg white/sugar mixture on the cookie sheet
6) place the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the heat off (that's right!)
7) leave the cookies in the oven over night without opening the door

This was such a success! I ate half of them in one day! Sweet, crisp and not gooey at all.

* You can't make this recipe when it rains or is humid
* Top picture: before "baking", bottom picture: after "baking" and after I ate half of them!
* You can add up to a cup of nuts or chocolate right before spooning out the cookies
* The cookies don't spread out much while cooking, so don't feel afraid to put them pretty close together
* Do not put one cookie sheet on top of another: this will not allow the cookies to bake properly

Opera on the Mall

80+ degrees, blue sky, food, friends and Opera! That was my day today. Together with my friend Paige and meetin people we gathered on the Mall to watch a Simulcast of La Boheme.
The singing was incredible, but the costumes could have been a bit better :)

During the intermission Placido Domingo showed up to say how excited he was to see so many people enjoying the Opera and Paige shook his hand!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was a great time! I just wish I did not burn my back :( Sadness, it's super red now, but at least the rest of me was well covered with sunblock.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dinner: Do you like BEETS?

I absolutely LOVE beets. Maybe it's because I grew up in Russia and beets were a staple in my parents' cooking. Who hasn't heard of borsht? I am also a fan of several Russian beet salads (one is just cooked and then grated beets mixed with mayonnaise, garlic and toasted walnuts; the other is a combination of boiled and cubed beets, potatoes, carrots, eggs, and pickles mixed with mayonnaise).

Last week I was reading Washington Post Express and found a recipe for pasta with beets and goat cheese. I decided to make it, but found the recipe a bit flowed (some of the directional steps were missing). Below is my own version based on the original recipe.

1 box of Penne pasta
1 can of beets drained and cut into strips OR you can use 2 cups of roasted and cubed beets (depending on your time constraints)
2 cups of kale cut in ribbons
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
2 tsp oil
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
red pepper flakes to taste
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

*Cook pasta according to directions on the box
*Heat oil in a large pan, add garlic, red pepper flakes, tarragon and kale and cook for a few minutes (make sure not to burn garlic because you would have to start over)
*Add drained pasta, beets, crumbled goat cheese and heavy cream. Mix until pasta is well coated with cream and goat cheese and cook for another 5 minutes until all ingredients are heated through.
*Serve with chopped toasted walnuts. ENJOY!

*This dish was excellent as leftovers! Just make sure to keep nuts separate when reheating.
*Variations: it be great with chicken or thinly sliced beef.
*Variations: you can make a cold version of this recipe by cooling the pasta and eliminating the cream. Just combine cooled pasta with beets, goat cheese, and cooked garlic/kale/tarragon mixture.

Favorite Kitchen Gadgets

Last night I was assisting a cooking class at Sur La Table, and one of the objectives of the class was to introduce students to the new collection of Things Cooks Love tools. That made me think of various kitchen gadgets/tools that I find useful in my small kitchen.

Tongs: Anna encouraged me to buy them, and I'm glad I did. They are great for taking out baked potatoes from the oven, turning meat, taking out chicken breasts or pork from a pan, reaching something from the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet, and taking corn out from boiling water.

Digital Instant Read Thermometer: I no longer need to cut open chicken, pork, or beef to figure out if it's cooked or not: I just stick the thermometer in the meat and the answer is displayed on the screen. This was invaluable when I was roasting my first turkey.

Stainless Steel Strainer: I really love this! I use it to strain canned vegetables, drain small amounts of pasta or steamed broccoli, defrost frozen vegetables (put them in the strainer and let the water run through), or strain onions/carrots from home made chicken stock.

Measuring Spoons: I bought these in Ikea (also bought matching measuring cups). Of course I love that they are red. They also don't rust, super light, and easy to use when I need to measure specific amounts for a vinaigrette or baking.

Angled Measuring Cup: this cup makes measuring liquids a breeze! You just look at the measure marks on the cup from the top instead of trying to level it with eye level (this is sort of difficult to describe: go to the nearest kitchen store and test it for yourself!)

Chef's Knife: I pretty much can do all the knife work in my kitchen with a chef's knife. Make sure you buy one that is well balanced in your hands, has a good weight, and feels comfortable when you grip it.

Kuhn Rikon Safety Lid Can Opener: my favorite can opener! I've had it for more than 2 years and absolutely love it. Why? Because instead of cutting through the metal, it lifts the top of the can! There is no rust; there is no smell; and it's super easy to operate. I even got Anna to buy one and also bought one for my parents.

Epicurean Cutting Board: I think you can only buy these boards at Sur La Table. They are well worthy the investment: variety of sizes, easy to clean, and the knife glides on them. I have one of the bigger sizes: this way I can chop variety of things on them without having to then put the individual items in their own bowls. Everything fits on the board!

Silicone Oven Mitt: this was Stacey's present to me a few years ago and I love it! It doesn't get burned or smelly and you can wash it when it gets dirty. The most important thing is that unlike fabric, the silicone mitt doesn't get wet (and it's a good thing, because when fabric gets wet and you try to pick something hot with it, you get super burned!)

Cuisinart SmartPower Duet Blender/Food Processor: this is great for making hummus, pureeing soups, chopping vegetables, making coleslaw, whipping up smoothies, etc. Mine is in red!

Citrus Juicer: I have a yellow one for lemons, but you can also use it for limes or small oranges. I mostly bought it for color, but it is quite useful for obviously juicing citrus fruits.

Microplane: great for zesting lemons/oranges, finely grating chocolate, finely grating ginger or garlic, and grating cheese

Thank you for your comments!!!

I just wanted to thank everyone who has commented on my blog!
I love reading your comments and knowing you are enjoying my recipes,
shopping excursions and craft tips :)
Hope to hear from all of you again soon.
Also, thanks to everyone who reads it (but just chooses not to comment).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dinner: Asian Vegetable & Tofu Soup

Have you read my Asian Chicken Soup blog? Well, I thought it was a really good recipe, but wanted to make something slightly different for dinner this time. Plus, I had a container of tofu. I searched for a quick recipe and found Thai Vegetable Tofu Soup: Perfect!

4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 cans of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 cups of water
14 oz of firm tofu drained and cut into cubes
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 inch ginger
4 cups vegetables (I used broccoli, mushrooms, green pepper, and water chestnut)


1) Heat oil in a soup pot, add garlic and cook until lightly brown

2) Add soy sauce and let bubble for a few minutes. Add chicken stock, water and a piece of ginger; bring to a boil.

3) Add vegetables and tofu and cook for 3-5 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want the vegetables to be.

4) Remove a piece of ginger from the soup and serve, garnished with cilantro.

5) Enjoy!

New Pink Shoes!!

What can I say? I love pink things: I have a pink watch, a pink cardigan, several pink pairs of shoes and I just bought another one! I could not resist these Kangaroo leather Mary Janes.
And even better: 1) I bought them for super cheap at Ross and 2) I already received several compliments on them today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Went out for coffee-->bought makeup

Yesterday was super cold and I decided to get a cup of coffee (technically it was hot chocolate, but you know how everyone just says I'm going to get a cup of coffee?). On the way to Starbucks, I was passing by Origins and decided to stop in and buy Underwear for Lids Smoothing Lid Primer. I really like this product, although it tends to break off while there is still a lot of it left in the tube (I emailed the company about possibly repackaging it in another way: they said they'll take my suggestion into consideration: right!).

While I was trying to find Underwear for Lids, one of the salespeople, Katie, asked if I'd like a mini makeover: of course I said yes! She proceeded to remove my existing makeup and then putting on foundation and powder (something I never wear), eyeshadow, eye liner and lipstick. I looked like a brand new person!

I also felt that I should buy something she used on me and decided to buy Root Beer Float eyeshadow. Now I'll just have to actually use it! (by the way, the color in real life looks more brown than it does on the picture).

And then I finally made it to Starbucks for what I originally wanted: hot chocolate!

Free Figs

Last night I went grocery shopping and decided to treat myself to something I don't buy on regular basis and, in fact, haven't had in a while: figs! I think the idea came to me after reading someone's blog about figs and goat cheese.

I bought 4 figs, a mini log of goat cheese and the rest of the items on my grocery list. When I got to the check out register (I don't know how, but I pretty much always end up choosing the longest line), the cashier asked what those "things" were. I told him they were figs. He could not find the right code and ended up just giving them to me for free (I LOVE free things!!!).

I came home and as soon as I was done unloading the rest of my groceries, enjoyed figs with goat cheese. They were perfectly sweet and the texture was just right. I had to remind myself to slow down and not gulp all of them in two minutes.

If you've never tried figs, definitely give them a try.

Other suggestions: add figs to your fruit salad, wrap figs in prosciutto, add figs into PB&J sandwiches, etc.

What's for breakfast?

Do you ever get tired of eating the same thing for breakfast or skipping it altogether because it is too much hassle? I feel the same way from time to time, so decided to share a few ideas with you.

Yesterday I was at the grocery store and came up with the following combination for a quick breakfast at work: fresh raspberries, fat free vanilla yogurt, and Organic Honey Granola with Oats Clusters, Raisins & Flax cereal (Harris Teeter brand, but you can use any granola cereal). This is super easy to assemble, quite tasty and rather satisfying.

In the past I've also had wholewheat bread with cheese; hummus with carrots; leftover soup, and of course cereal with milk.

Here are a few more breakfast ideas courtesy of SparkPeople

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dinner: Asian Chicken Dumplings

One of my favorite things to do is to cook with my friends. Paige came over last night and we made Asian Chicken Dumplings with Sesame Dipping Sauce, one of the recipes I have tested before for one of my favorite chefs, Robyn Webb.

The filling is super easy to do and the dipping sauce is even simpler! I hope you try this at home with your friends: not only is it fun and delicious, but having company definitely makes the job of forming the dumplings :)

Ingredients for the filling
3/4 pound ground chicken
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup peeled, shredded carrots
1/4 cup minced water chestnuts
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 tsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground ginger (Note: this time I actually used 1 tsp of fresh ginger I "grated" on a microplane)
salt and pepper
24 wonton wrappers (Note: the recipe actually makes more...and it's a good thing because my wonton wrappers came in a package of 48)

1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1 and 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds (Note: be careful not to burn them!)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 cup sliced scallions

1. Combine all the ingredients for the filling.
2. Fill the wonton wrappers by placing a teaspoon of filling on the bottom half of the wonton, then wetting the sides of the wonton with some water and folding the wonton in a triangle (Note: I did mine in a rectangle just to be a bit different)
3. Keep filled wontons on a plate covered with a towel.
4. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.
5. Keep a large pot two thirds full with water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the dumplings for four minutes 8 at a time (Note: Robyn recommended cooking 4-5 dumplings at a time, but I had a super large pot and 8 fit just fine). Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon or skimmer and keep covered with a towel until all the dumplings are cooked and you are ready to eat.
5. Drain any excess water and serve with the sauce.

Pictures: from top to bottom: my dumplings folded in half, Paige's perfectly folded dumplings, cooked dumplings.