A Culinary Minute: Zucchini and Tomato Salad

Before I tell you how to make this, let me just share that this is, for me, the best new dish of the summer. It is everything I expect from the season—light, vibrant, fresh, green and cooling.
My mom made this for us a few weeks ago and I triumphantly declared that it was the best thing she’s made in ages. That is really saying something especially if you know my mother’s cooking. It turns out that the recipe comes from a friend of hers who first learned about it while living in Israel.

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The ingredients are few: zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and mayonnaise. The preparation is even simpler: slice the zucchini in into 4mm slices and sautée in a pan until fully cooked through and browned. Toss with tomatoes sliced into half-moons and of the same thickness. Add a handful of cilantro, a diced garlic clove and a tablespoon of mayo. It can be served immediately or refrigerated for a few hours.

Weekending: Wanderlust & Salatim

I could easily picture myself sitting close to the surf in Cape Cod sipping a chilled Sauvignon Blanc or enjoying a leisurely tapas crawl in Barcelona. Alas, that’s all I can do at this point: picture! A five-week old infant hardly makes for a great travel companion especially paired with a rambunctious toddler, so while our wanderlust is at an all-time high, we remain home and are scratching our traveling itch through cooking.

I often plan a menu for the weekend and the week on Thursday afternoon, figure out a shopping list and shop on Friday and cook over the weekend. Most of the time, I am happy to make ready substitutions on the go while at the store if I see something that looks good. That was the case with lobster tails at Whole Foods on Friday and so I decided to take a chance on them having never cooked the crustacean at home before. We steamed them for just five minutes and served alongside an Israeli cous-cous salad with herbs. The herbs were whatever I found in my garden—basil, mint, scallion, parsley.

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Since time is a precious commodity and the weather is too nice to stay home and labor all day at the stove, I went for a lean pork loin that took all of 5 minutes to marinade and another 15 to cook. I marinaded the loin while Evan cooked it off and made a sauce with the drippings.

MomDad2I added some oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies into the weekend mix and had quite the helper, too.MomDad1Here’s Sophia “reading” the ingredients on a bag that used to house raisins … before they became part of an Israeli-style bulgur salad.

 

 

Dreams

This picture…

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… made me remember a wonderful time in my childhood with my dad. My dad was a photography enthusiast when we lived in the former USSR. He would take many pictures of my sister, my mom and me. He improvised a dark room in our apartment in Baku and developed the moments he captured of our every day life. It was always a mystery to me—film becoming pictures. One day, he let me go in to develop the pictures with him and I saw how everything worked. It was magical. These black and white pictures that he took and developed are now here in my house. I love looking at them once in a while grasping to understand what my parents must have been like, what they worried about, what they wished for for their young children.

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A Mother’s Olympic Sport

Successful athletes are dedicated to their sport. They eat, sleep and breathe their craft adhering to the strictest regiments. I am not a professional athlete and I don’t love the gym, though I have gone there when it was a dire necessity—before my wedding. I not patient either, but I do have one good quality—persevering and pushing ahead when I don’t want to do something such as … nursing on demand at all hours of the day and night.

Breastfeeding, you see, is like a sport. In order to succeed at it, you have to have dedication, perseverance and adhere to a strict regimen of rest and diet. A mother’s diet can significantly impact her child’s well-being and that, in turn, can impact your overall happiness. For example, some babies are not tolerant of dairy, while others of sugar. Besides being tolerant, you need to make sure you rest and eat enough to actually produce enough milk for your baby. Certain foods aid lactation and so, like an Olympic athlete adheres to a strict diet, nursing mothers need to adhere to guidelines too. Oatmeal and nuts are among the foods that are said to aid lactation and so in order to keep myself energized and Eliza fed and less cranky, I now stock an endless supply of home-made granola.

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It is absolutely delicious packed with dried cranberries, cherries, almonds and pecans. I had an amazing helper assisting me in whipping up my granola, too. Now that she made it, she loves snacking on it. It is a win-win deal.

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Weekending: A Spot of Tea For Two

 

 

 

 

Stop! Temptation

Did you know that the blackberry season has finally arrived? There is something magical about picking your own fruits and vegetables and when you throw in a few farm animals and a llama into the mix, well, the pull to go to the farm becomes irresistible. Sophia was so excited to go to the farm that she rushed through breakfast and barely let us finish ours before dragging myself, Evan, Eliza and my parents to Poolsville, Maryland where we went blackberry fishing. When I say we, I really mean Baba and Deda, Evan and Sophia (after she fed the goats and looked at the chickens and pigs, of course). I wish I had pictures of our time there but manning little Eliza was keeping my hands plenty busy. After picking well over ten pounds of blackberries and feeding the animals—again—we finally headed home.

We decided to share our pickings with my parents and my sister and eat our portion out of hand. The fruit is just so ripe, so perfect that I don’t see any need to add extra sugar and cook with it. Speaking of not cooking with fruit; I am finally able to eat moldy, unpasteurized, and stinky cheeses again—now that I am no longer pregnant. I don’t think you can understand my irrational love for these unctuous, luscious morsels of… goodness. I also don’t understand why it took me a month to realize and remember that they need to be added to my shopping list. Worry not, once I did, a Gorgonzola Dolce made it on the list and so did figs for this simple crostini with fresh fig and the gorgonzola atop toasted sourdough. mmm… try it for yourself, there is no recipe but you just put a bit of cheese, top with a bit of fig and you can also sprinkle with honey. Serve with a crisp white wine and a midday snack.

Crostini

We didn’t just snack on crostini all weekend long. We benefitted from Baba and Deda’s culinary delights but managed to add our own such as this home-spun Cioppino with fennel and cod. The secret to the rich stock was potatoes and anchovies. I don’t follow a recipe per se, just a set of principles such as using vermouth to deglaze the shallots and fennel, adding anchovies to the olive oil and cooking the fish very little at the very end.

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I also added a home-made tomato soup from Sprouted Kitchen and it won high praise from the diners. I suppose when you add a toast with melted, fresh mozzarella on top, almost anything will win high praise :-). Soup

And saving the last for best … I got my hands untied for a little bit and it was glorious. Even though Eliza is not my first baby, I still learn plenty from those who’ve done this long before me and for much longer than I have.

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This … this right here was simply the best. Sophia and my mom having “tea for two”. If you look carefully, you’ll notice they even decorated their table with a flower in a vase. Attention to details.
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Perfection. I just wish my parents lived closer and we could visit them and the rest of our family more often. Then, we wouldn’t miss on fun events like our cousin’s 8th birthday bash :(.

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Mid-Week Fix

Things are super busy around here. Some of us are learning how to build vertically and put together 4-6 piece puzzles while others are working on recognizing patterns and colors. Since little ones change so quickly, I thought I’d post a brief, mid-week fix.

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Weekending: Nice and Easy

It wouldn’t have been a nice and easy weekend if my Mother-In-Law (MIL) hadn’t offered to come and visit us for 22 hours. Yes, I counted and I was savoring every one of those and wished there were more. This would have been the first weekend we were left to our own devices with two children or 2×2 as I like to call it. The 2×2 situation is no joke—it is infinitely more difficult than having just one child.

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The key to surviving and even enjoying the chaos is keeping your older child occupied with new and fun activities. My MIL is great at that and here is Sophia enjoying some painting. I try to pay attention at how she organizes Sophia’s activities and learn so that I can hopefully reproduce. I am sure valiant attempts lack the finesse with which Evan’s mom manages her time with a toddler.

Anticipating a 2×2 weekend, I’d designed an easy menu consisting of a new chicken wing recipe paired with boiled potatoes dressed with dill, sour cream and garlic.

Wings1The potato recipe is a Russian oldie but goodie. We continued our chicken themed cooking with Green Goddess Chicken served with basmati rice and a side of Dandelion greens Evan picked up at the grocery story. I am sure going to stop writing “something green for a vegetable” in his shopping list because he can get quite creative with his choices. I was hoping he’d get peas or broccoli and he comes home with Dandelion greens. I am not sure I’ve ever had them before and we’ve certainly never cooked them until Saturday. Since he chose these weeds, he got the privilege of cooking them and I wasn’t disappointed with the results.

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You can pretty much bet that anything will taste great when cooked with soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Perhaps I’ll throw down a cooking challenge Evan’s way to acquire a stinging nettle next time and make a traditional Ukrainian borscht with it?!

All cooking aside, we were able to enjoy being out of the house. Eliza is just three weeks old and my cabin fever is at an all-time high. Shortly after my MIL headed home (sigh), we headed out to our first post-Eliza soiree—a birthday party for our friends’ little girl. We really had a great time having visited with our friends and Sophia enjoyed playing with other kids. For her, visiting with so many little kids is quite a luxury since she doesn’t attend nursery school yet. We came home yesterday with a cranky Eliza and a tired but thrilled Sophia. As for ourselves, the company of other adults can do wonders for one’s cabin fever and spirits. Seeing all those reasonably relaxed parents with two or more children running around gave me great hope that I too one day shall manage as well as they have learned to.

Dolce and The Princess

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Shortly after her birth Sophia had acquired a monicker of “the princess”. I am certain that my sister was among the first adopters if not the origin of referring to Sophia as “the princess”. I receive a text, a call or an email daily from my sister asking about how her princess is doing. I was quite sure that Sophia and Eliza’s proud aunt would simply pluralize the monicker and refer to the girls are “the princesses”. However, I was quite surprised when she recently asked how her “Dolce and The Princess” were doing. I recall inquiring about Dolce and since it means “sweet” in Italian and Spanish, my sister informed me that she thought that was just the monicker for Eliza. Well, it was love at first sight… me and Dolce—not only when she was born—but also with this monicker. Somehow, for some reason, she really is sweet and the monicker fits just perfectly.

Speaking of names. People get very particular with their kids names and I think they have good reason for it, too. I always am careful to refer to other people by their given names or short names if they are known. Sophia also goes by Sophie and never, ever, ever, ever (did I mention E-V-E-R) by Sofa which happens to be a short version of her name in Russian. That was perhaps the biggest issue we had with this name when we selecting one. Similarly, Eliza will go by Ellie but never, ever, ever, ever ‘Liza.

I’ve never explained why we chose these particular  names for the girls and since we’re talking about names, now’s as good of a time as ever. Sophia is named after her paternal great grandfather Sol. Her middle name Vida is after her maternal great grandfather. We chose Sophia (since we needed a name with an S) because it means “wise” and we were hopeful ;-). Eliza, whose middle name is Mischa, is named after her maternal great grandfather whose name was Mark (anglicized). We chose Dolce’s first name because we liked it, and it isn’t after anyone. That being said, much like Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion, we hope that she has a little spunk and is outgoing and feisty — fitting given her birth order.