Saturday, April 30, 2011

More hail and farewell

This morning we offloaded a bunch of stuff at the community yard sale.  My old camera, a bunch of baby gear, some books, several pairs of shoes (yes, I finally admitted to myself that there are some shoes I will never wear/will never fit me again), some clothes, a picture frame, a bunch of candles, a tea pot, some stuffed animals and a few small kitchen appliances.  Jeremy wanted to sell the Magic Bullet, since we hadn't used it since last summer, but I left it out of the sale pile at the last minute.  I want to make frappuccinos!

But as always happens, I couldn't leave the yard sale without acquiring a few things.  Like a kid's coat rack, which might possibly be the cutest inanimate thing I've ever seen.  Here it is newly installed in our hallway:

Also mighty cute, these fairy wings ended up coming home with us:

Then we headed to Izmailovo, the souvenir market.  I got these adorable cotton/linen blend dish towels with the days of the week on them.

I adore dish towels.  And bath towels.  But particularly dish towels.  I don't know what it is - there is something about cute dish towels that makes cleaning up gross kitchen messes much more pleasant. 

(And yes, I realize this is probably weird.)

Friday, April 29, 2011

On being old and fat, and on bananas

I have been pregnant a lot recently.  And though the end result is so very worth it, I can't say there is much about actual pregnancy that I enjoy.  I don't glow so much as glower.  And more than six months after Z's birth, I still revel in my current, non-gestating state.

I was particularly looking forward to shedding all my baby weight.  When I became pregnant with Natasha, I was at my lowest weight since starting college, thanks to the Couch to 5k program.  Eight months later, I was a full 50 pounds heavier (how this happened when I spent the first three months of pregnancy throwing up four times a day, and the last three months not eating after 5 p.m. because of killer acid reflux, is still a mystery to me).  And then I got pregnant again without losing all of it first.  Now, I have about 25 pounds to lose.

So, I started C25K again in early January.  It was going well - I was running three times a week and taking long stroller walks at least two days a week.  I didn't even really have to count calories, and I started losing slowly and sensibly.

But then I busted my toe.  The little one on my left foot.  Insignificant, really, as far as toes go, but I couldn't wear shoes, even my sneakers, without pain.  How did I bust it?  I dropped the second seat of my double stroller on it.


Anyway, that put me out of running commission for awhile.  And then, about six weeks later, just as I was starting to feel better, I tweaked my right knee.  I have no idea how I did it.  I don't even know what's wrong with it.  Neither does the med unit.  Their best guess is a microscopic tear somewhere in there.  Not much I can do but take it easy.  And maybe cut a few calories (but not too many since I'm nursing - ugh).  But definitely no running for awhile.

That's where the getting old part comes in.  About 11 years ago, I noticed that injuries were taking longer to heal, that my body wasn't as resilient as it once had been.

That is when I developed my Banana Theory of the human body.

It goes like this: We are all like bananas.  Before we turn 22, we are green bananas (1-4 on the illustration above).  Not at our full potential, still growing, and there isn't much that will hurt us.  You can hurl a green banana at the floor and it will bounce slightly and then lie there, unbruised, unblemished.

At 22, we are just-yellow, perfectly ripe bananas, like 5 above.  The inside is in peak condition, and the outside is still pretty sturdy.

But that perfect state does not last long - neither in bananas, nor in people. 

By 23, we are bananas that have become just a bit overripe, like #6.  From there, like bananas, we develop soft spots, bruises, etc.  See #7.  And we all know bananas get worse from there.  So I won't extrapolate to the end - it's depressing.  But you get the idea.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hail and Farewell

Farewell, shapeless, stretched-out, stained Target tshirt!

Hail, reasonably cute spring shrug!

Also, so long makeshift Moby wrap!

And hello cute toddler peasant top! (And probably something for Mama too - I've got six yards of the stuff!)

Monday, April 25, 2011


Yesterday was lovely. The weather was sunny and beautiful, and we spent most of our time outside.

And bonus, Jeremy's birthday cake did not fall apart. I have much work to do on making cakes look appetizing, however, I have the taste part down pat! The bottom tier was vanilla bean white cake (my favorite) with raspberry filling made from berries I froze last summer. The top layer was devil's food with raspberry filling. And the frosting was a whipped milk chocolate ganache. Absolutely delicious, but I learned that I can't be so pokey about frosting the cake when working with ganache, or it will harden before you've smoothed it out and end up looking like this:

The spread. We had two hams - a Russian-bought one that was pretty tasty, and a country ham from Virginia. I wish I'd gotten a picture of them in the roasters!  Also - sliced sausage, four types of cheese, and a plate of greens, baguette rounds, rye bread, Armenian lavash, a savory smoked salmon cheesecake, a summery salad, roasted summer squash, roasted eggplant, cheesy potatoes (recipe here), kulich, pascha, and of course, birthday cake.

Dessert ... yum. You can see the cake in the foreground.

Times like this I wish we had a hose out back ...

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Or, "Christos Voskrese," which means "Christ is Risen!"  This is how we greet each other on Pascha and for the 39 days thereafter.  The proper response is ""Voistinu Voskrese," or "Truly He is Risen!"

We got the babies up for the midnight procession last night.  Poor Zoia wasn't very happy, so we did not stay for the rest of the service.  And she did not make the rest of the night easy for us.

There were a LOT of people.

Then we came home and broke the fast.  Natasha enjoyed the Italian prosciutto and cappicola most of all.  Her Herbst relatives will be very proud.

This morning we took some Easter photos.

In about 1.5 hours, we will host more than 30 people for an Easter celebration.  Pictures to come tomorrow!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Great Silence

In Eastern Orthodoxy, the day before Pascha is known as "The Day of Great Silence."

Well, you do the best you can.  This morning we took the kids to church, and then Jeremy took Natasha to an Easter egg hunt while Zoia and I walked to the store in the glorious sunshine (is spring finally here??) to buy last-minute groceries and some flowers.   Natasha had no trouble figuring out what she was supposed to do - the only difficulty was in keeping her from getting all the eggs before anyone else had a chance.

Tonight we will get the kids up and head to the midnight service at the church located conveniently across the street.  Then we'll come home and break the Lenten fast with some kulich, paska, meat and cheese.  (From this stash, which came home from the grocery store with me last weekend ... plus some more meat and cheese I bought today at the store, and a 9-pound ham that is sitting in the fridge).

I used half the cream cheese to make the paskha (a yummy, yummy cheesecake-like spread), which is currently in the fridge looking like this:

I made Jeremy dye some eggs to get him in the mood.  I know, he doesn't look that enthused.  I don't get it.

Then tomorrow afternoon, we will have friends over to celebrate Pascha and Jeremy's birthday.  This is what the table looks like so far.  Now I have to stop procrastinating and get back in the kitchen!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

File under: "Wha???"

You've heard of boyfriend jeans.

Introducing - ex-girlfriend jeans.

I guess I'm officially old and crotchety because I do not get it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Make-your-own spring

Since it snowed again yesterday and it's looking less and less likely that Pascha will be met with blooming flowers this year, we had to be extra-colorful in our egg-dyeing today.

Natasha was mostly interested in flinging the eggs at the pots of dye as hard as she could; when advised against such methods, she promptly and thoroughly flipped out.  If you look closely, you can see in this photo that the flipping-out is imminent.

(Note to self: It's possible that nearly-19-months is a little young yet for flip-out-free egg-dyeing.)

Mama and our friends E and A finished the rest of the egg dyeing, and A even added a few stickers. More ready for Pascha every day!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Countdown to Pascha - and kulich!

Today is the first day of the most stressful week of the year. And yet, I look forward to it. I know it's going to be crazy, I know I'm going to have some sort of breakdown (screaming or crying, usually), and yet, there's a delicious anticipation. No matter what happens, Pascha (known to you, perhaps, as Easter) is coming. No matter what, Sunday is going to be a beautiful and joyous day. That's the promise of Holy Week, and on a larger scale, also the promise of this earthly life.

In the Orthodox Church, the stretch of days starting on Palm Sunday and ending on the afternoon of Pascha includes no fewer than 13 church services. In its entirety, yes, it's grueling and difficult. But there are so many beautiful moments. My favorites: On Thursday night, the congregation stands silently holding lit candles while the priest intones the 12 Passion Gospels. We proceed home with lanterns carrying the candle flame, blessing the doorways with them. On Friday afternoon, we are all mourners at Christ's funeral procession. And by the time the main event, a four-hour Pascha service, begins at 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, everyone is giddy with anticipation of the Resurrection and the dawn of a beautiful day of hope and light.

And, in between all those services, the house has to be cleaned, the eggs dyed, and the traditional fast-breaking foods prepared. It's a lot of work.

I started last week by baking the kulichi. They take most of a day to make, and they freeze very well, so I have adopted my mother's approach of doing them ahead.

Kulich is a yeasty sweet bread that is baked in tall cylindrical cans, filled with butter, milk, egg yolks, rum, vanilla, candied orange peel and raisins. Every family has their own recipe, of course. I've tried many, many different kulichi, including one purportedly made using the recipe employed by the last Tsar's kitchen (either that's false, or he ate some really sub-par kulich). I am totally confident in saying that my mother's recipe is the absolute best one out there.

(I'm not biased towards her cooking, either - I'm pretty sure that my lifelong hatred of zucchini and summer squash can be traced back to the steaming, translucent and vaguely gelatinous pile of boiled-to-an-inch-of-its-life mush that passed for a veggie side-dish during my childhood.)

Kulich is so finicky that, even after letting it rise three full times before baking, you have to put it to bed on pillows after baking, lest it fall and ruin all your hard work. Mine have never turned out just exactly right, but they always taste good, even if they are a little dense.

So, first you take a whole lotta yeast, and put it in warm water with some sugar. When it bubbles, it's ready for the next step.

Then you add a pound of melted butter (cooled, so as not to boil the yeast alive) and a whole bunch o' flour.  And you cover it and let it rise to double.

In a separate bowl, combine nine (yes, nine) egg yolks ...

... with a whole bunch of sugar and some vanilla and almond extract.

Then add the candied orange peel.

And some rum.

I like to add the syrup from the orange peel too.

Then mix that into the flour/butter/yeast mixture.

Then you let it rise again.  And after it has risen, you pound the heck out of it.  I like to put my bowl on the floor, pick up the dough, and hurl it back down.  It's a great way to get that Holy Week aggression out of your system without screaming at people.  I tried to capture this on film with my self-timer, but this was the best I could do:

Then you put the batter into your prepared pans (read: cans). The two in front are 20-30 years old, spirited away from my mother's stash.  They don't make good coffee cans anymore.  The silver ones in back are from various canned fruits, vegetables and juices, but they are thinner and don't cook as evenly as the Folgers and Maxwell House ones.

Then you let it rise one more time, like so.

And bake.

Once they come out of the oven, you get them out of hte coffee cans and place them carefully on dishtowel-covered pillows.  And you salivate at the yumminess in the air, knowing that you can't dig in until Pascha.

These are now safely in the freezer (they freeze like a dream).  I will thaw a couple of them and ice them on Saturday.  More pictures to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Owl Peasant Shirt

Sewed this up yesterday when I realized that Natasha will need long-sleeved shirts for a couple more months, and right now all she has that fits are turtle-necks.

I found the tutorial here. I made the size 2 but lengthened the sleeves. Cotton knit=no fraying and no need to hem the bottom. I see more of these in my future! Don't be surprised if you see the owl print again - I have a TON of it, bought for super, super-cheap from a diaper shop that was going out of business. (I thought I was going to be sewing diapers, but I'm kind of over that idea. In the meantime, anyone have any ideas about what to do with two yards of hemp fleece and two yards of hemp jersey?)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Irina's little helper

Mama has a big helper. Her name is Irina. She comes for a few hours a week to help watch the girls and clean the house. We all adore her.

Irina has a little helper. Her name is Natasha. Natasha follows Irina all around the house yelling "EEEEE-ya!" and demanding to be held. In her less needy moments, she might help "I-ya" with the vacuuming.

Natasha also learns a lot from I-ya. She can now moo like a cow, yap like a little dog, and mew like a kitten. And she can scrub a mean floor.

That's a diaper insert around her neck. Don't worry, it was just out of the wash.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It's snowing. And 30 degrees. We are all grumpy. Well, except Natasha. And Jeremy. They aren't often grumpy.

But unfortunately for Zoia, she has inherited her mother's disposition. So she often looks like this.

I look kinda like that today, too.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Not-so-easy gathered jersey skirt

I love skirts. They are girly, cute, flattering if you pick the right shape, and cool in summer. Shorts and my body don't like each other very much, so I live in skirts all summer long. Here that means I really only require two - one for the first week of summer, and one for the second. But, as I am trying out this new glass-half-full-thing, I decided to sew another skirt. I picked up the fabric in the Joann remnant bin last year for $3.55. And I found the tutorial here.

It was supposed to be easy, but I ended up sewing and resewing the darn thing five times. First issue was that when I made the waistband according to the instructions, it was way too big. I ended up cutting the waistband to be 75 percent of my waist measurement, instead of my measurement minus three inches. Also, the gathering thing? Not as easy as it looks. I would gather it, think it looked even, and then end up with a weird bustle on one side and a totally smooth surface on the other side.

But it's finally done, I like it, and it will probably see a decent amount of wear.