San Francisco. Land of Freedom.

A couple minutes ago I decided to put my thoughts together by reading a post written by a blogger from Belarus before writing my own. But in 30 seconds I stopped. I’m different already and I don’t want to go back even to face the reality of the post-Soviet generation.
I feel I need to explain how this post about San Francisco can possibly be connected with someone’s post from Belarus. The girl was writing about trip with her fiancé to National Park Belovezhskaya Pushcha. And one of the first things they saw in front of the entrance was a little spot where you could get deer skin. Yes, I am not kidding right now, DEER SKIN in front of a NATIONAL PARK, and yes they got it. I want to say Ukraine is different, and I will. But 23 years ago we were one big mess called the Soviet Union. Of course I got really upset, but somehow I finally found the words to describe our amazing trip to San Francisco.
I guess now I will try to increase the level of tourism in San Francisco showing you pictures from our amazing vacation. I will divide them in two, because the first part we spent in the city and second one we went to beautiful wineries around. So here we go.
I was dreaming about the USA from my very early childhood. I was reading Disney books, was watching cartoons and movies, and was always thought I should have been born here. I admire this country and everything about it, especially people’s rights and freedoms. I guess my life would be miserable and would lose sense if I had not moved here. I wasn’t wrong. But something was still incomplete. I couldn’t understand what exactly until this trip.
San Francisco is definitely a city of contrasts. If I ever used this word before describing other places I would like to take it back. I never ever in my life saw a bigger difference of everything there: people, cultures, architects, shine and dirt, wealth and poverty… at the same spot. Being honest I am still a little bit in shock.
There are a gorgeous city hall and opera house, where across the street homeless people are getting ready for “bed”. Actually coming back after ballet we decide to have some wine with dinner, it was a bit after 10 pm and guess what happened? Yep, almost everything around was closed, including CVS. Burger King was open, thank God 🙂

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Castro, the gay neighborhood impressed me a lot as well. I have a couple gay friends and I’ve been before to a gay club, and other neighborhoods, but this one changed something in me. I felt like I was a welcome guest in their own big world, which they built years ago. It was the first time in my life that I, being always straight, FELT ABSOLUTE FREEDOM in San Francisco’s gay neighborhood. This is a paradox, but I wanted to yell about it everywhere.

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Later with my husband we discussed and shared different thoughts walking in Golden Gate Park.

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And Golden Gate Bridge. It is phenomenal, huge, great, magnificent… a kind of tough paradise. Absolutely lovely views from every single spot and corner.

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Once we wanted to be local and just decided to jump out from the bus somewhere, to walk around, find out nice restaurant and have perfect lunch there. LOL! LOL! LOL! We did only first two parts of our plan and then we, starving, were looking for hours for an open place to eat something. Actually we found it at the end. But don’t repeat our mistake. There are not too many places in family neighborhoods and mostly they are closed till 4 pm.

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Later that day we went to Fisherman’s Wharf. For some reason it reminded me of my vacations in Europe. Such a cozy place: beautiful embankment with flowers everywhere, ocean, seagulls with their own conversations, smiling people, street artists, hundreds of restaurants and cafe for every taste…

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Sea lions are a different story. First time I saw so many of them and they are so loud.

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I wanted to stay longer.

 

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I fall in love with this city. It is wonderful. There are so many things which give you some new fresh air, that makes you want to come back and I’m sure we will, many times.
P.S. Now my picture about the USA is definitely complete.

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Amélie and Crème Brulee

“Amélie is a shy young woman with a pronounced taste for all life’s small pleasures: immersing one’s hand in a sack of grain, cracking the crust of a crème brulée with the back of a teaspoon or skipping stones on the Canal St-Martin”. -“Amélie from Montmartre”.

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You don’t have a better association, do you?!
Beautiful movie and absolutely fantastic dessert. If you tried it and didn’t like it, trust me, it was just bad interpretation. I would recommend you try Grand Cru Wine and Bistro http://grandcru-wine.com/, they have the best crème brulee in DC area.
But of course, I’m here to share with you my recipe. I used a couple different ones and then combine the best of both into one, my own 🙂
So what is crème brulee about?

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The main thing in it is the crust – a thin, but strong caramel crust, which you are breaking with a nice cracking sound. And under this crust is a real wonder – yummy delicate cream. It is a magic combination of two absolutely different textures.
This recipe is for two people. If you need more, please increase the ingredients.
Ingredients:
120 ml whipping cream;
2 Tbsp sugar;
1/3 tsp vanilla extract;
2 yolks;
1/2 tsp lemon zest;
2 tsp (maybe little bit less) brown sugar for crust.
Directions:
1. Combine whipping cream with lemon zest and vanilla extract.Place it into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove it from the hit and let it sit for 5-7 minutes.
2. Meanwhile whip yolks with sugar till color will become pale-yellow. Don’t do it too long, we need cream, not a souffle.

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3. Filter your cream through strainer and little by little add into yolks. Mix it with a spoon.
4. Pour blend into baking ramekins till 3/4 full. Put them in a large pan or tray. Add enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
5. Bake crème brulee approximately 20-25 minutes with temperature 335F. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
6. Add brown sugar carefully and lightly just before before serving.
7. Set your oven for broil function. Put grille on the top shelf of the oven. Put ramekins into a pan with COLD water (water should be halfway up the side of the ramekins). Broil for 50 seconds – 1 minute maximum. Dry ramekins with towel before serving.

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That’s it. Pick your favorite spoon and enjoy watching “Amélie from Montmartre”.

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“Amelie has a strange feeling of absolute harmony. It’s a perfect moment. A soft light, a scent in the air, the quiet murmur of the city. A surge of love, an urge to help mankind overcomes her”.

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Pizza-pizza

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“I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Pray, Love”.

Hello-hello 🙂
I love pizza and who doesn’t?
Yes, that’s correct! Today I will write a huge post about this absolutely amazing oven-baked flatbread with crispy crust topped with a tomato sauce, cheese and various toppings. The modern pizza was born in Naples, Italy and today we are talking exactly about Neapolitan style.
For a while after my own bad experiments, I gave up and ate it only in restaurants. But I’m always back, to finish what I started. I guess I’m trying to discipline myself this way.
So here we go. I read again tons of recipes, clues, articles and start analyzing all material.
Finally I made it! I wasn’t even as happy probably after I made my real first macaron.
And yes it was much better than lot’s of local pizza places’.
Before I will share the recipe, I want to touch on a couple very important points.
1. Flour. Neapolitan pizza dough has very unique texture: elastic, air-porous and aromatic. I will not read you a chemistry lesson, I will just say you need flour with higher percent of wheat protein. You can find it on the label with nutrition facts. Regular flour consists of 3 g protein per 30g of product ,”Pizza” flour is 4 g. It doesn’t seem like a big difference, but trust me, it is. You can use just regular flour as well, but you will probably need a little bit more, and you will loose the perfect texture.
*Hint: most bread flour will work, cuz most of it has the right amount of protein.

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2. Dough relaxation time. This is a very important process when dough is getting its aroma and taste. Can be from 3 to 12 hours. I figured out 4-5 is enough for me. Better to keep it in a dark and warm place, so I used the turned off oven. You should remember that dough is the main component of pizza. It should be absolutely delicious even if you will serve it only with a drop of olive oil and salt.
3. Temperature. Pizza is a creation of fire. If you trust Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, pizza should be baked in a wood oven with 485C ( 905 F ). Omg…. you could say. But we don’t need this extreme temperature. 485 F is already enough, but I would recommend 500F or even better 525F if your oven is capable for it. The higher, the better. We should warm up our oven and keep it warm for 30 minutes before baking, with (!!!!) the baking tray (pizza stone) inside the oven. This is important.
4. Baking time. And now please forget this bullshit about baking your pizza for 15-20 minutes forever. Or don’t call it pizza, but a scone with fried topping. The main idea of the pizza is elastic dough and juicy stuffing.
In wood oven we need just a couple minutes, but in a regular one we should increase the time to 6-8 minutes. No more.
5. Toppings. Now we know that pizza should be in the oven no more than 8 minutes, that’s why if we want to use raw meat, wild mushrooms, seafood, etc we should precook them before. Put the stuffing evenly on the dough. Also we need to use parchment paper. Prepare it before and cover lightly with cornmeal.
And finally we are done with pizza lesson 🙂

Recipe
Ingredients for dough:
250 g flour ( which consist of 4g protein per 30g);
3g dry yeast;
160 ml warm water;
1/3 tsp sugar;
1/2 tsp salt;
Cornmeal for covering paper.
This is enough for two medium pizzas ( diameter 25-30 cm / 10 inches).
Toppings. You can put whatever you would love.
I decided to do this time two different pizzas. One of them will be with clams and shrimp. Second one with blue cheese and pear.

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Pizza numero uno 🙂

6-8 medium shrimp (precooked);
1/2 ( 184 g or 6.5 oz) can clams in clam juice;
2 Tbs white sauce (just pick your favorite);
1 Tbs red sauce;
100-130 g fresh Mozzarella;
50-70 g Provolone cheese;
olive oil;
1 Tbsp dry Oregano;
5 sprigs parsley.

Pizza numero duo 🙂
1 medium pear;
pinch of caramelized onion;
50 g mix shredded Italian cheeses (romano, provolone, parmesan);
50 g fresh mozzarella;
50 g or more blue cheese (you can substitute it with gorgonzola);
3 Tbsp white sauce;
1 tsp dry Oregano;
olive oil.
Cooking
1. If you have a bread maker with dough function, then you are the luckiest person on Earth 🙂 Just put all ingredients for the dough there, push the button, wait 10 minutes, done. Dough is ready to take a rest for next 4-5 hours.
In another case, combine yeast with sugar, add water and stir till they melt, sift flour into it, add salt and mix. Now let’s start mixing it with a food processor with nozzle for the dough – first 3-4 minutes with small speed and then increase it for next 5 minutes (if you will decide to do it just by hand it will take you about 15 minutes). Dough should be a little bit sticky.
We need to coat the inside of the bowl with olive oil and put the dough there. Cover it with plastic wrap and put in dark warm place to rest for 4-5 hours.
2. Before 30 minutes till the time is up we need to turn on the oven 500-525 F (at least 485F, I used 525 F), don’t forget to put your tray or pizza-stone inside.
Coat your hands in olive oil and start working with dough, kinda massage it lightly.
3. Divide dough into two parts and form the balls. Put the first on your work zone and make a crater. Help yourself to keep round shape with your other arm, time to time turning over dough. Stretch it as good as you can. Base should be very thin, only a little bit thicker in crust.
Like this.

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4. Now we need to put our base on parchment paper. Evenly divide sauce, rinse with olive oil, add oregano, cheese, other stuffing, finally rinse with olive oil one more time. Don’t worry, it will not be fat, it will be more delicious and juicy.

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5. Time to bake. Put pizza on the hot tray and send it to the oven for 6-7 minutes. Pale crust is ok, trust me it is ready.
Now time to cut it and eat it, purring with pleasure.

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Pink & Green Minestrone

So yesterday I mentioned I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian. It will be difficult, because of two reasons: I love steak and duck, but I could definitely live without everything else. This aspect interested me not because I wanna lose some weight, it is about how I feel, something about morality. I’m very proud of my family for last two weeks, we had turkey bacon and chicken only a couple times, no other kind of meat. I was trying to cook something nutritious and tasty at the same time. And as my husband said, he didn’t even notice this change, because I’m such a good cook. Now I’m shy. 

Today I want to share a really good recipe for soup. Not hard to cook, just takes a little time. 

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Ingredients:
1/2 lb uncooked large, peeled shrimp;
2 shallots, thinly sliced;
2 cloves garlic, minced;
1/2 cup brown basmati rice, rinsed;
6 cups vegetable stock; 
1/2 cup sugar snap or snow peas, trimmed and cut in half;
8 spears asparagus, trimmed and diagonally sliced into 1-inch pieces;
1/2 cup green peas, fresh or frozen;
1/2 medium zuccini, cut into equal-sized cubes;
Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; 
1 quart milk;
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil;
12 sprigs parsley;
Sour cream, grated your favorite cheese for topping.
Serves 4. Cook shrimp in hot milk (don’t boil!) with salt and ground black pepper until they become pink around 5-7 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover, lower the heat, and simmer until the rice is just tender, 30-40 minutes. 
Add rest of veggies with pinches of salt and few grinds of black pepper. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes and serve immediately; this way the vegetables stay crisp and bright. Add for 4-5 shrimp and parsley into each bowl. Use sour cream, grated your favorite cheese for topping. 

~ For vegetable stock:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil;
1 shallots, quartered; 
1 onion, quartered; 
1 clove garlic, smashed;
2 celery stalks, chopped;
1 carrot, chopped;
1 tablespoon fine-grain sea salt;
1/2  tablespoon black pepper;
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar;
2 quarts water.
Heat the oil in large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the veggies, sauté for 5 minutes and then add the salt, the pepper and water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for at least 15 minutes or up to 40 minutes. Strain and use.

Life. Food. Love.

Hi everyone.
For the last couple weeks I have been in some kind of depression. I guess everyone sometimes goes through it with or without reasons. I had enough of them to explain it to myself. But honestly it is a lie. I had only one reason which kicked the ground out from under my feet. For a weeks I was relaxing with a glass of wine before bed, just to make sure I would fall asleep quickly. I watched “Eat, Pray. Love.”, also got the book. I decided I want to become a vegetarian, but not sure I can. I meditated. Nothing helped. Last night before I fell asleep I thanked my husband for letting me find myself, but inside I was totally broken.

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Today I got up and started making special breakfast for him, eggs “a la cocotte”. Suddenly I remembered how every morning in my childhood my grandma came to my bed, lightly touched my cheeks, told me “good morning our beautiful sun” and asked: “what would you like for breakfast?”. Oh yes, she cooked for me everything I wished.

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Then another bright memory came to my mind. My fifth grade. An interesting girl from Moscow, Masha, joined our class for a couple years. After I saw her the first time, I realized we will be friends and I wasn’t wrong. One Friday after school we decided to meet up on Saturday to have a play-date. And guess where I took her? To my favorite cafe (which was on the other side of our small town) have some real espresso and eclairs. Yes, being 10 years old, we felt like the happiest people on Earth and it became to our small tradition till they moved back.
I felt like I need a little break from my sweet memories and focus on my desires. I started meditation, trying to relax and opened my mind to absolutely clear matter. But my thoughts stuck with food. It is not only about pleasure or wasting time cooking. It is a philosophy, a romantic process to find something bigger, one more way to explore yourself. It is another language, as pretty as Italian or French. It is the language of feelings and taste. Think about it!
Yummy mushroom cream soup represents safety. Fresh baked lasagna is a mother’s love. Aromatic crunchy bread symbolizes only home, sweet home. Mussels in white wine sauce with garlic toast is romance. Spicy gazpacho sounds like jealousy. And Italian pizza means friends.

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I want to speak this language fluently, to learn every day the new words. I’m sure they will be never end.
I don’t know why I wrote this post, but I felt like I want to share something special and intimate. So I did.

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