Monthly Archives: December 2014

Warming up to cold, cold Russia

I’ve gotten so comfy with loner lady life that Hubs needed to prod me to start putting things in motion to go see him in February, and after several days of completely freaking out and thinking I would miss deadlines, I can say that the toughest parts of the arrangements are done and my visa packet is in the mail. If you ever want to feel like stabbing your eyes with a pen, try applying for a Russian visa. It’s not like going to Western Europe or Mexico where you just fill out a form on the plane. You need to get a letter of invitation from a hotel or travel agency, fill out a visa application with some rather… detailed questions, get your photo taken, find a way to get all that info to the consulate with your passport, and hope you get it back in time to book your flight and board the plane. And if you have any questions about the process, good luck getting somebody to answer their phone. (Email worked in some cases, though.)

But now, I should have my passport back in a couple weeks with a fresh new visa, and now it’s on to the fun part of finding things to fill my time abroad. We’re going to have to hit the big tourist things: the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Peter’s Basilica, not because I have a strong desire to see any of them but because it’s what you go see when you’re in Moscow. Hubs wants to see a performance at Bolshoi Theatre if we can afford tickets, but I’m happy to just peek at the interior. There’s a flea market that sells weird tchotchkes, and that might have some fun (or at least disturbing) souvenirs to take back. But again, it’s something I feel like I’m obligated to see.

There are other things that interest me more, like the bread-flavored kvass drink they sell on the street. There’s a distillery or a vodka museum, which sounds fun, and a KGB museum which may or may not be open to the public. I think there’s also a museum with old royal stuff in it like Faberge eggs and carriages. Hubs found a museum of arcade games, and he wants to go play Space Invaders.

The things I really want to see in Moscow, though, are the slices of regular life, or at least Hubs’ life:

  • the old mall with gorgeous architecture and a huge gourmet store
  • the markets where Uzbek and Azeri and Pakistani produce is sold
  • the little Vietnamese cafe that has Miyazaki posters plastering the walls. I HAVE to get a photo of me in Moscow eating pho with No-Face looking on benevolently.
  • the street where Hubs lives that he says is just like walking around downtown Chicago in winter
  • the ubiquity of pizza-sushi shops
  • the Georgian bakery that sells khachapuri, buttery eggy cheesy pizza-boats
  • the crazy women wearing stiletto heels in the middle of winter
  • the National Library and its rare books
  • the bars that sell Russian craft brews
  • the train stations that are like works of art on the inside
  • the Russian salads that sound horrifying in theory and look disgusting in photos, but might actually be tasty

We’re also going a few hours out of the city to the little Volga River village of Suzdal, which, according to the Lonely Planet guide, looks like the 20th century kinda passed by them without saying hi. There are wooden buildings, a peasant life museum, and a ton of churches, monasteries, and brothels… no… not brothels… convents, convents. How does one screw those two words up? Oh well. We have a three-night reservation there at a cute little wooden cottage, and there is a place to rent snowmobiles.

So this trip has a much shorter itinerary than any other trip I’ve done with him. Usually I’m trying to play Tetris with our days and work out transit logistics, but this time I want to go in without too many plans and let Hubs take the lead. I’ll reread the Lonely Planet guide and pull out some attractions, sure, but I’m not going to schedule it to death like I usually do. (It’s not like I know what I’m doing there anyway.) The main point is getting to see Hubs, and I’m looking forward to taking our time in Suzdal and Russia and being able to just walk around and not feel rushed.

Back to the weird salads, we learned of this dish called “herring under a fur coat,” or just fur coat: herring layered with grated boiled vegetables, onion, egg, beets, and tons of mayo. And sometimes grated apple. Looks and sounds revolting,

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“Fut coat” salad. Does that sound appetizing?

After months of disgust, we (of course) promised each other we’d both try it together in Moscow. And today, hours after our pact, Hubs went out and bought it without me. Just like how he would beat all my video games before I could get through the first stages, or how he bought and watched some final season Breaking Bad episodes while I was at work and told me how great they were.

He said it was decent: not terrible, but not as good as salad Olivier, the most popular salad over there. Not as good as Crash Bandicoot, let alone Breaking Bad. I wondered if I, with my affinity for beets, would actually somehow like it.

And that’s how tonight, I ended up standing in my kitchen staring at a Tupperware full of roasted beets, and in a moment of inspiration, I mixed them with a bit of mayo…

And it was delicious. And as I chewed happily on my beets, I thought to myself, “You know what would make this even better? Hard-boiled eggs.”

And that’s when I simultaneously understood both the Russian herring-beet salad, and the fuschia-colored pickled beet eggs of my childhood among Pennsylvania Dutch relatives.

Dear grandparents: I finally understand.

Dear grandparents: I finally understand.

So I’m actually looking forward to Russian food. And the rest of those mayo-covered beets in the fridge. Maybe I’ll put some egg and boiled potato in there, and go find some herring…

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Lumba does Zumba

I’ve been barraging the hubs with the worst Russian puns today (What did the Russian bath attendant do to the tourist loudly complaining about the heat? He whipped him with birch branches and said “Next time I’ll banya!”), but you can credit him for the ridiculous name of this post.

Today marks exactly two weeks that I signed a contract with the Edge Fitness Clubs here in CT. I hadn’t used my apartment’s fitness center since August because it was too depressing to consider putting sand-leaking training weights on a 20-lb bar and later staring helplessly at the bench-less cable machine trying to magic a shoulder exercise out of it. I like weight lifting, but I didn’t like weight lifting there. So now I have all this fun equipment to play with! Between finally (finally!) getting to use a squat rack and bench rack, and taking a bunch of new classes, I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth so far. And I haven’t even popped into the cardio cinema yet.

My favorite new thing is Zumba, and I’ve gone to 3-4 classes a week since I signed up. Up to now, I’ve had a miserable track record when it came to combining dance and fitness: Dance off the Inches was full of fake enthusiasm and steps I couldn’t understand, Bollywood DVDs were confusing, and Cardio Ballroom with Juliannne Hough was just frustrating. When I took a ballet class at Yale, everyone else appeared to have studied dance in the past (including a handful of advanced dancers who performed in Yale ballet and would wear pointe shoes and leotards to class – intimidating much?). Between the slim-limbed flexible undergrads and the muscle-backed ballerinas, I felt like the hippo in Fantasia. So that didn’t last long.

Zumba

Zumba is such a different experience. The instructors are very clear that as long as you’re moving, you’re doing a great job. They’re fond of inclusive phrases like “this is NOT an audition” and “your body will not move like this person’s body,” which is really encouraging to somebody like me who just isn’t familiar with dance moves. Most classes have a mix of Latin and hip-hop songs, but it depends on the instructor, as does the intensity and complexity of the moves. One of the instructors was an intense maniac whose hair is drenched by the end of the class, but the room was so full and the moves changed so fast for me that I didn’t break a sweat and wanted to leave in frustration after like 20 minutes. Several other instructors use more kickboxing moves and simpler and more repetitive dance steps, and though they’re superficially not as intense as Sweat Lady, I get a great workout because I can actually follow along.

The other class attendees have been making a big difference, too. The women fall across the entire spectrum of fitness, from people with no flexibility to badass fifty-somethings who wear shirts that say “biceps don’t grow on trees,” all enjoying themselves in the same room. I love watching how the other women up the intensity, bust out X-rated moves, and enthusiastically do their own thing. It makes it so much easier for me to just throw myself into it. There’s a particular woman who has long legs just like me and gets into the moves, and I’ve been taking TONS of cues from her. Am I bending the right way? Look at Leg-lady. How high should I jump? Look at Leg-lady. Do I really look like a baby deer flailing around on an icy pond? Yes, you’re doing it wrong, do it like Leg-lady is doing it. I’d like to thank her for existing, but I haven’t found a way to do it that doesn’t sound completely creepy.

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This is what a creepy creepster looks like, after realizing she has a Christmassy shirt in her closet.

All this gym time is paying off, too. My tightest sweatshirt has gotten noticeably looser around the middle, and I’m seeing and feeling bones in my hip area that I haven’t noticed in like 2 years. (Not that I’m trying to having gross jutting hip bones, of course.) It feels great to be making progress after trying unsuccessfully for so long. I’m really excited to see where I’ll be by the end of the year on that whole front.

Pretty healthy taco salad

So this happened tonight:

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I could totally live on taco salads. It all started with me discovering Ree Drummond’s recipe for salad tacos, and her deceptively simple ingredient list yielded the best Tex Mex-style taco meat I’d ever made at home. Plus, combining ranch dressing and salsa is genius. She uses sour cream, mayo, and ranch packets for her sauce, but usually I just mix together salsa and bottled ranch, or sour cream. Or just plain salsa. It’s a perfectly good (and very healthy) salad dressing all on its own.

This pile of wonderful from tonight has seasoned turkey (more on that in a bit), half a head of chopped romaine lettuce, 8 old grape tomatoes that needed to be used up, a sprinkle of sharp cheddar, a little bit of frozen corn that I mixed with some salsa, some Bolthouse Farm yogurt ranch dressing (my favorite dressing ever), and a sprinkle of chipotle powder on top. Oh, and a baked tortilla bowl and some lovely salsa to dip it in.

How do you make a tortilla bowl, you might wonder? It was super simple: I took a large flour tortilla and just molded it onto the bottom of a medium-sized steel mixing bowl – no cooking spray needed. Then I popped the bowl in a preheated oven at 400 degrees until the edges were a little browned and the whole thing was crispy-looking (about 10 minutes for me). I took it out of the mixing bowl and let it sit in the oven another couple minutes just to crisp up the bottom a little more.

You might be able to do this if you have glass or ceramic mixing bowls, but I think you would have to preheat the bowls because they’re so much thicker than metal.

Now on to the turkey!

I used just short of 1/2 pound of lean ground turkey, and I threw in a little ghee that was laying around, to give it some extra flavor and prevent it from sticking to the pan (nevermind that I was using the nonstick skillet) and heated it over medium. Then in went the turkey, followed by these other good things:

  • Salt
  • Chili powder (unsalted in my case)
  • Garlic powder (sometimes I’ll actually mince/microplane a garlic clove, but I’m usually too lazy)
  • Cumin
  • Mexican oregano
  • Hot sauce
  • Jarred jalapeno slices

On a regular day I’d usually add Worcestershire sauce and something tomato-ey, like some salsa or a spoonful of tomato paste, but this came out totally fine and with that lovely “holy awesome, this is delicious taco meat” umami flavor I wanted. I didn’t even have to add ancho or chipotle powder to the meat. I want to say it’s because of the added fat from the ghee.

Note: if you’re not like me with tons of spices and clarified butter laying about, it’s perfectly fine to just use taco seasoning from a packet and adjust the amount you use to suit your own taste. Sometimes I prefer the packet anyway. 🙂

Also, a sprinkle of black beans on this would be awesome.

Happy salad-building and tortilla baking!