Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pictures from this weekend

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our Beach Trip

Our family beach trip 2009 from Olya on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ratatoille is next

I made this recipe when the weather turned cold, so we could feel snuggly and warm with a stew dish for dinner. (Of course, the weather promptly became warm as soon as I made this. You are welcome.) I've never made cassou-anything before, but this turned out really really well! It took about one hour of prep, about $35 to feed 3 people for a week's worth of dinners, and one slow cooker to come back to a heavenly-smelling garage. :) All courtesy of Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame. Here is the recipe, from Williams-Sonoma site.


  • 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 8 pieces and trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup panko
  • 4 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions (about 3 medium onions)
  • 2 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 can (35 oz.) peeled Italian plum tomatoes, drained and
    coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 12 cups cooked Great Northern beans or other small white
    beans, drained
  • 6 fully cooked or smoked chorizo or garlic sausage links,
    about 1 1/2 lb. total, each halved on the diagonal
  • 1 garlic head, halved crosswise
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 lb. baguette, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
  • Coarse sea salt, such as sel gris, for garnish


Season the pork generously with kosher salt and pepper; set aside.

In the stovetop-safe insert of a slow cooker over medium-high heat, combine the canola oil and panko. Cook, stirring constantly, until the panko is toasted and golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the panko to a baking sheet and season with kosher salt and pepper.

Add the bacon to the insert and cook until crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Reserve the bacon fat in the insert.

Add half of the pork to the insert and brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with the remaining pork.

Add the onions and 1 tsp. kosher salt to the insert and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened, about 7 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes and broth. Remove the insert from the heat and add the beans, pork, chorizo and garlic.

Place the insert on the slow-cooker base, cover and cook on low until the pork pulls apart easily with a fork, 9 to 10 hours. Skim off the fat, and remove and discard the garlic. Fold in the panko and the 1/4 cup parsley. Adjust the seasonings with kosher salt and pepper.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat the broiler.

Brush the baguette slices with olive oil. Arrange the slices, oiled side up, on top of the cassoulet, overlapping them. Broil until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

Let the cassoulet stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle each serving with the reserved bacon, sea salt and parsley. Serves 8 to 10.

Adapted from a recipe by Thomas Keller, Chef/Owner, The French Laundry.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

If you're happy and you know it

Recently, a study has been making a stir in the news - a study on women's happiness. Apparently, not only are women less happy now then before (no one seemed surprised by that), but there was no larger predictor of female unhappiness then.... wait for it... kids. Obviously, every American news outlet proclaimed that children are the biggest obstacle to female satisfaction (with the feminist movement providing a background chant about how this 'male' idea that women find intrinsic pleasure in raising children has been PROVEN WRONG!)

I think that this interpretation of the study is stupid. But only because 'happiness' in America is a stupid word. It has no bittersweetness. It has no melancholy. It has no in-between, no gradient, no looking back, no hesitation, no quiet joy. American happiness is filled with sticky-sweet pure goodness, it's a 10 on a 1-10 scale, it's cotton candy, it's apple pie, it's the stupid-happy wag of your golden retriever puppy.

Yeah, kids will knock that out of you. You know what else will? Any life worth living. Because there is only one way you can stay blissfully, dopey happy: by not doing much. Anything else will seriously reduce your American Happiness Quotient.

The thing is, nothing comes without its opposite. To know joy you have to know sorrow, to have excitement you have to see boredom, adventure is the opposite of routine and there is no satisfaction without obstacles. When reminiscing, people often say "We only remember the good times". But remembering the bad times would be like remembering the cost of a movie ticket instead of the movie itself. Everything has a cost, and the higher the pleasure you seek, the higher your payment could be. There is nothing better than being in love - but to get there, you have to drop your guard and become defenseless. Many people get devastated in the process, and yet still agree that it was a fair price to pay for such joy, however brief.

Without ever having children, or being in love, or taking a risk, or going on an adventure, you are happier, I guess - the way zoo animals are happier than the wild ones and the way people who've never been in love are happier than the brokenhearted. But I think we have confused what matters for 'Happiness' instead of 'Fulfillment'. If you don't know what you are missing, and happier because of not knowing, is it worth it? (Wasn't this the question what drove Adam and Eve out of the garden they were in at the time?)

At the end of our lives, we will hardly be asking ourselves "Was I blissfully dopey happy for most of the time?" Instead, most of us seem to want to find a purpose, an accomplishment, a story that leads to its conclusion, a 'to be continued' sign. American 'Happiness' seems to mean 'Feeling Nothing Negative'. But there is only one way to experience that: spending your life carefully avoiding entanglement with anything and anyone. It's not clear how such a life would be different from not having one at all.

So please, ignore this stupid study. Have kids - even if you are an American woman. They will bring you great joy, return your sense of wonder, fill you with worry and make you paranoid. You will be proud, filled with self-doubt and unknown confidence. You will get a limited-time ticket back to childhood, and for that you will pay dearly in new anxieties. But you will not trade it for the world.

I will leave you with a little song from the Russian classic film "The Irony of Fate". It's actually a lighthearted jingle. Yep, Russians consider these topics appropriate for lighthearted jingles. We are a cheerful people.

"To Have or Not to Have"
If you do not own a house,
A fire won't threaten it's life.
And your wife will never leave for another
If you do not
If you do not,
If you do not have a wife.

If you do not have a pet dog,
You won't have to see his end,
And you and your friends won't quarrel
If you do not,
If you do not,
If you do not have a friend.

The orchestra rocks percussion,
The trumpeter pounds the valves.
Pick for yourself,
Decide for yourself,
To have or not to have.

If you do not have an auntie,
You won't have to lose her and cry.
And if you are not living,
Then you will not,
Then you will not,
Then you will not have to die.

The orchestra rocks percussion,
The trumpeter pounds the valves.
Pick for yourself,
Decide for yourself,
To have or not to have.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First trip to the zoo

Friday, November 6, 2009

This is my favorite thing this morning.

And a perfect thing to start your weekend.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I feel this way sometimes

I would be the smaller owl: dopey, sleepy, but profoundly content with leaning on such a spectacular, manly, confident and hot owl to my right.

We did not teach him this.

And we did not pick this song, either. Really. And check out those moves! (And check out the bit of sound engineering done in the middle!) We didn't teach him this. We couldn't have. We don't have these skills. He is bopping with the best of them and is probably our best hope of getting into a dance club at this point. :)

Clubbing is next from Olya on Vimeo.

Celebrate the pony

In honor of Elijah's first-ever pony ride, here is one of my favorite Russian cartoons, with song lyrics by one of my favorite Russian poets: Yunna Morits. My pathetic translation follows the video, but I strongly recommend you learn Russian to appreciate it fully. :) Even without understanding the words, the cartoon is sweet and requires no translation.... you just need to have grown up. Enjoy.

When it is hot or chilly outside,
And pony trots to get to work by nine,
All trolleys from the transit depot
And all the transit depot buses too
Are waiting just to take you to the zoo,
Right to the front of pony-riding line.

The pony has long silky bangs,
Like a curtain over his eyes.
He travels to faraway places
Where Mom used to ride
And Dad used to ride
When they were my size.

To places where zebras roam
And hippos swim and orchids flower,
A plane can take you only once a week,
Then big ships have to travel for a week,
Then big trucks bump around for a week -
And pony gets you there in half an hour.

The pony has long silky bangs,
Like a curtain over his eyes.
He travels to faraway places
Where Mom used to ride
And Dad used to ride
When they were my size.

I'd ride on the pony all day and all night,
I would be a grandpa, and still not give up,
I would be a grandpa, and still not give up,
I'd never give up, never stop.

A plane that's soaring above the clouds is awesome,
And every single ship is awesome too.
But ships are hard to hold in your arms,
And planes are hard to hold in your arms,
And pony is so easy to hold on to,
And how magical holding him is to us.

Toot the Horn

Thank you to our grand-uncle, grand-aunt and cousins for the awesome gift. :) Notice the styling one-leg push-off - faster dismount means faster fire-fighting assistance!

Wagon Test Drive from Olya on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A walk in the park


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