Dan Bing: A Traditional Taiwanese Breakfast

When I was studying abroad in Taiwan, my favorite thing to eat for breakfast was dan bing (Chinese: 蛋餅). Dan bing is a traditional Taiwanese breakfast consisting of a crepe and egg as the base with the option of adding ingredients like ham, bacon, hot dog, tuna, corn, or cheese. Lots of small breakfast shops on the street sell dan bing and it’s very convenient to get on-the-go and very cheap. A basic egg dan bing costs about 20 TWD, which is about $0.63 USD, and to order one with an additional ingredient would cost about 30 TWD, which is about $0.95 USD.

It’s been nine months since I left Taiwan so I thought it was about time I attempted to make my favorite breakfast food. Remember when I said it was a quick, on-the-go breakfast? Yeah, not so much when you make it yourself. I failed my first two attempts and ripped many crepes that couldn’t be saved and had to be thrown out, but I’ll share what worked and what didn’t work so you can avoid making those same mistakes. So it may not have been quick but it was still cheap! Most of the ingredients were things I already had in my kitchen and the only ingredients I had to go out and buy were bread flour and scallions.

 _1460862These are the ingredients you will need.

Dan Bing

Makes 3

½ cup bread flour

2 tablespoons corn starch

Salt

1 cup of water

3 eggs

¾ tablespoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chopped scallions

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Mix the bread flour, corn starch, a pinch of salt, and 1 cup of water in a small mixing bowl. Mix it well and let it sit for 10 minutes.

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For each dan bing, beat one egg with ¼ teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon chopped scallions, and a pinch of salt.

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Heat a large pan on medium heat and spray generously with cooking spray. Pour about a half cup of the batter onto the pan (be sure to stir it a little first) and tilt the pan around to spread the mixture evenly into a nice big circle. Be sure to work quickly because the bottom of the mixture will start to solidify fast. Let it cook until the top has set and then flip it over.

Tips: Once you think the top has set, I would recommend waiting an extra minute before flipping. If you have difficulty flipping it over, try flipping it onto a greased up plate and then carefully sliding it back onto the pan, cooked side up, with the help of your greased up spatula. I would also re-spray the pan before sliding the crepe back on. After my first few failed attempts, I learned that cooking spray is your best friend for anything that comes in contact with the crepe otherwise the crepe will cling on and rip.

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Once you’ve flipped the crepe over, pour the egg mixture evenly onto the crepe. Try not to let the egg mixture spill over the edges but it’s no big deal if it happens. Let it cook until most of the egg has set and then flip it over to the other side to cook for an additional 10-20 seconds. The crepe should be sturdy enough to flip with a spatula this time. _1460950Now flip it egg side up onto a cutting board and roll it up and then cut into one inch pieces. The dan bing will be hot so I suggest dipping your fingers in a bowl of ice water right before handling.

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And there you have it! A delicious traditional Taiwanese breakfast. You’ll want to serve it with some sauce. You can use sweet chili sauce or make an amazing dipping sauce using 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, 1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. I drizzled the dipping sauce I made on top of the dan bing and then dipped it in the sweet chili sauce and it tasted phenomenal!

_1460954 _1460955I also made tuna dan bing because that’s what I always ordered in Taiwan. I just mixed some canned tuna in with the egg mixture and it actually made the mixture more controllable when I poured it onto the crepe.

_1460956In this photo, I have the tuna dan bing on left and original dan bing on the right.

Big thanks to my sorority sister, Raisa Buenaventura, for taking these photos for me and being patient with me as I struggled to figure this out.

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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Healthy Italian Ricotta Dessert

I am in a constant battle between satisfying my sweet tooth and maintaining a healthy diet to remain “in-shape”. It’s a struggle many people face on a daily basis because desserts are just so delicious, but having a healthy, toned body is both mentally and physically satisfying.

It seems to be about that time of year where people furiously exercise their bodies in the gym and cut down on beer and ordering pizza at 2 AM, because spring break is right around the corner… This is definitely hard for most of us to do, but the warped pressure society puts on men to be buff and women to be tiny is tremendous, so we do it.

Italy is a country I have been dreaming of traveling to at some point in my life. I am hoping to get the opportunity to study abroad there in the near future. Between the presentation of the food, the flavors and most of the ingredients being made from scratch, Italian food is unbelievable.  I’m lucky to get such an amazing taste of it in the North End of Downtown Boston. Here lies a “Little Italy” with the most incredible food and DESSERTS. Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry are two of the most famous Italian pastry stores in the nation. They make the most amazing cannolis and other desserts using ricotta cheese. The recipe I made satisfies the taste and texture of many traditional Italian sweets.

This dessert is truly one of my favorite healthy Italian recipes, but there’s one more reason why I love it SO much… its simplicity. The ingredients are minimal and the preparation time is short. As college students we don’t have too much time to make elaborate meals in the kitchen, so this Italian Ricotta Dessert becomes even more appealing because you can whip it up in 2 seconds!

So let’s get started!

Ingredients: Tub of low fat or fat free Ricotta Cheese, unsweetened cocoa powder, Stevia drops, Vanilla extract, and dark chocolate chips.

First, put the Ricotta (1  3/4 cup per tub) into a mixing bowl and add 4 teaspoons of cocoa powder.


Next, add one teaspoon of Vanilla extract.

After, squeeze three squirts of the Stevia drops into the bowl.

Finally, add as many dark chocolate chips as you’d like.

Mix together until all the ingredients are blended into a mousse-like texture.

Cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

And just like that you’re done and have a guilt-free Italian dessert to satisfy your sweet-tooth.

Nutrition Facts:

Servings per container: 3.5

One serving = 1/2 cup.

Calories: 130

Total Carbohydrate: 14g

Sugars: 7g

Total Fat: 2.25g

Blini with Fried Potatoes: The Quintessential Russian Recipe

Growing up, my favorite food was homemade blini, especially blini with fried potatoes. Hey, my parents didn’t call me the Carb Queen for nothing. Today, I’m going to walk you through how to make the basic recipe for both.

If you aren’t familiar with Russian cuisine, I guess a little explanation is in order. In one of my older posts about the Russian festival Maslenitsa, I explained that blini are a thin fried crepe that is usually stuffed with an assortment of yummy foods–meats, cheeses, mushrooms, jams, honeys, or of course potatoes.

Let’s get started! Keep in mind that this recipe feeds 4 very hungry college kids.

Here is what you will need for the recipe:

  • 5 medium-sized Russet potatoes
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs. sunflower oil (or vegetable oil if you don’t have sunflower)
  • 1 small-medium onion
  • 1 tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Approximately 1/2 stick unsalted butter

 

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Here is a visual of what you will need, minus the milk and water

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The first thing you need to do is to fry the potatoes since they take quite some time to fully cook. Pour some sunflower oil into a pan and heat the stove to medium heat.

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Peel approximately 5 Russet potatoes.

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Cut the potatoes into small chunks and add them to the warmed skillet along with a chopped onion.

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Cover the skillet for approximately 15 minutes. I do this so that the potatoes can get softened and don’t get too browned. Stir and flip the potatoes occasionally.

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Meanwhile, mix the 1.5 cups of flour in a small bowl with 1 tbs. sugar and 1 tsp. salt.

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Whisk the dry ingredients until combined.

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Slowly add the 1 cup water into the dry ingredients until well combined. Whisk that batter into oblivion.

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In a separate mixing bowl, combine 1 cup milk with 3 eggs and 2 tbs. sunflower oil.

 

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Mix the wet ingredients with an electric mixer until combined. If you don’t have an electric mixer, it is okay to use a whisk. Just make sure it is well-mixed.

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Slowly begin to dollop the flour/water mixture into the bowl with the egg/milk mixture. Mix this really well to ensure everything is well-combined.

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By this time, your potatoes should start looking like this. This is around the time that I take the lid off of my skillet so that the potatoes can crisp up and brown properly. Make sure to salt and pepper these bad boys, too.

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Heat up your skillets for the blini. I’ve found that the best temperature is a medium heat. I also use two skillets at a time so that I can finish quicker.

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After buttering your pan, pour a thin layer of the blini mix unto your skillet. It should start bubbling up like this after about 30 seconds. Once the edges begin to brown, flip it.

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This is what the blin looks like once it’s flipped. Cook for another 20-30 seconds.

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After the blin is done cooking, stack them on top of each other on a plate. Also, don’t forget to butter them some more after you’ve stacked them. This keeps them thin and soft.

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Now, here comes the fun part. Spoon some of those fried potatoes onto your blin.

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Next, fold two of the sides inward.

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And now do the same with the other two sides and there you have it: a little Russian burrito.

Now, you devour. Dip these into some sour cream and you’ve got yourself a party.

A few important notes, though:

  1. Make sure you butter the pan in between each blin. Otherwise, the blin will stick to the pan and you’ll have a doughy clump.
  2. Eat them while they’re hot. They tend to get a bit rubbery if left out to sit.
  3. After stuffing the blins with your stuffing of choice, you can re-fry them so that the burrito-like shape stays and the outsides get super crispy.

If you are lost and need more guidance with this recipe, check this video out with step by step instructions!

Enjoy!

Venice of the North

Fotor0424154820Saint Petersburg is located along the Gulf of Finland and is considered to be Russia’s most vibrant city. If you love food, culture, high art, and lavish architecture, then this beautiful city is for you.

Last summer I had an opportunity to study abroad in this relaxing city for over a month, and I must say it was love at first sight. The best time to see this whimsical city in action is during the White Nights (May-July.) During this season the daylight is celebrated nearly round- the -clock because the sun sets for only a few hours. The White Nights Festival has many ballet performances, operas, and The Scarlet Sails Celebration (Алые паруса.)

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The Red Room is a masterpiece by French artist Henri Matisse. This artwork is located at the Hermitage.

If you decide to visit, you must bring out your inner art critic and spend some time in the Hermitage and the Russian Museum.  This is your chance to see the world renowned art works by Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh and etc. The Hermitage gets extremely busy, so get there early so you do not have to wait in line for hours.

Quick Fact: Experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking on each art piece at the Hermitage, it would take nearly 11 years to do so.

Walking Down the Nevsky Prospect:

Nevsky Prospect is the main street of the city; many shops, cafes, restaurants and tourist sites are located here. If you only have a day to spend in the city, this is where you should spend your time. On this outrageously long street, there is the Kazan Cathedral, Church of Spilled Blood, Hermitage (Catherine’s Palace,) and more. If you are a literature buff, perhaps you should enjoy a meal at the Literaturnoe Kafe (Literature Café.) This is where Alexander Pushkin enjoyed his many meals and his last one before he died in a dual in 1837. As you take a stroll, you will come across pleasant street artists, beautiful canals and cool bridges. The vibe of this place is very diverse and laid back.

Side Note: If you are wanting more detailed information of the city life and what it has to offer, check out Life in Russia blog!

Food:

I love food and I was so excited to taste everything, so of course most of my money went towards delicious meals. If you are

Traditional Russian Donuts

Traditional Russian Donuts in Cafe Pyshechnaya.

looking to try out authentic Russian food for cheap, then Stolovaya (Cafeteria) is your place. This is where the locals go to enjoy many of their meals. There is more than one of these, so it should be easy to spot them. Bakeries are everywhere. My personal favorite is БУШЕ (Bushe.) This bakery is heaven. My  favorite is the smoked salmon sandwich with cream cheese. Yum! The bakery only has 30 minutes Wi-Fi limit; if you are trying to get some work done on your laptop, this place is not for you. On the bright side if you get your treat to go, then your price will be cheaper. Another bakery that you must try is the Cafe Pyshechnaya. This is the oldest cafe/cafeteria and serves the best pishki (Russian donuts.) This place is extremely busy and seating is very limited. Also, the Russian women servers are extremely intimidating and they expect you to know your order right away.  Be prepared! The Guardian writes a review on this cafe and they consider it to be top 10 hidden gems in St Petersburg.

Countryside Trips:

Taking some time off from the city is always nice and there a lot of palaces and parks that offer a relaxing afternoon. Here are some attractions that will revive you.

St Petersburg has much to offer and it does take significant amount of time to explore all the streets, museums, monuments, cathedrals and etc. The vibe of this city is addicting and if you are like me, you will want to come back as soon as possible.

Spanish Cheesecake? I’ll Give It a Chance


Every birthday, my mom asks me what kind of cake I want. I think for a minute, and every year, I respond, “cheesecake.” As a cheesecake lover, I was excited to find a recipe with the Spaniards’ take on it. Quesada pasiega, or Spanish cheesecake, is a dish from Cantabria, a region in northern Spain.

Because of the Cantabria’s wet climate, cattle have plenty of grass to enjoy. The region relies on cattle byproducts and utilizes them in this dessert.

You probably have most of the ingredients necessary to make quesada pasiega; I had to make a quick trip to the store and purchase ricotta cheese and a lemon. The recipe I followed used ricotta cheese, but other variations of the recipe use yogurt instead of ricotta)

ingredients

I’m no expert baker, but this recipe is pretty darn easy to make. I had to make-do with the janky mixer we have, so the mixture didn’t turn out as smooth as I had anticipated.

photoAs you can see, there are lumps, but don’t worry, they’re benign.

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Look closely for the cannonball dive

The recipe said to cook it for 35-45 minutes, but mine took about 55. It could just be the inaccuracy of our oven’s thermometer, so keep an eye on the quesada. It should be browned on the top and a toothpick should come out cleanly when inserted into the center.

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The United State claims this plate

The final product! Mine looks a bit like cornbread compared to the recipe I followed. It tasted like a lemon square. I didn’t mind, but it was not what I epxected

Quesada-cheesecake

photo (1)I left this plate out for roommates, and it disappeared!

I won’t be asking for quesada pasiega this birthday, but if you’re feeling adventurous, this simple dessert is worth a try.

The Battle of the Two Soviet Resort Towns

The Caucasus region of Russia has long been celebrated for its beautiful landscapes, tall mountains, mild climates, and the power to renew the body and soul. Even Russian masterminds like Pushkin and Tolstoy wrote of its wonders and the region’s magical medicinal spring waters.

As for me, I was lucky enough to have grown up in this region.

For the sake of keeping this post short and sweet, I will only stick to reviewing two small towns within the Stavrapol’ region of the North Caucasus Region– Kislovodsk and Pyatigorsk.

  1. Kislovodsk

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    Landscape of Kislovodsk: lots of greenery and hills.

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To answer your question: yes, it is just as beautiful in real life as it looks here.

This beautiful resort town is named after the abundance of natural spring waters that the region produces. In fact, the town’s name literally translates to “sour water.” I know, I know, that doesn’t sound appetizing in the least bit. However, people swear by the stuff and do everything from drink it to bathe in it.

One of the town’s most beautiful attractions is definitely the resort park. The park is only accessible on foot and patrons are prohibited from driving their cars within the park itself.

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My godfather looking dapper in front of the Little Tea House.

Atop a tall hill within the park lies a hidden gem, a small restaurant called Chainii Domik. Translation: Little Tea House. The restaurant only has outside seating and has some of the most spectacular views of the park and the town itself. The wait staff is attentive but gives you your space and the food is absolutely spectacular. I recommend the shashlik, a popular Russian shish kabob that is grilled over an open fire. Yum!

When I visited this restaurant, we were lucky enough to be sat immediately. When we asked why there weren’t many people there, the waitress said that people are reluctant to hike up a steep hill for several miles only for a restaurant. Lucky for us, we got to actually drive through the park because my godfather knew the man guarding the park gates. If I could only describe the jealous (and confused) stares we got from the other park visitors as we drove our car straight on through the park.

You know you're in Russia when you can find exotic animals in the most random places, like outside of a nature sanctuary for example. All you have to do is pay the nice man 400 Rubles (about $11 USD) and you can take a souvenir photo.

You know you’re in Russia when you can find exotic animals in the most random places, like outside of a nature sanctuary for example. All you have to do is pay the nice man 400 Rubles (about $11 USD) and you can take a souvenir photo.

As for the rest of the town, it’s absolutely bustling with energy. There are a multitude of family-owned shops, little cafes like the Little Tea House, and Soviet-style resorts that Russians still stay in when they need a break from the hectic city life.

When I last visited this city at age 15, I told my family that if there was one town in Russia that I had to live in for the rest of my life, it would be Kislovodsk. The air is cleaner, the food is better, and the people seem nicer and more at ease. Visitors don’t call the place “city of the sun” for nothing. Of course, there is still the occasional gypsy beggar at the train station that will probably invade your personal space in order to attempt to get money from you, but you’re likely to find that anywhere in Russia.

2. Pyatigorsk

Pyatigorsk's famous grotto entrance.

Pyatigorsk’s famous grotto entrance.

This town gets its name from the five peaks of the Beshtau mountain range. In fact, the name literally translates to “5 mountains.” This town, also a resort town, has one of the oldest spas in Russia and has been renowned for it since 1803.

The grotto itself with a holy icon permanently watching over it.

The grotto itself with a holy icon permanently watching over it.

If there is one thing you have to see when visiting Pyatigorsk, it’s the grotto. This grotto is open to visitors but people are prohibited from touching the grotto’s infamous mineral waters. Legend has it that a famous Russian poet once became paralyzed as a result of an accident and could no longer walk. The poet moved to Pyatigorsk and was advised to daily engulf his body in the waters of the grotto as well as drink from it. Eventually, the poet was able to walk again like the accident never happened.

    One of my oldest friends, Ilya, and I at the entrance of the grotto.

One of my oldest friends, Ilya, and I at the entrance of the grotto.

This grotto is also atop a steep hill on Mount Mashuk that requires a pretty hefty hike. However, there are buses that can transport you there for very reasonable price. Also, there is a mineral water stream about half of a mile away from this grotto that the public can actually touch and bathe in if they wish to do so. Trust me, you’ll definitely want to. The waters are warm and make your skin feel completely refreshed afterward. As long as you’re not turned off by the middle-aged men in Speedos and fairly pungent smell of sulfur that comes from the water itself, you have nothing to worry about.

As for the town’s other attractions, it is very well known for its food scene. The dining is typically casual but the food itself is phenomenal and includes assortments of grilled meats and regional vegetables that have plenty of Armenian and Georgian flare.

Take a ski lift atop one of the city’s other mountains and you’ll find daredevil mountain bikers riding freely down the mountain and others simply skydiving off of it. I personally thought these people are crazy but I must admit, it looked fun.

If that’s not your scene, you can still find food trucks and souvenir shops on top of the mountain that are sure to please anyone.

Whether you’re coming to the region to visit one of its famous resorts or you’re just passing through, be sure to come to these little towns. In my opinion, this is where you see the true heart of Russia and all she has to offer.

Here are a few more pictures from my last trip to Russia in 2007:

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Europeans Don’t Get Taco Bell Breakfast

You’re not dreaming.

Taco Bell Breakfast

It’s here.

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I can officially say I tried Taco Bell breakfast. I admit, it wasn’t horrible. I wasn’t sick three hours later like I thought I might be.

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There’s no doubt, though, there’s been a lot of hype about Taco Bell’s latest attempt to rival other fast food giants. But after seeing the “Breakfast wars” that has started between Taco Bell and McDonald’s…

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Via Facebook / McDonald’s

… it got me thinking. Are people abroad just as interested in Taco Bell breakfast as American’s are? I mean McDonald’s is everywhere, is Taco Bell?

According to Huffington Post, Canada won’t get Taco Bell breakfast until the country takes Justin Bieber back.

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Via Huffington Post

But for people in Europe, they’re pretty much out of luck. Most of Taco Bell’s attempts to take on the world have failed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s because:

“The challenge will be going to countries where Mexican food isn’t popular and persuading customers to try the Americanized version sold at Taco Bell.”

In Greece, Taco Bell withdrew from the market two years after it opened it’s first store there. Pepsico tried opening several Taco Bell locations in Moscow during the early 90s. That venture lasted only a few years, and they now operate under different ownership and a different name. (Via Wikipedia)

There’s none in Germany either. Some locals don’t even know what the chain is. Others say Taco Bell is banned from opening there because of contracts the company has with the U.S. Military. (Via Toytown Germany)

The parent company of Taco Bell, Yum!, has plans to expand to Britain. In fact, the UK was the first European country with a Taco Bell, but most of those locations closed as well.

Via Taco Bell UK

Via Taco Bell UK

There is, however, one in Cyprus that has remained open.

Via Wikimedia Commons / Cyprusnic

Via Wikimedia Commons / Cyprusnic

For now it looks like most Europeans won’t get the chance to try Taco Bell breakfast unless they travel to the states. But no hurry, though! There’s no need to come rushing. You’re not missing out on much.

German Cooking for the American Woman: Schnitzel

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Ingredients:

2 Large Eggs

Flour

Plain Freadcrumbs

Thin Cut Pork

Salt and Pepper

Directions:

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First wash the thin cut pork.

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Then take serran wrap and fold it over the pork.

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Take a meat tenderizer and pound the meat.

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Once the meat is tenderized take the flour and put some in a bowl, take the 2 eggs and put them in another bowl, and then put the plain bread crumbs and salt and pepper in another bowl.

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Drop the pork into the flour and put a nice even coating on both sides.

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Drop the flour covered pork and drop it in the egg.

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Now take the flour and egg covered pork and drop it into the bowl of plain bread crumbs

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This is what the pork should look like after this process.

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Keep the pork covered in the fridge until it is ready to fry.

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Now it’s time to fry the schnitzel! What you want to do is set the heat on 350 degrees and fry it for about 6-7 minutes.

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I hope learning how to make the German Schnitzel was easy for you! For german sides to go with the schnitzel click here.

Here is  a german song to go with you delicious schnitzel!
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, “Schnitzel Boogie

Paczkis: Food For The Soul

Paczkis: Food For The Soul

I realize Paczki Day 2014 has passed, but who can completely block the sweet, sugary treat from their mind? I know I can’t, and I won’t try to either.

Paczki Day 2014 in Chicago, courtesy of Chicago Now

Paczki Day 2014 in Chicago, courtesy of Chicago Now – Show Me Chicago

I’m a Chicago-born girl who grew up in a very Polish family – I’m sure you can already tell where this is going. We celebrate Fat Tuesday like the Fourth of July or Christmas, and when it comes to my family, those events can get rowdy. If you don’t go to your local bakery or grocery store to buy paczkis, I would advise you to stay as far away from my family as you can that holiday.

Now, I assume not all of you are familiar with paczkis. What are they? How is that word even pronounced? Paczki is pronounced like “poonch-kee,” and they are essentially made up entirely of dough, sugar and fat. In fact, the word literally translates to “little doughnut” or “little package.” Great, right? Almost every news outlet puts out a story like this whenever Paczki Day rolls around, talking about recipes, how many calories are in the sweet treats and, of course, where to buy them.

Paczki Day 2013 in Chicago, courtesy of Huff Post and the AP

All for one and one for all on Paczki Day 2013 in Chicago, courtesy of Huff Post and the AP.

The article I linked to above is from International Business Times, and the author provides some history and recipes if you’re interested. Like this news article and others, blogs are posting similar stories. For example, a Chicago Now blogger shared where to find the perfect paczkis in Chicago during this year’s event. Even Polish bloggers flourish in sharing recipes. I don’t speak or read Polish – except “zimne piwo,” of course – but please, go for it if you can!

Although both writers’ information is relevant and will make you drool by the time you get through their articles, much of the history is missing.

Karnawal in Poland, courtesty of polandsite.proboards.com

Karnawal in Poland, courtesty of polandsite.proboards.com

Fat Tuesday fell on March 4, 2014, and as usual, Ash Wednesday followed the event. Paczki Day goes hand-in-hand with Lenten tradition, which I believe many people fail to realize. Fat Tuesday, Paczki Day or Mardi Gras all serve as the last day to indulge before Lent officially begins.

All the way back to the 16th century, people were forbidden to eat foods like fruit preserves, butter and eggs during this religious season, so cooks used the last week of Karnawal as a last gluttonous hurrah to get rid of all of these ingredients. Genius!

Karnawal begins on Fat Thursday, or Tłusty Czwartek, and then ends on Fat Tuesday, Sledziówka or Ostatki. And honestly, by the time this week of partying and eating is over, you will want to start fasting for Lent. Then, as mentioned, Roman-Catholics roll into church with jelly-filled bellies, receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads, and make a promise to God and themselves to better themselves during this time of Lent.

I really do love these traditions and how they’re all grouped within a week of each other. These beliefs and traditions bring cultures and people of faith together across the world, and that’s something quite special. It teaches through faith that you are allowed to have a little fun, but then still have to pay your dues to yourself, God and the church.

Top 5 Russian stereotypes debunked and affirmed

With recent posts like Buzzfeed’s “16 Things Russians Do That Americans Might Find Weird” and YouTube videos featuring Russian stereotypes like this one, about the “true” nature of Russia, I was urged to create my own list of Russian stereotypes. Let’s dive in, shall we?

1. Vodka

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Beautiful women, fur hats, and a giant bottle of Russian Standard vodka–3 Russian stereotypes in one convenient photo!

This is without a doubt one of the most well-known stereotypes of Russian culture–the excessive consumption of vodka. I’d be lying if I said that vodka doesn’t take center stage at some Russian parties, celebrations, etc. Often, this occurs because of the constant need to toast to/about everything every 5 minutes or so. At Russian tables, everybody is expected to contribute at least one toast, and every toast must be followed by the typical clinking of the glasses and a gulp of some type of liquor (since toasting with anything but alcohol is often seen as bad luck, but we will get to the superstitions later). Of course vodka (and other liquor), isn’t only consumed during celebrations and parties, but also as a part of life.

Obviously, overly excessive consumption of vodka can lead to issues like alcoholism and the world has definitely noticed this problem. According to reuters.com, a new study has shown that a quarter of all Russian men die before they reach their mid-fifties, with alcohol (mainly vodka) being largely to blame for this.

Some cultural changes are on their way, however, mainly with the help of recent laws prohibiting consumption of alcohol in public places and a small (but notable) shift in the cultural mindset where young Russians are deciding against drinking, smoking, and doing drugs.

 

2. Beets, dill, and herring

Recently, I received a phone call from my mother asking me to buy her something rather strange (for the American mindset) from one of the organic markets in town. What was it? 10 lbs. of beets to be used to create some sort of magical elixir that is (supposedly) helpful if you have a cold. I wish I could have gotten the cashier’s reaction on video when she asked me why in the world would I need 10 lbs. of beets.

I wasn't kidding when I said Russians put dill on everything. Here's a prime example--Greek salad...topped with dill.

I wasn’t kidding when I said Russians put dill on everything. Here’s a prime example–Greek salad…topped with dill.

I would consider beets a staple in the Russian diet. They are used in a multitude of dishes ranging from borsch (beet soup with vegetables), the above “magical” elixir (and others alike), and a traditional New Year’s dinner salad named “seledka pod shuboy”, which is translated to “herring under a fur coat” and includes a base of pickled herring with a top layer of sour cream and beets. (Just to clarify, although it’s on the table doesn’t mean everyone eats it. This dish is often left fairly untouched, even at a table of 20 people).

This brings us to the next foods–dill and herring. It just so happens that the two go perfectly together, at least in my mind. Yes, the consumption of these two is significantly higher than that of beets. Dill is put on almost EVERYTHING in Russia. It’s used to pickle vegetables, used as a spice in countless soups and potato dishes, and even used as a garnish for something you wouldn’t normally think dill should  go on. Herring, however, is not an everyday food like dill is (mainly because it is sometimes too expensive for everyday meals). When it is consumed, it’s best paired with boiled potatoes mixed with lots and lots of, you guessed it, dill!

 

3. Babushkas

babushka-apples

When a sweet babushka offers you apples, you take them, no questions asked.

Babushkas, literally translated to “grandmas,” are, in my mind, a vastly misunderstood part of the population in Russia. Babushkas are often seen as bitter, mean, old women (stereotypically adorning scarves over their heads) who spend their time yelling at youngsters and complaining about the aspects of everyday life. Through my time in Russia, I’ve decided that this stereotype is definitely false.

The babushkas I’ve met and had encounters with have all been extremely sweet and caring women who still try to find joy in their everyday lives. The harsh truth, however, is that all too often, babushkas are a lonely folk left alone by their fellow family members. Many of them are poor (and sometimes even impoverished) and are forced to sell goods like produce, homemade woolen socks, clothes, etc. in outdoor markets.

So the next time you see a babushka, shoot a smile her way and ALWAYS give up your bus or train seat for her.

 

4. Russian superstitions

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Translation: Salt spilled, tears shed.

Throw a bit of salt over your left shoulder if you ever spill some, sit quietly for a minute before heading out for a trip, never give someone an even amount of flowers unless you’re going to a funeral, look in the mirror if you ever have to go back into your house after you’ve already left and forgot something.

These are all examples of common Russian superstitions. The best part is that they are still widely practiced and believed. These are passed down from generation to generation and I can honestly say that I do every single one of the ones listed above. There are some, however, that are a bit far-fetched, even for the most superstitious of Russians.

For example, if a woman ever sits on a table or counter, it means that she will get pregnant soon. Also, Russian girls and women are expected to never sit on a floor or any cold surface because it is believed that it will make them infertile.

 

 

5. Russian hospitality

This is one stereotype I am proud (as a fellow Russian) to say is true–the stereotype that Russians are extremely hospitable.

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Circa 1997(ish): my family gathers for a celebratory dinner full of love, laughter, and booze.

When going to a dinner or celebration at a Russian person’s home, expect to be bombarded with an array of food, drinks, and the constant question of whether there’s anything else that you want them to bring you. Hostesses are expected to tend to every need of their guests and, during large celebrations like Russian New Year, a man is always designated to make sure that no one’s cup is ever empty.

If a guest gets a bit too buzzed and can’t go home quite yet, no problem! They are always welcome to sleep it off in the spare bedroom, couch, floor, whatever. The next morning, they can expect a hefty breakfast to soak up the booze from the night before and a stiff cup of coffee or tea.

 

 Bonus: a tip for the American with a new Russian friend

If I had to give you one piece of advice about how to impress your new Russian friend, it would be to never show up to their home without some sort of gift in hand. Russians tend to be gift-givers and you are expected to bring a gift to their home whenever you’re going there for a party or celebration. Whether it’s flowers, chocolates, booze, food, or any other small gift, it’s a great way to show them that you’re attentive and eager to learn more about their culture.

McDonald’s Breakfast until Noon: Are You Lovin’ It?

Ever go to McDonald’s expecting breakfast only for this to happen? *watches video*

Well, if you’re in Spain, you don’t have to worry about missing out on hotcakes and sausage until 1 pm. That’s right: 1 in the afternoon.

When I visited Spain, I had to adjust to their schedule. Stores close down from 2-5 for siesta, and dinner doesn’t start until 10 pm. With Spain’s economic struggles, a New York Times article addressed a Spanish campaign to change the country’s time schedule in order to increase worker efficiency.

Despite these attempts, McDonald’s extended its breakfast hours. Now, you can sleep-in even later and still get your sausage McMuffin until 1 pm on the weekends (noon on weekdays) at most locations in Spain, one hour later than other locations in Europe. Compare that to the United States, where breakfast stops at 10:30 am.

Toast with tomatoes: slightly less terrible for you

Toast with tomatoes and olive oil: slightly less terrible for you

In addition to McDonald’s new hours, the company launched a 4 million Euro  (approximately 5.5 million USD) campaign promoting its new breakfast menu. It’s not uncommon for McDonald’s to alter the menu to account for regional differences across the globe.To compete with local cafés, McDonald’s new breakfast menu in Spain now includes toast with tomatoes and olive oil and a wider range of coffees.

The McDonald’s España facebook page has over 500,000 likes. When McDonald’s announced the new breakfast campaign, it received about 1,000 likes. I’ve found a few different reactions on twitter. One person said that McDonald’s breakfast, regardless of the menu, scares her. Other people reacted more positively, saying they enjoy the new menu.

Translation: “Finally a breakfast that I like!”

McDonald’s new slogan for the breakfast campaign is “Despierta Tu Sonrisa” or “Wake Up with a Smile”

The video says, “if you start the day well, we all start well.” I don’t know how you feel about starting your day with McDonald’s for breakfast, but for me, I start my days with McDonald’s when I’m hungover and willing to shell out two bucks for two sausage McMuffins.

I understand the cultural differences concerning eating times, but this seems like just another ploy for McDonald’s to exploit consumers.

Maslenitsa, another Russian festival you’ve probably never heard of

Out with the old and in with the new! The celebratory burning of The Maslenitsa doll symbolizes the end of a harsh winter and the coming of a fruitful spring.

Out with the old and in with the new! The celebratory burning of The Maslenitsa doll symbolizes the end of a harsh winter and the coming of a fruitful spring.

Mass consumption of thin, buttery, crepe-like pancakes. Folklore and traditional costumes. Drinking, singing, and dancing. Sleigh rides and snowball fights. The burning of a scarecrow-like figurine dressed in women’s clothing.

What’s not to love, right?

These activities are all characteristic of an annual Russian festival called Maslenitsa (roughly translated to Butter Week/Holiday).

This holiday has roots in both paganism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity and is celebrated the week before Great Lent begins. For people who are avid believers in the Orthodox religion, this is the last week that they can consume any type of meat, fish, dairy, or eggs, as it is forbidden for the entire length of Great Lent.

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Freshly fried blini stacked high!

Because of this religious tradition, it’s not a surprise that, arguably, the most important part of Maslenitsa is the mass consumption of blini. Blini, or blitzes, are ultra-thin, crepe-like pancakes made from mixing flour, eggs, and milk (recipe to follow). These blini are then fried in butter, stacked on top of each other (with more butter in between the layers), and are then stuffed or served with a wide range of options like meats, cheeses, potatoes, mushrooms, sour cream, jams, caviar, etc. The possibilities are endless. The blini is supposed to be a representation of the sun, hence why they are the top choice for a festival celebrating the coming of springtime.

Sounds delicious? It is. Blini are an absolute Russian staple and every family makes them differently, whether it’s using kefir (a fermented milk drink) instead of milk, using buckwheat flour instead of white or wheat flour, or mixing a bit of sunflower oil into the batter itself to make the flavor a bit richer (a personal favorite of mine, yum!).

Okay, where were we again? Oh yes, Maslenitsa. Although the blini take center stage, there is so much more to the holiday. In ancient Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa was celebrated to signify the end of winter and the blossoming of springtime (hence the pagan roots). The burning of the lady scarecrow made out of straw is supposed to symbolize the awakening of spring and all of its life-giving glory. And, like many other Russian holidays, especially ones occuring during the winter months, celebration always includes a nice shot of vodka (or 6) or a cup of medovukha (a honey-based alcoholic drink similar to mead) to keep you warm.

Celebrating the Russian way--with lots of vodka.

Participants keep warm in the snowy climate by sipping some vodka.

When Maslenitsa was celebrated during the time that the entirety of Russia was still known as Kievan Rus, young single guys would ride around on sleighs in order to be on the lookout for beautiful single girls. This apparently made the matchmaking process easier and paved the way for these new couples to marry on Krasnaya Gorka (translated as the Red Hill holiday, the Sunday after Easter).

I wish that I could include some warm childhood memories of the celebration of Maslenitsa from my childhood in Russia, but, it just so happens that Maslenitsa was vastly not celebrated during the entire length of the Soviet regime and for many years afterward. Russians now celebrate Maslenitsa by keeping old traditions and introducing new ones into the mix. A fellow blogger, Olga Arakelyan, writes that in some modern Maslenitsa celebrations, people are invited to write down their worries on a piece of paper and stick them on the Lady Maslenitsa so that when she is burned, so are your troubles!

According to the “Voices from Russia” blog, Moscow’s Gorky Park will feature a Maslenitsa festival this year. However, Eileen from “From Russia With Love” states that she has not seen any large city-wide celebrations in her current city (and my hometown) of Rostov-On-Don. She believes that the larger celebrations tend to be in the rural areas rather than metropolitan cities.

Traditional Russian songs, festivals, etc. are making a comeback in recent years and the celebration of holidays like Maslenitsa are a fun and unique way to celebrate Russian culture.

All bundled up, a group of Russian kiddos getting ready for a sleigh ride.

All bundled up, a group of Russian kiddos are getting ready for a sleigh ride.

Maslenitsa doesn’t just occur in Russia, however. Every year, Mizzou’s very own Nicole Monnier, the director of Undergraduate Studies in Russian, holds a “blini night” in her home in order to celebrate this delicious holiday with the Russian community and Russian studies students of Columbia. This year, she says, she will be expecting about 50 people.

I was going to include a recipe for my very own version of blini, but upon realizing that I never use precise measurements when I make these (I prefer to simply throw the ingredients in the bowl and taste-test the batter to make sure it’s the perfect consistency and right contrast of salty and sweet), I have decided to include a link to a recipe instead.

Whether you’ll be burning a scarecrow on a Russian field or simply frying up some blini in your 9×8′ Columbia kitchen and stuffing them with fried potatoes (me), I hope you find a way to celebrate this ancient holiday. Приятного аппетита!

German Cooking for the American Woman

Kartoffelpuffer

German recipe for the American woman! Today I’m going to attempt the potato pancake and give feedback and helpful hints that will make the process easy and yummy.

First thing is first, ingredients:
2 eggs
2 tbsps all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
6 potatoes
½ cup finely chopped onion(optional)
¼ cup vegetable oil (for skillet)

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In a bowl combine all the ingredients listed above. While combining heat a large skillet with ¼ cup vegetable oil. Pour 1/3 cup potato mixture flattening the potato like a pancake and fry until golden on both sides. Take the pancake off and drain on a paper towel like you’re cooking bacon and keep warm in 100 degree oven.

Can be served with applesauce, sour cream, or ketchup! Enjoy!

For more potato recipes refer to http://www.germanfoodguide.com/kartoffel.cfm

European Food Industry Losing Its Taste

I must confess, I love the thought of European food. It’s elegant, fresh, savory, farm-to-table. Broadly speaking, it’s usually the types of things that American food isn’t. Each country in Europe even has its own distinct cuisine, making it a unique area to dine in. As Americans, we dream about the food there. We base our travel plans on where and what we’re going to eat. I’d say it’s even a craze. I mean check out the video below. It is completely dedicated to different places to eat in Europe and there’s hundred of videos out there just like it.

Right now, Europe’s food and drink industry is the continents largest manufacturing sector in terms of turnover, employment, and value added. But believe it or not, this fantasy us Americans dream about when it comes to European food could actually fade away. According to FoodDrinkEurope, which represents Europe’s food and drink industry, recently published a report that argues the continent might be in danger of ‘losing its competitive edge.’

Click here to see report.

Specifically, the report said, “Despite being a major contributor to Europe’s economy, key competitiveness indicators show that Europe’s food and drink sector is losing its competitive edge.”

That’s because European institutions don’t have policies specifically tailored to the food industry, which means they could lose out to non-EU manufacturers. FoodDrinkEurope urges the removal of barriers to trade, more sustainable food systems, a focus on productivity, and a better promotion of science.

Even local European farmers appear worried. Specifically, they are arguing against a looming US-EU free trade agreement that would allow American farmers to essentially sell lower quality food. The concern here is protecting Europe’s high standards when it comes to the environment and animals.

A member of German environmental group Bund told The Local, “At the moment it’s possible (in Europe) to encourage farmers to raise animals in good conditions and to produce for the local market, but if the free trade agreement goes ahead, we will be subject to the rules of the global market, and the global market doesn’t care about protecting the environment and animals.”

Honestly, I believe the real issue here is staying competitive. Europe, I would imagine, knows that it sits at the top when it comes to food. To protect that prestige, there’s no doubt the EU must find a solution to keeping their goods the best.

However, at the same time, as American’s we also have to make money, which is the reason for the global market. It’s what drives prices and profits. The problem here, then, is finding a way to make both parties happy, which we all know isn’t the easiest of things to do.

Either way, Europe needs to keep its “competitive edge” at least for a few more years so that those of us who have yet to experience it in its authenticity still have a chance to.