Friday, December 5, 2014

Review of "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking"

My introduction to Russian cooking was while studying the language at the Defense Language Institute, during the Cold War. My teachers were all expatriates, but their families had all left Russia at the time of the Revolution, and their culinary experiences were nothing like those of the people who lived during the Soviet era. But, like the Russians I met later in life, they were obsessed with food, especially just after the “Great Lent” which they, as Orthodox Christians, observed fully. (no meat, no eggs, no animal products)

Anya Von Bremzen grew up during the worst days of the Cold War, when the Cuban Missile Crisis was making us afraid of all thing Russian. Russia's 'five year plans' were a study in incompetence. The black market was the place to actually buy food almost from the beginning of the “communist dream”. Many of my Russian friends who lived in that time have the same obsessions with food, and are often amazed at American waste and how little we value what we have.

Although Anya's mother, Larisa, is a gifted cook and did her best to make the available food eatable, her flair for cooking is best displayed when she makes a lucky score at the shops or the black market and rounds up the necessary ingredients for a traditional dish. These occasional feasts stand obviously special memories in Anya’s life. Like all Russians, she knows how to shop the black market, how to finagle and finesse But it was no way to live.

When the opportunity to emigrate presents itself, Larisa and Anya (then 10 years old) wasted no time leaving. They leave, almost literally, with nothing but the shirts on their backs and a complete ignorance of what life is really like in the West. Her experiences are touching, sad, but amusing sometimes. Larisa’s guilt over what they find ends up with years of sending home money and gifts to those they left behind.

A lovely book, beautifully written, chock full of interesting tidbits, culinary and historical. However, there are only a few recipes. Buy this for the history, the story of a mother and daughter and their shared love of the best of their homeland.

I received a copy of this book from "Blogging for Books" in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

“Long as I can grow it, my hair…..”

“Long as I can grow it, my hair…..”

I have a love/hate relationship with my hair. When I was very young, it usually involved screaming a lot. I had a very “tender” head. In other words, everything hurt. Mom washed my hair in the kitchen sink, with me lying on the counter. It was so baby fine that it tangled every time. And this was before conditioners or de-tanglers. It was thin and stick straight. We tried home perms, rag curls, rollers, (both smooth and brush rollers). My school pictures really showcase the efforts, sadly. So, usually, around the end of the school year, we cut it.

The style was called a “Pixie”. My dad called it a “DA” for duck’s ass. The cut was logical, as I spent most of my time in the water, whenever possible, and it avoided those fights with Mom. But my cousins had beautiful long California blond locks. My favorite aunt, who was just a bit older than me, had incredible long red hair. And here I was, short, fine, muddy blond hair. Sad.

For years I tried everything out there. Perms that left me looking like Angela Davis or a poodle. I cut it very short again when I joined the Army. This was pre-blow dryers, and no one had time to style their hair! For my wedding day, I managed to get it just past shoulder length, with a slight curl. That died by the end of the day. And again, since I did martial arts most days, I sweated and everything just plastered to my head. So short hair always seemed to be the right option.

I tried to grow it out. It would make it to just below shoulder length, and then start to split and just stopped growing. Finally, again, I cut it all off. I wore my hair about two inches long for about 5 years. I have to admit that I enjoyed the freedom of just stepping out of the shower, applying a bit of gel and walking out the door. I dyed it red for 25 years, then developed an allergy to hair dyes, and had to quit. But now, my hair is aging, just like the rest of me. My silver highlights look deliberate, and when it was short, a lot of people thought that I had them professionally done. I just said, “God highlighted my hair!”

The challenge with short hair is that you have to have it trimmed every 3 weeks to maintain the look. I found a wonderful hairdresser and visited her religiously. My hair was still fine, but with a good cut, it was healthy. Then, horror of horrors, she quit. Now, she had a good reason. Her mother was ill and she was caring for her. But what to do?? A lot of my friends have shared the horror story of trying to find a new stylist when they move or their hairdresser leaves. And it’s true. It’s a trust relationship.

So, I didn’t find another hairdresser. My hair lost its shape, and started to look shaggy. I just I pinned it, and used a lot of gel. Then, something weird happened. It started to look good. The silver spots flowed into a streak, and softened the whole thing. Grey hair has more texture than younger hair, I’ve read, and now I could see some body in my style. I started to enjoy my hair for the first time in my life.

I decided to give it one more try. Around this time, I found a new endocrinologist. I’d been diagnosed and treated for Hashimoto’s syndrome for about 20 years, and was undiagnosed for another 20. One of the symptoms of thyroid diseases is thin or thinning hair. My new endo put me on a natural thyroid replacement, rather than the Synthroid I’d taken for so long. My hair started to get thicker. It kept growing, way past the limits it had before. Now, it’s down past mid back, and shows no signs of stopping.

I started doing some research about long hair, since I decided to keep it. There are a lot of websites out there with advice. I changed shampoos, and stopped washing it every day. I started using argan oil to condition it, stopped using the blow dryer. I even bought a different brush. I comb it carefully when it’s wet. And I’m ignoring all the people who say that women over 50 really shouldn’t have long hair. Let’s see how long I can grow it…”gimme a head with hair…long, beautiful hair”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reunion envy, NaBloPoMo A#5

I found a blog post today, talking about attending a high school reunion. The author talked about how people had changed, or hadn’t changed. Some people had stayed in touch, others had drifted away. But they all came together at their reunion
I graduated from high school in 1970. I had been in a different school every year. Now, don’t get the idea that I was a bad kid and got kicked out of all those schools. It all came down to my parents trying to do the right thing for my younger brothers.
My freshman year was actually in a 7-9 intermediate school, so I was “on top”, not the dreaded freshman. La Palma school was a good experience. I loved my Spanish teacher, worked in the library, and lived close enough to walk both ways with my friends every morning. I was involved in clubs and extracurricular activities. We had moved to Buena Park from Whittier for my 8th grade year, and I loved the area. I especially liked having a pool in the backyard! My sophomore year, I went to Western HS in Anaheim, with those same classmates. I bought my class ring here, learned to drive, made some friends.
The next year got a little crazy. My father’s business partner died, and he couldn’t continue to run his bakery alone. As well, they’d decided that Southern California wasn’t a safe place to raise young men anymore. This was around the time of the Watts riots, and it kind of scared my folks. So, they sold the business, sold the house, and rented a house back in Whittier while they tried to decide where to move permanently.
My junior year, I was back with the same students I’d spent elementary school with. Old friends, old frictions, but familiar. I continued my Spanish, joined the chorus, went to lots of Friday afternoon dances. Typical late 60’s southern Cali. I expected to return and graduate the next year. But my parents finally decided to move all the way to my mom’s home state…Pennsylvania. So, my senior year was spent in a new city, new state, new school.
The school was huge. Nine hundred and fifty graduating seniors walked the stage. And although in California, I’d been really conservative and studious; the kids in Altoona just knew that I must be a wild-eyed hippie druggie. I met a few folks in chorus, and in the library. They didn’t have advanced Spanish, so I discovered Russian. I truly never quite fit in. So, how do you go to a reunion? Which do you pick? So, in 44 years, I’ve never been to any. I get a little envious, seeing people with lifelong friendships.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NaBloProMo #4 The saga continues

By KatherineNobles on November 04, 2014

Today was the first time I actually cross-posted on the BlogHer site. It's funny. I have an advanced degree in computing technology, but learning the technical side of new programs in becoming increasingly difficult in recent years. So, one more thing learned.

I'm still exhausted after yesterday's very vigorous water aerobics class. Changing the music to a more driving beat made the class more fun, but also more exhausting. I feel like I did the first couple of weeks after I started! But, I suppose it was time to make it a little more challenging as well.

I've committed to starting a new blog for myself, as well as the little blog I've had for a couple of years, in order to challenge my brain like I'm trying to do with my body. I love to bake, and I'm going to try to present a new bread every week for a year. Just one. I'll be learning how to do the photographs, and how to present them properly. I'm also going to analyze the recipes for possible changes to enhance flavor, presentation and health. I've won ribbons at state and county fairs with my breads, so this is right up my alley.

I'm going to move to a more advanced blogging platform to do this, and to having my own domain. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 3, 2014

NaBloPoMo #3

NaBloPoMo...silly sounding. But, I've made a commitment to write a blog post every day for the month. Today was pretty boring, but it made me think. I'm retired now. The crises in my life, the interesting things, all of it is up to me. No job to hold my feet to the fire, no stress of grades due, deadlines, meetings. Nope.

The weekend was quiet. Cold, nasty weather set in, and none of us really wanted to go out. So, I worked on my jewelry, made hot food, and read a lot. Since I have a few new books around, that made Mom a happy camper! And, since I went to the commissary and stocked up, I didn't even have to go the grocery store for anything!

So, today I did manage to get to my aerobic class. Monday, and the pool was cold! The pool was pretty full today, and everyone was full of stories about the Halloween weekend. Mine was sad...only one trick or treater. I wish I'd given her all the candy, because it's calling my name. The instructor is a nice young man, in college. His class is fairly set, not a lot of variety from class to class. But today, he changed one small thing. The music

For the last couple of weeks, the music has just been kind of quiet, in the background. Today, he had a playlist with a beat. Solid, 4/4 with a good pace. All the exercises gained in intensity, and people buckled down and did the work. One small change, and I really got wiped out! Came home, fed everyone, and then the exhaustion hit. Hashimoto's is still kicking my butt...but I'm kicking back.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Starting the month right

Yesterday, I decided that I need to do more than spend all day on the computer. The computer obliged by going black almost immediately after I posted that. So, I went out, ran errands, and came home. After a few seconds, my husband had checked all the connections, and it was simply a loose connection between computer and monitor. But, I decided that sitting down to Facebook again just wasn't an option.

So, I dragged out a few boxes of neglected craft supplies, and went through them. I'm kind of a collector. I find pretty things, and buy them, swearing I'm going to finish the project. Then, they collect up in boxes.

I pulled out some beautiful lapis lazuli beads, and rummaged around until I found some gold spacers and all the findings I needed. I arranged it all on the bead board, and in an hour had a beautiful necklace. It didn't take long. It wasn't hard. Why haven't I been doing this before?

The smallest change. Walk away from my computer. Do something productive. Make something beautiful. What can I do today?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

New month, new challenges

I've decided that being bored is not my favorite emotion. I've been looking for something to engage my brain as well as something to engage my body. Both kinds of health need to be improved.

SO, NaNoWriMo and NaBloProMo have appeared on the horizon. I've got the start of my novel, and will use my progress on that as the basis of some of my blog posts. I've got an idea for a new blog (Secret, but exciting just now) and lots of new books to read and write reviews for.

Physically, the water aerobics classes seem to be all the demanding classes that I can handle just now. I'm still aiming for three times a week. I've been making it to two on a regular basis, but I need that third class if I'm really going to see any progress. I am planning to re-start my tai chi practice at home on the off days.

I thought it was kind of weird to start November with plans like this. But truly, can't we re-invent ourselves every day? I'm retired. I don't have to live by someone else's schedule. Let's get this thing started!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thoughts in poetry

I write bad poetry. Sometimes, one approaches adequate, but mostly they're doggerel. And, some of the poetry I like to read isn't the most lofty, or esoteric. But it will always be something that touches my heart. I've had a book with this little poem for about 40 years, and it came to mind this week, especially when I look in the mirror.

I shall be older than this one day.

I shall think myself young when I remember.

Nothing can stop the slow change of masks my face must wear, one following one.

These gloves my hands have put on, the pleated skin, patterned by the pale tracings of my days…

These are not MY hands! And yet, these gloves do not come off!

I shall wear older ones tomorrow, til glove after glove, and mask after mask, I am buried beneath the baggage of Old Women.

Oh, then shall I drop them off,

Unbutton the sagging, misshapen apparel of age, and run, young and naked into eternity.

~ Joan Walsh Anglund

Woman in charge.

Review: The Woman Who Would be King, by Kara Cooney, PhD

I have a life-long fascination with Egyptian history. I tried learning to write in hieroglyphs during middle school, and read the stories of the gods and pharaohs. Hatshepsut was always intriguing, and the fact that there were attempts to completely erase any knowledge of her existence from history attests to the strong patriarchal dominance of Egypt at that time.
Although the author is a highly trained Egyptologist, she truly had to use her imagination to try and portray what may have convinced Hatshepsut to declare herself a pharaoh, and to openly rule in a time when women were relegated to the background. She has studied the source materials, yet speculates frequently. Her scholarship is obvious from the notes and bibliographic material in the back.
I would have preferred an actual novel based on her work. In fact, I would recommend to the author that she use this non-fiction work, and all the research she did to write a novelized version. It would be fascinating.
If she uses this depth of detail in the classes she teaches, her students are probably as fascinated as she is.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More fun

I've been an avid reader and an avid cook all my life. Recently, I got to combine both, thanks to "Blogging for Books" They sent me a copy of a tamale cookbook to review, and it was great fun.
Review: Tamales, by Alice Guadalupe Tapp

Tamales were a big part of Christmas celebrations when I was a child. I never made them, but our next door neighbor cooked for a week. We were always lucky that she would bring us a platter of them for Christmas Eve after midnight mass dinner. I watched her make them a few times, but it was mysterious.

As I got older, I was just afraid to try. They were complicated and time consuming. So, I just bought tamales whenever I found someone who made them. This book gives some shortcuts that will help a home-style cook like me to make tamales at home. Purists might complain about using canned or pre-prepared ingredients. Okay, I’m not one of them. I have no desire to make mole from scratch (25 or more ingredients sometimes!) It’s time consuming to roast your own fresh chilies. So, if you have objections, go ahead and find a recipe to do it yourself. I like shortcuts.

This book is for the home tamale maker. It covers the basics, from selecting the wrapper and the masa, to describing the different styles of filling the tamale before it’s cooked. I found the explanations clear and easy to follow. I wish some of the pictures had been captioned, especially the page with different masa shown.

The chapter on “Tontos”, inside-out tamales, where you put the filling and sauce over the cooked masa dough was interesting to me. It’s an approach I’d never heard of. You can keep a supply of the tontos in the freezer and add what would normally be fillings as toppings later.

There is one chapter which was interesting to read, but probably not something I’ll be able to try in my small town; “Nose to Tail Tamales”. It calls for ingredients that are kind of exotic here, including blood, lambs’ heads and beef cheeks. I’m lucky if I can find lamb chops here! But the wild boar tamales looked fabulous! I’m also unlikely to find fresh or prepared masa in my area.

My family is already hoping that we will try some of the dessert tamales, especially the fig-filled ones. I’m looking forward to being a tamalera in the near future.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.

****Disclosure: If you purchase any of the products linked in this post or products through the links on the right side of my page, I receive a small percentage from the respected affiliate programs****

Friday, June 27, 2014


About a month ago, I decided that for my health (both mental and physical) it was time to leave teaching behind. It's kind of scary. Teaching has been my existence for most of my adult life. But it's better for me, and better for my students, that I make this decision while I am still a good teacher. I've seen too many people scared to leave who really ended up not being good for the students anymore. So, as of last Friday, I am a retired teacher.

I celebrated my first day of retirement by getting up at 5:45 (I slept in a whole hour). Then, I dragged everyone in the house to the gym. I mean, my whole idea is to get healthier, right? Everyone must suffer with me. And, due to knee and hip problems, I decided that water aerobics would be much easier on my body. Well...

First, there is the issue of a bathing suit for a plus size women. I have one. It's from a lovely company called Junonia, which designs athletic clothing for plus size women. A "tankini" with a skirt. Well, it might be fine for folks sitting on a chaise lounge, next to the pool,but once you start jogging in 4ft deep water, everything floats up! So, the dreaded search for an appropriate bathing suit has begun.

I thought that water aerobics would be easy on my joints. Right. It may be, but I'm one of the youngest people in the pool, and these old folks are wiping me out! There is no letup, no break for an hour. OK, I'm jogging with my weight mostly supported, but I'm still moving all the major muscle groups continuously for an hour. And the props! They handed me a noodle and a set of styrofoam weights. They weigh next to nothing. But one of the ladies, a lovely, slender former preschool teacher, warned me away from the "heavier" weights. She said, "Hon, you'll never come back if you try class with those". And she's right. If the ones I used were considered low resistance, it's going to be a while before I try anything harder. I was absolutely wiped out on both Monday and Wednesday. Slept most of the afternoon! So, today, I took it a little easier. My brain remembers being in much better shape, but my body is complaining loudly.

My fellow poolmates insist that I'll improve, and I'm sure they're right. But, starting after so long without exercise is painful. The smallest change...3 classes a week.

Monday, May 12, 2014

First steps

Day 1: Decision
According to the Chinese Philosoper Lao-Tzu,
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
So begins the Camino

I will walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the spring of 2015.

Yes, it was symbolic. Easter Sunday, the first steps of a pilgrimage. I suppose that once I have made the mental commitment, I felt I had to do something physical, if only a bit. So, I tied on my walking sneaks, and walked around the block. Not much, and fairly quick (about 10 minutes) but I had to start.

So, it’s after Easter now. I’m doing a self-evaluation. I’m 62, very overweight. I have bad knees and hips (arthritis), I’ve had back surgery, and frozen shoulder, and Hashimotos thyroiditis. The orthopedist looked at my knee x-rays and immediately started telling me what a good candidate for a knee replacement I am. OK. That’s the bad.

But, I have the support of family and friends. I’m not doing this alone. Of course, my husband says, “It’s just walking. Put one foot in front of the other”. He said the same thing when we did the 60 mile Avon walk for breast cancer a few years ago. And to him, that’s all it is.

My first goal is to walk at least 5k, 3 times a week, and to participate in water aerobics classes twice a week. I'm starting quite slowly, with about 1k as my goal for the first two days. Knees are going to be a little tender, but that's to be expected.

As well, I've started investigating the things I'll need to carry with me on the trek. It's recommended that you not carry more than 10% of your body weight on the walk. Just a few days ago, I tried to carry 20 pounds of rice. I ended up dragging it. Upper body strength has to go back on the planning calender. I was hoping for just aerobic and core. As well, I'll be doing a lot of research on how to pack light!

I've started looking at packing lists and websites that talk about what you need. Obviously, decent shoes/hiking boots to start. And, for me, my trekking poles. Traditionally, pilgrims carry a wooden staff, but the trekking poles seem more logical for my needs. Leki poles looked good, and have the best ratings. I bought a pair a couple of years ago, but I may pass them on to either my son or husband, as there is now a women's set that has a smaller hand grip.

My husband, son and cousin have decided to come with me on this trek. Ought to be interesting.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Spring resolutions

Most people make New Year's resolutions. I have a tough time with that. Winter is depressing for me, and resolution making is hard. So, when the weather starts to warm up, the flowers are blooming (and I'm sneezing) and there's enough sunshine to raise my Vit D levels, I start to consider making resolutions. As well, two posts ago, I talked about finding a goal. I think I've found one. This year, it's kind of major. A goal is a dream with a timeline attached, you know.

For nearly 3 decades, I worked out a lot. For 15 of those years, it was daily, taekwondo, juijitsu and judo, at least 2 hours,usually more, every day. I did all the warmups with every class. I did my forms, sparred, taught, coached, refereed.... all of it. Now, for my health, I need to start working out again, after too many years of being sedentary. And it's hard. I'm tired and everything aches. The motivation of fear doesn't work well for me. Even fear for my health. My doctor is kind of demanding that I get active. So, I found something linked to things I already love to do.

I started studying Spanish in 3rd grade. My neighbors spoke it, and my curiosity was intense. This was just after Sputnik went up, and the government went wild to ensure that Americans got training in math, science and languages. My strength remains languages. We won't discuss my math skills! So, my school started offering Spanish. I loved it, and still do. I loved the language, the culture, the food. And while studying the culture, I heard about the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. A pilgrimage route across Spain that people had been walking since the 9th century. It sounded so romantic, and of course, I was learning the language.

Time, responsibilities, distance. All of them just got in the way. I sighed every time I read about the Camino. I looked at pictures...and I put it in the "bucket list" category. But now, I'm getting older, and it's a long walk. At least 100K. Carrying a pack! So, now or never. I've made the commitment to walk the Camino before the end of 2015. Time to start walking, and start saving.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Letting go of doubt

I was so delighted when I packaged up my beard conditioning oil and sent it out to all the people who volunteered to beta test it. I thought the response was great! I had it all allocated within a couple of hours, with just a small announcement on Facebook. Feedback has already started coming in, and people are enthusiastic about the results. I knew it was great stuff!

I am finding that making the products is a lot of fun. Marketing, not so much. It's a skill I'm going to have to learn. For years, whenever I made these sorts of things, I just gave them away to friends. You know, that feeling that your things are ok, but not really good enough. Not good enough. My stuff is fabulous! I use the finest ingredients I can find, I mix with care, I infuse it all with my love for family and friends. It's good enough. The only thing I truly need to improve is the labeling. I'm looking for someone to help with that, as artistic things are beyond my scope.

I'm also having fun deciding what to make next. I have the base formula for the beard conditioning oil to the point I like. The shaving soap, I'm still playing with. The hemp based soap is good, but I want to learn to make cold-process soap. That's close to a chemistry class! The pre-shave oil is in my plans for this weekend. That should have a wider popularity than beard oil, I hope. So, three day weekend! Lets get going!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Catching up.

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted. The time since April has flown away. It's been a tough year.

First, I returned to my roots in martial arts. I've been practicing the Tai Chi for Arthritis sequence in my home for about 4 years. I decided to take the next step and get certified to teach this spring. I was a little nervous, as I'm obviously not in perfect shape. But the class was great, and I earned my certification. It feels good to be doing something that I love again. I'm not going to quit my yoga practice, but I am enjoying my practice, and getting ready to start a class at work.

As well, I found a new endocrinologist. Dr. Wiggy (what a cute name), is an actual thyroid specialist. He's put me on a natural supplement. So, that small change is helping me have a little more energy, and I'm hoping it will help with weight loss. However, a month-long bout with knee pain has the orthopedist talking knee replacement. Fleh!

The most exciting thing over the last few months has been working on men's shaving products with my son. It's a little hard to do with him 5000 miles away, but Facetime and FB chat have helped. The first two products have been wonderful. The shaving soap and the beard conditioning oil are in beta test mode as we speak, and my husband loves the shave cream I developed for him. That one I have to figure out how to ship though. I'm afraid it will melt. I'll be posting more about the products and how to get them soon!

This year, I'm hoping to start working toward something, rather than just reacting to events in my life. Planning, planning, planning. A goal without a plan and a date is just a dream. Time to wake up.