The List 2014

It is that time of the year again - the Worst of 2014 Top Ten List. I tried to do a Best list but I'm too much of a grouch to compile one.

The Worst of 2014 Top Ten

10. Lumbersexual

9. The Flu

8. iPhone 6

7. Selfie

6. Walmart

5. Frozen
even though the movie came out in 2013, 
Disney did not unleash its merchandizing machine until 2014

4. Black Friday starting on Thanksgiving

3. Multiplying Kardashians
is it really necessary to be announcing all their pregnancies on national news?

2. U2's Free Album

1. Beyonce and Jay Z being called American Royalty. That they are not.

12 Days of Christmas (The Family Girl Style)

On the First day of Christmas

my true love sent to me:

a Corpse in an Abandoned Building

On the Second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:

2 Dead Loudmouths
and a Corpse in an Abandoned Building

On the Third day of Christmas

my true love sent to me:

3 Exploded Buildings
2 Dead Loudmouths
and a Corpse in an Abandoned Building

On the Fourth day of Christmas

my true love sent to me:

4 Dead Operatives
3 Exploded Buildings
2 Dead Loudmouths
and a Corpse in an Abandoned Building

On the Fifth day of Christmas

my true love sent to me:

5 Annoying Neighbors
4 Dead Operatives
3 Exploded Buildings
2 Dead Loudmouths
and a Corpse in an Abandoned Building

The HIT List: December

A list of random things that happened to catch my attention this month.

Adding to the Bucket List
The Foundation Louis Vuitton Arts Center in Paris is a tour de force of glass sails. 
Frank Gehry of course.

Chicago's Northerly Island is soon to be a public park with an amphitheater and a wildlife preserve with a forest, a prairie, and a reef. To be somewhat completed in 2015. Brought to the Windy City by Jeanne Gang, the architect behind Aqua Tower. 

Modern Farmer newsletter is a must in your Inbox. Beautifully written and designed, a treasure trove of surprising information. It will demystify Coca-Cola's new milk for you. No farming experience needed.

Temple St. Clair jewelry, great horned owl ring in particular. Cartier move over! 

To'ak Chocolate at an "economical" price of $260 per 50 grams. But it comes with its own serial number and wooden tasting tweezers. 

Well, attempting to occupy my son's time as he waits for Christmas by making paper snowflakes. If you don't know where to start just follow Martha.

Oberweis Eggnog is the best hands down. Spiced or virgin, don't forget to sprinkle some nutmeg on the top.

My Sharlotka always makes an appearance when the weather gets cold. It's comfort food, dessert style.


The new Pantone color of the 2015, which is Marsala. 

Once Upon a Christmas

Take a single lonely woman dating a rich successful prick who suddenly meets a nice guy (with a much lower paying but oh so much more fulfilling job of course). Add the non-stopping violin and jingle bells soundtrack. An hour and a half into the story the prick eventually proposes, in a very pompous and public way, and she reluctantly accepts. The nice poor guy runs away because she hurt his feelings by accepting the proposal. 15 minutes before the end of the story, the heroine realizes what a prick her fiance is and dumps him. Cries. Runs (in heels in the snow) to find the nice poor guy, the search takes about ten minutes. In the last couple of minutes of the story she finally finds him, they kiss deeply and live happily ever after. And that's a Hallmark holiday movie.

Now change the single woman to a bankrupt single mom about to lose her job just before Christmas and that's a Lifetime holiday movie.

All brought to you 24/7 starting mid-October by Walmart.

The HIT List: November

Sharing a list of random things that happened to catch my attention this month today.

Domaine's Most Important Cooking Skills You Should Master by Age 30 
covers all the basic skills with easy to follow tips. 

Coco Rocha's Study of Pose: 1,000 Poses by Coco Rocha is a stunning book. A must for any aspiring model or photographer or artist. Also what a great holiday gift for someone! (Hint, hint!)

If you liked Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy, then The Game on BBC America is for you. Or, if you have insomnia, you'll be asleep half way through.

Transporter: the Series is pure adrenalin rush. Suggest not getting into a car right after the show, unless you're driving an Audi A8.

Parenting Helper
Angry Birds Transformers! But download before leaving the house.

A mixed bag

"Is it possible to be addicted to a salad?" I asked myself as I stood at the kitchen island devouring a salad that was really meant for dinner. By the time I pulled myself away to check on the dinner in the oven, the bowl was almost empty.

I have yet to meet a salad that I do not like. Some salad preparations, of course, leave a lot to be desired or have ingredients that I will not touch - I usually steer clear of those. But for the most part, I clean my salad plate. Left to my own devices I could probably live on salads. Which brings me back to my question: Can one be addicted to salads? Or, is it just another foodie thing?

I love food. I live for food. When I travel I experience the location through food. And it is the food that I will remember about a place. All of my friends are foodies, it is very hard for me to relate to someone who I can not discuss food with. So is this salad addiction just an extension of my love for food? Only I don't stand over a bowl of pasta and polish it off before it hits the table, only salads. And chocolate...

Maybe I should investigate this further - by making more salads. I can whip up lots of different interesting salads in the name of research. Maybe my winter cooking could revolve around salads. Hmmm...

There is only now less than a cup of salad left in the bowl on the counter. I ordered myself away so there is something left for Terry. And made veggie fries to compensate for the now lacking side dish.

Review: Siphon Coffee at All Chocolate Kitchen

My favorite local non-dinner spot is All Chocolate Kitchen in Geneva. It is my Heaven on Earth – a place dedicated to chocolate. Good, dark, beautiful, orgasmic, European chocolate. And don't forget about gelatos. They make everything in house, there is always something new to try (like the three new additions to the Aroma line for fall, of course they had to come home with me).

In 2012, Chef Roby introduced us – mere mortals – to Siphon Coffee. Terry and I have been dying to try it even since, but since it is quite an elaborate presentation have not been able to do it until a couple of weeks ago. Terry had a day off and our first order of business was Siphon Coffee.

By the time we made it over to All Chocolate Kitchen (or ACK for the locals), it was around lunch time so we also ordered a linguette, a hand tossed pizzette that they make in-house. One is enough for two, they serve it on a special long wood cutting board, cut into triangles.

The Magic of Trees

After last winter I decided that I hate all seasons but summer. Of course if I lived in a warm climate I would not have that reaction. But after spending six months shoveling snow into piles higher than my SUV, who would blame me?

The only positive thing about Fall are my maple trees in the back. They pretty much go through the rainbow: from bright green to light green to yellow to light orange, then deep orange then red then burgundy and finally purple before they drop overnight. Last saturday was especially beautiful in early evening: we were out on the deck grilling ribs, the sun was just starting to set and the trees were just magical.  Even the swamp looked pretty. For a little while I loved Fall, but then the cold wind blew and reminded me of upcoming snow and I wished I was back on the beach.

Excerpt from The Family Girl

Chapter 24

It was past midnight when father and daughter finally went to bed. Frank stayed up a little longer watching Cheers reruns on TV, and Catalina took a hot bath for another half an hour or so. As she finally slipped between the cool Egyptian cotton sheets, she checked her Beretta under her pillow and stashed her phone next to it. She fell asleep immediately, her hand still resting on her gun. ‘Sleeping with one eye open’ Frank called it. She called it ‘staying alive’. The house finally went dark closer to two a.m.

The ice-cold tentacles of danger started deep in her stomach and slowly proceeded to slither up toward her spine. They only managed to get to her lower spine, when Catalina’s eyes flew open. Something was off. She stayed down in bed, fully alert, not moving, listening… Nothing. Quiet. But the danger kept creeping up her spine, its tentacles spreading into her organs, chilling them as they moved upward. Her phone, stashed under her pillow, vibrated. The vibration had a certain rhythm, one of several assigned to the house alarm system. This particular one indicated a breach. Someone was here.

Announcing: The Family Girl, a novel

Cover for The Family Girl
Ice-cold assassin Catalina Bennett wants a Fabergé egg. A CIA funded venture-capital investment firm wants to get the mysterious product they’ve been funding. Mother, Catalina’s handler, wants her dead. CIA operative Jim Campbell wants to catch her. And all her father Frank, a retired assassin, wants is for his daughter not to shoot his neighbors.

The Family Girl introduces Catalina Bennett as one of the deadliest and most effective assassins in the world, bred to kill by a quiet and secluded Sicilian Famiglia. Her success is illustrated by an extensive collection of art and Christian Louboutin shoes.

Her latest job seemed like an easy way to procure a fabulous Fabergé egg for her extensive collection, but Catalina ended up opening Pandora’s Box when she learned that the mark was an asset for ICtech, a venture-capital investment firm funded by the CIA. Soon she is on the run, being hunted by the veteran intelligence agent, Jim Campbell.

She takes refuge with her father in the suburbs of Chicago, and discovers that dealing with the neighbors can be just as dangerous as dodging bullets. Using her network of connections, spearheaded by the imposing Eddie Washington – her childhood friend turned arms dealer – Catalina begins putting together the pieces of the puzzle. Her journey takes her from Chicago to New York, Washington D.C., and finally Miami, where she aims to settle all her affairs… or go out with a bang.

Available in paperback and e-pub: Amazon, iBooksGoogle Play, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Blio


"Once it's all done, you're going to crash," said my dad. We were talking about me running full throttle for the past several weeks, and unable to sleep. I just crashed today.

The stars aligned a certain way for me in September, when several major projects came to fruition. One of them was years in the making. I was excited, yet completely freaking out. And I worked non-stop around the clock for several weeks, I have not done that in a really long time. Being a mom and working from home, I try really hard to separate my mom time and my work time. But these past weeks, my two worlds collided, my work taking over. Even though the projects started at different times, they all ended at the same time, just a couple of days apart. And so here I am, sitting at my desk, looking at a pile of next projects, yet unable to pull them over to start working on them. Dad was right, I did crash. I feel spent, drained of all creativity. Empty.

The September Issue 2014

Vogue September 2014 and morning latte

It is my annual doorstop time, aka Vogue September Issue. I have already scheduled my post-reading massage to work on all those muscle injuries I will endure while lugging around. I found the best place to read it is on the kitchen table so I don’t have to hold it in my lap (my legs went numb the last time). Of course lattes make the perfect reading companion.

The 2014 September Issue of Vogue has 856 pages, thin compared to the last year’s 902.

2014 September Issue by the Numbers
It is 1 1/8'' thick
Weighs 2.5 lbs
645 pages of ads
109 pages of ads before First page of Contents
731 pages before you reach the first fashion editorial
499 pages before the good articles start
1 article on cooking (with pot)
1 article on French fries
12 tip-in ads (Target and Nordstrom having the most pages)
5 bingo cards (those annoying little cards that beg you to subscribe)
3 fashion editorials featuring fur
1 article about a rising tennis star
6 fashion editorials
2 weddings
6 pregnant women
Karlie Kloss appears 20 times
Joan Smalls appears 7 times
Cara Delevingne appears 16 times
3 models are featured the front cover (if you unfold it all the way it is 9 models)
6 articles on Paris (this should be called the French Issue)

Don’t be surprised of a sudden desire to ride a horse through fields of wild flowers, dance passionate tango, cover yourself in fur, or run to Paris to eat steak with pomme frites after reading the issue. If you do go to Paris, don't forget to pick up a silk cravat so you can wear it just like the magazine suggested. 

Remembering: The Flight

We left for the airport at one in the morning. It was a white minivan, I think it belonged to a family friend. Or a friend of a friend. A small group of family and friends lingered till the end to help us load up the minivan and say their tearful goodbyes. I sat by the window, wide awake and scared. It was going to be a long ride, Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport was well outside the city limits.

The road lead through a forest. There were rumors of highway robbers in that forest: they knew that most of the cars on the road in the middle of the night were people emigrating. Flight was at 7 a.m. Check in was at three. We got lucky, no robbers for us.

DMD Kitchen: A Chicken for Dinner

Vertically roasted chicken on a grill with multi-colored carrots and green grapes
One of the first things I learned to cook was a chicken. I was home from college on a summer break when I woke up one morning to discover a raw chicken sitting on a plate in the kitchen with the note: "cook me!" (My father has a wicked sense of humor). I examined the subject closely, then called my dad at work. "There is a raw chicken on the counter," I said. I got the 'earning my keep' speech in reply along with instructions of what to do with this creature. Apparently, was meant to be that night's dinner. Since I did not know exactly how long my cooking will take, I decided to start right after breakfast.

By this point in my life I have seen a cooking show or two on PBS (this was before the Food Network was invented and before Martha Stewart conquered Midwestern suburbia), and so I noticed that my dad's method was a bit short on flavor. I emptied out the pantry of every spice my parents had (was not that many, and all Italian greenery) and proceeded to stuff, truss, and rub the bird into submission. By the time I gently placed it on a bed of thinly cut potatoes lining the roasting pan, there was not a spice or fruit left in the house. I carefully measured half an inch on the side of the pan and poured a mix of water and orange juice. The chicken cooked for probably longer than necessary and I basted it every 5 minutes. It came out with a gorgeous deep brown tan, stuffed to the brim with apples and oranges. It was the best chicken my parents ate. Which meant I was stuck cooking chicken for the rest of my summer.

Over the years, I cooked so many birds that I can now prep one in under five minutes if necessary. And, it's the easiest thing in the world to make. I am also living with assumption that everyone knows how to make one, only to be proven wrong at least once a year. So here is the

Review: Gaetano's Batavia

Last night we went to Italy. Well, our stomachs did – we dined at Gaetano's Batavia. The restaurant just opened on Tuesday – when they made a Monday Facebook announcement that they were opening, I had a reservation within four minutes. This is a second location for the restaurant, the original is in Forest Park. It is the brain child of Gaetano and Wendy Di Benedetto, a delightful and passionate couple. Wendy does the front of the house, Gaetano rules the back. We were fortunate enough to be waited on by Wendy herself and just followed her lead. The menu is impressive, this is not your typical Italian pasta fare, this is culinary art at its best. The concept is Italian and Mediterranean traditions with a modern take, and everything (and I do mean everything) is made fresh in-house and their seafood is delivered daily.

We were seated immediately upon arrival, in a nice cozy corner by the window. The decor transports you into Mediterranian ruins under starry night sky. We were served with cucumber water and Wendy appeared almost immediately, greeting us warmly.

Magic Pumpkin

What do you do with perfectly good pumpkins left over after Halloween? I leave them outside for animals to eat, hoping for magic pumpkins to appear in odd places in the spring. Two years ago I put out a large orange one by the garden, but no one ate it. Last year I had little white ones, but the winter came so early I just dumped them in the flower beds by the garage and they sat there covered in four feet of snow for the next five months. When the snow finally melted and I saw them again they looked like they exploded from inside out. However, a couple of months later, even after we spread new mulch over the pumpkin carcases, little shoots appeared in strange places. I wasn't sure what they were, the leaves did not look like a pumpkin (they were round), but I decided to keep them and see what happens. When we got back from Florida, we were greeted by huge flowering pumpkin plants in our rose bushes. And yes, the pumpkins are white. There are no long arms stretching in all directions for this variety, there is just a short sturdy stem with pumpkins developing close to the center. I have one growing right inside the rose bush, so far the rose is winning. Looks like I picked a good spot to dump the old pumpkins, I will do the same this fall and then wait and see.

These guys don't get much sun, only in the morning, so they're way behind. But, I have hope. There are flowers, so maybe tiny pumpkins will soon follow.

Urban Idiots to the Rescue

To quote her Majesty the Queen, there was a difference of sand on the beach this year. Last summer, once you made your way through the dunes, the fine silky sand gave way to hard, almost concrete like, compacted by the waves, beach. It was always a little damp from the high tides during the night, hard on your feet, impossible to dig into, and forget about laying on it to tan – a chair was a must. This time the beach was covered in soft mounds of white sand, rougher in texture than the dunes and varying in thickness. It was obvious that the sand was brought in, they do it in Miami Beach all the time. I missed the old sand.

St. Augustine Beach is public, and you can drive on it to find the spot you want. It is a one way road marked with orange cones, one way in, one way out. You drive off the paved road onto the sand, drive for a little while and then park in a makeshift parking area next to the dunes. The beach visitors that drive in live no near the beach so they pack their car full for a whole day visit. And, since it is beach driving not a single vehicle is a car, all either trucks or SUVs. Jeep Wranglers are the best, ones with huge tires. However, none of these vehicles are all-wheel drives as I found out. It’s the South, there is no need for an all-wheel drive when you get no snow.

Last year driving on the beach was like driving on a normal road, just a little more dusty. The sand was so compacted, the tires gripped perfectly. This year, the soft fluffy sand presented a new experience to all these drivers. And for some reason, in the area between the orange cones, it was a whole foot deeper than anywhere else. So, for the entire week, we watched every day as countless cars got stuck in the sand. The interesting part was they were all domestic makes, with large pick-ups (F-150 or similar) having the toughest time. The Japanese would just sail right by, smoothly and with ease. The Germans were not participating in the beach off-roading and parked in the paved lot by the pier.

Review: Columbia, St. Augustine

A year ago, as we strolled around Old Town St. Augustine, I took a picture of a beautiful white stucco Spanish-style building with a lovely courtyard. The sign said "Columbia, Gem of Spanish Restaurants, since 1905." Little did I know at the time that we would fall head over heels in love with the treasure inside a year later.

This year, inspired by movie Chef, we were looking for a place that served Cubanos (a ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard sandwich on Cuban bread). We found Columbia, but in pictures the place looked fancy and we were not looking for fancy dining while on a beach vacation. Then, during a casual chat with our stylist while getting a haircut, Terry brought up that we were thinking of going to Columbia for lunch while in St. Augustine. Our stylist started screaming in excitement: "You HAVE to go there! And you can't just have Cubanos!" (turns out she spent a lot of time in Florida as a kid and ate at Columbia (they have more than one location) every chance she got). Now we were intrigued.

Road Trip Distractions

We recently got back from our Florida road trip. Besides the mandatory tailgating in Indiana, and the same exact Honda Civic being pulled over several times in Georgia, the driving was more or less uneventful. Expect for several gems – which I managed to promptly document with what ever camera I had handy at the time. I do admit, sometimes I pretended to text while taking a discreet picture.
Country music makes any road trip easier.

How to Pack for a Summer Vacation – Urban Idiots™ Style

'Tis the season for a vacation. Finally. You've been counting down days for months, even downloaded a countdown app to visually display your progress. As you slowly approach single digits toward your departure date, you start pondering the nightmare of packing everyone up.

Anne does Proust

Anne Granato – the owner of Anne Granato Photography – here answers Proust questionnaire and proclaims her love for Springsteen. 

Your most marked characteristic? my laugh (and my hair, when it’s curly) 

The quality you most like in a man? clever, boyish sense of humor, and confidence, not arrogance

The quality you most like in a woman? being warm, down to earth and relatable

What do you most value in your friends? being supportive, honest, non-judgemental, good listeners and love to laugh

What is your principle defect? procrastination and that I’m far too self-conscious

What is your favorite occupation? being a mom (fyi… it’s also the hardest and longest running job I’ve ever had)

What is your dream of happiness? to be stress-free (perhaps living on a beach), surrounded by everyone I love, and being able to do all the things that I love

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? letting your fears or hang-ups hold you back from growing

What would you like to be? a back-up singer for Springsteen would work :-)

In what country would you like to live? Right here in the U.S. (and maybe Italy for the fabulous food, wine, art, architecture and slower pace)

What is your favorite color? It changes, but right now it’s silvery blue

What is your favorite flower? Lilacs and lily of the valley

What is your favorite bird? Sandpiper (because when I see them, it means I’m at the beach ;-) )

Who are your favorite prose writers? I’m a fan of historical fiction and am currently liking Sarah Dunant. I also love laughing out loud while reading Chelsea Handler’s books, too. :-)

Who are your favorite poets? Bruce Springsteen, Sting (music is my favorite poetry)

Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Rhett Butler (charming, strong, funny, tender, flawed and didn’t give a damn)

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Scarlet O’Hara, Skeeter Phelan, Junie B Jones (I know, this seems like a crazy bunch, right? But, despite not wielding bows & arrows or kick-boxing in stilettos, they are all feisty, smart, determined, female characters who persevered, in spite of their faults and in spite of the world around them.)

Who are your favorite composers? hard to narrow down. My musical taste is pretty eclectic.

Who are your favorite painters? too many to mention…again, a pretty eclectic mix

Who are your heroes in real life? my parents and my husband

Who are your favorite heroines of history? Jackie Kennedy (classy, strong, loved her kids and reinvented herself more than once)

What are your favorite names? Tommy and Kaitlyn

What is it you most dislike? ignorance, phoniness and pretentiousness

What historical figures do you most despise? any person that has perpetuated hatred, ignorance and fear in the world

What natural gift would you most like to possess?  singing

How would you like to die? peacefully, in my sleep

What is your present state of mind? motivated (but that could change at any moment ;-) )

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? self doubt

What is your motto? treat others the way you want to be treated

To see more of Anne's work, please visit

Backyard Residents

I live in a zoo. Today we discovered yet another backyard resident that we didn't know about. A 30 year old snapping turtle. Since he's older than our house, he would probably say that it's us that's invading his property, not the other way around.

The Drum

©copyright 2014 Kate Brankin

A long time ago, we rented a movie. Big Night. Until Chef came out, Big Night was the foodie movie. We were drooling and starving at the end, and I got into my head the desire to make the movie's ultimate dish: the Timpano (or Timballo, depending on where you're from in Italy). The recipe was difficult to obtain, none of the sources were legit. Until last year, when my husband presented me with The Tucci Cookbook, a collection of recipes from Stanley Tucci. It included, in great detail, the Timpano. I studied the recipe in detail, planning my attack. Today, after over a decade of dreaming and months of preparations, the dream finally realised.

I made the ragù sauce months in advance, freezing the portion I needed and eating the rest for dinner just like suggested. Then, one night I rolled tiny meatballs, also to freeze for the Timpano. I sent my husband to Eataly downtown to procure bags of Ziti pasta imported from Italy, and this morning I made my final stop: Josef's in Geneva for Genoa salami and Provolone cheese. I told a very round, very pleasant, Italian butcher what I was making and he knew exactly how I needed everything sliced (1/2 inch thick to make cubes). I have a feeling he makes Timpano every weekend, the word just bounced off his tongue perfectly pronounced. Of course leave it to Danny to find an enormous bag of prawns among all the meat and fresh pasta in their freezer. My husband also discovered Irish bangers, so we'll be back. Danny said he has to be back for the shrimp.

In Emergency Lift Bar and Pull

I used to like taking the train. My mom and I would take the train from Moscow to Tallinn every summer for our three-month long escape from the city. The cars had sleeper compartments, me taking the bottom bunk and mom the top, and the train only made one stop that I always slept through. Then when I started working full time in the city, I took Metra. I commuted for ten years, I didn’t really mind it. I remember when Metra train cars had large orange seats with super soft cushion and high back so your bottom was comfortable and no one behind could possibly sneeze all over your neck. Then, they got new cars with cheap blue seats: hard as a rock cushions (if you can even all them that) and very short backrests that barely came up to my shoulders and I’m not that tall. There was no place to rest your head and sometimes you could feel the person behind you breathing. God forbid they sneeze! I started to wear hooded clothes and sit with my hood up just to have some sort of protection. But overall, the fellow commuters were quiet for the most part, and it was easy to tune out the annoyances with a good set of headphones. Or just by passing out for the entire train ride, which is what I did to and fro. My entire day depended on my train naptime, no nap and I was grumpy and crabby for the rest of the day.

I haven’t been taking the train much recently. Maybe twice a year? Usually I go during the week because I have an appointment. Last Saturday, however, I was meeting a friend Downtown so I decided to just hop the train. I took the 10:37 am. It was a milk run, hitting every stop and took over an hour. And it was almost full when I got on it, and mine was only the third stop. I immediately grabbed the first available seat on the top level, the seats on top are single so you’re guaranteed some sort of privacy. The air was stuffy and smelly, they didn’t turn the AC on. And the noise was deafening. Is it a requirement to conduct conversations on the train by yelling? Or to board the train with screaming children even if you just parked your car that is perfectly capable of driving you to the city in peace and comfort? It was so loud that I could still hear everything even with my iPod blearing in my ears full volume. I realized that I should have reloaded with heavy metal playlist, my collection of Melody Gardot was not cutting through the insanity below. The JCrew girl – sitting across from me – attempted to do her Italian homework gave up after five minutes and slumped in her seat in despair. Probably counting days till her trip abroad where she could zip from country to country in comfort of Eurostar.

And then there were the visuals… There were ample cleavages, with two sets of tan implants (that would explain the large group of youths squeezed into a couple seats behind me, from their point they could ogle without being punched in the face by the cleavage’s partner); a man with a case of beer – bottles – that he held on to for dear life the entire ride; a large man with an enormous belly wearing red/blue/and white diamond pattern shorts; a buttoned-up woman in an itchy sweater with a Lunchable that she carefully balanced on her palm as she built tiny cracker and ham sandwiches only to finish them off with a large can of Red Bull; and, this takes the cake, a woman with a hammer in her bag.

At one point I looked up at my window and noticed a large red bar across the top that said “In Emergency Lift Bar and Pull.” I wondered, does a Saturday morning migraine-inducing ride qualify as an emergency, or should I save this for my return trip?

There was a fine bottle of Pinot Noir waiting for me at my friend’s house. And a ride home in a Jag. 

Morning Surprise

Woke up to discover that my little apple tree, one that I pollinate by hand and guard with my body from runaway softballs, bloomed. The tree is as old as my son, yet it's still small and not that pretty. It's leaning to one side a bit, worse when it's attempting to hold on to heavy apples and the deer is sneaking up at night to much on the new growth. Yet, from the day I got it, it faithfully bloomed every year with the most gorgeous flowers. I wait for all of them to open – then I go from bloom to bloom, pollinating them with a small fluffy brush. Sometimes Mother Nature forgets about my little apple tree so I took matters into my own hands a couple of years ago. Last year I got 11 apples as a reward. Had to share with other "residents" (chipmunks ate the fallen ones, deer bit off a few, worms resided in a couple more) but it's part of the course. Welcome back little apple tree!


There once was a Wire (14-3 Romex) whose one half lived in the kitchen ceiling and the other in the wall. At first, the Wire was happy – it was going to be a ceiling wire, nice and warm with no temperature changes and no critters with sharp teeth. But that happiness was short lived because the clumsy installer pinched it by hammering the clamps too hard into the stud. The Wire got a little mad.

Musings from the Death Bed

You're dying from flu – spending your weekend in bed hanging upside down off its edge breezing like a fish out of water because that's the only thing that makes your head, and your stomach, feel better – yet your eyebrows manage to sprout themselves to caveman proportions. Where, you wonder, did they get the energy from to do this? Because you're pretty much turned yourself inside out a moment ago and now can only manage half a cracker. 

Of course you discover said sprouted horror several days later, when you miraculously wake up one morning feeling revived. Your first order of business is to schedule an emergency salon visit, and while you're waiting for the salon to pick up the phone you notice that you now need more than one service. But hey, you're finally feeling better and in a couple of days you'll be looking better (just don't leave the house until then). As you try to catch up with your life that ran away while you were hanging off your bed, all the while avoiding mirrors, you realize that you're starving because you're now the perfect size for a Chanel runway. And so you have a meal. Only your stomach asks: "excuse me, what is this? Food? Hum, no!" And you relapse back to hanging upside down off the edge of the bed. Yet, the eyebrows keep growing. 

At this point, on Flu Round 2, all you care about is to get better enough to make your salon appointment at the end of the week. You make a deal with your stomach, it gets homemade chicken soup and in return it lets you make it to your appointment. Stomach agrees. You count hours till your salon visit.

Finally, it's Salon Day! After very long 45 minutes, you're handed a mirror. You look at yourself and your perfectly groomed eyebrows and say out loud: "Hello, human!"

Review: RPM Italian, Chicago

Last Sunday, we had the pleasure to dine at RPM Italian. Danny including.

The restaurant is the brain child of celeb couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic, Lettuce Entertain You's Melmans and chef Doug Psaltis (thus the RPM in the name). The menu features a couple of family recipes from Giuliana's mom, aka Mama DePandi.

First, they have a valet, which is a must for me at a downtown restaurant. If you're lucky enough to drive an exotic pasta rocket, expect it to be parked right in front of the restaurant for the duration of your meal.

How to Tie a Turkish Knot

I have been dying to do "30 in 30" (30 outfits in 30 days), but the weather is only allowing me one outfit: fleece pants, heavy fur boots and coat that covers me head to toe. Basically I have been wearing a sleeping bag for the last 3.5 months. But I just saw a glimmer of hope – the trees are showing tiny little bugs. So with the thought that eventually this white frozen nightmare will be over, here is a tutorial on how to tie your scarf with a Turkish knot. Both men and women can do this, only men should use a solid scarf for understated elegance.

(modeled on a vintage suit butler, since I have no idea how to take a selfie with no head)

Fold in half to make a loop

Hot. Cool. Yours: Salad Olivier

My last food entry for Sochi Opening Ceremonies tonight – the delicious Salad Olivier (pronounced [ oli.vje]). The salad was invented in 1860 by Lucien Olivier, the head chef of Hermitage, one of Moscow’s famous restaurants. The exact recipe for the dressing is still unknown. It was a form of Mayonnaise, however the exact ingredients and proportions died with the chef. The salad is a staple at every New Year’s celebration table, served with Champagne.

The following is my family’s recipe. This is a meatless recipe because I serve it as a side dish to already full table, but you can add ham to it if you like. With ham*, it’s pretty much a whole meal in its self. The original recipe featured smoked dusk as a protein.

The whole recipe is done by touch, no real measurements.

Equal parts of:
Boiled Red Potatoes
Boiled Whole Carrots
Boiled Whole Eggs
Whole Pickles (the good crunchy kind from the deli)
1 can Sweet Peas
¾ C Fresh Dill, chopped (at least)
Mayo (the real fat stuff)
Salt/Pepper to taste

Boil Potatoes (with skins), Carrots, and Eggs. Cool completely. Shell the Eggs. Gently peel the skin off Potatoes (I boil everything the night before and then peel Potatoes right out of the fridge the next morning, that way the skin comes off easy and when you dice the potato it stays nice and firm).
Get a bowl that is at least twice the volume of your ingredients so you're not spilling everything out when mixing. Dice Potatoes into ½” cubes (a dicing tool might be helpful, but make sure it’s ½”). Dice Eggs, Carrots, and Pickles to match the Potatoes. Add Peas, drained thoroughly. Add Dill. Add Pepper. Start mixing, and add Salt a little at a time. Because Pickles are salty already you don’t want to over salt. Add Mayo, enough to coat everything nicely so it stays together but not dripping with Mayo (when you spoon out the salad to serve, it should be silent, not make the slurping noise of an over-dressed potato salad). Taste, add more salt if necessary. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

It will last in the fridge for a couple of days, but not too long.

*If adding ham (or smoked duck): Ham needs to be patted dry, and also diced into ½’’ cubes. Add before peas. Do not use honey ham. 

Priyatnovo Apetita! 

Hot. Cool. Yours: Baklazhannaya Ikra (Eggplant Caviar)

Continuing my Russian food program is my all time favorite: Baklazhannaya Ikra (Eggplant Caviar). My Dad makes it all the time and I can eat the entire thing in one sitting. 

A word of advice: this is a recipe that you need to plan for in advance. The eggplant takes hours to sweat, and Ikra is served cold. This is something you should prepare at least a day ahead, it stores well in the fridge.

2 Large Eggplants*
1 Onion, chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic, minced (or use a garlic press)
12oz Can of Diced Tomatoes** (Italian brand of course)
Salt/Pepper to taste
½ C Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Olive Oil

Get a pan large enough to hold all of your ingredients. Gently sauté the Onion and the Garlic in a bit of Olive Oil. In a separate pan, brown the sweated* Eggplant slices on both sides (you just want a nice color, you’re not cooking it through). Slice into cubes. Add the Eggplant cubes to the Onion and Garlic, turn down the heat. Sauté for several minutes, checking it all the time since Eggplant sucks up moisture like a sponge and you don’t want to burn it. Add Salt/Pepper to taste. Add Canned Tomatoes. Stir. Turn the heat to low or simmer, cover the pan. Cook until the Eggplant is soft and the whole mixture is the color of caramel. Once it’s cooled, add Cilantro.

Serve at room temperature or chilled. If you taste it and it's super sweet (eggplants that are in season tend to get a sweet if prepared properly) add some vinegar – I prefer balsamic. You can serve Ikra with crostini or as a side dish. It is also the perfect rescue side for a dry piece of skinless chicken breast.

* How to prep the Eggplant: Remove all skin and cut into long slices, about ½'' thick. Put a large colander into the sink, line in single layer, sprinkle very generously with salt. After several hours, the eggplant will be sweating (you will see water running off slowly) and have a brownish coloring to it. I usually give it about 2-3 hours. Rinse with hot water and pat dry. The reason you sweat the eggplant is to remove all that bitterness. There is a “bit” faster method of doing it, but it requires a lot more work and a lot more pots and pans.

** You can substitute with fresh tomatoes, but they have to be full of flavor and need to be skinned first. If you have nothing else to do in the summer and your garden is exploding with tomatoes, go right ahead. You’ll need about 2-3 large ones, depending on size.

Priyatnovo Apetita! (Happy Appetites, or Enjoy your food!)

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Hot. Cool. Yours: Sharlotka (Russian Apple Cake)

No Olympic Games table would be complete without a good dessert. In my house, it will be Sharlotka, Russian apple cake. 

Sharlotka was a dessert staple in our house when I was little. Pretty much everyone was making it, recipes varied a little from family to family. Sharlotka was the first thing I learned to make, even before I learned to boil water for pasta. It is fast, easy, and perfect for cold winter nights (like the ones we’re experiencing right now). Or you can serve it for Thanksgiving as well. 

Can't Stop.

I do it almost every morning with tea. I look, I swipe, I browse. I click the little red button on the the top. I categorize. The fact that I now have an iPad and I can do it anytime from anywhere is making it worse. When I was tied to my desktop, I logged in maybe once a month, even though I have the widget sitting in my browser's toolbar since the beginning. I do find it rather useful, creatively: instead of having mountains of piles of magazine tearsheets for inspiration, I now have boards. Even secret boards. I still collect tearsheets, but not to that extent.

This morning, while waiting for the insurance nurse to show up and bruise my arms, I browsed three different topics. All because I looked around my dining room and thought "What if...?" Hey, it beats shopping or moving furniture.

Hot. Cool. Yours: Borsch.

My Sochi preparations continue with a recipe for Borsch. One can not partake in the Olympic Games hosted by Russia without Borsch. (translated from a Soviet cookbook*)

Borsch in progress

Hot. Cool. Yours.

With only 20 days to go till Opening Ceremonies for XXII Winter Olympic Games, I'm starting to get Sochi Fever. I have compiled a list of interesting facts about the upcoming games and its host city (besides being the resort where my parents spent their honeymoon).

1. There are 17 days of competitions during the XXII Winter Olympic Games, 7-23 February, 2014.

2. 11 new world-class sport complexes where built in Sochi, together they have around 120,000 seats.


Temperatures on Monday, January 6, 2013
Moscow, Russia: 35ºF
Toronto, Canada: -7ºF
Anchorage, Alaska: 30ºF
Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia: -12ºF
Chicago, Illinois: -39ºF

It's warmer in Siberia than in Chicago! My Russian friend recently emailed me when she saw our upcoming weather forecast, concerned for our safety, urging us to wear the hand-knit wool socks she sent for the entire family. When Russia sends you socks you know you're in trouble.

The news coined a term "Chiberia". They put together Chicago and Siberia to describe the weather. The difference is that in Siberia people are prepared for this type of weather, they own appropriate clothing and their cars have special winter tires with chains on them. Plus, they really don't go outside that much. Not to mention that it is warmer in Siberia!

I looked outside the frozen windows this morning to check for fresh creature footprints and there were none (I've been tracking the movements of a dear lately). Even the animals were smart enough not to venture out of their holes. But, I heard that some people showed up at the mall today to do some returns. Really? It was that necessary? It is not food, you're not dying of starvation, there is not need for you to be out at the mall in -39ºF temperatures.

I had frost on the inside of my vent hood. And I kept the heat lamp on the entire day. The frost melted when I started to cook and water started dripping on my head as I was stirring. Today was meatloaf kind of day, I made it with a layer of caramelized fennel in the middle and bacon on top.

I am so sick of winter already that I took down all the Christmas decorations in a matter of hours. Usually they stay up for another week. I just wanted anything that said 'winter' out of my sight. Tomorrow I will decorate with my spring decor and when it gets safe to go out I will get fresh flowers and fill every room. I spotted tulips at Trader Joe's the other day, hopefully they will have lots more this week. Provided of course it will be warm enough to crawl from under the covers and venture outside.

As much as I want to say that Hell has frozen over, I can't because in Chicago that would mean the Cubs won the World Championships.

Tomorrow supposed to be -19ºF. Still colder than Siberia. Danny and I will be doing his Shrinky-dinks because they are all summer bugs and we can hang them on our ficus tree to pretend it is a garden. I think I'll make brownies and read a Bond book. They are all set in much warmer climates.

Is it too early to start looking forward retiring in Florida?