Blink, and you’ll miss them! It’s the time of the year every flower lover waits for: peony season! There’s isn’t a single person who doesn’t like peonies, except those who haven’t been introduced to their feminine beauty.

Peonies only bloom for a short time, from April to June, making them hard to find the rest of the year. Opulent, lush, and whimsical peonies have a captivating scent and make a statement in every arrangement. Unlike many other flowers, they are so fluffy and full that they can make impressive bouquets all on their own.

But while peonies’ beauty is self-evident, their long history is less obvious. Keep reading to discover 12 interesting facts about peonies that will make you love these stunning spring blooms even more than you already do.

  • 1. Legend has it that the Peony is named after Paeon, a student of the god of medicine Asclepius, from Greek mythology. Zeus transformed Paeon into a beautiful flower to save him from the wrath of his teacher Asclepius who wanted to kill him out of jealousy. Maybe turning Paeon into a flower wasn’t the best way out, but it can’t be all bad if it gave us the peony!
  • 2. Peonies are native in Asia, Southern Europe, and Western North America, and generally, need cool climates. This explains their exceptionally short growing season.
  • 3. The best time for planting peonies is in early fall before the ground freezes.

  • 4. While peonies in vases only live 5 days, if cultivated properly, a peony can grow in your garden for up to 100 years blooming annually!
  • 5. Peonies come in pretty much all of the colors of the rainbow, except blue. Interestingly, the pink peonies are more fragrant than any other variety.
  • 6. While too much potassium might not be good for you, it’s perfectly fine for peonies. In fact, peonies love potassium because it’s essential for their stem strength and helps to resist disease.
  • 7. The nectar that forms on the outside of the flower buds tend to attract ants that actually play an important role in the way peonies bloom. Basically, in order to get to the nectar the ants help to open the buds. Although peonies will bloom without ants, the ants speed up the process and also help to keep damaging insects away.
  • 8. Depending on the variety, peonies can grow very large – sometimes reaching 10 inches in diameter (that’s as big as a dinner plate)! The older the bush, the bigger the blooms usually grow.
  • 9. The peony is the state flower of Indiana, the national flower of China, and the 12th wedding anniversary flower.

  • 10. As the national flower in China, peony (which means “the most beautiful” in Chinese) is a symbol of peace, stability, success, and prosperity. For this reason, it is very popular in Chinese art. Paintings of peonies are often used in homes and offices and are believed to bring good luck. There was even a time when peonies were even considered a luxury and would cost thousands of dollars to buy even one flower stem.
  • 11. Peonies in shades of pink and white are a symbol of good fortune and a happy marriage. They embody romance and love, and are one of the most popular flowers used in wedding bouquets.
  • 12. It’s best to buy peonies still in buds instead of open blossoms to increase their longevity. Warmer temperatures help them open more quickly, while they will remain closed longer in cooler areas.

Take advantage of the upcoming peony season while you can with a fresh bouquet of peonies that will delight your senses. To show your affection and appreciation, share the joy of these stunning spring blooms with your loved ones and friends! They deserve to experience the enchanting beauty of the prettiest flower of the season, too!

Image #3 by julie

What’s better than a plant that gives wishes when you puff its fluff? A plant that is both a natural medicine and superfood that grows right in your backyard!

dandelion-1343522-639x426

April, 5th is a National Dandelion day. And it means we have the perfect excuse to talk about dandelions, a natural medicine and superfood that can be found right in your backyard. Constantly being pulled or sprayed, this resistant weed likes to take over our lawns and gardens. Dandelions are possibly the most successful plant that exist, a master of survival that can be found pretty much anywhere around the world. There are about 100 species of dandelion and all of them are known to have amazing nutrient qualities and health promoting properties. Who knew that this plant with puffy flowers that grant childhood wishes could also offer us so many health benefits!

So, when you grandmother told you dandelion greens were good for you, she wasn’t kidding.

5 Benefits of Dandelion:

  1. The Dandelion is a great source of many important vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants that support blood health and increase iron absorption. For example, the greens of dandelion provide 535% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin K, which plays a critical role in protecting your heart and brain, and strengthening bones. Dandelion greens also give the body 112% of the daily minimum requirement of vitamin A, which is particularly good for the skin, mucus membranes and vision. Besides, these greens also contain high doses of vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, and potassium, among other minerals.dandelion-1407342-640x480
  2. It acts as a laxative promoting digestion and stimulating appetite. And as a diuretic, helping cleaning kidneys and lowering blood pressure along with the fiber and potassium found in dandelions (which also helps to regulate blood pressure).
  3. Dandelions improve liver function by removing toxins and reestablishing hydration and electrolyte balance.
  4. While a lot of natural remedies for cancer go unproven, studies have shown that extracts from dandelions do have the ability to slow down the growth of cancer and prevent it from spreading.
  5. Dandelion boosts immune system and fights microbes. It also contains essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation in the body, relieving pain and swelling.

All the parts of Dandelion can be used in various ways though the roots and flowers are the most commonly used to make herbal tea, coffee substitute, beer, and some types of wine. The leaves are usually consumed fresh on a salad or in recipes as a  substitute for greens like kale and collards. If you gather dandelion from the wild (e.g. your backyard) it’s important to make sure it has not been sprayed with pesticides and that it does not come from an area where pets may have eliminated.

Dandelion FUN FACTS:

dandelions-new-1-1540846-639x901

  • The name “dandelion” comes from French “dent de lion” which means lion’s tooth (referring to the sharply indented shape of the leaves).
  • Have you ever realized that the life cycle of a dandelion is like a solar system in miniature? The dandelion is the only flower that represents the 3 celestial bodies of the sun (yellow flower), moon (puff ball), and stars (dispersing seeds). Pretty cool, right?
  • Dandelion seeds are often transported away by a gust of wind. These tiny parachutes can travel up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) before they finally reach the ground.

Perhaps the next time you go to spay or pull away a beautiful patch of dandelions you’ll be able to find another more productive use for them!

Spring is here, and it’s almost time for Easter, Christianity’s most important holiday which celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. You probably know the Catholic and Christian Easter traditions have mixed religious practices with pastel eggs and chocolate bunnies. But the Orthodox world has its own very different ways of celebrating the holiday. Below are 5 main differences between Catholic and Orthodox Easter traditions you should know.

Difference #1: Time of Observance

The first main difference between Catholic and Orthodox Easter (Pascha) in Russia lies in the date it is celebrated. While Easter is a moveable feast, Eastern and Western Christianity base their calculations for it on different calendars.

Easter has always been celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Both Western Churches (Catholic and Protestant) and Eastern Churches (Greek and Russian Orthodox) follow this tradition even though there is a gap of about five weeks between the dates of the two Easter celebrations. The reason for the difference is that the Western Church follows the old Julian calendar, while the Orthodox Church uses the Gregorian calendar.

Another difference is in the way both churches calculate the date of the vernal equinox. The Western Church abides by the ecclesiastical full moon which holds 21st March as the steady date for the vernal equinox. On the other hand, the Eastern Church determines its celebration in relation to the astronomical full moon. This explains why the dates of Catholic and Orthodox Easter are different each year and rarely coincide. However, 2017 is one occasion when the Western and Eastern worlds will celebrate holiday on the same day: April, 16.

Difference #2: Great Lent & Fasting

The second difference between Easter traditions is the way each Church enters Lent. There is no Ash Wednesday service in the Orthodox Church, but something called Forgiveness Sunday instead. While Ash Wednesday stresses reconciliation with God, Forgiveness Sunday reminds church-goers of the importance of reconciliation with each other. That’s why there’s a tradition to ask your family, friends and everyone you know or meet that day for forgiveness.

The fasting practices in Western and Eastern Churches are also not the same. Catholics and Protestants can choose what to give up for Lent, like chocolate or Facebook. Orthodox fasting is much stricter and it is not permitted to customize. Those who fast basically become vegan for 40 days and don’t eat meat, eggs, and dairy, or drink alcohol.

Difference #3: Church Services

The services in Western and Eastern Churches are very different to start with, but during Lent and Holy Week this is especially true. Orthodox services are long and numerous, with lots of standing, bowing, and full prostration, which makes them less people-friendly. The Easter liturgy itself begins around 10 pm Saturday night and finishes at dawn on Sunday morning.

easter-1443862-640x480

Difference #4: Symbolism & Food

Do you think that Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs are universal Easter traditions? Not quite. Orthodox Pascha has nothing to do with bunnies and most people will probably not even get the connection. It’s the same for chocolate eggs, which makes Orthodox Easter traditions less attractive for kids than in the Catholic world. Easter in Russia is not a commercialized event, and is more about spiritual growth and renewal. So, what are the symbols of Orthodox Easter in Russia if chocolate and bunnies are out of the question?

After fasting during Great Lent when many animal products are forbidden, Pascha is the day of delicious, abundant food. Most families observe Orthodox Easter with a beautiful table decorated with fresh spring flower bouquets and lots of traditional Russian food.

The main meals are ritual ones: painted eggs, Paskha cakes, and kulich are essential Easter traditions. Eggs, traditionally dyed in shades of red, are the Pascha symbol of resurrection and new life. Kulich is a fresh-baked bread with white icing, sprinkles, and the letters XB. These letters stand for, “Christ is Risen,” a reference to Jesus’ resurrection and the reason for the celebration. Paskha is a pyramid-shaped sweet cheese dessert made with farmer’s cheese, eggs, butter, raisins, and nuts. Ham, bacon, or lamb are also mandatory foods for Orthodox Easter traditions. They symbolize the great joy and abundance of Easter. All these foods are usually included in Easter baskets people bring to the Easter liturgy for the priest’s blessings. They are also usually used to break the fast on Easter Sunday after a 40-day Lent.

happy-easter-2-1434303-640x480

Difference #5: Easter Games

Finally, egg hunting is another fun Western tradition the Orthodox world doesn’t share. The typical Easter game in Russia is cracking eggs, which is symbolic of resurrection and new life. The rules are simple. Each player holds a red egg (which represents the blood of Christ) and taps the end of their egg against the end of the other player’s egg. The goal is to crack the opponent’s egg. When one end cracks, the winner continues to try to crack the other end of the opponent’s egg. The player who cracks the other player’s egg on both ends wins and will have good luck during the year.

In the end, many families choose to mix and match the Easter traditions that best suit them. So whatever activities you and yours include in your Easter or Pascha holiday, have fun with it! The most important thing is to connect with your faith and your loved ones. An Easter gift or two of gourmet food to indulge in is certainly welcome as well.

rose-1505773-640x480

Women’s Day is a holiday when women of all ages are spoiled with attention, love, and flowers, lots of flowers. Even though spring blooms are quite popular this time of the year, the timeless beauty of roses, the queen of all flowers, still remains the number one choice for a Women’s Day gift to Russia. This is not only because of how they look and smell, but also the special mood they create. While red roses traditionally symbolize romantic love and passion, white roses stand for purity and humility. A pink rose is a sign of innocence and undying love and a yellow rose does not have any romantic connotations and means friendship and joy.

Roses bring us lots of joy and an element of classic beauty to any space. Watching them fade and wilt is sad, and throwing them out even more depressing. But you don’t have to throw them out, since there are a number of simple and exciting ways to preserve and reuse your roses in ways you never thought are possible. See it for yourself!

ROSE OIL

There is more to roses than their beauty, as rose petals can also be used to make rose oil, which offers several benefits including a very calming effect on the mind. It can be used as a face moisturizer, massage oil, hair oil for strengthening roots, and so much more.

What to do:

  1. Fill a jar ¾ full with dried rose petals and buds.
  2. Fill the jar to the top with oil of your choice (extra virgin olive oil or melted coconut oil would work best). Cap and shake.
  3. Allow the jar to sit in a cool, dark place, shaking daily for 1 month.
  4. Strain the oil into a clean jar or bottle.
  5. You can add rose essential oil if you want a stronger scent or make a double or triple infusion, where you would use the filtered oil as the base for a fresh batch of rose petals.

rose-1406546-640x480

ROSE WATER

Rose water is not only a beautifully fragrant mood enhancer but also an extremely versatile addition to your daily life and skincare routine. It has an extensive range of uses including homemade cosmetics (facial toner, hair perfume, shampoo or hair rinse, facial scrubs and masks), as an astringent for normal to dry skin, cooling mist, linen freshener, and even as a flavor enhancer used for herbal teas, yogurt and lemonade.

There are several different ways to make Rose water, but let’s keep things simple and start with the easiest and the least time consuming among them.

What you need:

1 quart size glass jar with wide-mouth
1 cup (roughly) Rose petals (fresh or dried)
1/3 cup Witch hazel
2/3 cup Distilled water

What to do:

  1. Fill a jar with about 1 cup of rose petals.
  2. Mix water and witch hazel and pour over the rose petals. Be sure the flowers are covered by an extra 2 inches of liquid.
  3. Cover with a lid and place in a warm area out of direct sunlight.
  4. Leave it for 2 weeks.
  5. Strain out the flowers and pour rose water into a clean jar or bottle.
  6. Keep refrigerated and use within 1-2 weeks.

rose-1396211-639x426

Rose Petal Ice Cubes

Surprise your family and friends, and bring a special loving touch to the plainest homemade drinks by creating rose petal ice cubes. They will add some fun and color even to something as simple as a glass of water. And they are so easy to make too!

Just fill ice cube trays 3/4 full with water, then freeze. Place one rose petal on each cube, then pour one teaspoon of water over each petal. Freeze again. This step anchors the petals to the cube so they don’t float to the top but stay inside the ice. Quite easy, isn’t it?

Cooking With Roses

Did you know that rose petals are in the same plant family as strawberries and apples and are completely edible? While serving them to your kids for breakfast might be not the best idea, using them in some recipes is definitely the way to go!

A little trick before cooking rose petals is to clip off the white part at the bottom since it’s the only part of the petal that has a bit of a bitter taste (exactly like the whitish part of a not-fully-ripe strawberry). Also, make sure to use only fresh petals that do not look wilted or damaged. Following the simple route, we’ve picked out three unusual rose petal recipes that can be done as easy as 1-2-3. Oh, and just be sure the roses have not been sprayed with any type of insecticide or chemical!

white-rose-1518370-640x480

Rose Scented Sugar

  1. Chop up ½ cup of fragrant rose petals in 2 cups of sugar in a covered tin.
  2. Place in a cool dark place for about a week.
  3. Sift the sugar through a sieve into a clean glass jar to remove the petals (it’s ok for some to remain) and enjoy with your tea.

Rose Butter

  1. Chop up rose petals and mix into softened butter.
  2. Pack into a small ceramic bowl and chill until ready to serve.
  3. Perfect with muffins and pancakes.

Rose Petal Jam

  1. Take equal amounts of fresh rose petals and superfine granulated sugar and alternate them in layers in a large glass jar with a lid.
  2. Cover the jar tightly and place in the sun for 10 days (until the color darkens).
  3. Enjoy spreading on a toast or with your cereal.

Now you don’t have to watch your beautiful roses fade away, but can breathe a new life into fresh blooms with a little bit of experimenting. Try one (or more!) of our recipes next time somebody gives you a bouquet of roses and make sure to share your experience with us!

2259727779_aa219f0424_z

Russia is the biggest pancake loving nation in the world, and when we say Russians love pancakes we really mean it. It’s the only country that not only has a holiday dedicated to crepes but an entire weeklong festival called Maslenitsa.

For seven days straight, somewhere between February or March, Maslenitsa festivities take place all across Russia and its many regions to celebrating the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring. Also known as ‘butter week’ or ‘pancake week,’ the traditional Russian festival is famous for its pancakes (blini) with various fillings and toppings from traditional sour cream and honey, to gourmet caviar and salmon, as well as all things sweet.

If you’ve never tried Russian crepes before, you’re missing out, because they are exceptionally delicious and unlike any other kind of pancakes you’ve ever had. You might have been wondering what is a blini, is it a crepe, is it a pancake? Well, it walks the line between both! They differ from French crepes since they are slightly thicker, but about the same in diameter; they are also different from American-style pancakes since they are much thinner and wider. The typical toppings and fillings used for Russian pancakes are also quite different. You will never see pancakes served with syrup at a Russian restaurant, or cheese, fruit, or ham and bacon. It’s common to make a burrito-style wrap out of them. Sweet fillings include jam, cottage cheese, honey, and condensed milk. Savory fillings are often things like potatoes, meet, sautéed cabbage, smoked salmon, or caviar. But the most common – and traditional – way of eating them, is simply served with a side of sour cream and jam. Hot black tea or milk is a must-have to go along with Russian pancakes, although coffee is an acceptable option.

February 20, 2017 is the beginning of Maslenitsa festival in Russia and a great reason to finally try this delicious and versatile treat. It’s quite easy to make at home too! You only need a few very simple ingredients to make traditional Russian pancakes – milk, eggs, and flour form the basis of the recipe.

pancake-1315229-638x463

Russian Pancakes “Blini” in 10 easy steps:

Ingredients:
(makes 10-15 crepes)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of whole milk room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. sugar for savory pancakes or 2 tbsp. for sweet
  • 1/3t salt
  • approx. 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Butter (for frying and oiling the pancakes)

Instructions:

  1. Whisk eggs, milk, sugar and salt
  2. Gradually start adding flour in equal parts to the milk and egg mixture; mixing well until no lumps are visible and batter is runny like kefir or thin sour cream (but not as thin as milk). Don’t stress about this step, you can always adjust as you go.
  3. Stir in oil
  4. Let rest for 20-30 minutes in a room temperature.
  5. Preheat a medium 10″ or 12” non-stick pan over medium heat and rub with butter.
  6. Use a 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup measurer to scoop the batter into the center of the pan and quickly tilt the skillet from side to side to spread evenly and make a thin layer.
  7. When small bubbles form on top and the sides of the pancake start to look dry and a bit golden (1-2 minutes), flip the pancake over with a thin spatula and cook for 30-60 more seconds. Flip the pancake onto a large plate and spread a pat of butter on top. You can either fold the pancake over or keep them all in a flat stack.
  8. Repeat until batter is used and remember to rub the pan with butter each time before you pour the batter.
  9. Serve warm and enjoy with the toppings of your choice.

Sure, making perfect Blinis sound easier than it actually is and if you didn’t nail the recipe from the start, don’t worry, you are not alone. Even a lot of Russians are not natural blini makers themselves. But while it doesn’t take an experienced cook to make Russian crepes, it will definitely require some practice and these tips below should help you troubleshoot any problems you might face.

4463257555_b6d4410e9a_z

Tips:

– Using a heavy cast iron skillet or a good non-stick pan will prevent batter from sticking

– Using butter for cooking instead of oil adds to the taste, just make sure to rub the pan with butter every single time to prevent dryness and sticking to the pan

– Every stove is different. Some won’t get hot enough on medium while other will get way too hot. So don’t be afraid to play with the heat.

– Start with 1/4 cup and see if the batter seems too thick, then add some milk. If it’s too thin, add more flour instead. If it flows freely but doesn’t properly cover the pan, use 1/3 cup per blini. The right consistency for batter is runny like kefir or thin sour cream, only in this case your crepes will turn out thin and delicate. If the batter is too thick the pancakes will have a more “rubbery” texture to them.

– Letting your batter rest for 20-30 minutes before cooking is an important step that will make your pancakes fluffy and “bubbly”.

– A good trick for making your pancakes softer and fluffier is adding a teaspoon of soda to the milk and egg mixture (before adding flour). But first you have to “put it out” with a teaspoon of vinegar in a separate small bowl.

– It’s all about technique and practice. It’ll take a minute before you master a perfectly round thin crepe. So, be patient, practice makes perfect.

True, it might take a few blinis to get the hang of it, but once you do, you’ll be banging them out like a pro. Happy Pancake Week!

Image #1 by Un Bolshakov
Image #3 by Catherine Bulinski

5451116698_44cee1c8cc_z

Valentine’s Day is upon us. When you think about the “most romantic day of the year” (at least according to marketers), hearts, flowers, chocolates, and romantic gestures are the first things that pop in your head. These days, society’s expectations for Valentine’s Day put way too much pressure on couples, especially men. Often, they feel pressured to spend more than they reasonably can to impress their special someone. Worse yet, some feel pressured to make promises they aren’t ready to make and keep, including the Big One: a marriage proposal.

About 10% of all marriage proposals take place on Valentine’s Day which is like killing two birds with one stone, you stretch your gift budget and you won’t struggle the rest of your life trying to remember the date of your engagement. It’s also true that some women (35% to be more precise) will consider this adorable. But what if your significant other is not a ‘Hallmark girl’? Unless you’re 100% sure that your girlfriend is dying for a Valentine’s Day proposal and will find it sweeter than cotton candy dipped in honey, topped with chocolate sprinkles, don’t do it for these 5 reasons:

1. It’s Unoriginal

In general, it’s not the best idea to propose on Valentine’s Day, simply because it’s unoriginal and totally overdone. 4 million Americans are expected to propose on February 14th. By doing the same thing you will be joining literally legions of people who can’t think of anything better than to ask the most important question on the most obvious day of the year.  It’s so predictable, in fact, your girlfriend should question if she really wants to spend the rest of her life with someone who can’t think outside the square box that holds the ring you bought.

3613609979_51257613a6_z

2. It’s Fleeting

Don’t let anything steal your moment in the sun! Big romantic gestures will be happening left and right on Valentine’s Day, and you don’t want yours to be just one among many. Besides, the expectations are way too high, and you don’t want to be compared to other “creative” romantics because you can never win.

You think you’ve thought it all through – romantic gift, flowers, dinner at a fancy restaurant — until you sit down at your table and realize there are at least five other guys who have planned exactly the same surprise as you. By the time your Valentine discovers a diamond ring at the bottom of her champagne glass, you’ve already heard two women squealing with delight after their boyfriend has pulled the same exact stunt. Congrats, your engagement happened five minutes ago and it’s already old news.

3. It’s Not Personal

Women don’t like to share, period. Let this special day she’s been waiting for belong to her and her alone. If you decide to propose on Valentine’s Day, she will be forced to share it with thousands of other women. This won’t be just her day, it’s everyone’s romantic day, thus reducing the real value of the moment. Really, think this through because you want this occasion to feel special for both of you and not as a bandwagon to the holiday.

118974357_0faa23cce9_z(1)

4. It’s Unforgettable

You’ll have to tell the story of how you proposed for the rest of your life whenever anyone asks how you got engaged. So, instead of the overdone answer of “I proposed on Valentine’s Day,” wouldn’t you rather have a more exciting story to tell? Besides, you might be positive she will say YES, but there’s still a slight chance you’ll get a NO. If that’s the case, there is really no way to recover your (very expensive) evening. Even if you move on and find another special someone, February 14th will be forever marred by the memory of the rejection. And who would want that?

5. It’s Overpriced

And last but not least, proposing on Valentine’s Day is expensive, way more expensive than during any other season. Everything will cost you double or more. It’s a couple’s holiday, so every service and item associated with it will be marked up. This will include everything from flowers and chocolate to restaurants and vacations. The prices for rings also skyrocket before Valentine’s Day and it’s quite a shame to let all those big stores with annoying commercials profit from your sincere love.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and money better spent on a vacation together (check out the list of the most unusual and romantic places for couples to stay around the world) rather than making a mistake by proposing on Valentine’s Day. Go with a romantic surprise that also includes classic chocolates and flowers and reserve your marriage proposal for some other less obvious day!

5448483535_c7449bf700_z

Image #1 by Andrew Abogado
Image #2 by John Varghese
Image #3 by Liz West
Image #4 by Jinterwas

What can be more delightful than the holidays spent in the good company of family and friends at a festive table enjoying a delicious home cooked meal! There’s the perfect blend of tons of great food, loved ones you’ve missed during the year, perhaps a bottle of wine (or two), and of course amazing conversation!  But for those who are hosting and cooking the festive meal, the holidays can be a bit more stressful. You have to start planning ahead of time, get all the ingredients together, then cook and try to get everything done at the same time without disappointing your guests. Tough thing to accomplish when all you want is simply to enjoy the holiday with everyone else, right?  Stop stressing out, and start reading! These simple tips for stress-free holiday cooking are sure to become your lifesaver this year.

baking-1574671-640x480

Planning ahead is the key

It is very important to have a plan ahead of time, especially if you are cooking for a large group of people. Don’t try to do everything at once, take it in steps. First, decide what you want to cook and plan the menu. If you can, keep your recipes next to you. From there make a list of things that need to be bought. Make sure to put down exactly how much of everything you need, so you don’t overstuff your fridge. It will amaze you how helpful this will be when it’s time to cook and you don’t have to stress over little things like running out of salt.

Start preparing in advance

Once you have your plan ready, it is important to start preparing early to ensure your cooking day goes as smoothly as possible. This can be done anywhere from 2 to 7 days ahead of time. For instance, if you will need broth for your dish, make it a week in advance and freeze. If you will need a lot of vegetables and fruits, slice and dice them two or three days in advance and store in the fridge until you need them. Just make sure you quickly google how to store them, some (like potatoes and apples) need to be kept in water to keep from browning.

Since you’re already chopping vegetables, any casseroles whose final step is to be baked in the oven can be prepared ahead of time too. Make sure to slightly undercook your ingredients (particularly vegetables, since you don’t want them to turn into mush when you bake them), build your casserole, then save it in the fridge until the time comes to heat and serve. Take your casseroles out of the fridge about an hour before cooking, so they’re room temperature to start. This will also give them that “casseroles are better the next day” flavor that everyone loves, but few can wait for.

By the way, did you know that chopping those veggies will not only save you time later but also help to unwind at the end of a long workday? No joke! The steady chop, chop, chop of the knife against the cutting board forces you to focus on the task at hand and soothes the soul. This can be like meditation and will leave you with the quiet mind and a big pile of beautiful, perfectly shaped veggies for a great festive meal ahead.

kitchen-sink-1-1417601-640x480

Keep it low key

Just because you know you can pull off a full five-course fancy meal for 20 people with just one oven and two screaming toddlers running around in your kitchen, doesn’t mean you have to, or should. Keep your meals simple and not only will your stress levels stay low, but it will also keep your guests thrilled.

If you really want to show off pick one dish to be the star. Your family is there to be together and share love, what they don’t want is you so stressed that you can’t enjoy yourself.

Clean as you go

Remember, less mess is always the key. Most of the time it’s hard to juggle it all even if you’re making a one-pot meal, but in the case of the holiday feast, it’s essential to discard garbage, keep your cutting surfaces clean, and make sure your dishes organized. One of my favorite tricks is to keep a large bowl near my workstation and dedicate it to collecting your garbage. This keeps it off the floor and out of your way, without having to go back and forth to the bin. Another great trick: if you have people visiting who want to help, but may otherwise get in the way, set them to the task of cleaning up behind you.

One more important advice to keep in mind is that all (or at least some) dishwashing should be done by hand. This is especially the case for the tools you use the most – your chef’s knife, cutting board, measuring cups – you’ll need them over and over, and you might as well clean them by hand every time. Yes, I’m serious here. Studies have shown that washing your dishes mindfully can be therapeutic and relaxing. It allows you to slow down and focus on completing a simple, satisfying task. And it never takes quite as long as you expect it will!

at-the-kitchen-1326360-640x480

Turn on the music

Listening to good, soothing music is another great way to take the stress out of the kitchen. Studies have shown that music helps to calm the system and remove stress.

So what type of music reduces stress the best? While it may be a bit surprising to some, Native American and Celtic music are among the most relaxing. Followed closely by Indian stringed instruments, drums, and flute which help relax the mind even if you like to really turn up the volume. Rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be relaxing especially when mixed with jazz, classical, or easy listening music.

Need something more specific? Here is the list of five most relaxing songs of all times according to science: Mozart’s Canzonetta Sull’aria, Electra by Airstream, Enya’s Watermark, Strawberry Swing by Coldplay, and We Can Fly by Cafe Del Mar.

Have your playlist ready? Then it’s time to grab your knife and cutting board; turn on some tunes and start whipping up a table full of scrumptious goodies. Cooking doesn’t have to be complex and overwhelming! Follow these simple tips for stress-free cooking and you can make sure upcoming Christmas or New Year’s is more pleasant for everyone.

 

 

New Year is one of the most internationally recognized holidays, and one of the largest global celebrations of the year. On New Year’s Eve the whole world gets together to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the upcoming one. But while the themes are the same, in different parts of the world, the details of the celebrations look a little different. This time around, we’re looking at the food, customs, and even characters that make New Year’s celebrations in Russia and the United States timeless, yet unique to their regions.

Christmas Tree vs. New Year Tree

A lot of families in the U.S. start putting up their lights and decorating their Christmas trees in November, often right around the week of Thanksgiving. With all the work that goes into the cleaning and decorating, it’s no wonder a lot of people leave them up as long as possible. The US is divided on when is the right time to take down the tree: lots of people take it down within the day or two after Christmas. However, it is also common for people to take their tree down as part of their New Year’s Eve celebration so they go into the next year with a clean slate, and clean space.

Russians do things in reverse and celebrate New Year before Christmas. New Year’s Eve kicks off the winter holiday season in Russia, and the trees are usually going up right around the time most Americans take theirs down, somewhere between December 26th and December 30th. Since that’s the case, we really ought to call it a New Year’s tree!

According to the Russian Orthodox church, which measures time with the old Julian calendar for religious celebrations, Christmas is observed on January 7th. This is why Russians celebrate after the New Year. Just a week after Orthodox Christmas is Old New Year (January 14th). In Russia, this is the day to get rid of Christmas trees and consider the winter holidays over.

The End of the Holiday Season vs. the Beginning

While American New Year is the last on the list of winter holidays, in Russia it’s actually the first one, followed by Orthodox Christmas (Jan. 7) and Old New Year (Jan. 14). Russians are lucky enough not to have to go straight to work the day after the biggest celebration of the year; they get about 10 more days to shake off their hangovers before they have to report back to the office. In the US, most offices re-open by January 3rd, which is far less time to party and sober up.

Christmas Gifts vs. New Year Gifts

Did you know that Russians have never heard of Christmas gifts? That’s right, because in Russia, New Year’s Day is the time for both kids and adults to open their holiday presents. This is the reason that we see so many Russians in stores frantically scooping up incredible post-Christmas deals. Thanks to this tradition, they avoid pre-holiday frenzy and save a pretty penny on holiday shopping.

Santa Claus vs Ded Moroz and Snegurochka

In the United States, all the little children wait to see if they’ve ended up on Santa’s naughty or nice list, and hope that he will ride his magical sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer, to their homes to deliver piles of toys made by his happy elves from the North Pole. But it turns out that Santa Claus isn’t the only one who brings holiday gifts.

In Russia, it’s Grandfather Frost, or Ded Moroz, who goes from house to house with his young granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow maiden), and gives away presents on New Year’s Eve. All the kids look forward to their visit and prepare a whole performance complete with poetry readings, singing, and dancing to please Grandfather Frost and receive a gift from him. Parents usually ask neighbors or friends to dress up and visit their home or even hire professional actors to surprise the little ones much like people in the US do for Santa. Maybe things aren’t so different after all.

Party vs. Family Time  

While in the US, New Year is a big night for parties, in Russia it is quite the opposite. Russians do love to party, don’t get me wrong, but it’s only after spending time with family when they meet their friends for the second part of the celebration, which usually doesn’t happen until 1 or 2 in the morning of January 1st. People in Russia take their traditions seriously, and it’s a common rule to welcome the New Year at home with your nearest and dearest and only after that to go out with friends.

Regular Dinner vs Traditional Feast

When it comes to the feasting, both countries go all out, but the menus can be wildly different in each place. In the US, it’s difficult to pin down a traditional food for the entire country, since each region really takes pride in its local specialties. You can consider the New Year meal as Thanksgiving dinner part 2, which makes sense as most homes have leftover ingredients from their earlier feast.

Lots of families serve a ham at this time of year – since they’ve already done turkey, but the trimmings differ depending on where in the US you are. In New England, there’s lobster, buttery corn chowder, clam pots, and oyster stuffing. But way down South, no matter what else you make, it’s a tradition to cook up a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year. What’s with the black-eyed peas, you might ask? During the Civil War, Sherman and his troops burned their way through the South, taking tons of crops out in the process. Miraculously, they missed the fields of black-eyed peas, and more than one soul was still alive to eat them the following New Year.

If there is a universal New Year’s dish in the USA, it might be shrimp cocktail – especially served with ice on the edge of a martini glass – which makes anyone feel a little bit […] Continue Reading…

October 28th is National Chocolate Day, so you have the perfect excuse to indulge in this sweet treat all you want. To really celebrate, we recommend getting adventurous and trying some new chocolate flavors we bet you never knew existed. If you’ve got the guts to try the weirdest chocolate bars from all over the world, here’s a useful guide to 10 of the most unusual flavors we found to start your culinary adventure.

  
1. Have you ever heard of savory chocolate? It’s a delicious reality with the Sander’s Potato Chip Chocolate Bar. Milk chocolate packed with bits of potato chips might sound pretty weird, but the sweet and salty combination is surprisingly good and definitely worth trying on your journey of exploring new flavors.

2. Prefer something more unusual? No problem, Vosges Mo’s Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar is the perfect choice for those who love having chocolate for breakfast. Bits of hickory smoked bacon, Alderwood smoked salt, and 62% dark chocolate is a combo that’s as extraordinary as it is seductive – we’re thinking breakfast in bed. While this chocolate may sound totally off the wall, chocolate covered bacon has long been a weird and delicious treat found in the Southern US. If you like salty and sweet contrasts, this is a chocolate bar for you!

3. A great alternative to bacon & chocolate is The Hunger Games Beef Jerky & Smoked Mesquite Milk Bar from Wild Ophelia. This movie-inspired chocolate bar is sure be a fun and unusual gift to all the ‘Hunger Games’ lovers as well as those who prefer beef over bacon for breakfast.

4. Want to baffle your taste buds even more? Try a Ramen Noodle Bar from Komforte Chockolates! Yes, there’s no mistake, dried ramen noodles in the chocolate give it a nice crunch, and make this bar a fun gift to remember those college days filled with a lot of Ramen noshing.

5. Are you one of those people who can’t live without Sriracha sauce? Then, the Sriracha Hot Sauce Spicy Chocolate Bar is made just for you! While for some the combination of garlic, chili, and chocolate is a little too much, for others it will definitely hit the spot and become a new go-to treat for their sweet & spicy cravings. If nothing else, this chocolate bar could serve as a fun and harmless prank to a friend that deserves it.

6. Sriracha wasn’t always the king of spice, there are those who will never forget the unique heat of wasabi. To sate their sweet teeth, the Lindt Company has come up with a Wasabi Dark Chocolate Bar. Move over sushi, this Japanese horseradish combined with 43% dark chocolate can blow your head off!

 

7. Japan has plenty of interesting flavors to offer to any chocoholic. The Nestle company alone has introduced over 200 original flavors in Japan, earning Japanese chocolate its own special place on our list. Green colored Matcha Green Tea Kit Kat Bars, Zunda Kit Kats made from edamame, purple sweet potato Kit Kats, and smoky Gouda Cheese Kit Kats are just a few of the favorites on the local market. If you’re lucky, you can find some of these exotic flavors imported to your local Asian Market.

8. Another unique option that infuses Indian flavor is the Naga Bar from Vosges. Sweet curry powder and coconut flakes in a milk chocolate bar is definitely exotic enough to be worth trying.

9. There’s chocolate for everybody out there, even for smokers! Containing cigar leaves marinated in rum and cognac, Cigar Chocolate is made for nicotine and chocolate lovers alike.

10. Are these sweet treats not weird enough for you? Then you should consider trying ant-flavored Chocolate. But be warned this option is for the bravest and most adventurous. Containing real red fire ants, this chocolate is truly something worth experiencing in your life at least once, just like skydiving. What does it taste like? We’ll leave it up to you to find out!

There’s nothing wrong with more traditional flavors, but why not use today as a chance to expand your horizons? Get out there and explore new original flavors on National Chocolate Day, and let us know in the comments below about the most unusual chocolate you’ve ever tried.

Image #1 by LongitudeLatitude, Image #4 by stu_spivack, Image #6 by Austin Kirk, Image #7 by Lisa Pinehill, Image #8 by ChriZ TraX, Image #10 by Rick Hagerty.

It’s time to break out sweaters and warm apple cider – fall is here and we couldn’t be more excited. When you feel that first crisp breeze in the air, you know for a fact that summer is gone and fall is here with its colorful leaves, best fashion, and long-awaited holidays.
From pumpkin carving to hiking trips, there are so many reasons to take advantage of this time of year. Here are 5 things to do this season that will bring out the fall lover in you.

1. Setting the season with natural vases
Nothing sets the mood for a room quite like flowers. To give your arrangements double the impact, try using a natural vase.  You can bring fall into your home by using pumpkins, gourds, and squash as containers to bring added fall flair to your flower arrangements.  With a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, these seasonal delights are a decorator’s dream.
Simply cut a hole big enough to fit a couple of florist tubes, insert flower stems and enjoy a unique bud vase. Small pumpkins can be carved to use as fun votive candle holders, or take out the candle and use it as a “vase” for a short stem flower arrangement.  As an added bonus, youE can use the insides of the pumpkins or gourds you clean out to create delicious pies, mash, and roasted seeds!

2. Walnut photo holder
Your family photos and cards will get a seasonal lift with easy-to-make walnut photo holders, made of real walnuts! First, find large nuts with the flattest bottoms, test them out to make sure they can stand up on their own.
Take one nut at a time, and drill a small hole in the top of it – opposite the flat end. Make sure the hole you drill will hold a piece of 18-gauge wire.
Measure approximately 6 inches of your 18-gauge wire. To create a loop in the wire that will eventually hold photos, wrap ONE end of the wire completely around a wide marker – do this twice, so you create two circles next to each other at the end of the wire. Remove the marker, and pinch the loops together.
Insert the straight end of the wire into hole you drilled into your nut earlier; you may even wish to add a drop of epoxy or super glue into the hole to keep your wire more stable. Slip a photo or card between the loops and enjoy your new, original photo frame.
Want to get even more creative? Decorating your new photo holders with glitter will create a whole new festive look. To create different designs, cover certain areas of the walnut with masking tape; when you use glitter, only the exposed areas will twinkle.
Apply craft glue on the un-taped areas, and dip the walnut into a dish with glitter until fully coated. Set aside, and allow them to dry for at least 2 hours (or overnight). After the walnuts have dried, shake off any loose glitter and remove the masking tape. For more sparkle, reapply glue and glitter prior to removing the masking tape as many times as you want.

3. Dry Leaves Art
What fall decoration would be complete without stunning colored leaves? Tons of craft projects with dry leaves are very popular during fall, and with such a beautiful array of seasonal colors it’s easy to see why. There are plenty of ideas out there for both grown-ups and kids on what you can do with dry leaves but how do you actually dry them to start with? The simplest method (our favorite) is pressing the leaves flat to dry. This process might be a little slow (it takes about 2 weeks) but it’s very simple and will never fail.
Open a large book (something like an encyclopedia), place a paper towel on one of the pages, then place a leaf or several smaller leaves on top, making sure they don’t overlap. Cover the leaves with another paper towel and close the book. Lay it flat somewhere out of the way, with a stack of books or stable heavy objects on top. Then just wait.
When you’re drying multiple leaves in the same book, leave at least 1/8 inch (3 mm) of pages between each sheet to provide enough weight for all of them. Use additional layers of paper towels if the leaves are damp to avoid staining the book’s pages. Check your leaves once a week to see if they are dry, and change the paper towels if they feel damp.
Once your leaves are dry you can start your craft projects by creating a simple leaf card. Add the dry leaves to construction paper to create unique greeting cards. Or, use glue and glitter to put your guests’ name straight onto the leaves for a fun way to set up a seating arrangement at a dinner party.

4. Pumpkinize Your Body
Winter, spring, summer, pumpkin…Did you know this popular fruit has its own season? As soon as September rolls around, the stores and our tables are overflowing with all things pumpkin, a seasonal delight you don’t want to miss. From lattes to ales, pies to waffles, everything gets a delicious pumpkin makeover. Since there are tons of delicious recipes on how to cook pumpkin, we’d like to share a rather interesting recipe for how you can use this squash in your daily beauty routine.
Next time you have a some pumpkin puree leftovers, don’t throw it away, instead use it to make an easy body scrub full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, antioxidants, and natural enzymes that will help you to remove dead skin cells and get ready for winter. Treat your body to some pumpkin delight and it will thank you later for sure.
Pumpkin-Sugar Body Scrub
1 cup coarse raw sugar
1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin will do too)
1 tsp honey
1 Tbsp. almond or olive oil
Directions:

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Add more or less sugar and oil based on personal preferences.
Store in an airtight […] Continue Reading…

 
-->