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.

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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.

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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 fancier, and of course, it must be accompanied by a good champagne! Caviar, cheese platters, and finger foods galore are also New Year’s Eve party favorites. Frankly, when it comes to food and celebration in the US, just about anything goes – in some places it’s becoming a tradition to make your own tradition!

Russians are quite different in this regard, as the New Year’s feast is almost a pageant of traditional favorites. Russians have more than a couple of festive dishes, instead, there is an entire New Year’s menu complete with typical foods just for this particular holiday! Ever heard of “Herring under a Fur Coat?” It’s a traditional Russian salad on top of the long list of traditional salads that are a must on New Year. For most Russians, it is truly NOT New Year if this salad is not on your table. There’s also Olivier, Salad with Crab and Corn, Mimose, and tons more mayo-loaded goodness both beautifully decorated and exceptionally tasty.

Besides salads, Russian New Year isn’t complete without caviar (usually eaten on bread with butter or hard-boiled egg), tangerines, and of course champagne! The most popular local variety is called Sovietskoye.  While it was in shorter supply during the Soviet period, it became an essential part of the New Year’s celebration. Now even if people can afford Dom Perignon, they still probably have a bottle of affordable Sovietskoye on the table as a tribute to the old tradition.

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Ball Drop vs. President’s Speech

Each country even has its own traditional activities for the stroke of midnight, and you’ll be surprised at how they’re similar. In the US, while some people are lucky enough to find themselves on Time Square (New York City’s neon epicenter), most are glued to their TVs. No matter where they are, they’re watching the famous dropping of the crystal LED ball from the former New York Times Building. It’s easily the biggest party in the country, with millions attending and more watching on television from all over the world. This tradition has been alive for 100 years so it is safe to say it has been a huge success that just keeps getting bigger. The ball takes one minute to drop, and people everywhere come together to countdown with the final ten seconds.

Russians also welcome New Year while glued to their TVs, but instead of watching the ball drop, they listen to a speech from their President wishing everybody a Happy New Year. Right before midnight, the clock tower on Moscow’s Red Square starts counting down the last ten seconds of the year. When the bell rings at midnight, people make a wish, drink champagne, and kiss each other.

Despite the differences, there’s one thing Russians and Americans do agree on (other than champagne) when it comes to New Year. It isn’t New Year’s if you don’t see the night sky blown up in fireworks, and maybe even the rest of the world agrees on that. People from both countries enjoy setting off their own fireworks, though shows at home are usually on a much smaller scale. It’s a good chance to put on a great show for everyone in the family – and even the neighborhood – especially the little ones who just can’t make it up until midnight (with plenty of supervision around the fireworks, of course).  No matter where you are in Russia or the US, you’ll be impressed with an intense, bright and loud firework display that will start outside your window right after midnight.

Do you want to know more about Russian culture and traditions? Stay tuned and feel free to leave your comments or questions below. Happy New Year!

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.

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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.

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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!

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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:

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Add more or less sugar and oil based on personal preferences.
  2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  3. Apply 2-3 times a week and enjoy rejuvenated skin.

5. Pumpkin Latte Mix In a Jar

Fall is rich not only with crafts, but also with amazing seasonal recipes. These days it’s become a time to visit Starbucks more often to treat ourselves to a cup of warm latte. But what if you could make a delicious latte yourself, in a matter of minutes, and in the comfort of your own home?

Save yourself a lot of time and money with this tasty Pumpkin Latte Mix; you can keep it in a tightly sealed mason jar for up to 6 months in your pantry. Just add hot water every time you feel like drinking something warm and delicious.

Pumpkin Latte Dry Mix

You will need:

  • 1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/2 cup powdered nondairy creamer
  • 1/2 cup instant coffee granules
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup instant pumpkin or vanilla pudding mix
  • 1  tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (or ½ Tbsp. if you are using pumpkin instant pudding mix)

Step 1

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until it turns into fine powder. Place the mix into a glass jar and store in a cool dry place for up to 6 months.

Step 2

For 1 cup of hot latte: dissolve 2-3 Tbsp. dry mix in hot water and stir well. Garnish with whipped cream, marshmallows, or a cinnamon stick if desired.

Did you find any of these tips useful? Did we miss your fall favorite? Make sure to let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to share these ideas with your friends and family; crafts are always more fun with a helping hand!

Image #1 by Jodimichelle
Image #4 by beccapie
Image #5 by Randy Heinitz

October 14th is National Dessert Day! It’s the perfect time to indulge in your favorite sweet treats completely guilt-free. We’re here to help you celebrate by sharing some of our favorite Russian desserts. There were a lot to choose from, but we know you’re going to love these two traditional Russian desserts that are wonderfully simple, original, and sure to become your go-to fall recipes.

Let’s start with Sugared Cranberries. Legend has it that the cranberry is a fruit native to Russia, and brought to Europe in the 12th century by Russian merchants. It was called a “healing berry” for its numerous healthy properties. This little berry is full of B vitamins, vitamin K1, vitamin C (equal to lemons, oranges and apples), potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus just to name a few; it strengthens the immune system and prevents many diseases.

If you’ve never tried sugared cranberries before, you’re in for a treat! They are a blend of sweet-tart yumminess that bursts in your mouth. Not only are they a very addictive snack, they’re also a perfect garnish for many holiday recipes. Prepare a whole bunch at once and you’ll always have a healthy, delicious snack on hand ready to pull out anytime. Another great thing about this recipe is that it’s so much easier and faster than the American version, it is sure to become your favorite!

What you’ll need:

2 cup Cranberries
2 Egg Whites
2 cup Powdered Sugar

Step 1
Wash cranberries and air dry. Place powdered sugar in a large bowl. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl.

Step 2
Working in batches, dip cranberries in beaten egg whites, then roll in sugar until well coated. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet (or other flat surface) and let dry for at least 1 hour. Store in a bowl or a mason jar.

Stuffed Baked Apples

Baked apples are one of the simplest, healthiest, and most delicious treats for the whole family. Perfect during fall apple season, this dessert will become a real hit on your holiday table, and it’s easy enough to become a day-to-day staple. Anytime you’re craving for a sweet, low-calorie treat that is easy to make at home remember this authentic Russian recipe. This stuffed baked goodness will have you swooning from its taste and smell every time you take it out of the oven!

What you’ll need:

6 Apples (Granny Smith, Jonagold, Jonathan, Gala, etc)
6 Teaspoons Honey
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
4 Tablespoons Water
Butter
Nuts and dried fruits (optional)

Step 1
Wash and dry the apples. Using a paring knife or melon baller, cut out holes for stuffing (about 1 inch wide), leaving the bottom intact. First, cut out the stem area and then scoop out the seeds.

Step 2
Mix the honey, cinnamon, and – if you want – nuts and dried fruits.

Step 3
Stuff the apples with the honey mix and top each one with a pat of butter (about ½ tablespoon).

Step 4
Arrange the apples on a baking dish and pour 4 tablespoons of hot water (about ½ inch) into the bottom of the baking dish.

Step 5
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and bake for 35-40 minutes until cooked through and tender. When done, remove the apples from the oven and baste with the juices from the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon or powdered sugar before serving. Enjoy on a cold day with a cup of hot tea, or with a side of vanilla ice cream and a glass of wine.

Want to try other authentic Russian recipes? Stay tuned! Or if you know of a sweet fall treat you know will be a favorite please leave a link or directions in the comments below. We’re sure you’ll agree that you can never have too many options in your dessert menu.

Image #1 by Tim Pierce

Image #2 by Meal Makeover Moms

kiyvIf you ask any of our team members about the most exciting part about their job they will probably tell you it is the opportunity to witness a lot of beautiful love stories, some of which sound more like fairy tales. They will tell you they are lucky enough to not only witness these relationships unfold in front of their eyes but to also participate in them. We tend to take things personally here at Russian Flora, and that means getting involved. We ask customers questions and are eager to answer theirs to make sure that their gifts are not only personal but also fit the region and culture they are being delivered in.

One of our favorite Russian Flora romances begins in 2010, like any good story we start with two people very much in love and trying very hard to overcome everything to be with one another. The man, we’ll call him Mr. V, got us wrapped up in his love story with his very first order – a lovely bouquet of flowers – for his girlfriend Tatiana in Vitebsk, Belarus.

Mr. V was a loyal customer, and already trusted us with corporate gift deliveries, but this whole long distance relationship thing was new to him. He had never had a girlfriend from another country, so he needed advice on how to handle the situation.  At the beginning, he had a lot of questions for our customer service team regarding the best gift options, appropriate holidays, and local gift etiquette in general. Since some of our team members are also from Eastern Europe, they knew exactly how to help and gladly gave him useful tips on how to impress his significant other from Belarus. For instance, when you send flowers to loved ones in this part of the world it is very important that you send an odd number. Even numbers of flowers in a bouquet are often considered bad luck, and even an insult: that is not the way to start off any romance. We also helped him pick appropriate gifts for local holidays to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. Vast experience with previous customers in similar situations and the knowledge of Eastern European culture allowed our team to help Mr. V navigate this issue and similar ones with ease.

Mr. V’s first orders included all of the classics of romantic gifts like flowers, chocolates, and fruit baskets. But as their relationship grew, so did the gifts, with things like designer perfume, exquisite champagne, golden roses, and jewelry. With every order, Mr. V. was always meticulous and gave us detailed instructions about the time of delivery, packaging, her favorite brands, and the colors of the flowers. Luckily, our regional managers in Vitebsk never had a problem even with the most unusual requests and were always eager to help. Mr. V was thrilled with the level of dedication and attention to detail, and of course thrilled with Tatiana’s reaction to every lovely gift he sent.

With so many regular gift orders Mr. V quickly ran through our traditional romantic catalog; so he started ordering more sophisticated and even extraordinary custom gifts that impressed his girlfriend and our team! Among his custom orders were many useful items like a washing machine, my-2007-christmas-tree-1443617-639x852a big TV screen with LCD monitor, a camera, a new phone, and many other  surprises both useful and unusual. One  Christmas, he didn’t bother with regular gifts, but instead went above and beyond to  surprise his sweetheart with a full-size Christmas tree beautifully decorated with ornaments.

Tatiana and her young son were in a state of pleasant shock when they opened the door to our delivery guy 7 days before to Christmas. Mr. V was always careful to give her son just as much attention. A new Xbox, a skateboard, and an IPad are only a few of gifts he received from his mom’s new boyfriend on his Birthday, New Year, and Men’s Day. Our client even tried to surprise them both with a pet once!

A loyal (and romantic) customer for four happy years, Mr. V ordered over 40 gifts in total, most of which were custom. Over the years, our CS team established a great personal relationship with the client and our couriers became like a second family to Tatiana. Of course, there were times when not everything went smoothly and we had to really work with some of the most difficult orders, but the team always did their best to resolve the situation as soon as possible. Utmost sincerity and dedication made it all worthwhile.

For instance, he ordered a beautiful flower arrangement in a vase once to be delivered in the middle of January. It happened that there was a blizzard in Vitebsk that week, but our couriers made the impossible happen and delivered the gift safe and sound only a couple of hours late, even the poor road conditions couldn’t stop them. Also, remember that pet Mr. V wanted to get for Tatiana and her son? Well, even in the best circumstances buying a pet for someone you love is hard, and often you need them there to help pick it out. A puppy or aquarium with fish were his first two choices.

We worked with Mr. V to show him many of the adorable puppies we were able to find for Tatiana. Pictures were sent, dozens of emails, but ultimately he decided he was asking the impossible of us. There just wasn’t any way for him to get a good feel for the kind of dog he was sending to his girlfriend no matter how much information we sent him. He decided instead to go with a much safer investment of a large aquarium with 5 golden fish. It was quite exciting helping him with this extraordinary request and we are proud that we managed to meet his expectations and fulfill this complicated order.

At the end of 2014, Mr. V stopped ordering gifts to Belarus for his girlfriend, and we were both sad and happy to see his gift orders stop. You see the relationship we had watched grow and helped nurture for years had become something more. Like the end to every good fairy tale, Mr. V and Tatiana moved on to get married and start their happily ever after.

To eat, or not to eat – that is the question… Easily answered!

Apples, strawberry, oranges, peaches, grapes, broccoli, cauliflower, this may seem like a grocery list but it’s actually some florists’ favorite edible items to include in bouquets! These edible bouquets make truly magnificent gifts, both delicious and beautiful. It’s hard to find anyone who can remain indifferent to such an extraordinary surprise.

It takes an experienced florist with immaculate taste to create a balanced edible composition. From picking just the right market-fresh fruit and vegetables and matching tastes and colors, to decorating with fragrant herbs, the whole process from beginning to end usually takes several hours.

Like so many other things that are gaining popularity today, this is an example of a modern spin on an old favorite. Edible bouquets and displays appear in art as early as the 2nd century CE in Rome, but love for them really began to bloom during the 15th and 16th centuries, particularly in Europe. They could be a sign of wealth, love, and friendship, and they were the go-to gift for any festive occasion because they could both decorate the party and feed tired hosts afterward. Now, vegetable arrangements, fruit bouquets, and even herbs are starting to replace flowers at every occasion, even weddings! Like flowers, each vegetable, fruit, and herb, has a symbolic meaning; for example, mint represents wisdom and refreshment, and lavender stands for devotion and love. It’s also pretty easy to imagine that a bouquet including either one would smell incredible!

So, what is so special about fruit & veggie bouquets, and why this trend is becoming so popular? We’ve broken down the benefits of these tasty gifts and given you 3 main reasons why you should choose an edible bouquet over traditional flowers for your next special occasion:

  • Unique Gift That’s Impressive in Any Size

Traditional flowers are lovely, but even timeless gifts can be boring. Adding fruits and vegetables to flowers, or making a totally edible bouquet is a great way to add more variety to a gift they’ve seen before. Nobody expects to receive an arrangement with strawberries, apples, and exotic fruit mixed with fresh roses, but when they do it will be a big hit!

  • A Bouquet You Can Actually Eat

An edible arrangement is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also a very practical gift that, as the name suggests, is as good on a plate as it is on display (but please don’t eat the package even if it looks inviting). After several days of enjoying a unique composition, you don’t have to throw it away with remorse but can easily turn it into lunch for the whole family! Every arrangement is a rigorous combination of certain ingredients that allows you to prepare an unforgettable meal. Fresh salad, delicious smoothies, or heartwarming soups are just a few ways your loved ones can enjoy experimenting with their non-traditional bouquet.

  • Fresh & Healthy

Both fruit and vegetable bouquets are made from the freshest ingredients, picked from local fresh markets. Each arrangement is a little burst of vitamins that will fill your family and friends with energy, good calories, and a positive attitude. Such mood and health boosters are especially welcome during cold months when you need to support a family member who is sick, surprise your vegan or vegetarian friends, or simply light up your special someone’s day.

As you can see, we think edible bouquets made of fruits, vegetables, and herbs are a special, hearty gift for your loved ones. So, the next time you’re thinking about sending flowers in a bouquet, consider something they can really sink their teeth into instead.

On September 1st, kids of all ages in Russia are going back to school. Which means it’s time to share some authentic Russian recipes that are perfect for your little one’s lunchbox. These 3 sweet recipes are not only very popular in Russia, but also easy to make, healthy, and absolutely delicious!

Let’s start with a Russian dessert called Zapekanka. To give you a hint about the taste, it’s often referred to as Russian cheesecake made with cottage cheese. Easily overlooked, cottage cheese provides many health benefits, including a high protein, significant calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Dishes containing cottage cheese usually have a delicate texture and taste and are quite popular in Russian cuisine. Zapekanka is one of the simplest and most delicious among them. Try it yourself!

Zapekanka – Russian Cheesecake (Cottage cheese casserole)

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 5 Servings

What you need:

  • 1 Pound (or about 500 gr) cottage cheese
  • 4 Eggs
  • 7 Tablespoon sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon sour cream
  • 2 Heaping tablespoons starch
  • Vanilla to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon softened butter
  • Raisins (optional)

Step 1

In a large bowl whisk together cottage cheese, egg yolks, sugar, sour cream, starch, and vanilla.

Step 2

Whisk egg whites in a separate bowl.

Step 3

Add egg whites to the cottage cheese, and whisk the entire mass with a spoon.

Step 4

If you want, add some dried fruit (e.g raisins) in the mix.

Step 5

Put the mixture into a baking pan. To prevent the cheesecake from sticking to the pan, place about a tablespoon of softened butter on a paper towel and coat the bottom and sides of the pan first.

Step 6

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C) and bake for about 30 min, or until the center is set. Serve hot or cold as is, or with sour cream on the side.

The next recipe is Sharlotka, or Apple Charlotte, and it probably the most popular Russian sweet cake. It is famous for being simple, affordable, and quick. Every mother in Russia knows that if she needs to fix something quickly for the kids with minimum ingredients, Apple Charlotte is the way to go. Since it only takes 20 minutes to prepare, and about 40 min to bake, Sharlotka will be a hit not only with your little ones but with anyone with a sweet tooth.

Russian Charlotte Apple Cake (Sharlotka)

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 Servings

What you need:

  • 4 Large eggs
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 1 Cup flour
  • 3 Large or 4 medium sized apples (any tarter variety e.g Granny Smith will do)
  • 1 Tablespoon oil or butter (to grease the baking tray)
  • 1 Pinch of salt

Step 1

In a large bowl beat the eggs until frothy.

Step 2

Gradually add sugar and salt. Keep beating the mixture until all the sugar is dissolved.

Step 3

Add flour and mix thoroughly.

Step 4

Wash apples, cut out the core, peel the skin off if desired and slice into 3-4 mm pieces.

Step 5

Add apples to the batter and mix.

Step 6

Grease the baking tray with butter (It is better to use a cake mold with a hole in the middle). Pour the batter into the baking tray.

Step 7

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C) and bake in the middle of the oven for 35-45 min. Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake; if it comes out clean, then the cake is ready. Serve hot or cold.

Our last recipe is a homemade Russian juice called Kompot. Russians of all ages really enjoy this healthy alternative to soda and other sugary drinks. We’re betting it will become your little one’s favorite. Unlike freshly squeezed juices, it can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, and that is another reason why busy moms like it. Generally, it can be prepared from any fruit but since apricots are in season now here is a version using apricot juice.

Homemade Apricot Juice Kompot

What you need:

  • 1 Pound (about 500 gr) ripe, firm apricots
  • 10 Cups (about 2.5 litres) water
  • 1 Cup sugar

Step 1

Wash the apricots, cut in half and get rid of the pits.

Step 2

Put cold water and sugar in a large pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and cook for 5 minutes.

Step 3

Put apricots in the pot, turn the stove off, cover with a lid and let it cool down.

Step 4

Strain the juice and pour it in a clean pitcher. For the best flavor, wait for 12 hours (or overnight). Serve cold.

Image #1 by Olga/Олька

Image #2 by Alexey Ivanov

Image #3 by Janice Cullivan

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