12 Things You Don’t Know About Peony Flowers

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.

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Dandelion: A Backyard Weed with Health Benefits

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!

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Catholic vs Orthodox Easter Traditions 101

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.

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6 Unusual & Easy Ways to Use Rose Petals

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Maslenitsa: How to Make Traditional Russian Pancakes

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Don’t Let Cupid Convince You To Pop The Question

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5 Tips to Keep Your Cool in the Kitchen

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.

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Epic Celebrations: American Vs. Russian New Year

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!

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National Chocolate Day: World’s 10 Weirdest Chocolates

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.

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Our 5 Favorite Fall DIY Projects

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

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