BOOK REVIEW: FAR AFIELD by Shane Mitchell and James Fischer

Have you ever wondered about this or that faraway place? What it would be like? What are the people like? What foods can be found there? I know I have. Although at the moment a mere armchair traveller, I am fascinated with tales of places beyond my reach, faces and flavors. Shane Mitchell and James Fischer, both contributors to  Saveur bring their amazing experience traveling the globe and exploring the food in their new book Far Afield.


The book allows us to glimpse into life in India, Uruguay, Kenya, Mexico, Hawai’i, Iceland, Peru, France and Japan. Shane’s almost diary-like travel notes were very interesting to read, especially Kenya, Uruguay and India bits, as I have the hardest time imagining what life must be like in these places. The Calais Jungle in France was the most powerful part of the book for me. Now, the photography is amazing in this book! Gorgeous vistas, small details of everyday life, people’s portraits made me feel like I almost know them. The food notes were fascinating as well, some ingredients I have never heard of and now even more curious to try. Although some dishes I won’t even attempt to re-create, a handful is quite do-able and the list of places providing ingredients can be found in the end of the book.

Overall impression: this book is a treasure and a rare chance to learn more about life in regions most people never get to visit. The photography is gorgeous, even if I wasn’t curious about the food, I would have gotten this book just for the photography. This book would help with my children’s multicultural studies as well. 5 stars.

I received this book via Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.


BOOK REVIEW: The Illustrated Book of sayings by Ella Frances Sanders

As a language enthusiast I am always interested in idioms, sayings and proverbs from around the world. Ella Frances Sanders‘ new The Illustrated Book of Sayings is just about that. This book contains about 50 sayings from every continent.


The book brings us sayings from far and wide, including Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Each saying is accompanied by an illustration and a short paragraph explaining the meaning. Some information on the language can be found as well. Some of these sayings are more known, some are less. For example Polish “Not my circus, not my monkeys” is quite popular, I even see it on tshirts. Some I’ve never heard of and it was very interesting to read up on them. The choice of languages is varied, we see only French, Spanish, Japanese and Italian that got 2 sayings each, the rest are all different languages and I appreciate it. There is no organization by continent, language family or theme, which slightly bothered me, because it means I will have to flip through the entire book if I want to look up, say, a Farsi proverb.

Overall impression: this book will make a fun gift for people curious about languages, my children looked through it and enjoyed what they read as well. The illustrations are cute, I like Ms. Sanders’ style.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.


BOOK REVIEW: The Basque Book by Alexandra Raji and Eder Montero

Regional cuisine always interests me. I feel that one can get to know a place a little bit better after tasting local dishes. For an armchair traveller like me it is also a chance to experience a foreign land from the comfort of my home. The Basque Book by Alexandra Raji and Eder Montero invites us to experience flavor of Basque country (an autonomous community in the North western Spain). I love the latest trend of creating culinary books/travel diaries, when the book is not only filled with recipes, but also photographs of the local life, little essays help to get essence of the place as well.


The book is split into following sections: Basics, The Art of Pintxos ( much like tapas), Huerta (kitchen garden), Eggs, Cod section (wow, I love eating cod and the fact that it deserves the whole section is very pleasing), Soups and Stews, Gathering the Basque Way, Sweets and Beverages. The recipes do require some specific ingredients, there are links to purchase them in the end of the book. Recipes are mostly straightforward, interesting flavor combinations too. Although fresh seafood is hard to come by in my region, I am looking forward to try other recipes, especially salads and breakfast items.

Overall impression: Liked this book a lot, looking forward to cooking from it. Beautiful photography, glad I got to peek at the local scenery as well. 5 stars.


I recieved this book via Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Book Review: Fika by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall

Today I’m reviewing Fika : The Art of the Swedish Coffee Breakm with recipes for pastries,breads, and other treads by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall. It is a  book dedicated to a lovely part of Swedish life- a designated coffee break that is accompanied by pastries often homemade. A delicious reason to slow down and enjoy life.

fika book

I was very curious about this particular tradition as there is something similar in my culture as well. Every Russian sits down to drink some tea with pastries, buns or cookies at least once a day. I was delighted to find that there is a culture that has the same daily ritual. This book explains the tradition in depth and many delicious recipes are provided.

The book is separated into sections, each section contains appropriate recipes. Introduction explains what exactly fika is and how to incorporate it into daily life. It lists the ingredients –all are fairly simple, authors include regional specialties, but considerately replace with ingredients more widely available to American audience. List of tools is also included, and again, all are very simple. Chapter 1 deals with history of Swedish coffee taking and includes recipes for staple pastries and buns (mmm, cinnamon and cardamom buns). Chapter 2 talks about fika on the go and at the workplace, the recipes accompanying this section are meant to be consumed outside of home. Chapter 3 is about warm months and includes delicious summer recipes (fruity pastries, jams and cordials). Chapter 4 is dedicated to holiday season- I am super excited to try buns and cakes, as well as mulled wine, come winter holidays. Appreciated little notes on special celebrations. The final chapter on breads, snacks and sandwiches concludes the book.

Overall impression: Loved the recipes, all are super simple to put together. It was interesting how there were no recipes for the coffee drinks. I guess the pastries are more important, or the Swedish are not too crazy about making complicated coffee concoctions (and frankly, I can see why:)). Loved the drawings for each chapter, Just like the recipes, illustrations are clear and simple. Loved all the Swedish throughout the book, introduction to the culture, and the food and the language in one book– heaven. I am excited to explore Swedish food beyond IKEA cafe, and this book will be a huge help. Loved the message of stopping and enjoying life while having a coffee, however busy the day is and how well this mindset agrees with my own upbringing. Five stars.

I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Raising bi-lingual kids

There was a wonderful post  over at Planet Smarty Pants a few weeks ago about ways to share parents’ native language with a child. This post inspired me to share our story of raising  two children that are bi-lingual.

bilingual kids

Both of my children speak Russian , they read and write in Russian at or above their grade level. They are equally proficient in English. They are ordinary children. Henceforth I speak only from personal experience and with anecdotal evidence from my friends.

  • Deciding to raise kids bi-lingual and sticking to our decision: My husband and I are both Russian, we speak mostly Russian at home. We’ve been living here in the US for over a decade and consider it home. I home-school kids, so I speak English to them a lot. My husband speaks Russian only to children, no exceptions. In public, if translation is needed for those around us, he will translate for them. When it comes to families of my friends that have dual language household, the most successful attempts at raising children bi-lingual happen when mom or dad speak their language only and translate for their partners. I know families where each parent speaks different language and they communicate in English between themselves- children speak 3 languages. Many American  husbands of my Russian friends try to learn at least some Russian. In the end the final decision is up to an individual family, but if anything learning another language together brings family members closer. Bottom line– it can be done.
  • Starting early with no fears: We spoke Russian to children since the day they were born. It is tempting and it feels reassuring to “save”  Russian until a child is proficient in English. I received such (unsolicited) advice from medical professionals and teachers . But the truth is when a language is foreign, it feels less important and children look at learning it as a chore. English won’t go anywhere, it’s all around, they will learn it, unless they are very isolated. The earlier one starts the better it is.  My second child, who is 3 years younger than my first, spoke English much sooner, but Russian still was her first language.
  • Include reading and writing: We teach children to read and write in Russian formally. Necessity to speak , read and write Russian is not something that is being debated for us – it is the fact of life. There certainly were doubts for us parents early on–  what if children have accents, what if they don’t make friends, what if they do poorly in school. With D., who didn’t speak English until he was five years old we learned that all of these fears were futile, every single one. To teach the language I order formal curriculum from Russia, in my area it can also be found in the library system. It is often available online. I provide instruction in Russian for other subjects too, including math, science and geography. Basically Russian is a Core Subject in our house. There are Russian lessons every single day when we do school at home. Many people use Russian Schools (instruction on weekends), immersion programs and tutors as well.
  • Providing opportunities to practice language: We are currently rather detached from Russian speaking community here, as we live too far from the area where the activities are concentrated. We do however have Russian-speaking friends and we cherish these contacts. Extended family is another way to provide opportunity to speak to someone other than mom, dad and siblings. Russian church is another opportunity. I have a few friends with children in Russia, so I encourage my kids to talk to my friends’ kids on Skype and write letters. They think it’s cool to have friends overseas. Many of my friends raising children abroad send their children to visit grandparents in Russia over the summer. Usually after such visits there is a huge leap forward in speaking. Other sources of exposure include  games, trips, festivals, performances with visiting theater companies, crafts, cooking. Caregivers that speak the language is another way to go.  Anything that connects children to their parents’  language and culture(s) will work.
  • Teach culture and language through stories: I have a special request for family and friends who want to send or bring something for children from Russia- please bring a book. I order vast amounts of fiction and non-fiction from Russian online bookstores (paying special attention to illustrations for picture books), we read books online , our library carries some titles in Russian as well. We read aloud, children read on their own and to each other, we listen audio-books. We also watch movies, mostly old ones, they are indeed of quality. We read poetry– both silly poems for the littlest readers and classics such as Pushkin from early age. We talk about poetry and meaning of archaisms that are sometimes used. Russian history is in the curriculum also, D.’s formal lessons will start next year when he will be in 5th grade.
  • Reading and writing: With both of my children Russian was the first language they learned to read in. I found that as soon as children master reading in Russian, English reading comes easier too. As children learn to read, they learn to write as well. I admit there is some confusion in earlier grades when English is introduced, because many letters look alike, but later on it all falls in place. Children are encouraged to write often, their mistakes are always corrected, again because bad habits are hard to correct later on. Formal grammar is introduced around grade 2. Children do a lot of copy work too.
  • Be patient: Children will protest, they will occasionally feel that speaking English is easier. It frustrates the parent when a child answers in English to a question posed in Russian, or when children speak to family members in English and so on. The culmination of protest usually happens in the end of Kidnergarten for my kids. The key here is not to get upset, or worry that Russian is being lost. One has to be patient, to help the child to find the words to express what they want to say. It is beneficial to gently insist on speaking the same sentence in Russian. I do correct their grammar, so bad habits of not conjugating properly do not settle. It is important to prevent Runglish too, however funny it is. I try not to nag.  The most important thing is not to give up.
  • Raising bi-lingual children is a hard work, but it is absolutely worth it. Benefits of raising children bi-lingual are many and all efforts pay off. It’s never too late to start too. Have courage, have confidence and try.

Another  spots to visit :

Hiragana Mama, who  teaches her children Japanese,

BabyBilingual is about teaching  children French,

Russian Step By Step for Children 

Silvana teaches her children Spanish

If you teach your child a language other than English, please comment, I would love to meet more bi-lingual mamas 🙂

Hinamatsuri 2015

This is our second year in a row visiting Hina Matsuri Doll Festival.

Hinamatsuri is a Japanese holiday taking place on March 3rd. It is  Girls’ Day in Japan and colorful dolls are displayed in every home with girls.

Local Japanese community celebrates by getting together for a festival. The festival includes an amazing doll exhibition, ikebana and bonsai display. Tea Ceremony demonstrations and various acts celebrating Japanese culture are presented throughout two days.

We went today not just as guests, but also participants, D. along with his dojo-friends were doing a karate demonstration. We also got to see singing and Okinawa dancing acts, as well as Taiko drums performance.

Now a few pictures from the festival

hina matsuri denver

all the dolls are amazing works of art

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Lunar New Year

Our week flies buy in another blur of business, but we did have a little event for Lunar New Year yesterday.

First, we talked about why some people celebrate New Year’s arrival on the days other than January 1st  (such as Rosh Hashana, Russian “old style” New Year (January 13th) and Lunar New Year among them). Then we read D is for Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine (affiliate link) to see the major elements of Chinese New Year Celebration.

d is for dragon dance

Then we read about the legend of Chinese Zodiac animals in Russian (Легенда о Восточном Календаре. Мария Ершова, Игорь Олейников. Еще мы  прочли Нианское чудовище, тоже Олейникова иллюстрации)

legenda o vostochnom kalendare

nianskoe chudoviwe

and read our horoscopes for the upcoming Lunar Year, C. was delighted to find that she will have a very lucky year, D. was promised reward for his hard work, mine was more or less ok, my husband’s year is supposed to be luckier than the one that just ended. We’ll see 🙂

We did a couple of simple art projects

1. The idea for this finger print art came from this blog. It’s a simple and fun art project. First children painted their backgrounds using watercolor paints. Second I printed out some articles in Chinese (you can use newspaper too if available in your area) and children cut out buildings. Third, buildings are pasted onto the background. Children added cute panda stickers (affiliate link)  too. Then they put yellow and red blobs on the page (we used acrylic paint and brushes for that, but for tiny artists fingerprints would be more fun). After everything was dry, children connected their lanterns to create a garland, and added fireworks in the sky.

D.'s artwork

D.’s artwork

C.'s scenery

C.’s scenery

2. The second art project was to create a sheep- symbol of the new Lunar Year. Children painted the background -sky and grass, then painted the sheep- paying attention to the head and legs and just outlining the body. The body was filled in with pom-poms and cotton balls. Since it’s the year of Wooden Sheep they used some brown pom-poms in addition to the white ones. Oh, and don’t forget the googly eyes 🙂

D's sheep

D’s sheep

C. draws rainbows a lot nowadays, I love her sheep's ears too :)

C. draws rainbows a lot nowadays, I love her sheep’s ears too 🙂

So, this was our little event for this Lunar New Year celebration. Hope the Year of the Sheep will bring a good fortune to everyone!