To Perk You Up During Tax Time

Hoping April hasn't been too cruel a month for you so far, although dreaded Tax Day approacheth. I got it over with and sent in the check (can't remember the last time we've seen a refund around here...), but if you still have that hurdle ahead, one of my latest reads should cheer you up.

The cover I enjoyed
But you might also see it like this

This was a wonderful memoir covering the author's extended family's life in Moscow, from the 1910s (end of the Tsarist era), to the birth and development of the Soviet Union, to its dissolution and almost present-day Russia.

No matter our tax burden, at least we're not living under Stalin! We've got bounteous food on our store shelves, private kitchens in our homes (rather than communal apartments), and none of our past leaders have been embalmed for us to pay homage to. Knowing almost nothing about Soviet history, this book was nonstop fascinating and sometimes funny. Her chapters are organized around eras and the food that typified the era, for which recipes are found in the appendix.

I don't know about you, but I'd only had Russian food once, prepared for us by an Uzbeki couple. There was something fishy, something potato-y, several things mayonnaise-y. All quite tasty. The recipes in Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking are quite elaborate in many cases and nothing I plan on attempting soon. But since my book club will be doing a Russian-themed evening for The Madonnas of Leningrad this summer, and since I had boiled eggs on hand for Easter, I decided to try my hand at what looked simplest.

(Note: we're not doing a Madonnas of Leningrad-themed dinner because the characters suffer through the Siege of Leningrad and end up eating rats and library glue and such.)

Wikipedia's version, although mine looked pretty much the same

Salat Olivier
3 lg boiling potatoes, cooked, peeled, and diced
2 med carrots, cooked, peeled, and diced
1 lg apple, peeled and diced
2 med dill pickles, diced
1 med cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
3 boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 16-oz can peas, drained (I'd substitute frozen)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 Tbsp dried dill
12 ozs lump crabmeat (or cooked chicken)

1 cup mayo
1/3 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white vinegar
salt to taste

Combine all salad ingredients. Whip up dressing ingredients and toss well. Refrigerate until serving.

A couple comments: I didn't like the fake crab I used and would rather have had chicken. In fact, I'd probably prefer the salad vegetarian, with thawed, frozen peas substituted for the drab canned peas. This keeps well in the fridge for a couple days and is appropriately colorful (for an off-season salad) and mayonnaise-y for that Russian feel.

Anyhow, whether you're a potato salad fan or not, I highly recommend the entertaining book. Enjoy.

Summer Bucket List

So we just got back from our last summer hurrah, travel-wise: a trip over the Pass to Eastern Washington where the in-laws live. If you've never ventured that way, I highly recommend it, not only for the farm stands and big sky and wineries, but also for the blossoming food scene. We dined on local melons and corn, sausages, and my mother-in-law's patented, world's best macaroni salad. I'd give you the recipe, but she eyeballs it every time. My guess would be cooked ditalini, chunks of your favorite cheese, chunks of ham, chopped sweet pickles, hard-boiled eggs, and mayo to bind them all.

But back on our side of the mountains we have plenty of goodies left to enjoy, including salads like the one I make (pictured above) with cherry tomatoes, green beans, onions, and dill, in a vinaigrette. Everything but the dill you can find at the Market, and sometimes even the dill! Otherwise, dried works just fine.

If you haven't tried our Market cheeses yet, let now be the time. Last week I picked up Tieton Farm & Creamery's "Phoebe" Cheese, a "classic sheep & goat milk feta" that is just delicious. Smooth, crumblable, and so tasty. I threw some of that in our usual spinach salad, and even my ten-year-old (who does not like the feta sold at Costco) ate it.

This week I plan to get some fresh mozzarella or another soft, fresh cheese to slice up in a Caprese Salad. Such a salad needs no introduction, but if you've only had the kind made with storebought cheese and tomatoes, you've actually never had a Caprese. Take it from someone who's been on Capri and groaned my way through the real thing--you need vine-ripened tomatoes and honest-to-goodness fresh cheese and basil and your very best olive oil. Sometimes we sprinkle some balsamic vinegar on, too, but it's totally not necessary if your ingredients are good. Just salt and pepper to taste.

And did you notice we're in that transitional phase? I spied my first apples and pears of the year:

Not that we're anywhere near done with peaches and nectarines and apricots and plums!

When I tasted a nectarine, I did a "nectarine dance." Seriously. No video, but it involved shutting my eyes and hopping up and down. My mouth waters just typing this...

Finally, I think I might get brave enough to give the duck eggs a try. You can find them Saturday, and I heard sales have been slow, maybe because others (like me) have never cooked or baked with them, and feel timid about it. I shouldn't--being from a Chinese background, my mom ate plenty of prepared duck eggs from the store, but the way they were prepared made my American-born nose wrinkle in distaste. Click this link, if you're curious. Duck eggs look far more appealing this way:

Happily in their shells and still chicken-y

I might start easy--go first with substituting them for chicken eggs in baked goods. Maybe in a pound cake, where you want the added richness. For more ideas, PCC had a helpful post. If anyone else gives them a go, let me know!

So we'll see you this Thursday and Saturday, and see what everyone else has on their summer bucket lists.