Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some Holiday Spirit

On the last day of the year, I thought I'd share a bit of holiday spirit by posting some pictures of some of my old and new Christmas tree ornaments. Back in 2008 when I was graduating from Colby, my parents and I spent a weekend in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, and on one of our strolls in town we ended up going into a Christmas store. I have always loved the Christmas season, by my family also really liked the idea of getting ornaments when we travel, so that our tree is a collection of memories, rather than just a pretty decoration. I am trying to keep that up with my tree; I love browsing through Christmas decor, and I usually buy at least one ornament every year to shake things up. This year I got a very cute wooden owl ornament from a Christmas shop in Boston near Quincy Market, and I also got a small white dove ornament and a cute angel ornament from a Christmas shop in Bruges on my travels. It's really fun to look at my tree and remember what I did and what places I visited.

So here are some of my favorite ornaments (although not all of them). I did try to limit myself and not photograph every single ornament on the tree, after all :)

My owl from Boston kind of reminds me of Harry Potter, even if it is not white, so I jumped at the chance to charm my tree into something more Hogwarts-related. Yes, I am a bit geeky at times. Next to it is the angel I got on my trip to Bruges, which you can read more about here.  

Next in line is this adorable elf that I got this year from a seasonal Christmas shop here in Sofia. It is so cute with the pointy hat, the scarf and the presents. On the right is a reindeer that I got last year from another shop in Sofia.

I actually couldn't limit myself to just one ornament this year, and I ended up getting another dwarf/elf from the same shop that I got the one above. I love how rich in detail these figurines are. Also, I got two balls with silver, gold and bronze flowers, which go really well with the while-silver-gold theme of my tree and are so very beautiful.

And, well, check out this gorgeous holiday candy....mmmm! I don't think that this is going to last until next year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

I Can Bake My Pie and Eat It Too

I have been drooling over this recipe for apple pie since I saw the photo in the article These Pies Are Anything but Humble, and since I have a few days off work around the holidays, I thought I'd finally give it a try. Well, what do you know? My first ever pie was a big success! Wo hooo!

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I totally wanted to try the recipe for Lafayette's Caramel-Apple Pie Élevée because of its incredibly tasty-looking photo. Cookbook editors take note: this is why you should have great photos in cookbooks, not just the text of the recipes...we women like to be inspired, and I find that I browse food blogs whose owners dabble in photography more and more often because they usually have food for the body and for the eyes:)

I changed the recipe a tiny bit because I am not a huge fan of caramel; I like it fine, just not well enough to have a whole pie that tastes like caramel. Instead, I substituted the caramel sauce the recipe calls for with muscovado sugar syrup (just heat up the sugar with a bit of water, and voila). Muscovado sugar has this wonderful rich molasses flavor, so I thought it would be a great way to make the apple pie recipe my own - and I wasn't wrong. The apple filling turned out great.

It seemed a bit daunting to make pie crust from scratch for the first time, though, especially since growing up here in Bulgaria I had never seen anyone I know make their own pie, and I had only ever had pie in a chain of sweet shops and coffee houses called Pchela and in the US, of course. First of all, the recipe said that I should use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, and I was like....oooookkaaay...please tell me who here owns anything like that...It is funny actually, but if you ask a Bulgarian who is not a chef or cooking enthusiast whether they have even heard of KitchenAid, he/she would most likely say "A KitchenWhatNow?" Yeah, maybe it is because kitchens here are mostly tiny (why architects keep designing apartments with teensy kitchens is beyond me) most people don't seem to have stand mixers, and I am no exception.

But never you mind, I thought, I can do this with my hand mixer. I am tough like that. Or not. I had my four cups of flour, the sugar, and the butter cubes in a big bowl, and I had the genius idea to use my hand mixer with the regular whisks to mix the ingredients into what the recipe said should be a texture that "resembles sand." So I start the mixer, and what do you know, flour is blown around in my face and nothing seems to be mixing. Of course - there isn't any liquid in there to make the mix settle, and the recipe wants me to add mere spoonfuls of water and three egg yolks only after I achieve the elusive sandy texture.

So then I decide that I can transfer everything in a bigger bowl, but that doesn't solve the problem either, and neither does putting aluminum foil over half of the bowl, so that the flour doesn't fly. Finally, I gave up and did it by hand with a whisk, feeling a bit like an idiot and consoling myself that Julia Child didn't use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment either when she started cooking. Oh well. Still, the do-it-by-hand method was actually quite successful, and I did manage to make the dough, refrigerate it, roll it, refrigerate it again and so on. I feel like quite the "sand texture" expert at this point.

The second obstacle to my day of pie making was actually the fact that, silly me, I forgot that I didn't really own a pie dish of any kind. I have several rectangular pans and some muffin cups, and since I love muffins and tiramisu is my favorite cake, those work well for me. However, I have yet to see a rectangular pie, and while I was pondering whether I would become the first woman out there to try that novel idea, I remembered that I bought a springform cake pan last year when I was making a tangerine cake. Problem solved.

This pie sure did take a while, in part because it was my first adventure into pie-land, but the final product was well worth it. It came out just as I had wanted but not dared hope: with golden crust, beautiful sugary lattice on top, and a sweet, spicy and slightly tangy apple filling that melts in your mouth. Delicious. I do love my American treats.

So check out the recipe for yourself, as well as some other pie recipes that also look great to me: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303985504579206182830054334

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Two Paintings Sold

Sooo...Long time no posts! It's the usual reason - all work and no play. The good news is that I am about to finish my MBA by the end of December, which will hopefully lighten the load for me. I miss my weekends, what can I say.

In the meantime, I have actually sold two more paintings. The cool part is that I sold one of them, Kaleidoscope Heart, here in Bulgaria. It is a very vibrant, while kind of eccentric work, and I wasn't sure if it wasn't too crazy to be purchased, but it turns out that there are people that it calls to. It is very interesting to discover how each painting affects different people and all the images and diverse reactions and associations it evokes.

The other work I sold, Peony, is on its way to its new owner in New Orleans. It is so great to know all the different places where your art is hanging :)

Here are details of the two works:

Kaleidoscope Heart


Monday, September 23, 2013

Bruges Travel Photos

Bruges is a fairy-tale little town an hour away from Brussels that, if not for the tourists, would make you feel like you are in a different century. The canals and the houses with little terraces and backyard patios facing the water create quite the serene and romantic atmosphere; in fact, I am all for having one of those terraces and drinking my morning tea and reading a book surrounded by greenery and a beautiful view of the water. I got a little obsessed with that image when my cousin Tsveti and I strolled around Bruges that I wouldn't stop talking about them, and she kept teasing me.

Bruges is quiet and quaint, and I could easily picture myself spending a couple of quality weeks there in the summer painting some watercolors. With its picturesque buildings, the place is a painter's heaven. I am only bummed that I don't really speak French or Dutch. I really like getting immersed in a place, and it's just not the same when you don't speak the language.

I spent quite the pleasant day in Bruges, and while it lacks the hustle and bustle of bigger cities, it will help you relax and unwind from a stressful work week.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Brussels Travel Photos

Brussels is one of those cities in Europe that rarely ever get mentioned as top travel destinations, overshadowed by the grand European trifecta of London, Paris and Rome, and the architectural, cultural or historical gems of Venice, Prague, Vienna, and Barcelona, for example. People say that Brussels is a city that you would only want to go to once, but I tend to disagree. I found Brussels quite charming as a weekend getaway, and I wouldn't mind going back for more to enjoy the museums, architecture, the surrounding towns, some chocolate and a croque-monsieur for breakfast, and - wait for it - even some cherry beer! Yes, you heard that right...I drank beer, even if it was of the tastes-more-like-fruit-than-beer variety :) I am sooo not a beer person, but this one was OK. I also tried some of their famous rabbit in cherry beer stew with potatoes and their beef in cherry beer, which were both delicious hearty meals for autumn and winter. Of course you can't go to Belgium and not try the waffles or the speculoos biscuits from Maison J. Dandoy (even though you could also get a regular brand at a supermarket for about a third of the price - but hey, where's the touristy fun in that!).

Back to the city of Brussels...I found the architecture really beautiful, an engaging mix of Gothic buildings, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Art Nouveau. Furthermore, I simply love exploring cities that hide gorgeous buildings and little gems in every nook and cranny and at the end of every crooked street. I think I was also lucky enough to visit Brussels when the weather was quite nice; I am sure that I would not enjoy the normally gloomier city had I been rained on all day or something.

Another thing I would like to go back to Brussels for is the jazz scene, which I didn't have time to experience on this trip, but I imagine that one would be able to get their fill of jazz bands if they stay in the city for some time. I don't know if Brussels can be called a fun city in the sense of having a raging nightlife or whether it is a city that is great to live in, but it was great for an end of summer city break.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Photo Safari Around The Iskar Hunting Ranch

Last weekend I visited a very cool place that is just outside of Sofia, and yet I, along with most people I have now talked to about it, hadn't even known it existed until now. The Iskar Hunting Ranch is precisely what the name says during the hunting season, but for those of us who don't hunt, the ranch organizes photo safaris upon request.

They drive you around acres and acres of land where herds of red deer, does, stags, and moufflons graze and run, which is not something that you can see elsewhere in Bulgaria. The animals are really beautiful, and I regretted the fact that I don't have a trusty Canon EF 28-300 f/3.5-5.6 to get some real close-ups. I am resolved to rent one the next time I go to the ranch, perhaps later this fall when the trees change color or in the spring when everything is lush and green. Right now, in late summer, the fields are mostly yellow, at times making you feel like you are in Africa, minus the African wildlife.

Check out some of the photos of the animals. The young ones are particularly cute - little bambi-like sweeties with perky tails. They were adorable. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sofia Breathes Festival Continues

I've had all week to post more photos from another Sofia Breathes Sunday, but time somehow got away with me, not to mention that now that the term is over, I am trying to catch up with friends, dance classes and random errands that I neglected before. Anyway, here I am... I meant to go to last week's festival day with some friends, but in the end they didn't feel like it. The thing is I love these kinds of events, so I went anyway and soaked up the energy and creativeness of all the arts and crafts on display.

Some crafters I already recognize from past festival days, but there were some new ones here, as well as some street performers that were quite entertaining.

This time the event was on Pirotska Str, right across from this beautiful building that has still not been restored properly. It used to be a bath house, and there is a mineral water spring close to it. In fact, quite a few music videos and photoshoots have been done here because it is such an interesting structure (just a side note).

The cool part about Sofia Breathes this year is that there are lots of things organized for kids, so if you are a parent, going to the festival would be a nice new thing to do with your kid and a way for the little ones to expend some of that endless energy they have.

These accessories below are really great; they are made of these old looking clocks and mechanisms that give them a vintage look. They had some really cool stuff for women, and even had some items for men that looked more masculine but still very unique.

Of course there was a multitude of stands featuring all kinds of unique dolls, clothes, and quilts.

These musicians were quite pleasant to listen to. I really like jazz, and listening to it on a summer evening outside seems like a really great night out to me.

The stand above had some cool displays that showed how animation is made, and it was popular among both the children and the adults.

These were two girls that gathered up quite the crowd with their silent performance. The giant soap bubbles were set out to fly above the crowd in the end, as kids chased them, and photographers went crazy photographing the performers. You can see one of them on the photo below. I took a photo of her in particular because she was shooting with a Mamiya that costs waay more than I can currently afford for a camera :).

Here is the second performer balancing a glass orb and doing all kinds of neat little tricks with it.

Until next time!

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