French Saturday…Beef Bourguignon.

Cliché as it may sound, I decided this weekend to create a French inspired dinner. Since visiting Paris for a first time I often found myself reminiscing about French dining experience, about little salad on a side with nice vinaigrette, bit of fresh baguettes with rich butter, rich meaty dishes and potatoes…

When we lived in Edinburgh, we were lucky to have an amazing bistro where you can get nice French steak and fries and some of the most traditional dishes at bistro prices…Since we left, in Lancaster there is actually not that much of a French dinner unless you make one yourself or if want a treat, then you’ll find yourself in Quite Simply French ( my husband took me there for my birthday 🙂 ).

A year ago, I watched a movie, which further sparked my interest in cooking French. It is quite famous, Julie and Julia, which tells you a story of an American woman recreating French dishes at home using a book by a fellow American, Julia Child (the first to bring those recipes to America in English). If you have not watched, but love cooking and see it as one of you rescues from modern world at times, you may really enjoy it!

After watching that movie, part of me felt that I wanted to create a cooking blog too or start experimenting with complex recipes. Not shortly after, it was my birthday and my best friends has sent me two copes of Julia Child’s French cooking. These are quite special books I must say. You won’t find in there picturesque images of dishes but you can learn a great deal about various techniques, variation of famous French dishes, secrets of cooking with meat, sauces and baking…

This weekend to decide on my next complex dish to make, me and my husband were doing some blind guessing, randomly choosing the page numbers and checking out the recipe. We stopped on Beef Bourguignon. Previously, I cooked a little bit similar variation of dinner with chicken, famous Coq au vin. Yet, beef is the whole new level. Simply because this dish will take you good 4-5 hours to make.

Autumn has fully arrived to Lancaster

I started a little later, but my advice would be to maybe start cooking a little bit earlier than noon. I got fresh beef, nice full-bodied wine, onions, carrots and bacon larders. Fresh thyme and bay leaf are also important for seasoning! The weather was rather gloomy so if you a re prepared to stay around all day and want a rich meal, this is just perfect!

The full recipe can be easily located anywhere online. The key for this to be right is to make sure that you dry the meat before cooking it, that way it’ll brown nicely and will have even a little bit of crispy skin when all ready.

To go fully French, I prepared fresh vinaigrette made of a table spoon of white wine vinegar, a half table spoon of Dijon mustard and olive oil, gently added to whisked mixture. It goes perfectly over fresh lettuce leaves, that’s all that you need!

For beef, after it’ll have its nice journey in the oven for a good 3 hours, on a side it is nice to prepare onion gently browned and reduced in stock or red wine. Plus, some mushrooms sautéed. I also made some green beans in the same way in mushrooms, gently sautéed with butter, piece of garlic, a bit of salt and pepper.

Lastly, as a side, I made Dauphinoise potatoes. I used milk and a bit of Lancashire cheese, which some people of course would replace by nice Swiss cheese but I thought why not use something local 🙂

I had a bit of a strategy with preparations, I first looked after beef and before leaving it to cook slowly, slices the potatoes (leave them in the water so they wont get dark), chopped onions and mushrooms. When about half an hour was left on the meat, given that I don’t have two ovens to cook in different temperature, I left the beef to finalise cooking on a slow heat on my stove and started with baking potatoes. I then prepared onions, mushrooms and beans. I served them in little bowls and covered each with foil once they were ready so they keep warm once the final meal is on the table.

And that is it, really 🙂 Because you virtually cook all day the effort is actually nicely spread and it doesn’t feel like you are constantly in the kitchen, you can watch a movie in between whilst the beef is cooking and have a glass of wine.

Ah lastly, I used full bodied Sicilian wine for the beef and to accompany dinner we went with Chianti! I know I should have had French to make it fully French style dinner but oh well, Chianti goes excellently with this dish!

Bon appetite!

Mexican Saturday this week…

I normally cook a lot of Italian of French inspired dishes. Given my lack of knowledge on various spices I simply do not have a good feel for it yet when it comes to Central or Eastern Asia regional food. Neither, I have a good feel for Southern American and African food even though I am always so overtaken by smells any time I passed by kiosk in a street market that serves authentic African stews…

Keeping up with my newly Saturday cooking tradition, this week I was trying to find something different. I came across interesting Ottolenghi recipe for chicken and chocolate aka Mexican style sauce. I normally avoid Ottolenghi too but always inspired by his recipes and images of his food 🙂 Till only recently I started to feel comfortable looking at a little bit more consuming recipes that may require a handful of special ingredients…so, here we go for this week.

Taco cups with beef

Since I picked a sort of Mexican theme, I also located interesting idea for a starter known as taco cups. I had a bit of mince beef in my fridge that I cooked with a bit of tomatoes and taco style spice. I then placed it with a bit of cheese into little envelopes made of pastry I got from Asian shop (traditionally designed for spring rolls) but in fact perfect for mini pockets that you can stuff with whatever you like.

During my shopping, I also have been fortunate to check out for the first time our local wine shop, Chapel Street Wine in Lancaster. Unusually, those who run the shop have quite a special love for Italian wine, as I do 🙂 They recommended to pair my chicken with a bit of Nero D’Avola which indeed was an excellent choice.

So, here we are. Chicken actually was quite easy to make. Food processor is required to make the marinade and few special ingredients like dry chipotle chillies, cinnamon and a wee bit of dark chocolate. Also a little bit of prep with roasting/grilling peppers that I put in straight away and whiles those were cooking focused on the starter. It worthy the effort though, as the taste that coats the meat and potatoes does resemble a bit of sharp dark sweet taste and nicely both sweet, savour and spicy. Husband loved it so another success and less fear now when I am checking out Ottolenghi’s recipes.

Here it is, enough to two dinners 🙂

Hope you may try this one too!

Ending therapy during the pandemic…

Today I had my last session with the therapist. I must that say that we’ve known each others for almost 5 years but it was not continuous and I have had three different time intervals and in all of these cases I came to therapy in a quite displaced state. It is hard to describe what is like, what I have learnt and how I feel today in a short post but let me just put few things down that I d like to share…

Everyone has their own reason when and why to start therapy. It can be a conscious choice for self-care or desperate call for someone to rescue us. In my case, eventually, it has become a little bit of both and, it is through that search for the rescue, I found new ways to look after myself…

This, last time, I had more than a year in therapy: leaving my old job, moving city and getting through the first wave of the pandemic – all did feel like I could not have done it all without a support. Therapy is unique as we are. As we all have different journeys in life, different things will become central in the sessions..

I was incredibly lucky to work with someone who understood where part of me might need healing and where I was maybe beating myself up a little. I understood how much we carry from our childhood and that love, in its first form given to us by our parents, can change the way we place ourselves in the world.

During the first wave of the pandemic in the UK, I literally found myself lying on the floor, not really sure what to do and how to possibly realise fully what is happening with the world. Now, as the second wave is literally by our doors, I feel prepared, with tools up my sleeve. I guess that what is really about, about finding tools, what work for you, realising that whatever it is you can work on it and that you are a human being, after all. It is a hard work I must say and part of me decided to face the challenge by getting on my own feet and try to work things out on my own now.

Having my family far away in Russia, building my life abroad with different language, culture, new friends has actually been a challenge and therapy has given me space to realise that and be kind to myself where things are not as smooth as I wish them to be. To be patient and to acknowledge the journey and process with which we go through life. My therapist has given me a chance to see how unique and special our journeys are.

Autumnal walk in Lancaster

However, what I also felt for a while that therapy defined me as a patient, I struggled to let go of the thought that my identity is defined by all the troubles and pain I went through in the past. This can be quite heavy and some can deal with this aspect a little be better than others. Crucially, realising that having therapy is not equivalent of being ill is important for the process, even though sometimes we are truly ill and we need therapist to help our healing. Seeing it as self-care is vital to build good relationships with your therapist too as you move through time together..

It was quite emotional to leave again after my longest period with my therapist. First time she found me during my masters where everything felt like falling and then slowly rebuilding itself. Next in my PhD, when I truly felt like I was losing the ground under my feet and then again, now. I know that I might be back again as life will continue throw challenges that might not always be easy to get through on my own but I am slo happy and excited to give it a go and see how far I can go with my little bag of tools and tricks and resilience that I built during this year…

P.S. I am sure someone may have already written about it this way but autumn this year felt as if I was literally dropping my own leaves, feeling lighter, letting things go… maybe we all feel like that a little, just like the trees…

Off for a week from social media…wish me luck.

On Monday night, after taking a bath and reading a book I realised that my attention is fiercely displaced and I am not feeling myself…. In my day job I often get to spend a whole day without talking to anyone (well, now many of us do that without any choice!) – however, when meetings happen, both arranged and sudden I do find it easy to stay on my feet…When left alone for a day with my thoughts and my laptop, I often find my mind drifting away in rather unhealthy directions, scrolling through staff on the internet and in worst cases, getting into the state of self-comparison to whoever I may find online…Or, reminiscing about the past by looking at old photos, pictures of countries and places I used to live in. Often nostalgia about Russia, France, Italy and so on…


I need to add here that my job is a researcher, which somehow entails competing with the whole world on ideas and new revelations while sitting in your room and trying to solve a problem that no-one knows how to solve or just about to do it soon enough that you’ll have to think of a new one again :)..this can feel exciting during one point of time and incredibly heavy during he other…


Scrolling through academic Twitter in the pandemic always leaves me overwhelmed, even though I feel like I want to know what’s going on and it has been a great source of finding out about interesting events or activities, getting inspired. However, in the middles of that, having a short space for a message often ends up in a space for rage, criticisms coming out form different voices…Maybe, lack of ability to explain, creates space for short and quick words which remind me at times of saying something without thinking and then hurting, breaking, etc… here is what Twitter is for me now.


Instagram on the other hand, again, in the pandemic, can make one feel that, on the opposite, you are not indulging enough as some are getting into cooking adventures, traveling, providing pictures of home and wardrobe parades…oh. Today I truly got lost in all of that and what I thought was a source of inspiration and staying connected has become my curse.


I must say, however, that even though WordPress is a social media platform, it never makes me feel this way and hopefully never will. Think that is simply because people take time to tell their story, to sit down to write, to put some thoughts in it, it is not just a quick spit. And I do love having a feed of people I never really met and hear from those who do not know me…


Anyways, what I am about to say is that I am going to give it a go this week ( I just turned off all my social media accounts) and I hope it ‘ll be a productive and present week, even though I may need to reconsider how I spend some time during the day to feel connected to the world. I do quite a few things daily though, yoga, meditation, reading (I should write about this soon) – but it is not enough I think….


Alright, leaving this here – to hold myself accountable. Off we go, wish me luck 🙂

Seafood Saturday…

Living in the pandemic requires one to compose a set of routines to stick to to have at least some certainty in what’s coming. Over past weeks, I thought I might try to commit to a Saturday cooking adventure every week and I will have to master a new recipe each time with increasing level of complexity where possible…

I also do enjoy creating a meal of few courses at least once to take time to enjoy both cooking it and serving it. This week my plan was to create a chicken dish. However, we passed by our local market to find a fish monger and I decided that fresh wish is that what we are going for this time! I never cooked few things, among them scallops, oysters and tuna steak. Given how expensive this fish can be, I certainly did not want to risk spoiling it…

Yet, I bought a tuna steak and thought why not! To accompany it, I have got mussels to start, crab pasta for the first dish and also prepared a Mediterranean style sauce to go with tuna.

My husband is not a big fun of fish so it was another challenge for me: to create something he might also enjoy 🙂

I cheated a little with the starter, getting prepared mussels from M and S. However, in my defence I must admit that we do not have a proper fish monger in town and I almost never ever seen fresh mussels on sale in the UK, which is great pity given how delicious they can be..

For pasta, I’ve got al dente spaghetti with cooked crab that I lightly warmed up with a bit of olive oil, white wine, lemon juice and lots of parsley…Finally, for my tuna, I cooked gently chunks of juicy tomatoes with garlic and onion, adding then plenty of parsley and basil…Then later, after cooking my tuna I further cooked the tomatoes in tuna fat, white wine and pitted olives with a little bit of capers to add a little fishy taste….

And the main beauty…

While I can sense that my husband wasn’t particularly impressed with first two dishes given their simplicity, tuna really has taken his mind away! So, for that, it was a definite success 🙂 I am not afraid of tuna steaks anymore and guess what, I may even brave myself for scallops next time…

Once again, having three dishes and taking our time to enjoy had made such a difference! I first prepared mussels and while we eat those, my pasta was cooking for a second dish. When pasta was finished, I then prepared tuna steaks. Just a note, that the tuna steak sauce was prepared first and then crab before I started on mussels. Even though you do have to leave the table to prepare dishes it doesn’t feel that rushed and you can take a little break to enjoy a glass of wine in between and look after each dish properly. By the way, we have been again reminiscing of Sicily and wine was a proof to that 🙂

Rebuilding yourself during pandemic…

Pandemic has brought quite a few changes to us, for some of us more than others. How do you get through it? When it all started, I was fairly confused, overwhelmed and had few episodes of weird panic attacks. I had a period of overeating, a period of oversleeping and I even asked my manager to take few weeks off to just realise what is it going on. Because, without a pause, I did not know how one suppose to recollect yourself…

Now, we are in the midst of the second wave. But I do find myself in a very different place. Throughout past six month I literally rebuild myself, or in more honesty, I built, ruined, built again. I have done all sorts of things, starting with going fully alcohol free, picking up yoga ,followed by bodyweight, followed by walks, cooking, reading, breathing, trying different work routines, breaking new habits, starting again, rearranging furniture in the house, rearranging thoughts in my head, working through old guilt and weight on my shoulders…and finally, treating myself to time off away when we could to sum all these up and see where I am now.

A week now since we were back from our trip to warm Sicily, I had time to sit down and look back. We went to the same location we visited last year and oh, how much has changed just in 12 month. Travelling inevitably and always make me to change perspective, whether I want it or not – I change. Accepting that change would take a few days, I would need few new habits or some shaken up but I would feel freer…

Working in pandemic is hard, especially if you have a small space and if you do really care about what you do. It can really start eating you up a little. Since we moved to Lancaster, I realised I have not made any friends yet and as we went into lockdown, my best times of the day is meeting online for work or not but just seeing others and hearing their voice…

I learnt how much I need others and how much I need to be needed by others too, to offer my help, to feel that I can do something not just for myself…

I regained weird energy through working on myself so I can give more to others in my work. Meditation and breathing has been the most impactful but is the hardest because clarity of mind, mindfulness can force one to face things that are very raw, very real and sometimes it is really scary…However, on the positive side, being in the moment offers such peace. Worrying about future or past can be an endless cycle of thoughts putting us into stress and panic but in the present, we just have what we have and we trust.

I am growing to embrace it…and hope that I won’t slip from this…

This week I celebrated 125 days of gratitude. Every single day I write down few things I am grateful for from the day and I can tell now looking back, it does make such a difference. Every day is precious to me, good or bad. I do not want to press button ‘forward’ to pass through it at different speed. Days are suddenly becoming longer, weeks are more fulfilling… Yet, its a hard work of daily routine. Morning reading, yoga, mediation, breakfast with my husband – all of these can make one to start your work day way later but all of these are very important to have a good day. Whats once was a hard work becomes a beatuful habit but its important to give it a time…

If you are starting a similar journey to find yourself or rebuilding yourself in pandemic, closed doors environment, be kind to yourself – do not rush and enjoy the process as it is in the process where we find fulfilment now in the final outcome…Trust that it takes time to build something and keep going 😉

with love,

Ana

Italian dinner for a weekend and our Sicilian nostalgia…

This weekend is our first since we came back from our holiday in Sicily. Quite privileged to be able to runaway for a week, we enjoyed it fully with walks, swims and eating (as well as cooking!). For me, one of the best way to go back to a place is to eat the food I once eat there…

On our second visit to Sicily, we treat ourselves to a cooking class with Maria and learnt how to cook few very traditional dishes like panelle, homemade pasta alla Norma, Sicilian meatballs and Genovese.. We spent quite a few hours in the kitchen before we can eat these delicious bits and I could not wait to be back and recreate some of it in our home in Lancaster.

What’s more, I came across a mouth watering recipe from Parmigiana Whisperer and was convinced that the Italian dinner it is that I am cooking this Saturday!

Trattoria Buttitta - Picture of Trattoria Buttitta, Bagheria - Tripadvisor
Hidden gem of Bagheria (Sicily) beautiful food and peo

For the start, I made simple bruschetta, because why not 🙂 And for primo, I tried to recreate a very simple dish that we had in one of Bagheria’s trattorias which was light and delicious, namely Aglio e Olio.. Simply slice some garlic, and cook gently until soft with some olive oil. Add finely chopped parsley, a bit of chilli flakes to taste and mix with al dente spaghetti and add a little bit more of olive oil if you want… I made a little pan to leave some space for our secondo 🙂

One of the best if not the best pre-made tomato sauce…

And for secondo, we recreated the meatballs (polpette) with a little bit of a twist from Maria’s recipe, adding some pine-nut and raisins to the mix…

I then proceeded with beautiful recipe from Parmigiana Whisperer, using a tomato sauce that we brought from Italy…

And here there are, beautiful meatballs… Thank you so much Parmigiana Whisperer!

We thought we’d have some leftovers for Sunday but nope, we finished it all and accompanied it with red wine that we also brought from Sicily.

Highly recommended 🙂

We certainly felt like back to our travels. Important as well for me was to slow down after I finished cooking. I often rush to prepare table, eat so fast that I barely enjoy my own creation… Taking some time to finish off in the kitchen, lay out the table, sit down and talk makes such a difference…

In this colder days, creating a meal of few dishes felt like one of the best thing to do to warm up. I also really love the idea of primo and secondo and can say that meatballs taste so much better when presented as a separate dish.

Autumn’s cold and soups…

Autumn means rain, cold, soaked jumpers and shoes…but also for me, turns out, it means more enjoyable moments in the kitchen. In summer I pause for cooking adventures, its hot and I am not interested to heat myself up in the kitchen even further! … but, autumn…

I came across Nordic Soup recipe in the magazine I recently discovered called ‘Oh’. The magazine itself is made for women but I think it can be read by anyone really who wants a minute of calm to look after yourself, mind, tummy and appreciate life a little more… The soup is beautiful to appreciate all the seasonal harvest of root vegetables, potatoes and beautiful leaks. Smell of freshly cut leaks…mmm…for more authentic experience, the recipe recommends to cook a soup outdoors on a fire.

Lancaster in autumn can be quite wet but that is not an excuse I thought to miss a lovely walk outdoors followed by cooking of a warm bowl of soup afterwards.

I am yet to cook even more today recreating some Sicilian food we discovered on our last trip…

Williamson Park
Welcoming Autumn…

Once I start to write…

Once I start to write, I just cannot stop. Lid of something has been opened and this something is due for release. Memories, stories, experiences – suddenly so much to tell…

I was standing in our kitchen looking out the window, the red sun was settling down and the autumn’ start felt like never before. It scares me this year I must say. Dark days at home – the only place where we stay to live, work, generally exist safely. The news of growing cases of virus, falling policies, falling governments…whilst each of us trying to still stand still on our feet… Like never before I feel the need to write and share. Navigating Reader section of WordPress for the first time made me feel again like a part of large world out there of people getting on with their life’s. Trying new things, travelling, cooking, reading and all sorts! What a beautiful place to be…

Cup of espresso

Keep up with your cup that keeps you up all morning. Cup of freshly made espresso is a little more than just a treat. It is memories. Memories of first Italian home I stayed in, seeing a family that shares that cup in the morning to start a day. Remembering Saturday where husband woken up earlier to make a fresh cup of espresso to then take to his wife and laugh a little in their bedroom. Me, in my pyjamas, sneaking into the kitchen to get a glass of water and see them. First cup in the morning in Venice during a conference trip. Early walk, before tourist crowds arrive, coffee at 8am together with those who are off to work. Fresh cup of espresso in the airport before taking a plane back, in the station between our journey’s legs in Sicily. One cup in a holiday home on a first morning of our stay. Or, after dinner, whilst getting gelato after burning our faces in the sun, a little cup to wake up.
Cup of espresso back home in the UK, never tasted the same as in Italy. So, we opt for cappuccino or latte because that is what works here. When I was making coffees in coffee shop, no one could drink espresso hence we did not know that our coffee was tasting not right. Milk can hide imperfection I then thought. This year, we have a cup of espresso at home. It is bitter but fresh. It is a ritual to start a day, to meet in the kitchen and make a coffee, to talk how sleep has been, what we are up to today. It is as special as the one in those endless memories, taking one back to Italian coffee bar, a moment to pause, never to take away, stand there and be with others while drinking your cup…