Author Archives: Sofia

My little rock, and the next chapter

Zimmerman021I’ve been putting off writing a post here for a long time, mostly because I didn’t know where to begin. Even right now, I sit here typing and deleting and typing and deleting and tempted to just close this up until tomorrow or six months from now. I had no idea the last time I wrote–back in March of 2014!–would be the beginning of a blogging hiatus. But so life goes. A few days earlier I had learned I was pregnant, and nine months later, our beautiful, healthy little girl arrived. Her name is Petra, which means ‘rock,’ a doctor helping out with the delivery reminded me moments after she was born. And indeed she lives up to her name and I’m excited to share stories about her. So first there was the emotional rollercoaster that is what I’ve learned is a typical Sofia pregnancy (no sickness, just plenty of mood swingy tears). Then there were all sorts of personal challenges, running after a toddler with a basketball belly, figuring out this juggling two kids thing, making hard career decisions, and just sheer exhaustion that got in the way and kept me away from my little corner of the internet. I’ve wanted to sit down to write so many times, but mostly I just “wrote” posts in my head while I folded laundry or made the bed and knew I’d eventually get back to my wordpress dashboard.

That time is now. I’ve struggled with what I should do here. Twice now my account was up for renewal and both times, I’ve thought “do I really bother and pay the $83.27 again?” or do I just get off my computer and live life and enjoy every bit of the present? And then there are the little voices on my shoulders telling me nobody reads these stories of mine. Or that I’m being self-indulgent. Or that if I have time and energy, I should just be catching up on work or cleaning or whatever else is frazzling me these days. But here’s the thing: writing makes me so happy (have you seen this article?), and happiness is a contagious thing, right? It’s not selfish to tend to my own happiness, yet I need to remind myself of that constantly. When I’m happy I’m a better wife, mother, friend, daughter, sibling, co-worker, stranger on the street, all of that. So where I might feel a bit of guilt for sitting in this messy room of mine, laundry piled up and in dire need of getting sorted and washed, and countless tasks that I should tend to (I’m talking to you,  15,451 photos in my library that need some serious editing down), writing–whether it’s a quick little bite, an intro to a recipe I’ve created, or a more thought-out essay–is my oxygen mask and it’s time to put it back on.

There was a time when I wanted this blog to be my stepping stone to getting  a book deal (too late! look at the crazy talent in this book). I also wanted to inspire whoever landed here with all the good living/nutrition/life coachey bits I was excited to learn (I haven’t gone back to read my earlier posts, but if I recall correctly, some of that stuff was a bit preachy, right? If only I knew back then how much boxed mac & cheese I’d come to cook for my picky son). My favorite posts, though, were always the ones that involved stories and/or recipes I love. So going forward, that will be my focus, and it will be writing for the sake of writing and, in turn, happiness (and yes, some posterity too…because my kids might want my recipes and stories someday, right?). And if I can touch a soul or two, even better. And with that, let’s move on to the next incarnation of Brooklyn Baba, shall we?

Let it shine…

shine on

Spotted on Pinterest and sharing just because…


The secret to a great green smoothie

ottogreensmoothieThanks to my friend Kevin downstairs at The Cook’s Companion, I now know the secret to making a perfect green smoothie–and one that Otto happily drinks, and even requests. That’s quite an achievement, given that the only greens he willingly eats are peas and avocado. So, what is it? Continue reading

Happy Family Day

Family Day 2014It seriously feels like yesterday that I wrote last year’s Family Day post…or more specifically, splicing all those photos together. And here I am another year later still thinking about what a nice newish holiday it is. I have no idea how the holiday came about, but I will speculate on the reason mid-February was the chosen celebration date. In Canada, and, oh, lucky for us pretty much everywhere east of California, this is a tough time for appreciating the here and now. It’s cold and the snowbanks are brown and your boots are salt-stained and the car smells damp because you get in with wet boots and it gets into the carpeting if you didn’t invest in those rubber mats. And there’s that post-Christmas melancholy still looming. And maybe the bills too. And you’re like “oh, when will it be spring?” And then you’re reminded that every April, like clockwork, there’s that freak snowstorm that reminds you Mother Nature is boss. Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that it can be a rough time. But then there’s this little holiday to remind you of the bright spot in life that is Family. Immediate family. The family you piece together in the new city where you settle down.  The cousins and aunts and uncles you have all over the place that happily welcome you to their homes last-minute when you just need a change of scenery (like this past weekend with Michael and Angela and their fun kiddos). So much family to go around. As one of Otto’s favorite characters, Pete the Cat, would say: “it’s all good.”


Postcard from Brighton Beach

photo 1On Saturday we sat in a little Russian/Ukrainian restaurant in Brighton Beach and filled our bellies with pelmeni, borscht, and a tart, dilly sauerkraut salad. I blurted out “this makes me so happy,” and really, it did. First we earned our lunch by walking the boardwalk from Coney Island. I’m pretty sure Adam thought I was crazy for suggesting this excursion, but he played along nicely. Otto was all into it, of course, with his tiny bit of Canadian blood.


photo 2We ended up at Varenichnaya (open daily at 3086 Brighton 2nd St., which is a side street just off the main road). It was perfect. The paneled walls and little tchotchkes reminded me of my baba’s old house, and the friendly waiter looked like one of my uncles in Ukraine. We shared two orders of pelmeni (meat dumplings). The Siberian ones had a combination of pork and veal, and then there were just the veal dumplings, which had a stronger taste. We liked the Siberian ones best. The borscht was hearty and made with meat, which we’re not so used to because I never do it that way, but it was delicious. And that sauerkraut salad was the perfect balance to it all. Sorry for the empty plates pic…we dug right in and forgot to take pictures.

photo 4Otto wouldn’t eat. He just got silly from the sweet compote and made cute faces at the kitchen staff.

photo 3Looking at this girl, I was reminded of the many years I spent Ukrainian dancing wearing a headpiece very much like that one. This blue skirt is much more flattering than what we had to wear, which was these red velvet tunic-like vests over a dress and a very thick (read: not slimming) underskirt with pom poms on it. And oh yes, bright red Wonder Woman boots.

photo 5And then we were mesmerized by the Russian coverage of the Olympics….apparently they’ve got talent shows happening at night. This guy was rather made up, although you can’t tell from my photo.

Brighton Beach is only about 45 minutes away, door to door, and every time I go I wonder why we don’t do it more often. Between the ocean, the boardwalk, the little Eastern European markets, and the people watching (I think it might be the fur coat capital of NYC), it’s a fun little escape. But it will happen, if only for the pelmeni made with dough that’s light as air. Next time I’m taking my wheelie grocery bag, though….Varenichnaya sells bags of frozen pelmeni for the bargain price of $5 (for 50!).

Navel oranges and jumping jacks and planned adventures

orange beadsAll I can say is daaaaaaaaaamn it’s been a long winter, and it’s only the first week of February! I think we’ve been spoiled the last few years with more mild winters. But it’s not so much the getting outside part that’s wearing on me. It’s actually quite energizing to breathe all that cold, crisp air. It’s the snowsuiting and the 18 buckles and the base layers and the mittens that take 4 minutes to put on and 4 seconds to promptly take off. Dressing a toddler issues aside, this winter has left me in a bit of a downer state. I don’t want to wish away time, so none of this ‘only 36 more days to Spring’ nonsense. Lemons into lemonade, my friends. Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a few articles shared on Facebook, all to do with conquering the winter doldrums. None solve the snowsuiting, but at least I can do it with a happier head, right?

7 foods to fight the winter blues. We’ve been eating navel oranges like it’s our job, and we like it.

This list of 31 things to eat in NYC during the winter puts adventure into eating (via this post by one of my favorite bloggers/friends I haven’t met). In reading this, I thought of a few to add, like a stroll on the boardwalk and going for pelmeni in Brighton Beach. That’s the plan for tomorrow morning, and I’m pretty excited about it.

Super simple ways to deal with a funk. Jump around. Listen to upbeat music. Sit up straight in your chair. By no means solutions for full-on depression, but right for the days when it feels impossible to turn the old frown upside down.

On a more serious note, this brings me to my friend Kate’s fantastic list of 7 things your depressed friend needs you to say. I think a few of these are handy even when depression isn’t the issue…just good advice for better relationships, right? My favorite is the “let’s pick a day” tip.

I think there are more but I hear the little man waking up. Happy weekend. xx.

Pretty orange beads above from etsy.

A winter salad: farro with kale, squash, and ricotta

kale squash farro saladThis salad was inspired by a few things. Number one being a kale salad I had at Craftbar last month. I know kale salads are one big culinary cliché these days, but I don’t care. I always feel amazing after I eat one, and that’s reason enough to continue riding the kale bandwagon. Just had to get that out of the way. And ps, this recipe for a sweet, salty, crunchy kale salad is what I’ve had on repeat since Thanksgiving. The other factors: warm winter salads that are as comforting as they are healthy. And last, my desire to de-clutter my pantry cupboard. Today, it’s farro (leftover from last year’s 101 salads challenge). Stay tuned to see what I do with sardines, barley, and a lot of lentils.

The salad at Craftbar was basically this, minus the farro. I had no idea how good smooth ricotta could be in a salad! It also had some delicious pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds, I think, right?) sprinkled on top, but I didn’t have any on hand for this. I put it all together and left it unrefrigerated through lunch, so the temperature was just right (something about the through of cold spaghetti squash isn’t so appealing, right?). If you’re making it at home, though, just warm up the squashes and farro a bit before assembling everything.

I think there will be more of these sorts of winter salads. It will be a mix of one grain (ha…lots of quinoa I need to use up too) tossed with a leafy green, a couple of roasted root vegetables (when I’m good and organized, I find roasting vegetables one day a week is a great for quick meals later on), and cheese, of course. Because what’s a hearty salad without cheese, right?

This isn’t really a recipe, but just some instructions on how to assemble. If you have everything ready, treat this like you’re at the salad bar at Whole Foods. And be a bit generous if you’d like, because there’s no $8.99 a pound rule that will leave you feeling robbed at the cash register!

Farro, kale, squash, and ricotta salad

First prepare your kale. Cut kale of your choice (I like Tuscan best) into thin strips and rinse. In a bowl that will fit both hands, toss the kale with some olive oil and a bit of salt. Then massage it until it gets bright and soft (just a minute will make a difference).

If you don’t have your farro cooked, these instructions are helpful.

Time to assemble. Toss about half a cup of farro with a big handful of kale. Add in some chopped roasted butternut squash and spaghetti squash. Then add your ricotta cheese. Toss everything together just before serving.

Beet and mushroom pesto

beet pestoHello from icy and snowy Toronto! Otto and I are so happy to be here to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas with my family. Tonight we’ll have our 12-course Christmas Eve dinner, and today’s Meatless Monday dish was inspired by borscht and mushroom dumplings that are part of it (and by far my favorite or all 12).

The other day I had 5 steamed beets ready to make into creamed beets but got sidetracked, and 2 portobello mushrooms that were already sliced and sauteed and didn’t quite make it to be the gravy as intended for this unamitastic vegetarian nut loaf. The next day, I got to thinking how great the flavor combination is of the just slightly tart but salty borscht is with the earthy mushroom dumplings, so why not make it into a pesto, right? For a bit more earthiness, I added in a handful of walnuts, but unlike most pestos, I left out the cheese. However, I’m sure a little parmesan wouldn’t hurt. I added a dollop of ricotta once I served it.

I did make one mistake, though…I put it on a delicate mushroom ravioli. The problem with that was that the raviolis took over, and they fell apart as I tried to toss them with the pesto (hence no photo). I froze half of the pesto for another time, and next time around, I’ll use farfalle (as discussed here: the pasta that’s dumpling-like without being a dumpling), although I’m sure any pasta that’s not filled would do.

Beet and Mushroom Pesto, makes about 2 cups

- 2 portobello mushroom caps, sliced thin and sauteed in some butter until they’ve let go of their liquid
- one large beet, steamed, peeled, and diced
- two cloves of garlic
- one small handful of walnuts
- olive oil
- balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse together two cloves of fresh garlic and a handful of walnuts (toasted, if you’d like). Add in the beets and mushrooms and pulse some more. Then, with the food processor running, add some olive oil in (about 2 tablespoons or so? more if you like it runnier, but you can always adjust later) and a few splashes of vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix with whatever you’d like. If you are mixing it into a pasta dish, save some pasta water to help loosen and distribute the pesto nicely.

Walnuts-turned-strawberry tree ornaments

walnut strawberry ornamentsWhen we were little, we used to make these strawberry ornaments from whole walnuts. I know it’s a little late to be sharing a ornament DIY, but it is the 6th Day of Christmas–or 7 days to Christmas, if you’re Ukrainian and celebrate the old-style way. So why not, right?

Here’s my first crack–no pun intended–at a crafting tutorial.

Age: We did these when I was 7 or 8. Any younger and I’d suggest you have everything pre-cut, threaded, and ready to go. There are notes about modifying supplies below. And of course, be careful with the small pieces around the little ones. Otto was out of the house when I made these and I’m glad he wasn’t around. Also, make sure you hang them further up on the tree…I speak from experience that toddlers will grab these and think they’re real strawberries, despite the cartoon-like dots.

You will need:

- whole walnuts
- something with a one-inch diameter for tracing circles (I used an empty tealight holder)
- chalk
- a piece of green felt (craft stores sell small sheets, and one of these should get you at least 20 circles)
- scissors
- red acrylic paint (if you’re a grownup) or red poster paint (if you’re doing this with kids)
- white paint (same note as above) or white out or a thick marker with gold or silver ink
- – two paint brushes: one with a  medium tip, one finer (but no need for a finer paintbrush if you opt for white out or a marker for the dots)
- needle and embroidery thread (any festive color will do)
- a glue gun

photo 2Step 1. Paint the walnuts. Let them dry with the widest side down on some newspaper, and don’t worry about paint coming off, etc…this part gets covered.

cutting-the-circlesStep 2. Cut out the leaves. While the walnuts are drying, trace out a bunch of circles and cut. There’s no need to be precise here, by the way. Then fold in half and carefully cut little points out of the fabric. Unfold and trim out more points if you need to. You could also create a stencil to make these more precise, but it makes little difference.

Step 3. Loop in the thread. Thread a needle and insert on what will be the top end of the leaf and then back out. You should have a couple of inches of thread to work with. (Sorry I didn’t take a picture, but hopefully the one up top tells you what I mean.) Tie one knot near the base of the loop (ie. near the leaf) and another at the end of the loop (I varied my loop lengths just for fun, btw). Trim any excess thread.

glue-and-pressStep 4. With hot glue, draw out a little circle on the felt. Place the wide end of the walnut on top and press down. Lift and carefully press the leaves downward. If hot glue scares you or you’re doing this with kids, I’m sure white glue will work just fine, too.

photo 2-1Step 5. Carefully dab on little white dots. I kind of liked them plain, just like in that photo up at the top, but this is the way we did them when we were little, so I’m sticking with tradition here! Let them dry with the wide side down. Note that you could use white out here–because crafting may well be the only current use for white out, right? You could also use one of those markers with gold or silver ink.

And that’s all! Have fun!

up on the tree

Chocolate mint crinkle cookies

chocolate mint crinkle cookiesGrowing up, the Christmas cookie baking was not complete without a quadruple batch of Nicholas Brownies—a brownie with a layer of creme de menthe-infused buttercream, and and then another layer of chocolate. I’ve never bothered with them myself…now in hindsight, they were a little dry and a tad fussy. But yeeesh, there’s something so festive about chocolate and mint. After Eights, anyone?

Last week as I scrambled to make a list of fun cookies for our party, I took to Pinterest in search of something that might be a cookie twist on those Nicholas Brownies. And that’s when I came across this recipe for Chocolate Mint Crinkle Cookies. Bonus points for the kiss in the middle, just like Stephanie’s Peanut Butter Blossoms! I made a couple of modifications, and today, as I made another batch with dough I froze, I put some of Stephanie’s detail-oriented techniques into practice (let the cookie hug the kiss, weighing out .7 ounce portions, the lightweight bowl for dusting the sugar). These turned out chewy and just the right amount of minty. I’m pretty sure this one’s a keeper, but like the Nicholas Brownies, will be reserved for a once-a-year engagement.

Chocolate Mint Crinkle Cookies (adapted from, makes 4 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup of butter (one stick), room temperature
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup of crushed candy canes*
48 plain Hershey kisses, chilled (but not frozen)
*these may be hard to find, but you might try chopping some candy canes with a big sharp knife. Otherwise, you can substitute some mint chocolate chips or just leave out…I doubt it makes that much of a difference.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add in the eggs and extracts and beat another minute.

Gradually add in the flour mixture to the mixing bowl. Stir in the crushed candy canes (if using). Then chill the dough for about two hours.

Heat the oven to 350. Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet (make sure it’s cool!) with parchment paper. If you have a scale, measure out a 5/8-oz. ball of dough, or one that’s about 1-inch in diameter. Feel free to keep measuring, or just eye it. Set on a plate.

photo 3Once you have a dozen, pour some powdered sugar in a lightweight bowl. Kid cereal bowls come in very handy for this purpose. One at a time, let the dough toss itself around in the sugar with the help of some rotating wrist action (as the blurry shot above illustrates). Don’t worry if it looks like too much sugar on the dough…these will show it off nicely once the cookies bake and crinkle.  Set on the cookie sheet and repeat.

photo 1Once the cookies are in the oven, set the timer for 11 minutes and start unwrapping your kisses. Once the cookies are done, press in a kiss into each cookie…make sure you’re firm so the cookie hugs the kiss, as Stephanie says.

A few minutes later, you can move them to a cooling rack.

photo 2

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