mylifeinverse

#OnlyOneAbby & #ThanksAbby: On the Importance of Sports and Female Athletes to Female Non-Athletes.

USWNT 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup Champions

As a child, the closest I got to doing anything athletic was listening to the Spice Girls and picking out which lines were sung by Sporty Spice. To put it simply, sports and I existed on separate wavelengths.

My father didn’t watch football games on Sunday, my mother didn’t keep track of Wimbledon, and my brother didn’t play on any school teams. Well, actually, my brother was the kid on the peewee soccer team who sat on the bench and drank water during every game–and then he completely quit going, yet kept bragging about being on the team.

In short, I didn’t grow up watching other people play sports.

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Over the years, I tried my hand (sometimes successfully, most of the time awkwardly) at a number of athletic endeavors. I bent over backwards for yoga. I tiptoed through the tulips for ballet. I kicked up my heels for tap. I bounced about for basketball. I even swizzled and glided for figure skating.

When university sent my world spinning topsy-turvy, I sought to turn impotent rage, complete confusion, and total exhaustion into athleticism. I ran, I lifted weights, and I did high intensity interval training because I saw getting in shape as the easiest part of adulthood’s trial by fire. It was certainly an athletic journey, but I wasn’t athletic.

Just as I’d never watched sports, I’ve never been counted as an athlete. I thought I was inherently separate form the sporting world. However, that all changed amid a whirlwind cross-country RV trip in 2013.

Truthfully, the 2013 Sochi Olympics were my intro to a new view on sports and athleticism. For no apparent reason, the lure of Sochi drew me in and held me tight. After only a month, I found myself knowing entirely too much about the mechanics of luge, the scoring system of slope style skiing and snowboarding, and the physical demands of a biathlon.

I was rooting for Russians and cheering on Czechs. I was pushing for the Polish and aiming for American wins. I still have no clue why I got drawn into any of it but, it was awesome. And, at the end of it all, I was more motivated than ever to see the world.

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Then came the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Olympics had left me needing another sport to focus on and learn about–I was caught in the thrall of international sports. When I told a good friend about all of this, he pulled me into the soccer fandom (Thanks, Matt!) and with each game I watched after that, it became clear that my interest was going to stick.

It didn’t matter who was playing. It didn’t matter who won the finals. I’d learned to love the game and so very many of its players. (On that note though, way to go Germany! I mean, really, hot damn!)

The World Cup showed me again where sport and a broad world vision collide.

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By the time the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada came along, I was well and truly hooked. In all honesty, the 2015 WWC couldn’t have come at a worse time because I was in the middle of moving cross-country, but I watched every game I could.

More than the Olympics and more than the World Cup, the 2015 WWC made me feel connected and involved.

The number of fouls in the Mexico vs. Columbia game had my eye twitching. The first goal by Ivory Coast in the Thailand vs. Ivory Coast game nearly had me in tears. Meghan Klingenberg’s goal-line save in the USA vs. Sweden game made me (literally) jump out of my seat.

And, it didn’t just give me a world vision, it gave me a life vision.

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In so many ways and in so many instances, these profoundly gifted women made me finally get sports. And, they also made me get me.

I loved the Olympics and the World Cup, but it was harder to relate to the pomp and circumstance of those events. It was harder to feel like I was a part of something. The 2015 WWC showed me how truly powerful women can be. It showed me how far dedication can take you. It showed me that women can flourish even when the world doesn’t try to nurture them.

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Abby Wambach (aka the G.O.A.T.) was the first female athlete that I ever regarded as a role model. I had researched her (in a typically Hermione way) during the World Cup, when I was exceedingly annoyed by the men flopping for fouls every five minutes, and she was nothing short of astounding to me.

She could make the goals that no one else could. She could get injured on the field and still stay cognizant enough to call in a substitute. She could redefine an age-old game and make it her own. She was a beast.

Actually, she still is and she always will be.

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Megan Rapinoe describes it perfectly: when I watched Abby in the 2015 WWC, I saw female fearlessness.

I didn’t see an anonymous player in an impersonal game, I saw a woman who would do whatever necessary to reach the goal that she and her teammates had committed themselves to. I saw a woman who went after what she wanted and made it happen. I saw the type of woman that I want to be, regardless of sports and athletic ability.

And, on a larger scale, I saw a team of women who were devoted to each other and the game and working together. I saw people who weren’t scared to show how they felt about what mattered to them.

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Now, after 184 international goals and years as soccer’s ultimate female player, Abby is retiring. But, she’s going out in a blaze of glory and she’s making her exit on her own terms. Plus, Abby’s exit is really just another entrance.

Even without the game, Abby is a role model. Her willingness to fight for equality in not only sports, but every other aspect of life and society, is incredibly inspiring. Her decisiveness in choosing to live the life she wants to live–with or without the fame of the game–is encouraging.

She didn’t just change the game, she changed the way it was viewed.

Or, at least she did for me.

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These days I’ve become pretty dedicated to the U.S. Women’s National Team, but I also have a growing weakness for the Seattle Reign and Portland Thorns. (Upside to being a newbie sports fan: rooting for rivals like it’s nobody’s business!)

More than anything though, I’ve come to love sports and appreciate athletes, despite not always understanding the games or knowing the players. I’ve learned that watching sports and playing sports do not have to be mutually inclusive.

And, I’ve realized that female athletes are important to female non-athletes because, regardless of the international power of mixed gender athletic competitions and men’s sports, women can uplift women in ways that nothing and no one else can.

In female athletes, a female non-athlete like me can find renewed purpose, and maybe even a bit of inspiration to try that community soccer league I’ve been eyeing.

Abby could not have won the 2015 WWC without her teammates and her teammates could not have won without her. If Abby Wambach and the USWNT aren’t #squadgoals, I don’t know what is.

Sometimes women just need other women to show them how to be fearless.  

 

#DearMe: A Letter to My Teenage Self.

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Dear (Slightly Younger) Mikayla,

When I first saw the idea of writing a letter to you, I found it a bit weird. I mean, I know you and you’re too hard-headed to listen to anyone, even me. But, ultimately, there are numerous things I would love to be able to tell you, wishes and warnings alike.

So, I’m writing.

From my perspective now, I know the truth of the matter is you spend a lot of time wondering what you’re doing wrong. You worry that you’re living just this side of disaster. You stay awake too many nights trying to envision something other than a question-mark future…

Stop. Please.

Everything you’re fretting over now—the friends, the classes, the feelings, the exams, the family members, the applications, the politics—none of it is going to break you. You’re going to be alright, I promise.

Okay, I’ll admit: over the course of the next few years, you’ll truly struggle with who you are and who you want to be. There’s no use worrying though because we still haven’t figured it out in the year 2015 and that’s perfectly okay. Trust me when I say that no one has their whole life figured out at 13, 16, or 21. All that matters is that you’re continuously working on it.

Remember: life isn’t a tightrope walk over a spike-bottomed canyon.

Learn to treat every day like a stroll on the beach–the tides move in and out, but you stay standing. Just enjoy the ebb and flow.

High school will pass over you like a breeze, but sometimes it will feel like hurricane-force winds and there’s really no helping that. That’s what high school is all about–learning how much pain, how much uncertainty, how much knowledge you can stand. Chickadee, high school is about survival and endurance—even when so-and-so stops calling you a friend and what’s-his-name tells you that you’re hard to love, hold tight.

You’re a military brat, you’re made for a fight.

When it comes time for university, go with your gut.  Don’t waste time in places you know you don’t belong and don’t even want to be. Be logical and be honest. The standard university experience isn’t so idyllic and it isn’t for you. Forge your own path and you’ll end up steps ahead. Freshman year, while playing an obligatory Welcome Week name game, you’ll dub yourself Magical Mikayla–make it your goal to be that person.

After university commencement, you’ll take two semesters off. Some days, you are going to swear that it’s a waste of time, that you’re wasting time, but I swear that this opportunity to be a wanderer is precisely what you need right now. Over the course of 8 months, you’ll visit 20 different states and this time, like no other time before, travel will be all you have to focus on, all you live for.

Revel in your experiences. Get caught up in simple pleasures.

In the coming days, when you’re feeling just south of sanity, you’ll remember the feel of west coast rocks and east coast sand, the sound of northwestern rain and southeastern thunderstorms, and the smell of strong coffee and harbor winds mixed together. The places you’ve been before were wonderful, but these are the places you’ll cling to and remember best. These places will resonate.

And, just like that, you’ve caught up to me.

The future is still a masked mark in the hazy distance, as it will always be, but there is an abundance of hope, desire, and ambition. There is an ever-growing collection of wonderful days and a group of delightful people who genuinely care.

There is possibility.

My ultimate wish for you is simply that, on your way from where you are in your time to where I am now in mine, you relish the journey.

With lots of love (…and feeling incredibly strange about signing this),

(Slighty older) Mikayla

Celebrating the 20-Somethings.

In the movie 13 Going On 30 (2004), a young girl named Jenna laments the woes of being a teenager and longs for the day when she’ll be “thirty, flirty, and thriving.” Of course, in typical movie magic style, Jenna is zapped to the future via glittery wishing dust and a birthday party gone bad, skipping right past her late teens and 20s, and Jenna wakes up as a fabulous and well-established 30-year-old with a career in fashion journalism.

Apparently even 13-year-old movie characters aren’t brave enough to wish for early entry into the maze/minefield that is your 20s…

From what I’ve experienced so far, your 20s are an age of mystery, adventure, and confusion. You’re caught between not knowing what you’re doing and needing to keep doing something. You have a drinking license, freshly printed diploma, and possibility, and sometimes that’s all. In the end, being in your 20s means constantly being on the verge of everything, but with a blindfold on–you have no clue where your life is headed but you cannot stop heading there.

In our 20s, we’re in perpetual motion.

It’s no surprise then that we spend (or waste) a lot of time thinking on, worrying about, getting sick over our life journey. We 20-somethings cannot seem to comprehend the idea of just letting life happen or going with the flow until something clicks and the light bulb pops on. As a result, when we finished our degrees and were thrust out of complete academia, we were filled with questions and completely terrified of making choices:

What do we want to do?

Who do we want to be?

Where do we want to go?

Why is the future so hard to see?

Ugh…

If the Doctor can be confused, I reserve the right to be confused too.

We also spend (or waste) a lot of time mourning, bemoaning, raging about the fact that we cannot answer every question and make every choice. We see missed opportunities and feel like life itself now has fewer opportunities. We see others taking different paths and we assume that means we’ve somehow gotten lost in the woods. We see years laid out before us like paving stones and we don’t know where those years will lead us. In short, we fret.

Yet, at the same time that we’re walking about in darkened rooms and worrying about what comes next, being 20-something means experiencing dozens of wonderful people, places, and events.

We’re at the point where we’re entering relationships that just might last beyond coffee and movie dates. We’re learning that our knowledge and skills are valuable to someone somewhere. We’re taking the time to prove to ourselves that the world isn’t flat by leaving our hometowns and zipping around the globe. We’re meeting new people because we want to, not just because they’re in our neighborhood, class, or club.

We’re branching out and carving our own niches in the world, which is pretty freaking amazing.

And, you know what? We’re pretty freaking amazing.

It’s mystery, adventure, and confusion.

We’re mysterious, adventurous, and confused.

We may not know what we’re doing quite yet, but we’re doing something. The path may be untrodden, but we have the chance to forge it ourselves. Life may be a giant jumble of excitement and uncertainty, but we’re trying to figure it out. We may wish for the TARDIS and a smooth jump forward or back, but our 20s are quite fantastic if we just take the time to recognize them for what they are–a decade of freedom and discovery, growth and change (the good kind).

It’s perfectly acceptable not to have our lives completely put together in our 20s. Rome wasn’t built in a day, Harry Potter didn’t defeat Voldemort with one spell, and Frodo couldn’t have made it to Mordor alone–we’ll get there eventually and there is no need to feel down about our youth along the way.

Clichés exist because some ideas are true and common, which is why I don’t feel silly for saying that we would be crazy to waste our 20s worrying and obsessing about what comes next. Life happens regardless of what you decide or do, and we might as well have some fun along the way. In 13 Going On 30 (2004) Jenna skipped over being a 20-something but, in the end, it was that skip, that lost time, those neglected experiences that made Jenna wish she could go back to being a 13-year-old and give growing up another go.

The Doctor isn’t going to schlep us back to 20 when we turn 30, Hermione Granger doesn’t have a time-turner to volunteer, and Doc Brown and Marty McFly aren’t on their way with a tricked out DeLorean time machine.

It’s up to all of us 20-somethings to make the most of our 20s and not turn our back on the experience out of fear for the future. Your 20s are a crazy era but, someday we will look back and say that “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” we were awesome, we did amazing things, and we don’t regret even a single minute of that adventure. Of course, then we’ll brag about our current and future awesome-ness like the millennials we are and get down with our bad selves to infinity and beyond, though that’s another post entirely…

Be your age, live your life, and know that, even if better days are ahead, these days are pretty great too.

 

17 Random Questions Tag.

YouTube is such a lovely way to fill time; but, I also really enjoy making silly videos myself. (Maybe that’s a holdover from my high school yearbook staff days…) So, I’m trying to get back into making videos and not just being part of the audience. You can check out my most recent video below and I would love to hear from those of you that are YouTubers! If you’d like to do the same tag that I did, you can find the tag questions just below the video.

Cheers, dearies!

Questions:

  1. How did you get your youtube user name?
  2. If you could change your name to anything, what would it be and why?
  3. If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, what would it be and why?
  4. How old were you when you first learned to blow a bubblegum bubble?
  5. What did you want to be when you were little?
  6. What do you order at Starbucks?
  7. What’s the hardest you ever laughed?
  8. If you could play any musical instrument, which would it be and why?
  9. What’s your favorite thing to do when your upset?
  10. What’s your favorite movie?
  11. What’s one food you can not live without?
  12. What’s your favorite dessert?
  13. Favorite pizza topping?
  14. Would you rather have the superpower to read minds, or the superpower to be invisible?
  15. What did you do for your last birthday?
  16. If you had one personal “selfish” wish, what would it be and why?
  17. What does OMGHHKP mean to you?

 

Goodbye, Year of Exploration. Hello, Year of Ambition.

For the last three years, I’ve rejected the idea of explicit resolutions and instead made a habit of declaring a single word to embody each new year. There was the year of discovery (2012), the year of dedication (2013), and even the year of exploration (2014). Each year lived up to its name, albeit sometimes in surprising ways that pushed me to my limits and then a bit beyond.

In 2012, I discovered who I was away from my friends, outside of my hometown, and apart from everything that I’d always thought was certain, as well as who I was when I came back. In 2013, I dedicated myself to whatever felt important, including finishing my bachelors degree in English and refining my art. And, in 2014, I explored whatever struck my fancy, even as that led me to travel from coast to coast for months on end and begin a master’s degree in criminal justice. No two years were the same, yet no year was more or less enthralling than any other.

All of that being said, 2014 was pretty intriguing. I spent three months in California, Oregon, and Washington. Then I spent three months in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. That’s not to mention all the states and shores I visited on the way to and from those places. I turned 21 and wasted my newest privilege by drinking a pitifully small volume of alcohol (say “no” to big kablue-nas). I began graduate school and discovered that sometimes the student teaches the professor. I baked foods and treats I couldn’t even pronounce and used ingredients I’d never heard of before.

In short, I explored.

Now it’s time to put all of that behind me, to close the door on 2014’s wild exploration, and step into the year 2015, which already seems daunting and intoxicating.

Over the next 365 days, I’ll be traveling back to South Carolina, the state I know only through my family tree.  I’ll be completing my Masters of Criminal Justice degree, complete with nerve-wracking comprehensive exams. I’ll be leaving my friends and the only place I have ever truly regarded as “home.” I’ll be taking control of my health and defying my genetics. I’ll be taking important steps in my personal and professional lives, striving to achieve success through desire and determination.

All in all, 2015 can and will be nothing less than wild and engrossing, fast-paced and sublime. Thus, in the same vein of thought, I’ve decided to call 2015 the year of ambition. I chose the word ambition to embody or headline this year mostly because I have a strong desire to achieve multiple things this year. I have an end-game in mind and nothing will stop me from reaching it. In addition, I’ve come to realize that being ambitious is just in my nature and that is something to use to my advantage, to accept as a benefit. So, this year will be a journey in accepting ambition as a facet of my nature.

Keeping with tradition, as I jumpstart the New Year, I won’t write down any particular resolutions because, well, it just feels awful when a perfectly composed resolution isn’t fulfilled precisely as it was written. I prefer to stick with matters of certainty, like the inevitable graduation and move, and variety, like the generality of being ambitious in all my endeavors. Along the way, I simply hope that at least 15 marvelous things will happen.

Here’s to a year of purpose and cheers to everyone reading this. I hope that you find precisely what you are looking for in the exciting days ahead. Happy New Year!

1 Month to Slay 50K: NaNoWriMo 2014.

If you have a moment, I would like to tell you my favorite fairy tale.

It’s short and sweet, so I hope you’ll lend me your ear.

Once upon a time, in the mighty land of the Internet, knights gathered to face their greatest challenge yet: conquering their own novels.

Over the course of 30 days the lionhearted knights battled taxing word counts, carnivorous characters, daunting plot-holes, riotous plot bunnies, and frustrating time constraints. There were many days that the knights lost hope of ever completing their task. But, the battles were hard fought and the challenges hard won and, in the end, the knights were exalted for word counts beyond measure and puns extraordinaire. Even with the numerous challenges of editing and publishing still ahead of them, the knights dispersed with hearts lightened by the thrill of achievement and minds enthused by the discovery of story.

The end.

Did you like that? Did it make you want to be a knight too? Are you wishing the challenge was real?

If so, you’re in luck! In truth, the fairy tale is not a fairy tale at all. Starting tomorrow, November 1, 2014, more than 300,000 writer-knights will take up the challenge of writing 50,000 words during the 30 days of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It feels absolutely impossible at first, but it’s possible if you truly throw yourself into the challenge like a knight vying to uphold the chivalric code. In other words, get hella invested in your novel.

However, to add to the nerve-wracking, but totally worth it, nature of the challenge, writers are challenged to only write. Let me repeat: writers are only allowed to write. No editing is allowed! That means no touch-ups or gear-shifting, no re-reading or losing faith in the plot, and no scrapping “bad” scenes. The key is to just focus on the word count and to deal with what comes out during the novel cooling off period, otherwise known as winter and December.

This is my seventh year attempting NaNoWriMo and (hopefully) my first year to reach (then exceed) 50K. We’re in the final hours before NaNoWriMo starts in the United States and I cannot possibly explain how excited I am. I feel like it’s Christmas night and I can’t sleep for the delight of tomorrow, yet I also have those lovely-and-terrible first-day-of-school type nerves. This month will surely be an adventure in wonderland.

If my nonfiction fairy tale interested you at all, please consider heading over to the NaNoWriMo website to make the commitment and give the challenge a try. Your fellow knights will welcome you with open arms and we’ll all take one month to slay 50K together. It might seem daunting at first but, there are millions, billions, trillions of words instead each person, and NaNoWriMo is only asking you to spill 50K of them.

I am personally challenging all of my writer friends to take on the task of NaNoWriMo. I can assure each and every one of you that you won’t regret making the attempt. Even if you get lost in writing wonderland and don’t make it to 50K, you will have created something from nothing and you can be immensely proud.

Come on, dearies and darlings, knights from all around: I dare you to write.

P.S. My username on the NaNoWriMo site is mylifeinverse and I would love some new writing buddies. :)

 

Russian Food Adventures: Blini, Pirozhki, and Napoleon Cake.

It’s probably not the best time to admit this because of the Russia hate fest happening on capital hill, but, I can’t help it–I have a soft spot for Russia. The food, the music, the history, and even the politics are absolutely fascinating to me. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved and am proud of my American upbringing, but I also have a great appreciation for the world’s largest country.

Perhaps it’s because Russia was the elephant in the room of every one of my history classes growing up. In high school and university I remember my middle-aged, Cold War era teachers and professors blatantly ignoring the lands between Finland and the Bering Sea. Russia received only an honorable mention in the final weeks of each class when the World War II Allies were briefly discussed and then the events following 1945 ceased to exist.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t know my precise ethnic heritage and I could be “from” just about anywhere. My family isn’t particularly close-knit. Our family records extend back only as far as those family members which are currently alive, and even those records are questionable at best. As a military child, I’m from every part of the states, and maybe that makes it easier to believe that I’m from every part of the rest of the world too.

Perhaps it’s because there’s something fascinating about a black sheep, or a white cow (белая ворона), most especially when you’re talking about some supreme outcast on a global scale. When the western world and its media demonize the largest nation in the world, who isn’t a little curious? When a war can be fought and supposedly won without weapons or casualties, who doesn’t want to know a little bit more about what’s going on?

Regardless of why I’m generally interested in Russia, among other foreign nations, I’ve recently taken a particular interest in Russian and other Slavic foods.

The diversity of food is intriguing in and of itself. A vast collection of ingredients and procedures can result in infinite creations that can then feed innumerable people. Food identifies culture and yet it can cross cultural lines. Food speaks when people cannot find the words. Food bonds when other aspects of life would make bonding impossible. In celebration of food diversity and culture, here are a few of my favorite edible creations from eastern Europe.

Enjoy and have fun cooking!

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Blini (блины)

The first thought that many people will have when they see pictures of blini is “those are crêpes,” but, my darling bakers, they are most certainly different from crêpes. While both blini and crêpes might be called thin pancakes, blini are more sponge-like with small air bubbles throughout while crêpes are more bread-like with a fine and solid texture. Personally, after this experience, I wholly prefer blini.

The greatest commonalities between blini and crêpes are that both are generally served with a filling or spread, and both can be made in sweet or savory varieties. I tackled a (supposedly) more traditional, sweet variety because my family truly loves sugar, but plenty of savory recipes are available online for blini and blini fillings.

Perhaps it’s just a personal pet peeve, but I don’t like picking one recipe and calling it done. Thus, I ended up reading and combining the recipes from Elina of Russian Bites, Viktoria of Fun Russian: Learn Russian the Fun Way, and Florian Pinel of Food Perestroika: Adventures in Eastern Bloc Cuisine, in order to produce these blini.

Ingredients

2 eggs
2 cups milk
1 tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour (twice sifted)
2 tbsp coconut oil + more to rub pan

Directions

1. Beat eggs lightly in mixing bowl.

2. Stir milk, sugar, and salt into beaten eggs.

3. Slowly whisk sifted flour into the mixture.

4. Whisk coconut oil into the mixture and let rest for a minimum of 15 minutes.

5. Lightly oil a non-stick skillet and bring to medium high heat.

6. Reduce skillet to medium heat.

7. Lift skillet from heating element and pour between 1/4 and 1/3 cup of batter into the skillet at 12 o’clock. Slowly tilt the skillet in a circular motion, spreading the batter thinly.

8. Replace skillet onto the heating element.

9. Watch for browning at the edges of the blin (approximately 2 minutes after replacing the skillet on the heating element). When browning is noted, gently pry up the edge with a spatula. If the other side is golden brown, flip the blin.

10. Checking with a spatula for browning, cook the blin until the other side is golden brown as well. Slide cooked blin onto plate.

11. Lightly re-oil the skillet and repeat steps 7 through 11.

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Pirozhki (Пирожки)

Pirozhki are essentially hand pies that are filled with potatoes, various meats, onions, mushrooms, cabbage, stewed fruits, jam, quark, oatmeal, cottage cheese, or other such substances. They’re the type of food that you could pick up at a local market or cafe and eat on the go, or cook one night and eat for days to come (trust me, this recipe makes more than enough for leftovers).

I will forewarn that these take some time to make and put together–just short of 2 hours–if you’re not a master of preparing three items at once. Since I prepared two different fillings to add a little bit of variety to the meal, the three components for this recipe were dough, beef filling, and potato filling.

These pirozhki were made by combining recipes from Ann of Sumptuous Spoonfuls, JoAnn Cianciulli of Leite’s Culinaria, and Natasha of Natasha’s Kitchen. I tried not to stray too far from their recipes because I wanted to keep this traditional food traditional, but I did add my own flare with chili powder and such, so I would encourage my readers to do the same. Have fun with it and don’t stress about the details!

Ingredients

Dough:

3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat white flour
3 eggs (beaten)
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
3 tsp Red Star Quick-Rise (or other brand) yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp coconut oil

Beef Filling:

2 eggs
1.2 lb ground beef (lean; 90/10 or 93/7)
1/2 onion (large; peeled and chopped)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dill weed
1 tsp chili powder
Purified water

Potato Filling:

3 to 4 potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion (large; peeled and chopped)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dill
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp butter
Purified water

Topping:

8 oz sour cream
(Brown gravy is also recommended; however, recipes vary so much that I’ll leave the directions for that up to my readers.)

Directions

1. Place dough ingredients into bread machine–wet ingredients first, dry ingredients second, and yeast third–and set machine to run on the dough setting.

2. Hard boil the eggs for the beef filling:

  • A. Place two eggs in a pot and cover completely with purified water.
  • B. Place pot on heating element and set heat to medium high to bring to a boil.
  • C. When water begins to boil, remove pot from heat, cover with lid, and set timer for 10 minutes.
  • D. After 10 minutes, drain water and set eggs aside to cool.

3. Boil potatoes for the potato filling:

  • A. Place 3 to 4 potatoes in a large pot and cover completely with purified water.
  • B. Cover with lid and place pot on heating element, then set heat to medium high to bring to a boil.
  • C. When water begins to boil, reduce heat to low or low medium, and set timer for 10 minutes.
  • D. Check potatoes with a fork at 10 minute increments, piercing with fork to test firmness.
  • E. When fork pierces potato easily, remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool.

4. Beef filling:

  • A. Heat skillet or sauce pan over medium to medium high heat.
  • B. Cook ground beef and onions until meat is grey to brown and onions are translucent.
  • C. Add garlic, salt, pepper, dill weed, and chili powder to meat. Heat for 1 minute then remove from heat.
  • D. Drain any excess liquid or grease from meat mixture and set aside momentarily.
  • E. Remove shell from hardboiled eggs and chop egg small pieces.
  • F. Stir egg into meat mixture. Set aside to cool.

5. Potato filling:

  • A. Peel and mash boiled potatoes in a mixing bowl with a potato masher or hand mixer. Set aside to cool.
  • B. Heat olive oil in sauce pan over medium heat.
  • C. Cook onions slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • D. When onions have become light brown, add a splash of water, stir, and continue cooking.
  • E. When onions have become medium brown, add garlic powder and dill, heat for 1 minute then remove from heat.
  • F. Stir caramelized onions, salt, pepper, red pepper, water, and butter into potatoes, combining thoroughly. Set aside to cool.

6. Filling the dough:

  • A. Remove dough from bread maker at the end of the dough cycle.
  • B. Separate dough into portions that are approximately the size of golf or cue balls.
  • C. Use a rolling-pin to flatten each ball into circles with approximately a 4 to 5 inch diameter.
  • D. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of either beef or potato filling onto each circle of dough. The fillings can also be combined in a single pirozhok (1 tablespoon of each) for an even more filling hand pie.
  • E. Fill a shallow bowl with water. Dip fingertips in water, trace wet fingers along the edge of the dough, and pinch dough together, making a half-moon shape that encloses the filling.
  • F. Dampen the outside edges of the half-moon shape and place filled dough on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper.
  • G. When all of the dough circles have been filled, take a fork and press the edge of the dough to ensure filling does not leak.
  • H. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

7.  Bake at 350F for 15 to 30 minutes or until the pirozhki are puffy and golden brown. Cool and serve with sour cream or brown gravy.

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Napoleon Cake (наполеон торт)

If you’ve taken a single course in European history then you know without a doubt that the most famous Napoleon was not Russian, and that fact has probably led you to wonder why this recipe is even included in this post. The truth is that this dessert is of French origin and is formally known as Mille-feuille and colloquially as Napoleon. The name Napoleon was actually derived from the French adjective for the Italian city Naples and only simple word associated led it to be connected with political figures by the name of Napoleon.

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Records and mentions of Napoleon Cake in Russia have been found dating back to the early 19th century; however, the dessert seems to have become truly popular in the celebrations that followed Russia’s victory over Napoleon Bonaparte and his army in the Patriotic War of 1812. The Russian variation of the dessert, which involves a greater number of layers of pastry and frosting made from sweetened condensed milk instead of custard, became standard in the USSR and remains favored in Russia and other post-Soviet nations.

I combined recipes from Natasha of Natasha’s KitchenLyuba of Will Cook for Smiles, and Katrina of Around the World in 80 Markets, and More, to produce this particular Napoleon Cake. Perhaps the most obvious change I made from these recipes was to use more frosting and include frosting on the topmost layer. This meant abandoning the traditional crumbled pastry topping, but it did not affect taste or appeal. This was purely a preferential change. As such, feel free to go old-school and do the crumble or follow my example and add the extra frosting.

Ingredients

1.1 lbs Pepperidge Farm (or other) ready-to-bake puff pastry sheets (2 sheets per package)
3/4 cup stick butter (nearly room temperature)
11 oz Eagle Brand (or other) sweetened condensed milk
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 splash heavy cream
1 tsp sugar

Directions

1. Defrost ready-to-bake puff pastry according to packaging.

2. Cut each puff pastry sheet into fourths, creating eight separate pieces.

3. Using rolling-pin, roll each piece until it is almost double in size and thin.

4. Cover large cookie sheets with parchment paper and place rolled pieces onto the paper.

5. Use a fork to poke at least five sets of holes into each piece.

6. Bake at 400F for 8 to 12 minutes, watching carefully for excessive browning. Baking times may vary based on specific oven used.

7. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely.

8. While pastry cools, begin work on the frosting: cream butter in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer.

9. Mix condensed milk, vanilla, heavy cream, and sugar into the creamed butter.

10. When the pastry is cooled, spread frosting on 6 of the pastries. Reserve two portions of frosting in bowl (approximately 4 tbsp).

11. Assemble the pastry cake by stacking the frosted pastries on top of one another in a lidded container.

12. Place an unfrosted pastry on top of the last frosted pastry.

13. Place a paper towel on top of the stack. Slowly, evenly, and gently press down the stack.

14. Dispose of the paper towel and frost the top of the stack.

15. Crumble the final pastry over top of the frosted stack.

16. (Optional) Place the last of the frosting in a pastry bag and squeeze over top of the crumbled pastry.

17. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.

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BONUS: Banana Bread

By all accounts, banana bread is not a traditional Russian recipe or even a Slavic recipe. However, I recently discovered what my family considers the perfect banana bread by combining recipes from Vadim of Natasha’s Kitchen and Sylwia of Sweet Home Polska. Vadim and Sylwia happen to be Russian and Polish, respectively, so for love of the resulting banana bread I’ve chosen to include my recipe in this Russia-centric post.

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Ingredients

4 ripe bananas
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 + 1/2 cups King Arthur bread flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp orange extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
coconut oil (for oiling pan)

Directions

1. Mash bananas with potato masher on large plate or in mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Cream butter and sugar with hand mixer in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add eggs to mixture and mix with hand mixer.

4. Slowly add mashed bananas to mixture and combine well, eliminating any large lumps.

5. Slowly add flour into mixture and combine well.

6. Mix in baking soda, salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and orange extract.

7. Use flexible frosting spatula to stir in chopped walnuts.

8. Pour batter into oiled loaf pan, scraping sides of bowl with spatula.

9. Bake at 350F for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the top center of the loaf comes out clean.

10. Remove from pan immediately and turn over onto cooling rack.

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I hope that you find these recipes useful and enjoy your foreign food experience. I would love to see what you create or hear how these recipes may have inspired you. If you decide to give these foods a chance, and you have a free moment, please send me a picture or message through twitter (@mylifeinverse), instagram (mylifeinverse), or email (mylifeinverse@live.com). Best of luck baking!