Wednesday, December 16, 2015

hello from the other side

Hello, it's me, Kseniya.

The last time I blogged was in January of this year as a last ditch effort to revive the blog and carry it into the new year. The attempt failed and I found myself in my biggest identity crisis to date.

Dozens of word charts, flow charts, venn diagrams, texts to confidants, and brain storming sessions later, Birch Collective was born.

I'm excited to have this new space to share my life with you.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

instaweekend #1 | the first weekend of 2015

Twenty fourteen was a whirlwind year and I can't believe that it's already behind us! I also can't believe that we're a days into the new year. But enough about my disbelief and on to the first weekend of 2015!

Friday was take-the-tree-down-excavate-all-rooms-drawers-and-boxes-PURGE-AND-REARRANGE-EVERYTHING-IN-SIGHT-and-don't-stop-till-you-drop kind of day.

There's more to be done, however, I'm already feeling less cluttered with a fresh perspective and focus for what the new year will bring.

Theo volunteered himself into the Goodwill pile, but I told him no banana, he's not going anywhere!

To reward ourselves of a job well done, and because we were too tired to cook, we ventured to Lang Van for some of the best pho in town.

Meanwhile, Theo passed early because he had such a long day helping us clean and move furniture:

Saturday we woke up at 5:30am to pick up my mom from the airport. She has been in California since Thanksgiving. My grandmother's health took a nose dive the day before Thanksgiving and we didn't think she was going to make it. I believe that love, in combination with modern day technology, cures all. She's doing a million times better. The latest scare finally got the family to have the uncomfortable conversation about what to do if things did not improve. It's not a matter of "if" but "when" and dancing around the topic doesn't help anyone.

We spent the morning in Gastonia with my mom, catching up, and installing the Roku stick that we got her for Christmakkah. 

The rest of the day was dedicated to prepping a mini feast for the Panthers game. We smoked a butt, sausage, and farro and made a handful of delicious sides. Harris Teeter provided the cherry pie. We feasted with friends, watched the Panthers smoke the Cardinals right out of Charlotte, and played Rummy (because we're 65 year old retirees).

Theo reporting for quality control duty.


Smoked farro on top of a bed of blanched kale and roasted beets. 
Dressed with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil.


Roasted sweet potatoes topped with roasted marshmallows. 

Today we feasted on a delicious lunch at Leroy Fox and celebrated a friend who is moving on to start a new chapter of her life in Boston. We've only known each other for a short period of time, however, it doesn't take long to realized that she's an amazing person. I've learned so much from her and there will definitely be a void in this town when she moves next week.

Chicken & Sausage Biscuits
with a side salad.

The Martin sandwich was not enough to get Katie to stay in Charlotte. 
Katie, Boston is so lucky to have you and can't wait to see what's next in store for you.

And that, my friends, is my weekend in review. It feels good to dust off this blog every once in a while and I hope to do it more in 2015. No promises, though. In the mean time you can catch me on my (new) tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and the Book-Face.

How was your weekend?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Get Fit | Hot Yoga at Arrichion

My day started out in the least zen way possible. I barely slept and woke up much earlier than usual. I also joined the thousands of Charlotteans in rush hour traffic, something I haven't done in a while because I work from home.

People were extra rude, not using turning signals, and I avoided getting into an accident three times. Three. One lady decided to get out of the exit lane at the last minute and ran me out of a two lane exit (surprise, she didn't use a turning signal or looked over to see if anyone was in her way) and back onto the interstate, making me miss my exit. By this point I was cursing and yelling and my blood pressure was through the roof.

view of Uptown from Arrichion

After three years and a six mile detour, I made it to Arrichion.

Why three years? Well, you see, over the past three years I have purchased three Groupon deals and a new student package to Arrichion. The first deal expired because I had an emergency life-saving surgery and couldn't do any physical activity for a while. The second expired because I had a De Quervain syndrome flare up in my right arm and couldn't do anything for a while. The third expired because I was too busy and too tired to even think about yoga (lame, I know). This time, I had no excuses and so the fourth time was the charm.

I've done hot yoga a couple of times seven years ago. I didn't know what I was doing then and still don't know what I'm doing now but I'm open to learn.

Laying down before class in a heated room after my stressful commute was just what the doctor ordered. I felt myself melt into my mat. Literally.

Topaz is a beginners class that focuses on balance, strength, and flexibility. A perfect place to start for someone who only knows the child pose. I liked that there was balance on how much time we spent standing, sitting, planking, and laying on the mat. This was the most focused and balanced I've ever felt.

I can see how yoga becomes a healthy "addiction" because it only took one class for me to get hooked.

After class, everyone looked dewy and refreshed. I was soaked in sweat and my face looked like a baboon's you-know-what. My hair was so wet that my part got confused.

The thing is, I can't wait to go back! Except next time I will be more prepared and bring two towels, one for the mat and one for my face.

Do you yoga? What's your favorite studio in Charlotte?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mixology Class at Tupelo Honey Cafe with Tyler Alford

Tupelo Honey Cafe is one of my favorite spots in town. Each visits begins with my love for their biscuits (with blueberry jam and honey) and continues through the rest of the menu.

Except this visit to THC was unlike any other. I was there to learn how to make the new seasonal cocktails dreamed up by Tyler Alford, Tupelo's corporate beverage manager, and to stump him in a Chopped style challenge.


We were asked to bring one each of the following: a fruit, a vegetable, a spice, an herb, and a cooked piece of meat. I brought a whole bag of tricks but you'll have to read on to see what I challenged Tyler with...

Ramos Gin Fizz

A gin fizz is not something I regularly order. There are few restaurants that have it on their menu and I tend to forget about their existence. Not anymore! Tyler went through the extensive history of the gin fizz (you can read about it on THC's blog) and then proceeded to make a giant one for the crowd. One of the rules to making the Ramos Gin Fizz is that you have to shake it for at least three minutes. I was the lucky one who got to shake the GIANT shaker that held enough gin fizz for all of us. Talk about a work out!

We tasted the Ramos Gin Fizz and then added a few drops of The Brothers Orange Flower Water. It transformed it to something even more delicious.

Brandy Apple Boom

Did you know that North Carolina is the 7th largest growers of apples? Now you do!

I do not recall everything that went into this cocktail but the most important part is that it was delicious.

We provided a handful of names for the drink and I think it should be The Hendersonville, named after the annual apple festival.

Mint Julep

The final drink of the class was a classic mint julep, a favorite of mine. We muddled our mint, mixed it with mint-simple syrup, Jim Beam, and ice. Delicious! Not too sweet and perfect for the hot summer in the South.

Stump Tyler Alford

Part two of the event was a Chopped-style challenge for Tyler. I'm the only one who brought a large bag full of stuff... but ended up pulling out:

  1. Fruit: apple
  2. Vegetable: jalapeno
  3. Herb: dill
  4. Spice: ghost pepper salt from Savory Spice Shop
  5. Cooked meat: dried fish
Tyler did not disappoint and made a margarita out of the items listed above.

He added THC's house honey liquor, lemon juice, and tons of tequila. You couldn't even taste the fish and the margarita was pretty amazing!

There were two other drinks that he made: a Jalapeno Pear Spritzer and a mixed berry something-or-other with cinnamon. Both were amazing.

The Best Bloody Mary in Charlotte

And then we got on the topic of Bloody Mary's and how Charlotte lacks in that department. Charlotte is far from having a $50 Fried Chicken Bloody Mary but it wouldn't hurt to have some competition going to have the best in town.

And then THC brought out the big guns: a Golden Tomato Bloody Mary. It's as if Tupelo showed up, put this delicious and beautiful beverage on the stage, we ooh-ed and aah-ed, and then they dropped the mic and walked away.

Your turn, Charlotte.

Huge thanks to the folks at Tupelo Honey Cafe for the invite, the food, the drinks, the fun, and the hospitality! I enjoyed not only learning how to make a proper cocktail but also getting a glimpse into your company culture.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Charlotte Restaurant Week | Aria Tuscan Grill

Our second stop for Queen's Feast was Aria Tuscan Grill, a restaurant I pass often and have only been to once before for cocktails and bar bites. It was delicious then, still is, and I look forward to returning to tour the rest of the menu!

It was raining hard that evening and by the time we walked the four blocks to the restaurant, we were soaked. When we got to the restaurant, we learned that they provide a valet service. A stiff drink was in order!

From the bar

For him: Bourbon Mash

Maker's Mark, Seasonal Fresh Fuit, Grand Marnier, Lmon Juice, House Made Falernum Bitters

For her: Lavender Gin Fiz

 Blue Coat Gin, Lime Juice, House Made Lavender Syrup, Prosecco Float

We sipped our cocktails while waiting on the rest of the party of eight and enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant. All the tables were full but it didn't feel overly crowded. There is a large window with a view of the kitchen in the main dinning room and all I wanted to do was stare. I love open kitchens and being able to see the action behind the scenes. Aria offers a chef's table and I hope to experience it some time in the near future.

Our server was a total pro and very knowledgeable. I asked him a million questions and he made recommendations based on my inquires. He also did not have the air of I-don't-give-two-effs-about-giving-good-service-because-it's-restaurant-week, which is a problem with other restaurants that we have visited during the past couple of years, and for that I appreciated him even more.

Aria opted to open up their whole menu for CRW, instead of a limited menu like most restaurants. This allowed us to truly experience everything the restaurant has to offer.

First Course | Primi 

For him: Caramelized Gnocchi

Prosciutto di Parma, Pear, Gorgonzola, Truffle Oil

For her: Caprese Salad

Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes, Bocconcini Mozzarella Fresh Basil, Radicchio, Vincotto

Second Course | Secondi

For him: Seafood Pasta

this was a nightly special and I did not get the full rundown of what is in the pasta
...the only thing I remember is "fire roasted tomato sauce" 

For her: Braised Lamb Shank

Taleggio Polenta, Fire Roasted Summer Vegetables, Wild Mushrooms

Third Course | Terzi

For him: Peanut & Chocolate Ganache Tart

Rum Caramel, Peanut Butter Gelato

For her:  Aria Tiramis├╣

Espresso, Lady Fingers, Mascarpone Crema

We definitely found our new must for the next restaurant week.

Aria Tuscan Grill
What: Refined Italian fare in a trendy, contemporary setting.
Where: 100 N Tryon St. | Charlotte, NC 28202

A look inside:

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