Thursday, August 16, 2012

This is nothing

I started this blog a week shy of two years ago.  I'm not totally sure what I hoped to accomplish by keeping it.  Before I moved here--but after I had accepted a job-- I was fortunate enough to make contact with an individual who not only taught for Language Link, but was actually located in the same suburb of Mytishchi that I was to be living in.  He kept a blog that, in many ways, helped to prepare me for what was to come.  His blog was a no holds barred combination of historical fact, day-to-day life, his own past experiences, and teaching.

But enough of that.  When I started The Rheal World (naming credit to my dear friend Chloe), I probably hoped that I could offer the same insight to what life was like living in the Moscow area and teaching for LL, which I feel like I achieved on at least a small level.  I'm more than happy to field questions from strangers, by the way; just leave me a comment with a way to contact you.  I also wanted to have some kind of documentation of what my life was like during this period of time.

And that brings me to now: I've lost interest in posting here.  I don't understand who reads this now, or why; maybe not knowing my audience has landed me in a state of just not knowing what to say.  I have friends here with blogs I adore: Like Mae's, or Kristen's, and of course Miss Polly's.  But my own blog has lost interest to me.  While I'm a strong writer, this isn't exactly the environment I thrive in.  More than anything, after two years of living here my life isn't much of an adventure these days.  So that's that.  I'm working on ideas for future blog posts. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When the Alcoholic Sleeps

I know I've been somewhat negative in my last few posts, and I make no apologies or excuses.  Spring is here now and there are various things bringing me joy in life:

1) I went for a run last Saturday morning, and I was pretty sure I found a time without people drinking everywhere.  But I went on Sunday morning too, and there was more than one group of drinking men.  So, I'll have to try again to be sure.  I still think I might be onto something here.

2) I saw teenage boys picking up trash, which was a refreshing change from the babushki (old ladies) and central asian/caucasian immigrants usually doing it.*

3) I bought a whole lot of strawberries for 115 rubles ($4).  I ate many of them with Polly on a park bench (outdoors!  in a t-shirt!), along with chocolate cake. 

photo stolen from Polly, fork stolen from Sbarro


4) It's light past 8 pm.

5) I adore my husband



*I'm positive they were forced to do it, but it doesn't change my opinion

Monday, April 16, 2012

OM Thai: a Moscow restaurant review

Last year Polly and I patronized Baan Thai and loved it, which I blogged about here. I, neither being Thai nor having visited Thailand, can't attest to the "authenticity" of any Thai food I may consume. Nevertheless, I know what I like when it comes to eating Thai food, namely: good spice/flavor variety and fresh noodles.

A friend discovered a great food blog based here in Moscow, called Pinch of Cinnamon. One of the more valuable aspects is a lot of detailed Moscow restaurant reviews. Eating out can be difficult here for a number of reasons: there are a lot of similar chains (not dissimilar to what we can find in the US) with equally average and semi-expensive food; total unpredictability when it comes to trying independently owned restaurants (in price, quality); and considerably less zeal for reviewing such places on the internet (as on yelp, for example).

After reading the review for OM Thai, I was enthusiastic about trying it. Spicy? Check. Expected Thai ingredients? Check. Good atmosphere? Check. So yesterday, we finally went. All I can really say is that I found a lot of the experience disappointing. After scouring the menu and not finding classic Thai dishes such as Phad Thai or Pad See Ew (my favorite!), I ordered vegetarian spring rolls (3 for 300 rubles), which were fine, and a bowl of Tom Kha soup (400 rubles), medium spice, which wasn't spicy at all and overall fairly average in taste. I can't say my food was bad, but it didn't leave any kind of lasting impression. Everyone had a similar experience regarding their food: it wasn't bad, but it left something to be desired, and the prices (as in all Moscow restaurants) are high enough to warrant avoiding it in the future.

The worst part was the service. One of the girls in our group ordered (via pointing) a bowl of soup and a side of noodles. Somehow she received a bowl of soup and a noodle-based entree. We tried to talk with the waitress, who insisted that it was what she ordered, but ultimately it was pretty disappointing that she got something she didn't want, and due to the language barrier was pretty much forced into paying for it anyway. I was doubly disappointed by the fact that we had a Russian girl in our group who did little to nothing to help with the situation. Usually Russians are great at demanding some kind of service, but she just meekly replied to our unlucky friend that there was nothing they could do. I should've spoken up, and it will definitely be a lesson for next time, but I still feel that it was the restaurant's responsibility to take the unwanted food off the bill instead of bullying their customers into paying for it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Puddles and trash

I don't know if it's the weather, which has taken a sudden turn toward cold and blizzard-y, or because I haven't been sleeping a lot lately, or just because, but lately my attention has been drawn to aspects of Russia/my life I am frustrated by. I am going to share them here:

  • I am constantly experiencing low-grade nausea. I can only imagine it's from the combination of travelling for long periods of time on lurchy public transport that reeks of gasoline, and the ubiquitous smell of cigarette smoke.
  • Drunk people everywhere, all the time. It's depressing.
  • The weather. It's supposed to be spring now, but the last two days have been characterized by chilly temperatures (-5 to -10C), heavy snow fall, and strong winds. Polly put it perfectly: "This is one of the only places that ruins spring for me-- it's just puddles and trash."
  • My commute to work, which involves two buses and takes upwards of 2 hours (to travel a total of about 10 miles)
  • Moscow traffic. I know it's related to the previous point, but it sucks so much I felt it needed it's own place.
  • Spoiled children. Seriously, parents, put them in preschool,where they will learn social skills, and stop coddling them when they throw a tantrum over not coloring as fast as another child.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Home is where the heart is

When you choose to move to Russia, you often get asked, "why?" It's a difficult question to answer, and the response has gone more vague and fuzzy over time. It's often followed by "do you miss your family?" and "did you go home for (summer/xmas/etc.)?"

I grew up in San Diego. Shy of a month here or there, I had never lived anywhere else. Yet going home is difficult now. My dad lives in Texas, my mom in Colorado, my step-dad in Arizona and, while I have a few close friends in S.D., many of them are spread out across the country (or globe). Moscow was just a place that I lived, but it ultimately felt empty to me. What I'm getting at is, there is no convenient way to go "home" and visit those close to me. Last summer I made an epic trip across the southwest over the course of five weeks. While it was everything I could have hoped for, it was also exhausting.

And there was another, unanticipated downside. Last summer before going home, I fell in love (not the downside). Some of my friends can testify to the immediacy of it. After spending every day with Koala (not his real name) the week before departing, I knew everything had changed, and suddenly five weeks in America seemed like five weeks too long (the downside). I was impressed by his dedication to talking (via skype) as frequently as possible, despite the language barrier and the fact that we'd only just met. I enjoyed my trip to the fullest, but was happy to return to Moscow, where my apparent "home" currently resided. Things proceeded as expected, with me becoming increasingly amazed at his inability to disappoint me as time passed. In December he asked me to marry him, and I didn't hesitate to say yes (technically I did, because he asked in English and I assumed he was just practicing the new phrase). We were married on the 22nd of February in a sort of non-event in the Moscow wedding palace (which makes it sound like a theme park; I can assure you it is not). So now my home is in Khimki, another suburb of Moscow. I may not know what the future holds, but I know that now it's infinitely tied to this other person, and my location may change a hundred times over, but my home will always be right along side me.

Nation of hoop indeed...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My other other bread, another recipe

March 8th was International Women's Day. Polly and I "celebrated" by going to the honey festival (FINALLLLLY), where we ate a lot of honey and drank free samples of medovukha (mead, honey wine, delicious). Then we made our way toward the Beverly Hills Diner, which is, as one might guess, an American style diner. Their menu options look great on the website (here it is in English) and I've been wanting to go there for awhile (mostly to try their milkshakes). Unfortunately, since it was International Women's Day, it was packed and we didn't feel like waiting. Instead, after hungrily wandering the streets for about 10 minutes, we opted for what is basically a frightening Russian version of Subway. Located right outside of a sketchy looking metro station, my falafel sandwich was cheap, surprisingly delicious, and, most remarkably, (I feel safe saying this 4 days later) didn't make me sick.

Otherwise my weekend involved milkshakes from Starlite diner--the only establishment I've found, so far, that serves real milkshakes and not the foamy, liquidy "milk cocktails" like most restaurants in Moscow-- pizza (from a new-ish restaurant called Montalto which I will write about in a separate post; here is one review), Old Arbat, and baking.

In another kitchen experiment, I tweaked the no-sugar-added banana bread recipe just a little, with excellent results
  • 3 medium-small bananas, mashed
  • About 1/2 cup apricot varen'ye (jam) and applesauce
  • 1/4 sour cream
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp vanilla sugar (since vanilla extract doesn't exist here)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1.5 cups flour

I combined all those things in the order listed and baked in a well-greased 9"x5" bread pan at 325F (~160C) for about an hour and 10 minutes. This bread has a chewier texture and rich flavor, but none of the ingredients are especially prominent. I prefer this one to the last one.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bananananana bread, a recipe

One of my favorite things to bake is banana bread. My signature recipe involves a lot of banana (4-5), a lot of chocolate (a lot), and a cinnamon-sugar swirl through the middle. It's really closer to some kind of a banana brownie but, nevertheless, has been a hit with everyone I've fed it to, with one glaring exception:

My husband.*

First I had to omit the chocolate (noooooooooo), since it's something he doesn't eat. And since then, it's been a struggle to reduce the sugar to a point where he doesn't say it's too sweet. Finally I decided to find a recipe that had no sugar added. The problem when searching for such a recipe, is that you're inevitably directed to various "healthy" versions of banana bread-- a kind of wholegrain, gluten-free, reduced-fat, no-sugar-added nightmare.

I decided it was time to concoct my own no-sugar-added version of my favorite "bread." After setting the oven at 325F (~162C), I:

thoroughly mashed and mixed
  • 2 medium-small bananas
  • 1/2-3/4 cup apricot-applesauce**
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
then stirred in
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
then slowly sifted in about
  • 2 cups flour
being careful not to over-mix.

I poured the batter into a well-buttered (approx 9"x5" loaf pan) then popped it into the oven for about 55 minutes (until a knife inserted into the middle came out more or less clean).


I made two mistakes:
  • the major one being that I forgot to add cinnamon. This lead my husband to say it sucked. Straight to my face!
  • My second mistake was marrying a man who doesn't love my banana bread.

...Ok I'm only joking about mistake number two. The real second mistake was that I baked it for about 10-15 minutes less than I should've.

Nevertheless, the end result was tasty, with a rich and not-too-sweet flavor and nice, firm texture.

I wanted to post pictures, but it seems I've misplaced the cable for my camera (which is, naturally, a sony-specific adapter) so it might be a long time before that happens again.


*In other news: I got married.
**baby-food apple puree, since applesauce isn't a thing sold in all (or many) supermarkets here, combined with apricot варенье (varen'ye, which is similar to, I dunno, jam?)