Saturday, December 24, 2011

From Sochi, with Christmas

In a surprising twist which can only be explained by Christmas Eve holiday luck, Polly and I arrived in our holiday destination of Sochi yesterday with effectively zero travel problems. Taxi? On time. Traffic to airport? non-existent. Airplane? On time. Man offering to switch seats so we could be together? Done (although he did steal Polly's pre-ordered vegetarian meal). Bus passing right by our hotel, which happened to be totally visible from the route? Check.

My first impression of Sochi (other than the gorgeous mountain range and coastal views as we came in for the landing) was that it reminds me a lot of San Diego. In fact, the temperature was the same in both places yesterday, about 11C.

After a lazy afternoon in the hotel (comprised of watching hip hop music videos and napping) and early bedtime, we awoke early and exchanged Christmas gifts, then went down for a leisurely breakfast. Now we're off to find the sauna/pool/etc and then walk around Sochi, looking for Christmasy photo ops.

Merry Christmas, internet :)


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's mid-late December, and it appears snow has finally decided to fall and stay on the ground here. Although I shouldn't be so presumptuous, since it's snowed several times up until now, but ultimately melted into puddles and slush. The average temperature of the Moscow region for the first 15 days of December seemed to be around +3 which, in my book, definitely qualifies as a heat wave.

The difference is that now it's been in the negatives a couple of days in a row, and the forecast says more of the same is ahead. Thank god. I'm tired of the rivers and lakes of mud slush covering the streets I walk to work on.

The downside of snow is that it's kind of a gamble. Sometimes snow can be so peaceful and beautiful to walk in, other times it can feel a lot like tiny pieces of ice pelting your face (depending on temperature and wind). So we'll see how it goes today.

In other news, I usually dislike Christmas music, but I have listened to this song every day since I found it:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

IFOR, part I

In addition to GOBOLE, I would like to present Irreverent Facts of Russia, or IFOR. My acronyms are the greatest, I know.

  1. Sound only travels in a downward direction.
  2. Things (all things) become more vulnerable to destruction upon crossing Russian borders. If they are made in Russia, they are inherently less durable than their foreign (yes, even Chinese) counterparts. Especially products containing glass.
  3. Washing machines in Russia (not necessarily Russian washing machines) have a strange habit of discoloring all clothes. Even when they are all the same color.
  4. Those same washing machines also have a penchant for deconstructing clothes.
  5. Russian books age faster than their Western counterparts.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

GOBOLE, part II

Here I will continue my Gross Over-generalization Based On Limited Experience. Today I present you with: Russians and technology:

  1. All Russians own an electric drill, and use it frequently.
  2. All Russian teenagers own a Tamagotchi
  3. Russians, like Americans, love Apple products. The difference is that they are apparently willing to pay (even more) outrageous prices than we do in the states.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I am alive.

Not much else is new.

In culture news: Tomorrow night I will escort Polly to the ballet, a production of La Sylphide at the Stanislavsky Theater in Moscow.

In political news: Russian legislative elections will be held on Sunday, December 4th, which seems like a strange day for an election.

In culinary news: Using bones and remaining scraps from the Thanksgiving turkey (legs), I made a delicious soup.

In teaching news: Approximately 10 days ago, an 8 year old girl wrapped her little arms around me and proclaimed me her "true mother."

In sports news: last Sunday afternoon, Polly and I stopped during a walk through the park to watch a group of middle-aged, slightly overweight men play soccer. The full report can be found here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

THANKSGIVING!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last year we went all out. This year, the only reason any kind of Thanksgiving dinner will take place is because of my roommate's enthusiasm (and fortuitous day off). That said, it's contagious and has gotten me involved in the preparations (also the fact that the boyfriend will be eating it and I don't want my roommate to eff anything up).

On the menu this year will be: turkey (legs), stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, squash, peas, and corn. Simple, but the basics are covered. And I just finished the stuffing and it's GOOOOOD. I hope my roommate doesn't eat it all while I'm working before dinner tonight...

I am thankful for:
  • the awesome friends i've made here, especially polly
  • polly
  • the boyfriend, who i simply adore
  • my parents
  • my health
  • and about a million other big and little things

Monday, November 14, 2011

Foodstuffs

About two weeks ago I found myself with close to 20 eggs in my fridge. I'm not sure how that happened, but I knew there was no way I had the willpower to eat eggs for every meal until they were gone. Thus began the great search for a recipe to use them. I found this, an absolutely divine sounding bread using sweetened condensed milk (my favorite food) and... voila... 5 eggs. Great, I thought, I only need to make this recipe 4 times...
As all my baking is approximate, I'll go ahead and say that is approximately the recipe I used (sans poppy seeds). Since I don't have a ton of free time during the week (when I am home) and I'm away most weekends, I often break recipes into two-day affairs. One night I mix, etc., the next I let rise and bake. This time I was gone for more than a few hours, and came back to my dough having done a little more than doubled:

honestly relieved it didn't take over my kitchen

Next I whipped it into a braided loaf then tossed it in my bread pan, which is definitely my new favorite method for sweet breads. The bread pan gives it enough structure to not spread out willy-nilly while the braid allows you to easily tear of pieces of the bread to shove into your face. Example:

no I am not going to post a picture of me shoving bread into my mouth

In other baking adventures, Polly and I made garlic bagels this weekend in her apartment. It turned out to be a confusingly difficult task. In time-honored Russian tradition, her oven is located in a place that doesn't allow the door to open more than about 50% of the way. The radiator blocks it. As it turns out, it's impossible to bake anything that requires a tray (instead of a small pan), such as cookies, or in this case, bagels. Somehow we managed and the end result was pretty convincing (except for the lack of a substance resembling cream cheese). Her oven also lacks a real temperature setting, just offering a range from low-high (using pictures). There is a thermometer built into the oven, but instead of using some kind of a standard scale to measure the temperature (celcius? fahrenheit? kelvin?), it simply ranges from 1-6. Not helpful. Who designed you, oven?!

While I'm on the topic of Polly's apartment (which is somehow clean yet soviet), I'd like to mention a few other aspects of it which I find amusing. Her washing machine is located in the kitchen (this is normal), in the cabinet under the counter. Being a front-loading machine, it requires the detergent to be added via a little drawer at the top of the machine. Because the machine is under a counter, it turns out that it's nearly inaccessible. Polly discovered this the first time she tried to wash clothes (which came out somehow dirtier, despite being a new machine).

Another time I was there, I couldn't help but notice a lock on the bathroom door. Actually, two locks. One on each side of the door. When I pointed this out to Polly, she exclaimed, "Who is mature enough not to lock people in the bathroom all of the time?!?!" An excellent question. Certainly neither of us.


Another highlight of this weekend was a Mexican food dinner Polly, our new friend Keitlynn, and I prepared (with the BF's help of watching, making fun of us, moving the table into Polly's bedroom, and also thoroughly mixing my butter, egg, and sugar together in the preliminary steps for the dessert). For dinner we had (all made from scratch, mind you):

  • mango salsa
  • guacamole
  • cilantro and lime rice
  • beans and corn
  • fajita-style onion and peppers
  • raw peppers
  • cheese and sour cream (ok, we bought these at the store...)
  • and, of course, homemade tortillas

complete with Juanes playing in the background, who we decided was "Mexican enough"

For dessert I made this raspberry pound cake, which didn't quite turn out due to unclear oven temperatures (we were at Polly's apartment, after all), but was certainly not bad, and I will definitely be making it again. Like, on Thursday.

Also in foodnews: a gift from a student. I made sure to include something that might be of a recognizable size in order to offer some kind of scale. On the left we see marinated cucumbers and tomatoes with garlic. On the right, an even larger jar of some kind of juice, the explanation of which thoroughly confused me (it's apparently cooked). The generosity of Russians never ceases to bring a smile to my face. And I mean that 100% sincerely.

all together: the perfect present


Thursday, November 10, 2011

GOBOLE, part I

Or, Gross Over-generalizations Based On Limited Experience. I might occasionally post observations and conclusions I've drawn after living here for a year. We'll see if it goes anywhere. Today's edition will focus on dietary habits and preferences:

  1. The preferred food of adult Russian men is meat and potatoes
  2. The preferred food of Russian teenagers is pizza
  3. Sushi is available in every single restaurant in Moscow (or the Moscow region)
  4. Pescetarianism is to Russia what raw veganism is to America
  5. All Russians love cabbage and dill


Monday, November 7, 2011

Halloween

It happened. These are pictures.

Sara getting ready...

Polly is almost there...

This can only end well...

And a successful end result :)


p.s. Celeste, I know Polly made off with some of your things. If you'd like, I could steal stuff from her to make it even?


Monday, October 24, 2011

One potato, two potato, three potato, four...

Quick. Name the first 10 vegetables that come to mind. If you answered: potato, corn, beetroot, carrots, chard, lettuce, carrots, onion, broccoli, peas, beans, cauliflower, then congratulations, you have not been so severely mislead as I have. Or you are a botanist.

You see, since I've arrived in Russia (just a time marker, really), I have slowly been learning that many things I once regarded as vegetables are simply not so. Eggplant? Fruit. Cucumbers? Fruit. Peppers? Fruit. Okra? Fruit. Zucchini? Fruit (technically, the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower)

hussy.


While it's less surprising to hear that tomatoes are a fruit, a 1893 Supreme Court case unanimously ruled the tomato is a vegetable. For taxation purposes only, as they recognized that tomatoes are botanically a fruit, thus furthering the belief that anything can be a vegetable if you want to tax it badly enough.

Opportunity.

As if the shattering of my lifelong vegetable paradigm wasn't enough, I've also been surprised to learn that many things I once believed to be simple fruits (and occasionally vegetables) are actually berries. Eggplant? Berry. Though “eggberry” is a decidedly less appetizing name. Watermelon? Berry. Tomato? Berry. Pumpkin? Berry. Banana?!?!?! BERRY.



et tu??!

In summary:

Lies.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

weekend.

My weekend mostly involved photobombing the recently arrived Polly. I gave her Friday night to rest, but Saturday and Sunday we hung out, doing the usual things (though I'm not entirely sure what that means).


Classic Polly

Reunited, with colored wood chips and Lenin. Just how it should be.

"can i stop pretending to take a picture now?"

Polly looking adorable

What is it with russia and its terrifying public toilets/deathtraps?

I'm also recently finding joy in the ability to buy things on the street (wool socks) and in underground passageways (headband, featured above).

Also, next weekend is Halloween. Actually, not quite, but there will be a Halloween party, and that's really the most important thing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cookies, boats, tunamac, cookies...


I've found it difficult to write much, as my life is devoid of anything particularly noteworthy.

Sometimes I bake cookies. These are the same lemon butter cookies from the previous blog post... only a better picture.

yet they still only look a fraction as tasty as they are

LL had its annual Moscow River boat party a few weekends ago, which I was ridiculously excited about. Alas, I largely neglected to take photos in the same manner as last year, though I did feel the urge to snap a picture as my new roommate (on the left) approached and said he was definitely not going to remember most of the party. Later he admitted he had been shotgunning beers in secret on the side of the boat. A real class act, this one...

the marker of a good time?

An acquaintance-turned-friend has visited me a few times this year already, a girl named Sara. She is also an American, and in her last visit gave a thumbs-up approval of our tunamac before it went into the oven...

anything that looks like this can't not be good, right?


mmmmmmm....

And finally: more cookies. These are snickerdoodles, made from this recipe, but I substituted 2 tsp white vinegar for the cream of tartar. The end result was a wonderfully soft, chewy cookie. I love snickerdoodles, if only for the name...

...that's not true, only 50% of my love is due to the name


In conclusion: my life is not interesting.


OH! Although, I did receive a text from Polly today, who is back in the Moscow region. The second great reunion of 2011 will happen tomorrow!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

When life (or illness) gives you lemons...

Make lemon cookies, because it's Russia and Autumn and definitely too cold for lemonade. I found this recipe, and on my unexpected (though welcome) break, came home and tried them out because... well, justification is never really needed for cookies, but I'll say that I'm trying to keep things culinarily interesting for the elusive Russian Boyfriend (not hard, since when I asked what he wanted for dinner and said I didn't have a lot of time, his suggestion was hard boiled eggs. At least the bar is low).


It turns out they are no less delicious than they sound/look (granted, the low quality webcam photo doesn't do them a lot of justice).

In other news, I'm working a lot, and consequently tired a lot. It's not all bad, since I basically have three day weekends.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

saturday sundries

1.) For a variety of reasons, Polly made the decision early this year not to return to LL to teach for another year. Tough news to hear from my partner of crime/life companion of 10 months. It seems that after spending several months on a soul crushing job hunt in America, she made the decision to return to Moscow. Not to LL, but again as an english teacher. Frankly, I don't care what she's doing here as long as this can continue:

i'm sure she's hoping exactly the same thing

2.) I've mentioned this before, but Charlie's Best Bread in Pacific Beach (San Diego) has the best challah I have ever tasted in my life. I've experimented a couple of times with baking challah in the past, but the results left a lot to be desired (and in one case, created more of a pretzel-like product, which was just weird). This isn't exactly news, as it happened back in June, but I finally managed to bake a challah that both looked and tasted delicious (although, it still did not quite measure up to Charlie's):

my oven is a normal size, this challah is massive

3.) In general life news, I am sick. It's difficult for me to do much more than complain about being sick. I had a moment of feeling like an adult yesterday when I realized I was coming down with something, and immediately thought, "thank god this happened at the beginning of my three-day weekend" (so i won't have to take time off work). Weird. Mostly it's characterized by the feeling that my throat is on fire, along with mild nausea and some congestion in my nose. And also feeling like I've been hit by a truck. Thank god my mom bestowed upon me the gift of soup making, as it's about the only thing I've eaten for two days and so, so easy.

4.) It's fall. I miss summer already.


this is what summer looks like

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to impress even a Russian boyfriend

When searching for a recipe for "rosemary garlic blue cheese bread," I mostly found a method for making a sort of herbed blue cheese butter spread that could be applied to already purchased or baked bread then placed under a broiler for a short period. Needless to say, this is not quite what I was hoping for.

I eventually found this recipe, and based my own loosely around it.

1 1/4 cups warm water
tablespoon honey
1 cup flour
1 packet yeast

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 sprigs rosemary
4 cloves of garlic, quartered

2+ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
however much blue cheese you want

roughly 1 teaspoon each of finely chopped garlic and rosemary

I started by preparing the yeast sponge (not pictured), which consists of mixing the yeast, warm water, honey, and flour together in a bowl, then letting it sit for 20-30 minutes. While waiting for that, I added the olive oil to a pan with the whole rosemary sprigs and quartered garlic cloves. Keep the heat on low, when the oil has been sizzling for about 5 minutes remove from the heat. The garlic should have either not turned color at all, or just barely.

there it goes...

Discard the rosemary and finely chop the garlic.



Add the garlic, about half of the scented oil, and the salt to the yeast sponge and mix. Then start adding the flour. If you have experience making bread, you'll know that it's impossible to be very exact in terms of measurements. I add flour until I can knead without the dough sticking to everything. Once I was able to knead the bread, I chopped up my blue cheese (I suggest no less than 250 grams to start) and kneaded it into the dough. Once I felt it was more or less distributed (and the dough'd had enough) I rolled it into a ball, coated it with some (not all) of the remaining scented oil, and let it rise for about an hour. I always throw things in the oven to rise, either on the lowest possible heat setting (no more than 100 degrees fahrenheit) or off entirely (for the draft-free environment).

just before the first rise...

... and after

The dough should roughly double in size. Punch it down then shape into a bread pan. I coated both the loaf and the pan with the remaining scented olive oil. Sprinkle the chopped (raw) garlic and rosemary on the top. Let the dough rise again for about 30 minutes before putting into the preheated oven. I baked it at 375 fahrenheit for about an hour.

The finished product was very tasty and had a convincing bread consistency, although I will absolutely use way more blue cheese next time (I think I used about 100 grams in this loaf, and it was nowhere near enough).

ta-da!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

USA

This picture probably best sums up my 5 weeks in America

I'm now back in Mytishchi so the blog adventures can continue (laugh). Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

St. Petersburg: Spring Edition

Since I'm not in Mytishchi for the summer, I feel that it just isn't right to be posting about my doings. Here are the much anticipated (ha-ha) photos from my spring St. Petersburg trip with my dad, Katie, and her parents. We stayed at the Nevsky Forum Hotel (on Nevsky Prospect), which was excellent (though pricey) all around: close to the train station, great breakfast included, centrally located, and very friendly staff. Anyway, I don't really have anything clever or interesting to say, so here are a few of the (over 200) photos taken (by my dad, mostly). Good luck guessing what things are, because I'm far too lazy to write captions for the photos in this moment.