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?)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Elections, Shmelections

The Russian presidential elections took place yesterday. It's hard for me to know what to say/where to start, because (a) I am not especially interested in politics and (b) it's a lot to take in. My blog is not the place to come for information on these matters. Polly does a better job tracking it, as do other various blogs, and the news. Here is a quote I stole from Polly's blog, followed by a news headline from today on a BBC feed:

"Есть большое сомнение, что они [выборы] отражают реальные настроения в обществе"
- Михаил Горбачев

"There is a great doubt that they [the elections] reflect the real moods of society." - Mikhail Gorbachev

"In a small village with only 380 inhabitants, Putin received over 1000 votes"

I feel that these appropriately sum up the 2012 Russian presidential elections.

What's most important, is that on this great day of decision, the honey festival was also happening. Instead of taking place in Tasritsino park, this "spring" version of my favorite festival is taking place in an indoor exhibition center, just off of Red Square. As we walked around in search of the building, we couldn't help but notice the massive amounts of police (truck-fulls of them), and the fact that huge portions of the city center were blocked off, apparently in preparation of some (pro-Putin, post-election) rally. Undeterred, we made our way along the detour route and fired ahead toward that sweet, sweet nectar. We remained hopeful as we drew near, using the sight of people asking policemen questions and being pointed in the general direction of our destination as inspiration. However, as we approached, we realized with great despair, that the festival was on hold for the day of the elections. With heavy hearts, we turned back toward Arbat and went to Sbarro for a slice of pizza.