Gatchina and Dazzling Summer Sky

Gatchina

In the beginning of August we visited Gatchina, one of the ex-royal residences of our Russian emperors, though less frequented and well-known if compared to Tsarskoye Selo or Pavlovsk. Gatchina is not situated that very close to St Petersburg either. It is thus considered the region, not a part of the city. The history of Gatchina is closely knit with Pavel, that prolific emperor who built or inherited and redesigned lots of palaces all around St Petersburg. Gatchina was inherited from Catherine the Great by Pavel and then pretty much loved by the royal family and used as a second residence or a place of refuge by the succeeding monarchs. Just look at that wall!

Gatchina

The palace pictured above, called Grand Gatchina Palace, was built by Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi in late 18th century and later redesigned in the 1840s. Its appearance is consequently quite weird: the corner towers look somewhat unfinished, the overall impression being that of an Italian palace/ castle (well, what else would you expect from an Italian architect : ). If you look at what was left after a fire during the Second World War and take into account the fact that it was completely ruined by the fleeing nazis, you’ll understand how slow and hard the restoration process must have been. Now the palace is just fine – and this very tower reminds me of Florence!

Gatchina

The first time we went there was back in school, it was an organized visit with a guide impersonating Pavel (I guess?) leading the way through the castle and even showing us the secret tunnel which would secure a safe escape to the Silver Lake. We were also hunting for a ‘treasure’ (don’t even remember what that was).

Gatchina

The territory of the Gatchina park next to the palace is really huge and I guess only know being actually taken under control (just a couple of years earlier the park was much less looked after). Still there are somewhat wild places where local people swim or sunbathe.

Gatchina

That day the sky was just great and even without noticing it I took a number of photos where the real star is the dazzling summer sky:

Gatchina

…and some more:

Gatchina

Moving closer to the popular swimming part of the park and still taking photos of the sky, be it a reflection in the water:

Gatchina

We made a large circle round the park and ended up at the Silver Lake again which was to become an epicenter for a light show that evening (we didn’t go). The sky was now painted with feather clouds. I remember calling these clouds ‘porous’ instead of ‘feathery’, the words being somewhat close in Russian, poristy / peristy (obviously inspired by the TV commercial of that ‘porous’ chocolate bar which was compared to balloons in the sky : ).

Gatchina

There’s another part of the park which we didn’t visit that time, so… Why not come to Gatchina on your own after all? I do hope I inspire you to see the good ol’ St Pete one day and, believe me, you will certainly come back as there’s always more to see.

Gatchina

More on St Petersburg and its region here.

There’s a series of photos on my native town’s architecture still ”marinating’ in the drafts. Will get to it eventually!

G.

Spanakopita and Mediterranean Vegetable Millefeuille

August is running fast towards September, the light has changed, the rain has  and the weather is far from that heat wave we had just a couple of days ago.  It’s been raining today, there was some lightning and thunder and then just a minute later there was this blind rain as we call it in Russia – it just ignores the sun and pours down anyway :)

Mediterranean Vegetable and Mint Pesto Millefeuilles from kopiaste.org

This mid-August post is dedicated to a couple of Greek vegetarian recipes, so please welcome the first of them, bringing the Mediterranean flavours to your table wherever you are:

Mediterranean Vegetable and Mint Pesto Millefeuilles from kopiaste.org

A year ago – tasty sourdough mini rolls in Summer Goes On with Sourdough Mini-Rolls

Two years ago – baked potatoes the Greek way and a creamy apple tart starring in Pommes. Pommes de Terre too

It’s a pity there’s no recipe for this first dish available online anymore as the author, Ivy, has removed it from her blog, kopiaste.org. I do respect and support Ivy’s idea of inciting people to purchase her recipe book instead cause they are really nice! I’ve tried quite a number of them and some of them I shared with you on this blog  – check these Πατάτες Λεμονάτες (Patates Lemonates or Lemony Potatoes) and Gigantes Plaki sto Fourno (Giant Baked Beans).

Mediterranean Vegetable and Mint Pesto Millefeuilles from kopiaste.org

Mediterranean Vegetable and (Mint) Pesto Millefeuille adapted from kopiaste.org will make a pie-like dish with an unusual double salty cheese crust and spicy garlic-y ‘pesto’ and vegetable filling. I will not reproduce the recipe here, will just share with you the way I did the recipe:

As with several other Greek recipes made recently (here and here and here) I omitted potatoes and add 0.5 kg aubergines instead which went well with the courgettes. As for the mint pesto which is placed in between the veggie layers I blended fresh coriander + onions + garlic + spring onions + pumpkin seed oil – so no mint but still good! Instead of 2 peeled tomatoes I used tomato sauce which anyway needed using.

The batter which will then become the double crust of this vegetable pie is made of various types of Greek soft white cheese. I had none so I had to ‘borrow’ some white brine cheese from the Greek neighbours (Serbia) which also gave me some whey (to substitute milk). To this I added the usual Adygea cheese, which seem to have become the multi-purpose cheese destined to substitute everything from mozzarella to Feta in Russia!

Mediterranean Vegetable and Mint Pesto Millefeuilles from kopiaste.org

Remarks: From my experience I would suggest adding salt to the veggies as well, probably rub them with some salt, cause if you do not get the pesto with your bite, the veggies seem a bit bland.

Result: Something different, I should say! I mean, this cheese crust which has just a couple of tablespoons of flour in it is quite a find! The pie will eventually fall apart when you try to cut it in smaller pieces but with every bite you’ll get cheese, veggies and garlicky pesto. No juices from veggies hanging around at the bottom of the dish thanks to sautéing.

You can see the layers of the ‘pie’ clearer in this photo:

Mediterranean Vegetable and Mint Pesto Millefeuilles from kopiaste.org

***

And there’s more! Enjoy the Mediterranean / Greek flavours with this enormous spinach pie, so very traditional in the rich Greek cuisine, a true treasure for the vegetarians! Greece was the place I actually tried spinach for the first time – and they do know how to make it ‘play’ with the other ingredients transforming it from a bland greenish plant into the chewy comforting food.

Spanakopita from www.toarkoudi.gr

The trick of this pie’s pastry is the added orange juice (and flesh from the orange, if you’re more lucky with fresh oranges than I was), you will certainly feel it when you take the pie out of the oven! The Greeks always eat spinach with some lemon juice, so I guess this addition of a citric acid is somewhat typical. And of course giant dark black olives from the Halkidiki region in Greece (where Thessaloniki is) is a must for this pie!

Spanakopita from www.toarkoudi.gr

This pie is huge, really. Very Greek : ) So please invite your friends and make a Greek party! Also check another spinach pie recipe from the same source, Hortopita me Spanaki (Greek Spinach Pie) which I made back in February.

Spanakopita from www.toarkoudi.gr

Σπανακόπιτα (Spanakopita) or Greek Spinach Pie with Whole Wheat Pastry adapted and translated from www.toarkoudi.gr will make a large pie with salty green-y filling wrapped in the pastry with tangy orange flavour. See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients:

for the pastry:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose glour
  • juice and flesh from 3-5 orangesI used plain orange juice
  • 2 Tbs salt
  • baking powder
  • olive oil – Greek, please!
  • water

for the filling:

  • ½ kg fresh spinach I used 400g frozen spinach + added some wheat bran to suck in the juices
  • olive oil
  • 4-5 fresh onionsI used 2 big onions
  • ½ bunch of fresh coriander
  • ½ bunch of fresh dill – I used fresh basil + dried lemon balm (aka balm mint or Melissa)
  • ½ bunch of fresh parsley
  • 2-3 eggs - I used 2
  • 2 leeks – I used sorrel
  • nutmeg
  • salt
  • pepper
  • milk – didn’t find the use in the recipe, probably to brush the crust?

extra, if you want to add some cheese:

  • 50 g low-fat Feta – I used Adygea cheese, for the lack of both
  • 50 g grated hard myzithra

Procedure:

Mix the whole wheat flour with the all purpose flour, add some salt, a bit of olive oil and the baking powder. Add freshly squeezed orange juice, making sure that you add the flesh too.  Knead with one hand, adding either extra flour or water with the other, as needed. You should get elastic homogenous dough. Leave the dough covered for one hour in the fridge.

Sauté onions in a little bit of oil, add the leeks (I opted for the fresh sorrel from our dacha), spinach (I didn’t defrost the spinach), parsley and half of the coriander leaves. Leave the greens to cool and drain them (that was tricky, but I guess I got rid of most of the juices by sautéing already). Transfer to a bowl, add the rest of the coriander, the eggs, dill, nutmeg (Greeks do love adding nutmeg or how about cinnamon to meat, which is very weird for the Russian cuisine), salt and pepper and, optionally (but really great!) the soft white cheese.

Roll half of the dough out and place it on a greased oven-proof dish. Add the filling and cover it with the second half of the dough (also rolled out to match the size of the pan – I used a round pan lined with parchment paper). Bake at 180 C’ for 45 minutes to 1 hour (it took my oven 45 minutes to get the top crust golden brown).

IMG_0151

Remarks: Although this recipes also uses sautéing to take away the juices, the pastry gets soggy and less crunchy after keeping the pie in the fridge. At the same time, the spinach filling really gets so infused with its own juices that the pie becomes even more … spinach-y!

Result: An impressive large Greek-size pie with lots of spinach in each portion! Do add some white cheese, I think this pie gets even better with it.

Even more Greek recipes can be found under ‘Greece’ on this page.

P.S. Just tried an Italian recipe using aubergines – will share it with you if I get the chance to take a photo! : )

G.

Ochered and Buterbrod, Two Essentials of Soviet Life

This post is a continuation to my random USSR series on the Soviet lifestyle as I know it – and obviously as I recall it now. Two things have thus been united in this recollection – ochered (=queue, pronounced Ochered’) and buterbrod (=open sandwich, pronounced bootirbrOt). Two musts of those times, two things you still find in our everyday life. Lines were created because of the miserly food and goods provision and sandwiches can be regarded a symbol of a Soviet creativity – make something out of nothing. Remember the lines from the communist/etc hymn, L’Internationale? Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout, We are nothing, let us be all (Kto byl nichem, tot stanet vsem).

The last time I went to the Russian Museum I got struck by this picture called Ochered (Queue) by Alexey Sundukov (1986). I didn’t see any buterbrod-related artworks on display there so let’s start with this ochered thing first.

Ochered 1986 Alexey Sundukov

In the Soviet era lots of things fell under ‘deficit‘ category, one of the key words of the time and a result of State-regulated planned economy. So in the USSR you were queuing for everything: from a bag of potatoes to a car. That’s actually how my grandparents got their flat right before the USSR collapsed – we were in the line for the improvement of the living conditions, as they called it. And we did get to the ‘aim’ of the line, the flat. Sometimes in order to get into a line you had to know the right person (cause lines might as well be not physical), to be in the right place at the right moment, finally, to be always on guard and ready to act : ) During the war people were sending out children to arrive first in the line when food was distributed or would even pay to get a better position and both things were also common during the peaceful times.

You can see that most of the people in the queue are holding fast to their multi-purpose bags – also known in Russia as avoska. Oh-oh, here we’ve come to a word which is really difficult to translate cause this is not your common word, this is a true lifestyle principle / concept (such as khalyava, for example). Let’s see what a dictionary says: avos (авось) = perhaps, probably, hit or miss, maybe, on the off chance; just in case; blind trust in divine providence, blind faith / trust in sheer luck, counting on a miracle; usually unjustified dependence on success by chance or luck; mayhap. So a typical use for this word would be: I’d rather go to the shops now – avos I find there good fresh tomatoes! (=perhaps, let’s hope). or I didn’t study for the exams so I just ponadeyalsya na avos and went straight into the room (put all the trust in my luck). or Take this book too, avos you’ll need it too (=just in case). Or you can just use avos as a short exclamation – Avos! meaning all sorts of things you’re hoping for.

The same dictionary translates avoska as ‘just-in-case bag’ (taken from some BBC documentary on USSR), and that’s true – this light bag (usually a string bag) was carried around in men’s pockets and women’s handbags just in case there will be something deficit on sale. And how would you know that? Easy! There’ll be a queue! So an avoska, an avos! state of mind and a queue always go together .)

Queue

Probably not that organized and people stopped using avoska that much but still an ochered! (with some pretty ugly 1960s block of flats and the inevitable electricity wires across the sky). So the line-standing is just in our blood… How about this website entirely dedicated to queues? It’s called Queue Encyclopedia and beside photos / pictures and articles of queues all around the world, it gives you advice on how to avoid queues or – if you do get into one – what to do not to waist time while queuing.

I’ve also recently read Vladimir Sorokin‘s 1983 story Ochered (The Queue) which is actually a sort of a dialogue where you don’t necessary always  know who the speaker is, as the story seems to be moving back and forth along the line of queuing people. Well, I can tell you there were moments when I was laughing but most of the time I was somewhat depressed reading this (especially the end, which is – I’m sure – supposed to be quite Kafka-esque). The people in the line seem to be not very well sure what they’re queuing for, not all of them will get to the desired purchase (the line is there for several days non-stop). Anyway, if you know Russian and want to get an idea of the state of the country massively involved in either queuing or creating queues, read it.

IMG_0130

Enough for the ochered, let’s have some food! Cause even with the deficit times when you do have money but do not paradoxically have goods to buy for this money, you still can get some bread and whatever else you have to create a buterbrod!

So what is a buterbrod? The word comes from the German Butterbrot but the Russian sandwich goes far beyond the simple ‘bread and butter’! The variety of buterbrod in Russia can spread from the usual morning bread + butter + cheese, through buterbrod s kilkoy / shprotami (with sprat / anchovies) and indispensable pickled cucumbers to go with vodka, to a much craved-for party meal, ‘buterbrod s ikroy‘, or caviar buterbrod. Some people prefer their buterbrod with wheat bread, some prefer it with rye. Some conventional buterbrod combinations: white bread + butter + caviar; rye bread + sausage + pickled cucumbers. Other common ingredients include: boiled eggs, mayonnaise, herbs, tomatoes, anything pickled, mustard, horseradish, etc.

And yes, sourdough rye bread with jam is superb! My Granny’s best childhood treats also were made of two types of a buterbrod: white bread + butter + sugar or rye bread + sunflower oil + salt.

buterbrot

A buterbrod with sea buckthorn jam

Why buterbrod? Easy to make. The perfect zakuska (appetizer, usually accompanies vodka), the perfect breakfast, the perfect buffet dish, also belonging to the list of things one can make when your guests are at the door (hence the popularity of canapé for the party table). The perfect all-time meal for students / unmarried men and actually everybody at any point of the day. Everybody can make their own buterbrod with no culinary diploma required and everybody has the ingredients at home. And if you’re lucky and have some zamorskye (from beyond the seas) ingredients like olives or some hard-to-get fish, you’ll get a very special buterbrod which will still be a buterbrod but will also be YOUR very special buterbrod =) Perfect food by Soviet standarts!   

IMG_0123

The bread used for this buterbrod photo-session was baked according to these sourdough bread recipes:

  • Rye bread buterbrod – the famous Russian Darnitsky Bread, my personal favourite for all sorts of buterbrod. I’ve used this recipe so many times already, it never fails me! The dark colour is achieved by adding rye malt mixed with hot water.
  • Wheat bread jam buterbrod - Oat Bread Dinner Rolls from bitterbaker.com, reminded me of the bread we adored at the free student canteen in Thessaloniki, so dense, very chewy, loaded with bran! It’s made with rye starter and then no rye is added but I fed the starter with rye flour to increase its content in the bread. I also added wheat bran and flaxseed meal instead of oat flour. I decreased the raising time but I’m sure my rolls did not suffer from that (although they were quite heavy for their size!).

buterbrot

By the way, the deficit thing had its quite questionable advantage – the things did not come the easy way to you, you had to GET them. Hence a very strong vitality of the Soviet people – they do know things never fall down on you from the sky and if they do fall out of the blue, then you should seize the opportunity!

G.

Apples. Soon? Already!

apples

We were at the dacha yesterday, summoned up in emergency by my Granny – trying to clear up the mess a fallen apple tree did to our garden and thanks God, ONLY to the garden, no one was hurt! The poor tree got sooooo heavy with the apples that it just fell and all the apples got scattered around… Add here all the leaves and branches when we tried to ‘dismember’ the tree – we’ve started working on the tree immediately, I didn’t even take a photo of this dacha event. Oh, that’s sad, I love apple trees and, well, apples, however tart and sour they might be! The apple tree has served us right up until that day – and we left a branch of it still there, hoping the apples will ripen (some of the roots are still in the soil). It waited and struggled with the weight of the apples and then it just couldn’t stand it no more. We’re glad the final decision was taken somewhere in the night or in the early morning when no one was around! So, we worked our muscles up and collected 4 cases of unripe fruit, so do expect a lot of cooking with apples here in autumn.

apples

They say that apple trees can be harvested every other year and yes, that’s true! Remember that Magic Apple Orchard photos back in May? Well, the ‘prophecy’ proved right – we’re having a very similar situation to what turned into an all-apple-diet back in 2012! A recap of several recipes I made with apples that year can be found in this post from September 2012 – Apples and Chocolate. I guess what awaits us this year is the same destiny: trying to use up the abundant apple harvest from the day the start falling from the trees (or WITH the threes…) all through November!

apples

Oh, the fragrance of the simplest freshly baked apple cake! Here is a digest of some successful apple recipes I’ve tried so far using these tart little apples from our dacha:

  • Paper Bag Apple Pie from www.kingarthurflour.com – a huge pie with very sweet and super-soft apple filling (lots of brown sugar to which I added some wheat bran =) in a tasty pastry – as usual with King Arthur Flour recipes! (I made it without shortening). I didn’t bake the pie in a paper bag though, just used the parchment paper wrapped around the pan (didn’t even have to staple it!).
  • Apple-and-Fig Cake (Maltese) from www.sbs.com.au – a recipe of a nice Maltese apple pie that you can even listen to (SBS is an Australian radio!). I used apple juice instead of lemon and added sugar, because, well, our dacha fruits are usually not that much dotted with natural sweetness but sourness instead…
  • Apple Pie Bread from www.bhg.com – a good cake with apples (no need to peel them!) and nuts. I didn’t add raisins and I used hazelnuts instead of walnuts plus for the Streusel topping I used half of the recipe from this cake:
  • Apple Crumb Coffee Cake from www.cakeduchess.com – I got this recipe wrong and mixed the apples (they were supposed to be sautéd but I just microwaved them using the tip from King Arthur) with the batter, so the cake was a bit too wet. I had to increase the baking time of course. But at the same time the cake was … something different for a change : ) Again I didn’t peel the apples, used honey instead of lemon juice (too much acid already in those apples!), buttermilk instead of apple cider vinegar.
  • MOELLEUX aux POMMES et SUCRE de CANNE COMPLET  from fleur2t.canalblog.com - really soft and really moist – just as the name suggests! (moelleux in French is soft, tender, moist and in culinary world is usually used for the molten chocolate cakes). I used plain flour + some flaxmeal, added a bit of ginger and… my cake was made without brown sugar but with regular sugar and still it was really nice!
  • Torta di mele from danilapode.wordpress.com – a very easy recipe resulting in a fragrant cake. I used buttermilk instead of milk and oil instead of butter.

I’m currently collecting more apple recipes as we’re having a surplus of the dacha apples already now. All the apple recipes on this blog can be found here.

apples

An apple tree dweller:

apples

By the way, yesterday was also the first day to really break the heat wave we were having here – clouds, a bit of rain and lower temperatures in general. Today it’s been raining all morning. Seems like August is taking its place!

G.

Good White Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread from www.breadinfo.com

In between my posts on St Petersburg and the environs, here’s a short one on white sourdough bread.This is the first time I resisted the temptation to make a rye (black) bread out of an originally wheat (white) sourdough bread recipe. You see, I always throw in some bran and increase the percentage of rye flour – not to forget that my sourdough culture is from rye flour! The same happens with white bread made with yeast, I can hardly ever leave the dough all-that-white, I just have to add in some wholewheat flour! Well, once this habit of mine even resulted in a rye… khachapuri! : )

Sourdough Bread from www.breadinfo.com

If you look at my sourdough bread page you’ll notice that the rye bread prevails. Perhaps because I’m too lazy to make sourdough bread for breakfast too. I also thin that the black bread that we eat at lunch and dinner is considered somewhat more … serious bread. As if white bread (which is normally a plain leavened bread) is less precious. So here’s the recipe for that all-white bread:

Sourdough Bread from www.breadinfo.com

A year ago – Working at the Hermitage. Almost (those were the days!)

Two years ago – Summer Berries

Sourdough Bread adapted from www.breadinfo.com will make white (!) sourdough bread with a soft dense crumb and a medium hard crust. Follow the link to see the entire recipe.

My changes: The recipe calls for 2 cups of sourdough starter, so in order to get this amount I fed my rye sourdough twice: first with rye flour and then with all purpose. I put in less sugar. As for the potato water, I used the water left from boiling potatoes. I didn’t brush the loaves with butter before baking.

I had to cut the time indicated for rising as I was in a hurry (to eat the bread), buts as for the procedure – it’s quite easy. And this cutting on time did not prevent the loaves from being really nicely shaped.

And that’s it – no more changes, no rye bran or malt added… Weird, uh? But here it is, finally, WHITE sourdough bread with almost no rye!

Sourdough Bread from www.breadinfo.com

Result:  Two well-shaped loaves of white sourdough bread which will cut into large slices. The crumb is dense but soft. Cannot say that this bread has a particularly distinct sourdough fragrance or taste (perhaps due to the decreased rising time) – it’s just plain good white bread!

P.S. Going to see more countries very soon! And probably will also continue my explorations of Russia too. We’ll see!

G.

It’s Museum Time in St Petersburg

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

St Petersubrg is bombarding us with heat! It’s weird that you’re dreaming of an air conditioner 1 month a year in St Pete (or 1 week, if you’re less lucky) while the rest of the year you’re wearing your grandma’s woolen socks, craving for a bit of sun. This summer will definitely hold the record for the unusual in-a-row days of heat … and also museum-going activity from my part : ) Thanks to new friend who came to St Petersburg for the first time (and had to face the interminable rain season first, before the heat stroke), I’ve discovered new places in the city. Including new vegetarian places too! The museums have to contain a certain ethnographic component in them in order to appeal to me. But as the writing on top says, This, citizens, is a museum! Come and stare!

A reconstruction of a 19th century room  St Petersburg

This is a reconstruction of a 19th century room in St Petersburg (and in Russia in general) that you can see in Bread Museum, the only museum of its kind in Russia. It’s quite small and obviously not that well subsidized but I liked it for not being overwhelmingly exhibit-stuffed. The museum’s website by the way has posted some old bread recipes (in Russian, here). As it’s prohibited to use flash inside Russian museums, I could take only a limited number of photos. So let’s use the all-museums website : here‘s a restaurant room with samovar and traditional pies, here‘s an early 20th century bakery interior and here‘s a Soviet bakery or just a typical Soviet shop with a scale and a separate cashier’s window with a saucer for coins – cause you rarely paid at each of the store’s department, instead you had to memorize the price and the department’s number and report directly to the cashier’s. Then you had to stand in a queue for the third time already to get your goods by showing the receipt to the shop-assistant at each department. More on queues in my future posts.

Mushroom and Pioneer Pretzel

Sorry for a poor photo – this is a part of the display showing the typical baked goods in 1930s (some of them are apparently lost nowadays). On the left you can see a mushroom (my Granny would bake these using boiled sweetened condensed milk to glue the cap and the stem together) with the poppy-seeds representing the soil : ) and … a Pioneer Pretzel, Krendel pionersky as it was called in the USSR. Never heard of it before, I guess it was just a way of increasing the sales of a pretty trivial pretzel – you just call it with a communist title and here you go! Pioneers or Pionery were (all) the children in the USSR who were ‘climbing’ the communist staircase to become the party members: first a child would become an Oktyanrenok (called so in commemoration of the October Revolution), then a Pioner (and go to pionersky lager, Camp for Pioneers in summer), then a Komsomol (a young communist). Then you were supposed to join the party, of course. So if you’re still a pioner or are just nostalgic of those times… eat your Pioneer Pretzel! : )

Soviet propaganda

The museum covers late 19th century Russia and up until the breaking of the Union times – it also has some of the Soviet propaganda billboards as this one of the later years, the 1980s. It declares a new food program of the 12th Pyatiletka (Five-Year Development Plan, yes, the Soviet economy was a State-planned economy) which turn to intensity and quality. The young scientist sitting at a huge machine was supposed to make the wheat grow higher I guess. That was the last pyatiletka of the Soviet Union, actually. It finished in 1990 and in those days you could hardly fool the people with the propaganda billboards. The pictures they showed and the slogans they announced were so far from the reality and also so  stale that nobody paid attention to them, including the government I guess.

A reconstruction of a 19th century room  St Petersburg

This is yet another reconstruction of a 19th century room in St Petersburg already in another museum in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Pete. The first floor of the St Peterburg History museum is  quite dusty (apparently it’s been there for quite a long time) but the second floor which we had to run through, unfortunately, had much more interesting – though probably less old and valuable from a historian’s point of view – exhibits. More reconstructions of rooms, shops, photos, objects. Well, I just guess that things that are at least closer to our epoch appear more appealing to us, because we can find things in common with them, we can relate to them. I enjoy looking at the way things were just before the Soviet times and after, such a nonsensical gap, so much was lost. Looking at the colourful metal and carton boxes with tea and biscuits from the early 20th century stand and then moving on to the bleak toporny (wooden, crude, we use the hoax as a metaphor) design of the Soviet packaging – again of carton and metal and glass, dear to me only cause I remember it and not because of its particular appeal, made me really think. Think about the history playing tricks with our country : ) I cannot say that we just regressed (although in some aspects we did), rather stagnated. Marinated.

The next museum was Applied Arts Museum with a vast collection of anything from a fork to Russian fireplaces with glazed tiles and  furniture from Western Europe. The building it is housed in is amazingly decorated inside (and quite Paris-looking outside), worth visiting just for its beauty (it’s actually the State Art and Industry Academy, lucky students!). No pictures here but you can see some photos on this website. And then we also went to the huge Russian Museum with a retrospective collection of Russian art (mostly paintings) which I have not visited for a long time. It seems to me my favourite artist is still Levitan, the one who got the closest to the impressionists (to Monet in particular) in the Russian art. Looking at his light-full and colour-full paintings creates the same effect that Monet has on me. I remember walking through a Munchen’s Neue Pinakotek rooms quite disinterestedly and then immediately realizing the next room had Monet in it – so bright and light and positive. By the way, I admit there was just one painting that attracted my attention from the Soviet period collection and I will return to it later.

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

The last museum visited to this moment is a branch of the St Pete History Museum which occupies Rumyantsev Mansion on the English Embankment.  This was my first time getting that far west in the central part of the city where those huge cruise ships are anchored. It’s a pity there’s no air conditioning in the museums and we could hardly stay in most of the rooms. The museum is here from 1938 and has since changed its ‘topic’ several times. It now has a section on the 1920s, 1930s, the WW2 and the mansion’s history. It’s quite a place on its own, just look at the staircase!

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And how about this oak staircase?

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

The museum is a beautifully decorated building with two floors and several halls for dancing and playing music but I was especially aiming at the rooms with some objects from 1920s and 30s – clothes, pictures, ads, models etc + some reconstructed typical rooms and shops. I guess the usual life of a person living in those days is what catches the eye the most. Here’s a typical 1920s (sort of wealthy) room with a samovar and a record player:

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And its right part with a toy and a sowing machines decorated with hummer and sickle.

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And here’s a less wealthy kitchen:

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

A menu of a ‘bufet’ (cafe) hanging on the wall next to the kitchen offered frankfurters with cabbage, Beef Stroganoff and fish au-gratin and some other French-inspired dishes that still had their French names written in Cyrillic – a tradition of Russian restaurants to call the dishes by their French names without translation that gradually disappeared during the Soviet times. The menu also promises Caucasian cuisine at special prices : )

Rumyantseva Mansion Museum

And that’s it! Enough museum-going & staring for today! But surely more St Petersburg-related posts are coming.

G.

While Zucchini Are in Season…

While zucchini / courgettes are in season (and yes, it’s already August!), here are some ideas you could try to make a nice vegetarian lunch or dinner. Ideas rather than recipes as surely you can adapt them to the veggie in season – these ideas are very flexible. And moreover three of these 4 recipes are actually improvisations – using leftovers. Anyway, summer is just a perfect season for vegetarians (and a cheaper season too) and there’s just no excuse for missing all these fresh vegetables.

Let’s start from a Greek recipe I’ve made in the Spartan conditions of our dacha : )

Haniotiko Boureki from www.kalofagas.ca

A year ago – Italian Delicacies a la Russe

Two years ago - Fruit Post and Vegetable Post

Haniotiko Boureki (or Zucchini and Potato Bake / Pie from Crete) adapted from www.kalofagas.ca will make a really soft veggie dish with a super tasty cheese crust. See the website for the original recipe.

My changes: Well, they were quite a few to say the least. Instead of flour I used oat bran (not your common choice…) and as a Feta substitute this time I had some super salty white brined Chanakh cheese from Armenia (well, I hope so). I was lazy about two things in the recipe – picking up fresh mint from the garden (too hot outside!) and peeling potatoes. So I used dried basil and… no potatoes instead. As there were no sesame seeds at hand (and I had to take almost all the non-dacha ingredients with me, of course), I just grated some cheese on top – and that was a success! There was no foil at my dacha either, but this cheese created a real crust on top.

Haniotiko Boureki from www.kalofagas.ca

Remarks: The zucchini will produce a lot of liquid while baking so you might want to ‘drain’ your dish before serving. Don’t ask me if I discard the liquid. No, I don’t!

Result: The still crunchy zucchini and that cheese crust is a great combination, especially with lots of salty cheese in the middle. The super salty Chanakh cheese was quite decently salty once baked – I guess due to all the milk and almost neutral ricotta that it goes with.  This dish reminded me of Χανιώτικο μπουρέκι (Courgette and Potato Boureki or pie from Chania, Crete) I made back in July 2012 and was somewhat similar to a recently tried Kolokithoboureko or Greek Zucchini Cheese Pie which I also lightened up by skipping the potatoes. I guess that makes a more summer-y version to this dish!

***

The next recipe, Zucchini Rye Pizza from Leftover Sourdough – was a pure improvisation with what was left from the above recipe. I also had to refresh my sourdough culture and since my freezer is already full of bread, I had to find another use for the leftover sourdough. So here we go, a sourdough rye pizza in just about no time! No kneading, no rising, no S&Fs if you know what I mean =)

Zucchini Rye Pizza from Leftover Sourdough

What I did was to mix my rye sourdough culture (some tablespoons) with some all purpose flour and a bit of water. That was my crust. For the topping I had some zucchini, spring onions and Chanakh cheese which I just crumbled on top. And that’s it! A Northern version of a pizza it is : ) A bit rubbery (the crust) but still nice when warm.

Zucchini Rye Pizza from Leftover Sourdough

***

Then comes Zucchini and Couscous Cheesy Bake which was another improvisation using the stuff from the fridge. These were: onions, leftover cooked couscous, herbs, some tomato sauce, zucchini of course and cheese – soft white and regular hard. I made several layers, starting with a zucchini layer and going up building this:

zucchini and couscous cheesy bake

The only problem, I overused the fan option of the oven and the dish got dry a bit. But again – an easy way to use up your lunch leftovers!

***

baked stuffed zucchini and aubergines

And here’s the last idea: Baked Stuffed Zucchini and Aubergines which shows I can sometimes be less lazy if I want to. So at first I just wanted to bake some aubergines and zucchini, so I cleaned and halved them, placed on baking paper and used the fan option for some minutes and then just baked them. Then there was an idea to make stuffed veggies, which in the end made me scrape the flesh out of both zucchini and aubergines, mix it (looks like someone’s brains…) with mozzarella, herbs, tomato sauce and LOTS of fresh garlic from our dacha. I seasoned the stuffing with lots of things and filled the veggies. I also grated some hard cheese on top + sprinkled with sesame seeds. More baking and some minutes with the fan on – and they were ready!

baked stuffed zucchini and aubergines

The zucchini version were sweeter than the aubergine one although both had the same stuffing. But I liked them! I guess the trick in the baked stuffed veggies is to avoid scraping them down to the bottom – this way you will leave some of the flesh on (oh my god) and the veggie ‘boats’ won’t get too dry or hard to swallow. Another dish that you could try – and this time with a recipe – is Baked Aubergine and Courgettes Stuffed with Roast Pumpkin.

baked stuffed zucchini and aubergines

So, enjoy! And leave some space for improvisation in your life : )

Again there’s a long queue of posts still in drafts… I’m trying!

G.

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