no recipe · on USSR / Russia

Best Soviet Winter Movies. About Food Too!

In this already traditional New Year-related post I would like to share with you the movies and music that from my point of you are perfect for winter and not only the New Year’s Eve. Without appearing completely trivial, I would start with the most obvious choice.

Ironiya Sudby
Indispensable holiday attributes: guitar, champaign, gifts and new dress

I don’t know why but there are some inevitable things that come to my mind when the New Year’s Eve is drawing closer. I do not consider myself someone who enjoys the ‘modern’ concept of celebrating the coming of the new year, yet I do belong to the same Soviet culture most of the people in Russia seem to perpetuate. So it’s only natural that I have this nagging feeling to watch the Irony of Fate once more. Who could imagine at the time when this film was created (it was released on the first day of 1976) that this melodrama entirely built on the Soviet way of life, drinking and Soviet stupidities would equal to an ultimate icon of a holiday in the minds of several generations? But there’s not only this in the movie, there’s more to it… Is it that we all would probably love – juuuust a tiny bit! – to get into a similar absurd situation that would bring us the love of our life!

Ironiya Sudby
More holiday attributes: tangerines, more champaign and salads!

Sure enough, not every Russian has seen this movie and not every one loves it (too long, too melodramatic, too boring, too sentimental, etc etc). There are other things that represent the New Year’s Eve for them now. But I would really insist on the fact that for quite a lot of Russians the Irony of Fate is something so dear and so important, they would find their holiday incomplete without having at least a glimpse of this 3-hour movie on the TV.

Ironiya Sudby
The title shown against the faceless high rises and snow

And there’s food in there of course, the traditional dishes one would find on a Soviet table during most of the festivities. And there are even food-related quotes that have become bywords since then, like the phrase ‘Your fish in jelly is such shit!‘. This fish under jelly is one of the typical Soviet (and typically Soviet) dishes, which the proud housewife would place in the middle of the table. But you see, even though the Soviet women tried hard to make something out of sheer nothing, that was not always very tasty to eat.

There’s also this wonderful music, the piercing sounds of piano and vibraphone performed by Mikael Tariverdiev in this movie. And most of the people recognize the songs from this film too. Each time I hear some jazz music with jingling vibraphone, I immediately think about New Year and THE movie =) Mom says each time there was an intermission on the Soviet media, they would put this music on. My winter music? ABBA. Or Enigma. ABBA because it was tolerated and almost accepted during the Soviet times. It is also what you would certainly find on one TV channel or another on the new year’s eve here in Russia – not only that very Happy New Year song but all ABBA’s video clips sometimes. Enigma has no connection to the Soviet New Year of course, it’s just that I somehow connect it with winter and snow.

The dream of all Soviet people!

But actually I wanted to talk to you about another movie which is super-winter and food-related, Devchata (1961). And here the title in the super-rich Russian language just cannot be rendered into the laconic English language. Devchata is “girls” but with this soft and tender connotation, quite a rare word these days. The girls are in the center of the story, especially a bunch of very different girls with very different destinies. Watch this funny scene with Tosya, the main character, eating all the stock of the other girls sharing the room with her – she was not stealing, she was just completely and sincerely sure that everyone shares everything (like they did at the orphanage).

This is what I call SNOWY winter!

It was a snowy evening, I was passing a wagon used by the road workers where there was that pail filled with warmed tar or what do you fall that. How can a smell and light remind you of a black & white movie? Well… There’s lots of snow in the movie that makes you want to get inside this Siberian forest with tall fir trees… I’m sure that the fact that the movie is black & white creates this special atmosphere and is even better for the snow part of it – the white seems whiter against black and grey!

Russian glamour : )

It is food related (the girl could name all the dishes with potatoes!), it has a very romantic love story (Gosh it does!), it is hilarious and witty, it’s soundtrack and songs are simply genial, it is about old times and black & white, and, although quite idealistically, it reflects that period in the Soviet history when young enthusiastic people left there cities and their homes to build new cities and work in very difficult conditions in their desire to create a new world.

Happy Soviet working youth!

I know that these shots will tell almost nothing to you unless you watch the movie, but for me and a lot of Russians these are true jewels ; )

Explaining a new logging technique with beer bottles in a boys’ dormitory.

Indeed, what else can a movie be if such sincere emotions are expressed by the actors and communicated to you that you can’t help smiling, laughing and repeating the familiar phrases after them.

The ‘first guy in the village’ invites the lady for a dance.

 Like ‘I don’t dance with these [who attract girls by beckoning them with a finger]!’

In the end the short girl dances with the tall one.

A bit about the film: A girl who has just graduated from a culinary college arrives at a village in the Urals, takes over a hard task to feed the hungry timber-industry workers and falls in love with a popular macho who actually bets with his friend she would fall in love with him in a week (the winner would get his new hat). Guess what happens!


  Love through food…


…gets to a happy end!


I guess that for girls who are not that very tall this movie was and is super-inspiring =) And the story itself (it’s a novel actually) is really good though undeservedly forgotten (the librarian had to order the ONLY book from the store-room for me…). The book expands on the characters and their inner life which is missing from the movie and moreover it has such a sparkling humour (iskrometny, love the word, it literally means ‘throwing sparkles’) that it overrides this propaganda thing about the workers and building the communism together. A good read!

I’ve just seen another winter movie (though only episodically food-related) – Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse (Spring on Zarechnaya Street, 1956), where the same irresistibly charming actor Nikolay Rybnikov plays an illiterate steelmaker who falls desperately in love with a young hard-hearted teacher, commissioned to a workers’ village evening school (she loves Rakhmaninov!). I watched it in black & white though they’ve recently coloured it.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
The same actor 5 years earlier…

This movie has more minutes spent on propaganda with the factories and the country’s new power, the laborious workers’ class which is driving the country towards prosperity. And they keep singing the song with the same name that became very popular after the movie.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
Oh this cold-cold teacher!

However… it is with a teacher (apparently from a big city and not knowing anything about their world) that this steelmaker falls in love, leaving his unsophisticated girlfriend in tears! It’s weird and at the same time quite informative to watch movies about your grandparents’ youth! Especially when that time of the inspiring Khruchev’s Thaw seems so very far from today.

Vesna na Zarechnoy Ulitse
Notice the ever-present bottles of Soviet Champagne – this sweet fizzy drink would shock French people!

Sure enough there are lots of other winter movies, some of them being shown every single New Year. But I’ve been watching other movies recently and also a couple of documentaries on the early-mid 2oth century. And as if in connecting with these, seeing the decaying remains of the old Russia in Arkhangelsk has led me to some amount of thinking. There’s such a tremendous gap between us, the heirs of the Soviet empire and the Russian empire. On these photographs – how about first COLOUR photos of the Russian empire in 1900s?! – everything seems so robust and so ever-lasting (especially when you see COLOUR, not just sepia or black & white pictures which create a distance between you and the object), yet it all disappeared in such a dramatic way that we have almost NO connection at all to it.

Imagine that throughout the USSR times we never learnt about the First World war in a proper way: it was always and only ‘Ze Grejt Oktobjer Rjevoljushion‘ as one of my teachers of English would say (thanks to my Mom she did not last more than two weeks as my teacher!). As if that was a completely different country, different nation and different world even, that Russian empire. There are some vestiges left from it in our days, that’s true, but we do look at them as at something alien. It seems to me that that world became suddenly interesting and searched-for only after 100 years have passed.

But you cannot bring it all back, particularly the people. That is why it seems as if we are a completely different nation now: so many of those people died during the First World war, then the Civil war, some of them emigrated, the remainder died in Stalin’s camps or did not survive the Second World War. Some of them survived all through the years but they were so few. Why is it so that our history is divided in such distinct periods? First figure who has made this ‘cut’ was Peter the Great of course, with his European ideas he forcedly reformatted Russia into something it had never been. A completely different country! That’s why I sometimes crave for some truly Russian places in St Petersburg, it seems so artificial and not Russian when you think about it. The second ‘cut’ that comes to my mind is that ‘Grejt Oktobjer Rjevoljushion‘ of course. But the country that it created did not survive even a century.

And now what? It looks like a permanent waiting for something, as if we are still in between something, however ‘grejt’ our country might try to appear right now. However distant the Soviet era might seem to us at the moment, we are so deeply stuck in it still, it will take another century to look back on it and say ‘gosh, it all looks so weird and distant!’.


By the way, if you know Russian and are interested in that pioneer photographer Prokudin-Gorsky who toured round Russian empire to depict its life in the early 1900s, watch this and this. If you look at his photos of the objects – they are so unrealistically realistic, it seems you can touch them!

And you know what? Talking about the movies… 2015 is the year Marty McFly and Doc Brown visit in the future (one of the pivotal points of the story) – with all the flying cars, ovens boosting dehydrated pizza 4 times and dogs walking on leash all alone. People are already discussing these ‘predictions’ on the Internet. Well, we’ll see : )

Other New Year in USSR and Russia related posts on my blog:


Movie screenshots taken from all over Internet, including such websites as, and Wikipedia.

sweet · sweet bread

Makowiec or Poppy Seed Roll for Easter

I’ve just come back from a trip to several regions of France, which was a real escape from the thoughts and facts that I am to face right now. Will make a separate post for sure, got lots of photos and interesting details. And brought some food along too =) Oh, this gourmet country! Will miss the numerous boulangeries, patisseries and restaurants!

This post is from the end of April actually. Since I’ve got the permission of the recipe’s author to publish the English translation on my blog, here it is – a bit late, but better late than never, you know! After all, it’s been SNOWING here in St Petersburg while I was burning in the unexpectedly hot sun f the French Riviera (or Provence – Cote d’Azur). As I was leaving for my trip to France, I wanted this post to appear before the May holidays. I just guessed that when I come back I will already witness the nature in its luscious green blooming state (which I experienced 100% in Provence) and thus miss some stages of the spring process… But I was wrong, as today the trees here in St Pete are just starting to get dressed in light green colours. So let’s get back to Easter and start the spring thing all over again =)

Easter for most of us in Russia is the celebration of spring. In one of my previous posts you could get to know how we usually dye eggs for Easter in my family and in this post I will share with you another of our Easter favourites – poppy seed roll.

Makowiec from

This is not the recipe my mother would use though, as I’ve used another one found on the net. There’s no evident tradition in Russia to eat poppy seed rolls for Easter but in my family that was the most delicious treat you would expect to see at the Easter table. Also I remember that poppy seeds would miraculously disappear from the food shops around Easter times, so there were always some stored in the pantry.

Makowiec from

So, for those of you fans of poppy seeds and – consequently – who are eager to spend some time on this roll, here is the recipe translated from Italian. Originally this recipe was adapted from a Hungarian recipe of a Polish dish =) Well, a truly international cuisine is going on here.

Makowiec from

A year agoExperimenting with Sourdough Bread

Two years ago Sour Rye Bread to Make Your Life Sweeter followed by Peach Cheese Cake for Victory Day

Makowiec translated and adapted from will make a crunchy poppy seed roll with lots to chew on. ATTENTION: Requires time, you will have to make some preparations in advance (at least 8 hours). My remarks are in italics. Grazie, Cristina!


For the dough:

  • 80 ml lukewarm milk
  • 1 g instant yeast
  • 35 g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • vanilla
  • lemon zest
  • pinch of salt
  • 210 g flour (the Italian source says it should be the ‘oo’ type)
  • 60 g of butter (I used sunflower oil instead)

For the filling:

  • 125 g poppy seeds (I added more)
  • 125 ml water (I added more accordingly)
  • 125 ml milk
  • 15 g sugar
  • 50 g almonds
  • 50 g raisins
  • orange zest
  • 1 egg white (I used a whole egg)
  • 35 g honey
  • 2 Tbs breadcrumbs (I did not use these)

For the sugar glaze: (I did not make it, just sprinkled some sugar…)

  • 60 g powdered sugar
  • 7 g of egg whites
  • 7 ml lemon juice


Place poppy seeds in a pan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for about 8 hours (I increased the time).

Next, add milk and cook on low heat till the liquid is completely absorbed (this took some time indeed! At first I thought this milk will never disappear but in the end it was fully absorbed). Let cool a bit.

Meanwhile make the dough. Dissolve yeast and a pinch of sugar in lukewarm milk.

Beat the egg with sugar till foamy. Add dissolved yeast, salt, vanilla, lemon zest and mix well. Gradually add the flour. Knead until the dough is no longer sticky, then add the butter cut into pieces (I substituted with oil) and knead some more. Leave to rise in a greased bowl, covered, in the fridge overnight (I increased the time).

Makowiec from

Prepare the filling: Add almonds (apparently crushed), sugar, raisins, orange zest and honey to the poppy seeds. The author says that she has placed the mixture in the freezer for about half an hour and then processed finely at turbo speed. I did the same but my blender just would not process such a mixture finely, so the seeds remained almost intact. Add breadcrumbs (which I did not) to get a dense and spreadable mixture. Leave in the fridge until needed.

Once the dough has rested, roll it out on a floured board, spread the poppy seed mixture on top and roll it into a cylinder. Place it on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Leave covered for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 °C.

Brush the roll with beaten egg (I used whole egg + some coarse sugar) and bake for 30-35 minutes. Let cool.

The author suggests that the roll is best the day after baking – especially if you glaze it with egg white beaten with powdered sugar and lemon juice – but I skipped the glaze.

Makowiec from

Remarks: This recipe needs time and so I had to adjust the procedure to my possibilities. As both the seeds and the dough require an approximately overnight rest, I prepared them both at the same time.

With the egg wash (glaze) the top of the roll quickly becomes really brown so be careful and watch it ; ) Just not to ruin the entire poppy seed experiment!

Makowiec from

Result: Though quite elaborate and time consuming, this is a very tasty recipe, perfect to enrich your repertoire : ) I would not claim that this is a convenient recipe – with all the required preparation and resting time and overnight rest, etc etc – but once a year, well, why not? I usually prefer non-leavened sweet treats for our family but this roll does not really taste like a leavened thing, it is quite balanced in terms of dough / filling, rather on the dry side I would say. The filling is rich and nutritious – although it’s all mixed together and blended, I gather this poppy seed thing is quite a challenge for your belly .)

Makowiec from

It’s Victory Day here in Russia today, will watch the traditional throwing-loads-of-money-into-the-air fireworks later tonight : )


on USSR / Russia · traditional Russian recipe

Dying Eggs for Easter the Natural Way

Dying eggs for Easter is a tradition that has miraculously survived through the Soviet era and has successfully anchored itself in the present Russia. During the Soviet times fresh eggs were not that easy to get, so they mostly were used to decorate the festive table – I immediately associate hard-boiled eggs with winter New Year’s table (stuffed eggs), Okroshka soup in summer and Easter in spring of course. Lots of hard-boiled eggs for lots of breakfasts and dinners to come : ) So the two most popular things to make / buy for Easter in Russia are dyed eggs (try to get white eggs before Easter – impossible!) and sweet leavened cakes called kulich. People stand in long queues to get their Easter treats consecrated at the local churches and the cathedrals. The traffic gets crazy and everybody seem to be moving to or from the church clutching plastic bags loaded with kulich. Not sure if all these people are really involved with the religion that much but one thing is certain – they do pass these traditions on to their children.

Dying eggs for Easter

In my church-going-free family the Easter tradition is, well, really family-related. We have our own traditional treats that are closely knit with this time of the year – just because my Mother kept making them throughout my childhood. I will tell you about a sweet treat my Mother used to bake which I particularly was looking forward each year in my next post. Here we’re talking about this egg tradition. Even my Granny born in the Stalinist 30s dyes eggs every year. Oh those Russians, a weird mixture they have in their heads, that of pagan beliefs, Orthodox religion, Soviet propaganda engraved in their brains and new consumer-commercial ideology embracing their lives.

Dying eggs for Easter

Each one of this eggs has been dyed using a very natural technique – no artificial dyes required, no stickers or anything of a kind. I think you’ve already guessed what these patterns are made of (with). This technique is not just characteristic of Russia, it can be found in Eastern Europe as well. There’s also this tradition of sharing eggs with your friends and family (you end up actually exchanging eggs), so in the end you get like a dozen eggs of various design and color.

Dying eggs for Easter

A year ago – a very-very spring post Black and White Sourdough Bread and Apples and Oranges

Two years agoNovgorod Borkannik or Carrot Pie plus Biscotti and On Soviet Food Stupidities

These are the tools and ingredients you will need for dying eggs with onion peels and spring plants:

  • eggs – as much as you wish to have and give out, preferably white but any kind will do. Don’t forget to wash them.
  • lots of yellow onion peels (I guess if you try red onion you will get violet eggs!) – the more you get, the more intense the color
  • various spring flowers and leaves (please, be sensible and kind, do not ruin all fresh and young plants in the neighborhood, pick up just some – or use the flowers from your vase like we did) – the more detailed the leaves the more intricate a pattern you will get. Clean thoroughly.
  • cloth from natural material (the best choice is gauze but any not very dense cotton will do just fine). Cut these into pieces larger than the eggs (just imagine you will have to wrap each egg entirely and cut the pieces accordingly)
  • a thread from natural material
  • scissors
  • a pot that can be… well, ruined a bit (the dye will get into the pot)

Dying eggs for Easter

We usually pick our plants from the nearest yard being careful not to get too close to the places where the local dogs abide (but you never know). This process is also a sign of spring and Easter – when you walk around and see people stooping over these tiny shoots which have just appeared above the ground. By the way, onions are also very popular this time of the year! And my sister even got a bag full of peels from a local fruit & vegetable shop.

Dying eggs for Easter

Looks like a workshop – we were three to dye eggs this year, although I resisted at first… You see, when you boil the eggs they get really hard. Imagine forgetting your eggs for 20 minutes? That’s what you’ll get! Lots of hard-boiled eggs with beautiful pattern.

Dying eggs for Easter

These large flowers did not adhere to the egg shell really tight so they resulted in a somewhat bluish though distinctly flower pattern. The best plants were these tiny yellow flowers seen in the background (we call them Duck’s Legs) and the sophisticated leaves.

The process – wash the eggs, leave them to half-dry and then decorate them one by one by picking your favorite flowers and leaves (also half-dried) and pressing against the egg shell. Be careful not to break the eggs but at the same time secure the plants so that they leave a more distinct pattern. Don’t overdo the decoration, leave space for just plain brownish color.

Dying eggs for Easter

Wrap each egg into pieces of cloth and then tie each ‘baby’ (don’t they look like babies? especially when your Mother tells you those cloth pieces used to be your baby clothes recently discovered at your Granny’s Ali-Baba-cave-like place) with the thread quite tightly. You don’t have to actually make a knot in the end, just interlace the end of the thread with the rest. Your aim is to make sure these plants will stay close to the egg while boiling. Keep your egg ‘parcels’ ready for the next stage:

Dying eggs for Easter

Once all the eggs are ready (although you might have to boil them in batches, depending on your ‘appetite’), start heating water in an old pot with all the onion peels inside. DON’T FORGET SALT. It will prevent the eggs from bursting out when they get into warm-to-hot water. Place the eggs in the pot and boil for 20 minutes (counting after the water starts boiling). Then leave the pot to cool down a bit, take the egg parcels out carefully and place them on a plate to cool down. When they are ok to be handled unwrap them CAREFULLY, wipe off the rests of the plants with the cloth wrapper (discard the cloth, the thread and the plants obviously) and marvel at the pattern! You can reuse the water with the onion peels for the next batch – you might get an even denser result.

Dying eggs for Easter

This is what happens to an unlucky egg when it’s unlucky owner tries to beat a luckier friend, owner of an egg with a harder egg shell =) I know that Greeks have this tradition too, they dye the eggs red and then ‘compete’ with each other to find out whose egg is the hardest.

For a glossy ‘look’ rub some sunflower oil on the egg shell:

Dying eggs for Easter

Blogging keeps me from thinking this joke of life is a bit too much, really. Somebody’s having a really bad taste in jokes, not funny : ( I’m talking about being (or rather – getting) unemployed for the …th time in my life. Also about being torn out of the already MY job and a habitual way of life… Well, let’s face this challenge!


Family recipe · traditional Russian recipe

No-Fuss Russian Blini from Old Recipe Book

Although a bit late for Maslenitsa (Carnival period in Russia), here is a recipe of easy Russian blini we’ve been using in my family for quite a while. Russian blini are larger and thinner than American pancakes, rather like French crepes. They are baked at the end of winter to welcome spring because blin is as round and shiny as the sun. Also blini are quite a greasy job, so this is what we gorge on all through the last week before the Lent (haha, and way beyond that for those who prefer to follow their own ‘diet’). People bake blini and invite each other to drink tea and eat blini with lots of various condiments. Blini vary from house to house, some of us prefer them thick and fluffy, some thin and sour, some medium. A lot relies on the ingredients: the type of grain and flour quality, the use of milk or buttermilk, the amount of eggs and sugar which make the batter richer, as well as on the procedure, cause some of the traditional Russian recipes require yeast with a poolish or sourdough (like these sourdough blini), mind you!

I know that pancakes can be found anywhere on Earth and are claimed by lots of nations to be their invention, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy these Blini na skoruyu ruku (Quick Blini, literary Blini with a Quick Hand), from a book most of women used to have and probably still have at home in Russia – Vegeterianskaya Kuhnya (Vegetarian Cuisine, 1993). This post-Soviet book is actually a compilation of early 20th century recipes (!) collected by Zelenkova, also known as Vegeterianka, populist of vegetarian cuisine in tsarist Russia, which were published in 1906 under the ‘Ya Nikogo ne Yem‘ title (‘I Don’t Eat Anyone‘). So this blini recipe might as well be titled Easy Russian Old-Recipe Blini!


These no-fuss blini are just what I think proper blini should be – not over thick, not over sweet, perfect for smetana (sour cream), honey or berry jams:


…but just plain butter as well:


Also my Mom (who actually uses her own recipe for thin sour blini) used the leftover blini the next day to make blini s tvorogomblini with cottage cheese. The ‘recipe’ is simple – take a blin and  add some cottage cheese in the middle (you can mix in some sugar if you want), than fold the blin as you would a letter (creating an envelope around the filling) and then reheat the ‘parcels’ on a pan. This creates a sort of a caramelized crust as the cottage cheese tends to ooze a bit (be careful not to urn your blini!) and the fillings stays soft as long as the blin is warm. Nice way to reuse the leftovers!


Did you know that leftover blini can also be used in a more elaborate dishes, like a blinnij tort –  a sort of multi-layer cake from blini with really just about any filling between them (savoury as well)? Blini can be rolled into a tube with the filling or just plunged into smetana, they can be folded in a triangle…


Two years ago – a more sophisticated way to bale your blini: Sourdough Pancakes, as Promised

One year ago – experimenting with sprouted grains in bread: Sprouted Grains and Welcome Spring! and baking some Sourdough Bread for Maslenitsa

But before you get to know if there is ANYTHING left for tomorrow, let’s bake the batch and mount up a hole stack of warm shiny blini buttering each one:

No-Fuss Quick Russian Blini from Vegeterianskaya Kuhnya (but most likely from a 1906 Ya Nikogo ne Yem vegeterian recipe book by O. Zelenkova) – will make a large stash of multi-purpose blini that you can eat with your favourite jam / honey / sour cream / or just plain butter (caviar is too trivial, haha). ATTENTION: The recipe uses the most common measure in Russia – a stakan (glass) which contains 200 ml of water or 250 g of flour.


  • 2 eggs
  • 2 glasses of warm milk
  • 2 glasses of warm water
  • 2 glasses of all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs of oil
  • some sugar and salt, to taste
  • butter, to brush blini


Beat 2 eggs, add warm milk and warm water, oil, salt and sugar. Gradually mix in the flour. Mix well. Pour a thin layer on a hot greased pan and bake on each side. Brush with butter.


Remarks: I usually pre-mix hot water with milk cause I’m lazy enough to heat the milk separately. I also adjust the amount of flour so that the mixture is more like thin sour cream (I’m lazy to use the stakan measure and use the cups instead). As the batter already contains oil my teflon pancake pan works just fine without any additional greasing. Just wait till the unbaked layer on top gets bubbly, flip the blin over and wait some more. Lift the blin, brush with butter and place each blin you bake on top. Thus they will keep the heat and also will easily separate from each other because of the butter.


Result: Crispy on the edges, moderately thick and almost neutral in taste, these traditional Russian blini are easy and fast! Best eaten while hot / warm but can be easily re-heated or reused later. The recipe is very simple to remember as everything here is 2-2-2-2! I’m quite reluctant to fry things and prefer to bake things (oven seems to me much much easier than using the stove!) but blini is at least something I can ‘fry’ thanks to this recipe.

Enjoy your sunny blini!

P.S. Will see Siberia already this week!


Family recipe · no-dough · sweet

Midsummer Berry Smoothie


Just as last year I’m in a hurry to make this post a mid-summer one. Don’t ask me if I believe that it’s already mid July, please, no I don’t : ) This post is just a contemplation of the life going on, plus an easy recipe for a berry smoothie. Berries are always so abundant here at this time of the year that you just need a couple of good berry recipes! I’m already running out of them as I just don’t like baking the same thing over and over again. Here’s a nice berry cake recipe that I posted…

A year ago – Midsummer’s Black Currant Rhubarb Cake

on the balcony

The plant looks much better now, it has delicate flowers and it’s own little summer of life is in full swing. we’re rediscovering our balcony this summer – thanks to my Mom who is suddenly so green-thumbly 🙂 This year with her help the salad grew amazingly nice. I just hope, Mom, that you won’t suddenly find yourself building a new greenhouse next year!

salad leaves

And here are the tartest cherries on Earth:

sour cherry

My favourite berries are definitely not the most prolific black currants that are invading our dacha and my baking each year (I’d rather eat red currants). Blueberries are much more to my liking, I wish they were growing at our dacha… We bought some couple of weeks ago and I made a reeeeeeaaaal blueberry cake (usually every blueberry cake/ muffin/ etc turns into blueblackberry something) and also some kind of a berry smoothie, which we are more used to call mousse in my family.

blueberries and sweet cherries

There are various solutions to cope with the berry harvest, of course, like freezing them in a way of a sorbet, for example. But – luckily – for the lazy ones there’s always something which requires only a blender bowl to wash later. The recipe for the berry smoothie comes from the mere need to use the berries which sometimes (most of the times) are just too acidic to eat as it is. So we blend them with something sweet, mixing several kinds of berries together. Usually the strawberries are the most acidic berries at our dacha, so these are more likely to end up as a smoothie combined with the first black currants (they are everywhere!).

berry smoothie

This time I took strawberries + blueberries for a change (I was too lazy to pit the sweet cherries so they went as decoration). Plus added a sweetener – honey. The recipe is easy (the shortest recipe ever on my blog!):

Berry Mousse (Smoothie) – can be changed in a myriads of ways and adapted to your taste


  • berries of your choice
  • honey / sugar


Blend the berries (with a hand mixer or blender), adding enough sweetener. Eat with ice cream or in my case – the ever present prostokvasha.

berry smoothie

Result? All depends on you and your berries in this case!

berry smoothie

Normally, the all-berry smoothie is quite thick but you can still manage to drink it with a straw. Just don’t forget to brush your teeth as these Northern berries may as well be sweet and oh so nice but they are acidic as hell : )


The basil looks cool. It tastes weird though, as this one is with the cloves flavour (next year – regular basil, Mom!):


and these are vetches:


and a bee in glamour ‘sun glasses’:

bee on a flour

jasmine (already over its blossom period now):


an addition to my previous St Petersburg Sky and All That Bread post – the evening sky


and that brings me to the end of the mid summer reportage…

lily leaves

Rain drops on the leaves of the tiger lily from the first picture. After a hot start of the day, there was rain today too. Reminded me of that rainy song by Planet Funk – just realized it’s more than 10 years old already (do you believe it, sister?!)! Love the rain sequence – and rain in real life too, occasionally, haha. Hope it was not ‘last summer day’ today!


no recipe

Soviet Kitchen Heirloom

Domovodstvo (Homekeeping) 1959

This post is not going to be filled with pretty pictures, I warn you. It is about the legacy left by the previous times in our family kitchen, particularly at our dacha place, which is a sort of an attic for the forlorn things which await the moment of … well, that long overdue moment of parting with the thing. Let me explain.

Everything made in USSR was made to last. Because USSR itself was supposed (not supposed, but WAS) to last. Planned obsolescence was obviously invented somewhere beyond the USSR. Including the in-flexible footwear that will never ever wear out. And the sturdy household objects from metal or plastic – coming from the assembly line of former (and perhaps simultaneously) military factories. We still have the fridge from God knows when (Mom says it was bought in 1968…), making so much frost and freezing at its lowest so well that we just let it be, who knows for how many more years ahead. Not mentioning all the meat mincing machines which you could make horror films with – and use them as weights as well. Ha, my favourite thing was the old vacuum cleaner called Vikhr (Whirlwind) – and it did sound like a tempest, although the dust remained. Actually what was great about it was that you could sing every time you tried to clean the house with it, oh and how loudly you could do that, better than in a shower! The TV sets – awful, with ridiculously elongated bodies of those on the screen which could only be mended by making them all look like eggs. What else… Sure enough there were such things anywhere in the world back then but no one will deny the existence of something particular to all these Soviet goods.

A year agoSourdough Bread with Dates and Flaxseeds, I remember it was very good!

This is just a selection of kitchen-related things I photographed back in May at our dacha. I will try to tell a short story of every object portrayed.


This first thing is actually not Soviet at all, I just wanted to show you one of the traditional Russian kitchen … tools, cause this one will build muscle for sure. This is called mutovka (literally – a mixing thing) and it was made by one of my great-grand-parents from a twig. Other possible materials – horn (don’t ask me how). So it is a predecessor of a mixer and a sort of a hardcore whisk. You can tell it was used much. Same as were and still are these teaspoons 40 kopecks each (probably made at the factory where my grandparents worked). Yep, the price was obligatory indicated on almost anything. So, hard to imagine knowing exactly how much every good costs? Well, people did, actually. There was also this thing in those self-service stores in the USSR when the customer had to remember every single price (especially lovely with things sold by weight) in every department and then tell them all at the cashier’s desk. I wish I could do that, but I just recall I was afraid of going to some stores which had this very (memory-testing) process still running.


Everything made in USSR was made to…be the same. There are even entire movies based on this fact that people owned and were surrounded by the same things starting from furniture and keys to flats and, well, block of flats – they all looked oh so familiar and… the same. But, seriously, if the prices for the goods in the USSR were artificially kept at the same level for years on end, why bother changing these goods? Mom says if prices ever went up it was discussed everywhere by everyone and it was a shock. So, come back in 10, 20 years and buy your children the same product! No headaches with design, better packaging (here is a curious topic by the way, probably nothing more environment-friendly than the Soviet packaging…) etc etc, how nice eh?

plate bottom

Everything made in USSR was made … in USSR. Or in one of the so-called Soviet-friendly countries like the Eastern Germany. 100% patriotism. The design or whatever might be, well, stolen from somewhere else to create an object but it was made proudly IN the country. The factory stamp you see above is of a Dutch ware factory in Tver (this website places its production between 1946-1950), and the plate itself (with some flower pattern on it) belonged to my Mom’s grandmother. Yes, there are things that you never throw away.

donut maker

Like this one – bought somewhere in the 80s actually this thing is supposed to make pyshki – donuts. Well, I tried… but the batter keeps escaping from the thing and it is then all over the place. But what an idea 😉 The thing is called Pyshechnitsa – and the packaging design is definitely the same as it was with all the previous editions of this apparatus : ) By the way, we still have this Pyshechnaya eating places where you’re served several pyshki on a plate, dusted with sugar and a cup of something hot. Used to be and still remains one of the cheapest options for a snack. Traditionally our variant of donuts are not filled and are normally fried (and probably that’s why I don’t like them, I prefer everything baked, isn’t it much easier in the first place?).

donut maker

For the Soviet cookie dough cutters and the packaging design go here. Below are the aluminum forms to bake ‘nuts’ which are to be filled with walnuts (when mass produced – usually with sweetened condensed milk inside), also from the 80s. I tried to bake madelaines in them – it worked but the shear joy of scraping the dough off these tiny forms, well, I’d rather avoid it. The recipe is quite Soviet – egg yolks, flour, margarine, soda and salt + ground walnuts, sugar and whites for the filling. I remember my Granny used to bake also ‘mushrooms’ – a more complicated process involving baking the stem and the cup and then filling them and sprinkling with nuts… only for the Soviet housewives ready to consecrate so much time and effort for an elaborate sweet treat…


This rusty object below is related to preserving fruits and vegetables – a commonly used hand jar seamer. They say it was invented by a Russian scientist in 1881, wow. Preserving fruit was and still is a preferred way to liven up a bit the variety of food during the winter – for which purpose you either bought raw fruits and vegetables or grew your own and then dedicated entire weeks for the process. Now it’s more for some delicatessen like canned cucumbers or mixed ‘winter salads’ that a family would venture out to preserve food, but it used to be an almost exclusive option for lots of families during the Soviet era – there were hardly any fresh vegetables around in winter. My grandparents are still so much into preserving that their apartment turns into Ali Baba cave in autumn. And then we get disapproving glances from them as we tend to eat less and less of these things each year.

to seal jars

There are really very fine and sophisticated crockery and cutlery preserved at my grandparents’ place which I remember being not allowed to play with, just looking at them through the cupboard glass (one of the staples in a Soviet house – a huge cupboard to put all your crystal ware well on display). There were the gift sets for special occasions which people gave to each other for the lack of anything else worth giving. But mostly I do associate Soviet crockery and cutlery with something rather bulky and heavy and not very nice. Something from a stolovaya (canteen) with uniform white plates bearing a stamp of Obshchepit on it (public catering). The same applied for the bed linen in the hotels, hospitals or on trains for example, everything stamped.


This plate is supposed to be some kind of a special-occasion tray for fruit probably. We had a whole set in this style. And further are some decorative patterns from Domovodstvo (Home Keeping, 1959), a true book of life. Its battered cover is the first photo of this post. Apparently bought to keep up with the new born baby (my Mom). It’s a comprehensive for those times collection of various tricks, rules, recipes, patterns and other useful information for a housewife of the 50s. A more how-to-feed-your-baby-centered book of the same period is this one.

Domovodstvo (Homekeeping) 1959

I have just one thought which might probably not seem that clearly inferred to you – how different the mindset must have been! And what a tremendous change were the 90s… It’s just that there was this familiar ever-repeating itself secure life and then, pooof, nothing, everything had to be decided, chosen yourself. Take the prices for example – I remember there were those talks in my family and around me back in early 90s that the cheapest something could be bought there and for another thing you should go in the opposite direction – and they did go there. And all this after years and years of knowing EXACTLY the cost of each thing EVERYWHERE (it’s true that the country was separated in ‘zones’ with slightly different prices but within one city / region they were the same).

For more stories and memories related to the Soviet times see this page.


waiting for... elektrichka

And finally – elektrichka! Just for a change. These are of course just people impatiently waiting for the commuter train back home at the central station in St Petersburg, but you can spot the train coming there in the background. Imagine the situation in the morning in the direction of the city – I remember having to miss 2 trains in the morning because I just failed to get physically inside. But there are so many things linked to the commuter trains, like having time to revise before exams, to read books, to call aaaaaaaaaaaaall your friends (remember, there’s also the way back!), to talk to the fellow commuters, to play, watch films, listen to all the podcasts at top volume to cover the noise and the ever-present vendors or musicians, and just look outside the window (the view is alright in summer). I know people who met their boyfriends (and possibly spouses) on elektrichka. Such a sociable place!

Coming soon – okroshka, the traditional Russian (and Ukrainian) summer cold ‘soup’ (more like a salad with… kvas).


Greek recipe · leftovers · muffins · sweet · sweet bread

Apples and Oranges

I need to finish with the queue of the wanna-be posts – there’s a St Petersburg spring post preparation being in the process of reading & taking photos already. I think I’m falling in love with my city once again, deeper this time. It’s so diverse and yet undiscovered, you just need to open your eyes and soak in the details before the tourist season begins. Good timing!

Well, to cut the long story short, this post is about four sweet things I’ve done recently – there will be a choice of 2 cakes, yeast rolls and cheesecake bars – reunited under the Apples and Oranges as their characteristic ingredients. Does anybody remember (“laughter?” Wait, that was Robert Plant saying this)… APPLES? Haha, it was only an illusion that once all the apples from your garden are up, the apple issue is closed. We’re still dealing with them here, now with all the ‘derivatives’, such as apple compote or apple jam. The apple compote is a clear sort of juice from small and not very ‘successful’ (sweet) apples traditionally made by my grandparents in three liter jars. The trick with it is that it contains the apple halves which only my grandparents seem to be eating once the compote is over.

Apple Cake and apple compote

Don’t tell me you would easily throw them away when you know how much effort it takes to make the compote, nononono. So I’m using these already processed apples in cakes where fresh apples are required – and the result so far has been just fine. More apple recipes here.

A year ago – Biscotti and On Soviet Food Stupidities featuring chewy biscotti, black days and sausage elektrichka.

Let’s start with the Apple Cake adapted from simple recipe which will make a lovely looking cake which is soft and vanilla-delicious (and let’s count it as my first Australian recipe here).

Changes were scarce: less butter but + olive oil + sour cream; fewer apples (and from compote).

Apple Cake

The icing sugar eventually disappeared creating a sort of sugar crust on the top. The texture of the cake is something like that of a sponge cake or the Russian ‘apple sharlotka cake but thicker (and there’s butter in it). The amount of apples can be increased, I mean, I suggest you use the amount indicated in the original recipe, to make a perfect balance between the sponge part and the apples.

Apple Cake

The result: As far as I remember;) it was very good. I’ve tried also a similar recipe from the collection on the SBS site, Sica cake with pears – also using the same apples from compote + a fresh pear (added some ginger for flavour and should have used more flour cause the apples and pears sank to the bottom, so that I had to invert the cake upside-down, but who’ll mind?). A good recipe for apple compote leftovers!

Apple Cake

Another linen towel from the kitchen heritage left from our grandparents – supposed to be used only for special family occasions, which I guess if ever happened than it was very very very rarely. Mom made a whole photo session with the next hero of this post (all photos here were taken by me):

Sweet Orange Rolls

We’ll alternate apple with oranges, right? And also the type – this one is a leavened dough dessert.

Sweet Orange Rolls adapted from are indeed sweet, soft, tasty and the aroma is… !

Changes: Less yeast; added ginger to the dough; less butter; less salt. I skipped the glaze and just brushed the tops with freshly squeezed orange juice – and actually with all the sugar syrup which escaped from these cute things they were still very sweet!

Sweet Orange Rolls

No leftovers this time, unless you call the orange zest which I try to keep from the oranges we eat leftovers. Even before these are roll(ed)s, they look fine – with the sugar crystals and the orange zest against the rolled out dough. The sun was quite elusive that day, but how éclatant they look when there’s sun!

Sweet Orange Rolls

The process will take time but, yes, it’s worth it. Pity they disappear quicker then they’re made 😉

Sweet Orange Rolls

Cute things, aren’t they? In the affectionate colloquial Russian a girl would call them ‘pusechki’ (cute little things; eh, Russian is so rich in all the suffixes and prefixes and stuff, you really start appreciating it when trying to translate a word with a couple of prefixes here and suffixes there – and yet this is not Finnish!).

Sweet Orange Rolls

Result: As their name suggests, they really ARE sweet – even without the glaze (i.e. mine contained minus 3/4 cups sugar and minus all the syrup which escaped while baking) and fragrant. An orange-y must.

Apples? Cheesecake? Bars? And leftovers! This recipe helped finish a jar of apple jam 😉

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping adapted from is very nice with jam instead of fresh apples – and without caramel sauce.

Changes: less butter for the base; more cream cheese (2,5 250g packs of 5% tvorog) for the cheese layer; apple jam with slices + cinnamon + nutmeg instead of fresh apples and sugar; less brown sugar for the topping; no caramel sauce.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

Result: The recipe yielded a large four-layer slab of tastiness. As I increased the amount of cream cheese, the bars has a distinct cream cheese layer which worked as a contrast to a rather sugary topping and sweet apple slices from the jam. Plus the base. Wonderful! If your cheese is as tangy as the Russian tvorog, you can increase the sugar but be careful not to overload the whole thing with sugar!

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

Some time later the cheesecake layer soaked in the juices from the apple jam becoming brownish but that added sweetness to the cream cheese. The topping is crunchy and quite sugary – especially if you use coarse sugar. Well, there are also oats, let’s not forget it 😉 The trick of these bars is to enjoy the four layers ensemble – without loosing the topping!

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

The escaping topping and the sugar granules are visible here:

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

And now on to a recipe not that much orange-y but I made it such. It’s from a Greek blog, there’s Google translate option, I checked it, just note that bacon powder=baking powder 😉 There are photos and I think everything is clear.

Κέικ καρότου με καρύδια or Carrot Cake with Walnuts Cashews adapted from will make a very substantial cake and several muffins!


This is a real GREEK recipe which usually means a lot of eggs, sugar and oil. And all in all it usually means a recipe which will feed a crowd. So deal with it accordingly. What I did was to decrease the amount of sugar and oil (I used sunflower oil instead of corn), throw in the orange flesh along with the juice, use 4 eggs instead of 5, toasted and chopped cashews instead of walnuts +  cardamom, nutmeg and ginger to neutralize the egg flavour.

As for the impressive amount of the batter, I feared the never-ending process of baking such a large cake, so I made several rather large muffins, which took around 30 min to bake.

Keik karotou me karudia

The ‘topping’ that you can see in the photos is actually what was left from the Apple cheesecake bars from above.

Keik karotou me karudia

{blue-ish morning light flowing from the window and what a substantial bite for breakfast!}

Keik karotou me karudia

This is a no-joke cake, it’s very nourishing and chewy, with all the carrots and orange bits and nuts in it! I think that cashews played it well in the cake (I also scattered some on the bottom of the cake pan as I knew it would be the cake’s top).

Keik karotou me karudia

The texture is spongy and you can tell there ARE eggs inside 😉 I do believe the fifth egg would have been a bit too much. You can also halve the amount of the ingredients to make, for instance, a batch of muffins or a smaller cake. So, the result is… more than enough!

Keik karotou me karudia

{Moomin muffin case, a gift from my sister}

The morning was so dull and moody with the heavy rain – now it’s sunny and spring-windy with clear white clouds against the bright sky. The spring has overcome the St Petersburg‘s 230 (other sources say from 150 to 1500) shades of grey which a true St Pete citizen should be able to distinguish. And yes, St Petersburg, you will finally get your personal post!


bread · German recipe · muffins · sourdough · sweet

Travelling Muffins and Wandering Bread

April 1st already? Kidding? We’re a bit late this year with the warm times, so only now do the snow heaps melt away. It’s the happy time of the year when not only all of those Soviet champagne bottles are gradually emerging from the melting snow… yuk! But even with, that the overcast skies and the occasional snow whirling down from the sky – I spotted it from the 23rd floor, it might have not reached the ground but I doubt that – we still hope for the spring, the real no-kidding spring!

I dedicate this post to Jana, love your letters, recipes and your support! This post contains a recipe sent by my friend as well as some other things which I baked in the oven on the 23rd floor. (Jana, dear, I remember that I promised to show you this apartment on the 23rd floor but there’s still much to do…) Here is the view over the south of the city one gets from that high in good weather:

view over St Pete from the 23rd floor

This is not the centre of the city, it’s just its southern outskirts, a 30 min metro ride from the historical centre of St Petersburg. Those who come to visit me to this 23rd floor studio usually admire the view, especially with the street lights running far ahead, but what I would like to observe from my window would be small houses, a park, a river… and of course a market place and a post office 😉 Well, you do not always get what you want, of course, but you should be happy with what you want and aspire for more. It’s just that this 23rd floor sometimes makes me dizzy without even looking out of the window, I need a more ehhh down-to-earth living quarters =)

I’m moving there and back to my parents’ home throughout the week (especially now that I’m struggling with this job search / idle time) and as I bake almost every day (I wish I could do that not just when we’ve run out of bread / sweet things / pies etc., just let me bake and bake and bake… I should work in a test kitchen perhaps!), I take whatever I bake there, on the 23rd floor to my parents’. Sometimes more risky things are travelling in my bag, taking a 30-40 min bus ride: I’m sure no one will be against smelling fragrant freshly baked bread (still warm!) when on the bus, but I also take sourdough starter / pizza dough with me… =) And they do survive! I pretend they are in the fridge, because the weather is still wintry and nothing dangerous can happen, right?

Well, these did not survive UNTIL the bus ride back home. They were EATEN on the spot:

Chocolate Glazed Donut Muffins

{I was trying to make a contrast black-and-white photo but my leg spoiled the result}

And they were originally Chocolate Glazed Donut Muffins from – I didn’t have time to change much, just added wheat bran and omitted syrup in the glaze. Easy-peasy! And the glaze is simple and effective.

Another thing which was eaten on the spot was the already well-known Khachapuri:


These Khachapuri I now make on a regular basis – I usually vary the cheese filling and the flour I use (sometimes I add rye flour, this time I added extra whole-wheat flour), and the recipe yields so much dough that this time, for example, one piece of dough accompanied me to the 23rd floor (to be later baked and EATEN with my friend) while the other was partially frozen (ready-to-bake pies for my parents) and partially left for tomorrow in the fridge (don’t forget to oil your dough and leave it covered). Also when I run out of cheese (this time I used the combination of cottage cheese-like Adygea cheese + rubbery suluguni + herbs, eggs, seasoning), I just throw in whatever I can find, even… buckwheat porridge! Well, why not, since the authentic filling for the Russian pies were all those sorts of porridge.

Should I open home cafe for my friends? – this is also one of the reasons why I cannot live alone for a long time – I just cannot eat everything I want to cook ‘v odnu kharyu‘ – which can be translated from harsh Russian into polite English as ‘by one face’. I need to share food. You can cook alone, that’s fine, but eating alone is sad.

Let me share with you this very German for me…


Kontinentbrot (or Continent Bread) adapted from – it will make a very dense, moist and chewy bread. It travelled already baked but still very warm on the bus, entertaining me and some babushkas with a distinct fragrance of rye bread (for more sourdough bread refer to this list).

A year ago – the wonderful Lenten Bougatsa and, to continue in the sweeeeet Greek mood – some Pies with Greek Flavours such as Peach and Blueberry Pie and Greek Yogurt Cheesecake.


The reason why I think this bread is truly German is because when I was living in Strasbourg, within a 15 min bike ride to Germany… I was buying my bread in Germany (as I just couldn’t live on baguettes, I longed for the black bread!) And there I used to buy this kind of seed-loaded dark moist bread which lasts long and also makes your energy last long! See?:


So, my changes were partially predetermined by the lack / presence of certain ingredients on the 23rd floor (not that it’s so difficult to get all the ingredients that high, of course). Thus, in order to fake whole rye flour, I added rye bran to the regular rye flour; I toasted pumpkin seeds and did not toast sunflower seeds; in the final dough I also added oats + wheat bran for even more more more more stuff in the bread. As for the yeast, I used instant yeast, and just as the author suggests, I would also add more salt next time. Ah, yes, I also used oats + wheat bran to ‘roll’ my bread in while it was rising.


The result: moist, LOADED and chewy… you can hardly call it bread with such characteristics 😉 . This recipe is very easy compared to the elaborate 100% sourdough bread as it has yeast and the rising times are really short – here I followed the process explained in the original recipe. By the ‘elaborate 100% sourdough bread’ I mean, for example, the 100% RYE sourdough bread which I tried recently. This is the levain for my 100% rye experiment – Anni’s Finnish Rye Bread from :

levain for Anni’s Finnish Rye Bread

I did not follow the original measurements for the levain and the dough, using those from This bread is, yes, 100% rye and it has no yeast, apart from the wild yeast culture from your sourdough starter, but it rose wonderfully. The only problem was that I had to go out and… the dough was left for too much time for the second rise and it didn’t rise in the oven, so the result was a flattish kind of bread BUT it was delicious and reminded me of the rye rusks from the true Darnitsky bread (well, the bread too!) – it had this tangy rye flavour… mmmmm!

But now you certainly deserve a dessert! And here it is, also German, and although if this desert was baked and sent along with the recipe it would have arrived completely stale with the speed our Russian post exhibits… It was baked on the 23rd floor following the recipe from the ‘freshly’ received letter and promptly delivered on a bus, – I do not entrust the delivery to anyone else 😉

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Another Jana’s recipe from her letter to me has already made its appearance here in my blog, back then when I just started blogging – that was the traditional Marmorkuchen. My version of her Gingerbread Cupcakes is rather a muffin than a cupcake, but who cares, really. I’m still using the snowflake paper cases from the USA, haha. Also there is no icing as these were predestined to travel – some of them even travelled twice, going to my grandparents’ place.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Jana says the recipe comes from a tiny book with Christmas treats – one sweet recipe for each day before the feast, just like an Advent calendar. Well, it’s three months away from Christmas now but who wouldn’t like some gingerbread, eh? ANY time! And after all my muffins turned out to be not that 100% gingerbread… Well, no doubt I couldn’t keep myself (my hands) from throwing in something different… something which was present in the 23rd floor pantry and fridge (the fridge is enormous, just for a one-room apartment, hehe!). But first – the original recipe. Jana has just allowed me to post her hand-written recipe, here it is (she translated it for me from German):

Gingerbread Cupcakes recipe

Now on to my changes:

I have had an open jar of homemade red currant sort-of-jam in the fridge, right next to honey (in very limited amount;), so… instead of honey I took out that jam, a very sourish thing although you do feel there’s enough sugar in it. This gave the muffins an extra tangy flavour which I actually like, the honey would have been less hmm special I guess. As for the spices, I added cinnamon, ginger, coriander, nutmeg, no cloves, freshly ground allspice, anise and cardamom. I used regular sugar instead of brown and heated the liquid ingredients in the microwave for 30 seconds than gave the mixture a stir and repeated the heating several times.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

The result – flavourful (especially anise!), tangy, sweet & sour, not your regular muffin kind! No icing required to my mind, not even the icing sugar (in Russia we call it ‘sugar powder’). Thank you, Jana!

The windowsill (yes, of that famous and only window with an astonishing for many view over the city) has proved to be very … white, perfect for lazy photographers like me (this wooden circle is a traditional thing you can buy in Russia, I like the woody fragrance it gives out when used as a mat for hot pots) + here are the new IKEA silicon muffin cups, quite irregular in their form but resulting in cute muffins:

Gingerbread Cupcakes

After Knut Hamsun’s veeeery topical Ringen Sluttet I’m reading a book I found at my grandparents’ – it’s about St Pete’s life 100 years ago written by contemporaries. Lots of details – will post some food-related remarks later!

Dear Jana, I would love to go geocaching with you on the top of the Thessaloniki hill again, make enraged pasta in Venice 😉 or walk all along the Nevsky Prospekt and back again in the rainy St Pete! See you somewhere soon?

As I’m finishing this post it’s still snowing, the snow seems to be dancing in tune to the classical music from my parents’ room, definitely a veeeery fuuuunny April Fool’s Day’s joke?! BUT, there’s this crazy stubborn bird chirping somewhere close. I like her, she’s my kind.


no recipe

Let Me Invite You into the New Year

Fontanka river

Listening to Ravi & Anoushka Shankar in the busy frozen streets of St Petersburg creates quite a contrast; my hand moves with the beating of the drum (love the percussion!) and the music somehow keeps me warm. It’s so weird (and great) when everything is so ice cold outside and you have something preciously yours inside that makes you resist and even smile against the immobilizing frost.

Meanwhile, my lavishly illuminated city is preparing for the largest pyanka (booze up) of the year which will continue well into the next year. Remember the odd thing we have here in Russia which is the OLD NEW YEAR? Just another reason to get drunk for some and a prolonged magic for others (mostly children and those who still have their inner child within them). I’ve been having some problems with the whole New Year thing lately, so don’t pay attention to my occasional sarcasms. I guess that’s because my child perception of the holiday continuously fails against the vseobshchaya pyanka (global booze up) plus I have not yet experienced / found a grown-up / personal version of the New Year. I will however try to recall how much this holiday meant to me when I was little and make – finally – a New Year and Christmas post (more posts to come after the NY day, with photos for sure).

Former City Duma building

There should be no surprise if I tell you that the New Year’s Eve like no other holiday was probably the most anticipated and joyful day not only for the Soviet children but also for their parents. I’ve already talked about the New Year celebration in the USSR here, here and here. I would like to continue this saga, but so that I do not repeat myself I will try to tell you something new on the topic and share mostly non-food photos.

I asked my Mom & Dad to recall how the coming of the New Year was celebrated in their families in the 1960s and 70s, one living in St Petersburg, aka the cultural and always a-bit-on-the-independent-side capital of Russia, and the other in the Caucasus, an always troublesome region with a multinational settlements and lots of mining around. Both families were not much well-off, just that the parents had intellectual professions as well as the ability to save money (which was lost when my parents grew older apparently 😉

Let’s see some of the staples, the characteristic features and just tiny details of the best holiday ever (here both of my parents agree). First thing that came to my parents’ minds…

Tangerines (and oranges in the Caucasus too, says Dad) were available only around the New Year season. So there was this direct connection between the beloved holiday and the citrus flavor. The tangerines are still very popular for the festive table in Russia and I remember decorating the New Year tree (as during the USSR there was no mentioning of Christmas, bozhe upasi!) with tangerines on strings when we were living with my grandparents (7 of us in a two-room flat).

Strudel μήλου

{This is a very successful Apple Strudel from a Greek magazine my sis brought me from Greece. A similar recipe can be found here}

Yes, the tree (normally a yolochka 😉 = a small fir-tree but could be a small pine tree, sosna, as well) was the centerpiece. Bringing so much joy and anticipation for the children, however little it was (or just a branch, but please, people, do not destroy trees in the forests…). With some obligatory attributes, of course. So, the Soviet propaganda eagerly accepted and encouraged the already existing tradition of placing a red star on top of the New Year tree. From now on the star was to symbolize the patriotic red stars on the Kremlin towers. Underneath the lowest twigs there are two well-known figurines… The Soviet Santa, a robust grandfather Ded Moroz (literally Grandfather Frost) with his forever-smiling granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow girl) – you can read more about the couple in my January post.

Another way to decorate the tree was to attach whole walnuts (in nutshells, I mean) wrapped in aluminum foil to the branches of the tree (is it just me or you also immediately have this unpleasant feeling as if a piece of a nutshell’s stuck in your nail? Brr!). And if we have embarked upon the New Year tree decorations theme, here are some of our family heritage, still kept in my Grandfather’s very old-school suitcase:

open the suitcase...

{let’s open it! voilà: }

my Mom's new year tree decorations

{the decorations are lined with cotton wool – this thing also served to imitate snow under the New Year tree}

I adored this suitcase when I was little, was waiting to drag it from the attic, open it at the end of each year and play with the shiny things inside and also imagine I was travelling somewhere very far to a fairy land with this suitcase in hand. When there was already the New Year tree, I told myself long stories about being lost in a forest covered with snow… There was so much magic in this holiday, already in the reflections on the ceiling made by the tinsel and the lights on the tree. How little children need to dream away, really…

The most precious and old are these cardboard figurines and the wire ship from the early 1960s (my Mom’s collection):

old decorations

{in the background – a Lenkniga packaging which contained silver dozhdik (=rain, long strips of foil to run all along the sides of the tree, first attaching it to the tree topper piece)}

botan decoration

The one on the peg is very funny, a crammer boy holding a book which reads… BOOK =) There’s also a Soviet red star, a small izba (traditional wooden house, this one is from fairy tales) and a spinning top, a Chukchi girl (USSR is a multinational country!), a mushroom (?!). Plus not in the picture – the most ehm appropriate thing to decorate your tree with… lemons! We have two of them (see behind this round thing here, which also creates psychedelic reflections).

one of my favourites

This is probably all for now, enough to get me in some pretty awesome sort of New Year mood (self-suggestion?)! I will surely make a separate post on the New Year table during the Soviet times. I just need to collect some evidence =)

Happy new year! See you in 2013.


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Those Were the Days or 90s in Russia Continued

Back in October I came across a very short but impressive history metodichka (a sort of a University course digest) on Russia in the 1991-1999. There were multiple moments when I had my mouth wide open and couldn’t restrain myself from interjections of various grades of decency. My, those were the days, really! What would you do if the prices rose 17 times over a period of three months? No wonder my sister and me were brought up on the powdered milk received as humanitarian aid from Germany. And the people were even more desperate to get themselves a plot to grow their own potatoes somewhere off the city limits – just to survive, you know. Teachers and doctors were hastily quitting their jobs and becoming sellers at the market. Or emigrating to the USA, Israel and elsewhere. Those were the days!

So here’s a post on those reckless 90s again (see my previous attempts at embracing the period of my childhood here and here).

I remember watching TV a lot (I was sort of forced to as my Grandpa watches all the possible newscasts) and hearing a lot about the war and Grozniy, the capital of the Chechen Republic, and wondering why they would ever give a city such a name – to make war there, eh? (Grozniy means Menacing in Russian) I just started school then, a happy child miraculously going to a private (!) school and did not care much about the rest of the world. But still the constant war news, the good generals and the bad boyeviks, those were the words I was taking in with my meals.

I’m not at all into politics and stuff but I was deeply impressed by the wheeling-dealing of the politicians and the lot over that infamous period (the names of the parties and the politicians themselves seem to be engraved in my mind too, ironically one of the parties was called Yabloko – apple – comprised of its founders’ names). Some of them really merit to be studied as an example of how the things should NOT be done. A total chaos of the very Russian ‘I do what I want’ principle. There was also a fair share of ‘après moi – la déluge’ and ‘whatever!’ dispositions. The country was immersed into group charades and all kinds of racketeering. I won’t ponder on that, we talk food matters here, right, so let it be at least food-related.

Now, let me surprise you with some statistics: for example, the giant Uralmash (the Urals machine building factory) with a 100 thousand staff was sold for the vouchers equaling 2mn US dollars, just about the same one would pay for a small bakery in an American province. I remember all that privatisation being discussed (especially by my Grandpa who cannot still get over the fact the USSR split up and I do understand him now), the voucher things being forced on to people (we even have some of the Izhorskiy factory ones somewhere…), the plunder that was going on all around the ex-state-owned enterprises…

Who would believe that whereas at the end of 1991 one could theoretically (llllove that!) buy a Zhiguli car for 10 thousand rubles, by the end of 1992 when the state started issuing the vouchers, one could buy… only FIVE BOTTLES OF VODKA?! My Granddad was saving up his money for a new Zhiguli just about that time actually but we ended up riding our good ol’ 1979 car until 2008 or when was that. No idea how the country DID survive, honestly. I don’t want you to think people were dying in the streets (although they did), I just want to give you a picture of what was going on then. Seriously, I had a perfectly joyful childhood, I assure you, and would never ever trade it for the childhood kids are having today, but still.

And nobody would ever believe such a hard-working and always agricultural country like Russia would import 40% of its foodstuffs in 1996. That placed us 40th by the consumption of foodstuffs, behind some of the developing countries. Imported goods were the king of the booming market: I remember Uncle Benz instant potatoes and Mars and Snickers and Chupa-Chups speedily capturing the mouths and minds of people. There were also those multi-coloured glazed cookies I was craving for. That was the age of the raging preservatives – no one cared for those ‘take-my-eye-out’ acid green and pink bubble gums and sweets loaded with E-something, and children were saving their lunch money to buy Love Is (I did – with all the bulochki still around!). Although I somehow managed to eat a whole Snickers only somewhere around 2007-08 during the ever-hungry student years.

If I continue this parallel comparison with the USA, all the things that were gradually introduced there all along the 20th century, were just poured on our unprepared heads and into our hungry mouths like an avalanche all at once, crash! boom! bang! There was of course the packaging boom – never did we have that much of plastic, fancy glittering wraps and such like stuff. People in the USSR used to carry everything from clothes to macaroni in paper right up to the 90s actually. I remember playing with our street friends using the aluminum foil from the cigarette packs – those were the precious bits! And as a logical result – there was an increased amount of garbage in the streets, especially noticeable after the years of relative civilized behavior were abandoned. The same applies to swearing in public.

I usually don’t trust the stats that much but here’s something truly impressive: by the middle of the 1990s the rich accounted for just 3%-5% of the population (the famous oligarchs  and New Russians  in crimson jackets and gold chains), the middle class had 7%-15% and the rest… Well, the rest of the population was poor, of course! Those were the results of an especially wild shock therapy the country was going through. The country was too quick to ‘feast’ upon the remnants of the Soviet empire potential, which were very promptly swallowed. On a daily life basis this eating away of the Soviet heritage manifested in such things as finally recycling those things people used to stock for the ‘black day’ (and still do!), or like my Mom did – making her children clothes out of sheer nothing.

And the people have paid a very high price for getting themselves a nice consumer life with almost no queues (except at the hypermarket check-out points) and where-to-get-that worries. Now those who were teenagers back then are bringing up their own kids. I’ve had a chance to observe them and all I can tell you is that these kids abandon their sincerity much earlier although not all of them are material boys and girls. There’s hope=)

Ok, finally posting this! Will come back with food.