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.

Devchata
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).

Devchata
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!

Devchata
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.

Devchata
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 ; )

Devchata
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.

Devchata
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]!’

Devchata
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!

Devchata

  Love through food…

Devchata

…gets to a happy end!

Devchata

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!’.

Prokudin-Gorsky
Source: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/prok/

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:

G.

Movie screenshots taken from all over Internet, including such websites as kinopoisk.ru, kino-teatr.ru and Wikipedia.

bread · on USSR / Russia

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.

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!

G.

no recipe · St Petersburg · travel

Petrogradskaya Side, St Petersburg

My personal summer has officially begun in St Petersburg with a new job and lots of other things. This entire working week I didn’t get a chance to cook a single muffin before thanks God it’s Friday yesterday. I just had no time. Let’s say it was my day week off baking – this post is going to be an equally no-food one, complementing my three-post series on St Petersburg.

I woke up today happy to feel the warm aroma of the rye bread baked a day before and to see a reassuring pile of sweet cherry muffins on the table. Last night there was a lovely bird whose delicate singing reached the 23rd floor window and made me fall asleep with a smile on my face. Waking up today to a cheerful chorus of even more birds, with the sun rays coming through a thick curtain, could only make this smile wider. And there’s a tasty breakfast to follow as well! Even the ever-present traffic noise and construction in progress somewhere down there – also reaching whatever height there is – could not spoil the picture. Bread and muffins have made there way safely to my parents’ place and I guess this weekend will see me making up for the rest of this week, in a baking frenzy.

Andrey Petrov's square

Andrey Petrov’s Square with the bas reliefs dedicated to Dali, Kharms, Likhachev and Shostakovich, on Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

The new job made me walk through St Petersburg in these early but already hot summer days, when all the city’s green has come into full blossom. I’ve walked both in the office’s neighborhood and through the center of St Pete. Each time I made the way from and to the metro station I managed to spot some new details in the city’s perhaps most architecturally diverse and attractive district – the Petrogradskaya side (Petrogradskaya Storona, aka Petrogradka). All thanks to the (homonym) main metro station of this side of the Neva River temporarily closed and now making busy people walk frantically from the nearest stations. The station I chose as substitution is Gorkovskaya (in honor of the writer Gorky who used to live nearby) and it looks just like a UFO (it also used to be shut down a while ago – and this is how it looks now). I somehow managed to pause on my way through this district and take some pictures – I would have been making them more often were I not running along with the crowd apparently suffering from the same hmm habit of setting off late to work in the morning : )

Gorky and the Mosque

Gorky and the Mosque (1913-21), Kamennoostrovsky Prospect. Looks very much like Lenin from behind. Would have been a ‘funnier’ photo.

the city's day preparation

My first day at work coincided with the City’s Day (27th of May) – these were the preparations in the morning, workers mounting the flags on the designated buildings of the city. This was taken when I walked from another metro station, a less crowded way but less convenient as it requires changing the metro lines. So the next day I was walking from Gorkovskaya along Kamennoostrovsky Prospect:

House with Towers, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

House with Towers, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

Kamennoostrovsky Prospect the district’s main avenue, is really one of the most beautiful streets in St Petersburg, regardless of its crowds, cars and weird shop signs. It’s a true treasure of architectural ‘delicatessen’ of the early 20th century. The interior of the houses is as astonishing as their exterior – although it’s difficult to get inside but there are photos of all the details – of all the houses – online. When you walk along this avenue you hardly imagine all the beauty it really contains – this post in some way is dedicated to this gem which I rediscovered with my new job. I’ve already talked about this district in my previous posts (here and here) dedicated to St Petersburg, this is a more detailed photo guide to it.

Cute 3 storey building on Kamenoostrovsky

Cute 3 storey building, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

Lenfilm museum

Lenfilm studios and museum, ex cinema Aquarium where in 1896 was Russia watched the first cinema show, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

Avstriyskaya Square

Avstriyskaya Square (Austrian), Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

Square near Tsekhova House

Square near Tsekhova House, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

Kavos House

Kavos House, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect – modernism

Kavos House and a cyclist

Kavos House, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect – hard job getting through the crowd on a bike in the morning…

Benois House

Benois House, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect – not in the best condition

on Kamennoostrovsly Prospect

Someone’s walking out of the pseudo-classicism building, Kamennoostrovsky Prospect

Bolshoy Prospect

And this is already on Bolshoy Prospect of the same Petrogradskaya Side (cause there’s an avenue of the same name in another district), this tower would not fit in the photo…

Maly Prospect, 1930s house

Maly Prospect, 1930s house (the Soviet constructivism style), close to my office

Troitskaya Church

Troitskaya Church built on the grounds of the demolished Troitsky Cathedral (looks like a church bell)

Blagodat frigate turned into restaurant

Blagodat frigate (reconstruction) turned into restaurant

Troitsky Bridge

Troitsky Bridge over Neva, leading to the most central part of St Petersburg – that one with Hermitage and Nevsky

Field of Mars (Marsovo Pole)

Field of Mars (Marsovo Pole), with Mikhaylovsky Castle and Savior on Spilled Blood Church in the background, already on the other side of Neva

The city is dressed in green and lilac bushes in full blossom (there’s also acacia bushes which smell awful), people are already occupying the grass to far niente. I would love to have even more green space in our city, especially in its less touristy parts, in the residential districts. What I’ve noticed today is that not all the paths in the city’s courts and parks – which characteristically NEVER converge with the paved official (legal : ) paths made for the ‘civilized’ people – are the same during the long winter time and the short St Petersburg summer. You will soon adapt to the slightly altered way from your block of flats to the nearest metro though. It’s just that you suddenly realize there is a branch of a tree blocking your usual way and making you duck your head when you pass underneath it ,) Summer in Peter!

Lots of photos and not much to say this time. Just contemplate and enjoy. And I will go back to backing!

G.

Family recipe · no-dough

Join the Soviet New Year Table

Hello everybody and welcome to the New Year,

it’s Olivie time here in Russia and here is the inevitable post on this inevitable salad and other more or less inevitable things for this season. In my – already last year! – post on the new year staples, Let Me Invite You into the New Year, I’ve talked a liiiil bit about the citrus flavour and the nuts – also being used as decorations for the New Year tree. Ah, yes, here they are, the tangeriiiines!

tangerines

They say tangerines bring you joy and this automatic (and very aromatic! 🙂 feeling of holidays. Of course there’s a very down-to-earth explanation of their appearing on our tables right before Christmas and New Year, simply because this is the time when they ripen in those warm countries… But we’d rather stick to an inexplicable childish / childhood feeling of a holiday they bring, right?

And now let’s move straight to the table. My father who grew up in a family with two boys in the Caucasus (as his father moved there to work in the mines) remembers lots of dishes on their festive table although the food (choice) was especially poor in their region (he says it was even easier to get clothes there than food). It’s just that his mother was a very inventive and practical cook, making all those savoury pies and sweet cakes when the ingredients were scarce and hard-to-come-by… Mom lived in the North-West of the country, in a town near St Petersburg, in a region definitely better supplied and less rigid in all aspects, although perhaps lacking in truly traditional food culture. She says they had more choice in St. Petersburg, for sure, and that all depended on the cook in the family. But they both recalled some of the staples which still appear on the New Year table year after year after year… It seems that we welcome the NEW year into our homes with something very OLD and stubbornly repeated. Can it be a part of a ritual? Like a symbol of all those things we care for and carry into the new year with us? These dishes might as well have disappeared if not for the New Year. We still have Olivie occasionally throughout the year for some – usually – family occasions, but we tend to remember about all those mayonnaise-loaded dishes only around the New Year’s eve. Each family has been making the same things over and over again, (new) year into (new) year…

I will not tell you about the main dishes this time as they are normally all about meat or fish and that’s not my cup of tea. Let’s delve into (or better take a snack of) the zakuski (or appetizers) part of the table, the things that are supposed to trigger your appetite and also be the accompaniment of the first toasts (this is when vodka enters the stage, of course!). Zakuski are there on the table along with such ‘must’ things as Olivie and Seledka pod shuboj loaded in heavy glass bowls, a bread basket etc.

SÖDER LIGHT RYE + pickled cucumbers

{this very nice sourdough rye bread will surely appear in one of my next posts}

Now that I have at least some photos from our family reunion, I can even show you some of the stages these dishes go through. All the cooking usually starts in the morning with the first Soviet comedies shown on the TV. When the first part of Ironia Sudby begins, the time is up, you’d better be frantically chopping your boiled vegetables for Olivie! Which we decided to omit for the new year’s eve this year and opted for a scrumptious (and a bit too rye-ish as I overloaded the crust with rye flour…) khachapuri po-mengrelski instead (it’s a double crust cheese pie which also has cheese on top, see other versions of khachapuri here, here and an Ossetian version here; I said we’re addicted to everything khachapuri in my family – puri meaning bread and khacho cottage cheese or tvorog in Georgian).

Back to Olivie – Mom eventually made it for our family reunion, but lacking any sausage she put some tuna in it… making it even less edible to me as there was already mayonnaise in it too:

boiled vegetables for Olivie

The early stage of a long Olivie making process – the vegetables which have been boiled in their skins + eggs are ready to be pealed and chopped up. Chop-chop-chop!

ingredients for Olivie

{the old-school device on the right is an egg-chopper, used exclusively for Olivie in my family}

Then there are the chopped pickled cucumbers, green peas / sweet corn, meat / in this case fish added and finally comes the time of mayonnaise (which kills the whole thing, to my mind) mixed with some sour cream. Season the salad and voilà!

Olivie with tuna salad

What else is on the table? Instead of a British or French-style cheese board there is usually a kolbasa (sausage) plate with some herbs to decorate it=) There were not so many cheese varieties in the USSR and good cheese was hard to come by. Sausage, on the contrary, was a part of the Prazdnichny Nabor (Festive Set) and there was a possibility of getting some un-cheeeeewable sausage for the holiday. And, wait, the best buterbrod (sandwich, we use the German word in Russia) is with caviar, of course! (but not to me, sorry! I will make a very frugal kind of wife, haha):

caviar on rye bread

The classic version is caviar on a well buttered slice of white bread of course, but we had only this (BTW very good!) 80/20 Rye Sourdough bread from thirteenvegetables.wordpress.com. You might guess how fast these sandwiches disappear… I guess such staples united not only the two different family tables in different corners of the USSR, because it was an almost number one goal each year to get some caviar for your table. Ok, so the family sits together around the table (usually enlarged with the extra board and covered with a heavy white table cloth, see the next picture), gobbles down all the buterbrody s ikroy… And what are these?

deviled eggs

Farshirovannye yaytsa or Deviled eggs (stuffed eggs), made from hard-boiled eggs. So the process is the following:

Boil the eggs, peel, cut them in half, take the yolk out…

ready to be stuffed

… and mix it with fried (they should be really crunchy) minced mushrooms (might be champignons from a tin) and onion, season and place back in the halves! Garnish with mayonnaise (yuk!). You will have some yolk leftovers, so grate some over the eggs and scatter some chopped herbs to finish. Some stuffing versions contain fish but we prefer the mushroom one. Just as Olivie and Seledka pod Shuboj, the leftover farshirovannye yaytsa are consumed on the morning after the celebrations, cold, just out of the fridge, along with the remaining vodka if your hangover is especially strong (not recommended ;).

IMG_0011 (2)

And if we talk about vodka, here’s the most famous zakuska for it – because you actually zakusivayete (oooh, Russian, I love you for your untranslatability! The word literally means ‘bite after’) your shot of vodka – marinovannye ogurtsy (pickled cucumbers)! You take a jar or two of them from your attic and finally put them to use. And for those who are going through an excruciating hangover, it’s thought to be helpful to sagaciously save the ogurechny rassol (the brine from the cucumbers) and ddddddrink it the next morning! (this is hardly recommended, as you can imagine!).

Other non-represented here zakuski include studen’ or kholodets (=jellied meat, whatever you call it, well, for me it’s disgusting!), various pickled things such as mushrooms (accompanied by the long stories of how you picked them yourself oooh already last summer in that forest near your dacha), sauerkraut with a couple of cranberries on top, sprats right in a tin, herring in oil, cod liver…  Well, as you can see, mostly the things that keep well and were actually meant to survive for the festive table (all those tins appear in the pantry several months in advance but there’s always a good chance of sending your tired hubby for a packet of this and a kilo of that right before the midnight of the year!).

And of course as for the drinks… If you’re not much into vodka or have already had enough of it, there’s a possibility of getting some kompot or home-made juice – we always have our apple juice on the table (tea will come later). There are so many Soviet movies shown on the TV during these days (that even our old TV couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to die temporarily over the course of The Twelfth Night 🙂 and they all seem to have some references to vodka. Consider this (in these episode a real criminal talks to a pseudo-criminal, actually a kindergarten director in disguise):

– So, budem (an invitation to drink). Sour stuff. It’s boring without vodka.

– But is it really necessary to get hog-drunk?

– But what else’s there to do?

– Just sit, have a heart to heart talk [this is what happens when you drink vodka…].

– I’m not a prosecutor to have a heart to heart with you.

(from the 1972 Soviet comedy Dzhentlmeny Udachi, Gentlemen of Fortune).

The most appropriate topic to finish my first post this New Year 😉
P.S. Will soon be off traaaaaavelling! I adore planning trips but then… what can be better the travelling itself?

See you!
G.

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.

G.

sweet

All the Soviet Children…

IMG_0009

Tangerine, tangerine,
Living reflection from a dream…

… but actually this post is not about tangerines at all. Nor is it about Robert Plant 🙂 My New Year post is still in process, as I have yet to cook and take photos for it. This post is dedicated to music. There will be some links and weird names and, tsss, a link to a cake recipe right at the end!

Before I fell in love – consecutively – with John Lennon, David Gilmour and ooh (:) Robert Plant, there was for sure a lot of less mmm advanced music, our stuff that we were listening to with my sister whenever the LP turntable was not occupied by the above mentioned gods.  The music of my Soviet childhood – even though the latter continued when the USSR ceased to exist – was mostly the same as lots of the Soviet kids born in the 70s and 80s were listening to. The same LPs, the same singers and song writers, the same soundtracks for cartoons and children stories. We still have like half of a shelf composed of these LPs for kids and you can tell which ones were the most popular. My sis particularly loved the one which contained the story about Ukhti-Tukhti, the hardworking hedgehog, which is actually The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter. We had some shared ones, which we listened to together, such as…

Bremenskiye Muzikanti LPs

{my sis and me were very keen on adding our creative stroke to the LP sleeves and books, ooops (see poor princess)}

Bremenskiye Muzikanti in two parts were probably the most listened to, especially as the music was from the two popular animated films which we enjoyed so much. The Grimm brothers have very little to do with this loose 1970s adaptation of their Town Musicians of Bremen fairy tale. I assure you, this was a very cool music even for some adults! Backpacker hippie Troubadour looking like Elvis Presley in his bell-bottom jeans, travelling and singing along with his nomadic rock band, falls in love with Princess, a fragile long-legged blonde… There was no such Soviet girl who would not dream about her own prince singing to her serenades like this one! (performed by the Soviet women’s favourite, Muslim Magomayev). And even the first song of these cartoons, Nichego na svete luchshe netu… (There’s nothing better in the world…), already contained such freedom-loving lyrics eagerly repeated by the Soviet children – ‘The tempting vaults of palaces will never substitute freedom to us…’

I already mentioned Cinderella and the Nutcracker suite (both LPs are in a ‘very used’ condition, recorded in 1975-6). Mom says, I would ask for the latter particularly often. I used to lock myself up in the room where we had our LP turntable, prepare some props (:) and impersonate multiple characters of the Nutcracker. Mostly the Nutcracker himself, because he was no sissy! But I was also quite a rock-child myself, haha, listening to such pearls as – also a 1976 production – Masha and Vitya in the Land of ‘Wild Guitars’ (!!), the altered soundtrack for the movie version (but I preferred what I could imagine to the music). Fancy how happy I was when in the first grade for the New Year school performance I got the role of Pechka (Russian Stove, haaaaa) from this very story (she is helping Vitya save the Princess). Of course I was jealous of the girl getting the role of the Princess and even of the one playing that less glamorous Masha… And there was this handsome villain Cat Mathew voiced by the young mustached Mikhail Boyarskiy (yes, the one who is said to be born already with a hat on his head :).

We were also into quite outstanding recordings, such as Alice in Wonderland – a psychedelic adaptation written and performed by the famous Soviet singer and actor Vladimir Vysotsky (oh my, but they all were so young and oh so loved by the Soviet women!), recorded in 1977. This one is for more sophisticated ears, I’m sure not even all adults could get the point of the adaptation although we liked it with my sis.

But there were no doubt more patriotic songs, which I enjoyed regardless of never being even an oktyabrenok in my life. From that age already I have had this weakness to heart-rending, gut-wrenching songs, hehe, even if they contain just a tiny bit of this ‘nadryvnost’. Just consider this ultra-patriotic song Chto tebe snitsya krejser Avrora (What do you dream about, cruiser ship Aurora), performed by the much famed (and exploited) Children’s Choir. After this you can sign me up for the communist demonstrations right away. No, wait, there’s even more! There’s this song Vse deti ogromnoy sovetskoy strani – failed to find it on youtube – it goes like this: ‘All the Children of the vast Soviet country should certainly go to the kindergarten…’ (there’s also the opening line about the alarm clock set up for 6 a.m., ohohoh). I just adored the ‘strain’ of the song, oh dear. And that’s me who has never gone to the kindergarten.

Poy, Vasya! LP

And we also shared a special attachment to this veeery used LP called Poy, Vasya! (Sing, Vasya!). A compilation of songs from the 1980s cartoons, this one was more ‘contemporary’ for us, like the very funny title song. Mom says she bought the LP because she really liked its sleeve. There is also this song on this LP, Chto vsego nuzhneye detyam (What children really need), sang by another prominent actor Oleg Basilashvili, and it also appeared so sublime to us, with such lines as ‘What they really need is friends…’ (All You Need Is Love for children :). Then there’s a very funny song about the Central Park (in Moscow, apparently), which goes like this: ‘For the shear joy of Grannies and Grandpas there’s a bike rental’, I still recall it when I see ‘rent a bike’ sign.

The most wonderful part of it all was that we could listen to the stories, we could imagine and dream away without being glued to the screen with its already fabricated images. The images we had in our heads were floating, elusive and fantastic as far as our imagination can take us. Mom says they had to accustom my sis to watching the cartoons on TV, almost explain the process, but when it came to me, I joined in naturally. Of course my father later brought our first and only video player and we were gobbling down all the cassettes with Disney cartoons but we however did not abandon the LPs. Mom also says, the LPs for children were hard to come by (as were many other things…) but she and my Dad were always on the hunt and we still keep this LP collection alongside classical music and … Robert Plant.

IMG_0010

Food, finally? Sure!

Caramel Apple Cake adapted from passthesushi.com will make a soft, flavourful and truly delicious cake!

A year agoFlammekueche, a very flexible Alsatian specialty.

If you think I’ve made lots of changes to the recipe, well, you’ll be right here. I was actually looking for a way to use up our never-ending aaaaaples… But ended up with this three-layer cake with apple sauce as one of the ingredients. Great, I though, as apple puree has also filled up our attic this year (having an enormous apple harvest means there are rows and rows of jars of apple-something) and deserves to be eaten.)

IMG_0020

It’s obvious from this photo that I completely gave up the idea of making caramel sauce, adapting the easiest solution – non-sweetened sour cream and apple puree. So on top of the bottom layer there was apple puree then sour cream topping the second and the top layer. You can also spot the hazelnuts which I added in between the layers and scattered on the top. Slices are disappearing fast:

Caramel Apple Cake

As for the cake layers, to make the even more fragrant, I frantically ground some allspice and cardamom then added ginger and nutmeg instead of cloves (they remind us of the lack of the variety during the Soviet times too much). You can be sure I used less butter, substituting some of it with sunflower oil. As I was using quite a sweetened apple puree, I cut the amount of sugar proportionally.

Caramel Apple Cake

Mmm=)  I repeat, mmmmm! The result: Huge, tall, veeery soft and fluffy! Sweet enough (for me) and fragrant, a must for the season, I believe. And you can opt for the original caramel sauce of course or try your own favourite filling / topping. It’s just that I think this cake requires something as soft as its layers are but perhaps even a chocolate glaze would be great. If you too have lots of apple puree, there’s a similar cake I baked a while ago that you can try.

God, I need to rename this blog to something like How-to-bake-a-different-apple-thing-each-time-with-the-sole-condition-of-it-taking-up-as-many-apples-as-possible!..

tangerines and star anise

…To think of us again?
And I do.

G.