no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Experimenting with the Soviet black and white Smena 8M camera that was given to my Mother as a present when she was still at school, in 1973 – her first photo camera. That was a popular and inexpensive model for beginners manufactured at the famous LOMO factory in Leningrad – well now you would rather call it a mind-boggling challenge! First and foremost, finding a black and white film was not that very easy, I managed to find only one type and it was quite pricey for an experiment. So I knew the price of every shot 🙂 Although that was not my first encounter with film cameras (I started with Zenith back in the early 2000s), Smena really is a Soviet austerity thing. The trick with this camera is that it is so basic that you can’t focus. Nope. No zooming, nothing, just your reckoning of how far the object is from you (which I’m pretty bad at!). And you can’t even fully get an idea of what will be in your picture once it’s developed either. I mean the thing you see in the finder when making the photo is not all what you get as a result. There are also those icons for the weather conditions that you need to choose from – I think I’ve made a mess with them every time, not mentioning the shutter speed that you have to determine yourself too. Add to this absence of a cap for the lens and a very stiff cover… Also when I had my film developed (which you don’t normally do these days, do you?) it turned out that most of the 36 shots were gone… I mean most of the film was just blank. I dunno if that’s due to the camera or to some error during the developing process but the thing is, I lost all the earlier photos that I did in January, February and March… So I’m left with the shots from early April till mid May 2018. By the way, I’ve deliberately kept the borders on the scanned photos (thanks to my Dad!) so that they have a more authentic feel (read: too lazy!).

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

The first shot that was more or less full (see a black stripe above) and the next one were taken in Tsarskoye Selo on a morning in early April, during the Easter week. That’s the church (below) and the wooden dormitories that I’ve already described in one of my previous posts. I was drawn by the interplay of the shadows and the bright sun on the walls but had no idea how it would look like in a black and white version.

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

A week later in April we took an evening walk in the Aleksandrovsky Park of Tsarskoye Selo. Again I was attracted by the shadows and the perspective of the tree alley. I had to consult my Mother as to what numbers / icons to choose. Absolutely no idea how people’s minds worked back then when everything was not automatically set! 🙂

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Next day at our dacha, trying to capture the warm evening sun of spring:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Late April – some shots taken while walking along Moyka river from – roughly – the Palace Square to Tavrichesky Garden in St Petersburg. The beginning of the active tourist season… I was not sure whether the camera would focus on the river or the lamp post…

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Trying to get that graphic repetition of the (shadow) pattern:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Here I was not sure wether the lamp would fit or not but I was more interested in the swirl:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Early May on the Palace Square, before getting my price for a Russian language competition 🙂

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film CameraExperimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

The sky was so dramatic, the wind was tough, I couldn’t hold myself from making another shot:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

And this is mid May when the weather suddenly turned to very autumn-like rather than spring-time. We took a very fast walk in Pavlovsk, near the Mariental Castle (aka BIP), see the very first photo of the post for yet another take on it:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Obviously tried to get more of the reflection rather than of the castle itself:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

And I think this is by far the best shot – a tiny bit of decadence:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

After all, I liked the challenge. Some of the photos did remind me of those I took years ago when I borrowed Zenith camera from my parents – but that was a colour film camera and much more user-friendly. With Smena I think for a moment I did get that feeling back when with every shot you make you realize that that was probably it – or nothing. You can’t take a hundred and then choose the best one with this camera, you can’t have a preview, you can’t see the result immediately, you just – well, you just ‘fire’ that thing and wait to see! Perfectly old-fashioned.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Spring Memories 2018

Spring Memories 2018

I’ve spent quite a lot of time at our dacha this spring – and later summer. And I guess I have to be pay my dues to the job I’ve been doing for almost a year now which allows me to work from any location and almost any point during the day. Thanks to that I’ve also travelled to new places since I don’t necessarily have to stay at home.

Spring Memories 2018

But at the same time too much is done on the computer which leaves me with no desire to use it any more after I’m done with the task for the day. So even if I have a desire to write to my blog, it’s not enough to actually do it. Which also made me ponder on the whole idea itself – whether I really need this blog etc etc. Ok, no more of this, let’s just leave some spring 2018 memories here.

Spring Memories 2018

The first photos are from April when there’s such an awakening around you, such a joy inside you that cannot compare with any other season I guess. I love the interplay of the seemingly dead / sleeping nature and the subtle but obviously very sturdy and vigorous new life.

Spring Memories 2018

It’s so fast this in-between season – I mean, between the winter and the full-on summer that you’d better open your eyes before it’s all gone.

Spring Memories 2018

This spring gave us a marvelous May which was in a way warmer and nicer than most of the previous summers. And it was also made pretty clear to us that we were to face yet another apple year, a very prolific one though the apples I’m afraid were record sour which made them almost inedible for those with a weak stomach.

Spring Memories 2018

We’re still dealing with the apple harvest and I can only occasionally make something non-apple in terms of desserts since we have so many of them and everyone around seem to be having the same problem so there’s just no way of getting rid of them by giving away.

Spring Memories 2018

During winter I had some thoughts of going back to Crimea to get some proper spring experience just like I did in 2016 but then I realized I’d be better off at our dacha just enjoying life and nature in a sort of a seclusion that a 0.6 ha plot can give you. While making my strolls along and across the multiple dacha cooperatives that stretch for kilometers along the New Ladoga Canal (which in its turn runs along the Ladoga Lake shore), I met quite a few people who were also enjoying their dacha life in many ways though not all of their lifestyles were so to speak healthy. I guess that the relative remoteness from the city (about 50 km) and a more relaxed and village-like atmosphere means vodka will never lose its popularity in these places.

Spring Memories 2018

I’m definitely not a village person, I mean if I were to choose, I would definitely love to live in the country but then I’m absolutely hopeless with all the hard work it entails. And I can only drink my milk already pasteurized and devoid of all the (too) natural aromas, if you know what I mean. But I’m not a city person either which makes dacha a nice sort of compromise in between. Russians love their dacha for a variety of reasons, mine is very personal cause I’ve been spending there most of my summers since my very first one. I’m grateful for those Soviets who had the idea of granting plots to their people. And I’m really thankful for my grandparents who courageously undertook such a hard task to develop a plot from virtually nothing (ex-forest) to such a cozy place. Even a 9’C day somewhere in the middle of July can’t spoil it.

Spring Memories 2018

I can brag on for ages, you know. Need to save my enthusiasm for the rest of the backlog of various posts that I keep postponing for ages.

P.S. Pictured above is the famous Cobalt Net tea pot from a porcelain set very popular in the 1960s. The pattern itself was created even before the end of the war by an artist working at the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory during the Siege of Leningrad.  I’m no fan of porcelain but this one is such an iconic pattern that it’s somehow ‘by default’ included in our inner cultural canon.

G.

Family recipe · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Jam Cigars from my Granny’s Recipe Book

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

It’s been a week since my Granny died. A few hours before she actually died while turning my thoughts back to my Babushka I for some reason had a ‘vision’ of those sweet rolled things filled with jelly she used to bake – called sigary, i.e. cigars. I told myself that I would make them too.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Although in my mind I confused them with somewhat similar dessert – not with jelly but with nuts, I found a copy of the original recipe in my Mother’s recipe book and – a bit taken aback by the sheer… brevity of its instructions – I however ventured on this experiment.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Can we call it a traditional Russian recipe? Probably not. But this is definitely a Soviet recipe. Soviet recipes has at least three features in common. Firstly, they can have very vague ingredient measurements. Like this phrase ‘put as much flour as the dough will take’ which can mean anything from several glasses (Soviet cooks do not use cups) to a kilo or more.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Secondly, the procedure itself might be quite elliptical in its explanation. Like… no procedure at all, just the ingredients  or something like ‘bake until done’ without any indication of temperature, time or even any instructions on what to do before baking (how come you don’t know what to do if the recipe’s title is ‘cake’?!).

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Thirdly, the ingenuity with which a Soviet cook would use the ingredients (the choice of which can be quiet scarce and / or striking to begin with) tells you a lot about the Soviet way of life in general.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

The recipe in question is at the very bottom of the page, written by my Granny’s hand. Some of the instructions must have been added later, probably when my Granny’s memory started to fade a bit and she had to resort to more detailed recipes. I will share with you my Mother’s take on this recipe combined with my changes, so this is a true family recipe.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

A year ago – Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

2 years ago – Finnish Sourdough Flatbread and Cookies with History

3 years ago – German, French and Polish Sourdough Bread

4 years ago – Winter Light and Lemon Cake

5 years ago – Winter’s Here. Time for Spicy Rye Bread

6 years ago – Flammekueche

Sigary or Cigars from my Granny’s recipe book

Ingredients

  • 200 g smetana or 15% fat sour cream
  • 180 g butter, melted*
  • 2-2.5 glasses or about 320-350 g flour
  • jelly / jam / confiture of your choice (tangy ones are best)
  • powdered sugar

Procedure

Melt the butter and add in the smetana. Start adding the flour gradually until you get smooth malleable dough. Optional – place your  dough covered into the fridge for about half an hour. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 190 ‘C**.

Take a piece roughly the size of a big walnut and start rolling it mostly in one direction so that you get a long strip resembling an oval. The thinner you roll your dough the more layers of it you will get in your cigar. Spread your jam over the dough in a thin layer leaving narrow margin on the edges. If your jam has bits of fruit in it, place a small bit in the middle of the strip. Start rolling the strip starting from the top edge (it’s somewhat easier this way) so that you get … well, a cigar. These cigars won’t spread so you can place them pretty closely on the baking mat but mind that the jam will most certainly leek out (I would suggest using silicon rather than paper – to collect all the jam drippings :).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until your cigars are nicely browned. They become crispy and pretty fragile when they cool down. While they are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar. The best here is home-made grounded sugar that will contain some larger bits as well – for a more Soviet-gourmet experience.

Jam Cigars from my Granny's Recipe Book

Remarks

As I was making this recipe I had to stop as I realized I didn’t really know what to do once I mixed all the ingredients. So I put the dough into the fridge, a step which was not in the recipe, until my Mother came back home and explained me the procedure. I guess you can omit it or give your dough a short chill anyway. For this recipe I used two types of homemade (Mother-made) jam – plum jam and apple jam – both with large bits of fruit in them. I had to pick out one piece of fruit per a cigar. You see, the dough itself is quite fragile so you probably won’t be able to put in a chunkier jam. My Granny’s side note says that you can add some sugar to the dough but I wouldn’t do that as the jam provides all the sweetness you need.

* I reduced the amount of butter in this recipe – the original recipe actually called for margarine as it was and still is much cheaper than butter.

** We had to experiment with the oven temperature with the first batch. For some reason my Mother thought that these should be baked at a pretty low temperature, so we started somewhere at 120’C and them moved up to almost 200 as the cigars just wouldn’t brown. We baked our second batch at about 190’C for exactly 21 minutes.

Result

Sweet and tangy, crispy but moist too. Such a treat! One of those things I haven’t tasted for years.

I intend to make more recipes from my Granny’s recipe book. There are those that with just their taste can bring back so many childhood memories.

And no, I do not smoke and in no way do I promote it!

Adding this post to the Sweet recipe collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Delinquent in Smolensk, A City on the Border

Polotsk

A super slow train took me to Smolensk overnight and well into the next day. The day was not a particularly fine one in terms of weather. But that of course was not the reason why I was delinquent in Smolensk. Let me keep the suspense for a little bit more till we get to that point while travelling across the city. For some time now I have been meaning to visit this city on the border with Belarus, one of the oldest in Russia and constantly popping up here and there in the tormented Russian history. First mentioned in the chronicles in the year of 863, it did not preserve much since that time, as you can imagine.

Polotsk

However, Smolensk does have a certain frontier atmosphere, testifying of all the various influences it has experienced throughout the years (Lithuania, Poland…). Its position on the Dnieper river, an important waterway of the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, has brought wealth and fame but also attracted too much attention from those who craved to get hold of both.

Polotsk

The first sight you catch when you arrive (not counting the railway station itself) are the two oldest churches of the city, Peter and Paul (12th century! on the left in the photo above and below) and St Barbara (16th; to the right), standing almost side by side and pretty far off the center and the walls of the fortress surrounding it. Just like Novgorod the Great, the Tatar-Mongol yoke did not destroy Smolensk (although Napoleon and Hitler were more successful) and so it boasts some of those pre-Mongol churches hardly to be found anywhere else in Russia.

Polotsk
After a short pause at a very Spartan motel (see below) I put my hat on together with the hood to make it across the Dnieper river. Dnieper has always been in my mind going side by side Ukraine and Kiev in particular. But then some Russians are not sure if Smolensk is in their city either… So, to cut this long story short, Dnieper takes its source in the Smolensk region and then flows across Belarus and Ukraine into the Black Sea. And here it is in its very beginning:

Polotsk

Just noticed the crazy bushes along the Dnieper river embankment that recklessly decide to blossom in snowy hazy November. And here’s a part of the renovated fortification wall that used to surround a really vast chunk of the city. I took this wall as a guideline for my itinerary throughout Smolensk and so followed it from the North clockwise.

Polotsk

The walls were constructed by the same architect who created those of the so called White Town in Moscow earlier in the 16th century. Only this time Fedor Kon’ thought bigger and taller, with much more towers, thus creating a real fortress around the town (which it really is compared to smaller Moscow Kremlin)

Polotsk

And here’s the weirdest part of the north wall – the classicist Dnieper Gates flanked by two bell towers on both sides, literally growing from the 16th century wall. The gates now house a church school.

Polotsk

It looks like this from the other side:

Polotsk

Following the northern wall clockwise I came to this hilly part of Smolensk looking pretty much like a village, with a typical rural shop where you can normally find almost everything you need.

Polotsk

Smolensk Village

Polotsk

View over the Sobornaya Gorka, a hill with the Assumption Cathedral. Right underneath me was a man lying apparently breathless and / or drunk beyond repair. On a deserted street below a couple was waiting for the emergency car to come. I didn’t see what happened next.

Polotsk

Out of 38 original towers only 17 have survived; this one is in the South-East part of the wall:

Polotsk

And here you can illegally climb the ruined stairs and get a view over both sides of the wall – illegally, too. But no one cares.

Polotsk

Avraamiev Monastery (founded in early 13th century, rebuilt in stone in the 18th)

Polotsk

Moving further – Nikolskaya tower

Polotsk

With a drive-through arch:

Polotsk

And a gorgeously Soviet store selling sports goods and clothes. By the time they realized it was time to renew the shop window design, it has suddenly come back into fashion again (the black & white posters are there for a very very long time):

Polotsk

Some Stalinist architecture, ship-shape:

Polotsk

A door leading into a 1930s Gosbank (State Bank) building – still used as a bank premises:

Polotsk

One of the most recognizable buildings in Smolensk – the 1930s constructivist ‘House with Lions’ as it is known here. What a combination! A lady waited patiently while I was taking this photo and then entered – too fast for me to follow in her steps and see what Smolensk avantgarde looks like.

Polotsk

Moving along a rather long Kommunisticheskaya (Communist) Street, which changed names at least 6 times across the centuries, including Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya (Nobleman) vs Bolshaya Proletarskaya (Proletarian), Sotsialisticheskaya (Socialist) and Stalina (Stalin). That street was not the lucky one for me – as we will see later. This is a local arts school in a neo-Russian style red brick building:

Polotsk

An early 17th century Gromovaya (Thunder) Tower and a monument to Fedor Kon’, the architect.

Polotsk

Moving further along the South-Western wall:

Smolensk

And looking back:

Smolensk

When I realized I’d seen most of the sights located in the center, I decided to move back and explore the old merchant mansions along Bolshaya Sovetskaya. Little did I know that after passing along this Fine Arts Museum on the same Kommunisticheskaya street I would get too distracted by a Stalinist building on the right and a neo-Russian on the left plus a 16th century wall lurking somewhere over there that I would nonchalantly cross the street where it was not supposed to and… bump into a policeman. So here we go, my first fine and about 20 minutes of the precious daylight wasted while another policeman was taking down my name etc and telling me stories about St Petersburg – veeeery slowly. No, they were not impressed that I was a tourist from another city and the fact that it was a state holiday did not make them drop the whole thing either. Delinquent!

Smolensk

Did you know that if you pay your fine within a short period in Russia (and you can make it online too) you only pay 50% of it? Well, I did 🙂

Smolensk

The 17-18th century Assumption Cathedral, all gold inside. My last shot in Smolensk after which I crossed Dnieper once again to the railway station district to wait for my late night train that would take me across the border to Belarus. I didn’t manage to sample anything particularly remarkable in Smolensk (only gobbled down something quite similar to panforte – but it was imported from Minsk), nor did I get any postcards. No local market either. Hm, seems like Smolensk did not pass my test! Or was it just the weather with wind and snow right into my face?

Not recommended in Smolensk: The city has a very scarce selection of accommodation options. So much so that you either end up in an overpriced ‘euro-standard’ hotel or in a very dilapidated motel-like place (which I did). Unless you have your train to catch the same night (and IN the night too), do not choose Mini-Hotel na Avtovokzale. It is very convenient for those travelling by train or bus but definitely to be avoided if you care about your own self.

This post goes to my Travel series.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

In continuation of my post on Vorontsov Palace and Park in Alupka here is my second one in the Crimean series in which I indulge myself into one of my favourite pastimes – exploring decadent places, sometimes but not necessarily including running away from dogs.

Vorontsovsky Palace

When I was walking down to Alupka’s center from where the Sevastopol-Yalta bus dropped me off on the highway, I read a sign on the bus stop – Sanatory Solnechny (Sunny Health Resort), there was even a booth nearby which was supposed to be greeting guests. It was closed though.

Vorontsovsky Palace

On the same day I spotted this mansion with this gate and a fountain behind it. The sign however read Vkhoda Net, no entrance… There were apparently several more of such mansions around with some signs and numbers on them. I realized these were the remains of that very sanatorium. So next evening I decided to go and see if I could actually take a better look at the place.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Sanatoriums were massively introduced in the Soviet Union driven by the idea that even the sole vicinity to the sea, fresh air and sun is capable of making people healthier and more productive. For instance, the Gulf of Finland coastline is stuffed with sanatoriums and children’s camps, all meant to let the sun-deprived citizens of Leningrad benefit from the pine forests and sandy beaches.

Vorontsovsky Palace

People would get heavily discounted putevka (vouchers) to such health resorts from their work places – or from a medical organization. And although a sanatorium is now mostly considered to be a place for elderly people lazily moving from one medical procedure to another throughout the day and enjoying their dietary restricted meals (adapted to the patient’s ailment), that was a way for many people to get some rest with the benefit for their health – at least once in a while.

Vorontsovsky Palace

This sanatorium in Alupka was treating people with TB and nervous system-related health issues – with the view over the mountains, rest in the beautiful park and walks along the sea included. Sign me up! Too late though – seems like it was shut down just recently, its website merely saying that ‘the distribution of vouchers has been suspended’.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I don’t have any blood-curdling story to go with this ghost sanatorium, there’s just this sad but seemingly inevitable fact that most of the unprofitable Soviet heritage in Crimea – as in many other places across Russia – goes wasted, abandoned, looted and burnt down.

Vorontsovsky Palace

I’ve googled this sanatorium and they say it was established in 1917 (rings a bell?) out of various nationalized mansions and dacha that were unfortunate enough to be built by rich people in Alupka before the revolution.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Little did they know back then that thousands of Soviets willing to recover from illnesses or to regain some health would flood into their leisure houses and their private rooms would be turned into common bathrooms, dining halls and massage cabinets.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Hence, this place in Alupka is double decadence – first it was abandoned by its owners and then it was (very recently) left by the people who ran the sanatorium. Some of the buildings however seem to be used as apartments (that’s where I got driven away by the dogs) – although the ‘medical service’ car parked outside manifests that those who occupy this place are probably its former employees.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Looks like the door to this mansion got a little bit … blocked:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

This building is way below the ground:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Now nature is taking its own back, turning these places into a sort of savage woods.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

One of the mansions got particularly unlucky as it was turned into a dump …. with a few cats really loving it there. Meanwhile, how do you find this balcony?

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Govorit Moskva…’ (This is Moscow speaking):

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

This blue house was on the ‘beach’ (there’s not one there, everything is either cemented or full of rocks), I was there in May and someone already wrote ‘Alupka Summer 2017’ in red paint on one of its sides (the hammer and sickle sign from the photo above was spotted near the ‘children’s beach’):

Vorontsovsky Palace

One of the mansions belonging to the sanatorium is just below the hotel I was staying at – it is already in a half-burnt state and the hotel’s owner has the intention to expand his premises incorporating it too. I hope at least one of them will get a proper – and delicate – facelift.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

… They say Abkhazia is the place to go if you’re interested in decadence overtaken by nature. Will go there one day.

This post goes to my Travel series.

G.

no recipe · St Petersburg

Working Class Hero: Down-to-Earth Vyborgskaya Side

Vyborgskaya Side

I started my architectural walk to the Vyborgskaya Side from the other side of the Neva river, crossing the Liteyny Bridge under the extremely intense sun. My camera wouldn’t even cope with the light and what I got was this overexposed bluish picture of the embankment:

Vyborgskaya Side

I’ve seen just a tiny bit of what was there on the two long streets, interspersed with the major industrial sights and the townships for the workers, which is actually similar to both the the area around Porcelain factory and that around Kirov plant which I’m planning to visit soon. All three districts still preserve a certain atmosphere of a workers’ village. In particular, in contrast to the pompous and somewhat elite center of the city (which as you might know occupies in fact several islands), the Vyborgskaya Side (or the right side of the river Neva) has always been the place for the industrial sights and settlements of work migrants (both from other parts of Russia and from Finland).

Vyborgskaya Side

The Vyborgskaya Side got its name from Vyborg, the city to the north of St Petersburg, a much older and much more history-laden one, which borders with Karelia. And this – though quite relative – proximity of the Vyborgskaya side to the Nordic countries has obviously impacted this particular sample of the Art Nouveau style architecture:

Vyborgskaya Side

This is an entire district formed by 3 residential houses built for the Finland Railway employees by Mirits and Gerasimov in 1907-08. Every staircase window in this house is actually a balcony – wish I could go inside and onto the balcony but I was too shy to follow the crowd… Which is a mistake: you should always follow the crowd where otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get.

Vyborgskaya Side

These tiny loophole-like windows are cute. Is it a toilet, I wonder? 🙂

Vyborgskaya Side

And this huge mosaic wall was added in the 1960s. No surprise that it was themed on the Outerspace and Humanity:

Vyborgskaya Side

After walking around this district adjacent to the Finland railway station, I followed the long Bolshoy Sampsoniyevsky Prospekt (with a tiny Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral) running parallel to the no less long Lesnoy Prospekt, moving in between them to see more sights on my list (map).

Vyborgskaya Side

My next stop was at a district built for the workers of the Ludwig Nobel plant in St Petersburg. The worker’s village comprises of a number of houses of various shapes, some of which are more red-brick style rather than Art Nouveau. It was built by Roman Meltser in 1906 while the more imposing and apparently more famous house for the (higher status) employees of the same plant was designed in 1910-1911 by the distinguished Feodor Lidval who I really admire.

Vyborgskaya Side

This one obviously was inspired by the Scandinavian neo-romanticism. Well, Lidval’s family was originally from Sweden.

Vyborgskaya Side

I could have spent a day under that arcade which looks almost like a palazzo somewhere in Venice – but when you actually cross the street (Lesnoy prospekt) and take a better look at the building as a whole you realize it’s more like a castle (the awful top attic was apparently added later).

Vyborgskaya Side

the contrast between the airy arcade and the massive grey stonework creates a certain effect that no doubt catches your eye. The sun was shining right in my eyes so I couldn’t see all the details well but here’s one that was particularly awesome:

Vyborgskaya Side

Unawares I walked past several buildings without either paying any attention to them or taking them for what they were not. I mistook a 1995 retrospectivist building (in a rather decadent state) for a poorly renovated modernist building, while a heavily renovated constructivist building turned into a business center seemed to me a regular contemporary un-creative creation. But this one I spotted from afar and unmistakably identified as avant-garde:

Vyborgskaya Side

Regardless of all the later additions and changes that it suffered, the Vyborgskaya fabrika-kukhnya (automated kitchen) still pretty much preserves its authentic looks. It was built in 1929 by Barutchev, Gilter, Meerzon and Rubanchik.

Vyborgskaya Side

I always wanted to see how it operated back in those days when busy workers could go get a full-fledged lunch or dinner accompanied by their fellow workers. The kitchen also catered for the nearby plants and factories until about 1970s. Everything automated, simplified, improved for the sake of the workers and their bright future! Here is a link where you can learn how it all worked inside.

Vyborgskaya Side

And by the way this avant-garde thing was built right across the street from the baroque Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral. They say it was not by chance, this neighbouring: instead of spiritual nourishment here was  much more tangible and nourishing food :). And there was a park where the workers could have some rest (it was also popular with the locals). There’s no sign of a park now and the revamped avant-garde looks quite lost, standing there on the corner.

Vyborgskaya Side

Just liked this savage architecture. This is actually a Soviet door installed into the wall of the Moscow regiment barracks (1830s). Moving along the avenue I finally came to the Children’s Hospital where it turns out I had been before visiting my friend (but at that time I did not know this part of the city at all).

Vyborgskaya Side

Some Art Nouveau in the middle of the noisy dusty avenue is a good change.

Vyborgskaya Side

This Children’s Hospital (and now a hospital + pediatrics institute) was built by Maximillian Kitner upon the highest order of the royal family in the 1902-05. Its multiple units are quite simple but still show the traces of the modernist experiments with the shape and utility. Compared to the ugly late Soviet unit built right where there was another part of the church looks completely out of place and, well, ugly.

Vyborgskaya Side

No this is already another building which caught my eye while I was moving back along Lesnoy Prospekt to see the townships. This is the obshchezhitie (dormitory) of the Military Institute of Physical Education, now occupying the territory of that Moscow regiment. Looks menacing!

Vyborgskaya Side

Some meters behind it is the Baburinsky township (named after Baburin lane which lost its name some time later) built in 1928 for the workers of the Vyborgskaya Side. The avant-garde idea was supported by the strain to get inexpensive houses from the scarce materials, hence a very laconic style. The main architect of this township was Grigory Simonov.

Vyborgskaya Side

The constructivism continued the modernist search for shapes and utility. Another workers’ township – Bateninsky township (named after Batenin lane, later renamed), located in a nearby area (you have to cross the railroad going from the Finland Railway Station), was built several years later (1930-33) by almost the same team of architects.

Vyborgskaya Side

It shows traces of a more sophisticated style though still looks quite laconic:

Vyborgskaya Side

Moving further along Lesnoy you will get to yet another township, built in 1927-34 by N. Rybin for the numerous textile plant workers. It was even called ‘Town of Textile Workers’. I liked the soft-angle balconies embracing the corners:

Vyborgskaya Side

And yes, there’s a church inside an atheist constrictivist building these days:

Vyborgskaya Side

Moving even further, I finally got to the Polytechnic University campus (or rather dormitories). Built in 1929-32 it covers quite a vast area and has numerous units, creating a true “students’ town”. Some years ago they said they were going to abandon this campus and move all the students into new buildings but here it is, almost 90 years old and still serving the generations of students succeeding each other.

Vyborgskaya Side

Of course the avantgardist looks are now not that distinct but you can still spot the windows ‘lying’ on their side and the attempts at placing the units at an angle to each other so that they all get enough of the rare St Petersburg sun. A similar students’ town was also built further up north, where my Grandad used to live when he came to study in Leningrad.

Vyborgskaya Side

And the last building on my route was this constructivist school built in 1932 by Vladimir Munts. Students living in their dorms will get married, have children and send their kids to school. All very well planned!

Vyborgskaya Side

This is how the country cared for its most strategically useful citizens, the workers. Put them all in one place, provide them with the basic stuff and see how they work for you. They won’t even need to take public transport to get to their work – they will live and work in one place, how smart. This was much harsher and decor-less reality than that of the almost romantic dreams of the Soviet “garden city“…

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.

cookies · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Taste from Childhood: Nutshells with Condensed Milk

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

From all the recipes I’ve tried over this long winter break that we officially have in Russia (the cold has made me stay at home most of the time) I’ve picked this Soviet recipe as the first post in the newly arrived 2016, another childhood sweet treat like Zemelakh cookies. Back in 2013 I made a post featuring a selection of Soviet kitchen utensils that are mostly out of circulation now. Among these were the aluminum molds to make walnut-like cookies filled with condensed milk. They look like this:

nut molds

My friend came along with her batch of walnut molds and two cans of sweetened condensed milk. Though three years older than our set of molds, her recipe is exactly the same (in the best Soviet traditions) and it comes on a gloriously Soviet-design packaging. If you take a look at the back of this recipe made by a Voronezh industrial machine plant (!), you will find out that it was printed on a recycled leftover packaging from a canning plant in Orel! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

To make the walnut-like cookies even taste like walnuts, you can fill them according to the recipe (3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and then mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts). Our choice that evening was caramelised sweetened condensed milk. And yes, you will need an entire evening to make all the cookies from the required 3 cups of flour with the limited amount of molds! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

1 year ago – Winter Fairy Tale and Semolina Bread

2 years ago – Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee and Cakes

3 years ago – Join the Soviet New Year Table

4 years ago – Sourdough Breads

Nutshells Filled with Caramelised Sweetened Condensed Milk or Орешки со сгущенкой (Oreshki so sgushchenkoj) translated and adapted from a 1982 packaging of the nut molds will make a mountain of small nut-like cookies willed with the sweety-sweet condensed milk (teeth, beware!). If you don’t have the molds, try using madelaine cookie molds instead.

Ingredients

for the dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 200 g margarine – we used about 150 g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar – you really don’t need even that much as the filling is super sweet
  • 3 egg yolks – save the whites for some souffle, I made banana souffle
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt – we added just a pinch + some vanilla extract

for the filling:

  • about 3 cans of caramelised condensed milk or any other thick substance you prefer
  • or the original suggestion: 3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts

Procedure

We reversed the original procedure a bit, first beating the egg yolks with sugar until pale, then adding the softened butter and a pinch of salt and vanilla. Then we mixed in a third of the flour, then added a tiny bit of vinegar to the soda and poured the bubbly soda into the mixture. The 3 cups of flour were quite a lot for the decreased amount of butter that we used, so the dough ended up quite hard and not very easy to roll out. But if you dare using the whole 200 g of butter you will probably avoid this dryness.

Leave the dough covered in the fridge (original suggestion – somewhere cold) for 15-20 minutes and then roll it out into a thin sheet (we did it in portions). Cut the dough with the same molds and press the dough into the molds (we didn’t grease them as the butter in the dough will mdo the job). Here you will understand if you rolled the dough too thick or too thin – you should be able to cover the entire mold from the inside with the dough. The recipe suggests cutting the overhanging dough with ‘a sharp knife’ but you can also do it with your fingers (the overhanging dough will only appear if you cut the dough using a round cutter).

Place the molds on a baking sheet ‘like saucers’ (the dough side up) and bake (we guessed 175’C would be fine) for about 15-20 minutes until the dough starts browning. Be careful not to overbake! Leave the molds to cool a bit and then take the shells out. Fill both shells and bring them together. Enjoy!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Remarks: The caramelised condensed milk filling is super sweet as you can imagine. So if you want a lighter version I would suggest using some  nut butter or super-thick jam – or the original walnut filling. And if you do run out of filling (like we did with the whole two cans of condensed milk) and you realise it soon enough before you make another batch of nut shells, try using the dough for some individual tartlets filled with whatever you like (I had some thick cranberry jam). Well, at least even a small tartlet will use up more dough than a nutshell will!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Result: ‘A taste from childhood‘ was the verdict of my friend’s parents (the recipe makes such a mass of these nuts that you can feed three families with no problems :). These nuts are super-sweet and addictive. Best consumed with lots of tea to wash down all the thick condensed milk filling. There are various ways to enjoy these cookies – some people (kids) like licking out all the filling first and then eating the chewy shells, some prefer biting and some will just swallow the entire piece 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

The caramelised and regular condensed milk is definitely a taste from childhood. The caramelised version is particularly often used in many industrially made foods like syrok (a fatty cream cheese treat in chocolate glaze), layer cakes, cookies and biscuit rolls. A housewife in USSR would boil a whole can of sweetened condensed milk and produce the caramelised version at home, as only the un-boiled version existed (with such editions as sweetened condensed milk with chicory or sweetened condensed milk with cocoa / coffee). Some of these home experiences ended up on the kitchen door, floor and all over the place too 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

As yo can see in this photo we had quite a lot of shells left unfilled – I didn’t witness what happened to them later but I guess they just served as a ‘base’ for the jam or something. I was actually glad we ran out of filling cause the procedure is quite tiresome with such a mass of dough! A recipe for a tireless Soviet housewife who knows how to make a treat out of the scarce ingredients 🙂

This recipe goes to my Soviet/Russian and Sweet recipe collections.

G.