Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year and Merry Christmas

Especially for you . . . and you . . . and YOU for New Year's I'd like to invite you along on a little stroll through the snowy, icy streets of Rostov. Care to join me? Careful though, oh my are these sidewalks slippery.

First, the sign here at Children's World says Happy New Year and Merry Christmas. Doesn't that just roll off your tongue? Literally, the red says We congratulate you. And the blue says With the New Year and Christmas. And that's the order in which things happen around here.

And that's because Orthodox Christmas comes on January 7th. Whereas Catholic Christmas, as it's called here, is. . . on December 25th.

Isn't that in the Bible somewhere? ;)

Walking along Pyshkinskaya Boulevard. How I love this street. I lived on Pyshkinskaya for, what, 8 years and then I needed to move. And now my pulse quickens when I'm even on it. Pyshkinskaya is a pedestrian-only boulevard that runs right through the city center. It's so peaceful and quiet. And picturesque. And. . .somebody actually clears part of the sidewalk.

A sculpture to Pyshkin, the great Russian poet after whom this boulevard was named. It's likely that every city in Russian has something named in his honor. Just like in the US every city has a street named after the great American poet, Robert Frost.


People in Russia still line up for bread. Truly. Today these dear souls were queued up for loaves. There was a limit of five loaves and two fishes each. (haha) Well not to worry though. There's bread everywhere, readily available. I need to find out what's the deal with this bread on this corner that people queue up for it. Maybe it's ultra fresh and super cheap. Or maybe they're just reminiscing about the old days when standing in long lines was part of the deal.

Had to laugh at the graffiti. This was on a garage door at a home I visited today. That Buka is Russian for Vika - pronounced VEE-ka, and short for Valentina. Yes, Vika is definitely beat-i-ful at 16 years of age. Thanks to this cool young lady I learned not to leave my purse unattended. (Even at church. . .)

Oh meet Rex, one of our church employees. He eats better than anybody and takes quite seriously his responsibility to guard our property. Interestingly he knows who's visiting and whose not. After posing for this picture he suddenly turned tail and hurried back into his garage. That's Rex. Kind of shy about publicity and such.

This sweet babyshka, or grandmother, afternoons she sets up shop here on the street corner and sells home-cooked food. For one thing, she sells cooked beets. That's handy. And she has this wonderful bean salad with walnuts in it. She's got a whole system worked out, including the plastic film on the posts behind her which serves as a wind break. Within minutes people were crowded around to buy.

On Monday, this archway I spotted on Gazetti ("Newspaper") Street. Neat view back there into that courtyard.

And pretty soon somebody had to come marching right into the middle of the picture. They did ask though and of course I said Please do, because that adds another dimension. Which is totally different from adding dementia. Or so they say.

Monday morning 11:00-ish on Gazetti Street. Some old houses. Charming, eh? Right smack in the city center.

Below the Russian Flag we read North Caucauses (1st line) Academy (2nd line) of Government (3rd line) Service (4th line). This young lady might have been going to take an exam. She seemed to be mumbling under her breath as she walked by. . .

Then, heading on back to our church building, I happened upon a gypsy woman. She seemed nice enough, familiar somehow. I stopped to visit for a bit and asked to take a picture.

She was a bit demanding, actually, insisting on no few than three photos and wanting to use a special lens that would make her look young, slender, charming and smart. That's a gypsy for you.

I asked if she might sing a song from her home far away and, surprisingly, she launched into one. This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through. . .My treasures are laid up. . . somewhere beyond the blue. . .

Either she's seriously deluded or she's onto something. Personally, I think she's onto something.

Well, dearly beloved, gypsy friend joins me in wishing you a
Happy New Year! And a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 29, 2008

City Swamped with Bulls, Oxen, Creatures Bovine

Rostov is overflowing with oxen. They're everywhere - in the stores, out on the street, in sidewalk kiosks. Makes sense though with 2009, The Year of the Ox just ahead.

I've been able to capture several oxen in recent encounters and even shoot them on the spot, thanks to my trusty little camera. Care to come along for a quick look? And then at the end, I'll tell you about a surprise encounter during the Year of the Rat.

Chances are this little cardboard container is filled with candy. Now here's a thought: If one container is an ox box, might the plural be oxen boxen?

Where is Dr Seuss when we need him? Green eggs and ham, I am, I yam.

There are oxes like boxes, there are even stuffed oxes. Oxes on top of oxes. Now here's another thought liguistic: If a confused ox is an ox flummox, would a whole herd be oxen flummoxen? Just wondering. . .

Plastic oxen. Might be piggy banks. Or would that be oxy-banks? Oh, here's a brand new riddle: What do you call an ox that's too stupid to come in out of the rain?
Answer: An oxy-moron.

Haha! hahahahah!

Dr Seuss, paging Dr Seuss.

Hurrying right along. . .

Here we are at the supermarket in candy section, which I prefer to call the department of fruits and vegetables. You can choose from plastic oxen, tin, cardboard. even cloth oxen. Everybody knows veggies are good for you, they're packed with vitamins and minerals, especially the sort of veggies we find here.

But lest we get too hasty, we're still in the Year of the Rat and in recent weeks, I had a most unexpected encounter with a rodent. Seriously. . .

It was late one December evening when I returned to Rostov after five or six weeks in Ukraine. In the door and then I set about unpacking and such. Just to set the stage, here's The Great Room during unpacking.

After an hour or two of that, well after midnight, I was ready to hit the hay.

At the risk of giving out TMI - too much information - here's a peek at The Master Suite. Now please don't be hating on me that this is so fancy and all. Just keeping it real here, and this is how things look when we're unpacking.

But as I was turning down my covers to settle in for a long winter's nap, what to my wondering eyes should appear . . . but concrete evidence that a rodent had been hanging out under my covers. For a while. There were rodent. . . there were rodent droppings. There were gnawings of something wooden and all of this was arranged in a neat little circle about the size of a doughnut, the center of which was totally bare, again, like a doughnut.

What to do? What do you do when there's been a rodent in your bed? I pulled off that sheet likkety-split, wadded it up to consider another day when I would in the mood for such things. So several days later when I was still not in the mood for such things, friend Misha and I examined the evidence with a magnifying glass and decided that it wasn't a rat at all but rather a little Christmas church mouse who, for reasons of her own, decided to nest in a bed. Precious, right? Nyet, nyet and thousand times nyet!

So now I'm just wondering: If a rodent wants to move in during the Year of the Rat, what on earth might happen during the Year of the Ox?

Dr Seuss, paging Dr Seuss.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Favorite Christmas Songs: Let's Celebrate!

Greetings and a Merry Christmas, dear friends. At the risk of sounding totally out of the loop, I'll admit that my Christmas tree isn't up just yet. Honest! But there's time, there's time, because Orthodox Christmas comes. . . after New Year's on the 7th of January. But today it instantly became festive around here when I dug out my Christmas music and suddenly my little home sweet home was filled with Mannheim Steamroller Christmas and Amy Grant's Home for Christmas. My little canary and cockatiel warbled along too.

And now, with a nod to YouTube and the folks who brought us the internet, I'd like to present three videos of Christmas music for your listening pleasure. First, in the category of religious music is
While Angels Watched Their Flocks and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem - with a new twist, and all a cappella.

Oh, what absolutely magnificent harmony. Presented by the Church of All Nations Singers of Boca Raton, Florida (2005).

Next, in the secular music category, here's The Christmas Song also known as Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire, a cappella with David Archuleta, American Idol runner-up.

Now that young fellow can sing! And he manages to do so despite screaming fans.

Finally, in the comedy division, here's Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls as sung - make that as woofed and meowed - by an assorted mix of cats and dogs.

They're so happy to join in the celebration. Wishing a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Russian Posters Old and New: On the Street and Underground

Greetings dear Friends. Imagine my bewilderment Saturday when I went to pay my internet bill. Somehow, without advance notice *цтс* changed company policy as per the notice below.

Out of the clear blue sky, alligators are prohibited. Left me in a bit of a pinch. Had I known, I would have left mine at home. Actually the sign says Entrance with animals is PROHIBITED. Especially alligators. I'll need to rethink my internet service provider if they're going to get all huffy about this.

Then while walking along digesting that news, I realized we're overdue here for some Soviet-era posters. And, as fate would have it, within moments alligator escort and I found ourselves at the underground walkway. And there are posters in the windows. Care to join us for a look?

Literally, We serve culturally each visitor. Or how about, We serve each cultural visitor. That one might not work. I vote for this one: We treat each guest with courtesy. The waitress looks so wholesome and healthy. She's even smiling. Now that's propoganda for sure.

This is sweet, kids on a sled. At bottom is a little verse that rhymes. Here's the literal translation: Let's cheerfully allow children in any yard. I'd go with Please welcome children into your yard. I think the idea is to be nice to kids. Or be prepared for the consequences. . .which may include being blind-sided by snowballs.

Several posters have to do with being overheard. Not surprising, considering these are Soviet-era posters and all.

Gossipy chatter - it's useful for the enemy.

This one is inspirational. Do not drink methyl spirits! (alcohol). The tanker in background is labeled яд, or poison. Okay, will definitely keep this new information in mind for the coming year. Nobody wants to end up blind and lame like the fellow in the picture.

Knowing just enough Russian to be dangerous, I decided the 2nd word meant rich man, because the root of that word means wealth. And would translate that as Grow, Mr Rich Guy! Nyet, nyet, nyet, Amerikanka! It says Grow, Athlete! But one just never knows: some athletes do end up being wealthy.

So here we are, back on the street today in cold Rostov, well below zero and snow forecast for the coming week. Within the magnifying glass below are city names, Rostov-on-Don being the biggest and boldest. At the bottom, Here's a place for your advertising! Not that I'm on the street corner advertising or anything. . .

But here we are, dear blog reader, Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season. And, to our friends who will be celebrating Christmas this week, a Very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Care for Cornbread? Using Russian Ingredients (Part 3)

Oh yeah Cowboys and Cowgirls. . . we've got our cornbread. Our fine efforts with dry ingredients in Part 1 and all the rest in Part 2 and how nice to enjoy the results. It's really pretty good. I tried a piece . . . or two. . . or so. . . and called it lunch. Here's the little corner piece. Oh yum!

Care for some?

Took the rest to church: Friday evenings 7:00 we have singing practice. And folks come there hungry from classes and work. So pre-YAT-nova ap-pe-TEE-ta, dear friends!

All I said was, please pose with the cornbread and please act like you're enjoying it, because it's for my dear Blog Readers.

What a bunch of introverts. So shy, so timid around the camera. So self-conscious about posing.

Let's try this again. Let's be our most dignified this time. Okay, one. Two. Three.

Okay, slightly more normal, less manic, in a way. It must be those ingredients in the cornbread that's doing this. I promise, there's no trauma, turmoil or flies in there in place of the flour. . . just lots of TLC for some favorite fiends. . . friends, rather. =)

Let's talk ingredients. Here's Russian baking powder for you. See, it's in little packets and that helps keep it fresh. It would be translated, loosener of dough. But the way I discovered it was through our sister Nina. Several years ago, we were making waffles at church with the kiddos and I was explaining about baking powder that we have in the US, that it's baking soda plus acid (cream of tartar - and how to say that in Russian)! . And that I wasn't finding it here. And Nina, who is quite an experienced cook said, Oh we do have it. It's . . . and she come up with this big long word (as below). She wrote it down for me, I found it at the supermarket then brought it back home and then looked it up in the dictionary.

Next is the corn grains or whatever. That, if nothing else is available, can be ground up to make corn meal. Except oopsie. I ended up with polished millet instead of corn. But it looks pretty much the same.

So, anybody want the recipe? Found this on the internet several years back. Source is MasterCook and it's called Corn Bread Loaf. Because one batch bakes in a loaf pan. But we made a double batch.

Corn Bread Loaf

Oven: 350 F, or 4.5 of you have a Soviet-style oven!
Pan: loaf pan for single recipe or 9 by 13-inch pan for double batch.
Or, muffins: single batch makes 12. Get pans oiled and prepped.

Dry ingredients: Get these measured out and into a large bowl.
1 1/2 cups flour (3 cups, for a double batch)
1 1/4 cups cornmeal (2 1/2 cups doubled)
3/4 cup sugar (1 1/2 cup doubled) - I'd recommend cutting back on the sugar a bit
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (1 teaspoon doubled)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (1 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon salt (1 tsp)

Liquid ingredients: Measure into a medium-sized bowl or container.
2 large eggs (4 eggs)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (1 cup)
1/2 cup milk (1 cup)
1/2 cup buttermilk (1 cup)
or use regular milk plus a bit of vinegar, allow to set for 10-15 minutes or so. . .
1 cup corn (2 cups) - a small can works fine

Mix dry ingredients. Separately mix liquid ingredients. Add the liquid to the dry. Stir only until dry ingredients are all moistened. Pour batter into prepared pans. Loaf pan needs an hour in the oven: check after 45 minutes. Same with the 9 by 13-inch pan. Muffins usually need around 35 minutes. Cool on a rack for 35-45 minutes. . . or so.

Congratulations - Genuine Cowboy Bread!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cornbread: With Russian Ingredients (Part 2)

Welcome back Kitchen Friends. In Part I we prepped our dry ingredients and now let's move on to our liquid ingredients. Here is the cast of characters:

As you see from the left, we have our milk, vinegar, oil, canned corn and eggs.

Starting with the milk, we need regular milk and we need buttermilk. You know how to make buttermilk, right? Just add a bit of vinegar to the regular milk. I'm thinking 1-2 teaspoons per cup of milk.

Canned corn, imagine - corn in cornbread. But it is extra special. Let 'er sit there a minute while the liquid drains off.

So, get the liquid ingredients all lined up: our milk - now combined after the vinegar did it's curdling on the milk, our eggs - cracked and stirred up and our oil.

Why not combine all the liquid ingredients except for the corn. Kind of interesting there. The design this makes. As you would know, things need to happen fast after we combine the dry and liquid ingredients. So between now and then, there's some business we need to take care of: the baking pan, for one thing.

Oil the baking pan. I brought this from the US. Nice, eh? It's a 9 by 13-inch pan as I recall and we're using that size because we're making a double batch of cornbread.

After oiling the pan, a culinary purist would dust the baking pan with corn meal. Okay, okay. . . since there's comp'ny watching here, we'll be purists. Just for today.

Next order of business: Persuade the oven to light and stay fired up. If only it were so easy. This oven and I understand each other. It's from Brest (Belarus) - see, it says so there on the left in the red script. And maybe that explains why this oven is capricious. The Russian version of the word capricious is used a lot, especially describing strong-willed children. But ovens can also be capricious, seems to me.

So the 2nd knob from the left is the temperature. It goes from 0 to 9. We need to keep it fired up all the way to 9 for about 15 minutes. Or else the flame will poof out.

Time out to check our dry ingredients. Yep, got the dry stuff altogether in a big pan.

Back to the oven, besides keeping it up at 9, the door needs to be ajar for about 15 minutes too. Must have something to do with oxygen. See the oven thermometer inside there? That's my buddy. He tells me what's going on inside that oven and we speak the same language: We both understand degrees Farenheit.

Thing is this oven is allows me no shortcuts, it's kind of strict that way. After about 5-8 minutes of oven on, I tried turning the temp down to 4.5, where we will be doing our baking. Out went the flame. I tried closing the door. Out went the flame. Re-lighted (re-lit?) this oven 5 times, I'm serious. See, the oven rules. And the oven is capricious. Okay oven, enjoy it because when we're done with you, it's all over, Rover. Understand? You get your hour of being the boss and then your out, o-u-t Out. You just wait, Mr Oven.

So, add the liquid ingredients to the dry, not visa versa. Mix carefully only until the dry ingredients are all moistened. You know quick breads, that is - those breads leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda versus yeast - are fairly fragile. They don't need to be handled and mixed and played with ad infinitum. Get those dry ingredients moistened and move right along. Over-handling will result in tunnels and who needs tunnels in their bread? I'd rate tunnels right in there with trauma, turmoil and flies, something to avoid.

You know a person really shouldn't eat batter, right? Because for one thing, uncooked eggs are a source of salmonella food poisoning. And that can be quite dangerous for the elderly, for children or for those with fragile immune systems. Good news: I decided years ago that none of that applies to us (shhhh, it's our secret). So we're going to taste. Oh does this taste odd. I mean absolutely floury. And I realized, that in my excitement and all, one critical ingredient got left on the sidelines. . .

Oh sugar, our sweet precious sugar. Just waiting to be noticed and added to the mixture. But you know what this means. It means more handling of the dough. And it means we'll have tunnels. that means that our cornbread will probably not win the blue ribbon at the state fair. Oh well. Just have to wait and see. Pretty confident that it will not become dangerous. It will not explode in the oven or any such thing.

So here's our dough in the pan, ready to get spread out.

And here we go, en route to the baking chamber. . .

There she goes. Thermometer shows to be 350-ish. That's what we want. This is a typical Soviet oven. One wire rack. And one other shelf, which is solid metal, above here. So we set our timer for 45 minutes and go take a little rest. Oh, but first, let's get another spoonful of that batter. Oh boy is that yummy!

Let's Make Cornbread: With Russian Ingredients (Part 1)

Hey there Cowboys and Cowgirls, today we're going to make cornbread. This is a novelty here in Russia and sometimes I call it genuine cowboy bread because that makes it all the more interesting. Plus it's easier to say in Russian.

Our first step is to gather the dry ingredients and get them measured out. That'll take about 15 minutes and we can do that while oatmeal cooks for breakfast. Later we'll get to those liquid ingredients. Okay with you, Buckaroo?

Here's our cast of characters, each of which is dry. If it sounds funny to put it that way, attribute it to dry humor.

First let's introduce our minor characters. They're actually ultra important but they're in smaller amounts. So I measure them out first. I just like working from the smaller up to the bigger. Or maybe better to say from the lesser to the greater.

Mr Salt (соль) is there on the left. Congratulations, we're using iodized salt, that's what it says on the box. (No goiters for us!) Next is Soda (сода) and then we have our baking powder. Of course the container is from the US, but not the powder inside.

Because after like 8 years in Russia, after 8 years of lugging baking powder here in my suitcase, I learned that there really is baking powder in Russia, it's just a long and complex name that would be translated literally, as I recall, lifting powder. So it wasn't in my dictionaries as such. Also it's sold in small little packets, so it looks a whole lot different. But I like to open up all my little packets and empty them into the metal tin there. Makes me feel at home. Well, I'll want to get a packet of that lifting powder and get a shot of it it for you. (Note to self: Pick up some lifting powder for shooting purposes.)

Here come the big ingredients. On the left is Mr Flour, in Russian, мука - pronounced MOO-ka. Oops, I mislead you. It should be pronounced moo-KA. This is important. Because MOO-ka means torture or torment. And who wants to buy that by the kilogram, for pity's sake? Also, ALSO, we don't want to ask for муха, pronounced MOO-ha. That MOO-ha means flies and, call me prim, but one thing I avoid putting in cornbread is insects. . . even though I have requested a packet of flies in stores, quite often as a matter of fact. Anyway, it's just a personal preference. How about you, Buckaroo? True, flies might be low-cost protein, but there's just something about little black specks in the cornbread. Okay, I trust we're all in agreement on the flour issue. Da?

Next is Mr Cornmeal. We've got some choices here. Both of these fellows are exotic in a way, they're foreigners, having been imported from elsewhere. That means they don't come cheap. The Cornmeal is the difficult to find ingredient for cornbread. But there are ways of solving this. About once a year in the supermarket, I'll see a new shipment of cornmeal has arrived. And you know what that means. It means right now, immediately, no second thoughts, buy 6-8 packages. I've done it and they've never once had me arrested, jailed or even questioned. Chances are, the telephone has been tapped but so far, so good.

The fine cornmeal on the left is just too fine - it's more like corn flour. It comes from Great Britain and I save that for culinary emergencies. But since today we're making genuine cowboy bread, we'll use the packet on the right because that's a little coarser. And Mr Coarse is joining us from France, which means that, as a matter of fact, he's really quite refined.

Here's our French cornmeal. Ooo-la-la. Vive la cornmeal. There's another option for those who don't have access to cornmeal: Get some of that corn granule cereal - that would be the super- hard bits of corn ready to boil up and cook for breakfast. (If you were raised in a Russian orphanage, per chance, you would have had that for breakfast.) Get some of that, grind it up in a coffee grinder and there you go, coarsely ground cornmeal. That is if you happen to have a coffee grinder and enjoy grinding up 1/4 cup of something bit by bit. Nyet for me. (Note to self: Get a packet of that hard corn for shooting purposes.)

So here are are cannisters of major dry ingredients, just so you know that I do things properly around here. I am a home economist, after all. Let's capitalize that, Home Economist. Because I'm pretty proud of that. (Is it a sin to be proud?) Please forgive me. I'm just pleased to be what I am professionally.

Here are our dry ingredients and that's where we'll leave this project for the time being. Join us after the break for Making Cornbread with Real Russian Ingredients, Part II. But don't go away because you know what? We will have some fresh cornbread later on this afternoon. And you'll want some of that, right? Plus I'll give you the super duper extra jazzy recipe I use for cornbread.