Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Strawberry Shortcake

Mondays are a good day to update my blog and occasionally that actually happens. But then at 4:30 pm local time, through the refrigerator door, came the sound of these fresh strawberries begging to be made into strawberry shortcake. Decisions, decisions. Company was coming at 7:00. . . wouldn't they love a classic American dessert?

Strawberry Shortcake
So here's the result, a culinary triumph, not because it's hard to make the shortcake and preparing strawberries is pretty basic. The major achievement here was that of finding whipping cream -- 35% fat, plus or minus -- no small feat here in Rostov-on-Don. But having found it, I stocked up, grabbed 9 cartons of whipping cream, just 200 ml each. At least they have a 6-month shelf life.

Oh but then company didn't show. Tempting as it was to scarf down several myself, I showed remarkable restraint, a trait I'm determined to acquire, and foisted these off on the hairdressers shop next door. Haven't heard from them since. . . Didn't notice any ambulances pulled up outside their door. Assuming they got into this classic dessert more than they would have gotten into a blog post. ;)

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Russia's Victory Day, 2013

Today is May 9th, Victory Day, when Russia celebrates the end of the Great Patriotic War, the day when Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to Soviet forces.

Most of us can't imagine having our homeland invaded, seeing our hometown in smoldering ruins, losing fathers, husbands and brothers. But Russia's oldest generation has been there.

The losses suffered by Russia during the war were massive. One figure is 27,000,000 lives lost and, come to think of it, that figure might be for Soviet forces combined. And now, 68 years later, cities across this vast land stop to honor military heroes with parades. You might enjoy having a look at May 9th stories I've posted in recent years, 2011, 2010 and 2008 with photos that offer a glimpse into the lives of the Russian people.

So today I managed to catch only the very end of the parade when folks were heading home, which allowed me to cross paths with some interesting characters. Care to meet a few?

First, let's rewind a bit for a look at the parade staging grounds, Theatre Square, opposite Stella, the towering obelisk, which overlooks the Don Steppe and commemorates the end of Nazi occupation.

Theatre Square bus stop: *9th of May, Day of Victory!*

Theatre Square: Bank building boasts a massive banner: *9th of May, Day of Victory!*

This family reminded me that looks can be deceiving. The man there looked a little rough, but I asked anyway to take their photo. They happily obliged and then he offered to take my photo.

Are you a vet? I asked, noticing his metals. Yes, he served in Chechnya.

Accordian player, probably a vet himself, adds to atmosphere and hopes to make a few extra rubles.

This veteran served in Afghanistan.

This lady went off to war in her teens. Even on this holiday in her honor, she seemed a little testy. . . Better to be a little snarly, I'd say, then to act happy in public and then later turn to alcohol.

In front of Rostov Kino, the movie theatre, displays of vehicles and uniforms from World War II. 

Photo op with period uniforms and vehicles.

Now here's a happy veteran. She's having quite a day with her granddaughter. 

Busloads of veterans such as these headed through the cheering crowd into the Musical Theatre for lunch. Wanted to badger them with questions, but. . .

At a busstop, what a lovely lady. She joined the war effort at age 18.

Are you a vet? I asked the young man here. Guessing he's got dreams. . .

Half a block away, we could hear this guy bellowing. He was still in parade mode, marching through the now-empty street and yelling something about the president. Seems he's accusing the president of betraying an officer served in Chechnya and then had legal problems. Trust Mr Stripe has calmed down by now.

Here's Yours Truly with a statue honoring mothers, inscribed with a quote from Maxim Gorky.

And there you have it, dear blog reader, a look at May 9th holiday in a typical Russian city. Have you have been in Russia on May 9th?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Memorial Feast Divine: Making Unleavened Bread

We're surrounded by statues here in the former USSR, a salute to people who have survived much, who remember so much, who regularly pause to honor those to whom honor is due. The thing is, while statues do grab our attention, they are big, bulky and expensive. They have their limitations.

Jesus Christ himself asked to be memorialized not in stone carvings but through a memorial feast that He, Himself began.The feast is brilliant in its simplicity, using unleavened bread made from ingredients found in every kitchen, a recipe that hearkens generations back in Hebrew history.  

And so it is that each Sunday, including Resurrection Sunday, in Churches of Christ, we pause and reflect to honor the price our Lord willingly paid to redeem us. 

Christ is Risen! proclaims the embroidery in Russian.

Unleavened bread, part of the memorial feast.

I've been in Donetsk, Ukraine in recent days, living with dear sister Tatyana and her husband who minister for a small congregation. Tanya's Saturday routine includes making unleavened bread for Sunday worship.

Who needs a bowl? Mix the flour and oil right on the table.

Mix, mix, mix. . . using fingertips. They're cooler, you know, that the palm of the hand.

Tanya actually kneads the dough. Surprised me a bit, since that develops gluten and makes it tougher. But  hey,  maybe the Hebrew homemakers did some kneading too. . .

Next, tidy up the table for the next step. Make a nice surface for rolling.

Rolling, rolling. Tanya rolls the dough directly around the rolling pin.  Interesting. . .

So here's the dough. It's not a pie-crust, so no worries about making it round, just get 'er rolled out.

Good news: the dough didn't stick to the table. That's an experienced cook for you.

Now, on to baking tray. These trays are part of typical oven here, a shelf that doubles as a baking pan. (Myself, I'd rather have a 2nd wire oven rack. But who asked me. . .? ha)  Bake this in a medium oven until. . . until it's light brown.

The finished bread, so simple yet profound. Represents the body of our Lord, broken for us.

So, dear Blog-reading Friends, have you ever made unleavened bread? How would you prefer to be memorialized by those who survive you? Would you go for a statue in a park? A nice memorial in a cemetery or some other tangible way?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wrapping up Maslenitsa Week

It's the final hour of Maslenitsa Week here in Russia, the week when blini, or Russian-style crepes, are cranked out like. . . like hot cakes.No surprise there! ;)

Blini are traditional fare for Maslenitsa for reasons both pagan and religious. As per old Slavic tradition, blinis' being round like the sun makes them perfect for welcoming springtime. Then, with pre-Easter fasting just around the corner - Orthodox Easter being May 5th this year - blini help the home-cook use up milk, eggs and butter which are excluded from a strict Orthodox fast as are meat and fish. In fact, maslenitsa, pronounced MA-slen-ee-tsa, has as its root the word for butter, maslo. 

Last week, I imagined that this would be the maslenitsa that I'd get good at cranking out blini. I have, after all, invested in a special blini skillet and off-set spatula. Alas, the week did not include blini-making.

I did manage, however, to photograph for you the nearby blini kiosk. They crank out blini here, fast food with yummy fillings, so popular with students. I translate the name of this place as Tasty Love and people laugh. . .

The first half of the word means  tasty, the second half means love. To me, that's Tasty Love. But locals would render it, I love (that which is) tasty! The banner hanging there posed another challenge for this language learner.Literally it's: Broad (wide) Maslenitsa!  Friend Herman says it means, Maslenitsa (is) for Everyone! Well that's so nice. . .

Not that the Tasty Love folks have any special menu items for the holiday, I checked just for you. However, fork out 300 rubles for lunch and, surprise, you earn a special maslenitsa magnet. Wonder if those are going like hot cakes?

Zoom on in: Care for Blini Fajitas? Yes, the Russian word there, фахитос is fajitas, transliterated, and it looks like the English plural is being used as singular. Well, okay. . .and for just 98 rubles, that's a bit less than $3, you can have one fresh off the skillet.
These Tasty Love blini are large, about 20-inches in diameter, and in the end, they're folded up rather like a burrito. They're for sale year 'round, of course.

Maslenitsa is only in the spring, just before the time of fasting. Here's more about Maslenitsa.

So dear blog reading friend, are you a blini pro? Have you celebrated Maslenitsa? Please do share!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Welcome March 8th: Black Friday for Russian Florists?

Today is March 8th, a red day, an official holiday, on the Russian calendar. It's International Women's Day, known simply the Eighth of March, the holiday is one of my personal favorites because, unlike Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, a person is honored simply for having been born female. And that suits me just fine!

Men are very busy on the 8th of March, buying flowers and chocolates for the women in their lives, for their wives, mothers, grandmothers, daughters and co-workers. The tradition starts young: Schoolboys take a collection to buy gifts for girls in their homeroom class. And it's a huge holiday: According to Voice of Russia, men in Moscow are spending some $550 million on gifts. And then. . . there's the rest of Russia.

This afternoon I went out to pick up some flowers and shoot some photos. Funny thing, vendors tend to be more willing to be photographed after a sale. But first, a look back at Eight of March posts from recent years. Here are the best photos, taken one morning when the vendors were busiest. Here are such creative floral designs plus the guy who deserves the gold medal for using a crane to deliver flowers. And, ta-da, here's a post with a video I did just for you, interviews with flower vendors on the street. This post has a short video from Russia Today news, a quick history of the holiday. Think you'll enjoy these.

So here's a look at the streets of Rostov-on-Don this afternoon, perhaps a bit subdued compared to the morning's flower rush, but managed to get you some photos, more easily done after buying some flowers.

It's like 4:15 pm, there's no time to waste. These guys are busy making decisions about flowers. Decisions, decision. Oh but let me tell you, they were very decisive about not being photographed close-up. Well all-righty then guys. . . 

Moooving right along. . .

Got talking to this nice fellow, wish I'd gotten his name. Asked him about the mimosa branches, left, which are grown far south of Rostov, in Abhkazia. That's along the Black Sea, even south of Sochi. That's quite a hike from here.

So how did you get all this mimosa from Abkhazia to Rostov? Amazing but true: He, himself, drove down and back, driving for 24 hours. And here he is working all day selling them. Now that's impressive. I didn't buy any flowers from him, my hands were already full, but he was so nice. . .

Here, these are for you, he said. Oh, Really? Glory be, what a nice gesture. These are so fragrant. 

 I was heading to see this dear soul. . .

Our sister Elena Lalaevna. She's a veteran of the World War 2, having served as a nurse. Now 92 years old, she lives by herself and is so grateful for any attention. So that's where I can help out, giving her some TLC from time to time. She loves her hyacinth. 

Say, while we're on the subject, thought you might like a quick look at Eight of March cards. Bought these just for you at the post office.

(Click to enlarge.) Four cards, all so springy, can almost catch the aroma. Let's zoom on in at two favorites.

Card on left: *On the day of the 8th of March, May all wishes and hopes be realized...*

*. . .. and may (they) all be successful and all come true! And may this celebratory day bring a mood (make you feel) that's wonderful, bright and simply spring-like! (And in Russian, it's so poetic!) 

Now for the mimosa card. So surprised, friend Misha stopped by last night with bouquet of these and chocolates. The mimosa has been chosen the official flower of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

*The 8th of March*

(May) a path of golden sunshine glide lightly across (your) cheek, (May) the mimosa branch so luxurious (be) like the sun's reflection in (your) hand. (verse 2) May these days of happiness be full of love and beauty, (May) your mood (or spirits) be good and all your wishes come true!

Dear Blog-reading friends, wishing you a splendid Eighth of March! Have you experienced this holiday in Eastern Europe? Please do share!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23rd: Happy Defender's Day!

While it is still February 23rd allow me to say *Congratulations on Men's Day!* Actually, it's Defender's Day, more precisely Defender's of the Fatherland Day, more easily expressed in Russian than in English. 

Originally, 23 February was a day to recognize those who have protected the Fatherland by serving in the military. Now it has evolved so that guys of all ages are honored, even those who have protected nothing more than their toy cars and trucks.

Thought you might enjoy a couple of neat cards. First, a retro-style card. On the front you see an aviator, a soldier and a sailor.
It says, *23 of February. . . (Congratulations) with the Holiday!*  (The congratulations part is understood  from the grammar.) (Click images to enlarge.)

Here's the back, Thought you might like to have a look. I find Soviet-retro art so charming. Oh, and please forgive the marking on the verse. . . my beloved language teacher likes to scribble  mark all over my things in ink to help me understand.

Here's the first verse: Line 1) This day is the holiday for men  2) We traditionally consider for 3) our beloved men 4)  success and kind wishes. Verse 2: Line 1) May optimism help (you) 2) easily to move toward desired goals 3) And may life not stingily give 4) great success in all your favorite activities. (Russian's such a poetic language, you know, this has lovely cadence in the original language.)

Here's the perfect card for a boy. . .

*23rd of February. . . *

Click image. (*Wishing you. . .* is understood and built into the grammar)... Line 1) Decisiveness and courage in everything. 2) Wide horizons, brilliant goals, 3) good luck unchanging -- day after day, 4) Success without fail in everything you do.

And so dear men, young and old alike, CONGRATULATIONS on your holiday! Myself, I didn't give out cards, but did make up a double batch of chocolate zucchini muffins to share with neighbors and guys who work in nearby shops. Hold on, bet there's a picture here handy. . .

It's a fun way to meet neighbors, make new friends and say thank you.. Neighbors have been a major help to me over the years.

We need to show more appreciation to the men in our lives. Congratulations, dear ones!

Aldrich Ames: One Spy's Search for Significance

In February, 1994, Aldrich Ames was arrested and charged with selling secrets to the USSR. In his 30-year career with the CIA, Ames was promoted to chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet Division. He had easy access to the most delicate information of Soviet-American espionage.

In the early 1980's, Ames and his first wife divorced and as part of the settlement, he agreed to pay $46,000 over three years. But with an annual income of $60,000 and new wife who enjoyed the finer things of life, he was facing bankruptcy. Looking for a second source of income, he realized that the information at his fingertips could bring him a nice sum of cash

And so it was that Aldrich and Rosario began rather conspicuously to upgrade their standard of living. Stationed in Rome, Ames replaced his thrifty casuals for tailored Italian suits and $600 leather shoes. The new Jaguar in Ames' garage was worth more than his annual income but when zooming north through the Italian Alps and into Switzerland, he imagined himself a James Bond. 

Meanwhile, Russian informants were disappearing. The CIA had become alarmed and assigned a small team to investigate. In the video below, meet the pair accredited with catching Ames.

The list of Russian informants that Aldrich Ames sold to the Soviets included a General Deimitry Polykov who had supplied information for 20 years. One CIA source said that when a package of information arrived from Polykov, it was like Christmas. There was something for everyone. Polykov was described as the crown jewel, the perfect spy. And then he simply disappeared

Aldrich Ames is serving a life sentence without parole. He admits, The reasons that I did what I did in April of 1985 were personal, banal, and amounted really to kind of greed and folly. As simple as that.

The most cold-blooded traitor in US history, Ames was also the world's highest paid spy, having received more than 2 million cash with another 2 million dollars in a Moscow bank awaiting his retirement.

What really amazed me about Rick Ames is that I thought he had a feeling of loyalty to the people whom he dealt with and that is the betrayal that I can't understand, said FBI agent R. Patrick Watson.

As I see it, this drama comes down to money and what a person is willing to do in exchange for cash. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. (I Timothy 6:10). Actually, at the root is discontentment, wanting to be more significant, or rather to feel more significant. And believing that significance can be bought. And that it can be purchased with people's lives.

Let us learn to be content. Let us learn that significance is a given, whether or not we feel it. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Meteor Explosion Over Russia's Ural Mountains

You're likely aware that this morning at 9:00 local time, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk (pronounced Chel-YA-beensk), a city in the southern Ural Mountains of Russia. According to RT news, 300 buildings were damaged and 514 persons need medical care, mostly for injuries from flying glass. 

For some geographical perspective, here's a high-tech map for you: Because of course you deserve to know. ;)

So here's Russia: Click photo to enlarge. The red marker is pointing to Moscow. The orange sticky-note is pointing to Chelyabinsk, site of today's drama, some 930 miles east-southeast of Moscow. The green marker points to Rostov-on-Don, 650 miles south of Moscow and my home-sweet-home. That blue sticker points to lots more drama; we'll get to that in a minute.

First, here's a great video of highlights thanks to RT, Russia Today.

Interesting: I'm watching, more or less, РОССИЯ24, Russia's 24-hour news channel. This story is the only thing on the news.

But not everyone is convinced that today's phenomenon was a meteor. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a politician with ideas of his own, claims the explosion was the US testing weapons. Bless his heart. Makes you wonder what he had for breakfast. Here's more on his theory.

Now, a look back to the last exploding meteor to hit the earth which also hit Russia. Thanks to the Smithsonian Institute for twittering today about the Tunguska Event, which hit Siberia in 1908, leveling forests for 800 square miles.

Here's our trusty map (Click to enlarge). The blue sticker points to Tunguska, an area 1,500 miles east of today's drama and 2,400 miles east of Moscow, according to my figuring.

While today's explosion was significant, it pales in comparison with the Tunguska Event. The Smithsonian story quotes NASA's calculations that the Tunguska explosion was equivalent to 185 Hiroshima bombs.

Have to admit, the first I heard of this was after coming to Russia. Actually it was in 2008, with the 100th anniversary of the event, I wrote,  I Feel the Earth Move...with a nod to Carol King's song of the 1970's.

How about you, dear blog reading friend. Any experience with meteors? Or. . . UFO's. Or. . . testing weapons, for that matter? Seriously, maybe you've been all too close to a natural disaster such as a tornado or earthquake. Please do share.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The McCarthy Era Began: February 9, 1950

On this date in 1950, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy charged that the U.S. Department of State was riddled with Communists. Thus began the 4- year era of McCarthyism.

Who would ever have predicted that within fifty years, Communism would decline in Russia and a democratic form of government would emerge? While there are folks here who pine for the good old days when Lenin and Stalin were in power, the younger generations have moved on. And the U.S. has moved on too. Joseph McCarthy's tactics and claims were exposed and the U.S. is concerned with security threats of a rather different nature.

Do You remember the McCarthy witchhunts?

Monday, February 04, 2013

Volgograd ~ Stalingrad ~ Commemorates February 1943 Victory

Over the weekend, Volgograd observed the 70th anniversary of the bloodiest battle of World War II, the battle in which Nazi forces surrendered, a turning point in the war. The victory of February 2, 1943 was the lead story on the news all day last Saturday, with special programming, interviews with veterans and grainy black-and-white video footage. The battle of Volgograd, that is Stalingrad, waged on for 200 days and has been described as one of the bloodiest in history. As many as two million Soviet citizens were killed.

Just as a rose by any other name is not a rose, veterans have campaigned that Volgograd return to its Soviet-era name, Stalingrad, a rather controversial request. City officials have compromised:  Stanlingrad will be the city's official name on six patriotic days scattered throughout the calendar year including February 2nd. 

A member of our congregation, Elena Lalaevna, served as a nurse during the war. As a decorated veteran, she receives regular letters of appreciation from Moscow, as she puts it. Elena Lalaevna graciously allowed me to photograph her with the newest card signed from the president, himself.

Elena Lalaevna with her card, *70 years after the Battle of Stalingrad.*  (Click  photos to enlarge.)

Pictured inside is Mat' Rodina, or The Motherland Calls, the symbol of  the Volgograd victory, a monument taller than the  Statue of Liberty. The card is beautifully written, expressing gratitude for each veteran's role in the war effort, what a difference his or her bravery made in stopping the Fascist aggression and how their efforts will always be remembered. The card is signed by Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, a most interesting signature.

Speaking of The Motherland statue, here are shots from my trip there one fine May.

Massive. See the people at the base of the statue? Mat' Rodina is atop a hill, 200 steps above the entrance to the memorial area. Each step represents one of the 200 days of the battle.

The general public is not permitted inside the statue. In the second video below, The Motherland Calls, meet the team of mountain climbers assigned to maintain the statue 

This video captures the reverence with which Russia observes such memorial days and the respect given war heroes.Video is courtesy of RT, Russia Today news service.

In this video, we meet the statue's designer and sculptor, the curator and the mountain climbers who maintain the statue.

So, dear Blog Reader, have you been to Volgograd, per chance? Have any family members who served in Russia? Or are you a World War II history buff? Please do share.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Snow, Glorious Snow: A Spiritual Metaphor

What can be more perfect, more pristine than a layer of fresh snow? We've had lots of new snow lately here in Rostov-on-Don and I love to walk through the magic. Its perfect whiteness reminds me that our Holy Father longs to transform our personal landscapes, covering up the ugliness with His sparkling perfection.
Two weeks ago, a mama and her boys enjoying fresh snow, using the sled to transporting the little guy. (Click to enlarge.) Thanks folks for being such willing models.
Here in southern Russia, snow is beautiful a few days before a thawing and refreezing cycle begins. Soon the winter wonderland is reduced to a sloppy, slushy mess and, once again, the litter, cigarette butts and doggy business are on display. 
And that's where the spiritual analogy breaks down. When God cleanses us, He deep-cleans the whole way down. He does more than sprinkle some pretty over the muck and yuck. 
Well, here's the same spot ten days later after warmer temperatures: Significantly less enchanting.

Friends, here's a glimpse into of Russian winter, both pretty and ugly. I'm sharing lots more of the pretty, because after all, we are encouraged to think about the good stuff  We read . . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians 4:8, NIV). I'd say that applies here too.

Anything sweeter than a baby? His whole life is ahead of him.

A car heading home from work, north on Semashka Street.

Willing models, these girls. Happened upon them as they were taking their photo together. Grabbed my camera to capture them but a bit late. They were still laughing about our encounter when they were halfway down the block. See, Russian girls can be giggly too. 

Almost dusk on Voroshilovsky Street near the Central City Hospital.

Pyshkinskaya, a pedestrian-only boulevard some 16-some blocks long, is a quiet oasis in  the heart of the city.

Pedestrians on a side street heading home, probably thinking about dinner. And that's probably be sausage and potatoes. Or pelmeni. 

This fellow's heading north on Semashka, passing МЧС, the Department of Emergency Services, administrative headquarters for southern Russia.

Two ladies catching up with each other. Perhaps they were once co-workers, now retired and have lots to discuss.

Hold on, here's some slop and slush.

Voroshilovsky Prospect looking north. There is one spot of beauty, one redeeming bit of loveliness in this photo: A vendor is selling roses at the red table there, barely visible under the billboard. And that brought some sunshine to the bleak view.

Here's ugly on Gazetney Street: Snow trickling down toward the Don River, about one kilometer to go. One visitor to Rostov, an architect in New York City, pointed out the lack of drainage culverts on the streets. Aha! So that's why these streets can be such a mess. 

How about something special to wrap up. Here's a winter view that's made me laugh. Last month in Ternopil, Ukraine, I looked out the church building window after worship and had to grab my camera. Do you see anything unusual?

Someone's being pulled on a sled and that's a common sight. But only for children. Let's zoom on in because that person doesn't look like a kid!

Sure enough, this energetic fellow is pulling a woman up the hill. I'm guessing it's his grandmother. Perhaps they're going to the little grocery store just up the street. Now that's is true devotion!

Dear Blog-reading friends, wishing you the most beautiful of layer of pure whiteness in your landscape, in your heart and in your soul this winter! And tell me, what do You think about snow as a spiritual metaphor? Does it work. . . . or am I all wet? ;)