Thursday, June 25, 2009

First Impressions

I am really slow in getting anything up since we hit Russia but thing have been extremely busy. We got our stuff really quickly so that meant lots and lots of unpacking. So far here are some of my opinions and observations. First the light in the summer is really crazy. This is the farthest north I have ever lived and it is odd always going to sleep with the sun up. When you wake the sun is up. It has certainly affected Lynne much more then myself. With there being lots of sunlight at night she will regularly stay up much later then she really wants to.

So far most of the Russians have been very polite and willing to deal with us butchering their language. That might be because most of the Russians I am dealing when not working are in the shops trying to sell me something. All in all it helps that they are willing to put up with me.

There are a few things that Russians are very good at. One is мед (honey pronounced myod). Honey in Russia is like no where I have ever been. It is amazing. We bought some мед at the рынки (kind of like a farmer’s market pronounced Ree-nok). It was so good that it seemed like a crime to use it in tea. So we bought some cheap мед at the продукты (supermarket/grocery store pronounced Produkty). Even this stuff was really good. Sorry Malta your honey doesn't hold a candle to this stuff. Another is the варенье (pronounced Vareni). варенье is kind of like a thin Jam. It is made like jam but ranges from a thin syrup to a almost Jam consistency. The quality of them are excellent. We have been going through the варенье like crazy since we arrived. One strange thing is the Cherry варенье was made with whole cherry that still had the pits in them. So you have a jar or cherries in this thin cherry syrup. It was very tasty with our блины (thin pancakes pronounced Blini) but picking out the pits was a pain.

The city really is a 24/7 place. There are at least 6 продукты within walking distance that are open 24 hours. There are 24 hour restaurants and drug stores. It is such a change after Malta where you had to have everything for the weekend on Friday or you were in trouble. Here if you forgot something for Sunday dinner just run out and get. No problem.

So far I am really enjoying St. Petersburg. The weather is wonderful for summer. We see in January if my posts are so positive.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Culinary adventures

I am always amazed at which staple (in my mind) products are found at various overseas locations and which are not. In Malta, sour cream and applesauce did not exist. Here, baking powder, molasses (a.k.a. treacle) and Cheerios have never been seen, to my knowledge. I also have yet to find rice milk or more than one, undrinkable, variety of soy milk. I've just heard of a store where brown sugar can be found. How did people live before internet shopping??

Before I was able to get baking powder into my hands (first through my lovely new friend who handed me an almost-full container she happened to have with her one day, then through our netgrocer.com order) I was desperate for a pancake recipe that did not require baking powder, as pancakes are a staple breakfast food for me. Turns out that a true pancake can not be made without the ingredient, but Norwegian pancakes do not need it. I can still remember the delicious pancakes we had when while in Oslo so I decided this was worth attempting. Also, being Russian denziens for two years, we had to attempt blinis.

The recipe I found for Norwegian pancakes is remarkably similar to the recipes Terry found for blinis. In each case a large quantity of milk is mixed with some flour, eggs and a few other things then spread thin on a griddle. Also in each case a jam (vareini) is spread thin in the middle and then the whole thing is wrapped into either burrito or square shape. We definitely need more practice and some recipe tweaking before we have anything we could serve a guest without embarrassment, but for first attempts we had some very tasty breakfasts.

We've also been experimenting with sweets. We've been very pleased with the quality of Russian chocolate, although if we needed something more familiar they do carry Lindt 70% cocoa at many stores. There's also a very yummy gingerbread type cookie that has made Alex into a mini-tyrant. Really hard not to laugh at her when she stubbornly starts chanting "cookie! cookie! cookie!"

In another interesting twist, Alex only likes American applesauce. When we first arrived we put together a quick netgrocer order that included the handy travel packs of applesauce, because we know those weren't available here. It seemed as though her obsession with the food was easing, as she ate the first 2 jars we fed her but kept refusing the next one. When the netgrocer order came, however, she saw the packs, recognized them, and then became a mini-tyrant whenever she caught a glimpse .... it's good to know she really loves such healthy food, but it is a bit overkill - I have yet to feed her an amount that sated her, generally because I can't bring myself to give her more than 2 cups at one meal.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer Gardens

On our second weekend in country we decided to take a break from unpacking and do a little sightseeing. We forgot that most things don't open until 10am, and with Alex still being our early morning ray of sunshine we were up and ready to go by 8:30am. It was chilly but sunny, and the walk to the Summer Gardens was nice. The locked gates were less nice. The Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood is only a few blocks away, and although it was also closed, the thing that most interested us about the church was the outside - as you can see. We wandered a bit, took photos, and tried to keep me on the sunny side of the street.

Part of the excitement of getting to the Summer Gardens is that they will, reportedly, be closed imminently and for 3 years for restoration. The trees are large and leafy enough that there is little direct sunlight in the gardens, which led me on this chilly day to say "I bet these gardens are lovely in the summer, there is so much shade and benches everywhere."

As a famous garden, though, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. There are reportedly some 90 sculptures and statues in the gardens, most of which I did not notice although we walked a decent amount of the gardens. Also, there are trees and a few shrubs, and that's about it for greenery. The paths are nice and wide, and there are many benches for sitting and people watching, but I just couldn't see what was so incredibly special about the place. I suppose it is for the best that I won't be going back!