Sunday, July 31, 2011

More culinary experimentation

We have been making jam since the early-in-the-relationship strawberry picking date landed us with waayyy more berries than we could eat or pie. Turns out, though, only Americans use commercial pectin in our home-jam making. At least, we can't find pectin in stores anywhere else in the world. So we started looking into making our own pectin.

Supposedly, it's quite easy: chop up some underripe apples; simmer them forever in just enough water to cover them; strain through cheesecloth overnight; boil the resulting liquid until it has halved. We did this last night/this morning.

Today the weather was perfect - sunny and cool. We decided not to travel so far outside the city and instead set our sights on the recently-opened New Holland Island. Sadly, it's an "I can see it but I can't get there" place, so we aborted the attempt and decided to stop by Sennaya Ploschad instead and see what produce they had. Peaches were cheap enough and hard enough to find jam-wise here, so we decided that would be our test batch.

You can't find jam recipes that include homemade pectin because it all depends on the pectin content in the liquid you have on hand. So we muddled through and got ... peach syrup. It was our backup plan as maple syrup is ridiculously expensive and I love my pancakes, however it means we had too much sugar or not enough pectin. We'll try again someday and report back.

btw - today's culinary explorations included some old favorites - waffles, cobbler (blueberries at Sennaya!) - and a first try at plov (an Uzbek dish). Thank you to my friend who taught me how and my other friend who took much better notes than me :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Zoltan spends most of 4 days each week with a Russian nanny. It seems the Russian is starting to seep in. He definitely understands a lot ... and this week he's starting to say "Mamy" (pronounced Mamoo). It's accusative case, and in one words it means "I want mommy." Just in case I wasn't sure that was what he was really doing, today he alternated. "Mamy! Mamy! I want mommy!"

Next week he'll start negotiating at the rinok for us :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

We saw a movie! In the theater!

I read in the St. Petersburg Times (the city's twice weekly English language "newspaper") a review of the movie Melancholia. I noted that it claimed the movie was in English with Russian subtitles. As it was showing at the new movie theater in the Galleria mall, I thought it was certainly plausible.

Terry wanted wings so we were already planning to be in the area, and our babysitter had successfully put Z down to sleep the week before (a test run) so she came pretty early in the evening, and we decided to check out the theater. Turns out there were 3 movies in English and Melancholia looked like the best of the bunch. It was our very first foray into a Russian movie theater and in fact we can't remember a movie seen in the theater since 2007. I was pregnant with Alex at the time.

Terry didn't like the movie, I did, but we both agreed it was a good test run and totally worth paying attention to what movies come to that theater and finding out which will be in English.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sighting of the rare & elusive Customer Service

Last night, as Terry craved Buffalo wings, we decided to go to the TGI Fridays that recently opened in the Galleria mall. We placed our order, our server repeated it back to us, and yet when the meal came out mine was something completely different. Grrrr.

The manager came over, and in lightening Russian apologized for the mistake and said the corrected dish would come out, if we had the time and could stay, in another 10 minutes. At least, I think that's what he said as I caught about 2 words in each sentence. He repeated himself in English and as we had plenty of time to kill and at that point I really wanted the dish I'd ordered, we decided to wait.

#1: The manager apologized for a problem in our dinner.

Terry and I then got to discussing the manager's possible background, as his English was both excellent and accented American - most Russians speak with a British English accent. When he came over later to ask if the meal was OK and if it came within the time he'd promised, we asked and learned he had studied in Ohio and was never able, later, to shake the Americanisms out of his accent and vocabulary. He and Terry bonded over Cleveland, where both had spent some time. And then ....

#2: He offered a complimentary dessert or cocktail for our inconvenience.

Is Customer Service beginning to migrate into Russia? Will such sightings become more frequent? One can only hope. Stay tuned!

The joys of dacha season.

It is really common for Russians to have dachas or summer homes. Dachas I am told will range from glorified gardening shed to palatial homes. Many Russians will head out of town in the summer and spend the weekends at their dacha. One of the many side benefits for us non-dacha people is there are fewer people in the city. Traffic is significantly lighter. This makes going to one of the many parks a bit further out from the center of the city so much easier to do.

Last Sunday after Alex and I make a quick grocery run (also in record time thanks to dacha season), the family piled in the car and went Yelagin Island. Yelagin Island is one of the many islands in the Neva delta. The island is a large park with boat rentals, a small zoo, cafes, and lots of greenery to stroll around in. There was a nice playground there that ended up consuming most of our morning. Zoltan was thrilled to sit in the little car and bounce, while Alex showed us her excellent climbing skills.

After the kids got out some energy we stopped at a cafe for lunch. During our lunch one of the friendly ducks of the park waddled its way over to our table to get its share of the lunch. Alex was quite excited to share her bread with the duck. Following lunch the weather started to turn toward the rainy side so we headed back home to beat the rain and get the kids down for naps.

Thanks to the wonderful traffic during the summer we were home in no time and both children got their naps.

* Edited to add: we returned this Saturday for a lengthier tour of the island, once again transiting in record time. Useful to know is that if you get there early enough on the weekend, the usual entrance fee is not collected.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Our GSO is sooo fabulous to get recycling, finally. Now I have to remember not to throw away the Mac N Cheese box, because I can bring it into the Consulate and drop it in the bin. Life just got a bit better :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Friday was one of those dragging days, when no amount of coffee can make up for the desperate urge for a nap. Zoltan went down for his nap surprisingly easily, given that for several months he refused to lay down and go to bed when I put him down. The time it took to get Alex ready and down for her nap, then wait 10 minutes for the movers to arrive to take away the boxes from UAB, and have a drink of water ... Z was up and nothing would convince him to go back down. Totally poopalicious nap, and totally grumpy mommy. Turns out, with the lack of sleep, totally grumpy baby.

Grumpy babies need a lot of stimulation to keep from crying and tired grumpy mommies don't have a lot in us to keep things fresh. I managed to play with him for about an hour before running low on steam. Alex was - thankfully - sound asleep, which is normally a good thing, but in this case it meant I couldn't just take him for a walk or to the park.

His nails needed to be cut so I put on an episode of Peppa Pig to keep him still so I wouldn't cut him. For anyone unfamiliar with this British porcine, it's fabulous. Each episode is 5 minutes and everyone falls down when they laugh. We all love them. After the show was over we got up and did something else. It didn't take too long though before I started thinking longingly of the stillness and peace I felt while he watched the show.

He's been all about the potty lately, most of the time telling me when something goes into the diaper and wanting to sit on the potty at seemingly random intervals (often right after putting something in the diaper), but of course the potty is still safe to drop food into. I even totally freaked him out one day as he started peeing on the carpet and I scooped him up and got him on the little potty. He stopped and wouldn't go again til I put his diaper back on.

I took his diaper off, put Peppa on, and picked up my book. About 4 Peppas in I did something in the kitchen, which caused Z to squawk and run in after me. Potty still pristine. One more show and he gets up and .... there's pee in the potty! Yipppeeeee!

The crying place

A long time ago, when we started using time outs as a way to separate Alex from whatever was causing the hysteria, when it was a place to go to calm down, she chose her own place. It's the corner under the Vonage telephone in the kitchen. If we open both doors to the hallway, it's a very "secret", cave-like hiding place.

Now of course time outs are used when she's aggressive, grossly disobedient, etc. Usually she's crying when she goes to her time out place. So, from a 20 month old perspective, that corner is where we go when we're crying. So now ... Zoltan puts himself in time out when he's upset/frustrated. Will it screw him up forever if he hears us giggling when we see him march off after having a knife taken from him, or when he's redirected into the kitchen from the living room when he's got food in his hand, or any number of things that just frazzle his little toddler mind?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Zoltan's selective language skills

Zoltan loves looking at pictures and naming all the family members. "Mommy! Daddy! Allie!" For some reason he would never include his name, which we usually use in its full form. This week I started using his nickname, which rhymes with everyone else "Mommy, daddy, Allie, Zoli" He repeats after me "Mommy! Daddy! Allie! Oolie!" I think kids named Oolie get beat up at school, let's hope he stays a big kid for a while.

Yesterday I was looking at a book with him and going over the colors. The conversation went like this...
Me: Yellow
Z: Yellow
Me: Purple
Z: Purple
Me: Blue
Me: Blue

Monday, July 11, 2011

Perfect summer evening

Tonight certainly didn't start off on the right foot. I came home to the news that Alex wasn't sleeping and hadn't wanted to sit on the potty. I granted her clemency and let her out of her room - still with dry panties on - gave the kids a snack and tried to eat a little something myself while constant interruptions from Zoltan who "wants shoes" and refused to believe every time he threw his shoes at me it actually brought the moment we finally left the house a bit farther away.

About 1/2 hour after I walked into the house, though, we were setting off again - to the park. The kids got about 20 minutes on the playground (the giggle highlight for me was the bunny rabbit sitting patiently in the stroller waiting while his girl played in the sandbox) and then we went for shashlik for dinner. Is there anything better in the summer than shashlik and beer outside? AND ... they now have English on their menus! Score!

On the way out we had about 5 minutes to let them play and I had brought bubbles so we found a shady grassy area and I blew bubbles for them to chase. Their smiles, laughter, shining eyes, running into each other and falling down and giggling throughout ... that was the best part. I should start carrying the camera everywhere.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Peas, please

We had the seeds in the house and the large pot just sitting there taking up space in the storage closet. So, Terry decided to give it another go, growing peas in Petersburg. Because although the short-growing, cool-ish weather veggie is perfect for this locale, it does not exist locally. These sprouts are only a couple of weeks old, so there is some definite hope. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

119 muffins

More details to follow ...

If I had a garden ...

... days like today would be more common, which is probably not a great thing. Went to the rinok today where one seller had blueberries so I got 1.5 kilos - which became a batch of jam and some in the fruit salad. Also kabachki (the light green zucchini that is shaped like yellow squash) was only 10 rubles/kilo (approx. 20 cents/lb) so I got 3 kilos.

All told, today we brought more than 20 kilos of produce into the house. We didn't touch the potatoes, onions, or carrots. Half the cabbage went into the soup - said soup also included the carrots and onions we already had in the house. I stemmed and washed 2 kilos of grapes, Terry made fruit salad out of nectarine, cherry, pomegranate, apple, grape, blueberry, and a few leftover apricots - super yummy. However, making the salad of course involved washing and peeling and/or chopping all of said fruit.

Friends had told us that raspberries were beginning to show up at the rinok so when I saw none I asked when they would be there. The lady replied "через один час", which I later double checked on Google translate, means in an hour. Because we had the blueberries so we were going to make jam no matter what, we decided Terry would run back during naptime to get the raspberries. He came home with plums and more pomegranate, but there was only one stall selling raspberries and it was expensive. Maybe next week ... or rather the one after that.

With all the extra plums Terry ended up making muffins from a recipe he found online. I won't comment on them other than to say nobody will eat them. With all the kabachki I got, I made zucchini bread muffins - more portable and flexible than making them in breads but more time consuming and more mess. We now wait to see how long it will take us and play groups, guests, etc to go through the 119 muffins that made it to the cooling rack (i.e. I made more but some have been eaten)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Brief interlude

For about 72 hours Alex and I were a team - we left the boyfolk home and went to England to celebrate Langley's 25th anniversary as well as the opening of the Pavilion extension to the restaurant and meet some of the knight finders - see photos on Facebook (!/pages/Langley-Castle-Hotel/51143011126). We did have a tiny bit of extra time to hit the Roman Army Museum, which managed to captivate my 3 year old for more than an hour so I'd say it was a hit. We also got some quality time with my brother and his younger son, whom Alex idolizes. She was thrilled just to watch him play on his game boy!

Some photos of Alex and the peacocks, and Harrison in his knight outfit, and a few other things from the trip will be up shortly (I hope ... they will be up eventually, at least). The peacock story is too good not to share. So, apparently, some time in the past a peacock showed up and decided he liked it there. But then he got lonely, so they bought 2 more peacocks (one of which was a peahen, actually) to keep him company. Then mating season came, and now we have 6. It's mating season now and they start calling around 4am. I am shocked guests haven't complained. After a few days of feeding them leftover toast the housekeeping staff informed me they like "biscuits" (cookies) best but even with cookies they weren't letting a 3 year old feed them from her hand.

The major downside to the trip was when KLM lost the bag with Alex's car seat in it. Then didn't know when it would be in. Then finally tracked it down after a million phone calls and promised delivery "in the afternoon", although the conversation took place at 5pm so I can't tell when exactly he meant. It was apparently delivered after 11pm but nobody told me when I got to breakfast, so I made 3 more phone calls yelling "where is it" in the morning before I learned it was on site. Of course, by then the only car time left was the drive back to the airport. Grrrrr. KLM has lost our luggage approximately 15-20% of the time we have flown them. Doesn't seem like good stats, and it makes United start looking good again.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


It's been over 30C most of this week, today it's "cooled off" to 28. Alex and I head to the UK tomorrow, where temps will be around 15C!!! Craziness. I am so glad I looked at the weather report before filling the suitcase with shorts and T-shirts. It will be nice for us to have some "girl time" ... let's hope Zoltan survives 4 days without mommy. Given that he barely survives when I run into the bathroom, I can only imagine what kind of reception will await me at home Friday morning, which will be the first time he sees me unless traffic is ridiculously easy Thursday evening.

Friday, July 1, 2011

One of those days

Woke this morning with a raging headache and to the sound of Zoltan's hysterical scream. Go check it out and in the half light I see something dark in one hand and he's agitated. Yup, massive poopsplosion out the bottom of the jammies and in the crib. More poop all over the changing pad as I tried to get him cleaned up, even got some in the corner of the wooden frame of the changer. Get him and his stuff cleaned up, into the kitchen, turn on the coffeemaker. It appears to stop way before it should have so I check and yep, the filter folded over so there's a stuck mass of coffee grounds and water in the filter area. When trying to clear it out I spill hot coffee water all over my hand.

And it isn't even 7:30am yet!