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Here are a few photos from Tjejmilen weekend:

On the train to Stockholm. This lady was like something out of a children’s book, and actually she quite resembled a triplet from “The Triplets of Belleville“. The man on the left was her equally eccentric-looking husband.

Me, before Tjejmilen, grimacing

Kostia and “the Russian fil”, fil being a cousin of yogurt. They don’t seem to sell kefir in Falun so Kostia was excited to find it in Stockholm.

Here is a photo from last weekend:

We were invited to a party and instructed to bring a pie, a savory one, not a dessert one, so I looked in my Russian cookbook and made a kulebyaka, which is basically a big pirozhok. This one has meat inside. That’s supposed to be a hedgehog on the side. The decoration leaves something to be desired but hey, it was my first attempt.

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They had a carnival in our ghetto and the parade went past our door.

I baked some gourmet pizzas. The one has caramelized onion, spinach, and mushrooms, the other has this beet pasta sauce. I love the stuff but am bored of pasta, so that’s why I started investigating pizza dough.

We went to Uppsala for midsommar, the Scandinavian solstice festival. There was folk music and dancing around maypoles at Old Uppsala

I liked this fountain in Uppsala proper

The Linneaus botanical garden

On the night of the solstice I made Kostia and Dima go for a walk at 1:00 a.m. If you know me, you know that it took a supreme effort to stay awake and leave the house at that hour, but it was worth it. Here you can see the transition from dusk to dawn at 1:30 a.m.

That’s Dima

Finally, today was an historic day because Kostia cooked something from a recipe. We have several cookbooks in German that we inherited from Claudia when she moved away. Kostia wanted to keep the cookbooks, but since I don’t know German I told him he had to use them or else we had to give them away. So, he finally got around to it and made a very tasty zucchini frittata.

In Russia there is this amazing breakfast cereal, podushechki (little pillows). There are probably similar things in the U.S., but I am conditioned by my stern upbringing not to purchase “sugar cereal” at home. When you’re in another country, however, you are totally allowed to eat things that are bad for you which is why I’m an expat. Anyway, podushechki are crispy little things with goo of various flavors inside, and the goo is probably laced with crack which makes it impossible not to eat the entire box in one sitting. At the little shopping center near the last place we lived in St. Petersburg, you could buy them by the kilo.

Imagine my happiness when I spotted havrekuddar, what I assumed to be the Swedish equivalent, in my local supermarket the other day. Well, let me tell you, these tasteless little shitbiscuits are probably the first cereal I’ve actually added sugar to since I was about 10 years old. They do not have any goo inside. They are blander than shredded wheat. They are not podushechki. <Insert joke about how Swedes are too serious and health-conscious here.>

I’d been thinking about Marshmallow Peeps all week, and then I ran across Peeps for Passover today, and then I discovered Washington Post’s Peeps Diorama Contest. And basically, well, I’m really craving some Peeps now. I haven’t seen them here in Sweden. If someone in the U.S. wanted to buy a whole lot of Peeps and Cadbury Creme Eggs at an after-Easter clearance sale and send them to me, I could return the favor with some exotic Swedish candy. Salty licorice anyone? (Just kidding, that stuff is hard for the uninitiated to stomach. I’ll send something else.)

McDonald’s has a new ad campaign in St. Petersburg promoting its breakfasts. Until a couple of years ago, Russian McDonald’s didn’t even have breakfast food. Anand can testify to that – when he was visiting in January 2005, we ate hamburgers at the Red Square McDonald’s at 7 a.m. For Russians this wasn’t so weird – while there’s a clear distinction in my mind between “breakfast food” and “lunch and dinner food”, Russians don’t seem to make this distinction. They can eat a ham- and mayonnaise-based salad for breakfast. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that, but whatever.

I kind of despise McDonald’s in principle and think that it should be avoided (and everyone should watch Super Size Me – why can’t I find the official site? Did McDonald’s shut them down?), but I have been known to go to a St. Petersburg McDonald’s on occasion, usually for take-out coffee. This breakfast ad campaign, however, has been working on my subconscious and awakened fond memories of Egg McMuffins from my childhood. The other night Kostia and I had the following conversation:

Me: We should go to McDonald’s for breakfast sometime.

Kostia: Why?!?

Me: You should have an Egg McMuffin once in your life, they’re tasty.

Kostia: I’ll do it when I’m old and bored.

It’s not likely to happen in any case. They stop serving breakfast at 10 a.m. We wouldn’t have time on a weekday morning, and the likelihood that we might make it out of the house before 10 on a day when we’re not working is approximately zero.

… of 66% of my immediate family, the translation of the penne with beet sauce recipe. In other foodblogging news, I attempted a Latvian Apple Soup recipe that turned out way too bitter and lemony. But I think the “broth” will actually make a good sauce for duck.

Penne with beet sauce
4 portions

Ingredients:
500 grams penne pasta (I recommend whole wheat pasta)
2 large beets
large handful of walnuts
2 tablespoons dry white wine
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
150 grams brynza or feta cheese
2 garlic cloves
1 sprig of basil
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste

Directions:
Wrap each beet tightly in foil and bake in the oven at 200°C (400°F) for 40-50 minutes. Put the cooked beets in cold water and peel them. Let them cool and cut them into very small cubes. (Actually, the first time I made this recipe I used beets that had been boiled and grated that were leftover from another recipe, so you can also prepare the beets in this way. Just boil the unpeeled beets until they are a bit soft, let them cool and peel and grate them.)

Chop the basil, the garlic, and the walnuts and put them in a blender with the white wine and the olive oil. Grind them into a puree. (You don’t need to grind too much, you can actually just mix everything by hand if the walnuts and the garlic are chopped small enough.) Mix the puree with the beets.

Cook the penne according to the directions on the package, drain, put on plates. Put the beet sauce on the penne and top with the cheese (I recommend warming the sauce a bit after mixing the beets and the pureed ingredients so the flavours become more co-mingled). Serve.

Since getting back from my trip a week ago I haven’t done anything noteworthy. I’ve been meeting new students (including one corporate group at 8 a.m., ugh, though the students themselves are nice), I bought new shoes yesterday, and I seem to be coming down with another cold, which isn’t much of a surprise, since Kostia’s been ill (which he almost never is) and the chilly rainy weather has been a bit of a shock to my system after two weeks of real summer weather in the U.S.

The only other thing of any interest whatsoever is that I made another recipe from Gastronom magazine, which turned out much better than expected – penne with beet sauce. Its a chunky sauce which, in addition to beets, contains walnuts, garlic, and a lot of olive oil. It’s topped with a cheese called “brynza”, which is a bit like feta. I really liked it. Kostia was not as taken with it as I was, but he seemed to like it well enough. In addition to being tasty, it’s nutritious (I used whole wheat penne) and vegetarian.

Gastronom’s website doesn’t list this recipe, but I’ve scanned it in for your viewing pleasure. (click to enlarge)

penne-beet-sauce.jpg

If you don’t speak Russian and are actually interested in making this, leave a comment and maybe I’ll post a translation…

I used to cook a lot, mostly recipes from The Moosewood Cooks at Home, but sometimes fancier stuff as well. Over time, I became lazier and I seemed to have less free time and I spent a lot less time cooking and ate a lot more sandwiches and cereal. In Sweden last year I did cook quite a bit because we couldn’t afford cafes or convenience foods, and if there was one thing we did have it was free time, but the meals were pretty simple affairs, since we weren’t buying fancy ingredients.

Another problem I’ve had with cooking in recent years is that I was vegetarian when I was teaching myself to cook, so although I eat animals now (with a guilty conscience), I’ve been sort of wary of cooking meat. I wouldn’t mind cooking vegetarian all the time, but it’s hard to find tofu and wide varieties of beans in Russia. Furthermore, usually I’m not cooking only for myself, and Russian friends find this kind of food weird. 

Besides this, it’s also been sort of hard to motivate myself to cook in Russia because even when I think I have found the right ingredients, things don’t turn out right. I baked several cakes which tasted overwhelmingly of baking soda before giving up on baking in Russia – I think Russian baking soda must be stronger or something. And I think the flour is coarser.

While I was in the U.S. on vacation recently I had this idea that I should buy fancy Russian cooking magazines and follow their recipes. If they’re Russian magazines, the proper ingredients should be available in Russian shops, right? Plus, I might learn some new vocabulary, for obscure foods and verbs for cooking.

On Thursday during one of my runs to the airport to pick up my lost luggage, I bought a magazine called Gastronom. On Friday I read through it and dog-eared the pages of things I wanted to try cooking, skipping the large section on rabbit dishes because I just don’t think I’m ready to cook rabbit. I did learn lots of new words, like razrykhlitel (baking powder), gorst (a handful), tsukat (those nasty little green dried fruits that are in fruitcake, what are they in English anyway?), among others. One recipe called for a star of “badyan”, but nobody knew what that was, not Kostia, not Vadik, and not the woman working in the spice aisle at O’kay*. Now I see that it is a type of anise:

Star Anise

So yesterday I made a mushroom cream soup, a turkey stew with apples, apricots and carrots (minus badyan), and beet cake. Everything turned out fine, even the beet cake, the batter for which was quite shockingly pink, but turned out golden brown like any other fruit/vegetable bread, like zucchini or pumpkin or banana bread. (Any chemists reading this blog, can you explain what happens to the red pigment of the beets in the oven?)

Kostia nearly had a heart attack at the O’kay checkout. But really, half of the bill was for pots and pans, and the bulk of the food cost was the wine that Kostia himself picked out, plus there were things like spices and oils that will be used for many meals. The actual cost of the ingredients for the meal was less than $30, it fed three people, and we have leftovers. It was nice to cook a fancy meal again and I intend to continue the project.

*Some readers may remember that I started a one-woman boycott of the O’kay supermarkets two years ago because I was so fed up with their cashiers’ incompetence. I reluctantly went to the one on our bus line a few weeks ago and realized that it really does have the widest selection of products to please the expatriate palate. When I saw that they have frozen Swedish cinnamon buns I officially decided to end the boycott (I haven’t bought any yet, but I like knowing that they’re there). And the customer service has gotten better. This particular O’kay has 49 cash registers, so no more waiting in line for an hour and a half.

I’m spending Labor Day weekend with Aunt Kelly in Boston, where the weather has been outstanding and every other person on the street speaks Russian. Since I’ve been to Boston many times before, we’ve been mostly shunning tourist activities in favor of eating. I wanted to eat all the ethnic food that St. Petersburg doesn’t have or Russifies too much. Yes, I know that international food in the U.S. is adapted for American tastebuds and not necessarily authentic either, but that’s what I grew up with, and Indian and Mexican food with copious amounts of dill in is just wrong.

We met up with fellow blogger Wally Shedd of The Accidental Russophile and his family. We went to Stoli. Maybe it was silly for me to eat Russian food while here, but for everyone else it was an unusual treat, and it seemed appropriate to meet at a Russian place.  The borsch and vareniki were pretty good, and everyone else seemed happy with their food as well. The service was a bit weird (and sexist) but I suppose I could recommend Stoli for Russophiles in the Boston area.

OK, on the positive reverse culture shock front, I had forgotten just how friendly and helpful salespeople and waitstaff are here. I can understand how Europeans coming to the U.S. can find it overwhelming and fake, but I don’t really think it’s fake, just kind of exaggerated, and I think all parties involved tend to have a sense of humor about it. Our waiter at Tapeo last night, “Gordon”,  was certainly over-the-top, but it was funny.

Usually Kostia and I do the grocery shopping together but yesterday he went to Lidl without me. Lidl is this Germany-based supermarket chain that is a normal supermarket in Germany but is kind of a seedy supermarket by Swedish standards. Some of their products are comparatively so cheap that you really don’t want to reflect much on how they were produced. But we’re poor students, and so we buy those things.

Kostia couldn’t find Vollkorn, our usual cheap German whole-wheat bread, so he bought another kind, which I would never have been able to bring myself to buy no matter how affordable, because I am allergic to Uncle Sam. Behold Active Sandwich:

It seems to be German-produced and the ingredients look normal, but it still kind of freaks me out. I didn’t think that Uncle Sam was such a good marketing tool in Europe these days, but perhaps the masses who buy cheap sandwich bread still find America glamorous.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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