Archive for ‘baking/cooking for russians’

November 20, 2012

In Moscow Only Spongebob Makes S’mores

A while ago I wanted to introduce some of our friends to the amazingness that is s’mores. That plan got a little messed up, but I recently got to try again.

While hanging out with Andrei’s cousin and her son I told them about my rice krispy treat/Russian ‘marshmallow’ disaster. That reminded them that they had a question for me.

“Do people in America really roast zephyr (marshmallow) over a fire?” The son had seen it on Spongebob Squarepants and was intensely curious. Since I had recently found the American style marshmallows here in Moscow I decided I had to introduce them to this childhood rite. It’s hard for me to imagine someone going through their entire life not even knowing what a s’more is! Or the simple joy of roasting a marshmallow! When I went to Italy in high school, the family I stayed with was fascinated by the fact that we eat frittatas/omelettes in the morning for breakfast instead of in the evening for dinner (something they had also seen on T.V.).

The next time Andrei and I came over, we brought the s’more fixings. Using chopsticks and their stovetop we brought them up to speed on what it is to be American. And it was a success! Unless they were just being nice, they were thrilled with the results. It’s fun sharing different foods.

Andrei’s cousin and her son hope to visit us in America this summer. I can’t wait to pull out our little fire pit and show them s’more making in all its proper glory!

October 31, 2012

Success and Awkwardness – The Emotional Rollercoaster That is Living in Moscow

For me, life in Moscow is an emotional roller coaster; a series of ups and downs usually based on my comfort level in a given situation. Most often, my comfort level depends on my command of the Russian language that day – yes, that changes…Every. Day. My comfort level can also be dictated by the amount of confidence I have in the moment. These levels and moments shift quickly. One minute I am so proud of myself for navigating the metro maze, until I ask for directions above ground and realize I went to the completely wrong metro stop. Or the days I am ‘owning’ living in Moscow only to be belittled to nothing by a cashier because I can’t give her a 10 rouble coin to make the change easier (or worse, when I give a coin thinking it will help make change, and I’m totally wrong). As if I purposefully planned to ruin her day by not having the 10 roubles – like I would intentionally put myself into a situation where I have to apologize profusely and wish I could just disappear or fear one of the 45 unnecessarily staffed security guards will shoot me on the spot. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad. (yes…it is).

Yesterday started as a success story. My last post described my disaster of an attempt at making rice krispy treats for my volunteer group. Fortunately, I was able to find American marshmallows and started all over again.

The rice krispy treats were new to everyone and loved by all. I drizzled mine in chocolate which makes them more fun and cool and complicated looking. Right?

…Just say yes.

In my explanations on how I made the rice krispy treats I learned a couple new words for my ever expanding Russian-culinary vocabulary. There were volunteers there that I hadn’t met yet, and since it was obvious I wasn’t from around here it sparked some major interest. One girl was digging my accent. Everyone asked the usual questions: “How do you know Russian?”, “Were you born here and then moved to America?”, “Where is it better – Moscow or America?”, “How is life in America?”, “Are there many Russians there?”, “Are there any 100% Americans who are Orthodox Christian?”, “Does the Orthodox youth get together a lot?”, “Who are you voting for, Obama or Romney?” (I could have an F.A.Q. post for questions we get asked in Russia). A new question last night was if newspapers are really delivered by little boys on bikes.

The evening was ending very successfully. I was interacting with people a lot and making new friends. I also got to spend some quality time with an old volunteer friend over some tea after everyone had left. She’s been super busy and we haven’t had a chance to catch up. Even though I was happy with my previous conversation, it was nice being able to talk more in depth. Not about the usual “Oh cool, you are from America” stuff, but more girl-chat stuff. I left the church (where we cook for the homeless) thinking I was completely in control. That I am totally awesome at living abroad.

It was slurrying outside and totally gross so I decided to try to find a cab/car to take me home. I saw a car stopped at a red light with an orange box thing on its roof. Preferring a legit cab over a gypsy cab I ran up to the guy’s window and started waving. He didn’t see me right away so I started waving more frantically to get his attention before the light turned green. He rolled down the window and I asked him to take me to my apartment on Noviy Arbat. Only I started the sentence weird and then said Noviy Arbat in a total accent. I have an accent, I know, but not nearly as bad as the one that came out. Oh no, here comes the awkward downfall after the successful evening. I can feel it.

The guy was nice enough, but shook his head and shrugged his shoulders and said (in Russian), “There’s a police man behind me.” There was indeed a cop car behind him, but I thought it was weird that he wouldn’t take me. Maybe there’s a rule if you’re stopped at a light. Perhaps he feared the cop would bust him for something made up by letting me in the car. I had no idea, so I just ran back to my friend (who was responsibly waiting to make sure I got into a cab). I told her he said no because of the cop behind him. We started to look out for another cab when the light turned green and the guy pulled up to the curb. “Oh look, he’s going to drive you,” my friend said. So I quickly walked back to the corner and got into his car. Only to realize the policeman was coming up to his window. He didn’t take me because he was in the middle of getting pulled over. And he didn’t drive up to the curb for me. And I was in his car. And now how am I supposed to sneak out of his car without him realizing I got into it??? Giving up on not being noticed I jumped out of his car and started to run like a lunatic. Once you (I) feel awkward, it’s all downhill from there. I caught up to my friend who hadn’t gone far and we tried again to find a cab. Then the pulled over guy started waving me over and said he would in fact take me as soon as the police finished their business. So I got back in the car. And waited. After about 10-15 minutes and after paying off the police 1000 roubles, the cabbie was ready to take me home! I guess I could have just gotten out and tried for another cab that wasn’t pulled over, but it was warm in the car and I was already beyond awkwardness redemption anyway.

The cabbie rightly guessed that I was foreign…duh. Once I said America he guessed California. I would like to think it’s because of my nice smile and wavy hair that he guessed right, but I think California is one of maybe two states people in Russia know. I did tell him that I now live in New Jersey (which is near New York, to reference state 2 of 2 for Russians).

I laughed away my awkwardness the rest of the ride. We chatted about the hurricane on the East Coast , America in general, and the Russian police. And I think I nailed it in the end by saying, “Drive carefully” (in Russian) before jumping out of the cab.

October 24, 2012

Million Dollar Disaster

The other night I totally Macgyver-ed my Quinoa Pilaf with Cremini Mushrooms. I’m currently back in Moscow, but haven’t met up with Andrei’s cousin to get our bag of stuff. So I don’t have a mesh seive…in other words no way to rinse the quinoa before cooking it so it doesn’t taste bitter. Trying to rinse it in a cup then use my hand as a strainer just created semi-permanent quinoa gloves and elevated blood pressure. So I went with the next thing I could think of which was the french press. It came out well and I was proud of my resourcefulness. This dish is a foolproof dish, by the way, it tastes delicious anytime and anywhere I make it.

I served the pilaf with some veal tenderloin and the whole dinner was a beauty. I was so happy because my week long grace period since arriving should really be over and I need to start making more creative and less boring meals. Maybe I’ll say I should do this once a week just so I don’t raise the bar too high. Anyway, as may be evident, I was super confident in myself after this meal and was ready to tackle the next thing -bringing something awesome and new for my volunteer group. I did a lot of repeats last time so I wanted to bring them something I hadn’t made yet. If I could find the ingredients I thought maybe rice krispy treats drizzled with chocolate would be just the thing.

In one of the fancy grocery stores on our street I found the cereal. Actual Rice Krispies. For $12 a box. But have you ever noticed how when you are outside your own country money really feels more like Monopoly money…like, fake.

The next challenge was the marshmallows. I knew I wouldn’t find them anywhere near me because I had never seen them before in this area. There are aparently grocery stores that sell lots of American items, but would they have marshmallows, who knows. Plus I don’t know where those stores are anyway. So I went for the Russian marshmallow look alike – zephyr.

It feels, smells, and basically tastes like a marshmallow.

If it looks like a duck…right?


It melted into a clumpy mess. A light cloud of vanilla scent hung over the apartment, but I guess all the good smells left the actual sticky mess in the bowl. That did not smell as appetizing. I didn’t want to represent my exotic-ness (ok, ok…American-ness) by harming people with radioactive rice krispy treats so I dumped the bizarre mixture.

With only a couple hours left before my group met, I tried desperately to think of something else to do with the $12 box (worth $4 max back home 😉 ) of Rice Krispies. On their website I found a recipe using sweetened condensed milk. I ran to the store (for like the 5th time that day) and got the rest of the ingredients needed (well, I skipped the coconut and the nuts).

I’ve made a similar dessert before (my Gooey Bars) which are always pretty popular so I figured this would be a great last minute fix.


Disaster number 2 of the day ensued. Maybe I did something wrong, but the sticky mixture would not harden correctly and I could not take it off the foil. Foil doesn’t really taste that great, so I brought nothing to the volunteers this time. Except promises for something amazing the following week. Which now I have to come up with.

That recipe is called Lunchbox Coconut Surprise. As in, “SURPRISE – this recipe sucks!”

I’m irked by the word “Surprise” in recipe names. Same goes for “Magic”. For some reason those words always apply to recipes with sweetened condensed milk.

The whole time I was subconsciously aware that Kellog’s is on the “No-Buy GMO List”. Perhaps that’s why nothing worked out for me. I can hear my mom and sister cringing back home. As am I. Russia band GMOs (which is AWESOME), but they may have forgotten about some of their imports.

(side note: if you are in California, please VOTE YES on PROP 37. Google it. It could really start to make a difference nationwide. The rest of us are counting on YOU).

There is a girl in the group that started baking things too; especially while I was gone. I’d like to pat myself on the back for being her inspiration, but then where would my humility be? She is now inspiring me to get back on the ball before my reputation is replaced altogether. How silly that I feel threatened by the new cookies and cakes on the block…

May 4, 2012

The Most Expensive Chocolate Chip Cookies I Ever Made

One of the reasons I went ahead and bought the electric hand mixer to bake kulich was because I figured I could then make chocolate chip cookies and other mixer required recipes after. Recipes I couldn’t really do before because I was having an inner battle with myself over whether it was really worth it to go out and buy one I would only be using temporarily. The thought of trying to mix the kulich dough by hand in a very weak plastic bowl (the only big one I could find) was overwhelming so I gave in and bought the mixer (It was all of $12 – I’m not really sure what my problem was. Maybe it’s that I am used to having more cabinet space and I hate extra things on the counters). I was excited for the baking doors it would open afterwards. Well, If you read my post about kulich you will know that my mixer did not survive (duh, because it was $12).

Determined to make an American classic for my volunteer group, but not planning to go back to Ashan that week, I googled ‘How to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies Without a Mixer’ and found a recipe on the website/blog(?) theKitchn. Which is one of those websites/blogs(?) that make you want to be cooler/change your whole life so you try commenting on it and usually end up sounding more lame. I opted to Tweet instead, but that didn’t produce any earth shattering changes, fame, or even a retweet…oh, well. I’m bad at Twitter and worse at Pininterest, anyway. I was pretty excited about the recipe. Maybe I don’t even need the mixer after all!!…Psh, of course I’ll get it anyway. I was so good at talking myself out of it and then I got a taste of having one again.

So Problem #1 happened while collecting ingredients. Brown sugar in most stores here is what at home we call raw sugar. So, not brown sugar. I finally found some in the fancy store across the street. It came out to about $7.50 for 1lb. These have now become very fancy cookies.

Next, I was unable to find vanilla extract. I probably should have just bought a vanilla bean since I didn’t know how to replace the extract with vanilla sugar, vanilla powdered sugar, vanillin, and every other vanilla option on the planet that these stores carry besides extract. I opted for just skipping it all together. Hold your gasps, the cookie flavor was actually fine! The other apparently exotic item in Moscow is chocolate chips. I have seen them once. In a tiny little packet around kulich baking time – and then they disappeared forever. Fine, I can chop chocolate bars into little chunks. Makes them even more homemade in my book! After all was said and done I got about 7 oz of chocolate chips for almost $4. That’s more than the cost of chocolate chips at home (where Nestle Tollhouse might cost about $3.59 for 12oz). So now these have become the Most Expensive Chocolate Chip Cookies I Ever Made.

This is how I followed the recipe (including the way I have to measure my ingredients in Moscow), but you can use the link I posted before for the original recipe: First mix 12 tbsp of granulated sugar and 12 tbsp of brown sugar until well combined. Smush out any clumps. In globs add/mix in the 114(ish) grams of softened butter (Here I got inspired and distracted by the idea of compound butter and daydreamed about what other ingredients I could make it with). Taste test a bunch of the butter/sugar mixture…I mean, what?
Add the two eggs one at a time, lightly beating the egg with a whisk (in the bowl but off to the side) first. Telepathically add some vanilla extract and hope that works. Add 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of baking soda (Sigh of relief that I needed baking soda because there doesn’t seem to be baking powder in any store either). Mix this well. Add all 36 tbsp of flour at one time (try not to lose count). Carefully mix the dough as few times as possible until there is no flour visible in the dough or anywhere on the bowl. Fold in 200 grams of homemade chocolate chunks.
Next is the part that inexplicably makes me so irritated…roll tablespoons of dough and space them out on a lined or greased baking sheet about 2 inches apart. I can’t stand this part and sometimes resort to spreading the mixture out in the baking sheet and just cutting it into Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars after baking. I can’t be the only one who has this revulsion because the cookie bars are actually an alternative option on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips package. I am not really sure what makes me so annoyed. I love cooking and baking and I like cookies. I’m assuming it’s because not many globs of dough fit on the baking sheet when you space them out so outrageously far (why 2 inches, Recipe, why?!) so you have to bake so many batches. And you have to wait for the cookies and baking sheet to cool before you can roll out another set. Yes, I am starting to realize how insane and impatient I must sound.
I decided to selflessly put myself through the torture of scooping and rolling because I wanted the volunteers to have chocolate chips cookies. Also I could lick any of the batter that sticks off of my fingers and the spoon…I mean…what? I stubbornly only spaced them out like an inch and a half though. Barely. And fully expected to get a big cookie blob in the end. But I didn’t. The cookies came out brilliant. The first (top rack) tray came out amazing. They even had a store bought shape to them. (Oh, I baked at 190(ish)°C for 10(ish) minutes). I stared at them in awe. Fascinated that the best ‘American-classic’ cookies I ever baked were in Moscow. With no vanilla. And less than 2-inches of separation!
Now, we won’t talk about the other trays that accidentally stayed in the oven too long. It’s crazy how fast cookies go from golden brown to charcoal (usually this happens in the 5 seconds that it takes me to nonsensically set the timer for just 1 more minute – the third time). I ALWAYS second guess and take out the cookies just a tad too late. This recipe has a great tip though – take the cookies out of the oven when the sides are set and the tops are dry to the touch. This really helps as my overbaked ones weren’t as bad as usual.
In fact, they were fine. Just a little crunchier. And the beauty of it all was that I was serving the cookies to a group of people that aren’t familiar with them. So how would they know, really? I made them the following week again and their doneness was even better. The second time I added a tiny bit of cinnamon (still no vanilla) and mixed dark and milk *homemade* chocolate chunks. Yum. The cookies were all eaten.

(PS: There is one volunteer, whom I adore and think is a very generous person, who, every time I bring something in, likes to lecture me about how American sweets/foods are full of crap and that Russians aren’t used to that and prefer things that are less salty or sweet. I just smile and nod as I watch him take seconds, thirds, fourths…)