• Happy New Year!

    When I was a kid we didn’t have Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa (the latter is due to the lack of African-Ukrainians). We had New Year, with Ded Moroz and Snegurochka, “New Year’s” Tree, presents, and obligatory toast at midnight. New Year was the only Soviet holiday that wasn’t associated with any communist or revolution bullshit.
    People dressed up, even at home, the table was covered with hard-to-find delicacies and drinks. Then my Mom made me take out the trash one last time, which involved going 3 floors (81 steps) down to the cold and dark yard. Then everyone waited.
    Few minutes before midnight the General Secretary of the Communist Part of the USSR would congratulate the Soviet People with another giant leap toward communism made in a previous year and wish them to make even more giant step next year.This is what it looked like in 1971. I only expect a few readers to recognize who this is, Leonid Illyich Brezhnev died before some of you were born. I know it’s in Russian but I am sure you’ll recognize every other word being “socialism” or “communism”. Brezhnev loved himself a long speech. He could go on for hours but he knew that vodka and champagne are getting warm and people restless. But there was no escape: all three channels had the speech on. Soviet people had to be congratulated whether the wanted it or not.

    When the General Secretary finally shut up, the Kremlin Kuranty rung midnight, the universal signal to start the festivities. That’s when we toasted New Year, my Dad would go outside and leave a bag of presents right behind the door, I don’t think we even wrapped them. We usually didn’t stay up for too long. I am still not a night person. I still like New Year better than all the other holidays combined. Nobody is born, no miracles of burning oil, just a clock of life ticking along, all the bad things are behind you and a brand new, bright and shiny year is ahead.

    This year I will be celebrating in St.Louis with a bunch of other Russians, old style. Even three months of Christmas music every year can’t make us forget who we are.
    I wish you all a Happy New Year, I hope that you will prosper, win a lottery, don’t get sick and have fun.
    P.S. To all the beautiful women who want to date me next year: I will be appearing here starting January 2 so you know where to find me.

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  • Behind The Iron Curtain: Stool Samples

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    Infamous Stool Sample Matchbox

    This was originally written on my FB page where I post pictures and links almost daily and which you immediately should follow. I remembered about the stool samples when I was writing this post about the Soviet medicine of my day.

    *Warning: please don’t eat while reading this.

    Soviet kids had to be healthy whether they wanted it or not. And healthy meant parasite-free. So once in a while, my school (and I imagine all the other schools in the area) put out a call for stool samples. By a certain deadline every child had to submit a matchbox full of you-know-what, tightly wrapped and marked with the name of a producer.

    At that time (and maybe still) the Soviet toilets (in places with indoor plumbing but not in public restrooms) were different from the American model we are all used to. Instead of a small pool of water ready to accept your deposits, it was more like a vase with hardly any water at all. When done, a person would pull a chain and a waterfall coming down from the high-mounted tank (if the water was on that day) would flush the stuff down through the hole located in the front part of the toilet.
    That technical aside was necessary to explain that at least our parents didn’t have to fish for floating crap, it was all right there, nice and piled. Clearly no 8- or 9- or even 12-year-old wants to have anything to do with putting their own crap in a small box, so that somber duty had to be fulfilled by our parents. Many years later, as a parent myself, I’ve done many disgusting things and touched some substances that would make a grown man gag (and they did). But even after thousands of diapers changed I am still not sure I could go ahead and do what my mom had to do. This is something that would make you think twice about having a child.
    The next day, the matchbox was proudly delivered and submitted to school, securely wrapped in multiple layers of paper and plastic (we didn’t have zip-locks or any bags of that nature) and tied with a string, with my name proudly scribbled on it like a designer brand. To this day I have no idea if anyone did anything with those nuggets. You can imagine that a school with 800 or a thousand kids can produce enough crap to fertilize a small organic beet farm. (Note to self: submit this idea to the school district as an extra source of income in light of recent school budget cuts by Governor Brownback.)
    I always imagined that a lab in lower circles of socialized healthcare hell, populated by medical school dropouts, dimly lit and smelling worse than a meatpacking plant on a summer day, did nothing else but unwrapped the packages and examined the contents for parasite eggs and the signs of dinners past.But in reality I think they just threw these boxes away and faked the results. After all, sooner or later the parasites show their ugly heads, if you know what I mean.
    Epilogue: When we came to the United States we had to pass some medical tests (in addition to the overpriced testing we were required to do in Moscow before we left). Then we received a mail-in stool sample kit, which consisted of some Popsicle sticks and cardboard envelopes. I was tempted to send my stuff in a box, but reconsidered and just threw the kits away.

    They would have to pry a stool sample out of my……….

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  • Old Photos: Just Some Old Photos

    I’ve been meaning to use the word maven  on this blog for a long time, so here goes:

    Local antiquing maven and dealer Susan let me scan some of these random old photos before she puts them up for sale. Susan’s antiques can be found on Etsy, her Twitter, Facebook and blog, as well as at the River Market Antique Mall booth 622, but she highly recommends visiting the other 621 booths as well.

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  • Old Photos:Lenin Is Still Dead

    I used to be better at remembering useless dates, I blame the atrophy of my memory on the iPhone. It’s the iPhone’s fault that I am posting this photo three days late. Vladimir Illyich Lenin died on January 21,1924.

    People waiting in sub-zero weather to visit Mausoleum Tomb of Lenin & Stalin. ©Time Carl Mydans

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  • Russian Gourmet:Bread

    There can’t be a Russian meal without a loaf of bread. Nowadays, with everyone trying to lose weight, bread may not be as essential as it used to be but if you have bread in the house you won’t go hungry. I survived two years in the army by eating mostly bread and butter and whatever edible bits I could find in the crappy food we were given; the bread was always fresh and delicious. I have a 92-year old aunt who will not sit down for a meal without some bread; that comes from living through the war, evacuations, bread rationing and hunger.

    I wrote about bread before. Luckily, after years of substandard “wonder” bread, bread-baking is making a comeback in this country as it should. Many people responded to the recent Donna’s post about baking bread. What do I have in common with a lady who lived all of her life on the farm? We bake bread! The commonality ended when she wrote about breeding a cow, but still…

    I posted this recipe before ,it was published in Cooks Illustrated some time ago. but this time it will be illustrated and the bread will be rye – even better for you. It apparently promotes weight loss, so I ate about half-a-loaf yesterday hoping to lose a lot of weight.

    To start, you will need to assemble these simple ingredients:

    • 3 cups of flour (15 ounces) consisting of 8 oz of unbleached all-purpose flour and 7oz of Rye flour, plus additional for dusting work surface.
    • 1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
    • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (7 ounces), at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager (that would be beer for you- unsophisticated readers)
    • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

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    You will also need a large-size cast iron pot or Dutch oven. If you feel like throwing away close to two hundred dollars for a fancy one, be my guest (literally, be my guest), I bought mine for $23.

    I also recommend getting a scale. It can have multiple uses in the household especially if you are dealing drugs.

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    1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms.

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    Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours; I let it sit overnight and even longer. I usually put it in the oven with an oven light turned on to keep it warm. Here is another important step: if you followed directions you should have 9 ounces of perfectly good beer left in the bottle. If you are a gentleman – finish it, if you are a lady – yell at this lazy no-good domestic partner of yours to come make himself useful and finish this nasty beer. If you don’t have anyone to yell at or your domestic partner is another lady, just go ahead and drink it yourself, no reason to waste a good product. Now relax, you are done for the day.

    2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Parchment and Wax paper may look similar  but they are not the same, do not use wax paper or you bread will taste like you are sucking on a candle.

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    Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

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    Time for another beer.

    3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough.P1020320

    Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes.

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    Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer.

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    Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

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    Now, if actually waited for 2 hours (I admire your patience)  you can finally slice your bread and spread some real butter on it, maybe a pinch of salt of you feel adventurous.

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    Eat is slow, crunchy crust, warm crumb, amazing smell…

    Here is a clip from a very famous 1949 movie Kubanskie Kazaki about the joy and excitement of wheat harvesting  at the collective farm.

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