31 March 2013

Missing Home Bagels

The Russian spring showers have kept us indoors for another weekend. At moments, our days and nights spent indoors have caused anxiety and restlessness. We missed the nightlife, the energy. The winter is beginning to wear on us. Days blend into each other and we ask one another questions about what our lives will be in the summer.
But with nights and days in doors, we have had long talks, watched great movies, and cracked our knuckles and baked sweet foods. 

This morning, Ben and I collected all our rubles and braved the snow-drizzled streets for the 1.5 mile walk to the super store near our flat that sells sweet, sweet American cream cheese. With two tubs in our hands, we returned home and kneaded the dough into the shapes of our favorite food and waited patiently as they rose in the stove. 

I thought about being small and riding my bike with my father to the Jewish bakery in our neighborhood to buy bagels for the family in the morning. I thought back to a time when I was so small that carrying the dozen bagels home was too much for me on a bike and he had to do it. He taught me my numbers on those rides; asked me to read off licence plates and place my ands in the correct places. 
Bagels were special. Bagels were something our family gathered around, indulged in. They were one of our sweetest and happiest traditions. 

Oh, how I wished that the bagels we made today would taste the way I remembered them. We began experimenting with our own recipes in the weeks before we left for Russia, quietly cooking on the bottom floor of Ben's parent's New Hampshire home. We made cinnamon sugar bagels, chocolate chip, and onion. I bought large sea salts and buried them into the dough. We wondered about garlic.

We've talked a lot, since being here, on how we could adapt our recipe to our circumstances of limited ingredients and the tiniest stove known to man and today we decided to go for it.

And we worried. We worried if the flour we'd bought was correct. If we measured properly. If we got the oven settings right. There was so much longing to just capture the taste.. That's the trouble with eating abroad-- things claim to be the same, but they so rarely are. And after a few weeks of let downs, you begin to resent all the signs that promise you a culinary trip home. 

But today we got it. It wasn't the bagels of our home, but they were good enough. We sat in our kitchen, smearing our cream cheese and delighting in some American TV shows online. If felt good to just sit and eat bagels. It's small, I know, but it felt good.

Homemade Bagels
by Ben

You will need the following (all of which you might just have lying around!):

2 cups warm water
1/2 package of dry yeast (0.125 oz)
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6-7 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
toppings of your choice!

To make these it's really pretty simple.  First pour the yeast into the warm water and let it sit for 30 seconds or so to soften, then stir to dissolve.  Then add 2 tablespoons of sugar, the vegetable oil, 6 cups of flour and the salt and stir until mixed (if using a bread machine I assume this is easier, but we do it old school).

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15-20 minutes or so until the dough is smooth and elastic, working in as much extra flour as you can comfortably manage because it should be pretty stiff.

Then sit the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover and let it rise for about an hour (I usually let it rise in an oven that I have had on the lowest setting and turned off a few minutes before I am ready for this step), or until an impression made with your finger doesn't sink into the dough (I just let it sit for an hour and it has always worked out well).

After it rises punch down the dough and separate into three pieces.  At this point, you should add chocolate or raisins or anything that you want to be in the dough itself as opposed to just on the surface.  Knead any and all ingredients until incorporated, and then roll each piece into a rope.  Cut each rope into four pieces (the recipe should make a dozen, but you can make them bigger or smaller if you wish).  Roll the pieces into balls.  Roll each ball into a small rope and use a little bit of water to stick the ends together as you form the bagel shapes.  As you shape the bagels, place them on non-stick or lightly oiled cooking sheets, cover, and let stand for another 20 minutes.

As they are sitting, throw a big pot of water on the stove to boil, adding the other two tablespoons of sugar, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  When the water boils, add the bagels in (I usually do 3 at a time because that's what fits in my pot) and cook for 1 minute, turning once at 30 seconds.  Pull them out with a slotted spoon and if you can let them drain on a cooling rack before putting them onto the baking sheets.

Cook for 15-20 minutes in the preheated oven, turning once when they start to brown on top.  Delicious!

26 March 2013

moscow through someone else's eyes

How strange can it be showing someone else around your city? Things that were strange suddenly become things that you are wise about; spitting information and facts, retelling events from previous visits to the location, you-you are the expert in something you never felt expert in. Because you are no longer the tourist. You're the resident.

This weekend, Ben's best friend from college, Aman, came to stay with us. He's currently living in a country close to Russia called Belarus and he made a quick journey to our fair land for the weekend. Aman is a fantastic person to show around a city for a weekend; his father is a diplomat and he has grown up all over the world. His worldly insights were very interesting in our little tour about the center of Moscow and I was grateful we all got to spend some time together recounting our fabulous college years. Oh Beloit. You were a strange bird.

I thought about writing a bit about Aman's treatment while he was here, but I don't think I will anymore. Nothing was necessarily significant, and it's hard to be sure if some of the things that occurred were unfortunate coincidences or actual racist encounters. I don't feel right casting that thought out, so I'll just keep it to myself, but perhaps be more wary of it in the future.

Here are some photos from our weekend.

The train station at Novoslobodskaya. So beautiful. I do plan on one day going to all the magnificent train stations in Moscow and photographing all of them for this blog.

A random restaurant. Not too exciting.

Off in the distance. How Soviet does that look?

So amazing to see St. Basil's again. I noticed so much more about it this time. Like the texture!

I was too nervous to ask anyone to take our picture the last time around. 

Our wanderings through the streets...

24 March 2013


1. The MCAT was signed up for. Worries were had. A jar for spending money in Munich began. 
2. Zucchini bread was made. Chocolate chips were thrown in.
3. Alcohol was consumed. Lots of it. 

Not pictured (...yet)
1. Aman came to see us from Minsk, Belarus. 
2. Darker thoughts were had about Moscow and it's treatment of foreigners. 
3. St. Basil's was revisited again. I squealed when our car turned a corner and it appeared triumphantly in front of us. 
4. Beautiful streets were explored. 
5. Deep conversations were had. Who we were, where we wanted to go, debates on the soul and all it's possible existence, and whether it was beer or wine that caused the worse hangover. 

17 March 2013


thought about spring. 

my hair grew. 

attempted to make salt and vinegar chips. epic fail.

went out until 6 a.m. 
found happiness eight hours later with homemade cinnamon butter and toast.

then cookies. we are the champions of chocolate chip cookies.


14 March 2013

Thoughts on Music

How good is this song for mornings filled with snow clouds? I've been listening to it as Ben and I walk to work every afternoon. So perfect and lovely.

Fleet Foxes- "Montezuma"

The other night, Ben downloaded the entire discography of Animal Collective because they're incredibly important to me and was playing Merriweather Post Pavilion while I was in the shower. Hearing their music brought me back to a time when I was carefree and young. I remember when that album came out and how excited my friends and I all were: just moving from place to place, playing the songs over and over and dancing like mad. Their music made me feel magical and reminded me more of what my childhood was like than any film of photo could. I used to tell people that listening to Animal Collective was like listening to colors and pure, uninhibited emotions. Seeing them play live was still one of the most special (and expensive) nights of my life. 

But... we grew apart. When I moved on from the place that introduced me to their music, I found it hard to listen to. It reminded me of things I felt like I had lost and people I no longer felt connected to. 

Despite this, when I heard their album playing through the hallway of my small apartment, I was filled with joy. Here was one of my favorite bands finding me again, as music so often does. Enough time had passed; I no longer feel emotional thinking about my time in the corn fields and could happily embrace this magical group once again. 

Sorry for this little ramble. I didn't even have an Animal Collective song picked out to accompany this post when I began it, but I feel that I must include one now. Enjoy (and a sorry to my mother and father who probably still don't "get" their music, but have always tried to with open ears). 

12 March 2013


From this book.

Ben has been so interested in my introversion ever since we met and that was something I found quite odd. I found it odd because he himself is very outgoing (which I envy) and I found it odd because being quiet at times was never something I would have said anyone would find interesting. But Ben is charmed by my quiet insights and I am grateful for his ability to make up for my crappy version of small-talk so all and all it works. He recently finished Quiet by Susan Cain, a book he received for his birthday and has been filled with insights into my personality and our relationship dynamic as an introvert-extrovert couple. So the other day while he was at work, I flipped through the book to the chapter on couples that influenced him so greatly and read it by the window. It was comforting, sweet, and telling.
Cain talked about how, despite what one might think, introvert and extrovert couples can work out extremely well.
Couples often feel like they've found their other half.
That they complete each other.
One likes to talk, the other likes to listen (which doesn't necessarily apply to my relationship, it's almost the opposite when it's just the two of us).
It's always so nice to read something you can relate to so throughly, like you're not alone and what you have is good and special and unique.

And I just had to share the Carl Jung quote. Ben read it aloud to me months ago and finding it was like sunshine. 

11 March 2013

Thoughts on Being Brave

Today, I left work early, walked twenty-five minutes to the Metro, took the train, got off at my stop, walked another twenty minutes to the store, purchased a sack of lemons, a package of parsley, and a plastic tupperware.
And I've never done any of that before.

I've made lots of excuses why I hang around work for an extra two hours waiting for Ben to get off, and yeah, most of them are valid. I'm planning lessons. It's a long, dark walk. I want to watch The Real Housewives of Somewhere by myself. But those aren't the only reasons.
I'm really freaked out by the idea of being by myself in Moscow. It's not necessarily the city thing or the language thing as much as it is a combination of both.

I was so confident in Chicago. I loved taking the el by myself for work, for my internship, and wandering the streets alone. Finding cafes to write in, looking for shops that sold clothing I could afford. I was never frightened, never shy about venturing into a neighborhood I had never been before. I thrived on it. I listened to music, I gathered thoughts, I wrote little poems on pieces of paper in my purse. But now?

I am shy and nervous. It began to seem like almost everyday I'd rehearse my Russian with Ben:
She'll ask you if you need a bag. Say this. 
Then what will she say?
This. Say that. 
What if she asks me something I don't understand? What if?

But when my last class ends and I'm left sitting and waiting, I just never have the nerve to walk through the dark streets to my train. I sit and I fret about all the possibilities. All the things that could happen and how I have no voice and the what if's and the worries... oh, I am just a worrier.

I was just a worrier.

A year or so ago, my friend Jessica and I were at a party when someone remarked on how small we both were. Jessica very calmly and confidently explained that she didn't like people calling her small and she didn't like to think of herself as small.
"I'm huge," she said. "I don't want to think of myself as a petitie person--petitie is forgettable and weak. I want to be huge."
That mentality really stuck with me. I began to figure that at some point I would have to stop telling myself I was a worrier and just be huge. So today I gathered up my things, looked through my Russian phrasebook, wrote down the words I needed to know to go to the store for dinner supplies, and waved good-bye to my boss.

"Oh, you're finally going!" she exclaimed. "Good for you. No reason to sit and wait around for so long."
I told her my plans to finally go to the store by myself.
"Good. You'll do fine. Remember! You're in Russia now! You're a Russian woman! Act like it!"
So I did.
I power-walked down the icy sidewalks in my one-and-a-half inch "heels" (heeled boots, but good enough), I used my Metro card, I got off on my stop, I went to the store, I picked out my lemons, I asked for them to be weighed, I found my parsley, and I went to that cash register and I paid for those items with my Russian debit card. And that was it.

I know this seems like a small victory, and it is. I have far bigger things I want to accomplish while I'm here, but this was a crucial and important first step. I'm proud. Today was a good day. I'm going to go squeeze those lemons into this recipe now. Have a good day, y'all.

09 March 2013

Women's Day "Camping"

Oh, Russia. Just when your cold weather and endlessly gray clouds make me feel like I'm about to turn on you... you surprise me with like, the best holiday ever! So yesterday (March 8th) was Women's Day which is an awesome holiday celebrated internationally, but taken very seriously in Russia. Since Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are not really observed in Russia, this is the big one
School is cancelled. Work is cancelled. 
Everyone you know buys you flowers. 
My classroom is filled with bouquets. Little boys led by their babushkas shyly handed me bundles of roses and gave me well wishes. The older boys brought me candies and cards. Ben bought me a bouquet of flowers and some fancy makeup I'd been wanting for awhile and had a very heartwarming talk with me about all the things he appreciated about me. : )

And to top it all off, we went with our dear friends Grigor and Granush to a "camp" in the "woods". I say this in quotation marks because, well. It was not camping. Grigor called us last minute to invite us and we spontaneously trekked across the city to meet him and be driven out to the "forest" (literally, there was a sign that just said 'forest'). Our sweet boss and Russian mother, Margarita, was very upset at the prospects of us camping in the deep winter and warned me against bears and frost bite. But this was more like a lot of booze in apartments in the suburbs of Moscow, but it was still excellent fun. 

Granush's s'mores supplies.

Doesn't Ben look like such a future TEDtalk-er?
I know he'll give one someday about something epically brilliant.

We woke up early the next day and decided to go tromping through the snow because the sun was out. Not our best idea. Though the snow was probably four feet high, it just did not have a solid layer. So crashing through the snow we went.

Tiny little glasses for tiny little beverages! I believe these are traditional Russian vodka shot glasses, but all we had was beer and wine (I know, so un-Russian of us) so we made do. 

So make sure to tell all the women in your life you love them and have a good weekend!
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