Saturday, September 20, 2008

Deutschland!

Our lives, it seems, are incapable of proceeding without excitement. As many of you know, we've recently been on a quest to renew our visas here. Last week was the big day, when the agency told us that we could finally pick up our invitations, with which we could then go out of the country and apply for our new visas, and return.

Only one problem. When I went in to get the promised invitations, I told the lady I had four to pick up. "I only have three for you," she said. We were officially minus one invitation. Aaaaaah!

To make a long story short, having a baby in the middle of a permit application process is apparently not a recipe for success. Somehow, we had not gotten the word that the scans we sent over of his paperwork after he was born needed to be followed up with originals, and so the agency had simply not processed our youngest.

I may look like I'm happy with this cute little bundle of joy, but inside I'm secretly seething with rage over how much money and frustration he's going to cause me over all this!

So, you're wondering, what does this mean? Surely it's just a simple matter or applying for another invitation for the little one and then getting the visas as planned? Unfortunately, it couldn't be that simple. Due to the vagaries of the type of visa we're getting, no such action is possible. Instead, we have to go to Germany as planned (we already have non-refundable airline tickets, so that part was an easy decision), and get the three visas we can. Then, I'll return here alone, get myself registered, and then invite my son as my family member to come join me. Once I've received his processed invitation, I'll then fly back to Germany, get his visa, and then the Wandering Family will return home, never to wander again.

Well, OK, so that last clause isn't true (we are the Wandering Family, after all, and have been consistently forced to do so all throughout our adult lives for one reason or another), but we'll come home, anyway. Hopefully, B won't be stuck in Germany with the boys for more than a couple of weeks while I'm back here sorting things out, but suffice it to say that it will be an interesting time.

Fortunately, we have friends and family to stay with there, so we won't be totally stranded, but it's sure to be a strain. We'd really appreciate your thoughts as we enter the next month which is so full of unknowns. Hopefully, at the end, we'll emerge with a year-long visa and it will all be worth it. Please be lifting us up throughout the month, though, since it will undoubtedly be one full of ups and downs. We really, really, appreciate that.

OK, just so this isn't all depressing, we'll throw in a picture or two. Here's Steven, wearing the tights that children here wear that we mocked for their sissiness when we first arrived. Now, we're avid fans. They're incredibly warm and convenient, and if you buy the right brand of diapers, you get a free pair!

And yes, we finally did get a picture of the whole family! And we almost got both children to look at the camera at the same time (OK, not quite, but you have to be lenient with babies!).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Do I Really Need to Think of a Title?

Welcome back to the blog! Matthew (or Sasha, as we call him here; his middle name is Alexander, which works a lot better in Russian) thought he'd brighten up your day with a smile. Hope you enjoy it!

Life is proceeding for the most part according to plan. Russian studies are continuing for both B and myself, the boys are getting bigger and better at destroying things, and it's getting cold. I'd rather not talk about the last two, actually, so let's pretend it's still warm and post some pictures from a month ago when we the weather was stellar.

So, back then everything was sunshine and warmth, and we took a trip to one of the Catherine the Great's old palaces at a park now known as Tsaritsino ("female tsar's," or maybe "queen's"). Beautiful mansion there, and the surrounding parks and gardens really make it a great place to be in the summer. We went with two of our friends, Vicka and Diana.

We were able to get a decent shot of the two of us, the first in a good while, but a complete family picture still eludes.

Steven spent the entire time scheming how he could weasel his way out of Mommy's view and wreak havok upon the grassy fields. Here he demonstrates his "Drat! Foiled again!" look.

Even the Russian kids were wise to his ways, and this little boy turned a deaf ear to Steven's frantic pleas to let him escape.

A favorite for wedding parties, the park at Tsaritsino is also a good place for culture study. You might have to zoom in to see it well, but here a groom is held up by four of his friends in a prone position, and the bride is leaning (or being dipped by someone, I can't remember) down for a kiss. I have no idea why any of this happened, but it was quite interesting.

My lovely bride posing among the buildings.

So, in a bit more contemporary shot, here is my attempt to bring a bit of a Brasilian vibe despite the wet and cold weather outside. This might belong in B's last blog about cooking, but I'm eating some feijoada (sadly, no farofa to be had, but I digress), and though you can't tell from the picture, drinking grapefruit juice.

Many's the time I've eaten this meal in a Bolivian jungle, and it's nice to have those comfort foods every now and again. Unfortunately, grapefruit are usually prohibitively expensive here, but they seem to have a two-week "season" or so when they're not that pricey. Oh, and the flowers were a gift from our friends Andrei and Iulya who came over for dinner the other night.


We also need to introduce a new character to the cast of the Wandering Family: this is Lena. She's B's new language helper. I'm still hunting for a new one, but my email to our family group about my search prompted several ladies to ask if we might not also need a lady helper for B (which we did, though I hadn't mentioned it in the email). Lena's not actually a member of our group, but somehow, someone forwarded it to her, and we're glad they did! Lena has been meeting with B now for a couple of weeks, and seems to be fantastically suited to the job.

In other news, our washing machine broke a couple of weeks ago. I tried to contact a "master," as they're called here several times, with laundry piling up. Finally, B seemed to imply that if I wanted to ever have clean underwear again, I should get that taken care of ASAP.

It's quite a long story, but at the end, it ended up being only marginally cheaper to fix the old machine than to simply buy a new one. Of course, it made more sense to buy a newer one, since we'd rather have one that will last us a while when we move east next year. Here I'm teaching Steven how to remove the transport bolts from a new washing machine. Unfortunately, the installation guy didn't ever show up, and I had to figure out how to put it in myself (I can happily report that it's actually pretty easy). What wasn't easy was getting the old one out to the dump without the benefit of help. Suffice to say I got my exercise in that day!

And that's about it. Everything looks lined up for our work visas, so we'll be making a trip out of the country in a couple weeks to get that taken care of. We had originally hoped to go see our friends in Finland, but that didn't seem to work out, so we're now hoping to go see my family in Germany (it actually is cheaper to fly to Germany than Finland! Go figure.). More on that next week, so keep it tuned right here, etc.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cooking! (a post by B)

Well, it's that time again for me (B) to do this post. So, I was sitting in bed last night trying to think of what I could write. At first I couldn't think of anything but then I thought "what do I like to do the most". The people who know me already know the answer to this question: COOKING AND EATING. Basically anything to do with food, I enjoy.

Some of you may not know that I never really started cooking until J and I got married (6 years ago Sunday Aug 31st). But once I discovered it, I became addicted! At first I always had to follow recipes because I knew nothing when it came to cooking. Then I started experimenting which proved to be, um, well, interesting. However, when we got to England, I really started learning. Since we did not have much money and couldn't get Bojangles, I had to be inventive with whatever was available and cheap.

It proved to be a learning time as a chef but we usually ended up eating tasteless baked beans or spaghetti. Then we moved here. Now, we have cravings ever so often for good American food so I have tried to learn how to make things like chicken parmesan, chicken cordon bleu, baked spaghetti, all kinds of desserts, and then there are my own inventions.

The boys love helping me cook!

Unlike in the US, where you can buy already-made sauces or foods I have to make everything from scratch. For example, one dessert that wouldn't take me long to make in the US would be punch bowl cake. At the bottom of the post, I've posted the recipe I used in America, as well as the one I've used to make it here, so you can compare (and anyone who wants to borrow the recipe, I highly recommend it, it's quite delicious!).

Another example is soups. I have to make my own sauces and soups which can be time-consuming. Now, you may be thinking "that poor girl" but let me assure you, I AM LOVING IT! I have always wanted to be able to cook from scratch, and now here I am, coming up with my own recipes and some of them have actually turned out to be good (according to our Russian friends, who wouldn't lie about that kind of stuff). ;-)


I am still trying to find Russian recipes and luckily my new language helper (Lena) loves to cook and eat almost as much as I do and she said she will teach me some recipes.


So, there you have it. It is a little longer than my normal post but then again it's what I love to do! I'm stopping now but I could talk about this all day. If you are still reading this I would love to know your favorite recipes (this doesn't include Bojangles or Taco Bell, as that won't do us a lot of good. Sorry, Rachael). I will leave you with some random pictures because I like these pictures, not that they have anything to do with this post.



It was our anniversary last week and we decided to go fancy: the cafeteria at IKEA. It's about the only restaurant in Moscow that you can go to for less than $15 a plate, so we each enjoyed some meatballs and borshch. It worked out that someone left some crawfish untouched on a plate near us, so we even got to try some of those.

Of course, Steven may look like J, but that doesn't mean he only takes after him. Here he's enjoying a mouthful of butter during one of our cooking episodes (like mother, like son - isn't that the saying?).

video

And of course, the required video of him helping to mix the batter.


So, that's about it. As for our lives, we're still just plugging away at our culture and language study. It's starting to get cold here already (this week we had a high of 7° C one day; that's like 45°!). Anyway, that about sums it up, so I hope you enjoyed reading this and thanks for thinking of us.

And below, as promised, for those interested, you can check out the difference between cooking here and back in the US. I've copied in the American and Russian versions for contrast.

Punch Bowl Cake: America

1 Pillsbury Plus Devil’s Food or Chocolate cake mix (w/pudding in the mix)

2 small boxes of Chocolate Fudge or regular Chocolate instant pudding mix

3 cups of Milk

½ cup Amaretto liqueur

1 large tub of Cool Whip

12 Heath bars (don’t substitute any other toffee bars for Heath bars!)

Instructions:

  • Make cake according to directions and bake in jelly roll pan; let cool to room temperature;

  • Mix the two boxes of pudding mix with the three (3) cups of milk and ½ cup of Amaretto for at least 2 minutes (or for however long it says to mix on the box). Chill in refrigerator until thickened;

  • Chop Heath bars (if you use a food processor, don’t chop too fine);

  • Cut cake into 12 pieces;

  • Layer pieces of cake, then pudding, then Cool Whip and then crushed Heath bars in a punch bowl; Repeat two more times (i.e., should end up with three layers); remember that layers increase in size;

  • Cover with Saran Wrap and chill in refrigerator at least four hours, preferably overnight; and

  • Enjoy!

That was easy! Now here is how I make it here:

Punch Bowl Cake: Russia

Chocolate Cake (double recipe, from scratch as below)

Chocolate Pudding (double recipe, from scratch as below)

Whipped Cream (from scratch as below)

Chopped Walnuts

Instuctions:

  • Prepare Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Pudding, and the whipped cream (recipes below).
  • Allow the cake and the pudding to cool to room temperature.
  • In a deep dish, crumble the cake and cover the bottom of the dish. Then add the pudding. Then add the whipped cream. Then add the chopped walnuts.
  • Repeat this process until you have 2-3 layers ending with the chopped walnuts.
  • Refrigerate overnight.


Chocolate Cake Recipe:

1¼ cup (170 g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (dutched/dark)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
½ cup (1.2 dl) milk
½ cup (1.2 dl) vegetable oil
2 eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 150 deg C

  2. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl.

  3. Add milk, vegetable oil and eggs.

  4. Mix everything together until smooth, either by hand or by using an electric mixer at slow speed.

  5. Transfer to bake tin and bake at 150 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 35 to 45 minutes.

Chocolate Pudding Recipe:

5 TBSP (75 ml) cornstarch (Maizena)

1/3 cup (80 ml) sugar

¼ tsp (1 ml) salt

2 1/3 cups (580 ml) milk

5 oz chocolate (this can be 5 oz of a chocolate bar)

1 egg

2 TBSP (30 ml) sugar

1 TBSP (15 ml) margarine

2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla

1 TBSP (15 ml) Rum

Instructions:

  • Mix first 3 ingredients in a pan. Then add milk and chocolate.
  • Cook on med-high heat until thickened, stirring constantly (this will take about 5 min). Remove from heat and let cool.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the egg and 2 TBSP (30 ml) sugar. Beat with a mixer or by hand until light.
  • Add 1 TBSP (15 ml) of the chocolate pudding to the egg mixture. If you can do this while mixing the egg mixture it is better. Continue to add the chocolate pudding to the egg mixture a little at a time until all the chocolate pudding is mixed with the egg mixture.
  • Then add the margarine and vanilla. Mix well.
  • Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and add the Rum. Mix well and let cool to room temperature.

Whipped Cream:

3 cups cream (33% of higher)- room temperature

4 oz white chocolate

1 TBSP (15 ml) milk

3 packets of cool whip mix

Instructions:

  • Melt white chocolate and milk until smooth. Add to cream and mix well.
  • Then add cool whip mix and beat with mixer or by hand until thick.
So there you have it! As you can see, it's approximately 5 times as hard here, but every bit as good in the end. Maybe even better, since you work up an appetite in the preparation!