Friday, July 27, 2007

Dacha weekend

These pictures are actually some weeks old. They are from a weekend when I went to the dacha of Marina's grandmother. Her grandmother lives there alone with her two big dogs all summer and then Roman and Marina has her apartment in the city alone. I think in the winter time they all live in the apartment together with the dogs.

Marina's grandfather built this whole dacha in 5 years and there actually is a third building. In this small field Marina's grandmother grows vegetables.

Lovely little cucumbers. Actually they never use the big tasteless ones we have in Denmark.

Chilling in the garden, eating cherries and Karakul and drinking tea. The guy is Marina's friend Dmitri, he is a softare engineer in a former Soviet hydro-energy tech company which sells stuff for China and Korea and countries like that.

That is the third house which they primarily use as a kitchen. Marina's grandmother is sitting in front of it.

Preparing the shashlik.

Preparing the fire for shashlik.

There was also a little sauna which we used. The technique they use is to go in and out three times or more. First you sit there for some time then you take a cold shower and then you go to the kitchen and drink some tea, and this is just repeated.

Post card

When my parents were here they bought some quite nice post cards. I guess the pictures on the post cards were quite old because the places look a lot different today.

This is the post card. The yellow bus is actually an old Danish HT bus. I assume the picture is from the Soviet period because there a no commercials.

Today there are some big commercial signs. The buildings look quite old now and the sun beams went away but the trees do not seem to have grown much. Today the area has both buses - though not the old Danish ones - and trolley buses (note the wires in the air). I guess the trolley buses are only here still to serve very poor people because they are quite trashed but they are even cheaper to use than the buses. I don't know if the metro had reached this area at the time of the post card, but today there is a metro station under the crossroad.


It was not until recently I noticed that people here never whistle. They actually don't know how to do it. I asked what people here then do when they are happy but I did not really get an answer.

The market, part 3

I can never stop making pictures at the markets, I keep discovering new stuff.

This is a flea market section of the central market.

I love this picture. He is selling food for animals but actually one of the buckets contain the same kind of Ukrainian snacks they sell for people, I guess that is not wise marketing.

At the central market you can also buy yourself a wedding dress.

These people are selling pets and if you don't want a whole pet you can buy just the skin. The building in the back is actually where our offices used to be situated, but that was before my company joined.

She is selling 'Kvas', the special beer-like beverage which is sometimes used in Okroshka.

The Pimp

Last week I met a real pimp. I was going home from a club early in the morning and I needed a taxi. Already when I met the driver it was a bit strange because he said the price was 'whatever I wanted to pay him' and he had an unusually big and nice car. When I got into the car he started driving slowly in the wrong direction and when I notified him of that he said something like 'just a minute' and 'we will turn around soon'. All the time he was laughing in a kind of nasty way and he was asking me personal questions using some quite rude language. And in between laughing he was calling someone on the phone many times and shouting like a madman. Then he stopped in front of an apartment and a young quite good looking girl came out and into the back seat. She asked me if I liked her and she told me she was a student of economics. The driver had told me that she was not a prostitute but when we finally arrived at my apartment he asked for a lot more money than the usual taxi ride. At that time I thought it would be interesting to talk with a real prostitute so I gave him some money but then they just drove away. I guess that makes me quite a big sucker. What is more dumb though is that he somehow got my number and now he calls me every day and asks if I 'need a lady'. I have to say that this is the first time I met a really unpleasant person and I think I may be sort of happy that he was not actually Ukrainian.

The driver showed me these pictures of him together with a lot of different lightly dressed women.

Secrets of Kharkov

There are some things only known to the people of Kharkov, for example the whereabouts of some bus stops. When I first came to Kharkov I often wondered why there where a lot of people standing in the streets for no apparent reason. Only later did I found out that those people are actually waiting for the buses. But you have to know where to wait because most often there are no signs. Similarly a lot of shops have very minimal advertising, you have to know that these shops exist. In a city where practically no people speak English it also is not so convenient for me when they keep the stuff I need under the counter.

You may wonder why these people are just standing there.

I was told that somewhere behind those doors you can buy instruments.

Behind the door to the right is a nice little cafe.

When you don't know Russian even stuff like this is a small mystery. I have no idea what these people are doing except I can see that they are filling out some paper forms and on the building there are pictures of a train accident. Actually, I guess this might be somehow connected to the recent accident in Lviv.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Soup and borsch

To Ukrainians Borsch is something special. I think you might insult someone if you just call it a soup. Alex told me 'there is soup and there is Borsch and Borsch is not a soup'. Logic does not apply if you suggest that both are some kind of liquid stuff that you eat with a spoon. I think Borsch is originally Ukrainian and the stuff they traditionally eat in Russia is actually called 'Shchi'. Actually eating both Borsch and soup in general is a big tradition here, I think most Ukrainians eat soup every day and they eat it as a 'starter dish' for some other dish. At lunch time we often eat Borsch but just as often we eat two other kinds of soup (oops, sorry) which I actually sometimes enjoy even more, they are called 'Okroshka' and 'Solyanka'. These soups are quite unique and not like any soup I tried before in Denmark. Okroshka is unique to me because it is a cold soup which is based on the yellowish liquid which is left from the milk when you make cheese (when making cheese you put a drop of a special substance into the milk and it then separates into cottage cheese and the yellowish stuff) - 'сыворотка' in Russian, 'whey' in English. I read that in Russia it is sometimes based on 'Kvas', a special beer-like but non-alcoholic beverage, and sometimes here they cheat and use kefir instead. I think this recipe: must be quite close to the Okroshka we eat in Kharkov, except it uses buttermilk instead of whey. Solyanka is also quite special to me because it has four or five different kinds of meat among which are kidney and tongue, which I would normally never eat. But in this dish - mixed with the nice combination of olives, fresh lemon, salty pickled cucumber, dill and sour cream - I will gladly eat it.


Another very interesting Ukrainian/Russian only (?) dairy product is something they call 'Malasiva'. Kyryl told me it's only ingredient is milk from a cow which has just had a 'baby'. That milk is quite sweet and very different from normal milk. When they put it into an oven for some time it turns into a very delicious cake the consistency of which is a bit like the kind of egg cake where you mix the eggs with milk. This 'baby milk' should also be extremely healthy. Actually I never knew about that kind of milk before and I wonder what they do with it in Denmark.

Malasiva. I reckon it may not look so delicious but it is, actually.

Sirkova Masa

I have mentioned the ladies selling dairy products on the old markets. They actually have some very unique stuff, something I have not seen in any other country. One thing I am very glad to have discovered is what they call 'Sirkova Masa', a special kind of desert based on cottage cheese. You can buy it homemade from the old markets or you can buy it factory made from the supermarket. The following recipe tastes more like the homemade, but I guess it is primarily because it is hard to make the cottage cheese smooth without some special equipment. I found this recipe by searching Google for 'сырковая масса', the Russian spelling of Sirkova Masa, and used Google translator to try to understand it. I actually think this might be the first time the recipe has ever been written in English.

To make Sirkova Masa you mix 100 grams of soft (room temperature) butter with 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla/vanillin, 3 tablespoons (remember that those are big in Ukraine) of sour cream and - if the sugar and cottage cheese is not already salted - a pinch of salt. Then add 500 grams of cottage cheese and try to make the mix as smooth and uncrumbly as possible. Finally, add raisins. I used cottage cheese from the old market with great success, I think that kind may contain relatively much fat and it is also dry (there is no kind of liquid by the cheese). I guess it may be hard to make a smooth substance of the rubbery low fat cottage cheese we have in Denmark. As for the raisins it may be a good idea to soak them a little while before mixing.

This is from a place where you can buy both homemade and factory made Sirkova Masa. The homemade is in the big bowl with raisins on top, the factory made is in the small colored cups to the right. In the front cup there is something called Krem Sirkovuy which has a similar taste but it is more sweet and the consistensy is more like thick yogurt. I also really enjoy the small cheese deserts in the little basket to the right.

Muraveynik and Karakul

One of my favorite Ukrainian cakes is called 'Muraveynik', which means 'ant hill'. I used to buy it in a shop in the underground station near our office but ever since the weather became warmer they have not sold it - Muraveynik contains a lot of butter and it would just melt away. After missing the cake for some time I had asked Semen to find me the recipe and he did. However when I used it the result was nothing like the real Muraveynik, I can't really recommend it. What I can recommend though is a similar recipe of a cake which they call 'Karakul', meaning 'Astrakhan' - a special kind of wool. I got acquainted with this cake one time I went to the country side with Roman and Marina. To make Karakul you have to make a hard dough which you shred into small pieces and fry on a dry (no oil or butter) pan, and this fried dough you mix with a kind of caramel. The caramel is made by boiling a can (400 grams) of condensed milk for 2 hours and mixing it with 100 grams of butter and 100 grams of chopped hazel nuts. For the dough you mix the following ingredients.

6 tablespoons whole milk
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon soda with some vinegar added (the soda will become a kind of foam)
2 eggs
3-4 glasses of flour

Although the recipe is quite simple there are some things you should note. 1) Ukrainian spoons are quite big. 2) When making the dough you should mix the ingredients in the same order as shown above - the milk will cool down the butter so that eggs will not coagulate and by adding flour little by little the dough will be easier to kneed and you will not add too much. 3) The condensed milk should be boiled in the can - just put the can in a pot of boiling water. Make sure there is always some water, otherwise the can can explode. Also note that the glue from the sticker on the can will be very hard to get off the pot after boiling, so I guess it should be somehow removed completely before boiling. 4) When mixing the boiled condensed milk with butter both should be room temperature, i.e. the butter will be very soft. Don't melt the butter in a pot before mixing, it will not mix properly then. 5) To make shredding the dough possible it should be about 5 degrees or maybe a bit colder - store it in the refrigerator for some hours and then some minutes in the fridge before shredding.

Marina taught me how to cook Karakul. She is an excellent cook, her food is always tasty.

Shredding the dough before frying. In the bowl is some dough which has already been shredded and fried. The cans are with boiled condensed milk, it turns into a kind of caramel when boiled.

The finished karakul. It has a lot of beautiful brown colors. Like Muraveynik it should be kept cold, but this Karakul actually did stick together quite well in room temperature. I guess this more firm structure might have something to do with the way Marina chopped the nuts, she used an electric blender so some of the nuts turned into a kind of flour.

Making karakul is a lengthy process so I had to stay over. Marina got up at 5 o'clock to finish some very urgent work, I guess that is what it is like to be working for an American company. Roman had a problem with a hole in his trousers.