Thursday, March 28, 2013


Kristen says...


While I have enjoyed being busy these past weeks, but there truly is no place like home...

 It may surprise you to know that I am really something of a homebody. If I have something to go out for, I will, but I don't have many problems with being home, either.

 This week I have gone back to my somewhat boring "regular" routine, which means cooking, cleaning, and other fun stuff.

Pip has certainly enjoyed having me home!
Let's start with the cooking, because that's what I've done the most:

 We can start with the sun-dried tomato mac and cheese. Chris called me from work one day and said he was craving mac and cheese, so I searched in my cookbook (Internet!), found a recipe, and used what we had in the house and came up with this:

Um, yum! The leftovers didn't last long around this house!

 A few days later the lunch I had with Amy at the Philharmonic building (baked eggplant) inspired me to create my own version...

 Apparently we are picking up purple vegetables in Russia, first beets and now eggplant. Before coming here I wouldn't have touched eggplant with a 10-foot pole, but after that lunch at the cafe I'm kind of into it now... :)

  Anyway, at the cafe my choices were a seafood soup, a seafood dish, Greek salad, and baked eggplant, none of which I was terribly excited about. I went with the eggplant, and boy am I glad I did!!

 Here is the recipe I made up based on what I ate at the cafe:

1 eggplant, medium sized and cut into 1/4" slices, then salted and allowed to rest
 Heat a saucepan and add olive oil; rinse eggplant, sprinkle with pepper, and cook eggplant 4 minutes on each side until golden brown **This part came from this website**
 While eggplant cooks cut bread into long, thin slices. (I used these delicious Russian cheesy buns, but any bread will do, although bread with added spice will add more may even be able to use large croutons)
 Since your oven should be pre-heating to 375° by this time, you can put the sliced bread in to bake until hardened (see why croutons might work?)

 Layer the bottom of a foil-lined pan (I used a bread pan because it's all I have at the the future I'll use a "flatter" dish) with your favorite tomato-based sauce (I make my own, but I won't judge you for using store-bought!)
 Start layering eggplant, mozzarella cheese and the toasted bread, covering each later with sauce. This will not be like lasagna where each layer is defined, rather, each layer will tend to blend in with the ones above and below:
 Bake at 375° for 20-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and your kitchen smells amazing. (And if you are trying to take pictures of it, make sure you do before your husband starts eating dinner!)
RECAP: The four ingredients are eggplant, bread, mozzarella cheese and tomato-based sauce.

 So that was pretty good. I hope you enjoy it if you make it yourself! Leave me a comment to tell me how it turned out! :)

 On the sweeter side of things, our consumable shipment came a few weeks ago, and one of the things that came was a jar of unsweetened applesauce that I'd forgotten I'd included.

 I have looked here and inquired, but applesauce isn't something that Russians seem to eat. And clearly, that one small jar wasn't going to last long...

 I remember, very clearly, both of my grandmothers making applesauce when I was younger. One made very sweet, chunky, cinnamon-y applesauce that she often served frozen. One made less sweet, less chunky, unflavored applesauce made from apples picked from the tree in the back yard.

 Very sadly, while I have multiple recipes from both Grandmas, I have neither of their applesauce recipes, and even more sadly, neither is alive for me to call and ask for it...

So what could I do but search the Internet?!

I found this recipe and tweaked it (as per my usual)

Most people seem to like cinnamon in their applesauce...I really, really do not. So I decided to make mine sans-cinnamon (although if Chris wants to add it to his own dish, he is welcome to).
I started out with three types of apple: Jazz, Braeburn and Gala
 As much as I don't like cinnamon in my applesauce, I do like apple skins...also I don't like skinning apples, so the skins stayed on!

 Since I wasn't adding sugar to the recipe, I decided to use apple juice as part of the liquid to add a bit of natural sweetener and flavor.
 I also had some dried mango hanging around, so on a whim I chopped some up and added it to a second, smaller pot of apples:
Then I started the cooking process:

Sadly applesauce isn't a terribly exciting thing to photograph in progress, but it sure is good to eat!

Here is the final product:
 And a side-by-side comparison:
Mango - Apple - Storebought
 Num num num!

Of course, cooking is not the only thing I have done in this week at home.

Go figure, we've been dealing with more (dun dun dun) bathroom drama!

 Apparently the caulk that was used to seal the tub was not supposed to be used around water...sigh. This still hasn't been fixed, so we're being extra-careful when getting out of the tub every morning! (And quite annoyed when we forget and step in water with sock-covered feet!)

We have also had our first round of Russian Car Drama (doo doo doo!)

 The RAV-4 made it safe and sound to Russia last week, with one small problem...a flat front tire. Shades of Honduras?! Le sigh. Luckily we know people who know where to get tires fixed and that problem was quickly solved.

 After waiting a week+ to get our Russian license plates, we can finally drive the car, and (with a bit of difficulty) found a place to park it:
 The angle of the garage door picture is so severe because, after parking the car in our new garage on Tuesday night, another car promptly parked directly in front of it. Sigh.

 This morning we got a chain to put up in front of the garage doors (something that is common here) and, while we were affixing the chain, somehow the person who owned the offending car knew to come down and move it. Hurrah! So now the car is safe and sound in the garage, and presumably we'll be able to come and go as we please.

If all that wasn't enough, we've also had a bit of electricity drama. Here we are in the dark the other night:

Good times.

 However, the blackout was mercifully short and we only had to walk up the 13 floors of stairs once, so all-in-all not too disruptive of an event.

 It's good to be home! :)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Three Days with The Smithsonian's Amy Ballard

Kristen says...

 I mentioned in the last post about John the Artist that the reason we were invited to his home was because of the arrival of Amy Ballard, Senior Historic Preservation Specialist at The Smithsonian Institution. Yeah. :)

 Clearly, if you know me (or if you happened to follow my travels this summer/fall or to read my tatting blog and see my quest for tatting in DC's museums) you know that learning that Amy was coming to Vladivostok interested me for a number of reasons:
  • I have subscribed to Smithsonian Magazine (more or less) since my early undergrad years
  • I have visited many of the museums on my three visits to DC. My favorites are the National Museum of American History (naturally--their Within These Walls exhibit is magical), the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, and perhaps my overall favorite (and new discovery) the Postal Museum! (Although the creepy stuffed dog is a little...creepy for my tastes!) :)
  • I worked at (and lived across the street from) the State of Iowa Historical Museum just after Chris and I were married. I made some WONDERFUL friends from that experience, and I learned so much about museums, and how much I like museum people...
 So, with all that behind me, of course I jumped when I was given the chance to meet Amy and watch her various presentations here in Vladivostok.

 The fact that she is an absolutely delightful person (and, full disclosure, yes she will probably be reading this post, although I would write those exact words even if she wasn't) was a total bonus! :)

 Amy has a life-long interest in Russia, and has visited St. Petersburg often over the past many years, but this was her first trip to Vladivostok. It was fun for me to actually know a little more about Vladivostok than someone else for once! :) She came to make multiple presentations at local universities, and I was lucky enough to be invited along!

 Although she'd already had a full day beforehand, I first (besides the visit to John) joined Amy on Monday evening for her presentation at a local art gallery, the same place John exhibits his art:
 This presentation was about museum curators, and was really interesting for me because of all my friends at the Historical Museum. Also, many of the places/items Amy talked about in her presentation were places/items I saw this summer in DC.

 The crowd was very interested in her presentation, and it went really well, especially given that she had to pause every sentence or so to have her words translated into Russian!

  The next day was a very full one. We started off at Vladivostok's Far Eastern Federal University, where Amy was scheduled to present to a group of students.
 First, though, we were given a tour of the University's' 4+ museums, which were very well done and very interesting!
This is the Archaeological Museum. We spent most of our time here because the gentleman who took us around the museums is an archaeologist. We learned all about the digs the University and its personnel have been involved in, including a recent one due to the building of the new bridges.
This map was on the wall of the Archaeological Museum. Here our guide is showing the migration pattern of people who crossed the land bridge to the Americas. Amazing how almost 30 years in North America makes you think about the American side of that story, but not about where the people came from originally...that, by the way, would be the area in which I am currently living!
  As I said, the University houses 4+ museums (I think one is in progress). Here is a shot of part of another:
This was a very interesting look at images of women and women's fashion over the years in honor of International Women's Day (March 8). It was very interesting and very well done.
 After visiting the museums Amy gave her talk to a large group of students. We were located in the library of the University, a large and sunny area. Amy's presentation was more generally about the Smithsonian this time, but again I learned a lot.

  After this presentation we were whisked off to the Philharmonic Building (the same place we saw Ty Stephens a few weeks ago) where Amy made yet another presentation (I don't know how she didn't drop from exhaustion!), this time to an assembled group of representatives from all over the Primorsky Krai region.

 Amy was one of many speakers that day, and focused this presentation on the administrative side of The Smithsonian. She talked a lot about budget and the process of gaining approval to build new buildings (or modify old ones) in Washington, DC, which was really interesting. I learned quite a lot about the process of building both the newest museum, the American Indian Museum and the future newest, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (This makes sense when you realize that Amy is interested in the architecture of The Smithsonian--she co-authored a book about it!)
 Afterwards, it was well past lunchtime, so we went downstairs and had a WONDERFUL lunch at the café attached to the Philharmonic. Yum!
And I had a most interesting dessert:
This looks like a chocolate sundae...but IT'S NOT! It's a BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE SUNDAE! And, believe it or not, it was really quite good! If you were expecting chocolate and got this, I'm sure you'd be quite disappointed, but as I knew what I was getting, it was quite enjoyable.
 Thoroughly refreshed (and stuffed!) we walked across the street to spend a couple very enjoyable hours at the Arseniev State Museum:
 Once again, traveling with an honored guest (thanks Amy!) was a perk, and we were given a personal tour by the museum's director. What a tour, and what a museum!

 Here is one of the first things I noticed about the museum (and, incidentally, about The Smithsonian museums as was allowed.
The director told us this was one of many new initiatives he and his team have implemented to bring visitors to the museum. Apparently many other Russian museums charge a fee to those who wish to take photos...but also alienate visitors that way. Another new initiative: equal admission charges to Russian citizens and foreigners (to promote equality and elude xenophobia) and free admission on Monday for anyone who wishes to visit!
 The museum had a nice variety of exhibits, including natural flora and fauna of Russia on the first floor.

This tableaux particularly struck me...
I originally saw just the tiger...and then realized what it was "hugging"...grizzly bears are, of course, "common" in some parts of the United States, but not fighting tigers! :)
It's very hard to tell in this picture, but in the glass case to the right there is a baby bear gazing curiously at a baby tiger...right next to the two adults grappling...the taxidermy at this museum was really good!
 There were 3 or 4 levels to the museum, and each held new and interesting exhibits and architectural delights:
You can read a bit about the discovery of this interesting wall art here
 Here is and exhibit of some Soviet art and sculpture:
 The artwork for one of the current exhibits, full of amazing fashions and photos from a Russian settlement area in Harbin, China:
  A room dedicated to the years when Eleanor L. Pray, the wife of a US businessman, lived in, photographed, and wrote about Vladivostok:
Pray's diaries were recently translated into Russian and published in a Russian/English book, along with an album filled with photos taken by and of Mrs. Pray and Vladivostok. If you click here you can watch a 10-minute video that shows (in part) the building of this exhibit!
 Another neat architectural detail of the building was this window, which from far away looks like regular stained glass:
 But up close is so much more interesting (and 3-D)!

 Even the bathroom area is interesting at this museum! A local artist was brought in to create an interactive experience for those waiting in cool!

 It was a great day, but I was sooooooooooooo tired when we got home--I can't even imagine how tired Amy was!

 At any rate, the next day we were at it again, for one more stop and presentation before Amy flew off to the north to give more presentations...

 Our final stop was the Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service, a large and sprawling campus where I was very glad to have an escort, because I would have totally gotten lost!
All the buildings on this campus are connected: dorms, classrooms, dinning halls...the students never have to go outside! They also have (center building with the large blue sticker) a training hotel for their students, among other opportunities.
 The last of Amy's presentations in Vladivostok was given to a large group of design students, and so she again focused on the challenges presented in building the new African American Culture museum. The students were very interested and asked some good questions at the end.
 During this presentation Amy mentioned that we'd visited the Far Eastern Federal University's museum the day before, and of course was invited to the delightful small museum at this university. I enjoyed visiting that one as well, although I don't have any pictures to share with you!

 Following this final presentation and museum visit we went back to the Consulate to have lunch and, sadly, to say goodbye. Amy flew off later that afternoon, and I came home to do laundry, cook dinner, and catch up on my tv shows! :) I think Pip has enjoyed having me home again, too! :)

 It was a really nice three days, both because I got to meet a new friend, and because I had the chance to LEARN again! What fun!


Friday, March 22, 2013

A Visit to a Russian Artist's Home

Kristen says...

Last Sunday we had a most remarkable experience.

 We were hanging out at home when the phone rang. It was one of the Russians who works at the consulate, asking if we wanted to go somewhere that evening with the most recently-arrived consular guest, Amy Ballard of the Smithsonian Institution (More about Amy in the next post...she deserves her own post, as does the gentleman you will shortly read more about!)

 Chris and I assumed we were going to the home of another consular officer for a small meet-and-greet party, but were surprised to be told we were going to the home of a local artist, John Kudryavtsev.

His home was an older brick building with this in front:
These stones were brought from the sea and laid in this road in 1895!!!
 We were told "Be prepared to be hugged!" (apparently not a normal greeting behavior in Russia) before we knocked on his door, and very soon we were met with a warm welcome and, yes, big hugs.

John's outer door was normal and gave no hint about what we would see inside.

 However, upon entering his home we were hit with a visual cacophony of artistically-placed items that marked this room inexorably as the home of an artist.

 John graciously allowed us to take pictures, but I just don't think they do the place justice. It was so, so amazing;y 3D; cluttered but not messy, you could tell that everything was exactly where he wanted it and almost all had a secondary function.
Russian spoons and chess pieces above the door

 Every item in this room had a story, and throughout our 2+ hour visit we heard most of them...most of the items were found/artistically re-purposed, and many had a historical context. The door (above right) was particularly meaningful, having to do with self-reflection and finding the human in the face of the police/those whose job it is to keep order and enforce laws.
One side of the room had a "Soviet" theme...directly across was covered with Religious icons

The five photos are various portraits of the artist...also it's hard to tell, but the framed picture/signature were from Liza Minnelli's 2011 visit to Vladivostok!
The radiator was found in an old house...John said some men seek gold, but he all he found was a radiator...except the radiator was better than gold, because gold can't keep a man warm. Also notice that the tree holds things like cups and a pair of scissors.
We were ushered in an immediately offered tea, something that I am now coming to expect...I refer to this as "tea-pushing," but I am truly reveling in it. (I am also coming to appreciate fruit-flavored teas, something I could not have said a few months ago.) I love tea!

He also gave each of us a piece of candy:
It was St. Patrick's Day, and I was wearing the shamrock necklace my mom sent me as a bracelet...he tucked my candy in my bracelet because "the colors complimented each other." This guy was awesome!
 We talked for over an hour (John in Russian, Chris, Amy and I in English...thank goodness for translators!!) about John's life, art, and many other topics. John has had a very interesting life; he was well-known as a political cartoonist during the Cold War. He and US political cartoonist Daryl Cagle had a joint exhibition of cartoons in 2010 (pictures here).

 John didn't have any of his cartoons at his home, but there is a book from the exhibition that I will be sure to get before we leave Vladivostok. He also didn't have too many of his works around, because he had recently had another gallery showing, but he did have a few:

This is the artist's take on Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus"
And here is the Artist himself. What a guy!
These two works are particularly interesting...the one in the back was a sketch he did and then mailed to himself along with some other historical elements which are included in the frame. The one in the front is contrasting the myth of the yeti with the flight of the first Russian Space Shuttle Buran (in the top left corner of the work). It sounds weird, but it totally worked. Also, the pastels in front are the ones he used for the picture...he hasn't used them since.
 Sweet, right?!

What an amazing time we had!

 After many cups of tea, 2.5 hours of fascinating stories and gorgeous art, we took our leave of John, but I hope we will see him many more times during our two years in Russia!