Monday, December 29, 2014


Kristen says...

I love Iowa! It's the best place in the world. 

Also, Pip is here!!

Merry Christmas (belated) and Happy New Year!!

More in 2015!

Friday, December 12, 2014

World Cuisine in Artyom

Kristen says...

Last Saturday I was honored to be invited once again to Lingva Plus in Artyom, this time for a Celebration of World Cooking/Farewell Kristen party. It was lots of fun!

The event started with a Russian tradition of hospitality by offering the guests bread and salt, which I have been told represent the hope of wealth and health for the guest.

Next the attendees (maybe 60 children from age 5-18 and a few adults) broke into four groups, each of which would make a traditional food from a different country.

The countries (as represented by their flag made of food) were:
China (and the Chinese chef who demonstrated)
Canada/Italy (Italian food as demonstrated by a Canadian-Italian chef)
Russia (the flag is made of traditional ingredients for filled blini (pancakes which are a lot like French crepes)
USA (why yes, that is peanut butter and jelly!)
Yes, I was asked to demonstrate/guide students in making some traditional US foods, and I chose peanut butter and jelly...! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

In reality, it made a lot of sense--there was no stove or microwave, so most baking/heated foods were out, and in the end, it worked out really well. Peanut butter is by no means popular here, so most of the students were able to try something new, and really, besides those with peanut allergies, who didn't grow up eating peanut butter?!

(and yes, if you are wondering, I did think for a bit before deciding to do this in case anyone had a peanut allergy--in the end, I realized I've yet to hear of a Russian with a peanut allergy, and I had my epi-pen there, just in case.)

I had 40+ minutes for my demonstration, so I also made a bunch of Christmas cookies and demonstrated how to make frosting, because decorating sugar cookies is a very "American" thing to do (especially at this time of the year) and most Russian students I know haven't done this.

Unfortunately, we ran out of frosting very quickly (I told the organizers I needed butter and powdered sugar, and they provided me with both...but just about 1/2 c. butter and MAYBE 1/4 powdered sugar. Maybe. Oops.) So, we made do by raiding the peanut butter table and used jam as frosting...
Eh, whatever :)
And then, just for fun, and because I'm a teacher, I showed a quick PowerPoint about the history of American food. Why not? :)

After the food was made, some of the students played Russian music on traditional instruments and the "food flags" were presented, and as well as a few very thoughtful presents for me:

Each group made me a t-shirt with symbols and other representative elements of the style of food they made. It was so sweet, and the shirts are really neat!

After that, there was nothing to do but eat the food and head home. It was a really, really fun day, and a very nice way to spend one of my last weekends in Russia!

If you want to see more pictures from the event you can visit the Consulate Facebook page!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

More Photos from Sakhalin

Kristen says...

I'm taking a 10-minute break from packing (ugh! PACKING!) to upload some more photos from our trip to Sakhalin.

We left Vlad in snow (and came back to even more snow...but Sakhalin was snow-free)
We only had three days on the Island but really managed to do a lot!
We stayed in the town of Yuzhno Sakhalinsk, which has a nice little ski hill almost in the center of the city
It also has some interesting building art
We did a fair amount of walking around the city:
"City Cultural Park and Recreation named for Yuri Gagaran," famous Soviet Cosmonaut
Chris with a statue of Yuri in the park
The recreation part of the park turned out to be a little carnival, closed down for the winter
Look! Kangaroos in Russia!!
A Russian version of the teacup ride
A giant snow-covered slide
Another winterized Russian teacups ride
Similarly to Vlad, Yuzhno Sakhalinsk has some lovely statuary art:

 It gets very snowy on the island (we were there just before the first major snow of the winter) and the markets were full of these sleigh strollers:

Later in the day a colleague drove us outside of the city to view one of the island's LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) plants. The economy of Sakhalin is based heavily on oil and natural gas.
Here we are pointing at the plant. The large tanks behind Chris are for LNG
A huge ship for transporting LNG. Notice the size of the SUVs on the road to give you some perspective on how massive that thing was
A Day at the Beach

It was a very odd thing to be at the beach with boots on!
It's not every day you see ice on the beach!
On our way to the plant we stopped and bought some local produce from the side of the road:

 And enjoyed a late-afternoon picnic as we watched the sun go down.
I ate my first-ever pickles on this trip--they were pretty ok
 We also explored some ruins left over from when the Japanese ruled the island (it was given over to the Russians after WWII)

On our way back to town we made a few more stops:
A recently-refurbished statue where local lovers tie fabric and lock love locks
Former home of the Japanese Imperial Governor, now a museum
The dacha of our friend and host. Dachas are a really interesting and Russian thing--most often they began as land given by the Soviet government to ordinary people as a way to let the people grow their own food during times of food shortages.
Our last day was spent back in the city, wandering in the rain to see some of the monuments.

The city is building a new monument which is combining the secular Soviet army with the Orthodox church by incorporating a new cathedral into a war monument:

It was really cool to be able to get so close to one of the famous Onion Domes of Russia!

The city was decorating for the holidays:
Even in the rain, it was a beautiful place!

I do want to point out the caterpillar on Chris' upper lip--he and a few other members of the Consulate grew mustaches this year in honor of Movember and to raise awareness for men's heath concerns like prostate cancer. Self checks can help catch cancer early, and regular visits to a doctor could save your life!

 It was a great trip, and our last little jaunt in Russia. It's been a great two years, but now I need to get back to packing for our next big adventure...!