30 April 2008

Stop a moment...

Last week, it has been a time of re-learning to appreciate things I (and, I’m pretty much sure, everybody else, too) take for granted.

I fell prey to a bitter cold said week; as a result, I couldn’t smell anything for a few days. I lost (thanks heavens, for a short period of time) something that’s been innate, something that’s been with me day in, day out. Suddenly, my grounds got shattered, my life picture wasn’t complete anymore; I must tell, it’s damn scary to feel that way.

In russian, we have an expression that can loosely be translated as ‘eyes in soap’. Meaning: after a certain moment we fail to notice things that are truly important, since we are fully occupied with self-imposed deadlines, goals and everyday hassles. So, rather than enjoy the experience, we survive.

I don’t want it this way. Instead, I’ll better do what I can and learn to can more – and for the rest, I will let everything happen as it happens. Because to be able to see, taste, smell, hear, touch and move, it is indeed a real miracle. Wouldn’t you agree?

Below, there is one of my short writings. To my mind, it fits in this post flawlessly.

She said, she loved the early morning of each new day.

‘Follow me, then’, the new day whispered back to her, in a soft but mighty voice of a gradually rising sun.

She smiled. She closed her eyes. She put her distrust to sleep and opened up her heart. She followed the time.

And as the light slowly chased away the last ghosts of the darkness off the pure sky, she knew she was all right.

She did not want to question; she did not want to ask.

She breathed. She moved. She lived.

She said she will be fine.

So, having to make do with a clogged nose, I thought it'd be wise to delay my oh-so-much-desirable visit to a recently opened bakery 'Le Pain Quotidien' until my total recovery (er, I'm virtually not in the loop, for there are already a few 'Le Pain's in the city. Gosh, where have I been, then?).

Wondering why? I take it you are. Wink.

For me, any bakery (yes, again I'm drooling on the subject) begins with its aromas, in the first place; and a girl whose nose is running - my sincere apologies for anatomical details in profusion - basically can't benefit from such simple pleasure as a budding gastronomic affair. *wink* Thus, my drive to discover worked better than nay anti-biotics. Because now 'Le Pain Quotidien' is tiptoeing with dignity past its rivals and taking its deserved place in my chart of unconditional favourites in the city.

Now, my personal paean for 'La Pain*'.

Decor. Homey and authentic. Brings a visitor (or this girl, at least) to a rural area with green pastures, satiated cows (my imagination is such!) and cloudless sky (at least, to imagine this, it's is a good way to get rid of a daily grind, by the by).

Bread. For the first time in the place and among rows of bread I can rave about non-stop, I opted to swap my money for their Le Pain Levain: slightly acidic, soft crumb that yields subtle fruity aftertaste and is elegantly coated in a cracking crispy crust. Kudos to the bakery, they follow old-cherished traditions and use stone ovens and organic, stone ground flours to deliver their breads to the world! For my second time in the place, I got their five cereals bread. Praising which, I can only say it's unspeakably good. Real crust, that's ingrained with slightly roasted, golden oats; ever so noticeable sweetness by courtesy of mixed-in-the-dough prunes; delicious and flavourful nuttiness of sunflower and sesame seeds lend the bread irresistible aroma and texture. You even don't have to top it, when sliced, with honey or something of the same sweet vein, for it is already perfect. God.

Grocery. Ranges from organic chocolate spreads (!!!) to fruit and savoury jams to tea and coffee to salt and pepper in the mills to the trade mark I-want-to-have-it-all kitchen utensils. Grand!

Fare. The food magazines reviews were all in raves about the tabbouleh
they serve here. Of course, food magazine critics are an authority indeed, but I employed a hands-on approach and went for an after-work dinner some time back.. SIMPLE. PLEASURE.
Seriously, it feels so nice to have a new sincere friendship started. Smile.
*Le Pain Quotidien
6 Kamergersky side-street,
tel. +007 (495) 937 7742

After all, the spirit of simplicity was soaring around me, so I wanted to cook and eat something spring-ful, something soothing, something rustic. At home. Barefoot. And since I followed this recipe for Basic Vegetable Soup religiously (apart from adding up a few drops of smoky liquid to intensify the flavour), thus I don't see a point in copying it. Rather I'd invite you - with further re-direction - here.


Before I sign off for now, I desperately want to share with you another batch of my recent observations. Now, in photographs.

In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you. - Leo Tolstoy

And this is what I notice when I really pay my attention.

Time...Sometimes it seems like it never brings things apart, although there might be hundreds of years in between.

Be modern, be high-tech, but never put your history (and I mean your personal history, too) and traditions in oblivion.

Inanimate engines are here to live their life, too.

13 April 2008

I am loyal...to my dreams and fantasies.

Saturday morning. Nearly dawn.
Usually I sleep in on Saturdays; this Saturday, however, I wanted to play differently. So I got up and set out for one of a few places in Moscow that are extremely dear to me.

'Volkonsky' bakery. I love absolutely everything about it. Its welcoming atmosphere, its homey spirits, its divine bread and pastry, a cosy cafй seated in its premises, the stylish kitchenware on sale, its location in the heart of old Moscow. Absolutely everything, I'm telling you. I remember how at the first moment I stepped in the bakery, the exhilarating aroma of fresh bread wrapped me up on the spot. I only had to close my eyes for a second to breathe in the goodness and wake up my imagination. And before long I saw myself on a green meadow with lots of flowers-in-bloom. A gentle wind danced with the sunshine in the air. I'd have a baggy yellowish cotton dress on and silky scarf to cover my hair, a good book to feed my mind and a piece of fresh goat's cheese sandwiched among the bread goodness to satisfy my hunger. And then I heard a bakery girl's voice addressing me...I smiled and at that moment I knew I would be their loyal customer.

So, this Saturday I went for such an early trek to meet my 'darling' (in reference to the aforementioned vicinity. Smile.) for a reason. I fancied a warming saturday breakfast at home with a fresh, right-away-from-the-oven baguette. Crispy, with soft and airy crumb, slightly buttered, topped with cherry spread or honey and accompanied by a cup of home-brewed coffee. Oh. For me that's the dickens of a leisurely breakfast.

So, you see, I slept less. But I got more. What so special did I get, you'll ask. I got my fantasy realised. I got a morning walk through the oldest part of Moscow when she was still deserted, half asleep half awake. I got my spirits rejuvenated. I got a whole day ahead.

*‘Volkonsky’ (in co-operation with ‘Maison Kaiser’) bakeries
Maroseika str. 4/2 (this is where my ‘darling’ located)
Tel: +007(495) 721 14 42

Bol’shaya Sadovaya str. 2/46
Tel: +007(495) 699 36 20

2 April 2008

Spring has come.

Chapter 1.

There are days when the amount if things to do or matters, which, I think, need my immediate attendance, overweigh my energy store and expand beyond there-are-only-24-hours-a-day thing. Before now I'd take my pains to care about moments that seemingly were important but, in the event, were not.

Lots and lots of time I spent diving into the choppy sea of worries and doubts, fears and unconfidence. Endless 'what ifs' and 'buts' continuously enjoyed my loyal company for years, and I whole-heartedly thought such an approach the inevitable part of my life.

I guess it would still be 'on my agenda' but for a single moment, which left me gasping and happened instantly to take its place in a row with those titled as life-altering (pardon me if I sound a trifle too clichesque here *wink*).

All right. As trivial as it may seem I was looking at my own reflection in the mirror the other day (please do not tell me you're surprised, thank you! *smiles*). Personally, what surprised me was that after twenty three (23!!!!!) years of not noticing I discovered a certain positive feature of my hands (yeah, I'm that much eccentric about my hands, but this post is, in fact, about something different! *broad smiles*). Twenty three years of looking and not seeing - that's, I tell you, is a real shocker. I suddenly realise how much of my time I gave to worries and haste in numerous attempts to put an order in my life, which more often than not turned out to be futile.

I am here not to worry. I am here to live. In tune with my heart. In tune with myself.

Chapter 2.
Time has come to expand my warm welcome to the offals, there! And I began with...

*****Chicken hearts in white wine*****

Serves 2/3

500 gr chicken hearts (trimmed from fat)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 medium pickle, diced
1/2 cup French beans
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spices mixture
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 Tsp olive oil

1. In a medium non-stick saucepan, saute onion until slightly golden.

2. To the onions, add trimmed chicken hearts, mix and season with salt (in fact, you might not want it at all in this dish as later you'll add a pickle to the hearts) and pepper to taste (I couldn't help but throwing in a small dried and crashed chilli, too) and add chinese 5 spices mixture.
Stir fry the hearts for 3-4 mins. Add white wine, cover the pan with a lid and simmer the mixture for about 10 mins.

3. 4-5 mins before the end of cooking time, uncover the pan, add french beans and saute all mixture until the excess liquids have evaporated.

4. At the end, season the dish with freshly chopped mint, stir well and let it wilt slightly (or else the flavour might be a bit too strong).
Serve warm with rice, boiled/mashed potatoes, pasta or greens of your choice.

The flavours of the dish are complementing each other fairly good. Sour juices of a pickle and softness of french beans compensate for a springy texture of the hearts, whereas spices and herbs outbalance the earthy/subtly liver-y core-taste of the dish.

Chapter 3.

This photo I shot on my way back home from work. I like to interpret it as this: an aged lady walking away into the distance is associated in my mind with winter retiring itself to a withdrawal. Spring has come. Officially.

P.S. Dear Winter, please take care and goodbye for now.