Monday, 29 May 2017

10 things you should eat in Russia

Russian food is so much more than just vodka, borsch and caviar
Russian food is so much more than just vodka, borsch and caviar Source: Shutterstock/Legion-Media
Russian food is not all about vodka, borsch and caviar. RBTH has mapped different regions of Russia to show you the diversity of its gastronomic geography.
February 4, 2015 Kira EgorovaYulia ShandurenkoRBTH

1. How an apple turned into a cloud: Kolomna’s pastila

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Kolomna’s “pastila” is an old Russian delicacy made of sour apples, honey and molasses. It has been part of Russian culinary traditions ever since the days of Ivan the Terrible. It was a peculiar sort of medieval preserve and an excellent way to conserve the harvest. The apples would be stewed in an oven, softened and then laid on planks to dry under the sun. They would then be rolled into thin fruit strips and enjoyed as a delicacy while waiting for the next harvest. Some people compare it to a marshmallow. Everything you ever wanted to know about pastila, including the secrets of its production, can be found at the Kolomna Pastila Museum. Of course, pastila can be tasted and purchased here as well. Kolomna is 96 kilometers from Moscow. 

2. Tolstoy ate it for sure: Tula gingerbread

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Tula gingerbread (pryanik) is probably the most famous Russian sweet there is. In most regions of the country “pryaniki” are small, round and have a rather dry taste. But in Tula (183 kilometers from Moscow) they began preparing rectangular gingerbread stuffed with moist filling and decorated with sugary drawings as early as the 18th century. Learn all about it at Tula’s Pryaniki Museum. By the way, the museum makes a great double date with Tolstoy’s museum, which is located nearby.

3. Sea ginseng: The Far Eastern trepang

Photo credit: TASS/Yuri Smityuk

Previously known as the Gulf of Trepang, Vladivostok (9,314 kilometers from Moscow) is the only place in Russia where sea cucumber can be found. Trepang is a seawater invertebrate that resembles a large hairy worm. Due to its taste and health properties it has been considered a delicacy in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisines ever since the 16th century. Trepang is served either boiled, as an ingredient in salads, dried, оr even as a liqueur with alcohol and honey.

4. Siberia’s tasty legends: Omul and muksun

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Muksun and omul are the most famous kinds of fish in Siberia. As both are types of whitefish, fishermen and local inhabitants distinguish them according to the fishing season. The omul is smaller than the muksun, but its meat is equally soft, sweet and fatty due to its inhabiting cold waters. Mild-cured muksun is the most delicious of its kind, and can be tried only in Siberia, while the omul can be found exclusively near Lake Baikal. In order to prepare the Siberian tartare (known as “Suguday”) you must use these fishes.

5. Tricky to pronounce, easy to eat: Öçpoçmaq

Photo credit: TASS/Vadim Zhadko

Uchpochmak (meaning triangle in the closely-related Tatar and Bashkir languages) is one of the most popular pastries in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. It is a small closed pastry filled with potatoes, mutton and onion and is often taken with soup and tea. If you go to Ufa (1,265 kilometers from Moscow) or Kazan (719 kilometers from Moscow) and are looking for insights into what make the locals tick, try an uchpochmak. It can be found in almost any local supermarket or cafeteria.

6. A seasonal delicacy from the cultural capital: Smelt

Photo credit: TASS/Ruslan Shamukov

Every May the air of St. Petersburg fills with the smell of fried smelt and fresh cucumbers, declaring to one and all that springtime has finally arrived. Smelt are a fish that swim the Neva and the Gulf of Finland and has become the unofficial gastronomic symbol of the city. Its season is spring and smelt is at its best when fresh. That’s why every year St. Petersburg hosts a spring smelt festival, which unites its inhabitants around a long-standing tradition.

7. Russian kebab: Dagestani mutton

Photo credit: Photoimedia

The best mutton in Russia can be found in the Caucasus region in Dagestan (1,795 kilometers from Moscow). Meat in Dagestan is traditionally prepared by men, which takes some of the burden off of women, who are busy making pastries. The meat of Dagestani lambs lacks the strong odors usually associated with mutton, and its fat is what gives it its flavor. This is what sustained the region’s nomadic ancestors centuries ago and you certainly should try a Dagestani mutton “shurpa” soup or “shashlyk” kebab if you see it on a menu. Authentic flavor shouldn’t be hard to find as almost all fresh mutton in Moscow comes from Dagestan.

8. A source of optimism in the land of permafrost: Stroganina

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

If you find yourself weighed down by permafrost in the Russian North, try the Arctic delicacy “stroganina.” This is a thin fillet of frozen fish dipped in a mixture of salt and black pepper that can be prepared using most varieties of local fish: broad whitefish, omul, sheefish, sturgeon, muksun, golets, taimen, peled and white fish. If an authentic stroganina is what you’re after, buy a ticket to Yakutsk (4,898 kilometers from Moscow). 

9. Yet another reason to love buckwheat: Altai honey

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

Right next to the Altai Mountains are Russia’s largest buckwheat fields, which makes bees very happy. The offspring of this love affair is an unusual kind of honey: It has a liquid consistency and a dark amber color, and leaves a distinct aftertaste in one’s mouth. It can be found in just about any supermarket in Moscow. It is a perfect compliment to a cup of tea made from Altai herbs.   

10. Bestseller of the East: Chak-chak

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media

Tatars, Bashkirs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Kazakhs all love to eat “chak-chak.” It is the most popular “eastern” desert in all of Russia. Made from just three ingredients - flour, eggs and honey - chak-chak becomes small sticks shaped from dough and is subsequently fried and covered in honey syrup. The end result is a big and sweet cone-shaped lump eaten by hand. This food has been eaten the same way since it was invented by nomadic steppe peoples 1,000 years ago.

Mr Fox

Mr Fox
Grainy granite, slippery slate
Hold up, pause, wait
The stream trickles by
With Mr Fox all sly
Finding that perfect place to lie
Laying in wait
On the look out for a mate
Bushy tail in tow
But squatting down low
just beyond the tree
A truly beautiful sight to see
A single vixen, trundling along
Bouncing to the rhythm of the birds song
They catch eachothers eye
and with an almighty sigh
Sneak off together
To hold close forever
Jamie Leslie Foster
Art Sam Cannon

When Stairs and Slides Are Hiding in Plain Sight

Play real-life Chutes and Ladders at these obscure thruways.

An ordinary stroll can quickly become extraordinary when you stumble on one of the many hidden stairways and slides that dot the world’s cities. Some are seemingly mundane structures hiding fascinating histories, while others blend into the landscape like a secret, surprising even long-term residents. These slopes and climbs make ordinary places more fun.

Secret Tiled Staircase
A hidden mosaic staircase leads to breathtaking views of San Francisco.


Winfield Street Slides
This pair of slides and a tree-lined stair corridor have been an urban oasis for nearly 40 years.

Howe Street Stairs
Spanning an elevation of 160 feet and containing 388 steps, Seattle's longest staircase was originally built to link two streetcar lines.

Seward Street Slides
These slippery downhill slides built in the 1960s are actually a triumph of neighborhood activism.

Hidden within an office building in Munich, a double-helix staircase seemingly leads you up… to nowhere.


Bisbee Stairs
With thousands of steps scattered through the town, Bisbee is a maze of staircases and desert mountain vistas.

Traboules Secret Passages
Between courtyards and through buildings, secret alleyways and staircases once provided safe passage for silk workers.

The Exorcist Stairs
Wedged between a stone wall and a brick warehouse, this stairwell is the iconic site of the classic horror film's climactic final showdown.

The Music Box Steps
This simple set of municipal steps is the site of a memorable scene from Laurel and Hardy's "The Music Box."

Tahini Dressing

Tahini Dressing

Tahini Dressing

The nice thing about this tahini dressing is its short ingredient list and versatility. Make it thick if you’d like to use it as more of a dip or thin it out with a little water for a creamy sesame dressing to spoon over roasted or grilled vegetables, fish or chicken. I cut back on the cumin just a little (Samin called for 1/2 teaspoon), and ended up adding an extra squeeze of lemon at the very end; I know Samin would approve.
Recipe slightly adapted from: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat


1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds OR 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water


Place the cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet and set over medium heat. Swirl the pan constantly to ensure even toasting. Toast until the first few seeds begin to pop and emit a savory aroma, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Immediately dump the seeds into the bowl of a mortar or a spice grinder. Grind finely with a pinch of salt.
Place the cumin, tahini, lemon juice, oil, garlic, cayenne, 2 tablespoons water, and a generous pinch of salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Alternatively, blend everything together in a food processor. The mixture may look broken at first, but trust that it’ll come together into a smooth, creamy emulsion with stirring. Add water as needed to thin it out to a desired consistency – leave it thick to use as a dip and thin it out to dress salads, vegetables, or meat. Taste then adjust salt and acid (lemon juice) as needed. Refrigerate leftovers, covered, for up to 3 days.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

257 Words from the Past to Inspire a Joyful Life

Via Crystal Jackson
on May 21, 2017
get elephant's newsletter


I could spend all day quoting Anais Nin.

Her work spans a period of over 60 years, and her most well-known contributions took place during the 1930s. But, her work is far from dated.
I have been familiar with it for some time, but it didn’t really resonate with me until I found myself in a situation where I was resisting a change that I needed to make.
Suddenly, her words came to me frequently and with stark clarity. They left me alternately shrinking away from and moving toward change, depending on my temperament.
I was in a marriage that I needed to leave, but I had two small children and no reliable income. My dreams had long before withered from neglect, and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore, or what I wanted. I only knew that I didn’t want a slow death of a life. I did what I could to create a liveable life within the context of the one I had. When that failed, I could feel Nin’s words calling to me from nearly a century ago. I saw her quotes everywhere, and they echoed in my heart.
Some changes are difficult to make. From the outside looking in, it seems simple: if we’re unhappy, we should make a change. But the actual mechanics of doing so can be difficult.
Summoning the courage, fortitude, and resilience to change our lives can seem overwhelming. It may be a relationship, a career, or a lifestyle that requires the change. Regardless, turning our lives upside down can carry enormous weight and responsibility.
Reading her words inspired me. I kept hearing, “And one day the risk to remain tight in the bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I heard those words on repeat in my head because I understood them: at a certain point, it became more painful to stay than to leave.
So I offer these words from Anais Nin that, I hope, will inspire you to choose happiness—no matter where you find yourself.
“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”
You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.”
I think the saddest words are “some never awaken.” But it’s true.
Our lives are precious. We often waste so much of them staying when we should go or leaving when we should stay, depending on our circumstances.
We follow society’s unspoken rules of how we should live our lives, and we forget that these lives are ours to live. We can choose to live them in joy, thankful every day for each breath, or we can live them in pain because we opt to live an inauthentic life.
If we’re lucky, something will awaken us, and we will choose to make whatever change is needed to truly live our lives. We can decide to throw off the shackles of a society that dictates who we should be, and choose to be who and what we love.
Believe me when I say—choosing our joy won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for me to re-imagine my life. It wasn’t easy to start again. But, it was worth it.
I hope, dear reader, that these words give you courage if you need it.
I hope that the road ahead won’t always be so hard. I hope these words reach out and brush a soothing hand across your soul, the way they once did for me.
I hope that you are one who awakens—as I did.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: KKendall/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson

Seven Simple Tips to Clear Out Bad Energy

Via Dina Strada
on Apr 18, 2017
get elephant's newsletter

When I was moving into my new house a few years ago, I was working closely with a spiritual teacher at the time.

We used to talk frequently about energy and how to keep it at a high frequency.
As an empath, I feel other people’s energy deeply. So keeping my own energy vibrating highly is incredibly important to me. High vibrations feel better to all of us, so it’s important to surround ourselves with them in our home, our work spaces, and any other place we spend the majority of our time.
My home is my sanctuary, not just because I’m raising my two young children there, but because it’s where I write, recharge my batteries, do my daily meditation, and work with clients.
Bad energy can accumulate like dust bunnies in the corners of our homes and offices over time. It’s especially important to clear out the energy after any of the following events:
>> A major argument
>> A divorce or breakup
>> Negative people being in your space
>> A particularly stressful week or event
>> Being sick
>> When moving into a new space that somebody else occupied
These are some of my regular practices for clearing out any stuck, negative, or stagnant energy and bringing in fresh, high-vibrating juju:
1. Burn sage or palo santo: One of the most common and best ways to clear stagnant or negative energy out of any space—whether it be your office, home, car, or even on yourself—is to burn white sage or palo santo wood sticks.
Palo santo, which means “holy wood,” grows on the coasts of South America and has hints of pine, mint, and lemon. This makes it smell much more fragrant than white sage, which has a more pungent, intense scent. It’s been used by shamans and medicine people for centuries for spiritual purifying, energy cleansing, and healing.
If the energy in your space feels negative or stagnant, burn either of these smudging sticks and swirl it counterclockwise in every room or closet. I also burn it on my front porch to clear away energies of people who have come into my home and office to clear out any bad juju. When finished, place the stick in a fireproof bowl of metal, glass, or clay. The glow will eventually go out on its own.
2. Open all the doors and windows, and run water from all the faucets. A shaman showed me this trick when he walked into my old house, which—at the time—was filled with a lot of painful, negative memories. Open all of the windows and doors of your home, turn on the faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms, and let the water run for just a few minutes. So as not to waste water, especially in high-drought areas (like California where I live), it’s important to find another place where you can conserve water after you do this. I turn my sprinklers off for a few days, shorten my showers by five minutes, and don’t run my dishwasher that week to balance things out.
Editor’s note: More ways to save water here and here.
3. Diffuse essential oils. Essential oils are one of my favorite ways to purify the air and energy in both my home and office. Frankincense is one of my favorite go-to essential oils for clearing out stagnant energy and grounding. I also use a few drops on my kids and myself for immune support and to help in calming the nervous system.
Some other great essential oils for clearing stagnant energy are Purification, Sandalwood, Eucalyptus, and Lavender. All of these purify the air and raise the vibrational energy of the space. There are some great diffusers you can purchase in stores and online for burning these essential oils. My two favorite places to order high-quality essential oils online are DoTerra and Young Living.
4. Crystals. My house is full of really cool crystals I’ve collected during my travels. White quartz and black tourmaline are my favorites for clearing out negative energy. I buy mine from a local shop in Los Angeles, but they can be also be found at many reputable shops online.
5. Sea salt. There are different ways to use salt to clear energy. One is to sprinkle sea salt into different corners of the room, let it sit for a few hours, and then vacuum it up. Salt is well-known for absorbing negative energy. You can also place black tourmaline in the corners of rooms with a little salt sprinkled around it to absorb any lingering energy in the space.
Another great way to clear energy, especially your own, is to soak in an Epsom salt bath. I put two cups of Epsom salts into a warm bath with some lavender oil and soak for at least 20 minutes when I feel sluggish, tired, or irritable. It’s phenomenal for opening up your chakras and getting the good chi flowing through your body again.
6. Affirmations and mantras. We often don’t realize not only how powerful our thoughts are, but the energy those thoughts create in our personal spaces. When we’ve been stressed, upset, angry, or depressed, our homes and offices absorb that energy like a sponge.
When I’m doing a clearing of my home or office, I typically burn sage or palo santo, run water from all the faucets for a few minutes, open the doors and windows, and say the following:
“I clear this space of any and all negative energy and anything lingering here that is not for my highest good. Burn out and clear away anything that is no longer serving me. Surround this space with a container of white light to protect me from all lower energies and anything not serving my very highest self. And so it is…”
Whatever you choose to say when clearing out your own space, do what feels right for you, but make sure to include something in there about clearing out anything not in alignment with your highest self.
7. Music and candles. The last thing that always helps in rebalancing the space is lighting some candles and putting on some high-frequency music that creates a soothing, zen vibe. I personally love listening to yoga and meditation playlists I’ve created on Spotify, but I recommend you play whatever feels most grounding to your own heart.
Pair that with at least a dozen candles to bring warmth back into your space, and you’ll really feel the shift!
None of these practices take very long, and they make all the difference in how you feel and how the space feels to other people when they walk in. Like routinely clearing out the other clutter in our lives, it’s important to clear the emotional clutter as well.
Happy spring cleaning!
Author: Dina Strada
Editor: Catherine Monkman

Why was French spoken in Russia?

"How is vodka..?" "Why does Putin..?" RBTH has chosen some of the most popular search queries related to Russia and will answer each question in detail in a series of articles titled "Why does Russia..?" Today we explain why in the Russia of the 18th and 19th centuries high society spoke French almost more than Russian.
Why Russians used to speak French

Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace remains one of the most difficult books for pupils on the school syllabus in modern Russia, and not just because of its impressive four-volumes. "When I opened the first pages and saw that about half of the text was in French, I thought: Well, I'd better read a brief summary instead," says 23-year-old Muscovite Alexei about his school experience of reading Tolstoy.
Indeed, the dialogues between members of the St. Petersburg nobility in the salon of high-society hostess Anna Pavlovna Scherer that War and Peace opens with are half composed of French phrases, and this is not the author's invention but a reflection of the mores of the early 19th century (the first volume of War and Peace describes the events of 1805). As Tolstoy observes one of his characters: "He spoke in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but thought." In the 18th century French "conquered" Russia, becoming the unofficial language of the aristocracy. Why?

Facing the West

It all started with the reforms of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725. Peter, the third of the Romanov tsars, drastically changed the direction in which the country was moving - his dream was to turn Russia into a European power. To achieve this, he not only engaged in wars but also destroyed the patriarchal ways of old Russia: He forced nobles to cut their beards, wear European dress, and travel to the West to study. As a result, noblemen at high-society gatherings in the 18th century started conversing in foreign languages. 
Of all the Western languages it was French that dominated during that period, not just in Russia but in Europe as a whole. "French was the first language which introduced the notion of a single set of norms," is how psycholinguist and translator Dmitry Petrov explains the success of the French language. France's First Minister Cardinal de Richelieu should be thanked for this, Petrov says. In 1635 Richelieu founded the French Academy which dealt with the creation and regulation of a set of language norms. In the end, French gradually squeezed out Latin as a language of international communication.

The French wave

The French Revolution (1789-1799) gave an additional impetus to the French language's spread among the Russian nobility. Many aristocrats fled the country after it was engulfed in rebellion and found refuge, inter alia, in Russia. The number of émigrés in that period reached 15,000.
The government of the Russian Empire treated any revolution with suspicion and welcomed monarchists in their country. Some of them achieved high positions serving the Russian throne - such as Armand-Emmanuel Richelieu, a descendant of the famous cardinal, who became governor of Odessa (now Ukrainian territory). Others, not so successful, became governors in rich families and taught dancing and fencing to the children of noblemen.

Gallomania and Gallophobia

Long before Tolstoy, journalists and writers had noted the Russian nobility's wholesale infatuation with everything French - and there were heated debates about the craze. Some people thought that loans from the French enriched Russian culture and added refinement to the language, while others believed they led nowhere. "We will drive our own language into total decline," commented People's Education Minister Alexander Shishkov, who campaigned for the purity of Russian. 
In his comedy "Woe from Wit" (1825), the writer Alexander Griboyedov referred ironically to Russians who worshipped everything French while being unable to string two words together in the language, summing up the phenomenon in the phrase: "A mixture of French and Nizhny Novgorod" (Nizhny Novgorod is a provincial town 401 km east of Moscow). And yet all the nobility conversed in French - it was a courtly language associated with chivalry and exalted feelings. A study of the correspondence of the most famous Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, who is regarded as the founder of the modern Russian language, revealed that about 90 percent of his letters to women were in French.

Decline of Francophony 

During the Napoleonic Wars, in which Russia and France fought on opposite sides, the popularity of French began to wane. Patriotic sentiments compelled the nobles to speak more in their native tongue - and sometimes it was a matter of survival. Poet and hero of the War of 1812 Denis Davydov recalled that the peasants (who knew no French and were frequently illiterate) at times "mistook [aristocratic officers] for the enemy because of their foreign accent in Russian" and could attack them with an ax or take a shot at them with a firearm.
The period of infatuation with France came to an end and many Gallicisms that had entered the Russian language in the 18th century fell into oblivion, but dozens of words nevertheless remained. Russians do not think twice of the foreign origin of words like "afisha," "pressa," "sharm," and "kavaler" [meaning "advertising poster," "press," "charm," and "male admirer," respectively]. "Some remained if they were needed by the language, but others disappeared if they were surplus to requirements," said the writer Pyotr Vail in a comment on the history of loan words. "The same thing is happening and will continue to happen with other words grafted onto the language."