As we wrap up our month of featuring “All Things Russia,”* we note with due attention, and perhaps a bit foreboding, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled: “Putin the Improviser” (Feb. 20, 2015).
Boldly declaring that “the Ukraine crisis is even scarier than you think”, WSJ reporter Andrew Weiss reports that Western leaders are struggling to “get inside the head of” Mr. Putin in an attempt to understand a man who seems set on “dragging much of the West into a new Cold War.” Read more
Once upon a time in Mari Vanna restaurant, on a cold winter day in the heart of New York City, we were served a hot cup of tea in a beautiful crystal glass encased in a silver-plated holder with a handle.
After not-so-subtly admiring it, we learned from the friendly Russian bartender that it was a real Russian tea glass holder – a “podstakannik” (literally “under the glass”) – which had previously been used for serving tea on a Russian railway.
As it so happens, podstakanniks have a very interesting history. Believed to have entered the tea community in Russia toward the end of the 18th century (when tea drinking became common in this area of the world), they became increasingly more widespread, particularly on Russian trains and in the Soviet Union era when markets were flooded with podstakanniks made of copper-nickel, nickel, silver and gold. Read more
Mystery seems to roll across the vast Russian landscape like a Siberian blanket of snow, spreading a dusting of enigma on nearly every aspect of life – including food. Or so is the case with Borshch, one of the great soups of the world that serves up its own culinary mystery in its seemingly endless varieties and different spellings.
Borscht. Borsch. Bortsch. Borstch. Borshtch. Borsh. Borshch.
But, what exactly is Borsch?
While “cultured” Americans are likely to spell it with a ‘t’ (Borscht) and describe it as “a beet soup served chilled”, with a little detective work we learned that during the long Russian winters, Borshch is served piping hot and is spelled without the ‘t’ (Borshch). Read more
Russians may not necessarily be known for their fairy tales, but they certainly know how to create a fairy tale setting – or so is the case with the Russians running a cozy restaurant tucked away in New York City’s Flatiron District: Mari Vanna.
Walking into Mari Vanna’s is truly like stepping into a fairy tale setting: adorned with old photographs, worn flowered wall paper of another era, Matrioshka dolls, porcelain figurines, crystal chandeliers, a library full of Russian literature and comfortable linen tables decorated with fresh flowers, it is as if you are entering your “babushka’s” house – the Russian equivalent of “grandmother.” Read more
“Siberian Express” Takes Hold, Shattering Record Temperatures
and Blasting Arctic Air Across the U.S.
Bunker down with some Russian vodka and the colorful, contradictory, crazy Comrade Khrushchev! Try also this hearty winter soup and consider reading about the Romanov Sisters as part of our “all things Russia” feature.
With President Obama turning toward the mirror in the White House and Russian President Vladimir Putin turning toward Ukraine, in an apparent attempt to reinstate Russia’s “sphere of influence”, we at ATG turn to the book, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (2003), an entertaining historical account of one of Putin’s earlier, yet equally unpredictable and erratic predecessors: Nikita Khrushchev.
Written by William Taubman, it won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2004 and has been referred to as “one of the best books ever written on the Soviet Union” (Ian Thomson, Irish Times). It is a book that has retained a prominent position on our bookshelf, not only for the light it sheds on the fascinatingly complex character of Nikita Khrushchev, but for its easily accessible insight into the Bolshevik ideology and depiction of a communist society. Read more
Social commentator Will Rogers once said, “Nobody in the world knows what vodka is made out of, and the reason I tell you this is that the story of vodka is the story of Russia. Nobody knows what Russia is made of, or what it is liable to cause its inhabitants to do next.”
How fitting that the national drink of Russia – a country famously deemed “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” – is also a mystery, defying any concrete understanding.
Indeed, the origin of vodka – which comes from the Russian word “voda”, meaning “water” – is highly disputed. While some believe that it was first mass-produced by the Muscovite monks in the 14th or 15th centuries, others claim it originated in Poland around the 8th century. Still others say it comes from Sweden. Read more
It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s “Buzzfeed” video has become a highly politicized issue, used by Republicans and Democrats alike to tout his “charismatic personality” or lambast his seemingly “indifferent attitude” to the world’s problems, depending on which side of the isle you sit on.
That President Obama’s every move is subject to intense scrutiny and debate is not unique to the office of the presidency. Indeed, there is a reason that John Adams once wrote: “No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.”
The unrelenting stress, heightened pressure and merciless criticism a President faces is nearly unimaginable – and certainly takes a toll on the mental and physical state of such men (a quick look at “before” and “after” shots of previous Presidents is a perfect case in point).
Perhaps this is why the office of the presidency is held in such high regard. Having sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”, it is a position of immense responsibility that warrants a great amount of respect, admiration and reverence from the public. Read more
The irresistible power of chocolate was clearly evident after our two-and-a half-year-old granddaughter toddled into the kitchen and in no time at all spotted the milk chocolate Lindt balls on the kitchen counter. Reaching up high on her tiptoes she matter of factly said, “I need chocolate.”
Though it has been written that more women (and obviously little girls) than men “need” chocolate, one learns in The True History of Chocolate that it was a luxury, “an elite beverage”, reserved only for kings and noblemen and their military who “needed” it the most. The Aztecs believed that chocolate had “energy-boosting properties”…and was given to their warriors to “fortify them on military campaigns.” Read more