This Global Kitchen | Day 5: Russia
I'm Michelle, and I currently live in the Russian North Caucasus with my husband and three daughters. My husband runs an adventure tourism business called Elbrus Elevation. We've been here right at seven years (plus five years in other Eastern Europe/Central Asian countries). I feel like I know my way around a grocery store pretty well by now, as well as what the necessities in a kitchen are here.
Last summer, we moved from the apartment in which we'd lived for four years into this new apartment. And by new, I mean that nobody had lived here before. It's a pretty nice place but it still has its quirks. One thing is that, when we signed our lease, there wasn't anything in the kitchen yet. It was just a big empty space. So I think they finished it on the fly to get it done. Our water is piped backwards — hot is on the right and cold is on the left. I'm pretty sure that's not standard, but once you get used to something, you're no longer sure what's considered normal anymore.
My kitchen butts right up against our living room. This is really nice in a lot of ways. Our last apartment had doors between the kitchen and living room. While it was really nice during the toddler years to be able to close my girls into the kitchen with me, I like this open floor plan better. Well, except for that counter space between the two rooms — it seems like a collection spot for everything, which makes me crazy.
Lest you think that my kitchen is always clean, this is what it usually looks like: school stuff spread out, something cooking, something baked cooling on the table (there's really not much counter space), toys, gum, and candy wrappers scattered everywhere, games to be played, hairbrushes that children left lying around, jars to be washed, etc. My kitchen cleans up nice. But I have three kids under 10, so... it usually looks like this.
My cabinets are full of very random dishes, like mismatched coffee cups — including three Starbucks mugs. We have limited ourselves to places we've lived so the collection doesn't get too out of control. We have plates that don't match, my husband's beloved Auburn University Tervis tumblers, gazillions of plastic plates and cups for when lots of expat guests come over, etc. While I long for dishes that match and are pretty, it's hard to commit to the investment in nice dishes because, well, we still have little kids. In the last six months, I think we've (and by we've, I mean they've) broken a tea cup, two bowls, and two small plates. It's easier to not be frustrated when it's a hodge-podge anyway.
This kitchen really doesn't have very much cabinet or counter space. The cabinet under the microwave is a new addition. So when we moved in, we put a chest of drawers in our kitchen that holds all the tea/coffee/vitamins, spices, random school stuff (where do you keep the mouse and mousepad?), snacks and cereals and pastas, pots and pans and lids, and Tupperware.
After begging our landlord for a year for more cabinet space, he finally brought this cabinet over. He said he'd be back to saw out a part in the bottom, so it would push all the way against the wall. That was three months ago and he still hasn't come back. So, I have a six-inch gap between the cabinet and the wall. This means I can't push anything against the back of it and that I'm constantly banging my hip on the corner because it sticks out in the front. But at least I got to move some of my baking dishes out of my bedroom wardrobe and into the kitchen. Also, notice how the outlet for the stove sits right over the stove. That's some good planning if you ask me!
No kitchen in the Caucasus would be complete without jugs of water ready for the days when the city turns your water off without warning. We live in an area with a lot of construction so it's not uncommon for the water to be turned off for hours on end. Thankfully it doesn't seem to happen as much as in our previous apartment.
While not technically in my kitchen, I have an extra refrigerator and freezer. The nice refrigerator in the kitchen is the landlord's, and this one is ours. It's not good enough for a main fridge because with no air conditioners, and when it's pushing 100 outside in the summer, a 25-year old refrigerator you bought secondhand just doesn't quite cut it. I mean, milk goes bad in a day. But it's good storage for eggs, drinks, potatoes and onions, etc. — and in the winter it works just fine. The freezer is my lifesaver and allows me to cook things like beans, chicken broth, waffles, and muffins in bulk and freeze them to pull out at my convenience, instead of having to always make them as I need them.
Finally, the chest of drawers in the kitchen that also serves as the coffee/tea station (and storage for my mixer). I love these windows and high ceilings!
My Must Haves for My Expat Kitchen:
My primary must-have is my Kitchen Aid mixer (hauled it from America when we moved overseas with a 5-month old and paid $200 for the extra suitcase and it has been completely worth it). I have a few other things from the States that I ask people to bring over occasionally, or that I bring with us when we return from the States. Chili powder and dried onions are the most necessary, but I also bring canned green chiles (for enchiladas), corn syrup, molasses (for gingerbread), allspice, and almond and maple extract (for pancake syrup). Many of these are to make holiday things like gingerbread cookies. None of them are things I use super often (except for the chili powder and dried onions), but all help me make things that help lift my spirits.
My Favorite Expat friendly Recipe:
by Michelle | TakingRoute.net
This is my go-to dessert. It's easy, quick, and uses common ingredients. You might never make brownies from a box again. I mean, assuming you could get a boxed brownie mix, you still might not want to because these. are. good.
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (could leave this out if needed)
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2/3 cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup oil
Preheat oven to 350 (or 180 celsius). Beat the eggs, vanilla, and sugar together. Mix in the oil. Stir in the flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt. Pour into a 9x13 pan and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until the edges of the pan look cooked and the inside isn't jiggly. Cool at least 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.