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Friday, December 24, 2010

Recipe: Gingerbread House

Food is one of my favorite things to learn about!!! You can find all of the recipes I've picked up around the world here!

A Christmas Miracle!

Creating and decorating a gingerbread house is magical... the smell... the taste... the creativity and freedom you feel while building your own, colorful dream home! It is a wonderful tradition for kids to grow up with. Best of all, it let's us adults rekindle that magic for a little while!

1. Gingerbread dough

Butter 200 g or 0.44 lb
Sugar 200 g or 0.44 lb
Flour 300 g or 0.66 lb
2 Eggs
Cocoa 2 t sp
Ground ginger 2 t sp
Ground cinnamon 1 t sp
Ground carnation 1 t sp
Baking powder 3 t sp

Mmmm the spices!

Sift flour, ginger, cinnamon, carnation, baking powder and cocoa. 

Add the softened butter cut in slices and chop it to lumps. 

Mix with sugar and egg, roll in a sphere, wrap in plastic and cool in a fridge for 1,5-2h. 

Then unroll and cut out the house parts. 

Bake for 13-15 minutes in a 180С or 356F oven. Let it cool down.

2. For the icing:

1 egg white
sugar powder 0.5 cup
lemon juice 1 tb sp

Cooled egg white whip with a mixer, add powder, in the end add lemon juice.

3. Construct the basic house, mortaring the pieces together with icing

This is where it really helps to have more than two hands working on a house, and why making a gingerbread house is so much more fun with company than alone. If you are working on this alone, it may help to grab some canned goods from the pantry and use the cans to help prop up the pieces while the icing mortar is drying.

4. Decorate the Gingerbread House!

Here's the fun part! This step requires a trip to the candy section of your local grocery store. You can decorate your house with whatever types of candy pleases you. Everyone can participate. Give each family member a wall or roof to do!

You can use dough scraps to roll out added decorative cut-outs to be applied with icing glue. These cutouts can be impressed with designs before baking. For example, you could make window shutters, doors, or figurines! They can be "painted" with colored icing.

My first ever Gingerbread House! Happy Holidays, dear Friends!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Petersburg Tale

Привет, my friends! Last summer I took a trip North from Moscow on the overnight train to magnificent St. Petersburg!

St. Petersburg was founded on a swamp in 1703 by Peter the Great, the emperor of Russia, to become the heart of modernization in Russia and the capital of the country. Moscow became the capital after the Revolution in 1917 when the Soviet Union was established. St. Petersburg is considered the most "westernized" Russian city - it’s also called Petrograd, Leningrad, Piter and known as the “Russian Venice” because of the numerous canals that burst through the city.

The imposing St Isaac’s Cathedral, standing not far from the shore of the Neva River, is one of the world’s largest churches.

Often considered a symbol of Russia, St. Petersburg is actually an entirely atypical Russian city. Situated so close to Europe on the shore of the Baltic Sea, it expresses everything European that Russia has to offer, but in a unique and strange way that also incorporates old Russian tradition. Some think it's a mad city; some find it very inspiring! Many great Russian writers, poets and dancers began their work here. To get a feeling for this one-of-a-kind place, read one of Russia's most prominent authors - Feodor Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, Notes from the Underground, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov). Even nowadays, people in St. Petersburg are considered a bit more intelligent, refined and polite than Muscovites.

 Peter the Great has me on his lap.

The city is situated on the banks and islands of the Neva river and Finsky bay. There are many natural and man-made canals and islands.

The city center is well organized - all of the streets are perpendicular. The main and oldest street in St. Petersburg is called the Nevsky Prospect. It runs from St Petersburg’s center of religion, the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, to the symbol of Russian power, the Admiralty, and passes by everything else along the way! The 4.5km length of the Nevsky Prospect goes over four different islands and across multiple channels and rivers. It is truly one of world’s great promenades - anything you'd want can be found along its course: stunning architecture, incredible palaces, world-famous museums and grand opera houses; the most fashionable shops and the latest fashions; sparkling five-star hotels, small bed and breakfasts and all manner of restaurants, cafes and nightclubs!

The Bronze Horseman - another Peter the Great Statue in St. Petersburg.

Here are some special things you can do with your time in St. Petersburg:

- Walk along the Nevsky Prospect and have a banana milkshake for breakfast in one of the little cafes.
- Take a boat trip along the channels.
- Climb up St. Isaac cathedral for a view of the city.
- Sunbathe on the green grass of the Summer Garden under the northern sun.
- Visit the wonderful Hermitage museum in Winter Palace! (Of course) But not all at once. It's so large that it's better to choose something specific you would like to see and to go especially for that.
- Walk along the Moika river embankment in the evening.
- Spend a sleepless night out during White Nights to watch the moveable bridges and The Scarlet Sails.
- Pet the Griffin Statue on the Bank Bridge over the Griboedov Canal and make a wish!

A good Russian tradition - to pet the Griffin's foot and make a wish. Does it mean I could make 2 wishes if I climbed it or even 3 if I made friends with this creature?

And here are some basic words and phrases which can make your life much easier. Even if you don't have any plans to speak Russian, learning these can be a real ice-breaker when you meet a Russian – they'll love it if you can say "hi" or "thank you" in Russian.

Yes                              Да                                                  Da
No                               Нет                                                Net
Hi!                               Привет!                                         Pri`vet
Bye!                             Пока!                                             Po`ka!
What                            Что                                                Ch`to
This                              Это                                                `Eto
I                                   Я                                                    Ya
I love you!                    Я тебя люблю!                              Ya tebya lyublyu!
Banana                         Банан                                             Banan
I don't understand.        Я не понимаю.                              Ya ne poni`mayu.
Thank you!                   Спасибо!                                        Spa`sibo!

The Winter Palace, well-known for the Hermitage collection. 
Spasibo and Poka, dear Friends!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Pearl of the Adriatic.

Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the blog! Today it's cold and rainy in Moscow and it's time to take a road to the sun: let's go to Croatia! Specifically, to Dubrovnik city on the Adriatic Sea coast in the extreme south of Dalmatia.

It is one of the most outstanding tourist destinations on the Adriatic and a big seaport. In 1979, the city of Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The prosperity of the city of Dubrovnik has always been based on maritime trade. In the Middle Ages, as the Republic of Ragusa, also known as the fifth Maritime Republic, it became the only eastern Adriatic city-state to rival Venice. Supported by its wealth and skilled diplomacy, the city achieved a remarkable level of development, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Simple life in Dubrovnik.

Few of Dubrovnik's Renaissance buildings survived the earthquake of 1667 but fortunately enough remain to give an idea of the city's architectural heritage.The finest Renaissance highlight is the Sponza Palace which dates from the 16th century and is currently used to house the National Archives.

The Sponza Palace in the heart of the fortress.

Dubrovnik's most beloved church is St Blaise's church, built in the 18th century in honor of Dubrovnik's patron saint. In Dubrovnik St Blaise's feast is celebrated yearly on 3 February, when relics of the saint, his head, a bit of bone from his throat, his right hand and his left, are paraded in reliquaries.

Inside the St Blaise's church.

A feature of Dubrovnik is its walls that run more than 3 km around the city. The walls run from four to six meters thick on the landward side but are much thinner on the seaward side. The system of turrets and towers was intended to protect the vulnerable city.

The walls of the fortress and the harbor.

The main wall on the landside is 4 metres (13 ft) to 6 metres (20 ft) thick, and, at certain locations, the walls reach up to 25 meters (80 feet) in height. On the landside, the wall is protected with an additional range of slanted supporting walls as defense against artillery fire, especially against possible Ottoman attacks.

The sea walls are 1.5 to 5 meters (5–16 feet) thick, depending on their location and its strategic importance. The purpose of these walls was to help defend the city from sea-based attacks, particularly from the Republic of Venice, which was often considered a threat to Dubrovnik's safety.

A cute local.

Random facts:

~ The annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival is a 45 day-long cultural event with live plays, concerts, and games. It has been awarded a Gold International Trophy for Quality (2007) by the Editorial Office in collaboration with the Trade Leaders Club.

~ The twin towns of Dubrovnik are: Ravenna, Italy; Graz, Austria; Helsingborg, Sweden; Ragusa, Italy; Monterey, CA, United States.

~ The Old Town of Dubrovnik is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 50 kuna banknote, issued in 1993 and 2002.

Dubrovnik is a famous port of the Adriatic sea.

Well, that's all for now, I really hope you enjoyed the trip. It is time to set our sails and catch the wind to new, exciting adventure-lands!

From Croatia with love!


Michael the Monkey

Friday, November 12, 2010

Michael in Tatarstan

Hello, dear Friends! I am Michael the Monkey and I am very serious about being the best travel guide for Toy travelers, so I always try to learn something new I can share. This time I headed East to the land of the Tatars.
Hospitable Tatars and me, Michael the Monkey.

I live in Moscow, the capital of Russia. To get to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan I take an overnight train. The trains in Russia should be a special topic in my blog - lets just say I enjoyed the hot tea with lemon and the nice window view, discovering some brief information about the region.

Mmmm, Russian-train tea...

A - A for Kazan. Don't ask me why :)

Kazan (Russian: Каза́нь; Tatar: Казан, Qazan) is granted the right to brand itself as the "Third Capital" of Russia and the "sports capital of Russia". Qazan is originally a name for a special cooking pan, similar to the wok, but heavier. The belief that the city of Kazan is named after this object comes from the terrain's similarity to a qazan: the city is situated in a U-shaped lowland. The city's population consists almost entirely of either Tatars (about 52 percent) and Russians (about 43 percent).

The city has a beautiful citadel (Russian: Kreml, or, sometimes, Tatar: Kirman), which was declared a World Heritage Site. Major monuments in the Kremlin are the 5-domed 6-columned Annunciation Cathedral (1561–62) and the mysterious leaning Soyembika Tower, named after the last queen of Kazan and regarded as the city's most conspicuous landmark.

Zeelant - the symbol of Kazan.

The leaning Michael... ooops sorry.. Soyembika Tower!

The Qol-Şarif mosque impressed me a lot! It was destroyed in the times of Ivan the Terrible and recently rebuilt inside the citadel for the celebration of the 1000 years anniversary of the city. Now it is considered to be the biggest mosque in Europe! 

Central Kazan is divided into two districts by the Bolaq canal and Lake Qaban. The first district (Qazan Bistäse or Kazanskiy Posad), historically Russian, is situated on the hill, the second (İske Tatar Bistäse or Staro-Tatarskaya Sloboda), historically Tatar, is situated between the Bolaq and the Volga. An old legend says that in 1552, before the Russian invasion, wealthy Tatars (baylar) hid gold and silver in Lake Qaban. I'm seriously considering my next trip to the Red sea to learn scuba-diving which will help me to find the Qaban treasures.

I loved the public transport in Kazan! They announce the stops in three languages: Tatar, Russian and English! A single-line Kazan Metro has six stations, but there are plans to extend the line soon. The stations have some really pretty decorations and mosaics!

Mosaics in Kazan Metro - "Mother's prayer".

If you are fond of sports - that's the right place to be! The city hosts lots of competitions and it is the home of the famous champion teams: Ak Bars Kazan (ice-hokkey); FC Rubin Kazan (football); UNICS Kazan (basketball) and the others!

I'm a gourmet and i'm always interested in discovering local traditions and tastes. Tatar cuisine was influenced by the surrounding peoples – Russians, Mari, Udmurts, and also peoples of Central Asia, especially Uzbeks and Tajiks. Dishes, such as plov (pılaw), halvah (xälwä), and sherbet (şirbät) entered long ago into the Tatar culture.
Main dishes are usually based on meat, grains, and potatoes. Pilaw (plov) is served at dinner parties, especially in the city. A popular local version is the so-called Kazan pilaw prepared with boiled meat.
Tatar pilaw (plov) - don't miss a chance to taste it!

A wide variety of dough dishes are a feature of the traditional Tatar cuisine. Various baked items with a savory filling are specific to Tatar cuisine. The oldest and simplest is qıstıbí, also called küzikmäk. This is an unleavened pancake folded into two and filled with cooked millet.
Tatar cuisine offers a variety of baked sweets, usually served with tea: çelpek (deep-fried pancakes), qatlama (a baked roll with a variety of fillings – poppy seeds, sesame seeds, qort, nuts), qoş tele ("bird's tongue", deep-fried squares or diamonds of unleavened dough), lawaş (fried dumplings filled with raisins), paştet (sweet pies filled with jam or dried fruits) etc. Çäkçäk (chakchak, chak-chak, or chek-chek) is a mound of honey-drenched sweet pastry balls. It used to be a ceremonial food brought by the bride to the reception at the bridegroom's home. Today it is a common sweet.

The Russian President Medvedev is welcomed in Kazan with chak-chak (sourse:

Äyrän (ayran) is a dairy drink made by diluting qatıq (katyk, sour milk) with cold water. Quas (kvass) is a beverage made from rye flour and malt that the Tatars have borrowed from the Russians. A kompot of dried apricots is a popular dessert at dinner parties.

Uhhh yes, i'm a banana addict but who could have enough will power to say "no" to any of these?? Next weekend there's a Tatar cuisine party at my place! You are welcome ;-)
Thank you for traveling with me!
Michael the Monkey.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Hello, I'm Michael the Monkey! Welcome to my blog! 

I love to travel and learn - come see the world with me! My hobbies are traveling, reading, cooking and discovering new recipes around the world, i love warm places, ancient cultures, walks and hikes, airplanes and sky, i love to paint and draw, design and art and of course bananas! Lets be friends in this world full of wonders! Follow me and join me on facebook! ;-)