Great Russian Movies: The Comedies

This’ll be quick–the only five comedies in all of Russian cinema! Actually there are lots but, linguistically and culturally, I can’t always follow the humour. Fortunately, the following five are very accessible, and very well known. They’re even on YouTube and the excellent Mosfilm site, so you don’t have to pay a cent. I have even more to say about Russian cinematic tragedies, which are numerous, so stay tuned.

Берегись автомобиля (Beware of the Car): Yura is a modern-day Robin Hood, an insurance salesman who steals cars from the rich and gives them to the poor. His best friend is the police officer working on the case. Very silly, but very well done.

Ирония судьбы (The Irony of Fate): Every year, on December 31st Zhenya and his friends go to the banya to relax and drink a bunch of vodka. His friends remember that one of their group has a plane to catch and so bring Zhenya to the airport to fly to Leningrad. As it turns out, it’s the wrong friend and when Zhenya arrives he is so drunk he takes the nearest taxi to his Moscow address: “Builders’ Steet.” This being Brezhnev-era Russia, the cities’ street names are standardized and Builders’ Street exists in Leningrad too. Mayhem and romance follow. A popular rewatch around New Year’s Eve, think of this as Russia’s answer to It’s a Wonderful Life.

Иван васильевич меняет профессию (Ivan Vasilievich Changes Professions): Perhaps you thought that time travel and Ivan the Terrible would never meet in the same film. Well think again! Ivan the Terrible was apparently quite the riot.

Москва слезам не верит (Moscow doesn’t Believe in Tears): Two college girls are house sitting for a family friend. They invite two gentlemen callers over, one thing leads to another, and Katya gets pregnant and becomes a single mother. Fast forward 15 years and she meets a nice man. Trouble is, he thinks that he’s the provider. What he doesn’t know is that, as a glavnii engineer, Katya is more than capable of taking care of herself.

Я шагаю по Москве (Walking around Moscow): I saw this only a few weeks ago, but it has quickly become one of my favourites. It depicts one day in Moscow, walking around, going to the shops, getting married, meeting a pretty girl. What can I say, it’s delightful, and at 75 minutes, goes down easy.


Perfect Pancakes, Best Blini

Blini with Condensed Milk. Photo by Ilya Jones.

I can’t believe that this blog has been around for over half a year without a pancake recipe. Pancakes must be my second favourite food (after toast, of course) because they’re so versatile–they can be sweet or savoury, thick or thin, and made with any flour at all, from buckwheat to amaranth. This is the perfect time to share my love of pancakes, because it’s just past Maslenitsa here in Moscow. Maslenitsa is a week-long festival derived from pagan times, where people dance, sing, drink hot medovukho and celebrate before the more austere time of Lent.

Medovukho

Blini are the traditional way to get into the spirit, so we went to Kolomenskoe, a former Tsarist estate, to eat and indulge. As you see above, we got three small pancakes topped with everything from salmon to condensed milk (not at the same time, of course). But the traditional blini are really the ones you see below, wide crepe-style pancakes filled with honey, cheese, cherries or apples. Blini are supposed to be big, round and golden like the sun. They’re a harbinger of spring.

Apple Blini at Coffee Mania

I love these types of pancakes, but I also have to be loyal to my own creations. I think my favourite pancakes are the ones with  some bite to them, some texture. These pancakes are sweet, but not overly so; more importantly, they can hold their own without the need for syrup. (Though a drizzle of honey or smear of nutella would not be unwelcome.) And they’re pretty good for you, in fact, with all that oatmeal and whole wheat flour, bananas and coconut milk. I hope you enjoy them!

Banana-Oatmeal Pancakes (Adapted, a lot, from Smitten Kitchen). These pancakes are very forgiving; I’ve made them in so many different ways, with so many different ingredients. The following is a vegan recipe, but if you find yourself without oil or coconut milk, feel free to substitute butter or dairy milk.

  • 1 cup oat flour (which you can make yourself by grinding rolled oats in the blender. Alternatively, just leave the oats whole, as I did, and let the batter sit another moment.)
  • 1 cup whole wheat or all-purpose flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 3/4tsp salt
  • 3tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 2 small very ripe bananas, mashed

Whisk the oat and wheat flours, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together the oil, coconut milk, cooked oatmeal, honey and bananas. Then gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Remember to keep your mixing minimal, as you want tender pancakes.

While your batter is sitting a bit, heat up a frying pan on medium-high, then lower it to medium-low. With pancakes this thick, you want to make sure that the insides are cooked thoroughly before the outsides crisp up. Add a bit of oil to the frying pan, and then cook the batter in 1/4 cup batches. Wait till bubbles begin to form on the top of the pancakes, then flip them over. Repeat with the remaining batter. If you’re serving these to a group, keep the finished pancakes in a low oven so that they stay warm.

Makes about 10 small pancakes.