Palm or Willow

Today is Palm Sunday, also known as Willow Sunday or Blossom Sunday, and in Russia as ‘Verbnoe Voskresenie’.

 

One week before Easter, this day is thought to mark Jesus Christ’s entry Jerusalem.  Biblical accounts mention that in Jerusalem Jesus was greeted by crowds of people waving and laying down palm branches as a symbol of victory and triumph, as well as the resurrection or re-birth of new life.

 

However in colder climates where palm trees do not grow, branches of other trees – like olive and willow – were thought to depict new life.

 

Across Russia, and other former Soviet Republics, Verbnoe Voskresenie is named for verba (pussy willow). The fuzzy blossoms known as catkins are one of the first spring buds to bloom after long and harsh winter. And so for hundreds of years Russian tradition holds that bunches of pussy willow branches are brought to Church and distributed, along with candles, during Verbnoe Voskresenie as a way to mark the beginning of Verbnaya Nedelya (Willow Week).

 

S Verbnym Voskreseniem! Happy Palm Sunday!

 

Verbnoe_voskresenie_02

In just about three weeks Christians will celebrate Easter, or Pascha as it is known in many Eastern European parts of the world. So what’s the difference? And why is Easter always celebrated on Sunday?

 

This week, we explore Easter as a symbolic Salute to Spring.

 

Pascha or Easter: East meets West

 

There are numerous theories on the origins of the word ‘Easter.’ Specifically, why in Western (Anglo-Saxon) Christianity Resurrection Sunday become known as Easter. By contrast, in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Holiday is still called Pascha originating from the Jewish word Pesah meaning ‘Passover.’

 

According to a seventh-century English monk and historian, St. Bede (The Venerable), the word Easter derives from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of new life and fertility called Eostre. Often associated with Spring, pagans honored the goddess around the vernal equinox – a special time in Spring when day and night are about equal length all over the world.

Eostre (Oestra) Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility and rebirth

Eostre (Oestra) Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility and rebirth

 

It’s worth noting, in Greek (as well as French, Italian, Spanish and other European languages) the official word for Easter is some form of Pascha. One reason may be that while Jesus Christ was alive neither he, nor any of his followers, spoke English, let alone visited what was to become England. He spoke Aramaic and his sayings were later recorded by disciples in both Aramaic and Greek.

Resurrection Sunday

Resurrection of Jesus Christ 

 

Because all early followers of Jesus were Jews, it makes perfect sense that the words they used to describe Jesus’ crucifixion and later Resurrection was directly related to the Passover Feast that he and his disciples were celebrating in Jerusalem. At the time, and to this day, Passover remains one of the most important Jewish festivals commemorating the exodus of ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

 

Easter Sunday

 

For centuries Easter has been celebrated exclusively on Sundays, marking the Resurection of Christ according to Christian tradition. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, there was a fair amount of misunderstandings and disagreements surrounding the establishment of an official date for Easter. 

 

Council of Nicea

Council of Nicea

 

Some elders believed that Easter should be based on the timing of the Jewish Passover, while others thought that it should fall on a Sunday because they believed Jesus to have Risen on a Sunday. Around 325 AD, the Council of Nicea once and for all decided that Easter would be celebrated on Sunday, following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. That is why Easter (and Passover) occur either earlier or later each Spring.

 

Easter Eggs

 

Brightly colored Easter eggs have become integral to any celebration of Easter. Many cultures hold the egg as a sacred symbol of new life, fertility and rebirth. In Eastern and Western cultures, the tradition of painting hard-boiled eggs during springtime dates back to ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians and even Hindus. During the Iranian holiday Norooz (or Nowruz), for example, the Persian New Year is celebrated with colorfully dyed eggs.

 

In Christian tradition, particularly in Orthodox and Eastern Catholic cultures, Easter eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus. The eggs are then taken in a basket, along with a kulich, to Church to be blessed by a priest during Easter mass.

 

Red Easter Eggs on Palm branches

Red Easter Eggs on Palm branches

 

Decorative eggs became a hot commodity in 16th century France where it was customary to exchange elaborate Easter Eggs with friends and family. The high point for egg-shaped treasures came around 1860s with the introduction of stunning golden eggs bedazzled with jewels created by a Russian goldsmith, Peter Carl Faberge. The first batch of Faberge eggs were gifted by the Russian Czars and bore the Romanov family crest. 

 

Faberge-style Eggs and Romanov family crest

Faberge-style Eggs and Romanov family crest

 

You can get your very own Faberge-style decorative eggs while they last at www.russianfooddirect.com.  

It is week three of The Great Fast (Great Lent), and this Sunday marks the mid-point of the most significant and sacred time in Eastern Orthodoxy. This week is particularly important in the six week journey as it commemorates the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ, bringing the the physical and spiritual into balance.

 

The Great Lent is a time for physical and spiritual cleansing. During the forty days believers experience the Divine through a deeper connection with oneself and the world around. Through fasting, prayer and repentance, we are able to experience a deeper closeness to God.

 

Physically, fasting means depriving ourselves of certain foods, and limiting the general intake of food. Cutting out meat and other animal products allows our bodies to detox and experience a lighter state of being.

 

Spiritually, the deep introspection and mediation opens the door for an individual to receive the Holy Mysteries of the Divine.

 

So what can we eat during the Great Lent?

 

Traditional Russian cuisine eaten during Lent include pohlebka (pokh-leb-ka) – a type of veggie soup, soured or pickled veggies – like sauerkraut and pickled tomatoes, and various fish dishes.

 

Below are a few simple to make, traditional Russian recipes.

 

 Veggie and Buckwheat Soup

 

Traditional Pohlebka with Buckwheat

 

Ingredients

2 large potatoes

2 large carrot

1 medium onion

2 Tbps garlic

1/2 cup of buckwheat (dry)

1 c. parsley or dill (fresh or frozen)

 

Instructions

1. Cut the potatoes and carrots into medium-sized cubes and boil wit onion and garlic. When veggies are fully cooked, add buckwheat and bring to complete boil.

2. Add salt and pepper to taste and let stand for 15 minutes for flavors to fully absorb.

3. Serve with a pinch of finely chopped dill or parsley.

 

Russian Vinaigrette

 

Vinaigrette Salad

 

Ingredients

2 large fresh beets

1-2 large carrots

3 large potatoes

3-4 dill pickles

1 can sauerkraut

1 large onion (can substitute green onions)

2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Dash of salt and pepper

Optional: 1 can green peas

 

 

Instructions

1. Boil the beets, carrots and potatoes in a large pot. The veggies should be slightly al-dente. You can test tenderness by pocking with a knife. Usually the carrots and potatoes will need to be removed first, giving the beets an extra few minutes to cook through. Let cool.

2. Chop the cooled veggies into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Finely chop the pickles and onion, and add to the veggies mix. Drain and add sauerkraut to the bowl and mix well.

3. Add green peas if desired and season with vegetable oil, salt and pepper to taste. Decorate with a few twigs of parsley or chopped green onion.

 

 Salmon Kulebyaka with Buckwheat

 

Salmon Kulebyaka (Fish Pie)

 

Ingredients

2oz butter

1 sm finely diced onion

1 cup of rice or buckwheat (dry)

1 Tbsp fresh dill (finely chopped)

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 lb puff pastry (not frozen)

1 lb salmon fillets (skinned)
3 medium hardboiled eggs (finely diced)
1 raw egg (whipped)
Salt and black pepper
Flour for the rolling pin and surface

 

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350F

1. Pre-cook salmon and buckwheat or rice in separate dishes. You can sauté the salmon or bake in the oven. Boil the rice or buckwheat until al-dente.

2. Melt butter in a saucepan and sauté onions for about 10min. Onions should be opaque, tender and slightly golden brown. Stir in the pre-cooked rice or buckwheat, adding chopped fresh dill, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste,

3. On a lightly floured surface roll out the thawed puff pastry, to make a 12 in square. Excess flour will toughen the pastry as will excess working of the dough, so keep it light.

4. Spread the rice or buckwheat mix over the pastry, leaving about a 1/2 inch border. Arrange the pre-cooked salmon pieces on top of the rice, scatter the chopped egg over the salmon. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. You can also use crushed red pepper flakes for extra spice.

5. Brush pastry edges with whipped egg. Fold the pastry to form a rectangle and press edges together to seal contents.

6. Place pastry onto baking tray and glaze the top with beaten egg. Pierce the pastry on top to allow steam to escape while baking.

7. Bake in the middle of oven shelf for approx 40min. Cover with foil after 30min to prevent the top from burning. Leave on baking tray to cool and serve.

 

This recipe makes about four servings.

 

Do you have a favorite Lenten recipe? Please share with us in the comments!

You’ve probably heard that March 8th is International Women’s Day, but did you know that long before the chocolates and mimosas, the holiday actually evolved as a movement for women’s rights? 

 

Women's Day

 

As we get ready to honor our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and girl-friends, consider the struggles and effort it took for us to get here:

 

1909 – The Socialist Party of America declares February 28 as the first celebration of a National Women’s Day. At this point the day is only recognized in the United States and pretty much limited to the 15,000 or so women rallying for better working conditions.

 

1911 – International Women’s Day is honored for the first time in several European countries and Australia, as well as the U.S. More than one million men and women attend rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote and hold public office.

 

 

1913-1914 –  Russian women observe their first International Women’s Day in 1913. One year later women across Europe hold rallies to express women’s solidarity and campaign against the war.

 

Russia International Women's Day

Russian women take to the streets to express solidarity and campaign for “bread and peace”.

 

 

1917 – Russian women begin striking for “bread and peace” in response to the deaths of over 2 million Russian soldiers during World War I. Shortly after the Czar’s abdication, the provisional government of the newly formed Soviet Union grant women the right to vote. Coincidentally, while the date of the first strike was February 23 according to the Julian calendar in use at the time in Russia, the Gregorian calendar used everywhere else actually marks March 8th. 

 

1918-1999 – The rise in popularity of socialist movements propel March 8th International Women’s Day into a global day of recognition and celebration of women. In the Soviet Union, and subsequent independent republics, March 8th becomes an official public holiday celebrated with close friends and family, typically with a festive meal and champagne.

 

International Women's Day propaganda posters

International Women’s Day propaganda posters

 

2000 and beyond- A new millennium ushers in significant changes and shifts in attitude toward women’s rights and equality. International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world with sweets, gifts and flowers, while its political roots fade into the background. It’s worth noting that today, March 8th around the world holds an equivalent status to the popular U.S. Mother’s Day holiday.

 

RussianShoppe is honoring and pampering ALL women on March 8th with a 20% discount on all sweets and cosmetics items. Just use the LOVE8 code at checkout.

 

Happy 8th March!

Sunshine and pancakes: that’s the theme of Maslenitsa! Loosely translated as Butter Pancake Week, Maslenitsa is a Slavic festival that originated in pagan times as a way to bid farewell to winter and welcome in the sunny season of Spring.

 

 

Maslenitsa (Russian Pancake Week)The deliciously gluttonous week of sweet and savory blini – pronounced blee-nee (or singular blin), starts one week before the Great Lent.

 

A time for family merriment the traditions of celebrating Maslenitsa usually feature snowball fights, rides on horse-drawn sleighs, folk music and storytelling, and of course food.

 

 

Blini are usually baked in large quantities and shared among friends, family and neighbors to symbolize the sun and its warmth. Although various topics and even stuffing are now common, blini were typically drenched in butter – lending Maslenitsa its famous name (literally Butter Week).

 

 

Russian Blini (Pancakes)

So what makes blini different from pancakes and crepes?

 

Traditional Russian blini are made with buckwheat flour batter and have a slightly nutty flavor. Today, the super thin pancakes are prepared in hundreds of ways and are accompanied by everything from caviar and smoked salmon, to chopped eggs and sour cream. Below is a recipe for traditional Russian Blini.

 

 

Ingredients

 

- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
- ½ tsp salt
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 tsp instant (rapid-rise) yeast
- 1 cup warm milk
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 1 egg (separated)

 

Preparation

 

1) In a large bowl, mix flours, salt and instant yeast, and make a well in the center. 

 

2) Pour in milk, mixing until smooth. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

 

3) Stir cooled melted butter and egg yolk into batter. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter. Cover and let stand 20 minutes. 

 

4) Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Drop medium-size dollop of dough into pan and tilt pan to spread the batter into a thin layer. Cook for about 1 minute or until bubbles form and break. Turn and cook for about 30 seconds. Cover blini and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter.

 

5) Serve with toppings of choice: farmer’s or cottage cheese with strawberry preserves, fresh fruit with sour cream or crème fraiche,  red or black caviar, smoked salmon or other fish, chopped hard-cooked eggs.

 

Russian Blini

 

You can also order ready-made Russian Blini from the Bakery section at www.russianfooddirect.com.

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