So hello from the other side :D

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Yes, it has been a while. To be precisely, I’ve been away for the whole year. So what exactly have I been doing?

I think it started with a marketing exam. Did you know that in Italy you select a time when to take your exams yourself? There are two different days within the exam session after each semester, and an extra session in half a year. In any given year you have to take at least two exams to be transferred to the next year. You can accumulate the debts endlessly. So it took me 1,5 year to solve my marketing problem (and I even know marketing quite decently). November 2014 was my last chance to take an exam not to sit an extra year in the university. I was so terrified to fail that I learned the marketing course book almost by heart. It hardly made me a lovely companion: I was talking about empty self, alienation of our generation, collapse of all traditional institutions and creation of identity through opulent consumption. All this just to arrive to the exam, to see the test and to realise that I do not know a single answer, yes-yes, not even one! I had three minutes of deepest desperation, while my groupmates were writing something with a remarkable speed. As I had nothing to lose, I raised a hand and asked what book we were supposed to read. The book I had studied was the right one, just our professor gave us the wrong test, for a different year. Still wonder, what were my groupmates writing there?

The marketing exam was passed and this shameful page was tuned. But it was a thesis time. I may have mentioned that my passion lies in the sphere of Street Art. But in Italy professors have to publish some academic works with a certain frequency, that’s why they do not care about one’s passions. So I ended up writing about Consumption of Religion through Art (Holy Jesus). To be fair, I should mention that all the alienation part of my Marketing course book, mentioned above, fitted perfectly well on the pages of my thesis. Needless to mention, that I submitted it the very last day?

I arrived to Milan only couple of hours before my defence, as at this point I couldn’t care less. 20 minutes and I was in the hat 😉

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In between the marketing exam and the deadline for the thesis delivery I got married and went for a very short honeymoon in Paris <3. I am still waiting for a Caribbean trip, which hopefully may happen one day (sooner than later).

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Then I went through a whole round of being miserable waiting for the UK permit of stay. I think this deserves a detailed description. I am a white woman, which means I must have been one of the most privileged humans, standing in the hierarchy of non-discrimination right after a white man. But this is not the case: there is one thing wrong with me, my nationality. I was born in the third world, and each time passing the “Non-EU” corridor with the baggage of my two higher educations and several foreign languages, decent job and even a EU husband I feel myself an outcast of the human race. This corridor reminds you, that all who are born in EU are by default decent human being, in contrast with the criminals from the “Rest of the World”. To re-enter the UK after 24 hours of absence you will have to queue for an hour and answer whether or not your conditions have changed (How can they possibly change in 24 hours??). Back to the point: I applied for residence permit, sending all documents (passport inclusive) that I had via Royal mail. What I believed to be a very straight-forward case (me & my husband lived together in the UK before getting married for a year) turned out to take 5 months to review! 5 months without documents, right to travel, even possibility to go to the bank! No information about the status of the request, no way of tracking it online, no transparency at all. Constant fear, as many applications with documents were lost in the post – so you literally have no clue, if your case is still on review or if it has been sent to you ages ago but never has been delivered. I am not quite sure it even goes along with the human rights (my passport is taken for up to 6 months and nobody can provide me with an information where is it), but in the eyes of UK system people from third world have no rights at all. I still wonder what were they reviewing for so long, as they could easily check our bank records, job status etc. – we have been UK-based. The process of getting the initial UK visa to enter the country was even worse, I won’t describe it here. I just wish more people speak up about their experience with Home Office, and in the end the number of complaints would be sufficient to change the situation. It is a shame, shame, shame.

I got a permanent job, probably another topic that deserves a separate discussion. There are ups and downs, as everywhere I guess. There is also a lot of stupidity and laziness, and I am not sure whether this is a property of my current employer, national working style, or global trend.

When I get my passport back, we were finally able to travel. We’ve seen Berlin, been twice in Belgium (both times a week before the terracts, so I doubt we should go there any more), and finally made our way to Naples (we had an arrangement that my bf would propose me in Naples, but it was too late. He bought me pizza though).

So here I am, a married woman with MSc in Management of Art, Culture & Media, UK residence permit and somehow employed. Plus I set up my self-hosted blog, tantoverde.com, where from now on I will publish the recipes. Will be happy to see you there!

I am not sure if anybody remains here and reads this my post, but I hope so. How are you doing, guys? It’s been a while 🙂

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A cold day in Vienna or the best way to chat with an angel

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Well, I travelled a bit. And of cause I have a lot of stories to tell – partly because I am a disaster and able to find adventures straight out of my door, partly because I am so chatty that after a day I know 15 people living in that place. But among all my experiences related to travel there is one story I would always like to put on words but never had time (thanks to a bit of this and a lot of that for motivation – hope I am in time, GTM is till before midnight :P)
I was in Austria one very cold autumn. The air seemed to be crystal clear. I was always fascinated with how water changes it color and becomes transparent in October, but in Vienna it happened with the air. And suddenly everything became different, so simple, so ordered, so real. I always joke that the Austrian discipline is so high, that even leaves fall down in straight squares. It feels like everything was brushed up, leaving only essential things. You even feel your head is clean from all rubbish thoughts, buzz and noise.

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One morning within the program of sightseeing we went to the Church of St Charles Borromeo, described as a Barocco masterpiece with “some interesting frescoes” inside. Well, to put it mildly, I am not a fan of barocco. My hometown is simply flooded with golden buildings painted with cupids carrying swags of flowers under fatty sheep. I think I was oversaturated with the cupids almost to the state of allergy, I hate yellow gold (specially in the architecture and décor), and I would have happily skipped the “masterpiece”. But I was not alone and I had no choice but to go. Outside it looked exactly like just another Barocco building, basically it was so even inside… but there was one feature that made it different. An elevator. No, I’d seen an elevator before and for me it was not a secret that more and more churches upgrade their customer service offer to the possibility to avoid long, dark, narrow and slippery stairwells for those who want to reach the top for the sake of spectacular view. This very elevator, though, was inside the church, made of transparent glass, it provided an opportunity to see closer the inner part of the dome, and not the panorama of the city. So I handed my ticket to a lift lady, she closed the door and we started slowly going up. There are not enough words to describe my feelings. I am not the most religious person, but when you start slowly raising up to the very middle of the church, and you see everything around, below and under you, it seems you are hovering above, it seems you have this superpower and you are the one going up straight to God. You reach the dome, and you can touch the gigantic frescoes, which seemed so small from the bottom, you can see how rough and not detailed they are (who would distinguish all these details if they were in place?). You can sit with the enormously fat cupids; discuss with them the last news, imagining you are looking down from a cloud. You can dance with the angels and think what may it feel to live up here? When do they wake up, are they on duty during certain hours or all day long? How are they doing, are they happy or they are sad sometimes? Do they have nightmares, and if they do, what do they see?

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…Times come to go down, back to your everyday cares – you wave hand to the new acquaintances and enter the elevator, and watch how the Earth is coming slowly closer and closer, and you are again among tourists looking to the cupids and angels so high there. But you have changed somehow, as you can’t go to Heaven, see all its secrets and remain the same person, can you?

Aubergines baked with cheese

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Todays post is about the power of network. So, basically, I checked my Reader and found this lovely post of Sunny District. Apart from an amazing trailer of a Bollywood movie (which promises to be the most colorful movie I’ve ever seen in my life) there was a link on a website to make a masterpiece from a quote. recitethis.com/ allows you to select a design for your quote or even the quote itself if you don’t have one. I decided to try, one of my favorite phrases belongs to Salvador Dalì (it is as actual as never thanks to sanctions on food import to Russia) and the result of my tremendous efforts you can see below. So after this quote I have no choice but to provide a recipe with several types of cheese.
I do have to keep on writing my thesis, so the post will be very short. Just another cheese-related curiosity I’d like to mention: today a friend of mine showed me this 60-seconds video about the smallest sculpture in London, two mice fighting for a piece of cheese – I guess I would never have noticed it myself, but now I am curious to see it. But of course what counts is the story behind the sculpture
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Aubergine Flowers

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
Aubergines_____2
Tomatoes_____ 3 big
Cheese_______100 grams (for this recipe you can take mozzarella, feta, soft goat cheese or tofu)
Oil
Pepper, Salt
Directions: 
1. Cut aubergines in halves, then each cut lengthwise into stripes around 1 cm thick (try to keep them equal and not thicker or thinner than 1 cm) like on the picture. Do not cut till the very end, aubergine should be joint at the end
_IGP4005 2. Cut cheese and tomatoes. Grease aubergines with olive oil, then put cheese and tomatoes. If you like, you can cover aubergines with chopped garlic and coriander. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Bake on 180C (350F) for about 25 minutes. It is very easy to transfer ready aubergines to plates; they do not fall apart.
Comments: I tried this dish with creamy goat cheese, mozzarella, and feta. I think the cheese which doesn’t melt is better – feta is baked beautifully and retain the shape, while mozzarella and creamy goat cheese melt and go all around the baking tray. I think mozzarella is not enough strong in taste to fit into this dish, so it’s better to pick up a cheese with a stronger flavor, depending on your preferences and fantasies 🙂 The dish is so fast and so simple, but it looks interesting and tastes simply amazing so just give it a try 🙂

Home?

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Yes, it was a while. During these weeks of absence I worked for Frieze London, went back to Italy and traveled to Scotland. I passed a marketing exam, which deserve a separate story and I am back today with an impulse from Photo101 challenge. And the first task was… the image of home.

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I am a deeply urban creature; I breathe with polluted air and walk along the rivers with lead water. My sky is limited with the edges of houses and my ground circled in the rings of yards. I love the urban, the quintessence of urban, together with its mess, concentrations of people, decadence, chaotic movements, pollution, traffic, high crime rates and other depressing statistics from the books of urban development – the typical imaginary of hell. I love the very greyness of the pavement, buildings, sky and its reflection in the water, the characterlessness of the 6-million crowd in the faded underground. My native city is the 50 shades of grey under the white nights of cold summer and total of 62 sunny days per year. Yes, a slight sadness and thoughtfulness never leave you along there, as well as in any depersonalized urban crowd in the world, you are pursued by the same damn loneliness. I am a XXI century Nomadic, wandering from a big city to the bigger. I don’t know anymore, where is my home, and I do not remember, how it looks like, but in my nightmares all 6 million of faded crowd visit me, under the lead sky reflected in a dark water running through numerous bridges.

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I live with the city, I breathe with the city, I dream about the city – and more and more often I have nightmares.

Pumpkin Potato Lasagna

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Usually I love following the traditions: I believe in keeping the proportions and following the procedures even if new technologies can simplify everything: after all, I am not looking for the “correct” and perfect ways, I just need my food to taste like in the childhood. But sometimes, when life sends you a good set of ingredients, I feel like experimenting (anyway, there was no lasagna in my childhood). This time my inspiration was the autumn – keeping in mind that in English climate autumn vegetables must be the tastiest. So, actually, the queen of the autumn, pumpkin, seems like a perfect stuffing balanced with new tomatoes and some potatoes. Alternatively, pumpkin can be replaced with aubergines. The nature is smart, and apparently all autumn veggies tend to combine perfectly with each other.

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Pumpkin Potato Lasagna

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients:
Onion_____________1
Potatoes__________ 500 grams
Pumpkin__________ 300 grams
Tomato pasta______ 3 tablespoons
Scamorza Cheese___350 grams
Brie Cheese________150 grams
Lasagna sheets
Parmesan ____100 grams
Rosemary
For sauce
Butter ______ 40 grams
Flour _______40 grams
Milk ________600 ml
Nutmeg _____a pinch
1. Cut onion and fry till golden, add cut potatoes and diced pumpkin and cook on the low heat for 10 minutes. Add tomato pasta, mix well and cook until ready. Add salt, paper, and rosemary to taste.
2. For the béchamel sauce melt the butter in a pot with thick bottom, add flour, mix it and fry for several minutes constantly mixing so that flour won’t stick to the bottom. Add warm milk, mix well, cook on low flame till it boils, after add salt, nutmeg, cover with the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes (till it becomes dense). Note: for lasagna the sauce shall be not as dense as you would cook otherwise.
3. Grease a baking dish, cover the bottom with béchamel, lay the first layer of lasagna sheets (it’s better if they don’t overlap), cover with béchamel, spread vegetable mix, add salt and pepper to taste, and slices of cheese. Repeat layers till all ingredients are used, cover with lasagna sheets, béchamel, sprinkle with parmesan. Bake on 180C (350F) for 45 minutes.

Clet Abraham: Signs across Rome, Milan and Brussels

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When I saw the weekly Photo challenge  I had no doubts about what I am going to write. My post about Clet Abraham raised some curiosity, that’s why I am happy to present more of his works and thus establish a tradition of weekly travel photo galleries 🙂

The Sign to Stop (and think)

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This week, the Daily Post Photo Challenge topic is signs. I do not know, how much actually a sign can mean for a driver, apart from the order to obey the rules, but for me – it is the whole world.
St. Petersburg is a city without graffiti – the fist time I learn what was it from the course book of English, where graffiti was used to illustrate the word-to-learn “eye-sore” :). And as I lived about 1,5 hours from the city center, each time I took train I sat on the certain site of it, to see the covered with pictures small small part of garages alone the railway. It was 90-s.
Graffiti never became spread in St Petersburg – what is sprayed overnight is washed or colored by 6am by street keepers. Of cause, they try to save colours and that’s why walls are covered with the patches of the whole range of yellow. I guess in several years this mosaics can become a form of street art in itself.
Rome is an exceptional place for me, and some very important events in my life happened there (funny, isn’t it?). The first time I came in late October, when in St Petersburg the water ponds were frozen in the morning, and in just three hours I entered the hot Roman autumn day with +27C. It was an exception, but a kind of exceptions I appreciate. I came alone, found my small flat next to Vatican, put a t-shirt and went for my big adventure. I was hanging on the streets day long, entering all churches, sneaking in all corners and peeping in every hall. I have this kind of aesthetics: I love to take pictures of windows, doors, small elements – the famous monuments were photographed by professionals million times and much better than I could do it. And I’ve noticed something exceptional, what I could not explain. A sign. It was orange, rusty, very old looking (not old enough to suppose ancient Romans forgot it there). It was a clash, beyond the explanation and understanding. Who did it, and why? Later on, I saw another sign, with crucifixion.
I do not remember, how did I figure out about the sign history. It was a French street artist, Clet Abraham, who put his stickers to the signs across many cities. He does it, as a way to fight against the spoiling ugliness of signs, put everywhere, disregarding the surrounding (before monuments in Rome, like on the picture). Never since I looked at the sign in the same way: I found out a lot of his works, I have the complete collection of pictures of each and every his piece across Milan, and highlights of some works from other cities. People always ask me, where could I find them? Actually they all are in the very center, on the most seen and visited streets. The paradox of street art: it is meant for everybody, but not all notice it.
Now in Rome there is a street, where every sign is retouched by Clet. As I usually joke, in 50 years, when people will finally understand the crucial importance of street art, the street will be name after Clet Abraham, and I will proudly show to my grandchildren the old pictures, made with bad iPhone 3 camera, and tell them, how important is to see, not just to watch.
P.S. I went to say hi to Clet, and the sign is still there, still rusty and orange, even more ancient looking than before – it became the part of the Roman history, glorious, but fading away.

Mushroom Risotto Pie or the Power of Leftovers

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When I came to Italy, I was amazed how horribly Italians waste food. My flat mates would throw away everything that they had not finished during the dinner; in my perspective you can eat the dish even the day after. From time to time I saw in the garbage a whole loaf of bread; that made me absolutely sick… At least you can give the bread to birds. The fist moths of living together with my Italian bf were a constant fight for the food leftovers – I told we wouldn’t through them away, which confuzzeled him a lot (confuzzeled = confused + puzzled). In general, I can though away only something that is gone, but I prefer to utilize everything before it is wasted. This has nothing to do with greed; it is a matter of respect.
My grandmother was just 4 when the war started – big enough to remember everything. She never spoke about the war, even though many of people of her age or older told us how important it was to keep on studying and helping adults in watching out the fire. The only thing she ever had told me about the war was bread related. She once, when I was a small girl, tried to explain me what was responsibility and that life requires trade-offs. She told me they got a piece of bread per day, and they were three: my granny, her sister and their mother (my grandgrandmother). Each day my grandgrandmother would split this tiny peace in three unequal parts. My grandmother told me, that she was a kid and she was so hungry, as she was growing, but already then she understood that she had right to take just the smallest part of the bread. Her mother was working hard, her sister was studying in school – in her eyes they needed the food more, than herself.

Those 125 grams

During the siege of Leningrad around 5,000 people per DAY died because of hunger only. The piece of bread, 70% of which was not even wheat, but wood shredding, was the only food for the citizens for 900 days. In total, over 800,000 died from starvation. There is no single person with a normal upbringing in St Petersburg who can through away a piece of bread. It has nothing to do with greed; just the price of this bread is way too high to afford putting it to garbage. It is like spitting in your own history. Each time, when you through away good food, you show fantastic disrespect to those people, who are dying because they don’t have it. Since when have people forgotten that for centuries food was synonym for life?
Well, back to the recipe now. What if you cooked too much of risotto? Next day it is not tasty anymore. Solution is an absolutely fantastic risotto pie.
Time of preparation: 20 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients:
Mushroom risotto leftovers or
Rice____________300 grams
Onion___________1/2
Dry mushrooms__ 30 grams
Goat Cheese_____100 grams
1. If you prepare risotto from scratch: put mushrooms into boiling water for 30 minutes. After drain, and save the water. Chop onion; pour oil in the pot, fry onion and mushrooms. Add rice; mix so that every grain is coated with oil. Pour in a splash of broth from mushrooms. Constantly mix till the water evaporates, add another splash then, mix till the liquid evaporates… Repeat this sequence till rice is cooked. Add salt, pepper to taste.
2. Transfer the half of prepared risotto/leftover risotto into the baking dish, put sliced soft goat cheese, sprinkle with dried oregano (any herb you like/have next to you) and cover with the remaining risotto. If you want, sprinkle with grated parmiggiano. Bake on 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes or till golden crust. Super good cold, hot, and on the next day.
For utilizing stale bread you can check stuffed courgettes recipe, for using rice check oven-baked rice, if you have some fried vegetables left roll them into strudel, a lonely cooked potato or a lonely baked aubergine will fit into Balkan cheese pie.

 

Rhubarb and Apple Crumble and Russian Idioms

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There is a popular idiom in spoken Russian: “All in the chocolate”. Of cause it is not the language of good literature, but rather an expression you use among your cute fellow lads to sound easy and loose, and it means that all is fantastic, fabulous and dreamy. I doubt I had ever used it, as first I am not that cool type of gal, and second I had not had such a  phenomenal success yet. Until this Friday.
I came from my job, where I have a pretty exhausting project: I have 250 museums on my list, so I have to contact each and request the complete list of the exhibitions for 2015, and put in the system. Museums are unorganized institutions, who don’t respect deadlines and need to be watched like children. After a week of working as a psychologist, negotiating, praying and blackmailing where suitable, I came home on Friday with the dream of indulging myself. The aim was a perfect marble cheesecake. Apparently, it was a sign of solidarity with Tanya (see my tagline to learn who is she), who made a cheesecake for her party and shared with me a recipe and inspiration. So I came home and I was whisking, mixing, melting chocolate… the cheesecake looked fabulous, the oven reached the temperature and I was putting the baking dish inside when cheesecake suddenly slippered out of my hands and dropped on the floor. As we say in Russia “The bread is always dropping with the buttered side down”. As proved, cheesecake tends to follow the same pattern. The floor, the furniture, the oven were covered with a good and tempting level of chocolate. Finally I learned on my own skin how it is “to have all in chocolate”, which I can boast about among my friends. And I guess my newspaper owes me a cake, for making me exhausted to this extent.
Ok, so for tonight my cheesecake is crumble. A very good crumble though. 
Time of preparation: 40 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients:
Rhubarb________400 grams
Apples_________ 2
Sugar__________ 100 grams golden caster
Liquor_________ 2 tablespoons
Crumble: 
Self-raising flour___140 grams
Butter____________85 grams
Sugar____________50 grams muscovado
Walnuts__________ 50 grams
1. Chop rhubarb in pieces of approximately 5 cm, put in the pan, cover with sugar, pour in liquor (I used amaretto) or water if you do not want to use alcohol and simmer on the low fire for about 15 minutes – the rhubarb should become soft but not shapeless. Transfer it in the baking dish, leaving some of the juice in the pan.
2. Fry the apples in the preserved juice till they are brown and soft. Transfer in the baking dish.
3. Combine butter and flour, rub together with hands, when crumbles are formed add sugar and chopped walnuts. Mix, and cover the apple/rhubarb filling. Bake on 200C (400F) for about 30 minutes or till it is golden brown.

 

Different Autumns and Charlotte Apple Pie

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Autumn…. I never liked it, mostly because of rains. In St Petersburg it is not a great deal, after all we have our proud 62 sunny days per year, which leaves us with remaining 300… of the water hanging in the air – sometimes it can’t be even called a proper rain. Another problem is the light, which leaving – after long and lively summer nights, when it is never dark – White Nights. In other languages it means the night when you are forced to stay awake, for example preparing for exam. This is not so far from reality, as how can you sleep when the guys are playing guitar in the yard, some friends are calling you for a long over several days camping in the park, or you just drive car to watch the bridges are raised, or you are sitting and eating sushi… because you forgot about the bridges! They air seems hot, long, and lackadaisical, like a dense red wine; it makes you loose your head these very few days when one of the northeast city becomes as lively as a southern town.
Then it abruptly finishes. The light is gone, the rain is never-ending (I wonder if the hero of Raven lived in St Petersburg, will he ever pronounce his famous phrase). The leaves are rotten, and drop fast, without giving this fanfares of colors. My autumn is grey, cold and dark. But… this is just one of the autumns. In Italy it comes late, it’s bright and loud – all trees one day seem to turn yellow as if they are coordinated, so Italian autumn in noticeable as soon as it arrives. Austrian autumn arrives on time, it is cold, clean, well-prepared and sound. Her work is planned and she had a time schedule to follow – so one by one she is painting the trees. The Texan autumn is conservative and doesn’t want to change anything – so many bushes and trees enter the winter with green leaves and flowers. In Scandinavia autumn is an artist with a great fantasy, and she is also mind and cheerful. In London it is impossible to understand when autumn comes, she seems to be so anxious to start that she comes in several times in the summer… And of cause every autumn smells differently: with pumpkin pies, apples, cinnamon, tea and coffee… and so many things which people gather in their gardens and store in their kitchens to provide their family with another dinner surprise. The following posts will be all about autumns, and the first one, Russian, smells with Sharlotka!
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Time of preparation: 1 hour    Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients:
Wheat flour_______1 glass
Sugar ___________1 glass
Apples ___________2-3
Cinnamon________2 tea spoons
Eggs ____________3
Salt
It’s better to pick up a little bit sour apples, otherwise pie will be too sweet
1. Cut apples in a very thin slices, place in the oiled dish for baking, and powder with cinnamon.
2. There are two ways of making the dough: very easy and a little bit more complicated. First variant:  whip sugar with eggs quite well in a deep bowl, then add flour and half of a tea spoon of salt. Mix well.
Second variant: mix just yolks with sugar, adding step by step flour. Then whip egg-whites in foam and add in the dough, this way the pie will get a wonderful crust. But in this case – don’t open the oven until the pie is ready, or it will go down. Pour the ready dough over the apples.
3. Bake in the oven on 180C (350F) around 35 minutes.