Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Russia, a Real Place -- Eastern Easter Eggs and Cake

Ryan sends another dispatch from Russia, where he lives and occasionally eats (And before you say it, yes, I know Ryan is a better photographer than I am. He has talent; I don't. It also helps that he uses a fancy digital camera while I have a shoe box with a pinhole in it).

Mmm, bliny.

Often when Natasha and I want to be fed by professionals, we go for sushi,
which is more prevalent in this town than MickeyD's, or something Caucasian
(as in Georgian, Armenian or Uzbek). The Caucasian restaurants lay out
excellent spicy soups, skewered meats, and cheesy, eggy breads—hachipuri
being my favorite, a godsend in a nation where pizza sucks. If the
establishment has tablecloths, then it's a safe bet that they also have a
severely beautiful woman positioned under a hot light, accompanied by a
disheveled uncle-figure who strikes a few notes on his synth to juice up the
pre-recorded track. I'm always the evening's only patron who doesn't know
every song by heart, bringing into question the breadth of my own internal
classic romance collection. When the bill arrives, Natasha and I squeal at
the expected offering of gum. It's just Wrigley's, but in stick form, which
is a luxury inaccessible to the average consumer (it's just pellets for the
masses). Though my stomach is full and never entirely suppressed by the
efforts of breath refreshment, I typically get up from the table a bit
disappointed. My dining partner and the mock-traditional costumes worn by
the waitstaff were lovely and entertaining, but did the quality of the food
merit either the cost or my labor ordering in a language with six noun
cases, three of which I'm unable to use? The answer is hurtling towards "no,"
but a few very positive dining experiences keep hope breathing in this city.

The Russian Orthodox calendar gave us Easter this past weekend (it doesn't
always coincide with Easter back home), so we left the restaurateurs to their smoky
dens and questionable behind-closed-door tactics to face the challenges of our own
kitchen. Saturday morning doesn't hold up without some kind of pancake, so
we did bliny in the classic style and I was even permitted to wield the
spatula once the pan had produced a few successes, though the batter's
secret is still too heavy a burden for my weak foreign brain.

Breakfast led to a depression of will and napping, but we gathered ourselves
by the afternoon and trekked to one of the superstores, or hypermarkets, as
the call them, for a stock up. It started snowing mid-journey, with the sun
persistent in the sky, so we were intent on buying something kind of weird
by the time we got there. We left with a fully intact salmon and a bag of
squid. I generally expect tentacles from my squid, but these were large and
elf-hat in shape and Natasha said, "Of course they don't have legs," so
again I felt cheated by this persistent deficit of knowledge and personal

Legless squid.

We fried them up until they looked familiar and I poured beer while Natasha
gutted the fish, filled him back up with onions and lemon, and sewed his
belly with needle and thread. We left him baking in the oven and plotted
our next move.
Salmon, whole.


If you celebrate Easter, you may have recently found yourself maneuvering a
hard-boiled egg balanced on a customized wire doohickey into a Dixie cup
full of water and food coloring. Not so in Russia. Those of the Orthodox
faith take a more natural approach, which works for fabric too (so my sister
says). It goes like this: toss some red and yellow onion skins into a pot,
mingle with water and raw white eggs, boil for a while. They come out
looking like something produced by a very small pterodactyl.

Easter eggs, Russian-style.

So we ate ourselves to sleep and woke up to reddish-brown eggs and a
store-bought loaf of "kulich," which is the traditional bready cake of
Easter. It's basically raisin bread topped with a thin layer of frosting
and sprinkles, the kind that comes on those pink and white circus cookies.

Now we're fasting between weekends.


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