Category Archives: Eastern Europe

Our Tea Time

 
I don’t have a recipe for these cookies that I made with Andrei’s mom in Belarus, as I was too busy deciphering Russian–trying to decide if she was talking about child-rearing or a visit to the dentist. Nonetheless, they were delicious and gave us a reason to tinker in the kitchen together. What I can say is that they contain flour, margarine (I think?), a pinch of salt, and tvorg (Russian cottage cheese). They’re light and tasty, especially with tea and a bit of jam.

 
I wasn’t having tea with the Queen, but I was having tea with a woman who comes from a line of Russian aristocracy, and who gave Andrei and I two silver spoons for our apartment–with strict orders to use them every day because “every day is a celebration.”

 
These cookies are the perfect thing to have with this sort of woman, while she tells you why “we” is the best word, why a woman needs to take good care of herself first before she can take good care of her family, and why Jackie O. is her favorite American. A pair of gloves she gave me (roughly this color) sealed the deal. This is a start to a long (and colorful!) friendship.

 

 
So here’s to Belarus–its thick dairy, bountiful sunflowers, gentle sunlight, and for being a place to look forward to visiting often.

From (Bela)Russia With Love

After many sleepless hours and declining several glasses (5!) of complimentary wine on our Luftansa flight, we arrived to Belarus–only a train ride away from finally laying our heads down in a room that one of us called home. And a flower from a father who was awaiting our arrival.

 

 
Belarus won’t be found on the list of the world’s top places to visit, but it’s truly a charming city in its own regard. A best-kept secret as I like to think of it. Oddly bright-colored houses dotting the countryside, old babushkas that give a long cold stare before it melts into a warm smile, Soviet-style buildings that demand attention, stern taxi drivers that listen to Eurotrash and probably don’t give correct change but nobody cares, and of course the many various delicacies of the table.

 

 
My boyfriend’s father grew up in a small village outside of Brest and is a master of all things pickled, fermented, forraged, and homemade. One of these gems I can’t believe it took flying across the world to learn. It’s called compote. It’s dead simple and incredibly tasty–qualities that are reflective of almost anything you’ll find on the Eastern European table. Compote, in essence, is homemade juice made from boiled apples and whatever spices or sweeteners you’d like.

 

 
Make sure the apples are sliced thinly (fresh or dehydrated), pour in the desired amount of water (less for a stronger flavor), give the mixture a squeeze of lemon and drop in any spices or herbs you’d like–maybe cloves, anise, or even thyme. Boil gently until the flavor is to your liking and keep the apples in the mixture while you store it. The flavor only gets better. You can drink this hot or cold, before or after a meal. Sweeten to taste with honey or sugar. Here, they usually drink it after a meal, in-lieu of tea or coffee in the middle of the day.

Compote barely scratches the surface of all that I’ve experienced and learned so far–like ‘Russian Wassabi’, pelmini, marinated mushrooms, pickled cabbage, poppy seed cheesecake, halvah, golden-yolked eggs, and not to mention the Cuban treats (honey, guavas, or rum, anyone?) that my boyfriend’s mother brought back with her from a recent trip. But I’ll leave all this for another time, until then– “Dasvedanya”!

Buckwheat Loves Chocolate

 

In honor of our upcoming trip to Belarus (i.e. Meeting The Boyfriend’s Family For The First Time) my attention for all-things baking has centered around buckwheat. (Eastern Europeans eat buckwheat like Americans eat Cheerios.) If there’s one book on my shelf that saves the day when a random sack of flour (buckwheat, teff, spelt) is found in the cupboard, its Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain. And she had just the thing – Chocolate Buckwheat Muffins.

 

 

 

Boyce’s recipe actually calls for persimmons, but that is not in on the regular rotation of our fruit bowl, so it got left out of the fun. The muffins were delicious nonetheless. Every time a baking recipe works out for me, I have to say I’m a bit shocked. I’m not a baker by nature. I like to improvise, I’m okay with ambiguity, and I can be found to have little patience in the kitchen. But my ever-piqued curiosity wouldn’t let me take another pass at the bag of buckwheat without giving this recipe a shot.

 

And I’m telling you, buckwheat loves chocolate. Both are sweet yet bitter, and something about the depth of the chocolate made buckwheat immensely interesting, giving it almost a nutty quality.

Now that I know how nicely these once-miscellaneous bags of random flours play with the more extolled items in my larder, I’ll be grabbing for them more often. (Recipe can be found here.)

A New Taste

Well hello 2010! Did you ever sneak up on us quickly? Like the need for an umbrella in these fickle days of Seattle winter. As for you, dear reader – pull up a spot, we’ll pour you a glass of champagne. We’re not big drinkers, so we’ve still got some in the fridge. At the time of posting, we just finished it with dinner. I’d offer you some caviar, since we’re being fancy and all, but that was gone in no time. It barely saw the light of day.

 

 
(Yes, I know those aren’t real champagne flutes, not even white wine glasses- but we’re working with what we’ve got, along with that measly string of lights in the back that we called our Christmas decor. Take it as a Christmas or birthday gift idea!)

 
The New Year found us at ‘New Year’s at the Needle’ – Seattle’s annual celebration. Boy, was she a stunner. A real crowd pleaser. Plus, there was no snow! But parking, that’s another story altogether. Bringing in a new decade wasn’t the only thing that I was celebrating. New Year’s Eve marked the one-year anniversary of the first time I visited the Emerald City.

 
One day here solidified the deal. I’ve harped enough about the joys of living on the West Coast, but I can’t stop gushing. Ethnic grocery stores where old Russian ladies take your spot in line, people growing cabbage in their gardens for decoration, Mount Rainer – the silent giant overlooking Seattle’s commotion, Irish Pubs with lagers and stews, grocery store workers who cut open oranges for you to taste and find just the one you’re looking for …. now you see why I can’t stop.

 
To say the least, 2009 was a whirlwind of change. It started out in Seattle, eventually back in St. Paul to finish my last semester of college, graduating, taking the 3-day interstate drive back to Seattle. A few part-time jobs followed, along with meeting a very special person almost immediately. Getting my first salaried job amped up the scene, leaving it did so even more. Eventually, I secured one more suitable for me. (More about that later.)

 

Whew. A girl needs a break once in a while. That’s why she’s got this guy (above) to help her along, making special Russian ‘New Year’ salads while she’s deep in the trenches of job hunting. We’d like to share a favorite, below. Introducing Corny Crab Salad… or Crabby Corn Salad – whatever you’d like to call it. 4 basic ingredients are involved: crab, corn, rice, and mayonnaise. This one is quick, cheap (we used crab sticks), and lip-smackingly good. The sweet crab is so tender, the even sweeter corn crunches perfectly, and the rice is adequately substantial and ever-so-smooth. The mayo, especially a nice lemony one, adds a slight acidic note and makes it pleasantly spoonable.

 
More simplicity, less fuss – that’s my motto for a new taste for the year. It makes more sense and feels much better.

 
Play with the ratios as you’d like. Maybe a little more crab, maybe a little more corn, maybe not so much mayo – it’s really up to you. But here’s a guesstimate to launch from:

 
Crab Corn Salad
 
Ingredients

6 crab sticks, cut into small pieces

1 can corn

2 cups uncooked white rice

1 cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper, to taste

 
Instructions

Cook rice as directed on box, bag, or in your head. Let cool to room temperature. Combine crab, corn, and mayonnaise. Add rice gradually until thoroughly incorporated. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Don’t stir the mixture too much as rice may become mushy. (That would make it a crabby corn salad! I just had to.) We prefer a non-globby salad and went really light on the mayo, just adding enough to make it ‘stick’. But, again, adjust according to your personal taste.