April 24, 2011

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.

April 12, 2011

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"!