|холодец, this isn't my picture, but it looks like the холодец that I ate.|
I'm back, but with very little to report. However, given the choice between a blog post and a 15 page grammar packet, I'm going to go ahead and write a new blog post. Life continues to roll quietly along here in St. Peterburg, a fact that I'm almost glad about. I feel like my last time here was a bit of a circus/roller coaster/house of horrors experience and I got a somewhat skewed view of what life in St. Petersburg was really like. While Russia is still a bizarre and often times baffling place (even for those of us who speak Russian), and I still experience my full share of hijinks, it's still a place where people lead relatively normal lives. I have had my share of little adventures though, and that's what I'm going to write about today. First and foremost (thought it actually happened several weeks ago and I simply failed to mention it), I am proud to write that I can now officially say that I have had холодец! For those of you who don't know; холодец (pronounced kholodetz) is a Russian dish that can best be described as meat jello. It's essentially chunks of meat that have been formed into blocks with a jelly made from (I can only assume) it's own juices. Russian students always learn about холодец, and it quickly becomes the one Russian food that no one ever wants to try, regardless of the fact that they have no clue what холодец would even look like, let alone what it might actually taste like. I have to say, that while холодец does look disgusting (picture a block of opaque yellowish jello with chunks of meat floating in it) it is in fact quite good, and I would recommend it to anyone brave enough to try.
Over the past couple of weeks I have had several other culinary adventures, including trying wild mushrooms, and what I would call "gut sausage". Russians have an obsession with mushrooms, especially with mushrooms they have picked themselves. As Americans, we all learn that one should never EVER eat wild mushrooms. We're told that they are all lethally poisonous, and even the smallest bite is enough to punch a one way ticket to the great beyond. Therefore, every time I have been to Russia, I have been skeptical of most any mushroom I see. Additionally, my first few encounters with the idea of mushroom hunting did nothing to bolster my faith in the safety of mushroom hunting. Two years ago, I read a small chapter in a mushroom hunting book my host father had a required. While two years later I am obviously paraphrasing, I distinctly remember one passage on identifying a particular type of mushroom reading as such: "Mushroom X is poisonous and can not be eaten no matter how it is prepared. It can either have red cap and white stem, or a yellow cap and white stem. Or it can look completely different." I don't know about you, but I really doubt the qualifications and skills of a so-called authority on a life-and-death subject is limited to such articulate and exacting descriptions as "or it can look completely different". However, this time around I decided to take a leap of faith. While I didn't try any mushrooms picked by my family (apparently this was a bad year for mushrooms at the dacha) I did try wild mushrooms picked by others that my host parents had deemed to be edible. I figure that if at ages 70 and 72 they had yet to die from picking a "completely different" looking poisonous mushroom, the chances of my dying from one were relatively slim. Ultimately, the experience was somewhat anti-climatic, the mushrooms tasted like one would expect mushrooms to taste (though one of them did look rather unnervingly like a penis), and I am still alive and kicking. Gut sausage was also a new experience for me. In America, it is fairly rare that we eat internal organs. While organs are gaining traction as a new culinary trend for food and restaurant snobs, most Average-Joes haven't had much experience with guts of any type. I have to say that I, and everyone else who hasn't had kidney, liver, etc., is really missing out. There is a great sausage here that isn't just one type of organ, but a bunch of different types (if they're from the same animal [and even what animal they're from] I don't know, and have no intention of finding out) all mixed together. The stuff is addictively (perhaps not a word) delicious, and I put in on or eat it with anything I can (I'm sure my parents, and especially my mom, are cringing at the thought).
There are a few troubling signs on the culinary horizon though, mainly the disappearance of vegetables and my new found love of condiments. It is with great chagrin that I say it appears as though fresh vegetables have completely disappeared from my dinner table. While the usual Russian array of vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, and dill) can get pretty old rather quickly, one grows to miss it after many consecutive nights of potatoes, beets, and canned corn. That being said, I feel obligated to add that I think my host mother is a very adept and able chef, and that this blog entry is not meant to be a slight in any way shape or form. The other disturbing development has been my new found love of condiments, especially (I am somewhat ashamed to say) mayonaise. Some of you may know that I have always had a fondness for a few condiments, especially horse radish and spicy mustard, but I have never been particularly fond of mayo. But for whatever reason, I can't seem to get enough of it here. The worse thing is that it seems to go great on everything. No sour cream? Put mayo in your soup! Is your chicken feeling lonely? Add some mayo! Is your rice lacking that extra something? MAYO! I do feel somewhat redeemed because I have found a really delicious condiment that I think will satisfy those readers of my blog who have a more refined palate (if they are any). It's called аджика (pronounced adjhika) and according to Russian Wikipedia, it's an Abkhazian sauce made from a combination of paprika, salt, garlic, and dried hops. All I know is that it is delicious and it goes great with -of all things- mayo...
I hope you all enjoyed this blog post, it's a lot of fun writing things that are a little more specific and not just a dull list of everything I have done in the past week of so. If anyone has any requests for something they would like me to write about (if anyone reads this) I will gladly do so; I did the last time I was in Russian and it was a lot of fun.