When Garik Met Sanya

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Russia is on my mind. Well, it always is, but the recent cold spell in New York has brought back a new flurry of memories.

Just how DID I survive those four Moscow winters? It wasn’t easy. Moscow, like Paris, is prone to gray skies, with none of New York’s diamantine brilliance. And then there’s the infamous слякоть, the pools of slush at every street corner, expanding and contracting like a primordial-ooze Star Trek villain.

And yet despite a few February weekends when I slept in until 4 pm, most of the time I was out braving the elements: headed to the theater, the Philharmonic, underground clubs, friends’ homes. Particularly friends’ homes. Snow is shaken off coats and scarves, boots are exchanged for guest slippers. The tea kettle is put on, a box of candies placed ceremoniously on the table. Maybe a hunk of halva emerges from somewhere, maybe some poppy-seed rolls, definitely a jar of homemade raspberry jam. You sit, you talk. The hours pass. The world is put to rights.

Going out to go in is an art form, one that the Soviets perfected over the course of the 20th century. It’s at its finest in winter, of course, and achieves its platonic ideal on New Year’s Eve, a holiday traditionally celebrated at home with one’s nearest and dearest. (For a particularly poignant elegy on the late-Brezhnev-era New Year’s Eve, read this.)

Growing up, nothing sounded worse to me than staying at home on New Year’s Eve. What I wanted, more than anything, was to attend those magical parties in When Harry Met Sally, in all their sumptuous, downtown-Manhattan-loft glory. If that party exists, I haven’t been lucky enough to find it. After many, many, MANY bad New Year’s Eve parties—bad, mostly, because I didn’t know the hosts very well, or the other guests—I decided to ring in the New Year at home, by myself, sipping Champagne and writing in my journal. It was delightful. And suddenly I understood that Garik and Sanya had been right all along, and Harry and Sally were wrong. New Year’s Eve is the ultimate night for going out to go in, for feeling that deep sense of connection and celebration that only comes when you surround yourself with your favorite people, when you deliberately keep it small. Anders may lose the battle against jet lag and fall asleep over the Peking duck; Jen may take a bite of my zucchini tian and end up with a piece of wooden spoon in her mouth. But we are together, braving the dark and the cold.

It’s time, again.

For someone who despises clutter, I sure have plenty of it in my life. Decluttering, after all, means revisiting the past, and THAT requires opening yourself up to sadness: birthday cards in your grandmother’s handwriting, photos from the awkward summer you turned twelve… and in my case, old issues of Gourmet.

I was only at the magazine for five years—a hot second, really—but it was the first job that felt like home. That said, what hurt most about the demise of Gourmet had  nothing to do with me. I’d lost jobs before, after all. It was that the magazine was gone. And by that, I mean the recipes. Those recipes!

If you’re worked on enough cookbooks, you will go one of two routes: collector or snob minimalist. The former is curious, fascinated by anything and everything, because you never know where interesting culinary ideas will pop up. I get it, but that’s not me. I’m the other type, the one who loves to read cookbooks, work on them, think about them, enter their worlds and laze about there… but own them? Meh. I know could survive perfectly happily on just two cookbooks: The Gourmet Cookbook and The Gourmet Cookbook, Volume II.

And yet. So many of the recipes I fact-checked, fell in love with, added to my repertoire never made it into either cookbook. And what about all the ones I never got around to making? That’s why I can’t bring myself to part with a single issue of the magazine, despite having barely opened them for eight years now. When I needed something—say, my favorite pouding chômeur recipe—it was easier to turn to Epicurious than reach for the Montreal issue on my bookshelf and start remembering.

But it’s time, again. This month, I’m going to do what used to come so naturally: cook out of my December issues of Gourmet. For my annual Christmukkah party, I’ll crank out the zucchini latkes with Mediterranean eggplant relish and egg salad with lemon and fennel (December 2008). If I get my act together, I’ll definitely make the chocolate babka again (December 2006). And then there are all the dishes I never did make. Kielbasa with golden onions and apple? Braised Swiss chard with currants and feta? Bitter green salad with roasted pears? Welcome (back) into my life. I have missed you.

 

 

 

Cooking Your Feelings?

I spent this past weekend cooking my feelings. And what they demanded was very specific: roasted spiced sweet potatoes sprinkled with fennel, red pepper flake, and sea salt; creamed spinach with plenty of Sriracha (which translates to just a hint of sass); and garlic-sage breaded pork chops.

This is NOT a meal I’ve ever made before. Usually when we crave comfort foods, we revert to whatever made us happiest as children (and so I can’t count the times I’ve turned to Nestle Tollhouse for emotional support, something I talk about here). But the mishegas around the Senate tax bill demanded something a bit more… sophisticated. I didn’t want sugar; I didn’t want drama. I wanted stability. I wanted to feel like an adult in a world that seems increasingly driven by adolescent outrage and toddler id.

Just as I was serving dinner, a pal down in DC texted to say she’d spent the day making borscht. Knowing her, it was real-deal borscht, the kind that takes hours of simmering, the kind you can stick a fork in and it will stay standing, the kind that transports you halfway across the world, or back in time, or forward.

Thought #1? Clearly, I’m not alone.

Thought #2? Borscht, I’m coming for you.