In the end, I was glad Tatiana was gone all day and never saw me cooking. I made a mess of the table, particularly after scooping out the pumpkin innards (which contain a lot more water than I expected.) I never made it to class, as there was a temporary problem with the latch on the stairwell door, which made it difficult to open if it was shut all the way. I was afraid that if I left, I wouldn’t be able to get back in. I also ended up in a conversation with a Russian grandmother for about ten minutes, who was anxious for me to meet her granddaughter, who was studying English at the university. In the end though, I had a relaxing day cooking, and had everything done at exactly the time I had planned, if not slightly before.
Tatiana wasn’t able to be at dinner, but Katya was there, as well as my course-mates Cameron and Margarita. My other course-mate, Lucy, had a violin performance, and came late. In spite of what I told everyone, I don’t think any of them expected the meal I turned out, which makes me proud. My cranberry scones were the only thing that came out oddly, in my own opinion, but everyone else loved them. The chicken met, but did not surpass, my mother’s standard. The carrots I cooked with it were hard in the middle, but tasty, whereas the onions where fabulous. The mashed potatoes were not my best, but still worthy. I rocked the green beans and bacon.
I saved the pumpkin pie for last, and served it with ice cream (USSR-brand ice cream, actually – I couldn’t resist.) I looked for whipping cream at the store, but all I could find was a can which would have been $10. Katya told me that, in Russia, you don’t find any cream heavier than what you’d put in coffee. She says instead, they strain sour cream and whip that up with sugar. I’m not sure that would give the same result, but it does follow the first rule of Russian cooking: sour cream goes with everything. The pumpkin pie I made was not the best I had ever had, but I was catering to a group of people who had never had pumpkin pie before, and they were unanimous in their praise. Katya tells me I can’t leave the country till I teach her how to make it. Tatiana tried a piece when she came home, and was so thrilled she gave me a hug and kissed me on the cheek.
I was pretty pleased with myself after all of this, and we finished the evening off at a Russian karaoke bar. This is the second time I’ve been to a Russian karaoke bar, and they are an interesting experience. Russians love to perform, and I am inclined to believe that Russians, on average, sing well and are not embarrassed to sing in public. Russian pop music, however, is a decade behind the rest of the world, and is mostly comprised of power ballads. They do provide a menu of English songs, which is fairly up to date, and Katya has an incredible voice which is a pleasure to listen to, even if you don’t understand the language.
So, to conclude, I feel I succeeded in meeting at least one of my goals. I did Thanksgiving proud, and I was happy to be able to successfully entertain my friends. I always used to wonder about those old, grandmother characters in books who say they like to watch people eat. Would it not be creepy to sit staring at someone while they chew their food, as if there is something captivating in the art of mastication? However, I have decided what is meant is this: it is nice to watch people enjoy food. And when you have made that food yourself, seeing a group of people sit down and honestly enjoy your cooking is hugely satisfying.
As far as my second goal is concerned, the jury is still out. Tatiana certainly loves my pumpkin pie, and I also had a satisfactory report from Katya about my cranberry scones. But I begin to suspect it is in Tatiana’s nature to view me as an endearing inostranka. Today, I cooked myself some mashed potato patties from the left over mashed potatoes. Tatiana was in the kitchen, eating a meal and reading a book, and asked me to put the kettle on. I understood without her having to ask me twice, and feeling proud, I sat down with two perfect, golden, crispy potato patties. Half way through my first Tatiana looked up. “La-U-ra”, she says, drawing out the middle of my name as she usually does. “You should be eating that with sour cream.”
I forgot the first rule of Russian cooking.