Maslenitsa

Today is Forgiveness Sunday, the last day in the week-long Russian celebration known as Maslenitsa before The Great Lent begins. This is the day to forgive those who have wronged you over the year and to ask forgiveness from anyone you have wronged. A fresh start to kick off a 40-day saga of fasting and self reflection. An opportunity to try to hurt fewer people’s feelings, be more generous, less critical, less selfish… whatever your fatal flaw, today is the day to seek redemption and try again.

Russian Orthodox Lent begins on Clean Monday, instead of Ash Wednesday like Roman Catholic Lent. Both religions fast during Lent, but the Orthodox church’s asceticism really shows up the Western church’s endeavors at self-denial. While Roman Catholics abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent, in my experience this is just an excuse to attend beer soaked fish-fries at VFW Halls. On Clean Monday the devout Russian Orthodox do not eat at all, and then only uncooked food on Tuesday and Thursday of the first week of Great Lent. They then follow that up with a strict regimen of restrictions, including no meat at all, throughout the 7 weeks leading up to Orthodox Easter.

Keeping with the great tradition of gluttony before fasting, the week before this intense abnegation is the festival of Maslenitsa, or Butter Week or Pancake Week. Dairy and Eggs are forbidden during the Great Lent. Russians use up any stockpiles of these ingredients by gorging on blini, which are yeasted pancakes made with buckwheat or white flour, butter and milk and served drenched in hot butter, sour cream and any number of additional delicacies. Blini are a sacred food in Russia, and like many Christian traditions, this festival’s origins are pagan. In Slavic Mythology, the round, golden blini symbolize the return of the sun and farewell to Winter.

This Russian version of Mardi Gras or Carnival is a seven day festival that begins on

wikimedia commons, public domain image

wikimedia commons, public domain image

Monday with the construction of a Maslenitsa Doll out of straw and old women’s clothing. This doll is the mascot of the week and paraded around town on a stick, like the Burning Man with fewer hallucinogens. The first blini are also made on Monday and given to the poor. Tuesday is when the festivities and pursuit of romance begin. (The Sunday after Easter is a popular day for getting married, so unattached men and women are supposed to be on the look out for a mate.) In addition to sleigh riding, parades, clowns, drinking and merriment on this day, men are permitted to kiss any passing woman they choose. This might be acceptable behavior at Burning Man, but in sounds pretty creepy in regular society. So be careful ladies! On Wednesday, sons-in-law are invited to their mother-in-law’s home to feast on blini and compliment the mother-in-law on her hospitality. Thursday is when the revelry becomes mandatory, all non-essential work in the town must stop and everyone gets in on the fun. The main attraction on this day is the official Fist Fights. Men drink large quantities of vodka and punch each other to honor Russia’s military history. On Friday, sons-in-law host their mothers-in-law for a blini feast, which more likely means that their wife does all the work, while the men nurse their hangovers, black eyes and bloody noses from Thursday’s revelry. Saturday is the Sisters-In-Law Gathering, where the youngest wife hosts her sisters-in-law to try to gain their favor and show off her hospitality.

This brings us back to today, Forgiveness Sunday. After a week of butter and vodka-infused debauchery, it is quite likely that one might have a good deal that needs forgiving.

Wikimedia Commons, Pubic Domain Image.

Wikimedia Commons, Pubic Domain Image.

At the end of the day the Maslentisa Doll and any leftover pancakes that you are too bloated buttered to eat are thrown into a bonfire and The Great Lent and all it’s austerity begins.

There are not many of us in modern American culture who have jobs that will enforce a mandatory work stoppage to dedicate an entire week to eating blini, sledding and fist fights so I suggest a one-day party that incorporates as many elements together as you like. For instance, you can invite all your in-laws and anyone you need to forgive and/or punch in the face all to the same party on Saturday or Sunday. If you live in a part of the country that still has snow you could host a sledding or ice skating party at a nearby park and invite everyone back to your house afterwards to warm up with fresh blini, hot tea, mulled wine and of course, vodka!

Blini

The white flour blini is the more popular version these days, and preferable for sweet combinations, like butter and jam, nutella, berries or whatever your heart desires.

This recipe is from: A Year of Russian Feasts by Catherine Cheremeteff Jones.

1 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm

1 large egg

1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon canola oil, for cooking the pancakes

Place the yeast in a medium-sized bowl.

Combine 1/2 cup of the milk and the water and heat to about 100 degrees F.

Add the milk mixture, sugar and salt to the yeast and gently whack until yeast has completely dissolved.

Add the butter, egg and flour. Whisk until smooth.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the batter rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Stir down the batter, re-cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1/2 cup milk to lukewarm and stir it into the batter.

To cook the blini, heat the canola oil in a large well-season or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot.

Add about 1/3 cup of the batter and immediately swell the batter to form a thin pancake. Cook the pancake until the surface is firm and the underside is golden brown, about 45 seconds. Turn and continue to cook until the bottom is golden, about 30 seconds. Serve the blin immediately. Or if you are serving them after all the blini are cooked, stack them, cover loosely with foil and place them in a very low oven until ready to serve.

Serve with small bowls of various fillings for people to help themselves at the table.

Zakuski

Zakuski is the pre-dinner spread that welcomes guests in a Russian home. Zakuski is derived from the word morsel, and it is an assortment of morsels to accompany vodka that you will of course be drinking at any Russian gathering.

The spread can include a great variety of dishes, hot and cold, homemade and store bought, spicy, salty, rustic and gourmet… as long as it is plentiful and complimentary to vodka it is welcome. The tradition probably evolved among the 18th Century aristocracy in the countryside as a way of welcoming guests who had traveled a long way in the cold, and whose arrival times may have been uncertain.

Our spread included Salami, Green and Black Olives, Hard Boiled Eggs, Sardines, Smoked Oysters, Anchovies, Pickles, Cheese & Crackers. Bread and Salt are the symbols of Russian Hospitality, so should be served in plenty.

Other authentic options could be Caviar (of course!), Russian Black bread with herbed butter, anything pickled (apples, beets, mushrooms etc.), smoked salmon, cocktail meatballs, small boiled potatoes with with dill… the list can go on and on.

Zakuski is usually accompanied by the drinking of several vodka toasts, which are usually followed by a bite of a sharp dill pickle. This is much like the lime to chase a tequila shot, the pickle absorbs the burn of the shot with it’s briny goodness. Toasting is an art form in Russia. At some gatherings the host will make a one or two toasts, at others, every guest will take a turn. I attended a Russian dinner with my parents when I was 16 when everyone at the head table took their turn. The memory of watching a roomful of adults throw back 10 shots of vodka over the evening left a lasting impression.

Na Zdorovye!

IMG_9854IMG_9848

IMG_9821

Salamagundi

The Elizabethan era dish, Salmagundi was apparently a very popular pirate ship menu item. One of the reasons must have been it’s infinite versatility. There seem to be as many recipes for it as there were pirate chefs. The name itself evolved from salmigondis which is French for hodgepodge or a whole bunch of different stuff that doesn’t seem to go together. So a ship’s cook could make this out of whatever they had available at the time, which would have varied widely depending on where and how recently they had raided a port. (In fact, according to Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas 1500-1750 by Kris E. Lane, Pirates “raided coastal settlements for fresh victuals at least as often as for booty.”) The recipes are so varied that it’s not even certain what category of dish it is. It can be a stew, a salad and even a paté when known by it’s Jamaican name, Solomon Gundy, which is made from pickled fish and served with crackers. For our purposes it is salad.

In a possibly unrelated coincidence or another strange evolution, Solomon Grundy is also a popular English Nursery Rhyme. It was first published in 1842, which means it was probably widely circulated orally before that, but the salad most likely predated it.

Solomon Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Grew worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
This is the end
Of Solomon Grundy

What, if anything this has to do with a salad of cooked meats, pickled fish, vegetables, fruits and flowers I have no idea. But the Justice League Zombie-Super-Villian Solomon Grundy was based on this nursery rhyme. Naming himself Solomon Grundy because he was “Born on a Monday”, the only thing he remembers about his pre-zombie life. Both of these guys could probably use a good hearty serving of salamagundi.

Anyway, I started with a recipe for Salmagundi from Celtnet.com, that was adapted from the “The Good Huswives Treasure” by Robert May. I further adapted to my tastes and what I had available, and I suggest you do the same. (This recipe measures everything in grams, as is the European way. A kitchen scale is helpful for this, but precision is not important in this instance. I translated the measurements to mean “some of this” “some more of that” “A little of this” and so on…

Ingredients:
1 rotisserie chicken.
4 Tablespoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
100g French green beans blanched and refreshed in cold water
1 small red onion, finely chopped
8 radishes, sliced
60g plump raisins
1 Tablespoon capers (the recipe calls for finely chopped, I added them whole)
8 new potatoes, boiled, cooled and sliced
150g black seedless grapes, halved (or red currants)
6 eggs, soft boiled
Bed of chopped lettuce (or beet leaves)
4 Tablespoons mixed chervil, parsley and chives, finely chopped

Ingredients in the original recipe that I did not use. (because i couldn’t find, don’t like, or forgot to buy)
150g marsh samphire, blanched
60g broom buds
8 figs quartered
6 button mushrooms
60 g flaked almonds, toasted
60g black olives, sliced
1 orange peeled and thinly sliced
Ingredients not in the recipe that I added:
Tin of anchovies
Tin of sardines

Ingredients for the Dressing:
200ml extra virgin olive oil
60ml red wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 orange
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Method:
Boil your eggs for about 6 minutes, or until soft-boiled then drain and
place under cold running water until chilled. Then peel.

Par-boil the samphire and French beans

Remove the flesh from the chicken and cut into strips. Add to a bowl and
toss with the tarragon before seasoning with salt and black pepper.

Toss together the lettuce and broom flowers. Use these to line the base
of a large salad bowl. Arrange the chicken on top then layer the
remaining ingredients. Finish with the orange slices, and whole soft boiled eggs then scatter the
chopped herbs over the top.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the
salad immediately before serving.

Egg and Rum Flip

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. If there is one thing you don’t want to mess with, it is a pirate’s rum ration. Fresh water was in short supply and rum was the beverage of choice on board most ships. The Rum Flip in Blackbeard’s day was a combination of beer, rum and sugar served in  tin can. This updated cocktail version is probably more palatable to modern seaman and land lubbers alike.

1 egg
1 tsp sugar
1 oz rum
1/4 pt milk

Separate the egg. Cream yolk thoroughly with sugar. Add rum and milk. Whip egg white stiffly and fold in. Serve chilled.