September 1 this past weekend was a special day for this immigrant, and I am sharing. As hard as it is for me to believe every year, September 1 marks another year in the United States for me and my family. This year, my American identity is old enough to drink.
Twenty-one years since the great uprooting, I have to say I’ve found a balance between seeming to be unmistakably from hereabouts and definitely, most certainly not being from around here. Can’t get any more Midwestern than this, so it still surprises people when I answer my parents’ calls in another language. I have eaten and do eat some pretty cool and weird stuff (see below), and I will never lose my affinity for salted salmon roe and buttered bread. And nobody really gets why making frilly thin pancakes is an important skill to have. Calculating the nine-hour difference between here and my grandma so I don’t Skype her at some odd hour is now a no-brainer. I secretly crave high heels and fabulously matched animal print dresses. Wool is highly respected, and the itchiness is a necessary evil. My YouTube Music automatic playlist is a mess, oscillating between melodic aliencore metal and all-time favorite post-war golden oldies from Soviet times. I think and dream in different languages, and I start conversations in the wrong one pretty often. It’s a pretty hodge podge package here.
The feeling of otherness has never quite gone away, but I never really fretted about it. The best part of being an immigrant is having a Narnia wardrobe-type door into another reality. I suppose the worst part is that it is invisible to practically everyone, but I’ll grant that this is true of whatever lies under the surface of each person’s public skin. Think of an immigrant you know or have read about. Or put a face on any random Ellis Island passer-through. Everyone is a little bit like me, and you know me already. Immigration is a life-changing, sweeping gale that never quite settles, and all the frayed ends come together rather interestingly.
Anyway, the easiest way for me to share this world is through food, so here are just a few pretty close shots to what we have eaten at home my entire childhood (by the by, Natasha has TONS of Russian recipes that I can vouch for):
My comfort food...
I love a good cheesy bowl of chili these days, but BORSCH... how I love thee.
Blini - thin, lacy, buttery crepes for any occasion, served sweet or savory, filled or plain: https://vikalinka.com/2013/03/27/russian-crepes-blini/
Borsch (no “t” in Russian) - Beef and beet soup with potatoes, carrots, onions, pretty standard fare: https://natashaskitchen.com/borscht-recipe-ii/
Olivye - Ham potato salad like nobody’s business: https://natashaskitchen.com/olivye-ukrainian-potato-salad/
Plov (pilaf) – Beef and rice dish that I can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner: https://natashaskitchen.com/beef-plov-beef-rice-pilaf-recipe/
Sharlotka - A sweet and tart apple cake for the people: https://natashaskitchen.com/apple-sharlotka-recipe-russian-apple-cake/
And don’t forget tea after every meal. And don’t skimp on the sour cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Except the cake.