Thanksgiving in the Motherland

Posted: November 28, 2016 in Uncategorized
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This was my second time that I’ve spent Thanksgiving in Mother Russia, and this time I made up for the last time in a spectacular way. In Ulyanovsk, I had to spend the day teaching and taking classes. My celebration in the evening was to eat some chicken that I got at the rotisserie chicken stand near the dorm. This time, like a truly gluttonous American, I had two fantastic Thanksgiving dinners in Moscow.

As Thanksgiving is a national holiday back home, I took the day off from going to the archives. The real celebration happened in the afternoon, and evening. I have become friends with one of the undergrads spending a semester learning Russian here at RGGU. He is fortunate to live with a wonderful host mother named Alla. Alla went above and beyond to make a Thanksgiving dinner for the undergrad, one of his classmates, myself, and our adopted American Anne-Marie (who is Canadian, so she’s technically also American, but whatever). The others all had classes in the afternoon, but being free all day, I got to Alla’s apartment early to help her prepare dinner. This was slightly easier said than done because Alla’s apartment doesn’t have a working phone system to call the apartment from the outside. Luckily, a neighbor was entering the building around the same time as me, so she let me into the front door and I climbed up to Alla’s apartment. We then spent the next two hours continuing to get things ready for dinner, drinking coffee, and chatting. There really wasn’t too much for me to do to help, as Alla had done most of the work already. My help was cutting a few potatoes before they were boiled to make the mashed potatoes, cutting and peeling apples for the apple pie, and partially setting the table.

The complete spread for Thanksgiving No. 1.

The complete spread for Thanksgiving No. 1. It was like Thanksgiving at home, but with vodka.

Eventually, the other Americans showed up after their classes, and we continued to finish setting the table, mash the potatoes, and check that the turkey was fully cooked. I cooked the extra stuffing that did not go in the turkey on the stove top in a pan, and Anne-Marie carved the turkey. For the meal, we were also joined by Alla’s aunt as well as Alla’s cousin and his wife. After they arrived, we sat at the table and had quite the feast.

We started with an aperitif of sparkling wine, before we tucked into the meal. In addition to a lovely turkey, Alla had made stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and a hybrid Russian-American salad of some sort. All of the food was spectacularly delicious, and we had a good time chatting the night away in Russian.

The dessert course was also spectacular. In addition to the apple pie that I helped to make, Alla had made a pecan pie. Both pies were scrumptious, especially with a healthy addition of Russian ice cream. Russia is well known for some of its dishes and staple exports such as caviar and vodka, but it is little known that Russia makes excellent chocolates, candies, and ice cream. Unlike in America, much more of the food in Russian is locally sourced and uses natural ingredients. The ice cream is a good example of this. Unlike in America, it is definitely made with cream and real sugar. The result is a decadent and smooth ice cream that is good to enjoy whenever. I may or may not be known to wander down the street in the heavy negative temperatures while enjoying a Russian ice cream cone or equivalent of a Good Humor bar. But back to Thanksgiving. The pies were great. Alla’s cousin and his wife decided that both were good, but they felt that the apple pie was better. I like to think that this was because I helped, or maybe it’s because Alla liberally splashed some cognac into apple, sugar, and cinnamon mix.

Dessert course.

Dessert course.

Then,  yesterday, I had Thanksgiving round two at Erin’s apartment with Slava and Anne-Marie. I met Slava and Anne-Marie around 12:00 at metro stop, and we swung by a shop to get ingredients and some wine to bring to Erin’s. We were basically responsible for cranberry sauce and an apple pie. Getting the ingredients was a little easier said than done. The night before, Anne-Marie got some frozen cranberries and the cinnamon at a store in a different neighborhood. We went to the nearest food store to Erin’s. It was a small, independent grocery store. It had almost everything we needed. We at first tried to find a different, chain grocery store across the street. According to Yandex, the Russian equivalent of Google, the store should have been there, but it didn’t exist. So we went back into the small store, and got the majority of the things before heading down the street to find a store that sold wine. We thought we found the place down the block. It said it was a universal store, and there were pictures of food items on the sign. We went down the stairs into the shop, which turned out to be solely a hookah and tobacco store. It turns out that the store we wanted was at the end of the block, hidden from our view by a flower store. While walking back, I noticed a bent wire with some tape over it on the ground at a parking area. It was a homemade slim jim, the tool used to break into cars. Generally, people in America use metal coat hangers for the same job. The idea is that you take a piece of wire, and slip it down a car door at the window seal. You then fish around the door until you find the wire that controls the door lock, which is then pulled up to unlock the door without a key. I’m going to assume someone in the Dinamo area is currently missing their car.

Someone is probably missing a car.

Someone is probably missing a car.

We then went from the store to Erin’s. We got in through the front door and spoke with the woman whose job it is to monitor who enters and exits the building. We said that we were going to Erin’s, and she told us to go around a few corners and to take the elevator, because if we took the stairs, we would not be able to find the apartment. However, when we got out of the elevator, we immediately found the apartment, which is across from the stairwell. Upon arriving at Erin’s, we got to work on preparing the meal. Anne-Marie took charge of the cranberry sauce, and Erin saw to the cheesy mashed potatoes, turkey breast, and beets. The apple pie was a team effort in that Slava peeled the apples, I cut them up, and Anne-Marie mad the crust from scratch and saw to adding the cinnamon, sugar, and lemon.

Feast No. 2.

Feast No. 2.

All of the food turned out phenomenally. We gorged ourselves in the dining room, and made sure to add ice cream to the hot apple pie at the end. The ice cream was a little funny in that the only vanilla ice cream for sale in the local shop was sold in log form in a plastic bag. None of us had ever seen that before outside of Russia, and even Slava was confused by it. Our solution was to slice off some hunks, and it worked out well.

Cutting the ice cream to adorn the pie.

Cutting the ice cream to adorn the pie.

We also had a surprise bit of entertainment between dinner and dessert when we heard the doorbell. It turned out to be a police officer, which surprised and scared us a bit. Apparently he was going around the apartments to do routine checks that the correct people were living in them. That is, he was checking that the people living in the apartments were indeed registered to live there. Thankfully everything was in order, and he left after about five minutes of doing some paperwork.

All in all, it was a great evening, and I had a wonderful time with my two Thanksgivings.

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