Thursday, April 14, 2005

Love, War, Nihilism, Free Will, Vodka & Dumplings

Ironically, now that spring his here, I’ve been craving several things Russian: a story by Chekov, Cherry flavored Vodka (made by treating quality vodka with cherry pits), and of course dumplings both pelmeni and piroshki. Russian food is relatively simple when you consider the ingredients: flour, salt, pepper, onions, butter, meat. Even the cookie recipes don’t seem to have an ingredients list naming more than 6 items. I’ve always believed that there’s something comforting and reaffirming about this simplicity. Though it is true that the love and care needed to make dumplings and pastries by the dozen like Kolachi probably make up for lack of an extended list of ingredients in most Russian recipes. Russian dishes seem straight forward and to the point; however, their preparation can be quite involved and requiring labor.

During my first year of teaching, I was so worn-out and stressed out that I would get migraines on a regular basis. To this day I have not had a migraine since. We had a growing Ukrainian population in this neighborhood and during one of the celebrate our ethnicity days a parent had brought in an elaborately decorated karavai or bread. The bread was tiered like a wedding cake and had an intricate pattern of birds sitting upon leafy branches. Each of the ornamental pieces was cut individually and great care was taken to insure the details in the veins on the leaves or the wings and features of the little birds. I was so touched by the fact that someone had take the time and put all the love and care into fashioning this bread that my eyes started to tear up. My state of exhaustion only amplified the emotional upsurge... "Someone cared enough..."I nearly declared in an emotionally cracked tone," Someone cared enough to bake this bread." Of course this makes me laugh right now to think of my silliness, but on the other hand my belief was affirmed that people have the need to fashion objects and imbue them somehow with their care and maybe part of their spirit. The woman (or man) who had made and decorated this bread certainly put their heart into the endeavor. Russian authors, or at least the ones I’ve read, seem to apply a similarly dogged and methodical care when it comes to probing questions of character and morality.

I’ve always had a fondness for Russian literature, maybe because I could relate to their need for the portrayal of realism in their stories despite the sad and possibly pessimistic painting of reality they portay. A friend of mine once noted that I probably liked the Russian writers because many of them shared a rather brooding quality in their tone and their subjects were usually tortured in some way. “Brooding and tortured.. just like you perceive yourself, “he laughed.

Raskolnikov, Dmitry Karamazov, Uncle Vanya… especially Uncle Vanya all were and still are characters who are dear to me. Uncle Vanya, despite being a amiable drunk always struck me as someone who could love despite his drunken lolling in the futility of his life and appointment. Maybe there’s some Uncle Vanya in me somewhere. Perhaps what draws really me to Russian literature is that they are better equipped at asking questions about social responsibility or even moral responsibility. Sometimes to a simple American like myself, these questions push the envelope a little when it comes to the acceptance of free will. Maybe that’s why so many Russian writers drank (that and the cold monotonous winters) because now faced with the understanding that they had a responsibility to think and act on their own. Naturally, exercising this responsibility has some unpleasant consequences. So Inspired by my desire for realism and questioning, and inquiries on Free Will, I went to the Gutenberg Project and found a collection of Russian short stories for me to read one by one while I ride the bike a the gym. Though I’d rather sit at home with the classical station on and a bottle of vodka handy, but here’s to healthy living.

Is reality so bad? Do we really need to hide from it? I myself have been grappling with some issues about my life as it is?

Why would I rather knit a tank top than tackle the project management schedule I have lined up?
My body is aging, and changing because of that I need to accept that.

I don't fit in here at work and I never will.
My father has the maturity of a 13 year old with aspergers and I just have to deal with the fact that he’ll always bring up uncomfortable topics without tact.

There that wasn’t so bad. At least it’s a start.

Russian Recipes:

Kolachki (Nut dumplings/cookies)
Nut pastries with a rich cookie crust made with dairy cheese. I remember living in Chicago and having access to some wonderful Eastern European bakeries. These cookies were a favorite of mine. I’ve made them before, long ago, but I flavored the walnut filling with a bit of nutmeg and lemon zest.

Siberian Pelmeni (Poached Pastries):

Another Pelmeni recipe
Apparently they’re good with a strong Russian mustard.
I believe that they would taste quite good with a horseradish/mayonaise sauce. This plum sauce sounds absolutely wonderful.

Apple Vareniki
More dumplings with an apple filling this time.

Lamb Pilaf

More Articles on Russian Foods and Culture:

Other rants...

It’s really been bothering me lately with this trend of conservatism running rampant in American culture that people will be more apt to live in denial of their problems and hope that something greater or better will come along and fix them up. American optimism has it’s place, especially when it’s necessary to counter the nihilistic tendencies of those who believe that it’s futile to struggle for change or improvement in life or any other endeavor. However, I see the conservatives of today touting a false sense of optimism and security. More their proclivity for deceit and cover up in addition to their attempts to change our government’s workings and constitution leave me without comfort. Under their power and ‘guidance’ they will bring us into an age where questioning or challenging those in power will be extremely frowned upon if not impossible.

My intuition tells me that their bumbling about by changing House Rules concerning ethics and attempts to take power from the “Activist Judges” (Maybe they should read the Judge Dredd comic books… or ooops, maybe they have) will all end poorly for both sides or all of us. Something smells of the German Weimar Republic early 1930’s.

God will provide, so let’s get him (us) involved in our government. Government officials need not be accountable for their acceptance of gifts and favors from parties who require them to turn a blind eye to ethically questionable practices by corporations or groups represented by lobbyists. In fact, it is acceptable to deny that they have done anything wrong. Lie, lie just like Goebbels said, and the bigger the lie the better because if you repeat it over and over again, people will eventually come to believe it. (Sorry had to bring that up again).

Oh and by the way, if you don’t believe as we do, that’s too bad. You won’t be able to benefit from the services and funds that are being given to religious organizations (namely the ones that we feel are acceptible). We need to build a society where there's more of a smack in your face divide between the "haves" and the "have nots." Those people who have little or nothing don't matter anyway, because they have God. God will take care of all of them and judge them as well, but since He's really, really busy... let's assume that we know what He wants and judge these people for Him.

This is what frightens me about this government is that they are so willing to judge what is morally right and wrong and become involved in people's personal lives. They assume that folks do not have the ability or right to determine what is right for themselves. They feel that there is absolutely nothing wrong with church becoming a integrated into the government. Their efforts clearly support the rich though they mask their motives and maneuvers with their righteous moralistic crusades. They bully those politicians who may speak out against them by threatening them with the "righteous army" of constituents that they control.

And all the while I feel that we're supposed to do nothing, we're supposed to follow along and do our jobs, business as usual. Just as at my work, we're supposed to follow what upper management says even if their notions are cracked.

I read a stories the other day of a people who hid or aided Jews during the German Holocaust. And it seemed that most of these individuals had one thing in common: the believed in Free Will and the idea that they had to stand up for what they saw was wrong. As one of these individuals who was honored for his effforts said of his father, "he had taught me to fight for what I thought was right, and that those who follow like sheep are led to the slaughter. "

I'm sorry, these aren't happy thoughts and I should go back to just writing about my mental anguish at working in a cubicle environment or talk about food, wonderful food.



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