This is sort of an addendum to the post I just published, but the story’s been cooking in my head for a couple of months. It’s about the first time I cooked at Sveta and Sasha’s.

I was making them a chicken pot pie, the quintessential American dish for feeding Russians (squishy, creamy, bland, containing multiple starches–although you still have to serve it with bread). I had preheated the oven and was searching high and low for the pie pan that I knew had to be here somewhere, but was having no luck. Sasha came in and asked what I needed, so I asked him to help me find it, unaware of the weight of the burden I was placing on his shoulders. He proceeded to search cabinets and drawers completely at random, as if he, like me, had lived in this apartment for a week instead of 17 years.

 

Now, I understand that sometimes things get put away strangely, and  it takes time to find them, even if you know the kitchen well. But for Sasha, the geography of this kitchen was as shrouded in mystery as the globe was to a medieval cartographer.  “Maybe it’s here?” Nope, that’s where the plastic bags live. “Here?” Medicine. “Here?” Dish dryer. “Here?” THAT’S THE SILVERWARE DRAWER–EVEN I KNOW THAT. THE PIE PAN WOULDN’T EVEN FIT IN THERE. GET WITH THE PROGRAM.

 

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Nope, sorry. Not even close.

After watching Sasha’s bumbling with concerned bemusement, I finally found the pan in the oven and tried to send him back into the living room to watch TV, something he understands. But the newly-discovered realm of Kitchen drew Sasha as irresistibly as an opened laptop draws a pet cat. Sasha wasn’t done “helping” yet.

While I shaped my pie crust, Sasha fiddled with the oven dial. “I’ve already set that,” I told him, in case the heat emanating it wasn’t enough of a clue.

“Don’t you think it’s too hot?” he asked, brow furrowed.

“No, it’s fine. I make this pie all the time.” (The oven, by the way, was set just a little higher than usual, since I had (correctly) assumed that it would be old and poorly insulated and would bake slowly.)

Nu, ladno, he sighed, too convinced of my incompetence to let it go, but too polite to say so. Next thing I knew, he had pulled out his cell phone and was calling Sveta at work to ask her what temperature “pies bake at.”

This bothered me on a couple of levels:

  1. First of all, Sasha clearly had no idea how to kitchen, so why was he so convinced that he knew better than me?
  2. Was he aware that there are different types of pie, and that different dishes require…you know, different…recipes?
  3. American-style pie crust is unlike anything you will find in Russia, since most pies in Russia use yeast dough. In other words, Sveta was in no way equipped to give advice on this pie.

After hanging up, Sasha informed me that Sveta bakes her vatrushki at 180′. Now, a vatrushka, at least as made by Sveta, is essentially a dark, sticky poundcake with cheesecake poured into it. It may well be the stuff of angels’ dreams, but it is as far from chicken pot pie as a baked good can get. But Sasha, drawing on the wisdom that comes from a lifetime of occasionally turning on an electric kettle, insisted that I turn the oven down. Begrudgingly, I did so, in a last-ditch effort to make him leave before I stopped being civil.

Finally, my pie got done. The crust was a little tough, for which the oven was only partly responsible, but the inside was good. I ate a slice and put the rest in the fridge with a note saying “chicken pie po-amerikanski — serve yourselves!” The pie sat there, untouched, for three days, after which it mysteriously jumped into the trash while I was at class one morning. Two hours of my life and a week’s worth of patience, along with a not insignificant amount of butter, lost for nothing.

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