I put this post into the “What we’re cooking” category even though it’s not about my own cooking. I think it counts, though, because we were very much enjoying someone else’s cooking, and especially since we were enjoying it with them. Food is always so much better when you are sharing it with good friends, and then when you’re sharing it with friends and sharing a few bottles of really good wine- well, that takes it to another level altogether.
We are fortunate enough to have friends on many continents (I love that) and from many different backgrounds, so saying that our Ukrainian friends fall into the “Most Interesting” category is no small thing. But they are definitely that. They are interesting in so, so many ways, beginning with the dinners that they serve. These people know how to host a dinner!
This is how it goes: You arrive at around 6:30 and are nearly immediately seated at the dinner table, which is laden with cheeses, a platter of cucumbers, tomatoes, and chopped fresh dill, a plate of cold cuts from an Atlanta institution called Patak Meats, cooked mushrooms of some type- either cooked in sour cream and covered with cheese, or wrapped in pastry, a platter of Olga’s homemade pickles, another piled high with Olga’s homemade bread, and if you’re lucky, that beet salad made with unrefined sunflower oil that might convert even the most diehard of beet haters. Sometimes caviar and smoked fish. And of course there’s wine. There’s always wine. I’ve learned to sip very, very slowly and remain constantly vigilant against Oleg and his stealthy pouring; apparently, he is opposed to empty wine glasses and takes his job as glass filler quite seriously. And for the next 2-3 hours, you will sit and eat all the delicious things that have been piled on that table, and you will talk. World politics is a favorite topic, with the Pilot and I often playing the role of avid listeners as Olga delivers passionate discourse on topics such as the state of the Ukraine. She had me in tears the other night over the current situation; they have family still in that country, after all. Olga’s passion is countered only by Oleg’s calm, quiet demeanor as he gently suggests that she take a moment to calm down with a cigarette (they are Europeans, after all) out on the balcony. She always takes his suggestions. This time, I joined her. Sans cigarette, of course.
Literature and history are also favorite topics. Did I mention that these friends are highly educated, both having trained as engineers at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute? And then immigrated here when the Soviet Union fell apart, where they worked hard to learn not only a new language but a new career, or two? They are both brilliant and fascinating, and this makes for incredible conversation when you add my equally brilliant husband into the mix.
After you’ve spent 2-3 hours enjoying the cold cuts, vegetables, and cheese, it’s time for the main course. Yes. The main course, at 9 p.m. I learned this when I traveled to that part of the world back in the 90s: Don’t be fooled by the copious quantities of food in front of you that this is all there is. And certainly don’t fill up, because there will be more food, and lots of it. And you will miss out if you’re already full.
The other night, the main course was a stuffed cabbage dish called golubtsy. It’s a classic Ukrainian dish that’s also made by Russians (but PLEASE do not mention that around Olga these days) and it is filling and delicious. It consists of cabbage leaves filled with meat and rice and then cooked in a pot on the stove till everything is tender and the flavors blended.
Served, of course, with more wine. And more conversation. And then, usually by around 1 a.m., when I can’t even imagine eating another bite and can barely keep my eyes open, I manage to get the Pilot’s attention and suggest that it is quite possibly time to head home, against the pleas of Olga that “It’s early still! You can’t go!” coupled with the hint of a dessert that is yet to be served. I have yet to be able to eat dessert at their home. But I always leave completely satisfied, filled to the brim with friendship, good food, and the promise of the next time that we will see this lovely family.