My siblings and me.
We grew up, for the most part, in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia in a small town called Westbank. Actually, a smaller suburb of Westbank called Glenrosa. Not much in the way of fine dining, or ethnic cuisines. A real treat was heading into Kelowna to Carmel's Crepery for a seafood crepe. Or to the Golden Panda for Canadian Chinese.
My mother grew up on the coast and was pretty adventurous in her cooking - I recall Cherries Jubilee, lots of Open Houses with cheese balls (well before Amy Sedaris), Stroganoff, crazy amounts of holiday baking - the kitchen was always busy. To this day, I get a happy feeling ordering curried prawns... Her father, my Grandpa McCallum, was a wizard at making fritters and I can picture him at the stove flipping them in the oil until they were perfect. The love of fritters got me into a great deal of trouble in high school, with a bakery not too far from the school, but that's for another time.
My father's side of the family was in Grand Forks in Kootenay country, and if you're familiar at all with the Doukhobors from anything other than an academic POV you know that means food. In large quantities. With Butter. LOTS of butter. Vereniki. Pirohi. Borscht. Haloushki. Halouptse. Lapshevnik. Ploh. I get hungry as hell just thinking of them.
My grandmother was a brilliant cook. And not just because I thought the sun shone out of her smile. Flour up to her elbows, rolling dough, slipping us treats. We loved visiting them - we'd get sugar cereals (we only got them at Christmas at home) and Velveeta cheese. Fresh raspberries from the massive garden. Peas in the shell. The smell of dill, and the chikchikchik of the field sprinklers. She tried so hard to get my little brother to like Russian food (he was a hamburger, no sauce, no butter, no eggs, plain hot dog kinda kid) that she made PBJ vereniki in an attempt to woo him. Didn't work, he's tough.
I know, get to the recipes... And I will. In a minute.
- The Doukhobors tend to be remembered for the Sons of Freedom, the naked protests and the burnings. It happened, and it's true. Don't piss us off. The horror of New Denver is rarely if ever mentioned, despite the govt's willingness to apologize once a month to someone. But instead of getting mad, I suggest you cook some of the food. You won't regret it. Unless you fear carbs...
- Once a year, I throw open the doors of wherever I'm living and cook my ASS off. I call it Russian Christmas because I hold it on the Saturday closest to the Orthodox Christmas, when some of the holiday fatigue has abated. As the guest list has grown, I've had to open the floor to potluck style buffet, but I still make all of the traditional dishes in quantities large enough to feed an army. My little sister claims bragging rights for eating over 100 vereniki at my uncle Jim's one Christmas - she's welcome to come by and prove it if she's in town, or if you'd like to bust the record just let me know!
- Food is for sharing. When I think of my family - Russian and Scots alike, I think of the massive meals in Grand Forks, with relatives and ten thousand "Aunts" and "Uncles", or roasting hot dogs at the Lake, or how to cook kokanee or make wacky cake, or Mom's baking powder biscuits. I think of a family trip to LA where Mom let us get room service and I had lobster for the first time. My sister ordered a BLT and my brother a PBJ. Seriously.
So go forth and cook for your friends and family. Treat them to something new, or make something you know they love. Spend time at the table, maybe a nice bottle of wine. If you're able, get some of the recipes from your Mom or Dad or grandparents, learn your culture's cuisine and specialties. And share them around.
Recipes and pics tomorrow, promise.