Salo

A customs officer stops a Ukrainian at the border.

“Are you carrying any drugs?”

“Yes.”

“Let me see them. Wait this isn’t drugs. This is salo.”

“Yes, it makes me high,” says the Ukrainian with a beatific smile.

I shared this joke so that people understand how important salo is to Ukrainian people. So if you feel like saying, “Ewww, gross!”, please remember that you are hurting the feelings of a Ukrainian person.

Salo is the most traditional Ukrainian foodstuff. It is salted pork fat, which scares most non-Ukrainian people. For Ukrainians, though, it’s sacred. Many people use it to cook (fried potatoes, borscht, all kinds of soups.) The best way to eat it, however, is frozen and cut into very thin strips.

I hadn’t had a chance to eat salo for over 10 years until we discovered it at a Global Foods store in St. Louis. N. says that he finds seeing me eat salo disturbing because I look like I’m participating in some kind of an erotic activity when I do it.

What Is It With Personal Trainers?

Why can’t they process the idea that some people aren’t interested in losing weight? My sister keeps going to personal trainers and they keep trying to goad her into dieting.

My sister is a beautiful woman (really, she is absolutely stunning) who wears size 10 and is extremely happy with her body. Happy, ecstatic, very content. As she rightfully should be. She only eats very healthy food and, like everybody in our family, she is a great gourmand. She keeps trying to explain to yet another personal trainer that she only visits him to get some physical activity, not to lose weight. The trainer, however, can’t get used to this idea and still pushes for a diet.

“So, how was your eating this week?” he asks in a tragic voice.

“It was yummy,” my sister responds. “Absolutely delicious. And plentiful.”

“Have you been thinking about the diet I suggested?” the trainer insists.

“I don’t need a diet,” my sister explains patiently.

“Well, try to pinch your skin,” the trainer says. “If you can pinch it, this means there is fat, so you need to go on a diet.”

“And if I can’t pinch it,” she responds, “it means I’m an anorexic who is barfing in the bathroom five times a day.”

My sister is a very authoritative, powerful business woman. I’m a cutesy, gentle wallflower by her side. So the personal trainer will not be able to bully her into an unnecessary diet. Just consider, however, what this badgering would do to a person who is less secure in their body image.

Cafe Ellefsen in Montreal

When I last visited Montreal, I visited Cafe Ellefsen, a Scandinavian restaurant. I had lunch there with V., a frequent commenter and one of the very first readers of this blog. They serve really great, beautiful smorrebrod, and the prices are very modest.

Here are some photos of their great smorrebrod:

Sausage and fresh cucumber smorrebrod

The saltiness of the sausage is offset beautifully with fresh cucumbers, which makes the smorrebrod absolutely delicious.

And here is a different kind:

Grilled cheese smorrebrod

This one was my favorite:

Egg and caviar smorrebrod

They also serve fresh-pressed orange juice and really cool, huge lattes. And the environment is very good. I highly recommend this place to all lovers of Scandinavian cultures.

The menu also contains something called “Norwegian poutine.” I didn’t get to try it this time but if anybody has and can tell me what it is like, I will be very grateful.

Russian Salads

I’m still angry over my plagiarizing students, so I decided to share some food pictures because that always makes me feel better. In my culture, we always prepare a big number of salads that accompany any kind of meat courses and are a must at every social gathering or celebration.

Here is a photo of a salad called “Pineapple.” The only ingredient it doesn’t contain is an actual pineapple. The salad gets its name from the way it’s decorated:

It would have looked a lot more like a pineapple had I used walnuts. I didn’t have them, though, so here is the result. It’s very easy to make, too. It’s done in layers:

Layer 1: boiled grated potatoes

Layer 2: boiled cubed chicken breast

Layer 3: red onion

Layer 4: cubed pickles

Layer 5: more chicken

Layer 6: grated cheese

Layer 7: boiled grated eggs

Then baste it with mayonnaise or any sauce you prefer (don’t mix, of course!), decorate with walnuts, and that’s it. Such a salad should be left overnight and served on the next day because it gets better this way.

And here is a very simple salad I made for this last Thanksgiving and have lived to regret it. Since N. tried it, he’s been after me to make more of this salad. So now I make it every day, and I can’t see it any longer. Here it is:

It doesn’t take long to make but try making it every day since Thanksgiving and you’ll know what I mean.

Boiled eggs, Laughing Cow cheese wedges (but only the kind you see at this link. I tried other kinds and the salad sucks as a result), and crushed garlic. That’s it. The radishes are just for decoration.

And yes, that’s what we call a “salad” in my country. The only vegetables that are always available in Ukraine are potatoes, cabbage, and beets, so what can you expect?

Speaking of beets, here is another salad I prepared for Thanksgiving. It’s also very easy to make.

Boil (or better yet, bake) beets, grate them, add wal

nuts crushed to very small pieces, cut some dried prunes into small pieces and add them (here are the best dried prunes I could find),press garlic into the whole thing, mix it, add a tiny amount of mayonnaise if you feel like it, and decorate.

And I served these salads with a turkey that I stuffed with mushrooms and herbs and roasted in champagne.

I highly recommend roasting turkeys in champagne because they get this very light but memorable taste and aroma of champagne.

As you can see, I combined a set of Ukrainian traditions with the American Thanksgiving tradition.

Here is the turkey:

I have no idea why the photos of food I take at restaurants are usually good but the ones I take at home never do justice to the dishes.

The next post will contain photos of food from a really cool restaurant, so sit tight.

Domus Cafe in Ottawa, Canada: A Review

Today in Ottawa, I decided to take my sister to lunch to show my gratitude to her for driving me to Ottawa for my conference and back. We chose to visit Domus Cafe whose talented young chef uses ideas borrowed from Canadian country food by takes them in the direction of haute cuisine (I still can’t get out of my French-speaking mode, so please bear with me until I go back to the US).

Here is how Domus Cafe looks inside:

It is located in Ottawa’s vibrant Byward Market, so it’s very easy for any tourist to find. Here is how Domus Cafe looks on the inside:

We came right after the restaurant opened at 11 am, so it was still empty. It really filled up for lunch, however, even though this is not a cheap place. Of course, the food is so good and the service is so spectacular that there is no mystery to Domus cafe’s popularity. Here are the lattes we ordered with our lunch:

I’m trying to learn to take better photos. How does this one look? I think it’s better than the ones I usually take. W

We had a long way back to Montreal ahead of us, so we decided to order a big lunch. For appetizers, we got mushroom bisque. I loved it because it was not oversalted, like mushroom bisques often are. One huge differences between US restaurants (even very expensive ones) and Canadian restaurants is that food is always grievously oversalted in the US. Here is this beautiful bisque that smelled and tasted of mushrooms:

As an entree, my sister had a mushroom barley risotto. I’d never tried a barley risotto before and I’m glad I did because it’s a very interesting dish that I now plan to recreate at home. The risotto was very delicately seasoned and perfectly done. Here it is:

And I had smoked trout with rosti, apple and endive salad and caramelized pearl onions. This dish was divine. The rosti were very crisp and fresh and the salad was very refreshing, offering a great counterpoint to the saltiness of the roasted trout:

Of course, after this kind of lunch, neither of us was interested in the dessert. In order to fulfill my role of a blogger who faithfully records all aspects of reality, I even took a photo of the bill:

This was an expensive lunch but we were enjoying a special occasion, so it was absolutely worth it.

Billionaire’s Pasta: A Recipe

Tell me that this isn’t the most stunning pasta you’ve ever seen:

I found it on the blog of a real billionaire but I improved it so now it is my own billionaire’s pasta. Cook penne al dente WITHOUT using any salt, add 1 or 2 raw eggs and mix them with the pasta. Add some fresh dill and some smoked salmon. Put the pasta on the plates and add caviar to each plate. Make sure you don’t mix the caviar with the pasta, just spread it on top of the pasta. Otherwise, you run the risk of destroying the caviar if you mix it aggressively.

It’s scrumptious. And if you live close to a Russian food store, it isn’t all that expensive to make it.

Shodan Restaurant in Montreal: A Review

Since I’m posting pictures of food today, I wanted to share these photos of the best sushi restaurant I have ever visited. I’m a passionate sushi lover (for the dirty-minded among us: in the gastronomic sense), so I’ve been to many Japanese restaurants in my life. Here in Edwardsville we have two fairly good ones. But Montreal’s Shodan on Metcalfe Street is on an entirely different level.

Their sushi look like little works of art and taste heavenly. They are also very light because the heavy globs of rice aren’t used like they are in many Japanese restaurants on this continent.

Here is an appetizer called pizza-sushi:

It looks beautiful but, to be honest, there are places in Montreal that serve a much better version of pizza sushi. For some reason, Japanese restaurants in the US seem to have no idea what a pizza sushi even is. Whenever I ask, people look at me with pity and say, “This isn’t a pizza place. Pizza is Italian. We don’t cook Italian here.” It isn’t a real pizza of course. It’s made entirely out of seafood, covered with fish roe and has spicy mayonnaise added. Yum! Shodan’s version was stingy on the spicy mayonnaise, so the appetizer tasted bland.

Of course, as you must have guessed, the restaurant is very expensive. I’m a simple American professor, so I couldn’t really afford it on my own. This is why my sister, a Canadian businesswoman, had to invite me. 🙂

As you can see, we ordered enough food for a platoon of hungry soldiers. Whenever my sister and I start ordering food at a Japanese restaurant, the waiters always ask how many more people will be joining us.

“Oh, this is just for us,” we say. “And please don’t take away the menu. We are just getting started here.”

A Ukrainian Alternative to a Barbecue

Since I just criticized the American barbecue parties in my previous post, I want to show you what we, the Ukrainians, do instead. We had this kind of garden party in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. Of course, the weather was pretty cool, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it.

The huge black pan you can see on the photo contains my favorite food ever. We call it “a soldier’s pottage” (the clumsy translation is all mine.) As I shared before, my maternal grandfather fought in World War II. He started the war as a teenage kid on the very first day of Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and ended it in Berlin, on may 9, 1945 when he wrote his (and, eventually, mine) last name on the walls of the defeated Reichstag. This soldier’s pottage is what he and his comrades ate during the war.

The point of the pottage is that you place every kind of foodstuff you have available in the pot, add some water, and let it brew. Obviously, food is much easier to find in Montreal today than in the swamps of Polesie or the forests of Bayern during a war. So our soldier’s pottage ends up being far richer than the original.

This time, we added chicken, potatoes, carrots, millet, and poured in some eggs. In the past, we have used rabbit instead of chicken, canned meat (which made the pottage more like what it was originally), or no meat at all. Barley can be used instead of millet. After the pottage is left brewing for a couple of hours, you can eat it. It isn’t only delicious, it also offers us an opportunity to experience an emotional connection with the history of our family and of the entire world.

Through the Eyes of a Stranger: American Eating Habits

This post is inspired by one written by Z.

There are many eating habits shared by North Americans that I find to be very strange. Here are some of them:

1. Eating what looks like bird seed for breakfast and believing that this ultra-sugary dried up artificial rubbish is good for one’s health and is even fit to be fed to children.

2.Eating while walking around or, even worse, running from one appointment to another. For many people, it’s a point of a weird sort of pride that they never have time to sit down to eat and gobble down their dinner from a can while standing over a sink. The truth is, though, that not having time for a normal, sit-down meal doesn’t mean you are hard-working. It means you don’t know how to manage your time, and this is hardly anything to be proud of.

At the Atwater market in Montreal. Is there anything better than fresh fruit?

3. Feeding the worst, most unhealthy crap to little children. I was at a wedding recently, and the food was pretty great. We had a nice salad and a number of good, healthy food options. The kids, however, had a plate of chicken nuggets (a vile, disgusting thing that no kid should even know about) and French fries plopped in front of them. Why fries and nuggets should be considered appropriate food for kids is baffling to me. If anybody should be fed in a healthy way it’s children.

4. Giving kids juice that is made from concentrate, is extremely high in sugar content, and has been stuck on a shelf for God knows how long while thinking that this is somehow healthy. Buying an orange or an apple and squeezing your own juice or making your own apple puree takes no time whatsoever, so there is no excuse to give children the concentrate garbage instead. And then people look at these poor kids who are hopped-up on sugar and convince themselves they have ADD and have to be medicated.

5. Choosing the hottest possible weather to gather around a barbecue to grill stuff. If there is ever a time one can’t possible feel like a piece of grilled meat, it has to be high heat. Not so for the Americans.

This is just a tiny portion of the enormous sea food counter at my mother's favorite grocery store in Montreal. If only I had something similar where I live!

6. Smothering salads in heavy, very salty sauces. All a fresh salad needs is a teaspoon of olive oil and maybe a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Pouring a heavy sauce that has been stuck on a shelf for months or years on top of fresh vegetables simply kills the vegetables.

7. Thinking that huge chunks of barely shredded lettuce and a sad piece of cucumber here and there make a salad.

8. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference but there are some American foodstuffs that I find to be just bizarre. Peanut butter and beef jerky are my favorite examples. How can anybody eat that? I love both peanuts and beef with a passion, so it saddens me that these great foods should be tortured into such weird concoctions.

9. Hamburgers are delicious if made right. But they are never fit to be eaten in public. Unless, of course, you eat them with a fork and a knife like I do. 🙂

10. Thinking that if you combine the contents of a few cans together, you’ll come up with dinner. One’s main sources of nutrition should never come from cans or boxes. Even if it seems cheaper to make, say, mashed potatoes by using a box mix than real potatoes (actually, it isn’t cheaper at all), think of how much money you’ll spend on a doctor after you eat this crap for a while.

It isn’t surprising that nowhere else in the world are you going to meet nearly as many obese people as here in the US. If you have had a chance to spend any time at all traveling abroad, you can’t deny there is huge issue with obesity in this country that is non-existent in other places. And if you look at these eating habits,you can’t be very surprised. It’s fashionable nowadays to pretend that the high rates of obesity that plague this country have nothing to do with what and how people eat. Certain pseudo-liberals especially love to engage in this willful blindness.

Of course, the quality of food is also pretty abysmal everywhere in the US except, maybe, the really big cities on the East Coast. My sister and her family were recently on a trip to Florida and they simply couldn’t eat anything. They tried all kinds of restaurants but the food was uneatable for their Canadian palates and stomachs. When I compare farmers’ markets in Montreal with the farmer’s market here in Edwardsville, the land of farmers, I almost turn green with envy.

Clarissa’s Red Mullet With Spicy Salsa: A Recipe

Red mullet is a great fish that tastes and looks beautiful. The salsa that I made to accompany it can be used with a variety of dishes or as a dip.

Clean your fish by removing the scales and the innards. Red mullet’s liver is a delicacy, so if your fish comes with a liver, consider leaving it inside. Of course, if you are not a liver person, then just get rid of it. (What a waste, though!) Salt and pepper your fish, sprinkle it with some lemon juice and put it in a frying pan with some olive oil:

Isn't it pretty?

You will have to fry the fish about 2.5-3 minutes on each side. In the meanwhile, place a big ripe tomato, half a bunch of cilantro, and several cloves of garlic into a blender. I used young garlic and it made the salsa all that much better.

It’s up to you how chunky you want the salsa to be, so you decide how long you blend the ingredients.

I serve the mullet with fluffy Moroccan couscous and pour the salsa on top of the fish. It’s very easy to make, delicious, and looks great.

This is the end result