Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like the pilgrims a few centuries ago, we have adjusted our harvest feast based on the indigenous products and cooking techniques available to us. Fortunately, unlike the originators of the holiday, we are not at risk of starving over the winter (nor will we likely later commit genocide against the people living here before us). But, compromises to the menu had to be made.

First, turkeys are not readily available in Ukraine. They exist, but must be special ordered through a vendor at one of the markets and are fattened for January (Christmas). In principle, we could have done this. But, since our oven does not function, this is a moot point. Instead, we ordered succulent chicken-grill from the new Chicken Place (the Old L'viv restaurant). Second, without a cooked turkey, gravy had to be made without drippings. So, Lea crafted an ersatz gravy with bouillon cubes. Third, without an oven or a turkey, making stuffing proved to be a challenge. Jani loaned us a peculiar Czech portable stove that served us well. It is a pot with a lid that heats to one temperature, 155 centigrade. Lea made stuffing in this contraption. Fourth, Erik made squash, but had to braise it instead of baking. Other dishes were made in the standard way - mashed potatoes and kimchi (our addition to the menu since the Nam family joined us for many Thanksgivings in Lawrence. Lea's parents brought the spices from the US). We also had several contributions from our guests: Jani made cakes and brought cherry chutney, Ewa brought brussel sprouts as well as brusniki (a fair approximation for cranberries).

As the day progressed, other compromises were forced upon us. Our refrigerator decided to die and we discovered its fate shortly after noon. We had heard some strange noises from that part of the kitchen, but thought it might be the rumbles of falling snow - currently a real danger to pedestrians walking near buildings. The water on the floor and the warmth of the interior proved that the noises were not snow. We encountered a fridge problem earlier in our visit as well. Vasyl, the apartment manager, replaced our small fridge with a larger one. During the Bistaks' visit, it conked out. Erik shook it and somehow got it to restart. But, Fonz-like bumping, pushing, and shaking did not resuscitate the unit this time. Erik went to the management office to resolve the issue - we had food for 13 guests, plus other things that would spoil. The managers are on vacation now, joining many Ukrainians who are taking one last European trip before the hardened Schengen borders restrict access to Poland and the rest of the West in late December. Their surly assistant was unsympathetic when Erik explained the situation. She indicated that there was no replacement fridge available. Out of the corner of his eye, Erik saw one sitting in Vasyl's office and asked: "how about that one?" She did not directly object to us using it, but put up another barrier: there were no "men" in the office (since women are apparently incapable of lifting). After half-heartedly searching for something with wheels, she gave up. Erik decided to literally take matters into his own hands, hauling the fridge down the hallway on his own. The elderly cleaning woman offered to help him, holding out her hand to take a side of the refrigerator. Erik declined her kind offer. If the young assistant had offered to help, he would have taken her up on it. But, her senior co-worker was another story. Now, we have three refrigerators in the apartment: the old Soviet colossus that never worked, the new old fridge that broke, and the borrowed unit from Vasyl's office. We just hope that it was not there because it malfunctions... at this moment it is working.

What is most important of all, to us, about Thanksgiving is to be thankful and to share the holiday with friends. In addition to Phil, Jani, Thomas, and Ewa, we hosted Brian (an American student at IFNU on study abroad from Western Washington University), Viktor, Walter, Anatoliy, and vice-rector Kyrylych. After a nice dinner, we retired to the living room for dessert and entertainment by Walter - who sang songs and recited poems for the boys. Carter and Thomas played, and we all chatted until everyone departed for their homes. For many, it was their first Thanksgiving and we hope that the tradition is successfully exported to Ukraine!

1 comment:

Lea's Dad said...

You certainly had enough barriers threatening Thanksgiving American style and preparation of a meal for celebration. The Survivor program has nothing on you when it comes to your making Thanksgiving happen in Lviv! I would hope that most kitchens in Ukraine have better stoves and refrigerators than you seem to have been "blessed" with. KimChee must have been an interesting addition since it's spicing is not much like anything Ukrainian. It will certainly seem terribly tame to do Thanksgiving in Lawrence next year!

Well done!!