Until the 6th of October, 2020, I ate dessert. My wife and I would finish our evening meal Russian style, with tea and often bulki, Russian baked rolls. Bulki are made with different kinds of filling such as jam, smetana(sour cream) mixed with tvorog (cottage cheese) and raisins. If one lacked filling, I’d butter mine and put honey on top. When the reserves of bulki ran low, I was prepared to fulfill last minute orders for blini, the Russian version of crepes. The ingredients are milk, flour, eggs, sugar, some olive oil and a dash of salt, then fried thin and crispy. When cooked, they are stacked in a pile on a plate and lubricated in between with butter. Sour cream, jam, honey and other ingredients are rolled up in blini and eaten until they are gone. Salmon with sour cream is a favorite in blini, so is ground beef. Blini have a shelf life of 24 hours and a production run in my kitchen comes to a dozen pancakes. Our blini were dispatched while fresh. We have several jars of preserves sitting around the house made from cherries, apples and berries we grew, picked and prepared ourselves. These were designed to fill bliny and they will now have to wait.
As happened in households around the world in the spring of 2020, I began to bake. I started with corn bread in May. It took several attempts to get it right, lasting a few weeks. Corn bread is no good without butter and honey and is best consumed fresh out of the oven. A minimum order was no less than a dozen corn bread rolls. These needed to be finished off swiftly, while fresh, before becoming as hard as a rock. At first the remainder of the household, consisting of my wife, indulged my corn bread efforts, but she soon began calling out for bulki. It didn’t go well. My bulki came out shaped like cupcakes. Food in the wrong shape doesn’t have the right flavor. A bulki has to be round and flat, something like a hockey puck, with a dome on the top. In this form it has the orthodox taste.
A turning point took place in October when a friend and I found a place to have an evening meal on a veranda. The weather was sunny. Being with a human being was a Godsend. The view of the Moscow river and the Kremlin was magnificent. The veranda was safe and had affordable food and wine. After a big meal, I took a walk on Red Square, past a restaurant that sold chocolate ice cream and made short work of two scoops. Afterwards, I wondered why I did it.
The next morning, I climbed onto the scales. I was a good 8 kilos (15 pounds) above my normal weight in the 2000s, which was another 6 kilos above my fighting weight in the 90’s. My favorite jeans could not be worn. I began to wonder if perhaps I was addicted to sweets. I was blaming others. All those sweets in the grocery stores, some of which landed in our kitchen on its own, was the problem. My wife was equally to blame. Everyone was guilty, except me.
On the 6th of October I went cold turkey and quit dessert and sweets. Until now, I have been silent about the matter, like a monk. I’ve seen a few videos, extolling the virtues of quitting sweets. It is portrayed as a near religious experience. Several accounts claim that quitting sugar provides higher levels of energy, making non-sugar eaters extraordinarily active. Other videos display rippling abdominal muscles. In my case, I simply felt hungry after dinner. For a week or two I was grumpy. I felt a bit more energetic, but it wasn’t mind blowing. Instead, I was craving blini. After a while, it passed. Now, I only feel sanctimonious.
In December, all the sweets in the house were thrown in the garbage. My wife had turned the corner. For her, the solution came from joining a club of Russian women who get together online under the leadership of a dietician, who has laid out a reasonable but un-American diet plan. It is reasonable because it forbids dessert and processed foods but allows a healthy diet of other stuff. Bliny and bulki are nel’zya (forbidden). It’s un-American because it focuses on food that comes out of the ground or is grown on a farm in Russia. It doesn’t emphasize the green, leafy salads that I love. Instead, it calls for things like radishes, dill weed, cabbage, turnips, beets and other traditional Russian vegetables. Soup is mandatory, of course, which I support in an entirely bipartisan way, along with the blasted radishes.
The leader of my wife’s food group has instilled beliefs in her followers. Fruit is not allowed in the evening after 6 pm, an idea I consider to be in contravention of empirical thought, not to mention arbitrary. Another belief is that warm water is essential and good, whereas cold water is a shock to the system. Cold wine is perfectly acceptable. I happen to like cold water. One solution I found was to put slices of ogurets (cucumber) in my cold water. Russians worship ogurets. I often leave my cucumber water in the fridge for show. I don’t especially like the stuff, but I like the way it looks in the pickle jar and when I drink it, no one says a word.
Daniel Brooks, copyright, 16 February 2021