Monday, February 11, 2008

In Which I Attract More Flies With Honey?

I am not doing this on purpose. If I am, indeed, doing anything at all. Maybe the Spouse is right. Maybe it is all in my head.

Today I went to buy honey. In my fairly upscale grocery store, a little jar, 350 grams worth, costs something like 180 rubles. At roughly 25 rubles to the dollar, that’s over $7 for a very small jar. I think I paid something like 5 Euros in Austria, which, at the current rate of exchange, is about the same price. But that was for a bigger container WITH the fancy squeeze-y top, cleverly designed not to get honey all over your kitchen.

I remembered that the little indoor market around the corner has Egg and Honey Lady. So I went over today to see if I could do better.

The answer is a resounding YES. Egg and Honey Lady had a kilo, a KILO! of honey, ladies and gentlemen, for 200 rubles. That’s 1000 grams of honey for not that much more than I paid for 350 grams.

I also wanted to buy pine nuts, but the Nut and Spice Guy hadn’t opened his stall yet. It was before 10:00 a.m., so I figured I was just too early. Pine nuts are also expensive in the grocery store (a tiny package can be over $10), but there are dried fruit and nut vendors all over the city, and often they have better prices and better pine nuts.

I went home, pine nut-less, and puttered around the house for a while. I cooked. I did laundry. I asked Braveheart if she wanted any honey. She said she did.

So I went back to the market after lunch. I got Braveheart a kilo of honey for 160 rubles (this was a thicker, more spread-able consistency than what I bought). By now Nut and Spice Guy was open for business.


The Russians have sales and marketing skills that the Slovaks do not. Suggestive selling. Pointing out the better value. Actually expressing interest in exchanging goods and services for money. I don’t know why, but decades of Socialism have not killed the entrepreneurial spirit here.

I hesitate to say it, but I sometimes wonder if it is an Asian influence. There certainly is, in Moscow, a visible Asian population. All those former Central Asian Soviet Republics, the ‘Stans as we call them, have left high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes across the Russian landscape.

Maybe I’m guilty of stereotyping. But the Chinese, to my mind anyhow, have always been fabulous merchants. Have you ever known a Chinese grocery or restaurant that wasn’t open ALL THE TIME? No time off for holidays. Those people are in there working. Hard. Mom. Dad. The kids. Grandma. You want it, they got it, and they’ll sell it to you.

In any case, Nut and Spice Guy is Uzbek. He told us so on a previous visit. He’s relatively tall, probably late 30s. Not a head-turner, but there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s just a guy who looks vaguely Asian.

He has that Russian thing about invading personal space, to start with. The market is close quarters anyhow. But I wonder if he is always such a close talker.

And he does like to talk. In Russian. I bought pine nuts and walnuts. He wanted to point out the lovely ceramic platters he also sells (they are really nice). And the cast iron pots for cooking . . . what? I don’t know. Possibly pilaf. I am sure I heard the word pilaf quite a bit.

Figs, perhaps?

Er, I’m not really a fig fan.

This lovely Mixed Fruit and Nut Gift Basket?

Nyet. But thanks.

Then he was going on about “restaurant” and “dom” (which means home or house). Drawing a house shape in the air with his hands and saying “dom” and “pilaf.”

Is he inviting me to his home for pilaf? The idea slowly dawns on me.

First Smiling Guy. Now Nut and Spice Guy. What is it that draws these guys?

It can’t be the blonde hair and blue eyes. There are plenty of blonde-haired, blue-eyed women walking around here.

Is it the American . . . credulousness? Our ability to walk around wide-eyed, smiling at strangers. Should I scowl more?

Egg and Honey Lady, who is coincidentally very Asian looking and who has been watching this transaction, snaps something at him and walks back to her stand in disgust. Sausage Lady, who is directly in front of us, rolls her eyes. I get the distinct impression that they have witnessed this behavior before.

I hold up my left hand and point to my wedding ring.

He is not deterred. “I have four children,” he tells me in Russian.

“I have two,” I counter.

“Yes, yes, I know. Two pretty girls. And a tall husband,” he says.

I guess we do stand out.

So the question is: Are we all invited for pilaf?

I’ll have to take the Spouse with me next time I buy pine nuts.

On a totally unrelated note, I have cooked up a storm today, if I do say so myself. I’m sorry, but the planets have all aligned and dinner tonight rocks.

First, I had some gorgeous pork chops. I heated olive oil in what I call a Dutch oven. I sliced onions in wedges and sautéed them in the olive oil until they started to get golden. I smeared a little Dijon mustard on the pork chops and laid them over the onions. Added two chopped cloves of garlic and about a cup of apple juice. I put the cover on, put the dish in a medium oven, and left it there until the meat was done and golden and the liquid had reduced (about 2 hours perhaps).

Then I took out the meat. I heated the remaining liquid and added about half a glass of white wine. I let it reduce and then whisked in a small spoonful of the mustard and about a half cup of really good, thick, Russian sour cream.

Then I made a salad. I cheated and used chopped cabbage in a bag (I didn’t want a whole head). I grated a peeled Granny Smith apple that had gone to school with Skittles and returned home uneaten for several days. I added crumbled bleu cheese, mandarin orange segments (and the juice I could squeeze out of the orange corpse after peeling and sectioning it . . . no membranes), toasted and chopped walnuts, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. I wish I had a pomegranate because those red seeds would look so lovely against the pale cabbage and apple. Next time.

A little rice. Pork chop with the sauce over the rice. Cabbage salad on the side. So delicious.

If I do say so myself.


Chris said...

Oh honestly. You KNOW American women are utterly sans morals. And yes the open, credulous smiles strike so many non-Americans as either puppy-dog goofy (the French version) or just incredibly naive (probably everyone). And no, I seriously doubt he's inviting your family for dinner, but hey, I could be wrong. Why not take fabulous Russian girlfriend with you next time rather than your spouse and see what happens?

Luna said...

No! Don't scowl more--think of all the fun encounters you'd miss!

Dinner sounded indeed wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Dinner sounds delish :)
And whatever it is you're doing, it's working! Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

When are you publishing your cookbook? After reading your rendition of cooking dinner, I was hungry.

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