Anatomy of a Russian dinner (alternatively, absence explained)

I bet you’re sick of the Sheep & Wool reports by now. Or if you aren’t yet, you might be soon. Tell you what – this post promises to be entirely sheep- and wool- and knitting-free! Okay, I manage to squeeze in the teensiest amount of knitting in there, but you’ll see, it’s not much.

The post also explains my blog absense. Not that I’ve been gone that long, but… you know, clearly something was up. I spent the weekend at my parents’, celebrating my mom’s birthday. She invited some family and friends, and cooked an all-out Russian dinner. Knowing this, it wasn’t very difficult to convince me to come down for a few days ;). I snapped just a few photos while the food was being prepped, but they capture some interesting moments. I put them in the extended entry for the curious among you ;). The rest – I’ll update the knitting progress soon. After all, visiting my parents does mean 10 hours on the train ;).


(left) Bouquets of flowers lined up on the mantle (if you squint and look carefully at the card on the mantle closest to you, you’ll see it was a momentous occasion). (right) The carnations I gave to my mom – I’m pleased, especially considering I ordered the bouquet from a local (to mom) florist, hundreds of miles away from me, without really knowing what they’d look like at all.


(left) Me, ironing the tablecloth. (right) Fresh lilac from “the field” (my parents call their backyard “the field” due to its, uhm, extreme undisturbed nature-like state).


(left) Beet and vegetable salad. I don’t touch that stuff with a six-foot pole. (right) A Russian classic – “herring in a fur coat” – this is a cold dish where filleted herring is covered with carrots, onions, beets, and finally, a generous layer of mayonnaise (which my mom is spreading in that photo). I don’t touch this one either.


(left) My Godmother is chopping a bologna-like cold cut that’s used in another salad. (right) The veal cutlet assembly line.


(left) My grandma wears handknit socks while she cooks; my hot feets prefer to stay barefoot ;). (right) I’m peeling a squash kind of vegetable. I’m not sure what it’s called in English, but my mom asks one of her coworkers to get it for her from the Indian-food specialty store, since it’s not sold at the regular supermarket. It’s quite slimy like zucchini.


(left) My Godmother is arranging smoked fish of three varieties on some dishes. Yum! (right) Another fish dish – fish filets with carrots in tomato sauce on top, served cold. While I don’t eat this dish, let us admire beautiful platter ;). I gave a set of these to my parents for their 25th wedding anniversary – they are from Simon Pearce.


49 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Russian dinner (alternatively, absence explained)

  1. Teresa the Canadian

    I find it interesting that they tempt you with an all Russian food weekend, and you don’t like half the other dishes. The others must be tempting. I work with some Russians and eastern Europeans so I am familiar with some of those dishes. The first (and only) beet salad I ever liked was by a Ukranian.

    Beautiful flowers, you do what I normally do as well call the local florist directly for delivery. Seems so much nicer than going through several intermediaries.

    Happy Birthday to your mom


  2. Jen

    Tell us what you DID eat! I think I am glad you stayed away from the ones you don’t eat…scary!

  3. Carole

    Ah. Heritage. It’s a wonderful thing! I love to see all kinds of Swedish food prepared, even if I don’t love to eat all of them.

  4. Beth S.

    What, no pelmeni?!…

    I recognize the squash thingy because my (Indian) mother-in-law makes it. I don’t know its name either, and can’t say I particularly care for it.

  5. --Deb

    You might not want to eat it, but that beet and vegetable salad looks so, so pretty!!

    But yes, I’m curious as to what you actually ate, too!

  6. Mary

    Squash-y thing looks like a chiote (chai-o-tay) πŸ™‚

    They eat ’em in Mexico too. They’re way starchy so you can eat them like mashed potatoes, with salt and chili powder of course, and then put into a plastic bag so the kids can cut a hole in a corner and chomp away, cuz all potentially healthy-for-you fruits or veggies must me made into fun snack foods sometimes :). The venders always looked at me funny cuz I didn’t want chile powder on my watermelon, what a heathen I am πŸ™‚

  7. Kris in TX

    So, no Gwampkes (sp?) or Povatiza? I insisted on both of those at our wedding even. Mom also made sure there was Kapusta, but I never touch that sauerkraut stuff.

    Happy Birthday, Mom!

  8. colleen

    What’s funny is that you avoid all the dishes I would immeditately eat. (Smoked?) fish with carrots? What’s wrong with that?

  9. maryse

    happy birthday to your mom!

    the beet and vegetable salad actually looks pretty good. and the herring in a fur coat sounds so appealing πŸ˜‰

  10. maryse

    and i like that your parents call their yard the “field.”

    since our yard is in it’s natural state — entropy — i shall from now own refer to our yard as the field.

  11. Teresa C

    You must get me the recipe for the beet and vegetable salad. I salivated the second I saw the picture. Or if they send you home with leftovers……

  12. mari

    Fascinating! I love all of the photos of the food. Even though my dad is half-Russian, the only Russian food we ever eat are piroshkis. Happy Birthday Grumperina’s Mom!

  13. Karla (threadbndr)

    German and other East European types here (and English and Irish and Scots, but who’s counting) – ditto – WANT the beet and veggie salad details. Pretty please?

  14. Katherine

    I know nearly nothing of Russian cuisine. However, I bless your people for borscht. I will eat anything with beets in it. Vegetable candy!

    Happy birthday to your mom! I wonder which foods you DID like, and are there pictures of those ones? Given my aforementioned ignorance, I’m curious. I’m a vegetarian, and haven’t found Russian restaurants to be the easiest place for me. But there must be something good (and meatless) that I don’t know about!

    And welcome back.

  15. Jo

    None of that cuisine sounds very tempting but dam it looks so pretty! Happy Birthday to Mom!

  16. Whitney

    Those beet dishes are so pretty! Too bad I wouldn’t touch them with a 6 foot pole either! Lovely photos though, and my Dad’s 50th was this past week as well, we had a big party yesterday.

  17. Tam

    I don’t know much about Russian food and haven’t heard of most of the dishes you pictured. I’m with you- I’d have to take a pass on most of that. I do enjoy Borscht. It’s pretty much the only thing that has beets in it that I do like. I can completely relate to the “veal assemby line”, though. I do that to make my favorite German/Austrian dish- JΓ€ger Schnitzel which is made with either veal or pork.

  18. Evelyn

    I love beets so I’ll try anything with beets in it. However, those beet dishes just don’t have the most appealing appearance! I’m surprised by the use of carrots. That’s 2 different dishes they’re used a some sort of covering!

  19. Gerlinde

    Gosch, next time you visit your Parents can I go and eat everything you don’t like?lol.Tell your Mom Happy Birthday!!!!

  20. Joanna

    Oh man, now I’m so hungry! I love beets and pickled herring… everything looks so good, I’m sure it was a fabulous meal. Happy birthday GrumpeMom! πŸ™‚

  21. jody

    even though our heritage is different, seeing all the old-country food gets me nostalgic for my nana’s kitchen. what a great way to spend a weekend πŸ™‚

  22. CatBookMom

    Fascinating and fun! ‘Slimy like eggplant’ – my kind of eater, never have figured out why so many people like it. Lots of mayo? Well, that’s also typically US Midwestern cooking. The fish dishes sound like something I’d be adventuresome enough to try.

    The flowers for your Mom are lovely, and you are so smart to call the local florist; calling from a distance, you can ‘order’ certain kinds, but who knows if the florist on-the-spot has those? Also works for the sort of container you want.

  23. Kate

    See how pretty everything looked? There is no color in Irish cooking, food in color has to be cool. Pink food is not part of my family heritage.

  24. Angela

    That squash thing.. its got medium size-ish seeds right? I think its called “opu” or “opo”.. at least that’s what it’s referred to in Tagalog. That stuff is good! .. aha! Just found it.. the Calabash squash

  25. Lola Lee Beno

    Hey . . . where are the blinis? I looooove blinis . . . cooked some during Cheesefare Week and had great results with it. Now I’ve got an hankering for it and just need to see if I can remember which recipe I used that time (some recipes are just way too complex and throw everything but the kitchen sink into the making). I go to an Russian Orthodox church so I’m well familiar with the cuisine . . . some dishes I love, some I wouldn’t touch with a 3 foot pole.

  26. Judy

    All the beet dishes look yummy to me, too! I used to date a Russian guy MANY years ago, so I learned to cook a few Russian dishes. Yum!!

  27. Kate

    Ahh… I know the feeling! My family is Norweigan and I am sooo not into some of the food that we consider “delish”… like pickled herring or mackeral heads, but I will eat lutefisk (which is “cooked” with lye— a Scandanavian ceviche if you will) and lefse. MMM…lefse. With butter and sugar. I might rice some potatoes tonight for this! πŸ™‚

    So, what do you eat when you go home? the veal? Your mom’s veal looks good… what is it and how do you make it?

    :)Kate wtih the Grumperina haircut. πŸ™‚

  28. Cindy

    Please share the beet and vegetable salad recipe. It looks yummy! I hope you had a good visit and your mom had a great birthday! (My eyes are too old to see what a momentous occasion it is).

  29. Lotta

    I’m getting hungry here… I can’t wait for my trip back home in a few weeks, when I can pay a visit to my all time favorite restaurant Saslik! yummy…

  30. Sylvia

    I have a girlfriend from Eastern Europe who says when she goes home all the food is white.

    Isn’t sour cream more traditional than mayo?

  31. gail

    With a few exceptions, your russian dinner looks wonderful! A few years ago, my husband (a faculty member/scientist) hosted a Russian scientist for a year. The scientist and his wife invited us for a Russian feast one evening. My husband is deathly allergic to fish and seafood, so we didn’t have the herring, etc. However, the other dishes looked very familiar; we had a real feast and a wonderful time.

  32. TracyKM

    Gotta go and check on the lilacs here! We don’t have our own ‘field’ but there some nearby! My fav. flower of spring…

    Gotta say though, I’m glad our Ukranian blood line sort of fizzled out a couple generations back!


  33. Rachel

    I ate a full-out Russian feast at a home visit in Moscow once. The family pulled out all the stops. I was only 17, and I don’t recall exactly what they served, but I tried everything and remember it being very very good. Of course, after all the food we’d been subjected to in the hotel restaurants, um, it was a welcome respite.

  34. Tanya

    Ah, yes, a Russian feast. Since going vegetarian, I can’t eat most of the stuff, much to my mother’s dismay. But the grandiose nature of a Russian dinner, with all the appetizers and main course dishes, is still very appealing.

  35. Quirkybook

    hi! I’ve never commented before, but had to say something when I saw the photo of that weird squashy thing. My parents (who are Bangladeshi) grow those things by the metric ton in their garden in suburban New York. My dad particularly takes pride in growing them as long as possible — I think the longest ones have been 3 or 4 feet long! I of course LOATHE this vegetable, but my parents love it, and eat it practically every day during the summer months.

    Oddly enough, I don’t know the English word for this squash, either. Perhaps only the non-English speakers of the world can truly, ahem, appreciate the wonders of this vegetable.

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