Saturday, July 21, 2007

Canning, etc.

Hi everyone! How are things in America? Nothing much new in Ukraine, but I’ll update anyway . . .

During the past two weeks, I’ve badly underestimated how much time two things would take to accomplish, but have also accomplished something that took me much, much longer to do (more on that later). The first was when I went to buy train tickets to take me east this August, along with three campers, for a camp in Donetsk Oblast. I went to the “kasa” (ticket window) in nearby Nemirov, instead of going all the way to the train station in my oblast capital. I’ve been to this kasa (literally one window) a few times before and it had taken a while, but I was prepared, and had nothing else to do. But five hours (including an hour lunch break) later, I decided that I had learned my lesson. At least I didn’t wait longer than the actual train trip will take . . .

The second thing was last weekend, when I decided to learn how to can, Ukrainian style! My beloved cookbook has extensive instructions on how to do this, and the Volunteers who wrote it gave me a jar of one of their favorite recipes last spring, so I had a lot of motivation. That recipe was for “adzhyka,” a kind of salsa that’s good on everything. The recipe calls for a meat grinder to grind up the ingredients, but I don’t have one, and I decided that I didn’t really need one, and could just chop the ingredients into little tiny salsa-size pieces. (I would blame two other Volunteers for this decision, since they suggested it, but I was the one dumb enough to listen.) I also don’t know the Ukrainian word for a meat grinder, and was too lazy to try to figure it out. So, I took a trip to the bazaar to get the ingredients and canning supplies to make six half-liter jars of adzhyka, and only began to realize what I was in for when I got back in the early afternoon. I had sort of forgotten about the grinder issue, thinking somewhere in the back of my mind that my little mortar and pestle could be a kind of substitute. Then I looked at a tomato, and realized that applying pressure to it doesn’t really have the same effect as grinding it . . . Anyway, I started chopping, and my neighbor came by to check on my progress; she seemed calm, so I started to think that maybe I could really do it all in one day! I was wrong, but my nice neighbors continued to keep tabs on me, and brought me something to eat for dinner, when I was working on the peppers. All told, it was: two and half kilos of tomatoes, a half kilo of sweet peppers, and a quarter kilo of garlic. Bleh. I’ve learned my lesson, although I do sort of vaguely stand by my decision not to buy a grinder, since I can’t imagine what I’d ever need one for again . . . but if I feel compelled to make this recipe again, I guess I’ll borrow one.

The next day (after giving up for the night), I filled the six jars and then boiled them in a few inches of water, which, I’m told, is how people used to can things in America. But I didn’t need paraffin wax, like they used then – they sell sealers here, which work very well! I was very nervous while boiling and sealing the jars, worrying about the possibility of cracking or an explosion (it’s in the cookbook! I had to lay out plastic just in case). Several hours after I left the jars on their heads to cool, I heard a hissing and a pop from the other room, and my heart sank – it took me a good few minutes to get up the courage to make it across the kitchen to check the jars. I was terrified that another jar would go off at any second – but when I finally checked them, they were all fine! It turns out that my shower head had slipped from its coiled position in the bathroom. So in the end it was a success (and I gave one jar to my neighbors), and I think it will taste good . . . but yes, I’ve learned my lesson, really.

I actually overestimated how many ingredients I would need: because of misreading the recipe, I accidentally bought way too many peppers, especially hot peppers. But the cookbook has an answer for this, and explained how to hang hot peppers so they’ll dry and last the rest of one’s service, so I took some dental floss and hung them on my porch.

Last week I also went to a festival in my district – I was told there would be crafts, etc., but I went without having any real idea what it would be like. I had images in my head of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which I figured was unrealistic, but it actually turned out to be not far off the mark! There was no theme, and fewer performances and demonstrations . . . but, in that it was a massive collection of tents, people and food, it was very similar! I had expected a little town with some tables for selling crafts, so I was pretty taken aback by the size of it.

A man on my bus who spoke English asked me if I had traveled to Ukraine for the festival, and I explained that I live here, which surprised him. I find that people are more surprised that I’m not just visiting than by anything else about me. When my family and I visited L’viv, which is supposed to be strictly Ukrainian-speaking, people would often still speak Russian to me, figuring that a foreigner would be more likely to speak that than Ukrainian. But the funny thing, my dad and I realized, was that even when they figured out that I spoke Ukrainian, they never had much of a reaction. I read in the book the PC gave us, “A Few Minor Adjustments,” about how Volunteers often draw crowds in their countries by speaking the obscure language of the region. Here, though, they seem to take it in stride; I think because they generally assume I’m Polish, or that I’m of Ukrainian heritage and here to visit the mother country. So, what really surprises them is how long I’m staying.

So, the festival was interesting: there were crafts and stands with shashlik (shish-kebob), and the whole thing was by a pretty river that people were wading into, and rafting down. What really struck me was how people were dressed – instead of the general Ukrainian look (involving see-through fabric and sequins), everyone looked like they had come for Woodstock. People were barefoot and wearing flowy dresses with headbands around the crowns of their heads, lining up to get their hair beaded and braided, and mixing and matching traditional hippie-wear with traditional Ukrainian tunics. There were a few people wearing just about nothing (a speedo), but most people went for the 60s style. I heard some traditional Ukrainian singing, and got to pet a foal hanging out on the sidelines. I didn’t stay for more than a couple of hours, but most people were there for the long haul; I think the majority of people wandering around had small tents around the edges of the festival – there were a lot of little camping tents with personal barbeques going on.

The last accomplishment of the past two weeks has been: getting internet! Really!! This has taken me forever, I have been trying since March. I bought a mobile phone that supposedly had internet capability, and basically spent the next three months trying to make it work. I would go to various service places in my oblast capitol about once a week, getting various answers about why it wasn’t working as promised . . . fellow Volunteer Grant said it was like the Mongols attacking the Great Wall of China again and again (in this metaphor, I am the Mongols). But the Wall is down! I gave up on the first phone and had to get another, but it was worth it. I didn’t want to mention my efforts in the blog before this, for fear of jinxing it. So now you can e-mail me, and I’ll get back to you sooner!

Finally, I got wonderful mail: thank you to Carolyn, and to Mev for a great late-bday/4th-of-July package, which included Senate gift shop pencils for my students! Thanks!

Take care . . .

Love, Virginia


At July 25, 2007 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Score!!!! You have the internet!!! I'm much, much better at writing emails than letters! Miss you!

Louisa :)

At July 28, 2007 7:31 PM, Blogger Mary said...

Gaaah see now I look like a bad friend for sending you a bday present 4 months late.
Then again that sort of does make me a bad friend.
Looking forward to you visit v. much!

At July 29, 2007 4:14 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Lou: Good to hear, hurrah :)
Mev: It does not! Especially a cool package like that - it just makes me spoiled (or spoilt?), that's all.


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