Meditations

Vodka Saves the Day


There are moments when you get slapped out of apathy and assumption-making that resonate a while. Meeting Elena was one such moment. In a few spoken words she shattered our first impression of her as merely the Korean female half of my talented and wacky recent VFS mentoree student. It was actually fellow Foodist Mark, and his ear for accents, that detected it first. “What accent is that?”, he asked, piqued by the unexpected cadence. “Nope,  it’s Russian.”, she says. Excuse me? 

A line of questioning ensued as the waitress brought on dish after dish of Korean fare. As it turns out, Russian Koreans are not all that rare. There’s a decent-size population of them. There’s a longer story there, but that’s for another day. Sure enough, conversation turned to food—notably, the mash up of distinct cultural cuisine for this unlikely hybrid. What could be better? How about the fact that Elena is a cultural historian of Russia and Central Asia currently working on her Ph.D at UBC. 

So, without further adieu, let me introduce our newest Foodists contributor, Elena Yugai:

Her eclectic recipe repertoire reflects her own complex heritage of Korean, Russian and Canadian cultures. She loves experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, but her real culinary talent lays in crafting age-old traditional recipes from a world away. She spent a long time doing fieldwork in remote areas of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Russian Far East, where she dug out rare archival documents and recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with elderly men and women of Russia’s diverse ethnic minorities: Koreans, Tatars, Armenians, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

Elena’s first article stems from the conversations had at our first meeting, making numerous toasts over plum wine and gaining deeper insights into the Russian tradition of making toasts with vodka. We’re as excited to have her join our collective of passionate food folk as she is thrilled to be able to share centuries old recipes, tricks and food philosophies from that part of the world with us. Here’s to many more in-depth food adventures from her perspective!

Ben Garfinkel, Co-Founder

Vodka Saves the Day

Vodka has long held an iconic status as the ultimate symbol of the mysterious Russian culture.  Strict rules and rituals regulate its consumption, like that it must be Russian, made from grain, not in a cocktail and always accompanied by food and a toast.  If fact, Russians love their vodka so much that they’ve come up with a million different ways to use it besides getting drunk and becoming comrades with strangers.  Here are the top ten (other) ways of how vodka can save the day:

  1. For Better Yeast Dough: If you add 1 tablespoon of vodka when making yeast dough, it will improve dough’s taste and won’t let it dry out as fast.
  2. Crispy Deep Fried Goodies:  When deep-frying stuff, add one or two tablespoons of vodka to batter to get a golden crispy coating on your food.
  3. Soften Tough Beef: If the beef in your beef stew is too tough, add about a tablespoon of vodka for every 500 grams (1 lb) of beef and simmer on low heat.  There won’t be any “vodka” taste left in the end, but the meat will definitely soften up.
  4. Honey—Organic or Not: To test whether your honey is organic or not, warm up about a tablespoon of it in a microwave and then try to dissolve it in a shot glass with vodka. If honey fully dissolves in vodka, congratulations, you bought high quality, organic honey. If vodka becomes murky or you can see sediment at the bottom, tough luck, your honey is not organic and is full of additives.
  5. Long Lasting Fresh Flowers: Add a few drops of vodka and a teaspoon of sugar to your bouquet. Change water with vodka and sugar every day, periodically cutting the bottom of the stem to improve absorption. Your flowers will last for at least 30 days.
  6. Home Remedy for High Fever: When suffering from high fever, soak several cotton balls with vodka and rub it over the sick person’s back and chest.  Alcohol evaporates quickly cooling the skin’s surface and helping bring the fever down. Don’t put the blankets over the sick person to allow more rapid evaporation.
  7. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak: If you accidentally touch poison ivy or poison oak, immediately rinse your skin with vodka. Do not rub. Rinsing helps wash away urushiol, which causes skin rash.
  8. Removing Bandages:  Soak a cotton ball with vodka and use it to dampen the bandage. Vodka will dissolve the glue on a bandage and soften the skin, allowing to painlessly remove the bandage.
  9. Cleaning Glasses and Photo Lenses: Use a few drops of vodka on soft, micro fiber cloth to clean fingerprints from your photo lens or from your glasses. Make sure your cloth is only damp, not wet and use straight strokes in the same direction, do not rub.
  10. Healthy Hair: Add 50 ml of vodka to your shampoo bottle. It will cleanse your head skin, remove toxins from your hair and stimulate hair growth.  To get rid of dandruff, soak 2 teaspoons of ground fresh rosemary in a glass of vodka.  Let stand for at least 2 days, then massage onto skin under your hair and let dry on its own. Repeat every other day for a month.

Cheers, Comrades!

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