Part 4 – Good Granny

Every fairy-tale has a moral.  The good prevails, the evil perishes.  The honorable and selfless are celebrated, the bad and the ugly walk away in shame and defeat.  Every Wicked Witch will be fought and defeated by a Good one, demonstrating the balance of power in the world, and establishing the prevalence of good over evil.  

Know what?… Fairy-tales suck balls!

While life often emulates fiction, it seems to put its own cruel and perverted twist on things.

But I am getting ahead of myself…

My Dad’s Mom was baba Natasha (“baba” being child speak for “granny”), and the exact opposite of my Mom’s Mom.  So, keeping up with the fairytale analogy, I’ll call her Good Granny.

Unlike any stereotypical mother-in-law, she wholeheartedly embraced the woman her son married.  Pretty early in their marriage my Mom started calling Good Granny “Mom”, and on many occasions let it slip that Good Granny was much more of a mother to her than her own.  It must have been quite confusing for me as a child to figure out who was whose parent.  Luckily, children don’t bother with such details – all I knew was I had 2 grannies, and half a grandad (later about that).  Good Granny did not live with us, but must have been visiting every day, for in my childhood memories she was much more omnipresent than Evil Granny.

Like many Russian men of his generation my actual grandfather lost the fight for family values to booze.  Unlike many Russian women of her generation, Good Granny had the guts to leave him, insist on divorce, and later remarry.  She lived with her husband, who I called Uncle Peter, in a one-room flat on the other side of town.  The weird part was that I did not realize that Uncle Peter was her husband, and nobody bothered to explain this to me.  In my childhood mind, he was Good Granny’s neighbor, just like Uncle Sasha was ours.  The fact that the apartment they shared had only 1 room, and this room had only 1 bed, did not bother me one bit.  I only realized that Good Granny was married to Uncle Peter when he died.  We were on the Black Sea with her then, where my parents sent us every summer for 3 months of kindergarten vacations to soak up the sun and vitamins.  We rented a shoebox-size holiday room with a communal kitchen and an outhouse in the field from the locals in a tiny seaside village on the Crimea Peninsular.  I was about 4 or 5 years old and loved every minute of it.  Good Granny got an urgent telegram (do you remember those?!…), cried quietly in a corner, and then sprung into action.  She handed me to the lady we rented the room from, took a bus to the nearby town to call my parents and to arrange for train tickets back to St. Petersburg (flying was an unimaginable and unaffordable luxury for us back then).  My Dad had to push his vacation two weeks forward and come to replace her on her babysitting duty on short notice.  I think it was my Dad who explained to me that Uncle Peter was, in fact, my step-grandfather, but that I would never see him again.  I was too busy enjoying the sun and the company of other children in the village to worry about the news.

I was upset the Good Granny left, though, because my Dad could not cook for shit.  She left us with some prepared food, but when it ran out my Dad had to go to the village library (!), and borrow a cookbook.  The study of the book resulted in a soup-like concoction that was barely edible, but kept us going for the rest of the week, until, thankfully, my Mom joined us, and took over the culinary duty.

Good Granny was about the same age as Evil Granny, but had WAY more energy and life in her!  She never complained about her health, never walked around with a facial expression of a martyr who is about to die any minute (which was Evil Granny’s usual gig).  She kept a job of an accountant in a local bank for long after she officially retired, and I remember her permanently on the move.  She was busy helping us, helping the family or her other son (my Dad’s younger brother), taking care of me, giving neighbors a hand with various chores, having a job, and doing what seemed to be a hundred things at a time.  Most of them for the sake of others.  She even looked after Evil Granny when the latter told everybody else to fuck off, and the few remaining friends and family happily obliged.  Good Granny was told the exact same, but continued visiting her son’s mother-in-law, phasing out the insults and obscenities she received in return.  It was Good Granny who found her dead during one of these visits.  Evil Granny was lying in her bed, quiet and straight, having apparently died peacefully in her sleep.  Good Granny called my parents, and helped with the funeral arrangements.

When my parents got an allotment of land in the boondocks miles outside of the city and started building a “Dacha” (a big name for an un-heated wooden shack with no plumbing or running water), Good Granny could not have been happier.  She came from land, from a tiny village in the Republic of Mordovia, in the middle of the European part of Russia.  The village is probably dead by now, for due to the lack of work, most people who could do so left, and the rest drank themselves to death.  Good Granny was among those who went to search for luck in a big city, but she missed the country life dearly.  The Dacha became her kingdom – she tirelessly planted, weeded, watered and pruned something there, spending springs, summers and autumns at the ramshackle Dacha, and returning to her city apartment only when faced with the prospect of freezing to death, or not being able to dig her way through the thick snow in the winter.  She still loved it!  Good Granny was the only reason the parents kept the Dacha for as long as they did – I grew up and spending summers with no water and plumbing lost its charm, they were never really interested in it, but it was the place where Good Granny felt in her element.

NOT our Dacha. This was Good Granny’s childhood home in Mordovia.
She is the one standing in the back row, next to her older brother.

Good Granny did not have an easy life.  She had a childhood full of hardships, survived the war, outlived both her husbands, and both her sons.  Any of these would be enough to turn even the most saint-like person angry and bitter.  Yet, she was a really positive and selfless woman, and her good heart manifested itself in everything she did.  She patiently waited for the 3-year old me to do my potty business while endlessly ranting about what we were going to do the following day, what dress I would wear, and what I thought we would see out of the bus window on the way home.  Such tirades lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.  All I can say is that the 3-year old me was WAY more verbal that the today me…  Once, when I was 4 or 5, she rushed to our place across the city late at night, responding to my desperate telephone call, when my parents went to the theater and left me alone with Uncle Sasha, who was not to be awaken from the drunken coma.  I was panicking that aliens would come and abduct me (don’t ask!), and begged for her to come and save me.  It took her almost 2 hours to get to us, and parents were home only 15 minutes later, but the alien attack was prevented!

In the hard post-Soviet times, when food, toilet paper and other basic necessities were scarce, Good Granny revived her alcohol-distilling skills, setting up a still in her small bathroom, and bartering the moonshine produce with neighbors for toilet paper and grey cardboard-tasting pasta that she brought over to us.  We also got our extra rolls of toilet paper and some food coupons off Uncle Sasha, in exchange for our family’s share of vodka and cigarette rations, but somehow it was still not enough.  No idea why – we could not have been shitting excessively, for the sole reason of there not being enough food to result in such consequences, so the mystery still remains.

Good Granny helped both her sons’ families, her friends, her neighbors, and random people on the street.  She was always quietly positive and stoic about everything life threw her way.  We never had conversations about life – I was too young at first, and too busy growing up later.  I truly regret this.  I could have done with a bit more stoicism, and a bit less bitterness right about now…

Fairy-tales suck balls!…  Good does not prevail over evil.  Happy endings are handed out randomly, without any rule of logic, or merit of the recipients.  Evil Granny died peacefully in her own bed.  Good Granny was murdered in the stairwell of her apartment building, by some crackhead, trying to score money for another doze.  She was helping a neighbor, a slightly younger old lady who was not too steady on her feet, with getting to the local bank to get the neighbour’s monthly pension in the equivalent of $25.  They were both beaten, robbed, and left out to die.  The neighbor survived. Good Granny died in the hospital without regaining consciousness.  The crackhead walked away.

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad is one of those dishes that everybody knows, most people love, very few can spell properly, and nobody fucking knows where it comes from.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever idly wondered which cuisine brought us this delight – wonder no more: it’s Mexico!  Yes, the land of tacos, burritos and tamales actually produced this timeless international classic that every culture claims as its own.  It is a staple on the menu of every self-respecting American restaurant (where it usually grows to gigantic proportions and is served in a bowl that would happily feed a family of 5).  It is an unexpected favorite of Russian diners (usually existing on the menus of most pretentious restaurants in Moscow and St. Petersburg in a weird symbiosis with sushi, another “typical” Russian favorite).  One thing you can say for sure about Caesar Salad is that it is recognized and cooked the world over.

The basics are simple – romaine lettuce, croutons, parmesan cheese and Caesar dressing.  You can then pimp your salad up with whatever you fucking please – grilled chicken, shrimp, boiled egg, bacon, even motherfucking lobster tails!  There is no judgement and everything goes, as long as you get the basics right.

Now, this is the catch – while it’s pretty hard to fuck up lettuce, and croutons, the devil is in the dressing.  Do NOT under any fucking circumstances use any store-bought dressing.  ANY.  EVER.  And I don’t care if you are on a deserted island, starving to death, and all you have is a jar of the nasty supermarket-bought sauce with the words CAESAR proudly stamped on it – DON’T.  It’s the dressing that makes the salad, and this is exactly the thing that fucks it up BIG STYLE, if not done right.  Be a dear, and make your own fresh fucking Caesar dressing from scratch.  It’s not that difficult, and you will be awarded big time with the amazing taste of your fucking salad.

You can Google about a thousand different recipes for home-made Caesar salad dressing.  I did.  And I tried quite a few, but I swear by this one, by Jenn Segal.  It’s easy to make, does not call for any overly exotic ingredients, and tastes fucking great – what more can you ask for?…

So, without further ado, here is a step-by-step guide for all those lazy hungry fuckers who fancy making a proper Caesar salad, with motherfucking home-made dressing and pimped to perfection just the way I like it.

Ingredients:

In our household we normally cook for 2 normally-sized and medium-hungry people.  The dog prefers his own food.  If you are a bigger family, bigger-sized individuals, are extraordinary hungry, or have a bunch of guests – do your math yourselves.

For salad per se:

  • 1 head of Romaine lettuce, roughly chopped.  No, you absolutely CANNOT substitute Romaine with any other lettuce.  No fucking iceberg, butterhead, batavia, or loose leaf would do.  They won’t!  They taste differently, have a different texture, and are simply fucking wrong for the Caesar salad.  Get proper Romaine, and get with the fucking program!
  • Croutons.  Can be made without further fuzz from a slice of toasted bread, chopped into squares, and fried with a bit of olive oil and Italian herb mix.
  • Parmesan or Grana Padano flakes.  We don’t sweat it, and buy a pack in the supermarket of ready-made ones.  Our palates are not that refined to taste the difference anyway.

For dressing (if you can’t be arsed to open the link from Jenn Segal with all ingredients and follow the step-by-step recipe she carefully lays out there, I can repeat it here for your lazy ass):

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ teaspoon anchovy paste. They will have it in every proper supermarket, but I bet you won’t be able to find it.  In some, they store them next to canned fish, in others they put it in the refrigerated section next to pates and cheeses.  Save yourselves some valuable eating/drinking time, tuck your pride in your ass and fucking ask somebody who works there – they will definitely be able to locate it, or at least point you in the right direction.
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup of mayonnaise – the one that you fucking like (the brand of better quality is usually more advisable for obvious reasons)
  • ¼ cup of grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese (whichever you can find).  Again, you can grate your own, if you have a big lump of cheese and proper equipment, but we usually don’t sweat it, and use packaged stuff, carefully pre-grated by somebody else.
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Pimp up your salad:

  • 1 chicken breast, chopped into bite-size pieces and grilled with whatever spices you fucking like
  • 3-4 slices of bacon, chopped into bite-size pieces and grilled.  Here our household is divided: my husband likes it nuked to oblivion, I prefer it in a still recognizable state, so take my half off the pan a bit earlier.
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered

Preparation:

  • Mix the lettuce leaves in a big bowl
  • Make the dressing:
    • In a bowl whisk together minced garlic, anchovy paste, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce
    • Add mayonnaise and cheese and continue to whisk together to ensure the smooth consistency of the mixture
    • Add salt and pepper, and mix again.
  • Add the dressing to the lettuce, and mix well, to make sure every motherfucking piece is well coated.
  • Split the mix between 2 serving plates
  • Now, add the croutons into the plates, and mix.  It is important to add the croutons AFTER the dressing.  Don’t ask why, just fucking do it this way.
  • Add egg quarters.
  • Sprinkle the bacon over your salads.
  • Put the pieces of grilled chicken on top, and sprinkle with Parmesan shavings.

As always, you are fucking welcome!