No matter how tiny my mom minced the onions, I could always spot them. Once, she adamantly denied putting onions in the potato casserole, until I held one up for inspection. Caught.
Today I pile caramelized onions on burgers, load up my fajita with grilled onion rounds and request them in made-to-order omelets. What happened between hate and love? Russian food. An 18-month mission to Russia broadened my palate. My parents thought I would starve when I opened up the envelope and read "You have been called to serve in the Russia, Moscow Mission." They knew about Russian food because two years earlier I taught English in St. Petersburg for a semester. A taste for Russian food was not acquired during that time. I loved Russian culture and history but it took time to acquire a taste for Russian food.
After eating borscht (beet and cabbage soup), pelmeni (meat dumplings), holodetz (cold fat pudding) and so many other delicious Russian dishes, something happened to my palate. Maybe a survival mode kicked in. I don't know. But something made me fall in love with food. I gobbled down tomatoes, barley, beets and even the dreaded onion. A whiff of borscht simmering on the stove or dill sprinkled on potatoes and memories of so many people and places reel through my mind.
What does all this reminiscing about Russian food have to do with books? At the library I caught a glimpse of St. Basil's Cathedral on the cover of a book. I had to take a closer look. The book was Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen, a James Beard Award-winning author. I checked it out.
The author and her mother decided to write down their memories of growing up in the Soviet Union with a focus on the food. You could call it a history of communism, but it's something more. Anya takes readers from four-star restaurants to communal apartments where the working class can only dream about feasts like those described in Anton Checkhov's books. Food seems to evoke memories that are almost real and Anya has created memories that I can taste.