I was born in Ukraine and when I was about 10 years old, my family immigrated to the US first passing through Austria and Italy. Coming from a closed off (back then) to the world country and getting exposed to so many new places and sensations this experience has forever changed me. It was an adventure of a lifetime before that moment I only read about in my adventure books. That experience made me realize that anything was possible and since then I've been a nonstop pursuer of adventures. (Or as my mom would lovingly put it: "Someone who looks for trouble to befall their ass".)
First years in America I spent trying to understand this brand new culture, and being based in the colorful Brooklyn, it involved also understanding the Italian, Greek, Mexican, Hatian, Chinese, and Puerto Rican cultures as well! What a treat that was! All I wanted to do was know everything about my new friends and how they did things. I always say that New York is no melting pot, but more of a salad bowl. All the ingredients are tossed together, but they very much retain their own character and taste.
In college I was lucky enough to study abroad both in Spain and in Italy having the greatest time learning all I possibly can about these cultures and languages. I remember once picking up a book in Russian and being so out of practice that reading just one paragraph exhausted me when at the time I'd have no problem reading in Italian, my language love of the moment.
But this isn't really a story about vagabonding through cultures. This is about coming 'home' and rediscovering your own roots with the same voracious curiosity. And this is exactly what has started to happen after I gave birth to our Mo two and a half years ago. All of the sudden I wanted to immerse in the culture of my long forgotten 'home' and discover everything about the Ukrainian and Russian cultures so I can teach him as well. I found the songs and cartoons on youtube that I used to watch as a child and of course I wanted him to taste the foods I used to eat.
But before this 'novel' gets any longer let me share with you something that I have just recently remembered. It's something very simple and you can find it in almost every fridge of any Russian or Ukrainian. And that is: a little dish, cup or a glass jar full of lemon slices covered in sugar.
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Lemon with Sugar Concentrate
Russians add lemon with sugar syrup to tea. This is how I always drank my tea when I was little. Though sometimes I would just sneak into the fridge and stick my little fingers into the bowl then suck up the delicious lemony syrup.
• 1 or 2 lemons (preferably organic, pealed or not that's up to you!)
• 1/2 - 1 cup of sugar (I use Caribbean brown sugar)
PrepSlice up one big or two medium lemons any which way you like. Pour the sugar over them and mix a bit to be sure the lemons are coated in sugar. Press with a spoon to pack lightly. Put it in your fridge! Next time you go to use it you'll see that the lemon juice has turned the sugar into syrup... yummy! (Good for about a week.)
If you're a lemon lover like me, you'll soon discover yourself putting this in everything, and even eating it with a spoon in the middle of the night with the slightly open fridge illuminating your way... But here are some elegant ways to partake.
• Add one or more slices of lemon accompanied by a teaspoon of syrup to your unsweetened tea. Why not go traditional with Russian Caravan tea blend. Russian merchants first brought tea to Russia from China among the other wares they were bringing back. The Russian Caravan tea bland is a black tea blend with rich smoky taste that is said to have been acquired at nights when merchants would make stops on their long road from China to rest and campfires would be lit to burn all night while they sat around drinking, eating and no doubt playing chess. How romantic!
• Add it to a glass of cold water for a refreshing drink with a hint of sweetness.
• Add it to cocktails whenever sugar syrup or agave is called for!!! OR (and this is strictly for "advanced" drinkers, I mean... readers, just put a few spoonfuls of the lemon sugar concentrate into a tumbler, pour Cachaça over it, add some ice and call it a caipirinha! NOW we're talking. If this isn't a beautiful example of a fantastic cross-cultural collaboration then I don't know what is!
For a real Russian tea experience...
Steep tea and hot water in a small teapot. The resulting dark liquid is called "zavarka". You and your guests can variate the strength of your tea by pouring as little or as much zavarka into your cups according taste. Fill the rest of your cup with hot water, from a "samovar" perhaps, and drink with lemon and sugar syrup. Check out more scrumptious Russian Tea blends from Kusmi Tea.
And as a bonus, get a few of these authentic tea holders so you and your friends can sit around arguing late into the night whether Anna Karenina was a woman lost to the imposed societal laws of propriety or simply a hysterical selfish slut. I'll let you guess what 'camp' I'm in.
• • • LESSONS LEARNED • • •
If you look carefully you will find adventures
right in your own cup of tea.