That's what I looked like several hours before last night's Books & Bakes, mainly because Saint Mirtha wasn't there yet to help me and also because what the hell was I thinking when I decided to concoct a Chechen menu? Here it is:
Eggplant Walnut Dip with Lavash
Sliced Radishes with Yogurt
Dates and Almonds
Yogurt Cream Soup with Herbs
Vegan Stuffed Grape Leaves
Chechen Peppers and Mushrooms
Halvah Ice Cream
Dark Chocolate Sauce
It was actually not entirely Chechen, but I stuck pretty close to the cuisine of the Caucasus with some Russian and Armenian borrowings. The Moscow Stinger was a very bracing cocktail made of vodka and white creme de menthe, shaken and poured over ice. I ran around Los Angeles visiting several liquor/package stores to find the white creme de menthe. I am being perfectly honest when I say that I have never been to a liquor store in Los Angeles -- not because I'm chaste or a teetotaller, but -- you know -- any liquor that I drink is usually already at my house and has been there for at least fifteen years or someone brings it to a party. I found a very dusty bottle of the stuff at a place on Melrose and Vine, and it cost $7.99. Frankly, it might have been mouthwash (and I imagine mouthwash costs a hell of a lot more), but the combination of the vodka and that was bracing and very refreshing. We all had a swig or two while eating the eggplant dip and admitted that prior to reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomenoa, none of us had the remotest knowledge of Chechnya beyond the vague wars fought there and the recent brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon. If you haven't read Anthony Marra's novel, you must. It's a novel in which you can get lost -- lots of tragedy and drama and horror -- but it's also a novel of hope and dark humor. You will learn about Chechnya. It does feel a bit odd to be celebrating the food of the region and exulting in Marra's writing, particularly as the events and story described are so brutal and so far removed in any real way from our own. We talked about that, about the presumption and pretension of it, about the relatively pampered lives we live here. There's no getting round that discomfort, I guess, and I don't have any wise words to do so. I am grateful, though, to love like I do the words of others, for my eyes to be opened to places and situations that are different, true, but that also shed light on what it means to be human.
That's a whole lot of cliche and folderal, though. Here's the food:
Denise wrote a wonderful blog post about last night. Read it here.