“Where is your butt? What happened to it?” my babushka exclaimed when I came home for the first time in months. “Did you leave it in New York?”
“You look like you came out of a death camp,” my mom seconded.
I had just arrived back to San Francisco after settling into adult life on the East Coast. For the record: I lost maybe 5 pounds over a few months as a result of stress while job hunting. (I know this because my mother forced me to get on the scales as soon as we arrived from the airport.) And even I know that’s not worth making a Holocaust joke.
We left the former Soviet Union when I was five and as part of the Russian diet, I grew up eating dishes hidden with globs of butter and sour cream. But as I acquired American tastes – and somewhat leaner cravings – I began to request my olivier salad with low-fat mayonnaise and my borscht sans cream.
This never fazed either mama or babushka, because God Forbid their prized eldest daughter/grandchild succumb to the trend of obesity in our new land. How then would she ever be able to nab her perfect Jewish husband? (This has been a preoccupation, and dream, of theirs for me since we immigrated here in ’92. And probably before I was born).
Don’t get me wrong: I still love Russian food. Everything from peirogi to grechnivaya kasha makes me miss a country I don’t remember living in. I spent only five years in Ukraine, but its smells still manage to inspire nostalgia.
My babushka tried teaching me how to cook the traditional Ukranian dish galuptzi for “Yelena’s Story.” (Also, I think, with the goal of landing said husband in mind). Though I haven’t attempted the feat again on my own, I’ve been cooking since graduating in May (nothing special, but enough to acquaint myself with the stove to live off of pasta and rice during my subsequent unemployment).
Maybe I looked so gaunt because I gave up restaurants to cook on the cheap with little oil and whole wheats only. But try explaining healthy eating to your Jewish grandmother and end up with a spoon of sour cream down your throat.
See my sad attempts at living up to our culinary heritage below. (Yes, for some inexplicable reason, I am wearing fake nails for the entirety of the cooking lesson).