Your Book Briefing: The Warped Humor of Chekhov and Blini

Sure, we all know Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya, right? We don’t? Sorry, theatre nerd here. Did you know Chekhov wrote short stories, too? Do you know Chekhov at all? He was a Russian writer in the late 1800s.  If you have a dark sense of humor, you’ll appreciate him. If you like winter foods, you’ll like what foods his wit inspires. Russian fare includes pickles, borscht, vodka and the recipe I am giving you: the blini. The Olympics may end, but the Russian don’t quit.

While reading Chekhov’s Stories, which was translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, I was alternately laughing my arse off and trying not to dissolve into existential angst. My favorite story in this collection is Panikhida. To sum it up briefly, a man is chastised in church for requesting a remembrance of “the harlot Maria”. Maria is this man’s daughter. He considers her a harlot because she is an actress. I identify. As an actress, I sometimes feel that I am basically selling my body (along with the whole acting ability thing). I made the most money last year by getting cast in a commercial in which I do contortion while talking about why I like a certain dessert product I cannot name. If earning a living with your feet behind your head doesn’t make you a harlot, I don’t know what does. Truth.

Indeed, Chekhov’s best humor comes out in truth. This is what he strove for. I have been working my way through his tales and have yet to find one that did not amuse and/or perplex me in the best of ways. In addition to 30 of Chekhov’s best pieces of short fiction, Stories contains a great introduction to give you some background on Chekhov. You will learn how good ol’ Anton gave his brother, also a writer, six principals of a good story. I will strive to abide by them for this particular entry. Let’s go over them and see how I did:

1. Lack of too much talking “of a political-social-economic nature”. I do strive to avoid politics and economics in The Book Cook. Social issues I probably hit some, though. This is HelloGiggles. It’s all about being social.

2. “Total objectivity.” Well crap. Fail. I have opinions.

3. “Truthful descriptions of persons and objects.” YES! I do not lie to you. The truth=the funny.

4. “Extreme brevity.” I throw few words your way.

5. “Audacity and originality”. I am going to be audacious enough to suggest you play drinking games with these blini. Get out that vodka. Minimum one sip per blini. Or how about just when you feel it? Is that a game? Is it audacious? I say yes. Don’t do it if you have alcohol issues. Don’t drive afterwards. As for originality, the toppings for these blini are my own ideas and the recipe was adapted to fit the items in my kitchen.

6. “Compassion”. I forgive myself for picking my favorite story in Stories before I finished reading them all. And I think if you make this blini you will forgive me too.

I could go on but I won’t. Brevity.

Buckwheat Blini adapted from The Joy of Cooking

  • 6 Tbsp. almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tbsp. applesauce
  • heaping 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • cottage cheese, jam, and sea salt to serve
  • vodka (optional) to accompany

Heat the milk, butter and applesauce in a small saucepan until melted, then remove from heat. Get out a candy thermometer (because you have that, right?).

When the mixture cools to between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, stir in the yeast and allow to rest for five minutes. During that five minutes it is resting, stir together the flour, buckwheat flour, sugar and salt. After the five minutes, give it a good stir to make sure the yeast is totally dissolved.

Now stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Now cover with plastic tightly and let it rest an hour. If you want, you can make this, stir it down after the hour, then keep in the refrigerator for up to eight hours. If you do this, wait at least 20 minutes for the mixture to come to room temperature when you take it out.

When you are ready to cook, stir in the egg. Heat a small nonstick skillet with some nonstick spray and cook the batter by scant tablespoons. When the cakes start to have bubbles on the top, flip them to cook the other side.

Serve with whatever floats your boat. I liked them with cottage cheese and jam, or simply sprinkled with a tiny bit of sea salt. If you are going all in, get some caviar and sour cream. Smetina would be the authentic thing to get. Do it up. Vodka optional, but recommended.

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