The monochromatic year ended in a radiant burst of colour.
The soulful burgundy of beets; purple eggplants roasted into gold and black, yellow yolks alchemized into aioli, and the woven black, green and red patterns of a tablecloth inherited from my mother, purchased in Soviet Czechoslovakia. Appropriately, the meal itself was Soviet: the Slavic Femme’s remediation of her family’s typical New Year’s Eve meal. The Soviets banned Christmas; strangely enough, it was Stalin who brought back the Christmas tree – now dubbed the New Year’s Tree – as a distraction from the famine (Holodomor), that he’d cruelly engineered. New Years is now the primary winter celebration in central and eastern Ukraine and is considered a more cosmopolitan way to mark the season.
History and tradition pull at us, inhabit our bodies and our senses, like a haunting. It took courage and resilience for my friend to make that repast; but there was no choice, really. It meant cooking her way through the memory of her beloved Babusia, who died mere months ago, in Ukraine.I imagine that the aromas of herring, egg and potato that went into the “Shuba” terrine brought layered affects of joy and regret – those contrasting, frictive and also deeply rich details of being a diasporic subject.
There were only two of us around my joyfully coloured tablecloth, the empty chairs reminding us of the pandemic but also, in a Ukrainian sense, of our dead. My culture is fulsomely in touch with ancestral spirits; it is believed they visit us during this season. My mother, gone eight years now, would have been gruffly admiring of this meal and of this young woman’s determination to honour her grandmother through food. My friend and activist comrade Nomi Binder Wall, who died just a few months ago, might have made connections with Jewish food, for herrings and beets resonate in Jewish cuisine as well. Or, more typically, she might have ignored the food entirely, inciting political debate, as Israel gets kudos for its swift vaccination regime despite ignoring the fate of 2.7 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
Afterwards, The Anthropologist joined us outside for Prosecco, and we toasted to the year’s end under an almost full-moon and the faint sounds of other outdoor revellers. I inhaled the sweetness of friendship that had softened the hardened year.
In contrast, the days following seem stubbornly colourless. The year ahead seems uncertain and troubling. This lockdown that threatens livelihoods, strains sanity and erodes vulnerable cultures and communities, is ineffective. Death counts are rising in this province, due to a provincial government that trades death as collateral for its corrupt ambitions. Doug Ford’s provincial government has made it more difficult to get disability benefits, forcing people with disabilities to scrape by on welfare payments of $730 a month. Our elders are imprisoned in horrendously neglectful for-profit care homes; Ford has dismantled all government oversight. Evictions, homelessness, and opioid deaths abound.
But I keep the tablecloth out. Meditate, exercise, write, and stay in touch with friends; rinse, repeat. My activism is enacted via financial donations, writing, and anti-oppression work at my local queer theatre. It doesn’t feel like enough.
These forms of public writing are a poor substitute for human contact or activism, but they are public nonetheless, and anchor me as much as any routine. I’m archiving each day of 2021on Instagram (@femmeunicorn) with at least one photo. I’m blogging into the void, not knowing who reads this or who just clicks ‘like’ when I share on Facebook. Trying to stick to a semblance of morning routine; trying to find joy in miniature: that takes a kind of courage, too. Appreciating the fall of light from a streetlamp in early morning The absurdity of a comedy series. A phone call from a friend across the country. Walks with friends.
What micro-joys are you experiencing, these monochromatic days?
Recipe for “Shuba” Layered Beet & Herring Terrine
The word ‘shuba’ means coat and refers to the layers of ingredients that cover the herring, star of this dish.
- Cook 3 potatoes and 2 carrots together, with skin on by covering it with water in a pot and cooking until soft, about 20 minutes.
- Cook 2 beets by covering with water in a pot and cooking for about 1.5 hours, or until easily pierced with a toothpick.
- Once the vegetables are cool, refrigerate them until completely cold.
- Place 6 eggs into a small pot and cover with water. Cook over medium heat for 6 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Remove from heat, drain water and add cold water to the pot to cool off the eggs. Peel the eggs. Separate egg whites from egg yolk. Grate the egg whites into a bowl.
- Peel and then grate the vegetables, placing each kind into a different dish.
- Season the potatoes with salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle about 1 Tbsp of oil and lightly stir to combine.
- Now season carrots and add about 1 tsp of oil and stir to combine.
- If you have particularly juicy beets, place them over a sieve and press to remove the juice (discard the juice). OR press a paper towel against grated beets to remove all extra moisture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle with 1 Tbsp of oil and stir to combine.
- Chop 3 scallions.
Assemble Layered Beet salad with Herring…
- Layer the potatoes out onto the serving dish, or divide between small jars. Spread a thin layer of mayo on top.
- Add carrots and spread around evenly. Again, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on top.
- Sprinkle with scallions.
- Follow by 1½ cup chopped herring, spreading it around evenly.
- Next, sprinkle the grated egg whites.
- And lastly cover the whole salad with the beets.
- Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on top of the beets.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve, about 6 hours.
- Once ready to serve, grate the reserved egg yolk on a fine grater on top of the salad (optional)