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Giving Blood and Making Borscht

May 20, 2010

When I was living in the States, I gave blood every eight weeks, almost like clockwork. My mom did not like the fact that I did so, and will be happy to know that after all of the vaccinations I am receiving, and time I will be out of the US, I will likely be ineligible to donate for quite a long time. Anyway, I am now giving blood in another way – to the mosquitoes. And I would much rather it go to someone who is a bit more in need of the assistance than an insect whose purpose I do not understand, that only serves to leave itchy bites on me and spread diseases. Ukraine is swarming with mosquitoes. On the one hand it is an indicator of all the trees and green growing things here.  On the other hand…

Now, one would think that having lived in Minnesota for so many years (where people joke that the mosquito is the state bird), this would be something I am used to. Well, not necessarily – in MN I was able to avoid the mosquitoes (most of the time). Here, that is not the case and even in the city they come in swarms. I don’t think I remember the last time I saw so many all at once, as we did last Saturday night.

Last Saturday during the day I went to the Neva Bazaar in Chernihiv – the largest bazaar in the city. Anyone who knows me knows that what I see at a bazaar like that is photo opportunities all over the place. Well, unfortunately, after I took one photo I was yelled at for doing so. I asked why I was not allowed to take them and was told that the Director of the bazaar did not want me to. Well, fine…so I did not spend any money there.  Quid pro quo – I cannot take photos means I don’t spend money. So I was not there for very long, as getting yelled at and being unable to take photos kind of bummed me out, so I walked back to the center of the city, past a park, where I stopped for “lunch” and during the time I was sitting there eating an ice cream cone, peanuts, and an apple, I was swarmed. I finally got up and started walking again, as it seemed the only way to avoid getting eaten alive.

On my way from the park to the city center, I received a very big compliment – a man pulled up on the street next to me and said a rapid stream of Russian (or Ukrainian, but probably Russian). I told him “I am sorry, I do not understand” whereupon he switched to English and told me he was trying to ask for directions. Although I could not help him find his destination, I was happy to have been asked!

Later that evening Chernihiv had their version of “Ukraine has talent” and called it “Chernihiv has talent” in the main square. I was there with a few other volunteers and the mosquitoes were swarming once again. Somehow I ended up with a bite on the bottom (!!) of my foot, two on the top, and two on the other, on the insole. As well as numerous other bites on my legs – somehow my arms have avoided getting bitten. So far. Peace Corps provided us with a tiny bottle of insect repellent in our medical kits. I have a feeling I will be requesting more of it, or buying some on my own. Yikes!

On to the borscht. The borscht here is really delicious and I was wanting to know how to make it, so I asked my host mom (a few weeks ago) to show me how. Last week we had borscht again and I again mentioned that I wanted to learn how to make it. I learned how to do so today, and it is a bit more involved than I thought but certainly not complicated. Mainly I don’t know the names of all of the ingredients in English! (Side note, Peace Corps provided us with a cookbook called “Babushka’s Kitchen” but the ingredients in the borscht recipe there are not quite the same as the borscht I made today. Not surprising, as everyone seems to have their own take). So for those who are interested, here is what we used, to the best of my knowledge:

  • Meat stock – she used pork, though she said I could also make it from chicken
  • Potatoes – about 6 small
  • Beets – two good sized
  • Carrot – only one!
  • Onions – from what I could see, three smallish
  • Cabbage – half a head
  • A tomato
  • Salt
  • Pepper (my recommendation)
  • Some sort of relish, for lack of a better word to describe it, with tomato, pepper (the vegetable), garlic, and carrot.  (My sister should recognize this as similar ingredients to the relish we had at the restaurant before I left for Ukraine)
  • Some sort of stuff that looked like salt but was tart and lemony
  • A touch of vinegar
  • Sugar (yes, sugar)
  • Bay leaves – three large

First she made the meat stock, then we cut the potatoes and added those. We also cut the onions but those did not go in the pot. We grated the beets and carrot. Half of the beets and carrot went into the pot, and the rest went, with the onion, salt and tart stuff, into a sauté pan, where we sautéed it. We then grated the cabbage and added it, along with the tomato, salt, and pepper, to the soup. After a while we added the relish stuff to the items in the sauté pan, and a while later (very specific directions, I know) we added that mixture to the soup. Then she added some sugar. Not a lot, but I was surprised to see it. It turned out tasty to me but she said it was a little tart. Her palate and mine differ, as she likes things that I think are too salty. Either way…

We are in week seven of training! I am finally without a cold, which makes me happy. I appear to be on the mend, health-wise, and hope to continue to get better.

I am still adding more photos to the “Chernihiv”  and “Kyinka” albums on Picasa.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer Janis permalink
    May 20, 2010 1:42 pm

    Great post Karin! I know what you mean about the mossies…it seems like insects are so much bigger/ more abundant abroad. Maybe I’m imaging things…or maybe its that we use so many pesticides in the States. Sounds like the borscht was good. I can’t wait to try to cook some Czech food- its all pretty heavy and rich- so probably not too good for summer food. Sounds like you’re enjoying yourself- keep us posted!!

  2. Ross permalink
    May 22, 2010 5:30 pm


    Give me your address and I can send some US Army military-strength repellent. Basically a survival kit, if you want.

    Saw your photos – you have always had a talent to catch things in still life. Great stuff.

    Regarding the mail system, if it is anything like the village where Dorota’s father lives in Poland, they deliver to the nearby town, and then a guy on a bicycle rides the mail around the village.

    So many similarities to the culture you are seeing and the culture in Poland.


  3. Stephen Comfort-Mason permalink
    May 27, 2010 8:56 am

    Karin – I enjoy reading about your experiences and the pictures, especially so given my time in Ukraine. I wish I could have spent time in small towns and villages.

    I sampled as many different forms of borscht as I could while in Kyiv, but was not able to collect any receipes. I will be trying yours this week. I’ll let you know how it turns out.



  4. Jessica permalink
    May 29, 2010 8:21 pm

    Karin~Thanks for the laugh…I don’t know what it is with the Ukrainians not wanting to give up recipes??? Both my great grandmother and grandmother have taken mos trecipes of the very food they used to feed us to the grave with them…It’s terrible!! I have tried recreating dishes and it will never ever be the same…I wish I was there with you sampling all of it!!! Enjoy!!

  5. Heidi permalink
    May 30, 2010 1:31 pm

    I just wanted to let you know, that when it comes to mosquito bites or any other itching bites, there are two very simple home remedies for stopping the itching. Either dab a drop of liquid soap on each itch, or hold a VERY hot wet cloth on the spot for 10 seconds. Good luck.

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