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The secret store

February 19, 2012

My life in Kirovograd has become what a person could call routine – I work at the library three days a week, at the Technical University one day a week, and most of the time at the Technical College part of a day as well. On Saturdays I usually help out my friends S & A at their English school. The fun of it is I don’t actually teach English – I just serve as the native speaker “expert” and help them out when they want to hear how a native speaker says a certain word, or to help explain something like the difference between “wash” and “clean”, or to go through tongue twisters with their students.

Saturday nights are usually fun – S & A have a fabulous apartment, with a real kitchen, and like to try different types of food. I also usually see another couple of friends once or twice a week. The fact that it has been so cold lately has meant that other than these things, I have not been going out of my way to spend more time out and about – in fact, I am usually at home in front of my space heater. 

So things aren’t terribly exciting, but most of the time, life is not terribly exciting. So I appreciate the little extras that add nuances to life. So it was that last week, when I was with another PCV at S & A’s apartment and she brought out pesto and sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, well, I was excited. I should not have been surprised, but I was – I mean, they like to drink Italian wine, and have allowed me to invade their kitchen to not only cook chili on my birthday but also to try tacos and other new dishes. Another PCV who has been to their apartment with me a number of times keeps saying “you aren’t really Ukrainian!”. 

So we had a bit of a feast that night (well, come to think of it, every time I am at their house for dinner it is a feast) and A told us that there was actually a store in Kirovograd that sells items from Italy. Apparently this store has not yet been discovered by the PCV underground, but yesterday, I got to visit it myself.

From the outside, a person would not know that it was a store at all, and when you get to the door, you have to buzz a doorbell to be allowed in. When we entered, all I first saw were cleaning products. Add to that – it did not really look like a store. Apparently it is so underground that they don’t pay taxes, don’t advertise, and don’t share their location with everyone. After the first two seconds, when we entered the second room, my doubts disappeared – although tiny, it had enough products to thrill me.

On the shelves I saw the pesto (I grabbed a jar), sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (grabbed some of those too), various pastas from Italy in all shapes, canned beans (sadly, I did not see the chickpeas that A had purchased there), Italian desserts, pasta sauces, and more. 

However, I was in complete shock when I saw limoncello. Ah, limoncello, which I first tried in 2006 when I took my niece to Italy. I fell in love with it then, and have it on the rare occasion – and it was something I did not realize I missed so much (and took for granted – it is readily available in the U.S. I mean, even Danny DeVito has a brand of it). I grabbed the bottle and asked how much it cost.

Ninety-five grivnas, I was told. That’s about $12. That’s really more than I could afford, but so were the tomatoes in olive oil and the pesto. I bought it. I figure I deserve it, am soon coming up on my close of service, and to be honest, after four years with no salary, I am really tired of feeling like I cannot buy something that I want. 

I had to refrain from purchasing many additional items that were beckoning me. So in that way, I had some success…I only purchased the three items. I had a slight pang of guilt after we left the store, and told A I should not have bought it, which led us to a discussion about the price of clothing in Ukraine. My guilt left quickly.

After a full day with the kids, I was hungry. Oh, by the way, last week when they introduced us to the pesto and tomatoes, they brought out Arborio rice, and said they really wanted to make risotto. 

Now, I’ve been cooking for about 34 years, but I had never made risotto. In fact, I had avoided making it because although delicious, it is somewhat of a pain to make. So last night we made risotto – the first time for all of us. 

Limoncello served as a nice apertif (and S loved it). Without going through each step of making risotto (thanks to Jamie Oliver for a simple but delicious recipe), I will say that I emphasized repeatedly that we had to serve it immediately after it was finished cooking. They did not let me down – they got the other items prepared, set the table, made the salad, and even invited some of their friends over. 

After the first taste of the risotto, S told me I was a “magician”. I have to admit, it WAS good. 

That little store has helped to make this colder-than-usual-and-colder-than-they-can-remember winter a little more bearable.

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