1. On my first birthday without a living father, I invited five strangers to my house and fed them my mother’s Borscht recipe.
2. Accumulate: cabbage, potatoes, beets, carrots, onion.
2. Borscht doesn’t have perfect rules. I hate potatoes. Sometimes I don’t add them at all. Once, leeks.
3. Are you making piroshki s mjasom today? If so, use the water from boiling the meat as your soup base. Oily and nice!
3. I don’t eat meat. My Borscht never has it. Sometimes I think about eating meat again. I want to be closer to the bears, to wild living, but I don’t want meat filled with sorrow. I have enough of my own.
4. Cut and peel potatoes, beets, carrots, onion and put them in little bowls. This is a French thing called mise en place. Russians love French things.
4. My mother shreds the beets, loves how they dissolve into thick ruby potion. The Polish love Borscht with beet medallions. It’s a travesty. Regarding beets: I know the truth, forget all other truths.
5. Chop the cabbage. It is probably more cabbage than you expected. It always is more cabbage than you expect. This is a good metaphor for life.
5. How should I cut the cabbage? I ask. Cut it beautifully, my mother replies, irritated. Just cut it beautifully.
6. In a pot of meat water, begin to cook the potatoes. If you do not have any meat water, regular water will do.
6. Yes. The potatoes always go first.
7. In a frying pan, fry the onion and carrot in oil. Maybe half an onion and one or two carrots? Whatever. At some point, add a spoon or so of tomato paste to this pan.
7. Small onion. Once you’ve cut half, why not keep cutting? If you’re weeping now, why stop?
8. Did you forget to get tomato paste at the store? Balvan! You can use ketchup.
8. I save the tomato paste ‘til the end. I buy it in glass jars and it sits in my refrigerator for months.
9. In another frying pan, fry the beets in oil. When they are almost done, pour some white vinegar on the beets and cover the pan. If you used ketchup in the other pan, you can use less vinegar here. Or not. Vinegar is one of the few delights of life. Use the entire bottle.
9. Vinegar? What is wrong with you people? Is this a Christian thing? Bozhe moi.
10. Boil water for tea on the remaining gas burner. You deserve it.
10. You deserve nothing. You made soup? When my mother was your age she made six children but go ahead and boil some water.
11. When the potatoes are almost done, add the cabbage to the potato pot. When THIS is almost done, add the contents of the two frying pans to the potato pot.
11. Yes it happens just like that, one after the other. So simple, the coming together of things.
12. Swish it around. Cook it some more.
12. Why do you think God gave you a womb? So you could hoard your ovaries like a basket full of rotten berries?
13. Taste it. Does it taste right? Are you happy? Add salt and pepper and whatever herbs you like.
13. You forgot Bay Leaves. There is really no other purpose for Bay Leaves on the planet except Borscht.
14. Add more vinegar.
14. You know Natasha from your fourth grade class, oh you remember her, well she married a Brazilian millionaire. Why haven’t you married a millionaire?
15. Keep simmering on the stove and adjusting flavor until it is good or, at least, acceptable.
15. It’s always better the next day. Don’t worry so much. No one loves an anxious woman.