I know I talked a little bit about блины (blini) in my last entry, but I wanted to elaborate on both the food and the concept of Maslenitsa as a whole. Maslenitsa is a holiday that takes place the week before Lent in Russian Orthodoxy. As far as I can tell it’s a bit like Mardi Gras or Carnaval except it starts on a Monday and is an entire week, unlike the day of Mardi Gras. Being mildly limited in my knowledge of Western Christian Lent and the surrounding traditions/holidays, I can’t say too much on how the actual celebrations differ, other than there are no beads or toplessness involved in the popular culture of Maslenitsa as far as I can tell, and it remains a holiday more about family and friends in the public consciousness. If this, or the excessive day of drunkenness, happens, I have not been privy to it and that’s fine with me. At this point in the weeks leading up to Lent, strict Orthodox Christians have already stopped eating meat and are limited to consuming dairy. As a cheese-loving individual, I have no problem with this. It’s also where Maslenitsa gets its name. If you know any Russian, you probably already know that the word Maslenitsa has its root in the Russian word масло (maslo), or butter. That’s right, the week leading up to Lent is Butter Week. Sounds delicious, no? Let me tell you, it is. While I haven’t eaten as many blini as some people I know this week, I’ve enjoyed them with jam, sour cream, honey, salmon, chocolate, cheese, and, of course, butter. Since they really are a lot like crepes, they can be eaten filled with pretty much anything, although I enjoy them especially with cheese or salmon. Last Sunday, to kick off the holiday, we all gathered at our Assistant Resident Director, Vika’s apartment and she taught us how to make blini. They’re pretty simple—a lot of eggs, milk, flour, and sugar—all mixed together and ladled into an oil-coated pan where they are fried into thin, delicious pancakes. This past Wednesday, I ate them again when my host family and I gathered around the kitchen table and ate them for dinner with delicious soup and a variety of fillings. After I write this, I am going to head out and participate in the weekend Maslenitsa festivities, which include eating more blini, strolling with friends, sleigh rides, and the burning of a straw effigy of Maslenitsa herself, which usually occurs on Sunday. Although many of the outdoor traditions surrounding Maslenitsa died down or ceased during Soviet times, they are busily being revived in parks all over Moscow and other regions of Russia.
Freshly made and delicious with raspberry jam
Like many Christian holidays, Maslenitsa also has Pagan roots, and was originally a holiday to celebrate the imminent end of winter and the coming of spring. This is where the blini come into the equation. Like I said blini, like most pancakes, are yellow-ish and round. What else is yellowish and round? The sun, of course! These delicious, crepe-like treats are not only fun to make and easy to consume, they represent the sun and its return after a long, cold winter. Honestly, I’m not so sure spring is going to be here any time soon, but I really like the symbolism of making and eating a sun-shaped food in order to usher in the new season. Those Pagans really seemed to know what was up a lot of the time, and their holidays (I mean, Christian holidays) are certainly a lot of fun.
The blini-making station in all its glory