Armed with my Betty Crocker Cookbook, I have turned out many dishes to share. Food is such a central part of culture… any culture. In Kyrgyzstan when going to the home of friends I often bring something to share, and if I have friends to our house, even if they simply drop in for a quick visit, it is usually expected that I serve some food. So, I have had plenty of opportunity to allow people to try my very American tasty treats.
Almost without fail I am asked: oooh, what is in this? At first it was an incredible struggle to describe the recipe in Russian, so I would just name off the general ingredients. This will invariably be met with a lot of head nodding, and faces that seem to say, “oh, so you need all of that, and voila, lemon bars will appear.” All the while I am thinking, It is impossible to make lemon bars without knowing the actually recipe, the measurements, the steps! Then it hit me: no one ever bakes dessert. People always buy their cakes, cookies or candies. Always! I wondered, why is that? Why are warm cookies, home baked birthday cakes, sweet breads and sticky rolls not a part of this world: Russian or Kyrgyz? Most of the local dishes are fried, wok style. Bread is a universal type of bread, I am sure that women make it in their sleep before they are 12 years old.
This was made very clear to me, when we rented a new apartment. We were negotiating with our landlord what we would need replaced in the kitchen, and he was appalled when I said that the current oven was one thing I could not live with. With my recent epiphany about the lack of baking in this culture, I started to explain that in America, baking is a very big deal. I needed an oven that was new enough I could trust it to self-regulate just a little. I also would highly prefer one with a temperature gauge. The one in the apartment would simply not do.
My wonderful husband took care of the rest of the negotiations and by the time we moved in, I had one with a temperature gauge that has already baked many a pie and several sheets of cookies for me.
But I still puzzle: when did measuring ingredients, writing down the exact specifications, and following directions become a part of our culture and can it just remain a very un-important part of the development of this part of the world?