Caviar & the Soviet Ambassador

Most of my life has been the humdrum kind. It’s been a good life, but you know, work, travel, dinners; not the stuff of legends. And then there are a few episodes so unlikely that I’m not sure they were real. An unlikely friendship with Blofeld, or more correctly Charles Gray, the actor who played him. Dinner with Sherlock Holmes in London in the eighties when Jeremy Brett was playing him one last time at Wyndham’s. But those are stories for another day. The first of these most unlikely events happened when I was still a teenager in Luxembourg.

Leonid Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union when I went to see Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin at the cinémathèque in Luxembourg City. The Russian ambassador, who I found out later was something of a movie buff decided to not only attend the screening, but to bring vodka and pound tins of caviar for everyone there and that’s where I first met him.

I can for the life of me not remember his name, but do remember that I had never seen anyone drink quite so much vodka quite so fast. He had his staff trained to stand behind him, so he could turn around to get an iced vodka, down one glass quickly and turn around with another. We talked cinema, Russian movies and editing techniques, of which I had more opinion than knowledge. He seemed to like me (not in the way you might think, I can assure you) and from then on, I got invited to the embassy and to screenings at the cinémathèque quite regularly. I remember the phone ringing at home and someone with seemed like a caricature Russian accent say: “His excellency would like to send you something. The driver will drop it off in an hour, if that’s okay?” and two pound tins of caviar and a bottle of Moskovskaya would make their way to us. The legal drinking age then, at least in Luxembourg was 16, so he wasn’t breaking any laws, plying a teenager with strong liquor.

Eating caviar by the spoonful right out of a pound tin is an experience I don’t think I’ll ever have again. Nowadays we are happy to spread a little of it on blinis and make our 60g tins stretch and even then, it is an expensive undertaking. SoImagine my surprise when a good friend called to say she had some caviar and would we like a couple of tins? There’s a treat to brighten up one’s lock-down days! Happiness is a blini and a tin of caviar and I’m going to tell you how to achieve one half of it, the cheap one; buckwheat blinis.

Buckwheat Blinis

makes about 30 blinis, plus extra for testing & eating.

  • 70g plain flour
  • 30g buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp instant dried yeast
  • 1/3 level tsp salt
  • white pepper
  • 1 small eggs
  • 180-200ml cold milk

Make the blinis:

Mix the flours with the salt, dried instant yeast and white pepper. Dig a well in the middle and break the eggs into it. Add half of the milk and stir to make a thick dough. As the dough thickens, keep adding more and more of the milk. In this way you will avoid forming flour lumps in your dough. When all the milk has been added, you should have a dough that is thick, but just runny enough to be poured blini shaped into a pan. Use a teaspoon for this. You should need to lightly tap the the tip of the spoon into the pan to create a neat circle. Now if your finished blini has a darker circle around the rim, you’re a star! If not, try adding a little water to make your dough thinner.

On Vodka – A Personal Opinion

All opinions are of course personal, unless they are public, in which case they are not opinions at all. Do you remember the days when vodka was Russian, or possibly Polish and it all had a flavour. Then came the triple, quadruple distilling gimmick, which ensured that all and any flavour was resolutely removed from the bottle and we were left drinking “Purity”. Now, if I want purity, I’ll have some water, but when I have vodka, I want it to taste of something. Otherwise one might as well order a vat of pure ethanol from the lab and dilute it with water. I have a sneaking suspicion that indifferent base ingredients, a fancy bottle and an expensive marketing campaign hoodwinked consumers into believing that taste was no longer necessary.

So give me a Stolichnaya, a Moskovskaya or even a Smirnoff over a wet goose any day!

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