Have you ever heard of Marti Gras, also called Fat Tuesday? Thought so. What about Blini Sunday?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that for the world at large, Marti Gras is an excuse to party before the start of forty days of…well, the next forty days until Easter, which is in turn an excuse to eat chocolate.
If that’s the case, Marti Gras really doesn’t mean much of anything. But it was originally nicknamed “Fat Tuesday” — the day before Ash Wednesday — because it’s your last chance to stuff your face before, theoretically, fasting for forty days.
In the Russian Orthodox Church, Lent is a big deal. We take the fasting thing seriously.
Fasting? What sort of fasting? What do you mean? That totally depends, actually. Some Roman Catholic traditions dictate portion control. Others forbid eating meat, or eating meat on Fridays. Some involve “giving up” an item of your choice for the full forty days. Other people give up something for the forty days, except on Sundays, or holidays, or celebrations, or parties. But I digress.
According to the Orthodox church tradition, we abstain from…
Meat, including poultry, and any meat products such as lard and meat broth.
Fish (meaning fish with backbones; shellfish are permitted).
Eggs and dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, etc.)
Olive oil. A literal interpretation of the rule forbids only olive oil. Especially where olive oil is not a major part of the diet, the rule is sometimes taken to include all vegetable oils, as well as oil products such as margarine.
Wine and other alcoholic drink. In the Slavic tradition, beer is often permitted on fast days.
So you could see why the day before Lent starts might lend itself to a bit of a binge. For us, Lent actually starts on a Monday, so instead of Fat Tuesday, it’s Blini Sunday.
Ah, blini…think blintz, or thick crepe. Specifically designed to use up all the dairy in the household before Lent, they’re chock full of milk butter and eggs and all things delicious. Almost as important as the blini themselves are the fixings. It took me a few years to realize that, though.
I was eight years old when I ate my first blini. We were celebrating trapeza after church and I was thrilled — we were having pancakes this weekend? Best lunch ever! I couldn’t wait to douse mine in butter and maple syrup. The priest, always one to dote on the kids, prepared a couple blini for me and set the plate down on front of me.
I wanted to burst into tears. Sour cream? Green onions? Hard-boiled eggs!? CAVIAR?! What was that stuff?
Whatever it was, it did not belong on my pancakes. I managed to choke down a bite, the priest beamed at me and went to serve the next person, and I immediately shoved the weird food onto my mom’s plate.
Since then, I’ve learned the error of my ways. Blini are fantastic, and they’re just not the same sweet. I always have a few with jam for dessert, but my favorite is the savory kind. I prefer smoked salmon to caviar — I know, weird, right, pancakes with fish?? — but besides that, I pile it all on.
Blini Sunday comes with the bittersweet knowledge that I’ll be basically vegan for the next couple months. Still, though, the yeasty smell of blini wafting through the church hall will always make my lips curve up into a smile and my mouth water in anticipation.
Writing 101, Day 10: Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.