16 March 2009

For a brief moment in history

When I was eleven, I dreamt to become fancy. What ‘fancy’ meant exactly, I did not know and, in truth, could not care less to learn. All I wanted was ‘do’ fancy things, such as calling my USSR-born parents ‘madam maman’ and ‘monsieur papan’ respectively, drinking strong pitch-black coffee a la my mother, wearing my mother’s high heels, and read Shakespeare, although not all at once.

There was something else - I wanted to set my hair in curlers every now and then. In my view, to wear curlers (at home) was as classy as to have on high heels (also at home). My mother begged to differ on my points, so I wore neither of her stilettos nor her metal rollers at the time. And yet, at the age of eleven I still wanted to be ‘fancy’, point. Other things being prohibited, I decided I should start drinking coffee, which my mother, surprisingly, did not mind. This is, in short, how I became ‘fancy’.

When it comes to beverages, alcoholic and non-, I learned two things from ‘madam maman’: always drink dry wine and never be shy with coffee. My Sober Reader, I hope you don’t mind that it is on the latter that I will extend today. (How my mother taught me, literally, to drink wine makes for another story, which I might tell you, that is, if you want.)

And that leaves coffee. As I said earlier, this boldness with the beverage I took after my mother. Being a heavy sleeper, her day would brighten up only after she made herself a cup of steaming coffee, be it at 7 a.m. or at noon. (My mother is a pianist, so artistic laziness was never foreign to her.)

Seeing that it were the early post-Soviet times, we did not have much choice of different sorts and labels of coffee, and, in fact, pretty much of everything else. All we could snatch was instant coffee, which, as I always thought, was made of something decidedly different than coffee beans – maybe dust, I don’t know. Said differently, the taste was bland and depressing. So it was about then that my mother, being a woman of musical artistry, was so creative as to think up a trick that changed my entire life onwards. (I only wish she had not spoilt my green years with nudging me insistently into becoming a musician as herself.)

'Madam maman' used a thin slice of lemon in her coffee.

Why not Baileys, Kalua, or Demerara Sugar, to name a few? Oh, I beg of you. The early 90’s were rather tumultuous times in new Russian history - we even did not have proper supermarkets in the first place. It was only after a handful of years, sometime between the midlle- and late 90’s, that those names did not sound gibberish to our musical ears any more.

That’s why a thin slice of fresh and (sparkles-out-of-your-eyes) sour lemon was preferred in my family to stale cinnamon powder or white sugar. At first I winced at the thought of lemon in coffee, then I took a sip from my mother’s cup, shyly; after which I hurried up to the kitchen, took another cup from a cabinet and imperatively asked my mother to make me her ‘citrus coffee’.
I had no idea why lemon and coffee worked so well together, but it tasted good and I liked it. I had a brilliant excuse to call myself ‘fancy’ at the time, even before we learnt what, for instance, De-me-ra-ra sugar is.

Now that I am doing my MA in English I hope I have developed my vocabulary enough as to be able to say briefly that lemon lends itself nicely to making coffee flavor more complex and deeper. Being acidic, lemon offsets the bitterness of coffee; and if you add a teaspoon of brown sugar to your cup, it will further enhance the heady notes of coffee (but this is optional). That said, there is no recipe as such. You simply brew your coffee the way you usually do, be it with a coffee machine or in a pot; and add a thin slice of citrus, or even a half, to your cup. As I suggested, brown sugar is optional here but recommendable.

So instead of being fancy (which it is not, supposedly), ‘citrus coffee’ is historic – post-Soviet and all. Also, it's tasty! What's more, drinking it is not as much ridiculous as, say, wearing curlers and high heels at home. (Here it should be noted that I, when home alone, wore my mother's stilletoes anyway; and even ruined a few pairs, to 'madam maman' greatest disgust. Sigh.)

P.S. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to show you the pictures of Moscow when I am in Amsterdam. But for a brief moment in history, let’s assume it is.


Anna said...

That was a really neat post. I love hearing a bit about your life in Russia. And, of course, I love coffee!! Tell us about wine next!

toni said...

Lemon rind in coffee? I think it's standard in Italy for cappuccino. Or some such thing - I can't remember right now.

But I love your post! I love learning about your life. Your mom's a pianist? How wonderful!!

My sister-in-law is from Siberia. She, too, went through the times you did.

epe said...

nice pictures! :)