I think I've said it before, but the kitchen is my favorite room in the house. It doesn't matter what house I'm in, the kitchen is, for some reason, the one I like being in the best. Maybe it's the warmth - maybe it's because I love cooking - maybe it's because I love food - maybe all of the above. Here in Georgia, the same is true. I spend the majority of my time at home in the kitchen. But the problem with being a guest (no matter how long-term) in a Georgian house-hold is that the guest is not supposed to lift a finger to do anything. Booooo. I love cooking. I love experimenting and making a big mess creating something delicious. Only once since I have been here have I been permitted to help with anything that even remotely resembles food-preparation. Today that changed, and I hope that the change will continue its momentum and that my helping in the kitchen will become the norm.
Tea's sister, Teona came over to the house after school today. It's been raining for two days, and she gave Tea and I a ride home so we wouldn't have to walk in the cold rain (Tea doesn't have a car yet). She hung out for a couple of hours so that she could give Elene, Leban, and I a ride back to the center of the village for the dance concert that was to take place at four o'clock (just to watch, not to dance). After having lunch, Teona started some cake batter - it had yeast in it, so it had to rise a couple of times before being baked. It was more dough than batter - very different from any cake that I have ever made. It was to be layered in a pan with some fig preserves and then topped with rods of the dough criss-crossed across the top. Teona showed Tea what she was supposed to do with the top - after laying the rods of dough across each other, little cuts were to be made and the "tongues" of dough (that's what Teona called them in Georgian) were stretched out to the sides like little leaves sticking out from a branch. Tea is many things, but creative is not one of them. She giggled the whole time Teona was showing her what to do..... she kept making comments about how she wouldn't be able to do it right. I told Tea that I would help. I always offer to help, but I usually get waved off with a, "No, you just sit comfortably." But this time, Tea agreed.
When the dance concert was over (it was fabulous, by the way! My students are so talented!), and I was back at the house, I went in to the kitchen to see how the cake-business was coming along. Tea was baking our daily bread while the cake dough finished rising. She was also trying to do a couple of other things at the same time. She is a lot like me - gets doing more than one thing at a time, and then forgets what else was going on and something ends up burned or forgotten. I sat myself down on the little bench beside the wood stove to tend to the bread while Tea did the other things she had started. She began to protest at my tending the bread, but I waved her off this time and told her that I would like to do this. She grinned, a little unsure, but I told her that I have watched her do this enough to know what to do with the bread. She laughed and said, "Okay." Should I be so excited to work? After months of doing nothing more than reading, writing, and laundry, I say, "Yes!"
Working with a wood stove that is all cast iron takes constant attention. It's all too hot to touch. Tea has some large pliers that are the tool for everything on, in, and around the stove. It took a little practice to unlatch and open the stove door with the pliers, and a little more practice to pick up the large, heavy bread pans with them. But after dropping the pliers only once (which brought surprised looks and exclamations from "our grandmother," although she drops them all the time), I got the hang of it. Two pans of bread are in a constant do-si-do between the stove top and the inside. One loaf sits in a pan on the top covered with a large, heavy lid to cook the bottom sufficiently. When the top of the dough is dry, the pan goes inside the stove, uncovered, until the top is golden-brown.
After the shuffle of bread-pans was finished, we tended to the cake. Tea put the layers of dough and preserves in order, rolled out the rods of dough, laid them across the top, and then handed the pans over to me. With a pair of medical-tape scissors cleaned with boiling water and rubbed with oil, I cut the "tongues" of dough and stretched each one to the side - first to one side, then to the other - up one rod, then down the next, until they had all sprouted these little "tongues." The finished result was an intricate lattice of dough over the fig preserves. The first one didn't look so great, but by the third pan, I got pretty good at the spacing. The longer we worked together, the more comfortable Tea got with me doing things in the kitchen. I really hope that she continues to let me help out more from now on.
There was one other new helper in the kitchen today - Koba! I was very pleasantly surprised to see Koba in the kitchen when Tea and I got back from school. He had boiled some potatoes and was making some kind of meat stew. I know that most men in Georgia don't cook - at least not in the villages. I am fortunate to live in a progressive household!
You never know, soon I may be cooking my own khachapuri!