So a few weeks ago, I decided to bake some cookies. This is something I rarely do in the U.S., let alone in Georgia – but I wanted to bring something “American” to work for my colleagues to eat, and share the same with my host family. There isn’t even really a word for cookies in Georgian – I explained what I wanted by using the word for “cake” coupled with the word for “small” – patera namsquali. Everyone kind of shrugged, like, whatever you want to do, you crazy American, but my host mother helped me with ingredients. In the end , I only had to buy about 6 things at the store … but it was quite the adventure in language skills!
First – oatmeal. Well, they definitely have oatmeal here – it’s quite good, actually – but, figuring out if it’s quick-cooking, as called for in the recipe, or not, was challenging. Particularly as a lot of it was imported from Russia – see my last post for a description of labeling challenges in Georgia. After a fair amount of scrutiny, I picked this one. You’ll note it’s neither Georgian nor Russian – I think it’s German, but in any case, the teeny-weeny Georgian label on top had the word for “quick-cooking” in it (which I had wisely written down before I left the house), so even though I could barely see the text through the very bottom of my progressive lens, I took a chance. Next I needed vanilla. In Georgia, you cannot buy liquid vanilla like in the U.S. It comes in small packets, with sugar added. OK. I can work with that.
Moving on, I also needed baking soda, which with the help of my trusty English-Georgian mobile phone dictionary, I tracked down fairly easily. The box was in Russian, but the usual microscopic Georgian label was there. But then came the real challenge – walnuts and chocolate chips. Not to be found. Anywhere. Chocolate bars, truffles, peanuts in their shells, yes, but just bagged chips or bagged nuts – no. Then I had an epiphany – why not Peanut M&M’s? I mean, they are made of chocolate and nuts, right? And everyone loves M&M’s in cookies right? I bought two giant bags.
So, I trekked back home from the local “supermarket” (meaning marginally bigger than a “maghazia,” the tiny corner store that is, literally, on virtually every corner – think of an unsophisticated 7-11 kinda thing, but with a concrete floor and a large selection of Georgian beer, mineral water, sunflower seeds, shampoo, which is extremely widely sold here for some reason I don’t quite understand, a lot of Russian candy, and, often, fresh-baked bread and pastries). At about 11:00 it was already within striking distance of 100 degrees F and I was planning to bake.
And so I did. Mixed it all up, estimating all the ingredient portions as best I could. No brown sugar – can’t get it here, even in Tbilisi, so I just used all white and crossed my fingers. I’ve started a list of things I want in my next “care package” and brown sugar is right up there! The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of vanilla – I just dumped in 2 packages of the powdered stuff and hoped for the best. I used a glass jar filled with muraba – fruit preserves – to smash up the M&M’s. All in all, a good time, in spite of the two disbelieving preteen girls loitering the hallway laughing at me the entire time.
And – cue the drumroll – here are the results:
They were a little chewier than I would have liked, but overall, not bad! I gave them to my family that night; my host mother and sisters each gingerly took one cookie with a doubting expression, but then – shockingly – really liked them. My littlest sister gave one to her dad, who examined it as if it were an alien creature, and she said “gemrielia! martla!” which translates as “delicious! really!” It was the “really” that cracked me up. He liked it, though, once she convinced him to take a bite.
The next morning I took several cookies out and left them on a plate for the family, and took the bowl to work. Unfortunately, there had been a food festival that weekend (I could not go because it was right by the ABL – Administrative Border Line – forbidden territory for Peace Corps volunteers) and a lot of food had been brought back to the office. My cookies were competing with pickled garlic, peppers and a lot of khachupuri (bread with cheese) – not really a good taste combo, and sadly, Georgians not really being the most adventurous eaters in the world, the cookies came out on the losing end, with the exception of Tengo the driver, who really liked them a lot and bypassed the garlic in favor of the cookies! However, a small twist of fate saved them. A bunch of volunteers all came to Gori that afternoon to apply for residency cards, and I was able to distribute the cookies to them with no problems at all. All gone in about 10 minutes. I was at least somewhat gratified that when I got home that night, all of the cookies I had left for my family had been consumed.
So, that’s the cookie-baking adventure for now. It was fun. I will be moving to my own apartment in the next month or so, and will not have an oven (maybe a toaster-oven), so this will probably be my last foray. Though I may return to my host family to bake up a few batches once I get my brown sugar. More to come on that topic (the apartment, not the cookies) next month. For now, eat one for me and appreciate it on my behalf. Thanks. 🙂