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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Guide to the stars

Striking miners, devaluation, Viktor Chernomyrdin and all other evidence of Russia's permanent crisis were almost forgotten Friday as a crowd of about 30 journalists gathered at the Georgian restaurant Ne Goryui, or Don't Grieve, near Sportivnaya metro station to answer the day's most urgent question: "What do Russian celebrities like to cook?"

Sensation-hungry tabloid journalists expecting sumptuous mussels and caviar cakes were disappointed from the start. All of the six celebrities who had been chosen for the final round from a total of 300 preferred plain, salt-of-the-earth food to such exotic dishes.

The finalists were far from culinary masters. They included State Duma Deputy Irina Khakamada with a vegetable plov, a common Central Asian rice dish, pop singer Anita Tsoi with sturgeon in pomegranate juice, Communist Party leader Gennady Zuganov, who prefers mashed potatoes and sausages, and President Boris Yeltsin's spin doctor, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who brought boiled eggs. (Since the contest, Yastrzhembsky's eggs have been the subject of political jokes in Russian newspapers because, in Russian, the word "eggs" has the same dual meaning as "nuts" does in English.)

All of us in the audience were given nuts -- no double entendre intended -- which were used to vote for the winner. After the voting, the nuts were conspicuously absent from the plate next to the "party of power" eggs, while the baked apples with tvorog of stage comedian Klara Novikova -- famous for her Odessa-style character Aunt Sonya, a simple-minded Jewish lady -- ended up with the most votes.

But while Novikova gets even my laughs, she didn't get my nut. That day, there were many other charming women in the room, and I turned to talk to Russian-Korean singer Anita Tsoi, no relation to the late rock star Viktor Tsoi.

I endeared myself to her immediately by greeting her in Korean and soon became addicted to her charm and welcoming manners. She turned out to be completely different from her powerful husband, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's press man Sergei Tsoi, who once shoved me into some wet cement near the construction site of the Christ the Savior Cathedral while I was trying to interview his boss.

But it was not her I was saving my nut for. I gave it to the woman I secretly have been in love with all my life, Soviet anchorwoman Angelina Vovk, who as the host of the "Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi" evening puppet show was once known to every child simply as "Aunt Lina." Recently, when we were traveling together from the Slavyansky Bazaar, a Slavic cultural fair in the Belarussian city of Vitebsk, I had a chance to tell her that I always loved her. Aunt Lina, who is old enough to be my mother, responded tenderly, "You are a very beautiful and good man, Sasha." Remembering that, I put my nut next to her carp with sour cream, even though I've always hated fish.