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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Culinary Baptism of Fire Somewhat Late in Life

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The schooner I trained on back when I was a naval cadet had a very strict rule: All the cadets had to take charge of the galley for a day. I don't like to think about what happened when my turn came around. One thing's for sure -- I've hated to cook ever since. My limit is a sandwich or fried eggs. My wife Maria, on the other hand, loves to cook, and no chef in a fancy restaurant can touch her.

Not long ago, Maria broke her right arm and was laid up in the hospital, so I had to fend for myself. Light suppers were no problem: yoghurt and cottage cheese take no time at all. Breakfast presented a bigger challenge. I had to make my own porridge. The trick here is to make sure that the porridge doesn't burn along with the pan. But dinners were a nightmare. I tried making soup out of instant noodles and bouillon cubes, but it just didn't cut the mustard. I tried pre-prepared food for the main course, but it's no picnic, either. The risk, again, is that the frying pan will go up in smoke along with your cutlets.

Then I remembered that my children in the United States and Israel never spend more than half an hour on food preparation over the course of a day. I had never really thought about this before, but now I wanted to know how they managed.

"Papa," said my daughter-in-law. "Don't the stores there sell frozen food? Get some and follow the instructions on the package."

Call it my "discovery of America." I can't say the food was tasty, but it was nourishing and, most importantly, took no time at all to prepare. Still, it wasn't home cooking. I couldn't wait for Maria to come home. Unfortunately, when she was released from the hospital her arm was still in a cast -- and will be for another two months. So now I'm cooking for two, though it's easier because my wife tells me what to do.

Maria lived in Georgia for many years and learned how to make some finger-licking-good dishes like satsivi, lobio, khachapuri, chakhokhbili with chicken and adzhabsandal with eggplant. When she serves these delicacies up at a party they disappear as soon as they hit the table. She also makes a mean pkhali with beet greens, walnuts and spices. Food of the gods! Some people make this dish with spinach. although it's not recommended for older people, because they say it contains harmful salts. If you want the recipe, just ask.

I get the beet greens at the Leningradsky Market.

The vegetable vendors used to ask what in the world I wanted beet greens for. "Are you feeding a goat?" they would joke, and give me the greens for free. Then one day Maria made the mistake of telling the woman behind the counter about pkhali. Skeptical, the woman asked Maria to bring her a sample. Maria decided to show off her culinary abilities, and brought some pkhali on her next trip. The saleslady was ecstatic, praising the dish to everyone who walked by. She was so impressed, in fact, that she started selling her beet greens rather than giving them away for free, though she does still give me a discount.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a pensioner and journalist living in Moscow.