Flavin's Corner
12-17-99

Russian Dressing

     In a couple of days Russia is scheduled to hold general elections (primarily
for their parliament, the Duma, as well as some mayoral positions in various
towns) and I'd like to think a modicum of the recently uttered neo-Cold War
rhetoric (President Yeltsin's reminder to America not to forget Russia's nuclear
arsenal, later reaffirmed by Prime Minister Putin) will abate with next week's
arrival of winter and a post-election end to Russia's campaign-fever.  Golly,
gee-whiz, and a "no way" thrown in for good measure; I honestly hope a
Russian dressing for winter dons a ushanka and not a radiation-suit!

 
Chechnya.

     The ongoing, tragic efforts of the Russians to oust Muslim fundamentalists
from Chechnya isn't going much better than it did against the Muslim not-so
fundamentalists in the Nov. 26, 1994 failed assault on Grozny.  Maybe it's
nostalgia...  Russia apparently wants to fight an old-fashioned war with ground
troops and tanks, as opposed to the modern method of launching hundreds of
missiles at a target.  Or, it may be just a matter of money, something Russia
desperately needs.  If Russia had more cash, maybe they could kill more civilians
without losing troops and tanks.  Recently the group, Human Rights Watch,
appealed to the International Monetary Fund to hold up the next $100 million
loan because of the disaster in Chechnya.  Too poor to wage a modern war...
Cool!

     As we approach the year 2000 of the Common Era [Note: not the beginning
of the 21st century, as the historical calendar has no Year Zero (as opposed to
the astronomical calendar which does), goes from 1 CE backwards to 1 BCE,
and is merely the last year of the 20th century.], many realize that the "future"
will always remain some years off, that those memorable days of yore will never
return, and making the best of the present is the sensible thing to do.  America
will never "return" to the days of Ozzie and Harriet, and Russia will never again
experience a tsarist rule or lead a massive Eurasian "union" of communist states.
However, as these things go, sometimes a nation will regard another with
impressions formed many years before.  Hey, we're all impressionable to a
degree!

     In the early years of the 20th century, the Great War (later, WWI), redefined
and redistributed power and status among nations.  America became a global
player and Russia began a socialist-communist experiment (which eventually
failed).  An American was (and usually still is) regarded as a "Yankee," an insult
from the early Dutch presence in New York (Yankee<Jan Kees=John Cheese).
At the turn of the last century, an uncooked blend of yogurt (or sour cream)
with the addition of a touch of chili sauce (or ketchup), became popular in
various New York hotels, and was called "Russian dressing," because of the
inclusion of yogurt or sour cream, an association still current, as in the 1977,
award winning, Dannon Yogurt commercial, "Old Russians," which falsely
claimed to feature centenarians of the Russian Caucasus region (Georgia and
Azerbaijan).  So, "Russian dressing" is an American invention, the Dannon
Yogurt "Old Russians" weren't even a 100 years old (and not even Russian), but
it's about impressions and the impressionable...

Sophia LaLonde, condiment Goddess.

     The creamy "Russian Dressing" with a touch of horseradish, a dash of
Worcestershire sauce, and tiny, diced onions, soon inspired many variations, but
none more noteworthy than the culinary success of Sophia LaLonde, and her
salad dressing which was named after the upstate New York region where she
lived, ...Thousand Island!  Legends, myths, folklore (and probably no uncertain
amount of greed) have variously credited her with the initial creation of the
dressing, it's transmission to New York City, but alternative versions cite the
manager of the legendary Waldorf (later Waldorf-Astoria) Hotel in NYC,
George Boldt, and his maître d'hôtel (and Masonic underling), Oscar Tschirky,
with its invention.  While the Waldorf did introduce a yummy salad to the world,
and appears to have been one of the first establishments to feature Thousand
Island Dressing as a choice for diners, it's a shame that history has been twisted
to honor a waiter more than the chef!

     With the substitution of mayonnaise for yogurt, as well as the addition of
some pickle relish and chives (and occasionally bits of chopped, hard-boiled
eggs), Thousand Island Dressing became something of a phenomenon.  Not only
did the dressing become popular, but was also used as condiment in such deli
sandwiches as the 'Reuben', and used on the 1949 double-decker cheeseburger
from Big Boy's Restaurant, which was later copied (read: stolen) by McDonald's
and its 'Big Mac' burger.  It's a better world we live in thanks to the tasty
condiment and dressing of Mrs. LaLonde!  [Note:  while I have a fondness for
Big Boy's classic hamburger, in my travels I had occasion to stop at a Big Boy's
in Phoenix, Arizona, order my favorite, and was disgusted to discover that in
Arizona, contrary to the rest of the known, civilized world, they use tartar sauce
instead of Thousand Island Dressing!  The horror stays with me...  Please avoid
Arizona at all costs!]

     It's a safe bet the average Russian doesn't use Thousand Island or "Russian
Dressing" on their salad, but rather some variation of vinaigrette left behind on
Sept. 14, 1812, when Napoleon's army entered an abandoned Moscow.  ...Just a
guess!

     ...And there might not be many salads had this winter in Russia.  Russian
winters are both cruel to invaders and to the Russians themselves.  It's a shame
that the fall of the Soviet Union hasn't significantly improved the attitude of the
Russians, as exampled by their behavior in Kosovo, Chechnya, and now their
renewed closeness with China.  Freedom is a grand, human right, allowing one
to decide between good or evil, life or death, or even between salad dressings.  I
hope Yelstin lays off the vodka, so that next year when he's replaced, there's still
a Russia for Russians to live in.

hoping your sauce is always special,
Rick

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