Love and carrots
Whenever I make my favorite “carrot and craisin” salad I can’t help but think back to the time when I first learned about carrot juice.
The year was 1981. The month was November. The place was Moscow, USSR. My mom had just given birth to my brother. It was a long and painful labor and my mom was in the hospital recuperating. She was weak and my brother was sick, infected by the not-so-hygienic practices of a Soviet era hospital.
One morning I woke up and found my father in the kitchen grating carrots using one of those metal hand-held graters. Next to him was a cheese cloth stained orange and a jar with bright orange liquid inside. My dad would grate a carrot or two, place the contents into a cheese cloth and squeeze out the juice into a jar.
I had eaten carrots before, they were one of my favorite snacks – when raw. When cooked in a soup they were my enemies. Mushy, soggy vegetables are still considered gross in my book.
In all of my five and half years on earth, I had never drank carrot juice. I did not even know that such exited. I have had apple juice, tomato juice and even pineapple juice from those big round cans, but never carrot juice. I did not even know why one would want to drink that.
“What are you doing?” I asked my dad.
“I’m squeezing out juice from carrots for your mom. She is weak and needs vitamins. Carrot juice is full of vitamins,” he replied as he continued to grate the carrots and squeeze them through a cheese cloth into a round jar.
Once the jar was full, he threw the discarded dry shredded carrot bits into a trash can and tightly closed the lid on the jar. He placed the jar inside a bag where a little square of natural butter wrapped in deli paper awaited. (Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is not water soluble. The human body needs fat in order to absorb beta-carotene, hence the piece of butter.)
He put on his winter coat and headed for the subway which would take him to the hospital where my mom was staying. Once there, he would contraband the juice and butter to my mom, as the hospital did not allow outside food. The food the hospital did provide was atrocious.
In a true Romeo and Juliet style, Dad would find a spot below Mom’s hospital room window. Once he was in place, Mom would drop down an empty bag attached to a long rope. He would place a jar of juice, a square of butter along with anything else he brought that day into that bag. She then would carefully pull up the now full bag to her third floor hospital room. This secret undertaking would repeat daily until Mom was discharged.
I waited for him at home, because kids, just like carrot juice were not allowed in hospitals. That rule was actually a good one, especially with the rampant infections that were present in most birthing centers.
Fast forward thirty five years. I am living in US, the stores are full of fresh fruits and vegetables year round. The shelves are overloaded with all kinds of vitamins, from suspicious looking plastic tablets with questionable ingredients to powders made from freeze dried and ground up fruits and vegetables to everything in between.
There are several places within a walking distance from my house where a pleasant young man or woman can make me fresh squeezed juice from pretty much any fruit or vegetable.
At home I have a food processor and a juice machine. I named them Beast A and Beast B. I call on my Beasts whenever I am inspired to make my own juice or salad.
The concept of food or nutrient shortage is now foreign to me.
Yet, each and every time I grate carrots or drink carrot juice, I am taken back to the time when I was five. When life was simpler yet much harder at the same time. And I think about how wonderful it is to have someone who will spend hours and risk cutting the skin off his fingers to make you juice simply because you “need the vitamins.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone. May each and every one of you have someone who cares about you so much that he or she is willing to risk limbs and break rules. And may you be that someone for another being.
P.S. Here are two of my favorite carrot salad recipes:
This is a traditional Russian salad that we like to serve during holiday and other feasts:
- Raw Carrots
Grate the carrots. Chop the walnuts into small pieces. Squeeze the garlic through a garlic press. Mix all of the ingredients well. If you want the salad to be more creamy, use more mayo. Similar applies to garlic, if you are a garlic lover, then use a more. I personally don’t like the “post-garlic effect” so I use garlic sparingly. Let it sit for at least an hour.
This is my version on the traditional carrot salad.
- Raw carrots
- Craisins or raisins or dried prunes – diced
- Salt, sugar, lemon juice
- High quality vegetable oil
Grate the carrots and apple. There should be twice as many carrots as apples. Add in the dried fruits. Add salt to taste. You can also add a bit of lemon juice and sugar. Add a little bit of oil so that the salad would be more nutritious. Let it sit for at least an hour so that the dried fruit become plump.
Both of these salads are better when left overnight in the refrigerator.
Here’s the most important part about these recipes, pay attention. You must invite me to come over for dinner.