Thirty cooks. Five kitchens, two without ovens. Dinner for 80 to be served in a tiny basement rehearsal studio. New Food Channel cooking challenge? Nyet. That’s just Thanksgiving in Russia, baby.
The plan was as follows. We would be given Thursday off from school, which is pretty generous considering Thanksgiving means nothing in Russia, and days off are a rare commodity at MXAT. We would have dinner in the rehearsal studio in the basement of our dormitories. (We here includes all 53 American students, all of our teachers, and a selected group of Russian students who have been extra helpful to us along the way.) So that all the food could get cooked, the stoves and ovens, which are usually turned off at 1:00 am–presumably to prevent smoke alarms from waking the babushkas who run the building at ungodly hours of the night–would stay on all Wednesday night. We made a sign up sheet for food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils. We made a detailed kitchen schedule to prevent anyone from getting stabbed over rights to the oven. We made decorations. America or no America, we were going to do this Thanksgiving right.
My personal Thanksgiving adventure started on Tuesday night, when I trekked down to the supermarket that has been alternately termed Area 51, Alien-Mart, or the Tower of Babel, since the best landmark for finding it is a giant, completely bizarre tower monument thing that “looks like it could only have been placed there by aliens.” I walked the extra blocks to this particular supermarket because it was supposed to be the cheapest one around. And yet, somehow I still ended up paying twenty-four dollars for two pounds of cheddar cheese. Welcome to Russia, where the simplest things are exorbitantly expensive, and vodka is cheaper than water. After a long time wandering the grocery store using my iPod calculator to convert grams to ounces, I made it to the checkout with almost everything I needed to make macaroni and cheese and a pound cake.
I had this brilliant plan, you see, to go ahead and bake my cake on Tuesday night, so I could use my Thursday kitchen time slot exclusively for macaroni. The problem was this… well, okay there were several problems. I’ll list them in order. One, the kitchen on my floor does not have an oven. Two, it also does not have a mixing bowl. Problems one and two were easy enough to solve. I mixed the batter in a giant pot and toted it down two flights of stairs to a kitchen with an oven. No big deal, and I only almost spilled it once. Downstairs, I met problem number three: the oven is without any clearly legible temperature markings, and those that faintly exist are in Celsius. And I’m bad at math. So I did the only reasonable thing, and I guessed. Finally, problem number five was that the single cake-type pan I could find was only big enough for half the batter. But it should be simple enough to bake it in two parts, right? Wrong. Remember that whole thing about the ovens turning off at 1:00 am? I didn’t realize just how late it was when I started this little project, and somewhere halfway into cake number two, the oven cut off, and the term half-baked took on a new, much more literal meaning.