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My perfect syrnik September 24, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, whom would you least like to be invited to dinner by? Though I like Closer to Fine well enough, I’d still have to say I’d least like to go for dinner at the Indigo Girls’ house, assuming they live together, because, let’s face it, you’d only choke to death on quiche and some bone-dry salad within minutes.

A squillion years ago, part of a job I had was translating the restaurant reviews for a St. Petersburg magazine. It was an OK way to (part-)earn a living, though not as much fun as translating the excoriating film reviews by the same person. He saved his sharpest vitriol for anything that came from Hollywood, or perhaps even America in general – he was a product of his times and environment, after all – and I then found that a bit of hoot. I was young. But he was more obsequious when it came to food, or perhaps the food in St. Petersburg restaurants was just unfailingly excellent. (I often did eat rather well there, but was too skint for it to be frequent.) And I remember him saying that the pudding was always the most important part of the meal as that’s what you leave the restaurant with the memory still fresh of.

I thought that was probably bollocks as even now, with my brain almost completely erased by badness, I am still capable of thinking, “Hmm, that spotted dick wasn’t so good but their toad-in-the-hole was magnificent.”

So I am heroically resisting an urge to let my pudding-memory, as it were, of England disflavour my whole meal. Yet am I allowed just a minor gripe about transport back on the island? I was even impressed to find a website to help you plan journeys when I’d always previously relied on ze Tschermans, even for journeys within the UK. Faithfully, trustingly tapped in Metroland to Luton Airport. Quickest option was by two buses with a 15-or-so-minute wait between the two at the romantically named Bricket Wood. “Wonderful,” I thought. “I’ll get fifteen minutes of greenery. There’ll probably be a cricket match happening within view, the players making the most of the last days of sun before it disappears again for 8 months. A thatched cottage or two.”

I was dropped off on a dual carriageway at a ramshackle bus-stop which had last seen human company in the 1970s. Lorries whizzed by at what, so close up, seemed terrifying speed. The odd motorist dashed a sympathetic and unbelieving glance at the nutter waiting by the side of the motorway. And then my bus appeared. In the outside lane. Travelling at about 100mph. I stuck my hand out feebly, remembering my country’s mores – a French friend once refused to believe that pulling the string on a bus would make it stop – but it sped past. “Just as well I’ve left myself oodles of time,” I muttered to myself, picking the bits of gravel thrown up by passing vehicles out of my face. And then another 757 to Luton Airport. Going at 100mph and in the outside lane. I stuck out my hand, then pretended it was the opening move in a head-scratch as he whizzed past. “Just as well I’ve left myself oodles of time,” I remuttered to myself with less confidence. A man in a rich person’s car pulled into the bus-stop’s microscopic lay-by, I thought to rescue a gentleman in distress. But he looked at a map and sped back off. Eventually a 321, servicing the world’s slowest and most circuitous bus-route, stopping at every bird’s nest in the south east of England, trundled up in the right lane and ground to a stunned halt. The Polish driver – I thought of befriending him it all took so long – got us to Luton Airport in record non-speed, where it was a mad dash through security – fuck, haven’t got a pound coin for the liquids plastic bags and it takes no other coins. Excellent. Fuck. Will risk it – planewards. I wrote indignant SMSes to the Russian throughout keeping him up-to-date. “You write complyaint lyettyer ven you get khome.”

I arrived in Berlin some hours later, still breathless from my English goodbye, wondering if the Russian might have decided to truncate his trip by a few months and surprise me by being here. Not a bit of it. So I’m fending for myself. Threats in the post. Mostly placated. And a fridge with some milk that had turned into yoghurt and a packet of Quark. (Is that really curd cheese in English?)

Nothing for it. It was going to have to be a syrnik (cream cheese fritter or cottage cheese pancake, says the online dic), which Russians eat for breakfast, for dinner.

Cook with BiB. Take a bowl. Splat packet of curd cheese – I don’t know how many effing grams. Probably 250 – into bowl. Add some white sugar. Add one egg. Add some flour. Mix it up until it’s a fairly sturdy gloop. Then dollop some gloop into a frying-pan sizzling with butter or olive oil. If you don’t burn them to a cinder, as I do, you should end up with a fairly satisfactorily thick, rubbery pancake. Nice with jam or nutella for breakfast.

Or dinner.


1. sylvia - September 24, 2008

What an end to a trip to London – better luck next time.
Did you get to catch up with anyone from the blogging fraternity? Hopefully we will next time…..
Will try the pancake – am desperate for ideas for my tribe. Am suffering from family cooking fatigue. It’s the same as primary school fatigue. It’s the same old same old…….

2. BiB - September 24, 2008

Sylvia, indeed, but London was so marvellous that I can even forgive it getting the pudding wrong. And I was technically in Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire at that point.

Have checked the packet of Quark – I think it’s now called that in the UK too, not curd cheese – and it was 250g. Rather than making one big splat pancake, I make four little ones, which is more than enough for two people.

Yep, got to see some lovely lovely bloggers and damned e-mail prevented me seeing a few more, including you. But next time, next time! There’s always a next time!

3. Liukchik - September 24, 2008

Mmmm. Cheesy. Have you ever had smazeny syr (excuse lack of diacritics) – breadcrumbed-deepfried-pseudo-camembert. Do the Poles do something similar? God, it is sex. Especially with a proper beer.

4. Valerie in San Diego - September 25, 2008

I eat cereal for dinner (when I’m not getting Greek takeout) whenever the significant other is away, so I can’t hardly sneeze at a pancake of any sort for dinner. That’s a LOT more ingredients than cereal. Plus, cooked! Sounds positively gourmet to me…

5. d.z. bodenberg - September 25, 2008

I’m not sure if I want to try a syrnik. But if Quark is now called ‘quark’ in the UK – where is the excitement in secondary school German lessons? Do textbooks no longer start off with a dialogue roughly like this “Hallo. Ich heiße Uschi. Ich bin zwölf. Ich wohne in Bremen. Wie heißt du? Ich heiße Doris. Und wie alt bist du? Ich bin elf. Hast du ‘was vor? Nein? Klasse! Laß’ uns Quark essen gehen! Oder lieber zum McDonald’s. Da gibt es Salate! Hey Jan! Hey Detlef! Hallo! Wir gehen zur Karstadt-Feinkost, um Quark zu kaufen! Also Quark! Hurra! Tschüß!” in order to show 10 year olds what Quark is, and that McDonald’s in some countries (Germany) sell beer and salads (and that not all people (people? women!) called Doris are automatically over 65). Without all that, as I’m sure you’re all understand, there’ll be absolutely no fun in those early days of learning the Teutonic language, and it shall surely die out. Come on, having schoolkids know what Quark is, before their course book vaguely mis-informs them with the obscure translation of “curd cheese”, particuarly if they’ve never seen anything more exotic than Sainsbury’s Mild Irish Cheddar (and the occasional packet of squishy stuff, maybe from France, at Christmas-time, to be thrown away unopened, “mouldy”, or indeed, mouldy, shortly afterwards), is like all people learning Russian in the world just yawning when treated to a picture of Alla Borissowna and saying, come on, of course we know who she is, she’s old-Russian-Tina-Turner-of-the-week on the XFM Breakfast, you’re sooooo out of touch, instead of being slightly amused by her hair and then the music they have to listen to from an extract from a mid-1980s album, modern when the textbook was originally written and therefore the course’s “theme tune”. Globalisation, eh.

I note that “Many Edwardian families from London came to Bricket Wood to enjoy the fresh air, woodland and two large funfairs which once stood nearby.” Fools. Where are they now, these “Edwardian families”? Dead. If not run over by a National Express on the motorway, then thanks to old age. So much for the benefits of fresh air and woodland.

6. d.z. bodenberg - September 25, 2008

By the way, was the bus you finally caught driven by the Polish Ted Rogers? A bit like that German man being Poland’s greatest tv celebrity, but in reverse. Perhaps Polands previous greatest tv celebrity lost his job to a (no doubt) cheaper German, and had to work for Stagecoach in the home counties instead? Maybe as part of a book project.

7. wierdo - September 25, 2008

When I read the title and didn’t have a clue what syrnik was I decided that you must have spelt it backwards for some reason that only you knew.

And then I realised that I didn’t know was kinrys was either so I decided to read the post.

I really want a syrnik.

8. BiB - September 25, 2008

W., make one now. They’re very easy. If I can make them, anyone can. I know I’ve been rather sparing with the proportions for the ingredients, but obviouly not too much sugar and flour you can add incrementally until you’ve got a stodgy blob to dollop into the pan. Let’s decide kinrys is Welsh for syrnik.

d.z., fucking good comments. And I have to say that syrniks (or syrniki, if we’re being vaguely authentic, as we’re allowed to, for food. We say bliny, after all, and not blins and I didn’t buy a packet of low-maintenance pelmens in the supermarket yesterday. No, it was pelmeni) are not especially interesting, but they were surprisingly satisfactory as an emergency option. I can definitely confirm one sighting of quark in Tesco Teddington and that was some years ago. The Brits don’t really eat the stuff, though, do they? Unless they mistakenly think it’s cottage cheese. Lived on the stuff in Russia. Thicker there, and delicious when it had dried fruit in it.

So have Poles now outstripped eastern Germans, wage-wise? When I had my glittering appearance on French TV that I mentioned here 500 years ago, the make-up woman who tried to depinken my face and dealcoholise my nose was from Frankfurt-Oder and moaned about the Poles lowering wages. But is it now Frankfurters streaming into Słubice to look for better-paid work? The phenomenon of everyone-in-a-service-job-in-the-UK-being-Polish has so completely stopped. I noticed lots of young Indians in London on this trip. Is that the latest immigration fashion?

Valerie, I have to praise the Russian for improving my utterly atrocious cooking skills. Although when we first started going out – my god. Flashback to being young. Going out! Although we moved in with each other after about twenty minutes so never really had the fun of going out to places, though I do remember him once being at the station in St. Petersburg to meet me off a train from Moscow, and that was romantic, except I got annoyed because he didn’t look up from his book as I was walking down the platform, and then we probably argued and didn’t talk for three days – I was the cook, he has far outimproved me. But I used to be scared of flour and meat. Not eating meat, as I had disassociated the foodstuff from the dead animal, as if, during cooking, something akin to transsubstantiation had happened, but when handling raw meat, it was hard to quell thoughts of death and slaughter and cages and unhappiness. But the Russian has desensitised me… But, mmm, Weetabix.

Liukchik, I haven’t, but I’ve had the Anglo-equivalent. Is it still the fashion to fry Camembert? A French person – not the one who wouldn’t pull the string on the no. 8 going up Kilburn High Rd. – had seen deep-fried Camembert on menus in the UK and she told me it was the height of bad taste. Which I thought was a touch prissy, and surely, as bad taste goes, licking your plate, for example, would have been even higher. Anyway, while I’m cooking for one, cheese is so off the menu. I’m as fat as a barrel these days and need to starve till the Russian comes back so he doesn’t look at me with undisguised disgust at the airport.

9. Mark Holland - September 25, 2008

I’ve got a cake recipe which calls for quark but we use Philadephia Cheese instead. I’ve never had quark. Isn’t it some sort of sub-atomic particle type thingy?

10. BiB - September 25, 2008

Mark, look, even Wikipedia says how tasty quark is.

But I must protest. Philadelphia and quark are seriously different things. (Although, if Philadelphia makes for a satisfactory cake, stick with it.) But quark is a very different proposition. Not nearly as thick as cheese. Closer to yoghurt. But solid, sort of. It will hold its shape when you flop it out of its carton.

Why has no-one said who they don’t want to invite them to dinner? It’s a very scientific survey I’m carrying out.

11. d.z. bodenberg - September 25, 2008

It was very hard to get real cream cheese in the East London/Essex environs a good decade or so ago. So hard, when wanting cream cheese and smoked salmon bagels we had to settle for Marascapone. They had a strange food policy in our local supermarket. The last time I was there (before they shut down, leaving the high street without a shop selling proper food, meaning either the whole population died of hunger/got very fat on crisps and cola – actually, I think it was about 50-50, meaning a statistically and also visibly radical change in the ethnic make-up of the town occurred, leading to some lovely African minimarkets being set up, hm, I digress), the last time I was in that branch of Sainsbury’s they had about 47 types of posh olive oil. In my childhood they had rice waffles, and, now and again, “genuine German pumpernickel” A strange place. As I said, no wonder it closed.

Did you bump into any Nudists in Bricket Wood? Perhaps that’s why the bus driver wouldn’t stop. He was disgusted at your textiles.

And when it comes to “low-maintenance pelmens” – that sounds far too medicinal for my liking – and I’ve spent a great deal of hours this week in various rooms in my local polyclinic. Perhaps that’s my actual current predicament. “I told you, he’s got a low-maintenance pelmens – give ‘im a load of the antibiotics and his brain (and the rest) will work again in the nick of time. Only available on private prescription though, that Ulla Schmidt has decided that the proles don’t need a proper pelmens – that’s for proper patients only. Here you are, the green prescription, and eff off. Come here again, and next time, it’s the neurology department for you, wastrel. ” Perhaps you could pretend to be me (me pretend to be you, I think I mean there), should I require pelmens medicine, or have you ‘gone state’ (or at least Künstlersozialkasse) on the illness insurance front?

12. d.z. bodenberg - September 25, 2008

Typing in the entirely wrong URL there has led me to realise that “EdWard” is the man for those, like myself, who don’t like hospitals. Yippee! What a stupid slogan, though, for a hospital. Edward: if you read this: if you’re going to have the tagline “Edward – for people who don’t like hospitals” it’s probably a bad idea to then call yourself “Edward Hospital and Health Services, Washington IL 60540”. It gives the game away a bit. Why not rename yourself “Edward’s Zoo and Fluffy Bunny Fancy Dress Homecare Countdown”? It’ll trick the kids until you’ve got ’em tied down by a man in an Elmer Fudd costume, ready to go under the knife. (If you like the idea, please send $200,000 bucks as soon as possible).

13. BiB - September 25, 2008

Were you looking for something by our very own Ed Ward, who deserves to be edward.org or edward.com far more than those folk? I’m just reading his Japan journal. Such a good read.

And are you not well, sir? I do indeed still have my posh insurance, paid for late 11 months out of twelve, though I’m currently up-to-date, I think, and neither of us owes the other a penny. But just say the word and I can happily donate to you one of my spare pelmens.

14. Mark Holland - September 25, 2008

Nudists! Yes of course Spielplatz is/was in the St Albans area. It features highly in “Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema” as smut could be snuck into films provided there was some fig leaf of documentary over the top. “Molly was distinctly unsure but since her friend Jill showed her the gay times that could be had playing volleyball as nature intended, she can’t stop frolicking. In Hertfordshire. In February.”

15. d.z. bodenberg - September 25, 2008

Yes, I typed in edward.com instead of berlinbites.com and ended up at said “not a hospital, honest, erm, hospital”. I hope the genuine Ed Ward posts his diary from 11 September 2001 soon.

And when it comes to the Poles being cheap, surely the English translator in Berlin is cheaper. Didn’t France 5 or whoever get you for, hm, free (plus some makeup)?

16. Liukchik - September 26, 2008

Yes, but fat as a barrell is the fashion these days. Especially after 6 Guinesses and a lively discussion with a young woman from Donegal as to the regional variation of Irish music. And frankly I am gagging for fried cheese, but had to make do with pasta and some reduced goat’s cheese instead.

17. Liukchik - September 26, 2008

Oh yes, alive: Ian Paisley, Paul McCartney, Alexander Lukashenko, the Pope. Dead: Stalin, Hitler, the Pope (take your choice), Rabbie Burns.

18. d.z. bodenberg - September 26, 2008

Typical. A British nudist site gives itself a German name with some (in the current British climate) “kiddy fiddler” undertones. “Spielplatz” indeed. I’ve got nothing against naturism, quite the opposite – but I have no desire for naked karaoke. Or pool (Taschenbillard without the Tasche, presumably?) In St. Albans.

Our historic Clubhouse is a hub of activity, no matter what the weather. Here, we hold our social functions throughout the year, including coffee mornings, discos, karaoke, quiz nights, themed dances, and pool tournaments. There is a licensed bar.

19. BiB - September 26, 2008

d.z., I’d missed your earlier reference to nudists in Bricket Wood. That must, indeed, have been why the odd motorist looked askance at me and bus drivers refused to stop. And, yes, French TV didn’t pay me a god damn centime for my ten seconds of fame. Which took two days. I think they did perhaps let me have a beer at their expense at the end of day one and a coffee on day two as we waited five hours for delayed filming to start. Gits.

Liukchik, hooray! Now I can write a 29-page work on not getting invited to dinner by The Indigo Girls, Hitler and Rabbie Burns. I was a bit thrown by your last choice, actually. Was he an especially loathsome character? But, god, yes, or rather no, Paul McCartney. I’d be scared the whole time that he’d tell me I looked like him.

Mark, I went nude, because it was the done thing, on an island off the German coast on the one boiling weekend we had last summer. But I only ended up there by accident and went with the flow when it seemed right. I can’t imagine taking the bus to Bricket Wood especially though. I wonder if I’d have seen something if I peered through the bushes from the side of the dual carriageway.

20. Mark Holland - September 26, 2008

Bib, good for you. Oddly I though of just such a Baltic dune when writing my previous. A watch of Jonathan Meades Magnetic North will reveal why. You’d love it. It’s a great antidote to all those aren’t southern Europeans wonderful with their sun, their wine, their renaissance and their Popes. “Pah”, says Meades as he celbrates beer, Hansa, Gothic and Protestant enquiry. Made me right proud to be a northern European with an earthy Saxon name it did. Take that Guiseppe!

PS. Isn’t You Tube great.


we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender

All Germanic bar one word. No prizes.

21. BiB - September 27, 2008

I didn’t know that Jonathan Meades geezer at all but I like the look of what I see. I haven’t had a chance to watch the whole thing yet. Swimming in translations and my prehistoric laptop can barely cope with youtube – yes, it’s bloody brilliant – and the big computer is dead. But thanks for pointing it out to me. I’m a great lover of northern Europe too. Mind you, when harbouring fantasies about moving to Finland, I wouldn’t mind being able to photoshop Spain’s climate into the picture.

22. varske - September 27, 2008

Another syrnik fan! Our family is always nostalgic for the syrniks we used to have in Ukraine and then made ourselves in Lithuania. It’s not for nothing my name is varske (Lithuanian for cottage cheese). In Athens and Oxford we have made regular forays to the Russkie Produkty shops to get the ingredients for a syrnik nostalgia.

23. BiB - September 27, 2008

So THAT’s what varske means! Very occasionally, I have to go to one of the Russian shops here to have a nostalgic творожный сырок, very unsatisfyingly translated on multitran as either chocolate glazed curd bar or cake cheese. Still, not sure I can come up with anything better myself. (And I certainly can’t make them!) Luckily we can get buckwheat and баклажанная икра – aubergine paste, says multitran – at the supermarket.

24. Mr D - September 27, 2008

“Cake cheese”? That sounds rude and vile. Enough to put anyone off cake. Or make it take a shower, at least.

(Oh, maybe it’s just my mind that’s rude and vile…)

25. BiB - September 27, 2008

Mr D, you’re right. And, again, as with the translations for ‘syrnik’, the ‘syr’ bit in a syrok still isn’t cheese, but good old Quark, or curds. I wonder if you’ve had one – a творожный сырок (tvorozhnyj syrok) – on your travels round the Slavic world. I’ve got a feeling the former Yugos aren’t averse to a bit of quarky sweetness either.

26. Mark Holland - September 27, 2008

Just consider me as a sort of cultural attaché. Glad you liked Eric Olwthait.

27. BiB - September 28, 2008

You’re a gent. I’d want to adopt Eric if ever he stumbled across my path. Though I do think it’s a brilliant diversionary tactic to pretend to be French to avoid your boring children. I’m going to sign my mother up for some evening classes so she can get some parental revenge after all this time.

28. Mr D - September 28, 2008

Don’t know. Think I’ve eaten pretty much everything sweet, fatty and sugary everywhere I’ve been, so chances are pretty good. But, like with the names of streets, I can never remember what food specialities are called. An excuse to sample everything again, if ever there was one!

29. marshaklein - September 29, 2008

I was going to say I wouldn’t want to go to dinner with anyone Swabian after the various “cheesy worms”/unmentionables comments on my last post but one, but actually I do know a Swabian German, who’s cooked for me on more than one occasion and he cooks like a dream. So, let’s see…
Michael Winner, Paul McCartney (not an objection to vegetarianism, I just can’t abide those Linda McCartney “sausages” etc), George Osbourne(sp?), Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, the Farrelly brothers, Hitler (not an objection to vegetarianism, I just can’t abide muderous dictators), Lee Evans (that’s enough now – ed.)

30. BiB - September 29, 2008

Marsha, what excellent answers. I had to google half the people in your list of preferred non-hosts, but I am thrilled to see that, out of two lists, yours and Lukeski’s, Paul McCartney makes both. Hooray! As does Hitler, incidentally. Which, if statistics mean anything at all, suggests, surely, they are equally wicked and evil. Ben Stiller’s face looks like quite a nice face to me but I don’t know him at all. Is he in fact as evil and nasty as Hitler/McCartney?

Mr D, next time our paths cross, and provided there’s a Russian shop nearby, I’ll buy you a syrok and make you a syrnik so that you can be sure you’ve had all the curdy goodies there are to be had. (A shame I can’t get ‘творожная масса’ (tvorozhnaja massa) (one online dic is claiming that’s ‘ricotta’ simply) here with raisins in it. Bloody lovely.)

31. ThePenguin - October 1, 2008

Aargh, after a heavy day’s programming I saw the title and read “My perfect symlink”, which actually makes a sort of sense to me but has nothing to do with the item in question.

32. Emeline - October 16, 2008

Have you ever tried the Kougloff? I’m not pretty sure that it’s less disgusting than the British food. However, I’d be ready to eat anything from England or worse if The Indigo Girls take a seat near me.. Please, don’t tell me The Indigo Girls have the same taste than the British food! No. Is the syrnik made of Russian pollonium? Just be careful.

33. BiB - October 24, 2008

Emeline, you’re back. But in a different guise. Hello again! I’m not sure I have tried Kougloff. But, honestly, the food on the island is excellent. Excellent. Really, really, truly. But, anyway, no, as I said, the Indigo Girls only eat quiche.

Penguin, alas I am much too dim to know anything about symlinks, perfect or otherwise. Are you in town? For how long? Beer?

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