COVID-19: The Bread Baking Renaissance

Food is one of the few things that can unite, sustain, and soothe us no matter where we are in the world. In these troubling times, many people have turned to bread baking and vegetable gardening both to feed themselves and to pass time. In this week’s Notes from the Field, we asked our participants what their go-to comfort food is.

Emma Pratt, Tbilisi, Georgia

Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian bread filled with cheese and egg.

Most Georgian food makes good comfort food. There has been a popular social media challenge of people around the world making adjaruli khachapuri or khinkali and posting photos of their results. I think I will try to make my first adjaruli khachapuri soon.

Jesse Smeal, Rome, Italy

Any pasta dish. Cheap, easy and delicious.

Ann Merrill, Kyiv, Ukraine

Carbs, carbs, carbs.

Jessie Labov, Budapest, Hungary

My child has been sustained largely on “mákos tészta,” or poppy seed noodles, which is spaghetti or fettuccine coated with butter (or duck fat if you’re my mother-in-law), then sprinkled with a mix of ground poppy seeds and powdered sugar—the proportion of each depending entirely on the level of bribery necessary to get the child to eat. If you grew up in the U.S., you will probably find this weird and off-putting. If you grew up in this region, you will wolf it down like manna from heaven.

Eric Bednarski, Warsaw, Poland

We have been eating a lot of traditional homemade Polish pierogis in my household. Although I have been eating pierogis for most of my life, I’d never made pierogis myself until this pandemic struck, so it has been fascinating to see the whole pierogi-making process from start to finish. A lot of people I know in Warsaw seem to be baking their own bread now too. Many of them are baking bread for the first time.

Lyudmila Skryabina, Moscow, Russia

A meat and fish counter remains open in an empty St. Petersburg supermarket.

I can’t say anything about my fellow countrymen, although I think many are cooking now. Personally, I have been making more soups in quarantine. Yesterday I made borscht. I am also trying to remember the recipes for all kinds of yummy dishes. I recently made the mini-khachapuris Dr. Brintlinger taught me to make several years ago. I have to admit that I’ve been eating better and healthier food in quarantine.

<<Check back in next Monday, May 25, to learn more about how countries in Central and Eastern Europe are dealing with the pandemic.

Pandemic Essentials

What is essential in a pandemic? Our correspondents in Central and Eastern Europe recommend these books, films, and other works of art.

Jessie Labov, Hungary

Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception. Even though he has gone off the deep end and claimed at the beginning of this global health emergency that COVID-19 was a hoax and a conspiracy cooked up by governments in order to wield exceptional power. Yes, even though Agamben recently said those insane things, his book about the post-9/11 world is still very relevant and important to today’s reality. See: “Giorgio Agamben’s Coronavirus Cluelessness

Emma Pratt, Georgia

I can’t dazzle you with my intellect with my answer to this question, because I haven’t had the bandwidth for academic or intellectual reading. I tried to start Red Famine by Anne Applebaum when I returned from my trip to Ukraine, but I found it too emotional right now. The most fitting book I’ve read during this time has been Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory. It strikes the balance between being light and fun and reminiscent of better times, without being overly frivolous or silly.

Ann Merrill, Ukraine

Мої Думки Тихі (My Thoughts Are Silent), a quirky, lovely, funny Ukrainian independent film released earlier this year. It’s available online in Ukrainian with Russian subtitles. The scenery is gorgeous, and anyone who’s taken a road trip in Western Ukraine will find many familiar sights.

Jesse Smeal, Italy

Influenza 1918 – PBS film on the 1918 Pandemic. Very relevant to today’s crisis.

Conrad Rinto, Hungary

Luckily, prior to the pandemic I had ordered Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of series. He is an author that I had discovered in Professor Dragostinova’s “Nations and Nationalism” course at Ohio State. Additionally, I am re-reading Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series because when in Hungary why not read an alternative history series on Dracula.

Lyudmila Skryabina, Russia

It seems to me that during the pandemic we should read those things we’ve been unable to find time for. And watch as many comedies as possible!

<<Next Monday, May 18, our participants will be sharing their go-to comfort food recipes!

How to Pass Time in Quarantine, continued

To continue this week’s theme of passing time in quarantine, here are three more responses from Tbilisi, Kyiv, and Moscow.

Emma Pratt, Tbilisi, Georgia

I am working remotely and adapting my previously in-person class for online delivery has been a lot of work. I have also spent more time than usual cooking—trying to make the most efficient and delicious use of the products we have at home. So far, we have actually been eating better than usual. I’ve also been reading, but not as much as I had thought I would. We have a Nintendo Wii, which I have been using to get some exercise to clear my head. To be perfectly honest, I also spend a lot of time on Twitter waiting for updates. I haven’t gotten bored yet.

Boxes taped to the floor encourage social distancing practices in Kyiv, Ukraine

Ann Merrill, Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukraine has been in quarantine for 30 days at the time I am writing this. I’m actually fairly busy with my freelance work as a translator and editor, and was already quite used to working from home! I am working on the translation of my 3rd book for Awesome Heritage. Work on the magazine I edit also continues, The Ukrainian: Life & Culture. But there are a lot of hours in the day, so I’ve also rearranged closets and furniture, potted and repotted plants, and done a lot of cooking and baking. And I am going to finally tackle khachapuri, thanks to an American friend in Kyiv who is using the quarantine to launch his cooking channel!

Lyudmila Skryabina, Moscow, Russia

I have a ton of work. I can’t even get to much of what I have planned.

In the film industry, a lot of projects have had to be put off, and that’s true for us at Okapi Production as well. We had planned to start filming our first feature film in the beginning of May, but now in our best case scenario we’ll start at the end of the summer. Instead, while we’re staying at home we have increased our activity on social media and launched our YouTube channel. Since we’ve been doing casting calls for a year and a half we have a large base of contacts among active children and parents across Russia and the CIS.

Several regional television channels (Moscow region, Kuzbass, Rostov, Krasnodar, and others) have noticed our videos and we are now doing social advertising for them for free.

Since we’ll be working remotely for at least another month, I have started to write some new scripts for our children’s television program “Bad Advice from Helpful Kids.” We are learning a new format: not in the studio but via teleconferencing. The theme suggested itself: how to entertain yourself at home. Thus, I am extremely busy with video production work. But I still have a few articles planned for a scholarly volume at the Tomskaya Pisanitsa museum. Basically, there’s no time to be bored or depressed!

<<Next week, May 11, our participants will be sharing some book and film recommendations to help you pass the time!

How to Pass the Time in Quarantine

From baking to reading, gardening to yoga, more time at home has led to more time for hobbies and new ways of working and going to school. This week in Notes from the Field, we asked our participants what they are doing to pass time while in empty classroom

Tatiana Shchytssova, Vilnius, Lithuania

I spend a huge amount of time playing the role of teacher for my 8 year-old daughter. Her school in Vilnius uses a model of distance-learning that assumes that teachers will send new materials and tasks via email every day, and it is the parent(s) responsibility to supervise the education process. Therefore, my larger problem is how to find time for doing my professional work at home.

Jesse Smeal, Rome, Italy

I have two restaurants/cafés. We are able to do home deliveries. It’s not much and only amounts to about 2% of my normal revenue, but it’s something. My wife and children pass the time with school, homework, housework, playing games, and watching TV.

Jessie Labov, Budapest, Hungary     

We have relocated to a small house near Lake Balaton, in one of the most charming villages in Hungary (population 300), where we teach online, homeschool our kid online, take care of the garden, cook a lot, occasionally order pizza, and go on daily hikes. The house belongs to some friends who are stuck in Germany and can’t come here. We do not set foot in the village out of respect for many of the residents who don’t want us here.

<< Check back tomorrow for another set of responses from Tbilisi, Kyiv, and Moscow!

The Tumult that COVID-19 Has Made in Our Daily Lives, continued

In continuation of our first post documenting the changes that COVID-19 is making in the lives of people across the globe, this week we are publishing a secondary post of three more responses from Budapest, Tbilisi, and Rome.

Emma Pratt, Tbilisi, Georgia

I have been staying at home since before the government restrictions were passed, so I don’t have any photos of my own, but I highly recommend these photos of deserted Tbilisi from Open Caucasus Media: First Night Under Curfew and the contrast they present to the photos circulating on social media of packed churches. My neighborhood definitely sounds quieter than it did before: fewer fireworks and more dogs barking.

Jessie Labov, Budapest, Hungary

This is me shopping on March 12, one of the last days before the official lock-down. I was unfortunate enough to be handed a sign from the cashier to put on my cart stating that I was the last one in my lane, and spent the next 45 minutes explaining to everyone who wanted to get behind me in line that the lane was closed. As the line next to me got longer and longer, up to 30-40 carts, it got pretty ugly. One guy tried to bribe me 30 USD to let him in front of me.

Busy grocery stores

Jessie Labov in line at a grocery store in Budapest

Jesse Smeal, Rome, Italy

Daily life has changed dramatically. No more going out and meeting friends and family. Basically, any resemblance of a once vibrant social life has disappeared. Long lines and wait times at the supermarket and pharmacies are the social activity of the day.

<<Stay tuned for our next post on Monday, May 4 on what our participants have been up to under quarantine to pass the time!

The Tumult that COVID-19 Has Made in Our Daily Lives

The Tumult that COVID-19 Has Made in Our Daily Lives

Launching our blog post series “Notes from the Field”, we start our exploration of the havoc that the virus has caused on our daily lives by documenting the changes in routine and environments in which we live. We asked our participants to reflect on and share an example and/or photo of how COVID-19 has changed daily life in the city and country in which they are living.

Eric Bednarski, Warsaw, Poland

It is now mandatory for everyone in Poland who goes out in public to wear a face mask, a completely surreal sight. Until now I would say only about one third to half of the people you’d see on the street would have on a mask. Now, it is everyone.

Adela Muchova, Prague, Czechia      

The quarantine rules and obligation to wear facemasks anywhere in public is the most visual representation and reminder of the changes people in the Czech Republic are facing now. More out of sight, daily life changed dramatically when people had to start working from home and home-schooling overnight.

People wearing face masks

Adela Muchova and family in Prague

Conrad Rinto, Budapest, Hungary

Below is a picture of the popular Budapest tourist destination, the Houses of Parliament. On a beautiful spring day, Parliament with its adjoining square, Kossuth Ter, would be brimming with tourists. Due to the COVID-19, the Budapest tourism industry has evaporated.  In addition to the missing tourists and vendors, the Hungarian Honor Guard no longer perform their ceremonial flag display in front of Parliament.”

Large building on an empty square

<<Check back tomorrow morning for set two of responses, with entries from Budapest, Tbilisi, and Rome!

About the authors

Our participants—friends, alumni, and affiliates of CSEES and Ohio State who are living across Eastern and Southern Europe and in the Caucasus— in the Notes from the Field blog series are:

Eric Bednarski, a documentary filmmaker who lives in Warsaw, was due to screen his film Warsaw: A City Divided at the Wexner Center for the Arts on April 5th. As a result of the pandemic, the screening had to be cancelled. There are tentative plans to reschedule a screening of this fascinating documentary sometime in November.

Jessie Labov is a resident of Budapest, Hungary. She is a Resident Fellow of the Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University, as well as the Director of Academic and Institutional Development at McDaniel College Budapest. Prior to moving to Budapest, Jessie was a professor of Slavic and East European languages and cultures at Ohio State.

Ann Merrill, a translator and tour leader with CHERNOBYL TOUR® Educational Programs, graduated from Ohio State with a BA in Russian and an MA in TESOL and has been living for some years in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Kathryn Metz is a former outreach coordinator for the Center for Slavic and East European Studies (CSEES). She holds an MA in Human Rights from Central European University and she has carried out extensive field work in the Balkans supporting refugees and migrants.

Adela Muchova is PhD Candidate at the University of Vienna who currently is residing in Prague, Czech Republic. She works as a project manager for European Platform, an educational NGO focused on European themes.

Emma Pratt is a 2011 graduate of the CSEES MA program in Slavic and East European studies. A long-time resident of Tbilisi, Georgia, she currently works as lecturer at the International School of Economics.

Conrad Rinto is a 2017 graduate of the CSEES MA program in Slavic and East European studies. Since fall 2019, Conrad has been based in Budapest, Hungary as the Ohio National Guard Liaison in the U.S. Embassy there as part of the Ohio National Guard’s state partnership program.

Lyudmila Skryabina, who holds a PhD in history and ethnography, lives in Moscow and works with the film production company OKAPI and as a consultant for the ethnographic museum Tom River Cliff-Drawings in Kemerovo, Siberia.

Tatiana Shchytssova is a professor at and director of the Center for Research of Intersubjectivity and Interpersonal Communication at the European Humanities University and is also president of The International Association for the Humanities (IAH). She currently lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. The IAH 2020 International Congress was originally scheduled to take place in June and is now being rescheduled for early October.

Jesse Smeal, a 2003 graduate of John Cabot University in Rome, has a BA in International Affairs as well as an MA from St. John’s University in International Relations. He owns and operates two American-style restaurants called Homebaked–Grandma’s Kitchen, both located in Rome, Italy.








Announcing Notes from the Field Blog Series

In response to the international COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Slavic and East European Studies is running a series of blog posts featuring insights from affiliates throughout the Eastern European and Eurasian region about this current crisis. We hope that these posts will help to enlighten our readers about the perspective of those from outside the U.S. towards the pandemic, as well as highlighting commonalities!

Please note that we have edited slightly the responses that we have collected.

Posts will be published weekly on Mondays, with a secondary publication on Tuesdays if we have multiple sets of responses for a week’s featured topic. Check back often, subscribe to updates, and/or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter for reminders about publications!

Photo caption: Beloved Russian chocolate bar Alënka has been transformed into “udalënka”, or “social distancing”, amidst a thriving COVID-19 pandemic meme culture.