Today my Aunt Olga–or ‘Chocha Olia’ as we call her in Ukrainian–turns 80. It’s hard to believe because she’s still as beautiful and youthful and sharp as I remember her when I was little. Here she is with one of her five daughters, Elena (also my godmother), a few years ago on their annual vacation at the Outer Banks. And the other picture is of her dancing with her handsome husband, Boris. This one, taken by their son Gregory, is from our wedding, but it seems there’s a shot like this from every family wedding. I love that they’re still dancing all these years later.
I could tell a story or three, but I think I just want to share a bunch of random wonderful things about my aunt. How she’s quiet and wise and unflappable. How she raised eight amazing kids and supported them as they pursued their passions–everything from photography and fashion to teaching and international diplomacy. Somehow she managed to sew all of their clothes….I still love seeing old pictures of all of them when they were little, lined up from tallest to shortes with their matching outfits. She has the most terrific gasp-like reaction to silly things….it sounds a bit like ‘tsyooooof’. And she is without a doubt the matriarch of the Galadza family; I love that my dad still seems to looks up to her like a big sister–even though he’s physically much larger than her petite frame–and the thought of her taking road trips with her two sisters, as she did this past summer, is adorable. I could go on, but I’ll just end by saying that she’s an inspiration on so many levels. Happy happy birthday, Chocha Olia!!!
I think it’s no coincidence that her birthday lands so close to Pancake Tuesday–hers are the absolute best (kind of a cross between a pancake and a crepe…hard to explain!). Sadly, I don’t have the recipe. Maybe I can work on that…in the meantime, though, I do have a recipe for her 3-Bean Salad (or Vinaigrette, the proper name I learned much later on). It’s nothing fancy, but it is a mainstay at her Christmas dinner. It’s one of those year-round tangy, light salads that balances out the meats and starches perfectly. When my brother had it for the first time, he decided he wanted to have it served at his wedding the following summer. And it looks so pretty on a plate. I’ve misplaced the photo I took last time I made it, but here it is on my Ukrainian smörgåsbord.
A few years ago I called my Aunt for the recipe, and she just laughed and said “oh, it’s really hard!” It was one of those ‘a little of this this, a can of that’ recipes. Here’s how I do it now…I think the only thing that’s different is that I use fresh or frozen green beans instead of the canned ones. And I can’t remember what the ‘third’ bean was, so I just use chickpeas. Feel free to adjust the quantities depending on what you like…you really can’t go wrong with this recipe. Also, some Vinaigrettes have potatoes in them. That’s how it’s served at this lovely restaurant. The salad can be made ahead of time. In fact, it tastes even better a day or two later.