Gala Mukomolova earned an MFA from the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared in the PEN, POETRY, PANK, VINYL and elsewhere. In 2016, Mukomolova won the 92nd Street Y Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Her first chapbook, One Above / One Below : Positions & Lamentations is available from Yes Yes Books.
Here, she talks about Ukrainian comfort food, the magic of butter, and the ingestion of suffering.
On her all-time favorite meal:
I think my all-time favorite meal is a dish my mother likes to call ліниві вареники or “lazy dumplings.” It’s kind of like Ukrainian gnocchi, but instead of a potato base, it’s made by mixing fresh farmer’s cheese, egg-whites, flour, and a dash of sugar and salt. You make a soft dough, roll it into a log, cut it into bite-size pieces, and boil them up in salted water. When they float to the surface, you scoop them in a strainer, shuffle them into a bowl, and douse them in melted butter or sour cream or honey or all three. When I was a child, this is the meal I would request whenever I had a day off from school or my mother had a day off from whatever labor she was usually tied to which often made my father my primary caregiver. My mother attested that these lazy dumplings were my (much older) brother’s favorite as well and that made me feel close to him. For many children raised with Ukrainian food, I can’t imagine anything more comforting, more dependably delicious.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
My favorite meal is breakfast and morning light varies. When I lived in Ann Arbor, my friend Maya would text me in the morning anywhere between 6 and 8 am, letting me know it was diner time for old people who can’t sleep after a night of drinking, like ourselves. She’d roll up in a borrowed van blasting an old Cyndi Lauper tape and we’d go over to our favorite greasy spoon which miraculously also served fresh squeezed orange juice and farmer’s eggs. We’d get a booth, ask for coffee, and compare the previous night’s “big reveals.” Our breakfast light would be a white grey, as if covered by light film, and would slowly start to peel, revealing the hotter noon sun underneath.
Other breakfasts I’ve enjoyed have been lazier, slow, mornings off when I would wake late, my eyelids knocking with a direct blaze. I’d find a cup of coffee waiting for me on the nightstand and walk downstairs. The morning sun would be putting on a show, revealing a rounded shoulder as it crept from the deck of the house, through French doors, wide windows, and over the table where slowly a meal was assembling.
On snacking while writing:
My most beloved thing to snack on while writing is natural gummy worms (no corn syrup! softer and stretchier!) and no one knows about this predilection of mine more than Ray McDaniel, who has stumbled into me buying these on so many occasions I’m afraid he believes I eat nothing else. On each of those occasions, I have only seen Ray holding a box of Annie’s in his hand so, writer to writer, Scorpio to Scorpio, kettle to kettle, one simply can’t worry about judgement.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I was vegan for many many years and have only recently really discovered what magic butter is. Because of this, I’m always eager to celebrate its existence. If you live with me, it’s a sure fact that you will run into me at midnight, gently spreading farm butter over a toasted piece of white bread from the Jamaican bakery downstairs (yes, I know this bread is like 90% butter) and salted it with Himalayan pink salt. The pink salt is what keeps me elegant.
On her food quirks:
I’m sure I have many food quirks but I might not be the best person to ask about them. I was raised on Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish food, almost always homemade. My mother is a good cook, an expert baker, and generous in the kitchen. Still, there aren’t many spices in Eastern European cuisine save for dishes from the Caucasus, which my mother made sparingly. Because I was vegan from the age of 15 til about 25, I learned to branch out spice-wise and ingredient-wise from the food I’d grown up with and now I’m fairly open to most flavors and cuisines. I will say that I’m interested in the ethics of food production and cultivation, that I’m turned off by food that is part of America’s industrialized cycle of cruelty and waste. And, when I’m quiet with myself and sure of what my body needs, I am filled with reverence for Thich Nhat Hanh’s claim that when we eat the body or by-product of an animal who suffered, we ingest their suffering and it becomes a part of us.
On a recent meal request:
Ok, I’ll tell you, my last meal request was a vanilla milkshake, a veggie burger, and onion rings at a hole-in-the-wall diner I’d stumbled into after going to a preview of the David Wojnarowicz show at the Whitney. I was with Tennessee and his friend Erica, who’d gotten both of us in for free to see the show. All three of us were buzzing I think, with the energy of the collection, it’s deeply American resistance, Wojnarowicz’s shamefully American death. Both Tennessee and I got shakes, both Erica and I got veggie burgers. When the waiter brought out two meat burgers and set them down in front of us, neither Erica nor I batted an eyelash—we were ready to trust what was told to us rather than what lay dead under our noses.