MALIBU WAY OF LIFE

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Georgia on my mind

You may remember the columns I wrote about the two wonderful young Georgian women who showed up on our doorstep this week in 2005 with no money and nowhere to stay. They were rising stars in their own government who had so impressed Pepperdine Professor Angela Hawken that she recruited them to come to Malibu and earn their masters degrees in public policy. They had fellowships for tuition, but, somehow, their U.N. cost of living allowances were lost in translation. We found this out only after we had lived with them as for a week, and we were hooked. As my husband said, “They’re kinda cute and they don’t eat much; maybe we should keep them.” Keep them we did, and for the next two years, we came to see our lives through the lens of their values and life experiences.

In time, it became a tale of two sisters. Both were preteens when the Soviet Union collapsed. Both were impassioned democrats, committed to a free and prosperous Georgia. Both had horrifying tales of childhood terrors and teenage privations you and I would find hard to fathom. Then, they diverged.

One embraced the American Way with enthusiasm, choosing to stay in the United States after graduation to discover how policies were forged in the west. Her goal is to bring her country wealth and democratic progress, from a distance. Today, Wednesday, is Larisa’s first day of classes at Harvard Law School. She is the first modern Georgian to attend, an accomplishment announced on Georgian national television by President Saakashvili just two weeks prior to the Russian invasion.

Our other Georgian was not to be seduced by America although, at first, her dark eyes sparkled with joy at the freedoms she enjoyed here. Sometime in her second year, she began refocusing on home. Tinatin embraced her revived goal and committed to integrating the two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Mother Georgia. When she graduated, her cap and gown hadn’t even cooled off before she was bound for Tblisi.

For most of the past year, she worked from the relative safety of CARE International as a Program Coordinator resettling some of the approximately 100,000 Georgians displaced by the growing conflict. It was progress, but slow and a sideline to the main event: driving the Russian-influenced provincial governments out of Georgia.

Last winter, the Ministry of Internal Affairs offered Tinatin her dream job: join us as a deputy and liaison to the west. Her charter? Enlist the western security agencies in resolving the long simmering situation that they called “frozen conflicts.” In February, she presented a detailed outline of the Georgian plight at a NATO conference in Brussels; in June, she took it to the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Vienna.

Two weeks ago, she was en route to Tshvinali, the capital of South Ossetia, to meet with a Russian minister to discuss a peace accord. She was called back. A day later, the war began.

My morning email brought photos of people lying dead in the streets and a Russian bomb outside their offices in Tblisi. Her message was, “It is HORRIBLE!!!!!!!!! Send help!”

KHATCHAPOURI

Serves 8

A few days before the girls’ arrival in Los Angeles, I received my first communication from Tinatin. It said, “Dear Mrs. Jody, I know you like to cook. I, too. When I am there, I will teach you khatchapouri.” Every visitor returns from Georgia addicted to this national mainstay, a cheese bread that anchors every day’s meal. When Tinatin arrived, we experimented with a variety of flours and half a dozen cheeses, never quite getting it right. Finally, we found this recipe, close enough that our Georgians declared it perfect for the last supper we shared in the United States.

Adapted from “A Georgian Feast”

in Nigella’s Lawson’s Feast

Dough

4+ c. flour

2 c. plain yoghurt

2 eggs

4 T. unsalted butter, soft

2 t. baking soda

pinch of kosher salt

Filling

3 c. goat feta cheese, chopped fine

1 c. ricotta, drained

1/ 2 pound fresh mozzarella, grated

1 egg

1. In a large bowl, blend the yoghurt, eggs and butter. Work in spoonfuls of flour, kneading it into a dough. Keep adding flour until the dough is shiny, stretchy and no longer sticky.

2. Sprinkle in the salt and baking soda and work into a ball. Slide into a covered bowl and let it rest an hour. It can rest in the refrigerator for three days.

3. Crumble together the cheeses and mix in the egg to bind.

4. Preheat oven to 425-degrees. Divide dough in half. Roll on a floured surface until it fits in a large, non-stick or seasoned cast-iron skillet. Spread the cheese filling on top with the other half of the dough. Pinch edges to seal and bake 15-20 minutes, until golden. Serve hot, butter optional.