The voice on the phone overflows with upbeat energy: “Hi Jan, this is Vladimir.” Past experiences have taught me to respond: “Vladimir, where are you?” Sometimes he is downstairs in my condo building and at other times just a few hours away, perhaps, in the Florida Everglades. Typically, friends calling on the spur of the moment might not be a surprise but Vladimir lives and works in Moscow. My spontaneity quotient cannot compare to his as I’m too timid to just arrive in Moscow and surprise him in the same way. In the first place, I lack his sense of ease with travel as well as his lovable exuberant personality, which just makes one want to throw open the door and greet him with a big hug.
What connects Vladimir Zakharov and myself is our love of the Earth Charter—a courageously optimistic global vision and people’s declaration for a caring and sustainable world. His official title is Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Moscow and his travels to the US are sometimes part of his work as a bridge between Russia and the US for the Global Foundation for Understanding. But, Vladimir is so much more. He is an exquisitely sensitive photographer, intense conversationalist, and an authentic, and spiritual human being. AND, don’t ever ask him for an opinion unless you want the real truth. Vladimir always arrives with Natalia Sharova, Executive Secretary of Center for Russian Environmental Policy and Culture—an NGO, and my one regret is that because I do not speak Russian, I can only sense her depth and intelligence and I don’t get to know her as I wish that I could.
When Vladimir called me from the Everglades to say he was coming, I quickly called Susan Edwards, who had met Vladimir on his last visit, and invited her to have dinner with us. Susan is an award winning writer with thoughtful and savvy opinions on a range of subjects including politics. I am lucky to have her on my Cultural Innovations Agency’s Board. She and Vladimir had connected on a previous visit and enjoyed their conversations together.
Vladimir arrived bearing gifts. There were small cloth dolls depicting Russian people, a bottle of very nice Pinot Noir from his travels in Oregon and a parchment covered book, “Searching for Reality” of his mist infused photos of the landscapes of Oregon, Virginia, Wyoming, Costa Rica, Altay and Tula in Russia. The sense that permeates the scenes is a soft focused Oneness of Nature. The photos are an eloquent expression of the Earth Charter’s core value of the interdependence of all life and I am touched by the beautiful way that Vladimir captures that reality with his photos.
Our conversation rollicked along over wine, dinner and dessert. I do not recall much breathing space. A thoughtful Vladimir asked the question: “What is it you do in life?” It was not just “what do you do”—which could be easily answered by citing what you do for work. No, it was not as easy as that. Instead, I could almost see my life passing before my eyes—what is it that I do? What fulfills me? What would my legacy be? All that and more seemed to be encompassed in the question. Susan answered first: “I am a learner”. I can see that to be so true in the informed and empathetic perspective and understanding found in her commentary and descriptions ranging from Muslim women to old roads through town to today’s political circus. I responded: “To engage ordinary people in making a difference”—jargon sounding, perhaps, but nevertheless heartfelt. Vladimir’s response was about seeking to understand people. That is his mission in life and he does it with intensity and an endearing openness that accompany his adventurous spirit.
A highlight for me was Natalia’s reaction when I spontaneously gifted her with one of our Operation Bon Appétit aprons making her an honorary Culinary Agent. Her delight was so sweet that no words were needed.
As I look back on the evening, I can see that it fulfills one of our Operation Bon Appétit Dinner Party themes—Global Friendships. I’ve always thought such friendships could be an important contribution to a larger goal of global understanding and peace but what Vladimir has taught me is also how much fun they are.
Operation Bon Appétit Dinner Recipes Served with French Bordeaux:
Slow Roasted Red Wine Lacquered Salmon
Serves 8 to 10 Found at Epicurious.cm
1 4inch piece peeled fresh ginger
1 c soy sauce
2 c red wine dry
1 1/3 c mirin Japanese sweet rice wine
1/4c packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 41/2lb salmon fillet about 1 ½ inches at thickest point.
Accompaniment lime wedges
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 225
Finely grate ginger on small holes of box grater into fine mesh sieve, then set sieve over a bowl and press on ginger to extract 2 tsp juice. Bring soy sauce, wine, Mirin, brown sugar and ginger juice to a boil in 3 to 31/2 qt heavy sauce pan. Reduce heat to moderate and briskly simmer, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to 1 cup. 45 to 55 min. Transfer to a bowl, then quick chill by setting bowl in larger bowl of ice water and stirring occasionally for 5 in. Stir in lime juice. Reserve ½ cup glaze in a small bowl for brushing after roasting.
Line a 17 by 12 inch heavy shallow baking pan with foil and coat foil with oil 1 tbsp.
Arrange salmon, skin side down, diagonally in pan, then spoon about 2 tbsp glaze over salmon, spreading it evenly with back of spoon. Let stand 5 minutes, then spoon and spread another 2 tbsp. glaze over salmon. Roast 15 min. Remove from oven and glaze again (use clean spoon each time) and roast 10 min more. Repeat glazing and continue to roast until fish is just cooked through 10 to 20 min. More (35 to 40 min total, depending on thickness of fish, check frequently after 35 min). Transfer with 2 wide metal spatulas to a platter, then coat with final layer of reserved glaze (about 2 tbsp) using a clean spoon. Serve remaining glaze on the side if desired.
Glaze can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temp before using.
Serve with steamed asparagus with lime butter sauce and
Arugula and radicchio with goat cheese and figs
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2c extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8tsp black pepper
¼ lb baby arugula 8 cups
1 3/4lb head radicchio torn into bite size pieces 5 cups
3 oz crumbled goat cheese ½ cup
Whisk lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl until combine well
Have figs lengthwise and thinly slice crosswise
Toss arugula, radicchio, cheese and figs in large bowl then toss with enough vinaigrette to coat.