28 | satisfying a craving for the west
with snickers pie.
Happy first anniversary to this newsletter! I’m so happy you’re here, you’re reading and you may even be cooking along.
So far, it turns out this newsletter has been largely about salads and sweets.
Salads: crab & corn salad - East Village spinach salad - shrimp, grapefruit & olive salad - potato chip potato salad - green bean & walnut salad - two ways with pasta salad
Sweets: caramel oatmeal bars - blueberry cardamom jell-o - orange clove icebox cake - egg yolk chocolate chip cookies - zero-proof old fashioned snickerdoodles - Russian spice cookies - Robert Redford cookies
If you’re interested in supporting another year of research, cookbooks, photography, salads or sweets financially, now you can buy me a slice of pizza.
It should also be acknowledged that the newsletter is sometimes about Ukraine and post-Soviet foodways. So I’d like to take a moment to say that Ukraine is a democracy deserving of self-determination and sovereignty. That a shared past or shared language should not be conflated with the right to invade or create economic instability to serve geopolitical interests. That English media reporting surprising calm in Ukraine should not be interpreted as apathy.
In short, I stand with Ukraine. In honor of that, I’m using this anniversary to share the story I wrote in 2018 that became the inspiration for this newsletter.
As I pull up to the pastry display counter at the most western leaning outpost in my rural Ukrainian community, I begin scanning the case for what I’ll pair with my standard tea order, 1001 Nights - a green, black and fruit tea blend. Nestled between the standard offerings of Napoleon cake and cherry poppy seed grated pie I notice something new. A short stack of thick buttery pie crust, dulce de leche and chocolate ganache topped with a smattering of peanuts, an unusual combination for Ukrainian desserts. I begin my usual struggle to read the hand written Ukrainian cursive. It says “Snickers Pie”?
I cave to my incessant craving of cherry and poppy seeds, but when my friend Julia joins me a few minutes later I notice she’s brought this riff off Snickers to the table. “Is Snickers pie new?” I ask. “Well, I’ve only seen it here once before, but I had it last time I was in Kyiv visiting a friend. I saw it everywhere there. It’s so tasty” Julia glowed between bites. Julia, an historian born in 1990, a daughter of what Ukrainians call the “born free” generation, and I cherish the time we meet to discuss the past, present and future influences of Ukrainian culture.
After we parted ways, I couldn’t stop thinking about Snickers pie. To me, it felt disconnected from other Ukrainian desserts often rooted in cream, honey and fruits. Heavy on walnuts and hazelnuts, usually light on chocolate. But when I started digging through Instagram profiles of the trendiest cafes in Kyiv, Julia was right, it was indeed everywhere.
The earliest post of Snickers pie I found came from Milk Bar. Their tag line, “Cakes, Shakes & More” reflects one of the best-executed American-themed restaurants in Kyiv (as of 2018). Avocado toast, table side Chemex coffee service and pumpkin pie are just the highlight reel on a long list of insta-friendly offerings.
When I slid into their DMs to find out about Snickers Pie they responded as though it barely needed explaining. “We offer a rotating menu of American inspired desserts including apple pie, brownies and red velvet cake. Snickers pie is a perfect match. Everyone knows and loves Snickers. We knew it’d be a hit.”
Snickers, coincidentally, arrived in Ukraine not long after Julia. Mars Inc. started flooding the former Soviet republics in 1992 and became one of the heaviest foreign investors in the market long before even other giants like Coca-Cola and McDonalds had made significant inroads. At the time, the emergence of the “healthy” energy bars in the West was taking a toll on a 16-year American marketing campaign, “packed with peanuts, Snickers satisfies.” But, in cultures rebounding from a history of food scarcity and seeking the wealth of the West, a similar campaign which roughly translates to “fat, a fat layer of chocolate” struck gold. By 1994, the LA Times noted that Russian reporters were calling it “a symbol of our new times.”
Even today, sweet and “healthy” energy bars have not made meaningful inroads in Ukraine. So when I started to think about where and when I noticed consumption, it was often busy women with an eye on western culture. They frequently refer to them as convenient energy boosters. “When I’m studying for exams, I just get the 3 bar pack. It’s enough energy for the whole day!” bounds Julia, the studying historian. One of my teaching partner’s Yana had a similar view, “if I don’t have time to finish a full meal, Snickers and coffee will get me through the day.”
Consistently priced as luxury within reach, Snickers was one of the first ways children of the born free generation could taste the West. It became a popular children’s birthday gift and a joke among parents wary of the influx of western advertising. Long before being interested in Marlboros and after realizing they couldn’t afford Levi’s, Snickers had solidified its place in the evolving tastes of a new generation.
Snickers seems to understand its place as stable brand in changing times. In a 2012 commercial, a young boy describes his comically outdated adult aspirations in 1991 before flashing to him as an adult in a modern cityscape.
Snickers pie then, serves as an obvious comfort food in the age of Instagram. A food comforting the born free generation of Ukraine that affordable luxuries are still within reach, that once western goods can now be claimed for their own interpretation and that they are just a bite away from plugging into the West.
Hi again from The Dinner Conjurer, the part of the programming where you send in 5 recipes you’ve enjoyed, your name and current hometown. Then I work some haphazard magic to help lure new recipes into your dinner routine.
Madison in Washington D.C. from our pasta salad sandwich newsletter last summer is making:
The Division Bell cocktail
This Antipasto Salad Dressing in a salad with plenty of pickled pepperoncini peppers
Chutney Morcheh Sorkh from Parwana on literally anything
Stir Fry with whatever veggies she has cooked in Zhong Sauce
Since you’re skipping between savory, spicy and smoky, let’s see if I can hit Mexico, Italy and South Asia in one fail swoop. Start by using up your remaining mezcal for snake eyes or a mezcal sun-risa.
Then excuse this poor copy editing and grab your improvisational spoon for this deceivingly easy chili crisp butternut squash spaghetti.
To simplify: Get the noodles, squash and shallots and garlic going at the same time. They’ll all finish in about 20 minutes including prep, reserve liquids from both. Then puree the squash with 1/4 cup pickle juice, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast or parmesan, 1 tablespoon of cumin, 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger and as much broth and/or pasta water as you need to reach saucy. Toss with noodles and top with chili crisp and scallions.
Reading - A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelly (1962)
Listening - Collected Reworks (2020) by Foals which I thought was a greatest hits album before embarking on 4-hour dance pop-fueled banana bread making session.
Watching - The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) by Joel Cohen where I spent the entire film waiting for that big “to be, or not to be” climax…oops!
Smelling - James by rosie jane (2015) because I’m like a moth to the amber light.
Feeling so SEEN knowing Snickers has been a quick fix for busy women in Ukraine. For years, Snickers & coffee got me through many a long newsroom shift.
Happy Anniversary! For some reason this post is making me wonder if you have a dessert recipe that uses buckwheat, which I've been told is a popular breakfast food?