On a recent morning, Irida Kakhtiranova was rolling out a ball of dough on the metallic table in the Unitarian church kitchen in Northampton, Massachusetts.
“You don’t want it to be too thick. You don’t want it to be too thin,” she said. “And I can tell by just feeling it with my fingers.”
Kakhtiranova was not much of a cook growing up in Russia, but she did like to eat the traditional dumplings called pierogies.
After she moved to the United States 15 years ago, she tried the supermarket brands, but they tasted awful. So she learned to cook them herself, using a mold she bought off of the internet.
“I was making it by hand for a while, but the edges are not pretty,” she said. “And if you end up doing every single one of them with a fork, it takes a wicked long time.”
Kakhtiranova, now 36 years old, is friendly and talkative – often hanging out and laughing with church staff and volunteers in the kitchen. So it’s easy to forget she’s a fugitive from the government.
The church is her sanctuary from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while her husband raises their 10-year-old son and 4-year-old twin girls. She’s been here for a few months.
“I had to think of a way to make money while I’m in here and keep my mind busy,” she said. “I’m nervous and worried every single minute of the day. Cooking puts my mind at ease, where I don’t think about it for a short period of time.”
So Kakhtiranova decided to make pierogies in the church kitchen — and sell them.
“I have potato, cheddar and bacon, cauliflower, farmer’s cheese and potato with garlic, spinach and feta cheese,” she said.