Monday, June 28, 2010

I. Am. Never. Leaving.

Don't try to talk me out of it.
I'm trading in my return flight for an apartment.
And some Hungarian language lessons.
I. am. never. leaving.
(I'll be home by 7pm New York time).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The New-York-Centric Orbit

Sometimes, when I travel, I watch people and I wonder if they know that they live in such a cool place.
Then I remember that they probably feel the same about their city as I do about New York; it feels like home. It doesn't feel like anything special and on occasion it feels quite boring. When I was little, I used to watch game shows like Wheel of Fortune in which the grand prize would often be a trip to New York. I would sit there and wonder why anyone would want a free trip to a place that was only 20 minutes away. Obviously, it never occurred to my 8-year-old-self that not everyone lived in New York. Now don't get me wrong, I had already done a fair amount of traveling with my parents - at least for my age - and I was well aware there was a whole world outside of New York. I also knew it was a world inhabited by people who lived in places I absolutely wanted to see, (why it took me two years of college and three different majors to figure out I wanted to major in Geography, I'll never know).
I knew I had relatives tucked into all parts of the country and even a few in other continents, but still I remember one specific day in Austria when this knowledge failed me.

I was 12 years old, it was the summer after seventh grade and I was in Hallein with my mother. She was back for a visit and I was there for the first time. I met a fairly large number of people over the course of a couple days, a few who didn't speak a word of English. I didn't, and still don't,speak more than a few words of German plus a fairly decent number of food words, (what, did you think my obsession with food developed out of ether in recent years? I assure you it did not).
After a couple days of listening to conversations that were mostly in German, with my mother translating here and there, I was thrilled to meet someone who spoke English. She was one half of a set of twins, the daughters of my mother's cousin. She spoke English very well since the European schools teach second languages far better than any American school I've attended, (as evidenced by my continued inability to speak French even after studying it for the better part of 10 years). Anyway, she was 16 years old and asked me wide-eyed what it was like to live in "The Big Apple". I'm sure I mustered together a shy response along the lines of it's okay, but what I really wanted to say was: Are you crazy? You live in Austria! With it's gorgeous mountains and green countrysides. The narrow cobblestone streets, old world feel and the food. Of course the food!! Then of course I pulled New York back out of the New York-centric orbit that I had set it in and remembered that not everyone grew up there. It's only natural that those who live in all the places I want to visit would also want to visit where I live. After all my home city is just as exciting to them as theirs is to me.

I bring this up, not to highlight my slight tendency to be self centered (a trait that I have to admit is not too foreign to New Yorkers); but to confess that after all these years, my thinking hasn't changed. I have a bachelor's degree in Geography and have completed more than my fair share of Anthropology courses. I have studied other countries, their cultures and their peoples but still; I can't help but wonder, as I walked through Budapest today, if it's residents know they live in such a cool place.

10 days in Armenia.

It's been a while.
I haven't forgotten you, I promise.
I've just been busy trotting through countries with a 2g internet connection. If you've ever tried uploading a very large picture on a 2g connection then you understand why I haven't been able to post.
I'm in Budapest right now, so I don't want to spend to long on the computer, but I thought I would drop in with a few pictures and just to let you know I'm alive.
I have many, many more pictures posted on Flickr and many, many, many, more waiting to be uploaded. Keep checking Flickr in the next week or so for updates. Soon to come: scenes from Georgia (the country not the state).
By the way, foods I'm 100% sick of: cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, bread, (who would have thought I could get sick of bread?). Once I left Yerevan, that was pretty much all there was to eat. And chocolate but no one gets sick of chocolate. 
No one.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

DobrĂ½ den, od Praha!

I wanted to write this post on Saturday. I ran out of time.
I wanted to write this post from the airport in Budapest. I had lots of time but no computer.
Instead I sat down with an espresso and watched the Italian army walk this way and that, many of them watching me watching them. I spent the better part of two hours parked in that seat with another espresso and a mediocre croissant.

Sitting there, I thought, not for the first time, I could live in Europe even if for the espresso alone. Not to mention Budapest has such a pleasant airport - no crowds and no lines. My plane even took off on time and anyone who has travelled with me will tell you that every plane I get on is delayed. I'm not kidding. Every. Single. One. Somewhere along the line I must have angered the flying Gods who are now exectuting their revenge. Although maybe somehow unbenowst to me I have also righted things again because at 14:15 I boarded a bus to shuttle me and the other 47 passengers out on the tarmac where we boarded an exceptionally modern looking propeller plane. The kind some might call a puddle jumper, with a low enough ceiling to make my less-than-imposing 5'1" stature seem all but gargantuan. (It's situations like sitting on a tiny plane that I must remember to be grateful for because certainly I will be cursing my height the next time I am thrown about on the subway and unable to reach the handle to hang on).
By 14:25 all 48 of us had boarded the plane, stowed out carry-ons and tucked into our seats without a hitch. By 14:30 (designated departure time) the large, slightly intimidating fins of the propellor roared into action, the wheels lifted off the ground; and we were off without so much as a peep from the cockpit about mechanical issues, runway, congestion/construction, bad weather in our current location or intended destination or even an unidentified "funny noise" coming from the engine. (Yes, that actually happened to me 15 minutes into a flight to Paris, almost 10 years ago, causing us to turn around and remain grounded for over 6 hours).
I spent the next hour looking down on the irregular patchwork of the countryside with its meandering roads, rolling hills, and patches of farmland mixed with lush green forests. It was nothing like the even, square, quilted tiles of America's Midwest. In fact, much more interesting with small towns and cities clumped here and there.
Now I am writing this post from an internet room somewhere near center city. I honestly haven't the slightest clue where I am. I took the bus, the subway and the tram to the Charles Bridge, took some obligigatory pictures and bought some chocolates from a woman who spoke a tiny bit of english and then offered to take my picture in front of the chocolates. I obliged and took her picture as well, (both were blurry). I did not catch her name but she gave me a sample of a salted milk chocolate which was delicious and much better than the lindt version I buy at home.
I only have another hour before I need to catch a tram, the metro and a bus back to the airport for my flight to Yerevan so I will leave you with some pictures of Prague and head off to find a cafe for dinner. I seem to be in a touristy area so authentic food might be difficult to find. I'm on a quest for dumpings - that is if I can stand to eat hot food in this heat (36C/98F)!

Next stop Yerevan!
In case you are wondering the triangle is nougat of some kind, the long one is a Vienna truffle and the round ball is marzipan rolled in coconut (I LOVE marzipan). I'm saving them for after dinner though so I don't know how they taste yet.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Simple Sangria

A summer thursday night includes bar-b-que, friends and Sangria. I got this recipe last weekend from a friend (Hi Lauren!) and couldn't wait to make it. I made Sangria a few times last summer but never really settled on a recipe that I liked. This one is fruity and so simple to make. 
I planned to replace the Diet Sprite with seltzer to cut down on the sweetness (and ditch the aspartame) but in the end I forgot to add it at all. It was delicious anyway, but if you want some bubbles without the added sugar just add 1-2 cups of seltzer or splash some right into your glass. 
Simple Sangria 
I used an inexpensive Argentinian Carmenere but a Malbec, Rioja or really any red wine would be fine. Don't waste anything expensive since you're mixing it with juice and fruit anyway. That being, said an inexpensive wine is different than a bad wine. There are plenty of decent wines out there that won't break the bank but if your wine has gone bad you will taste that in the Sangria. 
Adapted from Lauren Lichtenstein / Makes 1 1/2 litres 

4 cups Red Wine (see headnote) 
1/2-1 cup Peach Schnapps 
2 cups Orange Juice (no pulp) 
Splash of seltzer (optional) 
Lot's of cut up fruit. 
I used: 1 green apple, 1 large orange, 3 nectarines 
Lauren and I also recommend: cherries, mango, pineapple, plums and grapes 

Combine wine, schnapps, juice, fruit and seltzer in a pitcher. Serve over ice and be ready to make several more batches throughout the night ;) 
To make ahead of time: combine everything but the seltzer and store in the fridge up to 8 hours. 

Lauren's Original Sangria 
4 cups Merlot 
1 cup Peach Brandy 
2 cups Orange juice (no pulp) 
2 cups Diet Sprite 
Lot's of cut up fruit.

See above for instructions.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Wednesday Story

Step One: Shake up a batch of homemade salted butter.
Step Two: Walk to the market for a pound of jambon bayonne
Step Three: Stop at a nearby french bakery for a fresh crusty baguette that is way better than any you've ever made. Get distracted by the delicious-looking lemon squares (they aren't the best you've ever had, a little sweeter than you like, but somehow you always feel compelled to order one anyway). On second thought, you'll just have an iced hazelnut coffee (truly one of the best around) and leave with the baguette you came in for in the first place.
Step Four: Assemble your jambon-beurre; rip or slice open a piece of baguette and spread one side with butter. Lay a few slices of the jambon on top of the butter - not too many, just enough for a thin layer. Throw in a handful of arugula and a slather of imported dijon mustard for a twist on the traditional. Slide the sandwiches back into the paper sleeve.
Step Five: Pack your sandwiches and lots of water into a backpack, take a friend with you, and hike multiple miles up, down and around some mountain trails. Breathe in the clean air, leave behind thoughts of traffic and the suburbs. Don't forget your camera, but try not to get caught up with taking pictures either. Remember, there is no time like the present.

Step Six: Stop at a few overlooks, look out over the edge of the cliffs. 

Step Seven: Sit down onthe smooth rocks near a small waterfall. Take out your sandwich and take a bite. Bask in the saltiness of the jambon and the creaminess of the butter - the way they contrast with the spiciness of the arugula and mustard; completed by the way the crust, that it's all pressed between, shatters with each bite.
Step Eight: Drink plenty of water it's pretty hot outside. 
Step Nine: Look around for the wild blueberries that you know won't be ripe for at least another month - probably two. Search anyway just in case, by some fluke, they are ripe early. Find them, they are still quite green. 
Step Ten: Pack up your stuff and hike to the other side of the lake. Poke your head inside a dilapidated house, stop to notice the flowers, lay out in the sun just a few minutes more.

Step Eleven: Head back to suburban sprawl via an over-crowded highway, don't let the traffic ruin your day.

If making you're own butter doesn't appeal to you, just be sure to purchase a high quality fresh, salted buter. Something in a tub not shaped like a stick - preferably freshly packed and local. Imported from France would be okay as well. If you have trouble finding Jambon Bayonne, a more common variation is the spanish version called Jamon Serrano or of course the italian prosciutto. I think that jambon and jamon are both a little drier (in a good way) than the prosciutto available near me. Just be sure to ask the price before they slice it, I almost accidentally ended up with a Jamon Iberico; another spanish variation cut only from black iberico pigs, that was $150 a pound! Serves 2

1 French Baguette
1 lb Jambon Bayonne or Prosciutto
Salted Butter (see headnote)
1 Very Large Handful Baby Arugula
Imported Dijon Mustard (I like Maille or Hediard)

Slice the baguette open length wise and spread the bottom half with butter. Layer Jambon thinly on top of the butter and spread lightly with dijon mustard (on the ham not the bread). Top with arugula and close the Sandwich. 

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