Sunday, February 17, 2008

Much like Switzerland, Recycling, and some baking

I am remaining Officially Neutral on
both the declaration of independence by Kosovo, and
˝Barak or Hillary?˝.
Currently living in a not-too-far-from-recently-declared "independent state"
AND being a white female registered-voter (American),
I could claim allegiances and opinions based on inherent bias, but
--and this may be a first, Joe can attest--
I am shutting up.
Let's see where the cookie crumbles for now.

And what of the "recycling" comment?
(see title for those of you with short memory)
Aside from teaching "recycling" as English vocabulary and eliciting opinions stemming from such practices, rest assured, I, myself, am also recycling to the greatest extent possible. And in this spirit I have passed on this Vicious Mother of a Sinus Cold to anyone in close proximity, having previously received it from the petri dish transport company, or perhaps just some sniffly student.

For me, it is finally on the wane, but Joe is possibly stricken now.. (maybe, he WAS was sniffly today). Just in time for our trip to Munich. But maybe not. Again, we'll see how the cookie crumbles.

Speaking of Munich, we are meeting Lisa and Brian there in a couple of days. our own lovely, personal UN transport vehicle, Lisa&Brian are bringing much needed supplies (sudafed and pumpernickel pretzels and funnybones). Woo hoo!

For our part, we are bringing prosciutto and wine. Yah, yah, I know. We are anti-health convoys, the both of us, but when it comes down to what people genuinely want, is it REALLY 300 kg bags of rice?

Onto baking.
A lovely cookie recipe from one of Joe's students, Vida:

These are called kmečki kruhki. That funny č is pronounced like a `ch`. The name means "little baked loaves of bread", which is what they resemble after baking.

Here is the recipe:

3 egg yolks plus 3 eggs whites (separate them)
250 grams finely shredded (unsweetened) coconut**
120 grams powdered baking chocolate (unsweetened)
120 grams finely ground walnuts (if you grind your own, this is the final weight)
200 grams* powdered sugar


1. In one bowl: Mix egg yolks, coconut, walnuts, cocoa
2. In another bowl: Whip egg whites until stiff; fold in sugar
3. Fold egg white mix into egg yolk mix
4. Moisten your hands with water and then form the mix into 2 cm balls (it is important to keep them small, absolutely no bigger than the size of your fingertip)
5. Immediately put the cookie-mix balls into a bowl with some *EXTRA powdered sugar. Shake/roll to cover well.
6. Bake on parchment at 175 degrees CELCIUS for about 15 minutes.

* you will need an extra 50-75 grams or so of extra powdered sugar for coating the cookies. Do NOT deduct this amount of sugar from the mix/recipe.

**If you can only find sweetened coconut you will have to tinker with the recipe a bit so it is not too sweet.

Enjoy! Note: these keep well so you can easily make them ahead or ship them.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

*Ja. Shit! Si!

This phrase* was repeated countless times during our trip to Bologna over the Christmas holidays. We didn’t realize how fixed in our brains the Slovene had become until we had to speak Italian. All that would come out was the @!**# Slovene! If I had 5 cents for every time I started a sentence “Ali lahko…” (which is what we use to begin a request), I could have paid for half of the vacation. Well, maybe not half. But at least for the rental car.

“Rental car?”, I heard you ask yourself, quizzically, “But I thought they had that cute little Opel Agila.” Well, she ain’t so agile when she’s sputtering and gasping her way down the highway, a condition which thankfully occurred while we were still in Slovenia (albeit on our drive to Bologna). To sum up, the experience was completely angst-ridden and we’d not care to repeat it anytime soon. Also, it does not make for a particularly interesting story. So, to make this opus on the Opel somewhat shorter and more bearable, here’s the skinny: we limped to an Opel dealer on the border of Slovenia and Italy, and deposited our car into their knowledgeable hands (“Ali lahko fix it and not charge us arm and leg?” And, by the way, ali lahko rent us a car to use in the meantime?”) ..See how easy Slovene is?

At any rate, they certainly understood our plight because they did rent us a car, and we quickly stuffed all of our belongings -plus dog- into our replacement vehicle and got back on the road. They also promised to call and let us know if the part that needed fixing was merely the 250 euro part, or the 1500 Euro part (which would be saying something, since the book value on the entire car up to this fateful day had been about 1800 Eur…) So, with fingers and borders crossed, we enjoyed our Christmas holiday and barely thought about the car until we had to return home. More on that later.

Bologna was very nice. First, we were completely taken aback by the sheer number of people on the streets. Actually, to be completely accurate, we were first taken aback by the homeless (presumably) man who tried to wash our windshield while we were stopped at the traffic light on the edge of the ring road. This felt so familiarly New York-ish that we of course had no difficulty yelling NO! at the appropriate volume --and in, I should mention, --the appropriate language. This was the last “NO!” that escaped my mouth for the rest of the week, all of the others being, “Ne, oops, shit, I mean, no”.

Bologna. (by the way, click on any of the words shown in the color PINK and they will take you to a linked page)

The streets were TEEMING. When “they” talk about immigrants to the U.S. they always refer to the “teeming masses”. Well, picture those streets, and you have Bologna on the weekend before Christmas. There were people teeming all over the place. Teeming and peering and shopping and talking and teeming and drinking coffee and dodging motorbikes and teeming and gesturing and…. etc. We were a bit overwhelmed, having just come from our recent distress and also from Sleepy Slovenia. But we soon acclimated ourselves and were able to enjoy the lively atmosphere. That’s a big difference between Slovenia and Italy. Here, if voices are raised, one might automatically assume: “drunk Balkan-type, probably looking for a fight, or perhaps another schnapps will take care of the situation” but in Italy, if voices are raised, one might instead assume: “weather discussion taking place, and perhaps whether a second cup of coffee might take care of it”. Also, they have slightly better flea markets. And EXCELLENT food.

Prosciutto. It melts in your mouth. A man in front of us at one shop opined that the piece left at the end of the ham, nearest the foot, is the best, most delicious bit. We concur.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. This is, of course, the internationally respected “grana”, or hard, granular cheese produced in this area (Emilia Romagna). By the way, this designation is a protected designation of origin, meaning that all TRUE Parmigiano Reggiano must originate in this area. ( much like Budweiser. The Budweiser beer that you buy here is not that watery beverage in the red, white and blue-labeled bottle, but is instead a Czech beer. This is because Budweiser is actually a designation of origin, not simply a brand name). But I digress… Did you know that in 2004 Parma was appointed the seat of the European Food Safety Authority? And why not? They take their food VERY seriously here.

Amazing seafood options. For Christmas eve dinner we opted for canocchia (in English, the Mantis Shrimp.) over some pasta and a salad.

There is an excellent open-air market in Bologna. We were a bit concerned going in about what would be open on Christmas Eve day, but most shops were open until late afternoon. In this marketplace, most shops were small and specialized in one or two types of foods. In separate stalls you purchase fruits and vegetables, fish, cheese, and meat and salumi (cold cuts), depending upon what is in season (although, since it was Christmas you could find just about anything). The shops are open from morning until 1:30-ish (some close a bit earlier, some a bit later) and then they re-open at about 4:00 or 4:30. One shop that has everything is the alimentari (grocery store) where you can get bread, cold cuts, cheese, and packaged foods. There was one supermarket, PAM, in town where you could shop mid-afternoon hours.

For Christmas day dinner we roasted some vegetables and made a lovely guinea hen
,faraona in Italian. (Then we cooked the carcass and made some stock and made a nice risotto the next day.)

We had many delicious desserts that we picked up around the city..some chocolate, some with apple and a custard-y rich cake, some that were more of a cookie…. But for Christmas dessert we brought with us a dessert wine from a Slovene vineyard, Persolja. Mr. Persolja recommended drinking this wine along with a nice piece of well-aged Parmigiano cheese drizzled with some honey. It was a very good suggestion. The saltiness and the bite of the cheese balanced well the sweetness of the honey and the rich wine.

The town, of course, was decked out for the holiday. There was a large Christmas tree in the main square, and lights were hanging everywhere. There were Christmas markets set up all around, and you could easily spot a Santa or two if you were out for a stroll (one of whom even played the accordion.) There were many, many beautiful churches but I particularly liked Basilica St Stefano, which was built atop and incorporating an Egyptian temple. Bits have been added on throughout the years, making it a very interesting mish-mash of churches and courtyards and centuries of tile work. In one of the courtyards they have a large stone baptismal-type font where had claimed Pontius Pilate had performed his historic ablutions. This claim was disproved however. It was determined that the thing was a mere 1500 years old, and probably only used for baptisms in its early years. It has been relegated to the courtyard where it is once again in use, albeit as a large birdbath. Also, the Basilica of St. Dominic was rather nice, which I understand may be in stark contrast to the man himself. To give him his due, he did come up with the idea of the rosary, which is beautifully depicted in a series of paintings inside one of the chapels, but he also was allegedly instrumental in the start-up of the inquisition. And he was just a teensy bit masochistic – think of the monk in The DaVinci Code and you’re right on the mark: hair shirt, leg iron at the groin, walked about shoeless & such…so he probably wasn’t very cheery either. I imagine him as inspirational, but certainly not a warm fellow. An apt description for more than a few significant historical figures…. But I digress.

To wrap up an already long story, I recommend visiting Bologna, and by all means rent an apartment if you enjoy cooking. We rented through Halldis, and it was a very good experience. We also drove out to Modena one day to visit an acetaia, Villa San Donnino, which is where they make balsamic vinegar (the real stuff, not that sweet-ish liquid you buy at the grocery store). I can write more about that another time. But more importantly, I am going to post this darn thing so that you can read it. It does you no good sitting here in my document file. You'll have to stay tuned to find out what happened with the car. (Oooh! HowEVER will you get any sleep with a cliffhanger like that?)

PS: to look at new pictures on flickr, CLICK HERE
There are 3 new sets, and I also put them in a collection called Oct-Dec 2007, and I hope to get some snaps from NY Eve up there soon, too.