Monday, October 12, 2009

Hey! I can see my breath!

Yep, it has been a loooong while since I have posted here. A whole season has gone by, as a matter of fact....

Things HAVE happened though, contrary to what you might have assumed by my silence (you know what happens when you ASSume...)

-- we went to Sarajevo for a fantastic long weekend, we spent a week on the island Cres, we took some day trips, we went to Bad Durkheim for the WurstMarkt -- most of these with the help of our friends, to whom we are very grateful.

You can go to our Flickr page to see pictures, if you have not already at some point during the summer -- those have been kept up to date (mostly thanks to Joe, who now fully comprehends the frustration of losing your captions before they have been saved...)

During the summer we also moved to a new apartment and now we are on the edge of the old town, at the bottom of the hill upon which Ljubljana castle sits. It is a great location, close to everything, and we love it. No more riding the mobile petri dish* to work! Yay!

(* read ˝city bus˝ )

But now, after seemingly endless --in a good way, mind you--
days of 25 to 30 degree temps (that`s 70 plus degrees for you folks using Fahrenheit!) it is finally Autumn.
Just today the whatever they use now instead of mercury plummeted
and it is only 8 degrees at the moment (again, that`s Celsius -- in Fahrenheit I think it`s about 40 - 45 degrees or so). Brrrr!

But honestly, that`s OK because that means that all of those
Delicious Fall Smells are hanging...
I was out with Lucy for a walk this evening and you could smell LOTS of good things: for example --

roasted chestnuts (the chestnut selling carts have already staked out their street corners in the old town),

wood smoke (from the relatively few people that have not yet converted to gas heating, but thank goodness for those hold-outs because I do love that smell!),

and autumn leaves (they smell *especially* good when you know that you don`t have to rake them!) among them.

This update will be short -- in fact, it will end here! Surprise! I hope you didn`˙t bother to sit down.
But honestly, there`s not too much else going on here ... the rest of the world, there´s been a bit of a financial crisis here, although that seems to be easing up a bit for us personally (knock wood) so we are actually quite busy at the moment...
....flu shot appointments need to be booked....
....we need to get the snow tires on the car (I think by November 15th?)...
....Official Paperwork needs to be renewed again in the beginning of January...
....I need a haircut and color...

You get the idea. The word ˝mundane˝ comes to mind except for:
....Martinovanje (celebration of new wine in mid-November) is coming...
....we will be going back to the US for Xmas holidays....

So, that`s all for now. I hope you have (or find!) something to smile about today :-)


Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day, etc

Hi! It has recently occurred to me that two holidays which were either previously celebrated or begun in the US are no longer celebrated there. The first is Woman`s Day, May 8th. This holiday, if memory serves correctly (and it sometimes still does)was started in the US by women workers in the garment industry sweatshops, I think following such horrendous events as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and not to mention the 12 to 15 hour workdays for next-to-nothing wages. But after it was adopted by the ROW and became embued with a `reddish` hue, it was dropped in the U.S. It is still celebrated all over Europe. Women will usually receive small gifts of flowers. It`s quite a nice idea, and those of you in the U.S. really ought to bring it back. Men appreciating women, women appreciating women - you can`t go wrong there.

Similarly, the May Day holiday used to be celebrated over many countries in the world as a recognition of workers` rights. Before representing workers` rights, it had begun as a pagan holiday but somehow evolved from there. Once again, that same `evolution` eventually took on a rather pink-ish shade...and as you U.S. residents know (unless you live in Minneapolis), May Day is no longer celebrated.

But, we are off today. Go, Workers!... Go, workers!... (but not to work today)

Again this year, we did not go to one of the giant customary booze-addled bonfire-lit events last night... um..(sheepish grin).. I actually DID have to work this morning...

Enjoy your weekend, and don`t forget to wash your hands often! (swine flu alert!)


Friday, March 20, 2009

New Stuff, in No Particular Order

My father is back in the physical rehab place, with his faux kneecap (don`t laugh, they`re all the rage now among the MRSA crowd) in place. Antibiotics are leeching, seeping, and making other such fluid movements, out of said kneecap and into the surrounding area, the rest of his body, etc. Faux kneecap is made of cement BTW, so I believe that swimming is not part of the recommended phys therapy regimen.. More surgery to follow in maybe 6 to 8 weeks.

My friend Nevena had a baby on Tuesday, their second. His name is Vasja. Dobrodšli! :-)

In case you have a short attention span, I added scrolling pictures of Slovenia to this page. No, I did not take them all. If they are on Flickr and tagged SLOVENIA, they will show up.

The annual World`s Largest Ski Jump event and its companion event Winter`s Largest Drinking Binge is in Planica (SLO) this weekend. No, I am not going, just informing.

I learned that the large grey bird that Lucy loves to chase is the Hooded Crow.

We are going to a friend`s birthday party this weekend. He is celebrating at a fantastic private restaurant located in the small 15th century (or 16th?) village of Goče, in the Vipava Valley. We will fill you in on the particulars when we get back. The party is on Saturday and we are going to sleep over at a nearby tourist farm. I will try to remember to bring the camera.

Weather here in Ljubljana has been nice, high 30s to 40s at night, 50s to 60s during the day, sunny....lots of things are blooming. The woods are filled with tens of thousands of crocuses - it seems like many more than last year. Maybe the snow we had this year helped out. Seen from a distance, they are just blankets of purple. It looks like not just the people were impatient for the Spring. The daffodils are also blooming, but we don`t have any of them growing wild so they don`t seem quite as remarkable.

That`s all for now...I will leave you with a favorite joke:

What did the zero say to the eight?
˝Nice belt.˝

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No need to knead!

I have noticed that recipes in Slovene use the ˝we˝ form of the verb (˝We add the flour, then we mix it together....). This sounds much more polite than the form we use in English, which is the command form. (˝Add the flour. Mix it together.˝)

Another noticeable difference is the English use of volume measurements (such as # of cups) rather than weight measurements (# of grams). Also, you will notice that English recipes don`t often use metric measurements at all, especially for volume. Personally I prefer weight measurements, because when you bake it is very good to be very precise. But in the English version of this recipe I give the equivalent weight measurements.

Lately I have been baking a lot of bread. Here is a very good basic bread recipe. it is so good that you will probably find yourself baking a lot, too!

I will give the recipe first in Slovene, and then in English. (This same post is on our company website so that English learners can try to translate the Slovene version into English, and then look at the English one to see if they got everything.) The version in English is a little bit longer at the end because it is easier for me to write it in English, but nothing important has been left out of the Slovene version, I promise. :-)

V plastičnem loncu pustimo kvas (pol koščka), 5 g. soli, 340 ml vode (na 38° C) in 360 g moke (tip 500 ali 650) ; premešamo skupaj. Pokrijemo lonec s plastično folijo in pustimo vzhajati (2-5 ur). Potem pustimo v hladilniku.

Testo lahko pečemo takoj, ampak kruh bo boljši če počakamo nekaj dni (najbolj je pet dni) pred peko.

Pečico segrejemo na 280°C. Posodo z vodo damo na dno pečice – para je zelo pomembno za narediti dobro skorjo.

Pomokamo roke in mizo. Odtrgamo malo testa v velikosti grenivke. Raztegljimo testo v klobčič. Pustimo vzhajati dobre pol ure.

Zarežamo po vrhu dvakrat ali trikrat z nožem in pečemo v pečici okrog pol ure, in sicer pri 280°C.

Ostanku testa dodamo še 340 ml vode (na 38° C) in malo več kvasa, 5 g. soli in 360 g. moke. Pustimo maso vzhajati 2-5 ur, potem pustimo v hladilniku do takrat ko več kruha.

Če ne pečete kruha v 14 dneh, dodajte malo več moke in toplo vodo masi. (Kvas ki živi v testu zato potrebuje hrano.) Ampak kruh je ful dober ,in sigurno da ga boste pekli skoraj vsak dan!

And now, the English version:
English (non-metric):
In a plastic container add 1/2 cube of freash yeast (or 1 packet of granulated), about 1 teaspoon of salt, 1.5 cups of water at about 100 degrees F, and just slightly over 3 cups of flour (type 500 or 650, all-purpose white or a mixture of white and wheat). Mix these together using a spatula or wooden spoon.

Let the mixture sit in a warm place to rise for about 2 to 5 hours. After that, put it in the fridge.

The dough is ready to bake now, but it will taste better if you let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days before baking. Personally I think that 5 days of sitting makes the best tasting bread.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Put a pan of water in the bottom of the oven (the steam is very important for making a good crust on the bread.).

**If you have a pizza stone, put it into the oven before you heat it. This bread bakes best on a pizza stone. I don`t have one anymore, but my bread also turns out just fine. (See the TIP at the end about baking on the stone)**

Put some flour on your hands and also onto your work surface, and then remove a bit of dough from the container – about the size of a grapefruit. Handle it only enough to form it into the shape of a ball, and then put the ball onto your baking tray. The dough will be very thin and sticky, and it will spread out quite a lot (meaning that ´ball` will not hold its shape) and this is OK.

Let it rise in a warm place for about 30 to 40 minutes, then score the top of the loaf a few times with a serrated knife. This helps keep the top of the loaf from cracking. Put it into the 450 degree oven.

Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes. Remove , cool, and eat.

`Feed` your remaining bread dough by adding another 1 tsp of salt, 1.5 cups of water (plus additional yeast) at about 100 degrees F, and just slightly over 3 cups of flour (type 500 or 650, all-purpose white or a mixture of white and wheat). Mix it together using a spatula or wooden spoon.

Let it sit in a warm place to rise for about 2 to 5 hours. After that, put it in the fridge. You are ready to bake again.

If you are not going to bake bread again in the next 14 days (yeah, right!), you will have to remember to feed your yeast, which is living in the dough. Although the yeast is very much asleep while in the fridge, it still needs some food. Be sure to give it a sprinkle of flour and an equal amount of water every 7-14 days. Do not let it go more than 14 days without feeding it. (But this bread is so good that you will probably be baking very day, so that should not be a problem!)

I think that ´perfect´ bread taste and texture is kind of a personal thing. So, if you are unhappy with the texture of your bread, you can always change it by adding more/less flour or water. You can do this either before you are ready to bake it (add more flour to your ball of dough, mix it in, then allow it to rise for 30 minutes before baking) or you can just make the change to your next batch of dough.

Tip: If you have a pizza stone, bake the bread directly on the preheated stone. This will give you better results than baking just on a regular baking sheet. You will need to first sprinkle some cornmeal onto a flat baking sheet or pizza peel and allow the dough to rise on that. The cornmeal then acts like ball bearings, allowing the dough to roll/slide easily off of the sheet/peel, and onto the baking stone.

This bread has never been exactly the same twice, but that could be the result of my wacky 30 year-old oven with a door that does not close properly? Yeah, probably.

But overall, results have always been good. Last week I added some chopped olives to a loaf, and that turned out well. I also baked a small loaf in a pan, and found that the crust did not brown at all but the taste was still good. I think I will continue to bake this recipe without using a pan, though. I think it is better, because I like having a nice crust.

By the way, I am a normal, busy person, with a real job. Anyone with 20 minutes of spare time can do this. Well, you need to physically be at home for 60 minutes for the rising and baking time, but it only requires about 20 minutes of work to both form the loaf that you wish to bake, and to create your new mix. There is no kneading involved at all, I swear.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Thai food and more snow

We have recently been frequenting a relatively new (opened sometime in the summer, I think) Thai restaurant on Rimska cesta in Ljubljana. In a rather excessive manner, they call themselves the Thai Inn Pub. Or maybe it's the Thai Pub Inn. Why they didn't just cover all the bases and call themselves the Thai Inn Pub Restaurant and Cafe is beyond me.

Unfortunately, some of the servers are as confused as the restaurant name implies. By this I mean that it is a bit of a crap shoot as to whether you will get your correct meal or not. But the upshot of this situation is that everything on the menu is fantastic, so even if you do not get your intended order, you will still get something yummy. Also, all of the meals are just 6 Euros each. If you live in or are visiting Ljubljana and you have a craving for some good Thai, I definitely recommend it. To me, the flavors are spot-on and properly spicy, not dumbed down for the 'Slovene' palate* as they have been in Da Bu Da. * (Please pardon if I offend anyone. Typical Slovenes don't dig super-spicy food, and we often find that something labeled as 'spicy' does not meet our expectations) As for the new Thai place in BTC, I only know of one person who has eaten there and he got food poisoning...

So, you should go to the Thai Inn Pub Restaurant Cafe Bar and Bistro. I don't think you will be disappointed in the food. The picture above is of one of the servers (one of the good ones), the chef, and the owner.

Another Lj foodie-tip: usually we like to go to Zvezda Bar for desserts, as they are generally out of this world. But last night we went to Dvorni Bar because we wanted a nice glass of wine (or three) and they have a good selection of wines by the glass. BONUS FIND! They have an apple pie/cake that is amazing. It has got a spongy cake-y crust where you would expect a traditional flaky pie crust to be, and this beautiful lemon flavor is infused throughout it. It is excellent. Oh, and it is a huge portion so it is perfect for sharing.

Last weekend we went candlestick bowling, which was a lot of fun. It was strange to bowl with those tiny bowling balls which haven't got any holes -- it reminded me of bocce, but I seem to be better at that. I don't think any of us got a strike (a spare was the best any of us could manage), but I think someone in the lane next to us might have. It was much more difficult than traditional bowling.

Today it is snowing again. It snowed quote a lot on Tuesday of this past week, but then we had some warm weather and a bit of rain so it had all melted in most areas. It has been snowing all day, but since it is only just right around freezing, the snow is only sticking on the trees, grass, cars, etc., but not on the roadways. I suppose now that it is getting dark , that may change overnight.

Tomorrow I am meeting with someone to re-start my Slovene lessons and also get something going for Joe. if you would like to learn something yourself, here is a fun site for you to also learn some Slovene.
And click here to download an online Slovene dictionary.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Like being inside a zeppelin on roller skates.

This was my ride home from my morning class today.

I was on one of the older, presumably commie-era buses, in the middle of a snowstorm on unplowed city streets.

My drive home from my late afternoon class some 60 kilometers away and in my own vehicle was not much better. Except I was inside the rollerskate itself.

But, all's well that ends well, as they say.

Hope you are also well,

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Life is like Belgium.

It looks rather like a giant version of the plastic sheet of figures that you must detach from their holder when you buy a new board game – the game RISK for example. And risky is what this new art installation may be.

“What new art installation?”, I hear you asking. I am talking about the new exhibit recently unveiled at the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, where the EU's governments meet. This work was commissioned to recognize the Czech republic’s 6-month tenure as President, effective at the beginning of 2009.

Mounting some form of display is customary when taking on the rotating EU presidency, but normally they are uncontroversial. For example, Slovenia now has a small sculpture park not far from the main bus station; each meter-high stone obelisk is carved with a symbol representing each EU member at the time of Slovenia’s presidency. Not only it is not controversial, I would be willing to bet that 98% of Slovenes don’t even know it exists. The only reason I am aware of it is because I walk past it on my way to my dance class … after all, if a group of stones arranged in a somewhat Stonehenge-fashion suddenly appeared in a small clearing on a street corner near you, you might also stop to investigate it further. (Or maybe not. Perhaps that is why Stonehenge itself remains such a mystery: no one bothered to ask what the hell it was.)

But this new piece in Brussels was not installed quietly. In fact, it took three trucks to transport it from Prague to its new (temporary) home in Brussels.

Commissioned some two years ago by the Czech government, the work was purportedly a representation of EU members as seen through the eyes of 27 artists (plus Czerny) coming from those countries. But it didn’t exactly turn out as described.

For purposes of clarification and blame-clearing, the contributing artists were quick to point out that the piece was not intended to represent Europe as seen through the eyes of the Czech presidency. Why the hasty exoneration, you might ask?

Let's begin with those 27 pairs of eyes, allegedly belonging to 27 artists whose works supposedly represent their impression of their respective countries. Well, they were actually more like three or four sets of eyes representing -in some cases- an outsider's view…. In actuality this work was the brainchild and product of Czech artist David Cerny and some of his friends/colleagues. Not even the Czech government was aware of the actual contributors (or even the exact content of the piece) until the artist himself was willing to reveal it.

In a foreword to the exhibit's catalogue, Cerny said the projects "share the playful analysis of national stereotypes as well as original characteristics of the individual cultural identities." (Read as “we are taking digs at what each country really thinks of itself, and others think of it – we hope that you can laugh at yourselves as much as you will laugh at all of the other countries.”)

Cerny went on to say, “We knew the truth (about the actual artists behind the project) would come out, but before that we wanted to find out if Europe is able to laugh at itself." He added that Entropa, which is the name of this piece, "lampoons the socially activist art that balances on the verge between would-be controversial attacks on national character and undisturbing decoration of an official space".

However, some people may be upset. We'll see. Because....

...Bulgaria is portrayed a conglomeration of Turkish squat toilets. Poland’s Roman Catholic priests are shown erecting a ‘rainbow’ flag, a sort of Iwo-Jima meets San Francisco.

Sweden is represented by a flat-pack carton, a-la-Ikea. Ultra-small, ultra-rich Luxembourg is a golden nugget with a "For Sale" sign prominently attached.

Are you laughing? Of course you are. Unless you happen to be from (insert your EU country name here).

Denmark is made of Lego bricks. Finland is a giant expanse of wooden floor. Germany is covered by a haphazardly interlocked series of plastic tracks of roadway (think: autobahn meets Hot Wheels). Hungary is a bizarre “atom” comprised of melons, nested atop a bed of peppers. Ireland has usurped one of Scotland’s national symbols and is shown as a giant set of bagpipes (albeit high-tech bagpipes).

Britain, as one might expect, is not present at all, with artist Khalid Asadi choosing to express himself through the use of “free space”.

The Netherlands are submerged in seawater, with only the tips of minarets left exposed (awash in a sea of religious controversy? You be the judge.)

Italy is a giant football/soccer pitch complete with players, and goal posts standing at either end of the country.

Estonia has a hammer a sickle (each made of power tools). Greece is burning. Lithuinia is represented by five guys in army uniforms peeing across the border onto its neighbor, Russia.

Romania is a Dracula-based theme park.

The Czech representation features an electronic message board, similar to those on the highway that say OBSTACLE ON SHOULDER or CONGESTION AHEAD. Except this message board scrolls various statements made by notoriously anti-EU Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who has in recent days embarrassed the Czech government by criticizing the EU's new Lisbon Treaty and scoffed at the notion of climate change. (Subtext by artist Cerny reads, "He is OUR president. We elected him, so let's show him off to the world with joy in our hearts. He's not just a skier. He's a great guy!")

Side note: Can you imagine if there had been an LED message board in the shape of Curious George with a rotating series of Bush-isms blinking along the brim of his ten-gallon hat? Oh, the laughs we could have had…

France wears a banner declaring, “ON STRIKE”.

And of course, we cannot leave out Slovenia. “Slovenia’s” description of its portrayal is not for the prudish, and gives a whole new meaning to the word “member” country. Slovenia's contribution is a 3-dimensional outline of the country, as if carved from stone, inscribed with the claim, “First tourists came here in 1213.” (note the verb and read on…)

This statement ostensibly celebrates a claim by the Slovenian National Tourism Agency that the first visitors to the country were tourists, who visited Slovenia in 1213. Apparently, like many tourists of today, they went to Postonjska jama, left some graffiti in the general area, and then departed – never to return. "We view ourselves from the position of foreign visitors," says the text explaining the Slovenian piece. It adds, helpfully: "This is a strategy associated with the delight of masturbation: We view the hand we use in autoerotic stimulation as the hand of another. We view our own national identity with similar detachment." (I personally must comment that it is somewhat true that Slovenes seem to view themselves through the eyes of others, especially in matters of national self-worth.) That being said, I am not yet sure how Slovenes feel about this portrayal, but presumably if they are offended they will, err… take matters into their own hands.

If you would like to know more, or see the countries’ representations that I did not mention in this entry, download the PDF, which can be found here

Oh, and in case you didn’t figure it out, Belgium is a giant box of chocolates.