21 December 2010

Happy Holidays 2010

May your days be merry and bright....

Have a lovely holiday season y'all!

12 December 2010

Grammar exam

I just realized that I haven't updated this blog since mid-November, and it is almost mid-December! I've been busy. My language class and studying is taking up most of my time, along with cooking and catching a big cold :-( That's the problem with getting glutened; it isn't just the immediate resulting illnes, but the domino effect of illness that just keeps going and going. I don't usually catch colds, but I caught this one and it ain't pretty. I also have a big grammar exam on Monday, and have had to study while shivering under a blanket and drinking copious amounts of tea. Hopefully the worst is over, and my ears and sinuses will be clear and happy by the time the exam rolls around.

I have to say that I can't wait for the Christmas break so I can just catch my breath! We get 2 weeks off school, then back for more intensive lessons until the end of January. Then the ginormous final exam. Then we'll see what happens.

By the end of this level I'll be able to speak in simple present, past and future. SIMPLE. So anyone out there hoping to talk to me in Croatian, please keep to short simple sentences, and then give me lots of time to think my answer and then let me slowly say it all out loud. It'll be slow and awkward at first, but it'll speed up quickly.

That's it for now. I've got to spend a wee bit more time on some irregular verbs in the past tense, and gotta get more vocabulary in before bedtime.

Send lots of good grammar vibes my way!

29 November 2010

Another Nano come and gone...

Okay, it looks like I'll be a little bit short this year on my nanowrimo challenge. How much short? Well, you need 50,000 words to cross the finish line, and the finish line is November 30th. Today, one day before the finish line, I'm 40,158 words SHORT.

I only made it to a bit under 10k because I got the glutening of a lifetime 3 weeks ago. I'm just starting to feel normal today. To anyone out there who thinks that just a wee bit of gluten won't hurt someone with celiac: let me tell you YOU ARE CRAZY. Okay, now that I've got that out of my system, I feel better. It is freezing cold outside, but sunny. There's a blue sky, and a pot of hot orange pekoe in the kitchen.


13 November 2010

Nanowrimo Midpoint

I'm almost halfway through Nanowrimo and I only have a bit over 9,000 words. Eeeek! That's around 700 words per day. Not a good pace. To help myself get motivated, I did what lots of writers do when faced with the need for a writing jumpstart: I headed to the office supply store! There's nothing like browsing through aisles of pens and pencils, sharpeners, erasers, ring binders, markers, file folders, sticky tabs, white out, rulers and office chairs to make a writer's heart sing. I bought two gel-ink pens (one fine tip, one medium tip) and whistled all the way home. In the olden olden days before I knew I had celiac, I would have also grabbed a chocolate-almond croissant and a hot chocolate. But these days, I have to stick to treats without the gluten (or sugar). So gel-ink pens are it.

Now, back to writing, and maybe some doodling in the margins. These gel-pens are awesome for cartooning......

11 November 2010

Finally Farinata...

Finally, I am getting around to posting my recipe and pictures of the farinata I've been making all year. Farinata, which means 'floured' in Italian, is made with gluten-free chick-pea flour. I grind my own beans into my own flour....but you don't have to. Just buy some finely ground chick pea flour from your grocery store, and go from there. Note that it may also be called: besan flour, ceci flour, garbanzo bean flour, or chickpea flour. If you want it gluten-free, then make sure it says gluten-free on the package...not all of the types of chickpea flour out there are gluten-free.

Okay, here we go:

The first thing you need to know is that the batter needs to rest for 2-3 hours. This resting period is necessary to let the flour ferment a little bit so that it is easier to digest.

The second thing you'll need to know is that you'll need a scale to weigh the flour. I know this sounds like a pain, but different flours have different weights. A cup of wheat flour does not equal a cup of bean flour.

Third thing: do not skimp on the amount of olive oil.

What you'll need:

-a shallow baking pan...like a jelly roll pan (it needs to have a lip around the edge at least 2 cm high)
300 grams finely ground chickpea flour
1 litre water (not hot water, cold is okay, room temperature is okay too)
2 big pinches salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
plus about 5 more tablespoons olive oil (or enough to coat the bottom of your baking pan)


Put the flour and salt into a big mixing bowl, and make a well in the flour like this:

Then using a whisk, whisk in the water. Whisk for about 2 minutes making sure there are no lumps. The batter will be rather thin and have lots of bubbles forming on the surface. Like this:

Cover the bowl of batter with a towel and let it rest.

After the resting period is finished, and you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C.

Take a spoon and skim the bubbles off the top of the batter. Then whisk the batter one more time for about 30 seconds, and then skim those bubbles off too.

Now add 4 tablespoons of oil to the batter and whisk again.

When the oven reaches 200C, pour the rest of the olive oil into your pan enough to cover the bottom. And then place the pan in the oven for about 2 minutes. Watch the pan carefully, as soon as you can smell the olive oil, take the pan out and be careful because it will be hot.

Whisk the batter one more time, then carefully pour the batter into the hot pan filling it to about 1 cm

Carefully put the pan in the middle of the oven, making sure not to spill any.

Bake for 40 minutes and it should then look like this:

It should be golden brown and crispy.

Use a spatula to remove the farinata. Cut into squares, and eat immediately drizzled with olive oil, salt, and your favourite herbs such as thyme or oregano, or with ground black pepper.


09 November 2010

Got glutened :-(

Just need to vent and be grouchy:

I got glutened 4 days ago. If you are not familiar with the term "glutened", then consider yourself a very very lucky person. For the uninitiated, 'glutened' is an unofficial verb created by us celiac sufferers to describe the act of being unwittingly exposed to gluten. So, it is okay to say: I got glutened, I think I got glutened, that sounds like a glutening to me, etc.

Getting glutened is a big deal for me because it takes 10 full days to feel better. And a full 3 weeks until I'm back to normal. Yup. 10 days. And three weeks. In the meantime I feel like crud-on-a-stick. Plus I've got bruise-coloured bags under my eyes that scare people off because I look like I've got the plague or something.

I'm in the middle of nanowrimo, and this glutening is slowing me down considerably. Bah-humbug is all I can say.

I'm the most careful of eaters. The most careful. I can't stress this enough. I'm one of those people who is super-sensitive to the tiniest traces of gluten. So trust me when I say I'm careful about what I choose to eat. And yet I still get glutened. It is rare. But it happens. And there's nothing I can do about it. Except to endure.

So that's what I'm doing right now. Enduring. And trying to nanowrimo at the same time.

Bah-humbug again........

01 November 2010

Nanowrimo Day 1

Being a writer is a lonely endeavor at the best of times, but being a writer in a country where I don't understand or speak the language makes it doubly difficult to be a writer. Why? Because it is near impossible to go out and get writerly support in person. Oh, there are writers in Croatia. Tons of writers. Lots and lots of writers. Good ones too. Deep thinkers. Smart writers. But, they write in Croatian. And they have writer groups in Croatian. And they support eachother in Croatian. So the problem is all mine. Until I can fluently communicate in this language, I'm on my own.

It is day one of Nanowrimo. And I've got no write-ins to attend. There's nobody to meet up with at a coffee shop to compare notes, have a word war, or complain about not having enough hours in a day to do all the writing. I know that none of this should matter, and that a real writer writes and gets through this. Normally I'm pretty okay at pulling up my own bootstraps. But during Nanowrimo, I get to feeling a little isolated. Like Tiny Tim, with his face pressed up against the window of a house where good food and good friends and family and laughter are being served up. Only he's on the outside looking in.

Luckily I have online support. Lots of it.

Okay, enough moping around, I've got about 900 words to go to make my daily goal. Onwards and upwards!

27 October 2010

Grammar indigestion

My language class is in the thick of learning verbs and verb cases. We don't use cases much in English, so this stuff is MIND-BENDING for me. I mean brain-twisting-gray-matter-sizzling-help-me difficult. Lately, I get a stomachache at around the 2.5 hour mark of class. Like I've eaten too many verbs, or ingested too much grammar, and that one more noun or possessive pronoun or weird exception-to-the-already-bizarre-rule will make my insides explode. Pop! Kapow! Bang!

And I'm not the only one having difficulty with this stuff. Sometimes I swear that I can actually hear other students sweating. But, apparently it gets better. I'm guessing it is probably just like the G-force and anti-gravity training that astronauts go through. Sure they've got to black out and throw up a lot, but only until their bodies adjust, and then they get the sweet reward of being able to float around in space.

For astronauts and learners of new grammar....it is all worth it in the end.

26 October 2010

Nanowrimo 2010

How did an entire year go by? Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) starts next week on November 1st. I haven't touched my Nanowrimo 2009 project AT ALL! Not at all. Not even one word. As a matter of fact, I can't even remember what story I was working on. How did the time go by so quickly???

I'll be digging up my old project this week and taking a cold hard look to see if it is worth re-jigging, or if I should learn from it and try something new. It seems that life in Croatia is different than my old life in Canada. My old life was consistent, predictable. And thus I could work on my writing in a consistent and predictable way. My world was not changing much inbetween writing sessions. But here in Croatia, my life changes minute by minute. Not much is consistent and nothing is predictable. So when I put down a writing project for even a couple of weeks, I return to the project which is in the same condition when I left it. But I'm not in the same condition. I've changed. My life has shifted. Things are not the same. I'm not the same person I was 2 weeks ago. So taking up an old writing project becomes difficult because I am a different person.

Ever heard of that old telephone game where one person whispers a sentence into another person's ear, and that person whispers it to the next person's ear until 10 or 12 people later the last person says the sentence out loud and it resembles nothing like the initial sentence? So, something like: Barney has a grocery store, comes out as: Aliens make good traffic cops.

That's sort of what's happening with me and my stories right now. Hopefully a month of Nano will help.

I'll keep my fingers crossed, .....

10 October 2010

Crochet anyone??? Da da da!

It seems that studying Croatian grammar makes me want to crochet. A lot. Don't know why this is, but it is true. I yanked out a granny square afghan I started last year and have been obsessed with getting it finished. I made 25 of these squares last year, but have been struggling to crochet them all together because it is a tedious, unforgiving task. Thus, I put the project aside.

Until now. Maybe, just maybe, crocheting 25 squares together is less tedious than memorizing verb cases. Hmmm, could be. I remember back in my university days that whenever I had to study for a major exam, I would suddenly take a keen interest in cleaning the toaster oven, or defrosting the freezer.

Lucky for me, studying and crocheting can be done in unison. Sort of. Well, not really. Never mind. Enough procrastination for now, and back to the books for me.

Vidimo se (see ya later)

05 October 2010

Language school number 4

Today was the first day of a brand new language course at a new school for me. I decided to go to the Croaticum language school run by and at the University of Zagreb Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences.

After a few hiccups with the registration process (long story short: they sort of forgot to enroll me), I finally got things settled and am now ready to learn more grammar. This is another intensive program (they love these things over here!) and goes 5 days a week, for 4 months.

I'll keep you posted on how things progress....

If the grammar fairies are reading this: please sprinkle fairy dust on this whole experience. Thank you.

09 September 2010

Do bugs think?

There is a giant bug flying around the apartment today. I'm pretty sure that it is one of those jumbo-sized bees because it has a sort of bee-like buzzing sound. The sun is out and there's the most lovely late summer / early fall breeze blowing through the leaves on the tree across the street. So I opened all the windows and am now enjoying the sight of my white sheer curtains billowing from time-to-time. I'm guessing the giant bee got in through one of the open windows, and since we have no screens here in Croatia, the odd bug flies in on occasion.

It isn't weird for a giant bee to be floating around here. What is weird today though is that the bee seems to be trying to get outside and it keeps bumping into the glass on the windows. I keep pointing to the open window and saying out loud: just turn left a little and then go straight. And this bee keeps following my instructions. It turns left, then flies straight out the window.

About three minutes later, he is back in my livingroom, bumping into the glass again. I've told him about five times now to turn left and get outside. It got me wondering about what's going on. Maybe it isn't the same bee each time. maybe the first one told all his buddies that my place is a great rest-stop. And maybe the original bee is a little dyslexic and told the other bees that to get out you need to turn RIGHT, then straight.

I'm going to go with that explanation. Because the other explanation (one with more of a Stephen King slant) involves giant bees that speak English and who have the ability to turn humans into their slaves. Or something along those lines. They could even be alien bees from another planet. Or tiny vampire bees. Or tiny vampire bees from outer space.

Or they could just be a little dyslexic (and who isn't?)

01 September 2010

New language vs Music Theory

It is September, and that means a return to some sort of Croatian language lessons. I'm searching, searching, searching for a class that runs once or twice a week, for maybe 1.5 hours per class (that means 3 hours per week), and a class that takes its time. I have no need or desire to learn ten new concepts per class. I have no need to rush. What I need is to be taught one concept at a time, thoroughly and given enough time to go home and practice before I come back to learn a new concept.

This is how most people, (who are not of the child prodigy or genius variety), learn to read and play music. Music is a language. A foreign language to everyone who comes to it. Music theory is much like learning grammar in that the rules and guidelines will enable you to read, compose and play more and more complex music in an eloquent way. And it takes time, lots of time to learn. Grade 1 piano generally takes an entire year to accomplish at a pace of one hour per week of lesson coupled with at least one hour of practice every single day (more of course is better). Lesson five can only begin if lessons one, two, three and four have been understood. Trust me, there's no use trying to learn to play with two hands at the same time if you still can't remember where the notes sit on the lines and spaces of the staff.

I vividly remember my first year of music class in highschool where I was given the clarinet to play. Without one word of exaggeration I will confess that it took 2 solid MONTHS for me to figure out how to hold the thing comfortably. Just to hold it. And balance it. The first entire year was clumsy. Year two was better. Year three was really good. Year four was pretty awesome; I could play Sleigh Ride like nobody's business. But even after four solid years of playing..I was nowhere near good enough to play in a professional orchestra. I probably would have needed another three to four years of full-time solid study to get good enough for anything beyond the basics. (check out this video on YouTube of Sleigh Ride. Pay close attention to the clarinet around the 2 mintue mark ;-)

Thus I believe languages all over the world would be learned better if the teachers and course writers were all forced to learn to play Sleigh Ride on the clarinet to the level of awesomeness and given a short time to do so. Like a month.

Hmmm, that actually sounds like it would be a pretty fun reality show to watch!

25 August 2010

Blueberries. Just because.

Blueberry season ended back in mid-July and lasted only about 2 weeks. I took a picture of these beauties that came in all sorts of shapes and sizes and levels of tartness and sweetness. I wasn't sure what to do with the picture, so I decided to put it here. A picture will have to do until they come back in season just 11 months from now!

23 August 2010

On storks and salami-corn

Did you know that storks build huuuuuuuuuge nests on top of telephone poles? No really. I'm serious. I didn't believe it either until we saw these two teenager storks flying around and then landing in their nest. This picture was taken about 30 km outside of Zagreb. There were stork nests all over the place. And these huge young storks flying around learning to get the hang of their wings. I of course made sure NOT to stand underneath the flying storks or under that nest.

It is harvest season around here, and I've been busy getting food from the farm and freezing it all. I've got one of those vacuum machines that sucks all the air out of freezer bags so that the food doesn't get freezer burn. I ran out of big bags, and so was left with a bunch of long skinny bags that are normally used to store things like salami and sausages. So I decided to freeze my corn in the salami bags.

I just took the fresh corn. Peeled off all the outer leaves and corn silk. And just stuck them in the salami bags and then vacuum packed and froze them. In the winter months, I just have to take the corn out of the bags, and stick the entire frozen cob into a pot of boiling water for about 15 minutes for farm-fresh corn-on-the-cob in winter!!!

It worked so well, that I packed my tomatoes the same way! Here are my salami-tomatoes:

Okay, gotta wash, chop and bake about 100 eggplant. Haven't figured out what sort of freezing bags I'll use yet.

19 August 2010

Summertime...and the living is restless....

Sometimes my limited diet makes me a little bit crazy. And sometimes it makes me really crazy. I'm usually okay with this life of eating like a tree squirrel. But sometimes it gets to me, and today was one of those days. A perfect summer day. Lots of folks coming back to the city after their holidays. Everyone out in their white pants and yellow shirts to show off golden tans. And everyone eating ice cream cones, slices of pizza, french fries with ketchup, drinking frothy cappuccinos, eating tall pieces of chocolate torte, or lazily stirring a cocktail. They all look so free, and easy-going.

Nobody is having a conniption fit because someone touched their ice-cream with the scoop that touched the cone (and thus got gluten all over everything). Nobody is sitting there licking strawberry sauce off their fingers and wondering if the strawberries were grown locally and organically as promised or if they were actually trucked in from unknown parts, sprayed with all sorts of anti-fungals and antibacterials and rodentcides and pesticides to make them look fresh and thus making a trip to the ER a real possibility sometime in the night. No one gets alarmed when the guy making the espresso is also eating a sandwich (crumbs in the cup). No one slurps froth from their powdered-mix-made cappuccino while nervously reading the teeny-weeny-font of the ingredient list from the packaging to scan for additives, colorings, and preservatives that will require some sort of antihistamine concoction to prevent hives within 15 minutes.

Summertime and I think Christmastime are the times when my food restrictions cause me a wee bit of grief. Convenient food is such a huge part of these times of the year, that it really can make a person who is unable to eat those foods really feel like they are not a part of it all. Like someone on the outside looking in.

I know this feeling is silly because there are so many other problems out there so much bigger than this. But I'm just being honest. I know global warming and economic crises and wars and injustices and all sorts of bad stuff is going on. But today, I got to feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't have a regular ice-cream cone from the regular ice-cream place with all the regular people. Boo-hoo-hoo.

I think I'll treat myself to a nice ice-cold bottle of Italian mineral water that I left chilling in the fridge. What's this? Hey, who left the cap slightly unscrewed and let all the bubbles out?!!!!!!!

16 August 2010

Eating figs instead of blogging

I haven't been writing many blog posts lately because it is summer, it is nice outside, and because the figs are in season. Fresh figs are really sticky and juicy and there is no neat way to eat them. It is necessary to get fig juice all over your hands and then have it drip down your arms and drip off your elbows. That's just the way it is. Which makes it really hard to type on a keyboard and get a blog post written. So, I just want to say that I'm not blogging right now...but it is not because something untoward has happened. Quite the opposite actually. There are figs to be eaten, and that's what I'm doing with my time. Bliss!

I hope y'all are doing something equally or even more delicious with your time!

27 July 2010

Bully for you......

Okay, grammar classes are over for a little while, and I can actually get a little bit of time to write. I'm working on a newer story that involves bullying. I got to wondering where the term 'bully' came from and how it evolved, so I went researching on the internet and discovered that nobody really knows. How strange. There is one main theory that the word bully actually started as a term of endearment! Here is how it is explained at The Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com)

Bully. noun. 1530s, originally "sweetheart," applied to either sex, from Dutch boel "lover, brother," probably dim. of M.H.G. buole "brother," of uncertain origin (cf. Ger. buhle "lover"). Meaning deteriorated 17c.

Oh, how bizarre. I'll definitely be working this naming concept into the story. Too good to pass up.

But if anyone knows how bullying got its name...I'd be mighty appreciative if you'd send along any references.

22 July 2010

One more grammar class....

Yippee! Just one more grammar class and then I am done for the summer. While I have been really enjoying my classes, I have to admit that my brain stopped taking in new information sometime on Tuesday. It just got filled up, and now I need to go back and revisit all the information I learned over the last 3 weeks. I won't lie about it...learning Croatian is difficult. It makes learning calculus look like a day at the beach. And having to take classes during a heatwave only adds to the drama. The temperature has been hovering around 36C for much of the past few weeks. I'm already tired and ready for a nap when I get into the classroom at 9:30 am!

Hopefully, things will go smoother...and a wee bit cooler in the upcoming Fall session. For now, me and my genetiv, lokativ, instrumental and akusativ cases will be getting to know each other up-close-and-personal over the next few weeks.

19 July 2010

Chewy brain

Have you ever chewed a big piece of bubble gum for sooooo very long (like 2 hours) that it eventually got really hard and almost unchewable? Sort of something like road tar, or elephant skin?

Well, that is exactly what my brain feels like today after my Croatian grammar class. And tired too. So tired that when I finally hobbled down to the Dolac market, I couldn't even remember my own name, or the names of things like meat, potatoes, hello, thank you. So I sort of pointed at things, nodded my head, and took home whatever the vendor put in the bag.

Me at the market:

Me: (pointing at veal)
Butcher: (points at beef intestines and a grinning sheep head) You want these?
Me: (nodding in agreement for some bizarre reason. Oh yeah, now I remember, I wanted to cry)
Butcher: Ok. 5 cow colons and I throw in sheep skull for free!
Me: the lamp is on the table
Butcher: Thank you. Bye Bye.
Me: I am, you are, he is, she is

Okay, I made all of that up. But that's what I was thinking in my head. I'm too tired to write anymore because I can actually feel individual neurons trying to pluck verbs from the language centre of my brain.

And it kind of stings a little. Ouch.

You have to admit though that cow colons is pretty funny, yes?

08 July 2010

Waiting for God to smile...

Back in my radio college days (yup, did you know they actually had college classes for radio broadcasting?), we had this great instructor who taught announcing. This was a class where you learned how to talk on the radio. You might think that talking on the radio is pretty easy and natural, but it is actually a skill that takes quite a while to get right. Trust me, in the beginning EVERYONE sounds dorky on the radio.

Anyway.... there is a particular skill called 'hitting the post' which refers to the act of talking over the beginning of a song, and then ending on a beat in the music (like the introduction of a new instrument or on a drumbeat), or ending right before the vocals start up. If you did it just right, it was called 'hitting the post.' If you got it wrong and ended your talking in the middle of nothing in particular or worse, if you talked ontop of the vocals, then this was called "stomping the post."

All of us newbies regularly stomped the post. It was awful. And though it sounded easy to do, it was really hard to accomplish. Our brilliant instructor told us this magical piece of advice which is the secret to 'hitting the post.' He told us that we would try and try and try, and still get it wrong. And then one day, out of the blue, God would smile on us, and we would get it right. Just like that! And believe it or not, the instructor was right. Suddenly, one by one, each of us students would just start getting it right. We would just walk into the classroom and declare: God smiled on me!

Why am I bothering with this long tale of my days of yore in radio-land? Well, because it actually relates to the learning of Croatian and I think also the the learning of any language. The beginning of learning Croatian is really wobbly for the student. I am currently having difficulty with the most basic of things, and feeling much like a newborn giraffe struggling to stand up on thin shaky legs. My pronunciation is rough. My grammar is backwards. My brain feels like it is made of lead. And no matter how much I practice, it just ain't happening.

But I have faith. And patience (well, a little bit of patience). I will just keep on doing my best, and I expect that God will just smile on me one day, and it will all come together.

As I try to conjugate some reflexive verbs, and try to memorize hundreds of new words in both masculine, feminine and neutral form.....I gaze up at the heavens every once in a while, just to see if maybe that magical smile is heading my way.

07 July 2010

Save your eyeballs. Get kitchen safety glasses.

A couple of months ago, I decided to try out a new recipe I found on the internet for deep fried rice-flour dumplings. The recipe called for rice flour to be mixed with water into a wet paste. The wet paste then had to be made into little balls. Those balls had to be deep fried until golden and crispy. Sounded so easy. And gluten free!

Well, to make a long story short, the recipe didn't go exactly as described in the recipe. But I later learned that the problem I encountered is a nasty possibility and that each year hundreds of people are maimed and sometimes blinded by what I did next:

The rice balls were sticking to the bottom of my pot of hot boiling oil. The recipe said to be careful not to break up the balls because they would come apart in the oil. So I carefully leaned over my pot of oil, leaned my face right into the top of the pot and using a teaspoon, I gingerly tried to dislodge the rice balls from the bottom of the pan. What I didn't know, was that the rice flour had formed an incredibly thick crust around the dumpling...but that the inside was still wet and steamy. So when I moved the balls with my spoon, it caused the steam and/or moisture to escape the balls and make contact with the hot boiling oil. So BAM! Everything exploded. Big time. Like a firecracker of hot oil went off....directly into my face which was looking directly into the pot. So the oil burned my neck, my chin, my cheeks, my face, my eyebrows, my brow, my eyelashes. And my eyelids. And under my eyelids. And into my eyes. I was blinded.

I'll let that image sit with you for a bit.

I won't describe anything more because it still gives me the heebie-jeebies to even think about it. Fast forward a few weeks, and by a miracle that the doctors still can't believe, my eyesight is all okay. The burns all healed up more or less and I only have some very faint scars that are mostly hidden in my eyelid folds. I was lucky, lucky, lucky. Lots of people who experience what I experienced do not come out so lucky.

It got me thinking about safety eyeglasses for cooks. When you think about it, cooking is quite dangerous. Steam, hot oil, bacon grease, all spattering or boiling over at one point or another. Sure, there are oven mitts out there to protect your hands. But there's nothing out there to protect your eyes! I couldn't believe it. So I went looking for a good pair (or two or three) of cooking safety glasses. And I couldn't find any. Nothing specifically made for cooks. Nothing that I could find that is made for the home cook.

I wrote to a few cooking publications to find out if they could recommend any brands. I heard nothing back from them. I tried writing to the Martha Stewart folks to see if she had her own brand, but I couldn't figure out how to contact the appropriate person from their labyrinthine website. I even wrote to the folks at the Jamie Oliver website, who actually got back to me telling me that Jamie Oliver doesn't deep fry his food, and therefore they couldn't offer me any sort of assistance(???!)

With no guidance from the world of celebrity chefs, I grabbed a simple pair of safety glasses from the hardware store. Cost: about 4 euros. So cheap. I couldn't believe that I had never thought about wearing safety glasses while making all of my concoctions in the kitchen.

Well, I wear them now. All the time. If I'm cooking, then I'm wearing my glasses. And that's all I wanted to say on the subject.

Oh, and as for those rice dumplings: after literally scraping their remnants off the ceiling, I lost interest in ever making them again.

And one more thing: the shock from the accident gave me an instant white streak in my hair. Overnight. Just like that. Guess I'll have to update that picture of myself at some point ;-)

06 July 2010

Language miracle answered

A couple posts back, I was asking for a language miracle to occur so that I could start learning Croatian properly. Well, a language miracle happened along, and I'm now enrolled in one of those intensive language classes. The class isn't the miracle. The teacher is the miracle. She has tons of energy, is really animated when she is teaching, and is super friendly. Grammar is still hard, but the teacher is making it as painless as possible.

I'd like to write more about the classes, but I have an avalanche of homework to do.

One last thing though.....um, if the universe is listening...I am also in need of a great real estate/property miracle. And a great-health miracle too. Oh, and I'll just sneak in a request for a great publishing miracle. Hope I'm not being too greedy...

17 June 2010

I love my yarn!

I know I am a yarn-a-holic. I can't get enough of the stuff. Everywhere I go, I haunt all the little knitting/sewing/yarn shops looking for gems to take home and make into something special. Back in Canada, finding fantastic yarn is a breeze. There are incredible shops everywhere selling the most magnificent knitting goods imaginable. I used to buy yarn with such abandon!

The yarn situation in Croatia is, how shall I say this: elusive (can a situation be elusive?) Thick and hearty wool (real wool) is pretty simple to find. But where to find those gossamer beauties that make knitting such a joy? I don't know. Haven't been able to track down a source. Yet. But I'll keep looking.

Mind you, knitting isn't exactly a big hobby here. I still haven't found ANYBODY to start a little chicks with sticks group. NOBODY. So it is just little old me. I hide my yarn and crochet hook in my purse, and drink a lonely espresso at a local cafe while crocheting my (gorgeous) granny squares on my lap. One square=one coffee. Then I leave.

I'm thinking that maybe I'll take my crochet projects outside to the main square. There I can sit on the sidewalk next to the guy who plays the extra long flute, and the mime guy, and the music box guy and his dog. I'll just knit and crochet, and listen to the music, and watch the people go by. And feel like an artist. Hmmmm, doesn't sound like a bad idea.

16 June 2010

More language learning tools

In my quest to learn the Croatian language, I've slowly collected just about every workbook, text book, CD, dictionary, phrase guide, and grammar guide on the planet. Why do I need so many different books? Well, only one or two are written in English. All the other books are written in Croatian....which presented a problem for me, since I couldn't read the directions, and the waiters at the cafe quickly tired of my pesky requests to "please tell me what this says" while pointing to some phrases in my book.

Everyone I talk to who is trying to learn this language is pretty much in the same boat, and often we compare language learning tools. I thought I'd provide a quick list of the books that also come with CDs which aid immensely when trying to figure out pronunciation. There are particular sounds that are hard for an English-speaker to handle gracefully. Here are some city and town names to illustrate: Hvar (um, let's see, it would sound sort of like hhhh-var), Cricvenica (t-s-rick-ven-itz-ah...and roll the rrrr), Oprtalj (oh, never mind ;-)

I got all these books through a bookstore in Zagreb called Algoritam. You can find them at: www.algoritam.hr. See if there's a location near you, or call the main bookstore and see if they can order any of these for you.

This first one is written in English, and comes with 6 audio CDs, plus a good coursebook. It is called: Spoken World Croatian, A complete course for beginners. By Living Language. Cost was around 290 kunas.

The second one is also in English. Called Beginner's Croatian , Hippocrene Beginner's Series, by Aida Vidan & Robert Niebuhr. It is a workbook with 2 audio CDs. Cost, around 240 kunas.

The third one is a workbook that is written in Croatian....but it has a CD that goes along with it. It is called: Ucimo hrvatski, skolska knjiga, by Vesna Kosovac & Vida Lukic. Can't remember the cost...and it might only be available through www.skolskaknjiga.hr

This last one is kind of special and I highly recommend grabbing a copy. It doesn't have a CD and deals with grammar....but it is a book written in English meant to explain Croatian grammar for English speakers. Now that might sound weird...but trust me, if you are an English speaker trying to learn Croatian grammar, you'll know what I mean. The book is called Croatian Grammar, by Vinko Grubisic. It is supposed to be available at Algoritam. They couldn't get me a copy, so I wrote to the author, who directed me to the The Croatian University Press. You can e-mail them to request a copy of this book at: hrvatska-sveucilisna-naklada@zg.t-com.hr

If anyone knows of any other books/CDs/DVDs...available anywhere on the planet, please let me know..

10 June 2010

Where are all the English-Croatian blogs?

I'm always interested in reading about English speaking people in Croatia and their over-all experiences on a day-to-day basis. So I've been combing through the internet looking for blogs that fit this description. Strangely, there are a tiny handful of blogs, and most of them are either outdated (as in: the people went back to their home country), or they are not updated very often.

This is sort of weird. I mean, do a search for blogs by English-speakers in any other country on the planet: Italy, France, Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Greece....you name it, there will be dozens and dozens of active blogs. But try searching for blogs in Croatia, and very few pop up. Why??? I can't figure it out. Is it because English speakers coming to Croatia don't like to blog. Or maybe they are not very tech-savvy. Or maybe they are too busy eating cevapi and kremsnite and drinking espresso out on a cafe terrace? Or maybe instead of blogging they are planted on Facebook where mostly friends and family only know about them. I just don't know what the answer is. But I'll keep on searching and see what comes up.

07 June 2010

The cherries are here!

The cherries have finally arrived. They are about 6 weeks late, and not as sweet as they were last year due to the not-very-sunny and not-very-warm spring we've had here. So the cherries are a bit more tangy, firm, and lovely.

Here's the evolution of the cherries on the tree in our backyard:

The first little cherries look like small green olives.

Then just about 10 days later, they start looking like not-quite-ripe cherry tomatoes.

Until another 10 days goes by, and then they are big, juicy and this gorgeous burgundy colour. At this point, they are ready to be eaten right off the tree!

04 June 2010

Need a language miracle...

It seems to me that Croatians are generally in a hurry. They walk fast, talk fast and drive fast (really fast.) In fact, they are so much in a hurry that they don't have time for VOWELS. Seriously.

Here are some typical Croatian vowel-less words: vrt, trg, krv, s (that's right, 's' is a word!) and crv. Then there are words with hardly any vowels: mrkva, trznica, brdska, etc.

Also, the letters 'z' and 'h' and 'j' seem to be extremely popular. In English, you've pretty much got zoo, zebra and zero. That's it. So seldom is 'z' used in English, that when you do get to say a 'z' word, it feels like a special occasion like Christmas or your birthday. 'You're at the zoo? And you've seen a zebra? How special!"

But in Croatian, there's at least one 'z' in every third or fourth word. So you get to say 'z' all day long. No vowels plus all those 'z' words is the easy part of learning the language. Everything else is quite complicated. Not crossing-a-busy-street-at-rush-hour-complicated, but more of a got-caught-with-a-provolone-and-entire-prosciutto-in-your-carry-on-luggage-at-Pearson International-complicated.

I've tried a few lessons at a few different places, and I self-study at home with my CDs and DVDs and language books. But the going is s-l-o-w; like trying to open a can of tuna with a safety pin. I had hoped to be conversationally functional within 12 months. . As it stands, I can sort of get by with my basic vocabulary + waving my hands + sometimes drawing pictures.

I'm actively seeking out a language miracle that involves some sort of language angel popping into my world to gently whisk me through the 7 declensions and beyond.

Until that day (which I hope is soon), it is malo-pa-malo. Mic-po-mic.

19 May 2010

Steamed meatballs: low fat, gluten-free, casein-free, yummy, versatile and they freeze like a dream.

I've been experimenting with steamed dishes lately, and got to wondering what would happen if I steamed some meatballs. What happened was some tasty magic. These meatballs steamed up beautifully, and tasted so delightful that I couldn't stop eating them as they came out of the steamer. The first time around I made only 40 meatballs, and they didn't even last until suppertime. So here's the recipe and method for making about 110 meatballs. That's enough to eat as many as you like as they come out of the steamer, enough for soup later on, maybe a few for breakfast, then freeze the rest to be popped into soup at another time.

I tried this recipe using various kinds of meat. The recipe below calls for 1.5kg of pork, but you can use chicken, or any combination of pork/beef/lamb. It also calls for cooked rice, so it is a good idea to cook some rice the night before, or at least a couple hours before you need to mix everything together.

Before getting started, wash and trim enough cabbage or romaine lettuce leaves to completely line your steamer.

-1.5 kg raw boneless pork with fat trimmed off
-2 medium onions finely chopped
-3 medium carrots finely chopped
-1 extra-large egg, or 2 small eggs lightly beaten
-400 gm cooked white rice (arborio or other risotto-type rice is good)
-2 tablespoons dried and crushed thyme leaves
-1 teaspoon salt
Optional: 20 large leaves of swiss chard (blitva), washed (I'll explain later)

Get your butcher to coarsely grind your meat. I don't recommend using store-bought pre-ground meat because it tends to be too fatty and too watery. But if that's all you've got, then give it a try. If your butcher doesn't grind meat, then cut your meat up into small cubes, and in small batches, finely chop the meat in your food processor.

Put the meat in a large mixing bowl. Add your chopped onion and chopped carrot, salt and thyme. Add your beaten egg to the mixture. Mix thoroughly with a large spoon or with your hands. Then add the rice and use your hands to thoroughly mix the rice into the meat mixture.

Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (2 hours is better) to let the flavours blend in.

Preparing your steamer:
Add hot water to the bottom of your steamer pot, then place the steaming basket on top of the water. Using your cabbage or romaine lettuce leaves, cover the steamer basket (this will ensure that your food does not stick to the steamer basket). Place lid on steamer, and allow the water to boil.

Remove meat mixture from the fridge, and using a teaspoon, scoop a bit of meat into your hand, and use the spoon to fashion a 2-3cm ball in the palm of your hand. Put the ball on a platter, and continue making balls until all of the meat is used up.

When the steamer is ready, place as many meatballs in the steamer basket as you can, making sure that none of the balls is touching the other balls. Put the lid on and steam for 30 minutes.

Optional: if you like swiss chard (blitva), then you can trim the swiss chard leaves like this:

Then add a meatball to the centre of the leaf,

and roll

Place these little swiss chard rolls in the steamer basket. It is okay if they touch each other. Put the lid on, and steam for 30 minutes.

Here's how it all looks when it is done.

Here's what the swiss chard rolls look like when you cut them open:

And here are the steamed meatballs added to my homemade minestrone and cabbage soup. Add a wee bit of salt to taste, and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and you've got an entire meal in a bowl. Healthy. Tasty. Really tasty.

11 May 2010

Spring has sprung...finally

Winter was rather loooooong, cold and wet. Spring took its time getting here. It was late by about 5 or 6 weeks. Fresh local lettuce and swiss chard is just starting to appear at the farmers market. But as they say: better late than never. In the meantime, the spring flowers have bloomed and are staying fresh longer due to the cooler weather. I thought I'd post some pictures of the types of flowers that just sort of grow EVERYWHERE. Above are giant boughs of purple wisteria that smell just like pink bubble-gum. Honestly. The bees LOVE this stuff.

Below, some more wisteria with wild chestnut tree in full bloom in the background:

White hydreangea:

Intense pink magnolia:

Jumbo pink peony bush. Unimaginable fragrance!

26 February 2010

Homegrown Hazelnuts

I've been wanting to post pictures and a little bit of information on my hazelnuts for a few months now. There are lots of hazelnut tree/shrubs all over the place---in backyards, in parking lots, along the side of the road. Harvest time is around October. I managed to get my hands on a few different varieties that were grown locally. The round and fat ones are really nice when they are rather freshly picked and haven't dried out yet. The longer ones are stupendous when they are dried out and then roasted. I tend to eat these just a few at a time. Once, I shelled a pound of hazelnuts so I could roast them. It took me an hour to do the shelling with my little sad nut cracker. The nuts roasted up beautifully! And we ate them in 14 minutes. I never roasted up a bunch again because I think I gave myself carpal tunnel syndrome ;-)

Round-fat ones:

These are the longer drop-shaped ones. Lovely!

22 January 2010

Squash that bakes like pie.....

Here's a picture of a type of squash that is sort of like a big giant pumpkin. They call it bundeva. You don't have to take chances on buying one that is under-ripe or over-ripe, because the vendor at the farmer's market cuts the squash into giant slices so you can see the colour, feel the texture, and smell the pulp for freshness. They should be bright orange, firm, and smell like fresh cut pumpkin.

There are all sorts of things you can do with bundeva: make soup, chop and fry in butter, roast alongside your chicken, etc. But the way I like it is to just wash and dry the entire slice, then just stick it into a hot oven for about 20-25 minutes. A crust will form on the outside of the squash, and the inside will bake up creamy and delicious. It is almost like baked pumpkin pie!

I don't have pictures of the baked bundeva for the same reason that I don't have pictures of lots of my cooked foods (I eat them before I remember to get the camera out). I'll try and remember next time!