There are of course countless things you can do in the greater DC area with your kids.
You can park them at the Ben & Jerry's Scoop shop on Fairmont Ave in Bethesda while you enjoy your sushi at Sushi Sushi ten meters down the street.
You can hand them off to your relatives and spend the afternoon reading.
You can also take them to the John Cabin Regional Park in Rockville, just off Tuckerman Lane. The playground is great - large, with different installations for various age groups. It's shady and there is a cool breeze most of the times - very vital for DC summers (although so far we had rain, and rain, and thunderstorms). You can ride a miniature train which all kids will love, guaranteed. I like it for many reasons: it's very close to our current quarters -- about ten minutes -- the kids are busy for hours, literally. The picnic areas are nice and clean. Everything is safe. They have bathrooms that stink of urine but aren't actually appalling. Come early because the park quickly fills up. There are plenty of parking spaces, though.
Only the fact that they found a dead bird there today makes me a little uneasy. I'm going to read up on the symptoms of West Nile virus now. Tomorrow, we're going to the zoo. Stay tuned!
Nope. We survived it all -- the two-day car trip from Romania to Germany with a sick toddler (stomach bug, yuck!) and a baby, the purchase of our new mini-van (yep, we are now officially married with children and van), the flight across the Atlantic with two kids, three days in New York with two jetlagged kids, a seven-hour trip through torrential rain to DC with two bored kids...
We are now relaxing for a bit. More to come soon, or so we hope.
You've never heard of the Olt River, have you? (Talking to the non-Romanians here, obviously.)
Well, neither had I. Until Saturday.
Oh, I'd seen it on the map. And I drove across it once, on a business trip to Craiova. "Say, that's a big river there," I thought, and drove on. So I was aware of its existence, in a general sort of way.
What I didn't know was that the central valley of the Olt is one of the great scenic drives of Europe.
Well, we did it. 1500 kilometers from Bucharest to central Germany with a two-year-old and a baby.
Claudia is in Germany now; she dropped me off in Budapest, Hungary, and I took the overnight train back over the Carpathians, arriving in Bucharest early this morning. Home, shower, coffee and back to the office. Meanwhile Claude continued on through Hungary, Austria and Bavaria, arriving at the grandparents' late last night.
So we made it.
Details in a bit.
Ah, summer is here, a hot, wet, sticky, sultry New York City summer, and inevitably, a young man's thoughts turn to the kitchen.
In response to the New York City Math Teacher's request for a butterscotch-like side dish that wouldn't violate the rules of kosherality when served with meat barbecue, I tried my previous butterscotch recipe with the exotic non-dairy substitution of two 400 mL cans of Goya coconut milk instead of the milk and butter. Worked like a charm! The taste of the islands, mon. This one, you might want to add a splash of rum instead of vanilla. Since I have sworn off pies for the moment, I ate this as a simple dessert pudding.
Lately I have been craving chicken adobo. It's one of the world's great, if relatively unknown, simple chicken dishes, like chicken cacciatore or chicken Marengo. It was originally devised in the Philippines -- also hot, wet, and sticky, but there the whole year around -- but it's slowly infiltrating the mainstream in the United States. And it's pretty easy. You start with a fryer (or chicken legs, or breasts, or whatever), then simmer it in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic until the meat is tender. Also it usually includes bay leaves and black pepper, but we're talking a very vinegary, salty, garlicky sauce here. You serve the whole shebang with rice.
There are a bunch of tweaks: starch to thicken the sauce, sugar to sweeten it, different sorts of vinegars, more complex spices, et cetera. You can brown the meat initially, or sear it in the vinegar; and you can pan-fry the meat after it simmers (keeping the sauce of course). It works just fine with pork, or even goat. Except for the soy sauce, I don't think there's an ingredient that isn't common to Romania. You don't even have to serve it with rice; mamaliga should work fine. Some American versions even use potatoes.
Measurements when I actually make it.
Question for Romanian readers: What's the tomato cuisine in Romania like? I was thinking about the Romanian climate and agriculture the other day, and it struck me that Romania might actually be better for growing big juicy beefy tomatoes than the Mediterranean proper. In the US, New Jersey (of all places) is known for that sort of tomato, and it's probably from those tomatoes that the great American traditions of ketchup, 'red sauce' restaurants, and the Bloody Mary grew. On the other hand, northern Italian cooking uses the tomato sparingly.
EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen on Tuesday congratulated Romania for a new law restricting the possibility for foreigners to adopt Romanian children.
Verheugen called for the law, which parliament voted last week, to be strictly applied in order to bring Romania in line with European Union legislation.
"This law is very clear. International adoption is now possible under very strict conditions," Verheugen told a press conference.
Source: EU Business.com
I know. I'm not really one to judge harshly. But I can't find words strong enough for my outrage over this latest development in the adoption law.
Happy Fourth of July! This is the day that Americans all around the world celebrate the founding of their nation by performing its two great ritual pastimes: cooking a lot of meat, and blowing things up.
Since this is not an explosives blog (yet), I'm not going to post any recipes for the latter activity. On the other hand, I have a pie recipe that reflects our national motto, "E pluribus unum" -- "Out of many, one!" -- pretty well, I think. Benjamin Franklin, that glorious rake, lifted the phrase from a work of Virgil's (or Pseudo-Vergilius's) entitled "Moretum", which is your basic elderly peasant hard but good life idyll with a recipe for pesto thrown in. Here are the money lines:
it manus in gyrum, paulatim singula vires
deperdunt proprias, color est e pluribus unus
I'm not Belle Waring (though after the initial period of adjustment I'd bet it'd be pretty cool), so I'm going to quote one John Augustine Wilstach's translation of 1884:
Spins round the stirring hand; lose by degrees
Their separate powers the parts, and comes at last
From many several colors one that rules.
'That rules' is filler, unfortunately making the passage sound like it was inscribed on a ring somewhere. But you get the gist. Stirring, stirring, stirring towards unity! The pie connection is obvious.
Also, spaghetti pie is a meat pie, or at least this version is. So it fits the cooking meat Fourth of July tradition as well.
Next Saturday, as the kids rise with the sun, we will quickly dress them, throw something to eat at them and buckle them into the car. Then we will drive for three days until we are in Germany.
Sounds crazy? It sure is, for various reasons. Everybody knows that driving long distances with toddlers is a no-no. It's hot and our car has no air con. The Romanian stretch from Bucharest to Hungary consists almost entirely of country roads with crazy drivers and truck traffic from Turkey to Western Europe. Oh, and Doug can only come as far as Budapest. He has to get back to work on Monday.
I did this trip before, last year. So why am I doing it again? Oh, it saves us a buttload of money in air fares. Plus, the car is registered in Germany and we are buying a new one, so we need to get this one back to its home country in order to get rid of it.
I'm sure it's better this time around. I'm used to Romanian driving, speak some Romanian and the country is not completely strange to me anymore -- so the overall experience should be a bit better. Plus, this time, the quality of the roads will increase as we go, so that's nice (of course, we are driving back as well, but that's for later in August and I decline to think about it just now).
It wasn't black. At least, not when we visited it. A very nice dark blue-green color, and smooth as a duck pond.
The drive there has its interesting points. If you look at a map, you'll see that the Danube, after rolling along in more or less a straight line for 300 km, gradually swings through right angle turn 100 km or so before it reaches the Black Sea. It flows north instead of east for about 150 km. Then, quite suddenly, it turns east again, splits into three or four smaller rivers, and empties into the Black Sea through a vast, soggy delta.
(This delta is supposed to be a birdwatcher's paradise. Unfortunately, it's not easy to reach -- you need a couple of days with nothing better to do -- so I probably won't be visiting any time soon.)
Anyhow: between the river and the sea is a blunt-tipped wedge of land about the size of Connecticut. It's called Dobrogea (in the northern, Romanian part) or Dobrudja (in the southern, Bulgarian part).
It has an interesting history. Colonized by the ancient Greeks. Steppe tribes -- Alans, Bulgars, Khazars, Cumans. Part of the Roman empire, with Roman ruins all over the place. Then it was the Byzantine province of Scythia Minor, a borderland of the Byzantium for many centuries (unlike the rest of Romania, which was influenced by the Byzantine Empire but never really part of it).
Then it was Turkish. And it stayed Turkish right up until 1878; the modern Romanian city of Constanta began life as the Turkish port of Kstence. There's still a large Turkish minority in the region; more than half of Romania's Turks (there are perhaps 150,000 of them altogether) live in Dobrogea.
Have I started making pies for the Prince of Darkness? Well, no. At least, not that I know of.
"Satan may relish coffee pie," was a mnemonic phrase devised by an emigrant French professor living in Brooklyn, New York, one Franois Fauvel-Gouraud, in 1844. Gouraud had come to the United States in 1839 to promote the new photographic technology of the Daguerrotype, made public earlier that year. Unfortunately, like many first movers in new technologies, Gouraud was unable to make good on his early position.
However, he rapidly bounced back. He quickly mastered American English, and promoted a different sort of technology: mnemotechnology, or the art of memory. He rapidly updated an earlier system then popular in France, and revised it to American tastes. Going on the lucrative public speaking circuit of that era, he made $20K in a single year promoting his method, roughly equivalent to $500K today.
Here's a Baltimore critic, one Edgar Allan Poe, on Gouraud and his method:
It is by no means too much to say that the powers of memory, as aided by his system, are absolutely illimitable. We earnestly advise our readers to procure M. Gouraud's extraordinary work and decide in the premises for themselves.
How did Gouraud's method work? (And what does it have to do with Satan and coffee pie?) Through "conditional associations". In this case, Gouraud associated the phonetic sounds of the consonants in a sentence to numerals. S (or soft C or Z) became 0, T (or D) became 1, N became 2, M became 3, R became 4, L became 5, Sh (or J or Ch) became 6, hard C (or K or hard G) became 7, F (or V) became 8, and P (or B) became 9.
So "SaTaN May ReLiSH CoFFee Pie" simply becomes 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
Easy as pie.
... a quick and dirty but very yummy soup. My soups are always experimental, sweep-the-kitchen-floor style soups. Often, they come out just fine.
Today I tried to recreate a soup from Snack Attack - a zucchini soup. I read the ingredients in the menu and thought it should be pretty straight forward. I forgot I lacked one important ingredient which was sour cream. Well. If you do sweep-the-kitchen-style-cooking, then you have to deal with shortcomings.