10 August 2012

How I make borscht

Last weekend, we got some Amish beets down around Salisbury, PA.  I should've gotten more, because I love beets.  I could get them at the grocery store, obviously, but these beets are all natural and locally grown, for sure.

Anyway, what better to do with beets (besides eat them plain roasted with just salt or some goat cheese?) than make some borscht?  This is how I make it:
(Click here if you're reading this in an e-mail and can't see the video.)

09 August 2012

How to make tombet

Based on what I hear from loyal readers IRL, my food posts are popular (shoutout to the Uniontown crew!).  So instead of posting all of the other things I eventually want to write and share, I made a video of how to make one of my favorite Mallorcan dishes: tombet.  This dish is everything that makes Mallorcan food so great - it's rustic and very tasty.  There are only a few ingredients: flour, olive oil, tomato puree, potatoes, red pepper, eggplant and zucchini (zucchini is apparently more of a post-modern addition, but if you've got it in the garden, you can only make so much zucchini bread, right?).
It's kind of a lot of prep work, but that can be eased with a mandoline slicer and a helper, and the effort will reward your taste buds infinitely. 


(Click here if you're reading this in an e-mail and can't see the video.)

The music accompanying the video is by a contemporary Mallorcan folk group, Caliu

01 May 2012

Language is Identity and Domination


A friend asked me for an English version of this blog post - so I translated it, and I'm just putting it here so it has a place to live on the Internet - though I might add that I find it to be a good, succinct description as I work through some of these thoughts myself.  Credit goes to the author, Jean-Marie Rossi, and the original article can be found here - the emphasis is from the original.

Language is Identity and Domination


There is, perhaps, a lesson in particular that we really do not want to learn from post-modernism. And that lesson, first sociological and then anthropological, was the firm realization that any tool - physical and otherwise - carried within itself the spirit and culture of those who had developed it. It is not a question of renewed spirituality, some kind of New Age mysticism and, even less, being read in an introduction to the historical and religious imagery in Tolkien.

Language, as we all know, is obviously a tool. But it is not just a tool. And at every level, from the first words spoken by Homo sapiens to the most beautiful pages of Melville’s Moby Dick, it imposes rule on chaos. And the rules define what is right from what is not: in this, language is the first scheme of manners that we encounter as children. It is, broadly speaking, what is closest to a matrix, and matrices define a particular way of seeing things.

Any language has a dual character: it is a means of communication and a carrier of culture. English, for example, is spoken in Great Britain, but is also used in many other countries, like Sweden. But for the Swedes it is just a means of communication with those who do not speak Swedish. It is not, at first glance, the generic carrier of English culture. For the British, of course, their language is both a means of communication and the fundamental carrier of their culture.

By “carrier of culture” we mean that every word corresponds inescapably to definite cultural and symbolic baggage is inscribed in the collective memory and imagination of those who share the same language. The word “republic” for an Italian or a Frenchman has the same meaning, but lights up different collective memories and expectations in each of them.

That having been said, it remains only to give an example. One hundred and twenty years ago the European capitalist states sat down in Berlin with a machete and cut an entire continent - Africa - with the greatest multiplicity of the world's peoples, cultures and languages, into different colonies. The draft partition of Africa made in Berlin was economic and political, but it was essentially cultural.

The Congress wanted by Bismarck, to prevent a massacre of Europeans in Europe, divided Africa into several states and, therefore, in different languages; ​​and these languages ​​were European. Since then, the African states define themselves based on languages imposed upon them by their colonizers: Anglophone African countries, Francophone African countries and African countries of the Portuguese language.

It was like the detonation of a bomb, a cultural bomb.  And the cultural effects of this bomb were those of annihilating people's faith in their names, their languages, their relationship with their natural environment in their communities, in their abilities, and finally, in themselves. So language, and its enforcement, became a weapon. Because the control of a language and its use has the power to control one of the main tools of self-definition of people in relation to their natural and social environment and, of course, in connection with the entire universe.

The decisions made in Berlin in 1884 were imposed on African people with the use of force. But violence is not enough to subdue an entire community.  Economic and political control can not be considered truly complete or effective without mental control. And to control the culture of a people it is necessary to check the instrument with which it is defined in comparison with other nations: its language.

It is how Ngugi Wa Thiong'o writes in his essay Decolonizing the Mind: “The night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the morning of the clack and the blackboard.” So in late nineteenth century Africa, if violence was the means of physical subjugation, language was the means of spiritual subjugation. So the Africans slowly began to dream of the West, to want to live like Westerners, want to be Western.

For the imperialism of the time, like that of today, the psychological control of the colonized is a nodal appearance for the maintenance of power. It goes without saying that the imposition of their language allows both the progressive destruction of the culture of the colonized people through the undervaluation of its arts, its religions, its history, its manners and it is the conscious elevation of the language of the colonizer. And all this in one step.

One example of today's Hollywood. We've all dreamed of living the American Dream and this is cultural control, of language and dreams. In it, the Yankees won against the Soviet Union, because, after all, the ballistic missiles would not be enough. And China today in its rise to world leader is still lacking on this point. No one dreams of becoming Chinese, and this will not change for a very long time.

A hundred and twenty-eight years later after the psychological education strategies implemented in the context of the “Scramble for Africa” ​​we have not yet fully understood the value of our languages ​​in the preservation of our independence as individuals and as collectives. Yet in an era where chaos reigns, but where war – among peers - is no longer allowed to dominate the Other all that is left is culture war. In the final analysis, it is the most devious.

22 January 2012

Sunday at Alcanada

So there are a few hikes near Alcúdia that my friend Laura and I have been trying to do, but the days are still just a bit too short for the amount of time they'll take.  So instead of a longer walk, we went to a part of Alcúdia called Alcanada, found a spot and had a bit of a picnic. 
The part where we were wasn't particularly beachy, though in warmer weather it wouldn't be a bad place to swim, off of rocks. 
The weather was beyond gorgeous, the weather forecast said a high of 61°F but it had to be warmer, and I definitely got a bit of sun, though some parts of me are so pasty that I think I reflect the light more than I absorb it.
Alas, here are three views from where we were sitting:



Regrets about the watermarks; if you want to use my photos elsewhere, please feel free to contact me and we can work something out.

05 January 2012

04 January 2012

Christmas Break part 3: Vienna

Ahhh Vienna.  To be in the former bosom of my ancestral imperial overlords is always a good feeling -- it's a place where I don't seem to need a map, I just can be and get where I need to go, wherever that might be.  During the holidays, it's a beautiful place to be, with all of the lights and people out enjoying it and everything.

In general, January is quite possibly the best time of year to buy clothing in Europe.  To be in a city like Vienna during such sales borders on dangerous, and would have been if I was in a more reckless mood.  I did get a few new pieces for my wardrobe, though.  And I hit up one of my favorite casual restaurant chains (for a chain concept restaurant, very pleasant), Vapiano.

But since my mother thinks I never go into churches, here's some proof:
The Rusyn Greek Catholic icon of Our Lady of Máriapócs, looted by Emperor Leopold I at the beginning of the 18th century

Rockstar Christmas decorations in Stephansdom, totally wonderful

Other than that, the only other thing I have to share from this quick stop in Vienna is this:
Grandma would've had a great time working with them!

Christmas Break part 2: Slovakia

Getting from Barcelona to Prešov was about a 16-hour affair, including a significant wait in Bratislava Hlavná Stanica, which is a not very nice place.  However, there is free wifi and a cart selling rezeň sandwiches, so it's a bit better than I remember it and it's now tolerable.

You can't buy train tickets with seat reservations from abroad, and anyway, by the time I got to Wien Südbanhof Ost, the ÖBB office there was already closed.  I knew I'd have plenty of time to buy tickets in Bratislava anyway.  Buying a sleeping space on a train that left at 11:45PM was a good idea.

In my bed on the train
When I got to my spot, the conductor for the car took my ticket and asked if I wanted coffee or tea in the morning.  Knowing that coffee would either mean Slovak-style Turkish coffee or instant, I opted for tea, which was a good choice.  The train went straight to Prešov, meaning no switch in purgatorial Kysak.  Before the train left the station, there was some socializing happening on the train between the compartments -- the other lady in my compartment and the guy next door were chatting, and I was brought into the conversation.  She asked me where I was going (Prešov), was I studying there (no) and so then where was I from?  I asked her if she couldn't notice my accent, and she couldn't (East Slovak and an American accent are not always so far removed from each other) and it turns out, she actually couldn't tell, because she was a Hungarian Slovak!  So after I spread the Rusyn Gospel, we briefly discussed minorities in Slovakia and went to sleep.  Except sleeping on a train is a bit ridiculous, even on the smooth Slovak rails, with lovely crispy starched sheets and duvet covers. 

As much of the compartment as I could fit into one frame
I'm going to guess that the current cars are the former first class cars -- because really, I don't remember it being this nice on our (or rather my dad's) (literally) ill-fated trip from Humenné to Vienna in July 1992.  The compartment was Slovak standard eat-off-the-floor-clean, with water, towels, wafer crackers and the aforementioned tea.  So civilized, especially for something I generally try to avoid doing (taking overnight train rides).

The rest of the week I was in Slovakia, I think I took maybe 3 other pictures, which were not very interesting.  My visit was not purely social, but I had a blast at the molody.Rusyny zabava, and other than that got a lot of concrete things accomplished and am looking forward to getting back in the summer.  When I visit with people there now, there are no long prolonged goodbyes anymore, it's just expected by all parties involved I'll be back soon -- and I will.  The biggest compliment I can get there (because really, being mistaken for a local by a Hungarian is mostly funny in the context) is, "Maria, už sy naša (basically, Maria, you're one of us)" and it makes me feel so good, because it's how I feel there too.

After a too-quick stop to see my Ružomberok crew, I left for Vienna.

Christmas Break part 1: Barcelona

I know I've been horrible about updating lately.  I want to, but I also want to keep this blog at a certain level and my standards are often too high for myself, unfortunately.

On Christmas Eve, I flew to Barcelona, and enjoyed walking around the city center.  People were still out walking and hanging out on Las Ramblas until late, so it wasn't too bad.  However, Christmas Eve dinner was a rather sad affair, at a tapas bar, and consisting of crab croquettes, bacalao croquettes, some quite nice roasted pork with vegetables, and a beer.  Sitting by myself at the bar.  It made me a bit crabby and teary, but I also realize in retrospect I was having some PMS and that is what made me more teary -- the being alone part made me more sad and angry.  Angry, I don't know why, and not sad for myself but because I know there are tons of people who also don't have anyone to spend holidays with and that's horrible.

Christmas morning, I got up really early to get the first train to Montserrat.  I was so excited to go back there -- my first visit there was so special, and this time I knew exactly how to get there.  While waiting for the Aeri, I was in line behind an Italian family, and the little girl said something to me in Italian, and I responded normally in Italian.  She asked me what region I was from, and I said, "L'America" and the look on her face was precious.  She reminded me of the sweet little girls I met and talked to once in Calabria -- they were the ones who asked me if there were crocodiles in the NYC subway (no, just huge rats at Canal Street station).
Fog rising from the valleys, as seen from the top of the Aeri station.
My first priority when I got there was to get some coffee, and then by that time it was time for mass at 11am.  The famous boys choir sang, and everything was completely in beautiful Catalan.  I can get on board with the clash of nationalist fervor and Catholicism when it's a nationalist fervor I'm sympathetic to -- souvenir in the gift shop had the Virgin of Montserrat with the following text: La meva terra, Catalunya - La meva parla, el català - La meva dansa, la sardana - El meu desig, la llibertat (My land, Catalunya - My language, Catalan - My dance, the sardana - My desire, freedom). 

Wax votives left in thanksgiving for favors received.

The last Aeri (and train, for that matter) down the mountain was at 2PM, so I left a bit early to avoid the rush, and then enjoyed walking around Barcelona on Christmas afternoon.  The city was full of locals and tourists out for a walk and it was a gorgeous day.  I was a bit unnerved, however, to see the McDonald's at MareMagnum bursting to capacity... 

Courtyard in the Barcelona cathedral
Towards the end of the evening (for me, anyway) I walked up the Passeig de Gràcia, window shopping and admiring the Casa Battlò and La Pedrera again.

Casa Battlò
The next morning, I flew from BCN to VIE -- Austrian Airlines plays waltzes during boarding, which makes it a much more pleasant experience, relaxing and setting the mood. 

18 December 2011

Teaching Christmas Songs

When I'm in a navel-gazing sort of mode, sometimes I like to fool myself into thinking I'm really independent and especially independent-minded, but It's interesting how sometimes I can be kind of made to do things I don't particularly want to do.  The good thing is that usually it turns out well and is a character-building, growth experience (with the exception of that Laurel Caverns trip, right mom?) and in the end, this followed the trend and that Laurel Caverns trip remains the exception that proves the rule -- and parents, consider not sending your children underground in dark caves on a tour alone.  Or going to wax museums before age 16.

In one of the schools where I teach, I occasionally am asked to prepare a lesson for a group of first year secondary students (around 11-12 years old) who are taught music in English.  The first time I did this, they were studying musicals, so we built vocabulary based on "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music -- but the lesson ended with this version by Pomplamoose.  For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, 11 year olds now have little to no idea who Julie Andrews is.

When the teacher asked me to do some Christmas carols, I of course agreed, but on the inside, I wasn't too enthused (among other things, I wanted to be sensitive to diversity of holiday traditions and religious backgrounds, even though it would seem that things are not so wildly PC here and the group is quite homogenous -- also, who wants to listen to Christmas music when so far away from home like this?  Not really me).

After unsuccessfully googling existing ESL/EFL solutions, and coming to the realization that large parts of Asia may have strange ideas about American cultural practices, I started poking around YouTube (maybe or maybe not on the morning I was supposed to be teaching the lesson) and thinking about what Christmas music I liked that was also cool, and thought about the Muppets with John Denver.  But a lot of those songs are a bit too advanced for my students, so to scale back, I settled on vocabulary building with "Jingle Bell Rock" -- first, a version with lyrics and then this one:
 

 The discussion before was something like this:
Maria: Do you guys know "Jingle Bells"?
The Kids: Yes!!!
Maria: Good!! So, we're not going to sing that, because you already know it!
[we learn "Jingle Bell Rock", occasionally dancing in our seats a bit]
For those of my dear readers who may think they are getting old, this was one of those times when the 11 year old kids were kind of shocked to learn that such a cool song was first popular in 1954.

Then, I had told them at the beginning we were going to learn two songs, one would be easy and one would be difficult, and if I was going to sing, we were all going to sing.  As often happens, the kids blew me over with their quickness and coolness.  They did sing (I don't know, when I was their age, I wasn't into singing in music class at. all.), and what I thought might be difficult wasn't at all for them.  I split the class up into three groups, and put these words up on the projector:


Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

It was at this point that I was going to have to bring it, and I sang it once for the class.  They immediately picked it up, amazing considering my not very good singing skills, and then we tried it as a round, in the three groups.  Excellent, I was in front of a group of enthusiastic musical geniuses!  Just to show them that I wasn't making this up, we ended the class with this:


It ended up being a really fun class, and I might be able to be convinced more easily to sing in a classroom setting in the future.  Maybe.

Tapas in Andorra

I wanted to post this earlier in the week, but life gets in the way of life sometimes, doesn't it.

December 6 and December 8 are national holidays in Spain, and so since the 8th was a Thursday and I don't go to school Fridays, with some friends I decided to make a puente/pont out of it!  The goal was skiing in Andorra, but skiing didn't happen, unfortunately -- not for lack of wanting to, certainly, but due to other variables.

The good news is that I got to go to a lovely microstate, I learned the medical history of a Moroccan taxi driver and his bowel troubles that were cured by the geothermal waters, and then got to relax in said waters.  With my friends I also went on the world's longest alpine roller coaster and on an 8km downhill walk on a gorgeous day.  Most importantly though, we discovered Bar Turistic, which became a daily goal for the 3 days we were there.

When we arrived Wednesday 7 December around 11:30PM, after getting checked in to dour hotel and everything, we really needed to eat, because I was the only one who had brought something for the 3 hour bus ride from Barcelona (I had stuffed pizza a taglio from Pizza Gege, yes!).  However, food at midnight in Andorra is harder to come by than one would expect, since it seems people don't sleep much in this part of the world, and if they do, it's got to be Chuck Norris style or something -- haven't figured that out yet.  Anyway, after asking the locals for suggestions, we were heading to another place when we happened upon Bar Turistic.

Sometimes you find somewhere to eat that's just so good that you can't help yourself.  This ended up being that place for us on this trip.  Homemade, straightforward food that 4 people could eat + drink generously for under €10 a head.  And because it's Andorra, also breathe in secondhand smoke and watch locals play darts.

So a first night surprise, and I don't even remember how this came up, except that I think the proprietor just brought them to our table and immediately, it was a throwback to childhood -- madeleines of sorts -- lupini beans (Catalan: tramussos)!
Lupini beans, one of the tastes of my childhood

Saturday night, the 10th, was the football match to watch, the Clásico, Barça v. Madrid.  So of course, above the bar, there was a betting pool:
This chart grew over the next few days, but Santi M. and Tomas were already to be winners.
Visca Barça!

The next day was spent in the mountains of south west Andorra, and after an 8km walk downhill, not only were we feeling it in our hips, we were also feeling it in our stomachs.  While not eaten at Bar Turistic, this botifarra was magnificent: fresh sausage, white beans with some rosemary:
Botifarra at a locally-recommended place underneath the Andorran Ministry of Justice.

But that was just a snack, because there were already more things we wanted to try at Bar Turistic!  First off, the home made croquettes, a specialty of the house:
Chicken croquettes, also involving potatoes and maybe some cheese.  
Often at tapas places, or at bars where there are also tapas, there's a tabletop refrigerated case on top of the bar, and you can see some of what's available to eat.  So from this, we chose some pintxos of pork with some curry seasoning:
Pintxo is a Basque word meaning "spike" and this meat was prepared and cooked on a skewer.

Then something funny happened.  One of the food staples here in Mallorca is pa amb oli, bread with oil, but also involving tomatoes, called pan amb tomàquet in Catalunya.  First off, saying it in Mallorquìn was apparently kind of funny to the Andorran Catalan ear, and then, I made the comment, when it was suggested that we have some, that "we eat that all the time."  This was interpreted as, "give us your best shot," at which point the proprietor was like, "well, how about tongue" and of course, we could not decline.

Pork tongue!

This is now the second time in my life where tongue was presented as a challenge food.  The first time was over a decade ago in Poland, when our tour guide complained that we were being served too much sausage, and they were like, "hahaha we'll show you, here's some tongue in green aspic!"  I liked this dish, as the texture of the tongue was not completely offensive, and the sauce it was cooked in was delightful, along with some sauteed onions.  However, I would probably not order and eat a whole portion myself.

The next, and last night, we had more croquettes, because they really were quite good, and some of this cod salad -- I wasn't expecting it to be cold, or a salad -- but it was really very refreshing, perfectly acidic, and just the right amount of salty, the way good cod should be.



I'm not sure if all of this is particularly "typical" Andorran food -- most of the "Made in Andorra" food there seemed to be cow- and cheese-centered -- but this is typical tapas, and the elements that needed to be present for it to be successful were there: homemade and good company with whom to share it.