Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Globetrotting tastbuds II: Japanese

Yesterday I went to the newest Japanese restaurant in town, Nobori, (it's not that new, but it is the latest opened) with a colleague. We wanted to try as much as possible, so we picked a day with an all you can eat bufet. Needless to say, we left the place barely walking. And I only had a serving of each thing and no soup. They had three types of soup available, but none of them made me curious. I wanted to try miso, but I guess I'll have to make that myself.

So back to the menu. They had all kinds of nigiri sushi, as well as some salmon sashimi. I also had some surimi maki and a kani-tamna roll. Of all the sushi, I liked the Wasabi most :)). Really, I was taught how to make sushi by a Japanese friend and as spectacular as it looks, I find it to be a quite boring thing to eat. But the Wasabi paste made it all better.
The tofu was quite allright, not the spongy thing you find in supermarkets, I tried also the pickled mix of veggies, which was surprisingly refreshing. I highly recommend the fried pork and chicken, there was something about the tempura flour that gave them a great taste, and definitely add some spicy sauce. The Teryiaki chicken I was so keen on trying is definitely something I don't plan to cook. The sauce is too sweet and the meat too tender for my taste. I wasn't in the mood for trying the pork hot dish, so I know nothing about that, but the garlic rice was just perfect. I'm sorry they didn't have any noodle food, I'm a huge fan of ramen. I'm also a huge fan of the fried vegetables (Kakiage) and I intend to master them :) At Nobori they were better than the catering versions I'd tried before. The fried zucchini and eggplant were not bad either. They also had cheesecake and banana Tempura, but I was too full for sweets and the Teryiaki reached my sugar maximum for the day anyway.
Overall, I am very satisfied with the meal. It was a constant discovery and I can't say I hated any of the dishes. The place is very nice and clean and the service is good. The music seemed a bit annoying, it made me sleepy and felt a bit stereotypical for an Asian restaurant. I'm sure there's more to Japanese classical music than a couple of string instruments going on in a monotone rhythm.

P.S.: Speaking about Japan, I remembered I never mentioned attending Ben Haggarty's story telling performance at the Stories Festival of Transilvania. He was wonderful, and waking up the jungle with our eyes closed was enchanting. In the introduction, he told us about a man in Japan who would go around the villages on his bike selling sweets. And the kids who bought sweets would sit in front while he told stories, while the others sat in the back. So he told us two stories, one for each group of kids. They were both in many ways similar to stories we have here in Romania. The one of Jack resembled Danila Prepeleac and the one about the rocks was constructed like one my grandmother used to tell me, about the girl whose earrings were stolen by a bush. But you can see the whole thing here. I, for one, have always loved stories. People say that's why I wear glasses, but what do they know. I see way more than they do with their perfectly healthy eyes. :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Baking Sunday II: Swan eclair

I am so tired I wasn't going to write anything, but just fall into bed. However, I need to gather some will to remove my make-up, so I'll somehow do this today. The making of the eclairs actually began yesterday. Only they were assembled today. And my mom should get most of the credit, but I helped with every step, so here it is: we put 20 spoons of water and 20 of sunflower oil in a pot on the stove. When it started boiling we took it aside and added enough flour to make it a dense dough. That dough went into the oven, first as balls, and second S-shaped. We then made some vanilla and chocolate pudding, Today each ball was cut in half horizontally and the top was also cut in half, this time vertically. On the bottom half we put the pudding and added whipped cream. Then the S went in just like the swan's neck and head and the top pieces just like wings. And ta-daam! There goes a fancy desert that is really easy to make.
Bonus: yesterday I cleaned my freezer and I had some pastry dough laying around. Today I turned it into mushroom strudel. In also put in the filling black olives and some parsley. They're not genius work, but they'll be just fine for a snack at work! And the whole thing only took an hour or so. Next week, alongside some cake, I plan on making ciabatta, maybe with some olives and red peppers. And then I can snack on them filled with fresh cheese and basil! Oh, I love food so freaking much!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fall off the edge

"I mean, could the people who control all the money and politics ever invent a scarier warning? Didn't these same science experts used to say the earth was flat? Wasn't it really important we should stay at home and be peasants and slaves or we'd fall off the edge?"

Neddy Nelson (Party Crasher) in Chuck Palahniuk, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey (2007)


This post is long overdue. But last evening, on my way back home I was thinking about Palahniuk's characters and how uncomfortable they can be, yet in the end they soothe my feelings of inadequcy and actually reamp my will to fight. Because Madison in Damned and Daisy St. Patience in Invisible Monsters and Rant Casey in Rant and Tender Branson in Survivor and Victor Mancini in Choke are basically walking disasters, each of them has something really fucked up about them. But they are somehow involutarily screwed. Most of them had been groomed or ignored into who they became by their parents, and Freud seldom sleeps in Chuck's novels. Actually, most of his main characters are unwilling participants into something greater than themselves, and this is the case also with Lullaby, Diary, Haunted and, of course, Fight Club. They get sucked into this great scheme of things, where they are underdogs and victims and sometimes heroes for a while, either it's hell after comminting suicide, or an initiatic journey, or Party Crashing, or becoming a religious celebrity, or being a sex addict, or a huge art insurance scheme, or murderous black magic, or a writer's retreat turned slaughterhouse or, well, Fight Club. And then, when your world and theirs are all upside down, they rise above. In one way or another, there's something about most of Chuck's protagonists that makes them famous or delivers them from their wretched lives or turns them into modern-day Jesuses. And it's something entirely of their own. It's their courage or their innocence, their pure desire to fix things, to survive and beat evil, their need to save and be saved, to transform a life of pain and boredom and retarded social labels into something meaningful. They may be ugly, disabled, addicts, slaves, outcasts and whimps, but they each have one specific something (even stemming from their flaws) that takes them to greatness, in some form of it or another. It doesn't always mean salvation, but it does most of the times mean catharsis. I think if Chuck wasn't so effervescent, if he didn't use so many facts, if he didn't make me think "I see what you did there" every few pages, if he didn't awe and amuse and turn stomachs quite so much, I'd still love him most of all my Chucks just because his books would leave me with a wicked aftertaste, somewhere between fucked up and good.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Globetrotting tastebuds I: Chicken Tikka Masala

OK, just so you know, I didn't follow the recipe entirely, so one may argue it's not a full-blown tikka. However, I've had this at Indian restaurants and I vouch it's the same taste an texture... fine, mine is better! :) One way I strayed from the original recipe is I didn't use Garam Masala. Instead, I used two different curry mixtures, one mild and one hot, which together have the masala spices anyway and add a little something as well. I found them at Auchan, and there's plenty more where these came from. I intend to catch 'em all.
At some point I was cooking on three fires, so it's been hectic, but I managed to slip that last drop of Shiraz I had around while I was working and I think it helps with the focus :P. So, first I sliced the chicken meat I had from that Asian soup last week, I kept the legs and breasts. I also sliced some extra chicken breast, because obviously half a home grown bird was not enough for three portions. I fried all that in a wok for 10 minutes, while I chopped a red onion, six (home grown, so smaller) garlic cloves and three (dried up, but I recommend fresh) hot peppers. Added all that to the meat, with a spoon of chopped ginger and fried for another 5 minutes. I then added a cup of (also home-made) tomato juice and two spoons of each curry powder, as well as one of paprika. I let it boil for a while and added a cup of chicken broth.
While it was all boiling in the covered wok (for like 20 minutes) I boiled the rice as well. I am too poor (and cheap, I admit) to buy Panzani's wild Basmati rice (as soon as I find a cheaper thing, I'll get it), so I used some long grain rice. It was good enough and pretty tasty too. Towards the end, I strayed again from the initial recipe and added 200g of cooking cream instead of fat yoghurt. My tomato juice was already sour enough and I wanted a silkier texture. It was a good choice :) I ate like there's no tomorrow and can't wait for the next time I have that on my plate. I'll also soon be checking out Indigo, the local Indian restaurant, because I miss the really wonderful naan bread and mango chutney and what not.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

When nobody's watching

Here's my latest post on Mischievous Sweethearts. I hope we can revive our soulsearching loveable blog again, because I miss musing around there with my friend. Also, I'm thinking we can have a guest post from the babe.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the fact that I haven't been concerned with my spiritual self for a couple of years now. Yes, I've been praying for these past few months, but my prayers are actually therapy. I count my blessings and wish really hard for the people in my life to stay healthy and happy and maybe sometimes I want a thing or two for myself as well. But it's more like a list to Santa, a hint to the universe as to what I want from life. However, I have not been concerned with findind that quiet place inside anymore. That one moment that lasts forever when I'm nothing and everything at the same time. That pursuit has been a great part of my life and my dreams for as far as I can remember. And I've lost it, I let it go, somehow I wondered in a darker place. I remember saying I'm angry all the time for no reason, I remember people telling me I've become so self-centered... when I was actually anything but centered.

The truth is I've been playing so many parts I've lost count and sometimes I get them wrong, and sometimes the masks overlap and it's a mess. I've worked so hard to be a good student and a good daughter and a good girlfriend, I never had time to actually be good AT something... and to actually be a good person. I feel like I wasn't good at my job or studies, I rarely genuinely wanted to do something for the sake of it. I was just so great at playing those parts because I needed the validation. Psichology says we have two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. And the latter comes from the inside and in the long run gives us a higher level of satisfaction. Well, most of my motivation was extrinsic. It doesn't mean I didn't enjoy stuff. It means I did it for the sake of others and the rewards that come with it. I played the parts that were expected of me. And when I got tired of it I got wasted until I didn't know who I was anymore. I sometimes envy actors. Off stage, when they take off the make up, they must be so tired of being somebody else, of having their whole bodies live another life for an hour or two, that they can actually be their true selves. But then again, plumbers fix their own pipes as well and chefs cook their own dinners sometimes.
The thing is... I don't need to find who I am, it's not about that anymore. I need to start living more AS myself. I sometimes wonder how people can still stay innocent or passionate or dreamy at 30 and I think it's because they can separate themselves from all the crazy exterior numbing crap. I do that too, but out of habit, I sing in the street and I dance around the house and I dream on the bus. But once I can consciously truly go back there, to my place inside of genuine peace and joy, to restore my faith and see the world as a river, well, only then I'll be able to be every single day the person I am when nobody's watching.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

All new

Yay! Yesterday I was really nervous about the outcome of trying a new thing and I'm happy to say it turned out allright. It's my hair. I didn't want to bleach it and I couldn't possibly imagine how to get the layers of red and black out of it without having to cut it to a bob. Then my friend told me about Color B4 and, after weeks of pondering, I eventually ordered it on eBay. I then waited another week to get my spirits up and really do it. The truth is I didn't have my hopes up. And it's not a spectacular result. But I'm back to my natural color, more or less, with a tint of ginger. I had some red highlights, bleached underneath, which I'm happy were not completely discolored, but have also a lighter shade of ginger. I'm obviously coloring it in a week or two, because I want a full, eterogeneous color. Something very close to my natural one, as I don't want to be bothered with coloring this summer and I want it to naturally adapt to the sun and water and so on. Until then, I have to do some conditioning treatments, as the color removal has left my hair slightly porous. Oh well, at least it came out as I wanted and all that money didn't go down the drain.
While I was waiting for the smelly stuff to do its thing and shrink the color molecules, I had a frozen pizza I bought from Lidl. I was surprised it was really tasty and the ingredients had nothing weird and chemical about them. I was a bit disappointed when I got home and realized it had some green stuff on it, but it wasn't broccoli! I hate broccoli. It was spinach, instead, and spinach I love, courtesy of Popeye, my chilhood sweetheart :) I also got from the supermarket a bouquet of pink tulips. They are so beautiful and lighten my day. Having flowers in my kitchen (having a cat doesn't give me much option as to where to put the flowers) also motivated me to do the mountain of dishes and clean up. I was going to do that when I cook the tikka (I know, it's been a week, but my parents keep bringing me food).
I got to ski one last time, the slope was perfect this weekend. However, while I was super excited on Sunday, the teleski broke down and we had to climb our way back to the car carrying the equipment. Talk about working out! Still, I've been feeling sort of sick and sort of tired these past few days and I've passed on some opportunities to go out with friends and listen to classical music. I'm trying to get myself back together, because life never seems to stop and wait for me and there is so much to do. I just hope we get a really long holiday for Easter, like a week or so, and then I'll just sit around and enjoy the sun.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kitchen genius

Well, I have so many things to write about, but I'll start with the title of this post. Maybe add the pics later. My cooking genius mostly manifests itself when I have to improvise.Yesterday I wanted to make chicken soup with plenty of vegetables, but I couldn't find everything I needed. therefore, I decided on the good old chicken noodle soup, because I was sure I had some homemade noodles somewhere around the house. Well, turns out I didn't. So when the chicken broth was done, I decided to improvise. The meat I set aside anyway (the skin and bones went to the neighbourhood kitties) for the tikka, as well as a cup of broth. The rest of it became a super hot and spicy Chinese noodle soup. As I thought I might as well use those instead of my grandma's missing noodles, I also found some freeze-dried Asian seasoning and some other dried veggies  I boiled for a few minutes. I then added the noodles and went crazy with the Sichuan pepper :P Also, I used two spoons of tomato juice and one of soy sauce and ta-daaam! Super soup to the rescue!
Now, getting back to the news, I'm almost certainly going to Serbia in the beginning of April, to the International Romanian Journalists' Forum annual meeting. However, I won't be attending the EspaNet social policy workshop in June. It's pretty late to look for summer schools now, but I'll keep an eye open for the conferences in the autumn. So at least I'm traveling this year :D
On Tuesday I went to see Ionesco's The Bald Soprano at the National Theatre. As it happens sometimes with books, I only liked it after I left. I did enjoy it, but while I was in the theatre, I couldn't help feeling a bit uncomfortable, for some reason. I actually have lines from the play ringing in my head all day ever since, so I guess it did the trick. I'm sorry I'm not a good reviewer, I am too sensorial about my experiences sometimes. Then, yesterday, I went to the Vaya con Dios concert. I feel like I'm repeating these words, but my general impression was the venue was highly inappropriate. That specific concert should have happened with a maybe 200 people audience, in a fancier setting, because the band was definitely more of a jazz ensemble to me and the atmosphere should have been one of intimacy, considering their songs. Dani Klein's voice was made, indeed, for dimly lit concert halls, where you're close to the stage and can enjoy it to its full extent, but I was still impressed by her standing after all this time.
I can't wait to make my appointment for a new tattoo, but I think I'll do that next week. I'm happy to have found an artist whose work matches my idea of old style and I hope it'll come out better than I can imagine, it happened the same way with my first two. I'll be writing about it once it's done, so don't stray too far ;)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Baking Sunday I: Brownie

I know I've already posted my spicy muffins recipe, but this is the first episode of Baking Sunday, a day I will reserve for sweet and salty treats and, hopefully, share them here. This week I made brownies, it's been on my mind for quite some time. I picked an easy recipe and they came out perfect!
So here it is: I melted about 160 g of black vanilla chocolate with 150 g of butter over bain marie. When the chocolate mix was homogeneous, I set it aside to cool a little. Then, with the hand mixer, I beat 2 eggs with 1/2 cup of brown sugar until the latter was completely dissolved and the consistency was that of a milkshake. I then added the chocolate mix and incorporated it. 1/2 cup of flour and about 30 g of cocoa were then sifted over it and incorporated as well. As soon as the batter became homogeneous I put it in a tray covered in baking paper. It went in the oven for 30 minutes and voila! Habemus brownies. My first intention was to glaze them. But they are perfect and I feel no further decoration is needed: soft on the inside and a bit crumbly on the outside. I had my first bite while it was still hot, but after it cooled down, I served it with some bits of pomelo and whipped cream on the side :)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

An alternate story

I went on Thursday to see my first musical, except for the ones seen on screen, of course. I had good seats at the Hungarian Opera's Erzsebet Bathory and I have to admit I didn't think for a second about the time or how much longer will the show go on. So I did enjoy it. Some of the songs were Eurovision material, but that's just me and I don't pretend to know much about it. But the show was dynamic and the storytelling marvelous.
Elisabeth Bathory is credited with an unofficial number of over 650 victims in the chronicles of the time. Hundreds of villagers spoke against her at the trial and accused her of beatings, torture and murder. The show at the Hungarian Opera presents a different story, that of a countess accused of crimes she did not commit, who, during the interrogations, tells the story of her life. Somehow, the story is structured as a fairy tale, in which the princess is under arrest in a castle, locked down by the evil character. A savior appears and he slowly unravels her story and the truth. However, the ending is that of a tragedy, for several characters are killed or sentenced to death.
As others have mentioned, the story gives an alternate reason to Bathory's reputation of being a prolific serial killer. Palatine Thurzo, assigned by King Matthias II to investigate the alleged murders and tortures, was, in this story, a friend of Bathory's deceased husband and had lusted for her for years. The Hungarian king and nobility also had an interest in removing her, as she inherited a considerable fortune.
Throughout the show, the image of the countess remains dignified and I particularly liked her song after being sentenced to death, in which she says, in a nutshell, that she'd rather die than bow down to her accusers and that a Bathory has a moral responsibility to keep her head high. The countess was known not only for her beauty, but also for her brains. She was fluent in four languages in an era when some noblemen could hardly read and write and took care of all her husband's estates and business while he was away at war and after his death. A strong Protestant woman was definitely not something to have around in those times, and such practices of discrediting popular figures were not new to the Hungarian crown.
Some 150 years before, the other Matthias king, Corvinus, is credited by some historians as the creator of the legend of Dracula. While Vlad Tepes, supposedly the original vampire, was incarcerated by his cousin the king, rumors spread throughout the region, mostly through the stories of German merchants, that he liked to drink the blood of his victims. Even his name, Tepes, means the Impaler, because this was his favorite punishment method. However, it was a popular means of awe and terror in those times around Europe. As the use and consumption of blood was considered a thing of the devil in those times, it's easy to imagine how the rumors spread and became scarier and scarier.
Bathory fascinated legions of Black Metal songwriters as the most bloody woman there was. She fascinates me, on the other hand, as a very controversial historical character. The hypothesis of the conspiracy against her is at least notable, especially if we look at the years... the accusations against her started soon after her husband's death. She was known for her vanity and her bad temper, yet she seemed composed enough to manage several estates and intervened to help women among her subjects. Maybe we should not forget who wrote the history, how men in positions of power manipulated information in the Dark Ages and how, all in all, this particular story is on so many levels a story of the struggle for power.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Worst case scenario

Well, it's not the worst case scenario, really, because it still entails me being healthy and I can't imagine not having my family, but it is what gets me through tough times when I feel like everything is crashing down on me. I sometimes freak out over the thought I may not be able to find a job someday and that maybe I will not be able to finish my PhD. I basically worry a lot about someday not being able to make a living, because it does happen to plenty of people, and then I begin thinking about the alternatives. I could move to the country. My grandma's house will still be standing and will still be ours. There's also still plenty of land to farm, and I believe my education also means I will be looking for the best crops and the subsidies and support a farmer can get, apart from what I would need to eat, of course. And even if I wouldn't make a business out of it, I could still make a living, because my family network also means support, even if only to get me started. I would paint my own house and tend to my own garden, eat my own fruits and vegetables and have happy healthy animals around. I wouldn't need a closet full of clothes (not that I don't realize I don't really need it now either) and, hell, the internet is everywhere now. I'd sometimes go to the city for shopping, the movies and shows I want to see, I'd have my books delivered electronically to my device and I could even keep teaching. I'd teach English at the kinder garden, I could even tutor kids from the village for their national exams, I could consult for the local administration and maybe even start a few community projects. I'd work my ass off on days you can work and I'd spend my winters and rainy days next to the fire, reading and doing crafts. Yes, the scary thing is old age, but the way I see it, I may not even make it there. And if I do after a lifetime in the country, it's likely I'll still be able to provide for my basic needs. So whenever I think I'm getting fired or expelled and I'll have a nervous breakdown and fuck everything up, there'll always be the option of going back to the roots. And sometimes it sounds like a better case scenario.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spring is lazy, long live spring

Of course I've been lazy and didn't write a word. I also have been reading way too little and sleeping way too much. I can't remember the last time I watched a movie. Somehow, I behave like I'm tremendously tired, but actually I'm just lazy and haven't found yet that joie de vivre. Maybe it comes with spring. So here's what I've been up to.
I went to see the Idiot at the National and I got hooked. I liked it so much that Friday I hurried from work to also see Zenobia, but they were out of tickets. Anyway, I have a date with a friend for a musical this week and got tickets for a couple of plays this month. I was going to watch some Romanian films, but I guess I still have to find the energy to get off my ass and to the cinema.
Last week I was on duty and school also started again, I also had some translation and an application to write, so I guess I was pretty busy. Still, I haven't written the damn syllabus and I feel like my work at the newspaper is getting really dull and most of it is my fault.
Yesterday I cooked some glazed ribs on the grill and I thought about this being the recipe that will inaugurate my food section on the blog. I was too lazy to take pics, though. So maybe next time. I'm not sure yet, but maybe it'll be some pasta. Also, I'm making this year a travel around the world food year, so for this month I picked India. This means I plan to finally get to that Indian restaurant in town and cook Chicken tikka masala. That recipe I will definitely document, sometime next week, when I get all the ingredients.
If I haven't been writing (the blog is not so much of a problem, but my thesis is frozen), I've at least been swimming at least once a week and got to ski another weekend. However, I wish my cat could scold me and send me out jogging, I need more vitality and to get toned and anyway I just sit around watching Agatha Christie's Poirot. My meals have been less chaotic and I pride myself in picking fruits and vegetables over fast food every time I feel the urge.
I am such a small person to be concerned with just my schedule and mundane things. I somehow think once I get these out of the way, I will more fully enjoy the pleasures of the brain. But oh, well, I'm thinking again about making this just a private journal, I'm only writing to myself anyway.