Thursday, January 28, 2010

excited about vegetables (!!!)

Fueled by reading Michael Pollan's new missive, In Defense of Food, I got thinking about my eating and shopping habits.

I grew up eating well, three meals a day, dinner home-cooked, at the table, with my family. I came of age in an era where "foodies" run rampant. At Skidmore, my college surrounded by farms and apple orchards, it sometimes felt like liberals were on a mission to out-liberal one another. The more "crunchy" you were, the better. Then there was California, where farmer markets are the standard for grocery shopping, and local oranges are sold on the side of the freeway. 

All of this has contributed to a more or less conscious outlook on food. I eat a lot of colorful things, not too much meat, avoid processed food, go local/organic/free range/fair trade when possible, and enjoy cooking at home. 

My consumer pitfalls? 

1. Too much coffee 

2. Tesco: the a British combination of WaWa and Stop&Shop. Convenient it is - but EVERYTHING comes packaged, down to the bananas. The problem is that Tesco is less than a block away from my apartment, and it is one of few grocery stores open after, say, 7pm.

Starbucks is here to stay, but I have been looking for ways around the 2nd pitfall. This led me to some blogs about Green living in the UK. One blogger mentioned that she takes part in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program wherein farmers will delivery fresh, organic, local produce to your door every week. 

A little googling brought me to East Coast Organics Farm's website. I made the call and for £12 a week (split between my roommate and I) a box of fresh locally grown Scottish vegetables, eggs, cheese and bread shows up at our doorstep. 

It's so great!!!

Check out the dirt on those carrots! Talk about fresh! 

For information on getting your own CSA box in Edinburgh:
Now, time for some fresh whole wheat toast and jam. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

wednesday at sundown

Edinburgh is arrestingly beautiful. I have ups and downs with the city as any (temporary) ex-pat will, but these thoughts go quiet around the next bend, as I stumble upon a view like this. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

...And on to Croatia

As mentioned in previous post, we wanted to go to Croatia to visit our maternal 2nd cousin Jim. He recently relocated to the capital city of Zagreb after 6 years in Kiev, Ukraine. 

Jim is one of the more outstanding human beings I know. Extremely smart, hard-working, and endlessly nice and funny. A California native, so naturally laid back when he needs to be. He's been everywhere, done everything (Peace Corps, Fulbright, State Department, now based with the United Nations, on and on...). When Court asked him how many languages he speaks, his response, with a laugh, "I don't know!"

One of the more eligible bachelors out there, for all you ladies reading. Just sayin!

I couldn't argue that Zagreb is the best place to visit in the middle of winter, but we had a great time nonetheless. I enjoyed walking around in a new country and city, seeing the architecture, churches, drinking grog (hot whisky of some sort), sampling the food and local beer, watching ridiculous Ukrainian candid camera films that Jim had in his catalog, and listening to the language, though, battled a bit more with the words than in Hungary. The three words I managed in Croatian: "Svala" (thanks) "Hvratska" (Croatia) and "Schivalee!" (Cheers!)

Closing time at Dolac Market

Outside of St Mark's Church

By my request, we got in some time in nature. We made it to the top of Zagreb's local Sjleme mountain, only to find the International "Snow Queen" Slalom/Skiing competition going on. Actually- we knew it was going on, but weren't intending to attend, but rather, go to the top of the mountain, check out the views, and have a hot drink. 

It was really funny and confusing. We got to base of the mountain and realized you needed a $20 ticket to get up, and had to ascend by bus. The ticket-checkers looked at us and laughed, said something in Croatian, gave us free tickets and pointed to the shuttle. I think they thought that in our blue jeans, we weren't dressed properly for the mountain, or wanted to walk all 3000 feet up to the top, who knows? 

I can't remember which team won, but USA's Jimmy Cochran was horrible, coming in 25th out of 29, beating only Slovenia, Slovakia, Sweeden and France. The event was funny. Lots of people were wearing outfits resembling the red-white checked Croatian flag. Lots of people were cheering. The announcers were drunk. They gave out free lemon tea, because it was freezing cold. 

Another funny thing happened at a local restaurant that Jim's Croat colleague recommended. We realized that the only way to actually order something listed on the English/Croatian menu was to order it in Croatian, otherwise the waiter would say they didn't have it. 

For instance:

Jim: "...and a hot chocolate please"

Waiter: "No"

Jim: "You don't have hot chocolate?" (points to menu item)

Waiter:  (with a You-Americans-Are-So-Stupid kind of laugh), "No no no no!"

5 minutes later, Stenise pulls the waiter back to the table:

Stenise: "One "çokolada" please"

(Waiter nods and brings hot chocolate).

Go figure!

All in all, it was a relaxed, relaxing, fun and familial vacation. I flew back to Edinburgh via London, and the girls will continue on to Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, London and back to Edinburgh where we'll visit again before they fly home to DC. 

This successful trip to Croatia has inspired me to come back and check out the famous Dalmatian coast in Spring, when flights are cheap and weather is great.  For now, Happy New Year! So far, so good in 2010! 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

First trip (of many?) in 2010

With the new year came some new passport stamps.

The day after New Years, my sister Courtney, her friend Stenise and I embarked on a small Euro-journey to Croatia by way of Budapest, Hungary.

Some may ask why on earth we wanted to visit Croatia in early January. Fair enough. To answer that - our favorite cousin Jim recently relocated there for work from Ukraine. He has lived all over. When Courtney and I first started talking about her month-long tour of Europe, an obvious starting point was to catch up with Jim at some point. 

Getting to Croatia is not the cheapest, so we found alternatively affordable flights to nearby Budapest, a city that sounded intriguing to all of us. We arrived on the 2nd of January to a cold, snowy capital city. 

It is really a beautiful place, old, distinctly Eastern European, divided in two by the Danube River. We stayed on the "Pest" side and ventured to the somewhat lovelier "Buda" side in the morning by way of the famous Basilica and its surrounding streets.

We crossed the Danube by way of the Chain Bridge and toured around the winding streets, castles, palaces, museums and Fisherman's Bastion area of Buda. We found a Hungarian flea market and I purchased 2 bags of Paprika, the local favorite, one sweet, one spicy. Mostly, I enjoyed the simple novelty of being in a place where a different language is spoken. I just love that experience. Proud to say I more or less mastered the following words in 2 days-

"siya!" (hello!)
"kasanum" (thank you)
"karum" (please)
"vislat!" (goodbye!) 
"egge shegge dre!" (cheers!)

We had a totally delicious lunch of different kinds of soup in bread bowls. My tarragon chicken soup was superb, as were Court's garlic soup and Stenise's goulash soup.

The cuisine in Hungary is the sh*t, and a welcome change to my food horizons. Its heartiness reminds me of Scottish food, difference being that it actually has flavor and distinction and fresh vegetables. I almost feel bad writing this except that most Scots don't defend the food here either.

The lunch was delicious, and all subsequent meals followed suit, from the cheese platters to the goose legs to the perfectly cooked cabbage. 

My mom cooks a Hungarian dish called Chicken Paprikash for special occasions, or, any time we requested it growing up. I have no idea how a Hungarian dish became a staple at the Fyfe household- but what matters is that we got to try an authentic version while we were in Budapest. Honestly- it didn't compare to Mom's- but really close. And - who knew? Paprika is just another word for Bell Pepper. You live and you learn.

Speaking of which. Apparently you can't leave Budapest without a visit to their world famous bath houses, so we made a trip to Gellért Baths on the south side of the city. Stenise thought it was a bad idea so peaced out for the hotel bar, leaving me and Court to our own devices. 

I'll mention that if you don't like being confused, lost, or walking around in circles, don't go to Gellért. All told, we asked no less than 15 people directions in broken English/Hungarian before figuring out where we were supposed to go once we were in.

Beyond this ... I don't even think I can write about the experience on this forum because the language would be too explicit. Let's just say in signing up for a $10 massage we both had pretty close encounters with a large, burly Hungarian man wearing boxer briefs, and one of us left covered in chocolate. No joke.

With all of our bases covered, it was time for our next stop, Zagreb, Croatia. Unfortunately, our morning train out of Budapest turned into a late afternoon train out of Budapest, leaving us to sit in a cigarette-infused train station restaurant for hours, drinking cup after cup of espresso and the occasional, much needed, Jameson Irish whiskey. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ringing in 2010

(yes, a real photograph taken by a real human. Most New Years photos compliments Josh Montgomery!) 

Guess what? Auld Lang Syne was written in Scotland. By the noble and much beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns, in 1788. Or, if not written, adapted/collected by him.  Of the lyrics, he said, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man".

So. We found ourselves celebrating New Years Eve in the home of the most famous New Year song. Not bad! Robin and I had the pleasure of welcoming our siblings for the holiday. My sister Courtney, her (our) friend Stenise, Robin's brother Matt, and his (our) friend Josh all descended upon Edinburgh on December 31st.

We decided that our very special visitors were a perfect opportunity to throw our first house party. Our party was awesome, and here are some reasons why:

1. Let's talk Food display. Courtney and Stenise recently quit their jobs in the hospitality/restaurant industry. They assured me that pulling together this type of arrangement was fun for them when they weren't on the clock. Here is the spread:

Add expensive bottles of malt whisky, plenty of cheap champagne, and wine mulling in the kitchen, and you are in good shape for the New Years Eve revelers.

2. Decor: We re-arranged the living room - Fun!

3. Musique. I tried to make a "Best of the 2000s" playlist but realized that most of my music is from another decade... so it became a Spotify mix, put together by our techno team Matt and Josh. 

4. (duh) The Guests. Robin and I pulled off a crowd of engaged, engaging, dynamic, diverse party guests. From lots of different places. There was a wall chart growing organically and convolutedly all night, describing the way we knew one another which is a kind of fun idea for any party.

Around 22:30 we left the house for the Hogmanay Street Party. I still don't exactly know what Hogmanay is. Really, no idea. But we had fun among the crowds of people with our flasks of whisky and toe warmers compliments of our Japanese friends. 

All of the Americans thought the fireworks show sucked, but that's because Americans are exceptionally good at fireworks, so we are spoiled.

We continued the party back at home and managed to get to bed just before sunrise. The next day was all IRN BRU, hiking/falling up Calton Hill in the ice and snow, a solid game of charades, and packing packing packing for winter break travels to Eastern Europe.  

For Auld Lang Syne, my dears, for Auld Lang Syne: Happy 2010.