Saturday, May 29, 2010

Flipping palachinki

So I’ve had palachinki on the brain in the last few days. Palachinki are Bulgarian pancakes or crepes or blintzes. They are thinner and wider than American pancakes and they are filled with stuff and rolled before eating. That, and they are flipped in the air as they are made, which is the best part, in my humble opinion. Nia agrees – she loves watching me make them.

Palachinki have been one of my favorite breakfast foods forever because they are just delish but they escalated to a whole new level of cool when I figured out the whole flipping thing at the tender age of 12. Learning to flip palachinki is kinda like learning to ride a bike. It looks difficult and scary but once you get the knack of it, it’s the easiest, most fun thing in the world. It’s just awesome! I made them all the time for a while and my family was in palachinki heaven. 

The coolness of flipping pancakes has faded somewhat through the years as I learned to cook other interesting things and don’t make them often any more but I still love them just the same. They are just so flexible – literally and figuratively. They are soft and warm and wonderful and you can put anything you want in them. In Bulgaria most people eat them with jam, honey or sirene (Bulgarian feta cheese). I also love them with fresh berries, Nutella, fruit yoghurt, shredded cheese or combinations like berries and Nutella or feta and honey. My husband, who is an eggs-and-bacon-for-breakfast kinda guy, puts bacon or thinly sliced ham in them. My Bulgarian friends will probably think that’s weird but who cares as long as he enjoys them. 

The inspiration for my palachinki escapade this morning came from a trip to the Falls Church farmers’ market a couple of weeks ago, where they had crepes with strawberries and Nutella for $7.50. As soon as I set my gaze on them, all my palachinki memories came back to me and I just had to have one. They were a little bigger than mine and they didn’t flip them but otherwise they were almost identical. Except, mine cost less than $1 each to make .

There are different recipes but here is a basic one, if you want to try them.

A couple of tips:

  • Even though the recipe above calls for milk, you can make them with yoghurt too. You just have to make sure you have the right consistency.
  • You can use butter in the pan but if you are vegetarian you can use oil instead. It works just as well. I am a fan of sunflower oil – just love the way it tastes.
  • The batter needs to be substantially thinner/runnier than American pancake batter.
  • I put them in a deep, wide plate as I make them and I cover them, which keeps them warm and soft.
  • If you make more than you can eat in one sitting, you can cover and refrigerate them for a few days. Then just reheat them in the microwave and enjoy. I haven’t tried freezing them but that may work too.

Here’s what the flipping looks like. I took the first picture while flipping and let me tell ya, it ain’t easy. It’s a timing thing and it took me a while to “catch” a palachinka in the air. Paul was nice enough to take the second picture. I look ridiculous but that’s because I am focusing! I kinda have to do that because otherwise things can get messy – you know, palachinki on the the ceiling, palachinki on the floor… you get the idea.

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Paul and Nia getting ready to eat/eating palachinki. You can also see our palachinki paraphernalia (the things we put in them). And no, Nia is not drinking a big glass of wine with her breakfast, believe it or not. That’s cherry juice*.  palachinki 020

Rolling a palachinka with strawberries, blueberries and Nutella. Yummy Yummerson!!!

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*Cherry juice was the topic of another FS blog, For Lack of Tacos, this past week. It happens to be my favorite fruit juice and it is also very good for you but it’s very expensive in regular grocery stores, so I thought I’d let you know that it’s available at Halalco in Falls Church for $1.70 a liter. They don’t have the Bulgarian brands I like but they have two Turkish brands (pictured above), which are very good. 

Update: Added a very short video for Shannon. Hopefully, it will help you gage how high you need to toss them, Shannon!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Field Trip

Just when I thought I finally had something halfway meaningful to blog about this week, I read the Weekly State Department Blog RoundUp and realized that Mama Puffin (another FS blogger) had beat me to the draw and already blogged about my thing. Dang!

I almost gave up on blogging today but on second thought decided to go ahead and do it because it was my experience and it was different. So here it is, in its all its glory,  the blog post in which I tell you about going on a field trip to Hard Bargain Farm. Since I didn’t grow up in the US, I had never been on a elementary school field trip (though I have been on a US farm before),  so it was an interesting experience for me in that sense.

My daughter had been very excited about the field trip. She was talking about it for days and really wanted me to go with her class. With the FSOT only a couple of weeks away, I needed to stay home and study but it seemed quite important to Nia, so off I went. Unfortunately, there was no room on the bus, so I had to drive there. The farm is about an hour from where we live on the opposite (Maryland) side of the Potomac river from Mount Vernon.

I was not looking forward to driving there by myself because I had never been in that area and I guess I am just a scaredy driver. But I braved it and I made it there safely (mostly) after taking, oh, a few wrong turns. Thanks to my best friend Clara (my phone’s GPS), I found my way and got there just as Nia’s class was getting off the bus.

The field trip was pretty awesome. The weather was a little overcast, which was just perfect because it wasn’t too hot. Our guide was farmer Sharon, who was extremely nice and approachable. She told the kids about all the things that come from farms – various kinds of meat, milk, eggs, wool, cotton, etc. The kids were thrilled, especially when she talked to them about cotton. If they wore jeans, they were wearing cotton (cause cotton is the “jean plant”) and if they wore underwear, they were wearing cotton or they had “plants in their pants.” The kids liked that. Farmer Sharon warned the kids about cow pies and the kids were careful not to step in them. She showed the kids how the cow pies fertilize the pasture and the kids got a kick out of seeing how well the grass grew where there had been cow pies.

We saw all kinds of animals: sheep, cows, goats, a donkey, a turkey, a pig, chickens and rabbits. The kids helped the farmer gather eggs and then went on a hay ride and a short board walk by the Potomac, where we saw some gar fish, a crane and a water snake. All in all it was a terrific day and here are the pictures to prove it.

Farmer Sharon asking the kids why farms are important.Field Trip 008

Petting a freshly shorn sheep, meat chickens,  milk cows.

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A donkey, a pig and an egg chicken.

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A goat, a turkey, a flower and a crane.

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Hay ride, a barn swallow and a water snake.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What’s with the cold, Virginia?

Seriously! I don’t understand - it’s the second half of May and it is un-be-lievably cold here. Was there a spring convention that Virginia somehow missed? Did it decide to skip spring and go straight to summer in June?

We have the “fortune” of living in a building that turns off the heat at the end of March and never turns it on again until winter. We have a heater and warm comforters, and warm clothes but they are in our HHE, which as we all know, is still forthcoming.

Which reminds me of our blanket saga. My dear mother, bless her heart (as my Florida friends would say), brings a wool blanket in her suitcase every time she comes from Bulgaria. That’s her mission in life: to slowly transfer her mountain of wool blankets to me, one at a time, even if it takes her the rest of her life. That’s right, she is a blanket “mule” on a mission and has already managed to “smuggle” half a dozen of these very warm and cozy beauties into the US of A. This is what they look like (‘cause I know you were just dying to know) .

rodopsko odealo

So, we have the “blanket fight” every time she comes and the inevitable blanket pops out of her suitcase. Because I have nowhere to put these things anymore. But she is determined and unstoppable.

Anyway, she and I had a good chuckle today. I Skyped her to complain about  the cold here and she was like, “See, if you had brought a few of those blankets with you to DC, you wouldn’t be cold now.” Oh, bless her heart! And I mean it. The only problem is, the wool blankets are also  in our HHE, keeping our furniture toasty, while we have been ffff-freezing our petuties off here for the last couple of weeks.

But I know that as soon as we get our HHE, the weather will get ungodly hot. Mark my word!

C’est la vie!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The slacker is back…

I am finally back after a three-week hiatus. Two thirds of it was Verizon’s fault, the rest was just me being a slacker. Yes, Verizon was super slow in installing their super fast fiber-optic service (FiOS) in our apartment, which completely messed up my blogging schedule but now that we have this zippity-doo, snappy internet connection, I will have to shape up, right?

Here are the highlights of what we’ve been up to since my last post (sorry if some of it is old news):

1. Paul got formally sworn in as a Foreign Service Officer on 4/30 by a very important person and I missed it!!! I really wanted to be there, take pictures and be part of Paul’s big day but he talked me out of it. He said it was just a formality because they had already been sworn in on their very first day of training (3/29) and that because of the timing (3 p. m.), I would have to take Nia out of school and drag her all the way to Foggy Bottom (downtown DC) for something that she wasn’t going to enjoy, bla, bla, bla. So I gave in and didn’t go. And guess who swore them in: Secretary Clinton herself. I was so incredibly bummed out for missing it! That’s what I get for listening to Paul. I should have gone with my gut. I am thrilled for Paul and everyone in his class though because as far as I know Secretary Clinton has sworn in only one other class before Paul’s. Pretty special, ha! Here is a picture, courtesy of State Department’s flicker page. Paul is in the first row to the left of the guy wearing the red tie.

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2. We moved. We spent most of May 1 (Labor Day for most people outside US ) lugging stuff to our new place. We didn’t have that much – mostly clothes, toiletries, a few of Nia’s books and toys but it still took forever.

3. We still don’t have our household effects (HHE) or all of our furniture and other belongings, so the new place looks pretty bare right now but we are told that we will get our stuff this Friday. I just think it’s interesting that we were given a week to find a new place and move, yet it will be three + weeks before we get our own furniture and stuff. That is if we get it on Friday… there are no guarantees.

I had to do some emergency shopping, borrowing and yard sale-ing to cobble together something resembling a household while we wait for our HHE. The result is suboptimal but it could be worse and I am done complaining about the whole thing. I have decided to be all Zen about it instead. Or as Zen as I can be, which is apparently not very. I have been on Paul’s case to nudge the people responsible for the situation to get moving. Poor guy, there he is at his new job trying to make a good impression and I am pestering him to get our HHE out of storage. He called me yesterday all excited and told me we were scheduled to get our HHE on Friday. My response was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He was like, “Aren’t you going to smother me with kisses or something?” To which, I said, “I was going to smother you… Don’t know about kisses. It’s been three weeks for crying out loud. It’s not like you got them to deliver it in three hours.” But that’s not very Zen now, is it? I was joking and he knew it. He wants our stuff delivered just as much as I do. Then we’ll have to figure out how we fit everything in the apartment but that’s for another post.

5. I updated my resume and have officially started looking for a job. I am not exactly buried in offers, yet, but am modestly  hopeful… and a little overwhelmed. Things have changed. The job market is not what it used to be the last time I looked for a job in the DC area. Plus I have done some things (international development, marketing, advertising, writing/editing plus I have a secret security clearance) that are a little tricky to package and present in a way employers can’t say No to… We’ll have to see where that takes me. I am also not sure how I should address the fact that I will be here only about a year. I want to be upfront about it because it’s the right thing to do but am afraid that people won’t hire me if I tell them I am gone in a year. Any thoughts?

6. I finally submitted my registration for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) and started preparing for it. When I say preparing, I mean I am reading “Don’t know much about history” because that’s exactly how I feel about most topics on the test. After I am done with that one I have a bunch of other books lined up. I am a little concerned that if I get a June slot I won’t have enough time to cram all the math, management, politics, economics and everything else in my empty head. But now that I have shared this with the world, at least the humiliation of not passing will be public. On the off chance that I do somehow miraculously pass the test, the joy will be public too.

7. We celebrated Mother’s Day and my birthday very quietly at home. I got a Kindle (Amazon’s ebook reader) for both occasions from Paul and Nia and have  loaded a bunch of free books from Amazon on it. Unfortunately, with the job hunt and the FSOT preparation I don’t have time to read them. I got the books for the exam before I got the Kindle. Had I known that I was going to get the Kindle, I would have gotten the ebook versions instead. Oh, well.

I also got a very nice card thing from Nia for Mother’s Day. See below – on the top is moi (am I gorgeous or what?) and on the bottom it says, “My mom is great because… she buys me toys” and there’s a drawing of me with a shopping cart full of toys. Which made me think that we have created a little consumerist monster and may need to help Her Cuteness see that the world is full of things that are way cooler than what you can get in the store and that matter a lot more than a shopping cart full of toys. Need to work on that…

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8. We have become regular clients of the Tooth Fairy. Nia lost another tooth the other day. See picture above complete with a note to the Tooth Fairy, which said, “Dear Tooth Fairy, I pulled my tooth out all by myself. Senserily (Sincerely), Nia.” The Tooth Fairy was impressed by Nia’s initiative and left a buck under her pillow. Another tooth is hanging by a thread, so get ready Tooth Fairy. With all these missing teeth, eating apples and corn on the cob is quickly becoming an impossibility but that too shall pass.

9. I have been exploring Falls Church’s ethnic food scene and have to report that I ate durian and tripe at Saigon Central (that’s our name for Eden Shopping Center by Oakwood Falls Church because it has a zillion of Vietnamese restaurants, cafe’s and stores). The tripe was actually not as bad as I was afraid it would be. A little chewy but not terrible. It was in pho (Vietnamese soup). No flies in my soup this time!!! The durian was actually in durian bubble tea but it was fresh and oh, so potent. I have to say, it does taste good but it stinks so incredibly nasty that it’s impossible to separate the taste from the smell (no wonder it’s banned from hotels and public transportation in SE Asia). I tried really hard but I could not finish the durian bubble tea. Wimp, I know! Taro root is much, much better!

My search for a Bulgarian food store has been disappointing but it did lead me to Halalco, an Indian/Pakistani food store. And surprise, surprise, I found sirene (Bulgarian feta cheese) and lyuteniza (Bulgarian tomato, pepper and eggplant spread) there, which was especially awesome because the store is walking distance from our new apartment. The store also features an Indian seasonings and spice packets aisle, a rice aisle and a bread isle with naan, pita and Afghan bread. But the highlight for me were the 6-lb containers of plain yoghurt - hurray for that! I know most of you are probably thinking, “What would I ever do with 6 lbs of plain yoghurt?” Well, that’s because you are probably not Bulgarian, Greek, Indian or Middle Eastern.  People from those parts of the world eat industrial quantities of yoghurt and I am just so excited to find these “supersize” packages. So I have been cooking Bulgarian again as well as Indian. Last night I made Aloo Posto using the recipe of fellow FS blogger Natalie from Diplolife, currently in Calcutta, India. Thanks for the great recipe and the detailed step-by-step instructions, Natalie! It turned out pretty good (even if I say so myself).

So, that’s it for today, I think. Whew! A big thank to everyone who checked in on me to see how I was doing, wish me happy birthday and to encourage me to get back to blogging. Sometimes we all need a good kick in the butt, don’t we?

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