A to Z at home

A to Z at home: Cooking in Vancouver

The year of the virus has been a unique experience. It seems there is a pattern in their occurrence, at least when they are truly global, real pandemics. If their frequency is every 100 years (the Spanish flue in 1918, the First Cholera pandemic in 1817…), it is less likely for one person to experience such a horror twice in his/her lifetime. It is not like wars, certainly not like wars in Europe or particularly in the Balkan region, where one cannot live without experiencing war (unless dying from a disease or non-natural causes). (more…)

Daily delicious

What is an open sandwich, I wondered? It must be something special as I never heard of it. Soon I learned that “open” means there is no second piece of bread that goes on the top. Ha! A sound of relief. That was so familiar. We had them for breakfast, lunch at a school cafeteria…

My nicest memories of sandwiches were from birthday parties when I was a kid. It would usually start with sandwiches, most often made with ham, potato salad on one corner, boiled eggs, a pickle. After that we would go and play until they call us for a cake. Now the birthday parties are different, organized by specialists with magicians and entertainers. I don’t think anyone makes sandwiches any more.

So, open sandwiches it was, for brunch. The Internet helped us make them Danish. Scandinavians often eat fish for any meal, so we had to include pickled herring, roe and some freshly cooked shrimp. There were other delicious condiments as well. I baked two types of rye bread to make the experience more authentic. A shot of aquavit was a good start.

Challenge to cook Chinese

I love Asian food, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese… you name it. Full of spices, light and diverse – I can eat it every day. Cooking it is a different story. So many ingredients I don’t know what to do with. I am not sure I am good at trying and tasting, “feeling” what’s missing and creating a delicious combination of flavours.

A colleague of mine and a friend was my motivation to give it a try. I really liked a dish she made for one of her Chinese new year’s parties. A year later, after my repeated begging for the recipe, she gave me a Christmas gift, a package with all the ingredients I needed, with instructions. “This way, you will know what to buy next time, and what it should look like” she said, and she was right. That was the best way to make it possible for me to cook it. I loved it, but my success was not enough to make me move to another dish. A stir fry with a few drops of teriyaki on a busy day, or a jar of hot chili garlic sauce was as far as I would go.

A hot soup was always part of the main dish at my family table. When we moved to Canada, a soup was what you had on its own, or with a salad. My kids would rather skip it and get to the “real deal”. I lost the habit of having it every day, but when my cooking partner suggested hot and sour soup, I couldn’t get rid of a smile on my face. I will do it!

Best of Belgium

I have never been to Belgium. On every “10 most popular Belgium dishes” sites, there were mussels. I have never cooked mussels before either. Seafood is not my household staple. The only sea I was close to growing up was the Pannonian Sea, 600,000 years away. What was left was occasional carp, catfish or sturgeon swimming in the rivers.

The challenge was on! The recipe didn’t look too complicated and the preparation turned out to be true to what they promised. It was fun to see the shells opening up. The dinner was served with French fries and garlic bread. Waffles were an easy dessert.

Absolutely Amazing

Thanks to the long history of conquerors, I grew up in the region with reach and mixed cousins. The battles over the fertile fields around the river Danube were frequent, and the need to protect them led to building large fortifications in many cities including my home town. The construction started with the arrival of the Romans and ended in Austro-Hungarian times, under the rule of Maria Theresa (German: Maria Theresia) in 18th century. She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the Queen of Hungary. The final shape of the fortress with underground system of tunnels, having four levels, was completed in 1776 under Joseph II, Maria Theresa’s eldest son. Sixteen kilometres of the tunnels provided good protection for the solders against Turkish attacks. In addition to the military fortification, the Austro-Hungarian empire left us with their customs, language and cousin.

The second “invasion” of a very similar way of cooking and dishes happened after the World War I, with the high number of German workers who kept settling in this region from 1918 on.

Armed with this double inheritance, making a choice of an Austrian dish was not too difficult, as it was so familiar to me. More importantly, the first stop in the new A to Z journey felt like warm homecoming. That is exactly what I needed in the era of pandemic where travelling back home and the smell of my mother’s cooking was only a dream.

Alexa is alert

Alone, but still with someone listening?

Loneliness has become normal.
Maybe I just live that way,
keeping the door to the pain and longing locked.

I stopped spreading my arm
across the bed, reaching.
There is no expectation.

Suddenly, a moment when the scent of you
and the spring
drifts through the cracks and fills the house.
It comes uninvited,
and grabs me, like a robber in a dark alley.

If I cry for help
in an empty apartment,
will you hear me?
Will I wake up Alexa, sending my voice
into the virtual void?
Will the Big Brother
come and
hug me,
like brothers do?

If I run, will the scent follow me,
light as a feather,
heavy as memories?
My feet pounding in the hallways of
digital labyrinths of zeros and ones.

I don’t want to run.
I want the scent to catch me,
and stay with me.

I am pulling the plug.
Goodbye, Alexa.