Monday, March 26, 2012

Ice Cream, Plazmas and Coriander

You know summer is coming when the 711 type stores take out their ice cream freezer to the curb!

I saw this about a block from my place and let out a little yelp of happiness
 If you know me well, you know that ice cream is my most favorite thing in the whole world.  I could have it any time, any day, any place, after any meal.  As long as it's hard ice cream NOT soft-serve and NOT coffee flavor, I am game for anything. I can't complain too much because the commissary at the Embassy carries Ben and Jerry's and because, before we moved, I made sure to purchase an ice cream maker at Costco to bring to Serbia.  Just in case.  So far, I have made peanut butter and Oreo ice cream, cookies and cream and Dulce de Leche.  Now that the strawberries are coming out, I am planning on making strawberry-graham cracker ice cream or actually, the Serbian version, strawberry-plazma.

Plazmas are these sort of vanilla wafers that are everywhere. I guess people here grow up eating them daily, kind of like animal crackers in the US. For example, if you get a coffee, usually, it will come accompanied with one or two regular plazmas.  They also have a specialty coffee at coffedream (a Starbucks-like chain) that is choco-cookie latte and has plazma crumbs in it; it's actually really good.  I have seen baby food "Baby Keks" with plazma, plazma shakes, and other plazma concoctions advertised at different places around town. I personally think they're tasty and a good go-to snack.  When I went to Jordan, I took my friend a sample of Serbian candy and got  her the "fancy" plazma, which are mini plazmas dipped in chocolate, but her dog ended up devouring the whole package while we were at dinner. A testament of the true diversity of the plazma.  Here is a commercial that I found on You Tube for a plazma cereal.

Obviously, I can't understand it either, but if you listen carefully, you will hear the word "banane" which I assume means banana. Therefore, as soon as I finish writing this, I will be at my local Maxi store asking for it by name and will have a full report on a later post.

Another thing I am excited about summer is getting my cilantro back.  As much as ice cream rocks my world, cilantro is one of my reasons for living.  I love, love, love it and once we moved, I had to pretty much give it up because it barely exists here.  For one thing, they use the British word for it, coriander. Then, it's practically impossible to find.  About 3 weeks after we moved, after having visited every green market in the city, including the infamous Chinese Market, I was able to get a sad little bunch from the lettuce lady at the Kalenic market.  One of my friends from the Embassy also buys it from this"coriander lady", and she describes the process of buying it as basically a drug deal.  First, you ask the other lettuce ladies to show you where the coriander lady is set up.  They look at you up and down to make sure you are worthy of the coriander and then consult with the others, finally pointing towards coriander lady. Once you get to her booth, you ask for the coriander in the most polite, patient, smiling way possible and the lady will go UNDER her table for what feels like forever and produces one little bunch of cilantro leaves.  Then you just keep cool and say thank you and pay a ridiculous amount, when what you really want to do is to jump up and down with excitement and kiss her and hug her.  Then you walk away, like you aren't really holding anything special, but your heart is beating twice as fast and you just can't keep the smile away from your face, like you are hiding a really good secret.

Secret or not, coriander lady went MIA during the cold and the snow, and now that it's nice out I still haven't been able to find her. Luckily, my mom sent me some seeds, and coincidentally, my friend found a real, live plant, that I have now transplanted to a bigger pot and am treating like a newborn baby.  This is my first time EVER planting or growing anything, so I am really nervous about over watering or putting my plants in places that are too sunny.

yes it looks sad, but it's all mine!

Very soon, I will have bunches and bunches of cilantro, so that I can make momos and burritos.  After all, they do have the rest of the ingredients easily available at every supermarket.  I have to laugh a little bit at the tortillas though. 1.  Why does the burrito look more like a gyro/schwarma?  and 2.  Why are my tortillas endorsed by MTV?

I also have beef with the sour cream here, even though the taste is the same as at home and it's perfectly fine, there is always one question in my mind: WHY IS THERE NO LID?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Working girl

This past Monday was my first day at work in almost 5 months.  It is really bizarre how humans eventually get used to everything.  Right before we left DC, my life was ultra hectic with preparations for the move, social events to say good-bye, last minute stuff for the condo, and tying loose ends at work.  If you’d peeked at my planner, there wasn’t space for absolutely anything else.  I literally worked until the day before we moved. I walked out of my office at 5pm on a Thursday and 24 hours later, I was sitting at the gate at Dulles Airport with 2 carry-ons and two lap cats, munching on my last real American treat, some yogurt pretzels and texting all my friends for the last time before turning off my American cell forever.

Fast forward the days I spent sleeping off the jetlag, and there I was, sitting in our temporary apartment, with my planner so wide open that that I could have started writing celebrity birthdays to fill it up, and with all the time in the world to do whatever I pleased.  The problem was that I didn’t have any friends, any knowledge of what I wanted to do or even the stuff to do anything with, since our stuff was not arriving in Belgrade till two months later.   But eventually, I got used to it.  I made my routine of nothingness and settled into a slooooow paced life, where I could take my sweet time getting dressed in the morning, if I was going to get dressed at all; where I could go grocery shopping every single day, carefully planning every meal.  I also got to be next to the fridge all day, so I could fix myself real breakfasts, lunches and dinners daily.  I eventually made friends which translated into lunches during the day, text messages at all hours and evening and afternoon plans.

So last Sunday, I felt THE DREAD, that sinking feeling that you have to be somewhere, soon, and looking somewhat presentable, awake and aware.  I was overwhelmed by the mere thought of having to be somewhere before 10 AM and having to pick out clothes and pack a bag with all the stuff I would need for an ENTIRE day.  But I survived.  I made it through this week unscarred and already settling into my old habits (hopefully just the good ones).  My commute is pretty short and because it's getting to be spring, it's definitely light out by the time I wake up, which makes it a whole lot easier to get out of bed.  There is nothing like having stuff to do to make you want to do nothing instead.  How ironic.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring is in the air!

Things I have been up to and/or have discovered in the past week:

1.  Framing art is really cheap in Serbia

Phil and I had 8 different prints that we had collected over the past couple of years, which we meant to get framed and just never got around to it or there were just no IKEA frames that would fit them.  So once we were here, our friend Jelena, who is Serbian, and also conveniently, the daughter of a painter, recommended a place to take them to .  We spent a good 2 hours thinking about each mount and discussing the frame colors and styles and all that in a mix of broken Serbian and English together with a lot of pointing.  We had thought that the whole thing would probably be about 500-600 dollars, considering that in DC it would be over a thousand. After we did all our selecting, they give us the total and it's only 140 Euros, which is roughly 185 dollars.  FOR EIGHT OF THEM!  and we didn't pick the cheapest or the simplest, and they are not little either.  I just couldn't believe it.  So,now  of course, Phil wants to re-frame everything we own, and basically buy every picture he sees.  They also can make any picture that you want into a giant canvass picture.  Which is usually creepy in my opinion.  But maybe a nice shot of a skyline would be good.  Definitely not the cheesy wedding touching the face kind.

2.  Dinner Parties are really stressful

Before coming here I hosted lots of parties at my place in DC, but these were usually meant for friends; close American friends who don't care about paper plates or messes or double dipping.  This week, I hosted a REAL dinner party that included appetizers, drinks, a large first course and desert.  I literally slaved in that kitchen for hours and hours on end making sure everything was perfect.  We bought a new set of plates, along with cloth napkins (which we had never owned before), a tablecloth and some nice trays for snacks..except now I don't know what to use them for.  Then two of my guests cancelled last minute, and I had to call another set of friends to fill in so I could have my "perfect" party of 6.  But overall, the it went well and 3 dishwasher loads later, the house looked like it had before the party.  I also discovered that I am really really bad at calculating portions and now have enough leftover rice to feed us till 2013.

3.  When the average temperature is in the 20s, the 50s become your summer

Last Friday the sun came out for the first time since October.  I went to take out the trash (buildings don't have trash chutes here, you literally have to venture out on the street to a small dumpster and throw it in there) and I realized that it was warm.  So warm that I decided not to wear my coat.  I felt as free as a bird,walking down the street with nothing but jeans and a sweater.  Now I really have spring fever.  Unfortunately, this only lasted 3 days and now it's cold again.  I am still not wearing my winter coat though.  After that day, I washed it and sealed it in a bag and put it in the back of the closet.  I wanted to burn it, but I thought that would be tempting fate, and it might just make it snow again out of spite.

4.  Angie IS the biggest cat in Serbia

We hired a nice lady to clean our house because I am just not good at it and we have become too lazy to really take care of the floors and the dust like we should.  Besides, since we no longer can feed our shopping addiction, we can definitely afford the extra help.  So last week, she came for her "interview" which was really more like me begging her to please please come and help us.

Then she looked at Angie, who was laying on the bed.

--"What's wrong with your cat?"
me:  nothing, why, what do you mean?
--"She's round"
me: umm, she likes to eat a lot, yeah, she's fat
--"but she's HUGE"  why so big?
me: she's from West Virginia?