Bread in Slovenia

Question: Is bread white, tan, rye? What is the dominant grain? Bread, buns, pasta, grain or?

Bread. One of the essential foods in many cultures. What would French cuisine be without the Baguette? Ethiopian without Injara? Hummus without Pita? America without Wonderbread?

Slovenian bread isn’t very newsworthy. You can buy different types in the many bakeries that are on every other corner, but the bakeries are not on the level of France in terms of sophistication or Italy in terms of yumminess. Although there are bakeries on every corner, they don’t really have much of anything that distinguishes one from the other. I’d say the average bakery in Portland or in a major foodie metropolitan area is probably better. What might be newsworthy, though, is that you can routinely get Buckwheat bread with Walnuts. I love buckwheat-flavored foods, (and so do Slovenians,) so I this is a favorite of mine. In fact, I’ve never seen straight-up buckwheat bread in the states. This tradition should be exported.

Another truly great tradition that should be exported is that you can buy fresh bread by the weight or in halves. My roommates and I regularly buy half a loaf of bread, enabling us to have fresh bread without worrying about eating it before it gets stale. Since there are bakeries on every corner, we can just walk for five minutes in three different directions and pick up a new half loaf of bread when we run out. Brilliant! If I’m buying, I always get a crni kruh, or a brown bread that I think is probably rye-based. No matter what type grain its made out of, it’s whole-grainy, stays moist, and is healthy, filling, and delicious.

Slovenia does have a special bread, called potica. In fact, potica is a point of pride, and it’s practically required to eat it if you come here. Amusingly, most Slovenians I talk to don’t actually care for potica very much. Having tried it multiple times, I can taste why my Slovenian friends don’t like it. There just isn’t much going on in potica, and I’m not sure why. If I describe it to you, you’ll think “yum!” But trust me, you’re not missing much. Generally, potica is a nut roll. I love nuts. I love bread. But potica? Meh. Only once did I try potica and like it, and it was one of those legendary best-ever homemade things that you can’t just run out and buy in the store or even at the farmer’s market. Potica can also come in non-nut varieties as well, and even in savory versions. Again, skip it, unless it is offered to you by a little old lady from Celje.

And that’s it for Slovenian bread!

Pasta: Overcooked.

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Retrospective, part 1 of ?

It’s wonderful to be properly home. I’ve enjoyed these last few weeks of traveling and visiting and sleeping on various couches, but I am happy to be back. It’s actually great to be getting back into the swing of things, even if it means drowning in The End of the Semester sea. For some really incomprehensible reason, my semester doesn’t end until sometime in February. If anybody figures out why, I’d love to hear the answer.

On top of the end of my finals and papers, yes, I will be taking the Foreign Service Officer test. I registered for the one date available to me in Zagreb, Croatia at the beginning of February, so wish me luck. Unfortunately I joined the Yahoo FSOT prep group, which sounded helpful at the time, but it’s only managed to stress me out. I now receive an odd combination of intimidatingly obsessive emails about study methods and tools, and sappy idealistic notes wishing everybody the best while simultaneously mentioning how desperately they want to work as a diplomat, and so on. Some of the people in this Yahoo group also seem to be suffering under the delusion that their whole career will be brokering peace settlements in between cocktail parties. Hmm.

I will do my best, and assume that I won’t pass the FSOT. It’s quite normal to take it more than once, so I figure I may as well get my first go out of the way.

In between my studying, studying, and studying, I will be good and start writing up the promised reviews of my vacation. Since I’m a bit lazy I will actually skip over most of Slovenia with Abby for the moment, and hurry onwards to Vienna, Austria. Lake Bled was the highlight of our time in Slovenia, though, so I can’t run past that.

Lake Bled is very lovely. Surrounded by snow-caped mountains, containing a little island with a chapel on it, and famous for a special cream cake, what’s not to love? Abby wanted us to rent a rowboat to get to the island. Little did she know that in order to row a row boat, you actually need to know how to…row. Thankfully one of us had some skill, (cough, cough. me,) so we were able to make it to and from the island before nightfall.

One at the island, the work isn’t over. You have to climb this staircase to get to the chapel at the top, which is a popular place for weddings. Traditionally, the groom carries his bride up the staircase, and if he makes it all the way without dropping her it’s good luck. Rick Steves says four out of five couples who attempt the assent make it to the top. (Normally it’s the bride who stereotypically stresses out over exercise prior to her wedding, but in this case I think I’d fret more if I were the guy. It’s quite a staircase.)

Also in the chapel is a special bell, which if you ring is supposed to make your wishes come true. Yep, Abby and I both took our turns before heading back to the mainland. Guess what I wished for? Not telling!

Naturally we couldn’t return to Ljubljana without first sampling the (in my case a very well deserved) special Bled cake, kremsnita, theoretically invented here. I have my doubts about this, having seen variations in Hungary and Austria, but never mind. Wherever it was invented, it is delicious: a layer of thick vanilla custard, topped with whipped creamy stuff, sandwiched in between pastry dough. Can’t go wrong.

Lovely.

Welcome Pancakes

Nothing says “vacation” or “weekend” like pancakes. I knew I should have gone for a run this morning, but instead, I decided to make my killer pancake recipe for Abby. She had a long day yesterday- Train from Lille to Paris, flight from Paris to Venice, a 50 minute-late bus from Venice to Ljubljana. Her train left Lille at 6:15 am. Abby arrived in Ljubljana a little after 9:00 pm. The woman deserved pancakes this morning.

The first thing I did was take Abby to eat a sirov (cheese) burek. Nothing says Balkans like burek! Not that Slovenia is part of the Balkans, no no no. I would never imply such a thing. But fact of the matter is, you can’t get burek in Austria, Italy, Germany, and so on. It’s a regional specialty of the, um, Balkans, and will cure any hunger pangs you may have. After you’ve eaten a burek, you know you’ve eaten. Plus, its delicious.

After dropping off Abby’s things at my place, we wandered out my front door to join the throngs drinking hot mulled wine and to enjoy the lights. Photos to come. We left our cameras at home, since it it was raining, and it will be just as beautiful tonight without the rain.

This morning we slept in, and I made my killer pancakes for breakfast. Thankfully my parents sent me American baking powder and baking soda in my Christmas package. You can buy some baking powder and soda like substances here, but I don’t trust them. They’re not exactly the same, its hard to put my finger on why…Anyway, these were the first pancakes I’ve eaten in three months. And they were amazing. You should try them. Wait, you can!

This is the best buttermilk pancake recipe ever. No kidding. You may think you have the best, but that’s only because you haven’t had the chance to eat these yet:

Bette’s Diner Buttermilk Pancakes
About 24 4-inch pancakes; serves 4

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter melted

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, buttermilk, milk and butter. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once, stirring just to blend. The batter should be slightly lumpy and quite thick. Let the batter rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or heavy skillet over medium-high heat (375F on an electric griddle). Portion 1/4 cup measures of batter onto the hot griddle, spacing them apart. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles cover the surface of the pancakes, and their undersides are lightly browned. Gently turn the over and cook for about two minutes more, until the other sides are browned.

We ate our pancakes with some the Speculoos cream spread that Abby brought us from France. It-get this-is BETTER THAN NUTELLA. Its amazing! Fantastic! I will bring home a million containers with me when I go back to the States, and make you all into Speculoos cream converts.

If you lack Speculoos cream, you can also serve your American pancakes with maple syrup. Also, if you don’t have buttermilk, you can do as I do frequently, and make your pancakes with plain yogurt. Shhh- nobody will know.

on “Mexican” food and “Tests”

Today has been a bit of a full-moon day for me. The stars were not aligned in my favor, or what have you.

I think that it all started because I couldn’t sleep last night. My imagination ran away with me, as of I had spent the last few hours in the evening either studying Slovenian or studying geography for the Foreign Service Officer Test, FSOT. (Smallest country in Africa? Gambia, which is almost completely surrounded by Senegal. Capital of Qatar? Doha. Do the Ural Mountains exist outside of Risk, the board game? Yes.) I felt flush with my geography knowledge, and confident that I would be a shoo-in. For some reason I mentally skipped over the fact that only 4% of the people who take the FSOT actually become Foreign Service Officers. Last night, all I could do was imagine myself having flown past the written and essay portions, and see myself sitting in DC wowing my interviewers with my devotion and wit. Next, it went on to where I would do my first tour. Then it mushed together with Slovenian vocabulary, and all the sudden I was saying to my self, “zivim v Estonia” (“I live in Estonia”) at some weird hour in the night. A real mess. I think a significant lowering of expectations is in order.

Anyway, I woke up early this morning, worked, worked worked, emailed a prof to ask about a test, worked some more, opened up my email again….To discover that I managed to miss a midterm. I had talked with with the professor early on in the semester, and we had agreed that since the class is all in Slovenian, for the first part of the course I would just do the readings and take the exam. The second half of the class would be a research paper. I emailed the professor this morning, to confirm that as we had discussed, the exam would be next Monday, and to ask what time should I come.

Response:

The exam was yesterday (Nov 21st  – your colleagues suggested this change because of another assignment in the week from Nov. 28th  to Dec 2nd . The information was on my page (http://mhf.fdvinfo.net). Ther will be one more possibility in January – the exact date is not fixed yet.

 

Regards,

Fantastic. I would have known about the change of test date from a website which I did not know to check, which is moreover is in a language which I do not speak.

What a great way to start the day.

Next up:

I went to a very popular “Mexican” food restaurant with some friends from Romania. They suggested it. To be fair, I agreed. A little masochistic part of me wanted to see the train wreck that it Mexican food outside of the Northwestern hemisphere, ok? I had Pollo Asado. Which apparently translates into small slices of poached chicken breast floating around in a creamy peanut sauce over lettuce. Rice was served on the side, which I took as the central homage to Mexico (or Asia). On of the girls I was with had fried, breaded chicken pieces with what I’m sure was Americanish jarred bbq sauce. The other had a Chimichunga. Which is not actually Mexican food to start with, I know. This rendition was not so much the classic deep-fried burrito, as it was an enchilada looking thing, not deep fried. It was stuffed with chicken pieces like mine and a few corn kernels, floating around in a cheesy (?) creamy sauce.

They loved it all. General consensus was that I had ordered the best dish. This, they postulated, was probably because I would know what is best given my familiarity with Mexican food. I just nodded and smiled.

I have SO MUCH homework. Time to get back to it, and then hopefully I’ll still have time to study Slovenian and review African geography. After that I really need a full night of sleep, because right now I’m all grumps. I kind of need my eight hours, otherwise I kind of hate the world. Gr.