Jagermeister: Cure for the Common Cold?

In response to my offer of American drugs or cough drops for a cold, one of my friends said, “No thanks, I’m just going to have a cup of tea and some Jagermeister at work.”

“Jagermeister? For a COLD?” (At work?) I replied. I orient jagermeister with buxom women in short dresses, offering the trademark Jagermeister flask-like shots. I either hear it tastes awful or not great, which has always been convincing enough for me not to try it. Guys may be wowed by the buxom enough to overlook the taste factor, but I’m not so susceptible.

“Sure, Jagermeister is good for colds,” he shrugged.

I gave him a huge look of disbelief.

Yeah right.

Since then I have run this theory by other Slovenians, and the general consensus is that, of course! Jagermeister is very good for colds.

Well, the Time Hath Comeith. I’m coming down with a cold, and I need to be pounding away at my final exams and papers. Desperate times come for desperate measures. When in Rome, do like the Romans: Jagermeister, here we go.

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Current Affairs Interlude

Lest you forget about why I’m here- no, not to travel, eat, take the FSOT, or even go to school- I will post about politics. Although my research isn’t about current political happenings, I think its important and interesting to observe what’s happening right now, and not let you forget that there is far more to Slovenia then strudel.

The elections were held at the beginning of December. This is how things turned out:

ATMOSPHERE:                                                                                                            Everybody I talk to was apathetic about election, and I’m told that the same old people are running for election, and nothing will change. The one outsider candidate that some people like didn’t seem stand a chance.

RESULTS:                                                                                                                      -The outsider, the left-leaning mayor of Ljubljana, formed his own leftist party, and got a majority of the votes (something like 22%). This put him in place to be Prime Minister. The surprised students party and fireworks go off in Ljubljana. Finally, some new blood in the Parliament.

-The leftist party, which the mayor was expected to form a coalition with, refused. A ‘What the Fudge’ moment for the whole country ensues.

-The right-leaning party, which was projected to win, came in a close second. Since the left-leaning parties couldn’t get it together, now they’ll have a whack at forming a government.

An article from the Economist was recently brought to my attention. (Thanks, Paul!) It more or less summarizes the current political situation in Slovenia quite nicely. Please check it out. It’s quite short:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2012/01/crisis-slovenia

What’s doubly interesting, and what the article forgot to mention, is that this election was brought about by a vote of no-confidence. In short, this means that situation in parliament and the government was such a disastrous mess that the parliament voted themselves out of work. Before you get too excited, and start thinking, “hey, OUR congress is dysfunctional! Maybe we should have a vote of no-confidence,” two thoughts:

1. Lacking a parliament, we don’t have votes of no-confidence in the United States. The closest we can get is impeachment, and good luck impeaching the whole congress plus the president.

2. I believe that the current situation in Slovenia shows that such legislative problems will not be solved with the wave of a magic wand and an eraser. If we were able to have a vote of no-confidence in the United States, do you really think that things would change so easily? The essential problems that we’re dealing with are the same. The same people, more or less, would be populating the ranks of politicians who are dealing with these problems. The reasons why our legislatures aren’t getting anything done are more systemic then most want to admit.

Another thought: I like parliamentary systems, and I think that in many ways they are more “democratic” then our funky two-party system. But in this case, I’d say our winner-take-all model has more going for it. If, in these US next elections, somebody gets a good majority, it’s conceivable that legislation could be forced through. As the situation in Slovenia demonstrates, parliaments don’t work like that. In order to form a coalition and gain a majority, they’ve got to work with others. The upside is that they can’t quite shove legislation through like the US, making compromise quite important. The downside is in moments like these, when time is of the essence to save the future of the country, and nobody is compromising enough to shove legislation through.

I will keep you informed if, when, something happens. I don’t think the situation is so bad that the country will fall into the Adriatic anytime soon, but this is a real problem for Slovenia that doesn’t seem to be anywhere near conclusion, and will have a real impact on their economy. The best we can hope is that things will sort themselves out soon.

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.

Srechno va Zdravo!

“Srechno va Zdravo!” Or, Happy and Healthy (new year to you)!

Funny enough, I’ve been using “zdravo” as my standard greeting for a long time now, totally ignorant that I wasn’t actually saying hi, but rather, “health.” Huh. The typical greeting I’d say is Zivjo, but you’ll hear zdravo occasionally…I had no clue there was substantive difference.

I digress. What I want to tell you about today is of my time in the Slovenian countryside, New Years, amazing hospitality, and food. Lots and lots and lots of food. Some of it good, some of it not so good, but all in tremendous quantities thus far unknown of in my direct experience.

It all started with my desire to learn how to make strudel. You see, I love strudel. It’s not too sweet, and in the interest of my own personal health (-remember this thought for later), not too rich. It also straddles the zone between desert and breakfast, both of which are my niche specialties as a chef from a houseful of great cooks. Moreover, the authentic strudel is relatively uncommon in the United States. Or at least, I’ve rarely seen the real thing sold. Thus, I desperately wished to unlock the secrets of strudel. This would not only be an excellent life skill to carry onwards, but it would also provide the fall-back career option of strudel entrepreneur, and when people ask, “So, what did you do on your Fulbright?” allow me to reply, “learned how to make strudel.”

I know that strudel is stereotypically Austrian, but Slovenia’s strudel is just as good. Remember, for a large chunk of time Slovenia was in Austria. Plus, if you want to be picky about it, strudel dough is essentially the same as the filo-like dough used to make burek, and there is nothing more Balkan or Ottoman than that. Austria gets the fame for it, but strudel dough is a creature of the south and east, not the west.

Luckily for me, one of my friends who I met on my Brussles trip is an avid cook and baker, interested both in international cuisine as well as her own traditional foods. She lives in a small village outside of Maribor, a city bordering Austria, in the north. I managed to swing an invite to her house to learn how to make strudel. Or, I think she may have suggested it in the vague sense at one time, and then I asked her directly if I could come over the Christmas break. Some things are too important to be left to chance. I really wanted to learn how to make strudel. It’s something of a fading art form, even here. Most people simply buy it at bakeries, or if they go the extra mile to make it at home, use pre-made sheets of filo dough. Forget my fall-back career choice, its for the good of the world that I preserve this knowledge.

Invite obtained, off to Maribor I went with only a change of clothes and my pajamas and a small hostess gift.

Strudel making was just as amazing and both far easier and far more difficult than I had imagined. Since the dough needs to rest, they had prepared some earlier in the day so we could jump right in. (I would make another batch of dough once these ones were done.) Stretching the dough out is a magical process. I checked online afterward, but very few sources made the dough by hand, much less, “right,” i.e. predominately without a rolling pin. The dough shouldn’t need it. Rather, it should just just expand with a light touch.

The best pictures I found of the process can be found here: http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/strudels/ig/Cheese-Strudel/

What we did looked much like what you can see above, only on a smaller scale. We used smaller lumps of dough, going well off the edges of the kitchen table rather than of a banquet table.

We made two types- wait, no, three types of strudel. One apple, one apple-cheese (as in, soft fresh cheese,) and one filled with savory feta-like cheese. All were fantastically delicious. I will aim to hone my craft while I’m here, so that way I can go back to my teachers and make sure I have everything down pat before I return to the States. They made it look so easy! And it was easy! But so much with the dough is knowing when it has the right feel, and I know only practice will ingrain that feeling into my brain.

Whew, its well past midnight. I shall have to wait for tomorrow to tell you about Day 2…and Day 3. And then Day 4, of what was supposed to be an overnight trip to make strudel, that turned into a Slovenian food-fest that culminated with me gaining more weight then then I knew possible in a four-day time span (remember one of my motivations in learning how to make strudel? Ha! Any healthful benefits of strudel were drastically drowned out by what was consumed later,) and sampling pig’s head.

Stay tuned.

p.s. I changed the picture in the header, as you may have noticed, to something more seasonal and wintery. This photo was taken at Lake Bled. Dear lord, I love the mountains.

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.

Weather: Forcasts

Today I would like to spend a few moments commenting on the weather forecasts. You see, they lie. Regularly and routinely, they lie.

Today I was walking around mid-day, and the temperature? 32 degrees. What did my Google widget predict the high would be? 44. That would a whopping 12 degrees of variation. Huh? What’s extra fascinating is that its been consistently wrong. This whole last week we’ve maxed out at 35 during the day, but Google has stubbornly insisted that we would reach the mid-40’s. It will also predict the lows, and be routinely above what the temperature says on my widget.

It’s not just Google. Nobody can agree on the right forecast. See the variation for yourself:

This one is always the warmest. I suspect Google uses it for their own numbers:

http://www.weather-forecast.com/locations/Ljubljana/forecasts/latest

See how it compares with:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/3215733

and

http://www.accuweather.com/en-us/si/ljubljana/ljubljana/forecast15.aspx

Moreover. I’m also fairly sure the forecasters have predicted sunshine for the last week as well. It may have been sunny, but only above the fog which never lifted.

By the way, the colder weather is growing on me. I like the sharpness.