Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Snow Time!

(NOTE:  This post was partially transcribed during my hiatus and is now edited and posted.)

Being no stranger to snow (and actually loving it dearly) I always enjoy it when the fluffy white stuff descends upon the city.  It sometimes happen, like this past weekend, when snow overstays its welcome.  

Anyway, this past winter definitely started out strong.  There was snow in November, the temperatures were plunging, and it looked like it's be a long, bone-biting winter.  Now, as someone who has lived in apartments that were in flagrant disregard of inspection and livability laws, I swore that I would never go cold through another winter.  My two last years in school were defined by being hungry and cold.  Oh, so cold.  It wasn't just that the electric heating was never on, and when it was it drove the electric bill upwards of $300, but the general lack of calories made it all the worse.  These days, with free heating, I walk around in my boxers in my apartment.  A howling blizzard may be roaring outside, and the icicles might be growing ever larger, but I sweat sitting down—that's how warm I am.

A 'well-plowed street'.

The winter, however, had not turned out as I had hoped.  By mid-December the snow was in retreated and the horrible reign of thirty-degree temperatures began.  It was more of a muddy brown Christmas than white.
Snow did come and go, but one thing I noticed was the general lack of plowing on Warsaw's minor roads, driveways, and parking lots.  It seemed up the commuters themselves to hopeless grind away rubber in attempts move (I did lend a hand to a struggling truck.)  This, of course, is all part of Poland's on-going war on tire treads.  They won't give up until ever vehicle is rolling around on dangerously bald wheels containing less rubber than a Durex® Ultra Thin Fetherlite®.  (Just a quick note: what a creepy way to spell feather light.  Fetherlite just looks poorly constructed, and I usually go for quality and pride of workmanship in this area.  It's not a purchase to downgrade just to save a few bucks.)

My snowman. The snow was so powdery soft.

The snowy park at night.

What winter turned into: a hazy, slushy world.

Besides the unplowed roads, the sidewalks were left as slick sheets of ice.  Coming from an extremely litigious country, where poking yourself in the eye with a screwdriver is an actual financial option, I was surprised by carelessness of the city to leave such horrendous walkways.  (NOTE:  Some law firms actually employ people to map every single crack on the sidewalks of New York, which are then submitted to the city.  The city can claim that if it doesn't know about the damage on the sidewalks, it can't be held responsible if people trip on them.  So, these mappers make sure that every crack is mapped, just so they can claim that the city knew about the cracks and did nothing (and makes the city financially liable when someone does trip on a crack.)  What a wonderful solution!)  Crampons were necessary to navigate these icy walks of terror.  In some places, sand was scattered or workers with wooden shovels hacked and shoveled the ice, but only on the most heavily trafficked of sidewalks.  Others were left gleaming and treacherous for the less nimble.

Practically a lawsuit in the making

I was a little disappointed with the winter, but then again, I shouldn't complain.  The US got hammered (bummer I wasn't there.)  Plus, I totally missed out on skiing.  Well shucks.  Anyway, spring is here and I have to finish planning my Easter menu.  Plus, I hope the frosts end early this year so I can get my zucchini and watermelon in the ground as soon as possible.

There was snow

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Recipe: Paczki

Most people know paczki (singular: Pączek) as a Polish doughnut, jelly doughnut, or as Berliners (pretty much the same thing.)  They are a soft, yeast-dough doughnut, traditionally filled with rose hip jam.
Paczki are imbedded in Polish cuisine like wódka, piernik, and pierogi.  On Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek, the Thursday before Lent.  The French have Mardi Gras and the Poles have Tlusty Czwartek), Poles traditionally eat paczki.  Businesses order them by the bushel for their employees (I alone at five at work and brought another three home.)  The only downside is that Paczki don't keep very well and are best eaten fresh.  You can revive them by sticking them in an oven or microwave, but nothing beats that sinfully soft and chewy dough, mere moments from being pulled from the boiling vat of oil (get it all in before Lent.)

Without much further ado, here's a traditional recipe:

1 kg flour
100 grams yeast
1/2 liter milk (warm)
7 yolks
1 whole egg
3/4 cup sugar
100 grams butter (melted, cooled)
1 jigger (shot) of rum or spirytus (grain alcohol)
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt

1.5 liters of cooking oil plus 2 spoonfuls of lard
Rose hip confiture (or any other fruit preserve) for the filling
Powdered sugar for dusting (or a mixture of lemon juice and powdered sugar for a glaze.) (Optional)
Candied orange peels (cubed into small pieces) (Optional)

Mix the yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2-3 teaspoons of flour with a little bit of milk and warm water until it starts foaming.  In a large bowl, beat together the egg and yolks and sugar.  Add in the milk, butter, yeast mixture and then flour.  Mix together and add in lemon juice and alcohol.  Knead for 20 minutes, cover in a bowl and let rise for 30 minutes to an hour.
Punch down the dough.  Place the dough on a floured cutting board and roll it into a thick rope.  Cut the dough into 1.5 cm lengths and roll out into fat pancakes.  Add a spoonful the fruit preserves to the center of every-other pancake. Seal the paczki well using the other 'pancake', making sure they are round.  Place the paczki on a floured surface, cover them, and let them rise for 30 minutes to an hour.
In a wide, shallow pot or wok, gently boil the oil and lard.  Add the paczki to the oil, flipping them occasionally so they cook equally on either side—a nice brown.  Set the fried paczki on a grate to drip dry or on paper towels.  Place on a plate and dust with powered sugar, or sprinkle with candied orange pieces and drizzle with glaze.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

In The Meantime

Well, I haven't posted in a long time.  The main reason being that I started a new job in Warsaw and it's eaten up pretty much all the free time I've had.  I still teach English and try to get out (I saw a pretty insane chicken show.  Yes, a chicken show.  They had so many awesome chicken, you'd be amazed.  Those fighting cocks looked like they could take down a doberman, plus there were some exotic chickens that looked more like birds of paradise than anything else.  It may sound hickish and lame, but it was actually pretty interesting.)

Spring has come to Warsaw.  It came at the end of February, and March has been one long balmy holiday. It did snow last night, so it looks like winter might still be grasping.  Basically, winter disappeared right before Christmas, which sucked.  The end of November and December were fairy-tale white with snow.  The rest of winter was slushy, muddy, but had a surprising amount of sunny days.

I also think that The Social Network was robbed blind at the Oscars.  I mean, The King's Speech was an OK movie, (I'm not going to shit on it), but let's get real here: The Social Network had far better directing and was a far better movie.  Stupid period pieces.

Work has started on the new subway line in Warsaw!  We only have to wait another twenty years for this one to finish.

More to come.

A New Year

(NOTE:  This post was in the works for some time.  I've only got around to posting it now, so enjoy.)

Well, it's 2011.

Last night was Noc Sylwesterowa (or just Sylwester), New Year's Eve.  Warsaw—specifically Plac Konstytucji— was treated to a concert by Roxette (anyone remember them?) and a fireworks show.  From Centrum to Politechnika, a raucous cheap-wine-swilling crowd formed and danced to '80s pop music.  The slush on the street was trodden many times over, plus the broken wine bottles made it pretty edgy.  There was a small town of portapotties that could have serviced Woodstock.  It was a pretty good time; I had fun.