Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Squash Mush

If I had a fancy restaurant, this would be called squash puree. Instead, it's mush. I've made this twice now. Both times, it had pretty good flavor. Its texture was very nice the first time, smooth and airy. On my second try, it was watery and gross. I think the difference was in the amount of parsnips and water in the mush (more parsnips and less water in the good one). Also, don't use too much carrot. I had two big ones left and figured I could use them up in this, but they really dominate the flavor.
  • 1 medium or large butternut squash
  • 3-4 parsnips
  • 1/2 of a carrot (or none)
  • 1-2 onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • rosemary, salt, pepper
  • butter, olive oil, or some combination
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup (or a different amount, but it's worth including)

Chop the onion finely and cook with oil or butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add salt. Chop the parsnips, carrots, and garlic and add them. Add rosemary (maybe a tsp. of dried rosemary?). Peel and chop the squash and add it to the pot. Mix everything and add a bit less than 1/4 cup of water. Cover the pot and keep the water simmering (you'll probably have to turn up the flame a bit). Stir every few minutes and keep cooking until the squash is soft. Add more water if you have to, but you probably won't, even if it looks like it needs it. When the squash is soft, mash everything with a potato masher (or a blender or mill). Add the tablespoon of maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cranberry Muffins

These are my mother's muffins with some additions. The recipe makes twelve muffins and takes almost no time.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • slightly less than 1 tbs. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of sugar
  • cranberries (about 4 oz.)
  • 1-2 tbs. maple syrup
  • zest of 1 clementine (or of an orange, I suppose)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 and 1/4 cups milk
Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, baking powder). Add the egg and beat it. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix as little as possible while combining everything. Put the batter into a buttered muffin tin and put that into a 415 degree oven for 21-22 minutes.

This recipe is imprecise, but I really do cook it at 415 degrees, and it really is done after 21 or 22 minutes. Use the lower sugar amounts if you want muffins to eat with jam, and the higher ones if you want to eat them plain.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Káposztaleves olasz galuskával

Yesterday, I applied to Yale's Directed Independent Language Study program. Since I'll be learning Hungarian again, I now have an excuse to write titles that nobody can understand.

I had chicken stock and bok choy that I needed to use up. They, along with my pangs of reminiscence for Hungary, led to this soup, which involves weird Hungarian/Italian dumplings that were good but still need some work.

  • 6 cups of stock/water
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrot
  • 5 little bok choy heads (maybe 1/2 pound in all)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • parsley (not too much)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • nutmeg
  • salt, pepper, olive oil

Chop the onions, carrots, and cabbage. Cook them with the olive oil over medium-low heat in a big pot, and add a little bit of salt and pepper to them. While you're doing this, bring the stock to a boil. When the vegetables are soft (about 20 minutes), pour the stock over them. After this simmers for 5-10 minutes, start making the galuska by mixing 1/4 cup of flour with a lot of Parmesan (details at the end for this), salt, nutmeg, and pepper (lots of pepper). Add the parsley, minced very finely. Add two eggs and beat them a bit. Then add the 1/4 cup milk and about a tablespoon of water, and mix as little as possible while still mixing everything up. Then, add more flour until the dough is quite thick--it should still be liquid, but about as thick as a liquid can be. Before you add this to the soup, turn the heat up so that it stays at a boil when you do. Put the batter into your soup by pressing it through a galuska tray, which all good cooks keep around (well, in Hungary they did--you could push it through the back of a grater, or just spoon it into the soup in chunks). Cook this for about four minutes and then remove the pot from the heat. Add more pepper to the soup, and more salt if it needs it.

This soup was hard to screw up, since my chicken stock was good enough that I could have just heated it up and called it soup. The vegetables were nice, but I couldn't taste the Parmesan in the galuska at all. Part of the problem is that my Parmesan is not from Parma and is not very strong (or very good). I think I used about 1/3 of a cup, and next time I'll double that. I could taste the nutmeg and pepper, though, and they were good (though completely non-Hungarian).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Clementine Question

How long is the clementine season? Specifically, how long will the supermarket have crates of them?

Chicken with Breadcrumbs and Parsley

A year ago, I took the Putnam (a six-hour math contest) and during the break ate dinner at Cynthia and Angela's, who enforced a strict no-Putnam-discussion rule. Joel and I almost got kicked out before the meal started for our Putnam-discussion-discussion (we were trying to figure out the exact parameters of what we were allowed to say), but in the end we were allowed to eat dinner, which was chicken. Now, it is the Putnam break again, and I am eating chicken again. Can I make it through this blog post without discussing the Putnam? (No. Joel: what do you think so far? I liked #2 and I got it completely (or so I think). #1 seemed straightforward but I didn't actually compute the integral. I was on the way to getting #4 but then I ran out of time.)

Today's chicken is leftover from yesterday's dinner, which I'll describe now. This serves two and should take about an hour to make. You could make it quicker by using boneless chicken breasts and not making the breadcrumbs yourself (or replacing them with flour or cornmeal).

  • 1 bone-in chicken breast
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • parsley--more than you think, but I don't know how much--maybe 1/4 cup packed or so?
  • breadcrumbs, made from 4-5 slices of bread
  • olive oil (lots)
  • salt, pepper

Make breadcrumbs by putting bread in a 325 degree oven until it's very dry and then breaking it up. I don't have a food-processor so I put it into a ziplock bag and crushed it. It's tedious, but not that bad. Cut up the garlic and parsley very fine and mix them up with the breadcrumbs. (If you're using a food processor, you could just throw these in with the bread to be chopped.)

Take your chicken and make two fillets from it. I followed Mark Bittman's advice, which is to cut as close to the bone as possible, starting on the outside and ending on the inside. (By outside, I mean the side away from what must be the chicken's sternum.) It's a very good idea to make stock from this, because then you have an excuse for why you're leaving so much meat on the bones.

While you're doing all of that, heat a pan over medium-high heat until it's very hot and then add a good amount of olive oil (probably the more, the better). When the oil is very hot, dredge each piece of chicken in some other olive oil, salt them, dredge them in the breadcrumb mixture, and put them in the pan. (Do them one after another, not at the same time, so that the pan stays hot.) Add pepper to each side as you cook. When the outside is nicely browned on both sides (two minutes a side or so), turn the heat down to about medium and keep on cooking. Cook the chicken till it's done all the way through, probably another 2-4 minutes a side (but check often). If your fillets are very thick, consider transferring everything to the oven at 400 degrees after the chicken is browned. (I did this out of desperation, and it worked pretty well.)

Mark Bittman says that to do a good job of browning, you have to get the pan very hot before adding fat, and then get the fat very hot before adding meat. Is there really any reason to wait for the pan to get hot before adding oil? I usually just add oil to the pan when I first turn the stove on and let it heat up.

On the second half of the Putnam, I did the first two problems and didn't even work on anything past that. Joel?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Squash and Beet Soup Update

I made squash and beet soup again using one beet instead of three (and also using homemade chicken stock). The results? It was actually better the old, sweet way. The one-beet soup was more hearty and more boring. I think the thing to do would be to eliminate the cinnamon and add some onion.

I should also mention that I left out the garlic when I wrote up the original soup. I've fixed it now here.

Cranberry Sauce

When autumn came last year in Budapest, it found me making batch after batch of cranberry sauce. My mother had emailed me our recipe, mentioning that it just called for two normal, American packages of cranberries, and she couldn't remember how big they were. The place to buy cranberries in Budapest turned out to be the Asian market, where they sold imported Ocean Spray cranberries, so this didn't end up being a problem.

This is my ancestral cranberry sauce recipe. It really is better than most cranberry sauce. It's also incredibly easy.

  • 2 12oz packages of cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brandy, rum, or cognac

Wash the cranberries, throwing out any soft ones. Put them into a roasting pan big enough that there are at most three layers of cranberries. Pour the cup of sugar onto them and mix it around a little bit. Cover the pan (with aluminum foil, unless you have an actual cover for the pan) and bake for 45 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees. Take it out of oven, uncover it, and let it sit for about five minutes. Stir in the alcohol, put it in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chicken, Onions, Peppers

This is barely even a recipe. But I didn't have that much time, and I made some stock out of the scraps.

  • 1 chicken leg (or some other part)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • fish sauce
  • 1 lime
  • salt, pepper
  • oil (canola, peanut, or other)

Heat a big skillet (it should be really big) with enough oil to cover it over medium-high. When it's very hot, throw on sliced onions and peppers with some salt. After about a minute, throw on the chicken, removed from the bone and cut up into little pieces. When everything is done, add enough fish sauce (1-2 tbs?), half a lime's juice, lots of pepper, and salt if necessary. Serve with rice.

First semester in Budapest my roommate and I used to make something like this (but with walnuts and hoisin sauce instead of fish sauce and lime). It out better this time (especially the vegetables--really flavorful) since I was just cooking it for myself and the pan was less crowded. With more than one person, even using a giant skillet, I'd do the vegetables and chicken one after the other and then combine at the end before seasoning.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Squash and Beet Soup

I will not attempt to explain my long absence.

I had a squash, some beets, and a yearning for soup. What resulted was a delicious soup that was so sweet it reminded me of Hungarian fruit soup.

  • 1 medium-sized squash
  • 3 medium-sized beets
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 peeled garlic cloves
  • 4-5 cups of liquid (I used about half chicken stock and half water)
  • salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg

Bring the water/stock to a boil. As it heats, peel the beets, garlic, carrot, and squash and chop them roughly into cubes, tossing the vegetables into the stock as soon as you've chopped them. (I ordered them this way intentionally: the beets take the longest to cook through.) Keep a low simmer. When everything is soft (after about 45 minutes, though I added my beets after my squash and it took longer), mash with a potato masher right in the pot. (I'd say don't do it too thoroughly--the occasional chunk is nice.) Add a tiny bit of cinnamon, a good grating of nutmeg, lots of pepper, and however much salt is necessary (which depending on the saltiness of the stock may be none).

The ratio of vegetables is what it is because it's what I had. Next time, I'll use fewer beets, as they really dominated the soup.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the garlic the first time; I've added it now. Also, I've written more about this recipe.

Monday, March 20, 2006

George Eliot on Math Education

[Daniel Deronda] applied himself vigorously to mathematics, for which he had shown an early aptitude under Mr. Fraser, and he had the delight of feeling his strength in a comparatively fresh exercise of thought. That delight, and the favourable opinion of his tutor, determined him to try for a mathematical scholarship in the Easter of his second year: he wished to gratify Sir Hugo by some achievement, and the study of the higher mathematics, having the growing fascination inherent in all thinking which demands intensity, was making him a more exclusive worker than he had been before.

But here came the old check which had been growing with his growth. He found the inward bent towards comprehension and thoroughness diverging more and more from the track marked out by the standards of examination: he felt a heightening discontent with the wearying futility and enfeebling strain of a demand for excessive retention and dexterity without any insight into the principles which form the vital connections of knowledge. (Deronda's undergraduateship occurred fifteen years ago, when the perfection of our university methods was not yet indisputable.)

Potatoes with Cayenne

All of last week I was hungry. Last Wednesday, nemzeti ünnep, I ate a large dinner of pork at Rosanna's before going home and scrambling two eggs. I consumed these along with four slices of toast. Since I was still hungry, I had two slices of toast with goose fat, and then another two slices of toast with goose fat and sausage. Then I went to sleep. The next day I had a small breakfast. I keep telling people this story even though it's not very interesting. It's just a fond memory of mine.

Still, there was an emptiness inside of me. Many people have filled their lives with religion, and I would do the same. Giovanna's apartment (formerly Laura's apartment) hosted a religious gathering last Friday. Ground beef became Jesus's flesh, ketchup his blood. We also had some potatoes:

  • potatoes, cut up in big, even chunks for boiling
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, cayenne

Boil the potatoes until they're almost done. When you remove them, they should be edible but seem slightly underdone. Cut them into homefry-size pieces. All of this can be done in advance.

Fry the potatoes in olive oil with lots of salt, pepper, and cayenne. Serve them with lots of ketchup.

Gordon (i.e., my father): I made these potatoes in imitation of potatoes you've made. How does this differ from what you would do? It worked pretty well.

Leeks with Bread Crumbs and Parmesan

I burnt the bottom of the leeks when I made this today. It was no problem, though: the burnt part peeled right off. Vegetables that have layers are cool.

  • leeks
  • bread crumbs
  • parmesan or similar cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Boil the leeks for about five minutes, or until they seem almost ready to eat. Put them in a dish, and add pepper (and possibly salt, depending on how salty the cheese is), bread crumbs, and cheese. Bake at about 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.

I made bread crumbs by toasting bread and then crumbling it. This worked, but it would have worked better if I had sliced the bread thinner when I toasted it. Use about two small slices of bread per person to get the right amount of bread crumbs.

Serge Lang vs. Bob Somerby in a BLOWOUT!

I knew Serge Lang as the man who would walk into my math classes and start asking us questions, often to the professor's dismay. (Sometimes he asked the professor questions too: "Are you using my textbook? Why not?")

Besides math, Serge Lang is famous for two things: claiming that the link between HIV and AIDS has not been established, and keeping Samuel Huntington out of the National Academy of the Sciences. Lang gave me a few hundred pages of documents about the conflict, as he did with anyone who was willing to listen to him. He claimed that Huntington's papers were "utter nonsense." His biggest objection was to a paper Huntington wrote that purported to demonstrate the link between a society's frustration and instability. One of his indices classed South Africa as a "satisfied society." Lang thought (rightly) that Huntington's effort to quantify oppression and instability didn't correspond to reality. Huntington's defenders typically turned this into a straw-man argument. They said that Serge Lang objected to any attempt to turn things like frustration and instability into numbers, and that the argument was caused by a mathematician's resentment of the "soft" sciences. (See Jared Diamond's Soft sciences are often harder than hard sciences in Discovery.) Lang didn't actually have any problem with using numbers to measure satisfaction; his objection was that Huntington's index in fact measured nothing. Lang particularly hated Fareed Zakaria, now the editor of Newsweek, who wrote a letter saying that it was "a fact" that in the sixties, there were no "major riots, strikes, or disturbances" in South Africa. Lang had a file of New York Times articles on South Africa, all contradicting Zakaria.

Serge Lang's way of talking to students about this was to invite them to his office to take his test, which would determine whether they could tell "a fact from a hole in the ground." After explaining Huntington's paper and showing you Zakaria's letter, he asked two questions: 1) Did Fareed Zakaria use the word "fact" in his letter? 2) Comment on Fareed Zakaria's letter. The correct answer to the first question was yes; the correct answer to the second was either, "It is untrue that there were no major strikes, disturbances, or riots in South Africa in the sixties," or "I am not familiar enough with the history of South Africa to judge whether Fareed Zakaria is correct or not." After you answered, Lang had you sign and date your paper, which he would store somewhere secure. (I failed, like everyone else.)

At this point, Lang would explain the problem with academia: nobody bothered to find out whether claims were true. Instead, people just did "theoretical bullshit."

Bob Somerby has a political blog that predates the word blog. He makes the same argument as Lang, but directed towards the media, saying that they ignore facts because they find it hard to figure out what's true and what's not. Some representative articles:

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The ides of March (beware)

March 15th is a national holiday in Hungary; specifically, it's nemzeti ünnep, which means national holiday. It celebrates Hungary's 1848 revolution against Austria, which they lost in 1849 when the Russians helped the Austrians out by sending troops to crush the revolt. (There is also a holiday commemorating the end of the revolution: October 6th, National Grief Day.)

We asked our topology professor when our homework would be due, since it would normally be on March 15th. He told us that he had forgotten about the holiday because like other nationalist days, it has been hijacked by Hungary's political parties. Each of them holds a rally devoted both to the holiday and to extolling themselves. He said that we should feel free to go to one of them, but that we shouldn't say "a fucking word," especially if we go to the rally of an extreme right wing party. (He also told us that it would be safer for us to say extreme right wing party than fascist.) Good topology professor, good advice.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Duck and Potatoes

Hungarian duck is really good, and only a few of them have avian flu. Duck breasts with their skin are available from the market near Blaha Lujza Tér. (Last semester I only ever saw duck breasts without their skin.) This was yesterday's dinner, with Mike, Patrick, Rosanna, and Tomoko:
  • 1 duck breast in Hungarian, or 2 in English (in Hungarian, a duck breast means both sides of one duck)
  • 1 onion
  • one clove garlic
  • about 1 and 1/4 cups red wine
  • potatoes
  • salt and pepper

Cut the potatoes into 3/8 inch slices. Cut into the duck's skin, making a crosshatch pattern, with your lines about 1/4 inch apart. Cut as deep into the fat as you can without reaching the meat. Salt and pepper both sides of the duck.

Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, put the duck on skin side down. Cook for about eight minutes. As the fat renders, pour into another pan to fry potatoes in. (If you end up with too much fat, pour it somewhere else and hold on to it.)

Fry the potatoes over medium-low heat in batches, flipping them once, and taking them out when they are cooked through. Put them onto a paper towel, and put a paper towel over them. When the potatoes have all been through this, cook them in batches again, this time over high heat, letting them crisp. (This will finish after the duck, but not too much after the sauce is done.)

Flip the duck after the eight minutes have passed. Cook about five minutes, or until the duck is almost done. Move it to a warm oven, holding onto the pan.

Make sure you have a tablespoon or two of rendered duck fat in the pan you were just frying the duck in. Add the chopped onion, and after a little bit the garlic. Cook until the onions are soft. Pour in the wine, turn the heat up to high, and let it reduce, scraping off as much of the pan stickings so they get in the sauce. (If you happen to have demi-glace or other stock, add some too.) Cut up the duck into slices. When the sauce tastes like sauce and not wine, add salt and pepper as needed and put the duck back into the pan to warm it up. Serve.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Joel: not always wrong

My former roommate Joel usually turns out to be right. Five months ago when he decided to take only three math classes in BSM, I berated him for his laziness. Now, I too will be taking only three math classes. Combinatorics II will no longer be part of my life. It's excellent, but so are all my classes. Due to its similarity to Graph Theory, I think it has to be the one to go. See this post for my original list of classes.

Announcement of Summer Plans

I will be participating in NSF funded mathematical research from June 19th to August 18th in Johnson City, Tennessee, in the ETSU REU.


This is Rosanna's ground nut stew. Many substitutions are possible.

  • chicken (legs are good)
  • onions, garlic
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • sweet potatoes or butternut squash
  • tomatoes (canned is fine)
  • curry powder
  • cayenne or hot paprika
  • raisins, dates
  • (goose) fat
  • peanut butter
  • crushed peanuts

Brown the meat. In a big pot, sautee the onions, ginger, garlic, fat, and curry powder (at least 3 tbs.). Add the tomatoes and the sweet potatoes or squash. Pour in water or chicken stock to almost cover everything. Add in the raisins, dates, cayenne/paprika, and salt. Simmer till the squash is soft. Taste and adjust seasoning: you want it to taste too strong at this point. Take a few cups of liquid and mix it with a cup of peanut butter. Pour this bag in and mix, adding the crushed peanuts. Adjust seasoning, adding sugar or molasses if necessary. (Cinnamon and cloves might also be good.) Serve on rice or other starch.

Blogging Lapse

I have allowed my blogging duties to go undone. Now I must cover two weeks in the minimum amount of space. In the spirit of blogging, instead of writing about Béla Bollobás, I direct you to Patrick's blog. The only thing he failed to mention is that before we went, six of us sat at a dinner table passing a roast chicken with our hands, taking bites of it as it went around. It was a sickening display of savagery. I made polenta. I'd give the recipe, but then I would be plagiarizing Mark Bittman. I will respond to all emailed requests for it, though.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pasta with Artichokes

I had pasta with artichokes in Italy (Saturday, 12/24). At the time, I said,

Pasta with artichokes was a great appetizer and struck me as really easy to make: it looked like just artichokes, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.

And so it was. I put in some garlic, too. You can buy artichoke hearts at Culinaris on Perc utca in Óbuda.

  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 30 dekagrams (a bit more than a half pound) of artichoke hearts in oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. (or so) red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper

Boil water. Cut up the artichoke hearts. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and start heating some of the artichoke oil along with some normal olive oil. When it's hot, add the diced garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. When the garlic starts to brown, add the artichokes. Take the pasta out when it's done, toss it with some olive oil, and add the sauce.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Jens Lekman

Since I'm writing about Jens Lekman, I may as well link to his Pitchfork interview. (I don't hate Pitchfork. Am I still cool?)

Jens Lekman's music is hit-or-miss. I used to think he only had one great song (Black Cab). My love for that song recently inspired me to give the rest of music another chance. Now, I realize he has a second great song: Higher Power, the last track on When I Said I Wanted to be Your Dog.

When promoters send CDs to college radio stations, they often put stickers on them describing the band. The stickers on Jens Lekman's CDs always mention the Magnetic Fields, even though they don't sound much like him. (The defunct MP3 blog The Mystical Beast says something like that here.) This song, though, sounds exactly like the Magnetic Fields. It has strings, and it has these lyrics:

In church on Sunday making out in front of the preacher.
You had a black shirt on with a big picture of Nietzsche.
When we had done our thing for a full christian hour,
I had made up my mind that there must be a higher power.

It's more intimate than any Magnetic Fields song. Sorry that I'm not an MP3 blog--you'll just have to go hunt it down yourself.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Pork with Parsnips

Mark Bittman gives a recipe for pork braised with turnips in the Minimalist Cooks at Home. I made it once, substituting Hungarian fekete rétek (black radishes), which happen to taste exactly like turnips. It was good; I wanted to make it again, but my roommate Joel had discovered that he didn't like turnips, or at least black radishes in the guise of turnips. We stood in front of school pondering what to make for dinner. Suddenly, we thought of parsnips. (Which one of us actually came up with this? I'm not sure, but it was probably Joel.) We were joyful, and we spent our walk to Kaiser's trying to come up with other alliterative dishes.

And so, here is our adapted version of the recipe:

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds of boneless pork shoulder (tárja in Hungarian)
  • 1 tbs. canola or sunflower oil
  • 1 tbs. goose fat or oil
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds of parsnips (or however much you want)
  • 1 and 1/4 cups white wine
  • parsley, salt, and pepper

Cut up the meat and trim the fat and connective tissue. This takes me more than twenty minutes, but is worth it. You should be able to do it faster if you're better at it, and if you have a sharper knife.

Brown the meat in the oil and goose fat, giving the meat five minutes at very high heat, plus some more time with a bit less heat. Grind some pepper over it. Cook it until it's well browned, maybe ten minutes in all. While you're doing that, cut the parsnips up into big chunks; there's no need whatsoever to peel them. Throw them on and cook them for a few minutes when the pork is browned.

Add the wine, salt, and half of the parsley. Cover and turn down the heat to maintain a light simmer. Stir every ten minutes, and cook for at least thirty minutes.

When you can easily pierce the parsnips with a fork, it's done. If you have too much sauce (unlikely), uncover and let it reduce. Add pepper and more salt if necessary, and the parsley.

The goose fat is completely unnecessary, but good. I don't like using butter in this, though. (Hungarian pork already tastes like butter.) The parsley is actually very important. I think thyme would be good too. I also might try putting in some cabbage next time.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Szeráj, goose fat, and sesame oil

Szeráj (Honvéd utca and Szent István Körút, near Nyugati Pályaudvar) continues to be terrific. Budapest has thousands of indistinguishable gyros/falafel places. Szeráj joins them in being cheap and not having waiters, but their gyros and falafel are always fresh, and they have a wide selection of other things. I still haven't tried their meat and vegetable dishes that sit in a tray as in a cafeteria; at most gyros places, these have a tendency to make you sick, but I imagine they're good here. I have tried their grape leaves, humus (or in Hungarian, humusz), and pizza-like things that they sell. They're all excellent. They also have the best pita I've had in Budapest. It's comfortable, with well-separated smoking and non-smoking sections.

My landlady/host-mother/roommate uses margarine instead of butter. She also uses goose fat instead of butter, which makes me wonder why she uses margarine. I don't like to put butter on bread, but goose fat is delicious. It's as rich as butter, but it tastes like roast goose. (I barely ever eat it, so my arteries are perfectly safe.)

An open question for my many readers: what can I make with sesame oil?


  • Conjecture & Proof. The name of this class suggests that it is an introduction to basic mathematical thinking. This led my roommate last semester to not take it, which was probably the biggest mistake he's ever made. (He really would have liked this class.) The class's lectures are devoted to proofs that are really cool (there's really nothing else linking them); the homework is a few hard problems that require a lot of creativity to figure out, like Putnam problems. You're only expected to answer 60% for an A. And despite its name, I expect it to be my hardest class this semester.
  • Graph Theory, with Gábor Simonyi. He did a card trick in class. I got to cut the deck.
  • Combinatorics 2. This is a class on hypergraphs, which are a generalization of graphs. The professor, András Gyárfás, is very good. The first problem set is fun so far (though not easy).
  • Topology. Also seems fun, also a good professor (Alex Küronya, whose name breaks Hungarian vowel harmony rules). There are too many people in it, though there's still plenty of time for them to drop it. Tomoko may be taking a class on advanced Galois Theory with this professor, in Hungarian. He told me and her that it wouldn't be hard, because he could give us reference material in English and German. Are all math professors in Hungary trilingual?
  • Hungarian II with Erika. Patrick and I returned to take it, plus one girl who only started Hungarian last month but is very good at it. It will only meet once a week, which is a bit silly for a language class, but I'm talking plenty of Hungarian at home.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Hungarian pork tastes better and is more tender than American pork. Everybody always says that American pork has gotten much worse because it's now bred so lean. This is true: the National Pork Producers Council brags about it in Nutrition: Pork Is Vital to a Healthy Diet. People also say that American pork is bad because you have to overcook it to prevent trichinosis. This is false: there are almost no cases of trichinosis anymore (Trichinosis Fact Sheet).

Yesterday Tomoko and Rosanna came over for dinner. I cooked pork chops. This is how I cooked the pork:

  • 4 pork chops
  • ginger
  • two (or so) tbs. olive oil
  • half an onion
  • white wine
  • parsley

Salt and pepper the pork chops and fry them in a really hot pan with some diced ginger. Put them in warm oven when they're done. Take the pan you just used for the pork chop, heat up the oil (which shouldn't take any time), and fry the onions for a few minutes with a bit of salt and some more ginger, until they've lost their bite but still have a bit of crunch. Add the parsley (maybe about a quarter cup, loosely packed) and let it cook for about thirty seconds. Then, add in a cup (maybe more) of white wine and let it reduce. When it doesn't taste like wine anymore (five to ten minutes), add pepper and, if necessary, more salt to the sauce. If your pork chops got cold because you couldn't figure out how to light the oven (this might not be a problem for you), throw the pork chops back into the pan with the sauce until they heat up again. Put some more parsley on top.

And the cabbage, which is so easy it doesn't need an ingredient list:

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil up in a big pan and throw on the cabbage, salt, pepper, and a little bit of white wine (less than a quarter cup). Cook this at whatever temperature is convenient. (If you feel like stirring a lot, then use a high temperature.) When it's ready (not very long--should still be crunchy), turn up the heat all the way and stir more often for a minute. Next time I'll try adding some garlic.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Visszajövök Budapestre - Wednesday, February 1

  • breakfast: toast with jam; toast with sausage; a piece of tepértő
  • lunch: kolbász (sausage), bread, mustard, and turó rudi (Hungarian candy bar that I will write more about later)
  • dinner: pasta with tomato sauce
  • dessert: tejberizs

Now I live here, in the building on the northwest of the triangle. The apartment is comfortable (but too warm--how can you sleep if you're not freezing?). It's one of the best places in Budapest to live for its proximity to Batthyány Tér, where you can either take the metro or get a palacsinta. I had one last night: it was filled with apricot jam and cost 120 forints (60 cents or so).

After I woke up and started programming Pavement ringtones into my cell phone (so far I've done Shady Lane and No Tan Lines), I went shopping for basic foodstuffs and came home around three. At about six, I woke up lying on my bed with my jacket draped over myself. I remember reading, and I remember lying down; I also remember realizing I would end up falling asleep, but I think I fell asleep before I decided to do anything about it. So, I needed to make dinner out of only the food I had bought, which meant pasta with tomato sauce, the second-least-complicated meal I can cook:

  • 2 small onions
  • 1 or 2 carrots/parsnips
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 small cans of tomatoes (400 gram cans); it's winter--fresh tomatoes have no taste now
  • herbs (I put in dried oregano and basil)
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • salt, pepper
  • more than 1 tbs. olive oil

Heat up the oil, and then sauté the onions, carrots, and parsnips. Add some salt. After a few minutes, turn down the heat, cover the skillet, and let cook undisturbed until the carrots and parsnips have lost their crunch, about ten minutes.

Turn the flame up a bit and add the chopped garlic. Now, spend fifteen minutes looking for a can opener, settle for a bottle opener, and poke holes in both ends of the can like you've seen in condensed milk cans. Unfortunately, even crushed tomatoes are rather solid, so you'll have to do some prying to expand the holes. (I only used one can because I couldn't face doing this again. I also hit my head while looking for a can opener. I blame the jetlag.)

Let the sauce simmer, and stir occasionally. Add the herbs. (Dried basil doesn't seem to do anything, but the Asian market didn't have any fresh--is this the end of the season, or were they just out for the day?) Cook the sauce until it looks right (should only be twenty minutes or so). Then add a small amount of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar and added too much of it), a very small amount of sugar, and lots of pepper. (Jeffrey Steingarten says pepper loses its flavor when cooked for longer than ten minutes in liquid. I trust him absolutely.) Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve on pasta, which you should have cooked by now. When you cook it, add huge amounts of salt to the pasta water. I think this makes it taste better, but mostly it's fun to see the look on people's faces when you take a box of salt and let it stream into the water.

After I ate, Márta came home and made tejberizs. Despite the name (the rizs part of it), she made it with semolina, stirring it into hot milk, cooking until it thickened, and adding sugar. It's good with cocoa sprinkled on top. I talked to Márta for a while--my Hungarian was better than it was the day before.

I've been listening to Philip Glass's Music with Changing Parts, which I stole from my father's record collection. It's my favorite thing to listen to right now, but I wonder what I would think of it if I actually paid attention to it while it played. I will experiment and report back.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Good Places in New York

  • Totonno's. 1524 Neptune Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11224
    I deem it the best pizza in New York. (Sorry, Di Fara). I only vouch for the one in Brooklyn, which is the sole genuine Totonno's. The crust is crisp, even in the very center of the pie. The sauce is more powerful than it was on any pizza I had in Italy. It could be that I had atypical Italian pizza, but I think this is one of the characteristic differences between American and Italian pizza. (American pizza means New York pizza.) I prefer the New York version. Thanks to Joel and Cynthia for giving me an excuse to go there.
  • El Chile Verde. 222 Bushwick Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11206
    This Mexican restaurant in Bushwick has the best Mexican food I've had in New York. (Southwesterners: feel free to belittle me for mentioning Mexican food in New York.) Last summer, it was half-grocery and half-restaurant. When I went there last week, I thought I was in the wrong place, because the grocery part is gone. I like the guaraches, which are fried corn dough with beans, vegetables, and meat, but everything is good. It's cheap ($5 gets you plenty of food), and you'll be the coolest kid on your block when you go where most hipsters dare not: past Williamsburg. The Village Voice mentioned it here. Thanks to Rios for having the good sense to live across the steet from it.
  • Hasaki. 210 E. 9th St., New York, NY 10003
    Japanese food is the antidote to Hungarian food. I really like their sushi and their eel. Thanks to my grandfather for taking me there often.
  • The Museum of Television and Radio. 25 West 52 Street, New York, NY 10019
    I went there today with my brother and it was empty. How is a museum devoted to television unpopular? The main attraction is their library. You sit down at their ancient Mac computers (they've been there since I first went there more than ten years ago), pick out whatever shows you want to watch, and go down a flight of stairs to watch them in a room filled with TVs and headphones. I watched Elvis Costello break into an unplanned song on Saturday Night Live, which even back then was terrible. I also watched the Animaniacs; I was worried that like many things I liked in my childhood, it would turn out to be no good. But I remembered it right: it's still funny. Thanks to my brother for getting us in for free.

I haven't been as methodical as I planned about recording what I eat. When I get to Budapest and prepare my own meals more often, I promise I'll be better.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

1/5 to Present

  • Pasta with meat sauce (no ground beef). I made this the other day; it's good and easy, though it takes at least an hour. Take a piece of beef or veal on the bone (shank is best, but I used short ribs) and brown it in olive oil in a pot. Then, make tomato sauce in that pot in the usual way, cooking some garlic, onions, carrots, and tomatoes, and stirring occasionally. After about an hour, take out the meat, cut it up, throw out the bones, and put it back in the sauce. I'd give details, but I don't want to plagiarize the wonderful Mark Bittman, whose only fault is that he doesn't like ketchup.
  • Fusion Crepes on the Bowery near Grand St. The pancake is French; the fillings are not. I had a Nippon Ajo (formerly known as Nippon Deska--the proprietor told me that someone who actually knew Japanese corrected him), which is mushrooms, tofu, seaweed, Japanese barbeque sauce, mayo, and bonito flakes. It was weird enough that I didn't like it till the third bite or so. After that it was delicious. Get it without mayo, though. See also the Gothamist's review.
  • Lard. Jeffrey Steingarten, who has no faults, says that lard is better for you than Crisco and no worse for you than butter. I demand apologies from everyone who laughed at me for saying that. (I probably shouldn't demand apologies yet, since Mr. Steingarten gives no source for this fact.) I will experiment with lard in Hungary.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wednesday, 1/4

  • breakfast: burgonyás pogácsa (potato scones)
  • lunch/dinner: airplane food; Heineken
  • dessert: chocolate crepe
  • meal for confused, jet-lagged body: lentil soup

I like potato pogácsa because they're less buttery than most other kinds, and I like my breakfasts bland and wholesome.

The airplane food was perfectly edible, but not worth writing about. I enjoyed a snack of beer and crackers while I watched the Wallace and Gromit movie, which was not as good as I expected. Later I listened to Thriller, which was every bit as good as I expected.

Tuesday, 1/3

  • breakfast: croissant; orangina
  • lunch: sült hurka on bread; pickle
  • dinner: pheasant consommé; catfish with garlic and spinach; wine (Tokaji furmint); Sómloi galuska (cake, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, rum); cassis bavaroise

The croissant was not bad for coming from an airport. I had orangina since Joel told me it was French.

There was a butcher in the Kőbánya-Kispest metro station, so I bought some lunch while Joel bought metro tickets. It was after lunch, so they were out of kolbász (a kind of sausage), and I instead had to get hurka, a sausage made out of rice and pork liver. It wasn't good. A Hungarian family once gave me their homemade hurka, which was good, so it's not just dislike of liver that makes me say that.

We went to Borbíróság for our final meal in Budapest. Everything was good, though the soup was too oily and the catfish was overseasoned. (It was good enough, though, to make me resolve to cook catfish next semester, as it's one of the few easily available fishes in Budapest.) Borbíróság is a nice place, whatever Pestiside says about them, but they have a huge menu and not everything on it is great. I offer these guidelines for eating there:

  • skip the appetizers, except for the tongue and, if you're in the mood for it, the paté
  • order duck or a fogásfilé (hidden somewhere at the end of the menu)
  • try different wines--this is the best chance in Budapest to do that
  • desserts are big enough for two people

Monday, 1/2

  • breakfast: half of a baguette au campagne
  • lunch: falafel sandwich, frites, lemonade from L'As du Falafel
  • dinner: dinner: pumpkin soup; steak au poivre; caramel sundae; wine

The falafel sandwich we got was supposed to be noteworthy. It was fine, but I've had better in Budapest. More places should start putting pickled cabbage into falafel sandwiches in the Hungarian style. (Oasis in Williamsburg does.) The lemonade was good.

For dinner we went to Polidor, which Joel's father recommended. The pumpkin soup was completely unexciting. I have fonder memories of the pumpkin soup at my local taqueria, a restaurant that I don't even like. The steak was good, though possibly because we never go to expensive restaurants we never get the best cuts. They're never dense. (I've never heard anyone describe good steak as dense, but good steak seems to somehow have more meat packed into a smaller space.) I'm still happy to be somewhere where not all meat is pork and not all meat is overseasoned. My dessert was not what I wanted: I was aiming for caramel ice cream with chocolate sauce, but instead got caramel ice cream with caramel sauce. It was still pretty good, especially the whipped cream.

Sunday, 1/1

  • lunch: crepe with mushroom and egg
  • dinner: duck breast with honey sauce and gratin Dauphinois
  • dessert: chocolate crepe
  • after-dinner snack: ritz crackers

The crepe at lunch was disappointing. The pancake itself was good, but nothing else was. The mushrooms were too squishy and didn't have any flavor. The whole thing was bland; even salt and pepper would have improved it.

We spent most of the day at the Musèe Pompidou, a museum whose pipe-laden exterior is meant to shock, where we saw a contemporary art exhibit. Each room had a subject. The "minimalism" room had Steve Reich music playing in the background. The "violence" room had a video called Media Burn by a group called Ant Farm documenting the media event they created by driving a 1959 Cadillac into a wall of televisions. From a room whose subject I can't remember was a video from the eighties of a party, with all the characters played by children but voiced by adults. I think Phil Hartman did the voice for the main character. The worst thing there were paintings by Piet Mondrian, who I have hated ever since at a young age I went to a Mondrian exhibit and passed through room after room of blue, yellow, and red squares.

Dinner was great food from a little bar. In the middle of the meal, a man came up to our table and started talking nonsense English. As Joel's friend Dongbo explained, he was making fun of us because we were speaking English, which happens often. The duck was excellent (at least after I had traded my duck for Joel's, which for some reason was rarer), but the impressive part of the dish was the honey sauce, which I have vowed to reproduce. Our best guess was that it was a reduction sauce with honey, wine, garlic, and lots of pepper.

After dinner we went to something yesterday's French girls were talking about, basically an indoor county fair, as Joel described it. The indoor ferris wheel was less silly than it sounds, since the building (which was beautiful) had a lot of windows.

Ritz crackers are really good.

Saturday, 12/31

  • breakfast: pain au chocolat
  • lunch: escargot; steak tartare with fried potatoes and salad; wine; tarte tatin; crème brulée, poached pair
  • dinner: brie; some other kind of cheese; crackers; sausage; bread; champagne; clementines

The chocolate in the pain au chocolat was really good chocolate.

At lunch I took every opportunity to order weird things. The snails were delicious: little chewy balls drenched in basil. I scooped up the excess sauce with the bread, which was the best I've ever eaten. The waitress made sure I understood what steak tartare was before she let me order it. It really was like beef sushi. I don't just mean just that it's raw and so is sushi, but that it really tasted like sushi. It was seasoned with horseradish, which made that connection even more apparent. Crystal tried it and liked it; Joel didn't dare. The only problem with it is that a huge mound of raw beef is too much. The fried potatoes and salad that came with it helped to break the monotony, but the dish would have been better as an appetizer. All the desserts were amazing. The tarte tatin was especially good for its strong caramel flavor.

The brie at dinner was very good, as were the rolls we got. The champagne was great (it was praised as being nothing like the champagne served to us at our end-of-semester party). After we ate we met up with Joel's friend Dongbo (great name) and his French friends, who when I asked told me they didn't speak English, Spanish, or Hungarian. We went to the Champs-Elysees, where there was no countdown to midnight, forcing people just to cheer randomly as it got close.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Friday, 12/30

  • breakfast: bread, cereal, orange juice
  • lunch: duck with basil, beef with peppers, fried dumplings, Singha beer
  • dinner: ham, gherkin sandwich on olive bread; mushroom pizzette (miniature pizza); challah-like bread; strawberry tarte

Breakfast was free hostel food.

Geneva has lots of Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurant, and they didn't look bad. We needed a break from European food, we had it at a Thai/Chinese restaurant, and it was good. The restaurant had listed on a chalkboard where each kind of meat came from. We couldn't skip duck, then, once we noticed the country supplying it was none other than Hungary.

The best part of the meal was the slightly pickled vegetables that came with each dish, like a non-spicy version of kimchi. They were like Hungarian pickled vegetables, but tasted more like vegetables and less like pickles.

According to my journal (the hand-written one), we also had "things" at lunch, apparently after the beef with peppers but before the fried dumplings. I'm sure they were great.

In the afternoon we went to an exhibit of art inspired by Wagner's operas. It had some big-name paintings (a Monet, a Gauguin), but my favorite part was a screening of scenes from movies that had Wagner in the background. This included Birth of a Nation, which has the Ride of the Valkyries playing as the KKK, wearing ludicrous hats, heroically stops the marauding blacks.

Our Swiss francs, soon to be useless, were burning holes in our pockets. We had no choice buy to buy a lot of dinner (horrors!). My sandwich was amazing. You would think that ham, gherkins, and olives would combine to make a salty mess, but they really worked well together. The strawberries in the tarte were excellent; I was shocked that they could be that good in the middle of winter. The bread tasted like challah without sugar, which wasn't the best bread for eating plain, but would be a really useful thing for sandwiches--I never want to use challah for them, since it's always too sweet. Along with my dinner, I got a free beer for having to wait an hour for the TGV train to Paris, as it was apparently lost in the snow.

To express how interminable our trip was, I have to reproduce my journal exactly. Keep in mind that our train had already been delayed an hour.

Now, our train has come to a stop in the middle of France. There was an announcement, and in my best French I asked the cute and much-too-stylish girl across from us what happened. She is wearing square, black glasses with the thickest frames I've ever seen; a grey jacket like you'd see on hipster men; a jacket with a fur-lined hood; a silver watch, also square (to match the glasses?); and a bag that looks like leather trying to look like snakeskin, with a patch of fur thrown in. I like all of it, except for bag, which makes me wonder if there's a mythological reptilian ermine-cow that could explain it. She answers, and I catch the words "accident mechanique" and "temps indetermé." (I have probably written this improperly.)

I have chosen the wrong time to finish my book, Independent People by Halldór Laxness. It took me several months to read the first ten pages, but I liked the rest of it, even though it has no sympathetic characters and is incredibly depressing.

Eventually, Joel and I did talk to the girl across from us, he in French and I in Spanish. (Her native language is Portuguese.) As it happens, she's so fashionable because she works in the fashion industry. She was a model and now works at a magazine and a store importing Brazilian fashion. She commutes weekly between Paris and Geneva because nothing ever happens in Geneva. She pronounces Manhattan with no stress on the middle syllable, where all the stress belongs.

It's been more than an hour since the train broke down. After some announcements, our Brazilian friend explains that we're going to a station, and we can either switch to another train or stay on this one. She goes to another train. A bit later, so do we, ending up in her car again, where we continue our trilingual conversation.

At around 2 a.m., we get to Paris.

Thursday, 12/29

  • breakfast: croissant, jam, prosciutto, roll, orange juice, cappuccino
  • lunch: sparkling wine; horse stew with polenta
  • dinner: glass of prosecco; pressed prosciutto and cheese sandwich; expresso

As should be apparent, breakfast at the hotel was free.

When we entered the old Roman arena, we saw David, from our program, with his family. We tagged along with him for the day, which meant we had a fancier than expected lunch. Horse is a Veronese specialty. It tasted like brisket or pot roast; probably I would have thought it was beef if I had tried it unaware. The restaurant's polenta had a stronger corn flavor than what I make, which I blame on the bad corn meal in Budapest.

We paid our check and rushed off to catch our train, arriving at the station a very irresponsible five minutes after its scheduled departure. Never was I so happy to learn, then, that our train was forty minutes late. This meant we couldn't catch our connection, but we got our tickets switched to a direct train that would get us to Geneva a bit later than expected. And so, we ate a mediocre train station meal (prosecco was good, though).

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wednesday, 12/28

  • breakfast: cappuccino, brioche
  • lunch 1: tagliatelle with porcini from the market
  • lunch 2: mozzerella and prosciutto sandwich, also from the market
  • dinner: pasta stuffed with mushrooms; pasta stuffed with cheese; pasta in porcini sauce; cheese ravioli with walnuts; tagliatelle with chicken; amaretto semi-freddo; wine

Yesterday, we got an email from Crystal, who was supposed to meet us in Verona. She had gone to Venice, failed to meet Jian because his plane was late, gotten scared of the her hostel's neighborhood, and returned to Budapest. I sent her an email trying to convince her to come that was almost entirely about food. Joel called her and, without even mentioning food, convinced her to come to Paris. Meanwhile, Jian sent us an email asking for our "contact information" and is now returning to Budapest. Why? Because he never found out where the hostel was. (I'm still not sure whether he expected us to tell him where it was in response to his question about our contact information.)

For about five minutes during the train ride up to Verona, a blizzard engulfed us. We went through a tunnel, came out, and it was sunny again.

The hostel in Verona was actually a hotel on the outskirts of the city. After we dropped our stuff there, we headed back into the center of the town, strolled a bit, and caught the bus back toward our hotel. We weren't sure what our stop looked like, and we got off the bus thinking we had missed it. We walked back for a few minutes before realizing we had no idea where we were; much panicking ensued. Someone in a store explained to me in Italian and in gestures that we had to go straight. He asked if we were walking. When I said yes, he grunted sympathetically and told me it would be a long way. After a brisk walk that at the very least improved our appetites, it was time for dinner.

The restaurant we went to had no menu, so we were mostly at the mercy of our waiter, who got lots of pasta for us. Any one of them alone would have been very good; the ravioli with walnuts would have been excellent. Together, it was a bit much. I do understand now why pasta is usually a first course. The dessert was like tiramisù, but with the mascarpone and coffee replaced by ice cream and amaretto.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tuesday, 12/27

  • breakfast: cappuccino, brioche
  • lunch 1: mozzerella and soppressata sandwich
  • lunch 2: mozzerella, tomato, and lettuce sandwich
  • dinner: risotto with vegetables; meatballs with mashed potatoes and tomato sauce; panna cotta with chocolate sauce; wine (from Cipolline Rosso)

The soppressata is similar to what I get in Brooklyn, except that this one was about half meat and half fat. I prefer the Brooklyn version.

The mozzerella in my second sandwich wasn't up to Italian standards, but the tomato was really good. Italian tomatoes in December are better than American ones in August. If I could have combined my two sandwiches--mozzerella and bread from the first, tomato and lettuce from the second--it would have made a really good sandwich.

In the Uffizi, I spent about fifteen minutes staring at Titian's Venus of Urbino. In the background, there's a domestic scene: a woman and a girl with their backs turned, the girl looking through a trunk. In the foreground, there's a dog and a nude woman looking very comfortable. I was sad to leave the painting, but when I was in the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo's David, I noticed a sculpture that was an exact copy of the woman in the painting. It was in a room that you could peer into but not enter, so I have no idea who made it. Someone must have liked the painting too.

We asked the woman who ran the hostel to recommend a restaurant for us, and she sent us to Cipolline Rosso. Risotto came incredibly hot--possibly it had been microwaved. It was good anyway, getting a lot of flavor out of peas and carrots. I though I had ordered octopus (pulpo in Spanish), but polpette turned out to mean meatballs. They were light, both in texture and in flavor, and were delicious. The mashed potatoes were ethereal, incredibly light and fluffy. They seemed not to weigh anything on my fork, even. The panna cotta was delicious; the excellent chocolate sauce was its main flavor.

Monday, 12/26

  • breakfast: leftover piece of bread; cappuccino
  • pistachios
  • lunch: two slices reheated pizza, one with pink, crumbly sausage, one with eggplant
  • coffee gelato
  • coffee
  • dinner: bresaola, arugula, and parmesan salad; pizza with ham and radicchio; wine

Italian cappuccino is really good, even in train stations.

We took the slow and cheap train to Florence. Italy is a lot hillier than Hungary.

The pizza at lunch was the thick, square kind. The slice with sausage wasn't bad; the sausage and crust, at least, were good. The eggplant slice had been sitting around for much too long and was no good.

After being turned away from one place for dinner, we were accepted at another, where my pronunciation of the word "due" was apparently so convincing that we were given the menu not in English, but in Italian. The bresaola was terrific, drier and less salty than yesterday's. The salad was a bit much for one person to eat. The pizza was imperfect. I had ordered it for the radicchio on it, which didn't disappoint; the cheese, ham, and crust did, unfortunately. The pizza's biggest problem was that it had too much cheese piled onto it, which made the crust soggy in the middle.

I haven't been mentioning the wine, but the Italian house wine is always good. Everywhere I've been, it's been light enough that I could drink it like soda. I haven't had the white, just the red.

Sunday, 12/25

  • breakfast: mozzerella di bufala and bread
  • lunch: Napoli pizza (i.e., mozzerella and tomato sauce pressed sandwich) and cafè lattè
  • dinner: bresaola, arugula, and parmesan salad; ravioli with seafood; wine; crème caramel

Christmas closed down much of Rome, limiting our choice of food. After breakfast--bread and mozzerella, kept for a day at room temperature and getting worse every minute--we made a last, hopeless attempt to see the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums. There was a big crowd on the metro, which we followed to St. Peter's Basilica. The balcony there looked like it was being readied for the pope, so we stuck around, and lo--there was the pope. He gave a short speech in Italian and then repeated it in Spanish, French, English (heavily accented), and German. He read a paragraph in a few other languages, and then wished us a merry Christmas in about twenty different ones. His Hungarian was well pronounced.

Lunch was a panino (singular of panini!) with bad tomato sauce, decent mozzerella, and good bread. The coffee was excellent, even if I broke the rules of Italian coffee by getting it.

We spent much of the afternoon walking. We saw the remains of a very old and pretty bridge over the Tiber. Along the way I made Joel practice saying things in Hungarian (for my own benefit, of course) until he got sick of it. I enjoyed it, though.

We ended up in Trastevere (the neighborhood across the Tiber--see, Italian is easy). Joel was exhausted, so even though it was early, we stopped for dinner. The bresaola was fine but too salty; the arugula was amazing, more peppery and intense than typical arugula. Next was ravioli in a light tomato sauce with clams, mussels, shrimp, and prawns. I'd never had a prawn before (in fact, I had to look them up to make sure that's what they were); they were very sweet and not at all fishy. It was an excellent pasta. It was a lot of work to eat, which was good since I had accidentally ordered an entire bottle of wine instead of a quarter liter. It took long enough to eat that I was able to drink it all, minus the little bit Joel had.

I left my hat at the restaurant and went back to get it. I didn't have to go inside, because someone had put it on the doorknob of the entrance. I'm not sure whether they were leaving it for me, or for the needy and hatless on Christmas.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Saturday, 12/24

  • meal 1: baguette
  • meal 2: roast pork sandwich from Franchi
  • meal 3: prosciutto and mozzerella sandwich from same grocery store as yesterday
  • coffee
  • meal 4: pasta with artichokes; oxtail in tomato sauce; tiramisù

When we checked into the hostel, one of the workers came over to our room to say hello to us. He asked what languages we spoke, and then started talking to me in Spanish. (My Spanish is still better than my Hungarian, but is getting pretty bad.) He told us that there were some chicas bonitas in our room, and that they were Japanese. I had some trouble waking up due to the mere three hours of sleep I had the night before, which left Joel to chat up these girls while I took a shower. When we left, he informed me that they were Chinese, not pretty, and had spent a full hour putting on makeup.

Our lunch was from Franchi, which is like one of my neighborhood's Italian food stores but five times as big. You order your food, get a receipt for it, take it to the cashier and pay, and then return for your food. They usually have pizza, calzones, and suppli, but didn't when we were there because they were dealing with the Christmas rush. I got roast pork; too bad I missed out on their roast beef, which was beautifully red in the middle (I didn't see it till afterwards). It was good, although Hungary has left me sick of pork.

My next sandwich was again excellent. I had a fun time trying to talk to the sandwich guy in Italian, who managed to convey to us that he was giving us mozzerella di bufala and that it was the best, and then gave us sandwiches heavier on mozzerella than they day before. They were better sandwiches, and they also cost a lot more. (The sandwich costs exactly the price of the ingredients, with no extra charge for assembling the sandwich.)

For dinner, we walked past the Colisseum and Circus Maximus to Testaccio, a neighborhood said to be hip. On Christmas Eve, it was more just abandoned, but we found a restaurant. Pasta with artichokes was a great appetizer and struck me as really easy to make: it looked like just artichokes, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. Oxtail with tomato sauce was good, but I would have preferred something that wasn't a stew, since Hungarian cuisine is almost entirely stews and I'm tired of them. The dish was similar to a pasta sauce Joel and I made once: tomato sauce with a tough cut of beef cooked in it. Our meat came out chewy, while the oxtail was falling apart. That bit of chewiness and being over pasta made our dish better than the restaurant's. Tiramis
ù was good though unexciting.

Friday, 12/23

Lunch: mozzerella and prosciutto sandwich from a grocery store on Via Urbana
Dinner: pizza with mushrooms and onions; tomato bruschetta; suppli (fried ball of rice, mozzerella, and tomato sauce) from a restaurant whose name I will look up soon
Dessert: two Italian pastries, name unknown; gelato, from a famed gelateria whose name I'll look up soon

The pizza was completely crisp--not a soggy spot to be found. That's crisper (more crisp?) than any New York pizza I've had, almost chip-like. There was very little sauce; the focus was really on the cheese and the toppings. The cheese was very good, with lots of flavor. The onions were onions, and the mushrooms were terrific, with a nice bit of char flavor to them.

Suppli is basically deep-fried pizza. (You'd think they'd have this in Hungary--possibly it's not porky enough for them.) The texture is different enough from pizza, though, that I could eat this with pizza (actually, after--we ordered it as our pizza was disappearing) without feeling like I was eating the same thing twice.

Everything I ate today tasted like mozzerella, which I'm happy to eat at every meal right now. The best New York mozzerella I've ever had was from a place across the BQE (possibly on Union St.) that closed a few years ago. It's not as good as the mozzerella here. The fight won't be fair, I guess, until we import some water buffaloes.

The pastries I had for dessert were sweet things that weren't crunchy, but were rigid, not soft at all. The outer layer is chocolate-flavored (like the chocolate cookies from Court Pastry), and their inside was lemony. They seem to melt a little bit as you bite into them. That's a label that gets attached to food--melting in your mouth--but these really do seem to. The first one I had was a bit stale; the second wasn't, and was much better.

The gelateria aims for the decor of a laboratory. They give you a gelato in a little cup, which, if they were serious about the whole thing, they ought to sterilize. I had pear, which wasn't so much like gelato as like a pear that happened to be cold. It had a rather rough texture and didn't taste at all creamy, which was good: pear has a delicate flavor and this let you have it unmasked.

Traffic in Rome is what New York traffic would be like if they took away all the traffic lights. It's more exciting to cross the street like this, and much more satisfying when you succeed.