From the garden

The give and take of time and truck

The village is heaving with gardens, various plots of land with flowers and fruit and vegetables. Those who live here all the time can keep an eye on things and compensate for the lack of rain by watering their produce. We haven’t yet capitalised the P&R in permanent residents, something that is seriously curtailing our Good Life adventure. Still, himself has planted peppers and tomatoes with the unsolicited help of her-next-door and they’re actually growing. I have a sneaking suspicion that herself has a vested interest in seeing them flourish and that, in the absence of rain and of our good selves, she might be watering them herself. But I’m not complaining.

The cold war that began when we put up the fence last year is slowly warming to tepid. We had a grand chat yesterday that consisted of her giving me her recipe for pickling cucumbers. I proudly showed her the two big jars of ones I’d already done, expecting at least a nod of appreciation, however grudging, but, of course, I had made the mistake of slicing them. Why did I slice them? Why? And she didn’t spot any dill in my brine. I had mustard seeds, chili peppers, and black peppercorns,  though, but no dill.

From the garden

An hour later, I heard her calling over the fence. She had dill for me, and more cucumbers (presumably so I could get it right this time), and a massive zucchini, the size of which amused her no end. From what I gathered (bearing in mind how limited my Hungarian is) our German neighbour a few doors up had had great fun with the one she’d given them. Apparently, he likes his pantomime. Say no more. Say no more.

Anyway, having repeated the recipe she gave me for rántott zucchini three times to her satisfaction, I left her wondering what I’d make of it all.

Coincidently, other neighbours had given us a big bucket of walnuts that I’d spent four hours shelling yesterday afternoon. I glazed most of them in maple syrup and rock salt for salads but still had some left dry. And with memories of a delicious banana bread the lovely MI made for us a while back, I thought: Why not make a zucchini and walnut bread. And if I make enough, I can give a loaf to each of the neighbours, a sort of homage to their produce and their neighbourliness.

This is what I love about village life. The sharing of wealth. The give and take of time and truck that makes everyone’s life just a little bit easier.

 

Walnut and zucchini bread

 

 

The ROI on ACV

In his play Lady Windemere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde’s character Lord Darlington joked that a cynic was ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. This popped into my head today as I cored my 44th apple and I spent the next 112 apples thinking about it. Dem’s a lotta apples.

During the week, I ran into a friend from my early days in Budapest who has since moved back to Ireland. In the quick catch up, lives were summarised and brief synopses traded. I found myself telling them that I’d recently lost an apple tree. They expressed their condolences. We laughed. But I was a little shocked. Since when had my trees become so important?

I was away when himself sent the photo of the damage. Apparently, the tree was too old to withstand recent high winds. Laden with fruit, the beginnings of what would have been a bumper crop, it toppled over, When I came down late last week, I salvaged what I could and set about doing something with the apples. They’d died way before their time, most of them no bigger than a 200 ft coin. I cored what I could, saving the cores to make apple cider vinegar (a first for me – I’ll know how successful I’ve been in about three months). The rest I boiled and simmered for an hour or so before straining the juice. All told, I spent about five hours working on those apples and I might, if I’m lucky, get a litre of decent vinegar and 4 litres of apple juice. An hour per litre. By my reckoning, that’s expensive liquid. I certainly won’t be reserving my place at the local farmers market. And I won’t be looking for a brand name for my produce.

But having already pickled some of my neighbour’s cucumbers, I was in a productive mood. I put in a full day’s work in the kitchen, none of it billable, unfortunately. I’m the only client who will be satisfied. But given the medical benefits of ACV, I might well have taken the first step towards a healthier future. Gotta love this village life. The good life.

2018 Grateful 28

So, if I were a kid, watching Billy Elliott might make me gay? Really? I’m mortified that this is making headline news outside of Hungary. The Irish Times led with:

Billy Elliot shows scrapped amid ‘gay propaganda’ row: Opera chief in Hungary denies pressure from nationalist government promoted the move

The Guardian ran with:

Billiot Elliot musical axes dates in Hungary amid claims it could ‘turn children gay’

The Washington Post went with:

Billy Elliott shows canceled in Hungary amid cries that musical is ‘gay propaganda’

The mind boggles, particularly when I heard that the one gay character in the original show wasn’t gay in the Hungarian version. Go figure. But just when I thought I’d seen the capital L on Ludicrous illuminated, I heard another story that has left me reeling.

Walking on the island today, we got chatting to a fisherman who said he had caught some fish. We asked to have a look as I’ve never seen any of the many fishermen who regularly line the lakeshore catch anything other than the occasional palinka fugue. And sure enough, he had some live ones swimming around in his net. Nice ones. But he had a problem. The goverment has apparently decreed that the Busa and the Kárász  (both types of carp) are not truly Hungarian fish and therefore have to be taken from Hungarian waters. Forcibly removed. If you catch them, you cannot put them back, no matter how small they are. You have to keep them. And, what’s more, you have to kill them where you catch them. You can’t take them home live and then kill them and cook them fresh. Nope. It’s death before departure.  This was a problem for me man, as he lives some 150 km from the village and figured that his fish would be well souped by the time he got them home.

Kárász (Crucian)

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I’d have thought that there were other, more pressing matters, for the government to focus on. Like the increasing rate of emigration. Or the state of the hospitals. Or the abortion rate – I heard tell this week of one hospital with 18 beds in the gynaecology ward performing an average of 10 abortions a day. But no; it would seem that fish are in focus. Foreign fish.

Of course, there’s always a chance that this chap was a tad disillusioned or perhaps read the law wrong or maybe even had been in the sun too long, but he seemed convinced and was very convincing. And what’s more, he seemed to find the whole thing as ludicrous as I did. We shared a contemplative moment as we considered the madness of it all, then shook hands and parted ways.

In a week that’s seen no shortage of visitors and entertainment, I’m grateful for interactions such as these, conversations that keep me wondering at where the world is headed. There’s nothing like a bit of suspense to liven up a Saturday.

 

 

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

Yarn bombing

I nearly crashed the car. Driving a road I’ve driven hundreds of times, I had to do a double-take. Were all the trees in the park wearing sweaters? Had the park benches been kitted out in knitted flags? Mad.

On the way back, I pulled in to have a look. And yes, Liffey Park in Newbridge has been yarn bombed in celebration of the creativity in the county. Love it.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

Yarn bombing is also known as yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting, or graffiti knitting. Wikipedia says:

[…] yarn bombing has become synonymous with the current feminist movement due in part to the reclamation of a traditionally feminine act (i.e. knitting and/or crocheting) to partake in the traditionally masculine and male-dominated graffiti scene. The women and girls who make up the yarn bombing subculture are diverse in race, age, sexuality, class, etc. and create space for themselves and their art everywhere from college campuses to public parks. This creation and preservation of space is what motivates some of the participants, some of whom have never been able to access a political art space before.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

It’s a relatively new phenomenon, apparently originating in Texas back in 2005 when boutique owner Magda Sayeg covered the doorhandle of her shop in Houston with a knitted cozy. And from such small beginnings, a global movement has sprung. International Yarnbombing Day was first celebrated on 11 June 2011. Who knew.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

In a 2005 article published in the Royal Geographical Society journal Area, author Joanna Mann argues that  yarn bombing

[…]does more than feminise the city, for the whimsy with which it is imbued has the capacity to increase our attentiveness to habitual worlds in a series of micro‐political gestures.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

It’s quite something. When I first came across it (can’t remember where) I remember thinking that it brightened up what was otherwise quite a dreary place. And admittedly, it is all rather frivolous – but it certainly attracts attention, is temporary in nature, can be easily removed, and makes for a happy place. Kudos to the Kildare Yarn Bombers. Job well done.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 29

I was in Venice during the week for a few days. I packed my laptop. I had about an hour’s work that I didn’t quite get done before I left, so I brought it with me. As I like to blog, too, it’s handy to have. I have it in my mind that one day I’ll use the text in my three blog/websites as the material for three books: Unpacking My Bottom Drawer (a work in progress, scheduled for later this year); Any Excuse to Travel (a vague notion for 2019); and Dying to Get In (still in my head). I like the discipline. I like that when I write about a city, or somewhere I visit, I have to research. I have to read around it. And all too often, I learn of places I would have gone to visit had I know about them while I was there. [Next time, I want to visit the Armenian Monastery where Byron went to study the language.]

We didn’t walk through St Mark’s Square. We didn’t take a Gondola trip. We didn’t visit Murano. Or Burano. Or San Michele. We didn’t go to Harry’s Bar for a Bellini. And I never once ate pasta. But I did get a taste of life on the water. I discovered Tintoretto and his amazing story. And I got to the Biennale. We stayed on Lido and even spent one entire day lying by a pool. What poor tourists we were.

I can’t remember when I stopped always doing what was expected of me. I don’t have a firm recollection of when I began to lessen the hold that obligation had over me. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the date when I started to offer a considered no in place of a blind yes. None of this happened overnight. You can’t change a lifetime of behaviour just by willing it so. I’ve had to learn…and often the hard way.

I know it’s working because I’ve heard that I’ve changed. I’m not nearly as much fun, apparently. Not nearly as sociable. Not nearly as available. And I’m hearing more and more lately that I seem to have settled. Oh man – the first time I heard my name and that word in the same sentence, I had palpitations. Me? Settled? Seriously? But perhaps I have settled. I still like a drink but no longer want to waste the next day recovering so those times when the weakness in me get strong are few and far between. I still like to go out but enjoy my time at home even more. I still like to travel but am picking and choosing my destination a little more carefully.

I’m still working, still chasing my tail, still trying to juggle a million things at once, but I’m also taking more time to experiment, to pick fruit, to paint tables. I’ve given up on SEO, and social media, and tweeting resigning myself to the fact that people don’t have time to read anything but headlines. So when I write now, I write for me. For my own records. And for some dear old friends who, through age and circumstance, like to travel virtually with me.

Happy birthday week DLW – hang tough. UNESCO has it right – normal life is a full-time job. And I’m grateful for mine, however settled it might be.

My Budapest

Hardly a week goes by without someone asking me for advice on where to eat and what to do in Budapest. Usually it’s friends asking for friends or colleagues with different interests and requirements. In anticipation of a raft of questions coming as the summer holidays approach, I thought I’d spend some time drafting a summary of where I like to eat and what I like to do in Budapest, a list of personal favourites, for what it’s worth.

Fricska Gastropub, Dob u. 56-58, in District VII, is still my favourite upmarket restaurant. The chalkboard menu changes daily and usually offers a choice of four starters, a couple of soups, half-a dozen main courses featuring everything from fish to steak to wild game, and a few tasty desserts. When they run out, they run out. It’s a popular spot, so reservations are recommended and can be made through their website: http://fricska.eu/en/. It’s closed Sunday and Monday.

For Hungarian fare, I like Huszár Étterem, II. János Pál pápa tér 22, in District VIII. They do a particularly good Jókai bableves (bean soup) and an excellent goose with red cabbage. Their trout is worth trying, too. It’s within spitting distance of Keleti train station, which makes it a popular spot with tourists and locals alike, who seem to enjoy the live music offer. It’s often booked out for private parties, so best to check ahead of time to make sure it’s open. And it’s great for large groups. http://huszar-etterem.hu/

Kompót Bisztró, Corvin sétány 1/B, in District VIII, is a favourite for lunch. Their buffet breakfast is popular as is their daily menu (at about €5). It’s a nice place for dinner, too, with terrace seating on the bustling sétány. Corvin sétány is a pedestrian zone boasting myriad cafés, restaurants (including fish, Italian, Indian, sushi, a hummus bar, and one of the best burger joints in the city, Epic burger), a craft beer pub, a casino, and my favourite wine café in the city, Vino és Wonka. They, too, have a chalk menu featuring wines from smaller Hungarian vineyards, a few nice antipasto plates, and some great chocolate.

And while in the Corvin area, there are a couple of interesting museums worth checking. Like the Holocaust Memorial Center, Páva utca, in District IX. If I had to choose between this and the House of Terror on Andrássy, this is the one I’d visit. The museum is linked to the Páva utca synagogue, once the second largest site for Jewish worship in Budapest. It’s closed on Mondays.

Further down, on Dandár utca 1, also in District IX, is the Zwack Unicum Museum, which, to my mind, is one of the best in the city. Exhibits showcase the history of the Zwack family, makers of the famous black liqueur and a video biography of the firm’s history gives a rare insight into how life once was and now is in Hungary. And, as with all good liquor tours, tastings are included. Closed Sundays, tours are available in English. www.zwackunicum.hu. And you can get a combination ticket that includes entry to both this and the Holocaust Memorial Center.

National History Muesum - what to do in Budapest

Back then to District VIII, to the Hungarian Natural History Museum, Ludovika tér 2, which dates to 1802. This is a fascinating place with all sorts of exhibits including a dinosaur park. The interactive games make it all that much more interesting. It’s closed on Tuesdays, by the way. It’s practically next door to Orczy park, Orczy út 1, which is a lovely spot to walk or picnic and has a great kids playground and adventure park. And over the road again, are the ELTE botanical gardens on Illés u. 25, a lovely spot to while away the hours looking at interesting plants and flowers. Open daily.

Further out on this side of the city, at Népliget, is the Planetarium, with its fantastic photo display and tours of the solar system (in English, too). It’s currently under renovation but check to see if it’s open when you get here.

Budapest has plenty to offer in terms of music and exhibitions. One of my favourite venues for live music is Kobuci kert, Fő tér 1, an outdoor venue in District III. Set on a rather lovely square, within walking distance of the Danube, it’s a happening spot that offers ticketed events (from as a little as €5), reasonably priced drinks, and decent grill food. BudapestPark , Soroksári út 60, in District IX, is another rocking spot, as is Barba Negra, Prielle Kornélia u. 4, in District XI. Check their websites for details of what’s on.

Downtown, Akvárium Klub on Erzsébet tér 12, is more central, with lots of outdoors seating. Across the river, Mátyás church, 2 Szentháromság tér, in District I, offers free organ recitals on Sunday evenings at 6pm. It’s a great way to get to see the church without paying the admission fee and while there, you can enjoy a spectacular view the city from the Fisherman’s Bastion, which is breathtaking at night. Lot of churches in the city offer musical events as does the famous Liszt Ferenc Academy on Liszt Ferenc tér

But while you’re over in the Castle district, the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum is worth a visit, at Lovas út 4/C.  It’s a little pricey, but worth the money. The guided tours are excellent. And when it comes to things in rocks, visit the Gellért Hill Cave in District XI which, in its day, has been a chapel, a monastery, and a field hospital for the German Army during WWII. It re-opened as a church in 1989. The self-guided tour (headphones) is available in many languages and well worth the admission. It’s across the road from the famous Gellért baths, high on the list of Budapest spas, but doesn’t come close to my favourite, the Rudas baths, Döbrentei tér 9. They open late (10pm to 4am) on Fridays and Saturdays. Quite the experience.

There is so much to see and do in Budapest that I could go on and on. And perhaps I will. Next time.

First published in the Budapest Times 11 June 2018

2018 Grateful 30

I’ve had one of those weeks when I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. It started when I left two bags of cherries in the fridge in the village. I’d meant to bring them to the city to stone and freeze. I wouldn’t mind, but I wondered not once, but three times, why the food carrier was so light.

Then my store of novelty Budapest chocolates, treats for a workshop I was running on Friday, treats that I’ve only ever found in one little shop over in Buda – I had those all ready to pack – but didn’t want to crush the boxes, so I Ieft them aside and then left without them. Airport chocolate is five times more expensive and not nearly as nice.

Then the flight was late.

When I got to the car rental desk, the lovely lady told me that my credit card had expired last week. So no car. They, of course, don’t take cash. Or a debit card. And even had I taken full insurance, they’d still need a credit card. Why or what for I’m not sure. Thankfully, the mates I called came to my rescue. They’d rent the car but name me as the driver. They arrived with a credit card but no licence – why would they need it if they weren’t driving? So another friend had to be called in. I was now three hours behind schedule. But I was on the road.

Next day, I get to my workshop more than an hour early. I wanted to be sure that I’d be able to use my laptop with their system and if not, have time to source another. All was good. But the that massive Windows update that I’d been putting off all week kicked in and for more than an hour I wanted the minutes tick away, one percent at a time. I just about made it.

I couldn’t get my Internet to work, so I texted their support guy, who asked questions like when I run config/all (or some such) what does it say? WTF? The presumption of knowledge was hilarious. It was something to do with hardcored DNS numbers in the end.

The workshop went fine. They enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. All good.

I still had time before the shops closed so I headed into TK Maxx to buy a frying pan. I get lost easily and if I enter the shopping centre from a different door, I find it nearly impossible to orientate myself. I spotted a lift that I knew would open on the floor I needed, so in I got. Halfway between two floors, the electricity cut out and the lift stopped. With me in it. And I was in it for 29 minutes. I counted. They eventually got the door open and lowered a ladder for me to climb out. It was, of course, the only day this year that I’ve worn a floor-length skirt. All I can say is that it wasn’t pretty.

I had yet another fruitless trip to M&S who really need to do something about their ordering policy. It’s pretty clear to me (someone with little to no retail experience) that if something regularly sells out, you should order more of it than of anything else. Every other woman in Ireland must wear the same bra size as I do because M&S has not had that size in stock the last three times I’ve shopped there.

So, with the week about to close and a new one set to begin, I can only hope that the universe has said whatever it needs to say to me. These were, of course, all first world issues. As the rest of the world continues to go mad, I’m grateful that my issues are trivial.

 

 

 

Whassup Ryanair?

I’m due to fly tomorrow. I checked in last Wednesday. I even printed my boarding pass. And I just got an email reminding me that my flight is tomorrow and that I should ‘consider checking in’. mmmm…For a minute there I stopped and wondered if I were me or someone else but no, the codes are the same. And yes, the site says I’m checked in. But the message came from Outlook. Whew. For a minute I wondered.

In and of itself, even if it had been RyanAir, this would have been no more than a blip in the system. But in the last week or so, I know of five RyanAir flights that have been delayed. And not just delayed but planes sitting on runways for an hour or more with other in-terminal hold-ups. And this is just between Budapest and Dublin going both ways.

And just yesterday, the Indo ran a piece of a flight from Dublin to Budapest that was diverted to Bratislava, according to the Captain, but then ended up landing in Vienna – with passengers left to find their own way to BP – after midnight.

I can forgive RyanAir a lot of things. I suck up the priority boarding fee because it really is a baggage charge – the only priority you get flying from Budapest is to board a bus first – not a priority bus, not a bus that allows priority passengers to disembark first, just a bus with all the other punters. So I’m really paying for the privilege of carrying on my carryon. I can live with that.

I can forgive it the steadily deteriorating inflight service. Last flight, my hot sambo had gone cold before my luke-warm coffee arrived. But I really should have known better and eaten before I got on the plane. And given that it would appear that the cabin staff pay for their own training and bring their own food onboard, I shouldn’t be expecting stellar service.

But after years of suffering that horrendous clatter they make when their flights arrive on time or ahead of the buffered schedule, I’m beginning to miss it.  I can’t believe I said that. But I hate being late. So, whassup RyanAir?

 

Slowing down the aging process

Mulberries are a strange fruit. Thanks to Pop goes the weasel, I’ve gotten this far in life thinking they grew on a bush – all around the mulberry bush – but lately, having realised we have three trees in our garden that are producing them at a rapid rate, I now know they grow on a tree.

They look like a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry – the colour of the former and the shape of the latter. Taste-wise, they’re nothing to write home about. But, loathe to waste anything, I did some reseach to see what I could do with them.

Apparently, their health benefits are many: they improve digestion (good), lower cholesterol (very good), help weight loss (great), increase circulation, build bone tissue, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. So they have to be good for you, right? They’re also supposed to slow down the aging process – which for me, puts them in a superfood category.

Their stems are buried deep inside the fruit, so even when you’ve taken off the stalk, taking out the rest of the stem is a pain in the proverbial. They stain, horribly. Remember your fountain pen days when you’d get a stain on your fingers from the ink? Now treble that.

Recipes I came across included a mulberry sorbet – which we set out to make. But fifteen minutes into destemming, we lost the will to continue and just put the lot we’d picked into a pot, added some sugar, and boiled the guts out of them. Then we strained and bottled. I fully intended to add some of this syrup to some soda water and have as my daily wake-up tonic. But, man, does that stuff taste vile. So it has to be good for you, right?

They’re easy to pick – just look at them and they drop into the bucket. The ground is littered with them. They’re everywhere. Which means they get on shoes and sandals and get tracked inside, adding a nice purple hue to the floors. Perhaps the most telling, though, is that the birds leave them alone. Obviously they don’t have cholesterol issues or suffer from high blood pressure. Next year perhaps, I might be a little more organised. But this year, one bottle of syrup was as much as I could muster.

I have another cholestoral check in September, and if it has dropped dramatically (or shifted downwards at all) then I’ll be in business. These trees could be my pension.

 

2018 Grateful 31

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who needed affirmation – confirmation that I was doing the right thing or making the right choice. I pretty much do what feels right when it feels right to do it. Nothing more complicated than that. But occasionally, when affirmation and unsolicited approval come my way, I do a damn fine imitation of a peacock in full preen.

I’ve long since realised that I live a blessed life. My wants outnumber my needs and even those are manageable. I have the best of both worlds, with my time split between city and country living and frequent trips to Ireland and abroad. Work comes my way when I need it and life is never dull. I have so much to be grateful for.

But I’m in danger of taking it all for granted. I do things on a daily basis that others have never had the chance to do at all. I have a friend visiting from home home who is crossing firsts off their list of things to do at an alarming rate.

We’ve picked cherries and made jam and cherry syrup. We’ve shelled and candied walnuts. We’ve picked mulberries and having researched their superfood properties, made syrup of those, too. And this was just Day 1. Today, with so many working in the service industry and the manufacturing industry mainly automated, few of us get to see the fruits of our labours. We miss out on the satisfaction that comes with turning a bowl of cherries into a pot of jam. We don’t get to feel that sense of tired satisfaction that comes after spending a day doing… doing stuff.

Day 2, being Sunday, was a rest day that started with us scoring some nice pottery at a flea market outside Keszthely and then finding a birdhouse, a hall table, and a compost bin at another market near Tapolca. Lunch at the Istvándi winery overlooking the Balaton in Káptalantóti, with its cold cherry soup and home-grown mangalica pork was about sustainability. Everything we ate was grown locally. Everything we drank, from the syrup to the wine, was made locally. A stunning environ with great food; a model worth replicating.

From there it was over to Szigliget for a dip in the Balaton waters, before popping into the neighbours for a chat and a catchup and then catching a nightcap in the local presszo. From my viewpoint, looking out, these were normal days for me. For my friend, looking in, they were days with a difference.

Sometimes, looking at our lives from another’s perspective can make us appreciate what we have just a little bit more. And that new perspective is one to be grateful for.