The Surrealism of Equal Love

I’ve been known to use the word surreal when I’m describing some of what passes for politics in Hungary to people who’ve never been here. The reaction to the latest Coca-Cola Equal Love ad campaign being a case in point. Read more

2019 Grateful 24: Green Tomato Day

The responsibility that comes with having a garden weighs heavily on me. It dictates what I do and when I do it. I’m tied to the kitchen. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get Mother Nature on my schedule. Her lastest parry has been of the green tomato variety. Read more

Exercise your brain with Maths Chase

Boss is an avid puzzler. He spends a chunk of his day, every day, doing crosswords and puzzles. The crosswords I get; the puzzles I’m not a huge fan of. And I’ve never gotten the hang (or the point) of Sudoku. But he maintains to that keep your memory, you have to exercise your brain every day.  Read more

2019 Grateful 26 & 25: Irresponsible Reviews

I have friends in the hospitality business who on occasion fall foul of bad reviews. I listen to their stories of guests wrecking the place, leaving traces of drugs in the bathrooms, being generally boorish and obnoxious. And then, when challenged or asked to pay for damages, the guests/punters take to social media and leave a bad review with little thought and even less consideration for the damage their irresponsible reviews can do.

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2019 Grateful 27: Pass the Zucchini

I’m at a loss as to how to explain to her-next-door that there are only two of us. Twenty eggs. (Eggs come in boxes of 10 here.) Two kilos of uborka (pickling cucumbers). A kilo of cherry plums. Two kilos of peaches (or maybe they were apricots). And two massive zucchini. And this was just last week. With so many fruit trees in the village and so many locals growing their own veg and such, getting rid of what you can’t (or don’t want to) use is like a convoluted game of pass the parcel.

When the farmer up the road at home drops into my mother with eggs, she bakes him a tart in return. She mightn’t want to bake. She mightn’t have planned to bake. She mightn’t be in the mood to bake. But bake she will. There’s some sort of unwritten code that demands it. I always thought she was mad. I figured my city-loving genes would have long-since throttled any lurking country ones, given that a greater percentage of my life has been lived within the madding crowd than without. But no. I’m turning (or perhaps have already turned) into my mother. (And that’s not a complaint – she’s a grand woman.)

No matter what I’d planned to do that day or what I might have wanted to do that day, if the eggs arrive, I have to bake. Anything. Something. I think though that herself has gotten smarter. She’s seen the Pavlovian pattern. I’m sure she realises that if she drops off eggs AND zucchini, then zucchini bread will follow. Perhaps I’m giving her too much credit, but I certainly have my suspicions.

So, when life hands me a mammoth zucchini. I bake. Walnut and zucchini bread. Loaves of it. And then I pass the parcel to anyone who might drop by that day. Or the next. The painter got lucky last week. He’s sold on it. But when I gave him the first one to sample, his wife sent him back with uborka that I added to the bucket already awaiting pickling. Village life is a never-ending cycle of give and take.

After nearly three years, I’ve finally mastered the unregulated gas oven. I bake now by smell. But that means I can’t leave the kitchen lest I miss the crucial turn-around point and the even more crucial turn-down point. But when I get it right, I get it right.

Recipe for zucchini and walnut bread

Some of you have asked for the recipe. That, too, I’ve fiddled with to the point I can do it blind. Here it is. (Forgive the translation – it’s for me.)

In the first bowl, mix

  • 3 cups of sieved flour (finom liszt if you’re in Hungary – not the rétes liszt)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda (1 teáskanál szódabikarbóna)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder (1 teáskanál sütőport)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (1 teáskanál só)
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (1 evőkanál fahéj)

In the second bowl, mix (manually rather than electronically – am not sure why this is better but it makes a difference – I found this out the day I couldn’t be arsed taking out the mixer)

  • 3 eggs (3 tojás)
  • 1 cup of sugar (1 csésze kristálycukor)
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil (1 csésze növényi olaj)
  • 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract (3 teáskanál vanília kivonat)

Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ones (not the other way around) and when it’s mixed, add

  • 2 cups of grated zucchini at least (Legalább 2 csésze reszelt cukkini)
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts (1 csésze dió)

Grease two pans with just enough butter to make them shine – too much and they’ll burn. Oil doesn’t work … I’ve tried.

Put in the oven and bake. I can’t help you with temperatures  because I’ve no markings on my oven knobs.  I turn it to 8 pm for about 10 minutes and then turn the pans around before turning it down to 7 pm and waiting for anywhere between 20 and 35 minutes. Again, no clue what the difference in time is – but when you start to smell it,  keep an eye on it. When you can stick a knife through the centre and it comes out clean, you’re done. Take them out of the oven but let them sit in the tins for a few minutes. I found this out because the phone rang one time and I got distracted. But letting them sit makes a difference. Then cool them on a wire rack.

Store, not in a tin, but in Tupperware in the fridge. Or freeze them wrapped in baking paper. They’ll keep for 10 days or 2 weeks in the fridge and only need a couple of hours to defrost from the freezer.

loaves of zucchini and walnut bread

I’m slowly getting the hang of village life and on a good day, I revel in the bounty. On a bad day, I curse it. But thankfully, I have more good days than bad.

Adding some Scottish to the mix

The French philosopher Voltaire is reputed to have said ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.’ Presumably, he was talking about the French. Some three centuries later, the British in Hungary are looking in that direction, too, this time for ideas on how to revamp the long-established British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (BCCH). Enter Duncan Graham, one of the city’s best-known Scotsmen, and recently appointed Chair of the BCCH, the first non-Hungarian to hold the position in 15 years. Read more

2019 Grateful 28: Wallowing like Buffalo

It’s all happening in the village today. Well, technically, it’s all happening a little bit outside the village in Kápolnapuszta at the buffalo reserve. It’s their annual fete, complete with buffalo burgers, buffalo gulyas, and the Hungarian staple, kürtőskalács (chimney cake). Read more

Two pints stage scene

Two Pints: Roddy Doyle’s Dublin on Stage

A few years back, when I first came across Roddy Doyle’s Two Pints, I gave a copy to two Irish lads in Budapest thinking that it was worth staging. We never did, but the thought was there.

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2019 Grateful 29

On the metro to Kelenföld the other day, I sat across from a young lad, no younger than 18, no older than 25. He had the foppish-hair-and-glasses look that seemed a season or seven out of date. He wore jeans and a quotation t-shirt and clutched a retro green football kit bag in front of him partially obscuring the writing on the shirt. Read more

Twenty-first-century nightmare

When I stop to think about how connected the world is, how dependent we are on things that need charging, I can feel my blood pressure rise. A slight panic sets in and I need to think of something completely different to avoid working myself into a lather and succumbing to this twenty-first-century nightmare. Read more