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2013 Grateful 30

Back in 2002, I was in Carlow in the Dinn Rí nightclub. This fellah with a very fla’ (read: flat!) midlands accent asked me out to dance. When the song was over, he turned to me and said in his fla’est of tones: ‘I can see by ya, dah ya like a bi’ a chocola’. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he then added: ‘jus’ like me mammy’.

Yes, I like my food and there are few things I enjoy more than a good meal in good company. Strangely though, I can get enough of eating out and prefer, more often than not, to cook for people who bring an appetite and some good conversation to the table. Last week, driving around the Balaton, I had no kitchen and had to (sigh!) resign myself to eating public fare.

Friday night, I dined with the inimitable BA at the Kővirág Panzió és Étterem in Köveskál. I was a little worried when my fish arrived that I wouldn’t have enough to eat but fortified by the ragout soup I’d had to start, there was plenty and it was all good. On Saturday, I had some more of the ragout soup, but this time at the Szent György Panzió és Étterem in Tapolca. This quaint spot next door to the Lake Cave is a warren of reasonable-sized dining rooms, one of which we had to ourselves. IMG_4406 (800x600)It wasn’t all that difficult to imagine the hands of the clock spinning in reverse,  transporting us back 20 or 30 years when the place surely had its heyday. The wine was good, the food was grand, and the service was prompt and friendly. Add to that the luxury of having a whole dining room to yourself and you start to think you’ve died and gone to restaurant heaven. Or better still, have actually gone back 20 years and are part of the upper echelons of society!

IMG_4542 (800x400)I was on a ragout frenzy at this stage and in Héviz on Sunday couldn’t pass up the boar ragout at Liget Étterem és Pizzéria as a frontrunner to the grilled trout.  Perched on a height overlooking the town, we ate to the orchestral strains of some classic music that wafted our way. It was a tad surreal trying to IMG_4539 (800x583)speak Hungarian with a mouthful of pisztráng while listening to the theme song to the Pink Panther!

I border on the obsessive when it comes to eating, particularly when I’m away. No sooner does one meal end that I mentally envision the next. It doesn’t need to be haute cuisine. It doesn’t need to be silver service and linen napkins. All I ask of food is that it delivers on its promise and fulfills whatever deep and irrational expectation I have of it.

Some people eat for the sake of eating. Other eat at every opportunity because at some stage in their lives they had nothing at all to eat and something inside them switched to permanent survival mode. I know of an holocaust survivor who is first to the table every time, regardless of what’s on offer.

On those occasions when I eat just to eat, I don’t feel satisfied. I fixate on food: if I have Thai in my head then the most luscious leg of lamb just won’t cut it. I think of only once in my life (in Rome, craving some Chinese noodles!) when the meal I finally got surpassed all cravings and expectations. Even when I’m on my own, I cook a full dinner.  I almost always eat for the pure pleasure of eating – and this week, I’m grateful that life has afforded me the luxury of being able to do so.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

2013 Grateful 31

This weekend, driving around the Balaton, I was mesmerised, not by the lake or the vineyards but by the grass verges on the roadside. Column after column of red poppies sparkled with raindrops mixed in with purple fireweed, white daisies, and blue cornflowers. I was struck by the fact that none would sell in a flower shop – no one would pay for these weeds – and then immediately got to thinking about how silly we humans are.

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When a ten-year-old child knows their Tommy Hilfiger from their Calvin Kline, one has to wonder where we have gone wrong. I know I can’t speak for everyone but I bet I’m not the only one who has chosen an expensive wine thinking it must be good if it cost so much – only to be disappointed. I’ve bought designer label stuff not because it fit or flattered but because it was a whatever.  I’ve read prize-winning books that I hated and watched art movies that went over my head and saw plays that I just didn’t get … all because I felt I should.

I doubt I’m the only one that has been caught up in a series of societal expectations – someone else’s expectations. I doubt that I’m the only one to have felt an obligation to do something I’d rather not just because I thought I should. And I doubt that I’m the only one to have forgotten that all too often, it’s the simple pleasures in life that are the ones that memories are made of.

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Doug Larson said once that a weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.  How much more interesting our world would be if more of us mere mortals were to follow their lead.

The poppy blooms for just a few days and yet in that short space of time adds a rare beauty to the world, offers the milk from which opiates are made, and the seeds that used in baking and pressed for oil. Synonymous with loss of life in war, the poppy has become a sign of remembrance. And for me, a sharp reminder that life doesn’t need to be any more complicated than I make it.

This week, as I dot the final i and cross the final t in my dissertation and get ready to pack for my road-trip, I’m truly grateful that we took the time to stop  and smell the poppies. And if my stream of consciousness takes me from the Balaton to Flanders and back again, from designer labels to opiates and cooking oil,  all the better. Isn’t that what life is? One long road-trip that brings us places we never thought we see, introduces us to people we never imagined we’d meet, and  makes us constantly wonder what’s around the next corner.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Violent milk

Just 30 km from the Balaton in the direction of Kaposvár lies the little town of Somogyvámos where  Krishna Völgy (Krishna Valley) sits. Its 260 hectares houses a cultural centre, an eco farm, a village (complete with temple and school) and 150 Krishna devotees committed to living in accordance with the ancient Vedic scriptures. When I mentioned to  Foodie friend of mine in the UK that I was going to visit the Haré Krishnas at home in Eco Valley, she immediately started talking about milk. Here in Hungary, as at George Harrison’s old mansion in Hertfordshire in the UK, cows enjoy a sacred life. There is a strict no-kill policy. No matter how old, how decrepit, how useless, the animals live out their natural lives…and do so quite happily, it would seem.

Each animal has its own name. I was personally introduced to Radhika and fell madly in love. (Don’t tell me you’re surprised?) Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Haré Krishna movement, set up farm communities almost from the git go [and there I was thinking they simply danced in the streets]. His idea of ‘simple living, high thinking’ is realised by the community in Krishna Völgy who are striving, in so far as practically possible, to be self-sufficient. Srila Prabhupada, like all persons so inspired, apparently had a stock of quotable quotes – morsels of wisdom that might, on first hearing, seem somewhat inane, but on deeper reflection, capture huge concepts in tiny phrases. You can’t eat nuts and bolts. No, you can’t. A simple statement – but think of what it implies: by being dependant on  bulls and cows, by working the land in order to be self-sustainable, and by protecting these animals in harmony with the natural laws of God, Haré Krishnas utilize this life in a conscious fashion [the keyword for me in all of this is ‘conscious’].

But back to the happy cows and their gifts of milk, butter, curd, yogurt, and cheese. And don’t forget the urine and the dung, both of which are used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Dung is also used as fuel for cooking and many believe it to be a powerful antiseptic [others disagree]. Late last year, the Guardian ran an article on two extremes – a proposed new 8000-head dairy farm and a small farm of just 44 cows and oxen (on the aforementioned former home of Beatle George Harrison). And, having discovered ahimsa [slaughter-free] milk, they asked a panel of experts to do a taste test between it and supermarket milk. No surprise which won.

So, I met the cows here in Hungary (one even gave birth the day I was there) and they are beautiful. And with each one having its own name, they’re very real. My granny had a farm and I’m well used to cows and calves and cows calving. Some had names but as kids, we were never encouraged to get attached to them as one day, we’d most likely be meeting them at the kitchen table. Talking to cows as if they were, well,  human, seemed a tad peculiar. And not for the first time, I found myself wondering at the innate human kindness that has been subversed to a greater or lesser degree in many of us, all in the name of progress.

I started reading up on ahimsa milk [according to the website: no bulls or cows were slaughtered or exploited to produce it] and discovered that this isn’t quite what it says. Ahimsa (Sanskrit: Devanagari; अहिंसा; IAST ahiṃsā, Pāli: avihiṃsā) is a term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violencehimsa). And can there really be such a thing as ahimsa milk? According to Dusyanta dasa, picking a carrot and feeding it to a cow who is producing milk is violence by the human and the cow… ergo the milk cannot be non-violent (ahimsa).

Oh yes… I can see eyes being rolled to heaven and can hear vague murmurings of ‘she’s lost the plot’. But no, I haven’t stopped drinking supermarket milk – it’s not practical for me to do so. But I do think of Radhika as I drink it. And I am convinced that if we were all just a tad more aware of what we do and a tad more willing to accept responsibility for our actions, the world would be a creamier place. mmmm….might milk have become my metaphor?