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Deer Meat and Rabbit and Swamp Soup – Oh My!

28 Mar

Now a note on some recent culinary experiences.

traditional Czech sandwiches

A little over a week ago Jess and I went to our friend Renata’s birthday party. It was a nice gathering at their house with tons and tons and tons of food. Growing up in an Italian family I am accustomed to parties with a plethora of food and this Czech party rivaled the best of them. There were small open-faced sandwiches topped with potato salad, ham, salami, and hard-boiled eggs; delicious salad; stromboli-like rolls with cheese and ham; potato pancakes; and the highlight–deer goulash! It was outstanding. All the food was homemade by Renata and her mom. Unfortunately neither Jess nor I brought a camera so I have no pictures to accompany this, but you can trust me when I say it was a tasty, tasty spread… (Editorial note 3/29: I realized today that I do have a picture of tradition Czech sandwiches so I added it, but these are not the sandwiches specifically from Renata’s party.)

Yesterday we (when I say “we” it is implied that it means Jess and me, because she’s pretty much my only friend and we pretty much do everything together) went to dinner with our friend Roman to his parents’ house. We just met Roman in the last few weeks when he heard Jess and our colleague speaking English at a little lunch place one day and we’ve hung out with him a few times since then. His parents live in a small village about 20 minutes outside of KV and they graciously extended an invitation for a meal of traditional Czech food. Roman’s grandma prepared rabbit with stuffing and apple strudel for dessert. The rabbit was from a neighbor who raises rabbits (for eating, not like for pets or racing or whatever else people might use rabbits for). Other than the few stray (rabbit) hairs, the meat was good! Not as juicy as chicken, but it had some good texture and taste. The stuffing was amazing–it had a nice crisp on the outside and walnuts provided a nice crunch on the inside. Roman’s parents spoke only a little English, but they were so friendly and cool we had a good time, and of course it helped that Roman has lived in Canada and Ireland so he is a perfect translator.

The last mini-chapter of this note is about my own cooking, which, if we’re being honest, is not on the same level as deer goulash or rabbit. This winter Jess and I have made a lot of soup. A lot. Usually it’s of the “semi-homemade” variety in which we buy a soup mix pack then add our own veggies and stuff to it. The soup pictured here I made a few weeks ago and we dubbed it “swamp soup.” It contains an entire package of frozen spinach because as you might recall we only have a mini fridge that has only a mini freezer compartment that doesn’t actually keep anything frozen. And our outdoor freezer (the snow-covered balcony off the kitchen) has disappeared now that spring is here so when we buy anything frozen we have to eat/use it all right away. Which led to me using the entire package of spinach and creating an almost intimidatingly green concoction… but with beans, carrot, corn, and little pasta shells thrown in it was actually pretty tasty and something I’ll keep in the repertoire for next winter. Though I can say pretty confidently I am happy to be soupless until then…

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Debunking the Great PB Myth

13 Oct

There seems to be this notion that once you leave the United States you can no longer find peanut butter. Allegedly it doesn’t exist outside American borders. They said it to me last year in Spain, “oh I’ll bet you’ll miss peanut butter” and again this year, “we have a lot of food you’re used to at the supermarket, except maybe peanut butter. Americans love peanut butter.” And even other Americans I know that live abroad talk about it like it’s Moby Dick, the white whale of foods that just can’t be found.

I’m here today to disprove this myth.

I am not arguing that other countries love peanut butter, they don’t. Most foreign people I’ve talked with about the subject (just so we’re clear I mean like 10-15 people, from Spain, France, the UK, and the Czech Republic… my international network is not that big) think it’s a strange substance and don’t understand how Americans can love it. Last year I even made one of my students a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he gagged after the first few bites (for drama’s sake, I’m sure). He ate some more of it then said “it’s gross, I don’t understand why you love it.”

But despite their feelings toward it, peanut butter is available in Europe. I found Skippy in the Albert supermarket down the street from me in Karlovy Vary. Skippy!! Skippy peanut butter!! You can’t get more genuine than that. And in Spain they even make their own brand of peanut butter called Captain Mani. I used to buy it at the Carrefour in Huelva. And it was good peanut butter. I feel qualified to make this judgment because during my senior year of high school I brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch literally every day. I’m not exaggerating. Ask my mom and dad.

Are there supermarkets in Europe that don’t carry peanut butter? Yes, undoubtedly. Do a lot of Europeans embrace peanut butter the way Americans do? No, probably not. But my point is, if I can find Skippy here in small city Czech Republic and they make an entire brand of peanut butter in Spain it can’t really be that hard to find outside the US…

Kebab Comparison: Spain 1, CR 0

27 Sep

I decided to start a category where I will rate things in the Czech Republic as compared to the same things in Spain.

Today’s challenge: Doner Kebab
Sidenote: Doner Kebab is not a “kebab” like most Americans would think of it (chunks of meat and veggies on a stick). Please see wikipedia’s Doner Kebab entry for further details.

Competitors:
Representing Spain we have “Welcome Doner Kebab” on Pablo Rada (a main street) in Huelva. It was my go-to kebab place last year.
And in the Czech Republic’s corner we have “Doner Kebab” on Dr. Davida Becherova street in the city center of Karlovy Vary.

Winner: “Welcome Doner Kebab” of Huelva. It is such a clear winner it’s unbelievable. For starters their sauces and toppings are better, fresher with a little more spice/taste to them. Also, they stay open later than 9pm (may not be a fair measure since Spanish people eat dinner later than do Czech people). I have eaten at the kebab place in Karlovy Vary twice and each experience was sub-par. The last time I got there shortly before they closed so they didn’t have most of the items on the menu available and no fries! What’s a doner kebab without the fries?? Terrible, that’s what. Also, my kebab wrap was cold by the time I got home and ate it (approximately 5 minutes later). I will probably give the Karlovy Vary kebab place one more chance (especially because we don’t have a refrigerator in our apartment yet), but I will definitely be longing for “Welcome Doner Kebab” while I’m eating it…