Tale of Christmas

The carrot and star anise puree was behaving more like an indoor firework than a vegetable dish to accompany the mandatory brussels sprouts. It had taken a long time to heat up because it was focusing all the heat I gave it on the core of the gloop where it was attempting nuclear fusion. A popular activity with all orange masses. So it was that, despite its unthreatening demeanour, when I removed the glass lid it to give it a stir it spat a blob of superheated orange puree into the air which then described a graceful arc before landing on the overworked and frankly rather stressed out index finger of my right hand where it burned its way through at least eight layers of skin before I got it under the tap.

“Daddy, your turkey is looking very burnt.” was also something of a low point despite having an unburnt goose in the next-door oven. I needed meat for 12 hungry people (at least that was the original brief) and a 5.3kg goose was not going to be enough, hence the 4.5kg turkey. Cooking the turkey in the steam oven promised to be a great idea until the water tank failed mid roast. I pulled the tank out to fill it up and the plug thingy was hanging out on a spring. Something had broken and it wouldn’t hold water so the second half was just hot air and a bit too much of it. Beneath the blackened exterior there was some good meat but there’s no getting away from it, it was not what I’d hoped for. First time I’ve cooked a turkey so it was a bit of an experiment. Will be better next time, if there is a next time.

The goose fared better but after hours of roasting the plump, firm, proud bird that had entered the oven had taken on a slumped and beaten attitude and had been screaming “Okay, I give in!” for at least 30 minutes.

Brussels turned out well, as did the spuds roast in the goose fat and also, surprisingly, the stuffing which had been lovingly prepared using minced meat, cranberries soaked in port, fresh cooked chestnuts (impossible to peel), breadcrumbs and spices.

The birds both rested for the whole time it took to cook the roast spuds and stuffing, about 40-50 minutes, and I was surprised how well they held up. The importance of resting meat is something I’m starting to appreciate more and worry about less.

After a day and a half of preparation and cooking the eating itself took perhaps 20 minutes and maybe half of it was actually consumed. The ravenous teenage boy was not there because he was at home sick. Numerous others were at least partly sick or generally not hungry and one guest had turned vegetarian since we last saw her although she did suspend her sentence to try some of the meat, God bless her! I enjoy cooking a Christmas dinner and there was much praise but I have to say that I do understand why so many people just don’t bother anymore. It is a ridiculous amount of work to provide a gigantic meal at a time when most people just aren’t that hungry. Next year I’m doing something simple like beef bourguignon and mash followed by christmas pud. I can do the whole thing a day ahead of time and on the day I only need to warm it up and mash some spuds.

It was babcia who delivered the coup de grace to Christmas day at our place. We’d rolled in our awning on the terrace weeks ago to protect it from the winter weather. It’s been annoying not being able to use it on the sunny days but better than leaving it out and getting it covered in snow and ice. Mid festivities, babcia decides to pop out for a smoke and rolls out the awning to protect her from the light drizzle, which, before there’s any chance of drying it out and rolling it back in turns into a proper downpour followed by snow and then by freezing temperatures. It’s still out now, frozen stiff and sagging from the weight of snow laying on it. Brilliant!@#$%! Next year I’m removing the handle.

The day before, Christmas Eve had been the Polish version held at B-I-L’s place. A bible reading, wafer breaking, felicitations, the bloody stupid carp, pierogi with cabbage, herrings, vegetable salad….. I waited until we got home and it was after midnight to have myself some proper food, a ham and mustard sandwich!

Boxing day – leftovers followed by Christmas pudding with brandy cream sauce.

Pictures – babcia and kids posing in front of B-I-L’s tree, our table for twelve in preparation, winter balcony views.

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Kurki – chanterelle mushrooms

Kurka (plural – kurki) is the common name given in Poland to the Pieprznik Jadalny, or in English (etc) the Chanterelle mushroom. You won’t see Pieprznik Jadalny used in any restaurant to describe them but this time of year you will see a whole lot of kurki – unfortunately!

That last word will have 99.97% of Polish readers thinking I’ve made a mistake and that the unfortunately! back there should have been a thank goodness! but no, no mistake, I’m coming out as a kurki hater!

Not much substance, not much flavour, adds very little to any dish it is included in (which seems to be without limit) and impossible for anyone to clean properly.

Never in my life have I met such an over-rated waste of time mushroom that gets shoved in your face every year for what seems like months on end! We ate at Mielżyński’s last evening and it was damned hard to find any dish that hadn’t been ruined by the addition of these grit infested fungi. Click the link. It says “we now recommend chanterelle”. Shove em up your arse!

One hopeful sign is that the dish I chose, the only one without the pox, was very quickly crossed off because they ran out of it. I may not be alone.

Here’s a treat for you if you’re not really sure which mushroom I’m on about. A fine example of why mushroom pickers should not be allowed access to video cameras or editing software, or music.

Less is more is my motto with mushroom picking vids!

 

End of school – year 4

Hard to believe Zosia will be in 5th class come September, the penultimate class in this school after which she moves on to a Gymnasium followed by a Lyceum and then perhaps college.

She has done well this year, as she has in previous years, and we’ve come home from today’s ceremony clutching various certificates.

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The main year end report has the “red stripe of glory” because her overall score was something like 5.3 out of 6. She got sixes for English, Music and History. She got a four (worst score) for Maths and she got various shades of five for Polish, Plastyka (kind of handicraft thing), Nature (kind of geography thing), IT, Spanish, Technical (kind of science thing) and Physical Education.

She also got mentions in dispatches (szczególne osiągnięcia) for 3rd place in a Polish National English competition, 1st place in an International English competition and obtaining the Cambridge English “Flyers” certificate with 14 out of 15 score. The last one is normally done two years later. She was also placed 3rd, 7th and 9th in three other English tests. I expect she was getting bored by this point!

I should say that I am not formally teaching her any English at all. I just talk to her, like I’ve always done. I check her homework sometimes and answer the odd question but the rest is just down to her own work. Which explains why the one missing point in the Cambridge test was for “reading & writing”. She got top marks for speaking and listening.

On softer skills, behavior, engagement and so forth she also gets a lot of praise from the teachers and generally seems to be a happy and popular girl at school.

We’re obviously very proud. Well done, peanut!

And now – we lose her for a month as she goes for the second year running to stay with friends of ours in their home on Sicily today and returns on the 28th July just in time for us to drive her back to Italy (Romagna) for our own family holiday.

Łowicz

By way of wishing everyone a very HAPPY EASTER here’s a long post with lots of pictures. (Pictures are way better if you click on them, by the way)

In September 2009 a guy called Radek commented on a post where I was complaining that Warsaw is poorly situated in terms of options for a day-out. His suggestion was to go to Łowicz (wovich). I ignored his comment for the best part of five years but finally a few weekends ago I decided the time was right. My excuse for inaction is that I was waiting for them to build a motorway out in that direction and finally they did, they built the A2 just for me!

How to get to Łowicz using my motorway

How to get to Łowicz using my motorway

Handy road for us, the A2. We can get onto it very easily, 5 minutes, and it allows us to get to Poznan in 3hrs, Berlin in 5hrs as well as being a fast route to Chopin Airport and to any direction south, such as heading for Katowice or Italy. No need to muck around in town whatsoever. The only problem now is that they are completely rebuilding our easiest entrance to the A2, which is at the Grota-Roweckiego bridge junction (Trasa Toruńska) on our side of the river. As this forms part of the major Warsaw ring-road they are replacing the dangerously old slip roads as well as upgrading the main road sections in both directions. It’s a hell of a mess but will be far better when its finally finished.

Sooooo, getting to Łowicz was easy the question was what to do when we got there. As it happens the choice is so extensive that we didn’t actually do Łowicz at all! We’ll save that for next time. What we did do was this:

Skansen

Just the other side of Łowicz is a small place called Maurzyce and there you will find a Skansen. Hard to explain in English what a Skansen is but it’s a collection of old buildings that show how people lived in the old days, a kind of open air folk museum I suppose. Poland has plenty of them, I suspect all part of communist propaganda – “You may live in a shoe box but at least it’s better than this!”. I’m not actually sure it is.

Looking forward to ploughing season

Looking forward to ploughing season

The schoolroom

The schoolroom

Living room with holy stuff

Living room with holy stuff

Living room with folk art

Living room with folk art

More folksy stuff

More folksy stuff

A more 'minimalist' decor

A more ‘minimalist’ decor

It is quite an extensive Skansen compared to some we’ve seen and has a decent range of buildings from homes to farm buildings and even a very nice church.

Church outside

Church outside

Church inside

Church inside

We were there on the 29th of March and they didn’t officially open until April but as they had visitors anyway they let us wander around, which was nice. There’s a small charge, maybe 5 zlots a head.

Maurzyce Bridge

Who can resist a nice bit of welding? According to Wiki the Maurzyce Bridge over the Słudwia River (tributary of Bzura) is the first entirely welded road bridge and the second welded bridge of any category in the world. Well hurrah for Stefan Bryła who designed it and K. Rudzki i S-ka who built it along with about 20% of the bridges in the Russian Empire AND the Poniatowski bridge here in Warsaw!

Side view

Side view

Road view

Road view

Under the old bridge looking at the new one

Under the old bridge looking at the new one

Nieborów Palace

One of a long list of palaces at one time owned by the Radzwiłł family, who were doing alright for themselves with 23 palaces, 426 large and small towns, 2032 estates, and 10,053 villages until Janusz made a few bad decisions involving Swedes and Russians and it was all downhill from there. Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote of Janusz Radzwiłł “Earthly ruin, a fallen soul, darkness, nothingness-that is all he managed to attain as a reward for service to himself”.

Well he’s gone but the palace remains.

Front view

Front view

Back view

Back view

It’s a nice place for a wander both inside and out. Inside they have numerous rooms to see all in good condition and outside the gardens are pretty good too and include the first Plane tree every planted in Poland, back in in 1770.

Poland's first Plane tree

Poland’s first Plane tree

Nieborów

After the palace we stopped for a lunch-dinner at the Dworek Biała Dama which is just across the street. It was decent enough but followed the regular pattern for such places, very similar to the restaurant we ate in across from the entrance to Chopin’s birthplace. They start great and then get worse with each successive course. The soup was magnificent, the main course was huge but lacking any flair and by the time we got to dessert the chef had given up completely. It’s not like there’s a big choice out there and we’d go again but don’t expect miracles when the menu runs to 20 pages. Whatever you order is unlikely to be freshly cooked and the only reason the soup is great is because it keeps well.

Our last visit before heading home was….

Muzeum Ludowe w Sromowie

Peek-a-Boo

Peek-a-Boo

This museum is a family affair. It was opened in 1972 by Julian Brzozowski (1925-2002) who is clearly a man who enjoyed a bit of whittling. For years without end he carved wooden figures and placed them into animated scenes which are still working today. Again we were lucky to get in as we’d arrived 10 minutes before closing time and there was nobody there. There was a phone number pasted on a tree though so Marta called and the guy, son of Julian, said he’d be happy to come over and show us around anyway although we’d have to pay 30 zlots a head because we weren’t a group.

Entrance

Entrance

He walked us through the various outbuildings each with a different collection of scenes and one with a lot of old horse and cart type equipment. He was clearly and justifiably proud of his families achievements. Not only was Julian a busy man, farmer, whittler extraordinaire, musician, village elder, but his mother, sister, everyone had contributed something.

Wooden dancers

Wooden dancers

Wedding feast

Wedding feast

A fresh approach to recycling

We have a communal trash collection area up by the entrance gate. It’s a sort of extension to the blind security guy’s cabin but whilst the insecurity guys live inside Strangely Park the rubbish lives outside because it’s smelly and because the garbage collectors need to get at it without having to negotiate for an hour with Laurel & Hardy. Inside the collection area we have three large rubbish bins. This kind of thing:

Recycle_bin

There are two green ones and a red one. The green are for general rubbish and the red one is for recycling and has a lot writing to that effect on the outside. Most of the time people stick to the rules and the red one is full of cardboard while the green are full of everything else.

In my imagination the contents of the green bins are sent to garbage hell, some giant anonymous land fill site, while the red one goes to garbage heaven where the contents are lovingly turned into biodegradable spanners.

Yesterday I was trying to leave at exactly the same time as the rubbish collection truck was reversing down the street. The street is so small that there’s no way they can turn the truck around, nor for me to get around it unless they go out of their way to be helpful, which these guys did not so I was stuck for a while. It was one of those trucks that lifts up the plastic bin, tips it into the back and then compresses it.

They lifted the first green bin, then the second, then the red one and off they drove. Unless this is a *magic truck* our recycling system has room for improvement.

WARS

No, nothing to do with killing people, except perhaps in the event of an outbreak of food poisoning but that’s unlikely because….

"I deduce my dear Watson that the food at WARS is of the highest quality"

“I deduce my dear Watson that the food at WARS is of the highest quality”

The nearest translation I can come up with of what WARS means is “WAgons with Restaurants and Sleeping”., in Polish Wagonów Sypialnych i Restauracyjnych.

Shares in WARS are owned 50,02% by the national railway company, PKP, and the rest by the state treasury. The state treasury also owns 80% of the shares in PKP so I think it is fair to just call this a state owned company and their job is to run the sleeping cars and restaurants on the Polish railway system.

I’m sure there are horror stories but my experience has always been good. I’m lucky that I don’t need a beer though, unlike my friend Michael, who praised WARS food but damned them for not selling beer in 2009 and then praised them for selling beer in 2012 and in between he loved the pork chops and (you guessed it) beer en route to Krakow in 2011.

Like Michael, I do enjoy sitting in the WARS carriage and could easily spend the whole journey there no matter what seat I’ve been allocated. There’s more space and more air too. Those seating carriages can get pretty stuffy and if you’ve got strangers sharing the compartment it’s more or less impossible to get consensus to open the window. You’ve got the world wandering buy in WARS but if you should get lonely the (often husband and wife) teams managing the WARS or one of the chirpy trolley girls always seem happy to have a chat – as much as your language skills allow. As long as you’re comfortable leaving your bags alone in the compartment (unless you have a minder) then I’d say WARS is the place to be.

The ordering hole.

The ordering hole.

My favourite train meal is breakfast and the scrambled eggs that WARS serve up are usually pretty darn good. Such was the reason for my consternation when reading the menu on my recent trip to Katowice. The train was heading from Warsaw to Budapest and seemed to be very much geared up for Hungarians. The primary menu language was Hungarian and, it turns out, so was the cooking style. I ordered the nearest equivalent to jajecznica I could find and Pani Hungarian Cook disappeared down her tunnel of a kitchen with a purposeful stride. What arrived on the plate resembled a sort of pale colour scrambled egg porridge. My heart sank. I’d been looking forward to this.

The good news was that whilst not quite hitting the spot it was nothing like as bad as it looked. I’d be happy to hear from any Hungarian scrambled egg experts if this ghostly porridge is the norm and how they manage to get most of the yellow colour out of the eggs? Is there a special kind of grey Hungarian chicken?

Bicycle theft

Spotted this afternoon right outside the entrance to Zlote Tarasy on ul. Złota, just before the snow came down. You can’t see in the photo but the frame is secured to the post by one of those chain-padlock things.

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I only have four possible explanations, none of which make much sense to me so perhaps a reader will advise on what is really going on:

  1. This is a brazen and broad daylight variant on bicycle theft, turn it upside down and steal the wheels.
  2. It is an extreme measure of security by the owner who has gone shopping carrying two bicycle wheels.
  3. The owner has removed the wheels to take to the Intersport shop in the shopping centre. (surely easier to just wheel the bike there?!)
  4. Some kind of practical joke.

UPDATE: The following day it is still in exactly the same place. I guess that rules out 2 and 3.