Orzo Asparagus Salad

Spargelsaison is fun, but it can be a little one-note if you don’t have a variety of preparations for the stuff. If you’re lucky enough to have grilling weather while the asparagus is as its peak, this is a fantastic way to serve it alongside burgers or sausages. I found the original here and have posted my version below.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
250 g orzo pasta
at least 500 g green asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
about 300 g artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1-1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, julienned
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

In a small skillet, heat olive oil to medium. Add shallot and garlic and cook until tender and fragrant. Set aside.

Cook orzo in salted water for 1 minute less than package directs. Add asparagus to orzo for last 2 minutes of cook time but no more! You want the asparagus to be bright green and still a little crispy when you drain the pasta. After draining the orzo and asparagus, run cold water over it immediately, agitating it frequently to make sure there are no pockets of heat. After draining and cooling, pour orzo and asparagus into a large salad bowl. Add artichokes and tomatoes to orzo bowl.

Remove shallot & garlic to a small deep bowl. Add lemon zest and juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to bowl. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil. Pour dressing over salad, stir thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Stir again before serving.

Romania: Paradise for Sour Cream Fans

(Alternative title: Rumänien, das Schmandsland)

I’ve been visiting Romania for almost six years, several times per year, for about a week at a time. I don’t get much exposure to the language (though I find it exceedingly interesting) because these are all work trips and we work in English or German (depending on who is visiting with me). Basic conversation, travel-related vocabulary, and all the other first-year language lesson topics have mostly remained a mystery to me. But there’s one area in which I am starting to feel more comfortable: food. Continue reading Romania: Paradise for Sour Cream Fans


If you’ve got about 4 and a half minutes and have seen any pictures of ours since about September 2007, take a look at this. You might catch a fleeting glimpse of yourself or someone you know.

My Pummelvision from Cliff 1976 on Vimeo.

Pummelvision made this video for me at Vimeo based on images from my flickr photostream. I think it’s pretty neat. Just three steps:

1. I created a free account at Vimeo, and gave Pummelvision permission to use it.

2. I told Pummelvision to go check out my flickr photostream and make the Vimeo video.

3. Then I waited about a day for an email to arrive notifying me that the video is complete.

Details on the entire process are at pummelvision.com, but there’s really nothing more to it than that. In future versions you might be able to customize the music or select sets or collections for pummeling, but at the moment it’s one-size-fits-all.

Salut de Iași!

I’m back in Iași this week for something like my 7th (is that right? that number seems pretty low) trip to Romania since the initial one in November 2006. I’ve not been back here for a visit since March 2009 — it’s really unusual for me to not visit for a whole year, but then again, my team has come to visit me in Germany in whole and in part, so although I haven’t been here as much as I like, I think the contact to my group is still good — I hope they agree.

I’m making a little bit more* of an effort with the language this time, thanks to a nifty Berlitz phrasebook from my parents. I think it has helped a lot with my pronunciation, too: I learned that I have been saying some things incorrectly since the beginning. Oops. And this is despite the fact that modernization has been tricking me. How? Well, view this post in Windows (XP or earlier) and take a look at the character between the a and i in the title. Does it look like an ‘s’ with a little comma below it? Or just a box? Odds are, it’s just a box (unless you’ve already installed the European Union Expansion Font Update). Boxes instead of proper characters are ugly, so while the rest of the Latin (more or less) alphabet world was getting their personal computing and desktop publishing and graphical design on with all the characters they needed for their languages, Romanian has not been patiently waiting for the s-comma and t-comma characters to become part of Unicode 3.0 standard, and for the biggest share of the computer-user market to support it. Instead, they by-and-largely just pressed on ahead, substituting ‘s’ and ‘t’ for ș and ț. Perhaps locals had to compromise — they wanted to use computers and had to settle for incorrect characters (or sometimes using t/s-cedilla substitutions, which are a little better, but still not correct).

papanașiWhat’s the big deal? Maybe nothing at all for native speakers who know what the words sound like, or kids who started learning to spell in the post-XP / Unicode 3 world. But I sound like a schmuck ordering “mamaliguta” instead of “mamaliguța” and “papanasi” instead of “papanași.” But after living in Bavaria for six years, I know a șnițel when I see one — no matter how it’s spelled.

*Zero plus 10% still isn’t very much.

French Toast

Man, new recipes seem to appear in groups. Chez Regensblog has been the site of much improvisation lately and I decided it was time for an old (cheap!) favorite.

4 eggs
1 1/3 c milk
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
2 t vanilla
pinch salt
10 slices of bread (we used a round raisin loaf, sliced about 3/4 in. thick)

Heat griddle or skillet to medium. Whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Dip bread slices in egg mixture on each side (don’t soak it!), then transfer immediately to griddle and cook until golden brown on each side. Serve immediately with powdered sugar or butter and syrup.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

We’ve been trying to get this right for a while now. We’ve tried it with cream and without, with pancetta, with prosciutto, with garlic, with onion and with all different kinds of long pastas. We finally hit it out of the park. I’m going to detail what we did in this recipe, but I found the inspiration here.

200 g (about 1/2 lb) bacon, cut into 1 in squares (seriously, just normal bacon)
1 large or 2 medium shallots, sliced
1/3 c white wine
500 g (1 lb) spaghetti (we used linguine, it was awesome)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 c Grana Padano, shredded or grated
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1 t black pepper, coarsely ground
pinch salt (optional)

In a deep skillet, fry the bacon over medium high heat until some fat is rendered and the edges begin to crisp. Add the shallots and turn the heat down to medium low. Cook the shallot until translucent and add the wine. Heat to a boil and allow to reduce until about 1/2 the wine is left. Remove the skillet from heat, cover and set aside.

Cook the pasta in salted water. While pasta is cooking, stir eggs into cheese until just mixed and add nutmeg, pepper and salt. Drain the pasta, return the skillet with bacon to very low heat and remove lid. Pour pasta into skillet and toss until well coated with wine and bacon and shallot are well distributed. Remove skillet from heat and pour egg and cheese mixture over pasta. Toss quickly with tongs and serve immediately.

Cold Sesame Noodles

This looked like a yummy offering to accompany grilled goodies (which we never have – no grill) during the summer (which we’re not experiencing – no heat). We gave it a whirl and were very pleased! I found it on the wonderful food blog Serious Eats and made a few adjustments. As tempting as it is, don’t eat it until it’s chilled for several hours, preferably overnight. The flavors need time to mingle and develop. By the way, this recipe is totally vegetarian – possibly vegan if you’re careful about your peanut butter. I don’t know – I’m not a big label reader.

5 tablespoons sesame seeds
5 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 inch ginger, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon salt
1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles (see above)
8 scallions, sliced thin
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and sliced thin

Toast sesame seeds in a medium, dry skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. In a blender or food processor, combine sesame, soy sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic and Tabasco and pulse until ingredients begin to blend. While blender is on low, add hot water in a slow stream until dressing has consistency of heavy cream (you might not need all the water). Set dressing aside.

Cook noodles with salt according to package directions. After cooking, drain noodles and rinse with cold water until completely cooled. Shake water out of noodles thoroughly. In a large bowl, toss noodles, scallion, carrot and bell pepper with dressing until well distributed. Chill.

Sometimes you just want ramen

When we lived in the U.S., we never used to go to ethnic groceries of any sort. We weren’t opposed to it, per se; we didn’t cook very much and when we did, it was rarely from scratch. And if we wanted Chinese/Mexican/Lebanese/Cajun, we went to a restaurant. As our recipe archive demonstrates, things have changed. I’m at the China Laden (Asian market) at least once a week picking up things you just can’t find in the supermarket – soft brown sugar, cilantro, good curry pastes, soy sauce, etc. This past weekend, Cliff came with me and, while looking at the noodle wall, we balked at the price of a package of ramen – 0,80€!! That’s about $1.20! Considering that legions of broke college students lived off the stuff at one time or another, that seems like highway robbery. And makes it very attractive. All of a sudden, ramen sounds delicious.

There are things that we miss every so often that are kind of cheapo, pre-fab…well, just crap really. And right now that thing is ramen noodles. With a little inspiration from a pal, some creativity and an assist from the noodle wall (package of 5 blocks of ramen noodles, sans flavor packets=1,20€), we managed to sate the craving. About half a liter of boiling water with about 1 heaping tablespoon of powdered vegetable broth, a pinch of ground ginger and half a teaspoon of dark soy added plus one block of noodles cooked for about 3 minutes is nearly a dead-ringer for Top Ramen Oriental flavor soup.

It’s considerably more expensive than the pre-packaged stuff, but it doesn’t taste like it. Which is fine with us.

I think my yellowness is fading

Sorry to all those who eagerly awaited photos of my altered skin tone. I can still see some yellowness in my eyes, but just a little and my face looks a lot less yellow to me now — especially when compared to my shoulders and arms and chest. Those areas are still kind of yellow, but I expect the jaundice will fade from the top down, just like it arrived. My doctor* and I are guessing that there was a small stone (like in the 1mm ballpark) in a bile duct somewhere which was impeding outbound bile traffic. I visited him yesterday for the first time and we drew some blood and I’m expecting results back today; I am hopeful they’ll (help) confirm that my gall bladder removal surgery scheduled for Monday the 12th doesn’t need to be expedited, and that it’ll be a simple laparoscopic procedure.

This is not the only clue I have had that things are working (more) properly again; last night my team members from Iasi, Romania, who are in town visiting, and Sarah and I visited the Fürstliches Brauhaus for dinner. I was actually hungry and ate well. There are some other indications I would be happy to describe at length with you, but I suspect the pleasure of such an description would be all mine. Trust me.

Traditional Romanian dinner with our Romanian colleagues

Where are Camelia and Orhan?

Originally uploaded by cliff1976.

Got back yesterday from a three-day trip to Romania — this time with my boss (guess which one he is). It was a good trip, but a short one.

I think the next time I go — and I will be going regularly, apparently — I’d like it to be for at least a couple days. That helps justify the time lost in transit.

  • an hour on the way down to the airport
  • an hour spent getting checked in and frisked and waiting to board the plane
  • At least an hour and a quarter in transit to the first layover (Timisoara, Bucharest, or Vienna in that order of preference)
  • the layover
  • Figure an extra hour waiting in line with other screaming P.O.’d passengers at the baggage office in Iasi if you fly Austrian Arrows
  • and of course all the same time spent traveling in the reverse direction

Some might think that I could be working during all the downtime, but honestly — at least up until now — all my work stuff is entirely dependent on a network connection, and the company wouldn’t spring for a cellular modem for me. But maybe now that my guys in Iasi are making it possible to do work that’s more offline in nature (writing application specs, having meetings, choosing programmers, and I see a helluva lotta PowerPoint in future, at which I am really terrible), a bi-monthly trip might not be so bad (especially if I get that company mobile phone we’ve been talking about, and I can telco it up on my layovers).

It was quite nice to be able to take these people out to dinner for an evening of levity after having imposed on them four times since November 2005 for 2-5 days at a stretch (thanks, boss).

But I’m glad to be back home in Regensburg.