Monday, November 14, 2005

And Now We Celebrate

After much agony over not just the wording of my two latest grant applications but also over missing transcripts and pieces that just didn’t want to cross the Atlantic as e-mail attachments, the maddening things are on their way. As my advisor wrote, “OK, you may now unchain yourself from your computer. I have everything […] You owe me a nice drink when you win your fellowship!” Since she indicated I could celebrate, I immediately took this at face value.
In the meantime, Jesse was feeling bored in Brno and had acquired soi-disant pumpkins from his tutor, so he promptly invited several people to come dine at my apartment. Initially, we merely thought we would try to replicate our previous baking success using the pumpkins instead of plums.
We did not think these particular Czech pumpkins particularly resembled the American kind (although we had noted that American-style pumpkins are grown in the fields of southern Moravia and are rampant in store display windows), but I had read that canned pumpkin pie filling is made from all sorts of orange squashes and not just from actual pumpkins, so a pie made with some sort of squash alleged-to-be-pumpkin ought to work. Consequently, bright and early on Saturday morning (or, more accurately, after a leisurely breakfast and consultation with the cookbook) we took off for the Nový Smíchov mall, where there is a particularly well-stocked supermarket (possibly even a hypermarket). Spices and evaporated milk were the main items on our list, and our visits to the Modrá Mlekarna around the corner (which could be called the Nemlekarna in light of its small dairy section) had not made us confident of finding such obscure things there.

It is not hard to find spices at a well-stocked store here, but finding the desired ones in the desired form is more of a challenge. We immediately located the cinnamon, but nutmeg and cloves were more of a problem as we didn’t really care to grind our own. It turned out that the store had (at least) two spice sections, but this was not immediately helpful. We also had to resort to a small dictionary in order to make sure that we were correctly identifying our choices. As you can see, most Czech spices come in packets rather than bottles or cans, so I hope these will not lose their strength before I can use them up.

Evaporated milk was also something of a challenge. It was no problem to find something of the kind, but we were unsure whether it was evaporated or condensed. We read the labels on numerous cans and bottles of thickened (or inspissated, as the dictionary translated the term) milk products and decided to bring back a collection of the most interestingly packaged unsweetened varieties. With less difficulty, we also snagged a container of whipping cream (we knew what that was without having to ask).
Brown sugar is an important American baking ingredient, but not one known to Czech cooks, to our sorrow (neither is molasses). Still, Jesse claimed he had found some in the health food section in Brno, so we tried the health food section in Nový Smíchov. We could have bought plenty of artificial sweetener, along with many more appealing items, but the closest thing to brown sugar was something that faintly resembled Sugar in the Raw. We bought a sack. (Back at the apartment, we discovered the remains of a box of something called Granulated Brown Sugar, a truly odd product that I am still not sure wasn’t insect droppings, although we did put it in the pie.)
While at the store, we decided that leek and potato soup would be a desirable addition to the menu, although we still had no idea whether any of the invitees were going to come. We were also rather taken with the mall’s florist shop, so I bought something that we speculate might be a bromeliad of some kind. After all, Sandra’s plants are all about the same dark green color and have no blossoms.

We then spent the remainder of the afternoon making pie and soup.
Everything seemed to come together very nicely despite our having to re-learn how to use the oven and despite the fact that we were following the recipes only in a very loose fashion, as will be evident from the photos. In the late afternoon, Hubert arrived.
Since he assisted in stirring the soup, we have agreed to grant him partial authorship, although probably in the form of an asterisked note rather than as Third Co-Author.
Alex and Tom got somewhat lost on their way over but brought several bottles of wine and a couple of DVDs of Švankmajer and other films. Since Alex is a filmmaker, she was determined to add to the documentary footage of our feast and has immortalized not only the antics of the chefs but also the electric mixer, the bowl of whipped cream, and a slice of bread and butter. (I have chosen to post only the photos most likely to interest a broader readership.)

After happily gorging ourselves, the five of us settled in the living room to watch Švankmajer short films and ultimately to see Nuda v Brně in its entirety with Jesse providing a simultaneous translation of all of the dialog (or, in some cases, before the actors had a chance to say their lines). Now that I have seen Nuda v Brně, I cannot say that I agree with Věra that everything by Moravek is much of a muchness. It’s true that you can tell Nuda v Brně and Hrubeš a Mareš are by the same director, but I found both of them quite worthwhile.
In any case, there was general agreement that both the films and the autumn feast were definitely worthwhile. (Note "rabbit ears" made from leftover leeks.)

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Blogger Kristen said...

Color me impressed!

November 14, 2005 11:00 PM  
Blogger morskyjezek said...

Yah. I regret that you didn't feature the photos of the mixer itself. After all it did have "3 concurrent operations" (!) which might be of interest to more readers, but then I was certainly over-enamored with it.

November 14, 2005 11:19 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

I think you have a special relationship with that mixer. Kristen is the only other reader likely to want to see photos of it.

November 15, 2005 10:04 AM  

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