Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Language Apart

When I first moved to the States I was not fortunate enough to know how to speak English. I found it difficult to communicate with my friends and my mother enacted a “No Polish in the house” rule. Being unable to speak with even my family affected me. I withdrew, read even more and watched movies. I couldn’t understand the English books I was reading, so I had my oldest brother buy me an English-Polish dictionary. I went around the house labeling everything and translated my Polish children’s books into English. My mother put me in ESL classes and a wonderful British woman taught me how to speak “proper English.”

Over the course of the summer, I prepared for the school year with my ESL teacher. I began using English at home and reading English language books with the help of my well-loved dictionary. I even wrote a short story about what I did over my summer vacation, in English! After each lesson I was even more thrilled with myself. My sentences began to actually make sense and I was conversing with my friends. Even when I was out with friends and family, I carried my trusty dictionary with me. Every so often I would thumb through it and look up a word that came up in conversation. Words that were not in the dictionary I wrote down on a notepad so I could ask for a translation at a later ESL lesson.

Since I was living in NYC, I would often go to Greenpoint, Brooklyn and visit the myriad of Polish stores. I found it comforting to talk to people who spoke my native language and was even able to find a copy of  Slownik Naukowo- Techniczny Angielski-Polski (English-Polish Dictionary of Science and Technology). Though I didn’t carry the book around with me like I did the general dictionary, I read it from cover to cover several times. Sneaking down to Greenpoint was freeing for me and I would always come up with an alibi regarding where I had been all afternoon. My mother tried to keep Polish out of the home, as she didn’t want me to fall behind in school. When we went to Greenpoint as a family, she spoke English to the store owners. Most of the time I would hang my head and feel ashamed that we were betraying our native language. Every time I spoke English to someone I knew spoke Polish, I felt like a traitor.

When I started school, it became clear that the English I knew was not enough. My peers had their own language and it was completely foreign to my ears. The slang words that were thrown around in the halls were words I didn’t understand and I once again became withdrawn at school. After school one day, I came home and explained to my mother that I felt like an outsider. She enrolled me in another, more intense ESL program and I began to take lessons from my British instructor on a more frequent basis. A few months into the intensive course, my mother moved us to the Midwest and I had to find an ESL teacher closer to where we lived. I definitely missed the ESL courses in NYC and the teachers in Missouri were never the same.

English has probably been the most challenging thing I have ever had to learn. Medical school, residency, moving great distances and even relationships, have never proved as difficult as learning English. English phonology proved incredibly difficult and I had a very hard time with pronunciation. In the beginning, hearing the English words didn’t help me understand how they were physically said. Even with the help of the ESL instructors I had a complete disconnect from the words they were trying to teach me. Long before I was able to speak English with any sort of fluency, I was able to write it. Even though I had no idea what the words I was writing sounded like, I plugged the words into sentences. To this day, I still have to stop every so often and translate from Polish to English in my head during conversations.

The English-Polish dictionary is still on my book shelf, though I refer to it less often now. It has been so well-loved that G-J has completely come loose from the spine and it can be laid perfectly flat on a desk. It’s pages are covered with notations, some of which are faded and barely legible. The dictionary served me well and I can’t bear the thought of throwing it out after it helped me understand so much of the world around me. It showed me that, even though language can seem like an insurmountable barrier, with enough perseverance you can make yourself understood.

Personal Challenges: 30 Books

This Sunday, a most glorious event occurred. I awoke at 6:30 am and immediately grabbed Titus Groan and started to read. I carried it around the house with me, read it while waiting in line to get produce from the farmer’s market and curled up with it in bed. After reading it, I was in awe by how amazing it was. I have heard it described as “liquid poetry” and I must admit that it was stunningly written. I have definitely fallen in love with Peake’s writing and I am sad that he passed away without leaving more of his work behind.

After Titus Groan I have begun reading The Family Fang. It has proved interesting and I think it will be a fast read. I stopped reading the Song of Ice and Fire series because I felt like I needed a break from Martin’s style of writing. After reading the first four books so close together, they began to bleed together and I was feeling a little bogged down by the number of characters I had swimming around in my head.

The next book after The Family Fang will either be The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities or Busy Monsters. I think that I will continue to put off A Dance with Dragons until I have distanced myself from the story a bit, I want it fresh when I return to it.

I have also updated my lists to show what I have read this year and what I need to read. There is a sprinkling of YA books, as I knew I needed some quick/easy reads. I still have one spot left, so if there is a suggestion to fill the last spot I would be completely open to reading it.

Books I Have Read 2011:
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Embassytown by China Mieville
Saved by Beauty by Roger Housden
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger*
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison*
Code of Trees by Jonathon Safran Foer
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Ten Thousand Saints: A Novel by Eleanor Henderson
Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart
Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
not simple by Natsume Ono*

*Do not count towards my goal of 30 books

Still To Read 2011:
A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
The Map of Time by Felix Palma
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake
Titus Awakes by Mervyn Peake
Busy Monsters by William Giraldi
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities by Ann Vandermeer
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson**
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

**May be replaced with A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Titles that have a strikethrough  them were read and updated on Sept 5, 2011 and Sept 18, 2011.

Lake Tahoe Worked Miracles

The weekend I spent at my parents gorgeous home at Lake Tahoe was sorely needed. Not only did it offer up a stunningly gorgeous view, but it allowed me time to relax. I tried to keep my phone buried away in my room, but I ended up packing it around with me more than I wanted. I extended my stay by an entire day when I found out that I did not have to work on Monday. A few of us stayed until later in the day and drove back in the afternoon.

By far my favourite part of the entire trip was curling up in the Adirondack chaise lounge by the water and reading my Nook. I was able to finish an entire book and started a second one while I was there. It was absolutely divine. I am now in the process of finishing The Magician King and will start the Gormenghast series soon. Peake’s series is an undertaking and I hope that I can finish it on time.

Another wonderful aspect of the mini-vacation was the food. Practically every meal we ate was prepared on-site. We spent a lot of time preparing food and each time was an exceptionally positive social experience. Each one of us contributed to every meal. One of the tag-a-longs was a bartender my cousin knows from LA and he created some fabulous cocktails to pair with meals (and to drink whenever!). Thankfully the kitchen was enormous, so we were all able to move around fairly comfortably and it was fun to watch the dancing going on in front of the stove. My favourite meal was a “Red Snapper Crudo w/ Watercress Pesto.” One of the couples had found the recipe in Food & Wine Magazine and thought we should try it. I dare say that I was not disappointed and I will definitely prepare it in the future.

I think that the weekend was something my mind and body were craving. The moment I relaxed, and I mean truly relaxed, I felt a huge weight removed. It is certainly a cliché to say, but I felt so much better being surrounded by calm. Coming back to Los Angeles was a bit of a shock to my psyche, but it was wonderful to feel focused again. After Monday the week is scheduled better and I will be able to cut back on my hours, starting on Thursday. Since I have been back, I have found myself daydreaming about relaxing and reading. I will hopefully be packing up again and heading to Tahoe rather soon. Perhaps the next time I visit, I will accidentally forgot to come back home!

I didn’t think I would but…

I really miss the seasons of the Midwest. Talking with some of the long time residents of Los Angeles/Hermosa Beach, I can tell that the extreme seasonal changes I am use to back home don’t occur here. Even though I cursed the cold weather, ice and snow every winter, it was always something I expected around the same time each year. Since I have been in California, I have only seen three “changes” in Hermosa weather. Either the weather is sunny, foggy or rainy, with very little deviation from that. Last winter, I took solace in the fact that I was going home for most of late-fall/early winter. Traveling back to Missouri, I enjoyed seeing the fall colours and eventually relished the thin sheets of ice that made everything glisten so magically.

I have always had this weird fascination with ice.

It’s silly to feel so let down by weather, I suppose. I should feel privileged to live in a part of the country that seems so many sunny days, but I feel like I’m missing out on integral activities that take place in more temperate climates. I want to throw snowballs and see the changes in the trees right outside my window (all I can see is palm trees). I know that I can ultimately see changes if I traveled just outside LA or further north, but raking leaves during the fall was always an activity I oddly enjoyed.

I will definitely try to travel back home over the coming months, so I may even be able to build a snow man in late December. Until then, I will have to be content with the beautiful sunny weather that I wake up to almost every day here. However, I will continue to secretly pray that a freak blizzard will coat Hermosa in gorgeous, fluffy snow and I will have the most epic snow ball war this city has ever seen.

The Great Migration

Can it really be considered a migration if I stay in the same city? Even though I didn’t have to move very far, I feel like I have moved cross-country. The entire “moving in” process has taken longer than expected, mostly because I have to do everything by myself. I had assumed it would only take me until the end of the month, yet here I am posting an update about how I am still not done.

One of the main issues I have dealt with is painting. Several of the rooms had colours that disagreed with me and I had to decide what colours I wanted to take their place. I am painting one of the rooms, which was originally mustard, a light shade of blue called “Blue Fox.” The colour is pretty easy to match and it is fairly neutral. Another room is being redone in “Herbal Garden” which is a mossy green. While painting the “Herbal Garden” my cousin declared, “It sounds like a strain of marijuana.” Now, every time I walk into this room I’m going to think of her delightful statement.

I also purchased some wall patterns from Blik, though I have yet to decide if I am actually going to apply them anywhere. I had originally purchased the patterns because I assumed I would be living in a different location. When my current home came back onto the market, however, I jumped on the chance to make it my own. The patterns are amazing and I would be more than happy to put them up, but I’m not sure if my current decor would appreciate such unusual wall art.

Everyone keeps telling me that it will just take time and that I shouldn’t rush the move in process, but I run a tight ship. I have always tried to keep things on schedule and it is difficult for me to see disarray, especially when I’m living in it.

I promise that as soon as I have the house the way I want it, I will post an update complete with pictures! Until then you will just have to imagine “I want the moments in my life to follow each other and order themselves like those of a life remembered. You might as well try and catch time by the tail.” (Yes, Sartre) in GIANT LETTERS, somewhere in my house.

Indian food, how does it work?

I recently purchased At Home With Madhur Jaffrey and have been trying to work my way through the recipes. Jaffrey’s book is a collection of recipes from “India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” all of which are easy to recreate. I thought I would share some of my favourite recipes from the book, in hopes that more people will try their hand at preparing Indian cuisine.

Bhuni Bhindi (my favourite recipe so far)

12 oz fresh okra
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
3/4 cup (2 oz) shallots or onions that have been peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and cut into fine rings
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp crushed red chilies
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon juice

-Cut off the top stem ends and the very tips of the okra pods. Cut each pod diagonally into 3-4 slices, depending upon size.
-Pour the oil into a medium frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds and then (a few seconds later) add all the sliced okra. Fry for 5 minutes, stir frequently.
-When the okra begins to brown, add the shallots and continue frying for another 3-4 minutes.
-When the shallots start to brown, reduce the heat to low and add the coriander, red chilies, and salt. Continue cooking for another 7-9 minutes.
-After the okra begins to crisp, add the lemon juice and mix together well.
-Serve with chapatis and raita.

Simple and delicious! Indian food isn’t as hard as everyone seems to think it is. I use to shy away from preparing Indian dishes because I thought it would be difficult, but if you learn a few basic recipes you will be able to apply the same techniques to more complex dishes!

Another recipe I really enjoyed (because I’m a bad Jew) was “Mussels in a Creamy Coconut Sauce.” The recipe is a little more time intensive, but definitely worth it.

Mussels in a Creamy Coconut Sauce

2 lbs medium-sized mussels
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp whole, brown mustard seeds
1 onion (about 6 oz), finely chopped
1 tsp fresh, peeled and finely grated ginger
1 tsp crush garlic
1 3/4 cups coconut milk (make sure to shake well)
2 tsp ground cumin seeds
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt
15 fresh curry leaves or 10 fresh basil leaves, crushed in the palm of your hand
4 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
2 fresh green chilies, partially slit
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup water

-Start by scrubbing the mussels well with a brush, discarding those that remain open even after they are tapped. Remove any stringy beards.
-Put the oil in a large pot and set over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop (this only takes a few seconds) add the onions and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes.
-When the onions begin to soften, add the ginger and garlic. Stir for another minute and then pour in the coconut milk + 1 cup water.
-Stir the ingredients together and then add the cumin, cayenne, salt, curry/basil leaves, cilantro, green chilies and lemon juice. Let the mixture come to a simmer.
-As the dish begins to simmer, leave uncovered and stir frequently for 5 minutes.
-After 5 minutes, add all the mussels, bring to medium-high heat and cover. Let the mussels boil in the broth for 5 minutes and check to see that they have all opened.
-Discard any mussels that have not opened after boiling.
-You can eat this by itself, serve with rice or serve with a salad.

The last recipe that I will share with you is Jaffrey’s “Karhai Broccoli.” I made this for my cousin and she asked me for the recipe. It was delicious and went really well with the fish I served.

Karhai Broccoli

3 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp ground asafetida*
1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp whole mustard seeds
6 cups trimmed and cut broccoli (cut broccoli no loner than 1 1/2 inches)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup water

-Pour the oil into a wok and set over medium-high heat. When the oil has heated, put in the asafetida, cumin and mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop add the broccoli florets.
-Stir the broccoli for 1-2 minutes, adding the salt and cayenne as you stir.
-Pour in 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer. When the water begins to simmer, cover and turn the heat to low. Cook the broccoli for 7-8 minutes or under it is just beginning to get tender. Make sure to stir the dish regularly.
-Serve with main dish (meat or tofu) and rice

*When I saw that the recipe called for asafetida, I thought “Where in the world am I going to find that?” Turns out that most Indian stores have this on hand, but that you can also substitute equal parts garlic and onion powder if you can not find asafetida.

Try your hand at preparing Indian food. I promise you that it is not as challenging as it seems! You can also buy Madhur Jaffrey’s great book and learn more delicious recipes. Good luck.