Friday, April 27, 2012

Secret Family Recipe

All the brownie-lovers in the place say, “Yeah!”  
All the brownie-lovers in the place say “Hell Yeah” 
Hell Yeah!
Now somebody, anybody, every body….(I)scream!

Yes, I’ve dared to mix my love for 80’s hip hop and my eternal appreciation for fudgie desserts.  And I don't care for your eye rolls.  I did it.  It’s done.

Although I’ve had only minimal success introducing Albanian hipsters to the artistry of Run DMC, LLCool J or the Sugar Hill Gang… I have introduced my counterparts, neighbors and friends to the addictive qualities of BROWNIES.  

Note:  I have yet to discover an appropriate translation.  The best I can do is tortë me çokollatë/chocolate cake.  And let’s be perfectly clear here… there is a significant difference between chocolate cake (which is something I do not like) and brownies (in which I find the existence of God in each bite.) 

Back to the story.
I have now made three batches of brownies in Albania and each time I’ve shared with my co-workers, boss and of course the Mayor (a teacher’s pet never loses her touch.)  Much to my delight, they all enjoy the chocolate treats and shower me with compliments… that may be translated as “Wow, you MADE these!?” Or “Delicious, I want another.” Or “Oh, such a good girl” That last one may sound condescending to our American ears…but it is actually quite respectful here in Albania.  Since I’m not one to shy away from flattery…I soak up the praise like a sponge.   "Who me?  Oh, you are too kind!"  

But then the guilt begins to creep in.  After all, these accolades I am graciously accepting should actually be credited to… Mr. Duncan Hines, et al.   Po, eshte vertet/Yeah, that’s right.  My delicious, amazing, mouth-watering, perfect brownies come from a box!  From a box…uh uh, I’m not a-shamed, a box from a Kroger…I’m still getting paid! Reference to Digital Underground’s Humpty Dance. (Yes. I did it again.  It’s done. Again.)  I digress.  So the thing is, I find ways to justify the credit bestowed unto me.  
I did risk a nasty paper-cut opening the box.  
I did correctly the amount of water and oil to add to the mix.  
I did crack the two eggs flawlessly into the batter pa/without eggshells.  
I did stir the mixture until smooth-ish.  
I did pre-heat the oven and grease the pan.  
I did test for baking through with a toothpick.
Da-Yum - I’m exhausted!  Of course I deserve some credit for all my hard work!  

That is until that one troubling kerkese/request from my warm-hearted, thoughtful and appreciative co-workers is spoken aloud:  “Can you give me the recipe?”  Commence squirming.  Packaged ANYTHING is pretty rare around here.  And many Albanian women take great pride in their home-made embelsire/desserts.  
How do I begin to explain the laziness that is bred in American kitchens? (oh, not YOURS Paula Dean! Relax.)  How do I admit that I worked all of 5 minutes? 
How do I tell them the best flavors of the brownies have NOTHING to do with me?

It’s simple, I just say…”it’s a secret family recipe.”  :)  A little trick shared from "Aunt Jess."  And since my awesome vellai im i madh/big brother is the one who sent the Duncan Hines boxes… its not a TOTAL LIE!  Thank you Duncan.  Thank you Jess.  And thank you Dunny! 

Peace, Love and Licking the Spoon

PS.  Yes, theoretically, brownies from scratch CAN be made here in Albania.  But, ugh…the effort! ;)

*Coming soon: Smart Mob Post with some kick-ass Apache-inspired Jumpin On It.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Microwave Popcorn. Soooo Over It.

Quick Shqip Lesson:
If Pop=Puf and Corn=Miser, then naturally Popcorn would be….. Kokoshka! Exactly!

Ok…so I’ve already accepted that ol’ man Reddenbacher won’t be taking too kindly to this message. But life in Albania has lead me down a memory lane and along the way… I've rediscovered traditional popcorn… pa microwave! And with the batches of stove-top popcorn I’ve been making recently, I may never go back. BTW: "pa" in Shqip means without and in its short, sweet form, I’ve taken to applying it in my English vocab.

Although this “old-school” method may not produce results in 3 minutes… it’s not necessarily an arduous process. I’ve got down to about 12 minutes in total. Well…that’s if I’m being timed. But considering the pace of life here is a little more laid back… I’ll round up to 15 minutes for good measure. And really, when you're measuring out oil, its best to be slow and steady. Anyways... LET ME TELL YOU… it’s worth it! Harkins Theatre has NOTHING on my buttery theatre-style popcorn. Although you’ll be washing the greasiness from your hands for a good fortnight. And I’d willingly go head-to-head with any country festival booth manager who’s peddlin’ the ole Kettle corn. (Shout out to Aimee D for the addicting recipe!) And my new twist to the sweet kettle style is a dash of cajun spice…now that batch has a little ZING!

And the anticipation of the popping kernels is so much better than the old microwave bag. I just love that moment when so much has popped that the pots lid starts to rise up. It reminds me of times when I was little and my family was pa microwave and we’d make our own popcorn. Without this experience, maybe I'd have never recalled those moments with my mom and brother and the anticipation of those first kernels starting to pop. The memories are really quite sweet and I'm grateful. NOTE: If you are concerned about the level of enthusiasm I have over popping popcorn….let me just say, it was a long, cold winter/nje dimer i ftohte dhe gjate. And on that note, the action of shaking the pot so the bottom kernels don’t burn was a good way to warm up my insides!

Beyond the nostalgia comes the cost benefits to my Albanian cook-top prepared popcorn. I can make up to 3 batches for the USD equivalent of 65 cents! Consider that a 3-pouch box of PopSecret is $3. Still feeling the crunch of the US Economy? Apply to Peace Corps and Hajde me mua ne Shqiperi/Come with me in Albania! A measly bag of Lays Potato Chips, which is about a 1/3 the snacking amount of 1 Batch…costs me 50 cents. For you math-letes out there/nerd alert… I’m scoring BIG on some snackfood SAVINGS! However the extra savings will likely support a necessary gym membership as I’ve been known to scarf down a single batch (enough for 2-4 people) in less than 90 seconds. Photo evidence.

Anyway… what I’m trying to say is that I’ve found comfort/comfort food in reverting back to a lifestyle once enjoyed pre microwave convenience. Well….let’s just stick to the joys of my kokoshka, because when it takes me 20 minutes to reheat my leftovers from dinner last night… perhaps I'm a little less enthused! Ahh… nothing like that faithful hypocrisy to keep it real!

Peace, Love and Good Kernel Kharma