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Playing in the (Sour)Dough

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A chat on Ravelry about hot cross buns got the husband and I searching for recipes. Since we have a well-established sourdough starter, it only made sense to see if we could find something using it. But more than that, it had to have the right balance of spice and fruit with the evocative fragrance of memory. Our internet search netted this recipe from the Spice and More blog. It came together easily and the fragrance of the buns baking was mouthwatering.

Presenting “Not Cross Buns”:

YUM!

YUM!

Excuse me while I put the tea kettle on.

Welcome 2014!

As the festive season draws to a close, I would like to share with you some photographs taken over the past month or so in Budapest. Advent and Christmas are a very special time in this part of Europe and would not be complete without a mug of glühwein (mulled red wine, often with extra fortification added, such as pálinka) as you stroll around the outdoor market, enjoying the handmade crafts on display and live music. We were fortunate to have been invited to a St. Lucia celebration held by the Swedish community, which included a vocal performance of traditional music.

St. Lucia celebration

St. Lucia celebration

Enjoy this taste of the festivities!

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Kurtoskalacs - a spiral pastry cooked over hot coals, then brushed with butter and cinnamon sugar, nuts, or chocolate

Kurtoskalacs – a spiral pastry cooked over hot coals, then brushed with butter and cinnamon sugar, nuts, or chocolate

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New Year’s Eve concluded with several hours of fireworks. Fortunately, the fog that had been hovering for days lifted for our viewing enjoyment. I wish you and yours a happy start to the new year!

The Joys of Being a Tourist

How much fun it can be to play tourist in your own city! Over the past month, we have had the pleasure of visits from two sets of friends, hailing from different parts of North America. The first friends to visit, from Vermont, bicycled from Vienna before taking off the lycra and enjoying the sights of Budapest. Since the Buda Castle Wine Festival was in full swing when the arrived, naturally we headed there first to sample all sorts of vintages from various parts of the country. We tried whites, reds and rosés, finishing with some lovely sweet dessert wines that are the specialty of the Tokaji region of the country. And yes, we purchased several bottles to enjoy later at home. One of our favourites, a kékfrankos variety from Villányi, has already disappeared. Oops! We had a number of amazing meals, as our friends are experts in sniffing out the best culinary treats anywhere – they seem to have a sixth sense in choosing restaurants. A tour of the incredible opera house of Budapest was also on the agenda. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to take photographs inside, but I did get a shot of the ceiling of the entrance archway:

IMG_0569Compared to the interior, this is positively understated. But stunning nonetheless.

This week, a long-time friend from Alberta paid us a visit. Now I really got to play tourist….I walked the city with her almost as much as I walked in Paris a week ago (I’ll talk about this later, I promise). We toured around on the Hop On, Hop Off bus and took a boat tour on the Danube. I learned some fascinating tidbits of Hungarian history and ate some wonderful traditional dishes. Phew, I’m tired just thinking about all the running around!

In between playing host, we took a holiday ourselves. We completed a bicycle tour of Provence and then spent five days recovering in Paris. Now we have to get back to real life. The rest of October is going to be pretty dull in comparison!

A Celebration of Folk Art

A couple of months ago, I saw a photo on a Facebook friend’s feed. It was in Hungarian, so I had absolutely no idea what the event was, but in the photo I saw yarn that appeared to be on a loom, so I did a little investigating. A festival of folk arts, here in Budapest? Really? And the theme for this year is wool? Oh yes, I am definitely interested! It was held last weekend and turned out to be the most inspiring event I have attended in years. It took over the entirety of the Buda Castle grounds, including along the ramparts and down the street that snakes along the side of the hill outside the castle walls. I have never seen an event so large here. Or so well-attended. We went on Sunday, the second day, and were so blown away that a return visit was mandatory.

View from halfway up funicular to Clark Adam Ter. There is a dance troupe on the stage.

View from halfway up funicular to Clark Adam Ter. There is a dance troupe on the stage.

According to the brochure, there were over 800 artisans displaying their wares. What I didn’t realize was that not only would many be in traditional costume, but many were actually demonstrating their prowess at their art. Spinning, weaving, embroidery, felt making, woodworking, shoe making, metal work, pottery….the list goes on and on. There were even handmade musical instruments. I watched fashion shows and demonstrations of traditional dance and music. Those two days of walking around the castle grounds will be inspirational for months to come.

Photos? You want photos? Well, I did take rather a lot of them.

Bobbin lace making

Bobbin lace making

This potter was wearing the most fabulous embroidered shirt!

This potter was wearing the most fabulous embroidered shirt!

Tapestry weaving

Tapestry weaving

Traditional round looms

Traditional round looms

I was particularly impressed with the craftspeople who managed to take a time-honoured craft and move it into the present day. Love the clothing.

IMG_1514 IMG_1515 IMG_1516And the furniture. If I didn’t have a lovely dining set, this would be in my house now. By Canadian standards, it was cheap!

Stunning dining set

Stunning dining set

I have many more photos to show you, so I’ll stop there and reorganize myself. Suffice it to say, I am very sorry that we only discovered this event at this stage in our posting. By the time it rolls around again next August, we will have moved away from Hungary.

Bad Blogger!

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Yeah, I know. It has been months. I’ve thought about writing, honest I have. There are even two drafts written about trips to Rome and Prague. But then winter intervened. Not just “winter”, but the gray, icky, wet winter that just wouldn’t end. Even the SAD lamp wasn’t helping to pull me out of my funk. And then I just got busy.

So what have I been up to lately? Spinning up a storm. The annual Tour de Fleece competition on Ravelry coincides with the Tour de France, so we’ve only just finished that a couple of weeks ago. I did lots of spinning. Maybe not as much as last year, but still quite a bit. This is the product of my spinning wheels:
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My spindles were also pretty busy.

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IMG_1444I’ve made several pairs of socks, a shawl to give to a friend who visited me, and I have both a sweater and another pair of socks in progress. I’ve read several novels and work out at the gym at least three times a week. Phew! I’ve been busier than I thought.

We bought new bikes a little over a month ago. My old one was just giving me too many problems, despite having been to the repair guy more than once. Supposedly an 18 speed, it only would shift into 6. And the frame was a little off. A teenager once borrowed it without telling me and was in an accident. Sigh. So I bought a lovely new Trek bicycle, a hybrid model. So far, I’ve put almost 200 km on it….would be more, but as I tend to overdo things in the gym, pain gets in the way. It isn’t flat here, by any means. We are working up to much longer and more frequent outings….and we’ve sealed the deal by booking a cycling holiday in Provence in late September. The tour company says that you needn’t be über-fit, but I have a fear of showing up and being the slow-poke of the group. That would be horrible!

We are in the middle of a heat wave here, so I’ll raise my glass of water to all my faithful readers who have come to check up on me! I’ll get back at those drafts and see what lovely photos of our trips I can put out there for your enjoyment.

Winter Wonderland, the Long Version

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We are back home, the laundry is done, groceries purchased and we are planning our next adventure. So that must mean it is time to write about our trip to Italy.

Last year, we went off in search of snow at Christmas and it was disappointing. Yes, Austria was gorgeous, but the facilities seemed to be predisposed to skiing only. Although the literature included activities geared to snowshoeing, in reality the promises fell flat. So we were determined that this time we would find the perfect holiday for us. Google is our friend. Our search led us to Collett’s Mountain Holidays, whose brochure seemed to promise everything we wanted in a winter holiday. They fulfilled our dreams and more. We can’t praise them highly enough and will likely pay a return visit. Activities were scheduled for each day for skiers, walkers and included two different snowshoe routes with an escort familiar with the terrain. For those not wishing to participate in an organized excursion, maps and other information were available. We stayed in a lovely efficiency unit in Badia (formerly Pedraces), a village nestled in a valley in the Dolomites of Northern Italy.

We took it slow, which was wise, considering that it had been an entire year since the last snowshoe expedition. The first two outings were a bit shorter, 8-10 km in duration, with gradual elevation changes and a medium difficulty level. Day three was killer….we hiked uphill for about 5 km, to a small plateau just large enough for the three of us to relax and eat our lunch. I can’t tell you how amazing the view was. The photographs simply can’t capture the scale. We could see Italy, Austria and Switzerland from our vantage point.

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The photo of the church was taken on the way back down. I’ve never seen anything so picturesque. All in all, this was the most advanced level hike we did, and I can guarantee that it certainly felt like it! Towards the end of the climb to the top, I was wondering if I would indeed make it. We saw plenty of rabbit tracks and a chamois, which looks kind of like a deer. By the time we made it back to our room, we were completely exhausted. Fortunately, we planned to take the Thursday as a complete rest day. I spent it knitting, spinning and reading. Oh, and putting frozen veggies on my knees. I’d had no idea that walking downhill was so tough on knees, even with poles.

After a recovery day, we headed out to Cinque Torre with a larger group. There were a few tricky parts to this hike, fortunately at the beginning when we were more energetic. Including climbing down very steep terrain backwards, jamming the toe of the snowshoe into the hill!

IMG_0960This area was the scene of intense fighting between the Italians and Austrians during World War I and there remain trenches cut into the rock. I can’t imagine what those soldiers experienced, particularly during the harsh winters.IMG_0962 On the final day of our holiday, we left the snowshoes behind and hiked two hours down the river to San Cassiano, the site of a huge ski resort. I was cajoled into joining the men on the toboggan run, against my better judgement. After all, I’m a big chicken and it was accessed via the gondola! This did not inspire confidence! Fortunately, no one told me that the toboggan trail was full of switchbacks, over 4 km long, and you had to control your speed and direction with your feet. Okay, can I say that this was the most fun I’ve had in years? We had purchased gondola tickets for six trips, assuming that I’d not be interested in doing it again after the first round. Ha! I’d have gone many more times if we didn’t have a long walk back!

I will leave you with one final photo – my husband and I just before beginning the hike at Cinque Torre.

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

Is it too early to be thinking about next winter?

Winter Wonderland

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Why yes, I am in Italy. Enjoying a little coffee and biscotti after a day of very enjoyable snowshoeing. There will be photos, but not tonight. I doubt I’m going to be lasting much longer than it takes to get ready for bed. It is a good exhausted.

The Year That Was

Like many people, I find myself at the close of a year looking back at the events that have shaped my life over the past twelve months. It has certainly been an interesting one. While I have been adjusting to life in a foreign country, I have also been devoting a great deal of time to my personal development.

Last year for Christmas, I requested sessions with a personal trainer. Santa obliged. This has become an important aspect of my day to day life. I had never worked with a trainer before and was a bit unsure what to expect at the beginning. I have been challenged, pushed and cajoled into trying new and crazy things. I’ve ached. Oh, how I’ve ached. I have also made huge strides in my fitness level. Due to recurring injuries, I am no longer running and I really miss it. However, Anett and Tamás have worked hard to strengthen the affected area so that I may consider starting again, something that didn’t seem possible. I’ve discovered new ways to work out that are fun and effective, like suspension training and that crazy indoor cycling called spinning (not to be confused with real spinning). And I’m back in the pool, which makes me very happy. It has been, um, decades.

2012 was an exceptional year for creative development. I signed up for a couple of art classes on a whim and discovered a wonderful teacher who seems to be able to pull out my creativity. Her drawing classes got me putting pencil, charcoal, and brush to paper in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was in design school well over a decade ago. The figure classes she added in September have been amazing and I will be continuing with these into the new year. The artistic stimulation has carried over into my work with fibre. Whilst I haven’t been knitting as much as in the past few years, what I did work on was more challenging, frequently using my own handspun yarn. My spinning abilities have grown by leaps and bounds. I am now spinning with intent, playing with fibre preparation techniques such as combing, hackling and carding to produce a particular end yarn. And getting adventurous with art yarn. It has been so much fun. So too has using spindles more – I really like the low-tech aspect and the feeling of connection with women of centuries ago. In June, I gave in to long-term curiousity and purchased a small loom. At this point, I’ve only made a couple of scarves and tea towels, but this holds so much potential as a creative outlet for me. I can’t wait until I can weave yardage to sew into my own clothing designs.

Another central theme of the past year has been travel. I have been blessed with an extraordinary opportunity for exploring Europe through my husband’s job. We closed out 2011 with a snowshoeing trip to the Salzburg, Austria, area and will be starting 2013 with another snowshoeing vacation, this time to the Dolomites. In between, we have visited Vienna, Lisbon, Barcelona, Costa del Sol, Western Germany (near the border with the Netherlands), Paris, and Ireland. Whew! It makes me exhausted just thinking about how much packing and unpacking we’ve done! We have also continued to explore this exciting city of Budapest, learning more about its history and the customs of the Hungarian people.

The international community, the defence attaché community in particular, has been more than welcoming to us. We have experienced social activity like never before! From the Officer’s Ball in Vienna to the Marine Corps ball in Budapest to an Abba costume party, we have made new friends that we hope will last a lifetime. We will treasure the memories. It has indeed been fun.

2013 certainly has a lot to live up to!

Boldog Karácsonyt!

Christmas greetings from Budapest!

We are having unseasonably winter-like weather here, perhaps to honour our houseguests visiting from Lisbon. As they are also Canadian, they grew up with the notion that a white Christmas was highly desirable. Well, coming to Budapest for a few days was certainly one way to enjoy it! We took them around the Christmas market yesterday. It was frigid and snowing heavily, but I did manage to snap a few photos to share.

A food stall

A food stall

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The food stall pictured above would not be complete if I didn’t also share the sign on the front:

Um, delicious?

Um, delicious?

No, we didn’t partake, though it did smell awesome.

We will be celebrating this evening with a traditional Polish Wigilia dinner, complete with barszcz (beet soup) and uszka (mushroom dumplings), salads, fish and peirogi. Tomorrow will only be semi-traditional….barbequed turkey is on the menu! My baby boy also turns 26 tomorrow, so I will be thinking of him and trying to Skype his home in Alberta.

Merry Christmas to you and yours! I hope it is a wonderful time with family and friends, enjoying the best of the season!

Lest We Forget

Commonwealth Cemetery, Budapest, Hungary