Thursday, July 30, 2015

Drapes and Melon

It's Thursday. I've been mopping floors for most of the morning. It's time to take and break and blog.

Weekly Wins

Our drapes have been out for cleaning since we moved in last month. That must have been one heck of a cleaning. They look great. I've never had floor to ceiling drapes before. I feel like a mogul.

My empire.

I like them a lot, but they do make our place darker,
and maybe a bit sinister.
But, I don't know, that's the life of a mogul, right?

Bella and I took our Thursday trip to the laiki. We picked up some apricots, onions, nectarines, and this:

 Gambling on watermelon is such a thrill.

I bought this for 1.65 USD. Is there a markup on watermelon in the U.S.?
Did I just uncover a melon conspiracy?

I was walking home earlier this week when a guy on a motorcycle stopped to ask me for directions. I get such a kick out of that when it happens. It happened a few times in D.C., too. Once I pointed out the White House to a group of tourists who were looking the opposite direction. It's really affirming to think that I look like someone who knows what they're doing. I often don't, but at least I've nailed the outward appearance of competence. Luckily for this guy and my ego, I actually did know how to direct him. I strutted the rest of the way home.

Phil and I have become the experts of the neighborhood, by default. Among the new expats moving into our building this summer, we've lived here the longest--a whopping 5 weeks, exactly. We know everything about this neighborhood, except for the million things we don't know. It's a small caveat to our vast intelligence. 

Back to those floors (maybe),

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Knockoff Chewy (Knockoff) Butterfinger Cookies Recipe

I finally dipped those knockoff Butterfingers that I made the other day. I tried to get some good dipping chocolate. Even with my best half-a**ed efforts, I still didn't like the final product. 

I also didn't put too much effort into trying to make them look good.
Chocolatier, I am not.

Once I got over my initial disappointment (which was not limited to the chocolate, by the way, I also think they need more peanut butter flavor), I decided to mash them up and use them in a cookie recipe I found last Halloween. I like these cookies because their texture is everything you could ever hope for in a cookie. The taste is...all right. You can find the recipe at: Chewy Butterfinger Cookies by Sally's Baking Addiction

If you want to make the whole thing from scratch, including the candy (you psychopath), here's what I did:

Knockoff Chewy (Knockoff) Butterfinger Cookies Recipe

Knockoff Butterfingers
1/4 c. of sugar
1/8 c. of water 

Dissolve together over medium heat. Then add:

1/8 c. light corn syrup

Heat mixture to 280F. Get it off the heat, and add:

1/4 c. warm peanut butter (just blast it in the micro briefly)
1/4 c. smashed corn flakes

Spread the mixture in smallish parchment-lined loaf pan, and score it with a knife. As it starts to cool, chop it into pieces. Freeze the pieces, until you're ready to baptize with chocolate. 

*Hindsight from the baker: Next time, I'm going to see if I can add more peanut butter without screwing up the texture. I want more peanut butter flavor, darn it. Also, you probably don't have to dip these if you want to use them in the cookies. I'll bet you could just chop the peanut butter pieces and add them to the cookies with some chocolate chips. Somebody try it. Quick.*

They look good, right? Photo editing is a beautiful thing.

The Cookies
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 egg

Beat together until fluffy, then add:

1 and 3/4 c. flour
3/4 teas. baking soda
1/4 teas. salt

Mix, and add as many chopped Knockoff Butterfingers, as you'd like. If you take the authentic route, Sally's recipe calls for 8 fun-sized Butterfingers, chopped. Either way, the dough will be pretty stiff when it's all mixed.

Bake in oven preheated to 375F for 11 minutes.

*Hindsight from the baker: I'd love to try this recipe with white AND brown sugar. I think I'd just split it down the middle the first time and try 3/8 c. white and 3/8 c. brown. What I'd love even more is if someone else tried this recipe with white and brown sugar, and just told me whether the cookies come out with the same texture, and better flavor.*



An offering to the European Oven Gods.

I ate that one in the back left corner. It was still warm.

Hot, Corrupt, Deserted

It is so deathly hot outside. The closest I've ever come to feeling this hot was when I was in Moab, Utah in the middle of July in a sweat box of a pup-tent with my sister. We ended up renting a motel room. There was no motel room on my trip to The Mall Athens, where I just returned from bowling with the kids camp.

The backstory of The Mall is nice and corrupt. The land was originally intended for public housing, but was sold to the Lamda Development, whose stakeholders include a lot of politicians. Lambda said they would build housing for Olympic journalists and, ooh, maybe just a small mall on the property, which would be great for Olympic revenue. The mall opened a year after the games ended. It's big and lovely and spawned a bunch of lawsuits. The coolest thing about it, though, is the view and the graffiti:

There's Athens over there. All of that. 

I really want to understand this piece.
Is it slamming Santa, or is it slamming tobacco?
Also, what's in the sack? Toys? More cigs?
Maybe it's saying if you smoke, you'll get toys.

The 2004 Olympic Athletic Center of Athens (O.A.K.A., if you're Greek), is right next door to the mall, because, if you used your critical reading skills, you remember that the mall was "built for the Olympics." I'd really like to swim at the pools here, a few of which are still in great shape, so I wandered over to take a look.

The whole place is massive and maze-like, and mostly deserted. There are signs left over from the Olympics pointing out where the judges and athletes should be for certain events. Pieces of the roof flap loudly in the wind. A lot of the decorative glass lighting on the grounds is smashed in and coned off. The structures are all intact, and they are cool.

I like this one for its looks and its utility.
You'd be surprised how great partial-geometric shade feels,
when it's 2 million degrees outside.

I don't know if this is a relic from the Olympics, or it's a more recent addition to the complex, but the fencing situation at O.A.K.A. is out of control. You never know if you'll run across an opening, or just another dead-end staircase to a gate. It's like being a lab rat in the world's worst maze. It would make an incredible venue for a room escape, except that everyone would freak out and tear down what's left of the complex in frustration. I ended up hopping a fence. Look at these fences and tell me they're not begging to be hopped. 

And it's deserted so no one will yell at you.

I wish I could give you some scope for how large and deserted this whole place is. I took this picture with the self-timer on my camera. In situations like this, I'm always tempted to do something illegal and destructive, just to stick it to the man.

No authority, no rules.
I could have taken this picture from the roof, if I'd wanted.

It was just too hot to stick it to the man today. That's white, hot rock all over the ground. Everything here is made out of white, hot rock. The sun is reflected right off the ground and into your freaking face.

It's hot.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Folding Shopping Carts

Greece Hack #1: Invest in a folding shopping cart immediately. 

I don't usually support idolatry, but I really, really love this cart.

I've been wanting one of these bad boys since we arrived. It's hard to haul around grocery bags by hand, and we're still going to be without a car for a while. It's been impossible for me to find one in the stores, which is weird, given that every single person in the whole entire country seems to have one. I briefly considered stealing a cart from one of the old Greek ladies, but those women are tough, and they scare me to death.

Behold, a miracle occurred. Phil's departing coworker came walking into work the other day with this cart, and offered to give it to me for free. I practically cried. We tested it out last night at the grocery store. It worked beautifully. I decided to take it for another spin today to pick up some housewares. 

Look at that fantastic cart holding all those things for me.

If you really want to stand out in Greece, take a walk in the middle of the day, in the middle of summer, in the middle of a heat wave, to the middle of an upscale mall, with a laiki grocery shopping cart, and buy a bunch of cheap coasters. I'm sure they were wondering who the idiot shoving a yoga mat into a laiki cart was, but the joke's on them because this cart is amazing.

Anyway, I went to a store called Jumbo. It reminds me a lot of the recurrent dreams I have where I'm in a store with lots of things that I want and everything is so, so cheap. See also: Big Lots. Here are the highlights:

Cabinet liners, place mats, and coasters, so I don't destroy this apartment.

P.S. Here are all my coasters, so far.
Phil brought back the ones on the right from his trip.
Maybe he should be the decorator. 

Party masks! They reminded me of that scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's,
when "Fred" and Holly spend the day doing things they've never done before.
That truly is the sole reason I bought these.

Here's that yoga mat. I want to start practicing again. Bella is dubious.
Have a little faith, Bella.

I also bought a hose and a rug and some medical tape, but those pictures weren't pretty. I'm going to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's, and see if there are more things I want to buy. Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Butterfingers, Maybe

Phil's home! He got back yesterday, and took a lot of fantastic pictures, none of which are posted here. Maybe I can ask him to share.

Phil and I met up with some pigeons for lunch today.
We ate a pizza place in downtown Athens.
The tables were set up under a really cool tree/vine canopy.
It was still very, very hot.

Before Phil came home yesterday, I decided I wanted to try to make homemade Butterfinger candy bars. I used a combination of a couple different recipes I found online. 

Butterfingers, Maybe Recipe

1/8 c. water, 1/4 c. sugar dissolved over medium heat.
Once dissolved, add 1/8 c. light corn syrup and heat med-high to 280 (f).

Once heated, pull it off the burner,and add 1/4 c. warm peanut butter,
and 1/4 c. smashed corn flakes.
Spread that whole mess out in a parchment-lined pan and score with knife.

As it cools, chop it into pieces.

At this point, I lost interest, and it was hot, and I didn't want to deal with melted chocolate. I ate a whole bunch when they were still warm, and they didn't taste much like the candy. As they started to cool, the taste got a bit closer. No idea where they're at now, taste-wise. If I can get my hands on some milk chocolate, I'll melt it, coat these suckers, and let you know what I think. You can trust my judgment, because I really, really like candy.

I also did laundry before Phil got home so I looked mega-productive.

Bella helped, as she always does.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Religion from the Window

I'm not usually Christian before 8am, but sometimes I wind up with secondhand worship from our balcony.

The reality is that I heard the bells, grabbed my camera, and sprinted across the apartment so I could record them for you. That's why the camera's shaking so much.

I also don't usually sprint before 8am.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tipping for Dinner

Phil's been out of town this week, and I've done a really great job of not breaking anything, including my own sanity (although I have had some long, detailed conversations with my dog, so...). I've also done a really great job of making delicious dinners for myself every night. Tonight, I decided to celebrate my successes with a big ol' box of chicken and fries. Thank you, Click Delivery. 

There's a pita buried under there. I had to dig for a couple hours before I found it.

Tipping isn't really expected in Greece. Sometimes a gratuity is included in the price of the meal, but to actually tip on top of the final bill is not common practice for the locals. I am not local, and tipping is an ingrained practice. After a brief internal struggle, I decided not to tip the delivery driver tonight, and now I am beating myself up over it. Bella and I talked it over, and decided to go online to research appropriate tipping practices in Greece. Most of the information I found was geared toward tourists, and not tortured, guilt-filled expats using an online delivery service. According to these websites, tipping has become an expected practice from American tourists. The sites went on to say that because Greeks don't make high salaries, and the economy is so terrible, it's become good practice as a decent human being to at least give a small, greatly appreciated tip to economically depressed people who provide a valued service to you, you cruel, heartless, greedy pig.

I think I'll tip from now on.

I told Phil I'd be able to eat the whole thing myself.
That chicken just doesn't end.
Maybe I'll pretend like I bought an extra box to save face.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Purses, Cookies, and Kids

It was a heavy post yesterday; I know. I feel bad for throwing that at you without much warning, so today I went out and bought you three nice gifts for me. Here they are:

New purse! On sale! I got more than half off. High fives all around,
but mostly for me and this purse, and for sales.

Got this because of all the times I've dropped my ID and credit cards on the ground.
You really gotta dig for those euro coins.

These are traditional Greek butter cookies called koulourakia.
 They taste a lot like Barnum's animal crackers, but even better.
I sampled one before I bought the package,
then sampled six more after
(with milk). 

I spent part of Wednesday, and all of today volunteering at a summer kids' camp. Most of the kids are American expats, but a few are Greek. There's this one Greek boy, in particular, that I really enjoy. The first time I tried to ask him something, he told me, in near-perfect English, "I don''t speak English." When he tries to tell a story, or ask for something, he works really hard to say what he can in English, then switches over and finishes the rest in rapid, fluent Greek. He expects us to pretend like we understand him, and we do (pretend). I really like his style. He's not embarrassed by his inability to speak English, and doesn't give a **** that we can't speak Greek, as long as he gets what he wants in the end. So now, when people come up to me on the street and start asking me about my dog (which is just about the only time anyone talks to anyone else on the street), I follow this kid's strategy, and respond in English, with the few Greek words I know mixed in. People do one of two things: they either switch over to English and we chat for a while, or they say "Ah...[another couple things in Greek]", and walk off with a "Yassas." Out of the mouths of babes, right?

I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Culture Shock Sandwich

Today's post is about culture shock, sandwiched between some lovely, positive pictures so your whole day isn't ruined. 

Weekly Wins

Bella meeting the newest member of our family.
I picked it up for a euro at the laiki.

I'm so excited to garden this thing.
Incidentally, does anyone know what it is, or how to take care of it?

My basil is sprouting! I'm sure very little credit is due to the gardener,
but I'll take credit anyway.

I purchased all of these gorgeous fruits from my favorite seller at the laiki.
He's the guy who pats me on the back when I suck at speaking Greek.
This week, I was able to ask him, "How are you?" in Greek.
In return, he told me what I owed him using English numbers.
He is my favorite.

Rogue, Mexican Wave

In January, Phil and I visited Mexico for the first time. We were staying on a beach with a “red flag” warning for swimmers, which we wholeheartedly ignored. On our last day in the country, we were playing in the surf when a freak wave formed a foot away from our faces. It slammed us on our backs, sucked our sunglasses off, and scrubbed out every orifice of our bodies with deeply exfoliating sand. When we finally surfaced, I felt like an idiot. To have been so thoroughly debased in front of a bunch of tourists who still had their sunglasses was really embarrassing. 

Culture shock is like a rogue Mexican wave; you’ve been warned to expect it, but you never see it coming. I don’t like to fail, privately or publicly. It’s embarrassing for me to talk about the culture shock I’ve been feeling here. Lots of people have told me how lucky I am to have this experience, and live in this beautiful place, and do whatever I want to do while Phil works. All of that is true, and I honestly appreciate what an exceptional opportunity this is. Even so, adjusting to a change this large is difficult.  It's acutely, inordinately, painfully difficult.  

Culture shock hasn’t come in a neat, little package of stages for me. The honeymoon stage is completely mixed up with the frustration/adjustment/adaptation/homesickness stages; all of which are supposedly discrete from one another. One day, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of things, and the next day I’m bawling on the phone to Phil.

As the tag along spouse of a foreign worker, I lost a large chunk of my identity in our move. I had to ditch most of what I love, without any sort of continuity on this side of the world. For the past four weeks, I’ve had no friends, no family, no employment, and no cultural context here to get me through the day. Until mid-afternoon, almost everyone I care about is inaccessible, either asleep or at work. Moving to a place where you don’t speak the native language is isolating. The stress of having to step outside without being capable of asking for the simplest help is unbelievable. Finding a job is a nightmare, and though I’ve heard there are plenty of foreign women support groups, it’s hard to find resources. I feel sad a lot. I feel lonely a lot. I want to come home at least twenty times a week. 

An expat lifestyle isn't all about adventure and excitement. Only a very small part of our weekly routine involves jaunting off to find street snacks, and quaint beaches. This is not a multi-year vacation for us, it's a complete transition to an entirely foreign environment. Adjusting to a new country, even while knowing it will get better, and enjoying the new things it has to offer, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

I decided to write this out because it's super cathartic, and because I want to provide real, honest information about living as the spouse of a foreign worker. I plan to write a bunch more about ways to deal with transition shock, generally, and as an expat. Right now, I'm hungry and tired, and you’re probably feeling the need to rush off and send me a care package with a bunch of fatty American food. I'll take two cases of Lofthouse cookies. Thank you. Here are two lovely, positive pictures of my adorable dog passed out in her house. May we all follow her example of regular naps. 

Leading by example.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mail Call

Inside: "But they don't really apply to this situation,"
plus a bunch of other nice, personal stuff that you don't get to read about.

We received this funny, thoughtful card in the mail from my favorite East Bay residents. I don't understand why California has to be so far away from here. Thank you for thinking of us. We miss you so much. 

Wednesday's Important Topics

Taking a brief break from the mess to discuss a few important topics. I also painted my toenails.

The first topic is Greek yogurt. I need more Vitamin D and Calcium. My default foods contain a lot of Vitamin C, which can either be construed as "chocolate" or "carbohydrates." I love and need both, but I've gotta shove some of the other things in there on occasion. As a result, I've been trying to eat more Greek yogurt. 

I don't like it. I'm sorry to offend my host nation, and legions of loyal American fans, but it's just not good. I am desperately in search of ways to make it taste better. I really liked it when I mixed it with applesauce, but in a shocking twist, the applesauce I was eating was the high fructose corn syrup stuff. So no wonder it was fantastic. I've also tried mixing it with banana. That was okay. Please give me more ideas, or I'm just going to start mixing it with chocolate and bread...hey, now...

The dreaded container. I think that word means, "cow," but I genuinely don't know.

Second, please look at my new shower curtain. It really makes me happy.

Thanks, IKEA

Third, I need to use an aging head of lettuce. I really don't want to throw it out, but it tastes gross independent of other foods. Please make suggestions, but don't you dare suggest mixing it with Greek yogurt. 

Fourth and last, here's another picture of Bella for your Wednesday pleasure:

If she were uglier, she'd be featured less.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer Yuletide

It's here! Our air freight has come! It came in four big boxes, stuffed to the top with paper wrappings. It was exactly like Christmas. I tore into the boxes with just as festive an attitude, if not more. The movers were really kind. They helped me unwrap every single item, and like adults at Christmas, smiled indulgently while I carelessly chucked things on the floor and enthusiastically ripped into the next parcel. They even hauled away the wrapping paper when they left. God bless us, every one.

Piles of stuff and it's all mine ours.

Here are the things I've missed most:

Having more than one pillow. 

Food storage containers.

Kitchen tools.

Wall personality.

This particular potholder.

The incomparable recipe book Kate made for us.

(Not pictured: my craft stuff, my dishes, my bedding, everything else)

Bella was excited to see our stuff, too. She was particularly happy to be reunited with her bed, after being away from it for over a month. She celebrated in typical fashion.

Prior to this graphic love-fest, Bella and I walked around the block to our new favorite little street cart to eat another carbohydrate heavy midmorning snack. This brings us to the...

Greek Street Treat of the Week:

Loukoumas: A Greek sugar doughnut
It was a great walk.