Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Claude Monet's garden in Giverny

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Myth in the Making

Moira's pancakes: EBBP 1 (2)

Ozzy in the process of eating.

The teenagers – my older son, let’s call him Frank, because he is, whether you want him to or not (he also worships an American musician of this name), and his girlfriend, let’s call her Syvvy, because she’s half-American, has a literary bent and her favourite book is The Bell Jar – had spent a few days near Manchester, and Ozzy and I couldn’t wait for them to come back, so that we could try out Moira’s pancake mix with oats and walnuts.

Ozzy, in particular, was extremely looking forward to our American breakfast with maple syrup, having already predicted that they were going to be the best American pancakes ever because the mixture had been made, TOUCHED, by a real American!!! (It became increasingly clear to me that Moira had already ascended to the higher echelons of Americans revered by him, which include such dignitaries as Joe Satriani and Homer Simpson...).

I entered the kitchen with some trepidation (I could so easily envisage myself messing it all up, not being known as the greatest pancake tosser of all times...), and with Ozzy’s help proceeded with the experiment.
Most of my cooking is deemed experimental by my family, who would much rather stick to their beloved curry – cooked by OH – than try out the ‘exotic’ dishes I like to conjure up with much maligned ingredients such as broad beans and lentils. Mind you, the experimental label is probably more a testimony to the forays into extreme cooking that I occasionally undertake with my friend Sally – events which see us oscillate between mad scientists and apprentice witches, when we simply substitute unavailable chemicals with something else at hand, a somewhat reckless abandon and fearless overconfidence, which therefore do not always yield quite the expected results. But that’s another story, and I will let you know if and when project Brezel ever moves from its hard as a house brick stage (simply think salt dough) to something more resembling edible fare.

The pancakes turned out to be less challenging than that. The thick mixture (quite unlike my runny German/English version) forms miraculously into just the right size pat in terms of height and diameter and is easy enough to turn once it starts bubbling (as so well instructed by Moira).
Ozzy’s delight was supreme – apparently, he had been hoping to make this kind of pancake for a loooooooong time, and now finally, all thanks to this lovely woman in Cambridgeshire, this dream had become reality! As soon as had he finished his allocated lot, he was planning when to have the next lot (as a wise precaution I had only used half the mixture), when Daddy would be able to sample them. Then suddenly panic flashed across his angelic face, “But what are we going to do then??? Have you got the recipe for the mixture?!”

I assured him that we would obtain the recipe ASAP, but I could see the traces of doubt in his face, which told me that he knew instantly that no pancakes would be like these pancakes ever again. These pancakes, like the best American cookies ever, would become part of the food mythology of this family, along with the Bara Brith (Welsh currant bread), the likes of which we will never taste again – which of course does not prevent my mother-in-law from hunting for one every single time she visits Wales – and all the other dishes that have achieved the status of legends in this house: the garlic ribs we had in Haarlem, the roast goose and dumplings in Oberstdorf, the Wiener Schnitzel in the little inn on the right hand side of the pass down towards Kranska Gora, the pizza with green olives from the baker’s in ‘our’ street in Florence, and let’s not forget the frutti di bosco ice-cream just outside Vatican city. (About the latter more in the next post, if I ever get round to it.)

And as for the Granola..., well, I’m afraid I have to report that it never ever made it into the general tasting arena, as I started munching on it while I was on the PC, and there being nobody around to rescue it and stash it away in the kitchen cupboard, its fate was sealed... Oooops, sorry... Needless to say, it was as delicious as all the other edible gifts! Thank you so much again, Moira, it’s been such a wonderful experience!

And thank you again, Andrew for organising it all. I think the write-up is still going on, AND Andrew is organising the next one for September, 24th!!

Now, I've got to go now, as we're off to a festival and then on holiday, so, 'see' you all in September. Oh, and if you're looking for something to do: why not read Yann Martel's The Life of Pi and tell us which dish the reading experience inspired - this is what we do over at Chocolate & Zucchini, where we have just started a book club!!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Euro Blogging By Post 1

Euro Blogging By Post 1, the idea which prompted me to start this blog in the first place, is fully underway now, with people receiving their parcels and writing about it on their blogs. (There’s a lovely little gingerbread man logo to go with this, but unfortunately, I didn’t manage to import it to this blog...)

Our parcel arrived yesterday, and the little one, let’s call him Ozzy (yes, you’ve guessed it, he’s a right little head-banger), ran all the way to the attic to bring it to me. He could hardly contain himself, so much did he want to rip it open and see what the goodies were. Well, Moira (Who Wants Seconds?) who sent us this very heavy gift (which was nearly £9 in postage, ouch!) must have sensed that there are children in the house with a very sweet tooth!

As the photo doesn’t quite reveal, there was a large bag with chocolate chip cookies, a pancake mixture, a bottle of maple syrup and homemade granola. The pink card on the left contains the recipe for the quintessential American cookies, and the blue-white-and black-card in the middle (depicting an Ikea cow), a message from Moira. I loved the lot – the zip-up bags, the idea of the pancake mixture, Moira’s handwriting, everything! And this was before the first smell, the first bite, the first taste of the cookies!!!

My goodness, these cookies are truly sensational! – The ‘just as mother intended’ feel already starts with the smell, which nothing shop bought could ever achieve. Then you dig your teeth into the crunchy, oaty surface, and as soon as your tongue makes first contact with the chewy yet crumbly texture, you go, “Oh yeah!!!” And then, of course, the chocolate chips start melting on your tongue... mmmh, divine. – But don’t just take my word for it:
Ozzy loved the way they were sticky and airy at the same time, and “how the lumpy bits jilt and jolt in your mouth”; the teenager (who thinks of himself as quite a connoisseur of bake-ware and calls muffins ‘the King of Foods’) exclaimed ecstatically, “Just the right texture – it is so difficult to get the balance right, they’re either too doughy or too floury, and these are perfect!”; and OH declared categorically, “Best ones I’ve ever tasted!”

Thank you ever so much Moira, for your very generous parcel, and many thanks to Andrew at spittoon for coordinating it and doing the write-up.
And my sincere apologies to Jenni of Pertelote who is the unlucky recipient of my parcel, which is in no way as exciting as Moiras or as thoughtful and pretty as hers, which went to Dagmar in Sweden. I could cry just thinking about it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Harry Potter and the Cucumbers of Doom

... or are they pickled gherkins? An acquaintance alerted me to the following link yesterday: http://harry-aufdeutsch.de/HaD/index.php
(Don't bother if you can't read German.)
I don't know where exactly she came across it but she mentioned that this project had undertaken to translate the latest HP in something like 48 hours, a task that normally takes at least 3 months. (Yes, I can virtually hear the heaving and spluttering by anyone remotely associated with professional translation...)
Of course, I had to follow it up immediately. And lo and behold, it seems to be quite a laudable undertaking. Yes, it endeavours to translate every HP before the official translation is published, and no, I could not find any hint as to appropriate qualifications, and deplorably, no University appears to be affiliated -- BUT it seems to encourage readers of Harry, learners of English, thousands of them keen enough to buy the book in English, to try their luck at the art of translation.
It’s a true community thing, with a muck-in feel to it. Upon registration, one is allocated 5 pages to translate within a week. Each text thus supplied will go through three different clearing points and if accepted as a useful version it moves up a level to ‘editors’ who select the best passages and expressions from a number of versions. A final editor pulls it all together to produce a complete version of HP in German, before the official translation comes out (for HP 6, this will be Oct, 1st).
From what I can tell, members are mainly amateurs whose only reward is the downloading of the finished text – provided their entry had been accomplished enough. (Oh yes, no pain, no gain!)

But what’s it got to do with cucumbers and gherkins, I hear you ask... Hang on ... all will be revealed in due course!

The on-line friend who drew my attention to this link, justifiably asked how consistency of style could possibly be maintained with such a technique and presumed that the resulting text would necessarily have to sacrifice the literary experience to not much more than plotline.

Now, I haven’t seen any complete chapters of Harry-auf-Deutsch (HaD), but surfing their forums, where members have access to a comprehensive glossary of JK Rowling’s terminology and characters, including all the recent ones, and the opportunity to discuss any translation problem, however tricky or intricate, with a huge host of Harry fans, I can certainly report that nobody - whether it’d be a modern, techno-savvy translator with a Masters degree in translation studies, or your old-fashioned fellow poet in the mould of the Schlegel brothers, or Thomas Carlyle, or for more recent examples (and less accessible languages) Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney – nobody could take the task more seriously.
I discovered a 12 page long, most intense, fervent and passionate discussion on the finer points of translating the chapter title ‘The Unbreakable Vow’, including every aspect and level, be they syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, stylistic, or contextual, making full use of the width, depth and speed of the medium, the last entry recorded yesterday at 3:37 am. (To imagine such a platform for disseminating their doubts over comprehension, interpretation and the sheer exasperation of successfully translating a pun - let alone anything as technically challenging as a transposition from iambic pentameters to alexandrines - into the ether would have been totally exalted utopian daydreaming to even the most lethally intoxicated of the Romantics...).

I wonder whether Klaus Fritz[1] at Carlsen Verlag (i.e. the German publishers of HP) ever possibly has the chance to subject just one expression, just one chapter heading to so much thought and such scrutiny from so many sides and angles!
As an extremely frustrated and disillusioned language teacher in this country, I have to admit to ending up quite choked, and very much close to tears, so touched was I at the display of something so incredibly educational, which no programme, however well meant and didactically thought through, could ever have achieved if it had come via the ‘appropriate’, the ‘official’, the ‘proper’ channels.

And what about CUCUMBERS?! What about GHERKINS?!

Some of you really never lose focus, do you? (Unlike me, who was born with myopia, which means I can’t focus at all. -- Which explains a lot...)

Harry Potter and the Cucumbers of Doom

HaD (Harry-auf-Deutsch) have two areas dedicated to LEMONS – only they call them ‘Gurken’ ..., which are, depending on your preference, either cucumbers, or gherkins – which adds a whole new dimension to the popular song, ‘I say tomatoes, and you say tomatoes.... -- lemons, cucumbers and gherkins being such wholly different items of food...

But – back in the realm of semantics – what we’re really talking about are mistakes, blunders. Bad translations. Ranging from the duff to the downright ludicrous. HaD list both, Fritz-Gurken and HaD-Gurken.

I am not going to explain, or even just comment on the level of lack of cultural transfer, I’m just going to list some of the gherkins (I opt for that version basically because it’s the sillier term of the two!) for your own perusal as to why they pose a translation problem:

- to blow a raspberry
- yours truly
- coming up to scratch
- large, square houses, with large, square owners
- he ought to have asked her out
- for good
- learn by heart
- rest home (NB: even in the last instance, not translated correctly!)
- as he scrambled to his hands and knees
- Hermione was going spare
- he had taken to...
- gave someone quite a turn...

Tomorrow: My parcel has arrived! Family food tasting coming up!

[1] Dr. Klaus Fritz, *1946, studied sociology, philosophy and politics (note: neither English nor German literature and/or linguistics!). Before mysteriously landing the job of translating hitherto unknown author JK Rowling, he had translated mainly non-fiction.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

All wrapped up

The parcel has been packed and duly dispatched (at a surprising, nay shocking, expense of nearly £5, which I don't mind as such but it reminded me that such sums -- or indeed care parcels -- should go to the needy, rather than subsidise the Royal Mail ... if I can work it all out, I'll add some links to this effect next time). It was fun to do and illustrated once again how even a simple task like wrapping up some items can turn into an undertaking of paramount proportions, once you have managed to get your habitat into the complex[1] shape that I seem to create so easily.
Searching for and finally unearthing all the paraphernalia required for the parcel project, took half the morning and left behind a trail of opened and displaced boxes, which means that even the narrow foot path through the obstacle course in our bedroom is now obstructed, and my bed can only be reached by a rather ungainly skip-hop-jump exercise. Of course, there has to be a method in this madness, otherwise I’d resolve to clear it all up rather than describe it all on a blog... (I have mentioned the term procrastination, haven’t I? It is a very serious condition, and one I really have to come to grips with ... I’ll do it as soon as I’ve written this entry/answered my e-mail/checked Cocolate & Zucchini/read the Guardian, etc. pp, ad infinitum...)
Anyway, the result got unprompted and independent expressions of delight out of both kids (which was rewarding in itself), and disappointment when they found that I was sending the parcel. However, when they found that we’d soon be receiving one, they lit up and found the idea absolutely fabulous. (So, blogging’s not such a duff idea, after all, is it, Mr I’m-too-sophisticated-for-my-shirt?!!) And they’ve already volunteered which homemade food item I have to send out next: Schwarzwälder Kirsch Trifle ... yeah, that’s a great English-German fusion recipe, but how would one send it by post?

[1] adjective, usu. employed as a euphemism in this house and currently having achieved cult status, i.e. being used on a daily basis in constructions such as, ‘a complex sandwich’; here: complete and utter state of disorder; chaos which can probably only be resolved by burning the place down; slovenly, sluttish house-keeping which only narrowly escapes the ‘keeping the comb next to the butter dish’ category, which my father always predicted for me...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Cheers, Prost & Massel Tov!!!

Yesterday, I raised a glass to the newlyweds (as if I ever needed any excuses...) and wished them all the luck in the world.

-- Actually, having just written this, it occurred to me that "all the luck in the world" is a rather silly expression... but let's not get into linguistics just yet. I'm still recovering from the post-match analysis of an 11+ practice paper on verbal reasoning, which took me right back to a very similar situation six years ago, when my equally mathematically minded first-born tried to argue with the test results. Amazes me again and again, how some people get all fuddled when the equations contain concepts rather than meaningless numbers, letters or symbols. --

My OH was a bit taken aback by my insisting on the Red Russian, but I thought it had to be a very special tipple for this particular occasion. This red sparkling wine from the Crimean (Krimsekt in German) is really something else. With its cassis colour, its blackcurrant taste and smell, it's like Ribena for grown-ups. I'm sure no serious wine connoisseur would admit to having a soft spot for it, but I for one think it's got a dazzling decadence that few other drinks can rival. (Especially when you keep it for very, very special occasions only...)

So, as you can see, I've managed to upload the photographs (no idea how to get them any more focussed than this...) but I had to endure the special kind of benevolent mockery that teenagers reserve for their elders ... apparently, my lack of knowledge is of a breathtaking depth ... and he left me with the advice that I'd better start pronouncing "url" as earl rather than u.r.l. unless I was hellbent on becoming the laughing stock of the blogging world. (For which he had nothing but contempt anyway, you understand... anything worth reading would appear anywhere but a blog ... well, if this is why my copy of Kafka's The Trial has gone walkabouts I'm not complaining, but I doubt it...)