Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My Secret Weapon: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Augh!!! I almost lost this post due to random internet weirdness. I'm so glad I know the wonders of copy and paste!
One of my many uncles has suggested that I try to turn this blog into a best-seller by staging more dramatic fight scenes -- maybe some Star Wars meets a solitary, wandering Ninja. Here is my attempt:
So yesterday, I was walking down the streets of my village (dodging goats and the nice little remnants they leave behind), when a man approached me and started speaking to me in Bulgarian. Assuming he was insulting my knack for expecting stores to be open when they are scheduled to be, I immediately took offense and whipped out my light-saber. It was a tremendous battle. I won by performing a triple-lutz in the final round. You should have been here to see it. Soon after, I was surround by a bunch of children cheering my name: Ейприл! Ейприл! Other villagers came out, and I thought they were going to have a parade in my honor. It turns out, however, that I had broken one of their many laws and had now jeopardized their entrance into the European Union. They immediately demanded my Litchna Karta (Bulgarian ID). Unable to produce it due to my foreign heritage, they tied me up and took me to Pazardjik (the largest city an hour away). I sat there - bouncing on the bus, bound, frustrated, lamenting my plight and wondering how I was going to escape - when the vehicle broke down and started smoking. While the natives were restless and confused, I took the opportunity to run away into the hills - where I met a goat-herder shouting "Ricola!" Assuming he was insulting my entire family, I immediately produced some numchuks and did away with the squab. Afterwards, I contacted the mothership and made arrangements to return to Tatooine. I will go ahead and live there since I can no longer reside in Bulgaria and there's a price on my head in the states -- international incidents galore.
How was that? I know, I know. No best-selling blogs for me. I must apologize for my mundane life and lack of creativity. But that was for you, uncle, so you know I love you.
Now back to regularly-scheduled programming....
Life has come to a sense of "normalcy," I suppose. My niche here in town has been to try and be the American girl who "shows up." I come into work (even though I spend most of the time on the internet while my colleagues discuss who knows what). I show up for youth meetings (even though I don't understand most of what they're saying while they discuss who knows what). And I try to get invited to as many cultural events and "na gostis" that I can. This last Saturday I went to Plovdiv. I love that city. It's become my Valencia. I would explain what I mean by that, but it would take too long. If you understand, great. If not, that was just for me anyway. So I was really happy to go back for a visit. I texted my "family" on my mobile phone. They want to know when I'm coming back for a visit. And it was hard to know that I was only 5 km away from them, but I just couldn't make the trip. So anyway, I was in my favorite Bulgarian city for a Roma festival. They had a four-day fair celebrating all things Roma, and a group from here in Rakitovo went and put on a performance of singing and drum playing. I have some pictures and some video. I've posted a picture now (see last post), so I don't feel so bad promising I'll share pictures with you. Video is another story. Don't expect more miracles from me. There were other groups from around Bulgaria as well - dancing the kuchek, singing, performing short musicals, and doing free-style dance and amazing acrobatics to hip-hop music. It was fun, and some other volunteers were in the city, but I wasn't able to see them. I was pretty disappointed because I wanted to swap "first-week-in-site" stories. I'm sure there are good ones, but it just didn't work out. When I got back that evening, my landlords had me over for dinner. They're really sweet people. I understand when they speak to me because they're very patient and are willing to repeat things. They seem to understand me for the most-part as well. Some people just have a natural gift for that - like my family in Trud, and I'm feeling fortunate thus far to live under their roof.
The apartment saga continues. On Sunday, I spent the whole day in my apartment - cleaning my kitchen and trying to place some things in order. I cleaned out a bunch of their stuff and have found out the purpose of that off-limits room: Apparently it's Bulgarian custom to reserve a room to store a bunch of your offspring's stuff. Hey, that happens in the states, too. Right now, in fact, there's a room at my mom's place in Sacramento that has a lot of my junk in it. The difference lies in the fact that my mom's not renting out the upper floor where that room happens to be. At least, I haven't heard that she is. So my strategy has been to put all the things I don't want, that came with the apartment, in that room. I'm hoping to develop a different strategy in the near future cause it's more spacious and sunny, but right now it seems to reek of cigarette smoke, so I'm content.
I got my kitchen clean enough to the point that I felt like trying my hand at baking some cookies. Side note: If you have any great vegetarian recipes, please feel free to send them my way. I'll look to see if we have those ingredients here, and then I'll try and learn how to cook. I've already invited my colleagues over to a "na gosti" at my house, but it'll be a "teach Apryl to cook easy Bulgarian dishes na gosti" and they'll cook. I'll let you know how that one goes.... So, back to the cookies. I found a recipe for peanut butter cookies in the Peace Corps cookbook. The thing that's nice about it is that it's a little "Bulgarianized" (how many packets of vanilla - it's in powder form and sold in tiny packets here - and oven temps in Celcius), but it's still missing out on the whole easy-conversion to metric thing (the amounts are still in cups) so it's still some guesswork. I made the batter, cut up a chocolate bar, and decided to try a bit. I must admit, it was pretty yummy, and I was tempted to eat it all in raw form. I turned on my oven and popped them in. Twenty minutes later, they still weren't done! (It's only supposed to take about 8-10 min.) I finally grew impacient and took them out. They were good - a little chewy in the center, but edible. I could only fit about six at a time on the pan, so it took me about three hours to make the whole batch. I was up 'til midnight, but it was worth it. I left the last batch in for a really long time, and they turned a deep dark brown - really hard and crunchy, but not burned. Strange. So I'm learning about patience while making cookies. It's a win-win. And hopefully another win:
I shared them with my youth group last night, and I got some compliments: "What's this? I thought you said you couldn't cook!" "These are delicious! Thank you." "Next time we have a picnic, you can bring these again." "Make more." "Can we have the recipe?"
So I declined to share the recipe with them. You can't give away your secret-brainwashing-people-into-liking-you-weapon. They'd probably make them better than me anyway, and I wouldn't have a "niche" to share with them for cultural events. They can have the recipe in two years.
Well, now I feel a little more "homey" in my apartment, and I'm settling in a little bit more. There's still more to be done, and there are times that I feel this is all just an experiment - and I'll be back in Trud with my "family" in no time. I still haven't comprehended the fact that, yes, I'm living on my own. It's my own space, and I need to personalize it. The only times I feel like I need to do that are when I find other people's stuff inhabiting my drawers! (Like pornographic video tapes. Yes, it happened to me!)
Yesterday, my boss and I were in Pazardjik the entire morning/afternoon - trying to get my documents in order (hopefully that's all straightened out, and I'll have my Litchna Karta by the end of the week so I'll be a legal foreigner working in Bulgaria) and making connections with the Roma organizations in town. I had previously met some of the Roma youth there during training, so it was nice to visit with them again and make connections now that I'm a volunteer. I look forward to running into them for cultural events in the future. On the way back from Pazardjik yesterday, the bus briefly broke down. And our bus from Rakitovo to Plovdiv on Saturday had smoking issues. That part of my previous embellishment was true. These things happen, and I mostly feel sorry for those who are easily carsick. The route between Pazardjik and Velingrad is absolutely gorgeous (natural rock cliffs, autumn trees, and a rushing river below), but terribly windy (not windy as in breeze, windy as in curvy), and we had to make a "special stop" for the kids on Saturday once we got out on the main stretch of highway. And then the route from Pazardjik to Plovdiv is scattered with prostitutes, so that is a scandal. I share this with you not to be scandalized, but so that you will know that there are young girls out in the cold trying to make a living the only way they know how. Someone told me they saw one of the girls crying.
Well, here I am again rambling. I'll give you a break and then hit you with more later. For now: Довиждане!


vassi said...

Hey Apryl,
I love your blog! You are so creative, chica! I think you could make your blog into a best-seller even without the Star Wars vs. Ninja flourish, although that story made me laugh so hard (internally...have to constrain myself here at the internet club), i almost internally choked :) Can i come visit you sometime?

Lyrpa said...

Of course! Come say "hi" over here in Rakitovo. How's your site?

Trang said...


Your creative fight scene reminds me of the show ALIAS! You can be a Sydney in Bulgaria.

Is it that cold there? You must miss northern cali weather so much! It's going to be in early 70s today...sorry to rub it in :P

Hope things are going well!