Dec 122022

Yes, I am rooting for Ukraine. I am not terribly fond of nationalism. I would love to live long enough to see a free and prosperous world in which national borders are a thing of the past, a quaint historical curiosity, nothing more. But that’s not the world we live in, and when a country attacks another in a form of naked territorial aggression, I root wholeheartedly for the defender.

In light of this, I was delighted to see that the supply of a particular brand of our favorite Hungarian Christmas candy (szaloncukor), which has been made in Ukraine for the past several years, remains uninterrupted.

Thank you, nameless workers in that Ukrainian factory that manufactured these delicacies.

 Posted by at 12:43 pm
Aug 292022

Almost two thousand years ago, on August 24, 79 AD, in the fine town of Herculaneum, Celer, slave of Quintus Granius Verus had a loaf of bread baked. The loaf never left the oven and they never had a chance to eat any of it. They were interrupted by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Celer is known to have survived the cataclysm, as his name later appears on a list of freed slaves. The bread also survived, albeit not in edible form. The carbonized loaf was discovered by archeologists in 1930.

To think… a loaf of bread, intact, in such good shape, the stamp of its owner is clearly visible and legible. And it speaks volumes of a highly organized society, in which such stamped loafs of bread were regularly prepared at communal bakeries.

Darnit, it must have been tasty, too. There are modern recipes attempting to recover the flavor and texture of the original. One of these days, we ought to give it a try.

 Posted by at 7:19 pm
Apr 052021

My success story of the day involves two cups.

A few days ago, I heard my wife grumbling loudly in the kitchen. I went downstairs to see what was wrong. She showed me a pair of cups, a teacup, inside which there was one of our brand new espresso cups.

And when I say inside, I mean wedged inside. Firmly and utterly stuck, quite impossible to remove.

We tried to separate them using force, but they wouldn’t budge. We obviously didn’t want to break either cup. Not that they are terribly expensive but the teacup, well, we’re quite fond of these teacups and as for the espresso cup, it was brand new, I only just purchased the set off Amazon a few days earlier.

Force failed to do the trick so we tried to be clever. Use some oil to make it slick? Nope. Dishwasher detergent? That didn’t work either. I tried holding the outer cup, upside down, under hot water in the hope that thermal expansion might loosen the smaller cup inside; nope.

Nonetheless we thought that a temperature difference might help, so we filled the cups with water and put them in the freezer. Once the water was frozen solid, we took them out and placed them in a pot of boiling water. Again, the hope was that the high heat would cause the larger cup to expand, while the ice keeps the smaller cup cold, allowing it to fall out. Nope.

After this experiment failed for the third time earlier this afternoon, I sat down with the cups in hand and once again, tried brute force. The outer cup was still quite hot to the touch, the inner cup still quite cold and this may have helped; suddenly, I felt them budge, and after one more pull, they were separated, completely undamaged.

I was… absolutely delighted. Later I remarked to my wife that we humans are creatures of simple pleasures. Never mind the animations I completed just today using gravitational lenses of arbitrary shape. Never mind the work I am doing on another project on payment processor integration, or yet another project involving Microsoft Teams. (Yes, I multitask. Virtual desktops can be quite handy.) All of that is fun, sure, but it’s having been able to separate these poor cups without breaking or damaging them that really made my day.

 Posted by at 9:33 pm
Apr 032021

My beautiful wife is getting really good at this.

She just made this kalach (kalács), Hungarian style braided sweetbread/eggbread, on account of Easter.

It is absolutely yummy for breakfast. Might work for lunch and dinner, too, if you ask me.

Yes, it has raisins in it. I love kalach with raisins.

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
Mar 232020

My wife and I went on a shopping spree.

No, we didn’t win the lottery. But apart from our desire to support our local economy in times of crisis, we were also rather worried that our favorite deli store in the Byward Market may be forced to close for an indefinite period of time.

So we stocked up on things. That said, I hope they are able to stay open. I hope they are able to stay in business. Other deli stores have shut their doors. I hope Continental remains open and that the owner and employees stay healthy.

In the meantime, I thank them for serving us.

 Posted by at 3:43 pm
Nov 282017

The other day, I bought a cantaloupe for my wife.

Today, as she was about to cut it in half, she noticed that it had two sticker labels. Not only that, but held just the right way, the thing looked just like a character from South Park:

Bon appétit.

 Posted by at 9:58 pm
Jun 102015

A great many years ago, my uncle Jóska once played a joke on the family. He found a large utility scrub brush somewhere, and at the most unexpected moments, he held it under your nose and said, “Come, give a kiss to grandpa!”

What he really meant, of course, is that the scrub brush looked like the grandfather of all toothbrushes. Even so, “give a kiss to grandpa” became kind of an inside joke in our family whenever we encountered something that was unusually oversized.

Like an oversized piece of caramel candy.

When I was a child, one of our favorite candies was the “cow caramel” candy, a Polish product, a caramel candy that, unlike most caramel candies, was neither sticky nor chewy; rather, it just crumbled in your mouth without sticking to your teeth or palate. Oh, and it was very tasty, too.

This “cow candy” is still manufactured, and it is routinely available even in Canada at European deli shops. Although we try to keep our candy consumption at a minimum for all the obvious reasons, my wife and I remain regular buyers.

So imagine my surprise when the other day, my wife comes home with the grandfather of cow candies: a giant, mega-size (it says so on the label) cow candy that looks just like the regular cow candy, except that it’s much bigger.

But, I can attest, just as tasty. We cut this one in half and enjoyed it earlier tonight, but not before I snapped a picture, showing the “regular” cow candy and a Canadian quarter for size comparison.

 Posted by at 9:56 pm
Dec 232014

It’s Christmas so it’s bejgli time.

Bejgli is Hungarian (well, actually, the word comes originally from German but let’s not be pedantic at Christmas) for a (walnut or poppy seed) nut roll that is typical Christmas fare in Hungary. This is what they looked like, (nearly) fresh out of the oven earlier this afternoon:

Oh yes, the picture was taken with my thermal camera.

 Posted by at 9:21 pm
Nov 012013

The other day, I bought a fine jar of “No Name” brand Polish pickles at Loblaws. They were great pickles. Nothing wrong with the quality or the taste.

However, there was something my wife noticed on the label that was, shall we say, surprising.

Can’t see it? Here are the relevant bits, enlarged:

Still, I may stick to the same brand. Not only are the pickles really tasty, but Canada, after all, does export plenty of food to India, including lentils. So it’s only fair for us to eat some Indian-made Polish pickles in return. Especially since they really are yummy.

 Posted by at 6:59 pm
Oct 222012

Think of an essential part of your life. Now imagine relinquishing control over it to others, people you don’t know, people who may in fact be in different countries, providing a service on an industrial scale. Most of the time they do an admirable job; but when they make a mistake you and many others suffer, possibly with life-altering consequences.

No, I am not describing cloud computing. I could have, but I was actually thinking about manufactured foods. When you buy a bag of snacks at a supermarket, for instance. The materials used to manufacture that food come from all four corners of the world. Some are organic in origin, often waste products from the processing of hundreds of animals or tons of vegetables. Others are manufactured at chemical plants, e.g., from petroleum. And when the controls fail; when an unscrupulous manufacturer in China, for instance, introduces an unapproved substitute to boost the measured protein content of a manufactured ingredient, people or pets suffer, even die.

But what I am really struck by are these similarities between cloud computing and “eating from the cloud”: that for the sake of convenience and easy access we willingly relinquish control over something essential, and that we generally trust society to such an extent that we are not the least bit worried when a private e-mail with an intimate personal photograph travels halfway around the world before arriving in our Inbox (which itself may be physically located in another country, perhaps on another continent); or when we put bits of food in our mouths without the slightest worry about the origin of its ingredients produced in distant lands by people we will never get a chance to know.

 Posted by at 8:27 am
Aug 292012

Rapper Curtis James Jackson III, aka. 50 Cent, was apparently in Hungary a few days ago. While in the country, he must have visited a grocery store, where he took a picture of something that, to him, obviously looked horrendously offensive: a product carrying the name “Negro”, with what appears to be the stylized image of a hanged black man on the plastic bag.

Except that it isn’t. While racism and the rise of the far right are increasingly troubling issues in Hungary, in this case there is a completely innocent explanation. The packaging in question contains candy, throat drops to be precise, made using a nearly century-old secret recipe. And while Negro lozenges are traditionally black in color, the name has nothing to do with the candy’s appearance either: reportedly it is named after its inventor, Italian confectioner Pietro Negro.

And what about the image of a hanged black man? Not exactly. The classic Negro advertising slogan calls the throat drops “the chimney sweep of the throat”. And what may appear as the silhouette of a black man in a noose is, in fact, a chimney sweep doing what chimney sweeps usually do: sweeping a chimney!

In any case, it’s not like it’s hard to find truly offensive product names in Hungary. Like this one:

The Hungarian-language label reads “Negro kiss, vanilla flavored”. But although in this case, the word unambiguously refers to black people, there is again no offensive intent: this is a traditional product name that has been in existence for decades.

 Posted by at 1:42 pm
Jul 172012

Paris, the city of light, is also known for its cuisine. Why someone would go to Paris and then choose to eat plastic hamburgers at McDonald’s, I have no idea.

But in case culinary reasons are not sufficient to deter you, consider this: next time you go to a McDonald’s in Paris, they may assault you because they don’t like your electronic eyewear. This is what happened to Steve Mann, a well known University of Toronto engineering professor who is a wearable computing pioneer.

I am guessing that McDonald’s chose not to respond to this gentleman’s complaints and reimburse him for the damages that occurred because they enjoy the free publicity.

Perhaps it’s best to avoid McDonald’s restaurants everywhere, just to be safe?

 Posted by at 6:22 pm
Jul 242011

The city shut down The Fresh Fruit Company at the Byward Market for non-payment of rent. But what about all the food still in the store that is now left there rotting?

 Posted by at 6:23 pm
Oct 312010

The other day, my wife and I visited a restaurant in Gatineau. We were not disappointed; the quality and selection of “Le Buffet des Continents” was quite excellent.

But then, there was this fine piece of socialist realist art greeting us upon entering the establishment:

It won’t prevent us from going back, though.

 Posted by at 1:53 am
Mar 242010

A new study, widely discussed in the news (I first heard about it on CNN this morning) suggests that portions may have increased gradually over the centuries, if depictions of one of history’s most famous suppers, the Last Supper, can be believed. To account for differences in dimensions, the researchers compared serving sizes to the heads of people depicted, and concluded that over the centuries, portions may have grown by as much as 69%.

There is, of course, another possibility. Perhaps it is people’s heads that shrank.

 Posted by at 12:37 pm
Nov 062009

I was channel hopping a little this morning, which is how I happened upon a health news segment on CBS, “CBS Healthwatch”, and caught this sentence as part of a discussion about headache triggers:

“Anything that’s not… American cheese that you can by right over the counter.”

I didn’t realize that in the US, one needs a prescription to buy some blue cheese or Camembert.

 Posted by at 12:52 pm