Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Change in a relationship with PC

Boy... how long has it been since I started to use a personal computer?  When I had the first job after getting out of university; way before the world-wide-web era, or even way before Windows era, we were using mainly Fujitsu or NEC 16-bit machine with 5-inch disc drives, or IBM JX (8-bit machine but was said to be a virtual 16-bit machine) at work. Then the ones with 3-inch disc drives became popular. I believe the first machine I purchased for myself was NEC PC98CV21 in 1989, which was a machine mimicing then-a-popular Apple Macintosh's exterior (all-in-one type). I remember I had to contemplate a lot for this big purchase (probably the biggest one so far back then).  I remember I paid about 350,000 yen (approx. $2,600 with the exchange rate back then), which was a lot for a poor rookie like myself.  I basically needed the machine to work at home. Once the company that I was working for back then set up a proprietary chat room and email system, I also bought a modem (unbelievable 1,200 bps!!) to enjoy some of the offerings. There were no such activities like browsing through the webs or Facebooking back then. I still remember the dial tone coming from my 1,200 bps modem. It made me feel like swimming through the telephone line to a big ocean. :-)

Since then, I probably owned 15 diferent desktops and laptops. I have been spending most of my day (average of 13 hrs/day) in front of the computer for the last 20+ years (mainly because I kept working for IT companies). Even after moving to Czech Republic (meaning not having a steady job ^^), I have been spending approx. 5-6 hrs at least in front of the computer. I would check emails from 4 different email accounts, FB, Twitter, Yahoo Finance, banking and trading, blogging, skyping, and random web search and blog reading throughout the day every single day.  These take time!

But all of a sudden about a week ago, I started to realize that I was spending much less time on PC. I am more into off-PC stuff like reading, learning Czech, or doing yoga - for the first time ever since I owned my PC. Is it bad or good?  Neither. I just think it is just the time for me to focus around the off-PC stuff, and it definitely changed my life style a bit. And, I would say change is good once in a while.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Czech Cuisine - Attempt 1

Although we have been in Czech Republic for 7 months now, I have never tried to cook Czech food by myself. Whenever we felt like it, we went out. But lately, I have been struggling to come up with creative dinner menus, and my hubby suggested that I try Czech food. So, I did :)

I found this rather simple recipe for Czech-style goulash – a rich stew originating in Hungary, and I decided to go for it. Goulash is made of meat, mostly beef, stewed with vegetables and red paprika. It is usually served with dumplings called "knedlíky."  They are typically wheat or potato based, or a combination of wheat flour and stale bread or rolls. It tastes like a traditional style 蒸しパン (mushi-pan) that my mother made when I was a kid.

I went shopping for beef.  Using my iPhone at the store standing in front of the meat section, I determined what kind of meat they were, but the package only says either "front or "back."  So, I just picked one of them, which looked rather fatty and more tender.  The recipe called for Paprika powder, so I got that, too.

First, you saute minced onion with butter and olive oil for about 15 mins (on low heat of course). Then add salt&peppered chunks of beef into the pot and brown them on each side. It took me about 15 more mins. Then add some (3 tbs) red wine (or sherry if you have it). Let the alcohol boil out for a while. Then add flour (2 tbs) and paprika powder (3 tbs) into the pot and saute for a couple of mins. Add water mixed with beef or vegetable stock (approx. 3 cups), tomato paste (2 tbs), and a bay leaf into the pot. Boil on medium heat.  Once it boils, cover, lower the heat, and continue to cook for more than an hour. I let it cook for 1.5 hrs. 15 mins before you are ready to eat, uncover, let it cook for another 15 or so mins.  I added some mushrooms and sour cream (to make it taste milder) at that point although the recipe didn't call for it :)

We can get ready-made dumplings in any stores, which is what I did.  I heated them in a microwave for about 4 mins. Serve your home-made goulash-like stew with the dumplings. My hubby loved it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brno Day 2010 Festival

The three-day festival called Den Brna took place this weekend. My hubby noticed that something was going on when walking home Friday evening, and we decided to check it out on Saturday, not knowing it was a famous festival.

The festival was to celebrate the 365th anniversary of the successful defense of the city of Brno against the Swedish invasion back in 1645.  There is an interesting story associated with the retreat of Swedes at that time.  Once you are in Brno, you will notice a strange thing. Everyday at 11 o'clock in the morning, you hear the church bell ding-donging 12 times. In fact, this 11 o'clock bell was originated in the event of the Swedes' attack in 1645.

The story is that the Swedes decided to give themselves one last chance to break Brno after months of failed attempts and said that they would retreat at 12 o'clock noon if they hadn't yet conquered Brno at that point. Brno officials overheard this information and ordered the church bell to be rang 12 times at 11 o'clock. Thanka to the Swedes' "stick to the plan" spirit. Brno was saved. Ever since then, it has been Brno's tradition to ring the church bell 12 times at 11 o'clock as if it was 12 o'clock.  Neat!

The festival went on all day on Saturday. There was a street fair in front of the Old Town Hall selling folk crafts and local foods including two of our favorites pastries; Tredlnik and Fragály, which we enjoyed. We also tried a grilled smoked Slovak cheese, which was rather expensive for the size (20 CZK), but tasted soooo good. The small street was filled with people, and later with people with tradiational costumes preparing to make a march around the block near Zelný trh. We had to go shopping after that, so we left the area for a while, but returned for an evening concert held at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. They performed incredible music by Janáček, Dvořák, and others. The special ambience in that church amplified by the gorgeous sound of the pipe organ send shivers up and down my spine.

After the concert, people in military costumes with guns and cannons were waiting for the crowds to emerge from the cathedral. The drums rolled, soldiers pumped gunpowder into the barrels of their guns, and they started to fire the guns. The gunfire was startlingly loud, but was a good ending to the celebration, which was followed later by fireworks.

Here is a part of Janáček's piece, which I had to compress a lot to upload, but here it is.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Czech language - Part 2

It has been a month since I started to dig into the Czech language. It has been fun. I forgot how exciting it is to learn new languages. The only downside is gG thinks it is his enermy. He gets jealous whenever I study and cover the materials with his furry body. :(

Anyway... last time I talked about nouns and adjectives. Since then, I learned a lot :-) I learned the possessive pronouns, which also change depending on the gender of noun following it. For instance, if you want to say "my brother," since the noun "brother" is masculine, you need to use "můj" for "my." If you want to say "my sister," since the noun "sister" is feminine, you need to use "moje" instead. The same rule applies to yours (singular), ours, and yours (plural and formal) as well.

Anyway, that was the easier part. Now I started to learn about verbs. There are three types of verbs: á-verbs, í-verbs, and e-verbs (regular and irregular). Depending on the type, you have to change the form based on the subject. For instance, "vstávat (= to get up)" is an á-verb in infinitive form. If I want to say, "I get up," you have to change "vstávat" to "vstávám." The verb basically changes like this: (I)-vstávám, (you)-vstáváš, (he/she/it)-vstává, (we)-vstáváme, (you-plural)-vstáváte, (they)-vstávají.

The í-verbs (e.g. rozumět = to understand) change like this: (I)-rozumím, (you)-rozumíš, (he/she/it)-rozumí, (we)-rozumíme, (you-plural)-rozumíte, (they)-rozumí. The regular e-verbs (e.g. pracovat = to work) change goes like this: (I)-pracuju, (you)-pracuješ, (he/she/it)-pracuje, (we)-pracujeme, (you-plural)-pracujete, (they)-pracujou. Once you remember the rules, they become easy. The hard one is the irregular e-verb. It is irregular, so you just have to remember (at least the how it changes with "I"). For instance, číst (= to read) will change like this: (I)-čtu, (you)-čteš, (he/she/it)-čte, (we)-čteme, (you-plural)-čtete, (they)-čtou.

It is much easier for me to write than speak of course, but even then if I want to say "You have a beautiful cat," you have to determine 1) cat's gender, 2) then which form of adjective to use depending on the gender of cat, 3) the form of verb - whether it is á-verbs, í-verbs, or e-verbs, 4) subject, 5) change the form of verb based on the subject, and not to mention changing the noun and adjective to the accusative form. In this case, it shall be "Máte krásnou kočku (given the assumption that the cat is a female cat or its gender unknown)." Whew!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fedex fun

We have been using Earth Class Mail service ever since we moved to Czech Republic. It has been really great, as you can scan and read your letters remotely from here in Brno.

Recently I sent a few packages to our Earth Class Mail address, hoping that my hubby would pick them up when he was back in LA on business in July. Well, he was too busy to pick up everything. Consequently, I ended up having them forwarded over to the Czech Republic via Fedex.

Something that I didn't know was that here in the Czech Republic you need to pay VAT if the value of the items exceeds 45 EUR :-( Foolish me... I claimed the value of the items to be $300. Even though I sent the package via Fedex International Priority which should had been delivered in 3-4 days, it got completely stuck at Czech customs. The package left the Earth Class Mail office in LA on July 27, went to Indianapolis on July 28, air shipped to Paris on July 28, and arrived to Prague on July 29. It was very smooth till then. Then it got stuck in Prague for several days with the red alert saying "Cleareance delay."

We got a help from Katka from my hubby's company to check what might be going on, and we found out about the VAT. Strange thing was that Fedex never sent me any notices that the package was stuck and that I needed documents and money for the clearance. Anyway, I had to sign a couple of documents, and send a copy of my passport picture page, etc, to have Fedex work with Customs to have it released.

My package was stuck there from July 29 to August 6. And somehow Fedex in Czech Republic doesn't operate over the weekend, and I had to wait until Monday for them to send it to Brno, and it finally arrived at our place at 4:20pm on Aug 9. Whew!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Soda maker

Ever since we got here, we have been consuming at least a bottle (1.5 litter bottle) of sparkling water a day. And, the other day when we visited Jana's place, she showed me a device which produces soda water instantly; right there in front of you! Later I did some research on the product, and it seems it is fairly commonly used in Europe. I also found out that similar products are sold in the US and Japan as well. Nevertheless, it was the first time for me and my hubby to learn about such a device.

So, we bought it! We went to an electronics store to find a bag of coffee filters (strange to say, but we cannot find it anywhere else but in that particular electronics store), and there it was. They were having a demonstration booth. We talked to a lady who was presenting different kinds of devices (and amazingly she spoke English!) and made the purchase.

The device has been so useful. We just fill the bottle that came with the device with tap water (yes, everyone I met here in Brno told me I can drink tap water and in fact it is very good, so I switched from mineral water to tap water recently). Push a button to inject some gas, and in a matter of 5 seconds, you get a very bubbly water. Unlike the bubbly water you get at the store, bubble stays for a long time. I am very happy with the purchase. The device only cost us about $100. It came with a small canister of gas and a bottle of orange flavor, which you can mix with water to make orange soda juice.

And the greatest benefit is that I no longer have to carry heavy bottles of water home every day from the store!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mimicking American-Mexican food

Since I haven't yet mastered how to deal with the slabs of meat you get here, it has been rather difficult to be creative about our dinner menu only with the kinds of meat that I know how to cook - basically chicken and ground pork or beef :-(
One thing that I tried was mimicking Mexican food, such as Taco Salad and Quesadilla. I bought salad leaves, beans (can't find black beans here, though...), ground beef, onions, tomatoes, hot peppers (found some in Interspar), tortilla wraps, limes, lemon, koriander, avocado, a block of cheddar cheese (found in TESCO), and a bag of shredded mozzarella cheese.
Then I made salsa using chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, and chopped hot peppers mixed with lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and koriander. And made guacamole with mashed avocado, chopped onion, chopped tomato mixed with sour cream, salt and pepper, and lemon juice. Let them rest in the frig while you make the other stuff.

Taco salad is fairly easy as I found some Taco seasoning mix. :) I just sauteed ground beef with the seasoning mix, and dumped it on a bed of salad leaves. Then top with the salsa, cubed avocado, and shredded cheddar (using a shredder). Sprinkle chopped cilantro on it, and add some sour cream. Done!

Quesadillas are also very easy. Spread olive oil very thinly on the surface of tortilla wrap, top it with shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese, and sprinkle chopped cilantro and hot peppers on top. Cover it with another tortilla (brush some olive oil on the surface facing down). Heat up a frying pan with tiny bit of olive oil and cook the Quesadilla until the surface gets crispy on both side. That's it. Serve it with the homemade guacamole.

My cheese lover hubby loved the Quesadilla.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fish shop found!

It is that time again. I started to experience a major craving for fish! If you were raised near the ocean, you probably have felt the similar symptom as mine. It has been a challenge to find decent-looking fish in any of the grocery stores here in Brno. So, I spammed a corporate social networking site at a company where I was recently hired as a consultant and asked about fish stores in Brno. Everyone was so helpful despite the silly question that I posted. Finally, I got a lead about a fish store near our apartment!

So, I went there. It is a tiny store probably only 6ft wide with just a single counter as you walk into the store. On the right hand side of the counter, there was a small glass display case on top of the counter which had several marinated fish. That was not what I wanted, and I was going to leave, but then when I looked at the left hand side of the counter (which is used for the cash register), I found some uncooked freshwater fish in a shallow metal oven pan.

I was a bit reluctant as it was just sitting there on the counter but figured maybe it was out as the previous customer was buying the fish. So, I decided to take a stab at buying it as well.

That night, I cooked the fish in butter and oil, topped with garlic and shallot sauce, and it was perfect!

I also found an organic food store near the fish store. I got a bag of quinoa, which you can't find in regular grocery stores here. I made quinoa mixed with sauteed pinenuts and onion.

The dinner made us happy :)

Thanks for the great lead!!