on why I can’t work today

I used to work in an office for 10 years… Well “working” is such a commonly misunderstood word, it means different things to different people. I did not do much in those 10 years… but I had some excuses. Here they are:

Working in the summer was just impossible because of the heat. How do you do anything while sweat trickles down your back, while the humidity pressures all the thoughts into a foggy confusion in your head.
AC were not helping me. They are not healthy, they just spread diseases and create headaches. I suffered from a lot of headaches back then.
And anyway, you can’t work while the beach is calling you, the swimming pool parties, the mountain hikings… And in the evening – the backyard barbeques, the bars, the expectation of the imminent vacation time…
I blame all those school years and what summer meant to us back then. FOr so many years of our life summer was a time of joy, end of responsibility, time to relax and enjoy life and freedom. This is so deeply branded into our subconscious, almost on a genetical level, we are just not programmed to work in summer.
But even if you decided to try to do something – someone you need to complete your project or to get an approval or answer or anything – that someone will be on vacation. Summer is out.

Then comes the fall. Whenever I see those leaves falling I go into deep depression (this might too be because of the school years). And then starts the rain. And more rain. And mud, cloudy days and dark mornings… And we just sit there and remember all the beautiful summer adventures, the unforgettable vacations…And the temperature in the office – it is just never right. Some days it is too hot, some days it is too cold. Should we cool it or heat it, what? Then come those annoying winds carrying all those croaked leaves through all this greyness. My sinuses start hurting and those bloody headaches start.
And then – just a look at all those not finished projects after the unproductive summer months, it just kills me, I am so down, I just can’t, I just can’t. And even if I could, somehow, finally find some strength, because of the global warming – fall is drastically shortened and it is over.

In the winter it is too cold most of the days. By the time you find the will to get out of the warm bed, put 10 layers of clothes, come to the office, wait for it to warm up, take off 9 layers of clothing, drink your coffee in trembling hands while telling everybody how hard it was to get up in the morning, how awful the car ride was, the ice on the road, the accidents you drove by… Half a day is already gone.
And just in the moment you finally start to work, you will notice that the office is too hot, and that you can’t go out in the freezing cold for lunch hot like that and you spend some more time looking at all that snow and wind…. Winter is time to worry and calculate. The bills need to be paid, money for presents needs to be put on side, credit card debt needs to be settled… Headaches, god damn headaches… And anyway, there are not many working days in the winter anyway. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Secret Santa day, Christmas, New Year’s, Hangover days, Marthin Luther King… When you take those out, the flu days, the dead car battery days and snow days out, you are left with not much… No, just no. I wish I could work in the winter, but I just can’t.

And then finally comes the Spring. But I can not work in spring time. In spring I am just too exhausted from the terrible winter, the body needs to recharge, the blood is changing, the whole machine is waking up. Hormones and itchiness. The flowers start blooming, allergies start, nose is running, dizziness, weakness and those goddamn bloody headaches! And everybody starts to be in love, or in a fight, office romances and some crazy unrealistic plans and ideas. Its tax time. It is house cleaning time, tag sales and moving time. To work? Insane. Where to start? There’s just too many unfinished projects to even start. And then, the global warming – and summer is here suner than ever.

But not everything is that bad. There are some days that you just don’t have a climate based excuse. A sunny day in winter, a cold day in summer… But those beautiful, perfect weather days always fall on, lets say – a Monday. And who can function on a Monday? Mondays you are happy if you survive through them, you can’t possibly do any work on Monday. There is like 100 emails waiting and 100 phone calls…
Or a Friday, even worse. Friday is the day you have to call your friends, make plans for the weekend… Half a day on Friday you spend watching your clock and dreading the traffic. If you wanted to do some work – you will need someone from the town or some state offices – and they end at noon!
Tuesday is OK. It is the day when you make plans. Good preparation is everything. Sharpen your ax for a whole day. You rearrange the folder mountains on your desk, you make little spreadsheets, you assign priorities to tasks… And then on Wednesday some boss or somebody comes or calls a meeting and destroys your whole plan.
Some people have to work Saturdays, but it is futile. They are just to angry at the whole world that is free that day to do any real work.
And, we are left with Thursdays. Some thursdays without a weather based excuse.
On those Thursdays I write this blog.

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BEST PLACE TO LIVE

I was at a dinner recently and somebody asked me: “Sasha, you traveled the world, if you could choose, where would you choose to live?”

I did not have a ready answer and after a brief thinking I said something in the like of south France, Provence, or north Spain, Catalonia, remembering it as a place of some of the most vivid and beautiful memories I had. But then again, I added, I was twenty something at the time…

I did not feel good about the answer but I haven’t given it much thought…until I was driving my food delivery truck today through some small rural towns around South Hadley, MA,  and I realised something: there is no place in the world nicer and more livable than New England in fall.  And I realised at that moment that there is no one single best place to live and that I should have given a different answer for each season, so here I am, answering it right:

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The fall I want to live it in New England. There is no picture in nature more beautiful then a New England forest in fall colors, from red to green, reflecting in a calm water of some lake. And not just the leaves: all the harvest festivals, fairs, pumpkins everywhere, on every porch,  houses decorated for halloween, apple picking, apple cider… That is when the food here tastes best, when the air smells best, when life feels best.

Fall in New England. 

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Winter in the Caribbean. I am not a big fan of snow, I lived for thirty years without having to shovel snow not once and I can live the rest of my life without even seeing snow. I was born on the shoreline and I can not imagine my life far from the sea and there is no sea nicer then the coral reefs of the caribbean (as far as I know, I have never been to Australia or Thailand).

Eating fresh seafood, snorkeling in a clear water, waking up in the morning by diving in the sea  and going to sleep by the fire on the sand beach. Living life without putting on shoes – or even a shirt, watching the sunset and the seagulls, covering yourself in the warmth, the song  and the smells of the tropical sun and people of the eternal summer  in the Caribbean.

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Spring in south France, in the Provence. Or  northern Spain. Anywhere between Tuscany to Barcelona, actually. I lived near Barcelona for 4 months once and returned there later many times, for work or for vacations. And loved it every time.

The way fresh cheese tastes on the market in  Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the first asparagus of spring, the black truffle, strawberries and cherry, scents of rosemary, wild thyme and Mediterranean pine, all the wildflowers like centranthus, yellow broom and red poppies, irises, almonds and soft fruit trees in full bloom…

You can enjoy the full beauty of this most popular tourist destinations on earth, minus all the insane crowds of summer. Spring in Provence.

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Summer in my Croatia. On the coast.  

I’m biased here, I know. I was born in Croatia and lived there for 30 years. This is where I spent my school summer vacations. This is where I lived the best times of my young life, friendship, love…

I am aware of how all this might be affecting my choice, but I still think this to be the best place to spend the summer, the joyous time of the year. You see, there is no huge difference between the regions I described before, Tuscany, Provence and Catalonia – and Istria, Croatia on the other side. One big difference is that there are no big cities here, it is way less crowded and less… touristy. But it is still EU, with all its amenities and culture and vibrant foodie scene, all things that Caribbean can not offer.

Other big difference are the people. People in istria love tourists. We loved them ever since the Roman times, when the wealthiest Roman aristocrats decided to build theirs vacation houses here. We loved everybody who came after them, Venetians, the French, Austrians, Germans…. In some other country they would call them invaders, but not us, to us they were always tourists. We were a poor country and the money they brought with them was always welcomed.

People in France are not that crazy about tourists, especially in late summer when other (also not too friendly) domestic tourists show up.

I was once at a business dinner in Croatia, on a beach in Rovinj, with a french journalist and writer that was writing an expose on Croatia for some french magazine. She told me this:

“You know we have a saying in France: God lives in France. I still think it is true, if God would choose a place to live, he would choose France. But I am ready to change that saying slightly now: God lives in France, but takes his vacation in Croatia.”

I don’t know if she ever wrote this in her article or if she ever used it at all. If she did not, I claim it as mine. I checked and can confirm that they do have a saying about God living in France. And not only french – even english: “living like God in France” and german and dutch too!

But Croatia is the place you take a vacation. This is a place to live the best summer holiday ever. To enjoy the music, the festivals, the amazing food, the beaches, the concerts, this is where you’ll find the best friends and prettiest woman (or man).

I’ll update this list as I travel more… But I do not think It will change much. Let me know your choices. Let me know what I should visit next. And when.

 

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All cooks are criminals

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All cooks are criminals
Yes, all cooks are criminals. And not because we are tough, tattooed, gang of hard drinkers, drug abusers… Not all of us are like that. But we are, all of us, criminals.
Because that is our job. We take perfectly good, healthy products of nature and then invent new ways how to make them less healthy and nutritious as possible; how to cover, fill or wrap them with as much of the most unhealthy food or edible chemicals we can – with butter, salt, sugar, fat, cheese, flour, alcohol, smoke; then pass them through hellfire, deep fry, dehydrate them, ferment them, fill them with bacteria or gas.
And all of that just to make the food taste good.
Yes, there are some restaurants that prepare mostly raw, bland – but healthy food. But there are no cooks working there. There is no cooking worth mentioning going on there. Cooking food is the criminal act of making the food unhealthy but delicious.

Just an example. I do wedding food. Not much room there for creativity, innovation, audacity. I have to make food that everybody, not just foodies, but everybody, grandma and grandpa and kids and teens will recognize and equally love or at least accept it. When I do changes in the recipes, those are subtle and hidden, designed to bust the original flavors, like dry forest mushrooms cooked in the marsala sauce, wine&soy marinated sirloin, sugar in the water for cooking vegetables etc.
I used to have steamed seasonal vegetables as one of the side dishes, mostly broccoli, green beans, some baby carrots or peppers for color. (Side note: I was amazed to discover the other day that every single person working in my kitchen believed that baby carrots were some kind of different carrots, or normal carrots picked up young. Side side note: they aren’t, WTF, they are just normal carrots that were too ugly or oddly shaped for the market, heavily peeled and pencil sharpened into uniform little baby carrot shapes).

Anyway, I used to serve this steamed vegetables lightly drizzled with butter. Nobody complained, but I noticed more and more people ordering grilled summer vegetables, and those are way more work and trouble to make. So, what I did was starting to serve the steamed vegetables with a new sauce I concocted, made with equal amount of butter and creme fraiche and some other unhealthy spices to give it yellowish color and strong, salty flavour. Crowds went nuts. I had to double the portions on those.
What I am trying to say is, even if we wanted to cook healthy, we can not do it for the masses. The masses want salty, sweet, caramelized, burnt, fat food. The food that, for some weird evolutionary unexplainable reason, to us tastes good, and then harms us.
And that is why we, cooks, are criminals.

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Wedding Venues in CT: Making Couple’s Union as Special as Celebrities

News of the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West upcoming wedding and their efforts to find a suitable hall in France and Italy brings back the memory of another Kardashian wedding , with Kris Humphries . On that occasion Huffington Post collected some of the best tweets about the wedding, and all of them are still/again pretty applicable.

Kardashian wedding

A lot of people are also dreaming of getting their dream wedding, but France and Italy are simply out of the question. Unlike celebrities, normal Americans do not have the capabilities to get the best wedding planner or the financial chest to rent out a castle. One thing everyone can do, though, is to find a memorable place that’s closer to home. Fortunately, there are plenty of beautiful wedding venues in CT that can deliver that dream wedding, even without century-old castles.

Booking one of the many banquet halls in CT is not hard as long as couples take the time to carefully plan their special day. Many also realize that it’s not the exclusivity of the place that makes the wedding special, but rather, how the event and the venue brings families and friends together to share one of the most unforgettable days in the lives of two people. More than that, Connecticut’s great wedding venues serve superb dishes that will surely make the event one for the history books.

The perfect wedding location is not confined to verdant scenery or expensive zip codes. Rather, it is any place that binds the heart of two lovers together. On the logistic side of planning the event, couples only need to consider how their chosen venue can cater to the number of people they want to share their special moment with and how suitable the place is for one of the most sacred religious ceremonies there is.

Operators of wedding venues and certified banquet caterers in Connecticut, such as The Old Country Delicatessen & Catering, have witnessed how great love stories evolved, and have contributed to making many weddings better than any celebrity union there is. Couples should trust Connecticut as the place where their lives begin together.

(Source: 13 Funniest Kim Kardashian Wedding Tweets, First Posted: 08/21/11 www.Huffingtonpost.com Kim Kardashian Video Funny Slideshows Kim Kardashian Kris Humphries Kim Kardashian Wedding Kim Kardashian Wedding Tweets Seth Mcfarlane Twitter Slideshows Comedy News   Source 2: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Scout Wedding Venues, Visit the Palace of Versailles — Get the Exclusive Details!, Brandi Fowler, January 19, 2014)

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June 13, 2014 · 6:58 pm

Major renovation in progress in the Old Country Banquet Facility

We are almost done with renovations on the wedding venues and building. By request of all our future brides (and brides are the ones who choose the wedding hall, right) we have:

Changed all the curtains to a beautiful shiny gold color

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We are  adding a garden with a pergola, flowers and a fountain for ceremonies and pictures

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On our balcony we are adding a bridal suite, a room and a restroom for changing, make up, etc.

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We are adding a monumental stairway for the bridas to walk in the room in all their glory (approved but not started yet..)

And for the guys, one little thing, we just changed the tiles and lightning on the existing bar…

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Funny and tasty side of China

Recently I visited China. Got a good deal on Groupon, 9 days in 4 and 5* hotels with 4 flights between cities and some of the food for $1.300 person. Not bad. On a request of some friends I am using this medium to give a short recapitulation of the funnier side of the trip. And also, to stay in the blog topic, the tasty, culinary side.

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First of all I had the great misfortune to have had the Air China mess up our tickets, so I ended up sitting on a different row from my beloved wife. She got the seat behind me. I guess that is a custom of all backward countries – that wife should always go behind the husband (except Afghanistan because of all the land mines). This gave me the chance to contemplate my misery and to sulk in silence for the duration of the flight (14 hours).
I saw 5 movies. 5 movies in a row. I knew that all my years of training – since I was a kid – will pay off – decades of forcing myself to fanatically watch television for hours and hours, always a bit longer, always pushing myself over the he limit of human endurance (All the LOTR movies in one night, anybody). And here I am, squeezed in a middle seat of economy class, with my enormous butt that will probably never gonna be dislodged, knees pressing the seat in front of me, neck too feeble to hold my fat bold head without the neck cushion, here I am, 6 movies and still enjoying myself completely.
Another thing, the flight to China goes over northern Canada and northern tip of Alaska. To you who are bad at geography and Google Earth, thats the freaking North Pole.

IMG_20140120_111239It was the first night we realized that nobody here in China speaks English. We are not American and we do not expect all the world to speak perfectly the language of the British colonialists. But we did speak some English long before we came to America, all young people we knew did. It s the language Beatles and the Stones sung, it is the language of all the good movies and all the good shows. At least some basic words…

Not here. They do not know what “OK” means. No waiter knows what you are saying when you ask “spicy?”. Not even in a McDonald – you can not order a bottle of water without finding a picture of it somewhere. We tried in all 7 languages my wife and me speak (using also Latin), but apparently nothing sounds close to it in Chinese.

We did not eat at the McDonald’s, we just bought water there. We ate only local cuisine like all the tourists should. You do not go to China to see the Louvre like you do not go to Texas barbecue joint and order foie grass on a toast.

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I went even further and ate fried scorpions (really good), fried silk worms (juicy but with a strange aftertaste), sea horses, fried snakes (chewy), roasted pigeon on a stick (bony), salad made of marinated fish skins (wow), and many other amazing things – and also street foods that I had no idea what they were. But there was no dog. I know that for sure. You are much more likely to be served dog (or cat) in a restaurant in US then in china because in China it is a delicacy, an expensive and rare specialty. And in US it is free meat found on the road.

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None of the people who spoke English that we met approved of dog eating, but there are still some old time people who indulge in it, just like in the states you can find illegal restaurants that serve only protected almost extinct animals to extremely rich and spoiled. Dog is a pet and should not be eaten just because to some people and children it is a friend. Also, if it is true they kill them in gruesome ways the same treatment should be applied to them. No other reason not to eat dog, really. A pig or an octopus are more intelligent than a dog, cow makes the elixir of life and is holly to one billion people…
We ate the best duck ever in a restaurant in Beijing, like it should be. Perfectly crispy and moist, not too fat and done on open fire just right. This was in one of the most expensive and awarded establishments in the town, so I am not sure if the hilariously displayed sea cucumber dish next to the name of the restaurant on the entrance was someone’s joke or not.

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When we are on the theme of language mistakes with sexual connotations, here is a very wrong child t-shirt sold on the street.
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Most of the other restaurants we visited where not so high class as Da Dong. Almost none of them had the menu in English and when they did – it was also hilarious.
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On the beginning we tried to communicate with the waitresses but no avail.

Once we were greeted  in English and seated on the table, happy as children in Disneyland. Unfortunately the waitress that came after did not speak any English (we just wanted to know what is spicy). My wife told here “but you just spoke English when we entered before!”. She shrugged and called a friend. The friend of course, did look exactly the same.
“Wait, you were the one who speaks English” said my wife, unaware of what she was doing, pointing at here. And then another. Soon there were five of them around our table and my wife kept on trying “you were the one, right?” making me more and more uncomfortable. But the girls just laughed at us, also unaware of anything. In the end the waitress just pointed at some stuff on the menu saying probably “here, this is what crazy Americans eat”, we ordered most of it (bowl of soup size half gallon filled with many things was $1) and had a great meal.
Just a note – there is no Chinese food in China. Not the food we eat in Chinese restaurants here. It is all completely different and much much better with much better and fresher ingredients – and less frying. They just tricked us into thinking that that is Chinese food. And no fortune cookies too. Those are American invention started by American Japanese who converted their restaurants from Japanese to Chinese soon after Pearl harbor.
They use a lot of soup. One of the most popular restaurants are called hot pots, places where you cook your food in boiling broth on the middle of the table and you add to it pieces of meat, vegetable, mushrooms (many delicious different mushrooms), tofu, sea animals… and later you fish them out with chopsticks. The fishing out with chopsticks was the part we were really bad at, so they had a girl (that spoke some English) do that for us during the whole meal and practically feed us like toddlers.
Other employees kept on coming over to see the silly westerners and laugh like crazy. Did not help that the restaurant had 600 places all full and we waited for 30 minutes to get a table (during the wait they offer you snacks, games, manicure, massage…)
In the end in the tasty broth remaining in the pot they cook some of their fresh hand made noodles (do not forget – they invented pasta) which they prepare at the table, swinging them in the air (we called that kung fun noodles).
They brought us complimentary fruits with a funny caramel writing on the plate.
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Here are some more funny mistakes.

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We visited Beijing, Xian, Suzhou and Shanghai. Two of those cities have over 22 million inhabitants and the other two are small picturesque towns of 6,7 million. All of them are growing rapidly, with Shanghai (due to a lack of land) growing magnificently into the sky. All of them look more and more like something from the future, with highways being build over other highways, with bullet trains and light shows over the skyscrapers in “Blade Runner” style.

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We did not see any small villages, any rice field, any of the factory towns… Time was short and we went for the most important landmarks. Next time.

People that we met were mostly nice. Happy. Singing in parks, dancing on town squares, doing tai chi in the morning. I had no nerves for the bargaining, though. They claimed that they enjoy it and we should have fun with it, but I hated it. Fighting over a price of every item, where the real price could be somewhere around 10% of the first price asked… That was the annoying part. heres some shopping items.

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And crossing the street. That was the real adventure.

Otherwise, I do recommend it.

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not only cooking

We just finished repainting our banquet hall. And did a new floor. And like two hundred other things. 35 gallons of paint. Check the pictures.

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