Saturday, April 12, 2014


American Life in Poetry: Column 472

by Andrea Hollander

Long after I married you, I found myself
in his city and heard him call my name.
Each of us amazed, we headed to the café
we used to haunt in our days together.
We sat by a window across the paneled room
from the table that had witnessed hours
of our clipped voices and sharp silences.
Instead of coffee, my old habit in those days,
I ordered hot chocolate, your drink,
dark and dense the way you take it,
without the swirl of frothy cream I like.
He told me of his troubled marriage, his two
difficult daughters, their spiteful mother, how
she’d tricked him and turned into someone
he didn’t really know. I listened and listened,
glad all over again to be rid of him, and sipped
the thick, brown sweetness slowly as I could,
licking my lips, making it last.

Fish Hearts

Iza, eating sardines:   Mom, I have a really hard question for you.

Me:  Okay.  What is it?

Iza:  Do fish have hearts?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Raising Kids in Budapest: Gender Tales

My kids go to a Hungarian nursery school.  I am a fan.  I especially love that they eat a sit-down lunch with at least two courses.  Lunch always starts with a soup.  And then a second course of either pasta or meat and potatoes.  Sometimes fish, though rarely.  I am sure it is not organic.  Sometimes they report with a near swoon, Today the soup had hotdogs in it!  There is white bread.  But I overlook these things because I think the lessons learned from a shared table with real cutlery and decorum is essential.  I have been to one of these lunches and it was impressive how the little ones behaved. Then I learned that the girls are always served first.  Then the boys.  Really?  Is this benign, old-fashioned quaintness, merely?  Or one more ingredient in an insidious pressure cooker of gender discrimination--against girls and boys.  Why can't we just go around in a circle and serve each in his or her turn?  In my humble experience, the Hungarians are very specific and restrictive about gender roles. As a American mother of a daughter and son, I find it infuriating. 

Our nursery school teacher instructed me that my 3.5 year-old child, who has boy parts, should wear boy clothes and not come in dresses. I am pretty sure one teacher told me that it would cause "problems" for him later in life. (Perhaps I didn't understand the Hungarian. I could swear that she said it might even cause dyslexia!!??) The other teacher said it would cause confusion in the classroom for the other boys.   Leo agreed to wear his dress to school and then change into his play clothes for inside the classroom.  (It is a habit here to wear a separate outfit for classroom play.)  Slowly he mostly gave up the habit. 

One day I arrived to pick up the kids.  Izabella had her fingernails painted.  The nursery school teachers decided that it was a good idea to paint nails.  They refused to paint Leo’s nails.  As soon as we got home, we painted all our nails for the first time.  I had never painted their nails before.  I only paint my nails for special occasions, which amounts to about once year.  On one hand I was saving the activity for a rainy day.  I was saving it for a special bonding moment.  I suppose I was also avoiding the issue.  It was easier to avoid nail polish than to deal with the chemicals and the issue of Leo also wanting to have his done.  Finger nail polish is not at all a necessary part of childhood.  Then the nursery school teachers took it upon themselves to not only paint the kids’ nails, but also to only paint the girls nails.  The next day when it was time to go out the door to school, Leo insisted that I remove the color.  He said that the teachers don’t allow boys to have nail polish.  I told him that they were wrong and that boys and girls can enjoy nail polish.  He removed it.  We continued to reapply the paint for a few days.  After several days, Leo forgot the teachers’ opinions and went to school with painted nails.  Nothing was said, to me, about it. 

In the nursery school there are three bathroom stalls for the kids to use.  They designate the last stall for boys.  The first two stalls have curtains.  The last stall does not have a curtain.  My son was shy to use the “boy’s” stall because it was entirely open to those using the bathroom.  Often the entire class is using the space at once, washing hands and brushing teeth at the bank of sinks along one wall.  When I asked the teacher why the boy’s stall lacked a curtain, she told me that boys always make a mess and it is better if they can be seen.  (Read:  Girls need privacy.  Boys don’t deserve it.) I first noticed this when we started the school.  Since then the curtain has been replaced. 

A mother told me of a controversy at one of the local elementary schools.  The policy was to keep the toilet paper at the teacher’s desk.  When a student needed to use the restroom he or she had to ask the teacher for paper, indicating how much was needed.  You know, #1 or #2.  Put yourself back into your elementary school days, can you imagine how mortifying this would be?  You can imagine that many kids had problems with constipation.  Also, there was no hand soap in the bathrooms.  The explanation was that it was too expensive to supply the bathrooms and that the kids wasted the supplies.  When one parent offered to pay for the toilet paper and soap, it was decided that this was untenable because if they put it into the bathrooms the other classrooms would use it too.  This is perhaps not a strong gender issue, but it calls to mind girls who give up school when they menstruate for lack of appropriate hygiene options at the school.  We live in the modern world. Can we figure out a way to remove our excretory needs as an obstacle to learning?

Boys play soccer.  Girls do ballet.  Period.  Except for the brave outliers.  After being in the school for over a year, I finally learned that there are two girls in soccer.  I was told there were none.  My daughter wanted nothing to do with a class that had no girls.  They did allow Leo to do ballet.  And this term they let him try aerobics.  He was the only boy.  I thought aerobics was great because it is movement and dance.  A great way to exercise and have fun. Then I learned that they trained the aerobic girls to do a pom pom routine (with real pom poms) to perform for the soccer boys in a big game against another nursery school.  My daughter got out there and did the cheer.  My son, who also learned the cheer, refused to participate in front of the big crowd.  Did he refuse because he was stage shy?  Or did he refuse because it was very clear that he was the only boy in the cheer squad and the boys were on the soccer field?  Why did they need to train the aerobics class as cheerleaders? How was that necessary? It was gender training.  Of course they don’t see it this way.

My son at 4.75 will sometimes choose to dress in his sister’s clothes—a purple shirt with two large flowers and a purple skirt—to go to the park.  My main complaint about this is that the skirt is too large and constantly slips off his hips.  He knows the difference between “boy” and “girl” clothes. Sometimes he chooses “girl” clothes.  He likes vibrant colors.  Have you seen the choices for boys?  All shades of brown and blue. 

Leo recently chose the same shoes as his sister, ivory-colored mary janes with small flower details on the velroe strap.  I overhead the following in the sandbox:
“Ah!  Your shoes are very nice.  They are girl shoes,” said a little girl.
Leo continues to dig.
“Why are you wearing girl things?”
Leo digs.
“Don’t you want to have boy things?”
Leo digs.                                
It seems he handles these incidents by stonewalling.  It usually works.  (What if one day it doesn’t work.  What if older, bigger, meaner kids confront him?)

I wanted to buy two booster seats for a car trip.  The salesman, who worked in a children’s high-end boutique, advised me that I should buy the smaller sized chair for my daughter.  Girls grow slower and are smaller than boys.  This is fundamentally wrong.  It is informed by gender stereotypes.  Not to mention that is entirely wrong in our family.  Miss Izabella is in the 96th percentile for height, her little brother is in the 56th percentile.

A friend’s daughter attended a private nursery school in Budapest.  She arrived one day to pick up her daughter.  Her daughter told her about the day’s curriculum. The teachers decided to teach about marriage.  They dressed the girls as brides.  The boys gave a ring to a girl and proposed. When a little boy wanted to propose to his best friend David, they teachers told him no and then laughed at him when he become tearful. 

Recently I attended an open house at an elementary school with both kids.  It is time to enroll Izabella in the first grade.  You are allowed to enroll at any school.  Parents visit various schools and attend these open lessons to meet the teachers and form their impressions.  The teachers here start a first grade class and then move up with them through the fourth grade.  Selecting the right teacher is crucial as your child will work with them for the next four years.  At this open house the teacher had her current fourth grade class perform a theater piece and then those students met with the little ones in a series of stations.  The whole concept was based in sound pedagogy.  The students acted beautifully.  The only problem was the play they performed. It was an old Hungarian tale about a new housewife.  When her husband leaves for work he tells their cat to cook, clean, and bring water from the well.  The wife goes off to gossip with her friends.  When the husband comes home he is angry that the cat did not do the work.  This repeats three times (as all good tales do).  At one point the husband is so angry with the "cat" that he take the cat and places it on the back of the wife and then beats the cat with a broom. (HELLO:  WIFE BEATING).  Then she goes to her parents for advice.  They tell her to go home and be a a good wife. She goes home.  She does all the cooking and cleaning.  The story ends.  I kept looking around the room.  Surely another parent would raise an eyebrow? I was ready to walk out.  Nope, not a word was spoken. All clapped with enthusiasm.  Iza will not attend school there.

I am surprised that my feminism is the source for my son’s defense.  I want to create a world in which my daughter can develop her strengths and discover her talents.  I imagined my motherhood as a struggle to help my daughter.  Instead I find the gender landscape far more treacherous for my son.

I tell my kids the following:
There is no such thing as a “girl” color of “boy” color.
Girls and boys can do anything.
There is no such thing as a “girl” toy or a “boy” toy.

I am sure that Hungarians would refute these statements.

I also tell my kids that a boy can marry a boy.  Or a girl can marry a girl. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

What I Learned from My Mother

What I Learned From My Mother


I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Izabella at 6

What is your favorite day?

Úszás nap

What is your favorite cake:


What is your favorite park?

Károlyi Kért

What is your favorite food?


What is your favorite activity?


What is your favorite film?


Who are your friends?

Zsófi and Isa

If you could go any place in the world, where would you go?

Japan, where sushi is

What is your favorite color?

Purple. All the colors of rainbow. Not grey, and brown

What is your favorite flower?


What will you be when you grow up?

Úszó tanár

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What is Cool?

Iza: Mom, I want cool socks.

Me: How about these?

Iza: Those are NOT cool.

Me: (Ack.)

Me: (light bulb)

Me: Do you mean thin socks instead of warm winter ones?

Iza: Yes, cool socks.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chicken Paprikas

Recently I became interested in braising techniques. I decided to play with my mother-in-law's paprikas recipe. Here is the way she makes it:

1 medium onion, diced
2 peppers (hopefully the thin, yellow ones) sliced into inch long narrow strips
2 carrots, grated

Place these into a pan and add oil. Cover and let soften.

2 small tomatoes (or 1 medium), sliced

Add tomatoes, cover.

1 table spoon sweet paprika.
1 kilo chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks

Add these to pot and let cook in own juices.

Add water to pot to just cover chicken. Let cook.

1 to 1 1/2 table spoons salt

Add salt.

Make a thickener:

Stir together one yolk, 1 table spoon flour (or more), and a bit of milk. Add more milk until you have about a coffee-cup-filled amount. Add a bit of the hot broth to the mixture and stir. Keep adding a bit at a time. Then pour the thickener through a strainer (to remove lumps) into the entire pot. Bring the pot back to a boil and then you are finished. (By the way, Katalin adds the egg white to the broth and lets it cook. Why waste it?)

As I mentioned, I prefer this dish served with mashed potatoes. It can also be served with tiny dumplings or store-bought pasta (like farfalle). I also think that cucumber salad makes the perfect side dish.

And here is the recipe I found as a point of comparison, from


¼ cup lard or canola oil
1 (3–4-lb.) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large yellow onion, minced
3 tbsp. Hungarian sweet paprika, plus more for garnish
2 cups chicken stock
2 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1" pieces
1 Italian frying pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1" pieces
½ cup sour cream, for serving

Melt lard or heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook, flipping once, until browned, 8–10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate; set aside. Add onion to pan; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add paprika; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Return chicken and its juices to the pan. Add stock, tomatoes, and Italian frying pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until chicken is fully cooked, about 30 minutes. Transfer chicken and sauce to a serving platter; spoon sour cream over top and garnish with more paprika.

And the way it went down in my kitchen:

I had four chicken thigh/legs. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and then browned them for about five minutes per side and set aside. I drained off most of fat before softening the diced onion. After about five minutes I added a grated carrot and a sliced up pepper (the Hungarian style, thin, yellow-skinned and impossible to find in America.). I added 1 tablespoon sweet paprika and cooked for a few minutes. I returned the chicken to the pan. I added a sliced tomato and enough water to cover the chicken. Let it boil and returned it to a simmer for about 30 minutes. I then added the mother-in-law's thickener (see above). I salted it as needed. I served it with pasta noodles. I turned the Italian trick and finished the noodles for the last two minutes of cooking in some of the sauce from the chicken pot. Served with sour cream. And a cucumber salad.

I am sure braising the chicken first adds oil and so it must not be as healthy. Yet somehow the flavor was intensified. I likey.

**** Update!
I just found this version of the recipe which also uses a braising technique.  It does not use the carrot.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Toot Toot

Board the first car on the metro.  As you exit dash to the driver's window.  The glass is shaded and you will see dimly two figures, one seated and one standing.  Wave and smile furiously.  The train will pull out of the stop.  Just as the driver enters the tunnel, he or she might just blare the horn.  Twice even.  At which point you jump for joy.

Of course it helps to do this in the company of two preschoolers.

Those Hungarians do have a friendly side.  At least the metro train drivers.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Boston Brown Bread

My new favorite recipe is Boston Brown Bread. It defies categories.  It looks like cake, tastes sweet, and is packed with whole grains.  It makes me feel virtuous.

Sometimes I eat it with baked beans and tomato wedges.  More often I eat it with a bit of butter as breakfast or a snack.  It keeps for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator and is fine if you warm it a bit.

It is also a kitchen sink recipe.  I dump in whatever flours I have on hand.  The last version had a combination of oat bran, whole wheat, quinoa flakes, and corn flour as well.  I like more molasses.  So I tend to use 1/2 cup of molasses and 1/4 cup of maple syrup.  You can use one or the other, or a combination. I also decided to try and make it a bit like gingerbread.  I added 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon  nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  It was very tasty.

Boston Brown Bread
By Mark Bittman
From the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian® app
This soft‐crusted bread, traditionally eaten with Baked Beans, is best with a mixture of flours. Although it can be baked or steamed, I prefer baking. Stir up to 1 cup of raisins into the prepared batter if you like.
  • Butter or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for the pans
  • 2 cups buttermilk or yogurt, or 2 cups less 2 tablespoons milk plus 2 tablespoons white vinegar (see Step 2)
  • 3 cups assorted flours, such as 1 cup each rye, cornmeal, and whole wheat or all‐purpose
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ cup molasses or maple syrup
  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Liberally grease two 8 × 4‐inch loaf pans or one 9 × 5‐inch pan.
  2. If you're using buttermilk or yogurt, ignore this step. If not, make the soured milk: Warm the milk gently—1 minute in the microwave is sufficient, just enough to take the chill off—and add the vinegar. Let it rest while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients, then add the sweetener and buttermilk. Stir just until mixed; this is a loose batter, not a dough. Pour or spoon into the loaf pan(s) and bake for 1 hour or a little longer, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pans; eat warm.
Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Copyright © Double B Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Chocolate Szalami


  • 30 dkg háztartási keksz
  • 10 dkg vaj
  • 25 dkg cukor
  • 2 tojás
  • 10 dkg kakaó
  • 2 kaná rum


A cukrot a tojással jól kikeverjük, belekeverjük a vajat. Amikor már sima, hozzáadjuk a kakaót, a rumot és az előzőleg ledarált kekszet. Jól összedolgozzuk, szalámi formát készítünk, és alufóliába csomagoljuk. Legalább 4 óra hosszat hűtőben tároljuk. Aki szereti, megtöltheti ízlés szerinti krémmel.