Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lovely cheese!

Georgian food sometimes reminds me of The Loch Ness Monster -- everyone has heard of it, but practically no one outside Georgia has ever actually seen or tasted it. In the case of Georgian cheese, that doesn't change even once you get to Georgia, where the most popular type of cheese by far is this: PA230782.JPG

This cheese dominates every supermarket, hole-in-the-wall food shop, and farmers market that I've visited. I'm not exactly sure what it's called, but it's a very salty cheese with the texture of hard rubber, and to be honest, I'm not really a fan. I bought a hunk of this stuff after about a week in Georgia, and it's so salty that I still haven't managed to finish it off (I'm getting really, really close). Luckily, it seems to keep well. Being saltier than the Dead Sea probably helps.

Anyway, I've been on the lookout for other Georgian cheeses, since, like Nessie, they're supposedly out there...somewhere. I haven't really had much luck, however, until now. This weekend was Tbilisoba, which is a festival held by Tbilisi to celebrate itself, as far as I can tell. It's standard festival stuff: face-painting, concerts, magic shows, balloons, carnival games, and so on. But Tbilisoba has a Georgian twist, because there was also plenty of wine, and even a cheese expo! I made a beeline for the cheese booth first thing in the morning, and it was great--every cheese I sampled had a unique flavor and texture, none of which were really anything like I've ever had--one tasted almost like wine. I'm not a cheese connoisseur, but I'm a pretty big cheese fan, and this was some seriously good cheese. Maybe not quite as cool as seeing the Loch Ness Monster would be, but then, you can't eat Nessie.

Here are some photos; if you're particularly interested by any type of cheese, leave a comment and I'll do my best to transliterate the label so you can Google it (although some of them are in English already).


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Camels and needles

Georgian traffic is not exactly lawless, but Georgian drivers give far more expression to their desire to dominate the road than the average American, who settles for buying a pickup truck or SUV with spiked wheels. This is not limited to cars; most bus drivers are loathe to admit that their bus is any different from the BMW 3-series driving next to them.

Case in point: many bus stops are located on sidings--short sections of street that run parallel to the main thoroughfares that allow buses to stop and pick up passengers without interfering with busy traffic. Today, the siding was blocked by a bus that had broke down, and since the sidings are one-way, there wasn't enough room for my bus to pass the broken one.

Well, not enough room on the street, anyway. The sidewalk, though--that's another matter entirely. The bus stop is next to a big casino, so the sidewalk is fairly broad--for a sidewalk. Spying a potential escape route, and supremely confident in his maneuvering abilities in the way that only Georgian men are, my bus driver slowly began driving his 35-foot-long bus up onto the sidewalk and around the other bus. Things got a little hairy when it turned out that there was a light pole on the sidewalk near the front of the other bus, but by that time all the guys drinking in the nearby bar had poured out onto the street--ahem, sidewalk--to watch the fun. There was no turning back.

With the help of the driver of the stalled bus, and after ten minutes spent creeping forward an inch or two at a time, we squeezed through the gap with no more than a finger's width to spare on either side. Sure, it might have taken three times longer than just backing up and getting back onto the main road, but obstacles are made to be overcome!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Georgian Museum of Fine Arts

Anyone who is reading this blog probably knows by now that I'm living in the country of Georgia. I have some ideas for longer posts, but right now I'm busy with work and learning a rather difficult new language, so I want to get things started by mentioning that I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Tbilisi today, and viewed their wonderful treasury, which is mostly Christian iconography. They wouldn't let me take pictures, so I don't have any to post, but I did get to see the Khakhuli triptych, which was pretty amazing.

There is other stuff in the museum that I think I might be able to take photos of, but my Russian is bad enough that the lady at the front desk was getting frustrated by the time I managed to buy my tour ticket, so I didn't want to push it by asking more questions. My guidebook says the treasury is the highlight of the museum, so I was happy to have seen that. They let me take the tour twice, in Russian and English, which was very nice of them--the guide was more comfortable in Russian, so although I didn't understand very much beyond what was depicted and the age of each piece, I think I probably got more information from the Russian tour because the guide pointed out which pieces were exceptional, even if I didn't always understand exactly why they were special.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Have you ever had treacle? Treacle has been a mystery to me for years--it seems to exist as a part of everyday life in practically every British book ever written, and yet I'd never once seen treacle for sale here in the States. That changed today when I spotted a can of Heinz-brand treacle sponge pudding on the shelves of my local Treasure Island grocery store. I immediately bought a can, and tonight I set about demystifying treacle. Enjoy the pictures!

Apparently Heinz makes more than just tomato products. I feel like putting the words "Microwaveable!" on a metal can is a lawsuit waiting to happen the first time someone blows up their microwave.

There's a right way and a wrong way to open this can??

This...doesn't look very promising.

Ah hah! The order matters because sponge pudding is normally served with treacle on top. It is canned with the treacle on the bottom, so you have to remove the top of the can, flip the whole thing over, and then remove the bottom so that the treacle ends up on top. The pudding has to be canned upside down relative to the can, but that makes more sense than putting "Open this side first" on the bottom, where no one will ever look.

The instructions on the can say to place a microwave-safe bowl over the cake and then nuke it.

The pudding after microwave treatment.

Final verdict? Not bad. The treacle has a flavor somewhere in the neighborhood of molasses, maple syrup, and honey (which isn't surprising, I suppose). It's probably closest to molasses, but it's not as strong. This probably wasn't the epitome of good treacle given the ingredients listed on the can, but it was tasty nonetheless. I probably wouldn't buy it again, since this little 10-ounce can cost me $5.50, but I'll be on the lookout for the real stuff if I'm ever in Britain.

Side note: Treasure Island, where I bought this can, is a wonderful grocery chain local to Chicago. It's kind of like a thrift store or an antique shop: it's poorly organized, everything is jumbled together, but you can find stuff there you won't see anywhere else, and you'll stumble upon something new every time you visit (thanks to Amanda for the appropriate simile). I highly recommend a trip to your local TI to anyone who lives in the Chicago area but hasn't visited one yet.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A completely hypothetical situation

Let's say you're walking down the street, and at the corner of a busy intersection, you see a young woman attempting to hand out candy from a big metal bowl perched on top of a wooden box with the words "The It's Okay Box" hand-painted on it. She's not having much luck--most people just walk on by, and the bowl has plenty of candy, mostly Jolly Ranchers and toffee, left in it.

"Free candy, no catch," she says. "The recession sucks; we want to make people smile."

Do you take the candy?