Monday, December 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Done Bulgarian Style

With all the lovely weather outside, it's hard to get in the mood for Christmas, but it's high time I started writing about the holiday season.  Cooking for Thanksgiving has been a tradition I've done in for quite a long time.  It is a tradition I take very seriously, and try to make my grandmother proud when I cook and honor her tradition of cooking for many people every year.

There are many legends involved with Thanksgiving, but Sarah and Owen feel this is the best Thanksgiving dinner they've had.  Owen will go so far to say his mom can't beat my cooking, while my mom will tell you the food is better than sex.  Sarah's mom told me she doesn't ever worry about Sarah, because she knows she is eating here with me.  So, read and find out all about the great food made, and how I got to be the Thanksgiving expert.

Background on How I Became the Expert Thanksgiving Cook:

Long, long ago, in a farmland far away, my grandmother made me her kitchen slave (aka assistant) to help her make Thanksgiving dinner when I was about 12 or 13.  Back in the day, Thanksgiving dinner consisted of grandma making her homemade stuffing, mincemeat pies(which no one really ate), mashed potatoes, a 10-11 kilo turkey(22 pounds minimum), and squash.  There were also pumpkin pies with canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and the famous turkey giblet gravy, which I never really ate.  

My grandmother was very precise on how things should be done, and demanded perfection when we made something.  Therefore, I learned quickly to be a good cook, and gained some colorful language while cooking, as it never turned out well unless there was cursing involved.  Over the years as my grandmother got older, I ended up being the person to take control over Thanksgiving and large dinners for cooking.  This usually meant there were lots of arguments, swearing, and lies.  The most famous was the fights over the squash, as my grandmother insisted there be a stick of butter to be used with the squash.  People really didn't want a stick of butter in there during the 90s when there was more healthy eating on the rise, so the arguments went something like this:

My Grandmother in the dining room:  Did you put a stick of butter in the squash?

Me in the kitchen:  I put two tablespoons in.  There's no way the squash needs a whole stick of butter.

My Grandmother in the dining room:  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you better put a stick of butter in there, you god damn no good garage bastard!  

Me in the kitchen:  Fine, god damn it! Have it your way!  I'll put the damn stick of butter in the squash! (I then proceeded to get the stick of butter out of the fridge and pretend to put it on top of the squash, but never actually did).  

Hours later when eating Thanksgiving dinner and talking about the squash:

My Grandmother:  Hmm, that squash is delicious.  See, I told you it needed a stick of butter.

Me: Yeah, you were right.

There were many conversations like this,and I miss them a lot.  The Thanksgiving after my grandmother died, I cried hysterically because I had no one to fight with over how the food was going to be made.  And over 15 years later, I still don't for Thanksgiving.  She made me the creative cook that I am, and for that I am super thankful. 

Thanksgiving During the Peace Corps

In Bulgaria during the Peace Corps, it was hard to find a turkey in a small town in the Peace Corps, so you usually had to convince a local farmer to kill and dress one of their turkeys for you.  The first Thanksgiving in 2000 was probably the coolest one.  I cooked Thanksgiving dinner as a potluck for my colleagues in Balchik.  They somehow got a turkey, I made pies and stuffing, and had about 30 people at my school eating and drinking at a potluck Thanksgiving, Bulgarian style.  

Then, it got even more legendary that weekend in Dryanovo with Jimmy and Seth, when they invited all their colleagues, and then went drinking in the bar and playing internet war games at an internet cafe.  They invited all these people, and the local cooking staff asked me and Catie Banks what to do, because they were afraid there was going to be no food for about 50+ people.  Jimmy and Seth had no idea how to cook, and gave these poor ladies no directions on what to do.  

So instead of playing video games and hanging out at the kruchma, Catie and I just helped out, along with a few other PCV friends who had knowledge of cooking.    We told them about turkeys with stuffing, and a few turkeys had stuffing and a few got stuffed with saurerkraut. Dinner was served with the guests not really having a clue, and the four ladies got paid 10 leva each by Jimmy and Seth for cooking and working all day on Saturday.  At the end, I was so tired from cooking, I just slept on the kitchen floor of what I think was Jimmy's apartment in my sleeping bag, and then slept the four hours from Dryanovo to Varna on the train.  

Thanksgiving Now in Bulgaria:

Since arriving here in 2008, I have held some form of Thanksgiving dinner held every year.  Most years, there are a minimum of 15-20 people there.  Normally, I am a food snob, and refuse to have anyone bring anything, and do all the cooking myself.  This year, I decided to open up the cooking to sides and a turkey, but NO ONE was willing to cook a turkey.  There are too many horror stories and films where cooking the Thanksgiving turkey become a disaster, so my mom stepped up to the plate and made the second one.

2015's edition had about 25-30 people, and food was divided up into the following:

What I made:
Two pans of macaroni and cheese
Cheddar Cheese Biscuits
Three Pumpkin Pies
Two peanut butter pies
Cranberry Sauce
Gravy (which no one ate, lol)

What Other People Made:
Chicken (which no one ate, lol)
Turkey by my mom (which no one ate, lol)
Meaty and Cheesy Bites
Apple Pie
Mashed potatoes
Biscuit Cake
Fish dish
German salad
Lots of wine
A bottle of Jack Daniels (which I told someone not to bring, because we have 4-5 bottles of whisky at the apartment).
Plus, a few vegetarian sides I forgot because I was really sick and heavily medicated.  The best part was everyone cooked something, and NOTHING was bought pre-made at the store.  Bravo, peeps.  Bravo!!

The first pan of macaroni and cheese.  

The turkey which vegetarians avoid for some reason.  

The second pan of macaroni and cheese, as Owen tries to eat a pan just by himself.  I have no idea where he fits it all.  

Getting to see former students is cool, too!

Amelie being, well, Amelie.  I swear this cat is really a dog in disguise.

Amelie loves company, and is not afraid to say hello to people. 

Can You Find Everything You Need For Thanksgiving Dinner in Bulgaria?

Yes, if you pay attention and know where to find things.  You may think that you could not cook Thanksgiving dinner in Bulgaria properly, but actually this is completely false.  There are some things you will have to make homemade rather from a can, but these aren't that hard, and actually better for you.  

Some American Embassy staff will tell you will not be able to find anything in Bulgaria, which is completely and utterly false.  Some expats may tell you they cannot find chocolate chips or maple syrup, and my response is: Get outside your bubble.   Sorry people, but I laugh when people tell me they cannot find chocolate chips, peanut butter, cranberries, and such.  You can get everything you want to make a Thanksgiving dinner here, as long as you're willing to search for these items.

Here is what you can find and where to get it:

chocolate chips:  METRO.  Belgian chocolate in white, milk, and dark varieties.  I refuse to use American chocolate chips now and have become a snob.

maple syrup:  literally any DM, HIT, METRO, Picadilly, bio stores and some pharmacies and BILLAs

cheese for macaroni and cheese:  So many stores have cheddar, you would have to be a noodle head not to find it.  For the pepper jack cheese, a few stores have it, like HIT, Picadilly.

pumpkin:  widely available fresh, and you just bake it for an hour, then puree it when it cools.  100 times better than canned pumpkin.  My pumpkin pie is world famous now. I sometimes make the apple, but this year I gave in and let Sarah make the apple pie, which turned out to be fine.

Pumpkin and Apple Pie:  Hmm, hmm, good if made from fresh pumpkin and cream cheese.

cranberries:  Usually found at METRO or HIT sometime in December or January.  I then put them in the freezer and make fresh cranberry sauce, which is 100 times better than the canned stuff.
Real Cranberry Sauce that is super easy to make

turkey:  Usually frozen from Brazil of all places, they are widely available.  You can order a fresh turkey in Sofia, but it takes some connections.  With my crowd of vegetarians, I find it's all about the sides, and not the meat, so I can get away with one turkey now.

peanut butter for peanut butter pie:  widely available at the big grocery stores, bio stores, and BILLA has a decent version of non-bio peanut butter for baking.

Peanut Butter Pie:  A crowd favorite
Reese's:  can now be found at the Grand Foods Italian Shop (Paradise Mall and by the Sheraton Hotel), most Relay kiosks, and Muy Mucho home stores (Serdika Mall and Paradise Mall)

cheddar cheese biscuits:  Homemade, but the ingredients are widely available at any store.

Carrefour:  Sadly being run down by the Greeks who own the license, and you cannot find ANYTHING there.  It's become a communist store in Bulgaria in 2015.  You cannot even find candy or soda in there.

Now that I've given away all my secrets, you're now ready to make your own Thanksgiving dinner in Sofia.  Be ready, and enjoy.  Write if you have questions on recipes.  :)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

American Shopping and Coffee Ordering: George Style

Ordering Coffee and Shopping in America

For those wanting Tanzania photos, too bad!  I am writing a much overdue blog about George in America.  If shopping were an Olympic sport, George would easily medal with at least a silver.  As for coffee, it is more on the hysterical side, as there are really many coffee places, but very few who actually know how to make an espresso.  Americans living there, you may think you are drinking espresso in your fancy coffee shops, but you are so, so, so wrong it just hurts.

Enjoy this edition of the blog, and there will be at least one more on George in America.


"Why do they use Italian names for the sizes at Starbuck's when they don't have Italian coffee ☕?"

That's right Starbucks.  Why?  Why do you pretend to have Italian coffee when it is your own blend?  There are no Italians there, and they have no idea how to make an espresso at Starbucks.  For this 'Italian' coffee, Italians would throw into their garbage rather than use it as fertilizer for their gardens.  As for drinking it, forget about it.  George says it sucks, and does not understand the obsession Americans have with Starbucks (sorry Marsha and other Starbucks fanatics).  Even the allure of free wifii did not make George want to go there. As a non-coffee person, I think Starbucks are geniuses for making people pay outrageous amounts of money for a cup of coffee which they could make at home.  

"It's fucking cheap."   Niagara Outlet Mall

On a rainy day, Niagara Falls was nice, but the Outlet Mall there was even better.  Luckily, we drove separately from Anne and my aunt Camille, otherwise they might have never been allowed to leave the Outlet Mall.  George loved it, and together we had a great shopping day.  At the Body Shop, George purchased so much stuff he got a liter bottle of strawberry bottle wash, which we gave to my aunt because it was too big to fit in the luggage.  

For clothing, George hit the jackpot in Buffalo because he's an extra-small or small for a shirt size, and those sizes are always left on the racks for clearance.  At the Outlet Mall, George became a trained assassin buyer, saving hundreds of dollars.  He got a shirt at Calvin Klein for $15 USD, and a shirt at Tommy Hilfiger for $12.  His motivation for coming back to Buffalo is to shop at the Outlet Mall for 2-3 days.  Heather and others who like shopping, I can do a day, but you'll need to be his shopping assistants.  
With the deals we got, this stuff was really cheap from the Body Shop, and Bath and Body Works.  Next year, I might need a third suitcase to get George his stuff.  

At Sak's Off 5th Avenue, George and I saved 75% off four shirts.  We paid an average of $25-30 dollars on shirts that cost $100-125 USD.

"I can deal with and shop at Walmart."

Walmart sort of disappointed for the people of Walmart.  In Lockport, there were 1-2 crazy gay diva employees, but none of the fun people you see on the Internet sites.  The Clarence, NY Walmart is the classy Walmart, and truly disappointed with its classiness.  Contrary to popular opinion, I will shop at Walmart, as they have a few things you cannot find anywhere else, such as large bags of bacon bits.  For the bacon bits, these are 100% healthy and from farm raised, non hormonal pigs (or whatever people want to hear when eating food in the U.S. to make themselves feel better).
This incredible fashion ensemble was seen outside Wright's Corners, NY on a warm, humid day.  While not at Walmart, it counts once I explain the situation.  This outfit was made to be riding on the back of a motorcycle on a Sunday drive with her man.  For those wondering, there is underwear involved on the bottom, but I believe the 'girls' are loose and free on the top.  The best part is this woman needed water to cool herself down, but she fanned her shirt to give her breasts some air after being in close quarters on the motorcycle ride.  Luckily for her, she was wearing a helmet, and the cowboy boots definitely highlight the rest of the outfit.

"Finally, an Italian lady who wasn't surprised by me ordering an espresso." - at cafe Paradisio in the North End of Boston

Boston was a great city to visit people, but George's opinion of Boston went down considerably after visiting.  He actually preferred Buffalo over Boston, except for getting espresso at Cafe Paradisio.  At the cafe, there was an elderly Italian lady who scoffed at the other ladies in line for not know what espresso was.  And for the first and probably only time in America, George got proper espresso from maybe the woman who was the matriarch who runs the place, or the mom of the matriarch who runs the place.  So unline Safwan and Petia's adventure of not getting espresso anywhere last year, George was successful at least once in Boston.

"That idiot snob with the man bun had to use a scale to measure coffee for the espresso." - at an 'unnamed snooty upscale coffee shop in Arlington, MA

In Boston, Todd was being a great host and took George to this great place which had special coffees and could give him a proper espresso coffee.  George was game to try it, after having success with the Italian ladies in Boston.  Todd and I stayed in the car with Joyce, while George went in to grab the elusive espresso that eluded him everywhere except at Cafe Paradisio in Boston.  The look on his face as he entered the car said it all, as his scowl explained the entire situation.  First, the guy in the store acted as if he knew what an espresso was, and did it all the time.  However, the snooty manbun hipster used a scale to measure the amount of coffee used for an espresso that tasted like sewage.  Good try Todd, but at least you had success with Cafe Paradisio. 

What the hell is neckware??

Yes, neckware is an awesome term for ties, and George wondered why stores just use the word ties instead of neckware.  Neckware departments were seen quite a few times, and quite a popular word to use.  

"How can I help you?"

 "Leave me the fuck alone."  - To me 20 seconds later at an undisclosed Macy's in Buffalo. 

While George loved shopping at Macy's, especially when we bought the two suitcases, he did not like all the people asking him if he wanted help.  When checking out, the woman asked us whether we wanted to open a Macy's account to save an extra 15%.  When we told her we were just visiting family, she assumed we lived in Canada, and we had to tell her the suitcases were meant to complete out empire of traveling options between Bulgaria and the U.S.(and other places).  It threw her for a loop, but she let us get an extra 20% on the suitcases using the Macy coupons.  

Macy's also has free wifii, which is good to know for someone who loves his internet.  

Ordering coffee at Tim Horton's takes George saying espresso cappuccino 3-4 times to actually get what he wants.

This was an truly entertaining thing, which had me in hysterics every time we went to Tim Horton's, the only acceptable place besides Spot to grab an espresso.  Tim Horton's is a Canadian and Buffalo place to be for coffee and donuts, and the timbits are like crack.  They should go back to making more donuts though, instead of the croissants and other stuff they try to have in the bakery.  As for the espresso ordering, it was always entertaining event to see George order an espresso for which all they had to do was press the button on the machine.  In one instance, George came out flustered with an iced cappuccino, which had me laughing so hard I almost peed my pants.  In other instances, I would watch quietly smirking, while the poor Tim Horton's employee asked George 3-4 times to clarify his order.  After finally realizing George wanted a single shot espresso, the poor flustered employee would press the button giving George something that would pass as acceptable coffee.  In the one Tim Horton's closest to the farm, I think George broke the espresso machine, as we went in there one day and they had to tell him there was no espresso because the machine was broken.  

"Your people dressed weird even back then."   At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

We went into the colonial era of America, and George couldn't help but say how horribly we dressed 150-200 years ago as a country.  In our defense, there were no malls in the 1800s, and wearing Italian fashion wasn't practical in pioneer environments.  So there George.  So to make up for a lack of a picture of poor American colonial fashion (because we cruised through this section in about two minutes), here is a picture of Chinese couture at the Met instead.  

God bless Donald Trump and all his hair and crazy fashion choices.  His hair qualifies for bad fashion of Americans.  Hoping for a Trump vs. Sanders presidential vote in 2016. 

Spill coffee on your t-shirt on the way to visiting Linda in Rochester?  Never fear, as Kohl's is a great option to get a cheap, fashionable t-shirt.     

See this t-shirt George is wearing in Times Square?  It only costs $4.81 at Kohl's in Batavia, NY.  It was an unplanned purchase, as George spilled his Tim Horton's espresso all over himself in Akron on Clarence Center Road.  So rather than go back to the farm, I knew Kohl's would be the best place to get a replacement t-shirt.  And sure enough, Kohl's delivered with this t-shirt George actually wanted to buy, and it cost less than $5.  George was really happy.

"We got four suitcases for free and 200 lbs (about 92 kilos) of luggage for free"  


All right, this is me speaking at the end, but you must admit it is quite the feat to get four suitcases to Bulgaria for free.  At the Buffalo International Airport (which really doesn't have an international destination, but lots of Canadians and Asian tourist), the Delta gay diva working there first said that we were not on the flight.  We both emphatically told him we were definitely on the flight with the 40 Chinese tourists going home.  And sure enough, we were.  And then something crazy happened, in that I got all four suitcases on the plane for FREE to Bulgaria.  I used my credit card which allowed me two bags, but I thought for sure I would be paying for one of George's bags, which was really my suitcase full of books and stuff.  For once, Delta actually did something right, instead of making my flights hellish.   

Monday, September 21, 2015

Food in America: George style

Hey everyone,

It's been a busy summer, full of fun, slothfulness, and visiting lots of people.  For those wondering, George and I had a great time visiting the United States.  In addition to seeing family and friends, I got to introduce George to America, the home of the brave and free.

For those who know George, he is just a 'little bit' judgmental.  Alright, he is so judgmental that two people who know him spit out food laughing hysterically when George mentioned he isn't that judgmental.  Pretty much, George is the Donald Trump of the liberals for Bulgaria, except he had a hard time voting for a lesbian organic mussel farmer near Pleven a few years back.  He wanted to vote for her, but knew she had absolutely no chance of winning.

For the 'George in America' blogs, I have decided to try and organize these into a few issues, because there is a lot of material.  This one is the food and restaurant guide.  This is a first, but I maintained weight in the U.S. and didn't become more fat and fabulous this summer, thanks to George giving glaring stares at anything that didn't look like real food.

This are actually quotes from George, with commentary from me to try to explain the situation.  There are hits and misses, so enjoy what George had to say about American food.  Yes, he loved America, and what until you find out what he had to say about Buffalo.

"They try to be all fancy with salad forks and give us water in a plastic cup. "- at The Cheesecake Factory

George's fish tacos with his vegetables were not a big hit.  The fact there was a waiting list, suburban women trying to act fancy wearing 'clothes found out of a dumpster', and the fact there were plastic cups and knives didn't make the Cheesecake factory a favorite.  

To be honest, my chicken salad sandwich wasn't that great either.  They buttered the bread too much, so I just ate the chicken salad with a fork.  Adding insult to injury, the Cheesecake Factory's cheesecake wasn't good, and they're adding something to the cheesecake which distorts the true taste of cheesecake (from a cheesecake baking expert).  There is too much sugar, or even possibly corn syrup added to it, which takes away from a true cheesecake taste. 

"You know what would be funny? Me being a restaurant critic and giving the fancy restaurants one star" - at the Cheesecake Factory 

That would be really funny, and brutal as well.  George as an American restaurant critic would be an internet sensation.  At the Cheesecake factory, the one star rating wasn't helped by the fact we had a disinterested waitress who was training a new gay guy, who was about 30, was nervous, terrible at the remembering things, and had a total crush on George.  Adding insult to injury, it didn't help that the training waiter forgot George's cheesecake for home.  After this experience and eating the food, I must admit I will probably never set foot in a Cheesecake Factory ever again.  

"Are we going to get industrial sized milk?" - on the way to the grocery store for my aunt

The sizes of the milk is indeed pretty overwhelming for Europeans, whose largest container of milk is a liter, and doesn't get used much.  

"Wegman's is awesome!" - to anyone he can talk to, including Richard and Ivo.

"A Wegman's needs to come to Sofia." - me

Yes, Wegman's, a grocery store founded in Rochester, NY, was a gigantic hit, which I knew it would be.  When I showed him Alec's Baldwin talking about how his mother didn't want to leave Wegman's and move to LA in the spring, George thought I was crazy, but he got converted.  

Why?  There is no other supermarket like Wegman's anywhere in the U.S. or the world for that matter.  There is a reason why people in NYC were ecstatic when Wegman's decided to build in Brooklyn and open in 2017.  Wegman's is a unique grocery store, with a large prepared food section best seen in the video below.  They have a produce section the size of a regular grocery store, and a turnover of 2-3 days.  Not only that, but they usually are the cheapest prices for regular groceries and pay their staff a decent wage, which makes the staff actually want to work there.  In Virginia, they have a huge wine shop with aisles of wine from all over the world. 

For those in the U.S. who don't know about Wegman's, here is why you should go there sometime.  It's totally worth it, and makes any other grocery store seem lame by comparison.  We ate a few times from the prepared food section, and George wasn't disappointed once.  George appreciated real food, and any artificial food was pounced upon with an

"I don't get the free refills thing but I find it fascinating."- at Anchor Bar

Anchor Bar was a big hit, and George loved the chicken wings, and he just LOVED me taking photos of him and the food.  For those people not from Buffalo, I would get disowned from the city if I dared called them Buffalo wings, as no person from the area would dare call them that.  We got two types, and it also helped we had a great server in Carm, who made sure we got lots of free refills.  

"How is everything?" - Hipster waiter in Boston ( or any server who asked us this countless times)

George - Silent (but his eyes say "Leave me the fuck alone")

Me - "Good, thanks" (but not daring to tell the waiter that George hates the super thick French toast that he thinks is bad because the syrup will not go through the bread) - at some fancy breakfast place in Boston

My good friend Todd recommended this place in Cambridge, and it was one of his few misses in food.  The servers are overly friendly in the U.S, and sometimes we'd rather be left alone, as this is what we're used to all throughout Europe.  While the decor was good of this diner rated at the fourth best breakfast in the United States, the food pretty much sucked.  I have to admit I tried a piece of the french toast, and it felt like eating a rubber tire.  My omelet wasn't much better, as it had too much stuff, especially pecans), and no egg.  Luckily, Todd's other food choice recommendations were great, including a Brazilian diner.
The Thai restaurant was indeed a great choice in Boston.  Thanks Todd!

"How in hell is this a panini?"   - at Panera Bread 

While it didn't quite match the definition of a panini, this became our 'safe' place to go to when traveling on the road.  First, the food was acceptable, although these were more like sandwiches and not panini.  More importantly, it was one of the few places we knew for sure had free wifii when traveling to update maps when meeting people.  

Pizza was not a big hit for George, who prefers the Italian style pizza better.  We went to Mazia's in Clarence, which used to be the best place in Buffalo to get pizza and wings.  I took Rossi a few years back and had some great stuff.  This time was a disaster, and I should have known we were in trouble when they said the olives on the Around the World Pizza came from Ireland.  Yes, Ireland, a great climate to grow olives.  Well, maybe it was the Irish olives, but the two specialty pizzas were pretty just overdone with too much toppings, and created a pretty bad pizza.  Luckily, the kids ate the supreme pizza, but the white pizza was pretty hard to give away.

Orazio's in Clarence is the 'fancy restaurant', an is a nice place for Italian.  It was also a safety place, since no one eats Thai or Mexican food.  We must say the food was great, but the portion sizes were of gargantuan proportions.  Jimmy's mozzarella sticks were like they used half a kilo of cheese to make them, while our garlic bread with cheese was an entire loaf of bread.  

Below, George's Chicken Parmesan had me burst out laughing, and I had to take this picture as proof.  The chicken is at least two chicken's worth of breast meat, and came with a side of pasta.  The look on his face is priceless, as he's trying to figure out how 1.5 kilos worth of food is a portion side for one person.  While the chicken parm and lasagna were fantastic, we obviously took these portions home to be for future meals.  

"Everything was good and fresh except for the cheese.  I liked it."  - at Five Guys

Five Guys was a huge hit, which was nice because Mighty Taco's food tasted like plastic to him.  George loved everything about his burger, except for the American cheese.  American cheese was not a favorite for George, who pretty much said this type of cheese sucks.  To be honest, I only like it on a burger, and even prefer Swiss or cheddar in my grilled cheese.  With the leftover french fries, we gave them to the chickens at the farm, who devoured them.  
George's dinner of loaded fries with pulled pork and barbeque sauce in Corfu, NY.  This was dinner at 5pm, which is cray cray to do in Bulgaria.  As a result, he later got hungry at 10pm.  

George did not quite get the fascination Americans have with bacon, but he participated and enjoyed taste testing bacon chocolate.  

"This is actually a pretty good breakfast." - at Silver Diner in Arlington, VA

It was an awesome breakfast to be honest.  Breakfast is a type of food Americans do well, but also explains while most of us are a little 'husky'.  Richard took us here for breakfast, and it delivered like Domino's.  It has lots of free range, organic, you insert whatever the buzz word is for food right now in America.  Great food all around, as George has caramel french toast which was fantastic, while I had a simple bacon and cheddar omelet which was perfectly made.  Hmm, hmm, good.  

Our last night at Denny's traveling back to Buffalo

The crazy part of our trip, where we drove 7.5 hours from D.C. to Buffalo to save $600 USD in car rental, plus somehow have flying from Buffalo to Sofia be cheaper than D.C. to Sofia.  This Denny's in Horseheads, NY was pretty tame, and had a few divas serving us who were kind, but nothing that was too 'over the top' like you could find at Denny's.  George had a Grand Slam breakfast for dinner, and he found the food acceptable.  Plus, it helped there was free wifii there.  Denny's rating could also be helped by the fact we were both exhausted from traveling around the U.S. for a month, and we were totally ready to come home to our own place.  Applebee's also got a free pass, which was meant George had acclimated to what American food was like.  Bravo America!  You converted George into liking some of your restaurants!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Northern Greece and the EU Bailouts: Still working, still beautiful, but needs to suck it up Buttercup

Hey everyone, I am glad to hear the prom edition had so many good reviews.  July means summer vacation, and this year has been a relaxing start, which is about to get crazy serious with George and I going to the United States.  This upcoming trip will probably result lots of great blog issues, as George's encounters with America could easily be a reality show when a city boy encounters the farm.

Before I go to the United States, I had to write about Northern Greece and our travels there this past week.  For those who only watch the news, you would think the entire country is falling apart, and that all Greeks are suffering horribly.  While the situation isn't rosy by any means, it is no where near as dire as what you see on the news.  Based on what you see on the news, Greece is falling apart at any minute, people are crying in the streets, there is nothing to do, and at any moment there country could fall apart.

Yes, Greece does need to get its shit together.  The best explanation of the crisis in Greece was written by Michael Lewis in his book Boomerang, as it explains the Greek and German mentality before and during the crisis.  Fantastic book worth reading, and there are some big cultural things people miss out on.  For example, it is still cheaper today to transport every Greek citizen by taxi, then to keep paying for the railroad system to work.

The other issues are you cannot have every citizen be self-employed and not paying taxes, you cannot have people retiring at 55 getting gigantic pensions, they need to pay taxes, they cannot expect massive bailouts for nothing, they need to make reforms they should have done 30 years ago when they originally joined the European Union, and they need to live within their means.  You cannot have a pensioner supporting 3-5 people on his/her pension.  It is meant for one person, not to pay for grandchild to go to the beach and smoke cigarettes.  There needs to be real investment, as Greece seems to make nothing but olive oil and ouzo for export.  They need to have industries besides tourism.

The agreement made this week by the European leaders seemed to take a page out of what the European Union does with Romania and Bulgaria. The weird part is this deal is worse than what the Greek government was offered two weeks ago.  In hindsight, I bet the Greek people did not anticipate Eastern Europe telling them we love you, but you need to suck it up Buttercup, because we do more with less money.  The only way Eastern Europeans would agree to another bailout is if Greece was monitored like they have been.  The Greek governments have lied many times before about their finances, and it's why they've been in recession since 2009.

The current package is a nanny type supervision which Erie County had to go through.  I felt horrible when all the corrupt New York leaders and Hillary Clinton said Buffalo's county government needed 'adult supervision' almost 10 years back, but it was true.  Republicans and Democrats worked in tandem to steal millions from the county government, leaving it bankrupt and not much choice but for towns to raise taxes to keep police forces and libraries.  This is what Greece needs now.  However, I wonder if the Greek people will go for it.  Maybe George and I need Drachmas when we go to Greece next month for Elana's wedding.

That being said, Northern Greece is a heck of a place to visit.  Thasos is a cute island about 5 hours  plus 60-90 minutes on a ferry boat from Sofia.  Few may know this, but this area of Greece was part of Bulgaria until the end of WWI, when Bulgaria was forced to give it to Greece, and then a few million Greeks were transplanted to the area after they were forced to leave Turkey in the 1920s.

While Halkidiki is probably more beautiful, Thasos is no slouch, and offered some beautiful views which reminded me of the Albanian coastline.  There are some great places to hang at the beach and eat, although all the food is Greek.  George joked that Thasos is little Bulgaria as all the food is like Bulgaria, the prices are the same, and the only difference is the Greek flag is flying.

Businesses in Thasos seemed prepared for the event, and they are helped by the fact that everyone seemed prepared for this economic collapse to happen.  My hope is that you enjoy the pictures and commentary, and go visit Northern Greece.  It's a cool place with beautiful beaches at affordable prices.  American peeps and gays, it may not be on your radar, but it should be.  Enjoy the pictures, and be ready for George in the U.S.A. blogs when we get back from the States.

Seagulls following the ferry from Kavala to Thasos.  The ferry ride lasted about 90 minutes, and they followed the boat the entire time.  They loved eating bake rolls, Cheetos, Doritos, and anything else the peeps would give them.
View from the hotel in Thasos.  Great view on a hazy day near sunset.  
Lots of people out for dinner on Paradise Beach in Thasos Island.  This restaurant was full of Serbian, Romanian, and Bulgarian tourists.  Good for the economy, but I hope Northern Greece isn't the only part of the country still working.  
This salad menu includes a Beetroof salad, Grab salad, and my personal favorite, a Variety of Creams salad.  I can only imagine what that salad could be and what 'creams' are used.  

I asked for a lemonade at Captain's restaurant.  They said they had lemonade, and brought me a Sprite (a lemon-lime soda) telling me this was indeed the fresh lemonade I had.  Not what I was expecting, but hey, you cannot win them all.  
This one is just for my mom.  Despite the crisis, they had bread and butter at most restaurants we went to.  Yes mom, this is something Bulgaria could learn from.  
George was not very excited about going to the beach in Greece of all places.  However, this rabbit got his attention and he loved how it got to hang out in this person's yard.  There's hope we'll make him a farm boy yet family when he goes to Clarence Center.  
The pottery shop in Thasos with an amazing view.  
Buying pottery in the shop.  
Sunset in Thasos.  On a hot day, this was just what was needed.  
Salmon was also a nice treat, and perfectly cooked.  Hmm, hmm, good.  Great seafood in Greece at affordable prices.
Probably not the safest way to have electricity run through Thasos.  This was in the exact center of town on the main touristy walkway.  But with the government in crisis and no money, it is going to stay this way for awhile as I doubt they're going to have the money to fix this.  
A beautiful watering hole overrun by Eastern European tourists.  Rebecca mentioned there were few people last year, and how cool, relaxed, and awesome it was to spend the day there.  Not this year.  It was insane this year, and it was like a typical Eastern European traffic jam at the lagoon, in the people did whatever the hell they wanted to.  If someone got hurt, oh well, as long as it wasn't me.  There were babas bathing by the side refusing to let people out.  There were small children in rafts while people were diving in.  There were people diving in from opposite sides and hitting each other every once in awhile.  And yet, no one got hurt by some miracle in pure Eastern European fashion.
Men showing off for the ladies by jumping from the top.  I did not jump from that high, as one of our mates jumped from there and said he touched the bottom of the lagoon.
This is one of my tests of putting me in the picture on the seaside.  As you can see, I'm highly skeptical I will pull this off, as I am 'Detroit Lion 0-16' horrible at taking selfies.  This is definitely another loss, as this was the best of the selfie pics. 
Great cliff side views that reminded me of Albania.  Thasos reminded me of Albania and what the Albanian Riveria could look like in 10-15 years.  Luckily, I got the chance to be a passenger most of the time on the island, rather than driving in Albania.
Rebecca honking at Rachel and I to get our butts back in the tank while we were taking pictures.
This cat is watching his garbage cans near the hotel, hoping for egg mixed with hot dog scraps.  He is definitely saying, "Touch my garbage, and I will kill you in your sleep!"
George's Tavern near the beach.  George did not find this so funny.
The 56 stair workout to get to our hotel room, as this was built on a hill.  Had some great views from the room as a result.  Definitely a mini workout when you're walking up this 5-6 times a day.