“All you Americans think is Australia is so dangerous! That we’re all kangaroos and poisonous spiders!”
I am not a great cook.
Baking? That I can do. A dash of almond is my favorite to add that sparkle to any creation. Cakes and cookies and scotcheroos – desserts fly from my fingertips.
Oh, dear, cooking.
My longest roommate and I, had three permanent house rules.
- When in doubt, add more cinnamon.
- Recipes are for the weak.
- Respect the Batman.
We spent a lot of time in the kitchen.
She loved bread, and I often tried to indulge in making some when she was having a rough day (which, when getting a double BS happens often in your final semesters).
I would occasionally wake up at 4am to head into work and toss the bread dough I had prepped the night before in the oven, pulling it out as I headed out the door. Sometimes it worked, often it didn’t. Regardless, she usually liked my bread.
Dinner, however, was usually a disaster.
“Let’s make chickn! And add… tomato soup!”
“Hmmm… fried zucchini and pot roast?”
“I think I burned the kale again.”
A few nights ago, my boyfriend and I were pondering what to make for dinner. This process is always incredibly stressful for me – I make decisions all day, the last thing I want to do is decide what to eat! He suggested fish and I smiled politely (my father didn’t eat much fish when I was growing up, hence I can hardly stomach the smell now). He then glanced at me and said, “How about something European?”
He started laughing at me. “Your eyes just lit up!”
I argued with my phone for a few minutes until I pulled up a recipe – bryndzove halusky, the national dish of Slovakia. Potato dumplings made with sheep cheese can’t be exactly replicated around here, but I figured I could make something somewhat similar!
And then came my usual issue – Rule Number 2: Recipes are for the weak.
I shredded my potatoes, combined a couple recipe suggestions for the dough, fried my bacon, and melted together some feta, goat cheese, and sour cream. As the potato dumplings danced around in their boiling water and I wracked my brain for the term “funnel cake” to describe the process of how I was making them, I flashed back to the last time I’d made the dish with my Slovak host sister in my parents’ house. Trust me, it is much easier to make a traditional meal when you have someone with you who the tradition actually belongs to instead of the memories of a terrified and homesick 18-year-old.
He came upstairs as the bacon sizzled and blinked at the mess I made. “Can I help?”
“Nope, think we’re ready to go!”
I served up the dish best I could with no colander and we dove in.
Oh, dear Lord. I can’t cook.
It wasn’t awful.
That is, we could eat it.
But really? Ya need a colander. Ya need that delightful sheep cheese. Ya need the excessive salty aftertaste and the magic that only a Slovak can bring.
I tried. I really did. But I ain’t no Oma, and now I have many, many leftovers of potato dumplings. With bacon.
Rule Number Two: Recipes are for the weak.
“Maybe government regulations aren’t such a terrible thing,” I pondered as the breeze ruffled the Christmas lights at my feet.
My first marriage proposal took place in the wee hours of the morning on the streets of Florence in April 2012.
I was wandering around Europe after my semester in Germany ended and found myself tagging along with some near-strangers to a new city in Italy. On that first day, I was able to get a hostel but was warned that it was booked the following night. “No matter,” I thought to myself and began to sing, “Just a small town girl… living in a LONELY wooooorld. She took the midnight train going aaaaaanywheeeeeere.”
Eleven o’clock rolls around, and my mobile phone hasn’t been allowing me to make calls all day. We wander back to the hostel, exhausted, and I go to check if there are any rooms available. No. Well, my friends have a private room. Can I pay to stay there? No. Are there any other hostels in this area? You don’t know. Okaaaay…
I picked up my bright red suitcase and made my way on foot to the nearest train station, only to discover that the tickets to purchase machines were locked inside the building. With no smartphone and little sense of direction, I began an hour and a half trudge in the dark hours of a Saturday night towards the main train station, getting turned around, staring at bus maps, and starting again. I stopped at several hotels along the way, but everything was full. Finally, the main station came into sight and my relief quickly turned to horror when I realized that not only was I locked out of the building, but out of the tracks.
The homeless population was lined up along the side of the building, so I double checked that all my money and forms of ID were separated and hidden, and laid down to try sleep outside. A construction worker woke me up after a few minutes because he needed to work at my wall space, so I shuffled further down. By this point, I had been awake for about 20 hours, so I quickly passed out again. This also didn’t last long, as a woman woke up and started yelling at me in Italian. Bewildered, I stared at her and she shuffled off. I lay back down to sleep, and was once again awakened by a small, middle-aged man, also yelling. He, however, realized that I didn’t speak Italian.
“Oh, oh, uh, sprechen Sie Deutsch?” he pleaded.
“Ja!” I responded, ecstatic. German, I could get. Sort of.
The man, clearly homeless, went on to tell me that some young men had been trying to steal my suitcase. “But I told them, ‘no’! You leave her alone! I’ll call the police!” Sleep-deprived, when he told me that we needed to get away from the train station, I thought it was a good idea to follow him. After about two blocks, I finally realized what I was doing and that I was about to get lost.
“I’m going to find a hotel,” I told him, still mumbling in German, and knowing full well that all the hotels were booked. He argued with me, and kept offering to carry my suitcase or backpack. I shook my head and went to the nearest hotel, praying he wouldn’t follow me.
“It will be expensive!” he argued, and looked altogether too pleased when I was turned away.
“Look,” I told him. “I’ll be fine. Please don’t follow me.”
“Are you and your boyfriend fighting?” he changed tactics. “Is that why you’re traveling alone?”
At this point, I was single, but as many women in our culture often do, I quickly invented a fella who was stationed abroad – naturally, this is why I was traveling alone.
My Italian guide looked crestfallen. “Oh,” he sighed, and continued, “You see, my wife and I are divorced, and I was hoping you would be my frau!”
With this tempting offer under my belt, I quickly excused myself and found a rank, shadowed corner on a one-way street and huddled up until the train station opened a few hours later, whisking myself off to Venice and leaving the memories of my night on the street behind me.
Over the next 18 months, I also was proposed to by a man from Ghana wanting a green card, an American soldier jokingly wanting to get married so the government would give him more money while he was deployed, and a Brit who wanted an American passport. Apparently I just have one of those faces that looks gullible enough to get married for fraud. But in case it wasn’t obvious – I never said yes.