Peppermint Fields Forever

After returning from Lithuania, I came back to a spider filled house. “None of them are poisonous, and we had a lot of flies,” Ethan said, “so I let them stay.” He went on to warn me that two three inchers were probably lurking around somewhere. “Well,” I said, “if I scream, you know why.”

Let me rephrase. I am severely arachnophobic. To the point where the sight of a spider paralyzes me. When I was visiting Simon, we were at his friend’s house. He had a daddy long legs on his back (we’d been sitting in the grass earlier) and asked someone to please rescue it and put it outside. All of his other friends moved forward to locate it on his shirt. I saw it moved, swore, and jumped back several feet. I didn’t move any closer to the rest of the group until I was positive it was outside. Later, I was in his bathroom and saw a bug scamper across the floor out of the corner of my eye. I screamed loud enough to wake the dead and hid behind the zombie spider killing man. Turned out it wasn’t even a spider. If a spider invades my personal bubble (Heaven forbid) the screaming can continue for minutes, often resulting in me becoming a very teary, jumpy mess.

My parents have reacted to this by saying, “I used to be like that, but I got over it.” (mother) and “what are you going to do when you’re living by yourself?” (father) as if I have a magic switch in the back of my neck that I can flip and poof! no longer be afraid of spiders. Trust me, if I had such a switch, I would have flipped it years ago. And glued it in place. As annoying as others might find it, having this level of anxiety over something with eight legs is far more annoying for me. I can literally say at times that it ruins my life. But the “advice” of my parents has, if anything, only made my phobia worse. The screaming and the jumping is a reaction that happens before my brain can kick in to tell me what’s going on. Thus, returning home is destined to be a long and arduous adventure, and for reasons totally different than jet lag or culture shock.

My first night home, a spider crawled across my bed. My second night, I found three in the shower. The third night, I killed another one in the shower and found a second on my towel. (After that, I started showering at my parents’ house.) There are at least two living under my bed. One has made a home next to Ethan’s toothbrush, and one has tried to web its way across the sink. Three are living in the pantry, one of them in my mixing bowl. Last night, two of them stood in the closet, flanking my clothes like lions in front of a public library, and another just moved in over the front door.

Enough is enough. I did what any young, intellectual arachnophobic would do. I researched. And according to the internet, (we all know how reliable that is) spiders have their taste buds on their feet, (Like andalites, Who’da thunk?) and unlike me, they do not like the taste of peppermint. So, armed with Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap, I have set about cleaning house, mopping, and wiping down the walls until the entire house smells of minty goodness.

In the process, I decided that if I had my tastebuds on my feet, I would do the same thing. That way I could live in a big peppermint field. Of course, this might be a bit difficult with Ethan because after cleaning for an hour, I think I never want to leave again. Granted, I love Ethan, but he is a bigger slob than me. And having been gone for a month means that playing house wife is going to be a difficult process, especially after schools gets into full swing.

Well, since I haven’t said much here, and since we’re talking about spiders, I thought I might as well give y’all a little sketch about an arachnophobic character of mine. Luckily for her, she has the ability to talk to animals. Of course, this can make her look kind of funny for those who don’t realize it right away. (Note: Jake, the narrator, has the magical ability to see what magical abilities other people have.)

When Scott opened the door, I noticed the apartment was cleaner than usual. It was dusted and swept, and the papers that usually littered Scott’s desk and the piano bench and the floor had all been filed away, except for a couple of pages that had been ripped off a note pad.

I looked around Scott, half expecting to see that Chloe had not actually moved out. That her marriage had been a ruse to get Scott to clean the place. But no signs of Chloe lingered. No sparkly shoes in the doorway, no spangled coat hanging on the back of a chair. And the walls were empty again. Chloe had taken her pictures with her.

“What’s going on?” I didn’t notice Scott himself until I said it. He wore grey slacks and a what appeared to be a new white shirt. He didn’t even make a habit of presenting himself this nicely in front of clients. “New case?” I asked. Maybe the client was a famous professor of chemistry or a little-known and underrated historian.

Scott walked back to his desk to examine the slips of paper, and I followed him in. “New roommate,” he said. “Chloe’s only been gone a couple of months and I’ve already had three come and go. No one seems to last more than a week.” I didn’t tell him that wasn’t a surprise.

As I peered over his shoulder, I noticed the slips of paper were all appointments. “You’re meeting someone today?” I asked.

“Any minute.”

As if on cue, a knock came from the open door. We both turned. A young woman stood in the doorway. The purple dress she wore hung to her knees in pleats, the kind of thing Chloe would have worn. “Which one of you is Scott?” she asked.

Scott strode over to her and extended a hand. “Hello. Nice to meet you. You must be Cathy.”

The woman shook his hand. “I am.” She giggled. “My you are nervous.” Then she turned to me. “You must be his best friend.”

Her intuition didn’t surprise me because I could see a copper colored ring around her that indicated she had communication magic and could sense the feelings of other animals. not being a sight mage, however, Scott hesitated before introducing me. “This is Jake.” His hand half moved toward me, as if wanted to gesture, but not remembering how.

Cathy put out her hand to me and I shook it. “Jake, nice to meet you,” she said, “You really shouldn’t be so surprised that he’s being nice. And you,” she turned to Scott, “really don’t need to worry about acting. Shall you show me around?” Without waiting, Cathy stepped past us into the apartment, leaving Scott staring down at his shoes, and I tried not to laugh. Despite having “read” others so many times, based on their clothes and actions, he never expected someone else to read him, especially when he himself could not figure out how.

Scott’s stupor lasted only a minute, and he quickly switched to host. She led Cathy through the living room and into the kitchen, where she opened the refrigerator door and quickly closed it. “That will have to change,” she said. As she turned, a spider crawled across the floor and she shrieked, jumping back. Scott stood silent. “Sorry,” Cathy said, catching her breath. “I’m arachnophobic.”

“It’s not poisonous,” Scott mumbled,

“Oh, I won’t have a problem as long as they aren’t in my bedroom.”

“Well, that’s over here.” Scott took her down the hall and into Chloe’s old room, the only room in the apartment where the floor was not stained and the walls had no holes in them. As we entered, a spider was coming down from the ceiling.”

“SPIDER!” Cathy shouted, “I will give you to the count of three to get out of here.” As the spider started back up its thread, Scott left the room. “One…” Cathy counted, “Two…” Scott returned with a broom and swept it off the ceiling.

“Hey,” Cathy said, “I was giving it to the count of three.” Scott did not respond.

After she left the room, Scott closed the door and shook his head at me. “See Jake,” this is what I’m dealing with. Did you see how she talked to the spider as if it could hear her?”

I stared at Scott for a moment, surprised. As much as he said he liked having me around to identify someone’s magical ability, he usually recognized them without my help. “It could, Scott,” I said at last.

“What?”

“It could understand her,” I repeated. “She’s a mage. She can talk to animals.”

“Oh,” Scott said, “That would explain it.”

Viso gero, enjoy! 🙂

Lithuanian Cuisine Part 2: Dill and Chocolate

Well, my last blog on Lithuanian cuisine got more hits than I expected. Really though, why should I be surprised? I can’t be the only person on the internet who loves food? I mean, I use the internet to get my daily dose of food! So, without further ado, join me for my continued adventures in the land of Lithuanian cuisine:

Today we begin slightly further forward than my adventure to Akropolis with Annie. Week two of our classes, all of our old teachers from the year before showed up, and when your incoming cohort of six is considered a reasonable size, you get to know your teachers pretty darn well. So our class made arrangements to meet with a couple of our teachers to go to Frederichos, what has become one of our favorite little getaways.

Frederichos is a plaza in old town Klaipeda. While the majority of dining is outdoors, there is some indoor seating, depending on when you eat. See, Frederichos isn’t a single restaurant. It’s four or five, all mashed together. If you sit at these tables in the plaza, you are at a coffee shop, but two tables down, you are at a pizza parlor, or a couple of tables over in the other direction, you get traditional Lithuanian food.

Traditional Lithuanian food usually consists of meat and potatoes. The national dish, cepeliniai, are boiled potato dumplings, usually with a meat filling, but sometimes a cheese or vegetable filling instead. (Cepeliniai means “zepplins,” as they are shaped like zepplins.) They are usually served with sour cream sauce. They also have fried potato pancakes, also frequently with a meat, cheese, or vegetable filling, and some kind of baked potato crackling dish, which I haven’t actually eaten yet, but surely tastes delicious. I’ve even had potato pizza. I, being fond of meat and potatoes, have little trouble enjoying myself at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant. Many of my classmates and teachers find cepeliniai too filling, but I think them merely scrumptious. In fact, they are on my top five favorite dishes, and I tried to make them once, resulting in a pile of soggy, oxidized potatoes.

All of these people who are less inclined to eat cepeliniai, however, are big fans of the chilled beet soup, which is, to the best of my knowledge, about the most traditional dish one can order in Lithuania. Most Americans, when first eying the substance, are wary. Pink soup? Who eats pink soup? Well, Lithuanians (and, for that matter, people from several other countries in the vicinity, though they usually serve a hot version.) I would tell you it is delicious, but I have only ever had a spoonful or two. I have nothing against beets (in fact, I am one of those red-velvet-beet purists), but I do have something against another ingredient in the soup: dill. Dill is one of about five foods I really, truly, cannot stand, which in Lithuania is kind of a form of blasphemy, as it’s used in everything. Seriously, I’ve had dill pizza there, and dill water, which was how I learned I didn’t like it. This means I have to be very careful when ordering in restaurants, and I generally stick to a favorite once I’ve found it. This aversion to dill could be genetic because my mother doesn’t like it either (the irony there is that she is also where I get my Lithuanian genes from.) So when I told her that that Lithuanian word for dill is krapas, we shared a good laugh and said it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Another Lithuanian food I am not particularly fond of is rye bread. It’s up there with dill. I just can’t stand it… except when it’s fried in garlic butter and baked with a mayonnaise cheese sauce, served hot and gooey. This (probably because the cheese covers most of the rye flavor) is delicious. It is called kepta duona which translates, reasonably, as fried bread. Now, coming from New Mexico, the land of Navajo tacos and frybread, hearing these two words usually signals something different in my mind. But it just goes to show that it’s hard to go wrong when frying a bread or bread-like dough.

The next weekend, Annie and I headed back to Akropolis, this time to stock up on Lithuanian candy. Like ice cream, Lithuanian candy, in not necessarily different or better than American candy. Granted, I would not be surprised if their chocolate bars have less wax emulsifiers than American chocolate bars, thus explaining why we always buy lots of chocolate, but in general, Lithuanian candy is first and foremost, a novelty, if for no other reason than being unable to read most of the wrappers, each new candy is a surprise.

So Annie and I made a beeline for the Hyper Maxima. If Iki is the local grocery store (think Smiths, or Albertsons) Maxima is the local Walmart (except for the fact that Iki is more prevalent than Maxima), and Hyper Maxima is the local Walmart Supercenter. (Incidentally, Iki also means “see ya” as in “see ya later.”) Hyper Maxima has the biggest selection of wrapped candies. Annie and I each got four and split the loot two ways. In the end, we each took home about 30 litas worth of candy… probably a couple of kilograms. Here’s the run down this year:

  • Pineapple wafer candies. These come in a a bright yellow package with a pineapple on the front. They are kind of like those wafer cookies that come in vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate, only they are covered in chocolate. There are many different versions of these, but these particular ones are pineapple flavored. I can’t get enough of them.
  • Coffee candies: these were the only ones in English. One said “coffee and cream” the other said “cappuccino.” We were looking for the espresso chocolates we found last year which had liquid espresso in the center, but in lieu of those, got these instead. Both very good. the “coffee and cream” ones are both softer and taste more like coffee.
  • Latvian candies: we know these are Latvian because they say Riga on the package (the capital of Latvia). These were chocolates with some kind of soft alcoholic center. I didn’t eat a whole lot of them because my mom attacked them as soon as I got home.
  • Hard chocolate candies: we ended up with one kind which were not soft. I think they have peanut brittle in the center. They actually taste kind of like some American chocolate bar I’ve had, but I can’t put my finger on what that is.
  • Vanilla filled: these have a soft vanilla center. After eating several, I realized they taste just like Three Musketeers bars… if they were vanilla.
  • Toffees: chocolate covered toffees. Need I say more? (Oh yeah, I guess these were in English too…) Like the pineapple wafers, I am definitely going back for these.
  • Fruit chews: because I had to get something not chocolate. These looked kind of like those orange slices we have here, that some people think are nasty, but I have always loved. I guess they kind of are… only they are a lot less sweet. The lemon ones are best, I’d say.

Now, Wren said she wanted to eat pizza before we left, so she and Annie and I made a plan to visit Charlies that night. Charlies is another thing I associate with Lithuania. Not pizza, but Charlies in particular, again because it is connected to the memories from my first trip. Within walking distance from our campus is a… mall, for lack of a better word, though nothing like Akropolis. It is a shopping center with a post office, an Iki, several smaller shops, a bank and a restaurant or two, namely Charlies Pizza.

Charlies Pizza is a popular chain in Lithuania, and the Charlie in question is Charlie Chaplin. I ate there two or three times before figuring this out… even though they have pictures from Charlie Chaplin films in the menu, and their logo has his hat. It’s everything a college student could want: a cheap, nearby, filling meal, and tasty too. Their selection is varied–everything from your standard cheese, pepperoni, veggie pizzas to things like taco pizza and peach/chicken/barbecue sauce pizza. I tried it once. I would have liked it more without the dill. These days I stick to my favorite (in the states and beyond: Hawaiian. (And this gets extra points for being a Lithuanian-English cognate.)

Well, I hope I haven’t bored you beyond all recognition with my food talk… because there is sure to be more. But for now, I must stop talking about food and go eat some… and then make some so I can sell it and make money 😉

Iki!

Lithuanian Cuisine

Well, I am back in the states now, but I said I would write more about my adventures abroad, and probably say something about the food. Because I love food.

First I should mention that I associate Lithuania with ice cream. This is not because Lithuania is famous for ice cream or because Lithuanians are famous for enjoying ice cream. It is actually because the first time I went, my companions thought it was the most marvelous novelty that prepackaged cones (like you get from the man with the ice cream stand at the ferry to Neringa) are in “cake cones,” as opposed to waffle cones–you know, the flat bottomed sugar wafer ones. For me, this novelty seemed less exciting because in my childhood, cake cones were the usual cone, and waffle cones were served as an extra special treat.

That being said, we don’t prepackage ice cream in them in the states, so it was new and interesting. When prepackaged, cake cones are remarkably soft. They have a texture akin to the “edible paper” we put on birthday cakes, only thicker, like edible cardboard. Also, Lithuanian ice cream seems to come in a larger variety of flavors. For example, I do not usually find banana or kiwi ice cream in the states.

In my last post, I said Annie and I were headed to Akropolis, the mall. There are several ice cream stands in the mall, and it is common that we get ice cream while we are there. The ice cream is gorgeous. Now, I used to not care much about food presentation. Why make it look nice when I’m just going to mess it up in a minute? Everyone told me it was because “you want to eat it more when it’s pretty.” Well I didn’t. Then I went to Lithuania.

Granted, I was converted by the presentation of some banana chocolate crepes, not ice cream, but in retrospect, Lithuania is the only place I have taken pictures of my food because it looks so pretty (that, and the cakes that I have personally decorated, which are more a matter of documentation than art.) I don’t know why I haven’t taken a picture of the ice cream, but it is no exception. Instead of in the regular buckets like in the states, its in little spirally heaps–like soft serve. Maybe that’s what it is, really, and maybe that’s why it works. But on top of that, they garnish said spirals with pieces or chocolate or fruit or different syrups, mint leaves, you name it. We all seem to be under the impression that the ice cream here is better than in the states, but I can’t tell you whether or not it’s presentation only that causes that.

Akropolis likewise has a… food court… for lack of a better word. See, the eating area is not like our malls, where there are a row of fast food places where you order at the counter and then take your food to the communal dining area. Instead, it is a series of full restaurants that fit into one another like puzzle pieces. Sometimes you walk through one and over a bridge and end up in a second. Then you sit down (I have yet to enter a restaurant in Lithuania where customers are seated) and the waiter comes and brings a menu, and you have a full meal. Even though it’s in the mall.

The only debatable downside to this is that meals tend to take longer in Lithuania. I have had many a two hour meal in this country. But that’s what I like about it. The whole eating atmosphere of Lithuania seems to me more relaxed. You sit where you please and you eat and you talk and when you are ready, you ask for the check. It’s like… coffee shop-cafe culture in the states, only it’s everywhere. Apparently, even when eating in the mall, meals are not a thing to be rushed. They are a communal sharing of food and lives.

That said, I went to a couple of fast places in Lithuania. The first was a coffee house, where Annie and I got smoothies. And I can say from experience that coffee shop culture does not need to be translated. It was like Starbucks–order and pay at the counter, go over to the side, where they put the drinks out as ordered and leave with your disposable cup.

The other instance was, quite frankly, fast food. It was a “design it yourself” stir-fry place. You say what type or noodles or rice you want, what else you’d like in it, and what sauce you want on it. They fry it up for you and stick in it in a paper container a-la television Chinese take-out (interesting fact: this was the first time I had actually had take-out in a box like this.) It was delicious, as fast food tends to be for hungry students lost in a foriegn city.

Speaking of food, I think it’s about dinner time, though there are many a thing I have not mentioned yet. Fear not, the tales of Lithuania will continue soon. (No seriously, I’m really going to keep up with my blog again. No matter how crazy my calendar looks.)

Viso garo.