Monday, May 26, 2008


Though I may live in Seattle right now, I have to say, that more than ever, I'm proud to be a Californian. Kudos to the Californian Supreme Court for finding in favor of gay marriage. It's about time. I could try to write a well thought out and erudite blog post about why this decision was right and try to refute all those people who are railing against it, but it would be redundant, because another blogger, Barry Eisler, has already written it, and he has done a much better job of it than I would have. So, today I give you the link to Mr. Eisler's blog. Check it out - the guy is so smart!

Okay - once again, the putting in a link option did not work, so here is the url, sorry you have to cut and paste:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hungarian Celebration Food

Our family celebrations are always feasts. There are two staples for a celebration. For birthdays, graduations, weddings or anniversaries, there will always be rum cake. In my family, you feel truly honored when someone makes a rum cake for you. We are Hungarian and we have our own version of this amazing cake. The first thing you must know is that it is a commitment. The cake takes a day or two to bake and put together, and then it requires at least a week of basting with rum before it can be served.

The recipe calls for three sponge cakes; two regular or 'yellow' cakes and one chocolate. Also needed is chocolate custard, apricot jam (extra points if you made the jam in the summer and saved a jar just in case you needed to make a rum cake that year), and two simple syrups – one green and one red.

Usually we bake the cakes one day and put them together the next. The cake has a base and a top and gets layers of broken cake pieces (alternately drizzled with red or green syrup to represent the Hungarian flag), and layers of custard and jam. When the cake is assembled it can be up to eight inches high. During the next week or two or three, we put a board on the cake and weight it down with whatever is handy and heavy enough, usually jars of sour kraut or bottles of water. Everyday a bit of rum is drizzled over the top and the weights go back on. When the cake is done it will have compacted to about three or four inches high.

We have been known to hand carry this cake through airport security and onto planes to travel as far as three thousand miles for a party. If you are lucky, my older brother, Jay, will be present to do the icing and decorations. He is a professional pastry chef and the cake is always beautiful when he's done with it. If Jay isn't around, then my Uncle Bruce will do the icing and decorations – this is just as much of a treat as when Jay does it, though the result will most likely be humorous. My uncle is known for his handmade birthday cards (kept for years and years) and his rum cake decorating. But let it be said, the cake does not need anything special on top – if I have to do the icing I just make a simple powdered sugar and water glaze – usually with some orange flavoring, and smooth it across the top, letting it drip down the sides.

When the cake is cut you see the layers of green and red along with the chocolate and jam and the now very dense cake. We cut it in half inch slabs and newcomers to this cake can usually only handle one slice. The rest of use have a slice and an hour later we're back for more. It's really good for breakfast too.

No doubt you've noticed that I started with dessert first. I could say that I did that because you have to plan so far ahead to make this cake, except that the next item on the menu takes as much pre-planning and preparation time. The main course for almost every gathering in my family is Stuffed Cabbage. My mouth is watering just thinking about these succulent rolls. We start at least a week ahead with our cabbage heads. They are cleaned and we carefully peel off each leaf, keeping it completely intact. These leaves go into a vinegar mixture where they sit for five or seven days. During this time the leaves are pickled and become soft and tender. We make a mixture of pork and rice and spices and when the cabbage is ready we sit around the table making the rolls: a leaf of cabbage, a small handful of pork mixture, roll and stuff the ends inside. The rolls get put in the largest pots, layered with sour kraut and paprika. Add some water and cook on the stove.

I cannot even begin to describe the aroma, so pungent and fragrant. People who know it will walk into the house and say, "We're having stuffed cabbage?!!!" It is a lot of work, but so worth it. We serve the rolls with boiled and buttered potatoes and crusty bread for sopping up the juices.

Just thinking about these two foods fills me with a longing for a family reunion. I suddenly miss my brothers and sisters, my aunts, uncles and cousins and all the noise that fills the house. We are a loud group. The wine flows freely, we eat until we can barely move and we laugh. Sometime after dinner my Uncle Bruce will say, "Who wants to play Michigan Rummy?" and we go scrambling in search of the multiple decks of cards we'll need, and settle in for a four hour game which inevitably includes cheating from all comers.

(Thanks to Catherine Arnold of the February Project for the inspiration and writing prompt.)

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I just read a Reuters article on Yahoo! News about stroke and how more than half the population does not know the stroke warning signs. As a person with (controlled) high blood pressure, this is a subject that is very relevant to me. What many people don’t realize is that this subject is relevant to everyone. Even if you are not a candidate for stroke or you don't have hypertension, chances are that you interact with people every day who are at risk. Stroke is the third highest killer in the United States, only surpassed by heart disease and cancer.

Stroke can hit at any age. If your blood pressure is high and you are not treating it, you can have a stroke at a young age. I knew a guy who was in his early thirties – he had a good profession, was active and vibrant, loved to have a good time, was just married, and had just bought his first house. He was out on the golf course on a Sunday morning and he had a massive stroke. His life has never been the same. He is still partially paralyzed on his right side, and his speech is still affected. It's been about twelve years since his stroke.

So, know the warning signs:

"Stroke warning signs include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side; sudden confusion or difficulty speaking; sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance; sudden trouble with vision in one eye or both; and severe headache with no known cause." Reuters - Health News

The faster treatment is given, the greater the chance for more complete recovery.

If you are unsure if someone is having a stroke, ask the person to smile or to lift their arms. If the smile is lopsided and the person can only lift one arm, the are almost definitely having a stroke. A stroke happens on one side of the brain, affecting the function of the opposite side of the body, so if a person can control one side but not the other, this is a very good sign that a stroke is happening.

Call for paramedics immediately. Don't try to take the stroke victim to the hospital yourself. When the EMT's arrive, they can assess the patient and begin treatment before they get to the hospital. Also, in most ER's, if a patient arrives in an ambulance, they will be seen to immediately. Walk-ins are often viewed as not so critical, after all, they walked in.

Also, have your blood pressure checked regularly. You can use the machines that you find at the pharmacy, (though they are not highly accurate, they will at least let you see if there is cause for concern). You can also walk into any fire house and the EMT's there will check your blood pressure. Controlling hypertension is as simply as taking a pill everyday. Getting my hypertension under control has changed my life.