All I Want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas is a Danish dictionary with phonetic spellings of Danish words that also has English definitions and doesn’t cost 600kr. Is that too much to ask? If I’ve asked for the impossible, I’ll take Gucci Bloom perfume in the red scent. *hint, hint*

When I was in college, I had the genius idea to minor in honors level English. If I remember correctly, I believe I ended up taking about 22 credit hours of English courses over four years. They were quite varied and ranged from Advanced Comp to Arthurian Legends. One summer, I decided to squeeze in some extra credits and take an intermission course called The History of the English Language. What seemed like a great idea turned out to be one of the hardest courses I took in college.

Over the six weeks of intermission, we studied 1200 years of changes in the English language. Not only the history of why it changed but the actual phonetic changes. We even studied the phonetic differences between dialects in the same language. We learned Old and Middle English (which are VASTLY different) along with their respective grammar and syntax. Our tests consisted of a multiple choice portion, an essay portion and a portion where we translated phonetic texts into regular written words and vice versa. It was a fascinating class that, to be honest, I was lucky to squeak a passing grade out of.

I was reminded of the class yesterday, when I started working in a Danish workbook that a fellow expat had given me to help me learn Danish. One of the most difficult things about Danish is that the written language is rarely pronounced the way it is spelled. Learning on your own can be quite difficult because you miss that really important pronunciation piece. This book has vocabulary lists and a English/Danish dictionary that includes the phonetic spellings of the Danish words. Having the phonetic spelling of words is a linguists version of Neo learning kung fu in The Matrix: Suddenly you’re wearing sunglasses, a leather trench and saying “I speak Danish.” OK, it’s not THAT life changing but understanding phonetics really does help. Being able to see that phonetic translation next to words like meget (meaning: a lot or very)  and know it’s actually pronounce “MA-d(th)” allows me to get really close to correct pronunciation without having to butcher Danish to a native Danish speaker.

Danish does still have a few letters that don’t translate to English phonetics such as the soft d and the very tricky ø (which I still can’t pronounce correctly). The website Speaking Danish has a good explanation of the phonetic differences and use the same notations for those sounds as my book does. So now, I have to try to find an English/Danish dictionary that has the phonetic spellings of the Danish words. All I’ve been able to find is the reverse. I went to three different bookstores yesterday and struck out each time. The only one that came close was a straight up Danish dictionary that seemed to be their equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary. It was an absolute TOME and was priced at a whopping 599 kr (roughly $100 USD). As much as I love phonetics, I can’t cough up that much for a dictionary. So, the hunt is on!

 

 

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I solemnly swear…

That I’m OK. A few people have reached out to me after yesterday’s doom and gloom post. I didn’t intend it to be so dark. I really just wanted to be honest about why I had seemingly abandoned Faking It in Denmark for a bit. Emotionally, I’m fine. I promise. Everyone has a down day(s). I think it’s good to be honest about that, though, rather than put on a happy face every day because that’s just not real. Too often I bottle up how I’m feeling and only show people the happy side. Maybe that’s why everyone was so concerned.

Right now, I’m happily sitting on the couch being warmed by Moose and jealously wondering how he looks exactly the same as he did 17 years ago when we got him. I’ve spent the day thinking about the blog and how much I love writing; It’s both cathartic and enjoyable. It’s an outlet that I did realize I needed so much. Things will be better and life will go on. We can’t linger on the bad parts of life. We have to look to the good parts of life and remember that tomorrow is a fresh chance. 

Sometimes I just need to remember my favorite quote 

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present – Bill Keane

I’m not religious, but that will never not be words to live by.

It’s Been a While

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It’s been two full months since my last post. Right around the time of my chili post, we found out that my beloved dog, Bacon, was seriously ill with pancreatic cancer. Over the next six weeks, my whole life turned into caring for him. He was constantly at the vet and needed near round the clock care. He needed assistance getting up and had to be fed every two hours. He had to have injections twice a day. I could hardly leave the house for fear that he would scoot himself into a bad position and be stuck there for hours (which did actually happen a couple times). For most of it, he couldn’t make it up the stairs to our bedroom so I slept on the couch with him. It was a lot to deal with. Sadly, in the end it was all too much for his poor body to handle and we helped him across the Rainbow Bridge on November 14.

Since then, I’ve been in a bit of a funk and I just haven’t wanted to do much. I severely pulled a muscle in my back lifting Bacon into the car (he was a BIG BOI) which has been making it hard to sleep or do much of anything.   I don’t know if I’d call what I’ve been feeling depression but I’ve just felt…blah. He took a piece of me with him and I really miss him. I thought I was ok and then I saw a hound at Kronborg Castle this weekend and got teary eyed after petting his soft hound ears. I guess I’m not quite there yet.

I’ve also been coming to terms with my forced sabbatical. In addition to feeling down about Bacon, I’ve also been a bit down about where I’m at in life. I’ve been feeling a bit like I’m adrift at sea. What do you do when your career implodes because you followed another dream? It’s time to make a new dream, I guess. I’m not totally certain what that dream is but there’s something out there for me. Perhaps my dream should be to learn Danish in record time. Måske!

Anyway, hold onto your butts. I’m coming back.

Bringing the Heat with Texas Chili

img_6328One of the things that I was oddly concerned about when we moved here was whether or not I would be able to get what I need to make good chili. I was pleasantly surprised to find a consistent supply of cumin here. American Chili powder, however, has been a little bit more tricky to find. Sometimes things labeled as chili powder mix are really just a spicy curry powder which is NOT the same. I never, ever want to taste curry in my chili. Blech! With that in mind, I made sure to stock up on a couple jars of it when we went back to the US in July just to be safe.

I have a lifetime love of chili. My dad LOVES chili and would make it pretty often in the fall when I was growing up. I remember well the happy feeling I would get when I saw the brown bag of Carol Shelby’s Chili Kit. He’d always make it hot enough to burn your tastebuds which I personally loved. There’s nothing quite like taking that first bite and then drowning yourself with milk to stop the burn. Ahhh the good ol’ days.

Much like BBQ, chili is a hotly debated topic amongst those of us who love food. There’s green chili, white chili, and the personally horrifying Cincinnati chili. (I don’t care who likes it, that stuff is an abomination). While the other varieties have their charms, I am a spicy red chili with beans and stew meat kind of girl because that’s what I grew up on. The best part about my dad’s chili was that he used steak instead of ground beef which I always felt made it so much better than regular chili. So, following family tradition, my chili has to be stew-like, have lots of steak and be hot enough to need a glass of water but not so hot that it’s painful to eat. It’s one of my top comfort foods but I sadly don’t make it nearly enough.

Normally, the best chili is stewed all day for that full chili flavor. You can, however, make a pretty darn good weeknight chili in just about 45 minutes. It won’t have the full flavor of a slow cooked chili but it does the job when you are craving a taste of home in a rush. For my chili I used

1tbsp of vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

10 oz of steak (you can use any amount you want but they had a 300g package on sale sooooo), dried well with a towel and cubed

Budget Bytes Chili Seasoning Mix or the aforementioned Carol Shelby’s Chili Kit. They don’t have the Chili Kit here in Denmark so I made my own mix using the Budget Bytes recipe and it was great!

2 14 oz cans of kidney beans in chili sauce (I used Urtekram chili beans) NOT DRAINED

1 16 oz jar of tomato puree

1 beef boullion cube dissolved in 8 oz of hot water

How to make it

Dice the onion.

Pat the steak dry with a towel then cube. Salt and pepper well on all sides.

Heat the tbsp. of oil in a large pot and add in the onion. Cook until softened.

Add in your cubed steak and cook until browned but not cooked through.

Dump in your chili seasoning to coat the meat and onions. Allow that to cook until it’s crusted a bit.

Dump in your two cans of chili with liquid followed by the tomato puree and mix until combined.

You should now have a very thick stew. Add in the boullion water. Your stew will thin out but don’t worry! It will reduce as it simmers.

Give it a taste to make sure it has enough heat and flavor. Adjust seasoning to your liking. Avoid adding salt at this point because it will get saltier as it reduces. Wait until the very end to add salt if needed.

Bring the whole thing to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Now the best part…

WALK AWAY FOR 30 MINUTES

That’s it you guys! Just let it simmer away and get good and flavorful. Serve in a bowl, top with some cheese and enjoy the burn!

Scaring the Natives

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Outside of offering unsolicited smiles, the fastest way to weird out a Dane seems to be putting up holiday décor on an American schedule. From what I have quickly learned in the past two days, the Danish are quite practical when it comes to decorating outdoors for the holidays. Apparently decorating a mere one week before any given festive holiday is considered standard. Anything earlier is, well, a bit much. So imagine my neighbor’s horror when I pulled out all my Halloween décor, including my 8ft tall inflatable dragon named Norbert, a full three weeks ahead of Halloween.

Now, something to understand about Halloween is that it’s really not much of a thing outside of America. There may be fancy dress parties here and a few kids may dress up but, really, it’s pretty much a wholly American holiday. It also happens to be one that I LIVE for every year. Halloween and Christmas are hands down my favorite holidays. I love it so much that, in the midst of selling off the vast majority of our belongings in order to move, I lovingly bubble wrapped each and every glass bottle and jar that made up my Badger and Claw Wizard shop display*. Norbert was carefully boxed and clearly labelled for transport. In fact, I may or may not have even kissed him and told him it was all going to be ok before I taped up the box. Suffice it to say, I love Halloween and was so excited when the calendar finally changed to October so I could put up my decorations.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Denmark. It was sunny but cool with just a hint of crispness in the air. It was the perfect day to pull out the spider webs that I had picked up at Bilka on the way back from dropping Josh off at the airport. Maya and I set to work covering the front hedge from top to bottom in flowy sheets of spidery goodness. In the middle went my giant black velvet spider, a smaller sibling of Aragog. Above the mailbox, we mounted my handpainted Badger and Claw Wizard Shop sign. Finally, we got out Norbert and giggled with glee as he inflated and the neighborhood came to a screeching halt.

The neighbors across the street smiled and stared, mouths agape, for a good five minutes. Cars slowed to a crawl in front of the house as the occupants peered out the window and laughed. Children from up and down the street came to the house to see the newest inhabitant. One even had his picture taken with him! It warmed the cockles of my heart.

We, of course, had the comments “Isn’t it a bit early?” To which I replied “It is for you but not for me,” and then I just giggled and explained that Americans decorate the whole month long. I assured them I wouldn’t have Norbert out at all times but it was October 6th and he needed to make his first appearance of the season. I know full well it’s far too early for the Danes but, gosh darn it, I have to keep SOME traditions. The neighbors all seemed to get a kick out of my very American décor and it seemed to brighten their day in the end. I even had someone tell me that if anyone from the kommune told me to take it down that there’s no laws about it and I should keep it up.

I topped of the Halloween décor with my signature Badger and Claw Wizard Shop window display. Remember all those bottle and jars that I lovingly packed? This is where they go. Sadly, I don’t have the huge expanse of my entire “wall of windows” front porch like I did in Chicago but I at least have this one window. It admittedly takes up a large portion of my kitchen counters but I don’t care. It’s my favorite thing to set up and it’s staying until November 1! That’s the day when I take down Norbert and put up Mr. Gobbles, the inflatable Thanksgiving Turkey. Just kidding.

Maybe

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA

*For those of you unfamiliar with Harry Potter, there are four houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Each house has a mascot: Lion for Gryffindor, Snake for Slytherin, Badger for Hufflepuff and the Eagle for Ravenclaw (surprise! It’s not a raven). I am a Hufflepuff and Maya was for a time a Ravenclaw. She’s now a Slytherin but that’s beside the point. When I came up with the idea for the wizard shop, I thought it would be fun to use our house mascots as the name. Anyway, that’s where the Badger and Claw Wizard Shop came from!

We had prison food for dinner

We all know how much I love cooking and eating. I almost always adore being in front of my stove, whipping up some complicated concoction. Last night, however, was not one of those nights.

Sometimes life just takes the wind out of you. I found out earlier this week that our younger dog, Bacon, likely has pancreatic cancer. For now, he’s stable but I can see how much of a toll it’s taking on him and it’s gotten me a bit down. Add to that the stress of being in round two of the interview process for a job (fingers crossed!) and I’ve just not had a lot of motivation to do much this week. The first thing that fell by the wayside was meal planning.

Usually, I can cobble something together: a pasta dish or some kind of stir fry. SOMETHING usually makes it to the table. It may not be a culinary masterpiece but something will get out there. Last night, I just had ZERO in my tank. I was busy all day caring for the dogs and I also had a very stressful skills assessment as part of my job interview. Before I knew it, it was 7:30 and I had absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. I decided to make a quick trip to Fakta for something easy.

I got to Fakta and there weren’t a TON of fast options. The Danes aren’t really into pre-made food so choices are limited. I wasn’t in the mood for pizza. We had already had stir fry one night and schnitzel another. McDonalds was out because we had that the night we went to visit Bacon in the hospital. Oy. What to do? I wandered around a bit and then saw what I thought was pulled pork. It was by Jensens Bøfhus (the Danish Outback Steakhouse) so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I picked up some hamburger buns and a can of English baked beans (which are nothing like American baked beans) and headed home.

You guys, I got home and opened up the package expecting to see a large packet of pulled pork. NO! It had a tiny packet of pork in a questionable orange sauce with what I really hoped were mushrooms (they were thank goodness). Included was also a package of what can only be described as potato paste. Even the beans looked sad as they sat bubbling away in the pot while they heated.

I sheepishly said “Dinner is heated up” and then scurried away in shame. I knew it was bad. Josh knew it was bad. The food knew it was bad. I heard Josh go in the kitchen. I could tell he was staring in awe at the monstrosity before him. He said “This looks…interesting.” All I could say was “I know,” as I tried to hork down my own plate. “I feel like if we just had metal plates, this would be a prison meal,” he quipped. I couldn’t help but laugh because he was so right. The whole thing looked like the worst school lunch ever. I vowed to make up for it tonight and I will. Perhaps a fancy French feast? A Russian delight? Or maybe some good ol American. Anything but prison food.

 

That time I forgot where the bakery was

Photo Credit: Ole Ryolf

I’ve gotten significantly better at grocery shopping since we first moved here. Netto and Fakta (similar to Aldi in the US) used to drive me nuts because it’s a bit of a wild west upon first glance. Things appear to be everywhere and in no particular order so it can be overwhelming when you walk in. I’ve learned how to mostly traverse their shelves, though, and find them to be much more manageable for daily shopping. They are very basic stores and almost always have what I need. They’re also a lot cheaper than the larger stores which is always a good thing.

One thing they don’t have is Maya’s favorite brand of hot chocolate powder which I’ve only seen at Føtex (foo-tex). Føtex falls into what I consider the “fancy pants” stores. It’s joined by Brugsen, Irma and Meny. Now, just to be clear, the fancy pants stores are basically American style grocery stores. Since most people shop at Fakta where things are literally thrown in bins for you to rifle through, though, they are considered more upscale and often charge more. They also typically have other things like full bakeries, flower shops, and mail services. Føtex in particular is a bit like Target in that it also has clothing, toys and homegoods in addition to food shopping.

Since we were out of Maya’s chocolate powder and needed a few other things for a road trip we’re taking today, I decided to shop at Føtex to save time. On the way into the store, I texted Josh to ask if he wanted anything. He responded asking for breakfast muffins to eat while we drove. Easy enough, right?

So, I got Maya’s chocolate powder, stuff for a picnic lunch, the food that makes Moose lose his mind, etc. and I started looking for Josh’s muffins. Except, the only thing I could find was sandwich bread, some baguettes, and a few so so looking desserts. Now, the Danes LOVE fresh bread and pastries so I was dumbfounded. I went up and down the aisles looking for baked goods. I spent a good 15 minutes wandering aimlessly as I tried to understand how there could be no breakfast breads anywhere. Finally, I gave up. Admittedly it was mostly because I had everything else and I internally started to panic about whether or not I parked in a 15 minute parking spot instead of a 2 hour spot.

With visions of a 600 kr. ($95 USD) parking violation swirling through my mind, I skuttled up to the check out and got out as fast as I could to check on my car. Thankfully, it was in a 2 hr spot so I was safe! I got in the car to head home, sadly, pastry-less. As I was driving out of the shopping center, I saw bakery racks full of fancy bread sitting outside the Føtex loading area. Perplexed, my internal monologue went something like this:

“Hey, wait a second. There’s good bread there! Why didn’t I see that? There was no fancy bread anywhere; I didn’t even see a bakery. Those stores usually have a nice bakery. The one at the Kvickly is right when you walk in. Wait! Sonofabitch, it’s right next to the check out area when you walk in but before you get into the store! I passed right by it TWICE. Those stupid beer displays threw me off!! Dammit! I missed my chance for fancy bread! Argh!!!!”

And that, friends, is how I forgot where the bakery was. In good news, I did get some BBQ potato chips for lunch so there’s that.