Where To Go

I’ll be up front – I don’t mean where to travel.  I mean where to go to find those elusive items you crave and sometimes actually need when you are off home base.  Of course, my  experience is very Czech centric from an American point of view, but it could amuse you others to see how desperate expats can get for a cup of real brown sugar.

So we’ll start with the brown sugar.  Back in the day (don’t I sound so experienced in expat living?  Or just old?) my roommate and I used to mix molasses with white sugar.  I honestly think that was better (because it was moist) than the massive, dry granules that you usually find at stores like Tesco, Globus, and health food stores.  Then the health food store I frequented in Brno, Czech Republic started to have fairly good “packable” brown sugar and in the last two years, I’ve have been an exclusive brown sugar shopper at Marks and Spencer, the British clothing store that has food products tucked into the back of most stores as if clothes were more important than finding brown sugar.

So I’m almost ready to make American chocolate chip cookies but have run out of the chocolate chips my mom throws into every package she mails us.  (Because she knows where the priorities are at.)  Sometimes Tesco or Globus have chocolate chips but these are teensy weensy and super expensive for the handful you get.  You buy five packs to make one batch of cookies and then can’t balance the budget that month.  No room for error or snacking as you bake (not that I do either, right?)  Besides, they aren’t even semi-sweet – just plain sweet.  Not the best for the chocolate chip cookie.  I haven’t seen these anywhere else.  I chunked up baking chocolate in my hand chopper and my husband and kids liked it better.  (They weren’t washing the extra utensil.)

Okay, let’s get off the cookie ingredients before I stop this and go make a batch.  (Incidentally, how many burned calories do you earn to use on freshly baked cookies by making them and cleaning up after yourself?  Just wondering.  No reason.)

Cereal.  This is one of the things that actually blows me away every time we’re in America – the overwhelmingly long aisle of cereal choice after cereal choice.   I love muesli but sometimes you just need (your kid) to have a bowl of cheerios.  Of course, there’s honey nut everything anywhere.  But we found multigrain cheerios (among other amazing finds) at a store in Prague called Roberstons.   They ship anywhere in Czech for a fair price so we just load up on all kinds of cereal (Rice Krispies, Grape Nuts, Special K with Red Berries, Frosted Mini Wheats, Raisin Bran) once a month or so, pay online, wait for the package in the mail, and enjoy breakfast as if we were sitting in Bixby, Oklahoma.  3712

Corn syrup.  I don’t usually use this, but come Thanksgiving, I desperately need a piece of pecan pie and then pull my hair out scouring stores for corn syrup.  Of course, the health food store wasn’t the first place I thought to look.  But that’s about the only place to find it.  Along with other, hard-to-find unhealthy foods.

Here are some more of the finds I count as major gastronomical victories for my little American family (and our big American mouths):

balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing: Marks and Spencer

amazingly thin American corn chips: Marks and Spencer

marshmallows: Robertsons

box stuffing mix: Robertsons

chicken broth: Marks and Spencer

peanut butter: health food stores or Marks and Spencer (elsewhere but I prefer these two for health, crunch and price.)

pizza like you grew up with: Forty’s Pizza (American style crust)

soft sandwich bread: Warburtons brand was at Tesco for a blissful 9 months or so.  Now they are not and going back to the old brands was NOT easy.  Sob story done, sorry.

I asked my husband what the hard-to-find things were we’ve found and he said, “ESPN sports channel from the O2 cable package.”  So for what it’s worth, even Monday night football is at our finger-tips.  With a glass of milk and chocolate (chunk) cookies.



Months in Czech

I’m fascinated with language (when I’m in active brain mode).  The best thing about learning a foreign language is seeing the world with a new perspective.  (The worst thing is feeling like an idiot most of the time, but we won’t get into that now.)

In Czech, the words for all the months come from words describing that time of year.  I know this sounds a little elementary, but when you’re struggling along to learn your list of 100 new vocabulary words and you realize that November literally means “Leaves Fall,” because you learned the word for leaf and fall already, the connection (and blessing of not actually having to memorize something completely new) is beautiful.  Leaves Fall was my first of these, so I went through the rest of the months with an ever increasing smile.  January is from the word for ice.  March is for the word “pregnant, heavy with young.”  April is from oak tree.  June is from the root of “red.”  May is from “flower.”  

I love this.  I love that every time they talk about the months, they’re thinking about what that time of life brings, what’s going on in nature.   I would have to google the origin of our English month names to even know what most of them mean.  Actually, I already do know.  (Because I just googled it.) 

Of course, the most natural thing in human nature is to take the most selfish view of everything.  So I run to my birth month.  “Let’s see what get!  What does October mean in Czech?”  I was so excited to find out, since in English, October is for “eighth” in Latin.  Yes, you quick counters.  October is the tenth month.  The Roman calendar started with March.  So October in English is basically three steps from meaning anything to your modern English speaker.  

So what beautiful word picture do I get for October?  When I announce my birthday in Czech, what am I saying?

Well, it’s rut.  As in, the animals get excited and make funky noises.  Then they mate.  

I got rut.  

I’m at this point a little more thankful for October, from eighth in Latin, which was given to the tenth month because March was the first month of the Roman year.