Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rum Drinks for Philadelphia

A few weeks ago I was at the Pavi grocery store getting some groceries on the way home. Lynne gave me a list of things to get. So I am getting the fruit juice for her and I am looking around the aisle to see what other drinks they have that I may like. Then I spot the Philadelphia Eagles logo on this bottle. Instantly I thought, "How did that get here.? If that is here do they have Utz Eagles potato chips - because they rock, or maybe some Turkey Hill Touchdown Sundae. " So finally my brain comes back to the real world and I realize that this rum drink is not a Philadelphia Eagles licensed product. This is some rum drink that is made in Italy that just happens to use the same symbol as the Philadelphia Eagles. I am not sure of the story of how it got this symbol but I did feel a need to share them. So here is a photo of the bottles.

Lizards,Lizards everywhere

Something that has been going on lately is in Malta is there are even more lizards everywhere. I think the eggs have hatched in the last month or so because there are little lizards running around everywhere. Well the other night I went up to our bathroom attached to the master bedroom and there is a tiny lizard trying to hide when he saw me. This is not the first lizard we have had in our house but, up till now, they stayed in the hallways and places with easy escape routes. Not this little guy. I quick snapped some photos of him. Click on the above picture to seem some more.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kirby's adventure with the Maltese health care system

Our poor Kirby, whose life is already so difficult (to hear him tell it) hasn't been feeling well the last week or so. His symptoms have come and gone, so we kept figuring it was all due to the heat and stress, especially because the A/C went out in the room where he normally hangs out when we are out of the house, and there is no other good room to leave him in, so when we've had to be out he's had the run of the house but no A/C. Yes, the tile floors are pretty darned cool but only so helpful when you have a fur coat.

Anyhoo, Thursday night he almost completely refused to eat. We finally coaxed him into having his dinner, but he didn't finish it. This is practically death's-door behavior for our hound dog, so we planned to call the vet first thing this morning. Our 2-doors-down neighbor had recommended a vet we hadn't yet had reason to call. On the neighbor's note giving us the vet's name and phone number, he mentioned that the vet will come to the house. Go Malta!

The downside to the Maltese vet is that he would come "in the afternoon". Could I get a more precise timeframe there? Nope, of course not. So I hung around the room that has our only telephone because I have been very bad about hearing the phone if I am too far away, and I can't reach the phone in time if I'm upstairs anyway. Our house is too big. The vet came around 3:30pm and checked Kirby out. Turns out he has hip pain, which was either caused during one of his play dates with our friend's dog Kodiak, or is just a sign of his advancing age (he'll be 9 years old in January). The vet gave me an anti-inflammatory and said if Kirby is still in pain after the pills run out, then it is likely arthritis and he'll do further testing, but if he is good as new then there was probably just some accident when the dogs were playing. What a relief! I was fearing everything from sandflies to cancer.

The kicker - for the house call, checkup and prescription, the guy charged 10 Maltese Liri. That's it! I can't even get a regular checkup at the vet back home where we have to bring him in for that little! For all the extra expense of this country, sometimes we find we can get a break.

Dentist visits should not be so exciting.

Here is my little tale. So Wednesday I go to the dentist to have some work done on one tooth. This is the third time to this dentist (the tooth required a three-part procedure) and I found him to be very good. So he is cleaning out the inside of my tooth with this solution in a syringe. Somehow this syringe breaks or the ends comes off, I am really not sure which. The solution - I think they said is bleach-based - goes flying everywhere. Most of this goes into the dentist's face, but some splashes on my cheek and dribbles down into my eye. Wow this is starting to burn. So I inform the staff of this. I don't really remember how I said this but seeing that I have in my mouth both a huge mass of cotton and the hose that vacuums away my spit I can only assume it was a mumbly form of "ouch it burns!!". But for the purposes of this story I calmly said "I think some of it got in my eye because it now burns some". So the hygienist starts rinsing my eye out like crazy with water.

One nice thing about the dentist's office it is in the basement of a hospital. Never thought about how really convenient that is till now. The dentist ran upstairs himself during this time to have his eye flushed out since he got quite a bit too. Before doing this he instructed another dentist to quickly close up my tooth and then have someone take me upstairs to have my eye looked at. So once the tooth was closed, off I go upstairs with the hygenist. Her name is Lan and she is very nice.

When I got upstairs a doctor was called to flushed my eye with sterilized water. His name was Patrick. Very nice doctor but I swear he looked so Irish he could have been throwing punches with an Italian chap in Philadelphia. So he begins to try and flush my eye out and I must say it is not going particualarly well. I never had anything done to my eyes in my life because I have always had excellent vision. So when someone tries to do something like rinse them my reaction take over and I close my eye tight like a vise. The problem is this does not help flush them of the bleach solution. I tried my best to help out but I was not very useful. They ended up having a nurse help keep my eye open as he flushed it with sterile water. Once the eye was flushed out pretty well they sent me to an Optometrist.

We had to wait a few minutes until the Optometrist could see me. He checked my eye out and said there was no permanent damage. He put an antiseptic in my eye and then put a patch over it that I had to wear till the next morning, then he gave me drops I have to put in my eye daily for a week. Till it was all said in done this was the most exciting and painful dentist visit to date. I hope I don't get another one to challenge it. Of course, I still have to go back because we never finished the procedure I had gone to the dentist to have done. They were not able to reschedule me until early October, so I may have to cancel the visit if Lynne is in labor. At least I'll already be at the same hospital!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ugly, nasty August

We had been warned that August was the hottest, worst month of the year in Malta. This year, the first three weeks were remarkably comfortable. After July's scorcher and the one awful week in June (that coincided with my dad's visit), the high-20s/heat-index low-30s temps were completely bearable. The humidity increased, but we're hardy Northeasterners who have survived summers in New York, Philly, and everyone's favorite swamp, D.C. In fact, we think the humidity is what has helped keep some of the quantity of dust off the car - well, that AND Terry's two wonderful coats of car wax. We may only need to wash it every other week to be able to see out the windows!

Then came this week. Back into the high 30s/heat index into the 40s. This time, though, we have humidity too, so instead of feeling like an oven it feels like a sauna. Further, being now in my 8th month of pregnancy, my tolerance level for anything at all that disturbs my contentment is at an abysmal low.

To top it all off, today we had an occurrence that had been happily in remission for the last month or so - a power outage. A siren began simultaneously with the power cutting off, so I correctly assumed this was a region-wide event and not isolated to my house, as the last few outages I survived had been. When the siren finally stopped the power did not come on, so I went ahead and called the electric company to find out what was going on. The lady there said they were aware of the outage (I can only imagine, the first 3 times I tried to call I got a busy signal!) and power should be back up within an hour. To their credit, the power actually returned within 15 seconds of my hanging up the phone. Weird.

One thing this experience taught me is that the pool is 100% worth all the hassle. When it is hovering around 100F at noon even limestone can't keep you cool. The pool was the only thing that kept me from completely going bonkers.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Where is Edward Scissorhand when you need him?

Sunday was a big work outside day. The garden really needed to be trimmed back and cleaned up. When I started in the morning some of the vines were growing down so far that they were covering the swing set. So off I went with pruning shears. After about and hour and half or so of trimming I had big piles all over the yard to clean up. Then I spent another two hours or so cleaning up and bagging. Most of the garden plants are thorny so you have to watch yourself. Funny I didn’t notice that when we first looked at the place. Lynne helps some with the cleaning up and bagging. She also come by periodically with glasses of water to make sure I stayed hydrated. She knows that I will just keep working and not stop for break even though my body really should stop. In the evening I had the draft for fantasy football. What fun. I did miss the news that one of the guys I drafted was injured, but reports are it is not serious. Lets hope so.

One of the things about living somewhere is you often don’t see as much as when you are tourist. Malta that is the case for us. In dealing with the everyday events of life we haven’t had as much time to just go explore the island. Plus it is freaking hot here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lousy Festa

So here is the run down of what is happening in Malta from Terry’s perspective. That means it will be relatively short and probably lack sweetness. The USS Kearsarge was in port in Malta. The ship was giving tours to Embassy families and Maltese citizens (not sure how they chose who got to go and who didn’t). All in all it was fun. The ship is huge. The crazy part is that it is not the biggest ships in the fleet. Still seems really big to me though. After that we went home. I worked on the computers at home for most of the afternoon. Lately everything I try to do with the home network goes south so I am spending way too much time working on it.

Saturday night we went for dinner in Sliema. We tried another Indian restaurant. At this point I give up there is no good Indian restaurant in Malta (Lynne has not yet given up). Philly really spoiled us when it comes to food. Most food I have everywhere I go now I am always like there is better in Philly. During dinner Bruce called to tell me the Eagles preseason game was being rebroadcast on AFN. So after my good wife agreed to go with me (Bruce lives in Sliema so it would be silly to go home and back) we drive to about where Bruce lives. What a mess that was. Here is the down side to festa - when you are going to a town that has one for some other purpose than attending the festa you are surprised. Then it hits your there is nowhere to park. The streets are full of people and traffic grinds to a halt. So after driving all over Sliema looking for parking, we finally give up and went home. No football for Terry. So sad. Up until this point I have had to watch Canadian Football to get my fill.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Aussie barbecue

Last Friday we went to an event hosted by the Maltese-Australian Chamber of Commerce. It was billed as an Aussie BBQ (although without kangaroo or emu on the menu, how Aussie was the BBQ??) with music and dancing and mostly great food. They had long tables so people got to sit with strangers ... we got there early (I know, big shocker right?) and probably had the most eclectic mix of people at our table. First there was the eccentric trio - a brother and sister from London and the brother's wife - they had a summer house on Malta. We never got to find out where the wife was from originally because the music was just too loud, but we suspect is was somewhere in eastern or northern Europe. Another friend of theirs who seemed to know everyone at the event is a former Maltese ambassador to [Saudi Arabia?] He'd basically left Malta as a youth, traveled the world, occasionally returned for short stints, and finally came back for good in his "retirement" - put in quotes because he either just recently left his last job or he was still working there.

The husband introduced me to the riddle of the 11 "hads" - my own name for it - and I loved it! Here goes. Punctuate the following phrase to make it grammatically correct. Here's the phrase - John wheras Peter had had had had had had had had had had had the most marks in the exam.

On the other side of us sat a few people I actually knew from various spouse events or friends of friends. It really made me feel like I was settling into the country that I could introduce Terry to people I knew!

At the other end of the room sat folks we knew from our embassy, so we also hung out with them a bit. One of the women is an actress/singer and ended up singing "Country Roads" with the hired musician after a lot of cajoling from others in the group.

About the food: the chicken was surprisingly tender and juicy, beef kabobs were also a hit although because I hate green peppers I didn't love them as much. The swordfish was juicy but not very flavorful, but then I never got into swordfish. After being spoiled on USA lamb, I don't care what anyone says about Oz or NZ, their lamb just can't compare. It was flavorful but a bit tough and very small. Jacob's Creek wine flowed, Terry didn't love it as much as I thought he'd like an Aussie Cab-Shiraz blend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

cooking, successful!

Although the gas man did not cometh on Tuesday as we expected (big shock) we do have a mostly-full tank that, assuming our cooking continues as it has been, will last for about 3 months. My hope is that in that time the gas man will come by our street and we will have extra tanks ready and full the next time we run out. Alternatively, I have been advised of a couple of places where we can bring our tank for a refill on Saturdays. We owe our landlord his tank back, so we may need to take a trip this weekend.

One thing I have been doing to keep myself occupied and learn some new skills is ... cooking. In addition to the thwarted biscotti attempt, I have made the usual cookies - choco chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter - and brownies, apple pie, ice cream, and the other night we made apple fritters. One thing we decided we'd do for each post is buy a good cookbook of local foods and learn to make some. So, I have made Maltese Lebanese kofta (Yavuz still makes better kofta than me, maybe it's the Turkish vs. Lebanese recipe), tomato soup, and tomato sauce. Carrot soup is on t he list for this week. As unbelievable as it will sound, given my rants about tomato sauce in Malta, with a few tweaks this tomato sauce is the best I have ever made. One of the tweaks of course is to omit all sugar called for in the recipe.

I stand behind the book we bought being the best one I could find - our criteria being that (1) the foods in the book be actual authentic Maltese cooking, as opposed to nouveau or gourmet variations; (2) the foods be mostly things we would actually eat - I vetoed one that was full of snails, squid and calf's livers; (3) the recipes be simple enough I'd actually be game enough to try to make the stuff; and (4) it be at least a little pretty - however, when I checked the book out before buying it I had not noticed how many recipes called for ham or bacon as a flavoring.

If anyone has a suggestion for non-pig items that would work, if not as well then mostly as well, I'd love to hear them. I have seen a couple of halal butchers so I figured maybe there is turkey bacon or some kind of seasoned beef or lamb sausage that would work, but I have not yet been past one at a time/situation that I could go in. This being a 98% Catholic country most butchers and grocery stores see no need for any kind of pig substitute that would deliver a similar-enough flavor.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

cooking, thwarted

You know how, in the USA we have gas lines into houses, so the gas company can provide a continual supply of gas for heating, cooking, etc? Well, in Malta there is none of that nonsense. If you have a gas cooker (e.g., stove/oven) you get a tank of gas, like what we'd use back home for a gas grill.

Somehow, although we knew this was the case and our landlord even showed us where, outside, the tank was hooked up to the line to the cooker and the empty/spare tanks were, we never really thought about the implications of having our cooking gas come from a tank ... namely, that it could run out.

Run out it did, today, in the middle of a baking project around lunchtime. This is a relevant factoid because it just so happens that the gas-tank-refill guys make their rounds in Attard on Tuesday mornings, around 7am. I am incredibly lucky that our landlord had a mostly-unused tank for his grilling, and he's letting us have it and we'll replace it next week when the gas guys come around.

It is an interesting system. Apparently, people who need refills leave their gas tanks outside their doors, and the gas guys come around in the early morning (7am-ish), honking to alert folks that they are coming. If you have a tank outside your door, they will come to your door for the payment, then refill your tank for you. On Tuesday we'll get a refill or two so we don't run out again ... we actually have several empty tanks and we just never thought to ask about what we need to do to keep our cooking fuel moving along continually.

One more lesson learned. We may actually get the hang of living here by the time we leave!

Monday, August 6, 2007

No Spoilers for Me!

For many of you that don’t know this I have been working on a Microsoft Certification. It consists of 6 tests. I am not a big fan personally of the certification, but if I achieve it while working with the State Department I get a pretty nice pay bump. So on Friday I took the fifth of the exams and successfully passed. Since I successfully passed this exam, and there is only one left to take, I decided I deserved a little break. Mainly I wanted to finish the new Harry Potter. Lynne read it within a day after I bought it (which was the Monday following the release). I bought it very early so Lynne and I could read it quickly - I was really concerned because I was sure I'd hear spoilers from someone, somewhere. So following the test I decided it was time to read and get it over with. This also would allow Lynne to talk about the book while I was home, which up till now was forbidden. So from Friday after the test till Sunday evening that is pretty much all I did. I am done! No one can spoil it for me. I will not say anymore than I have read it because I don’t want to spoil for anyone else. Although I have a feeling anyone who was worried about that already finished the book before me. Now that is behind me I have started to study for what should be the last of the test to get my certification. My goal is to finish before the baby comes. Unfortunately nothing very exciting is happening in Malta for me.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Our house is clean!

Well, half of it anyway - the upstairs. We have finally succumbed to what seems to be a major foreign service rite of passage - the employment of domestic assistance. Around here, everyone seems to have nannies, gardeners, cooks, housecleaners, and in some posts even drivers. I'm not employed, so it seemed to both of us that at least until the baby comes I can certainly handle the household chores.

Turns out we were overly optimistic. First, this house is more than twice as big as our house in Philly. It is much more open to the outside and there is constant dust in Malta (presumably related to the lack of nice greenery to anchor the dirt to the ground). Second, we also have the pool and the landscaped yard to care for. Third, because of poor preservation methods and frequent energy outages the grocery shopping must be done at least weekly, which involves 2 separate trips - 1 for groceries and 1 for produce. Sometimes additional trips are needed. I have a feeling we are about to add the trip to the butcher after our first tasty purchase there. And fourth, I can't be a drudge-drone all the time. (fourth-and-a-half is that the bending over involved in mopping is becoming much more uncomfortable as I get closer to my 8th month)

Our cleaner came for the first time today. She also works for my landlord/neighbor, who raved about her. From my previous efforts to clean this house I estimated how long it should take her to clean the parts of the house I had asked her to clean. She was almost exactly on target, so I congratulated myself on my predictive abilities ... until I noticed that she cleaned several areas I had mentioned she didn't need to worry about. Basically, she is just plain amazing. Given that some of the areas she covered hadn't been touched in the 3 months we have been here, all future cleaning should be easier for her. I can't wait for her to come again (in 2 weeks) and make the downstairs all nice and pretty.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Good eats

I know, we have complained a lot about the quality of food we have found here. So, this should be a pleasant surprise ... we have found good food!

Ambrosia is located in Valletta. I had eaten lunch there a month or so ago, and both my friend from the embassy and I had risottos. They were both delicious, however, I reserved judgment because I have found that outside the USA you can generally get a good risotto even if the restaurant has nothing else to recommend it. When my friend Bethany was visiting, though, we decided to go for dinner.

The place is tiny, although both times I went there were no problems getting seated - lunch was on the late side, dinner was on the early, so that may have helped. The menu is on a chalk board on the wall, and we were happy to see several veggie options - we had ruled out Fusion Four for dinner because there was exactly one item on the menu Bethany could eat and it was a starter salad. I had a lamb and aubergine (eggplant) tart, which turned out to be lamb and potato with roasted aubergine and morrow (zucchini) as the side. The crust was perfectly light and flaky, the meat well seasoned and tender, absolutely delicious. Bethany had the goat cheese tart and it was also everything we could have wanted it to be. Terry will have to write in what he had because I can't remember. Dessert was something chocolate that wasn't too sweet - a problem i have encountered more frequently than you'd think - and although there was no room in the belly to finish it, I gave it my all.

Monday night, the good gastronomy continued at Bouzouki in St. Julian. Unfortunately, we had eaten snacks that turned out to be larger than necessary before the movie, so Terry wasn't very hungry for dinner afterwards. He got the basic Greek salad - which was a larger version of the side salad I got with my meal - and it was pretty much everything you'd want in a salad. The veggies were fresh, the dressing good enough to want to sop up every last remnant with the bread, and the feta was too good to be pasteurized - so Terry got mine as well. My sea bream was just grilled with lemon (Maltese lemon, for the first time I have seen in a restaurant) but it was as good if not better than any fish I have had in any restaurant since I have been here. Terry's big complaint was that the awning covering the entire outdoor section blocked all breezes, so he was too hot. I was comfortable. We'll go back in cooler weather.