This weekends bread

Well, after almost a month, I made bread this weekend. A batch of oat bran flax and some challah.


Prague - The arrangements

In preparation for our trip to Prague, we got a few travel books. We got the Lonely Planet Prague City Guide and Czech Phrase Book. We also got the Top 10 Prague Eyewitness Travel Guide. All three were helpful and I would recommend them. We also got the Pimsleur Basic Czech language disks. The disks were OK for the price but frankly the pronunciation was kinda poor and they spent more time teaching you how to pick up Czech women then giving you the basics of the language. They don't teach you numbers until the last disk and don't go into things like finding services or conducting basic transactions. Fortunately, Prague is a fairly English friendly city as long as you stick to the areas that cater to tourists.

We purchased a package from Expedia.com that included airfare and hotel. We flew on Delta from Milwaukee to Prague with a transfer in Atlanta. The flight out was uneventful. We took off around 3:00pm from Milwaukee and had about a 2hr flight to Atlanta. We took off from Atlanta at 7:30pm Atlanta time and had about a 8 1/2hr flight to Prague. We landed in Prague around 11am Prague time. They served us dinner and a light breakfast on the flight which was a novelty for me. I haven't had real food on a plane in over a decade.

After passing though immigration which consisted of a guy scanning our passport and buzzing us though a gate and customs which consisted of walking out of an exit gate, we looked around for Lou's sister Andi. Since we landed a little earlier than expected because of a 100 knot tailwind over the Atlantic, we waited a bit. In the meantime, Lou purchased a pair of 5 day metro/tram/bus pass for 500 Kc each which worked out to about $35 each. After a bit, Andi appeared and like a bush guide, we started our trek to the hotel, luggage in tow. I exaggerate of course. Our trek consisted of a ride on the 119 bus right outside Terminal 1 to Dejvicka station on the A metro line.

The transit passes work kinda different. Unlike other public transit I have used, in Prague, you don't validate the pass every time. When you buy the pass initially, you validate it at these little yellow boxes at every metro station or on the buses or trams. This stamps the pass with a time stamp. The clock then starts counting down. Once stamped, all you have to do is keep the pass on your person when using the metro/bus/tram system.

Lest you think "well, if they aren't going to check, why bother", be advised that there are metro police doing spot checks. Failure to have a valid pass is a 1000 Kc fine. While we were wandering around on Friday, we saw one fellow standing against the wall while a very large and imposing metro officer was calling something in on a cell phone.

The metro was laid out pretty much like any other metro I have used. The A line runs pretty deep so is serviced by some of the longest escalators I have ever seen. The stations themselves are fairly clean and free of beggars and the like. On the metro and trams, all of the announcements are in Czech but they also have displays that announce the stops. Below are some pictures of the escalator leading to station near Andi's apartment and the wall by the metro platform.

Well, back to our trek. We rode the metro from Dejvicka which is the terminus of the A line to the Muzeum station which is both one of the 3 transfer stations of the metro system and also the station at the southern end of Vaclavske Namesti (aka Wenceslas Square). Below is a picture of Vaclavske Namesti taken from the steps of the National Museum one night later in the week during an ice cream walk. You can sorta see the steps coming from the metro station on the right about where the taxi is rounding the round about.

To get to our hotel, we then had a short walk for about a block down the square and then 3 blocks down a side street called Opeltalova. Our home for the next 8 days was the Hotel Maria Prag which is a member of the Austrian Falkensteiner hotel family. The hotel was well appointed and the staff was polite and spoke English. The room had a queen size bed, bath with shower and cable TV. The picture below is Andi voguing for the camera in the room in a dress that Lou brought for her from the states.

The cable selection was channels mostly in German. Neither Lou nor I are much for night life so many of the nights we would return to the room and watch a little tv before bed. The Olympics were on so we watched that in German. BBC and CNN International have constant coverage of the Russian incursion into Georgia and German MTV had Family Guy and South Park dubbed in German which was kinda trippy.

The hotel also offered a very nice breakfast buffet for an additional charge. We ate there 4 of the days because it was convenient and they had a good selection. It was at the breakfast buffet that I had my first kolach in Prague. Kolach is a little pastry made with a bread like dough and then topped with fruits or poppy seeds. The ones I had were made with a very plain dough almost like white bread dough. My grandmothers both made them only they were a little different. They made them with a richer dough with eggs and sugar. The picture below is a kolach next to a Nutella filled doughnut which Lou felt was one of the most perfect foods.

The days that followed were composed of walking around and some day trips by bus outside of the city. Blog posts will follow with details on those shortly. The picture below was as we were returning to the hotel on the last night.

The return trip the following Saturday was pretty much the reverse of the trip there. It took about 50 minutes to get back to the airport from the hotel. It took over an hour for us to check in. Our flight was delayed due to weather so they had to rebook everyone. We left Prague about 2:30pm and the flight took over 10 hours. Remember that 100 knot tail wind on the way over. Well, it becomes a head wind on the way back. Another difference on the return was it appeared every toddler in Prague was traveling to Atlanta that day. It is cute the first hour but after 10, both Lou and I were in a very Malthusian mood.

Customs in Atlanta was a treat. It is no wonder that tourism to the US is down. After having already been screened by Delta security staff in Prague before we boarded, we had to go through immigration in Atlanta, then wait for our checked baggage. We then needed to lug it over to customs only to have the guy do nothing but take our little customs form and we proceeded to load it back on a baggage carousel. By the time we got back to Milwaukee, it was 11:00pm Milwaukee time. But, we got home in one piece and had Sunday to recover a little before returning to reality on Monday.

More of this travel log to come shortly. The next post will be about beer, dumplings and a potato pancake stuffed with pork.


Pivo prosim...

Translation "Beer please..." My wife and I just got back from a week in the city of Prague. It was the land of beer, dumplings, rye bread and lots of great sites. My sister-in-law acted as tour guide since she has been over there for a few months teaching English. Over the next few days as my wife and I go through things, I hope to post more details of the trip. The picture was taken on a Sunday excursion to Vysehrad Castle and is looking back toward the city.

Disclaimer - For those of you who might write/speak the Czech language, I am going to apologize in advance for not using the proper character set for some of the spellings.


Blond Fruit Cake

Last holiday season, I was looking for a fruit cake recipe and ended up with this one. I came up with it based on one in Jeffrey Steingarten's book "The Man Who Ate Everything". Originally, it had the hideous candied fruit that is common in most fruit cake but I substituted a fruit combination that works pretty well. Probably would also work with dried cherries or other fruits. I also added the brandy because everything is better with alcohol.

6 oz dried dates (quartered)
6 oz dried apricots (quartered)
6 oz dried cranberries + 2 cups water for hydration
8 oz yellow raisins
8 oz pecans (course chopped)

1/2 lb unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 lb granular sugar

1/2 lb all-purpose flour (sifted)
3 extra large eggs + 1 egg yoke

2 tbs orange extract
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup VSOP brandy (approx)

Add the cranberries to about 2 cups of water in a microwave safe container. Microwave for about 3 minutes until the water gets hot. Let stand for about 10 minutes, drain, and then mix together with the other dried fruits and pecans in a large bowl. Set aside while you prepare the batter.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in 2 of the eggs and then half of the flour. Beat in the remaining eggs and then the remaining flour, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl as needed. Beat in nutmeg and orange extract. Once uniform, add the batter to the fruit/nut mixture and combine with a spoon.

Line the bottom of loaf pans with parchment paper and then oil and flour heavily. Fill the pans to 1/4" below the rim with batter. Bake in pre-heated 300 degree oven for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, wrap the pans with foil leaving space above the loaf and continue baking for approximately another 45 minutes. Cake should not brown and is done when firm to the touch.

Let the cake cool in pans. When cool, remove them from pan. Before wrapping with cling wrap, spoon brandy on the top and bottom of each loaf. Wrap tightly and then refrigerate for approximately 3 weeks before slicing.

Makes two 3-1/2" by 8" loaf pans or 8 mini-loaves