I recently spent 10 days in Romania, more accurately, Transylvania. It was absolutely no exception to my completely positive experiences of travelling in Eastern Europe - it was organised, clean, fun and the people really lovely! Apart from a bit of Dracula touristyness here and there (mostly at Bran castle, which is touted as "Dracula castle", although it's got little to do with said cruel ruler).

For our last weekend, we stayed in Sibiu. Sibiu, or "Hermannstadt" in German, is one of Transylvanias' seven fortress towns founded by Saxon settlers. In 2007, the town was the first in Eastern Europe to be "European Capital of culture", and it's easy to see why.

Apart from housing several great museums from everything to an open air folk museum to the Brukenthal museum with lots of big name artwork, the mixture of Romanian, Hungarian and German culture is prevalent everywhere. Many houses in the city centre date back to the 15th century and are currently being restored, probably to provide more space for cute cafes and restaurants. While it seems more and more places in Western Europe keep closing down, it's a breath of fresh air to see this part of the continent booming!

remains of the old city wall and gates

Yet, even though we visited during a major festival, the city was not overrun by visitors and there are still many beautiful corners left to explore that make you feel like you stepped back in time several centuries. Unless you decide to get lost on purpose, it's easy to miss them. So do explore the quiet allies, you won't regret it!

may I present: Pluto (after the yarn I used)! Turned out more like a generous size 10/Euro 40 than the American "small" it is meant to be, but whatever. The frigging thing is finished!!!
This January, in an attempt to ward off the winter depression that usually takes hold of me from mid-January to mid-March, and with no travels planned, I decided that I should learn to knit. My mother is a knitter, but just like sewing, she never thought to pass on the craft to me. I assume this is for three reasons: I've always been notoriously impatient, and left handed with no hope of doing most things right handed. Plus, being a single mom with three kids, she had a hell of a lot other things on her mind. Knitting often was her down-time, so I get that she didn't make any attempts to teach me.

Unable to figure out this mysterious witchcraft from YouTube videos, I booked a three hour beginner's class at a small craft shop at Camden, thinking this would provide a different experience than the fancy after-work-cocktail party craft craft places in Central London, or the mumsy seeming places south of the river (apart from the fact that Camden Town is just a 10 minute bus ride from home). Oh boy, was I wrong! Everybody was at 10 - 20 years older than me, married with kids and chatting about how lovely it will be to knit all the baby clothes @_@ I've considered Camden Town (not the touristy markets, the musical, creative, properly alternative part of it) my local since I was 16, so it came as a surprise to suddenly not fit in! Ironically, the instructor was left handed but knitted right handed, and while she tried to explain things to me in a lefty way, everybody else actually knew how to knit and just needed a refresher. I haven't felt so humiliated and out of place since my Coming Out, and barely managed to get anything done. The whole thing was a colossal waste of time and money.

I left the class fuming, but reluctant to give up (not after spending £40 on the flipping class!). So I figured I'm left to fend for myself, and lo and behold, after a month or so of playing around and dull scarf knitting, it seemed by February that I managed to get the hang of it. Already owning more scarves than I can ever wear, I decided

Yet, I felt like I needed more guidance and signed up for Craftsy's "My First Sweater" online class. Again, the instructions let me down. Even though the instructors is lovely and went out of her way, it just wasn't for me. She couldn't answer my question if I need to do anything different when knitting left-handed (for some techniques/patterns, you do!), and watching her knit in English style helped me very little for my own project.

Yes, there such a thing as knitting as "English" and "Continental", although it seems that the Dutch, for example, knit the English way. There's also Japanese style, apparently. Although I never held any knitting needles in my live, the teacher at Camden hat proclaimed that she can't help me because I knit the "European" way and could I please do it the British way. Wtf, I didn't even know any of this existed, I just held the yarn, needles and my fingers the way that felt most natural to me!

Eventually, I figured out the pattern and just followed sans Craftsy video. Soon I realised that damn, knitting takes forever! I felt that the jumper would be ready for summer. I kept running out of yarn, and although I had measured myself, knitted a swatch and established that I should knit myself a size small, it seemed like I was knitting a jumper for a gorilla (again, wtf! I'm a solid size M, but who knows, American sizing...). In late April, I finished it... well, almost, but I had given up the will to live, um, knit. It was a little chokey around the neck, but who cares?

Well, apparently I did, because after wearing it only once within the last 6 weeks, yesterday I actually unpicked the neckline and re-did it. Four months later, it's finally done... just in time for my travelling to hot countries and Britain actually hovering over the 15 degree mark. Oh well, I still love the result, and even though I swore myself to never knit again 2/3 through the jumper, I started a new project right away (just a shrug, no jumper this time!).

I'm still undecided about knitting. On one hand, I love how the repetitive movement is almost therapeutic, and new techniques and patterns challenge me. On the other hand, exactly this repetitiveness and close attention you have to pay to every tiny loop, even vs. crochet or sewing, drives me crazy at the best of times! It's the fact that I just love knit jumpers, which are very pricey if you want to buy a good quality one, that might keep me going with this love-hate relationship!

Do you know how to knit, and do you love or hate it? 

While I've cooked on a daily base during the last couple of months, it wasn't anything new or too exciting, because work and uni sucked up all my creative energy. 

During the last week, I finally managed to try a bunch of recipes from my never ending recipe bookmark folder. One of them was this spaghetti dish with mushroom and onion red wine sauce from the Clearspring website.

Clearspring, who offers mainly organic Japanese ingredients like soy sauce, miso paste, tofu, soba noodles, places a big stress on macrobiotic cooking, which is not exactly famous for its intense flavours. But wow, this was amazing, probably due to the generous usage of silver onions. The only change it made it that I used some stock instead of water, and potato starch instead of kuzu (you could also use arrowroot power or cornstarch, practically any thickener will do).

I really wasn't sure if the sauce would thicken and go with the spaghetti, as tagliatelle or wider noodles are usually eaten with this type of sauce, but it was perfect. 

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