27 December 2006

Christmas aftertaste

We had a rather windy and chilly Christmas days in Sopot this year what naturally didn't put me away from the beach (nothing could). I hope to have some snow and sun in short time so I could take pictures of the town fallen in love with the winter (or the other way round).

Anyway, I had to drop in home a few times so that they wouldn't call for rescuers team to look for me in the waves. So I did take some photos and as they will not match my posts for at least one year I'm putting them in now.

This is a compote boiled from dried plums, apples, pears and apricots which is a traditional festive drink here.

It's popularity has to do with the fact that it helps a lot when you're full and sick of eating what happens quite often from what I can see.

And these are two lazy poppy seed strudels smelling beautifully of almonds and yeast dough. I am always tempted to tear them with my hand while they're still warm... It's really worth all the storm that comes afterwards!

Here you have a homemade pate, probably short of a few chicken livers which I ate while mincing all the meat. My vegetarian soul always surrenders to the aroma of chicken liver so I do not even try to fight.

This is Polish ham - brought from some rural areas and supposedly without any additives. My vegetarian soul remains strong this time.

I would rather have my carp with ćwikła - beetroot blended with horse radish - very hot and pungent but ideal with fatty food.

Our Christmas dinners always include roasted duck with red cabbage and apples and pierogi which taste so much better when re-fried on butter the following days.

I had my last one today so I can announce the holiday closed for this year.

24 December 2006

My Christmas Eve Story

In Poland 24th December is the first and the most festive day of Christmas. I would say it’s the last one worth mentioning because later on you have two days of changing tables and relatives, having you forced to eat and drink incessantly and listening to questions of inqusitive aunts ("Where is your finacee, dear?") or comments of your very funny uncles ("I can't wait to see you domesticated").

But on the Xmass Eve - "Wigilia" in Polish - we are having these wonderful suppers, so traditional, so intimate and charming. The food is usually not so oppulent as traditionally people withhold themselves from meat or excess of any kind.

First you have the soup - which at my home is beetroot soup ("barszcz" - I love English people pronounciating this :) with "uszka" - small dumplings filled with mushrooms (dried and then boiled) that literally translate to "little ears". I guess they should bear some resemblance to this cute body part however I can't quite make myself think too much of a plate of ears...

In other parts of Poland they would eat almond, mushroom or fish soup with different kinds of dumplings or noodles.

Tradition says that you should have 12 dishes on your table but at my home it's much less because my grandma has always wanted to keep it very simple - and I like it that way.

So basically, we limit ourselves to pierogi - Russian ones (with mashed potatoes and cottage cheese, that in fact have nothing to do with Russia) and the most traditional ones - with cabbage, or rather sauerkraut, and mushrooms.

The latter are my number one and I just can't resist eating them with my hands what gives so much more pleasure. But of course is unacceptable... I've always been the criss-cross one :)

Aside, we have the lovely carp in two versions: pan fried and baked with onions. I always opt for the baked one which melts in your mouth tenderly. At my friends houses carp is often prepared Jewish style or in a grey sauce but they also have herrings, salmon and cod often. Wigilia is generally focused on fish.

I won't spoil your appetite with my fingers messing about the fatty fish...

Afterwards comes the sweet part with the fruit cake...

poppy seed strudel (very delicate and moist, made of yeast dough)...

cold cheesecake which is my brother's "must-have-or-do-not- count-on-presents-from-me" (this year I came up with the lemon and gooseberry flavor - refreshing acidity:)))

and my all-time favorite: Kutia! This is a dish that was originated in the areas previously Polish but nowadays Lithuanian and since my granparents both were born in the eastern lands we take over most of their food customs.

Kutia is a wonderful mixture of boiled poppy seeds, wheat grains, honey, nuts, raisins and rum. Awesome and really exhillarating, partly due to the fact that I do not have to count my intake of callories... I would already be lost in numbers!

I won't tell you what happened backstage, before these dishes were finally delivered, as the conflict of generations gets really hot in the kitchen :)

Tomorrow the heavy eating should start - with all the meats, hams, salads, more desserts, cakes and so on but fortunately I'm going to have myself evacuated with the little help from my friends :)

So Merry Christmas to everybody - no matter what do you have on your plates :)

08 December 2006

My honey's getting drunk!

People in Sopot seem to forget about their beach for the winter time. So now I'm stealing my moments of being the only proprietor of one of the most charming sand stretches on the Polish coast. I run along the waterline infusing my eyes with bright sapphire of the sea and inhaling the chilly air. Then I let my body be swallowed by the hungry waves - what in these temperatures literally takes my breath away.

When I come home I can still smell the breeze in my hair and feel the salt on my skin - and that's like heaven. But I also get these horrible freezing cold in my backbone and believe me - hot tea is not enough here...

So I reach for Krupnik. The name can be misleading as it's usually used for describing a typical Polish soup with grains and veggies. However, for people who have once tasted the honey liquer I'm thinking of, the soup could not exist at all...

As you can read on the label, it's made of the best bee honey, spices and aromatic herbs according to some specially guarded old recipes dating back to 17th century.

Poland is a real kingdom of outstanding varities of honey made from acacia, lilac, buckwheat, pine, linden, to name the most renowned ones.

When we were children, my brother and I were having thick sandwiches of dark rye bread, home-made cottage cheese and heavy layer of golden honey for winter breakfasts. I always remember that delicacy whenever I put a honey mask on my lips.

Anyway , Krupnik is sweet, strong and really heating. I became addicted to its magical powers when I was 15 and spent one rainy and very cold summer on a canoe camp.

This year I decided to make my own one! I've searched through available recipes and made my own variation using wonderful acacia honey, spirit, orange and lemon zest, ginger, pepper, juniper, nutmeg and espresso. The mixture had its rest for 3 months and then knocked us down! Mighty strong and delicious, as my friends said.

Now that we'are planning our snowboarding Xmass expedition I was already told I wouldn't be let into the car unless I have a reasonable bottle with me. I'll think twice before I start making my own wine...

06 December 2006

Spell of ginger

On 6th December Polish children wake far earlier than they should on a dark wintery school day. It's all because of "the boots affair". I don't know how the custom originated but somebody succeeded in convincing us that St. Nicholas leaves sweet treats in the boots on his name day. Maybe it was just a trick to make kids clean their shoes as everybody is well aware that you will not find antyhing unless you spend the previous evening on polishing your footwear.

Anyway, 6th December always meant the beginning of Xmass time to me - with all the chocolate flavours, advent calendars and aromatic oranges - so exotic and special in the communist reality. Now that I'm grown up - at least in my ID - I always bake ginger breads around this date.

First there is a nice, shiny, brownish dough that spends a night in refrigerator. I try to put as much spices as possible inside (I never stick to original recipes :)

Then there is all the fun with cutting and filling baking sheets with paper thin hearts, mushrooms, stars, etc. I used to prepare a small gingerbread hut with frosting covered roof and colorful candies as windows. It was so cute nobody wanted to eat it so finally it always got inedible to my great dissapointment.

And it's only like 15 minutes when you feel all home vibrating with cinnamon, ginger, pepper and honey aromas. I'm getting totally Xmass-exhilarated and only wish some handsome Santa would come by :)

Then I make colorful frostings with egg yolk, rasberry syrop, nutella and rum and have my painting workshop going. One day, when I have my own team of little elves (I guess 4 would be enough :)) we'll be doing all the staff together so I know they feel what Xmass is all about - warmth, joy and sociability!

04 December 2006

Travelling: Milan

I have been quite fortunate to be invited to Milan at the beginning of December when everybody's already Xmass-minded. And so the streets of Duomo glow with a multitude of lamps and other twinkling ornaments while fat Italian Santas wander around fashionable shops and boutiques.

Surprising as it might be, I wasn't attracted to Prada and Armani stores but rather to all those cosy, stylish cafes and osterias where life goes on vigorously no matter of strikes (yes, it happened :) or international conferences...

Of course, I don't have to mention what they've got in those cafes...

Awesome capuccino in the morning will not make you Italian but certainly will heat your blood a bit :)

Then there are those small neighborhood markets where even in December veggies appear in opulence and full color range...

and those delicacy shops where you can hunt for gorgeous wine..

Xmass cakes...

fontina, pecorino, mozarella or local gorgonzolla. For a cheese lover like me it reminded heaven.

But it seems that you really find yourself up in the clouds only when you finally sit at the table with a glass of red wine and good friend beside you.

I had splendid spaghetti with botarga of tuna and fresh tomatoes...

Others chose linguine with pesto..

Maybe I shouldn't reveal how much I eat (guess ladies do not wolf down their plates) but I can't resist to show wonderful pizza margherita I also had the other night.

What else? Well, good wine Milanese people - a bit lazy, very disorganized but incredibly charming and friendly, especially if they can help you to install the microphone :)