Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Baltic Christmas Day 24 - Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus!

Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus! Linksmų Kalėdų! Häid jõule! May your holidays be warm and bright, and may the New Year bring health and happiness!!!


I’m very grateful to everyone who contributed to this series; in the form of posts, photographs, illustrations and ideas. As to the readers, the friends who commented and translated, and those who put me in contact with bloggers and authors all over the world, a heartfelt thank you as the series would not have been a success without you. On this final day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas a review of all the wonderful contributions we’ve seen this month.

   
We kicked off the series with countdowns to Christmas and a look at different Advent traditions. On day 2, Elga Ozols with a humorous piece on the žagari-wielding Latvian Santa of old and his evil counterparts across the globe.



On the third day of a Baltic Christmas Lelde of Dabas Mamma demonstrated how to bring snow indoors with whimsical feather snowballs, and then on day 4 Imanta from travelivenjoy joined up with a post on the Latvian budeļi tradition.




The fifth day of a Baltic Christmas brought not one, but two piparkūku recipes from Chicago pavāre Inga Lucāne! Aren’t we the lucky ones? On day 6, the 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas gift guide.



Zinta from Zinta Aistars: On a Writer's Journey joined us on day 7, with the memoir "Christmas, how it was, how it will be." And on day 8 Tania Lestal (Estonia - Paradise of the North) introduced us to an Estonian Christmas, sharing the family traditions that make her Christmas special.



Day 9: Daina of Latvian-American Adventures and Opinions with some truly fantastic Latvian Christmas cards and a look into the tradition of exchanging cards. Then we finally traveled south to Lithuania on day 10 for Daiva’s look at the Lithuanian holiday with her post “Kucios: The Connection Between the Dead and Living.”




On day 11 the recipe for Rosolje á la Polli Talu from author Marika Blossfeldt, a colorful salad that would make a great addition to every holiday spread! The next day on day 12 we had professor Guntis Šmidchens and a fascinating look at the song “Silent Night” in all three Baltic languages with his contribution “We’re not singing the same song, but we are.”



The thirteenth day of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas saw a return to Latvia with Sandra’s (of Dusty Hiking Boots) recipe for zaķu austiņas, the fried Christmas cookie that will have you doubling the recipe every time. Then on day 14 Laima showed off the Latvian Christmas tree decorations that make an appearance in almost every Latvian home.



Day15 gave us ideas on how to bring nature indoors in our holiday decorations, as well as provided instructions on how to make a pinecone birdfeeder. However the ultimate Baltic DIY project came on day 16, with Inga’s post on puzuri.



Next: a recipe from Beatos virtuve on day 17, followed by Heather Garbes on Latvian Christmas music for day 18.



We attended the Kalnaciems Christmas Market with Marianna of Hello, Latvia on day 19. Then on day 20 Nomeda Lukoševičienė of Nomedos Pieva/Nomeda's Meadow shared some of her gorgeous handmade Christmas cards.



My sister Zinta showed us that Latvian auseklīši can be found everywhere this time of year on day 21, and on day 22 June of My Food Odyssey shared her recipe for Lithuanian Christmas Eve Biscuits Kūčiukai.


Finally, Heather from Ferreting out the Fun finished off the series on day 23 with a look at this year’s Christmas scene in Rīga and Talinn.

  
On the 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas pinterest board you'll find all these articles pinned, and more - there are plenty of Baltic-inspired holiday pins for you to peruse. 



I hope you enjoyed this holiday countdown to a Baltic Christmas as much as I did. Maybe you learned something, or tried a new recipe for an old favorite. Possibly you got the kids to join in making a Baltic craft, or maybe your day was brightened by a laugh or some holiday tunes. However you may have joined in the fun, I hope you found true Christmas spirit every day here on Femme au Foyer, and I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year.

x Femme au Foyer


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Baltic Christmas Day 23 - The Tallinn and Rīga Christmas Markets


Heather Hall of Ferreting Out the Fun joins us today for Day 23 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas. A native of Virginia currently living with her husband in Rīga, Latvia, Heather is passionate about food, history and animals, and brings a curiosity and fun-loving attitude to most any experience that comes along.



After a short fall visit this year, I didn’t think Tallinn could get any more charming. Then I visited in December. A colorful Christmas market set up in the medieval Old Town Square created a scene so beautiful it looked like a fairy-tale come to life. Despite frigid temperatures, we browsed the stalls for hours, finding handmade Nordic elves and Viking ornaments while sipping steaming cups of mulled wine. We paused only to admire the live reindeer or to warm up over a meal at one of the restaurants lining the square. One day Santa even joined us for lunch!



Riga’s Christmas market is bigger and busier, with a larger variety of products and food on offer. I enjoyed an ostrich-meat pie and cup of hot sea buckthorn juice while perusing everything from knitwear and woven baskets to candles and ornaments in the shape of traditional Latvian symbols. Instead of reindeer, Riga boasts a small pen of sheep and bunnies, plus a toy house display filled with cats up for adoption. I find myself returning again and again, even though I’ve already bought all the gifts I need!



Thank you Heather! Read more about Heather’s adventures at Ferreting Out the Fun and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Only one day remains in the 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas series; I hope you’ll join us tomorrow, for Day 24!!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Baltic Christmas Day 22 - Lithuanian Christmas Eve Biscuits | Kūčiukai

June writes at My Food Odyssey, about her life in the Lithuanian countryside, her travels, but mostly about food. A supporter of using local ingredients and cooking from scratch, June was kind enough to share this recipe for traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve cookies for Day 22 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas.

Christmas is a time for tradition. What’s fascinating to me is how much those traditions vary from country to country and even from family to family. Some children post their letter to Santa up the chimney, some through the regular mail. Some leave out milk and cookies for Santa, but in our house it was a bottle of Guinness and a few mince pies. (Clever ole Dad!) Some traditions don’t believe in Santa at all.

Being somewhat food obsessed, to me the most interesting differences are centred round the foods we eat and how we prepare and serve those foods. In Ireland, the main Christmas feast is served on Christmas Day and typically includes roast turkey, baked ham, boiled Brussels sprouts and roast potatoes. Sweet treats include iced Christmas cake, brandy-laced Christmas pudding and mince pies. Most of these foods are not traditional used in Lithuanian Christmas cooking and in many cases are impossible to source here.


In Lithuania, the main celebration is on Christmas Eve. The meal, known as Kūčios, consists of 12 meatless dishes and typically includes herring, sauerkraut, potatoes, mushrooms, beetroot, carrots and stuffed eggs. For dessert there is a stodgy cranberry drink known as kisielius and bite-sized biscuits called kūčiukai (koo-chuck-ay) made with poppy seeds.

Kūčiukai are typically served with a glass of milk. Old traditions dictated that no animal products, including dairy products, should be consumed on Christmas Eve and so poppy seed milk was used in place of dairy milk. In many regions this custom has now petered out and dairy milk is used. In some homes the biscuits are soaked in milk before eating, in others the milk is served as a drink on the side.


Kūčiukai are widely available in the supermarkets here, but they are generally mass-produced and full of unnecessary ingredients. They are incredibly simple to make and only require a small number of ingredients so this year I decided to make my own. I always feel that the tradition of making the food is as important as the food itself. We always made our own Christmas cake and pudding and now that I’ve chosen to live here in Lithuania I want to start a new tradition of always making my own kūčiukai.

I use butter in my kūčiukai. Traditionally, only foods typically available during a Lithuanian winter could be used in preparing dishes for the Christmas Eve feast. To me, butter is one of the oldest and most natural cooking fats and fits well with this tradition. Many recipes I found both online and in books used butter as an ingredient. However, if you prefer to stay with the tradition of avoiding dairy products while still using traditional Lithuanian ingredients, I suggest replacing the butter in the recipe with 25 mls (2 Tbsp) of rapeseed or sunflower oil.


Note: Poppy seeds are widely available in Lithuania, particularly at this time of year. They also appear to be widely available in the US. In Ireland I’m not sure if they are available in supermarkets, but they should be available in Health Food stores or in Polish or Lithuanian supermarkets, if you happen to live near one.

Lithuanian Christmas Eve Biscuits | Kūčiukai

        Servings: About 100 biscuits
        Time: Prep 20 mins | Bake 18 mins
        Difficulty: Easy

INGREDIENTS:

250 g | 9 oz plain flour (all-purpose flour)
5 g | 1 tsp salt
7 g | ¼ oz fresh yeast or 3.5 g | ⅛ oz dried yeast
90 g | 3 oz sugar
20 g | 2 Tbsp poppy seeds
25 g | 2 Tbsp butter
90 mls | 3 fl oz warm water *
* The water should be just warm enough to touch with your finger for at least 10 seconds without feeling hot. I generally use 1/3 boiling water and 2/3 cold water to get just the right temperature.

METHOD:

1.    Preheat the oven to 180˚ C (355˚ F)
2.    Place the flour, salt, sugar, poppy seeds, butter and yeast in the large bowl of your food processor and mix on full power for about 20 seconds to thoroughly combine the ingredients and to distribute the yeast and poppy seeds.
3.    Pour the water into the food processor and mix on full power for about 1 minute. The mix should come together into a ball in about 20 seconds but continuing to mix for a little longer will help to knead the dough. After 1 minute the dough should be soft and slightly sticky to touch.
4.    Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and knead for about 1 minute to form into a smooth round. Place the dough in a lightly floured bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for at about two hours to rise.
5.    When the dough has doubled in size (or when you run out of patience waiting!), transfer the dough to a lightly floured board and cut into 4 pieces.
6.    Roll each piece of dough into a long sausage about 2 cm wide. Ensure the dough is the same thickness along the full length of the roll so that the biscuits will all be a similar size and cook evenly. Note that the roll will end up being about 40 cm long so make sure you have enough space on your board. Alternatively, use your worktop to roll the dough or cut the dough into smaller pieces before rolling.
7.    Cut each roll evenly into 2 cm pieces. You should get about 25 pieces per roll.
8.    Transfer the pieces to a lightly floured baking sheet. Leave a small gap (about ½ cm) between each piece as they will expand a little during baking.
9.    Bake for 15-18 minutes until all the biscuits are golden brown and a little crisp. They will crisp further as they cool so don’t overcook them.
10. Cool on the baking sheet before transferring to an airtight jar or biscuit tin.
11. Enjoy with a cold glass of milk or with your favourite coffee.


Thank you to June, for letting me feature this recipe on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! (This article first appeared on www.myfoododyssey.com.) You can also find June on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Tomorrow a trip to the Talinn and Rīga Christmas markets with Heather!




Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Baltic Christmas Day 21 - AUSEKLIS, AUSEKLIS – everywhere!

Day 21 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas is by my little sis, Z. Expert fashionista and working in the retail industry, she reports that this is indeed a very Baltic Christmas…


It seems that this design is everywhere you turn this season... If you’ve ever seen this symbol and thought “oh, what a beautiful snowflake,” you have underestimated the power and significance of the Auseklis


Auseklis was an ancient Pagan diety representing new life. He was a son of God, as well as the groom of Saules Meita, or the Sun's daughter.


The term auseklis is derived from the Germanic aus ('east') and the Latin oriens ('orient'); and the Latvian: sēkla - ('seed', 'semen'). For this reason, it has been identified as the morning, or rising, star. The auseklis symbolizes the victory of light over darkness; it is a symbol of hope. It is considered one of the most powerful symbols against evil spirits because it must be drawn in a single continuous line. The symbol was also adopted as the emblem of the third Latvian National Awakening. It was used as a summons to the Latvian nation: to never forget their roots, their nation’s history, their rich culture and folklore.


In the past couple of years, this symbol has become more and more popular in the fashion industry. It is used in a pattern most commonly known as “Fair Isle.” It is named after a little island lying midway between the Orkney and Shetland Islands to the north of Scotland in the UK, at the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea. It is not known exactly how this pattern originated. Most likely a passing ship from the Baltic nations traded a piece of patterned knitting in return for fresh food and water, which was a very common occurrence in the Viking era. The islanders then adopted this symbol and created their own unique pattern from it.


So the next time you see this symbol on a piece of clothing, or on a blanket, or a tablecloth, or fake nails (!), keep in mind that it’s more than just a beautiful snowflake!

  

Thanks Zinta! I love seeing the auseklīši everywhere; it really is a great marketing technique and a trend I hope continues. Tomorrow on Day 22 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas is June from My Food Odyssey with her recipe for Lithuanian Christmas Eve Biscuits - Kūčiukai.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Baltic Christmas Day 20 - Lithuanian Christmas cards


Nomeda Lukoševičienė, her husband Arvydas, and their three children Marius, Tadas, and Lukas have been living in Seattle for the last 17 years. “Even though our family lives far from our homeland, there is absolutely no doubt that we are 100% Lithuanian.” Today on Day Twenty of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas Nomeda shares some of her handmade creations.


It seems like people await Christmas as if it were the pinnacle of yearly celebrations. I often find myself wondering why that is, and no matter how many times I roll it over in my mind I arrive at the same conclusion; preparing for such a special holiday takes a lot of selfless compassion and kindness, a contagious force that grows stronger as it engulfs others. Decorating the tree, lighting up the house, cooking all the beloved traditional dishes, and of course, spreading the cheer far and wide with Christmas greeting cards!


Days before the eve, dozens of greeting cards would start to show up on the doorstep from every little town in Lithuania. Friends and relatives, greeting and wishing one another such basic but important things; health, serenity, and love. I remember excitedly opening various greetings and appreciating the beautiful cards along with their personal, hand written blessings.


For those who were the closest, we would hand-craft the cards using flowers we picked and dried in the summertime, going the extra mile for the people we really cherish. Our family maintains this tradition to this day! The Lithuanian community members of Seattle all have access to uniquely composed, personal Christmas greeting cards. (That is, if they are too busy with the festivities to make their own)  We are moving into a technologically enhanced era allowing word to spread further and quicker, but nothing compares to the emotional uplift of receiving a dear and loving Christmas card.



Thank you Nomeda! How beautiful to receive such a card in the mail. Your post brings to mind Daina’s mention that the Latvian artist Kalmīte used to send miniature watercolors as Christmas cards; these works of art belong on the wall! You can find more of Nomeda's creations on her website Nomedos Pieva/Nomeda's Meadow. Day 21 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas will feature my sister Zinta, I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us...


Friday, December 19, 2014

A Baltic Christmas Day 19 - Christmas at Kalnciems (or troll shoes, hemp and homemade honeycake)

Day Nineteen of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas is from Marianna of Hello, LatviaMarianna been slowly going native in the "motherland" Latvia for the last 10 years, after growing up in sub-tropical Brisvegas, Australia ... analysing the differences, advantages, life styles in both places. 

  
Christmas in Latvia (or I assume, in Europe) would not be complete without visiting a Christmas market. In Rīga this usually means trotting off in sub-zero temps to the old town, where the wooden booths set up in the dome square display the same wares they have been selling since, oh, the middle ages. Well, at least since the 1980s. Leather wallets and book covers, beeswax candles, home-knitted goods, some Lithuanian-made wooden toys, big gingerbread hearts with fancy icing. Mostly nice things - but kind of boring, if you are shopping there for the fifth year in a row. And desperately cold, when you take off your gloves to pay for something.

This is why I feel relieved and pleased in the last few years, that an „alternative” Christmas market has developed at Kalnciema Street, just down the road from our place in Pārdaugava. Around Christmas, our regular local craft market goes ballistic. There are so many stalls they overflow out of the yard and onto the sidewalk, and people come in droves to buy locally made food and craft in anticipation of the festive season.

I sauntered down there last Saturday and was surprised to see the range of Latvian products that have popped up recently. SO many beautiful hand-crafted things, made with imagination and precision. So without further ado, here’s a little peek at some of the things Latvians will be exchanging as gifts on Christmas eve:


Paper dolls named „Jānis” and „Ieva” - no more Jack and Jane for us.


Hemp seed products – products derived from traditional Latvian hemp butter – hemp seed pesto, hemp oil soap, different flavors and consistencies of hemp butter, raw hemp seeds.


Products based on Latvian ancient symbols – scarves, hats, wooden ornaments, glass decorative items, candles, children’s toys like domino, jewelry, reflective brooches, all sporting ancient Latvian symbols. Old standard symbols like Saulītes (the sun) and Auseklīši (the morning star) are no longer popular, giving way to the austras koks (tree of dawn) and ornate variations of the pērkoņkrusts (thunder god). Great to see the old symbols being wholly embraced and incorporated into contemporary designs.


Half of Latvia has lived and worked in Norway in the last ten years, I guess this might explain the locally-made troll-child felted clogs. That I want.


If your kids are bored with shopping, they can catch a bit of culture in the wine store.


Cake. Honey cake with cream and chocolate sprinkles. This is a bit of a family fave. May not last ‘till Christmas, though...


Lately, perplexingly, there has been a rush of local alcohol brewers/manufacturers – Latvian-made wine, moonshine, apple cider, fermented birch juice... every friendly vendor willing to have a chat and give you a sample. Can’t say I’m a fan of the wine, but moonshine... now Latvians REALLy know how to make good moonshine!


Raw milk! In these parts we all drink raw milk. Most people think it’s the healthiest thing for their children and families. No big deal. Even at Christmas.


Of all the stalls at the Kalnciema Christmas market, this one is my favourite, hands down. This lady and her vintage suitcase peddle small paintings, on ripped offcuts of particle board. Trained at the Latvian Academy of Art, this lady’s work reveal kitsch worlds featuring all manner of Latvian portraits and still-lifes. For two or three euros you can obtain your very own miniature Rainis in the moonlight, or Barona tēvs looking stern, or Aspāzija the crazy cat lady. Or a still life of a famous Latvian icon – a jar of pickles, or a jar of grandma’s jam. Kitsch and curious, but charming nonetheless.

Merry Christmas!


Thank you Marianna! I believe any one of these items would be welcome under our Christmas tree! And thank you Jeremy Smedes, for the beautiful photographs! Tomorrow on 24Days of a Baltic Christmas will be Nomeda Lukoševičienė and her beautiful cards made with pressed flowers.

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