Saturday, October 25, 2008

One of my essays

It has been more than a year since I wrote this essay. The topic was a letter to a foreign friend who did not know my country and its traditions and food and etc. I would also like to point out that it was supposed to be a descriptive essay. Enjoy.

At the end of each year, when daylight time is short, night time awfully long and it is very cold, because the sun is almost always hidden behind clouds, we celebrate Christmas. There can be as many reasons to celebrate this holiday as there are families in the world. Nonetheless, for my family Christmas has always been time to stop the everyday rush, relax, remember members of the family who are gone, to see relatives that we were not able to see through the year and also an abundance of food specially made for this occasion. There used to be time in my country and my family when we could not afford to have enough meat on our table everyday. Tropical fruits and nuts were something like a miracle for us, because they were on the market only around the time of the holiday. That is the reason why we had plenty of food during Christmas as far as I remember.
The Christmas time in my family begins with making cookies that are a substantial part of this festive time for us. They are made at least three weeks ahead of Christmas day. Czech Christmas cookies are small pieces of baked dough in varieties of color, flavor, shape, and taste. The basic dough contains flour, eggs, butter, sugar, and sometimes milk. In order to achieve the variety of color and taste, we use different ingredients. Cocoa powder is an excellent example of coloring dough, because it gives very dark brown hue to the cookies, and cinnamon, on the other hand, gives the cookies a light beige color with very specific spicy flavor and a bit pungent taste. Many kinds of shapes, for instance a star, a tree, a mushroom, a pig, a bell, and a heart are cut out from the dough and after being baked the cookies are decorated in styles depending on a person's ideas. My two favorite cookies are those called little bombs and coconut balls. Both of them are actually not baked. The first ones are very dark in color, because they contain lots of cocoa powder. Their shape resembles a small molehill or beehives depending on which cookie forms are used. Each little bomb is a hollow that is filled with sweet cream made of butter, egg yolks and sugar with an additional hint of alcohol called rum. A vanilla waffle is put at the bottom of the cookie so that cream is sealed inside and cannot come out. When you eat them, they almost instantly start to melt in your mouth. What you taste first is the bittersweet flavor of the dough and then astonishing sweetness of butter and sugar in the cream. As for coconut balls, they are also dark in color, because of quite big amount of cocoa powder in the mixture. They are not as sweet as the little bomb cookies, because of the smooth blend of unsweetened coconut powder incorporated to the dough and also covering the balls and sweetness of butter and sugar.
On Christmas Eve, all the cookies are arranged on decorative trays in every room in the house. Fruits are also arranged in bowls with a sense of balancing the overwhelming aroma of sugar, vanilla and nuts. There is a pineapple in the middle of each bowl surrounded by bananas, red and green apples, oranges and tangerines. Each bowl is garnished with variety of nuts, including, but not limited to walnuts, hazelnuts and peanuts as well as with pine tree twigs to appeal an eye. Christmas Eve dinner is also important to emphasize the whole festive spirit. There are always three courses on the menu and they are soup, entree or main dish and dessert – usually the Czech version of challah. The soup is made of beef stock with vegetables, for example an orange carrot, onion, garlic, celery root and parsnip which all add an unforgettable earthy flavor to the soup and with small ball-like liver dumplings. The dumplings are made from a mixture of ground beef liver, an egg, garlic, an herb called marjoram, and breadcrumbs. The mixture is soft but firm in texture and then it is shaped into small balls and cooked in the soup for just a few minutes right before the soup is ready. After soup comes the main dish. Traditionally, it is fried breaded carp fillet, fish, or fried breaded pork chops that are always accompanied by the potato salad. The salad is prepared according to a family recipe. It has to be made in the morning of Christmas Eve so that all ingredients blend well. These ingredients include boiled, peeled potatoes, salami – processed meat, onion and pickles, a green oblong vegetable that is curred by salt, vinegar and spices. All ingredients are cut into small cubes and blended together with mayonnaise, mustard and with salt and black pepper added to taste. Another traditional meal is challah. The holiday is the only time in a year it is made. It can be described as a sweet braided bread that consists of flour, eggs, oil, yeast, a little sugar, milk and many kinds of spices, such as nutmeg, cloves, anise, almonds, and raisins or dried grapes. The base of challah is made from four braided strings, as if hair is braided into a very nice tail, on top of which is put down another layer this time made of three braided strings, and the pattern is followed up to the top with just one single string. Then, the whole challah is sprinkled with chopped almonds and baked. It makes a great breakfast meal, too.
The range of flavors of our holiday food goes from a very sweet one typical for cookies through a mild one like carp to very strong and earthy flavor that is typical for soup. Each year we make an effort to make the best food for the occasion. It is seen that festive food is a very important part of our Czech Christmas traditions.