Friday, July 03, 2009

Lady Liberty

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

My thoughts and memories are a thousand miles away from Prague with you all in the States. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and we had a great celebration last year. I cooked for 3 days. I made two pies - apple and cranberry, two kinds of soup, homemade rolls, regular corn bread as well as special cranberry corn bread, and of course a roasted turkey and a roasted whole ham and many other small side dishes. I really enjoyed the time and was very happy, even though it was a lot work.
The pictures below are not from the last year celebration, although they catch the spirit of the holiday pretty well. They were taken at our first Thanksgiving in our new lovely home in Bayonne in 2006.


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.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The best scented candles ever

I've always been fond of scented candles. There was almost no choice to get a nice scented candle during the communist era, and even if we could get some, their smell and intensity of fragrance was very poor. That changed a bit with the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe with all the Western goods pouring into our countries, especially from then West Germany and Austria, but I was still somehow dissatisfied though. The smell of candles was certainly better and the fragrance of them was very intense, but it was never the way I would have expected. A pine scented candle did not smell like a pine tree or pine needles, its smell was hard to define instead. I thought I would never find the right scented candle, but I did. It happened in the States. It took me time and some blunders in my choices, but I was on the good path to find the only one. Well, it was not the only one candle, but it was the only one company that has been making these candles for years. The company's name is The Yankee Candle Company. Now, I found the perfect scented candles in America and the name of the company that makes them was Yankee. That is significant, isn't it? Frankly speaking, I have fallen in love with those candles. Everything about them makes me somehow happy, and it surely has a soothing and relaxing effect on me and it makes my days enriched, in a way. It is hard to explain it, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, because we live our lives through our senses and smell is a very important one, because we usually associate our acts, memories or events with smell. Such examples can be a smell of hot coffee that is for many of us the smell of a morning, and a smell of freshly baked bread is the smell of my country, and for me it is just like the smell of rum is the smell of Christmas, since we put rum into Christmas cookies and we drink tea with rum just to get warm in winter, and a smell of a roasted turkey and a ham is associated with Thanksgiving for me now. There can be hundreds and thousands of examples. Some of them can be pleasant and some not, of course. I have almost developed Pavlov's reflex, because just by looking at the company's web site I can smell the fragrances of the candles as well, and it makes me feel relaxed and comforted. The company runs pretty good business. Not only does it have it many brand stores and the web site, but also I used to get its catalog with scented pages in Bayonne, and that's something local companies can only dream of. Yes, you have to spend a few bucks more than on other brand candles, but it is totally worth it. As you can see, the smell of a scented candle is very important for me.
I know, there are more scented candles made by different companies and with different brand names. Some Glade candles are also incomparable, such as Glistening Snow, Angel Whispers and Apple Cinnamon, but the variety of the Glade products is limited. I also remember the candle we got from Sallie and Mush in Jersey City with its delicious coffee and butter cookie-like smell, but I don't remember the brand name. Unfortunately, I cannot buy these products here. Glade's product are sold here under brand name Brise, however there are no Glistening Snow or Angel Whispers for me here. What I can get is only an Apple Cinnamon candle in very limited edition. And The Yankee Candles here. Forget about it. I miss many American products and these candles are among them.
P.S. I just took a look at the Glade website and I found it has been redesigned. The new look of the page is great. Go there!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Socialism makes its return to the Czech Republic

At least in regions. The Czech Republic is divided into 13 regions, and Prague has its own status as the capital city. Each region has its own council with its regional governor. Elections to these councils took place on Friday and Saturday with a very scary outcome for me. For those who don't know the political scene in the Czech Republic, allow me first to give you a picture about it. There are basically five major political parties that have seats in the Czech Parliament. Listed from right side to left side, these are the Civic Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party, Green Party, Czech Social Democratic Party and Communist Party. The first three parties created a coalition after the 2006 general election. Back to the current election. Even though it was a regional election as I mentioned before, Social Democrats described the election as a referendum about the government and its reforms. The outcome is that that the Czech Social Democrats won a landslide. They won in all 13 regions. It is a disaster. I'm ashamed of my countrymen. I cannot believe that people really listened to their populist words, and that they fell for them. The party leader, Jiri Paroubek, has declared in the past that he would go govern with Communists and even "with Martians" in order to defeat the center-right government. What happened now is that he doesn't even need Martians to fulfill his proclamation. Social Democrats could have an easy majority with the Communists in all 13 regions to create coalitions. That is something that makes me uneasy. Can't people see the danger resulting from this? Are they that lazy and shortsighted that in order to have a huge and expensive social net and to have the state as a mother who is taking care of her children, they vote for leftists who will rule even with the Devil? Health care reform is under way here, and one part of it is that people have to pay 30 Czech crowns, approx. $1.62, when they visit a doctor. This became a big issue for the Social Democrats against the government. For a more complex picture, 30 crowns is one half litter of beer in a pub, or 1/4 of a pack of cigarettes. So no big deal and still Czechs don't want to participate in the system that is very expensive and they don't want to give up socialist safeguards they were used to. They want to have capitalism, but with all advantages of socialism. That is impossible. There should be balance in that. Yes, a social net is a need for those who really need it, but not for people making a lot of money to abuse it. I don't want CZK 50,000 birth grants to be paid from our taxes. I don't want my government to sponsor young families by giving them huge benefits, just because they happened to have a child. I'm talking about regular folks and not about low-income families. I could go on and on. There is going to be a vote of confidence about the government in Parliament this Wednesday, and I'm worried what could happen.
On the other hand, don't get me wrong, I'm still a big supporter of the Democratic Party in the U.S.A. and Mr. Obama still has my support, although I would rather see Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate for Democrats, but that doesn't mean I would ever cast my vote for a Republican. I'm still sure that Mr. McCain doesn't know what he talks about when he calls Mr. Obama a socialist. McCain should come to Europe - and that's something I don't remember he has done in a long time - and check his views with the real European and Czech socialists. He then will find out how wrong his statement was.
Of course, Jesse and I totally disagree about Czech politics, but we have a common opinion about American politics. At least.

Friday, October 17, 2008


When I watched the last presidential debate on, I couldn't help it, but Mr. McCain reminded me of something. I couldn't tell exactly what it was at first, but then it came to me. A squash. The butternut squash. When you take a look at the picture bellow, you can see it. At least, I can!
Later on that day, just before I went to sleep, I'd remembered a Christmas cartoon movie I love, and it was How the Grinch stole Christmas. I decided to take a shot and find it on the net. Youtube is great for this as you all have to know. While watching the cartoon there, something popped up in my head. There was a greater resemblance between Mr. McCain and the Grinch. Bingo! I got it! It made me laugh, of course, because I have been thinking about Mr. McCain's resemblance of something for a very long time.

I know Mr. McCain doesn't have that nice Santa Clause outfit, but just look at it.
P.S. Just to be fair and balanced (I guess, another reminder) to Mr. McCain, he used to be one handsome young man.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Prague wine harvesting festival

It was a beautiful day last Sunday. It would have been a waste to stay home, so we decided to participate in the Prague wine harvesting festival. Our participation consisted of only our young fermenting wine tasting . It is called "burcak" in Czech and the tasting and drinking of it has been part of Czech fall since I can remember. Basically, burcak is very young grape juice that is just starting fermenting. It is high in sugar and low in alcohol, but throughout fermentation the ratio between them is changing in favor of alcohol and wine is being born. I'm no expert at wine, but I know a little about flavor, color and taste. The most productive part of the Czech Republic for wine growing is the southeast part of Moravia. Although we do have some vineyards in the other part of the Czech Republic called Bohemia and there are a few vineyards even in Prague, the location of Moravia with its plentiful sunshine, fertile soil and the right amount of rain gives grapes an excellent color, flavor and taste that give the wine the best quality that can be compared to quality of French and Italian wine . The only disadvantage of Moravian and Bohemian wines is that they are not as known as the French and Italian wines. It is very hard and I would say almost impossible to get a bottle of wine from the Czech Republic in the States, but if you have a chance to get it taste at least, and please, don't hesitate! The wine was among a few things I missed in the U.S.

I start today's pictures with a photo of St. Vitus Cathedral taken from the main street in our neighborhood near our apartment.
St. Vitus Cathedral is the view point of the whole Prague Castle premises.

The next one was taken from a street leading to Prague Castle.

The last one of
St. Vitus Cathedral was taken from the Prague Castle premises near the Royal Garden where the festival took place.

The welcome board in front of the Royal Garden gate states: "The third annual Prague Castle wine harvesting during the weekend of 4 - 5 October 2008 from 11am to 5pm at the Royal Garden.

There is no need for a comment about the next picture, but for those who may not know. Two nice young men are actually and finally tasting burcak.