Friday, December 31, 2010

Kūčios in Vilnius

In Lithuania, kūčios is a traditional pagan dinner held on Christmas Eve. It consists of 12 meatless foods, mainly fruits, nuts, fish, and cold dishes. Small croton-like biscuits are commonly served called kūčiukai.
Pictured is kūčios at Daiva's home.

Please refer to Wikipedia for an in depth explanation about the rituals, foods, and history of kūčios.ūčios

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tadas Lomanas - Raw Foodest

How would you fare solely on a raw diet from nature’s yield? Does munching on leaves, shoots, stems, roots and bark from forbs and trees sound appetizing to you? Or maybe wild grains and grasses, fungi, fruits, nuts and berries are more appealing? For Tadas Lomanas, this type of diet of nature ‘in the raw’ is his food of choice. Tadas is best described as a pioneer of raw wild foods, a minimalist, poet, musician, naturalist, permaculturist or maybe even an ascetic. His passion is to fuse and harmonize with nature by living intimately within it. Tadas finds much delight from his extremely austere lifestyle and from his process in obtaining a body-mind transformation. By observation and experimentation, he is figuring out the effects of various wild raw foods upon his mental, physical, and spiritual self.

Primarily due to a digestive problem, Tadas turned to vegetarianism at the age of 19. He graduated from the Lithuanian Military Academy and during his 5 years of military service, he began to read and self-reflect. He read publications about raw foods, but also consumed the series of books written by Vladimir Megre, The Ringing Cedars of Russia (Megre’s works are known worldwide. Megre’s books focus on the philosophies of a mystical woman name Anastasia. Her ideologies were based in the power of nature, ecology, and the development of back-to-the-land communities or eco-villages that included a good measure of conservative family values.

Tadas incorporated much of Megre’s ideas into his austere lifestyle. He escaped the noise and stress from city living and bought 8 hectares of fields and forests, upon which sits a rustic cottage, small pond, garden, and apiary. Located 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Vilnius near the village of Giedraiciai, here is where Tadas has submerged himself for the last 3 years. Although during his first year he went back and forth from the city and succumbed to his weakness for sweets, Tadas began a regime of eating mostly fruits, herbs, honey, and nuts.

Each year he pushes his limits. Tadas makes various concoctions of ‘herb cocktails’ (observe ‘herb cocktail” in the making on YouTube: ), with ingredients, to name a few, from sorrel, plantain, dandelion, ferns, nettles, yarrow, St. Johns wort, maple leaves, bent grasses, and apples. He believes plant cellulose absorbs and removes toxins, and restores intestinal micro flora. Not only has his physical health improved, but Tadas states that his emotional health has been heighted to a more stable and amplified good mood.

Tadas’s harmony with nature has been a spiritual experience. He believes that God is in nature, so to respect and live harmoniously with the laws of nature is to be part of God’s graces.

In the warmer months, Tadas lives in a tent, bathes in his pond, and harvests wild foods. He has cultivated a small apiary, juvenile walnut forest, and a small garden, although his gardening style is unconventional; he scatters seeds and nothing more, leaving the plants to survive on their own.

Now it is mid-December, with evening lows dipping to 8 degrees F and outside the ground is covered with snow. Experimenting with human-hibernation, Tadas does not heat his cottage, although he affords himself the amenities of electricity for light, to charge his mobile phone, and to power his computer. He sleeps most of the day and rarely goes outside, only on occasion to harvest some pine needles or tree buds. During the winter, he never drinks any liquids, only water with honey, which he claims is once a month. His food intake for this particular day was 10 apples and a head of cabbage, plus the dried pumpkin, apricots, dates, and hazelnuts we shared during my interview. A friend had brought Tadas supplies from Vilnius, which included carrots, apples, raw peanuts, walnuts, cabbage, persimmons, and bananas. Understanding that he is still connected to the technological system, Tadas sees each year as one step closer to his goal of completely detaching from it. The motto to think globally and act locally, which he gleaned during his attendance at the Copenhagen Climate Conference, is what Tadas believes everyone must responsibly do to the best of their abilities. Tadas Lamanas is a stellar representative of one who treads tenderly on the earth while living robustly as an example for others to consider.

Tadas Lomanas can be found at:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yalta Restaruant

Food justice is when communities exercise their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food such that the food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate. At the heart of food justice is respect and regard for the land, animals and people who grow food sustainably.

Julia Smiskal is a food justice advocate and she operates and co-owns the Yalta Restaurant. Located in Vilnius, the Yalta is what Julia calls “a sustainable food restaurant” where “nature decides the menu” (only local, seasonal, foods are used and bought direct from local farmers).

Growing up in rural Lithuania, Julia recognizes how large-scale farming is destroying village economy and autonomy. “My conviction is that small farmers can provide us with all the food we need.” 90% of farmers in Lithuania are small-scale, with the average size of approximately 3-4 hectares, yet the government and large agri-businesses perceives them as a primitive, inefficient form of agriculture. Throughout her life, Julia has eaten from her parent’s small farm. “This is the kind of food I eat therefore this is what I prepare for my customers.” After studying social development in Bordeaux, Julia found her niche in food preparation. “I love it. For me to be in the kitchen, to have a restaurant, is very concrete. My hands give a result everyday.”

Woven into the management of the Yalta are social, economical, and ecological constructs. The Yalta supports ecologically responsible farmers and acts as a conduit for restaurant patrons, in which many are seeking quality food. Furthermore, neighboring denizens of the Zverynas district can find a social community-based space where art, music, and film abound. The ambiance inside this 100 year-old historically-registered house is welcoming, where the furniture is recycled, the water is free and served from the tap. In addition, next to the restaurant sits a large greenhouse which provides the Yalta’s summer kitchen with veggies such as lettuce, spinach, chard, carrots, and several types of herbs.

Patrons can peruse a notebook which provides information about the dozen or so farmers who are responsible for the food they are eating. At the local farmers’ market, Julia purchased for the upcoming week: bread, apples, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, potatoes, beef, chicken and butter. Seasonal foods are prepared according to traditional recipes. “Traditionally, during Lithuanian summers, very little meat was consumed maybe small portions of smoked meats. Summer heat could spoil fresh meats. Vegetables, greens and cold soups were ideal for long hours working in the fields.”

For early December, the Yalta was serving fried fish from local lakes, pumpkin soup, beet root salad, and apple pie. Uninviting was the snow and bitter wind outside but inside the Yalta, there radiates a warmth and aroma found only in those kitchens and dining spaces where care and love reside.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Labdariai Info Shop - Free University

Labdariai Info Shop, aka Free University, is a grass roots space in the center of Vilnius. Started 6 years ago in an apartment flat, a handful of youths were active in sharing music, food, and publishing zines. Today, the collective of youths and location have change, but the desire to squeeze more out of their culture have not. The Info Shop now hosts a vegan cafe, a lending library, and music center. Movies, mini-concerts, and presentations with discussions are held here. Presently, there is discussion on developing a model for a CSA or Coop where local farmers could use the Info Shop as a distribution center. A colony of worms from my home are now in the cafe to dispose of some of the cafe's refuse. Pictured are several of the organizers shredding paper for bedding for the new worm bin. Also pictured are carrot pancakes, made with pureed, local carrots, a little starch and seasoning.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rudamina, Lithuania

Traditional rituals are alive in Lithuania. One example of this is the blessing of a young couple and their yearling farm (photo). A respected elder presented a benediction of good wishes followed with a splash of vodka above the couple’s heads. Gifts were given, such as a pair of clippers to prune the goat’s hoofs. This celebration began with a full morning of work by farm friends, whom completed tasks best done collectively. In early afternoon, a large wooden table in the barnyard was filled with foods brought by the volunteers and host: homemade goat and cow cheese, fresh, black breads, preserves made with plums and pumpkin (yum!), and kvass, which I could not stop drinking. The preparation and consumption of cepelinai was the highlight of our feast.

Cepelinai is a Lithuanian national dish. This large dumpling is made from grated potatoes that are stuffed with minced meats, usually pork or beef. Preparation requires peeling and grating raw potatoes (best a potato high in starch). Excess liquid is squeezed out using a cheesecloth. After allowing the potato starch to settle, the liquid is poured off and the starch is added back to the potatoes. Boiled and than mashed potatoes are kneaded with the raw, grated ones, plus a dash of salt. An egg-sized amount of the mixture is formed into patties, with spoonfuls of the previously prepared minced meats placed into the center of the patties. The patties are closed around the filling forming an oval-football shaped dumpling. Traditionally, the filling is made from ground beef or pork, dry cottage cheese or mushrooms with salt and spices. Next, the dumpling is carefully placed in salted boiling water and simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Cepelinai are eaten with bacon, or melted sour cream, or as our host made, an onion-bacon-mushroom sauce. This is a meal for gourmandizers. Yummy!