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!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blood and Sugar: Lithuanian Power Bar

Lithuanian hematogenu is a post-communist food product now sold as a food supplement or even a medicine. Chocolate was expensive during Soviet times, and this ‘healthy’ candy was an inexpensive sweet enjoyed by children.  The ingredients in these ‘power bars’ comprised of sugar, condensed milk, a starch, oil, flavorings, and blood… yes, blood!  Hematogenas are a natural source of iron made from pig or calf blood and processed as an edible animal blood.This is an attractive selling feature for those who are lacking in iron and desire a tasty, healthy source of natural iron. In Lithuania, the leader in production of this health-food is Hemo2Gen, which alongside of its “classic” tasting hematogena,  has 3 new product line: Hema2Gen Imuno with ginger, Hema2Gen Extra Vitamins with almost ½ the daily recommended vitamin C, and  B12, and Hema2Gen Energy with the vitamins that the Extra line has plus some caffeine (45g). A 100g bar of Hema2Gen contains 10mg of iron.  This product can be purchased at most pharmacies, supermarkets, and kiosks.  Having sampled Hemo2Gen Extra, the taste was not disagreeable, given that it was very sugary, but disappointingly, no essence of blood.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Morning Organic Market at the Mall

Panorama is one of 5 malls in Vilnius and every Saturday it hosts a small farmers' market that offers fruits, meats, vegetables, honey, and herbs from local sources. Local organic produce is not difficult to find in this country full on family owned gardens and farms. There are six farmers' markets in Vilnius which offers seasonal products. The variety of apples and flavors are extraordinary. Honey production has a deep history and the varieties and quality is outstanding... some of the best I have tasted. My neighbor brought me pumpkin, beets, onions, apples, and honey from their parent's garden. Gardens provide an enormous amount of Lithuanian's food, especially with the recent sky-rocketing prices of food over the last several years.