Early Morning Gift of Bread

Back up travel snippets: Zadar to Split, Croatia.

   Way back in September I had the fortune of meeting an old college friend in Croatia. We split a lazy week in Zadar, Split, and a day at the Krka National Park. It was wonderful to meet a friend abroad as an alternative to visiting one another or even embarking out together. Both cities were smaller than we visualized leaving lots of time for sun baking and swimming. Rather than describing what we saw or did, I'd like to share a story of our late night out in Split and the character of the locals we met there.

    On our last night in Split Jen and I decided to try to act young and go out for the evening. We started out well, dancing around to 90's and 00's music while drinking wine in the flat and getting dress. Around 1O we made our way out to the old town in hopes of finding a bar to start and dancing and friends for later. Now, this is where we encountered our first mistake: it was a Thursday night. In Newcastle and Tokyo (our respective homes) this should not have been an issue, but apparently this is a Friday and Saturday only city. 

    We did eventually find a downtown bar that was open and settled in with a few drinks with three Germans we met. We were advised not to even try finding dancing and to be content here, so we were. After a few drinks though, conversation grew stagnant; either there was a language barrier, or more likely, we were just very different groups. That is when we transferred to a group of Swedish businessmen there on a group holiday. Conversation was easy, people were relaxed, and it was all going very well late into the evening. That is, until one of the men - the one we were conversing most with - starting showing signs of elitism, sexism, and some racism too. A fast turn with the alcohol revealed and absolute jerk. 

   Huffing off, angry and ranting Jen and I headed home. Blood rushing from offense, we passed by an elderly gentleman and his younger companion smoking. Jen asked for a smoke to calm down, and perhaps seeing our distress, had us sit and speak with him. His English was very limited, our Croatia zip, so it was mostly seeing that we were ok and then showing us his cats around the corner. We learned that he ran the bakery across the street and at 3 am, they were beginning to bake the bread for the next day. His companion was one of the bakers. He took us inside and introduced us to the men working, showed us the bread and the ovens. We even had a chance to try to slice the bread pre-baking which is much more difficult than it looks. One of the workers then gave us each some bread to snack on as we watched and stayed warm inside. It was a series of kind gestures and we were so overwhelmed by this surprise introduction to their lives, that our moods completely lifted.

   Having opened the shop, he invited us along with a co-worker of some sorts to his flat for coffee. It was a small bachelor pad and it appeared that he had lived alone for a long time - as there certainly was no hint of a woman's touch around. He made coffee on the stovetop and served it with grinds and all. Jen was not accustomed to this method and woefully did not filter the grinds through her teeth on her first sip. It was strong and not exactly tasty, but well appreciated as we were perfectly sober by this point. They spoke about the local Dalmatian music on the radio and asked us about our story. An hour later, Jen and I were ready for sleep and the men were headed back into work. They walked us most of the way to our flat, after we insisted we were almost there as it was quite a bit out of their way.

     And all we could speak about as the sky began to lighten was how in a single evening when humanity disappointed us so, it also showed us the most kind and wonderful people. 

The bakery and stoop where we met our kindly friend. 

Holyhead Island, Cambridge, and a Motherland-of-sorts

    Back in September my father and I took a week to travel about a bit of the UK. I've already discussed our trip to Snowdon in the last post, but here I want to stream a few thought straggles from the trip. 

    Our first stop during the week was, in fact, Snowdon. The next day though, we drove up and around Holyhead Island to see South Stack with its lighthouse, cliffs, rare chough birds and general scenery. 

 

-This landscape is called heath or heathland, but heath can also be called heather from the heather family of plants.

 

 

 

- I made my dad go down the stairs to be stopped at the gate because we were not going to pay to see the lighthouse. Really, dad followed me then regretted it. 

 

 

 

- Looking sharp Daddio

 

 

 

 

 

 

- The cliffs has some beautiful sediment patterns. We also saw seals from afar and a lot of spiders. I'm not sure it is something I would drive that far to again, but if you are in the neighborhood it is some refreshing air. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Choughs, easily identified by their red bills. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    After a nice three days in Wales, it was time to go see Cambridge and Wisbech as a sort of return to one motherland. My most recent English relative left for the states just in time to fight in theAmerican Civil War. I believe this was my great-great-great- (one more?) -grandfather. While he was from Wisbech, we assume family was about Cambridge to some extent. 

 

- King's College Chapel was really quite wonderful and chalk-full of information.

 

- While still on the campus we met a gentleman who, rather aggressively, told us about the punt boats history. Being a local, he kindly explained for us Americans how Cambridgians stand on the stern of the boat while the cowardly Oxfordians stand in the boat. 

 

 

 

- Downtown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- I did not get any bubble tea that trip, very sad. I just like this woman's face as I creeped about with my camera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-I grew up with sheep. I love all things sheep. Dad, less so. We were in 4-H, basically an agricultural youth organization, where all farms must be named. My father recently sent me a photo of a sheep farm called, "Against Dad's Will." That pretty much sums up my dad's thoughts on still having our sheep. 

 

 

 

 

- Cambridge Botanical Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Queen of the Botanical Gardens (for 5 seconds before moving on)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- I like bugs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    And finally: Wisbech. Frankly, this town was much larger than I expected with a nice market and very old town centre and church. That said, it was a bit run down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   My maternal grandparents were Lithuanian and there was clearly a large Eastern European population currently in Wisbech based on the various languages and shops I saw represented. Just a little familial amusement. 

 

 

 

 

 

- And last but not least, a very grumpy man surrounded by flowers. 

 

   So there you have it, my lingering thoughts and images from my September trip. While I meant to make a bit more sense of them all, at least I hope enjoy a photo or two.

   Next entry I'll make sure to tell a little story from Split, Croatia. 

Snowdon with my Father: A Recreation of an Internal Monologue

Roughly in order of events. 

*Driving with my father in this country is 100% terrible. The roads and oncoming traffic feel like death approaching.
*So tired. Why no coffee this morning? Why DAD!?

* It is no where near as cold as I planned for. I have way too much clothing packed.
*Sweaty back. It begins.

*SHEEP!

*The air smells clear here. Such still water. So nice. 

*Just stunning.

*Interesting little ruin. Hmm, does the path go around the other side?

*And now it goes up. Time for 'UP.'

*Dad! Stop whining! Why do you continue to go hiking with me?

*Evolution really benefitted man.

*Gentle start here. I can do this, its easier than I expected. Oh, you've got to be kidding me! Its a wall of stairs. A. Mountain. Wall. Of. Stairs.

*Hilarious eavesdropping of a young woman refusing to go any higher and telling her dad to go on, she'd wait there. He appeared to be forcing her to exercise. I wonder how that played out.

*My legs are not in great shape here.

*The sheep here know no limits. They are just casually hanging out all the way up this pile of rocks. I keep thinking we've seen the last, then there is another. And another.

*Its always a bit shameful getting lapped.
*Going up the Miner's Path first was a good idea. Hard up, gentle down. 

*My thighs! Oh, my pitiful thighs!

*Very glad we did not know about the restaurant at the top. Dad hates the concept so much. I definitely saved myself some grumbling there. That said, the cold beer was grand.

*Nap time?

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*The people at the summit are a very juxtaposed group of charming nature lovers and the worst loud, moment-ruining hordes of people whom feel compelled to yell, litter, and detract from the view and any concept of peace.
*Moved and found a nicer, quieter spot. Much less angry now. More food.

* This is me! (a sweaty version)

*I would have loved to have another day to explore the land around here.

*Vegan food, not so easy to find in the small town here. Bread for lunch! And maybe a bunch of Oreos. 

* Cheater train. 

*Hmm, actually had extra water this journey. Beer must have replaced it.

*Yep, now its my calves. Why are gyms so expensive. Do I really have to start running again?

*END: I did not love the way down. It follows the train tracks and in general lacks all notion of wilderness. Far too many over worked little dogs and ill-prepared groups of teens yelling back and forth. Too busy for my taste and lacking the superb views of the ascent. I am clearly just not a people person.

*But the way up, and Snowdon in general was wonderful. The vast views from the climb: hills and peaks, sheep, such greens, and cold mountain waters. A pleasant day mainly composed of great scenery, leg pain and its resulting shame, beer, and a quiet, comfortable father-daughter silence punctuating by dad's complaints. 

 

Snowdon Mountain, Snowdonia, Wales. 

Estonia: Part 3 of 3 - Saaremaa and Midsummer

    My trip to Estonia in June was mainly comprised of two parts. The first was that of Tallinn city, the second was on Saaremaa Island. It is on this island that I witnessed and participated in the Midsummer Holiday. The whole journey was a truly interesting experience, and not quite what I expected to find. I've finished my report on the project (which includes travel logs, interviews, traditions, short stories, my own response story in the folk narrative style, and a boat load of photographs). If you have the time, please take a look for it under my 'STORY SAMPLES' section of this website. 

    Below are two blocks of images: those of the island life and those of the Midsummer holiday. I hope you enjoy the images and are able to get a taste for the beautiful country, simple lifestyle, and celebrated traditions of Saaremaa Island.

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Yearning and Haggling at the Vintage Fair

Happy Sunday Everyone! I've had the proper lazy day whilst postponing paper work. My first stop this morning was browsing Judy's Affordable Vintage Fair at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle upon Tyne. This UK traveling vintage fair filled a large room (conveniently located near two cafes) with dozens of individual stalls.

 I haggled down a piece with that nice man in the stripped shirt. My mother would be proud.

I haggled down a piece with that nice man in the stripped shirt. My mother would be proud.

I arrived 10 minutes before 11, and by the time the doors opened there was a long line of anticipating shoppers. Most were women though quite a few families showed up. Many vendors and shoppers alike came dressed in 1940's through 1970's inspired outfits.  

One of the fair's selling points that inspired me to get out of the house on a Sunday, was the 'affordable' in Judy's Affordable Vintage Fair. While the rack above was marked 2 pounds and up, most of the articles were in the 15-25 pound range. Despite the median price being a bit high for my taste, there were tons of 5 pound racks, scarves, small pieces, and men's clothing that fell into the lower cost spectrum. Also, there is always the option to haggle at fairs and I did bring down a piece 3 pounds, which later went to my tea. 

I don't wear silk, but the 8 pound red and orange silk dress above almost convinced me otherwise. I did end up splurging on a couple head scarves and what I thought was a lovely, USA made dress but turned out to be my very first romper! Lucky me it still fit.

The fair was well stocked, full of friendly people, and very colorful. I will certainly try to go again the next time it is in Newcastle, prepared to show up early and mind the crowds.

The fair, located in the Biscuit Rooms of the Biscuit Factory sold teas and drinks downstairs. However, since I have a low tolerance for crowds, I went into the Biscuit Factory (full of local art for sale) to their cafe and had a wonderful soya chai latte overlooking the town. I like my chai a little spicier but the view was great and the tea hot and delicate. It most definitely was a charming Sunday morning.

Playing with Tradition - Making (Vegan) Lithuanian Kaldunai

Playing with Tradition - Making (Vegan) Lithuanian Kaldunai 

   Over Christmas break, I had the fortune to travel home and spend some time with my family. One evening, my mother took me to Maironis Park (Shrewsbury, Mass.) to learn to cook a proper Lithuanian dish from an old family friend starting up a casual, monthly cooking course. We made Kaldunai, or Lithuanian dumplings. These may be made from a few basic ingredients and for various occasions. They may be made with blueberries for desserts on Christmas Eve, mushrooms, pork, or anything you'd like. Most people in the class used a combination of pork and chicken, but being a non-meat eater, I made an onion and mushroom dumpling. This was made with butter, but I've now made my own (on my own!) completely vegan. 

I highly recommend this recipe for those who like traditional, belly-warming foods: perfect for wintertime!

*Note - my gallery blocks are malfunctioning so the images are a bit out of order, but I think you can catch on. 

Ingredients:

Dough: 

1 1/2 c. flour

1/2 c. water

1 tsp. salt

1 egg optional - if you are a non-vegan, the egg makes the dough chewier but is frequently left out of the recipe

Filling: 

1 carton mushrooms (plain white caps or choice of preference) -diced 

1 yellow onion - diced 

1 garlic clove - diced finely, raw

dash of marjarom (if you don't have this, a bit less of oregano or Italian spice mix will do)

salt and pepper to taste

vegan butter of choice (I like Pure's sunflower oil butter spread)


   To start off, the mushrooms should be diced and fried in butter until a soft, warm brown and just a bit past. This should be done first since the mushrooms need to cool off before being stuffed. Be generous with the butter so the mushrooms may soak in all its buttery goodness. After this you want to drain any water cooked out of the mushrooms and set aside. Start frying the onion until it begins to soften and brown (do not overcook, you want some white remaining!) As this is cooking, you can set a large pot full of salted water to boil. 

   The dough is much easier than I expected, but a bit messy. As with much traditional cooking (like every recipe I ask for from my mother) it is 'to the eye.' I had doubled the dough recipe but ended up with way to much, so I cut the ingredients in half for this entry. All you need to do is put the flour, water, and salt in a bowl and knead it together with your hands. This will be sticky and messy but good fun. You should work the dough until it is decently solid and no longer sticky, if necessary add more flour. (Note: it will be sticky at first until the dough is worked for a few minutes) This process takes only about 10 minutes.

   Check the onions and if they are done, pour half into the mushroom bowl. To this mixture, add a few dashes of salt, pepper, and a large dash of marjoram. I love salt and added more than the recipe called for, and would do so again. The marjoram really amps up the filling from tasting too plain and of bland mushroom. Mix in the garlic here as well. This then, again, should cool. The other half of the onions can keep cooking on low heat to a nice crisp. These will be used as a topping later on.

  Now roll the dough, be generous with the flour to keep it from getting to sticky. You want the dough to be very thin, but not yet transparent. This about of dough with make about 35 small dumplings, about 3-4 servings. I eat a lot, but most people probably would only eat 8-9 in a sitting. After rolling, cut the dough using a glass cup and stuff the circles with the cooled down filling. It is okay if the filling is still a bit warm. Each circle will have a small teaspoon of filling, then should be folded in half and pressed closed. Be sure to really close the dumpling and score it with a fork or your nail to keep them from falling apart during boiling. 

   After filling the dumplings, sprinkle some flour on both sides to keep them from sticking in the pot. After dusting, you may cook them all or choose to freeze them. Once the water is boiling, add the dumplings to the pot. Like ravioli, do not over fill the pot or try to cook too many at once. The dumplings will sink; stir them gently. Once they all are floating, let them cook for five minutes. Since there is no meat to cook, the dough is all you need to worry about and can taste test. I would not cook over about 7 minutes. 

  Place the cooked dumplings in a colander or a paper towel to remove excess water, then plate up. This dish is normally topped with a mixture of onion and bacon bits, butter, and sour cream (healthy, I know!). I added more fake butter, salt, and the crispy onions. It was delicious, and this morning I fried some leftovers in oil. It is even better this way. Other than making too much dough, I think it turned out quite nicely. 

Good luck making your own or daydreaming of warm, winter foods!

 mmm....butter substitute, my love. 

mmm....butter substitute, my love. 

Winter: Strafford, NH vs. Newcastle, UK

    In anticipation for my journey back home for Christmas, I've compiled a few photographs comparing this year's fall/winter seasons of my parents home (in Strafford, New Hampshire) and my current place of residency, Newcastle upon Tyne.  Both are beautiful, but in quite different ways. While I love living in Newcastle, I am ridiculously excited to return to a place with snow. Click the photos for captions.

Also, for everyone's enjoyment, a couple of my father's photos of NH include his two puppies, Bea and Rex. Enjoy!

Enjoy your winter celebrations wherever in the world you are. Stay warm and dry!

And one more puppy photo for the road. 

Nov. 15, 2014. Photo: Sam Sutton