Saturday, December 10, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 10, Tell me a Story!

Today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, a Latvian Christmas story by Margarita Stāraste Barvika, with an introduction by Inga! Without further ado...

Latvians have  folk tales, myths, and stories for just about anything and for any occasion. Christmas is no exception – it is a magical time of the year, when unexplainable events occur, when animals talk, when everyday objects get a life of their own, and the nights hold a magic all their own.  This is one of my favorite Latvian Christmas stories, with the original illustrations. We read this story over and over when our children were young, and have even produced a couple of theatric versions, with wonderful costumes (of potatoes, brooms, floor can imagine)!

Source here
The author and illustrator, Margarita Stāraste Barvika, is a prolific Latvian painter, children's book author and illustrator of about 100 of her own and other authors' books. Born in 1914, she studied art and graduated from the Latvijas Mākslas Akadēmija (Art Academy of Latvia) under the tutelage of some of the most well-known and regarded Latvian painters of the day. She began writing and illustrating children's books in 1942. Her books have been translated into several other languages, among them Polish, Lithuanian, English, German, Russian and Japanese. Several of her books have been the basis for animated films. Barvika died in Latvia in February of 2014 , sixteen days after celebrating her 100th birthday. She received several literary and cultural awards for her work during her lifetime.

Source here
This particular story is from Ziemassvētku pasakas (Christmas stories), first published in 1943; the edition we own re-released by Grāmatu draugs in 1962.

Christmas Night in the Kitchen
(by Margarita Stāraste Barvika)

It was Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve tends to become quite an interesting Christmas night, because often odd, magical, unbelievable and peculiar events take place. And here is the story of what took place on this one particular Christmas night.

The stout cook had removed her holiday apron and left for bed. Suddenly, some very unusual voices could be heard in the kitchen. "Listen!" the large wooden spoon piped up creakily, "every one of us kitchen servants has diligently worked hard throughout the year. It is Christmas Eve, and we deserve some fun!" "Yes, yes!" exclaimed the dish towel, who was hanging on a peg, pale and overworked, "we do need a change of pace!" The bristle broom came forward from her corner and suggested organizing a Christmas party. Everyone immediately agreed, and all the plates' clean, bright faces beamed in delight.

Only the old Dachshund dozing on his blanket by the hearth grumbled in discontent. "Do what you want!" he said, "But be quiet and sensible about it! Don't disturb the peaceful night for me and the people in the household."

The wooden spoon ignored the dog's worries: it wasn't even worth listening to such an old dog with such an old-fashioned point of view, who was constantly grumbling about one thing or another.

Everyone who wanted to have some fun together, maybe even dance a bit, gathered in the center of the kitchen.

Two terra-cotta bowls carefully climbed down from the china shelves, followed by five cheerful cups with delicate flowers painted on their left sides, ten merry plates, three fragile-natured tea glasses, and a white porcelain sugar bowl with a lid. This sugar bowl was quite old, but was in the habit of reminding everyone that his insides – well, those are quite young, as they are renewed twice a week.

The spoons, forks, and knives grew very restless in their drawer. They would have loved to take part in the Christmas festivities, but they were unable to open the heavy drawer in which the cook had imprisoned them. Luckily, the pantry door had been left ajar, and now through it came six smiling young rosy-cheeked apples. A sturdy milk bottle, several many-eyed potatoes, a pleasant carrot, and a small grey sack of groats soon followed.

Last to slowly toddle from the pantry were the pantry's most venerable inhabitants – three large jars of home-made jam. 

Even the logs and kindling sleeping near the hearth got up to join in. Tomorrow morning the cook would feed them to the fire anyway, and that's why they wanted to have as much fun as possible tonight.

But the most joyous of all the kitchen's denizens were the large stock-pot and the old floor rag.

"How nice, that I will finally have a chance to experience a party!" the floor rag whispered in delight, "until now, I have only had to do heavy, dirty work."

"My life is even more difficult and painful than yours!" the stock-pot protested. "Every day I patiently sit and allow my bottom to be scorched, and no one even asks whether it's uncomfortable or too hard to bear. But tonight I will forget my cares and troubles and make merry!"

The stock-pot invited two small crocks to join him, and they amicably moved to the center of the kitchen, where all the carousers had gathered.

"If we want to dance, we need music!" suggested a small, wooden box, full of aromatic linden flower tea.

Shortly, something akin to music could be heard in the kitchen: pots mightily clanging together, the silverware, trapped in the drawer, jumping around in glee, and the fragile tea glasses gently and pleasantly clinking together. The music was awesome, and the dancing began!

The firewood danced bouncing up and down, terra-cotta bowls slowly spun, plates rolled around, the wooden spoon romped all over and the dish towel giddily flapped around and got dizzy. The broom walked here and there every now and then stomping her only leg, the rosy apples played leapfrog and the blushing carrot rolled around on the floor. The potatoes, not being very good dancers, kind of  got in everyone's way.

Even the old dachshund, sleeping on his blanket, opened an eye. He was no longer grumbling, because his dog-heart felt quite warm and generous, seeing how happy everyone else was. And quite accidentally, the old dog's tail began to keep time by thumping on the floor.

Oh, what thrilling music and what a splendid Christmas party!

Only the sugar bowl and the three venerable jam jars from the pantry were being especially careful in their carousing, because they needed to be mindful of their sweet insides. Arms at their sides, smiling, they slowly swayed from side to side. Everyone was dancing and enjoying themselves in their own way, except the very discontented floor rag, who was tossing about all by herself. No one wanted to welcome her into their group because she was damp and did not look very pretty. 

The festivities continued in this manner all night. Towards morning the first mishap occurred: dancing in delight and with great exhuberance, the little grey groat sack had lost its ribbon, the tiny groats spilled all over, and the sack went flat. Now it could not even move, nor get anywhere on its own.

Due to this catastrophe, the Christmas party broke up and was definitely over. There was great agitation and concern, but most anxious of all was the old Dachshund.

"The groats must be put back into the sack immediately, and the ribbon must be retied!" the Dachshund firmly declared.

But there was no one among the carousers who knew how to do such things. Everyone just stood around balefully looking on. No one knew how to save the spilled groats.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, the alarm clock buzzed in the maid's room. The celebration participants started, and began hurrying away as fast as they were able. Everyone needed to be back, each in their correct place, before the maid finished getting dressed – the people in the home did not need to know about the secret Christmas night party at all!

The sturdy milk bottle, the rosy-cheeked apples, and the venerable jam jars marched back into the pantry, followed quickly by the many-eyed potatoes and the good-looking carrot.

The pale dish towel hung himself back on the peg, the firewood stacked itself into a neat pile, and all the plates, cups, bowl, glasses and the aromatic wooden box of linden flower tea all arranged themselves neatly on their shelves.

Even the broom, all the pots, the dejected floor rag and the large wooden spoon hurried back to their customary spots.

Only the old sugar bowl was really unlucky – in a hurry, the bowl knocked into a sharp corner of the hearth, and remained there, broken into tiny shards with sugar spilled all over...

When the maid entered the kitchen, she was left standing with her mouth open in surprise.

Just take a look at her clean and tidy kitchen!  The little grey groat sack lay on the floor with all the groats spilled, and the sugar bowl – the beautiful old sugar bowl was broken to pieces!

The maid became very angry. The only possible culprit responsible for the mess could only be the old Dachshund. Who would have expected this from a dog that old!? He acts so weak and ill that he can hardly move, but look at what he does when no one is watching – climbs up the shelves to get sugar and pulls the groats from the pantry! What an unpleasant dog!

The Dachshund tried to defend himself, humbly wagging his tail and wrinkling his nose. He explained that he could care less about groats or sugar, and that he had nothing to do with anything at all.

But the maid understood nothing of his dog-language. The Dachshund was at fault, that was that, and must receive a spanking. The old dog did not forget this injustice for a very long time. He was in a bad mood and grumbled to himself often for many of the following days.

The old Dachshund firmly resolved to never allow the kitchen residents to repeat such a folly as a Christmas night party, for which he – the innocent dog, had to receive a spanking.

Svētku nakts virtuvē
(Margarita Stāraste Barvika)

ija Ziemassvētku nakts. Un šī nakts mēdz būt dīvaina nakts, jo tad aizvien gadās pavisam neticāmi notikumi. Un tā bija arī šajos Ziemassvētkos.

Kad tuklā virēja bija noraisījusi savu balto svētku priekšautu un aizgājusi gulēt, tad virtuvē sāka skanēt pavisam neparastas balsis. Klausieties!" pavārnīca kokaini pīkstēja, visu gadu mēs, virtuves kalpi, esam centīgi strādājuši. Nu ir Ziemassvētku nakts, un mums arī reiz vajadzētu tā drusku papriecāties!" Jā, jā!" iesaucās trauku dvielis, kas bāls un pārstrādājies karājās pie sienas, mums arī reiz vajadzētu kādu pārmaiņu!" Tad saru slota iznāca no sava kakta un ieteicās, ka vajadzētu sarīkot Ziemassvētku balli. Tam tūliņ visi piekrita, un šķīvju gaišās sejas taisni laistījās no lielas sajūsmas.

Tikai vecais taksis, kas gulēja pie krāsns uz savas sedziņas, neapmierināts ieņurdējās.  Dariet ko gribiet!" viņš teica, bet tikai uzvedieties klusi un prātīgi! Netraucējiet nakts mieru man un cilvēkiem."

Bet pavārnīca tikai atmeta ar roku. Nebija jau nemaz vērts klausīties tādā vecā sunī, kas mūžīgi rūca un kuŗam bija tādi vecmodīgi uzskati.

Un tad virtuves vidū salasījās visi tie, kas gribēja drusku papriecāties un padejot.

No trauku plaukta uzmanīgi nokāpa divas sarkanbrūnas māla bļodas, piecas omulīgas tasītes ar puķītēm uz kreisajiem sāniem, desmit jautri šķīvji, trīs trauslas dabas tējas glāzes un kāds balts porcelāna cukurtrauks ar visu vāku. Šis cukurtrauks bija jau gados krietni pavecs, bet viņš vēl arvien visiem mēdza teikt, ka iekšas – tās gan viņam esot pilnīgi jaunas, jo tās mēdzot atjaunoties divreiz nedēļā.

Karotes, dakšiņas un naži kļuva savā atvilktnē ļoti nemierīgi. Tie visi būtu tik labprāt piedalījušies lielajā Ziemassvētku ballē, bet viņi nekā nespēja atvilkt vaļā smago atvilkni, kuŗā virēja viņus bija ieslodzījusi. Par laimi pieliekamā kambaŗa durvis bija palikušas pievērtas, un nu pa šķirbu laimīgi smaidošām sejām un pietvīkušiem vaigiem izlīda seši apaļi ābolu jaunskungi. Viņiem sekoja padrukna piena pudele, vairāki acaini kartupeļi, viens patīkams burkāns un pelēks putraimu maisiņš.

Beidzamie no pieliekamā kambaŗa lēni izčāpoja trīs resni ievārījumu podi.

Tie bija paši cienījamākie pieliekamā kambaŗa iemītnieki.

Arī malkas pagales, kas gulēja pie krāsns, piecēlās, lai piedalītos ballē, jo rīt jau tā kā tā virēja viņas iebāzīšot ugunī. Tāpēc viņas vēl gribot šonakt tā jautri padzīvot.

Bet no visiem virtuves iemītniekiem vispriecīgākais bija lielais katls un vecā grīdas lupata.

Cik jauki, ka nu reiz es piedzīvošu balli!" grīdas lupata laimīgi čukstēja, līdz šim es esmu strādājusi tikai smagu, netīru darbu."

Mana dzīve ir vēl krietni grūtāka kā tava!" lielais katls iesaucās, katru dienu es pacietīgi atļauju svilināt savu dibenu, un neviens man pat neprasa – vai tas man nav par grūtu. Bet šonakt es aizmirsīšu visas nepatikšanas un būšu jautrs!"

Tad katls paņēma pie rokas divus podiņus un viņi visi draudzīgi aizgāja uz virtuves vidu, kur jau bija salasījušies visi ballinieki.

Bet lai dejotu, tad ir vajadzīga kaut kāda mūzika!" ieteicās kāda maza koka cibiņa, kuŗā smaržoja liepu ziedu tēja.

Un brīdi vēlāk virtuvē tiešām sāka skanēt kaut kas mūzikai līdzīgs: katli sita spēcīgi sānus kopā, dakšiņas un naži atvilknē palēkdamies jauki žvadzēja, un tējas glāzes viena otrai piesizdamās patīkami tinkšķēja. Tā bija varena mūzika, un nu varēja sākt dejot.

Malkas pagales dancoja uz augšu palēkdamās, sarkanbrūnās māla bļodas lēni griezās, šķīvji ripoja, pavārnīca delverēja un dvielis plātījās kā apreibis. Slota staigāja piesizdama savu vienīgo kāju, āboli lēca viens otram pāri, sārtais burkāns vēlās pa grīdu un acainie kartupeļi, nemācēdami labi dejot, maisījās visiem pa vidu.

Arī vecais taksis, gulēdams uz savas sedziņas, pavēra acis. Viņš vairs neņurdēja, jo viņa suņa sirds tīri kā iesila, skatoties kā citi priecājās. Un pavisam neviļus arī vecā takša aste sāka sist pa grīdu taktij līdzi.

Ak, kas tā bija par aizraujošu mūziku un kas tā bija par lielisku balli!

Tikai cukura trauks un trīs cienījamie ievārījuma podi, kas bija iznākuši no pieliekamā kambaŗa, izskatījās savos priekos ļoti lēni un apdomīgi, jo viņiem bija jāpadomā arī par savām saldajām iekšām. Iespieduši rokas sānos viņi smaidīdami lēni šūpojās no vienas puses uz otru. Katram bija sava deja un savs prieks, tikai grīdas lupata bija ļoti neapmierināta un mētājās viena pati. Neviens viņu negribēja ņemt savā pulkā, jo viņa bija vēl mitra un izskatījās ļoti neglīta.

Tā šī balle turpinājās visu nakti. Bet tad uz rīta pusi gadījās liela nelaime: pelēkajam putraimu maisiņam no lielas sajūsmas atgāja vaļā saite, izbira visi sīkie putraimiņi un saplaka viss maisiņa vēders. Nu putraimu maisiņš vairs nevarēja ne pakustēties, ne uz priekšu tikt.

Tā bija milzīga nelaime, un putraimu maisiņa dēļ izjuka visa Ziemassvētku balle. Bija liels uztraukums, bet visvairāk uztraucās vecais taksis.

Putraimi tūliņ jāsabeŗ atpakaļ maisiņā un maisiņam jāaizsien gals!" taksis stingri pavēlēja.

Bet starp balliniekiem nebija neviena, kas tādas lietas prastu. Visi tikai stāvēja un nelaimīgi skatījās. Neviens nezināja, kā saglābt izbirušos putraimus.

Tad pavisam negaidot kalpones istabā sāka tarkšķēt modinātājs. Nu ballinieki tā satrūkās, ka metās prom, cik vien ātri spēdami. Kamēr kalpone ģērbās, tikmēr visiem vajadzēja būt atpakaļ – katram savā vietā, jo cilvēkiem nekas nebija jāzina par slepeno Ziemassvētku nakts balli.

Druknā piena pudele, āboli ar piesarkušiem vaigiem un cienījamie ievārījuma podi iesoļoja atpakaļ pieliekamā kambarī, un pēc tam tur iesteidzās arī visi acainie kartupeļi un glītais burkāns.

Bālais dvielis pakārās uz vadža, pagales sakrāvās kārtīgi kaudzē, un visi šķīvji, tasītes, bļodas, glāzes un cibiņa ar liepu ziedu tēju sakārtojās savos plauktos.

Arī slota, katli, skumjā grīdas lupata un pavārnīca aizsteidzās uz savām parastajām vietām.

Tikai vecam cukura traukam šoreiz nelaimējās – viņš lielajā steigā uzdrāzās krāsns stūrim un palika tur guļot, saplīsis smalkos gabalos un izbārstījis visu savu cukuru...

Kad virtuvē ienāca kalpone, tad viņa no lielā pārsteiguma palika stāvam ar vaļā muti.

Kāda gan izskatījās viņas tīrā un kārtīgā virtuve! Uz grīdas gulēja pelēkā putraimu kulīte un no tās bija izbiruši visi putraimiņi, un cukura trauks – vecais skaistais cukura trauks bija saplēsts!

Kalpone nu kļuva ļoti dusmīga. Vainīgs te varot būt vienīgi vecais taksis. Kas gan to būtu varējis domāt no tāda suņa! Tā viņš izliekoties tik slims un vārgs, ka ne pakustēties nevarot, bet, lūk, ko viņš darot ja neviena neesot klāt: kāpjot plauktā pēc cukura un izvelkot putraimu maisiņu no pieliekamā kambaŗa! Tādu nejauku suni!

Taksis gan mēģināja taisnoties padevīgi luncinādam asti un degunu raustīdams.

Viņš teica, ka cukurs un putraimi tam esot pilnīgi vienaldzīgi un, ka viņš pie visa tā nemaz neesot vainīgs.

Bet kalpone neko nesaprata no tādas valodas. Vecajam taksim bija jāpaliek par vainīgo un jāsaņem pēriens. Bet šo netaisno pārestību taksis vēl ilgi nevarēja aizmirst. Viņš vēl bieži pie sevis rūca un bija ļoti sapīcis.

Taksis cieši apņēmās nekad vairs virtuves iemītniekiem neatļaut rīkot tādu tik neprātīgu balli, par ko viņam – nevainīgam sunim beigās jāsaņem pēriens.

And that is the tale of Christmas night in the kitchen... Thank you Inga, for your research on the author and work translating what is one of the favorite children's Christmas stories of my childhood! Inga has previously joined us with pīrāgu and piparkūku recipes, and with this post on puzuri - if you haven't already, make sure to take a look. Personally, this is a post that I'll be bookmarking to read with the boys one evening, as we don't have the book. I hope you'll join us tomorrow for a snowy winter's excursion on Day 11 of the 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 9 and a southern piparkūka

I’ve always thought of piparkūku baking as very much a social endeavor. This time of year is full of community baking events, fundraisers for churches and schools (who sell the piparkūkas at the annual Christmas bazaaar), get-togethers for youth organizations, or just friends getting together to enjoy one another’s company while rolling, cutting and decorating the fragile cookies. It’s the thought of the comraderie in the kitchen, and of the joy in sharing this tradition with others that prompts my attempts to bring the Latvians in our area together for a piparkūku cepšana. And although we skip a year or two here and there, there are the successful years like this one that make me want to go ahead and schedule one for next year!

photo credit Inga Lucans

13 children, 4 adults, 3.5 pounds of dough. Possibly 4 pounds of sprinkles.

Photo credit Sarmīte

We used a pasta rolling attachment on the KitchenAid mixer; can you imagine trying to roll out dough for thirteen children? This is the pasta roller attachment I own – it’s a little bit of an investment, but I’ve used it for several years now and it’s great for getting that consistent thickness that bakes evenly.

The piparkūku mīklas recipe is the same one that appeared on this blog during the first year of the series, A Baltic Christmas Day 5 - Piparkūkas! It is also the same one that is used by the KBLS Latvian School in Chicago to bake their 60 pounds of cookies to sell at the school’s Christmas bazaar. Yep, 60! While I’m here wondering how I’m going to bake all three pounds, the churches there reportedly bake 300!!

As I write this the smell of our afternoon spent baking still lingers, but the cookie tin on the kitchen counter is emptier by half. I still have 2 pounds of dough left, and although we’ll spend another day or two baking with the boys, I’ll probably end up finishing the last pound or so by myself one evening after they’ve gone to bed… why let the boys have all the fun!

Which brings me back to my original thought about how piparkūku baking is very much a social endeavor; maybe this isn’t entirely true. My friend asked me if I would like her to prepare another couple of pans’ worth of piparkūkas for me in return for the enjoyable afternoon, and I replied no thanks, as although it’s work, it’s the kind of work I enjoy. Because as much as I enjoy the company while rolling, pressing and baking, I’m also looking forward to some solitary time pressing out the little piparkūku hearts and hedgehogs; some quiet reflection on the memories brought on by the smell of piparkūkas in the oven, the feel of the dough as I transfer my cookies to the pan, the taste of that cookie that was just a little too long in the oven…

Which one of these didn't make it to the tin? Hint: trick question!

Thank you to all who joined us for an afternoon of piparkūku baking, and a special thanks to Sarmīte for capturing all those special moments and sharing her photos! As you can see from the past several days on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, between the medus torte and the piparkūkas we’re well on our way into the holiday goodies. Tomorrow on Day 10 it’s a journey back to a Latvian childhood with “Tell me a Story!” I hope you’ll join us!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 8 and Latvian Honey Torte

It comes as no surprise that the rich, sweet-yet-tangy medus torte disappears at most Latvian gatherings, however what I found surprising is that there are dozens of variants on the cake, not only among Latvian saimnieces, but from kitchens all across Europe. Recently variations on the theme have been popping up in the US, probably due to appearances on blogs such as Smitten Kitchen, where a Russian Honey Cake recipe appeared just a few months ago. Then you have the Lithuanian version - tortas pensininkas - and the Estonian version, meetort; Pille (who joined us last year on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas with Pehme piparkook) featured this meekook on her blog Nami-Nami.

The following honey torte recipe is my mother's. After sifting through the recipes from several old Latvian cookbooks, she combined bits and pieces of them and then converted from metric measurements. With a few final adjustments she has achieved an end result that is a bit simpler than some of the 12-layer, three-day cakes I’ve seen online, but still retains the essence of a Latvian medus torte.

On a day that I had designated honey cake day, two of the boys’ friends came over and together they all donned aprons; the several hours that ensued were full of flour dust, sticky fingers and repeated hand-washing, but ended with complete quiet around the table as everyone dug in. The boys required assistance with spreading and baking the dough, and of course with the eating; however, this is a relatively simple effort with a complex yield! Perfect to bring as a dessert because it will appear as if you’ve spent days in the kitchen, yet it’s unpretentious and gives a subtle nod to your Baltic heritage. Best part is, the flavors meld with a bit of rest, and so it can be made ahead of time and will actually taste even better.

Latvian Honey Torte 


For cake:
BUTTER                  3 tablespoons
SUGAR                    1 cup
EGGS                      3
HONEY                    1 cup
Wheat FLOUR          1 cup
White FLOUR           2 cups
BAKING SODA           3 teaspoons
LEMON ZEST            from ½ lemon

For filling:
SOUR CREAM            1 cup
Unsalted BUTTER     ½ cup
SUGAR                     ½ cup
LEMON JUICE            a few drops

For decoration:
Chopped nuts, crumbled cake, red currant or other jelly, powdered sugar


         1)    Preheat oven to 425˚F.
         2)    Lightly grease and flour six round or square pans, all the same size.
                     (You may bake in several batches if you don’t have six pans, or 
                     your oven cannot fit them all at once – the layers bake quickly)
         3)    Beat sugar and butter together until light in color.
         4)    Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
         5)    Stir in honey.
         6)    Sift both flours together with the baking soda, then sift into dough 
              and mix thoroughly.
         7)    Add lemon zest, stir in using a spoon.
         8)    Divide dough evenly into six pans – each will be a thin layer.
         9)    Bake 6-10 minutes, watching closely until golden brown.
         10) Turn out onto a towel or rack to cool.


         1)    Beat all filling ingredients together, until mixture is smooth.


         1)  When cake layers have cooled, spread filling, adding layers and filling 
              one at time.
         2)    Spread filling on the sides of the cake. The top of the cake can be iced 
              with filling, or glazed with jelly, or sprinkled with powdered sugar.
         3)    Decorate with chopped nuts, crumbles, berries… use your imagination!

If the cake has opportunity to ‘rest,’ the flavors will meld and the cake will taste even better!

Our notes:
We used 8” pans and baked in two batches. We probably could have gone larger, but this way we had an extra layer to crumble for topping.
- This is a very sticky dough, which makes sense because it has a cup of honey in it! We used a spatula to spread it into the cake pans as thinly as possible, and were rewarded with 6 layers + one to crumble for topping. 
- The baking is the trickiest part; if not baked long enough it will stick to the pan, but if left in too long the edges will burn. We rotated the three pans in the oven and kept a really close eye on them and still messed up one layer – luckily we needed crumbs for the topping.
- We turned the layers out onto a rack to cool, and had a bit of difficulty getting them off the grid rack once cooled – it’s really a sticky dough!
- In addition to crumbles, we used chopped pecans for the topping, because what goes better with honey than pecans?
- The four little chefs didn’t have much patience for ‘melding,’ and luckily the torte was delicious even without the rest. However, a day or two later the filling had soaked into the cake layers and made for a decadent dessert.

Inga has previously joined us on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas with the following recipes and posts: Another Baltic Christmas - Day 14, PĪRĀGI, PĪRĀGI!
She has taught Latvian cooking and baking to children and adults at various Latvian schools and camps, and together with my vecmamma Ilze could easily fill a cookbook with delicious, traditional Latvian recipes. I’m so happy to feature her medus torte today on Day 8 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! A liels paldies to Inga for allowing me to share the recipe; I hope that it’s as much of a hit in our reader's test kitchens as it was with ours! Thanks also to Holden, Finn, Lauris and Mikus; I enjoyed my time in the kitchen with the four friends.

Now I would love to hear from the you! Is this the medus torte of your childhood? What is it called in your language? Any tips or tricks you can recommend? I’m fascinated with the variations on this favorite, as well as the geographic spread the cake has managed without losing its identity, and would love to hear from all of you – what makes a honey torte a honey torte?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Yet Another Baltic Christmas - Day 7, the gift guide

Looking for a unique gift idea for that hard-to-shop-for Baltic friend on your list? The Femme au Foyer secret shoppers have been busy for the past few months, and here with the short list of top Baltic gifts this year is our buyer, Rūķītis Jānis…

Whether you are looking for a gift for the host/hostess, or a thank you for that teacher/scout leader, here are a few suggestions that will have you buying doubles – one for them and one for you!


This calendar by the Latvian National Culture Centre features authentic replicas of 7th-14th century garb representing all the chiefdoms of Late Iron Age Latvia. Available in the U.S. through Balticsmith, there is also a weekly planner that contains additional images and text. The calendar is in Latvian and English, the planner only in Latvian.

(As seen at the Seattle Bazaar!) 

These “I heart pīrāgi” aprons ($20) are durable and high-quality, and will make you look good even when wilting from the heat of the piparkūku oven! Additional products include a maroon Sveiks t-shirt  (kids size 2 - youth large,  $15), gray Latvija t-shirts (adult sizes Ladies S - XL, Men's S – XXL, $20) and Keep Calm & Eat Pīrāgi tote bags ($10). All proceeds go to the Seattle Latvian school! To purchase, and for more information, please e-mail Andra (andrafreet at gmail dot com).

For a bluķu vilkšana that you don’t have to cut down a tree for, visit your local Home Depot’s outdoor section for a Light‘n Go Bonfire Jumbo log. Grown and treated in Estonia, these birch logs are all-natural, kiln-dried fire starters. With pre-cut slots if you choose to 'burn your worries,' a paperboard wick for lighting and a rope handle for easy carrying, the log is an all-in-one bluķis; all you need to do is pull it and burn it!

If you have Marshalls and TJ-Maxx nearby, chances are you can find Laima Chocolates in your neighborhood! This year we found Tiramisu and Crème Brûlée flavored filled dark chocolates for $3.29/5oz package.


Ludviks Designs, as seen at the Toronto One of a Kind Show, features jewelry “inspired by our Scandinavian and Baltic roots, creating playful and unique designs that strike a balance between geometric and organic, fragile and strong, precious and ordinary, traditional and modern.” Because it shouldn’t be just your Christmas tree wearing the puzuri this holiday season…

This coloring book is perfect for ethnic folk art traditionalists of Latvian, Lithuanian and Nordic descent! Just released in November, it's almost guaranteed the friends on your list don't already have the Baltica: Pattern and Design Coloring Book...  Or perhaps one of the many Nordic and Scandinavian-themed books? The newest out are Scandinavian Coloring Book (Zeena Shah) and Journey in Color: Scandinavian Designs (Molly Hatch), although we own Scandinavian Folk Patterns (Creative Coloring For Grown-Ups) and find the designs therapeutic and seemingly familiar. 

So your sports fan already has Porziņģis gear? How about a Mindaugas Kuzminskas jersey to add to his Knicks apparel collection; the rookie forward has gradually been improving, and is seeing increased game time due to his driving ability, 3-point shooting and ability to rebound. However, if it’s the Latvian/Lithuanian combo that hold the key to your heart, maybe tickets to a game are the way to go; remember to save up to 25% on Knicks games at Madison Square Gardens with the discount code RIGAKP!

This wooden calendar isn’t cheap, but it has become a treasured part of the boys’ connection to our Latvian heritage. Through hands-on application children learn the concepts of seasons, months and weeks, while celebrating the traditional rhythms and holidays of the Latvian year nourishes the Baltic soul. We purchased ours at the Dziesmu Svētku tirdziņš in Rīga last year, but luckily this handmade work of art is also available online. has brought the usual wit to the table with their 2016 collection, “kas par desām” and their karstā mērce shirts being two of my favorites. With tank tops and aprons available in addition to a wide variety of t-shirts, you’ll find something that recent GVV graduate will gladly wear. The Rīga skyline is a classic… (Editor's note: we have this one in long and short sleeves and it is super-comfortable and durable!)

These 16oz glasses are practical, even if not being used for their intended purpose. As a side note, when will the 24 Days of Christmas series feature a krupnikas recipe? (Editor's note: Jāni, are you volunteering?)

New York Times Bestseller Ruta Sepetys returns to WWII with an epic novel Salt to the Sea. The Lithuanian-American author of Between Shades of Gray writes historical fiction. Another new novel based in this time period is Jaak Jurison’s The Last Train from Estonia, a story of survival, resilience and ingenuity that parallels present-day conflict in Eastern Europe. And for the Baltic trifecta, The Hidden Letters of Velta B is a spellbinding novel by Gina Ochsner about “a boy with extraordinary ears who, with the help of a cache of his great-grandmother’s letters, brings healing to a town burdened by the sins of its past.” And if poetry is what you're looking for, take a look at recent publications by Laris Krēsliņš, Atlaidas/Es. and Puķes. Vietā.  

And finally, check out this set of 4 Latvian symbol cookie cutters. The stainless steel Zalktis, Jumis, Auseklis & Krustu krusts cutters come with cookie recipes and a written explanations of the symbols. Available via Balticshop.

Thanks Rūķīt Jāni! If you’re still looking for a few more-traditional gift ideas, you might want to take a look at the 2014 gift guide, while a guide to the Balticshop seasonal favorites can be found here. And if all else fails, try your hand at making some pīrāgi – nobody says no to a gift of freshly baked pīrāgi!!! We’ll see you tomorrow on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas with a recipe for medus torte!

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