Thursday, March 17, 2011

Celebrating Egyptian independence in Bohemia!

When we were shopping at Kaufland Supermarkets the other day we were so delighted to find sweet potatoes (batati in Czech), Ipomoea batatas. Then, when we saw that they were grown in Egypt and shipped here for our enjoyment, we's time to make something special to celebrate Egypt's new Bohemian style!

As Mark was chatting with a dear friend of ours on Facebook the other morning, she said something about Jacques Pépin and Julia Child. Neil instantly remembered a show the two of them did some years ago where Jacques was making Potato Galettes or Pommes de Terre Galette and we thought...why not make some Egyptian Sweet Potato Galettes with a Bohemian flair? Since we can't go to Egypt at this time, why not celebrate their independence with some of the great food that they raise? A perfect foodie opportunity.

Egyptian Sweet Potato Galettes à la Rosenberg Rose
Jacques' Potato Galettes were made as pieces of thinly cut potatoes arranged in a circular fashion and fried in a hot pan. We thought we'd modify this idea a bit and make a five-petaled, single-flowered rose, resembling the Rosenberg's famous Renaissance five-petaled rose (see previous postings throughout our blog on the Rzmberks), as that is a well known, historic South Bohemian insignia.
The year 2011 is also the Year of the Rosenbergs (Rožmberský rok 2011), in honor of the 500th anniversary of the death of Petr Vok...the last ruling monarch in the family (he died in the Rzmberk Castle, Trebon after selling the Ceske Krumlov Castle to King Rudolf II, The Holy Roman Emporer)!  Ceske Krumlov is having various Rosenberg celebrations this year, cf.

You can also join the five-petaled rose group on Facebook:
Slavnosti pětilisté růže (Five-Petalled Rose Celebrations)

Here another example of the Rosenberg Rose. This one is from the Hluboka Jewish Cemetery:

Egyptian Sweet Potato Galettes à la Rosenberg Rose
Start by peeling one large sweet potato grown in Egypt. Sweet potatoes, by the way, are tuberous roots rather than tubers like the classic potato (brambory), Solanum tuberosum.
Then thinly slice the entire tuberous root:

Arrange five slices into five-petaled roses on an oiled baking sheet (we're not going to fry these, we'll roast them in the oven instead). Since you'll have different sizes of 'petals', put similar sized ones together and you'll end up with varying rose flower sizes as well.
Lightly salt/pepper these, along with adding some crushed fresh or dried thyme and rosemary.
Place in an oven at 160C (~350F) and gently roast until they're tender with a fork. Don't turn them over!
They'll look like this when they're ready to come out of the oven...a little browned around the edges...just perfect!
While these have been roasting, quickly prepare some poached eggs and waffles!

Plate all of these up on hot plates (warmed in the oven):
2 poached eggs
Egyptian Sweet Potato Galettes à la Rosenberg Rose
2 small waffles, slathered first with a bit of maslo (butter)..shown here in our Czech crystal butter dish from Chlum u Trebone glassworks
and then drenched with a fruit syrup (we used our Elderberry Syrup we made last August after harvesting a few around Moravian Wineries).

Pour some fresh coffee and pineapple juice (served here in our Bohemian crystal goblets from the Chlum u Trebone glassworks (earlier posting)

We celebrate the new independence of Egypt!  Dubro hjut or Bon appetit!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roasted Beet Bohemian Borscht!

All of our traveling about the country makes us hungry! On a chilly March day we were thinking some sort of Czech soup would be grand. As we rummaged through the cupboards, we ran across huge beets that we had purchased earlier and...forgotten about. Such serendipitous discoveries always demand that something be made.....and, how about Borscht?! It's such a tradition throughout Central Europe....for obvious reasons, beets and cabbage store well through the winter to make such comforting foods.
Our favorite types of Borscht range from the Russian types (often without cabbage, some served hot while others are cold) to Minnesota versions, particularly that of the now defunct Lincoln Del (two restaurants we used to frequent were in Golden Valley, MN and Richfield, MN). Years ago, after the Lincoln Del closed forever, we duplicated their borscht recipe and have those notes jotted down on a recipe card--one of the many recipes we brought with us to the Czech Republic! Of course, since we're in the Czech Republic, our version of the Lincoln Del recipe just wouldn't do, would it?! So, here's our new creation with some new twists to fit in the Bohemian countryside.

Roasted Beet Bohemian Borscht

There are many ways to cook the beets before using them (yes, they do have to be thoroughly cooked before making borscht, as the cooking time is fairly lengthy depending on the size of the beets). Our Mothers used to boil them for 1-2 hours, unpeeled and unwashed, in water until tender. Then, we would carefully peel them....the skins, tops, and roots would just slide right off easily. Other times, when more in a hurry, they can be placed into a pressure cooker and should be done in ~30 minutes. Yet another method is to roast them in the oven, after peeling them (use a peeler, not a knife, to do this!) and cutting them into smaller pieces so they roast faster. We chose this last method, cutting up two large beets along with 3-4 peeled carrots, drizzling them with a bit of olive oil, and roasting in the oven at 160C (~350F) for ~1 hour until tender and darkly roasted (be sure to stir these every once in awhile!):

Think of the glorious flavors that will permeate this Borscht....unbelievably delicious! Set these aside while we get the remainder of the ingredients ready.

Usually borscht contains stew beef but since we're in the Czech Republic where this is not commonly used, we opt instead for some pork stewing cubes to work with. On another twist, we discovered that we didn't have any cabbage either!  Horribilis!  Well, we'll make Borscht without it and see how it fares.

In a pressure cooker, we placed :
2 peeled, slivered onions
1 bunch chopped scallions
0.5 kg or 1 pound sliced mushrooms (maybe some wild fresh or dried ones from the Czech forests?)
83 ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
3 fresh bay leaves (dried, if you don't have fresh!)
1/2 liter (2 cups) red wine (preferably a robustly flavored type...we used French Cote du Rhone)
~1 kg (2 pounds) diced pork or beef stewing meat
Place the ingredients in the pressure cooker and cook at 10 pounds pressure for 45 minutes until everything is tender!

Now combine this with the roasted beets and carrots.
Add in:
3 cans of tomato paste
2 liters (~2 quarts) stewed tomatoes, drained

Simmer all together in a stew pot for an hour. 

Then add
125 ml (1/2 cup) vinegar, preferably apple cider
83 ml (1/3 cup) bourbon
salt/pepper to taste, if necessary

Simmer again briefly to evaporate the alcohol.

Make yourself some fresh biscuits, top the borscht with local sour cream (or smetana; we used our locally-made Madeta) and....enjoy!

Sidebar:  Well....we discovered this to be one of the most flavorful borscht we've ever had! Most likely this was due to the roasted beets, carrots and not having any cabbage in it! After all, not all American 'chili' is made with beans...take Texas chili, for instance...they make a mean chili down there and it traditionally does not contain any beans (frijoli).
Happy Eating!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Crystalex-Český křišťál Glassworks at Chlum u Třeboně, Czech Republic

The village of Chlum u Třeboně is ~20 km southeast of Třebon, near the Austrian/Czech border. It was founded in 1399 and has had a long tradition in making glass--artistic and Czech crystal.
Before heading to the local glass factory (story below), we drove through the town looking for the signs to the factory that were supposed to be there. We found out later why they couldn't be found.
Nonetheless, it was a fine March day with the warm sun shining. We didn't need our winter coats anymore! As we drive past the small castle with an historic fish pond on the other side of the road, we head towards the hill was sports this gorgeous High Baroque church.

The narrow roadway is lined with grafted, pollarded maple trees (in need of pruning!).
The golden walls shine in the resplendent March Bohemian sunshine!
Here are some views of the historic fish that feeds fish to Bohemia but also provides ice skating in the winter (it's done now!) and summer enjoyment. There are many camps and restaurants open during the summer here. Today, however, it is completely silent. Not a person in view anywhere!
The grand oak trees lining the western edge of the historic fish pond look across to the castle (zámek) on the right (west) side of the road.
Chlum u Třeboně (zámek)

The castle here dates back to 1710. It is a two-storied building with three wings and a central buttress (very unusual). In front of the main entrance is a sculpture of a Deer being chased by Dogs. After the end of WWII, it was a popular place for artists and poets to gather. Indeed, the famed Francis Hrubín (1910-1971) wrote here. In front of the castle are gates that lead into the garden which, we hear, has many rare trees growing--including a tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. We shall have to come back here another time and investigate further.

We drive around the town several times on both sides of the historic fish pond, looking for the signs to the glassworks factory, Crystalex-Český křišťál...that our Czech glass guide, A guide to Czech & Slovak glass (by Diane E. Foulds, 1995, European Community Imports Publishing Co., Czech Republic), says should be here, but we couldn't find them. Instead, we follow our eyes and 'noses' and drive towards the tall smokestacks near the western edge of the village. While it looks completely deserted, we drive towards the main building to see what we can find, remembering what we had read in the history books that in the 15th century the mined iron ore was processed here until the late 1890s when it became a glassworks factory.
A tall company building has what we're looking for on its door: Czech Glass and Porcelain SF!
We look into the doors, but the building is locked and completely dark. Odd.....we think, since there was no mention in our guidebook that the factory would be closed down on a Saturday. Around the corner is this WWII memorial plaque, "In memory of those that died, that we might live...lest we forget". Most likely this is in honor of fallen WWII soldiers either from the village or who worked here in the glassworks factory.

The gate to the factory is closed. Our guidebook had said we should call before stopping by if we wanted a tour, but it doesn't appear that there will ever be any tours anytime soon. We spot the factory store but the door is locked and no lights are on. Then, Neil notices a man sitting in the office and raps on the window. He comes to the door, we greet each other in Czech, and ask if the store is open. He says that we can come in and look at the sample glass for sale. He speaks both Czech and German, so we converse in German beyond the usual Czech greetings and farewells.
Sadly, he tells us that the company and factory sind tot (are dead)!  Bankrupt and closed forever. It puts us in kind of a shock, since this factory was an old iron-works company that became a glassworks factory in 1891 thanks to C. Stoelze & Soehne. This soon closed in 1910 but then, in 1919, became a new firm, Vaclav Hrdina. Like all other businesses, it was nationalized in 1945 as part of Crystalex network here, in Lenora (see earlier posting), and Kamenice nad Lipou. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, it was sold to some of the descendants of the founders. The company logo is a 'C' on its back in the shape of a goblet, as you can see from this abandoned sign inside the store:
As of recently (until this year), Crystalex-Český křišál wasn't connected with Lenora. Now, however, everything here in the small factory store is suddenly collector's items. We are so saddened to hear the story and sorry to have missed seeing the glass blowers at work (these are pictures of the photographs in the store):

The store is filled with miscellaneous pieces from various crystal goblet sets, types of glasses, series of vases, cut crystal serving pieces, and so much to look at and enjoy. Everything in these factory stores is always at a discount compared with what you would pay at the tourist and glass shops in the villages (one is in Trebon nearby).
Intriguing examples of bowls and vases with modern, geometric designs cut into the crystal:
Somewhat etheric, carefully swirled glass in these vases.
All kinds of decanters, cake plates (we bought a couple of them), glasses, and stemware:
A series of very delicate, hand-cut crystal that is so thin and see-through when you hold it up to the light that it looks like embroidery! We bought one of the bowls on the bottom shelf.
Many other interesting pieces are in this cabinet with various colored glass.
Then, we were amazed to see many fine examples of crystal flowers, plants and fruit trees. We know of the Harvard University collection of glass flowers, also made by Czech artisans, but had never dreamed of running into any here! We bought a stem of glass gladiolus to bring home.  Below are example lemon trees, oak and birch trees, and potted flowering plants:
We also got caught up looking at the glass lamp shades that had very different period designs and swirls of colors:

We left the store, laden with packages of glass stemware, vases, bowls and gladiolus to treasure forever as collectible remembrances of this historic glass factory, Crystalex-Český křišťál Glassworks at Chlum u Třeboně, Czech Republic.

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring flowers! ... in Chlum u Trebone, Czech Republic

Remember a couple of weeks ago we posted the first signs of spring in Plastovice, South Bohemia: Eranthis hyemalis L. (=Eranthis hiemalis) or Winter Aconite?  Well, its early flowering there has now spread. Here we are in Chlum u Trebone on a Glassworks expedition when we ran across several yards filled with them all bursting forth in grand gold! 
Well, no to be outdone...the tulips are poking through now while the early crocus, Crocus vernus, are now in full flower as well. The bees are already out and pollinating!
And, of course, the snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis--which is native here in Europe) are in full swing as well. Here, surrounded by tulips (Tulipa gesneriana) poking through the soil and more Eranthis hyemalis, a clump of snowdrops nod the last vestiges of snow as is melts in the warm March sun! They're always supposed to be in flower before the Vernal Equinox and these made it.
Hurrah for Spring! Isn't life wonderful?

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

Bohemian Omeletes in Czech Keramika

After visiting the ceramics and glass shop in Lenora last weekend (Jihočeská Keramika--see earlier posting), we had these mini 'bundt' ceramic pans which we originally intended to use for some traditional Czech koláč (cake).  But, it was breakfast time and no time for cake, so we remembered what one of Neil's colleagues years ago used to make: baked omeletes! While Neil's friend was from Berlin, it served as our inspiration for a Czech modification or two for the recipe.

Bohemian Omeletes
These are very quick and easy-to-make omeletes!
Start by greasing small ceramic serving dishes appropriate for a small omelete for each person:
Next, break some day old bread....preferably a good French baguette or Foccacia...into chunks and fill each ceramic dish with them.
Chop 1-2 large scallions
Break up 4-5 pieces of cooked, home-cured bacon (Anglicky Slanina as we call it here!)
Put these into each serving dish on top of the bread.
Shave large but thin pieces of Parmesan Reggiano cheese on top of everything into each ceramic serving dish.
Next, whip up four eggs (2/person) with 125 ml (1/2 cup) of milk (mleko);
add in salt/pepper to taste and 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh thyme (we happened to have some great thyme a friend of ours in Trebon gave to us!)

Pour the egg mixture evenly into each ceramic dish.
Bake in a hot oven (180C or ~375 F) for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size and depth of your ceramic dishes. It is done when puffy and brown or an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Plate up along with fresh fruit....we happened to quarter a fresh pineapple (ananas) to serve on the side.
Pour your glasses full of chilled black currant juice.

Dubro hjut, Guten Appetit, or Bon appetit!  Either way, eat it while piping hot!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bohemian Glass at The Glasmuseum, Passau Germany

The Glass Museum, die Glasmuseum Passau, is right across the street from the Neo-Gothic tower of the Altes Rathaus (see previous posting) in the Hotel Wilder Mann, overlooking the Danube River. Its exhibited Bohemian Glass collection is the largest in the world. We had heard about this several times and headed here to specifically see as much as we could of the four floors displaying all of the glassmaking periods up to the present time. In addition to Bohemian glass, there is a splendid collection of German (especially Bavarian), Austrian, English, and French, with the earliest pieces dating as far back as ancient Mesopotamia.

Here are the founders of the Museum, the Mr. and Mrs. Hoeitl, who made their first purchase in 1959 of a Mesopotamian glass container!

The many cases in and around the hotel's check-in desk display some of the foretastes to be seen in the museum, starting on the fourth floor and working downwards.  Here you see a photograph from the Museum's opening celebration in 1985 with our very own Neil Armstrong cutting the ribbon!

When we arrived upstairs on the fourth floor (thankfully, they had a lift for Mark although it only went to the 4th floor....not the other three), the ancient rooms had frescoes on the ceilings. Here's some of the ancient scenes of Passau (1644) above us:
We started at the earliest phase of glassmaking in the museum, Mesopotamia, to see the oldest glass in the world (some 5,000 years old)!
Still in gorgeous condition, these glass containers capture our attention!
There are other examples of old glass in this case, albeit just not quite as old as the Mesopotamian pieces.
Then, its on to the Baroque and Rococo Empire periods (1650 - 1820).
Examples of hyalith glass from Bohemia, Silesia, and Riesengebirge (1760-1790) are very thin glass with delicate gold paintings on them.
More early pieces, dating from the 1700-1760 period:

and additional examples from 1650-1780.
We'll highlight some of the other amazing pieces, but will leave it up to you to come here and see the amazing collection for yourself!

Here are some Baroque examples of bone powder milk glass with enamel from Bohemia, Saxony and Riesensgebirge. Gorgeous!
Numerous pieces of cut glass from Biedermeier and Empire period were exquisite. Here is an apple (most likely) with the stem and top of the fruit a lid. Imagine how this would reflect light all over the room if it were placed in sunshine!
Among the numerous examples of patentglas by Friedrich Egermann Boehmann (Biedermeier, 1810-1830) was this stunning container. Note the carefully painted landscapes on this jar.
Some delicately painted glasses from North Bohemia have incredible detail...
Example works by Gottlob Mohn (Dresden and Vienna) during the Biedermeier period include these delicately thin beakers. The one on the left says "Almanac for the year 1819".
And then, a carp appears--of such fame in the Czech Republic and throughout the countries of the former Habsberg and Austro-Hungarian Empires! This one actually seems to be alive, due to the thin and high quality glass in the beaker made by Anton Koffgasser of Vienna.
And then, some surprises of black gilt hyaliths from Count Buquoy (South Bohemia and Northern Austria.....near us!). The Count patented this process in the early 1800s. Aren't they stunning with the gold highlights and the dark black glass?
Then, moving on to red cut gilt hyalith glass--again from South Bohemia and northern Austria (right near us).
More colorful stone and bone glass from Count Buquoy's Glassworks--amazing colors!
Gold ruby glass after Kunckel's recipe (Bohemia and Silesia, Germany) had such dark ruby colors while the angles of the beakers reflect light in numerous ways.
Then we moved to examples of chartreuse Uranium glass and gold topaz, very reminiscent of American 'Depression Glass'....and, we were delighted to learn that many Bohemian and German companies that made this type of glass also exported it to America in the 1930s!
Chrysopras, uranium, and iron oxide green glasses from Bohemia, Riesengebirge (1830-1850):
Pink gold ruby glass from Bohemia, Silesia:
An elegant set of ink wells made of blue cobalt glass (Bohemia, Silesia, Bavaria)!
Colored glasses, cased cut and gilt!
Bohemian opaque-colored cut glass beakers...
Examples of tin-opaque and alabaster glasses from Bohemia and Bavaria:
Yellow etched crystal by Count Harrach Glassworks (Bohemia, Silesia)
There were numerous styles and types of cut & engraved reliefs and lithophany. Here's one of the Last Supper.
And then some absolutely astounding pieces that took our breath away....these beakers of lithophany!
There were numerous examples of ornate glass from European Courts. Many were exhibited at the Vienna World Exhibition in 1873. Notice that some (three pictures down) have snakes wrapped around them!
Much of the cut crystal glassware and chandeliers were in black rooms and backlit to highlight the delicate cuts to make each piece sparkle continuously! Other pieces (below) were etheric in the artistry.
This green glass caught our eyes...they're from Count Schaffgotsch Josephine Glassworks in Silesia.
Or how about pairs of vases for floral designing?
Some pieces were whimsical, like this elaborate vase painting of animals all dressed up!
Here's an elegant cake plate (especially for some of our friends who collect these!)...
Or how about a few small (!) containers with Indian design? These are actually ~1.5 meters tall!
These ladies say that you should come and visit the Glasmuseum in Passau, Germany....right away! It's lots of fun and will keep in you constant awe of the incredible historic talent that Bohemian, Austrian, and German glass artisans have had...and inspire you to visit current day Glassworks throughout Bohemia and Bavaria. 
Of course, current-day Glassworks will be visited soon and we'll show you some of their exquisite handiwork that continues these great traditions of artistic glassware!
We raise our glasses to all of them!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.