Sunday, June 29, 2014

ETHIOPIA: THE FOOD


I’ve been pretty excited about this meal ever since I found these recipes. And it seems like everything keeps coming up Ethiopia.  First I saw a BuzzFeed list on the best Ethiopian foods to try – which of course I’ve borrowed a few of their recipes. And then I saw a new Ethiopian restaurant that’s being put in an old building across the street from the Central Library in Indianapolis. I can’t wait until it opens. And now that I’m feeling much better, I’m ready to eat!

Essentially, Ethiopian food tends to be a layer of flat bread called injera and dollops of various stews and dishes are placed on it. I’m making six different dishes that generally don’t take too long to make (however, I made six, so it took longer than I calculated). Forget the silverware – Ethiopians scoop up the food with the bread.  I am unfortunately leaving out one of the most important part of Ethiopian cuisine: coffee.  And that’s hard to believe for such a coffee aficionado as myself to forget this part. But I did buy mead (honey wine; albeit, its not their traditional wine called tej, which is a variant of mead, but it’s close enough and still tasty).

Cool as... herbed cottage cheese. 

I started the night before with making a couple of the easier dishes that are served cold.  I picked three cold dishes and three warm dishes.  The first one I made was called iab.  It’s small curd cottage cheese, a little plain yogurt, lemon zest, salad herbs (I didn’t know what this was – I added a little dried bouquet garni herbs and a touch of tarragon, even though it’s probably not Ethiopian), dried parsley, salt, and black pepper.  Stir it up, and it’s actually quite tasty.  It’s good as a chaser to the spicier dishes.

I really don't care if no one likes this. It's all mine. 
Next, I made an Ethiopian beet salad. Instead of buying actual beets and boiling them, which takes forever, I bought some canned ones cut shoestring style, mixed in some lemon juice (from the lemon I just zested), chopped shallot, diced jalapeño, and a little salt and pepper. I love the spiciness of the pepper, the sour of the lemon juice, and the sweetness of the beets. It was the trifecta of deliciousness in my mouth. 

Mmm, lentils. Really. I'm gonna get healthy on all this good food. 
I also soaked some lentils overnight before for azifa.  When they were ready, I boiled the lentils until they were tender, drained them and mashed them a little. Then I mixed a little lemon juice, a can of diced tomatoes, a chopped green chile, some onion, a little salt and pepper, and a little bit of mustard.  It’s served chilled. This one was really good – two thumbs up.

Heck, I could put chicken or sausage in this and make a pretty meal out it it, too. 
Fossolia is the first of the dishes served warm.  I started with sautéing onion until they were soft and then added a little oil and some tomato paste and let “simmer.” It was really thick.  After a minute, I added in the green beans and carrots and let simmer covered for about 10-15 minutes – then I added in a can of diced tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and some salt, letting it simmer again until the vegetables were soft. I thought it was a little heavy on the tomatoes, so maybe next time, I’ll only use a half can.  But otherwise, it was really good.

OK, show of hands. Who doesn't like collard greens? If you raised your hand, just get out. 
The next warm dish I made was called gomen wat. (I laughed at the name, because the word “gomen” in Japanese means “I’m sorry.” However, there’s nothing to be sorry about here.) I chopped some collard greens and put them in a pot with 2 cups of water and boiled them, reducing it once to let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I drained the water but kept a little in reserve.  Then I sautéed onions in olive oil in a separate pot, stirring in garlic and adding the collards back in with a tad more olive oil and the reserved water.  After I let this simmer for 10-15 more minutes, I added in some diced green pepper, lemon juice, salt, turmeric, paprika, allspice, and ginger, and let it simmer until the green pepper was soft.  I love collard greens, and I thought this was a really good recipe.  I might make this again, but instead of green peppers, I might try to use baby bella mushrooms. 

One of my favorite dishes of today's cooking escapade.

The last dish I made was doro wat.  This starts the same way with sautéing the onions in oil and adding in the spices (cayenne pepper, paprika, black pepper, and ginger).  Then I add in my chicken that had been soaking in a water-lemon juice concoction, covering it to let simmer, adding a little of the water to the pot. I had to add in some flour to thicken it up.   Once it was almost done, I threw in some peeled hard-boiled eggs.  This was really, really tasty.  I liked this, and although I wasn’t sure about the eggs, it was a nice touch. 

So good, so versatile. 
Finally, time to make the bread.  Actually, I got the dough ready before I started cooking today.  The true recipe calls for teff flour, but it was a little harder to find, and since I only needed a ¼ cup of it, I went with an alternate recipe.  The dough consists of white flour, wheat flour, and cornmeal with dry yeast and warm water mixed together, and then allowed to rest for at least an hour (but luckily for me, it can sit as long as 3-6 hours).  Once I was ready to make the injera, I gave it a good stir, slowly stirred in some water to thin it out.  I sort of messed up the very first one, not fully realizing how quickly it will cook, and it got stuck to the bottom of my skillet. So… with a lightly oiled griddle, I added some of the thinned batter and cooked it (this time, I was watching).  Injera has been described as being thicker than a crepe but not so thick as a pancake.  It’s also important not to flip it: it’s ready when the entire top is covered in bubbles and doesn’t look glossy anymore. This allows the injera to be a light, airy flatbread, good for soaking up food.  I thought it had a good flavor that complimented the food when picking it up.  Sometimes I think wheat can taste really earthy, but I think the mix of white and wheat flours cut it.

The final product. It certainly did not disappoint. And the scarf my mom bought me makes a cameo appearance since it's too hot to wear it now.  It matched the food and begged to be included.  
While the kids were a little leery about eating without silverware (even though they do this at every other meal – they must’ve thought this was a set-up for me to yell at them or something), I think they liked it. At least my daughter and husband did. I’m not so sure about my finicky son.  I am fascinated by this country and really enjoyed doing this one. But now, as I finish my mead, this does mark the end of the “E” countries, and now I need a new file folder for my recipes. 

Up next: Fiji

ETHIOPIA: MUSIC AND DANCE


Ethiopia’s diversity can be heard in the diversity of its music.  Different regions have their own prominent styles of musical forms based on historical influence – whether it be Christian influences or Muslim influences or simply folk music. Much of Ethiopian music is based on a pentatonic modal system, similar to and influencing the music in other neighboring countries as well.  When playing these pieces on traditional instruments, it’s not tempered (meaning that each pitch has an unequal distance between the one above it and below it – it’s tuned differently than modern instruments).  Music of the highlands is typically monophonic (having one melody line) or heterophonic (having more than one voice, but playing similar lines).  Some southern music produces polyphonic singing (having more than one voice playing/singing individual lines – some in these areas employ four or five parts at the same time). 



This diversity in musical style and ethnic groups understandably leads to different dance styles throughout the country.  Many of these dances utilize the upper body: the head, the shoulders, and the chest.  It seems that generally, the steps aren’t as vigorous as the upper body parts, but there are some regions that move the whole body more than others.  In some dances, the women will spread their skirts out as part of the dance, and others will use rattles and fringe on their body to accentuate the music. 



Some of the common instruments heard in Ethiopian music include masenqo (one-stringed bow lute), krar (six-string lyre), begena (large ten-string lyre), washint (bamboo flute), malakat (trumpet-like instrument), fanta (pan flutes), senasel (a type of sistrum), quachel (a small gong), toom (somewhat like an mbira), kebero (hand drum), nagarit (hand drum played with a curved stick), and other variations of these instruments. 

There are several contemporary musicians from Ethiopia that I’ve listened to in the past week or so.  I liked Teddy Afro’s sound. It has that “world music” feel to it, with distinct African drumming rhythms underneath melody lines. The first track was in 6/8 (or some other kind of triplet meter), and other songs from the album Tikur Sew often used triplet rhythms.  The use of harmonies is a unifying practice.  Another musician, Aster Aweke, fell into the same style of music as Teddy Afro in my opinion, although with a little more “soft rock” feel to her music -- minus the harmonies and African drumming of Teddy Afro.



The musician Gigi has several songs from the album Peace, Love and Respect that sounds like indie rock.  (I really wished they would’ve used the Oxford comma in the title – it drives me crazy.) I liked this album because I’m a fan of the indie rock sound -- it’s very much Western-influenced. I did find that this album is available on iTunes for $9.90.  (Yes, I’m trying to figure out a way to convince my husband I should buy this.)



And listening to some slightly older music, I found a Tilahun Gessesse compilation. He’s considered one of the greats.  It has a sound that reminds me a little of early reggae music.  One unifying theme in instrumentation from Gessesse to Teddy Afro is the use of bass and guitars along with horn line. In some songs, the horn lines answer the guitars, and in other songs (like many of Gessesse’s), the guitars lay the groundwork for the harmonies while the horns have the melody lines. 



During the 1960s and 1970s, a style of jazz emerged called Ethiopian jazz, or Ethio-jazz.  And many musicians consider the father of Ethio-jazz is Mulatu Astatke. I absolutely love this style of jazz; I was immediately drawn to it.  One of the signature sounds is the congo drums and the vibraphone that he played while conducting the band. This music blended traditional jazz sounds with Ethiopian music and Latin jazz. I added the albums Sketches of Ethiopia and New York to Addis to London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 to my Spotify playlist and would listen for hours. The second album is a must have if you’re a vibraphone fan like me.

Up next: the food

Thursday, June 26, 2014

ETHIOPIA: ART AND LITERATURE


Prehistorically, rock art was the most common form of art, and it was similar in fashion to other specimens from other regions in this part of the world.  After Christianity was adopted, much of the artwork was religious-themed.  Iconography was common, characterizing the figures with their bright colors and almond-shaped eyes.  Diptychs (panel paintings with two panels) and triptychs (panel paintings with three panels) were also common.  The churches and cathedrals themselves were fully painted in the European tradition.  There were some minor differences; for example, angels were often depicted as being heads with wings. 


Crosses were very important as well.  Many of these are highly elaborate and ornate.  These crosses were mostly constructed from brass and plated with either gold or silver.  Crosses used in processions could be quite large in size and quite heavy.  Smaller crosses used as jewelry were also made and worn.  Other metalwork, such as crowns, was made for both royalty and high clergy members. 



Textile art was also commonly produced in Ethiopia.  A type of lightweight, opaque pattern-less cloth similar to chiffon was used to drape onto religious icons.  Generally, traditional cloth designs have geometric patterns to them (although many are plain) and tend to be quite colorful. 



Basket making is quite common, especially in the rural areas of Ethiopia.  Depending on its use, whether for storing food, doubling as tables, or being used as bowls, baskets can range from small to quite large. Designs are woven into the baskets as well.   


Early Ethiopian literature was written in the Ge’ez language. The Bible and other religious writings dominated the early literature canon. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church still uses the Ge’ez language as the language of religious literature.  The Ethiopian Jewish community (also known as Beta Israel) still uses the Ge’ez language today as well. The Garima Gospels are the oldest Ge’ez scripts, found in Eritrea and thought to date somewhere between 390-660.



By the time the 14th century came, the language of literature was starting to shift towards using Amharic, Tigrinya, and Tigre, depending on the location. Histories, hagiographies, and letters have been found that have been dated during these early years through the 16th century. Works such as “Book of Axum” and “Book of Enoch” are two famous works written in Ge’ez.

Book of Enoch
Literature written in Amharic covers more works in the most recent centuries. Although it also includes religious materials, it also includes educational materials, government records, novels, poetry, and basically anything that is read today.  Because of their multi-lingual society, the government declared the Amharic as the official working language of the federal government.  It’s also the language of primary education.  Other regional languages may be used locally and for unofficial business.

Dinaw Mengestu

A few notable authors from Ethiopia include Afevork Ghevre Jesus (wrote the first novel in Amharic), Dinaw Mengestu (novelist, journalist, has written for many magazines and newspapers about current events in Africa), Haddis Alemayehu (Foreign Minister, novelist, his works are considered classics), Haile Gerima (filmmaker, member of LA Rebellion film movement [also called Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers]) Hama Tuma (writer, poet), Mammo Wudneh (playwright, journalist, peacemaker between Ethiopia and Eritrea), Nega Mezlekia (writer currently living in Canada, works are written in English), and Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin (art director, playwright, essayist, poet, Poet Laureate of Ethiopia).

Up next: music and dance

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ETHIOPIA: HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS


Christmas.  January 7.  According to Orthodox traditions aligned with the Julian calendar, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 instead of December 25. Many people will fast the day before and will wake up really early for the first Christmas Mass at 4 am! An old traditional story says that one of the three wise men came from Ethiopia. One of the traditional Christmas meals is wat (a spicy stew made with some kind of meat, vegetables, and sometimes hard-boiled eggs).  Gifts are not specifically given out on Christmas, although sometimes small gifts or clothes are given to children.  It’s generally a time spent in church followed by eating and drinking with family and playing games.


Mawlid.  Varies.  This is the Muslim holiday celebrating the birth of the prophet Muhammad.  It’s considered one of the most important celebrations for Muslims.  People will start the day with listening to the imam preach, and then will often sacrifice an animal (or buy meat) to distribute the meat to other family members and the poor.  There are a lot of festivities that include dancing, singing, and food. Because there are many multi-religious communities, many Muslims celebrate this day with their Christian neighbors as well, inviting them over to share traditional food and drink.

Epiphany.  January 19.  Also called Timkat, it celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.  Traditionally, a reenactment of the baptism takes place every year; a model of the Ark of the Covenant is shrouded with a cloth and is carried in a procession on the priest’s head. The priest will then bless a body of water, and many followers use this time as a day to renew their baptismal vows.  The day doesn’t end until the Covenant is put away, and there are hours of singing and dancing, followed by a feast with traditional foods.


Victory at Adwa Day.  March 2. In 1896, the Italians were looking at moving into this area in order to claim it as their own. However, the Ethiopians were not having it.  After two days of fighting at Adwa, the Ethiopians, under the leadership of Emperor Menelik II, were able to hold off the Italians.  Many people visit the monument and statue of Menelik II to lay wreathes at the base.


Day of Lament.  March 28. This day commemorates those who have died during the Red Terror, and is held two months before National Day/Derg Downfall Day.  This day is also called Candle Festival.  The Red Terror was a particularly violent political movement that took place in Ethiopia (and Eritrea) during the later part of the 1970s and most of the 1980s led by Mengistu Haile Mariam.  They rounded up anyone suspected of resistance to tortured and/or kill them. Some estimates say that as many as 500,000 people died at the hands of these madmen.

Good Friday/Easter.  Varies.  The entire Lenten season is a hard fast, more or less a vegan diet (no meat or dairy).  The first meal of the day comes after 3pm. The night before Easter, people head to a colorful service that runs from about midnight until 2am.  Then people go home and break their fast with lavish meals.  Like Christmas, this is more of a holiday for visiting family and eating traditional foods and drink. 


Labour Day.  May 1.  This day is to celebrate the worker; it’s also a day to discuss the state of the economy, jobs, and labor issues. 

Patriot’s Day.  May 5.  This day is in honor of all Ethiopians who fought to defend their country against the Italians, especially during the occupation years.  It’s a time for traditional music, dance, food, and drink, as well as educational and historical presentations.


Derg Downfall Day (National Day).  May 28. It’s considered Ethiopia’s National Day, but officially, it’s known as Derg Downfall Day.  The Derg Regime took over in 1974 when they ousted Emperor Haile Selassie I and led the country into one long civil war that lasted until 1991.  Government leaders often give speeches regarding those who have died during the Red Terror, and people pay their respects and visit the several monuments erected around Addis Ababa and the rest of the country. 

Ramadan.  Varies.  Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting.  Muslims fast from dawn until dusk when they break their fast (called an iftar).  Each day, they are expected to read passages from the Quran and do various charitable works. 

Eid al-Fitr.  Varies.  This festival celebrates the end of Ramadan with an elaborate meal shared with the family.  People will cleanse themselves and wear new clothes to start this day.  Special thanksgiving prayers are also recited en masse as well. 



New Year’s Day.  September 11.  Normally, we see New Year’s celebrated in January, but according to the Ethiopian calendar, it falls in September (originally, the approximate end of the rainy season).  Some people will attend special religious services to pray for the coming year.  Children will sometimes receive new clothes, and the girls will pick flowers.

Finding of the True Cross.  September 27.  Also known as Meskel, which is Ge’ez for “cross.”  The Orthodox Church celebrates this holiday as a commemoration of the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helena (or Saint Helena) during the 4th century.  The True Cross is the one believed to be the cross that Jesus was crucified on.  Tradition has it that she had a dream telling her to build a bonfire, and the smoke will guide her to where the cross is buried.  Every year, a bonfire is built with wood decorated with daisies, and the people use the ashes to draw a cross on their own foreheads.


Eid al-Adha.  Varies.  This holiday is in honor of the ancient story of Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his only son at God’s command. The day is started with Eid prayers, the largest gathering is at the Addis Ababa Stadium.  It’s often a day of paying it forward and giving charity to the needy. 

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, June 22, 2014

ETHIOPIA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Growing up in the 1980s, Ethiopia was synonymous to extreme drought, famine, and poverty.  I can remember seeing this on the news as an elementary student and was really stunned by it. Nearly eight million people were affected by this, and some estimates say around one million people didn’t survive. 


The ancient Greek name for the area, Aithiops, appeared several times in Iliad and Odyssey, as well as the Bible and the Koran (but also mentioned by its other names).  It’s thought that the word is derived from the words for “I burn” and “face.” This place is also known by many of its ancient names: Kush, Nubia, Aksum (also spelled as Axom), Habesha, and Abyssinia.  (There’s an Ethiopian restaurant in Indianapolis called Abyssinia. I haven’t been there yet, but I definitely want to go after I’m done to see how close to –or how far from– authentic that I got.)


Ethiopia lies in the Horn of Africa, surrounded by Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea.  The land is highly diverse.  The Great Rift Valley runs through Ethiopia (and is visible from space), surrounded by lowlands, steppes, semi-desert areas, the highlands and mountains, as well as tropical forests.  Lake Tana is the source for the Blue Nile, which runs north and empties into the Mediterranean Sea.  Several species of animals are listed on the endangered and vulnerable animals list, such as the Ethiopian wolf, the African wild dog, African elephant, cheetah, and the spotted hyena.

Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopia is the cradle of human civilization.  The earliest known modern human remains have been found in the southwestern part of the country, now called the Omo remains (most famously, the remains named Lucy). Originally it was part of the D’mt lands mentioned in Ancient Egyptian times.  Sometime during the first century AD, the Aksumite Empire emerged in Ethiopia and Eritrea; some historians consider this one of the greatest empires of the world. Ethiopia was second only to Armenia in adapting Christianity as its official religion. 


Ethiopia went through a period between 1755-1855 called the “Age of Princes,” which isolated them from other countries. The emperors were merely puppets for the war lords. They later overtook the ruling party and changed the established language of Amharic to Afaan Oromo. It didn’t end until the British got involved and established Emperor Tewodros II in power; Ethiopia began to sit at the world table once again. Under the reign of Menelik II, Ethiopia made great strides to modernize the country. In fact, he was the first African to drive a car. He entered an agreement with Italy to recognize them as a sovereignty if they would be able to control an area in the north (now Eritrea). However, Italy expanded its border areas just prior to signing the papers, which led to fighting where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians. Haile Selassie I became emperor in 1930. They quickly entered the Italo-Abyssinian War, and although they defeated them again, they were still placed under Italian occupation. Although the Italians briefly occupied the country, Ethiopia remains one of two countries in the world who were never invaded and conquered (the other is Russia). The British stepped in again and recognized their full sovereignty.  Slavery was abolished in 1942, and they annexed Eritrea twenty years later.  From 1974-1991, Ethiopia quickly joined the Communist bloc of countries.  In May 1998 (the month and year I graduated from high school), they entered into a two-year-long war with Eritrea, severely crippling their economy.  And just in the past couple of years, Ethiopia has once again been hit with another extremely detrimental drought.

Haile Selassie I -- recipient of TIME magazine's "Person of the Year" 1935. 
The capital city of Addis Ababa (meaning “new flower” in Amharic) is the largest city in Ethiopia and is actually a chartered city (a city and a state).  The African Union is also based here.  Because of the city’s proximity to the equator, the temperatures remain fairly consistent. However, the strange thing is that the highest recorded temperature was 90ºF in 1996. (I think we hit that mark a couple days last week.) It’s also Africa’s highest city; most people are surprises at how cool and cold Addis Ababa can be.  The diverse, multilingual city has roughly 2.7 million people. Home to several universities and private colleges, it is also the site for the main government offices, several museums, a large public market, sports stadiums and racetracks.  Addis Ababa has the honor of housing the world’s largest pre-fab building, Shengo Hall (used for conventions and large meetings). There are several options for public transportation: taxis, buses, air, and train for getting to and around the city.



Even though years of drought has negatively impacted Ethiopia’s agricultural industry, their economy is still listed as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Ethiopia produces more coffee than any other country in Africa.  It’s believed that the coffee plant also originated in Ethiopia (the story goes that a shepherd watched his goats eat a coffee plant and became increasingly restless).  Starbucks is a huge partner with Ethiopian coffee producers. They’re also one of the largest producers of livestock, also exporting khat (a plant legal in the Horn of Africa, but considered a controlled substance in the US, Canada, and other countries), gold, leather, sesame seeds and is gearing up be a leading exporter of flowers and plants.



There may be nearly ninety languages spoken in Ethiopia.  The mostly widely spoken one is Oromo, followed by Amharic.  Because there are so many ethnic languages spoken across the country, the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia established Amharic as the official working language of federal government and was the language of primary school education.  Many of the out-lying areas utilize other regional languages in their schools and businesses.  The Ge’ez script (sometimes called Ethiopic) is used in writing, the only country to have its own unique script (besides Eritrea who also uses it as well, but their cultures have similar ties). English is the most common foreign language taught in schools.



Ethiopia still has many Christian followers to this day, and it also has the oldest Muslim community in Africa as well.  And actually, there was a sizable Jewish population in Ethiopia as well up until the 1980s when most moved to Israel.  (It’s thought by some that these might be part of the Lost Tribes of Israel.)  The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is by far the largest Christian denomination.   While Rastafarianism got its start in Jamaica during the 1930s, Ethiopia remains its spiritual homeland. They basically worship Haile Selassie I as Jah (short for Jahweh). 


Ethiopia is famous for producing some of the world’s greatest marathon runners. It might have something to do with the fact that 70% of Africa’s mountains touch the lands here. Because of their proximity to the equator, there is very little change in when the sun rises and sets throughout the year.  In Ethiopia, they traditionally measure time by when the sun rises. So, instead of it being 7:00, they’ll call it 1:00.  I think that’s more confusing than when I had to convert military time into normal people’s time at Japanese train stations.  Both of those fall into the category of “Please Don’t Make Me Do Math.”  And because of their calendar differences, they are the only country on a 13-month calendar. (Again, with the math.) But luckily, what’s not super complicated are the recipes I found for next week that have me so hungry already – with the notable exception of trying to find teff flour.  It’ll be an adventure for sure. 

Up next: holidays and celebrations

Sunday, June 15, 2014

ESTONIA: THE FOOD


Yeah! I’m finally post-surgery, and I’m feeling like a human again, minus a fibroid tumor and a uterus. I’m not 100% yet, but I’m getting there.  I’m close to 60% after a little more than two weeks. But, thinking ahead like I usually do, I decided to keep this easy today. Plus, today is Father’s Day, and I sent my husband to go hang out at the car show with a friend of his, so he’s not here to help me.  However, the kids have been fairly helpful since I’ve been home.

This + coffee = best thing ever.
I started out making the bread, which I’m sooooooo excited about. Instead of the black rye bread that I’ve seen mentioned as a staple of Estonian cuisine, I went with Estonian Kringle bread, or Cinnamon Braid Bread.  I started off with mixing my yeast with the sugar and then stirring in the lukewarm milk, egg yolk, and melted butter. In a separate bowl, I mixed my flour and salt and poured the milk mixture in. I mixed this until it became an elastic-y dough, shaped it into a ball, and covering it in a little oil before letting it rest for an hour.  Just before the hour was up, I mixed together the filling: butter, sugar, and cinnamon.  After it finished resting, I got out my pastry mat and rolling pin and rolled out my dough so that it was a quasi-rectangle about 18”x12”.  Spreading the filling on top of the dough, I made sure I left about a half-inch to an inch border around the edges.  This is where it gets a little tricky.  I rolled up my rectangle from the short side, and once it was rolled up, I took a sharp knife and cut the roll down the middle, leaving the top two inches intact.  Attempting to keep the open layers facing up, I twisted the two strands around each other and then formed this braid into a wreath by pinching the two ends together.  I put the wreath on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brushed the plain dough spaces with the leftover cinnamon filling. I actually found this part easier to “fingerpaint” it on rather than using a spoon.  This baked at 350ºF for about 18-20 minutes until it was golden brown and smelled up my whole kitchen.  This was so delicious that I really struggled to save some for my husband today. Really, really struggled.

Yummy, yummy pork and sauerkraut. 
The main dish today was a one-pot meal: Estonian pork. I felt that it was probably on my level after doing the bread. The directions were the easiest in the world: mix everything in a pot and simmer for 2-3 hours.  This recipe called for sauerkraut, pork loin, an apple, medium onion, pearled barley, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, and broth (I went with chicken broth, but I also added about 4-5 cups of water to cover the pork).  The only pearled barley I found was instant barley, so I added it in the pot during the last 10 minutes because I didn’t want it to get completely mushy.  Really, you can’t get any better than this. My mom used to make a dish similar to this, minus the apple, barley, and brown sugar.  However, we used to eat this with a piece of white bread spread with grape jelly. I grew up thinking this was normal, but apparently not everyone knows about this. Perhaps it’s an old German thing, perhaps a Hoosier German thing, perhaps just something my great-grandmother came up with. I don’t know; I should look into this. But it’s good nonetheless. Unfortunately, I only have mango jam and not grape. But I do have actual grapes, so there you go. The sweet and the sour combination is really awesome.

Yes, I did serve this with grapes just for the sweet-sour combination. 
I loved this meal. But I have always loved this meal before I have even made it.  Although I have made dishes similar to this, they weren’t quite the same as this.  The variations here are ones that I will definitely keep.  Albeit, I still may make my own variations. That's the great thing about recipes: you can add and delete ingredients how you like it and come up with new flavor combinations. I would probably add potatoes to the pork and sauerkraut.  Or that I would like to make the bread again but with Nutella as the filling, or even fruit-filled (cherry jam or lemon curd perhaps?).  This is the fun part of cooking.  This is the fun part of this blog. And I’m glad I have the opportunity to keep doing this.

Up next: Ethiopia

ESTONIA: MUSIC AND DANCE


Early Estonian music was mostly made of a kind of folk music called runic songs.  These songs, utilizing the poetic nature of Baltic-Finnic people, were also common across the region.  It included work songs, ballads, and epic poems. By the time the 18th century rolled around, these poetic runic songs transitioned to more of a rhythmic folksong. The runic song pretty faded to obscurity starting in the 20th century, except in isolated areas of Estonia.

kannel player
At one time, traditional wind instruments were primarily only used by shepherds. However, instruments such as the fiddle, accordion, concertina, and zither were generally used in folk dance music, such as polka.  The kannel is a type of Estonian zither that has a variety of traditional tunings. The kannel has made a resurgence in popularity, but more so in the Estonian diaspora.  Kannel musicians such as Igor Tõnurist and Tuule Kann have helped with its comeback.

Estonia has produced a number of classical composers starting in the late 19th century and into the 20th century.  While under Soviet occupation, folk art and folk music were highly encouraged.  Estonian classical music, from what I’ve gathered by sampling some music on Spotify, loves choral music, and especially the men’s chorus. Classical composers that are fairly popular are Veljo Tormis, Ester Mägi, Kirile Loo, and René Eespere.




Modern pop and indie rock music are either sung in Estonian or in English. One indie rock band I found is Ewert and the Two Dragons.  I really like them, and they sing in English. I’ve been listening to the album Good Man Down, and it kind of fits in the genre that The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, or maybe even Bon Iver would be in. iTunes has this album for $9.99 and an earlier album for $8.91. 


There’s an all-girl group called Vanilla Ninja that’s pretty good. I like them in a 1980s glam rock sort of way. Also singing in English, their style is a little reminiscent of the gothic metal, but less hard, kind of like if the band Evanescence mixed with Yngwie Malmsteen. I do admire the use of strings though.



Another English-language pop-rock artist I listened to is Kerli. Quite popular, her songs are somewhat catchy.  It would be easy to image her songs being used in TV shows and commercials.



One band I found was called Vaiko Eplik Ja Eliit. Their style borders on psychedelic and indie rock. Singing in Estonian, at times I thought there may even be a few folksong motifs noted in their melody lines even though it’s deeply mixed with modern instrumentation.



And of course, there’s a somewhat strange genre of the folk-metal music of bands such as Metsatöll.  The first track is a nice guitar-laden folk melody followed by typical hard metal songs sung in Estonian. Except they still make use of the men’s chorus (or something close to it). My problem with most metal music is that the instrumental performance is usually tight, but the main vocals are what kills it. Screaming is unnecessary and is really bad for your vocal cords. There tends to be less technique of any sort used.  This is sort of 50/50, only because of the men’s chorus. It’s so atypical when I listen with American ears. But there’s something that I like about it nonetheless.

Every five years, Tallinn hosts the Estonian Song and Dance Festivals.  The Song Festival has been going on for 140 years, and the Dance Festival for 75 years.  They will actually be happening again in a couple weeks (July 4-6, 2014).  What I wouldn’t give to attend! It’s known for having thousands of people gathering together to sing traditional folksongs and patriotic songs as well. Some of the songs have had a political hue to them, and this festival was instrumental in gathering momentum for gaining Estonian independence from Soviet occupation.  During the Dance Festival, hundreds of dancers would dress in colorful costumes and perform traditional dances.



Actually, Estonians do not have a long history of their own folk dances.  Prior to the 1800s, English and German-Austrian dances were popular in the courts and elsewhere.  However, during the 1800s, people would gather at people’s homes on the weekends to sing and of course dancing naturally followed.  Working in the fields left little time to dance otherwise. During the mid-1800s, there was a national awakening and renewal of Estonian spirit and patriotism. Even at that, choirs and orchestras popped up all over the country, but dance was somehow left out and forgotten. People only remembered a few of the dances, mainly the Kaera-Jaan. During the 1930s, the push for finding purely Estonian folk dances combed the corners of the lands. However, most Estonian dances, such as the labajalavalss and the tuljak, were offshoots of other European dances. Typically speaking, Estonian dance doesn’t involve any major leaps, acrobats, or quick steps – it’s a series of simple repeated patterns, with the occasional variation, full of precise dignity.

Up next: the food

Thursday, June 12, 2014

ESTONIA: ART AND LITERATURE


It can be assumed that Estonian art goes back to antiquity when the early settlers to this area created carvings from bone and stone.  Folk art and handicrafts were the most common art forms and influences from the various occupations are evident in their art. Ethnographic materials (usually as geometric designs) are found on mittens, belts, other textiles, and art work.  Art historians have researched these for years to try to find a meaning behind these, but it’s not clear if there is a meaning. Any key for deciphering these symbols has been lost throughout history. Many of these symbols are incorporated into textiles and jewelry nowadays, and may have similar meanings to other Baltic ethnographic art. 


Many of the attractions on tourist’s lists fall in Estonia’s architecture. There are many  Medieval castles, forts, and churches still stand to this day.  Old town Tallinn, placed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great example of Gothic architecture, influenced by Germans who moved into this area. Later Baroque and Rococo architecture dominated the Russian regional government buildings. During the 19th century, Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau can be seen throughout the cities and countryside, especially in many of the manors.


The first person attributed as being the first professional artist is Johann Köler (1826-1899).  He is most widely known for pulling himself out of poverty to attend the Art Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia and making a name for himself as a portrait artist. He was lucky enough and talented enough to attract the attention of many of the who’s who in St. Petersburg.  Köler was also instrumental in promoting the art scene and local artists as well as art education.

Johann Köler's mother

Artist Ants Laikmaa, the 13th child of his family, studied art and gave exhibitions in several countries across Europe.  He was most known for his watercolor paintings, mostly landscapes and portraits. Although he never married, he did have one daughter. Laikmaa bought a farm where he worked until he died; after he died, it was turned into a museum in 1960. 

by Ants Laikmaa

I found I’m quite attracted to the landscape painting of Konrad Mägi.  His bright colors are a contrast to that of Laikmaa who tended to use more subdued color contrast.  While studying in Paris, he became influenced by the Impressionistic style of painting, one that I’m a fan of. After WWI, he began to delve into the Expressionist movement, and it could also be seen in his work at that time.  Several years later, he traveled to study in Italy and was influenced by the emerging Art Nouveau styles.

by Konrad Mägi

Founded in 1914 in Tallinn, the Estonian Academy of Arts is the only art school in Estonia. It provides studies in art, design, media, art history, conservation-restoration, and art education. During WWII and during the Russian occupation, classes and programs were modified and some were completely removed or untaught. However, after they regained independence, the school built itself back up as the premier school to study art in Estonia.


The earliest piece of literature written in the Estonian language was The Chronicles of Henry of Livonia. The earliest printed material is a translation of Martin Luther’s Catechism.  While the earliest form of Estonian poetry was produced in 1637, it wasn’t until almost two centuries later when Kristjan Jaak Peterson would be considered the founder of modern Estonian poetry.  Unfortunately, he died at the young age of 21; to accomplish such a title at such a young age is certainly a splendid feat (although much of his poetry was published posthumously). Many of Estonian writers were still writing poetry in both Estonian and German.

By the time the late 19th century rolled around, poetry was still the most popular writing style, but prose was making its entry as well. Different groups of writers were starting to emerge as well: one was the Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia), and another was made of writers of the Siuru movement. Literature magazines were also beginning to be established during the first decade of the 20th century. During the wars, prose took at turn towards realism, as a way of coping with the changes that war brings. Once Estonia became an entity of Russia again, many of the prominent writers went into exile in neighboring countries and some even further away.  Those who stayed were forced into a strict censorship.

Jaan Kross
Today, Jaan Kross and Jaan Kaplinski are among the most famous Estonian writers and have had their works translated the most.  Kross grew up in Tallinn and later studied at the University of Tartu.  After the Nazis invaded Estonia, he was locked up on charges of promoting Estonian nationalism.  When the Russians took over, he was arrested again; this time, eventually sending him to a forced labor camp in Russia for a total of eight years. Once he was finally free to return to Estonia, it was 1954, and he started writing. The Czar’s Madmen and Professor Martens’ Departure are two of his most well-known novels and most translated.  One novel, Excavations, is thought by some literary critics to be one of his best works; however, it has only been translated into German.

Jaan Kaplinski
Jaan Kaplinski is a writer, poet, philosopher, and translator. Influenced by Eastern thought (mainly Taoism and Buddhism), he’s translated a number of Chinese classical poems. During the Soviet occupation, Kaplinski was one of the authors of the “Letters from 40 Intellectuals,” an unpublished letter written regarding the behavior of authorities during that time. He has also been a member of the Estonian parliament since the mid-1990s. While he has switched parties a few times, he’s currently a member of the Estonial Social Democratic Party. And interestingly enough, he also has a main-belt asteroid named after him: 29528 Kaplinski was discovered in January 1998.

Up next: music and dance