Friday, December 27, 2013

Well Christmas may be over, but my kitchen is still full of leftover cookies.

I meant to share my recipe for the decorated snowflakes the other day, but we spent 3 days just relaxing, cooking at home and enjoying the holidays together. I hope you, dear readers, also got to spend time with your loved ones.

So, this belated recipe is for my friend’s Swedish Gingerbread Cookies. My friend, Connie, has lived in Istanbul for 40-plus years since she is married to a Turk, and they made the city their home. She is a wonderful baker and cook and happily shared this recipe with me when we lived in the same city.

If you love gingerbread cookies, this is one recipe you’ll definitely want to save for next year’s holiday baking. The only problem is that the recipe makes a LOT of cookies. My batch yielded 132 cookies at last count. Of course, it depends on what size of cookie cutter you use too.

The more cookies you have, the more you have to share!
Besides snowflakes, I also decorated some Christmas trees and poinsettias with Royal Icing.
We have friends arriving from the U.S. this afternoon, so we’ll be showing them around Warsaw, introducing them to Polish vodka and ringing in the new year together. Hopefully, they will help eat my cookies too!

Happy holidays wherever you may be!
Swedish Gingerbread Cookies
Yields: about 150 cookies.

2 ¼      cup (490 g.)                             granulated sugar
5          oz. (150 ml.)                water
3          oz. (100 g.)                  molasses (Polish: melasa trzcinowa or Turkish: üzüm pekmezi)**
 1 ¼     Tablespoons                ground cinnamon
 1 ½     teaspoons                    ground cloves
1          Tablespoons                ground ginger
10        oz. (285 g.)                  butter, room temperature

 1         Tablespoons                cognac or brandy
2 ¼      teaspoons                    baking soda

 6         cups (1000 g.)             all-purpose flour or 480 typ Szymanowska Polish flour

In a large bowl placed over a simmering pot to create a bain marie, add the sugar, water spices and molasses into the bowl. Heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring often with a spoon. This will take about 10 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the heat.  Stir in the butter.  

Next, mix the baking soda with the cognac. Pour this mixture into the molasses mixture. 

When the ingredients have cooled to room temperature, add in the flour. The dough will be very thick at this point so I donned some plastic gloves and ended up “kneading” the dough a bit until all the flour was worked in.

Separate the dough into five or six pieces. Flatten the dough into small square packets about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest about an hour.

Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough very thin. Cut out various shapes and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Bake at 350F/175C for about 10 minutes, until slightly browned on the edges.

You can re-roll your dough scraps to make more cookies.

Once cool, decorate your cookies with my Royal Icing recipe, candies and sugar sprinkles.

 **Note: Molasses seems to be difficult to find here in Poland. I found my molasses at the Organic Farma stores here in Warsaw. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Our apartment is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

This morning, I’m baking a tray of my Grandmother’s Lebkuchen Bars, which is an annual holiday tradition. As soon as I smell the anisette-flavored bars baking, they remind me of Christmases past and my long-gone grandmother. No matter where I live – NYC, Istanbul or Warsaw  – baking my grandmother’s bars is one Christmas tradition I always plan to do.

Last night, hubby and I took a stroll through Warsaw’s Old Town so we could admire the Christmas lights together. Every store was shuttered and very few people were out since Christmas Eve (Wigilia) is the most important Christmas holiday celebrated with family in Poland. I’ve never seen the Old Town that quiet.
The city does a fantastic job with its Christmas light displays (if only the city could do the same for its pitiful Christmas markets.)

Meanwhile, we planned to have a quiet 7 Fishes Christmas Eve Dinner later. Our meal included Italian anchovies, Polish herring with sour cream and dill (sledzie), black Capelin caviar, a seafood bisque with cod and surimi, an herbed salmon fillet and shrimp scampi with pasta. The meal definitely was an eclectic mix as shellfish is more difficult to find here, but we made it work. I would have preferred to have a standing rib roast instead of the fish, but hubby insisted on carrying on his family’s tradition. Interestingly, the Poles usually celebrate Christmas Eve with 12 fish dishes.
Our first expat Christmas Eve dinner in Warsaw.
Here in Poland,  Christmas Day is spent at home with family; and traditionally, only previously cooked food should be heated and eaten. Though I do know at least one Polish friend who’s mother is cooking a turkey today. I’ll be making a pork roast with sauerkraut, Brussels sprouts with bacon and roasted parsnips for dinner. Yum!

Wherever you are, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones too! As always, thanks for reading!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

With Copenhagen’s narrow, colorful houses and fairytale-like palaces, I couldn’t have imagined a more picturesque place to visit for Christmas.

Copenhagen is often considered to have one of the top 10 Christmas markets in Europe, which run from mid-November until the end of December each year. With that in mind, we decided to meet up with a fellow expat friend from Germany and spend a weekend exploring Denmark’s capital earlier this month.
A beautiful Christmas display outside a hotel in Copenhagen.
However, when we arrived at the world-famous Tivoli Gardens, we were shocked by the 95 DKK (nearly $20 USD) admission fee just to enter its Christmas Market. We quickly were realizing how expensive this Danish city was and decided to skip the Tivoli Christmas markets, which attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. Looks like the city is making a killer profit from Tivoli, but not from us.
We still had three more Christmas markets on our list.

Instead, we wandered over to the Christmas Market on Højbro Plads in the center of Copenhagen by the Stork Fountain, a gift given to the Danish Royal Family in 1894. This market was small, but included a Christmas train and plenty of stalls selling mugs of steaming gløgg (mulled wine with spices, raisins and almonds), mulled hot cider and grilled bratwursts. We warmed ourselves up with the hot gløgg as the weather was cold, damp and gray.
The Christmas Market on Højbro Plads had the best festive atmosphere in Copenhagen.
Steaming mugs of Danish gløgg.
Hubby and I drinking gløgg  to stay warm in Copenhagen. 
Of course, you must have a grilled brat while you're at a Christmas market!
Some tempting sweets at the Christmas markets in Copenhagen.
I hoped to find some cute, handmade, traditional Christmas ornaments, but unfortunately, only two stalls were selling these items. Honestly, I couldn’t tell whether they were really homemade or made in China, so I passed.

At a coffeeshop, we asked the barista which Christmas market was her favorite. She pointed us in the direction of the 18th annual Christiania Christmas Market, located in Christianshavn, which is known as the city’s bohemian district. The Freetown of Christiania definitely has a more Rastafari atmosphere – if you know what I mean. I’m a fairly liberal person, but I was shocked to see so much cannabis being sold out in the public. This was a completely separate section from the Christmas market, but only 200 meters or so away too.
Christmas in Christiania.
Perhaps I would have found some unique handicraft items in Christiania, but we didn’t want to wait outside in the cold in a long line that didn’t appear to be moving. Instead, we popped into a local bar for more warming glasses of Danish gløgg.

Finally, we strolled over to the historic Nyhavn Christmas Market located along the banks of the famous Nyhavn Canal. This setting, with moored boats and colorful, 17th-and 18th-century townhouses as well as two former residences of well-known Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, seemed ideal for a Christmas market.
Unfortunately, Nyhavn’s market, the smallest of the four we’d seen, didn’t have much to offer besides woolen hats and scarves and more gløgg, which we happily ordered again. And the weather had turned from just being cold and gray to a miserable drizzle.
Every glass of gløgg we had was always slightly different.
An interesting concept - waffle on a stick!
Though we had a great time hanging out with our friend, Copenhagen itself did not meet my expectations and neither did the Christmas markets. The highlight was having two amazing, multi-course (also expensive) dinners over the weekend, which I’ll save for another post.

Perhaps next Christmas, we’ll just meet up with our friend in Germany instead!

Which Christmas market in Europe is your favorite?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Simon stopped the car in the middle of a rural road in Lower Silesia, Poland. His wife, Beata, ran out to nearby garden and returned with a handful of wild pink roses.

“That’s what my childhood smells like to me,” she told her husband as she held open her hands full of crushed rose petals. Those rose petals would be made into a classic Polish preserve of rose petal jam.

Earlier this week, I had a special opportunity to meet Beata Zatorska, a former Polish native, and her British husband, Simon Target, the authors of Rose Petal Jam: Recipes and Stories of a Summer in Poland and Sugared Orange: Recipes and Stories of a Winter in Poland. A third cookbook focusing on Spring in Poland is in the works too. The couple was visiting Warsaw and held a book signing in connection with my local expat women’s group, International Women’s Group of Warsaw, at the Wilanow Wedel Café. I, of course, signed up immediately since I love cookbooks and am trying to learn as much as I can about Polish cooking while we live here.
Polish cookbook author, Beata Zatorska, signing copies of her latest book in Warsaw on December 16. 
Zatorska wrote the two seasonal cookbooks based on her childhood memories of her grandmother and other family members in Poland as well as their own recipes. When she was 19 years old, she emigrated to Australia where she later became a family doctor and met her husband, Target. He has written and directed award-winning television documentaries and directed numerous television food shows with Australian chefs. More than 20 years later, Zatorska returned to Poland with her husband for the first time so she could finish her cookbooks and her husband could take the impressive photographs.
The front cover of the latest cookbook - Sugared Orange: Recipes & Stories from a Winter in Poland.
Rose Petal Jam: Recipes & Stories from a Summer in Poland also has been translated in German.
As I look through the cookbooks, I can’t help but be transported to Zatorska’s Poland – a childhood surrounded by loving family members and an abundance of homecooked foods based on the Polish countryside. The cookbooks, part memoir and travelogue, bring to life the food, her memories, the traditions and the seasons.
Summer produce in Poland, as shown by Target during his slideshow presentation.
The best part was being able to Zatorska and Target in person! I immediately saw how much Zatorska still loved her homeland and how her husband had fallen in love with it as well while they traveled around the countryside and returned to cities like Warsaw and Krakow. The cookbooks are lovingly put together with some beautiful photos.
Beata Zatorska, a former Polish native, and her British husband, Simon Target. Authors of two cookbooks featuring Polish cuisine.
I’ve already starting bookmarking the recipes that I would like to make such as makowiec (a traditional, sweet poppy seed roll), apple pancakes, Lidia’s roast chicken and wild mushroom dumplings. I bet you won’t be able to resist these recipes either!

If you have any interest in Polish cooking and the stories behind the food, then you’ll love these cookbooks as much as I am!

I waited my turn so I could get both of my cookbooks signed by Zatorska.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I can’t believe that just last week we were in London! Time certainly has flown by!

Since this was only my second trip to London and it’s Christmas time, I wanted to make sure I saw some of the Christmas markets. Sadly, I only had time for one market as our flight from Warsaw first was delayed by 2 hours, then canceled and finally rescheduled for 5 hours later in the day. We finally arrived in London around 6 p.m. with just enough time to enjoy a fantastic dinner at NOPI Restaurant (from the creators behind the Jerusalem and Plenty cookbooks.)

One day while my husband was working, I strolled over to Hyde Park to explore the Christmas Market as part of the Winter Wonderland. I was envisioning rustic Christmas stalls filled with handmade goodies not a park full of glitzy carnival rides for children.
Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park in London. 
I finally found the Angel’s Market which is home to about 100 wooden stalls selling everything from Christmas decorations to homemade candies to leather wallets and Turkish lamps. (I seem to find a Turkish store wherever I go!) The market is open daily, except Christmas Day, through January 5.
The Winter Wonderland entrance near the Hyde Park Corner tube station.
And you can't leave a Christmas market without buying a Turkish lamp! 
Lots of food and drink options at least!
Of course, you'll find several stalls selling mulled wine and hot chocolate too!
You can avoid the carnival ride section by taking the London tube to the Hyde Park Corner exit and following the signs to Winter Wonderland. I discovered that little tidbit after I walked through everything. Oh well!

The market is a little over the top, and I didn’t find as many authentic-looking, handmade Christmas decorations as I had hoped. I did buy two wooden decorations made from Black Forest wood in Germany. Guess next year, we need to visit one of the real Christmas markets in Germany!

I concluded my market visit in London by eating a grilled German bratwurst and drinking a pint of Weiss beer. A Christmas market doesn’t get any more authentic that, right?
Mmm...grilled German brats!
Some tasty looking candies!
There's even an ice skating rink at Hyde Park.
And if you wander off to the side of the market, you'll find a pond with these white geese in Hyde Park.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Brooklyn Bridge in NYC is what the Bosphorus Bridge is to Istanbul.

Both bridges stand out as iconic structures that make up the cities’ landscapes. Both bridges also are beautiful at night.

Last week, when I visited NYC, I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I realized in all the three years I lived in NY that I never did that. That was about to change.
 The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Completed in 1883, it connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River. 
I found the easiest way to cross the Brooklyn Bridge by foot is to take the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop. Easy enough. The pathway leading to the bridge is directly across from the subway stop. Seriously, this couldn’t be more self-explanatory.

With my good camera in hand, I hoped to take some lovely photos of the sun setting over Manhattan. Well, I missed the opportunity by 15 minutes or so as the sky was turning from pretty shades of golden orange to dusk.
Rush hour traffic starting to cross the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan.
Looking back into Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge at night.
This is the Manhattan Bridge, completed in 1909, with the Empire State Building lit up at night in the background.
The next morning, my final day in NYC, I decided to return to the Brooklyn Bridge to shoot contrasting photos during the day. I took the 2/3 express train to the Clark Street stopped and walked about 10 minutes to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade along the East River. From here, you have some fantastic views of lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.
One of my favorite photos - the seagull and the Brooklyn Bridge. I also posted this photo on my Instagram feed. Follow me for more photos from my travels!
A water taxi on the East River with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
I think this was only the fifth time I’ve ever set foot in Brooklyn. I certainly had missed out!

If you’ve never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, I highly recommend doing so the next time you visit NYC. And don’t forget to bring your camera! Enjoy the photos!

Have you ever walked across the Brooklyn Bridge?
Hopefully, you can see this panoramic photo of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.