Thursday, November 27, 2014

If you’re celebrating today, Happy Thanksgiving!

We won’t be eating a turkey dinner today because we’re hopping on a plane to visit our friends in Germany. However, we will be helping to cook an expat Thanksgiving meal on Saturday after we’ve seen some of the infamous German Christmas markets for the first time.

Yesterday, I baked a healthier version of my normal pumpkin pie and I’m carrying it on the plane this afternoon. I hope it arrives safely with me!

Since I’ve been trying to do gluten-free baking, the biggest obstacle was how to make a gluten-free crust. I’ve tried an almond flour crust a couple of times, but funny enough, I find it tastes too nutty. So I went back into the kitchen to figure out a recipe that didn’t require xanthum gum or some other strange gluten-free replacements.

The easiest solution was using a combination of almond and coconut flours. Then, I used melted coconut oil instead of butter to make it a bit healthier. The crust did brown faster than others I’ve used, so I would definitely recommend covering the crust with aluminum foil while baking the pumpkin pie.

Now that I’ve got the crust figured out, I’m just hoping I can get through airport security with my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie in tact! I’ll let you know how it goes!

Happy Thanksgiving!
My previous version of Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie with an almond flour crust.
Gluten-Free Coconut & Almond Crust
Yields: one 9-inch crust

120      g.                     almond flour
70        g.                     coconut flour
70        g.                     melted coconut oil
3          Tablespoons    maple syrup
Pinch                           salt

Using a food processor fitted with a blade, combine the almond and coconut flours and salt.

Slowly, drizzle in the coconut oil and maple syrup, and blend until you have a wet dough.

Press this dough into your pie pan. I use my hands and then a flat-bottomed glass to get the crust pressed down evenly.

Bake at 350 F/175 C until lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes.

While the tart shell is baking, make the pumpkin custard recipe below.
For the Pumpkin Custard:
255      g.                     homemade pumpkin puree
130      g.                     organic palm sugar
70        ml.                   almond milk or cream (36% Smietanka Tortowa)
1          tsp.                  vanilla extract
1          tsp.                  ground cinnamon powder
¼         tsp.                  ground cloves
¼         tsp.                  ground allspice
¼         tsp.                  freshly grated nutmeg
¼         tsp.                  salt
2          ea.                   organic or free-range large eggs***
60        g.                     melted coconut oil

In a medium-sized bowl, place all the ingredients together and whisk until smooth. Add the melted coconut oil last as it can seize up into little chunks of solidified fat.

Pour the pumpkin filling into the prepared pie shell.

Place the pumpkin pie onto a flat baking sheet. Bake the tart in a preheated 350 F/175 C for about 25-30 minutes until the center is set or a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool at room temperature. Then refrigerate. Garnish the pie with whipped cream, slightly sweetened either with maple syrup or your choice of sugar substitute.
***Note: I still use eggs in my baking, but if you would prefer an egg-free version, simply blend 1 Tablespoon of ground flax seeds with 3 Tablespoons of hot water. Let rest 5 minutes or so until the mixture has the texture of a raw egg. This ratio = 1 egg.

Monday, November 24, 2014

This weekend, we rang in the Christmas season with Polish mulled wine, grilled Zakopane (oscypek) cheese, Croatian cevapcici and Lithuanian black bread.

The first Christmas Market in Warsaw officially opened on Saturday, and hubby and I made an afternoon of it there. Everyone seemed so cheerful, and many of the stall holders spoke English or at least tolerated my Polish. It seemed like a real Christmas market!
Such a stark contrast from last year when the Christmas markets here sucked so badly that we escaped to Krakow and Copenhagen. (The city had a pitiful market set up in the worst location in front of Warsaw Centralny and a just handful of stalls near St. Anne’s Church in Old Town.) This weekend, we’re visiting our friends in Germany to experience the German Christmas markets for the first time.

But this year, if you’re looking for Christmas spirit in Warsaw, you’ve got plenty of options!
The first place to start is in the Żoliborz neighborhood at the Plac Wilsona metro stop. Here you’ll find more than 20 wooden booths with special exhibitors from Lithuania, Belarus, Croatia and Israel. We had a good time joking with the Croatian guys (in English) since we had visited Croatia just back in September. One of the cooks from Zagreb looks very similar to the chef/owner Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes, so of course, I had to take a photo with him.
Croatian cevapcici is very similar to Turkish kofte,
even served with a spicy red pepper paste.
I grabbed a second glass of grzane wino, but the awful grzane piwo also was for sale. Hubby settled on a normal Polish beer, and there’s a nearby sklep that sells Lithuanian beers on tap as well.
At the market, besides delicious edible goodies, you’ll find a variety of Christmas gifts, including Polish ceramics, handmade Christmas ornaments and mini trees, sets of Russian nesting dolls from Belarus, olive-wood-carved nativity sets, woolen socks and much more!
Since this market is only one metro stop away from our apartment, I’m sure I’ll be returning again soon! Perhaps, just so I hang out with the jolly Croatian guys again!

Let the holiday season begin!
Since good information (in English) is difficult to find, I’ve compiled a list of the Christmas Markets happening in Warsaw this year.

Christmas Market in Żoliborz
Daily until December 22
Time: 10.00-19.00
Location: Plac Wilsona in Żoliborz

Christmas Market 2014 on the Barbakan 
November 28th to January 6th
Local Polish vendors selling food and Christmas decorations and gifts will be set up along the Old Town walls from Plac Zamkowy to the Barbikan as well as in the Old Town Square. The ice skating rink in the Old Town opens on December 5th.

Christmas Fair by National Stadium
December 6th-January 6th
Other activities include: 3 skating rinks, ice slide, ice bistro and bar and a great Christmas tree.

Christmas Bazaar in Ursynów
December 12-21
Weekdays 11-19:00; on weekends: 10-19:00
Location: KEN Street 101, next to the Catholic Parish of the Ascension

Christmas Market at Blue City
December 15-23
Time: 10-19:00
Location: Centrum Handlowe Blue City Mall, al. Jerozolimskie 179
This Christmas Market will feature more than 30 wooden booths with products from Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and of course, Poland, mainly from the Podlasie, Mazury and Subcarpathian regions. Some of products will include cheese, fish, baked goods, venison  and dumplings.

Monday, November 10, 2014

If you like organic, local produce, baked goods, and other healthy food items, then head to the BioBazar in Warsaw.

The BioBazar, held every Wednesday and Saturday in a pre-WWII factory building, is one of my favorite markets where I can purchase unique products such as butternut squash, coconut oil, kale, seasonal mushrooms, tomatillos, millet, quinoa, gluten-free noodles and more.
I use all these seasonal ingredients at home to make dinners that feature items like green salads, mushroom risotto, homemade tortillas with a tomatillo salsa or a Cypriot eggplant and lamb casserole.
Every week, you never know what might be available or in season. Right now, the market is full of Polish apples and fresh apple juice.
What I find most interesting about this space is that the BioBazar takes place in a crumbling pre-WWII building that is surrounded by new skyscrapers and the new metro line all in the city center.
The former Norblin and Company, originally started in 1820, produced metal candleholders, table decorations and cooking equipment and later metal prefabrications for more than 100 years. The buildings were badly damaged during WWII; some were torn down, and others were turned into museum spaces and a theater for awhile. Today, you can still wander around and see the old assembly lines and some of the machinery.
There are fewer and fewer spaces like this remaining in Warsaw. To me, this is what makes Warsaw interesting.

A few months ago, I saw some fancy new posters go up touting ArtNorblin, a new development that will turn the old factory buildings into a gigantic retail and office space. It looks like some of the brick façade will be incorporated into the new design. Hopefully! The website says the site still will be home to the BioBazar as well as a new Norblin Factory Museum.
Before these buildings get “destroyed,” why not stop by the BioBazar and see a bit of Warsaw’s pre-WWII history in person. You also can pick up some delicious, organic produce!
Inside the BioBazar on a recent Saturday. 
BioBazar in Warsaw
ul. Żelazna 51/53
Open: 10-18 Wednesdays & 8-16 Saturdays

BioBazar in Katowice
ul. Bracka 20
Open: 8-16 Saturdays

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I know, maybe you’re tired of baking with pumpkin, but I’m not!

Unlike the United States where you can buy canned pumpkin year-round, pumpkin is very seasonal in Poland. You actually have to buy a whole or part of a large pumpkin and roast it yourself to get pumpkin puree for your baking recipes.

I like buying the small, orange-fleshed Hokkaido pumpkins, also called Japanese pumpkins, at my local markets. These pumpkins have a dense flesh and are less watery than other varieties I find here.
So once I had my homemade pumpkin puree, I went searching online for some more gluten-free recipes. What I don’t like is that many of these recipes call for xanthum gum, sorghum flour or other items I can’t find here. I’ve finally found an all-purpose gluten-free flour from an Italian company, Schar, which is sold at many of the organic shops in Warsaw.
Some of the gluten-free and organic products that I use at  home for baking.
I finally found a pumpkin bread recipe that I could adapt with the ingredients that I have here at home. This pumpkin bread is sooo good that you’ll be shocked to learn that it contains ZERO fat and is gluten-free, of course! I used homemade applesauce instead of any oil and substituted Turkish ayran (or use buttermilk) for the suggested water. The ayran keeps the bread moist and adds some extra calcium.

Then, just to go one step farther, I topped off my pumpkin bread with the Spiced Streusel Topping from my last pumpkin recipe. The topping adds some extra crunch and healthy vitamins. A win-win!

This weekend, we’re heading out on a week-long road trip through the Baltic countries so I want to pack some healthy snacks. This pumpkin bread definitely will be coming along!
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Bread with Candied Ginger
Yields: 2 normal loaf pans or 4 mini trays and 1 normal loaf pan
Adapted from I Am That Lady


Spiced Streusel Topping
2          Tablespoons                organic coconut oil, melted
2          Tablespoons                pure maple syrup
2          Tablespoons                ground flax seeds
½         teaspoon                      ground cinnamon
½         teaspoon                      ground ginger
¼         teaspoon                      salt
½         cup                  (60 g.)  almond flour*
¾         cup                  (95 g.)  chopped pumpkin seeds or nuts
*Note:             You can substitute the almond pulp from your homemade almond milk for the almond flour. Just be sure to dry your leftover almond pulp in the oven before using.

Bread ingredients
425      g.                                             homemade pumpkin puree (or substitute one 15 oz-can)
3          large                                        eggs
1          cup                  (150 g.)            organic palm sugar (or use granulated sugar)
1          cup                  (240 g.)            homemade applesauce
6.5       oz.                   (185 ml.)          Turkish ayran or buttermilk
2          cups                 (320 g.)            gluten-free all-purpose flour
¼         cup                  (35 g.)              coconut flour, lightly packed
2          teaspoons                                ground cinnamon
1          teaspoon                                  ground ginger
1          teaspoon                                  freshly grated nutmeg
2          teaspoons                                baking soda
1          Tablespoon                              gluten-free baking powder or normal baking powder
About ¼ cup               (50 g.)              candied ginger, diced small

Preheat oven to 350F/175 C. Lightly brush with your baking pans with oil and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the streusel ingredients, tossing with a fork until you get small crumbs. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs, palm sugar, applesauce and Turkish ayran or buttermilk.

In a separate bowl, add all the dry ingredients, and then whisk into the wet ingredients until incorporated.

Lastly, fold in the candied ginger pieces.

Divide the batter between prepared baking pans, filling each one a little over halfway full.

Sprinkle and press the streusel topping on top of the batter.

For smaller loaves, bake for about 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Larger loaves will take nearly 60 minutes.

These pumpkin loaves can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for 1-2 days and then should be moved to the refrigerator. The loaves also freeze well.
***Optional: Instead of making the Spiced Streusel Topping, simply garnish your loaves with pumpkin seeds or some chopped nuts.
Small loaves with the Spiced Streusel Topping before baking.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thousands of flickering candles adorned the stone graves at Powązki Cemetery (Cmentarz Powązkowski) on Saturday night in Warsaw.

For the first time, we took part in the All Saints’ Day (Wszystkich Świętych in Polish) celebrations on November 1st. We joined thousands of Poles as they flocked to the local cemeteries to remember and honor their deceased family members and friends by leaving flowers and candles on their graves.

We visited Powązki Cemetery, since it’s a short walk from our apartment, with another couple and their two children. Before we entered, we bought several glass, lantern-like candles that we planned to place on bare graves so the deceased wouldn’t feel “lonely” as we told the kids. My husband also wanted to light a candle in honor of his great-aunt who recently died.
This historic cemetery looked absolutely beautiful! We wandered through row after row of decorated graves and tombstones, just taking in the scenery and witnessing this Polish tradition in person. I’ve never seen anything like this before except perhaps the Warsaw Uprising anniversary events I’ve partaken in since we’ve lived here.
I took many photos, but the daylight soon faded, which made it more difficult. However, the oncoming of dusk made the candles stand out more as we walked through Powązki.

Hope you enjoy my photos of our first All Saints’ Day in Poland!

Have you ever witnessed All Saints’ Day celebrations in your own country or while traveling?
My husband lit a candle on the grave of Violetta Villas, a Belgian-born Polish and international cabaret star, singer, actress, composer and songwriter, who died at age 73 in 2011. During her long career, she recorded almost 300 songs in 10 languages and starred in six films.
Another popular grave was of Gustaw Holoubek, a well-known Polish actor, director, member of the Polish Sejm and a senator in the Polish Parliament. He died in 2008 at the age of 85. Holoubek also survived being a prisoner of war during the Nazi German Occupation of Poland and went on to have a long, successful career in the arts and local politics.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November 1st is a special holiday here in Poland, known as All Saints’ Day in most Catholic countries, or Wszystkich Świętych in Polish.

Today, Poles will flock to the cemeteries to remember and honor their deceased family members and friends by leaving flowers and candles on their graves. Later this afternoon, we plan to visit the Cmentarz Powązkowski, also known as Stare Powązki, a historic cemetery dating  back to 1790, located in the Wola district of Warsaw. Last year, we missed this holiday because we were in Berlin for the long weekend. 
Apparently, the Polish cemeteries, decorated with hundreds of flickering candles and flowers, will really be a sight to behold today. Everyone will be there to celebrate and pray over their deceased loved ones. Volunteers also help to make sure that no grave is left without a candle. I think that’s a nice touch because I’ve seen so many graves in America that look abandoned.
Last year, we visited Powązki Cemetery a few days before All Saints’ Day as part of a special tour to learn more about its history. Dozens of family members were already working on cleaning up leaves and other debris around many of the tombs.

The cemetery is full of ornate, moss-covered tombstones that were created by some of the most renowned sculptors – both Polish and foreign. Between 700,000 to 1.5 million people are buried here.
During World War II, the cemetery served as a shelter for the people and Resistance fighters. Then, during the Soviet occupation, this was the only place where Polish characters were used and the Polish language was spoken in public. The cemetery is full of history.
During the tour, we learned the Powązki Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous historical figures in Polish history, including those interred along the “Avenue of Notables” (Aleja Zasłużonych) established in 1925.

For example, the ancestors of the English and Spanish royal family were descended from Poland. The Battenberg family was a morganatic branch of the House of Hesse-Darmstadt, rulers of the Grand Duchy of Hesse in Germany. The first member was Julia Hauke, who came from the Warsaw area, and is buried with her husband at Powazki. She is reportedly the great-, great-, grandmother of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.
Other “female angels” mentioned on the tour were:
Izabella Moszczeńska-Rzepecka, a Polish writer and suffragist.
Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska, a well-known Polish composer and pianist from the late 1800s.
Marie Curie-Sklodowska, a Nobel-prize winner in chemistry and physics.
As you can see from these photos, the Powązki Cemetery is an interesting place to explore and photograph. I cannot wait to see what it looks like tonight for All Saints’ Day.
Look for the domed-Kościół pw świętego Karola Boromeusza (St. Charles Borromeo Parish) at the Powązki Cemetery.
Corner of Okopowa and Powązkowska streets
The nearest tram stop is called Powązkowska.
Warsaw, Poland
The facade of the St. Charles Borromeo Parish at the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.