Saturday, April 12, 2014

Baby Beets, Chłodnik and Another French Adventure

April 12, 2014

We just returned from a week long trip to Northern France - to two regions that Doug and I have never visited, Brittany and Normandy. We also took a ferry to the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey and spent two days gorging on fresh Jersey ice cream, aged cheddar, yogurt, butter and Indian food like only the UK can offer. It was awesome!

Spring is in full swing in France. In most places the daffodils were finished and the tulips were not too far behind them. Everywhere fields of rape were in bloom.  This is the first trip that Daria actually seemed like she was enjoying herself and (very) aware of her surroundings.  She charmed the French and British ladies with her smile and kept reaching for some of my chicken tikka masala, much to our Indian waiter's delight.

We arrived home to find that the daffodils are just starting to bloom in Gdansk.  After all, we are a good bit farther north than Normandy, as Gdansk is about on the same latitude as Scotland.
However, I was happy to find one of the early spring treats at the central market (Hala Targowa) this morning:  baby beets, fresh from Polish soil.  Spring truly is here!

I thought now would be a good time to introduce Daria to beets.  It depends on who you ask, but the recommended age for offering beets to infants ranges from 5-8 months.*  Daria turned 7 months last week so why not.

Inspired by the delicious, fresh food we had in France, I made a 3-course meal with both French and Polish elements.

Le Menu

First Course

Chłodnik: Polish Cold Yogurt and Beet Soup

  Main Course

Spinach and Parmesan Crustless Quiche


I made it all from scratch in about an hour.  You can do it too! It's easy.  It is an hour well spent!
I even made the table pretty!  I bought the cute little rooster today from an old lady by the Hala Targowa.
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and in the centerpiece is a traditional Polish palm (child-sized). 
Florists and crafty people here pride themselves on making colorful palms to wave at the Palm Sunday Mass

If you're asking yourself, 'What is Chłodnik?', don't worry, I wasn't sure what it was the first time I saw it on a menu here in Poland.  It is a cold soup made from yogurt and other fermented dairy products, complete with tender, baby beets, tender beet greens and a healthy helping of fresh dill and raw garlic.  It is refreshing and a delightful light pink color that is perfect for baby showers and Easter.

Baby beet roots, about 2 inches long each

How can you make it?  It is easy and takes very little actual cooking.  I've adapted a Polish recipe for use with US products that are easy to find.

4-10 young beets with the stems and leaves (best if the beets are less than 2 inches in diameter)
1 large cucumber, peeled
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
450ml Greek-style yogurt (such as Fage 2%)
500ml buttermilk
300ml Kefir or full-fat sour cream (If you can find Kefir, make sure that it is plain - no sugar or flavors added)
Handful of fresh chives, minced
Handful of fresh dill, minced
Teaspoon of local honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook’s note:  For heaven’s sake, don’t use all skimmed or 0% fat dairy products for this dish. It will not turn out right. 

Bring water to a boil in a large soup pot.
Wash the beets, greens and stems thoroughly in water. Scrub the beets but don’t peel them.
Dry off the beets with a clean kitchen towel.
Chop the greens and stems VERY FINE.  Use the coarse grate surface on your box grater and grate the raw beets. You could also finely chop the beets if they are really small. 
Once the greens are chopped and the beets are grated, put them into the boiling water and turn off the heat. Cover and let them sit for 1 minute.  Remove from the water and let them cool.
Wash and then grate up the cucumber using the same coarse grate surface.
Chop up the chives and dill.
Mince the garlic cloves or use a garlic press.
Let your soup pot cool down or use a large serving bowl to mix up the soup.
Combine the yogurt, buttermilk and kefir.  Whisk in the tablespoon of honey.
Add the dill, chives, cucumber and ‘blanched’ beets, greens and stems. 
Mix together gently.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add more honey if it is too sour for your taste.
Place in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving.

This is a great appetizer or first course, especially on a hot summer night. This may also dazzle your children as a starter for Easter Dinner or your friends at a baby shower.     
Smacznego! (Bon appetite!)

Chłodnik for Baby

I decided to introduce baby beets to Daria today because they were super fresh, local and organic.** She had her own version of Chłodnik.

While I was waiting for the big pot to come to a boil, I reserved 4 little beets for Daria (scrubbed under cold water, but not peeled, tops removed).  I steamed them until fork-tender, then pureed them with my immersion blender and a little water.  

She got to try the pure beet puree first and loved it. Once two tablespoons were ingested (and painted on herself) we made her a little 'chłodnik' with a bit of beet puree, tangy plain Balkan-style yogurt and a pinch of minced dill. She loved it so much, she painted a picture.

Needless to say, someone went straight from the high chair into the bath.  She now has a lovely rouge on her cheeks from the beet stain!

* I found a range of recommended ages for starting beets with infants.  Some from the UK said 8 months, a Polish source says 5 months and the March of Dimes recommends 6 months.  Just to be safe, ask your pediatrician about when to start beets.  
** Beets can be high in nitrates, like carrots. Buying organic will help reduce the amount of nitrates in the veg.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Homemade peanut butter

March 29, 2014

The new Olmsted scholar list is out for the class of 2015 and we were excited to learn that a scholar will be coming to Gdansk next year!

Since they have 3 kids, I bet they go through a lot of peanut butter. is our Polish adventure regarding the American pantry staple: peanut butter.

Peanut butter has been a bit of a problem here in Gdansk.  It does exist but not in the form that I prefer.   The two types that we have tried here are both packed with sugar and palm oil. One I tried at my student's house was the worst and palm oil was the FIRST ingredient! Both types had a metallic after-taste to them. I tried them both before I got pregnant so that's not to blame!  Yuck!

There is an international foods store at Galeria Baltycka that sometimes has Skippy brand peanut butter imported from the UK.  Again, too much sugar and well, I'm a Jif girl. I recently gave our last jar of Jif to our Polish friend Olek (he spent his childhood on the upper east side of Manhattan) and he instantly said: "Choosy Moms Choose Jif!"

Jif is my fave but it is also loaded with sugar and oils. I have been a Smucker's All-Natural fan for many years and especially since we don't eat 'processed' foods anymore. We were warned by the previous scholar (who was here 6 years ago) that there was no peanut butter to be found, so we brought some of the Smucker's All-Natural Peanut Butter with us in our household goods shipment. However, since it is nothing but peanuts and salt, the shelf life is relatively no way to stockpile 2 years worth.

When we ran out I started investigating how to make peanut butter at home.  It is quite easy and we FINALLY, after many many moons of searching numerous grocery stores in Gdansk, found unsalted, roasted peanuts.  I figured that the peanuts would be in the bulk bin section of the TESCO, Carrefour, Bomi or Piotr i Pawel, but no, no, no. Only salted, wasabi and caramel versions are located there.  The unsalted peanuts are in the BAKING section, right next to the giant bags of poppy seeds. Yep. Because that product placement makes perfect sense.

So, here is a great video on how to use your Vita-Mix to make peanut butter.  Years ago I tried to make peanut butter at home using my KitchenAid food processor. Sadly, the blade doesn't seem to be able to make the right consistency and the motor isn't strong enough. Mine got really hot and started smelling funny. End of experiment.

500g unsalted, roasted peanuts from TESCO = $3.40  or 10.88 PLN

+ 2 minutes in the Vita-Mix

Babies love the sound of the Vita-Mix "white noise"

= Enough peanut butter to fill an empty, sterilized old Smucker's peanut butter jar.

Before you move it into the jar, taste it and add some salt or a little local honey if you want.
Put the spurs to it for another minute to mix well.

I don't know how prices are on shelled peanuts or peanut butter in the States right now but we paid about $4.50 a jar for the Smucker's at the commissary at Ramstein back in September. Can't beat cheaper, fresher and it is dead simple.

The new Scholar's family may not be as picky as me, so my advice to them....if you don't want to make your own peanut butter or pay a fortune for imported Skippy......bring enough Jif for two years.

My Ode to the Vita-Mix

I think that I am in love with a kitchen appliance. It does everything and is a million times more easy to clean than our food processor. Most of the time I just skip the food processor and use the Vita-Mix. I might just give away the stupid food processor because now we never use it!

We decided to put the Vita-Mix blender on our wedding registry after seeing a chef friend on Hilton Head use one. They are heavy-duty, laboratory and/or professional chef-grade and have amazing motors.   They also cost about $400.  I thought, well, I'm going to put a $400 blender on our registry and see what happens. Sure enough, one of our Dual Income No Kids family members (who are massive foodies and taught me how to make a lamb crown roast in high school) bought it for us. Yippee!

Considering how many things we use the Vita-Mix for, if we had spent the money ourselves it would have totally been worth it.

Here we are 4 years on and it is still going strong. We have to use the "Step up Step Down" electricity transformer box of course for all our American kitchen appliances here in Poland.  I use the Vita-Mix at least twice a week for creamy soups, smoothies, falafel, hummus, making baby food for Daria and making nut butters.  We've made pecan butter, raw almond butter and will try our hand at making low-sugar Nutella with raw hazelnuts very soon.

What should Daria's first nut butter be?  Hmmm....we'll see!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Medical Care in a Former Soviet Bloc Country 2013

May 11, 2013

I don't know how other people's experiences have been regarding medical care in their host countries, but mine has been pretty darn good here in Gdańsk.  Tricare found a medical facility for me when I got pregnant, and my local Polish friends say it's one of the best in the city. Most Poles rely on the national healthcare system, while a lucky few have private insurance. Private medical facilities like ours only take private insurance payments or cash.  They also tend to have the newest technology and draw more specialists than the state-run clinics and hospitals.  The national healthcare system now relies on these private facilities as contractors for more "specialty" medical procedures.  For example, the facility I use, SwissMed, has the one of the only heart cath labs in the area, so, anyone (private or public) who needs a heart cath goes to SwissMed hospital, and then the State foots the bill. 

There have been a few....cultural differences that I wasn't expecting regarding medical care here that I thought I might share with y'all.  For future Olmsted Scholars coming to Poland, please, take notes.

I've asked several of my Polish friends here about every one of these differences, and they all looked and said, "well, DUH, what did you expect? It's always like that."  My boss, who lived in Florida for 15 years, said, "oh yeah, I should have told you that you would have to do that, and it doesn't make sense to 'people like us' (AKA Americans)", it sounds like this really is the way it is here and not just things happening to me!

1. Things are done very differently at Doctor's offices here than in the U.S.  I don't know if this extends to the rest of Europe or not.

2. The Doctor does not go from exam room to exam room. Doctors see patients in their own little "gabinet" or exam room.  The Doctor has their desk, computer, relevant equipment (ultrasound, EKG, etc), changing room, bathroom, and exam table in this one room. The patients line up outside the door and are seen one by one.
3. Labwork can be done wherever the patient chooses. Most people (even at State facilities) have their blood taken at the Doctor's office, and then they take the samples themselves (by car, bus or on foot) to the lab of their choice. They pay the lab, and drop off the samples.  It's their "responsibility" as the patient. The majority of veterinary practices are like this too, the vet draws the samples and sends them with the owner. 
Full-service private facilities will send the labwork off for you, and I have never had to do this.
I did it once though, since it was closer to our house and we could have the blood taken there too....and I'll never do it again. It takes too much time and too much driving.

4. Sterile urine collection cups must be purchased at a medical supply store or pharmacy by the patient. Doctor's offices and labs do not have them on hand for you. You must bring one with you to each Doctor's appointment just in case a urine sample is requested at the time of your visit (even at my fancy clinic).

5. The first person to see your labwork results is...YOU, the patient. You must show up in person to sign for your results at the Doctor's office or the lab itself, and then make an appointment to discuss said results with the Doctor in person. The doctors here will not discuss labwork with you on the phone or by email (this happened to me twice, two different doctors).

6. The only time your Doctor will see your labwork results before you is if you are hospitalized.

7. Most labs do not and will not fax or email results to you or your Doctor. If you ask them to do this, they look at you like you suddenly grew three heads.

8. If you are not able to physically pick up your results, you may sign a form so that someone else is authorized to do so ( husband).

9. Glucose Tolerance Test.  Most pregnant women have to do the 1-hour test as a routine screening.
In Poland, if you do not go to a fancy private clinic like I do, you will have to purchase your own bag of glucose powder (50g or 75g) at your local pharmacy or medical supply store BEFORE you show up to take the test.  Hopefully, you don't have to then provide your own water to mix it into when it's time to drink it....

Most of you will probably find these things simply ludicrous, but it's just normal life here. 

If you find yourself living in a foreign country and needing medical care, be sure to ask about things like this, no matter how off-the-wall it may seem. I had NO IDEA that I needed to do some of these things, and the Doctor never advised me otherwise (probably not aware of the cultural differences...she's only worked in Poland and in the UK).

I'm sure that his list will grow as my pregnancy progresses, but I'm learning quickly!

It may be a good thing that Tricare is forcing me to have the baby on base in Germany, at least there won't be any surprises at delivery time like "oh, you have to bring your own linens and surgical pack with you for the birth!"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ukraine 2013

January 24 - February 3, 2013

Wow.....Ukraine was simply amazing.  I think that I've traveled to a fair number of foreign lands at this point, but Ukraine was special. Even in the winter.  I was fascinated by the freezing cold, blizzard-plagued, icy road-infested Ukraine, full of smiling and friendly people.  Check out the series of photos posted below, as they document our entire trip from Gdansk to Ukraine and back again.  We decided to go North first.

Vilnius, Lithuania
Wow, who goes to Lithuania twice in 6 months? We do!

It was so cold, the trees in Vilnius needed sweaters!  ;-) 

Church of St. Francis, Vilnius

Hiked up to the old fort.
5 weeks pregnant on this trip

Then we drove all the way down the eastern border of Poland, stopping along the way in Białystok and Lublin.

Białystok, Poland

"Eastern Versailles" in Białystok, Poland
Too bad it was closed this day

Downtown Białystok, full moon. A lovely view as we indulged in hot chocolate after a long day.

The memorial at Majdanek Death Camp, Lublin, Poland

Scary, scary place

We were so disappointed, we got there just as the museum closed, but we could still take pictures

I've read that this is one of the most complete and minimally changed Nazi death camps still in existence. Majdanek was so far east, the Nazis didn't have time to destroy much before the Reds marched in.....and the Reds left everything pretty intact.
These guard towers are 100% original, and the park works to keep everything maintained in original condition.

Lviv, Ukraine!
What a great city.  We spent 3 days here as Doug went through one of the local Archives.

I'm pretty sure this is the same dump truck I drove at Berry College, uncanny resemblance!

Ice sculptures, old market square, Lviv, Ukraine

Ice skating in front of the old town hall

More Lviv

An outdoor book market.  
The statue in the middle is of Ivan Federov, one of the fathers of Ukrainian printing

The synagogue used to sit in this parking lot, and I got to see the remaining wall.
I also ate at the Jewish restaurant, the Golden Rose, on the site.
The food was excellent.  Only after I got back to the hotel did I find out that the restaurant is very controversial and insulting to Jews, as one website cites that you have to haggle over the price of your meal when you got your bill, or can wear enlarged fake noses while you dine.....none of this happened to me.
Seemed like a normal, cozy cafe. Maybe they've changed their ways.

Tramwaj pub

Our hotel, the Hotel George, in the heart of Lviv.
It was once a major site for Soviet movers and shakers.
The hotel did not have secure parking, so we paid some extra Euros and had the hotel security guard at the door keep an eye on Jetta....parked right by the front door.

Our second morning there, it had snowed overnight and we found a surprise on our car.
I didn't get a picture of it, but someone had drawn a picture in the snow on the hood of our car.
The picture was an outline of the country of Ukraine, a heart and the letters "USA"
AWWWW!  Good to know not everyone hates us!

Catholic church and monastery in Lviv

One of the hand-made brooms you see for sale on the side of the road in Ukraine.
The monks were very busy using it to clear the stairs to the church.

Wanted to steal the altar cloth

Wanted to steal this one too, Forgive me, Jesus

I was feeling a little tired after walking all over the place, so I took the city train tour. Worth all $3.

Potocki Palace, Lviv.  
Lviv was once a vibrant Polish city during the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. 
Statues to famous Poles are seen throughout the city.


Kiev, Ukraine.
The view from our hotel room of "Occupy Kiev" AKA Tymoszenko Sidewalk Support Group

We were only in Kiev for one day, and the weather was AWFUL, so, we didn't take many pictures.
Kiev was a different world from the rest of Ukraine.  The roads were good and lit at night, and there was a distinct absence of horses and a giant presence of Mercedes SUVs.

Odessa, Ukraine.
By the time we got to the Black Sea, it was too dark already.  But we were there!  We saw it!
On our way to Moldova, before being denied access into the country.
They didn't like our Jetta...her papers or her plates.
The Ukrainians at the border smirked when we came back through in a "told you so" way....they tried to warn us....we were happy to spend more time and money in Ukraine anyways.

Since our plans changed, we had to go back through Ukraine to Poland.  It was an awesome trip back, and we stayed in some places that were truly off the map.


Lots of horrible roads.

Giant eat-your-car super pot hole

The old Soviet monuments were still standing in many places, as well as memorials to those who died and suffered under the Soviet regime.

Cute homes in villages, many painted and decorated in fun colors and patterns

Passing a sled

No idea where we were, but this was a cool sign somewhere in Ukraine

These farmers were dropping off big bags of something (corn? wheat? grain? meth?) and it had just been loaded onto the semi.

This is a two-lane road that was plowed directly down the middle. 
At this point, what we were driving on was exactly the width of our car.
The piles of snow on each side were AS TALL AND TALLER than our car!
Does anyone remember those little cars you could drive at Disney that wouldn't let you steer out of the established path?  This road was kind of like that.  The road was so narrow, and the snow was piled so close to the now one-lane road, it was literally impossible to spin out.

Oh my. Here comes a lorrie.  Must pull over into/onto the snow bank.

We got stuck behind a pig for several kilometers. Notice on-coming traffic has pulled over so we can pass in the middle of the road.

The Eastern Orthodox churches were gorgeous

So our GPS took us on a pig-trail (literally....see pictures above) and we happened upon this cool old castle.

Information about the castle. No idea what it says.  
If anyone out there reads Ukrainian, let me know what this is.

Another beyond gorgeous church

Stork's nest!

Ok, this was the best picture I could get of one of these without upsetting the locals.
Every time we pulled over to take a picture, people would give us dirty looks and scatter.
These colorful "kiosk" looking structures (on the right) were in every village, about every 2-3 blocks.
They are not kiosks....they are WELL HOUSES.  
We were amazed that the villages didn't have running water, as we kept seeing people pulling water out of these and toting them down the road. 

Morning rush hour. 

This is a "French Hot Dog."
A travel tip for exploring rural Ukraine....if you see a gas station that advertises these, there is a 97% chance that the gas station also has a pretty decent indoor bathroom. 
If you stop at a gas station that does NOT sell these hot will be better off doing your business in the forest, in the snow, behind a tree.  
Trust me.

The best hotel we had in Ukraine

The website made it appear SO TACKY....and it was....but it was AWESOME!

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!

A bunch of cats hanging out behind the "castle hotel"

Dirty, dirty Jetta

The roads of Lower Alabama are pristine compared to roads in Ukraine

We had to stop to allow a gaggle of geese to cross the road.....

..............and someone is missing a rather nice looking bay gelding.  
He was just hanging out in the middle of the road.

Another stork's nest

Krakow!  Back to "civilization"!!!

Solid chocolate shoe

The main market in Krakow

St. Mary's Church in Krakow

Highlights of the trip....mostly food:
We were told to carry small bills in Euro with us in case we needed to bribe our way out of "trouble."
There was no "trouble." I guess those days are past.
We used the Euro instead to tip the kind Ukrainians who helped out the silly Americans along the way.

Vilnius:  Incredible Food!  If you're there, try Zemaiciai in the old town. 
Regional dishes made with seasonal ingredients. Great local beer selection.
Białystok:   Chocolate shop on the main square: Pijalnia Czekolady Wedel
Lublin:  We didn't get any pics except out at the death camp, it was too dark. 
Awesome old medieval city, it reminded us of Tallinn. 
Found a great microbrewery/restaurant in the heart of it: 15 Grodzka
Lviv:   Everything!
Kiev:  McFoxy.  It was delicious fast food. 
There was no menu in any language using the Latin alphabet, so we had to point to the pictures. 
Thanks, Anthony Bourdain.
Odessa:  The kind hotel security guard who guided us to the nearest VW dealership so we could purchase a new headlight bulb.  
He was hilarious. 
On the way there I asked if he was of Russian or Ukrainian heritage, and he answered (in English) that his mother is Russian and father is he doesn't know who he is.  
We had an answer for that:  An American.  He laughed and seemed to really like that.
Moldova: Watching a horse drawn cart come through the border check point.
Krakow:  Great friends at the U.S Consulate who are always so warm and generous. :)