Merry Christmas from South America

Merry Christmas everyone!
All the way from Suriname in South America, where it’s kinda weird to celebrate Christmas in 25-30 degrees Celcius.

This is a quick post to update you on why I have not posted more articles about Christmas around the world. The last minute decision to travel, all the preparations for a 12-hour trip and challenges to get on the Internet once there, did not help much.
I almost forgot what it was like to use dial-up to get online! You don’t realize how spoiled you are until you have to dial up again ūüôā

Anyway, it’s nice to be back home again, where I’m feasting on fresh fruit, and simple homecooked meals. So far I’ve had 4 different types of mangoes, all very sweet as they naturally ripen on the trees.

For Christmas we’ll have pineapple-ham with mashed potatoes, salad and green beans. Yesterday I baked a plum-rum-raisin cake for dessert. Sounds pretty much like a holiday dinner anywhere in the world, but for us it’s a true and special treat. I’ll post some pictures when I return from the trip.

Again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Latkes on Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights

Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, or Hannuka may be the best know Jewish holiday because the dates are close to Christmas. Like many, I have to admit that I used to think of it as the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. Of course the truth is different and you can learn more here about the history and tradition of Hanukkah.

menorah2This year, the Festival of Lights starts at sundown on December 11 and ends on December 19th. The eight-day holiday is a joyful celebration that includes the traditional lighting of the menorah, exchanging gifts and eating food cooked in oil.

Gift giving is usually only extended to the young children within a family and the only traditional gift of the holiday is “gelt,” small amounts of money.¬† Sounds like the Dutch word “geld” for money.¬†However, their gift giving has changed over the years and especially in North America, where¬†secular Jewish families don’t want their children to feel excluded from the Christmas gift giving.

The tradition of fried food at Hanukkah is rooted in the story of the miracle of oil where a one-day supply of olive oil kept the lamp burning for eight days (see link about history above).

Depending on the Jewish family (Ashkenazi or Sephardic), traditional foods served at Hanukkah are latkes or jamfilled dougnuts, both fried in oil. Latkes (pronounced “lot-kuhs” or “lot-keys”) are potato pancakes, served hot with sour cream or applesauce.
Go for it and try out this latke recipe.

Other resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah!

Sinterklaas, chocolate letters, speculaas and pepernoten – Belgium & The Netherlands

Sinterklaas,  also known as Sint Nicolaas, is an important holiday figure in the Netherlands, Aruba, Suriname, Netherlands Antilles and Belgium. This holiday is celebrated in the Netherlands on the evening of December 5 and in Belgium on the morning of December 6. The feast celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of, among other things, children.

Pepernoten
Pepernoten

In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas starts in mid-November with his arrival on a steamboat from Spain. His assistant Zwarte Piet would toss treats into the crowd. Dutch goodies associated with Sinterklaas are 5-inch chocolate letters, speculaas (spice cookies made with a press), pepernoten (miniature spice cookies) and marzipan (made with almond paste).

As the story goes, Santa Claus was derived from Sinterklaas, but if you want to know more, click on the history of Sinterklaas.

Sinterklaas is an entirely different holiday from Christmas. In Belgium Santa Claus is called de Kerstman or le P√®re No√ęl and he comes around on Christmas day to bring children presents. (Lucky kids, they get presents twice in December!)

A typical Belgian¬†Christmas breakfast includes a special sweet bread called ‘cougnou’ or ‘cougnolle’ – supposedly shaped to look like baby Jesus (similar to the German stollen!). Some families will have another big meal on Christmas day.

Christmas treats in the Netherlands include Kerststol (yes, stollen again), krentenbroojes (currant buns) with cheese for breakfast, and a nice family dinner with roasted goose or pork on the 25th. There used to be little or no gift-giving since that’s done on Sinterklaas, but this is becoming more common. The second day of Christmas (December 26th) is reserved to visit family and friends.

Oh, I remember growing up when Sinterklaasdag was still a holiday in Suriname. It is no longer celebrated since the Independence in 1975.

Chocolade letter

Sinterklaas was exciting (getting gifts) and scary (to get the whip if you had been bad) at the same time. I still have fond memories of how we used to gather at my grandmother’s house, sitting in the living room when suddenly pepernoten were tossed into the room. That was the clue that Sinterklaas had arrived. ¬†

Of course we never saw him, but he always left a big bag with gifts behind. And chocolate letters too! Ah traditions…

Resources for Sinterklaas and Kerstfeest.
Here’s a recipe of Kerststol.
Listen to Dutch Christmas songs here.

Stollen, Gl√ľhwein and Lebkuchen – Germany

Besides some of the wellknow goodies served during Christmas in Germany, such as Stollen, Gl√ľhwein and Lebkuchen, it appears that many Christmas traditions originated in Germany.¬†http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

Stollen is a type of ‘fruit’ bread that was originally called Christstollen because it symbolized a swaddled baby Jesus. Since the 13th century it has evolved into a lighter type of sweet bread baked with butter, raisins and lemon zest. You can find a stollen recipe here.

Gl√ľhwein is a spiced red wine that is heated before serving. If you want to serve the body & soul warming beverage you can try out this Gl√ľhwein¬†recipe.

Lebkuchen dates from the 14th century and is a type of gingerbread made with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, coriander, and anise. The dough is prepared without yeast and sweetened with honey. Here’s a Lebkuchen recipe.

Did you know that the Christmas tree is another tradition that originated from Germany? Remember that song: “Oh Tannenbaum”?¬† Find more Christmas tree history here.

The German Santa Claus or Sankt Nikolaus is also called ‘Der Weihnachtsmann’ (Father Christmas). He brings gifts in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve (December 24th) and when people return home from church they find the presents under the Christmas tree.

Click here for another German Christmas resource.

Sea Urchins – A Seafood Delicacy

Holiday meal traditions vary widely from one country to the next. This morning I came across a post that reminded me of this fact as well as the incredible variety of food found in the sea.

Sea urchins are featured in French cuisine particularly during the Holidays although they are consumed in all countries along the Mediterranean, in Japan and in some parts of South America.

Sea urchins are prepared in a variety of ways including sauces, soups, seafood dishes and scrambled eggs and are very tasty and versatile.

See pictures and additional information.

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