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March 2009
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Krakow Poland - back to the Motherland!

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D had a business meeting in Krakow (also spelled Cracow).  We were very excited because Poland was high on both of our "to visit" lists as both of our mothers are of Polish descent (D's mom is 100% Polish).   Krakow is in the southern part of Poland and was the capital from 1038 to 1596.

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We had a lovely visit and again lucked out with picture perfect weather.  The city surprised us in many ways.  It was not destroyed during WWII so the buildings were all very beautiful with a mix of some contemporary sculptures. 

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Most everyone spoke English and they spoke it very well.  It was super cheap to eat, which was a good thing because this trip was all about eating!  Okay, so all of our trips are all about eating!

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Both of us grew up eating Polish food so we were anxious to taste the authentic fare.  Our first lunch we were served two traditional spreads, one with cottage cheese (the healthy option) and the other (bottom bowl in photo above) was called smelec - basically lard.  I was curious so I looked it up - yep, pork lard with pork added!

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We ate lots of Pierogis (above) which are small dumplings that can be filled with meat, cheese, potatoes even sweets (blueberry and strawberry).  Pierogis are some of our favorites.  We also ate Golabkis (stuffed cabbage - we called them halupkis growing up), Bigos (hunters stew) and poppy seed rolls - YUMMY!

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Enough about the food, let's get back to the city.....oh but wait, I need to show you the cake I had.  I snuck this one while D was working  :  )

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The old town is not very big, but there is a beautiful square that is quite large.  The church shown in the photo below is St Mary's Basilica.  It was built in the 14th century and the story goes that two brothers were each building one of the towers.  While one brother was away, the other one raced to make his tower taller, a competition.  When the sibling returned and saw it, he killed his brother in a fit of rage and Krakow was left with a lopsided church.  

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The square was very festive and had many street mimes.  We thought some of the best we have seen in Europe.  "White Guy" was our favorite.  If you have never seen the street performers, they stand completely, and I mean completely, still until you drop a coin in their bucket.  This one started to write about you in his book and then had you sign a pretend page.  His face was so animated.

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This couple was also very good. What we liked about them was they were telling a story.  Each time someone gave them a coin, they acted out a little more of the story, but then stopped.  If you wanted to see more of the story, you had to give them more money.

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I also enjoyed the horse carriages.  They had on special shoes that made a wonderful clopping sound as they strolled though the city.

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Sunday we hit the flea market where I bought a very cool old photo album.  I was on a roll negotiating with the old Polish man who did not speak a word of English.  As I was sorting through his junk, he talked away to D.  Not sure if he realized D did not speak any Polish.  I am proud to say I negotiated the album down from 45 Zloty to 40 Zloty (saving about $2).

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We then wandered into Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, for lunch.  For those of you who are movies buffs, Schindler's List was filmed in this neighborhood.  The factory is in a neighborhood nearby.  We visited Izaak Synagogue dating back to 1600.  President Obama was seen in a Yamaka when he was a Senator and the rumor was he was Jewish.........so..........what about D???

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The Kazimierz is the "hip" new area with many cool restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.  We stopped at a coffee house where each table, inside and out, were made from old sewing machines.

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The petals worked.  It was very original, like nothing we had seen. 

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In the afternoon we visited the Warwel Royal Castle. 

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Hard to believe, but people lived on the Wawel hill fifty thousands years ago, in the Paleolithic age.  Around 1038, the first structure was built.  During the 16th century King Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) created most of what is seen today in the Renaissance style.    

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We toured the private apartment, but no photos were allowed.  Below is the courtyard which was finished in 1540.

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Sunday night we met up with D's colleague, Agnieszka, who is from Poznan Poland (home of the BEST potatoes and ice cream).  She currently lives in Warsaw.  It was fun having someone who could speak the language out with us at dinner.  I hope to make it to Pozen one day to taste that ice cream!

 

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I mentioned that both of our mother's families came from Poland.  It was hard to do any research as both of the family names had been changed through the years.  There was one very interesting story from my side.

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My great grandfather was attending a seminary in Krakow.  He met a young women (we think my grandmother) and had to leave the seminary (you can fill in the gap here).  We went on a guided tour of the city and I asked our guide how many seminaries are in Krakow and she said a few, but this one (photo above) is the only one where they did not take a vow of silence.  Guessing that my great grandfather had to meet and speak to the young lady, we ruled the others out!

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So there is a very good chance that I am standing in the door of the Archubiskupie Seminarium Duchowne W Krakowie, where my great grandfather also stood.  Thank goodness he was not truly dedicated as I would not be here today  :  )

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One thing we have not seen in other countries are pretzel stands at EVERY corner in the city.    Most had white coats on, like doctors. 

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We wondered how much money they could actually make in a day.  The vendors were young and old, men and women.  The pretzels were around 46 cents.  We wanted to help support them so...

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Note the beautiful park behind us in this photo.  At one time, Krakow was a walled city.  The upkeep of the wall became too expensive for the city to repair so they took it down and made a park that circles the entire old city.  It is beautiful with trees, flowers, and wonderful walking paths.  Called the Planty (green circle), it is heavily used by all.

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Many of you have asked, Cathy, what exactly do you do when poor D is working?  D took this photo for you to get an idea.

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After my morning break, I head out to the street to check out the local shopping and what is going on.

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Beer anyone?

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I ate at two really cheap but sweet places.  

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One was a "milk" bar where students eat.  But when I was there it seemed like all the old ladies in town were eating there.  Humm...what does that say about me?

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I wandered to the local market where they were selling the delicious cheese we ate at breakfast.   It is called Qvark.  It is kind of like a mix between cream cheese, cottage cheese and ricotta, but is supposed to be low in fat like yogurt.   

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I met up with D that evening as the sponsor of the meeting he was attending arranged a tour of the city with an English guide and a special dinner.  The tour was very informative.

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We had a wonderful meal at a very upscale restaurant.  AND we experienced a first - we ate ozorek cielecy w sosie sardelowym.  Who would like to guess???  George do you know?  Unfortunately, I do not have a photo.  Do you give????   It was Veal tongue with anchovy sauce and YES I ATE IT.   Thank god for the flavorful wine.  I will admit it was good, but not sure I would eat it again.  The rest of the menu was a delight, cream of horseradish soup, roasted duck and apple cake with elder sauce and crystallized rose petals.  A wonderful ending to an absolutely delectable meal.  It was very sweet that they invited me as I was the only spouse visiting.    

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Goodbye for now Krakow......we hope to see you again in September with Don & Donna!

ps.....want to see a few more photos?  There is a Krakow album on the top right of the Blog.


Ahhhhhhhhhhhh - Venice

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I fell in love with Venice when I was there for the first time 15 years ago. 

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I am still in love with it today. 

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It is a place where you can truly get lost for hours in the narrow little streets. 

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Every corner you turn presents a breathtaking view.  Again, we were so lucky with the weather.  One day it was even warm enough to eat lunch outside by the canal.

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Venice is all about eating...

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Drinking Bellinis.......

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and getting lost.......

 

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There are no cars anywhere in Venice. 

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All deliveries, emergency vehicles, even trash is done via the water.

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Gondolas are very touristy, but I still love them.

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We took the 50 cent ride - vs the 80 euro ride!  IMG_0828 

Gondolas are also used by locals for their main mode of transportation.

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some are very elaborate....

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with ornate gold decorations.

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and the Gondoliers!

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with hats and striped shirts....waiting for customers.

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peaceful......

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Carnival Masks are everywhere in Venice. 

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Carnival began in 1268 and the wearing of masks and costumes was established in 1436.  In 1797, the Austrians took control of the city and the celebrations stopped. 

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The popularity of the masks wasn't brought back until the 1980s, when a modern mask shop opened.  It is now a huge tourist attraction.

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Venice seems to run slower than most cities, people relax and stop for a chat.

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This man is receiving his delivery via a basket through his window.

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If you look closely - each window has a birdcage.  The birds were singing very loud, they were enjoying the beautiful day too!

The colors of the city.

 

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It is as if someone bushed it with watercolors. 

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Donald was working hard to get the perfect photo in Venice. 

Look closely in the boxes, there is a dog and he is on a gondola.

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This was definitely a new maneuver.

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and his night shots were a success!

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Hey - that's OUR move......eating ice cream and taking "we" photos.

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We had a wonderful time.....too many photos that I want to share.

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For a few more...please visit the Venice album on the right hand side of the first page of the blog.  Arrivederci!


Who cut the cheese?

Kathrine, one of D's colleagues and her husband Kim coordinated a cheese making workshop in Achel Belgium at the Catharinadal Kaasmakerij.  It is an hour from Brussels and is in the Dutch speaking part of the country.

 

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It was a nice drive and we saw some beautiful scenery along the way.

 

 

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There is a Trappist brewery at the Monastery of our lady Saint Benedict.  It is in the same town as the cheese class so we left early to check it out.  The Monastery is in Belgium, but the gardens cross the border into the Netherlands.  You could not see or tour the brewery, but they had a great store where you could buy their beer, Achel Beer, and hundreds of others.  D was a happy guy! 

 

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We brought sandwiches as we did not have enough time to eat at a restaurant and make the class on time.  D wanted to eat in the Netherlands, I just wanted to stay in Belgium.  So....

 

 

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We both got our way!

 

The Catharinadal kaasmakerij (cheese room) is run by two brothers.  One owns and milks the cows (just down the street from kassmakerij) and the other brother makes the cheese and runs the shop.

 

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We were a group of 19, 11 adults and 8 kids.  Here we all are with Franz, our cheese monger (and teacher). 

 

 

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 We had to "dress" for the making of the cheese.   They also advised us to wear rubber boots (I am the one in the middle with the red boots).

 

 

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 D is assessing the work station.

 

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We started with raw milk from their cows (no we did not milk the cows).  The milk was heated slightly and the first step was to add lactic-acid producing bacteria and stir for 30 minutes. 

 

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Cheese is made by curdling the milk.  Next, rennet ( a natural enzyme from a young calves stomach to digest the mother's milk) is added.

 

 

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It was amazing how fast it started to thicken.  He told us that our milk was warmer than the rest of the groups and this caused our cheese to thicken faster than the rest.  We were bummed as we thought it was not going to turn out.  He said it would just make ours a little harder vs soft.

 

 

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Next, we had to break up the curd (the solid element) into very small chucks.  To do this we used a special knife called a "harp"

 

 

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and cut across one way:

 

 

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and then the other - a cross-hatch style.  Donald's colleague Dave said he was going to go back to work and tell everyone he saw D "cut the cheese".

 

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After it got to a certain size, we had to use our hands to break the curd up as small as possible - the size of a pea.

 

 

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And yes.....I got my hands dirty too!

 

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Looks ready to me!

 

 

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We then had to take out half of the the Whey (liquid) from our bucket, add hot water and gently wash the the curds. The curd is then pressed through a net to get out all of the whey.

 

 

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It had the texture of ricotta cheese

 

 

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We took a break and tasted several cheeses so we could decide what flavor we wanted to make ours.

 

 

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We choose horseradish and ginger for one, shown here before mixing in the spices into the curd.

 

 

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And mustard for the other shown with spices mixed in.

 

 

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D tasted it to make sure our cheese was "on track".

 

 

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Next step:  to press the curd in to a net which was then placed into a mold.

 

 

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We had to squeeze as much liquid out as possible.

 

 

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It is then carefully removed from the form (this is where you could see it starting to look like cheese),

 

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and flipped it over and put back into the form upside- down.  This was the final step to "making" the cheese.  It is ready to be placed in the industrial strength cheese-press.

 

 

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It pressed for about 30 minutes while we all took a break and sampled their yummy desserts.  After you took it out of the container, you trimmed the edges.

 

 

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Voila - Look at this beautiful cheese!  And looks like that one came from "Team Ward"!

 

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Franz then showed us how they complete the cheese process and showed us what we needed to do at home.  They soak the cheese in a brine (salt water) for 24 hours in large vats.  We would need to do the same at home in a pot.

 

 

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We need to let our cheese dry for 4 days, turning it each day.  On the 4th day, we will paint on a wax coating as Franz showed us.

 

 

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The cheese is now ready for the last stage:  maturing.  This needs to be done at a temperature of 60 degrees for 6 weeks.  Dave rigged up a spot in his basement with an air-conditioner to keep it at the perfect temperature as our apartments are too warm and the refrigerator is too cold.  He has graciously offered to "house" anyone's cheese.

 

 

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So Dave and Drew will babysit our cheese for the next 6 weeks, turning it each day!

 

 

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The cheese shop had a very large cool room where they matured theirs.  We bought several types of their cheese, notice the Dutch names (long!)

 

 

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We also bought their home-made yogurt and ICE CREAM (speculoos)!  Delicious!

 

 

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Who says I can't become a Belgium farmer?