Thursday, December 14, 2017

Day 14 - The Looting of Ancient Latvian Burial Sites

A short preface to today’s 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas post… There are really only two requirements for submissions to the series; the topic must be Baltic, and Christmas. However for Day 14, I have relented on the Christmas aspect, as I believe this is an issue that is of the upmost importance to all Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, and one that we (mostly as as Balts living outside of the Baltics) should take notice of, especially during the holiday season when we may be more actively looking for Baltic jewelry and gifts than at other times during the year. 

The destruction of archaeological sites in Latvia is an epidemic, and it isn’t only artifacts being looted – it is our history and the ability to learn more about our culture and heritage from these burial sites. Today I introduce Andris Rūtiņš, Latvian jeweler who specializes in Baltic, Finnic, Nordic and Slavic reproductions. As you browse Ebay and other online sites for jewelry and gifts, please keep in mind that this large-scale theft and resale of ancient artifacts is occurring, and that you have a responsibility to help stem the flow of antiquities from illegal digs by helping to educate the public and therefore lowering demand for “authentic Viking” artifacts.

Namejs bracelet with dragon terminals (source)

Museum-Quality Viking Artifact or Destroyed Ancient Latvian Burial?

The phrase “looting archaeological sites” may call to mind images of sweaty men sifting through Anasazi cliff dwellings in Utah, dusty Roman ruins in Syria, or vine-covered Mayan pyramids in Guatemala, but one need not look farther than forests in the Latgale region of eastern Latvia or islands in the Daugava River near Ikšķile during the annual maintenance of the Rīga Hydroelectric Station to find previously undisturbed burials as old as two millenia being destroyed for greed enabled by an astonishing contempt for history and the incomprehensible impotence of Latvian authorities. The loot resulting from such desecration is readily available for sale in global internet auctions and shops. How did this situation arise, why is it continuing to get worse, and what can we do to stop it?

Liv tortoise brooch and chain pectoral ornament, 10th-13th century C.E., looted near Ikšķile, Latvia in August 2015, source

Although looting of ancient burials is nothing new, and it is actually the antecedent of modern scientific archaeology, the plague has rapidly grown since the renewal of independence in Latvia, and it continues to worsen. One factor is the dissolution of the Soviet Union; make no mistake, I am not nostalgic for Moscow’s heavy hand on Latvia, but it did discourage unauthorized digging in archaeological sites. I remember my first visits to Latvia in the 1980s, when USSR border guards, customs officials, and milicija (militarized law-enforcement) were not to be trifled with. The fear of being jailed on a whim not only discouraged freedom of speech, but ordinary misdemeanors as well. Trade involving valūta (hard currency) was a serious offense, and contact with foreigners, not to mention travel abroad, was discouraged and closely monitored. There were, of course, black-marketeers willing to take risks, but they generally exploited the scarcity of consumer goods in the domestic market as their business model – much easier than grave-robbing.

Starting with Latvia’s 1990 declaration to renew its independence, its acceptance into the European Union in 2004, and especially after Latvia’s signing the Schengen Agreement in 2003 and implementing it in 2007, travel between Latvia and other European countries became a common daily event which no longer required a passport check at the border, much less a search of one’s car. The rights of individuals were much elevated in relation to the state compared to how it was in the USSR, and store shelves groaned under heaps of imported blue-jeans, coffee, consumer electronics, and everything else that used to populate Soviet-era fantasies and black market stashes.

It is probably no coincidence that the first (of which I am aware) of numerous museum round-tables, seminars, and training sessions devoted to the problem of looting archaeological sites in Latvia was also held in 2007. Newspaper, television, radio and internet media outlets have been reporting on the problem since at least 2010. In a 2011 television broadcast, Jānis Asaris, speaking for the Latvian State Inspection for Heritage Protection (VKPAI) said that he had contacted to notify them of Latvian cultural artifacts being sold in violation not only of Latvian law and international conventions, but also contrary to Ebay’s own published policies. He says an Ebay representative shrugged that the company could take no responsibility for what its members chose to list for auction.

A current Ebay “Viking” listing of believably stray finds being offered for auction from Latvia

Things were already bad enough when in 2013, the History Channel debuted a series called “Vikings,” which lit a new wave of excitement and created a greater demand for artifacts of the period. In the three years since 2014 that I have been following these events, the most prolific traders of stolen Latvian artifacts on Ebay have doubled their individual sales from about 5K to about 10K transactions each. Not all of these were Iron Age (roughly 0-1200 C.E.) pieces, in fact most of them may have been as recent as WW2 vintage, but we are still talking about colossal destruction to feed a major market. One seller has 253 active offers at this moment, of which all but one are identified as “Viking”. Another has 116 listings, of which 115 are “Viking”. A third has 173 “Viking” of 923 active offers. So, just these three Ebay sellers of the 26 based in Latvia that I keep tabs on have 540 “Viking” artifacts on sale right now. Keep in mind that sales are completed every day, and the sold artifacts are continually replenished with new ones.

On November 16, 2014 I inventoried the 2819 “Viking” antiquities on offer on Ebay that day, by recording all relevant information about the first 1503 and extrapolating to the rest. I disregarded Viking-themed articles of recent vintage, but I included items that were at least a few hundred years old and were being represented as Viking whether they really were of the correct period and geography or not. The sellers represented twenty nations, but none of the Viking homelands of Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Iceland were among them. Poles offered 23 items, Belarusians 45, Ukrainians 111; Estonians (who I believe were actually stealth Latvians) offered 131, but there were none from Lithuania, Ireland, Finland, or from Russia directly. United Kingdom took the number two spot with 136. Guess who was number one? 894 of the 1503 counted offers of “Viking” artifacts on Ebay that day were from sellers based in Latvia. After adding artifacts from sellers in other countries that likely originated in Latvia based on their typology, the number rose to 1049. So, if Ebay could be taken to represent the global trade in illicit so-called Viking artifacts (and why shouldn’t it?), Latvia was supplying roughly 70% of the entire market.

The Latgallian/Selonian crown and torc is large, intact, complex with multiple parts, and in “amazing condition”... guaranteeing that it was not turned up by mechanized plows, cultivators, or other farm machinery, much less found laying around above ground for almost a thousand years. The US dealer and self-described anthropologist claims to help indigenous peoples by buying up their scattered cultural artifacts from multiple sources, and then selling them back to their original owners as a curated collection.

Trade in historical artifacts has more or less always been restricted since anyone alive can remember, but the  United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) took a major step toward international cooperation to deter and combat these crimes in Paris in 1970 with the “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property”. Latvia was deep in the harsh embrace of the Soviet Union at the time, so it could reasonably be excused for not having signed the convention prior to regaining independence in 1990. Soviet Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine signed in 1988, independent Estonia signed in 1995, Lithuania in 1998, and Latvia… has not signed the convention. Last year Juris Dambis, director of VKPAI, promised that Latvia would sign the convention this year, but with two and a half weeks to go in 2017, the UNESCO website still does not list Latvia as a signatory. One stumbling block may be that joining the treaty puts a few obligations on the signatory state, which most likely cost some money. A source in Rīga said he expects Latvia to sign the treaty in early 2018.

Some sellers of looted artifacts go to great pains to obscure the true origin of their „merchandise” falsely claiming that it did not come from burials. This dealer, however, seems to like the idea

On the brighter side, there has been some progress in clarifying the law, at least within Latvia. In 2012 the Latvian Saeima (parliament) defined exactly which items fall under the full protection of the state: “Artifacts are the result of deliberate human creation, e.g., jewelry, weapons, tools, domestic items, pottery, and coins, whether whole or fragmented… Cultural monuments, including artifacts, which belong to the state of Latvia may not be transported out of Latvia, except temporarily when authorized by the VKPAI… Artifacts found under or on the surface of the earth or water in archaeological sites and dated until the 17th century inclusive belong to the state and are to be preserved in public museums. This regulation does not apply to artifacts about which VKPAI was notified prior to March 30… The use of metal detectors is prohibited in the study of cultural monuments, except when allowed by VKPAI.” 

The take-away here is that anything found in Latvia and made by a human hand prior to the year 1700 belongs to Latvia unless it was registered prior to the 3.30.2013 deadline. That covers every single article originating in Latvia and described as “Viking” in internet auctions and anywhere else. One might argue that doesn’t include items with legal export permits, but years have passed without a single permit being requested, and only a hundred or so have ever been issued. Compare that to the two thousand or more “Viking” artifacts from Latvia on offer at any given moment of the last three years, plus the tens of thousands that have been sold during that same period on Ebay alone! Add all the other channels of distribution and everything that was sold beforehand, and one begins to grasp the magnitude of the crisis.

A Latgallian or Selonian woman’s torc sold on Ebay three years ago

2015 started with a bang: in January a scene of devastation was discovered in Latgale. 199 previously undisturbed graves in a well-known designated, protected, archaeological monument, a Late Iron Age burial field, had been destroyed in the largest single array of devastation to date. Some of the burials at Daņilovkas ancient burial field in Šķilbēnu Parish, Viļakas District had been scientifically excavated in the early 1960s, and those finds became the basis for Anna Zariņa’s classic 1970 book “Seno latgaļu apgērbs” (Garments of the Ancient Latgallians). The rest had been left intact for future study.

A small sample of the over 199 previously undisturbed 11th. – 12th century C.E. graves destroyed by looters at just one site, the Daņilovkas ancient burial field in Šķilbēnu Parish, Viļakas District, Latvia in January 2015 (source)

I don’t recall how I first got the notion to contact the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, which states, “The ancient and historic monuments, objects, and archaeological sites of the world enrich and inform today's societies, and help connect us to our cultural origins. The Department's Cultural Heritage Center specializes in the protection and preservation of these irreplaceable resources, working on many fronts to safeguard the patrimony of other countries… The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act ("the Act") empowers the Department of State to consider requests from governments party to the Convention to impose import restrictions on archaeological or ethnological material.” Through e-mails, telephone conversations, and a chat at Starbucks, I came to understand the U.S. Department of State can direct the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and local law enforcement to interdict suspected shipments of cultural artifacts from abroad, confiscate such items from importers and dealers, and repatriate them to Latvia, whereupon Latvia could prosecute the looters, and the problem would be solved. All that Latvia had to do to start the process was to ask for help from the U.S. and create a catalog describing the types of antiquities in question. I informed the Latvian Ambassador to the U.S. and his deputy about my discoveries, gave them all the contacts I had made, and expecting to see the number of dealers of looted Latvian antiquities start to decrease, was disappointed to see no change. The deputy ambassador explained that despite the possibility of direct bilateral treaties, the simplest, fastest, and most effective way to secure the assistance of the U.S. would be to invoke the 1970 UNESCO Paris Convention – the treaty that Latvia has not yet signed.

In 2016 VKPAI along with the Latvian National History Museum (LNVM) published the Catalogue of Endangered Latvian Archaeological Artefacts. The force behind this publication was Andris Kairišs, who is employed by neither of the institutions listed as authors, but who volunteers significant energy to this cause apart from his unrelated professional duties. With at least one of the critical conditions of the U.S. State Department met, we are taking significant steps towards making some sort of progress.

Viking age Baltic axe charms (source)

I’ll explain in the next installment about the whole Latvia-Viking connection and rebut one-by-one each of the arguments put forth by looters, dealers, and collectors to justify what they do, but what can you do about this today?

The most important thing is to just say “No!” to authentic artifacts being offered for sale. Do not buy or bid on anything that could both possibly have originated in Latvia before the year 1700. Some dealers are up front with this information while others are not.

Educate yourself about the ancient peoples of Latvia and about the science of archaeology.

Visit museums in Latvia (my favorite is the Latvian National History Museum), buy at their gift shops, and make donations to them.

Spread the word, ask questions, and speak up whenever you may hear someone talk about buying a little piece of ancient Latvian heritage. If we can’t stop the looters with deterrents, we can stop them with simple economics: if we stop the demand, we will staunch the supply as well.

If you want to wear an ornament that connects you with your heritage, please patronize one of the many fine craftspeople in Latvia and abroad, but please leave the original artifacts for museums.

Priecīgus ziemassvētkus! 

Latvian penannular brooch (source)

Thank you to the Balticsmith for this eye-opening article. Looting of archaeological sites continues, and as can be seen with a quick Ebay search of “Viking,” the ongoing demand for artifacts is feeding the destruction. Now that you know…
Andris Rūtiņš is the artist behind Balticsmith, featuring Baltic, Finnic, Nordic and Slavic reproductions from the Migration, Vendel and Viking Periods & beyond, as well as original work in silver and bronze. Whether you are a Balt looking for a reminder of the homeland, a Viking, Rus, Celtic, or early medieval re-enactor, or anyone who appreciates hand-crafted jewelry, you’ll want to take a look at the Balticsmith store as well as his Facebook and Pinterest sites.  

I hope to publish a follow-up to this introductory article in the near future. Until then, please keep buying, gifting, and most importantly, wearing your Baltic jewelry; it is one of the most recognizable and beloved expressions of our culture.

Tomorrow on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we travel to New York City for a Christmas concert tradition! 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 13 - Kanēļmaizītes

Today on Day 13 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas we are joined by Ilze Ieviņa! Ilze has previously contributed to the series with her post on the Rīga Christmas market, and today joins us with a favorite recipe from the Latvian sweets table...

Kanēļmaizītes – a Latvian Christmas Treat

The English-speakers know them as cinnamon rolls and love to top them with icing. The Swedes call them kanelbulle and have set aside a day (the 4th of October) for celebrating this sweet roll. The North Germans have crossed them with croissants and named them Franzbrötchen.

We Latvians certainly have no claim to the invention of the cinnamon bun, but over the centuries kanēļmaizītes have become a staple of our national cuisine. They are especially beloved around the Christmas time when they can be found on the table at almost every house. The typical Latvian way of making cinnamon rolls is simple and sticks to the basics. There is no glaze or icing, no special spices aside from the cinnamon. Likely it's this down-to-earth approach that in my very subjective opinion makes them taste better than any of their cousins across the globe.

* This recipe is adapted from my favorite Latvian cooking site Četras Sezonas.

Step 1: making the yeast dough
1.5 oz. fresh yeast (2.5 US cake portions)
1¼ cups warm milk
approximately 4 cups wheat flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. oil (I use sunflower or grapeseed)

Crumble the yeast in a small bowl, add one teaspoon sugar & one teaspoon flour followed by two tablespoons of warm water, and mix well. Leave the mix in a warm place to “wake up” the yeast. This will take 10-30 minutes. You'll know that the yeast is ready when it starts to form bubbles and rise.

Meanwhile heat up the milk. When the yeast is ready, transfer it to a large bowl and add the warm milk, as well as sugar and salt. Mix well. Stir in the flour with a spoon to make the dough then continue kneading with your hands.

After you have kneaded for a few minutes, add the oil (this also helps to get that dough off your hands). If the dough becomes too sticky, you can add a bit more flour.

Finally, roll the dough in a ball and leave it in a warm place to rise for around 2 hours.

The resulting dough will suffice for two pans of cinnamon rolls. It also makes a great base for Latvian pīrāgi, thus I usually make one pan of each.

Step 2: making the kanēļmaizītes
yeast dough
butter, softened

Take around half of the yeast dough and roll it out in a large rectangle. Butter the surface and sprinkle generously with cinnamon and sugar.

Starting from the edge of the longest side of the rectangle, tightly roll the dough. Cut the roll in approximately 0.6 inches large pieces (as thick as your thumb) and place them on a sheet of baking paper.

If you wish, you can add a dollop of butter on top of each cinnamon bun before baking it.

Bake at 400°F / 200°C for approximately 15 minutes until golden brown.

P.S. Despite being someone who prefers precise measurements in her recipes, making kanēļmaizītes is an exception. The amount of butter, cinnamon and sugar is entirely up to you but you will need at least a tablespoon of each. You can also replace cinnamon with poppy seeds to create another Latvian specialty.

Experiment, have fun and enjoy the fantastic aroma and taste of Latvian Christmas!

Ilze is a social researcher and an intercultural trainer, a mom and a blogger. Originally from Latvia, her path of education brought her to Northern Germany where she met her future husband and decided to stay for a little longer. Ilze blogs about her adventures in expat life, as well as trilingual and multicultural parenting at Let the Journey Begin. She can be found on facebook and Instagram

Thanks for joining us today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, and we hope you’ll return tomorrow for a foray into the world of ancient Baltic artifacts...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 12 - Mini Lapel Mittens

Welcome to Day 12 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! Today as we celebrate the halfway point of the series we are joined by Rachel Russ, designer and knitter. Here is Rachel’s post entitled Latvian Mitten Mania Alternative: Mini Lapel Mittens.

If you are a Latvian, you know a good Latvian mitten when you see one. If you AREN’T of Latvian or of Baltic descent, you may STILL know a good Latvian mitten when you see it!

Latvian mittens require a lot of patience, expertise and practice. Many in the knitting world aspire to make a good Latvian mitten. Yarn Harlot (famous knitting blog writer Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) had a foray into the world of the Latvian mitten; her wonderful journey was chronicled here. A non-Latvian knitter proved it can be done, and done well!

This mitten bug: when it bites, it bites HARD… Lizbeth Upitis wrote a book back in the 1980’s that sparked a mitten craze of knitting where non-Latvians could knit (and try to figure out how) like-a-Latvian. Upītis’ book Latvian Mittens: Traditional Designs & Techniques was my first adventure figuring out the puzzle of making a REAL Latvian mitten. After trial and error and much yarn tangling, a nice mitten emerged that was not the size of an oven mitt, nor as small as a 6 year old child’s hand.

Through the years, as one who has followed the Latvian mitten trail all over the internet and blog spheres, one thing is clear; they are not for every knitter to make. It isn’t an easy knit. Much frustration and angst awaits many a knitter who will bravely pull out their tiny size metal knitting needles and pretty balls of woolen yarns with the big dream of a patterned hand warmer to woo recipients.

Much time is spent poring over patterns and colors, reading about techniques for cuffs, and then trying to meet gauge (the stitches per inch measurement) in order to produce a pair worthy of gifting to a loved one, or to wear in public.

The alternative?
Mini Lapel Mittens.

What? You’ve never heard of these clever little creations?

Let me enlighten you, and they may knock you over with their teeny tiny charm, enough to make you cast around for your own little pair to wear and display this holiday season!

Miniature Lapel Mittens are made with the purpose to wear not on your hands, but on your person…

Some have made them exclusively for wreaths or other holiday decoration, and some wear them all through winter on their jackets. They are a small, fiddly project with little time commitment. Dexterity is a plus when making these.

WARNING: be prepared for many compliments and or possible requests!

Resources for patterns to make your own pair of miniature mittens, Latvian-style or otherwise:
Folk Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski
Mini-Mitts by Carolyn Vance for Cast On magazine
Mini-Mitts Ornaments by Spilly Jane for Knit Picks Yarn
Half-Pint Mittens by Susan B. Anderson

May this season bring you joy and warmth as you fondly make your own pair of Miniature Latvian Lapel Mittens.

Rachel Russ is a 1st generation Latvian-American living the mitten lover’s dream in her Minnesota yarn insulated home with her hubby and 4 kiddos. She designs knitwear in her spare time, and writes a little too. You can find her on Ravelry, Facebook page Baltic Stitches LLC, Instagram and her blog. Her dream is to spread Latvian knitting to every yarn store across the USA.

(Confession: I have worn out many a pair of Latvian mittens… if only I was capable of knitting myself more – what a talent!) Thanks to Rachel for joining us today on 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, we look forward to seeing more of your fantastic creations!

Stay tuned for Day 13 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas, featuring a staple of the Latvian sweets table!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 11 - A Beginner's Guide to Galerts

Today on Day 11 presenting Andrejs, a galerts-making rookie, with the goal of making this staple of the Latvian holiday table feasible to cook for each and every one of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas readers!

Galerts is a traditional Latvian meat-in-aspic dish, and is also known as head cheese or meat jelly. The Estonian version, sült, is made from pork using its gelatinous parts (although beef, poultry, and fish variants also are available). It is a traditional Christmas dish, but is sold in stores year-round. The Lithuanian variant, košeliena (deriving from košė (pulp or squash) or šaltiena (deriving from šalta, "cold", and refers to way of serving the dish), is usually made from pig's feet; sometimes part of the head is added.

Without further ado, Andrejs with his ‘beginner's guide to galerts’!!!

As most folks who are part of a small ethnic community know, being an observer or bystander at community events is usually not an option - one is expected to participate. Be that as it may, since my wife and I had just moved to Minneapolis from New York City, where we both had spent ten years in various roles in the Latvian community, I had promised my wife Anna that we would take a break from Latvian activity. However, I should have known better - one does not simply and easily step back from Latvian engagements! Within 48 hours of moving to Minneapolis a member of the Latvian "Ladies' Auxiliary" group (those who prepare all the delicious food and desserts at Latvian events), Larisa, reached out and asked me to prepare a traditional galerts for the Church Christmas bazaar. My qualifications for this task were that Larisa (a good friend of mine), remembered the one and only other time I had prepared the dish for a Latvian Christmas party fifteen years ago. Worse, I had done it as a joke, thinking it would be funny to bring galerts to an event where everyone else would bring cookies and other baked goods. Why is galerts funny? Because it is basically a cold meat Jell-O. I believe it follows the grand tradition of taking what each culture's forefathers did to either preserve food or use whatever protein was in abundance at the time (like with escargot, lobster, or lutefisk), and centuries later, declaring them delicacies.

As a Latvian kid, galerts was the bane of my existence. Visiting my grandparents was great, but I always dreaded that galerts might be served for dinner. Worse, the condiments for galerts are vinegar and horseradish - not exactly kid-friendly. I am not alone in this experience - to this day Anna refuses to eat galerts.

As an adult, I thought I had escaped being force-fed galerts. But I am also cursed by the desire to try new and different foods at restaurants. At one restaurant, I noticed "Pork in Aspic" on a menu. Intrigued, I asked the server what aspic is. He hesitated, and just said, "it''s...aspic". Rather than taking the hesitancy as a sign to move on, I took it as a challenge and ordered it, looking forward to trying something new. When our meals arrived, however, I was dejected - instead of finding an interesting new dish at a fancy New York City restaurant, I had just ordered myself a big ol' plate of galerts.

But back to the task at hand. When duty calls, duty calls. Considering this galerts would be my first contribution to our new Latvian community, I knew that I couldn't wing it as I had that first time 15 years ago, so I reached out to the Latvian cuisine expert - Anna's and Liene's mother, my mother-in-law (she teaches Latvian cuisine at the Chicago Latvian School, so I knew she could help me). While she was able to provide a few recipes, the Latvian cuisine expert pointed me toward the Latvian cuisine oracle - Anna's and Liene's grandmother. I was excited to achieve galerts enlightenment from the oracle, but as we all know from Greek Mythology, advice from oracles tends to be vague and subject to interpretation. Anna's grandmother said "Andrej, I do not follow a recipe for galerts, I simply make it". After expressing my hesitation, she took pity on me, and was able to find a recipe that she had once shared years ago with someone else seeking seeking galerts enlightenment. She also left me with a final piece of oracle advice: to use the recipe as a guide, but to make it my own. So with that, I give you my beginner's guide to galerts. But be sure to make it your own!

Recipe: Latvian galerts

1. Buy at least a couple of pounds of on-the bone uncooked meat - better to have too much than to realize you have too little. Remember that you'll be discarding the bones. I used ham hocks and pork ribs, but you could use beef ribs, lamb chops, or even rabbit.

2. Place meat in a large pan and barely cover with water (you want the eventual bone broth to be as rich as possible, so don't add any more water than needed to cover the meat). Add some bay leaves and whole peppercorns, as well as some veggies: carrots, onions, celery, or whatever you think would taste good. To be honest, I cheated a bit and added a couple of bouillon cubes as well. No one will be the wiser.

3. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for a couple of hours until the meat is falling off the bone.

4. Set aside some of the meat to dredge through BBQ sauce for dinner later. Your spouse will thank you.

5. Separate the meat from the bone, compost the bones, and refrigerate the meat.

6. Remove the veggies, bay leaves, etc. from the broth (or just strain it). Refrigerate the broth overnight.

7. Once the meat is cool enough, chop into small pieces - the smaller the better. If you have a meat grinder, even better (this is called "Musician's galerts", and as Anna's and Liene's father says, you can't even taste the musicians).

8. When the broth cools, the fat should settle on top - while fat in warm dishes is delicious, it is the enemy of a good galerts, which is served cold. Push the fat on the surface of the broth to one side and remove as much as possible. Hopefully you can stick a plastic utensil in the broth and have it stand up on its own - if so, success! If not, I reveal a cheater's solution in the next step.

9. Reheat the broth so that it is warm and can be poured. I add a packet or two of gelatin just in case - just don't tell anyone. Be careful not to add too much gelatin - a very firm galerts does not taste good.

10. As the broth heats, find smallish bowls that you can fill to the rim (no larger than ones you would eat cereal out of). Rinse the bowls with cold water (I don't know what rinsing the bowls with cold water does, but I do not question the oracle).

11. Place the meat in the bowls (densely, but do not pack the bowl with meat - leave some space for the broth to hold it all together). If you want to get fancy and add some color to your galerts, you can first place thinly sliced, cooked carrots at the bottom of the bowl and then cover them with the meat.

12. Pour the warm broth into the bowls. Fill to the rim. Place the bowls in the fridge and refrigerate overnight.

13. When ready to serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the bowl to separate the galerts from the bowl a bit. Place your serving plate on top of the bowl and flip over, landing the galerts upside down onto the plate. Give the bowl a gentle shake if the galerts doesn't release the first time. Garnish with greens or anything else that gives a splash of color. Serve with mustard, vinegar, and horseradish.

Following this recipe, I had a 50% success rate, but my failure was just from an attempt to make a vegan version, because why should vegans be let off the hook, right? I used tofu and "agar agar" in place of gelatin, which came out inedible and went directly into the compost bin.

'Vegan' galerts...
On the day of the bazaar, I was a bit nervous presenting my amateur galerts to the Ladies' Auxiliary members who have been running these events for literally decades. Luckily, my galerts was received with guarded approval, and two members even started arguing over it:

Left-brained Ladies' Auxiliary member: "So how should we slice it?"
Right-brained Ladies' Auxiliary member: "Slice it? But it is so beautiful!"
Left-brained Ladies' Auxiliary member: "Then how do you expect people to EAT it?"

The real judges, of course, would be those who have to taste it, and these folks take their ethnic Latvian food seriously. At the appointed time, people were lined up out of the hall and up three flights of stairs. I felt even more pressure when I realized that I was not the only person invited to make galerts, and my galerts was put at a disadvantage by being placed behind my competition on the banquet table. But as folks filed through, nearly everything was scooped up, and there was nothing left of my or my competition's galerts.

Anna and I were also able to get our annual quota of other Latvian foods like sauerkraut, black-eyed peas, pīrāgi, pan-fried pork-chops, and of course, the galerts (though Anna still refused to taste it). I had finally gotten over my childhood dread of galerts and enjoyed this year's portion. But for now, I'll leave the galerts eating to the true connoisseurs - maybe I'll try making it again in another 15 years or so... 

Thank you Andrejs, for this wonderful guide to making galerts! Since you won’t be making it again for another 15 years, it’s safe to visit during the holidays, right? (I share in Anna’s mistrust of the dish!!)

That’s all for today, and please join us again tomorrow on Day 12 of 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas for Baltic mittens…

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Baltic Christmas Day 10 - The Peace Light from Bethlehem

From candle to candle, lantern to lantern, scout to scout…

For 30 years the Peace Light from Bethlehem has been spreading a message of peace and unity across the world. Every year, a Scout from Austria retrieves the light from the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, lighting a candle from the eternal flame. From there the Light travels back to Vienna, Austria under the auspices of the International Scouting Movement, and like the branches of a tree, the symbol of peace spreads through Europe during the month of December.

For 14 years the Peace Light has traveled to the Baltics, some years brought by the Ukrainian scouts, other years traveling north from Austria/Poland: Lithuania, to Latvia, to Estonia. Taikos šviesa iš Betliejaus, Betlēmes miera gaisma, Petlemmi rahu valgus; many names in different languages, but bringing the same message of peace & hope to cities, towns, communities and homes across the world.

12 year old Tobias Flachner lighting the Peace Light in Bethlehem in 2017 (source)

From Vienna, Austrian Airlines transported the Light of Peace to New York and to Toronto, arriving at JFK on November 25, 2017. After a sharing ceremony at the airport, the Light immediately started its travels across the United States; last week the Latvian Scouts in Chicago received it, and will pass it on Christmas Eve during candlelight ceremonies.

The Latvian scouts receive the Peace Light in 2014 (source)

We watched the connections travel west, then south: from Pembroke, MA  to Indianapolis with BSA Pack 105 from the Mayflower Council, Indiana to Chattanooga with Lincoln Heritage Council Troop 1, from Chattanooga to Atlanta with Troop 370 of the Atlanta Area Council…

And then, on the day after it snowed two inches here in the South (where it never snows!) I drove to Atlanta to bring the Light to Upstate SC. A red lantern was fueled and ready, and a supply of vigil candles awaited us at home.

Representative of Atlanta Area Council sharing the Light in Atlanta

Today we will have a Welcome Ceremony for the Peace Light, bringing Latvian Scouts, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts and the community together in this wonderful tradition. Represented will also be Troop 553 from the Indian Waters Council in Columbia, and through them the Light will continue its travels south to Florida, hopefully making it all the way to Key West.

We are honored to have been a part of bringing the Peace Light to Greenville (and possibly the Upstate) for the first time. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of dozens of people, from the Scouts who transported the Light hundreds of miles from JFK, to the folks who manage and the Peace Light Facebook page…. From the Scout Leaders of Troop 30 here in Greenville today, to those leaders with a vision 30 years ago… Tonight our home will be lit by the Light of Peace, and I am warmed by the knowledge that I share this Light with Lithuanian, Latvian & Estonian Scouts, my family in Chicago, and communities and homes across the world.
If you are in the US/Canada and interested in participating in this tradition, please join the Facebook group “Peace Light – North America” where distribution plans and route maps are shared, as well as event information and photos. You will find links to the UK and other World Scouting Peace Light contacts at GAZ’s website. This website includes information about safe handling of the Peace light flame and how it is distributed throughout the European Continent and History of the Peace Light “movement.”

The Peace Light is a live flame, and precautions should be taken when transporting it and keeping it. When traveling, a lantern in a stabilizing carrier is most often used, and the car windows left partly open for ventilation. At home we prefer to keep the Light with the 3-day vigil candles. They are in glass cylinders, have no odor, and burn for up to three days. Instructions on building carriers for lanterns, as well as other ideas and suggestions can be found on the Peace Light website and Facebook group.

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