Saturday, October 31, 2009

Harvesting potatoes

When the shrubs of the potatoes have become yellow and look quite 'dead', it is time for the big harvesting! In Latvia, it is a serious business, because potatoes form the basis of the diet in the country. If in Muslim countries the basic food items are rice and bread (roti), then in Latvia people eat potatoes, boiled or fried, supplementing them with some gravy and salad. Nearly every family has their very own small piece of land (veggie and fruit garden), where they grow their own potatoes, because the ones grown by your own hands are much tastier than what is available in the shops, plus you can be sure that no pesticides enter your body along with your potatoes.

Vecmamma (grandmother) also had a few rows of potatoes in her garden - only enough for eating through the fall season. When her own potatoes are finished, she usually gets a whole winter supply from mamma's sister Mara, who has a countryside house and grows lots of potatoes in her big fields. Vecmamma keeps this considerable potatoes supply in basement, which is located under the apartment building.

So, thanks to Vecmamma's garden, we had a great opportunity to 'dig the dirt', searching for the potatoes in the soft soil. However, before we got to 'digging the dirt' part, mamma took a big gardening fork and lifted the soil under every shrub for making the soil softer - easier for us to dig.

As buckets were getting full, Uzair and Hafsa took turns taking them off the field and silling on the grass, so that the sun can dry the dirt up a bit.

Once all the potatoes were out of the soil, the sorting work started. The very tiny ones were set aside for eating right away, the middle-sized ones were put in a box for next year planting season, and the big ones were sorted into other boxes for keeping in the cool basement to be eaten over the next few months. Nothing can beat the taste of potatoes grown in Vecmamma's garden and harvested by your own hands!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The higher, the better!

Do you know, what was Uzair's most favourite acivity in vecmamma's garden? It was climbing trees and any possible ladders - the higher, the better! Boys are boys, aren't they? :) In one of the smaller apple-trees, Uzair made his very own 'playplace' by hanging all sorts of things in the tree. Also for eating apples sitting in a tree seemed to be the best.

His most favourite time was the apple harvesting season. Since vecmamma has 8 apple-trees, it took quite many days to pick all the apples, which meant that the ladders were in very frequent use. As soon as mamma or uncle Ralfs was down from the ladder to empty the bucket full of apples, Uzair was on the ladder! Time to time, Hafsa also joined in on his mischiefs. Believe it or not, but not a single accident of falling happened, Alhamdulillah. :) So whenever you need a good strategy for climing a tree, call up Uzair! :)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tomatoes with garlic

When the harvest season is in its peak, nearly every family in Latvia is busy putting veggies and fruits in jars for winter. The empty jars from the year before are brought up from the family basement, washed and sterilized in the oven - all ready to receive the new load of garden harvest. The ladies of the family get out from their cabinets the treasured family recipe book and the work starts! Our vecmamma (gradmother) also has such recipe book.

One day, when we brougt fromt the garden a good amount of tomatoes, vecamma decided to put them for winter, using one of her (and our!) favourite recipes - "tomatoes with garlic". Hafsa was very curious to see, how she's doing things, so vecmamma offered to show her.

First, the tomatoes needed to be washed and the garlic cut in small pieces. For adding some extra flavour, inside the empty jar, vecmamma placed one bay leaf and some pieces of clove. Then, using the end of the knife, she cut a small cross in the tomatoe. After seeing vecmamma do it, Hafsa herself also tried to do it, with vecmammas caring hands guiding her. Then, vecmamma took one small piece of garlic and showed Hafsa, how to stuff it inside the tomatoe through the little cross sign. This way, the taste of the garlic gets right inside in the tomatoe!

Once the tomatoe had got its piece of garlic, it was ready to go inside the jar. Some more garlic pieces were placed also here and there in the jar among tomatoes. This way, vecmamma and Hafsa filled quite a few jars with garlic-filled tomatoes.

The next step is to prepare the marinade, which will be poured over the tomatoes and will preserve them all winter long. The recipe of the marinade is very simple. It consists of: water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Vecmamma combines all these items in their due proportions in a big pot, which she puts on coooking stove for boiling. Right next to it, she places another pot, in which later on the filled jars will be sterilized. If you look closely enough, you will notice that this second pot has water and net inside it, so that the bottoms of the jars are not sitting directly at the bottom of the pot. If the net would not be there, the jars could burst from the direct heat of fire. Jars need to be boiled in this pot, in order to sterilize them and minimize the presence of any unwanted bacteria in the jars - this way, the tomatoes will not get spoiled all winter long, insha'Allah.

When both pots have reached boiling temperature, vecmamma places the jars filled with tomatoes inside the sterilization pot and right away fills them with the boiling marinade from the other pot. When the jars are filled, vecmamma let them boil on slow flame for about 10-15 minutes.

After the sterilization is complete, vecmamma takes the jars out of the pot and places them on the table. For that, she uses a special jar-holding instrument, which catches the boiling hot jar, so that she herself does not have to touch it.

When the jar is on the table, vecmamma quickly closes it with a cover, tighting it as tight as she can. As the jars cool down, the cover will become air-tight - so tight that it will be even difficult to open it later on, when we'll want to eat the tomatoes!

After putting on the cover, vecmamma carefully takes the jar with a towel and bends it to the side a bit to see, if the cover is not leaking any liquid. If the cover is leaking, she replaces it with another one. Afther that, she places the jars upside down on the table, where she covers them with a warm blanket to make the heating last longer. This way, the jars will sit on the table for a few hours till they cool down. Since the jars are upside down, vecmamma will be easily able to detect, if any of them are still leaking. Any leakage means that the preserved veggies would get spoiled, and we don't want to see that happen, do we?

Later in the evening, vecmamma and Hafsa will go down to the basement and arrange these jars neatly on shelves, where they will stay till winter.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Decorations for children's celebration

Our Vecmamma (grandmother) is the head of the organization "Save the Children" branch in her village. This year, just before the starting of the school year, she decided to make a celebration for the village children. We helped her to prepare for the celebration by making some beautiful flower decorations for the lawn.

First, our mamma made the shapes of flowers on a huge floor hardboard. Then, uncle Ralfs cut the flowers out with a special machine. Uzair helped him in attaching the cut out shapes of flowers and leaves to the poles, which formed the stem of the plant. As Uzair and Hafsa held up the flower, they realized that it's taller than them! :)

Then, the flowers got paitnted and started looking more like the real flowers. On the day of the children's celebration, Vecmamma arranged the flowers nicely in the lawn, so all the children and their parents, who came for the celebration, could feel special on this day.

Bonfire and ash-baked potatoes for Iftar

As the fall season approaches, Vecmamma (grandmother) starts a clean-up session in her garden - it is time to cut out the dry branches of fruit-trees, as well as cut off the old shoots of raspberries. This year, Vecmamma had decided to cut down also one whole plum-tree, which was too old for giving good harvest. All of this makes excellent burning material for a great bonfire. Uncle Ralfs came to garden to help with this work clean up work. He showed to Uzair and his friend Roberts, how to cut in pieces the raspberries shoots. After cutting, we put the shoots into our barbecue box, where the fire 'ate' it, letting off into the air thick, white smoke.

The bigger branches could not fit into a barbecue box, so we made a wonderful bonfire on an open field for buring them. When most of the branches had turned into ash, it was just the right time to poke some apples onto long sticks and bake them over the heat coming from the ashes. Although the sticks Uzair and his cousin Rudis had were quite long, both of them could barely survive the intense heet coming from the pile of still burning ashes, as they baked their apples. Rudis even is covering his face with his hand, in order to save it from the heat.

When the cooking session of apples was over, uncle Ralfs suggested that we cook in ashes some potatoes for the kids, who by now were starting to get hungry. He took some quite large sized potatoes, made a pit in the hot ashes, put potatoes in it and covered them with a good layer of ashes. And... some twenty minutes later, the potatoes were ready to eat! Altough first, of course, we had to find them in the pile of ashes.

It was the first day of Ramadan, and so it happened that Uzair and Hafsa had decided to keep a half-day fast. These ash-baked potatoes was their Iftar for the day! Uncle Ralfs carefully cleaned off the black peels of the potatoes, which opened to our eyes the beautifully yellow and soft texture of baked potatoes. Uzair and Hafsa were now ready for their Iftar - they took the potatoes wedges, dipped them in salt and thanked Allah (swt) for giving them the patience to keep a half day fasting. The ash-baked potatoes tasted absolutely wonderful!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Natural 'water dispenser'

Living in Karachi, we've learned not to drink tap water, if we want to avoid any stomack problems. Instead, we are drinking water from water dispenser, which has a huge mineral water bottle on the top. Water is one of the most wonderful blessings of Allah (swt), the taste of which is so refreshing as nothing else in this world!

In Latvia, we can drink water from the tap at home, without risking our health. However, we prefer once in a couple days to walk along with our mom to a 'natural water dispenser' in the nearby forest and fill our big 5 litres bottle with crystal clear spring water, which gushes forth directly from a mountain! Nearly all the village comes here for taking the drinking water, as the taste of this water is so much better than of that at home in taps. For their own convenience, the village people have constructed the outlet of this spring in the shape of a well, which has a pipe inside it with water coming directly from the mountain.

As soon as our mom fills the bottle with water, Hafsa is right there to ask for a drink. She loves the freezing cold taste of freshness! The water, which comes from this natural 'dispenser', is much colder than that we're getting from our refridgerated dispenser in Karachi! We're guessing that if this water is so cold even on the hottest of summer days, then the inside of the mountain must be freezing! Subhanallah!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The flower season is over...

When the summer turns to the side of the fall, the fruits of the fruit-trees are starting to ripe. This year, the harvest of apples and pears is going to be very abundant, as the branches of every tree are full of fruits. When the wind blows stronger, some of the fruits start falling down, so one of the daily duties of gardening becomes picking up those fallen fruits.

As we were picking up the fruits today, we heard a strange buzz around the pear-tree. Very many pears had fallend down, some of them even getting crushed by the fall, due to their ripeness and sweetness. When we went closer, it turned out that the buzz we heard was created by many honey-bees that were snacking on the fallen pears! What else left for the poor honey-bees to do, when the season of the flowers is getting over and they feel hungry? Since our garden neighbours, the honey-bee farmers, had taken out of their bee-hives all the honey they had so diligently collected throughout the summer, the bees looked for other options of filling their bellies.

When we showed to the honey-bee farmer these hungry bees, he said that it is usual for the bees to behave like this at this season. He said that just today he has filled into the bee-hives special sweet syrop, which is supposed to replace for the bees the honey during the winter season. In normal circumstances, during winter the bees feed on the honey they collect during summer, but if the honey gets removed from the bee-hives, it must be replaced by something else, which would keep the bees alive during the long winter season. Usually, the bees are running outside of their bee-hives up till the month of October. After that, they stay inside and feed on the sweet syrop the honey-bee farmer has palced in the bee-hive.

As we talked with the honey-bee farmer, we learned another interesting fact about the bees. It turns out that during the winter season, when the bees don't go outside from their bee-hives, they don't pass any... well... potty. Allah (swt) has created them in such a way that potty stays inside their bellies from October till March, which is the time, when they first come out of their bee-hives, Subhanallah!

As we watched the bees muching away on the pears, a hungry butterfly also joined the scene! Well, if the nectar of flowers is no longer available, then even the butterflies resort to fruits. :)

Family dinner

When we came this evening to Vecmamma's (grandmother's) garden, we witnessed a strange 'dinner party'. A whole clan of worms had come to have their evening meal to one of our beautiful cabbages! We saw that they've been enjoying quite well already, as the side of the cabbage leaf had a good size hole in it. Well, no other option was left for us than to pull out that head of cabbage and take it home for eating, as by tomorrow morning, the worms might have found their way to the rest of the cabbages as well. We don't need such 'after-meal-holes' in all of our cabbages, do we?

Friday, August 14, 2009

We passed under a rainbow!

Yesterday we had yet another great experience with rainbows. We were coming in train from Riga (the capital) back to our Vecmamma's (grandmother's) home, and so it happened that it was just the right weather for another rainbow. This time, however, the rainbow stretched over our train!!! We saw one end of it through the left side window of the train, while the other end - through the other side window! What a bright and beautiful rainbow it was! But the most exciting thing was to observe, how train was gradually moving closer and closer to the rainbow. Eventually, the train passed under the rainbow and we lost the visibility of it - can you believe that we actually were under a rainbow??? :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Honey-Bee Farming - Part 2

On another sunny day, when our garden neighbours were again working with their honey-bees, we asked them to tell us more about the work they are doing. This time, we had the chance to go closer to the open bee-hives and see, how the wodden frames, in which bees build the honey-combs and collect the honey, are placed inside the bee-hive.

In these pictures, you can see the one frame taken out from the bee-hive. The honey-combs in it are already sealed by the bees, which means that they have completed the work and this frame is 'ready' for taking out of the bee-hive. There are no bees on the frame, because uncle Valters has scared them away with that black smoke equipment he's holding in his hand.

The black smoke-box also has its own story to tell. The smoke in it comes from special burning material placed into it - the kind that the bees don't like. You can see the plastic bag of this special material in the picture. The black smoke-box has a hand-fan attached to it, with the help of which uncle Valters blows the smoke out of the box.

When the sealed honey-combs are successfully removed from the bee-hives, the bee-farmers get another set of equipment ready for removing the honey from the honey-combs. First of all, they use this special brush with iron teeth (the one with the red handle in the picture) for removing the seals from the honey combs. The seals are collected in a separate box, becoming a favourite treat of kids, who chew them to suck out of them the remains of honey.
When the seals are removed, they place the frames of honey-combs in a special round barrel-type of machine with the help of which the liquid honey gets removed from the frames. In the picture you can see that one frame is put along the side of this barrel. The barrel has the capacity of four frames alltogether.

In one of the pictures, Uzair is turning the handle, which is located at the side of the barrel. As Uzair turns the handle, the barrel starts spinning around, as a result of what the honey from the frames gets thrown out against the edges of the barrel and drips down to the bottom of it. If you turn the barrel long enough, all the honey will be thrown out of the frames (thanks to the centrifugal force), leaving the honey-combs completely empty.

Now, the barrel itself has a very special bottom part. It has a cone-like shape, which helps to direct and collect the honey to the very bottom of it. On the outer side of the barrel bottom, there is a small tap, through which the bee-farmers fill the liquid honey into containers, which have special steel nets on them for catching any remaining bits of honey-combs that might still be swimming in the honey. Thus, going through such procedure, the honey-bee farmers get clear and tasty liquid, which, as Allah (swt) says in the Quran, has in it healing for so many diseases. :)