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!