Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year's Eve! Štastný Nový Rok!

So us Czechs call New Year's Eve "Silvestr".  December 31st is St. Sylvester's Day because it is the saint's feast day.  And, since Prague was his place of birth, the tie is even stronger in the Czech Republic. We'll get together on "na Silvestra" and we'll eat (a lot) and drink (even more), and since today is Silvestr, I'm gearing up to be quite full and very, very merry.
As we say in Czech, Jak na Nový rok, tak po celý rok, which translated means, what happens on the 1st of January will happen every day of the new year.  So essentially, don't drink so much on Silvestr that you end up in a bad situation on New Year's Day...because that won't shape up to be a pretty year.  Instead, start the first day of 2012 off right... be healthy, happy, respectable, honest, loved, and love back with all of your heart.  In my head, which tends to produce romantic scenarios and fairy tale visions, I picture starting off the new year with passionate kisses and embraces,  "Miluji tě"s and even more of those aforementioned kisses.  Yes, I'm a romantic...a damn bleeding heart romantic...and if you haven't guessed it I plan to spend 2012 wrapped in romance...because everything is better with romance.  

But all of that romance aside, we Czechs have traditions to adhere to on Silvestr and New Year's Day.  It's traditional to start off the new year with a clean house, everyone is busy doing their part to make sure that everything sparkles before the day is done. For good luck, one should eat a piece of herring before midnight (I've got rollmops ready to go!).  

There's an Eastern European superstition that states that on New Year's "it must be ensured that no animal meat ends up in the pan".  Why?   Because they once had legs, and the the luck would hop or fly away. Lobster and crab are considered bad luck because they move backwards and could lead to setbacks. 

Chicken is also a no-no because they scratch backward, and eating any winged fowl is ill-advised because this could portend one's good luck flying away.  

If you're awake at lunchtime on New Year's Day, you should eat lots of lentils (čočka as we call it) because in Czech tradition lentils symbolize money $$$ (I best be stocking up on the lentils and setting the alarm clock because I sure can use some extra money!).  Need a recipe for čočka?  Click here čočka recipe

 So what does this carnivores bunch of Czechs eat on Silvestr?   Meat.  Lots of meat.  Various chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches), nuts, and other snacks, too. Midnight is celebrated by drinking šampaňské (champagne) or some other local sparkling wine. Some Czechs eat vepřový ovar (boiled pork head) se strouhaným křenem a jablky (with grated horseradish and apples) at midnight.  Myself?  I'll be indulging on artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and lots and lots of champagne. And I won't forget the herring for good luck!


My New Years wish to all of you is a happy home, happy and healthy self, family, and pets, travels to wonderful foreign destinations, prosperity and, of course, romance.

However you spend Silvestr, may it be happy and safe!

 Štastný Nový Rok everyone!

Happy Name Day, Silvestr! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Silvestr.  Happy name day, Silvestr!
The name Silvestr is the Czech form of Sylvester, which is of Latin origin and means "wooded".

A fun fact:  in Czech, we call New Year's Eve "Silvestr"!

Friday, December 30, 2011

We have snow!

A sprinkling of snow in Prague makes everything peaceful and magical

Happy Name Day, David! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor David.  Happy name day, David!
The name David is of Hebrew origin and means "beloved".  David is one of the most remarkable personalities in the Scriptures - he was a a shepherd, musician, poet, soldier, statesman, prophet, and king.  He wrote about half of the Psalms and very likely composed music for them as well.  He is the only David mentioned in the Bible; his name occurs there more than a thousand times.  

Today there are variants of the name in almost every language.  Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.  In Scotland, David was a royal name.  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vánočka - Czech Christmas Bread Recipe

Recently, a reader asked me if I have a recipe for vánočka because she'd like to make it for her grandmother.  That's a lot of pressure!  But I hope that this recipe brings grandmother many happy memories.


1 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar (or less, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 large room-temperature eggs, beaten
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup golden or dark raisins
1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds
lemon zest from 1 or 2 lemons - whatever you prefer

1 large room-temperature egg, beaten
2 tablespoons blanched sliced almonds
Confectioners' sugar (optional)

Add butter, sugar and salt to scalded milk. Stir to combine and let cool to lukewarm. 

Place yeast and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and, with the paddle attachment, stir until dissolved. Add lukewarm milk mixture and 2 eggs and combine. 

Add 3 cups flour and beat with the paddle until smooth. Add the raisins, almonds, citron, and remaining flour and mix, 3 to 5 minutes until smooth. Dough will be sticky. 

Place dough in greased bowl. Turn over and cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double, about 1 hour (I found it took longer)

Punch down dough and turn out onto lightly floured board. Divide dough into 3 large pieces and 5 smaller ones. Roll each piece into a rope, about 14 inches long. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, braid the 3 larger pieces loosely and pinch ends together. 

Now this next part you can chose to braid this way, or do a simple 3-strand braid, or even just form it into a loaf:
Braid 3 of the smaller rolls, pinch ends together, and place on top of large braid. Twist the last 2 rolls together and place on top of second braid, tucking ends under large braid. Cover with a cloth or greased plastic wrap and let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warm place. 

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush  vánočka with 1 beaten egg and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons almonds. Bake 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 30-45 minutes or until instant-read temperature registers 190 degrees. Let cool completely before slicing. Dust with confectioners' sugar before cutting, if desired.

Because who doesn't want to be a princess (or prince) for a day!

I was just looking at Budget Travel's "10 Beautiful Castle Hotels" and they listed Krásná Lípa in northern Bohemia, stating:

A nice Czech waltz is the only thing missing from the fairy-tale atmosphere at Château Krasna Lipa, located in Czech Saxon Switzerland.  Built in 1886, this fanciful palace has turrets and Juliet balconies; not to mention gracious rooms with 14-foot ceilings, furnished with antiques, hand-carved furniture, and Rococo oil paintings. The surrounding area is home to lush forests that invite romantic souls to discover intricate rock formations—and crystal-clear lakes and rivers—also prime fishing areas.  Now a vacation rental, the castle has eight luxury suites with private baths and flat-screen TVs—some suites have walk-out terraces with panoramic views.  As with any dream trip, excellent service is a must, and Krasna Lipa delivers: Private tour-guides and interpreters are available to guests, as are pick-ups from Prague airport (80 miles away) or the nearby Decin railway station. Double rooms from $50 per person per night (breakfast included), 1/416-529-1523.

Now I don't know about you, but this sounds fabulously romantic!  (hint hint to all husbands and boyfriends reading this)

To read more about the chateau and view it's lovely interior and surroundings, please visit Chateau Krásná Lípa


Happy Name Day, Judita! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Judita.  Happy name day, Judita!
The name Judita is the Czech and Slovak form of Judith, which is of Hebrew origin and means "from Judea; Jewish".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Name Day, Bohumila! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Bohumila.  Happy name day, Bohumila!
The name Bohumila is mostly used in the Czech language.  The name is of Slavic origin and means "God's love".

Happy Name Day, Žaneta! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Yesterday we honored Žaneta.  Happy belated name day, Žaneta!
The name Zaneta is of Spanish origin and means "small apple".

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Belated Name Day, Vlasta, Adam & Eva, and Štěpán! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

On December 23rd we honoroed Vlasta.  Happy belated name day, Vlasta!
The name Vlasta is of Slavonic origin and means "country, homeland".

On December 24th we honored Adam & Eva.  Happy belated name day, Adam & Eva!

The name Adam is of Hebrew origin and means "earth".  In Hebrew, it is a generic term for "man".  In the Genesis account, he was the first man created from the red earth of Eden.  The name was borne by a seventh-century Irish abbot of Fermo, Italy.  The name has been steadily used from the middle ages until the 1700s, and again beginning in the 1970s.  It's an appropriate name for the first boy in a family that has produced many girls.

The name Eva is also my name...happy belated name day to me!
The name Eva is also of Hebrew origin and means "life, living one".  Eva was originally the equivalent of Eve in many non-English speaking countries; it was later adopted by English speakers in the mid-19th century. 

On December 26th we honored Štěpán.  Happy belated name day, Štěpán!
The name Štěpán is the Russian and Armenian form of Stephen, which is of Greek origin and means "crown".
 The name was popularized in England by the Normans.  Stephen was the name of kings of England, Serbia, and Poland, as well as ten popes.  It was also borne by the first Christian king of Hungary (10th century), who is regarded as the patron saint of that country.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve! Czech Christmas Traditions you'll want to follow..

...or you may end up dead!
(but you know by now that we're a superstitious bunch)

The Cutting of an Apple
After Christmas dinner, every person present at the table cuts an apple in half (crosswise, from the stem down).  Both halves are shown to everyone around the table.  If the core is shaped as a star, it means that everyone will get together next year in happiness and health.  A four-pointed cross is a bad omen and means that someone at the table will fall ill or die within a year.

The Throwing of a Shoe
An unmarried girl is supposed to throw a shoe over her shoulder and towards the door.  If the shoe lands with the toe pointing towards the door, the girl will marry within a year.

Fish Scales
Fish scales should be placed under Christmas dinner plates or under the tablecloth to bring wealth to the house.  Carrying a fish scale in a wallet all year will ensure that money will not run out.

The Floating of Walnut Shells
Little boats are made out of empty walnut shells and each family member places a little burning candle into a shell.  Everyone's shells are then floated in a bowl of water.  If the shell makes it across the bowl, its owner will live a long and healthy life.  A shell that sinks brings bad luck to its owner.

The Pouring of Lead
A piece of lead is melted over a fire and then poured into a container of water.  The resulting shape will tell the pourer's destiny.

After Christmas dinner, no field is to crossed until midnight mass.  He who does so will die within a year (phew, sure glad I don't live near any fields!)...

A pregnant woman will know whether she is carrying a boy or a girl once the first Christmas Eve visitor enters the house.  If the visitor is male, she will have a son...

He who fails to give a present on Christmas Eve will be met with poverty...

 Certain plants, spices and foods are said to have special qualities and have been an important part of the Czech Christmas celebration throughout history.  Here are a few that should be served at Christmas:

An essential part of Christmas that should not be missing at any Christmas dinner.  It is believed to provide strength and protection.  A bowl of garlic can be placed under the dinner table.

Honey is believed to guard against evil.  A pot of honey can be placed on the dinner table.

Mushrooms give health and strength.  A traditional meal called kuba, prepared from dried mushrooms, barley, garlic, onions, and spices, used to be served as the main meal in the past.  Mushroom soup can be served before dinner.

Sheaf of Grain
A bundle of grain dipped in holy water can be used to sprinkle the house to prevent it from burning down in the coming year.

Poppyseed, peas, wheat, barley
If given to the hens on Christmas Eve, lots of eggs will be laid in the coming year.

Vánočka (Christmas bread)
Feeding a piece of vánočka into the well will ensure good quality of the water.

If the goats are given apples on Christmas Eve, their milk will be sweet.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Time to make the Vánočka!

A Czech Christmas wouldn't be complete without Vánočka!  Vánočka is our traditional Christmas bread, and it's oh sooooo delicious!  The bread is named after Vánoce, meaning Christmas in Czech (Vianoce in Slovak) and is rich in eggs and butter ...and doesn't butter make everything better?  Lemon rind and raisins give it color and flavor.  It's then braided and baked to a beautiful golden brown.  A vánočka can be built from three progressively smaller braids, stacked on top of each other...this is sometimes interpreted as a rough sculpture of Baby Jesus wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.
Vánočka has a reputation for being difficult to prepare (I can attest to that...mine did not turn out all). thus in many households superstitions and special customs are attached to the baking process.  When making vánočka, it is said that you must think of everyone dear to you.  Another custom is to avoid touching silver or metal to the vánočka.  Finally, and my personal favorite, the person who is making the vánočka should jump up and down while the dough rises.  Imagine that...

Happy Name Day, Šimon! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Šimon.  Happy name day, Šimon!
The name Šimon is the Czech form of Simon, which is of Hebrew origin and means "to hear, to be heard; reputation".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas or Veselé Vánoce?

Today there's an interesting article in CZECHPOSITION.COM that offers a glimpse into a Czech Christmas for those who have a partner from another country...

Merry Christmas or Veselé Vánoce?

Veselé vánoce – and many thanks for the carp and potato salad. Now, what about that figgy Christmas pudding? 
Who brings the presents when traditions mix — Ježíšek, Santa Claus, or both?

To read the article, please visit CZECHPOSITION.COM 

Happy Name Day, Natálie! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Natálie.  Happy name day, Natálie!
The name Natálie is the Czech form of Natalie, which is of Latin origin and means "birthday"...refers to the birthday of Christ, or Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Czech toys in Brooklyn - They make a great gift!

For those of you in NYC, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain is selling the most adorable wooden toys from the Czech Republic.  They make a great holiday gift or stocking stuffer!

These toys are made in the Czech Republic, are certified safe, and are Fairtrade and organic (ethical).
The wooden products are made from quality wood from Czech and Slovak sustained forests supporting forestry that uses the certification PE FC/Fes (plant and cut: avoiding cutting down trees without planting).  They make use of the wood waste as a fuel for the production facilities and for nearby households; these are checked to try and save more energy and avoid CO2 emissions.

Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
513 Henry Street (corner of Sackett Street)
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Happy Name Day, Dagmar! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Dagmar.  Happy name day, Dagmar!
The name Dagmar is of Scandinavian and Old German origin and means "glorious, day's glory".  It is a royal name in Denmark; Tsarina Marie, wife of Tsar Alexander III of Russia, was Princess Dagmar of Denmark.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rest in Peace Mr. Havel, "truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred"

I have to put a little damper on all of this Christmas cheer.  Sadly, yesterday the former Czechoslovak and Czech President, Václav Havel, peacefully passed away in his sleep at his country house in northern Bohemia.  He had been a heavy smoker for decades and almost died during lung cancer surgery in 1996.  Mr. Havel had been suffering from severe respiratory ailments.  He was 75 years old.
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Vaclav Havel was the most famous Czech politician in the world.  The former playwright, who was a major figure in the fight against Communism, later became the president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic.

His motto: "truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred" will stay embedded in our hearts as well as his contribution to the freedom of all Czechs and Slovaks at home and around the world.  We extend our condolences to President Havel’s family.  He will never be forgotten.

It's just not Christmas without carp!

A traditional Czech Christmas dinner just wouldn't be complete without carp.  Yes, carp.  That oily fish whose relatives are popular ornamental fish.  I'm sure you've owned a pet goldfish or two in your life, and perhaps admired and fed fish in a koi pond.  Well, those are said carp's relatives.   Oh, and did I mention that it's also a bony fish?  Not just bony in the sense of a couple bones here and there.  No, we're talking we all sit down to a civilized Christmas Eve dinner, raise our glasses for the 22nd toast of the evening, and spend the rest of the meal in silence as we pick bones out of our mouths after each bite.  I've probably turned you off by now, but the thing is, we go back for more each and every year.  Why?  Because Christmas just wouldn't be the same without carp, and stranger more, because it is delicious.

Traditional Czech Christmas Eve Dinner Menu:
Vanocni Polevka Z Kapra (carp soup)
Fried carp
Baked carp aka Gypsy carp ("kapr po cikánsku")
Potato salad

Followed by dessert:
Vánočka (Czech Christmas bread that is absolutely to die for!)
Assortment of homemade cookies

Traditional Czech Christmas dinner... fish soup (carp), fried carp and potato salad 

Right about now you'll see fishmongers with their large tubs of live carp throughout Prague and other cities in the Czech Republic.  

 In recent years, salmon and even poultry and pork-based dishes have gained popularity as viable replacements for carp at Christmas, which the younger Czechs view as too heavy a meal.  However, carp remains the undisputed favorite for most families.  Some families have tried salmon or something else one year, but they always come back to carp realizing that it's just not Christmas without carp!

Happy Name Day, Ester! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Ester.  Happy name day, Ester!
The name Ester is a variant of Esther, which is of Persian origin, and the meaning of Ester is "myrtle leaf".

Happy Belated Name Day, Miloslav! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Yesterday we honored Miloslav.  Happy belated name day, Miloslav!
The name Miloslav is of Slavonic origin and is mainly used in the Czech and Russian language and means "crowned with glory".

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Name Day, Daniel! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Daniel.  Happy Name Day, Daniel!
The name Daniel is of Hebrew origin and means "God is my judge".  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Name Day, Albína! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Albína.  Happy name day, Albína!
The name Albína is the Czech & Slovak form of Albina, which is a variant of Alba (Latin), Albinia (Latin) and Alva (Swedish).  The meaning of Albina is "white; fair; elf".

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Name Day, Radana! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Radana.  Happy name day, Radana!
The name Radana is mostly used in the Czech and Slovene language, and means "care".

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prague: One of the best cities for Christmas markets

I know that I keep saying that the Prague Christmas markets are spectacular, but I'll admit, I'm biased.  That being said, it made me so very happy to see that I'm not the only one who seems to think so... Lonely Planet agrees with me:  5 great European cities for Christmas markets

Photo from the article on 
 Prague's beautiful Staroměstské náměstí, or Old Town Square, is downright ethereal during Christmas.

Happy Name Day, Lýdie! Všechno nejlepší k svátku!

Today we honor Lýdie.  Happy name day, Lýdie!
The name Lýdie is the Czech form of Lydia, which is of Greek origin and means "from Lydia".  Lydia was a region on the west coast of Asia Minor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taking a festive stroll through Old Town's Christmas market

Oh, how I adore this time of year!  Strolling through the Christmas markets (Vánoční trhy) in Prague with the sweet smell of hot Trdelník in the air, sipping on Svařák to stay warm, taking in all of the sights and sounds of the holiday...this is what I look forward to every year!

Enjoying Svařák (hot mulled wine)

Be sure to visit the Christmas market during the day as well as at night when thousands of lights are twinkling...

The Christmas markets are now up throughout the city, but the most famous one is in Old Town Square.  So grab a Svařákor Medovina (honey wine or Mead) and take a leisurely stroll around Old Town Square.  If your're lucky, it may begin to snow...adding to the Christmassy feel.  

Be sure to admire the tree that came to the city centre from Krkonoše (Giant Mountain) in the Czech Republic.

 Old Town Square at Christmastime 

  Christmas just wouldn't be right without a nativity scene, but a live one!?  This is one you won't want to miss!  There's also a petting zoo, performances of Christmas music and dance, and many, many stalls selling everything from Czech food, beer and treats, to glass, candles, and traditional Czech toys and marionettes.  It's a great place to pick up a little something to put under the tree or in a stocking.

   Other Prague Christmas markets are in Wenceslas Square, with smaller markets at Havelske Trziste and Náměstí Republiky, and all are within a 10-minute walk.  Another Christmas market is situated in Náměstí Míru, which is a bit outside of the city center but very easily reached by metro or tram.  You'll find more locals than tourists here.

Wenceslas Square

Snow begins to gently fall as people stroll through the market at Wenceslas Square

I recommend going atop the clock tower at dusk or later when it's dark...the view is spectacular!

A delicious treat!  Trdlo is dough wrapped around a hot metal pin, baked to perfection and then rolled in cinnamon sugar or almonds.

 The Prague Christmas market in Old Town Square stays open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and through January 1, 2012.