Saturday, November 08, 2008

Jack Frost at Work - Dec/Jan '08- 09

Have you ever seen Jack Frost.....or, just his work?

When I was only six I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I was already suspicious that year, so I tested my theory. I got my parents to promise they wouldn't eat the snack we left near the fireplace. It was still there in the morning, so I definitely knew.

I myself have never seen fairies in the garden. One daughter wrote down, with a little picture, that she saw a fairy under a mushroom. Her younger sister said that knowing her, she probably did see one.

However, I believed in Jack Frost for a very long time, probably until I was eleven, or so. This is how he looks, and what he does. He works in the winter in cold climates. He always has some brushes to decorate your windows. He's slender, but tall, and moves quickly because I've never actually caught sight of him. Most of his work he does at night, or very, very early in the morning. He wears a pointy hat, and some of his clothes are red and green.

My mother told me about Jack Frost, but neither she nor my father were charmed as I was, because Jack Frost's work takes place when there are air leaks around the windows. My husband had silicon put around all the window frames, so frosty paintings are rarely seen here. An exception is the glassed-in balcony at the top of the stairs. Warm air rises from the furnace room, and warm, moist air rises from the clothes dryer. On frosty mornings I see the elfin painter's artistic creations.. There'll be tall ferns, flowers, perhaps a storybook castle, a frozen white meadow, or maybe a cat. I have not yet seen sheep here! Maybe they are hiding in the meadow.

If you catch Jack Frost at work, please write and tell me.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

October 2008

October 2008

First, if you think you are having a hard time shopping in Prague, think of me here in the countryside, so much sparser in stores, but I do manage it.When you are still very unfamiliar with the Czech language, take your dictionary along shopping with you! Forgot your dictionary? Buy only foods you recognize until next trip! I once bought “hard flour” thinking it was the gluten-free I needed. A daughter bought a bag of kitty litter – here for the Zámek, where we are replete with sawdust! She thought it was dry cat food. Early on, I bought a slepice, when what I needed was a kuøe. I cooked that old hen for two days.

I do bring a few things from the States or England, but most things can be managed by substituting or making your own – cream sauce cooked in a pot, rather than the can of soup the recipe calls for; baking cocoa + butter, rather than baking chocolate; chocolate bars chopped in the food processor, rather than chocolate chips. It's good to have a list of pound/kilogram equivalents, although more stateside recipes now give both. I taped a card with centigrade-fahrenheit equivalents above the oven.


Make the number of hamburger patties you want, or wash the number of chicken legs.
Lay in a shallow baking dish which has a cover.

Add whatever veggies you want -
Chopped onion, carrots sticks, zucchini sticks, celery OR grated celer [celeric root]
parsnip sticks
Cut up potatoes

Add whatever herbs you want -
Garlic, summer savory, thyme, marjoram, salt, pepper

Put the lid on and bake at 350 for about an hour. If the lid is loose, you might put foil around the edge.

Play a game with the children, make a phone call, take a nap.


Made by my grandmother, Dora Markham Clark, during WWI. I have the recipe in her handwriting.

Mix in a saucepan:

1 cup brown sugar. [This can now be purchased in more shops, and health food stores have it.]
1 ¼ cup water
1/3 cup lard or margarine
2 cup raisins
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves or less
[You may need to look these words up in your trusty dictionary!]

Bring to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Let cool.

Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 2 teaspoon water.

Blend in 2 cup flour mixed with 1 teaspoon baking powder.

Pour into greased and floured or crumbed baking pan.
Bake about 50 minutes in a 325 oven.

from "Women's Day", Sept '39

The Czech word boruvky can be translated into English as either bilberry or blueberry. What grows wild here, on the forest floor, is the soft-stemmed bilberry. A few people have blueberry bushes in their gardens; blueberries may sometimes be purchased fresh in the markets, or from the frozen food counter. Use either in this dish.

Line a greased pan with 2 cups blueberries or bilberries, sprinkling with juice of ½ a lemon.
Canned fruits may be used – peaches are quite good.

Mix the batter:
Cream ¾ cup sugar with 3 tablespoons butter.
Mix 1 cup sifted flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt.
Add to creamed mixture alternately with ½ cup milk.
Pour the batter over the berries.

1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon salt.
Sprinkle over the top of the cake batter.

¾ cup to 1 cup boiling water over the cake!! Do not stir!
For canned fruits, use their own juice brought to a boil.

Bake in moderate oven (375) one hour.

You may put this in the oven during dinner preparations and thus have a hot cake.
Leftover is OK, but fresh is fantastic. Great with ice cream, of course.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What's New Around Here- September 2008

2008 is the 100th year since my husband's grandfather and grandmother purchased the estate upon the 1908 birth of my husband's father. We've thought of ways to celebrate, both sensible and ridiculous ones. A ridiculous idea might be a dumpling-eating contest. Celebrations, in a low
key way, will continue for a couple years – first because our daughters and families cannot come this year, but also because the grandparent's family, consisting of the mother, father, infant son, and 7 year old daughter, did not move into the Zamek immediately. They added toilets!!, renovated the kitchen, added water-powered electricity, and the grandfather probably began thinking about the horses he would become well-known for raising.

Our son is ordering logo t-shirts, with lettering done by an artist, his brother-in-law. For the chapel, my husband has ordered granite plaques with his parents' dates and will order his grandparents'. I went with our son and his children to the village of the grandmother's family to visit the graveyard where the grandmother was buried in 1960, as we did not find any papers with her exact birth and death dates. [The communists would not allow her to be buried here in the tomb alongside her husband. Villagers there helped us find the family estate where she and her children had been born.]

Recently the abbot from the nearby monastery visited our woodshop. He ordered 100 smallish wooden crosses for the monastery. When he heard it was our 100th year he said he'd like to have a celebration mass in our chapel. There have been masses here, but never before by the abbot! I'll need to do some cleaning! A date has been set. Afterwards we'll grill lamb shish-kebobs for supper.

[Many sheep are still alive and walking around, but they've finally worked out the routine of WHERE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO GO! New this year, that's greatly appreciated by me!]

Long-delayed repairs are proceeding. We're working on the suite that was my husband's parents – large bedroom, veranda with tower, bathroom made from my mother-in-law's large dressing room. A tiny toilet room will be a linen closet. The adjacent sitting room is slated to be an Arab majlis with our collections from the Middle East. My husband had a enchanting curved staircase added to the tower. I've purchased light fixtures I imagine could be from the 1930's. The bricklayer is upstairs right now, plastering holes the electricians made.

The next BIG item needed is a furnace for this wing. But who knows: the carpenters or the agriculture department might decide one or the other really needs something else. Well, the Zamek was built over a number of centuries.....

Friday, April 04, 2008

Lovers Lane - May 2008

Lovers' Lanes

We have two lovers' lanes that I know about on the estate. Most likely there are more. Probably lovers walk through a forest. Perhaps some ramble along the stream. But these two paths I know about directly from lovers who used them.

Any physical indication of the first lane is long gone, but my friend who walked this with her husband-to-be has explained exactly where it was. A double alley of oak trees went from just behind our garden, across a field to a meadow between two ponds to a road to another village. That alley is where they walked, exchanging secrets and caresses. Wildlife was plentiful here. Grouse ran, hares frisked, pheasants stalked. The walk was especially lovely through the meadow between the two ponds. Sometimes they saw a deer with her fawn.

Later in the 1970's and 1980's the regime proceeded to turn the typical small Czech fields into giant rolling fields like countries further east have. What to do with that oak alley? The head of the farm collective knew what he wanted. After he had the oaks chopped down, he had furniture for his house made with the wood.

Just the other day my friend told me again how lovely that oak alley was where they ambled and courted. She's sad that it was all cut down, but its beauty lives on in her heart and her husband's.

You may still go on the other lovers' lane, as it's a small rocky dirt road which is occasionally driven on and often walked upon. Down below it splits, one branch leading to the old brick yard and the other to a meadow and stream. Over the stream is a small wooden bridge.

In 1996 we were preparing for our Fourth of July party. My neighbor at the time, Joan, was making three-bean salad; our son David was getting fires started; my husband was entertaining early arrivals; one daughter was putting up red, white, and blue decorations; another daughter, Alice, was mowing the lawn. She had to stop for awhile to converse with her grandmother. Finally finishing the lawn, her friend Christian took her away for a walk.

They walked through the village, down to the meadow, and onto the bridge. They became engaged. Christian gave Alice a ring set with family diamonds and in the center a garnet he'd purchased. The garnet is because garnets are Czech stones, and Alice is half-Czech. The following summer they were married here in the Zamek chapel.

My artist friend, Edna, once visited us for a month. Afterwards she did a painting of a small bridge which we bought Alice and Christian for Christmas several years later. It hangs in their room, and is a keepsake of their engagement on the Fourth of July.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sewing Projects

A manufacturer of upholstery and drapery material is not far from the Zamek. I shop there at the factory sometimes. Then I phone our upholsterer who incidentally did the furniture at Obecní Dùm when it was renovated a few years ago.

Once we needed felt for Christmas ornaments for gifts and to sell. First, questioning IWAP members and then searching in Prague, I found a store. I even learned the Czech word, "filc".

A dressmaker near the Zamek sewed outfits for me, my mother-in-law, and for two daughters, including the wedding dress for one of them. We shopped for fabric, drew pictures or took patterns to the dressmaker, and went back for fittings.

But the project which still amazes me took place many years ago. I made a silk dress for a thirteen year old girl. Are you familiar with the concerns thirteen year old girls have about clothes?

"Mom, I really need a new dress for the dance next week."

"Alice, why don't you wear the floaty two-piece white on white, satiny stripe, I made last year."

"Mother, I can't wear that! There' s no contrast: you know we're all wearing white stoles. I need the dark blue silk you brought me from India last year. I really want a sheath; that would look nice."

"I don't have a pattern. Alice, you are not a paper doll, you are not flat, you are three-dimensional. I've made doll clothes that wouldn't fit the dolls." [Where we lived at the time it was nearly impossible to get patterns.]

"Oh, Mother. You can do it. Just use a pattern you have to shape the armholes. It will be so easy for you."

It wasn't exactly easy. The armholes needed facing, also, which was another cutting problem. I had to think carefully and measure for darts. Of course, I had to make certain there was enough room on the sides to fit in a person, even someone slender like Alice! Finally, after she'd tried it on many times, I put in a zipper and did the hem.

She was very pleased with the dress. She looked lovely in it with the white stole. I was proud of how I'd managed to construct it!

Now, Alice is a mother of girls herself, contending with their reasonable and unreasonable requests.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Exercise in, mostly, the countryside.

Many people like to have a home workout program. Here are my suggestions. As in all programs, you may move from the easy to the difficult.

Gentle exercise
Put sticks in the fire. Put more sticks in the fire.
Vigorous exercise
Take a wheelbarrow loaded with wood to the Zamek. Unload inside into wood boxes.
Extreme exercise
Carry many large pieces of wood upstairs.

Gentle exercise
Fill the sheep's drinking buckets. Hand out oats, dumplings, and salt.
Vigorous exercise
1. Give the sheep six large baskets of hay.
2. Take the flock out to their pasture, not allowing them to sidetrack to eat flowers.
Extreme exercise
I won't go into this. It involves several people chasing the whole flock outside, preventing them from going onto the highway, or down to the moat.....By the way, did you ever see a five year old try to pick up a skittish runaway lamb?

Gentle exercise
Get out crayons, legos, or "Sorry" for grandchildren.
Vigorous exercise
Carry a large basket of blocks to another room.
Extreme exercise
Sprint to beat a two year old to the street.

Gentle exercise
Cut up meat, veggies, and fruit for children.
Vigorous - Extreme exercise
Wait for them to eat it. This involves much self-control, but NO vigorous motions.
Return to gentle exercise
Clean up. Divide leftovers among dog, cats, and sheep.

Gentle exercise
Give guests gulaš and wine or beer, koláèe and coffee in the dining room next to the kitchen.
Vigorous exercise
Take three or four trays of said repast to the TV room across the drive-through.
Extreme exercise
Take all of these, plus a first course, to the formal dining room upstairs, where, unless it's summer, you've made a fire three or four hours ago. Run back and forth for the things you forgot.

Gentle exercise
Trim forsythia. Plant a few herbs or flowers.
Vigorous exercise
Spade up a section of the flower bed. Move small trees which have rooted there.
Extreme exercise
Spade up the whole flower bed. Move a large shrub or a tree. Repeating these exercises will strengthen you, as you will use different muscles each time you bend and lift and carry.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Winter Activities in the Country Side

Many people knit in the winter: one year my neighbor knit me, a daughter, and our niece each a pair of socks, as well as for everyone in her family. Many Czechs like to whiten inside walls [nowadays, using wall paint, not whitewash]. To air the room, they open windows, of course, but the heating helps to clear fumes more quickly than in summer, they say. Some women still have "darning" bees where they all get together to strip goose feathers for feather beds. The woman at whose house they're working provides a nice supper.

"Keep the homefires burning" is not just a saying! The most important winter activity is making fires and keeping them going. Sometimes this includes going to the woodshed; generally others bring in wood. In the Zamek it is possible to have seven different fires. A small furnace between the TV/computer room and the accountant's office also heats a hall and bathroom while a wood-fired cookstove heats the whole arched kitchen. A large wood-gas furnace heats radiators in dining room, bedrooms, laundry room; and floors in a bedroom suite, in bathrooms, and, slightly, in chapel.

A blue tile stove, with seating area, is in the office of the farm manager, woodshop manager, and forester. When the fire is going there you must not lean on it while wearing a nylon jacket! In the big dining room and library there's a large metal stove, with pipes which spread heated air. It's a special occasion to build a fire there because all that wood has to be carried upstairs. When it's very cold the everyday dining room's fire is also lit.

I catch a few people to do a few repairs, things suitable for doing inside, in warm rooms.

We invite a few people over for lunch, dinner, or to spend a few nights. We might go to Prague for a day or two, seeing friends, going to a party, swimming in a hotel pool.

As we each finish our new Christmas books, we trade with others.

The sheep are fed every day. At least now they are locked up in the barn, no jumping over fences, or breaking through them. Often we must thaw their water faucet.

The woodshop manager supervises making of special orders, such as doors, tables, Adirondack chairs along with wine racks, bookcases, and pegged shelves. The biggest concern is to manufacture enough fence and balcony slats so there's ample stock when requests for thousands pour in a few months.

The forester has trees cut and delivered for our woodshop production, along with planning springtime planting of baby trees. Forest workers are making the fences which will protect these young trees.

The farm manager plans fields for spring, with, this year, starting no-till farming. Her tractor driver repair machinery. She discusses crop prices for the coming season with buyers. She resists hiring a gardener!

I plan flower and herb beds and some tree and shrub planting around the Zamek. I try to hire a gardener!