Monthly Archives: December 2011

Christmas Fruit Cake

Any place of worship – be it a temple, church, mosque or any other religious place – being worshipped for number of years, especially centuries has a special aura. Prayer, Meditation, Chanting, Devotion, Peace and many more things occupying the worship area –  make it a special place. I experience Peace and Tranquility in a temple – one of the reasons being the religious stories that I have been fed with, since childhood. When I grew up, I was pulled towards the ancient past of the 1000 to 1500 year old temples of Tamilnadu and the history and literature of the Tamils behind those walls and the stone inscriptions of the historic past on the walls of the temples. 

I experience the same unexplainable respect for the ancient past and people of the past when I enter a Church which depicts valuable stories of history. The architectural beauty of Cathedrals amazes me and I tend to travel to another world!

Though this post comes a couple of days after Christmas, I thought I could share a few photographs of some of the most beautiful and powerful religious monuments that we’ve visited in Europe. Capturing those magnificent architectural marvels in a camera everyone would agree, can never be satisfying.

In Germany…

 

pictures of koln cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

frankfurt dom or cathedral

 

In Switzerland…

 

bern cathedral

 

cathedral de loussanne

 

In France…

 

notre-dame, paris

 

st.denis bascilica, st.denis

 

In Scotland…

 

St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh

 

glasgow church

 

A few other christmas clicks that we relish…

 

christmas eve in brussels

 

 

 

santa at kaufhof shop, dusseldorf

 

Now, some culinary business for Christmas!

The best Fruit Cake or Plum cake I have ever tasted is the Thoothukudi Bakery Plum Cake. Thoothukudi, the original tamil name of the place, the Britishers changed to Tuticorin for their safe pronunciation. This is a port city in down south Tamilnadu.  It holds a special place to me because of several reasons – 1.  it is the place from where my mother comes from; 2. the place I started my schooling as a child; 3. After we shifted to Chennai, it was my only favourite holiday destination to spend the school annual vacations at grandparents’ place!

It  is famous for Pearls – it is also called muthunagar or the pearl city and Salt Fields.  Thoothukudi also holds a special place in Indian Freedom Struggle as the First Swadeshi Ship was launched here in British India in 1906 by V.O. Chidambaram Pillai.

Now, Thoothukudi is also famous for its Bakery Foods. Thoothukudi Macaroons are very famous- a little change – macaroons are famous – but not many people would know it comes from Thoothukudi/Tuticorin. I have enjoyed  kilograms and kilograms of macaroons while young and even now, thaatha used to bring us from the bakery and additionally send for our friends in chennai to enjoy the true flavour of Thoothukudi. Beyond Macaroons, the most enjoyed bakery product used to be the Plum cake. So, when I wanted to bake a Christmas cake at least a bit similar to thoothukudi plum-cake, I searched the net. I found http://elitefoods.blogspot.com/2008/12/christmas-plum-cake.html where Viki, the author of the blog had additionally mentioned, the cake was similar to the plum-cake of thoothukudi. I tried it with some minor changes, keeping the basic structure intact. It was certainly a good fruit cake, but not as good as thoothukudi plum-cake as I had made those changes. Thanks Viki for the recipe!

As usual, I replaced all-purpose flour with wheat flour/gothumai maavu/atta. I used cooking oil instead of butter.  I used fresh orange juice to soak candied fruits instead of rum or brandy. Since dates, raisins, candied fruits and caramelised sugar has been used, the quantity of sugar is reduced. As I had candied cherries and apples, I used them – candied plums, pears, prunes and apricots make the cake more ‘fruitful’.

 

the christmas cake

 

Christmas Fruit Cake

Ingredients (gives 2 medium size cakes)

  • wheat flour – 1 1/2 cups
  • sugar – 3/4 cup
  • eggs – 3 no.s
  • oil – 3/4 cup
  • baking powder – 1 tsp
  • baking soda – 1/4 tsp
  • salt – 1/2 tsp
  • vanilla extract – 1 tsp
  • caramel syrup – 1/2 cup

to soak in 1 cup orange juice 

  • candied cherries -1/4 cup
  • candied apples – 1/4 cup
  • dates – 1/2 cup
  • raisins – 1/2 cup

finely chopped dry fruits – 1 cup

  • cashew nuts
  • almonds
  • walnuts

spice mix

  • cloves – 3 no.s
  • cinnamon twigs – 1/2 inch twig
  • nutmeg powder – 1/4 tsp
  • dry ginger powder – 1/4 tsp

Caramel Syrup

  1. Take 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tbsp water in a utensil and let it boil in medium heat
  2. After a while, the syrup would start becoming brown in colour
  3. When it becomes darker, add 1/2 cup warm water and mix well
  4. Be careful while adding water to the very hot caramelised sugar, it might sprinkle and cause burns
  5. Caramel syrup is ready

 

soaked fruits into the batter

 

ready to be baked

 

Method of Preparation

  1. Soak candied fruits, raisins and chopped dates in orange juice for minimum 12 hours
  2. Finely chop dried nuts and keep aside
  3. Make fine powder of spices
  4. Take a wide bowl or a cake blender in a processor can be used
  5. Beat eggs, sugar and oil
  6. Add caramel syrup, spice mix and soaked fruits without the juice into the blender
  7. Add wheat flour, baking powder and baking soda and blend well
  8. Add salt and vanilla extract and mix well 
  9. Add the left over orange juice if needed
  10. Mix the chopped nuts in 1 tsp flour so that nuts do not settle in the bottom of the mixture
  11. Preheat oven at 175 degree celsius
  12. Grease a baking tray and sprinkle some flour
  13. Pour the cake mixture into the tray and sprinkle chopped nuts
  14. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes and check with a tooth pick to see if done
  15. After nuts were sprinkled,  I did not mix it. That is why, nuts remained on top and formed a nutty covering. If mixed a bit, nuts would have mixed well in the cake for a better nutty flavour throughout.

 

Cake done!

 

the last pieces left for the click..

 

Wishing you all Merry Christmas!!

Thayir Sadham-Mor Milagai/Curd Rice-Sun Dried Chillies

Any meal with steaming hot rice as the base food, with sambar, rasam, puli kuzhambu – the gravy dishes; elumichai saadham/lemon rice, puliodharai/tamarind rice, thengai saadham/coconut rice and many more ready to eat mixed rices – thayir saadham/curd rice is there to end the meal. Thayir means curds and saadham means cooked rice. When on a banana leaf meal or a steel plate meal, one or two scoops of plain steamed rice with needed curds poured on top of it, mix well and have with pickles or the special mor milagai – fried sun dried chillies.

 

 

means pickle. It is a very simple word for pickle – it literally means soaked vegetable or marinated unripe fruit. There used to be so many varieties of home made pickles – on the kitchen shelf – elumichai (lime), kidarangai and naarthangai belonging to the citrus family, maavadu (baby mangoes), aavakkai (raw mango), nellikaai (gooseberry), and many more to go with thayir saadham.

Mor Milagai – Mor means buttermilk and Milagai means chilli. The green chillies are soaked in salted buttermilk, then sun dried and stored for months together! Nowadays, these are easily available in departmental stores – neatly packed. Every time, there is a call for mor milagai with thayir sadham, the readily dried chillies are deep fried in medium hot oil – and are ready to be served! For now, I’ve been using those mor milagai got from India. Next summer, I plan to try at home.. let’s see!! I also hear that in some other parts of India, especially Maharashtra, mor milagai is known as dahi mirchi and is had with khichdi (rice and lentil preparation).

 

raw mor milagai

 

fried mor milagai

 

Mouth watering home made pickles and mor milagai with thayir saadham… this I call Pure Nostalgia!

Thayir saadham… Thayir saadham can also be a lazy day’s single main course – with one steamed vegetable to go with it (balance in diet). Especially on a tummy upset day, this is a boon – mashed white rice with curds-  not only easily digestible but soothes your system too.

To make the simple thayir saadham more exotic in taste and exquisite in presentation, there are many more ingredients like grated ginger, chopped green chillies added to it.

 

Thayir Saadham

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • cooked white rice – 1 cup
  • thick curds – 1 cup
  • water – as needed
  • salt – as needed
  • fresh coriander leaves – to garnish

thaalippu/seasoning

  • oil – 1 tsp
  • mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • urad dal – 1/2 tsp
  • curry leaves – a few
  • grated ginger – 1 tsp
  • chopped green chillies – 1/2 tsp
  • asafoetida – a pinch

 

 

 

Method of Preparation

  1. Mash cooked rice well with a ladle/spoon,  into a coarse mixture and mix salt and curds to it
  2. Mix it to porridge consistency
  3. If curds are too thick add little water to arrive at the required consistency
  4. In a pan, heat 1 tsp oil
  5. When hot, add mustard seeds and urad dal
  6. When mustard seeds splutter and urad dal turns golden brown add chopped green chillies and grated ginger
  7. Just when chillies and ginger are fried a bit, add curry leaves
  8. Mix the seasoning with the curd rice
  9. Add asafoetida and mix well
  10. Sprinkle fresh coriander leaves and serve with mor milagai and/or  pickle.

 

Note:

  1. Mash rice when hot; take care rice is not mashed into a paste and never in a blender
  2. Always mix curds when rice is cool
  3. Curd rice tends to thicken after a while as rice absorbs water – hence add more water and curds as desired before serving
  4. Other variations like cut green grapes, cucumber or pineapple pieces
  5. Mint leaves can also be added with coriander leaves for extra flavour.

 

Pudhina Kadalai Thuvayal- Kozhi Kuzhambu – Sivapparisi Sappadu (Mint Peanut Chutney/Chicken Curry/Brown Rice Platter)

It was a lazy sunday morning. But one cannot feel too lazy with a four-year old waiting for food. After a hot cup of ragi kanji/finger millet porridge made with milk (recipe in future), it was time for brunch or a proper lunch. I had made nothing. No special meen kuzhambu/fish curry; no biriyani; no sambhar, no rasam – the usual traditional lunch sequence. (C’mon we need our Sundays too.) Why not something simple yet different; not too time-consuming, but would come under a whole meal category, especially nothing less than expected!

Then came a picture of thuvayal, chicken kuzhambu (chutney/chicken curry)  and sivapparisi/brown rice platter!

 

 

Mildly spiced Pudhina Kadalai Thuvayal – Mint Peanut Thuvayal doesn’t need seasoning or tempering with mustard seeds and black gram when the thuvayal is served with rice.

What is the difference between thuvayal and chutney? I do not know a definite answer to this. But I have always thought thuvayal is the tamil name for chutney. The thuvayal served as accompaniment for idlies, dosais, uppumas and pongal can be of a little watery consistency. Thuvayal served with rice is a thick paste and a bit coarse too.

 

The word “chutney” stems from the Sanskrit word chatan, which literally means “to lick.” Chutneys occupy a minuscule spot of real estate on an Indian thali, but an Indian meal would be incomplete without these zingy sides. Not only do chutneys add zing to just about every cuisine in India, but the variations are as abundant as the number of hands that make them! http://poetryoffood.com/stories/bombay-spice/rushina-m-ghildiyal/delicious-chutneys-and-chaats

 

‘Chutney’ has become a universal term for thick pastes, pickles and sauces, ‘Thuvayal’ has become a term in Tamilnadu, associated more with those chutneys had with rice.

Now, back to our pudhina kadalai thuvayal..

This is a thick thuvayal to be had with steaming hot rice. Generally, thick thuvayal and rice would be had with a combination of a gravy/ kuzhambu or kootu (vegetable and lentil stew). This is for a perfect blend of a thick chutney with a gravy stew for easy consumption and digestion too!

For the gravy dish or kuzhambu to go with rice and thuvayal, I made a quick and easy chicken fillet kuzhambu!

 

 

First the thuvayal!

Pudhina Kadalai Thuvayal/Mint-Peanut Thuvayal

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • cleaned and washed pudhina/mint leaves –  2 cups
  • varutha kadalai/roasted peanuts (with or without skin) – 1/2 cup
  • poondu/garlic – 3 cloves
  • chinna vengayam/shallots – 6 no.s
  • kaayndha milagai/dry red chillies – 3 no.s
  • puli/tamarind – gooseberry shaped ball
  • oil – 2 tsp
  • salt – as needed
  • water – a little

 

Method of Preparation

  1. Heat oil in an iruppu chatti/pan
  2. Fry garlic cloves and shallots till garlic cloves become slightly brown and shallots slightly opaque
  3. Add red chillies and washed tamarind
  4. Add the mint leaves – mix for a while  
  5. Turn off the stove and let it cool
  6. Once in room temperature, make a coarse paste with roasted peanuts, salt and water.

 

Note:

  1. Usually mint leaves are fried till they shrink. I prefer just before they shrink. This gives a fresh mint smell to the chutney and also the green colour of mint leaves is lost if fried longer.
  2. Red chillies can be altered according to taste.
  3. Peanuts can be made to 3/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup if more peanutty taste is preferred.
  4. Deskinned peanuts are preferred for easy grinding – those who don’t mind the taste of peanut skin can go on with the skin as I do. Saves time and energy in de-skinning.
  5. Those with peanut allergy – please avoid this recipe.

 

Peanut skins are also a good source of dietary fiber. Fiber is the part of the plant that is indigestible. It is broken down into soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is fermented in the digestive tract and can help lower total cholesterol. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to food and aids in digestion. Peanut skins are a good source of both types of fiber.http://www.livestrong.com/article/98722-nutrients-peanut-skins/

 
 
After thuvayal, came kozhi kuzhambu – quick and easy chicken curry. Not a time consuming dish at all.. just keep adding one ingredient after the other to the hot oil in the kadai, close the lid and cook chicken. Simple isn’t it? 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Eliya Kozhi Kuzhambu/Quick and Easy Chicken Curry

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • chicken fillets – 250 gms
  • ginger – small piece
  • garlic – 5 cloves
  • onions – 2 nos. medium
  • tomato – 2 no.s medium
  • turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • red chilli powder – 1 tsp
  • coriander powder – 1 tsp
  • garam masala powder – 1 tsp
  • salt – to taste
  • oil – 4 tsp
  • curry leaves – a few

 

Method of Preparation

  1. Clean and cut chicken fillets to bite size pieces
  2. Heat 2 tsp oil in a kadai
  3. Fry chopped garlic, ginger and onions till slightly brown
  4. Add chopped tomatoes and fry till soft
  5. Add all dry powders and salt and fry for a couple of minutes
  6. Now add chicken pieces and mix well
  7. Sprinkle very little water and close and cook in medium flame till chicken is done
  8. With closed lid, chicken would let out water..hence sprinkling little water is enough
  9. When the chicken is done check salt
  10. If one finds the gravy too thick, little water can be added
  11. If one needs a thicker consistency, cook till gravy thickens
  12. Heat the other 2 tsp oil – preferably gingelly oil (nallennai in tamil) – fry curry leaves and pour into the curry
  13. Simple Chicken Curry is ready to be served. 

Serve thuvayal and kozhi kuzhambu with brown rice. First course of brown rice and thuvayal tastes best with a spoon of hot ghee/clarified butter. To finish the meal, there is always thayir saadham – curd rice.

Thayir saadham – Serve a small ladle of the same cooked brown rice. Mix well with generous amount of curds. This can be had with the thuvayal or chicken curry or as just plain curd rice. Generally it is had with any south indian pickle and/or mor milagai (deep-fried – dried chillies).  A south indian meal always ends with thayir saadham – which is rice mixed with curds/yoghurt. This aids in digestion after the intake of varied spices in a lunch and dinner platter.

In my next post, I shall elaborate on the ever-special seasoned thayir saadham!

 

Thirukkaarthigai – Ancient Festival of the Tamils

Cleaning of houses and traditional kolams displayed at entrances, pooja rooms and many more places inside houses are common events in any festival in the south of India. Kaarthigai Deepam is the festival of lights in Tamilnadu. Oil filled earthen lamps – agal vilakku – lit at room entrances and windows mark this festival. Beautiful agal vilakkus placed on the aesthetically done kolams are a truly marvelous sight to watch.

Kaarthigai Deepam is believed to be one of the oldest festivals of the Tamils. It is celebrated on the full moon day which coincides with the star Krithigai of the tamil month of Kaarthigai (November-/December). Many literary works mention the existence of the festival thousands of years ago. See https://dosaikal.com/2011/10/08/deepavali-the-sweets-and-savories-story/ – para titled – Deepam and Tamilnadu.

More than the religious aspects, I have always concentrated on the traditions based on the ancient culture.  Here too, emphasis is on the tradition behind the festival.  Temples have always interested me due to their historic, architectural and literary importance to ones’ roots.

 

 

Lord Shiva and Kaarthigai Deepam  (December 8, 2011)

Kaarthigai Deepam or Thirukkaarthigai is celebrated in all Shiva temples throughout Tamilnadu. But Thiruvannamalai temple holds a special place. Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of fire – Agni Lingam in Thiruvannamalai.

 

Lord Shiva appeared as a hill (Arunachala Hill) at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, the very names `Tiruvannamalai’ and `Arunachala’ translate as `holy fire hill.’ The Shivalinga in the temple here is the agni linga. The tiny lamps lit during the Karthigai festival (Karthigai Deepam) are believed to be the miniature replicas of the fire linga.  http://www.tamilnadu-tourism.com/tamilnadu-festivals/karthigai-deepam.html

 

 

Karthigai Deepam festival celebrated during the full moon day in November–December during which a huge beacon lit on the top of the hill. It can be seen from miles around and believed to be Shiva’s lingam of fire joining the limitless skies. The event is witnessed by 3 million pilgrims. During each full moon day, the Annamalai Hill is swelled by close to 1 million pilgrims who do a girivalam (circumnavigate the base of the temple and the Annamalail hill) and worship Annamalaiyar in the temple.

The temple is revered by the Tevaram hymns of 7th century Saiva nayanars – Tamil saint poets and is also classified as a Paadal Petra Sthalam (temple revered by the nayanars). It is said that the 9th century Saiva saint poet Manikkavasakar composed the Tiruvempaavai at Thiruvannamalai. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annamalaiyar_Temple

 

For more information about Thiruvannamalai the sacred town and Annamalaiyar temple in Tamilnadu visit  http://www.thiruvannamalai.in/tiruvannamalai/history-of-tiruvannamalai.html . 

 

The Festival of Thirukkaarthigai

The festival of Thirukkaarthigai and the lighting of lamps are inseparable. As children, we used to watch aachi and amma light those agal vilakku in all entrances of rooms. As youngsters, we were trained to light those lamps and decorate the same way as a joyful event. Now, it is the turn of my daughter to watch and enjoy!

 

Traditionally, lamps are lit in temples and agal vilakkus would adorn the thinnais of houses. Bigger lamps made of mud; stone and metal were lit inside homes. The ancient Tamils are said to have even imported lamps from as far as Greece and Rome, through the ports of Arikamedu (near Pondicherry), Mallai or Mamallapuram and Mylai or Mylapore (part of present-day Chennai). One such imported lamp was of the hanging variety, designed in the shape of a swan with a fish placed at the top. http://pulivahanan.wetpaint.com/page/Significance+of+Karthigai+Deepam

 

 

 

Apart from the kaarthigai vilakku, these are some of the other special things that come to memory about deepam.

 

1. The special kolams which I have of course not learnt!

Maakolam is the traditional kolam or drawing done with rice powder and water mixture. Generally kolams are displayed at entrances every morning with rice powder. But this kaarthigai maakolam is done with rice powder mixed with water. Aachi – my grandmother -at nearly 85 is still an expert in this art. Dipping a clean white cloth in the rice powder-water mixture and making numerous intricate kolams is an exclusive art by itself. Though this is an ordinary routine on all days, earthen lamps arranged beautifully inside the maakolam is simply special about Thirukkaarthigai.

 

2. The tasty Maavilakku Maavu

Maavilakku is an edible lamp made of freshly ground rice powder and jaggery and lit with clarified butter. Maavu means powder. This is purely for the poojai/puja – worship purpose in devotion of Lord Shiva. After the poojai is done, it is in the hands of everyone to taste and enjoy.

 

Maavilakku

 

raw rice – soaked

 

 

Ingredients

  • Raw rice – 100 gms – nearly 1 cup
  • Grated jaggery – 1/2 cup

Method of Preparation

  1. Soak 100 gms/1 cup raw rice for ½ an hour
  2. Strain water and spread in a clean cloth and let it dry in a shady place for ½ an hour
  3. When it is still moist, grind it well to a fine powder
  4. Take it out of the mixer jar and immediately mix the grated jaggery
  5. This helps in perfect blending of both and now it can be made into a shape of a lamp/vilakku
  6. Fill in nei/ghee/clarified butter and place the thin cotton thread and light the lamp in front of Lord Shiva.

Note:

  1. 100 gms rice would give 200 gms rice powder
  2. Incase the powder blend is too thick to make a lamp, sprinkle water or coconut water.

 

 

3. Kaarthigai Pori

There are three kinds of Pori.

  • Arisi Pori is normal puffed rice
  • Aval Pori is puffed flattened rice
  • Nel Pori is puffed paddy

Aval Pori, the special puffed flattened rice is available mostly only on those specific kaarthigai days. In the market, the shop keeper would fry the flattened rice – aval and we bring it home fresh for consumption. I do not have this with me now. So, I tried it with the normal puffed rice -arisi pori.

 

 

Making pori urundai/puffed rice sweet balls with aval pori or kaarthigai pori was out of question due to lack of ingredients. I thought of making simple vella-p-pori or jaggery mixed with puffed rice. It is served in a bowl and amma would not make urundais or sweet balls out of it. Easier for me too!

 

Vella-p-pori

Ingredients

  • Pori/Puffed Rice – 4 cups
  • Grated Vellam/jaggery – 2 cups
  • Thengai/coconut – cut into thin pieces ½ cup
  • Nei/clarified butter – 1 tsp
  • Elakkai podi/cardamom powder – ½ tsp
  • Chukku podi/dry ginger powder- ½ tsp

 Method of Preparation

  1. Dissolve jaggery and little water and strain for impurities
  2. Boil jaggery with cardamom and dry ginger powder and make a thick syrup
  3. Syrup should be single string consistency – keep a bowl of water – when a drop of jaggery syrup is dropped it should roll into a ball – this makes pori crisper
  4. Fry coconut pieces in nei and mix in the jaggery syrup. Coconut can also be dry roasted to avoid ghee
  5. Take pori in a large bowl and pour the jaggery syrup mixture and mix well
  6. Pottukadalai/Roasted chana dal can also be added to the pori mix for added taste.

 

 

4. Hand impression on doors

This used to be one of the most exciting parts of Thirukaarthigai as children and youngsters. Dip your hands in the rice powder-turmeric-water mixture. Place those hands carefully on all doors- from entrance door to all doors in the house. Keep discussing about those hands till the impression lasts!

I am still trying to find the reason behind this.

 

 

Kaarthigai and Lord Murugan

The full moon day of the month of Kaarthigai, which also co-incides with the kaarthigai star is also a special day for Murugan, the thamizh kadavul or God of the Tamils. It is believed that on this day, all his six forms were united by his mother, Parvathi and he had six faces – he is called Arumugan. In the main six temples or Arupadai Veedu, which are the six battled fields of Murugan, special poojas are performed on this day.

 

clicked from the famous ‘rani-muthu’ calender -2009

The Arrival of Sinterklaas!

Governmental officials making arrangements for a smooth ceremony; Shopkeepers creating innovative themes to motivate purchases; Children excited about the gifts they are going to receive; Parents wondering what gifts to buy this year; Grand parents choosing different presents for their beloved grand children with that special care; Teachers in schools busy arranging events – what are all these for?  These are for the Arrival of Sinterklaas.

 

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten

Now, who is this Sinterklaas? Sinterklaas is the shortened version of St. Nicholas.  The celebration of the arrival of St. Nicholas – Sinterklaas or simply the Sint is an authentic Dutch Festival. He is also believed to be the source of the ever popular Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, often abbreviated Santa, is a figure in North American culture who reflects an amalgamation of the Dutch Sinterklaas, the English Father Christmas, and Christmas gift-bringers in other traditions. Santa Claus is said to bring gifts to the homes of good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. Santa Claus in this contemporary understanding echoes aspects of hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of gift-giver Saint Nicholas, the man from whom the name of Santa Claus derives and in whose honor Santa Claus may be referred to as Saint Nicholas or Saint Nick.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus)

 

a different sint and piet

This is another clear information about the travel of Sinterklaas magic to America –

When the early Dutch settlers came to America, they naturally brought with them their venerated old bishop. St. Nicholas and their favorite holiday, Sinterklaas. Indeed, after landing in the New World, the Dutch explorers, led by Henry Hudson, built their first church on the island of Manhattan in 1642, dedicating it to Sinterklaas. When the British took control of New Amsterdam in 1664, they adopted the Dutch recognition of Sinterklaas and merged it with their own observance of the Winter Solstice, Father Christmas—the merry, roly- poly, Falstaffian figure in high boots. Eventually, these two old gentlemen commemorated in December, merged into one.

Over the next few generations, Sinterklaas found his way into American literature. In 1809, writer Washington Irving (a man who lived not far from Rhinebeck) created a jolly Sinterklaas for his popular Knickerbocker Tales. Then in 1822, an Episcopal priest named Clement Moore (who also lived near to Rhinebeck) wrote a lighthearted poem called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which featured a jolly old elf, his descent down a chimney on Christmas Eve, and a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer (Odin’s flying horse!) The Father Christmas image stuck, but he acquired a Dutch name—Santa Claus—a direct derivation from Sinterklaas. http://www.sinterklaasrhinebeck.com/what-is-sinterklaas.php

Every year the Sint arrives in the Netherlands in a steam boat in November. He comes from Spain and then travels throughout the country meeting and greeting people and distributing presents to children. Then comes the special day – The Sinterklaas Feast on December 5 – also called the Sinterklaas Eve – the evening the children receive their gifts. The children keep their shoes outside their houses, traditionally in front of the fire-place, stuffed with hay and carrots for the Sint’s horse. Sinterklaas takes them and leaves the precious presents for the children.  He leaves for Spain on December 6.

 

shoes in front of the fire-place

 

 

The Spain Connection

Why does Sinterklaas come from Spain?

The Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. Bari later formed part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples.  Due to the fact that the remains of St. Nicholas were in Bari (then a Spanish city), is this tradition that St. Nicholas comes from Spain. St. Nicholas is well-known in Spain as the patron of sailors, so that´s why St. Nicholas comes to the Netherlands always in a steamboat. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas)

 

Zwarte Pieten

Zwarte Piet translates as Black Peter. Zwarte in Dutch means Black and Piet might be the Dutch version of Peter. Sinterklaas is accompanied by one Zwarte Piet while he arrives from Spain. Then he gets the help of several zwarte pieten or local helpers. Piet helps Sinterklaas to deliver gifts to children by climbing through chimneys – hence his face is black due to the sooty chimneys.

The eve of December 5th is a special day for all Dutch children. This is when Sinterklaas rides around the country on his white horse. Children put shoes under the chimney and they also place a piece of carrot in them as a reward for the horse. Sinterklaas stops at the roof of the houses and sends a Piet down the chimney to put some kind of gift in the shoes. This is often a piece of chocolate in the form of the receiver’s first initial and pepernoten, small hard cookies. This is a very busy time for Sinterklaas, in the day he visits schools and other places and in the evening people’s homes. He knocks on the door and hands out gifts from his sack. http://www.holland.nl/uk/holland/sights/saint_nicholas.html

 

zwarte piet and his sack

 

 

A New Experience

Thanks to my daughter, Sinterklaas also comes to our house. Till last year, we just celebrated it at her play school. This year, the magic of Sinterklaas has entered our home too – it was also a special experience making the favourite kruidnoten in her primary school!

Come October and the Sinterklaas wave starts to sweep in – shops displaying gift items. Enter November, all decorations set in. Sinterklaas enters Holland and then everywhere one finds celebrations of their favourite saint. On November 19, when Sinterklaas came to our suburb, we went to welcome him. We could not make it to the harbour he arrived, but we could see him at our own Centrum/Central Shopping Lane – called the Lang Straat.

 

shop with sint, piet and white horse

 

the sint’s shopping

All the shops with posters of the saint and his helpers…. some quite innovative and some very impressive!  After a wait for some time, first came the Zwarte Pieten with kruidnoten, peppernoten and candies in their jute bags; then arrived the Sint with some good music and warmth. In front of Sinterklaas and behind were piets, piets and more piets of different age groups – some walking, some distributing kruidnoten, some driving vans, some playing instruments and some singing Sinterklaas songs in those open vans…a different experience altogether.

 

piets in an open van singing sint songs 

 

piet welcoming customers

 

sint flying high

 

 

Sinterklaas in School

There was a ‘kruidnoten baking day’ and the parents had to help. Kruidnoten or Spicy Cookies are always associated with Sinterklaas. These are the cookies that zwarte piets bring for children. It was an interesting day –  children with their tiny little hands making those small cookies; we baked them and put it in small cups with their names. Children were so excited to see the cookies they made by themselves but did not bring one for mom and dad to taste. (that mom had her share while baking was an expected one).

 

ready-to-make flour mix

 

work of those beautiful tiny hands

We used the ready made flour mix available in the market to make the dough for kruidnoten. In a professional way, the teachers in the primary class had demonstrated to the children to make dough with the actual ingredients together. I got this recipe from my daughter’s favourite teacher!

 

kruidnoten ready!

 

Ingredients (makes approximately 125 kruidnoten)

  • self-raising flour – 250 gms
  • butter – 150 gms
  • pure cane sugar (Basterd Suiker in dutch) – 125 gms
  • salt – 1/2 tsp
  • milk – 2 tbsp
  • ready-made spice mix from shop – 10 gm

Note: An egg can be added if preferred.

Method of Preparation

  1. Knead all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Dough should be soft but easy to make small balls
  3. Keep the dough closed for at least half an hour
  4. Make small balls and press slightly to form a flat cookie
  5. Preheat oven at 160 degrees celsius and bake for 15-20 minutes
  6. Leave the cookies to cool – initially the cookies would be soft when done;  When cooled for about 10 minutes, they become crisp
  7. Store in an air-tight container and enjoy crisp kruidnoten with a cup of Hot Chocolate!

 

General combination of spices in kruidnoten

taken from http://dutchfood.about.com/od/cookingtipstechniques/ss/Speculaskruiden.htm

  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 1/3 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/5 tsp ground white pepper (a pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp ground cardamom (a pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp ground coriander seeds (a pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp ground anise seeds (a pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp grated nutmeg (a pinch)

 

spicy cup of cookies

Other goodies popular with Sinterklaas are the chocolate letters, peppernoten or a soft chewy cookie, marzipan and speculaas cookies.

Children are taught dutch songs on Sinterklaas, do art and craft works based on sinterklaas, decorate their classes with various things related to the Sint and learn a lot about the Saint and his helpers. They take one of their shoes to school and paint it and leave it with hay and carrots and eagerly wait for the day Sinterklaas comes to meet them with gifts. They prepare themselves with a poem to recite in front of the Sint.

 

kruidnoten

 

chocolate letter

I am waiting for the Sint’s arrival on 5th of December at my daughter’s school. I also have to hunt for some gifts to keep in her shoes on the eve of Sinterklaas. Speciality lies in the fact that, even at their teens and beyond, children want to believe that the sint and piets deliver those goodies to them in appreciation of their good behaviour! Hurrah it is time for celebration!! 

an interesting gift from a birthday boy