Friday, 28 August 2009

Update - Riverworks

My last but one post dealt with the changes that have taken place whilst I was away, however one thing remains as it was - the state of the riverworks. This is probably for the good. Just before I left Cesky Krumlov, I met with an excited friend of mine, the owner of a restaurant on the river below the castle. “I heard it on the radio,” he said, “UNESCO are coming for a visit. Because they have had letters from people about the island and the river. Bloody marvellous!” And he shook my hand.

This coincided with a rise in the river levels due to summer storms. The unstoppable riverworks stopped. And they have not started again, even though the levels are down again. The town is agog, what has happened? What has UNESCO done and said? No one knows.

On Friday I met my restaurant friend again, “What has happened? You heard what happened in Dresden.” I had heard that the UNESCO world heritage status had been removed from the Elbe landscape as a result of a bridge being built there. However I explained UNESCO have a sort of football referee system, yellow card first and if you don't mend your ways you get the red, quite a lot of places have yellow cards and very few are taken off the pitch (like Dresden/Elbe). If the UNESCO visit found, as we all believe there to be, failures and irregularities in developments in Cesky Krumlov, then the town would probably go on the at risk list, the yellow card. We must wait and see.

Meanwhile the diggers lie idle on the banks, a temporary throroughfare of smashed rocks and rubble is still in the centre of the river waiting their return. And life goes on, the island is turned a canoe park and even as in this photo a beach for bathers. The ducks are back.

PS Readers of my previous posts on the subject might be interested to know I never did get a reply to my letter to the Mayor, even though he was obliged to give me one within so many days. No surprise there then.

Monday, 24 August 2009

More Swallows

What is it about this beautiful place that allows me to find nature's treasures? I am sure that it happens at home in England too, but that my ears and eyes are stopped by the roar of modern life.

I spent an hour today watching the swallows. I blogged about them last time and the spectacle is just getting larger. It is as if all the area's swallow population has descended on our small village, hosts and hosts of them. Sometimes they gather on the phonewires, sometimes in the silver birch by the village cross, and then most spectacular of all are the times when they pirouette over the roofs and orchards. This is freeform flying, they dodge and circle, drop and rise. They skim the surface of the village pond, dipping their wings. I have been here three summers and never seen anything like this.

Salamander came to visit me and as we left the village we had to stop the car by the cross to gaze at the swallow hordes. On the side of one house swallows were dotted presumably clinging to the rough plaster, the telephone wires were like the stems of my neighbour's red currants heavy with little black and white birds, while more far more swirled overhead. We went to the village near Salamander's lake house, it felt quite empty, there were only three or four swallows to be seen.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

How Little Things Grow

It is strange to come back to the Czech republic after a few weeks away in the UK. Everything has grown, the grass I so carefully scythed is now at least knee deep. The baby swallows, which when I left were still chirruping at their frantic parents from their nests in the barn, every morning now perch on the telephone wires like strings of black and white pearls. A few still have some downy feathers, but all can fly and swoop. I presume they probably can catch flies most of the day, but the telephone wires act as a feeding station in the morning, with the parents diving in and hovering in front of their young one's open beaks.

And then there is Salamander's cat Lilly. A few week's ago I held her easily in my hands, now she is long and lean and quite the little princess. She comes and goes and is absolutely certain that the world revolves around her and she is not wrong. After a false start she seems to have recognised me again, and sucker that I am, I spend a lot of time stroking her and scratching her under her chin. After all what else have I to do with my time?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Gingerbread House

Deep in the dark forest Hansel and Gretel came upon a small cottage made entirely from gingerbread with a roof made of cake, and the windows were made of clear sugar. The local children call this chata the gingerbread house and ask their teachers to bring them here.

The chata belongs to a friend of mine and I was as pleased as any child to be invited there. It was built by her father and it is just perfect. The chata sits nestled into a bank, in front is a wide lawn down to a small river. All right, there's no plumbing and one electric point, but in some ways that is part of its charm it forces you to relax. And that's what I did. My friend and I sat outside , drinking tea and eating cakes and watched the world go by.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Lipno Sunset

I can't remember if I have blogged about this in the past, but I make no apologies if I have. I have developed a taste for sunset chasing.

Sometimes when there are enough but not too many clouds in the sky, I get this overwhelming urge near dusk to get in the car and drive to Lake Lipno and sit in awe as the sun goes down. I have dragged my sisters and my husband on these trips, but mostly I go alone. I simply cannot get over how lovely the sunsets are here. I have a photo album full of Lipno sunsets. Here is one of the most recent photos.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

More on Czech Cakes

Further to my last post about making buchty, I hope your appetite is whetted for more about Cezch cakes. As I said Czech cafes often offer a wide and wonderful selection of cakes. Indeed I had a whole lesson with my Czech language teacher learning the various names of Czech cakes, and very useful it was too. Some are clearly drawn from the Viennese style - wonderful cream and fruit jelly confections called zaluseky, which demand the use of a spoon and fork - but others more obviously Czech in their origins.

One of the most common and most popular is the honey cake – medovy dort, although often named by the dominant brand Medovnik. This is is a light honey and walnut sponge, which sometimes comes with either extra honey or cream. Strudel (both apple and cream cheese) is also common, often coming with cream. Biscuits are called susenky, whilst piskoty are the type of biscuit you use in trifles. Sometimes you will come across a cross between a meringue and a biscuit shaped like a shortbread finger which is eaten with coffee and is called a coffin (after its shape). At Christmas you will find iced gingerbread hearts, houses, devils and anything else you can think of for sale on street stalls and in shops. Whilst at Easter there are the special Easter cakes – including a sponge cooked in a lamb-shaped mould.

The Czechs have a line in dough-based confectionery, these include the buchty of course, the plaited vanilkovka, and zavin (a longer version of buchty which slices). These make an excellent sweet breakfast.

I have only scratched the surface of the wonderful world of Czech cakes, you will just have to come here and try them for yourself.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Making Buchty

I am very fond of Czech cakes. And the Czechs are very good at making them, after all this is a country which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and so in addition to making Czech cakes are adept at Viennese cakes too. They are part of the Czech cafe culture which I have blogged about in the past.

Cakes are an important part of the Czech social scene. Visitors to the house, especially female ones, will often arrive carrying a tin or plastic box saying "I've been baking and I thought you might like one too." You open the box and there is enough cake to keep you going for weeks.

After three years in the country I decided it was time I had a go. Only I cheated and bought some cake mixes. I don't feel too guilty about it, there were an awful lot of cake mixes on the shelves at Tesco's in Cesky Krumlov, so it looks like many Czech woman cheat too. The first cake I made was a thin sponge with blueberries, which I have been given on several occasions by friends. The cake mixture is poured into a baking tray and the fruit (whatever is available - raspberries and red currants work well) is simply sprinkled on top. The cake is then baked in the oven until brown and cooked. The combination of fruit and sponge is lovely.

Encouraged by this simple success, I moved on to a more complex cake - the Czech buchty. The mix requires the addition of yeast and then being left to rise, which it did to rather alarming proportions. I then carefully flattened the dough out and cut it into squares. I put some apricot puree into the centre of each square, folded in the corners and rolled and pinched it in my hands to make a ball. These balls were put in baking tray and allowed to rise further. When they were ready I put them in the oven and baked them until brown. The result can be seen above. These, like the sponge, soon disappeared. As my husband pointed out: they needed to, they would only go dry!


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