Christmas Eve in Poland – dishes and traditions.

Today’s post is all about spending Christmas at my family home in Poland, but mainly focusing on Christmas Eve. I’m sure every Polish family is different – what’s served at my home is not necessarily served at another – but there are definitely a few dishes that my compatriots will recognise immediately. I grew up with the traditions and dishes shown below and I simply love Polish Christmas food. If you’re ever invited to a Polish house for Christmas Eve, don’t hesitate for a second! I hope my blog post will show you why.

Christmas traditions in a nutshell

We celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December contrary to English-speaking countries where it’s celebrated on the 25th. It’s always a big family gathering: the more people, the merrier! There is always one empty plate put on the table in case an unexpected guest wanted to join the feast or was simply looking for shelter. We sing Christmas carols and share an ‘opłatek’, which is a wafer with religious embroidery.

While taking a piece of ‘opłatek’ from each member of the family, we exchange best wishes for the upcoming New Year.

Another important tradition is that we put some hay beneath the tablecloth as a form of rememberance that Jesus, according to the Bible, was put in a manger covered with hay.

It is believed in Poland that animals are magically able to talk on the 24th of December. Legend has it that they received this power to talk because they were present at the stable where Jesus was born. So don’t be surprised if you see a Polish person talking to his/her animal and expecting an answer in a human voice…

What a shame! Bibi, my aunty’s dog, was unsuccessful at speaking with a human voice on Christmas Eve!

In a traditional Polish home you should abstain from eating meat or drinking alcohol on the 24th of December – a rule not followed by my family. We both eat meat and drink alcohol – naughty people!

According to tradition, there should be twelve dishes served on the table – one for each month of the year (twelve is also a symbol of wealth and represents the twelve apostles). In my family, we don’t really count how many dishes we serve. I would say that we usually have more than twelve and it’s the reason we cannot move from the table after we finish eating! Below are some traditional dishes that we eat. I won’t describe all the ingredients these dishes are composed of, but just mention the main ones to give you a general idea of what they actually are. If you’re looking for the recipes for some of them, just type the names into Google.

Main dishes

Red Borscht with small dumplings (called uszka) – Barszcz czerwony z uszkami

We normally start celebrating Christmas Eve with a traditional Polish soup made of beetroots, served with home-made dumplings filled with mushrooms.

Dumplings filled with sauerkraut and mushrooms – Pierogi z kapusta i grzybami

Sauerkraut with mushrooms – Bigos.

Bigos has to be prepared in advance and it’s at its best when simmered for a couple of days. My mum adds grated apples, tomatoes and bacon. One of my favourite dishes.

Fried carp

Fried carp

Carp is the most popular fish served at Christmas and I would risk saying probably only at Christmas, as outside of this period carp is not popular at all. When I was younger I remember my father bringing some live carp home and putting them in a bath filled with water. The tradition I once loved and got excited about is now something I don’t really understand and get angry about. In fact, not only me – there have been a lot of campaigns against it, mainly due to the fact that carp are brought home alive in plastic bags before being released in the bath.

Carp in jelly

My father’s favourite (unfortunately, not mine due to the texture of the jelly, which I’m not keen on).

Cod marinated in grated carrots, tomatoes, onions and vinegar – Ryba po grecku

The direct translation would be “Fish made in a Greek way”, but the funny thing is that the Greeks know nothing about this method. It’s in fact a modification of a famous Greek recipe.

Polish Potato Salad, also known as the Russian salad – Saładka jarzynowa

The salad is made from different types of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips; we also add boiled eggs and gherkins and mix it all with mayo.

Steak Tartare – Befsztyk tatarski

This is raw minced meat mixed with raw eggs, gherkins, onions and mustard. I used to avoid it, thinking I would have a tape worm in my stomach after eating raw meat. I love it now and the meat is actually safe to eat. This dish should not really be part of traditional Polish dinners served at Christmas, but it is in my home, so I’ll always consider it as my family’s tradition and a part of Christmas Eve.

Desserts

Poppy seed cake – Makowiec

This is made of poppy seeds and leavened dough – it takes ages to prepare and I don’t think I will ever consider making it myself!

Cheesecake – Sernik

White cheese is mixed with flour, eggs, sugar and, contrary to English cheesecakes, it requires baking.

My father’s layercake

Layer cake is not a traditional dish on Christmas Eve, but my father always prepares it and it’s spectacular!

There are drawbacks to such an abundance of food on Christmas Eve. First of all, it’s time-consuming and therefore stressful. Shopping in advance, spending hours in the kitchen and, of course, arguments happen! In my home everything is home-made so you can imagine how much time and effort is spent on preparing these dishes. However, these are the traditions I grew up with and would like to cultivate in the future – I’m not sure what the outcome will be!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Get to Know the Blogger – Magda

Bournemouth Bloggers

Today’s Get to Know the Blogger is with Magda from My Life in Bournemouth, showing us a little insight into her blog.

Thanks for taking part! Can you tell us a little bit about what My Life in Bournemouth is all about?

As the name suggests it is a lifestyle and travel blog about my life in Bournemouth. I moved here about 5 years ago from Poland, and despite the fact that it feels like home now, I have this constant urge to explore places and areas around Bournemouth as if I were in a new place. I am a foreigner and probably look at things from a different perspective.

DSC09232.JPGHow long have you been blogging for, and what made you get into blogging to start with?

I’ve always thought that blogging was a pleasant and creative thing to do. I was following some bloggers and started thinking that I…

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Which is the best town to visit in Lake Garda, Italy?

Lake Garda and its surrounding villages were some of the places we had the pleasure to visit on our recent holiday to Italy. If I could quickly summarise what we were doing there, I would say that we ate tons of gelato and were simply living La Dolce Vita, all while enjoying the sunshine. In this blog post, you’ll see photos from Bardolino and Sermione – adorable places located near to the biggest lake in Italy – Lago di Garda.

Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy.
It’s hard to believe it’s a lake, not the sea, with its turquoise water.

Lake Garda is a popular holiday destination in the northern part of Italy mainly because of the picturesque scenery (the lake is surrounded by mountains), lovely cafés and restaurants, and also the possibility of using the lake for water sports. Most of the tourists are from Germany and Switzerland and German is the language which I mostly heard on the streets. If you are going to the east side of Lake Garda, I recommend going to Bardolino and the ancient fortified town of Sirmione. Obviously I cannot be an expert, as I haven’t visited all the towns around Lake Garda, but these two are really worth visiting!

Coulourful boats in Bardolino, Lake Garda, Italy
The colourful harbour and boats in Bardolino, Lake Garda, Italy. The yellow boat is callled Maddalena which is similar to my name. I wish I could have a boat with my name on it in Bournemouth!
How would you name your boat if you had one?
Traditional Italian Gelato. Italian ice cream. Lake Garda, Italy
Traditional Italian gelato is the ultimate winner. Pistachio is one of my favourite flavours.
Italian ice cream. Lake Garda, Italy.
Unfortunately I don’t remember the flavour of these two scoops, but I remember they were mouthwatering!

Bardolino was the first town we visited. It has a wine museum and winery where you can see the history of wine-making by the Zeni family. They’ve been running the business for a century! There is also a free wine-tasting opportunity and the possibility to buy some home-made wine or prosecco. Zeni family members who work there can professionally advise you on what type of wine will suit your taste buds.

You can also visit the Zeni’s basement, which contains hundreds of barrels of wine and beautiful paintings. The mysterious atmosphere of the place will transport you into another world. You can also eat some Italian antipasti there while drinking wine from the family’s collection.

Bardolino, wine museum. Zeni's family.
Walking amongst barrels of wine.
Bardolino, wine museum. Zeni's family.
Speechless about this set-up!

Let’s move to Sirmione, the second town we visited, which is located on the south side of Lake Garda. It has two major historical landmarks: the remains of a Roman villa from the 1st century – the Grottoes of Catullus – and a medieval port fortification – Scagilero Castle – from the 13th century. I do not want to include too many historical details about these places, so if you wish to read more about them just click on the links to find out more. But I hope my photos below will give you an impression of how beautiful Sirmione is.

Lake Garda, Sirmione. Italy
The turquoise water simply tempts you to dive in…
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy
If you search for some information about Sirmione on the internet, a picture of this house always pops up…it is simply very photogenic.
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy. Italian gelato.
I ate tons of gelato! This was mango and raspberry flavour to refresh myself from the heat.
Isn’t it great how we can capture moments that happen in nature within milliseconds on a camera?
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy
A swan, turquoise water and a happy me 🙂
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy.
One of the restaurants with the views of the Lake. Beautiful in its simplicity .
This dog was watching passersby from a window which looks a bit like a prison…he looks so sad but sweet at the same time.
Handmade Italian dishes. I really regret that I didn’t buy one for pizza!
Sirmione, Lake Garda. Italy

The map below shows how big Lake Garda is. You have a large choice when deciding where to stay! I am sure each town is unique and can offer something different, but one thing they will always have in common is the beautiful lake and surrounding mountains which will leave you speechless and tranquil. I suggest visiting Bardolino and Sirmione, but I am sure you won’t regret going to any of these places.

Lake Garda's map

What to visit in Cornwall? Part 1 – Padstow.

We only had two days to visit Cornwall which, as you can imagine, is very little time! Having such a limited time, we only focused on two small Cornish towns – Padstow and St. Ives. However, we also managed to take a short visit to a tiny, but picturesque, fishing village called Port Issac. I took so many photos in these three places that I have decided to split this blog post into two parts. Padstow first!

Harbour in Padstow, Cornwall
The Harbour in Padstow, Cornwall

Deliciously fresh fish, lobsters, crabs, Cornish pasties, beautiful sandy beaches and…Rick Stein’s ’empire’ are all things I will remember from our trip to Padstow. And that’s what you’re going to see in this blog post.

If you follow the South West Coast Path from the harbour, you will get to this beautiful spot…

The first thing you should do after arriving in Padstow is go to its tourist information centre. I found it very helpful as I was given a map which was circled with the best places to visit and things to do if you have only a little time. Since Padstow is famous for sandy beaches, the first thing we did was take a walk to the beach by following the South West Coast Path. Of course, I was not surprised to see beautiful scenery, but what shocked me was a graveyard of crabs scattered all over the beach. It was sad, but also quite fascinating as I had never seen crabs in the wild!

Dead crabs on the beach in Padstow

When it started to become cloudy and windy, we decided to go to the Lobster Hatchery, which is a must-visit place in Padstow. It is a charity, but also a research centre which helps to increase the falling number of European lobsters. The entrance fee is £4, but you know your money will go to a good cause. I found out many fascinating facts about these shellfish creatures, and saw the different stages of a lobster’s growth. The youngest were just three months old (the cutest things ever) and there was even one giant lobster which was about 60 years old!

Lobster's Hatchery, Padstow, Cornwall
Lobster Hatchery, Padstow, Cornwall. Captain Barnacles (that’s his name :P) weighs over 5 kg! His claws alone are around 2.5 kg!! He’s estimated to be 60 years old!!!

Another place worth paying a visit to is Padstow Museum, which is opposite the Lobster Hatchery. It’s free, but tiny, and you won’t spend more than 15 minutes there. Nevertheless, having a little read about the importance of the fishing and tourism industries for Padstow’s community was quite interesting.

Padstow Museum, Cornwall

Walking around the harbour area, you’ll definitely notice the omnipresent surname of a popular chef – Rick Stein. Padstow, apart from having plenty of local cafés, is literally dominated by Stein’s businesses. Stein’s fish and chips, Stein’s deli, Stein’s seafood eatery, Stein’s hotel, Stein’s restaurant, Stein’s patisserie, Stein’s shops with nautical souvenirs, Stein’s cookery school…you name it, and Stein will give it to you.

Stein’s home accessories are beautiful.

Rumour has it that the local community does not like Rick Stein. One of the reasons is that he’s bought so many properties in Padstow, making its property market really expensive. Moreover, he does not support the Lobster Hatchery. Other small local businesses do, so why not a rich man like him?! Just saying!

There are lots of stunning beach bays around Padstow which are easily accessible by car. Make sure you visit Booby’s Bay, Constantine’s Bay and my favourite one – spots around Trevose Head. I am sure my pictures will convince you that they are all beautiful.

Bays in Padstow, Cornwall
Bays in Padstow, Cornwall
Trevose Head, Padstow, Cornwall
Trevose Head, Padstow, Cornwall
Trevose Head, Padstow, Cornwall
Among the flowers on the cliffs 😉 Trevose Head, Cornwall – I took one billion pictures in this place
A pretty white lighthouse only adds to the beauty of this place
Mother Ivey's Bay
Mother Ivey’s Bay

Looking for a foodie’s paradise? Padstow is considered to be one! I swear to God, the sea bass I ate there was the most tender I’ve had in my entire life. The mussels in white wine were a real delicacy. If you are a seafood lover, you’ll be the happiest person on Earth in Padstow. Apart from the seafood, make sure you try traditional Cornish pasties as well as a Cornish Breakfast, which is very similar if not identical to English Breakfast.

Cornish Breakfast, Padstow, Cornwall
Cornish Breakfast, Padstow, Cornwall
Whole cooked lobsters in Rick'Stein's seafood eatery

Padstow enchanted me with its nautical atmosphere, delicious seafood, Lobster Hatchery (I didn’t know Lobsters could be such interesting creatures!), beautiful beach bays and the feeling of pride and independence you can see in its local people. The only thing I didn’t manage to visit was its famous Camel Trail, but it’s a good excuse to go back there one day. My next blog about the picturesque Cornish town of St. Ives and the fishing village of Port Issac is coming soon…

Am I flying?