Sunday, February 28, 2016


So, I’ve been a working girl for two weeks now. Although I’m still a little stressed out about the job, I like what I’m doing. To get paid to write is a dream come true, not to mention I get to work from home for the majority of the time except when I travel to interview people and attend commercial real estate events. (And I no longer have to work on a $60/week grocery budget for a family of four!) It’s so wonderful to have a boss who likes me and is reasonable and patient. After having a boss who didn’t like me and worked against me for so long, you have no idea what a breath of fresh air this is! 
The tastes of summer...

But today is a time of relaxation (as much as I can do while cooking and keeping the kids from killing each other at the same time). I’m kind of excited about this meal. I typically start with making the bread, but this time I’m starting with the Corn-Bean Salad. It’s a simple salad, but it needs time to set. In a small bowl, I mixed together 1 c of canned corn, 2 c of kidney beans (I used light kidney beans), 1 c diced cucumber, a half of an onion diced, 2 medium tomatoes diced (I bought cherry tomatoes, so I cut up about 12 or so into quarters), 3 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbsp minced parsley, and a little salt and pepper to taste. I tossed everything together to make sure it got mixed consistently before putting it in the fridge to meld its flavors. To serve it, I just put a few lettuce leaves in the bottom of a bowl and scooped the salad onto the lettuce leaves. I think this would make a great summer salad. It was light, refreshing, colorful, and would go well with a lot of different kinds of foods. I think I’m going to keep this recipe around for those summer barbecues coming up. 

Surprise Recipe of the Day

Now I got started on the bread. Well, I couldn’t find a definitive bread recipe from Luxembourg. I found all kinds of mentions of breads, most of them French- or German-style breads. But I did find a recipe for Quetschentaart, a Luxembourger damson prune tart. [NOTE: Now, I’m not a fan of prunes by any means. Prunes are only eaten for one reason, and one reason only. Most of the time, I think prunes taste like tobacco-infused hairballs. However, it was probably by some kind subconscious force that I actually bought plums instead. In my defense, they taste better and are practically the same fruit anyway. Oh, and I don’t have a tart tin nor could I find a cheap one at the last minute, so this was made in a pie tin instead. I guess this is a two-off recipe. But I digress.] I started with preparing my dough by mixing one stick of softened butter with 2 ¼ Tbsp sugar, and then I added in an egg and beat everything until it was fluffy looking. Then I slowly stirred in a cup of flour and a pinch of salt, kneading it until it became firm. Wrapping it in plastic wrap as best I could, I put it in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. While I was waiting on my dough to do its thing, I washed eight plums, cut them in half and removed the pit. Then I cut them into thin slices and laid them on a cookie sheet I covered with paper towels. Then I patted them dry to soak up as much juice as I could. When the dough was ready, I rolled out the dough and placed it in my 9” buttered pie tin, cutting off the excess and crimping the edges with a fork. Then I laid my plum slices/wedges in circular patterns. Once it was filled to the top, I put it in a 400ºF oven (technically, 200ºC converts to 392ºF) for about 30 minutes. It might be a little soggy on the bottom because of the plum juice, but the edges were really brown. I took it out and dusted it with a little powdered sugar. (OK, I used a lot of powdered sugar.) I liked the consistency of the plums, and cutting them thin seemed to be a good idea. It almost tasted like an apple pie. I think next time I make this, I might double the dough recipe and place one on top of it. The dough itself was buttery and had a good flavor. I just would’ve been happier with more dough to balance out the number of plum slices. But otherwise, I was quite happy with this. My husband also suggested cooking the plum slices in some butter and sugar, and then using the dough to make a plum cobbler out of it. I might try to work that recipe up. 

Full of flavor and veggies.

Finally, the main dish for today is a green bean soup called Bouneshlupp. I first fried about five pieces of thick-cut bacon, and when the bacon was almost done, I threw in some turkey sausage crumbles in the skillet to cook down together. Then I removed the meat (each separately) and set it aside. Pouring the bacon fat into my larger pot, I used that to cook down my finely diced carrot and diced shallot and cooked this for a few minutes. Then I threw in my minced garlic and green beans. I added enough cold water to cover the beans and waited for it to come to a boil before reducing it to a simmer. Once it came to a simmer, I added in about half of the bacon (crumbling it up, of course), saving the other half for later. Then I covered it and let it cook for about 20 minutes. After this time, I added in my diced potatoes and let cook for another 20 minutes with a touch of salt and pepper. I added in the cooked sausage to the soup and let it simmer for the last 10-15 minutes or so. I served this topped with sour cream, the rest of the crumbled bacon, and some diced green onions with a side of some Italian bread. This soup was fantastic! Such a simple soup, but the best part of the soup was the combination of the dollop of sour cream, the bacon crumbles, and green onions. The kids ate it up, and so did my husband, and that was important. I’m not even sure if there’s going to be enough for my lunch tomorrow. I certainly hope so. 

What's not to love? Even my finicky eater of a son ate it, except the green beans. (He decided today he doesn't like those.)

So, I finally reached the end of the L countries. And this also marks the four-year anniversary of my blog. This was also one country past the halfway mark, too. (I didn’t realize Lithuania was the halfway-mark country.) When I think about where I was in my cooking and baking abilities at the beginning, I’ve certainly come a long way. There’s a lot to still learn, though. I guess I can say I’ve made a name for myself as well. It’s fun; it’s addictive; there are far more expensive or frivolous ways to spend money. There are a lot of M countries coming up—I’ll be on the M’s until the end of November. I know I’m only halfway through, but I’m already starting to figure out what I’m going to do when I get to the end. Desserts only, maybe?

Up next: Macedonia

Saturday, February 27, 2016


The earliest references to the music of Luxembourg were tied in with Roman culture and musical styles. The Abbey of Echternach was widely known for its church music, and it was also known for its contributions to musical notation. During the 1800s as Luxembourg moved toward independence and a sense of nationalism spread across the country, military music also came into demand. Poet Michel Lentz wrote the lyrics to their national anthem to the music of Jean Antoine Zinnen. Brass bands and choirs were commonly found in large cities and small towns throughout the country. 

Most of Luxembourg’s musical heritage is closely related to German traditions. The most famous composer from Luxembourg is Laurent Menager. Not only was he a composer, he was also an organist, a teacher, and renowned choirmaster. In fact he started the choral association called Sang a Klang. Luxembourg has a long-standing tradition of classical music and has produced a number of classical musicians throughout the centuries. 

Luxembourg has a long dance tradition that also reflects much of the dance traditions found in its neighboring countries. However, there are some dance traditions that are pure Luxembourg. One of the most famous cultural dances is the dance procession at Echternach. This city is known for its Benedictine abbey, and every Whit Tuesday, the townspeople gather for a dancing procession in honor of the abbey’s founder, St. Willibrord, and it ends at his tomb. Today, dance has expanded out to include a number of cultural dances all over the world, including jazz dance and hip-hop dance. 

Like other areas of Europe (namely Belgium and Germany), jazz is also an embraced genre. Musicians like Ernie Hammes (trumpet), Michel Reis (piano), Pascal Schumacher (percussion), and Gast Waltzing (trumpet, composer) are widely popular among jazz fans.

Luxembourg has hosted the Eurovision Song Contest several times since its inception, and they’ve won several times. Luxembourger pop/rock artists are few and far between on Spotify, but I did come across several on YouTube. One artist I came across is Serge Tonnar & Legotrip. His music tends to border on indie rock with elements of folk and maybe even a little bit of traditional musical styles mixed in there as well.

There’s also an indie pop group called KATE, led by a female singer (is this Kate?). It indubitably falls in the feel-good pop category. Some songs I listened to borrow elements of jazz and blues. She also primarily sings in English.

For such a small country, there are a lot of metal bands of all metal genres. I came across one called Sleepers’ Guilt. They are a little more melodic/gothic, which I like, but it still meets its quota of screaming. 

I also took a listen to Plaguewielder, this one described as an “atmospheric doom metal” band. It’s kind of hard to elaborate on the differences. It’s certainly loud; it does have a melody line and clean riffs, but I think there are perhaps a little more “atmospheric” sound effects used in places? Maybe? In places, it seems almost ethereal or even industrial as it builds into it’s metal sound. One entire song had a melancholic piano that was playing triplets the entire song. And there are certainly a number of other metal bands I came across but didn’t listen to. 

There are also several hip-hop artists from Luxembourg. Many of them rap in French, but I saw a several groups who rap in Luxembourgish, German, Italian, and even English. Bossmen is a rap duo who raps in French. I kind of liked some of the songs I sampled. I'm not sure if he's from France or Luxembourg, to be honest, but I still like his music. 

C.M.P. raps in Luxembourgish. His style is almost a cross between Twenty One Pilots and the Australian duo Bliss N Eso. Edel Weis is another rapper who performs in Luxembourgish. He mixes a bit of jazz with hip-hop, which gives it a chill feel to his music. Make Some Noize is another hip-hop group who also highly influenced from soul and jazz. Light Being does mostly instrumental jazz/hip-hop/electronica style, if you could call it that. There are a number of other hip-hop groups from Luxembourg, or at least ones that are popular there, that I came across but didn’t listen to.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Much of the earliest art forms were in sculptures in the Roman style. Greek and Roman mythology often played an important part of their artistic influences during the antiquity years. Besides stone and terracotta, bronze was also a common medium used for sculptures.  

Religious artwork like the Codex of Aureus of Echternach, which was an illuminated Gospel, was also among the most common works of art during the 10th-12th centuries. The Codex of Aureus is probably the most famous from this time period. 

Van der Meulen
Artists during the 16th began utilizing different styles, mediums, and subjects for their art. Landscapes began to become popular, and what better scenery than the City of Luxembourg itself. No matter the artist or artistic style, the city has drawn artists from all over to paint and sketch its surroundings and cityscape, albeit a much smaller cityscape back then.

Jean-Baptiste Fresez
By the time the 19th century rolled around, artists began to take pride in being Luxembourgers. The people, their clothes, the best places in the country, its culture all became the subject of this newfound nationalistic pride. Well-known artists during this time include Jean-Baptiste Fresez (probably the most important), Nicolas Liez (one of Fresez’ students), and Michel Engels. Luxembourg also attracted artists from abroad as well, such as J.M.W. Turner (British artist) and Victor Hugo (French author and artist).

Nico Klopp
The early 20th century brought forth a period of great creativity among Luxembourger artists. Although artists were introduced to a number of arts movements that were popular throughout Europe at the time, many Luxembourger artists gravitated toward expressionism and impressionism. Watercolors seem to be a favorite medium for many painters. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, many artists began to break from the mold and push the boundaries of their art. Surrealism and abstract art began to drift into the art coming from their studios. Artists who made a name for themselves during the 20th century include Joseph Kutter (considered the most successful painter in Luxembourg), Dominique Lang (impressionist painter), Nico Klopp (post-impressionist paintings of the Moselle River), Frantz Seimetz (impressionist portraits and landscapes), Sosthène Weis (created over 5000 watercolor paintings, mostly of the city of Luxembourg), Claus Cito (sculptor), Emile Kirscht (abstract artist who worked with acrylics), Michel Stoffel (prominent painter), Foni Tissen (hyperrealist artist, often with dark humor), Gust Graas (abstract painter), Lucien Wercollier (abstract sculptor), and Su-Mei Tse (award-winning abstract artist). 

Literature in Luxembourg is either written in French, German, or Luxembourgish (which, to me, seems like a cross between German and Dutch). The very earliest religious works were written in Latin, the language of the church. In 1999, a manuscript called the Codex Mariendalensis was discovered. It’s estimated it was written around the year 1283 after the death of Yolanda of Vianden. The manuscript consists of 1263 lines of rhyming couplets telling the story of Yolanda’s life and written in a German dialect that served (more or less) as the predecessor of the Luxembourgish language. 

It wouldn’t be until the 19th century when the country would begin to create its own identity. Luxembourgish also began to be used more as a language of literature. During this time, only French and German were used as administrative languages. Antoine Meyer published a set of poems written in Luxembourgish, making him the first person to do so. Edmond de la Fontaine, also known by the nom de plume Dicks (how unfortunate), was known for his contributions to Luxembougher theatre. Michel Lentz, widely revered for his poetry, also wrote the lyrics to their national anthem. 

Two of the most influential authors of the 20th century in the literary scene in Luxembourg were Batty Weber and Nik Welter. Batty Weber wrote short stories, novels, poetry, and some theatrical works, but he was also a journalist. He was known for his commentary on the culture of Luxembourg. Nik Welter was a poet, writer, and playright, but he was also a professor, a critic, and a statesman. Anise Koltz, often considered one of Luxembourg’s most successful contemporary authors, started out writing in German and Luxembourgish, but now only writes in French. She’s won several awards for her works. Jean Portante is another author who writes in French. Jean Krier is an award-winning poet who writes in German. Although some authors wrote in French or German, which may have a larger international readership base, some authors choose to write in Luxembourgish. After Luxembourgish was proposed to be added as an official language only in the 1980s, several authors gave this more of a solid claim and piqued interest in the language by writing in their local language. Authors such as Nico Helminger, Josy Braun, Jean-Michel Treinen, Georges Hausemer, Jhemp Hoscheit, Guy Rewenig, and Roger Manderscheid were known for writing in Luxembourgish.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Luxembourg: the other super small L country in Europe. And it’s the last L country going in alphabetical order. This country makes up the “lux” part of the Benelux economic bloc, along with Belgium and the Netherlands.

This small country is located in Western Europe, surrounded by Belgium on the west, France on the south, and Germany on the east. It used to be referred to as the Ardennes, but later changed its name in 963 to reflect the name of the city of Luxembourg. The name comes from the Celtic word lucilem, which means “little or small” and the Germanic word burg, which means “castle.” The use of the letter X in the name was borrowed from the French; however, the X is not used in the Luxembourgish language (which is called Lëtzebuerg in that language). The country ranges from forests to rolling hills to plateaus. Major rivers include the Alzette, the Attert, the Wiltz, the Clerve, the Our, the Sauer, and the Moselle. 

Luxembourg as we know it began with the acquisition of Luxembourg Castle, and from there, the country grew around it. The House of Luxembourg saw three of its members succeed as Holy Roman Emperors during the 14th and 15th century. It was later sold off when no male heirs were produced, and a number of families and people took over from there. After Napoleon was defeated, Prussia and the Netherlands fought over who was going to gain control of Luxembourg. It was formed as a Grand Duchy and compromise was created to include the country as a part of the Netherlands but manned by Prussian troops. In 1839, the agreement was changed, and Luxembourg subsequently gained its independence. This same treaty that granted independence also cut their territory in half, giving most of the French-speaking side to Belgium. Imperial Germany moved its way into Luxembourg in 1914 as it set its war against France, breaking against Luxembourg’s wishes to remain neutral. Nazi Germany repeated the same actions during WWII. It was finally opened up and freed in 1944 and went on to become one of the countries to found the United Nations the following year. Luxembourg was also one of the first countries to join a number of other organizations including the European Union (EU). 

The city of Luxembourg is the largest city and capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Castle was situated near the corner of two Roman roads, and from there the name lent itself to the city and then the country. With a population of a little more than 100,000 people, this relatively small city has a number of museums, theatres, restaurants, sports venues, and memorials. The city’s American Cemetery and Memorial is the burial place of Gen. George S. Patton. With a modern infrastructure, Luxembourgers are able to travel throughout and out of the country with ease. 

As a high-income country, Luxembourg enjoys a fairly stable economy. Unemployment is among the lowest in Europe, and the quality of life there is generally high. Up until the 1960s, Luxembourg was a leading producer of steel, but now also relies on various chemical productions, rubber and other products. Banking and finance is also a major economic driver; the country is the 3rd most popular place for those interested in tax evasion (after Switzerland and the Cayman Islands). Luxembourg also ranks high on the number of cars per 1000 people, coming in at 741 cars per 1000 people (the US in comparison ranks at 809; the UK ranks at 519; China ranks at 128; San Marino is the only one above 1000, coming in at 1263). It’s been ranked as one of the top countries in the world for economic freedom. Several large corporations have their headquarters there, including Skype. 

It’s illegal in Luxembourg to take any statistics regarding religion, and it’s more or less considered a secular state. However, the state has arrangements with certain religions where they cover certain operating costs: Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Lutheranism, Mennonitism, Judaism, and Anglican churches all take advantage of these arrangements. Even at that, there are more people who either don’t believe in God or believe in some kind of life force or spirit than those who do believe in God. 

Luxembourg is trilingual country: the official languages are French, German, and Luxembourgish (which is considered the national language). German is only listed for historical reasons, and French is the language of the government. In their school system, children in early elementary school are taught in Luxembourgish before being taught in German. Then in secondary school, students are taught in French. English is also taught as a foreign language at the secondary level and so is Portuguese in certain areas where there is a large immigrant population. 

The entire country of Luxembourg has less people than the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, making it one of the least populated countries in the Europe Union. But its small size hasn’t held it back from tying for third with the most Eurovision Song Contest wins (tied with France and the UK at five wins, following Sweden with six wins and Ireland with seven.) I’m sure there are a number of other big things Luxembourg has done, and I’m sure I’ll find out more.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Well, it’s been an eventful past two weeks. There were school field trips, filing taxes, and I accepted a job as a reporter for a commercial real estate media and promotions company. I’m kind of nervous about it — I hope I can pull this off. I just really wish I could jump ahead to where it’s old hat, and I’m super comfortable with it. 

Looks can be deceiving. It looks nice, but I think I overbaked it slightly. And of course, I didn't have an actual sourdough starter in it. But, it would make a good bread to dip in soups.
But anyway, today is Valentine’s Day, and what better way to celebrate the people I love than with Lithuanian comfort foods? I started with making Lithuanian Baltic Rye bread. Right away, I know this won’t be as good as it could be because I was supposed to make a sourdough starter a couple days ago, and I totally forgot to do that. The past couple of days were so busy with starting my new job that it completely slipped my mind. So, we’ll see how this turns out without it being completely fermented. I did proof my yeast in ½ c lukewarm water with 1 tsp sugar. Then I poured 2 c of hot coffee into a pot, boiled it, and dropped in 1 oz of baking chocolate into it to melt. (The recipe actually calls for “leftover coffee.” I didn’t even know there was such as thing. Apparently, some people don’t drink all eight cups of coffee in the morning. I also learned there is such a thing as “leftover wine” too. Such as weird thing, indeed.) Then I added in ¼ c molasses to it and let it cool to lukewarm. Once it was cool, I poured in my yeast mixture into the coffee mixture along with my fake sourdough starter (1 1/2 c flour plus 1 c water that I let sit in a covered in a probably not quite airtight bowl for about two hours). Then I added in 2 Tbsp caraway seeds, 2 Tbsp salt, 2 c ground bran (I actually used steel cut oats since I somehow had no clue my husband hated steel cut oats with immense fervor), and stirred in about 4 c rye flour cup by cup. Once I got it mixed together, I put it on a floured surface and kneaded it until it was more elastic-y. Then I put this bread in a buttered bowl, covered it with a towel, and let it rest for about an hour. At the end of this time, I kneaded it again, divided it in half, and shaped them into round loaves. I covered them again and let them rest for another hour. Then it came time to put them into a 375ºF oven for 50-55 minutes until it sounds hollow on the bottom. I left mine in the oven for about an hour, which was about five minutes too long. Although I used parchment paper, the bottoms were quite browned. And it was quite hearty. The outsides were pretty difficult to cut through but the inside was soft. 

My husband and I agreed it almost tasted like a dressing you'd eat at Thanksgiving.
I decided to make my two side dishes first. I started with Kugel, a Lithuania potato cake with pork. I grated five potatoes and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. Then I brought 1 c milk to a boil and mixed in my grated potatoes along with two beaten eggs, ½ tsp marjoram, a little salt, and about a half of an onion chopped. In a separate skillet, I browned some cubed pork fillet (ok, I actually used a bit of country-style ribs). In a baking dish, I spread a layer of the potatoes on the bottom, then a layer of the cubed meat, followed by another layer of the potatoes. I baked this at 350ºF for about an hour. This could probably be used as a main dish as well. I enjoyed this, although I may have used just a little too much marjoram because it definitely had an “herb” smell and flavor to it, almost smelling of sage or thyme in a way. I liked it, but the kids weren’t quite fans of it. 

What's not to love about this. I love the flavors, the colors... it was wonderful.
The second side dish I made was Lithuanian cabbage. In a large skillet, I cooked my chopped onion and chopped bacon together. When the bacon and onion was finished, I added some chopped green and red cabbage along with a little brown sugar. I thought I had a small can of sour kraut, but I didn’t, so I added in a little El Salvadoran curtido to it along with a little of the juice. Then I stirred everything together and let it cook down for about 20 minutes or so. I really liked this, and so did my daughter. My son gave me the thumb to the side (neither good nor bad). He told me he doesn’t like “floppy bacon.” But I thought it was wonderful. 

Clearly, the winner tonight, along with the sauce...
Finally, today’s main dish: kuldunai (Lithuanian meat dumplings with bacon sauce). I first prepared the filling. I beat two eggs and mixed them with salt, pepper, a little chopped onion and some ground beef (already browned). For the dumplings, I beat three eggs and added in salt, water, and some flour to make a soft dough. I had trouble with getting my dough to act right; it was too crumbly. I still wasn’t satisfied with it, but I did get it to become workable. Then I rolled the dough out to an 1/8” thick (probably a little thicker). Taking a large cup, I cut out 3” circles and filled each with some of the filling. I folded them in half and pinched the sides together to seal it. Then I put these into boiling salted water. When they float, they’re done.

This right here. This is the best thing ever.
For the bacon sauce, I fried some chopped bacon in a skillet and then added in some chopped onion, some flour, and some milk. I stirred until it started to thicken like a gravy. This is a simple sauce with a lot of flavor, and it certainly went well with the dumplings. Those Lithuanians know what’s up. This was fabulous. Clearly, this was the best part of the meal. 

I loved this meal. Such comfort foods and perfect for this cold, snowy day.
So once again, I have one more country that I must add to my bucket list of places I want to visit. I have a thing for the countries that aren’t high on places tourists want to visit. France or Italy or Spain often rank high on places people want to visit, but if I could visit anywhere, I’d pick places like Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Dominica, Chile, Czech Republic, Kenya, Cabo Verde, Botswana, Lebanon, and others. I’m so glad that I finally cooked from Lithuania. My friend was right: it’s such an amazing country. And maybe one day I’ll make the trip there.  

Up next: Luxembourg

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Music in Lithuania has its roots deep in Baltic traditions. In Lithuania, music fell into three main categories: vocal music, wind instrument music, and string music. 

Vocal music uses several different kinds of harmonization: monophony, homophony, and polyphony. Each style certainly depended on which region was creating it and at what time it was popular. 

As far as instrumental music goes, they used several instruments that were in common with Russian and Baltic music: harmonica, accordion, concertina, balalaika, mandolin, guitar, cornet, and the kankles (a type of zither). 

Folk music was divided between several different styles, and each style was designated for different types of folk songs: sutartines are a main one (multi-voiced songs that are often syncopated and are usually divided between 2-4 performers) and there are also a different number of tasks songs were written for (wedding, hay and rye harvesting, spinning and weaving, berry picking, fishing, etc.). 

Classical music was mainly dominated by Lithuania’s own Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciulionis who was also a renowned painter. In his 35 years, he composed nearly 200 pieces. I listened to several of his orchestral works as well as his piano works, and I really like his style. Most of it sounds similar to typical late 19th century music. But that’s one of my favorite time periods for music. He’s most widely known for his works In the Forest and The Sea. Osvaldas Balakauskas and Vytautas Miskinis were two more Lithuanian composers of note.

Dance traditions have always been an important part of Lithuanian culture. And every movement serves a purpose and has a meaning, often tied with a specific emotion. Typically, their dance is deeply rooted in their agricultural life. Many of the other types of dances (war dances, hunting dances) have not survived. Some of the polyphonic sutartines actually have dances that go with them. These simple dances are generally danced in a circular or quadrille style dance. There are a number of other circular dances, not to mention paired dances, group dances, borrowed dances from other European dances, and even dance games where the dances follow certain “tasks” in the dance. However, you won’t find much jumping or kicking in Lithuanian dance; it’s more subdued than that. 

There are a number of musicians and bands I came across on Spotify. The first band I listened to is Foje, a band that was popular in the 1980s. It is every bit of 1980s that you can think of. I’m sure it probably comes with a side ponytail, neon colors, and leaded gas. The lead singer of the band was Andrius Mamontovas, who also had his own music as well, which sounds more like acoustic 1990s music.

Antis was another band that has a quasi-1990s-electro sound. I sampled several songs, but I had a hard time finding one that I truly liked. There were a few, but overall, I think I just had to be there. However, I found this video (above), so maybe I just needed to listen to other albums. With the help of Google translate, "debesys musu minys" means "clouds, our thoughts." 

The band Skamp is a quasi-ska/rock band. I like some of the songs I listened to. Most of the songs are sung in English with a few songs in other languages (French, maybe? And maybe Lithuanian?)

I liked some of what I heard from Happyendless. It still has a 1980s rock feel to it, but it’s done in a way that I like. Dramatic, to say the least. It’s completely sung in English.

Ten Walls is a group (or maybe it’s just a DJ) who makes electronica music. I love what I was able to listen to. It’s the perfect music to listen to. And as a trance music lover, I recommend it, even if it’s not fully trance. 

I highly enjoyed listening to Jurga as well. Her music was a cross between being ethereal and electronica and indie rock. It is also something good to listen to while I work. 

I'm confused when it comes to Jazzu. What I listened to seemed a little farther out there for me -- kind of a hardcore electronica/drum-n-bass type of music (sort of). There were a few songs I liked, but some others were just too industrial for me. However, what I found on YouTube was acoustic piano with a female vocalist, which I liked much better. 

And finally, my favorite of what I listened to: Freaks on Floor. I think people should know this group. Definitely an indie rock band and definitely talented. I listened to most of the album Life and most of Hello Girls! I really like their style. Like, really. Like when my tax check comes in the next couple of weeks, I’m thinking of getting these albums.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


In Lithuania, both art and music have their ties to one guy: Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. As an artist, he made significant contributions to symbolism and art nouveau and is often considered one of the prominent figures in European abstract art. As both an accomplished artist and musician, Ciurlionis is one of the most influential figures in Lithuanian cultural arts. In fact, a number of buildings have been named for him as well as an asteroid. I like his work; it almost seems like they all come from a fantasy story.

"King's Fairy Tale" by M. K. Ciulionis

There are a number of different art museums spread across the country. The Palanga Amber Museum houses about 28,000 pieces of amber, some as jewelry, some as part of artwork, and some that include specimens of insects and plants from prehistoric eras (think Jurassic Park).

The Vilnius Guggenheim Hermitage Museum houses media art that includes film archives and Fluxus art. Fluxes art refers to a group of international artists during the 1960s who merged a wide variety of mediums into their art, from performance art to urban planning.

If I ever get to Lithuania, I’d have to check out the Lithuania Museum of Ancient Beekeeping. I have a thing for odd museums, and I think this one definitely fits in my list. This museum centers around the history of beekeeping and is part of the Aukstaitija National Park.

Early literature in Lithuania was written in Latin, the language of the church and of scholars. It wasn’t until the 16th century when works began being published in the Lithuanian language, which was The Simple Words of Catechism. The vast majority of published works at this time were religious texts, but more secular texts, like histories and dictionaries, began being published during the 18th century. Poetry and other forms of literature began to emerge during the early part of the 19th century, but when Russia took over, they banned all Lithuanian culture including publishing works in their language. Any publishing in Lithuanian was done in East Prussia (the capital was Königsburg, present-day Kaliningrad) and smuggled back over the border. 

Even though printing Lithuanian literature was difficult for much of the late 19th century and into the 20th century, Lithuanian writers still managed to prevail. They utilized literary styles such as symbolism, expressionism, and impressionism. A rebellion against traditional literary styles took place; poetry became more politically and socially influenced and stretched the constraints of form, bringing in forms that were popular throughout Europe and other areas during that time.

Writers of note include Vincas Kreve-Mickevicius (novels, drama), Zemaite (short stories), Kazys Binkis (poetry), Oskaras Milasius (novels, short stories, collections), Vytaute Zilinskaite (children’s lit, poetry), and Tomas Venclova (poetry, essays). Several authors have emigrated from the country and have written from abroad.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Besides being one of the only countries that sells used Mitsubishi parts for reasonable prices (unlike the US), I’ve heard about Lithuania for years. My dad coached middle school girls’ basketball for over 25 years, and we’d sometimes go see the Indiana Pacers play when I was a kid. About ten years or so ago, the Pacers had a good player from Lithuania named Sarunas Jacikevicius who played with them for a couple years before being traded. It was then when I realized that basketball was super popular in Lithuania. 

It’s not exactly clear where the name Lithuania comes from. The Lithuanian word for their country, Lietuva, is thought to derive from the word for “pour” or “spill” and may refer to a small river. It also may stem from a folk tale source that the country is named after “a rainy place.” Another theory is that it’s related to a word meaning “to unite,” referring to the unification of lands that is now considered Lithuania. And most likely (I’m guessing), the word “Lithuania” as used in English is the Latinization of Lietuva. 

Lithuania is located in Northeastern Europe, bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east, Poland to the south, and the Russian exclave of the Kaliningrad Oblast to the west. Lithuania also borders the Baltic Sea and is directly across the sea from Sweden. Because of its location, Lithuania typically experiences mild summers and cold winters. However, the country has seen a warming trend since the 1960s. 

Mindaugas as set on a coin, looking mighty fierce
Originally a collection of various Baltic tribes, a guy by the name of Mindaugas was the first to unite them all as Lithuanians. He was later made their king, and 13 years later was assassinated (he should’ve opted for the early retirement package). The pagan lands were often the target of the Livonian Order and Teutonic Knights. The country expanded and at one time included part of Ukraine, Poland, Russia, and Belarus. After the Grand Duke of Poland ran the place, they went on a dramatic Christianization of Lithuania, one of the last places to officially adopt Christianity. When Russian forces grew, Lithuania drew closer to Poland at the onset of the Livonian War. Years of being tied to Poland led to an increase in Polish culture being merged with Lithuania’s. The Swedes ravaged the country during the Northern War and the Great Northern War during the later 1600s and early 1700s. Between the wars and a plague and famine at the same time, Lithuania lost nearly 40% of its population. Most of Lithuania then became part of the Russian Federation, where the Russians banned most Lithuanian culture. It failed mostly due to the book smugglers who supported secret homeschooling initiatives. Lithuania finally declared its independence in 1918, but the matter of territory was a point of dispute between Poland, German, and Lithuania. The temporary capital was set in Kaunas while Vilnius, the historical capital of Lithuania, was still annexed by Poland. Once Poland relinquished the city, the capital moved back to Vilnius. The Soviets returned to Lithuania during WWII and pretty much stayed until Russia broke up in 1991. After gaining their independence once more, Lithuania later joined NATO and the EU and switched to a free market economy. 

Old Town
Coming in at just over a half-million people, the capital city of Vilnius is Lithuania’s largest city and second largest in the Baltic States after Riga, Latvia. This city has been considered the capital since the early 1300s. Vilnius is known for its Old Town, which was included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. In fact, Napoleon dubbed the city “the Jerusalem of the North.” Vilnius is known by many different names, mostly as Vilna or Vilno (or some alternate spelling of each). Today, this city located in the southeastern corner of the country is very much a world-class cultural city, complete with museums, universities, parks, sports venues, theatres, and a modern infrastructure. 

Although Lithuania saw a decline in their economy during the Global Economic Crisis of 2008-2009, it has seen an increase in recent years, a continuation of the growth it saw in the previous decade. They also utilize a flat tax rate rather than a progressive rating system; both the personal income and corporate tax rates are set at 15%, which is one of the lowest in Europe. Lithuania is transitioning to growing their knowledge-based economic drivers such as biotechnology, telecommunications, and information technology. Having strong banking and financial centers allow for a number of international corporate offices to be headquartered there. 

Since Christianity was brought to Lithuania during the 14th century, the country has predominantly been Christian, and by far Roman Catholic. There are small numbers of Orthodox and Lutherans, but there are more people who don’t adhere to any religion than any of the non-Catholics put together. Historically, there was a significant Jewish population in Lithuania, but after the Holocaust, that number has now been reduced to about 4000 today. 

The official language is Lithuanian, both written and spoken. It’s considered a Baltic language and is related to Latvian. Lithuanian uses the Roman script but is amended with a few extra diacritical marks. 
This is  a Lithuanian wedding cake. I will NOT be attempting this, but it's fascinating to look at.
A friend of mine is Lithuanian, and I’ve been waiting to do this country for a long time. She’s told me how amazing the food is (well, ok, probably most of it—every country has that one crazy dish), and I’ve had to wait nearly a year before I finally get the change to try it. But now, I only have to wait one more week, and it’s mine. I get to make this meal on Valentine’s Day, and what better way to celebrate the people I love than with Lithuanian comfort foods.

Up next: art and literature