Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Baltic State of Things

...Get Your Buns in the Kitchen
When people ask me where I am from, I never know what to say. Does this mean the last place you lived, or where you were born? Since I moved to New Jersey/New York (I told you I was going to keep saying both), I tell people I am from North Carolina. The next question is then "born and raised?" When I tell them no, this tends to be a little disappointing for some people. Pure southern is a novelty, and a southern girl (half? whole? 2%? skim?) in a place like New York can be a little interesting. For example-I walk on Sixth Avenue to get to the West 4th street subway stop in Manhattan at least two or three times a week. Inevitably, there is a group of guys selling CD's right in front of the Barnes and Noble on the corner, and every time I walk by them they try to get me to talk to them so they can convince me to buy a CD. They manage to stop me nearly every time. Finally I bought not one, but all three of their CD's. This just made matters worse. Now, they just try to get me to buy more stuff, hand me flyers for concerts, introduce themselves to whomever I am walking with--you get the picture. They give me hugs and kisses and tell me need a real man. I mean, one of them is named Creature. geez. Point being, I was suckered, but I am blaming it on my southern-ness; more specifically, my politeness and inability to say no...leaving me out $20 with a back pocket full of glossy pictures of Creature.

Going back to my exact percentage of southernality, I say, "No-- I'm not originally from North Carolina" and launch into the explanation..."well...I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was only there about six weeks. Then my family and I moved to Baton Rouge, and we were there for six years. Next came Chicago for four years (the suburbs about thirty minutes outside the city), then Charlotte. If I count college, I lived in Boone (go App) for four years, not including a sixth month stint in England. Moving around has most certainly influenced my palate, but the foundation of my culinary curiosity stems from my father's Latvian roots. He is a native born Canadian, and 100 % Latvian, 1/16 Mongolian, 1/16 Russian. Here is a picture of Latvia below:

Side note: I only discovered the more concrete aspects of history lesson after my father sent me a "for future reference..." email. The (abbreviated) story goes that during World War II, many native Latvians were forced to leave Latvia when Russia's communist government began to seize power, and were thus determined to strip them of their culture, language, and customs. Many were forced out or they fled to other countries. My dad's parents met on a boat immigrating to Canada after the war. His mother's family fled in the middle of the night by boat across the Baltic Sea to Sweden while the Russians were invading from the East and the Germans from the South. My great- grandparents (on my grandfather's side) escaped by foot around the Baltic coast to Denmark. Both parents/families spent their time during the war in those countries and did not meet until the immigration to Canada.

Years later, my grandma still never seemed fully recovered from being forced out of her country, and when we would come visit her at her home in Gainesville, her connection to Latvia was still evident in every dish she would cook. Smells of salty sauces, sauerkraut, and sticky pastries would fill the air; by cooking for us, she had given us a little piece of her home. It is hard to look back on it with such nostalgia, because honestly, growing up I didn't even realize how important it was for me to appreciate what she was putting on the table. However, there was one recipe called Bacon Buns (even though when my mother sent me the actual recipe they were called Bacon Rolls) that has been literally passed down for generations. My Vetzmamina (great grandmother in Latvian) would make them, and now here I am, attempting to make them in my Jersey girl kitchen. My mother made them for car trips, snacks, and special occasions. Seriously, there is nothing like them.

This was my first time making Bacon Buns, and somehow I didn't completely mess them up. Be prepared--they are time consuming. I made the bacon and onions and put them in the fridge for about four days (okay...maybe it was a week), before I made the dough. When I finally went to make the dough, I couldn't find the yeast I had bought weeks before. No problem--I went around the corner to the bodega (refer to last blog), but of course, they didn't have yeast. No worries. The owner insisted I could just use yeast from the pizza place next door. I insisted I couldn't and that I had no way to measure it accurately. He went next door to get it anyway. Wet yeast smells like...something you don't want to smell.

One hour and two bodegas later, I found myself back at the grocery store. But, I had decided to dedicate my Monday to my buns--and I wasn't giving up. The recipe calls for about six cups of flour, but as with most bread making endeavors, you will use much more than this. After I let the dough rise for about two hours (it says in a warm area and my apartment is freezing, so I put my space heater in the kitchen. Not sure if it helped, but I thought it was clever) I had to call for reinforcements (i.e. mom), because the dough was practically climbing the cabinets it was so sticky. Flour, more flour, more flour---and at one point I was kneading my dough and carrying on a conversation with my roommate all at the same time. I am amazing.

Just a couple tips. Before you cut the bacon, freeze it for a few hours. If not, it is way to greasy and hard to handle. The fat just makes it one big mess. Also, the recipe says it makes about 80, but this depends on how patient you are. Mine seemed to grow with each batch, but don't skimp on the bacon and onions. Stuff them, pinch them, and put em in the oven. Then, watch an episode of the new Bachelor (yum, British guys), and bring your buns to work the next day. They are sure to be a hit. These are a little piece of home, and a big bite of heaven. D-lish.


Pauline said...

I'm glad that you dedicated your time to your buns!! They look scrumptious and want to try one. Good buns Jana!

Courtney said...

yes, you are 'amazing'...and what's more amazing is that I am part of your family and have never had those yummy Latvian treats ;)

AM Ashley said...

Request for blog entry: how do you make the perfect brownies?

CharlotteV said...

Hey from "Charlotte" -- glad to see your blog. You can be in mine if I can be in yours ;-)