Thursday, August 14, 2008

Saakashvilli: 'Baltics will be next"

As I'm sure you can understand, from where I am sitting, literally, the news from Gruusia, as we call it here, is of great concern. This is why I have reposted this item from the Baltic Times.

from The Baltic Times

Aug 14, 2008 By Mike Collier

TBILISI - A day after the Presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Poland joined Latvian prime minister Ivars Godmanis in a remarkable show of solidarity with Georgia, President Saakshvilli predicted that the Baltic states would be next on Russia's list of military targets.

Speaking at a press conference held on August 13th, Saakashvilli said: "It’s not about Georgia any more. You know, if Russia gets away with this, I can predict now that the Baltic countries will be next, Ukraine may be attacked.
"We’ve seen them – as ruthless, as lawless, as brutal, as arrogant as they can get. They go unchecked. The world community should speak with one voice. We need a big humanitarian relief operation, like the Berlin airlift, because the capital is blocked from all sides. It’s one and a half million people, it’s a modern European city, and it needs a lifeline. The main thing is that if the West fails, it will have tremendous consequences for the years to come."

"I’ve been talking to the West, asking 'Why don’t you do something?' They’ve been saying 'You’re exaggerating; Russia’s not going to do anything.' Now look what they’re doing. This has already exceeded my worst expectations," Saakashvilli said.

He also drew direct parallels between the actions of Russia in South Ossetia, western inaction, and the appeasement of Hitler prior to World War II, saying: "Appeasement in 1938 brought tens of millions of deaths to Europe. Georgia is first like Czechoslovakia was first in 1938, then Poland followed, then the rest of Europe followed, then there was the greatest humanitarian catastrophe the world has ever seen.

"People should wake up. It’s not about Georgia. The bombs they were dropping on us had “This is for NATO” written on the side... Russia did this because they thought that nobody would intervene. So far, that’s been confirmed."

The embattled President added that he was "sickened" by reports that Georgia had provoked the conflict by sending its forces into Tskhinvali and again referred to historical precedents that will have resonance in the Baltic. "You know, Finland also attacked the Soviet Union, according to Stalin. Poland also attacked Germany. Small countries always attack, and then get occupied. It’s high time for people to understand what’s going on," he said.

"For me, frankly, not giving us a MAP [NATO Membership Action Plan] was a signal to Russia. They got the signal. No matter what the justification was, publicly, the Russians got the message. They took it as a signal to attack. I’ve been waiting for the attack for months, warning Western leaders about this."

Saakshvilli also said that part of the reason for Russia's attack was jealousy about Georgia's rapid economic development and relative prosperity. If that is indeed the case, it's another cause for concern in the Baltics, which have streaked away from Russia in terms of their business environments.

"This is also because Georgia is so successful. We were the darling of the World Bank, number 16 or 17 in terms of business environment, leaders in terms of foreign direct investment in the region. We have the lowest corruption in the area, one of the lowest in Europe. We had 12% growth last year, and this year we were anticipating 11%. And of course the Russians were going nuts, because even with their oil and gas we were doing better economically," said the president.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lucky Saaremaa Wedding

The recent triple-8 date prompted a whole regiment of otherwise rational and unsuperstitious people to schedule one of the few momentous events in the human life cycle over which we have any control – their wedding – for this day. Hey, don’t look at me like that – I chose to be married – way back then – on the Spring Equinox.

On Saaremaa alone, there were eleven of these optimistic couples. One of these, Pablo from Spain and Mai from Saaremaa had invited 80 of their friends and relatives to a traditional island celebration. To say that the location of this happy event was ‘in the back of the beyond’ doesn’t begin to describe the remoteness of their choice. ‘The middle of nowhere’ more closely locates the holiday camp tucked away down 4,6 km of gravel road, surrounded by ancient pines, near the end of the Sõrve Peninsula.

AND since no bride wants to be flipping burgers in her bridle gown, she hired Mahe Köök and its troop of multicultural jugglers and loonies to provide the wedding feast.

We began our preparations on Thursday with cutting and marinating the meats, 80 entrecotes, and cubes of lamb for skewering. Vegetables for the stir-fry were julienned and blanched, potatoes cooked for salad and fresh mayonnaise whizzed up.

On the day, as well as the steaks and kebabs, there would be burgers of lamb or veal and Denis, our budding ‘Grilli-meister’ from Bretagne, would be in charge of the fish. My section was vegetables and salads.

Mid-day Friday, under lowering but not spitting skies we loaded plates, glasses and cutlery for 80, every towel and piece of linen in the restaurant, as well as the gas grill and a wok into two cars and a trailer. The last problem was find places for four WWOOFER’S (We have a new addition – Manuel, originally from El Salvador but now a student at the University in Toulouse) and three nominal grownups: Karen, Alar and myself.

On arrival we found a charming holiday camp with a large wooden hall for the reception, an add-on space from which to serve; close by a white and green tent for the grill station and a lovely flower ringed clearing with a fire in the centre for the traditional wedding dances. The band arrived; two guys with a selection of instruments: accordion, guitar and wood pipes. Shortly after that came a bag-piper wearing Estonian costume. We were ready; the bridal party would be late – naturally.

Once they finally found us, the guests were seated and words of welcome were said; the party could begin. There is an Estonian tradition at weddings that I am especially fond of – ‘Identifying the Guests’. The wedding mistress, asks the members to stand according to different categories: those from Estonia, from Latvia, from Finland, Spain, Peru, Germany…. One by one their place of origin is recognised and noted; other categories are raised: married or single, teachers, doctors, artists, musicians, friends of the bride, of the groom, of both….

If you add in the homeports of our troop: France, El Salvador, Canada the USA, we had here a perfect example of the European Union doing what it does best – bringing people together.

‘Now that we all know each other, the eating can begin.’

And eat and drink they did. Salads and juices had to be replenished. I was as busy as the grill-team turning out stir-fried mushrooms. This is a super year for kukaseinid – in English – chanterelles. We had quartered these lovely golden trumpets and served them with the julienned carrots.

I’m going to make a separate post about the wine, the jambon’ and the dancing but for now – a recipe.

Stir-fried Chanterelles

Serves 2

300 g. fresh chanterelles, brushed clean and quartered
100 g. peeled, julienned and blanched carrots – preferably new organic
1 medium white onion sliced into strips
1 fat glove garlic chopped to a paste with salt & pepper
1 tbls. fresh thyme
small glass of dry white wine
2-3 tbls. sour cream
butter for frying

Heat the butter in a wok or similar pan. I use an Italian padella.
When the butter is foaming add the garlic and fry until fragrant, add the onions and continue frying.
Throw in the mushrooms and fry until they have given off most of their liquid.
Add the carrots, thyme and the white wine
Cook until there is just a small amount of syrupy liquid left
Add the sour cream and warm through, stirring
Taste for salt & pepper and serve

This can go on pasta, potatoes, rice or any other light coloured grain.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fairy Tales & Frying Pans

The originator of this question is Poliphilio from my LJ-Flist. This morning he wrote:

My friend S.B. - who is a dedicated cook- used to say you should never wash a frying pan. The ancient grease, impregnated with the flavours of a thousand fry-ups, is a treasure, adding subtlety and depth to anything you cook in it. I sometimes let my pan go a day or two without washing- and acknowledge that it's a bit of a thrill when the flavour of yesterday's mushrooms turns up in today's bacon and eggs- but then I start to worry about health and safety and the pan goes into the sink and receives a good scrubbing. Am I being unduly cautious?

My Answer

Once upon a time, which is how all good fairy tales begin; there was a place where the food we raised and bought, cooked and ate was free of pesticides, strange chemicals and even stranger microbes. The animals whose remains were frequently transformed in these old frying pans spent their lives eating grass - as most of them were intended to do and were not asked to eat ground up parts of their cousins mixed with antibiotics and corn oil derivatives. Then a good wipe out was more often than not sufficient, although an occasional date with soapy water couldn't hurt.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

12th Saaremaa Sea Days

The bumblebees are drunk
today, flitting, impotent, from leaf to leaf.
What strange nectar have they been drinking?

This is an annual event on the first weekend of August; it closes the official summer season. We still get visitors after this – especially on weekends - but the Finns have gone back to work and their schools are starting. Approximately 70% of our tourism business comes from Finland, so the departure of our Northern cousins is noticeable.

My participation in the event this year was minimal. I didn’t plan it that way. Usually it’s good fun with concerts, a sprawling market, competitions and food tents and a chance to catch up with friends who have been away during the summer. I missed all of that.

This year I helped out at Mahe Köök on Friday night. The town orchestra from Pärnu, a sea-side town on the mainland had been invited to participate in the opening ceremonies. Fifty-strong, they would come to us afterward for dinner.

I was very keen to get involved in this as we would be having another go at spit-roasting a whole lamb. Aivar had involved an old friend Urmas in this project and when I arrived at 08.00 the beastie was almost done and some lovely white Cabernet Franc was on offer.

The side vegetables (lisand in Estonian) still had to be prepped so I got straight onto that. As well as fresh salad with local tomatoes – so sweet they should have been dessert, in my opinion – I took roasted beets, cut them into cubes of about two centimetres and tossed them with olive oil, pepper, sea salt and thyme.

There were also new turnips cut onto thick julienne, blanched and mixed with olive oil, pepper, sea salt and rosemary.

After every one was seated, each table sent a delegate to Urmas and me in the courtyard with a plate which we piled high with chunks from the lamb.
They were delighted with the crispy ribs but often sent back the very pink meat from the legs. Most Estonians don’t like their meat rare and this was more than bloody.

Urmas had wired the creature with the legs outspread – a double crucifixion if you will. In my opinion this doesn’t bring the thicker leg into enough contact with the heat source – thus – undercooked leg meat.On the other hand, this meant more of my favourite parts to take home, so I guess I should be happy. However, the perfectionist in me………….

After the eating there was singing and much excellent conversation – don’t ask me to remember what we talked about. I was fine until about 1:30 when Aivar took a bottle of vodka out of the freezer. (next bit censored)

Estonia has very strict drinking and driving limits and they are enforced with vigour and passion – especially on major party weekends. We were fortunate that Aivar’s wife Monika had agreed to be the designated driver for the night and she drove me home about 2:00 in the morning.

Any questions as to why I didn’t make it to the rest of the Merepäevad events?

NB: Photos by Urmas Mägi