Lithuania's Liquid Gold: Honey

Wednesday, March 22, 2017



Sweet, flavorful, and ubiquitous, meet Lithuania's liquid gold. From tea to a cure for sore throats, Lithuanians use honey constantly. So much so that I'd have to call Lithuanian honey liquid gold.


Is Honey Really That Important In Lithuania?

The short answer: yes. More than black rye bread, wild-collected mushrooms, and potatoes, honey might just be Lithuania's number one culturally important food. So much so that it has been incorporated into Lithuania's pagan belief system, proverbs, tourism, and basic healthcare.

A Lithuanian proverb says, "A lone bee cannot create honey." (Viena bite avilin medaus neprines.)

 

How is Lithuania's honey consumed + utilized?


Honey tea

One of my favorite ways to consume Lithuanian honey is in the form of honey tea, something that I had never heard of prior to moving to Lithuania. Honey tea is made from thick, spun honey with herbs incorporated into the mixture to provide ultimate health benefits. Though there are several brands that sell honey tea, my personal favorite is from Apiflorus.

They sell honey teas in a variety of sizes and include teas infused with herbs that have added health benefits. For example, lemon balm is thought to aid digestion, reduce period cramps, and be calming. The honey tea with lemon balm is excellent for relaxation, in my opinion.

To use honey tea, simply mix a small spoonful with hot water and stir. This can be enjoyed immediately -- I really enjoyed it while I was pregnant with Baby ISO. You can buy honey tea at several gift stores and at the Vilnius Airport, but my favorite place is at Senamiescio Kratuve on Literatu g. in the Vilnius old town.

Cakes

Honey is used as a traditional sweetener for numerous Lithuanian desserts, although honey is now sometimes replaced by white cane sugar. My favorite Lithuanian cookbook, Taste Lithuania* by Beata Nicholson, even has a wonderful chapter entitled "Rivers of Honey." This entire chapter is dedicated to desserts, most of which use honey as the sweetener and main flavoring. Included in the recipes are gyrabukai -- my favorite Lithuanian dessert -- glazed mushroom cookies. The most famous Lithuanian dessert, honey cake, is also described, and of course, features honey as one of the main ingredients.

Honey cake (medaus tortas) is a labor intensive layer cake sweetened and flavored with quite a bit of honey. Found in numerous bakeries in Lithuania, visitors can easily sink their teeth into a slice of honey cake. Made with a different number of thin, wafer-like layers of cake depending on who makes it, the layers are then soaked in tea before assembly.

I think the best honey cake in Vilnius can be found at Senamiescio Kratuve on Literatu gatve and Pilies Kepyklele on Pilies gatve. Senamiescio Kratuve also has excellent gyrabukai, although they aren't always shaped as mushrooms. If you'd like to try out this recipe at home, the blog Ugne Bakes has a really nice recipe. The blog's writer, Ugne, is the Lithuanian woman who was on Great British Bake Off in 2015!!



Mead

The delicious hard alcohol made from honey -- mead -- has likely been produced in Lithuania for thousands of years. At one point, noble Lithuanian families even had their own special recipes and consumed up to 30 barrels per week. If you want to read more about the history of Lithuanian mead, I've written about it here for Culture Trip.

If you want to taste mead while in Lithuania (I know I do!), Lithuania's most famous mead company, Lietuviskas Midus, just started holding mead tastings in Vilnius. Prices are really reasonable, 8 Euros for four beverages, education, plus snacks. Tastings are held on Stikliu g., which is really the perfect location in old town. I'm dying to get a babysitter for the afternoon to do a tasting!

Cure for ailments

"A spoon full of [honey] makes the medicine go down[?]" ... that is how the song in Mary Poppins goes, right? Well, I bet the version translated into Lithuanian would be more culturally appropriate if honey replaced sugar in the timeless song. In Lithuania, honey is thought to be a cure for ailments. Spoonfuls of honey are added to tea, hot water, or simply consumed to prevent or help colds and sore throats.

This belief is actually backed by science, as honey is known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Its antibacterial properties are actually what makes honey unable to spoil. Using honey (and other bee products) as a medicine is considered apitherapy, and other than ingesting honey, it can be used in facials and spa treatments.

The wonderful resort town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania has an abundance of spas with honey-based treatments. Though I wasn't in love with the treatments at the spa I stayed at, Spa Vilnius Druskininkai was highly recommended by my friends, and I'm rather envious of their stay! Spa Vilnius Druskininkai offers body massages with honey meant to stimulate the immune system and relieve inflammation.


Where can you learn more about Lithuanian honey?


Beekeeping Museum

I hate to say that after four years in Lithuania, I still haven't had the chance to visit the Beekeeping Museum even though it has been on my Lithuanian Bucket List since the beginning. Though way off-the-beaten-path for most visitors, the Lithuanian Museum of Ancient Beekeeping is an open air museum located in Aukstaitija National Park. The museum features carvings of pagan beekeeping gods and goddesses, examples of tree-trunk beekeeping hives, and other beekeeping paraphernalia. It is slightly unclear when the museum is open, so you might want to check with the tourism board and call ahead before visiting. I'm hoping to visit before leaving Vilnius, although some sources say it doesn't open for the season until May, so hopefully we have time for a quick weekend escape!

Rumsiskes: The Lithuanian Open Air Museum

Rumsiskes was also on my Lithuanian Bucket List, but we managed to visit this year for my birthday. This awesome open air museum holds historic houses from all of Lithuania's cultural regions and also has a small area about beekeeping.



Honey + Lithuanian beliefs


Honey gods and goddesses 

Honey features in Lithuanian food, culture, and is even wrapped into Lithuania's former pagan beliefs. Lithuanian folklore remembers two pagan bee deities. The first is the female queen bee, Austeja, the goddess of fertility and protector of women, especially pregnant women. The second deity is the male worker bee, Babilas. Further excellent details are given in this blog post.



Who knew honey could be so important. Tell me, is honey used where you live?

Vilnius Gastro 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017



Running for its second year, Vilnius Gastro is a wonderful food walk hosted by the friendly folks at Sustainable Vilnius. With the aim to introduce participants and restaurants to sustainability, chefs are encouraged to create dishes using fresh, local ingredients and reduce waste in any way possible. Participants are also required to walk from establishment to establishment to reduce emissions from transportation.

This year, Vilnius Gastro had three routes, yellow, green, and red, with seven stops for each route. About 20 restaurants participated, and I was pleased to see both established and brand new restaurants included on the list. I also was excited to find numerous non-Lithuanian cuisines including Korean, Georgian, and Italian.

My favorite part about Vilnius Gastro is getting to try restaurants that I haven't tried before as well as dishes I wouldn't normally order. Vilnius Gastro 2017 certainly outdid themselves by providing some excellent restaurants options and flavorful dishes.

If you want a refresher, you can read about Vilnius Gastro 2016.

Salvete City

 

Salvete City was our first stop that we made following the green route. And boy what a great way to start out this tasty culinary night. Before this evening, I hadn't heard of Salvete City before, but I was really impressed by the welcoming staff, owners, and chef, as well as the great food.

We were served a risotto cake filled with shrimp. The sauce you see was made from shrimp heads cooked with fresh vegetables. Now, I really don't like seafood, but I'm willing to try anything. This dish surprised me in a good way. It didn't have that "fishy" taste and was very rich. The texture was also nice because the outside of the risotto cake was slightly crispy. I definitely want to try Salvete City again.

You can find Salvete City at Gedimino pr. 37.




Alive

 

This brand new fine dining restaurant serves only plant-based cuisine (aka vegan). I was very curious to try Alive, which is the whole reason I opted for the green route. The decor in Alive was beautiful and we were treated to some live piano music while dining.

The dish served at Alive was a thick slice of "bacon" (shall we call it facon?) with pureed parsnips (I think), roasted potatoes, mustard, and cubed beetroots. I really enjoyed the dish, but what stole the show was the fresh bread with beetroot vegan butter. J and I would have loved to buy a jar of the beetroot butter -- it was that good.

You can dine at Alive at Gedimino pr. 31.





Gaspar's Gastro Lounge


Gaspar's Restaurant (on Pylimo g.) is probably my favorite restaurant in Vilnius because the flavors are always spot on. A couple of months ago I was excited to hear about the opening of Gaspar's Gastro Lounge and tried it shortly after it opened. Though we had a slightly underwhelming visit after it opened, I was really wanting to try Gaspar's Gastro Lounge again.

This time, Gaspar's Gastro Lounge didn't disappoint. This was yet another shrimp dish that I didn't mind eating. The buttery naan that Gaspar (the chef) is known for was topped here with mushroom puree, shrimp, and a tiny squirt of chili sauce. The squeeze of lime was what really put this dish over the top. Another delicious dish from the Vilnius Gastro 2017.

Gaspar's Gastro Lounge can be found on Liejyklos 1.



Trinity Bar


At Trinity Bar the green route was treated to a specialty cocktail. Let me just say that I haven't had a cocktail in years; I'm talking probably eight years. We were served the pretty pink Clover Club cocktail, made from frothed egg whites, gin, lemon juice, and raspberry syrup. It was really tasty! The staff were also super friendly at Trinity Bar, allowing us to stash our stroller and helping us get it through the narrow door.

Stop by Trinity Bar at Vilniaus g. 30.



Saula


Our last stop for the night was the newly opened Saula. Though not recommended to carry down a bulky stroller to their basement restaurant, we managed and the staff were really helpful with finding us an accommodating table. Before I even get to the amazing food, I want to rave about the decor. The typical white stucco basement had been transformed with beautiful turquoise tiles, contrasting the white. Gorgeous.

The food we were served at Saula was equally as gorgeous. The dish was melt in your mouth beef cheek with mashed potatoes, and charred vegetables. We ended our dining journey on a great note!

You can find Saula next to Rimi on Didzioji 26.





We didn't make it to Grey or Burbulio Vynine for lack of time (Baby ISO's bedtime was fast approaching). We've also been to both before, so we didn't feel too bad about having to miss them. Tell me, did you get to taste the dishes at Grey or Burbulio Vynine?

 

Overall Notes

I really enjoyed the 2016 Vilnius Gastro, but I have to say that this year was even better. All of the restaurants we tried were fantastic and I'm not sure I could even choose a favorite out of these dishes. All staff that I encountered were friendly and the food was served very quickly (a plus with an easily bored toddler).

This year, the price for Vilnius Gastro was 32 Euros. While J and I were gifted our tickets from Sustainable Vilnius, this is an event that I would have happily paid the full ticket price to attend. Considering the quality and amount of food and drink, I think the price is very reasonable. I'm also happy to see that 1 Euro from each ticket was donated to charity!

Sustainable Vilnius runs similar gastronomic walks in Kaunas and Klaipeda, so be sure to check those out as well! For newsletter subscribers and those who follow ISO's Facebook page, I'll share these events when the come up, so you too can participate.



Do you like food walks? I wish this could be in every city!

Where To Eat + Shop In Bari, Italy

Monday, March 13, 2017



Our trip to Bari was a bright ray of sunshine that we really needed during the long Lithuanian winter. The warm weather, beautiful buildings, great food, and lively atmosphere put a smile on my face and gave me the endurance to survive the rest of the winter. One of the best things to do in Bari is wander the city and enjoy the affordable local food including the fabulous street food.

Keep in mind that in Bari, as in many other places in Italy, restaurants open around 12 for lunch and close in the afternoon, then reopen again around 6 or 7 pm. This can be difficult when traveling with a perpetually hungry toddler, so we opted to snack a lot when out and cook dinner at home. In general, food prices were inexpensive -- we even ordered a pizza to go for 3.50 EUR!

Where to eat:


Pasticceria Boccia: Located near our comfortable Airbnb apartment rental, Pasticceria Boccia seemed to be a local hang out. Coffee lovers would belly-up to the bar to order an espresso and a fluffy, sweet brioche. The meringues were also amazing and had a surprising number of flavors. The staff were super helpful, kind, and friendly and the prices were great. Find Pasticceria Boccia on C.so Sonnio, Bari.

Pasticceria Portoghese: Located in the old town, Pasticceria Portoghese is a delicious bakery selling cookies and other Portuguese sweets. The cookie sandwiches were delicious and melted in the mouth. Pasticceria Portoghese is located on Via Giovanni Modugno 29D.



Pasticceria and Bistro Salvatore Petriella: Located in one of the several stunning opera buildings in Bari, this pasticceria was seriously to die for. Though a bit pricier than elsewhere, the dainty cakes were beautiful and incredibly tasty. I have to suggest the pistachio desserts and pistachio filled croissant -- so good. The interior of the cafe was beautiful, making it a perfect place for a date, and the outdoor seating was ample enough for relaxing while people-watching. They also have sandwiches and light lunch options. Stop by for amazing treats at Via Fanelli, 207, 70125 Bari, Italy.






Panificio Fiore: Panificio Fiore is a little stand-up shop for homemade Apulian specialties. From focaccia to fried cornbread and spinach frittatas, Panificio Fiore was a perfect stop for a quick lunch. The woman running the shop reminded me of a stereotypical Italian grandmother and she even said "mamma mia" when she touched something hot. It was wonderful! Find them on Str. Palazzo di Città, 38, 70122 Bari, Italy.


 

Gadi: Gadi is a delicious gelato popsicle shop with numerous dairy-free options. The best thing though, is that the pops can be dipped into a fountain of melted dark chocolate and subsequently rolled in nuts or desiccated coconut. They also have swirl your own soft serve gelato and other mix-ins. Via Niccolò Piccinni, 14, 70122 Bari, Italy.


 

Gelateria Gentile: What would a trip to Italy be if you skipped traditional gelato? Located right across from the beautiful Castello Normanno Svevo, Gelateria Gentile served very rich, boldly flavored gelatos. The pistachio was really good, as was the regular chocolate (the dark chocolate was a bit too strong for me). They also featured numerous lactose-free gelato options. Find it at Piazza Federico II di Svevia, 34, 70122 Bari, Italy.

Where to shop:


As I mentioned in my last post about Bari, the city was surprisingly large and featured a huge amount of shopping. Think major brand names like H&M, the Disney Store, Zara, United Colors of Benetton, Sephora, and high-end shops way, way out of my budget. But those stores aren't my focus when shopping at home or while traveling; I'm all about the local stores. While I don't generally shop a lot, I did find two wonderful stores.

Fuecu: Fuecu is a gorgeous shoe store selling handmade Italian shoes and when I visited, had amazing sales. Stop by their shop on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 72.

Citta del Sole Bari: When traveling with kids, it becomes a must to stop into at least one toy store when traveling. It is even fun for us adults to check out the cool toys available in different countries, and perhaps make a sneaky purchase to reveal during the flight (what kid doesn't love a new toy). Citta del Sole featured a section with children's books in Italian, games, plush toys for babies, manipulatives for toddlers, and activity books and games for older children. It also had a great selection of plastic animals. Find Citta del Sole on Via Nicolò Putignani, 14/A, 70121 Bari, Italy.


Where else do you suggest eating in Bari? What is your favorite Italian street food? 

Scored A Cheap Flight To Bari, Italy? Here's What To Do And See

Wednesday, March 8, 2017



When planning our February break vacation we knew we wanted something cheap and warm. Those were our only two requirements. So, my search began for a cheap flight and a destination with affordable accommodations. My search on Ryan Air and Wizz Air led to a few options, but the best for our travel dates and awesome for affordability was Bari, Italy. Located in southern Italy in the heel of the boot, Bari was definitely warmer and way sunnier than Vilnius. Perfect.

Are you looking for a sunny European destination in the wintertime? Consider Bari for its delicious food, warm weather, friendly people, and perfect location. We loved it!

What To Do In Bari, Italy


Old Town


 The first thing to do once you arrive in Bari is to walk around the old town. The stunning white architecture makes it appear as though the stone buildings have been whitewashed by the sun. Each little winding street opens into a beautiful square, religious icons on homes, or cathedrals. It is beautiful. Smells from little shops selling delicious food provide navigation hints for those in search of snacks -- look out for the Portuguese bakery and the nearby tiny shop selling hot out of the oven focaccia.





Cathedrals and Churches


Staying true to its Catholic roots, old town Bari alone had four impressive churches. Practically every winding street you take in the old town opens to a beautiful, white stone church. The Archdiocese of Bari and the Basilica San Nicola are particularly stunning.






Beach Promenade


 Running along the harbor is a beautiful promenade taking you from the beach all the way to the castle (though that would be a longer walk than cutting through the city). Along the promenade you could watch fishermen preparing their squid and octopus for meals. Fishing boats were coming and going and numerous runners were making their way along the path. The waters were also surprisingly clear, although trash was common in the shallows.



Castello Normanno-Svevo


Bari even has a beautiful castle -- Castello Normanno-Svevo. Castello Normanno-Svevo was built in the 1100s by King Roger II. It was destroyed shortly after it was originally built, and then rebuilt several times throughout history. The interior of the castle is now a museum and can be visited for a small fee. We opted to spend the fee on gelato rather than visit, but reviews on TripAdvisor are decent.



Beach


If the weather is really warm during your visit, Bari even has a small sandy beach that would be nice for a swim or great for toddlers to play in the sand. It is always good to have a beach option!

Day Trips


With Italy's great train connections, Bari is a wonderful base for day trips around Apulia. Day trip options include Monopoli, Lecce, and Alerobello. The trains were really affordable and made for easy connections, making it unnecessary to rent a car. Alerobello (pictured below) is a beautiful town that has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its trulli homes. We didn't make it to Lecce, but I did read that it is a scenic destination!



Shopping and Eating


There were delicious restaurants, cafes, gelaterias, and street food stops everywhere in Bari. It is truly a tasty heaven for foodies -- and better yet, the prices were really great! The local specialties are focaccia, orecchiette, and fried corn bread. All so good! I'll share an entire post soon about the restaurants and food stalls we loved.

After our first day exploring Bari, J and I both shared our surprise at the size of Bari. We both had anticipated it would be a small, sleepy town, but boy we were wrong. As the capital of the Apulia region, Bari is a center for food, shopping, and tourism (it also has the airport). There are several pedestrian shopping streets located in Bari, making it a perfect relaxing escape for a family or girls' trip.





Have you been to Bari, Italy? Have you ever chosen a destination because of the cheap flights and warmer weather?

Where To Find Healthy Food In Vilnius

Monday, March 6, 2017

This weekend has been full of junk food because of the delicious street food at the Kaziukas festival. I have a particular weakness for these amazing jam sweetbreads that look like pies! To balance things out a bit and add back in the veggies, I've gotta have a healthy week. Luckily, among the potatoes stuffed with meat and topped with cream sauce, Vilnius has some wonderful healthy restaurants.

Vegafe


J and I found Vegafe our first year in Vilnius when we were dying for something a bit different. The restaurant on Augustijonu g. 2, near the Town Hall Square, is also a yoga studio, so guests must take of their shoes and many tables have cozy floor seating. With the no shoes cozy seating, and Tibetan music, from the second you enter, it feels like you've left Lithuania.

The food is what I'd call Tibetan vegetarian and it is wonderful. The chickpea meatballs in a red sauce is a family favorite, as is the hummus platter. They also have a large offering of vegan food, so if you have dietary restrictions against dairy, this is a perfect option.





Vegan Raw House


Though the raw diet is something I don't necessary understand, I can absolutely get behind fresh, healthy, local produce. Vegan Raw House on Rudninku g. 12 is a raw, vegan restaurant severing lovely fresh vegetables.

A few weeks back, the kind owners invited me to their reopening night, which was a wonderful chance to taste some incredible dishes. My favorites were the delicate veggie rolls stuffed with herbs and the naughty tasting coconut raw balls that tasted just like raffaello candies. So good!

The veggie roll ups are a really excellent snack that make for a healthy treat -- something I'm in need of this week.






Maghrib


Maghrib, located in Uzupis, is a great option for someone wanting to eat vegetarian while out with a group of meat-eaters. Though the menu is pretty small, Maghrib really offers something for everyone. I'm a big fan of their chickpea and vegetable tagine. Their fig, cheese, and bread appetizer is also delicious.









Where else do you suggest eating healthy while in Vilnius?

Where To Enjoy Wine Tastings In Connecticut

Wednesday, March 1, 2017



Sip, swirl, swish, and savor your way to serenity at one of eastern Connecticut's fabulous wineries. Who knew that such good grapes could be grown in Connecticut's cold winters and hot summers -- not me, that is for sure! Connecticut is considered one of the fastest growing wine regions in the US, something the state's Tourism Department has taken full advantage of by creating a Connecticut Wine Trail.

Though I prefer beer to wine, over the past few visits back to Connecticut, I've had the chance to visit some of Connecticut's fine vineyards and wineries for tastings. There are certainly many more on my list that I'm dying to visit, but that will have to wait until a longer trip.

Wine Tastings in eastern Connecticut:


Maugle Sierra Vineyards, Ledyard

 

J, my sister, and I went to Maugle Sierra Vineyards for a wine tasting on a weekday afternoon right before Christmas. Despite it being the holidays, the hours were convenient and there was a steady flow of people coming in to purchase wines. In between helping customers, the kind bartender was knitting what looked to be a very nice Christmas gift. 

After checking things out, we headed up to the bar for our tasting. For a reasonable price of $12 per person, we were able to try six pre-selected wines including three whites, a rose, and two reds. I know its trendy, but I really don't like roses, and no surprise here since that was my least favorite of the bunch. Though I typically go for smoky or chocolatey reds, I actually preferred the Ledyard Sunset White, which had a surprisingly creamy taste to it. It was also a big hit at Christmas dinner.







 

Saltwater Farm Vineyard, Stonington

 

Though I was heavily pregnant when J and I visited for a tasting, Saltwater Farm Vineyard has to be my favorite of the two. I've written a full review here, but in short, the grounds were stunning and their 2013 Estate Merlot was really amazing with notes of smoke and clove. 

Before visiting, however, you should note that Saltwater Farm Vineyard is only open seasonally and will re-open on April 15. If you want to try Saltwater Farm's wines, they have recently opened the very Instagrammable M/Bar in downtown Mystic. I happened to pop by while I was in CT this past December to try a few things, but I can't say I was blown away by the food or coffee; it may be best to just stick to that merlot!





Where else to try?

Stonington Vineyard is number one on my list of places to try on our next visit to Connecticut. Their tastings are $12 per person and include six wines. Tours are also available.
Land of Nod Vineyards in East Canaan is also top on my list. 


If you happen to be in Connecticut but prefer beer, let me suggest These Guys Brewing Co. in Norwich. It's a bit pricey, but totally worth it!


Have you been to any vineyards in Connecticut? Would you think of Connecticut as wine country?