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I Have Customers!

Remember when I realized I love birds? Well, I put up some bird feeders in the backyard soon after writing that post, and for the longest time not one single bird chose to dine in either of the three restaurant options available to them. Which I couldn’t understand because the stuff I put in the Squirrel Proof Deluxe Perch-n-Peck Limited Edition Avian Diner On A Stick looked so good I was temped to pack it in my kids’ lunches.

Then one day while I was looking at pictures of birds on the Internet, I heard some chirping outside and wouldn’t you know it but I had two customers! Really pretty ones, too. I don’t know what kind they were because it happened before I had purchased my Field Guide to Birds of North America, but I stood looking at them with my face pressed up against the windowpane for a solid minute, maybe more.

Those two were my only visitors for several weeks, until just recently. Today I was sewing a bird in my sunroom with the windows open when I heard a veritable chorus outside. There  were several robins, a couple of sparrows, a cardinal, AND a gorgeous red headed woodpecker with black and white spots in one of my trees. Just like Woody! I ran upstairs to fetch my binoculars, but by the time I came back down the woodpecker was gone.

And here’s the little dude I finished sewing today:

IMG_8759

He is made of of linen and embroidered with crewel wool. His wire legs are wrapped in florist tape and jute string, and he’s got some extra wool roving around his feet (talons? claws?) because he is also freakishly skinny and will need all the extra warmth he can get in order to survive the winter.

I love him.

IMG_8763

But I think it may be time to change his diaper.

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How To Make Lithuanian Straw Ornaments

As promised, here are steps to make a very basic Lithuanian straw ornament with a four-sided base (šiaudinukas).

himmeli

Okay, these are made from copper tubing, not straw. But the steps are the same!

We are going to use paper straw instead of the traditional rye straw because it’s easier to work with and easier to find, and we’re going to use fishing line instead of thread because when you use fishing line, you don’t need a needle.

Supplies:

  • White paper art straws (you could use plastic as well, but I would judge you)
  • Clear monofilament fishing line (not braided)
  • Ruler
  • Scissors

First, cut twelve pieces of straw so that they are all equal lengths. I recommend anywhere between two to four inches per piece for this first attempt. Be very precise in your measurements because even small differences in length can make the final product lop-sided.

Now cut about and arm’s length of fishing line and string four of the straws onto it, threading them to almost the very end of the line.

Bring the two loose ends of fishing line together and tie them in a knot so that the four straws you strung on the line form a square. From now on, we’re going to call this our “foundation square.”

square

Tuck the short end of the fishing line into one of the straws in the foundation square to hide it.

Now string two more straws onto the long end of the fishing line and tie a knot at one of the corners of your foundation square so that your shape looks like a house with a roof:

house

From now on, we are going to call that roof part an “ear.” (Just go with it.)

Tie another ear onto your foundation square by stringing two more straws onto the end of the fishing line and tying a knot at the next corner of the foundation square. Your shape should look like this:

cat ears

Repeat this process until your foundation square has four “ears.”

IMG_7399

A foundation square with four “ears.”

(When you run out of fishing line, just tie more on making sure to hide the knot you use to secure it within one of the straws.)

When you have four ears around your foundation square, run the fishing line up through one of the ears so that it comes out through the pointy end.

Then tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it to form a pyramid. Your shape should look like this:

pyramid

Now thread the end of the fishing line back down to one of the corners of your foundation square and through one of the remaining “loose” ears.

Tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it. Your shape should look like this:

IMG_7402

Cute, but not very exciting, is it? This form is the basic building block that, once mastered, makes creating elaborate variations possible. Here are some simple ways to add interest to a basic four-sided ornament:

Use longer straws for two of the four sets of ears:

Use longer straws fro two of the four sets of "ears" to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using brass straws.)

Use longer straws for two of the four sets of “ears” to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using copper straws.)

Nest a smaller ornament inside a larger one:

Here's a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.

Here’s a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.

Hang a smaller ornament to the end of a larger one:

An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.

An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.

Or use longer straws for the foundation square and shorter straws for the ears:

himmeli ornament closeup 4

You can also hang smaller ornaments from the corners of a larger one:

IMG_6120

The instructions I’ve provided are for making ornaments using a four-sided foundation square, but more elaborate ornaments can be made by making the foundation square five, six, seven, and even eight sided. Alternately, a simple triangle/pyramid shaped ornament can be made using a three-sided foundation.

Good luck.

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Lithuanian Vacation: What We Ate

Let’s take a little break from castles and talk about food. Generally speaking, Lithuanian fare can be divided into the following food groups:

  • Potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Pork/bacon
  • Beet root
  • Cabbage
  • Dumplings (meat, fruit, mushroom, or cheese filled)
  • Crepes with cottage cheese, mushroom, or chicken filling

Take any combination of the above ingredients, boil them, fry them, bake them, sautée them or immerse them in a broth, garnish them with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, dill, fried onions and sour cream, and you have yourself a Lithuanian meal.

Give a Lithuanian a potato, and he will turn it into a square meal faster than you can say, “Nešiok sveikas kol pamesi.” Potatoes are a huge staple of the Lithuanian diet and therefore ubiquitous in our cooking. Pancakes, dumplings, casseroles, sausages – you name it, we can make it out of a potato.

vedarai

Potato Sausage (V?darai)

Kugelis (Potato Casserole)

Kugelis (Potato Casserole). Find my recipe for it here.

One thing Lithuanians love to do is stuff things with meat filling. I have already introduced you to kold?nai  dumplings that are usually filled with either meat or mushrooms and often served with fried onions, bacon and sour cream – but it’s also important to mention kibinai, the larger, baked cousins of kold?nai, which were introduced to us by the Karaim warriors of Crimea who settled in Lithuania during the 1300s to serve as the security detail for Grand Duke Vytautas. We ate meat and mushroom-filled kibinai in the town of Trakai (more on that in another post) and they were delicious.

kibinai_edited-1

Kibinai

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Lithuania’s national food “cepelinai” in the meat-stuffed food category. Cepelinai (literally, “zeppelins”) are gigantic potato dumplings with meat filling, served with  sautéed onions, bacon bits, and sour cream. In my family we call them “gut bombs,” and if you follow this link, you’ll see why.

Lithuanians have a fondness for cold soups, but the favorite of these by far is cold beet soup (“šaltibarš?iai) made with buttermilk, grated beetroot, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, and served with – you got it – fried potatoes. I make this soup at home often in the summertime, but it was really fun to be able to order it in each and every restaurant we visited in Lithuania, like it’s a normal thing.

saltibarsciai forto dvaras

P-Dawg, enjoying cold beet soup al fresco

forto dvaras menu

The Menu

Now let’s talk about pigs. Lithuanians love a fried pork chop just as much as the next guy, and we also have a soft spot for kebobs (another gift from the East). But what really gets our blood flowing is seeing how many different parts of the pork are edible and in what strangely satisfying ways they can be prepared.

To wit, pork bits encased in cold gelatin (“šaltiena” or “košeliena”), served with horseradish, vinegar dill dressing, and potatoes:

saltiena

Šaltiena/Košeliena

You could also throw some diced carrots into this, as my grandmother used to, and make it a square meal. It tastes a lot like what you would expect pork bits encased in salted gelatin to taste like, but some people really love it. My grandmother used to prepare a sanitized version of this with chicken, but I think you’re really supposed to make it with pork and leave some gristle in for good measure.

Next up, pig ears:

pigs ears

Pig ears (on the right) and assorted charcuterie

Can’t say that I loved these. They were . . . kind of crunchy.

We ate a lot of skilandis, which is a sausage made of garlic flavored minced meat and bacon, using pig’s stomach as casement. In the photo below, the skilandis is on the bottom and the item above it is chicken gizzards.

Gizzards and Skilandis

Apparently, chicken gizzards are a popular snack in Lithuania, and they are often eaten while drinking beer. Like bar peanuts, but chewy.

For the most part while in Lithuania, we stuck to restaurants that served traditional Lithuanian fare (and to my aunt’s excellent home cooking.) But Lithuania has come a long, long way since Soviet times and, especially in big cities like Vilnius, you can eat everything from sushi to pizza. One night we went to a trendy little restaurant, Lauro Lapas, where I had Baltic cod with local chanterelles, fennel, and sweet potato. The service there was great and the food was delicious.

lauro lapas

Husband and daughter at Lauro Lapas 

In closing, I must mention fried garlic bread sticks. Made from dark rye bread, rubbed with copious amounts of garlic, and deep fried, they, like gizzards, are traditional bar fare. I don’t have a good photo of pure, unbasterdized garlic breadsticks, but here is a plate of cheese covered ones we had at a Vilnius microbrewery one night:

cesnakine duona

Fried cheese covered breadsticks

One thing I noticed about eating out in Lithuania was how fresh and full of flavor everything was, even the salads we ordered in chain restaurants. All the vegetables were locally grown and the meat locally raised, and you could most definitely tell the difference.

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Linocut Bird Mobiles

I think birds are great to look at from a distance of six feet or more, but they are disease-riddled creatures and it’s a little unnerving to have one stare at you.

However, birds make excellent artistic subjects, what with their colorful plumage and beady little eyes. Earlier this month I became obsessed with creating home decorations from a folk-style bird linocut I made. My first creation was this fireplace garland, made of white on black bird prints attached to chipboard and strung together with fishing wire.

black and white bird garland circle

After making the garland, I realized I could not rest until I attempted to make a bird mobile out of the print, as well. I thought about this bird mobile 24/7, marveling at all the color possibilities and brainstorming a good way to construct it. I had never made a mobile of any kind before, so it was a personal challenge to pair art with utility.

The first mobile I made was not so great. I fashioned the skeleton out of wire coat hangers, which were 1) wire coat hangers and 2) too short to properly display the birds. The mobile wasn’t bad, but I knew it could be better. I tried to get my husband to admit my mobile was kind of dumb looking, but he was way too much of a gentleman to take the bait.

I took that mobile apart and made Valentine lovebird ornaments out of it.

red birds on tree

The subsequent mobiles were much better. When I made my fourth mobile and asked my husband what he thought of it, he said, “It’s waaay better than that first one.”

This is what’s called, in marriage, “a trap.”

hot pink bird mobile full

(The items pictured here are available for purchase from my Etsy store.)

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