A brief glimpse back

Sadly, this is my final week in the Republic of Georgia. Today is my last day at the Ministry of Environment where I have spent the past three and a half months as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer working with great people on interesting PR projects. My Peace Corps reports are finished and waiting to be signed, and hundreds of my photos are sitting in my files waiting to be shared with you! Since I only have a little time left here, I’m letting myself get further and further behind in posting my memories so I can spend time with my Georgian host family, who are absolutely wonderful and so much fun!

I promise to catch-up soon on my photos. I’m sure it will take me a few weeks to sort through all the photos I’ve already taken and the hundreds more I plan to take in my remaining three days. Until I get my photographic act together, I thought I would share a brief glimpse of one of my favorite holiday traditions here.

These sweet little trees were for sale in markets and along streets before the holidays. I’d never seen anything like them and quickly fell under their ancient holiday spell.

Chichilaki are made from young walnut or hazelnut tree branches that are shaved, and curl naturally during the process. (I have been told that only hazelnut trees are used and just as adamantly told that only walnut trees are used. As yet I have no final verification if one or the other or both are acceptable!) I can confirm that they range in size from 10 inches to four feet!

Once bought, these blonde beauties are given an important place on the table during New Year’s celebrations. They are decorated with candies, and are said to absorb all the bad memories accumulated in the home during the year. On the eve of Epiphany they are burnt as a way of symbolically reducing bad memories to ashes. I like that. 

To read and see more about how Chichilaki are made, click here. To see more photos of my wonderful days in Georgia return often to Wishful Thinking Works.

The ajvar trilogy

 

In Macedonia, making ajvar is not only a tradition, it’s part of the fabric of life. 

Families gather in villages, towns and cities for days of roasting, plunging, peeling, cooking, and stirring deep red peppers to creamy perfection. The aroma of roasting peppers permeates the autumn air. Kilos* of peppers are bought in Macedonian fresh markets, pazzars, for the equivalent of American pennies. 

Fall pazzar favorites

*One kilo equals 2.2+ pounds.

No onions added to ajvar; I just liked the photo!

Their pungent crimson, thick, flesh dominates the cooking scene at this time of year. It seems every family has a special recipe for creating this rich spread, which is scooped into sterilized jars, set on shelves and shared with family and guests throughout the winter.

Peppers in waiting

Fresh peppers are stuffed with cheese or meat and baked to perfection. Peppers of all shapes, colors, and intensity – burn-your-mouth-hot to sweet and mild – are served at almost every meal swimming in oil. The remaining peppers adorn walls and balconies, and are dried so large chunks of their leathery, slightly crisp, dusty-flavored goodness can be added to a delicious array of meats and bean dishes to warm up meals during the colder months. 

This year my American guest, Annie, and I had the honor of being on-hand for part of my friend Dragica’s ajvar-making odyssey. Dragica’s spirit and love of life flavors everything she does, her tasty ajvar being no exception. 

Dragica dancing the day away

We arrived after the ruby red capsicum had been roasted and peeled – a full day’s work.  Our day of ajvar making (watching) began when the wood was burning and the peppers were slid from a huge pail into an even wider-mouth enamel pot for the long and arduous cooking and stirring process. Ajvar is always made outdoors, and city neighbors set-up shop in garages and backyards.

Pails of ground roasted peppers

Ajvar making neighbor Martin

Sweet and fun neighbor, hamming it up for the camera

This year, after enjoying Turkish coffee and rakija in the mid-morning shade and chatting in broken English and Macedonian with her friendly and interesting neighbors, we moved to the steamy garage to talk with Dragica’s husband and college-aged sons, Marjan and Dan, who were home for ajvar making.

The art of stirring

Cooking it down to red-orange richness

Fanning the fire

We decided the process might benefit from some literary inspiration – Dragica loves writing poetry, and within minutes we had created the following masterpieces. (Please remember these words were created with love, just like ajvar, and followed some homemade rakija sipping, which is basically moonshine-light, and is also part of the Macedonia way of life. I must admit not everyone was sipping, but those of us who did felt even warmer and cozier.)

And, now without further ado . . .

 

The Ajvar Trilogy

Created with love and inspired by moments shared by Dragica, Marjan, Dan, Annie and me.

The Flavor of Ajvar

Red as the burning coals
Hot as a chick
Ladle mixing food, family and friends
Circle of life
Tastes so fine, makes me want to drink a bottle of wine.
With bread and cheese, we will eat with ease
Rex sits watching like TV.

 Notes: Rex is their huge German Shepard, who sat  quietly by. Can you guess which lines her sons added?

Lace in the window

Smiling faces looking down
Cooling breeze
Smell of smoke and peppers overtakes the day.
Mother and sons, paddling together.
More oil, much better.

Ajvar Beach

Many friendly people sit on ajvar beach.
Who asks what is that?
Foreign fires burning,
Roasting tradition.
The End
 
Kinda, sort-of . . .
 

Lace in the windows

 

As always, wish you were here . . . comments encouraged; literary critiques, no so much . . . 🙂

We ended our ajvar visit by teaching Annie basic oro steps – Macedonia’s traditional and still favorite dance, and she reciprocated by sharing some salsa moves. I love international exchange!

I hope you find a way to enjoy some traditional fall activities over the next few weeks. Sharing time with family and friends as our earthly axis tilts away from the sun, is a wonderful way to warm-up your life.

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