Latvia: A food journey

I talked last week about how my trip to Latvia, where my paternal side is from, made sense in a wholistic sense, in a way I could have never imagined.

One long-lasting impact has been the generosity and hospitality offered by my family. It is not a secret that the living standards and wages are higher in Australia than Eastern Europe, but the willingness and openness of food and lodgings were unending.

The meals prepared were often simple, nutritious and filling. Normally, I don’t eat breakfast regularly, and have my heaviest meals for dinner; whereas the European diet is much more substantial in the mornings, and lighter at night.

Unlike the last (and only other) time I was in Europe, there was much more seasonal food available, which meant I enjoyed a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

One common element across many members of my family was the act of growing and preserving their own food. Greenhouses were found at most summer houses, growing foods such as mint, dill, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peas. We also ate a range home-preserved dill pickles and sauerkraut, which are staples in Eastern European cuisine (and a favourite of mine!)

As a reformed black-thumb, this was inspiring and exciting for me, and eating freshly grown, natural, and pesticide-free produce made me feel so much healthier and rejuvenated after a long and difficult term. It also made me much more passionate about reducing the waste in my own food journey, by growing and composting food, and pickling, preserving (or freezing) the surplus.

Returning home, two things have stayed with me.

Firstly, gardening!

I moved houses to a rental closer to my family with a huge backyard. There were already lemon, loquat, and sweet almond trees established, as well as grape vines. With a little effort, I have cleared out an extra space and planted a few vegetables, as well as finding cheap pots at a local hardware store and using those.

(Just a snapshot of some of my sprouting vegetables!)

I have growing: broccolini, lebanese cucumber, peas, capsicum, leeks, dill, and watermelon (all in the cleared space); tomatoes, parsley, chives, strawberries, chillies, and asparagus (in the pots).

I am so excited to watch these grow and bloom, and I have been researching inventive recipes to trial – particularly for loquats! I will share them as I go, successes or fails!

The second impact of my travels has been a desire to open my home and bless others with my hospitality.

I am an extrovert in personality, but I recharge on my own. I need my own space, peace and quiet, a good book and some craft, otherwise I cannot fill up my own cup. My experiences (particularly sharing a room with my sister and every moment with family of some description) showed me new ways to appreciate quality time on my own. At the same time, I love to surround myself with friends and family, and make others welcome.

Returning home, I had a friend stay with me for two weeks – and I tried to put into practice the experiences that I had learnt. While our preferences aligned well (no breakfast, relaxing at night in front of Netflix), I made sure to spend time checking that her needs would be met before she realised she needed them.

I really enjoyed having her over, and keeping front-of-mind hospitality and openness. It wasn’t so much a full-circle, but a spiral, where I learnt and developed skills and traditions of hospitality and generosity in my own life, and continue to develop these as it goes.

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