Thursday, September 30, 2010

Come Dance the Polka With Me

Polka, a couples dance that originated in the nineteenth century, is actually from the Czech Republic – Eastern Bohemia, to be exact. Creation of the dance is generally attributed to one Anna Slezak, a peasant girl in Labska Tynice who supposedly invented the dance in 1834.

The name comes from the Czech word pulka, which means “half-step,” which refers to the rapid shift from one foot to the other. Polka is often thought to have originated in Poland; polka means “Polish woman” and the dance may have been named in honor of the Polish people who helped the Czech people during an unsuccessful revolution during Austrian occupation.

The polka, like kolache and other wonderful Czech creations, caught on fast. The dance made its way into the ballrooms of Prague shortly after its creation and caught on more broadly when a Prague dance teacher demonstrated the polka in Paris. Parisians fell in love with the new dance and the trend swept Europe and the United States.

One of the few dances created in the 19th century to survive, polka did see a brief decline around the time ragtime music and jazz were increasing in popularity. The dance, however, saw a revival after World War II when Polish immigrants to the United States adopted the polka as their "national" dance. It also became more popular from efforts of Lawrence Welk and other post-war bands.

Feel like dancing now? Watch a video on the basic steps of the polka and feel free to practice at home (we won’t tell!).


-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Devoted to Dumplings

Czech food isn’t for the faint of heart. While it has recently become lighter in fare and has more fruits and vegetables, traditionally the cuisine is hearty, heavy, and somewhat fatty – it’s meant to be filling after a hard day of work in the fields.

One of the Czech people’s most well-known foods is knedlíky, or dumplings. (How do you pronounce that?). The Czech Republic is the leading producer of pre-prepared dumplings, contributing to 95% of the world’s supply.

There are actually three types of dumplings. Houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings), which are wheat-based and are often served as a side dish alongside beef or pork with a thick sauce. The dumpling is cooked in cylindrical shapes and then cut into round slices, similar to our bread. They are sometimes made from stale bread rolls. Bramborové knedlíky (potato dumplings) are made much the same way, but are potato-based. They can often be served with duck. Ovocné knedlíky (sweet dumplings) are stuffed with fruit filling, like plums or apricots. In some areas, the fruits are coated with the dough and boiled, then served with butter and sugar. Fruit dumplings are often served as the main dish. Each region has its own special way of making dumplings. In the spa town of Karlovy Vary, the dough is made of left-over bread, egg and spices.

Houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings)
-2 eggs
-1/2 c. milk
-1 tsp. salt
-3 c. flour
-Pinch of baking powder
-4 slices white bread, cubed

1. Beat eggs, salt and milk in a large mixing bowl.
2. Sift flour with baking powder and add, gradually, to egg mixture.
3. Continue beating with a large spoon. The dough must be smooth and stiff enough to hold its shape.
4. Stir in bread cubes.
5. Shape dough with wet hands into an oblong roll (or make two rolls about 7" in length).
6. Have salted water boiling in a large kettle.
7. Drop in dumpling rolls.
8. Boil, covered, about 40 minutes.
9. Take out of water and slice with thread, to about 1/2" thickness.
10. Keep hot until ready to serve. Excellent with pot roast, roast beef, stew, etc.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time Out for Prague

Czech Mix has been on vacation for a week, but we're back with Czech food, travel, history, culture and more!

Need a one-minute vacation? Check out this video from WatchMojo.com - beautiful video of the magical city and interesting factoids - it's better than a coffee break! (Better yet, grab some coffee and come back and watch. It's ok - we'll wait.)


Travel to the Czech Republic
Uploaded by MojoSupreme. - Exotic and entertaining travel videos.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing CoordinatorPhoto by Conor Glesner.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Telč: Stepping Into the Past

About 100 miles away from Prague is Telč, a charming town in Southern Moravia whose city center was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. The town is believed to have been founded in the 13th century as a royal water fort and was nearly destroyed in 1530 by a massive fire. But Telč’s destruction was also its revitalization; Zachariáš of Hradec, the local lord, moved to the town after the fire and was inspired by his trip to Italy and decided to rebuild the town in Renaissance style.


About 6,000 people live in Telč year-round, but more than 200,000 visitors see its beauty ever year. The town is known most for its Renaissance-style chateau and the medieval town square. The chateau was rebuilt by Zachariáš of Hradec on the site of an original Gothic castle. The chateau features wine cellars, chapels, libraries and ballrooms and visitors can take a guided tour. One of the more interesting parts to the chateau is the African Hall. The Leichtenstein-Podstatzký family who lived in the chateau during the early twentieth century were fond of trophies: there are dozens of crocodile, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lion, leopard and buffalo hides decorating the walls.


The town square is an exquisite outdoor plaza surrounded by cafes, restaurants and shops. While this is standard for most plazas, each structure is an arcade-fronted townhome that are all roughly the same size. Each building, however, is individually decorated with unique designs and they are all very well-preserved, leading visitors to feel as though they’ve walked right into the past.



Want to learn more about Czech Point Denver? Send an e-mail to info@operacolorado.org and ask to be added to our Czech Point Denver e-mail list.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Thursday, September 16, 2010

St. Vitus

Last week I wrote about Prague Castle, which includes one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Prague, St. Vitus Cathedral.

Commissioned by Charles IV, construction on the cathedral began in 1344 and wasn’t full completed until 1929. It is the largest church in Prague and was the site of numerous royal coronations.

The Cathedral was built on the site of an original church that was consecrated to St. Vitus. The original church was built in 925 by the Duke of Bohemia, Wenceslas (yes, the one with the Christmas song named after him.) St. Vitus was chosen because King Henry I of Germany gave him the bones of one hand of St Vitus. Some speculate that Wenceslaus, wanting to convert his subjects to Christianity, chose a saint whose name sounds very much like the name of Slavic solar deity Svantevit.

But who was St. Vitus? According to legend, he was a 4th-century Sicilian who converted to Christianity when he was 12. Among his accomplishments, Vitus is said to have freed the son of the Roman Emperor from an evil spirit, but was sentenced to death when he refused to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Several tales tell of failed attempts – he was thrown to the lions, tossed in a cauldron of molten lead – but most stories say he was thrown into boiling oil. He has become the patron saint of dancers, artists, singers and entertainers – which makes him an especially appropriate saint for the culturally-inclined Czech people.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Potatoes in Prague

All right, I admit it. I’m not a full-blooded Czech. (Though the more I research Czech foods, the more I feel I’ve found my people.) Potatoes, for example. Who doesn’t love potatoes? Baked, fried, mashed…it’s not surprising that this ubiquitous food has became a staple of Czech cuisine.

With good reason – the tuber is high in fiber, Vitamin C and potassium and are relatively cheap and filling. (And did you know there are almost 4,000 different types of potatoes?)

Potatoes likely originated in Peru and historians believe Spanish sailors in the 16th-century brought the food back as stores for their trip and then planted the leftovers. However, the food did not become a widespread part of the European diet until the late 18th century.

Around that time, Prague was just coming out of a dark time. Protestant reformer Jan Hus’ efforts to fight the Catholic church led to years of fighting and virtual destruction of Prague. In the late 18th century, Emperor Joseph II decided to unify the city, leading to the National Revival of 1784, which led to a stronger national identity and renewed interest in science and cultural arts.
Now, I’m not saying that the widespread adoption of the potato ended the fighting.
But it makes you wonder…

Potato Pancakes (Bramborák)

This recipe makes large, thin potato pancakes that are crispy and nicely flavored with garlic. Potato Pancakes are served both with meals and as a snack in the Czech Republic. Makes 4 potato pancakes.

Ingredients:
-4 large potatoes
-1/4 cup milk
-1 clove garlic
-1 egg
-4 heaping tablespoons flour
-Salt
-Pinch of pepper
-4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Instructions:
1. Peel potatoes and grate with a grater.
2. Heat milk until hot (be careful not to burn it).
3. Squeeze all liquid out of the potatoes with your hands and place them in large bowl.
4. Immediately add the hot milk to the potatoes and mix until combined. This prevents them from turning brown.
5. Finely mince the garlic or put through press and add to bowl.
6. Add the egg, flour, pepper and salt. Stir until all ingredients are combined. The consistency should be more like a thick batter than a dough. Add more milk if it is too thick, or more flour if it is too thin.
7. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet.
8. For each pancake, pour a ladle full of potato mixture into skillet and spead out until it is about 1/2 inch thick and 7 inches in diameter.
9. Cook on each side, turning only once, until golden brown.
10. Drain on paper towels.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

See Prague - Live!

Don't you wish you could be in Prague right now? I do! I'd love to be in Prague's historic city center, right in front of their beautiful Old Town Clock. I wish I could see the hourly parade of the mechnical saints built into the clock.

Oh, wait - I can be there virtually! Check out...PRAGUE CAM! Through the magic of the Internet (and a camera set atop the Grand Hotel Praha), you too can see Prague in real time. Just don't forget - they are 8 hours ahead so it'll be getting dark there in a little while!


-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eduard Hanslick

One of the most important musical figures of the late 1800s was born in Prague but was not himself a composer, though he’d had some composition training. Eduard Hanslick (1825 – 1904) was the most influential music critic of the day. Son of a Prague music teacher, young Hanslick first studied law before taking up music. For nearly fifty years, this native of Prague dominated the musical world in Vienna, making and sometimes almost breaking careers with his mostly conservative views. Although he couldn’t change Wagner, he could surely try, and those who earned his favor – Brahms and Dvořák amongst them – gave thanks for Hanslick’s informed commentaries. Over a century later, they still make for good reading.

-Betsy Schwarm, long-time announcer/producer for KVOD and music professor

Friday, September 10, 2010

Festival Italiano THIS Weekend!

Where will YOU be this Saturday and Sunday? Hopefully at the Belmar Italian Festival! Opera Colorado will be at the Festival on both days with a booth and will be providing some of the entertainment - some of our singers will be performing at noon and 3 pm on both days on the Torino Stage.

If you’ve never been, you’re missing out: there's wine, great Italian food, lovely gifts and flowers as well as chef demonstrations and live music. There's also a children's grape stomp!

Festival Italiano: Food & Wine Festival
Saturday and Sunday, 10am - 7pm
Belmar, Alameda Ave and Wadsworth Blvd

Opera Colorado's booth will be near the corner of Upham and West Alaska Streets, across from Dick's Sporting Goods.

It’s always a fun (and free) time, so be sure to come by and say hi!

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Beer, Guns and Money

If it weren’t for the Czech Republic, you couldn’t enjoy a Budweiser beer, dance the polka, or shoot a pistol.

Well, you probably could – but they might not be called the same thing. Our language has many words from other cultures, and more than you’d think come from this particular region of the world.

The Czechs, known for their beer, gave us the words Budweiser and pilsner. Budweiser is named for the beer-making city of Budějovice, which is called Budweis in German. Pilsner also comes from the name of the city of Pilsen, which derives from plz, the old Czech word for “damp.” (Just what you want to think of when you think of beer, right?)

Having spent a great deal of the region’s history being occupied by conquering nations, it’s almost surprising that the Czech language brought us pistol and howitzer. The term pistol came from píšťala, which originates from the Czech word “to squeak.” A howitzer (haufný) was a 15th century catapult.

Did you know that our very own dollar comes from Czech (in a somewhat roundabout way)? The Czech word tolar comes from Joachimsthaler, the German name for the place where silver coins were minted in the 16th century.

The polka, often thought to be a Polish dance, actually originated in Bohemia. The name is generally agreed to come from the Czech word půlka—literally, little half—a reference to the short half-steps featuring in the dance.

Robots were named by the Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R, after roboti, or “drudgery.”

The word nebbish, though it comes to American English via Yiddish, is thought to come from the Czech nebohý, or “poor."

Interestingly, there are a number of words in Czech that are spelled the same as English words – but mean something completely different. The Czech word pasta means “toothpaste,” lump means “villain,” police means “shelf,” and confusingly for American travelers, host means “guest.”

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Krazy for Kolache

Growing up in Texas, which has a sizable Czech population, there have always been kolaches (koh-LA-cheez). I didn’t know where this delicious pastry was from, and barely understood that I myself was of Czech descent. I just knew that some mornings, there was a warm, yummy pastry waiting for me.

In researching Czech food, I could hardly avoid dedicating an entire post to what has become in the US a symbol of the Czech people. Cities across America have Kolache Festivals, including cities in Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
If you’ve never had a kolache, you can pick one up at the Kolache Factory in Lakewood. They’re a square pastry with an indentation on the top for some type of filling – usually fruit or cheese. There’s also a meat-based kolache, which is a sweet roll wrapped around meat and cheese.

In Czech, koláče is actually plural; the singular form is koláč (koh-LAHCH). And koláče typically refers to any type of sweet cake.

If you’re feeling ambitious, I found a recipe for “authentic” kolache – if you try it, let us know how it turned out!

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tour Prague Castle

The Czech people love their castles. The Czech Republic is one of the countries with the highest density of castles in the world, and one of the largest castles in the world is Prague Castle, which covers more than 18 acres and includes the original castle as well as museums, gardens, churches, art galleries and a monastery.

Historians estimate that it was built around 880 AD by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty, but it wasn’t until the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV made the Prague Castle his residence in the 14th century that the castle truly became a symbol of the Czech people.

The castle has survived multiple fires, invasions, occupations and World Wars, but like the Czech people, still stands tall despite adversity. In its long history, the castle has expanded by rulers of the region and boasts a variety of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

Many areas of the castle were recently made accessible to the public for the first time in history, including the Royal Garden, Ballgame Hall, the south gardens, or the Imperial Stables.

Today, the castle is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and serves as the historical and political center for both city and state. A number of priceless art relics, historical documents, and the Czech Crown Jewels are stored here.

For pictures and more information, check out this website.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Dog Drank My Homework

Here it is at the last minute—Thursday night—and I still have to write my beer blog for Friday. Nothing like waiting until the last minute.

It’s actually harder than it looks. It is a school night after all, yet here I am, dear readers, sacrificing on your behalf and tracking down a Czech beer that I can sample and write something about it. Czech beers can be somewhat difficult to find, especially when you’re in a hurry because you just remembered that you’d promised to write this and here it is 9:00 at night you haven’t even started. This seems like the same pattern I had as a young student, except in those days I could usually talk my mom into typing my assignment for me.

Happily, a suitable selection was located and I can announce that this week’s beer selection is Czechvar Premium Czech Lager. (Given that I’m working on this at the last minute, can I just tell you how grateful I am that this beer doesn’t have any diacritical marks in the name?)

First I have to say that the color of Czechvar is absolutely beautiful, a rich yellow that is perfectly clear. The beer has a very clean smell—not a strong smell of fermentation, but just a light smell of yeast. It sort of reminded me of fresh bread. (Okay, this writing assignment isn’t going to be so bad after all.)

The beer is also very smooth with just a slight hint of pleasant bitterness at the end. The beer has a very lightly spiced flavor to the finish—maybe just a slight hint of clove. This beer has a very full body that I like quite a bit. I’m also glad to report that this beer was only sold in a six pack so on Friday night when we’re grilling steaks to start the holiday weekend we will have a beer that I think will be a perfect match for the food. I taste a certain amount of butter-like richness in this beer and I think it will hold up well with the beef.

Czechvar definitely has a lot more heft to it than a typical American beer, such as, say…Budweiser. This is interesting because Czechvar might be considered the original Budweiser. In fact, the beer is sold under the brand name “Budweiser Budvar” in Germany and Austria.

Czechvar, as it’s known in the U.S. and Canada, or Budejovický Budvar, as it’s known in many other countries, is brewed in České Budéjovice, a city in south Bohemia that is famous for, along with its beer, its Baroque buildings and for having the largest public square in Europe. The region’s German name is Budweis. This is why in Europe the beer has been known for many years as Budweiser—from the region of the Budweis.

The company that brews the beer has been in a battle with the Anheuser Busch company over the rights to the name Budweiser for more than a century. However the battle recently came to a head when Anheuser Busch, the world’s largest brewer, applied for an EU license to market their beer in Europe under the Budweiser trademark. The Czech company challenged this request. The legal battle began in 1996 and lasted for 13 years until the European Union rejected Anheuser Busch’s claim. The American version of Budweiser can still be sold in select European markets under the name Budweiser, but it is not allowed to sell it in at least four EU member states under that brand name because the name is already owned by the Czech brewery. By the way, the EU Court didn’t allow the American beer to go simply by “Bud” either—no fooling those Europeans!

So there you have it, a perfect example of how a simple task can escalate into something larger than you had ever anticipated. I started out just wanting to write about a beer and ended up in a European legal battle over trademark rights. Next time I’ll try to get a little more ahead of the game and get my beer tasting in earlier. After all, I really can’t write this on Friday morning at work. Beer is not just for breakfast anymore.

P.S. Here’s an article that I think highlights more of the subtle differences between U.S. beer culture and how the Europeans view it: read this article about deep fried beer at the Texas State Fair and enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It Came From the Czech Republic

Pop quiz! Do you know where the term “robot” came from? (I’ll give you a hint – remember what blog you’re reading.)

The word “robot” – much like soft contact lenses – was invented in the Czech Republic. The word comes from the Czech robota or robotnik, which means drudgery or hard work. The word first appeared in Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R. (short for Rossum’s Universal Robots).

When he originally conceived of the idea, Capek asked his painter brother Josef what he should call these lifelike automatons. Capek originally came up with calling them labori, his brother suggested using roboti instead.

The play features robots that are so lifelike they could be mistaken for humans and could think for themselves. (Capek was definitely ahead of his time.) Originally happy to be servants to humans, the robots eventually rise up and the human race becomes extinct.

This idea isn't too far from the legend of the Golem of Prague. A golem is a human-like creature created from clay, and it’s said that in the late 16th century, the chief rabbi of Prague created a golem to defend the Jewish ghetto. According to legend, the golem fell in love and was rejected, and then became violent, even turning on its own creator.

Who knew that this theme, echoed in so many literary works, including Frankenstein, can be traced back in part to that region of the world? And think how many times popular culture references robots. Instead of Robby the Robot from the TV show Lost in Space, he might very well have been called Labby the Labor.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Morning, Noon and Night

One of the differences between cultures that I find most interesting is how they approach food and meals. While Czech cuisine has certainly been influenced by other cultures – you’ll certainly see pizza and Chinese restaurants – and healthier substitutes have recently become more popular in urban areas, the country’s traditional foods remain distinct.

Before beginning a meal with Czechs, you’ll often hear them say “Dobrou chut’!,” which means "Bon appetit" or "Hope it tastes good!"

A typical Czech breakfast consists of buttered bread or kolache (those delicious fruit-filled pastries) as well as cheese, eggs, and ham and sausage. A few generations ago, it was common to have a mid-morning snack, though that practice seems to have declined in recent times.

Lunch is the most important meal of the day in the Czech Republic. It is the heaviest meal of the day and often includes soup as a starter course. A traditional Czech lunch may include dumplings, goulash, fried cheese and mushrooms, and plenty of meat. A favorite meal found among the Czech people is pork with dumplings and cabbage. It’s common for beer to be had at lunch – not surprising from a country well-known for their spirits.

Dinner is a more casual affair than lunch. A much lighter meal, it often consists of open-faced sandwiches called chlebičky or a tray of meats, cheeses and vegetables. It is, however, common for Sunday dinners to be more similar to a heavy lunch and is a way for families to spend time together.

Czechs have quite the sweet tooth, and there are sweet shops found all over the country. These shops serve coffee and tea as well as creamy marzipan, luscious cakes, and palačinky (crepe-style pancakes.) As lunch is such a filling meal, desserts are often eaten in the late afternoon or after a light dinner.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator