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Borscht

Amid the medal count predictions, fears of terrorist attacks, and complaints of no hot water (or even finished rooms) from the media hotels, you may have missed this fact from Sochi: Olympic officials estimated that 70,000 gallons of borscht (beet soup) will be served during the 2014 Winter Games.

The Monitor’s reporter at the Games, Mark Sappenfield, asked me via Twitter if I was planning to do a Russia-inspired food blog post. (Go follow Mark, @sappenfieldm, you’ll get his honest impressions from Sochi as he reports on his seventh Olympics and encounters things like a $100 laundry fee for a load that would fill half a basket.)

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Sweet potato chili

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Winter cooking is all about root vegetables, cutting back a bit on meat, and making big pots of soups and stews to serve up by the bowlfuls to friends or freeze for another day when I don’t feel like cooking from scratch.

When this sweet potato chili came across the transom from Family Circle, I was intrigued. It’s a slow cooker recipe, too. I don’t have a fancy slow cooker. I have a 1970s orange-yellow slow cooker with a missing knob. It’s nothing like the squat, chrome-trimmed counterparts of today’s slow cookers, but I like the Danish modern style of my simple cooker, despite its major flaw.

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St. Lucia saffron buns

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Note: I had to repost this again today since yesterday’s post seemed to have gone corrupt. I blame the pranks of Lussi!

In Sweden, Dec. 13 marks St. Lucia Day, a day traditionally when the oldest daughter of the family wears a white robe, a red sash, and a wreath of lit candles on her head as she delivers coffee and saffron buns to the rest of the family still huddled in bed against the cold and dark morning.

St. Lucia is one of the very few saints honored by Lutheran Scandinavians (Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, and Danes) and in some parts of Italy. I’m not exactly clear who St. Lucia was, except that she did some self-sacrificing behavior for the good of others. The legends and stories differ depending on the region of the world.

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squah soup

I wanted to host some friends to watch “Sound of Music Live!” on NBC with Carrie Underwood so I sent out an enticing e-mail promising hearty soup, bread, and freshly baked cookies. Somehow I managed to convince three friends to show up.

About five minutes into the production, the soup was stealing the show. “This is melt-in-your-mouth good,” said Christy. “Can you give me the recipe?”

Rebecca, who had arrived announcing she had already had dinner, had two bowlfuls.

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stew1

You may have vague memories of learning about the origins of Thanksgiving Dinner in elementary school as you cut out Pilgrim hats and turkeys from construction paper. You probably learned that the first feast of gratitude occurred between the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and some friendly “Indians” or native Americans who showed up with corn to go along with the prepared turkey. Or something like that.

According to the historic records at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, there is only one written record of that meal in 1621 and it is, at best, a passing reference to the feast that occurred sometime between September 21 and November 9, which was the time of harvest observed by the native Wampanoag People. The English town called Plymouth was right smack in the middle of the Wampanoag homeland. (And let’s not call them Pilgrims, since they didn’t use that term themselves until much later. They were “Separatists” who had separated from the Church of England. You can find the difference between Puritans and Pilgrims here.)

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Swedish apple pie

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Apple picking is one of those seasonal markers in New England.  With four seasons to pack in over 12 months it’s easy to sometimes forget to participate in annual rituals such as filling a plastic sack with MacIntosh, Macoun, and Empire apples or picking out a perfect pumpkin. This weekend, some friends and I managed to squeeze in a visit to a local orchard to harvest the fruit and pick up some cider doughnuts.

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BuckyBadger

My parents were academics so I was born in a college football town (Go Big Blue!) and even though we moved away while I was a preschooler, our family has been branded with blue and gold forever. Michigan is the team we root for, and for awhile we gave all our family pets names that began with the letter “M.” Last year, I gave everyone rally socks in their Christmas stockings. My niece and nephew, who have no connection to Michigan other than my brother’s enthusiasm, can sing all the words to “Hail to the Victors.”

When I was checking out the recipes in “Taste of the Town,” by ESPN college football analyst Todd Blackledge I was hoping to find a U of M recipe to test out. But the only Michigan reference in the cookbook was to that other Michigan college town that shall not be named.

So I went with plan B: The University of Wisconsin. We moved to Madison from Ann Arbor and even though we lived in Wisconsin longer than Michigan for some reason we never switched our allegiance. But I will admit two things: (1) “On Wisconsin” is a really catchy tune and (2) I do have a special place in my heart for the Badgers because, well, I met Bucky Badger.

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