Mar 052011

069 600x400 Breaking Bread

“Put some coffee on, we’re coming over!” Mother’s face would turn crimson at the beginning of the sentence, and as she put the receiver down on our heavy, black, roto-dial phone, I could feel the panic settle. She would mumble under her breath, never giving way to profanities, wringing her hands, and trying to calm her rapidly beating heart. Like a general on the eve of a crucial battle, she would plot a strategy, assigning duties and organizing the ranks. In minutes she would have a plan which usually made us groan in pain. No shortcuts, no easy-way-outs, no five-minute-fridge-to-table-deals. We were the grunts and we obeyed, grumbling all the way to the small neighborhood grocery store, dispatched to procure the missing ingredients to properly welcome the guests.

In the meantime, Sonja and Pedja (Mother’s sister and her husband) would bundle up their brand new curly baby, Vladimir, crank up the old Citroen Diana, and set out on the five to six hour trip from the city of Novi Sad where they resided, to our hometown of Čačak, to have a cup of coffee, laughing all the way, completely aware of the martial law that had been imposed on our household. They knew Mother abhorred surprises, even the best ones, and taunted her as often as they could. We did not buy into the state of raised alert, knowing that our hip and totally cool Aunt and Uncle would show up dressed in jeans, low maintenance as always, cracking jokes and making us feel really special.

They would enter through the back door bringing the spirit of rebellion and non-conformity, the sense of adventure and daring to be different. They would deposit Vladimir into our greedy hands as we fought to be the first to hug him and caress him and pet him and call him George. Sonja would fall into a chair, lifting her feet on another, while Pedja would find his way to the fridge to get a beer or fix himself a screwdriver (back in the early 80s we assumed that it was the official drink of the guild, as he was a carpenter). Mother would desperately try to get him to sit down for a steaming cup of Turkish coffee as he paced around the kitchen to stretch his legs, getting in her way constantly.

Pretty soon Father would bring a snifter of cognac for Sonja, and a semblance of a drink for my allergic-to-alcohol Mother. There would be music, and the delicacies would start appearing on the table: homemade rolls served hot with kajmak, fresh farmer’s cheese and cold cuts, different varieties of phyllo dough pastries, roasted peppers dressed with a vinaigrette and garlic, tomato-cucumber salad when in season, cheese and meat strudels, roasted suckling pig, or mixed grilled meats, and unavoidable sweets. Pedja was boisterous, and his voice could overpower Father’s forceful and excitable expressions. The men would loudly toast each other, while the sisters would look for a moment to sync their voices in perfect harmony and make the world stop as they sang, their eyes locked together in unmistakable love.

Right after the feast, the little red car that could would be idling loudly, cranked up for the return trip, the baby bundled snuggly, smiling in his sleep. Both Mother and Father would protest, trying to get Sonja and Pedja to spend the night, but they would just wave them off, hug and kiss everybody, climb into the car and drive away with a last shout carried out through the window, “See you next time for coffee!” After the Citroen disappeared around the corner, Mother would retreat to the kitchen, shaking her head incredulously as if this had been the first time. It would be hours before her heart slowed and the redness in her face returned to pink.

I often scolded Mother for making this seemingly unnecessary fuss when people stopped by our house. I lectured her on the futility of spending a day in the kitchen to appease every passer-by (at times, my omniscient tirades turned from sarcastic to vitriolic), assuring her with the wisdom of all of my sixteen years lived on the planet that real friends and family did not visit for the food or drinks, but for the company. Serve them water, or serve them pheasant under glass, they would still love you. Sometimes she would only smile. Sometimes she would give me a sideways glance that asked me nicely to just shut up. But she did not accept my advice. She still gets a rapid heartbeat when someone announces a visit and she scrambles to offer sustenance to everybody who enters the house.

I am sure that Sonja and Pedja would have been satisfied with just a cup of coffee, but I realize that they appreciated Mother’s efforts and humored her at every occasion. They knew that she prepared the food to please them, thinking of their preferences, picking the best produce, the freshest ingredients, and the most succulent meats. They knew that she indulged their culinary whims, even when they did not ask for it. She offered the food they loved and could not get in Novi Sad. She offered it with a great amount of affection, even if it was hidden behind her flushed cheeks and snarky remarks. She thought they were crazy for traveling for five hours on an impulse. They thought she was crazy for spending five hours cooking. But after all this crazy talk there was the fact that only love can make you pack up your family and jump in the car to drive forever for a cup of coffee, and only love can make you turn that cup of coffee into a feast.

When I made Chives and Cheese Bread from , I was thinking that it would have been perfect for an impulsive visit from a friend. It’s quick, it’s versatile, and it uses the ingredients readily available in the pantry. Husband raved about it. The Beasties loved it as an after-school snack, and part of their lunch the next day. It satisfied my craving for a savory breakfast, lightly toasted and smeared with butter.

Sure, my friends and family are still going to love me if I welcomed them with an offering of bottled water. But this bread, still warm from the oven, would translate my love so much better. I am sure that Mother will be sporting her most I-told-you-so smile as soon as she reads my post. And I will have to tell her that I inherited all of her masochistic genes that psychologically chain me to the kitchen. And that I am eternally grateful.

My sister often invites me over for a cup of coffee, and we drink it virtually, chatting on Skype. I daydream that one day she will call me just to tell me that she is on her way to our house all the way from Frankfurt, Germany, hoping to get a decent cup of Turkish coffee. I might not be all flushed and ridden with arrhythmia, but the dining room table would showcase a pile of food. And I am not kidding.

I changed the ingredients somewhat, but I did not stray too far from Dorie’s suggestions. I sauteed chopped smoked ham, added scallions towards the end, and mixed it into the batter. Instead of chopped cheese, I added feta. For the recipe, go get Dorie’s new book , which recently won an award in Paris for the best French cookbook. But if you want to make this bread tomorrow, Dorie has posted the recipe  on Serious Eats. I am sure that my fellow bloggers participating in our French Fridays with Dorie group have an abundance of praise for this dish.

074 600x400 Breaking Bread

24 Responses to “Breaking Bread”

  1. Tamara says:

    jednom sam radila nešto slično i super je, ovo tvoje jako, jako mami :) ne znam kakvi su ti planovi i jesi li ikada napisala knjigu, ali mislim da bi trebala, fantastično pišeš (vjerojatno si toga svjesna i bez da ti ja kažem i to su ti već mnogi rekli, ali eto i mene sad), smještaš priču i likove u kontekste, osjećam se kako da sam upravo tamo gdje se odvija radnja dok čitam, jako mi se sviđa tvoj stil (molim te ne zamjeri što sam prešla na “ti”, nekako mi prisnije) :)

  2. says:

    I can taste it…yum…the melting and dripping butter.

  3. Tricia S says:

    I really enjoyed your post – your memories of family life were delightful. You are a wonderful writer and it was a nice to learn more than simply how your bread turned out – though glad to hear it was such a hit ! I am going to brew of pot of coffee right now…. Nana and I enjoyed this week’s recipe and especially the ease of it. Next week promises to be more of an adventure, but that is half the fun of FFWD !

  4. Cher says:

    Another lovely post! It is always nice to have an arsenal of ideas on hand for those last minute surprises life throws your way. And a huge bonus that the little people were fans of this one.

  5. Love your story! And, the photo with your girls tasting the bread is so cute! I like your slather of butter on the bread slice in the first photo.

  6. Teresa says:

    My mother prepares feasts for visitors, too, and is famous for making four to six times the food needed, just in case.

    I love your variations – feta, ham and scallions sound like a wonderful combination.

  7. says:

    As always, a beautiful snapshot of your family, and a lovely bread. Thank you!

  8. Krissy says:

    Love, Love, Love your blog! Cute kids and a great memory story. And I can totally relate…I do the same thing. Even though my kids are mostly married and all out of the house, I still call in the troops to help me with something almost every week…and if company comes, even if it is just “family” company…I go nuts. Make way too much food, clean everything, etc. etc. and it seems to happen about every week…part of life’s great fun! Hope you have a great week, and that you sometime in the very near future receive a real visit from your Germany sister!

  9. Sanya says:

    Lana, it’s like we lived in the same house! Your story brought back so many of my own, very similar, memories! I couldn’t stop laughing! Except my mum would do everything and after hours of eating and drinking she would say, “You came, you ate, now everyone go home! I’ve had enough!”
    Beautiful girls in the photo!

  10. Annemariefield says:

    Beautiful post, Lana! My mother (Italian) is very much the same way as yours. You brought back memories! Your daughters are lovely. The younger one looks like she has a little monkey-shine.

  11. Sayakachan3 says:

    Heh! I do this too. Not so much the cooking ( a little) but a frantic tidy up, god forbid anyone see a hair on the floor or something…Hilarious.

  12. Renee (Kudos Kitchen) says:

    Your writing drew me into your history and I loved every minute of being a fly on the wall. So lovely to have a recipe evoke such memories. I suppose that’s what cooking is all about. Anyway, LOVED your post and learning about your background. Your bread look amazing and I’m sure is perfect to serve an inpromptu guest!

  13. Anne Marie says:

    What a lovely story.

    I arm people with laundry baskets, amazing how much cleaner a house seems with all clutter hidden away.

    I made it with sundried tomatoes, basil and asiago. Quick and easy.

  14. Elaine says:

    Your story is so beautifully written, Lana, and I enjoyed it immensely. Your loaf is such a rich and warm golden color and those large chunks of cheese really pop. Makes me want to have a piece to go with my coffee right now.

  15. Jelena says:

    Mogu slobodno da se identifikujem sa tvojom mamom jer sam i ja iz tog kalupa ispala. Ja sam našla bolje rešenje, a to je zamrzivač u kome ima stvari koje se mogu izvaditi i podgrejati u mikrotalasnoj. Svašta sam zamrzavala. Kosa mi se ježi na glavi kada ljudi neće da se najave kod nas da se ja ne deranžiram. Da ne pominjem imena, neki bi se uvredili da ovo čitaju. Pa ne radim ja to jer sam manijak, već osećam neko poštovanje u dočekivanju gosta, koji nije došao na 5 minuta. Puno ljubavi treba da se nešto napravi za druge, i kako vreme prolazi sve više počinjem da cenim to kod drugih. Ne da zahtevam i prebacujem, ali nije isto otvoriti kesu nečega i napraviti sam. Ja sam pre pravila scene mužu kao tvoja mama vama, sad sam se smirila, ali uvek imam nešto u zamrzivaču.

  16. Susan says:

    What a wonderful story! My dad was in the Navy & he used to call my mom with barely 30 minutes notice that he was bringing people home for dinner – we got very creative at figuring out how to stretch a meal for 4 into a meal for 6 or 7 on short notice! And, your bread looks delicious!

  17. Kathy says:

    Lana, You are such a lovely story teller! I so enjoy reading your posts! Your bread looks amazing.I love the photo of your beautiful daughters! I think my daughter might have similar stories to tell about me…my family often says I turn into the kitchen nazi when ever we are getting ready for company!

  18. says:

    I really enjoyed making this bread and I love the ingredients you added to yours. I am sure the feta cheese was delicious in it. Great post.

  19. Betsy says:

    As always, I love the story you tell with the recipe. Feta sounds like cheese choice, especially with the scallions and bacon. Yum! Your daughters look like they’re enjoying it.

  20. Monet says:

    What a wonderful brought me a beautiful loaf of bread and some memories that reminded me of my own family and childhood. I wish I could come over for a slice of this! Thank you for sharing! I hope you have a happy week.

  21. Adriana says:

    Beautiful pictures, Lana! I love how you incorporate the memories of those impromptu visits and how this bread would fit that scenario. You had me at the melted pat of butter on the top picture, though.

  22. Jamie says:

    Your writing is gorgeous and evocative and I love being pulled into your otherworld…. and I wish I loved somewhere where friends and family lived close enough by so they could drop in. Like your mom I get all flustered and afraid people won’t find my hospitality up to par, and then I make a feast. Like your wonderful bread. How I love the flavors! And I love the photo of your Beasties!

  23. says:

    I first read this story last night. I found the theme of hospitality running through my dreams last night. So I got up very very early this morning and made a similar simple cheesy bread. It’s still warm and sitting on the counter. My neighborhood association officers meeting is in 15 minutes. Nobody ever brought warm bread before! GREG

  24. Lana Watkins says:

    @Tamara, ulepšala si mi dan svojim komentarom. Oduvek sam volela da pišem, i kad bih mogla da biram, pisanje bi mi bio posao snova. Pisala sam za neke naše novine, lektorisala na srpskom i engleskom, ali još nisam ništa radila profesionalno. Hvala na lepim rečima:)

    @Michelle, it is good if my kids chose to take it to school!

    @Tricia, thanks! This bread was wonderful, and the recipe was fairly easy. I love reading about you and Nana cooking together:)

    @Cher, this bread goes in the “quick and easy” file for sure. I don’t have as many visitors as my mother had, but it’s good to have something just in case.

    @Chunklet, it was hard to get the girls to stop moving to take a picture! Almost all were blurry because they were goofing around:)

    @Teresa, I hear you! We always had way too much food, but we loved the leftovers!

    @Serene, thanks, I really appreciate your comments.

    @Krissy, i hope my girls come to the rescue like yours do:) You have such a close-knit family. I am afraid mine are going to scatter all over the world:)

    @Sanya, our mothers need to be appreciated. I don’t have that much patience, I have to admit:) Our families could have been related:)

    @Annemarie, I should have guessed that you are part Italian:) The “old world” mothers are a special breed. And you are so right, the youngest one is the clown of the family:)

    @Sasa, hello, fellow perfectionist:)

    @Renee, thanks for visiting:) Food for me is all about family and friends, memories and love. I hope you come back again:)

    @Anne Marie, I need to get me some of those baskets – the plastic bins I have are too small for the mess my girls make! I like your additions to the bread.

    @Elaine, why don’t you come over for some coffee and bread? we are virtually neighbors:)

    @Jelena, baš si me nasmejala! Mene je to nenajavljeno izludjivalo dok sam živela u YU. Ovde je drugi ekstrem – tolike su razdaljine, da se ljudi uopšte i ne posećuju, a kad se i dogovore, to je nedeljama unapred. Sećaš se i sama toga. Nisi manijak, samo si organizovana, i to je pozitivno. A za zamrzivač si u pravu – može da bude spasenje!

    @Oh, Susan, you have no idea how many times my Dad did the same thing! My mom always managed to put enough food on the table for the guests, and I thought that she was a magician.

    @Kathy, those stories are going to connect your daughter to her childhood, like they connect me to mine. You are lucky that she has stories to tell, even if you are a kitchen nazi:)

    @Kitchenarian, we can agree on the bread: it was delicious and very versatile.

    @Betsy, feta was what I had in the fridge, and next time I think I’ll add some roasted red peppers to make the color pop. Thanks for the kind words:)

    @Monet, thanks:) Your writing takes me to my childhood and I can only hope to return the favor:) I love your site.

    @Adriana, it was my kids doing – they decided to put the butter on their slices, which gave me the idea. The kids could be useful sometimes:)

    @Jamie, I feel the same:) I wish we were neighbors:( I don’t have anyone close by to share these moments with. Yet:)

    @Oh, Greg, thanks for letting me inspire you:) I hope your neighbors appreciated your early morning efforts – there is nothing as heart-warming as bread right form the oven:)

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