My College Kritter’s infatuation with food probably started the day she was born, four days after the predicted date. After conferring with my ObGyn, Father called from the hospital and told me to be there at noon. I was a novice at the delivery business and did not want to take any chances of going without food. I calmly asked Mother to make me some sauteed chicken livers. Her first reaction was utter confusion, followed closely by incredulity, only to finish in amusement.

I sat at the table facing a plate of glorious morsels crunchy and salty on the outside, soft and sweet inside, with a hefty piece of crusty bread  on the side to dip into the flavorful lard. Mother’s chicken livers are always insanely good, but this plate stayed in my memory as the best. I had to get up occasionally and breathe rhythmically as I walked around the kitchen table. But I managed to polish off a huge plate just before Father arrived to take me to the hospital.

Fortified with all the comforting goodness, I was ready to tackle a two-to three day delivery process. But my firstborn arrived after only four hours of the most intense pain I had ever experienced, well before my morning meal was entirely digested.

The nurses told me the first day that she was one of the most voracious eaters ever, ruefully informing me that my breast-feeding would not suffice. My sister, the nurse, arrived from Germany the day Nina was born, toting a suitcase full of baby formula, just in case. The wars were ripping Yugoslavia apart, and baby food was a luxury, hard to find and extremely expensive. I was grateful and at the same time awfully sad, feeling inadequate at providing nourishment for my baby.

From the beginning she was not a picky eater. She approached new foods with enthusiasm and joy. She was a healthy and  happy girl. She was nine months old when I fled my country and came back to the States, frightened by the threat of international sanctions and bombing. When a pediatrician in the U.S. told me in an accusatory tone that she was too tall for her age, I stopped seeing him. Upon my return I faced an insecure future, a husband who barely worked, maxed-out credit cards, unpaid bills, and an empty refrigerator. In spite of all that was happening in our lives, Nina continued to thrive.

I still see that two-year-old sitting at Mother’s kitchen table in Serbia, chanting “Meso, meso, meso“*, banging her little fist holding a fork against the wooden surface, her curly dark pig-tails bobbing up and down keeping the beat. I remember her peeking under Father’s Yugo looking for a quince that rolled out of her hands, upset that her Baba would not be able to make jelly for her. I smile when I bring back the memories of her kneeling on a chair, covered in flour, working the rolling pin over the dough in earnest.

At fourteen, she started making her signature yeast rolls with caramelized onions and rosemary. At sixteen, she fell in love with Asian cuisine and started preparing stir-fries and curries. At seventeen, she cooked a couple of meals a week and baked cookies with ease. When she was twelve, she announced that her first paycheck would go towards purchasing a whole wheel of cheese. True to her promise, she spent the first money she had earned hostessing in a restaurant on food. She came home with a wheel of cheese and several bags of groceries. That night we were treated to a beautiful feast of international food: crostini with gorgonzolla and fig preserves, a cheese platter, caviar, soft-boiled quail eggs, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, roasted asparagus, and Thai soup served in coconut shells.

My College Kritter has only recently become an official adult. Tired of the cafeteria food, she moved out of the dorm and into an apartment with two roommates. She calls occasionally, searching for a consultation on a meal she is preparing. She regularly confers with Mother on Skype, getting invaluable advice of the Queen of Cooking. Whenever she visits, she dives into my cookbooks and pastes colorful notes on dozens of recipes that intrigue her. I let her take over the kitchen, accepting in advance that dishes will miraculously disappear from their usual spots and that the Beasties will quickly become her volunteer slaves.

Coming home for winter break, she bought me the book,  by Greg Atkinson. There are no photos, and the book is definitely not meant to be a coffee table conversation starter. But as I started reading, I felt the author’s love for the Pacific Coast and the abundance of food available to those of us lucky enough to dwell at the edge of western civilization. I am still in awe of the variety of edibles that surrounds me and I share his infatuation and gratitude.

Nina loves to work with dough. She is fearless and adventurous, while I hesitate when faced with finicky yeast. Any time she has to bring food to a party or a pot luck, she bakes bread. Thinking of her and missing her an awful lot, I chose to make Focaccia from my new book. The recipe was easy to follow, and I could hardly wait for it to come out of the oven. It was flavorful, soft in the middle, salty on the outside, with just enough spice from red pepper flakes and a nice burst of woodsy rosemary. I don’t know if it was better just by itself, or as a base for one of the best BLTs I have ever had. I only regret that I had not sauteed chicken livers. Sopping up the laden lard with such a beautiful Focaccia would be heaven.

*Meso is meat in Serbian

FOCACCIA (West Coast Cooking, by Greg Atkinson)

This bread was a breeze to make. The instructions were clear, the process easy to follow, and the resulting focaccia flavorful, soft on the inside, with hints of rosemary and spice on the outside.


For the Sponge:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 envelope active yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

For the Dough:

  • 2 ½ half cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

For the Topping:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt


The Sponge: Put the warm water into a big mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top, and stir to dissolve. Mix in the flour, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge rest for 1 hour.

Add the remaining 2 ½ cups of flour and salt and mix until the dough starts pulling away from the sides. Move the dough onto the floured counter top and knead until elastic and springy. Place into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Pour the olive oil into a 16×12 baking sheet. Sprinkle some more flour onto the counter top and roll the dough into a rectangle big enough to fit into the prepared baking sheet. Put the dough in, and then flip it to oil the other side. Using your fingers make indentations all over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle the rosemary, red pepper flakes, and sea salt all over. Bake until crispy and golden-brown, 15-20 minutes.

I love baking bread. A new friend just started a blog event that has everything to do with bread, Let’s Break Bread Together. I am sending my focaccia her way. Visit Wit, Wok, and Wisdom for more wonderful bread recipes.

This is the first time that one of my recipes takes part in Susan’s YeastSpotting and I am excited. Cannot wait to check all the other entries.

Blogevent 1 First One Out of the Oven

17 Responses to “First One Out of the Oven”

  1. Ha, sećam se kada je moj mali brat došao kući iz vrtića američkog plačući. Tog dana su svi morali da kažu koliko su bili teški na rođenju. Obzirom da mu je mama 4.3kg preračunala u lb. kada je dete reklo koliko je bio težak svi su se pokidali od smeha. On je bio džin naspram njih. A kada je radio krvnu sliku za upis doktor je pitao moju mamu šta on jede pošto nije video tako dobar hemoglobin. Toliko o kuvanju naših majki!
    Bravo za Ninu! Prelepa devojka i tako darovita. Ljubav prema kuvanju se stiče gledanjem, slušanjem priča o hrani i naravno degustacijom. The apple did not fall far away from the tree.
    Jelena recently posted..

  2. Beautiful, this brought tears to my eyes and what a beautiful girl you have – like mother like daughter. I wish I had such an amazing relationship with my own mother.
    Sasa recently posted..

  3. What a wonderful and easy recipe! I was planning on making naan today, but I may have to make this as well!
    yummychunklet recently posted..ffwd- Garlicky Crumb-coated Broccoli &amp Cauliflower

  4. What a wonderful portrait of your daughter. You are lucky to have such an adventurous daughter, though, I suppose whe is a reflection of you as her mother that nurtured her into the young woman she has become. We all carry our mothers with us in our lives.
    Betsy recently posted..Bedroom Salad

  5. Awww, lovely. It’s a wonderful gift you’ve given her, the love of cooking, and that focaccia is JUST the thing I want to make for dinner tonight. Thank you!

    (A packet of yeast is 2.25 teaspoons, not a tablespoon.)
    Serene recently posted..Pot roast and caramelized onions

  6. Lana, would you say about 3 hours start to finish for this? I want to make it for dinner at 7, and I’m thinking of starting it around 4. Sound about right?
    Serene recently posted..Pad Something-or-other Thai rice noodles

  7. Hello Lana,
    This is my first time on your blog and I’d like to let you know that I loved being here!When I was reading about you,I felt we have so much in common…I like telling stories too,although at times I feel that maybe I bore my readers a lot:P Nevertheless, I love writing and go on doing so!

    Well,your Focaccia looks absolutely amazing!And the photos look lovely too.I have this event going on at my place – I’d love you to drop in sometime and take a peek and link up if you wish:)

    So nice knowing you Lana!


  8. What a gorgeous girl you have, she looks very much like you. I hope they all enjoyed the focaccia it looks superb…I have made a rosemary one but love the addition of a few chilli flakes for a little fire.
    Mairi @Toast recently posted..Paris Eats – A La Biche Au Bois

  9. Not sure if comment made it….so sorry if I am repeating myself!
    What a gorgeous girl you have…she looks very like you :) I hope they all enjoyed the focaccia…looks superb, love the addition of chilli flakes for a little fire.
    Mairi@Toast recently posted..Paris Eats – A La Biche Au Bois

  10. Such a sweet post, your daughter has your spirit for adventure I see! Anyone who uses their first paycheck to purchase a wheel of cheese wins my respect :) Love focaccia but i rarely make yeast bread at home, which i need to do more of…

  11. Everything about this post warms me from head to toe (with special emphasis on the belly). Your painful birth, the the culinary daughter and of course the special cookbook and lovely “yeastie” product. But it’s your mothers chicken livers that will haunt me. Will you come to my house and show mw how to make them. Really I mean it. GREG

  12. Everything about this post warms me from head to toe (with special emphasis on the belly). Your painful birth, the the culinary daughter and of course the special cookbook and lovely “yeastie” product. But it’s your mothers chicken livers that will haunt me. Will you come to my house and show me how to make them. Really I mean it. GREG

  13. I loved your story about your daughter’s culinary journey. They grow up so fast. Your daughter is a beauty…you must be very proud, Mom. Now yeast is sorta scary for me, but your post makes it look so easy. Maybe I’ll give this a try. Thanks.

  14. Ha my first born was a voracious eater right from the beginning and loved everything! Happy eater he enjoyed every flavor, texture, everything. But sadly he limits his cooking and baking to a lemon tart and a tiramisu. Undoubtedly THE best tiramisu and lemon tart on the planet but I have never understood why he stopped there. Your daughter sounds like she should be MY daughter (oh, I forgot that you and I are identical twins if not the exact same person). What a wonderful story you have told here. Beautiful!

  15. @Jelena, baš si me nasmejala! Moje sve tri ćerke su rodjene sa 3.400gr, što je kod nas osrednja težina, ali su ih ovde smatrali medju težima. Ne kapiram:) A što se ljubavi prema hrani tiče, puno ljudi je uticalo na moju ćerku, ne mogu samo ja da berem lovorike:)

    @Sasa, my motherly heart hurts for you:( Every girl needs to have some happy cooking moments with her mum! I need to adopt you!

    @Chunklet, I love making naan! But try this focaccia, it really is pretty tasty:)

    @Betsy, that’s so true, even if we have moments when we swear not to be like our mothers:) Thanks for your nice words.

    @Serene, thanks for the correction – I was just going by the book:) It’s all squared now!

    @Thanks! It’s so nice to meet other bloggers who do not mind reading long or narrative post. I’ve visited your blog and sent my focaccia your way!

    @Thanks, Mairi! Focaccia is so versatile that I will never make it the same way:)

    @Karen, making bread is so calming and therapeutic! I love to do it when I am most stressed. My oldest is one of the kind – foodie par excellence!

    @Greg, no problem! Her recipe is very simple and utterly delicious. I am always happy when people do not cringe when I mention offal:)

    @Lynne, I cannot imagine that anything scares you! But I felt the same about the yeast, so I can relate (there are still some breads that I approach with fear, but I am up to the challenge:)

    @Oh, Jamie, what would not I give to meet you in person:) We’d probably need a year straight just to talk:) I am going to make it happen one of these days:)
    Lana recently posted..

  16. Wonderful! Thank you for participating in YeastSpotting.
    Susan/Wild Yeast recently posted..

  17. Hi Dear,
    I have an award waiting for you at my place!Please do come over and accept it:)Thanks so much!


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