Jun 242011
 

farmers market strawberries from bibberche.com

We leave for Serbia in three weeks and reisefieber is slowly overtaking my life. The girls have already started packing. Their new passports arrived yesterday, along with the confirmed itinerary from our travel agent in Ohio. I have started my main list which will, in time, branch out into several subsidiaries, all necessary to facilitate planning and organization.

It has been three years since I went home, and I am filled not only with excitement, but also with apprehension. My parents are getting older, and it will break my heart to see them weaker and more fragile than before. At the same time, I am sure that they will find a wrinkle or two on my face that was not there last time they saw me. We won’t stay the whole summer as we used to, and a month does not seem sufficient for everything I want to do and everybody I want to see, but I am elated that we are going at all.

My heart fills with enormous joy at the thought of my girls seeing their Baba, holding her hands, and giving her the little kisses that she misses so much. She is not well and she is mostly alone, Father leaving for his “ranch” shortly after sunrise, not to return until dinnertime at about 3:00 in the afternoon. But every summer, the house on the edge of the city park fills with family and friends again, and for a couple of months it seems like old times.

But before I leave, I decided to stop stock-piling the food and empty the freezer and the fridge of their contents instead. Husband will continue with his diet while we are gone, and I do not see him rummaging through the box freezer and making the stock from frozen asparagus ends and broccoli stems. That kind of frugal fanaticism is completely my domain.

After taking an inventory, I made a tentative meal plan for the next three weeks. A few days ago I used the last three sauerkraut heads to make a Serbian dish with smoked bacon and pork country ribs. Half of a chicken breast, enough for the three of us now that Husband has his own dinner alternatives, went into a quick stir-fry. I roasted one of the two remaining pork tenderloins and paired it with mashed potatoes. I pulled out a package of English muffins which will be toasted and served with soft butter and strawberry rhubarb jam in the morning as the girls are out of school.

I was doing so well for several days that I was bound to succumb to temptation. I went to Tustin farmers market yesterday, and brought home a lot of produce, comforting myself with the excuse that I was just practicing for the summer in Serbia when I’ll go to the market every morning. And because of that, I have to think of the ways to use the vegetables and fruit that I purchased, in addition to all of the items hiding in my fridge, pantry, and the freezer.

I am feeling guilty when I state that Husband’s diet makes it easier to plan these weird meals because I don’t have to center my dinner around a big chunk of animal protein. He will argue, telling me that he can do meatless, but my experiences are different. Sure, he will happily finish his vegetarian meal, only to go hunting for snacks after an hour or two. Another perk of his dieting is that I can indulge in all the foods to which he is allergic. For days now, cucumbers have been on the table in several incarnations to the delight of my girls.

After I came back from the market, I put everything away, playing with different ideas and loving the challenge. In the end, I decided to make pasta to use several squash blossoms that the vendor included as a gift when I bought kale and beet greens. I defrosted a roasted acorn squash to make a hearty soup. And Dorie’s salad would make a perfect accompaniment.

I have been remiss with my French Fridays with Dorie posts for several weeks and my guilty conscience has been haunting me lately. This week’s assignment was a salad made of fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, and strawberries, dressed with a small amount of balsamic vinegar, some olive oil, salt, and pepper. The combination of strawberries and tomatoes intrigued me, but I did not doubt for a second that the flavors would meld together and present a satisfying and light side dish.

The strawberries I bought that morning at the farmers market were small and sweet, just like I remember from my childhood in Serbia, and the mild flavor of silky mozzarella let them shine. The tomatoes offered a bit of texture, playing nicely with their own sweet note, pepped up by the balsamic vinegar and basil. When I was finishing the last bites, I felt a slight pang, as the strawberry season is coming to an end. I loved this variation of the classic Caprese salad and don’t want to wait another year before I taste it again.

But I will not be going to the market next week and will not buy more strawberries. I will find delicious ways to enjoy kale, fennel, roasted beets, red cherries, new potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and the first zucchini of the year which are eagerly waiting to be a part of our dinner. I will keep on cleaning the freezer and feeding my girls creative and nutritious meals for the next three weeks, dreaming of future happy moments at the market in Serbia. And I will be looking forward to the next spring when this salad will appear on our tables again.

There really is no recipe for it, but Around My French Table is an amazing book that swept many awards this year. For more alternatives and different approaches to this simple, yet elegant late spring dish, visit our French Fridays with Dorie group.

Strawberry Caprese Salad from bibberche.com

Jun 222011
 

It seems logical that the honor of writing the first guest post on my blog fell to Husband, a talented writer and a grammar nazi, who reads my every post and mercilessly removes comas and errant semi-colons that I adore. And I appreciate his ardor.

filet from bibberche.com

Man. Grill. Meat. These three things are extensions of each other and, properly combined, are completely capable of rendering a delicacy that justifies existence itself. But I didn’t always think so.

I didn’t much care for meat when I was a kid. My dad grilled fairly often, but it would generally go something like this: My mother would buy the cheapest cut of meat on sale at the grocery store. Or my father would kill something. A squirrel, rabbit, possum, anything that wandered into his traps or stumbled into his sights.

My father would prepare for an afternoon of grilling by having a beer. And another. He’d stack the coals and dowse them with lighter fluid. The fumes would kill every appetite within a country mile of the place. While the fire raged, the meat would be hooked up with a dry rub or marinade of some kind. Of course, you really need to leave red meat for 24 to 48 hours for the marinade to penetrate, but that takes planning. A twenty minute soak and another beer does not require a scheme.

After the coals finally burned down and ashed over, around the fourth beer, the meat would go on the grill. And there it would stay. And stay. No, not yet. Another beer.

My mother liked her meat well done. That is not to say that she liked it done well, but that she preferred it to resemble a worn old wingtip to the greatest extent possible. So, well after sunset, around beer number seven or eight, the cheapest cut of steak legally available to be consumed by humans would hit the plates, almost indistinguishable from the charcoal briquettes that had begun the ceremony and reeking of petroleum.

My mother would tell my father that this was the best steak ever. Steak? Mystery solved. And I would chew and gnaw and eventually end up with a plate filled with masticated leather scraps.

When I grew up, I didn’t much care for meat and was practically a vegetarian. I didn’t mind killing animals, I just didn’t see the point if they weren’t going to be delicious. It was years before I discovered that there were wonderful cuts of meat and that they could be grilled rare, letting the wonderful flavors actually survive the process.

While I can appreciate a good rib eye from time to time, I love filet mignon. I prefer to purchase it from the butcher at the local Persian store. Their meat has to be Halal and is of excellent quality. I have the butcher trim off any fat or silver skin. I always remember to tip my butcher a buck or two. He makes sure I always get excellent meat and will advise against a purchase if he is not confident of the quality.

No gas. Let’s get that out of the way right now. No propane. No lighter fluid. No instant light or light-the-bag briquettes. It makes no sense to pick out the finest meat available if it’s going to taste like petrol. In fact, no briquettes of any kind. I buy natural mesquite charcoal at the same ethnic store where I buy my steaks, and yes, it makes a difference. Besides, a seven pound bag is three bucks and change.

No marinade. No dry rub. I cut the steaks to about an inch and a half thick, sprinkle some kosher salt on both sides, and let them sit a while.

And the fire? Before you start any fire, always make sure there are two things available to you: a fire extinguisher and an adult beverage. Then proceed with that most basic step of civilization, the creation of fire.

chimney from bibberche

When we bought the grill, we also bought a Weber chimney. The chimney is like large steel can, open on both ends, but with a perforated floor a few inches from one end. Three or four wadded up balls of newspaper or grocery store flyers are inserted into the shallow end. A quarter cup of vegetable oil is poured onto the newspaper. The chimney is then inverted and the large side filled with charcoal. Simply light the paper. The vegetable oil will insure that the paper burns long enough and hot enough to start the coals on the other side of the perforated floor. Once the flames go down and the coals are ready, I simply grab the chimney by the handle and pour the beautiful orange coals into the grill. I don’t usually clean the grill itself until this point. I replace the top grate and let the last of the flames sterilize it. Then I take the steel brush to it. This leaves a nice carbon residue that makes awesome marks on the meat.

I can eat a filet raw, but having gone to all the trouble, I will walk it by the fire on the way to my plate. I like to take a paper towel and pat the steaks dry before putting them on the grill. Lana prefers her steak mid-rare, so I put hers on first. Half way through the cook time for the first side, I turn the meat ninety degrees so that it gets nice crosshatching. Then, when I flip hers over, I add mine.

The embers from natural charcoal do not last as long as briquettes. Briquettes last longer than they need to and pulling the meat off after only a few minutes to leave those beautiful embers glowing for another hour seems so wasteful. While natural charcoal doesn’t last near as long, the embers are still sufficient for an aluminum foil pouch of potatoes or vegetables, toasting garlic bread, or even roasting a handful of red peppers. But there’s no time to dawdle or get tanked, though I think there is an ordinance somewhere that no charcoal fire may be started without a beer or glass of red wine available to the grill master and I try to be a law abiding citizen.

There is something primal about grilling meat over an open flame, something that sates the testosterone driven pyromania that is too often sidelined or sacrificed to the niceties of modern life. But that drunken instinct to set things on fire can be harnessed and brought into the service of refined appetites… even one as recently refined as mine.

Summer grill blogger event hosted by food blogs

I am contributing this post to Get Grillin!, an event hosted by Dara of Cookin’ Canuck, and Marla of Family Fresh Cooking.

“Get Grillin’ with Family Fresh Cooking and Cookin’ Canuck, sponsored by Ile de France CheeseRösle,Emile HenryRouxbe and ManPans.”

Jun 152011
 

 

Grilled Vegetables from bibberche.com

Summer has exploded in the Eastern states and throughout the Midwest, celebrated by hordes of children suddenly free of the school routine and women relieved to pass on the kitchen tools to their men tending the grill. Our summer here in Southern California has been tip-toeing around us, offering mere moments of heat intermittently exchanged with the fresh ocean breeze. Our nights are still chilly, and the mornings see dew on my succulents.

We don’t really have to exchange our clothes to match the seasons and our shorts and tank tops are mixed in with the jeans and light sweaters that are sufficient to shield us from the cruel California climate.  But we have brought along one Ohio habit that peeped through the California azure skies and showed its familiar face: Husband’s summer diet.

When we finally met for the first time, after exchanging ever so erudite and romantic e-mails, husband was a tall and lanky guy sporting a goatee that hid his slightly receding chin. He looked like an ascetic poet, his glasses accentuating the point, his longish hair cementing it. But within a couple of years a watermelon appeared underneath his shirt and he was devastated. His youthful metabolism betrayed him and he did not recognize himself in the mirror. That’s when the infamous diets started.

Every summer I observe from the sidelines in amusement as he brings into the house his breakfast staples: a box of Grape Nuts cereal and a big container of fat-free vanilla yogurt. And every summer he tries without success to enlist another recruit from the family to join in this delicious morning fare. Lunch and dinner are monotonously the same – dry, spiced-up, grilled or broiled chicken breast, cod, or orange roughy, served with steamed green vegetables and an undressed salad.

I have tried many times to be creative, thinking that versatility can only aid him in his efforts to regain at least a semblance of his boyish figure, but he rebels, claiming that the repetition and routine are the only things that work for him. He is not a person that can open a bag of cookies he supposedly bought for the girls and eat only a couple. Therefore, when he diets, he goes for the other side of the extreme, from excessive gluttony to excessive asceticism. At least that’s my very astute psychological analysis.

The diet started on Monday with Husband crunching his Grape Nuts parfait while the girls enjoyed eggs and toast. Forgetting to plan ahead, he skipped lunch, and for dinner he reluctantly ate my Moroccan chicken sans couscous, after I recited the nutritional information, trying to include all the fats and carbohydrates that went into it. On Tuesday it was pho that had been simmering on the stove for two days, and he poured several bowls of the rich broth, skipping the noodles altogether. Somewhat encouraged by this slight deviation of the rigid routine, I am already planning several healthy, colorful meals that I can make skinnier and lighter for him, hoping that he will forget the individually frozen packets of tasteless chicken breast languishing in the freezer.

Lighting up the grill excites both of us again and again: the woodsy smell of charcoal, the orange glow of embers in the chimney, the dance of the ash flakes, and the crackling of the flames combine in a synergic sensory opera that awakens some wonderfully primitive feelings that assure us that everything is fine with the world. There is meat. And there is fire. And soon there will be meat on the fire. Bliss.

While the steaks were luxuriating, loosely covered on the counter in the aftermath, I brought out a bowl of vegetables glistening with olive oil, and a smaller one for the dieter, sprinkled instead with some balsamic vinegar. We still do not own a vegetable basket that fits on the grill, but a piece of sturdy aluminum foil made a perfect bed for the colorful piles. By the time I plated the steaks and leaned a crusty piece of olive oil bread against our three plates, missing Husband’s on purpose, the tomatoes were nicely shriveled, the asparagus tender, the onions fragrant, the peppers yielding to the fork, and pink, halved radishes still firm, but without a crunch. The heat has mellowed the rosemary and enticed the thyme, and the smells from the vegetable plate were in serious combat with the assertive, smoky aroma of the steak.

The chill had crept into the air and we had to reach for the sweaters and hoodies while we ate the last bites of our summer dinner. Fresh breezes carried the hints of the Pacific into our dining room and I could say with complete sincerity I was not envious that my friends in Ohio are cooling off from the sweltering heat splashing in our old neighborhood pool, even if I have to endure another week of school.

grilled vegetables from bibberche.com

GRILLED VEGETABLES

There is really no recipe for this dish.

Pick any combination of spring/summer vegetables:

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Red onions
  • Bell peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Radishes
  • Green beans
  • Broccoli
  • Squash

Clean and chop if necessary. Place into a bowl. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Drip some olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar on top. Sprinkle with herbs:

  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Oregano

Mix to distribute the oil, herbs, and spices. Prepare a sheet of heavy aluminum foil and place it on a cookie sheet for easier transportation. Pour the vegetables on foil evenly and in one layer. Lift all four edges of the foil and make walls around the vegetables. Place on the grill holding the walls, and let cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes with tongs, until done to your liking.

The vegetables can also be roasted in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 425F.

I am sending this post to Get Grillin’!, the event organized by Dara of Cookin’ Canuck and Marla of Family Fresh Cooking. For dozens of seriously delicious grilled recipes head over to their blogs and browse.

Get Grillin’ with Family Fresh Cooking and Cookin’ Canuck, sponsored by Ile de France CheeseRösleEmile HenryRouxbe and ManPans.

Jun 122011
 

Books

When I call Husband from work to come and pick me up, I count the seconds before our silver VW Jetta appears, weaving between the pumps and luxury cars at the gas station before it glides to a stop in the parking lot. I can’t wait to get home, shed my uniform, take a shower, and gently roll into my other life, laptop leaning against my legs, a Seabreeze misty and cold on the coffee table within an easy reach, and my family shadowing my field of vision every few minutes.

But on Thursday we had repairmen over at the apartment fixing a crack in the bath tub. They shooed Husband out and ordered him not to return until 3:00 PM at the earliest, because the fumes from the chemicals they used were noxious. I moaned in disappointment, dreading another hour that I would have to belong to the unwashed masses, partially mollified by the change of clothes that Husband offered when I reached the car.

Our youngest, Zoe, was in the back seat doing her usual imitation of the baby T-Rex, glasses askew, backpack leaning against her side, her hair mussed and disheveled, iPhone intermittently giving off signals that her virtual pies were done baking. Not able to return home for at least an hour, we decided to head over to “It’s a Grind”, our local coffee shop, conveniently situated a block away from Anya’s school. Also conveniently located a block away from Anya’s school is our City Library, and as soon as we remembered that, husband started weaving from lane to lane, back and forth, while we debated what sounded better.

With the last swerve to the left, we picked the library, hoping to get a cappuccino after we browsed through the book shelves. We are a family of book-worms, some of us affirmed and obsessed, some that don’t even realize it, some only in making. We are a family of five with five pairs of glasses and three pairs of contact lenses, the family of squinters, and the family that gets high from the smell of new books.

We looked for Watership Down for Zoe, who really likes animals and thinks she hates reading, and unable to find it, reserved a copy for next week. We stopped at the library store just in case, and the time stopped. We went three ways, excited and giddy, looking at the titles, pulling the books off the shelves, and piling them on the desk manned by an elderly couple. We felt like thieves, as every book in the place sold for 3 bucks or less, most for a mere dollar. Every ten minutes we would regroup and come together, to share in careful whispers of our precious finds.

An hour flew, and we scampered out of the library, Husband toting a huge paper bag full of books. We drove at Indy500 speed until we reached Anya’s school and parked in front to await the bell. Almost feverish, we started pulling the books out of the bag, leafing through and reading excerpts to each other. An unforgettable moment of bliss!

We live in a really small apartment and we have many books. It looks as though we are slowly transferring the regional library to a more convenient locale. There are book shelves in the living room, dining room, kids room, our bedroom and the closet. The only reason we feel guilty when we drag a bag like this one home is that we really have no place for more books until we move. Or until we start throwing out the furniture to accommodate the books. When Husband and I merged the households some thirteen years ago, he brought a ton of books to my little space that was already full to the brim with my own. In all these years we had to get rid of a lot of stuff for the lack of space, but the books, all of our books, remained. We have accepted the sad truth that we are the book hoarders.

The newly purchased bag of books sat in the living room like a Christmas tree for a night, loved with an eager longing, but… where the hell are all these books going to go? Our shelves are double and triple stacked. They are literally overflowing. Unhappy with its undeserved banishment, Husband decided to rearrange the furniture to find a loving home for our new acquisitions. I came home from work today to find our little apartment in complete disarray. I had to navigate furniture on the porch. I had to jump over the cables to get to the bathroom; I had to squeeze through a corridor of DVDs on my way to the bedroom; I had to dance around precariously grouped CDs on the dining room table; but I was relieved: we are paring down!  And this time I did not have to initiate the purge with Husband guiltily hiding the useless necessities behind his back in a vain effort to save them.

Our patio became a depository of soon-to-be donated items: a CD player, a DVD player, an old desk top computer, a printer, a TV stand. Buoyed by Husband’s enthusiasm, the girls started bringing miscellaneous stuff from their room, all of a sudden feeling generous and willing to part with boxes full of plastic toys, mangy stuffed animals, and old games. Safely fortressed in the bedroom, I followed the events from the distance, smiling in satisfaction, looking forward to a cleaner, more organized home.

My only task was to prepare dinner. I was not really jumping at the thought of going to the grocery store, and I did not feel sadistic enough to dispatch Husband to hunt the victuals. I rummaged through the pantry and the fridge, peeked in the freezer, and glanced at the produce bowl on the counter. With a touch of ingenuity, a dinner plan was formed: Shrimp and Scallops Creole, scrounged from small amounts of various ingredients I found around the kitchen. Can it get more thematic than that? While Husband was getting rid of stuff to bring some order and harmony into our lives, I collected edible bits and pieces to prepare a comforting, flavorful dinner perfectly capable of ruling the day with its bold, assertive notes hidden amidst the sweet and soft texture of the scallops, and somewhat firmer and briny taste of shrimp.

By the time I placed the steaming pot in the middle of the table, the living room was transformed. Clutter disappeared, the carpet was not merely visible, but vacuumed, the desert dust of California gone for a moment. Red wine mirrored the flames from the candles, and every face at the table shone with the healthy hue of accomplishment.

Shrimp and Scallops Creole from bibberche.com

SHRIMP AND SCALLOPS CREOLE

(Roasted peppers are usually not used in this dish, but I had some beautiful roasted poblanos that just begged to be utilized. They added a smoky and piquant note that added a new layer to the meal.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper (I prefer yellow, red, or orange), diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 pasilla (poblano) peppers, roasted, peeled and destemmed (optional, I just had them available)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (or ½ tsp dry)
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano (or ½ tsp dry)
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (more or less, to taste)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (I used whole tomatoes in juice and whirled them in my chopper)
  • 1 ½ lbs scallops, rinsed, the foot removed
  • 1 lb medium-large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Directions:

Heat a large, heavy skillet on a medium heat. Add oil, and when hot enough, mix in onions, peppers, and celery. Stir from time to time until translucent and soft, 5-8 minutes. Add roasted poblanos, garlic, bay leaf, and spices. Stir for another 2-3 minutes, and mix in the flour. Stir until combined, 1-2 minutes, and deglaze with white wine. Stir to loosen up the tasty layer on the bottom of the skillet. Add tomato sauce, stir to combine, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Add the seafood and simmer for another 6-8 minutes, until shrimp is pink, and scallops opaque inside (if your shrimp is smaller, add it 3-4 minutes later).

Taste for seasonings and adjust according to the need.

Serve with plain white rice.

Jun 082011
 
hurmašice from bibberche.com

hurmašice - little dates

Closest to Morocco I ever came was at Disney’s Epcot center in September of 1996. My sister and I, free of boyfriends, husbands, and dependents spent a luxuriously worry-free week in Clearwater, Florida, and finished our vacation at Disney World. We walked around. stopping for a beer in England, and a watermelon juice in Mexico, looking for a place to eat. There were belly dancers in front of the Moroccan restaurant, and the exotic smells were wafting from the kitchen. I stopped, mesmerized, but my sister scoffed at me, and continued on toward Japan. Crestfallen, I followed, playing an accommodating hostess, even though Florida was as foreign to me, coming from Michigan, as it was for her, arriving from Germany.

I did not get to taste the Moroccan food that September and I don’t regret it any more. I have stocked my pantry with everything necessary to make good Middle-Eastern food, including preserved lemons (thanks, Kim)! I have made tagines several times, intrigued by the combination of spices and ingredients. Couscous is a staple in our house, beautifully paired with many Serbian dishes, and I have been ogling the beautiful clay dishes that produce the best-tasting Moroccan food.

When Amanda of Marocmama put out a request for guest bloggers on Twitter, I responded. When she said “Yes!”, I was relieved, and at the same time apprehensive. She mentioned desserts, and I my mind went into an overdrive. I don’t really bake. And when I do, it’s something really simple. I was thinking of making a baklava, but the last attempt was not stellar, even though I have made it hundreds of times. Continuing with Phyllo dough as an inspiration I thought of pumpkin or squash strudel, but to me it is more of a late summer – early fall dish.

In the end I decided to make two extremely simple, very different desserts that have that Middle-Eastern touch – enough to connect my Serbia to exotic Morocco, the land Amanda’s husband comes from, the land she learned to love. I made HurmaÅ¡ice, cokies soaked in sweet, lemony syrup, and Tufahije, stewed apples filled with ground walnuts and served with the same lemony syrup and whipped cream.

For the recipe and the story, go to Marocmama. And while you are there, browse through her site – she has great Moroccan recipes that her husband’s family passed on to her. She is also very active in non-profit organizations, and writes for Multiculural Familia. Thanks, Amanda, for letting me write a post for your blog!

tufahije, from bibberche.com

tufahije, stewed apples filled with walnuts

Jun 042011
 

Spices from bibberche.com

May 23rd marked the first anniversary of my blog. Waking up brimming with excitement over the weekend spent in Atlanta at the BlogHer Food conference, I did not remember. Spending the day unpacking my suitcases and analyzing every moment of the event, it completely slipped my mind, and I did not make any plans to commemorate it. No cake, no candles, no ticker tape parade… not even a flower. And I am the mother who diligently memorizes every birthday, anniversary, and graduation, any coming-of-age, American or Old Country, going to such extremes to remember entering the two digits or becoming the teenager (finally!), and pointedly not remembering when someone turns 48 or 76.

Even though I read many blogs for years before I started Bibberche, it never occurred to me that, one day, I might have to explain to someone what it means. I was at my first Food Bloggers LA meeting at Pam’s house, feeling all warm and fuzzy from great food and even better conversation, when we were asked to introduce ourselves and say a few words about our blogs. I winced inside, knowing that I could not say just, “Hi, I’m Lana, and my blog Bibberche is about…” Sure enough, I stumbled over my blog’s name, I had to repeat it twice, spell it without using a pen and paper (oh, horrors!) and tell the story about the Serbian version of Tom Thumb before I could say one word about the blog.

I have been in the US for over two decades, and I have gladly shortened my name, Svetlana, having to repeat it several times during introductions, only to hear it mangled and mispronounced. And then I chose Bibberche for my blog’s name? I deliberately picked a word that has only three vowels in nine letters, a word that means nothing in English-speaking world, a word that does not point you towards kitchen, food, or even Serbia, and only makes for the inevitable double-take and a “what?!”

I took a semester of Marketing at Cleveland State University back in the nineties, but it was obviously wasted on me, even though I managed to pull an easy A. When Husband put together the first tentative steps for my blog, I guess that I assumed I would be forever happily ensconced in a dark room, alone with the keyboard and a cup of coffee, content in my introverted writer’s life, unaware of people passing by. Yep, I really liked Bibberche, and I did not bother to come up with an alternative.

But in time, other people inevitably entered my little den, and I started to doubt the wisdom of my choice, tired of repeating the story time and again. At Camp Blogaway I printed the story of Bibberche on a glossy paper the colors of my blog, desperately hoping that fellow bloggers would read it and spare me the usual lengthy rant. I wanted something easy, catchy, and poetic, and I spent many hours torturing myself over the choices. Nothing seemed to fit, being either too cliched, too trite, or too convoluted.  In the end, I reconciled myself that there will not be t-shirts and canvas grocery bags with Bibberche printed in bold letters. I can probably say a teary goodbye to SEO* and any chances of being recognized as a food blogger by the devious bots scouring millions of posts.

I read and re-read my first post many times, shedding a tear or two, valiantly resisting the urge to change even a single word, afraid it would cause the “butterfly effect”. My blog did not only survive its first tumultuous year full of anxiety, questioning, doubts, excitement, learning, and long nights; it became an entity all its own, separate from the other facets of my life, growing in strides, overcoming with mulish tenacity the myriad problems it encountered en route.

I love my blog and its crazy, unpronounceable name. It’s a quirky, creative part of my life and I see myself firmly connected with that tiny peppercorn-sized boy who managed to conquer the menacing, cruel, and treacherous world that surrounded him, gaining in the end the love of a princess and the respect of a king.

Bibberche was like an “Open, Sesame!” for me. During this year I learned many technological terms, managed to install plugins, got myself on Twitter (still working on establishing my blog on Facebook), and participated in many events, online and in real world. I took a college course in Photography, bought a Canon Rebel, and decided to explore the visual side of my creativity. I figured out that I can write as well in English as I do in Serbian, and that made me strong enough to battle some real life monsters and win.

But I am most thankful to Bibberche for introducing me to real people who share my interests and loves, who can make me laugh and offer comfort, who listen to my rants and read my long posts, who relate to my woes and rejoice in my victories. Thanks to my blog, I have new friends; even if some of them can’t pronounce my blog’s name, pronunciation isn’t everything in real life and nothing on the Internet. In the food blogging community, I found empathy, support, and encouragement. I met people willing to share their knowledge, patient to lead me step-by-step through the labyrinth of technology where many Minotauruses lurk, eager to discuss a point to its smallest details, enthusiastic to share their own family recipes, happy to point me to a store or a restaurant, and sensitive to offer words of comfort every time I need them. And I needed them a lot.

Spices

I can allot a name of a friend who helped me grow to every one of my little metal magnetic jars. I started a year ago with twenty four empty,  shiny, new canisters. They are now a little duller, but each one holds a different spice, some that I use almost every day, and some more exotic, pulled out only on special occasions. They enrich my day with their vibrant colors, and give me comfort with their aroma and unique flavor.

*Search Engine Optimization is an evil beast manufactured by some really geeky techies, meant to confuse and scare poor bloggers and cause them to revisit middle school and fight to get to the popular crowd again and again. My friend Gail who writes One Tough Cookie (now that’s a great name for a site!), a witty, NYC sarcastic prose made sweet by her incredible cookie art, has recently penned a post addressing the dreaded SEO.