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.