Jul 242011
 
Hi. Vince here (Lana’s husband). It had been Lana’s summer ritual to journey back to Serbia with the girls for their summer vacation, leaving me at home to write screenplays. In the last three years, we’d lost that rhythm and Lana was very homesick and my writing was horrendously slow… or maybe just horrendous.

Fortunately, she was able to make the trip this year and is currently in Serbia with the girls. Unfortunately, her internet connection is as dependable as the TSA is lovable… all touchy feely, but nothing lasting. So it has fallen to me to line up a guest post. And what a guest! I’ve been a Bruce Jones fan since I was 17.  He’s written novels, comics, scripts, you name it. The man knows a thing or three about writing. But this essay isn’t about that. Because Bruce, like all real writers, is a reader… an addict of prose… an unstoppable devourer of the printed word. And what is on his mind here has been weighing heavy with many of us for a while now…

END OF AN ERA?

by Bruce Jones

No, I’m not talking about the Harry Potter franchise, though I’m sure a lot more people are concerned (or at least aware) of that ephemeral phe-nom than the far more reaching one at hand.

And I’m not talking about (Christ, I hope I’m not!) the Aug 3rd deadline the President and Congress have given themselves–and the economy of the world—to prevent the entire planet from falling apart financially, although I suppose that takes precedence over just about everything else.

Unfortunately, we now know the fate of Borders. The stores will disappear from our cultural landscape by the end of Autumn.

As I write this (Sunday 11:52 PT) we shall all know by 5. p.m. today whether the country’s 2nd largest bookseller is still a viable entity or, like one of its most famous products, gone with the wind.

The company, Borders Books, which has been with us and a big part of my life since 1971, was close to approval on an agreed upon deal with Najafi Cos. for $215 million and an assumption of $220 million in debt in bankruptcy proceedings for some time now. But the deal seems to have gone south. The Ann Arbor based bookseller faced objection to the agreed upon Najafi as creditors, siting that Najafi could merely buy assets and liquidate Border Books. Creditors warmed to another bid from liquidators Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers, feeling it was a stronger move; apparently it involved more cash than the offer from Najafi. Creditors had banked on Najafi submitting a higher counter bid, but none has been forthcoming; Najafi is standing tough. And as a result, Borders could be through for good. Not just the cutting back of another 200 stores as it did earlier this year when filing for bankruptcy, but through…gone, zip, nada. Borders claims it will accept bids until 5p.m. today but there is a strong general feeling that in the end—of a true era—it will close its remaining 400 doors next week.

So what do you care, Bruce? you’re saying–you’ve been flogging your own digital books on this blog for months now.  Well, a few of you are saying that; most of you surely have seen the writing on the wall for some time now: hardcover book sales are falling, digital books and ereaders are climbing, and with even Barnes and Noble searching around for a buyer, it’s pretty obvious the brick and mortar stores, with the possible exception of the big boxers like Walmart, etc., are a thing of the past. At least book-wise.

I suppose it was inevitable.

Like the price of gas and global warming and a fun little thing called the San Diego Comic Con, which went from a one room operation in the 70’s for comic book sellers and buyers, to a leviathan of mostly movie-related commerce and elbow-pushing greed by the beginning of this century. Like the death of the LP, the eight track, the CD (and mostly) the DVD… in favor of the Great God Streaming.

It makes sense, even if—perhaps in a nostalgic sort of way—it depresses some of us. Netflix may have pissed off a lot of customers when it raised its prices recently, but you really can’t blame them from trying to get out from under the smothering postal system and join the streaming future. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Technology is an ever-changing marvel that keeps us communicating in ways never dreamed of, adds tons to our convenience even while purchasing prices of its myriad gadgets drop. Technology in in. It even saves lives. It’s what will get us to Mars. Technology is soaring! Even if we all are out of work. And broke. And scared. Some of us homeless and really scared.

But we tighten our belts and solider on, right? Yeah, that’s why as soon as our old cell phone or computer or MP3 player breaks we throw it away and buy the new more expensive one. Always got money for that! Why? Because…we are mad. Even while inching toward the real Depression our penny-pinching, tight-ass, frugal ole parents and grandparents all warned us about.

But all good things come to an end, as someone very wise or very obvious once observed. Strange I’ve never heard the counterphrase: “All Bad Things Come to an End.”  And I suppose I can (like I have a choice!) live with the ever-changing gotta-have-the- newest-tech-toy mentality. Apple doesn’t make us buy this shit, you know.

But I, for one, shall miss bookstores.

I’ve haunted them all my life, grew up with them, saw them go from grubby little strange-smelling mom and pop operations to the glory of mammoth,unending cyclopean football fields  of real, tangible books—all shapes, all sizes– where you could virtually browse away an entire afternoon and have some pretty decent coffee in the interim. Hell, you were even encouraged to sit down and read for free, despite the clear eventuality of some coffee being spilt on some pages. And let’s not even get into the lavish art books! All in one place. I remember my first Waldenbooks: it was like: they finally got it right! Book lovers heaven! Oh sure, for the more esoteric stuff you still had to haunt the dingy privately owned outlets or drop into a Half Price store now and again, but all in all it was manna from heaven. And—for me—Borders was the manniest.

Something stuffy and off-putting about Barnes and Noble, I could never put my finger on it. The layout, the snotty escalators, the stern-looking staff, the completely lame-ass magazine section, the feeling that, okay the chairs are there, but we’d really prefer you bought the damn thing and moved on, this ain’t a friggin’ library y’know! Barnes and Noble was your English teacher; Borders was the kid you lit cherry bombs with. Their CEO, unfortunately, was wayyy out to lunch. No Kindle-like ereader? C’mon, you’re not even trying to move ahead!

But I shall miss it. More than most things.

But then, I miss the San Diego of the 1980’s before The Gas Lamp Quarter closed down all the tattoo parlors and you could drive anywhere at any time of day with little traffic– and even if housing was overpriced you could certainly rent nearly anywhere—‘cept maybe La Jolla. I miss Christmas. Let’s don’t get into that one. I miss having fewer TV channel choices for free. I miss summer movies for grownup before JAWS turned the season into blockbuster time—though in comparison to current offerings, JAWS now looks like a work of popcorn genius. I miss having a global enemy that could blow your own country off the face of the Earth but was at least reasonably sane! I miss driving. Just about everywhere.

But that hardcover book, that I will miss most. The way it felt in my hands, the heft…the smell of the fresh cracked page, like that new car smell only farrrr cheaper. The dust jackets—oh, yeah, the dust jackets—will miss them a lot! The knowledge that even though clearly mass produced, your personal copy was somehow just an nth distinct from all others. The way they looked lined up on a shelf. A warm look.  An intelligent look. A friendly, stroll over and grab one down look. Maybe there was that mustard stain on page 38, but it wasyour mustard stain. And lend them? Not on your life. These weren’t pieces of disposable property to bandy about, these were old friends. In many ways more dependable than the live ones. Yes, we had to box them, yes, we had to haul them, mile after mile, state after state. But no matter how strangely unlived-in each new house or apartment felt at first, the old familiar books helped make them quickly and reassuringly comfortable.

Perhaps most of all, especially if you didn’t take care of them, books aged…just like you did. Yet there was something comforting in the knowledge they’d outlive you, preserving your invisible fingerprints, invisible aura long after you’d departed. Even the paperbacks. They weren’t merely a commodity, they were—or could be when done well—an art form.

And now, like much of my hair and most of my jawline, they’re disappearing.

Okay, this is getting maudlin. It’s just paper, right? Quit sounding so goddamn acquisitive, Jones. Take a walk. On the beach. Soon as the 405 reopens…

Because the IMPORTANT thing is the writing itself! Not the silly-ass delivery system? Right? Right?

Of course.

Still…

…that Borders Iced Chai…

Bruce Jones

Bruce Jones

Bruce Jones is a novelist, screenwriter, comic book writer, artist and packager who is best known for his stint as packager of TWISTED TALES and ALIEN WORLDS at Pacific Comics and his work on Marvel’s THE HULK.

His recently published novels include Shimmer, The Deadenders, and The Tarn, all of which are available on Amazon.com. Altogether he has published twelve novels as well as hundreds of comics and a score of graphic novels, short story collections, and criticisms.

He is married to writer April Campbell Jones. They have three children and two dogs.

Jul 182011
 

peaches from bibberche.com

I have stopped counting the days before we leave for Serbia, and started counting the hours. My daytimer has a myriad of lists on different pages with most of the items checked or scratched off. I wake up in the morning with my heart doing crazy somersaults as the Reisefieber sets in. My mind is set on perpetual multi-tasking mode as I juggle the necessities of work (as tedious and forgettable as they can be), packing, obtaining everything absolutely crucial for the almost twenty-four hour flight, panicking over Zoe’s diabetes, and fretting over symbolic, but important gifts for friends and family.

I am excited and apprehensive, anxious and exhilarated, worried and giddy with anticipation of this trip. The girls started packing a month ago, sorting their clothes, separating the items they outgrew that will travel with them for their cousins who are yet to reach five feet. They are beyond excited and their questions border on manic. I don’t want to take that glint out of their eyes, and at times I just need to lock myself in a room and chant happy place, happy place for a moment.

Our bed is full of packing stuff and Husband is relegated to sleeping on the living room couch. Every day that brings us closer to the departure, the pile grows and stuff accumulates. Three girls with three suitcases seems a bit shy for a month long vacation, but we have to manage. In the end, it’s only “stuff”.

It has been three years since I went home, and many things are not the same as they were. The old concrete sidewalks in the yard have been replaced by pale green tiles. The staircase to our old domain has been painted. The kitchen walls are not white any more. There is a ping-pong table in the driveway which is going to stir up some memories from the days when we were the ones wielding the paddles. My brother and his family, who live in a smaller house in the same yard, have recently bought an Irish Setter and named her Lana, just like me (I am still trying to figure out if it was out of affection, or if someone has found some satisfaction in scolding the dog with a Bad Lana! and a smack to the muzzle).

In the three years that I have not seen Mother or any of my friends, I have changed, too. Mothers do not like to see their children age, and I still have to color my hair to hide the grey that brazenly takes over my chestnut waves, and apply a mask to try to smooth away a few wrinkles that unexpectedly appeared on my face. I have to paint my toe nails to hide the ugly splotches that show up with time, and allow my hands to rest so that the veins do not stand out, engorged and blue from stress. I want her to see me content, glowing with happiness, forever young and indestructible, immune to the passing of the years.

Mother’s health is failing and she is in a lot of pain. This summer, I will have to take control of the household and relieve her of that burden. I am looking forward to the routine of first morning cup of Turkish coffee with my mother followed by a walk to the market, the bakery, and the butcher. I will have to handle the challenges of her kitchen, a place that has become completely unfamiliar over the years. I will have to adjust to the European rhythm and start preparing the main meal around noon, as both of my parents have reached that age that demands an extremely strict and punctual schedule.

Our house is turned upside down, with suitcases loitering in every available corner. I am frantically checking off the items from the lists, and trying to empty the freezer, the pantry, and the fridge. The meals these days are light, quick, and mostly vegetarian. I am completely engrossed in our long  inter-continental trip, but my mind inevitably takes me home way ahead of time, and I miss my mom more then ever.

I did not want to leave the ripe, fragrant peaches languishing in the fruit bowl as Husband is allergic. Acting on an impulse, I baked a quick cake that Mother used to make frequently, utilizing any fruits that were available. The peaches were soft and smooth, juicy and bright yellow underneath the skin. The pit detached cleanly, leaving behind just the rosy-red indentations in the flash. I cut them into thin wedges and placed them on top of the batter. As the cake finished baking, the smell coming out of the oven was enough to transport me to Mother’s house much faster than the Virgin Atlantic flight we are taking tomorrow.

Peach Cake from bibberche.com

QUICK PEACH CAKE

This cake can be made with any fruit that’s in season. My favorites are sour cherries, apples, and plums.

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 250gr sugar
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 150ml milk
  • 300gr flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3-4 ripe peaches, pealed and cut into wedges

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Oil the square metal pan. Beat the eggs and sugar, and add oil and milk. Mix until smooth.  Combine flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix to combine. Pour into the prepared pan. Place the peaches on top and bake for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown (when done, a knife inserted in the middle will come out clean).

Peach Cake

I am sending this cake to Summer Fest 2011, the event in its second year, organized by Food Network and several bloggers. You can take part by leaving a comment bellow with a link to your recipe, if you wish. To get inspired and try something new, visit these blogs that are also participating in Summer Fest.

CIA Dropout: Peachy Keen Panna Cotta

What’s Gaby Cooking: Peach and Blueberry Cobbler

In Jennie’s Kitchen: Easy Peach Preserves

Daily Dishin: Fresh Peaches and Cream No-Bake Pie

Cooking with Books: Peaches and Cream Cheesecake

Cooking With My Kid: Peach & Friends Cobbler Pie

White on Rice Couple: Peach Heirloom Tomato Salad

Cooking With Elise: Bruschetta with Grilled Peach Chutney

FN Dish: Summer Fest: Peach Recipes

Taste With The Eyes: Warm White Peach and Blackberry Cobbler

Recipe Girl: Fresh Peach Pie

A Way to Garden: Farm Fresh Peaches Frozen to Perfection

Napa Farmhouse 1885: Fresh Peach Cookies

Sassy Radish: Peach, Apricot and Blueberry Cobbler with a Cornmeal Crust

Sweet Life Bake: Sweet Peach Ancho Chile Salsa

Indian Simmer: Indian Peach Gujiya

Pinch My Salt: Creamy Peach Smoothie

Food2: 5 Killer Peach Flavored Cocktails

Healthy Eats: 8 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Eat Peaches

Cooking Channel: Peaches on the Grill

Add a Pinch: My Grandmother’s Peach Cobbler

And Love It Too: Pan Seared Salmon with Fresh Peach Salsa

The Sensitive Epicure: A Summer Peach Tart, Gluten-Free

From My Corner of Saratoga: Double Caramel Peaches

She Wears Many Hats: Peach Wontons

I Am Mommy: Peach Bread

Dixie Chik Cooks: Peach Cobbler

Jul 142011
 

wax beans from bibberche.com

Several years before Bibberche was even a germ of an idea, I stumbled upon my first food blog while reading eGullet, a fascinating site aimed at exploring every possible facet of food preparation, consumption, and production. The first time I clicked on a URL of a blog, I felt like Aladdin entering the cave filled with gold, pearls, and jewels, blinking in surprise and amazement. Another world opened up for me, and its pull was like a strong current leading into an unknown and unexplored territory promising immeasurable treasures.

I started on my adventure innocently, completely unaware of the impact of my Open, Sesame! Every click of my mouse led me to another beautifully written sentence and another gorgeous photograph. The people hiding behind these blogs were not residing between the covers of a book proudly displayed on a bookstore shelf. They were people like me who reveled in the written word, who were challenged by metaphors, who giggled in delight after every successfully managed alliteration, and patted themselves on the shoulder after triumphantly changing a cliche into a witty segment.

These were the people who could also whip up a souffle after working for eight hours and commuting for two, who were able to deposit a quivering, perfectly poached egg on top of wilted spinach and consistently grill a ribeye with the skill of an Old World butcher. Some of them wielded a digital camera as skillfully as a chef’s knife, and I would wait with breathless anticipation for my page to load, to be seduced by their photographs.

One of the first blogs I started reading was The Well Seasoned Cook. I am Serbian. Beans form a considerable part of my blood. I was instantly drawn to Susan’s My Legume Love Affair. For a few years I just lurked, feeling inadequate and not able to contribute as I was not a blogger. When I finally launched Bibberche, I held back again, painfully aware that my photographs of brown legumes are not only boring and colorless, but also out of focus most of the time.

Susan, an accomplished photographer, managed to look beyond my unsuccessful pictures and recognize me as a fellow wordsmith. She has been constantly encouraging me, offering tips and advice, and giving me hope. When she asked me to be one of the guest writers to launch the 4th year of My Legume Love Affair, I was flattered and excited, my mind swirling with ideas.

To read about Mother’s Creamy Wax Beans recipe and  a story accompanying it, visit Susan’s blog The Well Seasoned Cook. While you are there, browse around and allow yourself to be seduced by her images and her words.

Thank you, Susan, for counting me among your friends and allowing me to write a post for your blog. I hope that our friendship continues to grow and that one day we meet, in New Jersey, Southern California, or anywhere in between.

Jul 102011
 

cauldron cakes and butterbeer from bibberche.comCollege Kritter is an obsessive creature and things presented in serial form appeal to her. She started reading Harry Potter, and inevitably dragged me into the process. I lagged behind, unwilling to commit all my free time to the adorable young wizards, poring through the piles of books I brought from the library that towered precariously on my night stand. She took great care of the hard-cover books and reluctantly allowed only the closest friends to borrow one or two, urging them, instead, to procure their own copies.

When the first movie premiered at our local theater, I took her to the opening midnight show on Thursday, sacrificing the next school day, all in pursuit of bonding and sharing. We were the rare exceptions who did not dress in black capes and did not wield wands, and we stayed determined not to play dress-up in the future. Pretty soon DVDs joined the books, taking a prime spot in the front of the entertainment center.

As Anya and Zoe grew up, they picked up Harry Potter books, coerced by Nina’s promises of sisterly movie marathons. Anya went through hundreds of pages in mere days, barely catching her breath, completely immersed in the story; Zoe took her time, busy with pampering her pet stones and shrinking potato that she kept under her pillow for days (that’s another post). The three of them spent hours watching DVDs, leaning against cushions and bean bags, taking breaks only to run to the bathroom yelling  incantations.

The last Harry Potter movie opens on July 15th. Nina will be in Paris with her study abroad group, and I do not believe that watching the movie is on their agenda. But the girls are getting geared up and ready. Anya has finished the book a long time ago, and Zoe is slowly working her way through it, hoping to get to the end before the Big Day. That leaves me as the family slacker, with two more books to go. I have been procrastinating and finding excuses, and now I will defeat the family credo and watch the movie before reading the book.

Feeling guilty, I promptly agreed when Anya asked me if she could have a Harry Potter themed party as a warming event before the movie. Her birthday is in August and she never has a party with her classmates, and this would be the first one for her. The two of them were in charge of the entertainment, and I was to prepare suitable victuals. After consulting the World Wide Web, I collected some ideas and recipes, and in the end decided to make butterbeer and cauldron cakes, in addition to a do-it-yourself pizza project.

Butterbeer was easy, just like making hot buttered rum without the rum (although I much prefer the rum version myself). Pizzas were kneaded to death, stretched to look like cats, and owls, and dragons, dotted with sausages and mushrooms, and drenched with sauce. Out of the oven, they were golden and fragrant, creative little masterpieces that made their makers proud.

But the cauldron cakes stole the show. They did not look at all like cauldrons as I lacked time and energy to come up with a way to fold the cake batter into a handle. Anya picked cream cheese frosting, which made the mission truly impossible. As long as they were called “cauldron cakes”, everybody was happy.

And I was beyond thrilled, as I managed to accomplish a task that would satisfy several pre-teen Harry Potter fans, and at the same time, become my entry for the recipe swap started by my fellow Southern Californian, Christianna, an LA food writer and producer.jelly cake from bibberche.com

I met Christianna in Atlanta while attending the BlogHer Food conference. We got to know each other a little bit while sipping a glass of really good red wine my roommate Beth uncorked for the occasion. We kept in touch on Twitter and e-mail, and that’s how I became a part of the group that does this monthly recipe swap. Christianna has stumbled upon an old and quirky cookbook All-Day Singin’ and Dinner on the Ground, which features recipes that offer directions and descriptions, rather then detailed instructions: there are no temperatures mentioned, we never know how big a pan should be, and it is obvious that the book was intended for serious and experienced cooks. It reminds me so much of the notebooks that my grandmothers and mother filled with recipes in ink, proudly showing their penmanship, listing the names of the friends, relatives, and neighbors that the recipes came from.

Every month Christianna picks a different recipe and we are free to be as creative as we want to be, interpreting the loosely written lines in any way that suits us. For July she chose Jelly Cake, which is nothing more that two thin layers of cake with jelly in between. The directions are merely three lines long, leaving a lot of room for imagination and freedom of expression.

The layers are thin and spongy, very European in texture and feel. The first is just a basic, simple yellow cake, while the second layer has cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, raisins, and molasses added to make it more fragrant and dense. I didn’t have any molasses and substituted honey, and instead of the raisins, which Zoe does not like, I included dried cranberries, which added just a little bit of tartness.

I am not an expert baker, and this project was delightfully challenging. I was elated as my cake layers came out of the oven barely blushed by the heat, and separated from the foil without breaking and sticking. I spread a small jar of my homemade strawberry rhubarb marmalade on top of the spiced layer and put the yellow layer on top. The assembled cake went into the refrigerator, eagerly awaiting the Harry Potter party to be made into cauldron cakes.

jelly cake, rounds, from bibberche.com

I used a big white wine glass that I am not that enamored with to cut the round sandwiches out of the cake, approximately 4 to 5 inches in diameter. I whipped a frosting out of cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar, and covered four of the round cakes with it, just to give the girls an idea. I wrote the initials of the four dormitories in Hogwarts using primary colored M&Ms and stood back to admire my work. Yes, I was definitely proud.

I let the girls decorate the rest of the twelve cakes I managed to cut out of the main oblong shape while I sampled the many scraps left over by the merciless cookie cutter disguised as a wine glass. I could not stop, feeling guilty as I stuffed more and more concave triangles into my mouth, picking up all the flavors from the jam, from the spices, from eggs, and vanilla.

I don’t know whose mother or Aunt came up with this recipe. But I am sure that they would smile in contentment watching my girls and their friends chew with abandon, their fingers sticky with frosting and candy, their imagination taking them to the cafeteria of the world’s most famous school for wizards.

I am looking forward to browsing all the different interpretations of this recipe. These are my fellow bloggers who participate in this event:DennisToni,SabrinaLoraLindsayMariMaryJennifer, Crissy and Lauren, RachelAlliKatyPolaJamieClaireShariJoy,MoniqueLindaPriya, and Jaclyn. To learn more about them, visit the swap page.

strawberry rhubarb jam from bibberche.com

JELLY CAKE (Adapted from All-Day Singin’ and Dinner on the Ground) :

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ tsp baking soda dissolved in milk (I failed to see this line, as it was on the right side all by itself, so there was no baking soda in my cake; I put ½ tsp baking powder instead)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar (I did not have it, so I skipped it)
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp rum extract or rum

Directions:

Cream together sugar, eggs, and butter. Add milk. Stir baking powder (and cream of tartar if using) into the flour. Pour the liquids into the flour and mix until combined. Divide the batter into halves.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a shallow jelly-rill pan and pour one half of the batter. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until done. The cake should be thin and just barely light brown on the edges.

Stir the spices, cranberries (or raisins), and honey (or molasses) into the other half and pour into a buttered shallow jelly-roll pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until done. Brush rum or rum extract all over the surface while still warm.

Spread jam, jelly, or preserves on top of the spiced layer and top with the yellow layer. Put in the fridge for a few hours.

To make the cauldron cakes (or just sandwich cakes), cut the rounds with a cookie cutter or a glass. Frost with your favorite frosting or enjoy plain.

cauldron cakes form bibberche.com

Jul 052011
 

Red Plum Pie from bibberche.com

In the world of school children, June is like the ultimate Friday. You have to spend a part of it cramming for exams trying to make better grades, but you know that all that work is going to end soon and the rest of the month will definitely be the beginning of a lazy and adventurous summer. July is like Saturday, the first worry-free month, completely void of any scholastic connotations, as the previous school year has ended, the grades arrived home, and the notebooks ended up in a recycle bin in a community center. September is still too far away to muddle the happy thoughts and nobody cares about new classes and text books.

It’s the month of leisure and freedom, the month of dreaming, the month of recklessness brought on by the fierce heat of sunshine, the month of white smiles buried in sunburned cheeks and wet hair. It is the time of year when fireflies make their magic appearance and put on their glittering light show as the balmy nights become fragrant with summer grasses . It is the month of gladiolus which take over the markets, regal and elegant, wilowy and light like ballet dancers, the undisputed winners of the summer flowers.

It is in July when the crates of plump yellow peaches start to appear on the steps, their smell enough to drag you outside to take the first bite leaning forward and collecting their sweet juices in your cupped hand. The pit, surrounded by blood-red pulp separates cleanly from the fruit, and nothing tastes exactly like that first, ripe July peach, picked that morning and gently nestled in a wooden crate.

Soon after, the apricots ripen and spread their fuzzy blush across the farmers’ markets, their orange flesh the reminder of countless sunny days behind and in front of you. Their reign is short, their existence fragile, but they leave in their wake glistening jars of preserves, bottles of nectar, and smooth, round halves swimming in sweet syrup – just enough to bring a jolt of light into a distant and dreary December morning and melt away the first asymmetrical snowflakes.

red plums from bibberche.com

Toward the end of July, the markets get flooded by plums. Serbia is a plum country and there is hardly a yard that does not boast at least one plum tree. The majority of the giving and humble fruit ends up fermented in rakija (slivovitz); the smaller percentage is dried into sweet prunes, preserved into jams and compotes, with only a small part eaten fresh.

We eagerly anticipated the plum season for the dumplings Mother made, with potato dough enveloping each pitted plum, boiled, and rolled in a mixture of fried breadcrumbs and sugar. Preceded by a soup, it was a filling and simple meal with plenty of dumplings left over for a late snack.

When I bought small, round red plums at our local Persian store, my girls thought that I would be making them those dumplings they adore. I intended to, pooling every ounce of culinary ambition I possess, but in the end I gave up until we return from Serbia in August. Making my first batch will be immeasurably easier under Mother’s tutelage. By that time, familiar Italian plums will be spilling over the crates in the farmers’ markets of Southern California, and I will be able to assemble and serve a moment of Serbian summer. The last days of August will feel like Sunday with everyone scampering to pull at least a few more truly adventurous days out of the month before school starts.

Instead of dumplings, I made a pie. We don’t make pies in Serbia, but the simplicity of the recipe won me over. It only has an upper crust which is more like a cookie than pastry. The rest of the ingredients are there just to elevate the plums to another level, give them a touch of spice, and let them shine… sweet, juicy, and just a little tart. It wasn’t a pretty dessert with the fruit spreading all over the plate and the crust crumbling under the fork. It was like biting into a summer day, sweet, luxurious, and messy.

Red Plum Pie from bibberche.com

Today is the day when about 1500 people all over the world will make a pie for Pie Day, an Internet event started quite small by Shauna Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef. I cannot wait to start my browsing and learn about all the different roads this simple dish can travel.

RED PLUM PIE

This recipe is originally written by Nigel Slater and I found it on the Guardian site. I changed very little. For the original and a great excerpt from his book, visit the site.

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • 100g (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 100g (3 oz) light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 175g (6 oz) all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • a little milk for brushing

For the filling:

  • 800g-1kg (about 2 lbs) ripe plums
  • 2-3 tbsp light brown sugar
  • · a pinch of ground cinnamon

Directions:

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the lightly beaten egg, then gently mix in the flour and baking powder. Remove dough from the bowl and roll into a ball on a heavily floured work surface. Knead the dough for a minute or two until smooth and soft. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Cut the ripe plums in half and remove the stones. Cut the fruit into large pieces, toss with sugar and cinnamon, and put into a lightly buttered 20–22cm baking dish.

Roll out the pastry on a floured board and lift carefully on top of the fruit. There will be a little left over. The crust is very short and it might tear, which is to be expected. Some of the juice will probably seep through it as it cooks anyway.

Brush the pastry lightly with milk and bake for 40 minutes. The pastry should be pale-golden. Dust with powder sugar and serve warm.

Jul 032011
 

Oaxacan Chicken Soup from bibberche.comThursday morning, my friend Cipriano boarded a flight from Tijuana to Oaxaca  to reunite with his wife, children, and fourteen grandchildren that he has not seen in more than four years. A few days ago, a co-worker took him to a salon where he had his salt-and-pepper hair died a ridiculously artificial black to hide the fact that he has aged. He spent all his free time this week at Target and Walmart, buying presents for his eagerly waiting family.

We have worked together almost three years and I will miss his small, hunched up form scurrying around, pushing the crates of glasses, and bringing the piles of green, yellow, and maroon Fiesta plates from his immaculately clean dish washing area. He appeared every morning at least half an hour early, greeting everybody with a wide smile that made his mustache shift upwards. He worked without complaining, endured the incessant teasing of the Mexican cooks and waiters, accepting their jokes with giggles, and trying to reciprocate the best he could. He claimed to be fifty two, but the wrinkles on his face revealed a more advanced age.

The only words in English el viejito has learned to pronounce are “thank you”, “hello”, and “break”. When I met him, my Spanish consisted of Adios, Hola! and una cerveza mas fina. I could sing a few lines from Besame Mucho and Un Año De Amor from Pedro Almodovar’s movie High Heels, but we really could not communicate. Using my Italian to try to break the language barrier, I asked Cipriano if he would teach me Spanish. He agreed enthusiastically, and from that moment on, my days at work were filled with phrases and sentences that he would pronounce in his toothless Spanish, gesticulating and using charades to make me comprehend their meaning. I would come home and pore through books or consult the Internet to get the grammatically correct forms, and go back to work to put to use what he had taught me.

With a forlorn look in his dark beady eyes, he told me of his village nestled in the hills a few hours outside of Oaxaca. He told me of his wife who tends to their goats, pigs, cows, and chickens. He told me how he misses the burro that he rides every day to and from the village center, as they do not own a horse, nor a car. He smiled every time when he remembered his wife’s homemade comidita, the small corn tortillas filled with roasted pork, some frijoles and arroz served with a Coronita or two. Talking about the people he loved and the land he left behind, he resorted to diminutives, making everything closer, more endearing, and childlike.

Cipriano

He walked home up the hill after his shift, just to change his uniform and walk down the hill to his night time job. More dishes to wash, more tables to clean, more cooks and waiters to tease him about missing his wife. He greeted every day with a glint in his eyes, grateful to any small thing that made his day better, perennially happy and eager to joke and accept jokes, no matter how cruel. He worked six and seven days a week for more than four years, day and night, walking along the paved sidewalks of Southern California and dreaming of a distant village somewhere in Mexico where calves are born, and chickens are slaughtered, and cows are milked, and his wife is making small, sweet corn tortillas and maybe thinking of him.

On his last day at work, I had Husband bring my camera and I took pictures of Cipriano with all the employees: waiters and cooks, managers and busboys, hostesses and prep guys. In each photo, he stood erect, trying to appear taller, his face sporting his usual wide smile even though the cook couldn’t resist the juvenile antic of holding his fingers behind Cipriano’s head like donkey ears. I printed the pictures and gave them to him to take home, to have at least a few faces by which to remember the four arduous years he spent in the US, trying to make as much money as he could so that he can help his family.

He made me promise to visit him and his wife if I ever make it to Oaxaca, and I agreed. I wrote down the name of his village and all the families related to him that would know where to find him. I showed him the piece of paper with names in Spanish and he averted his eyes, smiling, saying bien, bien. In that instant I knew that mi amigo viejito does not know how to read nor write, and my heart ached for him. If I had known, I could have taught him a little every day, just like he taught me Spanish.

The last time I saw him, he came to pick up his paycheck wearing a freshly ironed plaid shirt and a baseball hat. I gave him all the tips I made that day and told him to buy something nice for his wife and a lot of chocolate for his fourteen nietos. He gave me a hug and we both fought tears as we made our usual jokes. I left, waving to him, saying Vaya con Dios, mi amigo Cipriano!  I wish you good winds… And just like that, there was one less smile in my world. But I smiled wider because there would be so many more smiles in his than he had known in too many years.

I hope that he has arrived safely. I imagine the whole village of San Bartolo Salinas has gathered to listen to his high tales while he is sipping mezcal and munching salsita. I wish that he finds his peace in the green hills of Oaxaca he missed so much, riding his loyal burro to the center of the village, sitting straight and smiling. And I hope that, at least once or twice, he thinks of his friends on the other side of the border that will remember him for a long time, hoping his smile is even wider for being home.

I searched for a recipe that would transport me to Cipriano’s Oaxaca and when I encountered higaditos, I knew I had a winner. This is a luxurious chicken soup made for celebrations and weddings, a perfect dish to mark a reunion of husband and wife. It was rich and flavorful, carrying many layers and bringing forth just enough spice to make your heart skip a beat. I don’t know what dish his mujer made to welcome him home, but I fancied that she served him a bowl of this wonderful soup and that his smile was as wide as mine at the thought that my friend is home.

Oaxacan Chicken Soup from bibberche.com

HIGADITOS (OAXACAN WEDDING CHICKEN SOUP), adapted from Martha Rose Shulman

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 chicken drumsticks or thighs
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • ¼ pound chicken livers (I had sautéed chicken livers from breakfast. I diced them and mixed them in just before adding the eggs)
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 quarts water
  • Salt
  • ½ pound tomatillos
  • ½ pound tomatoes, halved if big
  • 2-3 serrano peppers
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 6 cups of the chicken stock
  • 6 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro

Direction

Put  chicken, onion, garlic, carrot, water, and salt in a large pot, and cook on high heat until it boils. Reduce the heat to medium-low to low and skim any foam from the surface. Cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Turn off the heat and let the chicken pieces cool for about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside. Strain the broth and discard the vegetables. Bone and shred the chicken when it’s cool enough, and chop the chicken livers. Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel tomatillos and place them in a roasting pan along with tomatoes and serrano peppers, and roast until charred and wilted. Cool off and place in a blender or food processor. Pulse until chopped. Grind the cumin seeds, peppercorns and cloves together in a spice mill.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and stir in the garlic. Stir together until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the tomatoes and tomatillos, and the ground spices. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture has cooked down.. Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, add the shredded chicken and the chopped chicken livers. Reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Shortly before serving, beat the eggs with ½ teaspoon salt. The broth should be just simmering. Very slowly pour in the eggs around the edge of the pot. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes. The eggs should set. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve in wide bowls with salsa on the side.