Dec 312011
 

eggnog french toast from bibberche.com

New Year’s Eve in the part of the world I grew up in was the biggest night of the year. Bigger than your birthday, bigger than Christmas, bigger than the Day of the Republic. It was the night when girls in jeans transformed into princesses and gawky boys became dapper gentlemen dressed in designer suits and ties. It was the night of stiletto heels daring the icy streets, while the pale arms twisted around their date’s cloth covered elbows for necessary support. It was the night when no one minded snowflakes dancing around in the halos of the streetlamps and when the excitement ran as high as before a debutante’s ball.

While everyone searched for their assigned seats in the restaurant, the band played easy listening music. The waiters in starched white shirts and black vests circled around offering aperitifs. The girls reached for them with shaky hands and the boys pretended to be suave and snatched them off the trays briskly. When the dining room filled up, the platters with appetizers were placed on the tables and the band switched to slow, ballroom music. The first couples on the dance floor braved the scrutiny of hundreds of eyes and gingerly followed the melody, locking eyes for encouragement.

In no time the dance floor was a sea of undulating bodies displaying every move learned at a dance class the previous Fall. When the entrees arrived, the music switched to rock, and the more familiar rhythm allowed everyone to loosen up and embrace the moves with abandon. An occasional reach for the wine glass, a stolen bite easily devoured, while the dance floor became ever more crowded.

As midnight approached, the ties were straightened, the hair was puffed up and the dresses pressed down, awaiting the inevitable celebratory photo shoots. The waiters passed the flutes filled with champagne, and the bubbles matched the sparkle in young, excited eyes. The countdown, the darkened room, the glint of glass, the anticipation of something monumental. When the hands on the clock met and marked the beginning of another year, the champagne glasses touched each other, the lips touched each other, the arms entwined, while the band eased into the first notes of the traditional Viennese waltz, The Blue Danube.

For several minutes, while the waltz lasted, every girl felt like a Cinderella embraced by her prince and whisked off into a fairy tale, and every boy saw himself as a prince, completely capable of winning a woman of his dreams. The first moments of the new year were indeed magical, bringing on its wings the promises of wishes fulfilled.

As the rigorous notes of Strauss ebbed, the band played slow tunes, allowing the couples to rest, but still stay together. As more food appeared and more alcohol was poured, laughter became bolder and touches more daring. With the renewed energy the music shifted to Serbian folk tunes and the dance floor again filled with young bodies holding hands, forming a chain that kept weaving around and around following an ever increasing beat. More music, more dancing, more wine, smiles plastered on faces by default, the palpable energy of the young, hour after hour, in an incessant flow, until the dawn, when the band gave up and called it a night.

The feet were sore in high heels, the mascara smudged, the ties askew and untied, but the eyes continued to sparkle while the batches of young people exited the restaurant and dared the freezing streets swarmed by lacy snowflakes. The early morning resonated in stifled giggles and hushed up laughter. The arms went unabashedly around the shoulders and waists, strengthened by the night left behind, buoyed by the hope of youth, still reeling from the wine and adrenaline brought on by the night of excitement.

But every night has its end. Deposited at the gate, the girls made shushing faces as they entered their homes, sending air kisses to the disheveled boys. Tomorrow morning they would awake, rubbing their tired eyes, just before noon, ready to jump up and scurry downstairs to listen to the Vienna Boys’ Choir and watch beautiful dancers gliding effortlessly across the shiny floors of an imperial Viennese ball room, ushering in the New Year with more Strauss.

We did not have a traditional New Year’s Day breakfast meal when I was a teen in Serbia. The only thing I remember of January 1st was the Viennese concert at noon, and I made sure not to miss it, no matter how late I arrived home from my Cinderella night. But I know that the first breakfast of the year needs to be special, indulgent, and a bit sinful, a hint of days to come.

If you have a carton of eggnog in your fridge (and I cannot imagine anyone not having it in late December), use some of it to make the French toast for the New Year’s. It is just indulgent and rich enough to make me smile and imagine for a moment that I am eighteen again, luxuriating at the kitchen table, while rubbing my tired feet and humming a waltz.

Happy New Year!

eggnog french toast from bibberche.com

EGGNOG FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • ½ eggnog
  • 2 Tbsp bourbon
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp butter (optional)
  • 8 pieces of stale French bread
  • powder sugar

Directions:

Whisk the eggs, eggnog, bourbon, and nutmeg until well blended. Heat the griddle on medium heat and add butter if it is not non-stick. Dip the bread into the mixture on both sides and place onto the griddle, four pieces at the time. When nicely brown, flip to the other side and let it brown.

Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Dec 282011
 

Redondo Beach apartment from bibberche.com

Before I left for college and departed my parents’ nest for good, unaware that the flight away would be final, my family moved three times, which would make us pretty nomadic in Serbian terms. Upon graduating from Medical school, Father started working in Novi Pazar, the city that paid his tuition and reserved his services as the young MD for three years. I was born in March, delivered by an old Muslim midwife who managed the delivery ward with unrelenting confidence on the tail of decades of experience.

We moved to ÄŒačak (pronounced chah-chahk) in June to join Njanja and Deda-Ljubo, Father’s parents. My sister and my brother were born within the next four years and most memories of our early childhood are tied to that stately yellow house with wrought iron gates, the shed that always smelled of smoked meats, a huge mulberry tree with a swing, Deda’s beloved roses, and Njanja’s lush hydrangea bushes.

stara kuca from bibberche.com

When I was eleven, Father got an apartment from the hospital (in socialist times, that was the only way the new family could disengage from the parents and start from the beginning), located only a block away from the yellow house. Our building was brand new, pink with white balconies, architecturally daring and modern, with straight lines and stuccoed walls. Mother finally had a kitchen big enough to spread her culinary wings and she made it into a cozy, warm spot, all orange and brown. It overlooked the city park and was bathed in the soft northern light.

I loved that apartment, but I was at an awkward age when we lived there, and I will always associate it with the anxiety, paranoia, and teen angst that engulfed me and threatened to destroy me at times. My cheerful polka-dotted pull-down curtains were always drawn; my window was always shut for fear of “the people” hearing what I had to say; I prepared for hours every time I had to leave the house and when I was outside, I would look straight ahead of me and rush, rush, rush to the store, convinced that everyone around was just staring at me, laughing, and whispering.

I was in high school for a few months when we moved again, only two blocks from our apartment, a block away from the yellow house. The yellow house was doomed, marked for demolition by the urban planners. In its place there was going to rise a skyscraper, and my grandparents had to move. The city offered several houses in exchange, and they picked the one that Mother and Father still  live in. But the transition was not swift, nor easy, as a smaller house had to be erected in the place of the summer kitchen for Njanja and Deda, and the ceilings in the big house were lowered to make a second floor a possibility. Mother was the main engineer, architect, and designer, along with being the cook who fed the numerous crews who worked on the house for months.

Moja kuca

In the end, it was perfect. The three of us had command of the second floor, my brother in one room, my sister and I in another. There was a huge balcony, a big open living room, a bathroom, a dark room for photography, and a storage room. We loved it, even though we did not understand at the time how fortunate we were. Understandably, every party was held at the house, and it became the hub of activity. To this day, many people remember the days and nights spent at our place, with Mother providing the victuals and Father taxiing the guests home.

I went away to college and came back every two weeks, unable to break the ties with my hometown and my family. That house continued to be the pillar of my security and even now I call it ” my home”, even though it has not been my home for twenty five years. There are memories engraved in every inch of its walls, in every tile, in every corner of our multi-angled, wood-covered second floor ceiling. I spent some of the best days of my life in the house, and it resonates with my friends’ laughter, with my sister’s giggling, with my brother’s 80s music, and my boyfriend’s whispers. The house moved on, gaining new memories and new sounds, but for me, it remained cemented in an age that makes me feel happy and strong.

Kuca

I moved fifteen times since I arrived to America in August of 1986. My sister rolls her eyes when she tells me that there are no lines left in her address book for me anymore. I laugh it off, knowing that she’ll adjust. When we moved from Ohio to California in August of 2008, it was out of desperation and hope. We landed in Orange County because we had Ohioan friends living next door and nobody else. We left our beautiful house on the lake to come and live in a tiny apartment surrounded by hills and people who like to spit on the sidewalk. The girls declared that they hated California. And we were scrambling to prove them wrong.

It took three whole years of me working at a yucky diner and Husband taking whatever work he could find until he finally found a writing job that would enable us to make a leap forward and move away. We are still holding our breaths, but we think we are home. After a couple of weeks of grueling work, back pains, and total exasperation, we are at peace. We found a place we can call home and our girls are going to like California.

Hermosa Beach from bibberche.com

This morning Husband and I walked to the beach. It took us fifteen minutes to get to the Strand and we were in awe of the beauty that surrounded us. We know we can be happy here, once we are free of the boxes. Our spirits are high, our energy is spiking, and our hope is at a new high. We are ushering the New Year in completely loving our new digs and anticipating a future that can only be awesome for us.

It gets harder and harder every time we move. We are growing older and the physical exertion cannot be ignored. I know that we will move again. But we know that the next move will put us into a place of our choice that the girls can call home for decades to come. This interim place is making us happy and letting us breathe with full lungs, adding the ocean air as a bonus.

For the new beginnings and the promises of New Year I have a festive dish that adorns many a Serbian celebratory table. It is a savory roulade made with spinach dough, cheese filling, and roasted red peppers.

FESTIVE SPINACH ROULADE

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 6 eggs
  • 6 Tbsp flour
  • 6 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 500gr (1lb) blanched spinach squeezed of water, chopped (you can use two packages of frozen spinach)

Filling:

  • 250gr (1 cup, ½ lb) crumbled feta (or cottage cheese)
  • 4 Tbsp sour cream
  • 2-3 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tsp salt (if the cheese is not too salty like feta)
  • 1-2 roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Separate the eggs and whip the egg whites into a stiff meringue. Add the yolks, and mix well. Add the milk and mix until combined. Sprinkle with salt and add the flour and baking powder. It should look like the cake batter.

Stir in the spinach until it is combined thoroughly and pour into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (If your pan is bigger, the roulade will be thinner and more decorative). Spread the batter evenly with a spoon and shake the pan a few times to get rid of the bubbles.

Bake for twenty minutes, like you would a cake batter. When done, roll the dough into a roulade using the parchment paper and let cool. In the meantime prepare the filling.

Crumble the cheese and combine it with sour cream, cream cheese, and the salt, if necessary. Spread the cheese mixture on top of the green dough and lay pieces of roasted red pepper on top. Roll tightly with the parchment paper and place in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours.

When chilled properly, remove from the fridge and slice into ½ inch thick pieces. Place on a platter and serve.

Spinach Roulade from bibberche.com

I brought Spinach Roulade to our monthly Food Bloggers LA (FBLA) meeting hosted by Erika of In Erika’s Kitchen. For the round-up of all the wonderful recipes visit Dorothy’s website at Shockingly Delicious.

Last year at this time I wrote The Night We Came Home with a great recipe for Mulled Wine.

Dec 122011
 

Ruzice from bibberche.com

In fifth grade, we had to choose if we were going to learn English or Russian. Under Mother’s tutelage, I had already started studying German, and I knew how to count to ten in a dozen languages, thanks to a wonderful children’s weekly magazine called Politikin Zabavnik. I picked English, even though my parents’ best friend bestowed a beautiful Russian name “Svetlana” on me when I was born. I poured my soul into the class, eager to master the difficult pronunciation and get the secret to deciphering my favorite 70s music lyrics.

While I was busy practicing the English alphabet by heart and learning how to mispronounce “mushroom” and “eucaliptus”, the Russian club planned a recital, with poems, songs, and dancing. I watched with envy when they trailed after classes and congregated in a classroom, laughing and having fun, while we were given idiotic exercises to repeat ad nauseam at home. I went to Mother for help and emerged, armed with several Russian phrases and lyrics to a few songs. I spent most of that week learning the words and practicing my still unripe soprano, and I boldly appeared in front of the Russian teacher with a request to take part in their recital.

They were several weeks into rehearsals and she had to turn me down, even though she really liked me. I wanted to belong and I suffered while I watched my friends perform. I sang along in the audience, knowing that I could have done it better than many. To this day I get weak in my knees when  I hear the powerful melody of Katyusha. 

Ruzice from bibberche.com

Since then, I was a part of many groups, projects, and teams. I organized the chemistry after school  gatherings in seventh grade, I competed in the First Aid Tournament in eighth grade, sang in choirs, entered writing competitions and even the tournaments in bike riding. I just wanted to belong.

I was shy, and my desire to be a part of a group or an ongoing project was not prompted by a desire to be popular – I was aware that I did not possess the charisma of the bubbly, easy-going, lovable people that stood at the center of every gathering. I did not resent them, as some of them were my friends. I knew I was different and admired their suave ways and the ability to remain cool under preassure.

The years have passed and I have come to live in peace with my subtle and reserved ways. The friends I made when I was fourteen and fifteen are still my friends, even though I chose to hop the ocean and switch continents on them. We continue where we left off, no matter how much time has elapsed in between. I don’t really have to prove anything any more, but I still want to feel like a part of a group.

Ruzice from bibberche.com

In Serbia we do not do cookie exchanges. In fact, there are no presents given for Christmas. It is a holiday celebrated with family, centered around the orthodox Christian traditions and rituals that stem from old Slavic times. But ever since I moved to the U.S. I wanted to be a part of a cookie exchange. I wanted to be in the middle of the kitchen, speckled with flour, flushed from the heat emanating from the oven, pulling trays and trays of cookies that would find their way into other women’s kitchens.

I dabbled in that while I was in Michigan, ending up disappointed in receiving dozens of plain, bland sugar cookies, while I sent out tins filled with elaborately executed roasted hazelnut sandwich cookies spliced together with creme anglaise and topped with a dark chocolate ganache.

I was leery when I clicked the I accept button for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap started by Julie of The Little Kitchen and Lindsey of Love and Olive Oil. But the idea of participating in an event that gathers together more than six hundred food bloggers took my breath away and I felt eleven again, this time fully accepted and welcomed, with no reservations.

Our task was to make three dozen cookies of the same kind to send to three different addresses we received in the mail. In turn, we would receive three dozen cookies, all different, from thee different bloggers assigned to us. I chose my grandmother Njanja’s recipe that was a particular treat to us in the winter months.

I received Peach cookies and Salted Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies from AJ and Jas at Sisters’ Snacktime: Munchies for Two; Earl Gray Shortbread Cookies from Food Victorian, and Chocolate, Macadamia, white Chocolate Cookies from Sorelle e Cibo. All I can say is that this week has been a feast in our house. Husband swooned over the shorbreads, and the girls, as fickle as they are, could not decide which cookies they liked best – they declared them all divine. Thank you, my new friends, for the wonderful treats. I am looking forward to getting to know you better.

In  turn, I sent a dozen cookies each to Amy at My Life As a Lazy Girl, Marcy at Too Timid and Squeamish and Nyree at Foodie Interrupted. I really hope that the cookies arrived intact and tasting good! I enjoyed the goodies I received and the feeling of belonging has made my week feel particularly wonderful. Not even the realization that I completely forgot to take the final photo of my cookies sprinkled with powder sugar managed to ruin my high spirits.

Ruzice from bibberche.com

NJANJA’S ROSE COOKIES (RUŽICE)

Ingredients:

  • 450gr (1 lb) all purpose flour
  • 250gr (8oz) lard (I used half lard, half butter, but you can use all butter)
  • 1 envelope yeast dissolved in 100ml (1/2 cup) warm milk
  • 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • zest of 1 lemon

Filling:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 150 (5oz) powder sugar
  • 150gr(5oz) ground walnuts

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients together and let rest for 15-20 minutes. Pull apart the pieces the size of a walnut, make into a round and flatten to a thin disk. Place a 1/3 tsp filling in the middle and scrunch the edges together, forming a flower filled with the filling (very similar to making Chinese dumplings).

Filling: Whip the egg whites until firm. Add sugar and walnuts and mix only until smooth.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, untiul pale golden. Let the cookies cool for several minutes and roll into powder sugar.

 

 

Dec 092011
 
Zlatibor from bibberche.com

Zlatibor

My hometown in Serbia is nestled snugly at the foot of the hills, protected from the harsh winds that blow from the Alps, lulled into a false sense of security. And any road you take out will lead you to more hills and more horizons interrupted by gentle green curves or sharp peaks piercing the clouds. Only when you travel far enough northeast and reach the beautiful spot where the river Sava submits to the mighty Danube, facing an old Turkish firmament at the capital city of Belgrade, will the plains open up, allowing you to watch the magnificent sun descend for a long, long time, finally falling asleep somewhere in the middle of fertile Pannonia.

I was a child conceived, born, and raised in the bosom of the hills and mountains, even though Mother longingly missed the long sunsets that teased the horizon and made golden promises of infinity to Vojvodina’s flat terrain. I possess the impulsiveness and raw passion of highlanders, aware that there will always be another peak to overcome, furtively suspicious of never-ending expanses of docile wheat undulating seductively while following the strong lead of the merciless northern winds. Our sunrises took us by surprise, changing the night into day instantaneously, jerking us into reality unrelenting, whipping us into shape within minutes with the sneering authority of a drill sergeant.

Zlatibor from bibberche.com

The end of the day arrived as quickly, unexpected, with the sun dipping into the cleavage of twin hills guarding the town from the west. It would inevitably try to spread its pink and purple around, wishing to caress every roof and touch every glade of grass, but the twin peaks would inexorably suck in its glow within minutes, leaving only the wounded hues of indigo to color the twilight. We adjusted and learned to live in the moment, fast on our feet, expecting a slap, a jab, a tickle from our whimsical and cruel surroundings. The shades of gray were temporary, coming and going with the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, leaving the scorching white and unfathomable black to fight for dominance.

An hour to the west lies mountain Zlatibor like a meek, voluptuous concubine showing its fertile valleys and knolls behind every lazy curve of the road, its silky green flanks flecked with flocks of sheep. It accepts travelers into its warm embrace promising comfort and denying danger, eager to spread and show off its unthreatening, innocent beauty. It offers welcome and necessary respite because somewhere beyond it, you are bound to face cold and ominous mountains with deep canyons, plunging cliffs, and unyielding rocks slashed open to let a stream through. Once you get there you know that some invisible hands will grip your throat and allow you only shallow breaths, enveloping you in air so crisp that you can barely stand upright, your whole body suddenly light and weightless.

Zlatibor from bibberche.com

But Zlatibor nurtures and caresses, unselfishly giving everything it possesses, eager to please and satisfy, smiling timidly with the smallest praise. Her air is fresh and fragrant with grasses that barely move in the breeze. It seduces you while bringing you strength and arming you with confidence. Its power does not hide behind intimidation. It is unassumingly spread before you in all its soft folds, dark thickets of slender pines, and gurgling springs that calm and entice at the same time.

My country is small with very few roads connecting the dots. Every time we traveled west to the Adriatic coast, we could not avoid the green haunches of Zlatibor. We always became ravenous a few miles before, letting our primal desires build, heads swimming with anticipation, oblivious to the landscape surrounding us. Father would park his bright orange Lada in front of an unassuming inn and we would pour out, stretching and jumping, breathing the cool mountain air with full lungs, feeling welcome and safe. We would sit at the table with wooden benches and Father would order for us without consulting us, the menu, or the waiter. Only in Zlatibor would he disregard our wishes because there was but one dish that all of us craved: komplet lepinja.

Zlatibor from bibberche.com

This is a simple fare, but unattainable anywhere else. Freshly baked small rounds of soft bread (lepinje) are sliced in half, slathered with aged, locally made golden kajmak*, brushed with a brightly orange, slightly beaten egg and suffused with richly flavored juices left over after roasting a lamb or a piglet. The two halves are placed in an oven and baked for a few minutes until the edges crisp up and become lightly blushed from the heat. We had no reason to speak when our hungry mouths reached this infused bread hot from the oven. With eyes glazed over, we took the first bite, sighing in contentment, knowing that it was worth waiting for.

After the last crumbs disappeared from our plates, we would reluctantly leave the inn and pile into the good, old Lada, basking in the afterglow of our experience. We felt that the mountain surrendered herself with abandon, satisfying our every need and bringing a satiated smile to our lips. While we rode her creases back to our town, we were grateful and happy, assured that one day soon we would return and accept her gift again and again.

*Kajmak is the specialty of Serbia. Fresh milk is slowly heated in big, shallow pots until it simmers. When it cools off, the fat that gathered on the top is collected, placed in a dish, and salted. Kajmak can be eaten immediately or it can be aged until it’s crumbly and strong.

(My sister took all of the beautiful photos above).

KOMPLET LEPINJA (ALL IN ONE BREAD)

To satisfy our cravings and to save the bread from going stale, Mother made a take on this dish, excluding the roasted meat juices as they were usually unavailable. She spoiled my girls by making them this baked bread for breakfast and now I am challenged to execute it in my Southern California kitchen. I am so glad I managed to bring kajmak home!

There is no need for a traditional recipe – photographs are enough.

Zapecena lepinja

An egg, a lepinja, and kajmak

 

Komplet lepinja

Cut the bread in half, making the bottom part more concave and thicker.

 

Lepinja from bibberche.com

Spread copious amounts of kajmak and brush with a beaten egg.

 

Zapecena lepinja from bibberche.com

Bake in the 400F(200C) oven for 7-10 minutes, until golden brown.

Last year: Hair Apparent and a recipe for Quinoa Sweet Potato Salad

Dec 042011
 

kiflice sa kokosom from bibberche.com

When I was a child in Serbia, if you wanted a cookie, you would have to go to the store and buy them in a factory wrapped box. There were crispy, square butter cookies, ring-shaped and not too sweet tea cookies, hazelnut and mocha flavored wafer cookies, thin cookies shaped like leaves and clovers with bottoms dipped in dark chocolate, shiny, flower-shaped cookies that melted in your mouth, and crumbly, ridged cookies doused with vanilla-scented powdered sugar.

Homemade versions of cookies were made in a device similar to a panini press or in a machine with a hand crank that came with several molds. I don’t remember any field trip away from school or a camp without a bag full of these crispy desserts, crunchy and somewhat soft, with a zing of lemon zest, not too sweet, hardy enough to survive a grade school child’s lack of attention and offer the same fresh taste after a week.

But for holidays, Mother and Njanja would completely ignore these cookies and reach for recipes that produced the most delectable petit fores. The competition in the town was fierce and they each excelled in the pastry department. While they watched sugar caramelize and made Italian meringue, we were at the table armed with small hammers, breaking the shells of walnuts and hazelnuts, begrudgingly contributing to the family effort and eating as many nuts as we could sneak by Mother’s Sauron-like eye.

To us the ordeal was torturous, but we knew better than to whine and complain. In the end, we were always rewarded by some simple sweet that could be prepared in minutes, while the perfect little squares, balls, and triangles they made were laid out on long, narrow trays, geometrically aligned like Roman legions, and completely out of our reach. We knew the guests would get the right of first choice and we acquiesced, albeit grumbling and envious. But we knew that some of the smells that embraced the house like luxurious pashmina shawls belonged to us and as we stealthily visited the beautifully arranged trays in the cold, closed-off white-and-blue formal dining room, we restrained ourselves and retreated upon ogling the goods, knowing that in a few days we would get to taste them, and that in the meantime we were not forgotten.

Yes, we were spoiled. I don’t recall a day when there was not something sweet awaiting us when we returned from school or when we finished the main meal in the afternoon. Mother did not like to buy cookies, finding it ridiculously easy to put something together that would satisfy the voracious appetites of her brood. I admit that we lusted after the commercially produced sweets, but we were aware that they could not compete with Mother’s desserts.

In the summertime, we enjoyed light, creamy concoctions filled with juicy, fresh fruit, but the cold months were filled with the scents of vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut, and roasted hazelnuts. Oh, how we loved these simple, non-demanding desserts that Mother made for us…  just because… in between… without a thought!

It’s another round of Recipe Swap, the event started by Christianna of Burwell General Store. Once a month a group of very creative and imaginative people make the same recipe, putting their own twist on it, weaving their stories and experiences through their posts. So far we have been preparing different dishes from an old hymnal and cookbook Christianna unearthed at a flea market, but this month we are branching off and trying the recipes from another junk yard find,The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places. “It was written in 1954, and features recipes from famous restaurants at the time, making it a fascinating vintage social register” (quote by Christianna). The recipe is for Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies.

recipe swap tollhouse cookie

This is the basic, simple recipe for a treat that welcomed many generations of American children when they ran inside coming home from school. It’s comforting, homey, sometimes crispy, sometimes chewy, the best when chased with a glass of cold, whole milk. It evokes the feelings of love, safety, and warmth. It is the cookie that my mongrel girls choose when I offer a treat. It is the epitome of cookie for them and as I type, a batch of them is cooling off on the rack in the kitchen.

I love chocolate chip cookies. But when I want to go home in my mind, when I want to feel the icy touch of northwestern wind and smell the first snowflakes in the air, I reach all the way to my childhood, to the smells wafting from Mother’s oven, welcoming and warming. And there I find these simple treats that smelled so good cooling off that we emerged out of our rooms nose-first, like cobras entranced by an Indian fakir’s seductive melody. There is no snow in Southern California, but with these cookies I can pretend that the winds that attack us from everywhere are icy, frigid, bringing with them the intoxicating smell of first snowflakes.

COCONUT CRESCENTS (KIFLICE SA KOKOSOM)

Ingredients:

  • 250gr (1 cup, 2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp baking owder
  • 100 gr (3 oz) ground walnuts
  • 100 gr (3oz) coconut flour (I bring it from Serbia; it’s sweetened and ground much finer that American coconut)
  • 200 gr (7oz) flour
  • 1 cup powder sugar

Directions:

Mix butter and sugar using an electric mixer until creamy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and mix until incorporated. Combine all dry ingredients and mix together. Stir butter mixture into dry ingredients until combined. The dough should be soft.

Pinch off pieces of dough the size of walnuts, roll into a dowel, and curve like a horseshue, ½ inch in diameter. Place on the cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and bake for 15-18 minutes until pale brown. Let the cookies cool on the sheets. When cooled off, roll into powder sugar.



Dec 022011
 

mini cocotte from bibberche.com

After almost four months in Serbia, coming home to the U.S. was not an easy feat. My roots took hold and in a way it felt as if I never left, even though I have been a guest in my native country for more than twenty years. I breathed in the crisp, evening air of my town and all the Septembers and Octobers of my childhood and youth rushed to hold me, offering the comfort of the past. With every day I spent there, I felt more and more like I never left, falling comfortably in sync with with the old paths my feet established a long time ago.

When I finally plopped down on the seat in the bus to Belgrade, it felt as if someone had plucked me out of the dirt and left my wounded roots to crumble and dry. I was like a child taken away from the warmth of her mother’s lap and the security of her father’s embrace. I was returning to my own family that I missed horribly, but I was coming apart inside, clutching at all the familiar sights, sounds, and smells, unable to leave them.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

I suffered for a week the merciless consequences of jet lag, waking before dawn and getting drowsy just when the kids were finishing their homework. I felt as if I were sleepwalking through my daily routine, while I established the patterns anew and grabbed the reigns of my girls’ daily lives. It made me happy when I made the first school day breakfast and saw the excited grins on their faces, while Husband gave me the most endearing smile full of gratitude and relief. I welcomed the routine and the schedule that took my mind off Serbia for a few hours.

pots and pans

During the day, when the girls were in school and Husband at work, I took to cleaning with passion, finding therapy in menial labor. I cooked Chinese, Indian, and Thai dishes that I missed while in Europe, filling the apartment with exotic smells that transported me to lands far away from both California and Serbia. I kept all the windows and doors open to take advantage of the wonderful spurt of hot weather unusual even for our latitude, hoping to shake off the remnants of chilly continental nights in Mother’s room.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

But I would go back again and again, spurred by a Skype talk with my sister who took over when I left, a sip of strong Turkish coffee,  the touch of the scarf I bought for peanuts in one of the myriad boutiques in my town. I bruised myself daily bumping from counter to counter to the fridge in the pinball machine that we call our tiny kitchen, and cursed silently when I had to play Tetris to extract a pan from deep and dark cupboards. I missed the freedom of movement I had in Mother’s kitchen and the ease of locating anything I needed in her immaculately organized huge pantry.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

Over the years, she has accumulated a nice collection of enameled cooking pots, and while as a child I failed to grasp their appeal, I stood mesmerized this summer looking at each metal dish, banged, yellowed, and scratched from use. I wanted them all, knowing that I coveted the impossible. I guess that one day we can reserve a big container on one of the Trans-Atlantic ships and appropriate the whole lot, providing that my sister gives me her blessing.

And like a magpie that absconds with various sparkling objects, I semi-furtively packed in my suitcase a dozen items that reminded me of growing up in that house and Mother at Her strongest and healthiest. It did not surprise anyone that most of the things I smuggled out were connected with cooking. I counted on my luck when I was approaching customs, assured that my treasure would be viewed as odd at least, which would make me very suspicious.

pots and pans from bibberche.com

my loot

These four old enameled dishes live a luxurious life in my little kitchen, adored daily and used as frequently as I can justify. Their handles get hot and they don’t hold a lot, but looking at them makes me bridge the expanse of the ocean and bring Mother and my beloved house closer to California.

While I was gone, Husband went to HomeGoods and found beautiful mini cocottes for me. Moved by his thoughtfulness and inspired by their cute design, I grabbed them from their shelf and put them to work, leaving my Serbian beauties to watch from the bleachers.

BAKED EGGS WITH GRITS, BACON, CHEESE, AND SCALLIONS

This dish is very easy to put together, but cooking grits demands some time. I grew up on cornmeal and husband on grits – it’s no wonder that our girls love maize in any form, and we always have a bag or two in the pantry. If I had not brought the pots, I would have had room in my suitcases for a kilo or two of Serbian, mill-ground corn meal. But, there is always the next time.

Ingredients:

  • 4 strips of bacon
  • 1 cup of stone-ground grits or polenta
  • 4 cups of water (for creamier grits, use 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk)
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper (if black specks bother your sense of esthetics, you can use white pepper
  • 1 bunch of scallions, green parts only, diced
  • 4 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 4 eggs

Directions:

Place the bacon in a skillet and heat on medium temperature until crispy. Flip and fry the other side. Let it rest on a plate covered with a paper towel and when cooled, crumble into pieces.

Heat the water (and milk, if used) on high heat until it boils, turn the burner to low, and gradually add grits, salt, and pepper, constantly whisking for a few minutes. Let it cook for 20-30 minutes (polenta cooks faster than stone-ground grits) until creamy and thickened. Mix in the scallions.

Heat the oven to 400F.

Divide the grits between four ceramic ramekins. Sprinkle with grated cheese and crumbled bacon. Carefully break an egg into each ramekin on top of the bacon and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending if you like your eggs more runny or less.

 Baked eggs and grits with bacon, cheese, and scallions from bibberche.com

 Last year: Baby Bird Buzzes the Nest (and a recipe for Leftover Turkey Soup).