Sep 282012

salad with figs, goat cheese, and pecans from

I remember the two steps to the entrance of our yellow bungalow; I remember eating cold whipped cream “Ledo” with a square plastic spoon on our way to the beach; it was packed in a paper cup and it tasted like milk, vanilla, and freshly churned butter; I remember holding several really big, skinny books Mother and Father bought me at the fair; I remember the feel of hot pebbles and cool Adriatic caressing my chubby, four year old feet; I remember the ease with which my younger sister made friends with the kids next door, while I hid behind a huge aloe vera plant and bit my nails; I remember a paper cone filled with warm figs Father brought from the market and spilled on top of our oversized striped beach towel; and I remember how I watched the weird-looking fruit with suspicion, doubting its real identity, invoking the images of Christmas Eve and amber-colored, chewy, and wrinkled pillows filled with sweet seeds that exploded when bitten.

Father bit into a slightly soft, light brown fig to reveal fleshy pulp the color of my tongue, and when his eyes closed in delight I trusted him without a question. I reached for one tentatively; my sister followed, and pretty soon we were running to the sea to wash off the sticky, pink rivulets that laced our tanned limbs, as we crunched the small seeds between our molars, trying to extract the last traces of the exotic honey taste that enchanted us.

Budva, 1968, from

For years, the only time I enjoyed figs was on the beaches of the Adriatic, and I almost forgot my initial infatuation. It all came back eight years ago when my sister and I took my three girls to the seaside in the town of Igalo in Montenegro. We were too lazy to go to the farmers’ market in the heat of the midday, and not willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to avoid it, but dark-haired and handsome teenagers who patrolled the beaches were not offering only small frosted bottles of Fanta and chocolate-covered mini donuts that would invariably attract the girls’ attention, but also baskets of warm figs, as ripe and swollen with seeds as that long-gone day Father offered them to us as a gift.

My daughters were older and not as trusting as we were. Anya was skeptical and doubtful, squeezing one unfortunate specimen between her fingers, dissecting it with her nails, breaking small pieces off and placing them carefully in her mouth, taking her time in getting to know this new fruit. Zoe, on the other hand, mesmerized by the dark rose interior and completely beguiled by the honey-taste and tiny crunchy seeds, grabbed a handful. My sister and I did not need a prompt, and our pile disappeared quickly, leaving our fingers, mouths, and cheeks sticky and sweet, and our faces brightened with smiles of contentment.

We ate our weight in figs that summer and my girls fell in love with that dowdy-looking Mediterranean fruit that hides its brilliant essence so skillfully. For years to come that was the only thing they wanted from friends and relatives who vacationed on the Adriatic coast when we happened to spend our summers in Serbia.

Igalo from

my sister and my girls

But now we live in Southern California and even though figs are everywhere, in grocery stores, at farmers’ markets, on neighborhood trees, I behave as if I still had not received the memo and grab a box greedily every time I see one. And the fruit disappears as fast, sneaky long fingers plucking them one by one, until only their plastic containers remain.

Even though I admit to absconding with a few of the figs myself, I managed to save a dozen to use in the salad that all of a sudden is not a luxury. It came together so easily, as if I had been making it for years. Yes, my fingers tried to steal a few slices before they hit the salad bowl, but my restraint was formidable and we were rewarded with a glorious mound of spring greens dotted with crumbled goat cheese, sparkling candied pecans, and soft, sweet wheels of figs. Not even the presence of arugula, whose bodacious flavors the girls still have to discover, managed to deter them from clearing their plates and proclaiming it one of the best salads ever.


Recipe type: Salad
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
The flavors are bold and contrasting, but they come together in harmony, complementing each other.
  • Salad:
  • A big pile of mixed spring greens (enough for everyone)
  • 6-8 ripe figs, sliced into rounds
  • a handful of candied pecans
  • 4 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • balsamic vinaigrette:
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  1. Mix all the ingredients for salad in a big bowl.
  2. Pour balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper into a small glass jar (I save the jars from salsa, capers, artichokes, etc. and use them for emulsifying my dressings).
  3. Close the lid tightly and shake vigorously for ten seconds, to allow vinegar and oil to become friendly.
  4. Pour immediately on top of salad and toss lightly.


Sep 202012

Montenegrin Goat Cheese from

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” ~~G.K. Chesterton

Djurdja admits that she is at least 80 years old, but I believe that she is somewhat conservative. She complains constantly of her back pains, leg pains, head pains. She wobbles when she walks, but when no one is looking she straightens up and runs up a path, nesting her walking stick underneath her armpit for safe keeping. She gave birth to ten children, two of whom died as toddlers. The rest she dispersed all over the world, choosing to stay with her youngest son Danilo, his wife Sanja, and their three teenage children.

She was born in Metohija, the land of undulating hills, vineyards and sunshine, where old Serbian kings of the Middle Ages built their castles and churches, choosing to conduct wine through the pipes under ground rather than water. She married young and lived a hard life, the youngest wife in the commune, the inevitable target of the older women who tried to exert their power in any way possible in the cruel and patriarchal world dominated by men.

old Serbian woman from


In 1999 her world collapsed as NATO war planes bombed her village and the universe seemed to point an accusatory finger at every Serb living in the area. When it became obvious that the life of yesteryear could not continue, she abandoned her husband’s grave, gave away their meager possessions to the neighbors, parted with her flock of sheep, and took off for the scraggy and dry hills of coastal Montenegro, never once looking back at all those years she spent in Peć.

I met her son Danilo, a former engineer turned high school maintenance man, when he came to help my Uncle make salami. We were born in the same year, we have college degrees and we both have three children; that’s where the similarities stop. His two boys walk three miles to their high school. The oldest daughter takes the bus to the college in the near-by city of Kotor. All three of them have to help the family; the boys accompany their father when he goes out to fix things; the daughter wakes up at dawn to take the goats out to graze. When I was there, I did not hear them whine, complain, or talk back. They just did it, understanding that they contributed to the family. And they maintained an A average.

Goats from

I woke up early one morning and walked to their still unfinished two-story brick house with an old RV camped in the front yard and a dilapidated, green awning casting shade onto the patio. Djurdja was watering the plants, complaining of the merciless heat that was killing her tomatoes. Together we crossed the road to the meadow where her daughter-in-law, Sanja, stood surrounded by two dozen goats as she poured water into the trough. Sanja called the goats by their names, almost singing, and they trotted to her, stopping on the way to munch on some dry leaves. She had already milked them before I arrived and they were bleating happily as they played, crossing their horns in make-believe combat.

Her son arrived to relieve her and took the goats further into the thicket. The relentless Montenegrin summer was at its peak and greenery was scarce. The milk, Sanja told me, would be stronger and less fatty. They sell the milk to the tourists, and make cheese with the rest. She refused my offer to help her carry the buckets filled with frothy, white milk, and continued on across the road and behind the house where she started to turn milk into cheese. She brought a shallow, heavy enameled pot from the house and strained the milk into it through the cheesecloth. Then she stirred a few tablespoons of liquid rennet, covered the pot, and placed it on top of  a Smederevac, an ancient wood-burning stove.

Mking goat cheese from

Djurdja was cracking jokes all the time and lamenting over her life, while she watched every step Sanja made like a hawk, ready to pounce and scold her for the smallest error. But everything worked as planned and the three gallons of milk were slowly simmering, heated by gnarley dry wood. We moved to the patio and had shots of strong, sweet home-made cherry brandy that accompanied even stronger cups of Turkish coffee.

I did not have the time to observe the process in its entirety. I only wish I thought of visiting this family at the beginning of our stay. Milk had to cool off for several hours covered with a clean, starched linen kitchen towel before it would be sliced in cubes, allowing the whey to separate. The solids would be strained into a cheesecloth-lined wire strainer and left to drain for a few hours. After that, the disc (still wrapped in cheesecloth) would be placed onto a wooden board and pressed with a heavy rock. It usually ended up in the fridge for about a week to dry and age, without getting sour in the summer heat.

Goats from

I discovered a slightly yellow disc in my Aunt’s and Uncle’s fridge and I knew it was Sanja’s goats’ cheese. I unwrapped it and cut a few thin slices, not knowing if I would like the taste. It was still a bit milky, but dry, without being crumbly and too salty. There were small holes in it and the crust just started to form. It went perfectly well with a glass or two of Vranac, a famous heady Montenegrin red wine, made strong and stout by the endless sunny days.

We left the next day, but on our way I stopped by their house to say goodbye to Djurdja, Sanja, and Danilo. I felt honored that I met this hard-working family that offered me hours filled with smiles as they toiled under the scorching sun. I know their kids will become wonderful adults and I wish them at least a few days free of worry. But as they plan to keep those goats, my wish might be in vain.

Sanja and Danilo from

Sanja and Danilo

Sep 142012

French Onion Soup from
The first time I encountered French Onion Soup was in a fine dining Italian restaurant in one of the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, where I started working as a waitress right after my extremely unsuccessful stint as a security guard at a local skiing hot spot*. I considered myself suave and sophisticated, well-traveled and well-read, a connoisseur of good food and fine libations – and what 22 year old youth from a good family does not think that?

The restaurant served different soups on different days, but not always on the same day. The CIA-educated owner and chef liked to surprise his patrons, and predictability was not his game. My arrogance crumbled when I tried to pronounce Mulligatawny Soup and remember all its ingredients. French Onion Soup was a gimme after that, and as I faked nonchalance, I scrambled the best I could to figure out its essence.

I had bowls and bowls of the soup which seduced me from the first spoonful, but I still could not replicate it at home. Every question I posed to the owner was received with a crooked grin, but I did not give up. Those were the days when I experimented with cooking, not because I loved it, but because I was stubborn and did not like to be defeated. I considered cooking one of the shackles of a modern woman, determined that I would master the skill only to hide it from anyone around me, afraid that it would glue me to the stove for eternity.

There was no Google in those days and when I visited my local library, I brought home dozens of books, none of which pertained to cooking. I observed the cooks at work and I watched PBS cooking shows for ideas and explanations. I still did not understand the processes and chemistry behind the art of cooking, and my culinary puzzle lacked a lot of pieces. But I was determined to learn, even if it entailed me relying on my senses, as I closed my eyes and envisioned the ingredients that went into this soup, or any other dish I wanted to make at home.

On the day I pulled it off, I danced around my kitchen, the first kitchen that was truly mine, the kitchen I did not have to share with anyone else, competent or incompetent. I had a pot of French onion soup simmering on my stove, the croutons were ready to meet the cheese, and the only person I had to please was myself – not that it was an easy task, but at least I knew no one was out there determined to keep me bound to that stove.

French Onion Soup from

The first time Father visited back in the 90s, I made it for him, knowing that he is an epicurean eager to get acquainted with new tastes. And for him, just like for me, it was love at first bite. Every time he visited I knew how to make him happy: with a bottle of Courvoisier and a bowl of French onion soup.Mother was a natural in the kitchen and I could never compete with her accomplishments. But I had to assert myself and decided to do it in a non-threatening way, by learning how to cook the dishes that she was not familiar with. French onion soup was a simple, peasant fare that elevated a few cheap ingredients to a higher level and I managed to learn how to do it without looking at a recipe card.

He usually spends a few months with us in the U.S. every year. But Mother was fading fast last fall and he could not leave her side. We contacted the Embassy, implored, and explained the circumstances, all to no avail. Father lost his green card and we will not see him this year. I made French onion soup when my sister was here, but it was all for him, a pot prepared with more tears than mere onions could extract, a pot of melancholy and nostalgia and love and hope, and a vision of the next time I am able to welcome him to my home in Southern California.

He loves the ocean and I know that he would spend hours at the beach reminiscing about his youth spent on the coast of the Adriatic. I know that I cannot replace Mother in his life, nor in mine; but I know that I can offer him a bowl of sweet French onion soup topped with crispy, cheesy croutons that will take his mind off sorrow and make him realize that life still goes on and he will never be alone.

*My parents built a chalet on one of the most beautiful Serbian mountains, Kopaonik, and the three of us, along with many of our friends and relatives spent innumerable hours on the slopes throughout the years; the mere thought of a ski “resort” built on top of a filled-in city garbage dump made me scratch my head in bewilderment, even though I had to admire the beauty of that practical solution.

Dusan, 2010, from


I have prepared this soup many, many times, using various combinations of onions: yellow, red, white, green,  even shallots and leeks. Each time the final product was a little bit different, but equally sweet with several deep layers of flavor.


  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil (or any other oil of your choice)
  • 3 large onions, halved and sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white wine (a few times I used dry vermouth when I was out of wine, and it tasted great)
  • 1 quart beef (or veal) stock (I make my own, but you can certainly use store bought; just make sure that it is low-sodium); vegetable stock is an option for vegetarians and my fellow Serbs who observe the days of fasting
  • 3 slices crusty country bread, cubed*
  • 4oz Gruyere (any cheese will do, as long as it melts well), sliced thinly; for Serbian Orthodox fast, use dairy-free cheese
  • parsley for garnish

*I used to toast whole slices of country bread, but they always turned soggy and drank up all of the liquid from the soup. That’s why I decided to switch to croutons.


Heat a Dutch oven or a sturdy soup pot on medium-low temperature and add butter and oil. When melted, pour in all of the sliced onions. Season with salt and pepper, and sautee until golden brown and caramelized, 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the onions start to burn, add 1 Tbsp of water. After 30 minutes add garlic.

When the onions are browned, stir in flour and mix for 1 minute. Pour the wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Increase the temperature to medium-high, and add the stock. When it boils, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, preheat the oven to 350F and lightly oil a cookie sheet. Place bread cubes on it in one layer and bake until golden brown and crispy.

Increase the heat to broil.

Ladle the soup in oven-proof individual bowls, top with croutons and lay slices of cheese over them. Place the bowls on a cookie sheet and put under the broiler for 30-60 seconds, just to melt the cheese (use the oven mittens when handling the hot bowls). Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Sep 102012

Chiles Rellenos with Picadillo from

It’s been a few months that I did not participate in my favorite online culinary exchange Recipe Swaps. Oh, I was ambitious when I set sails for Serbia earlier in the summer, intending on reporting about various farmers’ markets I visited, foods I tasted and I enjoyed, dinners al fresco and at restaurants, and family meals I prepared in the warmth of our family’s kitchen. But life intervened and my good wishes were dispersed in an instant. My blog suffered and I missed the interchange with my virtual friends scattered all over the globe.

Things happened and hours in the day were too few. My muse was like a flitting fairy, here in one second, gone in the next, and the rhythm of my days over there was so syncopated that I could not plan anything even one hour ahead. I am not complaining, even though some of those hours were saturated with grief of the deepest kind; I was fortunate to spend a few weeks with people I loved who loved me in return. We cried and we laughed intermittently; we reminisced and remembered, filling each other’s stories with our own  almost forgotten details; we spent long minutes in silent embraces, our shoulders wet from tears; we sat at a long, disjointed table in the yard underneath the eave, drinking Father’s golden-hued, homemade slivovitz and listening to the ballads that marked our youth; we allowed ourselves to get lost in bygone years, reaching to the past to get that special feeling back, the feeling of unwavering hope, unbridled energy, and the unstoppable zest for life yet to come.

Hatch Chiles from bibberche.comThe weeks I spent overseas were therapeutic, sobering, and mind-awakening. I drifted between sorrow and exultation; after my mom died, I sniffed her  pillow knowing that even the faintest whiff of her smell would make me cry for hours; minutes later I would be laughing with my sister as we remembered the funniest moments of our childhood, Mother making faces, cracking jokes, and instigating some seriously funny mischief.

I returned to the U.S. filled with energy, ready to tackle all the obstacles of  life, prepared to face all the demons I was hiding from for so many years. My smile is bright, my skin is shining, and my mind is set on finding the right path for my future. My friends love my new aura of self-confidence, and I bask in the glow of their appreciation.

As if she could guess seemingly antagonistic thoughts occupying my head, our group leader and founder Christianna, from Burwell General Store, challenged us to recreate Pork Fruit Cake from Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook for this month’s Recipe Swap. Ground pork paired with molasses, cloves, and raisins, mixed with flour and baked into a cake? An impossible task at first glance.

recipeswap, pork fruit cake from

I channeled all the contradictions of my present life and conjured up a vision of a dish containing many of the given ingredients,  celebrating their bold, yet complementing tastes. Picadillo sounded just right, with its sweet plump raisins and exotic spices not often paired with pork (at least not where I come from). Piquant Hatch chiles are at the peak of their season and I used a batch I had roasted a couple of days ago as a cradle for this fragrant sauce. When their soft flesh closed around the filling, and the icy touch of the freezer made them more compliant, I rolled them in the flour and the beaten eggs, and fried them gently until they were perfectly browned and crispy.

All the flavors from rice, tomato sauce, and stuffed peppers melded together even as they jumped individually, asserting themselves one by one: the sweet and tart of cranberries mellowing out the spicy notes of Hatch chiles, the cumin in rice finding the cumin in the tomato sauce, the nutty crunch of roasted almonds welcome alongside crumbled, slightly tart pork.

I am slowly settling back into my American routine, each new day another challenge I gladly accept with my new-found energy, even though I am still partially overseas, roaming the house that holds so many memories, smiling through tears, confident that the best of life is ahead of me.

Roasted Hatch Chiles from


Loosely adapted from Mexico, One Plate at a Time by Rick Bailess


Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp lard or bacon fat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28oz) whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor or a blender
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cup chicken broth


  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2lb ground pork (or beef)
  • 2 Tbsp milk*
  • 1 cup reserved tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries (usually it’s the raisins required by the recipe, but my girls don’t like them)
  • ½ Tbsp vinegar (I used cider vinegar, but you can add one of your choice)


  • 12 Hatch chiles (or 6 poblanos), roasted and peeled ( destemmed mine, but it’s easier if you leave the stem on and clean only the seeds)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour+1Tbsp
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • oil for frying
*I always add a few tablespoons of milk when  work with ground meat; it softens it so it breaks easier, thus avoiding big lumps; I saw this tip a long time ago on a food TV show featuring an Italian chef.


Heat the lard or bacon fat on medium-low temperature. Add the onions and garlic, and sautee until translucent and soft, about 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves, and simmer for another 25-30 minutes, until it thickens.

Reserve 1 cup of the sauce for picadillo.

Add the chicken broth to the rest of the sauce and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat and add almonds. Stir for 1-2 minutes until they are golden brown and crispy. Remove the almonds and add the pork to the skillet along with milk. Break the meat clusters with a wooden spoon and sautee until equally browned and crispy on the edges.

Mix in the tomato sauce, dried cranberries, and vinegar and stir until combined, about 5 minutes. Keep warm.

Make a slit in each pepper and remove all the seeds, trying to keep the stem intact (I failed at this, but it still worked). Place about 1 Tbsp of picadillo filling in the middle and wrap the sides of the pepper gently over it. Place on the cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When all the peppers are stuffed, put the pan in the freezer for about 1 hour, for easier frying.

Separate the eggs. Whip the whites until firm, but not rigid. Add salt and yolks. In the end mix in the 1 Tbsp of flour.

Heat the non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add enough oil for frying, about 1 inch in depth.

Roll the peppers in the flour and then in the egg mixture. Place them in the skillet, four at the time. After 2-3 minutes, when golden brown, flip them with a spatula and fry for another 1-2 minutes until the other side is done (the egg burns easily, so be careful). Place onto a plate lined with paper towels. Continue until all the peppers are fried.

Spoon some of the sauce on a plate and place a couple of peppers on top. I served mine with Mexican rice and even though Hatch chiles managed to pack some serious heat, the girls and I enjoyed the dish.

Picadillo from


Sep 012012

Peach Cake from

I was born in March when the only flowers bold enough to face the cruel northern winds and ice storms of seemingly interminable winter were snowdrops, dark stems and leaves fearlessly piercing the frigid surface supporting three delicate, shy white petals staring submissively at the snow-covered ground. Farmers markets displayed meager offerings, early spring produce ripened in glass houses – spring onions and garlic, spinach, butter lettuce, and peas, all of them tinted in various hues of green, too monotonous to offset the gray of depressing winter months.

My sister was born toward the end of July, when the Earth spews forth its abundance, making the stalls at the markets sag under the weight of fruits and vegetables in all primary colors, throwing at us dahlias and gladiolus with their large, obscenely beautiful flowers, flaunting their velvety petals and sinful shades like over-confident debutantes who are aware that their time is yet to come.

I tried to gather some points stating that there was magic in the first awakenings of nature, that the harbingers of spring were the toughest specimens of life on the planet, that we had to look beyond the barren land and envision the bounty that is fast approaching. My words were full of visions and promises, but they could hardly combat the certainty of summer. The only revenge was that I could have an actual birthday party and my sister had to be satisfied with family and only an unpredictable, but very low number of friends in attendance. But a victory is a victory, and I will take scraps if I have to, thank you.

Right about my birthday (the last day of winter), we would start thinking of cleaning out the closets, replacing the heavy wardrobe for the lighter summer clothes. That was also the time of spring cleaning, one of the most dreaded events in our household. And the month of March did not contain one single holiday away from school, which made it thirty one days too long! Apart from my birthday and a few weekends we spent skiing, there was little to look forward to in March.

My sister did not have to work to sell the height of summer to anyone – not that she would, even if she had to. By that time, everyone in town was sporting a healthy sun-kissed tan, summer break was at its best, the streets were teeming with teenagers, the city pool was the place to be, and parents were stewing in summer heat long enough not to be bothered to keep everything in check. Which was another perk of the late summer. Damn.


As if that were not enough, the crates of peaches started appearing in our back yard, grown on the farm of our family friends. And I am not talking about your ordinary, supermarket quality fruit. These beauties were hand-picked  at the peak of their ripeness, gently laid into the crates covered with crumpled newspaper like babies in cradles, their red, and orange, and yellow fuzzy faces looking up. We approached them with the predictability of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the mere thought of their fragrant, luscious flesh that yielded so easily to our teeth and tongues, oblivious of the aromatic, sweet juices running down our chins and staining our tee-shirts.

Summer for me is not at its height without peaches. They encapsulate the best nature has to offer, holding the essence of the sun in their perfect round shape. I had a chance to summon the taste of those long-gone summers a month ago when I was in Serbia. A crate appeared again in the back yard and I could not wait to sink my teeth into the soft fruit, anticipating a flood of memories. And I was not disappointed. I have stopped resenting my sister and her birth season long ago. Every summer, while in Serbia, I buy gladiolus frequently, even when she is not with me in our childhood home. I eat peaches with abandon, smiling, awash with nostalgia, remembering those lazy, care-free summers of our youth when everything seemed possible.


This recipe is very versatile as you can use many different fruits instead of peaches. It works wonderfully well with sour cherries, plums, and apples.


  • 1 cup sunflower oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cups brown sugar, packed
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cups milk
  • ½ cup plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into wedges


Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a square pan (9×9) with foil and oil it lightly.

Cream the oil and both sugars until combined. Add the eggs, milk and yogurt. Mix in the flour and the baking powder. Pour half of the dough into the pan. Place the peaches on top and cover with the rest of the dough.

Bake until golden brown (the knife inserted in the middle should come out dry). Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes. Serve sprinkled with powder sugar.