Jan 302014
 

Serbian-Chinese Cream of Chicken Soup from bibberche.com

When he was in Medical School, Father had a Chinese roommate. This was back in the 50s, and Tzu-Ke-Lee attended the University of Belgrade on a Chinese scholarship studying Serbian language and culture. Even now, in his old age, Father can charm a linguist without being proficient in any language except Serbian, and in his twenties he could communicate with extraterrestrials successfully. That they were both young men was obviously plenty for a friendship to be born.

Tzu-Ke-Lee introduced Father to the tradition of drinking real tea while still piping hot, and in turn got initiated into some unavoidable Serbian rituals: drinking slivovitz (plum brandy) along with Turkish coffee, and devouring various smoked porcine products. The gentle Chinese youth spent every holiday with Father and his parents, getting an in-depth experience of family life in Yugoslavia, which for the most part consisted of Njanja trying her best to fatten up her emaciated guest and Father playing practical jokes, fully taking advantage of the cultural gap.

Asian Vegetables from Melissa's Produce from bibberche.c0m

Tzu was serious and committed, but Father managed to drag him away from his books occasionally and take him out on the town. He went along without missing a smile, and spent hours with Father’s friends, downing shots of slivovitz, learning to jitterbug, and flirting with beautiful girls dressed in sleeveless shirts tied just above their belly buttons. But come morning, when all the rest of the bunch moaned in pain unable to face the morning sun, Tzu was already hitting the books, his porcelain teapot gurgling with steaming hot tea and several cups ready to be filled.

He graduated in record time and started to prepare for his return to China. He spent his last weekend in Yugoslavia with Father and his family in our home town of Čačak where everyone knew him and treated him like a member of the family. The women cried, the men patted him on the shoulders, trying not to show the sparkle of tears in their eyes. Back in Belgrade the farewell party was somewhat solemn. There was still slivovitz and the jitterbug, and flirty pretty girls showed up in droves. Promises were made, addresses exchanged, but everyone knew that China was on the other end of the world, as attainable as the Moon. It was a real goodbye and no one expected to hear from Tzu-Ke-Lee again.

Father continued his studies, intermittently interrupted by wild drunken bashes in which he invariably found himself entwined with another pretty girl with sparkly eyes. On many mornings after, he longed for a cup of strong steaming tea and the gentle smile of his departed roommate and wondered if Tzu thought about his days at the University of Belgrade and the friends he had to leave behind.

Daikon and Carrots Pickle from bibberche.com

And somewhere in Beijing, Tzu-Ke-Lee kept on studying, stealing moments to reminisce about the time he spent in Serbia. A letter from China traveled for months before it reached my grandparents’ house in Čačak. The whole neighborhood gathered at the house while Njanja read the lines aloud. For the moment the gentle Chinese was back among them, smiling and bowing, and everyone felt touched by his kind words.

Throughout the years he kept on writing. Father told us stories about their escapades, vowing every time that he would write back, complaining that he is not good with pen and paper (and that was not just an excuse; the postcards that he sent sounded the same no matter if he wrote to his best friend or Mother, exactly the same when he wrote from his trip to Paris, as from a neighboring town). But he never wrote back.

Back in the 70s, Tzu-Ke-Lee accompanied a Chinese delegation as an official interpreter. He called Father from Belgrade, and in a few hours he was in Čačak, embracing his old roommate and meeting his young family. I don’t remember much of that day, but I cannot forget that weird looking, but smiling face and gentle eyes hiding behind dark-rimmed glasses. A few letters and a few years later, Tzu started working for Radio Beijing. Father still promised to write back, but never did.

Tzu-Keli letter from bibberche.com

I was already on my final year of college when he told me that, a while back, Tzu-Ke-Lee had invited me to be a guest at their family home in Beijing. The meticulous Chinese planned every detail of my stay there. I would travel to Russia and take the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Vladivostok, and on to Ulan-Bator in Mongolia and Beijing. He knew that I had a passion for languages and promised me a place at the University to study Chinese for two years. But by the time I found out, my life was taking a different turn. I spent a summer in the U.S. and my heart remained imprisoned in the wilderness of the Colorado Rockies. If I had known about the offer when the letter first arrived, I would have jumped up and down to make it happen. But after several years it became an empty dream never to be fulfilled.

Father has never written back to Tzu-Ke-Lee. But I am on very friendly terms with the pen and paper and today I wrote an e-mail to the editor of Radio Beijing. I know that it is a shot in the dark. I do not even know if I spelled Tzu’s name properly. But I am hoping that someone in that big town knows this man who was like a member of my family back when Father was just a young punk. I would like him to know that a lot of people still remember him and tell stories with a teary eye.

I sent greetings to Tzu-Ke-Lee and his family, wishing them health, prosperity, and happiness in the Lunar New Year. I told my girls all the stories I remembered about this gentle, kind man and recruited their help in preparing a Chinese meal. I am sure that there are a few teenagers somewhere in Beijing who listen wide-eyed about their Grandfather’s adventures. And you know what? China is not that far away any more.

In celebration of the upcoming Lunar New Year, I am presenting you with two recipes that are all about Serbian-Chinese friendship. Our cultures are not that are apart when it comes to food stuff.

Thank you, Melissa’s Produce, for all the amazing Asian vegetables that arrived one day in front of my door.

Pickled Daikon and Carrots from bibberche.com

 

Daikon and Carrots Pickle
5.0 from 1 reviews

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Recipe type: Canning
Cuisine: Serbian – Chinese
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
It seems that Serbian and Chinese food cultures are very similar, as the recipes differ in really tiny details.
Ingredients
  • 1 Daikon radish, scrubbed, peeled and cut in pieces 3 inches long and ¼ inch thick
  • 5-6 carrots, scrubbed, peeled and cut the same way as the radish
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 6-7 black peppercorns
  • Water
Instructions
  1. Place Daikon and carrots in two quart-size jars.
  2. Make it look pretty.
  3. Pour vinegar, salt, sugar and peppercorns on top. Pour in water to fill almost to the top (leave a bit of space under the lip of the jar.
  4. Firmly close the jars.
  5. Place a kitchen towel on the bottom of a tall pot.
  6. Fill the pot with water.
  7. Place the jars in the pot on top of the kitchen towel so that they are completely submerged.
  8. Heat the water until it boils.
  9. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes.
  10. Take the jars out of the pot.
  11. Turn them upside down, wrap them in towels and place them in a warm spot until they cool off.
  12. They should be ready to use within days.

Serbian-Chinese Cream of Chicken Soup from bibberche.com

SERBIAN-CHINESE CREAM OF CHICKEN SOUP

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ cup diced onion
  •  ½ cup diced carrots
  • ½ cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 cup leftover roasted chicken cut up in small cubes
  • 1 bunch bok choy, trimmed, rinsed and cut in smaller piece
  • Tbsp farina (cream of wheat)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Heat the oil in a heavy pot on medium temperature.

Sautee Onions, carrots, and bell peppers until soft and transparent, 5-8 minutes.

Add chicken stock and cut-up chicken and cook for 15 minutes.

Add bok choy and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add farina.

Beat the egg with a fork and mix in buttermilk or yogurt.

Pour 1 ladle full of soup into the egg mixture to temper.

Pour the egg mixture into the pot and stir.

Turn the heat off and serve.

 

Feb 162013
 

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

We did not celebrate Valentine’s Day in Serbia  when I was growing up. So my first February on the new continent, I strolled through the aisles of the grocery stores in a western suburb of Detroit, and gazed in amazement at the piles of chocolates, pink and red hearts, red roses, and enormous helium balloons. I felt like Bugs Bunny in that cartoon where he imagines he has a weird disease whose symptoms include multicolored dots dancing in front of his eyes. I was dazzled by the exhibit of commercialized romance, wondering where all the pink and red ended up.

I worked at a small family restaurant that Valentine’s Day and a few minutes before closing, a white teddy bear holding a huge red helium heart-shaped balloon appeared at the door. I chuckled and shook my head, amused by the utter silliness of the moment. But the balloon was heading in my direction and I froze when I saw my husband’s bearded face behind it, smiling from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling in anticipation of my mushy and tearful response to this oh-so-very romantic gesture.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

Everyone around me was oohing and aahing, and I wished that I could wave my magic wand and disappear; or at least have the teddy bear and the balloon disappear. I should have known that Don would pull something like that. After all, he took me to see Howard the Duck on our first date after I arrived to the U.S. And he was extremely excited when an old Gypsy sold him Huey, Dewey, and Louie wall ornaments silhouetted in wrought iron at the market in my home town in Serbia. I did not have the heart to tell him that I really thought all the kitsch I saw around me was meant for high school kids.

Throughout the years I got accustomed to seeing men in suits and ties logging behind them big red heart-shaped balloons and stuffed animals, bedazzled crimson boxes filled with chocolates too sweet for my taste, and cards brimming with tasteless and sappy poetry. I overcame my cultural shock and learned to accept these funny expressions of affection that came my way on the Day of Love.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

Pits and pulp are full of pectin

I feel pretty domesticated on American soil after more than two decades of domicile. My second marriage is in its terminal and final phase and Valentine’s Day ambushed me this year. It would have snuck by unnoticed had my girls not insisted on making some red velvet cupcakes for their BFFs. I don’t want to infect them with my grumpiness and disdain for this holiday when they are so enthusiastic and eager to offer the world their small share of red, sweet, and chocolatey. It only seemed appropriate for me to let them take the center stage.

Oh, I participated in the madness, too, but in an unorthodox and weird way. My contribution this year is Seville orange marmalade whose seemingly contradictory nuances of flavor perfectly describe my life at present: it is slightly bitter, bright, sweet, and fresh, with a hint of exotic and mysterious. And it is the bitterness that I look forward to, as it seems to only bring out and accentuate the sublime taste of the preserves in all its complexity.

Seville Orange Juice from bibberche.com

After I take the kids to school in the morning, I make a strong cup of Turkish coffee, spread some good butter on a piece of crusty Tuscan country bread and grab a small jar of marmalade. It has become a ritual I anticipate with glee. I wait patiently as the sweet orange jam slowly oozes from the spoon onto the bread, welcoming the bitterness that lingers for a few seconds. This marmalade is not comforting and mellow. It is bold and assertive. It does not coddle and caress, but most definitely reminds me that life is, indeed. bitter and sweet and exciting and unpredictable.

I don’t know how many teddy bears, chocolate boxes, and big, red, hear-shaped helium balloons are in my future. I’d prefer to avoid them if possible, but even if I see them approaching me from the distance, I won’t be embarrassed and I won’t roll my eyes in disapproval. After all, I know that there would be someone’s huge smile hiding behind them and that’s all that counts. In the meantime, I’ll bid Valentine’s Day goodbye, with my fingers sticky from the marmalade.

*****

Seville oranges originated in China and Arab explorers brought them to Europe, where they reigned for the next few centuries, before their sweeter cousins took over. The first orange marmalade was made from Seville oranges, as they are high in pectin. Inclement weather made a ship carrying them take shelter at the Scottish harbor of Dundee, where a local grocer bought the whole cargo cheaply. His wife used a few sacks of sugar sitting in the store to make marmalade and soon after, they started a jam-making business.

Seville Oranges from bibberche.com

Fragrant Seville Oranges from Melissa’s Produce

Seville oranges are hard to peel and have too many seeds. Their juice is sour and tart, but abundant, which makes them perfect for juicing, marinades, and dressings, as they are not especially good for eating fresh. Their slightly bumpy skin is fragrant and rich in essential oils, and when zested adds a fresh citrusy punch to a salad, a bowl of wilted greens, or grilled fish.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

Ingredients:

  • 1 dozen Seville oranges
  • 3 Meyer lemons (mine were from my neighbor’s tree)
  • 4 cups water
  • 7 cups sugar

 Directions:

Prepare the jars and lids. Heat a big pot of water and when it boils, submerge the lids and the jar inside and boil for 5-10 minutes. Invert them on a clean paper towel to dry.

Scrub oranges and lemons and cut them in half. Squeeze the juice and strain it. Reserve the pits, the pulp, and the membranes and tie it in double layer of cheesecloth (this is where all the pectin resides).

Using a grapefruit spoon scrape as much of the white pith as possible, as that’s what makes the marmalade bitter. Cut the skins in thin strips and then in smaller pieces.

Boil the skins for an hour to make them softer and drain. Add the squeezed juice (I had about 3 cups), water, and cheesecloth with pits and pulp.

Heat until it boils, and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 hour. Add the sugar and continue simmering for another hour, until the skin is soft and translucent. To check if the marmalade is ready, place a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. Drip a few drops on it and swirl it around. If it barely moves, it’s done. If it runs, it needs to cook a little bit longer.

Turn the heat off and let it cool slightly. Carefully fill the jars and close the lids tightly. Keep the marmalade in the fridge for a month.

Thanks Robert from Melissa’s Produce for the gift of this beautiful citrus!

Nov 162011
 

quinces from bibberche.com

It is not luscious and red like a strawberry; it is not juicy and crunchy like an apple; it is not blushed and soft like a peach; it is not sweet and bold like a plum. It is hard, gnarly, irregularly shaped, pale yellow and covered with an unflattering wooly layer. But in spite of its humble appearance, the quince is, for me, the most mysterious and romantic of fruits, like a melancholy noble lady with ivory skin and silky, golden tresses. It can turn any cool room into a fragrance store and many of my childhood memories come to life with a bare hint of its smell.

It is believed that the golden apple of discord Eris threw to the Greek goddesses was indeed a quince, the fruit that jealously hides its beauty beneath the unattractive surface. In the Balkans, it is forever tied to the elusive East, caravans, and white cities glowing in the summer sun. They pose proudly atop pale green and white credenzas in our grandmothers’ dining rooms, patiently waiting for their chance to shine and convert the unbelievers, subduing them with their rosy charm.

It takes heat to transform the nondescript yellowish white of their flesh into an array of sensual colors ranging from coral and pink to deep orange and ruby red. Only when heated do they release their fragrance, losing the tart, mouth-puckering taste they have when raw. And they morph in front of your eyes, becoming mature, ripe, and full of life, showing off like concubines, seducing all the senses, revealing their real nature, blushing like plump, healthy girls from a Rubens painting.

They ripen in October and November when only a late apple and pear manage to survive on the trees, as if prompted by an icy kiss of merciless northern wind. They are forgiving and patient, arrogantly aware that their pale yellow glow preserves the last of summer sun. They sit perched underneath high ceilings, etched against old-fashioned wallpaper, giving away only the allusion of the flavor they hide within, laying in ambush, comfortable in their ugly duckling disguise.

During the summer months hornets made a nest in one of three Father’s quince trees. Whenever I went up to “the Hills”, I avoided the trees in a huge arc, letting my wasp phobia take control. But Father trapped hornets in his empty 2 liter Coke bottles filled with sugary syrup and collected the ripe quinces once the hornets went to sleep. He made rounds in the neighborhood leaving the crates full of fragrant fruit whenever he received even the smallest sign of enthusiasm. He deposited four of them on the floor of Mother’s blue and white formal dining room, much to her consternation. The unheated room quickly filled with the quince fragrance, and I took every opportunity to open the door and inhale with full lungs, feeling lost faced with all that yellow bounty.

I knew that I was taking good care of her when Mother, as sick as she was, perked up and commandeered the post as the Chief General, all of a sudden energetic enough not only to give me the instructions, but to wobble on pushing her walker all the way to the kitchen to supervise the process. I was elated to see her in her element, resigned that she will take the whisk away and apply it with her own sense of accomplishment. I smiled, watching her stir and sweat, while holding on to her walker with her left hand, panting, growing tired, but unwilling to let go of the role that elevated her to the culinary throne so many years ago.

I enlisted her help in conquering the quince, eager to tackle its smooth transformation into preserves, jam, jelly, liqueur, compote, and paste. She shouted the instructions over the murmur of the bubbling fruit, giving me reassurance and scolding me whenever I made the smallest mistake.  In the end, I stood proudly watching the products of my efforts, satisfied and happy that the fruit yielded to me, offering itself to me without reservation.

quince paste from bibberche.com

quince paste from bibberche.com

I left most of my preserving feats on Mother’s pantry shelves when I returned to the States on Thursday. But in the last moment, I grabbed a slab of quince paste, wrapped it tightly in plastic foil, and placed it in my suitcase. And on Sunday, I brought it to Andrew’s and Matty’s gorgeous house in Santa Monica for another fabulous food bloggers party. I served it nicely molded on a platter surrounded by triangles of Manchego cheese, just like they do in Spain.

membrillo from bibberche.com

QUINCE PASTE, MEMBRILLO OR QUITTENKÄSE (KITNKES)

Paired with sharp and sweet Manchego cheese we call it membrillo and serve it as an appetizer. Placed into thin triangular or rounded molds and kept in a cool place it can survive for several months. Sliced thinly and rolled in sugar we enjoy its sweet and tart complementary taste as a unique dessert.

Ingredients:

  • Quinces, peeled, cored and cut into wedges (place cut fruit in cold water to avoid discoloration)
  • Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice to preserve the color (optional)

Directions:

Place the fruit into a stainless steel or enamel pot and add water to cover. Heat to boil and simmer on low temperature until completely soft. Drain the fruit and reserve the liquid (it makes heavenly jelly).

Weigh the fruit, puree it in a blender, and place it into a shallow, wide-bottom pot. For each kilogram of cooked fruit, measure 800gr of sugar. Add the sugar to the fruit and cook until it dissolves. Continue simmering while stirring continuously until done (when you drag the wooden spoon across the bottom, it will leave a trail, and a drop will stay put on the saucer without spreading). Add lemon juice if using.

As soon as it cools off it can be served.

If you choose to make Quittenkäse, pour the quince paste into molds lined with plastic. Leave intact for 24 hours and turn over. Repeat several times for several days, allowing all the surfaces to get into contact with air and dry. Using a sharp knife cut slices ¼ to ½ inch thick, roll into sugar and serve.

kitnikes

Visit Andrew’s blog Eating Rules for delightful and healthy recipes shared at the party.

Last year: Nostalgiada: Eggplant Rigatoni Pasta

Nov 022011
 

 

pickled peppers from bibberche.com

When I go to a grocery store, I am faithful to my nature and I always carry a list in my pocket. Farmers’ market is a completely different story. I bring an oversized canvas bag, preferably equipped with wheels, and meander around the rows waiting for inspiration to hit me while I ogle all the beautiful produce seductively spread across the wooden stalls. I never buy just what I need. There is invariably an immaculate eggplant too pretty to ignore, a gnarly celery root proudly displaying crisp greenery on top, or a bunch of elegantly slender leeks too long to comfortably fit on the counter, pleading to be saved and taken away.

I leave only when my bag cannot hold another ounce, rushing by the stalls displaying hundreds of items I did not purchase. Almost every time, I guiltily stop at some point and allow a farmer to coerce me into buying something I really do not need, that definitely will not fit in my bag… a cup full of juniper berries, a bucket of Cornellian cherries, a big black radish, a sack of spicy, colorful peppers, a baggie of hawthorn berries… I sometimes scold my parents for hoarding, but I am as culpable as they are. I collect food. I cannot help it, as my greed and addiction are too hard to resist. It has become a standing joke with my family and friends. I cannot lie and I empty my bags feeling contrite on the surface, but impatiently waiting for everyone to leave me alone just for a moment, long enough to think of all the uses for my beloved produce.

cornichones from bibberche.com

Mother thinks I am crazy for piling more and more obviously unnecessary work. Father is amused when he finds me buried in the yellowed pages of Veliki narodni kuvar.* My sister just looks at me with her famous “I am speechless” glance. My best friend indulges my addiction by bringing baskets full of Swiss chard and red currants, boxes of his home-rendered lard, bouquets of dill, and since the hunting season opened a few weeks ago, a hefty piece of wild boar and a skinned and thoroughly cleaned rabbit. But nothing can stop me from finding the perfect ways of preparing everything that ends up on my kitchen table, regardless of whose hands delivered it there.

For several weeks now, farmers’ market has been full of people gathering the goods for the incoming winter. Middle-aged men push their bicycles with canvas bags full of  green tomatoes and cauliflower hanging from the handles. Old ladies shuffle along with their backs arched in a hump, toting heavy sacks of red peppers. The young men, displaying their entrepreneurial spirit, walk around proudly weaving their hand-made dollies where the bundles of onions and shiny cabbages rest comfortably. Everybody is scurrying around, like the ants from Aesop’s fable, afraid to welcome the icy northern winds with their pantries not adequately stocked.

hot peppers from bibberche.com

I feel the call of the preserving season and I join the crowds, grabbing every opportunity to once again walk through the market. I am returning to the U.S. pretty soon and leaving behind sick Mother who barely eats, and elderly Father whose dinner portions are smaller then my eleven-year-old’s. But I made sure that they will not lack food for another decade, labeling the jars clearly to make hunting for them as easy as possible. I visit the jars several times a day, admiring their beautiful colors, proud of my accomplishments. Day by day I progressed on my culinary journey, picking Mother’s brain and learning how to preserve, pickle, and can.

sweet red peppers from bibberche.com

I picked every vegetable that ended in those jars, and Father provided the fruit from The Hills. In the U.S. this would be luxury. Here in Serbia, it is the way of life, a consequence of living in a country that has not reached the dreaded standards of the west. I am convinced that in the years to come, Farmers’ Market will inevitably change, reflecting the European Union’s strict agricultural principles and that all the stalls will offer straight cucumbers without tiny thorns, perfectly matching in size, falling between seven and nine inches, with tomatoes uniform in color, immaculate in their roundness, hard and unappetizing, completely void of their sweet summer essence. But in the meantime, I’ll take advantage of all the colors, sizes, and shapes my beloved, hard-working farmers are offering every day for mere pennies, feeling eternal gratitude for them and their toil.

pickles from bibberche.com

*Veliki narodni kuvar is an old Serbian cookbook that is considered the Bible of cooking.

PICKLED VEGETABLES

This is a universal method that can be applied to any vegetable in season. I have pickled sweet red peppers, hot peppers, and cornichones following the recipe. It differs from many as it does not ask for any preservatives and chemicals and produces perfect pickles, firm, sour, and crunchy. The amounts given are for every 1 kg (1 quart) jar.

Ingredients:

  • Vegetables of your choice (small cucumbers, sweet red peppers, Hungarian yellow peppers, hot peppers of any variety, green tomatoes)
  • 100ml white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • several peppercorns
  • fresh dill sprigs (for cornichones only)
  • water

Directions:

Wash the jars in hot water, and boil the lids for a few minutes (if you run the jars and the lids through the dishwasher, they should be sterilized).

Carefully place the vegetables in jars, lining the edges first and then filling the middle. Press them in tightly, trying to squeeze in as many as possible. Mix all the ingredients except for water and pour into the jar, atop the vegetables. Fill with water almost to the top, leaving a bit of space (1cm or ¼ inch) to the top. Screw the lids on tightly and place in a deep pot. Cover with water to reach all the way to the lids and heat to boil. Once it reaches boiling temperature turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 15 minutes until sterilized.

Using the canning tongs, carefully pull the jars out and place them upside down on a kitchen towel to cool of and seal. If they leak at all, the seal has broken and the jar needs to be used immediately or processed again.

pickled peppers from bibberche.com

 Last year at about this time I wrote a post about my sister and her German husband with a recipe for his Grossmutter’s Oxtail Soup.

 

Oct 252011
 

plums from bibberche.comThere are three big barrels at Father’s ranch full of sweet, ripe plums, languishing in their own juices, getting ready for the final process of distillation in a copper cauldron (“lampek”). In a month or two, there will dozens of bottles full of rakija, flavorful and awfully potent plum brandy. The plum trees have released their heavy burden and their branches rest for a moment, before the cold winds arrive from the Alps on the northwest and shake every leaf off. The grass underneath is slowly turning yellow, getting tired and ready for the winter’s slumber. The hills of Serbia are turning more subdued in color, the blue of plums stripped by busy hands, the green fading to brown.

While the nature is preparing for the inevitable change, the stores are trying to keep up with the demand for canning supplies. But I don’t have to battle the crowds and fight old, blue-haired ladies for the last bag of jar lids. I don’t really have to leave the house, unless a trip to the cellar is necessary: we wash jars and recycle them, year after year, and store them neatly on the shelves in the pantry or in the cellar. We collect glass jars, small and big, square, round, octagonal – once the food they came in disappears, they become beautiful and unique containers for the summer bounty. There is never a lack of jars in our house, and as the canning season progresses, the empty jars are replaced by filled ones, displaying pink cherries, crimson raspberries and red currants, deep red strawberries, purple sour cherries and blackberries, orange apricots and quinces, yellow peaches and nectarines, and plums in an array of colors ranging from magenta to almost black.

I have spent my summer here in Serbia constantly running from Mother’s room to the kitchen, with frequent, awfully short excursions to the Farmers’ market. I spent hours weighing sugar, cleaning fruit, and stirring jams, relieved once I can see the bottom of the fruit basket. I only wish that I can take more of the preserves with me to the U.S.,  but one solitary suitcase will hardly contain all my clothes, let alone allow room for innumerable heavy glass jars. I look lovingly at the neat rows and pat myself on the shoulder, realizing that I can carve another notch at the board of my culinary accomplishments.

plums from bibberche.com

I strut around the house since I mastered the general technique for making jam. I usually approach everything from an intellectual point of view, over-analyzing and fretting too much about the outcome. I gather the information, try to learn the science behind every process, compare, and read for hours before I step into the unknown culinary territory. But having Mother close by took all the anxiety away (not to mention that nobody would have missed a bowl or two of pounds and pounds of fruit delivered daily from Father’s ranch).

I admit to burning a few batches, not used to the intricacies and whims of a gas stove (when I was living in my parents’ house, I did not have to do anything with cooking – the highest title I ever achieved was a prep cook – and I could control the flames when scalding fresh milk or making Turkish coffee). Nobody was here to see me scrubbing the pots so I can pretend it never happened. But in the end, I came out triumphant.

plums from bibberche.com

I will not be here when Father brings home his treasured bottles of golden rakija, but somewhere in Southern California, we will be spreading plum jam and pekmez on my homemade bread slathered with butter and I will think back with love and gratitude on this summer that rewarded me with so much.

PLUM JAM (DŽEM OD ŠLJIVA)

This jam is chunky and flavorful. It is best served with bread and butter.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg ripe prune plums
  • 800gr sugar
  • 2 Tbsp dark, flavorful rum
Directions:
Wash the jars and lids in hot water and place into the oven preheated to about 220F to sterilize.
Wash the plums, cut in half widthwise and remove the pit. Put the fruit into a shallow, wide enamel pot and cover with sugar. Turn the heat on low and simmer, stirring often (constantly towards the end) until it thickens. It should take about one hour for the wooden spoon to leave a wide white trail along the bottom (providing your pot is white:) Add the rum and stir for another minute. You can also place a saucer into the freezer for a minute or two to get cold and drop a bit of jam on it. If it stays put, it is done. If it runs, you have to continue stirring it.
Pour hot jam in hot jars (be careful, and if necessary wear the kitchen mittens to avoid burning yourself). Return filled jars to the oven for another 15 minutes, reducing the heat to about 100F (50C). Do not close them yet. Once they are done sterilizing again, take them out carefully and screw the lids on tightly. Let them cool and put them on your pantry shelf.
plum jam from bibberche.com

 

PLUM PEKMEZ (PEKMEZ OD Å LJIVA)

Pekmez is thick, dark, smooth, and a bit tart. It is a great filling for sweet ravioli or crepes, but it is equally good on bread and butter.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg ripe plums
  • 300gr sugar
Directions:
Wash the jars and the lids and place them on a tray in the oven preheated to 220F to sterilize.
Wash the plums and remove the pit. Grind them in a food processor and place the puree in a big, heavy-bottomed, shallow enamel pot. Cover with sugar and cook on low heat until it thickens. Stir often in the beginning and constantly towards the end. It should be done in about one and a half hours, when the wooden spoon leaves a wide, white trail along the bottom.
Pour hot jam in hot jars (be careful, and if necessary wear the kitchen mittens to avoid burning yourself). Return filled jars to the oven for another 15 minutes, reducing the heat to about 100F (50C). Do not close them yet. Once they are done sterilizing again, take them out carefully and screw the lids on tightly. Let them cool and put them on your pantry shelf.

 

Last year I wrote You Can Go Home if You Have the Dough and featured a recipe for piroshki.

Sep 262011
 

white grapes from bibberche.comAbout thirty years ago, father acquired a piece of land in the hills overlooking the town. Deda-Ljubo gave him half of the money and convinced him to invest, firmly believing that you cannot go hungry as long as you own something tied to the earth. Since then, it has slowly morphed from a neglected side project to a daily obsession that takes most of his hours.

It takes less then fifteen minutes to drive from the city house to the gates to the ranch property, taking a narrow, serpentine country road uphill, praying that another vehicle does not appear behind the next curve. The road is cut into the side of a mountain, with acacia and blackberry brambles separating it from the fields and meadows. The last twenty or thirty yards are lined with young plum trees that one of the neighbors who owns the approaching path to the land planted a decade ago. In a never-ending squabble akin to the Hatfields and McCoys, the elderly neighbor, who lives there permanently with his wife, sneaks over the border and steals Father’s prized evergreens, exotic kiwis, figs, and gooseberries that he’s collected from nurseries all over the country.

Father inherited an old shack, an orchard, and a vineyard. He had the shack leveled and in its place there is a log cabin he had transported from far away, falling in love with it the instant he had seen it. Thirty years later, it is still being fixed, polished, and equipped. The view from the porch is spectacular, the red roofs in the valley appearing as if a part of a fairy tale, marred only by an occasional skyscraper. The orchard and the vineyard he kept, but just like the cabin, they continue to be works in progress. He is constantly cutting trees down and replanting new ones, always on the quest for exotic and different fruit. Whenever he visits us in the U.S., he stares at trees, collects fallen chestnuts and every holiday season he returns home with a baggie full of various nuts.

Serbian countryside from bibberche.com

Whenever he tried to enlist our help with any of the agricultural work he so ambitiously took on himself, we complained, whined, and found every excuse not to accompany him “to the Hills”, as he called the place endearingly. To us, as teenagers, there was nothing endearing in spending an eagerly awaited weekend picking fruit, weeding, getting dirt underneath our fingernails, and sweating profusely under the spring sun, while we envisioned our friends getting together for a game of volleyball, a matinee, or a casual get-together in someone’s home. We went when we absolutely had to, when his patience wore thin, and we could predict a volcanic outburst and withdrawal of allowance for the weekend.

Serbian countryside from bibberche.com

Father is still a genius diagnostician who can decipher a medical problem with several variables within minutes, but he cannot change a light bulb, nor plug in a brand new telephone (do not ask how he handles his cell phone). He approached farming with the energy, vigor, and ignorance of a child, collecting bits and pieces of information and formulating a grandiose plan for his precious “Hills”. An organic farmer who firmly believed in not using pesticides, he grew potatoes the size of walnuts, allowed a bunch of emaciated wild squirrels to feast on a pile of hazelnuts, and brought home produce that needed hours of cleaning and care before it could be used.

When there were barely three or four varieties of local tomatoes at the Farmers’ market, he grew a dozen. Before anyone had even heard of rainbow chard, he planted three rows. He collected seeds from American varieties of squash, zucchini, pumpkin, and cucumber, and brought proudly home bushels of tiny, weird-looking, and oddly-shaped vegetables every single day. Our kitchen in the summer months turned into a preserving factory, jars, bottles, and plastic containers hastily filling the pantry and cellar shelves, or finding a temporary home in one of the huge box freezers kept in the garage.

Serbian countryside from bibberche.com

The British royal family would be tremendously jealous of his carefully tended natural grass, spreading from the gate all the way down the slopes, reaching between the rows of grape vines and the whitewashed trunks of his fruit trees. In accordance with his OCD, Father keeps “the Hills” immaculately clean and organized. He built a chicken coop and raised chickens. He kept bees. He even bought a dozen or so young turkeys and managed to nurture them until they were ready to become a golden brown and delicious roast for one of the holidays.

With a heavy heart, he mourned the demise by one of his two pheasants which a fox dragged through a hole in the fence, leaving a bloody trail in the grass  (the other one flew away with a broken heart). He plans on getting a small flock of sheep to help trim the grass in the orchard and a few bunnies to keep them company. He dreams of finding a home for some goats for milk and cheese.

His zeal never abated, but his strength is waning. He still gets up at the crack of dawn and leaves the house promptly at 6 a.m. He still spends several hours getting a farmer’s tan while he diligently picks up the fallen fruit from the grass. And he still brings home baskets and baskets of produce, proudly placing them on the kitchen table or on one of the chairs, thinking already of the next day’s projects.

The flow of fruit has been relentless and interminable since I arrived here in the middle of July. I accepted every basket, overcome by gluttony, thinking of all the ways I can preserve their summery essence. But every time my creativity took flight, reality jumped in and reminded me that there are going to be only a couple of old people living in the house throughout the winter. And no matter how happy I would feel if I managed to fill those pantry shelves with hundreds of glass jars of beautiful jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, and compotes, they would sit there abandoned, counting the days that pass without anyone picking a jar and enjoying its contents.

So I traded fruit for smoked ribs, lard, and homemade pasta for the soup. I gave it away to friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. I brought it as a gift instead of flowers whenever I went for a visit. And I kept a very small portion of every basket to preserve a tiny bit to share with my sister in Germany. Some of it we made together, experimenting, adding vanilla and pear liqueur, cutting down the amount of sugar, infusing lemon to keep the color vibrant. Most of it I made alone, while Mother was resting. All my jars are labeled, sitting patiently on the shelves and waiting for the day when they would be meticulously wrapped, sealed, and placed in a suitcase, only to awaken somewhere in sunny California.

fruit from bibberche.com

I wish I could take five suitcases and fill them with the preserved fruits of this summer. I know that nothing would make Father happier than the realization that somewhere far away, over the big ocean, across seven hills and seven valleys,  his three granddaughters are greedily piling spoonfuls of jam on their buttered bread at breakfast before school.

I have to write about my preserving projects in future posts. But this is what awaits me in the pantry:

  • Raspberry jam
  • Blackberry preserves
  • Red currant jam
  • Damsel plum preserves and jam
  • Nectarine jam
  • Plum jam, preserves, and marmalade
  • Peach jam
  • Pear, plum, and peach compote
  • Cornel cherries liqueur
  • Apple, pear, and carrot juice
fruit from bibberche.com
A year ago: Everybody Goes to Rick’s, story and the recipe for Grilled Carne Asada.
Sep 102011
 

shopping bags from bibberche.com

They all look different. An old woman with greasy tufts of hair shuffles along the hallway, dressed in a faded brown house dress.  A middle-aged man in jeans and sandals sits on the bench playing with the ends of a light blue scarf casually folded around his neck, obviously not there as a fashion statement. An old man lies on the stretcher with a pillow underneath his head, his torso dressed in a white and blue pajama, showing a few grey hairs on his chest, while his fingers firmly squeeze the metal edges, his knuckles white from effort. Another stretcher supports the petrified form of a man of indeterminate age, only his head visible from around the corner, his eyes frozen on the ceiling. Leaning against a post is a beautiful girl in her twenties, the purple in her head scarf matching perfectly the hue of a big straw bag, her sandals, and loose blouse falling in waves over her white jeans.

Some of them arrived with family. Some of them hold their wife’s or husband’s hand. Some of them were accompanied by a close friend. And some of them came alone, like the beautiful girl in purple, who defiantly chews her gum and flicks her gold loop earrings with her manicured nails; or a man in his sixties, dressed in a dated navy suit coat with a hand-knitted blue vest showing underneath, his gait uncertain, his rough, peasant hand gripping the railings of the parapet. He looks resigned and accepting. Another pair of eyes darts back and forth landing on every face for a second, not able to hide enormous fear and panic. Few of them look around with disdain, as if they did not belong there. Some of them stare at the floor tiles, counting the rows immediately in front of their face, never once glancing up.

When I close my eyes, I can hear a cacophony of sounds, unrecognizable snippets of conversation, a barely audible whisper, a surprising burst of laughter, a rustling of the snack bags, cell phones ringing in tones of Mozart over here, a folk song over there, a bubble-gum balloon popping, an echo of clogs briskly traversing the corridors, and, somewhere in the distance, a faint and painful moan. The air is barely moving, but still saturated with old-lady perfume, the overpowering smell of moth balls, the coconut fragrance of sun tan lotion, the salty aroma of potato chips, and a thousand variations of the stench of summer sweat.

A stranger coming off the street might mistake this oddly assembled group with people waiting at the bus station or waiting to renew their driving licenses, if not for an occasional thick piece of gauze securely held in place by a cross of tape, a small breathing tube protruding shyly from someone’s neck, the unmistakable and unbearable odor of disease surrounding them.

They all look different. They are young and old, they are sophisticated and not so sharp, they are classy city dwellers and earth-bound farmers; they are poets, and lawyers, and cashiers, and surgeons, and retired housewives. They live around  the block, and they travel six hours by a tired bus whose windows are welded shut to prevent some random draft of fresh air from penetrating and killing insidiously the dozens of people riding it.

The only thread that connects them is the big shopping bags that each one of them holds close to their bodies. The bags are cheerful, advertising companies and grocery stores, featuring big bows and flowers in celebration of someone’s birthday. They are recycled from the previous trip to the computer store, saved just in case from the year before, when the kid got his first pair of skiing shoes. These are the biggest shopping bags, new, shiny and resplendent in all colors of the rainbow, hiding their ominous content deep inside.

When I first entered the spacious room and read the words Oncology and Radiology Ward, I saw the famous line from Dante’s Inferno inscribed instead: Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate. My knees wobbled and I stumbled, unable to hold the tears back when I noticed all those big shopping bags, each one hiding a mortal life inside. And now, as regulars, we join the group, Father dutifully toting our own big shopping bag, all silver and navy, holding a file that keeps getting thicker every day and a grayscale set of X-rays, MR film, and CAT scan readings.

The waiting room of the ward is light, the walls are painted white, and large windows allow the cloudless blue skies of late summer to enter unencumbered, letting the early morning sun play with the metal frames and throw blinding reflections haphazardly. There are lush potted plants in every possible shade of green tucked in the corners, and the nurses are all young, pretty, and unbelievably kind. When they breeze through, their pony tails swing from side to side and all the faces turn to them expectantly, breathing in the inebriating scent of youth, hope, and subtle summery perfume, feeding on their energy and warmth in their smiling eyes.

The air stirs as the first patient’s name is announced and one of the bags disappears through the door that houses the three member committee, a Supreme Court of MDs, all stern and serious, who pass the judgement,  prescribe the therapy, and grant admittance to the Ward, or a dismissal. The rest of the group moves closer to the door in expectation, the bags leading the way, fighting for a better spot. As the minutes go by, the bags move along and vanish, dispersed or kept in the hospital, their contents regurgitated and examined again and again.

When our turn with the Consilium is over, we collect the documents with their verdict, and stuff the file back in the bag. As we retreat slowly down the corridor, my Brother skillfully and gently pushes Mother who is seated uncomfortably in a hospital wheelchair that is missing half of the spokes and both foot rests. Each one of us has a specific role and we perform like a well-practiced team, pretending that we can control at least something in this danse macabre. Her heart slowly returns to an approximation of its normal beat and she immediately starts cracking jokes, relieved, and buoyed by the thought that we are on our way home.

Somewhere between the hospital entrance and the car, Father surreptitiously takes the latest freshly printed document with the newest diagnosis and recommended course of action, and studies it intently with innate professional calmness, revealing nothing to our inquiring eyes. Perhaps he is strictly a doctor in this moment and not a husband… not an old man… not retired and afraid. Perhaps, but that’s a tough sell. When we arrive home, he will get every single piece of paper out, carefully go over every line in Latin, hoping to find something he missed. But until then, the file will rest ominously behind the back seat of my Brother’s Audi and rustle in the wind all the way home, 146 kilometers away, reminding us that this is just a short respite.

serbian plums from bibberche.comI cannot fight the bag and the monsters that hide within. But I can make the world around my beautiful and brave Mother appear normal. I can sit in her room and play mindless computer games while she rests in her bed. I can dig up the memories of our childhood and prompt her to reminisce. I can coerce a smile on her face so often distorted with pain by mentioning any one of our youthful peccadillos. I can make sure that her beloved plants are still the pride of the neighborhood and that all of the magnolia leaves have been swept off the tiles in the back yard.

I want her to know that she still runs this household, with me holding the duster and hanging up the laundry on the line to dry. I come to her for advice on some culinary matter, even though I can find my way around any kitchen. I greedily write down her instructions and copy the recipes on a notebook I keep on the coffee table in her room. I just hope that I can return even a smidgen of the love and dedication that she offered when she prepared countless breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks for us which we, in our selfish sense of security, took for granted. But then, that is the measure of parental success… that our children take us for granted.  They certainly should.

Father buries me with fruit from his “ranch” and I am in constant search of canning jars. The shelves in the pantry get another row added to them almost every day, as I frantically try to save the essence of all sweet, fresh, ripe produce that miraculously appears in the basket on the kitchen chair closest to the back door. I’ve made plum, peach, and pear compote, and the jars are nestled comfortably next to cherries, quinces, and apricots that my Aunt Sonja managed to preserve before I arrived. When all the fresh fruit is gone this winter, I want Mother to open a jar of compote I made and taste my love and devotion, the only weapon I can wield against the horrors of this sudden new world where even shopping bags do not contain anything anyone wants.

peaches and pears from bibberche.com

FRUIT COMPOTE

Ingredients:

  • Fruit of your choice
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • water

Directions:

Wash and stem the fruit. Peel peaches and nectarines, cut them in half and take the pit out.

Sterilize the canning jars by heating them in the oven on 100C (200F) for 10-15 minutes. Boil the lids for several minutes and allow them to dry. Prepare the preserving pots by putting a kitchen towel on the bottom. The pots need to have walls taller than the jars by 2-3 inches.

Put the fruit into the jars, pushing the pieces in as much as possible, to have nice, tight rows. Pour the sugar on top and fill with water. Put the lid on tightly and place the jars in pots. Pour the water to reach to the rim of the jars and heat on high temperature until it boils. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Carefully pull the jars out of the water using the special preserving tongs and turn them upside down on the counter. Leave them like that until they cool off. That will make the lids seal and prevent the oxygen from getting in. If a jar is not properly sealed, use the compote immediately, or keep in the fridge for a week (if the lid is not sealed properly, it will click when pressed in the middle).

Fruit Compote from bibberche.com

A year ago I wrote about Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes in the post I Found My Thrill

Sep 142010
 

Growing up in Serbia, which was then a part of Yugoslavia, we never went hungry. But the lack of food was a reality for our parents’ generation and every generations preceding theirs. There were wars, there was re-building, more wars, more re-building. Being hungry most of the time was a part of life they accepted. When the whole country turned middle class in the early 70s, the hoarding started out of ingrained fear for surviving until the next day. Everybody had a big box freezer filled with various animal protein in copious amounts provided on the cheap by the unions. The pantries were stocked with 50kg sacks of flour and sugar, boxes of sunflower oil, and vacuum-closed bags of coffee. The shelves lined with flower-patterned paper were chock full of glass jars with preserved fruits and vegetables.

The arrival of the summer announced the quest for preservation. The wooden crates of fruit in season would pile up on the tables in the summer kitchens outside the main dwelling, the old wood-burning stoves would come to life, large shallow Paris-blue or burgundy enamel pots would appear from the cellars carefully rinsed and ready to welcome the best berries or hand-picked stone fruit. Recipes for the best jam or pickle were hastily written on the pages torn from a child’s notebook, the new tips and innovation duly marked, children sent to procure the last minute necessities – a jar of vanilla sugar, a packet of ascorbic acid, or a leaf of “rozetla*” from a neighbor.

The weeks of heavy labor would roll one after the other, without a break. Peeling, de-pitting, blanching, macerating, boiling, smashing, grinding, pureeing… The immaculately clean jars would preen on the shelves, dressed in beautiful cotton bonnets or crinkly cellophane held together with the rubber bands. They glistened in shades of orange, crimson, and purple, proud and vain. The stockier glass jars displayed a variety of pickled vegetables, from the cornichones, to roasted peppers, to green tomatoes, adorned with peppercorns, bay leaves, dill, or garlic cloves. The military rows of these glass containers signified a victory over hunger. I can imagine a Jungian sigh of relief coming from thousands of homes at the same time, as the women admired the results of their efforts, hands resting on their hips, the smiling eyes caressing each beautiful specimen lining the pantry shelves.

I always feltl the communal need to preserve. When I had a garden, I put up anything we could not eat. And towards the end of August the hordes of Eastern Europeans would converge on the pick-your-own-peppers farms strewn all over the North-East Ohio. For $14.00 a bushel it was definitely worth spending a couple of hours getting sandy dirt in your shoes and bending your back to twist another beautiful, glistening pepper off its vine.

Since we moved to California, I preserve in small batches. A jar of pickles, another one of preserved lemons, small containers of apricot and plum jam. I am ambitious and I plan more elaborate preserving sessions. But for now, there is no room for a parade of pretty jars filled with the summer’s bounty.

This month’s Daring Cooks Challenge was preserving. The first option was Apple Butter, but Husband is allergic to apples and I moved on. The alternative was the topping for bruschetta, or oven-roasted tomatoes. Our local Persian store had some beautiful, ripe Roma tomatoes on sale for .69c a pound, and I brought a bunch home.

I cut them in half length-wise, tossed them with some sea salt, Italian seasonings and olive oil, and put then in the pan with several whole garlic cloves. They roasted for several hours at 250F, until they collapsed, their color turned dark red, with some darker spots, and the skin became shriveled. I let them cool off, and put them in a freezer bag, leaving a small jar in the fridge, planning to use them soon.

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

beautiful roma tomatoes

enveloped in olive oil and spices

getting ready for the oven at 250F, for several hours

ready to be enjoyed

THE HUNGER CHALLENGE: DAY 2

BREAKFAST:

pop tarts and milk

.31c per person (Husband and I did not eat breakfast)

  • Pop tarts, $1.99 a box (.16c per tart)
  • Milk, 2 gallons for app. $5.00 (.15c per cup)

LUNCH:

leftover pork schnitzel sandwiches with cheese

juice pouch or a water bottle

tapioca pudding

.90c per person (.78c for the kids, I skipped, and Husband ate some tortilla chips and salsa)

  • Sarah Lee Buttermilk Bread, 2 for $4.00 (1 slice=.10c)
  • Havarti cheese, Costco, $6.00 per pound (1 slice=.18c)
  • Leftover pork with gravy (free!)
  • Tapioca pudding, 4 cups for $1.00 (.25c per cup)
  • Juice pouch, $1.99 for 10 (.20c per pouch)
  • Water bottle, $1.99 for 8 (.25c per bottle)

DINNER:

$1.93 per person

pasta with crispy bacon, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, red pepper flakes and garlic

  • Barilla rottini pasta, $1.29 per pound (.90c worth)
  • Button mushrooms, $2.49 per pound ($1.25 for 8oz used)
  • Bacon, $3.99 per pound ($1.99 for 8oz)
  • Roasted tomatoes, .69c per pound ($1.40 for 2 lbs)
  • .50c for lemon juice, white wine, red pepper flakes, garlic, salt and pepper

PASTA WITH CRISPY BACON, MUSHROOMS, ROASTED TOMATOES AND GARLIC

The tomatoes played the leading role in this pasta. It was low cost, but huge on flavor. The intensity of the roasted tomatoes bounced off the red pepper flakes and crispy fried bacon. The sauteed mushrooms added just enough bite to tie everything together, and the touch of garlic, white wine and lemon juice put on the finishing touches.

Ingredients:

  • ¾ lb pf pasta
  • 8oz bacon, fried and broken into pieces
  • 80z mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 10-12 slow-roasted tomatoes, sliced
  • juice of half a lemon
  • ¼ cup of white wine
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes

Directions:

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. In the meantime sautee the mushrooms and the garlic on medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until soft and aromatic. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice and wine, and in the end the bacon. Mix into the pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan.

the combination of flavors was superb

Adding .50c for the morning coffee for the adults, a cup of soda for the kids at .10c a  cup, a glass of wine for the adults at $2.49 a bottle, and a chocolate at bed time (for the kids, of course!), .20c each.

TOTAL FOR THE DAY: $4.03

I am submitting this post to Hearth ‘n’ Soul

Hearth n' Soul Blog Hop

Sep 132010
 

I have been reading food blogs for several years. The blogs with really pretty pictures, the blogs with true and tested recipes, the blogs that care about the origins of food, environment, and sustainability, and the blogs that deal with food policies, trying to make a statement. My blogroll is as immense as my interests. I learned a lot from the veterans and I still keep on learning. This is my first year of active participation in the blog-world and I am perfecting my style of writing, my voice, and my agenda.

I have always been frugal, especially with food, and feeding my family on a strict budget, without sacrificing quality or taste has been my credo for years. Both of my parents lived through a period of scarcity in childhood, and they instilled in us a very specific view of food. To this day I cannot stand to see a morsel wasted. I recycle the leftovers, buy in bulk, and freeze. I roam the stores looking for a sale, shop at ethnic markets knowing I can get a deal on various items, and bask in glory when I manage to replicate a nice restaurant meal at home.

I remember reading in 2007 on Kate’s extremely educational and thought-provoking blog Accidental Hedonist the official USDA report on US food spending on four different levels. The amount listed for “low” astounded me, because I fed my family of five, with frequent long-staying visitors for about that amount. This included the toiletries, cleaning supplies, and alcohol. And we were not hurting for money.

In September of 2008, the San Francisco Food Bank initiated The Hunger Challenge for the first time. I heard about it on one of my favorite blogs, Cooking with Amy. The participants had a budget of $3.00 a day per family member (the approximate value of food stamps in California) and a week to try to envision the life of the poor. At the time I chuckled because the idea hit too close to home, after we got completely destroyed by the mortgage industry crash. We fought every day just to survive until another sunrise, too proud to apply for any assistance.

But this year I have decided to participate. We are not living the life of plenty, but the Beasties need constant reminding that nothing should be taken for granted, especially not food. They have given up toys, games, and clothes to take to an orphanage. A tenth of their weekly allowance goes into a can for charity. And this holiday season I plan on taking them to a soup kitchen, just to face the reality and imagine the life of the indigent.

The food stamps amount has risen in the last year to allow the “luxury” of $4.00 per family member a day. For the purposes of this exercise, that includes all the food and drinks during the day. I have a college-ruled notebook and a calculator nearby. I collect all the receipts from the stores and apply my superb mathematical skills in adding, multiplying, and dividing. I had a stocked pantry, pretty full box freezer, and all necessities safely stored in the fridge. We did not have to start from zero this time, like we did back in 2008. And even though it has been only two years since then, this little adventure is definitely going to teach us not to get lax, not to get self-indulgent, and not to forget how it feels to be hungry.

BREAKFAST:

Roasted red peppers sautéed with cream cheese

Whole wheat ciabatta rolls

Milk

$1.33 per person

  • milk – .15c (cup)
  • peppers – .37c each (we had two each)
  • cream cheese – $1.99 for 8oz, .50c for 2oz, divided by four (.12c)
  • lard – rendered by my friend at .39c a pound for pork fat
  • ciabatta rolls – $2.49 for four (we had two, a half each, .32c pre half)

ROASTED RED PEPPERS WITH SOUR CREAM (PAPRIKE NA KAJMAKU)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp lard or sunflower oil
  • 8 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and destemmed
  • 2-3oz cream cheese
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

Heat the pan on medium-low heat. Melt the lard or add the oil. Season the peppers on one side and put them in the skillet seasoned side down. Season the other side and let the peppers warm up. Scoop up several little piles of cream cheese and put into the skillet. Turn the peppers and lay them on top of the cream cheese. Allow the cheese to melt a bit. Take off the heat and serve with a lot of freshly baked bread to soak up all the juices.

LUNCH:

Grilled cheese sandwiches

Fresh peaches

Fritos

Milk

.59c per person (I did not eat lunch, too stuffed from breakfast)

  • Sarah Lee Buttermilk Bread, 2 for $4.00 (1 slice=.10c)
  • Havarti cheese (Costco, $6.00 a pound, .18c a slice)
  • Butter, $2.00 per pound
  • Peaches, .49c per pound at our local Persian store (1/2 large peach=.5c)
  • Fritos, $2.00 a bag (kids got about .10c worth each)
  • Milk, .15c per cup

DINNER:

Cream of celery soup

Hunter pork schnitzels with gravy

Mashed potatoes

Roasted Beets Salad

$1.89 per person

  • Soup, .70c
  • Pork loin, $1.99, Costco ($2.70, it was a bit more then a pound)
  • Flour, garlic, white wine, homemade stock, vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley, .50c
  • Potatoes, .89c per 10 pound bag at our local Persian store (2lbs=.18c)
  • Beets, roasted, dressed with vinaigrette and garlic, .69c
  • Soda for the kids, .20c each
  • Wine for the adults, $2.49 a bottle (1 glass each=.62c)

CREAM OF CELERY SOUP

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 5 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart chicken (or vegetable) stock, or water
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Heat the oil on medium heat and sautee the onions until translucent, 6-7 minutes. Add the celery and the potato, and cover with stock or water. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to high until it boils, and then turn back to medium to medium-low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Puree with the immersion blender and pass through a mash to get rid of the celery strings. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Keep on low heat until ready to serve. Serves 4.

Cream of Celery Soup

TOTAL: $3.81 per person

With .50c for the morning coffee for the adults, and .60c for the bed-time ice cream for the beasties, I had to add another .27c per person.

GRAND TOTAL FOR THE DAY: $4.08 per person.

Aug 192010
 

Mother and Father united for once, picking the best plums

My hometown in Serbia is surrounded by hills. They are not high, but wavy, seemingly undulating, leading the eye from the bright meadow greens to golden fields of hay. And everywhere you look there are orchards. The plum* is the undisputed queen of the summer fruits. It is a symbol of Serbia, interwoven into our heritage, our past and present, our rituals and traditions.

When the August sun hits the slopes and reveals the trees sagging with chalky purple fruit weighing down the resilient branches almost to the ground, the holiest of the rites commences: collecting plums for “Å¡ljivovica”, a potent, distilled brandy, golden in color, with an unmistakable aroma. The fruit has to be fully ripe and not bruised. The trees are gently shaken, and the purple orbs collected in vast canvas or nylon sheets spread underneath. They are cleaned of leaves and branches, pitted, and finally ready to meet the distilling drum. For wonderful photos and detailed description of the process of making “slivovitz” (as it is known in the US), head over to one of my favorite blogs, Palachinka.

When the icy winds of November and December rattle the windows and crawl stealthily underneath the doors, I love to have a glass of “Å¡ljivovica” warmed on the stove, sweetened with caramelized sugar, steaming, inviting, and comforting. It brings a warm glow to my cheeks, makes me smile, and gets me ready to curl up on the couch with my soft, navy-blue blanket and a good book. But in the summer time I forgo the distilled form and reach for the fruit.

Father has a piece of land in the hills overlooking the town. From the beginning he called it his “ranch”. And for more then twenty years it has been his escape, his respite, his Elysian Fields. I dream that one of these days, when all the kids have flown the nest and found their own safe haven, we can retire there, in the midst of the luscious greenery, surrounded by a vineyard, a vegetable garden, a chicken coop and an orchard boasting dozens of plum trees, all different varieties.

Every summer we go to Serbia. This year we did not. In June my heart was breaking every day thinking of cherries, red, yellow, bing, and sour, falling on the ground, unused and lost. In July I yearned for the early pears, peaches, and apricots, sweetened by the fierce sunshine. And now, I long for the plums. Even though I am thousands of miles away from “the ranch”, in my daily dream-escapes I can almost feel the breeze sweeping down the slope and smell the freshly cut grass drying in the sun.

I pick an oval-shaped plum with a center line dividing the halves, rub it with my thumb until it shines, squeeze it so it opens, juicy, luscious, sweet, pulling away from the pit. I eat one half first, throwing the pit in the grass, and then the other. The taste is the essence of summer. I close my eyes and there is a touch of wild flower honey on my tongue mixed with the aromatic pistils of the acacia blossoms I ate in grade school. There is a hint of the roses Deda-Ljubo planted… deep burgundy ones with velvety petals that lined the edge of our yard. I detect the smallest note of acidity from a particular type of wild lemony grass a cousin taught me to pick the summer of my sixth grade. As the late afternoon breeze rustles the leaves on the trees around me, I pick another plum, and then another, my fingers sticky, but still greedy. I steal the moments from the summers past in each flavorful bite. These memories I cannot share with my family and I feel guilty. But I smile in spite of this. One day my children will form their own sensuous mementos, and I will forgive them their selfishness.

The markets around us are overflowing with plums. I could not have Father’s beautiful, fully ripe fruit, but Husband brought me a couple pounds of Italian prune plums a few days ago. My first thought was to make these wonderful Central-European potato-dumplings filled with plums, but I reconsidered, convinced the rebelling dumpling-craving Beasties that one day soon they will be on the menu, and made jam.

*The big, round fruits everybody around me calls “plums” do not exist in Serbia. Dozens of varieties are all oval, smaller, similar to Italian prune plums. I have found that Damson plum is more appropriate name for the Serbian fruit.

MOTHER’S DAMSON PLUM JAM WITH RUM (MAMIN DŽEM OD Å LJIVA SA RUMOM)

Ingredients:

  • 1kg (2 lbs) damson plums, washed and pitted, cut in quarters
  • 800gr (1 ¾ lbs) sugar (I put less, about 600gr, 1 1/2 lbs)
  • 1 Tbsp spiced rum, or 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the fruit in a 5 quart stainless steal pot. Cover with sugar and heat on medium heat until it bolis. Turn the heat down, and stir until the sugar melts. Put the pot in the oven, and cook for 90 minutes, occasionally stirring. Add the rum or cinnamon. Let it cool, and pour into sterilized jars (I got 1 quart plus 1 small, 4oz jar of jam – no need to worry about safety, it will disappear in a couple of weeks! The small jar is going to be a gift to my single mom co-worker who really appreciates it).

This is my submission for this week’s Summer Fest which features stone fruit.