Mar 042014

Colcannon from

I was in the U.S. only for about six months when I first encountered St.Patrick’s Day celebration. I was working in a restaurant that served green beer on March 17th and featured enormous shamrocks all over its walls. The customers shouted botched Gallic to one another and inhaled the bowls filled with corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.

My husband picked me up and took me to an Irish pub, where we met his friends and family, all brandishing the bottles of Irish brew and shots of Jameson’s whiskey, sparkly shamrocks plastered on their cheeks. I married into an Irish family that still clung to its roots, which date all the way to the Mayflower. Were there any Irish on board the Mayflower? I’d say no.

Dutch Baby Potatoes

My ex-husband’s ancestors have the lineage better than the Vanderbilts. Peregrine White was the first English baby born in the new land, while the ship was anchored at Cape Cod. There is a thick, leather-bound genealogy book that lists hundreds of names which came after him.  I heard that at some point in history the White family was pretty affluent. My ex-husband’s great-ancestor must have been the ubiquitous black sheep part of the tribe, prone to gambling and drinking, destined to squander the inheritance. Which he did, leaving the legacy of laissez-faire hedonism to his posterity.

Did the great-grandpa meet a ginger-haired Irish lass who took him dancing, when he was supposed to pray? Did he surrender his prudish upbringing to the altar of unlimited  joie de vivre? I don’t assume we will ever find out, but this wing of the family was defiantly Irish, slightly catholic (relative to the relative), and very much steeped in every aspect of hedonism.

Leeks from

There are some historians trying to connect ancient Celts with the ancient southern Slavs, especially the Serbs, claiming that originally they were all one big tribe. Something prompted one part of the group to separate and settle on the Emerald Isles.

I don’t know if I buy into this theory, but I have some very fond memories of this Irish-American family, their self-deprecating humor, gregariousness, refusal to grow up, and great attraction to sin. I chose to leave and therefore I am only connected to them through my oldest daughter, who is the keeper of the family tree; but each St. Patrick’s Day I remember them decked in bright green with silly hats on, loud and ebullient, raising foaming mugs of beer and toasting one another, “Sláinte!”

Kale sprouts from

Baby Kale Sprouts from Melissa’s Produce

5.0 from 2 reviews


Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: Irish
This is a versatile and very satisfying dish, a great accompaniment to roasts or sausages.
  • 1 lb potatoes (I used baby potatoes from Melissa’s Produce)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp bacon grease or butter
  • 1 bunch kale or Swiss chard, rinsed and cut into pieces (1/4 head of cabbage or Savoy cabbage) – I used baby kale sprouts from Melissa’s Produce
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, halved and cut into semi-circles
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
  1. Place the unpeeled potatoes in a heavy pot.
  2. Cover with cold water.
  3. Add salt.
  4. Heat until it starts to boil.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
  6. Remove potatoes from the pot.
  7. Add butter or bacon grease to the pot and heat on medium temperature.
  8. Add the greens and saute until slightly softened, 3-4 minutes.
  9. Add the leeks and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
  10. Add the potatoes and smash them with a fork so that there are no big lumps.
  11. Add the milk and place the pot back on the stove.
  12. Stir for another minute or two until creamy and combined.
  13. Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Thank you, Melissa’s Produce for a magnificent box of goodies!

Some fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day:

1. St. Patrick was not Irish. He was born in Rome, kidnapped as a child by Irish pirates, and brought to Ireland where he herded sheep before managing to escape.

2. St. Patrick was depicted wearing blue, rather than green.

3. Symbol of Ireland is not the shamrock, but the harp.

4. There are more Irish living in the U.S. than in Ireland (especially if we include eveyone who boasts Irish ancestry).

5. Until 1970, St. Patrick’s Day was a religious holiday and all the pubs were closed. Beer started flowing freely only when it was converted into a national holiday.

6. Your chances of finding a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000.

If you’d like to learn to pronounce sláinte (which means “health” in Gaellic), click here.

Feb 122014

Passion Fruit Mini Cheesecakes from

February is not one of my favorite months. It’s too short, too whimsical, too unpredictable, and it comes just before my birthday month of March. I am a bit vain and it is not surprising that I cannot wait for February to move over and allow the bright yellow forsythia flowers to break the winter grays. A harbinger of spring I am, having arrived on Earth at the last day of winter, just to bid it goodbye.

When I was younger, I had several winter “breaks” a year to look forward to; days spent skiing, nights spent playing games, drinking, and laughing with good friends – more than enough to speed February along and disperse the last remnants of seemingly endless sub-zero temperatures.

Passion Fruit from

One year, we were cooped up in our cabin for days, unable to see above the snowdrifts. The boys worked on shoveling a tunnel to the wood shed; the girls made sure there is plenty of hearty food; together, we systematically worked through our vast alcohol stockpile, until the only bottles left were gin and maracuja syrup. We hoped it would stop snowing and we’d be able to get to a store and procure more desirable beverages. Alas, the preferans tournament lasted well into the witching hours and the stress of playing and kibitzing demanded fortification. Sweet, tropical, citrusy and exotic taste of maracuja drowned the harsh aftertaste of gin and the night was saved.

These days I don’t have to battle snow and freezing rains of February. My girls look forward to the winter breaks and long lazy weekends much more than I do, even though we had to redefine winter according to southern California.

Passion Fruit from

Last year at this time my life was entangled in a pretty messy Gordian knot, and Alexander the Great was nowhere in sight. Valentine’s Day found me hurt, exhausted, wounded, and frantic. I was doing my best to keep my head above the murky waters, and each breath I took, lead me upwards and forward. I lived every day breath by breath.

A year later, I find myself in a different world. Every single time I turn the knob and enter my apartment, I smile. I cannot help it. I am giddy with the overwhelming sense of freedom. My place! My life! My future! This February can linger as long as it wants – I have finished with being impatient. And I welcome each day as an enormous gift, grateful for everything that makes my life so wonderful and fulfilling.

Even though I still have a small jar of Seville orange marmalade I made last year, there is nothing bitter in my life on this Valentine’s Day. I still take a plunge once in a while and emerge gasping for air, my mouth filled with murky water; but each time  my head pops up, I smile, my gaze fixed beyond the horizon line.

Melissa's Raspberry Sauce from

When the box from Melissa’s Produce appeared at my door, I spent hours trying to figure out what I can make to celebrate the Lovers’ Day. I decided to make mini passion fruit cheesecakes, knowing that my daughters would be squealing with joy. When I cut through the tough, purple skin and separated the halves of the fruit, its aroma hit me like a hammer; in a second, I was back in the snowed-in cabin, holding cards in one hand and gin-and-maracuja* cocktail in another.

I was floating on the cloud of nostalgia, hearing the laughter, feeling almost enchanted by a vision of a wonderful life that we all experienced in those days. We were invincible and we could conquer the world. It was simple, and invigorating, and full of hope for the future. Just like my life a few decades later. Even though there is still no one out there holding a card and a box of chocolates with my  name on it.

*Maracuja is a Brazilian name for passion fruit; do not attempt this “cocktail” at home; it tastes palatable only when you are in your early twenties, cooped-up in a cabin with nowhere to go, with snow drifts towering above the roof. It is a cocktail of desperation:)

Passion Fruit Mini Cheesecakes from

Mini Passion Fruit Cheesecakes
5.0 from 2 reviews


Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: International
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
These are delightful, versatile, easy-to-make little bites.
  • CRUST:
  • 20 graham cookies
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 16oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 passion fruits (reserve one for the topping)
  • Raspberry Sauce (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Line a muffin pan with paper inserts.
  3. Prepare the crust:
  4. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor (or mini chopper) until crumbled.
  5. Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine.
  6. Place about 1 Tbsp of cookie mixture into each muffin cup and press down.
  7. Bake for 5 minutes.
  8. Let it cool down while making the filling.
  9. Whip the cream cheese until creamy.
  10. Add sour cream and sugar and whip until combined.
  11. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
  12. Stir in the passion fruit pulp and vanilla.
  13. Pour on top of the graham cracker crust.
  14. Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm at the edges and still wiggly in the middle.
  15. Let it cool.
  16. Refrigerate or serve at room temperature, dotted with Raspberry Sauce (optional)

Thanks, Robert and Melissa’s Produce for another box filled with gorgeous products!

Jan 302014

Serbian-Chinese Cream of Chicken Soup from

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

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

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


Daikon and Carrots Pickle
5.0 from 1 reviews


Recipe type: Canning
Cuisine: Serbian – Chinese
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.
  • 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
  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



  • 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


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.


Mar 282013
Rose-Shaped Easter Bread from
The days approaching Easter were filled with excitement and anticipation for us while we were growing up in Serbia. As soon as we noticed the envelopes of different dyes and cartons of eggs waiting in the pantry, we became antsy, barely able to wait for “Veliki ÄŒetvrtak” or Big Thursday, to join in the ritual of coloring Easter eggs. The galley kitchen in our old house was too narrow to accommodate Mother’s slender figure joined by Njanja’s much more corpulent presence. When the three of us ran around, weaving through skirts and legs, the small space became like an anthill, teeming with small creatures.
Mother would empty an envelope in the water, add a tablespoon of vinegar to help set the color, and heat it until it boiled. She would place the eggs one by one carefully into the bubbling liquid, and let them move around and absorb the color for fifteen or twenty minutes. The moment when the eggs were to emerge from the murky swirls was greeted by wide open eyes. Upon resting our glances on a perfectly colored oval resting in the spoon glistening in Carmine Red, Prussian Green, Cadmium Yellow, Permanent Violet, or Cobalt Blue, the smiles of relief would appear, and the egg would be placed gingerly onto a plate to cool off.

Use herbs, garlic skins, onion sacks, rubber bands and discarded sticky “dots” from a three-hole puncher to get unusual and festive designs.

We breathed in the astringent smell of vinegar waiting eagerly for our cue to affix the clingy decorative labels depicting adorable chickens and cute bunnies onto the eggs. After straightening the folds of the filmy material, making it become one with the surface, Mother would rub the eggs with bacon, making them shiny and beautiful, resplendent in their primary colors.
The first red egg was sequestered into the credenza to await the next year’s Big Thursday, replacing the old one that sat triumphantly on the shelf for a year. This egg was called “čuvarkuća”, its purpose: to take care of the house and its inhabitants and protect them from the evil spirits. They say that this first red egg never rots, but I was never brave enough to test this hypothesis.
At the conclusion of this endeavor, there were baskets of colorful eggs adorning every flat surface of the house. We would approach them surreptitiously and caress their smooth surfaces, trying to pick the sturdiest specimens for the upcoming egg battle on Sunday morning. We called forth images of Father choosing a ripe watermelon, thumping and probing, and shook the eggs, knocked on them, and rolled them around. We pulled the ones we decorated on top, and marked the possible winners with a marker. Every day the position of the eggs in the baskets changed, as we attempted to be sly and sneaky, looking forward to the challenge.
Veliki Petak (Great Friday, aka Good Friday) was one of the few days during the course of the year that we observed the Eastern Orthodox Lent rules: no red meat, no dairy, no eggs. I am convinced that I mastered the art of delayed gratification ogling those beautiful eggs for three days, without being able to get to them.
Our Lenten dinner was not a humble affair. There was always a lot of pan-fried fish (trout or fresh-water bass), accompanied by crusty bread,  potato salad with red onions and a vinaigrette, baked Serbian beans, black radish relish, and several desserts, including baklava. But those forbidden eggs taunting us with their vibrant splendor were the center of our attention.
Easter service started early and the lawn in the church yard was filled with people carrying baskets of decorated eggs, neatly tucked in checkered dish cloths and adorned with spring flowers. They passed their prettiest specimens around and received enough in return to make the basket full again. Those randomly collected eggs, each one different in style and hue, would make it home, only to undergo a serious evaluation from each member of the family.
Naturally colored Easter eggs from

I use onion skins, turmetic, and coffee to color my eggs naturally and I love the hues.

The Easter Sunday table was covered with a crisp, white, starched tablecloth that awaited us after service when we sauntered in with our freshly scrubbed faces and squeaky-clean teeth. We wore our best clothes that Mother picked the night before and laid for us on the living room couch. We would solemnly sit at the table, appraising its offerings:  magenta slivers of fresh radishes, crisp spears of green onions, white cubes of farmers’ cheese, a bowl of pale yellow kajmak* a platter exhibiting one of Mother’s baking masterpieces, and in the center: the basket of eggs, flanked by a wooden salt and pepper dispenser.
We would wait patiently while the adults took their places at the table, ready to grab the egg we had chosen days ago to be the contender. When everybody’s cups were filled with milk or yogurt, the egg battle could commence. The only rule that was imposed was the proper positioning of the egg in the hand. We went around, knocking egg against egg, sharper side to sharper side, obtuse to obtuse, until one egg was the absolute winner, having at least one of the sides intact. The other eggs became pure fodder for the masses, dunked in salt and eaten together with crunchy scallions. The winner went back to the basket, its owner jealously guarding it during any upcoming meal. These battles were not to be taken frivolously and everybody coveted the winning egg. But we all enjoyed the rest of the Easter breakfast, arguing the merits of each carefully chosen egg, and enjoying the wonderful food greeting us on the table.
*kajmak is made when the raw milk is slowly simmered on the stove to pasteurize. The fat rises to the top, and when the milk is cool, it is scooped up, lightly salted and used as a spread.
This was one of our favorite breads to eat on Easter, shaped like a flower, shiny and glistening like the sun, perfect to usher in the spring.
  • 1 inch piece of fresh yeast (or 1 envelope of dry instant yeast)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 200 ml warm milk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 100 ml plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter at room temperature
  • 650gr all purpose flour (a bit more for dusting the counter)
  • 120 gr (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
Dissolve yeast and sugar in milk. When it blooms, whisk in eggs, yogurt, salt, and butter and stir until combined. Add most of the flour and knead in the bowl.
Turn over to the lightly dusted counter and continue kneading, adding more flour as needed, to get an elastic, shiny, slightly soft, but not sticky dough. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and keep on room temperature until the dough doubles, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough on floured surface and flatten into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Spread 2 tablespoons of butter over one half of the rectangle and cover the buttered side with the unbuttered one. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over one half of the folded dough, and cover it with the unbuttered part, forming a square. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
Flatten it again into a rectangle and repeat. Let it rest another 10-15 minutes.
Flatten into a rectangle and spread the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter over the whole dough. Roll into a tight roulade, placing the seam down. With a sharp knife cut slices 1 to 1 ½ inches wide and place cut side down into a round pan. Brush with beaten egg and let it rest on room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake your bread until golden brown and nicely risen, for 40-50 minutes. Allow it to rest in the pan before removing it to a baking rack.
Mar 152013

Irish Flag Tart from

According to my family tree, I am a hundred percent Serbian. I am lenient and allow for a trace of Turkish, Hungarian and Austrian genetic input. But as hard as I search, I cannot find an atom of Irish anywhere in my bloodline. But we are approaching St. Patrick’s Day and the only way for me to celebrate in style is to devote this post to my Irish-by-proxy experiences.

My first ex-husband was partly Irish, which showed in his ruddy cheeks, his jovial behaviour and his deeply ingrained love of adult malted beverages. Through his Irish genes he passed all those traits to our only child, my beloved Nina, who plans on taking a trip to the Emerald Isle one day soon to connect with her long-lost relatives (and I don’t doubt for a second that she’ll find several, even though the White family sailed to the New World on the Mayflower).

My cousin Vladimir is definitely not Irish, having been sired and raised by two full-blooded bona fide Serbs. But he can definitely fool anyone into believing that he is a genuine Celt, with his fiery red hair, fair skin covered with freckles, and a talent for breaking into the real Irish brogue at the spur of the moment.

Mandarin oranges from

I truly enjoy Irish music, especially the broody, morose tunes, Danny Boy included. It seems that Nina followed after my taste when  she danced her version of Irish jig in front of a boy she fancied in first grade. And it does not surprise me that she had a long-lived love affair with Riverdance, which we finally saw together a couple of years ago.

One of my best friends was a no-nonsense New Yorker, Debi, who went to an all-catholic high school in Ireland and was expelled, after a series of small, but disturbing events when she instigated rebellious behaviour and clandestine actions. I spent many days at her house, thoroughly enjoying the stories about her adventurous life in Ireland and Manhattan, and hugging her daughters when mine was far away in Seerbia with her grandparents. Oh, and she colored my hair blond once, just to jolt me out of my boring daily routine.

I devoured Trinity by Leon Uris, eager to understand the years of conflicts, bombs, threats, and unstability. I saw many movies on the subject, and the ones made in Ireland reminded me of our own, Balkan movies, with their overwhelming sense of gray, drab, rainy and grimy, intended to paint the picture not only of the life in Ireland, but of the sadness and despair its people carry with them every day.

Baby Kiwi from

And even though I have never been to Ireland, I love Irish food, the hearty, comforting stews, succulent lamb, warm and satisfying potato dishes, and sturdy breads. My girls await with anticipation the celebratory American-Irish meal of corn beef, potatoes, cabbage, and soda bread some time this week and our foggy mornings keep me motivated and eager to tackle the humble feast.

My Irish flag tart probably has as little to do with Ireland as I do, but it is festive, fresh, simple, and rewarding, pairing tart mandarin oranges and fragrant baby kiwi with rich vanilla-scented custard and sweet, ripe bananas. It is a small indulgence, an easy surrender to the world of desserts, a pretty and uncomplicated few forkfuls, just enough to satiate the desire for sweets.

I wish all my Irish and Irish-wannabe friends Happy St. Patrick’s Day – you have definitely colored my life with so many unusual and bright hues that it can never be drab and boring.

This tart was made possible by generous contribution from Melissa’s Produce, the biggest distributor of fresh fruits, vegetables and food products in the U.S. Mandarins and baby kiwi* were delightful to play with and I truly appreciate this gift of food!

Irish Flag Tart from

* Baby kiwis are grape-sized, smooth-skinned version of regular kiwis, best eaten fresh as a snack, in salads, in fruit salads or on top of a fruit tart.


Shortbread Pie Crust:

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Pastry Cream:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ¼ milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch


  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup water
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice


  • 1 banana, sliced,
  • 1 package (6 oz) baby kiwis, sliced
  • 1 mandarin orange, segmented



Using a hand-held mixer blend butter and sugar together into a paste. Add the egg yolk and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour and knead lightly until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough into a circle slightly bigger than the pie pan, and using the rolling pin, transfer the dough into the pan. Pat the bottom and sides to adhere to the pan and cut off the excess dough. Spear the bottom with the fork a few times, cover with aluminum foil, fill with pie weights (or dried beans) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pie weights and foil and bake for another 5 minutes, until it starts turning golden brown.

Pastry Cream:

Using a hand-held mixer, mix the egg yolks and sugar together until combined. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and stir into the egg mixture to form a paste.

Heat the milk on medium temperature until it starts to bubble up around the edges. Remove from the heat and slowly add into eggs and sugar, vigorously stirring to prevent curdling of the eggs. Return to medium heat and cook until boiling, whisking constantly. Once it boils, whisk for another 30-60 seconds to thicken and remove from heat. Immediately stir in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent the crust from forming and keep refrigerated until use.


Combine all the ingredients in a small stainless steel pot and heat on medium temperature to thicken slightly.

To assemble:

Pour the cooled pastry cream over the crust and place the fruit decoratively on top. Pour the glaze over the fruit and keep in the fridge until ready to eat.

More recipes using baby kiwis:

Minted Tomato, Pepper, Feta Salad with Baby Kiwi from Shockingly Delicious

Honey-Glazed Baby Kiwi Mascarpone Cheesecake from Cooking on the Weekends

Kiwi and Peach Puree from Weelicious

Feb 162013

Seville Orange Marmalade from

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

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

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

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

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



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


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!

Dec 242012
Hazelnut Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with Custard and Ganache

Photo by Dorothy of Schockingly Delicious

Something miraculous occurs to me every time I taste a combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. I fall into a sensory overload, remembering the days of my childhood when I felt comforted and safe, as the warm smell of roasted nuts greeted me at the kitchen door, and adventurous summers of my early teenage years when the boys vied for my attention bribing me with boxes of Eurocream, a Serbian version of Nutella. Tthe aftermath was not as romantic, as I gained ten pounds in one month; but, oh, it was so well worth it!)

Both my mother and grandmother were talented bakers. When the holiday season started in Fall, they would put away their differences and join elbows in order to create the tastiest tiny morsels in town. Each celebration ended with vintage platters lined with dozens of perfectly shaped desserts, small enough to fit into your mouth in one ladylike bite, and allowing you to taste as many without feeling like you were overindulging.

For days, my sister, my brother, and I would be tempted by warm and comforting smells coming from the oven, as the rows of sweets multiplied on the tables throughout the house. We raced Father for the scraps, the cut-off edges, and occasional slightly burned and misshapen specimens. We begged Mother to pass us a few bites behind her back, risking Njanja’s wrath after her usual daily counting duty, but were able to fully enjoy the offerings only after the guests have gone home, leaving us more than enough sweet bounty for several days to come.

I never had a favorite, but throughout the years, a few desserts rose above the others and I reluctantly started to make them in my own kitchen, wanting my girls to experience at least a small part of my excitement. The two younger ones have never met Njanja, and visited Mother only in the summer. They learned to appreciate their grandmother’s culinary skills, but did not have a chance to try her petit fours first hand. My baking skills cannot compare to hers, but they don’t know that, as all they know are the stories.

I have mastered a few of Njanja’s and Mother’s recipes in the last twenty years and even though I know very well how tedious and tiring the whole process will be, I make the sweets nevertheless, feeling the connection to these formidable women who shaped me, knowing that I’ll see the smiles of enjoyment on my children’s faces.

One of their favorites has always been the Indianers, hazelnut shortbread sandwich cookies with custard and chocolate ganache. I have tried to figure out why they were named Indianers, and the only explanation that comes to mind is that the top, dipped in dark ganache, looks like an Indian’s head wrapped in a turban. Almost.

I made Indianers for our annual Food Bloggers of Los Angeles group cookie exchange meeting. As they yield a lot, I took a couple of dozen to a Bunco game, and it made me feel good when they disappeared instantly. My blogger friends seemed to enjoy them as well, and I felt really proud of myself, knowing that I am continuing the tradition, without betraying the ardor, skill, and creativity of my mother who tried to teach us to strive for the best, to challenge ourselves, and to be kind and giving to the people around us.

FBLA Cookie Exchange

Thanks, Dorothy, for making my cookie tin so photogenic!



Shortbread pastry:

  • ¾ cups (200gr) sugar
  • 2 sticks (300gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 8 oz (250gr) roasted hazelnuts, ground
  • 1 ¼ cups (300gr) all-purpose flour


  • 5 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¾ cup (12 Tbsp) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 sticks (350gr) unsalted butter


  • 6 oz bitter-sweet chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp milk


Shortbread Pastry:

Cream sugar and butter with a hand-held mixer until combined. Add egg yolks, one by one, until mixed in. In a separate bowl stir together ground hazelnuts and flour. Stir dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well combined. Flatten into a disc and chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

On a lightly floured surface flatten the dough with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick. Cut small circles using 1-inch cookie cutter (or a metal top of a booze bottle, as my mother would use). Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.


Whisk the eggs and egg whites together until foamy and light. Add the sugar and stir in a double boiler on low heat until thickened, 20-30 minutes (a wooden spoon would leave a trail when dragged on the bottom of the pot). Let the custard cool completely and only then whip the butter in.


In a double boiler melt chocolate and butter. Stir in the milk.


Place about ½ tsp of filling on top of one cookie. Form a pyramid of filling in the center of the cookie using the spoon, place another cookie on top and press lightly to evenly disperse the custard.

Line the assembled sandwich cookies on a cookie sheet.

When all the cookies have been put together, dip each one in ganache, making sure that only the top part is covered with chocolate. Place the cookies on a tray and let them cool. Keep in the fridge for 1 week, or freeze for several months in an air-proof container.

Nov 142012

Seared Duck Breast with Korean Pear from

My mother grew up in Vojvodina, the part of the country that was under the Austro-Hungarian rule until the end of WWI. When she married my father and joined him in central Serbia, she brought with her many culinary traditions which were not very familiar to the natives. Some of them were immediately accepted by her new friends and family; some needed a longer time and more cunning approaches to become a staple at dinner time; and some just never survived the challenges of the impenetrable barrier of the palates unaccustomed to weird, different, and foreign influences.

While we ate plenty of chickens along with  pheasants and quails Father brought from his intermittent hunting expeditions, only when we went to Vojvodina did we have a chance to taste a duck or a goose. We were entranced by these white birds that seem to frolic in every yard, splashing in the ponds and squawking, the shape of their bright-orange beaks the only notable difference between the species: sharp, pointy beaks belong to geese, the flatter and rounded ones to ducks.

And while the holidays in our home town always involved roasted piglets or spring lambs, in Vojvodina we were treated to roasted ducks and geese. As if the mere taste of the water fowl was not enough to separate the two geographical regions deeper than the river Danube that marked the border, the fruit sauce that accompanied them made us feel as if we were visiting another country, with the benefit of still speaking the same language. Depending on the season, we had cherry, apple, pear, or quince sauces, only slightly sweetened, chunky and surprisingly delightful along the stronger tasting meat of the water fowl.

Korean Pears from

Back at home, we never mixed sweet and savory, even though Father was an adventurous eater. And I have never seen a duck or a goose at the Farmers’ Market (forget the grocery stores, as we do not buy our meets there) in my home town.

But then I decided to make my new home all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and my first Thanksgiving meal was turkey served with cranberry sauce from the can and many other side dishes and desserts, most of which originated in a can or a box. I have never tasted cranberries before and I immediately fell in love with their tart and assertive taste so capable of pairing with the gaminess of turkey. It took years to fight my way over to the real food and side dishes made from scratch, but I am now happy to know that my daughters will remember my slowly simmered cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, and giblet gravy as the part of their holiday tradition.

And more than that, I carried over my mother’s culinary ways, including fruit sauces with roasts, always leaning on seasonal produce. That’s why I though of pairing beautiful duck breasts I bought at Lazy Acres Market with crunchy and juicy Korean pears simmered in apple cider (they worked so well in Kale Salad I made last week). My ancestors might be rolling their eyes, but the combination worked beautifully. The pears were firm and kept their texture without becoming mushy, while adding a fragrant note to the sauce slightly enriched by the spiciness of the cider. A pat of butter was enough to add a smidgen of richness without competing with the complex taste of the seared duck breasts.

My family has dwindled in size in a few last years, and a whole turkey at Thanksgiving looks very intimidating. But a pair of flavorful, seared duck breasts with a tart cranberry sauce, some cornbread dressing, and gravy might be just right for an elegant and intimate family affair.

My mother passed away last July. She might have raised an eyebrow if I served her this dish and she might have given me an advice on how to make it better, but I know that she would have approved of my creativity after a few hours of grumbling. She might have been silent at dinner table, but I am pretty sure that she would have smiled comforted in the thought that her culinary traditions are making their way across the meridians and across the generations.

Seared Duck Breast with Korean Pear Sauce From



  • 2 duck breasts
  • a pinch of salt
  • some freshly ground pepper

Korean pear sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp rendered duck fat
  • 1 Korean pear, cored and diced
  • 1 cup of apple cider


Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat (you can use a stainless steel skillet, too). Score the duck skin in a criss-cross manner, making sure not to cut into the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the duck skin down in the skillet for 6 minutes, allowing the fat to render and the skin to turn brown. Turn the breasts and cook or another 4 minutes for medium-rare, up to 8 minutes for well done.

Place on a plate and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting into thin slices.


Pour all but 1 Tbsp of duck fat into a separate bowl and save for frying potatoes (or anything else). Add butter and heat a 10-inch skillet on medium heat. Add diced pears and saute for a minute, until they start to brown and sizzle. Add apple cider, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Take the cover off and simmer for another 15 minutes, reducing the sauce until it’s thick and chunky.

Serve atop of sliced duck breast.

Korean pears are in season from November through March. Check out what some of my friends did with them – you will be amazed!

Thank you Melissa’s Produce for the sample of glorious Korean pears! They are truly magnificent and versatile.

 I received a sample of Korean pears from Melissa’s Produce. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. The opinions are mine and only mine:)

Nov 072012
Candied Southern Sweet Potatoes from

Photo credit: Dorothy of Shockingly Delicious

I encountered sweet potatoes at my first Thanksgiving, a few months after I moved to the U.S. I watched from the sidelines as my ex-husband, his sister and her boyfriend woke up with the first rays of sun to start the vigorous and detailed preparation for this, for me an unknown holiday. Roasted turkey and mashed potatoes were the only two dishes made from scratch. The rest arrived to the table straight from the can or a box. For years I participated only as a menial laborer – stirring, dicing, mixing, and washing dishes, fearful not to upset the feelings of a traditional holiday meal.

And for years I did not see the appeal of gorging on processed and semi-processed food three times a day, only to collapse on a couch and watch an interminably long game that held absolutely no interest for me. My ex-husband’s ancestors arrived to this country on the Mayflower and I bowed to the traditions as a newest family member. I wanted to feel the goosebumps and excitement of sharing the familial table, experiencing the closeness, support, and love, but there was no pay-off to the hours of hard work, as everyone scarfed the food down in minutes and migrated to the living room, whining and patting their engorged bellies.

I am an adventurous eater, not afraid to try new and unknown dishes, but grayish spears of green beans baked with a can of cream of mushroom soup and mealy sweet potatoes poured into a pan from a huge can and roasted with marshmallows on top left me uninspired and disappointed. I was not a food snob, but I was raised on dishes prepared from scratch, fresh produce, and meat raised humanely and ethically. I accepted the fact that creativity was not welcome at this holiday, and went along with family traditions presented to me.

FBLA Thanksgiving table from

Judy’s pumpkins stuffed with stuffing – the epitome of the season

After my divorce, I sent my daughter and my mother to my ex-husband’s family for Thanksgiving and I enjoyed the holiday on my own, watching movies, drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese. I really liked my new holiday tradition and did not miss the gloopy jellied cranberry sauce plopped on a platter, still bearing the markings of the can that housed it, nor the gravy mixed hastily from an envelope.

My second husband hailed from the south and even though he pined for green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and jellied cranberry sauce, he introduced a few innovative and to me appealing dishes: southern dressing and giblet gravy. I embraced both, appreciating the efforts that went into preparing them, relishing the idea that there were no cans or boxes necessary for preparing them. All of a sudden, Thanksgiving started to shape into a different kind of holiday, a day that I would look forward to, a family event that made us all excited. It might have had something to do with a fact that my second husband could care less about sports of any kind, and enjoyed sitting at the table for hours, talking and sipping wine, surrounded by piles of dirty dishes and platters still filled with food.

There was no sister-in-law nor mother-in-law to reign over the kitchen and impose the habits that I would have to accept unconditionally. My husband craved certain tastes that brought him close to his childhood and I obliged him with every dish I prepared for Thanksgiving, but I refused to build my children’s traditions on cans and boxes. From our first holiday, everything I prepared was from scratch.

FBLA Thanksgiving table

And this was not all…

Our Thanksgiving table’s theme is mostly southern. Turkey is roasted unstuffed, with cornbread dressing baked on the side and hearty giblet gravy to spoon on top. My cranberry sauce is chunky and simple, dinner rolls soft and buttery, green beans blanched and tossed with diced tomatoes and garlic. There is always a pecan pie, rich and boozy, decadent and oh-so-satisfying.

But one dish that is all mine and that fits beautifully in my adopted southern Thanksgiving tradition is candied southern sweet potatoes. This simple dish allows the taste of mashed sweet potatoes to come forward, accentuating their soft texture and elevating them to a higher level with a crunchy topping of melted butter, chopped pecans, brown sugar, and a hint of nutmeg. When I feel inspired, I stir in a glug of bourbon just to cement it firmly south of the Mason-Dixon line.

This November marks a third anniversary of our Food Bloggers LA group that ideally meets once a month. On Sunday, more than twenty of us showed up in Santa Monica at Andrew Wilder‘s place, bringing our favorite Thanksgiving dish. I am happy to say that my southern sweet potatoes disappeared and I brought an empty dish home. The best compliment came from my friend Christina from Christina’s Cucina, who brought this insanely good Pumpkin Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse Cake with Ganache topping. She does not like sweet potatoes, but said that done my way, they can grace her family table any time.

Pineapple Cake

Leslie baked this pretty Pineapple Cake for the third anniversary of our FBLA group

I hope you all have a great holiday with family and friends. I know that I have only a few more years to train my daughters’ sensitive palates and develop culinary traditions that will bring them home once they fly away and make their own nests. And I hope these sweet potatoes are going to be a part of their family celebration.



  • 2 lbs of sweet potatoes (2 big ones)
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp Bourbon (optional – but why not? It’s the holidays!)

Praline Topping:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg


Preheat the oven to 400F. Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork in a few places to make sure they bake evenly. Place in the heated oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. If the knife goes in easily, the potatoes are done.

Turn the heat down to 350F.

Cool the potatoes, peel an place into a large bowl. Add brown sugar, egg yolk, butter and bourbon if using and mash with a hand=held mixer for a few minutes until fluffy and combined.

Melt the butter fir the topping and combine it with the rest of the topping ingredients. Spoon on top of mashed sweet potatoes.

Pour into an oven proof dish and bake for 35-40 minutes. Let it rest for a few minutes before serving.


Jul 032012

airplane from

Thursday afternoon, the girls and I will board a big white bird and fly across the ocean to London and then to Belgrade. Last few days I have been overwhelmed with a feeling of unbearable panic accompanied as usual with an accelerated heart beat, a crazy adrenaline rush (not in a good way), and a sensation that a baby elephant has made a nest on my chest. The items on my list are almost completely crossed over, our e-tickets are printed, the passports are neatly laid out right next to the tickets, and empty suitcases lined up on the bedroom floor.

I still have to buy a few necessities for the trip, like goat cheese, multi-grain crackers, and pretzels, as the girls requested them as snacks. Packing should not take a lot of time, as  I have piles of stuff destined to travel neatly arranged all over the apartment. I am helping my sweet next-door neighbor with making a creative journal for her special friend’s 70th birthday. In exchange, she will water my succulents and keep my herbs alive until we return. The roots and grays are covered, the nails are done, the purses purged of extraneous material that inevitably manages to collect in time.

I am as excited as anxious, unable to relax, even though these trans-Atlantic trips have been my routine for over twenty five years. But, I tend to fret whenever anyone travels, even for a weekend, even just across the state. Once the baggage is checked in and boarding passes are safely tucked in my purse, I’ll slump in a hard plastic chair at a Starbucks and bury my face in a latte, a smile replacing the angst. Until we arrive at Customs, of course.

Wednesday morning, the suitcases will be packed and keeping ranks in the hallway. I hope to emulate Dorothy Parker and walk around my friend’s street party, cool, armed with a witty repartee and a glass of good wine. (The only thing that I can guarantee right now, though, is a glass of good wine.) We’ll stroll down to the beach at sunset to watch the fireworks and I will take every burst of color personally, as a farewell greeting and a colorful goodbye. I will miss the smell of the ocean and the bike rides on the strand. I will miss my friend madly. But summer is always the fastest of the seasons, and the day of our return will creep up sooner than I expected, as always, and plunge me into another panic-ruled state.

I will not be cooking any Fourth of July delicacies, but here are some great dishes that would make any party unforgettable. Happy Fourth!

Lamb Burgers 

Lamb Burgers from










Grilled Beef Tenderloin

Chimney smoking from













Summer Pasta Salad

Summer Pasta Salad from









Grilled Summer Vegetables

Grilled Vegetables from









Grilled Sweet Corn with Chipotle-Lime Butter

Grilled Corn with Chipotle-Lime Butter










Roasted Peppers, Roasted Beets, and Grilled Eggplant

roasted peppers from