Aug 242013

Hatch Chiles at Bristol Farms from

Wednesday morning, I dared the rush hour traffic on PCH heading north to Santa Monica. It was my day off and I decided to spend a part of it with a few of my blogger friends at the opening of a new Bristol Farms store on Wilshire Boulevard, as guests of Melissa’s Produce and the store management.

You can send me to Tiffany’s and I’d probably meander around the aisles for a few moments just to show good graces before exiting in haste with sighs of relief. On the other hand, exploring a brand new grocery store filled with the most delectable food stuff is definitely a reason to get excited.

Right at the entrance to the store I was greeted by a bright display of Melissa’s Hatch chiles – a reminder of Bristol Farms’ efforts to offer the most seasonal, local, natural, organic, and community-driven produce. These New Mexico chiles are in season for only a few weeks in August and September, and now is the time to get a box or two, roast them (either at home or at one of the roasting events scheduled throughout southern California), freeze them, and bask in the happy thought that come January, you can start the pot of Chile Verde, or enjoy Hatch Chiles Rellenos at any time.

Hatch Chile Products at Bristol Farms from bibberche.comI have Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook, but as I walked around the store, I encountered a few items that used Hatch chiles in the most creative ways. OK, corn bread and cheese might be somewhat expected, but trail mix and sushi? Definitely intriguing and, in the case of trail mix, seriously addictive.

I spent a few hours weaving around the aisles, impressed by the choices and delighted by the knowledge, passion, and zeal of the employees. Having my friends by my side made this experience even more enjoyable.

We took turns snapping the photos  and admiring the vibrant colors of the fresh and versatile produce section.

Produce Bristol Farms from

Am I the only one who finds beauty in all different shades of pink in this meat counter? The beef is grass fed, the poultry air-dried, and most meet in general is natural and organic, void of antibiotics, growth hormones, extra water, preservatives, and chemicals.

Meat Department Bristol Farms from

I don’t have to complain any more about the lack of game meets in California and lament the glory days spent with my hunting friends in Serbia and Ohio, who generously shared their catch. I saw elk, ostrich, antelope, venison, wild boar, bison, and even kangaroo!

Specialty Meats Bristol Farms from

I have never seen fish cut and displayed this way in a grocery store and it left me speechless. To make it even better, swordfish was on sale and I knew I would not be leaving the store without it.

Seafood Bristol Farms from

Yes, there are a dozen or so different soups offered at the lunch counter and they have a pizza oven, a sushi station, make-your-own wok bowl station, a deli station with freshly roasted tri-tip and turkey (carved per order) – just to name a few delicacies.

Lunch at Bristol Farms from

And then there is cheese. I roamed the store, but I returned to this section again and again, drawn by artfully arranged tables offering hundreds of cheese varieties. If anyone asks, I’d like to stake a claim underneath one of those tables and live there forever!

Cheese Department Bristol Farms from

I thought of my girls as I ogled the dessert case, wishing they were here to sample the perfect little bites, but secretly glad they were not, as I know that some of my baking and decorating efforts might lose their high ratings compared to these masterpieces.Desserts at Bristol Farms from

The cupcakes were not small, nor dainty, and we attacked them as a group at the end of our working lunch. If I call it work, eating cupcakes counts as research or quality control, not pure, unadulterated indulgence. So work it is. And the researchers were happy.

Cupcakes from Bristol Farms from

Remember the swordfish? The piece I brought home was about one and a half pounds and the three of us feasted on it like queens. Hatch chicken sausage is on the menu tomorrow and I cannot wait to taste it.

Bristol Farms from

I am sure that Bristol Farms store will be wildly successful in this increasingly affluent Santa Monica neighborhood. The management hopes that it will become a regular stop for the locals who demand and expect the best. As for me, I’ll visit occasionally to sightsee, sample, and purchase another exquisite piece of seafood.

Mar 012013


Fresh California Orange Juice from

I am standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. A coffee maker is gurgling just to the right, and a few feet behind me there is a skillet with onions and potatoes cut in small cubes, destined to become a diner-worthy accompaniment to the eggs and toast. It’s cold in our small 70s kitchen that could have easily come from an Updike Rabbit novel, but all the smells that surround me scream comfort and warmth. The grass in the front yard sways in the rhythm with the wind that blows from the west, bringing along the briny smell of the ocean that manages to break in through the open door.

We don’t have a dishwasher and I should feel dismayed and frustrated as this is the first time that I have to do without that luxury since I arrived on the American soil more than twenty years ago; but I don’t feel burdened: there is a beautiful rose bud that opened this morning monopolizing my view and competing with an idyllic scene featuring several small boys milling around, chasing one another along the sidewalk.

My dad soaking some California sunshine underneath the orange tree

We might be experiencing the record-low temperatures for Southern California for the first time, but my nose being cold on most mornings is the small price to pay for the eternal and uninterrupted blue that greets me when I open my eyes and inevitably makes me smile. A jasmine bush hugs one side of the garage door and its sweet fragrance reaches me through my bedroom window as I try to silence the alarm clock.

Yes, life is hectic and I still need at least five or six extra hours a day to accomplish everything. But even with the constant adrenaline rush I manage to take in all the beauty and serenity around me and acknowledge how grateful I am that my girls and I are living on this particular street, in this bungallow decorated by many wooden artifacts from Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and Japan, with this wonderful woman who is old enough to be my mother, but young enough to be my soul sister, a confidante and a friend. I cannot wait to tuck my girls in their bunk beds, pour myself a glass of wine and sit on the edge of her bed for our regular nightly chit-chat.

As I wave to the neighbors and greet the mailman, I feel as if I truly belonged to this street with its undulating tall palm trees, luscious yards, and red-tiled roofs. Every day is like a present, unexpected, but eagerly awaited and greatly appreciated.

California sunset from

There are several large plastic bowls resting on the brown-and-yellow-tiled kitchen floor filled to the capacity with oranges my dad picked from the tree in the back yard. Freshly squeezed orange juice is on the menu this morning; and many mornings to come. I feel as if I were living a dream as the sweet, sticky liquid runs down my fingers and the smell of fresh citrus envelops me. It might not sound grand or imposing, but a glass filled with the juice that came from the fruit in our back yard makes me tremendously happy to be alive right now, in this beautiful part of the world that I can finally call home.

Fresh California Orange Juice from

Nov 122012

Lazy Acres from

Lazy Acres Market opened this week in Long Beach. Some of you might shrug your shoulders and move on to the story of the Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez break-up (do not ask me how I know this; it is not because I have two teenage daughters under my roof, but despite of the fact). And I understand and forgive the ambivalence of the un-initiated. But  the mere thought of a grocery store based completely on natural, organic, mostly local products was enough to set me driving on south-bound Pacific Coast Highway, navigating the dreaded round-about and roaming the unknown, and therefore hostile territory without a GPS (horrors, I know!)

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

By the time I arrived, the parking lot looked like a mosh pit at a Scandinavian death metal band concert, with cars weaving around the aisles in a desperate attempt to find an empty space. I silently invoked my inner Buddha and parked in front of a T. J. Maxx, as my eyes followed a seemingly interminable line of people snaking around the corner, patiently waiting for the doors of Lazy Acres to open.

Lazy Acres from

I was inside the store minutes before the grand opening, snapping pictures of employees and perfectly arranged produce with enthusiasm of an E! reporter at a Versace fashion show. I tell you, people, I could set up a tiny tent and live in this store. As a matter of fact, I don’t even need a tent, as they sell yoga mats in the fitness section. Which is right next to the organic teas and natural supplements.

Lazy Acres from


Lundberg Family Rice Products at Lazy Acres from

I was happy to discover Lundberg Family Rice products here!

The coffee station is better than Starbucks and you can pick a variety of flavors for your smoothie right from the refrigerated bins filled with produce. As tempted as Kale Smoothie sounded (not! I know I am bad, but I have not jumped on the green wagon yet; I love to eat green food, but drinking it is an alien concept), and as satisfying as a sample of Breakfast Smoothie tasted, I chose Blueberry Splash, thick, vivacious, and splendidly speckled with berry goodness.

Lazy Acres Long Beach from

Breakfast taken care of, you can move along a few paces and get your lunch order filled as you pick between juicy Santa Maria marinated tri-tip, seasoned grilled chicken breast, peppery roast beef, and pastrami; if your preferences lie in the herbivorous realm, your choices are even better (thin crusted  Pizza Margherita with burrata? Pizza sandwich with grilled vegetables? Or with tofu? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) Seriously, this place has a bona fide wood-burning oven on premises! You squint slightly and you are in Tuscany, just like that.

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

Looking at the cheeses lined up on the shelves made my eyes glaze over as I imagined myself rolling a wheel of raw-milk gouda down the aisle and to my car. This pale yellow baby encased in waxy red skin was so big that my fingers would not have touched if I tried to encircle it. So, carrying it out was definitely out of the question. Then, again, if I manage to get squatter’s rights, all I would need is a small paring knife and a trip or two to the produce section to be in heaven.

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

A small area of the store is designated solely to sushi and sashimi. And sake, of course. Because it is punishable by law not to imbibe sake while eating raw fish. I think. At least it should be. The workers behind the counters moved so fast that most of my photos ended up blurry. Or they were blurry  because I stared at the perfectly aligned rolls on black trays and pressed my shutter randomly. Oh, the choices! I wished my dear friend E. were there with me as I put my face against the glass transfixed by glistening cubes of Hawaiian poke, as welcoming as a soulful sound of ukulele that played in the background. OK, ukulele was all in my head. But it should have been there. Along with pretty girls in hula skirts.

Lazy Acres from

The fish counter was like an art exhibit displaying every hue on the color wheel from pristine white of cold-water fish to almost maroon of wild-caught swordfish (which happened to be on sale). And just in case you lived in a glass bubble for the last decade and have not heard about the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, a warning is taped on the glass guiding you to better choices.

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

Pete was standing behind his little table grilling New York strip steaks from naturally raised beef and passing out the samples, reciting again and again for the sake of some unbelieving customers (no, no, no, definitely not me!) that the only seasoning on the meat was salt and pepper. I assumed that he was in competition with the sushi people as he was moving with lightning speed trying to refill his tray of quickly disappearing samples. I would have to give him a medal for multitasking as he managed to fulfill his task while explaining in details the air-chilling process of chicken and pork sold at Lazy Acres.

Lazy Acres from

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

I am a trivia geek, and learning about the proverbial mammoth I bring home to my young ones is of the utmost importance to me. Allow me to paraphrase Pete, and enlighten you. The most important thing in meat industry is chilling the meat once the animal has been killed (I have to apologize to my herbivore friends for this segment) to prevent the bacteria from multiplying. Most big meat producers dunk the chickens in icy water, thousands at a time, and stir them for a while to get them to the right temperature. This makes them water-logged, heavier, and more prone to being infected with salmonella (if one out of 15,000 chickens has salmonella, the rest being plunged in the mix might develop it, too).

Lazy Acres from

A few smaller poultry and pork producers are employing an air-chilling process, where the chickens (and pigs) are suspended on lines or racks and blasted with frigid air which instantly brings the temperature of the meat down and prevents breeding of the harmful bacteria. These chickens are not frozen, nor water-logged, and their chances of containing salmonella are minuscule. “I’ll take ‘Poultry Processing’ for$2000, Alex!”

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

Produce section offered as many varieties and more than a thriving European Farmers’ Market. Just knowing that every leaf, stalk, and root displayed on the shelves was grown seasonally, organically, naturally, without GMOs and mostly locally was enough to make me feel all cozy and warm.

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

Lost in the sea of heirloom apples, citrus with stems and leaves still attached, and gnarly, alien-looking bulbous stalks of Brussels sprouts, I felt relieved to find my friends from Melissa’s Produce showing off their sweet young coconuts and pouring samples of coconut water for weary customers (yes, shopping and taking pictures is an extremely demanding and tiring job!).

Lazy Acres from

As I was dragging my feet towards the checkout and exit, I stumbled onto the bulk produce department and mills that grind nuts. You know how you can buy coffee beans and grind them at the store for the freshest experience? Well, Lazy Acres Market has the mills that grind peanuts into peanut butter, cashews into cashew butter, almonds into almond butter, and so on. All you have to do is place your plastic container underneath the wide spout and press the button! No preservatives, no additives, no extra salt or sugar – just the nuts in all their beauty. (Psssst, there is one machine that makes peanut and chocolate chip butter, but this is just a rumor :)

Lazy Acres from

I left the store feeling like Bugs Bunny in one of the Looney Toon cartoons where he sees colorful bubbles in front of his eyes. I saw various fruits and vegetables and meats dancing inside my eyes as I made my way towards my car, toting a beautiful duck breast and a wedge of that raw-milk gouda that I coveted so much. All the way home, after making one wrong turn after another, I kept on planning my next excursion to this store, thinking of inviting my friends who would be as excited about natural, healthy, locally grown, farm-to-table, organic foods as I am.

Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from


Lazy Acres from

Robert, thank you for giving me the chance to explore the Lazy Acres Market. And thanks for that beautiful, soft, flame-kissed pizza Pastrami sandwich:) This was, indeed an enlightening experience, even though I did not end up staking a claim on the store’s real estate.

Lazy Acres Market in Long Beach is the second store to open after the success of Santa Barbara location. I just hope they open another one somewhere in my neighborhood! But even if that does not happen, taking a forty minute road trip down the picturesque albeit treacherous PCH  to Long Beach is definitely worth it.

Oct 122012

Nathan Turner American Style Book from

A few days ago, I found myself, along with several other food bloggers at Melissa’s Produce warehouse to celebrate a newly-published book Nathan Turner’s American Style – Classic Design & Effortless Entertaining with its author. With enough time on my hands just in case I got lost, I maneuvered the streets of South Central LA with what I perceived as utmost skill and total cool. I arrived early Melissa's Produce Warehouse from bibberche.comenough, and after saying Hello! to my friends and acquaintances, and shaking hands with folks I did not know, Robert Schueller, the spokesman for Melissa’s, led us inside through the winding corridor decorated with photographs of celebrities and posters recording significant events of the past.

If you have never been to Melissa’s test kitchen, you are in for a pleasant surprise. It’s spacious, filled with light, lined with bookshelves heaping with cookbooks, preserves, and condiments, with walls proudly displaying items from Julia Child’s kitchen that owners Joe and Shannon Hernandez collected over the years, and the center island that usually features the food.

This time when we entered, a single, long table was set for us, with fold-out chairs made of bleached wood flanking it. Roughly sewn burlap tablecloth and dark blue denim runner were the backdrop to a stunning, yet simple design, one of those that hit you mid-glance, urging you to ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” From plain glass vases holding purple basil, mint, and a variety of green plants of different textures, to linen napkins rolled and tied together with a rosemary twig on top, to mason jars instead of glasses, to a three-tiered distressed tin centerpiece cradling an array of colorful vegetables –  the design was a comforting country, laid back and relaxed, but harmonious and aesthetic nonetheless.

Melissa's luncheon for Nathan Turner from

I approached Nathan, his black-rimmed nerd glasses and casual clothing perfectly matched with the interior of the room. His warm Nathan Turner at Melissa's from bibbberche.comsmile and sparkle in his eyes put me at ease immediately. Our conversation was spontaneous, even though I was afraid at times that my questions tinted with accented English sounded like machine-gun fire. But even if they did, he responded in a calm, mellifluous voice, his smile never leaving his face.

Nathan TurnerNathan is a fourth-generation Californian, a mix of English and German, raised in San Francisco and on the working cattle ranch (emphasis on working) his maternal grandfather established, which made him appreciate real food. He has a degree in business, but the fate led him down another path; he discovered his passion for design on one of his summer jobs, and never looked back. He moved to Los Angeles a decade ago and opened his first shop in a dilapidated bungalow in West Hollywood, pulling all his creative impulses to mask the architectural faults of the smallNathan Turner from building and make his own mark in one of the most competitive fields in California.

His idiosyncratic approach to design that encompasses his love of travel and obsession with food made him stand out and become one of the most prestigious designers in our city. “My approach to decorating and entertaining is all about finding new ways to live and celebrate with low effort and high style”. He embraces his native West Coast laid back and relaxed style, effortlessly blending interiors and exteriors, bringing inside the elements of the outside world that make California so special.

His book is divided into three sections: Going Coastal, City Living, and Going Country. Nathan takes us for a tour of his Malibu home, lets us take a glimpse at his mother’s house in Tahoe, and even allows us to peek into some of the celebrities’ homes he transformed into  veritable retreats and sanctuaries (who doesn’t want to see the inside of Ione Skye’s or Amanda Peet’s glamorous Spanish adobe?) He brings his simple motto “barefoot, fuss-free, but still high-style” everywhere he goes and makes you want to kick back and enjoy life in any of his casually, but stylishly adorned rooms, secure that the party will be a hit and the food perfectly matched to the occasion and season.

Melissa's Produce Kitchen from

After he answered all the questions and signed all the books, we sat down to yet another delightful lunch prepared for us by Melissa’s

Melissa's luncheon from bibberche.comtalented chefs Tom and Raquel. Every dish represented the seasonal bounty, from fresh fruit platter, to Melissa's luncheon from bibberche.comgarden salad, jewel-like grilled corn and heirloom tomato salad, to Dutch Yellow potato salad spiced with Hatch chile vinaigrette, to unctuous strands of roasted spaghetti squash served with rich Bordelaise sauce, to beef and chicken lettuce wraps with flavorful aiolli, to addicting and alluring Hatch chile Devil’s food cookies as piece de resistance. We quenched our thirst with lemonade and Arnold Palmers, of course.

Warned in advance, I refrained from asking any personal designing questions while the Q&A session continued once we all visited the center island two or three times, but Nathan was gracious enough to share with us his tips on decorating on the budget. He advised us to go outside and look for inspiration. “The Nature offers so much at such a low cost. Look in your yard, in your neighbor’s yard, or take a drive on PCH and grab whatever you fancy! Don’t be afraid to experiment and trust your instincts.”

Nathan Turner from

As we were leaving, I shook Nathan’s hand and thanked him for inspiring me and allowing me to think, even for a minute, that I could pull it off as easily as he can. I will remember his advice and I will bury myself into his book for more inspiration in the days to come. (I am already scanning my neighbors’ yards for centerpieces).

Thank you, Nathan, and than you, Melissa’s, for this wonderful day!

“Nathan Turner is a renowned interior designer and entertaining expert. He owns an eponymous shop in Los Angeles – which merges his three passions of design, food, and travel and is a go-to-source for the country’s leading interior designers. He is featured on the Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators and is the style expert at Pottery Barn. Nathan’s Parties, products, and designs have been featured in major national and regional publications.” (Abrams)

Nathan_Turner book from

Nathan Turner’s American Style: Design and Effortless Entertaining                                                                                                                                       By Nathan Turner                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Abrams Books / October 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                               U.S. $40.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ISBN 978-1-41970-439-0                                                                                                                                                                                                             Hardcover with jacket                                                                                                                                                                                                                                224 pages / 81/2″x101/2″                                                                                                                                                                                                                        150 color photographs


Sep 202012

Montenegrin Goat Cheese from

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

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

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

old Serbian woman from


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

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

Goats from

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

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

Mking goat cheese from

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

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

Goats from

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

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

Sanja and Danilo from

Sanja and Danilo

Apr 152012

I would like to wish Happy Easter to my family and friends who celebrate today. May your eggs be victorious, your lamb succulent, and your day filled with happiness and laughter.

Христос воскресе!

Uskrsnja jaja from

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

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

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

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.

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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
A year ago: Everybody Goes to Rick’s, story and the recipe for Grilled Carne Asada.
Sep 202011

srpski pijac from bibberche.comIt has been sweltering hot in my Serbian home town the last few weeks. As soon as I get up and water my mom’s geraniums and azaleas, I close wooden shutters on all the windows, drape a dark green tablecloth over the upstairs bathroom window, and close the back door in an attempt to block the ruthless heat from penetrating the house. (Husband, the mole, would find himself at home, enjoying the dusk-like quality of light and deep shadows that preserve the traces of fresh morning air).

I make Turkish coffee, strong and black for me, weak with a touch of sugar for Mom, and we drink it in the back yard, at the table in front of the house, chasing the shade cast by the roof. My sister-in-law, Tanja, joins us if she is not at school where she teaches Language Arts, and we spend a leisurely half an hour gossiping, exchanging stories and advice, laughing, and reminiscing. I sweep the leaves that magnolia shed during the night, not missing the beat in the conversation. When the sun reaches the six terazzo steps leading to the back door, leaving us no respite whatsoever, I pick up the cups and follow Mom as she slowly makes her way up, leaning on two canes, one metal, one wooden, that Father had bought in San Francisco’s Chinatown last Fall.

Cacak from

Once she is comfortably settled in her bed, with four pillows meticulously arranged to support her aching spine, I bring her breakfast on a small purple plastic tray with a white damask napkin as the nice, antique silver trays lining the upper pantry shelf on the right are too heavy for her to support while laying down. I learned the first day that she eats very little and I bring her very little, aware that even the sight of too much food will make her nauseated. I start auctioning food, offering everything available in the house and in the stores a few blocks away, knowing that I can make it back in time. She scrunches her nose and makes faces until a craving appears. When she locks onto an idea, she looks at me with her big, blue eyes and asks me for a soft boiled egg with sliced tomato, a warm croissant from the corner bakery, cream of wheat with raisins and cranberries, or a half a piece of toasted French bread with a slice of Havarti I brought form the US, knowing that she would enjoy it.

She turns her TV on and watches the morning shows, while texting with family and friends. With one last glance I make sure that she is feeling alright for the moment. I drag the white and navy checkered grocery bag with wheels, don my straw hat and my cheap, oversize a la Victoria Beckham sunglasses, and head for the market. I walk briskly, weaving in and out of shades that our linden trees provide, my feet following with certainty the path they carved so many years ago.

Cacak from

Going to the market is a social occasion. I will invariably meet several people on my way to the store. I will stop and chat, punch in a long-lost friend’s cell phone number to connect later, make a date for another day, and continue with my enjoyable daily task. During the week, outside cafés are filled with people huddled under the awnings, seated as if in a theater, facing the main  pedestrian walkway down the middle of the street that has been closed for traffic since I was a teenager. On the weekends, there are only a few souls brave enough to face the merciless heat, as the wise and knowledgeable blue-hair ladies have finished their daily shopping hours before.

The first stop is a grocery store, where I usually buy juice, yellow European butter that smells like fresh milk, yogurt, Happy Cow cheese, and a variety of small portions of deli meats, always hoping that I could coerce that stubborn woman to take a piece for a mid-day snack. Knowing that Father will dutifully collect all flimsy plastic bags that come in various pastel colors, unable to part with them, fold them neatly, and lay them carefully on top of another hundred or so neatly folded bags, I refuse the offer from the cashier, and place the groceries one by one in various pockets of my huge canvas bag.

Cacak from

Moving along, I cross a little square and pass by the pastry shop Pelivan, where mothers and children sit and eat gelato, cream puffs, or baklava, chasing the sweets with the best tasting lemonade in town. I arrive at the butcher’s appreciative of the modern addition of air-conditioning, while reveling in the old-fashioned custom of not having every cut of meat on premises at all time. I buy on recommendation, trusting my butcher’s pride in his craft. Our dinner plans may change drastically based on my purchase, but I embrace the challenge and adjust to the moment.

As I approach the farmers’ market, my step quickens and my eyes focus on the first stalls laden with beautiful produce, looming just beyond the cast-iron gate. The merchant who makes leather goods stands erect in front of his shop just before the gates, his arms crossed behind his back, his mustache curling upwards, the caricature of one of the hunters in fairy tale Peter and the Wolf. I have to weave through a throng of Gypsies hawking cheap socks, t-shirts, and soap bars, and move to the side when old women march ahead, burdened with overfilled canvas bags.

srpski pijac from

I am mesmerized by color and smell, and overwhelmed by a feeling of abundance every time I come to the market. I always visit every stall, remembering not only the best produce, but the friendliest and most sincere vendors. By now, I recognize most of them, and have a few that that are definitely favorites. In the beginning, I wanted to but everything every day, greedy for the luscious, sweet tomatoes, firm peppers that take my breath away with  their smell, perfect young potatoes, curvy and lopsided carrots that remind me how carrots should taste, and pale yellow beans speckled with purple that I rarely manage to find in farmers’ markets in California.

I still have to restrain myself, but the temptation is weaker now, as I know that only fifteen minutes separates me from this place. I dutifully follow the plan, only occasionally picking a beautiful eggplant that seduces me, sitting innocently next to the onions I really have to buy, or a head of cabbage picked that morning, so cheap that it could be free. I carefully place my vegetables and fruits in the bag, making sure that nothing gets squished, and with a last longing glance I leave the market and head home.

srpski pijac from

As I close the gate behind me and enter the yard, Mother is already watching her Turkish soap opera, alert and freshened from her nap. I recite to her who I met and what I bought. After taking a vicarious walk through town with me, she smiles mischievously and makes a dinner request. I play along and feign annoyance at her choice, inwardly beaming, happy that she feels anything at all about food. I bring her a juicy peach or a few figs, fluff her pillows and kiss the top of her head as I leave the room to start unpacking my purchases and putting every vibrantly colored piece to its designated place.

fruit from the farmers' market from

I struggle between laughing and crying, anticipating nutritious meals that would boost her immune system and keep this filthy disease at bay. And I know that she trusts me, even though I see myself as a Don Quixote, foolishly attacking these windmills with nothing else but a bunch of vibrantly colored vegetables and pure love for the woman who taught me to how to laugh, how to cry, and how to love.

Serbian farmers' market from

Last year, about this time I wrote about the book Hungry Planet and Chicken Makhani in my Hunger Challenge series.


Aug 312011

I did not start out as a photographer. We had a mandatory photography course in eighth grade and somehow I managed to squeeze out an A. The next summer I signed up for a community class, but the instructor chose me for a model, and I failed to learn the technicalities of manual film shooting and developing. If I had a nice portfolio, I would have been satisfied, but I left the class more confused then when I entered.

Our parents outfitted a small room upstairs to be a photo lab and my sister and brother spent hours in there developing negatives, playing, experimenting, distorting, and beautifying. I have a lot of pictures featuring me in different sizes and shapes as the only revenge available to them at the time.

I embraced the automatic “idiot” camera and resigned my photographic interest to the role of a tourist and an eternal amateur, until I started my blog. All of a sudden, my artistic abilities emerged from their hidden spot and I wanted to learn as much as I could. I took a class at the local community college, diligently finishing all the tasks and homework on time, submitting the photos before deadline, and managing to earn praises and positive critiques from the professor and my fellow students. Do not ask how many crying sessions I went through on  my way home as I doubted my creativity and my “eye”.

I don’t aim to become a professional, but as a perfectionist, I have to aim for the highest levels of my abilities. I do not stress anymore and I do not try to explain why I am photographing any/everything edible (and inedible) several times a day. I enjoy taking pictures. I really enjoy taking pictures.

My friend Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook started showcasing black and white photos featuring food and culture every Wednesday. She has encouraged me from early on and I look to her as a mentor. Her photography is amazing and her writing always inspiring. I am sending this photo for her Black and White Wednesday event, hoping that I can learn as much as I can from her and the other contributors.

Please, visit her blog to see the beautiful creations of my fellow food bloggers.

Reaching for Bread from