Feb 092012
 

Yellow House from bibberche.com

Most of my childhood memories are firmly tied to a yellow house built in the beginning of twentieth century in the Central European style. It had a double set of marble stairs flanked by a smooth stone handrail and a decorative balustrade. The two porches atop the stairs were connected with a big concrete slab supporting an ornate wrought iron fence that reflected in the living room windows on the other side. The fence was dotted with ceramic pots holding geraniums and azaleas, while the cacti and other green plants sat atop the concrete slab.

We spent interminable hours playing in the yard without any adult supervision. We really could not wander off as the black wrought iron gate was always locked (the mechanism was easy enough for adults to manipulate open, but extremely hard for small, weak fingers). There was a swing suspended from the branch of an old mulberry tree, a couple of lush hydrangea bushes, and a row of elegant roses that Deda Ljubo tended to patiently and lovingly.

Yellow House from bibberche.com

The grassy part of the courtyard looked over at the boarding house for the local high school students from out of town and we often saw faces framed by the window looking over at the yard. For some reason, we imagined they were kept there against their will, and often plotted rescue missions, faced by their imploring, and, as it appeared to us, incredibly sad glances. In retrospect, they were probably just homesick kids who missed their families, their siblings, and their yards, and envied our protected little world.

As the oldest and best acquainted with the intricate plots of adventure and action books, I was the fearless leader of our group, always ready to tackle a project, especially if it involved saving someone or something. (This trait would bring Mother numerous hours of anguish as I continued to drag home abandoned kittens, dirty puppies, and birdies still unable to fly that I collected on my meandering way back from school.) I went as far as suggesting a regular feeding schedule for the poor, emaciated souls next door, but our culinary prowess did not prove adequate for such an endeavor.

Yellow House from bibberche.com

Njanja and Deda-Ljubo, Moving Day

But we did try. Cooking, that is. We gathered mulberries from the grass and pulled walnuts through the hole in the sack. (The sack was purposely hung above the cellar stairs to allow the breeze to dry out the walnuts still in their shells, and we poked a hole in the burlap to get to the nuts.) There were some dandelion leaves and clover in the grass, but that was the extent of the fresh ingredients we managed to forage. Dissatisfied with the bounty found in nature, I organized forays into the enemy territory which was clearly marked by the two sets of marbled stairs. There were no guards anywhere in sight, but I knew that the hallways were rigged with booby traps and protected by hostile giants.

There are three sisters or three brothers in almost every Serbian fairy tale, and the youngest was always the most courageous. Fitting the stereotype and also being the token male and therefore a protected species, my brother was the usual emissary, the spy, or the thief sent into the great unknown that was the House. Armed only with his innocent, big, dark brown eyes, he braved the immense sprawl of our family home, hiding plastic containers in primary colors behind his back. Left outside, my sister and I were unable to monitor his progress, and the time he spent inside went on forever.

But eventually he emerged, sending us his snaggletoothed smile and offering the loot: salt, flour, sugar, bread crumbs, finely ground Turkish coffee, a few bay leaves, or a vanilla bean, whatever he could reach or swipe from the counter and cram into the dirty plastic containers. On many occasions he left a veritable Hansel and Gretel trail behind, when the corn meal or sugar trickled down from a hole in the cup, but we knew that he would get off easily if caught, exploiting trembling lips and teary eyes as his best defense.

My Brother

When I look back, our first attempts at cooking were very avant-guarde, always raw and vegan, albeit disgusting and unsanitary. But in our romanticized world, those inedible and dangerous pasty concoctions became golden brown pastries filled with juicy fruits and toasted nuts, filling our lungs with the glorious aroma of exotic vanilla and heady rum, or huge platters of roasted meats with crispy skin, surrounded by sweet carrots and buttery potatoes. We imagined feeding the droves of starving waifs next door and receiving in return not only their eternal gratitude but their souls, all in sync with the fairy tale themes.

The yellow house is no more. The city planners decided that an apartment building would serve the community much better than two houses built at the turn of the century and demolished it, after offering our grandparents another house in exchange. The boarding house is still there, but the kids from the neighborhood play somewhere else, unable to see sad faces framed by the windows. The three of us left the fairy tale world a long time ago, eager to embrace the reality of adulthood, leaving behind the magic we didn’t know we would miss. Being an adult is not an easy job, as the blinking and tearing of big, innocent brown eyes cannot always bring merciful results or absolve you of your wrong-doings.

But the three of us continued to cook and feed our families real food, delicious and nurturing, swapping the fairy dust for earthy ingredients, resigned to receive an occasional grunt instead of eternal gratitude from our not so emaciated subjects. Food is a big part of our lives and our games revolve around kitchen appliances, stoves, and grills, where our imagination can run (almost) as wild as it did back then when we fancied ourselves the savior brigade.

Home-made mayo from bibberche.com

(As it happens from time to time, my words escaped and took off on their own. Instead of shepherding them back into the pen, I let them fly freely, curious to see where they would land. The story has nothing whatsoever to do with making mayonnaise, but it was there, newly hatched, bright and glimmering, begging to be read.)

We never had store-bought mayo when we were children. Making it was such a simple process that it could be done any time, at a moment’s notice, without any preparation. In college I started buying Thomy, a German mayo that came in tubes, and had a wonderful, lemony taste to it. This recipe will give you slightly more than a cup of beautiful, creamy mayonnaise bursting with flavors of Dijon mustard and lemon, taking less than ten minutes of your time and utilizing the ingredients that you probably have available at any given moment.

Home made mayo from bibberche.com

HOME MADE MAYONNAISE

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg yolk*
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard (or any mustard that you like and have available)
  • ½ tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • a pinch of sugar (optional)
  • 250 ml (a smidge more than 1 cup) neutral oil (I use sunflower oil as it has no aftertaste); oil should be in an easy to pour vessel with a spout
*To eliminate the chance of salmonella poisoning, use pasteurized and germ-free Safest Choice Eggs.

Directions:

Place the egg yolk, mustard, salt, lemon juice and sugar (if using) in a big coffee mug or a mason jar. Attach only one whisk to your hand-held mixer and start mixing on medium speed, until it comes together, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and trickle in some oil. When it incorporates, add some more, making sure that it’s added slowly, in a very thin stream. Proceed until all of the oil is used and your mayo is thick and almost gelatinous.

Keep your mayonnaise covered in the fridge up to a week (in our house it never lasts that long).

Just in case it brakes (and sooner or later it happens to everyone, as we know that eggs and emulsions are fickle), there are a few simple methods that will turn the curdled mess into a smooth, creamy mayo. If you rush with addition of the oil, your chances of curdling are much higher, so I must advocate patience.

The first option is to add a few drops of really hot water. If that does not pull it together, beat an egg yolk in another bowl and add a bit of your broken mayonnaise. Mix it as if you were tempering it. Add the rest of the mayo and it should revert to its glorious, shiny self.

 

Last year at this time: Make-Ahead Cinnamon Rolls (while dreaming of a red Vespa)

Feb 272011
 
FBLA members' meetup at Patti Londre's LA home

Thanks, Patti, for catching everybody's smile

Clockwise:

(Not seen in the photo are Husband, who had the honor of pressing the button, and pretty yellow cat who meowed on playback behind the window).

***

When I moved from Serbia to the U.S. in the 80s, I was in love. When I moved from Michigan to Ohio in the 90s, I was following a change in career. When I moved from Ohio to California a couple of years ago, I was saying goodbye to a nightmare and hello to a dream. And each time my heart was broken. Each time I had to leave behind people I loved who loved me in return.

Fighting the exhausting battle for survival in the midst of the economic crisis, I had little time to look for new people connections. I love California and its beauty still takes me by surprise every single day. But without people, my roots don’t take hold and I feel adrift. I had been blogging for several months when Greg of Sippity Sup sent an invitation on his site to local bloggers to attend his Christmas tree decorating party in December.

As shy as I am, I am extremely brave by 10 o’clock at night, a glass of red wine in my hand, so I commented on his post, accepted his invitation, and asked for the address. As the day of the party approached, I tried to keep my cool and laugh off the anxiety. Husband picked the champagne and the ornament, and we set off for LA, properly equipped with directions and the most annoying navigational system in the world interrupting me as I chirped excitedly all the way until we got off the 405 and took the 101 right into the heart of Los Angeles, when I fell silent. A couple of miles down the road I told Husband to turn around and take us back home. I am so grateful that he dismissed it and continued driving because as soon as I walked into Greg’s house, my fears dissipated and the sense of intruding and not belonging was not there any more. Greg was a gracious host and the glass of bubbly he offered certainly did not hurt.

Several hours later I was in the car again, babbling excitedly, relieved that I still knew how to interact with people who count their age in double digits, and happy about meeting other bloggers. Besides, Husband and I were seriously contemplating stealing Greg’s kitchen. And we were not the only ones smitten by it: his kitchen was the star of a Food and Wine magazine article.

The Food Bloggers of Los Angeles group meets once a month. January’s hostess was Pam of My Man’s Belly. Everybody brought a dish to contribute to the potluck, and seeing all the beautifully arranged food, Husband decided to stick around, guessing correctly that he would not be disappointed. Pam was very patient and methodical as she guided us through the treacherous and murky waters of SEO, Google searches, and spiders, suggesting methods to attract traffic to our blogs and answering seemingly endless questions. Pam’s immaculate home is mere minutes to the Hermosa Beach Pier and left Husband plotting to steal not only her kitchen, but her latitude and longitude. The drive home  was pretty much filled with another one of my euphoric monologues. Once again my fellow bloggers put a big smile on my face, enough to arm me against another month of inane exchanges at work, aimless banter, and empty talk. I mentioned the meet-up in my Lemon Risotto post.

urnebes, roasted red pepper relish from bibberche.com

Today’s meet-up took us close to the UCLA campus where our February hostess, Patti Londre of Worth the Whisk, resides with her husband, Larry and a beautiful yellow cat whose name I do not know. We were a little late, and the table was already laden with mini quiches, deviled eggs, bite-sized tortilla espagnola, scones, rainbow beet salad, date-nut bread, phyllo pastries, pear and chocolate upside-down cake, lemon-cheesecake bars, chocolate macarons, fresh blackberries, and strawberries with chocolate and rum sabayon for dipping. The kitchen island held everything possible you can imagine for making a Bloody Mary (Patti has written a great post about it). It was nice to see so many familiar faces and to meet the new ones (new to me, that is).

As an added bonus, Patti’s extraordinarily talented and hillarious friend Denise Vivaldo was there, and her sense of humor and energy were infectious. I will have a chance to learn much more about Denise, as I was lucky enough to leave with one of the door prizes, an oversized bag stuffed with two of her award-winning books: The Entertaining Encyclopedia and The Food Stylist’s Handbookautographed, of course! I cannot wait to curl up on the couch and sink into them.

denise vivaldo's books

Patti has worked for over two decades in the PR business, and she lead us into that world, step by step, starting from the beginning, as some of us were not in the loop. She taught us how the PR industry functions, concentrating on their approach to bloggers. She illustrated her words with anecdotes and gave us a lot of useful advice. Even though I spent years reading hundreds of blogs, I am seeing the blogging world colored in so many different lights and I am discovering the whole process anew. It will never cease to amaze me that there are people out there who know so much more than me who are willing to share their knowledge and help us on our steep climb uphill.

Today I learned a lot. I won two beautiful books. I fell in love (again) with another LA neighborhood. I met several amazing people. I tasted some seriously good food. And the Bloody Mary’s were right on cue. I like it here in California. My roots are growing stronger every day. And even though my heart will stay permanently broken from missing my family and friends in Serbia, the land of eternal sunshine seems willing to accept another refugee into its ample silicone bosom.

URNEBES – ROASTED RED PEPPER RELISH

(This relish is a favorite of southern Serbia and Macedonia. Good quality full-fat sheep cheese makes it creamy, and hot peppers give it the requisite spiciness. It is not for the weak of heart).

Ingredients:

  • 8 meaty red bell peppers, roasted (or grilled), peeled, and seeded
  • 4 red jalapeño peppers, roasted, peeled, destemmed, and deseeded (you can use less hot peppers for a milder relish)
  • 250gr (1/2 lb) Greek feta, crumbled and pressed with fork
  • 2 Tbsp softened cream cheese
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1-2 glugs of olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Place the peppers in a colander, press with a heavy bowl, and allow them to drain for several hours. Process them in a food processor until coarsely chopped and transfer to a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing to incorporate. Taste and adjust the amounts of salt and pepper.

Serve as a dip with toasted baguette or pita chips. This relish also makes an excellent condiment to any grilled meats.