You Can Go Home if You Have the Dough

Our family car was a bright orange Russian-made Lada which stood packed since the early hours of the morning with several suitcases holding the beginnings of my new life in the big city. Tucked neatly and methodically around them, using every inch of available space in the trunk with a Tetris-like precision were checkered linen bags holding Mother’s praised preserves (wild strawberry, bing cherry, quince, and blackberry), along with apricot and plum jams, ajvar*, and jars of pickled peppers and cucumbers. Carefully wrapped and insulated bottles of Father’s golden hued plum brandy (the beloved “Å¡ljivovica” or slivovitz) were strategically placed to fill the gaps between bags. A special heavy-duty tote occupying the seat next to me was filled with home-cured Serbian delicacies like prÅ¡uta, smoky bacon, and a string of plump garlicky sausage links. The package was topped with plastic containers packed with fresh white farmers’ cheese and kajmak**, which Father bought at the green market at dawn.

Everybody was out on the street in front our house to say goodbye to me: my sister and my brother, Njanja, Deda-Ljubo, some of my friends who were not leaving town for college, and several neighbors. I was sobbing inconsolably, burying my head in my brother’s shoulder, and caressing my sister’s wet cheek. The unsuspecting passers-by were turning their heads down and away, uncomfortable witnessing this heart-wrenching scene, convinced that some horrible tragedy must have befallen this wailing family.

I was heading to the University of Belgrade, the capital city, a mere three hours away by bus, two hours away by car, and just over an hour hitchhiking, especially if you lucked out and stopped one of the crazy drivers from the town of Užice who seemed intent on sending the needle of their speedometers crashing out the passenger side window (I shudder now just thinking about it, but back in those days I had a secret affair with any adrenaline rush).

I cried because I finally realized that I was leaving behind my town, my family, and my home. It would not matter how many times we talked on the phone and how often I would take the last bus on Friday night to surprise them, our lives, so connected and intertwined until then, would inevitably start to diverge and follow different paths. I cried for the computer games I would not play with my brother and his friends, even though he banished me a hundred times for constantly ruining his joysticks. I cried for the empty half of the pull-out bed I shared with my sister. I cried for the magnolia tree Deda-Ljubo planted in the yard right next to the old-fashioned cast iron water pump. I cried for Father’s sullen admissions of affection and Mother’s love, omnipresent and eternal.

With one look at his watch, Father broke the farewell party. The time of the scheduled departure had arrived. He started the engine as I was entering the back seat, still holding my sister’s hand. Slouching in his wheelchair, my beloved eighty-something step-grandfather, Deda-Ljubo, a veteran and invalid of WWI, was drying silent tears with his white, blue-bordered cotton handkerchief, waving to me with a trembling hand, when Mother ran down the steps, carrying the last plastic container destined to accompany us to Belgrade. She nestled in the front seat, closed the door, and the Lada took off like a sad rocket prototype intent on carrying me to another world, another planet, another life. Half of my body was hanging through the window, while I tried to take in the last imprint of my childhood, damning the tears and blessing the gravity that would forever draw me back home. I was wishing that the hundred yards to the corner would go on indefinitely, like in a dream, but in a couple of seconds, my house and my world disappeared.

I cried, holding Mother’s hand half-way to Belgrade. After we passed the tunnel, Mother opened the plastic container sitting in her lap and gave me a “piroÅ¡ka” that she made just minutes before we left. Famished, I attacked the perfect little bundle of ground meat and onions rolled into a tender, miniature burrito-shaped crepe, dipped in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, and sauted until crisp. The familiar flavors filled the abyss in my soul and abated my tears. Somehow, I survived he rest of the trip.

We arrived at my Aunt and Uncle’s apartment, lugging the bags and suitcases to the phone booth of an elevator. There were hugs and kisses at the door, the boisterous hoopla typical of Slavic manhugs, and the tears of women that were so opposite the tears of a few hours ago that they seemed almost to run up their rosy cheeks, cried out by smiles rather than pooled eyes. The shoulder-patting and and giddy squeals softly gave way to a welcome round of whiskey and Turkish coffee, and a great dinner prepared by my Strina-PaÅ¡ana, accompanied by hefty pours of Vranac red wine from ÄŒika-Aco’s hospitable hand.

After a mandatory nap, Father announced that the time had come for him and Mother to return home.  As is a custom in our parts of the world, everybody came down to the parking lot to say their goodbyes. I hugged both of them, trying in vain to stop the tears from welling and overflowing my eyes. The orange Lada slowly pulled away. The last image I remember is Mother’s face glued to the window, shaking in wordless tears.

The elevator took us back to the eighth floor. I unpacked my bags and lined the shelves of my cousin Maja’s half-empty armoire. I sat on the edge of the bed that was suddenly mine, feeling utterly lost and alone. My Strina-PaÅ¡ana brought me and Maja some coffee. We drank it in silence, not knowing what to expect. We exchanged a few words and spent the rest of the night carefully avoiding each other.

When everybody was comfortably tucked into their beds, I tiptoed to the kitchen and grabbed one of Mother’s “piroÅ¡ke”. I sat at the kitchen table, savoring every morsel, slowly realizing that certain parts of my previous life were as portable as my heart and that I could take them anywhere life might lead.

This recipe is for a completely different kind of “piroÅ¡ke”. Instead of the mini-crepes it is made with a potato yeast dough. Instead of the ground beef and onion, it is filled with ham and sour cream. Instead of a flour-egg-breadcrumb finish, it is deep-fried just as it is.

Mother’s recipe will have to wait for some future day when the right Muse knocks on my door and the gods of family life grant me enough time to properly reproduce the flavor that I crave. In the meantime, I give you the recipe for “piroÅ¡ke” that I found on my fellow Serb, Jelena’s enjoyable blog, “Food for Thought“, which she saw on “Le Cuisine Creative“, Mignonne’s blog filled with beautiful photographs of delectable food.

*Ajvar is a roasted red pepper relish cherished in all regions of ex-Yugoslavia

**Kajmak is a Serbian dairy product similar to clotted cream

PIROÅ KE (FRIED STUFFED YEAST DOUGH, by Jelena, via Mignonne)

I made the whole batch and froze half after the rising. Not willing to spend all the time by the stove frying, I baked half of the piroške. Everybody preferred the fried version. The baked ones were excellent, with a slightly crunchy crust and a very soft middle, similar to bread-sticks. They could also be filled with cheese, ground meat and onions, and mushrooms and onions.

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 700g of flour ( might need more)
  • 300g of boiled potatoes
  • 40g of fresh yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 100g of butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 300ml of warm milk

Filling:

  • 300g of ham cut into cubes
  • 300g of sour cream
  • black pepper, parsley

Directions:

Boil the unpeeled potatoes, let cool a bit, peel. Mash with a fork. Add salt, yolks, and butter to potatoes and mix with an electric mixer. Place the yeast in warm milk and leave for 15 minutes in a warm place. Add the yeast to the potato mix and half of flour. Slowly add the remaining flour and work with hands to form an elastic dough not too hard. You might need more flour. Leave the dough to rest for 45 minutes. Make the filling and place it in the fridge.

Boil the unpeeled potatoes , let cool a bit, peel. Mash with a fork. Add salt, yolks, and butter to potatoes and mix with an electric mixer. Place the yeast in warm milk and leave for 15 minutes in a warm place. Add the yeast to the potato mix and half of flour. Slowly add the remaining flour and work with hands to form an elastic dough not too hard. You might need more flour. Leave the dough to rest for 45 minutes. Make the filling and place it in the fridge.

I am submitting this post to Hearth and Soul blog hop event hosted by Alex of “A “Moderate Life” and three other wonderful bloggers.

Hearth n' Soul Blog Hop

9 Responses to You Can Go Home if You Have the Dough

  1. Christy says:

    You just have such a wonderful way with a story. I so felt like I was there and crying along with your family. I know just how your mom felt as I watch my older children begin to leave the nest. It is just never the same. It isn’t supposed to be but it is hard! I know I would love a piroshke – all sorts of comfort wrapped in a little package! Thanks for sharing this with us at the Hearth and Soul Hop!

  2. Sweets, you have a gift. Please don’t stop telling your stories. I want to thank you for linking with the Hearth and Soul hop, but I also want to thank you for sharing your stories. You have a distinct and lovely voice.

  3. Jelena says:

    Lana, drago mi je da su piroške pronašle put preko okeana. I mene vezuju uspomene za one piroške sa Terazija o čemu sam pisala u postu. Svaki put se setim kako malenim rukama držim tu masnu pirošku i papir natopljen masnoćom i onako vrelu je grickam do stanice. Neraskidive su te veze i uspomene koje naš mozak asocira sa hrano, mirisima i bojama. To je život!
    Ja sam zamrzavala već pečene piroške, pa sam h u mikrotalasnoj odledim,i bile su super. U protivnom smandrljali bih sve piroške za jedno veče.

  4. Sasa says:

    Your title is so apt! If I had the dough to fly back to NZ every half year I think perhaps I wouldn’t mind living here so much but it’s a bit of a pipe dream at the moment…Wonder what dough takes me home in my head – perhaps it’s more rice than dough that does that for me.
    These piroÅ¡ke look amazing – I’m not a bit surprised the deep fried version taste better ;P

  5. Lana my dear, This week is my week off of the hearth and soul hop for commenting, but I had to leave you a little note to say what a wonderful story! I too felt that heart rending in leaving home, and even when I went back, it was never the same. As my daughter is 17 today and approaching this juncture in her life, your story hit me hard in the heart. Hugs! Alex

  6. Lana says:

    @Christy, It’s never easy to let go of our children. We just have to make sure that they have very strong wings to help them fly away. Thanks for nice words. You cannot believe how much it means to me at this particular juncture in life.

    @Butterpowderedbike, writing is my therapy and a weapon against another part of my life which is sapping the energy out of me. I am so happy my little stories can touch people I have never even met:)

    @Jelena, ja sam za “Atinu” vezana mnogostruko, ne samo po piroÅ¡kama i jogurtu. Za četiri godine na FiloloÅ¡kom sam mogla da kupim akcije poslastičarnice:)

    @Sasa, my mother visited her parents only once a year when she got married, living only 200km away. Distances have become much shorter, but we need more money as a trade-off:) I am planning to go in the summer. Cannot wait…

    @Alex, thanks for the note on your week off:) It made me smile and dispersed the uglies trying to plunge me into a blue zone. My eldest is 18 and happily entrenched in Berkeley. My heart aches, but I know that she is where she wants to be and where she belongs. Is your daughter turning 17 today? If so, I have to wish her happy birthday and strong wings, little bird.

  7. selma says:

    lana, već sam ti napisala da mi se dopadaju tvoje priče i rado ih pročitam. Ne znam da i su čula za Aleksandra Hemona, on je Sarajlija, živi u Americi i piÅ¡e na engleskom, mislim da bi ti se dopao. Tvoje pisanje i sjećanja podsjećaju me na njega. Toplo i lijepo…
    Å ljivovica je predpostavljam za ujaka.
    Piroške volim, a Lanin (iz Leskovca) blog je divota.

    • Lana says:

      Selma, hvala na komplimentima:) ÄŒula sam za Hemona i knjigu “Lazarus Project”, ali nisam znala da je Sarajlija. Odmah sam rekla mužu da mi nadje njegove knjige iy biblioteke, jer si me zaintrigirala. Hvala na preporuci. I, naravno, poÅ¡to smo iz ÄŒačka koji je pozunat po Å¡ljivama, Å¡ljivovica se uvek nosima rodjacima na poklon:)

  8. […] Sorry I am late. The soap opera of my life is monopolizing most of my time these days. I hope to catch up soon:) Hugs and kisses! Lana recently posted..You Can Go Home if You Have the Dough […]

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