July 8, 2010

Hot Days in July

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Holidays, Home, Weather tagged , , , , , , at 7:04 am by Liliana

Pleasures of hot weather

Pleasures of hot weather

This week has been hot. Very hot.

The temperatures and the humidity in our part of Michigan have been in the high 90’s.

Our cottage near Lake Michigan does not have air-conditioning.

Somehow, in a small house full of people, we persevered. I cannot deny that there weren’t moments when we discussed breaking into our neighbor’s house (he was away on a camping trip) to enjoy the coolness of his whirling machine, but we didn’t actually do it.

And for the most part, we weren’t miserable either. Except for my husband Jeff who cannot stand heat at all, even though he grew up in St. Louis in the steamy humidity of the Mississippi river. Or maybe because of it.

The rest of us handled the heat just fine. We spent part of each morning sitting on the front porch, in the shade of the tall scotch pine, watching birds come to the feeder. Inside the cottage, while eating, napping, reading or playing games, we used ceiling fans and window fans to move the air around. The windows were open for the air to circulate, but the shades were drawn creating a drowsy darkness even at noon.

Branka, Joe and I took long walks on the beach, the breeze strong and refreshing, the water warm. Peter, Nena and Jeff went on bike rides on the shady wooded paths of the nearby trail. All exertion demanding activity was completed by midday.

To keep cool we lunched on salads, fruits and vegetable soups. Then everyone quieted down and people read, or napped or played computer games. I found a shady spot on the hammock in the backyard and dozed happily. Around three in the afternoon, I could hear Jeff starting to practice his violin and smell the powerful aroma of Turkish coffee.

Everyone slowly assembled on the back deck. Now, the front porch was sunny and hot, the back deck shady and inviting.

For dinner, we mostly barbecued. Chicken, fish, hamburgers. We made potato salad with fresh dill and steamed new corn. We made piles of green salad with apples, raspberries and refreshing vinaigrette.

And when it started getting dark, and we walked towards our favorite ice cream store, no one complained about the heat any longer. It seemed like the perfect background for waffle cones and a variety of flavors. Sam and Nicole wanted chocomania, Nena tried dark cherry with vanilla, Joe got strawberry sorbet and I – French silk.

Cool and delicious.

July 1, 2010

Sounds of Silence

Posted in Children, Family, Holidays, Serbia tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:48 am by Liliana

Source: http://www.knowledgerush.com/wiki_image/2/26/Criquet.1%28L%29.jpg

Busy lives

We live in a noisy world. Sounds of technology invade every corner of our consciousness.

I am a person who likes silence. Constant auditory stimulation makes me hyper and unable to concentrate.

When I think of calmness and quietude, I remember the summers of my early childhood, spent with my grandparents. I was born in 1959 and although I lived with my parents in the modern (and noisy) city of Belgrade, I spent summer holidays in a quiet village in the Serbian countryside.

No resident of Banostar owned a car at this time, so most of the noise came from people and animals. There were few television sets in the village, although radios were common. No one listened to radios all the time, though. There were special programs that we looked forward to, and listened to in the evenings while gathered around the big farm table.

I frequently accompanied my grandfather to his fields and orchards. While he did one task or another, I would sit quietly on a blanket in a shade of a tree, and play. I had few toys, so I played with anything that was available: corn husks became dolls with flowing long hair that needed to be braided and tended to; fruit, rocks, wood chips, leaves, everything was fair game.

The sounds I think of when I remember those games are the sounds of insects. Their busyness and deliberations filled every crevice of the world around me. The universe seemed to belong to these tiny creatures and I felt like an accidental visitor and observer. I quietly braided the hair of my corn husk as I listened to crickets, flies, mosquitoes, or bees. A large wasp buzzing around my ear sounded mightier than an airplane. All around me, lives were being led with drama and purpose. I bore witness.

Even now, while sitting in my garden arbor at the end of a hot summer day, when the glorious cacophony of the cricket’s wings takes over the evening, I am transformed by the invisible presence all around me.

I try to shut out the resonance of cars and trucks from the nearby highway, the buzzing of airplanes, the intonation of television voices, the battle reverberations of video games, the ringing of telephones.

All I hear is the song of the crickets.

June 29, 2010

Weekend at the Lake

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Friendships, Holidays, Home, Weather tagged , , , , at 6:39 am by Liliana

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

We spent a few days at our cottage near Lake Michigan.

Between our guests from Alaska and Chicago and our own extended family, there were fifteen occupants. Half of us were children.

Every room was put to good use. Branka and Joe took the back bedroom. Sasha and Sam claimed the tiny front room. Tom and Sharon slept on an air mattress in the little side porch. Next to them, in the middle walk-through room, slept the two boys, Nate and Julian.

In the upstairs loft, we had a crowd: Jeff and I on the bed, Nicky and Nena on the floor.

And then the tent. Laurie brought a big, sturdy tent, and she and the two little girls (Katie and Monica) slept outside. The huge rain storm did not scare these ladies away.

The children spent hours filling balloons with water and popping them on the side of the house. They climbed the play structures in the little park down the street. Sam and Nate played soccer and basketball, at the same time. They buried each other in the sand, and we had to make them come out of the lake. No one wanted to stop bobbing in the huge waves that came after the storm.

The adults walked on the beach, sat talking on the front porch, drank Turkish coffee out of dainty porcelain cups. Branka made soups, corn bread and puppy seed and walnut strudel. Sharon and Tom made a Mexican themed dinner one night. Jeff barbecued a feast on Saturday night.

Since it was also Nena’s birthday, Branka bought a huge Dairy Cream ice cream cake. It was not just the little kids who asked for seconds! As the storm raged outside and we cooled ourselves with melting vanilla, chocolate and cookie dough flavors, Laurie asked what the adults would do differently if they had another chance at being twenty two.

Most had a similar wish – slow down the time and spend it enjoying each others presence. And so we did.

June 6, 2010

My Front Porch

Posted in Children, Family, Holidays, Home tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:51 am by Liliana

Front porch

Nicky painting; Grandpa and Sam playing chess

Sitting on the front porch of my little cottage near Lake Michigan is one of my favorite activities.

The porch is spacious enough to hold a large wicker sofa that we got from my friend Jan. Next to it we have placed an old blue bench that we cover with soft cushions. All around are chairs – from rockers to cheap IKEA models. In the middle of this grouping sits a little table just waiting for that coffee cup or a tall lemonade glass.  My husband Jeff had put the table together from a hand painted metal platter that my friend Ann gave us as a housewarming gift and a metal base that I found in a junkyard. They fit together beautifully.

On the other side of the porch, there is room for a large old farm table that I actually paid money for in a moment of sentimental homesickness. It reminds me of Serbia. The top is painted light pealing green, the base is black. It is beaten, uneven, and uncomfortable for big people because there is no room for their legs. The tall man in my family hate it, but the girls love it. The table is surrounded by a flock of light, cheap, black IKEA chairs.

My favorite activity at this table is to clean green beans. I don’t know why. Maybe just the idea of sitting there on that lazy porch, having the time to clean green beans that I have just purchased at the farmer’s market that morning invoke for me the idea of a perfect summer moment.

Other things I like to do on that porch: sit on the wicker sofa and read; take a nap in the sunlight; sit there in the morning before anyone wakes up, drink coffee and look at birds; serve Turkish coffee on a pretty platter in small cups in the afternoons; sit with family and neighbors in the evenings with a glass of wine or beer, and talk about everything.

We had a large group of family members at the cottage for Memorial Day weekend. The front porch was everyone’s favorite place to assemble. My father played countless games of chess with his grandchildren.  My niece, Nicole, painted the scenery. We ate our meals there. We had our drinks there. We talked. We talked more. And early on Monday morning, we watched as the Memorial Day parade procession passed by our house.

May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo

Posted in Food, Holidays, Recipes, Traditions tagged , , , , at 6:57 am by Liliana

Mango Salsa

Mango Salsa

Cinco de Mayo (“fifth of May”) is a holiday primarily celebrated in the Mexican state of Puebla as a commemoration of the Mexican victory over the French in 1862. In the United States and countries around the world, it is recognized as a day to celebrate Mexican heritage, food and customs.

Bring the taste of Mexico to your home with this delicious salsa recipe. Its flavors will take you to a sweet, sunny, exotic place.

Mango Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2  cups mixed fruit – (chopped and peeled mango, papaya, peaches, plums, and pineapple)
  • 1/2  cup chopped red and green sweet pepper
  • 1/4  cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/4  cup snipped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 2  tablespoons lime juice or lemon juice
  • 2 fresh jalapeno or Serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped

Directions

  1. In a mixing bowl stir together mixed fruit, sweet peppers, green onions, herbs, juice, and peppers. Cover; chill at least 2 hours before serving.
  2. Serve as a dip for chips or fresh vegetables or as a condiment for tacos, quesadillas, burgers, steaks, chicken, or fish. Makes about 2 cups.

April 4, 2010

Roast Lamb for Easter

Posted in Family, Food, Holidays, Home, Recipes, Traditions tagged , at 7:32 am by Liliana

Roast Lamb

Roast Lamb

My family celebrates Easter with a delicious main dish of roast lamb. I found this recipe on the NPR website but it is very close to the one I inherited from my mother. Give it a try.

Roast Lamb
(Makes 6 servings)

  • 2 lemons
  • 3 Tablespoons minced fresh oregano
  • 3 Tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher or sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 – 5 pound leg of lamb
  • 2 – 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 – 6 cloves garlic, sliced into slivers
  • 2 – 3 Tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

Combine lemon zest, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper in a bowl.

Dry lamb with paper towels. Brush meat with lemon juice, olive oil, then blend in the herb mixture. Using a thin, sharp paring knife, cut deep slits 1 inch apart all over the leg. Stuff each slit with a sliver of garlic and rosemary leaves.

Let leg warm on kitchen counter for 3 hours before cooking. Meanwhile, heat oven to 275 degrees.

Position leg on a rack in a roasting pan, and roast until an instant-read thermometer reads 130 degrees for medium-rare or 140 for medium (about 2 1/2 hours depending on your oven). Remove from oven.

Cover with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to its highest setting. Remove foil and return roast to oven. Cook until well-browned, 10 to 15 minutes. The lamb will look beautiful and be packed with crusty flavor.

How do you celebrate your Easter dinner? Please share your recipes with the rest of us.
Happy Easter to you and your family!

April 3, 2010

Coloring Easter Eggs in Onion Peels

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Holidays, Home, Recipes, Serbia, Traditions tagged , , , at 6:27 am by Liliana

Serbian Easter Eggs

Serbian Easter Eggs

This is how my family colored Easter eggs when I was a little girl in Serbia. I still enjoy this activity with my own children.

For a few weeks before Orthodox Easter, we saved the extra loose scraps of onion peels (the brittle, colorful ones) from the onion bin. On Good Friday, we children, would pick the weeds, grasses and leaves whose patterns we liked and bring them to the table. Then, we would place the leaves on the eggs and cover them with a piece of cheese cloth or an old nylon stocking. We would stretch the covers and tie tightly on both ends with a bit of thread. After the eggs were ready, we would prepare the coloring brew.

  • Peels of 5 – 10 Onions
  • 6 Cups of Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Vinegar
  • 2 dozen eggs

Boil 30 Minutes

Boiling the eggs together with the onion skins gives them a mottled look. To make them look more uniform, cook the eggs first, separately, and then soak them in the onion skin dye for a few hours. Both ways work beautifully but give a different effect and many shades of deep red, yellow and orange.  Your eggs will not only look lovely, but taste delicious, too.

Happy Easter!

April 2, 2010

Passover Seder

Posted in Family, Food, Friendships, Holidays, Traditions tagged , , , at 6:55 am by Liliana

Celebrating Passover

Celebrating Passover

For more than five years my family has been celebrating Passover with our friends, Martha, Ken and their children, Anna and Nick. It is always at their house and always a big event. This year, the tables stretched from the dining room to the edge of the living room. The sofa had to be moved to the side, extra tables and lots of chairs added to accommodate more than twenty guests. This is our group of family and friends, and we have a diverse crowd where various religions are represented – Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

At 6:00 pm we all sit down with Ken at the head of the table. Each guest is given a copy of the Haggadah (the Jewish book containing the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the ritual of the Seder) so everyone can follow the proceedings. We fill the glasses with wine for adults, and grape juice for children. The celebration starts.

Ken reads from the Haggadah, and the guests are reminded of the preciousness of many concepts that we mostly take for granted: family, freedom, celebration, politics, practice of religion. We raise glasses in unison. We tell old stories, ask old and new questions. We sing. Jan reads to us in Hebrew. Every year it is the same, and every year it is different.

By the time dinner is served, the guests are very hungry. First course is matzo ball soup, golden and flavorful. We all know that Ken has spent most of the day simmering the broth. Next comes the main course: roast lamb with rosemary, caramelized carrots, steamed spring asparagus, matzo stuffing with gravy. And then, we have a lovely selection of fresh fruit, macaroons, and chocolate matzo brittle.

For a long time after dinner we sit and talk. Another year has gone by. All of us around the table have issues – with health, with children, with money, with big life transitions. But when I ask Ken how he is doing these days, we all understand what he means when he says, “Somewhere between very good and excellent.” When we are all together like this, how can it be any other way?

Here is the recipe for Jan’s delicious dessert.

Chocolate Matzo Brittle
Serves 10 to 12

  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 12-ounce box plain matzo
  • 8 ounces Passover margarine (Parve)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cover a cookie sheet with foil. Cover the lined sheet with matzo. Break up the matzo and arrange in a solid layer in the pan.
Melt the margarine with salt and brown sugar, over medium heat, stirring until it begins to boil. Continue to stir and cook 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add cinnamon and vanilla.
Pour over matzo. Sprinkle with nuts.
Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes.
Remove from oven. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of matzo. Spread melting chocolate with spatula to cover the matzo. Refrigerate for 1 hour. When hardened, break into pieces and serve. Enjoy!

March 29, 2010

Missing Silver

Posted in Children, Family, Holidays, Home, Pets tagged , , at 5:30 am by Liliana

Nena and Silver - 1996

Nena and Silver - 1996

The screensaver on my home computer has a picture of Silver and every time I look at it – I feel her silky fur under my hand. Silver died a few months ago, at fourteen years of age – a remarkably long life for a Siberian Husky. It was a happy life. We got her one Christmas when she was a tiny puppy, her ears so large that she tripped over them.

Joe and Branka wanted to get a puppy for Sasha and I went with them to help them choose the right one. At the breeders, we met a family of huskies. The mother, Star, was anxious and suspicious when she saw us. The father, Storm, was watchful but friendly. The eight puppies were – what can I say? Running, playing, wrestling, nibbling and licking everything in sight. Bella was the largest puppy in the litter and the prettiest one. She and Branka fell in love the moment they saw each other, two alpha females who appreciated each other’s strengths and personalities.

The moment we brought Bella home, pandemonium ensued. Everyone loved Bella and my kids had to have a husky of their own; and frankly, so did I (and Jeff, too, although he tried to be restrained.) The very next day, we were at the breeder’s again. By now, Star and Storm were a little more at ease with us, the puppies just as crazy with joy. Jeff liked a little blue eyed boy, but I had already noticed Silver. Silver was the runt, the smallest dog in the pack. An awkward little girl with soulful brown eyes, long ears, and shy demeanor, I knew that she needed me and I needed her. She was our dog.

Silver became an integral  part of our family. She and Sam (he was three at the time) licked lollipops together. Nena took her to school for show and tell. Mike chased her all over the neighborhood when she ran away. We all loved Silver.

We miss her now. Whenever we eat, if we are having steak for dinner, Jeff will mention how much Silver would have enjoyed the leftovers. I go for walks by myself these days. When kids come home from their various escapades around the world, Silver is not there to greet them and get excited. When our friends come over (especially the ones who broke the rules and fed her goodies under the table), well, they mention how sad they are that Silver is not around. We are grieving, but memories of her bring us joy.

March 8, 2010

Happy International Women’s Day!

Posted in Holidays, Women tagged , at 8:14 am by Liliana

International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day!

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global celebration recognizing the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

Happy Women’s Day to women the world over!

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