July 9, 2010

Enjoying the Heat Wave

Posted in Food, Health, Serbia, Weather tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:38 am by Liliana

Pleasures of summer

Pleasures of summer

Large parts of the US and the world are suffering from an intense heat wave. The temperature and the humidity are high. The sun is unforgiving in its glare. It is not fun being outside.

The best thing to do is stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (between 10 am and 3 pm.) Stay in a cool place. Even if you do not have an air conditioner, you can take precautions. Open your windows during the night, and close and shade them during the day. Don’t exert yourself too much.

It is important to keep hydrated so drink lots of water. There is no substitute for water. Everything else (lemonade, sports drinks, coffee, etc.) should be in addition to it. Sip water all day or take frequent water breaks.

Eat small meals. Try eating a few smaller, lighter meals rather than one big portion. You will generate less heat and not feel as full.

Eat lots of fruit. Watermelons, strawberries, apples, cantaloupes and grapes are some of my favorite choices for hot summer days and all have a high water content. Try juicy peaches and other seasonal fruit – all at the height of ripeness, freshness and deliciousness.

Eat lots of vegetables. Fresh, crisp, refreshing salads are a perfect choice. Lettuce (so many varieties to choose from,) cucumbers, celery, spinach and peppers are all over 90% water. A bit of kosher salt, a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and some lemon juice – what can be more delicious?

Eat hot peppers, they make you sweat, and this process cools you down. Peppers are a big part of the Serbian culture, hot peppers and sweet peppers, all kinds of peppers. One of my favorite summer salads is Serbian Roasted Pepper Salad.

Don’t forget salt. Salt retains water, but since there is salt in so many foods we eat and in most sports drinks, don’t overdo it.  Let common sense be your guide.

Best wishes to all my readers. Stay cool but don’t merely endure this lovely season. Enjoy your summer. Revel in its pleasures.


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.

May 31, 2010

Learning by Heart

Posted in Books, Children, Family, Serbia, Traditions tagged , , , , , , , at 7:30 am by Liliana

Battle of Kosovo

The Battle of Kosovo

I grew up in a family of storytellers, but the best storyteller by far was my grandfather, Nikola. A shy and tender man, always a perfect gentleman, he entertained his grandchildren with stories and wondrous recitals of Serbian epic poetry. Every story and poem he told us was from memory. I never saw him read a book but I know that my love of books and literature descend directly from the creative mind of this gentle man.

My earliest memories are of us (a number of very young grandchildren) begging our grandfather to tell us a fable or recite a poem about the heroic battles of the glorious Serbs fighting the Ottoman Turks. My grandfather loved children and even when he was extremely busy with the work of running a farm and taking care of his land, I never remember him refusing our requests.

Grandfather made a magical game out of every experience. On the spacious veranda of his old house, he would set little stools in a circle for us to sit on, settle in the middle of our group and start a poem. Transported in a second, we left the village on the wings of my grandfather’s rhymes and floated to the heroic adventures of Serbian medieval warriors.

Knights, ladies, silk gowns, gold, honor, swords, betrayal, vengeance, family, friendship, pride, love, death, Serbian valor, Turkish valor, history, Kosovo – those are the topics that fired our young imaginations. Told from memory, in predictable and well ordered rhyme, we knew all those poems by heart ourselves without even noticing that we have learned them.

They are still with me. They never left.

The Banquet on the Eve of the Battle
(a fragment)

Prince Lazar his patron saint doth honour

On the fair and pleasant field Kossovo,

With his lords is seated round the table

With his lords and with his youthful nobles

On his left the Jug Bogdan is seated,

And with him nine Jugovitch, nine brothers;

On his right Vuk Brankovitch is seated,

And the other lords in their due order;

Facing him is Milosh, that great warrior,

And with him two other Serbian leaders

Kossanchitch, and young Toplitza Milan.

Tsar Lazar lifts high the golden goblet,

Thus he speaks unto his Serbian nobles:

“Unto whom shall this my cup be emptied?

If it be old age that I should honour

Then, oh Jug Bogdan, I must now pledge you;

If it be high rank that I should honour

Then Vuk Brankovitch, I must now pledge you;

If the voice of feeling I should follow

To the Tsaritsa’s nine well-lov’d brothers

To the Jugovitch, my toast is owing;

If it beauty be that I should honour

Ivan Kossanchitch, I must now pledge you;

If heroic looks I now should honour

Then Toplitza Milan, I must pledge you;

If heroic deeds are to be toasted

I must drink to that great warrior Milosh,

I can surely pledge no other hero.

Milosh Obilitch, I drink to thee now,

To thy health, oh Milosh, friend and traitor!

Friend at first, but at the last a traitor.

When the battle rages fierce to-morrow

Thou wilt then betray me on Kossovo,

And wilt join the Turkish Sultan, Murad!

Drink with me, and pledge me deep, oh Milosh,

Drain the cup; I give it thee in token!”

To his feet leaps Milosh, that great warrior,

To the black earth bows himself, and answers:

“Tsar Lazar, for this thy toast I thank thee,

Thank thee for the toast and for the goblet,

But for those thy words I do not thank thee.

For—else may the truth be my undoing—

Never, Tsar Lazar, was I unfaithful,

Never have I been, and never will be.

And to-morrow I go to Kossovo

For the Christian faith to fight and perish.

At thy very knees there sits the traitor,

Covered by thy robes he drains the wine-cup,

’Tis Vuk Brankovitch, th’ accurséd traitor!

And when dawns the pleasant day to-morrow

We shall see upon the field, Kossovo,

Who to thee is faithful, and who faithless.

And I call Almighty God to witness

I will go to-morrow to Kossovo,

I will slay the Turkish Sultan, Murad,

And I’ll plant my foot upon his false throat;

And if God and fortune so befriend me,

I will take Vuk Brankovitch then captive,

Bind him to my battle-lance! Yea, tie him

As a woman ties hemp to her distaff,

And I’ll drag him with me to Kossovo.”

This is a fragment of a famous epic poem about the “Last Supper” set on eve of the battle of Kosovo. The translation does not do it justice, but it is the best I could find.

Source: Serbian Epic Poetry

May 1, 2010

Roasted Peppers – Serbian Style

Posted in Food, Recipes, Serbia, Traditions tagged , , , at 5:30 am by Liliana

Roasted Peppers - Serbian Style

Roasted Peppers - Serbian Style

Recently, I was looking for a favorite Serbian delicacy – roasted peppers – and I came across Bibi’s blog.

This is what she writes about herself:

“I’m an American woman who has lived and worked in Belgrade for over 30 years. I’ve come to love the people along with all their idiosyncrasies, and hope that you’ll learn something more about Belgrade and Serbia … ”

This is her recipe for roasted peppers – Serbian style:

“You haven’t really enjoyed peppers unless you’ve eaten them Serbian-style. These sweet peppers, either green or red are roasted on a grill or even directly on the burner on one’s stove like I did above, until their skin is black. When they’re cool, peel the burned part away, place in a salad bowl, add plenty of chopped garlic, oil, and vinegar, and enjoy! Yum. Serbs also make roasted peppers into ajvar (pronounced EYE-var) by adding roasted eggplant and garlic, and running it all through a meat grinder. Ajvar is then eaten as a garnish, spread on bread, or mixed with a kind of feta cheese. Yum again.”

Yum, indeed. Try these delicious recipes and visit Bibi’s blog for more information. She has some very witty commentary and beautiful pictures.

April 27, 2010

The Old House

Posted in Family, Health, Home, Serbia, Traditions, Travel, Women tagged , , , at 6:32 am by Liliana

My mother's village

A view from my mother's village across the Danube

My mother was very sick with Alzheimer’s disease the summer of 2001. Her short term memory was mostly gone, she was restless, frightened, paranoid, and never slept. The only thing she wanted, the only thing she could ask for, was to go back to Serbia. She begged me to take her back, and spent hours standing by the front door with her bag in her hand. I promised that we would go.

It took a while to get our papers in order and our passports ready, and then 9/11 happened. The collective breath of the world came to a standstill. My family, together with everyone else, was in shock, reeling from the tragedy, terrified of what was coming next. My mother was oblivious. She looked at me beseechingly and stood by the door, bag in hand. Despite my family’s misgivings, I bought our plane tickets for November.

My mother’s family comes from a small village in Northern Serbia. No one knows for certain when they settled there, but their last name (Rakic) is mentioned in monastery papers dating back to the 13th century. The family land and the house have been passed from generation to generation – every square meter known and cherished by us all.  Despite my mother’s condition, I couldn’t help but hope that her memory would come back (at least a little) when faced with so much that was precious, beloved and familiar.

After a long and difficult flight, we arrived in Belgrade. My mother’s sister, Angelica, and my cousins waited for us at the airport. They cried when they saw us. My mother’s face was chiseled from stone. She looked at them without recognition, without love, without emotion.

A few days later, we drove the three hours to Banoshtar, the family village. It was an overcast, chilly day and the old house felt cold and abandoned when we arrived. No one lived there anymore; my grandparents had died years ago. Wars during the 90’s in that region and throughout the former Yugoslavia had prevented us from visiting for years. Angelica lived in Belgrade and spent summers in the village, but it was November now, and the house felt dead.

While my aunt got busy lighting the stove and preparing a meal, I took my mother’s hand and led her from room to room. In the middle of the veranda stood the large farm table with the bench under the window, green chairs at either end. Flower pots stood on deep window sills with pink and white geraniums still in bloom. The lace curtains my grandmother had made revealed glimpses of the garden. The huge iron key to the front door hung on the nail next to the copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper. A large woven basket held firewood for the wood-burning stove.

Hand in hand we went to the small front room. The couch had needlepoint pillows that looked like soft burgundy peonies. The old radio sat in its corner. Pictures of various grandchildren hung randomly on the wall by the window. There was one of me as a thirteen year old girl, my bangs severely trimmed. Everyone said that I looked just like Ann Frank. We walked to the middle parlor with the old cherry wardrobe that held my grandmother’s linens and lace. It still held the dowry from her first marriage. In the back room, the huge doctored picture of my uncle and aunt from their wedding day held the most prominent spot. The photographer didn’t do a very good job and the couple looked strange and haunted. Their likenesses still frightened me.

We descended the steep stairs to the great underground cellar. This cellar was as big as the rest of the house. Dozens of huge wine barrels lined the stone walls. There was still wine in them. Herbs, berries and flowers were drying in every corner, while woven baskets of different sizes nestled by the doors.  Jars of jam, honey and tomato sauce stood neatly lined on rough wooden shelves. My grandfather’s hat and field jacket hung on the hook by the door.

I buried my face in that old jacket as the memory of my grandfather overwhelmed me. As I cried, like a child – loudly, tears flowing, my chest heaving with sighs, I thought I could smell my grandfather and feel his presence. I sat on the steps and hugged that jacket, forgetting the world and losing myself in my grief. When I looked up, my mother wasn’t there. Frightened, I ran up the steps and through the house. She stood by the front door, peeking through the glass. She held her bag under her arm and looked at me, ready to go.

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!

March 9, 2010

Learning to Remember

Posted in Books, Children, Family, Serbia, Traditions tagged , , , at 8:02 am by Liliana

How to Remember

Learning to Remember

When I was a young girl, my grandmother helped me learn ways to memorize my school lessons. Memory was a large part of an European education. Memorizing pages of poetry, Shakespeare, history lessons, multiplication tables, Russian or English vocabulary – was all routine part of our school day. I was always reading something out loud and trying to chisel it deeply into my brain.

I would sit at our kitchen table, my grandmother across from me, and read my lesson out loud. When I was finished, she would ask me to summarize what I had just read. I would explain the plot to her in my own words. On evenings prior to tests (oral or written) my grandma would remind me to read my assignment before I went to bed. And then, as the last step in this process, I would place the book under my pillow and sleep on it. My grandmother said, and I earnestly believed it, that all the knowledge from my book would flow into my head as I slept. Frequently, I dreamed about Napoleon or the Russian revolution. And in the morning, it was magical! I would really know the information, and remember the minutest details of my lesson.

Recently I read that scientists have discovered that repetition, reading out loud, summarizing the plot and consciously placing the physical book under one’s pillow, all help in retaining long term memory. The very act of believing that you will remember something, helps your brain remember it. My baba knew what she was doing!

Through the long years of elementary school, high school, college and graduate school, I never varied my learning regimen. I studied for my lessons by concentrating, reading the information out loud, summarizing it to myself, and always, ALWAYS, sleeping with the book under my pillow. As the books got bigger and fatter, it was no easy task. But I believed in it so earnestly, that I was willing to suffer the consequences. A little pain in the neck was well worth the price.

February 22, 2010

Memories From My Childhood

Posted in Children, Serbia tagged , at 6:45 am by Liliana

Memories from my childhood

Memories from my childhood

  • Skipping  to school in new, red leather shoes on a warm spring morning – the soles make most pleasant sounds against the sidewalk.
  • Sledding in winter from the hill above our house; hands frozen; running into the house and holding my hands over a warm, wood burning stove; unbelievable pain; crying.
  • No eclectic power in our house on blackout evenings; lighted candles; stories; magical shadows on the walls.
  • Pressed blue school uniform; new crochet lace collar my mother made; fist fight with my best friend; torn lace collar; face dirty from dust and tears.
  • Two dolls; one old and beat up, with a hole cut in her mouth; the other new and untouched; both named Rose.
  • Climbing the cherry tree in our yard with my sister; picking  big, red, sweet cherries; eating some; ornamenting ourselves by making earrings, necklaces, crowns with others.
  • Running very fast down the hill on a warm spring evening; two older cousins holding my hands; flying.

February 17, 2010

Dinner with Friends

Posted in Children, Family, Food, Friendships, Good people, Health, Recipes, Serbia tagged , , , at 8:08 am by Liliana

Dinner with friends

Dinner with friends

A few nights ago, we had dinner with old friends. Between the nine of us, three generations were represented. It was one of those magical evenings when no one was  in a hurry or longing to be somewhere else. The fire was burning in the fireplace, Ella was singing on the CD player, appetizers and wine glasses set out. We sampled home-made hummus and pita bread, had a glass of wine or mineral water, and caught up on the news of the past few weeks.

When we sat down to eat, everything about the table made us want to sit and linger for a long time. The dishes made me think of Tuscany. The menu took me to Serbia and the memory of my mother. I haven’t had home-made, stuffed grape leaves since my mother died six years ago, and the pungent flavor brought joy and memories of childhood. There was also chicken with mushroom sauce, grilled vegetables and wild rice. And for dessert, a wonderful orange cake; people kept having seconds, and not a crumb was left over.

After dinner, we sat in a circle in the living room, had coffee and talked. Conversation meandered between the economy, job losses, the state of the world. My niece will be starting college next year and we wondered about the future of education and various options for young people. Our conversation was earnest and serious, but no one was anxious. When we left to go home later that night, the winter seemed to have lost some of its bite.

Dairy-free orange cake

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ c. brown sugar
  • 2/3 c. oil (corn, canola, or similar)
  • 2 large oranges (for zest and juice)
  • ½ t baking powder
  • ½ t baking soda
  • 1 ½ cup flour

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a springform pan.

Beat eggs and sugars until light. Add oil. Add zest of the two oranges and then squeeze them (you need 2/3 cup orange juice, so you might need to add a bit) and combine well. Add the dry ingredients and combine well.

Pour into springform pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until cake tests dry in the middle.

When cooled, unmold and top with the glaze:

  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 T orange juice

Stir together until smooth and dribble over cake with a spoon.

January 29, 2010

Cup of tea

Posted in Family, Health, Serbia, Traditions tagged , at 8:25 am by Liliana

Have a cup of tea!

Have a cup of tea!

Drinking tea has always been associated with relaxation and shared hospitality. In my family,  it is also associated with healing and good health.

In the last few years, different studies around the world have proven that tea ranks higher in antioxidants than many fruits and vegetables. It is believed that tea can heal and prevent many ailments. For example, it can prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure, inhibit the formation of plaque in artery walls, and reduce the risk of heart attack.

For me, tea is precious and delicious in itself. It reminds me of my childhood summers when my grandmother and I went picking armloads of chamomile, berries and various herbs. We would hang them in bunches from the ceiling of my grandparent’s farmhouse attic, where they would dry and be ready when the cold weather arrived. My grandmother loved brewing tea, and it was her answer to every ailment – actual, possible, or imagined.

I taught my own children to love tea and they have a similar view of  its healing abilities that my grandmother had. Whatever hurts, tea will help it feel better. For me, holding a hot cup of steaming, golden tea on a Saturday afternoon is the height of luxury. It takes me back to the best days of summer, and to those fields, fragrant with chamomile.

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