November 20, 2010

Earliest Memories

Posted in Children, Family, Serbia, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:46 am by Liliana

Me - two years old

Me - two years old. Nena thinks I resemble a little alien.

My memories are frequently unreliable, mercurial.

They are not rock-like and immovable like granite, but fluid and restless like silk.

They are not to be trusted. Especially those early, childhood memories.

Still, I hold on to them like a child holds on to a beloved mother. Some I cherish, tend to and caress. I find solace and support in them. When I revisit them, every once in a while, I hope that they will be familiar, recognizable. Not too altered.

Someone recently asked me what my earliest memory was. I thought and thought and came to a moment that I hadn’t visited in a very long time.

I journeyed in my mind to a time when I was little, not even two years old. I know this was my approximate age, because my sister was not born yet, and I was twenty two months old when she was born.

My mother, father and I had gone to visit my father’s family in the little Serbian village where they had lived for generations. It was wintertime. My father was wearing a large, soft suede jacket. He had placed me on his chest, buttoned up the jacket and there I was lying, quiet as a mouse, hiding.

My grandfather, my grandmother, my uncles, everyone there, came out to greet us and were asking where I was. Everyone pretended that they didn’t know and went along with game.

“Where is Lilia?” they asked. “We left her back in Belgrade,” my mother and father said.

I lay quietly on my father’s chest, listening to the ticking of his heart, pleased that no one knew that I was there. I was elated to have tricked them all.

But then I became sad. Inconsolably sad. I started to believe that my parents had really left me in Belgrade. I thought of myself all alone in our house while my parents visited the family in the village.

I felt very sorry for myself. How could my parents leave me behind?

I started to wail.

My father unbuttoned the jacket and took me out. Everyone gathered around me, shouting “Here is Lilia, she has not been left behind after all!”

And while my family embraced me, kissed me, passed me from hand to hand, delighted in my presence, I gave a great sigh of relief.

How glorious to be among them, not to be left behind!


September 30, 2010

The Pull of the Old

Posted in Children, Family, Home, Serbia, Traditions, Travel, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:56 am by Liliana

Revelers at the wedding

Revelers at the wedding, 8/10

My sister and I spent the last few days visiting our father and stepmother in Florida.

They had just gotten back from a month long trip to Serbia. Neither has been there for over twenty years. They were full of stories and impressions.

They had lots of photographs; and an eighteen hour video of an old fashioned wedding of our cousin’s son. We watched all eighteen hours.

Our father grew up in a small village (about hundred and fifty households) in Northern Serbia. His family has lived there for many generations. We are related, by blood or marriage, to almost every member of the population. We know their stories, and the nicknames of their grandfathers.

My father left the village and went out “into the wide world” when he was a teenager. My sister and I grew up in Belgrade. But almost every summer of our childhood and young adulthood we returned to visit. Everyone there knows not only us, but everything about us.

My cousin Milan and I are the same age. As children we played together, roamed the orchards, picked mushrooms in the nearby forests. He stole a cigarette from my grandfather and we tried smoking it in a dark corner behind the house. We chocked on the bitter smoke and neither tried again.

As teenagers we went hunting together, and spent evenings at village dances. He confided in me when he fell in love and decided to get married. Our children are the same age. It was his son’s wedding that we watched for eighteen hours.

Milan’s father and my father are first cousins. The two of them are the same age, twenty days apart. They grew up during the difficult years of WWII, and their childhoods were a lot less idyllic. But they probably did most of the same things that Milan and I did.

My grandfather and Milan’s grandmother were brother and sister. When her husband got killed by a horse in a freak accident, leaving her a widow with four children, my grandfather took on the care of her family.

Their father, my and Milan’s great-grandfather, Milos, was an adventurous man. He traveled the world and came to America in the late part of the 19th century. But he couldn’t stay long away from the village. Just like my father, who traveled the world as well, but has always gone back.

Watching the video made Branka and me feel like the part of the tribe that we belong to. We couldn’t eat the delicious food, we couldn’t drink the home made wine and plum brandy, we couldn’t place our arms around our family and join in the dance.

But when the music started playing, we knew exactly how they felt. And we knew all the songs.

August 9, 2010

Moving to Boston

Posted in Children, Food, Travel, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:50 am by Liliana

Mike, Karen and Sam - picnic lunch

Mike, Karen and Sam - picnic lunch

I spent last week moving my oldest son, Mike, and his girlfriend, Karen, to Boston. Sam, my younger son, came along to help.

Mike is starting law school in a week, so we had a lot to do. Mike and Karen drove in Karen’s car – overflowing with suitcases, books, and a delicate side table with long fragile legs. Sam and I drove in our minivan – overflowing with furniture, books, suitcases and who knows what else.

We were a Gypsy caravan.

It takes about fifteen hours to drive from Michigan to Boston, and we hoped to do it in one day. One thing we resolved not to compromise on, though, was food. We decided to make a delicious picnic lunch and have a feast along the way.

And we did. Karen is a wonderful cook and she made a pasta salad with roasted peppers and other seasonal vegetables. In our rush to leave early in the morning, though, we forgot to take it with us. Luckily, we had plenty of other food.

We bought excellent Jewish rye bread and deli meats – salami, turkey and ham to go with it. Ripe avocados as well as lettuce, tomatoes and pickles spiced up the sandwiches. I had made a fresh basil and mozzarella salad ahead of time, and added sliced tomatoes right before we ate.

We also brought plenty of washed, fresh fruit to snack on – Michigan cherries, Michigan blueberries, grapes, apples.

We stopped at a beautiful spot in the New York Hudson Valley, spread out a clean tablecloth and sat in the sun. We had a delicious picnic – ate, drank mineral water, and talked.

Than we packed up, saving the leftovers for later. Rested and refreshed we got ready for the rest of our drive. Boston was waiting.

August 5, 2010

Family Favorite – California Scampi

Posted in Food, Health, Recipes, Uncategorized at 7:46 am by Liliana

California Scampi

California Scampi, a family favorite

We try to eat fish of some sort or another fairly often. The health benefits are many, not least of which is that they are a great source of Vitamin D, which North Americans tend to lack. In addition, they are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can:

  • help protect against heart disease
  • lower cholesterol
  • decrease blood clotting factors
  • increase relaxation in larger arteries and blood vessels
  • decrease inflammatory processes in blood vessels
  • reduce arthritis symptoms by fighting inflammation
  • strengthen the immune system
  • alleviate symptoms of depression
  • lower risks of getting cancer
  • reduce the development of Alzheimer’s disease

This recipe is fast, easy, and tastes great.Enjoy!

1 lb. California shrimp or spiny lobster
1 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup white wine
¼ tsp salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon wedges

Melt butter and oil together in sauté pan. Add garlic, sauté for one min, and add shrimp. Sauté for one min , add wine, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Sauté quickly while sauce reduces and shrimp turns pink. Do not overcook. Sprinkle with parsley before serving. Serve with sauce over noodles or rice. Garnish with lemon wedges.

February 13, 2010

Simple Chocolate Cake for Valentine’s Day

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:09 am by Liliana

Simple Chocolate Layer Cake

Simple Chocolate Cake

Time About 1 hour
Yield 8 to 12 servings


  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened; more for greasing pans
  • 2 cups (9 ounces) cake or all-purpose flour; more for dusting pans
  • 3 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 cups sweetened whipped cream


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom and sides of two 9-inch layer-cake pans. Cut rounds of parchment or waxed paper to fit bottom of pans. Butter paper, and dust flour over pans; invert to remove excess.
  2. Melt chocolate in saucepan or double boiler, stirring occasionally. When just about melted, remove from heat; stir until smooth.
  3. In mixer, cream butter until smooth, gradually adding sugar. Beat until fluffy, 3 or 4 minutes. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, then vanilla and chocolate. In a bowl, mix 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to chocolate mixture a little at a time, alternating with milk. Stir until smooth.
  4. Beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks. With rubber spatula, fold them gently into batter. Turn batter into cake pans, and bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick in center comes out clean. Cool on a rack 5 minutes, invert and complete cooling.
  5. Put one layer on a platter, rounded side down. Spread with whipped cream. Top with second layer, flat side down. Spread cream over top and sides. Serve in an hour or two.

Source: Mark Bittman – The New York Times