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Play with the past

Continuing this “Cooking at home A to Z” journey was challenging for me in December. I am not very religious, but there is a long Christmas lent that I wanted to do. It stretches over six winter weeks and ends on the Orthodox Christmas eve on January 6th. It is an opportunity to eat simply, be more reflective and not indulge in over-eating, over-consumerism, and other over-“doing” habits. To simplify, the lent is mostly like being vegan, so no animal derived food. I like vegetables, soups, stews… – there was no problem with finding those in Portuguese dishes. As probably evident from these postings, I like making desserts whenever there is a chance for them, so instead of looking for vegan options, I looked for something I like and then learned about alternatives. I find culinary explorations quite exciting. It is not only that people are inventing new dishes, but also that there have always been alternatives that were used in the past (and usually healthier), but were replaced by well-marketed, more profitable product. Food industry is scary when you start reading about the ingredients on the back of the packages, the additives and all the chemistry.

This is how I ended up with discovering aquafaba, which was perfect for the Portuguese soft doughnuts! I loved it so much that I made them a few times after, even when I didn’t have to use aquafaba.

from Past Poetic Production

The end

The bus winds up the narrow road,
cranking and screeching like a chased beast.

Walking from the entrance of the palace
through the labyrinths of gardens.
Up, up the cobbled roads and pathways.
I touch tiled walls and lacy concrete
decorations on turrets and columns,
warm from October sun.
The colours of Pena Palace make it look like a giant wedding cake.

A beautiful place to be with someone you love,
I think walking next to you in silence.
Your eyes rest on other spots but never on me.
I long for your hand to take mine,
for a smile to radiate on our faces.
Instead, I ask you to take a photo of me, reluctantly,
to put myself in this site for eternity,
without you.
Neither of us dares to ask for a memory of us together.
We will remember Lisbon as a city
where we became strangers
more than a boy dancing on the street,
or a lady selling “Pastéis de Belém”, their favourite pastries.

At the end of the day
I hate you more than at the beginning,
as it is one more without love,
further and further away from each other.

We both try to bring back, to resurrect smithereens
of the past feeling that used to make us “us”.
It hurts so much that it prevents us from knowing “how”.
Because of you, Lisbon would be a city of silhouettes,
a pain in beauty, a well with a broken rope to the bucket,
leaving my heart and my mouth dry.

Out of the ordinary

I knew nothing about Oman, except its geographic location. Searching for dishes resulted in (no surprise there) mixed cuisine, influenced by neighbouring countries. As I read, Masjuai was traditionally made with king fish and lemon rice, but finding a king fish on Granville Island marked in Vancouver, proved to be difficult, especially when you need it for today or next weekend. The fishmonger was really kind and open to answering all my questions. He suggested swordfish as an alternative. It was supposed to be grilled, but we did what we could at home. I am sure it was far for what I would potentially be served in Oman, but it was an adventure. A swordfish stake was very different from other fish I’ve had before. It is a mild-tasting, white-fleshed fish with a meaty texture. It is sold exclusively in steaks and it really tasted as meat. I am happy I opted out for something new and unknown.

A recipe for halwa was very similar to what my mom used to make for us, and we knew it as a home-made halva as opposed to what we could find at the market, confectionery stores or bakeries, which was closer to Greek tahini halva. Although I thought there was something secret in their recipes, both are actually easy to make.

Once is enough

It was difficult to hide
in a white night
bathing the bedroom,
with so many shiny witnesses,
looking down at us.
At first, I took is as romantic
and promising.
Then I realized how quickly it would reveal
the naked truth, the silent fear.
It made me uncomfortable.
Touching you
was like grabbing an iron rod,
burning and cold at the same time,
white and smooth from outside,
but cracked and rusty from inside.
The broken you,
The broken me.
How did we ever arrived to this moment?

Morning will sand the edges,
introduce smiles and words.
What a self-deception!
The dawn was a relief from
sharing the white with a stranger.
The words stayed never uttered,
like we forgot how to speak.
I tried to take it light, but
my feet were aching for the road,
my heart was yearning for air.

Once is enough
when all the lines are gone,
when eyes are searching for refuge,
when walls of different emotions
are crashing us down.
There is no decimal point
to allow for finer distribution,
for tiny components,
for slight variations.

Once is more than enough.

Never say never

It is impossible to count the number of times I was on Amsterdam airport, a transit hub for travelers coming from North America or different parts of the world to Europe on the way to their final destination. Only once had I decided to stay an extra day and visit the city. It was in 2015. Every time I travel, the “theme” of the journey somehow emerges without my preparation. That year was the year of museums and galleries and Amsterdam was a perfect place to get lost in art and culture. As I had only a day at my disposal. I didn’t want to simply check the box, so I managed to see only two of many wonderful places. I picked the famous Rijksmuseum, where I could barely breathe in front of Vermeer’s Milkmaid and that dance of light and shadows. The second one was Van Gogh Museum, learning about his life, seeing his struggles and drive to create. Exhausted, I returned to my room in one of the nicest affordable hotels I ever stayed in, CitizenM. Needless to say, I had no time to look for authentic restaurants or dishes.

I would like to go back to Netherlands and not only for the cuisine, tulips, windmills and clogs. I would like to see Elfstedentocht, the world’s largest speed skating competition and leisure skating tour on the canals that connect 11 cities, at almost 200 km. It is held in the province of Friesland, in the northern part of Netherlands. This race only happens when the entire course is at least 15cm thick and I am not sure if I am already too late. Because of the climate change and the rise of temperatures, the last Elfstedentocht was in 1997. I wonder if it would be possible to do the same tour by bike instead. Never say never.

At the beginning of Fall, we always crave for something earthy and simple. Lots of Dutch dishes that I found were with a sausage, so we tried two of them (although with different sausages). The first one was a traditional soup with lots of vegetables and split pea, which provides thickness and would have probably been filling on its own. The second dish, Stamppot, was a combination of mashed potatoes and something green. We went with kale, but it could be spinach or chard. What I liked the most were the almond butter cookies. They are good at any time of the day and go well with a cup of tea or coffee.

Nature patience

Weeding around bulbs,
on a ring-shaped flowerbed,
like on a pedestal bordered by shrubs,
my father waits for yellow tulips to lift their heads,
tiny yellow suns on the green stem.

When the bravest are out,
the red ones will follow, adding splash of colour
on the Spring canvas.
Finally, the royal purple, almost black
will show up, to stay the longest and close the season.

Year after year,
that plate of joy
until the knees became hard to bend,
the sheers too heavy for shaky hands to trim.
Like snails under attack,
they slowly moved their heads inward, hiding.

It was hard to see the bare island in the yard.

Then suddenly,
they found their way through,
almost like drunken boys
jumping over the hedge,
and started populating the long pathways
through the abandoned vegetable garden.

I came to visit one other Spring
and they waited for me,
not the island any more,
but a sea of tulips singing in the breeze,
caressing my palms as I stroll,
walking on water.

My, my, what a magic

Mentioning Mexico always brings thoughts of my first and only one “all-inclusive” vacation. What does it look like to go and not worry about anything and have everything at your disposal. The Barceló resort was one of the great places to experience that kind of rest. Despite all nice day-trips and learning about the area, I wish we had more opportunities to try authentic Mexican cuisine. There are restaurants of course, in Vancouver, where you can have a taste of it, but I am not sure how close they come to the original.


I remember the evening we arrived,
and walked barefoot on sand, still hot
from a long exposure to a sunny day.
I couldn’t wait to get into the warm waters,
that hugged, there in Cancún,
coming from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea,
mixing the hues of green and blue.
Water so different from cold Pacific Ocean
and the black bottom.
Days so full
of explorations, of joy,
so full of us.

Climbing the ruins,
swimming in a cool cenote,
driving a jeep through the dust…
spicy food, cold drinks,

There is nothing left,
no repeated trip,
no repeated anything,
just a few photos
and these minty memories.

Labour of love

I love Lebanese food for many reasons. Strange as it may sound at first, it reminds me of home. It is amazing to think how cultures and customs travel and mix, especially cuisines. Maybe it is not particularly common to have Mediterranean diet in the continental part of the country, which has no access to the Adriatic coast and therefore, no connection with Mediterranean, but our family was different. My mom has always been an excellent cook and never scared to try to make something new and tasty. She was born in Macedonia and grew up with tomatoes, eggplants, cheese, olives, basil and mint, sometimes lamb… Pastry is what she could best “feel” in her hands, so we had variations of bread, pies, doughnuts and other delicious bites. Occupied by Turks for centuries, close to Greece – the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences were inevitable.

I was happy to make manakish, as it very much reminded me of Turkish pide, or, how I experienced it, of Macedonian pastrmalija. Pastrmalija was not served at restaurants like today and it was primarily made in winter. As my visits to Macedonia were usually over summer school break, being there in January and having pastrmalija was even more special. My aunt would make a dough and prepare the meat that was on the top, but she would take it to a baker to bake it in the brick or stone oven. Nothing can beat the dough baked in those ovens! With snow outside on cold winter days, someone would bring the steaming hot pastrmalijas and we would soon all be gathered around the table, breaking it, sharing and diving into it.

Although I used some of the ingredients I didn’t eat as a child, such as sumac, for example, when I closed my eyes, I was closer to home.


It defines us, changes us, moves us.
What are we willing to do for it?
How many times are we ready to die for it?
How to live without it?

When I lost you,
the void was so enormous,
I thought I would never be able to
find a bridge across,
and make a step forward.

There were other loves.
I was blessed.
But no one as permanent
as your non-existence.

Friendships, blood lines, children…
lots to give and receive.
when I reach out over the bed sheets
I catch only air.

I thought I would wither without love,
but I am still walking.

Maybe when I fall one day,
and they open my heart,
there will be a dry leaf inside.

Key to knowledge

Not too many countries starting with K, and not too many cuisines to explore. We decided to try and make Korean this time. We had such a good experience at the Sura restaurant in August 2019. The day was hot, so a cold cucumber soup seemed like a good idea. Despite the simplicity of the recipe, I don’t think I did a good job. Too much seaweed made it hard for me to enjoy. However, the main dish was tasteful and it went well with the Korean black raspberry wine.

My only connection to this country are a few colleagues from work, but their personal stories are not necessarily part of our conversations. The other source of my knowledge are, of course, books. I borrowed The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See from a friend, and I was immediately captivated by the good writing. I later recommended it for our book club and gladly read it once again. A story about hard life and exceptional women divers, haenyeo, on a small Jeju island is a testimony of how little we know about the limits of human body and spirit.

The other book that I read later, The Last Exiles: A Novel by Ann Shin was a completely different experience and “closer to home.” The political regimes that make human life meaningless and hell is not a matter of the past. How often do we see the brutality over millions to satisfy the greed and ego of a few? The indoctrination and brainwash to warship the leaders to the extend that they become larger than God, and the censorship of information so that there is no free mind, and therefore no free will is such a powerful weapon. I am happy that socialism/communism in our country didn’t go to such extremes. It makes me angry and devastated at the same time to think how human life (that we have only one of) can be wasted, and these beautiful opportunities to be happy, joyful, creative… have never been given to so many.


I avoid news.
What do I need to know about the world?
I learned so much already.

The war will never end,
just change location,
leaving broken homes, broken hearts
and broken cultures behind.

It will take longer than life to recover,
to repair, rebuild…
It is happening again,
if not in our neighbourhood,
then in the country one over.

Earthquakes, volcanoes, fires and floods
– it is not about them

It is about human to human,
one person to another:
killing someone because he is black,
abusing children because they can’t fight back,
torturing women because they are already wounded.
I can’t actually name the reasons
as there is no reason at all.

When I turn the TV on,
I see the eyes that witnessed the horror,
the memories that will never fade.
I go to bed shaking,
another sleepless night ahead.

My TV screen is only for movies and documentaries,
my radio only for music.

When I get up,
I dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water
and bake a bread for another neighbour,
leave a flower in front of someone’s door,
or make a pillow for a friend.

That, I know how to do.

Jaw-dropping job

Talking about venturing into an unknown – that is what Japanese cuisine was for me. Everything was an experiment. As always, baking was my favourite part, so I really enjoyed making gyoza wrappers, the filling and shaping those nice pockets. They looked good and they tasted like the ones I bought in a sushi restaurant. I assume that means that the culinary adventure was a success.

I still remember a book my father gave to me when I was little. It was nicely illustrated, with hard covers and had stories about kids from various parts of the world. Their lives were described and illustrated by photographs. I learned what they did every day, their hobbies, their dreams. Noriko was a girl from Japan. She liked to dance and I can still picture her, dressed in kimono, and dancing with a beautifully decorated, handheld fan, across the page.


The most precious gift: a book,
from hard covered “The Little Red Hen” and “The Puss in boots”,
to tomes of folk poems and stories, collected by Vuk Karadžić.
Handed to me by my father.

The encyclopedias to make me
curious about the world,
the travel books to sprout
my desire to see the places,
the stories about other people to teach me
that a white little girl, loved by her family
was not the only way to be.

My father read poems
to my brother when he was a baby,
too busy when I came around.

My brother became an engineer,
I – a poet, a writer, a word lover.
I must have hit a jackpot somewhere on the way,
while growing up.

Inspired to imagine

Italy is one of those dreams that keeps disappearing in the morning, leaving only longing and feeling of melancholy. It had been planned many times, tickets bought then cancelled, trips organized and postponed, and then I was gone from that part of the world. It happened by accident one year – strained for a day in Milan on my way from Tunisia to Macedonia. Not bad to be strained in Milan out of all places, ah? I spent all my free hours on my feet, soaking the city as much as I could, strolling through the streets like Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, located near the Piazza del Duomo city square, with the most famous designer brands from Prada and Gucci to Armani and Valentino. Tons of photos taken, blended into masses of other tourists doing the same. I sat to rest, drinking one of the most expensive double espressos I had ever had. Despite this blitz visit, Italy remained a country I want to dedicate my time to, from Florence to Sicily. One day, who knows…

I couldn’t imagine this day without baking something special. It was a way to dream longer. I searched for a treat I have never made before, and my attention kept returning to sfogliatelle. They seemed like one of those desserts that you can make only with love. Their origin, having been created in the monastery of Santa Rosa in Salerno, Italy, in the 17th century, reminded me of Portuguese Pastel de Nata which were also invented in the monastery in Belém. As it happens in life with serendipity, a week or so before my “Italian day”, I saw them made on one of the TV cooking shows, so I had the first row view. I made sfogliatelle over two days, enjoying every step of the way. I photo-documented the process, for those who are really curious.

Homemade crackers were the beginning of the dinner with Limoncello I bought at the Italian Cultural Centre. We moved to mushroom risotto with ossobuco and red wine, finishing with delicious sfogliatelle.

Inhaling Four Seasons

Imagination that takes us places,
when surrounded by four walls.

Ache that tormented the star-crossed lovers,
rests in my heart,
thinking about red roses.

The mystery of a man under the carnival mask
who will offer his hand, asking for a dance
along the Venice canals in February.
Heels tapping with the sounds of Vivaldi’s “first season.”
Can any instrument weep more heart-breakingly
than a violin?

Leonardo playing with pigments
to catch the light and depth
of three dimensions,
thinking about flying,
writing from right to left,
to grab the ideas floating in his mind too quickly,
sketching, modelling, constructing…

In various rooms and halls,
thousands of replicas
of the everlasting smile.

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