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A to Z at home: Cooking in Vancouver

The year of the virus has been a unique experience. It seems there is a pattern in their occurrence, at least when they are truly global, real pandemics. If their frequency is every 100 years (the Spanish flue in 1918, the First Cholera pandemic in 1817…), it is less likely for one person to experience such a horror twice in his/her lifetime. It is not like wars, certainly not like wars in Europe or particularly in the Balkan region, where one cannot live without experiencing war (unless dying from a disease or non-natural causes). (more…)

Inspired to imagine

Italy was one of those dreams that keeps disappearing in the morning, leaving only longing and feeling of melancholy. It was planned many times, tickets bought then cancelled, trips planned and postponed, and then I was gone from that part of the world. It happened by accident, strained for a day in Milan on my way from Tunisia. Not bad to be strained in Milan out of all places, ah? I spent all my free hours on my feet, soaking as much as I could, strolling through the streets like Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, located near to 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 tons 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. That 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.

Heart in hands

When I think about Hungary, there is something warm in my heart. Before moving to Canada, Hungary was our neighbouring country and the closest to the place I lived in. Consequently, there were lots of Hungarians who lived around, and the language I could hear growing up. Hungarian has nothing to do with Indo-European languages, so no connection with Slavic family and completely incomprehensible from that point of view. It belongs to Finno-Ugric group. Having a childhood friend who was half-Hungarian, and thus exposed to her conversations with her mother and grandmother, but also simply being in proximity with other Hungarians, resulted in understanding the basics.

Truly by accident, I met another Hungarian in Vancouver, who became my best friend and stayed the one I cherish since. I am aware of Hungarian cuisine, but I wanted to hear from her what kind of dessert she would crave, and she said Lúdláb torta. In some ways it resembles the Black Forest cake as it is made with cherries. But, it is also unique. It was gone in a dash!

The timing was right, April, when it was her son’ birthday, so it inspired me to make another Lúdláb torta and take it her to have it at their special family day.

Hiding

Harbouring our isolation,
still going out and about,
seeing our friends somewhere occasionally,
our hands feeling tied.

Even without the virus,
the breathing is heavy and laboured.
It is the freedom of mind
that we are hungry for,
to dream and then just go to live it,
without thinking about the silent enemy
that can attack at any time,
like guerrilla from the woods.

We stay lonely
in order to be together.
Too many evenings and dinners
in front of a TV,
instead at the table with friends
exchanging laughter and stories.
Too many Zoom encounters,
wondering whether what we see
on our faces,
is visible to others.

Time slowly chewing on our lives.

Gala

I couldn’t help buying a bottle of Ouzo for the sake of that one shot for this Greek dinner, a sip that would bring back memories. Before it was available on the shelves in the Serbian stores, I used to bring a bottle of Macedonian Mastika (from Strumica, North Macedonia), after visiting my family. It is the equivalent to the Greek Ouzo. The unique flavour of mastic resin, these teardrops of the Greek island of Chios, and the sharp smell of anise are enough to take me back to my childhood. It was part of every meze, shared at the table before the meal or during someone’s visit. I was too young to drink, but old enough to steal some juicy tomatoes, feta cheese and olives from the fresh salad. When I grew up, the bottle was kept for special occasions, and usually lasted till next summer.

I love calamari. I know, I know, I should stay away from deep-fried food. And I do, most of the time. Could I make it? This was a test. I wanted fresh squid, just caught, but when I went to Granville Island to get a professional advice on it, I was told that the only fresh squid came from Japan and cost more than I could imagine. The local squid “travels” frozen, but I could get it upon arrival on the market. Good enough.

I make baklava a few times a year, so it wasn’t interesting enough to do it again. I picked tulumba. You can definitely use a piping bag and a nozzle, but this special metal and wood syringe for tulumba came with me when I immigrated to Canada and has been used only a few times in these 20 years. It was time for it to fulfill its purpose of existence.

This whole meal, prepared here in Vancouver, was made with tons of love.

Game

Gushing into Spring,
I close my eyes and let the sun caress my eyelids,
warming my sight.
My vision is orange or blushing pink.

I am back in Greece, Ammouliani,
the Aegean coast,
sunbathing.
I can hear slow motion of waves kissing the shores,
kids’ laughter – play on a hot day,
languages I am trying to recognize,
decode a word or two
as if giving me access to a secret chamber
of their lives.

Pieces of conversation:
“Don’t text me any more.”
“I told her…”
“That is what you do.”
“Do you wanna go this way?”

Seagulls screeching…
Silence.

A seaplane engine running
in preparation for takeoff.
I open my eyes –
– still in Vancouver,
sitting on the bench on the seawall,
Coal Harbour marina.
Boats softly swinging on the water.

Essex Girl, Mi Tai Tai, Pekisko, Spirit Bear,
Urban Cowboy, Whale Tales, Sarah Elizabeth…
Names that hold their meaning
only with their owners.
Memories? Love? Aspirations? Lack of imagination?

A jogger running alone,
a man walking alone,
a mother pushing her stroller alone,
another man doing jumping jacks alone.

People keeping the distance,
Masks that have forced smiles
into hiding.
Time that has made travel
happen only in that orange space,
under our eyelids,
where we feel boundless hugging warmth.

Freaking fabulous

The French are the masters of eating with style. There is so much to choose from. I have been to France only once and it was for a UNESCO conference in Paris. One of my best memories regarding food is sitting on the bench with a colleague and eating fresh baguette with cheese. It was a sunny day and we didn’t have time to go to a restaurant for lunch, so we decided to visit the closest grocery shop. It was just delicious!

When I looked into creating a menu for the evening, there was so much I wanted to try. The dinner was a success, but I still have a number of dishes on my “to-do list”. I am not over with you, France!

Family and fear from fast forward

Far away i wait for the weekend
and a Viber call,
often with a video where I see
top of my mother’s head,
forehead at best,
sometimes her eyes,
or her ear and a lock of hair.
So hard to make it work,
to know where to talk,
where to touch,
how to see me.
Unsteady hands, blurred vision
aging…
Her voice is all I need.
As long as she answers,
I am fine.

My father in the background,
in his world, mostly silent now,
living in the space of books and objects,
that do not require communication,
he cannot participate in.
He sometimes asks me how we are doing,
reading my lips uttering the usual phrase
“We are all well, dad”.
The only question he would really like
to hear my answer to,
is when I will be there.

Events, Readings, Workshops, Exhibitions and Installations 2021

May 2021

NEWLYN PZ International Short Film Festival 2021

On the Margin of History” – in the category Documentary film

Pocket Lint

A new little literary magazine of short form poems, Pocket Lint and a short poem, Love

April 2021

Telephone project

TELEPHONE is just like the kids’ game. A message is whispered from one person to another and changes as it is passed.
We whisper a message from art form to art form.”

A response to Kellie Schofield’s painting

Hold the world

February 2021

REEL Poetry Film Festival

February 24, 2021: On the Margin of History – poetry film, presented by Mary McDonald, a multimedia artist at the REEL Poetry Film Festival, Texas, Houston

Back to events in 2020

Back to events in 2019

Everyday essentials

Anyone for a journey to El Salvador?

Latin America is still pretty much a mystery to me. I hope I will have the opportunity to visit places, learn about the cultures, the history stamped on its lands.

It was a wild card to pick El Salvador to cook a meal from its cuisine, but it was fun. The menu was created out of “10 most popular…” website. Everything was testfull, from the refreshing drinks, to a seafood soup, to papusas with beans to a great sweet piece of quesadilla.

I found this interesting store on Kingsway street, that had such a diversity of products, including the Queso Fresco (asked for in the recipe I followed). Yes, you can replace it with Parmesan cheese, but I tried to use the authentic ingredients as much as possible. Although I read it was usually eaten with coffee or as a snack, it was a nice dessert, not heavy and not overly sweet – just the way I liked it. I hope I will taste the real Salvadorian quesadilla in its native environment one day 🙂

Enigma

Ease into expiration.
When does love start to crumble?
Days turn into years,
patience into impatience,
questions into judgment,
expectations into disappointments.

And love breaks into pieces,
like an old loaf of bread,
tasteless.

The crumbs stay around
as an obelisk of life passed:
a postcard sent “with love”,
a photo with smiles,
a gift still on the shelf,
a book among other books,
a colour on the wall,
a habit we don’t recognize
is not ours.

Daily delicious

What is an open sandwich, I wondered? It must be something special as I never heard of it. Soon I learned that “open” means there is no second piece of bread that goes on the top. Ha! A sound of relief. That was so familiar. We had them for breakfast, lunch at a school cafeteria…

My nicest memories of sandwiches were from birthday parties when I was a kid. It would usually start with sandwiches, most often made with ham, potato salad on one corner, boiled eggs, a pickle. After that we would go and play until they called us for a cake. Now, the birthday parties are different, organized by specialists, with magicians and entertainers. I don’t think anyone makes sandwiches any more.

So, open sandwiches it was, for brunch. The Internet helped us make them Danish. Scandinavians often eat fish for any meal, so we had to include pickled herring, roe and some freshly cooked shrimp. There were other delicious condiments as well. I baked two types of rye bread to make the experience more authentic. A shot of aquavit was a good start.

Direction west

Dissolved in the crowd
of thousands of people,
moving from one side of the planet to the other,
my daughter carried a white teddy bear,
my son a small backpack.

We played cards on the plane,
read books,
washing away the 10-hour flight,
and what we left behind.

I promised a beautiful country,
a sky without threat,
a room with light and heat.

The blood kept pumping in those chambers,
aware that no one would wait at the airport,
that I had I no address to go to.

I had a debt in my pockets,
money that I needed to return
and a bundle my parents managed to scramble.
How long could it last?

We will have birthdays
with sandwiches and cakes,
I said to myself,
stepping on the wet Vancouver street,
brushing off the rain from our faces.