A to Z at home

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…)

Mexican

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.

Memories

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,
music…

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

Lebanese

Key to wisdom

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.

Knowledge

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.

Job well done

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.

Jackpot

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.

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.

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.