Foodie Mail

My elementary school, through the public schooling system, ran a pen pal program. (Obviously this story belongs in the age of dinosaurs or more accurately in the early nineties of the previous century.) The way it worked was, the teacher would walk into the classroom holding an envelope and ask if anyone wanted to be the recipient of a ‘letter from an unknown friend’. The lucky student accepting the envelope would find a handwritten note from a child their own age from another city which 9 out of 10 times opened with ‘Dear unknown friend’…You were expected to reply to the letter, the idea being that a friendship based on a series of exchanged letters will ensue.

I was one of those few nerdy kids that actually got excited about the program. Accepting (and replying to) letter after letter, at some point I had about a dozen of  pen pals. I should mention that as time went by I also broke through national borders and started exchanging letters with kids from other countries. (I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour trying to remember the details about how exactly these international pen friendships started but all I can recall is that it involved filling out a lot of colorful forms and some money sent to a pen pal organization or something, somewhere)…

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Raspberry Muffins

Believe it or not, this has been the third batch of muffins I’ve baked in the last week. Last weekend it was the Crusty Onion and Cheese Muffin and this weekend it’s this berrylicious one.  And somewhere in between these two I managed to squeeze another muffin baking session (in an effort to make up for all the deliciousness I had missed) and made some seriously tasty Nutella Brownie Muffins. You’ll just have to trust me when I say I baked those because I have absolutely no evidence that they ever existed in our home – that’s how fast they disappeared. There’s something about cold weather and freshly baked warm muffins; the two were just made for each other. Of course, the Nutella probably helped as well…

When this week’s recipe rolled in, I suddenly found myself wishing it was summer. Ordinarily, I’d choose winter over summer on almost every occasion. Unless you remind me of berries, which is exactly what this week’s muffin managed to do.

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Crusty Onion and Cheese Muffins

The date of my last post is almost a month and a half in the past AND it’s in a calendar year that we’ve left behind. Happy 2012 folks! I don’t usually make a big deal about New Years but 2011 has been big for us. Let’s just say 10 kilos big.  Ognen big. Parenthood big.

For those of you wondering where the heck I’ve been hiding, let me set the record straight and tell you that no, we didn’t go on some exotic trip to a nice warm place with palm trees and a constant stream of cocktails. Ha! Instead, I’ve faced the reality of being a full time working mom which basically feels like having 2 full time jobs. And the fact that Ognen still routinely wakes up at odd hours at night and needs demands my attention adds a third shift to these 2 jobs. Yes, yours truly does feel as if she’s working around the clock. Remember this? And before you go off thinking that I am (once again) complaining, let me just tell you: I’m not.

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Bread Pudding Muffins

I swear, this post would have been so much better if I had at least a few ‘making of’ photos to show you. The whole baking session was riddled with so many mini accidents and moments that were just plain hilarious and yet I have no evidence because I didn’t have the camera with me (Ivica was out and had it with him).

I initially attempted to settle Ognen into his high-chair, at a prime spot in the kitchen from where he could observe both me baking as well as the cats having nervous breakdowns trying to remove obstacles to dive into the melted butter. But the boy wouldn’t have any of that remote baking arrangement so into the carrier he went. And because he’s not a tiny thing any longer and blocks most of my view when he’s in the carrier, the majority of my measuring and mixing was akin to what would happen if you were to attempt to make muffins blindfolded (thankfully they’re not the most demanding of baking projects).

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Gingerbread Muffins

This is always the time of the year when I bite off far more than I can chew. I don’t know what it is, but I get in some sort of pre-holiday twilight zone full of to-do lists, ambitious projects, major cleaning and reorganization plans, a pile of crafty DIY projects and an overwhelming urge to create homemade holiday cards. On top of all this, there’s usually a hefty backlog of recipes I am itching to try. This countdown to complete madness usually culminates in me being a total wreck sometime around New Years Eve and usually sleeping through most of the festivities. But since sleep has become a utopian concept around our home since the birth of Ognen, I wonder how much of a zombie I’ll become by January.

My latest project is organizing my pile of postcards I’ve been collecting over the years. They’re usually stashed somewhere in a box and I’ve decided to somehow put them on display around the home (added bonus: one more thing for Ogi to try to reach now that he’s becoming a bit more mobile). Ivica is not particularly happy with it (did I mention I always end up leaving a huge mess behind me when I ‘work on my crafts’?) but we’ve come to some sort of compromise.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I’ve always had a soft spot for the intersection of language and food.  (Nerdy enough for an opening sentence??) Being fluent in 3 languages, I often find myself overanalyzing food metaphors, phrases and idioms between them. You know how in English one says “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”? In Macedonian, it’s not the apple that does the falling but rather the pear. Speaking of pears, around here, when someone is extremely tired and falls asleep instantly we say he’s fallen asleep like a pear. I guess pears fall down a lot in our region:) But wait, there’s more! Instead of comparing “apples and oranges” we typically compare “grandmas and frogs”. Weird, right? But if you think about it, these 2 nouns (which rhyme when translated) have much less in common than apples and oranges do, which is kind of the purpose of the saying.

Then there’s the locally-worshiped boza, which is what everything easy in life is likened to. If you have no idea what boza is, you could head here (our old couchsurfing blog) to read an interesting story about it. If you have very straight hair, you are usually said to have ‘leek-straight’ hair. When you’ve just beaten someone in a game of something, anything, you have officially ‘made a salad out of him’. And, probably one of my most favorite idioms ever, if you’re not particularly smart (intentional euphemism), your head is said to be a ‘green pumpkin’. Yes, a green pumpkin, you read that right.

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Apple Buttermilk Muffins with Oat Bran Crumble

Another Monday, another muffin! But wait, this is not just any Monday….this is the first Monday in a very loooong string of Mondays when I can take at least a teeny tiny break and enjoy a morning muffin even though Ognen is not napping…What, you may wonder, is going on? Well, my friends, this much-needed mommy break is courtesy of our newly hired nanny, hooray!

A week ago, this mama was biting her nails wondering how on earth would the glued-to-mom crankiest baby ever get along with a new person sentenced destined to take care of him for a good chunk of his waking hours (of which there are plenty). I had more than one nightmare regarding various aspects of the Ogi+nanny affair, the darkest of which involved the nanny’s inability to put him down for a nap and me having to spend my lunch break running home and putting him to sleep in the middle of the day. But, guess what, it’s been a few days of her being around and she’s managed to put him down a number of times with the help of a pacifier – a device which he’s never accepted from either me or Ivica. Granted, he still sleeps no more than 30 minutes at a time but at least he won’t go completely nap-free while I’m at work. Now, can someone teach ME how to take a break and go back to spending a few brain cells here and there on something other than baby-related thoughts? Please? Or is that asking too much?

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Quinoa and Bulgur Salad with Pomegranate

Being a new parent these days is like navigating a never-ending maze of rules, guidelines and advice. Starting from before a baby is born and (I’m guessing) all the way until you send them off to college (or wherever), the information overload on what (not) to do, how, when and why can be unbearable. Do you attempt natural birth or say ‘yes’ to every drug and painkiller imaginable? Breastfeed or bottlefeed? Vaccinate or not? Co-sleep or move baby to its own room? Hold them too much or too little? Let them cry or tend to their every whimper? Expose them to educational media or completely prohibit TV until a certain age? I swear, having access to the internet and, with it, a wide range of sources advocating this or that when it comes to parenting…well, its a mixed blessing to say the least.

And when it comes to food and introducing solids…you are guaranteed to drive yourself bananas trying to formulate a healthy strategy as to how to approach feeding your babe. Many years ago (when I was a baby), babies were started on solids early, just a few months after they were born. And they often ate pretty much everything grownups did- including foods that would make most of today’s pediatricians cringe – like eggs, cow’s milk, honey, nuts, citrus fruits and other current no-no’s. My parents used to dip my pacifier into honey (a likely allergen) so that I would take it – I’m guessing this happened at the ripe age of few weeks old. There was very little thinking involved in what to feed your child – you looked at your own plate and probably mashed up whatever was there and that became baby’s meal. Life was simple. Parents didn’t worry (or know) about potential allergies and had no idea what celiac disease is. Glu-what?

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Lately, I’ve been spending a solid portion of my evenings tucked away in the kitchen. Because, you know, my sleep-deprivation has turned into a mild case of insomnia and try as I might to hit the pillow roughly around the time Ogi does, I’ve become slightly obsessed with preparing baby food. So instead of doing what every other new mom around me seems to be doing (buy jarred baby food and either catch up on sleep or some form of social life), I’ve been roasting squashes, baking apples, steaming plums, sauteing zucchini, cooking whole grain cereals…and then hanging out with my best pal, the mighty blender. It was quite easy a few months back when all the solid food he was eating in any given day could be measured in just a few tablespoons, but the boy has an appetite so the quantities have gone way up. And while the carefully selected ingredients are cooking away, I’m finding weird things to do around the kitchen, like organizing the spices or labeling various containers. Sleep? Rest? What??

I love carrots

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If you’ve ever visited our neck of the woods then you are probably familiar with the locals’ obsession with fresh green hot chilli peppers. It may be possible to sit down to a Macedonian feast that features no meat (although a practice which is often frowned upon) but god forbid that any respectable traditional meal is left without at least a few of these mean green tear provokers, either fresh or roasted. They sometimes taste like suicide, and yet, I can’t count the times I’ve seen people bite into them as if they’re biting into apples.

On the other end of the spectrum are those weird folks that must be missing some crucial local gene as they run away from everything and anything hot and spicy. I even know people who don’t eat both garlic AND onion and frankly I often wonder if they were maybe abducted by aliens when they were kids. I (like the majority of people, I believe) fall somewhere in the wide range between these two extremes. Alright, I guess I am slightly leaning more towards the first kind, as I can probably tolerate heat better than a rather hefty percentage of the people I know. I think.

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