There is some sort of internal force governing the behavior of Balkan grandmothers in the presence of their grandchildren. This mysterious force turns normal human beings into well rehearsed feeding machines; permanently shadowing hyperactive toddlers, a plate in one hand and a well-composed bite in another (a little piece of bread, some vegetable, a chunk of meat if they manage…) always aiming for the kids’ mouth, using every single chance said mouth is open (be it for purposes of speech, laughter, cry, whatever..) to park the bite inside.
We typically spend our weekend lunches (and the ensuing afternoons) visiting grandparents. For us, it is an opportunity to sit down to a proper meal which I didn’t quickly scramble in the kitchen while the toddler was getting into one trouble or another. For Ognen, its an chance to explore new rooms and spaces, marvel at other washing machines, test car toys on unfamiliar surfaces, hide behind doors and generally run around squealing in delight. For the grandpas, its a weekly dose of physical exercise. For the grandmas, its the ultimate test of seeing how much food they can stuff into him.
If I told you that I have somewhere around 20 lasagna (or lasagne? which one?) recipes bookmarked, would you believe me? If there’s one thing all of them have in common, it’s some unusual twist; an ingredient you don’t typically find in such a dish (like hazelnuts or pumpkin for example). Here’s the thing: I’ve never made proper, Garfield-style lasagne. I know it’s not exactly rocket science but I’m always put off by worries about what type of lasagna sheets to use and my dislike for tomato based sauces and for handling minced meat (just when you thought I couldn’t get much weirder, right?)
One evening last month, our next door neighbors (a bustling full-of-life family with 3 kids of varying ages, managed by 2 successful entrepreneur parents) knocked on our door with a huge pan of half-baked lasagne. Due to some clerical error their electricity was cut off in the middle of baking and they asked if they can finish baking in our oven (it is moments like this when I think ‘gosh, I really should clean the oven more often!‘). As their youngest daughter entertained Ognen and we grownups had a cup of coffee, the aroma of the lasagne bubbling in our (not so clean) oven was intoxicating, even to me. When it was finally baked and before they headed back to their place to eat a family dinner by candlelight (I guess you have to take romance where you can get it when you have a house full of kids), they left two sizable slices for us to try. As we sat in silence and gobbled them up, I guess what was going through Ivica’s mind was something along the lines of “who the hell did I marry? couscous, sweet potato burritos and salads with pears? there’s families eating lasagne out there…”
As much as I love cheese, it is pastries that are definitely my nemesis. Be it savory or sweet, I have the hardest time resisting pastry of any kind. For breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. It is often a good thing I suck at pastry making, because we’d probably resort to eating some daily. It’s also a good thing we don’t live in Greece anymore because I might have had to make my middle name Spanakopita. Occasionally (ok, more than just occasionally), store-bought puff pastry comes to assist me in imposing things like this one to Ivica. For dinner.
And spinach…well, I don’t know about you, but show me a golden puffed up pastry with dark green stuff sticking out from its insides… and I’m sold. Add raisins to it and my hands are itching.
This week, we’re packing to go up to our house in the mountains where we’ll be staying for a few weeks. Its a place built by my greatgrandfather a little less than 100 years ago; it used to be a small cheese workshop (hence my addiction to cheese, I guess). It is located at one of the edges of a village lining a protected forested area with endemic pine trees. It really is a very special place, with birds chirping…wait, let me just slap myself out of daydreaming. I’m still in this oven of city. Few more days…
Meanwhile, I keep finding carrots in my kitchen. I think I have a major crush on them in the last few months so I tend to overbuy and there always seem to be quite a bit of them lingering in a bag somewhere. We’re trying to clean up the kitchen before we leave so, much to common delight, I decided to make one of our favorite salads (what, you were surprised at the word salad?) ever; it is definitely on both mine and ivica’s top 5 list. The original recipe is this Jamie Oliver’s Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad, but in addition to not plating this even 10% as nicely as Jamie does, I also change it up a bit too, although the changes are not too earth-shattering, at least flavor-wise. Or so I think.