Was it really a cruel summer? My recap of summer 2020

A parallel universe

The summer of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most difficult summers our generation has ever had to endure. Typically, my family and I spend our summers in Croatia, however, we (regrettably) decided not to go due to the pandemic. As you may recall in earlier blog posts, 2019 was a very difficult year for me after my uncle’s sudden passing and 2020 was supposed to be a breath of fresh air. Like many of you, I experienced both emotional highs and lows, but at some point I told myself to not give in to negative feelings and try to make the most of this summer.

Was this the worst summer to date? Looking back, it wasn’t really that bad at all. It was very strange in the sense where we did some “normal” things but within the realm of social distancing. In other words, I felt as if we were living in a parallel universe. But for the sake of our kids, we tried to keep things as “normal” as possible: attending Sunday misa (church) at our parish in Oakville, weekly soccer practice in Hamilton, getting together with friends at the park on play dates, going to the zoo, visiting my parents in Windsor and so on. M. and I went out for a few dinner dates as well. As strange as this summer was, we found things to do and made the most out of it the best way we know how: through good food, wine and company.

The holy trinity of food- steak, pizza and fish

In our household, we are definitely foodies and no one can describe it better than my oldest son, T. At his annual check-up at the doctor’s office recently, the doctor asked T. what his favourite food was and he proudly replied “steak!” The doctor was delightfully surprised and sort of taken aback that a six-year-old’s favourite food is steak done rare. Fortunately, our kids like everything we make, from mahune to fish. Growing up in a Dalmatian household, my mother would always ask what we would eat the next day; my aunt used to own a restaurant in Germany, so food is definitely in our genes.

When the lockdown started, my husband made it his life’s mission to re-create the perfect pizza Napolitana as pizza is his all-time favourite food. He spent hours researching the best outdoor pizza oven for it’s value, so low and behold he purchased an Ooni Koda Gas-Powered Outdoor pizza oven. He justified the expense by stating that within 6 months the oven will pay itself off and so far it definitely has (nb: we used to order Pizza Nova like every Friday). During the first few weeks of lockdown, my husband would spend his spare time visiting various local Italian bakeries to find the gold standard of pizza flour- Caputo 00. We even planted Roma, cherry and hothouse tomatoes as well as basil for our pizza in our garden this year. Gardening in of itself was a very worthwhile and memorable experience. We got so into pizza making that we spent hours watching different dough recipes on YouTube. After testing a few different recipes, we decided that the one from Vito Iacopelli’s YouTube channel was best for us. How it works is that I make the dough and M. makes the pizza. This recipe from Vito makes approximately nine 12-inch dough balls; we make about 3 pizzas a week so the rest I just store in the freezer. Weekly pizza making is definitely a family affair as our kids get involved too. Overall, pizza making has become a newfound family tradition for years to come.

Another tradition we started in our home was fish Sundays. We decided to bring the shores of Dalmatia closer to home by making seafood and blitva on Sundays after church. If we remember, we order brancin from the local market and M. grills it on the barbeque; but if we don’t get an order in on time, then its either salmon or scallops. Definitely a nice, light lunch to end the weekend paired of course with my favouriite Pošip from Saint Hills.

good things grow in ontario

The pandemic sort of forced us to “think outside of the box” without really going too far. Being a little bit of a wine snob (Brunello being my all-time favourite,) I must say that Ontario wines really surprised me this year. There truly is a pleortha of wineries, markets and restaurants to discover in the Niagara Escarpement and Niagara-on-the-Lake regions. In July, a few of us embarked on a small wine tour with dinner at Treadwell to end the day. Simply put, just being out on the property brings a sense of peace and tranquility. In a COVID world, many of the wineries and restaurants that I have visited have taken the proper steps to ensure safety but still provide an enjoyable experience. Some notable wines/wineries that really stood out to me and worth checking out are Five Rows, Domaine Queylus, Westcott Vineyards, Kabaca, Leaning Post and Pearl Morissette.

Pjesma i vino

Croatia has a long-standing history of producing wines dating back to Ancient Grecian times. In today’s world, Croatia is home to many world-class and unique wineries. Although Zlatan Plavac Sveta Nedelja Plavac Mali will always be my favourite Croatian wine, some notable favourites of mine that were imported from Croatia Unpacked are Korta Katerina’s Rosé and Plavac Mali, Saint Hills “Sv. Roko” Plavac Mali and “Posh” Pošip and finally Stina’s Plavac Mali. Try one of them and you may be pleasantly surprised!

krv nije voda – keeping it in the family

My parents always told me, friends may come and go, but in tough times, we always can rely on family. Although the last six months have been very difficult, there have been moments of complete joy. No one can ever take away that precious extra time I got to spend with my two little boys. This summer was definitely a memorable one, where we became closer as a family and got to explore a bit of Ontario and try some new things out. We visited my family in Windsor a few times and explored Windsor’s Via Italia. Daytrips to zoos were worthwhile, but I found with kids, sometimes the most simplest of activities are the most enjoyable. Walks throughout downtown Burlington over ice cream and exploring new splash pads and parks were probably the most memorable for us.

In summary, although this is a strange and albeit difficult time, the key to making memories are the ones with the people that matter most to you – your loved ones.

Carrying traditions on: learning how to bake my mother’s orahnjača (walnut roll)

Growing up, I remember waking up to the sweet smell of my mother’s orahnjača (walnut roll).  At bridal showers, I always gravitated towards the orahnjača on the desert table as it’s not too sweet, nor too heavy and it always goes nicely with a cup of coffee.  However, my mother’s recipe is my all-time favourite.

My mother always insists on baking it first thing in the morning to let it rise properly.  Whether or not that’s an old Croatian wives’ tale, or if my mother made that up, I can say with confidence that I baked this recipe in an afternoon with no issues.  It didn’t turn out perfect and again (as noted in my previous post about sirnica/Easter bread,) I had to decipher my mother’s recipe as she only provided me with approximate steps and “about” increments.  With some investigative work, a few FaceTime calls and a million questions to my mom, I was able to figure out her orahnjača recipe!

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Ingredients:

Part 1:

  • 4-5 cups of bread flour (start with 4 cups and add more as needed)
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp of active dry yeast + 1 tbsp of sugar in 1 cup of warm water
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 yolks (separate egg whites and place in fridge for part 2)
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 cup of warm milk
  • 1 shot of Jamaican rum
  • grated lemon zest and juice of 1 lemon

Part 2 (filling):

  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • egg whites from previous part
  • 3/4 of a pound of ground walnuts
  • 1 shot of espresso

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Directions:

  1. Using the paddle attachment of your stand-up mixer, cream the sugar and unsalted butter together on a low speed.
  2. Add egg yolks, one by one, while mixing.
  3. Add the whole egg.
  4. Slowly add your flour on a low speed (I use speed 1 on my Cuisanart mixer).
  5. Slowly pour the warm milk in while mixing.
  6. Slowly add your yeast mixture in.
  7. Add the rum and lemon zest and juice to the mixture.
  8. Once thoroughly mixed, switch the paddle attachment and insert your dough hook and continue on a low speed (at this point I turn the dial to speed 2) until the mixture becomes a little tacky (you don’t want it to be too sticky or too firm; so add more flour or warm milk as needed).
  9. Once the dough has thoroughly mixed, take the dough and knead it on a floured surface for about 10-15 minutes into a ball.
  10. Place the dough ball into a large bowl, cover with a wash cloth and let rest in a warm oven for about 2 hours.
  11. Remove dough from oven and on a floured surface, take your dough and cut into two halves.  Take both parts and roll into two separate dough balls.  Then place the dough balls into two separate bowls, cover each bowl with wash cloths and place in warm oven again to rise for about 30 minutes.
  12. While dough is rising for the second time; take your ingredients from part two (sugar, egg whites, ground walnuts and espresso) into a medium-size bowl and mix with a spatula.
  13. Remove dough from oven after it has risen for a second time.
  14. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees C.
  15. Roll each dough ball into a long flat oval or rectangle (does not have to be a perfect shape)
  16. Then with a spatula, spread the walnut mixture on your flattened dough.
  17. Gently take the edge of the dough and roll (you can also place the dough on a table cloth and pull the table cloth to roll it).
  18. Repeat steps 16-17 on the second dough ball.
  19. Place each roll into a bread pan OR you can place each roll on a cookie sheet.
  20. Cover your bread pans or cookie sheet with tin foil and place in the oven and bake covered for 30 minutes.
  21. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and continue baking until the top is golden brown (use a toothpick test to determine if it is done baking), for an additional 25-35 minutes.
  22. Remove from oven and let rest for on a cooling rack about 30 minutes to an hour as the mixture is hot and can leak if you cut right away.
  23. Enjoy and serve with coffee!  Dobar tek!

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Carrying traditions on: Learning how to bake my family’s sweet Easter bread

Easter is considered to be the most important holiday in the Catholic faith.  For Croatians specifically, Easter is also about tradition.  On Holy Saturday, Croatians (and most Eastern Europeans for that matter) will bring baskets of sweet bread and eggs to be blessed during mass.  Some people also add smoked meats and green onions to their baskets.   This tradition of bringing baskets to be blessed dates back generations.

Usually, we go to my family’s home in Windsor for Easter, however due to the pandemic this won’t be possible.  Perhaps it was a sign for me to learn how to bake my mom’s Easter bread and carry the tradition on.  The Easter bread my mom bakes is a sweet bread, known as sirnica or pinca.  This sweet bread is typically baked in Dalmatia, but other regions in Croatia have their own versions of this Easter bread.  Some put rum in theirs and others raisins.  My mother-in-law who is from Gorski Kotar makes her Easter bread with a ham in it.  This particular recipe that I am going to share with you is the one that my mom makes every Easter.  My mother learned this recipe from her sister-in-law, my Strina (aunt).

Most Croatian-Canadians will understand when I say that figuring out my mom’s Easter bread recipe is like a solving a puzzle.  No directions and all approximate amounts (od prilike) for the ingredients or po potrebi (as needed).   With the help of FaceTime and a lot of questions on my end, I was able to figure out this family recipe.  Overall, I was quite pleased with the results, despite the fact that a part of the bottom tore.  The bread was nice and soft and reminded me so much of home.

3 loaves | 2 hours prep time | 3 hours total

Ingredients:

8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 packet of Dr. Oetker vanilla sugar
Lemon grinds from 1 lemon
Juice from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Fleischmann’s active dry yeast (mix with ¼ cup warm water and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar)
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 cup warm milk
Approximately 2-4 cups of all-purpose flour (note: my mom’s recipe just says flour as needed, so I kept adding flour into the mixer until it formed a dough).
1 egg for glazing
Cooking spray for pans

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Directions:

1. Follow the directions for the yeast (mix ¼ cup warm water and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and let stand for 10 minutes).

2. Mix the yolks with cup sugar; add the vanilla extract and packet of the vanilla sugar. Mix for a few minutes.

3. Add the yeast mixture and continue mixing.

4. Add grinds from lemon and lemon juice while mixing.

5. Add the cup of warm milk while mixing.

6. Add the oil.

7. Add the flour slowly to the mixer until it forms a dough. Then with a wooden spoon, knead the dough into a ball.

8. Take your dough, cover with a kitchen cloth and let it rest in a warm oven to rise for approximately 1 and a half hours.

9. Once dough has risen, remove from warm oven. Punch the dough and knead on a floured surface or use a wooden spoon to knead the dough (I had to knead the dough, my mom uses a wooden spoon so I would say do what is easier for you).

10. Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit (or 280 depending on your oven).

11. Divide dough into three round cake pans, or corning ware bowls, or stainless steel bowls (note: if your pans are not non-stick, then spray generously with PAM or whatever cooking spray you have available)

12. Crack one egg and scramble, with a brush, glaze the three loaves.

13. Place pans into oven and bake at 275 (or 280) for 15 minutes; then increase heat to 310 (or 325 depending on your oven) for 40-45 minutes.

14. Remove from oven and place loaves on cooling racks to cool.

Notes:
*I didn’t want to make as many loaves as my mom, so I cut the ingredients in half and still worked beautifully. I filled two small corning ware dishes and one normal sized corning-ware dish.
**I think it would be easier in non-stick cake pans as they don’t stick; in hindsight, I should have placed mine in bread pans but my mom insists it has to be a round shape as that is traditional.  As I did not have cake pans available she said corning ware dishes would be fine. I didn’t have cooking spray available, so I brushed oil on it and some of it stuck but overall it was still good!
***My mom uses a hand mixer but I used my Cuisanart stand-mixer and it turned out fine.

Wishing you a wonderful Easter.  Enjoy!

egg and ceramic rabbit
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

 

A Croatian Christmas in Canada

To me, Christmas is more than opening presents and decorating a tree.  For me, it has, and forever always will be about tradition.  Being Croatian, it was important for my parents to pass down their traditions from their homeland to my brother and I.  It’s about getting together with friends and family.  It’s about faith, charity and spreading love.  It’s no joke when they say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of year because it truly is.  Christmas is a very special time of year, not just for Croatians but for Catholics and Christians worldwide.
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As I child, I was always amazed by my parents’ stories of  their Christmas celebrations in Croatia.  My parents grew up in the inlands of Dalmatia, in a small village called Ruda in the municipality of Otok, located by nearby Sinj.  The Christmas my parents experienced was very different than the one I had:  there was no tree, there were no presents, but there was a home full of family, faith, food and love.   During the Christmas season, hay would be laid throughout the house and children would receive special treats such as oranges, figs and if they were very lucky, chocolates.   Certainly this was a humbling experience!

Advent
The Christmas season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas, called Advent.  Most Croatians will place a wreath in their homes with four candles which symbolize hope, faith, joy and peace.

Feast of Saint Nicholas – December 6
On the Eve of Saint Nicholas day, children will leave boots by their front doors in hopes that Saint Nicholas will visit them and bring them a treat.  However, if the child was naughty, then they will receive a lump of coal from Krampus instead!

In the Croatian diaspora, it is common for local Croatian Catholic parishes to present a Saint Nicholas luncheon or banquet, with children performing a special Christmas recital for their loved ones.  Other traditions  include the sale of ornaments, baked goods and pšenica bowls during these events.

paper bags near wall
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Baking
It is quite common for Croatians to bake traditional bake goods during the holidays, specifically štrudla od jabuka (apple strudel), breskvice (peaches), Mađarica  (Hungarian lady) and orahnjača (walnut roll).  My mom’s orahnjača is my absolute favourite (and I promise to share her recipe and test it out again!) and is great with coffee in the morning.
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The Feast of Saint Lucy – Blagdan Svete Lucije
Another special  Croatian tradition is the planting of wheat (pšenica) in commemoration of the feast of Saint Lucy.  The planting of wheat during the Christmas season symbolizes new life.   Once the wheat has grown, most Croatians will tie it together with a red, white and blue ribbon (the colours of the Croatian flag) and/or place a candle in the middle.  Typically, this plant is then the main centrepiece for the dinner table on Christmas day.

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Christmas Eve – “Badnjak”
I remember the sight of a bakalar (cod fish)  hanging in my parents’ fruit cellar.  Its basically a dried-up cod fish used to make a bakalar stu with potatoes.  This tradition is specific to Dalmatia as well as parts of Istria.  Croatians, like most Catholics in Europe will enjoy a special fish dinner on Christmas Eve.  Although fasting on Christmas Eve is not mandated by the Catholic Church, it is a tradition Croatians, and other Europeans, share.   One of my fondest memories growing up is my mother and my late uncle cooking this wonderful bakalar stu together.   We would then attend midnight mass (polnoćka) together and enjoy Croatian Christmas carols.  Following this, we would come home to the smell of sarma (cabbage rolls) and fresh figs.   Sometimes, people will get together after midnight mass to celebrate over drinks and music. 

gift boxes on brown wooden board
Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

Christmas Day – “Božić “
The big day arrived, it is Christmas day or Božić!  It is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.   If you did not make it to midnight mass, then most Croatians will attend mass on Christmas day.  For most Croatians, Christmas day is the day when we get together with close family and friends over a big feast of cabbage rolls, schnitzels and much, much more.   On Christmas day, presents are exchanged with loved ones and stories are shared with young ones.

bowls chairs christmas decorations decorations
Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

The days following Christmas…
The Christmas season does not just end on Christmas.  For many Croatians, the Feast of Saint Stephen the Martyr (Blagdan Sv. Stjepana Prvomučenika) and the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist (Blagdan Sveti Ivan Apostol i Evanđelist) is celebrated on December 26th and December 27th, respectively.  If your name is a variant of Stephen or John, traditionally, a celebration would be held in your honour of your name-sake day (or imendan).  I like to call it Christmas day parts 2 and 3.

The Christmas season traditionally ends on January 6th – the feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day, to commemorate the day when the Three Wise Kings visited baby Jesus.