31 December 2012

Sretna Nova Godina!

Doviđenja 2012....a year of many firsts and many new life lessons.
Dobro Došla 2013....a year which will bring a welcome list of new and amazing things.

My wish for one and all:
May the new year bring you health, happiness, and much joy.  And may there always be something wondrous lighting the path ahead of you.

Sretna Nova Godina!

17 December 2012

Ho Ho Ho

Here's a pan of fresh baked Christmas cookies right out of the oven, and they are gluten-free too! 

Wishing everyone a holiday season filled with lots of laughter, love, good friends and good cheer.  Sretan Božić y'all  :-)

01 December 2012

Shiny things

So it is December 1st, 2012.  There's a nip in the air.  There's snow in parts of Croatia (and we might get a few flurries tonight in our neck of the woods.)  Christmas is coming.  There's about a million things to do.  And all I can think of is this:  what the heck do I do with all my illy coffee cans?

I switched over to illy brand coffee about a year ago.  Before that, I was a Lavazza lover.  I exclusively drank Lavazza coffee for almost 12 years.  Here in Croatia the Lavazza was a bit stronger, but I adjusted my tastebuds and continued loving it.  But then it got harder and harder to find.  I ended up going directly to the distributor in Zagreb at one point and bought an entire carton (48 boxes) so I wouldn't have to go without my precious coffee.  But it kept getting harder to find.  The shelves at Konzum and Plodine and Mercator started filling up with lots of instant cappuccino mixes, and there was less and less space left for old-fashioned espresso coffee.  I actually started rationing my Lavazza!

Jump ahead to last year when I admitted defeat, and decided to try the illy coffee.  It was love at first taste.  I couldn't believe that I'd been denying myself the pleasure of such a beautiful tasting coffee.  So I switched and never looked back.

The illy I like comes vacuum packed in these nifty shiny cans.  With screw top lids.  So they are reusable.  At first I used them for things like pencils and pens.  Then for dried beans.  Then thumb-tacks and elastic bands.  But now I've got about 25 of these sitting in my kitchen pantry and I don't know what to do with them.  They are just too gorgeous to throw away.

For now, I'm just stashing them in my cupboards and hoping that I come up with some useful idea.  Maybe there's a secret illy-coffee-canister-horder-society out there.  If they contact me, I'll let you know.

28 November 2012

Yes, another picture of my dog.

When Little Miss Peeper, aka Snuggle Wagon, came into my life, I was assured she would be no bigger than knee-high-to-a-grasshopper and would require just a handful of food each day.  I met her mother several times and her mom was seriously about the size of a 4 slice toaster.  Nobody knew who the daddy was though.  Well, it turns out her daddy must have been something kind of tall, because at just 7 months, Miss Peeper is already 46cm tall at the shoulder.  And she's got another several months of growing to do!

Here's a funny question I get from locals all the time:  does the dog understand Croatian or English?  Well, she certainly doesn't listen to anything I tell her to do in English or Croatian.  So I'm guessing that she speaks the universal language of dogs:  snacks.

And in case you are wondering...yes, she really is this shiny.  

17 November 2012

Čvarci time again and again and again!

If you like to make your own čvarci (like I do) then you'll be interested in a little tip that I figured out over the last couple years.  Pork fat can be frozen!  Nobody told me this piece of information, and I'm guessing because nobody knows it.  You see, every winter, people make sausages out of their pigs, and they take the pork fat, cut it into little squares and heat it up in a big pot and make čvarci.  They cool the remaining hot fat into lard which is used for the next couple months.  But the čvarci is cooked on the spot, and eaten over the next couple weeks.  Sounds okay, except in my experience, there's too much čvarci all at once, and everyone kind of gets sick of it.  And then it is all gone until next year.

I couldn't make myself fry up huge batches of čvarci anymore.  It is a lot of work, and I had way too much on my hands.  So a couple of years ago, against everyone's advice, I took all of the raw pork fat, weighed it out into 2.5kg portions, and then froze those portions in individual vacuum packed bags.  Then, when I felt like having čvarci, I'd defrost the raw fat, and fry up a small portion.  It came out great.  I had čvarci (and the associated cooking lard) in spring, summer, fall, and even now leading up to winter.  It is great!

If you decide to give it a try, I'd love to know how it turns out for you.  Dobar tek!

20 September 2012

Fall has arrived

The nights are crisp.  Mornings cool and misty.  In the daytime, I can walk in the sun without a hat.  The sky is clear, blue.  Must be Autumn. 

I've been experimenting with lots of new ingredients to make new gluten-free meals that are tasty and nutritious.  Now that the cooler weather has (finally) arrived, I can get back into the kitchen, spark up the stove, and let the experimenting begin again. 

This year will be the year of chickpea flour.  Who knew it has so many magical properties???

14 August 2012

Summer time...

I can't believe how fast little puppies grow!  Miss Peeper, our little furry wonder here is already knee-high, and learning to do all sorts of helpful things, like bark at grasshoppers, eat sandals, dig up weeds and drag them to onto the terrace, bark at ants, bark at plastic bags.  She's at that floppy stage where she gallops about, long ears flapping in the wind.  I have to say that there is nothing cuter than a puppy chasing a butterfly!

It has been an incredibly dry summer in most parts of Croatia, and the word 'drought' has come up again and again.  There are bush fires almost everyday.  And water restrictions in some parts.  And crunchy dry grass.  And for the first time, I've seen cracks in the dry dirt...like something out of a movie! 

Things continue to be busy for me, and I'm working on some big projects that I'll talk about in a few months once I get past some hurdles and have a few successes to report.  Otherwise, I'm enjoying the last of the summer, and waiting for the late figs to ripen.

Hope y'all are lazily sitting somewhere in the shade, having a lemonade....

27 June 2012

Arf arf arf!

I am a busy busy person.  When I wake up, I am already behind schedule.  I don't have time to do most things on my 'must-do' list, barely time to get to the 'gotta-get-to-it' list.  And hardly time to do things like eat and read and sleep.

So what does a busy gal do ???  She goes and gets one of these:

27 May 2012

Rationing cherries

You may or may not know that the weather has been rather freakish this past winter and spring.  Spring came really really early, causing the fruit trees to all blossom early.  I wish I had taken a picture to post here to show you how beautiful it looked with trees all covered in soft pink and white flowers.  And it looked like there would be a bumper crop of everything because there were just so many many blossoms on all the trees.

Then the frost hit in mid-April, and there was snow.  So lots of those blossoms, didn't make it.  Including lots of the blossoms on the giant cherry tree that grows in the small back garden behind our building.  Normally, everyone in the building can reach out and pick cherries right from their balconies (me included!).  But this year is different.  This year the tree is sadly quite light in the fruit department.  No sagging branches with sweet cherry bounty.  No bowls full of huge burgundy fruits waiting to be eaten with gusto.

This year there are approximately 35 cherries ripening outside my balcony.  Thirty-five.  I know.  I counted them.  And I've been watching them.  Noting their size and colour, so that I can pluck individual cherries at the peak of ripeness.  I get to eat them one, or maybe two at a time.  In essence, I am rationing my cherries.  Very carefully.  And I savour each and every one.  Making sure to enjoy every note of cherry deliciousness from every cherry.  Because they'll be gone much much too soon.  And I'll have to wait an entire year to (hopefully) get more.

I am hoping against all odds that the fig trees have been spared and that come August, they'll be  producing buckets and buckets of sweet nectary figs of all shapes/sizes/colours.  I have to be patient and just wait for time to tell.  But if I'm forced to ration my figs this year, I seriously do not know how I will manage. 

09 April 2012

Easter egg hunts & asparagus

I think I figured out how the whole Easter-egg hunt came to be (and if this isn't true, then it is a really good idea).  This past Easter weekend, I had the opportunity to pick wild asparagus for the first time ever.  Wild asparagus grows all over the place in Croatia....in wooded ares, usually under trees, near walls and under bushes.  It is INSANELY difficult to spot.  I'll try and get a picture when I go out again today and post it here, but mainly wild asparagus is really really thin, and brown and thus nearly impossible to see against the brown leaves on the forest floor or against the thin shoots coming up from the bushes at this time of year.

To be able to spot the asparagus, you really need to sort of scrunch down and try and see them at eye level.  Pretty difficult when you are an adult.....but I thought to myself that a small child would be at the perfect height to spot the asparagus.  And if you gave the child a basket to carry into the forest, they'd be able to carefully carry the tender shoots.  All that is left is some sort of incentive for the children.  I mean, I was a child once, and I can't imagine any circumstance that would motivate me to go combing through the underbrush looking carefully for asparagus............except maybe the promise of chocolate.  Yup.  That would have done the trick for me.  And therefore I got the idea that maybe the original Easter-egg hunt went something like this:  kids were handed baskets and told to go hunting for asparagus shoots and to try and find some chocolate eggs hidden in the brush.  Kids could eat the chocolate they found.  And kids would be rewarded with extra chocolate depending on how much asparagus they toted home in their baskets.

Makes sense to me.  A win-win situation for everyone involved, yes?

Sretan Uskrs to everyone!

31 March 2012

Help! Where to buy ladies shoes in large sizes???

I have big feet.  And I wear what is considered a rather large shoe size in Europe (although it is quite common in North America).  I wear a ladies US 10/11  which translates to a European 40/41/42.

Here's the weird thing:  I'm having a heck of a time finding anything for women above size 39.  What's even weirder, if I'm looking for a casual shoe or a running shoe, they will bring me a man's 40 which is HUGE.  A man's 40 is like a man's US size 10/11, which is waaaaay bigger than a ladies US 10/11.
What I need is a ladies 40/41/42.

So, I'm walking around in some pretty old shoes, because I can't find things in my size. 

So, if there's anyone out there who lives in Croatia, or visits Croatia often, and knows where women with large feet can buy shoes.....please leave me a message here.  I would be very very very grateful.

Hvala puno!

15 February 2012

Thinking of moving here?

I get lots of queries from people who are thinking of moving to Croatia.   Many have only visited Croatia for a week, maybe two, during the high season, staying in a hotel or renting a vacation home by the sea.  Some have visited once or twice for an entire summer...but stayed for free at a distant relative's apartment or summer home.  While the experience was probably fantastic...it was, nonetheless, artificial.  Life in Croatia is like life in any other place.  You've got work to do, bills to pay, sometimes it rains, or snows, sometimes it gets cold, sometimes the heating breaks down and can't be fixed for a couple days.  Sometimes your car won't start.  Sometimes you've got to go to the doctor or dentist or chiropractor.  Sometimes you sprain an ankle and can't walk up the 45 stairs to your apartment.  Sometimes your company shuts down and leaves you unemployed.  Sometimes taxes go up.   Real life.

There's an additional aspect to life in Croatia that visitors may not be aware of, and it is this:  there is a distinct difference between life in the summer and life in the low season.  Lots of places that are lively and crowded during the summer can actually be extraordinarily quiet during the low season.  Yup.  Especially the islands.  So if your only experience of Croatia is Dubrovnik in July, or Mali Losinj in august, or Rovinj in June....and your idea is to move here and work at a cafe for the year while you bask in the sun...you'd better think again.  many of the cafes, bars, shops, and even some hotels are only open from May-September. 

So, before making any permanent plans about moving here, I strongly suggest the following:
-take an entire month off work.  Yup, you read that right.  An entire month (two is even better)
-rent a place in Croatia in the actual city/town/village where you believe you want to live.  Don't spend a month in Dubrovnik, and then move to Zagreb.  The places are completely different.  Also, if you want to live on an island, then rent a place for an entire month on that island to see what happens during the winter months
-here's the kicker though:  rent a place for a month during the lowest of the low season.  In Croatia, I'd have to say that January or February is about right.  Don't come in the spring or summer or fall.  It is very nice during those months.  Come in January or February.

And stay exclusively in your rental place.  DO NOT travel more than 30 minutes outside of your rental place.  DO NOT go to other countries, or other parts of the country.  Trust me on this:  you cannot judge what it is like to live in Croatia by spending 3 days here, and then spending the rest of your visit in Italy, France, Germany, and a side trip to the UK.  

During your one month stay:
-buy groceries and cook real meals everyday
-buy cleaning materials and clean your kitchen, bathroom and do some dusting
-do your own laundry every few days
-go to the market
-visit a doctor,
-visit a dentist,
-get an eye exam,
-go to the bank to gather information on how to open an account and what type of account you can open based on your status
-go for job interviews
-get a shirt dry-cleaned
- get a hair cut
-check out apartment rentals with an agent
-call on any local friends/family members during the middle of the work-day often to see what they're up to
-check out language classes
-get yourself a public transit pass

You can't do all of the above in a 1 or 2 week visit.  People need 3 weeks to acclimate to a new situation, so it will really be in the 4th week that you start to really feel like you live here.  The 4th week is when you will know if you want to move here. 

Also, hope that there is terrible weather during your stay.  I mean terrible.  The logic is this:  if you can like living in a new place at its absolute worst time of year, then you'll love it during the best time of the year.  But the opposite is not true....you might love a place during its best times....but absolutely hate it during the low season. 

After your month spent here really 'living' like a local,  you'll know if you want to live here full time.  Or if what you really want is to just visit for a vacation during high season.  Nobody can tell you the answer.  Everybody is different. 

I hope this helps anybody out there who is contemplating a move to Croatia.  Come on over.  Slam the doors and kick the tires.  And take 'er for a spin.  And let me know how it goes.

08 February 2012

Cat with a personality disorder

There are two types of cat in Croatia:  fluffy cute house-pet cats, and mangy one-eared alley-cats.  The alley cats tend to be pretty fierce.  I've learned never ever to sneak up on one to try and pet it.  Nope.  And to never corner one.  And certainly to never go near its food.  And if encountering one rummaging around in the garbage bin...that I should  back away slowly and then run.

Recently, an alley-cat has been hanging around our neighbourhood and it appears that in addition to ticks and fleas and crazy eyes, this cat has a personality disorder.  I only studied human psychology back in my university days, but I think that I can safely say that this cat has borderline personality disorder, and probably narcissistic personality disorder, and um, he seems to be talking to invisible other cats. 

I also firmly believe that he swore at me and gave me the equivalent of the finger when I caught him lapping away at the cooked lentils I had put outside to cool.  I went outside and yelled at him to get away, and with not one word of exaggeration, he looked at me with his non-mangled eye, sneered, and went back to eating the lentils.  So I had to swat at him with my slipper.  And all he did was jump off the table, growl and hiss at me, then strut off slowly while making nasty meowing remarks at me.

I was shocked.  Who knew cats liked lentils?

03 February 2012

So many new things, so little time

You may have noticed that I'm not posting as often as I used to.  You might think that I've settled into life in Croatia, become completely fluent, and have pretty much really become Croatian to the point where I just blend in.  And that I therefore have nothing new or interesting to write about.

You couldn't be further from the truth.  Seriously.  The absolute direct opposite is what's going on in my world.  There are so many interesting things to talk about, so many weird and wonderful happenings, so many stories about people, places, history.  So many stories to tell.  So many cultural and societal observations.  So many things in my daily life.  So very very much.  That I cannot even begin to write it all down.  I've just been sitting here for over an hour trying to write one simple blog entry, but every time I got one sentence down, I was reminded of something else equally if not more important/crazy/interesting, and so I deleted my original sentence and started a whole new idea, only to again have it sidetracked with some other more interesting/crazy/important/hilarious story.

So bear with me as I try to get myself organized.  There just isn't enough time in the day to do everything that needs doing.  What with constant grammar lessons (note to any English-only speakers  learning this lingo:  the grammar lessons NEVER end.  Ever) and hunting down fresh home-grown food, and cooking every single morsel of food that I eat from scratch, and then doing dishes after every meal without a dishwasher,  and doing laundry without a dryer (especially fun during a cold snap), throwing logs in the fireplace every 20 minutes, and a bunch of other things that I don't even have time to write about....well, there just ain't enough time. 

I've been told to think about writing a book about my experiences, which sounds like a fantastic idea.  I'll just add it to my 'to do' list, and see what happens.

But for now, there's 2kg of fresh whole calamari awaiting me in the kitchen sink.  And if I want to eat dinner tonight, I've got to get to it.

14 January 2012

Bok bok, my sweet little pumpkins

I knew this day would come eventually, I just didn't think it would happen so soon, and leave me feeling so empty.  I'm talking about the day that my winter-supply of squash finally ran out.  This evening I roasted and ate my very last squash.  And it came out perfect:  sweet, chestnutty, all yummy and delicious.  I baked it exactly the way I like it...just a little browned around the edges, with a bit of sea salt.  And after letting it cool to room temperature, drizzling generously with olive oil.

Back in September, we brought home 25 of these little beauties.  All of them the  Hokkaido variety.  Each one eaten with gusto and gratefulness.

Now, I count the days until I meet my precious Hokkaido once more.

Just 240 days to go.  May the autumn harvest be bountiful. 

05 January 2012

Gardening in January!

Today I cooked cabbage and brussels sprouts picked fresh out of a neighbour's garden (with her permission, of course ;-)    I cannot explain the incredible taste of such fresh vegetables.  Sweet.  Lucious.  Tender.  Crisp.  So yummy that they don't even need salt.  Seriously.  Just steam and eat.  What a concept!

Curly cabbage!

Yep, those are brussels sprouts....don't worry I didn't know what the plant looked like either!