Pumpkin magic

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My grandfather has his own farm and tends to spend every sunny day of the year working on it. In late summer and fall, he very generously gifts us with whatever he has harvested: apples, pears, potatoes, carrots, parsley... so much that I usually have to keep on gifting the rest of the family. And friends. And neighbors... (I once gave a pumpkin to a stranger riding with me in my in-laws' building elevator).

Recently, he gave us a very large, beautifully orange pumpkin. I decided to keep it and try to use it to make something new and exciting. However, with million other things to do, it took days for me to finally approach it. But I was ready and I did the research and knew exactly what I want to make out of it: pumpkin puree.

So I washed it and cut it open and... was completely overwhelmed with its rich and powerful color! It just so happened that it rained that day and I felt like someone gave me a piece of sun just to shine from my kitchen counter. When I finally peeled my eyes off of it, I went about preparing the pumpkin for the oven by cutting it in pieces and removing its seeds. Steps for preparing the puree go as follows: bake the pumpkin until it is soft, peel the skin off when it cools and mash it. The actual pumpkin puree is done when most of the juice is squeezed out of the mashed mass.

I removed the seeds carefully and put them aside - my plan was to use them as snacks or salad toppings. Hmm, I thought, pumpkins are quite versatile fruits. I went on to squeeze the juice, and was surprised with just how much of it I got. Well, I reasoned, it would be such a waste to pour all this down the drain. There has to be something I can make with the juice. After little research I realized that there really was something - the juice! Apparently, pumpkin juice is very popular at Hogwarts - favored among the wizardly folk. I admit, this finding made the juice-making process even more fun.

I used all the juice I got and mixed it with freshly squeezed apple juice (apples were from grandpa's orchard, of course). A couple of pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, plus a dollop of honey, and I had me a magical, aromatic, home made treat.

The puree is in the fridge and I keep on finding novel and creative ways to use it. These doughnuts are made with it and flavored with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger. Come fall and all I can think of are exotic spices (well, exotic for my native cuisine). M. says: You think about exotic spices all the time. Somehow, they go perfectly well with yellowing leaves and rainy days. Now I am adding pumpkin to it all - a little piece of warmth given to me by grandpa.

I am grateful to him for sharing with us each year the product of his hard and devoted labor. He is always saying that there really is nothing else he could imagine doing with his harvest than giving it away. Men of his generation tend not to experiment with the common expressions of love - you don't get that many iloveyous, etc. But every once in a while there he is with bags full of delicious fruits and vegetables he has grown on his own. Consequently, his unique way of caring for me has become helplessly intertwined with my fall cooking experiences. I hope it always stays that way.

A safe haven

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It was a grey, cold, and rainy morning... in the city. Actually, the fog and rain stayed with us even at Bjelašnica ski resort. As we stood at the Babin Do and waited for the rest of the group, we looked around and saw nothing but fog. Everywhere. It was cold and wet, and I was glad I wore my knee-high rubber boots. Even though I was not in the best of spirits, I kept thinking, i.e. kept forcing myself to think that as long as I am here, no matter the weather, I will try to enjoy as much as possible.

Who would have thought what we would discover just a few kilometers from there...

Lukomir. Blue skies, history, organic food, wonderful people.

Much to our amazement, the weather started to change with each kilometer as we approached Lukomir. By the time we reached our destination, I was surprised at how much the weather conditions have changed in a little more over an hour's ride from my home. Now I was glad I put sunscreen on my face and dressed in layers (thanks to a tip from my friend S. whose family comes from Lukomir). Good thing I took her seriously when, in response to my question about the weather up there, she responded with You never know.

Situated in a valley, yet atop a hill that goes down to Rakitnica canyon, Lukomir seemed like a portal to 14th century. We were greeted by very warm and friendly locals who were still in the village. Most of them have already left due to the coming winter. In the coldest season, Lukomir is completely cut off from the rest of the civilization, and its inhabitants leave for the nearby cities and settlements (Lukomir is the settlement at the highest altitude in B&H - around 1500 m above sea level). 

After paying respects at the medieval tombstones which lie at the entrance to the village, we took a downhill walk into the Rakitnica canyon. As we walked down, we passed by what used to be the Donji Lukomir (Lower Lukomir) settlement. Its inhabitants moved over time to Gornji Lukomir (or just Lukomir) due to avalanches that claimed lives of its inhabitants every winter (it is said that each family had at least one family member who was killed in the avalanches at some point). Now, the only remnants of this settlement are scattered old mills, with water still dripping through them.

Our two hour long downhill walk ended at the Peruća waterfall. The water was cold and refreshing. Upon the return to Lukomir, we visited a local family. They welcomed us with lunch of home made cheese and potato pies, served with organic yoghurt, and followed by coffee, and, for me, warm herbal tea. Incredible kindness and good humour of the locals overwhelmed us. They shared their food and their stories, and by the end of it all I had forgotten about the silly bad weather that was affecting my mood.

On our way back, we were again greeted by fog and rain. But the uncanny Lukomir images and experience made them much more bearable this time around.