A Hearty Breakfast::A Mosaic of Cuisines

Croatian eggs, Mexican guacamole, Greek olives, Italian tomatoes, and Turkish coffee.

The only scrambled eggs I ate as a child were the ones I knew as kajgana. Anything else was simply to eggy for me. Eggs whisked with salt, flour, sour cream, and buttermilk - the mixture then gently pushed around with a rubber spatula in a nonstick pan over low heat. This is a relatively quick process - one where you need to be at the stove the entire time, spatula in hand. A spoonful of sour cream completes the eggs. It's not as strange as it might sound.

Avocado smashed with diced red onions, cilantro, lemon juice (would have used lime if I had one), sea salt, Urfa and Aleppo red peppers.

Kalamata olives and Campari tomatoes - the tomatoes sprinkled with a pinch of Portuguese Flor de Sal.

Accompanying every morning meal, regardless of cuisine, is the special Croatian/Turkish coffee. Made in a briki with water and sugar brought to a boil, several heaping teaspoons of superfine imported Franck Croatian coffee powder are then added to the briki. Care must be taken not to walk away from the pot afterwards as the coffee foams. Not even for a second. Not even to reach over to the cupboard a few inches away to grab for the coffee mugs. Believe me, I speak from experience.  Although the coffee is typically served in demitasse cups due to its strength, I always fill up an American coffee mug to the top.



WEEKEND IN THE KITCHEN::Jellyfish Do Not Make Marmalade

"How is ma-de-la-da made?", asks Cinnamon at the Saturday breakfast table. "Who makes its?", she continues.

"People do", I answer.

"Why don't jellyfish make madelada?", she asks. Then my husband explains to her that madelada (Cinnamon's way of saying marmelada - Croatian for marmalade or jam) is made in a factory by people - not jellyfish. We're lucky to have found a Croatian sour cherry jam at the grocery store - the one that graces our table almost every morning. Homemade jam is something I'll attempt one day, although I'm guessing that finding fresh sour cherries in this area will prove to be a bit difficult.

A late weekend breakfast has become a cherished time. A time where we're not rushing out the door at 7h in the morning. A time when we can sleep in, if so desired, or wake up and play until we all gather around the table to eat. Saturday was not warming up as the weatherman had promised. 93 degrees was no where in sight. It was only 63 degrees at noon. Going outside to do yardwork was out the question until later in the day when it did warm up some more.

I decided to do some research for my cakes in the quiet of the early afternoon. I have many notes and outlines that need organizing, cake recipes lined up to be tested, and figuring out which cake is next to be baked. Meanwhile, Sagey played with the Legos and the girls went outside to help Papa with the raking of the leaves. Later, they built a tent out of blankets and chairs and had planned on spending the night in their tents until we noticed a few drops of rain starting to fall. The girls then reassembled the tent inside while the onions were on the grill.

Three large yellow onions sliced thinly on the mandoline takes a lot of time and much patience to get to the perfectly carmelized, almost charred state. The wait, however, is more than worth it. I've learned from experience that I should immediately take the entire amount of onions I intend to eat, otherwise it will inadvertantly end up on hubby's plate. That happened only once. I'm still waiting for the day that the children will develop a taste for grilled onions. If they're like me, that day will be far into their adulthood. So far it seems that age six is the time when children, at least my oldest, start to explore more of the "grownup" food. Food cooked with fresh herbs and veggies.

Along with the onions, we had grilled burgers, asparagus, and red bell peppers. A nice way to end the day.

Sunday was slightly warmer and thankfully a more productive day in the kitchen. More importantly, in the eyes of the children, we had cake. The recipe I used was one that I first wrote in a kitchen journal I took to Berlin and also the one I used a week later for Saffron's birthday last summer while we visited Oma in August. For Saffron's cake, I found a sheet of marzipan at Kardstadt which I used to cover the cake. I then decorated it with chocolate animals and wrote on it with colored icing I also found at the same store. Making cakes without a mixer - either hand or stand - proved to be a blessing in disguise. Sunday's cake was made using this simple method.

Aside from minor tweaking of moisture content - to take into account the differences in the ricotta I had in Germany and one I've found here at home - and a slight reduction in oven temperature, this recipe is near completion.

Later that afternoon, my husband took the girls and Sagey to the playground and the hardware store where he looked for solutions for building planter boxes for the rest of the vegetable plants that need transplanting. I, on the other hand, waited for the pizza dough to rise and made a simple tomato sauce that Saffron requested to go along with spaghetti. To the chopped garlic that was sauteed in olive oil, I added a can of crushed roasted tomatoes, fresh thyme and oregano, sea salt, sugar, freshly ground pepper, and two bay leaves. I let that cook for about 30 minutes and assembled a pizza in the meantime. Simple toppings of olive oil, fresh thyme leaves, feta, and Nicoise olives. Dinner was ready by the time they all returned home.

Cake was enjoyed at the newly decorated spring Sunday table - burnt orange placemats against the dove gray tablecloth and colorful glass butterfly tealight candle holders. It's a tradition that has the children looking forward to Sundays.



Sunday Reverie


A Messy Rainbow Chard Potato Gratin

Tonight's dinner plan was that I'd make a potato gratin with other half of the asparagus bunch used in last night's dinner. I reconsidered and decided instead to use the farm fresh eggs and rainbow chard I bought at the farmer's market this past weekend.

I looked through my kitchen journal from last year - at a meal I made for a full moon dinner one night in April. Tonight's dinner was based on that recipe.

Two Yukon gold potatoes were sliced thinly using a mandolin slicer and placed in a gratin dish.

To that I added olive oil, two diced shallots, two diced cloves of garlic, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. There was no obsessive and pretty layering. No sauteeing the shallots and garlic with the olive oil separately before adding it to the potatoes. It was messy, unstructured, and disorganized. Kind of like life at times.

Four leaves of the rainbow chard were sliced thinly and added on top of the potatoes.

In a pot, I mixed four eggs with 1/2 liter of whole milk and about 100 ml of heavy cream. The herbs I added include fresh chives and thyme.

After pouring this custard mixture over the potatoes and chard, I grated fresh Parmesan and lemon zest over the entire casserole.

This messy dinner fare was baked for about 50 minutes at 375F, covered halfway through baking. Despite the unconventional and haphazard method, the taste was exceptional.


So angry, I asked for my $2 back!

This morning was "Breakfast with Mom" day at my daughter's school. I admit that I held no high hopes of what constituted breakfast at an American public school. Nevertheless, I went.

The smells of the cafeteria brought back memories of my time served at the lunchroom of the elementary school in Oregon, a small town outside of Eugene. Occasionally I'd have to eat food from the cafeteria. I'm not sure why I didn't always have lunches from home, but the experience was not pleasant and I'm sure it had something to do with my dislike of veggies later in life - particularly spinach. I disliked drinking milk - still do - and was forced to show the lunch ladies, by shaking the little carton while standing in line to dump the lunch trays, that I had indeed drank all of the milk. Sometimes I'd stuff the spinach inside of the little milk carton.

Saffron was excited to have me drive her to school in the little car - the only time this year she's not had to take the bus in the morning. I asked her what the agenda was for this breakfast. "I don't know. I didn't make it up", she replied. I thought that maybe the school wanted to do something nice for the moms. Then I saw we had to pay for breakfast: $2 for an adult breakfast, $1.35 for a child's breakfast. Hesitantly, I paid. I agree, it's not a lot of money, but somehow I knew it wasn't going to be the "special" breakfast I thought it would. As we walked into the school cafeteria, I was instantly overwhelmed by those exact smells I remember from childhood.

Looking around at all of the moms with their children, I glanced at the contents of their plates. My jaw dropped as I walked forward in the line as if paralyzed. 1% milk, chocolate milk, and apple juice were the first to greet us. Then I spied corn dogs, pancakes, toast, cinnamon rolls at least 5" in diameter, Cocoa Puffs, "All Natural" pancake "syrup", and fruit on top of the counter that looked more of a decoration. Saffron took some milk and two pancakes. We grabbed the syrup but I explained to her that it was not real - not like the pure Vermont syrup we buy that comes from actual trees. I'm sure most kids would be surprised to find out that real syrup comes from the sap of trees. The only reason I took the plastic tube of syrup was to analyze the ingredients: "Corn syrup,...Artificial Flavor, Sodium Benzoate,…Cellulose Gum”. That is what they feed the kids?!

As we walked through to the end of the line, I asked Saffi to grab an orange. I had no intention of eating anything that was being served, so when we walked to the cashier to hand over our tickets I asked if she could refund me the $2 for my meal. The cashier explained to me that she'd put the money on my daughter's account. Account? "My daughter does not eat at school", I replied sternly, meaning that my daughter brings her own food. Sensing that I was on the verge of creating a scene, she swiftly opened the cash register and handed me the $2.

I know. It's only $2 you might be thinking. That's not the point. If the school's intention was to raise money, say so. Ask for donations, just don't ask me to jeopardize the health of my daughter. I wish I would have fed my daughter her usual weekday breakfast of toasted Seeduction bread with butter and honey - real honey.

This entire experience reminds me of the few episodes I saw of Jamie Oliver's attempts to change the minds and views of a school board in Los Angeles in regards to the food being served in those schools. In the end, it comes down to educating your children about their food choices and what it means to choose wisely. It's about teaching them to cook from an early age and making sure they know the difference between natural food and processed foods. Take them to a local farm and let them see where foods originate.

P.S. to all of the food bloggers out there: Keep doing what you're doing and don't stop. Infiltrate Twitter streams with your ideas for healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Oh, and the occasional desserts are always welcome!