Saturday, September 22, 2012

End of Summer Marathon: Two Weeks in my New Old-Fashioned Slovenian-American Kitchen

"Girl in Native Costume, Carniola, Austro-Hungary"
B. Lergetporer, Photographer, 1897; Bled, Slovenia
National Archives, USA

I never planned to spend the last two weeks of summer in an ethnic cooking marathon. But that is exactly what happened.

It began on Tuesday, August 21st.  I had reached Week 32 of my year-long Slovenian cooking journey.  But I was already looking ahead to Friday night, when we would pick up our journalist son at the airport. He had visited his brother in New York and then his grandfather in Florida.  Now he would be spending a week in California with us, before he returned to Kosovo.  I was excited.  My husband and I hadn't seen him since Christmas.

Our cat, inspecting Kosovo 2.0 magazine
For that Week 32 dinner,  I needed to find an entree that would leave us with something to offer our son on Friday, when we would be returning from the airport late at night. Bograč, a variant of goulash,  seemed like the perfect choice: one of those spicy dishes that improves with time and takes kindly to reheating.  Or so I hoped.
Bograč, or Slovenian Goulash Soup

After that Tuesday dinner, I kept cooking.  On Friday, I made a new favorite for the early dinner my husband and I shared: kasha mediterranean, the salad created by a Slovenian-American friend.  Our stock of leftovers was growing.

Kasha Mediterranean

Before we left for the airport, I made up a batch of baked flancati, or angel wings, so I would have something sweet to offer later that night, when we all returned from the airport.

Baked Flancati, or Angel Wings

Our travel-weary son liked the goulash soup, but he couldn't resist a playful dig: "This could be the world's spiciest Slovenian dish."  He finds Slovenian food to be a little mild, compared to the Ottoman-influenced cuisine in his part of the Balkans.

Bograč, or  Slovenian Goulash Soup

The following Tuesday, our son joined us for Slovenian Dinner Week 33.  I made a tarragon-flavored version of  buckwheat struklji, one of the recipes I had included in my Slovenian cooking article for Kosovo 2.0.    To round things out, I added another dish I had just discovered: smoked paprika chicken breasts, this time with rosemary.

Buckwheat Struklji
Smoked Paprika Chicken Breasts

The following night, when our son was off with friends, my husband and I shared an unlikely but traditional dessert combination:  vanilla-ginger ice cream, topped with homemade pumpkin seed syrup and a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.  It was surprisingly good, even if  I did cook the syrup so long that it turned into nut brittle!

On Saturday, we said good-bye to our son.  I sent him off to Kosovo with homemade chocolate-rosemary biscotti, using a Slovenian-inspired recipe I had concocted. Biscotti always travel well. I hoped our son would, too.  We wouldn't see him again until December.

Chocolate Rosemary Biscotti

The next morning, my husband had to go to work for part of the day, even though it was Sunday. I had a melancholy feeling.  In search of comfort food, I put together a new brunch treat: apple šmoren with brandied cranberries.

Apple Šmoren with Brandied Cranberries

Finally, summer came to an end. It was Monday, September 3. Labor Day. We were hosting the annual neighborhood party.

For the potluck, I made my first-ever Slovenian apple strudel to share with our neighbors. I don't think my mother ever attempted strudel.  But my grandmother made it often. I kept thinking about her, as I walked around my cloth-covered kitchen table, pulling and stretching, until I could almost see through the translucent dough.  She always filled her strudel with apples, so I did the same.  I added just one creative touch: a sprinkle of dried cranberries.  I don't think my grandmother would have objected.

My Slovenian Grandparents, Cleveland, about 1920

The strudel was  a success! 

Now, at summer's end, one thing had become clear: Slovenian cooking was no longer just a once-a-week challenge.  It was more than a quirky writing project.  My ethnic kitchen had been a refuge during a summer filled with too many good-byes, too much sadness and loss.

The food of my immigrant ancestors, almost lost and now found,  had helped to sustain me.  It had become a part of my life.

Note: Most of these recipes have already been posted.  For the rest, read on!


  1. That strudel looks pretty darn good! I congratulate you for attempting it alone~ I still need moral support at the very least and another pair of hands for it to work out at best! I wonder if you got to Mom's strudel commentary on her blog:
    She would dictate or write for me to transcribe to the blog. Unfortunately she's pretty blind now, so, no more computer time...

  2. Thanks, Chris! I was intimidated at first but surprised by how much fun it was to make strudel. Almost a meditative experience. Yes, I did read your mom's strudel commentary and really enjoyed it, as well as the photos! So sorry to hear she can no longer use the computer.