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Delicious Dalmatia

18 May

George Bernard Shaw is said to have said, “Those seeking paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik.” He was definitely onto something there, but, based upon my experiences, I’d extend that statement to include the entire Dalmatian Coast, and rather than paradise, I’d call it Eden.

Not to make grand generalizations here, but… I swear, everyone has a garden. Everyone has grape vines. You don’t drink a “name” wine in Croatia, you get a 1/2 liter of the house wine and it is good. Very, very good. And it was most likely made by your host or one of his friends.

We saw markets; vegetable, fish and meat, happening almost everyday in every city. The farmers markets were amazing. Piles of vegetables, vats of homemade cheese, bottles of home distilled spirits and wine, bread, meat… Ideal makings for a picnic (or a last meal on the bus back to the airport…)

On a hike on the island of Hvar we spotted wild rosemary, sage, lavender and bay. Apiaries dot the hillside, the honey flavored by the wild herbs. Figs, oranges and lemons grow in every backyard. The figs end up as jam or as that sweet, fruity hint in homemade grappa. The citrus trees waft the sexy scent of their flowers into every street and alley, the fruit ends up in every vegetable and fish dish.

But the real jewel of the Dalmatian cuisine is the seafood. Branzinos grilled whole. Scampi stewed in white wine, garlic and fresh herbs that are so big it almost seems possible to get meat out of their claws. Fried small salty fish (their words, not mine). Fish pate. Squid stuffed with scampi risotto. And literally everywhere, delightful, absolutely addictively delicious octopus salad, dripping in raw garlic, local olive oil and lemon juice.

Croatian cuisine borrows much from the Italians but to say they are copying them is just silly. There is a real love of raw garlic, which I think would send any Italian nana into a fit. It finds its way into rižot, salads, soups and vegetable dishes. Every local olive oil I tried carried buckets of flavor and was wielded with a very free hand; for lacquering a grilled fish, poaching herb speckled potatoes or simply for dipping the outrageously delicious freshly baked bread.

The boy was especially taken by the bread. I think he could have subsisted on it for the entire trip. Well, the bread as long as it was accompanied by some goat’s milk cheese made that morning, some pršut, maybe a little pate and oh… some pepper relish perhaps? Not that he’d be crazy for trying to live on that, because, to be honest, it would be heavenly.

Apparently there’s one real “secret” to Croatian cuisine… Vegeta. It’s basically, as far as I can tell, a form of MSG, but, as you can see from this photo, it comes in many, many different forms and lots of sizes. little bit of it goes into nearly everything. I have no idea if Vegeta is what made everything taste so heavenly, but I brought some home and will be experimenting with it, so I’ll keep you all posted.

I wish there was a way I could maintain the way I ate on our trip. Bread, butter, ham and cheese for breakfast accompanied by two or three outstanding cups of coffee. A lunch of surprisingly good pizza or čevapčići, followed by at least two or three more coffees, or possible a pivo (beer) or a glass of wine. And finally, a dinner of fish, fish and more fish with a side of garden fresh vegetables swimming in olive oil and some home grown wine thinned ever so slightly with a dash of mineral water.

But, well, as much as I prefer to think I’m a dreamer, I am still at least slightly in touch with reality. Maybe, just maybe, I can pull it off on the weekends though!

By the way, over there on the right, that’s Mimi, the resident crazy puppy at the Pansion Laguna Lozna on Hvar. If you ever go to Hvar, stay there, stay there, STAY THERE! Denis and Dina, the proprietors and are just amazing. And seriously, how can you resist that mug!

Split & Čevapčići

16 May

Hi all! Yep, I'm back! Totally jetlagged and a little cranky but truly a better person for having gone away for a bit!

I'm glad everyone liked the guest bloggers, wiley little devils ain't they?

I've been hemming and hawing about how to blog our little adventure and decided, well, isn't it just best to start at the beginning?

We arrived (after approximately 19 hours of travel) in the old town of Split, the city that sprung up out of the emperor Diocletian's retirement home. This is one old and beautiful city! The most amazing thing about not just Split, but all of Croatia that I never got from looking at the guide books is how seriously hilly and mountainous it is! The coast is backed up against absolutely ginormous mountains that both affect the weather and create absolutely breathtaking vistas whilst traveling by ferry (and breathtaking in an entirely different way whilst traveling by bus or car!)

But anyway, I digress. Our first move, logically, was to go wandering and exploring. Somehow, we climbed at least halfway up the Marjan, a 123 meter hill on the west side of town. The view, with a huge thunderstorm moving in, was amazing. We actually climbed the sucker the next day, which led, of course, to a very pressing need to EAT!

Wandering about town I spotted a place with lots of school kids hanging out and stuffing their faces, always a good sign! So, we peeked in and we realised that the place was selling one thing, and one thing only, a little sausage we had discovered the evening before at dinner, Čevapčići.

(The first two Cs in this word have little Vs over top of them, č, indicating a "ch" noise and the final c an acute sign over-top, ć, indicating a kinda lispy c noise; CHEV-ap-chee-chi).

Anyway, Čevapčići are little sausage-thingies made of either pork or beef (or a combo), lightly spiced and shaped into little logs (they have no casings and are actually almost a little bit like a kebab). They are DELICIOUS! and when served as Croatian "fast food" they are served with the most beautiful, soft, luxurious bread, an insanely tasty and addictive pepper relish and raw onions.

We came to find out later that the place we went, Kantun Paulina, is far and away one of the most famous Čevapčići places in Split (and Croatia too I believe!). It's been in business for decades and looks like it will be there for many, many more. So the next time you're in Split, ask a local for directions to Paulina's (make sure to say Havala!). You can thank me later…


Vending Machine Nirvana

31 Mar

I get a bit stressed out at work from time to time. It's shocking, I know. I mean, from what I've written about myself here, I'm sure you think I'm smart, calm, caring, in-control, and just possibly funny. To one degree or another those are all true, but you should also know, I can be one major-stress puppy.courtesy of Herr's

So yesterday, something went wrong and I found myself in front of the vending machine at work (yes, to deal with stress at work, I eat). I scan the offerings; chicken salad, oreos, potato skins, butter-braid pretzels, pop tarts, candy bars… Damn, no cheetos? (I have a major fake cheeze problem) Oho, but what's this? Sweet Island style potato chips? For 65¢? Oh yes, this I must try!

I have no idea what Herr's is going for in this flavor, but good-on-em for trying! They're tangy, sweet, creamy, a little spicy and packed full of umami. I'd describe them as a cross between the new Spicy Thai Kettle Chips and some chip coated with cheese and spices. These are some serious chips. Coated in a sublime flavor that seems to blithely skip over the ridges of the chips.

Instantly I was taken away from the crapiness of my day… there was a thought tickling the back of my mind… yes, could it be? The flavor of these chips brought a food memory wriggling out of my brain, yes, these chips very closely resemble… The salsa I've been trying to recreate for a few years now, One (condiment) That Got Away!

Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be able to recreate the salsa from the recipe on the back of this bag, but as long as I don't tell any of my coworkers about this amazing vending machine discovery, I'll always have these chips (that is until the vending machine man comes to refill it and doesn't bring these with him).


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