Back to Our Favorite: Istria! Bale, Croatia

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Thursday, April 27, 2017


I know I'm kind of a broken record when it comes to Istria -- but it is our favorite region! I've lost count now of how many times we've been. Everything from the amazing wine, truffles, Italian-influenced & incredibly fresh cuisine, olive groves, landscape, friendly people, quiet medieval hilltop towns... we just love going there. There are still so many little towns in the interior of the region that we want to explore, but we got to see one of them this weekend- Bale.


The stone walls you see were part of a Roman Fortification that were later built into and around, eventually becoming a walled medieval city. We were there on Sunday during lunch time, wandering the cobblestone streets, listening to (and smelling!) families eating together inside.


I think it's just amazing every time we see fig trees growing out of centuries old stone walls. I am counting the days until they're ready to be picked!


Beautiful biblical frescos inside the 15th century Holy Spirit Chapel. It's tiny but when we went inside there were a handful of chairs in the back, hinting there had just been a service. It shares a wall with a little outdoor cafe. Sweet John Shea gave the jorgovan (lilac) to the lady who served him an ice cream cone!


More Istria posts here!

Easter in Croatia!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Happy Easter! He is risen!!

I meant to get this post up last week but I'm still figuring out how to juggle getting work done (that big project I've been hinting at is going to be so worth the wait!) while chasing two toddlers and caring for a newborn:)

Easter is so special in Croatia... we have friends here who are believers and friends who are agnostic but still take part with their families in many of the traditions during Veliki Tjedan, "Big Week." As an American, it has been amazing to see Christ's resurrection celebrated so unabashedly and joyously in the streets, homes and churches! Here are some of the Easter traditions to give you a taste of what it's been like here...


Palm Sunday is translated here as "Flower Sunday." Olive branches are sold throughout the markets and brought to church to be blessed to be kept in the home all year. There's also an old custom for each family member to wash their faces with flower water to celebrate new life.


Croatian pisanice (Easter eggs) are hand-made masterpieces. I bought so many from the market. Gracie broke so many from the market ;)


One of my favorite parts about Holy Week in Croatia is the Križni put, "Way of the Cross."  A cross-bearer leads the way as you walk behind, contemplating the events of Good Friday and singing the Lamentation of the Virgin Mary. I got up early, put Georgia back to sleep and went solo to the one you see above. We're not Catholic, and I only understood about half of the vocabulary, but I am so glad I got to be there! On the night of Good Friday, we missed the kids' bedtimes to go to the Zagreb Cathedral for it's version. The screaming children at the end of the service were ours, sorrrrryyy. In Dalmatia, especially on the islands, the Way of the Cross is known as Za križen, "Following the Cross," and the procession goes through the night over many miles.

There is also a tradition to drink the family-made red wine through the night to think on Christ's blood shed.


Ham, spring onions, radishes, young cheese, eggs and this sweet aromatic bread called pinca are the special foods for Easter.


Zagreb also had free concerts in some of the most beautiful churches in the city. Cam and I (and sweet Georgia!) got to spend a night listening to Bach's St John Passion fill the barely lit Zagreb Cathedral. It was beyond words and has gone down as one of our most favorite experiences in Croatia.

I hope you all had a joyous week! xox

A Simple Springtime Mediterranean Chicken Cous Cous

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017


It's almost Easter week (YAY!). It's the biggest celebration of the year in Croatia with all kinds of traditions and specific foods. Throughout the country, there's no time more important for spring onions: you will find them in all kinds of spring dishes but more than anywhere else? Tucked inside a basket on Easter morning that gets taken to church to be blessed. The tradition also includes a piece of ham, bread and hard boiled eggs. I remember watching all of our neighbors on Easter morning last year walk to church with baskets of food, wondering what on earth they were doing! Spring onions are wonderful in a traditional wild asparagus fritaja, but today I used them in this simple dish loaded with mediterranean flavors.


If you have an onion that starts sprouting, did you know that you can plant it, leave it be (we almost always forget to water ours!) and soon you will have a plethora of green onions?  Just when I thought our onions needed to be thrown out, my husband showed me their potential. Now we have a garden of mladi luk ("young onions" in Croatian) in our garage windowsill. 

Our rosemary and lavender are also growing back, so I threw a bunch of rosemary leaves into the mortar & pestle along with sea salt and juice from two lemons for a very fresh (and fragrant!) marinade. I used what we had on hand for this, so feel free to do the same and make it your own! 


Simple Springtime Mediterranean Cous Cous 
(serves 4 with leftovers)

1-2 lbs chicken, rinsed and cut in pieces
6 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 lemons
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
250g (about 2 C) cous cous
1 block fresh feta (in brine)
1 can chick peas, rinsed
1 large handful green onions, chopped
handful of fresh parsley
white wine vinegar

Don't worry about exact measurements, just taste as you go! Mash up the rosemary leaves and garlic cloves with a mortar and pestle (or food processor), adding in some sea salt, juice from two lemons and a couple good glugs of olive oil. Fresh parsley or coriander would also be a great addition. Put the chicken in a large bowl with a cover or in a large freezer bag. Toss to coat. Like any good marinated meat, it's best to marinate overnight or at least for 3-6 hours if possible!

Prepare the cous cous according to its directions. I like to add in some salt and drizzle of olive oil for taste. Over medium high heat, pour the chicken and marinade into the saute pan (you may need to do this in two batches depending on how much you used) and sear the chicken on both sides. If the chicken is thin and cut in small pieces, this will happen quickly so be careful not to overcook it. Pour the chicken and liquid on one side of the cous cous in a large serving dish. Return the pan to the heat and pour in the chick peas. It's best to use a non-stick pan. Cook until the chick peas begin to brown and crunch up on the outside then add them to the cous cous. Break up some feta and add in the chopped green onions and torn parsley. I drizzled the whole dish with a sweet white wine vinegar, but you could also squeeze lemon juice over the top or even drizzle with a good balsamic vinegar... Taste and season as you like! If it tastes a little dry, you could toss together a nice citrus marinade to pour over it. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and honey, taste and adjust. Serve with a chilled white wine. It was even better the next day for lunch!

Our Family's Favorite Travel Locations in and Around Croatia

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Monday, April 3, 2017


We've been living in Croatia and traveling for almost two years now, thanks to the Olmsted Scholarship! Time goes so fast. Every time we leave Croatia we miss it and can't wait to get back. The bulk of our favorite places we've traveled as a family have been in this small, beautiful country. We get asked often which are the best spots to go with children, so here are just a few (of the many!) that we would recommend.

We have some awesome travel plans coming up so I'll update this list for you then!


Dubrovnik

I'm still speechless.

We rented this apartment and only have wonderful things to say about it. We couldn't have asked for a better view or location. We slept with all the windows open (it was already hot in early June) and woke up early to the low, deep bells from the cathedral and franciscan church and enjoyed being outside the walls in a quiet residential area, but still just a few minutes walk away (and about ten thousand staircases - they're everywhere!). We spent more time enjoying the view of Dubrovnik and less time inside of it to avoid the crowds. Explore it in the mornings and evenings after the cruise ships have departed-- that's when we walked the walls, taking in the magnificent views almost to ourselves. We also spent a morning at Sveti Jakov beach, about a ten minute walk along olive trees and flowering oleanders and bougainvillea overlooking stone homes and the Adriatic.


Istria

Our favorite region in the country! There are pretty beaches along the coast but the real gem of this region is inland... Here you will find small medieval hilltop towns, amazing wine, quiet cobblestone streets and more truffles and truffle dishes than you can imagine. It still feels like one of Europe's greatest secrets. Our family's favorite spots are Motovun, Groznjan, and the small (some abandoned) villages around them, Fakin Winery and truffle hunting with Prodan Tartufi.


Pag Island, Croatia (in the Spring!)

Pag in the spring is other-worldly. There were more sheep than people (far more sheep!) and everything was quiet and calm. This is the island where Croatia's most famous cheese hails from. The sheep free graze on wild herbs sea-sprayed with salt from the bura wind, creating the most wonderful flavors and aromas. You can taste cheeses and olive oils at Gligora. We stayed at Hotel Boškinac, fell in love with their wine (though beware, it's now become too expensive compared to others just as amazing) and spent hours walking the ancient olive groves in Lun, our only company being flocks of sheep.


Valbruna, Italy

Valbruna is just a couple hours drive from Zagreb, on the Italian side of the Julian Alps. We were there in September when the weather started to cool off.  It was so beautiful it's hard to put into words. We stayed in the Alpi Giulie Chalets, and for under $100 we had a little two story wooden chalet that was spotless, had a small kitchen, and stand alone tub upstairs overlooking the glorious view. The owners could not have been kinder or more hospitable. If you're thinking of going to the very popular and crowded Bled, Slovenia, I would go here instead!


Plitvice Lakes National Park (in early Summer during off-hours!)

A true natural wonderland that will take your breath away... The first time we went, we made the rookie mistake of arriving at 10am, trying to share the narrow peaceful paths winding past waterfalls... shoulder to shoulder with about a trillion other people. The last time we were there with some of our best friends was in mid-June on Father's Day. We arrived in the late afternoon, not too long before the entrance closed. It was a completely different experience -- we only saw one other couple on the trail. So, no matter what time of year you go, plan to start the walk when the park first opens or just before it closes to really enjoy the majesty of this place!

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