The Cherry Tree Harvest


Monday, June 27, 2016

It's been a running joke in our house to say "the cherry harvest," as if we have a whole orchard. We laugh outloud whenever one of us says it. We have a single cherry tree, but it's over 20 years old and massive. That one tree has produced somewhere between 75-100 lbs of sweet, juicy cherries and attempting to pick them all from the tall branches before the birds beat us to it has earned it's generous "Cherry Harvest" title. We've actually been talking about it since we moved to Zagreb, so excited to watch our beautiful tree produce fruit. Well, summer and cherries are definitely here, and as time has a way of doing, it arrived much faster than we imagined! What we didn't realize is how absolutely gorgeous it would be through each season -- a deep canopy of green and shade in the summer, the brightest orange, yellow and red leaves in the Autumn that dropped to the ground and created a fun place for our kids (and us!) to run through and play in, bare and covered in snow and ice in the winter yet still beautiful in it's own way, to the first buds that gave way to the most stunning display of sweet-smelling white blossoms... and now back again to summer's dark green foliage. Needless to say, we've added an orchard of cherry trees to our future dream winery and farm.

Some of our very best friends just spent the past week with us (we miss you so much already, Coopers!) and on their first day we put them to work helping us eat and harvest cherries. When we'd finished that evening, there were so many still hanging from the branches that you couldn't even tell we'd picked any. We keep trying to give them away, but Zagreb is some kind of orchard paradise -- all of our neighbors have multiple cherry trees and they grow along the sides of the roads interspersed with apple, plum and figs. So, while we give baskets of cherries to our neighbors and friends, they're giving us baskets of theirs and we're back to square one with just as many as we started with.

One of the last nights the Coops were here, Ash and I made a "cherry harvest dinner." We spent the day at the market and then cooked together while talking and laughing each other's ears off. We used to cook together when we were neighbors in Okinawa (RIP humid macarons) and I've missed it, though really I've just missed her! I made a cherry reduction sauce for steaks and pork that our husbands grilled, along with a big summer salad, and Ash, the baking queen, made an amazing lemon cherry cake with a sweet basil glaze for dessert.

Where else do you have a "cherry harvest dinner" but under said cherry tree?! Eating together is such a simple thing, but I am continually reminded of it's importance. Not only that, but it's so much fun to enjoy good food and good wine together! I love that our kids can run around the backyard in diapers when they can't sit still, and that the four of us got to talk all night every night this week. Social media is a fun way to keep in touch, especially while living abroad, but to me, no form of it could ever top being face-to-face and present with people you dearly love.

We have a huge basket on our kitchen island and each time I see it, I keep wondering, what else can I make with all these cherries?? I am still getting my reduction sauce just right and working on a simple cherry jam... but if you have any good ideas for recipes or are willing to share your favorites, I would love to hear them!! In the meantime, below is a recipe I saw for macerated cherries over ricotta that sounds delicious.

Living in Zagreb has taught us many lessons...  who would have ever guessed that one of those would be the magic of cherry trees and that even a single one can produce a harvest of good things.

Orange & Basil Macerated Cherries Over Ricotta
(Recipe from Southern Living Magazine)

1 lb fresh cherries, pitted
1 pound fresh cherries, pitted
1 tablespoon firmly packed orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Ricotta cheese

Cut half of cherries in half crosswise. Place whole cherries and cherry halves in a large bowl; add zest and next 4 ingredients, tossing to coat. Cover and chill 1 hour.

Remove cherries from refrigerator, and let stand 10 minutes. Spoon over ricotta cheese, and serve immediately.

Truffle Hunting in Buzet, Croatia!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Above is the view of Buzet, the hilltop town where we stayed, and Gracie with Ash & Coop outside our adorable hotel, Vela Vrata. Buzet is small, quiet and sleepy. It's known for truffles, which grow in its forests, and my family is known for eating them with every meal each time we visit. Other than truffles, the biggest attraction here is walking around the quaint cobblestone streets and sitting outside one of the two restaurants in town slowly drinking coffee or wine.  The cafe next door set up a big screen outside where we all watched Croatia beat Spain in the Euro Cup, cheering them on with local Croatians and Bosnians. Every time Croatia plays and scores, trumpets, horns and canons go off.

Hunting for truffles! Hermes the dog has an expensive name to match the expensive price of the truffles he finds. Each is sold for the equivalent of around $25 and up, depending on the size. We quietly followed Hermes through the forest until he found one, which was later shaved over our lunch.

White truffles grow naturally in only two places in the world -- Italy and Istria, Croatia. Summer is the season for black truffles, which is what we hunted for with Prodan Tartufi. Their family has been hunting and creating delicious products like truffle cheese, truffle salami, truffle oil and of course selling fresh, whole truffles to local restaurants for three generations. It was so much fun to see their son and daughter excited to carry on their family's business and way of life, and to get to experience a bit of what they do each day.

These two cuties helped Ash while she washed off a fresh truffle.

Truffle spreads, fresh shaved truffles, truffle scrambled eggs, truffle salami and cheese. Everything was incredible and melted in your mouth, but the creamy truffle cheese and salami was out of this world. We washed it all down with the family's Malvazija and Teran wines, made from their vineyard.

Thank you, Višnja for teaching us the art of your family's work. It was an amazing morning!

(I posted a short video on my Instagram if you'd like to see more)

Lavender Fields of Istria


Thursday, June 23, 2016

This was a glorious afternoon at Lavanda Oklen, just outside of Vižinada. The Oklens hand harvest their lavender as a family each July and you can find their products on the island of Hvar. Every time we hit the coast on the drive from Zagreb and start seeing huge olive trees, stone walls, medieval hilltop villages and feel the mediterranean climate, I get so excited to be back in Istria. We love this region!

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia


Monday, June 20, 2016

We were the only ones within sight for the majority of the hike through Plitvičke yesterday. This was an entirely different experience from last August, when we were shoulder to shoulder with thousands of others hiking through the park.

It rained and thunder stormed all day, but we still set out on the three hour drive, arriving in the late afternoon. I kept praying that the storm would clear while we hiked... It stopped raining when we parked and started back up again right as we were leaving. The air temperature was cool after the storms and there was a mist that settled over the lakes making the turquoise pools appear even more other-worldly. The lakes are still so full from all the rain we've had that parts of the wooden path were underwater. It was totally quiet and serene but for the sheer volume of the natural waterfalls.

I hope you enjoy this absolutely spectacular hike in Plitvička via photos!

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:9

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