Just before Christmas, Cam and I had a date in my favorite part of Zagreb: Gornji Grad, also known as Upper Town or Old Town. Gornji Grad at nighttime is special on it’s own, but even more so during Advent.
In this part of Zagreb, it has felt oddly romantic to be bundled up, feeling the snow under my boots, walking with my hand in Cam’s down the old cobblestone streets past a thousand years of history and culture. (I don’t even like winter so a few more weeks of the cold and I may need to take that back, ha!) We had just come from St. Mark’s after listening to the most heavenly choir, squeezed next to each other on a cold pew in the barely lit medieval church. We were walking through the square and just past St. Catherine’s, when a small Klapa group of old men clasped hands and shoulders in the falling snow and began singing a capella under one of the glowing gas lamps. There was no one else around and it was so sweetly beautiful that we couldn’t help but stop to listen to the harmony bouncing off the stone walls and church facade. It is not often in the streets of Zagreb that you see such joy across locals’ faces, but music can uplift souls to heaven. We smiled walking hand in hand the rest of the way to dinner, happy that we get to live here and experience moments like these together. There are a lot of problems here that most Croatians will talk about at length, but there is also an undeniable magic unlike anywhere else in the world.
On New Year’s Day, the fireworks that had been going off in Zagreb since Christmas were finally on a break, most stores were closed and apart from the Kravat Regiment marching through Old Town, it was an incredibly quiet morning. We took John Shea and Gracie for a runaround in St. Mark’s Square and to watch the Changing of the Guard. Just as they were standing at attention with the trumpeters and drummers marching in unison, the daily canon went off from Lotrščak Tower to mark noon.
We walked to Dolac Market as the Kravat Regiment marched through the Old Town back to the Cathedral. I had my two cute little helpers with us at the market tables covered in winter citrus: oranges, tangerines, so many lemons, apples, pears, grapefruit. The wheels in my head started turning, what could I do with such beautiful citrus? A lemon cake… vinaigrette for salad and fish.. and maybe exactly what my next chicken dish needed was some tangy flavor from all that citrus to lighten up a grey winter day.
I don’t know how else to describe it. In the streets, parks and markets, Zagreb turned into this magical place during Advent. Just like all things in Christ do. He takes the humble, hidden, overlooked things and makes them majestic. The King was born in a manger! Even something as simple as baked chicken with fresh citrus took on newness for my family around our table. Food is like life in that way. Sometimes it’s the simplest ingredients that transform into the extraordinary.
1/3 C honey
1/6 C white wine
1/6 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp course sea salt + more for taste
about 2 lbs fresh chicken thighs, legs or wings, skin on and bone in
fresh parsley for garnish, optional
Halve the lemons and orange and squeeze the juice into a bowl large enough to hold the chicken pieces. Whisk in the next four ingredients, then the chicken pieces, tossing to cover each piece thoroughly. Cover the bowl and let marinate for atleast an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Halfway through, reduce heat to 375 degrees F. Pour the chicken and all of the marinade into a baking dish with the skin side up. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of course sea salt over the top of the chicken and bake for 40-45 minutes, depending on your oven, though be very careful not to overcook it. I cook mine for 40 minutes. The tops should be crispy and the meat should be tender. Serve immediately with some of the juices poured on top and fresh parsley for garnish. It’s delicious with roasted potatoes and Winter Citrus Salad with Feta, Walnuts, Apple and Pear. I hope you enjoy it!