In the heart of Istria sits the stunning hilltop town of Motovun. Looking out from its medieval walls high above is a breathtaking sight of miles and miles of vineyards, rolling hills, olive groves, church steeples built over a thousand years ago… and if you look really closely, at the end of a gravel road headed into the Mirna Valley, nestled in the forests where the ubiquitous local truffles are hunted, is Casa Lucia. A fairy tale stone house and fairy tale setting. Our precious children’s meltdowns and middle-of-the-night shinanagins served well to remind us that this was indeed still real life. You can’t go anywhere from Lucia without first walking (or driving) through vines, olive trees, Fakin Winery and their loveable labrador who followed us each time we came and left, and who found a new best friend in a smiling, affectionate two year old.
Istria is gorgeous in the spring and early summer, but being there during harvest time had it’s own kind of magic. Just up the gravel road at Fakin Winery were truckloads of grapes being brought in each morning, as we watched the family and their hired hands work hard until the sun set past the rolling hills. Dark red juice was all over the soles of our shoes from the road as they de-seeded and pressed the grapes. The lavender bushes in and around the village were all done flowering, but the fig trees were full of juicy fruit each morning that we gladly picked, along with foraged roses. We walked up to Fakin one afternoon (and the next, too… and the next!) to wine taste and were welcomed by Mr. Fakin, a totally unassuming, down to earth, warm man, playing with his toddler grandson on one of their tractors. His son handed us a glass of the freshly pressed juice to try, still sweet. We were blown away by how amazing their wine is. We didn’t have enough kuna on us to pay for all of the bottles Cam picked out (this is one of his love languages), but Mr. Fakin told us, nema problema, we could come back the next day. It was the same with the home restaurant we ate at further up the road. Toni sent us home with a makeshift to-go plate and the shepherd’s salad still in the big ceramic bowl he served it in and said, nema problema, come back tomorrow to pay. When we walked home, one of the grandmothers in the little village rolled down her car window as I waved. When I asked her how she was, she told me, “Ide. Polako, polako.” It goes. Slowly, slowly. A common phrase that describes the pace in Istria perfectly. It’s even said in a slow, drawn-out way.
When we came home to Zagreb after two weeks of traveling, the start of Autumn was here. The mornings are crisp, the days have turned cold, Croatians on our street tell me I must be an American because I’m the only one still barefoot while out in our yard. We also came home to our furniture and closets and things!!
Last night, John Shea ran over to his usual spot at the fence where he can peer into our neighbor’s small vineyard, little garden and big German Shepherd named Rex. Our neighbors adore him. They came to the fence, and as they do regularly now, started handing over apples from their trees, bell peppers, tomatoes, a jar of homemade marinated peppers and one of ajvar (an amazing spread of bell peppers and eggplant) and a huge chocolate bar for their favorite toddler. John Shea took a bite of each which made them roll with laughter. Earlier that day they gave us a plate of homemade pita. Our neighbors are such a gift.
So, our kitchen is back to being fully stocked of pots and pans and dishes, there’s a delicious pumpkin soup on the stove, a pile of produce gifts from our neighbors and warm pumpkin muffins to return to them on their pretty china plate; our babies finally let us sleep longer than a one hour increment for the first time since moving here (hallelujah), and our house is really starting to feel like home. Like our kitchen and our table tonight, my heart is full, and singing praises.
Harvest Pumpkin Soup
1 large hokkaido pumpkin or about 2 lbs / 1kg variety of choice, de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2-3 small potatoes, roughly chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, (about 1/2 TBS when chopped)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped (about 1/2 TBS when chopped)
2 C chicken broth
2 C whole milk
fine sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp chili powder
In a large pot on medium heat, pour in a good glug of olive oil with the chopped onion and saute for about 1 minute. Add in the pumpkin, carrots, potatoes and chopped fresh herbs with a couple glugs of olive oil (about 1/3 C) and a very generous pinch of sea salt (about 1 tablespoon). Cook for 15 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add in the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the milk and chili powder and puree with a blender. Return to the pot and taste; add in more salt as needed.
It’s wonderful served with a crusty bread with nuts and a crisp, white wine. We ate our soup with red wine the second time around but it was best with a white Croatian Malvasia. Enjoy!!