Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Micro-Blitva Recipe: How to Cook Vegetables Dalmatian-Style

On Croatia's Dalmatia Coast, it seems nearly all vegetables are cooked in the exact same way.

Step #1. Skin & chop potatoes into bite-sized chunks
Step #2. Put into pot with the "main" vegetable you are cooking, along with some salted water.
Step #4. Boil until done.
Step #5. Then, boil some more.
Step #6. Stir in fresh chopped garlic and dollops of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Yes, the potatoes are added NO MATTER WHAT VEGETABLE YOU ARE ACTUALLY COOKING. Peas, cabbage, small artichokes, you name it. The cooking time is then determined by how long it takes for the potatoes to get mushy. Or possibly longer. If you are someone who likes fresh vegetables, especially picked ripe from a Dalmatian's home garden (and everybody with a tiny plot of land has a veggie garden), this cooking style can be a crushing blow when you first encounter it.

Everything is mushy, everything tastes the same, and really it could have come from a can.

There's just one vegetable that shines given this treatment, and that is blitva. In the US blitva is called Swiss Chard and is often sold, for astounding prices, in the "gourmet veggies" section of your grocer with red stems. In Dalmatia, a white-stemmed version is in everyone's garden. You can grow it year-round, even in the chilly winter months, and harvest it by snipping off leaf by leaf as needed, leaving the main plant to carry on until it finally sprouts loads of seeds for the next generation. When planted, the seeds sprout very quickly and even idiots can grow them.

Blitva tastes unbelievably good when prepared the Dalmatian way, although being a feckless American I boil it for about 1/10th of the time my Dalmatian mother-in-law does. And last night I discovered, quite by accident, a way to make it taste even better. Micro-blitva! This does not involve the microwave, but rather little, tiny, baby blitva plants. You wind up with buckets of these when your husband seeds enormous expanses of your home garden with blitva, using far more seed than is needed because there's such a huge jar left from last year's plants and he can't bear to see any go to waste. So, two weeks later, you go out and get a nice suntan while pricking out all the extra seedlings so as to give the rest room to grow properly.

Baby blitva cooks in about 20 seconds, so you'll want to boil your potatoes (I cut them into teensy chunks for this) ahead of time and then just slip the blitva in at the end. Instead of olive oil I seasoned with butter along with finely chopped garlic. Incredible. I can see the future in my crystal ball -- lots and lots of baby blitva growing in our sunny windows and coldframes for picking fresh all winter long!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Serbia's World Cup Team - Only As Good (or Bad) as Whoever They're Playing?

Inconsistency, thy name is Serbia. I kept asking my husband, "Do these guys train together normally?" Because to my uninformed eye, they're playing like well-meaning people who met a few weeks ago.

After the embarrassment of the Ghana game, I was so sure the Serbs were gonna be crushed by Germany. A funny thing happened on the way to the Aryan Nation (aside from last names like Gomez.) Suddenly these Serbs turned into a serious team to beat. "They must have practiced like crazy all week!" I exclaimed.

"Oh no," my husband and step-daughter answered in perfect unison. "The Serbian team is only ever as good as the team it's playing. Whether they win or lose is really down to the luck of the moment." Which is why, despite whupping the Germans, my family is confident they'll stink against the stinky Australians on the 23rd. No win is ever assured.

The only thing we can be sure of is that frankly we have the Best Damn Good-looking Coach in FIFA! That suit, that haircut, that tan, that air of gravitas, those little crinkles by his eyes... all the other coaches look like schlumps compared to Radomir Antic.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cheaper and Easier Ways to Send Money to Serbia?

Shamefully, Paypal still doesn't serve any of the Balkan countries.

In the past, when I needed to send funds to Serbia I relied on bankwire or various types of moneygrams -- usually costing me at least $35 in fees per send.

Those fees can add up quickly, so if I had to send money to someone frequently, such as paying a freelancer on a routine basis, I often sent a larger sum to one person in Serbia I trusted, such as a relative, and then had that person disburse the funds over time. For example, my husband's white-haired godmother used to personally pay various Serb contractors for us every two weeks. I think she enjoyed it; she put on her best dress to draw funds from our account at the local bank where they treated her like a visiting dignitary, and then she majestically handed out pay packets to contractors as they came cap-in-hand to her house.

If you have to send a lot of money to one person, which an intermediary might not be comfortable with, you might consider opening up an Everbank account. The good thing about Everbank is they have, to my knowledge, the best Dollar->Euro exchange rates you'll find in the US and if you exchange your dollars with them, they'll wire the Euros anywhere in the world for free. And you can do the wire by faxing instructions, instead of visiting the bank in person which most other US banks insist on. The drawback is, again to my knowledge, they don't exchange Dollars for Dinars. If I were to buy a house in Serbia, I'd probably send the money over via Everbank. But I might not use it for more routine things.

Today I discovered iKobo, an online service that I've decided to try next. They charge $8 per transaction, and you can do the whole thing online, which is a lot cheaper and easier than dealing with bankwires. However, there's an additional $33.60 charge the first time you send money to a particular individual in Serbia. That's because iKobo uses Federal Express to send that person a Visa debit card. Then, when you send additional funds, the debit card is automatically "topped off".

This tactic has an added bonus in that the Serbian recipient gets to flaunt a Visa card in their wallet, which is still unusual enough for some people there to get excited about. For example, I doubt my husband's godmother has any credit cards whatsoever.

If you've tried this tactic, or others, let me know how it went. And let's cross our fingers that Paypal gets to the Balkans sometime soon!