Friday, May 29, 2015

Texas Weather: Flooding and Tornadoes

It has been raining here for a week. Drizzling, off and on type of rain and a gray sky. No sun. No warmth.This morning, the glorious sun woke me up at 5:00 am. I was not unhappy about this. It was quite welcome.
Coincidentally, I read that back home in Texas, it also has been raining for a week but with tragic results. Massive flooding with destruction and deaths. Tornadoes, wind, hail and raging waters have just caused all kinds of havoc there.
Here in Serbia,I often get asked about the violent weather we have in Texas. Most people think of tornadoes when they think of Texas. Yes, Texas has a lot of tornadoes, however,I have lived there my whole life and have never seen an actual tornado. I have been through countless warnings, high winds and all that accompanies tornadic storms. The tornado warnings are so common we take heed, but are not as in a tizzy as others might be if they had never had to prepare for this. I won't lie, it does make your heart beat faster and there is  anxiety, especially when the wind is howling and the rain is going sideways and the lights go out. The sight of greenish-black skies and a heavy,eerie stillness sets off automatic danger alarms to cause your whole body to go weak because you know this is the calling-card of a tornado.
Texas tornadoes are common and occur any time of year (photo:Pixabay)

 I have crouched in hallways and closets many times waiting on the threat to pass. Always clutching my cell phone, purse and car keys because those are not things you want to have to hunt down or lose in case the roof does fly off the house, or worse. I have been lucky. Usually the only damage I have experienced is a few fallen trees and damaged roof shingles from the wind or hail. A harrowing story to compare with others later on.
The type of flash flooding seen in Texas this past week is something I have never experienced and hope I never have to. They come fast and furious and are deadly. Weathermen can warn of imminent flash flooding but can never predict just how  much and exactly where the most dangerous flooding will occur. Gentle flowing rivers can turn into monsters within minutes, if the conditions are right. A flash flood one day may only mean a few roads are covered in 3 inches of water. Another day, a flash flood may mean 26 feet of high velocity water smashing structures to smithereens. It's hard to know so it's hard to have a plan. I suppose the best way is to treat all flash flood warnings like we treat all tornado warnings: like it's going to be an F5, every time.
 I pray for those affected this week in Texas and Oklahoma.




Thursday, May 21, 2015

Araca: A Cultural Treasure of Vojvodina



Araca church ruins,Vojvodina Serbia (photo:Rana Jones)

Last weekend, there was a festival here celebrating a medieval church ruin, Araca. This old church was built in the year 1230. It is located about 8 miles from the village of Novi Becej,Serbia.
I have never personally seen any structure this old in my life so I couldn't help but  to be in awe of this place. I took a lot of photos but somehow, none of them really capture the feeling or it's true presence. In fact, I haven't see any photos posted anywhere that captures it.
(photo:Rana Jones)

(photo:Rana Jones)


 It sits in the middle of a large span of land, no other structures within miles with only a narrow, bumpy lane leading out to it. It's so odd to be driving through farmland and to see it sitting majestically where it has stood for almost 800 years. It is protected by the government as a historical site, as it should be. Sadly, I believe over the years it was vandalized until they installed security cameras.
(photo:Rana Jones)

During the festival, they have period actors dressed as medieval knights and maidens who mingle among the guests and perform battle reenactments and pose for photos.
They sell food and other items you might find during those times: woven baskets, clothing, rugs, and pottery items. It reminded me much of the Renaissance Festivals we have back in America. What made this one above and beyond any of those festivals is the main attraction of a genuine artifact as a backdrop.
(photo:Rana Jones)
Surprisingly, this festival was free to the public. In fact, on any given day (or night), you are free to just drive out to the site with no security to stop you and is open for you to enjoy. I have been here before when no festival is taking place and the place was deserted of humans. Nothing but the sound of birds, a breeze and maybe a distance tractor working the fields. It is an ideal place to have a nice picnic and to sit and take in the serenity of time and nature.
Araca (photo:Rana Jones)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rakija

Traditional Serbian Rakija. (photo:Rana Jones)

We are watching our kajsija (kye-see-uh) trees for signs of a good harvest this summer. Kajsija is similar to apricots. It's a small, orange-colored fruit and is used a lot in making rakjia (rah-kee-uh).
Kajsija is similar to apricots.When ripe, they fall from the tree.(photo:Rana Jones)

Rakjia is a fruit brandy that is said to be "the national drink of Serbia". They're pretty well known for this stuff. In fact, it is perfectly legal to make it in your back yard. It's not legal to sell it but you can make all the liquor you want for yourself. Of course, it is shared among friends and family. If you go visit someone, don't be surprised if you are offered a shot. Rakija making is a very old tradition. Different fruits can be used such as apple, pears or plums.
Ready to harvest Kajsija. (photo:Rana Jones)

Every summer and fall, we get enough kajsija fruit in our back yard to make a batch of rakija.
This spring, the trees already have nice little green fruits on the tree, but with the terrible winds we have had lately, many have fallen to the ground. That's not good.
The ones that do manage to hang onto the tree, when they ripen, they fall to the ground. Those are gathered up daily in a bucket and then you have to take the pits out. Depending on how ripe they are, this can be a little gross. I would estimate that half of them have a worm living inside so I'm not fond of pitting those really smushy kajsija. I saw someone once, to freak me out I guess, eat one of the worms.
It looks pretty nasty while it's fermenting in the barrel for several weeks. You have to give it a stir every now and then. (photo:Rana Jones)

After they are pitted, they are dumped into a 55-gallon type plastic barrel where they start to ferment. Sugar is added at some point. Then when it's fermented, it has to be checked by some person that has a special instrument to test it. Everyone knows someone with this instrument. It has to be made within 24 hours of that "ready point" and that's when you ring up the guy with the still to come over and start making the rakija. Everyone has this guy on speed dial. He has the still set up on a trailer which he pulls with his auto (our guy has the very awesome Yugo) to your home, very early in the morning. He builds a fire and within a few hours, there is a bucket of clear-colored alcohol which is the rakija. It is tested to make sure it was properly distilled (it's dangerous if you don't test it), and it is also graded. The quality of the fruit is important for a good grade of rajkija.
The still used to make the rajkija. (photo:Rana Jones)
Finished product. (photo:Rana Jones)

Ziveli!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Market Day

Local vendors set up booths to sell their goods(photo: Rana Jones)

Yesterday, I woke up really early to get to the local farmer's market. Here, it is called "pijaca", which is Serbian for market. I'm not sure what time it actually opens in the morning but I do know that you really need to get there by 9:00 am in order to get the best stuff. By noon, the vendors are pretty much gone for the day.


Market day is every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. I love this place. They sell fresh vegetables, straight from the local's gardens and crops. They sell meats and eggs, honey, baked goods, flowers, plants and fruits. There are also booths set up selling clothing, shoes,tools and household goods. 

Nearly everyone makes their way to the market at least once a week, if not all three market days, and the place is very crowded. Bicycles line the front of the market and cars fill every parking space. Throughout the town, you see people toting at least one bag of purchases from the market.


Incredibly fresh vegetables (photo: Rana Jones)

My favorite is the vegetables and this is mainly what I come to the market for. This time of year, the selection is still quite small. I can find carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, spring and field onions, potatoes, radishes,turnips, spinach, cabbage and a few tomatoes. (I probably left something out.)

Later as the season progresses, there will be eggplant(can't wait for that,love it), corn, peas and beans.There will also be watermelons and more fruits like apples, cherries, plums and peaches. 
Cherries are very popular because they are a favored fruit for cakes and desserts. They are sold in large barrels or crates and sometimes you will see a kid taking a few to munch on. The vendors are very friendly though about letting you sample something in hopes you may purchase a kilo or so.




Cauliflower,zucchini,peppers and eggs (photo: Rana Jones)
The prices are unreal. I can walk out of there with several pounds of vegetables for not much more than $5. It is so affordable to eat healthy. None of these vegetables have chemicals nor GMO stuff. In fact, GMO(genetically modified organism) is not allowed to be used in crop production here in Serbia on any produce at all. They are constantly fighting to keep it out. Serbia is very protective of the type of food that can be produced here. 

(photo: Rana Jones)


 Flowers are a big part of everyone's outside spaces.Everywhere you look, courtyards, terraces and window boxes are filled with the most beautiful and colorful flowers. The Serbian people are natural green-thumbs and love their flowers and landscaping. I admire this so much because I can't seem to keep any plant thriving nor alive! 

Flowers are popular here (photo: Rana Jones)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Coffee Time

"Official" Coffee Times

Coffee is a big deal here in Serbia. Any time of day is good for coffee, but there seems to be three certain times of the day that I refer to as "coffee time".

Obviously there is the morning coffee. This is served within 15 minutes if waking.  Then, regardless if you woke up an hour earlier, the next coffee is served at 11-ish am, because lunch is usually served around 1:00 pm.

Then it's rest time. After rest, around 4:00 pm, is the final official coffee time of the day.

Unofficial Coffee Times

This doesn't mean there can't be coffee after that time or in between any of the times. There are other coffee times as well:

Visitor coffee:  If you visit someone, you're probably going to have coffee. If someone visits you, you're probably going to have coffee.
Back home coffee:  If you have been away from the house running errands, you may heat up the water for coffee upon returning home.
No particular reason coffee: This is self-explanatory. Maybe a good conversation is going, and it just seems right for a cup of coffee.

Types of Coffee

Now, there are three types of coffee you will see most often here: Turkish, 3-in-1, and Nescafe (Nes).

Turkish coffee is the traditional coffee served here and you will see most older people drinking this. It has a very distinct smell and taste. A special powder-form ground coffee is used and ends up as a thick sludge at the bottom of the cup.(You don't drink the sludge and it takes a little practice on knowing when the "last drop" of consumable coffee remains before ending up with sludge in your mouth.
Turkish Coffee
By marviikad from Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia (Morning Turkish coffee) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
3-in-1 coffee is an instant coffee and it means there is coffee, cream and sugar all mixed together in the packet. Packets are sold as individual servings.
Nes coffee is a stout,instant coffee and it grows on you if you never cared for instant before. There are many brands of instant coffee, including the Nescafe brand, but everyone calls it Nes despite whatever brand it actually is.
One of many brands of 3-in-1 Coffee
By Midnight Runner (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Serbian Coffees Are Hard To Find

In rural East Texas, the special powdery ground coffee for Turkish coffee is unheard of, it can not be found on any store shelf that I know of. I got a lot of confused looks from store clerks when I asked them about availability.Neither can I find the 3-in-1 instant coffee packets at my local stores in East Texas. So I have learned to bring some back every time I go home. I realize stores in bigger cities may carry these coffees, but we don't all live in a big city so it is frustrating.

 I did find that it can all be ordered online at Amazon. I haven't checked other online sources but there may be other sources. Grand Kafa Gold is a very popular Turkish coffee here and I personally love this brand. I am including a link below where you can order it if you can not find it at a local store. Also, I included a link below to purchase the 3-in-1 coffee packets if you can not find those at the store.
Grand Kafa Gold, 500g

NEW! NescafĂ© IMPROVED 3 in 1 ORIGINAL (was REGULAR) Premix Instant Coffee - Taste Creamier & More Aromatic - Don't Need Creamer & Sugar Anymore - Coffee On The Go, Make Your Life Easier - 19g/Stick - 30 Sticks TOTAL 


Well, you get the picture. Coffee is a social thing here. It's something to look forward to as it feels good to enjoy it while visiting friends or enjoying the beauty of the garden while sitting on the terrace. In fact, I think I will do that now. Ciao!





Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Slava: St George

Today we are celebrating the family's patron saint, St George. The celebration is held every year on this day and it is called the Slava.

St George
The family saint is inherited from the father's side, so the saint is passed on to the son and so on.Daughters of the family take on the saint of the husband when she marries. The celebration is traditionally held in the patriarchal home. This was all a little confusing to me for a while but I'm finally understanding it all.

St George is portrayed in artwork as the "dragon-slaying" saint. I believe that the dragon represents sin and St George is there to "slay"it  and thus he is considered as a protector against evil.

All day yesterday and today was spent preparing all kinds of meats, salads,soup,breads and cakes. Several runs to the market take place, the last one today being to get drinks and lots of them: juices, colas,Turkish coffee, liquor and mineral water. Some people hold the feast at noon and some choose an evening feast and celebration. We are having evening and this is good because of being a bit behind rounding up tables and chairs from friends and neighbors all day to seat the number of expected guests.

Family and friends are invited to attend the Slava. Everyone looks forward to this and rarely turn down an invitation. In fact, it is an honor to be invited to a family's Slava. It is truly a feast to behold and no one likes missing out on good, authentic Serbian foods and of course, the customary rakija and cherry liquor.
These Serbian meals are prepared from generations of passed down recipes and you can tell it, because you will never find food this good in a restaurant and it is difficult or near impossible to replicate if you've never prepared the dishes before.

Happy Slava!

Monday, May 4, 2015

You Can't Make Tex-Mex Food Without the C&C

Enchiladas garnished with cilantro
By Steve Dunham (Flickr: Enchiladas Suizas) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow, May 5th, is Cinco de Mayo. This is a holiday that is celebrated in Mexico and throughout the United States, especially my native Texas. I bring this up because I am seriously craving some Mexican food, Tex-Mex as we call it.

 I have promised some folks here in Serbia that I would prepare some fine Tex-Mex food complete with chips, salsa and margaritas. I have found all the ingredients needed except C&C: Cumin and Cilantro.

Okay, I do have the cumin. I brought it with me when I came here. Cumin is a spice that is found in Mexican food and gives it that distinct, unique flavor and aroma that is only found in Mexican food. If it is sold here, it must be maybe in Belgrade. Since I am two hours away from Belgrade and not familiar with the city, I couldn't just go to Belgrade for cumin.

Cilantro, from what I have found, does not exist in this country. Again, if it does, it is in Belgrade, maybe Novi Sad, and I would have to go on a treasure hunt for it.Cilantro is an herb that looks very much like parsley but has an entirely different taste. Again, it is what makes Mexican food have it's special flavor kick. Do not even bother making salsa without cilantro because it will just taste like ketchup or something. (I bought some "salsa" in a jar I found at IDEA and though the manufacturer made an effort, it was basically ketchup.)

I did find out that cilantro is the plant that comes from a coriander seed, however, coriander is not cilantro. If that makes sense. Coriander is available here as a spice. Coriander is a seed. If you plant the coriander, the green part of the plant that emerges is the cilantro and it has an completely different taste than what the coriander tastes like.

Whew! I plan to take coriander seeds and grow them into cilantro. Maybe that will work, and if that is the case, then why can't cilantro be grown and made available here?





Sunday, May 3, 2015

Where Is The Bed?

When I first visited Serbia, I stayed at at a little bungalow on stilts facing the Tisa River. There was no bed, just a couch that converted into a bed of sorts. It was still like sleeping on the couch, only a tad bigger.
I wasn't concerned with this since it was a small place meant for vacationers and it was a short ten day stay. I could handle sleeping on the couch.
Later when I returned to Serbia for a much longer stay and in the home of a friend, I was introduced to the room...and my bed, which turned out to be a couch. I realized everyone in the house also slept on convertible couch-beds.
I didn't know what to think of the bed situation. I was silently distressed. I didn't want to come off as being spoiled and all.I am way to accustomed to sleeping on my bed back in the states, a comfy Vera-Wang-Serta-pillow-top-queen-size mattress bed.
 One day I browsed through a home furnishings store and found beds but with mattresses that were nowhere anything like my pillow-top Serta. Seeming to be constructed of foam with no box-springs, they were quite expensive. I am sure pillow-top mattresses with box-springs are here somewhere but if the foam mattresses were expensive, the "real" mattresses must be for the extremely wealthy and have to be special ordered or something.I realized that many, many people here sleep on hard,unforgiving couch-beds that fold down and slide out into beds at night. They are like futons in a way.
This was a major culture shock for me and although I am not snobbish about there being no beds, my body screams in pain for the first week or so after going from pillow-top to couch.
A typical couch-bed. The seat slides forward and the back folds down to make an approximate full-size bed. I bought this one. Photo credit:ranamaley,personal photo