The day started out quite innocently as we drove along the country roads of Bainbridge Island, fawning over the brilliant tapestry of autumn foliage we've been blessed with this year. Usually the rain has pummeled the leaves off the trees by now leaving us with a few weeks of lukewarm color before the gray settles in, but this fall has been a sweet reward for suffering through a December-like finish to August (with thunderstorms & hail to boot.)
"Now that's a picture!" I shouted as we whizzed past Bainbridge Island Vineyard & turned back around to get a closer glimpse through the vines framing a huge pumpkin patch at neighboring Suyematsu Farm, one of the few remaining plots on the island farmed by a Japanese-American (Akio Suyematsu), after 220 citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up from the island's berry farms and interned in California's Mojave Desert during World War II.
Kate & Larry are some of the wonderful customers-turned friends that I met in my days at the Spanish Table & when I saw an evite show up in my inbox for a Croatian pig roast, I frankly had to clear the calendar.
Kate's family is Andalucian, & I've been taunted for years hearing about the incredible paella feasts she's assembled for friends on the island, but her husband Larry has eastern European blood & slivovitz running through his veins--a grappa-like substance that was to be served to the guests (even though we were warned about that could wipe the make-up off of Tammy Faye in an instant.)
Did I mention the party started at 3:00 pm? But after enjoying a leisurely lunch of dim sum with friends & bloggers Dawn & Eric Wright of Wright Eats & Traca Savadago of Seattle Tall Poppy at Jumbo Chinese, my stomach was properly coated with grease to handle the job. A foodie's work is never done!
While I'm accustomed to the lavish spreads that my mother's family put out on special occasions & holidays, walking into a Croatian fete left me wide-eyed at the complete study in contrast--a plated mosaic of roasted peppers, a bowl of fresh cabbage salad replacing long-pickled sauerkraut, & whorls of dough baked in what looked to be one of my Portuguese paella pans. Who knew that eastern European food could be so vibrantly Mediterranean? Perhaps a trip to the Dalmatian coast is overdue.
I pride myself on attempting to throw down some complex recipes at home, but all I can say is Geez Louise! When I see that someone has created borek (a gorgeous pastry layered with feta) from their own HOMEMADE PHYLLO??? Well that takes the cake, Kate. Or maybe this does...
Ken's homemade Makovnjaca (poppyseed roll with raisins & rum) which was our assigned dish for the feast. Little did I know when I emailed Kate back & said, "Do I qualify for anadvanced recipe for the party?" that she would require me busting out the Kitchen Aid & measuring spoons. A baking assignment? Good lord, that takes precision & more patience than I have on a Saturday morning.
Enter my husband, an angel & a trooper, who cracked eggs shells & ground spices while I rounded up a dozen corn-husked bundles of deliciousness at Villa Victoria's tamale sale. Not only did Ken brilliantly succeed in his mission, but now he risks having to ship off a log to my mother-in-law in Utah every Christmas now that his talent has been exposed.
Let me warn you, even when buying poppy seeds in bulk, this caviar-like spice is pricey & making the Makovnjaca took over three hours. If you're not a baker & you live in Seattle, you might just head to George's Delicatessen on Madison by Swedish Hospital for a ready-made treat. But when if your hosts are spit-roasting a whole pig--umm--you should make it by hand, right??
I'll let the rest of the story play itself out in pictures, but many thanks to Kate & Larry for inviting us out for this incredible spread, & welcoming us into a fold of NW-islanders & Greek friends, alike. There's nothing sadder than having to leaving a party to catch a ferry while a group of revellers are gathered under heat lamps with a bottle of slivovitch being passed around. Zivjeli!!!