Taste of #Slovenia
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
The Walrus and The Carpenter — #Lewis_Carroll
Last week, the time came to talk about #Slovenia—food, wine, culture—kislo zelji and emperors (cabbage and kings)—as well as a topic that the Walrus and Carpenter most assuredly NEVER discussed—same-sex marriage.
In a poem, Robert Frost writes, good fences make good neighbors. That is true in our case. Our fence is a wall, a nine-foot high barrier of brick. And we became good neighbors NOT for what the wall kept out, but rather what the wall dropped into our lives. Barbara is a lover and rescuer of animals. The neighborhood’s best goodwill ambassador is one of Barbara’s cats, the impish clown, Puhi. He literally dropped in, falling into our garden one day last summer. Puhi provided the catalyst to forge a neighborly bond with Barbara and her husband, Patrick. We’ve been to each other’s homes for coffees and the occasional Manhattan or perhaps its the occasional coffee and….
Like many expats, we were intrigued with each other’s native lands. While they’ve never been to Chicago, Barbara and Patrick have been to the east and west coasts of the USA. And what they didn’t experience firsthand they’ve seen in movies, heard in song, and read in newspapers and magazines. America it seems, for good or bad, is an open book. Slovenia on the other hand, was a mystery to me. Because of my love of geography and history, I knew that Slovenia was located in Central Europe, part of the former Yugoslavia. How many Americans know even that?
Because of Barbara, Patrick and the great OZ of the Internet that we call, Wikipedia, I’ve since learned that Slovenia is about the size of New Jersey. The country has a population of two-million, two-thirds the number of people who reside within Chicago’s city limits. Forests cover much of the country. The capital is the charming city of Ljubljana.
For centuries during the age of Empires, Slovenia was part of Austria-Hungary. The Slovenians gained a degree of independence after the first World War, merging into the nation that became Yugoslavia.
Slovenia declared independence from the splintering Yugoslav Republic in 1991 and became a member of the European Union in 2004, the first former communist nation to do so. They adopted the euro on January 1, 2007.
But history and geography can be dry subjects.
Our good neighbors wanted to share Slovenian culture with us. And the best way to do that is with that common of all denominators–food and drink. Without benefit of a Slovenian restaurant in Brussels, Barbara and Patrick created a feast by couriering foodstuffs back to Brussels from their home country.
They greeted us into their lovely home with an aperitif of #borovnicka, a smooth and not overly sweet blueberry liquor.
Barbara presented an amazing array of appetizers, a showcase of Slovenian flavors. She offered three meat dishes, #medvedova salama (brown bear salami), #suha salama (pork salami) and #zaseka, (fatty pork bruschetta). Vegetarian options included #namaz iz zelene paprike, (eggplant tapenade) and my favorite, #pindjur, (creamy green pepper tapenade).
Patrick uncorked a wonderful Slovenian wine, a dry red Merlot that paired especially well with the meat starters. Adjacent to Italy, #Goriska Brda is known as the #Tuscany of Slovenia for its moderate climate, terraced hills and vineyards.
As we moved to our seats around the couple’s large round dining table, Barbara presented the main course. The three dishes were familiar in look and taste to kielbasa, kapusta and potatoes, staples of our Polish Chicago roots.
#kranjska klobasa, (smoked sausage) kislo zelje (sauerkraut) & tenstan krompir (potato & onion), were prepared flawlessly by our hostess.
For dessert, Patrick’s mother sent to Brussels her homemade, #Potica, a Slovenian specialty of sweet yeast dough with hazelnut filling. Now that’s pampering! The cake went splendidly with the red wine.
Fortunately, our walk from number 6 back to our home at number 4 was mere steps. The fabulous evening showcased fine Slovenian cuisine as well as the warmth and generosity of Slovenians. We look forward to a visit to that nation to taste more Slovenian food, wine and hospitality.
And as promised at the outset, the time has come to talk of other things… Jim and I have another reason to be thankful for Slovenia. Last week, the country became the first former communist nation to leap forward with civil rights, recognizing same-sex marriage. The rest of the world, including many of our own American states, could learn a lot from progressive, Slovenia.
Hvala means ‘Thank You’ in Slovenian.
Our Slovenian primer wasn’t over. We learned the origin of the name of our good buddy, that clown of a cat, Puhi.
Seems Puhi is Slovenian for that most American of pet names, Fluffy, also coincidentally the name of my first dog. The world is indeed a village. And thanks to our Brussels adventure and a damn good ‘fence’, we appreciate our global neighbors one conversation, one meal, and one cat at a time.