Sometime during the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII, head of the Western Christian Church (now referred to as the Roman Catholic Church), instituted a new calendar, called the Gregorian Calendar, which is followed today. The Eastern Orthodox world continued to follow the calendar of Julius…
Baba rarely played the role of guest, as she was always too busy hosting and receiving guests. However, in the photos of our cousin’s (Milica Popovich Knezevic’s) third birthday party, she is seated holding our brother, William (William Velimir Pavichevich) with cousin, Milimir Popovich to her left.
The photo below is of (left to right) (Merritt Mirjana Pavichevich, co-author of Baba’s Table), cousin Milica on her birthday, Kum (her godfather) Jovan Pusara, our uncle Milorad ‘Milo’ Popovich, and our father, Fr. Dennis Pavichevich. Baba’s hand can be seen around Milica’s waist and it looks as though she is prompting her to say or do something, and you can bet it had to be clearly enunciated and perfectly executed.
Baba was not only the consummate hostess, but was also our own private nanny. Her skills surpassed the culinary. In her town of Skare in Lika, girls were trained in all domestic and social skills and graces. Some of the more affluent families would send their daughters to finishing school in Vienna, but even the standard elementary schools had classes in etiquette as well as domestic life, cooking, sewing, hygiene, etc. At the age of 12, our Baba, one of the youngest of 8 children, was sent to the home of her cousin, a young priest in a neighbouring town, to be a nanny to his children and to help with general parish duties. Baba always jokes that she has lived with priests’ families her entire life, and this is true. Those few years with her brother (there is no word for cousin in the Serbian language, as the families are that close) prepared her well for the life that would follow. One could compare Baba more to Mary Poppins than Maria (“The Sound of Music”), with her stoic, serious demeanour and attention to detail and propriety, though we have never seen Baba dance or heard her sing or hum a tune in our lifetime. It’s a mystery as to where our mother obtained her artistic bent. However, Baba was the perfect nanny in that she loved us, but did not spoil us (that’s debatable amongst the siblings), and expected only the very best.
Milica’s father, Dragan Popovich, who is celebrating his seventy ninth birthday, is our late grandfather’s cousin (or brat od strica, or in English, son of father’s brother). In Serbian, each cousin has a particular title, as do each uncle and aunt, dependent upon maternal or paternal affiliation, etc. We are a complex people. However, the point is, no one is just grouped into one big package. These relationships are close and binding, and have meaning to Serbs. It was common for uncles to sometimes take in their nephews or nieces for financial or any number of reasons and raise them as their own children, as in the case of Baba. This reminds me of the African concept of it taking a village to raise a child. See Dragan Popovich escorting Baba up the church stairs to our parents’ wedding. (http://babastable.tumblr.com/post/33945382941/hatsglovesbouffants)
Likewise, Dragan Popovich was brought to America by our grandparents, Fr. Dusan and Protinica Rada Popovich, in the late 60’s, or early 70’s. ( As a child, Dragan survived the war. He had lost his father and two brothers, along with hundreds of other Popoviches who were massacred and killed. Our grandparents offered Dragan the opportunity to begin a new life in America. He lived with them on Schiller Street for several months, and being young, acclimated quickly to life in Chicago. He soon met his dear wife, Mara, and was blessed with two beautiful children, Milica and Milimir (Mimi) Popovich, and now several wonderful grandchildren. Dragan and Mara have been pillars of their community through years of service at Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Chicago. Baba’s table was a starting point for many relationships; marriages, kumstvo (godparents) and friendships. Our family wishes our uncle, Dragan, a very happy birthday and many more years of life, health and happiness with his beautiful family.
Baba Rada makes some divine cookies called hurmasice. They are made of delicious white cookie dough rolled into a small log and saturated with warm lemon sugar water. Popular in Bosnia and Herzegovina, these were a favorite of my grandfather. Unfortunately, on one occasion, Baba left out a step, and the hurmasice came out hard as rocks. Tired from the long day of cooking and probably quite annoyed, she cut her losses and went to bed, planning to crumble the cookies and toss the crumbs to the birds in the morning, as it was a sin to waste food.
Deda (grandpa) Dusan had been out late politicizing with a friend of theirs from out of town who was staying the weekend and attending one of the many political meetings or gatherings that took place in the diaspora at that time. Spying the delicious treats, he quickly sampled one, and realized they were unusually hard and clearly ruined. Not used to Baba ever missing a beat when it came to culinary and baking perfection, Deda quickly distracted the guest and they retired for the night.
Ever the early riser, Baba woke at dawn, and proceeded to expediently bake a new batch of delicious, perfect specimens of soggy sweetness, and left them on top of the oven, same as the first batch, so that no one would be the wiser.
Awaking shortly thereafter, Deda Dusan and his guest sat at the breakfast table as Baba poured the coffee and brought them a plate of hurmasice, which she nonchalantly offered them. “Zeno (wife), I don’t know…those looked a bit..uh…hard..”, said Deda. Any Serbian husband would have feared such a blemish upon his wife’s domestic and culinary reputation.
“What on earth do you mean?” she asked. “These are so delicious they melt in your mouth” she said, eating one, an uncustomary move for her, as I have barely ever seen her sit down and actually eat one of her own meals or sample her own baking. A true professional, she always maintained an air of aloofness and dare I say disinterest, as to her own baking prowess, almost like the Chinese custom of insulting or diminishing a dish one made as not being worthy of praise.
As she ate the cookie, the two men could see it melting in her mouth and in the coffee into which she dipped it. Deda had tried one the night before, and found it a better door stop than dessert. Both men took a bite, and Baba tried to not to laugh as eyebrows raised and “mmmms” were uttered. Forgetting his pride, Deda said, mystified, “But…but these were hard as rocks last night”. “Really”, said Baba, “perhaps a couple too many rakije (wiskeys) at your convention impaired your taste buds. Anyway, do enjoy!”
You have to get up pretty early in the morning to trip up our Baba. I always say, “Baba, you are like Thomas Jefferson (from the President’s memoirs)…the sun has never caught either of you sleeping”. Over fifty years have passed since the cookie caper incident, and the same remains true.
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 lemon sliced (remove the seeds)
2 ¼ sticks unsalted butter
1 cup yogurt (or sour cream)
4 cups flour (sifted)
1 Tbsp baking powder
Baba’s Hurmasice Preparation
Syrup: Mix water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Add the lemon slices (remove seeds).Cook on stovetop for several minutes to make a syrup. Remove from heat and cool.
In small mixing bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk the butter and egg, then add yogurt and stir until blended. Slowly add the dry flour mixture and stir together until you achieve a dough like consistency. Next, roll into small balls. Press each ball on a grater, shape into bar;Remove from grater with pattern on top.
Place hurmasice on non-greased baking sheet. Bake in heated oven at 390 degrees until they are a nice golden color (about 25-35 minutes). While hot, pour the chilled syrup on top. Cool before serving.
As another season of Downton Abbey commences, I can’t help but wonder two things: first and foremost, what shall I do with my Sunday evenings following re-runs of Lawrence Welk? Secondly, I am feeling a grateful, though some may say smug, sense of pride over how much I have related to so much of the series. One cannot help but see similarities (some quite uncanny) between my upbringing and the show.
Although we were not in the financial stratum of the family of Lord Grantham, as children, we never knew it. We’re talking about the family of a SERBIAN Orthodox Priest here. Everybody works and participates, and everyone has a specific role, and although the rewards aren’t financial, there are and were many. This gives a whole new meaning to “pro bono”. I joke, but this is true, and many priests’ families can relate to this. Though we weren’t affluent, like the Lord and Lady of the manor, my parents and my maternal grandparents before them, were the symbolic father and mother figures of their respective parishes, called upon to uphold and live by the traditions and morals that their titles demanded.
Let’s compare. The Crawleys were part of a long standing patriarchal tradition based upon preservation of a certain lineage and of certain values, mores and strong held beliefs, which when we meet them, is on the brink of extinction. They were monarchists, patriots, family oriented, well spoken, well-bred and well educated. They entertained people in high positions of high rank within their society and were privy to and involved in many of the leading world events and issues relevant to their time and their country. I can check off each of these things and relate them to my family, beginning with my grandfather, Proto Dusan and my beloved Baba, Protinica Rada, and the various personalities and historical players who visited their flat above the Cathedral on Schiller Street. I will probably be chastised for name dropping, but I drop a few here to make a point. Could the Crawleys say that the Prince of Whales barbequed on their back porch, as did Prince Tomislav, on one of his seven or so visits (see previous Baba’s Table entries for background)? I doubt they could say that a famous Theologian and writer and spiritual leader like Vladika (Bishop) “Sveti” (Saint) Nikolai Velimirovic summered in their (my grandparents’) home four years straight, writing through the night and compiling some of what would become his famous “Prologues”. The Crawleys had a library full of amazing literature and some first editions of historical writings. Check! A unique collection was bestowed upon my late grandfather with great reverence and trust by a good friend and relative of one of the most prolific writers in Serbian history (this is something upon which I won’t expound at this time). Point being, that as Lord Grantham calls himself in one episode, “a caretaker”, so our family viewed and still views our own role as caretakers of something greater than ourselves, with humility and with gratitude.
At the Cathedral in California we hosted the likes of Prince Aleksandar and his cousin Princess Elizabeth (mother of Catherine Oxenburg of “Dynasty” fame, for all you former fans). Then there are the various diplomats, professional athletes, actors and directors we have met and broken bread with, like Gene Simmons (not of Kiss, but of many Westerns and the mother from “The Thorn Birds” for you 80s mini-series fans), and her husband, Richard Brooks, who directed “Blackboard Jungle” and “In Cold Blood” among many superb films.
We’ve had so many brushes with moments and people of historical significance and culture of the past and present time. We were like a regular family of Forest Gumps, with the unique opportunity of hosting such a wide array of personalities and players on the world stage, and not to mention the many fascinating parishioners we had the pleasure to know, from CEOs of major corporations to university professors to the “regular crowd” of wonderful friends: American, Serbian, Serbian American, Asian, Hispanic… the list goes on, with whom we shared the joy and contentment of those charmed years. Everyone from gardeners to governors felt welcome and comfortable in our home, and always left well fed and entertained, and we the better as well, honored to have known and hosted all.
Why us? We weren’t the Crawleys, though at times, it was hard to tell. We never wanted and we had beautiful things. Thanks to my father and mother, we took advantage of every opportunity to travel, experience, do, become. We weren’t affluent, but we were definitely privileged. That privilege was built upon the amazing hospitality, charm and hard work of my grandparents, continued by my exceptional parents during the California years.
Our return to Chicago meant facing some difficult challenges and changes, as did the Crawleys. My father was in a new environment which did not, at times, appreciate what he had to offer. What my mother thought would be a homecoming was a return to a place which had now become a new Serbian Chicago, with post-war wounds which would manifest themselves in a changing demographic within parish life, a diminishing and changing role of “popadija” (priest’s wife and mother of the parish) and a more volatile environment in general. Again, this reminds me of the changing post WWI world of the Crawleys. Soon to follow were a series of disappointments and tragedies, of which most of you who know our family are well aware; from illness, to divorce, to death. Again, like the untimely and shocking death of Lady Sybil, the angelic sister, and the misfortunes and dramas of Lady Mary, the eldest sister, and her ever waning future-standing both socially and otherwise.
Like the Crawleys, we had to “leave the stage” (as Baba put it, “silazimo sa pozornice”) upon which we had performed our familial duties and served our church and people and had to accept “civilian life” and acclimate to a new world, much of which might even dismiss how we lived as antiquated and comical. I just know when I watch the Crawleys line up to greet their many guests, dress for a nice three course dinner replete with pleasant and appropriate conversation and dishes and pastries a la Baba and my mother of which Mrs. Patmore (the Crawley’s cook) would have stood in awe, I can’t help but relate and feel a deep sense of gratitude and pride.
Why such a wide following of Downton Abbey, despite modern distaste for much of what their life comprised and stood for? There is a reason Americans (the alleged example of democracy) are so enthralled with royal personages and wish to create royalty of politicians (the Kennedy family and their “Camelot” years) and of actors and television personalities; Oprah, the “queen of talk”, or Madonna, “the queen of pop”. I think of spiritual leader and Sveti (Saint) Nikolai comes to mind then to hear of Oprah’s description of Lady Gaga during an interview with the singer as a ‘spiritual leader of our time’ (I paraphrase)… My point is not to diminish the achievements of any of these people, but when one speaks of nobility and royalty, be it secular or spiritual, does the shoe really fit? If it did, I somehow doubt Downton Abbey would be the meteoric success it has been.
The reason for the captivation with the civility, culture and tradition which fuels the success of films and shows like Downton Abbey and which anchored cathedral and parish life for us is that it is part of what gives our humanity its dignity and lifts us to levels above the base and ordinary. If I sound pompous, let me stand guilty. However, it is not of my own accolades or achievements that I write, but of my privileged upbringing and the fact that as a dear friend said at my wedding, “You (I) have stood upon the shoulders of giants”.
I wait in anticipation for the next season of Downton Abbey and for this next season, the autumn, of my life to begin. I can only pray there will be more family dinners like those of the ever resilient and noble Crawleys and of my dear family. Class and grace cannot be bought and are virtues which are gained irrespective of money and power. Home is where the heart is, where the hearth is, where family values reign. May they reign from Cathedrals to Abbeys to each and every one of our own homes for ages to come.
We captured this picture which includes all but the appetizers at Baba’s Table which were:
Baked Brie cheese wheels wrapped in puff pastry sheets with sauteed apples on top. A delicious spread with crackers or crostini. Also served prior to the meal was a spectacular butternut squash soup with parmesan sprinkled on top.
I am Rada Jr., author and founder of the blog Baba’s Table. That’s me and my husband Chef Daniel Burns, responsible for the absolutely amazing gourmet Thanksgiving meal. For those of you who are curious, Dan brined the turkey for 72 hours in carrot, celery, salt, peppercorn, onion, bay leave, sugar and of course water. Last night he fired up the smoker with wood chips for flavor and smoked the turkey from midnight until noon today. Try this at home food lovers. Get in touch with us for other recipes mentioned in the blog. Follow us on Twitter @babastable or like us on facebook.com/BabasTable.
Baba Rada’s great granddaughter Lorelai is responsible for these amazing and festive table decorations which she hand picked to and from the park then glitter glued. Follow us on twitter @babastable or like us on facebook www.facebook.com/BabasTable
How many of you caught the InStyle UK fashion spread featuring Rose Byrne? Love her, particularly in this issue. This modern twist on the classics defines our fashion taste buds here at Baba’s Table. A personal all-time favorite and classic character portrayal of hers is the Duchess De Polignac. The hair was extraordinary and one of the many parallels we’re finding in terms of etiquette and dress code between the lifestyles of the french monarchy circa the eighteenth century and the Serbian society circa 1960 along with: politics, dancing, desserts, drama, picnics, hats, gloves, and bouffants.
How could we forget the nostalgic moment at the masquerade ball, which the Duchess and Marie Antoinette’s entourage crash on a winter’s eve. It reminded me of so many Serbian zabavas (social gatherings with folkloric dancing), handsome men and women holding hands, dancing. It has been known to happen that at these formals, friendships formed and relationships blossomed. It takes a beautiful mane to pull off the coiffed hairstyles of both eras.
Our very own Baba Rada was a fashionista in her own right. One Sunday morning on Schiller Street, she wore one of her famous wide-brimmed hats to church. She had cut her hair short and she wasn’t sure how my grandfather would react to the new bob. When asked by her husband why she cut her hair short and sacrificed her long raven like locks, she responded with a typically witty and confident remark, “Sta ce mi kosa kad imam pamet.” (Who needs hair when you have a brain). Whether the new style appealed to him or not, Deda Dusan couldn’t help but be amused by her spontaneous wit and independent air. Below are some pictures of the 1960’s vs. the 1760’s bouffants. It appears as though they gave Marie and the Duchess a run for their money.
Above on the left is our late grandma Stella Pavichevich, in the middle our Great Aunt or “Tetka” Ljuba, and to the right Baba Rada Popovich at our mother’s wedding.
Another fast is among us my friends and you know what that means…vegan recipes! Baba was busy whipping up this prebranac (bean casserole) this morning. The recipe can be found in the “Vegen, Lenten Recipes as Mentioned in When The Saint Comes Marching In” entry earlier this year. Below is a picture of it being made.
Let’s talk about Baba and basketball…
All of my siblings and I are athletes. Our dad is Montenegrin. They’re known for their height and general physical dominance among Serbs. He played college football and our mother was the captain of the cheerleeding team at Tuley High.
Between the five of us we danced (Serbian folklore, ballet, tap, jazz),
played volleyball, soccer, football, baseball, karate as well as track and cross-country. However, it was my two sisters and I that played basketball. We participated in travel teams like AAU throughout our childhood, sometimes back-to-back practices, which required constant meal preparation by Baba and mom. It was then, in the eighties and nineties, that Baba developed an appreciation for the game.
While we’re on the topic of sports, surely we all watched the London Olympics this summer, and what a memorable closing ceremony the Brits left us with. Speaking of Brits, my former teammate Molly joined me tonight for a women’s WNBA game in Chicago to watch our fellow athlete and Serb Sonja Petrovic and the Chicago SKY sink a few jumpers. We were a part of “Sonja’s Squad” along with the rest of her fan club.
As I was observing Baba in the kitchen this morning before the game, I began explaining to her that my plans were such. I thought oh, I’ll have to really rack my brain for the rhetoric in explaining this to her…but before I could finish my sentence which sounded something like this, “Baba, I’m taking Molly to see a WNBA game, you know the women’s”- Baba cut me off…”Oh Sonja Petrovic plays for the Chicago team,” she says. I don’t know why I was surprised. It’s not like we haven’t seen the likes of one or two professional athletes at Baba’s Table. She is a die-hard fan of basketball and the players that she so jovially hosted.
Now that we’ve given a taste of Baba’s Table in relation to food, touched on fashion, and society, we would like to introduce a whole other dimension of food and hospitality and where it can lead or who it has led to Baba’s table.
To be continued…
There was once a kind lady named Visnja (Veeshnya), (translated means sour cherry), who lived in a village in Herzegovina, at that time part of Serbia, circa 1940. A cetnik (chetneek) army commander named Bacevic (Bachevich) also known as “Baco” (Bacho) and a group of his soldiers, which included Dusan Popovich, our grandfather, went to her door hungry from battle against nazi invaders and Tito’s Communist Partisans.
As all gracious Serbian hostesses do, she displayed typical “gostoprimstvo” (hospitality). She welcomed them, fed them with humble yet hearty Serbian staples, gave them a place to rest, and most importantly made them feel at home. Commander Baco was so grateful for her generosity, patience and understanding that he proceeded to thank her endlessly for those few days. However, he confused her name and kept referring to her as “Baba Tresnja”, (Tresh-nya which means sweet cherry). “We can’t thank you enough for the delicious yogurt.” Then again the next day, “Baba Tresnja, the kacamak (cheese polenta) that you made today was absolutely mouth watering.”
Finally, after several more thanks, Baba Visnja, a sweet lady who could have become quite sour, politely interrupted the commander and said, “My name is not Tresnja, dear, it’s Visnja”. Baco replied with a wittily incisive, “Well I knew you were some kind of fruit!”
Granted, this was all in Serbian, and Deda Dusan and the platoon never made a peep that night at Baba Visnja’s table out of respect, of course. However, at their home on Schiller Street in Wicker Park, it was a classic World War II story, which Baba told often, especially when kacamak was on the menu.
War stories, jokes and fables were popular at Baba’s table. It was a way of breaking the ice with guests or just plain entertaining when the theme of politics was exhausted. Just this week while making kacamak for her great-granddaughter, Baba laughed and retold the story with her signature comic timing.
In the decadent 80’s, we would go as far as to say that mom and Baba Rada hosted what seemed like one serendipitous event after another, which we called our childhood. The fact that it centered around church life and the backdrop of Saint Steven’s Cathedral in the Alhambra hills in L.A. made it euphoric. There were a lot of parties, there were a lot of guests, a lot of etiquette, and there was a lot of cake!
In a sense, we Pavichevich kids took the sweet delicacies for granted, but that’s what you get when your Baba is a culinary artist, mother is a master of theater arts, and your living room is constantly full of the well-heeled, cream of the Serbian crop. It’s food meets high fashion, our favorite arena. The atmosphere slightly resembled that of a scene in Sophia Coppola’s highly theatrical “Marie Antoinette” starring Kirsten Dunst in which Marie is indulging in hundreds of little cakes and sweets.
One of the most epic post-lenten curtain calls at Baba’s Table throughout the year is without a doubt, Easter! Easter is the feast of all feasts in our home. Our mom, Jovanka took pictures as she helped Baba Rada with the cookies and pastries this year.
If you’re not going to the Drake Hotel for high tea on the Magnificent Mile this Mother’s Day, consider making Baba Rada’s "Orange Torte" for mom (recipe below). Surprise her with this light citrus delicacy that tastes even better than it looks. Baba has a saying which has been mentioned already called "od prilike" translated means by memory and use of common sense. Her recipes are so engrained in her head from practice that they are sometimes difficult to extract. However, we were able to conjure up the recipe below. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
10 Eggs (separate yolks and whip whites in a bowl).
12 Tbls powder or crystal sugar
12 Tbls blanched ground almonds.
2 large oranges (zest & juice in separate bowls)Reserve some orange peel for decorating the cake.
2 sticks unsalted butter (whipped)
In bowl: whip egg yolks with sugar (beat well)
add 1/2 of the orange zest and juice
add 4 Tbls flour
To this, fold in the whipped egg whites
Grease and flour 3 round cake pans, distribute batter evenly.
Bake at 350-360 ten to fifteen minutes. Cool and remove from baking pans.
Filling: Combine 4 whole eggs, 3 Tbls. flour, 1/4 cup milk and remaining 1/2 of orange juice and zest, and 4 Tbls. sugar. Stir this over a double boiler, to thicken. Cool filling mixture well, then combine it with 2 sticks whipped butter. Frost the cake. You can decorate with almonds and orange peel.