Category Archives: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Celebrating Bosnia’s Beautiful Victory

It’s a big day for Bosnia as the country’s football team the Dragons, earned its first place ever in the sport’s greatest tournament, the World Cup, by beating Lithuania 1 – 0.

I woke to Jas and Cookie dressed head-to-toe in team regalia.

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While I was at work, the two spent the afternoon wrapping up Bean in the team logos,

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recording their own private celebration of the winning goal and sharing a chocolate bar following the victory.

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During all of the revelry Jas managed to even cook up a traditional Bosnian veal stew for dinner

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and send me a text declaring that our 2014 summer vacation would involve sleeping in tents in Brazil.

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Idemo u Brazil!

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Learning English Inside and Out

“When I first came to America, I was surprised how Americans used their language,” Jas told me.

Having learned British English during his schooling, Jas had some trouble adjusting to American slang and colloquialisms.

“When someone would say ‘What’s up?’ I’d look up. When they’d say ‘How’s it hanging?’–I’d look down.”

When I was just getting to know Jas, I remember how excited he would get upon discovering a new phrase and how quickly he would recycle it, no matter how odd he sounded. He once complimented a friendly co-worker on her “weave” looking “tight.”

At first I believed his mimicry reflected a lack of originality, but soon learned that this was his way of learning American English inside and out. Now, he’s become so comfortable with American English that he’s even created his own choice sayings which I refer to as Jas-isms. Pay attention–one of them is bound to sweep the nation at any moment:

“Broccoli”–Jas has turned this word for the cruciferous veg into a lovingly disparaging label and uses it the way one would use the word “silly,” such as: “I can’t believe you thought I forgot your birthday you broccoli!”

“Dripping like a watermelon”–is used to describe anything that is dripping, perspiring, or simply wet.

“Dumb as the night”–This is my all-time favorite used to describe anyone he feels is dim-witted. If you analyze this simile, it actually makes perfect sense.

While British English does creep into his vocabulary here and there (such as when he asks me if I’ve packed my “bathing costume” for the beach) Jas has made American English his and uses it like a native…albeit a sometimes outdated native. I didn’t realize how often he calls on our American colloquialisms until my two-year-old Cookie, began repeating them to me. Behold:

Nudging me awake– “Mama, let’s get this party started.”

When experiencing frustration– “Oh come on, Man!”

Running out the front door, she’ll toss me a “Later, homey!”

While getting out of the tub one day she smoothly paired a Jas-ism with a colloquialism–“Mama, I’m dripping like a watermelon! Let’s get some towels in this joint!”

After ladling ravioli onto her plate–“Alright! Let’s eat these puppies!”

It is just a matter of time before the student becomes the teacher, and one can only imagine what Jas will do with the language Cookie (and Bean!) will teach him.

Partners in language crime

Partners in language crime

The Big American is excited to announce our new baby girl, who we’ll refer to as Bean, born July 19. After a brief and wonderfully wild hiatus, we are ready to write again.

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Remembering Srebrenica

Today, July 11 is the eighteen year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the greatest act of genocide during the War in Bosnia. You can read the countless writings on the details of this day and the thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives online. Here at the big american, we’d like to take a moment to remember those who lost their lives, to send strength and love to those who were victimized and lost their families. For those who stood by and watched, it is our hope that you have spent and continue to spend every day having learned from your mistakes and living more courageous, more valiant lives.

 

For Akif, who we lost one year ago today. You are with us always. 

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The Magic Show–For Bosnian Moms Only

We pulled up to the tiny cultural arts center in Donji Vakuf. Excited for Cookie’s first magic show, I took her out of her car seat, saddled her on my hip, turned and froze. Ahead of me was a crowd of women and children. All women and children–there was not a man in sight. In the parking lot behind me cars were pulling up and dropping off, men at the wheel speeding away, women and children on foot. Jas put his hand on my back and guided me into the building–the slightest smirk on his face that usually appears when he sees me engulfed in culture shock. 

In America, a “family event” like a magic show is for the whole family. In Bosnia, I discovered that evening, it is for moms and children. Not that men wouldn’t be welcome to join in–they just don’t. It’s not their place. Their role is to provide for their families, not to indulge in the children’s fun particularly after a long day of work and particularly when there’s a soccer game somewhere in the world and a television broadcasting it. 

Parenting roles are very clearly defined by gender in Bosnia and as such are reminiscent of 1950’s America. This has rankled my sister-in-law Jasmina since she got married and had children. As the men in her family always took a more active and therefore unorthodox role in caring for the home and children, she wasn’t prepared for her husband’s more traditional ways. At the time of our visit, she had just ended a cooking strike to get him to help around the house. “If I can work full-time, then he can help take care of the children and the house” she told me. “Until then, he’s not eating.” 

Once in the auditorium I was relieved to see a few males in the back of the room, then distressed to see them exit after kissing their children. We found seats next to M. the wife of one of Jas’s childhood friends and her children. She gave Jas a sidelong look. “Aren’t you going to watch soccer with the guys?” she asked.

“Yes, you can go,”  I piped up.

He looked at me smiling. “That’s ok. I’ll stay for awhile.”  

See my face? I’m praying that the guy sitting behind me stays for the show. He didn’t.

The show started. I tried to pay attention, but I couldn’t get comfortable. The magician was the only other man in the room. It was like Jas wasn’t meant to be there. Or shouldn’t be there. After urging him to head out for the tenth time he rose from his seat. And that was when Cookie decided that he wasn’t going anywhere. When he tried to put her in my lap she squealed and squirmed. I spent the next twenty minutes trying to coax her to stay with me. The other women began to take notice. I’m certain they did. What kind of mother was I? Why wouldn’t my little one sit with me? And who was this man I married? Didn’t he have something better to do than sit and watch a kid’s magic show? At home, such thoughts would never have crossed my mind, but here I felt cloaked in inadequacy. 

Jas stayed for the whole thing. He was one of the first in the face-painting line with Cookie at the end of the show. Towering over the women, smiling from ear to ear as a butterfly was painted onto her cheek. Grinning for the camera. The women looked at him, then looked at me and my empty, empty arms–theirs all full of children.

A happy, happy Tata.

A happy, happy Tata.

As the group began to break up, Cookie and I, M. and her children and a few other women headed to a cafe close by.  Jas hopped in the car to meet his friends at the bar and catch up on the soccer game, planning to pick us up later. Cookie was sleepy at this point and easily settled into my arms and I felt better as Jas drove away and we all walked to the cafe. And then Cookie started to cry and squirm. She had had a stomachache the night before and as I tried to comfort her now I could feel her forehead heating up. I said goodnight to the women and walked the seven blocks home, holding Cookie all the way as she refused to walk.

After Jas learned that we were at home (having been texted by M.), he did his own disappearing act that night, drinking and catching up with his childhood friends until the wee hours of the morning. I gave Cookie a bath and dressed her for bed. I administered some Tylenol when her fever spiked. I rocked her, walking up and down the balcony for what seemed like hours until she fell asleep, my muscles aching and shaking. I cuddled and soothed her back to sleep each time the pain from her head or tummy woke her up.

For the first time that night I was adequate. And exhausted. And not a little jealous of my husband.

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Bosnia’s Shades of Red

We’re usually in Bosnia at this time of year and probably would be at this moment if I wasn’t days away from expecting my second babe. I am missing our time there and thinking back on our trip last summer in my mind’s eye, I see bright flashes of red. Looking through the photos from our last trip, red is everywhere.

The chairs in the garden

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A pint of wild strawberries

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This stroller

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The garden fountain’s spigot

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Sarajevo’s Olympic Village playground

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Balcony roses

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These crocs bought at the market (as ugly as the originals but without the price tag)

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A mountain of market tomatoes

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The glow of the fire cooking the evening meal

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What colors do you see in your travel memories?

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Bosnian BBQ–Cevapi, Cevapi, Cevapi

Cevapi (cheh-vah-pee)

Cevapi (cheh-vah-pee)

Considered by many to be Bosnia’s national dish, cevapi is to Bosnia what the hamburger is to America. Jas requests cevapi every birthday and it is the one food he talks about for weeks before we head to Bosnia. Every Bosnian has their own recipe and you’ll find it in every Bosnian restaurant (some spots only serve cevapi).  My father-in-law made it the best but I think I come in a close second. Thankfully it’s easy to prepare in an American kitchen.

Cevapi are little rolled beef sausages classically served with bread, diced onion, and kajmak (a Bosnian cheese). A simple tomato and cucumber salad on the side completes the dinner. While cevapi are eaten year-round (we also make them for New Year’s Eve), they are great on the grill. If you’re looking to change up your traditional barbeque menu this summer, cevapi are the way to go. They can be prepared ahead of time, are easy and affordable to make for a crowd and you can even get your little one to help you roll them.  Served family style, eaten with your hands—what could be better?

Cevapi summer dinner

Cevapi summer dinner

A few notes about adapting this dish to your kitchen:

Cevapi are served on a type of bread called lepinja which is firm and doughy at the same time. I haven’t found it in America and you could make it, but who wants to knead dough in the summer heat? Sort of defeats the purpose of summer cooking. A bread that comes closest to lepinja and that is much easier to find is ciabatta though a doughy pita bread or even  naan could be used  with success.

Vegeta is a seasoning blend used widely in Slavic countries. It is easy to find online and some supermarkets are beginning to carry it, but if yours doesn’t or you don’t want to hunt online you could replace it with your favorite blend such as Lawry’s or McCormick’s. I do recommend going the extra step to secure some Vegeta as its uses are endless (Jas sprinkled it on our turkey this past Thanksgiving and it was fabulous).

Kajmak (kai-muk) is a spreadable sheep’s milk cheese. It’s like a cross between butter and cream cheese and the textures vary depending on where you buy it in Bosnia. It is not easy to find in America. There are a number of recipes online detailing how to make your own but I haven’t mastered the process and again, it defeats the purpose of summer cooking. Using a blend of easily found cheeses and some butter, you  can whip up your own kajmak to serve with your cevapi. The recipe is below.

Cevapi

Serves 4 -6

  • 3 lbs. ground beef (aim for 8o/20 meat/ fat ratio)
  • 2 Tbs. vegeta
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup sparkling water
  • 1 cup hot beef broth or water
  • Salt & pepper (to taste–I use 1 tsp. salt & 1/2 tsp. pepper)
  • Bread (ciabatta pref)

Soak the minced garlic in a little cool water for 15 minutes and drain. Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands (if the mixture feels too dry–you’ll know if it’s difficult to mix with your hands– add a bit more sparkling water).

Begin forming the cevapi–roll meat into a two inch ball and then roll between your palms into a log shape about two inches long. Place on a cookie sheet and keep rolling until all the meat is done. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Heat your grill, grill pan or flat top on high until screaming hot. Lay cevapi onto grill making sure not to crowd them. Turn the heat down to medium high and cook on all sides to desired done-ness (we prefer med-well which take about 5 – 7 minutes total). Note: Cevapi is properly seared when you can easily turn it on the grill, if it sticks, wait another minute or so before trying to turn again.

When all of your cevapi are grilled, slice your ciabatta bread in half and spoon hot beef broth or water (about 2 Tbs) over the insides. Place the bread face down on the hot grill and spoon more of the beef broth or water over the top. Note: if using pita or naan, place directly on the grill without slicing and sprinkle both sides with the broth or water. When the bread has grill marks on the bottom and the broth has steamed away (about 2 minutes) remove and serve with cevapi, diced onion and a bowl of kajmak.

To eat: Some pile their cevapi onto the bread and eat like a sandwich. We tear a piece of bread, slather it with kajmak, wrap it around an individual cevap, and sprinkle onion on top, like little mini hot dogs.

Loved by all ages

Loved by all ages

Kajmak

5 Tbs. sliced unsalted butter

8 oz. cream cheese (I use reduced fat)

8 oz. feta cheese crumbled

5 – 7 tbs. sour cream

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. Place them into a food processor or blender and blitz until you have a smooth, uniform mixture. It should have a spreadable consistency–use the extra sour cream if your kajmak is too thick.

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Naming a Babe Bosnian-Style

We are expecting Babe #2 and as with our first, do not know whether we’re having a boy or a girl. We’re currently in the throes of picking out names for both genders. If we were to follow Bosnian tradition, we’d simply take Cookie’s name and locate the male version of it or restrict ourselves to a name that has the same first letter for a female and be done. Hence, Jasmin (my husband) and his sister Jasmina. When I first heard this pairing–I’ll admit it– I laughed. A bit hysterically. I figured this naming approach was a quirk his mom and dad possessed, but after spending time in Bosnia I soon realized that this “quirk” is a full-fledged cultural norm.

A man named Amir will likely have a sister Amira. There are Bojans and Bojanas, Darios and Darias, and Ivans and Ivanas—all male/ female siblings. And when siblings are the same gender, or the brood is larger, all of the siblings will have a name with the same first letter. A trio of sisters could be named Mirsada, Melisa and Mirhunisa.

Of course, these are not hard and fast rules, and the younger generations are beginning to break with the tradition. But, where does it come from? How did it begin? It’s all a mystery. Jas has no clue (though he does know that it’s not particular to any ethnicity) and my research turned up nothing as well. (If you have any knowledge of this, please share with me).

It also hasn’t helped us come up with a name for the new babe (we’re particularly stuck trying to find a boy’s name). So much pressure giving a human being a name s/he will have for life! On one hand, I envy the way Bosnians narrow down the process. On the other, the American in me relishes the wide array of choices available to us as evidenced by the two baby name books I own, the four apps Jas consults and the six lists we have going. And it’s nice to know that should we have a boy, our children will never have to deal with some idiot  cackling hysterically upon meeting them.

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