Summer Food: Oven-baked Chicken with Tomatoes

We arrived to the coast just the night before. We walked through a tranquil village to the restaurant for dinner. Not many people around, barely a car passed us. It was a short, pleasurable walk. The air was dense with smells of the sea and the sun-drenched soil. The sunset was gorgeous. It felt good to be back at last.

The dinner we had at Restaurant Badi was fantastic: marinated sardines and anchovies, a small heap of the Venetian classic sarde in saor, then two bowls of crisp fresh salad and a whole, on the bone, perfectly grilled sea bream. With it we had some very good Istrian, local, red wine and after the meal we shared a glass of pelinkovac, a delicious bitter brandy made with wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).

Then, the next morning we headed to the farmers’ market in Umag. It’s one of those not too cute but secluded places that are lively and colourful. Continue reading “Summer Food: Oven-baked Chicken with Tomatoes”

We need to talk about Istria, Croatia

A fantastic sunset colouring everything violet in Istria, Croatia
A fantastic sunset over Oprtalj

Oprtalj is a tiny hilltop town set in a countryside of lush Mediterranean forest, manicured vineyards and cultivated olive tree groves. In a word, it’s a land of infinite shades of green.

Manicured vineyards in Istria, Croatia
Manicured vineyards in front of Arman winery

Oprtalj is very similar to its neighbours Grožnjan or Motovun or Buje yet at the same time very much different. They’re all filled with charming stone houses and cottages, some derelict some wonderfully renovated, and all offer breathtaking views across the valleys to the Adriatic or inland.

A view towards the Adriatic from the terrace in Grožnjan, Istria
A view towards the Adriatic from the terrace in Grožnjan, Istria

Anyway, as many as there are similarities each little town has its own character.

One of many tiny courtyards in Grožnjan, Istria
One of many tiny courtyards in Grožnjan, Istria

Grožnjan exudes everything art, for instance. There are plenty of galleries and artists’ studios (some of them even work outdoors). There’s this gorgeous terrace acting as a main square with beautiful view, where excellent coffee is served along with homemade pies. At the entrance to the old town some local farmers sell their produce on the improvised tables under the safe shade of a huge tree.

Mediterranean smells abound in Grožnjan, Istria, Croatia
Mediterranean smells abound in Grožnjan, Istria

There’s a spectacular deserted graveyard behind St Martin’s church in Buje that’s filled with grave stones scattered all around a terraced lawn. Old gravestones carry all kinds of personal information about the deceased which might not mean much to today’s Facebook generations used to everything being published anyway.

Door leading onto deserted graveyard at St Martin’s church in Buje, Istria
Door leading onto deserted graveyard at St Martin’s church in Buje, Istria

There’s a last resting place of one lady from Umag, a woman of force, donna di forza, who left behind a devastated husband, had given all her heart into educating their three sons who all grew up to be prudent, and dedicated her life to taking care the poor recognized the power of Christ. Among other things. On some gravestones even crusaders’ symbols can be seen.

A stupendous but derelict graveyard monument in Buje, Istria
A stupendous but derelict graveyard monument in Buje, Istria

The sign on the town main square’s tower implies the sleepy town of Buje is not so sleepy all the time. The school is one of the buildings lining the square on the hilltop. The tower bears the plaque of Venetian lion since the town had been a part of Benetian Republic for several centuries. The Baroque church next to it was built on the sight of a Roman temple.

Football not allowed in main square of Buje, Istria
Football not allowed in main square of Buje, Istria

At some point, a lavender field amidst the vineyards surprises an innocent passer-by.

Lavender field amidst the hills of Istria
Lavender field amidst the hills of Istria

And then, when exhausted after all those steep hills and rocky lanes, a plate full of this fragrant dish might feel like a cherry on top of a much deserved cake.

Lunch of truffles over pasta in Livade, Istria
Lunch of truffles over pasta in Livade, Istria

Have no fear, there’s some fantastic wine to be enjoyed.

A box of wine by Franc Arman winery, Istria, Croatia

At the back of the Oprtalj village in Istria the view stretches over the endless green
At the back of the Oprtalj village the view stretches over the endless green

Istria NW map with some points of interest (added August 17, 2016)

The Weekend of Doing Nothing

I’ve finally warmed up this weekend. Up until Friday I was constantly cold partly because of the weather that stubornly refused to bring the warmth (at least this is a natural fact, something that can’t be controlled, so what the hack, right?) partly because of the office air-conditioning already turned on ignoring the actual outdoor conditions (simply bloody too much). So, a sunny and warm weekend at last delivered the long desired comfort.

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I enjoyed it very much. Contrary to everybody else who’ll be going on and on about what they’d been up to this weekend my reply to the eminent question of What did you do over the weekend? will be simply Nothing.

We drove to the Croatian coast for the weekend, true. Left the town pretty early on Friday, a rare indulgence, true again. We had a lovely late lunch of fresh fish on the way just on the edge of Karst. The nearer we got to the coast the warmer it was getting. The early evening was the colour of antique gold. We had a glass of amaro before we called it a night.

On Saturday we slept late, later than usual at least, and had coffee in bed. We drove to Umag, the nearest town, for breakfast …

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… and shopped at the local market. There are all kinds of vegetables and fruits in season right now, some of them our favourites: fresh cherries, crisp peas, sweetest carrots, young soft cabbage heads, fragrant strawberries, the not-yet-too-bitter radicchio verde, fantastic lettuce and whatnot. After that, we took a short stroll through the old town.

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We stocked up with a stack of magazines and newspapers at the newsagent’s and grabbed a fresh loaf of white bread at the baker’s. The one that we always crave for back home.

Then, we did some work around the house but nothing too exhausting. We enjoyed the sun and the warmth and the calmness of the day. We took a really long walk along the coast and admired the macchia and pine trees and the sweet up-coming smell of the summer.

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Before we turned in we had a glass of local pelinkovac, a remarkable wormwood liquor. One would assume we’re heavy on the alcohol but rest assured the quantities we had were purely medicinal.

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On Sunday, I went for a morning run and when I returned my man had already laid out a sumptuous breakfast. Afterwards, we read. And we read. We lounged in the sun and read. I podded the peas and then read some more. We were delighted by the birdsong and a tender breeze.

We cooked risotto primavera (simplified but nonetheless delicious) for late lunch and watched the tranquility pass us by.

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During our drive back home I watched the moon moving slowly over the sky of dying light. It was huge and deep yellow.

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Come to think of it it was no nothing at all.