Canterbury Bells

Canterbury Bells
Canterbury Bells represent Gratitude in the Language of Flowers

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Trying new recipes from Clean Cuisine book (an 8 week anti-inflammatory eating guide)
This was made with no oil but is still moist.  The cardamom and cumin add an exotic twist.
Warning:  Cardamom was selling for $14.00 for a  spice bottle--luckily my friend, Bonnie, had one in her pantry she was happy to share).  I think friends should have a spice co-op network.

1 orange peeled and cut into segments
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
unrefined sea salt to taste
10 ounces shredded  (this was quite labor time I will buy them already shredded)
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup dark raisins

1.  Place the orange, almonds, cumin, cardamom and lime juice in a high speed blender. Blend until smooth and set aside.

2. In a large serving bowl, add the shredded carrots, mint and raisins. Pour the vinaigrette on top of the carrot mixture and toss gently to coat.  Season with salt to taste.  Let salad sit at room temperature for 20 minutes to absorb the flavors,  Serve at room temperature.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Memorable Journey to Macedonia

Call it Serendipity or fate but whatever it is, sometimes life has a way of coming full circle in a wonderful way.  My recent trip to Macedonia and search for my ancestors was successful thanks to many chance encounters and to helpful people along the way.

I guess my story really begins over 90 years ago.  My paternal grandparents, Spiro and Vaska Bektesh  and their three sons, Peter, Dimitre and Milan (my father) immigrated to America from Prilep, Macedonia in 1921.  They settled in Gary, Indiana ,where a large Bulgarian/Macedonia community was forming due to the work opportunities with US Steel.  It was a wonderful way to grow up as this community continued to practice their Macedonian traditions and religious beliefs.  And of course their delicious cuisine!  I have wonderful memories of that time.  One vivid memory was my mother showing me a photo of an elegant home that had my maiden name carved in the front facing, saying it was our “family” home.  I’ve carried that photo with me for many years through many moves and each time I saw it, I said, “Someday I’m going to Macedonia to find that house.”

Fast forward to 2013.  I meet Monica Araneta through a mutual friend playing Mahjong.  It was only by chance that I mentioned that my husband and I were traveling to Macedonia this summer and I was so surprised to hear that she had been there the previous year through the ASU Sister City program of Tempe and Skopia.  She also introduced me to Dobrin and Tina  Nedelkov who travel to Prilep each year to visit their family.  

I told Monica of my search for the “house” and thought perhaps they could tell me how and where to begin.  Thanks to modern technology, I emailed the photo to Monica who forwarded it to Dobrin and to my amazement, they replied that they knew exactly where the house was in Prilep--“next to the high school by the river”.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  I was  finally going to see my ancestors’ home. 

My husband and I met with Dobrin and Tina who were so kind to give us a detailed map of the city and the location of the house.  Shortly after, they sent me an article that had just appeared in the Macedonian paper showing the home restored under the project of the Ministry of Culture for restoration and conservation of the more significant facades in urban cores.  The current owner and resident was Trajce Bektesh.  (my maiden name) Tina phoned her mother in Prilep who called the current residents and told them “relatives from America” were hoping to meet them on our visit. 

The first week of June we knocked on their door and Trajce Bektesh and his wife, Donka embraced us with open arms. As we discussed our family stories, the pieces fell into place and we learned that Trajce’s father, Peter, and my grandfather Spiro were first cousins.  They came to America at the turn of the century to “earn their fortune”.  We believe they worked on the transcontinental railroad.  When they returned to Macedonia, Peter invested in property consisting of hotels and retail shops and built this beautiful home.  My grandfather took his “fortune” and brought his family to America. 

Our new-found ancestors insisted we spend the night and we shared several meals and stories.  They were the most gracious hosts to five people they had never met. (We were traveling with Bulgarian friends from Chicago—another serendipity story I’ll save for another time).

This was a wonderful trip to Macedonia and it makes my heart sing when I think of the fortuitous events and kind people who helped me reach my destination:


One of the other Macedonian families who also settled in Gary, Indiana, were the Choncoffs.   Although Mary Choncoff was older than me, we did become acquainted at the many dances, weddings and picnics that brought all the Macedonians together and our fathers were friends.

In 1991 my husband and I moved to Phoenix but when I returned to Gary for my mother’s funeral in 1994, a mutual friend told me that Mary Choncoff lived in Tempe.  I got in touch and was able to experience some of the wonderful events she hosted and co-coordinated for the Macedonian community in Arizona.  Sadly, she passed shortly after that and I regretted that I did not have more time with this amazing lady.

I am grateful to Mary Choncoff for establishing Sister Cities which in turn led to meeting Monica and then Dobrin and Tina. How rewarding to think that the friendship of my father and Mary’s father has come full circle.  This was not only a journey of many miles but of many generations who value their heritage. I am so proud to be a Macedonian...a rich culture of loving, ambitious and hospitable people.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

A true story made headlines November 4, 2013.  A trove of approximately 1500 works of art confiscated by the Nazis in WWII were seized in a Munich apartment. The value was estimated to be $1.3 billion by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Chagall.  The news goes on to say that determining the rightful owners of the works decades after they were either sold under duress or seized could take years. 

One might think this would be a great premise for a novel and The Girl You Left Behind might just be that novel.  Published earlier this year, it was obviously written before this news broke.  The work of art at the heart of this story is of course fictional as are the events surrounding it.  The painting entitled “The Girl You Left Behind”, was painted in the year 1915 by a French artist, Eduardo Leferve and it resurfaces in the year 2001 in London.

There are actually two girls left behind in this story.  The first is Sophie Lefevre whose artist husband Eduardo goes to war for France in 1916.  The second is Liv a young widow in London whose husband dies prematurely in 2000.  Their stories, some eighty years apart, are connected through a painting  of “the girl” who is actually Sophie painted by her husband.  The painting resurfaces in the story in Liv’s bedroom. It was a gift from her husband on their honeymoon.  The two girls are united by a passion for this painting which represents both their husband’s love and devotion to them.

The dual timeframe storyline almost a century apart flows effortlessly from one to the other, although Sophie’s historical storyline is, I believe, the stronger of the two.  Sophie, struggling to keep the family’s hotel afloat under the German occupation of France, hangs her portrait in the hotel where it is a daily reminder of the proud self-reliant girl her husband saw.  She wants this reminder as the German invasion causes her to feel that the “glowing girl willful in her confidence” is slipping away due to enemy oppression and poor nutrition.  Although the opening scene would have readers doubt this when she confronts the German Kommandant’s accusation that she is harboring livestock.  It is my favorite scene in the book.

The risk she takes in hanging the portrait in a public place is that it is also visible to all.  When the German Kommandant notices the painting, his comments reveal that he is a cultured man..  The portrait is the catalyst that  causes Sophie to risk everything—reputation, family and her life—in hopes of seeing her Eduardo again.
What follows is a wary connection made between the Kommandant and Sophie that leads to tragic circumstances

Ninety years later the portrait hangs in Liv’s bedroom, as a cherished memento of her husband and their honeymoon.   On the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death, Livy meets Paul and his friendship is the first stirring of feeling she’s had for anyone since the death of her husband.  Unfortunately, Paul works for a company specializing in the return of artworks looted during wartime.  I think you can see where this is headed.  Instead of a blossoming relationship, they are now on opposing sides. The tension mounts as the case of rightful ownership goes to court.  Documents produced at the trial take us back in time to Sophie’s ordeal and  we discover, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story”.  Was the portrait stolen from the Lefevre family or was it gifted? 

Liv, like Sophie, takes a great risk as she defends her right to keep the portrait as she becomes subject to unthinking public hostility. Although the painting disappeared during WWI, she gets hate mail urging her to end the suffering of the Jewish people. Return what is rightly theirs. Both heroines are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most....whatever the cost.

As one review, which I totally agree with, says,  “JoJo Moyes does a majestic job of conjuring a cast of characters who are charismatic, credible and utterly compelling.”

This is the second book I’ve read by this author this past year and the other one, Me Before You was also mesmerizing.  Moyes finds a way to place her characters in extremely difficult situations where the stakes are high no matter what decision they make.  Me Before You is the story of a young caretaker who falls in love with her patient—a young, handsome, formerly virile man now a paralyzed from an accident.  A full box of tissues read.

JoJo Moyes, who lives in London, is a former journalist turned novelist. Her novel Foreign Fruit won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year Award in 2004.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Safe with Me by Amy Hatvany

If you like Jodi Picoult novels, you’ll probably like this one.  It deals with sensitive issues such as child loss, organ donors, spousal abuse and the boundaries of women’s friendships—yes, all in one book.

The story grabs you right at the start and doesn’t let go until the last pages (which I kept turning) to see how these characters would react to the many challenging issues they faced.  Their actions are believable yet controversial so this would make a good discussion book.