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A Bit of Croatia in my Gingerbread

The sun was setting over the Adriatic as our merry band of travelers left Bosnia behind and drove up into the hills and along the coast to Croatia.

The drive was spectacular, wending along rocky, flowered hillsides that plunged down to the sea. The shimmering water and pearled sky were a welcome respite after our emotional journey through war-battered Bosnia. I felt my spirits lift as I stared out to sea and cool evening breezes rushed in through our open windows.

There were seven of us – Trish, Viss, Stace, Nat, Ben, Ryan and me – taking a 9 passenger van on a 10-day driving tour of the Balkans. It was both exhilarating and exhausting and we slept like rocks that night, too tired even to eat, except for my poor brother Ryan. He had acquainted himself with the angry end of a sea urchin whilst on a late night swim, and had feet and one hand full of stingers. Youch!

The next morning we packed up and drove to Dubrovnik, an exquisite port city aptly named the pearl of the Adriatic.

We arrived early, sharing the cobbled streets of the Old Town with locals bustling to work.

We bought fresh bread, pastries and hot chocolate, then strolled happily through the streets, stopping in little shops to admire handmade jewelry, glistening bottles of wine and, my favorite, rack upon rack of soft pashminas in rich jewel tones threaded with gold.

Some of us decided we simply had to take a boat ride, so we haggled with a wonderfully bossy woman with wild gray hair, and clambered aboard with her silent-as-the-grave hubby for our own private tour. If I close my eyes now I can feel the rocking of the boat underfoot, the sun toasting our shoulders and noses, the gloriously cool breezes buffeting our hair and faces as we motored outside the city walls and around a wind-swept island ringed with rocky outcroppings.

 As much as I loved the boat ride (and it was marvelously fun!!), one of my favorite parts of Dubrovnik was the open air market we discovered.

My brother and I met the sweetest old lady who could hardly speak a lick of English but positively beamed at us when we approached her table. 🙂 I surveyed her display of sugared fruits and nuts and settled on a bag of crystallized orange peel. She giggled at my attempts to communicate, took my hand and helped me count out the right coins. On a whim I asked if she would have her picture taken with me and she grinned broadly and pulled me in tight, her meaty arm wrapped snugly around my waist. We parted with a big, squeezy hug and she stood waving good bye, still beaming, as we passed out of sight.

I’ve been hoarding that crystallized orange peel since May, waiting for just the right recipe to use it in. I found it when I decided to make Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle the other day. The gingerbread recipe called for crystallized ginger, but I didn’t have any so I turned to my Croatian stash, parceled out just enough and quickly tucked the rest away for another day.

I ground up the crystallized orange peel, added it to the batter, and popped the gingerbread into the oven. It was delicious: moist, dense, with the ginger and orange playing beautifully off each other.

Each bite reminded me of that gorgeous day in Dubrovnik, and the delightful people who made it so memorable.

Happy eating, dear ones!

Gingerbread
(adapted from Whole Grain Baking)

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp molasses
1 large egg
1 cup coconut milk (I didn’t have buttermilk)
1/2 cup minced, crystallized ginger (I used crystallized orange peel)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan.
3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, stir together the butter, sugar, egg, molasses and coconut milk.
5. Stir in the flour mixture until the batter is evenly moistened.
6. Stir in the crystallized orange peel.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the center is set, 45-50 minutes. remove from oven and cool on rack for 15 minutes.
8. Serve warm.

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