Bosnia

The power in the realization that we may not always be the keepers of our land, but that we are the only keepers of our souls, and that my soul is a part of the ancient and sacred land of Bosnia, is the essence of this once 11-year old child who now writes these words in Toronto, sipping on tea bought in the Ceylon mountains of Sri Lanka and eating Plazma keks with it (Bosnian children’s biscuit), while listening to Nina, having just eaten Indian dhal with coconut kefir from Kensington Market and lots of fresh cilantro from a Tibetan grocery store in Parkdale, Toronto. I am about to head our for an Armenian coffee up the street on Queen West and am feeling truly grateful for it all.  

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Although we had to leave our home forcefully in 1992, our journey has been an intricately beautiful one. I can say that 28 years of having left & returned twice to Bosnia this year. The realization of the beauty is a recent one: just this March I was given the opportunity to write & photograph a cookbook which is to highlight Bosnian cuisine and the experience of capturing it. Needless to say, it has been an empowering and soothing experience so far, and I have become deeply connected to the project and naturally, its essence yet again.

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As part of the research for the cookbook, going back home was essential and soaked in curiosity as to how the visit would feel. Going back to Bosnia was not always an easy thing to do; however the most recent visits there have lifted the old heaviness that was attached with going back. It is a convoluted feeling to explain, and I will leave that to rest and heal, as it has and needs to.

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In total, I spent about 2.5 months in Bosnia this year, with shorter trips to Croatia and Serbia. My home base was my initial home base: the small town of Ključ. It is my ancestor’s and my hometown and where all that is sacred that we as people of identifiable place of belonging to are from. Ključ is located in the northwest of Bosnia with a rather significant history for its town size.  In the 15th century, the last king (Stjepan Tomasevic) that ever reigned the land of Bosnia fled to a castle on those same hills just above my grandmother’s house. We call it Stari Grad (Old City) and there is nothing like it to a kid like me.

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My approach in gathering research and collecting ideas for recipes to include and re-create for the cookbook was not a usually crystallized or structured one; it was a rather fluid and organic one this time. Although I had an idea of the things I wanted to capture and taste, it became apparent that I needed to let Bosnia nurture me yet again with its offerings, and thus I surrendered to the experiences, meals, cakes and drinks that were offered to me in various settings.

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The seasons of the summer and fall were kind to me, in the sense that the local produce that we were raised from within the rich valleys, river beds, and forest floors, did so again this time. Summer in Ključ is a vibrant and tasty time: there are a lot of flourishing gardens, and these days, also more green houses filled with the unmistakable rich and natural flavours of things like peppers (various sorts), tomatoes, cabbages, eggplants, leeks, potatoes, beans, corn, wheat and so on. The orchards are a whole other entity of wonder and bounty, starting with apples, pears, plums (my favourite), quince trees, cherries, mulberries as well as raspberries, blackberries and currants.

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The forests and rivers deserve their own mention and I will write about them next. They are the keepers of my fondest and earliest memories: my childhood. It is my rooted wish and will be my sincere attempt to bring some of those precious memories onto pages and into photographs to remain as timeless memories.  They will be simple, but they are marvellous and precious to me given their short-lived and endangered nature, and I am thankful to have been given this time to tell you about my heritage and journey through some of the things I love most: food, story telling, cooking within a loving and fun community, all captured though conscientious photography. 

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