As Hubby and I get older, our priorities, what we deem important, and our desires are changing. Perhaps it’s the fear of our own mortality, but even more so at this point, the mortality of our parents. For Hubby, the mortality of his parents is hinged closely to the fading of his heritage.
He came to the US when he was a young boy and quickly assimilated into American ways and customs. His parents however clung to their heritage and never quite assimilated. They picked and chose the American customs and traditions they liked, and dismissed all others as not as good as the “Serbian” way. This selective assimilation has been a hindrance in many ways, but most prominently in preventing them from forming any type of bond with Zeb, Grace, or myself. We tried for years to include them in the American traditions that Hubby and I carried on from my background once we were married, but they made it clear they were not interested in participating in anything “American” unless they could somehow try to out-do it in a “Serbian” way.
The best example of this would be in birthday celebrations. According to Hubby, his parents never had a birthday party for him. There was one small party when he was very little and still living in Serbia, but since coming to the US, they hadn’t had a party, bought him gifts, or even made him a cake.
The first year we dated, when Hubby’s birthday came around, I made a huge deal about it. I made a romantic dinner for the two or us, made him his favorite cake, had presents for him, and even got us tickets to a sporting event to attend on his birthday. Every year since we met, I have made sure that his birthday has had a celebration.
After we got married, it was only natural I invite my parents, my brother’s family as well as Hubby’s parents over to share in the celebration. This is how my family celebrated birthdays — with family. From the first time his parents came over for their son’s birthday though, it caused problems. My mother-in-law is tremendously competitive and after coming to our home to celebrate her son’s birthday, she immediately had to invite us over to her house to have a birthday celebration for her son “the Serbian way.” Those were her exact words, “the Serbian way.”
Well, this didn’t sit well with Hubby, because to him “the Serbian way” meant no celebration at all. Suddenly after 25 years of never so much as a Happy Birthday, it was imperative his parents somehow prove to everyone what great parents they were by having a “Serbian” birthday party. And don’t think that they didn’t understand about birthday parties, gifts, and cakes because many of their friends in the Serbian community they were a part of had parties and celebrations every year. In fact, his parents had even thrown surprise parties for some of their friends, but never for their son.
This instance is only one example of many that pushed Hubby to the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to carrying on “Serbian” traditions. Although we did participate in Serbian traditions that his parents continued to carry on year after year, he made it clear to me that most, if not all, of these would die with his parents.
As my in-laws got older, Hubby mellowed and began bringing up some of the traditions he really did enjoy that his parents were getting too old to carry on. I offered to carry these traditions on, in fact researched many of them in-depth on the internet, but his parents were resistant. Hubby was open to the idea of me taking over the traditions and “Serbian” ways, but understood how hard it was for his parents to let go of running things. So when they were no longer able to host holidays or parties alone, we ‘lent a hand’ as much as we could.
For a few years this worked out, but when it became clear that all the work would have to be done by us and his parents were only “hosts” in name, they decided it was better to let the traditions die rather than allow us to take them over. They were less than supportive of any efforts we made to carry on the traditions that were part of their heritage. We invited them for Serbian Easter, Serbian Christmas, and Krsna Slava (our family Holy day) but they refused to come. They shut the door on all of it.
Hubby insists he’s fine with it, but I have my doubts. He puts up a good front, but with his parents in their 80’s and with the limited time he has left with them, I know he realizes that the traditions of his heritage will die with them if they haven’t already. This presents a challenge to me. How can I somehow, even if only in small ways, help Hubby hold onto his heritage which when you think about it is actually holding onto the memory of his parents? We are defined by what people remember about us when we are gone, be it the traditions we pass on, the memories we instill, the love we’ve shared that causes hearts to break when we die, or even something so small as food we made that became a reflection of home.
For the past couple of years I have been trying to duplicate some of the foods that were part of Hubby’s heritage, not everything, just those that he really loves and will miss when his parent’s are no longer here to share with him. Some are traditional Serbian dishes that are only served on certain holidays or occasions, but others are foods that his mother just made because she knew her son liked them.
This morning after I made my first batch of yeast doughnuts I began thinking about a doughnut-type bread that Hubby’s mother has been making for many years — krofna. This is a bread traditionally served before Lent begins, but Hubby’s mother makes it several times throughout the year. The traditional recipe is more of a sweet roll, but my mother-in-law prepares it less sweet and stuffs it with cheese. When I tasted the dough of the yeast doughnuts this morning, I was surprised how similar the texture and taste was to my mother-in-laws. So, you know what I did this afternoon? Yep, I tweaked my recipe for yeast doughnuts and made Hubby a batch of krofna.
Krofna – Cheese Stuffed Doughnuts
3/4 Cups Milk
2 Tbsp. Sugar
2 tsp. Salt
2 1/4 tsp. Active Dry Yeast
1/4 Cup Warm Water
4 Cups Flour
1/3 Cup Melted Butter
Shredded Cheese – mozzarella, cheddar, or whatever you like
Oil for Deep Frying
- Heat milk to near boiling. Combine hot milk, sugar, and salt in medium Set aside for 5 minutes.
- Add 2 cups flour to milk mixture and beat until blended.
- In small bowl dissolve yeast in warm water. Add to milk mixture along with eggs and melted butter.
- Mix in the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough forms. Knead with dough hooks in mixer for 3-4 minutes.
- Place dough in oiled bowl and allowed to double in size (about 40 minutes).
- Separate dough into 8 to 12 sections. Roll each section into a ball and then flatten with a rolling-pin on lightly floured surface. Place approximately 1/4 to 1/3 cup shredded cheese in the center of dough. Pull sides up and seal the cheese inside, forming a circle. Let rest 15 – 20 minutes.
- Heat 1 inch of oil to 375 in frying pan. Fry krofna until golden brown on both sizes. Drain on paper towel.
The minute the first krofna came out of the frying pan, Hubby was there with a fork and knife to cut into it. It was perfect.
Family politics are tricky no matter what, but throw ethnic traditions and customs into the mix and things quickly complicate beyond reason. I would never claim to be a good daughter-in-law or even come close to it, but I am a good wife. This recipe for krofna will ensure that at least while I’m alive, Hubby will be able to enjoy this bread that has been something he has loved for many years from his mother. I am not trying to replace her, just provide Hubby with a tangible reminder of the good memories they shared.
I probably won’t make these again for quite some time, as Hubby’s mother does still make these on occasion for him. The recipe will be in my cookbook for when I need it which is good enough for now, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.