Perfect three ingredient crescents (margarine, eggs, and flour) filled with jam and baked. Classic combo for the win!
Upon arriving to the US, we discovered a small community of Bosnian immigrants that lived in the DC area.
Like us, they left one life in exchange for another. Like us, some lived through the war, and still crossed the street apprehensively observing high points around them. They looked suspiciously at the hills. They flinched at flashes of glass as windows opened. This is the kind of walking you learn when snipers are around, and snipers abounded in Sarajevo during the early nineties.
Others spent time elsewhere during the war, but were asked to leave their second homes behind once the war was over. European countries like Germany were giving money to Bosnian refugees to send them back to their burned out cities so they could start building again. However the US still had a refugee program through which people could apply to come to the promised land. Many did.
And that’s how there appeared a big mélange of Balkan people in, and around, Alexandria, Va.
We took to each other quickly. These friendships were our lifelines in those years. Generations separated into their own comfortable rhythms, but we all of us shared the music, cultural idiosyncrasies, and jokes no one else could understand.
And we shared our sweet language, which as the years passed, kept either dividing or growing and we had to cling on to it like crazy. Those words, those accents, those sounds we owned so well suddenly sounded foreign. English, in its unassuming and sneaky way, started to show up in our sentences, until some completely abandoned the old language in favor of the new.
One of the families we became friends with was a couple with two daughters. Both daughters took after their mother, and were quite beautiful. Lanky but soft, possessing ivory complexion and dark, dark hair, they resembled princesses from Russian fairy tales.
One was my age, and for a while we were close friends. The older was a few years ahead of us, and had a disability that determined she would not be able to participate in all of life’s experiences.
But their mother, oh boy, the world rarely sees such an unstoppable figure. She was the one who pulled the most. As a teenager, I found her overbearing. It was as if she hung above us like an umbrella, just waiting for the world to hurl itself down on us. And those years, we wanted to hurl ourselves to the world instead.
That woman created things into reality when and where she could. And when she couldn’t, she relied on her endless imagination to bend the world to her will. She did this for both daughters, and especially the older one.
The results were fantastic. A fully able person had not experienced even half of what this young woman did, thanks to her mom.
The mom did all this effortlessly and with humor.
This dark, heavy, relieving humor is specific for Bosnia. It’s therapeutic. Brutally honest. It assesses the culture with no reservations. It boils down mentalities into the basic of generalizations. It’s truthful. It shows the potential for potential.
You know when you laugh, things become a little easier. Suddenly perfections become imperfections, and imperfections are perfect the way they are. Suddenly you don’t envy anymore. Suddenly there is sunshine where and where there ain’t any sunshine.
Suddenly the life is good.
And the life was good. We made it good. We picked up the pieces. We rebuilt. Day by day, year by year, we became as essential and important part of DC region like generations of immigrants before us.
One couple opened up a restaurant. We hung out there, celebrated NYE, July 4th, and Halloween. There was finally a place to buy pita. A place to buy the well-known Vasina cake. A place to sit down and talk, cry and laugh. And send the boss to hell in proper Balkan slang, and then hear about a new job opening.
Traditions we developed included celebrating most holidays together. And although as a young adult I was running away from traditions and to parties of my own, secretly I enjoyed attending these. There was a feeling of familiarity, of being around people who genuinely wanted you to succeed, and saw a part of their own success in your growing up.
The food at these parties was indescribable.
Usually there were so many of us at least one huge table would have to hold the entire specter of entrees. I feared one of these days one of these tables would break under the heaviness, and kill someone. Still not sure how we avoided this.
You could eat anything there – from pitas, salads, to cakes, schnitzels, strudels and baklavas – and the hostess would even pack up a few things for you to take home. Each time. Every time. Every hostess.
In all that opulence though, my favorite were the crescents always the ones made by my friends’ mom.
For every occasion she’d come with a present for everyone. Sometimes this was a lighter for the ladies who still smoked, that flickered a small penis as they reached to light their cigarettes. Sometimes everyone got a stuffed ballerina toy.
But often, she brought along these jam filled margarine crescents. I don’t think she knew, but for me they were the beginning and the end of every celebration.
She gave mom the recipe before mom moved back to Sarajevo. Since then, these crescents are a regular rotation at our holiday table.
Generally, I’m no fan of chocolate-free cookies. But these cookies are so soft, so full of moisture, they become a part of your mouth as soon as you start to eat one.
One batch of dough makes 72. They keep well. You can leave them on a terrace or in a cool place for a few weeks and they’ll still be fresh.
And they’re a great present too. Just pull out a tin box, fill it up, and it takes you back to your childhood.
Every time I eat them, I am reminded of those early years in the US. I’m reminded of this time when we went to NYC together, just the women and girls except our disabled friend who had travelled somewhere with her father.
While we were doing the regular Manhattan tourist-y things, her mom kept on walking behind the group, and turning around frequently. Later that night in the hotel, for the first and only time I heard her say anything direct about it all. “I keep walking and looking to see where she is to make sure she crosses the street safely.”
I never understood her until that moment. And I never really understood her until several years later, when I couldn’t fall asleep because I was listening to someone’s breath to make sure they were still alive.
But the crescents are a happy occasion now. They are a tribute to a wonderful woman, and her family that keeps on growing.
And the fantastic folks I met along the way and of becoming an adult in between two worlds, in a small community that grew large. A community that held each one of its children in a tight cocoon until we were ready to spread our wings.
We’ve all flown further than we ever imagined.
- 16 ounces margarine (room temperature)
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 3 tablespoons sour cream
- 3 tablespoons baker's yeast
- 1 lemon peel, ground
- 22-24 ounces white flour plus a little more
- 12-14 ounces jam (plum, fig, or rose hip)
- 16 ounces powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla powder
- Place margarine into a mixing bowl, add egg yolks, egg, sour cream, baker's yeast, and ground lemon peel. Mix on the lowest with a hand mixer for a minute or two.
- Turn the hand mixer off, and continue by kneading the dough with your hands while adding the flour. When the dough is hard, buttery, and the thickness of an ear lobe, it's finished. Divide into three equal parts. Knead each part a little bit longer, and place on a tray. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and transfer to the fridge. Leave for 5-6 hours, or overnight.
- When you get ready to do the second part, take the dough out of the fridge, and leave so it warms up on the room temperature (about 30-60 minutes).
- Prepare a working area by sprinkling generous amounts of flour. Divide each dough piece into three (you'll end up with nine small dough pieces). Take the first dough piece, punch it in the middle, and roll out with a rolling pin until it's round and of the thickness of a three-four of pennies stacked together. Cut into eight slices with a pizza cutter. Put a teaspoon of jam on the thicker end of each slice. Roll each slice from the thicker to the thinner part making sure the jam stays inside. (Some of the jam will come out during baking, that's fine.)
- Repeat this process for the remaining eight dough pieces. Heat oven to 480F.
- Cover your baking pan with a baking sheet, and place the crescents onto it, leaving a little bit of space in between each. (You may have to bake in two batches.)
- Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350F another 20-25 minutes. Keep checking the crescents, and as soon as they start to turn golden yellow, cover with foil. (They burn fast, so make sure you're checking often.)
- Take out and leave to cool for 15-20 minutes.
- Pour the powdered sugar into a large bowl, and mix with vanilla powder. Place the crescents into the bowl and roll them in powdered sugar. Transfer to a tray or a box.
Keep in a cool place for up to a couple of weeks.