Shopska Israeli Style
Would you believe I haven’t written in two weeks because I was in Bulgaria?!! It’s true! I was the staff escort to the AACI Jewish Heritage and Kosher Bulgaria tour that spent ten days touring a most interesting country. We visited several cities including Sofia, Plovdiv and Veliko Traverno. We saw Roman, Byzantine, Turkish, German, and Russian remains in a country that has been buffeted by one conquering army after another. We learned about the Jewish community through the ages, and the unparalleled efforts to save the 49,000-strong Jewish community during WWII.
As staff escort, I was responsible for the well-being of all the travelers. If we needed an extra bathroom stop, or someone wasn’t feeling well, I took care of it.
Last year I escorted an AACI Jewish Heritage trip to Portugal. My parents were on that trip, too. It was great to share the experience with them, but I was also doubly on edge—I was not only responsible for the group but also acutely aware of how Mom was doing. I realized it would be easy for Mom to get lost or panic. Every time she went to the bathroom, or she couldn’t find Daddy, I tried to intervene and make sure she was ok. It was exhausting.
Even before that trip to Portugal, I had gone to their house to help Mom pack. We put all her clothes in the suitcase a few days before departure, and put the suitcase in the other room so it would be out of the way. On top of the suitcase, I placed a list of all the items we had packed. Mom couldn’t remember packing. She wanted to open the suitcase and check everything. Daddy showed her the list we had made together which, luckily, calmed her suspicions.
Once we were on the trip, Mom didn’t introduce herself the way the other participants did. She sat quietly on the bus, or walked closely by Daddy’s side. Even though she was her usual animated, sunny self, as more people spent time with her, they realized something was wrong. I quietly told certain people in the group that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When we met at breakfast, I’d see that Mom was wearing the same clothes she had worn the day before. It was difficult to convince her to wear something new. Mom also had no real sense of where we were, what day it was, or what we were doing.
Daddy’s frustration peaked mid-way through the trip. He needed more space from her constant questions, her disorientation. I stepped in as much as I could. I went to their room early in the morning to help Mom dress. I ate meals with them. I walked arm-in-arm with Mom at some of our stops.
When we arrived home, Mom was confused about where she was. Nothing looked familiar. She kept asking Daddy when they were going home.
The thing is Mom was enchanted by the trip. She had a great time at almost every place we went because the “now” of new settings stimulated her. It just wasn’t worth the difficulty of taking her so far from home.
So, I went to Bulgaria without them. The stimulation that Mom receives from going out is confined to her own small country. Last night was such an event. We visited Rafi on his army base to hear about the “job” options available to him. In a rush of blue smoke, several hundred young men and women in uniform ran into the main plaza and held a series of exercises. It was exhilarating! And Saba and Savta were so proud.
There’s still so much to see and do in our small corner of the world. I hope we get the chance to enjoy it together.
One of the most exciting aspects of this trip was that I got to enter the kitchens of four-star hotels to help cook the kosher meals we were preparing. Try explaining why you have to cover counters with foil or use only special knives and cutting boards, and why everything is cooked in disposable pans. The chefs we encountered were curious but went out of their way to assist. I watched with awe as they chopped onions and garlic, beheaded fish, and cooked up tasty meals for 20 in under two hours. The main force behind these meals was our Israeli guide David Sondervan who makes a mean soup.
Bulgarian Cheese Salad (Shopska)
What better way to honor my trip by offering you a salad I love to make at home, Bulgarian Cheese Salad. Only in Bulgaria, they have a special name for it. Shopska derives its name from the Shopluk region in Bulgaria, and was created in the 1950s austere socialist years as a way of impressing foreigners. It worked!
3 tomatoes chopped
2 cucumbers diced
1 red pepper chopped
1 onion chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
½ cup Bulgarian cheese chopped, sliced or crumbled
½ cup Canola oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Use red onion for additional color.
Add a handful of sunflower seeds.
Add peanuts to amplify the salty Bulgarian cheese.
Use cherry tomatoes.
Chop tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, onion and parsley and place in large salad bowl (save a few sprigs of parsley to place on top as decoration). Cut, grate or crumble the cheese and add to bowl. In a small closed container, combine and shake together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad and toss.