I have always been one of those people who automatically runs by the motto save the best for last. As a child I would meticulously figure out which bite of dinner was the most delicious and eat my way around it so that the last flavor in my mouth could linger and be savored even once the meal was through. I remember calculating in a split second the best ratio of frosting to cake or cheese-to-sauce-to-crust and making sure the last morsel on my plate fit that equation. Best for last perhaps has its satisfactory benefits, but at the same time it can be a bit exhausting to get so precious about the little things.
Besides being slightly strange and sometimes nit-picky, there is no real problem with eating like this. The problem comes when I catch myself using this best for last concept in terms of creativity. There have been moments when I have a strong idea for a dance, a blog post, a poem, anything, and I feel like I should save it for later- until the “right” time. However, this is under the expectation that the “right” time for something still hasn’t happened and who is to say when it will? Saving ideas like this is acting under the preconception that the well of creativity can easily run dry, when in fact it is a source that constantly refills if you allow space for the water to flow through.
For me, one of the main ways I depend on this well refilling is through travel. Even during those days when I think perhaps my best ideas for writing, dancing or recipes may be completely tapped and I should have saved them longer, I have to remember that the next trip is bound to let some new juices fill me up.
I went to Sofia with no expectations except for the hope that some fresh fuel would start creeping up the edges of my well, whether it came from facing fears and challenges in a place that just doesn’t sit right, or from finding happy connections and nourishment in a new beautiful city. Thankfully, this trip was the latter and its richness grew day by day.
Sofia is a city of contrasts- gritty and sleek, modern and old-world, natural and industrial. All of these sensory elements plus the added layer of taking part in the annual Antistatic Contemporary Dance Festival and meeting the most amazing people all filled me up more than I could have imagined. Being home now, I’m feeling akin to a water cannon, leaking around the edges and ready to burst.
I am going to be writing a lot more about the festival, dance workshops, and the details of my adventures, but for now let me contradict my usual habit and talk about the last thing first.
Appropriately enough, one of the best experiences in Sofia was my last full morning. It is always hard to leave a place on a high note, but perhaps like the last bite, it is better to be left with a fond flavor lingering in your mouth. I woke up early with my flatmate, an actress from Romania, and we set out to meet the other two women with whom we had bonded during the dance workshops for an early breakfast of traditional Bulgarian pastries.
We started with coffee and mekitsa at Mekitsa & Kafe and as we were eating there, the Bulgarian girl in our little travel-sisterhood mentioned that we absolutely must try traditional banitzas, so we decided to head out on a leisurely long walk to make some space in our stomachs for a second breakfast. Walking two-by-two, then four in a row, three with someone leading the way, then back to two-by-two but in different arrangements, I couldn’t help but think that we were creating some sort of beautiful rhythmic dance, winding through the city. Our final stop was a traditional bakery on the edge of the Doctor’s Garden for cheese and spinach banitzas. We got two to go along with a giant jug of aryan- an unsweetened yogurt drink- and brought them to the large and lusciously green park to have a little picnic in the grass. Even though my flatmate and I were embarrassingly late checking out of our apartment, I was left with the taste of rich and cheesy pastry, the smell of fresh morning leaves, and one of those glowing feelings from inside out. Sometimes saving the best for last happens unexpectedly, and yet in utter perfection.
Allow me to back-track a couple steps to that first breakfast. Mekitsa, I should explain, is a Bulgarian fried dough, like a sort of blobby and fluffy donut, topped traditionally with powdered sugar or Bulgarian feta cheese and jam. Mekitsa & Kafe was a lovely little hole-in-the-wall cafe, offering nothing but what it claims: mekitsa with an overwhelmingly wide variety of sweet and savory toppings, and coffee. We ordered four different kinds, tried them all and I couldn’t help but think how simple this treat would probably be to recreate in my own home.
I was right. These mekitsa were whipped up in place of our Sunday morning pancakes and they turned out absolutely perfect. The secret to mekitsa as opposed to another type of donut is adding yogurt to the batter, which makes the dough a little tangy-er and more moist. I decided to make these half whole wheat, since I love the hearty taste of whole wheat flour and, being into the whole sweet & savory thing, topped them with cheese, honey and peaches. Really though, you can top your mekitsa with anything and I guarantee you won’t have to wait for the last bite to enjoy them- each bite is doughy, satisfying and wholly fulfilling.
Makes 5-6 large donuts
- 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (60ml) warm water
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (75g) unsweetened yogurt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup (150g) all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup (100g) whole wheat flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Canola or peanut oil for frying
In a large bowl, lightly whisk together the warm water and yeast, then let it sit for about 5 minutes or until nice and foamy. Mix in the sugar followed by the yogurt and egg. In a separate medium bowl, combine the flours and salt. Begin to add the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in 3 batches or until it comes together to form a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a couple minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic (it will be a little bit sticky, but you can keep flouring your hands and the surface to keep it together). Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes-1 hour.*
Once it is just about doubled in size, heat your oil in a large pot over high heat. The oil should fill up just to about 1" high. Once it is hot and bubbles are beginning to form, separate a golf-ball sized piece of dough and begin forming it into a rough, thin disk, as if your where forming a small pizza with your hands. The middle should be thinner than the edges, but you don't want any area thicker than 1/2". Carefully, using a large slotted spoon, slide the disk of dough into the oil. Let it fry on one side until the edges turn golden brown, then flip and fry the other side until also golden brown. Remove, shake off the oil and let sit in a colander or on paper towels to absorb excess oil as you fry the others. Repeat until all of the dough is used up.
- Cream cheese or other soft + spreadable cheese (I used Moroccan beldi cheese, which is a bit more savory) with honey + peaches or strawberries
- Powdered sugar + cinnamon
- Nutella + banana
- Cheese + jam (the more traditional toppings in Sofia)
- Savory chutney or cheese with herbs and garlic
- Basically anything you want
Serve the mekitsa with your favorite toppings for a hearty weekend breakfast.
*I have not tried making this dough the night before, but I imagine you could make the dough, set it in the fridge overnight and take it out first thing next morning, letting it rise for 30-45 minutes before frying.