Dining in the Bosnian Diaspora

House salad with shrimp and Nina's bear sandwich, Old World Mediterranean, Concord NH. Photo: Alexis Simpson

House salad with shrimp and Nina’s bear sandwich, Old World Mediterranean, Concord NH

A couple of months ago, a news item from the St. Louis Bosnian community caught my eye. It said that three siblings from St. Louis’s Grbić family had appeared on the Food Network’s contest show “Guy’s Grocery Games” and won. (The episode is here.) It was great to see Bosnian culinary wisdom and expertise getting some of the recognition it deserves. Hey, even Guy Fieri knows good burek when he sees it now.

Every time I visit Bosnia-Herzegovina, I get my fill of fresh, flavorful salads, sandwiches, soups, and sweets. When I’m back in the States, I get my fix anywhere I can, and in recent years I’ve had phenomenal meals at Bosnian-owned restaurants across the country: Toasters in Salt Lake City, Restaurant Sarajevo in Chicago, Balkan Bistro — now FIG — in Charlottesville VA, and Sabur in Somerville MA.

My latest finds, thanks to my parents and my wife, are Balkan Dining (in Buffalo NY) and Old Europe Mediterranean Fine Dining (in Concord NH). My parents found Balkan Dining months ago and have been back several times since for the mixed meat plate, šopska salad (chopped cucumber, tomato, cucumber, and feta), chicken noodle soup, and homemade desserts (they recommend the baklava and the cakes).

My wife has made Old Europe a regular lunch stop on the days she’s working at the New Hampshire state house. At Old Europe, Nina Mujaković and Emin Halilović have produced her new favorite meal, the house salad with shrimp (pictured). Just as important, Nina and Emin give her a chance to catch her breath, collect her thoughts, and feel rejuvenated before getting back to work. It’s been a welcome infusion of Bosnian life and rhythm into an otherwise long and dreary New England winter.

When we ate together at Old World for the first time yesterday, I took Nina’s recommendation to try her “bear sandwich” (also pictured) of feta, tomato, and basil on a pain rustique. It was her favorite as a child with a finicky palate, she says, and I can see why. Emin made me a mean Turkish coffee (two, actually), and I can’t wait to get back to combine a meal with a trip to their new international fresh market / grab-and-go shop next door, Nina’s Pantry.

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Goran Simić: A Fresh Collection of Poems

Goran Simic, New and Selected SorrowsJust this month, Smokestack Books released a new anthology of poems written by my dear Bosnian friend Goran Simić. Called New and Selected Sorrows, it includes some of the best of Simić’s postwar and diaspora writing — from collections like Immigrant Blues, From Sarajevo with Sorrow, and Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman — along with a substantial section of material appearing in print for the first time. A quick glance at the sample poems on the publisher’s website will give you an immediate sense of why the likes of Susan Sontag and Sydney Lea have been so powerfully drawn to Goran and his work.

These days, after living for more than a decade in Canada, Goran is back home in Sarajevo, working desperately to preserve and promote Bosnia-Herzegovina’s vibrant, multi-ethnic literary culture. I can’t recommend his work highly enough.

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Book Review: The Color of Christ

Color of ChristEdward J. Blum and Paul Harvey’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (UNC Press, 2012) offers an essential and extraordinary history of the American racial imagination. It focuses on the explosion, and whitewashing, of images of Christ in the cultural crucible of nineteenth-century America, when white supremacy sought fresh legitimacy from above.

My review of The Color of Christ appeared in the most recent volume of Mormon Studies Review, a scholarly journal edited by J. Spencer Fluhman. Access is by subscription; Melissa Inouye’s overview of the issue is here.

Posted in Books, Mormonism, Popular Culture, Publications on Religion and American Culture, Race, Religion and Politics, Religion and Spirituality, Social Justice, Teaching | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“All We Have Left” in Numéro Cinq

Riverside, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Riverside, Mostar

“All We Have Left,” a 2012 memoir of mine about Bosnia-Herzegovina — a photo and travel essay, featuring art by Samir Biščević and music by Merima Ključo and Miroslav Tadić — has just been published in the online Canadian literary magazine Numéro Cinq, along with new poems about Bosnia by the masterful Goran Simić and Sydney Lea, Vermont’s Poet Laureate.


Bregava River / Rijeka Bregava, Stolac

Bregava River / Rijeka Bregava, Stolac


**My essay “All We Have Left” is here.

**Goran Simić’s “Wind in the Straitjacket” is here.

**And Sydney Lea’s “No Consequence,” dedicated to Goran, is here.



The editor of Numéro Cinq, the brilliant Canadian novelist Douglas Glover, captured the spirit of our unlikely, border-crossing collaborations in his preview for the October issue:

Long story: in 2010 we published a gorgeous sequence of poems by the Bosnian-Canadian poet Goran Simić. Flash forward to this summer: I got in touch with Goran in Bosnia and he said sure but he needed some translation help. Contributing Editor Sydney Lea put me in touch with Tom Simpson at Phillips Exeter Academy who knows Goran and has a personal stake in Bosnia. Tom flies to Sarajevo and he and Goran have what I can only say must have been a wonderful time together, sitting in Bosnian bars and coffee houses, mulling over the poems.  The result: We have in this issue a brand new, freshly translated (by Goran and Tom) sheaf of Goran Simić poems, plus a terribly moving, passionate memoir of Thomas Simpson’s travels in Bosnia, his friendships and epiphanies.You will have to read the poems and the essay; words fail, and the story of pain, loss and human will embodied in the word Bosnia can only be re-experienced in their art.

But wait, there’s more (ah, the endless adventure of editing NC): A week and a half ago, Tom wrote to say he’d gone to a Sydney Lea reading (they had never met before), and Syd had read a poem about and for Goran Simić that nearly brought Tom to tears. So I wrote to Syd and got the poem for NC. Much gratitude to Tom and Goran and Syd for combining on two continents to bring this to pass.

Profound gratitude to Goran, Sydney, Douglas, and all my dear Bosnian friends.

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Merima and Miroslav at Exeter

This Tuesday, at 7 p.m., the extraordinary Merima Ključo (concert accordion) and Miroslav Tadić (guitar) will be performing in Exeter, New Hampshire, at Phillips Exeter Academy’s Phillips Church. The concert is free and open to the public.

A sample of their stunning new collaborations and arrangements, via YouTube, is here.

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Coming Soon: “All We Have Left” in Numéro Cinq

Museum of Literature and the Performing Arts, Sarajevo

Museum of Literature and the Performing Arts, Sarajevo

Today, the Canadian literary magazine Numéro Cinq, edited by Douglas Glover, released a preview of its October issue, which will include my essay “All We Have Left,” along with poems about Bosnia-Herzegovina by the masterful Goran Simić and Sydnea Lea, Vermont’s Poet Laureate. The preview is here. Enjoy.

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A Mantra for Middle Age

IMG_3896Today, one of the luxuries of summer: a trip to a family fun center, decked out with video games, a go-kart track, and indoor batting cages. Even as I start to push 40, I can’t stay out of the cages.

Trying to be at least moderately sensible, I headed for the medium-speed cage, before my seven-year-old slugger intervened to ask why I wasn’t up for the high-speed challenge. Sensing that he was questioning not only my decision but also my manhood, I immediately turned to the cage that was bringing the heat.

At first, it felt like a big mistake. The first pitch blew by me in the dim flourescent light, the yellow, dimpled ball streaking across the outer half of the plate, at the knees, my arms lunging after it high and late. Rattled, I amped up. I started pumping the balls of my feet, waving the barrel of the bat up and down behind my head. The next swing wasn’t much better, a wild one that caught the top of the ball and drilled it straight down for a weak infield chopper.

Then, a voice of distilled wisdom called to me: steady the eyes, simplify the stride. All of a sudden, I was locked in. In baseball’s special realm of paradox, I was now relaxed enough to attack the ball with authority, to track it, meet it square, and send it back through the box.

After not missing a pitch for the rest of the session–about 60 pitches in all–I had to laugh at myself. This felt like just the sort of epiphany that could have helped me go to the next level in my days as a varsity and men’s amateur baseball player, but at this age, the insight is all but wasted on me.

But then a thought of even deeper wisdom intruded: what better mantra for the beginning of middle age than “steady the eyes, simplify the stride”? After years of hustling to establish and prove myself professionally, it’s becoming more and more apparent that I’m entering into a new stage of life, one in which I need to pace and take care of myself for the long haul–a stage of simplifying my stride and steadying my eyes on my relationships with family and friends, my students, and my writing. Not a bad “takeaway” for a day at the batting cages.

Posted in Autobiography / Memoir, Baseball, Fatherhood, Parenting, Raising Boys, Religion and Spirituality, Sports | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment