Why all the Food Making?

We have been checking in with our partners around the world to see how their lives have been impacted by COVID-19. Read how one of our favorite tour managers, Savannah Fortis, has been filling her days at home and, at the same time, creating ambrosial scents for those around her.


“Why All The Food Making?” by Savannah Fortis

I’ve been making a lot of food this quarantine. Here’s why.

I am an inherent traveler. Always trying to go somewhere else – to see, to experience, to know, to understand the world around me. As a child in a young, financially tight family, my mom would take me to the library and it was there that I learned how to travel.

I spent hours traveling the world through books. Books with vibrant, fairytale-esque photos of Saint Basil’s cathedral in Moscow or the pyramids of Giza. My early library experiences shaped and enchanted the entirety of my life with the knowledge that the world is accessible. An insatiable thirst for the world was born no more than two miles from my childhood home. 

When California officially mandated a statewide quarantine as a precautionary action against the coronavirus, I had just returned to my home in Long Beach from a week-long trip through the American South. The first couple of days locked away in my home seemed hopeful, even doable. I needed a break from the constant flurry of travel. As those couple of days passed however, I was already itching to get out.

If only I could be in Bulgaria, anywhere in Bulgaria – the Rhodope mountains, the golden Thracian plains, the sleepy small towns on the Black Sea. Remember the time in Iraq when we walked to the citadel in 120 degree heat? Imagine being in Vienna with my friends. After this is done, I’m going straight to Pakistan. I’ve always wanted to go to Pakistan.

Thoughts rushed at me faster than I was ready to receive them. I was left with an antsy case of travelitis – a blessed disease if cured.

Begrudgingly I reached for the things that have a lifelong record of easing my travel itch: books. Books about places I love. Books about places I know firsthand. Books about places I don’t. Books about places that have made up my dreams for years. Books! The analogue savior of the bored.

First off I reached for a cookbook, one which I have catalogued an experience from before, by Caroline Eden on the cuisine and adventures to be had in the Black Sea region. I love this cookbook for many reasons that go far beyond the attentive writing and captivating recipes. I love this cookbook because I have lived this cookbook. In my own way of course, but I know these places and these stories and these foods.

I devoured this book when I first got my hands on it last spring, yet I wanted to start at the beginning from the author’s time in Odessa. Once again, I read and dreamt about my own experiences had and ones I hoped to have in the future when all of this is done. Though, as natural when reading stories in a cookbook, I got hungry. But not for just anything – I was hungry for the food in my book, the food from the world.

So I set off to make ‘Zelnik Pie’, the last recipe that I had left off on when I had once tried to cook the book to completion. I won’t go into detail on the pie’s origin story – an experience the author had on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The cookbook masterfully tells that story on its own and is worth buying ten times over. 

Close up of a full Zelnik Pie in a tin pan, sitting atop a black and white striped pot holder on a white draped table.

Zelnik Pie from Caroline Eden’s cookbook, “Black Sea”. Photo – Savannah Fortis

What I will say is that reading through the stories in the cookbook and then putting my hands to the test by chopping neon red chard, buttering (and trying not to break) thin pieces of phyllo dough, and sauteeing shallots took me away from my home, away from my quarantine, and to a place both familiar and yet completely new. 

Preparations for Zelnik Pie with the cookbook splayed open on a black bar stool next to a table of leafy green ingredients

Preparations for Zelnik Pie. Photo – Savannah Fortis

The cooking of that pie wasn’t the only viscerality of that experience. The waiting and the final moment of digging into a warm, sun drenched piece of that pie all had me momentarily living in a different world. 

A close up a sun drenched tin pan of Zelnik Pie with one piece of pie missing

A sun drenched piece of Zelnik Pie. Photo – Savannah Fortis

Aside from mulling over how nicely I executed that recipe, I also got to thinking; have I unlocked the secret? Have I found a way to travel without leaving my Long Beach studio? To travel without breaking the new codes of quarantine and social distancing. 

I put those thoughts to the test and lovingly made borscht. This brought me back to my first borscht off of the icy streets of Moscow. I dipped into a small cafe just outside of the city center to escape the -30F temperatures and savored my first spoonful of the infamous Russian staple.

Bowl of homemade Russian borscht, made of beetroot giving it a distinctive red color.with a spoonful of sourcream

Homemade Russian borscht. Photo – Savannah Fortis

A week later my leftover phyllo dough from the Zelnik Pie prompted me to finish off a bag of walnuts I had sitting untouched in my cupboard, along with a small packet of dried roses I impulsively bought at my local market, and some honey to make a baklava confection of sorts. I tried to mimic the flavors and scents of places where baklava practically grows from the land; Turkey, Iraq, Albania even. 

As the baklava cooled on my kitchen window sill (because where else should a sweet delicacy cool), my mind wandered to a wonderful instance in Bosnia in the sleepy warmth of a September afternoon. I sat on the banks of the Nerevta River while blowing out hookah smoke, drinking black tea, and slowly toying with a piece of walnut baklava. 

Baklava, Greek yogurt, orange, vanilla, rosemary marmalade on a plate atop a yellow table cloth next to a tin of Baklava.

Baklava, Greek yogurt, and homemade orange, vanilla, rosemary marmalade. Plus a cameo from the tea. Photo – Savannah Fortis

With that thought, I promptly reached for my cupboard for a gifted box of “do-ghazal’ tea from Iran, which I knew would suit my baklava. I paired the baklava with an orange, vanilla bean, rosemary marmalade I made a few days prior. But wait – what if it’s too sweet, the whole concoction. Plain Greek yogurt. I had some in my fridge and it would be the perfect compliment to tone down my fragrant plate of delight. 

A mason jar of homemade orange, vanilla bean, rosemary marmalade. Sitting atop a tan fabric with a white backdrop

Homemade orange, vanilla bean, rosemary marmalade. Photo – Savannah Fortis

Once again, as I scooped up a little bit of everything and took a sip of tea, I was gone. It wasn’t even to a place I knew. With each bite I landed more firmly in a place filled with both familiar and foreign: an orange field in the mountains of Iran under a stony bridge in Mostar in Greece. It was a faraway place I created with my own two hands from the safety of my shoe box in Long Beach. 

As I write this my stomach growls and my mind is wandering. I’m already anticipating my next destination through the preparation, imagination and creation of a meal. I am even more looking forward to the next time I will truly go to one of the places that is filling my mind and mouth. Until then, this is why all the food making – to go to all the places.

A lot of my food inspirations – foodspirations – have come from the swath of the world from Eastern Europe, through Russia, Central Asia and Asia Minor regions. I’ve drawn inspiration from the following: 

Read/cook this book: Black Sea by Caroline Eden

Follow this food magician: Alissa Timoshkina 

Scroll through this cooking site: Vikalinka