I’ve always been a fringe dweller, seeking out the sacred and surreal, most at ease in the company of fellow misfits, romantic runaways, free thinkers, drawn to dive bars and hidden away cafés, have lived in seven cities, am best of friends with Scientists and Surgeons, as well as poets and petty crooks. If I could conjure up an ideal place to live, or just somewhere to visit over and over again, it would involve the sea, the sun, music (preferably Jazz), great food, a foreign language, and all of this shrouded in some kind of mystery, magic, something a lot like the town of Bale in Istria, Croatia.
Winding up a stone paved drive, some 140 metres above sea-level, Bale is a small hill town, which is crowned by the baroque St Julian church, only five kilometres from some of the most pristine (and quiet) beaches in Istria, Croatia.
Whenever we travel, my husband usually takes off early in the morning and does his fox-like circumnavigation of where we’re at. In actual fact, I can thank him for finding many of the markets I have been to, as before I’ve even woken up from my jet-lagged slumber, he would have already scoped out half of his surroundings by bike, boat or foot. And that’s how we found Kamene Price or Stone Stories, a groovy treasure of a restaurant/hotel in the middle of this enchanting and bohemian town.
Misha, the chef, an effervescent and unassuming beauty from Dalmatia, poured us a drink and sat down to chat with us against the candle-lit stone wall. She told us that the owner, a reputable photographer, likes to travel, and through his travels has made a lot of friends from near and far, and well, these friends would often visit him, and so he opened Kamene Price, first to have a place to entertain, but also because he loves to bring like-minded people together, to talk, to eat, to just be. There are poetry readings, theatre nights, and just a few weeks after our trip, Kamene Price also hosts a Jazz festival. We were tired that night, so headed off early, as we had a long drive back to Italy the next day, yet we promised Misha we would call by before we left.
The next day, we stopped in for brunch, and this time in the sun drenched terrace, surrounded by curios, creeping vines and whimsical furniture, I wished for a small moment for something just like this back home in Montreal. I asked Misha how she decided what to cook for the restaurant. She explained that there was no menu, instead she would head off to the local market each morning, with her favourite cookbook (The Dalmatian Mother’s Cookbook) often in tow, and that would be that. That day we had a light self-baked swiss chard pie, served with a purée of the most delicately spiced red lentils. My husband said there couldn’t be a more perfect meal for him. She also cooked up a quick fresh tomato and basil spaghetti for our son, who gladly gobbled it down. Before we left, we toasted my last glass of rakia in Croatia, this time infused with pungent rose-hip.
Bale has a small morning market selling fresh fruit and vegetables and fish, yet for a larger market, we ventured into the seaside town of Rovinj in Istria, some seven kilometres away. Another mesmerizing town (albeit much bigger), the market is situated along the harbour and sports some of the Mediterranean’s finest; olives and olive oils a-plenty, truffle infused products, lavender, peppers, chili, ropes of garlic, the reddest tomatoes, aubergines.
After we said good-bye to Misha, I noticed a sign on the restaurant’s stone wall which wrote of how that legendary free spirit and romantic runaway, Giacomo Casanova had once lived and loved in Bale. In the opening chapters of his autobiography Histoire de ma Vie (History of my life) he advises his readers that they “will not find all my adventures. I have left out those which would have offended the people who played a part in them …” yet I bet that in Bale, that if you lean back and put your ear against it’s ancient stone walls, you may just hear a thing or two about that old guy called Casanova.
For further information on Kamene Price, visit their website: http://www.kameneprice.com/
Misha’s swiss chard pie
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
1 large bunch swiss chard
1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese (e.g. cheddar, parmesan, fontina)
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of paprika powder
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon of baking powder
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Wash and pat dry the swiss chard. Cut off the ends of the stems, and then roughly chop up the chard.
- Sauté the onion until translucent, and then add the chard, and sauté a few minutes until tender (but not wilted).
- In a large bowl, whisk in eggs, and then add milk, grated cheese and mix through. Fold in bread crumbs and baking powder.
- Season with salt and pepper, and the paprika.
- Pour into a round, lightly oiled baking dish.
- Bake for up to 45 minutes, or until golden brown and the pie springs back when you touch it.