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select a month a year of stories - the perfect zeppelin - by adam rakunas

So there I am in Vilnius, Lithuania. It's early June, and summer is finally swinging around and making itself known. I'd seen plenty of summers show up back home, but here, you could tell seasons were changing. People's clothes were getting lighter in color and weight, the air had less of a bite, and the sky, oh, man, the sky was the kind of blue that came out of Rembrandt's palette. It was a broad, heart-breaking blue that made you want to stand on street corners and recite poetry. And that's without drinking a pint or five of the local brew first.

My family and I had gone to Lithuania to get back to our roots, and we were now rooted out and ready to go home. In the past two weeks, we'd met long-lost family, gotten kidnapped by said family, toured ancient streets, walked through run-down museums, taken buses to the Baltic and back, and eaten. A lot. Venison and elk at one place, pizza at another, attempts at burritos on Laisves Aleja and rabbit chow mein in a back-alley Chinese place. And Lithuanian food. We hadn't had Lithuanian food since Grandma had died seven years ago, and we were planning on making up for lost time.

There was one thing that I had to have: cepelinu. Zeppelins. You take a meatball, wrap it in shredded potato, boil it, and serve it up with a pat of butter. Heaven. I knew I would find what I was looking for in the Motherland. I just didn't know it would be served with extras.

See, Lithuania is a cold country, and cold country cuisine rules state that fat has to be in everything. You need to have fat with your fat, just to be safe. So, at place after place, I'd order zeps and they'd come to my table, swimming in fat. Sometimes bacon fat, sometimes sour cream, sometimes both. And I'd look up at the waiter with a weak smile, thank him, and proceed to rescue my meal from the saturated-fat bath in which it was drowning.

On our last day, though, I was determined to have my zeps the way God and Grandma intended them to be served. I very politely asked our waitress for cepelinu, no bacon fat, no sour cream, nothing. Just some butter on the side. She gave me a look that probably meant "freakin' American tourist" and went off to the kitchen. We settled into our beers and waited.

Fifteen minutes later, my brother has his blood sausage and meatballs, Dad has his potato pancakes, and I have my two zeps, dry with a gigantic mound of butter teetering on the side of the plate. We thanked her and tucked in.

I carefully cut open the zeps to let out the steam, placed a small pat of butter inside each, watched the butter melt away, said a word of thanks, and ate. They were, without a doubt, the best cepelinu I'd had in my life, save the ones Grandma made.

How was your June?