Saturday, March 10, 2018

My Second Mother

In 1963 we moved from the farm to the “suburbs” where my father built a home in a new development called “Belle Harbor” just north of the town of Belleville, Michigan. Our new neighbors, Ernie and Pat Ryback and their three sons, moved there from the outskirts of Detroit.

Pat Ryback: My Second Mother
I consider Pat Ryback my second mother, and she considers me her fourth son. A whirlwind of activity always surrounded Pat. After her three sons were out of middle school, she returned to university and received a degree in library science. Pat was always working on something: creating learning activities for school, hosting dinner parties, shepherding foreign exchange students, providing advice to anyone within earshot whether they wanted advice or not.

The Ryback boys were my friends. From an isolated childhood on the farm, I now had three boys as friends. The Rybacks had a pool. It was great fun, although I was deathly afraid as I could not swim. I never really learned. We had great times: putting on shows for neighborhood kids, playing endless board games in the summer, chasing each other in the pool.

The summer of 1972 was a wild one for me.  I graduated from Eastern Michigan University in May. I worked for a congressman during the day and as an auditor at a Howard Johnson’s Motel at night. In between, I applied for teaching positions across the state of Michigan. I ran from one interview to another. I don’t remember sleeping.

In September, I realized I was lost. I no longer worked for the congressman. Howard Johnson’s changed management and I quit—the new management did not want to pay me for the hours I had worked. The opportunity of working as a graduate assistant was gone. No one wanted me as a teacher because I couldn’t coach football, basketball, or cross country. It was the Vietnam era when history and political majors like me were a dime a dozen.

On Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, I sat in Pat Ryback’s family room drinking German white wine and grilling Turkish shish kebabs in the fireplace, listening to an Italian opera on the stereo. These were portents of adventures to come (I would come to live in Germany, Turkey, and visit Italy several times). It was getting late, maybe 10 o’clock. Pat gave me grief for not following her advice and minoring in library science at university.

Pat asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I told her I had no clue. She said, “I think you should go to library school!” She plugged in her phone and called the Dean of the University of Michigan Library School, waking him up. “I have an outstanding person for library school,” she said. “OK,” said the groggy Dean. “I’ll meet him on Tuesday. Have him bring his transcripts.” When Pat talked, people listened.

On Tuesday, I met with the Dean of the Library School at the University of Michigan. He looked over my transcripts. “The University of Michigan requires a foreign language for a Master’s Degree program. You don’t have it?” It was waived. “The University of Michigan graduate program requires a 3.5 academic level. You don’t have it?” It was waived. “The University of Michigan school library program, however, needs men. You’re in! If Pat Ryback recommends a student we accept them!”

In January of 1973, I entered library school at the Masters Degree level at the prestigious University of Michigan—a school my counselors at Belleville High School, just four years earlier, would never have considered a possibility for me.

Obtaining the degree in Library Science would end up defining my life, opening doors of opportunity across the world.

Thank you, Pat, my second mother. You saw something in me that others did not and it has made all the difference.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Dumplings and homemade noodles of all types were found in Polish American houses in the Detroit area. From big, fat, filled pierogi, to delicate egg noodles served in chicken soup.

Homemade Chicken Soup with Chicken Liver Dumplings (Wątrobiane kluski do rosołu)

I learned how to make these dumplings at Pat’s house when I was about 13 years old. They have been a favorite ever since! Don’t let the fact that they are made from liver deter you from trying these dumplings. The taste is very mild, but very rich.

Pat Ryback’s Chicken Liver Dumplings

1 cup chicken livers, finely chopped
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons Italian parsley finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine ingredients and stir well.

Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt.

Spoon teaspoonfuls of dumpling batter into boiling water. Do in batches. Do not crowd dumplings.

Stir occasionally until noodles come to the top, about 5 minutes.

Remove noodles to a colander and gently rinse with cold water.

These are delicious served with homemade chicken soup.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Coconut Poke Cake with Marshmallow Snowmen

Coconut Poke Cake with Marshmallow Snowmen
Coconut Poke Cake with Marshmallow Snowmen

I served a Coconut Poke Cake at a Murder Mystery Dinner held at my church, St. John the Apostle, MCC, on March 17, 2017. To make it go with the St. Patrick's Day theme, I sprinkled tiny green candy shamrocks I found on This is a great party cake, but note that it is a bit on the ooey, gooey, side. I made it again for my husband’s work Christmas Party this year, adding marshmallow snowmen on top. It was a big hit!

24 servings

1 (18.25 ounce) package white cake mix
1 (14 ounce) can cream of coconut  (NOT coconut milk)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (16 ounce) package frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 (8 ounce) package flaked coconut


Prepare and bake white cake mix according to package directions. Remove cake from oven. While still hot, using a utility fork, poke holes all over the top of the cake.

Mix cream of coconut and sweetened condensed milk together. Pour over the top of the still hot cake.

Let cake cool completely then frost with the whipped topping and top with the flaked coconut. 

Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

Notes: I have also make this recipe using real whipped cream rather than whipped topping—either way it is terrific!

Marshmallow Snowmen
Marshmallow Snowmen
Marshmallow Snowmen in transport!

The directions are for three snowmen.

9 large marshmallows
3 pretzel sticks broken in half
3 Rolo chocolate covered caramels
3 pieces of red fruit rolloups
Black decorator icing
Orange decorator Icing
3 8-inch bamboo skewers

Thread 3 marshmallows on to bamboo skewer with pointed side up leaving room for the Rolo. Push the Rolo caramel, wide side down, on top of the skewer to make the hat.

Use a skewer to create a 1/2 inch deep hole on either side of the middle marshmallow. Insert 1 piece of pretzel stick on each side to create arms.

Trim fruit rollup to 1/4 inch wide by about 4 inch pieces to form scarf on top of the middle marshmallow.

Use black icing with pointed tip decorating tube to form eyes, mouth and buttons on the snowman. 

Use orange icing with pointed tip to create the “carrot” nose. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow icing to set.

Insert snowmen, skewer side down into top of cake.

Note: You could vary the colors by using gum drops for a hat with different color fruit rolloups.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Adam's Dutch Crumb Apple Pie

In late fall, my mother would visit our neighbors, the Geraks, and bring home a half bushel of apples from the apple trees in their backyard. I remember them as small, tart, and it took a lot of peeling and cutting to get enough to make a pie, but what wonderful pies they were. In Poland they serve a version of apple pie called Szarlotka. I found a recipe at the Polish Housewife website.

Adam's Dutch Crumb Apple Pie, Polish, Detroit, recipe
The first two of many Dutch Crumb Apple Pies of the season!

I specialize in making a Dutch Crumb Apple Pie. I have been working on this recipe for years and think this version makes the absolute best pie. The original recipe comes from a website called Serious Eats. Here is the link to the original version: Serious Eats. The recipe is unusual in that it calls for covering peeled and sliced apples with boiling water for 10 minutes before assembling the pie. You would think that this would destroy the apples, but it has the opposite effect. Enjoy!

Adam's Dutch Crumb Apple Pie

Crumb Topping:

1 cup sifted flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup soft butter

Pie Crust:

9-inch pastry shell, unbaked, chilled
1 egg white, beaten
Baking spray

Apple Filling:

6 cups peeled, sliced Golden Delicious apples
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Apple Pie spice
3 tablespoons cornstarch


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Insert large cookie sheet covered with tinfoil

Crumb Topping:

Combine flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and butter; blend in food processor until crumbly then refrigerate until ready to use.

Dutch Crumb Apple Pie, Polish, Detroit

Pie Crust:

Spray 8" pie pan with baking spray. Roll out pie crust, crimp edges, then lightly brush entire crust with egg white. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use.

Apple Filling:

Cover peeled and sliced apples with boiling water and soak for 10 minutes. Drain apples for about 10 minutes and dry on paper towels. Put apples in large bowl and gently stir in lemon juice.

Sift together sugar, cinnamon, apple pie spice and cornstarch. Sprinkle over apples and stir gently until all of the apple slices are coated. 

Pack apple mixture into chilled crust. Sprinkle crumb topping over apples. 

Put pie in oven on cookie sheet and reduce temperature to 375 degrees. Bake until apples are tender, about 50-55 minutes. A good sign is when you can see the apple filling start to bubble.

If crumb topping appears to be browning too hard, lightly cover with tin foil for last 10 minutes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Making Spanish Chickpea (Garbanzo Bean) Soup

Spanish Chickpea (Garbanzo Bean) Soup
Spanish Chickpea or Garbanzo Bean Soup
We grew up eating all kinds of homemade soups, from chicken noodle to ham and bean to sauerkraut to mushroom to Dad's potato soup. When I went to Poland in the 1970s, soup was often served at lunch time at the Jagiellonian University. The best was a cauliflower soup with fresh dill. I still make different types of soup and enjoy sampling soups from different cultures when I get the chance. 

Chickpeas make a creamy, delicious soup.
When I worked at Lorenzo Walker Technical College in Naples, Florida, the administrators served their favorites at a faculty luncheon. I was particularly taken with a garbanzo bean-based soup. The recipe was very convoluted and there were lots of handwritten notes all over the recipe page, which made it very confusing. I looked the recipe up on the Internet and found many references to a Spanish Garbanzo Bean Soup that were similar. It appears that this particular soup is a national dish, but cooks have a wide latitude for making it their own. Which I did. The result was a fantastic soup which is supposed to sit overnight for the flavors to meld, but I can never do that, because it is so good right out of pot as soon as it finishes simmering. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Let me know what you think!

Sauteing the onions, green peppers, chorizo, and smoked ham. Note: I had a leftover hambone that I threw into the pot. It's optional.
Jackie Spencers Spanish Chickpea Soup (from Denise Dusick at Lorenzo Walker)*

1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium bell pepper, chopped (optional)
2 ounces Vigo olive oil
1 chorizo (Spanish sausage), skin removed and crumbled
1/2 pound smoked ham, diced
1/4 teaspoon Vigo paprika
1 29 ounce can garbanzo beans
2 medium potatoes, 1/2 inch diced
Vigo flavoring and coloring for yellow rice

In a large saucepan, fry onion, garlic, and bell pepper in olive oil. Fry until onions are tender, but not browned. Add chorizo, smoked ham and paprika and fry gently. Add entire contents of garbanzo beans can including liquid and also one and one-half cans of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Add potatoes and Vigo Flavoring and coloring, ½ teaspoon at a time to obtain desired golden color and taste. Lower heat, and cook 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. I recommend doing this the day before serving and reheating and simmering the soup at a very low heat for 45 minutes.

Chopped bacon or salt pork that has been fried can be substituted for the olive oil.

*modified by Adam Janowski.

Note: I couldn’t find the Vigo flavoring and coloring for yellow rice by itself, so I had to strain a packet of Vigo Yellow Rice Mix to get the seasonings from the packet. It worked. And I didn’t need all the seasoning so I can use the rice mix for another dinner.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Mission: The Little White Clapboard Church in Whittaker, Michigan

When I can’t sleep, I pour myself a cup of milk and power up my computer and head for the Internet. I never know what direction I will go, but sometimes I get lucky and find something serendipitous. Well, to me, at least. Such was what happened the other night.

When I was a little boy our family went to Sunday service at St. Joseph Mission church in Whittaker, Michigan. We moved away in 1963 when I was 13 and the little, white, clapboard church was abandoned shortly thereafter, when the congregation decided to build a bigger, brick church with room to grow.

I drove by the old church a couple of times over the years, but when I went by a few years ago, nothing was left except the sidewalk and the foundation. I thought that age or fire had consumed the church and felt a sense of loss for a simpler time. I remember being an altar boy for a wedding. I remember a priest angrily chastising the altar boys for not knowing what the Pater Noster was. We knew the words in Latin, but had not put two and two together and realized that it was The Lord’s Prayer. I remember the little choir jammed in the tiny choir loft, and Marian Manners playing the organ and singing the lead. I remember the statues draped in purple and the Tabernacle empty on Passion Sunday. I remember the bishop coming for my confirmation and my dread that I wouldn’t know the answer to his questions about my faith, even though the answers had been drilled in my head.

Dad would drive the family to church on Sunday in one of his snazzy Desotos. I especially liked the 1959 coffee and cream version with huge fins.  We would listen to country gospel singing straight from the hollers of Kentucky on the way to church, and on the way back we would tune in The Polka Hour broadcasting from WFDF in Flint, Michigan. When my dad was on call at work and couldn’t make it to church, we went with my elderly neighbors  in their old lumbering Oldsmobile sedan that they drove to church, rain or shine, snow or sleet, every Sunday. There was many a Sunday when my mother had to stay home with the babies, but I made it to church in that roomy, rumbling Olds.

Field of Dreams Wedding Chapel in Milan was originally St. Joseph
Mission Church in Whittaker, Michigan. It was moved in 2007.
The loss of that simple white church bothered me for some reason and the other night I searched for information about the church. What I found brought me tears and joy. The little, white, clapboard church had indeed, faced obliteration by fire—as a training exercise for the fire department. The property had been sold and a housing development planned for the property. In the nick of time, someone had the idea to move the church elsewhere and rehabilitate it as a country wedding chapel. Built in the 1920s the old, clapboard building has new life as “The Field of Dreams Wedding Chapel”. I even located another website for the company, db.creations that restored the stained-glass windows. Many of the windows had been damaged in the moved, but the center panels which had been painted all survived intact.

Another website led me to an archive of newspaper articles collected by the Ann Arbor Public Library, where I found one that detailed the move of the church to its new home: 
Old News - St. Joseph's Catholic Church In Augusta Twp Waiting For The Train To Pass While Moving To Milan, May 2007. The journey was tedious and they had to cross a set of railroad tracks. The move was taking so long that they actually had to back the trailer up because of an oncoming train!

Moving the St. Joseph Mission Catholic Church in Whittaker, Michigan

One of these days, I might just make a trip back to that chapel, and spend a few minutes reflecting on a life well-spent, but regardless, I will sleep well, knowing that the little white church is still serving a spiritual purpose in the life of others.