Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter 2011 -- Wesołego Alleluja!

Some pysanki from my collection. I try to add a couple if new ones every year.
It’s hard to believe that I started this blog just over a year ago. Thinking about Easters past was the incentive to put pencil to paper, spoon to bowl, and eye to camera. I spent many an Easter overseas and it never bothered me that I wouldn’t be experiencing the traditions of my younger years, but now that I am older it does bother me.
My Easter centerpiece--Lilies, roses and pussywillow.
I get pleasure out of recreating the recipes of my childhood and I have a need to write down my memories before they are forgotten. Someone described memories as “personal mythology”. I like that term, because my memory is imperfect. I remember my Aunt Sophie having a hat shop on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. My uncle says no, it wasn’t on Michigan, maybe on Warren. I remember my grandmother riding with me on the bus to the market in Detroit where she selected a chicken and we watched as they butchered it so she didn’t get a different scrawny bird. My uncle says, no, not true, my grandmother never ever rode the bus. She hated them. It must have been Aunt Sophie who went to the market. And so goes my mind. Playing tricks every now and then. We remember what we want to remember. Or we remember how we want our memories to be remembered.

Easter is very late this year and here in Florida the temperature is already almost 90 degrees. It’s very difficult to imagine spring, but just above my computer monitor I have a beautiful framed photograph of daffodils, tulips, and flowering trees from the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland to remind me what it looks like. For years, I carried around a heavy and expensive 35mm Nikon camera. I never took a good picture with it. I finally gave the camera to my brother, retrieving the roll of film left in it. That last roll of film contained the one and only beautiful picture I ever created—of daffodils, tulips, and flowering trees and a beautiful reminder of Earth’s renewal, the glory of spring, and the Christian concept of rebirth.

From the Keukenhof Gardens circa 1985.
This is a photo of the last photo taken with my 35 mm camera.
This Easter I will still dye the eggs, get the basket ready, take it to the local Catholic Church to have it blessed on Holy Saturday afternoon, attend Easter Sunday service (“with incense” as they describe it in their Easter Events schedule) at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and have our family’s traditional Easter breakfast soup with white sausage broth and chopped smoked meats, eggs, white cheese and rye bread. A recipe for the soup can be found in the April, 2010 section of this blog.

A Polish Easter basket ready to be blessed on Easter Saturday.
I ended up making the version with nut filling because when I got started
I realized I didn't have enough eggs, of all things, to do both versions!
I’ll finish breakfast with Poppy Seed Coffee Cake, a treat I enjoyed at many a Christmas and Easter.

Poppy Seed Coffee Cake (Strucla z Makiem)

1 package yeast
1 tablespoon warm water
1/2 cup scalded milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons chopped candied orange peel (optional)
1 teaspoon flour

Poppy Seed Filling:
1 cup ground poppy seeds
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar or 1/3 cup honey
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring milk to boiling point and add poppy seed. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring carefully, until milk is absorbed. Add sugar or honey. Beat egg thoroughly. Mix 1 tablespoon of hot poppy seed with egg and pour into cooked poppy seed. Stir until thick. Add vanilla. Must be thoroughly cooled before using.

Walnut Raisin Filling:
1 cup ground walnuts
1/2 cup white raisins

Substitute walnuts for poppy seeds and proceed as in poppy seed filling recipe above. When cool add 1/2 cup white raisins.

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon hot milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dissolve yeast in 1 tablespoon warm water.

Cream butter with sugar.

Add salt to egg yolks and beat until thick.

Scald milk and cool to lukewarm.

Add beaten yolks to butter and sugar mixture.

Add yeast. Add flavoring and mix thoroughly. Add flour alternately with the milk and knead with hand until fingers are free of dough.

Let rise for about 2 hours or until double in bulk. Punch down and let rise again for one hour. Place dough on floured board and roll to one-half inch thickness into rectangular shape.

Optional: Dredge candied orange peel in flour, shaking off excess flour. Sprinkle orange peel over dough and lightly press into dough using rolling pin.

Spread with poppy seed (or nut raisin filling and roll like jelly roll, sealing all edges. Place on cookie sheet and let rise until double in bulk. Note: 1 can of Solo Brand Poppy Seed Filling can be used if you don’t want to make your own.

Bake for 45 minutes.

When completely cool spread with confectioners’ sugar glaze.

This is the finished Nut Roll--so beautiful I can almost taste it!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dad's Potato Soup

Today is Palm Sunday. We received these palm crosses after the service. When I was a kid my Polish aunts would create intricate weavings from the palms. I couldn't find few examples on the web. This site has some fairly simple, but interesting, palm weavings with directions on how to make them.

I don’t know why I started thinking about my dad. Maybe it was that I was going to make his potato soup because it was Lent. And then I got to thinking about how I could never spot the fresh aspargus shoots as we drove slowly along the fence rows in Willis. “There. Over there. Can’t you see it?” He said. No, I couldn’t. I only just now realized that as an adult I found that I had a little touch of color blindness. It wasn’t severe, only a few degrees off kilter. Maybe it was enough to make the difference between the green stems of asparagus and the brown weeds of winter.
Potatoes are a staple in so many Polish recipes. I especially love homemade potato soup.
I hadn’t made Dad’s Potato Soup in awhile. When I looked at the recipe I had it just didn’t seem right. The recipe called for browning the butter, but I remembered Dad browning the flour not the butter. So I called my sister, Barbara, and she said that I was right, Dad browned the flour not the butter. She had changed the recipe because it was easier. It may be easier, but if you don’t brown the flour it will still be potato soup, it just wouldn't be Dad’s Potato Soup. And he would know.

Dad’s Potato Soup

6 medium potatoes, sliced and cubed
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 quart of water or chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups hot milk or half and half
1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste

Cover vegetables with water or broth (if using broth, reduce the salt) and cook until well done. Drain, reserving liquid. Cool slightly.

Put about half of the cooked vegetables in a blender and puree, adding some of the reserved liquid to the blender.

In a small frying pan, lightly brown the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Set aside.

In a large pot melt butter, stir in the flour, and let the mixture cook until it bubbles and is well blended. Gradually add the hot milk or half and half to the flour mixture and let simmer just below the boiling point until the mixture is smooth and thick.

Add the reserved liquid and vegetables, stir, and let simmer until smooth and thickened.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the soup with pumpernickel bread. Some of the bread can be cubed like croutons and sprinkled on top of the soup.

You can also serve this soup with sardine sandwiches that were one of Dad’s favorites.

Dad's Sardine Sandwich

Sliced pumpernickel bread
Canned sardines
Sweet onion
Salt and pepper

Liberally spread mayonnaise on two slices of pumpernickel bread. Slice onion into quarter inch slices.

Cover one slice of bread with onion. Liberally salt and pepper the onion. Add 4 to 5 sardines on top.

Cover with other slice of bread.

Don’t plan on kissing anyone after you eat this sandwich unless they have had one too.

Morel mushrooms were a spring mushroom. At Mom and Dad’s house in Howell, Michigan, my dad found a lot of these in the woods just off the garden. They are a delicacy, hard to find these days. I have never seen a fresh one since those days in Howell.

Find them. Eat them! Enjoy! I wish I could!

Morel Mushrooms

One dozen fresh morel mushrooms

Rinse and pat dry. Cut off bottom of stems.

Sauté in butter and sprinkle with a little salt.

Wild asparagus is found along roadsides in southwestern Michigan. My dad and my sister, Felicia, were experts at finding them. I never could. Simply delicious!—Adam.

Fresh Wild Asparagus

Several stalks of fresh asparagus
1 tablespoon butter

Rinse, pat dry and cut into 2 inch pieces. Saute in butter. Sprinkle with salt.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When I Think of Spring

Rhubarb Pie--a spring favorite in Michigan.

When I think of Spring, I think of fresh wild asparagus, daffodils and tulips, and rhubarb. I don’t know why I think of rhubarb, but I do. I know that there were two hills of rhubarb growing way in the back of the farm behind the chicken coop and the asparagus beds, to the left of the orchard that never really bore fruit.

Our house on McKean Road in Willis, Michigan circa late 1950s.
In my own personal mythology I can’t remember my mother ever making anything with rhubarb. Maybe she made a pie, but it doesn’t stand out in my memory. But I have this obsession, every spring, to make a rhubarb pie. So I watch for it at my local supermarkets. Sometimes they don’t have it. Other times the stalks are just too green and I know there won’t be much taste or the taste will be too bitter. But sometimes I get lucky and I find a decent batch of rhubarb, not as good as fresh-picked, but it will do when you have the obsession.

In 1974, after graduating from the University of Michigan, I left for Florida in January in a snowstorm, and never looked back. Somewhere in the three years I spent in Naples, Florida, I acquired a cookbook titled “A Treasury of Great Republican Recipes” compiled and edited by The Women’s Republican Club of Greater Naples, published in 1970. The recipes included Mrs. Richard M. Nixon’s Barbecued Chicken Sauce and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Sugar Cookies, but the only one that caught my eye was Mrs. John Kyl’s (Wife of U.S. Representative Kyl of Iowa) Rhubarb Cream Pie.

It isn’t really a cream pie, more custard than cream. And some people don’t care for it because of the custard, expecting a pie more like cherry or strawberry that is only fruit. But for me, when the rhubarb is good, and the sweetness of the custard melds just right with the tartness of the rhubarb, it is nirvana. I think of spring and dream of new beginnings and fresh starts, and the scent of daffodils and tulips.

Rhubarb Cream Pie with Almond Crumb Crust

1 9- inch pre-made pie crust (I like the Marie Callender Frozen Pie Crust when I don’t have time to make a real pie crust)
1 egg white, slightly beaten

3 cups rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 and 1/2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons half and half
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2 cubes
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare pie crust. Brush with slightly beaten egg white. This helps to seal the crust.

For the filling, stir together in a large bowl, the sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and nutmeg and mix just until combined. Add the rhubarb and stir gently until all of the rhubarb is coated with the filling.

Spoon filling into the chilled uncooked pastry shell.

To make crumb topping, sift together sugar, cinnamon and flour. Put in food processor. Add butter. Pulse until the mixture begins to look like coarse crumbs, about 2 minutes. Empty mixture into large bowl and add sliced almonds. Use two knives to break up flour mixture and incorporate almonds.

Spoon crumb crust topping over top of pie.

Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes. If crust edges are browning too much put a foil collar around the edge of the pie.

Cool the pie to room temperature before serving.

Serves 8.

Prep time: 30 minutes.

Bake time: 45 minutes.