Showing posts with label Detroit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Detroit. Show all posts

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, February 3, 2011

Kowalski Kare Package

I had to go in to have some minor surgery and was feeling a little blue about it so I had my sister, Barbara, in Michigan send me down a care package—10 pounds of Kowalski kielbasa, ring bologna and kiszka (blood sausage).

If you have any feelings about Detroit, check this book out if you get the chance. It is about families and about baseball, specifically Detroit Tiger baseball, The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark (Honoring a Detroit Legend) by Tom Stanton. I loved this book, having picked it up at the Ft. Myers airport on a trip to Detroit. It was so sweet. It combined the story of a father and his son, with the story of the author and his Polish family in Detroit. And, of course, baseball, and the Detroit Tigers and their final season at Tiger Stadium at Trumbull and Michigan in Detroit. It had so many parallels with our own family including the eating of what we called Keeshka—the only reference to keeshka I have ever see in any book (except Polish cookbooks) I have ever read!

Genuine Kowalski Kiszka--direct from Detroit! Not even most Polish people like it but my brother and sisters and I inhale it.

Kiszka is an acquired taste. It is a combination of buckwheat, beef blood, finally ground pieces of beef and pork that you probably don’t want to know where it came from, onion and spices. We always had it for breakfast.

Kiszka “Keeshka” (Blood Sausage)

1 half ring Kowalski Kiszka
1/2 onion minced
2 tablespoons butter

Sauté onion in butter in frying pan until onion is translucent  Remove casing from kiszka. Cut kiszka into slices. Add to onion and butter.Stir occasionally until combined and browned.Serve with fried eggs and white toast.

Kiszka, eggs sunny side up and toast with butter and homemade strawberry jam--A breakfast fit for a Polish Prince!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Polish Christmas on Florida Street in Detroit

Listen to Polish Christmas Carols (Polskie Kolędy) here.
Every Christmas we went to our grandmother's house on Florida Street in Detroit on Christmas Eve. It was an annual tradition. We would all be bundled up in heavy coats with scarves and mittens. There always seemed to be snow. One of the babies was always sick--that too, seemed to be part of the tradition.

As we walked in, carrying bundles of gifts, my first memory was of seeing the Christmas tree. Uncle Ed and Aunt Sophie had the greatest tree. It seemed to have hundreds of lights (the big, brightly colored ones, not the little Italian ones of today). There were unusual ornaments--angels with feathers, birds with brilliant tails, and lights filled with colored fluid that would bubble, as they got warm. Underneath the tree was a beautiful Manger scene with intricate figurines.

The heat inside the house was intense. It was like opening an oven door, but, ah, the wonderful smells. The smell of the Christmas tree mixed with those of sauerkraut, mushrooms, stewed fruit, and frying butter. Babci (our grandmother), Aunt Sophie, and other aunts were in the tiny kitchen cooking. Mother would join them in the kitchen as the older kids hung by hoping for a sample. Uncle Ed would let us go down into the basement to get a soda--you had to duck your head going down, even when you were little. Cream soda was the best--we never had it at home.

It seemed like the aunts and uncles and cousins would arrive in waves: Uncle John and Aunt Hattie and Cousin Marie. Uncle Mike and Aunt Louise with cousins Buddy, Frank, Fred, and John, and Uncle Vince with Aunt Mary and Cousin Tom. Each wave with their own bundles, shaking off snow, and taking off coats and hats and gloves. Presents were whisked away. It would be hours before we saw them.

Then it was time for dinner. I always thought there was supposed to be an odd number of courses, but others have told me that is should have been even. Mushroom soup with boiled potatoes. Pierogies with potatoes and cheese or sauerkraut and mushrooms. Kasha. Pickled herring. Stewed fruit. Everything was delicious. There was also always an empty place setting at the table in case an unexpected guest should arrive recalling the biblical tale of Joseph and Mary, when they found no room at the inn. In the center of the table was the oplatek, a rectangular piece of wafer imprinted with a religious scene. Everyone at the table shared the wafer. We wished each other health, wealth, and happiness and often a special wish.

My favorite memory of Christmas was when my cousin John suddenly appeared during dinner on Christmas Eve. He was in Vietnam during the war and was not expected home. Of course, there was a place for him at the table! All of the aunts and even some of the uncles, cried.

After dinner, we would sing Christmas carols. Our father was a great singer of Polish Christmas carols. He and Uncle John usually led the singing. Dad had a small, thick, green book with all of the Polish kolendy (Christmas carols) in them. Dad knew the lyrics and the melodies by heart. I always wondered where he learned them. Babcia, with her high voice, would sing with the uncles. Her voice was such a contrast with the low voices of dad and Uncle John. If dad and the uncles had enough Christmas "spirit”, they would go outside and serenade the neighbors with carols.

While we were singing, a couple of the uncles would disappear and rustling sounds could be heard above us. All of a sudden, a ringing bell could be heard outside. The little kids all knew what that meant--Santa Claus was here! Those rustling sounds must have been reindeer on the roof!

Santa always had bags and bags of presents. One of the kids was chosen to help Santa distribute gifts. More bags of gifts appeared from the back of the kitchen. There were toys galore. I think each aunt and uncle would try to outdo each other giving gifts. You knew childhood was over when, instead of toys or games, you received clothes as your Christmas gift! Babci always gave us three silver dollars--our mother saved them for us for over forty years.

After the gifts were opened it was time for treats. I do not know why, but Aunt Sophie served us spumoni ice cream, but was always a part of Christmas. It was a rich Italian ice cream with almond flavoring and pistachio nuts and candied fruit. We ate it along with poppy seed and nut filled coffeecake. Aunt Hattie would make pastries called chrusciki. We called them angel wings. They were as light as a feather!

We almost never made it to Midnight Mass. I do not know how we ever made it home. We must have been re-bundled up, the presents loaded, treats for Christmas Day wrapped up, and all of us finally on our way home in one of Dad's Desoto’s.

Mom and Dad took care of everything--it a very big chore for them with five children, as they still had to play "Santa" for us at our house on Christmas morning! It was only the start of a hectic season of visiting family and friends and, in turn, having friends and family at our house.

These are my memories. There are other memories of Christmas, but this is what I leave to my brother and sisters, nieces and nephews, their children, and my friends. It is a memory of a simpler time, when grievances were forgotten, and wishes were exchanged--for a better year, a better life. It was an acknowledgment that, after all, we were family--and family was important!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

About me

I grew up in the glory years of Detroit and its surrounding area of southeastern Michigan. World War II was in the past, and the boom times were in full gear. I was born in 1950, on a farm, part of an 80 acre plot my father's mother and stepmother, my grandparents, acquired after working in the factories in Detroit. We lived on two acres of the plot where my father built a solid two-story red brick house in mock-Tudor style, with a detached garage, also of red brick. In a small farming community of mostly wood clapboard farmhouses, our brick house stood out: It spoke of middle class and success. It was an age of anticipation, of transition; we wanted to hold on to the past, but we were looking forward to the future.

The 1950s were glory years for me and a booming Detroit. But as the decade waned, people started leaving Detroit for bigger and better things in the suburbs. The elderly and those who did not have the resources to leave Detroit were left behind. With rising unemployment and crime the city began to die. But for me the 1950s were golden years and figure large in my story.

The Polish recipes I remember reflect our origins as Polish peasants. Many of the recipes include cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, and smoked meats. These were hearty recipes that could sustain a family through hard times. My ancestors fled Poland in the early 1900s for the promise of a better life in America. They found jobs in the autombile industry in Detroit. Then the Depression came, followed by World War II, lean and difficult times.

I was born in a lucky time. Life was good and food was plenty. My first plan for this cookbook was to include only Polish recipes that were associated with our family and for the most part it will be just that.

As I build upon the blog, however, I will also include recipes that have become favorites of mine through my world travels. As an adult I spent many ears living overseas as a teacher for the U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) and also working for the Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia for a number of years. So many recipes from those times have become part of my own life. They are not always Polish recipes, but I have decided to include them because I continue to make them or if there is a story attached to a recipe.

To all who enjoy my contribution to the tradition of Polish recipes, embellished with my lifetime of travel, I wish you "Smacznego - Bon Appetite"!