Showing posts with label Polish recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Polish recipes. 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, 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"!