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!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Turkeys for Kids

I found these turkeys on the Internet. They were easy to put together. I used canned frosting as the "glue" and frosting in tubes from the supermarket to decorate. You don't need any special tools. All you need is a butter knife to spread the frosting. I gave some to two families with young children and they found them delightful. I think it would be great fun to keep kids busy as well. Here's a link to directions. They only suggestion I would have is to trim a bit off the Reece's Peanut Butter Cup so that it sits flat. It will keep everything stable.

Oreo and candy "turkeys" for your Thanksgiving table--kids will love them, adults, too!

The Pie Guy's Thanksgiving Day Pies

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with Caramel Ganache
in a Pecan Gingersnap Shell.
Topped with real whipped cream,
drizzled with caramel and accented
with maple glazed pecans.

Apple Dutch CrumbPie

Pecan Pumpkin Pie

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Day 2010

I haven't always been as thankful as I should be for what I have been given. This year I really have a feeling of appreciation for all of the blessings I have received. I wish I could give everyone I know the feeling of peace and serenity I have, but I know that that job is below my pay grade. I guess I will just say thank you to everyone who is reading this message and I hope you have great joy throughout the coming year---Adam, "The Pie Guy."

Alice Yucht, a librarian acquaintance I met on the Internet, kindly gave me permission to use this recipe for cooking a 15-20 lb. turkey in just 2 and a half hours several years ago, and every turkey I have made has turned out great!

Alice’s Roasted Turkey

1 15-20 pound unstuffed, completely thawed turkey (Be sure to remove innards!)
2 cups chicken broth
Optional: 1 raw onion or 1 raw apple
Assorted herbs and spices

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Put UNSTUFFED, COMPLETELY THAWED turkey into deep roasting pan.

Note: If turkey is 20-25 pounds, just add 15 minutes to last hour. If turkey is 10-15 pounds, subtract 15 minutes from last hour.

Pour broth into bottom of pan.

Cover turkey with aluminum foil (tented, not sealed).

Put turkey into hot oven, set timer for 90 minutes and walk away. (Do NOT keep opening oven to look; that bird is not going anywhere).

When timer rings after 90 minutes, take foil tent off turkey. Lower heat to 4000, set timer for one hour, and walk away. Do NOT open the oven!

When timer rings, take turkey out of oven and remove from pan to rest on platter for 15-20 minutes before carving.


This is an outstanding stuffing recipe to go with the turkey given to me by a former aide, Shirley Gatis. I add the finely minced turkey liver, because Mom always did, and I like the added flavor. You could make a half recipe to go with any roast chicken.

When I lived  in Germany, we were worried that we would have to forego a traditional Thanksgiving dinner because we could not find a turkey, not even on base. A German restaurant offered to make us a turkey dinner. We were delighted, but when dinner was served, the turkey had been smoked instead of baked, and “pommes frites” (French fries!) were served. Not exactly traditional, but we appreciated the effort! This recipe was adapted from my aide in at Naples High.

Adam’s Sausage Stuffing

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

1 pound mild pork sausage
4 Tbsps. butter
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
1 turkey liver, finely minced
4 cups chicken broth
Sage, salt, pepper to taste
1 loaf dry white bread, cubed

Sauté sausage in butter until brown. Add celery and onions, cook until soft. Add minced turkey liver and sauté until no longer pink. Pour in chicken broth and spices to taste. Bring to boil. Add bread. Stir until combined.

Spray casserole pan with non-stick spray. Put in pan, bake until top is brown and crispy, about 30-40 minutes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adam’s Polish Hunter’s Stew (Bigos)

Polish Hunter's Stew: Bigos
I learned later that Polish people call this Hunter's Stew "Bigos" but we called it kapusta when I was growing up.

1/2 pork tenderloin, cut into 1” pieces
3 links of fresh Polish or sweet Italian sausage
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound baked ham chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large can of sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 package Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 medium cabbage
1 or 2 tablespoons of butter
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1/2 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup
Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan brown sausage in olive oil. Remove and transfer to large soup pan .Do the same with the pork pieces.

Sauté onions and garlic until golden in the frying pan. Add mushrooms, sauté for 10 minutes, add cabbage, sauté for 10 minutes. Add butter as necessary to keep vegetables from sticking. Transfer to soup pan.

Add the ham pieces to the soup pan.

Drain and rinse sauerkraut. Add to soup pan.

Add 2 cups chicken stock to soup pan. If you want more soupy stew, add an additional 1 cup of stock.

Bring to boil, and then simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in mushroom soup. Turn off heat. Stew can be served now but it is better if you refrigerate it overnight to allow flavors to meld together. Reheat the next day and serve over boiled potatoes.

Seeded deli rye bread goes well with this dish.

We called this dish "Kapusta" which is the Polish word for sauerkraut, but the official name is "Bigos" or Hunter's Stew. It was originally made with whatever combination of meat Polish hunters were able to find.