Holy Thursday 2017

Last night, I went out to get something I’d left in my car, and as I was opening my car door,  I heard behind me a thunk. I turned and saw silhouetted against lights of the house a shape that moved ever so slightly. For a moment, I thought it might be a raccoon: we have them all over the place, including in a hole in our neighbors’ Sweet Gum near the base of our driveway. That didn’t make sense though: why in the world would a raccoon jump onto the car? And would it even be possible? Sure, one had jumped onto our deck once several years ago, but that jump was from our not-so-long-gone gas/AC package unit, a jump of about three feet.

A closer look showed it wasn’t a raccoon but looked positively owl-esque. I walked slowly to the back of the van and saw that it was indeed an owl. It came back this morning, drawn by the birds nesting in our downspout. Determining that there was no way it could get to the birds, it left as quickly as it came.

That was probably good, because everyone had lots to get done today. For K, it was a baking day. She finally was able to bake a miodownik like her mother always bakes. “You have to bake four sheets, and we never had an oven big enough,” she explained. Now we do.

So K baked and baked while I was out cutting grass and cleaning up the lawn for our Easter guests.

I got the kids out to help by picking up Sweet Gum seed balls, the spiky little bits of hell that can spawn dozens of almost-impossible-to-kill saplings each. They decided to count as they collected. Front and back yard yielded over six hundred, they said. And the probably only got about thirty percent of them in total.

They finished up just in time to do some egg painting. K tried some new method that involved whipped cream (or shaving foam) and food coloring, which remained a mystery to me throughout the process,

but the girls elected to go with more traditional methods. An egg painting mini-party has always been a staple in our Easter preparations, but it’s been on the decline over the last few years. This year, it was at its most minimalistic.

One chore left: smoking the meat. Two racks of ribs, two pork loins, six large chicken breasts. The ribs will go into K’s Easter żurek along with generous amounts of horseradish. The soup is my favorite part of the whole meal.

The soup is my favorite part of the whole meal.

Przepalanka

The name comes from the verb przepalać, which means to overheat, blow, or scorch. For instance, when a lightbulb (żarówka) blows out, the verb of choice to chronicle the event is “przepalać” (with the reflexive “się” added to confuse foreigners). Likewise with a fuse — they’re still fairly common in Poland and in much of Europe, with the old buildings that still have old wiring.

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Cleaning the bottles

It also means “scorch,” though, as in to scorch sugar, as in to caramelize sugar. It’s from this that the name “przpalanka” comes from.

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The finished product

I first encountered przepalanka when my neighbor, a fellow American who was getting married in early 1997, invited me over for a Friday evening game of chess. I still didn’t know how to play chess, and he less so. We were basically just moving pieces around without any sense of strategy, but we could chat. And so when I entered, he greeted me with a strange declaration: “Look, we made vodka!”

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Measuring the sugar

We made it for our wedding, too. And it was the result of a jolt of terror during the wedding celebration.

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Przepala się

“We’re about out of vodka!” K proclaimed at about ten in the evening, when the party was just getting started.

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Dilution

Fortunately, she just meant przepalanka — else it would have been the end of the party.

Steps

The barszcz takes several days to prepare because you have to ferment the beet juice first, and that takes a while. The herring salad takes a couple of days to make because it has to marinate. Or rather, re-marinate. The fish course — trout this year — is unpredictable, so we ordered it a week ago, for pick up on Saturday morning.

And of course for the kids, it’s been a year in the waiting.

Making the List

Making the list for tomorrow’s shopping is a process that takes as much planning as the cooking itself. I guess that goes without saying: you want to make sure your list has everything you need so that you don’t have to go back out. There’s no way I want to have to go out on Saturday to get anything — anything — we’ve forgotten, so making this list now reduces the chances of that happening. It began last night, sitting at the kitchen table, cookbooks everywhere, and it continued in the afternoon and evening tonight.

Taking a short dance break requires less planning. When you’re listening to highlander Christmas carols and you grew up dancing, it comes naturally. And that’s to say nothing of K.

Grinding

The Boy always likes helping in the kitchen. He likes helping anywhere, but especially in the kitchen. These days of Advent, that’s always a good thing: K can use all the help she can get in the kitchen.

Tonight: filling for the Christmas Eve dinner dumplings — the uszka (for the barszcz) filled with mushrooms and the pierogi stuffed with a sauerkraut-mushroom mixture. There’s lots of sauteing and grinding. We probably go through two sticks of butter in the process.

“We’re Polish, so that means we use butter for everything,” the Boy exclaims as we cook.

Tonight, we try out our new grinder attachment for the silver Beast, which usually sits on one of the racks in the basement but has spent Advent on the counter top upstairs. We finally have enough counter space to do it, why not?

We have definitely moved past the “It’s so new — don’t touch anything” phase of our new kitchen. It’s like the old one never existed. Certainly makes the pictures look better.

Meat

When we woke up, it was twenty-seven degrees outside. For South Carolina, that’s cold, especially in December. The really low temperatures like that don’t usually hit until January and February. It creates a challenge for the day’s activity: smoking of the holiday meat.

With twenty-some pounds of pork loin, a rack of ribs (for soups), and several pounds of chicken to smoke, I’m going to have a long, cold day in such weather.

Fortunately the Boy comes out to help.

At least for a while.

Cold Smoking

When we woke up, it was twenty-seven degrees outside. For South Carolina, that’s cold, especially in December. The really low temperatures like that don’t usually hit until January and February. It creates a challenge for the day’s activity: smoking of the holiday meat. With twenty-some pounds of pork loin, a rack of ribs (for soups), and several pounds of chicken to smoke, I’m going to have a long, cold day in such weather.

Rainy Sunday

“It’s cold and rainy!” I said as I came back inside from taking pictures of the Boy, who was more thrilled than I was that it was cold and rainy. After a blistering dry summer, to have finally some cold, wet weather is a blessing.

It made the rosół we had for lunch all the tastier, the cuddling with Papa and Nana all the more comfortable, and family movie in the early evening all the more enjoyable.

The automatically created URL for this post indicates that this is the fourth time I’ve used “Rainy Sunday” as a post title:

All within the last three years.

Thanksgiving 2016

In the morning, it’s cooking. And the Boy wants to help. He wants so much to be a big boy, to do the things he sees adults do, to do the things he sees me do. It’s humbling to think that I am for him the example of what a man is supposed to be.

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After a few hours of work, we head to the backyard, where the leaves make a kaleidoscopic carpet and curtains. One advantage of things not being as wet as they often are — there are colors. The last few years, it’s seemed like it rained a lot during autumn and all the leaves just turned black and fell off. This year, there’s no chance of that happening. Sure, we’re eleven inches behind in rainfall now. But those colors.

Mid-afternoon, it’s back to the kitchen to finish up everything. This goes into the oven, that comes out. The turkey remains the whole time. K’s a bit nervous about the turkey: we haven’t done a turkey. Ever. It’s not “We haven’t done a turkey like this” or “We haven’t done a turkey in this gas oven” — we just have never baked a whole turkey. Nana and Papa always contributed that to the Thanksgiving dinner. Still, how hard can it be? Research a few recipes, double-check the temperature and time in relation to the weight, then wait.

In the end, everything turns out fine.

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Better than fine.

Everyone goes home, K goes to bed early, and I head downstairs for an after-dinner drink and cigar. I scroll through what’s new on Netflix and see one of my all-time favorite movies is now streaming: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

How can I resist?

Comfort

The Boy and I were playing just before bedtime. The miasteczko that T and he made during their visit this weekend is still up, so we decided to make use of it. As often happens when playing, the Boy decided to pontificate a bit. Picking up a convertible, he began explaining, “This is a big car. It can hold a lot. I think maybe 38 gallons.” He handed me the car upside down and asked me to read what kind of car it was.

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“It’s a 38 Gallon Cruiser,” I said. He beamed.

“I said that!”

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I was expecting such a response, hoping for it at the very least. I like when something I say, something K does, something L makes him, gives him a certain kind of comfortable joy. It was the same with L when she was his age, still working out how everything worked, still not quite sure she had a handle on some of the basics. Of course, I look at her now and think, “You still don’t have a handle on some of the basics,” and I look in the mirror shaving and think, “You still don’t have a handle on some of the basics.”

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K has a handle on the basics though. She knows what brings a smile to everyone’s face: homemade rosół. The Boy leaves his bowl empty; the Girl goes back for seconds; even the older cat is happy to get the dregs in E’s bowl.

The basics.