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Showing posts from 2011

Thinking about Stedry Vecer

Christmas Eve is three days away and, like most years of my life, I will be at my parent's house for our annual holiday get-together. The article below about our gathering was written for the Plate and Vine newsletter of the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas and was included in the Fall 2004 issue. Nothing has changed since I wrote it, which really pleased me when I reread the article recently in preparation for writing a few blog posts about Christmas food traditions. 

I'd love to have comments from those of you who might still include dishes in your holiday celebration that can be traced back to the motherland.

Family Traditions: A Texas Czech Holiday

My family's Christmas Eve meal tells the story of our Texas Czech heritage. Though the dishes come straight from my mother's grandparents, the meal is influenced by my parents' creative and inquisitive approach to cooking and the finicky tastes of children and in-laws. We call this meal Stedra, a mispronunciation …

Making Egg Noodles

I made noodles for the first time. I don't know why I was intimidated by them. They ended up being the easiest thing to make and were so satisfying to eat. (So easy a two-year old and 12-year-old could do it... see photo below.) Many, many times I have had recounted to me the story of a person's mother or grandmother making noodles and the fond memories of seeing the rolled out sheets of dough hanging over the backs of chairs or drying flat on top of a bed.

In their book Krasna Amerika: A Study of the Texas Czechs  1851-1939, Clint Machann and James Mendl wrote "Soup (polevka) was an important part of the noon meal (obed). Rolled-out, paper-thin egg noodle dough, spread on a table or draped over chairs, was a common sight in a Czech home. After drying, the sheet of dough was rolled out and cut into thin strips, to be used in various kinds of noodle soup." (pages 140-141)

I don't remember my grandmother making noodles, but my mother remembers her Aunt Bessie doin…

Picnic Stew Part 1

"In the late summer and autumn what was known as Valachian goulash was cooked - a thin, almost soup-like mutton stew. As the name tells us, this was most popular in Walachia, a mountainous region by the Slovak border. It was cooked in a large cauldron. The so-called goulash parties meant good entertainment. Even today no one would scorn an invitation to a pot of good stew and fine songs accompanied on the harmonica."

The paragraph above was written by Dr. Jaroslav Stika in a draft piece called "Czech Folk Cooking" written for the 1995 Festival of American Folklife, in which the Czech Republic was featured.  Dr. Stika was the former director of the Wallachian Open-Air Museum in Roznov, Moravia, Czech Republic and, unfortunately died last year, so I can't talk with him about what he wrote. However, to me, he is describing the forefather of the picnic stew served at many Texas-Czech church picnics in late summer and autumn, especially in Lavaca and Fayette Countie…

Kallus Reunion 2011

My mother's maiden name is Kallus and the family's reunion is one that we go to every year.  It's always within a few days of my birthday. (My partner thinks I have a family reunion every weekend, but it's actually four a year... Kallus, Morkovsky, Orsak and Zielonka.) Until last year, the Kallus reunion had been held for decades (literally since the 30s, I think) at the Wied Hall in, you guessed it, Wied, a teeny tiny community between Hallettsville and Shiner in Lavaca County. My great grandfather Kallus lived in Wied and owned a general store and post office in the early part of the 20th century. The story is that he and other families in the area pooled their money to build the hall so their daughters wouldn't have to go far for a dance. He donated the land, though the hall was actually moved across Alt. Highway90 at some point. It's an enigmatic old hall and I've always loved being there. It deserves a blog post on its own.

Last year the host family mov…

Texas-Czech Food vs. My Colon

Below is the last recipe with meat in it that I'll be posting for a month. Last Saturday I pledged to go meat-free for October, which is National Vegetarian Awareness Month. (I was a vegetarian for about 10 years - throughout my 20s - so I know what it entails. I stopped because I missed sausage.) Why am I doing it? Because I've been thinking a LOT about my health and how what I eat affects it.

Last year, my mother almost died from colon cancer. I'm not saying she developed cancer because she ate meat, but what happened to her reminded me that there's overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet increases your chances of not developing all kinds of bad conditions and of living longer. And now, two of my three siblings have had colonoscopies that found pre-cancerous polyps. That makes me want to take even more precautions with my health. But I've committed to writing the cookbook, which involves testing lots of meat recipes... fried chicken, pork cutlets, pickled t…

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slavic Fest

I spent 3 hours at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slavic Festival in Houston last Sunday with my parents, sister, son, and nieces. The event is one of the oldest ethnic festivals in the state and this was its 48th year. I even have a family connection to it, though I'd never attended before. My great uncle, Bishop John Morkovsky, who was the Catholic Bishop of the Houston diocese for much of the 1970s and 80s, apparently was an integral part of the festival for decades. Though he didn't start the event, he gave a sermon in Czech at the very first one in 1963 and then did so from then on. The festival's printed program has a little tribute to him and says "He enjoyed all kinds of good food, and whenever you would ask him if he was on any kind of special diet, he would always reply: "Oh yes, I can only eat food."

Who are the Slavs, you ask?... Croatians, Ukrainians, Poles, Slovenes, Russians, Belarusians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, and, of co…

Kolaches... the Good, the Bad, and the Unidentifiable

Tasting 19 different kolaches in a two hour period will either broaden your horizons or solidify your personal opinions. I got the opportunity to test mine about what characteristics make a good kolach last weekend when I was a judge at the Caldwell Kolache Festival. I got a new perspective on why places like Lone Star Kolaches are popular. And I realized that the choice of kolach recipes that will go into my cookbook (and the kolach's history) is more complicated than I originally thought. The working title of the cookbook is now The Foods of Texas-Czechs... boring, but descriptive, so I'm anticipating some kind of snappy subheading, like Beyond Kolaches, Sausage and Sauerkraut or  Recipes and Traditions from Kolach Bakers, Sausage Makers, Gardeners and Grandmothers. I'll take suggestions if you're inspired.

Two things got me especially excited about being a judge at the festival and both were from the emailed invitation I received from the Burleson County Extension …

Foods that Make me Glad I'm Czech

It would be unthinkable to be fascinated with the foodways of your own culture, but not like the food. I genuinely love a lot of Texas-Czech foods and there aren't many that I come across normally that I would turn down. There is something elemental about sausage and sauerkraut... the tang of the cabbage and the richness of the pork. It's truly one of my favorite things to eat, if done right. Add noodles to it and it's the perfect comfort food. And have you ever bought an apricot kolach from Weikel's early in the morning fresh out of the oven? Who would not want to eat one every day for breakfast?

And the list goes on to include chicken noodle soup at our extended family Christmas gathering... a rich broth with homemade noodles from Mrs. Bujnoch in Hallettsville served with chicken salad sandwiches on white bread. I have to take a styrofoam, Saran Wrap-covered plate full to eat in the car on the way back to Austin. I love cold salmon and potato salad on Christmas Eve, …

Picnic by the Lake

I love picnics. Once you get all the work out of the way, it's once of the most enjoyable ways to share a meal. We live near Lake Austin with the entrance to a neighborhood lakeside park 50 yards from our back door. It's a shady, friendly, breezy spot to spend an afternoon, watching the kids play in the lake and sitting at a picnic table having a cold beer. Because our house is so close, we can run up for supplies we forgot or carry down hot food we made on the stove. For one Sunday afternoon meal, we tested a couple of family recipes to accompany a link of sausage my Dad gave me... my great aunt Louise's green beans with a dill sauce and my grandmother Irene Orsak's cole slaw. 

My experience with green beans in Texas-Czech cuisine has been limited to them being pickled or the ubiquitous side dish - canned green beans dressed up with a little chopped onion and bacon. This dish is found at church picnics (like the one in Moravia), weddings and funerals. A look through 10…

Taking It On the Road

Just got photographs from my friend Lori Najvar taken during the Texas-Czech culinary tour that my Dad and I lead on June 1st for the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which happened in Austin this year. It makes me feel exhausted and satisfied thinking about the day. An enthusiastic, curious, and patient group of attendees proved that Texas-Czech culture has sex appeal, sort of. I'm still amazed 23 people had enough interest to not just go on the tour, but PAY to go on the tour. And I wonder how many more people there are like that out in the world. Almost all of the attendees were from out of state, but we had a Texas Czech, a Texas German, and a relocated Nebraska Czech, too. 

My goal for the tour was to relay as much as I could about Texas-Czech foodways on the bus ride punctuated with edible examples at the best places I could find on the easiest/quickest route through Fayette and Lavaca Counties. I wanted people to know that Czech f…

Kolaches in Bikinis

Last week, at my sister's beach house, I made a second attempt at kolaches and klobasniky. This time I used my grandmother's recipe, which came from her sister Bessie (Morkovsky) Kocian. It was a family affair with my sister and me and five children ages 2 to 14 all handling the dough.

After much procrastinating throughout the morning and everyone asking each other if they REALLY wanted to do it, we began close to lunchtime, deciding that we needed kolaches for svacina. My oldest son (12) and my sister's oldest son (14) took a break from burying each other in the sand to mix up the dough. The 2, 3, and 6 years olds simply wanted to play with it PlayDough-style (or eat it raw... eeeuuwww.) My pastry chef significant other only came in to the kitchen to approve the quality of the risen dough and then moved back to the couch and the flat screen TV, which I took as a compliment.

I'd brought leftover fillings and posipka from our first attempt (kept in the freezer) and mixed…

Morkovsky Reunion 2011

Two weekends ago, I traveled to Hallettsville with my partner and toddler for the annual reunion of the Morkovskys (my maternal grandmother's maiden name) at the KC Hall. I've always loved reunions, but the reasons have changed over time. As a child, reunions were about running wild in big halls with little parental oversight. As a young adult, they were about staying connected to first cousins and still seeing those great-aunts and uncles. Now they're about showing off your children (when you can catch them.)

All my great aunts and uncles on my mom's side have passed, so I attended the reunion to visit my aunts and uncles and grandmother. She is the only member of her generation still living (out off 11). She was the baby, born in 1915, so all my cousins come to see HER. Below is a photo of her watching a home movie of her own father taken in 1946 at a Morkovsky reunion in San Antonio. Amazing.

My brother and I had a collection of home movies digitized by the Texas Ar…