Monday, August 22, 2016

Breakfast in Galveston

Photo by Lori Najvar's camera. 
Earlier this month, I was in Galveston staying at my sister and brother-in-law's beach house for the first "girlfriends weekend" I've ever hosted. This was a formidable group of women whose skills collectively include driving big trucks, directing an award-winning film, traveling to almost every continent on Earth, teaching history at the university level, and doing food writing for the likes of Gastronomica. I am blessed to know these women. We laughed, drank, colored, did each other's dishes, walked on the beach, and cooked for each other. 

I ended up making breakfast on Saturday morning. Along with baking kolaches, I wanted to do something savory that reflected my Texas-Czech heritage. Pan frying pork and garlic sausage was an easy decision, but I needed to accommodate a non-meat eater (who does eat eggs.) A search for vegan sausages at HEB rewarded me with a kielbasa-flavored product made by Tofurky. My cousin would not have to feel like she was being cheated out of anything in the meal - even her vegan sausages smacked of Central European flavors. And the package commanded (suggested?) "Just Add Polka."

Sure I could have just fried or scrambles eggs in addition, but I had run across the recipe below for scrambled eggs with tomatoes in a Czech Heritage Society cookbook. I try to incorporate vegetables into my breakfast as much as possible, since I don't seem to eat enough the rest of the day. That recipe plus some ideas from querying Texas Czechs on Facebook about mushrooms made a complete Texas-Czech(ish) breakfast. 

This lovely, peaceful photo by my cousin-in-law, Net, exemplifies the rewards of getting up early for breakfast, even when you're on vacation.

Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes
Dr. Stanislav Makal, Praha, Czecoslovakia, submitted by Willa Mae Cervenka, in Czech Reflections: Recipes, Memories and History by the McLennan-Hill Chapter of the Czech Heritage Society, pg. 107    
1 tablespoon butter or Crisco
4 eggs
1 large tomato, sliced
Optional: small sliced onion
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste 
In skillet, sauté the onions and tomatoes in Crisco or butter. Add eggs, pepper and salt. Stir and fry until eggs are done. Serve warm.

Scrambled Eggs and Mushrooms
Dawn Orsak
1 tablespoon butter
4 eggs
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste 
In a skillet, sauté the mushrooms and the caraway seeds in butter until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add the eggs, salt, and pepper. Stir until the eggs are set to your liking. Serve warm.

The recipe above was inspired by the following comments by some Facebook friends in response to a question about Texas Czechs' favorite ways to eat mushrooms:
Larry V. - We called it smazenice, onion and mushroom sauteed together with caraway seed and eggs scambled over that mixture. 
Jana R. - Mushroom, egg, knedliky in any combination. 
Donna C. - My mother's favorite memory of her dad is he went mushrooming hunting. He would fry them in butter.
I did make a pan of kolaches from this recipe I've posted before, which makes 24. This time I made apple kolaches (from dried and fresh apples with cinnamon, a little butter, and a little sugar) and cream cheese kolaches. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Are You Related To...??

My grandmother and the Juneks,
Bay City, 1940. I got the "goofball"
gene from her.

Earlier this year I was sitting with my 96-year old grandmother (my Dad's mother - Irene (Zielonka) Orsak) in Denton and we were looking through photos. There was a batch of really sweet pictures of her and my grandfather in 1940 or '41 at LeTulle Park in Bay City with another couple their same age... drinking sodas, climbing trees, horsing around. There was a label on the back of one photo that said "Mrs. Edwin Junek." My grandmother told me they were friends with Edwin and his wife, but didn't remember her name.

That same week I got a notice in my email about an article that had just come out in Edible Houston magazine about the kolach baker Lydia Faust in Snook and it was written by a Sarah Junek (whose family has roots in Snook.) The name was so unusual to me that I contacted Edible Houston and asked them to send my contact info to Sarah. I was, at the time, working on my own article (on Texas Czech picnics) for Edible Austin magazine so thought we'd have a lot to talk about it.

Sarah Junek and me, 2016, at the
Foodways Texas annual conference,
where we sat on a panel together
about gender roles in the
Texas Czech kitchen.
With help from Sarah's Dad, we found out that the Junek couple my grandparents were friends with in 1940 was Sarah's great-great aunt and uncle, Edwin and Willie Ollie (Orsak) Junek.

To me, this is the quintessential Texas Czech story... Sarah and I became friends (and figured out our families are connected) by asking "Are you related to.....??" 

My grandmother (left) and
Sarah's great-great aunt, 1940.
As I was doing fieldwork for the traveling exhibition Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition, I was constantly coming into contact with Texas Czechs who had to basically vet me first, before feeling comfortable talking to me about their family, their traditions, their role in the community. One way this was accomplished, was by asking if I was related to this or the other Orsak somewhere in Texas. Usually I wasn't (there are a lot of Orsaks in Texas.) But follow up questions would be "Is Orsak your maiden or married name?" or "what is your mother's maiden name?" or "who were your grandparents?" or "where did your parents grow up?" 

My ancestors gave me plenty of ammunition to pass this test with flying colors and I am grateful. My maternal grandmother's brother was the Bishop of the Houston-Galveston diocese, and my mother's paternal grandfather was the State President of the KJT for years in the 1930s.  Another of my grandmother's brothers was a Monsignor with a serious reputation in Lavaca County for being a hard ass teacher (pardon my French) and a lead-foot. Invariably, whoever I was trying to start a discussion with in my fieldwork would know the names Morkovsky, Kallus, Migl, Marek, or Raska, etc. and I would be "taken in", so to speak.  I was suddenly accepted, a member of the clan, worthy of attention, and taken seriously. It was comforting. 

Juneks and Orsaks, LeTulle Park in Bay City, 75 years ago.

So, I was especially pleased to have this kinship/community connection with Sarah, who is a great writer and lover of stories and history. (Read her article about Lydia Faust, "The Czech Queen of Kolache"here.) She works at the Royal Theater in Archer City in Archer County and with the Archer City Story Center. In her own words, she is "cobbling together an arts education community out of the Royal Theater."  She's also been making an effort to help older Texas-Czech women in Snook tell their food stories. A kindred spirit. The Texas Czech community needs way more people like Sarah Junek and Lori Najvar of PolkaWorks and Susan Chandler at the Texas Czech Heritage Museum in Temple collecting the stories and memories of the community, especially if they're members of the community themselves... bringing that knowledge to interviews and fieldwork and, let's face it, being asked "Are you related to...?" and passing the test.

Just to put her money where her mouth is (and the food stories are), Sarah has a pop-up kolache booth at the Archer Farmers Market at the Archer Feed store on Saturday mornings. Visit her, if you're out West Texas way and support Texas Czechs making Texas Czech food. (Photos of Sarah's kolaches and booth below are stolen from her Facebook feed.)