Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Traditions

Not Quite My Grandmother's, But Close

My father's family is/was Hungarian. My mother's family is/was German and Welsh. Growing up, my sister and I were much closer to Dad's family than Mom's. We did love Poppie and Grandmom G (Mom's father and step-mother) and were very close with and spoiled rotten by Grandmom Cookie* (my mother's birth-mother).

But Grandmom B was the comfort grandmother. No one hugged liked her; no one smothered with kisses like her and no one sure as hell cooked like her! Holiday meals cooked by Grandmom B were a spectacular blend of traditional Hungarian cooking and American standards. And for my sister and I, the best thing about Grandmom's holiday meals included her astonishing stuffed cabbage. How many children do you know who eat cabbage? How many of you do? My grandmother's stuffed cabbage remains to this very day, my favorite meal of all time. She taught my father, who in turn taught me (one of the few things for which I am grateful to him). I later taught my sister, who has adapted a smaller yield recipe for her slow-cooker. 

My mother, Lord Love a Duck, has never been taught this recipe, yet she manages to chime in about some ingredient she thinks I've gotten wrong every time I make it. Of course, once she eats it, she admits I was right. The recipe is not written down, that I am aware of and will (very sadly), die with my sister and I. Hmm... Perhaps I will actually prepare a copy for posthumous publication. It's too good to let die. Though the recipe is hardly exact but Sis and I have learned to know when it looks, feels and tastes right as we go along. My version is getting closer to Grandmom's every time I make it, though I haven't quite hit the jackpot. It's the "rontasz" or Hungarian rue, that's the hardest to get right.

I make this dish twice a year; for my birthday in July and for New Year's Day. It's as much work for a small batch as it for  large, so I (and almost everyone else I know who makes it), make a huge (16 qt, for me) batch and immediately freeze half. The other half is left to cool and then refrigerated overnight so the flavors can marry. The prep time is almost as long as the cooking time, if you want it to turn out right. My fingers end up wrinkled and shriveled long before it actually starts cooking. This is one of those massive multi-step recipes that takes not only careful instruction, but trial and error to get right.

So, here's the deal. I hate to see Grandmom's recipe go away. Tell me in the comments of you would like a copy of it. If enough of you ask politely, I'll share it with you. I only ask that if you should share it, you do so using Grandmom's name (provided as the title of the recipe).

I also just realized that I haven't had her Chicken Paprikash in a long time, something she did teach my mother. Hmmmm... next weekend, for sure!

And now how's this for a segue?

Uncle Prospero received the hoodie you see on the right for Christmas. It says "Hungary" in Hungarian (or at least the Arabic equivalent of the Cyrillic) and features the crest and colors of the Hungarian flag. I am wearing it even now, as I was this afternoon when I ventured out to get some essentials and something no one ever gives me for Christmas -- a calendar. Luckily, Barnes and Noble still had a good selection at 50% off.
I got exactly the one I wanted, cheap! 

As I got up to the counter, the young woman behind it said: "Oh! That's not Mexican!"

"Excuse me?" I said, thinking she might be having a stroke.

Her: "Your shirt. I thought it was a Mexican flag, but... what does it say?"

Me: "Oh. It's Hungarian. It says 'Hungary.'"

She kind of squinted her eyes and said "Um, what? You're hungry?"

I started looking around for a hidden camera. 

Me: "No, Hungary. It's an Eastern European country near Austria and Romania."

Her: "So like, near Sydney, right?" (On my life, she said this).

Me: "No. Austria, not Australia."

Her: "Oh. I'm a Spanish major, so I thought it was Mexican."

Me: "Oh. Well, no. It's definitely not Spanish."

She finished my transaction and I left, wanting to cry for the future of Humanity, all over again. Of course, maybe the world can be saved. Grandmom's stuffed cabbage is a magical food, after all...

As the year gets closer to being history, I find myself  counting both my blessings and my pennies. I was lucky enough to have two vacation trips in 2011, something I don't see happening next year. And I was unable to be as generous as usual for Christmas this year, but still managed to deliver gifts that pleased (or at least their recipients were polite enough to lie about it convincingly -- of course, most of my friends are truly excellent actors). Personally, I'm looking forward to 2012. I already have tons of great stuff scheduled well into the summer and I can't wait to get started! I leave you with this, something you've probably already seen but I haven't had the chance to do so until now:

Once I've finished cooking, it's back to Flemington for a quiet New Year's Eve with my three wise folk, Q; K and Dale.

So, what are you doing New Year's Eve?

More, anon.

*The actual cookie jar Grandmom Cookie had.


Pam said...

I loved the blog entry. I definitely want the recipe please! My Jewish ex's father was Hungarian and my mother in law made delicious stuffed cabbage. Her family was Russian/Polish, so sometimes she made it the Hungarian way, and sometimes the Polish way. Either way was great. My father's family is Irish and mom's Estonian. My point is: Boy are my kids mutts!!
That was too funny about the 'Hungry' sweatshirt. I also love calendars and buy mine very early. I have them all over the place in fact. I love to put all the special dates onto my new calendar each New Year's Day.
I'm going this morning to my sister's in RI, then we're piling into her car and going to meet up with niece and Maine sister in Boston for 'First Night'. We'll probably eat in an Irish pub somewhere for dinner, same as we did last New Year.
Love and peace in the New Year , Pam

Stephen said...

1. I love Budapest
2. I am a 35 year vegetarain & won't need the recipe, but I honor you grandmother.
3. You have just a it of the Geek in you, whick makes you Hungarian/Geek.
4. People are stupid. Yesterday I asked a person ordering soup if they wanted a cup or a bowl & the asked: "which one is bigger?".
5. I am working from 6am-9pm on New Year's Eve... which rather sums up the year. I will get home at 10pm to a fire in the fireplace & champagne. I will have 3 glasses & pass out before midnight.

DeepBlue said...

Stuffed cabbage is said in french "cigare aux choux"! Cigars??? Hmmmm!

I don't do long recipes but you can send me the leftovers! ;)

My mom tried to make her mother-in-law's lemon pie without getting any success with my dad who would always say it was not like his mom's pie. This shows clearly how straight men can be clueless when it comes to women: never tell your wife that she is not as good as your mom in the kitchen.

But my mom was a wise lady. She went to her MiL and asked her to make her lemon pie. Turned out my mom did exactly like my grandma except for one little detail: my mom would pour all the sugar over the eggs and blend, but my grandma poured just a little bit of sugar and then blendsed, then more sugar and blend and so on.

Mom came back home, did the lemon pie exactly like she saw her MiL do and BINGO, my dad said it was exactly the same!

Your adventure at the grocery store is priceless. Thank God for "stupid" people. They do make life less grimm. But someone who is a complete failure in geography isn't automatically stupid!

Tonight is very quiet. Had a nice meal with mom, then coffee, vanilla Yule log and interresting conversation in the living room. We really didn't want any fuss this year. No cooking. We got everything from a caterer. Wasn't that expensive and very good, especially the traditional tourtière (meat pie made with deer, elk, pheasan, hare). I will be in bed by 10:30. WOOHOO! :D

Have fun, Brian!

Mrs. Pine said...

i want the recipe!!! yum!!! moreso, i want it when you make it! heeeee xox