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During our three-week vacation in Europe, we flew three times, made six separate trips by train, drove several cars, took a ride on a tram, subway and in a shuttle bus. We slept in countless beds and each one left a different imprint on our bodies. It turned out that sleeping around really is exciting and affects one’s libido (provided your bedroom is NOT adjacent to the one your conservative uncle sleeps in). The best part is that you can DO IT very successfully with the same partner throughout the journey! (That’s for those of you who duck when such words as FIDELITY and COMMITMENT are thrown at you.)
Since we were on the go for the most of the past twenty-one days, the little time we spent under a roof, any roof, we used up for hanging out with my family and friends, then here and there some tequila or pierogi-spiced hanky-panky , and most importantly–beauty sleep. The Internet got pushed back in time till the days I was about 14, meaning it didn’t exist. There was simply no time left for rants and scribbles. Hence, I have a whole lot of catching up to do here, and with no further ado I’ll bring up the foods we consumed while at the far eastern land.
I could summarize it pretty much with one word: MEAT. I’ll give you an example of our daily diet in Poland. On an average day we had cold cuts for breakfast, schabowe (tenderized, breaded and pan-fried pork chops) with cooked together carrots and potatoes (as seen below) for lunch…
…and pierogi (Polish dumplings) with meat for dinner.
There are hundreds of things one can fill their pierogi with. My mom is an exceptional cook and she spoiled us rotten with the meals she prepared. Not only she made three different kinds of pierogi for us (with meat, with blueberries, and so called Russian ones, filled with a mixture of mashed potatoes and country cheese, served with a dollop of sour cream and freshly ground pepper), but also she cooked various meats, and soups Jason has never tasted before like Botwinka. In a sense, it is red chard soup made on the base of a home-made chicken broth, later thickened with flour and finished with heavy cream.
I say, in a sense, as for us Polaks this is a soup made of very young beets, when their bulbs are not quite developed yet, and the leaves get to play the role of the guest of honor in the pot. The beet root, however, belongs to the same family and the same species as the red chard does. If you’re wondering if the soup is any good, let me tell you that that damn Botwinka had put my relationship with Jason in serious jeopardy for a moment. After the few spoonfuls of the dish Jason was on the verge of proposing to my mother, who thank goodness is off the market.
When we got out of my mother’s kitchen, and off we went to bother the rest of my family scattered across Poland, we were welcomed at their tables heavy with foods of all kinds. While certain elements varied from a house to a house, two were constant: sausage and vodka. Jason was tested heavily by various men from my tribe. He passed, but I’ll bet the very lace on my chest he’ll stay away from the Fire Water for many years to come.
Kielbasa, or a Polish sausage as you may know it, is omnipresent across my country. Even when we went to the countryside with Kinga, we were invited to a picnic with campfire and the whole nine yards. There was beer, bread, and sausage (duh!) baked on a stick over raw and bursting flames.
Due to the obvious meat overdose, upon our return to Los Angeles we decided to stay on a vegetarian diet for about a month just to keep things balanced in nature. I will miss though the bread we had for breakfast each morning, whether it was in my mama’s kitchen, or at the boutique hotel in Krakow. I tell ya, what we get here, in the US, has very little to do with the real stuff. Sniff, sniff… I won’t even mention the pastries we devoured in Paris! How is that even legal? How is that legal that bread can taste like homecoming and poetry at the same time? And then, how is that legal that such crap, also labeled as BREAD, is produced and sold across the United States of America, the place once called the most powerful country in the world?
I’ll go to my room now and cry in silence for a moment. Just give me a second to compose myself to continue with my food report.
When we got to Krakow, a Georgian restaurant was highly recommended to us, and guess what we ate there. More meat, you got it, served with a bouquet of fresh salads and a traditional Georgian sauce that tasted surprisingly close to the mixture of mayo and ketchup. Jason, like a total girl, chose chicken. I went all the way:
GIVE ME SOME STEAK, WOMAN! I roared across the room and banged on the table with my iron fist, still holding a silver fork. Then I gulped down a chalice full of red wine unmoved by its trails dripping down my fat and matted beard.
Heavy and balky, filled with at least three full animals in our stomachs, we meandered the streets of the Old Town in Krakow, visiting Wawel (The Royal Castle), and the magnificent Church of Saint Mary. And then a miracle happened. Following the Polish guide Jason had armed himself with before the trip, we discovered a food gem, an oasis of green in the midst of that Sahara of meat, a true heaven for any veg junkie in the vicinity–we found a SALAD BAR!
The place was magical, and became our stable for the remaining days in the Old Capitol of Poland. The same things that were served on our plates also decorated the walls of the venue.
Tears crawl back into the corners of my eyes when I look at this. It’s a true Love Manifesto on a plate. Delicious. Crunchy. Raw. Versatile. Colorful. Meatless…ahh.
We have seen so many places, peaked into so many corners of Poland, tried every Polish snack and experienced every Polish stereotype (from vodka and sausage through the cold and grey, to the world famous hospitality, to the ubiquitous green and primal forests). However, not once have we stumbled upon a white bear strolling down the street.
Then we flew to Paris, but that’s a whole new story.
I farted around all day today. I did nothing. I sat on the couch and watched Cosmo snore. He sleeps with his head resting on a pillow and the rest of his body curled up in a fetal position. I mean, is he a person? Frankly, I’m convinced my dog is an incarnation of my future child. The thought is just as terrifying as it is thrilling.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a few dreams with Cosmo as my son… sort of. Once, he came to me as a young boy with angel-like curly hair and blue eyes. I knew I was about to go through this ultra scary transition into a new world. Suddenly, I got a phone call and it was Cosmo ringing from THE OTHER SIDE. He explained to me that he wasn’t able to make the transition for me despite how much he wanted to. However, he assured me that he was there waiting for me on the other side with his unconditional love, trust, and comfort. Don’t say a word, I know…!
Another time, I dreamt that Cosmo was … a horse … stunning … a true stallion. We walked together through a field of grass where a group of youngsters was playing soccer. You ought to know that Cosmo in my waking life is an excellent soccer player. You must see it to believe it. Tens of hundreds have been amazed thus far, and news of his talents keeps spreading across the land. In the dream, my HORSE went after the soccer ball and started playing the game! The guys were getting irritated, as he was chasing their ball. I yelled “Please, stop playing for a second so I can get him and take him off the field!” I kept calling “Cosmo! Cosmo! Come here!” When I finally fetched him, he lay down on his back clearly making his belly available for scratching! I’m still talking about a horse here, pay attention; it was a BIG HORSE BELLY. After we got up, we walked side by side, and again I felt his love, like of a son for his mother. I asked him to carry me. He stood up on his hind legs, the beautiful horse that he was, took me in his ARMS and carried me with the utmost care and tenderness. It was AMA-A-Ziiiing. I felt his “arms” shake gently, which I instantly addressed asking if I wasn’t too heavy (the true woman in me spoke!). He simply replied “No”.
If you haven’t yet, you should call the authorities now. My straightjacket size is 8, but if you can fit me in a 6 you’ll really make my day! When I think about it all, I’m torn whether I should see a psychiatrist, go through a series of parenting classes or check myself into Cesar Millan’s Dog Psychology Center. I CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH! Bring it on.
I don’t mean to get sentimental, but all that talk of Cosmo and being a mom, and then Jason falling asleep with his head on my belly makes me think of family, of home. HOME is the place I’ve always longed for, since I flew away from my childhood house when still just a chick with ruffled feathers and hay filling the space between my ears. For over a decade, I lived the life of a gypsy, scared of committing to one place. I broke into a cold sweat and my voice instantaneously rose three octaves when asked to sign a THREE-YEAR car lease.
Then I met Jason, and from DAY ONE we’ve been inseparable… uhhhh … sort of. Right off the bat, Guatemala kept us apart for two weeks. Then a Texas wedding got in the way, followed by more Texas interruptions that summer. Next, a Polish wedding across the ocean kept us high and dry for a week. And last but not least, Berlin rose like a WALL between us. It’s not the time apart, however, but the moments together that made us realize early on that I’m his PEA and he’s my CARROT.
For the first time in my adult life was I able to understand what HOME meant. Carried on memories wings, I traveled over the mountains and plains, over the ocean and back through time to my childhood days, back to the homeland in Europe, with all its customs and traditions, textures and fragrances, joys and sorrows. I finally appreciated my roots, my heritage, my own family. Suddenly, HOME wasn’t just the future house that My Love and I were to build together and the children we were to conceive. It all came together then, and my definition of HOME finally embraced where I come from along with what I bring into my future.
Hence, my urge to bring back the flavors I learned as a child into my life here in the US of A. It’s not an every day desire, but here and there I crave me some POTATO PANCAKES, or BARLEY AND MUSHROOM SOUP, or OPEN SANDWICHES just like granny used to make, and then the simple and delicious KOGEL-MOGEL to cure my sweet tooth. Nothing, however, and I mean nothing brings me back home faster than a fresh and deeply fragrant link of KIELBASA (or Polish sausage as you know it). Nooo, I do not make it myself. Are you crazy? I’m lucky enough to live in a multicultural city where there exists a Polish Grocery Store with Polish Kielbasa among other VERY YUMMY POLISH THINGS.
When I first discovered the store in Santa Monica, I immediately packed Jason in the car and drove there to present him with the tastes of my youth. As soon as we walked in, we were enveloped by the strong and tantalizing fragrance of kielbasa. There were many kinds to choose from, and boy did we try them all. After that Polish overindulgence, we never went back.
Many months went by, we moved to a new home, and befriended our neighbors. Peter turned out to be Polish. Of course, we talked food and even fed each other many Polish meals that we tried to recreate. Today, however, Peter did more than just run over for a bowl of Sauerkraut Soup. He stopped by the Polish Grocery and brought back a few pounds of KIELBASA. When he walked into my kitchen, the whole room filled with the aroma of smoked meat. Cosmo lost his mind. He forgot he was a dog, stood up on his hind legs (sounds familiar?) and danced around Peter as if it was the only way he knew to walk, his nose glued to the plastic bag in Peter’s hand. Any minute now, I thought, he’ll speak up “WOMAN, GIVE ME A PIECE OF THIS THING THAT SMELLS SO GOOD I DON’T EVEN KNOW MY NAME ANYMORE!”. As soon as my dear neighbor left, I put my head inside the bag, got down on my knees, inhaled deep, and …lost consciousness. The next thing I remember, Jason was scraping my kielbasa-stoned body off the floor, the plastic bag the meat came in still stuck to my face…
It took a day or two to recover my senses, and only then was I able to slice the links in a civilized manner to arrange them on top of toasted bread, and embellish the sandwich with cheese, tomatoes, and pickles. My tongue, once again, afforded me a trip back home for a quick but delicious visit.
If you live in Los Angeles, or only pass through at any moment in your life, make a point of stopping by J & T European Gourmet Food – the Polish Grocery in Santa Monica. They are located at 1128 Wilshire Boulevard. It will take care of your KIELBASA CRAVING good! That’s a promise.