Saturday, December 25, 2010

Family Hazing: Sport or a Test of Character?

I thought with Christmas winding down the the last few minutes, and the New Year fast approaching, that I should suggest a family tradition so you don't have to wait until Easter to foist a new one off on yours. We all have ours, from dressing up in old-timey clothes and caroling to neighbors who will hide behind the curtains rather than open up their door to a bunch of dorks that don't even sing "Santa Baby", to Advent calendars that teach children that Jesus coming to earth as a flesh-and-blood human being is always predicated by a delicious chocolate for 24 days prior. Good luck getting those kids through an entire Christmas Mass....

I have to tell you that when I was a kid, we actually did go caroling door to door - we lived in a suburb of Portland and my parents thought that was a keen idea. Most of the time people did not come to the door...I mean really, it was the 60's, and I mean NINETEEN SIXTY'S you smart ass...we did not drive sleighs or wear top hats, and it was just a weird thing to do then. Sometimes I wonder if our own parents sent us out with our musty-smelling songbooks they must have rescued from a moldy church basement and giggled furiously thinking how stupid we must have looked to all the neighbors. Luckily I was young enough to think it was fun, and that I could actually sing....and sometimes they would open the door and give us a piece of candy or something - it's a good thing kids are stupid.

We have a family tradition that is at least as old as me - a half a century or more qualifies it as official in my book, and no newcomer to this clan can escape it entirely - it has been handed down generation to generation, and all those born into it accept it like taking breath. It's like having two arms, freckles, or pasty white skin - you can't imagine being in our family without it. The newcomers, those who marry into it, tend to look at you like you are trying to kill them, or perhaps playing an elaborate prank where they ingest something that makes them projectile vomit until they can no longer stand on wobbly knees, then vow to never eat any of the products that make up the whole of this recipe....I KNOW, how could something so delicious seem so bad?? This tradition, one that I have never heard of anything that even remotely resembles it, is what we simply call "Polish Dish".

As I may have mentioned, my great-grandparents, Peter and Tecla, came from Poland originally - not sure how far back this recipe dates, and if it was translated from Polish as that is what Tecla wrote her recipes in, but I am guessing it goes back at least to their generation. And since my grampa was born in 19somethingteen, that makes it an antique. I did some research online, and finally found some references to a similar product, and the most common name for it was "White Borscht". Which is weird since borscht is made with beets...maybe they were so poor they didn't even have those? Dunno....but it is what it is, and most of us LOVE it...the best part is foisting it off on the latest fiancee and watching them take the first bite after you've told them what's in it. Now there's a Kodak moment....

Polish Dish

1 quart (that's 4 cups to you who are measurement challenged) water
1 polish sausage - they usually call them kielbasa nowadays, 12-16 oz.
2 tsp. salt
3 T. white vinegar
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 small onion, cut in half again, or 1 tsp. onion salt (cut salt to 1 tsp. if you use)
1/2 tsp. sage
1 C. milk
4 T. flour
1 egg

12 hard boiled eggs
Horseradish root or the stuff in the jar if you can't find it

Put sausage in water, bring to a boil and cook 20 minutes over medium heat uncovered. Add salt, vinegar, onion and spices, bring to a boil, remove from burner and let stand 1-2 minutes. Remove sausage and set aside on a plate. Mix milk, flour and egg in blender, dump into soup all at once and stir, whisking over medium high heat until it comes to a boil; continue to whisk for one minute to cook the flour, remove from heat. Cut sausage into 6-8 pieces and add back to broth.

To prepare soup, serve broth at the table with a bowl of hard boiled eggs, cutting boards or plates you can cut on, and bowls for eggshells. You also need to peel the outside skin off the horseradish root (if you found some) and include that with a microplane or fine grater for guests to add it to their soup. Each guest takes a piece of sausage, cuts it up in small pieces and puts in their bowl. Then they crack and peel one or two eggs and chop, adding to sausage, then ladle broth over all and grate fresh horseradish on top to their liking. It's also kind of fun - interactive eating per se.....and yes, it's a bit odd and unconventional, but then so was milk the first time someone pulled on those dangly things under a cow and drank what came out. Be a pioneer - start a trend! Polish Dish bars will start popping up on every corner, and you can say you were there when it started. And you're not even Polish!

OK, here's a couple super secret tips in case you are really going to try this and not just make a face and say "She's GOT to be one would really EAT that crap". My mother bucked tradition a few years ago, and due to a less than flavorful sausage pick, started adding "Ham Base"...not sure where all you can find this, but I get it at Cash & Carry in Aloha. It's a concentrated paste that comes from boiling a bunch of ham products into soup and then down to a paste, and will really pump up the volume for this, pea and bean soups, and country gravy if your meat has less "flavah" than Vanilla Ice. If your broth is wimpy, add maybe a teaspoon and see what it does. Also, she started experimenting with different kinds of sausage - we've tried mixes of kielbasa, brats, other smoked sausages, and even little smokies to great effect - just don't use the kind like they put on the buns at Costco...they don't exude enough juice to flavor it worth a damn. I think beer brats are always good....and I think I'm going to try the chicken apple sausages just for shits and giggles - a little apple never hurt anyone, and I think it sounds "Old Country", so what the heck.

Hey, look at that - Christmas is officially over! Better get crackin and find you some good sausage....PD is also a great hangover cure. It'll either snap you back to life or make you puke so you can start to feel way or another! Happy New Year!!

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