Saturday, October 21, 2017

#83 - Learn to Make 3 Traditional Polish Dishes

My grandma emigrated from Poland with her family when she was young. From the few stories I've heard, she had a rough time growing up as a Polish immigrant in Detroit. They were poor and, like many immigrant communities, were disliked by the general population. She was bullied for her accent and because of it, refused to teach my mom and her brother Polish. She only taught us grandkids a few words when we requested it. I remember growing up being very cognizant of my Polish heritage but not knowing a ton about it. I always picked Poland when assigned reports on countries, but most of my knowledge is about food and holidays.

My most prevalent Polish memories center around Wigilia, the Polish Christmas Eve celebration... though us spoiled American kids definitely kept those events from being authentic. (E.g. It's supposed to be a meat-free meal with many fish courses, but we all refused to eat fish, so meat it was.) However, that meal always* included oplatek (which I didn't know how to spell until I Googled it for this blog post), a trading of best wishes for the new year, straw under the baby Jesus, a chair for The Stranger*, so very many courses, pierogi, and chrusiki (*not always included but I really like the concept). These traditions live on as I've never missed a Christmas Eve with my parents, aunt, and uncle. My brother and cousins have missed the dinner occasionally but generally, every effort is made to attend.

In preparation for Christmas Eve, my parents generally take a trip to Hamtramck, the Polish neighborhood of Detroit. Hamtramck has seen better days, but there are still some really fantastic Polish restaurants and bakeries. When I'm able to go back to Michigan early, I get to join them for lunch at Polonia before stopping at the New Palace Bakery for chrusciki for Christmas Eve.

As I've been cooking more, I decided I should learn how to make more Polish recipes, both favorites and things I've never had before... though I'll probably avoid the recipes that call for blood. Like, there's literally a dish called blood soup. Um... no, thank you. When I told my mom, she bought me a copy of a little Polish cookbook she owned called Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans. Yes, it does include a recipe for blood soup.
Golabki before it went in the oven.
It wasn't pretty when it came out,
but it was delicious.

Last weekend,
I spent some time reading through the book and marking the recipes I'd like to try. There were a lot. Here are the first three, all very traditional, and I hope to do more and try a few with my mom.

1. Gołąbki
Yes, that is in a different font because I had to Google it. In English characters, it might be "golabki" or "gulumpkis." It's pronounced more like "gumpki." It's stuffed cabbage. Obviously as a snotty child I refused to eat this dish but as I've gotten older, I've grown to love it. It's basically Polish comfort food. It's also incredibly easy to make. I don't have much of a story to tell about it. I mixed the filling, stuffed the cabbage, and baked it. I'll definitely be trying it again, though I'll probably do a better job blanching the cabbage and possibly doing a double layer of the thinner leaves instead of trying to get one, strong leaf. Also, it said to layer bacon on top, which I did, but I'd probably skip that next time because it really just resulted in cabbagy bacon and really greasy (still delicious) golabkis. I have to give the tomato sauce topping a try too, which would likely negate the need for the bacon grease.

2. Dill Pickle Soup
That's right. Dill pickle soup is a thing and it's one of my very, very favorite soups. I love pickles, so one December when we were lunching at Polonia and I saw it on the menu, I was like, yep, trying that. It's one of the things that I decided I needed to learn to make, and OMG, it's so easy. And so delicious. There are only 5 ingredients: pickles, flour, butter, stock, and sour cream. I had a stock in my freezer, but I wasn't sure if it was any good, and I didn't want to risk not knowing if the soup was bad because the recipe was bad or the stock was bad, so I went with store-bought beef stock this time around. Next time I'll try it with my own stock. It was so tangy and pickley and made my taste buds so happy. I am definitely making this again. (No, I'm not going to address the levels of salt this soup has.)

I added the pickles for the picture to give it a little color and texture. It's generally just a creamy soup.
But I also then ate those pickles because they were delicious.

Mushroom & Onion
3. Pierogi
I wanted this classic Polish dish to be included in this list item, but I was sure it was going to be complicated and beyond my kitchen's capabilities. Nope. So easy. The dough had 4 ingredients, one being water, and the fillings range from simple to complex. I went with mushroom & onion and and cheese. The dough wasn't perfect. I'm new to dough, so I'm not sure exactly what went wrong. It was super watery and sticky, like basically just mud when I started. I used wheat flour because that's what I had, so that could have been the issue. Since it only took 5 minutes to make, I'll definitely try it again. The most time consuming part of either filling was chopping the mushrooms. If I had done it all at once, it honestly would have taken 20-30 minutes, start to finish, for fresh pierogiswith 2 different fillings. So happy I tried this.

These are usually my favorite.
I'll be playing with the cheese filling because
as you can see, it wasn't very dense.
I'll certainly add updates if I try more, perfect one of these (though the dill pickle soup was already perfect) and definitely if I give a recipe a go with my mom. Maybe we'll try to make our own pierogis this year for Christmas Eve!

Friday, September 1, 2017

#92 - See a Friend I Haven't Seen in at Least 3 Years

My mom reunited with her camp friends a.k.a. my friend's moms.
I always have this item on my list because I adore connecting with old friends. This item has certainly never disappointed me. However, I've never before been able to see so many old friends, several of whom I haven't seen in many years, all in one week. Reconnecting with camp friends is definitely my favorite, whether it's been months, years, or sometimes, decades.

If I haven't talked your ear off about camp before, here's a link. I have been attending Camp Michigania East, a family camp for Michigan alumni, since 1988. There's a camp in northern Michigan as well, but we tried out Michigania East, in the Adirondak park in upstate New York, one summer, and we were hooked, as certain families are. I wasn't going to say more here, but then I read a blog post by another camper--let's call her Megan--and felt compelled to find opportunities to put out into the world the gratitude I feel for my camp family.

I've probably attended, for at least a partial week, for 25 of the last 30 years. I've lost count. I hadn't been to a full week of camp in several years as late August in upstate New York was pretty hard to swing for a broke doctoral student in southern California. I hate missing it though.

Camp really made me who I am today. Growing up, I had friends from all over the East Coast. I learned early on about geographical and familial cultural differences. I learned differences in vernacular and slang. Many of my camp friends are Jewish, and where I grew up, nearly all of my friends were Christian/Catholic. I learned to love card games. I learned about music: the Beatles and Led Zepplin. I learned that you could see the Milky Way and how to identify constellations. I had pen pals. I had friends who knew me without all of the social dynamics of school. I had friends I had never been in public with until we were teenagers. It's a strange feeling to drive to a grocery store to pick up some beer at 21 with friends you've known for over a decade yet you've never seen them interact with actual strangers.

In addition to the long-term friendships I have from camp, without it, I wouldn't be in my professional field. I had never been a particularly sporty or active kid, but at camp I tried horseback riding, tennis, sailing, archery... I learned to try new things. Without camp, I wouldn't have been on the Equestrian Team in college. I wouldn't have worked at a tennis club. I wouldn't have taken sailing lessons in Chicago and San Diego. I wouldn't know I liked those things. I wouldn't be so brave to try new things. I wouldn't know I wanted to work in an environment that encourages building community in the context of fun, learning, and sometimes trying something new.

Each year I feel a longing to be back. As a graduate of Michigan, I am fortunate enough to have the option to return each year. Circumstances don't quite allow that.

I managed a few day days in 2014. I had had a dream that I was able to go to camp and woke up crying because I wanted it so badly. My mom called later that day and said they'd like to fly me out to bring me to camp. However, that year the most emotionally, academically difficult course of my life overlapped with camp. It had a reputation. I felt the pull so deeply that I e-mailed my professor, asking to be released from the last class just one hour early to hop a flight. He responded that it seemed important, told me I needed to explain it to the rest of the class, but less gave me permission to go than allowed me to give myself permission. It ended up being part of my learning for the course, which is too deeply emotional to explain as a tangent on this blog. I arrived, went to take my swim test, and was greeted by a relatively new camper at the time with a "Welcome home." I was immensely thankful as I was able to spend time with my parents, in my favorite place, and to reconnect with one of my oldest friends, after many years, during a time when life was really challenging him.

Two of my favorite people & oldest friends
(Rachel & Leah) in my favorite place
I also did a long weekend last year. I had just started a new job, didn't have enough vacation days built up, didn't have enough money after my cross-country move, and almost couldn't even take that one day because my director declared "no days off in August." I begged her for one Friday, so I could leave Thursday evening, drive to the mountains, spend Friday and Saturday nights at camp, and head home Sunday. That time was so necessary. With my dissertation, job search, cross country move, almost break in, and difficulty finding an apartment in Boston, I couldn't settle within myself. I had serious anxiety and spent a lot of time alone in spaces that felt like temporary apartments, never like home. At camp, I finally felt at home. When departing on Sunday, someone did me an anonymous favor that really moved me. While I have my suspicions, really, it could have been anyone because these people are family. I do wish I could tell them what a relief it was to feel cared for during a difficult time. I hope they read this. That feeling continued as another camp family took me into their home for several days, offering a room, food, scotch, whatever I needed, with the offer of more, when I didn't have a place to live in Boston. So while this blog post isn't about that, thank you, David and Julie. A few weeks later, another family invited me to Thanksgiving dinner. Thank you, Don and Emily. If I had stayed in Boston, I certainly would have taken you up on your kind offer of dinner. During my struggles in Boston, it was such a relief to feel like I had family so close, ready to take me in.

For this year, my parents yielded to those requests and decided to return. As at work I was told "no days off in August," I couldn't commit. I was even less able to commit once I applied for, was offered, and accepted a new job in Chicago, no longer driving distance, in addition to the additional relocation expenses and vacation days set to zero.

Then, there was a ton of drama as soon after camp in 2016, there was an announcement of an earlier registration deadline, and after that deadline, any unfilled spots would go to friends and family of the owners of the camp, basically anyone they wanted to fill the empty cabins. The deadline was so early, that many people could not commit even though they planned to attend the following year.

As soon as the information was shared on our facebook group, people took action. A few weeks of letter writing, phone calls, and immense energy and effort to plead our case resulted in the original deadline for that year as we promised to really push camp to friends, family, and with our local alumni clubs. Special thanks to Lynn and company. Our special community really came together to save itself, which really warmed my heart. So many people shared the letters they sent to the alumni association on our facebook page. It was incredible to see the different roles we each took, the slightly varied perspectives, and the different reasons why this place is so important to each of us and all of us. I've always loved camp, and it was really affirming to watch so many people openly showing the deepness of the love we have for the time we share, not just in this beautiful place in the Adirondaks, but the deepness of the love we have in spending that time together.

Plus, our efforts seem to have worked as there was a waiting list for camp this year. While the ideal for us is that everyone who wants to attend gets in, it's obviously important for camp to be full to be fiscally responsible for the alumni association and the owners of the camp.

Unlike last year, I now have a lovely job, where my vacation days are my vacation days to use as I see fit. Plus, I have multiple side jobs, so I can actually save up money to do things, like go on vacation. I'm so thankful that everything came together because this also ended up being the year when so many people came back to camp, which leads me back to the purpose of this blog post.

The Crew
Left to right: The "newbies," Corey & Daphne
Friends for 30 years, Ted, me, Rachel, & Leah 
I got a text a few weeks before camp that mentioned my dear friend Rachel Felson would be returning this year. I had not read the camp roster carefully enough, missing this information, and literally jumped for joy when I heard that news. Rachel and I have managed to see each other through the years. We overlapped in Chicago for a bit. She let me stay with her during a visit to San Francisco. Rachel holds a special place in my heart. Every time I see her, I feel my heart open because she always greets me with an open heart. She reminds me to continue to cultivate love and curiosity, to use my experiences to connect, not to compete. So few people in this world are so genuine.

When I got to camp, I learned Leah Weiss would also be joining us, which led me to fist pump on the beach, like a total bro. I've seen Leah a few times in the last few years, but hearing that the core of the gang was getting back together was monumental. Leah has another special place in my heart. I don't know anyone so strikingly strong, fiercely loyal, and, at the same time, so much damn fun. It makes me feel special to be her friend. Rachel, Leah, and Teddy, I love you kids. I'm so happy we got to spend time together. I needed that.

I also found out Rammy Holaday would be joining us later in the week. I still remember one night when I was a teenager, I think, that Rammy, a kid named Paul, and I stayed up all night together, playing cards and wandering the grounds. I specifically remember going to the waterfront at dawn and watching bats fly in and out of the fog over the lake. I'd never seen anything like it. Then I remember laughing uncontrollably as some little kids threw rocks at us for some reason. Now Rammy is working on his Ph.D. in philosophy, and I thoroughly enjoyed not so much catching up with him but having a deep conversation about ethics as if no time had passed, except that we were older and capable of having such conversations.
Zach, me, and Rammy at Dregs Night

Zach Lerner came back to camp after many years with his mom Linda and brother Ben, whom I knew, as well as Zach's delightful wife Alana and Ben's adorable family,wife Melissa and son Liam. My mom has stayed in touch with Linda, but I'm pretty sure it had been at least 15 years since I'd seen the Lerners as my last memories of Zach are of him around age 10, hanging around us when we were teenagers, which we encouraged because he was such a fun, cool kid. I wasn't sure if Zach and Alana were coming to camp out of obligation or by their own wishes, and regardless, it didn't take long to see the camp aura about them, Alana adapted to camp life quickly, and Zach seemed to be right back into it, except that he was stuck being an indoor kid due to a hand injury. It was really lovely to have them all this year, and I hope they came back again.

I hope we all go back again. I know this was a tough past year for all of us with the political climate of the country, and it was a particularly tough year for those who lost loved ones, struggled at work, went through difficult transitions, etc. I'm so thankful to have had a week to heal, laugh, love, and honor the space we build together each year in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Thank you.

Friday, August 25, 2017

#14 - Summit a New Mountain

So all throughout camp, I was like, I should probably go on the Hobie Cat since "sail a catamaran" is on my list. But then I didn't. Because I was too busy doing exactly what I wanted to do at each moment, which was mostly hang with camp people.

Then, as I was looking through my list to update my blog, I realized, we had definitely summitted a new mountain, and that's on the list too!

The Monday of camp, we went up Kipp Mountain, and though the views were spectacular from the cliff at the top of the trail through the OFFICIAL tree farm, we didn't quite summit it.

Thursday, we did a trail called the Balm of Gilead Mountain, which is a badass name but also very hard to remember. It may or may not be the summit of Gilead Mountain, but it kinda looked like it was, so I'm counting it. Gilead Mountain: summitted.

And what a lovely crew. We didn't get lost in the woods, but if we had, the company would have been lovely as it included at least 4 friends I've know for 29+ years and my dad. While the views, again, were spectacular, it's just divine to hike with a group where even with 15 or so of us, it doesn't matter who you're hiking next to because all down the line, the conversation is likely to be lovely. Stop, take a break, ask for bug spray, you're taken care of. The travel-bathroom stories on the way down really passed the time as well.

As the trip was probably almost 3 hours, including the 45-minute each way drive each way, plus an extra stop*, there isn't much more story to tell.

*Thanks, Peggy, for the root beer floats. Sorry we made you buy us gifts on your anniversary. :)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

#18 - Don't Drink for 4 Weeks

A few days in. Feeling sleepy on the train.
Welp, buying a nice couch and attending a wedding put me back in the world of living paycheck to paycheck, so I decided this would be the perfect month to take a break from drinking and save myself all of those dollars that usually go towards wine. Here's a quick tour of the month...

5 days in: I usually crave red wine with dinner, but somehow I'm making do just fine with iced herbal tea. I was also worried about trivia night, when wine is half priced, and splitting bottles with my friends is part of the fun, but I managed that just fine too. Now it's Saturday night, and I'm looking forward to a productive Sunday with no trace of a hangover.

12 days in: Well, I've replaced that red wine craving with a craving for dessert. I am not a sweets person. Or, at least, I didn't think I was. But maybe I got so much sugar from alcohol that I didn't need it in traditional desserts. But within the last week, I actually bought both ice cream and a piece of carrot cake at the store and ate them. Usually any sweets I bring home just sit untouched. It's very weird. But otherwise, I feel no different.

15 days in: I had a headache yesterday, and that was annoying because headaches are supposed to be reserved for hangovers. I also was certainly not dehydrated as I've subbed in iced herbal tea for alcohol and drink A LOT of it.
Two weeks in: Still not feeling like a superhero

16 days in: I had another headache today! Are these wine withdrawal symptoms? I am definitely eating plenty of ice cream to make up for the loss of unnecessary sugar.

17 days in: No ice cream yesterday! Lots of pizza but no ice cream!

22 days in: I'm dying for a glass of red wine. Please let this be over soon.

24 days in: Is it wine yet?

25 days in: Yesterday was the toughest day. My dearest Nicole was in town and I am very susceptible to peer pressure. I can't believe I resisted her charms and offers of beer.

27 days in: Just over 24 hours to go! So ready for some wine! Or bourbon! Also, very disappointed that the only physical difference I've noticed is the lack of hangovers... but then again, I'm old enough that I rarely get hangovers anymore (due to a increase in decision making abilities, not in increased physical abilities). So that's not really that great of a benefit. I went on a run today and felt... the same. Definitely haven't lost any weight. Possibly due to the increase in ice cream intake, but I really doubt I ate as many calories of ice cream as I usually drink in wine. Super weird that I don't seem to notice a difference. I guess I'll see next year if 5 weeks makes a difference. In other news: I feel completely validated in my drinking habits.

So I finished up this streak just a few days before camp. After my trivia gig that night, I went to The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet for a glass of delicious wine. It was super delicious. And I definitely got buzzed off one glass. I think stopped at Whole Foods for a bottle of wine because I was all like, I'm having TWO glasses of wine tonight! I then took the creepiest Lyft ride home of my life.

The dude said he was new at driving Lyft. Friendly enough. Definitely backed up down a downtown street rather than going around the block. But friendly. We picked up another passenger. Driver told me a guy he had picked up the previous night had gotten sick, puking out the door from the exact seat I was currently sitting in. TMI, bro. Then he dropped off the second passenger. Drove me home. Got all pumped singing while cruising up Lake Shore Drive. Said he wished we could get a six pack and hang out at the beach. Said he probably couldn't kiss me after, but he'd drive me home. That my husband probably wouldn't like that. I laughed nervously. Then, at my exit, told me he'd like to kidnap me. That he used to kidnap people but he didn't do that anymore. That he just wanted to hang out and I could leave when I wanted to. Everything nearby was closed except a bar. I didn't want to tell him to drop me off there because I was afraid he'd see that as an invite. Plus, he already had my address. He made some mention of what my dad would think if I brought him home. Then asked one more time if he could keep me. I said, no, jumped out, and went home.

So... that killed my one-glass-of-fantastic-wine buzz.

Men are trash.

Don't worry. I called it in to Lyft and CPD.... after a car matching the description of his was parked across from my building in the morning. I'm 99% positive it had a different plate, but I didn't want to get too close to check it out.

Luckily I left for vacation soon after, and he didn't seem like a guy with a long attention span. But yeah, I don't see myself going out alone after dark anymore. Because some asshat thought that comments about kidnapping someone already in his car was flirting.

After the 4 weeks, my drinking has decreased and I don't crave it every night. I hope I can continue to cut down on the alcohol... without subbing in the dessert!

#84 - Try a New Water Sport

Another item I'd checked off, but I was so geeked about working somewhere I got to try fun new activities with my coworkers that I forgot it was on the list.

Just a few weeks into my new job, one of my coworkers, Stephanie Punda, invited us all to tryout paddleboard yoga to see if she wanted to add it to the group fitness schedule. As it was something I'd been wanting to try since trying stand-up paddle boarding in San Diego, that was a big yes from me.

Six of us showed up for the class. Steph told us we could stay dry, so that was a plus. Until we had to get into the water to get on our boards. Oh, and then the first thing we learned was how to fall off our boards.

While I liked the class, I'm not sure it's something I'd pay to go to or make part of my regular routine. While I'm sure the balancing was good for my little muscles, I didn't feel like I got a good enough workout. The most enjoyable part was goofing with my coworkers. I'd give it a go again sometime though.

#19 - Contact a Government Official

I thought I was WAY behind schedule, but then I browsed my list, and um, duh, I already did some of these things. January was so discombobulating that apparently I had completely forgotten about my list and certainly that this was something I planned to do even before I knew all the chaos that was to befall us starting January 20, 2017.

I honestly can't remember what I called about, but I certainly remember calling Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth to express my support of whatever she was doing. See, the frustrating thing is that the elected officials from the area where I live are generally the ones already voting the way I'd prefer, and they are being vocal about their resistance in the harm being done at the national level. While I understand calls in support are also important, they feel useless. It's hard to feel like energy spent in that way is useful. It's especially frustrating since for the last 14 years, I've lived in Illinois, California, and Massachusetts, three states that, no matter which way I voted, were going to go blue in national elections and overwhelmingly vote in Democratic candidates, some of whom are fantastic and some of whom are mediocre or worse. Personally, I consider myself an independent even though I nearly always vote Democrat over Republican. I'd love to see more third party candidates, to slowly move out of this two-party system, and after the nonsense the Democrats have pulled politically lately, I don't want to support that party. But in those three states, votes for third party candidates matter about the same as Republican votes, which is to say, minimally.

Also frustrating, this past January and February, each time I called an office of an elected official outside of my geographic location, the lines were busy and they were not accepting messages. It's interesting that each elected official gets to decide how many calls they receive and whether or not to accept messages. It wasn't shocking though. Of course Paul Ryan doesn't want to hear from me. He's busy playing politics with people's lives. No time to listen to actual people. That's distracting from the goal: maintaining political power.

Now that I'm reflecting, I do think I should have been more active in contacting state elected officials regarding the budget crisis. I spend a little time with Witness Slips, which are an interesting concept. Maybe I'll keep that on my regular to-do list. But the state budget crisis directly affected people I know. Northeastern Illinois University lost full-time positions; people lost their jobs and students lost members of their support network. So many NEIU students are first generation, which makes those support networks especially important. MAP grant funding indirectly affected me as the funding didn't come through in the appropriate fiscal year and thus could not be used as intended at DePaul. Elected officials were playing politics with people's livelihoods and opportunities. After so much press about the violence in Chicago, I was furious to see local colleges affected so drastically. These are places that give Illinois residents from low-income areas and first generation students an opportunity to pursue higher education, which then empowers them to even more fully give back to the city. I could have, should have, been more actively vocal. I do intend to vote against every incumbent in the state legislature next time around, to do research on candidates and support those who support education (among other things), but I also promise, here, in writing, to contact those local/state elected officials instead of stewing in my own anger.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

#46 - Watch 3 Academy Award-winning Films I've Never Seen

1 - Moonlight
My viewing partner:
He loved all three because I stayed home with
him to watch them.
Won Best Picture in 2017
What a beautiful film. The story was compelling and the themes surprising but realistic. I don't know that I've ever seen so much communicated when so little was said.

2 - The Deerhunter
Won Best Picture in 1978
This wasn't what I was expecting. I don't know what I was expecting. But it wasn't this. It was interesting because so many of the actors in this film have become icons... but I was still able to see them in the roles because I had never before watched films where they had been that young. While it was incredibly long, I was invested in the story. Parts were hard to watch, on purpose, and I really didn't know where it was going to end up. While I felt like it could have been more polished, it really added some difficult tensions and emotions about the Vietnam war without being too heavy handed about commenting on war and instead focusing on the humanity of the characters. So interesting.

3 - Unforgiven
Won Best Picture in 1992
I don't get it. I wasn't that interested in the story. It wasn't all that well acted. None of the characters were likable except the prostitutes, who got nothing except revenge, as if that's enough. I thought at least at the end we'd find out home-dude's kids were okay after he left literal children alone in the Western wilderness to fend for themselves when their pigs kept getting sick and dying. Nope.