More on a Traditional Christmas

Yesterday I participated in a podcast with Chris Cash of the The Catholic Company and Catholic SpotlightOur topic was oplatky, which are the special Christmas wafers traditionally used on Christmas Eve by Eastern European families.  As soon as that podcast is posted, I’ll provide the link.

**Updated: the link is here.

One of the things we discussed was the traditional dinner known as Wigilia in Polish.  The Slovak tradition is similar, and I promised Chris I’d check out my copy of The Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book and do a post about the dishes listed there.  The Traditional Christmas Eve Supper Menu is listed on page 8 and includes this explanation:

The traditional Christmas Eve Supper is prepared with home grown crops.  The menu, therefore, varies in different parts of Slovakia.  Varieties of soups are served.  For example, some people serve mushroom soup, others serve sauerkraut soup with mushrooms…

Although I have a Slovak heritage, I and my family are definitely American and our taste buds, especially those of the children, don’t necessarily agree that sauerkraut or stewed prunes make for good eats.  Having a “traditional” dinner isn’t much fun if nobody wants to eat it.  So, although I post this menu for those who may be interested, I do not claim to prepare all these dishes or heartily enjoy them.  If I were truly a traditionalist, my dinner would be made with home-grown crops which, this year, were primarily tomatoes, basil and peppers, none of which are included in this list. 

Traditional Slovak Christmas Eve Supper

Oplatky (Christmas Wafers)
Honey (my mom says they always dipped the oplatky in the honey)
Mushroom Soup
Pagash (this is a filled dough – similar to stromboli, but filled with sauerkraut not tomato sauce and cheese)
Bobalky (this is a bread that you pour boiling water over and then coat with honey and poppy seed…sounds, um, different)
Fish (no specific recipe given)
Mixed Dried Fruits or Stewed Prunes
Assorted Fresh Fruits
Mixed Nuts
Nut and Poppy seed Rolls
Rozky (see below)

Rozky was a section heading in the cook book and based on the picture and a quick read of the recipes must translate into “cookie”.  Most of the recipes seem to be a filled cookie (nut filling or poppy seed or cheese or jam), and many seem to be shaped into crescents or horns.  Since I’m a huge fan of cookies, I thought I’d share one of the Rozky recipes.  Some of the recipes have various names, but at least 6 are labeled simply “rozky.”  This is one of those.  I say this so purists won’t write and tell me that their great-grandmother’s rozky recipe is nothing like my rozky recipe.  For the record, I make Russian Tea Cakes with pecans, but many people say walnuts are the correct nut to use.  Everybody has her own preference.


1 1/2 pounds flour
1 pound butter
1 Tbl sugar
1 Tbl baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 can evaporated milk
5 egg yolks

Mix first 7 ingredients until well blended and dough does not stick to hands.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer.  Roll out on floured surface and cut into 3″ squares.  Fill with poppy seed, prune butter or any desired filling.  Roll and turn into crescents.  Brush top with milk.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Inspiring Creativity

My kids all love to draw, as long as the subject matter is their choice.  Drawing is a significant part of my school curriculum, especially in the younger years, and my children always resist the drawing assignments.  It’s not so much fun to draw what somebody else wants you to draw.  (Can’t say I blame them.  I enjoy writing, but assign me a topic, and I will procrastinate and complain as though it is near torture.) 

Usually, the children opt to copy a picture, because it helps to have someone else’s vision for what to do.  That’s if they like the picture.  But if they don’t feel comfortable drawing sheep, for example, and the Bible picture or Aesop’s fable or poem illustration shows sheep, my little students will dig in their heels and insist that the assignment is too hard.  Fortunately, by 2nd grade, they get over this, generally because they now have 2 more years of experience in drawing.

Also, fortunately, if you are the 5th student and your mother has kept all the drawings (done in bound blank books) that your older siblings have done, you have a wide variety of illustrations to peruse until your muse inspires you.  At the very least, it helps to know that they too had to do the same work and they managed, somehow. 

I knew there was a reason I kept that shelf full of drawings.

Oktoberfest 2010

If your 3 year old does not take a nap two days in a row, she will pass out on the way home from her brother’s baseball game at 4:30 in the afternoon.  And she will not wake up for dinner.  Or dessert.  Or bedtime prayers.  Or even when she is transferred to her bed at 9:30 that night.

She will, though, be wide awake and very hungry at 3 am.  Which will give her bleary-eyed mother plenty of time to empty pictures off her camera and type Oktoberfest recipes into the computer.  I’m not sure the coffee will get me through the day.

We had gorgeous weather on Saturday, so most people stayed outside on our big deck.  I probably didn’t need to bother to clean the house.  About 64 people came, which is among our smallest.  We were competing with several locals festivals, but it couldn’t be helped due to Bill’s last class for his Master’s (he’s done! he’s done!…well, except for the comprehensive final…but, he’s done!).

I generally make the same food every year.  Yes, I did blog about liking variety, but this is my once-a-year party and I never make these dishes any other time.  And having the same menu means that, by now (our 7th Oktoberfest), executing the party requires little to no thought, which means little to no stress. 

My Oktoberfest Menu:

Bratwurst (boiled first, then grilled)
Frankfurters (I boiled them in the crockpot, because many kids don’t like grilled hotdogs)
Sauerbraten (pot roast marinated in vinegar)
Rolls (buns)

Sauerkraut (from a jar)
German Red Cabbage
German Potato Salad

Pumpkin Pie Cake
Creamy Apple Kuchen
Walnut Cake
Pretzels (Snyder’s)

The Pumpkin Pie Cake was new this year (yum!) and although I usually make Apfelkuchen, the creamy version here was a different recipe (also, yum).

Getting dressed up is half the fun .

October in Georgia is still barefoot weather.

My girlfriend brought Cucumber Salad (a recipe similar to this one).  She also made Peter and her boys cute little Alpine hats and edelweiss flowers for the girls’ hair (see photos).  I believe she got the directions from the latest issue of Faith and Family magazine, and she said they were very, very easy.

If you were going to throw a party for 50 people (3:2 adult to kid ratio), I suggest one Sauerbraten and quadruple the potato salad (the recipe is for 3 potatoes, so 4x is about 4 pounds).  If you had 100 people, double those, but do not double the red cabbage or you’ll have tons of leftovers.  I usually do one brat per person and have leftovers which is totally fine by me.  Hotdogs, I do one per kid plus another package.  When my girls are older, I hope to make the rolls from scratch.  For now, I buy hotdog buns.

Of course, you have to have good mustard.  This is my favorite, but I can’t get it locally (the commissary at Fort Belvoir had it in the deli section, but they don’t have it here).  Instead, I had some of this and some of that

And that’s my Oktoberfest party.  My original thought (way back when) was to get other families in my circle of friends to select a theme and host a yearly party.  If 4 of us spread them out, we could have a quarterly bash.  Woulda been, coulda been great.  And then we moved.  That first Oktoberfest (dear New Jersey friends) remains the best Oktoberfest we ever had.  We miss you guys.

On Camera

Why, yes, I would like a sippy cup while I
pay bills and listen to Baroque classical music.

Aw, she found my hiding spot.

I’ve found the problem with your sink.

It’s seriously clogged.

Because the linen closet is a great backdrop
for a picture.

Happy Oktoberfest

8 AM

I have baked one cake and a second is in the oven.  The first of two sauerbraten roasts is simmering on the stovetop.  74 bratwurst are boiled and ready to be grilled to perfection tomorrow evening.  One more cake, three batches of potato salad and a very messy red cabbage dish left to prepare.  Maybe cookies.

And cleaning and decorating. 

And errands.  Need propane.  Need CO2 (right? everybody needs some CO2 for an Oktoberfest).  I ran out of cinnamon, so I’ve been using apple pie spice instead.  Need cinnamon.  Need whipped topping.

Somebody needs to do a Latin test.  Two somebodies need to finish up some history work (one essay needs to be typed and one short answer questions need to be revised).

Somebody else needs coffee and a shower.

Have a great weekend.  I hope to get some recipes up by Monday.  Want to taste the Pumpkin Pie Cake first to see how it is.  It smells delightful.

A Christmas Tradition

When I was a young child and lived in Ohio, I remember our Christmas celebrations including oplatki, the thin, communion wafer-like “Christmas bread” that is a tradition among Eastern European Catholics.  My mother is Slovak and ethnic churches are plentiful in Ohio.

When I was an older child, we moved to Richmond, Virginia.  The Catholic population was not as dense there, and the ethnic groups were not very diverse.  Oplatki was not available locally, so the only times we had it were years we happened to be in Ohio for Thanksgiving or some other occasion in the late fall.

Of course, now we have the internet, and online stores like the Catholic Company will happily ship oplatki right to your doorstep. 

I introduced the use of oplatki with my own family several years ago when I found it available online.  The oplatki is shared on Christmas Eve.  The children watch the sky for the “First Star” – the sign that the Christ Child is here.  In my family, we then process with the infant Jesus statue and place him in our creche.  We bless the creche, then we bless the Christmas tree and officially light it.  Then we sit and eat because our food has been growing cool while we attended to ceremonies.  At some point, I will remember and say, “Oh!  The oplatki!” and I will scurry around trying to discover the “safe spot” where I put the envelope.  Usually, I find it.

The oplatki wafers are handed out.  My husband makes some sort of formal speech wishing everyone a happy Christmas and a blessed upcoming year.  And then there is mild chaos as we all break off pieces to exchange with each other as we give out kisses, hugs and cheery greetings.  I thoroughly enjoy our Christmas Eve festivities which are all about love and not at all about stuff.

It may seem early to be talking about Christmas, but oplatki is available for order now.  If you would like to try this tradition (or revive it), then plan ahead.  Be sure to put your wafers in a “safe spot” you can remember.

By Crook is Much Easier than by Hook

Military ballots may not count in Illinois

New Mexico, New York, Illinois…funny how it’s never states like Texas, Idaho or Alaska.  It’s that red vs. blue thing.  No doubt in my mind: if the military was known for being staunch Democrats, Nancy Pelosi would be getting on the first flight to Afghanistan to personally hand out absentee ballots.

As it is, ho hum, the military is disenfranchised, again.  No big deal.

Science for the youngest of many

First-born preschooler:  Mama, where did the sun go?

Mama: Actually, the sun didn’t go anywhere.  The earth, our planet, is rotating on its axis.  Every day it does one full revolution.  When it faces the sun, it is daylight.  When it faces away, it is night.  See, here is a grape.  Let’s pretend it’s the Earth.  We’re here.  Now let’s pretend the lamp is the sun.  Watch how one side faces the sun and the other side is away from the sun…


Second-born preschooler: Mommy, where did the sun go?

Mommy: Actually, the sun didn’t go anywhere.  The earth, our planet, is spinning.  During the day, we face the sun and during the night, we don’t.  Here, let’s spin this ball.  You see how sometimes this side has the light shining right on it….


Third-born preschooler: Mom, where did the sun go? 

Mom: Actually, our planet is spinning like a top. Sometimes we face the sun and sometimes we don’t. So it looks like the sun has gone away, but it’s really that we have spun away from it…

Fourth-born preschooler: Mom, where did the sun go?
Mom: To sleep.  Like you need to.
Fifth-born preschooler: Ma, where did the sun go?
Ma: It went to the other side of the world so that they can have sunlight and we can get a good night’s sleep.
Sixth-born preschooler: Mommy, where did the sun go?
Mommy: To China.
SBP: China?
Mommy: Yup.
SBP: Why to China?
Mommy: It’s their turn.  We’re sharing.
SBP: Why we sharing?
Mommy: Well, it wouldn’t be nice if we kept the sun all the time, right?  Now they get a chance to have some sunlight and we get a chance to go to bed.
(next morning)
SBP: Mommy, where’s the sun?
Mommy: Still in China.  It’ll be here soon.
SBP: Oh.  OK.
…to be continued, every day and night, for the next 3 or 4 months…