Friday, April 22, 2005

Musical chairs

Tonight, my daughter is singing on stage under the direction of Krzysztof Penderecki, the world-renowned composer from Poland. That is unquestionably the closest anyone from my family – extended over all known-to-me-generations – has ever come to performing alongside musical greatness. So it is fitting that it should be a Pole right there, on the same platform as my girl (who is no longer really a girl… sigh…). But she is on the East Coast and I am in the Midwest attending to work and dishes (not even in that order) and so fate has pushed me into the shadows as she sings in probably achingly beautiful tones (okay, she is in the choir, but still, her voice I am quite certain will be the achingly beautiful one).

This event does recall my own brush with Polish musical greatness, though not on stage and with less flattering overtones. I was on a ship, crossing the ocean, returning to Poland. I was thirteen. Really, I think appearance-wise, that was my worst year. I cut my own bangs and my sister said I looked like a pope – all straight across, like a papal beret. More importantly, teens like myself should not have had bangs to begin with because they never looked good, even fresh after a shampoo. Then, too, though I was athletic and fit, I think I really had some gawk gene that reached peak maturity at that age, before I learned to suppress it.

It happened that Leopold Stokowski was also on the ship – along with his juicily attractive two adolescent sons. We hung out. Or, rather, most likely, I chased them. As I recall, they showed less than zero interest in me and my being 13 made me even less of a hot prospect, as they were firmly into their high school years. But I chased them nonetheless. I did not have a crush on either, but I was in love with the idea of a shipboard romance and so I tried.

Moral of the story: don’t chase sons of famous composers while crossing the ocean?. There is no other moral or point to the story, but I did think of it just now as my own daughter prepares to sing. She at least has the good sense not to show the slightest interest in Penderecki’s sons, possibly because she hasn’t met them and they would be well into their fifties should they even exist.

Thoughts about cooking Polish-Russian food

Hey, no one called an ambulance.

Would I do it again? I would!

I like the way the foods on my menu sounded Russian and Polish: blinchiki, pierogi, caviar, borsch, uszka -- in addition to the staples such as herring, trout, nut cake..

Two recurring ingredients: mushrooms (I used the dried “porcini” type that I brought over from Poland) and sour cream. Practically every dish had one or the other.

Advice: always always eat with people who are good sports about it and shower the meal with appreciative (and critical, where it’s warranted!) words. I know we should all rise above compliments and comments, but when you cook all day long, the pleasure comes in seeing people eat and react. One reason why I stopped moonlighting at the restaurant is that I felt disconnected from that last stage of the process: when I let the plate go from the kitchen, I never saw how it was received. You evolve as a cook, I think, by keeping an eye on people’s faces as they eat. Not all dishes work well and you learn what people pick out as the truly exciting and what they appreciate on a smaller scale. Last night, my group was expressive in all ways. Putting out plates of food was, therefore, a joy.

Okay, it’s late and I have a hell of a clean up before me. I promised those far away a few photos from the evening. Here’s a sample:
Festive beginnings: potato rounds with smoked salmon, sour cream and caviar Posted by Hello
It's so good to have last minute help with plating foods... Posted by Hello
you have to have herring to nibble on before dinner. Here, it's tossed with apples, sour cream, onion and dill. Posted by Hello
the rewards of cooking: watching the faces of guests as they sample different foods (in this case, Jeremy reacts to the deep burgundy colors of borsch) Posted by Hello
wild mushroom pierogi, from start ... Posted by Hello finish. With sour cream and crispy onion bits. Posted by Hello
indispensible dinner companion: a camera, of course Posted by Hello
almond-orange cake with bittersweet chocolate: some impatient person dug in too early Posted by Hello