Friday, September 14, 2018

at the dinner table.

When I'm in Warsaw, I want to see my friends. It is a given. My apartment was especially designed to accommodate a large group dinner. Cooking for these people, whom I've known since adolescence is hugely important to me. Perhaps I have that Polish gene that makes us such great, or at least enthusiastic, hosts.

This time, too, I invited the whole gang to a Tamka supper (Tamka is the name of the Warsaw street where I live). And for the first time, I have everyone here -- even the one person who lives in a distant (albeit Polish) city. We are a band of twleve.

What to cook, what to cook... I've puzzled over it, given that the cupboards are mostly bare and I am here for such a short time.

In the end, I decided to do what I often do for my own family in Madison -- a salad Nicoise, with some twists that make this into a really substantial meal.

My very first task this morning is to visit the neighborhood produce stands (there are three and of these, two are good and one is really outstanding). I'm a little nervous about finding stuff. The salad does allow for great improvisation (for instance, I substitute anchovies with sardines, prepared in a number of ways -- this is what I went looking for when I popped into Paris for an hour, because there is a store that sells only sardines and they are exquisite, and for those who are not sardine fans I offer shrimp), but I don't think you can call it a Nicoise unless it has green beans. Are they popular in Poland these days?

Here's my favorite produce stand:


(A guy comes up behind me... the salesperson asks -- what would you like? He's young, a little rough around the face. Oh, just a handful of the chanterelles for my scrambled eggs this morning. Only in Poland...)

And yes, there are green beans. They are not as good as the American grown French beans as sold by my favorite market Hmong farmer (how many nationalities can I fit into one green bean?!), but they're green. And tomatoes and baby potatoes. Essential components! Oh, but the cucumbers! They are superb! Better than any that I can get back home. And while I'm at it, I pick up some raspberries and strawberries for breakfast. And breads for the dinner: the line is long, but the service -- it never fails to astonish me that a country could change so draconianly in such a short period of time -- the service is excellent. Four women vying to help you with your order...


And as I carry my bundles home (along with the milk, the kefir), and then go out once more to a store far away to buy wine (the bottles are so heavy, the walk is so long!) I think once more how convenient shopping is in the American fashion: by car. Carrying all this across city blocks, up and down metro stairs, then up two flights to my apartment (my building has no elevator) is... well, less convenient.

Upstairs, I unpack and then finally I sit down to breakfast.


And it is the raspberries that do it to me: they remind me that I am in the place of my childhood. Because Polish raspberries are different than those in the US or even in other parts of Europe. They have intense flavor. The flavor of my growing up years.

And I think about how odd it is to be stepping in the way that I do back into my childhood, briefly, but frequently. I dabble in my Polish past and then I go back to what is my true home now and I shake my senses off and it all falls away somewhere. Until I come back to Poland again.

It is so popular to speak of identity these days. I do often think I am without a national one. It got lost somewhere in the stormy waters of the ocean, in one of my frequent crossings. But there is such a thing, I think, as an identity of a childhood place. If you grew up in the Bronx -- that stays with you. If your childhood roots are in Texas or California -- you know it and feel it. My childhood had a touch of Manhattan, but in fact, it is rooted in postwar Poland.

This time the raspberries bring it all back again.

And then I get to work on dinner preparation, with the tremendous help of my sister, who runs errands for me and cheerfully follows instructions.

Ready. Almost! Have to bring out the sardines!


There are many many photos I could take of the gathering. But there isn't time for it. I'm putting up just a few...

Of men talking..


Of women catching up...


Of the whole band, huddled over the dinner...


What? You cant see any of the faces? Here are a few...


Sampling cookies with cherries, and macarons...


I suggest that we all do selfies and submit our efforts to the group. You don't have to do serious faces, I tell them.


They get to it.


And here's a photo of the three guys who have been friends since their first year of adolescence (and a wife of one, still working on that selfie).


It does something to you -- this constant strong pull of friends who were with you when you were just a young nothing, unsure of where you were heading in life. And now here we are, grandparents, all of us!

The evening has a second part to it: we walk over (well, some of us dance over...)

 Poland-41.jpg the home of the couple whose apartment has just been renovated. For an inspection!

Everyone approves! More cheers, more stories, more food and drink of course.


So this is how it is: we gather, we tell all that needs to be told. We eat and drink and talk and talk until the clock strikes some godawful hour and then we all disperse. Until the next time.

(I should do the dishes... But it's so so late! I should do the dishes...)